Vele discusses investing in Macedonia, technology, digital photography, business and international affairs

Month: June 2005

Welcome to Redwood City, CA

We knocked out another 560mi to reach the Bay Area. This was actually quite a pleasant drive, except for the usual disturbances on the 405 just south of the LAX. I haven’t lived in LA since 1994 and I have forgotten how freakin’ busy and congested the 405 gets. We also drove on the toll route 74 that bypasses Laguna Niguel on the 405. As a proud owner of EZPASS from the east coast I was jealous of the FastTrak system employed on this highway: you speed at 45 to 55mph and automatically pay $0.75 less in toll. If you don’t have a FastTrak, you get off to the side, stop completely and pay to a very friendly attendant: also a pleasant respite from the NJ Turnpike. On the east coast, you have to pretty much slow down to 15mph with an EZPASS to pay the tolls.

Our halfway stopover was in Los Olivos at the Sideways-famed Los Olivos Cafe. Our attempts to arrive for the lunch menu before 3pm were destroyed by LA traffic on the 405 and around Santa Barbara which cost us 90 minutes in delays. Nontheless, we sampled the afternoon menu of appetizers, salads and pizzas with a glass of Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir. The Pinot Noir, a 2002 Laetitia brand made just 20-40mi north on 101 around Arroyo Grande, was excellent. The Italian Grigio was good as well. The appetizers that we had were delicious, one was pastry with almonds on top and sweet sauce filled with brie cheese, and mine was a shredded phylo pasta filled with goat cheese in tomato sauce. Time Out.

The latter was basically a Macedonian burek with cheese, except its phylo dough was shreaded in little strings and baked. Tossed in a tomato sauce with a hint of feta shreds on top — Macedonian-Italian appetizer: delicious Cafe Crostada. I recommend it!

Here’s the bad about the place. While it’s a nice, friendly town, it’s being overrun by over-eager tourists who want to recreate the Sideways allure. In fact, my wife observed the funniest thing: 2 out of town women were visibly upset with the owner of the cafe because he didn’t have a particular white wine for tasting and the women wouldn’t be able to tell their friends that they tasted this particular wine at Los Olivos Cafe. Funny and sad at the same time. We prefer to visit new places and find ways to make the enjoyments more personal and specific to our tastes, without an overwhelming desire to recreate every tourist cliche.

The Cafe in particular had premium prices on every wine on its famed wall. I took a quick glance at a few known local and foreign brands and their prices were all above $20 a bottle, even for foreign wines that I was able to get in Philly for well under $15. The ridiculousness of the prices was visible on a few framed photographs of the wine making experience. The 5×7 framed photos were listed at $95, while a completely unspectacular large photo of grapes was listed at $450. I have seen many beautiful photographs at galleries in NYC and Philadelphia with prices well above $100. The distinction of beautiful photographs is key because Los Olivos Cafe had the most boring photographs one could imagine of grapes and wine pickers. Why even bother to list prices for such dull photographs except for the hope that a poor out of town sucker would pay the price? Completely dishonest.

Outside of that, I recommend a visit to the region. The best and most scenic drive is the triangle on 101, 154 and 264 to see the towns of Solvang, Buellton and Los Olivos and then continuing on 101 north to Arroyo Grande to see the vinyards. The 101 North all the way to Monterrey is perhaps one of the most scenic routes in the US that I have seen so far and ranks there with PCH 1 on the California Coast, I-70 across the Rocky Mountains and Utah, Routes 191, 24, 12 and 9 in Utah across all its National Parks.

Blowing my cover: Lindsay Moran as an asshole CIA agent in Macedonia

On my recent trip to Macedonia, I read this book. I wish I could say that’s it’s a fun entertaining, yet poignant book about the life of a CIA case office. The truth is it sucks so badly that I took the effort of coming up with more appropriate titles, perhaps you can help me here:

Blowing my cover: my life as an incompetent CIA spook
Misadventures in writing
My life as an un-intelligent spy wannabe
Blowing air as a writer wannabe
Misadventures in sexual frustration while pretending to do intelligence work without the intelligence
Lindsey Moran is an Asshole

Being generously respectful to Moran, I think the last title is the most appropriate for this book, and here’s why. Instead of advising people to avoid this book because it’s awful — it’s true — I’ll outline why this book is a piece of crap and correct some blatant factual wrongs that a Harvard educated sexually frustrated spy wannabe wrote about while trying to build her new career in journalism.

Firstly, this book is interesting only because it is one of a few written by former CIA agents and covers some of the training aspects. It’s meagerly amusing, with so-so writing skills (I’m convinced that James, Lindsey’s husband and her love interest in the book, was on the rebound when he told her to write a book). How could he have known?

Instead of a laundry list of what’s wrongs in this book, I’ll focus only on the grossest mistakes and factual errors:

Never, never, ever call a Macedonian a Slav. Just like you wouldn’t call a Russian, Serbian, Bulgarian, Ukrainian, etc. a Slav, you should never call a Macedonian a Slav. Slavs are practically all the people of Eastern and Southern Europe with the exclusions of a few countries and the other minorities. But especially for a Macedonian, Slav is a fighting word and I guarantee you’d end up with a couple of black eyes. For calling me a Slav, Lindsey, here is a good old Fuck you too.

Anyone 5 minutes in Macedonia will quickly learn the difference along with a polite lecture. You are allowed only one such mistake if you are a newborn. After reading this, you have no quotas on the use of this term. For a CIA agent to continually use this term after spending 2-3 years in Macedonia shows not only lack of intelligence to absorb one of the most critical issues for the host country and its people, it also shows sheer incompetence.

Using Slav to describe Macedonians is like using n****r-word to describe African Americans. Use of the n-word, especially by non-black people, conveys a time of slavery and denigrates the centuries long struggle by black people for freedom and civil rights. Similarly, the Slav word denigrates Macedonian identity and the Macedonians’ centuries long struggle for independence from assimilations and denials by the neighboring countries.

Macedonia is Macedonia and not FYROM. Morons and Moran use the greek-derived derogatory FYROM frequently, which shows again poor listening skills and incompetence. US corrected the mistake of the temporary name last fall when Pres. Bush recognized Macedonia by its rightful name, for Moran and for the publishers to allow this after the fact, it is highly offensive and insults the intelligence of many people who know better and not just Macedonians. Another Fuck you, too!

Bulgarian and Macedonian are different languages. American and British English are dialects because they both are ENGLISH! A Bulgarian and Macedonian can speak their languages and have a perfectly normal conversation because they’ll understand anywhere between 60% and 95% of the words and meanings of the sentences. But, that doesn’t make the languages the same. Try telling a Serb or a Croat that their languages are Serbo-Croatian and really dialects, or tell someone that Russian and Ukrainian are dialects. I foresee a couple of black eyes in your future.

The closeness of the languages may be ok for casual conversation among friends or people on the street, but it’s unacceptable for a government official much less the presidents of Bulgaria and Macedonia without a proper interpreter because words and phrases convey specific meanings which are critical in diplomacy, something that should be plainly obvious to a CIA agent under the cover of a diplomat. While I can excuse this mistake once for a casual observer, I have no excuse for a CIA agent stationed in Macedonia for over 2 years and traveling to Bulgaria frequently. Another lack of knowledge acquisition and processing skills on the part of Lindsey Moran. It also shows uncanny lack of curiosity to learn — bad trait for a CIA officer.

Pretension to know a language and make mistakes while making cultural value judgments is inexcusable. She makes fun of a Macedonian bus company’s name “Nedezhda” because it sounds ironically as Hope. That’s plain wrong. In Macedonian “nadezh” is hope, Nadezhda or Nedezhda is a female name, more common in Eastern Macedonia. Furthermore, I’ve been to Sofia a number of times and while it’s a larger city, only slightly prettier than Skopje, it is in no way like Paris compared to Skopje. Moran wouldn’t know Paris if it bit her in the proverbial behind. Moran’s disdain for Macedonia is blatantly displayed through pettiness and useless information which only displays the shallowness of her own character.

What we find throughout the book is her boredom in Macedonia peppered with her constant need for sexual companionship leading one to conclude that Macedonia is bearing the brunt of Lindsey’s sexual frustration. Maybe Macedonians simply didn’t want to sleep with you, give it up and move on. Or maybe Lindsey is just looking for affirmation of herself in Bulgarian men. Whatever the reason, God made you that way and not Macedonia.

With so many strikes against her in this book one wonders what’s left of her when you strip her unabashed favoritism for the Albanian terrorists and the Bulgarian guys and her biased, disdainful view of Macedonia and Macedonians. A Harvard educated person graduating as a promising CIA case officer should have some capacity to observe the environment, listen well, accumulate and process information to obtain intelligence and knowledge. I’d expect it at the least from a Harvard person, but all the more from a CIA officer. Instead, we find her lacking in basic knowledge about her host country, the people of the country, its pressing and fundamental issues (identity and threats from outside), what makes people tick and dislike the Americans’ favoritism of the Albanian terrorists, and how to use the weaknesses of people to establish contacts and gain intelligence.

I define the word asshole as intelligent people who do mean, spiteful things just to hurt someone, fully aware of it knowing that with little effort they can correct themselves and do something good. For example, a guy who double parks a car next to an empty parking spot is an asshole. A person who drives on the shoulder during traffic jams just to cut in line is an asshole. For if you are unaware that you are doing something so blatantly bad, evil and spiteful, then you must be mentally retarded and you are excused, hence, you are not an asshole. Thus, the only explanation for why this book is such crap is that Lindsey Moran is an asshole.

There are many more boring escapades in her book that are too many to enumerate. Her writing is boring and unspectacular, much like a dumbed-down John Grisham novel. Her character comes through as cynical, spiteful, lacking in knowledge, arrogant, and quite shallow. She shows incompetence and lack of intelligence. Frankly, we need less people like that in the CIA today. I sincerely hope that today’s CIA officers use their humility, intelligence and understanding to learn from their environment and obtain the information to protect this country. For if she was the promise of the agency back then, we can see how easily the CIA was left not only with no intelligence but often with bad intelligence that’s paid for to useless “agents” out of taxpayer dollars and ultimately with the lives of Americans.

As an entrance exam to Lindsey’s “future” career in journalism, this book should give her failing marks. First, shame on editors who accept another “journalist” who eloquently makes up facts and distortions about their subjects. That hopefully should make the NY Times out of the question. Frankly, how much of this crap can we believe when she can’t recall some of the most important facts?

If she does end up as a journalist, I must say that I’ll be amazed at the enormous generosity of editors and journalists to accept someone like Moran. At least she won’t be in the CIA.

Lindsay Moran, good riddance!

Hello San Diego!

New York City to San Diego,
3100 miles,
500+ photographs,
13+ Red Bulls (diet too),
12 states,
11 suitcases,
5 days,
4 National Parks,
3 Fairfield Inns,
2 people,
1 Mercedes ML 500 == We Made It Coast to Coast, yippy

While we wish we could stay here, we have about 1200mi left to go to Seattle.
The best part: Visiting the remarkable beauty of Utah’s National Parks (Arches, Capitol Reef, Bryce, Grand Staircase-Escalante and Zion), winning about $100 on blackjack in Vegas, and having amazing fun.

I have many observations to discuss, from road etiquette and highways to the beauties of Utah. More will follow shortly.

Hello Indiana!

11:30 hours at 770mi to Hammond, Indiana…flat and interesting country-side through Ohio and Indiana, mountain ranges in Pennsylvania, and painful right buttocks…

Should we do 1030mi to Denver tomorrow in 15 hours? Could we?

Cross-Country drive to Seattle

After 4 weeks overseas we are finally ready to commence our cross-country drive to Seattle. Our departure point is The Hampton’s Inn — a brand new hotel in Harrison, NJ. This hotel is so new you can smell the freshness in the bed sheets and we all know how often bed sheets are washed in standard hotels.

Destination today: Chicago or rather Hammond, Indiana, a 756 mi ride over I-80.

I’m just catching my breath over the past month or so. Graduating from Wharton, visiting Macedonia for the first time in 6 years, spending a couple of nights in Manhattan for the first time since my last job 9 years ago. So many memories and yet so much excitement to begin a new life on the west coast working for a tech company.

Our cross-country drive will go the long route: NYC to Denver, Utah to see Arches, Bryce, Grand Canyon, Grand Staircase Escalante, Capitol Reef, possibly Zion and Antelope Canyon; then onto Mohave Desert via Vegas to San Diego for a quick rest, rush to SF for july 4th weekend and then speed into Seattle by the 7th or 8th of July! About 4500 miles of Interstate in a Mercedes ML 500 and Absolutely No CO2 emissions, thanks to my TerraPass.

Occassionally, I’ll try to post experiences and some comments from my trip. The next one that will follow will be about a book a read in Macedonia.

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