Wednesday, November 30

Myth transplants

If Albert Camus had been American, his version of Sisyphus would have surely been one of those people who walks up and down with a petrol-powered leaf blower.
posted @ 9:04 AM -

Monday, November 28


Having recently lived in Cleveland, and having three Michiganders in the room, I find it very hard not to laugh when Seattle gets all concerned about a forecast 1-2 inches of snow. I'm glad to report that our local metrobloggers (some of whom are from places like Alaska) feel the same way, hence the term snowpocalypse.

Not that it's entirely laughable—Seattle has steep hills that are notably absent in most of the Midwest, so some road closures are necessary—but it does seem rather over the top. If it does snow this evening I might go up to the common room in this building so I can watch the local news being comical. One other thing that is making me smile is that Snoqualmie Pass is forecast to get 1-2 feet of snow overnight. I think it might be time to go and buy some ski poles.

Update: Well after all that it didn't even get cold enough for snow here. The news from up the Cascades sounded promising though, and it's still snowing at Snoqualmie Pass. I just hope the weather stays cold enough that the day after the snow stops [so they have time to clear I-90] I can drive there and get some good skiing in.
posted @ 7:35 PM -

Tuesday, November 22

Being not from here is a way of being

I don't normally read Seattle Weekly. The Stranger is a better fit for my interests and prejudices, and along with Metroblogging Seattle it's as much local media as I want to read in a week. However, when I saw last week's cover story, I knew I had to pick up a copy. The headline was SEATTLE'S BEST WRITER IS... an Englishman, and the subheader promised The story of how Jonathan Raban, a cranky, globe-trotting outsider, sailed into town and become the premier chronicler of life and thought in the Northwest..

On reading the article I was struck not only by the desire to read Raban's recent books, but also by how well he describes some things I feel. I'll take the liberty of quoting a couple of passages from the interview part of the article.
There is a war in some ways more vital than Bush's so-called War on Terror between countryside and city. When one talks about the great rift that sits at the center of American life, it is that urban-rural split. It is not that silly fiction of liberal activists who passed around that famous e-mail, you know, "The United States of Canada and Jesusland." The blue coasts with the angry red heartland. It's not that at all; it's Seattle versus North Bend. London to Seattle was no great distance. Traveling from London to North Bend would have been a giant distance that would have turned me into an immigrant in a strange land, but Seattle has never really seemed that strange.
He's half-right here, but Cleveland does feel a lot further from London than Seattle. I realise that the climate also has something to do with it, but there are all kinds of reasons why I feel more at home here. In some ways, moving from Cleveland to Seattle was like coming halfway back to where I started.
...this land will remain strange to me. I'm conscious of being a foreigner, which is a good thing. This is not my country, it's not my culture, it's not my accent, so there's that constant rub between the inside of your head and the exterior world. It's like sort of being perpetually traveling. I feel like I've been perpetually traveling for the last 15 years.
I know exactly what he means here. There is still—and will probably always be—something deeply strange about not hearing anyone around me who sounds like I do. And then when I do talk to someone with my accent, their voice sounds strange to me, because it's not like the ones I hear around me all the time. And as for the perpetually travelling, well my Flickr tags tell the story. I do have photos not tagged as 'travel', but it feels very strange to me. It took me until yesterday to get around to starting a 'home' tag, and that's probably going to end up having pictures from at least 2 cities in it.
Where's my region? I think many of us carry a sense of our own displacement with us as if it were a region. Being not from here is a way of being as distinct as being from Aberdeen, Wash., or Oxford, Miss., or Lower Grimsdike, Yorks. It's partly why I liked living in London and like living in Seattle—both cities in which most people aren't from there. I can never give a straight answer to the question of where I come from in England. I have to mumble something about how my parents moved around a lot (they did), and how I spent many more years in London than I did anywhere else, nearly always in the company of other people who "came from" elsewhere. And so it is here—one or two people I know are lifelong locals, but most are migrant birds like me. Perhaps I have a slight edge on my friends in being Brit to boot—a further degree of elsewhereness.
This is the part that really gets me. Substitute "Europe" for "England" in that passage and I could have said it myself. Brighton, which is still the place I'm most emotionally attached to, is another city with a high migration rate, and where I knew far more recent transplants than people who had been born there.

The strangest part of this, and though Raban doesn't directly talk about it is very much implied, is how the absence of a specific place to call home only serves to make location all the more important. I can't quite explain why, but I do think it's because there isn't one distinct spot I can call home that it really matters to me that a particular set of things happened in Bristol, and another set in Wellington, and another set in Austin, Minnesota.

I'm beginning to put down roots in Seattle, but I wonder if this will become home in that defined way I haven't felt for some years, or if I too will end up picking up on the quote that Raban returned to after the interview, feeling that Seattle is a temporary perch that accident solidified into permanence, of a sort.
posted @ 10:03 AM -

Friday, November 11

No Hyperion

It is fashionable for people with political views like mine—disgusted by the current government, but not really all that enamoured with the opposition party either—to point to John McCain as the favourable contrast with George W Bush. If only McCain had won the Republican nomination in 2000 is a common refrain. So I thought that maybe I should go and look up what he actually stands for, beyond the few headline-grabbing moments that made me initially feel this way. It's... less than encouraging. Here are a few highlights:

He is very firmly anti-abortion; wanting abortions to only be legal for victims of rape and incest.

Civil Rights are the real kicker for me [note that I'm quoting selectively - I agree with some of the things he's said/voted for]:
  • Supports Amendment against flag-burning.
  • Voted NO on adding sexual orientation to definition of hate crimes.
  • Voted YES on loosening restrictions on cell phone wiretapping.
  • Voted NO on expanding hate crimes to include sexual orientation.
  • Voted YES on setting aside 10% of highway funds for minorities & women.
  • Voted NO on ending special funding for minority & women-owned business.
  • Voted YES on prohibiting same-sex marriage.
  • Voted NO on prohibiting job discrimination by sexual orientation.
  • Voted YES on Amendment to prohibit flag burning.
  • Voted YES on banning affirmative action hiring with federal funds.
  • Supports anti-flag desecration amendment.
What strikes me here is that he simultaneously supports affirmative action and institutionalised discrimination based on sexuality. I know that many of my readers do not share my distaste for affirmative action, but to me this is a double-whammy: consistent support for discrimination, while inconsistently choosing whether to discriminate in favour of the minority or majority group.

On education there's a mixed bag. I think every politician should get behind sentiments like Good teachers should earn more than bad lawyers, and merit-based pay and school choice are sound ideas, however much the teachers' unions hate them. On the other hand, he's put a lot of money into abstinence education in spite of the manifest evidence that it doesn't work, and he says that decisions about evolution should be left to local school boards. The trouble with that is that it leaves the people least qualified to parse Discovery Institute propaganda making decisions that can profoundly handicap local childrens' education, not to mention that it reeks of cop-out.

I agree with quite a few of his foreign policy statements, but he is a strong supporter of the Cuba embargo, which has clearly completely failed to loosen Castro's grip but continues to impoverish Cubans, and to me that's a strong negative.

On gun control he's consistently voted against tighter background checks before people can buy a gun, which strikes me as perverse. The arguments against banning firearms at least make some sense to me, but even if one completely buys the guns don't kill people, people kill people argument, surely it should be made more difficult for people who would kill people to get hold of effective tools for doing so?

I won't keep listing quotes, but that's a bit of a taste of why I'm not as impressed with the voting record of McCain as I was with the idea of McCain as compared to Bush. We should be careful what we wish for, because while I do think a McCain government would be vastly preferable to the one we have now, he's not exactly someone I would vote for, given the chance.
posted @ 3:18 PM -

Tuesday, November 8

Der Ewige Gay

Not much to say to this, just a couple of links I wanted to share. First there's the disturbing similarity between anti-gay propaganda of today and anti-Jew propaganda of 70 years ago. Then lighten up with the Daily Show's segment on how gay marriage has ruined Massachusetts.
posted @ 10:45 PM -

Monday, November 7

What did their mothers teach them?

People are very bad at copying what they see typed in front of them. This is why I am Eldon or Elden in so many databases, and why for a time I had two separate entries in Case's database (one of which received a grant while the other got penalised for unpaid fees).

I receive mail for [any username]@ my domain. My brother has tested this before and found that you can even put a long message in before the @, not that there's any point in doing this, but I'll be able to read it all.

Because of both of these facts, I occasionally get mail that was clearly intended for someone at eldon.co.uk or eldan.co.il. The Israeli one have apparently opened a London office, so I'll probably be getting more mail that was intended for them in future, unfortunately.

Whenever I do get wrongly-addressed mail, I reply to the sender letting them know. It's usually obvious who the intended recipient was, but I prefer to reply to the sender and give them the choice of not telling their correspondent about their mistake. Basic courtesy really - no need to force people to embarrass themselves. Most people write back when I do this, thanking me and/or apologising for their mistake. There's really no need to apologise for the tiny inconvenience involved, but it is nice to be thanked when doing someone a favour; after all it would be easier just to delete erroneous mail and ignore it, leaving them to wonder why they never got a reply.

For some reason the last couple of people I've had this correspondence with have been missed by the courtesy stick. One accidentaly had someone's [his or her boss, perhaps] flight schedule emailed to me by an online travel agent, so I took more trouble than usual to make sure I was notifying the right person, because it wasn't directly from them, and such information could conceivably be confidential. Their response? A snotty email about how they had this information anyway—well how was I supposed to know that?

But yesterday's cretin took the biscuit. I checked email for the first time that day, and found a rather angry email saying:

Last week I sent you an e mail about the fact that I received NO refund for almost 2 months !!

Not only that I had no refund since the 11 September, but, Eldan is even NOT answering my letters !!


What kind of attitude and behaviour is that?
I quote verbatim, including the doubled exclamation marks, surplus commas and boldface. Clearly this chap numpty has a bit of an anger problem, and while I admire his attempts at twisting the rather cold medium of text communication to express this, I do wish I hadn't been the one to receive the email. I also surmised that he would probably appreciate being told, especially as part of the issue is his communication being ignored. So I did so, as usual, adding a helpful list of domains mine is commonly confused with and a rather gratuitous sentence about how he should check where he is sending his nastygrams, as this wasn't the nicest thing to start my Sunday with.

I got a response this morning, in which he complained that I have chosen a bad domain because it happens to be somewhat close to some others that companies use, and I guess it's just too hard for some people to admit that they made a [small, easy-to-make and commonly-made] mistake and say thankyou.

What kind of attitude and behaviour is that?
posted @ 8:02 AM -
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