Wednesday, July 4, 2012


What else can you say, a helicopter made impossibly more fantastic.  


Stewart spent the past weekend in New York City, as part of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) Military Advisory Council.  (if you don't know what SLDN is/does, click here). 

He took this photo of the Stonewall Inn, site of the Stonewall Riots and arguably one of the most important moments in the gay rights struggle.  

Water Pump

I suspect that many people have a love-hate relationship with their BMWs, the love part being the German engineering that makes it such a great car to drive, and the hate part being the German engineering that makes it breathtakingly expensive to repair.  

Take for example the water pump that inexplicably failed while doing 80 on I-15 on my way to the high desert on Sunday. Sensing that I was in the worst possible position in the far left lane of a five lane highway with no shoulder, the pump quits, the non-circulating coolant overheated, and spewed out the relief valve, and then the engine smoothly rolled back to a permanent idle setting after overtemping.  Good on the Germans, the engine saved itself, but the water pump rests deep within the cavernous engine well, because it never fails why would anyone need access to it, and 5 hours and fifteen hundred bucks later, it was replaced.  


Cousin (once removed) Owen Hoy, at the beach in Laguna, dressed up for the family's holiday photo.  Post-Beiber haircut, stylish jacket and some very good genes.  Should be in a boy band some day. 

(Stephen's Aunt is Linda, Linda's daughter is Shannon (Stephen's Cousin), and Owen is her son, if you care to follow all that). 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Why Don't We Get Drunk

The United States laws governing alcohol sales is a sad patchwork of antiquated policies and ridiculous restrictions often based on the flawed religious reasoning of the Prohibition days.  As inconceivable as it is in 2012, many states still dictate when and how a legal adult may procure alcohol, and how much at a time.

But as always seems to be the case, the Middle East still trumps us in religious whacknuttery, as my friend Elizabeth, who is working as a helicopter pilot in the UAE, describes:

Something to consider the next time you pop into your local grocery store for your alcohol of choice…

Drinking alcohol in the UAE is a regular practice among expats. One may call it a social indulgence; another may call it a survival tool. The government calls it an activity that must be tracked and taxed. Essentially, it’s an easy way to squeeze money from infidels in a land that does not collect income tax. For the first 2 years we lived here we skated the system by having a friend do booze runs for us. We would get a case of beer here and there, and when we wanted an over-priced glass of wine we would just go to a licensed restaurant (which is a whole different topic). Then we started hearing horror stories of sting operations where expats were being picked off from bars and carted off to jail for not being licensed. Here’s the thing; if you visit this country with a 30-day tourist visa you are exempt from obtaining a license. You are free to imbibe in hotel-restaurants, but you may not buy from the 2-3 liquor stores that supply residents with take-home alcohol. If you have a resident visa, you must be legally licensed (procedure to follow) or else you subject yourself to possible jail time and a hefty fine. As a quick example of how f*cked the system is, there was a story in the paper recently of a British woman who charged an Emirati of sexual assault (she got wasted at a bar and found herself in his bed the following morning). The authorities then turned around and charged HER for drinking without a license. So there you go. Having a license is a big deal.

Every year the license must be renewed. We got our first license from the Abu Dhabi police department last year (relatively simple process), but the procedure has since changed. The first step in the process is to obtain a salary certificate from your employer, because the amount of alcohol you can buy is dependent on your monthly income. Our company fully understands that most of their employees drink (we are in the aviation business, after all) and has prepared directions to the new facility for licensing in Abu Dhabi. Brief tangent…

There are no street addresses in this country. Most streets have 2-3 names, and locals generally know the street names (Kaleej Al Arabi, Al Salam, etc) while expats know the numbers (2 street, 4 street, etc). This becomes a problem when I, an expat, ask a local for directions. If it is a business I am looking for (that I have never been to) I will usually call ahead of time and just ask them to email me a map. Likewise, business cards usually have graphic maps in lieu of addresses. So, back to our HR department preparing directions. Here’s an excerpt;

“On 15th street turn right at a shop called technical scissors. Then take 1st left. Travel up this street and you will see a cafe called Donner café on your left and Abu Dhabi Media Company on your right. Try and park anywhere here. To find the building, walk past Donner café keeping the café on your left side and go to the end of the block. Turn left into a square, and the licensing building is the last building on the right in this square. The office is situated in a building that is NOT signposted”. I kid you not; the office that processes liquor licenses for several hundred THOUSAND expats does not have a sign identifying it as such. So, armed with both the descriptive directions and the GPS coordinates (that a forward-thinking pilot obtained) we set off to find this elusive office. We brought with us the salary certificate from HR, our original passport/visa with a copy, and some passport photos. The stars and planets aligned as we found the general vicinity of the office on our first try. The actual office location was obtained after walking around and asking some Emirates in uniforms where to go. 

After beating all odds and actually finding the office, you then must pick up an application. This application cannot be filled in on site with a pen (too easy/logical); it must be typed in both English and Arabic with the information from your letter, passport and visa. Of course, there is nobody in the office to perform this service (again, too easy/logical), so you must take the application to a “typing center” that is offsite. Fortunately, we found such a center 3 buildings away in a small office space that provides passport photos and photocopies. We hand over all of our documentation and 30 dirhams ($8) and 7 minutes later we have our typed applications. Then, it’s back to the licensing office. We hand over documentation, photos, typed applications, and 400 dirhams ($109). The man behind the desk scribbles out a receipt and tells us to come back tomorrow to pick up the license. We explain that we will be busy at work and he says that I can come back tomorrow and pick both of them up. Again, we explain that I am, in fact, gainfully employed and am unavailable to return for several days. “Hallas”, he answers, “No problem to return next week”. So next week we will return with the receipt and pick up a piece of paper that gives us another year of peace of mind as we indulge in over-priced booze. Cheap insurance in our minds. Ironically, going through this process will drive one to drink…

Sunday, February 26, 2012


The Victory Fund is a national grassroots fundraising organization for the GLBT community.  It is one of the leanest groups of its kind (93% of donations go to the selected candidates), and the most successful:  over 70% of supported candidates go on to win their elections.  

Stewart and I went to their brunch fundraiser today, and listened to the NY City councilmember who was instrumental in getting marriage equality passed in her state, an amazing story.  

For more info:

Monday, January 16, 2012

2012 Hiking Trip #1

We embarked on our first camping trip in quite awhile, armed with new backpacks, sleeping bags, tent, and iso-butane stove.  Spent the night at the Paso Picacho campground last night, then hiked Stonewall Mountain this morning.  Lessons learned: the redneck proletariat tend to frequent campgrounds on holiday weekends, not a great time to go unless you enjoy listening to twenty-something high school graduates exercising their abbreviated language and social skills while downing six packs of Coors Light and listening to sappy country music.  Also, read the instructions on the freeze dried food package prior to the trip, lest you find yourself without the appropriate cookware and be unable to cook what's inside.  But the hike was great, and the views incredible, even while rain clouds drifted in and out of the area.