General Assembly, Border Patrol, and Me

June 18, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Current Affairs, Life, Miscellaneous, Religion, Travel 

This week I’m attending the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in Detroit.  At this meeting, many big and important things are being worked on and voted on and I’ll probably write about that later.  This is a story of something that happened to me during this week, unrelated to the GA meeting.

Because Detroit is only one river away from Windsor, Ontario, Canada, I brought my passport with me in case I had a chance to go to Canada for the first time.  Yesterday, I had that chance.  So two friends and I got into my car to go to Windsor for dinner.

Leaving the US through the Detroit-Windsor tunnel we were briefly stopped by CBP (Customs and Border Protection) folks, probably because there is a little unrepaired body damage to my car.  They looked at our passports and asked why we were crossing and let us go.  Note that these guys looked like they were in army uniforms, with flak vests.

On the Canadian side we drove up to the booth and spoke to a man in a regular linen uniform shirt.  We explained who we are and why we were there.  And 15 feet later we were there.  We had dinner at a Lebanese restaurant, walked around a bit, and headed back.  Total time in Canada – about 2 hours.

Entering the US we pulled up to a booth.  We handed our passports to the man in the booth, and answered the same questions (are you US citizens?  Where do you live?  Why are you in Detroit?  Why did you go to Canada?  How do you know each other?  What kind of conference?).  Our first sign of trouble was when he closed the booth door and picked up the phone.  After a conversation and a lot of looking at his computer screen, he opened the door.  He said something like, “I’m going to have to send you inside this time.  Mr. Smith – you have a mismatch and we’ll fix it so that you don’t have to do this again.  Please pull around the curve and into the parking lot – there will be someone there to direct you.”

This was not unexpected.  On several background checks (seminary, Red Cross) I was initially declined because there is a criminal in another state who shares my first name, middle initial, last name, AND exact date of birth including year.  I’m sure that was the problem here.

We pulled around the corner, and more guys in military-style uniforms and flak vests.  One told me where to park and asked me to turn the engine off and put the keys on the dashboard.  We were told to leave our cell phones in the car, and to take our passports and go into the building.  We entered and another officer looked at our paperwork and signed us in on a clipboard.  We were instructed to have a seat and wait.  After a while, we were called to a counter where we gave another officer our passports and answered all of the same questions again.  We were told to sit again.  During all of the sitting time (on surprisingly comfortable stainless steel benches) we chatted about the General Assembly and church stories.  Finally, the officer asked us to come up and take our passports and we were free to go.  I asked if he’d done what he needed to do, and he said, yes – that’s what I’ve been doing.

We got into my car, noted that nothing had happened to my car (no search or anything – phone was still on the same screen), and drove back to the hotel.
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So …. something that only happens to me.  Most recent in a long series of such things.


But …. it triggered some thoughts.

1.  I don’t know why our border patrol officers have to be dressed like they are going to war in Iraq.  The bulletproof vest doesn’t need to be on the outside – it can be under the shirt like most police officers.  Their gun, cuffs, radio, etc can go on the same belt as a police officer.  I seriously doubt that a major armed incursion is going to happen at the Detroit-Windsor tunnel.  This seems to be intended to enforce (in our minds, and in the minds of the officers themselves) the idea that the officers are soldiers and not police.  This is intended to instill fear of outsiders, and fear of each other.

2.  The secondary inspection area is intended to demoralize people.  The seating is comfortable, but harsh stainless steel.  There is very little on the walls.  The bathroom is locked and must be buzzed open.  I understand that the bathroom is locked to prevent flushing of evidence, but still.  This doesn’t say “we have to sort things out,” it says instead, “you are a criminal.”

3.  I’m struck by the difference in appearance and demeanor between the Canadian personnel and the USA personnel.  The Canadians were friendly (though still wary) and welcoming.  The USA personnel were forbidding and suspicious.  They were doing the same job.  Both involved in the same wars.  And there’s no reason that our officers couldn’t be normally dressed and more friendly.

4.  This minor episode has clarified for me the plight of immigrants.  The song “Immigration Man” makes sense.  Our process is cold and unfeeling.  At all times the officers were polite and even friendly in one case.  But the process and design make it an unfriendly process.  This set up causes the fear, rather than the other way around.  And therefore fear of the other.  I will be paying more attention and trying to find a place to find action.

Requiem for a Faithful Companion

June 23, 2004 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Miscellaneous 


One of my co-workers, Paul Lynch, lost his faithful companion Chelsea over the weekend. She was well into the later stages of her life at age 12 or 13.

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Please leave your condolences in the comments section – Paul will be able to see them there.

Any Good News?

June 18, 2004 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Miscellaneous 

I need a little good news. Most of what I’m reading/hearing/experiencing seems to be bad news.

Work is, well, annoying. I’ve been given a project to re-invent a process that we have while ignoring the old rules AND building consensus with the people who invented the old rules. Add to that people who are making decisions in areas outside their expertise and declaring them the new rules. Not fun.

At home things are well, but I’m a bit overextended. I’m hoping to work my tail off at home doing the usual weekend stuff on Saturday to give me a full Sunday to do nothing but what I want to do. Wish me luck.

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Do you have any good news? I’ll take anything – your kid hit a home run or got a permanent tooth. Your cat managed not to throw up on the rug once this week. You didn’t burn dinner last night.

Leave some good news in the comments, or better yet trackback to a post of your own. Please.

The Easy Life

May 25, 2004 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Miscellaneous 

Cats on Stairs

I’m working from home today, in order to be here for the township building inspectors who are checking out our new solar electric system. As a result, the cats get to stay upstairs all day rather than spending it in the luxury of the basement. (They have it nice in the basement – their own carpet, cat beds, litter box, food, etc.)

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By the way, the steps are normal size – it’s the cats that are big.

Fidelity and the Workplace

May 20, 2004 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Miscellaneous 

I’m feeling a little down today. The main reason is that I heard a few things yesterday at work about co-workers that disturbed me.

Life at work has been stressful lately with reorganizations, layoffs, and a general lack of information below the highest levels on the direction that the company is headed. That has, of course, fired up the rumor mill. Rumors of what is happening with the company, who will be (and eventually was) laid-off and such are common and have been about 50% accurate.

What is worse are the rumors about who is fooling around with who at the company. We’ve had several high-profile rumors about that lately – the most prominent (and likely true) being between an Director and a Vice-President.

I’m generally a social liberal. However, I’m also a Myers-Briggs INFP. That means that I am very flexible with people until they cross an ethical or moral line that I hold dear – and then I become very resistant and judgmental. One of those lines for me is monogamy – I strongly believe that you should remain faithful to your spouse in marriage. If you’re getting separated or divorced, then you at least owe it to your spouse (or ex) and any kids to move out of the house before you start up with someone else. I’ve always felt this way, and I’ve even extended it to feeling that you should only date one person at a time.
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The people involved in the latest rumors are people that I respect (used to respect?). I’ve respected them both for how easy they are to work with, for their business judgment and for their personal attitude. However, in both of the situations covered by the rumors the people in question are married and still living with their spouses. This seems to be a clear “cheating” scenario.

What I’m wrestling with is this – Can I stay on friendly terms with someone who has crossed an ethical line in their personal life? Can I trust someone at work if their spouse can’t trust them at home (or at work, for that matter)?

Any thoughts are welcome in the comments.

Solar Power Today!

May 18, 2004 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Miscellaneous 

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See my project blog Smith Electric Company for more info and pictures!

Human Kindness

May 17, 2004 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Miscellaneous 

Last week I took an Oracle class in Philadelphia. Between the getting up early to take the train and getting home late and STILL having to check e-mail at work, I haven’t had time to blog.

However, on Friday I saw something that re-affirmed my faith in Human Kindness.

The class got done early (yay!), so I took the 3:25 R7 Trenton train from Philadelphia’s Surburban Station. The next stop for the train is the Amtrak 30th Street Station. I got on the first car, which was fairly empty and stayed that way throughout the mid-afternoon trip.

A young woman got on the train the at 30th Street, and took a seat about 10 rows ahead of me. After pulling out from the station, the conductor came around asking for tickets. At this point, this young woman discovered that she’d left her purse on the platform. She became rather distraught. The conductor immediately went to radio the station to see if anyone found it. The woman was able to give a very precise location to search.

A few stations later, it appeared that the folks at 30th Street didn’t find the purse. The conductor gave her a train schedule and some suggestions on where to get off and take the train back the other way to check for herself. He also gave her the phone number for schedules and the phone number for the lost and found. He apparently gave her a free ride for this trip and the return trip to make sure that she got back.

She didn’t have her cell phone with her (also in the purse), so two businessmen lent her one for the ride. She called the SEPTA folks and then called someone to meet her in Trenton. (She apparently decided to continue to Trenton after hearing that the purse wasn’t found.) I think she may have even called to cancel the lost credit cards.
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Another woman travelling on a weekly pass came up to her and gave her the pass (which was still good until Sunday – with the OK from the conductor to transfer the pass) so that she could get back to Philly without being stranded. An older man came up to make sure that she was taken care of.

I would have offered her money for train/cab fare, but it was easy to see that others got there first and she was well covered.

She got off the train in Trenton and disappeared. Her helpers all disappeared as they reached their stops.

One person in trouble, several people ready to help. All strangers.

Maybe mankind isn’t so bad after all.

Solar Installation in Progress

May 3, 2004 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Miscellaneous 

The installation of solar panels on my roof has started. Physical installation will take most of the week. Electrical installation will be done the week of May 17, when the electrician is back from vacation. (The delay was caused by permit issuance delays in my township.)

Pictures and updates will be found at my project blog: Smith Electric Company
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I’ll be updating all week and as the project continues.


April 16, 2004 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Miscellaneous 

I’m on vacation next week, so this blog will probably be a bit light on new information.

Here’s my “to do” list:

1. If the permits come in early enough, the solar panels for the house will be installed. Not likely.
2. Sleep. Get over the cold that I have now.
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4. Weather permitting, empty and hose out the garage floor. Too much mud on the floor from this past winter.
5. After cutting the lawn once, take the lawnmower for it’s delayed annual service (should have done this in February).
6. Relax. Read. Watch TV. Rent a movie.
7. Go through my sock drawer and pitch the really old and unusuable ones.
8. Clean up my home office (this is REALLY bottom of the list).


April 15, 2004 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Miscellaneous 

I think I have a cold coming on. I’ve got a sore throat from post-nasal drip, and I can feel my sinuses getting clogged.

Good timing – I’m on vacation next week. I’m supposed to have a flying lesson on Saturday.

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