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.