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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

 

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

Melania Shares Our Pain

blouse

Poor Melania Trump. All she wanted was to marry a millionaire and settle down to an untroubled existence in a gold-leafed penthouse. Once she’d produced the requisite heir—the double-barreled Barron, whose exhaustion on election night mirrored the country’s—she’d fulfilled her part of the marital contract.  Post-Barron, Melania’s sole task was organizing the occasional party at Mar-A-Lago and getting into the society pages with enough frequency to assuage her husband’s ego. Life was supposed to be easy, a couture bubble that insulated her from all unpleasantness: a reward of sorts for posing artfully nude in “fashion” photos that still circulate on the internet. Inconvenient thing, the internet, as Mel’s husband has discovered. His tweets from four years ago urged people to protest the Obama re-election as a “travesty.”  The current protests, against his own victory, he tweets as “unfair.” Remember, Melania, nothing ever dies on the internet.

Dear Melania, when you visited the White House last week, did you mean to wear an outfit that seemed so funereal? It is truly a gracious first-lady-in-waiting who chooses her ensemble to reflect the mood of more than half the country; I thank you on their behalf. Or perhaps you’re mourning the loss of your wealthy anonymity, those halcyon days when you could zip off to fashion shows or long lunches or – well, I am not exactly sure what you’ve been doing for the last eleven years, but whatever it was, I’m afraid those days are over.

I’m sure you’re going to do fine as First Lady, Melania. The whirling panic that many of us saw in your eyes on election night and then when you visited Michelle Obama in the White House was probably just a momentary thing. I know that people are pressing you with questions about “issues” and “security” and “decisions,” but surely you will appoint people whose job it is to wrangle with such things, while you determine the right outfits for the Inauguration. Two small pieces of advice, if I may: I’d avoid a pussy-bow blouse for the inauguration ceremony. And you might want to practice a slightly different photo-op look. I’m not sure that “smoldering cat-eye pout” is quite what people expect for FLOTUS face. But hey, you can work that out with your transition team.

I know it’s been a rough ride, Mel, from that first escalator descent to lobby of the Trump Tower Mall, where The Donald declared himself a candidate for the Presidency.  That’s why you’ve insisted that you and Donny are just plain folks, never mind that 125-room residence in Florida or the triplex apartment on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. You keep telling us you’re just a regular gal, content to be a full-time mother to The Bar(r)on.

Yes, there are some women who complain that they’d like to follow in your Laboutin footsteps and be stay-at-home-moms, but they can’t afford not to work. They shouldn’t worry, right? I know that you and Donny feel their pain. You’re going to fix that situation straightaway with a really big plan, a super plan. Any day now, a huge plan is going to be announced. Laboutins for everyone, that’s for sure.

On the other hand, maybe Melania doesn’t need our compassion. As she told Anderson Cooper last month on CNN, she’s tough. She doesn’t care that people might compare her to the outgoing First Lady, who did things like graduate from Harvard Law School and then juggle a full-time career with full-time parenting, without a single pair of Laboutins to her name. Melania is just fine with her unfinished university degree and her work as a catalog model, and her desire to stop cyberbullying.

In fact, the cyberbullying and the pussy-bow makes me wonder if this FLOTUS reluctantus doesn’t have a sneaky little sense of humor, a Chanel-scented sense of irony: both bow and bullying highlight some egregious mistakes made by The Donald.

Good luck, Melania. FLOTUS is a tough job, and frequently a thankless one. Look at it this way: no matter how bad it gets, you can plan on returning to your Manhattan penthouse in about four years.

 

photo credit

 

 

 

 

Continue Reading · on November 18, 2016 in Feminism, Gender, Politics

At Home (or not) In the World

In July 2004, when I was about five thousand weeks pregnant, I told my midwife that I was about to fly to Northern Michigan for summer vacation. She looked at me and shook her head at my delusional self. Slowly, as if to a not-too-bright-child, she explained that after one preemie and one miscarriage, there was no way in hell that my high-risk belly was going on an airplane ride (followed by a six-hour car ride).  “Stay close to home,” she said. “Really close.”

Super-pregnant and just a tad emotional, I waddled through the steamy stinky streets of New York wondering how I was going to survive until I birthed this small elephant inside me. A friend suggested a nearby escape hatch: Long Beach Island, in New Jersey. “Down the shore,” to be exact.

My response was something along the lines of “euuuuwww, New Jersey?”  But the twin engines of time (less than a two hour drive) and money (nowhere near as much as it would cost to spend even an hour in the Hamptons) made LBI seem like a reasonable thing to do, a friend had a brother-in-law with a house for rent, and before you could say Snooki, there we were, on the shores of LBI.

LBI Beach

LBI Beach

Reader? I loved it. Loved its flipflop-and-shorts sensibility, loved its not-Hamptons aesthetic, loved the twisted beach pines and loved the old lighthouse at the norther tip.

We’ve been coming back ever since, so much so that the baby who was born shortly after our vacation ended, now considers LBI to be “our family place.” And even though we don’t own a place down here, we’ve been lucky enough to rent the same house now for a bunch of years in a row; it’s an anchor point in our summer and as much as I would like to do more exploring of the US itself, every summer, when I crest the dune for the first time I think, “nah, why go anywhere else?”

Every four years, however, we have to turn a blind eye to the politics of the place. Last year I saw a “Coulter/Palin 2016” bumper sticker, and it was clearly aspirational, not ironic. This year… Trump.

We’ve been keeping count and our utterly unscientific poll shows Trump leading Hilary by a slight margin. That’s what I wrote about in last week’s National: the two visions of the world that are at stake in this year’s election. I love LBI … but I want HRC’s cosmopolitan vision to carry the day.

Continue Reading · on August 6, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, Children, expat, family, Politics

The Violence Is Always Now

Last week I wrote an article for The National about the newly ironic question of “where do you feel safe?” That’s the second question people ask when I tell them where I live, as if Abu Dhabi is some terrifying city “over there.”  But this question in the context of America’s gun insanity, now has to stand on its head.

I was in a movie theater yesterday, watching Ghostbusters (yay, women are funny! and smart! and don’t need a boyfriend to be successful! IMAGINE THAT), and herd of loud teenagers walked in: big kids, unlaced sneakers, yelling and teasing each other.  There was some kerfuffle over who was sitting where, and you know what went through my mind?  “Oh, shit, I hope no one has a gun.”

Yep. Sitting in a movie theater on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, at 11AM, with my kids and father-in-law, I thought for a split second that maybe we were all going to become statistics.

Ask me again where I feel safe.

And then, the day my column came out, Nice. With the additional irony that when you write the name of the city, it looks like, you know, nice.

Another tragedy–what an empty word–another instance of ideology trumping respect for human life (and god, it’s awful to have to use the word “trump.” We are going to need some synonyms, stat).  More bombs, more death, more loss. Endless loss.

It’s an entire summer of loss, of memorials and funerals and devastation.

The violence seems never to recede, only to accrue; it billows outward, covering everything.

It’s a sunny day in New York City right now, but somehow the light seems very far away.

prayer flags in Bhutan

prayer flags in Bhutan


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Continue Reading · on July 16, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, Politics, religion, The National, UAE

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