- The Washington Times - Friday, January 10, 2003

The omni-incompetent INS

I read with interest Julia Duin's column on the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) ("Take a number," Op-Ed, Monday). After all, I am an attorney in Falls Church, and a substantial portion of my practice is in the area of immigration law.
The experience Miss Duin describes is, unfortunately, not the exception to the rule in dealing with the INS. What makes dealing with the INS so utterly frustrating is the fact that it is nearly impossible to communicate with this agency. Business visa applications are routinely returned with the request for additional information. The additional information requested has invariably been supplied with the original application, so I simply resubmit the information. However, valuable time is lost due to the incompetency of the INS in processing painstakingly prepared applications. Often, the result is that the foreign company sending a technician to the United States whose purpose is to train American workers in state-of-the-art technology decides to abort the process. Who loses? U.S. citizens who would have gained valuable skills and new job opportunities.
Based on my own experience, the INS performance has deteriorated since September 11. This is a tremendous problem from a national security standpoint, and it has a negative impact on our economy because well-qualified, temporary technical workers who come to work for subsidiaries of foreign companies are deterred from entry into the United States.
Thanks again for raising this issue, but I'm not holding my breath for any significant improvements in the system. Unfortunately, it may take another tragedy before our politicians are motivated to act.

Falls Church

Tolkien revisited

The article featuring critics of the popularity of the "Lord of the Rings" movies ("Teachers pan 'Ring' film," Nation, Jan. 2) seems to miss the point of the movies and the books themselves, misunderstand the person of J.R.R. Tolkien and, most seriously, misunderstand the appeal of his novels to the moviegoer of today.
Though I freely admit that Mr. Tolkien held the concept of a film adaptation of his books in some suspicion, this suspicion devolved from his innate feeling that the printed word could not be conveyed adequately in the film medium. The objections of his son and literary executor, Christopher, which were greatly overstated in the article, are based largely on his father's point that a novel as broad and immense in scope as "The Lord of the Rings" would be nearly impossible to convey on the screen. This is a legitimate objection, although I and others might disagree. I also admit that fans of J.R.R. Tolkien might have legitimate casting or editorial squabbles with the work of director Peter Jackson, and I strongly suspect that Mr. Jackson anticipated such frustrations. This, too, is fine and well within the purview of reasonable differences of opinion.
Where the article goes furthest off the track concerns the assumptions about the identities and backgrounds of modern Tolkien fans. While Mr. Tolkien did indeed become extremely popular among America's counterculture crowd in the '60s, he already had achieved significant popularity and critical acclaim when the works were published originally in the mid-'50s. Furthermore, his own literary and political opinions were anything but countercultural. Mr. Tolkien was a conservative Roman Catholic and an ardent monarchist. By his own admission, he despised cheap allegory. Also, while admitting that his writing had a certain applicability to current events, he strongly resisted anyone's attempts to impose their own allegorical interpretations upon his work.
Finally, the article does not discuss the issue that seems key to explaining the frustration many English professors, not necessarily those quoted in the article, express over "The Lord of the Rings." The issue to which I am referring is based on academic jealousy and hubris. The fact of the matter is this: Tolkien is famous for a popular piece of "fantasy fiction." Academicians manque seem to choose to forget that Tolkien was an Oxford philologist and literary scholar. He was what most professors of English aspire to be. In addition to his professional accomplishments, he managed to follow his dream: to create a true, legitimate mythology for England.
The movie renditions of "The Lord of the Rings" are not perfect. Nor are they everything the Tolkien aficionado might desire, but they do introduce to a new generation the wonder and the magic of Mr. Tolkien's worldview. For that, if for no other reason, Mr. Jackson and the rest of his team deserve commendation.

Waukesha, Wis.

The 'dirty little secret' about polygraph tests

"Interpreting a polygraph test" (Metropolitan, yesterday) only scratches the surface in explaining how polygraph tests are interpreted. The dirty little secret of the polygraph community is that the "test" depends on trickery, not science. The polygrapher exhorts the examinee to answer all questions truthfully, but secretly assumes that denials to certain questions called "control" questions will be less than truthful.
One commonly used control question is, "Did you ever lie to get out of trouble?" The polygrapher steers the examinee into a denial, warning that anyone who would do so would also commit a crime and then lie about it. But secretly, it is assumed that everyone, even those innocent in the matter under investigation, has lied to get out of trouble.
The polygrapher scores the test by comparing physiological reactions to these probable-lie control questions with reactions to relevant questions (e.g., "Did you shoot John?"). If the former reactions are greater, the examinee passes; if the latter are greater, he fails. This simplistic methodology has no grounding in the scientific method.
Polygraph tests also include irrelevant questions such as, "Is today Friday?" The polygrapher falsely explains that such questions provide a "baseline for truth," but in reality, they are not scored at all and merely serve as buffers between sets of relevant and control questions.
Investigators value the polygraph because naive and gullible examinees sometimes confess. But many truthful persons fail the "test." Perversely, the test is biased against the truthful because the more candidly one answers the control questions and consequently feels less stress when answering them the more likely one is to fail.
Conversely, liars can beat the test by augmenting their physiological reactions to the control questions. This can be done by constricting the anal sphincter muscle, biting the side of the tongue, or merely thinking exciting thoughts. Although polygraphers frequently claim they can detect such countermeasures, no polygrapher has ever demonstrated any ability to do so, and peer-reviewed research indicates that they cannot.

The Hague

Virile attacks on sterilization

The offer of $200 to drug users upon certification of their sterilization ("Sterilization group hit with charges of racism," Page 1, Wednesday) targets those least able to refuse: the most impoverished and desperate (and despised) members of our society.
There is a precedent here. Seventy years ago, the Nazis coined the term "life unworthy of life," a concept Robert Jay Lifton, in his book "The Nazi Doctors," noted was introduced by "coercive sterilization." There is no place in America for organizations that identify groups of people as unfit for parenthood and whose self-anointed mission is to see them sterilized.

Baron Edmond de Rothschild Chemical Dependency Institute
New York

I am a former crack cocaine user. The first thing I did when I found out I was pregnant was to seek help. There were no treatment centers for pregnant women where I lived, but I found a shelter for pregnant women where I attended Narcotics Anonymous meetings and stayed clean through my entire pregnancy.
Today I am a wonderful parent. While I am playing Monopoly with my children, I thank God I was never sterilized. We need to stimulate, not sterilize, an abuser's potential.

Executive director
Conextions Inc.
Guttenberg, N.J.

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