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.

oath

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.

 

 

 

Papers please

A recent survey  by Rasmussen indicates 78% of Americans want voters to prove citizenship in order to register to vote. Sounds like a no-brainer, but oddly enough, voter registration forms do not ask for proof of citizenship.

This isn’t a voter identification question in the sense which has been debated previously, in fact, this measure might put an end to voter identification debates. You could not register without having shown adequate identification to prove you are a citizen of the United States of America, not just a driver’s license but a birth certificate or naturalization papers. The bigger question is, how would it work?

We often express a desire for legislation that has unintended consequences, so think for a moment how you might prove you are a citizen. We can talk about aliens being required to carry papers, but where are yours? It used to be that we didn’t routinely carry identification. After years in law enforcement, it continues to amaze me that people don’t habitually carry some form of ID with them at all times. Although almost no one writes checks for purchases anymore, you probably remember waiting in line when someone wrote a check, and didn’t have a driver’s license or other form of ID with them. At the mall or grocery store, to which they had driven a car.

A national ID card, or some form of government issued ID, could certify citizenship. It’s done in every other country in the world. Otherwise, we would need to carry our passports with us. That would be a problem, as there are only 109 million U.S. passports in circulation. That number is based on data attributed to the Department of State in several articles, however they all use the same link which directs to a 404 “page not found”. At any rate, 35% of Americans with passports is an all time high.

If we expect to be capable of asking aliens to identify themselves, we have to be capable of identifying ourselves. Otherwise how do I know you’re not an alien? Because you say so? That wasn’t good enough for them. In a country based on Free Speech, by which I mean it is second only to religion in the Bill of Rights, the most popular right when asked to identify is the right to remain silent. People are happy to share their points of view on the internet, but prefer to remain anonymous. There are no statistics available for aliases vs actual identities on the internet, but even on social media sites where the idea is to be yourself, it’s fairly common for people to use an alias.

In the last national elections, there was a push for voters to provide identification when voting. You’re voting, the wonderful right to choose your leaders and for some reason you don’t think you should have to identify yourself? You provide identification in order to enter a building, but balk when it’s time to vote? We associate being asked for our papers with a police state, and the ACLU has abundant advice on what to avoid providing if asked by the police. We cling to an illusion of privacy yet expect everyone to accept who and what we are on merely our word.

This may be the root of several social ills. “Bobby869” is more likely to respond with a string of obscenities than a rational debate, and while “Blake Cash” may be an alias (technically it is, my parents named me Kenneth), I use my own name because I believe in standing behind what I say. If you don’t feel safe identifying yourself with your actions, maybe you should consider the witness protection program. If what you have to say is unpopular with your friends, you have the wrong friends. If you can’t be proud of yourself, who can you be proud of? When you start by lying about who you are, when do the lies stop?

The positive effects of a national ID card outweigh the negatives, because I can’t think of a single negative effect. Maybe I’m over confident in the empowerment being yourself gives you, it’s working for me, but that is just anecdotal evidence. Are we as a nation ready to identify ourselves? If not, how can we ask anyone else to prove who they are?

 

 

 

Conspiracy theories

Conspiracy theories are fascinating. To me, they indicate a variety of things.

The first is essentially insecurity, there are monsters under the bed. The other is a feeling of helplessness, the monsters are everywhere. Yet another is actually a belief in basic human goodness, this can’t be the work of one man, it must be a conspiracy.

The JFK theories persist because we’re uncomfortable believing that one person, acting alone, could kill the President of the United States. It was easier for Hillary Clinton to put forward the idea of a “vast right wing conspiracy” than to acknowledge that her husband had a history of marital infidelity. Conspiracy theorists create a conspiracy of their own, a denial of rational thought, and anyone who disagrees with them is simply a member of the antagonistic conspiracy. Global Warming, a theory allegedly based in science, uses as its argument that people who don’t “believe” are “deniers”. There is no discussion of actual facts, just an argument of faith. Despite claims of a consensus being proven fraudulent, believers still invoke the claims. Doesn’t sound too scientific.

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Studies of people who believe in conspiracies show that the leading indicator of whether a person will believe in a conspiracy theory is if they believe in other conspiracy theories. That is not to say they’re gullible, there are just no other commonalities. We used to consider these people “foil hat wearing lunatics”, but as more and more people feel life is beyond their control, they are more likely to believe they are being controlled by evil cartels and a bad turn of fortune. We can call an uneducated Arab a fanatic terrorist and then justify torturing him without acknowledging our own fanaticism. People can praise the “Affordable Care Act”, embracing the name “Obamacare” and attacking the “evil conservatives” for fighting against it, but once it has taken effect the same people claim that the entire program was developed by the conservatives and pushed through congress by Republicans.

Subscribing to conspiracy theories requires a suspension of rational thought. Attempting to have a rational discussion on a topic with someone who has abandoned rational thought only results in frustration for both parties. It is not a question of logic, it is a question of faith. Global Warming has caused increased ice packs. The NSA has developed energy beams which they control you with through your computer. Vaccinations cause autism. The Illuminati are poisoning us with with chemicals sprayed by aircraft. There is an invisible planet that is streaking towards the Earth. Anything can be evidence, it doesn’t have to make sense.

There is no common background in people who believe in conspiracies. They come from the Left, Right, and Middle. Well educated people are as susceptible as the illiterate, because it has nothing to do with intelligence, although the “believers” almost uniformly accuse the “deniers” of inferior intelligence. Because it’s obvious to them. It isn’t a conspiracy theory to the people who believe it, it’s the truth. To them, the truth is the propaganda.

There is a lot of money to be made by manipulating who believe in conspiracies. “Secret documents” available only through the mail, “research” funding, and millions of website hits. Heroes of the cause, brave crusader’s who need your five dollar donation to continue spreading the “truth”. The twisted logic of the believer supports the crusader, who has been shunned by his colleagues due to his “refusal to bow to the establishment”. And that’s only the “wacky” conspiracies. The really big conspiracies thrive on the wealth of entire nations. Choose a conflict in the Middle East and one side is blaming the other of taking part in a multinational conspiracy.

Why do I mention all this? Because it hampers free thought. It masquerades as critical thinking while it is anything but. It can happen to anyone, and it can also be avoided by anyone.

It is healthy to question everything, including yourself. That’s what science is all about. Being able to accept and evaluate new data is how growth takes place. Being able to say “Well, that’s what I used to think, but I was wrong” is evidence of growth.

 

 

Time

The Doctor Who Christmas special was, predictably, on Christmas night. It is one of the fixed events in space-time, every Christmas, the Doctor saves the world, sometimes the entire universe. Or always. It’s one of those timey wimey things.

For fifty years, through twelve (thirteen, fourteen, fifteen?) faces, he is always The Doctor. Time loops around and around, so the idea of a “chronological” progression is patently illogical. He occasionally runs into himself, or selves, but understanding that time contains events that can be altered, who is to say which self precedes which? Cause and effect become fuzzy, Who nose?

It is often secondary to the immediate story to ponder the meaning of time itself, the media through which the Doctor travels. Yet we all travel through time, my personal journey spanning the distance between 15 November 1958 and some unknown point in the future. In our experience, time is both eternal and transient. We believe the past took place, and we imagine the future will, but all that we have is this very moment. Time, past present and future, exists only within our individual experience. A study by the BBC concludes as of Dr. Who’s fiftieth anniversary, he had traveled over two hundred trillion years.

Doctor Who, like any fantasy series, inspires the imagination. Anything can happen and often does. Despite initially being one of the more violent programs on television, the Doctor most often seeks non-violent solutions. The theme often revolves around unlikely heroes. Perhaps this is a reflection of the soul of Doctor Who, the appeal of the idea living beyond any one incarnation. Sydney Newman’s loose concept of a Doctor, traveling through time and space, not even an idea of what kind of doctor. Verity Lambert’s strengths as a producer, the youngest and only female producer at BBC at the time. A string of young directors and writers who might not have had the opportunity to expose and develop their talents on a more mainstream project. Even the music, written by Ron Grainer and created using an early version of the Mellotron, is iconic. Now Doctor Who is mainstream, a fixture in our culture, made so by the unlikely heroes.

Time itself is a mystery. We appear to be able to travel in one direction only, at a fixed speed. We see the cycles in nature and imagine cycles in time, anniversaries creating points on an imagined circle. We seek to renew ourselves each year, seeing New Years Day as a point on the circle when we are allowed to start again. There are an infinite number of points on our timelines, we may start over whenever we wish. Each moment we are recreated, why hesitate to be created as the best person we can be at that moment? Our time is too short to waste it being anything other than the best we can be.

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One big happy

You can look at humanity in several ways. Whichever way you choose, we are all related. Whether you see us as children of God, or as having evolved from a common ancestor, we all have one common point in antiquity from which we have gone forth and multiplied.

You can observe a family and see differences. One child is taller, one has red hair, one is clever, one can’t make it across the room without stumbling. They are all immediately related. Give that family a few thousand years and the tall one finds a tall spouse and has tall kids, the clever one is only intrigued by a clever mate and has clever children, eventually those differences work there way into familial customs, the families move apart and adapt to their new surroundings. Ten thousand years ago these distances resulted in the formation of tribes, today we hold no allegiances to our surroundings.

A natural trait in animals, including humans, is to be wary of anything out of the ordinary. Keeping the bloodline pure was critical to survival for our ancestors. The child born missing a foot was destroyed, and thus whatever caused the mutation was not passed on to another generation. People who look different were eyed with suspicion. Red hair was unusual, and has almost been bred into extinction. Being left handed was unusual, and was fought with such force by society that being forced to live as right handed may be the source of dyslexia.

More severe differences drew more severe reactions. The skin color of Africans and features of Asians resulted in segregation that amplified the differences over time. While at one time, these people were just odd family members who moved away.

In contrast, today there are no great distances separating us. We can travel from one side of the world to the other in a day (less if we’re flying West). At a point in human history when we could all celebrate a world community, we cling to our differences. People emigrate and want to make their new country into their old country, hanging onto traditions their grandparents had abandoned.

It only takes the experience of seeing someone from your own culture living abroad to realize that we’re all the same. The Mexicans and Chinese and Lebanese who want to make their part of America like their homeland (or the homeland of their ancestors) are no different from the Americans trying to make their community in Spain more like America. We all resist assimilation.

So when I hear someone speaking about “racial injustice” or any of the other terms applied to xenophobia, I am saddened. The obvious reason for sadness is because I realize that at some level we are all related. Another reason is because by focusing on the differences, those differences tend to be reinforced.

We excel when we exploit our varied strengths, and use them to carry our varied weaknesses. When we treat a person as less than human, it is our humanity that is brought into question. We are all family. Civil rights are human rights.

A simple Scripture today, John 13:34 “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another“.

Halloween traditions

Grover's Mill monument to Orson Welles

Grover’s Mill monument to Orson Welles

Living near the site of Orson Welles version of “War of the Worlds”, Halloween has picked up new meanings and traditions. For the last few years I’ve helped a friend build a flying saucer for his front yard. He lives in West Windsor, which has annexed Grover’s Mill. Being a theatre guy, the saucer is lit professionally, with a computer driving the light sequences.

Martians land at Grover's Mill

Martians land at Grover’s Mill

Our first Halloween in Princeton, Lieve and I dressed up and sat in the front yard, drinking mulled wine and handing out candy. That was way too much fun. We managed to scare quite a few kids, and later when we attended an adult party across the street, Lieve finished a bowl of chili without realizing it was made with meat.

Well into our second bottle of wine

Well into our second bottle of wine

We don’t have any pedestrian traffic in the new place, so we’ve found different ways to celebrate. This year, Lieve saw an article about “carving” pumpkins using an electric drill. Following the fun she had at the shore with power tools, there was no holding her back.

I did the old school pumpkin, and my traditional roasted pumpkin seeds, but we didn’t get around to the pumpkin soup Lieve had promised. She doesn’t care for the pumpkin everything this time of year but she did offer to make pumpkin soup.

There is supposed to be a new Godiva store at the mall, the sign says “Opening October 2013” but there’s no activity, and the folks at Godiva International don’t have any information.  Starting 1 November I plan to visit the site and loudly say “Wow, I’d really like some chocolate about now” and then walk away. Subtle, and probably totally ineffective, but I will be there on the day they eventually open. One must have priorities.

Godiva ghost treats

Godiva ghost treats

Growing up

Last week I spent some time with a group from high school. Some of them had known each other since grade school, I had only spent my last two years there, and I was asked more than once “Where did you grow up?”. The answer that came to mind first was “Who said I grew up?” but the one I vocalized was “America”.

I was born in a hospital in Corsicana TX, my parents lived in Trinidad (1), in a company community serving the power station of Texas Power and Light, for whom my father was a chemist. I have several distinct memories of these years. My parents other son was born while we lived there, on reflection I realize that I could tell the that he wasn’t of this world. Many years later he told me the community no longer existed and had been flooded. A check of Google satellite shows that the homes are gone but the island is still there.

In another year we moved to Dallas TX, my father taking a job with Beckman Instruments. At first we lived in an apartment(2), where I managed to experience all the childhood diseases, among my memories are house calls by the doctor for my chicken pox. Then we moved to a house on Flaxley Dr.(3) not far from my maternal grandparents. Loads of memories from there, Kindergarten, first grade, half of second. Getting in trouble doing kid stuff, family, friends and church. Oddly, when you click on that link, it brings you to the exact house. one of those trees I had planted as a pecan from my paternal grandparents farm.

Christmas of 1966 we moved to Walnut Creek, CA,(4) the first of many moves caused by my father’s rise through his company. We lived in the shadow of Mt. Diablo, in an odd little community of British ex pats. Some of my friends parents still observed afternoon tea. We lived there for eight months. The most interesting eight months possible, including the “Summer of Love“, visiting relatives first tourist stop was the Haight.

In August we moved to what is now Tustin CA,(5) but was actually an unincorporated area at the time. Because of that, I ended up going to two different elementary schools, neither of which still exist. In fact, looking at Google Earth, the house I lived in has changed so much it may have been demolished and rebuilt. My parents divorced while we lived there, I had my first kiss, took piano lessons, leared saxophone and started on drums. After the divorce my mother and I, along with the alien, moved to an apartment(6) and I started junior high, then Mom got married and we moved to Ventura CA on Halloween. At first we lived in an apartment(7) just two blocks from the beach. I attended the same junior high as Kevin Costner. Mom and her new husband bought a house in Saticoy the summer before ninth grade, and for a few months we lived in a different apartment(8) in the keys, but Saticoy(9) was still in an area where I was bussed to the same junior high. I ended up at a different high school than my beach friends, oddly so had Kevin Costner. When I look at the google satellite of Saticoy it’s kind of sad, most of those neighborhoods were orange groves when I lived there, they were a great place to party.

My sister was born while I lived there, but my step father was getting to be more than I could handle, so I moved in with my father in Murray Hill, NJ.(10) I liked the east coast accent on girls, so even though I had a driver’s license in California but was too young in New Jersey, I’d get to drinking age first in New Jersey. This is the way a kid’s mind works, measuring benefits that never occur to their parents. I experienced all the “first” that young people experience during those years. I formed friendships that have lasted through now. After graduation, my father moved to Perth Amboy(11). I pretty much stayed in the house in Murray Hill, which hadn’t yet sold, and then one snowy morning decided to move back to California. I left the next day.

When I arrived in Ventura, where my mother had moved to a condominium, I lived with her(12) for a few months before getting an apartment(13) on “The Avenue”. This was far from the nicest section of town, a welfare housing project was across the street, but we had wonderful old hippie neighbors on our side of the street. After I was assaulted we decided to move anyway, this time to El Rio,(14) for an exceptionally earthy experience. We had a cute little house on a deep property with two other houses. I drove a converted mail truck, friends from New Jersey could visit safely.

Me and my van in El Rio

Me and my van in El Rio

My mom had moved to Las Vegas with her husband and my sister, things weren’t working out for them so Cindy and I found a larger place(15), just a few houses down from where I had first lived in the keys. It was nice being so close to the beach again, I finally decided to start college, and things looked stable for a few minutes. Then one day Cindy called me and said “I’m pregnant, I’m going home (Pennsylvania). My aunt has already arranged airline tickets, I’m leaving day after tomorrow”. I’m an old fashioned kind of guy, the idea of my child being born and living three thousand miles away was not an option, so I hooked up with a friend who was also moving East and we dragged our stuff across the country.

When I first arrived we lived with Cindy’s mother(16) until we could afford a little place(17) in Bloomsburg. College wasn’t going to happen, I found a decent job for the area and we saved enough to buy a little house overlooking the river(18). Bloomsburg is rural enough that there are no street views available on Google satellite. After a couple of years Cindy was pregnant again, and as nice as my job was, there was no way to support a family of four with a new house on it. The best choice available was the military, so I enlisted in the Air Force.

Basic Training was in San Antomio TX(19), and Technical school was at Lowry AFB(20) in CO. Cindy decided to rent out the house and join me in Colorado, so we rented a place in Aurora(21) while I finished school. We received our orders, and a couple of us ended up stationed at Offutt AFB, SAC HQ. We arrived at Offutt in time for our second child to be born there, after we had moved out of temporary quarters(22) and into base housing(23).

My story takes a fork here, there is the official version and the classified version. You’ll be getting the official version, with a bit of the other to kick it off. I was approached with an opportunity that would involve a little travel and no uniforms. I would receive an honorable discharge but it would be recorded that I lost my security clearance.

Cindy and I moved off base(24) to a nice house in a neighborhood that was rebuilding. Then we moved to Dallas TX, living with my aunts (first one(25), then the other(26)) until we determined we would stay in the Dallas area after our third child was born. We moved into an apartment complex(27), where Cindy was able to take the position of manager after a few months, and we moved into the management apartment(28). There are few things worse than moving your entire household one hundred yards. I worked for the City of Dallas, and spent a lot of time away from home. Cindy got bored and decided to have an affair with one of the tenants, so I moved in with a coworker(29) (who happened to be female, but we had separate bedrooms) while Cindy and I figured out what we were going to do. It appeared it was going to take a while, so my coworker and I decided to rent a nicer condo(30).

I got another call from Cindy. She was taking the kids to live in Pennsylvania, her aunt had already purchased the airline tickets. Certain things never change, I helped pack everything and moved up to Pennsylvania with her. We lived with her mother at first(31), until we were able to find a place in town(32). At that point, she basically said “Thanks for the ride and all your money and credit, you can go now”. That was over twenty five years ago, I’ve gotten over it, but for some reason she’s still angry. I moved into a long term hotel (33), but there was nothing to work out, so I followed a coworker to Wildwood NJ where there were plentiful summer jobs. I took an apartment(34) and stayed the summer, then moved to Bryn Mawr PA with the woman who had been a coworker, became a girlfriend, and later became my wife. She was living in the dorms of Combs College of Music, and for a while I assumed a female persona so I could live there(35). After a few months I found an apartment(36) in Lansdowne PA, and I took a job at the SPCA and then the police department. After a few years Paula became pregnant, so we moved to another apartment in the building (37) (I hadn’t learned the lesson in Dallas, now I had a piano) and then about a year later we took an apartment(38) in Aldan. Paula wasn’t crazy about the neighbors, so we ended up moving again, this time to a house(39) in Prospect Park.

Paula and I were decreasingly happy with each other, so I moved to an apartment(40) in nearby Wilmington DE just off the shore of the Delaware river. I met a woman from Bensalem PA and rented an apartment(41) there. We eventually moved in together (42), and found yet another apartment (43) before we broke up. I shared an apartment in Warminster, PA (44) before moving in with an old friend in Lansdowne (45). When my friend realized that we were just friend and I was not going to marry her, I moved to South Philadelphia (46).

Shortly after that I met Emma. I moved to her apartment(47) in Crum Lynne, PA where we lived for a few years, until an unfortunate incident which caused us to move back to South Philly, first living with her brother (48) and then to an apartment on Tenth and Wolf(49).

That was supposed to be it, but Emma died. I had intended to finish my days in that apartment, but then I met Lieve, and moved to Princeton(50). A couple of things made us decide that we wanted to have a place we could call “ours”, with no ghosts of our pasts, so we currently live next door to the Governor(51). It’s a nice place, he doesn’t invite us to any parties, but we can sit in the yard and listen to the music. Eventually, we’ll move again, Belgium is certainly in our future, and as long as I can keep the number of my addresses lower than the number of my years. I’m comfortable.

Home is where you wear your hat.

Now you see it, but it’s not there

"Pillars of Creation" in the Eagle Nebula

“Pillars of Creation” in the Eagle Nebula

What you see above does not exist. It did once, and will continue to be viewable for about a thousand years.

The formation is called “The Pillars of Creation”, and consists of gas and matter coalescing into planets and stars, but it isn’t doing that anymore. In fact, it was destroyed about six thousand years before the telescope that enabled us to see it was invented.

Being in a nebula, it is surrounded by stars of various ages. Somewhere around eight or nine thousand years ago, one of those stars went supernova. It was probably visible from Earth. The shock wave from that supernova is estimated to have taken a couple of thousand years to reach the pillars. Since they’re seven thousand light years away from us, we still see the pillars as they existed before the shock wave destroyed them some six thousand years ago. If that star was closer to the Earth than the pillars, we might already have seen the flash, it might have been the one of 6 August 1181.

The sky we see at night is the light from thousands of years ago. Some of those stars have gone supernova, we just haven’t received the light from that event yet.

As we consider traveling between the stars, our concepts of time need to be adjusted. We aim for targets that may no longer exist, or may not exist by the time we reach them. By the time we see the pillars destroyed, there will be other stars that have or are being created that exist behind them that we will be able to see. The universe is not only constantly changing, it has already changed in ways that we can’t yet see due to the speed of light.

Considering the distances involved, this should humble us. We see constellations, because the points appear on a flat curtain of night, when in fact from a different angle, different in the range of the distance of another star to here, those constellations appear differently. When we think of things we see, in fact, the stars that we can see are within our own galaxy. The Milky Way is just an arm of our galaxy.

You are Here.

You are Here.

Other galaxies, such as Andromeda (M31) are millions of light years away. Andromeda was once thought to be a star, until telescopes revealed its nature. When we consider our reach, Voyager, traveling for the last thirty six years, is just reaching the edge of our solar system (the enlarged section of the illustration above).

This is our world. We more than likely will never visit another that we can live on within the span of our species’ existence. There is no running away, there is no escape. Why do we think we can make another world habitable when we can’t manage to “terraform” Earth?

I think that is how it should be. If we can’t make Homo Sapiens work on this planet, why should we foul another?

Emigration man

That is spelled correctly.

As we ponder moving across the ocean, away from a country to which I had pledged my life, to a land where I do not speak the native language, I am faced with issues similar to those entering the United States. Belgium is in many ways dealing with the problems that America faces, and while they deal with them in ways that may be better, changing countries is not an easy process. The economic refugee affects both countries, and protecting the economy from those that will not contribute is of utmost importance. When I enter Belgium, my American passport is stamped without question, but tomorrow when we enter the United States, Lieve’s Belgian passport will be examined, she will be electronically fingerprinted, and we will have to present the letter from DHS stating that her green card has been extended while they consider giving her “permanent” status, because America has been overrun by people who enter illegally.

The annoying part is that even though Lieve now has a green card, were we to leave for more than a year, she would lose her “permanent” resident status. We would have to start the lengthy and expensive process again, from the beginning. My status in Belgium is much more simple. Unfortunately, lacking the size and complexity of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, we’re not certain precisely how simple. The consulate in the States tells us one thing, about a few documents that we would fill out and file with the town hall in Leuven, but when we checked with the town hall, it was even easier. We want to do it properly, but just becoming an illegal immigrant would be the easiest, until I applied for work.

In Europe mixed nationality marriages are more common than in America, think about it as marrying someone from another state, and then when you move in together, your partner can’t vote in your state. Despite the world wide economic difficulties, there is always someone worse off,  so Europe was a target for economic refugees from Northern Africa, and with the collapse of the Soviet Union refugees from former Soviet states arrived looking for a better life. Despite the “open borders” of the European Economic Community, some countries are better off than others and would like to keep it that way. Culturally, that little difference in accent is seen much more differently than in the states, it can be told by an accent almost what town you were raised in, everyone appears to be aware of each others origin. Lieve, with her blended Flemish and British accents, is mistaken as South African sometimes. No one is likely to ever mistake me for anything other than American.

We would like to be able to live with dual citizenship, moving back and forth between America and Belgium, but that option does not appear to be available. We need to make a choice, and it is a difficult one. Lieve’s parents are not in the best of health, and could use assistance, and Lieve would like to be able to help. On the other hand, her children are just graduating High School, there will be college, first apartments, relationships, and possibly grandchildren that she would like to be involved with.

It takes about seven hours and a little over a thousand dollars to fly round trip between New York and Brussels, my family is spread across the continent, so visiting will be more difficult. Lieve’s children, with British citizenship and American personalities are likely to stay in the New York area.

As far as employment, the two economies are roughly similar. I can write anywhere, I just need someone to pay me once in a while, Lieve has a network of friends in Belgium, but again, the chances of gainful employment are about the same on both sides of the ocean.

Currency is a somewhat humorous story. When Lieve left Belgium, the Franc was still the currency, then she moved to England, which even though they are part of the EEC, still uses the Pound. She moved to America where the coins make no sense at all to her (dimes, although worth more, are smaller than nickels), and now Belgium uses Euros, so she uses the notes and I deal with the coins. This morning she handed me her change, and in one handful was thirteen euros.

Sunday a new King is crowned, Lieve totally missed the last one. So her ties to Belgium are not as strong as they might be. Her ties are to her family , which draws her to both Belgium and America. Immigration policies, like most government regulations, are designed to inconvenience law abiding citizens while law breakers simply walk through the gaps.

笑って元気

We’ve had a visitor. Yuko is Lieve’s friend, they have known each other for twenty eight years. We see Yuko every year or so, she’s Japanese, and in addition to being soft spoken she doesn’t speak English very well. She’s always been intriguing to me, and I think you’ll enjoy getting to know her.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Yuko I know, and I have to use that qualification because I don’t know her well, is a music Fan. Capital F. She lives in Japan, but comes to America to see concerts. Little concerts. The last time she visited was to see The Cure, this time, she’s seeing Monochrome Set three times, first in Philly, then in New York, and then in Bordentown NJ (we went with her to the show in Bordentown). I asked her why she would fly halfway around the world to see bands in tiny little venues, and she told me that’s just something she does on vacation. The real purpose of the vacation is to “get away”.

I thought that was the purpose of a vacation for anyone, but she explained further. She likes to travel to America and England (France and Spain as well) because they don’t speak Japanese. She can be in the center of a crowd, and not pick up bits and pieces of conversations. “I don’t have to hear about someone’s mother” she said. What an interesting concept. When I asked what she does to get away at home, she said “I don’t do anything special to accomplish that. I switch on the TV and have foreign dramas or films running when I’m at home. In a crowded train, I try to be lost in thought/reading/listening/reverie in my own world.”

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When we were walking in Philly I could see the release, the freedom she felt. As we were leaving the Reading Terminal Market, there were a couple of guys playing guitar, and they started “Blitzkrieg Bop”.  Her arm went up in the air and she danced the rest of the way to the car.

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Yuko met Lieve in 1985, when Lieve worked for Crepuscule Records in Brussels, and was traveling with the label’s tour in Japan. After the third night,  the tour group realized that the same young woman was always waiting around after the shows, talking to the bands. They adopted her as a translator and worked out arrangements for her to have a place to stay with them. Later, when Lieve developed a sore throat, Yuko took her to the hospital, and translated for her. I asked her how she can just start up conversations with bands, being such a demure individual. She said “I’m kind of shy, I would like to talk to bands but I don’t know what I talk about. So I usually don’t. I don’t approach bands aggressively, I talk to them the same as other fans after concerts. I would be happy if they could understand how much I like their music. When I was young, I think I was quite cheeky.( still now?!). I want others to see me as a compassionate / friendly person.”

BrightonYuko in Brighton 1986

When I asked Yuko what her favorite type of music, she said “I have a wide taste in music. When I listen to music, I don’t think of which type of music they are. I just feel that I like the song. It just happens that Alternative/classic/heavy metal/hard rock/Progressive/Punk/post-rock/jazz/Pop/New wave/dance…. (remember what I’ve said about labels?) When I was in primary school, I listened to The Monkees, The Partridge Family,The Carpenters and Bay City Rollers. Especially, I was interested in all musicians when I was a junior high-school student. As I could be possible, I listened to any type of music and went to see concerts (Kiss, Japan, Eric Clapton, Lee Ritenour, Rod Stewart,The Runaways, Rainbow, The Stranglers….)”

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Not that I’m jealous or anything, she just managed to see most of the greatest bands ever. Her answer to “What are your favorite bands” sounds a lot like me, were I able to devote my life to following bands. She said “I have a lot of favourite bands. Too many…The Cure, The Monochrome Set, The Clash, Big Audio Dynamaite, Cosmic Rough Riders, Thin Lizzy, TOOL, Tortoise ,SigurRos, The Durutti Colmun, JosefK, Belle&Sebastian, Orange Jucie, Stump, Lou Barlow, Cheap Trick, The Bluebells, Kiss, The Shins, Neil Young, Ocean Colour Scene, Mogwai, Super Furry Animals, JasonFalkner, YoLaTengo, arco, the Sparks, Madness, Joy Division, New Order, Mice Parade, At The DriveIn, The June Brides, The Undertones, The Smiths, Eyeless In Gaza, AC/DC, Ben Folds Five, Jellyfish, Pernice Brothers, The Milk&Honey Band, Echo&The Bunnymen, Daniel Johnston, Oranger, The Sea&Cake, Sebadoh, 1000Violins, Carbon/Silicon, OKGO, The Flaming Lips, Stiff Little Fingers, The Ramons, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Gomez, The Decemberists, The LA’s, Jose Gonzalez, Nick Drake, The Vaselines, Arab Strap, The Monkees, The Partridge Family (David Cassidy)…….I can’t finish!”. Kind of like my “Whatever is playing now…”

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She says there was a period when she lost interest in music, “Suddenly, I was not interested in music. I was away from music in the 90s. Sometimes, I listened to classic music. I hardly went to see concerts, maybe a few ones in 10 years.(expect The Cure) Instead of music, I was into a play and Kabuki (Japanese traditional play). I go to the theatre a few times every month now. Again, I started to listen to music in 2000, and I listened to a lot of bands for filling the hole in 10 years.( like I was a junior high-school student)”

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Yuko visited Lieve through the years during her vacations in England and France, visiting her home in Belgium and later in Manchester. Yuko never married, and still lives with her parents. I asked her about that, as Americans seem to be getting back to multi generational homes. She said “It is common for adults to live with their parents in Japan. Most of people will move out when they get married, work at another place, go to university. But they think a responsibility to take care of their parents, so some of them move back home later. It’s also common that the son (mostly the eldest one) take care of his parents. He lives with them even if he get married or when his parents get old, they live together. It depends, anyway.” She says that she is happy living with her parents, they are getting older year by year and she can monitor that. She says that she doesn’t feel that living with her parents has hindered her life choices.

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She appears to be fascinated by everything. She’s one of those people who takes pictures of her food, and when we got ice cream she composed the photograph of her cone with the store’s sign, shaped like an ice cream cone, in the background. She laughs easily, and, maybe due to her size, has a child like aura about her. When I asked what kinds of art she enjoys she said “I like Modern Art and Pop art. I like Francis Bacon, Marc Chagall, Andy Wahol, Joost Swarte (cartoonist) and Nick Park (Stop Motion Animator).

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By all appearances she is a well rounded, happy person. When I asked What she would do if she could change anything in the world, she said “Plenty of smiles and full of laughter. Because positive vibrations is essential in life.”

Just being around Yuko brings all those things. She is a wonderful ambassador for herself. As she would say “笑って元気”, smiling, energetic.

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The man in black

You may have noticed my last name. I wrote about the first two earlier, my last name has been a constant source of interest and humor. There is a certain balance to my eyes, that along with a tilt of my head says “Yes, we are related, thank you for being the three hundred fourteen thousand one hundred and fifty ninth person to mention it. You are proportionately interesting”.

When I was much younger, there were two other Cashes. Mohammed Ali (Cassius Clay) and Johnny Cash. I was ever so happy when Cassius Clay changed his name, it helped in avoiding a number of schoolyard fights, and gave me a deep understanding of conscientious objection. I am proud of my twisted connection to Mohammed Ali, he taught me how to stand up for my beliefs.

So did cousin Johnny. Yes, through a genealogy I have never seen on paper, I am related to the Man in Black. For the longest time I didn’t really believe it, but my Aunt Bernay confirmed it a few years before she died, and it is not within my imagination that Bernay would ever stray from the truth. There are the similarities, watching the video “Hurt” is like watching a movie of my father aging through the years. But the most important thing is, if Bernay said it is true, it is true.

Johnny provided a number of influences. Many people at the time (and perhaps still) fail to realize his activist nature, even “Ira Hayes” missed the attention of the masses. Johnny spent time in prison, not as a prisoner, but as a performer. He was a long time advocate of prisoner rights. He was, like me, a complicated and difficult to read person. We both use it to our advantage, but it also causes some less than pleasant consequences.

Some of you associate me with a different “MiB”. I found the irony of being on both sides of the double entendre exceptionally humorous, even using it as a screen name on a couple of forums in which a few people knew my name, but most were just science fiction fans, and almost no one knew about the third connection. Which is one reason that I so adored “Griffin” in the film “Men in Black 3”.

Of course, being social in the 80s, I actually did wear black quite a bit. I continue to do so, when I worked with printers black was a natural, my friends who wore white were typically wearing black by the end of the day anyway. It suits my figure and personality, and works as something of a trademark. Our friend Yuko brought a gift of a narrow black tie with skull and crossbones designs from Japan, I’ll be wearing it at the next appropriate occasion (though not a job interview, to which I typically wear a black shirt and a Jerry Garcia tie).

Being a Cash has its benefits, we are an unusually friendly bunch, and always happy to meet relatives whether we know the lineage or not. Rat’s restaurant (named for the character in “The Wind in the Willows”) has Chef Shane Cash in the kitchen, and Buddy Cash and I probably wouldn’t have met had it not been for the name.

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So the other day, some friends were laughing about fashion faux pas, with an article about wearing black the center of the discussion. Imagine my dismay. I don’t pay much if any attention to “fashion”, primarily because I can’t be bothered to care about something that is less meaningful than the art of speaking to trees. What you think about what I wear  can only be important to me if I care what you think, and if you spend your days worrying about what people wear…well you’re off to a bad start. Pleased to meet you, hope you guessed my name.

I’m the man in Black. 

Words

As an “Author”, words are my tools. I love words, the way they fit together like a puzzle, creating meanings and emotions. The best tools have more than one edge, and the best words have more than one meaning.

I’ve spoken a few different languages in my life, I almost became a translator in the Air Force, but they wanted me to study Arabic in San Antonio and I wanted to study Russian in Monterey. It was Summer, so we compromised and I studied operations analysis in Denver. I studied French for a few years in my early teens, taught myself Russian, and picked up more Spanish living in California than my father learned in a Berlitz course (I had to serve as translator in Mexico). My wife is from Belgium, her native tongue is Flemish, so I decided to learn to speak her language.

Flemish is almost identical to Dutch, different enough for natives to not be able to understand the differences, but close enough that I could take the Rosetta Stone Dutch course. There is no Flemish course, fewer people speak Flemish than live in Wisconsin. Like most Germanic languages, it looked easy. So many words were the same, or similar. I could hear the common roots with English in some words, “bloem” is “flower”, it sounds like “bloom” (an interesting word I’ll get back to). I detest the abbreviations used in texting. Imagine my shock when I found that the polite form of you (je, jou in familiar form) is spelled u. I thought they were just using text language, and they’re actually being formal.

It was important for me to know how to say “I love you” for our wedding, and I incorporated it into the ceremony. “Ik hou van jou mijn lieveling” translates to “I love you my darling”, and another thing I like about Vlaams (Flemish) is that my wife’s name means “dear” and is used often. I was sure I’d be fluent in a few months. It’s now over two years later and I’m still working on it. The more you get into speaking the language, the less the words (and grammar) relate to English. I do have the consolation that her first husband didn’t pick up any words outside of “Lekker”, or “Tasty”, a compliment helpful at meals.

The word that set me off in this direction today is douche. In English, we associate this word with vaginal cleansing, in Flemish it means to shower (kind of odd the first time my mother in law asked if I had showered). In English, it has become something of an insult, i.e. “douchebag”, so this morning, when someone was referred to as a douche and another person used the word “doucher” to describe “more of a douche”, the idea of discussing etymology seemed destined.

Back to bloem. A few weeks ago I decided to get serious about making curry. I asked my wife if she had a recipe, and she pulls out Vegetarisch Koken, her vegetarian cookbook (see how easy it looks?). I’m reading through the recipe for curry van rode bonen (curry with red beans), translating ingredients (measures took some guesswork on both our parts). Laurierblad is bay leaf, okay, bay laurel. Chilipoeder, kurkuma, koriander, komijn, kardamomen, I’m doing fine. Teentjes knoflook required some help, cloves of garlic, but once you understand that a clove of galic looks like a little toe it makes some sense. I was stuck on bloem. What kind of flower? Then I had the most delightful discovery. There are homophones in Flemish (I knew her and hair were both haar) that are the same as English. Bloem is both flower and flour. How cool.

The world of puns in Flemish has thrown its doors open to me. Last week, my nephew posted a photo of a group of his colleagues. They study archeology, and call their group Alfa. The women had just put out a calender (Alfa’s Naaktkalender, figure that one out) so this photo was of the guys, sitting at a bar, naked. He called them the Alpha males (alpha mannen), so I said “graven die”, as I often say “dig that” in English. It worked, humour translated properly.

The sounds of the spoken word are fascinating, I know people who honestly cannot understand a person speaking with an accent (my last wife couldn’t follow BBC, friends in California can’t understand Brooklynites)  but I love them. When I hear about the various accents in Belgium I find it amusing, you would think that geography and population density would homogenize the language of such a small group.

It’s difficult communicating on the internet at times, with no source of inflection or facial expression. Sometimes people take things the wrong way, and when it’s something they’re sensitive about (the most likely items to be taken the wrong way) tempers can flare. I try to remember that we each have different sensibilities, but I pop in with information so often that I manage to offend someone every week. I also tend towards dry humour, which only adds to the problem.

Words that are repeated too often can lose their meaning, but if I have offended anyone, I mean it quite sincerely when I say “I’m sorry”.

Aliens

My wife was not born in America. She had lived here for five years before I met her, and we are working our way through the system of obtaining a green card. The experience has been frustrating for her, and enlightening for me. I had never found the word “Alien” to be derogatory, but to her, it is. She remembers using the word for “foreigner” or “immigrant”, even when she lived in English speaking countries.  Aliens come from outer space and are usually green.

Although she has visited more countries than I, it is very possible that my travels have covered more miles. When most Americans are asked where they are from, they will respond with a city or state. I usually say “America”. My lack of a strong identity of origin has fed my nationalistic pride. With that, I have always found the need to hyphenate nationality as, well, silly. My previous wife’s first words to me were “You need to know two things about me. I’m Sicilian, and I smoke”. She had never left America, her parents had both been born in America, but she felt she was Sicilian, not even Sicilian-American. We have a friend from Rhodesia, her parents were from Scotland and she has white skin and red hair, no one would ever call her an African-American.

A couple of conversations converged to bring today’s topic to the page. One was the flak over Mattel’s dolls of the world collection. Not the entire collection, just “Mexico Barbie”. Apparently some people take an impossibly proportioned fantasy totem seriously as an international ambassador. From what I have been able to find out, the people who have found the doll insulting to their heritage have no idea of what their heritage consists of. They are “Mexican-Americans” who have never been to Mexico. They wish to identify with a culture which they know nothing about. People who actually live in Mexico find the doll to be quite appropriate.

Another conversation was with a black friend. He mentioned that the Gadsden Flag was being banned in New Rochelle, because it was “offensive” and a “symbol of the TEA party”. The flag, familiar to all Americans as a symbol of the revolutionary war, has been adopted by the TEA party, but has also been used by the U.S. Navy and the Marine Corps since 1775. It brought to my mind the issues in America about the “Stars and Bars” or Confederate flag. To many, the flag represents rebellion, and/or pride in Southern heritage. But other groups find it symbolic of the civil war, which they feel is symbolic of slavery, which of course is symbolic of racism, so people who display the Stars and Bars are racists, even if they happen to be black. This took us into a deeper conversation about racial terms, and he pointed out that no one from Egypt would want to be called an African American. It should also be noted that as a black person, memories of Africa would include being captured by other Africans and sold to slave traders. Maybe there’s a reason that although they tend to venerate the continent, very few recall which country was their origin. This brought to mind comments by Dr. Bill Cosby, who started his career reminiscing about growing up in Philadelphia but is now not well loved in the black community due to his portrayal of the “unattainable” status of the Huxtable family.

I knew a woman in the Air Force, who suddenly became Irish in March. She was from Savannah GA, where St. Patrick’s day brings out the Irish in everyone. A little research reveals there are nine times as many people of Irish heritage in the United States as in all of Ireland. There  are more people of Polish descent in Detroit than in Warsaw. America is a land of immigrants, I grew up with the term “melting pot”, because we were supposed to see ourselves as Americans, different cultures all contributing to the American culture. then the hyphenating began, and we became a nation of differences. A nation of Aliens. Alien nation begets Alienation. How easy it is to make people distrust a country that they do not feel they belong to?

Recently a meteorite was found that may have originated on Mercury, others have been identified as being of Martian origin. Some meteorites have contained evidence of life. Perhaps life on Earth originated from, or at least was catalyzed by, alien sources. In that case, would we all be aliens? It would fit the current opinions that we don’t belong here, that we are damaging the planet. I’m wondering what extradition treaties will come into play.

I’m considering moving someplace smaller. Belgium. Fewer occupants than Manhattan. Three languages (I speak one fluently, one I studied long ago and can survive around, the third I’m learning now). Wonderful beers, high carbohydrate diets (frites, waffles, cheeses, and chocolates), and an immigration policy much less complex than America. Probably shortly after we get my wife’s “permanent” green card. Then I will have another perspective on aliens.

 

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