Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Rock and Ice Feature...

Newest feature in the current issue of Rock and Ice Magazine, my interview w/ John Bachar from 2008... Bachar was a hero of mine and an inspiration. I was honored to get to meet him and spend a bit of time with him. An amazing individual for sure...

Monday, November 26, 2012

Qelemes III, Ojai Quarterly Magazine

Latest feature in Ojai Quarterly, Part III of a three part series on a solo backpack into the Sespe Wilderness this last spring... New design team, enjoying the new look of this regional mag... Nice to be able to contribute to a local publication in my hometown...

Past Embraces...Photographs define me...

How do we fit into our pasts? Pictures as puzzle pieces, creating distant connections from blurred edges tinged with slipped emotion. Suddenly thrust back into the present moment. Holidays, new pets, a visit from an old friend or relative, a vacation, a new car. Somehow I was always the dirty faced kid amazingly caught for a split second of non-motion. The skateboards, the Kiss albums, that freezing first trip to the snow...
Disjointed moments stolen from the bowels of time, the insatiable monster long since swallowed... As we age trapped in bodies that still associate with the fleeting moments long past, the memories and feelings of the moment refreshed.
Stranger still are the connections to the present and the impossibly slow and hidden junctions fused to create personalities, expressions, moments, experiences, choices caught that hinted at today.
The books on the shelf behind my grandfather, the golfish Fang next to the globe in bumpy relief I would spin for hours as a five year old, slamming my finger down in new unknnown places I wished I could be.
Stories within stories. Our own isolations shared. We are made whole again. Somehow through a collective viewing, with someone new to the family, through the hours spent scanning the forgotten slides by my father... Through this collective sharing the glue is made strong again, ruffled edges, dirty faces, faded colors vivid.
The trip to Yosemite at age 8 that changed my life forever... The place that defined me, where I eventually realized who I was when I returned at 18 and then again and again and again...
The music, the trips, the skateboarding, my bike, the constant motion, the dirtbag... the one that lived for the moment...
No longer any sense of aversion to the slipped past in favor of the present... An embracing, an appreciation, an honoring in the sharing and the memories. A blessing that it can still be shared with those I love, while we live.
Thank you.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Trout Creek Climbing and Public Process

Jessie Bernier gearing up to cruise another classic Trout Creek 5.11
Not often do we get to witness the chapters that have been written through time that have created and allowed for the continued enjoyment of a cherished area for recreation. As a diehard traditional crack addict, a place like Trout Creek just 2.5 hours from home, is truly a gift. A metamorphic jewel aerated with laser cut splitters lording over a landscape of nubbin busting tendon popping Smith Rocks and sketchy snow slogs of Mt. Jefferson and Hood. For my gas money and time these locales are best viewed in the rear view mirror and from the aerie of Trout Creek. And the golden eagles think so too...

Currently, through the collective wisdom concerned user groups including the public land managing agency the BLM, The Friends of Trout Creek, The Crag Law Center, The Access Fund and concerned climbers a compromise is in place to allow for climbing outside of nesting from Feb 1 to Aug 1... It was nice to be part of the process and see the dedication and interest on many different fronts that allowed for the negotiation and the compromise... Stewardship, communication, compromise...

Not easy, not without its bumps, not perfect. I read letters between the Prineville BLM, Crag Law Center, Friends of Trout Creek, the Access Fund, local climbers, local newspaper articles etc... Following protocols or guidelines or local ethics, being heard, being understood, compromising, being good stewards with trail usage and private property issues, being accountable and above the radar and staying informed takes a lot of work as a climber that just wants to recreate on public land...

Signed letter stating that Alternative 2 has been adopted by the BLM and thanking me for my involvement in the process...

So saying thanks to all the involved and dedicated folks that have kept climbing alive here at Trout Creek. A lot of work, time, energy, money have gone into this... I am so psyched to still get to climb here even if it is just half the year... I hope the golden eagles appreciate it too...

Friday, November 9, 2012

Addition problem: Employers + Criminal Background Check... Does this = Zero Civil Liberties for Employees?

Alright, did some research... First off, I am no lawyer and these are but personal musings, but in case you are interested I also compiled a bit of internet info- on background checks and the companies that offer them here int the US...

Currently they are legal (in most case you sign the form granting your employer the authority). In many cases they can give you a date to sign or find yourself unemployed... An expiration date if you will... This document to be signed can be handed to you as a condition of employment or after some time working there.

I had no idea how thorough background checks were- or can be... What the hell ever happened to civil liberties, personal privacy? In the digital age it seems nearly everything can be tracked and dug up, or you can pay someone to do it for you to sidestep responsibility for potentially erroneous results... A phone call to BOLI (Bureau of Labor and Industries) confirmed that companies have a legal right to require this and that as far as the BOLI rep knew the companies doing the checking had no federal oversight.

They also use background to screen prospective hires as well and there are of course  horror stories of guys who couldn't get hired for years because of mis-information on a report - or imagine the hypothetical case above - Your odds of getting hired go way down if you are challenged financially...

So there are levels of background checks... Some companies are very aggressive... They need your permission in writing to conduct these balls to the wall gonzo searches... One in this situation might find themselves asking... "Am I dealing with top secret government documents and didn't even know it?" When they could be doing something as benign as washing cars...

via http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/right+to+privacy right to privacy noun constitutional right to privacy, inalienable right to secretiveness, prerogative in favor of privacy, privilege in favor of privacy, right to privacy, right to solitude
Associated concepts: civil liberties, genetic privacy, internet privacy, medical privacy, political privacy, privacy from governmental interference

Privacy Rights Clearinghouse offers general info on checks and what they do/look for... Apparently they can interview your neighbors, check out Facebook accounts and read personal blogs, see if you pay your bills regularly - because you will pose a risk if bills aren't paid on time... This makes it rough for many people in this country... 

A quick hypothetical... You are divorced a few years and find you are drowning in inherited credit card debt from the failed marriage... More than half the $ of the Ccards are paid off but because of the economy, a gap in employment, your current wage, you feel that Chapter 7 is the best way. Filing takes $ ($350 minimum with a paralegal, over $1000 with a lawyer) and a minimum of three months for the process, not to mention all the time getting tax records, taking an online bankruptcy courses etc...

Most of the info from background checks is public record anyway - but the scores of companies that have cropped up to do this work need no licensing nor do they have federal oversight... These companies rake in millions yearly... These companies often make mistakes, use hearsay, unverified info...

As a teacher/tutor of kids I would get fingerprinted all the time- but that was through the state/federal agencies so it made sense to me... Also upon hiring I give employers my written consent to check references, criminal records and have even given the right to look at my credit history... Why do they need so much more reach? To protect themselves and their assets? 

The National Consumer Law Center filed an extensive report on this new industry of background check agencies offers checks and some of the inherent flaws. It reflects some the same wording/concern that I was feeling - that you are not innocent until proven guilty in this paradigm of checks and that it allows for a lack of accountability of the employer because they can say the outside agency is at fault for faulty info...  This report via NCLC states that the info gathered is often incorrect, mismatched, pulled from outdated data bases etc... "Criminal background checking is big business, and ensuring accurate and complete information reduces profits."

Anyway it is standard practice and no matter how shocking it may be to me - it is what it is... and it is legal... And dammit, I haven't voted for a few years and as the adage goes - if you don't vote you can't complain- I guess I have no one to blame but myself...

I am considering signing because I am told I will have access to the file once I do... Curious what they would have in it...

The process for refuting info contained in a person file appears to be a bit arduous... a whole different beast. My personal opinion is that the way the info is gathered and the level to which they can dig is questionable and the way it is applied could easily be contsrued as discriminatory and profiling... but this is just me ranting and rambling... Now I have to just figure out what state I am registered to vote in and get that back online...


Since September 11, 2001, there's been an explosion in criminal background checks for job applicants by employers, yet many reports are riddled with errors. An industry-wide lack of accountability and incentives to cut corners mean that tens of millions of workers may pay for these third-party errors with their jobs while employers waste money and miss out on hiring qualified employees.

This report investigates common poor practices and mistakes with recommendations for solutions and the role of federal agencies and state government in holding background screening companies accountable for accurate work. It is essential that the Wild West of employment screening be reined in so consumers are not guilty until proven innocent.

A high percentage of adults living in the United States are affected.

arrow About 93% of employers conduct criminal background checks on some applicants, while 73% of employers conduct checks on all applicants, according to a 2010 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management.
arrow  Nearly 1 in 4 adults (an estimated 65 million people) in the U.S. have a criminal record.
arrow  Many additional people without a criminal record are wrongly tagged as having a record

A high percentage of adults living in the United States are affected.

arrow About 93% of employers conduct criminal background checks on some applicants, while 73% of employers conduct checks on all applicants, according to a 2010 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management.
arrow  Nearly 1 in 4 adults (an estimated 65 million people) in the U.S. have a criminal record.
arrow  Many additional people without a criminal record are wrongly tagged as having a record.

The problems are industry-wide.

There are no licensing requirements for criminal background agencies.
 Anyone with a computer and access to records can start a business; the total number of companies is unknown.
There is no central system for registration for background checking companies. A consumer can't regularly order his or her own report to review for errors as there is no central source to find and request a copy.

Many companies attempt to skirt the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) by subcontracting work to other vendors or disclaiming responsibility.
Employers often fail to comply with the FCRA. This makes it difficult to know whether consumers were denied employment due to a background check report.

Executive Summary of report...
EXECutiVE summAry
Since 2007, the United States has experienced the worst unemployment rates since the Great Depression. Adding to this job crisis, criminal background checking companies are making it even more difficult for workers to obtain employment. Approximately ninety-three percent of employers conduct criminal background checks for some poten- tial applicants, and seventy-three percent of employers conduct criminal background checks for all potential applicants. The widespread dissemination of criminal record his- tories limits employment opportunities for an estimated sixty-five million adults (nearly one in four adults) in the United States who have some sort of criminal record.
Moreover, criminal background checks often contain incorrect information or sealed information. Samuel M. Jackson was allegedly denied employment after a prospective employer ran an InfoTrack background check. InfoTrack reported a rape conviction from 1987—when Mr. Jackson was four years old. The rape conviction actually belonged to fifty-eight-year-old male named Samuel L. Jackson from Virginia, who was convicted of rape in November 18, 1987. That Samuel Jackson was incarcerated at the time the InfoTrack report was run.
Whether these checks should be used for employment screening is a matter of public debate. However, there is little debate that if these records are to be used, they must be accurate.
Despite its promotion as a public safety service, the sale of criminal background reports has become a big business generating billions of dollars in revenue. The Internet has facilitated the emergence of scores of online background screening companies, with many claiming instant access to millions of databases.
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), background checking agencies are required to maintain procedures to ensure the accuracy of information they report about consumer. Unfortunately, the FCRA, as currently interpreted and enforced, fails to adequately protect consumers when it comes to employment screening. Even applicants who successfully remove errors from their background check are frequently denied employment.
Despite the importance of the accuracy of criminal background reports, evidence indi- cates that professional background screening companies routinely make mistakes with grave consequences for job seekers.
This report describes a number of ways in which background screening companies make mistakes that greatly affect a consumer’s ability to find employment. Although the mistakes discussed in this report are not inclusive of all errors found on background checks, attorneys and community organizations that work with consumers with faulty background reports state that they repeatedly see background reports that:
• Mismatch the subject of the report with another person; • Reveal sealed or expunged information;
©2012 national Consumer law Center www.nclc.org broken records 3• Omit information about how the case was disposed or resolved; • Contain misleading information; and • Mischaracterize the seriousness of the offense reported.
Many of these errors can be attributed to common practices by background screening companies, such as:
• Obtaining information through purchase of bulk records, but then failing to rou- tinely update the database;
• Failing to verify information obtained through subcontractors and other faulty sources;
• Utilizing unsophisticated matching criteria; • Failing to utilize all available information to prevent a false positive match; and • Lack of understanding about state specific criminal justice procedures.
Even the National Association of Professional Background Screeners agrees there are some simple procedures that background checking companies can take to enhance the quality of their information. Unfortunately, few companies actually are willing to commit to even the limited recommendations of their own trade association. Criminal background checking is big business, and ensuring accurate and complete information reduces profits.
Based upon the issues identified in this report, we recommend that the Consumer Finan- cial Protection Bureau (CFPB) use its rulemaking authority under the Fair Credit Report- ing Act to:
• Require mandatory measures to ensure greater accuracy.
• Define how long an employer has to wait in between sending an initial notice and taking an adverse action, i.e., rejecting an applicant or terminating an employee.
• Require registration of consumer reporting agencies. The Federal Trade Commission should use its FCRA enforcement authority to:
• Investigate major commercial background screening companies for common FCRA violations.
• Investigate major, nationwide employers for compliance with FCRA requirements imposed on users of consumer reports for employment purposes.
Finally, as the source of most of the data reported by background screening agencies, states have a huge role to play in ensuring the accuracy of criminal background checks. States should that ensure that state repositories, counties, and other public records sources:
• Require companies that have subscriptions to receive information by bulk dissem- ination from court databases to have some procedure for ensuring that sealed and expunged records are promptly deleted and ensure that dispositions are promptly reported.
broken records ©2012 national Consumer law Center www.nclc.org
• Audit companies that purchase bulk data to ensure that they are removing sealed and expunged data and, if a company fails such an audit, revoke its privilege to receive bulk data.
With the explosive growth of this industry, it is essential that the “Wild West” of employment screening be reined in so that consumers are not guilty until proven inno- cent. Currently, lack of accountability and incentives to cut corners to save money mean that consumers pay for inaccurate information with their jobs and, thus, their families’ livelihood.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Vote! A revolution of one...

This morning Oregon Public Broadcasting reported that last night a man riding a bicycle threw a Molotov cocktail at a Portland police cruiser. He was apparently arrested seconds later and the cop car survived unscathed…

Sitting in the eye of your own hurricane it becomes easier to muse on just how strange the world is becoming… I was continuing on my calculated tack of eking out a little more time by selling off assets and reinvesting in more practical items for the long haul. Less sure of what the long haul may look like and not wishing to idly and invite depression, I proposed an adventure to escape the rainy doldrums of Portland. Let’s test out the ’99 Saturn wagon I had just acquired by selling off my gas-gulping truck… A road trip with my partner was just what we both needed.

Maureen proposed Olympia, just two hours north where one our favorite bands, Sassparilla, were playing at some no doubt divey bar. Neither of us had been to the capital of next door. As we drove I 5 Maureen read aloud candidate profiles, Oregon ballot measures, diligently filled in the bubbles making me feel more lost in my hurricane of financial and vocational woes. My mail in ballot had not arrived in So Cal, had not been forwarded…

It was drizzling beneath gunmetal gray skies in Olympia and it felt like we were driving through a washed out watercolor. We passed the capital on our way to our motel. The legislative building looked quite a bit like the capitol in DC. This capitol is the tallest self-supporting masonry dome in the US at 287 feet. It spoke of a slipping era of Doric, Corinthian and granite-blocked opulence. The downtown had yet to fall prey to serious attempts at urban renewal and felt strangely 1970’s ish.

We checked in to the hotel and I was instantly convinced the new tires would be gone by morning and the Saturn up on blocks so I parked at the front door beneath the brightest lights. We carried our extra clothes up the stained carpeted stairs past the aged security guard and questioned the wisdom of booking online, sight unseen… The ceiling had massive spackle marks and the walls had bare spots where it was obvious large framed pictures had recently been… Outside was a view of a back stairwell, the landing decorated with 100 cigarette butts. The room’s safe was broken.

We threw caution to the wind and left the computer in the room and headed to Capitol Lake for a stroll. Blustery, rainy… Angular dirty buildings on the grided streets, views of the port and horse skeleton-like cranes that seemed frozen in the fading light of dusk. Two bald men walked their dachshund and a black lycra clad woman jogged past. A homeless woman wrapped in a blanket strolled by.

Pre and post concert we wandered 4th avenue - past sleeping homeless, leopard mini-skirts, used book stores that smelled of rotting vellum and counter-culture decay, a puking man who’s girlfriend rubbed his back. The vibe was very different from Portland making us feel tragically unhip. A bit like dreadlocked Arcata but with a grungier Seattle edge. Steampunk meets hippie post-apocalyptic hipster pirate rocker. Olympia seemed on the edge, a glimpse of where the world was likely headed in the wake of our Franken-hurricanes, super pacs and urbanity …Poorer, dirtier, more ambivalent and hedonistic, puking in the dirty gutters of yesterday’s Haight-Ashbury and bedfellows with H. S. Thompson and Bukowski.

For breakfast we hit up Dargan’s. It was packed. It was 11 and we waited half an hour for our Americano and soy mocha because they gave precedence those ordering Brass Monkey’s… Orange Juice with Olde English 800. As I ate my aptly named Volcano omelet with its fried jalapenos I wanted to Shazam the music that assaulted us like a tsunami through the speakers that seemed to have ripped cones to add to the grungy bass-laden atmosphere but my phone had died. No doubt the bastard child of a Radiohead/Nirvana tryst. The Wizard of Oz décor reminded that we definitely were not in Judy Garland’s Kansas anymore…

Leaves fell; amber beer was sipped from pint glasses by bandana slung corsairs, refugee roadies from a Guns and Roses tour. Scarecrowed scruffy rockers sipped espressos while their tiny designer dogs peaking out of slung messenger bags. I actually looked forward to returning to Portland, as short-lived as that feeling may be. Maureen and I talked of escaping and becoming baristas in a Mallorcan café…

Smooth sailing home over the border. Maureen dropped her ballot off at the Beaverton library along with others stuffing their hopes and dreams in a slotted wastebasket that might just morph into political sublimity. Doing some challenging calculations we figured out the Saturn got 36.5 mpg. Maybe there is still hope circumventing Thunderdome… By god I felt compelled to vote more than ever. Success. Another rejuvenating road trip.

 all images and writing ©Bennett Barthelemy