Voting in Afghanistan

NPR has been playing stories this week about the US Marines attempting to secure some remote regions in Afghanistan in preparation for the upcoming elections in that country. It’s tough going, but the US Marines have always looked tough situations in the face, given a hardy laugh, and gone out to kick ass. What saddens me about the situation is that we’re putting our people out there in harms way to win the battle but not the war.

What I mean by that is simple – democracy doesn’t work without rule of law. It’s as simple as that. In a population that doesn’t accept the authority of law over the authority of jihad or machismo or bushido (or any other similar term and concept), democracy is doomed to failure.

Afghanistan is culturally and geographically disposed towards a localized “village and tribe” organization. I see no value in getting voting stations setup in remote providences there. The populations in those providences aren’t going to be ruled by the capital. If anything, I think such an early focus on democracy instead of a focus on policing and rule of law makes a mockery out of what we should be trying to accomplish in Afghanistan.

That mockery is what makes me sad to hear about our Marines going out and risking life and limb – doing what they do best – for such a meager reward.

Back in Boston

Thirteen days until Cindy & I head to Moab!

I flew back to Boston today to start working again. It’s certainly great to be back in town so I can see Cindy as well as earning some money. The flight was uneventful, but the landing was awkward. Not that most people would notice, but growing up with a pilot in the family and flying a lot for work, it was obvious. There must have been a cross wind at the last second, because the pilot ended up putting one wheel down and then having to rock the wings to get the other wheel down. She handled it very smoothly, but it was noticeable if you were paying attention.

After I got my luggage, I went to the National Rental Car lot and was greeted with several empty rows. Ever car in the Executive Level and Emerald Club rows was taken (the rows were about 80% to start with). I found a National employee and she was at least helpful about trying to find me a premium class car since they were out. Unfortunately, all the cool premiums were already gone too. Guess they had a big shortage today for some reason.

Eventually I saw a Toyota 4Runner and told her I’d take it as long as it had a MP3 AUX jack. It did, so I threw my bags in the back, plugged in the iPod, and pulled out. Fortunately, I noticed that it appeared to be in 4-wheel drive before I left the lot. I looked around the dash and found a button that looked like it would turn off 4WD. But of course, hitting it actually put the truck into center differential lockout.

For those of you not 4WD savvy, differential lockout is great for super-crappy conditions. Unfortunately, it makes the car virtually impossible to turn on pavement.

So now I was stuck in the center of the National lot trying to figure out how to get this thing out of 4WD before I got to the exit gate. I finally spotted the 2WD/4WD selector and flipped it to 2WD. Naturally, the transmission wasn’t disengaging 4WD. Figuring it was better to pull out of line than take this thing off the lot and possibly be stuck with a bad transmission, I put it through a squeaking, tire jerking turn as I pulled out of the exit line.

Lucky, playing with the transmission for a few minutes finally got it to pop back into 2WD and I could finally leave the lot.

Next, I ventured off into Arlington MA to drop off my Nikon D200 to have the sensor cleaned. I had tried cleaning it myself a few weeks ago with Eclipse sensor wipes but had instead managed to smear crap all over the sensor. So much for being frugal and doing it myself…

After the drop-off, I headed back to Quincy to check-in to the hotel and pickup Cindy. Her face was still numb from the dentist, so we hung out at the hotel for a little while until she wasn’t dribbling water ever time she tried to drink. Then we decided to try Old Country Buffet in Brockton. Cindy is in love with Golden Corral, so she was hoping to find a look-alike in the area.

Overall, I’d say Old Country Buffet does a pretty good job with their buffet, although both our stomachs were upset later this evening. So not sure if we’ll be back there or not.

We’re already trying to plot out what to do with our time in Boston. So far we’re planning on doing lunch/dinner with some of our friends and seeing Ponyo and probably GI Joe at the movies. Since we have a 4WD SUV this time, I think we’ll probably try to go somewhere off-road, maybe up on Plum Island.

Whatever happens, looking forward to doing it with my baby!

Restaurant Review – Mimosa Asian Fusion Restaurant

CLT and I went to Mimosa last night for a late evening dinner. Eight o’clock on a Sunday night was not a busy time there, so we had the place to ourselves. Arriving, the service was fine, although our waitress forgot about us for a few minutes since we were alone in the restaurant. Other than that lapse, I think the service was friendly and prompt.

Mimosa has gone for a “P. F. Chang’s” style modernist decor, but not really hit the mark. The interior is a mixture of elements that just don’t quite mesh. The booths, tables, and chairs have clean lines and a dark red palette, but aren’t quite edgy enough to match the exposed industrial ceiling and HVAC. There’s three large fish tanks separating the dining space from the bar. But only one of the tanks actually had visible fish, and there wasn’t a real integration of the tanks into the overall decor. The overhead lighting was also a mix of regular light bulbs and compact fluorescents. While I support the use of compact fluorescents from an ecological view point, the management had decide to save a few extra bucks by not getting full-spectrum bulbs. This left us sitting at a table with a faint greenish cast from the light overhead. Greenish color cast is not what you want when ordering sushi!

CLT and I both ordered a sushi roll and a chicken entree. If you’ve eaten sushi, you know that the one thing for which you are absolutely dependent upon the chef is getting a sushi roll cut cleanly so you can pick up pieces with chopsticks. Sushi rolls are delicate creations, and they don’t last long if you have to tug on them to separate the pieces. While the texture and taste was acceptable, my roll wasn’t cut cleanly – blemishing the whole experience.

For the entrees, the taste and presentation were great. Unfortunately, the chicken in both our dishes had a weird spongy texture. I’m not sure what’s going on with the texture of their chicken. This was something I experienced when I ate there a few months ago as well. I decided to change things up and order fried rice instead of white rice this time, which also turned into a disappointment. The fried rice was utterly incapable of sticking together – thus immediately defeating any attempt to eat with chopsticks. CLT’s white rice seemed OK, although I didn’t try any myself to find out. We both decide to pass on dessert and call it a night.

So, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend Mimosa based on their hot entrees – at least with chicken. The sushi was acceptable even if the preparation wasn’t spot on. If I ever do return there, I’ll probably be trying a shrimp dish instead of chicken. Given that some other reviewers seem to think highly of Mimosa, maybe I’ve just caught them on bad nights. Or maybe food in Boston and New York has just spoiled me for restaurants in Winchester. At any rate, your mileage may vary.

Mimosa Fusion Asian Restaurant
202 Grocery Ave
Winchester, VA 22602
(540) 545-8482‎
http://mimosafusion.com/

Addiction

My internet connection seems to be going in and out more than normal tonight, which means writing a blog entry is a bit of a risky enterprise right now. But oh well, here it goes!

This week has been “downtime” for me, since the next contract hasn’t started yet. I’m really a upstanding kinda guy, but I do have a terrible addiction…

Yes, I’m taking about reading. I’ve read four five full length books since returning from New York City on Sunday. I can’t help myself. I’ve started a sixth & seventh as we speak.

In some ways, the Kindle has been a godsend. For starters, it’s a lot cheaper to read books on the Kindle. That’s a good thing when you plow through multiple books a week! But the biggest downside to the Kindle is that it makes feeding my addiction so much easier! Finish a book? No problem, just hop on over to the Kindle Store and get your next read without having to leave your chair (or bed).

It’s amazing I’ve managed to get anything productive done all week!

But fortunately, I have. Not as much as I hoped, but I’ve covered all the really critical bases – got through my mail, deposited checks, sent in tax paperwork, etc. I do still have a big backlog of photos from the Winchester Photo Meet and our trip to New York City. But with Cindy’s help (reminding me that is), I’ll get through those soon enough.

This week has also been weird for me because I’ve suddenly become a dog owner & home owner (I’m house sitting while my folks are in Panama). In the past, I’ve been here when they’re gone, but it’s only for a day or two and I feel no real compulsion to be productive around the house. But with a whole week here, I’ve suddenly found myself thinking things like “That grass looks like it’s gonna need mowed soon” and “Let’s see if we can find something fun to do with the dog today before the sun goes down”.

Overall, it’s been a great week! Pretty much the only downside has been that Cindy isn’t here to share it with me.

I <3 U - Thank God for Technology!

Long distance relationships suck, but I have to admit that with cell phones, text messaging, Twitter, Facebook, TokBox and IM things are a lot better than the first long distance relationship I ever had. When I went to college and was dating my high school sweet heart, phone conversations cost $0.21 per minute, US Mail was the only way to write and we probably only talked three or four times per week.

Now, Cindy and I talk multiple times a day via text and cell phone. We can keep up with each other’s day via Twitter and Facebook. There’s hardly a time or place that we can’t reach out to each other and stay in touch, even when I’m much farther away than I was in college. As humans, we don’t tend to notice incremental change, but stopping to ponder how much communication has changed in 15 years really makes my mind boggle.

And that’s a good thing, because decreasing the cost of communication has all kinds of good effects. But the best effect for me is that I get the chance to find and love a girl like Cindy. 🙂

Dr. Strangecredit

or How I learned to stop worrying and love AMEX

Justin Levy talks about the power of a hand written note in a recent blog post and it reminded me that I wanted to give a kudos to American Express for their handling of my recent credit card dispute. I had recently renewed my subscription to the Clear Registered Traveler service that lets you avoid the long lines at the security checks at major airports. Unfortunately for me and about 100,000 other people, two months after I had paid the yearly renewal fee, Clear announced that they were ceasing operations immediately due to their inability to find sufficient credit.

This, of course, is exactly the scenario that economists were afraid would happen on a pandemic scale during the “credit freeze” last year. Regardless of whether you think the actions of the Federal Reserve & Congress helped or hurt the situation, it’s clear now that we avoided the worst case scenario from that credit freeze, but that doesn’t mean every business was going to make it. Apparently, the business I had just paid $176 to was one of the ones that was failing.

There was a lot of talk online about how Clear had screwed people – Clear made it clear (no pun intended) that they wouldn’t be refunding any payments even if the customer had signed up the day before the announcement.

This is why you should always use a credit card for purchases…

I called American Express and disputed the charge on my card, since I had paid for 12 months of service and only received 2 before Clear had shutdown. The AMEX representative immediately put a hold on the charge while the dispute was researched. A few weeks later, I got a call from AMEX letting me know that they had given me a prorated credit for the 10 months of service I hadn’t received. There would be formal letter in the mail, but I appreciated the phone call and was once again pleased at how well AMEX treats their customers.

When I got home from New York and checked my mail, there was indeed the formal letter from AMEX outlining the resolution of the dispute and the credit to my account. There was also this…

That’s right, the AMEX rep sent a hand written thank you note. A note thanking me for the chance to resolve a dispute. This is what sets AMEX apart from any other credit card company I’ve dealt with. Anyone who wants to see what a customer centric business is like should get an AMEX card and start using it!

Tired!

Just a quick update – this past week I took the Ninja Baby, the two Nikon DSLRs and a burning desire for fun to celebrate Ninja Baby’s birthday in Manhattan. After taking several memory cards worth of photos, touring everything we could think of between 34th Street and 80th Street, and discovering the joys of Alaskan King Crab Scampi, I’ve returned to VA. Ninja Baby is already fashioning a blog post & photo summary of “Day 1” from the trip, while ridiculing me with lines like “I guess I’ll get to see your photos from the trip sometime next summer.”

Ok, I don’t always get photos posted promptly. But I’m making a promise to get them done this time! Can’t let my Ninja Baby down after all the hard work showing her a good time in New York City! 😀