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This Is About Power, Not Security
September 10, 2010 4:29 PM   Subscribe


 
i am not surprised.
posted by DeltaZ113 at 4:32 PM on September 10, 2010


i am a unique and beautiful flower.
posted by iamabot at 4:33 PM on September 10, 2010 [12 favorites]


The Consumerist post is full of people talking about what an asshole he is for not bending over and spreading for people in uniforms. I hate this fucking society.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:34 PM on September 10, 2010 [55 favorites]


3. This Is About Power, Not Security.
posted by gman at 4:35 PM on September 10, 2010 [67 favorites]


"'I’m not going to be interrogated as a pre-condition of re-entering my own country,' I said."

I like the cut of your jib, sir.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 4:36 PM on September 10, 2010 [37 favorites]


I read this article waiting for something to happen. What happened is I reached the end of the article and I was free to go.
posted by eeeeeez at 4:37 PM on September 10, 2010 [22 favorites]


Missed the post title, did we gman? " )
posted by bwg at 4:39 PM on September 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


I wish all of us had the option to stand up for our rights without being held for months on end, uncharged, then deported to countries not of our birth.
posted by yeloson at 4:40 PM on September 10, 2010 [21 favorites]


As I sit and write this post, 24 hours after this event took place, my hands still shake... with rage and with terror.

I woke up this morning to my wife's alarm clock, sat straight up in bed and thought "Am I free to go?" with fear paralyzing me.

My worst nightmare took place yesterday. Worse than events that have taken place and that I have survived in my short 28 years of living. Worse than my wildest of dreams could conjure.

I was denied entry into the USA.

Denied.

I was denied entry into the USA by federal agents. Federal. Agents.

Yesterday.


I was was taken away and asked to sit in a waiting room, where I read a book about Chinese celebrities.

Chinese.

Celebrities.
posted by Ratio at 4:41 PM on September 10, 2010 [30 favorites]


Thank you, Mr. Lukacs, for exercising your rights. Because like muscles, rights that are not exercised atrophy and eventually disappear.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:41 PM on September 10, 2010 [16 favorites]


yeloson: "I wish all of us had the option to stand up for our rights without being held for months on end, uncharged, then deported to countries not of our birth."

Get up, stand up: stand up for your rights!
posted by bwg at 4:42 PM on September 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Thank god for men like this. I often think that I do not have the luxury right now to stand up for my rights. I have young kids, and a job I really depend on and which isn't guaranteed. This man, doing this—this is what America is really about.
posted by Toekneesan at 4:43 PM on September 10, 2010 [7 favorites]


“Why were you in China?” asked the passport control officer, a woman with the appearance and disposition of a prison matron.

None of your business,” I said.


And then he could have gone on with his life.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 4:47 PM on September 10, 2010 [37 favorites]


posted by bwg Get up, stand up: stand up for your rights!

Get up, stand up: blog about your plight!
posted by mattdidthat at 4:48 PM on September 10, 2010 [17 favorites]


Get up, stand up: blog about your plight reading for half an hour at the airport!
posted by Menthol at 4:54 PM on September 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


Get up, stand up: read 'bout Chinese limelight!
posted by mattdidthat at 4:58 PM on September 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


BuddhaInABucket: “Why were you in China?” asked the passport control officer, a woman with the appearance and disposition of a prison matron.

None of your business,” I said.


And then he could have gone on with his life.
Someone actually favorited your post? Really?
posted by hincandenza at 5:01 PM on September 10, 2010 [46 favorites]


Someone actually favorited your post? Really?

You'd be amazed how much pride some people take in their tolerance for being treated like shit.
posted by enn at 5:03 PM on September 10, 2010 [83 favorites]


Someone actually favorited your post? Really?

Yes. because it's easy to tell a lie that the border agent will believe completely and that eschews the whole shakedown routine.
posted by GuyZero at 5:05 PM on September 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


Well I guess he made his point I just have not figured it out. It is very easy to assert your rights, it is very difficult to find workable solutions for complex problems and competing demands. I hope all of you who admire his stand deal tomorrow with six people who decide it is their day to assert their rights rather than extend their cooperation and courtesy. It really is not that difficult to say no, no and no. Ask any Republican in congress or petulant child. This is not about asserting your rights and taking responsibility for your actions it is about getting your way.
posted by rmhsinc at 5:06 PM on September 10, 2010 [18 favorites]


Someone actually favorited your post? Really?

You're leaving a comment to ask if someone favorited an earlier comment? Really?
posted by John Cohen at 5:09 PM on September 10, 2010 [9 favorites]


enn: "Someone actually favorited your post? Really?

You'd be amazed how much pride some people take in their tolerance for being treated like shit.
"

I'm amazed how much little tolerance some people have for paperwork. The TSA agent wasn't asking for his life story, she wanted a one word answer so that she and he could both get on with their lives.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 5:09 PM on September 10, 2010 [16 favorites]


Yes, he has the right to do whatever he did (or didn't do), but he just comes off as a jerkface. He needs to drop the dramatic act; they didn't attach electrodes to his nuts FFS.
posted by desjardins at 5:10 PM on September 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


You know, if this guy's blog post had been all BREATHLESS and OUTRAGED (yeah, like the TSA-ate-my-baby thing a while back) I could see being annoyed — if not by the content, then by the tone.

But it didn't sound that way to me. It struck me as pretty level-headed. Dude had an interesting adventure, and he told a story about it on his blog. I didn't get the sense he wanted our pity or our sympathy or our support or whatever — just felt like sharing a bit of information. Good for him.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:11 PM on September 10, 2010 [8 favorites]


Someone actually favorited your post? Really?

I’m not going to be interrogated as a pre-condition of re-entering my own country favoriting a comment.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 5:11 PM on September 10, 2010 [39 favorites]


Good for him. What he did is like free speech -- it counts the most when someone in the government hassles you about it.

Of course, I would not choose to put up with the hassle. But just as I have not chosen to be a firefighter as my career, I'm glad someone did.
posted by chimaera at 5:13 PM on September 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


Get up, stand up: stand up for your rights!

There are many, many people in ICE right now, who've been there for months or years, for standing up for their rights, and even not standing up for their rights. Even Americans deported to other countries.

It's a lot easier to stand up for your rights when most of America has no problem considering you "American", and that you aren't "stealing their jobs" or that they need to "get their country back" from you (nevermind if you're 3rd, 8th, or more generations here...)

I'm glad he's standing up for his rights. I just wish these folks would stop making it sound like this infringement of American rights is something new. Or that, a single guy refusing to answer questions helps all the other folks who've been locked up for months for being too brown, asian or muslim.

It's a pretty nice place to be if the biggest infringement on your rights is customs agents merely asking if you were there for business or pleasure, and not the serious threat of deportation.

"Freedom & Justice For All" is a key part of making the whole social contract of America, for the people, of the people, etc. work.
posted by yeloson at 5:13 PM on September 10, 2010 [31 favorites]


I'm amazed how much little tolerance some people have for paperwork. The TSA agent wasn't asking for his life story, she wanted a one word answer so that she and he could both get on with their lives.

When the government attempts to take away our rights, we should just go ahead and let them, as a personal favor to the government agent who ends up dealing with us? Am I understanding you correctly?
posted by equalpants at 5:14 PM on September 10, 2010 [25 favorites]


I dunno. Seems to me if they get to make you sit/stand around for no reason, they're still winning.
posted by juv3nal at 5:15 PM on September 10, 2010 [7 favorites]


I was completely supportive of this guy, right up until here:
“I gave you a written declaration,” I said.

“I need to know if you want to amend that written declaration,” he said. “I need to know if there’s anything undeclared in these bags.”

I stood silently.

Visibly frustrated, he turned to a superior, who had been watching, and said that I refused to answer his questions.

“Just inspect his bags,” the senior officer said. “He has a right to remain silent.”
Seriously, dude? I get that he was frustrated and trying to make a point, but what was this supposed to accomplish? He could easily have said "no there isn't", and the end result would be exactly the same, except one person fewer would be irritated.

In my opinion, this is completely different from being asked what you were doing while you were out of the country. As a US citizen, you have the right to enter the US without being interrogated, but I'm pretty sure the same is not true of your luggage.
posted by teraflop at 5:15 PM on September 10, 2010 [22 favorites]


I'm glad he did it, but isn't it just pissing in the wind?

Wouldn't a better bang for the buck be to get as many like minded individual to this simultaneously in one airport (don't ask about logistics) or in many airports on one day and make sure the press knows? If there is one thing Starcraft has taught me is not to send out one zerg...you need to mass them in a bunch to be effective.
posted by MrMulan at 5:16 PM on September 10, 2010 [6 favorites]


John Cohen: "You're leaving a comment to ask if someone favorited an earlier comment? Really?"

You're leaving a comment to ask if someone asked if someone favorited an earlier comment? Really?
posted by Shit Parade at 5:17 PM on September 10, 2010 [11 favorites]


I wonder if things would have gone the same way if he was a hair less confrontational.

It's clear the first passport control officer was going from a script. To say "it's none of your business" suggested to her that she was personally in error, and she had to escalate to save face. What if he said something like "it doesn't matter" or even "I decline to answer"? Maybe the same result, but perhaps not.
posted by exogenous at 5:17 PM on September 10, 2010 [6 favorites]


While not arguing the point that one is not required to do anything more than present one's proof of citizenship to be returned to the country:

1. I'm not sure I would want to devote an extra 30 minutes or more each time I enter the country just to prove a point, especially when I then usually still have to make a connecting flight;

2. Why make life more difficult for the poor customs schmoe who just wants to get through his/her day;

3. Inasmuch as the last time I was out of the country (which was last week), I was cheerfully Twittering my ass off about my adventures, I'm not sure there would be much value for me to make a philosophical stand regarding information I had already and promiscuously made public.
posted by jscalzi at 5:18 PM on September 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


"She said that her questions were mandated by Congress and that I should complain to Congress instead of refusing to cooperate with her."

This. Her day already sucks. You can get all kierkegaardian about why she's evil for cooperating with the system, or you can let her do her job, and then write a letter to your congressperson. If you don't think that's going to do anything, you run for congress. If you don't like that idea, if you think everything about the system of government in our country and our laws is so broken that there's nothing you can do about it except ruin the days of a bunch of people so that you can drive hits to your blog, you're a jerk. He's the equivalent of the guy who won't tip waiters because he thinks tipping is a shitty system. It is a shitty system, but his actions screw over the wrong people.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 5:19 PM on September 10, 2010 [57 favorites]


“Why were you in China?”

Would the answer "Searching for the soul of Richard Nixon" helped or hindered his cause?
posted by Brak at 5:20 PM on September 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


Answer the TSA's questions. Show your receipt at Costco. Be polite to the police officer. Move the fuck on.
posted by schoolgirl report at 5:22 PM on September 10, 2010 [6 favorites]


1. I'm not sure I would want to devote an extra 30 minutes or more each time I enter the country just to prove a point, especially when I then usually still have to make a connecting flight;

It's apathy like this which allows them to continue on abusing your rights.

2. Why make life more difficult for the poor customs schmoe who just wants to get through his/her day;

Poor customs agent, my ass. While I don't deny they exist; they are, on the whole, power hungry pricks.
posted by gman at 5:22 PM on September 10, 2010 [6 favorites]


Border control is different from most police interaction. Customs has more rights to search and detain you than a random cop would. No-one sane minds having to show a passport at the border, but Arizona is a state that I'm never going to spend my tourist dollars in until they stop demanding to see the papers of sufficiently non-white looking folks. A cop can't ask to search my backpack without reason, but at customs they have every right to look through your bag. It's really not that complicated.

Yeah, he didn't need to answer any questions, but by doing so he basically put himself in the same category as people who answer those questions with nonsense answers or change their stories or what-have-you (what-have-you sadly including people who look sufficiently swarthy.) This breathlessness of his story is a way over the top and he has far too much of a high opinion of himself.

You really want to fight executive overreach? Fight against custom's power to detain your electronics and scan through them for information. (They can't read my diary, why can they read my laptop?) Fight against increasingly minor reasons a cop can decide that he DOES have reason to make a search. Fight against the no-fly list, police forfeiture laws, or attempts to criminalize using a camera in public. Etc, etc.

In the United States there's plenty of serious executive overreach that is dangerous to our civil liberties. But this? This is just a man being a petulant child and being treated as such.
posted by aspo at 5:22 PM on September 10, 2010 [11 favorites]


2. Why make life more difficult for the poor customs schmoe who just wants to get through his/her day;

Pretty much my reaction too. Does Lukacs think he taught someone a lesson here? 'Cause probably not. It's kind of like sticking it to the man by shooting Krazy Glue into the locks on the front door of McDonald's--that is, you're affecting no one but yourself and the lowest-ranking employees, who couldn't care less. And yes, just want to get through the day.
posted by scratch at 5:24 PM on September 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


I hope all of you who admire his stand deal tomorrow with six people who decide it is their day to assert their rights rather than extend their cooperation and courtesy.

We should only assert our rights when it's convenient for those in power. I forget, did Tom Jefferson or Rosa Parks say that?

Like, we could assert our rights only on the Fourth of July, because it's a national holiday. I forget what it commemorates. Something about "inalienable rights", I think.

Except, gee, on the 4th there are crowds of people, and you know, asserting our rights would get in the way of the cops doing crowd control.

Maybe only on the 4th, and only in, you know, a free speech zone that's far away from crowds, like maybe a cage in some out-of-the-way space, guarded by special cops to make sure the free speech doesn't rile anyone up.

That sounds safe. And convenient. You could, you know, turn your testicles in to the cops first, along with your liberty and your sacred honor and your American heritage, and then you'd be a Patriot Act. An Acting Patriot, or something. Not quite a real American, but a really cooperative one.

Sort of an heir to Patrick Henry, if Patrick Henry had been Benedict Arnold.

Christ, what America's become disgusts me.
posted by orthogonality at 5:24 PM on September 10, 2010 [64 favorites]


“Why were you in China?” asked the passport control officer, a woman with the appearance and disposition of a prison matron.

None of your business,” I said.


Every time I enter this great freedom loving land of ours, I'll imagine answering "none of your business" to that question. But by the time I'm at the front of the line, I'll say "vacation" or "business" and am on my way. After a long trip, I'm too tired to stand up to those jack booted thugs at CBP. So I'll give the one word answer and go through their little theater performance. I found they don't really ask any invasive questions that aren't on that form. There's no need to elaborate.

I also learned that apparently I get randomly selected for secondary if I come back from exotic lands and don't declare anything. So I'll put "t-shirts" on my form and I don't get delayed.
posted by birdherder at 5:24 PM on September 10, 2010


I hope all of you who admire his stand deal tomorrow with six people who decide it is their day to assert their rights rather than extend their cooperation and courtesy.

I really doubt I'm going to encounter six people over whom I have direct, easily-abused legal authority backed up by sanctioned physical coercion tomorrow (in fact it would be quite a surprise if I encounter even one), because that's the correlation you're really looking for here.

Rights exist only in relation to power. That's why they're important.

That said, while I commend this guy, I also notice the needle on my libertarian-ometer is twitching. Something about his tale puts him in that gray area of "people who don't like the police but might be worse than them in certain situations."
posted by regicide is good for you at 5:24 PM on September 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


Choose your battles. Yeah, he frames it as an important issue but after reading the interaction it seems to me merely a pissing contest. Fine, he won, and the world moves on. Arguing with the puppet is a bit of a waste of time when the puppet-master remains oblivious and unchanged.
posted by binturong at 5:25 PM on September 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


posted by jscalzi Why make life more difficult for the poor customs schmoe who just wants to get through his/her day

Mr. Lukacs didn't make life more difficult for the "poor Customs schmoe". The "poor Customs schmoe" made her own life more difficult, because the "poor Customs schmoe" should have known she wasn't entitled to an answer and she could have waved Mr. Lukacs through.
posted by mattdidthat at 5:25 PM on September 10, 2010 [20 favorites]


Chinese.

Celebrities.


Was it the Hunan book or more modern celebs though? he isn't giving us all the pertinent facts.

I was questioned for hours at LAX once, but it was my own fault. I had an ear infection and don't like flying, so I took enough pills to make me forget how to spell my own name on the customs form, then presented them with my name crossed out a million times and a shit-eating grin at all the pretty lights in the immigration queue thing. Missed my ride and had to get a shuttle thing. So this only works if nobody is waiting for you, presumably.
posted by shinybaum at 5:25 PM on September 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


The customs people didn't press the issue because they knew if they did, the end result would be some curtailment of their freedom to abuse American citizens returning to the country.

I have experienced that sort of abuse myself, when returning from Mexico with a friend. The customs officer asked her what country she was from (he had her passport in his hand), and wouldn't be satisfied until she answered "the United States" instead of "America." He kept at it until she finally figured out what he wanted, and it was obvious that it was only for his own amusement.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 5:28 PM on September 10, 2010 [7 favorites]


I feel sorry for this guy if he ever drives through a Border Patrol Checkpoint on I-10 a hundred miles from the nearest border. Head ASPLODE.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 5:30 PM on September 10, 2010


The agent is caught in the middle of the conflict between:

1. this guy, who does not want to answer questions he's not required to
2. the people in the government--Congress, her supervisors, etc.--who want her to (illegally) pressure people to answer questions they're not required to

Why should #1 get the blame for causing the conflict and making her life difficult? #2 seems a lot more culpable to me. They're the ones asking her to break the law, after all.
posted by equalpants at 5:32 PM on September 10, 2010 [7 favorites]


you have the right to enter the US without being interrogated, but I'm pretty sure the same is not true of your luggage.

It wasn't his bags that were being interrogated, and he didn't try to insist that his bags were not subject to search. He simply asserted his constitutional right not to answer.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 5:34 PM on September 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


Bartleby the Tourist.
posted by notyou at 5:34 PM on September 10, 2010 [21 favorites]


If he wanted to be treated with fairness and dignity, he should have stayed in China.
posted by homunculus at 5:35 PM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


BuddhaInABucket: "“Why were you in China?” asked the passport control officer, a woman with the appearance and disposition of a prison matron.

None of your business,” I said.


And then he could have gone on with his life.
"

MOOooo!

yeloson writes "It's a lot easier to stand up for your rights when most of America has no problem considering you 'American', and that you aren't 'stealing their jobs' or that they need to 'get their country back' from you (nevermind if you're 3rd, 8th, or more generations here...)"

The more ordinary Americans that make a stand like this the better it'll be for foo-Americans.
posted by Mitheral at 5:36 PM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


mattdidthat: Mr. Lukacs didn't make life more difficult for the "poor Customs schmoe". The "poor Customs schmoe" made her own life more difficult, because the "poor Customs schmoe" should have known she wasn't entitled to an answer and she could have waved Mr. Lukacs through."

Do you really think the average maybe-high-school-graduate who works the customs desk actually knows anything about the rights of US citizens? I allow that I could be wrong, but 99% chance this woman just wants to pay her bills and doesn't know better.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 5:37 PM on September 10, 2010


The hypocrisy here is that this challenge to the government is only possible because of the protections afforded by that same government.
posted by eeeeeez at 5:37 PM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Somewhere in here I wanted to throw in something about white privilege.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 5:38 PM on September 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


As a US citizen, you have the right to enter the US without being interrogated, but I'm pretty sure the same is not true of your luggage.

I am imagining an actual interrogation of said luggage and... well... yes, I'm kind of giggling to myself and my fiancé is looking at me funny.

"Just tell us, Mr. Samsonite - how long were you in China?"
posted by sonika at 5:38 PM on September 10, 2010 [9 favorites]




"Do you really think the average maybe-high-school-graduate who works the customs desk actually knows anything about the rights of US citizens? I allow that I could be wrong, but 99% chance this woman just wants to pay her bills and doesn't know better."

Then it's a failure of training if custom's officer doesn't know that Americans aren't required to answer questions.


PS: is it actually true that Americans don't have to answer these kinds of questions? Or did the protagonist slip through?
posted by Mitheral at 5:42 PM on September 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


The hypocrisy here is that this challenge to the government is only possible because of the protections afforded by that same government.
posted by eeeeeez at 9:37 PM on September 10 [+] [!]


He's not being hypocritical. He was probably perfectly happy to answer whatever questions any Chinese authority figure asked him while he was travelling there because he knew he didn't have those same protections. He's acting perfectly within the rules of the system that he lives in.
posted by Space Coyote at 5:45 PM on September 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


that is, you're affecting no one but yourself and the lowest-ranking employees, who couldn't care less.

But... she could care less. She detained him. If she couldn't have cared less, she would have waved him on through anyway. She chose to escalate the situation by bringing over police.
posted by Greg Nog at 5:45 PM on September 10, 2010


Considering that people have been sent to prison for lying to Federal investigators while not under oath -- Martha Stewart being the most famous example -- I'd say that he had the right to not answer questions under the 5th Amendment.

Had he admitted to something that could be construed as a criminal act, even an inadvertent criminal act, a Federal prosecutor could have used that admission as evidence in a trial.

I mean, quite seriously, if he'd said "I was there to give some money to some Uighur charity, he could have been prosecuted for "material support of terrorism".
posted by orthogonality at 5:49 PM on September 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


posted by equalpants 2. the people in the government--Congress, her supervisors, etc.--who want her to (illegally) pressure people to answer questions they're not required to . . . #2 seems a lot more culpable to me. They're the ones asking her to break the law, after all.

Asking questions is not "illegally pressuring people" and is not against the law. Cops can ask you all the questions they want. You don't have to answer them.

posted by BuddhaInABucket Do you really think the average maybe-high-school-graduate who works the customs desk actually knows anything about the rights of US citizens? I allow that I could be wrong, but 99% chance this woman just wants to pay her bills and doesn't know better.

Sounds like she's unqualified for her job. If the Customs agent isn't aware of the rights of U.S. citizens, she has absolutely no business working a position where she needs to be aware of the rights of U.S. citizens.
posted by mattdidthat at 5:49 PM on September 10, 2010 [8 favorites]


gman:

"It's apathy like this which allows them to continue on abusing your rights."

Yeah, really, no. My rights aren't being abused by the customs official asking me a question which I may refuse to answer if I so choose; likewise, a rational decision to answer a question I deem harmless and trivial is distinct from apathy.

"Poor customs agent, my ass. While I don't deny they exist; they are, on the whole, power hungry pricks."

My experience with them is apparently different than yours; in all my crossings of borders, I've been treated fairly and courteously and moved along quickly.

Of course, I do suppose if one approaches a customs agent with the assumption that they are power hungry pricks and responds to them in that manner in one's interaction with them, one should not be terribly surprised if the experience is less than pleasant.

mattdidthat:

"Mr. Lukacs didn't make life more difficult for the 'poor Customs schmoe'."

Sure he did, because Mr. Lukacs chose to respond in such a way that the customs person felt obliged to instigate a separate procedure, which was a pain for everyone involved. We can argue about whether or not her response was warranted or correct, but that's a separate discussion from whether instigating that process made life more difficult for her.

Likewise, it may be that customs regulations require that persons entering the country who refuse to answer questions be sent into a different and more complex process. This is independent of whether such a process should exist; as noted earlier, that's a question for the people who make the laws and regulations, not the schmoe who is obliged to follow them.

Mr. Lukacs is of course perfectly within his rights not to answer questions of customs officials, and I celebrate his choice and wish him joy with it, and hope he always has reading material while he sits through his alternate process. I'm rather happier, generally speaking, to get to my connecting gate with a little time to spare.
posted by jscalzi at 5:53 PM on September 10, 2010 [7 favorites]


"Business...always business."
posted by A dead Quaker at 5:56 PM on September 10, 2010 [6 favorites]


I'm glad he's standing up for his rights. I just wish these folks would stop making it sound like this infringement of American rights is something new. Or that, a single guy refusing to answer questions helps all the other folks who've been locked up for months for being too brown, asian or muslim.

I don't really see where he's making it sound like either of those things are true, yeloson.

Yes, he was able to be fairly sure he could get away with this because of the privilege which comes from being white in the US. But it's not like this is the first or only time he's benefited from that privilege. He benefits every day. That's what privilege is. If he isn't clueless, he's aware of that. I don't really see how it follows that he shouldn't exercise his rights when some other, less privileged person in his position might be denied that exercise, or might face consequences for it that he doesn't. Should we all stop voting in solidarity with people who live under dictatorships or who have been disenfranchised by Rove-style dirty tricks? Maybe there's an argument to be made that we should, but I don't see how doing so would address the inequity.
posted by enn at 5:58 PM on September 10, 2010


Calling these sorts of questions an interrogation is a little bit over the top. Law enforcement conducts actual interrogations that pressure citizens to give up their rights and incriminate themselves every day in situations that are much more important than the security theater routine we all have to go through at airports. I think he was completely within his rights to refuse to answer questions, but anyone is completely within their rights to refuse to answer any questions in a lot of situations, and I don't think he is some sort of hero for doing it.
posted by burnmp3s at 5:59 PM on September 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


jscalzi: "It's apathy like this which allows them to continue on abusing your rights."

Yeah, really, no. My rights aren't being abused by the customs official asking me a question which I may refuse to answer if I so choose; likewise, a rational decision to answer a question I deem harmless and trivial is distinct from apathy.

At the point in which they subject you to further questioning, attempt to instill fear, and consume your time, for no reason other than they can, your rights have been violated. The very fact that you deem their questions harmless is a problem.

"Poor customs agent, my ass. While I don't deny they exist; they are, on the whole, power hungry pricks."

My experience with them is apparently different than yours; in all my crossings of borders, I've been treated fairly and courteously and moved along quickly.

Of course, I do suppose if one approaches a customs agent with the assumption that they are power hungry pricks and responds to them in that manner in one's interaction with them, one should not be terribly surprised if the experience is less than pleasant.


You can read about two of my many experiences here and here.
posted by gman at 6:02 PM on September 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


Orthogonality, there is a certain frenzy and hyperbole in your comment. Do you think Thomas Jefferson and Rosa Parks would have answered the questions based on their experience and understanding of oppression and human rights. And you managed to get the 4th of July, Patrick Henry, Benedict Arnold, The Patriot Act, Jefferson, Parks and testicles into one post. BTW, you are not old enough to decide that you hate what America has become. You can hate it for what it is, if you choose, but not what it has become. Regardless of the real and imagined human rights abuses and curtailment of freedoms it has come a long long way. Not there yet, perhaps not the freest country but getting closer. Remember: civil rights, woman's rights, rights for the disabled, FIA, numerous Supreme Court decisions on free speech, the start of legitimating same sex marriage, etc. Sorry you are not happy with where we are but don't minimize from whence we have come in my 68 years.
posted by rmhsinc at 6:07 PM on September 10, 2010 [9 favorites]


You're leaving a comment to ask if someone asked if someone favorited an earlier comment? Really?

You're leaving a comment to ask if ...

OK, this thread is starting to write itself.
posted by John Cohen at 6:07 PM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


The hypocrisy here is that this challenge to the government is only possible because of the protections afforded by that same government.

So, the government provides rights, and then we become hypocrites by exercising them?

I've heard variations on this comment my entire life, and they just seem ill-educated to me. Our founding fathers didn't create government to give us rights. They saw those rights as being inherent to being human. The very protections of our rights that our government guarantees us are there to insure that those rights won't be abused by the government.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:09 PM on September 10, 2010 [28 favorites]


My rights aren't being abused by the customs official asking me a question which I may refuse to answer if I so choose; likewise, a rational decision to answer a question I deem harmless and trivial is distinct from apathy.

That's all fine and dandy (no, not really). But you seem to imply that people who choose a different path are jerks because they mildly annoy you?

This is independent of whether such a process should exist; as noted earlier, that's a question for the people who make the laws and regulations, not the schmoe who is obliged to follow them.

How is anything going to change if people follow your personal "lets minimize the nuisance, let's follow the people who make the laws, please" policy? This is crazy talk.
posted by Dumsnill at 6:11 PM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


If he isn't clueless

OK, on rereading the link I see he links to Reason and Liberty, so scratch that bit, but the rest stands.
posted by enn at 6:11 PM on September 10, 2010


is it actually true that Americans don't have to answer these kinds of questions?

Only in the sense that Americans can't be refused entry to or deported from the United States. Presumably, if you're a foreigner, they'd just turn you around if you weren't cooperative enough.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 6:11 PM on September 10, 2010


that's a question for the people who make the laws and regulations, not the schmoe who is obliged to follow them.

We make the laws. Our representatives do, enacting the will of the people, within limits established by the Constitution. Has nobody here taken civics?
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:12 PM on September 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


And I know what you meant, but you behave like its unreasonable to exercise the rights that are already established, and if a petty officials is ignorant of them, well, all you can do is call your senator.

I wouldn't want to be in line behind this guy, but I am glad he's out there, reminding the people who actually exercise power that there are limits to their exercising them.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:13 PM on September 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


Heh, I just made a fool out of myself
posted by Dumsnill at 6:14 PM on September 10, 2010


posted by jscalzi Mr. Lukacs chose to respond in such a way that the customs person felt obliged to instigate a separate procedure, which was a pain for everyone involved. We can argue about whether or not her response was warranted or correct, but that's a separate discussion from whether instigating that process made life more difficult for her.

Okay, then you agree with me--the Customs agent is the one who made everyone's life more difficult by either choosing to ignore or being unaware of Mr. Lukacs's right not to answer her question, and she was the one who escalated the situation by lying to her superior, telling him Mr. Lukacs "refused to cooperate". Mr. Lukacs was cooperating. He simply didn't want to answer her questions, and he didn't have to.
posted by mattdidthat at 6:15 PM on September 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


The hypocrisy here is that this challenge to the government is only possible because of the protections afforded by that same government.

Hah. Really? You should read the Constitution sometime.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:17 PM on September 10, 2010


gman:

"At the point in which they subject you to further questioning, attempt to instill fear, and consume your time, for no reason other than they can, your rights have been violated."

In which case, as noted, my rights at a border crossing have yet to be violated, as I have not been subjected to further questioning, had fear invoked, nor my time consumed. Indeed, by and large the primary sense I've gotten from border control agents is a desire to wave me through as soon as possible because there's usually a big fat line of people behind me they have to get through as well.

"The very fact that you deem their questions harmless is a problem."

Yeah, again: No, not really. It in fact does me no harm whatsoever to tell a customs agent, as I did last week, for example, that I'm coming back to the US after visiting Australia, and I was visiting there for pleasure. It's nothing more or less than I would tell any random stranger. I could turn your statement around and suggest that the fact you regard such innocuous questions as a full frontal assault on your rights and liberties is a problem, but, you know, it's your life, and I'll let you draw that line for yourself.

"You can read about two of my many experiences here and here."

I do hope you're aware that your own problems with customs do not oblige me to change my own opinion, based on my own experiences. I am aware that not every experience with the border guards is a good one (I am intimately aware of Peter Watts' experience, for example, as he is a friend of mine, and I most happily helped raise $1,000 for his legal expenses), but mine have been.

mattdidthat:

"Okay, then you agree with me"

Well, I would agree that you just took what I wrote and interpreted it to agree with your thesis, yes.
posted by jscalzi at 6:19 PM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


So, jscalzi was serious, right. After making my first comment I felt that he had to have been kidding.
posted by Dumsnill at 6:20 PM on September 10, 2010


Oh my god you people are douchebags. The lady making $9.25 an hour is a power hungry prick and what if Rosa Parks had answered a question at the airport. Jesus Christ would you listen to yourselves. You guys go and Thomas Jefferson all over airport security. You sound like a bunch of teabaggers.
posted by ND¢ at 6:21 PM on September 10, 2010 [11 favorites]


He calls this an interrogation. Clearly, he has never really been interrogated.

He was asked questions that he already filled out on the damn declaration card. If he was making a statement he would have left it blank and refused to answer questions. Have I visited a farm or come into contact with livestock outside the US? None of your fucking business! He wasn't being interrogated as to the details of his trip, who he met with, where he stayed, etc. He was asked the same questions he already answered on the form.

As I said above, I choose to waive my right to remain silent when crossing the border with regard to the questions I've been asked. There hasn't been a question I've been asked that was intrusive. Now, if they want to access the files on my computer or phone, I'm exercise my rights. But to clam up about the "did you pack your own bags" question?

It is all theater. The CBP person at the desk is just going through the motions "grilling" people on their activities outside the country. I play along and affirm the information I've already disclosed. Of course, a person that is traveling on false documents or smuggling stuff will be very cooperative with the officials.
posted by birdherder at 6:23 PM on September 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Interesting story...but I don't think that one question, asked in a routine manner, in a customary location, counts as an interrogation. I agree with his point, but not the way he went about trying to prove it.
posted by KillaSeal at 6:24 PM on September 10, 2010


homunculus: An infuriating search at Philadelphia International Airport

This is a whole hell of a lot worse than the stupid questions they ask you when you re-enter the country.
posted by paisley henosis at 6:24 PM on September 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's not about citizens passing through the mechanisms of the police state as smoothly, politely, and obediently as possible. It's not about avoiding inconvenience, or alleviating the stress levels of those poor overworked Homeland Security bureaucrats.

It's about finally rejecting this nonsense on its face, because enough is enough. Being vocal about the fact that *this* system in place today is *not* an acceptable status quo. Not just preventing further descent into the abyss of security theater, but actively resisting it in its current form. We need more people like Richard Karn Paul Lukacs.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 6:24 PM on September 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


The CBP goons want U.S. citizens to answer their questions as a ritualistic bow to their power. Well, CBP has no power over me. I am a law-abiding citizen, and, as such, I am the master, and the federal cops are my servants. They would do well to remember that.
I was ok with him getting his special snowflakes all over me until it turned into a blizzard at this point. "A ritualistic bow to their power"? Way to ascribe motive from the Tinhat Bumper Book Of Motives. Occam suggests that actually bureaucracy feeds on information, and will take any chance to ingest the max possible, especially beyond asking questions that technically don't need to be answered.

"Do well to remember that"? He makes it sound as though he thinks he pwnd them in some way, rather than what actually happened, which is he was inconvenienced for 30 minutes, they got a lunchroom anecdote and the world spun on. It's hardly like they're going to wake up tomorrow and go "am servant, must remember lesson, ask no questions, am servant. Ser-vant. Don't want to go through yesterday again, hoo boy no. My master sure showed me."
posted by bonaldi at 6:24 PM on September 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


MetaFilter seriously makes me sad. Smarter than the general population, usually, and still sides with power run amok. Jesus Christ.
posted by DU at 6:25 PM on September 10, 2010 [23 favorites]


The Winsome Parker Lewis:

"Being vocal about the fact that *this* system in place today is *not* an acceptable status quo."

Sure it is, for the vast majority of the people who go through it, who are asked two or three basically trivial questions before being waved through to get back into their own country.

Are there aspects of the customs system which are fucked up? Certainly there are. However, I would guess the large majority of US citizens returning to their own country are not exposed to them in their typical border crossing back into the US. Their exposure to the system is largely what it has been for years; mine is.
posted by jscalzi at 6:29 PM on September 10, 2010


It's called picking your battles. You picked that battle, go ahead and fight it, because it is indeed about Freedom. But, you picked that battle?
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:31 PM on September 10, 2010 [12 favorites]


Poor customs agent, my ass. While I don't deny they exist; they are, on the whole, power hungry pricks.

I work with US Customs every day as part of my job. I can tell you that in my experience while some agents can come off as power hungry pricks they are, on the whole, decent people like you and me who are just trying to get through a work day so they can go home and spend time with their families.

Having said that, I followed your links and read your stories, and I'm sorry you've had to go through what you've gone through. That sounds awful. But how is presuming that every customs agent is a power hungry prick really any different than presuming that everybody who has been to Afghanistan is a potential terrorist?
posted by Balonious Assault at 6:36 PM on September 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm glad he did it, but isn't it just pissing in the wind?

The answer, my friend, is pissing in the wind. The answer is pissing in the wind.
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:38 PM on September 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


gman, I am sorry for your experiences, but your rights as a foreign national entering this country are not the same rights as an American citizen re-entering his own country.
posted by desjardins at 6:41 PM on September 10, 2010


It's called picking your battles. You picked that battle, go ahead and fight it, because it is indeed about Freedom. But, you picked that battle?

And it's how he chose to fight the battle as well. Someone mentioned Rosa Parks earlier. She didn't just refuse to stand up on a bus one day as an isolated act to show the bus driver or the white passengers who was the master and who was the servant. She was an active member in an organization dedicated to ending the injustice she was protesting, an organization that used the courts and organized civil disobedience to bring about change. These were the actions of serious individuals who had a goal in mind and were willing to go to great lengths and make great sacrifices to achieve it. This individual did nothing more than pull a stunt which had no impact and will have been forgotten by all of you internet freedom fighters tomorrow. You don't like airport security? Serious people are engaging in efforts to make it less intrusive. You're just making noise.
posted by ND¢ at 6:44 PM on September 10, 2010 [32 favorites]


The Consumerist post is full of people talking about what an asshole he is for not bending over and spreading for people in uniforms. I hate this fucking society.

I wish I knew what happened to The Consumerist. I just can't read that site anymore for all the jerk-ass commenters. Look, people, it's a site based on kvetching about First World Problems. That's fine. The joy is in the kvetching and commiseration. Not in the kvetching about the kvetch!

I wish they'd take a cue from their estranged ex-sibling Kotaku and do a Banhammer Day. Wash the jerks away. Hell, if I were a Mod For A Day there, I'd cut a bloody swath.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:44 PM on September 10, 2010


Are there aspects of the customs system which are fucked up? However, I would guess the large majority of US citizens returning to their own country are not exposed to them in their typical border crossing back into the US. Their exposure to the system is largely what it has been for years; mine is.

Oh, I see. The "large majority" of US citizens aren't exposed to fucked-up abuses of power, therefore the status quo isn't a problem.

If you ask me, that is the fucking problem. Civil rights are not dependent on how many citizens need to use them... but the status quo absolutely does depend on the silent complicity of the majority. If there'd been an uproar over security-theater nonsense nine years ago, we'd be living in a much better America today -- better for everyone, including the majority.
posted by vorfeed at 6:45 PM on September 10, 2010 [6 favorites]


Balonious Assault: But how is presuming that every customs agent is a power hungry prick really any different than presuming that everybody who has been to Afghanistan is a potential terrorist?

Because the customs agents have been trained, coached, and brainwashed to believe that, whereas my experiences are based on numerous firsthand front-line experiences.
posted by gman at 6:46 PM on September 10, 2010


the Customs agent is the one who made everyone's life more difficult

Another failure of the employer to properly interview, hire, train, supervise, discipline, and terminate employees... She was set-up like a bowling pin by the people who sign her paycheck...
posted by mikelieman at 6:46 PM on September 10, 2010


My recent interrogation wasn't so different, led into that mirrored room with all the Africans sitting there. One of the American citizens, born in Mauritania whom I had met on the flight was in the room. "So they got you too?" he asked.

I didn't wait long though. I'm called to the counter where Homeland Security officer with the most ridiculous New York accent goes through every country I've been in, and asks me why I was there. He types the answers into a form on a computer:

"And then where were you?"

"Mali."

"How do you spell that?"

"M-A-L-I."

"What were you doing in Mali?"

"Recording music."

"What type of music?"

"African music."

(pause)

"Why did you have to go to Africa? Why can't you do that in New York?"

"Because it's...African music?"

"Did you receive any military training..."

Overall, it took about fifteen minutes. While they generated a nice file on me that perhaps could have been reviewed by someone in an office at some point, the encounter with the officer was about fear and intimidation. He may not have any power, and he certainly knew fuck all about the countries I had been, but why is he trained to act in this manner? I got along, but the rest of the Africans, many of them U.S. citizens were still waiting in the room.

I had to bribe my way across a few borders and braved some heinous voyages to get back home, after two years! Welcome back, indeed.
posted by iamck at 6:46 PM on September 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


Also, why was Al from Home Improvement in China?
posted by iamck at 6:48 PM on September 10, 2010 [6 favorites]


desjardins:

"I am sorry for your experiences, but your rights as a foreign national entering this country are not the same rights as an American citizen re-entering his own country."

Yes, this. I'll note likewise that the least pleasant border crossing I ever experienced was going into Canada, when the border guard asked me the same questions about why I was going into the country (it was for a talk in Toronto) three separate times, and when I noted I was a writer, demanded that I show him one of my books -- which as it happened I had on hand just in case such a demand came up. I'm not sure why this fellow seemed so skeptical, but inasmuch as I was a foreign national trying to gain entry to his country, I was fine with the questions and offering the proof he asked for.
posted by jscalzi at 6:49 PM on September 10, 2010


Poor customs agent, my ass. While I don't deny they exist; they are, on the whole, power hungry pricks.

A few things to consider.

1) We're getting one side of this story. The writer paints himself as a very calm and rational guy, but we weren't there to see all the little details or hear the exact words/body language/etc. Even still, his own description of events comes off slightly confrontational ("None of your business" strikes me as more aggressive than, say, "I'm sorry, I decline to answer that question," or something similar).

2) Nobody wants to be the weak link that lets some nutjob through their line, and that nutjob then proceedes to murder half the terminal.

3) It is possible to be within your rights and still be acting suspiciously.

4) A 30 minute detention to make sure someone is actually stable and not doing something wrong or about to hurt himself or others is, I think, something most people would find reasonable.
posted by Menthol at 6:57 PM on September 10, 2010 [3 favorites]



Yes, this. I'll note likewise that the least pleasant border crossing I ever experienced was going into Canada, when the border guard asked me the same questions about why I was going into the country (it was for a talk in Toronto) three separate times, and when I noted I was a writer, demanded that I show him one of my books -- which as it happened I had on hand just in case such a demand came up. I'm not sure why this fellow seemed so skeptical, but inasmuch as I was a foreign national trying to gain entry to his country, I was fine with the questions and offering the proof he asked for.

You are indeed a model citizen.
posted by Dumsnill at 6:57 PM on September 10, 2010


Also, why was Al from Home Improvement in China?

That's all the CBP agent was trying to ascertain!
posted by birdherder at 6:57 PM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why were you in China?” asked the passport control officer, a woman with the appearance and disposition of a prison matron. my question is what is
better? an answer that is smart-ass or silent treatment? my answer would have generated the same result = a hour secondary bull-shit interview by
other customs officers,my answer would be "i was going to tinanmen
square trying to get run over by a tank." end of answer.
posted by tustinrick at 6:59 PM on September 10, 2010


I'm too tired to argue a million points about this. Just let me say.. Good for him! that path to lazy apathy is steep and slippery.
posted by HuronBob at 7:06 PM on September 10, 2010


Vorfeed:

"If there'd been an uproar over security-theater nonsense nine years ago, we'd be living in a much better America today -- better for everyone, including the majority."

However, the "security theater" that Mr. Lukacs is confronting is the one that pre-dates 9/11 as far as I recall; I remember going to Israel in the early 90s and being asked where I had been and what my purpose there had been.

Getting worked up about post 9/11 security theater is well and good, but it's a bit of a mission creep from what Mr. Lukacs was actually doing when he told the customs person that it was none of her business where he had been.

Likewise, while I'm not arguing that the security theater aspect of border crossing is silly at best and a genuine imposition of civil rights at worst, I'm not 100% convinced that a border agent asking where one has been and for what reason actually constitutes an imposition on one's civil rights (especially as the legal right to refuse to answer is not in dispute), or that such a process -- which is the process most US citizens undergo when returning to the states -- is not separable from other, more problematic issues relating to borders and customs.

Dumsnill:

"You are indeed a model citizen."

Well, but, see. That's the thing. I wasn't a citizen -- not of Canada, in any event. So your snark, while amusing, isn't actually anywhere close to being on point.
posted by jscalzi at 7:07 PM on September 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


I can just see the note in the customs database: SUBJECT REFUSED TO ANSWER QUESTIONS AND WAS LATER OBSERVED READING CHINESE VERSION OF TIGER BEAT
posted by benzenedream at 7:08 PM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Principal Take-Aways:

He's an uncooperative jerk.
posted by Doohickie at 7:12 PM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


schoolgirl report : Answer the TSA's questions. Show your receipt at Costco. Be polite to the police officer. Move the fuck on.

A valid option. Though, if taken, you deserve what you get.

Sometimes, Civil Disobedience means making a small-town tax clerk CBP-agent's day a bit less "convenient". Sometimes it means spending an hour reading about Chinese celebrities. And sometimes it means getting shot in the back by the very people supposedly there "to serve and protect" you.

But if you "move the fuck on", no question, you earned your reward.
posted by pla at 7:13 PM on September 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


Well, but, see. That's the thing. I wasn't a citizen -- not of Canada, in any event. So your snark, while amusing, isn't actually anywhere close to being on point.

Oh, I go that, but if I were about to cross the border to a neighboring, democratic state being that prepared for silly questions, I would consider myself a ridiculously model citizen.
posted by Dumsnill at 7:15 PM on September 10, 2010


On the one hand, it's just such a weird stand to take. I insist on, I DEMAND!!!, my right to fill out written customs declarations but not give verbal ones, because I would rather have strangers paw through all my stuff than answer verbally!!!!

On the other hand, the first CBP officer probably could have short circuited a lot of this by just saying "Look, you don't want to confirm this stuff verbally, whatever, but we're going to search you and your stuff. You'd rather that?"

On the gripping hand, while there's certainly been an uptick in pointless security theater since 9/11, customs agents asking people the purpose of their trip abroad is not among them. They've been asking that stuff for about forever.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:16 PM on September 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


Dumsnill:

"but if I were about to cross the border to a neighboring, democratic state being that prepared for silly questions, I would consider myself a ridiculously model citizen."

Ah, got you.

Well, the book was also a gift for a friend. It was pulling double duty. But I've been asked the "so you're a writer? What do you write?" question enough at border crossings (a lot of my travel is writing-related) that I find it useful to have examples on hand.

So, er, yes. Model citizen.
posted by jscalzi at 7:19 PM on September 10, 2010


jscalzi : However, the "security theater" that Mr. Lukacs is confronting is the one that pre-dates 9/11 as far as I recall; I remember going to Israel in the early 90s and being asked where I had been and what my purpose there had been.

Key difference - Israel's security doesn't just count as theater. If you make it through one of their screenings, you either count as reasonably safe, or a pathological genius.

Many of us wouldn't care so much if the morons at DHS and ICE actually managed to accomplish something vaguely related to making the world a better (or even just "safer" - not the same thing) place. But when a backwater AZ sheriff regularly makes international news by showing them up at their jobs, we clearly have a problem.
posted by pla at 7:20 PM on September 10, 2010


However, the "security theater" that Mr. Lukacs is confronting is the one that pre-dates 9/11 as far as I recall; I remember going to Israel in the early 90s and being asked where I had been and what my purpose there had been.

Getting worked up about post 9/11 security theater is well and good, but it's a bit of a mission creep from what Mr. Lukacs was actually doing when he told the customs person that it was none of her business where he had been.


The primary problem here isn't the questions -- it's what happened when he refused to answer them, within his rights. The idea that someone deserves to be detained for doing something that is perfectly legal may "pre-date 9/11", yes... but my point was that it shouldn't have been allowed to post-date it.
posted by vorfeed at 7:22 PM on September 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


You know, you can roll with the new reality or you can take your chances. Me, I travel a lot, and often with the wife and kids and no goddamned way I'm going to compromise their safety because I fantasize about cock punching these fuckers. Which I do. Often.

Don't hate da playa, hate da game.
posted by digitalprimate at 7:33 PM on September 10, 2010


I don't have a problem with his refusal to answer questions, but I do have a problem with this guy being a dick to someone who was just there to do a really tedious job. "None of your business" is an inherently ass-y answer, and it's almost challenging them to escalate - which was exactly what happened.

How about "I'm sorry, officer, but I don't intend to answer any additional questions today, beyond those on my customs form, of course. " It communicates the same thing, but is just a bit more respectful, especially when said with a smile.
posted by deadmessenger at 7:35 PM on September 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


But when a backwater AZ sheriff regularly makes international news by showing them up at their jobs, we clearly have a problem.

He's not "showing them up at their jobs", he's rounding up brown people, you unbelievable racist jerk.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:39 PM on September 10, 2010 [9 favorites]


"I'm sorry, officer, but I don't intend to answer any additional questions today, beyond those on my customs form, of course. "

Sure, if you want to come across as a condescending prick rehearsing for a community theater farce. Meanwhile, in the real world, people say, "none of your business."
posted by Dumsnill at 7:41 PM on September 10, 2010


Come on, I just came across as a condesc.....
posted by Dumsnill at 7:43 PM on September 10, 2010


pla:

"Key difference - Israel's security doesn't just count as theater. If you make it through one of their screenings, you either count as reasonably safe, or a pathological genius."

Oh, no, I was talking about coming back into the States, not the Israeli security.

The Israeli security was, like, amazing, in a genuinely terrifying way. They take you to a room and they open up your suitcase in front of you and a Israeli officer you know could kill you with a neck chop asks you about nearly every single article of clothing you've packed. And then after that, they send in another Israeli officer who looks like he could kick that other officer's ass, and he does the exact same thing, with the exact same questions, and you know if there's the slightest variation in your answer the closest you'll get to the El-Al plane is the room you're standing in that minute. They really do not fuck around, the Israelis.

At least that's how it was 20 years ago. I'm pretty sure they haven't gotten lax in the interim.

That experience, incidentally, is one of the things that convinces me that most post-9/11 security "upgrades" really are theater. If you're really going to go that route, do it like the Israelis do it, otherwise you're probably just going through the motions (and to be clear, I'm not advocating that everyone do it like the Israelis).

vorfeed:

"The primary problem here isn't the questions -- it's what happened when he refused to answer them, within his rights."

He got shunted into a somewhat longer entry process and the customs people were kind of dicks to him before he went on his way? I agree they shouldn't have been dicks; I'm not surprised not answering questions meant he had a longer entry process. I suspect some of that is simply having no process in place for when people refuse to answer questions (or alternately, having a longer process in place to deal with the additional steps customs may feel obliged to take). But in all he was allowed into the country in the manner he chose, delayed by a half-hour, which while not optimal is neither heinous.

Maybe in the future he can save himself and the customs people time by offering a card with his passport which states he has no intention of answering questions verbally, nor is he obliged to in order to enter the US. If he plans to make a habit out of it, it might be useful, since as noted the customs people are otherwise obliged by law and their own regulations to ask certain questions, and until such time as the law and/or regulations change, he'll come up against this problem again and again.
posted by jscalzi at 7:43 PM on September 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


I don't really get into the judgment and disdain of this fellow, who (if he is a little smug and righteous about it) seems to me to just be holding the line that he has drawn for himself, which I think is better than not having any line or moving it whenever it becomes inconvenient. But. If what anyone who wants to get on a plane these days has to deal with is "security theater" that does little if anything to make anyone actually more secure, I have to say what he is doing strikes me as freedom theater, doing little if anything to make anyone more free.
posted by nanojath at 7:45 PM on September 10, 2010


If he plans to make a habit out of it, it might be useful, since as noted the customs people are otherwise obliged by law and their own regulations to ask certain questions, and until such time as the law and/or regulations change, he'll come up against this problem again and again.

But aren't the laws and regulations more likely to change if more people refuse to streamline this process for the benefit of the people standing behind them in line?

Everyone should make the largest fuss possible.
posted by Dumsnill at 7:56 PM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


This guy got off easy. When I last went to India from phoren, the immigration guy wanted to see copies of all old passport-booklets I ever carried, before launching himself into a spirited diatribe on how they just don't make _pens_ like they used to before. I think he was angling for some phoren stationery as a bribe.

(Lest you think it's all idyllic and rosy with the bribing situation in international terminals in Indian airports, I later got accosted for a _real_ dollars-based bribe at Customs. Luckily I knew enough of the rule-book to quote and make a fuss and avoid giving chai-paise, or 'money for tea')
posted by the cydonian at 7:56 PM on September 10, 2010


deadmessenger : I do have a problem with this guy being a dick to someone who was just there to do a really tedious job.

Some people choose to work as doctors. Some people work as engineers. Some work as ditch-diggers. Same work as marketers.

Hmm, something looks wrong about that last category - Let's see... People who help me, people who help me, people who help me, and people who have mastered the art of pissing me off for profit.

Yep, now I see it. Do you?
posted by pla at 8:00 PM on September 10, 2010


Dumsnill:

"But aren't the laws and regulations more likely to change if more people refuse to streamline this process for the benefit of the people standing behind them in line?"

They're more likely to change if people complain to their Congressional representatives, actually, I expect, as that's where the laws are made (and changed).

I'm not at all confident that most people in a customs line want anyone making a fuss; most people in a customs line, for better or worse, probably just want to clear customs. The people behind someone holding up a customs line are likely not thinking "this person must be striking a blow for the personal liberties of all Americans"; they're likely thinking "God damn it, get out of the way, you putz, I want to go home."
posted by jscalzi at 8:04 PM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


He was "detained by the feds" for all of thirty minutes, by his own account.

I guess that technically meets the definition of being 'detained,' but only if you set the bar really, really low. Mostly, it meets the definition of "I had to wait in a longer line."

Asking someone a question really isn't a violation of their rights, and Customs agents looking out for suspicious behavior really isn't a sign of impending tyranny.
posted by kanewai at 8:04 PM on September 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


They're more likely to change if people complain to their Congressional representatives

Yeah, and I'm pretty sure they'll start complaining when customs takes them 9 hours.
posted by Dumsnill at 8:06 PM on September 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wouldn't a better bang for the buck be to get as many like minded individual to this simultaneously in one airport (don't ask about logistics) or in many airports on one day and make sure the press knows? If there is one thing Starcraft has taught me is not to send out one zerg...you need to mass them in a bunch to be effective.
One thing that Starcraft has taught me is that if whiny Zerg players complain loudly enough, Blizzard will nerf siege tanks!

---
This. Her day already sucks. You can get all kierkegaardian about why she's evil for cooperating with the system, or you can let her do her job, and then write a letter to your congressperson.
All she has to do is write "N/A" or "refused" in the little box. It really isn't any of her business.
Border control is different from most police interaction. Customs has more rights to search and detain you than a random cop would. ... A cop can't ask to search my backpack without reason, but at customs they have every right to look through your bag. It's really not that complicated.
It also has nothing to do with this story. The guy wasn't complaining about having his bags searched, it was complained about being asked what he was doing in China, and being detained for not answering. RTFA.
We should only assert our rights when it's convenient for those in power. I forget, did Tom Jefferson or Rosa Parks say that?
Yeah man that bus driver was just doing his job. Why ruin his day!?
Sure he did, because Mr. Lukacs chose to respond in such a way that the customs person felt obliged to instigate a separate procedure, which was a pain for everyone involved. We can argue about whether or not her response was warranted or correct, but that's a separate discussion from whether instigating that process made life more difficult for her.
Why does it even mater? It's her fault she "felt obliged" to do something. She wasn't actually obliged.
Yeah, again: No, not really. It in fact does me no harm whatsoever to tell a customs agent, as I did last week, for example, that I'm coming back to the US after visiting Australia, and I was visiting there for pleasure.
Suppose he was visiting china for his mothers funeral, and talking about it choked him up and he just didn't want to deal with it? Maybe it was some embarrassing reason, like medical tourism for treatment of anal cancer. The fact that you went to Australia to have fun doesn't mean no one ever minds talking about why they're traveling.

---
I don't think the behavior of the border patrol here was particularly egregious here, but come on. All this whining about the poor border patrol having to 'deal' with this guy who's not doing anything wrong is just ridiculous.
posted by delmoi at 8:07 PM on September 10, 2010 [11 favorites]


GuyZero wrote: "Yes. because it's easy to tell a lie that the border agent will believe completely and that eschews the whole shakedown routine."

Let's see. On the one hand you can tell them you're not going to answer the question. On the other, you can lie and commit a felony. I know which one I would choose.

Ironically, I have had fewer questions asked of me entering Canada and the Dominican Republic. The one time I went to Canada, by land, the nice lady asked how many people were in my car. Didn't even want to see our passports. In the DR, they have never asked me anything on entry. I get through faster than Dominicans do.

By contrast, my own country likes to ask me a bunch of useless questions.
posted by wierdo at 8:07 PM on September 10, 2010


Key difference - Israel's security doesn't just count as theater.

You must disabuse yourself of the notion that theatre with really good production values is not still theatre. Last time I left Israel one of the questions asked of me by the screeners is "Where did you first hear about Israel?" In what fashion could I have sensibly responded to this question?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:07 PM on September 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


More seriously - where is the incentive for change going to come from if white Americans and Europeans (I am one) go out of their way to streamline the system? We are the ones least likely to be harassed. As long as only youngish brown people are likely to suffer, and there are no major terrorist attacks, voters are going to say: "Hey, that (racial profiling, but we don't say that) airport security stuff that I'm rarely bothered by really works! Awesome!"
posted by Dumsnill at 8:14 PM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


ricochet biscuit : In what fashion could I have sensibly responded to this question?

You couldn't - Thus the whole point. It put you off-guard. Even if you had rehearsed answers to a million plausible questions, you can't possibly have the answer to every nonsequitur someone might throw at you available at the tip of your tongue.

Now, in response to that, you would most likely have one of three reactions - You would panic at not knowing the answer (entry denied, thanks for visiting the airport), you would look momentarily confused, verbally stumble for a minute, and eventually come up with something lame (enjoy your stay in Israel), or immediately come up with a smooth and plausible response (Please follow Sarah to holding cell B, please).
posted by pla at 8:20 PM on September 10, 2010


Yes, he was able to be fairly sure he could get away with this because of the privilege which comes from being white in the US. But it's not like this is the first or only time he's benefited from that privilege. He benefits every day. That's what privilege is. If he isn't clueless, he's aware of that.

I would be happy not to have the "privilege" to behave the way he behaved.

I'd also be happy to hear how it is that I, as a white person in the US, benefit from being white every day. This is thrown around a lot here as if we're all supposed to take it on faith, lest we be labeled "clueless."
posted by John Cohen at 8:21 PM on September 10, 2010


delmoi:

"It's her fault she 'felt obliged' to do something. She wasn't actually obliged."

Are you sure? You may know more about customs regulations than I -- it's not my line of work -- but I wouldn't be entirely surprised if she a) had a protocol she was expected to follow or b) had been told that in the case of unusual circumstances to escalate the person into a secondary queue. In short, it wouldn't surprise me if she were obliged in one form or another.

"The fact that you went to Australia to have fun doesn't mean no one ever minds talking about why they're traveling."

Agreed and to be clear I'm talking about my specific experience. That said, when asked about the reasons for traveling, I would expect most people would not have a problem answering the same reasons as they give on their written customs entry form. I also expect that in the main, most people don't travel for funerals or anal cancer surgery (or such), and that answering "business," "pleasure," or "vacation," is not particularly onerous or invasive, when such an answer is requested.

"All this whining about the poor border patrol having to 'deal' with this guy who's not doing anything wrong is just ridiculous."

For my part, I'm not whining; he's perfectly able to do what he likes, and the customs person has to deal with that. But also for my own part, I assume, based on my own personal experience, that the customs people charged with clearing me to re-enter the country would be happy to get through it with a minimum of fuss, and as to date I don't find anything about the re-entry process a real imposition in terms of process or rights, I'm happy to help them get me past their gate as quickly as possible.
posted by jscalzi at 8:25 PM on September 10, 2010


He needs to drop the dramatic act; they didn't attach electrodes to his nuts FFS.

This.

The man wasn't being tortured, he was just being asked a simple question. A question that the FSA officer had to ask him. The FSA officer didn't design the policy, they were just doing their damn job.

Yes, it's unconstitutional to require an answer from that question, but they didn't, in the end. The man in charge let him go on constitutional grounds, which is how the system works.

And he wasn't even guilty of anything. He had nothing of contraband and no reason to be evasive. All he was doing was wasting the FSA's time, and his own time.

Seriously, people, just comply. It makes it that much easier to point to those who don't as proof of their guilt.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:28 PM on September 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


"None of your business" strikes me as more aggressive than, say, "I'm sorry, I decline to answer that question,"

This. And later on, he gives them the silent treatment when they ask menacing questions such as "Did you pack your own bags?"

I can see not wanting to tell The Man all about the purpose and details of your vacation. But refusing to answer questions about the contents of luggage and customs forms? What exactly does that accomplish?

Oh, right. It lets you write a blog post: "OMG I WAS DETAINED BY THUGS"
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 8:28 PM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, and it's pretty amazing that people are saying you should just make up some believable lie like "business" or something. You might not get in trouble, but it is a federal felony to lie to customs agents. Just say you don't feel like answering.
posted by delmoi at 8:30 PM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


And he wasn't even guilty of anything. He had nothing of contraband and no reason to be evasive. All he was doing was wasting the FSA's time, and his own time.

Seriously, people, just comply. It makes it that much easier to point to those who don't as proof of their guilt.
Huh? Was that last bit a joke? Anyway, I don't really see much of a moral argument in the idea you shouldn't waste these people's time.
posted by delmoi at 8:32 PM on September 10, 2010


Sadly I don't think there is any end in sight for this. Even if one of these mouth breathers gets gun happy and kills someone there will still not be change.
posted by MrLint at 8:39 PM on September 10, 2010


Navelgazer wrote: "Seriously, people, just comply. It makes it that much easier to point to those who don't as proof of their guilt."

I'm not particularly interested in waiving my rights just to make someone's job a little easier.
posted by wierdo at 8:45 PM on September 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'd also be happy to hear how it is that I, as a white person in the US, benefit from being white every day.

Really? OK, here you go. Here's a shorter list if the first is tl;dr. (both links are PDFs)
posted by desjardins at 8:46 PM on September 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


one of the things i was always told in school was that we should consider the results of an action if everybody did it

if everybody remained silent when being questioned by customs officials, soon the idea that the citizens were sovereign and the government were their servants might actually be adhered to and people might actually start thinking they live in a free country

what a horrible thing that would be
posted by pyramid termite at 8:46 PM on September 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


I also expect that in the main, most people don't travel for funerals or anal cancer surgery (or such), and that answering "business," "pleasure," or "vacation," is not particularly onerous or invasive, when such an answer is requested.

Anecdote: I went to Iceland for a funeral and when asked why I was traveling, I stated just that. I didn't get a word of sass from any customs agents, but I didn't get any condolences or hankies either. Probably just a note in my file that I knew someone in Iceland who was dead. I imagine that they've seen people get choked up and have, as humans, a small amount of sympathy for the circumstance. Or they could be cylons. Hard to say. I can see not wanting to answer if you've been to a funeral, but "visiting family" is also an easy one to slip in - it's my usual reason for traveling and I don't get asked any follow-up questions beyond "How long were you there?" I guess they could start asking which specific family members I visited, but it has yet to happen to me.

I am pleased to report that I have absolutely no experience traveling for anal cancer surgery and really hope to keep it that way.
posted by sonika at 8:47 PM on September 10, 2010


and i must point out - it's not called the bill of privileges, it's called the bill of rights
posted by pyramid termite at 8:48 PM on September 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Delmoi, weirdo, I apologize. Maybe my irony-meter is set on too low of a register.

Yes, it was meant as a joke. This guy's a fucking hero.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:50 PM on September 10, 2010


pyramid termite : if everybody remained silent when being questioned by customs officials, soon the idea that the citizens were sovereign and the government were their servants might actually be adhered to and people might actually start thinking they live in a free country

I sincerely hope you meant that as some sort of joke that I missed.

If not - Humans have treated each other like shit since the first of us came down from the trees and the rest mocked him mercilessly for failing to conform. Well, make that the 247th, they just killed the first 246 but the 247th's lack of body hair made him funny enough to "only" laugh (and fling a bit of feces) at.

Humoring the government only encourages it to see what else it can get away with. If our leaders thought they could put us all in chains mining coal 24/7 with only blind insects to eat, this conversation would have taken place on the back wall of shaft 26B.



pyramid termite : it's not called the bill of privileges, it's called the bill of rights

More than that - It doesn't grant the people rights; It limits the government's rights. And it does so for good reason.
posted by pla at 8:55 PM on September 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


To those shaming him:

So, what's the big deal here, exactly? A guy decides to exercise his rights, adds a little something interesting to a customs agent's otherwise boring day, gives some airport security something to do for a few minutes, wastes his own time, and shares the story on his blog without whining about it.

Why are there people here so up in arms about his lack of cooperation? Who cares if it's easy to cooperate? It's no skin off your back. You know, it would have been easy for you to move on from this post without comment, but something inside you made you want to come into the thread and put your membership to use. What good are rights left un-exercised, amiright?

Kudos to him.
posted by sunshinesky at 9:28 PM on September 10, 2010 [7 favorites]


"Sir, why were you in China?"

"Look how big my dick is!"

"I don't need to see that, sir. I just need to know why you were in China."

"Are you trying to show my YOUR dick, madam? Look how big MY dick is!"

"I'm going to have to ask someone to come over here if you don't put that away."

"BIG DICK BIG DICK LALALA BIG DICK"

Good Cop walks over

"Sir, don't you want to just put your dick away so you can leave the airport?"

"YOU'RE TRYING TO SAY YOU'RE DICK IS BIGGER THAN MINE!"

"You know what? You can just sit over there until you're ready to put your dick away."



"See how big my dick is?"

"I just need to search your bags."

"My bags are filled with giant underwear for my giant dick."



"What's happening here?"

"This man keeps showing me his dick."

"Ah. Well. This is America, where you have a Constitutional right to showing your dick."

"SO YOU ACKNOWLEDGE MY GINORMOUS DICK??"

"Yes, sir. In fact, you are a six-foot-tall dick. You are completely a dick. You are free to go, dick."

"I AM SO AWESOME!"

posted by jefficator at 9:32 PM on September 10, 2010 [18 favorites]


Navelgazer wrote: "Delmoi, weirdo, I apologize. Maybe my irony-meter is set on too low of a register."

Sorry. There are too many fools on the Internet who disapprove of people exercising their rights. The irony is that they are exercising their right to look like a fool as they wag their fingers.

I'm perfectly OK with people choosing to waive their own rights. However, I reserve the right to disapprove of their disapproval of other people choosing not to waive their rights. (how's that for stilted construction?)

By the way, folks might be interested to see the guy's FlyerTalk thread.
posted by wierdo at 9:39 PM on September 10, 2010


Apparently, the word "hero" doesn't mean the same thing it used to.
posted by proj at 9:40 PM on September 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


I liked the guy who compared this guy to Rosa Parks. That was classy.
posted by Allan Gordon at 9:58 PM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


She said that her questions were mandated by Congress...
Is that true? Is there federal law requiring customs officials to ask about your business abroad? Is everything customs agents do prescribed by Congressional decree?
posted by Western Infidels at 9:59 PM on September 10, 2010


Seriously, what sunshinesky said. Who cares whether or not Lukacs generated more work for the three officers? It's not like he was uncivil, or that it required overtime, or anything. It's part of the job.

Oh and also, I don't watch reality shows but if someone were to shoot a pilot featuring Paul Lukacs and Lynne Rosenthal, I'd totally watch it.
posted by christopherious at 10:12 PM on September 10, 2010


I liked the guy who compared this guy to Rosa Parks. That was classy.
Who was that? Not anyone in this thread, I don't think. What I said was that if we hold the "Wasting someone's time" as some kind of horrible injustice, then Rosa Parks was a horrible person because she "wasted" the bus driver's time when he was "just trying to do his job.

And really it's kind of amazing how much concern people have for these border guards time and patience. Why should anyone care? They get paid either way.
posted by delmoi at 10:22 PM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Have any of you ever been inside an Australian shearing shed? Because it smells a lot like this thread. A handful of real men and women, lots of sheep, and lots of shit. And so what if you have to get mulesed* once in a while? Best not to make a fuss.

(*No, you don't want to know.)
posted by obiwanwasabi at 10:26 PM on September 10, 2010


I also expect that in the main, most people don't travel for funerals or anal cancer surgery (or such), and that answering "business," "pleasure," or "vacation," is not particularly onerous or invasive, when such an answer is requested.
Well, some people don't like to lie, especially in situations where doing so is a federal felony, even if it's not likely to have an consequences or ever be noticed. And even if you do lie you still have to think about it. And it might make you seem nervous or guilty.

And again, if it's not their business, you shouldn't be forced to answer (and of course he wasn't forced to answer, they let him go after they got it sorted out).

And speaking of the way customs officers and border guards behave, it's actually a major reason why Chicago didn't get the Olympics.
posted by delmoi at 10:26 PM on September 10, 2010


Finally! It took half an hour and five federal officers before one of them acknowledged that I had a right not to answer their questions.

MINUTE 2: They have refused to grant me immediate entry simply because I'm being bafflingly uncooperative.

MINUTE 14: The book about Chinese celebrities has become my protest, so rich with symbolic meaning, so underappreciated. But the book is heavy; so very heavy. I spit on you, despair!

MINUTE 26: Remember my fight America SIC SEMPER TYRANNUS

MINUTE 31: Oh cool, a new cinnabon

several of the officers involved seemed thrown by my refusal to meekly bend to their whim.

The CBP goons want U.S. citizens to answer their questions as a ritualistic bow to their power. Well, CBP has no power over me.

Then the president called me and was like, Hey will you be my secretary of defense please sir? And I was all, Naw, bitch, and then my hog let out a rrrrrrrrrrrrebel yell and I screamed off into the sunset.

He reminds me of this guy.
posted by clockzero at 11:19 PM on September 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


To those shaming him:

So, what's the big deal here, exactly? A guy decides to exercise his rights, adds a little something interesting to a customs agent's otherwise boring day, gives some airport security something to do for a few minutes, wastes his own time, and shares the story on his blog without whining about it.


Well, personally, I think it was rude. If it was just his own time wasted then whatver, but it wasn't. He instigated the whole situation by being intentionally confrontational about things, then refused to answer clarifying questions. This was not about actual injustice; it was simply designed to drum up anti-authority sentiment and garner praise for it.

Seriously, would you be championing this guy if he was in a grocery store and the check-out woman asked him how his day was, and he came back with the attitude of, "None of your business; I’m not going to be interrogated as a pre-condition of buying cantaloupes."

When authority NEEDS bashing, by all means, but c'mon... this is just people stereotyping and shitting on "mouth breather," "power hungry prick" cops.
posted by Menthol at 11:21 PM on September 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


"I guess that technically meets the definition of being 'detained,' but only if you set the bar really, really low. Mostly, it meets the definition of "I had to wait in a longer line.""

If that longer line is somewhere you aren't allowed to leave, sure. Just like a cheap hostel is mostly like jail.
posted by Mitheral at 11:30 PM on September 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


Poor customs agent, my ass. While I don't deny they exist; they are, on the whole, power hungry pricks.

Rubbish.

Hysterical much?

Friends, family members, colleagues--some of whom are non-whites!!!-- and I have dealt with U.S. Customs more times than I can count and the number of hassles equals zero, zilch and nil.

I got no grief at all when I returned from Saudi Arabia with a cat. Even a luggage-sniffing dog ignored it.
posted by ambient2 at 11:31 PM on September 10, 2010


I'm pretty sure that Rosa Parks put a crimp in James Blake's day, too, with her naughty non-compliance. Guess she ought not to have done that.
posted by adipocere at 11:40 PM on September 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


I opened the article, read it, and then immediately searched this thread for the word "douchebag." Only one instance! Way to hold tradition, ND¢!

First they came for the douchebags.
posted by gum at 11:44 PM on September 10, 2010


I never answer any questions asked by a Customs Agent unless it's preceded by "Simon says."
posted by Skygazer at 11:54 PM on September 10, 2010


Menthol wrote: "Seriously, would you be championing this guy if he was in a grocery store and the check-out woman asked him how his day was, and he came back with the attitude of, "None of your business; I’m not going to be interrogated as a pre-condition of buying cantaloupes.""

That is, by far, the worst analogy in this thread. A grocery store check-out person is not a law enforcement officer. And even if he did say "none of your business," the worst I could say about it is that it wasn't particularly polite.

I don't quite get why it is that people feel the need to malign those who choose not to waive their rights. It's not as if people who make that choice are forcing you to do the same. You're still perfectly free to waive your own, if you're comfortable with that.
posted by wierdo at 11:57 PM on September 10, 2010 [9 favorites]


I don't quite get why it is that people feel the need to malign those who choose not to waive their rights.

They resent having their own sheeplike behavior thrust in their faces.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 12:39 AM on September 11, 2010 [5 favorites]




A grocery store check-out person is not a law enforcement officer. And even if he did say "none of your business," the worst I could say about it is that it wasn't particularly polite.

What I'm getting at is that this behavior in any other context would be absurd. If you saw someone acting this way in a market you'd think, "Whoa, wacko," but since he was needlessly rude to law enforcement and refused to answer simple questions, that's somehow worthy of praise? Why? Because cops aren't people, they don't deserve a little basic respect?

What made this the situation it was was his attitude, not him invoking his rights; being willfully obtuse was the problem.
posted by Menthol at 12:46 AM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Since we kind of seem to be on that slide from republic to police state, what do people in the know consider the most successful democracy/republic going these days, defined as one with a respectful balance of state and citizen (though, of course, they're in theory the same)?
posted by maxwelton at 12:53 AM on September 11, 2010


If you told a clerk "None of your business," they wouldn't force you to wait in another room and search your belongings. You and the police may not believe it, but they have exactly the same degree of statutory power to compel you to answer questions as a grocery clerk.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 1:09 AM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]




He's not being hypocritical

His actions (behaving like a jackass in the knowledge that he will not get his ass kicked because the government protects him from such harm) do not bear out his words (that the government is trampling his rights).
posted by eeeeeez at 1:26 AM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


So, the government provides rights, and then we become hypocrites by exercising them?

Refusing to answer questions in customs and presenting this as some kind of challenge to the state when other people have actually fought and died for his right to do so is hypocritical. Or at least vicarious living.
posted by eeeeeez at 1:39 AM on September 11, 2010


I am one of those poor people who you hear about it, that you're friends with, that you're related to, even. In short, I am The Person Who Always Gets Stopped At Customs.

In fact, this is a very timely thread as I was stopped by customs in the last five days. I was detained longer than this guy, and yet I was polite, and I answered every one of their asinine questions as requested. For my pains, I spent 45 minutes in secondary inspection after previously spending about twenty minutes waiting for primary inspection. Clearly, all being polite got me was being politely asked to step aside please, we think you're a Problem.

For those of you whose "number of hassles equals zero, zilch, nil," let me describe the experience. I got to the border checkpoint, waited about twenty minutes, then waved hi to the camera (sunglasses on, which no doubt lost me a point right off the bat) and pulled forward. After answering routine yet still intrusive questions (did you meet anyone at [city in Canada]? really, you didn't meet anyone at all? you don't have any friends in that city? no, I'm a social failure with no friends, thanks) at the main checkpoint, I was asked to open my trunk.

Evidently failing that test, I was directed over to a series of large, opaque garage doors where I waited behind another car. I thought I was waiting to move to the space where I'd be interrogated, but actually, I was waiting for the garage to open up and the car ahead of me to go in so I could then wait for my turn. I was not allowed to leave my car, there were cameras trained on me as well as an agent watching over me, and (oh the humanity) I didn't even have a book to read accessible in the front seat. After approximately a 40 minute wait, the garage door opened up and I was instructed to drive in. The door shut behind me, leaving me alone in an exit-less room with about ten agents.

By this point, I am annoyed but still polite. The agents asked routine, even more intrusive questions (you think primary inspection is bad, let me tell you about secondary inspection!) and felt free to dig through my personal belongings and turn on my electronics as well as of course thoroughly searching my car. They did all of this out of my sight, as I was stashed in a waiting room with a heavily frosted door, commiserating with a French Canadian couple.

The saddest thing about the whole process? The French Canadian couple's reaction when they found out I was an American citizen. I guess citizens aren't usually subject to the bullshit that non-citizens routinely get put through.

I don't know why I get pulled aside so very, very often (obviously, if I could figure it out I'd solve the problem) but it was definitely a waste of time for all concerned. You're calculating that this guy, being a bit uh, abrupt and decidedly confrontational, wasted the time of the customs agent and folks behind him? Calculate how much time the border patrol wastes, both customs agents' and yours', every time they detain people like me.

I should note that I have this issue every time I go to Canada (note that the Canadian border agent was not quick by any means--remember, I'm The Person Who Always Gets Stopped At Customs--but she didn't seem to feel that I was a terrorist so point to her) and I've even been stopped going from Spain (Schengen Country A) to Portugal (Schengen Country B) to England (slightly weird Schengen Country C) and Portugal wanted to deport me back to Spain. Sorry, person behind me. My number's always up.

Maybe Lukacs should have been more polite. Maybe he should have thought of his fellow travelers and taken the easy route. But as far as I'm concerned, I hope the guy keeps doing this (maybe a tad more politely, but then again, maybe not) and encourages others to do the same. Had I known that I had the right to refuse to answer their questions earlier this week, I might have taken that route. Then again, I was already in secondary inspection. Who knows where I'd have gone if I'd refused to answer their questions? So yeah, I support this guy in his mission because I'm The Person Who Always Gets Stopped At Customs and I don't dare try his method.
posted by librarylis at 1:39 AM on September 11, 2010 [18 favorites]


Metafilter: Love It or Leave It
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:55 AM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Menthol wrote: "What I'm getting at is that this behavior in any other context would be absurd. If you saw someone acting this way in a market you'd think, "Whoa, wacko," but since he was needlessly rude to law enforcement and refused to answer simple questions, that's somehow worthy of praise? Why? Because cops aren't people, they don't deserve a little basic respect?"

Hyperbole much?

Nobody said police officers (or CBP agents) are not people. Nobody is advocating for hostility towards them. If they were, I'd be rightly angry. They'd be advocating for hostility toward many of my family members, after all. Refusing to answer questions which may be used against you in a court of law is not hostile, it is wise. Almost all of us assess at the time we are confronted with a question from an officer whether it is more expedient to answer the question despite how completely fucking boneheaded it is, in an attempt to save ourselves some time and frustration.

Again, saying "it's none of your business" is not rude. Rude does not equal "not polite." There is room between "rude" and "polite." Polite would have been to say "I'm not going to answer that or any other question." Rude would be saying, in the immortal words of our ex-Vice President, "go fuck yourself."

You seem to be conflating politeness with obsequiousness.
posted by wierdo at 2:15 AM on September 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Again, saying "it's none of your business" is not rude.
Yeah, I was wondering if there is some cultural disconnect here. Do people here really think that customs agents are such delicate little flowers that they cannot handle someone saying "it's none of your business"? That that (or having to check some rules) "ruins someones day"? Seriously?
posted by davar at 3:48 AM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


None of your business,” I said.
And then he could have gone on with his life.


Yes, and when BuddhaBucket is peacefully walking along and suddenly gets asked for his papers by the polizei, he is a good little compliant citizen and unquestioningly submits to the request.

After all, freedom is not nearly as important as avoiding complications from the state's thugs.
posted by splice at 4:27 AM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Mr. Lukacs didn't make life more difficult for the 'poor Customs schmoe'."

Sure he did, because Mr. Lukacs chose to respond in such a way that the customs person felt obliged to instigate a separate procedure, which was a pain for everyone involved. We can argue about whether or not her response was warranted or correct, but that's a separate discussion from whether instigating that process made life more difficult for her.


This really makes no sense. Lukacs' response was perfectly appropriate given his rights in this situation. If the customs person was doing her job correctly, she would have accepted his legally-appropriate answer and passed him through without incident. That the customs person chose to deviate from correct procedure and make an issue out of Lukacs' response is in no way Lukacs' responsibility.

(1) Lukacs was in no way obliged to answer the question he was asked.

(2) The customs person was in no way obliged to demand an answer or to make an issue out of his non-response.

That the customs person "felt obliged" to detain this passenger -- again, in violation of what would have been the appropriate procedure -- makes the ensuing difficulty entirely the fault of the customs person. So, no, Mr. Lukacs didn't make life more difficult for the 'poor Customs schmoe,' -- she did that to herself.

I don't know why anyone is defending the customs agent in any of this. If everyone in this situation had acted correctly, none of the ensuing hilarity would have occurred. The person in this scenario who didn't act correctly is the customs person, not the passenger. So we're gonna blame the passenger?
posted by Pants McCracky at 5:09 AM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


I have never had a good experience with US customs. The best experience could charitably be called "hostile indifference". That is all.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:51 AM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm really disturbed by the insidious nature of the "just give the poor employees a break" theme.

Perhaps this guy was being an asshole, but that really doesn't have anything at all to do with whether or not he has rights in this situation. In this case he pushed a lot of buttons, but what people aren't noticing is that even a single slip off-script can make you feel dangerously close to being arrested, or at least fucking up any chance of flying again.

Example: I'm traveling through security where the line is very small. Everyone is being lined up for the millimetre-wave full-body scanner. I politely ask if there's an alternative search method.

I did not demand anything, or in any way raise my voice or even make a request at this point. I literally said: "Excuse me, is there an alternative to the full-body scan?"

The person to whom I'd directed my question says "Are you refusing?" I try to clarify and re-state my question, but that's the end of the conversation.

This sets literally the entire crew off. The person to whom I'd directed my question screams "WE HAVE A REFUSAL!!!". After this point I was shuffled to a regular metal detector, which didn't go off, and I was given a full body pat-down search. It was very extensive.

The entire process is set up to intentionally, openly humiliate people who go off-script for whatever reason. Setting up an institution like this is just asking for abuses of power to eventually occur. It's mindless.
posted by odinsdream at 5:58 AM on September 11, 2010 [25 favorites]


"What I'm getting at is that this behavior in any other context would be absurd. If you saw someone acting this way in a market you'd think, "Whoa, wacko," but since he was needlessly rude to law enforcement and refused to answer simple questions, that's somehow worthy of praise? Why? Because cops aren't people, they don't deserve a little basic respect?"
Who is asking me these questions "in a market"? The cashier? This would never happen because if someone said "none of your business" the cashier wouldn't have the authority to detain you. If it's a cop, well, not answering their questions isn't a sign of 'disrespect' In fact, not answering questions is never really a sign of disrespect, and the idea you think it is is pretty bizarre.

---

Again, I don't think the customs people really did anything wrong here. They talked it over and let him go. The problem is all these people who seem to think he's a horrible person because he didn't just answer the question. Well it was none of their business!
Refusing to answer questions in customs and presenting this as some kind of challenge to the state when other people have actually fought and died for his right to do so is hypocritical. Or at least vicarious living.
This is a statement that makes zero sense.
posted by delmoi at 6:17 AM on September 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Rosa Parks? Really? Somehow airport security scrutinizing your privacy is at all analogous to the systematic discrimination of a race of citizens? I find that a stretch.

As many have mentioned, he didn't have to answer questions. He didn't answer any. And no harm came to him. He was detained for half an hour. That's thirty minutes, people. It isn't as though he were harassed, thrown in jail for the night, or had a firehose turned on him.

So you may argue that his actions were a positive thing in exposing some of the sillyness of airport security, but that's all it does. I don't think that there's any inkling of fighting for rights here. Fighting not to be inconvenienced, maybe. But let's not elevate this guy with the hyperbole of freedom fighting.
posted by Room 101 at 6:36 AM on September 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


if everybody remained silent when being questioned by customs officials, soon the idea that the citizens were sovereign and the government were their servants might actually be adhered to and people might actually start thinking they live in a free country

I'm sorry, but this is just asinine. If everyone remained silent when questioned by customs officials, they would just open everyone's bags and paw through everyone's stuff, and probably seize stuff that seemed even potentially an undeclared import.

There's certainly something to be said for the creeping authoritarianism and reductions in liberty over the past few years. But, again, being questioned at an actual, literal customs post is not among them.

This isn't about the silliness of airport security, for the simple reason that CBP agents are not part of airport security.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:53 AM on September 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


I don't know why I get pulled aside so very, very often (obviously, if I could figure it out I'd solve the problem) but it was definitely a waste of time for all concerned.

False positive is not necessarily equivalent to "waste of time." If you don't know the reason why you are pulled aside so regularly, then it's hard to see a basis for concluding that it is a waste of time.
posted by cribcage at 6:55 AM on September 11, 2010


I'd also be happy to hear how it is that I, as a white person in the US, benefit from being white every day.

Really? OK, here you go. Here's a shorter list if the first is tl;dr. (both links are PDFs)


I'm looking for a concise example or two in this thread -- something you're willing to say to me, not something someone else has said on the internet.

Also, could we please stop with all the "Really?" It comes off as really condescending.
posted by John Cohen at 6:58 AM on September 11, 2010


Actually, folks, there is a reason why border guards, cops, etc. act like they do. They are trained that way. It's standard procedure because they learned a long time ago that putting people under pressure will make some (not many, but just enough to make security look like it is working even though it fails 95% of the time) of the guilty parties give themselves away.

So the standard procedure is to 1) treat everybody like they are guilty as sin but the stern but correct agent is constrained by procedure and 2) jump the shit of anybody who looks, acts or seems slightly different. All following training and procedure, you understand. It's supposed to be humiliating and unpleasant. As a matter of fact, that's the whole point.

Needless to say, given the power imbalance the whole deal is based upon, this also turns into a great excuse for many agents to be complete power-mad assholes. And that is expected as well, because there are rules and procedures that they have to follow which are intended to control the agents just enough so the entire department doesn't end up getting roasted by some more powerful person swooping down from a high and mighty place.

On the other hand, the border guard who stopped Ressam with a trunkload of explosives also had the reputation as being the rudest creep at Port Townsend. And it freaked out Ressam and he got busted. So the system generates just enough anecdotal evidence to maintain itself in the current configuration, even though there are certainly different and possibly better ways to do things.
posted by warbaby at 6:59 AM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've read this whole thread and it's hilarious. I'm going to propose a new law:

"As a Metafilter discussion dealing with authority figures gets more than a couple of comments long, however petty the incident and however white and middle-class the subject is, the probability of a comparison involving Rosa Parks approaches 1."
posted by ob at 7:00 AM on September 11, 2010 [9 favorites]


Answer the TSA's questions. Show your receipt at Costco.

One of these things is not even remotely like the other. When you become a Costco member, you explicitly agree to show your receipt when asked. There is no such agreement to waive your US citizen's right to remain silent.

I have been to China about five times. There's a declaration form you fill out on the plane. When I got to Customs, the agent looked at my visa stamp, looked at my passport photo, looked at me, and waved me through, every time. No questions of any kind. It's never been that easy returning to the US.

Off-topic: The Gripping Hand is a not-very-good book. I would appreciate not being reminded of the time I used up reading it. Not even when someone discovers that a situation can be viewed from more than two perspectives. Thanks.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:05 AM on September 11, 2010


Also, desjardins, I'm asking specifically about myself and how it's supposed to happen "every day." So a link that's talking about white people in general is not an answer. I'm not white people in general; I'm one individual.
posted by John Cohen at 7:05 AM on September 11, 2010


I'm surprised that this comment has the first use of the word "Hitler" in this thread.

Kirth, I apologize and will in the future substitute "On the fondling hand," or "On the self-pleasuring hand."
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:11 AM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


I wonder if this guy regularly gives out his social security number.
posted by nomadicink at 7:17 AM on September 11, 2010


cribcage: False positive is not necessarily equivalent to "waste of time." If you don't know the reason why you are pulled aside so regularly, then it's hard to see a basis for concluding that it is a waste of time.

The U.S. has a 400,000 person watch list which contains countless nobodies (including children) whose only "crime" is:

1) having a similar name to someone that probably hasn't done anything "wrong" other than visit a country which the U.S. has decided to vilify for their selfish gains.

2) having a hint-of-a-tint or a "funny" name.

3) attempting to gain entry at a time when the U.S. economy is crumbling.
posted by gman at 7:35 AM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I like talking with other people and I'm actually an over-sharer at times. Coming in to Heathrow I was asked my business in the UK. I told her that I'd been studying there before, I was on my way to Egypt to take a course in TEFL, and I was going to meet some of my old friends in London before heading on.

Suddenly, she starts asking me all these other questions. I did know I couldn't work here, right? How long was I staying? Who were these friends? I ended up having to show her my onwards ticket to Egypt *and* the invitation letter from the TEFL course.

What did I learn from this encounter? Lie, lie, lie to custom agents.

Also, if you're heading back to the US, you can always say your purpose in XYZ was business. But on arriving into any country, always tell them you're there on vacation. Because if you tell them you might actually be doing anything that resembles work, they're going to give you the third degree again.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:41 AM on September 11, 2010


I'm asking specifically about myself and how it's supposed to happen "every day."

You will never be pulled over for driving while black. You will not be asked for your citizenship papers in Arizona. You will never be held in ICE for months or years without access to a lawyer, nor charged with any actual crime or deported. If you are hit by a car, you will receive better quicker, and better emergency treatment.

You can demand people educate you and then refuse to accept valid information when provided to you, shifting the goalposts of what is acceptable, which is rather like showing up at medical school and declaring it invalid unless they can teach you about humours and phelgm and spirits.

You don't have to accept it on faith, though it requires good faith to consider the evidence and how that might relate to the idea.
posted by yeloson at 8:32 AM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Also, desjardins, I'm asking specifically about myself and how it's supposed to happen "every day." So a link that's talking about white people in general is not an answer. I'm not white people in general; I'm one individual.

What do you think this is, The Truman Show? We don't know what goes on in your daily life. If you have a genuine interest in learning about the advantages being white can confer on white people, you're in luck, because a lot has already been said on that topic. Even though it would have been trivial for you to google this yourself, desjardins helpfully provided you with a list to start you off; the correct response would have been "thank you". I don't blame you for being uncomfortable with this discussion, but I wonder if you realise how obnoxious it is for you to first demand, in a tone that suggests your mind is already made up, that people take the time to explain all this to you and then declare that you're not going to listen because they haven't done it exactly the right way. Make an effort. There are actually a lot of people who will be willing to help you if you're respectful, but educating yourself is ultimately your own responsibility.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 8:40 AM on September 11, 2010 [6 favorites]


The only thing that makes my entering into the US slightly less awful is watching and listening to the US officials giving Americans a rough time coming back to their own country. Petty I know; but it makes me feel better. Unfortunately I have never heard a heavilly sunburnt tourist with a flushed hungover face and bulging flourescent shirt, when asked the inane question "why were you out of the country" reply "I´ve been on holiday fuckwit and now I´m coming home". I´d really like to hear that.
posted by adamvasco at 8:41 AM on September 11, 2010


I'm curious why this libertarian spends his time living under authoritarian regimes in China and Thailand. From a couple blog postings involving Russian newspaper editors and Elliot Spitzer one guess might be sex tourism. This would explain why he was so agitated about answering a simple question and concerned he might incriminate himself.
posted by humanfont at 8:42 AM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, desjardins, I'm asking specifically about myself and how it's supposed to happen "every day." So a link that's talking about white people in general is not an answer. I'm not white people in general; I'm one individual.

Well, I don't personally know you, so I can't say how you are affected as an individual. I can say that the reason itself that you can't see how being white positively affects you is part and parcel of privilege. As a white person, you are the default. You're rarely asked for your opinion "as a white person" and you rarely have to think about yourself as being a white person. Black people are reminded that they are black all the time. People of color from around the world are reminded that they are people of color all the time. They are more likely to be stopped and questioned by people in authority. If they are successful, someone is going to wonder about affirmative action. If they aren't successful, someone is going to think it is because of the color of the skin rather than their actions. And indeed, sometimes their lack of success is dependent on someone else "ignoring" the color of their skin or the otherness of their name.

These are all the things you and I and all white people invisibly benefit from on an ongoing basis.

Most importantly: white people are allowed to think of themselves as individuals.
posted by Deathalicious at 8:48 AM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm curious why this libertarian spends his time living under authoritarian regimes in China and Thailand.

I think he made it pretty clear that it's none of your business.

If I were to go somewhere to have sex with children in Thailand, you'd better believe I'd say "Business" when asked why I'd traveled there. To ascribe untoward motives to his refusing to abdicate his right to silence seems, to me, fairly preposterous.
posted by Deathalicious at 8:51 AM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm curious why this libertarian spends his time living under authoritarian regimes in China and Thailand. From a couple blog postings involving Russian newspaper editors and Elliot Spitzer one guess might be sex tourism.

He captions a picture of three attractive young Thai women, "three reasons why white women who move to Bangkok become invisible", bemoans American divorce laws that are supposedly weighted against men and gloats about how much more desired American men are in Asia. He writes about an airline, "The uniforms of the female flight attendants – and they were all women – were yellow and tight (see photograph)." That doesn't mean that he is a "sex tourist" in the usual sense, but I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that he is not a big fan of Western women or the freedoms they enjoy,
posted by transona5 at 9:09 AM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


The U.S. has a 400,000 person watch list which contains...

That is a problem. It is also not necessarily relevant. The poster commented that he is pulled aside often and has no idea why (e.g., whether or not his name appears on a "watch list"). On those facts, I don't see a basis for concluding that pulling him aside is a waste of time. That's all.
posted by cribcage at 10:13 AM on September 11, 2010


'He' is not a he, actually.

My name is common enough to potentially appear on a watchlist, so I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss that argument. In fact, I know someone with my father's name and birthdate is on a watchlist (which makes for such a hassle entering the country, having two of the family pulled aside), so it would not be inconceivable at all that someone with my name and birthdate is on one. Admittedly, I do not know this for sure (thus, my response that I don't know why I'm pulled aside so often).

And, I meant waste of time in the sense that 'they're always pulling me aside, and yet I'm never guilty. What a waste of time.' I'm having a hard time parsing how you mean the phrase; something to do with fitting a heretofore unknown profile and thus it not being a waste of time for them to pull me aside? I guess I'd like to know more about their profiling because it sure seemed like they sent me for secondary inspection as soon as the agent flipped through my passport and saw my visas and entry stamps for other countries. Not sure how normal travel is a red flag.
posted by librarylis at 11:17 AM on September 11, 2010


Refusing to answer questions in customs and presenting this as some kind of challenge to the state when other people have actually fought and died for his right to do so is hypocritical.

Abdicating a right that people have fought and died for would be disrespectful of their sacrifice.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 11:18 AM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Looking at incident like this, I wonder if I really have the balls to stand up and respond like I should respond, instead of taking the path of least resistance. Of course, taking the path of least resistance is essentially the essence of my philosophical practice, but that's only if I think that travel is solely a process of getting from point to point, instead of exploring the world and challenging my prejudices.

Sadly, I don't make much, and consequently don't travel much, but I do my best to be a gadfly. It's just…well, I really end up being more of a dadaist or a confessional writer than someone standing up against unfair authority. In another century, I once drove my lopsided, multi-colored wreck of a Citroën Dyane into Canada in an attempt to find a place I'd found on a map called Lake Ha! Ha! as a break from a particularly dull stretch of work.

At the border, a rather friendly border agent chuckled at my accidental harlequin car, asked me if I had the means to remove my car from Canada if it broke down, and if I was carrying anything into Canada that met a number of various criteria, which he explained in depth.

"What's the purpose of your visit to Canada?" he asked.

Back then, it wouldn't have occurred to me to fight the great tyranny of power, but I had a wild hair that day, so I answered simply.

"Sex tourism."

"Sex tourism?"

"Yes."

I don't think that term was very common yet at that point, and it really only came into my head because I'd read it somewhere and thought it sounded like a funny thing to be doing, instead of having to explain that I was having a small-scale nervous breakdown and just wanted to be away from my home town.

"In Quebec?"

"Yes. I'm heading for Lake Ha! Ha!"

"Where's that?"

"The map says it's about twenty miles south of 'Chicoutimi'," I said, completely mispronouncing the name of the nearest town."

"Oh. You're not going to find much sex tourism up there. Best stop in Montreal for that," he said. "Good luck with that little car!"

The closest I came to standing up to US authorities came later, on a last-minute panicked trip to Chicago, where my it's-complicated's father was in the hospital, dying. I didn't know that booking a trip the same day you take it gets you the most intricate inspection possible at the security line, and when they drew the big black X on my boarding pass, I was still an innocent.

They shunted me out of the line, inspected me up and down, all over the place, had me undo my belt and pull my pants down a little bit, and asked me if I had any metal in my underpants.

"Not since this morning," I said, for whatever reason. Brows furrowed, and one pair of eyes rolled, just slightly.

"Funny guy," the eye-roller said, and it was true. I was headed for three sad, stressful, upsetting days and I was in that last flush of normalcy, or rather exaggerated bemusement.

As they finished messing up my intricately-packed bag, a female officer with a big backside held up a one-gallon zip-lock bag containing a folded square of grimy-looking grey fabric that would open out to be about three feet on a side.

"Sir, can you tell me what this is?"

Over the years, I've prepared lots of canned explanations for the sole piece of treasured infantilism I sustain in my adulthood, but none came to mind.

"That's my security blanket," I said. "It helps me to sleep."

"That's a blanket?" asked another officer.

"It was, in 1979. It was a sky blue twin-sized comforter with a lighter blue satin border, but it's kinda raggedy now."

"Okay," the officer said, tucked it in, zipped it up, and sent me on my way.

The female officer with the wide backside touched my shoulder as I passed, and said, "You know, that thing looks real dirty. I bet it smells real good."

"It does."

"Mine was yellow, once," she said, and her eye twitched in the unrealized impulse of a wink.

I smiled a broad smile of recognition, shouldered my bag with its padded straps, and headed for Chicago.

Still, I have to wonder what I'd do if surrealism wasn't enough.
posted by sonascope at 11:45 AM on September 11, 2010 [38 favorites]


I did not demand anything, or in any way raise my voice or even make a request at this point. I literally said: "Excuse me, is there an alternative to the full-body scan?"

What airport was this? I ask only because while similar things have happened to me at NYC airports, there are also large signs all over the security checkpoint informing you that you do not have to consent to the full-body scan. Maybe this is the work of the NYCLU?
posted by elizardbits at 11:45 AM on September 11, 2010


The one time I went to Canada, by land, the nice lady asked how many people were in my car. Didn't even want to see our passports.

I'm guessing this was ten years ago or more.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 11:48 AM on September 11, 2010


Went to Niagara two years ago, "How many in your car, how long are you staying, what's your purpose" was the extent of the interrogation.

On the other hand, I hitched into Canada several times 10-20 years ago. The first time, I got a thorough going-over with a full search of my luggage, the other times I got waved through.

Of course, the first time, I was in the company of a very drunk redneck who had attached himself to me along the road and had decided going to Alaska was a great idea. He didn't get in, thank you Customs Service.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 12:00 PM on September 11, 2010


one more dead town's last parade wrote: "I'm guessing this was ten years ago or more."

Nope. All my international travel has been post 9/11. That particular trip was in 2005 or 2006 (the years have started to run together a bit now) It may have helped that I was driving a nearly-new (rental) Crown Vic. The quintessential "I can't even conceive of what illegal means" car.

Didn't help much on the way back, though. I didn't get searched (most likely because the guy searched the car in front of us), but I did get the third degree. "Where do you live," "What were you doing in Canada," "Whose car is this," and on and on. Eventually I started to get a little annoyed and he finally let us in. It seems entirely possible that they keep asking questions until you either look annoyed or nervous and use that to gauge your truthfulness.
posted by wierdo at 2:02 PM on September 11, 2010


I'm curious why this libertarian spends his time living under authoritarian regimes in China and Thailand. From a couple blog postings involving Russian newspaper editors and Elliot Spitzer one guess might be sex tourism. This would explain why he was so agitated about answering a simple question and concerned he might incriminate himself.

Oh come the fuck on. This is such fucking bullshit it should be outright deleted as an insane derail.
posted by odinsdream at 2:57 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


What airport was this? I ask only because while similar things have happened to me at NYC airports, there are also large signs all over the security checkpoint informing you that you do not have to consent to the full-body scan. Maybe this is the work of the NYCLU?

Raleigh, NC. They had just gotten the machine and were very interested in using it. There were no signs.

While my question about an alternate screening was obviously the first step on refusing the scan, what I wanted to emphasize about my story was that I wasn't even able to get to that point. I was expecting to be told the alternative to the full-body scan, and given a choice, rather than being instantly and loudly identified as a "REFUSAL!!"
posted by odinsdream at 3:03 PM on September 11, 2010


What airport was this? I ask only because while similar things have happened to me at NYC airports, there are also large signs all over the security checkpoint informing you that you do not have to consent to the full-body scan. Maybe this is the work of the NYCLU?

From reading flyertalk.com It sounds like this sort of thing is happening all over the country now.
Pregnant Traveler: TSA Screeners Bullied Me Into Full-Body Scan

It's more convenient for the TSA if everyone goes through the scanner and at the very least you'll get extra attention in your pat down if you inconvenience them.
posted by Tenuki at 3:25 PM on September 11, 2010


posted by odinsdream This is such fucking bullshit it should be outright deleted as an insane derail.

Just flag the troll and move on.
posted by mattdidthat at 3:31 PM on September 11, 2010


John Cohen: "Also, could we please stop with all the "Really?" It comes off as really condescending."

MetaFilter: Really?
posted by bwg at 4:24 PM on September 11, 2010


Meh.

This guy is no more a hero standing up for his rights than I am saying No to some cashier at the mall whose job involves asking for my phone number like it's a required part of every transaction.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:13 PM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is a depressingly hilarious account of someone trying to return to his own country. (Well, it is at least somewhat relevant to airport security, immigration, WTF run amok. And relevant to how underpaid representatives of law will tend to lose all perspective.)
posted by Dumsnill at 5:32 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


A valid option. Though, if taken, you deserve what you get.

Home on time?
posted by schoolgirl report at 5:33 PM on September 11, 2010


Did anyone actually call him a hero? I'm pretty sure navelgazer was being sarcastic.

Exercising one's rights is not heroic, and I don't think anyone said it was. It is what it is, so stop getting your panties in a bunch.
posted by sunshinesky at 5:41 PM on September 11, 2010


It is what it is, so stop getting your panties in a bunch.

They're only bunched up like that because the customs guy didn't bother refolding everything after searching through my suitcase.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:50 PM on September 11, 2010


Oh sure he wrote that life for male expats is a sexual feast, but I'm just a troll for pointing it out and wondering why captain liberty is so afraid of answering CPB's simple questions. I'm not even going to go through his flyertalk.com postings as the Google excerpts make me go ick.
posted by humanfont at 5:52 PM on September 11, 2010


If all you've got is ad hominem, you've got shit. And that's what you've got.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 6:02 PM on September 11, 2010


Did anyone actually call him a hero? I'm pretty sure navelgazer was being sarcastic.

I am calling him a hero. I think anyone takes the time (as evidence by the people in this thread who refrain because of time constraints) to stand against abuse of power is a hero in a small way. The fact that abuse of power is common, and most people tuck their heads and cooperate does not change that this is abuse of power. You are not required to answer these questions, and by raising a penalty against refusing (taking time, intimidation, etc), that right is being curtailed in very real ways without changing the law.
posted by litghost at 6:40 PM on September 11, 2010


I WANT MY MULTIGRAIN BAGEL!!!

Just kidding; I actually side with this guy.
posted by threeants at 8:18 PM on September 11, 2010


It's an odd Internet phenomenon, people brushing off substantive comments with non-responsive and conclusory dismissals such as, "That's just trolling," or "That's ad hominem." In the actual world, the guy who brings the facts will trump the guy who just kinda brushes them away.
posted by cribcage at 9:24 PM on September 11, 2010


I really tried to read the posts here, but my emergency xanax... well, did what it was supposed to do.
posted by peeedro at 9:25 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


brushing off substantive comments

If you think humanfont's comments were substantive...well, you're just the kind of person ad hominem is meant to influence.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 10:24 PM on September 11, 2010


MetaFilter: what is the purpose of your visit?

Mefite: Snark!
posted by bwg at 12:11 AM on September 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


Ad hominem is a fallacy purely because it means an argument including it does not logically follow.

That does not mean it is irrelevant or shouldn't ever be mentioned. For instance, it's ad hominem to say that a pro-smoking doctor is in the pay of big tobacco, or that an anti-climate-change scientist is funded by big oil.

You still have to attack their work on its own merits, but the ad hom can be pretty relevant all the same.
posted by bonaldi at 4:53 AM on September 12, 2010


My comments are not an ad hominem attack as they are directly relevant to the individuals conduct and provide an alternate interpretation of his conduct. Specifically he has asserted that he invoked the fifth amendment because of his strong moral objections based on his views on individual liberty and freedom. I am merely stating that there are possible alternative reasons for his "protest", specifically that he invoked his right against self-incrimination, because he is concerned that any answer would either incriminate him as lying to a CPB agent, or by confessing his actual crimes. As support of this possible view, I offer some examples from his website and postings elsewhere.

For an argument to be ad hominen it must be unrelated to the issue at hand, not merely an attack upon the person. For example if we were talking about the OJ Simpson murder accusations and I brought up the domestic violence accusations against him, I'm not making an ad hominen attack; however if I brought up his acting career and attacked him over it, then I would be making an ad hominem.

In conclusion Jimmy Havok seems to be unwilling to add anything substantive to the discussion other than launching ad hominen attacks upon me by calling me a troll and accusing me of trying to influence people through some trick. The weakness of Jimmy's argument can be shown by the emotional phrasing of his response in using the phrase "you've got shit" The use of profanity in speech is a clear indication that one is responding with emotions and anger rather than the rational and executive core of the brain. Clearly something in my arguments must have unsettled him; but unable to respond rationally he is forced to blurt out an expletive and resort to a vulgar diatribe.
posted by humanfont at 5:02 AM on September 12, 2010


My last air trip (San Diego to Chicago - Part of the terrorist triangle), I got taken aside and manually searched and questioned, since the first test of my CPAP machine showed alleged explosive residue. The second test, as I was getting antsy about missing my flight home, showed nothing.

And, after the way the giant, mustachoed security guy named Clarence publically patted me down, I should have held out for dinner.
posted by Samizdata at 6:46 AM on September 12, 2010


My comments are not an ad hominem attack as they are directly relevant to the individuals conduct and provide an alternate interpretation of his conduct.

But they don't disprove his point. Even if he was a sex tourist who trafficked in uranium and had just assassinated a Chinese official, there was nothing about him that gave reasonable cause for detention, and the TSA mall cops were apparently not aware that he had the right to remain silent.

So yes, this is a textbook ad hominem attack and is not relevant.
posted by mattholomew at 7:19 AM on September 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


But they don't disprove his point. Even if he was a sex tourist who trafficked in uranium and had just assassinated a Chinese official, there was nothing about him that gave reasonable cause for detention, and the TSA mall cops were apparently not aware that he had the right to remain silent.

TSA mall cops? These are Customs and Border Patrol; not TSA. You cannot preemptively assert your fifth amendment rights. According to the supreme court you must assert your right to remain silent.

CPB can ask, and they can also search. They have decided to use the entry questions as a means of determining whom to search.

He refused as they delayed him by searching his bags. He then invited scrutiny of his actions by going to third parties on the Internet and alleging mistreatment. He even misconstrued the situation by alleging he was denied entry. When in fact he was merely delayed upon entry and subjected to additional search. We have only his account as to the reasons for his temporary detention. There is therefore a legitimate line of argument to challenge the reasons for detention. For example if we determined that he was a smuggling uranium, or suspected of it then perhaps CPB had a reasonable cause o detain him beyond the circumstances described. For whatever reason he seems to need to go on a public relations offensive after the detention to establish the facts in the mind of the public. Questioning his account and the reasons for not answering simple questions is an appropriate level of skepticism. Why should we accept his account at face value. He is the only witness to offer an accept thus far. He has a motivation to establish a public narrative and grab public attention. I'm suggesting we examine his motivations and account.
posted by humanfont at 8:11 AM on September 12, 2010


He has a motivation to establish a public narrative and grab public attention. I'm suggesting we examine his motivations and account.

So...he's done something illegal, gets detained and then let go, and so he "establishes a public narrative" to do...what? Call more attention to himself to give them further cause to investigate him? You're not making any sense.
posted by mattholomew at 8:22 AM on September 12, 2010


...the TSA mall cops were apparently not aware that he had the right to remain silent.

Let's be clear. TSA and CBP are two different entities. TSA screens people and baggage before they get on airplanes. CBP screens people and baggage before they enter the country.

Sure, the guy had a right to remain silent. He exercised his right, and he was let into the country after it was determined that he was OK. This is a non-story. The CBP agent's job is to scrutinize an endless procession of travelers trying to enter the United States. Answering a few innocuous questions usually gives an agent all he needs to wave a person through. If someone becomes uncooperative or belligerent, he may be tagged for secondary screening. That's the way they system works, and in my opinion it's a good thing. It's funny, we complain when officials stick exactly to the program and don't use reasonable discretion, but then we also complain when they do use some discretion and don't stick exactly to the script.

What's most telling to me is that the discussion that followed this guy's blog post is purportedly about Very Important Issues like the government overstepping its authority and citizens standing up to the oppressors to defend their rights, but none of those things actually happened here so the discussion is dominated by people crowing about who has the most rational chip on his shoulder, and the important issues are tangential to the debate.

On preview: What humanfront said. All we have is what the guy said in his blog post about a singular event. It's fair to examine that. It's ridiculous to use it as absolute justification for our already formed ideas about jackbooted thuggery.
posted by Balonious Assault at 8:43 AM on September 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


CPB can ask, and they can also search. They have decided to use the entry questions as a means of determining whom to search.

That's what makes this so weird. It wasn't a guy standing up against an unlawful or unreasonable search. It wasn't someone standing up against intrusive government behavior.

Customs can, if they want to, search every single item coming into the US, without any articulable suspicion of anything. This is AFAIK pretty well settled law. About the only thing they need, or have ever needed, any sort of reasonable articulable suspicion for are highly (literally) invasive things like strip or cavity searches.

This dude was standing up for:

(1) His right to only give written answers to border control questions
(2) Having his property searched instead of verbally answering questions he had (primarily) already answered in writing -- he was standing up for more intrusive government behavior, not less.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:46 AM on September 12, 2010


What's most telling to me is that the discussion that followed this guy's blog post is purportedly about Very Important Issues like the government overstepping its authority and citizens standing up to the oppressors to defend their rights, but none of those things actually happened here


“We’ve had problems with you refusing to answer questions before,” he said. “You think there’s some law that says you don’t have to answer our questions.”

“Are you denying me re-entrance to my own country?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said, and walked away.
posted by mattholomew at 9:55 AM on September 12, 2010


I suspect he would argue that it was civil disobedience and forcing the oppressor to expose their tyranny. Thus by detaining him he is able to show how the system is just jackbooted thuggery. However give that he basically had the equivalent of a stern talking to and his bags searched he comes across as not exposing much. Had he actually been denied entry or shipped to a full detention center for 72 hours or forced to bribe his way through then he would have exposed something other than his own sense of self entitlement. Hrs shouted into the anarchist - libertarian echo chamber and heard back a rousing chorus. Meanwhile he travels business class, living on servants in far away lands where workers and individuals enjoy no such liberties and boasts of his sexual conquests. In conclusion another foaming at the mouth self entitled white guy claims he's being oppressed while ignoring the actual oppression around him.
posted by humanfont at 10:09 AM on September 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


The use of profanity in speech is a clear indication that one is responding with emotions and anger rather than the rational and executive core of the brain.

Apparently ad hominem is the only kind of argument you're capable of.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 2:39 PM on September 12, 2010


Metafilter: Everyone should make the largest fuss possible.
posted by Balonious Assault at 2:53 PM on September 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Apparently ad hominem is the only kind of argument you're capable of.

I'm merely pointing out the fault in your logic. That's hardly an attack upon your person. You seem unable or unwilling to recognize the fault or defend your assertions other than by simply restating your initial claim. This would tend to further my objection that the vulgar tone of you objection indicated an irrational response driven by emotion and not logic. If you wish to counter this you will need to provide something more than a baseless dismissal.
posted by humanfont at 5:07 PM on September 12, 2010


humanfont: I'll return to what's stupid about your sex-tourism commentary, this time without using profanity lest your sensibilities are disturbed again:

1. Traveling and having sex, even with prostitutes, is not illegal. Even if it were illegal, it's completely irrelevant to customs searching someone on the way into the country.

2. Even if it were illegal, and relevant, the fifth amendment has nothing to do with this.

3. As already mentioned, nothing about your "theory" would make any sense.

4. It's obvious you believe that if he had been involved in sex tourism that this would be a moral or ethical failure. This leads me to why your commentary is a derail: you wish to change the discussion into one where we discuss how this Bad Person is bad because of their Reprehensible Acts. This is a despicable rhetorical tactic, and you should be ashamed of using it. It's cowardly, puritanical and insulting.
posted by odinsdream at 8:51 PM on September 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'll return to what's stupid about your sex-tourism commentary, this time without using profanity lest your sensibilities are disturbed again:

My sensibilities are not disturbed. I merely observe that the use of profanity won't make your argument stronger and in fact weakens it by substituting bombast for reasoned argument.

1. Traveling and having sex, even with prostitutes, is not illegal. Even if it were illegal, it's completely irrelevant to customs searching someone on the way into the country.

It is my understanding that there is an active effort by CPB to limit the flow of child pornography created by participants in sexual tourism to south east asia. Thus one could argue that this is in fact something relevant to entry into the country.

2. Even if it were illegal, and relevant, the fifth amendment has nothing to do with this.

The act of asking what were you doing in China leads directly to a fifth amendment assertion, since if it was illegal one would not want to be charged with giving false information or provide accurate information regarding ones activities. His refusal to answer questions invited further scrutiny prior to entry.

3. As already mentioned, nothing about your "theory" would make any sense.

His actions seem irrational to a large number of individuals. His self promotion out of a minor incident doesn't make much sense either; except in the context of feeding his own ego. He seems to crave attention and celebrity, in fact he lists himself as an "entertainment" lawyer and notes his work for various notable individuals.

4. It's obvious you believe that if he had been involved in sex tourism that this would be a moral or ethical failure. This leads me to why your commentary is a derail: you wish to change the discussion into one where we discuss how this Bad Person is bad because of their Reprehensible Acts. This is a despicable rhetorical tactic, and you should be ashamed of using it. It's cowardly, puritanical and insulting.

I'm a skeptic, not a puritan. He has presented himself with a self described account that forms a heroic individual. As a skeptic, I look to challenge that picture and determine what alternative motivations and accounts are possible. How many times have we seen the provocateur rally the Internets to their cause, only to watch things unravel later on as more facts are known and questions are asked. There isn't even a film to edit here; it is simply his own writings and recounting of the event. We don't even have a record that this event took place at all. He could simply have made it up.

To refine my position, I am skeptical of his claims to be a civil disobedient engaged in a struggle for liberty and the rights of his fellows given that he seems to engage in regular objectification of women. His regular trips to asia seem to involve some discussion of his conquests there (e.g. sexual feasts, they know how to treat a man, references to his manly 6'1" frame, talking about uniforms of flight attendants as tight and yellow, aversion to US divorce laws). This would suggest an egoist, concerned more with self-entitlement than the rights of his fellow humans. Furthermore the choice of his travel destinations (China, Thailand, and even North Korea), would indicate a limited interest in general human rights so long as he is able to exercise his own individual privileges. Are we reading the narrative of some later day Emerson or merely another Raskolnikov? Is he civil disobedient, or simply suffering from an anti-social personality disorder?
posted by humanfont at 10:21 PM on September 12, 2010


If you think using the word "shit" is a fault in logic, you have shit for brains.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 10:58 PM on September 12, 2010


It is my understanding that there is an active effort by CPB to limit the flow of child pornography created by participants in sexual tourism to south east asia.

The fantasies you are conjuring up to support your argument are getting more and more bizarre. Soon you'll be claiming the blogger wouldn't answer questions because he had the semen-stained body of a young child packed in his luggage.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 11:03 PM on September 12, 2010


I get the sense that everybody could have acted with a little more civility and humanity, and this might have gone a whole lot better.
posted by anitanita at 11:56 PM on September 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Are you talking about the incident at the airport, or about this thread?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:15 AM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you think using the word "shit" is a fault in logic, you have shit for brains.

If X : insult is not a logical construct. If you are attempting to reach a rational conclusion (If x : y), then allow me to refer you to the facts of basic biology. Excrement is a body waste product and the brain is an organ composed of cells.

The fantasies you are conjuring up to support your argument are getting more and more bizarre.

A hypothetical situation was posited where odinsdream supposed that even if it were true and illegal it was irrelevant to the customs search. In fact though there are flaws in his logic. Specifically sexual tourism is illegal under the PROTECT act if it involves minors under the age of 18. ICE (immigration customs enforcement) is playing a lead role in an effort to reduce the practice as noted in this
fact sheet. Part of this is to increase scrutiny of regular travelers to known destinations.

You are the one conjuring up a fantasy of a semen-stained corpse. I'm simply suggesting the man is misogynistic and ego-centered and that his travel destinations seem at odds with his views on freedom.
posted by humanfont at 7:17 AM on September 13, 2010


humanfont wrote: "I'm a skeptic, not a puritan. He has presented himself with a self described account that forms a heroic individual."

I don't think you read the same post I did.
posted by wierdo at 7:29 AM on September 13, 2010


I'm simply suggesting the man is misogynistic and ego-centered and that his travel destinations seem at odds with his views on freedom.

Which is completely irrelevant, despite you wishing it isn't. You're attempting to change the discussion into one about his personal morality, activities and ethics. The topic is civil rights and how they work in interactions with customs officials.

You've gone so far as to insinuate that he's probably trafficking in child pornography. This is a textbook demonizing tactic.
posted by odinsdream at 8:57 AM on September 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm simply suggesting the man is misogynistic and ego-centered and that his travel destinations seem at odds with his views on freedom.

Except that his travel destinations are not necessarily "at odds with his views on freedom". Do you seriously think that people working for civil rights never go to China, Thailand, or North Korea? Maybe he doesn't want to answer because he's in contact with anti-government organizations. Hell, maybe he doesn't want to answer because he's working with underground rights groups to infiltrate the sex trade, and his entire sexy-sex-sex shtick is a front.

Or maybe he doesn't want to answer because he dislikes government intrusion into citizens' lives, a moral stance which is not at all in conflict with either misogyny or ego-centrism.

Either way, your Amazing Karnak routine is ridiculous. Inventing an entire narrative out of the single fact that this guy likes to brag about sex isn't "determining what alternative motivations and accounts are possible". There are any number of possible motivations for his behavior, so the fact that you've latched on to this one seems to say more about you than it does about this blogger.
posted by vorfeed at 10:42 AM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


J. Edgar Hoover, is that you?
posted by benzenedream at 11:23 AM on September 13, 2010


I think it's wonderful and important that periodically in the normal day to day, an individual citizen will choose to act a bit obnoxious in the service of making a point about identifying the exact place to where are rights actually extend. I think this is actually useful for all involved, not least of all the TSA agents.

However, this can only be done by being a bit obnoxious and provocative relative to the behavior of 99% of the other people doing the same thing that day. While being obnoxious and provocative, the citizen should not be surprised that those in power are annoyed, and respond by identifying the exact place to where their rights to make his life difficult actually extend.

It's a partnership. You will get just what you give, since there are humans involved all around. This is no different from a business-meeting transaction or giving up a seat on the train or getting a child to do what you need him to do. We'd like to believe that because our fundamental freedoms are being tested, everyone should behave supra-humanly. This is not a reasonable expectation. Humans do what humans always do.

Nothing here is surprising, nor is any of this particularly alarming.
posted by Pliskie at 1:57 PM on September 13, 2010




Specifically sexual tourism is illegal under the PROTECT act if it involves minors under the age of 18.

...You are the one conjuring up a fantasy of a semen-stained corpse.


You get closer and closer to it with every iteration of your argument.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 3:37 PM on September 13, 2010


Which is completely irrelevant, despite you wishing it isn't. You're attempting to change the discussion into one about his personal morality, activities and ethics. The topic is civil rights and how they work in interactions with customs officials.

This is a discussion about his personal conduct. You think his actions are part of some civil disobedient struggle for freedom, I think they are simply a tantrum born of self entitlement. You see the portrait he paints in his own narrative of someone who stood up to power. I see a powerful rich white lawyer luring a poor low level customs agent into a trap to abuse and berate them in person and later online. In his followup posting he even justifies his own rudeness to the customs agent. He has dehumanized and objectified the tsa and cpb people into jackbooted thugs intent on oppression. Just has he has turned Asian women into some exotic conquest for his travels.

You want to paint him as a traveling civil rights activist working in deep cover; well enjoy that fantasy. I for one look forward to the official response from ICE regarding the incident. Perhaps we will get to see video and judge for ourselves.
posted by humanfont at 5:13 PM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow, humanfont. Your definition of "berate" differs markedly from any other I have heard or read.
posted by wierdo at 5:20 PM on September 13, 2010


Wow, I haven't been following this thread too closely up until now and it has taken a turn for the weird. Can someone link to the blog posts where Lukacs admits engaging in sex tourism so I can catch up? Thanks.
posted by grouse at 5:39 PM on September 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


The topic is civil rights and how they work in interactions with customs officials.

That might be your topic. But the FPP is a guy's personal blog, and his reasons for traveling overseas are directly relevant to the particular blog entry. Humanfont's comments are not a derail.

Just out of curiosity, did you flip through his blog at all? Humanfont isn't the only one in this thread to have noticed something..."off," for lack of a better word. I don't think he's completely off in left field.
posted by cribcage at 5:46 PM on September 13, 2010


As if his "being off" has any bearing on his rights. I don't see what the purpose of his trip has to do with his right to not speak to a CBP agent.
posted by wierdo at 6:07 PM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


10 Brief Responses to 700 Comments About Refusing To Answer Questions At Passport Control

It's interesting to see a more detailed argument from him about why he considers refusing to answer the questions to be a good idea. The only two things I really disagree with are his assertions that it's a practical way to prevent being charged with a crime and that being rude is productive.

He says that it's impossible to tell when your statements to law enforcement will be used against you, which is technically true but not really a good way to operate in real life. In real life, keeping a low profile in some situations where it's clear that you are not being actively sought as a suspect in a crime by answering questions asked by law enforcement even though you don't have to can be the best option. There is a very obvious, practical difference between being asked a routine question in a situation that never results in a criminal charge, versus being asked questions as part of a police interrogation. His refusal to answer basic questions and getting onto lists of non-cooperative might be counter-productive on a practical level.

And I don't really buy his arguments that being rude is an effective or justified response to routine law enforcement situations. He frames it as turning the tables of intimidation against law enforcement, but officers are only intimidating because they are on their side of the power imbalance, so being rude is barking without having any bite behind it. Being rude is a good way to bait someone into using whatever small amount of power they have to make you as miserable as possible, and there is no real benefit to doing so other than pissing off one individual person.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:24 PM on September 13, 2010


Can someone link to the blog posts where Lukacs admits engaging in sex tourism so I can catch up?

In the spirit of taking things so literally as to miss the point completely, here ya go.
posted by Balonious Assault at 9:06 PM on September 13, 2010


I think he is berating police and CBP agents when he states that they hold a morally dubious job and makes other statements along those lines, that seems to fit the standard dictionary definition.
posted by humanfont at 9:20 PM on September 13, 2010


that seems to fit the standard dictionary definition.

I'm not sure if you should buy a dictionary or a logic textbook first.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 9:29 PM on September 13, 2010


That might be your topic. But the FPP is a guy's personal blog, and his reasons for traveling overseas are directly relevant to the particular blog entry. Humanfont's comments are not a derail.

The reason it's not relevant is that he specifically has the right to not discuss his travel with customs. He is doing this. The reason why he is doing this is irrelevant, though speculating about how lacivious the details for his silence is is certainly an entertaining derail. It's still irrelevant, because nothing in his travel itinerary would have any bearing on his right to remain silent. This bears repeating: No matter what activity he engaged in; bomb making, suffocating kittens, etc., he still has a right to remain silent. This is the fundamental reason that the humanfont's discussion about his trip is a derail in the truest sense. There is literally no conversational path that could lead to the conclusion that he did not have the rights he asserted.

Others have said he's heroic. I have not. I believe he's probably an asshole, and a bother to those he interacted with, if his method of communicating in this one blog posting is any indication. This is still completely irrelevant to whether or not he had the rights he exercised. By reframing this discussion as one about a particular individual and his potential sexual deviancy, or his lack of morals, or his personal opinions about women, we lose the opportunity to discuss the civil rights impact that such actions can have for a wider group, even if they're carried out by people who we personally wouldn't choose as friends. The action itself is worthy of discussion.
posted by odinsdream at 9:47 PM on September 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


Come now odinsdream this is metafilter, not the debate club. The 5th amendment issue is moot. Most everyone agrees he can assert it. The questions are should he? Why did he behave this way? And what did he gain from it? Also can we trust his narrative as the sole source? Questions of his character and motivations certainly influence the answer t those questions.
posted by humanfont at 10:23 PM on September 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


In the spirit of taking things so literally as to miss the point completely, here ya go.

What is the point? Use your words.

I've now skimmed through the last couple of pages of blog posts. While it faintly reminds me a little of Sam Sloan, I don't see anything in there so far that would indict his character or really justify the sort of innuendo being made. Feel free to link anything that is more incriminating.
posted by grouse at 11:06 PM on September 13, 2010


Feel free to link anything that is more incriminating.

humanfont's imagination isn't linkable.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 11:28 PM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Humanfront you do realise that in a free country none of this would ever have happened in the first place? It's all theatre. If the man really wants you he is going to see who you go to meet / talk to after you arrive back.
posted by adamvasco at 12:50 AM on September 14, 2010


What is the point? Use your words.

The point, and the words, are: Sex. Tourism. Literal example of same.

See, it answered your question but it missed your point completely. Kind of like how some people appear to be deliberately missing humanfont's point that because all we have to go on is one guy's story, it is perfectly legitimate to question the story and the guy's motive for writing it. Or how others are missing the point that nothing interesting happened here. A guy asserted his right to not answer questions, and was then allowed into the country--without being required to answer the questions!--once CBP vetted him, as is their job and their responsibility.

Look, I don't want to argue with you or anybody else about this. As Pliskie said, "Nothing here is surprising, nor is any of this particularly alarming." I couldn't agree more. It's certainly not worth arguing over.

My take on the guy is that he comes off as a bit of a jerk, but he was absolutely justified in asserting his right to not answer questions about his travels. If you look at the second post he ever made to his blog you'll see that he originally blogged under a pseudonym because he intended to discuss the countries he visited and didn't want any problems at the border. The pseudonym he chose was that of a fictional "English journalist of startling amorality" (italics are mine) whom he suggests is a hero and role model. Curious, isn't it? Then at some point he switched over to blogging under his real name. He has made several blog posts that are critical of CBP, TSA, etc. Heck, he made a nearly identical post to the one being discussed here, back in January. He probably has good reason to expect to be hassled at the border. I'd probably want to keep my mouth shut too, if I were him.

What's it all add up to? A pretty uninteresting guy fighting a mostly uninteresting battle, if you ask me. To me, the interesting part is the reaction it's getting. Jimmy Havok, for example, is so emotionally invested in the meta-discussion that he feels compelled to keep coming back just to insult humanfont (heaven help the person who dares suggest a possible motive for that!). The favorite counts in this thread appear to indicate that there are quite a few people who aren't interested in looking beyond their own prejudices about government and law enforcement agents. There are plenty of comments here that are essentially, "Wake up sheeple! This confirms what I've suspected all along about the evil American government!" How one post on some guy's blog about an extraordinarily minor incident can provoke such a strong reaction in people is fucking fascinating to me. It speaks to the fact that people do feel very strongly about keeping government's power in check, and maintaining citizens' rights, but the way those feelings manifest themselves here is, well, what I keep coming back for.

Carry on. Please.
posted by Balonious Assault at 1:19 AM on September 14, 2010


heaven help the person who dares suggest a possible motive for that!

No homo.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 2:32 AM on September 14, 2010


Why would customs care if a traveler was on his way back from an arguably legal 'sex tourism' trip, exactly? Why would he be expected to be that explicit in his description without being suspected of lying? Seems to me that he could have easily said, "pleasure" as a reason for his trip and been completely accurate if it was in fact a trip made for 'sex tourism'. I'm sure he's aware of that. This isn't, however, about how easy it would be to say one thing or another.

It's about power, not security sex tourism.
posted by sunshinesky at 3:47 AM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yes it is about him needing to constantly prove how powerful, smart, entitled and masculine he is. To the point that he engages in pointless battles with customs and TSA. At some point he got angry and posted on flyertalk because he had trouble using his Hong Kong ID card while boarding a domestic US flight. Meanwhile when a 10 year old girl's family reported that she'd been sexually molested on a Delta flight he was totally dismissive and suggested she made the whole thing up as some scam to defraud the airlines. He posted on flyer talk about various dilemmas created by the PROTECT act like could you take your 17 year old spouse to the Bahamas. The PROTECT act was specifically designed to stop human trafficing. Apparently in his viewpoint it is just a needless invasion of our civil rights based on a problem which has been overblown.
posted by humanfont at 5:57 AM on September 14, 2010


What exactly is the point of speculating about what he may or may not have been doing? As far as I'm concerned, it's irrelevant.
posted by sunshinesky at 6:04 AM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


burnmp3s wrote: "There is a very obvious, practical difference between being asked a routine question in a situation that never results in a criminal charge, versus being asked questions as part of a police interrogation."

Yeah, those fines..all made up. So is that one that Martha Stewart got convicted of.

humanfont wrote: "He posted on flyer talk about various dilemmas created by the PROTECT act like could you take your 17 year old spouse to the Bahamas."

Yes, those pesky unintended consequences. Best not to mention them at all.
posted by wierdo at 7:06 AM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, and if I might borrow from my standard AskMe RelationshipFilter answer:

Humanfont, you are not clairvoyant. You do not have any clue what is actually going on in this guy's head. Acting as if you do is not a particularly wise thing to do. Similarly, he is not clairvoyant. he does not know what is actually going on in a CBP officer's head. Acting as if he does is not a particularly wise thing to do.
posted by wierdo at 7:08 AM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, those fines..all made up. So is that one that Martha Stewart got convicted of.

Martha Stewart got convicted for corroborating to make false statements about, and then actually making false statements about, her previous stock trades. This was while she was being actively investigated by the SEC and FBI. There is a huge difference between being asked questions by law enforcement when they are not actively trying to convict you of a crime (an interview) versus when they are trying to gather incriminating evidence to use against you in a court case (an interrogation).

Everyone is within their rights to never give any kind of statement to law enforcement unless compelled to do so by a subpoena or other court order, but responding to routine questions in a way that is consistent with a written declaration that has already been filled out is not even close to the same thing as getting hauled in as a suspect and interrogated. Sometimes it makes sense to make statements, and sometimes it makes sense to remain silent. Even though you always have the right to remain silent, waiving that right can be the best option in some situations, and law enforcement is not necessarily acting in bad faith whenever they ask someone a question.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:20 AM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


It is essentially never in your best interest to make statements to law enforcement, at least in the United States (and Canada). More convenient sure but because it's the government who gets to decide which of your statements is brought to court; statements to the police can never help you. Even making a statement as a victim is dangerous (easily shown by every "Ha Ha, Pot grower calls police over stolen stash and gets arrested" story).
posted by Mitheral at 9:31 AM on September 14, 2010


It is essentially never in your best interest to make statements to law enforcement, at least in the United States (and Canada).

Scenario: Car accident. Not your fault. Other driver tells police office that it is your fault. You refuse to speak to the police. Outcome: ?
posted by Sys Rq at 9:48 AM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


*officer
posted by Sys Rq at 9:49 AM on September 14, 2010


It is essentially never in your best interest to make statements to law enforcement, at least in the United States (and Canada). More convenient sure but because it's the government who gets to decide which of your statements is brought to court; statements to the police can never help you. Even making a statement as a victim is dangerous (easily shown by every "Ha Ha, Pot grower calls police over stolen stash and gets arrested" story).

So if someone gets rear-ended in traffic, calls the police, and makes a statement to them saying exactly what happened so that the other person can be declared at fault and their insurance can pay for the damages, that cannot help them? Calling the police about stolen pot is a stupid idea because the courts do not protect against misdealings in criminal activities, not because making any kind of statement is inherently a bad idea. It's a good idea to talk to a lawyer before making statements, but only because the lawyer is better able to figure out what kinds of statements are in your own best interest to make. If it was really in a person's best interest to never make a statement unless subpoenaed to do so under oath, then lawyers would never advise their clients to do so.

If I go on a business trip to another country and am asked on my return what the nature of my trip was, I can remain silent rather than saying "business." That does give law enforcement one less statement to use against me in a theoretical but extremely unlikely criminal case. Whereas if I remain silent, there can be additional repercussions other than just being detained, such as making it on to some sort of troublemaker list that will make it more likely for me to be singled out by law enforcement in the future. Aside from the right/wrong aspect of such a list existing in the first place, there are practical benefits of not being on that sort of list or making myself an obvious target for further scrutiny.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:04 AM on September 14, 2010


burnmp3s wrote: "Martha Stewart got convicted for corroborating to make false statements about, and then actually making false statements about, her previous stock trades. This was while she was being actively investigated by the SEC and FBI."

If the law required that you be under oath to be convicted of making a false statement, that would be one thing. Since innocent misstatements made not under oath can be prosecuted, I think that changes the game significantly.

I figure that if LEOs can lie to you, it should be perfectly fair for you to lie to them, unless you are under oath. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
posted by wierdo at 10:29 AM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Humanfont, you are not clairvoyant. You do not have any clue what is actually going on in this guy's head.

Aha, that's where your wrong, I am clairvoyant. I've been inside his head and its all a mess in there. Nothing but fantasies of being covered in lime jello while Ayn Rand slowly licks it off. Frankly I'm going to stop now. It's too horrible. Weirdo what have you done.
posted by humanfont at 10:35 AM on September 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Okay, weird sex tourism derail aside, I do not make the Rosa Parks reference lightly. I suppose I could have gone with Gandhi.

This is what civil disobedience looks like in practice, at the beginning — it makes some civil servant uncomfortable. That's how it starts, with some basic non-compliance and some bored government employee has some human friction in their routine. It inconveniences the next person in line and perhaps more. Oh no, the path of least resistance was not taken.

When that last officer, the senior officer, communicates the fact to another officer that individuals do have the right to not say anything, that is progress. It's incremental. At the end of the day, one more person in the TSA knows that individuals do not have to reply to that question. And now we do, too. I did not know that.

Our other options for change include attempts at a revolution and a legal system overwhelmed by lobbyists and special interests. Or digging in your heels and hoping you have enough of a bankroll to take it to the Supremes.
posted by adipocere at 11:28 AM on September 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


This is what civil disobedience looks like in practice, at the beginning — it makes some civil servant uncomfortable.

Effective civil disobedience makes us uncomfortable at the treatment of our fellow citizens as the state and other powers that be implement an absurd over-reaction to the minor offense. Rosa Parks was effective because when she refused to move, the bus driver called the police, who arrested her, and then she was tried, wrongfully convicted and fined. Then the community boycotted the bus line, whites around the country rallied to her cause, and the rest is history. As an interesting legal note she hadn't technically violated the law since the ordinance as written did not require her to move; and she also talked to the police officer asking him "why are you doing this?" appealing to his humanity. By remaining civil and polite throughout the affair she provoked sympathy; since her goal was a social change. And of course her character as a simple seamstress who was tired played into the hands of the emerging social campaign to win wider nationwide support for the bus boycott and the plight of African Americans in the south. The same was true to lunch counter sit ins and other demonstrations. The core of civil disobedience is non-violence and humanizing your opposition so that they humanize you. It is a reciprocal good, focused on affirmation, not a negative / destructive action. Look at how much was accomplished by the non-violent protests of MLK vs. what was lost in the Watts riots.
posted by humanfont at 1:40 PM on September 14, 2010


I don't think that I want to go down the road of judging people's actions solely on results. Results are important, but failure to get the desired result does not indict the action as being somehow bad. Would Rosa Parks' action (or inaction) be inherently worse if it had failed to spark change?
posted by wierdo at 4:48 PM on September 14, 2010


wierdo: "Wow, humanfont. Your definition of "berate" differs markedly from any other I have heard or read."

... and I berate you ...
posted by bwg at 5:32 PM on September 14, 2010


Look at how much was accomplished by the non-violent protests of MLK vs. what was lost in the Watts riots.

So now standing up for your Constitutional rights is the equivalent of the Watts riots.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 5:36 PM on September 14, 2010


So now standing up for your Constitutional rights is the equivalent of the Watts riots.

Are you suggesting that Watts had nothing to do with the people standing up for their constitutional rights?
posted by humanfont at 6:23 AM on September 15, 2010


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