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June 1, 2005

“If you go dark, the world goes dark.”
Posted by Patrick at 09:54 AM *

Thomas Friedman, much abused on this weblog, has a good column in this morning’s Times, asking what we’re becoming and what we’ve become.

I worry that 20 years from now some eighth grader will be doing her National History Day project on how America’s reaction to 9/11 unintentionally led to an erosion of core elements of American identity. What sparks such dark thoughts on a trip from London to New Delhi?

In part it is the awful barriers that now surround the U.S. Embassy in London on Grosvenor Square. “They have these cages all around the embassy now, and these huge concrete blocks, and the whole message is: ‘Go away!’” said Kate Jones, a British literary agent who often walks by there. “That is how people think of America now, and it’s a really sad thing because that is not your country.” […]

In New Delhi, the Indian writer Gurcharan Das remarked to me that with each visit to the U.S. lately, he has been forced by border officials to explain why he is coming to America. They “make you feel so unwanted now,” said Mr. Das. America was a country “that was always reinventing itself,” he added, because it was a country that always welcomed “all kinds of oddballs” and had “this wonderful spirit of openness.” American openness has always been an inspiration for the whole world, he concluded. “If you go dark, the world goes dark.”

It’s easy to nitpick this sort of thing; a single fortress-like embassy, or a single increase in border-official scrutiny, doesn’t add up to a sea change in who we are. But even Friedman, normally an enthusiast for America, markets, capitalism, and the whole History Will Work Out For The Best worldview, can sense how all the little changes are adding up. As a constant world traveller, he can see how much the rest of the world’s attitude toward America has darkened.

What most Americans don’t yet get is that this isn’t the kind of overseas anti-Americanism they’ve seen on TV all their lives, angry slogans shouted by students, or radicals, or ethnic groups that happen to have had the misfortune to be on the wrong side of some American priority or other. Rather, the people Friedman’s citing are the educated, professional, middle-class types who, for generations now, have been benignly disposed to us; whose basic pro-Americanism has survived Vietnam, Nixon, our Latin American shenanigans, and worse. We’re losing those people. This is, quite literally, epochal. It’s how eras end.

Comments on "If you go dark, the world goes dark.":
#1 ::: Jack Womack ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 10:50 AM:

Just last week I needed to write up and provide what could once have passed as an old-style Soviet Official Invitation from HarperCollins for Terry Pratchett to provide to DHS folks in the UK, to facilitate his entry into the USA for BEA.

Think about that.

#2 ::: Steinn Sigurdsson ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 10:52 AM:

It is not just a single-fortress like embassy; as with bureaucracies everywhere, a threat somewhere translates to action everywhere. So now there are street closures and permanent police presence outside the US embassy in Reykjavik, Iceland as well. It is in the heart of a residential district in downtown, just down the street from the British embassy.
Car bombs are not really a threat there, nor is it plausible that they would become so if it were left as an unguarded "soft-spot". But the precautions taken are still there, still intrusive, and provide low grade abrasion for many of the locals.

On the other hand, for all the petty unpleasantness the INS can inflict, they are in general professional and courteous, and if anything too ready to accept explanations and excuses. They should ask, and they should be more ready to follow their instincts. The immigration officials of other nations tend to be harsher and more suspicious of travelers than the US INS.

#3 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 11:23 AM:

For a change, Friedman is right. Yes, America has, in the reign of Emperor Bush II, castrated and lobotomized itself. America (and with due respect to our Canadian and Latin American cousins, I mean only USA) has cast aside the Bill of Rights and Constitution, the core of our Rule by Law. America has had an alien heart transplanted into the chest cavity. The new heart bleeds with The Blood of the Lamb strangely coagulated with the Blood of 9/11.

The message that America sends to the "oddballs" of the world, the likes of which first settled this land, is indeed "go away." This is stated arrogantly, with forefingers pressed into the earholes, so as not to hear any carping replies.

As one of the oddballs, the proud descendent of oddballs, that means that what was once my country is saying the same to me, and to my wife, and to my son.

I was lulled into this at first, because my part-time work as a paralegal meant frequent metal-detectors and searches while entering courthouses and Federal buildings. After all, the Pseudo-Republican pseudo-Conservative "Right-to-Life" and "America is a Christian Country" and "who needs multilateralism?" Senate leadership urges their minions to assassinate Federal judges who won't Go With The Program.

Then, in the past, my work on contracts for the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, and U.S. Air Force meant frequent metal-detectors and searches, combined with urine tests to ensure that I only consumed sanctioned drugs such as the coffee made freely available in the workplace, and the alcohol that would get any prole fired if consumed on company grounds including parking lots, except of course if one had rare occasion to be dining in the Executive Diningroom, where the waiters offered a choice of red or white wine with the lobster and steak.

Next I started having to sign pledges and oaths and write strange essays on how I could teach in the multicultural classroom, and what my educational philosophy was, to be able to operate as an Adjunct Professor.

Then I was fored without cause for questioning the credentials of an officially sanctioned fool of a Department Chairman.

And, on the way to my father's funeral, I saw the following. I saw Federal airport security goons threaten to arrest my innocent brother, leading my 8 year old nephew weeping. When the delay that ensued put at risk our making it to the plane on time, the goons assured us that they'd phone ahead to the gate, to ensure our boarding. When we got to the gate we found that no such call had been made. As they prepared to close the airplane hatch, another passenger jeered at us that the plane had "already gone." When my brother and I remonstrated that he was wrong, and it was none of his business, he claimed to have been harassed and threatened. He phoned the cops. The plane left without us. When my brother protested further to the airline customer service representative, he was deemed an oddball, and banned from that airline for 24 hours. I made it to the funeral on time, as did my sister-in-law and my nephew, but only by my lying to the airline folks as to what they wanted to hear, and apologizing to the fool who'd baited us. But my brother had to swicth airlines, and missed the first day of funeral services completely.

Yay! Feeling safer now?

I thank the Emperor, under whose lash I live, for training me so well to someday graduate to being an expatriate. Ah, to become part of the New Lost Generation, someday to be lifting my glass in The United Europe of States, to the vanished glory of my betrayed homeland, like so many exiled writers, scientists, and people of conscience in the past. And welcome to the New World Order, By God.

#4 ::: cmk ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 11:33 AM:

Visitors last week were enthusiastically describing opportunities for horseback tourism in Iran.

Interpreting the response they received as more than polite interest, they abruptly backed off, "we can't really recommend that Americans visit Iran now, you might not be safe."

One said "it's not the people who are anti-American, but the regime;" the other added in judicious tones "well, the people are a little anti-American, now."

The first then blurted out "ten more years like this and you won't be safe anywhere."

#5 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 11:43 AM:

I've never wanted to live anywhere else until recently, but the expat life is becoming strangely attractive: To have my bank account in Euros (or Rupees, or CanDollars, or Pounds, or even Shekels, though I've never been the Aliyah-making type); to have public safety measures that actually increase safety, not just intrusion; to be in a secular state, or even a religious state that understands how not to let that status ruin everything.

But I'm not ready to go yet. Things aren't that bad yet. But the fact that I'm even CONSIDERING Europe is a sign of how far things have gone.

#6 ::: Michael ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 12:30 PM:

To expand on Steinn's point: it is certainly not just one embassy, or just embassies. Here in DC everything is markedly changed, for the creepier and for the worse. Roads are closed, you practically need security clearance to get inside the Washington Monument. I've lived here my whole life, and I find the recent number of armed motorcades disturbing.

Last Weekend, some friends of my parents were to boat out from here to the Eastern Shore, but as they motored up the Severn they came across two coast guard boats, who yelled from behind machine guns that "The River Is Closed." There was no radio traffic and people at the boathouses knew nothing, but Dubya was giving a speech at the Naval Academy.

I could list a hundred more examples of such random displays of force and power, but I fear I would be redundant again. I've always joked about fleeing to Europe, but now I'm getting nervous (and also brushing up on my French and Spanish).

#7 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 12:43 PM:

Oh yeah, it's all the embassies. And all the consulates.

On the other hand, from the end of Vietnam to the beginning of Iraq, a higher percentage of diplomats were killed in the line of duty than members of the armed forces. And then in '98 OBL & Co. blew up two of our embassies in Africa. So it's not an easy problem. But Friedman and the commenters are absolutely right about the message being sent. And its medium-term costs.

I get on really well with the folks at the post here in Munich & am doing a public gig with one later this month. But I don't ever make appointments to see them in their offices. I'd have to leave my cell phone, my palm pilot, my laptop and probably several other gadgets down at the front. At which point I wouldn't have the tools necessary to make the meeting worthwhile. So if our diplomats all have to get out of the office to do much business, the security is getting counterproductive.

The only way this will change is from the leadership at the top. Believe me, I am counting the days until January 21, 2009.

#8 ::: almostinfamous ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 12:55 PM:

well well well. who knew he could actually put all those airmiles to decent use?

I am glad that he has pointed out to his readership the ridiculous posture of american diplomatic stations abroad, and i might now be able to hope for an enlightened discussion on the blunders of american foreign policy and how best to rectify them. but i am convinced like doug above that this is going to take a leadership change.

#9 ::: Laurie Mann ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 01:10 PM:

Jack Womack, the mind boggles at that.

Just the other day, I was arguing in an Interaction LiveJournal with a young American who'd never been overseas. He insisted that we had to get our innoculations checked and check in with an embassy when we went to Scotland. I said that was bad advice - we didn't need to do any of those things when going overseas. I've been abroad a few times and certainly never did. But, to a younger person raised in this current climate of fear...ghu help us!

The other thing I keep hearing is "We like Americans, it's just the government we can't stand." Of course, I've been saying that myself for a very long time. And the last time you used to hear people talk like that was about the Russians...

#10 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 01:40 PM:

fortress-like embassies became the fashion after the 444-day hostage situation started in Iran. At this point, if they don't have a platoon of marines at every embassy with a crate full of stingers and at least two fifty-cals and a few well-placed claymores, they're only asking for trouble.

We've defined the rules, now we get to play in it.

#11 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 02:56 PM:

Greg London: At this point, if they don't have a platoon of marines at every embassy with a crate full of stingers and at least two fifty-cals and a few well-placed claymores, they're only asking for trouble.

There's a difference between having effective (and if necessary heavily armed) security and putting on an unnecessary show. The US Embassy in Berlin sits on a closed street off of the Unter den Linden. There are concrete barricades, zig-zag fences to walk through if you have business there and a general sense of "Keep Out, Mad Dog" about the place.

The Russian embassy is roughly across the UdL, and while it's got a wall, it's far more welcoming than our embassy. The British embassy is a couple of blocks away on an open street. It's in a snazzy new building and appears bright and open, and matches the architecture of the New Berlin.

I'm sure that the Brits and the Russians have security, perhaps even better than ours. But our embassy is the one that you'd pick out as belonging to the Evil Empire. And people wonder why even our closest allies are exhibiting anti-American sentiments.

#12 ::: aphrael ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 03:04 PM:

Laurie - I get my innoculations checked if I'm going overseas for more than a month or if I'm going to a place where I don't speak the language.

It would never occur to me to check in with the embassy in a country which wasn't currently experiencing some sort of civil disorder.

#13 ::: Michael ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 03:13 PM:

Can anybody think of any embassies here in the states barricaded like this? I walk past the Iraqi, Algerian, Zimbabwean and other embassies every visible guards, no barbed wire, no jersey barriers.

The only buildings in DC with those kinds of things are American.

#14 ::: Peter ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 03:22 PM:

The column is fine except for the "national commission" part--another chance for Bush to appoint Cheney to run a commission that never meets.

#15 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 03:54 PM:

I could laugh for hours.
The bitter laughter of those who knew this seemingly years before the rest of you all caught on.

A single story, although I could provide a score drawn only from my own experiences:

When I was 18 and getting ready to go into the army I would go down to the park near my house and jog to get in shape. I did this at dusk because I was a very selfconscious kid and I didn't like anyone to see me. Well one night I was getting ready to go when I saw the 3 musketeers was coming on, the Gene Kelly version. So I stayed up and watched it. Afterwards I went out to run, this was about midnight.
I jogged behind the school. After a bit a car pulled up and shined its headlights on me. It was the cops, wanted to know what I was doing running. I said I was running, getting ready to go into the army. They patted me down. Other cop cars showed up, pretty soon there were 7 cop cars including a truck with dogs.

A fat redheaded kid who was the cop with the dogs got out, said something about either I was smoking pot or jacking off so I should admit which it was. I said no I was running, was going into the army. They patted me down again. Asked if I had ever been arrested. No. Well they were gonna arrest me and ruin my record so I couldn't go into the army, also they knew I smoked pot because they knew what pot smokers looked like and I looked like a pot smoker (my family was basically too poor to afford to buy me nice clothes or even to get me regular haircuts and my mom couldn't cut hair very well.)

They asked me why I was running around behind an elementary school, was I some sort of a baby-raper (the term used)? No, and anyway the elementary school was down the street this was the junior high. No, this was the elementary school and I was smoking pot out behind it so they could throw me in prison where I would be raped because they don't like guys who try to sexually abuse children there (I have noticed similar leaps of logic among american police since, but this was my first exposure to their peculiar skills at reasoning.)

And so on and so forth for four hours, they finally let me go with a warning never to let them catch me running, raping babies, smoking pot or masturbating on their beat again. Then they let me go.

Now of course I understand that it is sort of freaky to be out jogging late at night behind a school because one is so introverted one does not wish to be seen by people to be jogging anywhere, but I had believed this to be one of my rights. And this was many years before Bush or any of the current problem. What it was, was something I had to deal with, and something that people of my social standing had to deal with but most of you have never had to deal with until recently, and if you had you would have gotten very annoyed and undoubtedly had the wherewithal to make your annoyance felt and received munificent apologies.

This is of course a trivial example, I chose it because it was really my first such experience.

Anyway I don't live in the U.S anymore, I came there as a very young oddball, I matured there as an oddball, and I have never experienced anything there worth anything other than some things the memories of which are good for building the spit up in my mouth. People talk about hating America. I hate it, and I hate with good personal reasons.

One thing I've noted the last couple of years is lots of people quoting Niemoller. Look at your prisons, you are not at the beginning of the Niemoller quote, you are at the middle if not the end. You have some of my sympathies, but not too much for you didn't help when they came for the others, or at least you sure as hell didn't help enough. Be honest now, did you?

#16 ::: almostinfamous ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 04:01 PM:

The other thing I keep hearing is "We like Americans, it's just the government we can't stand."

the problem is that the american propaganda machine has for the longest time(even after the end of the cold war) portrayed america as a model for all democracies to follow. in doing that, it presented to many people an idealized version of what america stood for, even while its leadership was actively and cynically betraying that ideal in the foreign policy sphere, from the iran-contra days to desert storm to the aspirin factory to the current quagmire in the middle east. when people are presented with the fact that the real leadership of this idealistic version of america that they have dreamt of is every bit as corrupt and dishonest(or more) as their own government there is a spectacular feeling of betrayal, both of their dreams and their trust.

#17 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 04:23 PM:

"Now of course I understand that it is sort of freaky to be out jogging late at night behind a school because one is so introverted one does not wish to be seen by people to be jogging anywhere, but I had believed this to be one of my rights. And this was many years before Bush or any of the current problem. What it was, was something I had to deal with, and something that people of my social standing had to deal with but most of you have never had to deal with until recently, and if you had you would have gotten very annoyed and undoubtedly had the wherewithal to make your annoyance felt and received munificent apologies."

Further evidence that blog comments addressed to "you guys" or "most of you" or "you lot" are almost always less than insightful.

Bryan, if you really think this kind of arbitrary harrassment is "something that...most of you have never had to deal with," you might want to rethink. Everyone here has been a teenager; many of us were oddball teenagers in parts of the world, including the US, where we didn't fit in. If I had a nickel for every time something like what you describe happened to me in my scruffy youth, I'd have a nice jar full of nickels. Some of those incidents happened in Arizona. And a good number of them happened in Toronto.

Nobody in this conversation is claiming that American life, or American international behavior, was wonderful before the last few years. The point is that certain aspects of it have got a lot worse, fast. Hectoring everyone else in the conversation for having failed to "catch on" to the crappy experiences you had at 18 is dopey as analysis and goofy as performance. As if you're the only person who had experiences like this. Not every lousy run-in with tinpot authority is a signifier of the dark flaws at the heart of America. It's not actually all about you.

#18 ::: jse ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 04:44 PM:

At some point, America became cowardly. There was a time -- somewhere around the era when the phrase "innocent until proven guilty" was coined, no doubt -- when anyone recommending "pre-emptive" action would be viewed skeptically and subjected to tough scrutiny. Now, our President has a doctrine declaring that pre-emptive action is not only fair and just, but necessary.

All the barricades, all the security, all the patrols, all the border-tightening... It's all just an effort to pre-empt something like 9/11 from ever happening again. And it's cowardly. A brave nation would take an attack like 9/11 squarely on the chin, try those it could prove complicit in a court of law, and dare anyone to try something like that again. Our weak Nation has instead let our paranoid xenophobia get the better of us and lashed out at any-and-everything that looks at us cross-eyed.

Only one security enhancement was actually justified after 9/11, and that was the hardening of cockpit doors. Everything else on top of that is the direct result of our fear and insecurities speaking louder than our courage and good sense. I'm not surprised other people are getting antsy. Who feels comfortable around a paranoid, cowardly, shoot-first-ask-questions-later cowboy with a really big gun?

#19 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 04:44 PM:

basically I had one of those experiences every year of my adulthood in the U.S as well. Some of these experiences were of course not becaus I was a scruffy adult, but because, oh I gave money to a bum in an area where begging was illegal, immediately afterwards cops come around the corner wanting me to say that I gave money to the bum so they can arrest him. No I won't do that, this of course brings the finding out why I won't do that, who am I what do I do where do I come from, who did you say you were again, and nice comments like well I know whose life I'm not saving and so on.

Hey here's another story, from Denmark:

One night after capoeira I decided to walk home, it's actually a far way but I'm an oddball and I don't like the bus. It was also getting dark. I look really scruffy because I have been training for four hours straight. En route I go through this park, very dark, deserted, I come out the other end. And it's a cop car. Well, darn, now I know I'm up for another two-three hours of my life wasted while I explain to this jerk how I don't like buses and I was walking and I went through the deserted park cause it was a good shortcut and so forth. I know this because without fail every encounter I have ever had with a cop in a similar situation in the U.S has led to the same situation. But no, he just asked me where I was going where from and said, okay. Less Than Five minutes! Afterwards I was flabbergasted. How could it be!?! What strange sensation was this I had just experienced for the first time in my life? Later on I figured out it must have been freedom.

#20 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 04:58 PM:

Maybe I am wrong about the arbitrary harassment others have experienced but you know, Jonathan really seemed surprised about seeing "Federal airport security goons threaten to arrest my innocent brother, leading my 8 year old nephew weeping" and so forth, and really, why the hell would anyone be surprised about that in america. I wouldn't be. One thing I hear all the time is how this is not the real america, but according to my perceptions it is the real america, it has always been the real america, you may argue I am wrong but I believe you are seriously hampered by the large and obvious facts of the situation as it stands.

I am surprised when people are surprised, I wonder if they haven't been paying attention. Maybe I am unduly cynical but when things goes as one expects them to go then the analysis that has led to those expectations may be better than dopey, given that the expectations being correct are thus no more goofy than reality may be accused of being.

#21 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 05:00 PM:

: And it's cowardly.

uhm. I lock the doors to my house, not out of cowardice, but because I be stupid if I didn't.

#22 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 05:05 PM:

> There's a difference between having effective
> security and putting on an unnecessary show.

My guess is that a lot of ugly, "mad dog", type design could be attributed to the fact that the security measures had to be retrofitted. If you didn't build a sleek concrete barrier to look like part of the building, or a solid steel fence that could stop a speeding truck loaded with explosives, then you have to do it with the parts available.

This isn't to say that we're about to go "dark", just that its more about internal motivations rather than surface looks.

#23 ::: Chris Clarke ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 05:07 PM:

Further evidence that blog comments addressed to "you guys" or "most of you" or "you lot" are almost always less than insightful.

I'm a little disappointed, Patrick. Surely you could have written that comment's introductory sentence to start with "You guys..."

#24 ::: jse ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 05:32 PM:

:uhm. I lock the doors to my house, not out of cowardice, but because I be stupid if I didn't.

But if you post a bunch of "no trespassing" signs, put up barricades, hang razor wire, and hunt down and beat anyone with a record of breaking and entering to stop them from potentially stealing from your house in the future -- well, it doesn't make you look smart anyway. And not brave. And it's certainly not going to win you many friends in the neighborhood.

#25 ::: Wrye ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 05:35 PM:

It is and it isn't about surface appearance and superficialities, though. I mean, what we're really describing are the cumulative effects of innumerable tiny annoyances, inconveniences, individual stories of travellers humiliated or prevented from entering--it adds up to turning away from the world and turning the world away, a person at a time.

The US is shortly going to be requiring passports from Canadians who want to duck across the border to buy cheap groceries, see a concert in Detroit or Seattle, or whatever. Sounds trivial, right? But that represents a $75 expense to millions of people who live in the US' largest trading partner who previously only had to show everyday ID. Not that Canada-US relations are lacking for bigger irritants, but I think the point is; it's hard to reverse this kind of individual-level hostility to the traveller. It makes things personal, you know?

#26 ::: Wrye ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 05:38 PM:

And I would suggest that we seem to be seeing a lot of locking doors inside the house to boot...

#27 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 05:39 PM:

Something not mentioned here is that all military facilities have to meet new security standards soon. This means that Arlington, VA, for example, is going to have a lot of big empty buildings because they're not set far enough back from the street. We're also going to see a movement of military and their civilian employees to the outer edges of the DC Metro area. The place is going to change a lot.

#28 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 05:41 PM:

Patrick Nielsen Hayden:

Re: "you guys."

With all due respect, Patrick, now that you live in Brooklyn, the Law of the Local Vernacular requires you to say "youse guys."

Used in a sentence, when about to exit a foxhole under fire: "Whassamatta, youse guys wanna live forevah?"

#29 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 05:54 PM:

I think you may be just a tad out of date on the "local vernacular."

#30 ::: ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 06:03 PM:

Greg, that's good. But do you hassle people in the street in front of your house? Have you burned down the house of a creep with whom you had a previous dispute, because you didn't feel like making the effort to find the guy who *did* burglarize your house? Have you started sucking up to some local gang members, because they'd be 'your SOB's'? et cetera.

#31 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 06:21 PM:

Security measures don't necessarily bother me. Security measures that don't make me any more secure do bother me.

I've always had a strange and rather relaxed relationship to various kinds of security measures. My father flew B-52's during the 60's and 70's, which meant growing up in several small towns next to Strategic Air Command bases. These were nice and safe (just not too quiet with BUFFs overhead) rural towns in Louisiana, Michigan, or California that had friendly small town police forces and where as kids we pretty much had the run of the place without anyone getting too worried.

But if we wanted to visit Dad while he was on his week of alert duty each month, we would drive out to a little beat up picnic ground/driving range just off the flight line next to the alert shack. We had to have a pass to get that far, and I only once got farther, inside the alert facility itself, during a rare family day. Most of the time we sat outside eating on one of the tables, looking at the loaded bombers hooked up to roaring air carts, guarded by AP's with sentry dogs and automatic rifles behind a multistrand fence with big red-on-white signs announcing that this was a Category I area and that deadly force was authorized. I was in my 20's before I stopped carrying a military dependent's ID, and my school records still have the "Golden Diamond" forms requiring the school to immediately notify my father's commander if I was hurt or got into serious trouble -- and also detailed how I would be specifically evacuated with the other military families in case of war.

Since then I have lived and traveled in Europe during problems with various domestic terrorists, worked as a reporter covering cases in secure courtrooms, and these days spend a couple of weekends a month as a volunteer inside a maximun security prison. Armed guards, razor wire, mandatory multiple picture IDs, metal detectors, x-ray scanners, drug and explosives sensors, bag check and pat down have been a routine part of my life for years.

It's not just that I'm used to it. In most of these situations, the specific security measures chosen are a very good idea indeed, and can be effective. Nuclear weapons (the real kind, not the fantasy ones) really should be guarded well and there are some people in the facilities I visit that I am quite glad are behind the high wire for all day. These measures in these situations actually make me and others more secure, and the financial and social costs of these measures are rationally balanced by the value of the security gained.

In most of the cases Friedman cites, however, we are getting all the costs, but little benefit. As Patrick Smith points out this week in Salon (yes, you have to watch an ad first, but "Ask the Pilot" is usually worth it) all the bureaucracy, cost, arrests, and aircraft diversions have not resulted in flying being more secure -- just more expensive and aggravating. The move to fortress embassies may prevent the kind of attacks we have seen before, but probably not some new kind that someone is thinking about right now. And their value as embassies, as opposed to the local office for the CIA resident and military attache, is being pissed away. We are inadequately protecting ourselves against what was done a few years ago, doing little to protect against the next threat (cargo containers anybody?), and just maybe helping persuade someone to take a swing at us.

#32 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 06:22 PM:

Patrick, I get all my local vernacular from Geoffrey Chaucer and P. G. Wodehouse. Keeps the old trousers correctly hung, don't you know, and smale fowles maken melodye/Of Coulters, and hir wynged nuts' foleye.

#33 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 07:23 PM:

Virtually all the "obvious" ugly security measures at US Embassies are retrofitted, and were not designed with appearance, meremly utility, in mind. This began right after the truck bomb at the US Embassy in Beirut during the Reagan administration. Since the first ones were put up in a rush, there's some justification for their unattractiveness; the goal was security ASAP. (Disclosure: my brother worked for the engineering firm that handled the design work for a lot of the early ones)
However, since that time, there's been plenty of opportunity to work on designs that are effective without being so hideously inhospitable. There hasn't been the will to make this happen, because the concept of "Walk softly but carry a big stick" has bee replaced by "Turn into the Incredible Hulk, tear off your shirt, pound on your chest, and roar incoherently." Subtlety has been confused with wimpiness; tact with weakness, and simple respect for others with a proactive thumb in the eye--and that's for the people we like.

Like Claude, I grew up around security measures, and have worked among them for several years. However, the measures that seem appropriate for securing large numbers of sensitive documents [case files full of medical records and social security numbers], experimental reactors on college campuses, and such are based on "What will work for what we need." Every bank I go into has cameras, shields for the teller cages, hidden alarm buttons, and other measures, because these have all been shown to either reduce the risk of robbery or make sure the robbers get caught as quickly as possible. They work because the people who designed and installed them wanted to provide their customers the most effective security possible. Most of this security isn't obvious; the traditional, obvious bank guard with the gun on his hip is probably the least effective part of the set-up.
However, as a nation, our security is being handled by people who are under the impression that the bank guard is the most important component in the system, and have decided that what he really needs is a BAR.

#34 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 07:38 PM:


When I enlisted in the Army the car I was driving had a faulty generator. I was visiting friends, two days before shipping to Basic, and before I left for the night, I went to make sure the battery was charged.

I put the hood down, and started to cross the street. A car was coming so I trotted to the sidewalk. Next thing I know the car has changed lanes, made a turn and is shining a spotlight on me as I walk toward the house.

I was so tempted to tell Pasadena, California's finest a few things as they spent the next fifteen minutes harrassing me (with some similar leaps of logic, viz, I must have been trying to hotwire the car because I put the hood down [though which I must have seen with Clark Kent's x-ray vision) when they were a block away, and the RAN across the street... never mind that physics makes me want to be not in the street when I notice a car heading my way and I in lanes) and asking why I seemed nervous (I don't know, another false arrest, this one screwing up my enlistment... nah, it must be because I was stealing MY CAR).

That that was some seven years after the first false arrest. Needless to say, despite my being in the Army, and therefore seen as a law and order type, my opinion of cops is a tad jaded and less than completely trusting.


#35 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 07:54 PM:


"Maybe I am wrong about the arbitrary harassment others have experienced but you know, Jonathan really seemed surprised about seeing "Federal airport security goons threaten to arrest my innocent brother, leading my 8 year old nephew weeping" and so forth, and really, why the hell would anyone be surprised about that in america. I wouldn't be. One thing I hear all the time is how this is not the real america, but according to my perceptions it is the real america, it has always been the real america, you may argue I am wrong but I believe you are seriously hampered by the large and obvious facts of the situation as it stands.

I am surprised when people are surprised, I wonder if they haven't been paying attention. Maybe I am unduly cynical but when things goes as one expects them to go then the analysis that has led to those expectations may be better than dopey, given that the expectations being correct are thus no more goofy than reality may be accused of being."

Bryan, I hate to say it, but you're doing a real good version of "Ha ha, losers, I am a twisted and melancholic soul who realized that Life in the U.S. Is Hell ages before you guys did."

The point of the piece was not that life in the U.S. is hell (which, btw, it isn't). Furthermore, if you think your experiences have been all that unusual, you haven't been paying nearly enough attention to your fellow critters.

#36 ::: Avedon ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 08:26 PM:

Whenever I'm home I drop in on NIH for a few tests. I couldn't believe the level of time-consuming security crap I had to go through when I came in late September of 2001. None of that stuff had been there before, it was like it was some sort of military installation. Freaked me right out.

#37 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 08:35 PM:

we are the knights who say "NIH!"

erm, what's that acronym, again?

#38 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 08:41 PM:

Terry Karney: nah, it must be because I was stealing MY CAR

I had a very similar thing happen to me in 1991, when I lived in Brooklyn. I walked down to the corner to where my car was parked and hit the alarm remote. The car beeped three times meaning the alarm had gone off while I was away. I got in the car, started the motor and then thought that I had better check to see if there was any damage to the car.

As I was crouched down behind my car checking the rear bumper for dings, an NYPD car came by. Next thing I knew, I was being commanded to put my hands on top of the car and then I was in handcuffs, lying face down in the street.

The cops were completely disinterested in learning that I was checking out my own car, and they refused to check my ID in my wallet, drumming up an argument that I was trying to bribe them. It took the appearance of an elderly neighbor who had known me since I was an infant to get the cops to relent and match my ID and registration with the auto record they had already retrieved.

As the cops left, they made sure to threaten me and said some things that made it clear that their actions were mostly motivated by racism. (But try and prove it.)

Basically, I distrust the police, security people and most of the legal system. I don't operate under the illusion that they're better anyplace else, though. The police are like bees, they perform a useful function but don't make the mistake of thinking that they have your interests at heart.

#39 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 08:42 PM:

Greg - NIH = National Institutes of Health.

#40 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 08:45 PM:

Larry, many tanks.
(rumble rumble)

#41 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 08:52 PM:

Our policies show fear because, as Teresa has been saying for a while, W. Bush (and perhaps other members of his administration) is a coward. I think it's worth mentioning that, should any of us decide to leave the USA, this garbage is going to make it a lot harder.

#42 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 08:54 PM:

Thank you, Teresa.

Terry Karney:

"... so tempted to tell Pasadena, California's finest a few things..." There was the time, in the late 1960s, when I was a student at Caltech, that a Pasadena Police Department officer wrote me a citation for running a red light. On my bicycle. At 3 a.m., with no traffic.

I contested it.

Judge: "It says here, Mr. Post, that you ran a red light in a Peugeot."

JVP: "Yes, your honor. A Peugeot bicycle."

Judge: "Officer O'Malley, you've had your little joke. Case dismissed."

That was funny, then. But a squadron of Officer O'Malley types are running Homeland Security. And we are NOT safe. Just hassled. And for every indignity US citizens suffer, our putative allies suffer a hundredfold. How fast can am empire be collapsed? Are we going for the record?

#43 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 10:07 PM:

Really, I'm a European at heart. I'm not crazy on the topics of religion and sex. I don't want to impose my views on everyone else. (Though the world would be a better place if I were Empress of the Universe, ahem.) I want security that works and makes me safer rather than looking impressive and annoying the hell out of everyone. And I love sidewalk cafes.

Alas, there doesn't seem to be much chance of that given who I married to and what he does for a living.


#44 ::: nick ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 10:11 PM:

The US Embassy in London already looked frankly Stalinist (with a huge eagle instead of a star) among the Georgian buildings of Grosvenor Square before it got the 15ft wire barrier and concrete blocks. Not to mention the long queues to get in, with two- or three-stage screening.

As someone who had to visit the place for a visa interview a couple of years ago, I can attest to how oppressive it feels. And that was before the advent of US-VISIT, which will require me to be fingerprinted and eye-scanned when I leave the US. And when I leave, once more enduring the parody of US airport security, I'm not convinced that I'll come back.

One final thought: the distinction between 'Americans' and 'their government' lasted well from 2000, given the mess in Florida; that distinction is struggling to survive given the perceived endorsement of Bush's policies in the 2004 election. This is somewhat unfair, since Americans travelling abroad are less likely, in general, to have voted for Bush.

#45 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 10:53 PM:

Bruce Schneier wrote a great book called 'Beyond Fear' that deals with issues of security. Not what we should do, but rather how we should think about security. Among the many interesting concepts he discusses is the idea that all security is about making some sort of cost-benefit tradeoff. As with many other systems, the problems arise when the people who pay the costs are not those making the decisions.

I thought of this on the weekend as I crossed the border from Canada and watched all the pleasant non-American, non-Canadian families, who wanted to visit the US side of Niagara Falls, submit to fingerprinting, IDing and the like. It occurred to me that the people who feel like they are being protected by these security measures (Americans) are not the people who are made to feel like they are unwelcome. And it seems like only the rare American (such as our gracious hosts and the readers of this blog) who is aware of this. Or, of course, the Americans who visited Brazil last January immediately after they set up a reciprocal policy to US-VISIT and began fingerprinting Americans.

As I am in the charming position of living in the US and paying taxes but also being a foreigner, I am particularly sensitive to this disconnect. As the child of immigrants to Canada and now an immigrant myself, I'm grateful to have the opportunities in the US that I have. (I am, however, also grateful to live where I live - Cambridge, MA - and to be surrounded by great people). But I certainly worry about the knock-on effects of this kind of message - losing not just casual visitors, but also students and the kind of educated, mobile immigrants that are a significant contribution to the economy. And it's hard to see anything on the horizon that might lead us to think that the US will become more welcoming in the future.

#46 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 11:22 PM:

> the problems arise when the people who pay the
> costs are not those making the decisions.

I think you just listed the job description
for "politician".

#47 ::: Jonathan Shaw ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 11:52 PM:

I'm currently in China for a three-week vacation, and it's at least vaguely relevant to this thread that it was a lot more comfortable passing through customs and immigration here than it has been entering the US in the last five years or so: no one shouting instructions, all searches done with an almost apologetic smile, and no ostentatiously armed military personnel to speak of.

#48 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 12:52 AM:

JVP: you do know that bicycles are subject to the exact same traffic laws as cars, with a very few explicit exceptions not including red lights, and that traffic laws are on 24 hours a day?

In other words, the cop was legally correct in giving you a ticket.

(I'm only a little bit sympathetic to the frustration of waiting for a red light when there's nobody, nobody, nobody coming)

There are other examples of Pasadena cop behavior that fit the bill better -- Octavia Butler and the hundred dollar bill, for example.

#49 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 01:34 AM:

Lucy Kemnitzer:

True. Police officers have discretion on when to cite. I tend to rely on judges exercising their discretion, too.

Another side of the Pasadena Police Department is revealed in Bobby Fisher's self-published booklet "I was Tortured in the Pasadena Jailhouse."


"This cell was a kind of isolation cell. Way in the far corner overlooking the street, it had two windows on different walls of the room, both windows being open. The cell door was completely solid with no opening except a one-way peep hole for the jailers to look in. The room was extremely drafty and cold and dank."

"Of course, my suffering in this room was completely horrendous and unbearable, being still stripped stark naked as I was. My body and flesh are still in pain and agony from this gruesome and cruel experience as I write these lines about 8 or 10 days later. I was left in there to freeze to death or die from exposure."

"I shouted to numerous passersby in the street to call a certain telephone number and to tell them that I was being tortured to death in the Pasadena police station, which was absolutely the truth."

Yet another tale: a PPD officer published a novel about a police officer -- and was fired for it! Censorship of the more extreme kind, clearly retaliation for the fiction, which included officers performing rapes and other crimes.

On the other hand, they were somewhat useful when my office was broken into, and my PC with all business records stolen. Come to think of it, they were not useful. It was my office building's janitor who pursued the thief, who set the PC down. The janitor suddenly wondered what would happen if he caught up with the running thief who might, after all, be armed. The PPD took a police report, and advised me against dusting the keyboard for fingerprints. "The dust might get in the disk drive," they said/ Might be true.

Always like reading your posts. You're a lucid and lyrical author.

#50 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 02:12 AM:

I moved to Scotland in 1993, when the IRA was still bombing the British mainland. The British government, after trying tactics like locking potential assailants up without trial (internment) and cooking the evidence for the trials of people they "knew" were guilty (the Guildford 4), had begun to realise that the way to combat terrorism was by being civilised. I got a lot of stick for being an American, since the IRA got a lot of funding from my home country. But no one had a problem with my government, really.

Now, the only way to be comfortable in Britiain is to dissasociate one's self from the American government. I don't find that difficult - I am not happy with most of America's public face to the world. We joke about it..."Typical American," they say, and I say "Yep. Invading your country next week. I hear you have oil," and we all laugh.

But - and I don't know that the Interaction team has digested this - we are invading Scotland. The G8 is meeting in Gleneagles, and the President, not trusting British security, is bringing several thousand American soldiers to secure the place. In the meantime, Bob Geldof of LiveAid fame has suggested that a million people descend on Edinburgh to demonstrate support for making poverty history. (Edinburgh cannot accommodate this number of people with this short notice.)

This all takes place a month before Interaction hits Glasgow (about 45 miles away). The cultural climate will be an education for some American fans. As guests in the country, and guests of a mostly educated and politically liberal (not a loaded term in the UK) community, they won't have a bad time. But they may hear some interesting views.

#51 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 03:14 AM:

Is that booklet in fact by someone named "Bobby Fisher," or is it by Bobby Fischer, the raving, paranoid, misanthropic imbecile and cheerleader for international terrorism who thinks that every particle of the universe is out to destroy his infinite and all-encompassing genius, and who even when he was good at chess had to keep pulling infantile stunts to distract everyone from the actual game?

Just wondering.

#52 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 04:05 AM:

That would be the Bobby Fischer who applauded the ones who flew the planes into the towers, yes. Don't know why Jonathan left out the "c".

#53 ::: Bryan ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 04:53 AM:

'Bryan, I hate to say it, but you're doing a real good version of "Ha ha, losers, I am a twisted and melancholic soul who realized that Life in the U.S. Is Hell ages before you guys did." '

I suppose I am, although I'm not sure especially what makes it twisted.

'The point of the piece was not that life in the U.S. is hell (which, btw, it isn't). '
sure, it's better than a lot of places. I don't want to live in those places either.

Actually after I posted that first post yesterday I regretted it since hey, if I'm right it's sort of akin to telling kids santa is a serial killer, an activity appealing to my twisted and melancholic soul but terribly bad manners. I actually came back to apologize but Patrick sidetracked me.

Perhaps I did it because I have felt tempted to make similar posts many times, especially when the latest outrage comes out and people wonder "what happened to america" or opine that "this is not the america they know".
It's the america I know and the rather significant gulf of viewpoints on this matter from educated people who are otherwise sane just freaks me out. No doubt it is a failing of mine to be easily freaked by beliefs in divergence with my own, fundamentalist christianity, or people who talk about the healing power of crystals freak me out, I would like to give an example of a correct belief divergent from what I believe so as to make the analogy more fair but obviously one will have difficulties identifying a belief as correct if it is in divergence with one's own. Perhaps the belief of America as essentially good is such a belief, and self-knowledge leads me to admit that my hatred of the U.S has to do with my first coming there at the age of ten, and having at that point a very fervent belief as to its goodness.
What was it the clash said? They said so much, but I think it was something like, he who fucks nuns will later join the church. Contrariwise, I should admit that he who joins the church and finds the bishop fucking nuns will be a terrible athiest and blasphemer till the end of days.

#54 ::: Giacomo ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 07:23 AM:

Ehi, Philip K. Dick was also a "raving, paranoid, misanthropic imbecile and cheerleader for international terrorism". And he was bloody right many times.

Reality is complex.

#55 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 07:51 AM:

One of Bruce Schneier's other, and to my mind insufficiently emphasized points, is that the benefit in a security tradeoff has to be tangible; making people feel safe isn't a benefit except in as much as it helps maintain political support for whatever actual benefits there may be.

Since safety is one of those pseudo-quantum state descriptions -- it has a certain, and not necessarily well understood, probability of being true at any given time -- this is tough.

It's quite possible that the folks making US policy really believe they're doing the right thing, having long since become habituated to dismissing tough problems as in some sense fantastical.

#56 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 08:51 AM:

John M. Ford and David Goldfarb:

"That would be the Bobby Fischer who applauded the ones who flew the planes into the towers, yes. Don't know why Jonathan left out the 'c.'"

Well, call me paranoid, but when I grew up in Brooklyn Heights, I'd see Bobby Fischer walking on the Promenade. Then I moved to Pasadena, and he stalked me, also moving to Pasadena. Now, first of all, what kind of nut would follow me around like that? Second, California includes Death Valley, which is why I made my worst typo to date on Makinglight: because it's below "C" level.

Seriously, he has a grudge against the USA, as he was one of the first celebrities to be persecuted for Homeland Security-type pretexts, playing, as he did, a chess match in an officially naughty country. He was under threat of arrest if he returned. People already wrote him off as a wingnut, who just happened to have seen deeper into the game of chess than anyone in the millennium of its history. What did he have to lose by applauding 9/11, as did the ex-poet Laureate of New Jersey, that professor in Colorado who claims to be Native American (the local tribe denies his claims), and those who though the World Trade Center buildings too tall for the curvaceous skyline of Manhattan?

There is a phenomenon common to certain hyperintellectuals of saying what you know will annoy people like your own parents. Noam Chomsky comes to mind. Friends of his late parents told me that they thought Noam's support of, say, Palestinian rights, was an attack on his parents' beliefs, for internal psychological reasons unrelated to geopolitics as such.

When my friend Ben Nethercott was Tournament Director of (1984? Pasadena) the U.S. Chess Open, I recall people clutching their chess books and bemoaning the fact that Bobby Fischer hadn't written any books in many years. "Oh yes he has," said Ben, whipping out his copy of "I was Tortured in the Pasadena Jailhouse."

And did not Jesus say "I am a Fischer of Men?"

#57 ::: Zvi ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 09:55 AM:

JVP said:
"...saying what you know will annoy people like your own parents. Friends of his late parents told me that they thought Noam's support of, say, Palestinian rights, was an attack on his parents' beliefs, for internal psychological reasons unrelated to geopolitics as such."

You're placing one of the pre-eminent intellectuals of the 20th century at the same emotional maturity level of a teenager playing satanic heavy metal in his parents' basement?

This is the worst bunch of reductionist nonsense I've heard in a long time, up there with 'Chomksy is a self-hating Jew': nonsensical and intended to dimminsh the validity of Chomsky's arguments without actually examining them.

#58 ::: Bryan ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 10:07 AM:

"cheerleader for international terrorism"
When did Phil Dick cheerlead for international terrorism, well there was the Divine Invasion I guess, god was sort of a terrorist in that one.

Also has anyone ever thought that the idea of public intellectuals being cheerleaders for international terrorism has sort of ignored the fact that most public intellectuals are not particularly attractive?

#59 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 11:05 AM:

Zvi - Just because someone is smart doesn't mean that they are either particularly stable or mature.

Fischer's been on the receiving end of an official smear campaign so I'm uncomfortable drawing too many conclusions from publicly available information, but it sure seems as if he's been acting out for quite some time.

#60 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 11:08 AM:

Bryan: Also has anyone ever thought that the idea of public intellectuals being cheerleaders for international terrorism has sort of ignored the fact that most public intellectuals are not particularly attractive?

These days, Britney Spears and Paris Hilton count as public intellectuals, and haven't you heard Britney's hit, Ooops, I Supported Al-Qaeda Again?

#61 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 11:16 AM:


Noam Chomsky is the greatest Linguist in the world. I was influenced in the early 1960s by his science, and studied mathematical Linguistics and Psycholinguistics at Caltech.

I also understand that his political theories are taken very seriously in Canada, where he is the standard talk-show guest to explain the USA.

My point is a psychological one. His parents raised him to be a genius. Intentionally, and intensely, the way that John von Neumann's parents raised him to be a genius. That was a lot of pressure. I'm saying that he rebelled against their strict and urgent pressures.

As, in a different way, did Isaac Asimov. Neither von Neumann nor Chomsky nor Asimov were "self-hating Jews" (a phrase that I, too, deplore). But they all had parenting issues.

#62 ::: Zvi ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 11:42 AM:


Thanks for clarifying. Let me rephrase slightly (and more cool-ly) and say that this kind of biographical reductionism (his parents were for x; he's against x; he must be working out something psychologically) is just the kind of fodder that a right-winger would love: it dismisses the argument (because it's 'just' a reaction against his parents) without examining it. The self-hating Jew tag is the same thing (this refers to the Faurisson incident): obviously if he 'hates' his Jewish identity (which he doesn't, btw), all his arguments are suspect.

Larry: "Just because someone is smart doesn't mean that they are either particularly stable or mature."

Of course that's true. But I was responding specifically about Chomsky, not that raving paranoid Fischer.

#63 ::: sundre ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 11:46 AM:

Wrye: In school my teachers talked about how the US and Canada had the longest undefended border in the world. We could drive to Montana or Alaska and the only ID my parents needed for the kids was copies of our birth certificates.

Now? Passports are already "highly recommended" and will soon become mandatory. I only managed to get one this year. I haven't been to the US at all in the last five years.

You're right there. We're supposed to be neighbours, not a security risk.

#64 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 11:56 AM:


You're welcome. I also dislike reductionism. Thus I am not psychoanalyzing Isaac Asimov, John von Neumann nor Chomsky, based on their writings alone. By the way, the von Neumanns (Jewish, Budapest) nominally converted to Christianity (Lutheran?) and bought the honorific "von" by John's dad, a banker, making a large political donation to a particular prince.

In each case, I am contributing an analysis based on some unpublished personal information. Teresa and Patrick chide me for name dropping, so I'll just summarize. I knew Asimov fairly well, somewhere in the close acquaintance or distant friend category, and had discussions about him with his 2nd wife, Janet, who is a psychiatrist. I never met von Neumann, but I was to coauthor a paper with his close collaborator Stan Ulam (coinventor of the H-bomb, cellular automata, and the Orion nuclear rocket), and thus Know Stuff. As I recounted, I didn't know Noam Chomsky personally, but did dine more than once with very close friends of his late parents. As with my earlier claim on this blog that Robert A. heinlein had 3 wives, not the 2 that are known, my claims are met with skepticism. Quite proper. I can be wrong. But I do sometimes bring unique insight to the table.

Now that a World Chess Champion is running for President of Russia, we'll see again how Chess and politics connect.

#65 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 03:34 PM:

Did you hear how Paris Hilton burned her lips?

She was trying to blow up a bus and the exhaust pipe was hot.

#66 ::: Wrye ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 03:41 PM:

And on the Canada front, via Canadian Cynic:

"The price of airline tickets between Canadian cities could go up if the United States implements an anti-terrorist strategy that would force domestic airlines to fly new routes far north of the American border, Transport Minister Jean Lapierre said Wednesday.

The minister said he is fighting hard to keep Washington from getting its hands on Canadian passenger lists for domestic flights that stray into U.S. airspace.

But if he fails, added Lapierre, Canadian carriers might have to take pains to avoid conventional routes that cross over northern U.S. states.

Calling it a "very hot issue," Lapierre said Washington hasn't finalized its proposed new rules but he's already lobbying to protect Canadians' privacy.

"I'm very worried about it," Lapierre said outside the Commons.

"We don't think it's a good idea that Canadians travelling from one [Canadian] city to another [Canadian city] would have to be checked under the American no-fly list."

Washington warned recently that, as an added security measure against terrorism, it intended to require that all foreign airlines passing over the U.S. check the names of passengers against American government watch lists."


This is, let's note, the equivalent of applying Canadian law to US flights between the lower 48 and Alaska. Madness.

#67 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 04:06 PM:

Jonathan, there's a great deal of noise in this channel. We should all do our best to avoid adding to it.

Larry Brennan, is that racism as in color? If so, I can see where you come by your attitude.

That kind of mistreatment is semi-invisible to most of us white kids -- when you only see it in passing, you don't know why that driver was pulled over, or why that pedestrian is being made to assume the position -- but I've seen instances where I was present throughout, and knew the people involved. I've also heard stories from friends who've experienced it directly.

I've tried to imagine what it would be like to walk down the street knowing that if anything happened, the presumption of innocence would not necessarily be extended to me. I'm sure I don't comprehend the whole of it, but it scares me just the same.

We do such stupid things in the name of imaginary law and order. Back when I was a university financial aid counselor, the feds suddenly changed the rules on financial aid applications, so that almost all students who applied for financial aid were required to go through a procedure that was the financial aid equivalent of a tax audit. Previously, the procedure had been semi-randomly required of a fraction of the applicants.

This procedure was a great hardship for students whose parents didn't speak English, or whose families didn't have a tradition of paperwork and recordkeeping, or who had children and/or jobs that made it difficult for them to spend hours standing in line in the Admin building, or who didn't have the resources to keep paying rent and tuition and buying groceries while waiting for this complex set of documents to be processed. A lot of students didn't see a penny of financial aid until the first semester was more than half over -- past the point where if you hadn't paid your tuition, you wouldn't get credit for those classes.

This elaborate new set of procedures was expensive to administer. Did it pay for itself by catching a bunch of would-be scammers? It did not. As we already knew, very few applicants for student financial aid are committing deliberate fraud. The way the new system saved money was by making the application procedure so arduous that a lot of students who were entitled to receive financial aid simply gave up and dropped out.

Nobody working in our office thought that was an unexpected result. Reagan was President.

I myself am a casualty of the war on drugs. I have narcolepsy. My life has been warped out of shape by my need to take drugs -- mostly CNS stimulants like dexedrine and ritalin -- that are Viewed With Alarm by law enforcement agencies. I have yet to meet a neurologist specializing in sleep disorders who hasn't had to constantly keep one eye on law enforcement issues.

For example: I manifestly have the symptoms of narcolepsy, including a walloping case of cataplexy, which only occurs in narcoleptics. However, I'm in the roughly 30% of narcoleptics who don't show the classic narcoleptic nighttime REM patterns. I can't begin to tell you the hoops I've been made to jump through, year after year -- hugely expensive tests, having to seek treatment in other states, being flatly denied medication -- in order to allay potential law enforcement suspicion that I'm just a recreational drug-seeker and my neurologist is an irresponsible pusher.

This is patently insane. Crystal meth and other major stimulants are hardly in short supply on America's street corners. People who just want to take speed don't have to learn enough about sleep disorders to maintain credibility during repeated interviews with neurologists. They don't have to spend the night in a sleep lab, wired up to here with electrodes and other monitors. And they sure as hell don't have to do all that plus make regular visits to their neurologists for decades in order to get their drugs.

Now all we need is to have someone convince the DEA and the FBI of that.

I live with the possibility that my prescriptions could be suspended at any time, if someone in authority gets some strange new notion about my need for maintenance chemotherapy. And always, always, my prescriptions are hedged about by weird regulations and other complications.

I will now praise one of the unsung saints and wise men who quietly help hold the universe together: Lenny, my old pharmacist.

I went to Lenny during most of the time I've lived in New York, even though his pharmacy is way the heck up on Bainbridge Avenue in the Bronx -- which, during my years on Staten Island, meant I could expenct to spend about half a day per month getting my prescriptions filled. During the period when I had to go to White Plains to get the prescription, and then go to Lenny's pharmacy to fill it, I could pretty much budget a full day per month to get my drugs -- and if there was any kind of a snafu, I'd have to come all the way back up to Bainbridge Avenue on some other day.

This was all fallout from the war on drugs.

Does it make you you feel safer to know that your law enforcement officials are out there tirelessly harassing physicians, hospital staffs, pharmacists, and (probably) insurance companies, in order to make sure that a tiny population of narcoleptics (1 in 10K) aren't getting a single microgram of amphetamine beyond the triple-documented absolute minimum needed?

(Magnitude: my friend the former speed freak's accustomed daily dose of dexedrine was equal to a full month's worth of the highest dose of that drug I've ever been prescribed. We aren't part of the problem, assuming there is a problem; and we can't be used as a solution.)

In all my years of being subject to the vagaries of several full-scale intersecting bureauacracies (medical x legal x insurance), Lenny and his crew were the only health care professionals who were always reliable and always on my side. Lenny was an expert at dealing with all the paperwork and intricate legal requirements and insurance coverage weirdness involved in dispensing my drugs. If something got screwed up and there was any way he could go to bat for me, he would. He was beyond price.

Lenny doesn't just get the sleep disorders cases. What I gradually learned over many visits is that he's also there for NYC's sickle-cell anemia population.

Sickle-cell anemia can be a very painful condition, but if a 17-year-old inner-city black kid walks into a pharmacy with a prescription for one of the major painkillers, he's not guaranteed to leave with his pills -- even though it's an entirely legit prescription. Large hassle. No presumption of innocence -- unless they're going to Lenny, who deals with them like he dealt with me. Word of this has gradually gone through the sickle-cell community, so now quite a few of them make the trek up to the Bronx, even though it's probably as inconvenient for many of them as it was for me.

The War on Drugs is sure making people safer, you betcha.

(Footnote: if you're a wicked person who commits robberies, please understand that Lenny's pharmacy is in a very solid building with good security; there's nonstop foot traffic outside, the pharmacy is hard to get in and out of fast, and is constantly crowded with patients; they don't have huge amounts of money in the till; and most of the people who leave with prescription bags are not carrying street-saleable drugs.)

#68 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 04:53 PM:

TNH: is that racism as in color? If so, I can see where you come by your attitude.

Yes, it was. FWIW, I'm your standard-issue white guy, wheras the two cops were African-American.

This was in 1991. I lived in Canarsie, which was still a relatively boneheaded Italian and Jewish working-class neighborhood mostly surrounded by poorer minority neighborhoods. There was something of a siege mentality at the time and passions were running high. Also, a ban on realtors offering to directly buy homes in the area, a measure to prevent blockbusting, had just been lifted.

Plus, memories of the incident in nearby Howard Beach, where a white mob had chased a couple of black men onto the Belt Parkway where they were struck and killed by cars, was fresh in people's minds, as were a couple of incidents in Crown Heights.

This was not a fun time to live where I lived. It had reached the point where I had a party and unthinkingly sent two of my friends around the corner to buy more ice without thinking that they might be hassled for being non-white. (They were, but only verbally.)

One of the things the cops said to me was that it wasn't my neighborhood anymore and that I should get out before they took me out. Nice.

All racism is bad. Not all racism is white on non-white.

FWIW, my experience (which is broader than this one incident) has made me really intolerant of racism and racists. (Cue the wingnuts to tell me that I'm not really tolerant because I'm not tolerant of intolerance... OK, that won't happen here.) Sorry for the lengthy divergence.

#69 ::: Northland ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 04:58 PM:

"[Chomsky's] political theories are taken very seriously in Canada, where he is the standard talk-show guest to explain the USA."

Uh, not so much. These days the CBC mostly trots out academic types from various Canadian Studies institutions. That, or Rick Mercer talks to the wo/man on the street.

#70 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 05:14 PM:

A very, very sincere three cheers for Lenny. Far too many people in the US are subject to harrassment over their legal, prescribed medication.

But I've done that rant before...

#71 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 06:56 PM:

Years back, Type-1 diabetics were scared to tell their employers about the condition; they figured they'd get fired, either because they'd increase the company's insurance premiums or just because nobody wanted "sick people" contaminating the office.

Now, of course, they're scared that someone will spot a syringe in their bags and fire them for being addicts.

The old way wasn't great, but it didn't carry the threat of criminal charges.

#72 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 07:05 PM:

Lucy, many cities rely on weight gauges to change the stoplights and bicycles don't weigh enough to trip them. My city has changed to a camera/software solution where the software decides when to change the lights, and the bicyclists are much happier.

#73 ::: David ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 07:06 PM:

I remember reading several years ago that the Berlin city council had rejected the design for the new US embassy there, because the building would have been set back behind a wall, breaking a rule that facades have to follow the existing building line. The council said that the US could build a fortress if it wanted, as long as it was in an industrial zone.

#74 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 07:28 PM:

Marilee: many cities rely on weight gauges to change the stoplights

I remember a couple of those when I was a kid - a rubber pad across an intersection. Dangerous and unreliable. I think they've been a long-time gone.

The current problem for all two-wheeled traffic are the induction loop sensors that often cannot detect bicycles at all (especially aluminum or carbon-fiber framesets) and that are often miscalibrated and ignore motorcycles too. Look for cut-marks in the pavement before the stop-line, usually round or rectangular with nipped-off corners. If you're on a bike, aim for the edges. Some intersections feature a separate bike-detector loop, which is usually clearly marked.

Sometimes cops know which ones don't work and stake them out. There was one on Stevens Creek Blvd in Cupertino, CA that comes to mind.

The camera ones sound interesting, but vandal-prone.

#75 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 08:06 PM:

Marilee: how reliable are the (traffic-sensor) cameras? I'd expect them to have threshold problems also -- probably not as bad as the mass/metal detectors, but non-trivial.

#76 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 10:11 PM:

Noam Chomsky is the greatest Linguist in the world. I was influenced in the early 1960s by his science, and studied mathematical Linguistics and Psycholinguistics at Caltech.

Noam Chomsky set the field of Linguistics back decades with his idiotic hair-brained anti-scientific theories. His work makes sense when you're trying to get a computer to generate sentences, but has absolutely nothing to do with what actually happens when people talk or listen. In fact, when an experiment to measure transformations' impact on speech speed showed that there was no such effect, Chomsky's followers rejected the data instead of the theory, which no scientist would have done.

Moreover he's a bad writer, incapable of putting together a single coherent paragraph, and quoting long passages in French without translation. In other words, he's interested in his own ego gratification, rather than in communicating anything to anyone.

This is all wrt his Linguistics, which I and other unfortunates were forced to study in the process of getting degrees in that field. We dubbed it "Voodoo Linguistics," because it went flatly against what was known about the functioning of human brains. Its adherents whined that it was "not a performance model," the only thing they said that sane people agreed with. It not only wasn't a model of linguistic performance, it provided absolutely no basis for one, nor any evidence that it was a competence model either. In fact such evidence as existed controverted the idea that linguistic competence could be represented in any such way.

What's the point? I can write computer programs that simulate hydrogen being transmuted to uranium while miners are in the process of digging it up, but that's not what happens in the Earth. Chomsky's linguistic theories make no more sense than that.

#77 ::: Alan Hamilton ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 11:19 PM:

The video vehicle sensors use cameras mounted above the overhead traffic signals, so they're not particularly subject to vandalism. Some people mistake them for security surveillance.

They detect changes in the video image in the target area and work pretty well, even on bicycles and motorcycles. They mainly have problems in heavy rain/snow/fog.

#78 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 11:45 PM:


That's okay. Chomsky disavowed his earlier theories in favor of Intelligent Design, right?

#79 ::: Steinn Sigurdsson ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2005, 12:32 AM:

JvP wrote:

"Well, call me paranoid, but when I grew up in Brooklyn Heights, I'd see Bobby Fischer walking on the Promenade. Then I moved to Pasadena, and he stalked me, also moving to Pasadena. Now, first of all, what kind of nut would follow me around like that?"

You want to be sponsored for an Icelandic passport?
Just to turn the tables?

#80 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2005, 12:41 AM:

Steinn Sigurdsson:

Well, I've been told that the University of Iceland, in Reykjavík, has a very good Mathematics Department. And I am looking for a Math professorship... They specialize there in Algebra, algebraic geometry, complex analysis, quantum field theory, differential geometry, functional analysis, non-linear functional analysis and graph theory. But the Homepage of The Icelandic Mathematical Society seems to have changed URLs, and I just can't figure out what I read with the English-Icelandic mathematical dictionary.

#81 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2005, 02:28 AM:

I always had a very positive view of the United States when I was growing up, the usual sort of "we won the space race and space ships are cool!" patriotism that dorky little SF-reading kids have. That viewpoint lasted until high school, withstanding the relatively content-free blows of elementary and middle school social studies. Sure, that Trail of Tears thing was pretty bad, and America's Latin America policy was and is blatantly corporate, but hey, we're the good guys! We protect democracy! We embody liberty and justice for all! (And we have WAY cool guns.)

About then, in high school, I started to pay more attention to politics and noticed how reliably everything gets f'ed up. I got into some knee-jerk anti-corporation save-the-earth stuff (I like to think my anti-corp rhetoric is a bit more nuanced now, even if it renders down about the same). I read about Chomsky (not Chomsky himself, natch) and thought, holy shit, he's right. I realized, for the first time, how messed up the country (and world) we live in is.

That was half of it, realizing our sad present condition. The other half was AP U.S. History. What it was to me, to that naive and idealistic me, was a brutal education in America's relentless, soul-numbing chain of atrocities. Think corporate manipulation of politics is new? Teapot Dome Scandal! In 1924! Not to mention Reconstruction. Pissed off about human rights? Hell, it only took a hundred years to get black people the vote! (Ok, ok, one fifty. One sixty? Deal.) And how about that Trail of Tears? At least everything got better for the Indians later on. Oh wait, nevermind.

It was quite a trip trying to reconcile the two Americas in my mind. On one hand, here was AMERICA, the shining, the beautiful, the bastion of liberty and humanity. The victor of World War II. On the other was the United Snakes of AmeriCo (Ltd.), the most efficient and rapacious exploiter of natural resources (human or otherwise) the world had ever seen. For a long time I couldn't do it. I hated America for not being the country I had thought it was. I didn't want to be a citizen of this America I had suddenly found myself in. I didn't want a great public education, plenty of food to eat, the right to free speech, and all that if it came with this legacy of blood and hate and suffering. Well, I'll take the food.

I think that that is the place where the rest of the world is right now. In the absence of actual knowledge of America, they had believed our incredibly prevalent and successful propaganda. That whole protector of liberty and justice schtick. Now it is getting harder and harder to ignore the truth of the matter. Which is that the United States isn't all that bright a beacon after all. It's the collision of the Hollywood America and the real America, where very few secret agents have hearts of gold.

#82 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2005, 02:42 AM:

(In case I left you with the impression I still feel the same way about America as I did in high school)

It wasn't until recently I was able to stop hating America. It occured to me that if America wasn't the place I wanted it to be, then how can it possibly not be my responsibility, as a citizen of this beast, to try and make it better? I have the power. How can I refuse to try to turn the tide?

After all, isn't there something worth fighting for? The dream of America, if nothing else--that beacon of liberty for so many around the globe--whether or not it is a true light it still shines in the hearts of millions. Is it not worth while to try to make that light a real light?

Hopefully we inside America can succeed in reversing America's course, or at least lean hard enough to turn us away from that rapidly looming rock.

#83 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2005, 05:00 AM:

The dispute over the Berlin embassy was very complicated, even by local standards. It's been solved, with compromises on both sides, and construction has begun. It's on the Pariser Platz, the square where the Brandenburger Tor stands, a couple hundred yards from the home of Germany's parliament and, I think, literally across the street from the new memorial to Europe's murdered Jews.

Given all of this, it is a very security-conscious part of town. Still, the embassy looks good in the drawings, the streets around it won't be blocked off. With money and commitment, we could be doing this in many more places. Part of why Sec. Powell was so well liked within the State Department is that he got the Congress to pony up the money to clear about a decade of backlogs. In the mid-90s -- dating precisely from the Republican takeover of Congress -- our representation overseas was systematically starved of funds. Part of our problems abroad are the belated consequences of this set of choices. Simultaneously, the political appartus at the Dept of Defense commands was built up and well funded. Rulers in various countries drew the obvious conclusions. Other problems we face abroad are the direct result of this set of choices.

But that's all another story. Here's the official page for the Berlin embassy. It'll be nice, in 2008, right next to the legendary Adlon Hotel.

#84 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2005, 09:07 AM:

idiotic hair-brained...

I woke up in the middle of the night thinking "hare-brained, you idiot!"

Well, damn.

#85 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2005, 10:41 AM:

At this point, I feel that the best thing I can say about America is that we can use "minority" as shorthand for "oppressed person", and everyone doesn't fall over laughing. At most times and places, it was the majority being oppressed.

It's not an extremely high standard, but just getting that far takes a lot of background ethics.

#86 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2005, 11:05 AM:

Last month, Feorag and I decided we needed an urgent low-stress vacation. As Europeans, North America seemed like a good bet. So we high-tailed it over the Atlantic ... to exotic Canada.

Five years ago, under identical circumstances, our destination would have been somewhere in the USA. But the USA is now off our list of vacation destinations. Not because we hate America, or anything so melodramatic ... but because visiting that country is no longer low-stress. It involves being fingerprinted and photographed and IDd and scrutinized by cold-faced unaccountable security goons. And that's before we start lying awake nights worrying about what would happen if, through some mischance, through database flakiness or a random fellow traveller going off their meds or whatever, one or the other of us got fingered as an actual security hazard.

These days travelling to the USA feels like putting myself at risk. As a non-US citizen I have no civil rights under the security regime in place today. It reminds me of the bad tales I heard about travel in the old days to the USSR, where having the wrong book in one's luggage could earn one an extended stay in a very uncomfortable hostelry indeed. Visiting the USA is not a low-stress activity any more. So I'm sorry but until there's a change in attitude the US is off my list of vacation destinations. (I'm still going to at least one more con, but only because I'm guest of honor -- and Feorag refuses to go at all. And as I prefer not to travel alone, your guess is as good as mine when I'm visiting after that.)

Which brings me to the thing that I'm worrying about here:

I know that this unease is mostly misplaced and the odds against me being harassed on a visit are high. But it's very common among non-Americans -- just as many Americans are worried about going abroad for fear of being blown up or targeted because of their nationality. And as this psychological Berlin Wall gets higher and higher there's going to be less and less intercourse across it, and less mutual understanding. The USA seems to have always related to the rest of the world as if it's another planet, but at least it has a culture that the rest of us have found accessible. If that accessibility vanishes, then so does the export of the American self-image to the rest of the world. No more shining city on a hill; just a corrupt strutting planetary cop untainted by ideals or honesty.

And I trust I don't have to explain why I think this would be a bad thing.

#87 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2005, 03:12 PM:

Chomsky disavowed his earlier theories in favor of Intelligent Design, right?

What difference would that make?

#88 ::: Joy ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2005, 03:38 PM:

In New Delhi, the Indian writer Gurcharan Das remarked to me that with each visit to the U.S. lately, he has been forced by border officials to explain why he is coming to America.

Isn't that a standard question asked everywhere? In the past two years I've been asked that in Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama. I was forced to explain I was a turista.

#89 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2005, 03:54 PM:

It depends on the exact nature of the question. I've been asked some variant of "purpose of your visit," "Length of stay?" and "Business or pleasure?" dozens of times in a good many countries (though not, interestingly, in the Soviet Union), and its main purpose was clearly to identify people who are there as commercial travelers who might have to register with some trade agency, or were planning to stay long enough to require resident visas. It went by in a flash, and hardly counted as "questioning." More to the point, no experienced traveler would think it worthy of comment.

If, on the other hand, people are being asked to provide their itineraries, asked who they intend to meet with, and other stuff that falls under the category of police investigation rather than the needs of Customs & Immigration, that is what'cha call the f-word. Either of them.

#90 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2005, 04:03 PM:

On entering the USA on a visa waiver, in addition to the general stuff you'd expect (name, home address, duration of stay) you're supposed to fill out the address and contact details for wherever you're staying. Then you get some questioning at immigration which seems usually to be directed at ensuring that you're genuinely eligible for the visa waiver program, i.e. you're not a journalist or representative of the imperialist propagand^W^Wforeign press, that you're not there to work, and so on. Usually it's perfunctory and/or good-natured.

Don't ask me about unusually because I haven't had that misfortune. Luckily there appears to be a shortage of Al Qaida minions with names like "ibn Stross" to mis-spell.

#91 ::: ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2005, 04:41 PM:

Charlie, and that the administration's flunkies haven't yet decided that 'writer' falls under 'journalist, terorist, etc.'.

I'd really hate to have a lot of money bet on that
not happening in the next few years.

#92 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2005, 06:18 PM:

Alan has already answered about the traffic cameras. The only problem I've heard about is that sometimes if there's a frontage road, someone moving along the road will trip the sensor.

#93 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2005, 06:43 PM:

"If, on the other hand, people are being asked to provide their itineraries, asked who they intend to meet with, and other stuff that falls under the category of police investigation rather than the needs of Customs & Immigration"

Champions for this category in my personal experience are still the UK, closely followed by East Germany. On closer examination, the East German border guard turned out to have a sense of humor. In London, apparently wanting to buy an onward ticket in what was then the discount travel capital of the world counted as suspicious behavior. My introduction to merrye olde was made even merrier by a train strike, which meant that none of the budget travelers were leaving their accommodations, hence no room at the inn. Not ten minutes later, there was an announcement of a fire in the terminal, and no one was to move at all. (I swear on a stack of Dave Barry books I'm not making this up.) I asked a nearby clerk whether this sort of thing happened often, and he answered "Oh yes, all the time." Off I went.

#94 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2005, 09:24 PM:

I recall British Customs. It was like all British institutions - it worked or didn't work because of the individual actually operating it rather than because of some overarching policy. The first time through I was scrutinised by an enormous Jamaican-born woman (I can tell a Jamaican accent from, say, a Trinidadian, but some of the vowel sounds defeat me on first hearing) with a vast Afro, her peaked service cap pinned to it with crocodile clips. She was coldly hostile and completely uninterested. When I had difficulty following her, she scowled and asked me, in the loud and pained tones one uses to idiots, whether I spoke English.

The second and third times through my interrogators were people with what I used to think of as Oxonian accents, clear as the ring of a spoon on a teacup, and deeply polite. Both were Sikhs. I began to wonder whether British customs was something of a self-staffing industry.

We'll leave aside my difficulty with the fact that all the Germans, Spaniards and Italians, who possessed EC passports, went straight through without having to endure this ritual, whereas I, on an Australian document, waited in line for over half an hour. The point is that the questions were quite extensive. Where was I going? How long did I plan to stay? Who would I be staying with? How much money did I have? Could I show tickets with an onward component? And so on.

I wonder what use anyone thinks this is. Surely if I were coming into a country on fell design, or even just in bad faith, I would have prepared suitable and credible lies? That is to say, the only outcome is to harrass and detain travellers, to no purpose. Or is that the purpose?

#95 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2005, 03:10 AM:

Simple enough, Dave. EU citizens have the right to travel freely within the EU, including the right to take jobs, claim social security benefits, etc, etc. It's one of the things the EU *is*. A Union.

Australians don't have those rights, not being part of the Union. Therefore British customs officals would like to make sure that you a) have either the money to support yourself or a visa that permits you to work, b) have some plan to leave the country within the time allowed by your visa. They don't want you becoming an illegal immigrant, and prior experience of those travelling on Australian documents suggests that this is not beyond the bounds of possibility. As a British taxpayer (some of the time), I'm not entirely unhappy with this situation.

The West Indians, Sikhs etc are very probably native-born citizens of the UK, and at this point quite possibly several generations away from being native-born anywhere else. I've had the interesting experience of working in the US alongside someone else with an English accent. She's ethnically Indian (as in sub-continent, not as in North American), I'm ethnically North European. Guess which one of us was born in England?

#96 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2005, 03:19 AM:

Oh yeah, and is this a danged outsider trying to get into the field, or should we welcome him with open arms?

Return of the Battle of the Monster Trucks,
by Tom Hawthorn
Reprinted in “Best Canadian Essays, 1989,” edited by Doug Fetherling (Fifth House, 1990); “Canadian Content” (second edition), edited by Sarah Norton and Neil Waldman (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1992)

"Up there Bigfoot sits Ken Koelling, strapped into seven tons of mean machine, his Missouri butt just inches from a 429-cubic-inch boss Ford hemi V-6 power plant. The Crunch Bunch in the stands are on their feet in delirium over The Clash of the Titans, which begins as soon as this Monster Truck does some righteous damage to those eight dead sedans parked door-to-door on the floor of the hockey arena. Rest assured, Ken knows his bruising beast sometimes flips and sometimes careens crazily into the seats, but all he can think about as he looks out on those cars is, 'I sure wish that were a mud pit.' .... But you’d need more than just big tires. Big engine (preferably on the outside where the flywheel and the header could shine in the sun), nice hand-rubbed lacquer paint job, a pair of thin racing stripes painted along the panels and maybe even a sword-wielding babe with billowing science-fiction breasts — but, no, the wife wouldn’t go for that...."

#97 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2005, 03:22 AM:

Whoops, wrong thread. Teresa or Patrick, can you please move that excerpt from "Return of the Battle of the Monster Trucks",
by Tom Hawthorn
Reprinted in “Best Canadian Essays, 1989,” edited by Doug Fetherling (Fifth House, 1990); “Canadian Content” (second edition), edited by Sarah Norton and Neil Waldman (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1992)

Pretty please, with kandy-kolored sprinkles on top?

#98 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2005, 06:57 AM:

Yep, Julia. You're quite right, and I was naive in the extreme to suppose that Australians should be in any sense other than aliens in Britain. I merely smile gently at the irony, now, that I have two (distant) cousins and a granduncle pushing up daisies in France, and my father lost a generous sprinkling of blood in Africa, because of their misguided efforts to prevent what are now citizens of the EC from entering Britain under circumstances of, shall we say, reduced formality, some time ago.

And of course, Australians must not be allowed to enter Britain and overstay. That would be terrible. Out of the half-million illegals you have there, Australians are almost certainly over-represented, I'm sure.

#99 ::: Feòrag ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2005, 07:14 AM:

Meanwhile Dave, if I (a British citizen) wish to go to Australia, even for a short holiday, I have to get a visa. And I've heard horror stories about how welcoming Australian immigration isn't. Pot, kettle, etc.

There is, of course, a reason why Australian bar staff are a cliché here, though they are slowly being replaced by white South African bar staff.

#100 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2005, 08:54 AM:

It IS interesting that the British Commonwealth is less of a unit than the EC.

#101 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2005, 09:57 AM:

Hardly surprising -- it's not an economic unit.

Same thing with small population languages -- the thing that matters is how much economic activity is taking place in this language?, not how much cultural preservation effort is being expended?.

If the Commonwealth was an economic unit, it'd be the Empire again, in a funny hat. Lots of people very much did not want that in the sequelae to Hitler's War.

Though there are a number of reports of increased economic and especially educational co-operation between India and Australia, so bits of the Commonwealth might move toward being an economic unit in the future.

#102 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2005, 10:18 AM:

Perhaps the point is not that US customs is strikingly worse than the worst in the world, or even than the entry aggravation from a lot of other civilized countries.

You attract tourists and business by being welcoming or at least by not being awful, not by not being the worst.

I'm sick of hearing "we have a right to make our own rules and enforce them". Aside from any philosophical issues about rights, you have a right to be obnoxious, but you don't have a right to not suffer consequences from it.

#103 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2005, 11:20 AM:

Hear, hear. Just as you have a perfect right to say a lot of things, including things that are downright rude, but you don't have a right to complain if people don't like you. (I've actually heard this, usually from young punks: "I have a right to express my opinion!" Right kid, you do; and I have a right to ostracize you for your racism and homophobia. That's MY right to freedom of association (which is not, as it sounds, a right to make non sequiturs).)

#104 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2005, 11:23 AM:

It's not (particularly) the INS, although if you're not obviously white North European and a fluent English speaker it's not a good idea to tackle US customs from every report I've heard.

It's that, as a matter of real, active policy, if you are not a US citizen, you have no civil rights in the US -- no rights of due process, no protection in law from anything. If La Migra wants to spend six days torturing you to death, they haven't broken any laws that will ever be applied to them. (And it is far from clear that this hasn't already happened more than once, on US soil.)

Taken to its logical conclusion, this means that contracts with non-AmCits aren't binding, either, because the non-American Citizen party to the contract has no standing to sue if the contract isn't kept.

It's not a question of not being friendly and welcoming; it's miles past questions of friendly and welcoming and into the answer to can I assume my odds of being subject to arbitrary arrest, detention, and torture are effectively zero? not being yes anymore.

#105 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2005, 11:51 AM:

Xopher: The EU was conceived as a way to bind Europe together economically, and later politically ; the Commonwealth was an attempt to keep some links with the former colonies of the British empire. Partly because of the understandable reluctance of former colonies to be tied into a more perfect union, the Commonwealth has remained more of a talking shop. This is not to say that it has not provided valuable to its members; just that it is not really comparable to the EU.

#106 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2005, 12:01 PM:

One of the things that struck me when I last went to Europe was the relative informality of the customs and immigration process. I entered the EU in Copenhagen and got my passport scanned and stamped with literally no words spoken. Customs was in Franfurt, where I was ending my air journey - just smile and walk through the green doors.

I crossed from Germany to the Czech Republic on a train - nobody scanned my passport. Had I traveled home from there, there would have been no real record of my leave the EU, or at least the Schengen (sp) zone. Similarly, I re-entered into Austria, resetting my 90 days, but there was no record other than my passport.

Exiting from Copenhagen, they did scan my passport again.

I think the US Visit program is excessive, but there is something to be said for keeping a proper inventory of who has entered so you can tell who hasn't left on time or obtained a proper longer-stay visa.

BTW, because I lived at the same address in Berlin for a bit more than a month, I should have gone to the Ausländeramt to register. Of course, I didn't. That would have been silly.

When I landed in Newark, the most obvious thing that the police were doing was screaming at anyone who so much as took their cell phone out. They're really, really touchy about cell phones until you go through the whole customs and immigration process. Maybe they saw The Matrix one too many times.

#107 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2005, 01:29 PM:

I realize now I was perhaps too hasty to condemn the u.s. as a police state

not safe for heart or other ailments, before or after eating, good humour.

#108 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2005, 01:44 PM:

Stop me if you've heard this before. Once, returning from Munich, where I'd been a Keynote Speaker at a combined Aerospace Conference and Science Fiction Film Festival, airport security asked me the routine question about having an item that I hadn't packed myself. Answering honestly, I said that I had. I'd gotten it from a Russian cosmonaut back from MIR. A considerable time elapsed, involving Germans in crisp uniforms, one carrying an automatic weapon. The x-rays proved that the box contained only assorted chocolates. Yet it never occurred to me to be annoyed. These were professionals, and did the right thing to ensure safety. They were always polite. Germany and Israel are countries who know how to do airport security. Whereas, in Philadelphia, threatening my brother with arrest, preemptively, before any questionable deed or word, was unprofessional, and highly impolite. It is not easy for a Jew to prefer Germans in uniform to Americans, but that is what is going on as Emperor Bush dismantles the Statue of Liberty, and uses the metal to make barbed wire.

#109 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2005, 01:44 PM:

Dave L., apparently my mistake at Heathrow was saying that I would be visiting Aussie and Kiwi friends...

#110 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2005, 01:46 PM:

okay I probably reacted overly emotionally to viewing that and posted too quickly. sorry.

#111 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2005, 03:18 PM:

Cory Doctorow directs us, on, to which I add the implied hotlink:

Why it's smart to disobey officials in emergencies "Gary Wolf's tantalizing piece in this month's Wired concludes that the future of American security lies in ignoring the Department of Homeland Security, with its 'rainbow of doom,' its magic airport involuntary nudity machines, and its suspension of the Constitution and relying instead on common sense and democratic fundamentals."

#112 ::: Shunra ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2005, 03:27 PM:

Graydon, it is no longer the INS at all. The part of the agency formally known as the INS that deals with human traffic was the BCIS for a while (Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services) and then became the USCIS (United States replaced the word Bureau, inspiring much chortling about possible equivalence).

As to the legal theory - I didn't see *anything* about that sort of qualification in the constitution. Using the law as you described is being tested by our gov't. I'm not sure to what extent various judges will put up with it.

And, uh, JVP? The security in Israel is supported by a system of mass arrests. They may know how to do it (which has had the general effect of moving the pressure off airplanes and onto buses and schools), but do you REALLY want to live in that sort of an environment?

#113 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2005, 03:32 PM:

When I travel, I come to the US as a returning citizen, and to the UK as a returning resident. Because I travel with my British husband and my dual-nationality children, I get to see all the sides of the equation.

La Migra is notably more terse than they were before 2002 (when I travelled in November of 2001, they were still pretty good.) They've not been actively rude to us, just edgy. The TSA has ruined a number of expensive papers while searching my luggage, though.

By contrast, I've had some very nice folks tending the "Johnny Foreigner" queue when I come back to Blighty. My very first encounter with British immigration included not only stamping my passport with my student visa, but explaining that the train system was more expensive on a Friday than any other day. My latest one included a very friendly recommendation to consider dual citizenship, with flier including a URL to check out.

(I am considering it, having researched the matter and discovered that taking British nationality does not mean renouncing my American citizenship. Still mulling over the oath of allegiance to the Queen.)

Travel on the Continent has been loose the entire fifteen-odd years I've been visiting and living here. I was in the Netherlands the New Year's they took the hacksaws to the border barriers, but even before then they were pretty casual about passport checks. The British are notably tighter about passport checks than the rest of the Europe; when I went to France last month the Brits were flashing their passports, walking without slowing past the immigration booth unless asked to.

#114 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2005, 05:33 PM:

abi: Irish passports don't require any oaths to the Queen....

I've crossed my share of borders, both before acquiring Irish citizenship and after.

One memorable experience was in 1997, while entering the UK at Manchester Airport, right behind two 747s from the Far East (Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific), a few months after the Hong Kong handover. The non-EU lines were both incredibly long and moving incredibly slowly. By the time I reached the desk, my wife had already collected our bags from the carousel and was standing behind the immigration area with them on a cart.

The officer asked about the purpose of my visit, and I said "visiting my wife's family". He said "oh, your wife's British then?" and I replied "yes, she's right there." He quickly stamped my passport and said "enjoy your trip." Since that trip we've both acquired additional nationalities, making US<->EU trips fairly simple (since we can use the "locals" line at each end).

Our most recent trip cleared us into Canada at Ottawa Int'l, and back into the US at Toronto-Pearson. Both were quick, polite, and relatively painless.

If the INS-er-BCIS-er-USCIS really wanted to track people who might overstay their visas, they should hire the alumni office of my alma mater. They're persistent and seem to manage to track me down no matter where I move to....

#115 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2005, 05:56 PM:

Christopher: very true, but I think Eire will want more residency than the one day I spent in Dublin in January 2002. I've lived and worked in Bonnie Caledonia for twelve years this coming August.

According to the Home Office website, I would have to swear (or affirm) "by Almighty God that on becoming a British citizen, I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, her Heirs and Successors, according to law."

Then I would have to pledge, "I will give my loyalty to the United Kingdom and respect its rights and freedoms. I will uphold its democratic values. I will observe its laws faithfully and fulfil my duties and obligations as a British citizen."

On the plus side, the website says they serve light refreshments as part of the citizenship ceremony.

#116 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2005, 07:00 PM:

abi: Comparisons to the US oath come to mind. (Now, if only more of the office-holders who've sworn to "defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic" would do so....)

#117 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2005, 07:30 PM:

abi --

It helps (I find that it helps...) to remember that the legal concept of Her Majesty isn't precisely congruent with Elizabeth Windsor's proper person.

#118 ::: Andrew Baster ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2005, 07:37 PM:

As a non-American living in the US who has frequently been critical of US foreign policy, I'd like to note something here. America stands for many things in the world -- capitalism, consumerism, individualism, even moral laxity -- but what has driven even those who fear and distrust the US to respect it has been American openness and love of liberty.

Even Richard Nixon -- and the Cuban press replaced the x in his name with a swastika -- perhaps the most repressive (outside the US) post-war president before W appeared to value liberty genuinely. It does not seem that W does. He is pretty nakedly for empire, and that frightens a lot of people outside the US.

#119 ::: Andrew Baster ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2005, 08:06 PM:

I'm a permanent resident of the US (which entitles me to use the US citizens line at immigration) and an EU citizen. Travelling to the EU is a breeze since all I do at the European end is hand my passport (or just show it) to the immigration officer, who looks at it, looks at me, and says "Thank you."

US immigration hasn't, it seems to me, got more harassing since 9/11 (I had more trouble in the 1980s), but it is often less courteous than European.

#120 ::: Anton P. Nym (aka Steve) ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2005, 09:02 PM:

I'll chip in here with the observation that US border personnel vary *greatly* in attitude and professionalism... my most pleasant crossing was last month, going through the Windsor to Detroit tunnel. My entry interview was the longest of my bus-load simply because the agent spent time dissuading me from walking to the Amtrak station. (Time well spent... seeing as I spent my layover admiring the nearby slums from the station's windows. Nice fields of fire on the North and East faces, with the South masked by a rail embankment too steep to scale. Dunno about the West, as it was behind the "employees only" parition.)

However the world perception of American policy *is* changing with the advent of the Department of Homeland Security. It's blatent disregard for contrary opinions, it's "damn the torpedos" attitude, its egregious split between ideal and execution, the alarming zeal of its True Believers, and (perhaps the most dismaying) the shocking clumsiness displayed by its agents and officers; all these combine to give the impression that the greatest power on the planet has let a drunk get behind the wheel.

We're all waiting for the crash... and hoping we won't get caught in the tangle of wreckage should it come.

#121 ::: Michael Turyn ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2005, 10:12 PM:

Coming back through Heathrow in 1994, I was told that there were three possible security checks, and that very, very, few people were checked three times. I suddenly remembered the very few times I've been taken for Arab, or half-Indonesian, or Greek, or Turk.....

My third check was the most memorable, consisting of a very detailed examination of my luggage, in front of me, with little quizzes about each item. I remember noticing that all the people doing this examination seemed to be women, and I decided that was probably smart: in the cubicle-like enclosed space in which this was going on, I could see the possibility of primate territorial reflexes badly escalating the situation with a man in charge of it---at least for me.

Then, last year, at Logan, the guy in charge of telling our line what to do screamed out, "You will place your belongings in the tray! You _will_ remove your shoes!," à la Parris Island.

As far as our image abroad, I can't forget visiting my cousins in Morocco c. 1975. They'd seen a lot of American reruns, in particular "Le Virginien", so on meeting them, these three- and five-year-olds remonstrated, "Vous n'êtes pas americains---où sont vos pistoles?"

(The family in question are now in Canada, the surviving members of my family being good at Getting Out While You Still Can---I hope I am, but I fear I'll wait too long out of depression, patriotism, and sloth.)

#122 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2005, 05:19 AM:


That's about the light I've been considering it in. She is an office-holder, according (as the last clause of the oath says) to law. That's very different than the personal allegiance to a person, whims and all. She is also a figurehead, which makes it not as far as all that from my allegiance to the flag.

I have no trouble whatsoever with the pledge. Far from it.

Note as well that the Brits don't want my exclusive allegiance. That's what makes dual citizenship possible - they don't want me to renounce my American citizenship. And - I looked into this - the US government, while not happy about adults taking on second citizenships, does not construe the adoption of a non-exclusive second citizenship as a renunciation of the first.

I could not renounce my American citizenship. Living in the UK all this time has taught me how American I really am, philisophically as well as legally, and to renounce the passport would be a lie.

#123 ::: Tom Womack ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2005, 02:09 PM:

URL points to a couple of photos of the site of the US Embassy in Berlin, taken by me last Sunday. It's one block over from the Brandenburg Gate, next to a lovely modern wavy-fronted block of presumably staggeringly expensive apartments, and opposite the holocaust memorial.

The flag in the middle of the top photo is on the new Polish embassy, a little way down Unter den Linden on the other side, with its big windows facing the street full of photos and text about the genocides in Poland. The Soviet, now Russian, embassy is a little further down the road on the other side.

#124 ::: Georgiana ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2005, 02:38 PM:

Xopher - I absolutely love your statement that people have the right to say what they want to but they also have the obligation to live with the results of their hate speech.

#125 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2005, 02:43 PM:

Graydon, a lot of deciesions aren't based on the possibility of rare disasters, but on the predictable hassle level. Otherwise, the primary impediment to air travel would probably be fear of a bad car accident on the way to the airport.

People in this thread for the most part haven't been talking about the possibility of the US government doing something horrendous to them, they'll been talking about security aggravations, and I bet this reflects the way most people think.

#126 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2005, 03:28 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz:

"Otherwise, the primary impediment to air travel would probably be fear of a bad car accident on the way to the airport."

I recall discussions with my father on car accidents versus air accidents with my father, as he prepared to publish "Airline Safety is a Myth" by Vernon W. Lowell, New York: Bartholomew House, 1967.

The primary issue was in comparing statistics by trip versus statisitics by passenger mile, but it was hard to get to that, as there were so many complicating factors. Lowell was a retired TWA pilot, and enjoyed working with my Dad, who as I've mentioned herein, was an ex-U.S. Army Air Corps Pilot-Instructor, licensed to fly and teach every US aircraft extant, except blimps and helicopters.

#127 ::: Adrian Bedford ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2005, 03:28 AM:

Two years ago my wife Michelle and I travelled from Australia to Canada for Torcon 3. It was our first overseas trip. We had to transit through the US, and thus encountered this form we had to fill in, describing all the things Charlie Stross mentioned--but also requiring us to check boxes according to what kind of people we were.

It had categories like: Nazi war criminal; drug dealer; mentally ill; etc. I suffer with bipolar illness, requiring medication, doctor visits, etc. So I pretty much have to tick that box.

At the bottom of the list it says things like, responding YES to any of these categories could result in your being deported.

We got these forms to fill in when we were about an hour from landing at LAX, after a total of about 15 hours flight. We were pretty badly fried from jetlag and discomfort, etc, but this bit about how I "could" be deported for merely being mentally ill was terrifying. To say nothing of being lumped in with Nazi war criminals and drug dealers, etc.

I was going to Torcon to launch my first published book. My publisher had gone to a lot of trouble on our behalf, and I was worried about something going wrong, so I turned to Michelle and said, "If I get deported, you have to go onto Toronto and do the launch, okay?"

Michelle, as badly fried, as worried as I was, made agreement noises.

We landed, went through Customs/Immigration. The guy in the booth asked about my checking that box on the form. I said, anxious as hell and rather too loudly (ahem) that I was just bipolar, it was under perfectly good control, and that I had a letter from my doctor explaining everything, and medication, and everything! The guy blinked a few times, smiled, and said it was fine, no worries, enjoy your stay.

Later that day we flew into Toronto-Pearson. Another form to fill in. On the Canadian form there was nothing at all about Nazis, drug dealers, or even mental illness. We like Canada a lot. The US makes us nervous. And I gather that since then, the rules and procedures for getting into the US are even more alarming.

(Meanwhile, if I was a Nazi war criminal, why would I check "YES" on the form?)

#128 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2005, 09:12 AM:
(Meanwhile, if I was a Nazi war criminal, why would I check "YES" on the form?)

Looking for a job in the space program, perhaps?

#129 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2005, 09:20 AM:

Nancy -

Most people aren't worried about the flu pandemic, either.

This is not an argument that they are correct not to be.

#130 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2005, 12:39 PM:

Dave apparently believes that the sins of the fathers should be visited upon the sons even unto the third generation, and preferably beyond. A war fifty years ago means that the present citizens of the nations involved should be subject to harassment at immigration.

I'd find that attitude a little less repellent if Australian immigration officals didn't enthusiastically repel boarders from other Commonwealth countries, including the UK. Seems that the "We're Commonwealth, we're *entitled*!" goes only one way. I do have personal experience of this, although it's not recent as I've travelled in and out of Australia on my Australian passport for a good many years now. It tends to influence my view of people who demand that Australians should be waved through UK customs with a cheery "There you go, squire!"

And yes, Australians *are* notorious in the UK for working illegally and/or overstaying their visas, and are notorious for displaying the attitude that they should be entitled to live and work in the UK without a visa. There's been a nice demonstration in this thread of why.

#131 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2005, 01:08 PM:

Georgiana - thanks, but it's hardly original with me. I was taught it more or less as "Freedom from censorship does not mean freedom from censure."

#132 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2005, 07:12 PM:

Why the stupid quesions from the immigration officer? Because they arent that stupid. For example:

Meanwhile, if I was a Nazi war criminal, why would I check "YES" on the form?

Well, I doubt that you would. Such persons are specifically barred from entry and if USCIS was later able to present a prima facie case that you were a Nazi war criminal before an immigration court, you would, at the least, find yourself in detention pending deportation for filing false immigration documentation, which is relatively easy to adjudicate -- you would then have to prove you were not a Nazi war criminal, as the presumption is upon you to show that you are eligible for entry. Putting that question on the form is a way to help build a case at some later point, if necessary.

If, on the other hand, people are being asked to provide their itineraries, asked who they intend to meet with, and other stuff that falls under the category of police investigation rather than the needs of Customs & Immigration

Mr. Ford, this is a case where I fear you may be wrong. A US citizen or legal resident, who has established his or her identity and status, and resolved any customs issues should, of course, not be subject to these questions. But questions concerning itineraries and meetings are routine for certain visitors, such as someone entering with a student or H-1B visa, as the question is relevant to their status.

#133 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2005, 07:53 PM:

Claude, I expressed that very poorly. I understand that there are legitimate questions that can be asked about a visitor's itinerary and contacts. The post that led to the comment was that Gurcharan Das was being asked "why he was coming to America." The fact that he found this worthy of mention implies that the questioning was more than "Business or pleasure?" I don't know what disturbed him. Maybe the questions were leading and insinuating; maybe they were straightforward but given in a rude and suspicious manner (hell, I've gotten that more than once, and long before 9/11); maybe they were innocuous and polite and Das was just annoyed that he had to answer anything. Every country reserves the right to question foreigners about their intentions (they maintain the same rights about citizens, though the rules are usually different), to bar or expel them at "discretion." But a shift -- even if it's only a perceived shift -- towards "everyone is an enemy of the state until proven otherwise" is a bad move, and one that, like most of our grungy new security measures, has a net negative effect on national security.

#134 ::: Adrian Bedford ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2005, 11:00 PM:

Claude said, replying to my question:

Meanwhile, if I was a Nazi war criminal, why would I check "YES" on the form?

Well, I doubt that you would. Such persons are specifically barred from entry and if USCIS was later able to present a prima facie case that you were a Nazi war criminal before an immigration court, you would, at the least, find yourself in detention pending deportation for filing false immigration documentation, which is relatively easy to adjudicate -- you would then have to prove you were not a Nazi war criminal, as the presumption is upon you to show that you are eligible for entry. Putting that question on the form is a way to help build a case at some later point, if necessary.

This makes sense, now you explain it. Thank you for clearing that up. I've been wondering.

#135 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2005, 05:49 PM:
But a shift -- even if it's only a perceived shift -- towards "everyone is an enemy of the state until proven otherwise" is a bad move, and one that, like most of our grungy new security measures, has a net negative effect on national security.

I completely agree. And apparently so does Christopher Hitchens. In his own way of course:

What we are looking at, then, is a hugely costly and oppressive system that is designed to maintain the illusion of safety and the delusion that the state is protecting its citizens. The main beneficiaries seem to be the pilferers employed by this vast bureaucracy—we have had several recent reports about the steep increase in items stolen from luggage. And that is petty theft that takes place off-stage. What amazes me is the willingness of Americans to submit to confiscation at the point of search. Every day, people are relieved of private property in broad daylight, with the sole net result that they wouldn't have even a nail file with which to protect themselves if (or rather when) the next hijacking occurs.
Last month, cigarette lighters were added to the confiscation list. There's probably some half-baked "shoe-bomber" justification for this, but I hear that at Boise airport in Idaho there's now a lighter bin on the way out of the airport, like the penny tray in some shops, that allows you to pick one up. Give one; take one—it all helps to pass the time until the next disaster, which collective punishment of the law-abiding is doing nothing to prevent.
#136 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2005, 05:58 PM:

On excessively cynical days, I suspect that the final goal of all of these security measures is that we will fly stark naked (or in disposable paper clothing), requiring to buy all of our possessions again at our destinations. The vulnerability of our nudity (if you weren't raised in clothing-optional hippie communities like I was) will make it easier for the airlines to herd us like cattle and the officials to bully us. Airlines will be able to fly more people on less fuel due to the weight savings. And the arrival-side purchasing will boost the consumer-dependent economy.

Maybe they could just sedate us and stack us like cordwood while they're at it.

(I think this is an excessively cynical day.)

#137 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2005, 06:01 PM:

Remember what folks were watching on their whole-wall flatscreen TVs in Farenheit 451: the arrests, in Real Time, of "enemies of the State."

Now we have "Cops" and Homeland Security and Reality TV and Fox. It's just a matter of time before they put the pieces together.

Bad books, bad books,
whatcha gonna do
whatcha gonna do when they come for you
bad books!

#138 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2005, 06:30 PM:

Following up on What John Said:

#139 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2005, 09:28 PM:

Speaking of the bizarre at the customs gate: Man With Chain Saw Allowed to Enter U.S.

On April 25, Gregory Despres arrived at the U.S.-Canadian border crossing at Calais, Maine, carrying a homemade sword, a hatchet, a knife, brass knuckles and a chain saw stained with what appeared to be blood. U.S. customs agents confiscated the weapons and fingerprinted Despres. Then they let him into the United States.

As is detailed (just the word for it, too) in the story, the next day they find a murdered couple in Despres' home town. Of course.

Bill Anthony, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said the Canada-born Despres could not be detained because he is a naturalized U.S. citizen and was not wanted on any criminal charges on the day in question.

Anthony said Despres was questioned for two hours before he was released. During that time, he said, customs agents employed "every conceivable method" to check for warrants or see if Despres had broken any laws in trying to re-enter the country.

"Nobody asked us to detain him," Anthony said. "Being bizarre is not a reason to keep somebody out of this country or lock them up. ... We are governed by laws and regulations, and he did not violate any regulations." (added emphasis mine)

Anthony conceded it "sounds stupid" that a man wielding what appeared to be a bloody chain saw could not be detained. But he added: "Our people don't have a crime lab up there. They can't look at a chain saw and decide if it's blood or rust or red paint."

Sounds stupid, indeed.

#140 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2005, 10:20 PM:

Stefan: comments on that entry indicate it's a probable spoof.

Besides, on this one, the Brits beat us to it. Do a Google Images search for the phrase "secure beneath the watchful eyes". I saw these in the wild myself in 2002—definitely official TfL material.

#141 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2005, 11:05 PM:

Graydon, I think you're right that people should be more worried about the very bad philosophical direction the US government is taking than they are.

However, to the extent that one of these threads has a topic, I think the topic of this one is the actual damage being caused by current practice, and the actual damage seems to be more a matter of pervasive low and medium level hassling.

I have an unprovable belief that more people have died as a result of it being harder for foreign medical personel to work in the US than died on 9/11.

#142 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2005, 01:49 AM:

What an interesting reaction from Julia!

I deplore that Australians are treated as aliens in the UK, despite the long and clear kinship between the peoples, including the shedding of copious amounts of Australian blood in the defence of the latter. This is interpreted to mean that I think that the UK should close its borders in permanent retribution to its historical enemies.

Not so. I simply would like Australians to be treated as the old friends, kin, and allies that we are. Of course the UK is entitled to treat its old enemies as it wills. I would like to be treated the same way, no more, and that would be because of the history, rather than despite it.

Julia should be aware that visa arrangements between sovereign nations are reciprocal. Australian visa requirements for UK travellers were, as I recall, enacted in lockstep with the situation vice-versa.

One of the reasons that I deplore being treated as an alien is that all immigration departments the world over seem to breed the same type of officious jack-in-office. That she experienced the same treatment as I did (at least on one occasion) is cause, I would have thought, for our mutual commiseration, rather than recrimination. I deplore, as she does, citizens of any nation acting in defiance of their visa conditions, or entering any nation illegally. I agree that Australia is restrictive and officious over this matter, and I much regret that Julia - like me - has been inconvenienced and insulted.

#143 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2005, 01:57 AM:

Australia has always been a brave ally. Gallipoli. Vietnam. ANZAC. No question. Why the UK snub? One hypothesis:

"The aggressive frontier style of the Australians makes them cognitively closer to Americans than even the British." [Robert D. Kaplan, "How We Would Fight China", The Atlantic Monthly, June 2005, p.55]

Also the Brits secretly lust for nude beaches and Balmain Bugs, but won't admit it. Not Wichitty grubs, though.

#144 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2005, 05:30 AM:

Nancy --

I spoken to quite a number of people, mostly of subcontinental Indian extraction and some of Eastern European extraction, who just won't go to the US anymore, out of concerns which I understand to be more similar to 'what if they disappear me?' (especially, "what if they decide they'd rather disappear me than admit they made a mistake in grabbing me in the first place?") than to "it's such an awful hassle".

People complaining of hassle are noisy; people who expect no protection in law are quiet.

#145 ::: dave heasman ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2005, 09:45 AM:

Nancy says
"I have an unprovable belief that more people have died as a result of it being harder for foreign medical personel to work in the US than
died on 9/11."

Whereas I have an unprovable belief that fewer people have died as a result of it being harder for foreign medical personnel to work in the US than died on 9/11.
Just not Americans.

#146 ::: Dan R. ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2005, 03:52 PM:

Dave, Julia,
My understanding is that special links between Australia (and other Commonwealth countries) and the UK were not allowed to continue once the UK joined the EU.

#147 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2005, 06:47 PM:

Having an overly common name likely shared by a couple dozen member of the IRA, I recently found myself on the "Your name must be checked" list for Southwest Airlines, so I had to go deal with the gate agent after the automatic check-in machine had been programmed to lie and say that there was an error with my ticket information. So I stood in line for another fifteen minutes, after waiting for the machine to lie to me, along with a businessman with the equally common name of John Williams. The clerk finally cleared us, apologized for the delay, and we got on the flight.

What this comes down to is that, by dint of a common name, I've lost the privilege of being allowed to run late and use the quick check-in procedures. My reaction has been that I now have even more impetus to drive and let the airlines go bankrupt again.

It's petty, stupid and inane bureacracy.

#148 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2005, 07:05 PM:

Kevin Andrew Murphy:

It almost tempts one to legally change one's name to "Rage Against the Machine" or "Speak Truth to Power" or the like. At least you would be unlikely to be confused with someone else of the same name...

#149 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2005, 09:50 PM:

Well, since no one's been using it for a while, I'd go with "Theophrastus Bombastus Von Hohenheim" and go as "Ted" for short.

But I shouldn't have to go changing my name just because the government is inept.

#150 ::: cd ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2005, 06:08 AM:

KAM: Shouldn't you, in that case, use "Celly" for short?

#151 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2005, 04:52 PM:

Actually, it would be "Parry," since "Celly" was the guy "Parry" said he was better than.

#152 ::: cd ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2005, 01:42 PM:


#153 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2005, 08:53 AM:

Julia, Dave L, Feòrag, et al, as Dan R said, when the UK joined the EU in 1973 after decades of havering, Australians (with other Commonwealth 'subjects') suddenly were shunted across into the queue at Customs for 'Aliens' - as well as losing a longstanding and important trade partnership. This, along with some fairly offhand treatment as 'colonials' while visiting, with or without visas, did rankle.

The grudge can be quite longstanding. My father had to stay in the UK for some months during the Suez crisis, unable to get back to his wife and new baby. He still harboured quite a dislike of 'Poms' themselves to his death over 40 years later, though he was fiercely proud of their traditions of civilization, law, etc. Perhaps this recent treatment is part of the old love-hate Oz/UK relationship.

And more recently, the FUD about 'illegals', possible terrorists from abroad, Australia being 'swamped by immigrants', etc, has been revived from the fetid depths of the national unconscious in one of the more despicable & disgusting manipulations of public sentiment used to gain or retain power of my lifetime.

#154 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2005, 12:59 PM:

Claude Muncey quoted Christopher Hitchens:
"Last month, cigarette lighters were added to the confiscation list. There's probably some half-baked "shoe-bomber" justification for this, but I hear that at Boise airport in Idaho there's now a lighter bin on the way out of the airport, like the penny tray in some shops, that allows you to pick one up. Give one; take one—it all helps to pass the time until the next disaster, which collective punishment of the law-abiding is doing nothing to prevent."

Which presumes that everyone who carries a lighter carries a cheap plastic "disposable" one. And most people do, nowadays.

But I can remember when a man's cigarette lighter was a status symbol. Having a lighter at all set you above the matches-using hoi polloi. And the very idea of a plastic lighter was simply unthinkable. Lighters were made of metal, dammit. You could have the basic unadorned Zippo, and go up in status, quality and price from there. Engraved, monogrammed, gold-plated, and many other options were available. Lighters were a utilitarian art form.

Mostly passe' now. The no-lighters airport rule is just one last nail in the coffin.

(Ummm... that final-sentence pun was accidental, I swear. But it works pretty well, so leave it.)

#155 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2005, 01:43 PM:

Bruce Arthurs: Better to flick one Zippo than curse the darkness.

#156 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2005, 02:02 PM:

For some people lighters, especially Zippo, can rank with challenge coins as a symbol of something.

Last I knew, and this is not legal advice, flying with an empty Zippo (something harder to do with butane style lighters) meets rules if not necessarily individual TSA demands.

#157 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2005, 02:18 PM:

Clark - Sorry, current TSA regulations say no lighters. There were news several pieces featuring the outrage of Zippo collecters who basically have been deprived of their shows and conferences because of this new reg.

Lighters have been banned in luggage since the 60s.

Even if there were an exception for empty lighters, I woudn't trust the TSA goons to know about it. The only way you can send a lighter is empty, via surface mail.

It's for the children.

#158 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2005, 06:23 PM:

Never-filled lighters are now allowed in checked luggage, according to many news reports including this one from the Zippo website: "Effective Monday, May 16, based on the Department of Transportation (DOT) position that new, empty lighters such as new Zippo® pocket lighters, which are always sold without fuel – are not considered hazardous material, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has revised its prohibited items list to permit these new, empty lighters to be packed in checked luggage."

All lighters, filled or not, are still prohibited in carry-on luggage.

#159 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2005, 06:25 PM:

Erf. I could swear I'd checked that link to the Zippo site, and it worked. Anyway, this is the URL:

#160 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2005, 06:47 PM:

Lexica - good info! Still, I'd wrap the zippo in a printout of the new rules before putting it in my luggage.

#161 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2008, 02:44 AM:

Not sure what the point is, but it's clearly spam, on 4 threads.

#163 ::: LMB MacAlister smells old Pig Shoulder ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2008, 03:23 AM:

I'm sure Rabzebuddy is thrilled for his sudden stardom, whoever he is.

#164 ::: Lindra thinks spam is stinky ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2008, 03:32 AM:

I read it as 'Bezeelbub'.

#165 ::: Xopher sees weird spam asking for grammar assistance ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 11:18 AM:

About airfare discounts, but the site linked is for a medication. Weird.

#166 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 01:39 PM:

Rikibeth @167:

Singapore, apparently. I've blocked the IP address and added a regex that might cut down on it.

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