Thursday, April 30, 2009

Passport to Paranoia

Today I finally broke down and applied for a passport, not to go overseas but so that I would be allowed back in the US after visiting family in Canada. I've always thought of myself as being part Canadian. My maternal grandfather was from Canada, my paternal grandmother was Canadian and I married a Canadian. Half the family lives in Canada. That's a figurative half, not a numerical half. I've never actually added up the total living relatives on each side of the border because the border wasn't really important to me (or them). They're just family.

When I was working at my first job after high school I used to go to a barber whose shop was just barely in the US by the Dundee crossing in NNY. It was past the US Customs office. I'd get my haircut and pull up by the Customs on my way back past. The agent would look out the glass door, I'd point to my fresh haircut and he'd wave me through.

When I was dating my future wife I crossed into Quebec so often I got to know most of the border agents on both sides at the two crossings I used to get to Huntingdon. When I stopped they'd ask if I had any liquor or cigarettes then we'd often have a chat. Just small talk like you'd have with a neighbor you met on the street.

But as of June 1st if I want to visit relatives across the imaginary line that is the US/Canadian border I need a passport. The border agents that scrutinize my newly minted documents are wearing sidearms and there is no small talk.

It is not as if there are potentially dangerous people only on the Canadian side of the border and we have to do this to keep them out. There are dangerous people on both sides of the border (think Timothy McVeigh). At one point in our past history some of my own US ancestors were dangerous from the Canadian point of view. One of my grandfathers was a member of "the Hunters", a group that decided in 1838 to "liberate" Canada in a fiasco known as The Battle of the Windmill. Fortunately for me my grandfather missed the train to join the battle or I might never have been born.

Whenever I complain about the nuisance of the new rules I'm reminded that "9/11 changed everything" to which I respond 'Only in the minds of those who choose to see it that way'. The 9/11 attackers all had passports and visas. They did not come from Canada. Those responsible for our security knew they were in the US and knew they were dangerous people, but didn't stop them. I can't see how making all the non-dangerous people get passports makes us any more secure. It is nothing more than a bandaid on our paranoia.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


On Tuesday I'm having my gall bladder removed. It is only functioning at 29%, well below the 35-40% that is considered minimal. It's "Minor surgery" they tell me. "No big deal". Then they get into the questions. They want to know every pill you are taking. Not just the prescriptions but even vitamin pills, what dosage and what time of day you take them. They want your total medical history and then they ask if you have a living will. A will? And then they ask if you turn into a human vegetable who do you authorize to pull the plug. Okay, they don't really phrase it that way, what they asked was "If you become incapacitated, who do you authorize to make decisions for you?". Same thing but less blunt and still not very reassuring for no big deal minor surgery. It is 'ambulatory' surgery, in the hospital in the morning, out in the afternoon. I'll be glad when it is over.