I did not get groped!

September 1, 2023 • 8:15 am

Even at 6 a.m., O’Hare Airport is hellishly busy today; I had forgotten that it’s Labor Day weekend and people are off to celebrate the end of summer.  I’m glad I’m leaving now, as the Chicago weather is predicted to be in the nineties next week. Our Dorm Ducks, however, have surely found a nice home in a nearby pond or lake, and, as I try to drift off to sleep each night, I soothe myself by thinking what a treat it would be for a duckling reared entirely on a plaza, with only very limited bathing facilities, to suddenly find itself in a large body of water, able to dunk, dabble, dive, and do the zoomies.

But I digress. Having both TSA Precheck and Global Entry, I got through security in a matter of minutes (NO GROPING AT ALL), and now I’m relaxing and waiting for my flight with coffee, a bagel and cream cheese.  I have several hours in Newark to cool my heels, and then it’s off to Tel Aviv on a long flight.  Thanks to the seatguru site (h/t Simon), I looked up my flight in advance, found that the aircraft on which I was flying had seatback entertainment, and so I can watch movies en route. (That site is a mitzvah.)

On the way to Newark, though, there’s only “device” entertainment: you’re supposed to download an app on your phone, use “air” earphones (there’s no plug in earphones with my newer iPhone), and watch movies on your phone!  This is the way airlines are saving money these days, and it was my situation on American Airlines all the way to Ecuador and back.  My advice to airlines, which of course they won’t heed, is to stop the madness!  Seatback screens with earphones are the best way to go. Imagine watching movies for nine hours on the tiny screen of an iPhone.

So I also have a novel: Middlemarch, which I’ll read for the third time, as well as the Lonely Planet guide to Israel and the Palestinian Territories (I won’t be allowed to enter Palestine, and it’s not safe there for an American Jew).

Tomorrow morning I’ll be in Tel Aviv, and will hie myself to Jerusalem to crash and recover from jet lag.  For the first two weeks I’ll be seeing Anna Krylov and her partner Jay, who lived in Israel, for some sporadic tours and activities, but I also have other cool people lines up to meet, thanks to invitations on this website and the advice of my surrogate mother Malgorzata. I’ll do my best to document my travels here (with photos), but I won’t wail at the Western Wall.

My food goal is to find the best hummus in Israel, though I won’t have time to try every place. But I’m told by everyone that Israel’s hummus is qualitatively better than hummus in America, and I love hummus, even in America.

So it’s hasta la vista, baby, and, I hope, my next post will have a picture of hummus in it.

I didn’t get groped at O’Hare, but the noms are bad

February 23, 2020 • 3:30 pm

I got to the airport three hours early so I could chill at the United Club lounge, which I joined for a bargain (relatively) last year. I was hoping to get comfortable seats, wireless (both of which I have), and something good to eat.

Sadly, the noms are dire: worse than I’ve had in any other visit before. In fact, all there is to eat is some salad, cubes of cheese, and cut-up pita bread. That’s what I ate, but I hoped for more. Yes, there are free drinks, but not all the beers are free: if you want anything more than a Bud or Miller Lite, you have to pay $5 (I had a Bud). Since when do airport lounges charge for booze? And is the food always this bad?

Oh, and it’s crowded, and there is not a negligible number of people wearing face masks against viruses, which don’t work well and, at any rate, there’s no coronavirus here.

Get off my lawn, United!

The good news is that I breezed through TSA and nobody laid a hand on my nether parts!

J’ecrirai plus de Paris. . .

American journalist detained by Customs and Border Patrol until he admitted that he writes “propaganda”

October 7, 2019 • 8:45 am

Last Thursday, Ben Watson, a journalist for the national-security news site Defense One, was detained at Washington D.C.’s Dulles Airport by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP).  He was detained simply because he was a journalist and therefore supposedly wrote “propaganda”. You can read the story by clicking on the links at the Washington Post and Defense One below (the latter story is by Watson himself).

Learning that Watson was a journalist, the passport screener engaged in the conversation with Watson below (from Watson’s report):

CBP officer, holding Watson’s passport: “What do you do?”

Watson: “Journalism.”

CBP officer: “So you write propaganda, right?”

Watson: “No.”

CBP officer: “You’re a journalist?”

Watson: “Yes.”

CBP officer: “You write propaganda, right?”

Watson: “No. I am in journalism. Covering national security. And homeland security. And with many of the same skills I used in the U.S. Army as a public affairs officer. Some would argue that’s propaganda.”

CBP officer: “You’re a journalist?”

Watson: “Yes.”

CBP officer: “You write propaganda, right?”

Watson waited five seconds. Then: “For the purposes of expediting this conversation, yes.”

CBP officer, a fourth time: “You write propaganda, right?”

Watson, again: “For the purposes of expediting this conversation, yes.”

CBP officer: “Here you go.”

At that point, the CBP officer handed back the passport.

CBP is investigating the incident and Watson has filed a civil rights complaint with the Department of Homeland Security.

Now one could say, as I thought when I first read this, that this is just an oddball CBP employee who has absorbed a dose of Trumpism, but the detention of journalists appears to be more pervasive than I thought. As the Washington Post reports:

A growing list of journalists say they have been startled by government officials’ harassment in a country that prizes freedom of the press. The encounters are raising fears that hostile rhetoric led by President Trump and his allies are damaging reporters’ ability to do their job unhindered.

This spring, the World Press Freedom Index called journalists’ treatment in the United States “problematic” for the first time in its 17 years of assessments — and singled out “President Trump’s anti-press rhetoric and continuing threats to journalists” as driving the deteriorating conditions. The U.S. ranking on the index has fallen for the past three years.

Journalists have had reporting run-ins with border agents for years, too.

In 2016, a Canadian photographer on his way to cover protests in the United States was detained for more than six hours. Ed Ou said airport officers took away his cellphones after he refused to unlock them, saying he needed to protect his sources. When Ou got the devices back, he suspected tampering and potential data copying.

As Andrea Peterson reported in The Post:

If Ou had already been inside the U.S. border, law enforcement officers would have needed a warrant to search his smartphones to comply with a 2014 Supreme Court ruling. But the journalist learned the hard way that the same rules don’t apply at the border, where the government claims the right to search electronic devices without a warrant or any suspicion of wrongdoing.

Several other journalists have described difficulties getting through airports in 2019.

In February, CBP apologized to a BuzzFeed journalist questioned at a New York airport about his news organization’s coverage of Trump and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation. A few months later, a freelancer said he was detained by CBP officials for hours at an airport in Texas.

Then, in August, British journalist James Dyer described an “unsettling experience” as he flew into California to cover a Disney event. The film and TV writer said a CBP officer at Los Angeles International Airport called him a member of the “fake news media” and asked if he had worked for CNN or MSNBC, two frequent targets of Trump’s criticism.

“He aggressively told me that journalists are liars and are attacking their democracy,” Dyer wrote in a viral tweet thread.

He said he was allowed to move on after explaining that he was just trying to write about Star Wars.

And some more anecdotal evidence via Twitter:

Things have come to a pretty pass in America when border patrol agents harass journalists. This did not, as far as I know, happen on such a scale before Trump was elected, and is clearly a byproduct of the Chief Moron’s constant war with the media and cries about “fake news.” Just one more reason to impeach him and remove him from office. As for the officer above, he should be disciplined and told that he’d be fired if he ever did anything like that again.

h/t: Ken

I got thoroughly groped again!

July 6, 2019 • 5:30 pm

As I don’t have TSA PreCheck status on my flight from Kona to Honolulu, I had to stand with the herd and go through the regular security checkpoint.  I took off my metal belt buckle (leaving on my leather belt), removed everything from my pockets, and dutifully put my liquids and computer (out of its case) on the screening belt. I didn’t remove my shoes, as they were tennis shoes without a lick of metal in them.

But no dice. The TSA guy asked me, and not politely, to take off my shoes. Fine. But then, after I went through the See-You-Naked machine, I heard the beep behind me—the dreaded beep that spells Trouble and Groping.

Sure enough, there were yellow patches on my upper arm and—you guessed it—on my groin AND both buttocks. I was in for it. The TSA man then explained to me that he’d have to grope me there and asked if I wanted a private screening. I said “no”. He asked me if I had anything in my pocket. I said “no” again.

He then proceeded to sexually violate me, running his hands over my genitals, under the waistband of my belt, and then palpated each buttock. This time I did feel violated. Not only that, but they made me remove my leather belt (sans metal) and examined it carefully.

To add insult to injury, they then swabbed my hands and checked them in the Do-You-Have-Explosives machine.

After all that, I got a “you’re good to go”.  I didn’t hear, “Sorry I had to grope you mate—just following orders.”

I still don’t know why my body always has those yellow patches that get me groped (this never happens when I go through TSA PreCheck). One woman I talked to, who also got groped, said I should have told the agent that I had shrapnel in my body.

Frankly, I’m tired of this security theater. My shoes would have been flagged had they had metal or anything suspicious in them, and why did they make me take off a strip of leather around my waist? This is security theater, plain and simple, and is one reason why I signed up with TSA PreCheck. And why are the agents never polite? Does TSA like to hire people who like to exert power over helpless citizens?

So it goes. On the way back to the mainland I’m flying under PreCheck, so this nonsense won’t happen. After all, I am a Trusted Traveler.

I didn’t get groped!

April 13, 2018 • 9:30 am

My luck is turning, perhaps thanks to my Lucky Ducks. I breezed through TSA Pre-Check today in about 2 minutes, wearing my shoes and fleece—and nobody touched my buttocks. (Granted, I went through the metal detector rather than the See-You-Naked Machine.)

To celebrate, I had a Dunkin Donut (guess which flavor?) and a large coffee. I noticed that my cup bore a strange resemblance to a mustachioed man. Do you think this is deliberate?  After all, wouldn’t you be happy if you were dispensing coffee to tired travelers?

I hate TSA and customs

November 20, 2017 • 12:34 pm

Well, I wasn’t groped this time, but it was still a nightmare getting into my own country. The flight from Puebla to Houston was fine: I got to the airport early (about 6:00 am) and had breakfast with two physicists, Mario Livio and Adam Riess  (yes, a Nobelist at the impossibly young age of 41) and then got to sit at the gate with Robyn Blumner (Pres. and CEO of the Center for Inquiry and head of the Dawkins Foundation) and Julia Sweeney (the author and comedian formerly known as Pat). Richard is writing a new book, but I don’t think I can divulge it here.

At the meeting I collected a lot of signatures for the copy of Faith versus Fact that will be auctioned off on eBay in a year or so when I’ve gotten every well known atheist and scientist I know to sign it. My haul this time included the signatures (and a statement) from  Steve Pinker, Robyn, two Nobel Laureates, including Riess, and Julia.  We already have James Randi, Penn Jillette, Richard Dawkins, Dan Dennett, Sean Carroll, Maryam Namazie, Lawrence Krauss and a ton of other people. Sam Harris, as always, is the most elusive quarry, but I’ll see him in Chicago in February.  I hope another rich person buys it when it’s done, as the proceeds will go to charity. (A similar version of WEIT, with fewer signatures but artistically illuminated by Kelly Houle, sold on eBay for $10,500.)

Other good news: I wasn’t groped anywhere.

That was the good part. The bad part is that when clearing customs in Houston, I waited over an hour in a slowly-moving line, only at the end to have the passport-checker decide that I needed to go downstairs into Luggage Hell for a “bag check”. I was minutely questioned and my bags examined and X-rayed before I had to leave the terminal, re-enter and then go through security. And even though I had TSA “Pre-Check”, they decided to examine my bags all over again and swab them for explosives.  So while I budgeted a good three-hour layover in Houston, including the purchase of much-needed noms (I skipped dinner last night because of our early departure), I have now only 45 minutes till we board for Chicago. I guess I don’t need to eat anyway.

I don’t mind being examined, but I don’t understand why my bags were singled out—twice. Further, why did they have only one customs agent in Houston to handle such a long line of arrivals?

But the good news is that nobody touched my buttocks.

And some lagniappe below: two photos of the “goodies bar” at the meeting, full of snacks, chocolates, and fancy delicacies, including jars of mixed Nutella and chocolate (lower right). There was also a coffee bar, a pastry bar, a buffet, and a tequila bar. But more on that, including pictures, and on the various talks I heard, after I get back to Chicago. Since I’m flying business class. I’m going to cadge as many noms as I can.

Oy, am I hungry!

This is not starting well

November 16, 2017 • 11:00 am

The good news is this: I went through TSA Precheck at O’Hare Airport quickly and without a hitch, and not a human hand touched my buttocks.

The bad news is that I came three hours early to enjoy the amenities of the United Club Lounge, which, I was assured by United on the phone (who had my full itinerary), I’d be able to use since I was flying business class.  I show up at the lounge, hungry and coffee-less, and they said, “Nope: unless your international flight [Houston to Puebla] is also business class, you can’t use the lounge.” The thing is that there is no business class on that flight.

My looks of hunger and dejection did not suffice; I was heaved out like a Republican trying to speak at Berkeley. Now I am sitting at the gate with 2.5 hours to go, drinking Starbuck’s coffee, eating a bagel that has the consistency of a feather pillow, and using PURCHASED INTERNET (you get only 30 minutes of free wi-fi at O’Hare–what pikers!), which is interminably slow.

Perhaps once I’m on the plane I can get some decent comestibles, but I don’t even know if they feed you in business class.

This is clearly a First World Problem, and I really shouldn’t kvetch, but I’ve been a United customer and frequent flier member for years, and have accumulated over 250,000 miles (that’s ten times around the globe), and it would have been easy for them to simply let a hungry and tired boy into their lounge.

But at least nobody touched my buttocks. . .

And wi-fi should be free at ALL airports.

Get off my damn lawn!