Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Playing with fire

I'm not thrilled that this is happening just a few hundred miles away from my (brand-new!) front door, and I'm not celebrating the loss of life, but I have to say I saw it as good news when I read that an Iranian missile base blew up recently.

An Iranian military compound that blew up earlier this month was extensively damaged, the Institute for Science and International Security said after an analysis of new satellite imagery.

ISIS compared a November 22 image from DigitalGlobe to one from September.

"Some buildings appear to have been completely destroyed. Some of the destruction seen in the image may have also resulted from subsequent controlled demolition of buildings and removal of debris. There do not appear to be many pieces of heavy equipment such as cranes or dump trucks on the site, and a considerable amount of debris is still present," according to the analysis posted on ISIS website.

Senior defense officials told CNN's Barbara Starr that the United States believes the Iranians were mixing volatile fuel for a rocket motor for a large ballistic missile on November 12 when the accident occurred.

If nothing else, this is a sign that technology sanctions really do work. A modern economy with reasonable resources can develop stuff like low-performance aircraft and short-range missiles without too much trouble. But long-range rocketry is a totally different beast.

It took the U.S. years of launchpad explosions and downrange failures before it was able to reliably get stuff into orbit. I hope Iran, which has access to a tiny percentage of the human capital and materiel of a 1950s United States and is choked off from buying many of the parts it needs, continues to be a lot farther away from that goal.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A moving experience

Well, Friends of the Blog, it's been a busy couple of weeks.

Usually I fall off the grid--and by that I mean Read Ink doesn't get updated--when I'm traveling. For about 10 days this month, that was my excuse, as Mrs. Blog and I headed to India for the wedding of two friends. This is the same couple whose nuptials took us to Dallas a few months back, a trip we enjoyed immensely, and not just because it involved huge amounts of barbecue and brisket tacos.

Nom nom nom, y'all.

This was the second time we had been to India, the first being two years ago when I first suggested to Mrs. Blog that she deserved an upgrade from Girlfriend of the Blog. That trip was memorable for a lot of reasons--the Taj Mahal at dawn, climbing through an ancient abandoned city, riding a rickshaw through one of the most crowded markets in the world--and I left so inundated with India that every time I closed my eyes for a few days afterwards, the swirling crowds appeared behind my eyelids. True story.

You would never find Waldo, ever.

This time was a little more sedate. We had a soft landing at one of our favorite hotels anywhere, The Imperial, then took on India from a different angle than our first trip. The sights had been seen, you see. So we focused on food. And, OK, fine, I'll admit it, shopping. The payoff was remarkable. Let me just say that if you ever find yourself in Delhi, go to Hauz Khas market and track down the Gray Garden and Yeti. Thank me later.

But India's real embrace came when we traveled to Siliguri, the bride's hometown, for the wedding. She and her family welcomed us (and several dozen other friends from Abu Dhabi) with a gusto and charm and warmth that you will see in few other parts of the world. They whisked us to our hotel. They ensured that we had delicious, spicy meals waiting whenever we turned around. They treated us like VIPs.

And what a remarkable family, too. The bride's parents, both doctors, have been involved for decades with treating those who society has neglected. We visited a community her father founded for people who had been stigmatized by leprosy--they themselves were healthy but the disease had struck their parents, leaving them outcasts. Through the bride's father's efforts, people who would otherwise have been begging in the streets were learning job skills; their children were attending school just steps from their front doors. That's what having an impact on society is all about. Everywhere around us were people whose lives were better because someone believed in them. It's not the sort of lesson you expect at a wedding. But it was a welcome one.

The wedding, of course, was an explosion of colors, sounds and lights, as Indian weddings are wont to be. It began with a marching band leading the procession through town and it ended with a 2,000-person reception at a water park outside town. There simply aren't enough superlatives to do it justice.

This is where you say, Hey, wait, Gerry--aren't pictures worth 1,000 words? And I reply, Yes, they are, and I haven't gotten them off our camera yet. Settle down. Pictures to come.

Suffice to say we arrived back in the UAE richer in spirit and with suitcases full of well-haggled Indian merchandise. Clothing, mostly. Including leather shoes that actually fit my feet.

But there was a cloud to all this glittering silver.

For reasons that are too boring and frustrating to explain, our apartment in Abu Dhabi went from being company-owned to owned-by-someone-else in a matter of days last month. The people living in the building had more or less six weeks to get out. And the deadline happened to be Friday, just a few days after we returned from India.

Rather than avail ourselves of the frustrating Abu Dhabi rental market (the linked story is old but still remarkably applicable), in which rent is paid for an entire year up front and a one-bedroom place in the good part of town can cost US$30,000, we decided to unload our furniture and move into a serviced apartment.

In a way, this was the perfect week for all of this to happen. Yes, it was scary and stressful to sell all our furniture, pack up and get out in a matter of four days while we both were working full-time. I cannot overstate how little sleep we got and how tired I got of people calling up to offer me one-third of my asking price without even bothering to see what they were buying.

Thanksgiving was Thursday, though, and Thursday was when we packed up and got out. Our Budget Building flat, with paint choices more colorful than probably any other apartment in Tanker Mai, is echoing and empty.

But I am full of thanks. Thankful for Mrs. Blog, who was always there to remind me to breathe when the move hit hardest. Thankful for our friends, who offered help in myriad ways. Thankful for a massive Thanksgiving spread at one of their houses (and for the poker tournament in which we finished in fourth place), and the heaping helpings of fellowship.

And thankful for the relaxing rooftop pool of our new building.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

I always miss the fun stuff

Along with the Chicago Air and Water Show, football and the Kansas City Blues and Jazz Festival, it appears I have missed another major Midwestern event by living abroad.

An earthquake.

According to the Associated Press, there was a 4.7 magnitude temblor early Saturday followed by a late-night 5.6er. It could be felt as far away as Kansas City, and of course across the region no one quite knew what to make of this.

My first earthquake actually happened while living here--we felt the shocks of a massive 7.5-plus magnitude quake in Pakistan. Mrs. Blog, being a California girl, instantly knew why our TV stand was rattling. I thought perhaps our TV was vibrating for some reason. If I had known, I might have looked like this:

"On live TV. Must not show fear."

That was football commentator Kirk Herbstreit, by the way, who happened to be on an ESPN broadcast when the late-night quake hit. And although he didn't immediately say anything about it, you can tell he kinda sorta noticed what was going on.

Anyway, I guess living in the Midwest most of my life and never witnessing a tornado, let alone an earthquake, isn't a bad thing. I lived in Florida for a few years too, and you know what? No hurricanes. I guess it proves the truth of that Chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times."

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Gimme Some Lovin' (without the lovin')

Mrs. Blog and I went to see one of the greatest movies about Chicago ever made: The Blues Brothers. It's getting to be winter here, which means people are emerging from their concrete-and-bad-tile caves to do things outdoors. In this case, it was Cinema by the Sea, which is exactly what it sounds like. It was a nice distraction from frustrating issues with the housing "market" here.

On paper, it's a perfect idea. Great weather? Check. Great movie? Check. Beanbag chair seating? Check. They even threw in some fireworks as a bonus.

But, as Mrs. Blog noted, this would not be Abu Dhabi if everything went as it should. About halfway through the show, for instance, workers set up floodlights illuminating an EXIT HERE banner... and half the crowd.

The thing that got me the most, though, was the censorship. It wouldn't be the Blues Brothers without gratuitous swearing, and sure enough, that was untouched. There are two scenes that involve male-female relations, however. Perhaps 30 seconds, total, of footage. And by relations, I mean kissing.

Yes, the pivotal scene at the end where Carrie Fisher confronts her ex-fiancee, Joliet Jake, starts with him pleading with her and ends with her lying in the mud, with no indication of how Point A got to Point B.

Happily, they left in the part where a Nazi henchman tells Henry Gibson, "I've always loved you" as their red Pinto plummets into a crater in downtown Chicago. And I had forgotten how fun the car chase at the end is; legend has it that Lower Wacker Drive never recovered from all the damage done during the movie's filming.

All in all, a fine way to spend a Tuesday night. If nothing else, it's something you couldn't do in Chicago this time of year.