Opening acts

I’ve often wondered how a band chooses an opening act for tour dates. An opening act can be complimentary, complementary, comparable, or even detracting, to the main act. Here are but a few examples I’ve seen, in no particular order.

A few weeks back we saw the band Elbow. If you’re not familiar with the band, they’ve been together twenty three years and have put out five albums. Not mainstream, but solid. The vocalist has a beautiful voice, and moves from edgy blues to ballads with ease. The arrangements are those which you would rarely hear from a band which has not been together for twenty three years, and the lyrics carry such stunning structure as “There’s a hole in my neighborhood down which of late I cannot help but fall.” Opening for Elbow was John Grant. John has a deep baritone, in this performance he was accompanied by a young man on electric guitar while John switched from guitar to keyboard to just vocals. His melodies were striking, and his lyrics were Raw. Capital “R”, with titles I will not repeat in polite company. The two acts were complementary (and complimentary, I never saw a lead act acknowledge and promote the opening act so much before).

Considering complementary, a number of years ago Tommy Shaw opened for RUSH. Tommy’s drummer was incredible, and on any other night of the week would have been the star of the show. Then Neil Pert came on stage and made everyone forget they had ever seen another drummer before. Tommy’s band was complementary, in the sense that they were more than proficient, and still could not be called comparable.

Courtney Love’s opening act was more of the comparable type. “Starred” is a nice, edgy band fronted by Lisa Thorn. Lisa has been called “The muse of St. Vincent,” St Vincent being another female vocalist I saw perform with David Byrne. Those two are nothing alike, but as an opening act for Courtney, Starred worked well. Note to parents: DO NOT take your pre-teen children to a Courtney Love show, if you don’t know why you don’t belong there either.

We saw Junip, Jose Gonzales’ band, and opening was a little girl playing “strummy’ (her words) guitar. She was Sharon Van Etten. Junip had a number of issues that night, over modulation just one of them, and Sharon stole the show for me. The two styles, her pointed lyrics and soft arrangements versus his trance like jam made me (and her) wonder why he had chosen her to open, but I’ll thank him when I see him. I’ve made it a point to see Sharon every time she’s returned to Philadelphia.

Broken Bells was the concert that started this article stirring in my mind. Broken Bells owned the stage, using every element, even the LED arrays in the spotlights, in their performance. The opening act, “Au Revoir Simone” (ARS) was memorable only because they lacked everything Broken Bells possessed. Broken Bells (James Mercer of the Shins and Brian Burton AKA Danger Mouse) are talented on several instruments, playing well textured arrangements. ARS played preprogrammed synthesizers, going so far as to hold a drumstick to strike the drum machine. One girl picked up a prop guitar at one point, dropping it on the floor when she finished dancing with it. ARS’s lighting consisted of a couple of spotlights mounted on the back of the stage aimed at the girl’s backs. The contrast between the two bands was astounding. My initial impression was ARS is a detraction to the show, but without ARS I might not have noticed how detailed Broken Bells’ stage presentation was.

It still makes me wonder. I’m not entirely certain of the purpose of opening acts, not every band uses one. Sometimes they seem mismatched, sometimes it seems as if the design was to showcase an up and coming act, once in a while it appears the two groups just like hanging out together. It certainly complicates cancellations, recently we were to see Missing Persons, with two other bands. Dale Bozzio cancelled, and the venue wanted to reschedule. Getting the three bands to be in the same town on the same date appears to be impossible, but Ticketmaster keeps insisting the show is only postponed.

To those of you who are touring or have in the past, either as a headliner or supporting act, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.



Legal Immigration

We hear so much about illegal immigration I thought I might take the time to remind everyone there is a legal path to immigration in the United States.

There is some paperwork involved, but the assistance of an attorney is not required. There are filing costs, but they are not exorbitant. Proof of routine vaccinations are required, we do the same to school children. A rudimentary grasp of English is suggested. Unlike other countries we have no official language, so you can use an interpreter to get you through the process, but really, who would want to not speak the most common language in a country? It can be time consuming. Depending on the country of origin there may be limits on the yearly number of immigrants. Would that not suggest that everyone from those countries is trying to do it legally, and as an illegal you stand out among your countrymen as someone who can’t do it the “right” way?

In 2012 (the last year for which data is available) over one million legal immigrants entered the United states. That same year three quarters of a million immigrants became citizens. Last Tuesday I had the opportunity to witness twenty eight people, from nineteen different countries, become naturalized citizens of the United States, including a woman from Belgium who happens to be my wife.

Our newest citizen

Our newest citizen

We didn’t expect it to happen this quickly. Lieve’s green card process went very smoothly, and after three years of marriage she was eligible to apply for citizenship. She applied last February, and was given an interview date in May. We made flashcards for her interview questions, and she never got violent with me when I asked follow up questions or odd tangents (What is the middle initial of the current Vice President?). She was a bit flustered when I suggested she refer to the Civil War as “The War of Northern Aggression,” and raised her voice when I gave alternate answers on the way to the interview, but I knew she had it all down.

We were told the interview could take two hours, so I was surprised when she came out after ten minutes. It can take two months for the swearing in ceremony, so we were both amazed when the clerk told her “We’re having a ceremony at three, would you like to attend?”

Eighty nine days from filing to swearing in, possibly a record. One thing I did notice about the way Homeland Security handles communications is they give a worst case scenario whenever they provide estimates. Yes, it might take a year or more, but sometimes it only takes three months.

The ceremony brought a mix of feelings. The Office Official who officiated was everything a career bureaucrat could hope to be, but it was a meaningful moment, so I can look past his giddiness. He announced the countries represented by the new citizens (except one, who had requested anonymity), and as he named the countries each stood up. I could feel the relief in the man from Ukraine, and saw him give a look at the man from Russia. They’re both Americans now. They played a video of the history of immigration, and the Office Official made the point that we are all immigrants in this country. My family has been here since the eighteenth century, but Emma’s had only arrived in the twentieth. And now I am married to someone who came here in the twenty first century.

Then they administered the oath of citizenship. I know our wedding was short, but the oath was twice as long as our wedding ceremony. Lieve doesn’t want me to post the video here, but she allowed a few still photographs.


From the left, Jamaica, Italy, Italy, Finland, and Belgium


Then the entire audience recited the Pledge of Allegiance (except for the child who cried throughout the entire ceremony) and they handed out little flags and played an address from the President which was a bit dramatic, using excessive echo to make it sound as if he was speaking from the mountaintop, welcoming them as citizens. Then the Office Official said they would play one last video, “It’s called ‘God Bless America’, but the words have been changed to I’m Proud to be an American.” If I had had any doubts as to the level of “coolness” possessed by the Office Official they were laid to rest as Lee Greenwood’s song played. There were tears in many eyes, for many different reasons.

It seems odd, becoming a citizen so we can leave, but the point is we can come back. No worrying about green cards expiring or obtaining visas, Lieve can come and go for as long as she needs without any additional hassles. Of the twenty seven other new citizens, there were probably twenty seven motivations, one woman had been in America over thirty years, there were young and old people, a variety of social backgrounds, and one man who was obviously seeking asylum. Today they all have something in common. They’re all Americans.





Our relationship with God is based on a number of influences. Some shape our vision of what God is, some shape our vision of how to treat God. Some of these influences are from organized religions, some from the practitioners of those religions. Those practitioners can be our family, friends, or members of religions who proselytize either directly or subtly.

Although some religions believe children are born into them, most notably Islam, the majority of religions teach a personal relationship with God to some degree. I rather like the Amish practice of sending young people into the untamed world so they can decide if remaining Amish is for them. George Carlin spoke of a change in Catholic doctrine in the sixties that taught kids to ask questions, and he noted they failed to provide answers. My own religious mentor, Dr. Colton, taught us not only to ask questions, but how to evaluate answers. I searched for quite a while before finding my place in God’s plan, and then Dr. Colton hit me with another statement that pushed me away from Christianity for a few years when I was nearly forty. The fact I keep coming back tells me something about the truth I see in God.

What we choose to believe is influenced by our maturity in how we believe anything. I once worked in a corporation that made some major errors. When I pointed them out to my manager, he said “Those people make a lot more money than we do, they know what they’re doing.” As it turns out, they did. They were shredding the company to make it appear more profitable on paper so they could sell it. They sailed into the sunset and I was left behind with the new angry owners. The new owners fired my former manager, I like to think they had no tolerance for blind faith.

 Søren Kierkegaard is seen by many to be the father of existentialism. He was highly critical of organized religion, but not of God. He criticized blind faith. He said;

“God is not like a human being; it is not important for God to have visible evidence so that he can see if his cause has been victorious or not; he sees in secret just as well. Moreover, it is so far from being the case that you should help God to learn anew that it is rather he who will help you to learn anew, so that you are weaned from the worldly point of view that insists on visible evidence”

Belief in God requires a “Leap of Faith” according to Kierkegaard, “religious belief is a personal, passionate affirmation of the will rather than a conclusion of the intellect. It involves embracing that which is not simply indemonstrable from reason’s impartial spectator perspective but also absurd. Faith is not a one-time event, however, but a passionate attitude requiring constant renewal. In virtue of our sinful nature, faith is not something we can achieve on our own but requires God’s grace. It is only through faith that we fulfill our key task in life of becoming our authentic selves.”

Blind faith is meaningless. If you choose to know God, you will find faith. If you choose to follow blindly, you are unlikely to meet God on your path.

I’m not sure what the conquistadors thought they were accomplishing with “forced conversions”, what amazes me is that five hundred years later Muslims are still doing it. Nonetheless, if we can see what is wrong with attempting to force beliefs, we can avoid it in our own lives.

Decoration Day

I decided to “Reblog” this today in another attempt to clarify the meaning of this holiday.

Do not thank me for my service today. God thanked me and sent me home to my family. We take this day to honor those who will never see their spouses and children again so that we may.


Monday, 27 May 2013, the final Monday in May, is Memorial Day. It was originally called “Decoration Day”, after the practice of decorating the graves of the dead. It is not Veterans Day on which we honor all veterans, or Armistice Day (for which we remember the end of hostilities with Germany in 1918) or Remembrance Day (Poppy Day) which is the UK equivalent of Armistice Day. Memorial Day is a day in which we recognize those who lost their lives while serving in the military. A veteran, in America, is someone who, at one point in his life, wrote a blank check made payable to The United States of America for an amount of “up to and including my life”. Memorial Day honors those who have had that check cashed.

Traditionally, Memorial Day has been celebrated on 30 May, but in 1968 with the passage of “The Uniform Monday…

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Once upon a time there was a pyramid. Children who had eaten square meals from round plates all their lives were given nutritional guidance by a triangle.  It was a simple “one size fits all” diet, if we would just eat what the government told us to eat, we would be healthier.

Traditional Food Pyramid

Traditional Food Pyramid


Despite all this excellent information, and a Presidential physical fitness medal, Americans continued to have health issues. Perhaps the pyramid wasn’t easily understood. A more Politically Correct food pyramid was designed, so that no foods were above others. Now, instead of just missing a geometric connection to the diet experience, the more obvious proportions of the previous pyramid were lost. At least there is a rainbow, but designed by the USDA; even the colors of the spectrum are out of order.


PC food pyramid

Politically Correct Food Pyramid



This worked so well, Americans created a new food group, “Statins.” It is so much easier to take a pill than eat healthy foods. It never occurred to anyone that perhaps the food pyramid concept was ill advised. Despite all the talk about diversity, some folks kept believing that we are exactly the same under the skin, the same diet would produce the same effects in every person. The International Olive Council thought “wait, why are oils in the smallest category?. Olive oil should have its very own category, right at eye level on the shelf.” They figured out this had nothing to do with health, it was a marketing ploy. After conducting seminars on “The Mediterranean Diet,” in of all places, the Mediterranean, in the midst of American winters, nutritionists suddenly endorsed the benefits of more Olive oil. The Soybean Council started an all out smear campaign against Cocoanut and Palm oils, convincing the public those oils are next to poisonous. They are not. Health advisories should be evaluated with the knowledge of who profits from the impression they are trying to impart, and whether the people profiting are the same people imparting the impression.




The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid


Mayhem ensued, as every fringe group marketed their own diet in a pyramid format. There is actually a “Vegan Food Pyramid”, which you might initially expect to be a line rather than a triangle.  The pyramid was becoming a dunce cap.


Anti Aging Pyramid

Anti Aging Pyramid


The latest attempt at mass diet control scrapped the pyramid entirely. While not perfect quarters, it appears proteins and fruits are equals, as are vegetables and grains.


The circular pyramid

The circular pyramid


Three years into the “My Plate” campaign, one in three Americans is obese, and the related symptom of obesity, heart disease,  remains the leading cause of death. Leading cause of death. More than AIDS, guns, and terrorism combined. Maybe this “one size fits all” diet idea doesn’t work.

I have a very high metabolism. I maintained a weight of less than 140 pounds eating anything and everything I desired until a few years ago, when I stopped eating meat. I reduced fats, which caused carbohydrates to increase as a percentage of my diet. I put on twenty pounds and now old friends say I finally look healthy. My first wife quit smoking, and put on so much weight her doctor told her to start smoking again. We are all different, we all need different diets, and we all have a different level of comfort with our body image.

There is an answer that applies moderately to everyone. Moderation. Attributed to my phenotype Oscar Wilde is the quote “Everything in moderation, including moderation.” James Hilton liked the line and used it in Lost Horizons as the high Lama’s explanation for life in Shangri La. Good enough for me.

Let me put it another way. Do what works for you. Your life belongs to you, own it. Don’t worry about what people say about your body, carry the weight the distance you want to go. There is no reason to spend the limited time you have alive trying to live longer if the trying makes the life less comfortable. Enjoy this time, you will have no other life on Earth. I’m not suggesting recklessness, do not waste the gift of life, but do not waste that gift by living in a cage. If you can’t do what you want to do because of your weight, work on your priorities. Gently move your body from one state to another, extremes are one thing everyone agrees is bad for you.

If you want advice on diet, talk to a dietician, your doctor isn’t as well trained in nutrition. At my last physical (fifteen years ago) my doctor asked about my lifestyle. A diet heavy in fats, alcohol consumption above average, and smoking. He gave me a stern look and told me to make some changes, then took blood for tests. I saw him a week later when the results were in. He said “Well, I guess it works for you. your cholesterol is low, all your blood work is great.” This doesn’t mean I’m suggesting you follow my diet, just don’t follow a diet you find on the internet, even if it comes from the “Department of Health.”





Titles can be bestowed or claimed, I’ve had several but prefer none. Most titles are ways to create an impression, and they can be misunderstood. I’d rather make one personally, so feel comfortable addressing me by my middle name only.

A title tells you about a past accomplishment, but only in a pass/fail sense. “Doctor” doesn’t tell you how good a doctor someone is. Knowing someone has a college degree only tells you they paid tuition and attended classes, passing enough to graduate. It does not imply they actually learned anything, much less they retained anything. Having worked at a particular job tells you nothing about how well that job was done, and relies on your knowledge of what the job entails. What does “administrative assistant” or “customer service representative” tell you about the responsibilities or accomplishments of the person with those titles?

The world may be a stage, and we all have the opportunity to play many parts. Some of us live those parts. The only way to tell the difference is to get to know someone.

Bill Nye, “The Science Guy“, is an entertainer, but he has been called a scientist because he plays one on TV. He has taken himself a little too seriously, and is now referred to as a “Climate Activist” in most main stream media. A guy who started out making training films for Boeing and has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering is not my idea of a scientist, and certainly not a climate scientist, but he does wear bow ties, and bow ties are cool.

I worked in the intelligence community, and you might say I was a “spy”. If you’re picturing James Bond or Jason Bourne you’re on the wrong page, in fact you’re in the wrong chapter. I worked for a Police Department as an officer, but not a police officer. Does “Animal Control Officer” bring a picture of a “Dog Catcher”, chasing dogs with a net, to mind? Wrong book. I have a criminal record, so would I be a “Criminal”? Wrong library.

What someone has done in the past tells you a little about what they are doing today. Very little. Changes happen everywhere. While I’ve been looking at jobs, the title “Technician” has been applied to a wide spectrum of positions. I was once a top digital technician for a major printer company, but four years later I am no longer trained on any model in production. That would be the death of a normal technician’s career, because, you know, they might change the direction you turn the screws. Having my resume listed with a head hunter has resulted in offers for positions as a nail technician and a fire control technician (that’s the person who controls the artillery on a warship), but for some reason people who prize problem solving skills don’t expect their employees to be able to figure out how to fix a machine if they change its name.

A Customer Service Representative can now be anyone from a college educated specialist to a salesperson, the term is officially meaningless. The same is true for Administrative Assistant, which can be anyone from a gopher who gets coffee to a department head.

I do like it when my former son-in-law calls me “Mr. Cash”, it is nice to be addressed with respect, and Jared doesn’t just say it, he means it. “Sir” is a bit formal, but it sounds nice coming from him. My wife has called me a poet and refers to me as “a writer”, although “author” is more prestigious, and having published a book I qualify. The other night at a dinner I referred to myself as a chef, only because a friend and restauranteur had called me a chef a few months ago. Many roles.

But really, just call me Blake. I’ll respect you more, and we can get to know who each other are today.



Mother’s Day

Today is Mother’s Day in America, it is celebrated on the second Sunday in May in many countries, a day set aside by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914. The day was organized by Anna Jarvis, a Philadelphia native, who had no children of her own, she just had an astonishing mother. Anna organized a national celebration of Mother’s Day in honor of her own mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, who had held Mothers Day work clubs to to improve sanitary conditions and try to lower infant mortality by fighting disease and curbing milk contamination. Note the difference in Mother and Daughter’s focus. The Mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, organized days for mothers to gather in civil service, her daughter memorialized her mother with a day to celebrate  “the person who has done more for you than anyone in the world.”

Anna Jarvis saw a day where you’d go home to spend time with your mother and thank her for all that she had done. It wasn’t to celebrate all mothers. It was to celebrate the best mother you’ve ever known—your mother—as a son or a daughter. Not generic but personal. That’s why Anna stressed the singular possessive  “Mother’s Day,” rather than the plural possessive “Mothers’ Day.” Mothers’ Day is a reflection of the commercialization of Anna’s dream, and she fought to end the mindless profiteering. In 1923 she crashed a convention of confectioners in Philadelphia, she crashed The American War Mothers 1925 convention in Philadelphia and was actually arrested for disturbing the peace because they used Mother’s Day for fund-raising, and even attacked First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt for using Mother’s Day to raise funds for charities.

If you have ever questioned the importance of punctuation, put away those thoughts. Without the apostrophe, mothers (plural) gathered to care for civil war soldiers of both sides, and lower infant mortality. With a trailing apostrophe (plural possessive), Hallmark Cards celebrates all mothers with a day of flowers and gifts titled “Mothers’ Day”. Anna Jarvis mourned the loss of her mother and wanted children to appreciate their mothers while they were still alive, with a day for the individual relationship to be celebrated, singular possessive, your mother’s day.

Being a mother isn’t what you think it is when you are a child. As we mature we recognize unconditional love, the way mom still loved us even, perhaps especially, when she wasn’t giving us what we wanted. I have seen far too many separated from mothers due to mortality, never able to express appreciation, before that appreciation was recognized. I spent years when I felt the best way to honor my mother was to avoid her, we were like oil and water at times. Today I am separated from her by a continent, but I have found the place in my life where I can tell her how much I love her. We both know we never stopped loving each other, but it frightens me at this age that I could have lost her when we weren’t speaking, never reaching this point, with her wondering if I had felt as harshly as I acted.

As I have been out today, I have seen a sample of mothers. One woman doing her best to keep the peace as two of her children expressed their anger at the spouses of another of her children, threatening each other while they were supposed to be coming together to honor the mother they shared. Friends whose children have traveled home to spend time with them. Graveyards covered with flowers in honor of mothers who can no longer wipe away the tears brought by their loss.

I am giving this day to my wife, whose nurturing instincts are part of why I love her, so she can spend time with her children. They haven’t reached the point in their lives where they appreciate all she does for them, but she is filled with joy just by their presence. I can’t be with my own mother today, but I can celebrate the nurturing loving woman who I share my life with by allowing her to be the incredible mother I fell in love with. This is how I will be honoring my mother today, by honoring her unconditional love for me, and my wife’s unconditional love for her children.

Anna Jarvis hated the commercialization of Mother’s Day, but not being a mother herself, perhaps she missed the universal nurturing aspect of being a mother. Even though it was not her intent, today we celebrate motherhood. We do it in as many ways as there are mothers, and in doing so, share the love our mothers have shown us.


Turning a blind eye


It’s that time again.

Today we will look at the “You don’t see what you don’t want to see” side of Rockman’s message. A couple of examples have stood out recently.

I will start with Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team. Donald made some comments that were considered racist in a telephone call with his mistress (it is alright to openly cheat on your spouse). A recording of this private call mysteriously made its way into the media, and everyone was outraged. He was fined $2.5 million dollars, and banned from contact with the franchise he owns. Wow, they really don’t put up with racism in the NBA, do they?

Well, yes they do. They just don’t put up with headlines about racism in the NBA. Sterling’s racist comments were less of an open secret than they were common knowledge. The man is eighty one years old, he didn’t start feeling this way yesterday. His comments were not even racially motivated. He did not want his mistress hanging out with Magic Johnson, who has been drooling over owning the Clippers for a decade. Because Magic is black, the conversation veered into comments about blacks, but Sterling has said and done much worse things in the past. They just did not make headlines. Because no one had wanted him to sell the team before (at a sizable profit).

The NBA did not see the racist in their midst because they did not want to see the racist. They saw the color green.

Following the shootings in Sandy Hook, a number of gun control measures were introduced. It is far easier to blame the tool than blame the person using it. For some reason Sandy Hook was different enough to raise the issue of mental healthcare reforms, Adam Lanza was clearly troubled and poorly serviced by the mental healthcare community. The idea of forced mental health treatment is something we really don’t want to consider. It is easy to say the crazy person should be locked up, but what if we know the crazy person? We have sympathy for them, just like Adam Lanza’s mother did. We should be able to see just how well that worked out for her, but we still insist, despite all the data indicating otherwise, all we need to do is ban guns.

We do not see the problem because we do not want to see the problem, we just want to do something, believing it will make us feel better. In some ways I wish they could ban the guns and then accept responsibility for every murder that takes place afterward.

Recently the story of human trafficking in Nigeria has made the news again. It has been portrayed in this case as a terrorist group kidnapping young girls from schools because they believe education for women is an insult to Islam. The President of Nigeria, the sadly named Goodluck Jonathan, initially refused to acknowledge the kidnappings, then his wife, the inappropriately named Patience Jonathan, held a meeting with the mothers of the girls. Since the mothers were terrified of being identified, they sent a representative, who was arrested for not being a mother of a kidnapped child. No patience in Nigeria.

The story, after languishing in the world press for weeks, has hit the American media, and now President Obama has promised aid, saying “Time is of the essence.” Time may be of the essence for the few (over two hundred this week) girls kidnapped in this story. But this story is not about education for women, or Islam, or terrorists, or Al Qaeda. These girls were kidnapped by a wanna be warlord, who is financing his criminal activities by trafficking in the only resource he can obtain. These kidnappings did not begin last month, and they will not end with the return of these (now permanently scarred) girls. As long as there is a thriving market for children, children will be kidnapped for resale.

We do not see the human trafficking problem because we do not want to see the human trafficking problem. We do not want to think about what happens to these children. We would rather talk about other issues, like misguided attempts to prohibit women from education, and Al Qaeda, and terrorists, than thugs stealing human beings for profit.

We choose what we want to see, turning a blind eye to the actual problems, and in doing so, sustain those problems.






Checking background checks

Once upon a time, background checks were performed by law enforcement officers who checked records and interviewed acquaintances. Today, anyone with a computer can obtain records and make conclusions based on what they have seen. If those records are inaccurate, so are the conclusions.

I have previously mentioned my experience with the legal system. It is not an episode I am proud of, but I have made no attempts to hide it. A few years ago someone was looking to discredit me and brought up the incident. I took their misinterpretations as personal bias. My mistake.

Recently, as part of the hiring process, a potential employer paid the company “First Advantage” a fair amount of money to run a background check on me, which included sending me a copy. When I pointed out the inaccuracies in the background check to First Advantage, I received a phone call from the prospective employer informing me there were inconsistencies in my background check, and I would be allowed five days to “straighten them out” or the job offer would be rescinded. Unlike the America I thought I lived in, I was guilty until I could prove myself innocent.

I am not in the business of doing background checks, it took me two days to discover the location of the records (hard copies are maintained by the state), at which time I was told it would take at least a week to obtain a certified copy. The information I had been given was inaccurate, so tracking it down, given additional inaccuracies of what records were required and what the docket numbers in question are would naturally be beyond the abilities of an average civilian. This was not an episode I wanted to cherish, so in the intervening decade I had discarded my copies of the disposition. It is too late for it to make a difference to this prospective employer, but I ordered the copies anyway, I will probably need them again. I just wonder how many of the jobs I did not get were denied to me because of the inaccurate records.

On my copy of the background check I found numerous clerical errors. I had acknowledged the arrest and sentence, the date and location, but First Advantage had searched for records in my present location, noting on their report “subject admitted offense, no record found.” Maybe I am a bit sensitive, but that sounds a little prejudicial. Then came the record First Advantage did “find”. Despite my acknowledging the details, dates, and location, the inept “investigator” who performed the search found this offense to have been “unreported by subject.” The wanker had just searched for the same information in the wrong state, and could not connect this information to that search. The report was a summary by the “Unified Judicial System of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.” It contained some inaccuracies in the “sentence” section, stating I had been incarcerated for twenty three months.  Following the summary was this disclaimer:

“Unified Judicial System of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Notice and Disclaimer: The electronic case record information received from the Commonwealth is not an official case record; official case records are maintained by the court in which the record was filed. The data or information provided is based upon information received by the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts (“AOPC”). AOPC makes no representation as to the accuracy, completeness or utility, for any general or specific purpose, of the information provided and as such, assumes no liability for inaccurate or delayed data, errors or omissions. Use of this information is at your own risk. AOPC makes no representations regarding the identity of any persons whose names appear in the records. User should verify that the information is accurate and current by personally consulting the official record reposing in the court wherein the record is maintained.” (emphasis mine)

So the AOPC states this is not an official record and distances themselves from any claim of accuracy, imploring the “user” (First Advantage) to use the information at their own risk, further suggesting investigative responsibility by saying they should verify the information. How did First Advantage verify the information? By running the search a second time. Yep, it still says the same thing, no point in personally consulting the official record. There are reasons professional investigators earn more than minimum wage, I am realizing First Advantage is not professional. First Advantage did not even know where to look, telling me to contact the police department instead of the court, and asking for a “police narrative” rather than a record of disposition. Instead of using the information at their own risk, they used it at my risk.

The adventure brings me to the records department of the County of Delaware, where my records have been sent for me to view. For only $9.50 per page I may have certified copies. I find three pertinent pages, the “certificate of imposition of judgement of sentence”, and the two page “guideline sentence form”. There are discrepancies even between these pages, so I ask for certified copies of the pages, and when I get home I realize one page wasn’t certified.  Total bumbling of court records is apparently not a criminal offense.

At some point, the lack of reliable information will cause this system to collapse. The number of errors in my records can not be taken to mean I received them all and everyone else got away clean. In the meantime, I’m planning to file with the court to expunge my records based on their inconsistencies, as anyone (anyone other than a court clerk) can see no two pages agree on the terms of the sentence, the record is meaningless. I have plenty of time, it’s not like I have a job or anything. No doubt they will lose my filing, and arrest me as a prison escapee because there is no record of my having served twenty three months in prison.

The devil in the details

During a conversation about religions, one person said “the differences are only very small details.” That is often very true, and some details are insignificant in the big picture. Some are not. We are, as members of related denominations, more alike than different, but there are reasons behind some of the differences. This is where the deceptions occur which are used to attack faith.

I have a friend, I’ll call him “Mark”, who is agnostic. He was raised in a religious family, but when he had questions he received unsatisfactory answers. He paid attention in church, but found the information confusing, even contradictory. Given only bits and pieces of scripture reinforced his impression the Bible was self contradicting. So he gave up, still believing in the existence of a creator, but unwilling to believe a book full of contradictions.

The Bible is not the story of the events of a weekend. It is the history covering several thousand years. As history develops, ways of explaining and interpreting it change, the very language in which it is recorded changes. Over the course of a decade, Mark repeated several times the Bible was self contradicting, yet at no point could he produce any contradictions. I believe he perceived them, he just couldn’t pin them down.

Another friend recently said “very little in the Bible is concrete.” As evidence he offered “Depending on the religion, there are several different organizations of what the 10 commandments consist of.” This is remarkably similar to Mark’s point of view. In fact, the differences in “The ten commandments” are based on the way they are presented. In the twentieth chapter of Exodus, Moses receives the stone tablets, which no longer exist. The commandments are not numbered, or separated five per tablet, in fact one interpretation is they were two copies of the commandments, one on each tablet, as is common in legal contracts. The way in which the they are presented is narrative, so various denominations have punctuated them differently, all coming out with ten commandments, although the number and contents of each individual commandment does not always remain the same. Then in the fifth chapter of Deuteronomy Moses retells the story to a younger generation. There are differences in the phrasing, but the essential commandments remain the same. But this is only the beginning.

The choice of a Sabbath is based on theology. At the time the commandments were given, they were given to the Jews, who honor the Sabbath as the seventh day, based on creation as recorded in Genesis. Christians began to celebrate the first day, “the Lord’s day,” as the Sabbath in the second century, as Christianity became independent of Judaism.

Various translations differ on “Thou shall not kill.” The Hebrew words “לא תרצח (lo tirtzach)” are alternately translated as “Thou shall not kill” and “Thou shall not murder”. There are many examples of accepted killing and self defense in the Bible, it seems clear the commandment addresses unjustified killing, but there remain people who choose to see this as a contradiction.

This one came up in my research and presents the reason I keep looking deeper. German Theologian Albrect Alt has suggested “Thou shall not steal” was originally intended against stealing people, as in kidnapping or slavery. The Talmudic interpretation is “Thou shall not kidnap.”

In what is part of the first or second commandment (depending on your numbering) “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them” has been stretched to extremes. The Catholic Church claims that images and statues representing holy figures are not worshiped. Protestants claim that images of Jesus are of the man and not of the Son of God, and Protestant crucifixes are bare of Christ’s form. Jews won’t even spell the word “God”, and Muslims have elevated the prophet Mohammed to a Godlike state in that any representation of him is viewed as veneration.

In the 3500 years that have passed since the time of Moses, tens of billions of people have considered the words of the Bible, people who have spoken thousands of languages. The words are far less important than the message, and that message continues to be shared. There will be those who choose to see contradictions, or manipulate interpretations to fit their desires.

If I say I am averse to lying, and acknowledge I have lied in my life, does that represent a contradiction? Does it suggest everything I say is a lie, or that I have struggled with the circumstances of life and regret my transgressions? There are many ways to interpret words, and much of what we believe comes from within. When it come to eternity, it makes sense to carefully examine the totality of a belief system, rather than discarding everything based on differences in punctuation.

The Death Penalty

In our system of justice, punishment is supposed to have a rehabilitative effect, and also a deterrent effect . “Justice” is not supposed to equal “vengeance”.

As penalties ascend, eventually the ultimate punishment a society is willing to inflict is reached. In America, we occasionally kill people when they’ve done terribly offensive things, at this point it is reserved almost exclusively as a penalty for aggravated murders, which causes some confusion amongst the “eye for an eye” crowd.

The problems with the death penalty are legion, beginning with the misunderstanding of its purpose. If you believe that killing someone is a way to stake out the high moral ground, indicating that killing people is wrong, you may miss the finer points of this article. Do not be distressed, I believe that the death penalty is the only resort left in some instances. I see the problems, and have no clue what a reasonable solution might be.

We do not want to see ourselves as barbarians, so we have always sought means of execution that are humane. The Guillotine was not only quick and efficient, it was humane. Hanging, performed properly, is humane, in that the neck is broken immediately, releasing the deceased from any sensation. Lethal injection is perhaps the most humane form of death possible, with the caveat “If performed properly.” Here we run into a problem. Lethal injection requires a physician, who took as his first oath “Primum non nocere” (doctors prefer Latin so you won’t know what they are saying) meaning “First, do no harm.” The contradiction of goals should be clear to anyone. Drug manufacturers who make the drugs traditionally used for lethal injection refuse to supply the drugs because they are opposed to the death penalty. Who really believes that a corporate sponsorship of an execution is a good idea?

This last week, the result of performing a medical procedure without medical advice came to its obvious conclusion. A man who had failed to kill a young woman by shooting her and then buried her alive was scheduled to be executed, and after the injection he lingered until his heart failed forty three minute after the injection. The State of Oklahoma was as clumsy as Clayton Lockett had been when he murdered Stephanie Neiman.

Clayton Lockett was not the poster boy for leniency. I don’t know how long his victim suffered, but that is not the point. Neither is the point that some people are found innocent after they are executed. My point is that despite a declining trend, over 16,000 people were murdered in America during the last year for wich the CDC has data. The odd execution is a meaningless deterrent, yet the odd botched execution stops us in our tracks, resulting in Charles Warner’s execution being suspended. Charles Warner was scheduled to be executed next, he had been convicted of raping and murdering an 11-month-old child two years earlier. On autopsy Warner’s 11 month-old victim was found to have a six-inch skull fracture (on an 11 month-old child, picture that), a broken jaw, three broken ribs, bruised lungs and a lacerated liver and spleen. Again, no poster boy for leniency.

Any single argument is inadequate. People like Lockett and Warner need to be removed from society. Nothing within our concepts of humanity will allow us to give them what most of us feel they deserve. Incarceration for life is in many ways an inhumane form of punishment, and the possibility exists they could kill other prisoners or guards, or even escape. Surgically or chemically altering their minds violates every standard of humanity. The death penalty is morally reprehensible to a large portion of society. No punishment will ever return the victims, but how do we protect society from the perpetrators?

Reasonable dating of historical events places Moses’ existence at around 1500BC. At that time, the law was brutal, the idea of “an eye for an eye” was a quantum leap in jurisprudence. 1500 years later Jesus taught “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Many of us can not seem to accept that in the intervening 2000 years not everyone has evolved, but that is the way the world works. Some of us have developed ethically, and some never will.

The challenge we face as a society is how to do the dirty work that evolution has failed to do, without falling into the pit with the animals.