In the South & The Incredible Disappearing Contract

The oth­er big dif­fer­ence here in the south­ern US (and when I say ‘south­ern’, I mean ‘Mary­land’, which is as far North as you can get and still be below the Mason Dixon Line — which runs between Mary­land and Penn­syl­va­nia) from the Pacif­ic North­west is the heat. It has final­ly start­ed to cool off a lit­tle since I got here, now at about 26 C, which is a lit­tle warm but tol­er­a­ble. Pri­or to today, I pret­ty much had to stay inside with the air con­di­tion­ing going all day. The same was true of going out — all stores, cars and restau­rants have their air con­di­tion­ing blast­ing so hard that you fre­quent­ly have to take a jack­et with you to keep from get­ting too cold when inside! I can’t bear to think what the elec­tric­i­ty usage is here. The Onion made fun of the whole glob­al warm­ing and rise in air con­di­tion­ing sto­ry this week.

The heat means lots of insects, plants (my par­ents live in a lush area to the north of the Bal­ti­more belt­way), birds and ani­mals. We’ve seen car­di­nals, finch­es, hum­ming­birds, mourn­ing doves, mock­ing­birds, wood­peck­ers, chip­munks and if course, squir­rels. I missed the vis­it of a semi-reg­u­lar vis­i­tor to the prop­er­ty, a red-tailed fox, who my par­ents spied this morn­ing as he loped across their back­yard and woods.

It’s a Done Deal. Or Not.
I’m still deal­ing a bit with the time change, and try­ing to stay in touch with work and life back home. The day before I left, I had an excit­ing poten­tial con­tract that I respond­ed to imme­di­ate­ly with a major web com­pa­ny (whose name I’ll with­hold for the time being) that looked like it was about to go through. While I didn’t burn any bridges back at my cur­rent job, it looked like upon my return to Van­cou­ver, my old part-time job would be more or less over (with a few things to tidy up, some good-byes, etc.) and I’d be start­ing a new 6-week con­tract. Resumés, sam­ples and a fol­low-up phone call had all gone through with encour­ag­ing words from my con­tact, a staffing per­son with the com­pa­ny.

Some­how all of that went ter­ri­bly wrong while I was on the road, and the staffing rep’s emails got sketch­i­er and vaguer with each pass­ing day. Now it looks as if that per­son over­stepped their author­i­ty in offer­ing me the job, and that some­one else was referred to the com­pa­ny. Since I was out of town (and our phone voice mail was still MIA), I was too hard to reach, and the whole thing has now van­ished and anoth­er staffing per­son from that com­pa­ny is telling me to ‘Don’t call us, we’ll call you’. I’m real­ly dis­ap­point­ed about this, and feel like I was treat­ed pret­ty shab­bi­ly (The orig­i­nal con­tact has still not con­tact­ed me with a defin­i­tive ‘no’ and any sort of apol­o­gy.) If I had got­ten the nib­ble at any oth­er week of the year I could have been able to push for it (or at least I thought I could — this is, in all hon­esty, just spec­u­la­tion). Such is the way life goes. Some­times it is indeed, all in the tim­ing.

On the Road

At about 5:30 AM I rolled my large, green suit­case from 6th Avenue and Granville to the top of the hill, at Broad­way. I huffed and puffed a lit­tle, but it wasn’t too bad. The ‘Quick­Shut­tle’ from Van­cou­ver to Seat­tle Air­port arrived a few min­utes late at 6:10, but the small group of us (most­ly stu­dents and a few tourists) got on quick­ly. After stops at 41st Street, YVR, and a Con­ve­nience Store and Gift Shop near the bor­der, we arrived at the Canadian/US bor­der at around 7:45. It took us about 45 min­utes to get processed, our bags X-rayed and the usu­al ques­tions and cus­toms forms. We made it down to Seat­tle (down­town first near the Space Nee­dle, air­port sec­ond) in plen­ty of time for me to check my lug­gage, get on the snaking secu­ri­ty line, and grab a bite of lunch.

The first cul­tur­al shocks came: That hor­ri­ble woman’s voice on the pub­lic address sys­tem that’s now appar­ent­ly in air­ports coast to coast: Thenk you for mak­ing shore yore beg­gidge is not left unat­tind­ed. Unat­tind­ed beg­gidge will be removed by air­port stayaff. Then, I start­ed notic­ing all of the fat peo­ple. A large group wait­ing for the plane pulling in before mine were a great deal of over­weight folks bound for Hat­ties­burg, Mis­sis­sip­pi, all with iden­ti­cal brown T-shirts that read ‘Builders for Christ’ (I found out lat­er that these were masons, elec­tri­cians, plumbers, etc. who build church­es and oth­er reli­gious build­ings for free).

After we board­ed, I learned that I had the seats right by the front entrance. This is a bless­ing and a curse. The bless­ing is that it’s the first seat on (for gen­er­al board­ing, not First Class, of course) and one of the first off. The curse is that every per­son com­ing in the plane goes by it, so for­get about sit­ting in it dur­ing the board­ing of the plane. I stood with the flight atten­dants as they said hel­lo to the pas­sen­gers. That front row was also where sev­er­al sol­diers (Marines and Navy, to be pre­cise) sat as they were head­ing home from being sta­tioned in Japan (after a tour or two of Iraq).

The flight got into Saint Louis, my con­nec­tion, a lit­tle late. For­tu­nate­ly, my con­nect­ing flight was in the next gate. I walked off the plane, and lit­er­al­ly walked over 20 feet to the gate of the oth­er flight as that was the moment they called for board­ing of all seats. Just before I walked out onto the tar­mac (it was a small plane), I said to the the woman at the gate: “I’m a lit­tle con­cerned, since my con­nect­ing flight is so late that my bag won’t make it”. “Your bag will make it”, she said con­fi­dent­ly.

The flight to Bal­ti­more from Saint Louis was short, which was for­tu­nate, because it was in a very small jet, with a ceil­ing so low that I couldn’t ful­ly stand up. When I arrived in Bal­ti­more, my par­ents were there wait­ing for me. After we went to bag­gage claim, we soon learned that what I had feared was true. My bag had indeed missed the con­nec­tion. The woman in Saint Louis had looked me in the face and lied (or just said some­thing that was ridicu­lous to patron­ize a pas­sen­ger). I real­ly would have appre­ci­at­ed some can­dor, but that’s not the way they do busi­ness at Amer­i­can Air­lines.

The bag just arrived. 12:24 AM, tech­ni­cal­ly, 2 days lat­er.

I don’t want to be a wor­ry-wart, but what real­ly con­cerns me now is that my con­nec­tion back to Seat­tle is even tighter, and if my bag doesn’t make it there, I would have to take the bus back to Van­cou­ver with­out it. Or per­haps, stay with my broth­er in Belle­vue and resched­ule the trip back until I can get the bag. Such is air trav­el in the good old US of A.

Close Despite the Distances

If any good can come of the theft of my wal­let, it’s that I was remind­ed of how many fam­i­ly and friends, spread across many time zones and a cou­ple con­ti­nents are there, car­ing what hap­pens, and offer­ing words of reas­sur­ance. It does make it eas­i­er.

Next week I’ll be trav­el­ing to Bal­ti­more to see my par­ents, and then up to Dublin, New Hamp­shire, for the 35th Reunion of The Walden School, an orga­ni­za­tion and group of peo­ple who I also feel close to, despite the phys­i­cal (and tem­po­ral) dis­tances.

I’m very hap­py that despite the fact that I’ve moved around a lot in my life, I’ve man­aged to keep friend­ships and oth­er close rela­tion­ships alive and active. I hope that will always be the case.

Petty Theft

I should have been more on guard. I should have hand­ed my wal­let to Pam, who was out­side the dress­ing room. Instead, all it took was less than 4 sec­onds, while I shift­ed atten­tion to her, mod­el­ing the shorts I was think­ing of pur­chas­ing, for some guy to dive into the dress­ing room, rifle through my jeans, and grab it.

I real­ized the theft of my wal­let in almost as short a time, but it was already too late. The guy (and I know it was a guy, as it was the men’s Fit­ting Room area) was already long gone. There were no wit­ness­es, of course. So, we hur­ried back home, where I:

  1. Called my bank to can­cel all of my cred­it cards that I had with them as well as my ATM card
  2. Called the Van­cou­ver Police Depart­ment, where I report­ed the theft and got a case num­ber
  3. Called the bank back and told them the case num­ber. They need­ed this because appar­ent­ly the thief had enough time to pay for park­ing with one of the cards before we can­celed it.
  4. Called the oth­er cred­it card com­pa­nies with my card infor­ma­tion. This includ­ed 2 oth­er com­pa­nies.
  5. Filled out a replace­ment form for my Health Care Card (with a cheque for $20)
  6. Mean­while, Pam con­tact­ed the Build­ing Super, and had my door access card deac­ti­vat­ed.

There will be more to do in the com­ing days. I can get a tem­po­rary ATM card at the bank on Mon­day, and anoth­er $17 will pay for a replace­ment driver’s license. There was about $50 cash in the wal­let, which is fair­ly typ­i­cal, and that will be a total loss. I’ll also have to pay for the replace­ment access card for home. Also a bunch of oth­er minor annoy­ances: A library card I’ll have to get replaced, a card for OneZe­ro Sushi on Pen­der that I had about 5 stamps in. A Star­bucks card with about $5.00 left on it.

All in all, I fig­ure I’ll have lost about $100–150 from this crime. Not to men­tion get­ting a sour stom­ach and a ruined day.

One last met­ric that I learned from the expe­ri­ence: my case num­ber at the Van­cou­ver Police was 07- fol­lowed by a 6 dig­it num­ber that began 1105. I asked the woman tak­ing my infor­ma­tion, and yes, there were some 110,500+ crimes (small, big, or what­ev­er else there can be in between) that were report­ed (not sure if it was Van­cou­ver only, or out­ly­ing areas as well) since New Year’s Day of 2007. Makes you think.

Don’t know whether I’ll go back to Sears or not any time soon. This has cer­tain­ly made me dis­trust their secu­ri­ty set­up.

Update: The guy used $7.85 on the Star­bucks card, but I just caught it and can­celled it with $5 left on in my account. Take that, you dirt-bag!

I Love Vermont More Every Day

Once again, I find the the sav­ing grace of the US is Ver­mont. A propo­si­tion has start­ed to gain pop­u­lar­i­ty in the state to secede from the US.

As Frank Bryan’s elo­quent and per­sua­sive essay on the Ver­mont Com­mons Web site puts it:

What this coun­try needs is a good swift slap along­side the head.
A lov­ing slap, self-admin­is­tered.
A slap that says, “Clean up your act or we’re gone.”
Ver­mont is just the state to give it.

He deliv­ered part of his argu­ment at the Blue Moun­tain High School in Wells Riv­er as they cel­e­brat­ed the burn­ing of their mort­gage for the new school build­ing, which stood in stark con­trast to the inter­est on the US nation­al debt, which he points out “threat­ens to take one-third of our tax mon­ey each year. To retire the debt would require a stack of thou­sand ­dol­lar bills more than two hun­dred miles high.”

He also answers some of the objec­tions to seces­sion quite well:
Isn’t this going against some con­tract with the Fed­er­al Gov­ern­ment?

Leav­ing the Union will involve the break­ing of no promis­es. Our con­tract with Amer­i­ca made two hun­dred years ago has been repeat­ed­ly ignored by a nation­al gov­ern­ment with an unquench­able thirst for pow­er. When we signed on, the Amer­i­can Con­sti­tu­tion ensured us that “The pow­ers not del­e­gat­ed to the U.S. by the Con­sti­tu­tion nor prohibit­ed by it to the states, are reserved to the states respec­tive­ly, or to the peo­ple.” Is there any­one left in Amer­i­ca today over the age of six who does not under­stand that the reserved pow­er clause has become a joke? The author of a lead­ing col­lege text­book puts it this way: “Actions by Con­gress and the Fed­er­al Courts have grad­u­al­ly under­mined the 10th Amend­ment. It now bears lit­tle rel­e­vance to the configura­tion of Amer­i­can Fed­er­al­ism in the 1990s.”

Ver­mont is too small to be a nation again.

Sit­ting in the Unit­ed Nations today are the rep­re­sen­ta­tives of twen­ty nations with pop­u­la­tions small­er than Vermont’s. Each of these nations has vot­ing rights in the Gen­er­al As­sembly equal to those of the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca.

Vermont’s tiny econ­o­my would be swal­lowed up by giant inter­na­tion­al trad­ing sys­tems.

In actu­al­i­ty, small nations have great advan­tages in the inter­na­tion­al mar­ket­place. Gary S. Beck­er, a high­ly respect­ed Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go pro­fessor, writes, “Big­ger isn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly bet­ter.… Small­er coun­tries tend to be more nim­ble traders in inter­na­tion­al mar­kets, off­set­ting their lack of economies of scale.”

A lit­tle state like Ver­mont is too depen­dent on the fed­er­al dole to go it alone.

…for every dol­lar Ver­monters pay in fed­er­al tax­es, we get most of it back in cash but the rest in the form of a loan the gov­ern­ment has extract­ed from the Amer­i­can peo­ple, which includes us. If we kept our orig­i­nal buck we wouldn’t have to make out appli­ca­tions to the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment in order to spend it, and if we need­ed more we could decide whether or not to bor­row it on our own terms. Best of all, we could spend the whole damn thing as we see fit.

It is true that Ver­mont ben­e­fits from some­thing we might call “nation­al in­frastructure,” the most obvi­ous exam­ples of which are the mil­i­tary and the inter­state high­ways. But think of the 1.3 bil­lion Ver­mont tax dol­lars that go toward U.S. defense-relat­ed expen­di­tures each year. Ver­mont will need no army after seces­sion. A cou­ple of dozen more state troop­ers and a mili­tia orga­nized from local fire and res­cue orga­ni­za­tions, at no expense to the Repub­lic, will be enough. Think we could come up with some oth­er ways to spend that 1.3 bil­lion?

If we tried to secede, the Unit­ed States would invade.

Amer­i­can tanks rolling into Ben­ning­ton? It’ll nev­er hap­pen. All we have to do is sim­ply assert our indepen­dence and leave. Our very act of seces­sion will be our great­est strength. We have an open bor­der to the north with a coun­try that owes us for our benign neglect dur­ing the War of 1812 and to a province of that coun­try with seces­sion­ist ideas of its own

It takes big gov­ern­ment to solve big issues.

My oppo­nent in the 1991 seces­sion debates, Ver­mont Supreme Court Jus­tice John Doo­ley, stat­ed that, “Acid rain won’t be end­ed by cute lit­tle nations like a new Repub­lic of Ver­mont.” Wrong. The his­to­ry of the last two decades has shown an increas­ing inca­pac­i­ty of the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment to make progress where real con­flicts among the states exist. Medi­oc­rity is the best you can hope for when prob­lems and bene­fits are dif­fused over large sys­tems.

The fed­er­al gov­ern­ment likes to “facil­i­tate” coöper­a­tion and then take cred­it for nat­ur­al impuls­es for consen­sus that are local­ly inspired. It is the states and local­i­ties that are “putting Wash­ing­ton to shame,” as one publi­cation put it, in the field of envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion. In Ver­mont we find again and again that Washing­ton is a hin­drance to attempts to pro­tect the envi­ron­ment. It can be argued, for instance, that the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment caused the acid rain prob­lem because it was forced to com­pro­mise over smoke­stacks and scrub­bers when it sought to pro­tect Mid­west­ern cities from their own pol­lution in the 1970s.

The fact of the mat­ter is that Ver­mont’s influ­ence as an inde­pen­dent repub­lic would be vast­ly greater than even the best efforts of our sen­a­tors in Wash­ing­ton can pro­duce. Internation­al coöper­a­tion rather than intra-nation­al action is the emerg­ing dynam­ic in envi­ron­men­tal pol­i­cy. The twen­ty-first centu­ry must devel­op a glob­al per­spec­tive on the envi­ron­ment. Both Ver­mont and the world of nations would ben­e­fit from our active and equal par­tic­i­pa­tion in this.

What About the Bill of Rights?

Many of the peo­ple attend­ing the seces­sion debates seemed wor­ried about giv­ing up the pro­tec­tions guar­an­teed under the Bill of Rights in the Fed­er­al Con­sti­tu­tion. One won­ders why. Vermont’s record on civ­il rights and lib­er­ties is far stronger than America’s. It was our con­sti­tu­tion that first out­lawed slav­ery. It was our con­sti­tu­tion that first pro­vid­ed uni­ver­sal vot­ing rights for all freemen.

It was Ver­mont that pro­vid­ed much of the lead­er­ship in the anti-slav­ery move­ment. Lin­coln fought the war to save the Union. Ver­mont fought the war to free the slaves.

It was from Ver­mont that the first anti-Chris­t­ian book ever pub­lished on the North Amer­i­can con­ti­nent was penned.

It was a Ver­mont Sen­a­tor that led the fight to cen­sor McCarthy. It was in Ver­mont that gays were first pro­vid­ed the oppor­tu­ni­ty to form civ­il unions. It is in Ver­mont that a citizen’s Bill of Rights guar­an­tee to keep and bear arms is strong­ly defended—not for hunt­ing, not for per­son­al pro­tec­tion against way­ward cit­i­zens, but for what is was intend­ed: to insure that free cit­i­zens always have a means to pro­tect them­selves against gov­ern­ments, a pro­tec­tion that takes on spe­cial mean­ing as our civ­il lib­er­ties come under attack from Wash­ing­ton, the cen­ter of our own nation, our beloved Amer­i­ca.

Well, that last bit had me a lit­tle puz­zled, but I guess if the Fed­er­al Gov­ern­ment starts to look more and more like a Dic­ta­tor­ship run by a guy named George over a pre­dom­i­nant­ly rur­al Colo­nial hold­ing, the idea of bran­dish­ing mus­kets starts to have a cer­tain ring to it…

At any rate, Pam has said many times that the place in the US that we near­ly end­ed up in if things had not gone quite so wrong should sim­ply either secede, or do en masse what we as a cou­ple did: join Cana­da. It sounds like some who do live there would agree. In fact, one report had polls tak­en in Ver­mont in favour of seces­sion some­where around 13%.

The sto­ry was not lost on Fox News, who ridiculed it.