Adventures in Bureaucracy
Friday, June 27, 2003
Sometimes I really love e-mail. From the inbox:

Once upon a time in the kingdom of heaven, God went missing for six days. Eventually, Michael the Archangel found him on the seventh day, having a rest. He inquired of God, "Where have you been?"

God sighed a deep sigh of satisfaction and proudly pointed downwards through the clouds, "Look Michael! Look what I have made!"

Archangel Michael looked puzzled and said, "What is it?"

"It's a planet" replied God, "and I've put LIFE on it. I'm going to call it Earth and it's going to be a great place of balance."

"Balance?" inquired Michael, still confused.

God explained, pointing to the different parts of Earth. "For example, Northern Europe will be a place of great opportunity and wealth while Southern Eu rope is going to be poor. The Middle East over there will be a hot spot. Over there I've placed a continent of white people and over there a continent of black people."

God continued, pointing to different countries. "And over there, I call this place America. North America will be rich, powerful and cold while South America will be poor, hot and friendly. And the little spot in the middle is Central America which is a hot spot. Can you see the balance?"

"Yes," said the Archangel, impressed by God's work, then he pointed to a large land mass and asked, "What's that one?"

"Ah...." said God, "That's Australia, the most glorious place on Earth! There are beautiful mountains, rainforests, rivers, streams and an exquisite coastline. The people are good looking, intelligent and humorous and they're going to be found travellling the world. They'll be extremely sociable, hard-working, high-achieving, and they will be known throughout the world as diplomats and carriers of peace. I'm also going to give them super-human, undefeatable cricket, league and rugby
players, who will be admired and feared by all who come across them!"

Michael gasped in wonder and admiration but then declared, "But you said there will be BALANCE?!?!"

God replied wisely, "Wait until you see the ugly, whining, sheep rooting Kiwi bastards I'm putting next to them!!!"
Tuesday, June 24, 2003
Looks like I'm not the only federal employee to get annoyed at sloppy reporting on work-related topics.
Hey, look, evidence that somebody occasionally stops by a reads this thing WITHOUT recommending that I switch to Thorazine. (Of course, that was before the whole issue of Disney and cleavage came to light, so that recommendation may be forthcoming.) Sorry about the links.

Anyway, the issue at hand is about policies for refusing entry to people with valid visas. I can't really say whether they've changed or not because I've been away from all that for years (and now, thanks to the big Homeland Security merger, immigration has been brought back to me). But I do talk to friends who still do inspections, and it doesn't sound like much has changed about the reasons for refusal. A visa is just permission to knock on the door to the United States. The inspector is the one who answers it and decides whether to let you in or slam the door in your face like you were a Jehovah's Witness with an armful of "Watchtower"s. This means finding out whether the person with the visa is coming for the purpose appropriate to that visa classification, and finding out whether anything material has changed since the time the visa was issued.

Section 212 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (which I'll probably remember even after I've forgotten my own name) lists all the reasons that are used to keep a person out of the United States. Sometimes a visa is issued and the person who has it then commits a crime, catches a disease, or does something else that runs them afoul with entry laws. If this is discovered at the time of inspection, the visa gets cancelled and the bearer is sent home. Sometimes these things happen before a person applies for a visa and the person "forgets" to mention it on the visa application. Same thing happens, only good luck in explaining THAT one away when applying for a new one.

The most common cases of people being denied entry when using valid visas are those with people working or coming to work on tourist visas, or people who overstayed previous entries because they were working on tourist visas. From what I've heard there's no attempt to look more at some nationalities than others at the time of entry, but things like the registration program for people from the Middle East and lots of other countries mean that those people will spend more time with inspectors, and thus that they are more likely to be caught. I worked in Inspections long before any of that, and my airport got the tourist worker cases all the time. Some passengers were just more obvious than others, and some inspectors are sharper than others. Sometimes it was like fish jumping into the net.

I had a lot of sympathy for some of the people who had gotten tourist visas with the intention of then moving to the United States for a 30-year vacation. They came from everywhere - west Europeans, east Europeans, Africans, South Americans and more. In the grand scheme of things, what's one more waitress in New York or construction worker in Chicago?

I much preferred the passengers coming in with the false visas, and that's one of the main reasons for inspectors in the first place. Forgery is a big business, and the main ports of entry catch people using false ID documents every day. Most of them were probably more of the same, just people looking for a better way of life in America. But then there were the others. I saw more than my share of criminals who'd been kicked out of the country who tried to come back with fake passports or fake visas, and there are one or two people who I remember who may have been something more.

So there it is, a tad long again, but hopefully a decent answer to the question.
Well this certainly isn't good. The hiring for Air Marshalls took place pretty fast by federal standards, and it sucked lots of people out of lots of other jobs - Border Patrol, Customs and Immigration inspectors, and lots more. And thus the inevitable blow-back. I talked to one guy who said some offices are great while others... well, when you have former Border Patrol officers trying to get BACK to the border, you know you've got a problem.
Monday, June 23, 2003
I don't know when the good folks at Disney went all sqeamish about breasts. Pocahontas wasn't so very long ago. And for a little mermaid Ariel certainly had a prominent pair.
Thursday, June 19, 2003
Perhaps they can hire John Wayne Bobbitt as a spokesman...
My latest brush with celebrity took place just a few days ago, when I passed a grumpy-looking Helen Thomas at National Airport. I was not tempted to bother her for an autograph, as I had a plane to catch... and I did, so I can thus claim to be one of the few people in the Washington area who has seen the sun in the past month.
Tuesday, June 10, 2003
Another caption contest, and you know I can never just leave these things alone. (via A Small Victory)
Sunday, June 08, 2003
Just a thought: if the "faith's commandments" are so important to the one woman, why is she attending a church of a different faith?
And while we're on the subject of Catholicism, there was a piece in today's Post about a controversy at a church in Hyattsville. It seems that a fundraising raffle has involved shotguns as prizes, and this did not go down well for some members of the congregation. Fair enough. But the last paragraph was way over the line:

"And so now, in Hyattsville, because some people cannot get beyond their fascination with guns and some people actually believe the words of their faith's commandments, Sunday is a day for staring across a deep divide."

Huh? This would seem to be a pretty blatant mischaracterization of Catholic teachings. I've been a Catholic my whole life and I don't remember anything from Sunday school, Catholic school or any homilies saying that guns in and of themselves are anathema to the Church. But to see what the Church has to say on the subject, I turned to the Cathechism of the Church, luckily available and easily searchable on the web. The germane part appears to be here:

"2316 The production and the sale of arms affect the common good of nations and of the international community. Hence public authorities have the right and duty to regulate them. The short-term pursuit of private or collective interests cannot legitimate undertakings that promote violence and conflict among nations and compromise the international juridical order."

This appears in the interpretations of the Fifth Commandment ("Thou shalt not kill") in the section about avoiding war and safeguarding peace, and it is mostly about the duties of the state. Here the Church says that the state may - and indeed should - regulate weapons, but it does not ban them outright. Rather, individuals get instructions of their own - with provisions for legitimate defense and prohibitions on intentional homicide and suicide.

Somehow I missed the part where the "faith's commandments" forbids hunting and skeet shooting that Marc Fisher seems to have found in the teachings of the Church. But no, it's a child-like "fascination" with guns vs. the Faith, it says so right at the end. That's an unfair portrayal of the situation in Hyattsville, and a distortion of what the Catholic Church actually says.
Most Sundays when I'm in the area I attend the Latin Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, and today was no exception. Despite the scaffolding set up for renovations, it's beautiful inside, with the newly restored artwork now visible once again. The choir is always in fine form, and the music selections are inspiring. The monsignor's homilies are superb - and he's got a good singing voice too, which is important, as there's quite a lot of singing in Latin for him to do. And the Ordo Missae itself carries with it a sense of gravity and the two millennia of the Church. Going to the Latin Mass makes me feel connected to the sweep of two thousand years of history.

Unfortunately, not everyone feels that way, as some poor woman got up and started shouting after the homily this morning. I couldn't hear her, but it sounded something like "This isn't Latin 101!". She walked out, and the monsignor continued, with a very good and gracious recovery at the end of the Mass. I figure the woman must have had a flashback to a bad experience in high school Latin. Sometimes those declensions can push people right over the edge.
Saturday, June 07, 2003
This article has been out for some time, but it's an interesting look at what went wrong in Africa. The conclusion strikes me as being at odds with the rest of the article. Was colonialism such an unalloyed disaster? The Belgians certainly made a mess of things and the Portuguese weren't much better, but the British seem to have gone in with the idea of making the natives into proper Victorians instead of just extracting everything they could carry away. That helped create India as the world's largest democracy.
Thursday, June 05, 2003
Like you've never thought the same. I have gone to the facilities on an entirely different floor in similar situations.
Those naked protests take on a whole different look when there aren't impressionable 22-year-old students involved. But it looks like these guys thought of it first.
Hey Senators, out of ideas for your next fillibuster? Look no further.
Wednesday, June 04, 2003
He may have made it through the rain and found his world protected, but that didn't save him from the bedroom wall.

And who knew he sang so much? Other than "Copacabana" that is, everyone knows that one.
Personal comments, opinions and observations from someone stuck inside the Capital Beltway.

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