Can This Marriage Be Saved?

Martin and I have been married for 11 years and some months, most of our adult lives. Like any couple, we have moments of severe dissonance, when we look at one another and see strangers, or even enemies. Sometimes it’s a decision one of us makes, sometimes it’s disciplining the kids, sometimes it’s the way money is spent or time allocated. It can affect our relationship with the outside world, or be a purely internal disagreement.

It’s always painful.

The one of us observing, and reacting to, the word or deed in question may feel excluded, overridden, or disenfranchised. The consequences of a wrong choice may seem overwhelming and disastrous. The agent, meanwhile, will feel betrayed and defensive at having a good faith decision questioned.

Resolving these disagreements, finding common ground, and dealing with the risk of error are some of the most difficult tasks in any partnership. It’s hard to listen to the objections of the overridden spouse; it’s even harder to live with what seems to be a wrong choice by your partner. And maintaining the discipline to avoid recriminations or smugness (depending on how the controversial decision comes out) is yet another perennial task. Martin and I rarely achieve perfection in all these areas; we usually reach adequacy.

A small proportion of married people rarely face the challenge, either because they don’t disagree or because they rigidly delegate responsibility. But for the vast majority of married couples, this is the source of such trouble, such strife and such grief, that they lose, for a time, the joy of their union and shared purpose Some can’t overcome the alienation and start to see their partner as an opponent. That, of course, is the road to divorce court.

We who stay married endure these trials because we are richer with one another than alone, even when we are at odds. We work at marriage because we made a commitment, and because we share so much that cannot ever truly be separated. And when the quarrel ends, we savour the sweets of our union all the more because they are earned, not given, and because they are the greater for it.

Does all that make sense?

Right. Now read Republicans and Democrats in there instead of a married couple. The problems that plague my country in the aftermath of the election are the same as any couple in trouble: miscommunication, mistrust, and the sneaking suspicion that the other party isn’t striving for the greater good. But even more than a marriage, a nation is all but indissoluble. We are one land and must learn to live together. The same principles of compromise, communication and determination that make a marriage work are needed to make the nation work.

Now go to it, guys.


Being an American abroad can be difficult sometimes. There’s so much to defend, to explain, to demystify. Now is certainly one of those times; I spent a lot of yesterday failing in my earnest desire to discuss anything but the election.

My British colleagues asked, “Why?”

“Because,” I replied, “They don’t see the news you see.”

The stories that don’t make Fox, or Clear Channel, or the Murdoch press: the death of innocents in Iraq and Afghanistan, the erosion of the case for war, the French as a rational nation with a reasoned viewpoint. Bush the bumbler, Cheney the crook, Rumsfeld the hatchet man. Alert statuses changing from puce to chartreuse to teal whenever there’s an awkward story to bury. Historical analyses of how Saddam Hussein came to power and was kept there; the deaths of Palestinians as well as Israelis; a positive view of Democrats.

“But, but, but, why? I don’t understand.”

“Because you don’t see the news they see.”

I don’t see this news either, but I can make some guesses: Bush the charming, folksy man verses Kerry the cold, stiff intellectual. A judge who feels his allegiance to Christ supersedes his obligation to separate church and state. Gays lining up to marry in coastal states, intercut with deliberately shocking images of Gay Pride parades. World War 2 documentaries, the fall of the Soviet Union, the Reagan days. The 700 Club and Christian radio.

People who voted for Bush were not by definition idiots, or insane, or evil, as many people on the Net have stated in their anger and disappointment. They voted as sombrely, with as much thought, commitment and dedication, as the rest of the electorate. But their priorities, their aspirations, and their worldview are different from that of my Scottish colleagues, so different that there’s almost no explaining it.

The lives they lead – or at least strive for – are classic Norman Rockwell. Small towns of good neighbors, where doors are not locked (or haven’t been within living memory), where children go safely to school and families to church, where people work hard and value honesty and faith above money and power. Marriages last, teenagers don’t get pregnant, no one has affairs or abortions, or suffers from domestic violence. There are no drugs, maybe not even alcohol. Summer vacations are spent at “the lake” (there always seems to be a lake); Christmas and Easter are religious holidays rather than just time off. When jobs are scarce and times are hard, everyone pulls together, and every funeral is followed by a succession of covered dishes. There are a lot of flags, and not just at the Fourth of July parade. Folks have no need to go to foreign places, because America is the best country in the world.

People may not live this way in real life, but a large proportion of Americans wish they did. I do, sometimes. And the Midwest, the farm states, are the custodians of this dream. They see themselves as the moral compass of the nation, the heart of the land. The coastal states are corrupted by their contact with foreign cultures, too much money, and too many intellectuals.

Kerry never spoke their language, though as a combat veteran he had an “in” that his East Coast lawyer image couldn’t ruin. But Bush and his colleagues talk the talk, however little they walk the walk. And the anti-foreigner, anti-intellectual message has been underlined for years by Republican-owned media that panders to its viewership’s biases. (Just as the New York media does, by the way, and the Californian, and the various flavors of British – a news channel that its viewers doesn’t like doesn’t survive.) A Midwestern voter could get up, switch off Fox News, listen to Clear Channel on the way to the polling station, and vote the way his pastor suggested (using copious Bible references), with a clear conscience. It all made sense; all the inputs hung together.

I don’t know how to change the Midwest, or whether it would be a good idea to try. I don’t think anyone has the right to but the Midwesterners themselves. Perhaps the Internet, with its wider spectrum of news available, will broaden views (though it’s equally possible that it will simply consolidate them around a few conservative websites). Perhaps, as with Clinton’s “The Economy, Stupid” message, some unifying problem will cause the heartland to vote for someone who is more palatable to the rest of the nation and the world.

I do know, however, that berating Bush supporters, calling them stupid, or ignoring their reasons for voting as they did will not get their votes in the future. Once the hurt has died down, I hope the rest of us can distinguish between the voters and their candidate. (Just as I distinguish between our soldiers, whom I respect, and the people who sent them to war, whom I criticize.) As an American expat, I may oppose any attempt to pare down our Constitutional rights, may cringe at what Bush says and does on the world stage, and may very well worry for the future he builds. But I’ll still be defending Bush voters to my British friends and colleagues.

E Pluribus Unum

Web Businesses: A Study in Contrasts

I have had two very differing experiences with Web businesses lately. One has left me seething with fury for almost five months. The other filled me with dread and Martin with foreboding, but came out beautifully.

The Good

As I’ve gained skill as a binder, I’ve decided to sell some of my work as well as giving it away (advt). Despite its negative connotations in some circles, I’m pretty much inseperable from the evilrooster identity as a bookbinder. So the obvious thing to do was to obtain the domain name. I used to own it, several years ago, but never did much with it.

Now, I am – apart from a role player named Joe somewhere in the States who turns up on two or three sites – the only evilrooster on the Web. So I was not facing much competition for the name. But old domain names, no longer owned, don’t always vanish into the incohate pool of available URLs. If they are still linked somewhere on the web, then they are often bought, en bloc, by search engines and link farms, and redirected to the main search engine page. (It boosts a site’s Google rating to have multiple links into it.) was such a site. It was owned by a search engine named Netster, on the strength of a link from my mother’s old site. That was discouraging. But the Netster site said that the company’s policy is “to transfer a domain name to any person or company that, in our reasonable opinion, has a legitimate claim to that domain name…We do not sell domain names”.

These are very important statements for Netster‘s sake, because the use of domains not immediately related to one’s business is a feature of cybersquatting. (The most famous example being, which is a porn site – try for the seat of American government.) And the current body of decisions on cybersquatting makes it clear that buying a URL one is not entitled to with the intention of selling it to the proper owner at an inflated price is not on either.

(A related web offence, passing off is irrelevant to this discussion – they don’t bind books – but often gets mentioned in the same context as cybersquatting.)

But a policy is not the same as an action, and the new owners could very easily have put a maze of red tape in their policy on website transfers without breaking the rules. For instance, since I don’t have evilrooster trademarked, they could have denied that I am legally entitled to it. Or they could cut a deal with a registrar that includes a high price for domain name transfers, then recharge me their “costs” for handing over Neither would be illegal, and I would have fallen back on an alternative URL rather than get into a scrap about it.

Instead, they engaged in a very civil and helpful correspondence with me. In the absence of a trademark, they asked if I was using the identiy on my work. My rooster finishing tool came in handy then – it’s plainly visible on most of the bindings on my gallery page. So they agreed that I was entitled to the site. If I would get an account with their registrar, thy would initiate a transfer. I signed up with the registrar in question, and reviewed their pricing. Their transfer fee was not extortionate. Then I got an email from Netster, which I will quote verbatim.


We have moved the requested domain(s) to your account. Please take care to manage it from there. While during this process we have incurred transfer, registration, and administrative costs, it is not our desire to seek reimbursement from you. Instead, we would appreciate any positive references you might make about our search engine, We are sure that would be more valuable to us than any fee.


That email made my day. When I get redeveloped (watch this space for an announcement when it’s up, but don’t hold your breath. I do have a job and two small children, plus a lot of binding to finish before Christmas), I’ll be adding a link to Netster. Considering that they’re primarily a US-based site, I’m not likely to get a lot of use out of it, but maybe the link will be of use to them. I hope so; I want to encourage good Internet neighbours.

The Bad

I wish everyone was as good as these guys. I wish that an internet-based book vendor, whom I had paid, was as friendly, communicative and effective as Netster.

There’s a book on headband construction that I wanted. I have a photocopy of it, from when it was out of print and unobtainable. Oak Knoll Press (to whom I will not link lest I boost their page rank), the publishers, printed a new edition, and I wanted to buy it, to support the bookbinding publishing market and the authors who did the work.

So I went to the Oak Knoll site. First problem: it doesn’t work in Firefox (the mouse-over activated pull-down menus have some strange ideas about where the mouse pointer is), so I needed to use Internet Explorer. It’s a minor nuisance.

I ordered the book on June 17 and paid for it by credit card. Oak Knoll emailed me and told me it would be about 1 week for processing the order, then 5 weeks’ surface shipping. So I expected it in late July.

By early August, I was wondering where my book was. I emailed Oak Knoll, and got no reply. I emailed again, and finally got an answer that showed that my email was caught in their spam filter. Without wanting to tell a business how to run itself, I might suggest that a spam filter that traps your customers’ emails is probably not a good thing.

Apparently, Oak Knoll’s postal supplier lost a bunch of June shipments somewhere in Florida. Did they email their European customers to find out whether the shipped books had arrived? Of course not. Did they contact me and tell me when I’d be shipped a replacement? Don’t be silly.

So I waited a bit, then tried again. Again, no one answered my emails. I finally called them and got some attention at the cost of a transatlantic phone call. They said they’d send out another copy on September 17 by expedited delivery, and could I contact them when it arrived? No estimate of delivery time was given, so I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Finally, well into October, I got peeved and sent them another email. I can’t say I was surprised that they didn’t reply. Only when I sent another email, threatening to post an account of the transaction on the book-arts listserv, did a woman named Jeanette write back. She complained that I was “SHOUTING” at her, and that she was tired of it. She also said that the book should have been inserted into the UK postal service 8 – 10 days after shipping; clearly it had gone astray. Again. Not that they were interested in checking when they could wait for me to complain.

By this time, I was heartily regretting ever having tried to buy the book, or support their business in any way. I finally emailed them to say forget it, I’d source it elsewhere (a UK bookbinding supplier whom I trust to deliver what I’ve paid for, Shepherd’s). Then, after no reply, I emailed them the same thing again, and got an answer. Apparently, without telling me or updating my online order sheet (which I checked after logging onto IE, sigh), they’d already sent a third copy out.

They have since refunded my money, which they held for the 4 1/2 months that they fumbled delivery and failed at customer service. Murphy’s law says that the third copy of the book will arrive, at which point I will either contact them and pay again, or refuse delivery and notify them that it is on its way back to them. One thing is certain, though:

I will never buy anything from, or recommend that anyone buy from, Oak Knoll Books.

As publishers of bookbinding books, they will get some of my money from resellers, but I won’t deal with them directly again. To be clear: I accept that they can’t help it if their delivery company lets them down. But it’s when a problem occurs that a company gets the chance to show its competitive advantage. Oak Knoll’s policy of never answering customer emails the first time and without threats, much less actually communicating with them when they know things have gone wrong, does not shine.

4-hour Flu?

You’ve heard of 24-hour flu. But these are modern times; everything is speeding up. No one has time to do things slowly. And, apparently, flu viruses have caught up to the trend.

Suddenly, at about 7:00 last night, I started shivering uncontrollably. I was already feeling wintry and depressed, but those are primarily mental effects. This was most decidedly physical.

I simply couldn’t get warm. My muscles started to ache, and my joints became sore. By about 7:30, when Fiona was ready for her feed down (time change, you know – she usually feeds down at about 8:30), I was feeling nauseous as well. So I took her into bed with me and fed her, and we lay there in a little pool of warmth while Martin put Alex to bed.

I was hallucinating by that point. I remember listening to them reading Sitting Ducks, in which the line “and suddenly the sky was full of ducks.” Suddenly I saw the ducks as being like autumn leaves, as though one could walk through a pile of them and kick them (non-cruelly) into the air in thick clumps, which then separated into individual flying birds. They filled the sky with gold.

After Martin got Alex to bed, he came for Fiona and I went for a hot shower. I shivered as soon as I got out of bed, though I was still fully dressed. Even the scalding hot shower couldn’t warm me up. It took a mug of hot broth and a hot water bottle to stop the shivering.

At the same time, Alex was screaming and crying hysterically in his bed, sobbing so hard we couldn’t extract from him what, if anything, hurt. He finally settled on it being his ear, and we gave him some Calpol. But I don’t think he was actually awake through either of the two iterations of screaming; I don’t know if his ear really hurt, or if he dreamed it.

When Alex was finally settled, and Fiona (who had awakened with the racket) was down again, I went to my bed. The shivering had passed off, and I was feeling fevered, so hot that the duvet was uncomfortable, my pyjamas unbearable, and my pillow too warm. I tossed and turned and drifted into a sleep full of fever dreams.

When I woke up this morning, I was fine.