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Talk about luxury: I had Friday night off and I went out to dinner with my husband! Don't get me wrong, I have a great job. But, for the most part, on Friday nights the "On the Record" staff eats dinner from paper bags, or paper plates, or Chinese paper boxes, or paper pizza boxes with plastic utensils. So ceramic plates, silverware and dinner with a spouse is a luxury. I had planned to take off the two preceding Friday nights, but had not — so I jumped on the chance to take Friday night off.

On Friday I wrote in www.gretawire.com about my experience going through security at NIH. We were at NIH to work on a project for our show. Due to language barriers, my colleagues and I had a bit of a problem understanding several of the people protecting this government facility. This is a very important government facility — there are many very sick people there, lots of employees and lots of research in labs. I wrote about the language problems with security on Friday because I wondered if I was wrong in my opinion and invited your e-mails. I have posted a bunch below. Usually I pick e-mails randomly, but this time I tried to find in my inbox someone who disagreed with me so that we could have more discussion in the blog... I could find no one. I have posted a bunch of your e-mails to give you an idea of how strongly people feel about this issue.

Now, having read the e-mails from you, I am taking it one step further and asking if you think you should e-mail your congressman or senator? Is this an important enough issue to you? Do you think language issues are only annoying and not a security risk? Or do you have genuine concerns about our security when language is a barrier, big or small?

Also, I want your opinion about another topic — read the wire story I posted below (after the e-mails) about the sex offender — now alderman — in Kansas. The offense occurred in 1992 — should he still be punished ? If you agreed with him politically, would you vote for him or not? I think the article once again shows how important the facts are. Facts make a big difference. I don't know your opinion (yet) on this, but I do know what your opinion would be if this happened last week and the sexual offense was with a 6 year old. Note that the article says "she says" she was 18 — not that he said she said she was eighteen. I have no idea if her age was obvious from her appearance or not, which would make a big difference to me. I am not even sure how I feel about this, but I do know that the particular facts are important to forming my opinion.

Now for some e-mails:

E-mail No. 1

Greta, I was most upset about what happened with the non-English speaking people you had to put up with. I agree with everything you said. In fact, I was so upset, that I contacted my congressman, Dennis Moore. I will let you know if I get a reply.
Your Kansas Fan,
Karen Clark

E-mail No. 2

Dear Greta,
I agree completely with your viewpoint.
I'm in San Antonio and hear multi-lingual people, everywhere.
I hope the people who do security at least have a security check before being hired. I really feel all should speak English, so that we know they understand what we are asking — usually for help!
When will all Americans get on the same page?!
Gloria Bishop
San Antonio, TX

E-mail No. 3

I couldn't agree with you more about the people with security positions being required to have a command of the English language. Why do people get so upset when some of us want English to be our official language? It should go without saying, but then, a lot of things should go without saying.
Best
Jan Queen
Flat Rock, MI

E-mail No. 4

Greta,
I agree with you. How can the government do adequate background checks on people from Third World countries? One would guess it is difficult if not impossible to get background information from their countries of origin versus doing background checks on people born in the U.S.
Also I would imagine some agencies in Washington do not have the budget to do as thorough checks as say the CIA or the FBI.
Have a great Independence Day!
Barbara Clark
The Woodlands, TX

E-mail No. 5

OF COURSE you're not wrong! It's frustrating enough that you can't understand someone on a "help desk" whose trying to solve your computer problem, or whatever "customer service" issue you might have, but based on what you said, since they can't understand English, ANYONE could slip past these seemingly "nice" people...their intelligence level is basically non-existent if they can't comprehend what's going on because of their inability to understand the language of our land! VERY SCARY situation you encountered. The United States government should be ashamed of themselves for contracting such a low level security company such as this!
Sheryl W.
Kingwood, TX

E-mail No. 6

I totally agree with your thoughts concerning English and security. In fact, I get very annoyed in the department stores, grocery stores, etc., with people that I can not understand and they can not understand me. The same with many telephone calls — I simply tell them I can not understand them and hang up.
Our government must get busy and insist that everyone that lives and works in the U.S. must speak English; otherwise, it is going to be the other way around, we will have to speak and understand the foreigners in their language in order to be able to survive in our own U.S. of A.
Keep up the good work.
ER
Highlands, TX

E-mail No. 7

Greta,
I totally agree with you that ALL Security personnel must speak English fluently. I am an ex-pat living in Colombia, when I go to The U.S. Embassy, I deal with fluent English Bilingual speakers only. The other side of the entrance where the Colombians must go are dealt with by Bilingual staff also. If that is the case in Colombia where the number of English speakers is a very low percentage and they can find good level English speakers there is NO reason why this is allowed to happen in the USA.
I am not very sensitive about language indicating member of the team but you do have an excellent point. Incidentally, I taught English for the National Ministry of Ed and also State Education departments.
Bill Turley
Somondoco, Boyaca

E-mail No. 8

Greta,
You are so right. There is nothing as frustrating (and in your case, downright dangerous) when it comes to communicating and not being able to.
When it comes down to a "Secured Government Installation" on U.S. soil, that is a huge problem and should be dealt with immediately.
It should not be a political problem nor should it be a "cost effective" situation either.
However, I could hear it now; "These are jobs Americans don't want."
Richard Jones
Lugoff, SC

E-mail No. 9

Dear Greta,
I am in total agreement with you regarding security personnel having a strong command of the English language... I also had an experience while going through immigrations (the legal way). I am a Canadian citizen and a permanent resident of the United States. While on a phone call one day to an immigrations officer, I had a very difficult time understanding the officer... I'm not sure what accent I was hearing but it was definitely sounding like Middle East... sort of a weird experience... I really would have like to have received important instructions and info from an English speaking person that I could fully understand. I was really not even sure if I heard the instructions properly...
It certainly gave me a very strange and "unnerving" feeling to say the least!
Sincerely,
Vicki Roozen

E-mail No. 10

Greta,
I wish I could say I am stunned by the difficulty you had getting into the NIH because of the non-English speaking people. Unfortunately I’m not. It is terrifying; it makes you wonder about our security in all matters of importance. I am sure that somewhere, somehow there is a quota that must be met as to how many people of how many different ethnicities must be hired. If they speak English great, if they don’t, heaven forbid complaining because it will surely offend someone somewhere. The scariest part of all is one of their own ever wanted to get in for the wrong reason look how easy it would be. If no one in your group understood what they were saying, how many other people can? If they cannot tell the difference between a man and a woman on a driver’s license then God help us. Today, after the London scare, it just amplifies my fear of all things security related. I will be really interested to hear how things progressed after you got inside.
Sincerely,
Rhonda Losekamp
Milford, OH

Finally, for some articles that caught my attention (especially the second one about the registered sex offender — I asked you a question about it and I am curious as to your response.)

IPhone frenzy not an option for some parts of the country
By ROBERT IMRIE, Associated Press Writer

WAUSAU, Wis. (AP) — For 21-year-old Kelsy Martin, two words — "incredibly disappointed" — sum up how she feels about living in an area where the new iPhone can't be used.

AT&T Inc. is the phone's exclusive carrier, but the company's wireless network only covers eastern Wisconsin and the Madison area in the southern part of the state, leaving people like Martin deprived.

"I do want one," she said. "I have nearly every other Apple product that I can get my hands on. IPhone is just all of them put together. Being in Wausau, it is just not possible. All my friends are all quite disappointed."

Apple Inc.'s newest gadget combines the functions of a cell phone, iPod media player and wireless Web browser. People camped out at Apple and AT&T stores in most parts of the country in advance of the iPhone debut Friday.

But not where Martin lives. Or in Vermont, which also has no service. Coverage is limited in other states, too, like the Dakotas and Alaska, said Chris Bauer, an AT&T spokesman for Wisconsin.

Fletcher Cook, another AT&T spokesman, said the network that's used by the iPhone — billed by Apple as the most user-friendly smart phone ever — reaches roughly 270 million out of the 300 million people living in the United States. The network is available in more than 13,000 cities and towns and in areas along 40,000 miles of highways.

Cook said AT&T is continually expanding the network, but there was no timeframe for when it would be available for more of Wisconsin.

AT&T customers can roam on other networks of other carriers if they leave their service area, but new customers must live in communities AT&T serves, he said.

Martin, who will be a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison this fall, is a loyal Apple customer. She owns a MacBook laptop and an iPod Nano.

She only learned a couple of months ago about the coverage problem for the iPhone in Wausau, about 140 miles north of Madison.

"The ads for it started in January so immediately I wanted one," Martin said. "I was drawn to it."

She wasn't fazed by the gizmo's price tag: $499 for a 4-gigabyte model and $599 for an 8-gigabyte version, on top of a minimum $59.99-a-month two-year service plan with AT&T.

Martin, a communication arts major, said she hopes to be in Minneapolis by this time next year and then she'll buy an iPhone.

"It is going to be tough, especially seeing people at Madison. I am sure a lot of my friends will have them. I am going to want to steal it, or at least test it out," she said, laughing.

On the Net:
AT&T: www.att.com

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

• Edwardsville council member a registered sex offender in Wis.

EDWARDSVILLE, Kan. (AP) — A suburban Kansas City alderman says he'll stay in office and even run for re-election despite a new revelation that he's a registered sex offender in Wisconsin.

Edwardsville Councilman Patrick Isenhour says he decided not to reveal his criminal past because it happened so long ago and has no bearing on the person he is today.

The 38-year-old Isenhour was convicted in 1992 for having sex with a minor in Waukesha County. Isenhour was 21 when he had sex with a girl who said she was 18 or 19. She was actually 15. He spent six months in a work release program and served two years probation.

His name on the Wisconsin registry came to light this week, when an Edwardsville resident called police. State law in Kansas requires that an offender moving in from another state register there.

Isenhour says it's "absolutely pathetic that people don't have anything better to do with their time."

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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