Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun...

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Trials of Trying to Be a Better Reader

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.” 

Dr. Seuss

Early last week the Flophouse experienced a most fortuitous event:  our Internet connection died.  That's right, over four days of no access to email, on-line media and all the other goodies at one's fingertips.

Once past the whining "Whatever shall I do?"  I picked up two books that I had been trying to read in fits and starts over the past few months and finally finished them:  Imaginary Homelands and  Great Books.  The first is a set of really fine essays covering a wide variety of topics by the famous novelist Salman Rushdie.  The second is a tale about second chances and how a man exposed to the Great Books in his youth goes back to university to read them again decades later.  These are fine books and I liked them both for different reasons.

Rushdie is simply a master essayist and could write beautifully on any topic.  David Denby is a film critic for the New Yorker and not nearly as good a writer as Rushdie but could you imagine a juicier topic?  Family man nearing middle-age heading back to university to read Homer again (and discover Virginia Woolf for the first time).

I finished both, the Internet magically came back to life after the intervention of a technician from Orange, and, as I sat down to deal with my overflowing email in-box, I felt no sense of relief or gratitude.  I went from the world of slow reading and contemplation to "staccato signals of constant information."   Perhaps it's my age but I realized that I can't do both.  I can't give a good book my full attention and be jumping up every few minutes to check the latest link or missive that has just popped up on my screen.

So my resolve is to do for myself what the storm did for me last week:  shut the Internet down every day.  

Is that all there is to it?  Shut down the Internet and instantly become a better reader?  No, I think this is simply a first step - a reversal of pernicious habits acquired over the course of years.

I never have a destination in mind as I make my book selections, but oddly enough I tend to stumble on things that turn out to be more or less what I need at any particular moment (a lot like going to an AA meeting.)  And so, as I was hardening my resolve to limit my on-line life, I came across Mortimer Adler's How to Read a Book, a title that is easy to mock, and yet...

A surprisingly good read.  Some of my pleasure was surely in finding that what I have always been told are bad habits, are, in his view, perfectly reasonable things to do while reading.  Like taking copious notes on the inside cover, foxing pages, writing in the margins, highlighting, and even skimming (he calls this "Inspectional reading").  For deeper levels of reading (analytical and syntopical) he gives a guide to how to go about it:  the tasks, the questions to ask and answer.  

Very useful for reading non-fiction (what he calls practical and theoretical "expository" books).  What about fiction? Or poetry?    "Read it quickly," he says, "and with total immersion."  Suspend your disbelief, enter the world of the author, and don't puzzle over things and characters you don't understand right away. In short, give it a chance to work its magic - something that takes time and attention.  As for poetry, read it once and then it read it again out loud. (This also applies to Saint Augustine's Confessions which were probably spoken live to an audience.)

Most of Adler's book is very precise and sometimes a bit pedantic.  Where he becomes vague is when he talks about what to read.
You will not improve as a reader if all you read are books that are well within your capacity.  You must tackle books that are beyond you, or, as we have said, books that are over your head.
And then, in the appendix, he has a list of books that are difficult reads and are likely to be a stretch for many of us.  Fair enough and having read some of the books on his list, I think he's right.

But I think he underestimated the prejudices we bring to certain books and our own arrogance.  There are books we pick up and because of the genre or the cover or some signal that we latch on to unconsciously, we assume from the start that the book is a "light read" or "trash" and we treat it as such.  And then something happens to us once we've finished it:  as hard as we try, we can't stop thinking about it.

I have a couple of books like this on my Best Reads list and I will give you one of them as an example.  I have read it twice and it still bothers me:  The Reluctant Dom by Tymber Dalton.  If you read the title and thought Fifty Shades of Grey, you are kind of right.  It is one of those modern erotic romances with BDSM and polyamory and stuff that seems to shock even the most modern and liberal of sensibilities.  I have struggled mightily to express why I think the book is much more than that and can be read and re-read on different levels.  Here is one stab at it (my latest):
A modern couple very much in love but one partner has come to the marriage deeply damaged.  Completely by accident they find a way of coping together which is deeply satisfying for both of them but is outside the boundaries of what the larger society finds "normal".   The stakes are very high:  it's not whether or not the two will stay together, but whether or not the wife will live or die.  And then the husband, is diagnosed with terminal cancer and while his death is certain, he commits himself to his wife's survival.  That means bringing in another person and trying to build intentionally what he and his wife came to accidentally.  Right up to the very end of the book, it is not clear if this is going to work or not,  with terrible consequences if it doesn't.
There is nothing simple about this tale.  It was, and still is, a stretch for me.  Not because the language is difficult (Dalton is a good writer) but because wrapping your mind around all that's going on this book is hard if you read it as something more than just erotica.

So, from Rushdie to Denby, from Great Books to ones that will never be part of any canon but are considered to be worthwhile, I think "free range reading" is important and time should be allocated to it:  picking up a book at random, or even better picking one from a genre that you don't usually read (and perhaps have strong prejudices about) and giving it a fair reading.   That's how I found The Reluctant Dom, Dorothy Dunnett's King Hereafter and Clifford Geertz's Interpretation of Cultures.  

I suspect that Adler would have applauded two out of three; but he's dead and I'm not reading for his or anyone else's approval.

Time to shut down the computer, work in the garden and then set myself to some serious reading this afternoon.  Have a lovely day, everyone.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Return to Our Wandering Ways

"The effect of mass migrations has been the creation of radically new types of human being: people who root themselves in ideas rather than places, in memories as much as in material things; people who have been obliged to define themselves-because they are so defined by others-by their otherness; people in whose deepest selves strange fusions occur, unprecedented unions between what they were and where they find themselves. The migrant suspects reality: having experienced several ways of being, he understands their illusory nature. To see things plainly, you have to cross a frontier.” 
Salman Rushdie, Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991
If you've read the short post, What is a "Flophouse"?  then you know that our little Franco-American household has set up shop over the years in all kinds of places around the world like Seattle (USA), Suresnes, (France) and Tokyo (Japan). 

Oh, those wandering ways of ours!  Why?  Why pack up every few years, leave friends and family, and all that is (or has become) familiar, for a distant shore halfway across the world?  I could be disingenuous and give you the short answer - work -  but that's not the whole story.

We go because we can.  Because opportunities present themselves.  When asked, "Would you like to go to...?" our answer has always been a resounding, "Yes!"  As Susan Ossman points out in Moving Matters, having packed up and left everything once, twice, thrice  the destination may be a mystery, but the feelings and the process are now very familiar.

Kansai region (dark green) - Wikipedia Commons
The next destination for the Flophouse is Osaka, Japan

This is a city on the sea in the Kansai region, not too far from Kobe and Kyoto.   

Japan is not a complete mystery to us - we lived in Tokyo years ago - but I know next to nothing about this region.  All the traveling I did when I lived in that great city was out of the country across the water to Korea and China. (It was a little like living in the Paris area and traveling to London, Brussels or Munich but never Lyon, Marseilles or Bordeaux.)  In short, there is more to France than Paris, and there is much more to Japan than just Tokyo.

I will not hide, however, my feelings which were (are?) mixed:   the thrill to be going off on another adventure is tinged with anxiety.  This is Asia where not only do I not know the language well, I can't even read it with any fluency.  I am cancer-free but still under treatment and it will be wrench to lose my clinic and my beloved oncologist (both of which have managed to keep me alive these past few years).   And this time around I will not be working, so making a life for myself will take effort on my part.  

Against all that vague uncertainty is recognition that the universe is indeed benevolent and is offering a second chance.  If I left Japan last time having missed a great deal, and with a sense of not having done much except work like a demon (and, alas, drink), then is this not an unexpected but most welcome opportunity to do better?  Japan is simply one of the most extraordinary countries I've ever lived in and has a graciousness and quiet beauty the likes of which I have never found in either North America or Europe.  

As for keeping myself occupied and content wherever I land, all that I have lived in the past few years (sobriety, cancer, and the transformation from technologist to wordsmith) give me every reason to be optimistic and to fully feel the lovely frisson that comes with rejoining the world of "the people who move around." I can stay sober, live with cancer, and write anywhere on this planet. So....
“Let us simmer over our incalculable cauldron, our enthralling confusion, our hotchpotch of impulses, our perpetual miracle - for the soul throws up wonders every second. Movement and change are the essence of our being; rigidity is death; conformity is death; let us say what comes into our heads, repeat ourselves, contradict ourselves, fling out the wildest nonsense, and follow the most fantastic fancies without caring what the world does or thinks or says. For nothing matters except life.”  
Virginia Woolf

Friday, September 19, 2014

FATCA Now the Law of the Land in France

For those of you who missed the FATCA debate yesterday in the French parliament, here are the essential links:

The video of the discussion (go to the box on the right side of the screen and scroll down and click on ACCORD FRANCE-ÉTATS-UNIS D’AMÉRIQUE RESPECT OBLIGATIONS FISCALES (LOI FATCA)
The transcription of the debate

I watched it this morning and here are few of my thoughts.

First of all, I was impressed by the high caliber of the discussion. All the individuals who spoke did so clearly and thoughfully.  I heartily wish American politicans could do half as well.

Framing:  I was very interested in seeing how the pro-FATCA camp framed their arguments and addressed certain reservations already put forward in previous debates.

The larger context, of course, is the Good Fight against tax evasion and fraud.  Even Pierre Lellouche (UMP) who spoke against the law admitted:
L’objectif affiché se passe bien sûr de toute discussion. Il s’agit d’œuvrer pour la transparence fiscale et de mettre fin, grâce à la coopération des États et à la transmission automatique des informations, à la fraude fiscale massive que connaît le monde : environ 6 000 milliards de dollars qui échappent à toute imposition.
De ce point de vue, personne ne peut être contre. Comme disent les Américains, personne ne peut être contre la tarte aux pommes et la patrie, apple pie and motherhood ; tout le monde est pour ! (Sourires.) À mort la transparence !
(The objective obviously needs no discussion. It is about fiscal transparency and the end, thanks to cooperation among states and the automatic transmission of information, to widespread tax evasion in the world:  6 000 billions of dollars that escape taxes.
From this point of view, no one could be against it.  As the Americans say, no one can be against apple pie and country, apple pie and motherhood;  Everyone is for! (Smiles).  Death to Transparency!
)
Is FATCA THE Solution to Tax Evasion?  Not one speaker thought that FATCA was perfect, they simply differed as to how bad it was and whether or not these problems were deal-breakers.

Expressions of discontent peppered the debate: "extraterritorial", "unilateral"  and the rather grim indictment, "Americans have a tendency to privilege their interests over international law."  If a better, more multilateral proposition had been on the table, then that would have been preferable.  But it's not a perfect world, said its proponents, and it's better than nothing.  If nothing else it has had the salutory effect of moving other information-sharing initiatives forward (OECD, for example) which means that FATCA is just a step on the way to a true and legitimate worldwide standard.

Reciprocity is a Problem:  I was pleasantly surprised that they were aware of just how fragile the US commitment to reciprocity really is.  US law does not at the moment permit the US government to provide the same level of information to France, but the FATCA proponents did not mention ALL of the potential legal and political problems with FATCA on the US side. Mme Odile Saugues:  
Tout d’abord, il existe une incertitude sur le principe de réciprocité, et notamment sur le solde des comptes et la valeur des actifs. Les États-Unis se sont formellement engagés à transmettre ces informations dès que leur droit interne le leur permettra – ce qui n’est pas le cas à ce jour. Les élus républicains du Congrès – Rand Paul, sénateur du Kentucky, et Bill Posey, représentant de l’État de Floride – bloquent actuellement la transmission de ces données dans le cadre du dispositif... Cette situation risque de durer jusqu’aux élections de mi-mandat aux États-Unis, qui auront lieu le 4 novembre prochain.
(First of all there is uncertainty about the principle of reciprocity and especially about account balances and stock values. The US has formally committed to sending this information as soon as their internal laws allow it. Republican lawmakers in Congress - Rand Paul, Senator from Kentucky, and Bill Posey, representative from the state of Florida - are blocking the transmission of this information in the context of this law... This situation may continue until the mid-term elections which will take place on November 4.)
Interesting. To my knowledge there is no projet de loi on the American side, just a brief paragraph hidden in the Obama budget bill. Furthermore, there are court cases launched (or about to be launched) in the US and Canada which are a real risk to FATCA. The American lawsuit, in particular, should have been mentioned since it calls into question, among other things, the legality of those inter-governmental agreements on the American side - those IGAs that the French government says they were in part responsible for forcing on the US along with other European countries like Germany.  

I would also say that even if the Democrats were to win and take control of the US Congress, Americans banks and financial institutions are important campaign donors to both parties and they will surely have something to say about reciprocity on the US side.

As one speaker put it about those IGAs and American promises: "Cette rédaction alambiquée est, pour qui connaît les institutions américaines, une vaste plaisanterie, qui rappelle le vieux proverbe selon lequel, en politique, les promesses n’engagent que ceux qui les écoutent."  (This convoluted text is, for those who know American institutions, a joke, reminiscent of the old adage in politics, promises only bind those who listen to them.)  Well said.

Impact of FATCA on French Citizens and Residents: Frédéric Lefebvre was the only speaker who addressed the impact of this law on French citizens. He spoke very eloquently in defense of the French abroad, the "Accidental Americans" in France and the 100,000 US citizens who are legal residents of the French Republic. (The full text of his speech is here.) No one will weep for the tax evaders caught in the net, he said, but:  "Il faut cependant prendre garde, je le dis avec gravité, aux effets pervers du dispositif tel qu’il nous est proposé." (You must be careful, and I say this to you with utmost seriousness, of the perverse effects of this law that you are proposing." )

Frédéric Lefebvre's motion to delay the implementation (and the vote) until these matters can be studied further was voted down and the law implementing FATCA in France was approved.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

John Oliver on Scottish Independence

For those of you who are following this story, this John Oliver piece is well worth watching.



FATCA Debate in the French Parliament

Got an email yesterday from a Flophouse reader pointing out that the UMP Quebec 2014 twitter feed recently tweeted two Flophouse posts.  That was unexpected but pleasantly so.  Thank you to whoever manages that feed and I hope that those who follow it will be inspired to action.  As of this morning there are 29 comments about the US renunciation fee raise on the regulation.gov website and it would be good to have many more.  Please be aware that you can leave a comment anonymously.  That's right, you do not have to give them your name or contact information.

As I was reading the feed I noticed a note from Frédéric Lefebvre, the Député des Français d’Amérique du Nord.  If you are a French abroad in North America, he is your representive in the French national parliament.  He has been an excellent advocate for his constituents who are, alas, part of the collateral damage brought about by FATCA.  In June he met with two dual (French/US) citizens to talk directly with them about how this American legislation impacts them in France.

He says that there will be a parliamentary debate TODAY (September 18, 2014 and it's number 4 on the morning agenda) concerning the legislation that is needed to implement FATCA in France.

For those who are interested (and you are many) here is the projet de loi for FATCA that was introduced in July by Laurent Fabius and passed by the French Senate (via an "accelerated procedure").

And here is a report about the FATCA legislation prepared by Ms. Estelle  GRELIER for the Assembly which was presented and discussed by the Commission des affaires étrangères on September 10.

Hopefully the debate will be recorded and if so I will post it here on the Flophouse.

Update:  You can watch the debate en direct this morning here.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Tribes and Truth

This delightful Ted video was posted by Andrew over at Multicultural Meanderings.  Hans Rosling is back with his son Ola to explain How Not to Be Ignorant of the World.  A few heuristics for rethinking what we think we know of the world.  To Andrew's short summary of Ola Rosling's points I would add one that I call (for want of a better term) Tribes Never Tell the Truth.

We are social creatures and every human group (family, tribe, clan, class, country, nation, state) we belong to has a story about itself and about the people and places beyond its boundaries and borders. Arjun Appadurai put it quite well when he pointed out that "No modern nation, however benign its political system and however eloquent its public voices may be about the virtues of tolerance, multiculturalism, and inclusion, is free of the idea that its national sovereignty is built on some sort of ethnic genius."

 These stories contain facts mixed with myths to form powerful narratives and we cannot help but evaluate the input we get from the world against the storyline of whatever group we identify with. Even the most indepdendent of thinkers can find himself struggling mightily to incorporate information that challenges what he thinks he already knows about the world.   Those who are quick to recognize this about religion or nationalism should acknowledge that there are quasi-religious narratives lurking under the surface of their "rationality".  As Mircea Eliade said:
"Mythical behaviour can be recognized in the obsession with 'success' that is so characteristic of modern society and that expresses an obscure wish to transcend the limits of the human condition;  in the exodus to Suburbia, in which we can detect the nostalgia for 'primordial perfection';  in the paraphenalia and emotional intensity that characterize what has been called 'the cult of the sacred automobile.'"
These stories are another impediment to seeing the world clearly because challenging them (and finding them wanting) gets us kicked out of a club we desperately wish to belong to.  Most groups (even ones comprised of "free thinkers") do not tolerate even small deviations from the common story.  Is it not true that perceived apostates are treated even more harshly then those who are clearly in the camp of the enemy?  Every group has its own Inquisition, ready to ferret out those who "belong without believing."

So I would add this heuristic to the list - one that was beautifully expressed by the late Christopher Hitchens -  "How do I know that I know this, except that I've always been taught this and never heard anything else? How sure am I of my own views? Don't take refuge in the false security of consensus, and the feeling that whatever you think you're bound to be OK, because you're in the safely moral majority."

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

FATCA/CBT: Acting In Your Own Defense

I put a dollar in a change machine. Nothing changed.

George Carlin

Maybe it's my hippy childhood but I'm a great believer in acting directly in one's own defense.  Delegating upward to organizations is fine unless it means total abdication and sitting on one's shaking hands hoping that someone who is not you will save the day. 

Two opportunities for direct action dropped into my hands yesterday.  Just like that.  Here they are. 

1. Let the US Gov know what you think about the renunciation fee raise:  Do we not all agree that this is horse manure?  422%?  You have got to be kidding me. That's outrageous. Are Americans abroad captive citizens who have to be actively discouraged from turning in their US passports?  And who is going to have trouble paying the 2,350 USD fee?  Well, it sure as hell isn't the 1% (or the 10% for that matter).  

The fee raise is already in effect but the US government will take comments until October 21.  You have three ways to submit yours :

Leave a note here;  
Send them an email: fees@state.gov with the RIN (1400-AD47) in the subject line of the message; 
Send them snail mail: U.S. Department of State, Office of the Comptroller, Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA/C), SA-17 8th Floor, Washington, DC 20522-1707

2.  Send them some FATCA facts and hit them hard:  Democrats Abroad just released the results of a survey they conducted on the impact of FATCA on Americans abroad.  Three documents that you can find here:

FATCA: Affecting Everyday Americans Every Day

Send them to whom?  To everyone you can think of.  A few ideas:  elected lawmakers back in the US, local lawmakers in our host countries, journalists, bloggers, hometown newspapers.  Hell, take your email contact list and send it to your friends and family.  This is a serious bit of research (Dr. Amanda Klekowski von Koppenfels of the Brussels School of International Studies was part of the task force that gathered the data) and it's one of the best responses I've seen so far to the folks in Washington (not to mention the American homeland public) who think that the FATCA collateral damage is just a few rich tax evaders in disguise telling stories and this will all go away by itself if they just ignore the "myths" long enough.

There you have it.  Two things you (and I) can do today.  

And to be crystal clear, I will be doing it for me. Because I don't know how any of this will shake out but I feel better doing something in my own defense   It's not quite anarchist calisthenics, but it is a small step away from behaving like a subservient second-class citizen.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Flophouse American Diaspora Reading List

“Sometimes we feel we straddle two cultures; at other times, that we fall between two stools.”

Salman Rushdie, Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991

Time for an update of the Flophouse American Diaspora Reading List - the best books and articles I've read recently about American people and communities abroad.  New books are in green.  As always, please feel free to add to the list.  

This list has three sections:

I.  Upcoming titles - Books that have not been published yet but that I plan on reading.
II.  General books/articles - the larger view.  Some talk about specific issues (like citizenship), others are studies, portraits or serious research about Americans abroad.  
III. Expat autobiographies:  Accounts of Americans in different countries.  These are not books that tell a potential American migrant how to live in Mexico, however.   These are personal accounts that talk about what happens to American identity when it gets transplanted somewhere else for a year or two or for a lifetime.  

Upcoming Titles:

The Citizenship of Americans Living Abroad: Democracy and Those Who Leave by Katya C. Long.  Expected publication date is December 1, 2014

*********************************************************
General books:

The Other Americans in Paris: Businessmen, Countesses, Wayward Youth, 1880-1941 (2014) by Nancy L. Green. I was really looking forward to this one and it did not disappoint (gave it four stars on Goodreads).  The American community/colony in Paris has always been far more diverse than one might think:  businessmen (and women), lawyers, doctors, dentists as well as students and artists and writers. Green does an excellent job of broadening our perspective about this community which has existed since before the American Revolution.  I highly recommend this book and all of Nancy Green's work.

Civic Myths: A Law-And-Literature Approach to Citizenship (2007) by Brook Thomas.  There is citizenship as the law of the land which defines who is legally "in" (or "out") but there is also the social context around it which influences how we feel about that citizenship.  Thomas shows how the "good citizen" or the "immigrant citizen" were portrayed in popular American literature.  The most interesting for me was his discussion about the very famous essay The Man Without a Country which may still be influencing how Americans feel about expatriation (renouncing or losing US citizenship).

Citizenship Without Consent: Illegal Aliens in the American Polity (1985) by Peter H. Schuck and Rogers Smith.  My review is here.  This is a book that argues against the rather broad application of US jus soli citizenship laws.  I think it reads very differently for an American living outside the US who is aware that these laws have created something that is being referred to now as an "Accidental American." (Many thanks to Allison Christians for loaning the book to me so I could read it. I promise to bring it back next time I am in Montreal.)

What Soldiers Do: Sex and the American GI in World War II France (2013) by Mary Louise Roberts.  I'm ambivalent about this one.  It's so well-researched and has so much information in it that I was in awe as I was reading it.  However, I'm not so sure about the conclusions she drew from that research.  I think I need to read it again before I can give it a fair review.   If you have read it, let me know in the comments section what you thought. 

Migrants or Expatriates?  Americans in Europe by Amanda Klekowski von Koppenfels. This one came in 2014 and is THE book to read right now if you are interested in knowing something concrete about just who those absent Americans (7 million or so of them) are:  socioeconomic status, political affiliations, host country, integration, identity and so much more.  Short Flophouse review here and an interview she gave about the book here.  

The Citizenship Revolution: Politics and the Creation of the American Union, 1774-1804 by Douglas Bradburn.  This came out in 2009 and it examines the development of US citizenship in the post-Revolutionary War period.  Fighting over citizenship in this newly independent state was influenced by what was going on in Europe (the French Revolution), the arrival of yet more immigrants and the naturalization question, and expatriation (how to give up US citizenship).  For the last look no further then the fascinating case of one Gideon Henfield, an American who, when accused of privateering, invoked his "right to expatriate" and informed the court that he was no longer an American, but a Frenchman.  He was acquitted in 1793 and allowed to leave and go about his business. 

Beyond Citizenship: American Identity After Globalization by Peter Spiro (2008).  This one is already on the Flophouse Diaspora and International Migration Reading List but it definitely should go here as well.  What has happened, in his view, to US citizenship in a globalized world?  I am planning on re-reading it with my American abroad eye taking into account what has happened in the world to US citizenship since 2010.

Expatriation, Expatriates, and Expats: The American Transformation of a Concept by Nancy L. Green.  This article (available on-line) was published in 2009 in the The American Historical Review. Great essay about American expatriation in the legal and cultural senses.  How did the right to expatriate (the right to leave) go from a mechanism for "nation-building" to one of excluding Americans from the nation?

Americans Abroad: A Comparative Study of Emigrants from the United States by A. Dashefsky et al.
Published in 1992 this is a study of Americans migrants in Australia and Israel (Canada is briefly mentioned as well).  It asks provocative questions about motives for leaving, adaptation in these countries, and why the migrants stayed, returned to the US, or decided to move on to a third country.  In the final chapter are some interesting conclusions and proposals for policies around this emigration one of which is: "Deter efforts to force migrants to change citizenship or otherwise make a permanent, formal commitment to one society or another."

Published in 2007, a very interesting book that re-examines the "American Dream" in the light of American emigration.  Talks about Americans in Canada, Israel, Australia and New Zealand.  It's one of the few I've found that includes African-American emigration and women migrants.  Some good statistics (or at least estimates) at the end of the book.

The Unknown Ambassadors: A Saga of Citizenship by Phyllis Michaux.
Published in 1996, this is the story of how Americans abroad organized around issues of particular importance to Americans living outside the US:  citizenship for the children of Americans who were born abroad, voting rights, and many other issues like Medicare from the 1970's to the 1990's.  This is the diaspora going to the homeland government for recognition as a distinct group with particular interests.  It's a battle that is still ongoing but this book is important because it's the only one I know of that gives the the history and the context behind today's efforts.

"Gilded Prostitution": Status, Money, And Transatlantic Marriages, 1870-1914 by Maureen E. Montgomery.   The title is a bit off-putting but if you are an American woman married to a foreign national this is a good one.  The marriages examined here are between elites (U.S. and U.K.) over a century ago and yet some of the negative (and positive) attitudes about women who marry foreigners and leave America are all too familiar.  Under it all, of course, were questions of citizenship (should women lose their citizenship because they marry "out") and taxation where money followed these women abroad.

Americans Abroad, How Can We Count Them? This book which came out in 2010  is the transcript of a hearing held in 2001 by the U.S. Congress House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform, Sub-committee on the Census,  on the feasibility of including Americans civilians abroad in the census.  This is the diaspora meeting the homeland government directly and the interplay between homeland interests and the interests of Americans abroad is fascinating.  In particular the testimony of the representative from the U.S. State Department shines a light on the relationship between the US Embassies/Consulates and the American communities in the host countries.  

Diaspora Politics: At Home Abroad by Gabriel Sheffer
This is a general book about diaspora politics but I include it here for two reasons: 1.  It will put the efforts for recognition in the three previous books on this list in a much larger context.  There are patterns, general strategies that all diasporas use or try to use as they attempt to manage the relationship with the homeland over different issues and 2.  He examines the question of whether or not the American communities abroad (some of which have a history that goes back to the American Revolution in the 18th century) constitute a true diaspora. 

"The inclusion of those overseas Americans in this category raises some interesting theoretical questions:  Can the Americans, who themselves are of diverse ethnic origins and are citizens of a civic state rather than an ethnic state, be regarded as belonging in the category of ethno-national diasporas, or do they constitute yet another borderline case?"

A Gathering of Fugitives:  American Political Expatriates in Mexico 1948-1965 (2002) by Diana Anhalt. a fascinating portrait of American political expatriates, a "small group of controversial Americans who found refuge in Mexico during the late 40's and throughout the '50's..." Flophouse review here.

This book focuses on one of the largest and most visible group of Americans who live and work abroad: teachers. Zimmerman talks about the distinct differences between those who went abroad in the first half of the 20th century and those who left in the latter half. Though the social, historical and political frameworks changed over time, he notes that there has always been a diversity of opinion and a debate about just what these Americans were doing (or supposed to be doing) abroad. There are things in here that will make Americans wince - not just how some Americans viewed the countries where they worked (especially those that were a part of the American empire like Puerto Rico or the Philippines) in the first part of the 20th century, but also how this continued with a different twist in the second half of the century.

A beautiful book about American women abroad - the photography is stunning.  These are ordinary women who have done (and are still doing) extraordinary things outside the US: Jean Darling (Ireland), Yuzana Khin (Thailand), Gillian McGuire (Italy), Kim Powell, (France), Lucy Laederich (France), Marcia Brittain (Uruguay), and Jane Cabanyes (Spain) to name just a few. The book came out of a FAWCO (Federation of American Women's Clubs Overseas) project and is the work of two members: My-Linh Kunst (photography) and Charlotte Fox Zabusky.  A longer Flophouse review of the book can be found here.

The Transplanted Woman by Gabrielle Varro
Gabrielle Varro is a CNRS researcher in anthropology and sociology who has studied bi-lingualism, immigration and the sociology of mixed-marriages. This book came out of a study that she conducted with AAWE of French-American marriages and families over generations.  Some of it is about the dynamics of cross-cultural marriages but it also looks at American identity as it is transmitted through the American wives of French men.  A Flophouse discussion of Varro's work can be found here.

**************************************
Autobiographies:

Foreigner in My Own Backyard (2014) by Travis Casey.  I found this when when I was looking for a copy of Bill Bryson's book.  The author is an American who has been living in the UK for 20 years (he's a dual US/UK citizen) and who has had to come back to the US for a short time to care for family.   These are his first impressions of life back in the homeland.  It's funny (and sad sometimes).  Some of his stories show just how ambivalent Americans in the US are about Americans who leave.  If you are an American abroad and have ever toyed with the idea of going "home" for an extended visit, I think you will enjoy this one.

The American (2007) by Franz-Olivier Giesbert.  A rather dark book but with a unique perspective.  The author is an Accidental American in France who wrote about his relationship with his American father.  Flophouse review here.

Second Skin (2012) by Diana Anhalt.  Some stunning poetry from the author of A Gathering of Fugitives. She writes about her host country (Mexico), languages (English/Spanish) and much more.  One of my favorite lines from her work:

"Today I speak Spanish to survive,
but I write in English for its punch,
for the way it slices through excess, draws blood,
attracts sharks. (They know this voice and come to me.)"
All about the trauma of losing identity and forming a new one in a new language and country.  Very honest account of how she felt during the process.  A longer Flophouse review of the book is here.

The musings of a "redneck socialist" which are mostly about homeland politics but there are some excellent essays in this book about his time in Belize. His political views are pretty clear:  "Capitalism is dead," he said, "but we still dance with the corpse." Really engaging writer and his expat perspective is one you don't come across everyday.  Just have a look at his bio.  

Tales of Mogadiscio by Iris Kapil
This is a series of essays written by an American woman in a cross-cultural marriage (her husband is Indian and they got married in the 1950's).  She was a serial expat but this book is about the two years the family spent "on the economy" in the capital city of Somalia in the 1960's.  Beautiful descriptions of what that city was like before the country descended into chaos and became the epitome of a "failed state."  Kapil has a fine blog called Iris sans frontières.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

What if?

I'm almost finished with a really good book by Alan Weisman called The World Without Us.  It's a thought experiment:  What if humans vanished tomorrow?  What would happen and would might the world look like in 10, 100, 1000 or 10,000 years?

I can't vouch for the science but it does support a suspicion I've had since I was a kid growing up in the Pacific Northwest of the US:  the human race's grip on this planet is a lot more tenuous than we think.  I was raised in the western half of Washington state which is temperate rain forest and I did a lot of hiking in my youth.  Here's a video that will give you a good idea of what that looks like:



In order for anything human-made to last,  it has to be maintained with great effort.  In a few short years, that old field or house or road starts to deteriorate.  I saw this with a plot of land that my family owned back in the 1970's - we cleared an area and just a few years later had to get out the chainsaw to clear it again.  This is not an argument for humans doing whatever they want;  it's simply a recognition that there are forces that will take back what we make, much faster than we might imagine.

As I was reading the book and thinking about that, it occured to me that I had an even more recent example of this.  I spent part of my summer in Brittany, France where my mother-in-law owns an old fisherman's house.  I've been going to the same area for over 20 years now and what I see every time I visit is less and less land under cultivation (fewer farmers).  Some of the land was sold and there are new houses (or people trying to save old ones) but a lot of it has simply been abandoned.  In some places the only way you know that there was a farm and fields is because you'll see a little part of what was a stone wall peeking out from under the moss, ferns and trees.  Then you look closer and see that on the other side, there is forest but it's not that old (less than 100 years).  From field to forest (albeit a kind of scruffy forest with a lot of brush and shrubbery in addition to the trees) in one lifetime.  Even the stone walls, which in some places come up to my shoulder are being covered with vegetation and I've seen trees growing in these walls around those old fields, slowly tearing them down.

During dinner one evening this year we looked out the window and saw a chevreuil (European deer).  In 30 years my mother-in-law said that she had never seen one before that day.  Here's what they look like:



I really recommend the Weisman book and I'll leave you today with some pictures I took during our month in Brittany. Have a great weekend, everyone.

Old stone house which is occupied - in the foreground is the old stone wall


Four à pain (oven for baking bread).  It's not that old (probably 19th century).
The owners of this property are keeping the brush away from it but look at the roof.

Typical dirt road in the area.   You can still see the outline of the stone walls on one side.
Brush and trees growing on both sides which get hacked back to keep the road clear. If you
go off the road, wear high boots - there are snakes.

And finally, one of my favorite local spots and an example of two very old things that that have lasted up to the present day:  La chapelle Saint-Philibert in Trégunc.  It was built in the 16th century and is beautifully maintained.  The chapel however, was built next to a fountain which is ancient.  When I went one year on their annual pardon, I was told that it was definitely around in Roman times (pre-Christian era) and may date to earlier than that.






Tuesday, September 9, 2014

FATCA/CBT: See You in Court

It's been four years since the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act was passed by the US Congress and signed into law by President Obama.  The collateral damage caused by this law and the unique US citizenship-based taxation system on Americans abroad has been reported to the US government through countless letters, testimonials and face-to-face interviews over the course of several years now.

In spite of all this advocacy, these efforts to get the US government to do something on behalf of the 7 million Americans abroad have come to nothing.  There are so many proposals on the table which range from mitigating FATCA ("same-country exception")  to replacing the current citizenship-based taxation system to a residence-based one, to a proposal to create a commission that would at least look into some of these issues.  Not one of these initiatives (even the modest ones) has moved forward.

It looks more and more like the hard work, goodwill and patience of Americans abroad is being met with indifference on the part of the US government.  Recently, in a stunningly stupid move,  they raised the fee to renounce US citizenship 422% which has offended even the Americans abroad who don't wish to renounce.

So it's not surprising that those who consider themselves to be the  FATCA/CBT collateral damage have decided that trying to get the US government to act is something of a lost cause and they are turning to the home and host country courts and international organizations for relief.

I think they are right.  Look, it took 5 years for the US government to come up with a better alternative to OVDP/OVDI for the "non-willful non-compliant" (those US citizen taxpayers abroad who are part and parcel of the 99% whose only crime was ignorance).  Today, there is no sign whatsoever that the agencies and lawmakers plan on lifting so much as a pinkie finger to address the collateral damage to Americans abroad caused by FATCA or that they are even contemplating changing the US tax system.   And the signals that the US government is sending out right now to US citizens living overseas looks very much like (in the words of Phil Hodgen)  "the beatings will continue until morale improves."

So, in my view, they are right and our best chance for change is the courts and international organizations.  What do we have so far?


And in a development that I heard about yesterday, a new court case is in the works on behalf of those "Accidental Americans" who now face the horrendous cost of getting rid of a citizenship they didn't know they had and don't want.  The right to expatriate enshrined in international law is meaningless when a country puts a price tag on it that is outside the reach of all but the most affluent.
Here is their press release (English and French versions) and please feel free to copy it and spread it around as widely as possible.

Alliance for the Defence of Canadian Sovereignty Retains Washington D.C Attorney to Change U.S. Expatriation Policies Applied to Canadian Citizens Resident in Canada

Today, the Alliance for the Defence of Canadian Sovereignty (ADCS-ADSC) retained Jim Butera, a Washington D.C. attorney with Jones Walker LLP. Mr. Butera will explore legal options to reverse practices of the United States government preventing Canadian citizens who are “Accidental Americans” from freeing themselves of U.S. citizenship and obligations.

Accidental Americans include those born in the U.S. but who left the United States at a young age to live permanently in another country. Although they have no meaningful ties to the U.S., they are claimed as “U.S. citizens” and subject to lifetime taxation on their non-U.S. income. Accidental Americans not compliant with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) are considered by the U.S. to be “tax cheats” not paying their “fair share”.

Many Americans ask: “Why don’t these people who don’t want to be U.S. citizens just renounce their citizenship?” The answer is that the U.S requires a variety of fees (expatriation penalties) to be released from U.S. citizenship and its obligations. Many cannot afford these different citizenship penalties which include the requirement to pay the professional costs of five years IRS compliance and the possibility of an onerous exit tax (designed to compensate the U.S. for losing the right to tax “Accidental Americans” in perpetuity). In addition, a new penalty is the increase in renunciation fee from U.S.$450 to U.S.$2,350, making it difficult for many Canadians to afford the cost of renunciation.

Kathleen is a Québécoise born in the U.S. to a French-Canadian mother and American father who left the U.S. at the age of three. She says ”I know I can’t possibly plan for my retirement in Quebec while following these U.S. tax laws” and hopes to be able to pay the costs to renounce her citizenship. A middle class mother of three, she had to pay a tax expert to calculate the cost to renounce obligations to the IRS. “The cost will be at least one full year of income that I could have used for my retirement, and may be a lot more” says Kathleen.

“We want to change U.S. policies that could force into bankruptcy innocent Canadians, like Kathleen, who want to free themselves of U.S. citizenship that was imposed without consent. Submissions to Congress have had no effect. That’s why we are exploring legal options” says Stephen Kish, ADCS-ADSC Chair.
Contact: Dr. Stephen Kish, Chair, Alliance for the Defence of Canadian Sovereignty
(www.adcs-adsc.ca) Information@adcs-adsc.ca

L’Alliance pour la défense de la souveraineté canadienne retient les services d’un avocat américain dans le but de changer les politiques d’expatriation qu’imposent les États-Unis aux citoyens canadiens habitant au Canada

Aujourd’hui, l’Alliance pour la défense de la souveraineté canadienne (ADCS-ADSC) a retenu les services d’un avocat de Washington D.C., Jim Butera, de la firme Jones Walker LLP. M. Butera examinera les options légales susceptibles de renverser les politiques américaines empêchant les citoyens canadiens qui sont aussi des Américains « par accident » de se libérer de leur citoyenneté américaine et ainsi de toute obligation envers les États-Unis.

Le titre « Américain ‘‘par accident’’ » s’applique aux personnes nées aux États-Unis, mais qui ont quitté ce pays en bas âge pour s’établir de façon permanente dans un autre pays. Malgré le fait que ces gens n’entretiennent aucun lien avec les États-Unis, ils sont des citoyens de ce pays et doivent par conséquent payer des impôts à vie sur des revenus entièrement gagnés à l’extérieur des États-Unis. Les Américains « par accident » qui ne se conforment pas au système de taxation américaine sont considérés comme des fraudeurs qui ne paient pas leur « juste part ».

Plusieurs Américains demandent : « Pourquoi les personnes qui ne veulent plus de leur citoyenneté américaine n’y renoncent-elles tout simplement pas ? » La réponse est que les États-Unis leur imposeraient des frais (des pénalités d’expatriation) en échange de leur libération. Plusieurs n’ont pas les moyens de répondre à toutes les exigences du gouvernement américain, qui incluent des frais comptables pour la production de cinq années de déclarations de revenus à l’IRS et la possibilité de
subir de lourdes pénalités pour leur droit de sortie mises en place pour indemniser les États-Unis pour la perte du droit de taxer ces personnes à perpétuité. De plus, une nouvelle pénalité entrera en vigueur, empêchant certainement un grand nombre de Canadiens de renoncer à leur citoyenneté américaine : les frais de renonciation passeront de 450 $ à 2 350 $ US.

Kathleen, une Québécoise née aux États-Unis d’une mère canadienne-française et d’un père américain, s’est établie au Canada à l’âge de 3 ans. « Je sais qu’il m’est impossible de planifier ma retraite ici tout en répondant aux lois américaines», dit-elle en espérant pouvoir payer les frais associés à la renonciation. Cette femme de classe moyenne, mère de trois enfants, a dû avoir recours aux services d’un fiscaliste pour estimer les coûts d’une probable renonciation. « Il m’en coûterait
l’équivalent de revenus nécessaires pour une année de retraite, et possiblement plus », ajoute-t-elle.

« Nous voulons changer les politiques américaines qui pousseraient plusieurs citoyens canadiens vers la faillite, des citoyens sans histoire, comme Kathleen, qui voudraient se libérer de cette citoyenneté américaine qui leur est imposée sans leur consentement. Des soumissions présentées au Congress n’ont rien changé, c’est pourquoi nous explorons la voie légale », dit Stephen Kish, président de l’ADCS-ADSC.

Pour plus d’informations : Dr Stephen Kish, président de l’Alliance pour la défense de la souveraineté canadienne, Toronto, Canada (www.adcs-adsc.ca) Information@adcs-adsc.ca

Monday, September 8, 2014

BookMooch

I use my e-reader more and more these days.  I have a small house with limited space so I can't be too much of a packrat.  It's also been a godsend for travelling; as long as I have an Internet connection I can always access the books I want to re-read, and purchase those that I stumble upon when I'm off visiting somewhere.

That said, my book  collection (the dead tree variety) is still growing.  Not all the books I want to read have a digital version.   Some are too old and some are academic books which only appear in hardback. I also still hit the bookstores wherever I land - for example, the McGill University bookstore is one of my haunts when I go to Montreal.

In a nutshell, I'm running out of space.  Furthermore, a lot of these books I read once and won't read again.

In this morning's email, however, was a possible solution to this:  BookMooch.  An international reader of a site I follow wrote in to say that she uses and highly recommends it.  Wow, I thought, I should check this out.

What is BookMooch?  It's a book exchange where you enter a list of books you want to give away and a list of ones you want.  All the other members do the same thing and the idea is to make a match - I have a book a member wants and yet another member has a book I want.  Membership is free as are the books.  The only cost to you or me would be the postage to send the book off to the member who requests it.

A nifty idea.  So who came up with it?  A guy named John Buckman who has a very interesting bio:
For 11 years I started and ran Lyris, a email newsletter (list server) and anti-spam company, which I sold in 2005. I also run Magnatune, a online record label that isn't evil.
I was born in London, raised in Paris, France, and spent my high school years in New Haven, CT where I started work at age 14 at Yale University. After college in Maine (Bates College) and a Masters from the Sorbonne (both in Philosophy), I lived in Washington, DC and worked at a think thank (the Academy for Advanced and Strategic Studies) and then at the Discovery Channel.
Among the reasons he gives for starting BookMunch are two connected to his nomadic bi-lingual life:
Fourth, as I live half the year in England, I'm often reading about books that have been out for some time in the USA but aren't yet available in the UK. For instance, the snarky "ICon" biography about Steve Jobs still wasn't available in the UK six months after it was featured in Wired Magazine.
Lastly, I grew up in Paris and went to graduate school there, and like to read books in French. These are almost impossible to get in the US unless I order from Amazon.fr or FNAC. BookMooch should be place that expats and foreign language readers can get books in other languages.
I can't recommend BookMunch to you because I haven't really tried it.  Yet.  I signed up this morning and entered 10 books I would like to find homes for.  If you're interested, go have a look at the site.  So far this morning I have two books on my list that other members want.  If asked, I will send them off and hopefully someone somewhere in the world will be able to fulfill some of the items on MY wishlist.  I'll keep you posted and if I like it I will put their widget on the Flophouse so you can see what I'm giving away.

And as I was writing this I got a request in my inbox for my copy of Ungoverned Spaces from a woman on the US West Coast....






Friday, September 5, 2014

Intergenerational Circular Migration

A couple of years ago I started noticing a new (for me) category of newly arriving Americans abroad:  young Americans, the product of European migration to the United States, returning to the ancestral homelands in Europe.  Perhaps they had an Irish grandparent or, in the case of one young woman I spoke with, an Eastern European parent.

 Born and raised in the United States, they learned that they also qualified to become citizens of an EU country.  I don't think they are counted as migrants in these countries' official immigration statistics because from the point of view of these nation-states, they are not really "foreigners".  No need to apply for a residency card, they arrive with passports and full citizenship in these countries.  And by virtue of that citizenship in an EU member state, they are also automatically EU citizens and have the right to live and work in almost all the other 28 states.

This is a description of a relatively recent phenomenon which we could perhaps call Intergenerational Circular Migration (if there is a better or more precise term for it, please say so).  The above example uses Americans moving to the EU but other examples abound.  Any country that has a history of mass immigration like the US, Canada, Australia, or Brazil is probably experiencing this type of emigration now and it is the result of a combination of factors:

Acceptance of plural nationality:  the child of a French citizen  living in Canada can get a French passport without losing Canadian citizenship.  That's not unusual.  Many countries now accept that their citizens can be born with more than one citizenship and no longer object when their citizens naturalize in another state and become duals.

Combination of jus soli and jus sanguinas citizenship laws:  Countries of immigration want to make new citizens so they tend to like an automatic system that simply declares all children born in the territory to be their citizens (jus soli).  Countries of emigration,  thinking ahead and wanting to get their citizens or their children back,  allow for citizenship to be passed along through a blood tie (jus sanguinas).  It's the interplay between the citizenship laws of  countries of emigration and countries immigration that makes plural nationality much more common than it used to be.

Reversals of fortune:  In mom and dad's day leaving the Old Country made a lot of sense.  In the destination country there was a booming economy, lots of jobs, excellent chances for social mobility.  Fast forward to this generation and these children of immigration are seeing economic stagnation, perhaps a high youth unemployment rate and, lo and behold, the ancestral country seems to be doing as well as (if not better) than the country they were born in and live in now.

All of these things are described and documented in David Cook-Martin's book,
The Scramble for Citizens: Dual Nationality and State Competition for Immigrants (2013).

He uses the case of Argentina - a country that experienced mass immigration from two European countries of emigration, Spain and Italy.  His point is that this process of welcoming and assimilating immigration is not uni-directional;  it can be reversed in a process that he calls "dis-assimilation."
"I argue that the citizenship link can be reconfigured because competitive dynamics have produced particular memberhship patterns that under propitious institutional and structural conditions affect individuals' relation to states, the nation, and the resources they monopolize.  People assumed to have been culturally integrated and embraced by a nationalizing state are becoming differentiated along specific and significant dimensions."
Interesting argument and, if true, easy to see how this might be a bit disconcerting for countries of immigration and downright destructive of a democratic nation-state's ambitions to make and keep citizens.  Why?

The first (my point) is how it skews citizen equality in a particular nation-state that has traditionally been a country of immigration.  A US citizen who is born with the potential for another citizenship is in a much better position to emigrate then his fellow citizens who don't have that possibility.   The former will find it easier to be globally mobile, while the latter must stand in line and apply (often in vain) for the right to enter another country.

An individual who wishes to emigrate back to his parents or grandparents country will find that the move is facilitated though that country's citizenship law and he will arrive in that country, not as a migrant, but as a full citizen.  That is a pretty powerful incentive provided that there are other positive factors in that decision like good employment prospects.  Furthermore, since this emigration is facilitated by blood ties it 1.  Favors the children of more recent immigration (those whose families are "native" for many generations won't have this option) and 2.  It's not strictly about class or money  - a working class person can, at least in theory, take advantage of it just as easily as those Highly Qualified Migrants provided that an individual has the right parents or grandparents. (However, Cook-Martin says that it is mostly the struggling middle-classes that take the opportunity.)

The second (his point) is that it is the very act of seeking to claim that citizenship in another country changes people.  As they document (and it is much easier to find that documentation with good 20th century recordkeeping) the history of their families and the original move to another country, what started out as a purely practical exercise (a "just in case" second passport) becomes something else.   They create an emotional tie to the ancestral country.  

He talks about this in the long chapter "The Quest for Grandma's Passport."  As much as some of his contacts talked about how the second passport was "just a piece of paper," a kind of hedge against the devaluation of their own nationality, they were going to a lot of trouble to get it.  Days, weeks, months of digging through archives to find documentation.  "Clients are emotionally overcome when a search is 'successful'" and they are "thrilled" to have the proof in their hands.  Clearly, that second citizenship is "meaningful" to them, though their attachment is going to be very different from that of a citizen actually born and raised in the ancestral country.

(I suspect that the "it's just a piece of paper" is, at least in part, a signal to the home/first country.  A kind of, "Please don't make too much of this, we are still your loyal citizens and our efforts should not be taken as an indication of our desire to lose citizenship here." )

Cook-Martin is making an argument that what he has found in the Argentina/Spain/Italy migration relationship, is applicable to other countries of immigration/emigration and he is daring enough to say this of the US:
"With the recent downturn of the U.S. economy, the descendants of Irish, Italian, Greek, Latvian, and other immigrants have started to apply for the nationality of their forebears."
I have some anecdotal evidence for this but his source is a 2008 article written by Andrew Abramson for the Palm Beach Post.  This simply is not sufficient to prove his case.  That article was written as the US economy started to founder and it's not surprising that some Americans saw an opportunity at that time.  Is it still true in 2014? Hard to know.

What Cook-Martin lacks in his book when he makes such broad statements is hard numbers.  Yes, I think he's correct in that it is happening, not just in the US but in countries of immigration that are now experiencing economic stagnation, higher inequality, fewer opportunities and less social mobility.  However, the magnitude of that phenomenon has yet to be proven.

I suspect that we will never have the data to prove it.  Countries of immigration who have citizens in the process of "dissassimilating" and taking on second or third citizenships, simply have no incentive to quantify it.  They have their myths as Lands of Opportunity and they have every interest in  ignoring anything that might contradict or make those myths less powerful.  On the receiving state side, they don't want to put these returning citizens in the category of "immigrant" (which they are and are not) and they have every interest in having them slip into the country quietly and take their place as citizens who just happened to born abroad.

Still, overall, a very good book that is well worth the read.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Flea-Infested Flophouse

Well, so much for la rentrée.  The Flophouse has fleas (les puces).

How the hell did that happen?

We think that when we went on vacation in August our two cats, Tatou and Minoche, went wandering in search of low company (which they clearly found).  Took us a couple of weeks to figure it out and so the entire house has been infested.

Which presents some challenges.  Last time I had to deal with fleas, I was a teenager living in Olympia, Washington 30 odd years ago.  What do people do about this today?  Surely flea fighting technology has evolved, right?  

It also presents a linguistic puzzle.  How do you say "flea collar" in French?  (Where is that damn dictionary?)  Hey, I never had any reason to know that up to now;  the Alliance française did not impart to me the vocabulary of pest control.

And I'm not the only one who is struggling here.  My French spouse didn't know either.  He went off late last week to purchase a product for our furry little friends and he blew it.  He picked up wimpy flea repellent, not flea killer which means our first pass at it did no good whatsoever.  So much for our fancy French and American educations.  Book smart, life stupid.  Yep, we have been humbled.

So he fired up an Internet search engine and I called the church ladies.  Between the two sources, we figured out what we needed and ordered it.  Everything arrives today.  I will be unleashing flea Armageddon this afternoon so the Flophouse is definitely closed to visitors.