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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Shearing the Sheep

For the last 3+ years I have lived in a relatively insulated area of the world and I have had the unique opportunity to see Western culture and specifically the USA from the outside. Most in America have never heard of Abu Dhabi and assume it is some place in Africa due to the exotic sounding name, they know of Dubai, though. The 2 cities are but 50 miles apart. The UAE is a benevolent monarchy which in the most part takes care of its residents and citizens. Things are not perfect here but this area seemed to largely escape the degree of economic carnage that befell the rest of the world.
As you know I have recently decided to return to my homeland and I fear I will not be so happy about some things happening there. I consider the bank bailouts on the taxpayers' dime a travesty which will haunt middle class Americans for generations to come. Uncounted trillions of dollars literally evaporated overnight and it will take decades to recover.

It has affected me personally as I own real estate and have investments that have losses in the tens of thousands of dollars in value. The economic crisis was a huge "pump and dump" by the international bankers. I am pissed off as I did not get a government bailout because I am not "too big to fail" so I have to just take it in the shorts, I guess.

The international banks (Goldman Sachs, et al) made out like bandits with the cooperation of the US government and the Federal Reserve which is just another private bank. They all caused the problem which is reverberating worldwide, yet the whole situation remains opaque and the same players remain in power within the US government and Wall Street. They should be in prison as it seems the whole scheme was orchestrated years ago with the lobbying away of financial rules and safeguards that allowed certain toxic financial instruments to be created for the sole purpose of wealth transfer.

When this house of cards collapsed, the players were inexplicably rewarded with an unprecedented bounty of public funds from the federal government instead of well deserved sanctions. Common sense would dictate letting these private banking organizations rot on the vine from their irresponsible actions, instead they were given a "mulligan" at taxpayers' expense. This suggests a much too cozy of a relationship between the robber-barons of Wall Street and the US government that has the responsibility of regulating them.

Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and even France are facing financial meltdowns and the bankers are at the ready to step in and "help" these beleaguered economies by buying assets for pennies on the dollar. It seems to be all about the money. Trace the new leaders of Greece and Italy and you will find they have backgrounds with the same international banking organizations. As always, follow the money

I am not a tin foil hat wearing guy but I can put 2+2 together. You do not have to agree with me but the puzzle pieces are self-evident. Everyone should be a critical thinker and question authority.

Below are some thought provoking videos I found. The first 2 are from the prophetic movie Network (1976) and one from critical thinker, social analyst and part-time comedian, George Carlin.

Now maybe the lord/serf relationship was the natural order of things at one time, world history has many examples of this, but I am uncomfortable with the status quo and would think humanity would have matured and grown away from this unequal and unfair arrangement. I am an individual with unalienable rights and freedoms but recent events undermine my confidence and respect for my elected officials who I trusted to protect my best interests.

To me it seems my (and others') governing bodies dropped the ball and have allowed outside influences to steer public policy. The "get out of jail free" card was given to the international economic manipulators and many of these scoundrels hold high positions in the US government to this day. The Golden Rule is in effect, those that have the gold, rules.

What to do? There is no easy answer. The types of people that have a burning desire for elective government offices also have traits that tend toward weakness and selling-out their constituencies at the whiff of a greenback. Us regular folks are expected to look the other way and take the inevitable hit to the pocketbook or personal rights and freedoms.

We have an uphill battle to equalize things against the elite power brokers but there are some bright spots. The internet is the big player here as it offers the exchange of information at the grass roots level and bypasses the mainstream media who is also influenced by money and power and do not want to upset the handlers. The internet offers an alternative to the communal Kool-Aide.

Another victory was the exposure of "climate change" for the scam that it was. Most of the proponents were not actual scientists (Al Gore for one) but were knee-deep in the politics and finance of trying to scare the bejesus out of us regular people. As always, the endgame was more money and power for the elite. That was called Cap and Trade and Carbon Credits. Mr. Gore is actually a principle of the Chicago Climate Exchange
which is a clearinghouse and speculator of carbon credits when he is not trying to rape hotel maids.  I have a funny feeling his involvement in the CCE is not entirely altruistic and he stood a lot to gain by promoting his junk science.Thankfully, the Chicken Little "sky is falling" climate change horse is in its last twitches.

Bottom line is that we have the ultimate advantage in numbers but we all should think critically, put the pieces of the puzzle together, connect the dots, hold our elected officials accountable, ask questions when things don't pass the "sniff test" and as always......follow the damn money!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

I Am Outta Here

I finally did it. I pulled the trigger and resigned my post last week. I will be leaving Abu Dhabi at the end of the year. I did not take the decision lightly. I have had a good run here and many adventures and good stories resulted. At this point I do not know where I will end up so it seems I am taking yet another jump into the abyss.As they say, "a rolling stone gathers no moss".

I had to leave here sometime anyway, I am just a guest here so I thought now is a good time as any. I am not getting any younger and it seems US employers have a problem with considering citizens living overseas for job opportunities. I realize I have to be back on home soil to further my career. 

I will continue this blog no matter what because I like doing it. The name may change depending on where I end up. I have some things to reveal that I can't as long as I live here so stay tuned.

As always I appreciate my followers, I do it all for you. I consider it a privilege and honor that you spend some time out your day to read my scribblings. I promise to continue to be creative and entertaining for you. More stories to come!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Damn Banks II

I received a comment on my last post from Anonymous who seems to be an insider at one time. It was very informative and brought up some good points that I had to answer. The comment was long and my responses were at least just as long so I decided to make a new post. Maybe we all can learn something and clear up some misunderstandings, if any.

Anonymous is in yellow text, mine in white.

Anonymous said...

    LOL! SOME of what you said is true, some are "spiced" if you will.

    BTW, that building that you said came from somewhere... It isnt OWNED by NBAD. That building is owned by a member of a royal family. 3 floors are rented by NBAD.

You maybe have me there! I looked for a stock photo of a big building with the NBAD logo on it for the first photo. Its kind of a blogging thing. Here is the real HQ, the NBAD tower.

NBAD Tower

    There is no link with immigration, or with the traffic dept. If you want I will tell you the exact process (I had sadly asked that many ppl be bared from flying myself)

When a person properly quits their job, they have to surrender their passport to their employer/sponsor and will only get it back (on the day of travel) after all paperwork, including clearance letters from the banks et al, are submitted. If an expat cannot provide these, they do not get their passport back until all debts are paid. They can't leave as they have they have no passport, job or home at this point. I have heard jail is a desperate option.

What this does is creates the runner/absconder phenominon. Things go bad here with some folks for various reasons and they are deep enough in debt they cannot come up with the cash to settle local debts. So instead of having the option of leaving and paying the debt from abroad, they get desperate and just escape. I see enough dusty cars with flat tires in airport parking lots to know this is quite common. I think most people want to pay their debts but these rules force some into a corner. Seems the banks stand to lose more the way things are than trying to work with their customers before it becomes a legal problem.

Curiously, as I said in a previous post the banks seem uninterested in retrieving these automotive orphans to mitigate losses.

Banks Seem Unconcerned About Recovering These Assets, They Are Everywhere

    Also, there are reasons why banks here cant allow people to pay for debt from abroad. Mainly because you cant enforce it in any way. If a bank scares you into thinking that it can "get" you when ur back home, they are usually mistaken. Few are the countries in which a bank here can get a bad debt holder to pay. Truth.

I think that is changing. I recently got a small personal loan and was asked for family addresses back in the US and my Social Security Number so I could be easily located.Debt collector firms wordwide purchase bad debts from banks all the time and take on the risk of recovering the debt. VISA and Mastercard are also global companies with aggressive collection methods and could damage my credit rating back in the US.

    There are however non official ways to continue to pay for asset backed loans (Like a car or house) but we wont get into those. I will say that I had set a few such schemes up for customers and they did not cause me any issues till the day I left. But not all customers are like that. With 20% of the country being labor, and another 30% being low level employees (with low incomes) you simply cant take chances with everyone. It it really is a chance.

    The banking system here is based on caution. In the UAE it's the exact opposite. Yes, a healthy way to be would to have a nice balance, but you have to understand the contact, this region is not a stable one. the UAE may be stable, but it's surrounded by shit and bad stuff.

    Also, with 90% of the country's population foreigners, the control you have over securing your loan is close to nil. Truth is if you take out 500K worth of loans and leave within a week, the bank will have no warning and little recourse.

I think any of the banks here would go after someone owing that amount of money. They would be crazy not to.

    As for banks not being all they can be to consumers, it depends both on the bank and the consumer.

    If you have a salary of 55K, a 1.6 million mortgage, a car loan, a personal loan, and credit cards, the banks are the best you'll ever deal with.

    If you make 55K and send 45 back home on the same day, most banks wont care about you.

I truly understand about the demographics here and the difficulties they bring.

    Also, not all banks here have the same focus. NBAD has, and is, and probably always will be a corporate bank. Its main job (originally, and still) is to be the banker of the Govt of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi as well as govt owned companies, semi govt companies, and large corporations.

    Do they have consumer banking solutions? yes. Are they good? Maybe. Are they the best? No.

    For a consumer, a more consumer focused bank like RAK bank might be a better option. RAK Bank is one of the few UAE banks that does NOT have a corporate banking section. Only consumer (you) and SME (Your small business)

    As for consumer rates (You mention a credit card at 35%) yes, it is highway robbery. But things are getting better. A few months back the central bank limited what a bank can offer and charge in terms of base banking and lending. CC were not included. Maybe in the revision next year. (Last year a certificate of liability costed 400, today its no more than 100 by law)

I have VISA and MC CC's with US banks that charge 10-12%. I agree 35% is very excessive for the same here. I took that aformentioned small personal loan (unsecured) for a very reasonable single digit rate. The credit cards are a cash cow and are aggressively marketed by commissioned salespeople. The rules seem lax and a lot of naive newcomers succomb the the lure of easy and high credit limits.

    The lack of a central lending database = ppl can get into debt easily and with multiple banks without the banks knowing. But this isnt the banks fault. The lack of the data base is the system's fault, but no one forces all these morons to sign those loan agreements.

 You are right on this. Theoretically, a person can get multiple credit accounts from several institutions without being qualified for the aggregate of the limits. This would not happen in countries with an independent credit bureau because that person could be tracke and info shared between financial institutions. In the US, every citizen has a credit score which sets limits on the amount that can be borrowed.

    It simply isnt anyone else's fault if you cant manage your finances.

I agree with you on that, but it seems a lot of people get into trouble in the UAE and that trouble can cause very serious legal consequences. In my opinion, the banks are like drug pushers making easy credit available to most. Hell, I bought a 99,000AED car on 100% credit after just 90 days on the job. Was that dumb...yes! Would I do it! That car is sold now and I currently free of debt, at least in the UAE. I know many that are way over their heads in credit balances and will have to be in the UAE many more years than they want.

But ultimately it was my decision as I rose to the bait and took the hook.The banks are enablers but it is ultimately the individual that is responsible to refuse the offer.

    But yeah, you added alot of "baharat" (Spices) to the story Ace.

I didn't intend on singling out NBAD. They have treated me quite well except for the online banking troubles. My post tended to drift toward the overall financial system in the UAE as seen by a retail customer.

You are/were obviously a bank employee. I appreciate the insight and if there is something I failed to understand, let me know and maybe I won't sprinkle as much "baharat" on my future posts about the rules here.

I just received an email today, 19 November, from the bank addressing my initial question I asked on 29 October, see below.

Email from Ace to the National Bank of Abu Dhabi, 29 October:

I am now blocked from my online account. I need this fixed as I have bills to pay. Your phone message says 24/7 service for the online accounts and I was informed I could not be helped after 11:00 PM as the technical service was closed.

Ever since the website has changed, there have been problems.


The "prompt" reply 3 weeks later, 19 November:

Dear Ace,
Thank you for your recent email.

You are kindly requested to reply the following to help us process this faster:
1. NBAD Account number:
2. PO Box number:       
3. Branch you received the password from:
4. Mobile/Telephone number:
5. NbadOnline User ID: 
6. time to be contacted :        
For any further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us again on toll free 800 XXXX  from outside UAE) between 8:00 AM to 12:00 AM on all UAE working days (from Saturday to Thursday) or send us a reply email.
Thank you for using nbadOnline.
Back Office Person
Internet Banking Unit
National Bank of Abu Dhabi

I had better luck with the telephone help-line and the problem was solved 2 1/2 weeks ago through them.  Apparently the email guys are not only unaware that the problem was fixed a long time ago by a 1 1/2 hour call to the help-line, they are just getting around to looking at the problem 3 weeks after my initial email complaint. Unbelievable!!!!

I expect things to work once they are set up. Here  internet , banking , electricity and cable TV services are very fragile and I have experienced many unexpected shutdowns. I cringe when I have to enter the labyrinth of what is called "customer service" in Abu Dhabi. It has always meant a time consuming and frustrating experience trying to correct a situation that was not of my making.  

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Damn Banks

Both Abu Dhabi and Dubai have become huge world financial centers in the past 40 years. With the oil export and tourism income there is plenty of cash flow that attracts international banks as well as made home grown institutions very wealthy. For the most part these banks are some of the safest and most innovative in the world. One can even instantly pay a parking meter or almost any bill from a cell phone text message.

However, the banking business must be the lowest risk enterprise in the UAE. I am sure they take care of each other and big corporate clients in the "Good Old Boy " club but the ordinary retail guys seem to get it in the neck. 35 % interest on credit cards and an unholy alliance with immigrations assures a healthy profit and jail time for anyone attempting to leave the country with debt.

You will take it and like it! (Apologies to Gunny Ermey!)

Many innocents are lured with fast and easy credit when first arriving here and get into a big bind. It is tempting with the apparent affluent lifestyle of fancy cars and designer shops.  People should pay their debts but should be able to do so from another country if they choose. That option is not available here.

But Solar Powered ATMs Are

I recently had problems with my bank, the National Bank of Abu Dhabi (NBAD). This firm sent out a notice a few months ago that they were upgrading their website and I would have to make some adjustments such as losing my templates I used to transfer money and pay bills. From my past experiences with the national telephone, internet and cable TV companies, I had a strong feeling this website upgrade was not going to end well. It didn't.

We Like You!!

Two days after the "upgrade" I tried to log on and got errors and denied access. I called the help desk and was assured the problem would be handled and I would be called back with the magic solution. No call back for 2 days. I called again and my password was reset....failure again. I made my 3rd call and was told I can't be helped because the technical center was now closed despite the on-hold recording proudly announcing online help was available 24/7. The same recording told me to press 4 for online support and after suffering through more minutes of raucous advertisements it told me to press 6 for the special online help desk. So I did.

Mind you, I have a lot of bills to pay back in the US and I have to refill that bucket every month ontime or suffer some very expensive consequences. That urgency was lost on my bank. I finally got the site working after another lengthy phone call only to find it takes many more levels of security, passwords, questions, token codes and I had to redo all my payment templates. Very clunky and not an improvement. I do not mind security, but this could have been made sleeker and more user friendly. I suspect I will cringe everytime I have to do online banking again. I just expect something else to go wrong.

This Big Building Didn't Just Spring Out Of The Ground By Itself

Overall, NBAD is not a bad bank but they screwed this up. Remember, the rules are different here and things are definitely tilted in the banks' favor. You will not win, ever. The vast majority of my friends and co-workers have horror stories about their dealings with UAE banks.

My recommendations:

DO NOT get a local credit card, even if it says Visa or Mastercard on it, the rules are different. Read the fine print. Keep cards and debt in your home country.

DO NOT buy a new car. Get a good used one, they are cheap and plentiful.

DO NOT go into any kind of debt here. The banks are ruthless and if things go tits-up for you, you could get prison time. Its the law. You will severely limit your "options".

DO NOT  keep more in your local UAE account than you need to live on month to month. Send the excess back home. The banks will take what is in your account on the slightest pretense such as a traffic violation. Geez, they even want ~$40USD to give you a clearance letter saying you do not owe them any money.

I am not picking on the UAE banks specifically, they just have their own rules that are bad for us consumers. The banking industry in the USA has caused far more damage to the global economy and hurt more people than a UAE bank could ever do. Shame on them and their greedy ways. They screwed up a good thing, may they rot in hell!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Automotive Orphans

Firstly, let me explain my lack of posts in the last few months. I have been on kind of a "Blogcation". There are several reasons for this. The summer is brutal here and staying indoors is a survival tactic. Since I am not a mall rat or movie theater kind of guy (I prefer watching movies in the comfort of my own home where cold beer, cheap popcorn are at hand and the loo is but a few steps away), that means long, tedious and boring days off at home.

Much like folks that live in Northern climes during winter, one develops "cabin fever". This phenomenon dulls the senses, encourages laziness and crushes creativity and motivation. Since I no longer own a car, journeys outside are not as spontaneous as they used to be and I have been doing fewer interesting things to write about.

Now, the weather is moderating and I am coming out of my summer hibernation. I can leave the windows open now and  feel the cool breeze. I feel my energy coming back and the creative juices are flowing again like sap in a tree at springtime.  So look for more activity from me in the next few months. I have a lot of catching up to do.

Cats are cool, this one is confident and fearless 18 stories up balancing on a thin rail. It just doesn't give a crap! I wish I had the powers that cats have. I love this photo!

Now to the topic. In Abu Dhabi and the U.A.E. as a whole, there are thousands of abandoned cars. You see them everywhere from airports to residential parking garages to streetside downtown. They are instantly recognizable due to the heavy coat of dust they sport. Most have messages scrawled on the dusty windows such as "please wash me" or "runner" (more on this later).

"Wish my girl was as dirty". Hint for the Ladies! Spice up your life!

These are not old rustbuckets that were destined for the junkyard either. Most are late-model Porsches, Mercedes, Audis, Jaguars, BMWs and other desirable makes. In the parking lot of the place I live, I have seen the same abandoned cars sit for over two years. The management here even has them washed once in awhile so they wouldn't be such eyesores. I find that hilarious! Don't fix the problem, just make it look better. Kind of symbolic of the way things are generally handled here.

This Audi TT has been here for 2 years! It is washed occasionally by management.

Recently Getting Police Attention

Tires go flat, batteries die, paint dulls and the interior appointments dry and crack from the sun and heat. Why are these fine automobiles left to rot in the extreme elements here?  The simple answer is that the laws in the U.A.E. are to blame. You see, it is illegal to leave the country for good if you owe money.

If you do the right thing and inform your employer of your intention to resign or are fired, the employer informs the bank and the bank informs immigrations if you have a credit balance. In most countries, you are allowed to pay back debts from abroad. Here, you will be detained, arrested and checked into the "Gray Bar Hotel" as you attempt to leave the U.A.E. owing money.  Everyone must have a bank clearance letter to emigrate.

This harsh treatment and wicked alliance between the government and the banks forces some expats facing a dire situation (you cannot stay here without a job) to just leave without notice and abandon everything behind to escape prison time. These desperados are known as "runners" and the dusty cars littering the parking lots around the U.A.E. are their legacy. This is one of the reasons I sold my car and have resisted the temptation of going into debt with a local institution.

A Nice Volvo

Abandoned BMW

The vast majority of these cars are owned by the banks through loans to individuals yet they sit for years in the same place where they were abandoned. While the banks are aggressive about punishing individuals that owe them money, they are curiously passive about recovering these cars so they can resell them and cover some of their losses. Its like they don't give a damn, just another cost of doing business. Such a waste seeing these fine cars rotting away. Where I come from, the banks hire "repo men" to recover automotive assets within a few months. Here it seems more important to send someone to jail than to mitigate losses by actively recovering these cars. Just another example of how I have trouble understanding how things work over here.

I never have and I never will! 

VW Scirocco ,  not abandoned but I want one!

Monday, July 25, 2011

The End of an Era?

At the end my last post, I wrote briefly about some signs I noticed that seem to signal the general decline in the American spirit. The economy is in the crapper, unemployment is high, many people have lost their life savings and the government is more unresponsive and corrupt than I have ever seen. I saw first-hand on my trip last month how these things have a negative effect on the individual citizen's and the national collective psyche. The whole country is in a blue funk.

An event happened last week that twisted the knife of despair a bit more; the last US manned space flight mission ended as the Space Shuttle touched down at Kennedy Space Center. It was a good 50 year run that I personally thought would never end.

Final Space Shuttle Landing at Cape Canaveral

I have enough years under my belt to remember most of the manned space program, it was always an interest of mine and I assumed it would always be around to innovate, explore and inspire. Mercury, Gemini and Apollo......those names were known by all and generated excitement all over the world. Obviously, the lunar landings were the pinnacle of the manned missions.

Schematic of Mercury Spacecraft

Original Mercury Astronauts
Gemini Space Capsule
Apollo Schematic
Lunar Excursion Module. Your mobile phone has more computing power than this thing did! Yet they pulled it off!
The Eagle has Landed
Us Americans just HAD to get a car up there

The moon shots would prove hard acts to follow. The Space Shuttle was already on the drawing board during the Apollo program. It was conceived as a vehicle to usher in the next phase of space exploration, sustainability.. The design was to contain many reusable parts. Compared to the sleek Saturn V rockets of the Apollo program, the Shuttle was chunky and utilitarian as befitted its mission of hauling stuff into low Earth orbit.

The Space Shuttle failed to captivate the imagination of the public.The mission was boring but ended up productive.
Saturn V used in the Apollo Program

Saturn V Liftoff, Loud and Sexy!

Predictably, as the excitement and danger of the previous far reaching missions gave way to a "space truck" taking lab rats into low orbit, public interest waned even though a lot of valuable research was done that resulted in many things we take for granted today. The Shuttle program, although productive, just wasn't sexy.

The Space Shuttle needed to be retired. It was old technology even when it was new and proved to be way more troublesome and expensive than imagined. It never achieved the goal of almost monthly launches as envisioned by its architects.We lost two of them, Challenger and Discovery.. Challenger from brittle O rings and Discovery from some bad ceramic heat tiles. Time to put the old girl back in the barn.

Challenger Explosion

What upsets me is that there is no replacement on the horizon. For the first time in 50 years, the US is incapable of sending a human into space. Now we have to hitch a very expensive ride on Russia's Soyuz capsule that was designed in the 1960's. The Soyuz is currently the only game in town.

Russian Soyuz in Orbit
Soyuz Schematic
A Not so Subtle Soyuz Landing in Kazakhstan, Hey, But It Works!!!

Soyuz Post Landing. Vodka consumption  is part of the re-entry checklist.

If they pull the plug on that relic, I hope the last astronaut leaving the multi-billion dollar International Space Station remembers to turn the lights off as it will be awhile before anyone steps foot aboard again.

International Space Station, hide the keys under the doormat when you leave..

The rocket scientists at NASA knew the Shuttle retirement was coming at least 15 years ago and just sat on their hands. Oh, they did waste $9 billion trying to develop potential replacements such as the Constellation and other programs but when things got too difficult for them, progress was not made and the money dried up, they just said "screw it" and went back to whatever rocket scientists do when they are not making rockets. There was much motion but little progress.

Once an Icon,  but has recently lost their way.

NASA has become as bloated and inefficient as the US government so I am not surprised talent and innovation do not thrive there anymore. Too bad, that wasn't the case at one time. It looks like as the NASAsaur fades into irrelevance, we have to look toward the movers and shakers in the private sector to pick up the baton to keep manned space flight alive, Profit is a strong motivator and if there is money in it for these entrepreneurs, they will make it happen. There are already some bright spots on the horizon.

Well, to make a long story short (I know, too late), America's abandonment of its manned space flight program is just another symptom of a general malaise that is lingering in the country.  For 50 years these programs were a source of pride, inspiration, and a large part of America's identity.. The manned space programs motivated people from all over the world to look up to the night sky and maybe forget for a time the dreary details of daily life. We dropped the ball.

It doesn't bother me so much that the Space Shuttle program is no more, its that there were no replacement vehicles seriously considered.  This indicates an abandonment of the pioneer and "can do" attitudes of the past that the US and Americans are known for. Lately it has seemed we are just consumers of Chinese imports, producers of dodgy financial instruments, whiny wards of the State, world policemen and contemplators of our own belly button lint. Not a good path to follow. Remember what happened to Rome when Emperor Nero was plucking his fiddle

 In general, the US has been declining in spirit and purpose for awhile now. Maybe it is the inevitable maturing of a society. We have seen this before with other countries and empires in the past. America's heyday of the 1800s -1900s are over and maybe it is time to take a breather and hopefully we will rediscover the values and drive that made the US and Americans a unique country and culture. I am intolerant of mediocrity and hope that I can see a positive change in my country soon. There is still so much potential there.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Annual Leave 2011 Epilogue

So I was in Florida and enjoyed visiting my mother and some old high school friends that still live in the area. The weather was on-and-off with a mix of rain and sunshine,It was good smelling the the fresh Gulf of Mexico air and not having to deal with the desert dust. I felt more relaxed than I had in a long time and the days flew by all too quickly. On my final day, I was having some beers with friends and it became time for me to leave for my 9PM flight to Las Vegas. I drove home and packed my things and headed for the airport. I checked in at 7:55PM, checked the rental car in and headed toward the security gauntlet.

Gulf of Mexico

Best Beaches in Florida if not the World

This is where my nightmare started. I went through the x ray and metal detectors but at the end of the line I was confronted by a TSA agent holding a factory sealed package I had bought at a pharmacy earlier. He said there were unknown liquids in there and he would not let me go without a further screening. I was unaware of the liquids and asked what I could do to mitigate the problem. He said he had to throw away the item. I said that since I had spent $40USD for it that I wasn't too keen on that idea. A discussion ensued and the agent's supervisor had to become involved. We all finally came to an agreement that I had to put the liquids into a clear baggie and I was finally free to go. As I walked from the security area, another TSA agent gleefully announced to me that my flight had already left. Bitch!

Security Theater

That left me in a pickle as there was not a flight until the next night which would necessitate razor sharp planning to get to Chicago for my Abu Dhabi flight the next day and I was still stuck in Florida. There are a few things wrong with this. First, I checked in on time with Vision Airlines (who by the way lost my bags on the inbound trip), second, TSA delayed me way too long in the security line. It was a small airport and I was the only passenger in the queue. Thirdly, when a passenger checks in and is known to be delayed in security, the flight is held, this did not happen. I have been in the airline business for over 12 years...I know.. 5 minutes earlier and I would have made the flight. They pushed away from the gate anyway.

The 9/11 guys ended up winning anyway because every US citizen is treated as a felon when attempting to board a flight as a result. Now there are backscatter units that see through clothes and exposes the victim to radiation that would rival Hiroshima doses.

Land of the Free?
.The particular airport I departed Florida from recently had some bad publicity by making a 95 year old woman in a wheelchair take off her adult diapers before she could board her flight. I am all for security and stuff but it has gone too far. If any passenger starts acting hinckey during a flight, they will get their ass whipped by the other passengers. If that fails, there are firearms onboard carried by certain authorized personnel. No one is going to get away with another 9/11 stunt again.

So the next night I boarded my redeye to Las Vegas. All liquids were bagged per orders so I got on the flight. I landed in Vegas around 2 AM and proceeded to drive the 2 1/2 hours through an inky black desert night to St. George where I had to leave for Chicago via Salt Lake City to catch my flight to Abu Dhabi.

I got to St. George just in time to collect some of my stuff I left there and get to the airport. I was already tired from the transcon flight to Vegas and the drive so I slept on the way to Salt Lake City. St. George has a brand spanking new airport.


US, Utah and St. George flags

I had a 4 hour layover there before my sector to Chicago so I got a few beers. Salt Lake City is a very passenger friendly airport. Time to go to Chicago and I slept most of the way after this sumptuous breakfast.

MMMM...Three or Four Peanuts and a Can of Beer!

 Another grueling 4 hour wait for my 14 hour flight to Abu Dhabi but the Chicago terminal was nice. I fed and watered for the long time enroute and was happy to get a business class seat. The flight went quite quick and I was lucky to meet one of my bosses in duty-free upon arrival in Abu Dhabi, he gave me a lift to my flat.

All in all I spent almost 48 hours in transit that last day. I DO not want to do that any time again soon. I had a good time and felt very relaxed back home and was thrilled to see family and friends.

Saying that, things are bad back there economically. A lot of my friends are in danger of losing assets and savings. The government doesn't seem to care and is doing nothing for the average citizen. I know things are relative and the US is still quite wealthy compared to most parts of the world but stuff seems to be winding down back home. Maybe it is the inevitable ebb and flow of nations and cultures but it is still sad. We have no one to blame but ourselves, however. We had a good thing and we screwed it up.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

"Big E Bullshit"

I am getting damned tired of turning on my TV and computer only to find out there is another problem with my video and internet reception! I got up early this morning to do some work and catch up on emails only to find both devices blankly staring back at me with these vague "You will not be entertained or get any online stuff done for an indefinite amount of time" messages.

I live in a fairly new building complex and I know from my past technical experience that the network here is a state-of-the-art fiber optic system capable of wonderful things. Why the provider, "Big E", can't keep it operating is beyond me. I suspect a weakness in the human factor is to blame. The infrastucture is there but not enough skill, knowledge or planning to make it work reliably.

I literally spent hours on the telephone trying to work things out with sometimes ill-mannered, cryptic help desk personnel and have had many visits by technicians. One time a tech guy called when I was in the shower and because I failed to answer the phone right away he left and cancelled my service request. I couldn't get another appointment until 4 days later. They come, do some things to make it work and it ultimately fails later.

The services are not cheap either. There is no competition for my business. The UAE has some of the highest communication rates in the world. Back home there would be 3 or 4 providers vying for my money, I had a choice, Here, take it or leave it. For the amount I pay I expect much better service.

I cringe whenever I fire up the laptop or turn on the television as I anticipate yet another problem. With the monopoly here I can't expect it to get better as they have no incentive to improve. I am stuck and it seems I have to deal with it. Such a waste of my time and theirs..

So here I sit after yet another unproductive, tedious help desk call awaiting a field technician to contact me. Apparently its a hardware failure, seems to be not enough LEDs are lit up on my fiber optic modem. I have a 12 hour graveyard night shift later today and I'll bet the tech's call will come right in the middle of my afternoon snooze. Past experience almost guarantees it.

Nothing is easy! Dammit! I pay enough for online access and I expect it to be reliable. Did I mention the internet is censored here too?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Annual Leave 2011 Part 2

So I stayed in St, George, Utah for awhile. I visited where I used to work and saw a lot of my ex-coworkers and friends. St. George is one of the most beautiful places on Earth, it is in between the mountainous Colorado Plateau and the Mojave Desert. This gives the area a unique geography. You have granite mountains on one side, red sandstone on another and  real desert on another replete with Joshua trees I love the changes. Each turn of the road reveals another scenario. I never get tired of it.

St. George, Utah. Heaven on Earth
A Joshua tree,they are not to be screwed with! I love the desert.

 After a few days there socializing and taking care of some personal business, I had to drive to Las Vegas for a flight to Florida to see my mother.

Virgin River Gourge

Interstate Highway 15 Though the Virgin River Gourge

My Car-- Topless in Mesquite, Nevada
Virgin River Gourge

Interstate Highway 15 Virgin River Gourge

I am here to tell you that there are few things more pleasurable than hauling ass at 90 MPH in an American Ford V-8 Mustang GT five speed convertible on a long, straight desert highway. The rumble of the engine combined with the sun on my face and wind in my hair made the journey one to remember.

The Virgin River Gourge was one of the last sectors to be completed in the American Interstate highway system due to the rugged terrain. To this day, mountain goats and dynamite marks can be seen on the mountain sides which makes this one of the best 20 miles of road in the USA.

I got to Las Vegas OK and stayed with some friends and flew to Florida the next night. One complaint I have is my flight left out of Terminal 2 and all the bars were closed at 9 o'clock. That just ain't right as I was in the supposed fun capitol of the world and I couldn't even get a cold draft beer before my flight! Bullshit!

The overnight flight to Florida went alright except the airline misdirected my baggage in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. They made up for it the next night by delivering my bags to my mom's house. Mom was doing well and after being reunited with my clean skivvies from the recovered luggage, I was good to go. I got lucky at the rental car company as they gave me a new 2011 Fire Engine Red Mustang. I flirted with the attractive Filipina attendant and she gave me the Mustang instead of a boring Buick Lucerne.God love her!

2011 Mustang...Mom's house, Ft. Walton Beach Florida
Loved the Car!

I spend a few days relaxing in Florida as it was hectic in the previous week. I haven't felt so rested in months I spent time driving around neighborhoods where I grew up and to the beach. A year ago, the coast was threatened by the large BP oil spill. The area dodged a bullet as there are few signs of the accident now. Maybe all the crude is on the sea floor but none is evident on the beach.

A Sandpiper

Not a Good Day for the Beach

Wayside Park
Wayside Park
Inclement Weather

Southern Speak

Children's Art From Destin Elementary School

I Found This Hanging From a Tree Branch

One day I went to the Blue Marlin Tournament at Sandestin. I was early as no boats came in to the docks that day for a weigh in but I had a good time nevertheless.
No Thanks!
Northwest Florida Wetlands
More Wetlands Maybe a Gator or Two In There
A Cool Bar

Baytowne Marina, Sandestin Resort
I Don't Think So

Life is Good!
World's Largest Fishing Lure

Are you Shitting Me...My Speedo does Not Go That Low!

One of the Premiere Billfish Tournaments in the World

While at Sandestin, I met this little buddy. They are commonly known as cameleons but are really anole lizards. They change from lime green to tobacco brown in an instant. You can see the color change in the photos. He/she is turning brown. The throat thing is a territorial sign for me to keep away. Didn't work. They are good cat toys.

Turning Brown and Threatening Me
Edited June 10 for more photos and content.
Stay tuned for part 3