Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Heartbreaking Kind: On Executive Order 13769

I don't blog about this part of my life much, but I've worked at an immigration law firm for the past 6 years. Sometimes, when I tell people this, they say "Oh, that must be so heartbreaking!" And I explain that my firm doesn't really focus on the heartbreaking kind of immigration law—asylum or refugee cases, say—but on business immigration: visas and green cards for people who are coming to the U.S. to work.

At least, that's what I could say until yesterday.

Executive Order 13769 means that all U.S. immigration law is now "the heartbreaking kind." Before, I could say that I was dealing with laws that were strict but fair. Now, the laws are unconstitutional.

The official immigration-law term for "green card holder" is "LPR"—that's short for Legal Permanent Resident. The green color of the cards, like the greenbacks on our money, seemed to symbolize an unshakeable American promise: "Abide by our laws and principles, and you can live in the U.S. forever." The executive order has torn up those promises, so that LPRs and visa holders and dual nationals who previously experienced no trouble are now being turned away at the airport.

We are denying mercy to tens of thousands of Syrian refugees, and denying justice to hundreds of thousands of other people with origins in Muslim-majority countries. This is a betrayal of American values and everyone should be concerned.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Vassar College Presidents’ Names, Ranked by WASPiness

It was announced today that Vassar College’s new president, starting this July, will be Elizabeth Howe Bradley, a professor of public health at Yale.

Dr. Bradley has many qualifications to join the illustrious line of Vassar’s presidents, not least of which is: her name is really WASPy.

Yes, I’m starting to suspect that there’s a little-known provision in the Vassar College by-laws that requires its president to have a WASPy name. Behold: the list of Vassar presidents’ names, ranked by WASPiness.

12. Jonathan Lee Chenette, interim president 2016-2017
“Chenette”? Sounds dainty. Sounds French. Sounds suspiciously foreign and Papist. No wonder he’s only the Interim President.

11. Alan Simpson, president 1964-1977
This is a Boring White Guy Name, which is subtly different from a WASPy name. Mr. Simpson also loses points for being the only person on this list, as far as I can tell, who lacks a middle name.

10. John Howard Raymond, president 1864-1878
Another name that signals “Average White Guy” more than it specifically signals “WASP.” “John Raymond” could be a bank president, but he could also be a truck driver.

9. James Monroe Taylor, president 1886-1914
Ol’ James here gains points for having surnames that belonged to two U.S. Presidents, but loses points for being plain “James Taylor,” like your parents’ favorite folk-rocker, if you leave out his middle name.

8. Samuel Lunt Caldwell, president 1878-1885
Now we’re talking. This is the name of a man who wore mutton chops and a high collar and looked at you with Calvinist disapproval.

7. Elizabeth Howe Bradley, president 2017-
An excellent WASP name, especially by 21st-century standards. Note that her position on this list is provisional until I learn whether she uses a nickname for “Elizabeth” and, if so, what it is. “Liz” or “Beth” would likely keep her ranking the same, but if it’s “Libby” or “Buffy,” she’s definitely moving a few slots further up.

6. Virginia Beatrice Smith, president 1977-1986
Proof that you can possess the U.S.’s most common surname and still sound like a member of the top 1%, provided that your first two names are “Virginia” and “Beatrice.”

5. Frances “Fran” Daly Fergusson, president 1986-2006
A wonderfully WASPy name, with a breezy New England jauntiness in its short form, “Fran Fergusson.” My, she was yar.

4. Sarah Gibson Blanding, president 1946-1964
If I was reading a novel in which a Northeastern schoolteacher or headmistress was named “Sarah Gibson Blanding,” I’d think it was too on-the-nose.

3. Henry Noble MacCracken, president 1915-1946
“Noble”? Now you’re not even trying to be subtle.

2. Catharine “Cappy” Bond Hill, president 2006-2016

1. Milo Parker Jewett, president 1861-1864
The first, and still the best. Vassar's been trying for over 150 years, but I don't think they'll ever have a president with a name more WASPy than this.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Memorable Theatergoing 2016 -- "Glass Menagerie" in Paris

When I was in Paris last April, I took myself to see La ménagerie de verre (The Glass Menagerie), directed by Daniel Jeanneteau at the Théâtre National de la Colline. It was definitely a European-style staging: minimalist set, barefoot actors, some stylized movement seemingly influenced by modern dance. But because Glass Menagerie is a memory play (not a work of strict realism), much of the abstraction and minimalism worked for me. The production also made very effective use of scrims: most of the scenes happened behind a veil so when the actors emerged from behind it, it was very powerful.

Moreover, that scene between Laura and Jim is so damn well written, so delicate and romantic and heartbreaking, and the production played it completely straight, and even though I was in the very last row of the theater, I got tears in my eyes when the glass unicorn broke and Laura said "Maintenant il est comme tous les autres chevaux" ("Now he is like all the other horses").

I understood probably 95% of the dialogue; Tennessee Williams doesn't strike me as incredibly hard to translate to French, and the actors spoke fairly slowly. Even now, months later, I can hear Amanda's final words to Tom from this version: "Va à la lune, espèce de reveur... EGOISTE!" ("Go to the moon, you selfish dreamer!") The "pleurosis"/"blue roses" pun, which I thought might be the most difficult bit of the play to translate, actually lent itself to a direct translation: it became "pleurésie"/"Bleu-Rosie." And "gentleman caller" got translated as "galant," which is kind of the best.

And I love going to the theater in France and making the actors do five curtain calls and applauding so much my arms hurt. And I totally got an instant crush on the slim, tousled French dude with hipster glasses and a blazer who was running the theater bookstore. And I went to a café afterwards on Place Gambetta and ordered chocolate mousse and a laughably large carafe of red wine, because I was rusty on the metric system, and when I apologized to the waiter, he reassured me "Well, you'll sleep well tonight, non?" And I giddy-giggled, slightly tipsy from that wine, on an empty Métro car, as I checked Facebook and saw what was happening with my friends, nine hours behind me on the other side of the world. And I changed trains at République station and encountered a cloud of tear gas on the platform: protests about a new labor law were going on above, in the Place de la République. And, mercifully, my train arrived about thirty seconds later, so I just held my breath till I could escape into its cleaner air. And I spoke French the whole night and nobody tried to speak to me in English. And I learned that seeing a beautiful play that brings tears to your eyes will more than make up for minor irritations, like running into a cloud of gas that brings tears to your eyes. And it was one of the best nights I had all year.