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Politics

Day 740 and Immigration Failed Us Again

My second attempt at a securing a tourist visa for a friend failed this morning. If you’d have asked me a few years ago if I thought the American immigration basically worked, I would have agreed that, sure I thought it probably worked ok. No reason to think otherwise right? Phew I was wrong.

But after years of being humiliated over and over again by the state department for “the crime” of wanting a family friend to come visit us for vacation, I’ve never felt more ashamed of myself and my country.

I’m ashamed I was such a sucker. I thought we would still do the basic work of being a functional state. I’m ashamed that America treats people who want to visit us this badly.

We have well off, interesting, curious guests that want to explore our culture and spend their time & money seeing our land. We spit on our guests by turning away anyone who isn’t on a Schengen or ESTA waiver. You probably think that includes most people. I did. But we are wrong.

Only 40 of the 195 countries on the planet are granted travel visas without going through the visa embassy approval process. Most people have bad passports. Latin America, Africa, the Balkans, the former Soviet blocks and most of Asia have “bad passports” that require a tourist visa that requires years of waiting for appointments and almost assured disapproval at the Embassy.

I’ve never met a system so broken I couldn’t find a workaround. But here I am at the of my workarounds in tears at how I’ve let down my family and friends. The visa I’ve been helping with was denied a second time today after waiting since March for a second chance to re-apply. That first meeting at which we were also denied also took years of waiting.

And it is getting better. This round after flying to Prague, we got two minutes instead of thirty seconds in Frankfurt. In those minutes they still didn’t look at any of the materials prepared. Just a generic we don’t like the look of your people rejection. We got some boilerplate language about strong ties or weak ties and no we won’t read the 200 pages of supporting documents you brought.

I was a mess yesterday about how afraid I was we’d get down turned down again. But I thought surely I was being too paranoid. The lawyers we paid thought we had a good chance. We’ve brought everything possible for paperwork from mortgages to W2 forms. I’d taken personal financial liability for our friend. I let the government have an invasive look at our finances. I gave the consular offices the deed to my house. I worked for months to get a Congressional letter asking for a fair review of the application. None of it was reviewed.

Now in the aftermath, I’m not even sure if it’s possible to get a consular officer to do a fair review. Our congressional representatives wrote the consular office and they send back boilerplate with no details. No one reads the applications I guess. We can apply again. And again. But would good would it do?

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Uncategorized

Day 739 and Immigration Anxiety

My family has been working on a visa for a friend to come visit us in the United States. It’s felt like the longest 2 years of everyone’s lives. I had no idea how broken our visa and immigration system ones until we tried to invite a family friend with a bad passport on vacation to America.

Sure the pandemic distended wait times into bulging impossible monstrosities, we pushed simple state department work into an impossible task. But it’s not just the broken bureaucracy at play. It’s a system so broken by it’s own disdain and lack of resourcing, your only hope is the grace of God.

If you tried to arrange a tourist visa for someone from the global south you’d find the next available appointment for a tourist visa was three years down the road. And this was after the borders opened up after the pandemic got to be too much trouble. It only got worse from there. I quickly become shocked at how impossible it is to travel to America if you aren’t on a Schengen passport from Europe.

I’ve been working on this seemingly intractable problem for well over two years. We are on our second embassy appointment. The first visit was in Frankfurt in March where it was immediately turned down without the officer even looking at the paperwork. Thousands of dollars and endless time lost to a random bureaucrat in thirty seconds.

And you aren’t even allowed to ask them to take another look as they could ban you on the spot. I cried I was so humiliated after seeing that first refusal. How could America be so broken? We did everything right and it didn’t matter. Kafkaesque doesn’t begin to describe it.

Apparently the American state department treats a visa like a Rabbi handling a conversion. It took another 10 months to schedule a follow up appointment in Prague. Our friend’s home embassy has a three year wait so we’ve been going to European embassies to avoid needing to pay a bribe for an appointment in his home country. Legal immigration is much harder than illegal immigration.

So we planned a trip to Prague. And now the appointment is tomorrow. And I’m terrified. I’m despondent. I’ve done everything right and I have no idea if we will succeed. And it’s not even a visa for me. I can’t imagine how they feel. To be treated as if you are a criminal when all you want to do is visit friends and spend money in a other country.

I’m almost embarrassed how invested I’ve become in making this work but I will not allow myself to be beaten by this system. Guests do not deserve this humiliation and America is my house.

Mind you this is for a tourist visa not a work visa or a green card. This is just for coming to enjoy tourism and spend time with friends and family. Tourism is an important part of the American economy. Especially where I live in Montana. The whole world wants to see Yellowstone.

The entire process has been so humiliating for everyone involved. As the sponsor of the visa I filled out a form called an I-134 where I had to prove my net worth, my home ownership, my income, my job and compensation. I accepted personal financial responsibility for them.

This after being instructed that our guest must show strong ties to their home country and a minimum financial independence of their own. They had to show their home ownership, car deeds, work pay stubs & tenure at the company, not to mention guardianship and primary care responsibilities for their grandmother among many other invasive questions. The paranoia of visa overstays has made it so no one can get a tourist visa at all.

All this humiliation be granted the privilege of spending wealth in America as a tourist. It’s beyond insulting. It only gets worse for each step down the line if you want to work or live in America.

If you’ve ever wondered why we don’t have more legal immigrants this is why. Insofar as I can tell there are two ways to get to America. Illegal crossing and you pray. Or tens of thousands of dollars and years of waiting and you pray. Oh and you probably only get to come if you do it illegally. It is a crisis in every sense of the word.

We’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars, weeks of time on the ground in foreign countries and it has gotten us no where.

We’ve also called in everyone type of favor and access we could find. A privilege most lack. Our constituent services office at our Congressional office has been amazing. They submitted a letter asking for a fair review.

If the hundreds of pages of professionally prepared paperwork, the millions of dollars of financial assets and a congressional letter of fair treatment simply aren’t enough, I wouldn’t be too proud to go crying hat in hand to the ambassador to please consider our case. All we want to do is have a family friend granted the freedom to travel. I’ve got no idea where to turn if it isn’t granted.

I’m so anxious and depressed now that the culmination of so many years of work is coming down to one short interview tomorrow, over which we had no control. I’m mess. I’ve let it get to me.

I cannot fathom what else we could do. If millions of dollars of assets, a by the book legal case, multiple political appointees vouching for us and a good faith effort to show our personal responsibility aren’t enough, than what is enough for America?

My fear is nothing will be good enough and I will be despondent in tears tomorrow by 11am. And I pray I have the strength to fight on if it happens. Because I believe in America and I will go to the mat to bring more people to see it’s splendor. Empire’s end won’t happen on my watch without a fight.

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Internet Culture

Day 722 and Extreme

When Stephen Colbert was still the titular character on his Comedy Central Show he had the perfect delivery for the word extreme. Imagine a wholesome Mountain Dew meets X Games meets Gen X meets Vin Diesel’s Triple X meme and you’ve got the basic delivery. Extreme!

White conservative beltway dudes pretending to like extreme sports is, of course, a joke from a simpler time. These days extreme sports are now just regular Olympic sports and Tony Hawk is old dude on Twitter. Gen X is turning 50 and the New York Times styles section has a feature on the gold rush for menopause.

Colbert’s kindly delivery of extreme being something fun, sugary and maybe a bit sporty, has given way to actual extremes. Tucker Carlson doesn’t pretend to be a cool for clout. Now we just go straight for extremist politics. All those years Colbert spent imitating Fox News anchors normalized their schtick to such an extent that Bill O’Reilly couldn’t keep up. Now I gather the Colbert spends his time atoning for this normalization by cracking bad Trump jokes. Or so I hear. I’ve not ever watched his new sincere late night show.

The other extreme we’ve got is weather. Which is what I’d actually intended to write about, before I spent multiple paragraphs explaining a joke. You see, America is in the middle of some very extreme weather. And every time I’ve checked the temperature in the last 48 hours I’ve recited Colbert’s extreme delivery in my head. It was terrifyingly cold in Montana yesterday. Bozeman got down to -45 Fahrenheit.

Extreme doesn’t seem like a fun word anymore. I’ve stopped associating it with snowboarding and yellow caffeinated drinks. Extreme is groypers meeting former Presidents and climate change upsetting the jet stream. We’ve collapsed arctic air into the lower forty right just as we’ve collapsed distinctions between parody and reality.

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Internet Culture

Day 716 and Slightly Embarrassed

I spent my entire day on Twitter. I’m not embarrassed by that to be clear. It felt like a vacation day. And even though I live in a majestic mountain paradise, I will spend my time off inside looking at my phone.

Yes it was absolutely gorgeous day in Montana. I marveled at the playful pinks of the sunrise over the mountains in our backyard while drinking coffee. And then I got back in bed and on my phone. And you better believe I fucking doomacrolled.

I just gorged myself on cheap attention calories. Gimme that dopamine drip. I did not even try to modulate my consumption pattern or prevent myself from going into fight or flight. It was goblin mode. I’m still not embarrassed.

But Twitter is a fucking mess. Watching people go tribal on Elon Musk is worse than people going tribal on the president somehow. Maybe because it feels more personal to me? Don’t get me wrong Trump felt existential, but Elon Musk is personal.

And it’s fucking embarrassing watching people react to him and his decision making. Here it is my industry’s moment in the spotlight. The technology industry showing itself as a keeper of common goods and open discourse right? Absolutely fucking not. We’ve shat the bed. Old management was incompetent sure. But new management is not an improvement.

I went into Twitter being purchased by Elon Musk modestly optimistic. He’s our guy right? He’s one of us. He likes startups and capital and technology. He reads the same science fiction as me. We’ve got friends in common. This is what it’s like to be a fan of the home team right?

Well fuck me sideways it has been going poorly. The site is pretty broken but I’m over that. It’s just the constant mayhem. Dave Kellog termed it adhocracy. Some random bullshit happens and the whole website has to lurch around conspiracy theories and rationalization.

It has frankly not been a fine showing for techno-libertarians. Not sure about showing up for a monarch executive now that you’ve seen your civil rights up for terms-of-service revisions by fiat huh? I’ve always thought the neo-monarchists to be dickriders but that’s a sentence that’s only comprehensible to the terminally online. And yes I should go outside and touch snow. I’ll do that now.

Categories
Culture

Day 690 and Status Games

Noblesse oblige. Literally translated from the French as nobility obligates. It’s commonly understood to mean that aristocracy has a responsibility to act graciously towards the civilization which has granted them status.

It’s a turn of phrase I’ve written about before, specifically how in our post modern times, we are challenged to understand who is pursuing a life of virtue and what their obligations may be to the rest of us.

No one is sure if they are nobility or peasantry. No one is noble or good. Which means nobody deserves anything they get. Which is about as close to the war of all against all as I can imagine. Hobbes would be pleased.

JFredrickson.com Day 45

Humanity has always been rather clever at inventing new classes. We need fresh blood from the bottom to keep revolutionary sentiment in church. Every century we are finding new ways to fight it out for new types of status and virtue.

Business values money. Old money values class. The intelligentsia values intellect. Hipsters value taste. The religious value faith. And around we go with status games as we trade social capital for actual capital just so we can get something to eat.

There is always an emerging new game that upsets the underlying order. The printing press destabilized the church and its priestly cast. The internet destabilized the media and it’s editor cast. You know the drill.

Right now there is a massive internecine fight over which order rules over Twitter. And depending on whose camp you fall into you are probably signaling different things. And that lack of shared cultural values is leading to some pretty silly reactions. A lot of dickriding is happening across every major faction.

Which if you take away the reactionary specifics, is totally understandable. If one class of person values money but the competing group values taste than you aren’t really fighting for the same things. Different values are different.

But you’ve got to be careful with your own reactions. Ask yourself if you are responding out of some shared cultural loyalty that is overshadowing your own common sense. Your attention is valuable and powerful people recognize your attention for the commodity that it has become.

Don’t buy into bullshit just because it’s your team. The chance that someone is making a buck off of your attention sure ain’t zero. And America being a free country and all means you shouldn’t be living enthralled to someone else’s priorities.

Categories
Culture

Day 686 and Code Switch

The social contract in America is breaking down but none of us have agreed on the new rules yet. Of course, some populations have never lived within the consensus social contract in America.

And yes there are a lot of Americans that don’t live inside our social contract. Being black or queer (or god forbid both) even in 2022 means speaking a foreign language in your own land. If you aren’t familiar with the term code switching I’d encourage you to look it up.

I’ve almost always lived within consensus norms. At least appearance wise. I pass as a nice white lady with a nice seems white husband. He’s Jewish so only the incredibly woke or the incredibly racist disagree. Though eventually even that protection may give way if we don’t have children.

Code switching isn’t cost free. You’ve got to think about your audience constantly. You adjust who you are based on the acceptable norms of discourse. And it’s an exhausting exercise if you’ve never had to do it.

One of the reasons Twitter has been such a combustible place is that people code switch all the time. If you get caught in a context collapse situation where what you said is fine in one community and heresy in a another you might find yourself getting canceled. Speech norms have always been context dependent.

I’ve recently become more aware of how much code switching I do because I’ve been trying to solve a problem that isn’t considered polite to have in rich stable white American society. If you follow me closely you know it’s related to immigration.

I really need to fix this problem so I’ve been asking around quietly and obliquely trying to sense my way around adjacent communities with rules that won’t turn me into a pariah. And it’s a ton of work. It requires the kind of sensitivity and social graces I’ve previously prided myself on only to discover it’s just the rules for the Western upper class whites. Everyone else knows justice isn’t for them.

As you might imagine plenty of people live with entirely different contexts and social graces than the Eurocentric worldview. And they are all fully and completely aware of the indignities of my problem and the varied ways in which one solves for it. And no one is judging me for it. But it’s been a bit shocking to me. I fully believed playing by the rules would eventually reward me. And of course that’s the real reasonable we code switch. Because different rules apply to different people.

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Community

Day 667 and Socializing

I’ll admit I had certain expectations of what living in Montana would be like. I like my space and I like being on my own. I had fantasies of quiet days to myself focusing on my investing and my homestead. So it’s been something of a surprise to find myself socializing more in Montana than ever.

In the past seven days we’ve hosted two separate house guests across five days, attended a dinner and been guests at a cocktail party. And you know what? It’s been fucking awesome.

Fuck man the social scene in Montana is legitimately perfect for me. Everyone here is WEIRD as shit. Was hanging out with old school pirate cyberpunks tonight

While I suspected we’d enjoy having our friends come visit, (and if you are interested in coming to Montana hit me up on Twitter) I wasn’t expecting to go out as much as we have been. But, as my surprisingly viral Tweet above indicated, we’ve been meeting all kinds of incredibly cool weirdos. It’s been a blast.

It’s all just been very my “scene” with such a wide array of diverse personalities and interests. Not all of them socially acceptable I might add. I’ve definitely socialized with full on socialists one night and conservative reactionaries on another. And aside from some of their political ambitions (everyone thinks they should be in charge) mostly folks seem content to continue enjoying the live and let live ethos. Well ok, there is a little meddling but in that we are all in it together kind of way.

The binding ethos is that nobody trusts the government. The dream of libertarianism might just still be alive on the occasional cocktail party circuit of rural neighbors getting together in Gallatin Valley. The mountain town loonies are still here. All the flavors and variants of the dream seem to be finding purchase here.

I shudder to think of how Bozeman will eventually become Boulder, simply because it feels like I’ve finally come home to the eccentric living that defined my childhood just a few hundred miles south in the Colorado Rockies. But for now I’m thrilled to find respite among people. My people. The western weirdos.

Categories
Politics

Day 664 and Political Disabilty

I did not watch the Pennsylvania senatorial candidate debate between Democratic Lt. Governor John Fetterman and Republican tv personality Dr. Mehmet Oz because I live in Montana. Why the fuck would I do that? But I have caught the discourse surrounding it and I do not like it.

If you are not following this saga, Fetterman had a stroke a few days before the primary in May. He is recovering but but is still having trouble with speech. People who are not familiar with neurological recovery processes (otherwise known as 99% of normal humans including me) are freaking the fuck out about what it means that his speech is impaired. It looks particularly egregious when compared to Dr Oz who is professionally competent at communicating clearly on television because that is his job.

Naturally we are seeing the absolute worst possible response to Fetterman’s current disability from just about everyone. Supporters of Fetterman are insisting that there is no evidence of mental degeneration or acuity issues. Which might be true but I don’t know. But the general sense I get from supporters is one cannot even suggest that there might be processing issues because doing so would you an awful ableist human being. Neat!

On the flip side, Republicans and other opponents are insisting Fetterman isn’t fit to hold office as he is not capable of speaking clearly. The Republican position seems to be that a speech impediment is a clear sign of mental decay and electing him is maybe a diverity and inclusion policy so wrong it should insult us all. Also extremely neat!

I’d say naturally both positions are ridiculous but I’m not sure this is natural to anyone. Ableism, or discrimination against the disabled, is an exciting new front in the culture wars. Being being disabled is a hot new identity marker despite the fact that a quarter of Americans have some form of disability. It’s not that unique or cool to be disabled. But modern medicine is a miracle so we can’t rely on Darwin anymore to keep us damned cripples out of sight anymore making light eugenics kind of a popular position. I don’t love it.

I am someone with a modest disability. I have a spinal condition called ankylosing spondylitis which is basically arthritis in my spine. So I don’t find any of the commentary surrounding Fetterman’s disability status encouraging. I don’t love that the basic assumption is being less than abled bodied is disqualifying for work. It depends! This shouldn’t be a whole fucking thing.

A disability doesn’t mean you can’t work like a “normal” person but it does mean you have some limitations to work around. This doesn’t make you better or worse as a person. Being disabled has no moral valence. Alas we tend to valorize suffering and demonize perceived weakness. Neat!

My position is most disabilities are sort of a modest inconvenience that on balance forces you to hone other abilities to be competitive. This is my super hero theory of disability and might be a contributing factor to the side that valorizes disability. How cool is it to be an X-Men? Extremely! But I don’t overweight this position as I largely think a market economy fixes by forcing us to all to compete and find our niche.

If this is scandalous to you, I’d say everyone has something that is a struggle to overcome even if most people’s thing is just being kind of an idiot. Half of us are by definition below average. But imagine if I thought you being stupider than me was disqualifying for holding political office.

My whole point in this long ramble is that the Democrats are being ridiculous in insisting we cannot look at the strengths and weaknesses that come with bodies being sick. We are on year three of the pandemic so that ship has sailed. The Republicans are being ridiculous insisting that speech impediments are disqualifying. Tump didn’t even have the benefit of a stroke to blame for his speech patterns.

It isn’t ridiculous to ask someone to be transparent about recovery and abilities. I’ve got no idea if Fetterman has slower thinking after the strike or if it’s just slower speaking. I don’t really care to be honest. Not my senator.

But if we all keep insisting on physical and mental perfection from our elected officials we might not have any politicians left. Which actually on second thought might be ok.

Categories
Culture Politics

Day 662 and Immobility & Gender

Americans are incapable of getting things done. Such is the popular sentiment of the moment. We are immobilized in some form of national endocrine collapse brought about by too many years of chaos and accelerating change. Our problems aren’t getting fixed and we are all too demoralized to do anything seems to be a popular consensus.

Some folks blame democracy. Some blame the degradation of the balance of power as our executive branch overtakes the legislative. Much ink and chatter is being dedicated to the upwelling of populism and it’s charismatic authoritarians as the solution to our stagnation and immobility globally. Or maybe it’s because we cannot imagine a better future.

I’m chewing on a new theory. What if it’s got nothing to do with democracy or a return to monarchy, or even lie inability to cope with chaos at all? What if history isn’t repeating but rather history has come to a crossroads and women are smack in the middle.

What if we can’t get anything done, because we’ve not come to terms with what power and authority women wield? What if this is mostly a reactionary period about what to do with women? What if the crisis of men is actually a crisis about women? What if all of the insecurities about modernity boil down to we changed gender dynamics quite a bit in the last century?

Populists and neo-monarchists are fucking themselves because they aren’t quite sure how to deal with the middle ground in which they find women. Women are neither fully in charge of the home, hearth and children (single earner households having become unaffordable) nor are they treated as equal actors in the public stage. The answer the throwbacks give is we should return to traditional gender roles. Except that’s not actually an option even if it would help.

Powerful women are at best mediocre ciphers (Liz Truss comes to mind) or one in a million talents (Indra Noyi for instance) such that gender is far beside the point. The middle ground of most American women is a mess of confusion about demographic collapse, loneliness, and the good life.

The Dominionists, Christian Nationalists and various flavors of neo-patriarchal traditionalists believe the solution is simple. Bring women back into the home and to the elbow of their menfolk. Men are obligated to the public sphere unlike their women for whom it shouldn’t be a concern at all. Which seems like a strange approach to problem solving. Return to only half the planet having authority.

This is a bit like putting the genie back in the bottle as we’ve got a full century of women’s suffrage under our belt and two generations of women working outside the home. Capitalism in particular loves women workers.

Combine that with the degradation of men in modernity and you start to see some of the challenges. All of our status markers suggest it is better to be unmarried as a woman than married to a loser. That didn’t used to be true but birth control and third wave feminism probably made it so. And in late stage capitalism most men are being framed as losers, lacking the soft skills to navigate corporate politics and higher education.

I frankly haven’t the slightest idea what anyone is supposed to do about this. Accordingly to the viral Female Delusion Calculator (funny how there isn’t a reverse option) my husband doesn’t exist at all demographically. But then neither do I.

So one can’t really be looking to some globalist asshole white Americans to solve this problem. We are the problem according to a large swathe of people. Unless we are the ones capable of overcoming immobility as we’ve got the spare capacity. But I think rich folks running the show been the default state for most of history so fuck if I know. But I do think I’m onto something with gender being at the center of a lot of our issues.

Categories
Preparedness

Day 661 and Existential Immobility

If everything is an existential fight, well I hate to break it to you, nothing is an existential fight. As the Russian war in Ukraine spirals out and the American midterm elections edge closer, I am having “existential” threat fatigue.

You’ve got generals making claims that if Ukraine falls the international order falls. You’ve got Republicans insisting that if the Democrats remain in control it’s the end of America. You’ve got Democrats insisting that Republicans are an existential threat to American democracy. That one might actually be true but that’s just my bias. Turns out we all think democracy is under threat we just don’t agree why. The varying degrees of panic are so palpable it’s impossible to untangle which chicken little is correct.

Our wood burning stove merrily making a start at our many cords of wood.

We’ve got a gorgeous snowstorm in Montana and I’m snuggly inside with a roaring fire, a roast chicken and friends. But if I do so much as look at the internet, I am quickly reminded entire world is falling apart. It is a persistent threat to my central nervous system. But I’m beginning to think that the real existential thread is how immobile everyone feels.

A roast chicken with potatoes in a cast iron skillet on top of a stove.

If the world is indeed on the precipice clearly we need more photos of roast chickens and warm fires. But that does feel like the existent it is possible to positively contribute. The deer in headlights feeling is slowly claiming us all like the Nothing in from the Neverending Story. And like Bastian I’m unsure if I should “do what you wish” or continue the search for meaning.