Thursday, September 20, 2007

It's So Hard Being Japanese

Recently, the Kansai passport renewal office accidentally canceled someone's unexpired US visa in the process of voiding her expired passport. As she was set to travel shortly thereafter, the passport office called the consulate asking if we couldn't issue her a replacement visa a little quicker than routine. Luckily, we were able to accommodate her, and she got her visa in time for her flight. I can't say I thought much of it. These things happen.

The next day, a huge box of fancy ricecrackers appeared on the lunch table. The FSNs explained that the head of the passport office had personally come to the consulate to apologize for his section's grave error, offering the ricecrackers as a hopelessly inadequate token of his profound remorse. He deeply regretted that I'd been unavailable, but had left his card should I wish to call him back in and allow him the honor of scraping and bowing in my actual presence. Deeming the high quality of the ricecrackers to be evidence of his sincere contrition, I told the FSNs that likely wouldn't be necessary.

Five minutes later, another of our FSNs walked in, nervously shifting a package under his arm. Turned out that the head of the passport office also happened to be his wife's uncle, and so had felt compelled to go the FSN's house and personally apologize to him as well. "Ricecrackers?" I asked hopefully. "No, youkan." He held the box out in front of him, embarrassed. "Would you like some? I'm not really such a fan."

I suspect this may obligate us to add the passport office to our list of year end gratuity receivers, but I'll let the FSNs work out that particular social intricacy.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Fuzzy Math

So, now we're going from 2 prints required for a visa application, to 10 prints required for a visa application. I can imagine the conversation that led to this decision: "Hey, if two prints makes us secure, TEN prints will make us FIVE TIMES as secure!" "Yeah, yeah -- that's good! Constituents love security!"

So, does fingerprinting visa applicants make us more secure? Hard to say. 'Security' is one of those words that is used to mean so many things, it ends up meaning nothing. Same with 'terrorism'. You have to work to really pin down what the person is trying to signify. Just how would you go about quantifying security? When is one able to say, "Yes, I am, in fact, secure."? I can say that fingerprinting applicants is an excellent way to catch visa fraud. But I'm not so sure that 10 prints instead of 2 prints will make catching visa fraud 5 times as likely.

Retinal scans, however... that's where the REAL money is. Write your congressmen.