Saturday, October 28, 2006

Mail Order Wife

I've seen a handful of movies dealing with the mail-order bride phenomenom, like Birthday Girl and Two Brothers and a Bride. But the best of the bunch is the one I saw today, Mail Order Wife.

The film starts off predictably enough, with a graceless sclub bringing over a mail-order bride from Burma. The guy's a doorman in New York, so the cost of this is beyond his means. Enter a documentary filmmaker eager to film the story of an average guy and his mail-order wife. Some money exchanges hands; the filmmaker gets his access.

When the bride arrives, there is a quick civil marriage, some scenes at home -- this is how you clean the toilet, this is how I'd like you to make chili -- and then a trip to the doctor's office, where the husband tries to get his wife to agree to having her tubes tied. Did I say the bride doesn't speak English? She doesn't, and she only learns her reason for being in the doctor's office when her interpreter explains the procedure.

By this point, we're about fifteen minutes into the mock-umentary, and you're thinking: Oh, god, this is creepy. And it's bad, because it's creepy in all the ways you expected it to be creepy. But when the mail-order bride runs away from her husband -- well, the film really takes off, and by the end no one's a victim and everyone's a loser. Or, as the LA Times put it in its review:

Mail Order Wife sends up everyone in its circuitous path — self-deluded lonely slobs, self-deluded documentary filmmakers ... gold-digging Geisha-girls and that specialized subset of muddle-headed manhood that confuses sexual exploitation with humanitarian concern.


If the nuggets of P.C. piety and social pretension skewered by "Mail Order Wife" were any meatier, the movie would be a shish kebab.

Get it. Just like any bad relationship, it's the type of thing that gains a whole new meaning when you watch it a second time around. And don't forget to sample the extra scenes available on the DVD. They're priceless. As is the surprise guest star, who was under house arrest when this film was shot and could only leave for the purposes of work.

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Are You Now, Or Have You Ever Been ...

The John Birch Society thinks President George W. Bush has gone too far. They're alarmed that he's accumulated too much power and betrayed the US Constitution.

Which means, what, that I'm a member of the John Birch Society?

But wait, not so fast. Because if you read this you'll see they think perestroika was just something Gorbachev dreamt up "to fool the West into accepting a merger with the Soviet system."

See, all those joint ventures between Russian and western companies are really just a Soviet-ploy to consolidate even greater global power. Don't believe me? Just listen to the Soviet-era defector who stayed off the ether long enough to pen such classics as "Red Cocaine" and "Again, May God Forgive Us."

If what this nut-job is to be believed, then "President Putin and the other former KGB commissars that are running 'post-Communist Russia' are likely rubbing their hands together in glee inside the Kremlin at the prospect of deeper Russian cooperation with NATO."

That's "post-Communist Russia," end-quote.

The picture of the John Birch membership card was found at this website. I'll take it down if asked. Of course, I'll consider it another lost freedom and another gained regulation. But if that's what the world Mr. Birch would have me live in ...

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Stop the Clock

Today at 5 p.m. Moscow Standard Time, my wife's immigration visa, expiring in April of 2007, arrived by DHL, just two days after her interview.

That's thirteen weeks and two days after we filed our paperwork to announce our marriage and request her visa. The Green Card, we've been told, should arrive no later than four months and be shipped here to the US. The stamp in her passport indicates her to be a permanent resident, so even without the Green Card she should have no problems getting a social security card and entering the workforce. I imagine, but can't say for sure, that she could even come and go as she pleased on that visa until its expiration. The Green Card certainly allows such freedom of travel.

The point being, I have some words of thanks to the Embassy staffers involved, who didn't add any undue burdens on either myself or my wife. I can't thank some staffers by name, because they are in the type of profession that likes to meet journalists in darkened parking garages and whisper, "Follow the money." But through both my Fulbright research and my personal experiences, I can say I've got no reason to do anything but praise the people with whom I've come in contact. Everyone I dealt with in Kiev and Moscow were very helpful, and my wife didn't have a single problem during any one of her trips. So: an 'A' for effort, an 'A' for performance. No horror stories here, just a note that the system works as well and as efficiently as it should. In other words, if you'll allow me a Charlie Brown moment, "Good job, US Foreign Service. Good job, US Citizen & Immigration Services. You have a happy customer."

For those keeping score at home, I didn't need to hire an immigration attorney. I simply downloaded all the forms from the internet and did what they said. It took some time, some effort, some concentration, but it wasn't any harder than the SAT or filing your taxes. Just don't go out and get drunk the night before. You should be fine.

As for the cost, let me give a final recap of that as well, if only so the information is known to those who want it. Since last writing about the foreigner tax, the following costs have been incurred: $380, for my wife's immigration visa, $40, for the shipment of the visa by DHL, and approximately $125 for two more trips to Moscow, one for her to receive medical clearance, the second for her visa interview. That brings the total cost of bureaucracy, between two governments, both Russian and American, to $1395. If you included lost days of work, as I imagine any good economist would do, that figure would very possibly double.

To be able to marry a foreigner and bring him or her into the country, you have to earn at least 125 percent of the povertly level, or $16,000 (more if your household size exceeds the two of you). That means someone might have to spend 10 percent of their annual income to bring their husband or wife into the US. I'd like this cost to be a little more democratic, i.e., anyone should be able to do it, but hey, there's a lot wrong in Washington, I think, and this isn't anywhere near the top of the list.

I guess US soldiers are the people with low salaries who are most commonly affected by these costs. So if you're out there reading this blog, buy two fewer beers tonight, and forget about getting that new Ipod. You need to save some of your money, Private.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Next, please!

I did imagine the worst case scenario. This is what neurotics do, writers as well. I pictured the immigration interview taking place in a back room, across a desk, with a wilting fern in one corner and maybe a framed picture of George W. on the wall. I made sure my wife understood me. "If they ask you for your political views, vis a vis the situation in Iraq, for instance, I want to know, because I've already got the letter to my Congressman started."

But the interview took place at a window, the same window where I dropped off my forms back in July, and after three minutes, it was raise your right hand and do you swear and affirm -- blah, blah, blah -- and you can expect your visa in a week or two.

In other words, she passed the terrorist test, and we scored well in anti-fraud, and somewhere near the four-month mark of our marriage, we should start living with each other under the same roof.

There were seven others with her at the embassy Tuesday morning, including three men, one of whom was trying to get to the US of A on a fiance visa. The two other men were married, as were the two other young women alongside my wife. That left two older women, one of whom was trying to get to the US on an immigrant's visa, because she'd been denied already for a tourist's visa and she'd like to see her son, a Russian living in the US for 20 years.

We may like to recite the words on the Statue of Liberty -- Bring us your tired, your poor -- but we sure as hell don't live by them, and haven't for god knows how many years. I hope you don't buy into the fantasy. It's just wrong-headed.

What'd they ask my wife? Just what The Ranger, in the comments of the post below, said they would. How'd you meet, when you'd get married, and do you have any pictures? My wife didn't even get to finish telling the lady the charming story of how we had a mutual friend in Davis, one who'd put my wife up while she was there on a business internship and invited me to dinner when I'd called to return a book. "She said, okay, that's enough," my wife told me, and the interview quickly moved on to the pictures. "I have more," my wife quickly put in. But apparently our New Year's trip to Kiev was enough, because then it was on toRaise your right hand and Do you swear and affirm that all the information included in these documents is true and correct ...

Now let's just hope Old Lady #1 gets to visit her son.

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Monday, October 23, 2006

And the answer is ...

My wife is on the train to Moscow, probably being awoken right about now by the provodnitsa's knock. The rush for the bathroom will follow, with everyone standing in the corridor with their little hand-towel and their toothbrush and toothpaste. The sun will come up, instant coffee will be served, and then the train will pull into the capital, and off my wife will go to the embassy for her interview.

"What did you buy your husband for his last birthday?"

"Where were you married?"

"What color were the walls?"

"Did you say you would sleep on the left side of the bed?"

"And you don't know his astrological sign?"

"How did you meet?"

"Did you send his mother a birthday card?"

How long will the questioning continue? I don't know. I suspect there will be another handful of women there, maybe eight or ten. One will go, then the other, and at some point it'll be my wife, with the purpose being to prove that our marriage is true, that we are two people in love, that she is deserving of her immigrant's visa and Green Card and I should not be investigated for fraud.

Two days ago, it was three months since we were married. Tomorrow, it'll be three months since we filed our paperwork and initiated the immigration process.

I will keep you posted.

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Saturday, October 21, 2006

Reeducation Camps

Every good Cold War film or TV show had a scene set in a re-education camp. The one in Red Dawn was a drive-in movie theater, fenced in by barbed wire and with propaganda going non-stop on the big screen. Did the 1987 TV mini-series Amerika have one? I can't remember, but the thing was like 14 hours long, so I'll say it did and hope the percentages are right.

Why am I bringing this up today? Because Boy Scouts in the LA area can now get a merit badge if they study the evils of copyright piracy.

Officials with the local Boy Scouts and the Motion Picture Assn. of America on Friday unveiled the Respect Copyrights Activity Patch — emblazoned with a large circle "C" copyright sign along with a film reel and musical notes.

The 52,000 Scouts who are eligible may earn the patch by participating in a curriculum produced by the MPAA. To earn the badge, Scouts must participate in several activities including creating a video public-service announcement and visiting a video-sharing website to identify which materials are copyrighted. They may also watch a movie and discuss how people behind the scenes would be harmed if the film were pirated.

I'm all for badges for starting a fire with two sticks and skinning a rabbit and cooking its meat. These are the sorts of skills that allowed Patrick Swayze and a small group of high school football players to repel a well-equipped Cuban-Russian invasion force. "The invading armies planned for everything," the poster for Red Dan reads, "except for eight kids called 'The Wolverines.'" Yes.

But a badge honoring copyright protections? Why not just fly these kids to Iraq and have them surrender immediately to the Islamofascists?

"I think it's really good to get the message out that it's bad," said Redondo Beach Scout Rickie Farmbanger, 13. "You can see your friends doing it and tell them why it's bad. I think if you're a role model, you can stop people."

Rickie Farmbanger, I played with your name a little, but one truth remains: You are not going to have an easy time in high school. Why not take baby-steps. Go online and download Red Dawn.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A Simple Way to Make the World a Better Place?

Give me a cup. A proper cup. That's all. When I order a cup of coffee, place it in a cup made out of porcelain, something sturdy and firm and with a little thing on the side, you know, to hold onto. Because in a world of paper cups, I do need something to hold onto.

"Is that for here or to go?"

"For here," I said.

And still, not three minutes later, after I'd taken my seat, what do I get? A paper-cup. The guy sets down a paper-cup in front of me, along with a plastic top, and a cardboard sleeve (complete with advertisement) to keep me from burning my hand. Why did I think it would've been different?

"Am I going somewhere? Would you like me to leave?"

I thought to look around for a sign, some modern equivalent of WHITES ONLY, but with me on the wrong side of the prejudicial divide.

"Because I did say 'for here,' didn't I?"

I had come to one of two independent coffee shops on my strech of Ventura Boulevard, which rougly runs from Tujunga Boulevard to maybe a half-mile past Coldwater Canyon. Between these two points there are three or four Starbucks, two or three Coffee Bean and Tealeafs, and one Peet's Coffee, all corporate chains that care greatly about maximizing earnings potential. But this was Lulu's Bee Hive. A one of a kind place where customers sit at kitchen tables that have four chairs. It's very communal and inviting. Can I sit here? Please, go ahead. You don't fall into your own seat and turn your back to someone else. It's nice. But still, these damn paper cups. Why, Lulu? Why you too?

I ordered an espresso and a fruit tart the other day at the Starbuck's at USC. The espresso was placed in a 8 or 10 ounce paper cup.

The fruit tart was served in a flip-top plastic container. My utensil? A plastic fork.

When the lady gave me all this, I wanted to say, "Have you heard the phrase 'environmental footprint'? Because all I wanted was a little coffee, maybe something sweet to keep my blood sugar up during class, but now you've got me thinking about how there are hammer-head sharks swimming off the coast of Cornwall and these massive chunks of ice floating toward Jupiter, Florida. All you wanted was a Pepsi? I wanted a cup, just a proper cup."

At least I'm not alone.

But is there any place where there are more than a few of us? The Paper Cup Syndrome is sweeping across Europe, because so much of Europe believes in so much of America, namely, the economy above all else. You're either with us or against us and goddammit don't forget your cup, because we're on the move here, going through the drive-through next, and honey, grab my cel-phone, one of us should call the kids, I think I left Little Jenny with the toaster and little Steve in the tub, and damn this coffee's hot! Someone shoulda put a warning on my cup.

But there are parts of Europe not yet in Europe, Europeans who don't even consider themselves European -- Ukrainians, say -- and they, they most definitely do not drink out of a paper cup, they still believe in the dessert cart -- okay, I'm making that part up -- but they do still believe in the cup, complete with saucer. The proper cup. I know. I used to drink out of one just like this.

Did America ever drink out of a proper cup? If so, it must've been so long ago I don't remember. And how do little girls even have a tea party these days? Do they set down a tiny little paper cup before their doll? What size? Venti? Grande? Is this really the world you want to leave your children? Or is it all just nonsense?

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

NY Times writes about The Waiting

The Times posted a front-page article today about the waits men have to go through if they look online for a foreign bride.

The article is headlined Law on Overseas Brides is Keeping Couples Apart, and it details the added layers of bureaucracy that were created earlier this year when President Bush signed the International Marriage Broker Act of 2006. In short, the law states that men must provide information to marriage agencies about their criminal records, and women, when interviewed for their visa, must be asked if they met their fiance through a marriage broker, if only so they can be told that if they find themselves in an abusive relationship, they can seek permanent residency status without having to stay with their husband, who otherwise would have been their only connection to a life in this country. The law aims to protect women from an abusive relationship, in part because the marriage agencies advertise "traditional women," often describing them as submissive to a man's desires. The thinking goes, when he takes her home and finds out this isn't the case, he'll be more prone to strike out in anger.

This, to me, seems a leap in a logic, kind of along the lines of if-you-view-pornography-you-will-commit-an-act-of-violence-against-women. What causes violence against women? Unmet expectations? If so, every relationship would be abusive. The law really seems to be making an assumption: that the character of men seeking a foreign bride is questionable, and therefore added protections are needed.

Newspaper articles usually cites the murder of two women from the Former Soviet Union as evidence for the need for legislation. But it seems possible to me that two murders is well inside the statistical norm for society as a whole. Thirty-seven thousand women enter the country each year on a fiancee visa, up to half of them women who met their American partners through an online match-making service. These mail-order brides account for no less than ten percent of all immigration by marriage to the country each year, resulting in no less than 4,000 or 5,000 new immigrants each year. That's according to the results of a study conducted in 1996, before the current surge in internet match-making. Just since 1999, as the Times states, there's been a four-fold increase in the number of women entering the country on a fiancee visa.

One thing the article doesn't cover is the fears of the men in search of an internet bride. Several have suggested to me that they're now at risk to wrongful accusations of abuse, as a woman can more speedily receive her Green Card if she claims abuse and turns her back on her relationship.

Me, I'm not sure how the separate-but-equal thing works in Washington D.C. any more, but I can't understand how you can require a certain group of Americans to do one thing, but not the others. If must present a criminal record before marriage, I don't see why mustn't -- if not all American men, and for that matter American women too.

It's very of this country, and I can already see how it'll look in fifty years. The marriage will start with a divorce ceremony, the two sides negotiating and switching papers, making offers and counter-offers, hiring detectives to test the validity of the other side's word. Then, once the lawyers have been paid, everyone will go off to the city office, say I do, and then go home loathing each other and secretly pining for a new start.

Two marriage agencies are challenging the law in court.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

European Numbers

Almost immediatley after returning from Ukraine, I began to see a new doctor, which in America means creating a new pile of paperwork -- forms, releases, notices indicating who to contact in case of emergency (i.e, death), the usual stuff of the medical-industrial complex.

I ran into trouble because I got to this paperwork too soon after living in Europe for a year, where, like the true Zelig that I am, I adopted the use of European numbers. I'd always had a tendency to slash my sevens mid-stem, but now I began to draw my 1 not like a straight up and down line, in the American style, but like a one with a bit of a hooked barb on top. Imagine an arrow with only half a tip. Or better yet, just look at the digit as it stands on the screen. Call it Euro-trash. Throw a beret on it if you must. But don't deny this: It is a Continental one, not an American.

The Europeans draw their ones like this because it comes natural, I suppose, but as the hooked tops sometimes float out to one side, thereby making a 1 appear to be a 7, they give their sevens a slash to avoid the confusion.

Only in America, sevens are not slashed, and ones are straight lines, so when the doctor saw me, I must've come off as that classic male character, the one who refuses to seek medical attention until the pain is unbearable and it's all but too late.

"And you've been experiencing this pain for seven years?" he asked.

"No, no," I said. "Seven? God no. Just one."

He looked at the Patient History form I'd filled out. Made a face. "But it says here"--he shook his head, corrected it with a squiggle, moved on.

The receptionist was no different the next time I came in. While trying to arrange my next visit, she paused over her keyboard, unable to pull up my file. "What was the birthdate again?" I told her. Still nothing. "You're sure?"

"Fairly well, yes."

She rose, not quite convinced herself, and went to get the hard copy from the massive filing cabinet in back. She returned reading from it. "I have here that you were born in 1977."

"No, no," I said. "That's seventy-one." She sat down and laid the file out before her. I leaned in through the little window. "Don't you see the slash?"

"It looks like a seven."

"Well that one does because it is -- don't you see the slash? -- but the other is most clearly a one. If that weren't the case, I would've been born on the 77th day, not the eleventh, and that most certainly isn't the case now, is it?"

She hit a few keys on her keyboard. "So is October 23rd good?"

It sounded very good indeed. The twenty-third? No confusion at all. A two, a three -- the same no matter where you go.

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Sunday, October 08, 2006


Forgive the changes around here. My former template disappeared or something. Woke up one day and my site just didn't appear anymore. There's a technical explanation for it, but I can't say I understand, so I won't pass it on to you.

I'm considering a move to a different host, Moveable Type or what have you, but I don't quite understand how to design a page over there, and at least right now, I don't have the time to find out. That's why Snowy, a friend from Ukraine, is playing around with the designs available through the current host, Blogger.

I plan to keep some kind of web presence in the future, so stay tuned for an annoucement of some sort. But maybe this latest disruption goes to show that all things must pass, Everybody I Love You included.

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Monday, October 02, 2006

Financial Support

Today I paid $100 for DHL to carry my signature to Russia, buried among a pile of documents provided for my I-186 form, an affidavit of financial support. Now all I can do is wait. The rest is up to my wife and the US Embassy in Moscow.

I'm back to hating this process. Knowing what to fill out, and how -- it can change as quickly as an internet search. And then when you fill out the DHL shipping form, you forget a single zero in the Russian postal code, forgetting it has six digits not five like in America, and so you have to scramble an hour later and see if they can somehow make up for the mistake.

I'm done. I'm feverish. I'm going to lie down. Wake me up when October ends.

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