Friday, July 31, 2009

A sandstorm, as witnessed from my back balcony

It's not really like you see in the movies, with huge walls of sand blowing around and mummies rising from the dead and so on. It's more like fog with a bit of grit to it.

An airborne desert between me and downtown.

Walking to work through this stuff, my main observation is that there is no discernible sand in the air. It's not as though I could just stick my hand out and gather up some grains to, say, make an hourglass with. But it does make you cough a little. There is basically no wind, and visibility is about one block; for reference, in that photo there are 50-story buildings maybe a kilometer away. This can't be good for the paint job on a Lamborghini.

I came to the right place

Remember how I love me some aerospace?

Well, looky here. Abu Dhabi just took some of the pile of cash it has and spent it on investing in a spaceport for Virgin Galactic. That's right. I might soon be able to actually fulfill my lifelong ambition of shooting myself out of Earth's gravity well.

Tourists could soon be travelling into space from Abu Dhabi after the Virgin Group and Aabar signed a deal yesterday that gives the capital exclusive regional rights to host flights.
Aabar Investments, owned by the Abu Dhabi Government, will pay US$280 million (Dh1.03 billion) for a 32 per cent stake in the world’s first commercial spaceline, Virgin Galactic, which values the company at $900m. The deal is still subject to regulatory clearances.

Aabar has also committed $100m to fund a launch station for satellites.

Khadem al Qubaisi, the chairman of Aabar, said: “The partnership not only falls in line with Abu Dhabi’s larger plans [for] technology research and science at a grassroots level, but also complements its aim to be the international tourism capital of the region.”

No, Khadem--it's so much more than that. It complements MY aim of being the first journalist in space. Thanks, guys.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Just when you get kind of used to a place

Old friends from the homeland come and ruin it all by being fun to have around. OK, not really. Wait, I mean really, they were fun: We explored markets and ski resorts and mosques and engaged in the classic Abu Dhabi pastime of catching a cab home as the sun comes up.

But, you know, it's weird. It's like a little slice of your old life--and all the associated fond memories--just materialized. And that is very difficult to put back on an airplane.

Happily, I'll see them again before too long, in cooler climes and a different time zone. Until then, here's to good times and good friends. May the little screens on the seats in front of them function perfectly.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Wednesday is religion day

I can't believe it took me this long to visit the Grand Mosque. I have ridden by it many times--on the way to Dubai, on the way to shoot guns, on the way to drink cocktails. But until today, I hadn't stopped.

I'm glad I did. Unlike the impressive-for-different-reasons mosques I visited in India, this one was filled with elaborate and expensive touches, like expensive marble floors inlaid with other expensive marble; chandeliers weighing several tons hanging like bejeweled jellyfish over a football field's worth of hand-stitched carpeting; arctic air conditioning.

The courtyard does not, as you might expect, fry bare feet.

The white marble was Taj Mahal-esque, although not as graceful and beautiful. Inside, a tour guide talked a little bit about the mosque and a lot about Islam--it was a much an outreach and education effort as it was a "look at this bit of pretty architecture" speech.

All I regret, really, is dressing appropriately. If you show up looking immodest (shorts, T-shirt, etc.), women get an abaya and head scarf and men get a kandoura. I missed my big chance to dress like a native without offending anyone. I guess there's always next Wednesday....

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A story of snow and a yard sale in two parts

Two parts, mostly, because was throwing me some annoying error message in Arabic at home when I tried to upload the whole thing.

The summary is that this is a complete run down the "mountain" of Ski Dubai. We took the long way--i.e. the easier route--to try to stretch the run out. The expert route is narrower, steeper and faster, but not particularly challenging.

Things to watch for in Part One:

-Nick's wife, Fiona, lying on the ground on the little plateau by the hot chocolate chalet
-The Girl Who Couldn't Turn, as we called her, flying by Nick and wiping out spectacularly
-Nick unable to keep from chuckling.

Things to watch for in Part Two:

-The author throwing his hands up as he goes over a lip, trying (and failing) to get airborne
-That's pretty much it

As a bonus, I tracked down a video on YouTube of the water show we witnessed at the foot of the Burj Dubai. I'm not really a fan of Andrea Bocelli or massive wastes of fresh water in a desert, but it's impressive anyway.

About an hour before running into some harried and sweaty reality show participants.

When I'm feeling ambitious, or at least back around my laptop, I'll post some more of the photos from Dubai. It's an interesting place--far more interesting than I was giving it credit for. And unlike Abu Dhabi, which basically exploded from a temporary fishing village into a forest of concrete mid-rises overnight, Dubai has tangible heritage in the form of centuries-old buildings.

What does all of that mean? I haven't quite sorted it out. But you can definitely ski in Dubai.

Monday, July 27, 2009

What do you find in Dubai?

Skis, tall buildings, water shows and mini-bars. Guess which one was the most fun?

OK, OK, it's really not that difficult of a question. Of course going skiing... in the Middle East... in July... is hard to top. Snow in Dubai. I mean, really.

The day began in the afternoon, as they so often do. We headed to Mall of the Emirates (the second-biggest mall in the Emirates--insert ironic comment here), grabbed lunch at my favorite Lebanese fast-food place and hit the slopes.

Wait, wait. No, we didn't hit the slopes. We hit Ski Dubai. And before any slopes were hit, skiied or otherwise, enjoyed, equipment had to be procured. You might think this is a fairly easy step in the experience. But then, you probably don't have size 15US (size 759UK) feet. The conversation with the ski shop guy went a little like this:

What size, please?

Um... I'm not sure in UK sizes. Fifteen US?

SSG stares.

Yeah. You have?

SSG consults a chart on the counter, shrugs, heads back in to his forest of boot racks. A few minutes later, he returns with a pair of boots that would barely fit on my hands, let alone my feet. He leaves me for the other ski shop guy.

ME (to SSG2)
Are these the biggest you have?

SSG2 (shakes head sadly)
No, my friend.

I think I need bigger.

SSG2 heads off into the shoe racks, returns with a bigger pair. These look like they could accommodate my feet if I curled my toes, geisha-style.

Uh... biggest pair?

SSG2 (shakes head even more sadly)
No, no.

I need biggest pair. Really.

The end result is that I got the biggest pair of boots they had... and they still were a little snug. But that was OK, because the shop-issued pants and jacket were a little loose. And after purchasing a hat and gloves, we headed up and escalator and into a winter wonderland.

The top of the first lift. I had my snow legs at this point.

And so we skiied. Oh, how we skiied. The funny thing is, I had a dream the night before about going to this place. And being paranoid about not being able to ski--I was a pretty laid-back blue-black skiier when I was going once or twice a year... but that was years ago. Like eight of them. Anyway, in my dream, I was able to pick up where I left off.

In real life, though... I picked up where I left off! It was an almost-Ramadan miracle.

I and not-wife-of-the-blog Fiona about to head downhill after the first lift.

Friend of the Blog Nick has an amazing video of a complete run down the entire "mountain," complete with a random skiier wiping out, but for now you're going to have to be satisfied with cell phone photos. Here is one of my coffee at the chalet halfway up the slope.

Mmmm... Mocha and man-made snow.

But it wasn't just about the skis. You could allow the staff to thrust you into a giant plastic ball and push you down the hill. If you were into that kind of thing.

This guy lost his helmet.

Afterward, we bought some dates and headed to the tallest building in the world. A half-mile tall, specifically.

Yet another photo that doesn't do it justice. Also, not sideways. Thanks, Nokia.

It was even more surreal and science-fictiony up close. Like a slender finger reaching into space. Made slightly more surreal by a) the Bellagio-style water show in the lake next to it, and b) the Amazing Race participants looking for clues as we left the restaurant where we ate dinner. For real.

Dubai is an interesting place.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

So here I am in Dubai

The sunglasses haven't proved to be as much of a handicap as I thought. This is only partly because we didn't leave for Dubai until 2 p.m. or so, and that is only entirely because we left the Shangri La bars at 3:30 a.m. the night before, but that's another story. (although I think you know the ending)

Dubai has been fascinating so far. It is a fantastically modern city in a lot of ways, although it is poorly laid out (with a gigantic highway running through the middle of widely spaced discrete neighborhoods). The Burj al Arab appears to stretch into space. And then on the other hand, there is the old city around Dubai Creek, which we wandered through this evening. It is a sense-overloading warren of tiny shops and aggressive vendors.

Foreground: Nick's head. Everything else: endless commerce.

A sample conversation from the gold souk:

ME (looking at some silver rings)

You like? This one is good. (hands me a ring that won't even fit on my pinky)

Yes, nice. Too small, though.

The vendor hands me a larger one. It fits, but it has a stone set in it.

What is the stone?

Cubic zirconia. Very nice.

I silently give him points for honesty.

Well, I don't know. I'm just looking around.

300 dirhams for two rings. One for you, one for wife.

ME (gesturing to Friend of the Blog Fiona)
She's not my wife, but--

OK, 200 dirhams.

Good times all around. And the hotel is a bit of a vacation in itself. A balcony overlooks the creek; the pool is warm and the staff brings me mojitos; the cafe serves some great Turkish coffee...

How do you say "rocket fuel" in Arabic?

... and tea sandwiches. The pink puffy things were very tasty.

So, yeah. I am officially on vacation. And tomorrow? Tomorrow I ski.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Crisis in the land of 106-degree sun

This is bad. Very bad. My sunglasses have gone missing.

And worse, I have no idea how it happened. I arrived at work wearing them, took them off to greet a friend in the lobby and, as far as I know, carried them to my desk. And somehow, despite not leaving the newsroom for the next seven hours, I misplaced my eyewear.

On the plus side, I guess I don't have to worry about raccoon tan anymore.

But some Friends of the Blog are arriving tonight from London, and we will be heading to Dubai for the weekend. A guy needs sunglasses in Dubai. Crap.

Well, anyway. I will be showing these London transplants around, and it should be a lot of fun. I have already explored bits of Panama with these two, not to mention some of Chicago's booziest booze joints. UAE skiing will definitely happen. So will trips to the Emirates Palace, various large mosques, beaches and souqs. Outside of buying myself some new sunglasses, what shall I do with them? Open to suggestions here.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Posterizing "posterized"

LeBron James has lost games. He has missed shots, turned the ball over, fouled other players and made bad decisions. So what? Even Ted Williams struck out.

So why is it such a big deal that some random basketball player dunked on him? Such a big deal that James' people apparently tried to seize all the video of the dunk? It's not even that vicious.

Slam meh.

Who is going to put that on a poster? It would be like tacking a picture of a Ford Taurus to your wall.

So let's talk real posterization. To me, that means having the ball bounced off your head or finding yourself face-deep in the dunker's shorts. To wit:

Poor Scottie Reynolds.* **

Or the classic, John Starks dunking on Michael Jordan:

Say hello to my little friend. (actually 6-foot-5)

The point is this: I have no personal opinion on LeBron James in general. I've never met him. I can't dunk on him. But come on, if you're the best in the world, you don't need to pretend that you're bulletproof. Just shake it off, say something about the other guy's sister and hit a three-pointer right in his face. That's what I would do.***

* Carl, be thankful North Carolina didn't make the mix here.
** Foreign friends who don't watch much basketball, this is a great example of a well-designed play.
***if my range didn't max out at about 18 feet.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

We're a long way from home

From the "when civilizations collide" file: Today at the gym, what mid-90s rap act was blasting out of the speakers? Cypress Hill, naturally. I wonder if anyone at the health club bothered to listen closely to the lyrics.

But the real defining moment of weirdness came as I rode the stationary bike 15 kilometers to nowhere. There is a TV set built into the thing, and being a creature of multitasking, I set out to watch some sports while I pedaled. Replayed soccer match... nah. Sailing... maybe. Basketball... ah ha! Yes, some Spanish league was playing.

And holy crap, there were Omar Cook, Robert Archibald, Marcus Haislip and the pride of Manhattan, Kan., Jeremiah Massey. (who Wikipedia says is Macedonian and has been nicknamed "Air Massey." Who knew?)

To sum up, there I was in a gym... in Abu Dhabi... listening to Cypress Hill... and watching former U.S. college stars play Spanish basketball. It's like jet lag of the soul.

It's the little things

You know, sometimes you have one of those days. You sleep too late (my fault), you smell like cigarette smoke (mostly my fault), your hotel plans for a weekend in Dubai fall through (how could a luxury hotel be booked solid in the middle of the summer!).

But then you realize that Etihad Airways is offering direct flights between Abu Dhabi and Chicago starting on Sept. 1. And as a veteran of a 25-hour flight over here, that's one hell of a ray of sunshine.

Now I just need to figure out how to entertain guests in a city as boring as Dubai....

Monday, July 20, 2009

A hot date

Palm trees are everywhere in Abu Dhabi. In parks, along streets, in back yards, on medians. This is slightly illusive, as the island was anything but an oasis 50 years ago, but they provide much-needed shade and are pretty, which counts for a lot in my book. ("Random Observations on Greenery," Gerry Doyle, 2009)

Maybe the best thing about them, though, is that they bear fruit. Dates, specifically. In fact, the government here has a massive program that rewards innovative date-growing techniques, and there is an annual date festival at the Liwa Oasis. Feel free to make a joke here.

So I thought, hey, there is free food growing in the streets.

What's with the random non-palm tree? We may never know.

That is a picture of the parkway across the street from my gym. It seemed like a reasonable place to start, and sure enough, there were plenty of date palms. Most of them were a bit tall for me to reach, though, and because I didn't have a ladder handy, I had to choose my target carefully.

Low-hanging fruit.

I have to say, under most circumstances I would feel a little self-conscious about picking public fruit in, well, public. But I was the only one on the parkway--it being in the middle of the day, when only an idiot would be hanging out in direct sunlight--and at any rate, I don't think anyone would care. They're there for the picking.

Sustenance? Or a horribly bad idea?

So how does this story end? I went home, washed the dates and ate some. They tasted like... dates. And since it has been almost 24 hours now with no horrible afflictions being visited upon me, I think we have to consider this experiment* a success.

*credit to "Karl" for suggesting I try this.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

And so it was that I paid an Indian guy whose name I didn't quite catch to cut most of my hair off and nick my neck with a straight razor

Yes. Lately it has been about a million degrees here (555,538 degrees Celsius), mostly because of obscene humidity. My friend Matt, who taught me that the Scottish invented heat, told me that hot weather makes one's hair grow faster.

It sure does seem that way. More important, I know for a fact that a head covered with curly hair is basically like wearing a stocking cap in the summer. So I had to do something about this before my head spontaneously combusted. Namely, get a haircut.

For whatever reason, barbershops are called "saloons" in this corner of the world. I like the idea, but it would be better if cold beer were involved. Here's where I went:

They let me in even though it was midafternoon and I smelled kind of sweaty.

No one in the place spoke English. But, being the resourceful guy that I am--or maybe just terrified that I would get a buzz cut--I brought a photo of me with short hair. So they sat me down, buckled me in and set to work.

Before. Ignore the pinkness of the camera, please.

Oh, and what fun the work was. He snipped and snipped and examined his creation and snipped some more. Then he shaved me with a straight razor. For some reason, the song "Stuck in the Middle With You" kept playing in my head.

The end result? A cooler noggin, a nicked up neck and, well... this:

After. The ridiculous part in this gent's hair lasted about a block. Stop laughing.

Feeling less hot (and less dorky, having obliterated the part in my hair) but more thirsty, I decided to celebrate at a neighborhood juicery.

They squeeze all kinds of fruits here.

And as I sat and relaxed with my cold cocktail of mango, watermelon and kiwi, the cuts on my neck now safely healed, I couldn't help but smile.

Almost, but not quite, properly tousled.

So now I know. Less hair equals less hot, and Dh25 is a good price for a haircut, shave, beard trim and face massage.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Dear world

I apologize for not telling you sooner that care packages really should stay as far away as possible from the national postal service here. I didn't know.

Instead of spending a long paragraph complaining about Emirates Post, though, I'll put it in terms everyone can understand: too much bureaucracy. (OK, I can't resist. First I was told I would have to pay Dh5,000 in customs. I pointed out that it was a gift--no customs due. Then I was told "maybe Dh200." Then they saw the fury in my eyes and let it go.)

But! There was much care in these care packages. Before:

Lovingly hand-inspected by the UAE's finest.

And after:

Box of Immorality includes Beer Magazine, Esquire, bartending gear, some random thriller novel, great movies and shoes.

This is most excellent. I have stuff for making drinks, stuff to entertain myself with while drinking drinks, and clothes to wear while entertaining myself and drinking.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Other little things you notice

There's the architecture, the food, the weather, the language.

And the stuff you can buy. This actually just occurred to me as I sit here listening to recordings of the radio communications of the Apollo 11 mission. Random? You bet!

But anyway, the thing is, it's hard to find a good pair of cheap headphones. Sure, the cheap part is there. But I would say 90 percent of the headphones you see on the shelves are actually headsets for VOIP. So that's why these Dh10 earphones have a microphone built into the cord. Which then hangs in front of my face. It's annoying.

But at least I can hear Buzz Aldrin clearly.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Allow me to solidify my credentials as a space dork

Those of you who were hanging around the greater Red Bridge area in the mid-80s probably witnessed a few trails of acrid smoke hanging in the air. Maybe saw a skinny blond kid climbing a tree, trying to fish what looked like a small-scale red-and-white parachute out of the branches.

And of course those of you who attended Red Bridge Elementary (Roadrunners, holla!) witnessed, one spring day, the prelude to that aftermath: the launch of a model rocket. Hey, if I couldn't shoot myself into space, I was at least going to build something and launch it into the sky.

But this guy had bigger ideas.

Slightly smaller rocket go whoosh.

I have no idea who this dude is, but he built a 1/10-scale replica of a Saturn V rocket and launched it. One-tenth scale, in this case, means 36.3 feet. By contrast, I think the biggest thing I ever shot off was maybe 36 inches. It's probably just as well; anything remotely life-size, and there's a good chance I would have tried to climb onboard.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I missed the moon landing the first time around

What with not being born and all. But--thank you, Al Gore!--the Internet has provided me a way to relive the moment.

At 9:32 a.m. (not sure of the time zone), 40 years to the minute after the Apollo 11 mission was launched, will go live. July 16, 1969, went a little like this:

Big rocket go whoosh.

And ended... well, we all know how it ended. But that doesn't make it any less spectacular to see the most powerful machine in human history switched on. I'm excited to see how this site, run by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, uses the thousands of hours of archival footage, piles of photos and other documentation surrounding the Apollo program. The mission will be re-created in real time.

My roommate, the Aussie, said he remembers his mom insisting that he come to the TV to watch the first steps on the moon. My parents sat me on the edge of their bed as we watched the first Space Shuttle launch on a black-and-white set. What adventure will the next generation of kids watch?

Whatever it is, I hope someone puts it on YouTube.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Too much hot and the fine art of sarcasm

So I'm walking to work today and I'm thinking to myself, "Self, you are getting much sweatier than you did during this same trek yesterday--and you're not even wearing a tie today!" The logical conclusion is that it was hotter today than yesterday, and sure enough, yep, it's 105. I think it was only 1o2 yesterday.

Somehow it gets hotter at night. I know this because as I walked out of work yesterday, about 10 p.m., water started condensing... on my exposed skin. Again, the conclusion is that it was damn hot. Or that the air conditioning in the office is a little too effective in cooling me down.

Anyway, as I walk into the office today, I say hi to Nadr, the Emirati guy and fellow Saturday night basketballer at the reception desk. He asks me how I'm doing. I say, "Eh, you know... a little hot." He stops me with one empthatic finger and says, "No! It is very hot."

And of course, he's right.

Stranger in a strange building

I could tell I landed in a foreign country the moment I got off the plane. It wasn't just the piano bar, or the fact that stick figures on signs were wearing native garb.

A big tipoff was the architecture.

And that sounds strange to say, because it IS a modern city, with glass, steel, concrete--all the elements of a proper urban existence. But things just look kind of funny. You can tell there is a different culture at work. Lines that were straight are broken; windows exist where there should be walls; things that should be dull are shiny.

Let me try to explain with pictures. Bear with me. I'm a words guy. We start out normally enough (except for my feet--hey, I was going to the beach, OK?):

Big buildings, big toes.

You might think, hey, those are newer buildings. Of course they look more "normal." But then look at this:

So many rectangles, so little time.

That's a new building. And, full disclosure, I work on the bottom floor. It's nice. There's a coffee shop. But it has an air of alien-ness about it, no? Like something you might find on a Star Wars planet where the only construction materials were cement and tinted glass.

Speaking of tinted glass....

It glitters!

Funny-hued windows, oddly placed arches, a lack of ornamentation--it's got it all. Plus laundry for bonus points.

Line up a whole bunch of them on a street, and you get....

... this.

So see? Things do look different here. Except, maybe, me. I still haven't gotten sunburned.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Things that remind you of home

I am folding clothes in front of the TV.

Of course, instead of having some random Tivo selection on, I am watching the Ashes, a major cricket showdown between Australia and England.

As I sit here watching "30 Rock"

I am once again confronted with some truly bizarre promos. When I first moved here, I noticed that "Air Force One" was being advertised as being part of "Romance Sundays." Keep in mind this is a movie about Harrison Ford cracking hijacker skulls. But it does have a scene at the end where he hugs his wife and daughter. So, awwwww, love. It's grand.

Just now I saw a medley of scenes from "Scrubs," "Ugly Betty," "Lost," "Desperate Housewives," "30 Rock" and, I think, "Die Hard" set to, naturally, "I Want It All," by Queen. It makes perfect sense.

YouTube is failing me here on that particular ad, but I did find one for Action Saturdays, or something.

You don't really get a sense of anything except that if you tune in on Saturdays, people will be blowing stuff up, shooting things and running across parked bicycles. All set to random music.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Alert the authorities

I bought these kebbe at the grocery store. Two motivations in play here: One, I really enjoy kebbe, which are little breaded balls of lamb, seasoning and bulgar. Two, sometimes you just want to cook something frozen instead of making it from scratch.


Frozen, tasty, and in need of a saucepan of boiling oil.

The problem is that, unlike, say, everything in the freezer at Trader Joe's, you can't bake these. You're supposed to deep fry them. Guess who doesn't have a deep fryer, let alone a giant pot to deep fry them in, let alone the confidence that giving it a shot anyway wouldn't result in serious injury?

Anyway, the upshot here is that I am experimenting with baking them anyway. So if you see a huge plume of smoke rising from the Arabian peninsula, it's just me.

Horror movies

You know, I was considering some nice, harmless post about the oddly alien architecture here (which I may still do), the relative merits of real bacon vs. beef bacon (ditto) or even just how excited I am about the prospect of a leisurely weekend.

Instead I was exposed to something so horrific, I have to share it with you.

Thanks, Karl.

Yes. Canada's queen of pop is trying to not just cover but imitate a guy who, at least during the "Bad" era, sweated more panache changing a light bulb than Celine Dion has mustered up in her entire career. The whole performance, really, is summed up by her hair, which I pray to the follicle gods is a wig.

None of this, by the way, should serve as commentary on the Jackson-fest that we witnessed a few days ago. It was a little embarrassing how over the top everyone, including, perhaps most offensively, the media, went in mourning (celebrating?) the death of a guy who wrote some good songs and got weird when he was older.*

I guess you can count this as my contribution. Now... off to go contemplate bacon.

*And speaking of embarrassing, that was quite a comma-tastic sentence. Sorry.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Too bad taking pictures of random people is considered impolite

Because as I walked home from work last night, there were a bunch of guys just hanging out on the right-of-way between the sidewalk and the street.

One group was playing cards ("go hammour"), another group was playing Parcheesi. If I see someone with Scrabble I am totally crashing the game.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

This and that

More linguistic nonsense. If you're a words dork, like certain author-blogger-editors I could name, you notice the way people say and write things. In Abu Dhabi, I am surrounded by a simmering jambalaya of different accents and usages: British, Australian, Arabic, Taxiese... the list is long and distinguished. (insert Top Gun reference here)

But lately I have noticed a new one. When the guy sitting next to me, code named "Karl," calls someone, he'll say, "is that so and so?" when the call is connected. Me, I say, "is this so and so." And 10 minutes ago, I got a call from a bank in which the caller asked, "is that Mr. Matthew?"

So, as editors tend to do, I'm sitting here trying to figure out who is right. On the one hand, there is a certain logical harmony to saying "is that x?" because, well, "this" would refer to the speaker (this is Mr. Matthew speaking) whereas "that" would refer to some external person (that is the person to whom I am speaking.)

On the other hand, if you hear an unidentified voice on the other end of the phone, wouldn't you ask, "who is this?"

On the third hand--yes, just pretend you're an alien for a second--grammatically speaking, the answer is a little vague. "This" is to be used for something close to the speaker; "That" is to be used for something far from the speaker. It's just a matter of mental gymnastics. The telephone speaker is a half-inch from my brain, yet the person on the other end of the phone is, say, in Chicago.

So, whatever. We're all correct. Except for all the people who try to put a "u" in "favorite."

Nothing interesting has happened to me in a few days

This is because I do not have swine flu. But I do have something else nasty. How nasty? The more-or-less 100-degree air on the way home from work last night felt cool and refreshing.

Anyway, the point is, I have been up to nothing at all. Except sleeping. My roommate, on the other hand, relayed this story to me after I woke up this afternoon (not a typo) and found two huge boxes of fried chicken in the fridge:

He fancied some fried chicken to nosh on after a night celebrating one of our co-workers' birthdays. So he stopped at Texas Fried Chicken--known in the U.S. as Church's--on the way home. The problem, however, was that after procuring the aforementioned fried chicken, he no longer had enough to pay the taxi driver. Specifically, he was Dh4 short... a little more than $1.

The solution is obvious. The driver got the fare, less Dh4, and my roommate made up the difference by giving him a liter of Coke, a bag of potato wedges, a container of cole slaw and (I think) some mashed potatoes.

File under "things that would get your ass kicked in New York." Or a thing that makes you smile in Abu Dhabi.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

It was bound to happen

Yes. Death, taxes, and catching some Middle Eastern bug my Yankee immune system hasn't seen yet. I would love to blame the Aussie for this, but he is a good guy and keeps me supplied with Aussie Burgers. So I think it is much more equitable to simply sigh "inshallah" and go drink some tea.

Which is what I have been doing.

On the plus side, though, my walk to work now has a dual function as a steam bath. It counteracts the next seven hours of sitting under an Arctic air conditioning vent.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

A guy walks into a bar

... and orders a beer.

This is what he gets:

Irish for "fightin' words."

And this:

"The tall guy looks like a bad tipper. Find a way to make him pay."

The upshot is that the nearest bar to the paper has a really nice beer garden but uniformly awful service. I wonder--assuming a guy could jump through all the right [flaming] government hoops--what it would take to open a bar here. Because I'm pretty sure I could hire a staff of journalists and have the best drinks in town.

Q) When is a spokeswoman not a spokeswoman?

A) When she can't speak.

This is where I usually give the disclaimer about how I don't post often about politics--and I don't--but I think I can make a good case that this post is simply about being good at your job. If you are supposed to represent a national political figure, shouldn't you be able to string together a few coherent sentences?

Anderson Cooper: "I know nothing about sports."

And don't get me started on the tortured analogy about basketball. First of all, I take personally anything that impugns basketball. And second of all, it doesn't make a lick of sense: Palin is the... point guard... who is a leader... so she passes the ball, which allows her to... go to the hoop of "whatever she wants." Ooooookay.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

I don't care if I DID post this last year

The Fourth of July happens every year, OK? Sheesh.

A puppet government?

So celebrate, go blow some stuff up, rig an election--make the Founding Fathers proud. I will do my part by trying to consume some American beer (a sacrifice) and watching a basketball game of which I know the outcome.

Remember that time we went to the moon?

That was awesome.

But hey, good news--we have gone back. And by "we" I of course mean an unmanned probe with a really great camera.

Not cheese.

No sign of the Apollo landers yet, which I'm sure some will take as evidence of the GREATEST HOAX IN HISTORY, but if the orbiter passes over the Apollo landing sites, we'll see 'em. Right now the resolution is only 73 cm, or a little over two feet, but when the probe settles into its final orbit, the resolution will be even better... about 18 inches. You could pick out a German shepherd at that resolution, let alone a giant piece of space hardware.

Of course, if we found a dog on the moon it would be even bigger news.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

This is how they do it

I loves me some of the rap music. And I had figured that in the UAE, where someone as innocuous as Busta Rhymes can get himself banned, I would have to import my own. Which I did, in the form of a boatload (stretch Hummer-load?) of MP3s.

But as it turns out, the UAE has some homegrown talent.

Desert Heat.

Not bad. Not great, but not terrible. It lacks the hard edge of good hip-hop, and in an article about these guys, you can see it's deliberate. But the production is decent. So you could say I am lukewarm to Desert Heat. But perhaps after the UAE develops a properly oppressed underclass in need of artistic expression, there can be a proper musical backlash against the establishment. Or at least a few swear words here and there.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

I'm proud to be an American...

... where at least I know I'm free, and that my countrymen spent $27 million on a museum "proving" creationism.
For a group of paleontologists, a tour of the Creation Museum seemed like a great tongue-in-cheek way to cap off a serious conference.

But while there were a few laughs and some clowning for the camera, most left more offended than amused by the frightening way in which evolution -- and their life's work -- was attacked.

"It's sort of a monument to scientific illiteracy, isn't it?" said Jerry Lipps, professor of geology, paleontology and evolution at University of California, Berkeley.

I mean, that's just painful. I knew about this place before, but the silliness is driven home by the reactions of the scientists touring it. And I know silliness is not a uniquely American trait, but geez, you know, in a country where my modest word-slinger's salary is the equivalent of eight taxi drivers', misspent funds--not to mention misguided ideals--sting just a little bit more.

But hey. It's Canada Day. So let's all just take a deep breath, pop open a Molson and relax. Ten million years from now, we can look back on all of this and laugh.