Out of the Humidor
I want to thank you and Mr. Douglas Doan for the article in the April issue about his homegrown tobacco. It has left a lasting impression on me. In this fast-paced society, people would rather go out and buy things instead of taking the time and doing it themselves. Nobody seems to have any time to just relax and have a good time.
For Christmas last year, my wife gave me materials for making beer at home. My new beer machine sat in my basement for two months before I finally set it up. It was the April issue of CA that put a fire under my butt.
Mr. Doan appeared to be stressed, overworked and compulsive about his first venture at cigar making. I thought, "How could he possibly be having a good time?" Despite all of the hard work and expense, in the end he was very pleased with the results. Inspired by that, I thought, "Why not give it a shot and put Miller out of business?"
I started making beer. The first batch was in the works, and my wife was going crazy because I obsessed about it constantly. I turned into a nervous, compulsive mess. Despite the stress, I, like Mr. Doan, was having a ball. I have never felt so much satisfaction in doing something.
The day finally came when I could try my first batch. Let's just say Miller has nothing to worry about. Despite the setback, I proceeded to refine my recipe by surfing for more information on the Net, and started on two new batches so I could have even more fun!
Good luck with the cigars, Mr. Doan. I will keep an eye out for your "Virginia Blues" at my local shop, and hopefully one day, you will see some of my Basset Beer, named after my dog Sherlock, at your local liquor store.
At the age of 45 and with 25 years, 9 months and 6 days of service, I opted for an early retirement and buyout from the federal government. Other than my first year as a mail clerk at the Veterans Administration (ask any vet for his thoughts about the VA), the remainder of my career was in information technology for various agencies within the Department of Defense. I worked at my last command 16 years. Joseph Nye Jr.'s article "The Quiet Crisis in Public Service" [June 2001] validated some of my experiences during the last five years of my career.
While completing an individual training plan for the next fiscal year during the summer of 1999, I was informed there might not be any funding. My final year's training did not include anything related to the IT field. On the other hand, I did receive politically correct training mandatory for all personnel, including prevention of sexual harassment, HIV and diversity training.
Since retiring, I began a second career at the state level and was shocked at how much more technologically advanced my agency is over the military activity I left in December 1999. And I was not alone. Several key members of my old base's IT staff have left for the private sector, although they did not have the 25 years minimum service required for an early retirement.
Mismanagement in the public sector is rampant. Once admitted to the "Good Ol' Boys' Club," incompetent managers are protected and rotated through various departments and organizations regardless of lack of experience in that area or previous poor performance. Yet, advancement for others is slow. I went from a GS-2 mail clerk to a GS-11 computer specialist in 21 years, even with many semester hours of college on my own time and at my own expense. In my experience, veterans' preference was rarely a significant factor in promotions. In some cases, I believe being a vet hurt those applying for promotion.
Morale began a drastic downturn in the mid-1990s. Before then, most of my co-workers and I actually enjoyed our work and felt productive. I have maintained contact with friends who are still feds. Morale continues to decline.
Pay was dramatically increased for those in the computer specialist series in the federal government, ostensibly to be competitive with the private sector. This is at the same time that that series is being cost-analyzed for outsourcing in many agencies. Coincidence? Staffing reductions due to attrition result in more work for those who remain, because of years-long hiring or promotion freezes. Many workers are simply marking time, hoping they reach minimum eligibility for retirement before their positions are outsourced or their agency is closed or consolidated. Others are submitting résumés. Perhaps the system is too broken to repair.
During my son's undergraduate years, he worked as a summer hire at another Department of Defense agency on base. After completing grad school, a federal career is not on his agenda.
Tony Gonzalez Sr.
Enjoyed the write-up on Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista and his liaison with Mafia chieftain Meyer Lansky [June 2001]. With this strange courtship between dictator and Mafia, it was only logical that the Cuban populace would be outraged due to the money they were bringing in for the rich and neglecting to distribute to the poor. It was a crook's paradise, since venture capitalists need not comply with a background check. The sad truth was that the rich were getting richer and the poor were getting poorer. Things became ripe for Fidel Castro to take over. Even though Castro had a communist regime, it was beneficial for the poor. This is why he received so much support. Lansky is lucky he left Cuba when he did, because I wouldn't have any doubt that Castro would have executed him. Castro flexed his muscle to the Mafia and won out and showed his bravado by closing the casinos in 1960.
Nannette "Nan" Wahleithner
As a guy who doesn't buy exotic cars, million-dollar boats, or has someone who buys my wardrobe for me, I look to your publication for information about cigars. Your June issue had a lot of info about Cuban cigars and I really enjoyed it.
I smoked my first Cohiba, a gift from my dad, when I finished grad school. It was a mindblower. Once I had one, I never could smoke anything else. Even today, I still enjoy a Coronas Especiales, and I've smoked every brand of Cuban cigar since then; but the quality has changed. I have about 30 boxes of Cubans in my humidor, some from the late 1980s to mid-'90s and some newer ones. The difference between the older ones and the newer ones is huge! The article about the quality of the current Cuban products is correct. Although brands such as Cohiba, Montecristo and Partagas are nicely constructed and burn beautifully, the newer ones all smoke the same. They are good, at best. Even the Cohiba Esplendido, a cigar by which all others were compared, has changed. I smoke at least 15 cigars per week, some of them Cubans, yet my favorite is the Nicaraguan Padrón 1964 Anniversary Series Maduro Torpedo.
I have experienced the difficult draw, the ammonia odor and the bland taste in the past few years with some Cuban purchases that I've made. My cigars with five to 10 years of box age are noticeably better. With all of the fakes out there, I wonder if today's Cuban cigar is really worth the hassle. I have several boxes of the new Edicion Limitadas and the cigars are good smokes, but hopefully will get much better with several years of aging. The jury is out on Cuban cigars, in my opinion. I look to your publication to continue to lead the way with advice, reviews and suggestions regarding enjoying the ever-changing world of fine cigars.
Walden, New York
As the editor of a magazine that I believe stands for, among other things, personal liberty and freedom, and against intrusive government, I think you need to make better choices for writers of the Insights politics section. In both your February and April issues the columns were, in my opinion, against the above principles.