Monday, 30 December 2002
It's a small and frightening world.
From about July 2000 to June 2001, I reported to a man named J. P.
Lisowski, an expat like myself who had been promoted from our Korea
office. JP, as everyone called him, was sent to Australia to be my
boss—my new project expanded our technical support business in the
region to the point where we needed a director to come in and manage it
JP and his boss (yet another expat) didn't get along very well,
and at the same time the telecom industry went through a world-wide
meltdown, so in a very short period we shrank to a size where we didn't
need a director solely dedicated to tech support any more, and JP was
sent home—for the first time in many years, as it turned out; JP
had spent a long time in Korea, and in fact had met his wife and had two
So, JP and his family went back to the Chicago suburbs, and
that—literally, as it turns out—was the last time I saw him.
We traded e-mails a few times, but we weren't working on the same
project any more, and we hadn't really become close on a personal level.
On Christmas morning JP was shot and killed, apparently by his wife. She also
shot both their daughters and then tried to kill herself, according to
police reports, but she and the daughters survived. She will be arraigned on one count of murder and two counts of
attempted murder on February 3rd.
I read about the shooting in the papers on the 26th, but didn't actually
make the connection until today's paper said that the
victim had formerly been an expat in Australia. The newspaper reports
all mentioned the wife's name and "her husband John," which wasn't
enough for me to trigger the association with JP's name.
It's a small world, and I'm a bit player in someone else's tragedy. My
condolences and prayers to out to the Lisowski children.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 5:21 am. comments.
Wednesday, 25 December 2002
Yesterday we had an unfortunately rare event: Enough of us card sharks
got together to play a hand of Spades. In college at least a dozen of us Crows were card-playing fiends;
Euchre must have lowered my GPA at least half a point, and I
wasn't the only one.
But, as time went on, some people lost touch, some moved away, some got
married and had kids... by the time I moved away myself three years ago,
my decks of playing cards were gathering dust on a shelf. We used to
"Euchre" a deck of cards once a month (Euchre is played with only the
nine through Ace, so those cards get worn while the others stay
fresh—eventually you end up with a half-destroyed deck and have to
open another one), but now we're lucky if we play once a year.
I should teach the Aussies how to play, or learn if and how they play
it. Spades and Euchre are games with regional variations; we didn't
allow a Nil hand in our games, mainly because we got to point where
every hand was a Nil hand, and that got old after a while.
But it was good to get together and play. We had one player flying in
from California, one (me) from Oz, and two from the Chicago area, and it
was the first time we've all seen each other in three years.
Today we made what should have been a five-hour drive from Chicago to
Marion, Illinois, except that it started snowing near Champaign and
turned into about a nine-hour drive instead. This was the worst driving
I've ever experienced; we couldn't see more than ten feet in front of
us. I spent most of it staring at tire tracks in the snow, fervently
hoping that I wasn't following the previous car's tracks into the
ditch.... We made it, but it was an experience.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 3:33 am. comments.
Monday, 23 December 2002
In the ten years that I lived there, the southwest Chicago suburbs consumed
nearby farmland like a starving man at a pie-eating contest. Armies of houses
marched across the plain, marking off new subdivisions as fast as the
bulldozers and pavers could build streets; for a while my friend Tim lived in a
cul-de-sac whose street names all started with "J", to distinguish it from the
cookie-cutter "H" and "K" enclaves on either side.
When I last visited two years ago, Tim and family had just moved into a
development so new that it didn't have paved roads yet. Now this "new" area
has everything short of its own monorail: Schools,
supermarkets, restaurants and shopping malls have all sprung fully formed out
of the prairie, serving up fast food and 24-hour grocery shopping to the
voracious suburban horde.
I did notice that the American flag is flying a lot more often than it was two
years ago—it isn't like there's red-white-and-blue bunting on every
doorstep, but it's definitely a change from when I last visited (July 2001).
Call me sentimental, but I like it, especially coming back from overseas where
seeing your own country's flag is a rarity.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 9:44 pm. comments.
Monday, 23 December 2002
Whenever I come back to the USA after a trip overseas, I always think to myself
that I should kiss the ground when I arrive. It's theatrical, I know, but it's
also an expression of love for my country, and I always feel like I should do
And then I arrive at LAX, and the feeling goes away. I'd be eating some
exciting new polymers and carpet fuzz, to say the least. (Not that I can think
of other airports where I'd feel any better about kissing the carpet, but after
three years of flying to Australia and back, I associate LAX with twelve-hour
plane rides and badly needing a shower.)
Boarding the flight in Sydney, I went through at least three layers of security
to ensure that I didn't morph into Osama between baggage check and the
departing gate. (How would this have stopped the terrorists?) I also left my
pocketknife at home, figuring that I'd forget to check it at some point, and
then I'd need a new pocketknife. (How again would this make me more secure?)
I know that Something Had To Be Done, the Public Confidence Must Be Restored,
etc., but none of this crap makes me feel any safer. The only thing that makes
me feel secure is the knowledge that my fellow passengers and I will beat the
living daylights out of anyone who tries to hijack the plane.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 4:06 am. comments.
Monday, 16 December 2002
It's been 18 months since I last returned to America. This time last
year I celebrated my first Christmas in Australia, with my true love and
future in-laws; my most recent trip home was for my sister's wedding, in
June 2001. When I last set foot in the United States,
Gary Condit ruled the headlines, the World Trade Center was still
standing, and September 11th was a day like any other.
Next week I'm going home for the holidays.
Before I moved abroad, I was told that expats often find returning home
to be a more disorienting experience than going overseas in the first
place. When you go to a foreign country, you expect it to be, well,
foreign. You're prepared to encounter strange foods and new customs;
you signed up for that with the plane ticket. But when you come home to
America, you expect to find the nation as you left it: You understand,
intellectually, that some things may have changed while you were gone...
but it doesn't really hit you until you get home, and things are
different, and you feel lost on what was once familiar ground.
When I last lived in America, Bill Clinton was President, the New
Economy was booming, foreign policy was mostly about trade, and people
were seriously asking if we'd reached the end of history. America's
enemies were kooks and holdouts: Communist diehards who hadn't heard the
news, and a handful of Islamic crazies who bombed the occasional
embassy; they looked more like the Little
Rascals than a serious threat worth worrying about.
Things have changed a lot since then.
I've been living abroad for almost three years now, and I've made the
trip home maybe half a dozen times. This is, by far, the longest I've
gone without returning to the States... and the first time I'm not
entirely sure what to expect. (Will I have to take off my shoes before
each flight? Are there really U.S. flags on every house now?) I'll be
visiting Chicago, southern Illinois (where I grew up), and New York City
this trip; I'll try to describe what I see, and how it differs from what
I saw last.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 8:21 pm. comments.
Friday, 06 December 2002
My future in-laws
live next to a national forest, on a secluded lot with
lots of trees and bushes. They feed the birds in their back yard; some
of the local kookaburras, when
they get hungry, will sit on their window ledge and tap on the glass
with their beaks. (It's hard to tell this from photos, but the
kookaburra is an unexpectedly large bird — in my North
American scale of Sizes That Birds Should Come In, kookaburras should be
about the size of a bluejay or robin, but instead they're crow-sized
with big puffed-up feathers. If I remember my ornithology correctly,
puffy feathers are some kind of water-collecting mechanism for desert
Flocks of wild parakeets also come to visit. This is going to sound
silly, but until I came to Australia I didn't realize that parakeets
came in flocks: When you spend your whole life seeing them one at a
time in pet store birdcages, you sort of assume they must be solitary
birds. I was amazed the first time I saw a flock of brightly colored
wings flapping past in downtown Sydney, and then I learned first-hand
what happens when the "talkative" Australian parakeet gets down to
serious conversation with a few hundred friends and neighbors. (There
are peaceful, tree-lined parks in Australia where you can't hear
yourself think for a couple of hours before sunset. Chatty little
birds.) The backyard parakeets aren't as numerous or noisy, but they're
very colorful and unusual to a Midwesterner like me.
The only problem with the idyllic scene in my future in-laws' back yard
is that the
neighboring suburb is on fire at the moment, and we're anxiously
watching the news to see whether the wind shifts direction and the
bushfire heads their way. My in-laws' home isn't in any immediate
danger, but they're definitely at risk.: Perhaps two dozen homes around
the outskirts of Sydney have been destroyed, and the whole city smells
of smoke. We're praying for rain, but Oz is having its worst drought in
ages this summer, and the firefighters have their hands full.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 5:39 pm. comments.
Friday, 06 December 2002
More fun with CSS:
I've added three more style sheets to the pull-down
menu in the sidebar, and cleaned up the others to make them more
cross-browser compatible. (I'm testing on Chimera 0.6/Mac and
MSIE 6/Win, mostly because those are the browsers I use at home and
work, respectively.) The new stylesheets may look vaguely familiar, but
they're 100% CSS; the Blogger templates they resemble are HTML based.
Choose your favorite and enjoy.
(MSIE still has a few bugs that make these pages less attractive than
they should be: The USA/Oz graphic in the corner has a transparent
background, but you wouldn't know it from the way MSIE displays PNG
files. It looks especially bad with a dark background, as some of the
style sheets demonstrate. MSIE also crashes a lot when it encounters
the CSS2 first-letter tag, but only under certain bizarre
circumstances that are difficult to isolate.)
I'm also having a problem with Blogger inserting non-conforming HTML
markup into my updates, though; if I can't find a way around it, I may
have to remove my "HTML 4.0" badge. (Blogger inserts unmatched
<p> tags into my text whenever I start a new paragraph,
and it has a nasty habit of mangling the HTML em dash
("—") when I edit an article.) No one said complying
with standards was easy, I guess.
Actually the problem is more pervasive than I
realized: Blogger's editing function converts any HTML escape sequence
into the character it represents. If I type
"<p>", publish, and then edit, Blogger silently
converts that string to "<p>", and then the re-published
article contains HTML markup instead of the characters I wanted to
display. I should talk to the Blogger folks about that, or (more
likely) roll my own editor and use it instead.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 12:02 am. comments.