Sunday, November 29, 2009

I cannot believe it

It looks like this piece of xenophobic, religiously illiterate, self-serving, self-righteous racist crap actually passed.

It was supposed to have no chance. I can't believe I was lulled into complacency by the commentator class again. They always underestimate the SVP, who an onion should grow on their heads it wouldn't be too good for them. I should have been in the Bahnhof handing out homemade Minarette-verbot-nein pamphlets.

Typically the Left completely ignored this, making a few muted noises and furrowed brows of protest. The town was plastered with SVP posters; I didn't see one single paid-for piece of public comment on the other side.

Every SVP evil-referendum campaign, I fantasize about counter-posters but I never do anything.

Good grief.

You know what's really scary? The sincerity of the SVP grassroots who pushed this. This is only in part an opportunistic anti-foreigner stunt. No, if you go and read their literature, you get the sense they actually believe themselves to be in danger from Islamic hegemony. Muslims are six percent of Switzerland's population, mostly irreligious or liberal, politically, economically, and socially vulnerable. But the Swiss -- the richest people on the planet -- think that when this handful of immigrants wants to put up their version of a churchtower, it is as a symbol of Muslim sovereignty and might -- Herrschaft und Macht -- and any minute they will be herded into harems and subjected to Sharia.

Keep your masochistic orientalist fantasies in the dungeon where they belong, people.

Abusers typically, in the moment they are exercising their power, believe themselves to be the victims. The Nazis feared the Jews, the slaveholders feared the slaves, rapists feel humiliated and controlled by short skirts. There's something much scarier about this detachment from reality than there would be in mere cynical political manipulation. The most dangerous people in the world are the powerful caught in a fever dream of victimhood.

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Friday, November 27, 2009

Bus billboard for religious postmodernists

So you know about the war of the billboards, right? The clever atheist billboard campaign begun in the UK and various, largely less convincing (because derivative or grumpy) religious responses. (Other religious people have been ecstatic, like the Swiss religious school teachers I read about whose recalcitrant pupils finally got interested in talking about religion after seeing the atheist billboards on a field trip to London).

The billboards have been a matter of some debate in Switzerland, with various cantonal bus authorities refusing to run the atheists' ads, while running plenty of (Christian) religious ads -- another piece of Switzerland's current abominable xenophobic fit of religious self-righteousness, like the disgusting referendum this weekend to forbid the construction of minarets, which never ceases to make my blood boil (These damned posters are all over my neighborhood. Hello, German-speaking Europe: targeting individual religious minorities and restricting their civil rights? Haven't we been over this before? If you are Swiss and reading this, please get out and vote this weekend!)

Anyway, back to the billboards. As usual in contemporary public debates over religion, I feel left out.

Here would be my entry (if someone wants to photoshop it up in the right font, I would naturally be obliged):

There's a God, all right, but don't worry: she's not like they say she is.

Also, if you prefer a different metaphor, that's okay too.

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

De sinaasappel

Frank Sijbenga has posted a Dutch translation of "The Orange". Thanks, Frank!

The Google return translation from Dutch back to English is so close to the original that there's actually not even any amusement value in linking to it. I presume this is a sign that the Singularity is upon us.

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Friday, November 20, 2009

omg mars

nuff said.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Relancer l'Horloge: Tracking down the french magazine "Fiction"

So the all-knowing palantir of Google has revealed to me that a French SF magazine entitled Fiction: anthologie periodique de Fantasy & Science Fiction has translated "Start the Clock" as Relancer l'Horloge in their atomne 2009 issue.

The story is under a CC Noncommercial ShareAlike license, so Fiction is perfectly entitled to translate it if they're a noncommercial enterprise and note that their translation is ShareAlikeable. They might also, for all I know, be a French spinoff of F&SF, in which case I expect they can translate it commercially.

What I'd really like to get my hands on a copy of "Relancer l'Horologue". This entry started out as a how-do-I-find-these-guys bleg, but while composing it I managed to find a contact form for le moutons électriques (which are, I guess, ce que les androïdes rêvent de), and have hit them up for an issue and the French text to post. Wish me luck.

Updated: That was speedy! They have responded and are sending me a copy. They are in fact the French-language version of F&SF! I was thrown off by their very literary, upscale packaging. :-)

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Hippier than thou

It is time for us to play that ever-exciting game, "see how much more of a hippie I am than you!"

Ready? I'll go first:

My children think raw flax seeds are a decadent and delicious treat, sometimes preferable to chocolate.

Top that!

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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Guide to Expatriate Life in Switzerland

A friend just asked about relocating here with a family. I wrote him, in part:

Zurich (and Basel) are full of english-speakers. In many workplaces it is entirely possible to live in an English-speaking bubble. As I say, international school can be expensive. It is also a very particular world -- very upper-middle class/international executive oriented, with the attendant values and their positives and negatives -- creative/dynamic curriculum and teaching styles, lots of bright and articulate kids, competitiveness, workaholic attitudes, ambition, open-mindedness (along certain axes), drivenness, etc. It is a bit of an artificial world in certain regards; if you only speak English there is lots to do and it can be quite fun, but you are separated in a way from the deeper life of the city. Maybe less so in Zurich; there are really a LOT of English-speakers in Zurich.

It would also be possible to send your kids to Swiss public school; the schools are very good, and open to foreigners, and they are good at crash courses in German -- they absorb a lot of foreigners -- and kids learn languages much easier than grownups. If you send your kids to international school and they hang out in English-speaking playgroups and so on, they will probably not learn that much German; after a year in the Swiss public schools they will likely be fluent. It might be a hard year though; adapting to a new language compounds the difficulties of adapting to a new culture. Kids in the international school world are adapted to transience and expect everyone and everything to be new every few years; all friends they make they assume will turn into penpals at some point. Not so kids in the public schools. There are thus pros and cons.

On a day to day level it is easy to get by in English; the Swiss speak it pretty well, though not at Scandinavian levels. But there is no problem buying train tickets, shopping, going to movies, etc., entirely in English. And in Zurich particularly it is easy to find English-speaking friends and playmates. If you go the international-school route the playmates are likely to be more widely distributed, which can mean playdates and transportation hassles; if the immersion route, it's more likely that they'll make friends next door, which means "bye mom, I'm going to Ueli's, be back at dinner."

Swiss culture is very different than US culture; in some respects very freeing, in other respects suffocating. In Zurich you have the population density of downtown DC with the crime rate of White Sulphur Springs. This means freedom for kids: we have no worries when Aviva rides the tram across town alone. On the other hand, everything is closed on Sunday and at night, it is often a nightmare scheduling to use the washing machine in the apartment complex basement, etc. Americans are used to 24-hour-a-day convenience: in Switzerland, the individual adjusts themselves to the community's needs, not the other way around. It's a little like Japan, from what I hear of Japan.

The Swiss are shy. People on the tram never speak or make eye contact. You can live next to people for years and interact only within rigid boundaries of propriety. On the other hand, often they are grateful when you break through these barriers and make contact.

In many ways, moving from the US to Switzerland is like moving from Mexico to the US. You find yourself thinking "so this is what an actual first-world country looks like." You find yourself sometimes relieved to have left the brutality and corruption and glaring inequities and disorder and Kafkaesque bureaucratic hassles and bad urban planning of your homeland behind, but you also find yourself missing its warmth, its joy in life, its social freedoms and communities, and your role there. This is all, of course, more true if you are doing the immersion thing than if you are in the American expat bubble, but it is somewhat true regardless.

After initial hassles (getting your wifi to work, etc.), expect the first three months to find everything charming and delightfully quaint or exotic, and to chortle about the wacky differences between home and Switzerland. Months 4 through 18, expect to be constantly aggravated by differences which have lost their novelty amusement value and are now just a fucking pain in the ass, and to spend your trips home gorging on burritos, bagels, and sushi. After that it levels out and you will have reached some accomodation with Switzerland, and authored a new identity for yourself there.

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