In the current Open Thread, Kip W has some news about the late, much-missed Marilee Layman:
I just got a call from a realtor in Northern Virginia who is working for Fannie May, in regards to the effects of our late friend, Marilee Layman.
He has just come into the matter, and the apartment was foreclosed after almost a year of idleness. He called me, having found my name and number, to see if I knew what might be done about all her possessions. The place is just as she left it. Her van is parked down below. There was a note from "Rick" saying he'd shut off gas and such, but no number.
The agent, Don, doesn't like the idea of calling a trash firm to come and treat everything as junk to be harvested, and his concern touches me -- particularly as I look around me -- so I would very much like the word to go out to fans, perhaps especially those in the NoVa/DC area, but to anybody with an idea of how to proceed.
My own half-baked thoughts were that we might dispose in the ordinary way of clothing and impersonal items, maybe even books. Her crafts, perhaps, could be sold and the proceeds given to charity. Her van could be donated, unless someone wants to buy it for an equitable-low amount (and the money donated to charity -- medical or fannish or I don't know what).
If anybody knows of a family or friend(s) who should benefit by this sad windfall, I'm open to suggestions. Am I in charge of this? I don't know. Should someone else be? I've never done this before.
I asked Don what sort of deadline we were looking at before the wheels of bureaucracy take over. He said 30 days, 45, maybe even 60 before an edict comes down and automatic procedures kick in, so that's not a lot of time.
I have a contact number for him. Should I run it here? Or would it be best for us to deal with him through a designated spokesperson? I'll hang onto the number for now.
I'm not able to access Usenet at the moment. My system stopped letting me on a few months back, and I didn't care enough to try to figure out what its problem was this time. Can someone reach Keith Lynch? He's fairly local and helped when she was in the hospital. What other DC fan or fans would be good to talk to? Who's Rick?
What next? I'm kind of lost here.
ps: Forgot to say that any mementos or keepsakes we might want to retain out of all this should perhaps be sold for a reasonable price and the money kicked into designated charity. I have this idea of charity in my head because maybe it seems a little ghoulish otherwise. I could be mistaken, of course, and will listen to cooler or less confused heads.
This can't be the first time something like this has happened. Is there a manual yet?
I confess, I have even less notion of what to do than Kip does. I'm sure someone in our community does, though. Can we figure this out together?
Also, now I miss her all over again. I was just thinking about her this morning, entirely by coincidence, wondering if it had been a whole year since she passed away. Now I know.
And thank you, Kip, for taking the call and coming to the community with this. I'm sure I speak for us all when I say that that matters a lot.
One of the constant challenges of living in a foreign country is the way that different cultures slice the epistemic cake of the world in different places. Sometimes it's funny, like how the Dutch routinely put chocolate sprinkles on sandwiches but consider pancakes at breakfast laughably outlandish. Sometimes it's not so funny, when one says or does something quite trivial and the whole room falls silent in shock. At times like that, I always think of Cordlia Vorkosigan, trying to figure out Barryaran social protocls around sex.
One could not mention sex to or in front of unmarried women or children. Young men, it appeared, were exempt from all rules when talking to each other, but not if a woman of any age or degree were present. The rules also changed bewilderingly with variations of the social status of those present. And married women, in groups free of male eavesdroppers, sometimes underwent the most astonishing transformations in apparent databases. Some subjects could be joked about but not discussed seriously. And some variations could not be mentioned at all. She had blighted more than one conversation beyond hope of recovery by what seemed to her a perfectly obvious and casual remark, and been taken aside by Aral for a quick debriefing.
She tried writing out a list of the rules she thought she had deduced, but found them so illogical and conflicting, especially in the area of what certain people were supposed to pretend not to know in front of certain other people, she gave up the effort. She did show the list to Aral, who read it in bed one night and nearly doubled over laughing.
—Barryar, Lois McMaster Bujold
But in my experience at least, the real trials of living abroad are not the great and terrible moments. The really difficult things, like the really wonderful things*, are the little everyday differences that remind one in quiet ways that one is not home (for whatever value of home one uses).
I first noticed this phenomenon when trying to buy sugar in my local supermarket, Albert Heijn, a few months after moving to the Netherlands.
When I was growing up in the US, sugar was always with the baking ingredients. Likewise, in the UK, there it was next to the flour, right where I expected it. But the first time I went looking for sugar here, I was baffled. Flour, baking mixes, raising agents, pancake mixes...no sugar. I searched the entire cooking ingredients quadrant of the store: Herbs, spices, oils, vinegars, long-life milk, pasta, eggs (not refrigerated, because foreign), meat, chicken, exotic ethnic foods like tortillas...no sugar.
By this point, I was convinced that I was just being stupid. I was also in that state that Martin and I call shop-glaze: the condition of being sufficiently overwhelmed by the myriad details of the store that all decision-making (and, indeed, object-perception) fuses have blown. Since it was not the time to ask shop staff for help in a language I didn't speak very well, much less process an answer in that tongue, I left the shop without sugar.
Then I came back later, with more energy, and conducted a search. It turns out that the Dutch put the sugar next to the coffee, which was halfway across the store from the flour. That was very useful information for the next time I had to buy sugar.
But finding the pattern was even more useful, because I hit it again and again: times when something is impossible, or at least impossibly difficult, because I'm making some hidden assumption or category error. I'm slicing the cake of the world in the wrong place. And that's not really a function of living in a foreign country, because we all leave the tiny household cultures where we grew up and move into a wider world, one where people do things differently. They all store some metaphorical sugar in the wrong place.
Thus, the sugar problem.
* I talk a lot about how difficult living abroad is, but it's also really fun. There's always some difference—or some similarity I took for granted when I was in my native culture—to delight me.
Initially Mr. Broadnax was arrested on misdemeanor charges of menacing, drug possession and resisting arrest. But the Manhattan district attorney's office persuaded a grand jury to charge Mr. Broadnax with assault, a felony carrying a maximum sentence of 25 years. Specifically, the nine-count indictment unsealed on Wednesday said Mr. Broadnax "recklessly engaged in conduct which created a grave risk of death."
"The defendant is the one that created the situation that injured innocent bystanders," said an assistant district attorney, Shannon Lucey.
The two police officers, who have not been identified, have been placed on administrative duty and their actions are still under investigation by the district attorney's office, law enforcement officials said. They also face an internal Police Department inquiry.
Administrative duty! An internal Police Department inquiry! Well, that's all right, then.
I mean, all the cops did was shoot someone. It's not like they "recklessly engaged in conduct which created a grave risk of death." Definitely, who you want to prosecute is the mentally ill guy who wandered out into traffic. Perish forbid you should prosecute any police.
Really! Hooray for brave prosecutors like ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY SHANNON LUCEY who identify and target the real threat: pathetic losers who make otherwise fine and upstanding police officers lose their shit. Look what you made me do. Excellent moral discernment, ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY SHANNON LUCEY.
Our descendants will marvel at what we put up with.
Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
I love this. But it's a tough read in winter. So when an answer started knocking around my head, I scribbled it down.
But once the gold is gone,
As daylight follows dawn,
The summer fades to fall,
And autumn's pleasures pall.
Then darkness comes at last,
When all that's bright is past.
But we endure the black,
Because the gold comes back.
Of course, this mostly serves to illustrate Frost's own point: we must inevitably decline from the first blush of perfection. What follows is inferior. Sequelitis comes to us all in the end. But illustration is a form of participation in its own right.
Just so you know, ML's spam-fighting arrangements are being altered. Obviously, we hope this will result in less spam; but just at the moment, it may temporarily result in more spam, more gnomings, and/or other unwanted manifestations.
If you're being patient about it, thank you for your patience. If you aren't, we're still sorry. And if you're flagging spam and mentioning gnomings in accord with received local practice, thank you very much indeed!
Update from Abi: The new system is in. Please post comments. Post edgy, difficult ones; post three spaces in a row and be effusively grateful. Let's try this thing out.
Note that if you post spammy keywords, they'll probably get through—this uses a different system than the filters it's replacing. I reserve the right to unpublish things manually. And there may be tuning in the future.
Further update from Abi: It's all looking very good, and I'm going to bed. I'll look things over tomorrow and see what comments, if any, are in the wrong places. If you are hopelessly gnomed and unable to even cry for help in comments, please email me at my first name at this domain and I will investigate.
One Sunday evening when I was a kid, when we were visiting my paternal grandparents, it somehow came up that Grandpa Nielsen had misplaced the key to his suitcase lock, and couldn't remember the three-digit combination that would open the lock without the key. I was maybe nine or ten years old and had gotten a vague notion of how permutations worked, so I thought I'd have a go at the problem. The lock had three little wheels, each with ten positions on it numbered 0-9, so there were a thousand possible permutations. I turned the wheels to 000, the first permutation, and tried the lock. It opened.
I'd stumbled on a behavior Richard Feynman talked about in the Safecracker Meets Safecracker chapter of "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!": the tendency of people to leave the combination locks in safes and filing cabinets set to the default combination they already had when they were shipped from the factory.
What makes Feynman's stories about this and other faulty security practices so attention-grabbing was that his career as a safecracker began when he was working as a nuclear physicist at Alamagordo and Oak Ridge during WWII. The safes and filing cabinets he was casually opening for fun were full of massively sensitive material about the atomic bomb project. At one point he discovered that roughly one safe in five at Alamagordo was still set to one of the two standard factory combinations, either 25-0-25 or 50-25-50.
Given how nervous many of us were during the Cold War, it's just as well that we didn't know the interesting fact recently reported in The Guardian and Gizmodo: for about twenty years, and in direct contravention of orders from presidents and defense secretaries, the U.S. military had the eight-digit nuclear launch codes for Minuteman missile silos set to 00000000. Apparently they resented the eight-digit "fire only if ordered to do so by the president" security system imposed on them in 1962, as it made firing nuclear missiles slower and more difficult. They responded by permanently assigning the system a single launch code that was the moral equivalent of using "password" or "12345678" or "qwerty" as the overall password for your online account.
But it gets worse:
[I]n case you actually did forget the code, it was handily written down on a checklist handed out to the soldiers. As Dr. Bruce G. Blair, who was once a Minuteman launch officer, stated:
Our launch checklist in fact instructed us, the firing crew, to double-check the locking panel in our underground launch bunker to ensure that no digits other than zero had been inadvertently dialed into the panel.
This ensured that there was no need to wait for Presidential confirmation....
Dr. Blair also noted in another article that virtually anyone who asked for permission to tour a launch facility was granted it, with little or no background check.
You couldn't put that in a spy novel. Or maybe you could; but it would have to be the central McGuffin, and you'd have to build in a round of thunderstruck reaction shots for every character who heard about it.