Dec 30, 2007

Additional Geographic Revelations...

...gleaned from looking at maps just now.

1. I finally nailed down exactly where Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are.

2. Lithuania is right above this little piece of Russia that's not even attached to the rest of Russia! Discontinuous!

3. Alaska and Hawaii are disconnected and hecka far away from the rest of the US. Now, actually, I knew this already, of course. But this was the first time it dawned on me how odd it is that Alaska is part of the US. Why? It's enormous, and far, and NOT EVEN CONNECTED. I asked TJ why we wanted it as a state, and he said he thought Russia sold it to us cheap, and I asked why we bought it even if it was cheap and he said he didn't know.

4. I now know where Yemen is. I also know which one's Qatar and which one's the UAE and which piece is Oman. I also noticed that Bahrain is tiny. It's like the Belize of the Middle East.

5. Eritrea and Ethiopia are really close to Israel, which explains why there are Jewish Ethiopians. This is something I couldn't get a handle on as a child, but that's because I never realized that Ethiopia was that close. Sorry for being an idiot, but I haven't looked at maps like this since junior high, and apparently in junior high I wasn't paying enough attention.

Next stop: I'm going to go look at southeast Asia and get a handle on all that Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam stuff.

P.S. This all reminds me of an interesting story about when Zach Berman and I were sharing Amanda's tiny apartment in Greenpoint that one summer. There was this little girl named Itsel upstairs, and she always came down asking if Amanda was back yet, and Zach kept saying, "No, she's in Cambodia," and I guess Itsel thought that must be a place in Queens or something because an hour later she'd ask again. So finally Zach got out the atlas to show her how far away it was, and immediately her eyes glazed over and she almost fainted from disinterest and then she went back to coloring with markers. This is why kids don't learn about geography - they don't know that it's interesting until they're 32 and realize that if they were asked to draw a map of the world, it wouldn't even be funny.

The End.

Dec 27, 2007

Over There, according to Dubin

My understanding of the 'Stans is still limited, but I'm learning more through the years. First of all, there are more of them than you know. How many? Well, there are Pakistan and Afghanistan, obviously. Then there are the second-tier (in terms of name recognition) 'Stans like Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan. Kazakhstan is in a category all to itself, owing to Sacha Baron Cohen and the infamy of his hero, Borat. Anyway, these are then further subdivided into lots of regional 'Stans, like Baluchistan, Shurjestan, Qoraqalpoghiston, etc.

If you had asked me to draw the geography of the Middle East on a blank piece of paper, I would have drawn Iraq and Afghanistan next to each other. To the left of this, I would have placed Israel and its bordering countries of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt (which I know roughly how to draw as a vestige of Hebrew School in 3rd and 4th grade). So far so good. I know that Greece and Turkey are somewhere north of all that, and that if you go far enough north you'll hit Russia and Ukraine. Armenia and those guys are also north, somewhere. To the east you'll eventually get to India. But the problems would start once I had to join these things together - how far is Israel from Iraq? Where's Pakistan? How does Iran fit into all this? Did you know the eastern part of China is much closer to Kabul than Kabul is to Baghdad? And how did Kazakhstan get so big? No wonder they were pissed off about Borat.

My sketching ability is still poor, but it's better now. And today, I learned that Afghanistan and Iraq do not even share a border. After the Twin Towers fell, we were told that bin Laden was hiding in the hills of Afghanistan. We invaded Iraq using Afghanistan as a staging ground, but the relationship between these two countries was blurry at best to most Americans and I wonder how many people realize that Iran is a sizable piece of land right smack in between them. People my age have a vague awareness that the political history of Russia has a lot to do with power structures in the Middle East, but we don't have a good sense of how Russian interests shaped the area as much as American ones. (We probably know even less about what wacky meddling the US and Britain were up to while we were growing up.)

As time goes by, I piece more of it all together. Given that my ability to remember the histories of nations and wars is terrible, the only way I understand any of it all is through personal connections. For example, Iran. Growing up with Sara jan, I always had a special feeling about Iran and thought I knew a passable amount about the culture there, both before the Revolution and after. I could do a reasonable imitation of her father's speaking voice, and I knew some Persian words!* We were exposed to stories told by Sara's dad, stories about how much they partied and had fun there in their youths, and I got a vivid picture of the pro-Western life there under the Shah in the 70s (even if it was a very narrow slice of the picture). I didn't fully understand what the final straw was under the Ayatollah, if it was a cultural/religious issue or more related to the violence between Iraq and Iran, but I knew that something made Sara's family emigrate since people don't just up and leave their homelands for kicks. It must have been unlivable for them in Tehran.

Sara also taught me things** like, ok, the fact that Iran is totally different from Iraq, because the Iranians are Indo-Europeans. Whatever Iraqis and Armenians and Turks and Arabs are, they are NOT Persians. (Many nationalities are proud of who they are, but it would be just as valid to say that people are proud of who they AREN'T.)

But now what about Afghanis? When I moved to Philadelphia, I learned that there are two Afghani restaurants on Chestnut between 2nd and Front - Ariana and Kabul. I've tried them both and they are DELICIOUS. And both remind me very much of Sara's Mom's and Aunts' cooking. I also just read The Kite Runner the day before yesterday, a story of a young boy's life in Afghanistan before emigrating to the US in the late 70s. In the book, the characters who don't speak Urdu speak Farsi, and I recognized a lot of the words. Khoda hafez!

The Kite Runner really took it out of me, by the way. I know I'm sensitive to sad stories, even when they're nominally fiction. (This is apparently a quality I got from my Dad, who could barely watch Project Runway owing to its brutality.) Can I deal with seeing the movie, which happens to be out now? I probably will read A Thousand Splendid Suns, but I don't know which is worse - a book about the ravages of war, or a movie.

Is it wrong to learn about what's going on in the world through historical fiction? Probably, since it's on the fiction shelf for a reason. But I can't really absorb the current state of affairs in the world by watching CNN. And it does make me happy when stories like these become mainstream bestsellers; it means that people are human, and that they DO care about what's happening out there even if they can only process it in the form of a story, rather than a newscast.

On that note, I've been waiting with baited breath for Persepolis, and now it's coming to New York and L.A. on the 25th! Maybe next, we'll get to see something by Rutu Modan on the big screen...

* Ok, you actually don't even want to know what I learned how to say in Persian. It is a bunch of ridiculous and useless stuff. Although if I ever need to romance a Persian man, I can bust out my, "beman takyekon, mesleh shabnam begol."

** So interestingly, when Sara used to want to say that something was in the equivalent of "B.F.E." she would generally say that it was in Uzbekistan. Now I know that Uzbekistan isn't even that far from Iran, I mean relatively speaking. So, like, that's not even as strong a statement as I thought it was. Hmm.

Dec 23, 2007

Dreams won't quit

Ever since the stomach bug, I've been having the most interesting dreams. Last night's I was in rural France, where the town restaurant had tables set up in the street. Whenever the bus came through the mountain pass, the proprieters had to run out and quickly grab everything (including all the carafes of wine all over the place) and pull it out of the street because for some reason the buses weren't allowed to stop. Eventually that dream stepped up the violence when a little house got blown up and a horse came flying out the window, but its reins got tangled on the front balcony and it just hung there, kicking. Hmm.

The most inspired thing I have dreamed up this week was a new search engine for Google. Instead of just Google Scholar and Google Shopping and whatever there already is, we now have Google MIND. Seriously. Google Mind would allow you to search people's minds to find out who was thinking about what at any given time. I'm thinking of writing to Google to see if they're interested in this. It's a pretty hot concept.

But really, am I the only one whose brain has become a little skewed by the ability to search quickly through lots of digital data? The other day, I couldn't remember something, and my first instinct was to go look it up on the internet. Except that there is no search engine that can root around through the tubes inside my brain, so there'll be no googling for what my favorite song was at camp in 1983. You can't google for the name of that girl's dog, you know, the girl who used to live on the corner of something and something, and her dog had a really interesting name, what was it?

Things I just typed into Google that failed to produce the info I needed:

1. Where is Vanya right now, and is he really gay?
2. Where in this house is that unopened tube of butt cream for Sam?
3. Do I have time to take a shower real quick before we go?

I'm telling you, my brain is addled because it often tried to frame questions like these in proper search terms so as to produce the most useful hits inside my mind.

Next up: Google Future. You just type in some search terms and see what's going to happen tomorrow...

Dec 17, 2007


Hello friends in the box. I'm laid up by a stomach bug that Sam brought home from daycare. Here's how it went:

Thursday: We got warned by the Ladies at daycare that a bunch of the babies were out with a 24-hour stomach bug. Sam was fine. We put him to bed as usual that night.

Friday morning: Woke up and picked up baby, to find that he had puked up some lovely sweetpotatoish stuff in his crib. Spray'n'washed that and since he was otherwise happy, took him to daycare. By 3pm, got call to come pick him up again due to "a big vomit." Friday evening, Sam happily puked up most of what he ate, with little signs of distress. Put him to bed that night on extra towels.

Saturday morning: No barf in Sam's bed, he's happy as a clam. Saturday proceeds normally.

Sunday morning: I don't feel so hot. I commence day-long barfathon, which is so miserable, because what's more wretched than retching? I count minutes to the end of "24-hour" period. Stare at ceiling. Try to watch Lord of the Rings on cable - this only succeeds in my forever associating Viggo Mortensen with feeling nauseous (a damn shame, if you ask me). Eat an apple, refund the apple. TJ starts barfing also now. (Please excuse excessive use of that word.) Eventually evening comes and I try to sleep without much success. Sam seems peachy.

Monday morning: Expect to be feeling ok, as 24 hours have passed. Do not feel ok. Do not go to work, and miss important meeting. Spend day waiting to feel better. By now, have stopped refunding stomach contents, but still feel gross. Actually take shower. Sleep much of day. Eat frozen banana. This brings us to now.

So far, the only good thing that has come of this is that I may have lost a pound. On balance, I'd say it's not worth it. I was also told by a fellow parent of a little kid that this is going to be an annual experience, and it's already clear that TJ's been sick more in the past few months than in his whole life put together. All the babies are coughing chronically, even when they're NOT "sick"... can this be right? I'm confused, but I can't say I wasn't warned...

(P.S. I'm playing with my WACOM graphic pen! Here's my impression of Sam acting all chilled out.)