Monday, February 28, 2011

Hello UK

Hello, my name is Kristen, and I have the right to be here.

My newly-vignetted passport arrived registered mail this morning. I'm legal, it's official, it's in my hands.

I scheduled a National Insurance Number interview last week after I spoke with my UKBA case worker. I called to confirm he'd received my bank statements, and instead of answering that, he told me my visa was granted. (Oh darn! But I swear I wasn't hounding him to find out anything besides the delivery status of my documents!) I feel a bit silly now, as the Job Centre worker asked if I'd like a meeting tomorrow (Tuesday) and I declined as I'd been told my visa probably wouldn't be in my hands until Wednesday. She bumped it up to Friday. So now I have another week of thumb-twiddling, but things are in play.

My new visa is valid until the end of February 2013. I have two years to find a full-time job that would be happy to help me stay. I've already been looking will now continue my search with less despair. And I can apply without hoping they won't call me back immediately--I can hope for Fast Turnaround! Ooooooh.


In other news (if you don't care to hear a diatribe about religion, politics, or authoritarian regimes, the blog post is finished, nothing else to see here.) I read a lot of Science Blogs, particularly Professor PZ Myers' Pharyngula. He teaches biology in Minnesota and points out when religiosos try to cause harm or damage politics in their own special ways. Yesterday he provided a link to the blog of a Catholic wacko who annoyed me by trying to establish through scripture that giving a woman an orgasm is a mortal sin. So I've been giving him a hard time. I figure he won't publish my response to his blog post so I've reposted it here. If you think frank anatomical discussion is explicit, I suppose it is explicit. As a courtesy, I elected to try and write this as though I am party to the writer's own skewed version of reality. I probably got a few things wrong as I am neither Catholic nor tolerant of religion, but I did try.


Your refusal to address women and concerned husbands' questions regarding mutual enjoyment of sex demonstrates weakness--not of your mind, but of your evidence. You know that the location of clitoris, if designed by God, doesn't make a whole lot of sense, and that unpleasant and un-fulfilling sex is divisive, not unitive, and leads slowly and painfully to the breakdown of marriage. It doesn't matter if you don't believe the purpose of sex is pleasure--if one party enjoys it and the other doesn't, it fails the 3-font challenge of your description.

But I’ve figured out something that can help you. It’s simple, really, so I’ll state it simply. The clitoris is not sexual, so touching it is not evil.

Check it out. Yes, biologically the glans of the penis and the clitoris are derived from the same nerve cluster during gestation, so technically they are the same thing. But functionally, and therefore doctrinally, they are utterly different. The clitoris contributes nothing toward procreation. The organ itself and its functionality are in no way related to baby-making, therefore usage of the clitoris is unrelated to sex. The fact that stimulating it leads to an energy build-up and release that society calls “orgasm” is irrelevant. The fact that it is near the vaginal opening is irrelevant–unless you want to argue that the bridge of the nose contributes to the function of the eye. The concern of the Church is that procreative organs are exploited for pleasure and not for procreation, but the clitoris is in no way procreative, therefore exploitation of it is wholly outside the realm of sexual ethics. Touching the clitoris cannot lead to the spilling of semen nor the expulsion of the egg. As long as you do not massage it with a procreative organ its use is cleanly and definitively separate from sex.

If you try to impress upon me the notion that the clitoris is sexual, then you are seeking to impress upon me the notion that the clitoris is a vital component of procreation. If so, then you’ve unfortunately defeated your own argument–if it is vital, then it must be stimulated in order for God’s design for marital acts to be fulfilled. If it is not, it is a system and entity entirely unto itself and is therefore fine. It exists not for sexual pleasure, but simply pleasure itself.

If you had to reach into the woman’s sexual organ to stimulate the clitoris it would be different, but then again, this issue probably never would have come up as stimulation thereof would be considered a normal component of the procreative act. But it is separate, therefore it is separate.

If you can find, in scripture, anywhere that it says “women have an organ separate from the entrance to the womb that feels good when you touch it–do not touch it” fair enough. But anything more vague than that does not pass muster. It is a separate entity, it is not sexual, so it may be stimulated by either partner with impunity.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

developmental biology for beginners, or Mother Nature is Amoral

If by some bizarre set of circumstances Asshat McGee in Georgia manages to shove through his "miscarriage punishable by death" legislation, the logical next step is actually the prohibition of any non-barrier form of contraception up to and including the rhythm method.

See, he wants to define personhood as beginning the moment a sperm bites into an egg. Wham, two cells combine, it's Joe. Unfortunately, the fact that cells have combined in no way guarantees a live birth, or even that the active zygote won't be passed in the woman's next menstruation. Indeed, it is a matter of general consensus among reproductive healthcare providers that after day 13 of the menstrual cycle one or more eggs is released into the uterus and will survive about 24 hours. If the egg is not fertilized in this time it is flushed out of the body about two weeks later. If the egg is fertilized in this time but for whatever reason doesn't adhere to the blood-rich uterine lining it too is flushed out of the body about two weeks later. Joe, meet tampon.

Women's bodies do this on their own all the time, as is doubtless being discussed throughout the internet at this moment. Billions of uteri over the years have rejected or simply failed to accept viable zygotes because the zygote simply never made it over there, for no particular reason. This is not a tragedy, this is not a miscarriage, this is not a baby, this is not a person. It is a microscopic cluster of cells that oozed out of a woman along with a whole bunch of blood and mucus.

Inter-uterine devices (IUDs (or Coils, in the UK)) work (we think) by inhibiting a zygote's ability to attach to the lining of the uterus. If you look at it like a Fundie, that would mean that an IUD works by starving the poor helplessly-flailing fertilized cell to death. Progesterone-infused IUDS are even worse--they don't usually inhibit egg release, but they do prevent the body from building up a uterine lining And physically inhibit zygote implantation. Oh, what a hostile environment!

Hormonal birth control methods generally do inhibit ovum release, so I guess they should be Fundie-fine, but they're absolutely horrible in every other way. They screw around with women's physiology so much that they cause neurological disorders, emotional disturbances, weight problems, digestive problems, dermatological problems, fibroid problems, bleeding disorders, and a host of other unpleasant changes. Barrier methods likewise prevent fertilization...when they work, but they're notoriously movable, breakable, by-passable, and faulty. The most reliable, least-unpleasant form of contraception is in fact the IUD, which, to the Fundie, could be considered forced miscarriage, i.e. muuuuurrrrder.

Obviously, non-implantation happens on its own constantly--the Mayo clinic has stated that non-implantation and even implanted miscarriage within the first 3 weeks of pregnancy occurs all the damn time, far more than the 1/4 of detected pregnancies that end in spontaneous miscarriage. Evidence exists to suggest the likelihood of Most pregnancies failing at this time, but it is utterly impossible to tell how many unacknowledged fertilized ova have been absorbed by sanitary products, even in women who were hoping to not have a period this month.

All IUDs do is bump up this number a bit, but if you believe, as many morons do, that personhood begins at fertilization, they could be seen as aiding and abetting the natural inhospitable nature of the uterus toward God's chosen innocent helpless blastocysts. It would follow, then, that the miscarriage police would feel comfortable in banning implantation-inhibitors, and should enforce that all sexually active women take human chorionic gonadotrophin supplements to prevent evil progesterone cycles triggering the uterine lining to shed before implantation occurs. If personhood begins at fertilization, we must do everything in our power to ensure that zygotes survive, including suppressing normal biology and causing heinous damage to women's bodies and minds in the process.


The trouble is, religion and law don't really fit with the truth of how bodies and societies actually work. They exist in this idealized, inhuman sphere that cannot cope with the truth that the body is amoral. It does its own thing no matter what you tell it. Whenever life begins is irrelevant to the uterus. The menstrual cycle is only a pattern of chemical releases, one that pregnancy may or may not interrupt. So too is a woman's decision-making process entirely comprised of electrochemical impulses. Whether the uterus or the brain decides to not see a pregnancy through, it is all part of the functionality of the female. If a fertilization results in a non-viable foetus, if a woman is on drugs, what have you--the inside of a woman must be off-limits to the prying, judging, moralizing, arbitrary eyes of the law and the church.

In conclusion: It may be Joe, but that really doesn't matter.

Monday, February 21, 2011

breakdown at the PO

Thank you, NatWest Greenwich bank guy. The interim statement you requested on my behalf was shoved through my door on Saturday morning, three days earlier than expected. I re-enveloped it and took it to the post office to send to my case handler about an hour ago. I was fine addressing it, hiking up there, waiting in line...then I got to the window and the shit hit my mental fan.

Hands shaking, I slid the envelope to the attendant and she asked what I wanted her to do with it. I said I didn't know, I needed to get it there by...

'Tomorrow?' she helpfully supplied. 'That'd be registered mail, guaranteed by tomorrow. £5.20. You'll get a tracking number.'

Wow, that's a lot of money. It doesn't weigh anything. That seems ridiculous.

'What's first class?'

'£1.20, but it's not guaranteed overnight. It may get there in two to three days. Are the contents valuable?'

'Financially, no, but valuable. Um.'

'Are they replaceable?'

'I... I don't know. I mean technically yes, they were free, but they're worth a lot to my visa, they're worth everything. But if they don't get there by Friday they're worthless. Absolutely worthless. I could get more copies if they were damaged but it wouldn't happen in time and by then I'd be riding freight back to the port of Charleston and OH GOD JUST SEND IT REGISTERED. I'll have to pay debit because I don't have any cash because I'm broke and you know five quid really shouldn't feel like that much money but it's a lot to meeee...'

Cue breakdown into tears in the Co-Op a few minutes later. I'm sorry, Post Office worker. I don't know how much of the above I actually said.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Notes from a discussion; A letter I sent to my senator

I can honestly say I've never had a worshipful attitude toward science. I recognize science for what it is--the process of trying to figure out how things work. That's it. Its not fickle--it grows and changes as researchers continue to think they've figured things out. There's no central hierarchy, it's just an ever-growing body of knowledge. Some published papers are bullshit, some may lead to helpful technologies. Conceptual science rarely sticks its nose into my daily life, though if I'm seeking medicine for a gastric ailment I will seek the advice of a qualified pharmacist.

I don't think I understand your sentiment regarding love's enslavement. I certainly don't allow my behaviour, wants, needs, or opinions to be dominated by the people I love. If we differ, we discuss. Frequently we agree to disagree and leave it alone. We may try to persuade one another to conform to our thinking, but we are free to refuse. If we come across an insurmountable, relationship-ending difference, we're free to leave. That's one of the great things about being an adult--you're not bound to places and people that make you unhappy, and you're not required to do things that make you unhappy to please others. If you choose to...well, that makes me sad, but it's your choice.

Religions are not like this, however. According to many sects and theocratic governments, if your wants and needs do not conform to established teachings, you must change. Even if they are not harmful to yourself or others, your views and behaviours are not to be tolerated. And according to their beliefs, you can't get away--if you reject your religion to pursue that which makes you happy, you'll be punished--either after death or by your state. There is no room for the self in religion. If that makes me selfish. . . good. It's not anybody else's job to give a hoot about my distinct individuality.

The thing that is so different between mortal love and holy love, though, is that if you stop believing that an omnipotent supreme being loves you--not because you've done something wrong, but because you can't believe it exists--it disappears as though it never was. This is not so for another human being. I can't decide that Ben doesn't love me. Even if I try and convince myself he doesn't, my disbelief in it won't change it. Likewise if he stops loving me but I continue to believe that he does, that won't make him start again. But as soon as I realized I didn't believe in holy love, it went away and I felt fine. No grieving, no sense of loss. Quite the opposite--for the first time, things made sense and I felt whole.

I didn't have a gaping hole in my psyche or emotional needs that I had to turn around and fill with something else--physics or what have you. The desire to worship is not inherent. That's where a lot of people get lost, and where a lot of people try to interject their own Ism-bound interpretation of simple atheism. Atheism is not a belief. It is a concise declaration that you have an absence thereof, because "sansbeliefitude" sounds funny and custom decrees that you can't get away with saying nothing. Many people, particularly in the UK, are able to, one morning, state calmly, "I have no need of faith-based belief" and never think about it again. They go on with their lives completely unperturbed by it, without a need to justify it, mull over it, or even occasionally sit down and wonder why they're here at all. If someone asks them what the meaning of life is without belief, they can easily say, "it doesn't matter, and I'm happy with that."

I don't believe people are endowed with certain inalienable rights. I recognize that established societies tend to adopt a responsibility for the base-line well being of most of their populace. The fact that most Britons aren't huddled starving in the streets attests to England's general success in that pursuit. But it is a pursuit, not an inherent responsibility. No geographical region Has to have defensible borders, nor does it have to establish a system of governance that looks out for the well-being of its inhabitants. And a lot don't.

But spiritual rights and privileges are immaterial. Yes, every believer has equal access to their god, but that does not fulfil their physical needs. Among those who believe, they will always believe that their deity is on their side, regardless if they are in direct conflict with another believer. Right and wrong, good and bad, are still just as contentious within the religious world, and the winner is not always the most good. Because being convinced that something is god's way doesn't make it right, or good, or useful. And being convinced something is evil doesn't make it bad. That's why institutions schism so frequently. Then of course one is invited to align with a belief structure that suits their principles, but where does that land them? If enough people don't agree with it they can change it? That means mortals are calling the shots. The fact that religions disagree, in my mind, undermines the entire concept. And as everyone believes that their sect is the most right, the Real One, the one everyone else should drop what they're doing and join...impasse, again. It's funny, really--or would be if it didn't make people so angry.

But I think that's my trouble with it, in a nutshell--it doesn't make people happy. It does not placate, it does not comfort, it is not an opiate. I broke through religion because I found it was an undue burden. I didn't like the way it told me to view myself, others, the church, or the functionality of the world. Indeed, the fundamentals of nature had nothing to do with it--it was me. There it was, in black and white, submit to, get down, obey men--I couldn't. I wouldn't. I knew it was wrong. I realized then and there, age 12, that this set of moral absolutes was a construct of mankind intended to suppress the individual from within. No matter what it says, even if I got to write the rules of my own religion according to what makes me happy it wouldn't work. I can't accept that any set of absolutes or free-standing instructions on how to live are anything more than one person's way of controlling the minds of others.


I realize that Fort Mill and the surrounding area are full of fundamentalist Christians, and you'll of course make plenty of them happy by trampling on the rights of women and severing our access to birth control and cancer screening, but believe it or not, it is not your job to protect evangelical Christians from being offended by the existence of Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood does not proselytize, it is not out to get you, and it is not staffed with baby-haters or rampaging atheists bent on world domination. They're there for the poor, the helpless, the scared, and the overwhelmed. They're there for women--a group it IS your job to protect. Your job is to ensure that people who are not causing harm do not come to harm. Not to ensure that the will of the mob is enforced on the maligned minority (or in the case of women, the traditionally abused majority).

You want to help prevent abortions? Ensure we have free, no-strings-attached access to contraception. Planned Parenthood provides this to women who can otherwise not afford it. Planned Parenthood gave me my IUD for free when I was broke, and it is to Planned Parenthood that I owe my freedom, my safety, and the fact that I've never needed an abortion. No one else in South Carolina offered me this. Nowhere else, aside from USC's student health center, could I find contraception I could afford.

You have to give us something. I don't care if contraception goes against your moral code--if you're not going to help poor women to have abortions, at least allow us to prevent unwanted babies. You will not make a woman want a child by taking away her ability to get rid of it. No woman seeks one out for fun. No woman thinks of abortion as a form of birth control. It's a last resort before your life is ruined. Before your Fundie parents begin beating you or throw you out of the house. Before you starve. Before you lose your job, your home, and your future.

You cannot force women who don't want children to abstain from sex. Sex is normal, natural, and important. Regular, satisfying sex is a vital component of mental health. Women enjoy it and should be proud of the fact that they do. Any religion that tells you otherwise is dangerous. Abstinence is not the solution. Psychological research has beaten this archaic notion down again and again. People don't, they never have, they're not supposed to. Give it a rest.

I've been in a monogamous relationship with the man I love for six years. I have always used protection, and I count on the IUD Planned Parenthood gave me. I've donated what I could to them every year since because I appreciate what they did. My friends' lives have been saved by the early detection Planned Parenthood cancer screening provided, both of the breast and the cervix. A PP practitioner even patched me up when I was injured.

By offering Prevention, Early Detection, and Termination Planned Parenthood has saved the USA millions, possibly billions of dollars on cancer treatments, complications of pregnancy, and legal fees. Planned Parenthood has made your job easier, and empowered women to live their lives without fear. If you kill Planned Parenthood, you know good and well that fear, abuse, and poverty will take its place.

Face it. The only reason to de-fund Planned Parenthood is misogyny. Do you hate women, sir?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Progress, or "My Bank Thinks Deportation is Funny"

Dateline: 16 February, 2011. 10:30 AM. Lewisham.

My cell phone rings. It's a blocked number. I answer to hear the crisp, professional voice of a real live UKBA case worker. So excited and nervous I'm ready to pee myself, I convince myself to stay cool long enough to find out what the fellow needs.

It's about my bank statements. I had to supply documentation proving that for at least the 90 days prior to my application, I had at least £800 to my name. I had asked NatWest for this information back in November. November 19th, to be exact.

I'm normally happy to have my bank statements available online, and had opted out of having paper statements mailed to me because I'd just have to file them. So I walked down to my local branch and requested copies of my 3 most recent statements so I could include them.

I was told, after waiting in line for over two hours to speak to a poorly-trained receptionist, that they'd have to request them from on high and they would be mailed to me in 10 business days. I asked if they would include statements from up to the day I requested them and was told of course, I would have my most up-to-date information.

So when I received my statements on November 29th, I checked that they were all mine (they accidentally also sent me someone else's, with my name and address hand-written on the envelope) and dumped the whole pile of application materials into the post. Same day.

I then waited for three months.

Today my case worker informed me that the most recent statement was from 21 October, A month and 8 days away from my 29 November application date. I needed 8 days worth of statements to be within the acceptable timeframe to evidence my continued financial stability. Because some asshat at NatWest Corporate processed my request for my 3 most recent statements, then waited a week, in which my new statement came out, before sending them to me.

Well, no, probably a computer at NatWest Corporate automatically spat out my statements the moment they were requested, which then joined the "to be addressed and mailed" stack, which had to be done by hand by one work-experience kid who had no idea what he was getting himself into. Either way, it took over a week, and in so doing screwed me up rotten.

So. Return to today. The case worker tells me I can get a printout of my transactions for that week and have it stamped and signed for by a bank employee, and I can mail it to him. He gives me 5 working days to achieve this, otherwise he'll have to send my application off to the next stage as-is, and it may be rejected.

I go online and look up the phone number for my nearest branch--Lewisham. I call it and the phone is answered by Ricky who's happy to help. I explain that I understand that statement requests take at least a week and up to two to be processed, and I don't have that kind of time, so is it possible to get a print-out stamped and authorized by a bank employee? He says he can't handle that over the phone. I say I know, I'll be over there in ten minutes if it is possible, but please let me know if it can be done. He says I'm sorry, I can't handle this question on the phone. I say, seriously, I live in Crofton Park. I can be in front of you in ten minutes to handle it in person, please just let me know if it is a service you can provide. After several minutes of this he finally informs me that I haven't actually reached my branch, I've reached a call centre in the Midlands that handles branch inquiries. I ask if I can speak to someone actually at my branch and am told no. I tell him his job is useless and hang up.

As by this point it's nearly 11:30 and I know the lunchtime rush is about to get going at the Lewisham branch I opt to visit the Catford branch. I'm second in line at the inquiries desk and am seen quite quickly, which is a shock. I explain my situation and my request to the staffer, who tells me they don't do that. The only way I can get an official copy of anything is to request a statement that will be posted to my house in 7-10 working days. I tell him this is impossible, my right to live in this country hangs in the balance and I don't have that kind of time. Is there anything that can be done? I need it no later than Monday. He says this sort of thing is not valid and UKBA would not accept it anyway. I assure him that they would, that my caseworker--would you like to speak to him?--told me to ask for precisely this. He says no again, says he'll ask his manager, and stomps out of the room.

He comes back five minutes later, after audibly standing around chatting with other bank employees about their personal lives the entire time, slaps a folder on the table and says "I asked my manager and I am right. We cannot authorize a statement. It is illegal." I assure him that that is in no way true. He says he can print off copies of my statement on normal printer paper and I should submit those. I tell him that won't work, they have to be authorized, but he prints away anyway. He tells me that they can't because the signatures and stamps could be used for fraudulent purposes. I say okay, then can you authorize them and then send them to UKBA on my behalf? He gets even more annoyed and says no, that is completely illegal. I assure him that too is quite legal if I sign a release, and that way I don't get the opportunity to copy anyone's signature or official stamp. He tells me there is nothing that can be done, and it never has been done this way. I take my copies and return to the lobby.

I phone my case worker and tell him what has transpired. He expresses confusion and informs me that he has a dozen applications on his desk right now that are signed stamped printouts from NatWest, and they're perfectly legit. I tell him what I have, he says they might work, as long as there's an e-mail address at the bottom of the printout that someone can contact to confirm their validity. I inform him there is not, and in all honesty they look worthless even to me. He says to send them over and he'll give it a shot, but he may have to ask me to try again.

I ask another employee what the deal is and with barely-suppressed annoyance he explains that as of the first of the year branches have been given a directive to no longer authorize anything in person because of repeated instances of fraud. I ask if there's a central bank, a main bank that I could visit who would help me without needing to mail statements to me. He says nope. I state that my time limit is completely out of my hands and I must have something quickly or I'll be deported. He shrugs. I tell him to fuck himself and burst into tears.

After sweeping gracelessly out of the building I call Boy and explain the situation. He suggests, with impressive calm, that I go from branch to branch to branch for the rest of the day until I find someone who will help me. Try Greenwich. I plough onto a bus, cross town, take a number, and wait patiently while a bank employee cheerfully tries to up-sell a small business owner an account that includes mobile phone insurance and he politely but firmly rejects it. I'm seen soon and, with a level of calm and courtesy I didn't know I still had, explain that I understand my predicament but need an authorized document by Monday.

He smiles and says of course, I can get you an interim statement in 3 business days. What dates do you need it for? That'll be fine. You should have it by Monday. The international students at the University of Greenwich need these all the time for the border agency. And that's all requested, like I said, should be at your house by Monday. If you don't mind me asking, why do you need this? If you requested your most current information back in November it should have been fine.

I smile, shrug, say something must have gotten confused in the initial request, and exit the building. I phone my case worker again, and quickly say, "Hi, it's me again. I just wanted to let you know that I went to another branch and they said they'll send me an authorized document by Monday. And they didn't yell at me. I'll send it along as soon as I receive it." He thanks me and Boy arrives, having abandoned all hope of getting any work done with all his worrying about me. We wander around Greenwich Park for a couple hours, wave at the Royal Deer, make fun of the goth ducks, and generally let it go.

So. What have I learned. Don't go to the bank in Catford. Don't go to the bank in Lewisham. Take No for an answer then go somewhere else where you'll get a yes, or at least an "I'll help you." Bankers would rather see a customer deported than admit they don't know what they're doing. Visit banks near universities if your concern is student-related. Contact your MP if you have a sneaking suspicion your application has been misplaced. Tell your friends that if your application is rejected they can all be in your wedding--this may confuse the entropy gods. And whatever you do, DO NOT JOIN NATWEST.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Still Waiting

I'm into week 12 of my long, lonely wait for UKBA to tell me...anything. Anything at all. A uni friend came over yesterday to use the phone (certain numbers can only be called from a landline in this country--it's weird) and discovered that she'll probably have a faster and easier time of getting the visa we both need if she goes back to New York and applies to the embassy. The New York UK Embassy is notorious for its impenetrability--you have to pay $12 to call a private company which will speak to you on their behalf, they don't allow in-person applications, you can't ask questions, and they don't answer emails. I had to send them my student visa application registered mail--from less than 12 blocks away. That said, they did turn the visa around in under a week, so maybe they know what they're doing.

Ben has contacted our MP to ask if she can shed any light on what the problem is. With all their recent and upcoming changes and the current downsizing kerfuffle I'm convinced my application has been misplaced, as surely after 3 months, when they claim their wait time is 3 weeks, I would have heard Something. By this point I should have either gotten a decisive No or a request for more information, or a request for me to go register biometrics or information on how I can go fuck myself. I imagine that when I call them in two weeks to ask what's going on the very curt receptionist will confirm that they received my application 29 November and I'll just have to be patient because frankly all hell has broken loose behind her and a pack of velociraptors has just eaten the mail clerk. Except she'll pronounce it clark.

Erm. Yes, MP. I sent her assistant information regarding my application--what it was, when I sent it, the weird bits that didn't make sense (it asking for a card I was forbidden from having) their stated wait times versus how long I've been waiting, the fact that all of my information is clearly valid and uncomplicated, and the recent announced changes. Hopefully she can ask someone if anything weird is going on, like how come all the biometric appointments are booked until the end of April, when the Tier 1 post-study work visa ceases to exist.

My American friends and I feel...hmm, what would be the most appropriate term? Fucked with. Yes, I think that sums it up nicely.

What it works out to is this. The UK is tired of non-English speaking foreign nationals coming in under student visas for dodgy or non-existent schools so they can get unskilled jobs that pay more than they would earn in their home country. I don't know if they're sending money back, as people claim Hispanic foreign nationals do re: the US, but they are seen as a problem. But rather than tackle the problem head-on and say "we've been having trouble with This country, This country, and This impoverished region and people are going to This fake school and This fake school and This school which turned out to be a Nike sweatshop," in all their well-meaning egalitarianism they've decided to turn out Everyone, including highly-educated English-speaking Americans.

Whenever America is included in the "other" category I get this sort of swell of imperialist outrage. How Dare you include me with those ruffians?! I'm not Foreign, I'm AMERICAN. *begin frothing at the mouth like the Gungan king in The Phantom Menace* I don't actually believe in American Exceptionalism at an intellectual level, but the US school systems do a pretty good job of ingraining the sentiment into one's very core. But I mean c'mon, if you have to call us Foreigners, at least make an exception for the Good foreigners... Who am I kidding. I don't care how they change their minds in the future just so long as they keep their word regarding what they said in the past. I paid a lot of money--more than I'm inclined to argue it's worth at this stage--for UKBA to do what they said they were going to do. And they haven't. At this point I'm beginning to want a visa And a refund, or a settlement for wages lost due to their negligence. I could be employed by now. Paying taxes. Paying off loans. Not just waiting to hear that my passport was accidentally shredded by Jeff the Neanderthal while he was wetting the plug to create sparks so he could burn my degree confirmation letter to stay warm.

Yes, I assume UKBA only hires extinct personnel. It's either that or believe members of my own species can be this incompetent, and I just can't bring myself to do so.

Monday, February 07, 2011

A Dab Here

Pillow alcove and instrument collection. The window seat is lovely in the summer when you can open the skylight and lean your head back on the roof.

My desk and hobby paraphernalia. Before you wonder, the jars contain paint thinner and water, not urine.

The Giant Shelf. The vacuum cleaner box contains my landlord's non-functioning drag-behind model. The box is to the one Boy and I bought a few months ago which is an absolute powerhouse. And yes, Boy has more audio equipment than I can fathom a use for.

Room 3 of 7 (plus the stairwell) is now painted. The study was the first carpeted room, which added a bit of challenge, as well as the first one that had its ceiling refreshed. (As the room is mostly ceiling it seemed like a good idea.) The study also contains 2 of the 4 light fixtures I've replaced in this house, evidenced by the fact that you can't see a bare lightbulb on the ceiling or a broken fixture in the stairwell.

I listened to a recording of Pride and Prejudice, read for LibriVox by Karen Savage, for this room. As I stood on desks and chairs, covered my tattered jeans in paint, and bent myself into rather strange angles to reach all the nooks and crannies in this room I wondered just how quickly Mrs. Bennett would faint at the sight of me. Lydia and Kitty would certainly point and laugh, Mary and Jane would quietly disapprove, and Lady Catherine would slap me for disgracing myself, but I think Lizzie would probably give me a clandestine thumbs-up.

The ceiling in this room is only about 7' high so I only needed a desk chair to reach everywhere. The room is mostly edges and corners so I spent quite a long time staring cross-eyed at my flat artist's brush trying to smooth the ragged lines left by the masking tape. I had to patch about twenty holes in the ceiling before painting, and a few unfortunately need another coat of emulsion. Never trust spackle manufacturers' claims that their product does not drink paint!


Bathroom door and card catalogue. 'Cos, you know, we need to index things in here. I know it's a bit blurry but it's dismal out and the flash screws up the colour.

New taps I installed before my family got here for graduation. I think it's a hospitable gesture to ensure your guests can turn the water both on And off.

Our Floor-Soak Plus shower door, along with the airing cupboard doors I took a few liberties with. I selected the wall colour from the design on the tiles. I couldn't not, really. Thankfully it was featured in the Wickes "Landlord Chic" line, so I was able to get a good price on a water-durable formula.

The bathroom, paint job 2. I didn't really mean to paint this one as soon or as quickly as I did--I sorta launched into it at about 11pm the day we went to the hardware store and was mostly done about a day and a half later. The shade of yellow you see is actually indistinguishable from worn-out white under incandescent and compact fluorescent lighting, and unfortunately, England's natural lighting tends to leave something to be desired, so it took another week of tweaking at different times of day to get all the holidays filled.

The soundtrack to this room was Jane Eyre, also courtesy of a team of LibriVox volunteers, so I think I got more annoyed at the cracks in the walls than I probably should have. I nearly painted the doorframe yellow while yelling "come on Charlotte, don't be ridiculous--no sane 19th century waif would think God wanted her to volunteer in India!" Still, my fury with the book did keep me motivated.


The kitchen is down a few steps from the dining room, something I've never quite understood. Next door's kitchen is the same. The pantry is behind the kitchen door, too, so you have to waste time and effort waving both doors around in order to get anything out of there. I've considered taking the kitchen door off, but where would I store it? (If I ever find a place, I'm putting our crappy mattress in there too and getting a new one.)

Dining room seek-and-find! Do you see: 1 fedora? 2 computers? 3 glasses cases? 4 marine animals? The number 5? (Why do we keep our fiction library in the dining room, you ask? The bookshelves in the living room are for non-fiction, serials, and CDs, of course.)

The same room, the same paint, but without flash. This colour is very fun for that--it's completely dependant on the lighting. Sometimes it's red, sometimes it's orange, sometimes it's almost pink. Heart. We nicked the lanterns from my sister's wedding.

This was the first room I decided to paint, mostly because I kinda messed it up and needed to fix it. Some owner of the house many moons ago put an ugly-as-sin paper border up at chair-rail level, and some later, lazier owner elected to, rather than remove it, paint an attractive puke green over it. Later still someone painted over that with a sherbet pink, which was then covered with four or five coats of everyone's favourite Chunky White. This all happened, of course, years after someone hung the Decorative Lumps wallpaper that eventually became a structural element of the house. I couldn't do much about the lumpy walls, but the peeling, glaringly moronic painted border was downright nauseating. What can I say? I'm impulsive. I picked at it. Quite a bit. By the end of an hour I had a razor blade, a sponge and a bowl of water out and was carefully removing the ghastly thing from the entire room...which of course left me suddenly needing to paint. Whoops.

Charlaine Harris kept me company on this room with several Sookie Stackhouse novels, read by Johanna Parker. The whole scrubbing, patching, and painting process took about a week, and I typically listened through one book a day. If it weren't for all the gratuitous sex scenes the stories would belong firmly in the Early Teen section of the library--the characters are so simple and stupid it almost hurts. Every chapter includes at least two highly-detailed paragraphs of how Sookie gets dressed or what she's wearing, down to the last yellow ball earring. Still, Parker has an amazingly comforting southern accent (and does all the voices really well--when she reads phrases like 'Suddenly, out of the dark I heard,"I knew you'd be here, silly girl." It was exactly the voice I was dreading.' you can easily tell which character it is long before they're identified), and Harris always includes references to local food, customs, history, and behaviours that get me all nostalgic. That's not fair, Sookie, I can't get pickled okra here!

Gross words: Formula. Premium. Deluxe. Nugget.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Undirected Impatience

As of two days ago I'm officially in limbo. My student visa has expired, but UKBA still has my passport and my post-study work visa application is "processing" (e.g. collecting dust in a locked filing cabinet shoved in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying "beware of the leopard.") I submitted my form just under 10 weeks ago, but they say they are currently reviewing applications submitted 3 weeks ago. Without my passport and a valid visa of some persuasion I have no evidence of my right to work in this country. I also have no idea if I have, or will have the right to work in this country. They have changed the application criteria but will not attempt to impose them retroactively, so at least I have that.

Since November I've painted two rooms of my house (both including baseboards and trim, one including ceiling), volunteered on 4 shows, graduated, fixed a silly little computer, installed new taps in the bathroom, applied for 10 jobs (just for fun, really) been rejected from 3 jobs (no surprise there, Ms. Dubious Work Visa), had some work done on the house, doodled a lot, fixed and made a few pieces of jewellery, and spent the rest of my time reading, staring at the wall, and kicking things. I've also tried to encourage my neighbours' cats to let me pet them when they play in my back yard (so and cleaned everything far too thoroughly. In short, if it weren't for the fact that I've been alone, I've been behaving like I'm on vacation. Except without the fun or the relief.

Two days ago a Royal Mail special delivery guy parked his van right in front of my house. He withdrew about a dozen small parcels from the back, checked his list...and then proceeded to efficiently deliver them all to twelve houses near mine before driving away. I was incensed. Wait a minute, Mr. Postman! Surely you see this is not fair! Jerkface.

Worried worried worried. I bet my passport made its way onto the black market and is currently being used by a Ukranian drug mule. My application is not remarkable, so why is it taking the same amount of time as the really complicated, distinctly dubious ones? Y'know, like the application submitted in Swahili for a completer of Oxford Street Unn-Iveristy so she may immigrate with her 9 children who are all men and older than her. Is Central really that unheard of? Laurence Olivier went there. As did Dame Judi Dench, all of the Redgraves, and Catherine Tate. It's not some mob-run diploma mill! What's wrong with my credentials? Why am I on the back burner? Did you find traces of LSD on the envelope? What else are post office employees supposed to do all day?



It's been too long for me to feel comfortable or safe. But I accidentally painted the cabinet that contains my suitcase shut and I'm not sure if I'll ever get it open again. Maybe it'll be fine. Maybe it really did fall down behind a cupboard, or Daisy Mae spilled her coffee on it and they've had to ask the US embassy to print me a new passport.

Yeah right. They'd totally make me pay for that.