Wednesday, March 24, 2010

'A sense of humor is also a plus'

Don't ask me why, but I was looking through the "careers" section of the CIA's web site and came across the job listing for a clandestine service operative. These folks are the ones who deal directly with human intelligence--recruiting sources, gathering information, and generally keeping their ears to the ground.

A spy, in short.

I just found it interesting (in the way that I find many ordinary things interesting) that there was an actual want ad for this job... and besides that, the ad suggested that applicants be able to laugh easily.

Operations Officers are given great amounts of responsibility and trust early in their careers. While they work in teams, they often need to “think on their feet”, using common sense and flexibility to make quick decisions on their own. OOs have demanding responsibilities, often requiring them to work long hours so it is essential that they be psychologically fit, energetic, and able to cope with stress. They must know themselves very well and a sense of humor is also a plus.

Sounds interesting. And I like laughing. Unfortunately, my Arabic skills are limited to being able to say "hello," "thank you" and "the boy drinks."

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

In which the author makes himself hungry

Soon to appear in The National:

Ethio al Habasha
15th Street/Muroor Road,
Abu Dhabi.

This is eating at its most elemental. Like all Ethiopian food, the table is utensil-free and eating is done with wads of tangy injera bread. And there is no shortage of options for you to dab, scoop or shovel. After several lunchtime trips to the small storefront – “cosy” is a bit too kind, but the friendly, relaxed vibe and colourful furniture make up for the bedroom-sized dining area – a few favourites have emerged. The clear winner is alitcha menchet (Dh20), a slurry of lean ground beef and spices in gravy, which you can order “regular” or “spicy”. Go for the spicy; it doesn’t burn your tongue and provides a nice counterpart to the bread. As a bonus, it comes with a hard-boiled egg on top. The derak tibs (Dh25) – charbroiled beef – is spicier, but can occasionally be quite dry. Another tasty option is the kifto (Dh25), raw beef minced and marinated in chili powder, clarified butter and herbs. Misiria (Dh20) is, as far as we can tell, red lentils served in a similar spicy gravy. The Habasha Special (Dh35) is spicy and delicious, even if its selection of four dishes is not easily identifiable. And if you think those prices are a bit above the usual “cheap as chips” level, remember that each entree can serve two, with heat to spare.
* Gerry Doyle

What to do with six buckets of golf balls split three ways

Actually--I should have included a question mark. And possibly an explanation.

Last night was spent at Hemingway's, a bar identified by Lonely Planet as something along the lines of a "lively expat hangout," but which in reality is a "slightly depressing pseudo-Mexican bar with photos of the eponymous author on the walls." Why were we there? For quiz night. Of course.

Same bar, more sunlight, fewer patrons.

I, Mrs. Blog and The Guy Who Sits Next to Me at Work all wound up there to answer some trivia and drink some beer. Along the way we had some awful nachos, and I'll leave it at that.

But anyway, trivia. This has always been something I've been good at. Blame it on reading, blame it on asking lots of questions, blame it on luck. At trivia night, my proudest moment was "terminator," the question being, and I'm paraphrasing here, what line demarcating light and darkness on the moon shares its name with an Arnold Schwartzenegger film? Booya.

By the end of the night, we had noticed a few things. 1) We didn't know what the scientific term for "study of ghosts" was. 2) The team that finished in fifth place was using a BlackBerry to look up answers and STILL getting smoked. 3) We were dangerously close to winning.

But we didn't. We came in third. And our prize? Six free buckets of golf balls at Abu Dhabi City Golf Course. None of us golfs. Oh, I tried while I lived in Florida. The Parents of the Blog got me lessons for Christmas one year, and I got pretty good at using a driver to hit a ball straight. That was about it, though. Meanwhile, here in the 'Dhabs, summer--and its 120-degree temperatures--is quickly approaching. Being soaked in sweat after two swings kind of takes the fun out of the driving range, I'm guessing, even with beer service nearby.

So I'm open to suggestions. Six buckets of balls, three third-place winners and an island full of sand traps. Go!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

So much for that

Well... damn. After a season that was almost universally impressive and fun to watch – a season in which the team chewed through the loaded Big 12 and earned the overall top seed in the NCAA tournament – the wheels fell off in the second round for Kansas.

I’ve told this story a million times. When KU lost to Missouri back in, I think, ‘97 at the end of the regular season, I punched a hole in the wall of my dorm’s common room. I’m not like that anymore. Maybe it’s maturity, maybe it’s preoccupation with other things, but these days I don’t get upset about upsets. Disappointed, yes. Quite disappointed. And annoyed that now I’m not really going to be able to enjoy the rest of the NCAA tournament. On the bright side, though, Friend of the Blog Pete told me I have gotten him hooked on college basketball. The first basket is free, as they say.

But back to the game. It’s tempting to sit down and do a post-mortem. And for most fans, that means finding something simple and “obvious” to hang the blame on. A player. A strategy. A lack of effort.

Last night (for me, tipoff was at 1:45 a.m.) was similar to the other two KU losses this season in only one way: everything went wrong. I guess it says something positive that such a devastating collection of circumstances has to congeal to beat a team like that, but it’s a moot point in a one-and-done tournament. Against Northern Iowa, the players who usually scored a lot didn’t score much; players who usually contributed in other ways didn’t contribute; defense was porous for long stretches; the team threw the ball away with frustrating abandon; free throws clanged off the iron; opposing players hit shots they never usually took, let alone made.

And this is where I throw in the press conference canard about giving credit to the other team. They played well. They were poised, they made baskets, they capitalized on every KU mistake. To dig up another canard: That’s how you win basketball games. Bummer that it had to happen against KU.

Anyway. Did I see this coming? No. By any analysis of this season, it was atypical of Kansas. Did I know it was possible? Of course--that’s why games are games; There is a chance of losing. Am I sleep-deprived? You bet.

Does any of that make it any less disappointing? Not really. But next season is only a long, hot summer away.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Misc Box

While moving from Chicago, a phenomenon emerged in which, as the deadline for the movers' arrival galloped closer, carefully organized moving boxes became, well, a little less carefully organized. House slippers? Throw 'em in the misc box. Power cords? Put them on top with the toothbrush holder. And so on.

And so this post, dear reader, is a bit of an e-misc box. There is a lot going on this week. The Car of the Blog is in the hands of a Lebanese mechanic named Mike. Fortunately we don't need a miracle--just a repaired coolant leak.

Similarly, the Itty Bitty Kitty Committee has returned as the Scots have headed to India for a week of R&R&curry.

Much larger, but still avid cuddlers.

And finally, it has come to my attention that my description of visiting Egypt and Jordan was slightly less than descriptive. That's because I was hurried and sleepy it is really too much to cram into a single post. Cairo itself is worth its own post... as are, in their own way, the Pyramids, all the ruins and tombs of Luxor, the niftiness of "finding" a 2,000-year-old sarcophagus underfoot, Abu Simbel, Petra, the Dead Sea, even restaurants in Amman. I have been toying with a long post about the annoying baksheesh tradition in Egypt (in which no good deed goes unpaid-for).

That's not even counting all the photos I need to borrow from Mrs Blog's computer to use with all of these.

So be patient. And understand that you might see a very enthusiastic post about the Red Bull Air Race next week before I get through all of the stuff from the trip.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I'm back, ya'll

And I'm red, ya'll.

Actually, I did manage to get some color of the more attractive variety on my recent travels. Two weeks in the desert--and by that I mean hotels in Egypt and Jordan--will make even the pastiest Midwestern Irish lad a little tan.

So where to start? I love ruins. Ancient things, old things, things built by civilizations that have vanished, things that archaelogists are unsure about. It fascinates me that people took the time and effort, 4,000 years ago, to move massive blocks of stone and create monuments that they will only be able to enjoy for a few decades. Or, in the case of the pharaohs, never, as they were building the things to house their dead bodies.

Happily, over the last two weeks I have gotten up close looks at all kinds of antiquities, from the inside of the Great Pyramid to the ruins of Petra, a sprawling city full of tombs carved from rock and decorated to look like they are hiding the Holy Grail.

The inside isn't as pretty.

I'm not sure what attracts me to ancient stuff so much. It's just amazing to run my fingers over some carving and realize that some other guy standing in the same place thousands of years ago had put it there. What was he surrounded by? What were the people around him doing? Was he as sunburned as I was? Petra, especially, poked me in my imagination, as it was designed around water sources and included massive and intricate rock carvings that carried the stuff all across the city in waterfalls, fountains and irrigation channels. And most of it was built before Jesus invented Christianity.

I guess that's why I'm a writer. I ask lots of questions--a variable percentage of which are insightful or interesting--and my imagination latches onto things. Sometimes very old things.

But lest you think that this vacation was strictly antiquities, here is a shot of the Author of the Blog sitting in a cafe in a Cairo market.

Not pictured: thousands of touts and hucksters waiting to take my money.