Happy … Holiday?

As someone who has now lived outside the United States for almost eight years, I’ve (almost) gotten used to living with a different holiday calendar. The UAE just celebrated the Prophet’s Birthday, for instance, but Veteran’s Day, Columbus Day, and President’s Day? Pretty much non-starters here. The UAE has the additional wrinkle of operating its holidays on a lunar calendar (with the exception of National Day), and that means that holidays drift along the year: the Prophet’s Birthday won’t be on the 18th of November next year, for example.

The US is gearing up for Thanksgiving tomorrow and while the stores here have tried to stock up on “American” delicacies, it’s never easy — which grocery store has pumpkin pie filling, where can you find a turkey, what about cranberries? Regardless of the meal, however, it’s still just Thursday, here. No big deal.

Abu Dhabi has, however, adopted one of the US holidays as its own, however: Black Friday.

What’s that you say? You didn’t know that Black Friday was an official holiday? You thought it was just that day after Thanksgiving when people go Christmas shopping rather than sloth around and continue to digest?

Nope. It’s an official holiday. Google tells me so: Capitalism wins again.

 

Continue Reading · on November 21, 2018 in Abu Dhabi, NaBloPoMo, shopping

finishing touches

Older Son sent in his early decision university application the other day; the application to the universities in the UK went in a few weeks ago. There are more applications in the offing, and Husband has racked up any number of marriage points by filling out the nightmare that is FAFSA, and so as they say, shit is getting real. (They also say that marriages shouldn’t be about keeping score, but anyone who has been married for any length of time knows that’s absurd. It’s all about keeping score. Filling out FAFSA puts Husband ahead for at least the next few weeks.)

I am aware that I’m touching Older Son more than I used to; I walk past him and touch his shoulder, his back, his head. It is, I realize, a literalization of how I’m feeling: I’m trying to put my finishing touches on him before he leaves.  He turns 18 later this month and while I know I should be proud of the young man he’s becoming, I am want so badly for him, and his younger brother, to still be the tiny dewy-cheeked, pudgy-footed toddlers for whom I was the entire universe. I watch both boys with eyes that are clouded with nostalgia and a sense of loss. Is that inevitable? When I’m doddering in my dotage and unable to cut my own food, will I still look at them and see the babies they were?  (Or Kit Fisto Princess Star Wars Jedi, as the case may be): Ghosts. I think that aging means learning to live with ghosts, even of those who are still very much with us in the world.

Continue Reading · on November 4, 2018 in aging

In which i get my feet wet

The first time I did NaBloPoMo was the first time we visited Abu Dhabi, in November 2010. We’d told our kids—who at the time seemed so grown up but now, looking back, seem way too young for us to have hauled them around the world—that we were going “just for vacation” and to “see where Daddy had been working.” We didn’t tell them that plans were already afoot for a move the following year.

And now, eight years later, what had been our year-long Big Adventure is just our life; the ten year old is leaving for college next year, the jolly first-grader is now a taciturn 9th grade Marxist.

There seems not to be an official National Blog Posting Month any more, but I’m in need of the exercise, so I’m dipping my feet into the waters of this November challenge to see what happens. And as if to remind me of my first NaBloPoMo, you know what arrived in the mail the other day from my sister in New Jersey? Flat fucking Stanley. On that first trip to Abu Dhabi, we’d not only had the joy of bringing the stuffed crocodile that belonged to Younger Son’s first grade class but also his Flat Stanley. Every outing on that trip meant remembering the crocodile and the paper doll.

Here’s the deal with Flat Stanley: it started as a story, but now kids mail their own Stanley to friends or relatives so that Stan can have adventures that get written up in a little booklet and returned to the kid, who shares the story with her class.  I’m the farthest flung relative, so this Stanley is my second hosting gig. I always feel like this entire enterprise could be kind of a bummer for any kid who doesn’t have a way to get Stanley to somewhere far from home.

And so we’re taking Stanley out: he’s been to the grocery store, thus far, for some portraits near the honey from Yemen and the olive oil from Palestine; he’s going to the beach tomorrow. Not sure if I can arrange a camel sighting, but I will take Stanley to the Mary Mother of Jesus Mosque, which was renamed two years ago, and sits on the same street as St. George Episcopal church, the Evangelical Christian Church, and a few kilometers from the Mormon temple. I will not be bringing Stanley to Ladies Night at my favorite restaurant, where the pink wine is always 50% off.

Welcome to Abu Dhabi, Stan; and hello world of NaBloPoMo. It’s nice to see you all again.

Continue Reading · on November 4, 2018 in Abu Dhab, Children

Traveling with Toddlers

The first time I traveled from the US overseas with a four-year old, I packed cans of soup.

Yes, soup.

That’s what he ate. He was three, wildly underweight for his age, and he was my first kid. I happily paid the baggage surcharge in exchange for knowing that I’d be able to feed my child. (Second child had to more or less fend for himself, but that’s another story.)

Yes, my bag was ridiculously heavy (although it was lighter on the return), and yes, I realized after we arrived in London that Campbell’s chicken-noodle soup is available in most major grocery stores.

And yes, the toddler grew out of it.

But apparently, TrumpyTrump hasn’t. Check this story from The Guardian about Trump’s travel plans for his “big foreign trip,” which include making sure that steak-and-ketchup are served at each formal dinner.

When we went to London, the toddler (mine, not the one that belongs to the United States) also talked about his “big trip” and he carefully packed a little bag to bring on the plane: two Star Wars figures, his blankie, a small beanbag teddy bear, and a glow-stick necklace.

My inflight bag contained sticker books, lollipops, a lift-the-flap counting book, several small “surprises” to unwrap (mostly Hotwheels cars), and assorted crayons and paper.

In this picture of The Big Toddler and his nanny wife, it doesn’t look like Melania is carrying a bag–or even has a pocket (or could even sit down in that skirt, which is about two shades off from the toddlers “tan”).

 

photo from The Guardian

I’m hoping she’s got supplies stashed on the plane: jumbo bottles of ketchup, a few sticker books, perhaps a match-the-foreign-leader-name-to-the-face coloring book, maybe a connect-the-dots map of the world? Otherwise it’s gonna be a long flight–and it’s no fun trying to deal with a toddler’s temper tantrums when you’re 38,000 feet in the air and seven hours from landing.

Bon voyage, kids. Have fun. I’m pretty sure they sell ketchup in Riyadh.

Continue Reading · on May 20, 2017 in Children, expat, Kids, Politics, Travel

Vanity Fair, Elon Musk, AI, and Frankenstein’s (unexpected) Monster

Vanity Fair magazine recently ran a profile of Elon Musk that focused on the ways that Musk is at odds with other tech gurus about the relative merits of artificial intelligence (AI). Musk, who thinks that A.I. is humanity’s biggest threat, is quoted as saying “sometimes what will happen is a scientist will get so engrossed in their work that they don’t really realize the ramifications of what they’re doing.”  Musk doesn’t reference it directly, but his fears about a scientist who gets carried away with his work, with disastrous results, perfectly describe Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Victor Frankenstein’s ambition to “penetrate the recesses of nature” leads him to create a human being, which he thinks will become a new species that will “bless him” as the creator. Victor’s creature, as we all know, does not turn out the way Victor expects, and when the creature comes to life one November evening, Victor flees in horror, leaving his creature defenseless and alone—and outside of Victor’s control. Eventually, after the creature learns to read and think, he confronts Victor and demands that Victor make him a female companion. The creature plans to flee with the female to South America, where they will live on nuts and berries and exist in complete harmony with nature. Victor initially agrees to this plan and then changes his mind, fearful that the female creature “might refuse to comply” with the plan. He destroys the female creature, which sends his first creation into a vengeful rage. The final chapters of the novel focus on the battle between man and creation, each trying to destroy the other.

The novel is about the dangers of ambition, yes, and about not realizing the full ramifications of your actions, but ultimately, “Frankenstein’s monster” is not the problem.

At the heart of the novel is what happens when women are neglected and their experiences denied by male ambition. Frankenstein wants to create life all by himself, without women; he cannot bear the thought that the female creature might not “comply” with what men want her to do; and when the creature kills Frankenstein’s bride on their wedding night, it’s because Frankenstein never thought that the monster would bother with anyone else other than him.

Maureen Dowd, who wrote this article, also interviewed a number of other players in the tech world as a way to map the spectrum of attitudes about AI developments.

Here is the infographic that accompanied the article:

 

Notice anything? It’s like Frankenstein talking to himself: apparently only men have opinions about AI, which I guess explains why Dowd’s article only contains interviews with men. Musk talks about other male entrepreneurs, who then talk about Musk, themselves, and each other. It’s a giant reflecting mirror of men talking about their accomplishments—past, present, and future.

And yet, as Heather Roff pointed out in a recent issue of Foreign Policy, as developments in AI continue, no one seems to be asking key questions: “Are there abuses of power? What is the value happening here? Why are we doing this? Who is subordinate? And who is in charge?” Questions like these are embedded in feminist theories but I’m going to bet that none of the guys on that infographic are very well versed in the writings of Donna Haraway or bell hooks.

The men in Dowd’s article are terrifically accomplished, there’s no doubt, but they (and we) should take a lesson from Mary Shelley and her nineteenth-century nightmare: when you leave women out of the equation(s), the results are disastrous.

 

 

 

Infographic credit

 

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Continue Reading · on April 28, 2017 in Children, Education, Feminism, Gender, Politics, tech life

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