Just Above Sunset
July 11, 2004 - Kafka, Canadians and Cricket (and a Sartre bonus)













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Eileen Moskowitz has an item this week about how, in early June, a British reporter was handcuffed, detained, and then deported, drawing criticism from Reporters Without Borders (RWB), an international journalists’ watchdog group.  Moskowitz represents the PEN USA First Amendment Action Committee.

It seems freelance reporter Elena Lappin failed to produce a press visa upon her arrival here at LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) – and this led airport officials to handcuff her and take her to a detention center.  She was subsequently deported.  Reporters Without Borders contends that a dozen other foreign correspondents, including six French reporters, were treated in a similar fashion at the Los Angeles airport.  Lappin told The Los Angeles Times: "I felt subhuman. I was treated like a criminal, handcuffed, fingerprinted and mug shots were taken.  I suddenly had no rights. It was very, very humiliating."

Lappin’s Los Angeles Times article, reprinted many places since, explains it all.  And it has been going around the web.  You can find it here - as the New York Times chose July 4th as the appropriate time to print it.

Moskowitz adds that Reporters Without Borders has also criticized the detention and deportation of two international reporters in New York City.  They think something is up.  A larger crackdown by our guys against the international media in general?  Because they make fun of us?  And because they portray George Bush as in a bit over his head – as an inarticulate bully who seems unable to think things through, unable to say what he means, and who gets angry way too fast?

We’d punish foreign reporters for that, harass them then throw them out on their asses?

Not likely.  We’re not that good at planning.  If we were there’d be power in Baghdad right now and the air-conditioners would actually work, and the locals would be handing us flowers and asking about how to find the sweet love of Jesus.

This was planned?  Probably not.

But it seems one Tala Dowlatshahi, the US representative for Reporters Without Borders, claims that the treatment is “a deliberate restriction of press freedom.”  And he adds that that the reporters’ group has “been gravely concerned about new Homeland Security restrictions, not only on journalists but on other individuals and communities that have been targeted in a country that prides itself on democratic freedoms.”  And too Moskowitz notes the Secretary General of Reporters Without Borders, Robert Menard, personally wrote Tom Ridge about all this.

We’d do something like this?  No.  We’re claiming it’s all about having the right paperwork, and no more than that.  No big deal.

Reactions?

Ric Brown, the News Guy in Atlanta says this (and remember, he was one of the guys who started CNN - so this sort of thing bothers him):

 

Oh for Christ's sake!  Just when you start thinking the American puppy might turn out to be okay after all, he pees on the living room rug!

First of all, when and if I complain about this sort of thing, everyone may think it's a case of "What do you expect? He's a journalist! He's just looking after his own!"

But most the news-types I know are American, nor foreign, and aren't likely to get targeted with this kind of crap - unless, of course, they're traveling to some third world country.

Why is it so hard for so many of my fellow citizens - I was going to say "especially" my fellow citizens, but I guess maybe not - to understand the concept that the world needs free-range reporters of ALL nationalities to tell us what's going on, and that anyone, anywhere (and maybe especially in America), should find himself in deep doo-doo if he gets in their way?

I must admit from personal experience, this sort of thing DOES go way back before 9/11.  When my wife and I traveled roundtrip by train to Quebec sometime in the 1980s, I was more than a bit shocked as we crossed back into New York to see how nasty the US immigration agents were to anyone who didn't have a US passport.  I just figured it had something to do with the fact that we not only voted in this country but might have filed an official complaint about our own treatment, while we probably wouldn't about anyone else's.  And I reckon that's probably what's going on today.  Still, annoyed as I was at the harassment of the (mostly) Canadians, I couldn't figure out who to complain to!  Even today, I think there probably wasn't anyone who would listen.

But now I think I know what needs to be done!  Someone, preferably someone with an American passport (and probably with an updatable website), needs to publish an SAQ list!  What's an SAQ list, you ask?  Of COURSE you don't know, because I haven't told you yet: "SAQ" stands for "Suspected al Qaeda"!

And how does one make the SAQ list?  To qualify, you need to (a) be a US citizen, preferably a US government employee or prison guard overseeing foreign detainees either at home or abroad, especially those not charged with any wrongdoing, and (b) do something incredibly stupid and/or nasty that makes the United States of America look like a humongous jerk.

(Chances are, of course, you would also, either by necessity or happenstance, be a (c) Conservative, Libertarian, and/or Republican.)

After all, isn't this exactly what al Qaeda tries to do, make your country and mine look like a big frigging stupid bully?

But when a US citizen like you does it, especially one working for our government, you're giving "aid and comfort to the enemy," and should either be (a) tried for treason and jailed in your own prison, and later maybe summarily "Rosenberged", and also (b) fired without your pension, or whenever possible, (c) stripped of your citizenship and deported in disgrace to Australia or some other country where intelligent people reside who know how to deal with the likes of you.

Or maybe we can have your name dictated by some friendly congressman into the Congressional Record as being SAQ, and also posted on Post Office bulletin boards and the sides of milk cartons.  I think I'm now grasping at straws.

But anyway, yes, the "Suspected Al Qaeda" list should not be confined to low- and middle-level government employees.  I'm sure we all can think of more than one high-up muckymuck US administration official who would be well advised to learn to speak Australian.

Note to GWB: No, you knucklehead, not Austria - it's Australia!  The one with the kangaroos!  Just practice saying "G'day" and swatting flies from your face as you speak, and you'll probably be fine ... that is, assuming they ever let you through customs.

Or would you prefer France?

 

I think Rick was upset.

 

But it gets worse…

 

This from the Guardian (UK) –

 

Just five months before American voters decide who will be appointed to the most powerful office in the world, the US state department said it would no longer allow overseas journalists to renew visas from within the country.

From next week the estimated 20,000 foreign journalists stationed in the US, who used to be able to renew their visas with ease in any major city, will be forced to leave the country to do so.

Rather than applying to renew their visas in Washington or New York, they will be forced to leave the country and re-apply at a US embassy or consulate abroad, delaying their application for between four weeks and six months.

 

This from the ex-Brit now American conservative gay journalist Andrew Sullivan living at the tip of Cape Cod –

 

It's already a nightmare to enter this country, because of the new security regulations. British journalists have been jailed, humiliated and deported for the most minor of details, immigration officials at the borders now have powers that defy judicial review and act accordingly. Many of my European friends tell me that they simply won't visit the U.S. any more because of the experience of entering what appears to be a police state at the border - and the risk of summary arrest for no good reason. This is bad enough when it affects millions of ordinary people - tourists, business-people (I've noticed a big decline in European tourists on the Cape this summer). But when you target the group that is responsible for conveying what the United States is to the rest of the world, you are only hurting yourself.

 

But our friend Joseph in France, who has been in on some of this sort of thing, reminds us it’s not all new –

 

As some of you may know, in 1995 I traveled to Russia to as a production supervisor of a portion of a television documentary on the 40th anniversary of VE Day.  We were there to film the celebrations at Red Square and at the Mamayev monument at Volgograd (formerly Leningrad) where half a million turned out, only slightly more than were killed at the battle.

 

Upon our arrival, laden with three TV cameras (primitive now, but then worth 80 grand a pop) the customs officials effectively "stole" our passports.  A shell game was played at the end of which our passports had disappeared.  We were free to lodge a complaint, of course.  Naturally, this was Memorial Day weekend (…or is that Labor Day? I always get them confused) and the US consulate visa section was closed for until Tuesday.  After we finally received replacements, I had to wait near a phone booth for several hours waiting for instructions on where to meet a man who would provide our replacement visas.  Naturally, I was to bring cash.

 

The folks at the US Consulate told us that this was a frequent game being played with foreign media, especially those with television and movie cameras.  Not a shakedown as much as a slow down.  As the country was just a shambles and Moscow was a bit of a Wild West show, they just wanted to hinder your ability to take those images away. R ussians are proud people.

 

It seems to me that the only possible explanation for the policy is just that - to hinder the efforts of foreign journalists.  Why only the foreign press?  Presumably, because our government has less influence on them.  Begging the question "how much does our government influence the content of the American media"?   Don't make me get all cynical.

 

I just never thought I'd see the day when we traded our "free and open society" for one where we attempt to silence the opinions of those we disagree with.

 

BTW: Whichever journalist at SLATE.COM who led the F9/11 review with "I celebrate it. I lament it" had it spot on: La Monde Selon Bush is the version for those who can read.

 

[ Note: See June 27, 2004: If Michael Moore had any self-control... The film he didn't make – for details on La Monde Selon Bush. ]

 

So nothing new here really.  We’re just being a little soviet in our approach.

 

But at the Canadian border crossings? 

 

Rick was, after all, upset.


Now, now, Rick.... Those US Customs guards monitoring incoming Canadians are there to protect us. This comes stems from our long national nightmare of William Shatner and Alan Thicke and Alex Trebek - not to mention Alan King and Robert Klein and, dare we say it, Glenn Gould.  And there's Loren Green!  David Steinberg!  Joni Mitchell!  Neil Young!  Diana Kraal!  Oscar Peterson!  Gaylord Perry!  And those two famous people born in London, Ontario - Guy Lombardo and Jack Warner of Warner Brothers!  These Canadians needed to be stopped, and weren't.

And as I mentioned, Aimee Semple McPherson from Salford, Ontario moved out here to California and gave those damned "Foursquare" God houses.

In the early seventies the Canadian nature writer Farley Mowat - "Never Cry Wolf" (which Disney later made into an odd little film) - was barred from entering the US ever again.  (My first wife and I named our Dutch-Blue rabbit, Farley, after the guy. Talk about half-assed symbolism!)

So long before swarthy international terrorists bent on killing us all there were... nature writers and environmentalist activists.  Mowat's book "A Whale for the Killing" might have been the problem.  Those were the days before all the bans and bumper stickers.

You ask - "...isn't this exactly what al Qaeda tries to do, make your country and mine look like a big frigging stupid bully?"

Doing that is easier and easier these days.

[By the way, Gaylord Perry, mentioned above, was a pretty good pitcher for the Chicago Cubs in the late sixties or early seventies.  A lot of folks figured he really couldn’t be a Canadian as he was conspicuously black and had a good fastball.]

Rick shot back this:

 

Paul Anka?  Mike Mayer?  A bunch of other funny guys on Saturday Night Live whose names I forget, like they guy who did the church lady, and also David Streck or whatever that was in Just Shoot Me?  Also that guy from Boys in the Hall who then starred in the TV series News Radio, and who went on to voice Flic in Bug's life?  That guy from Airplane, the Movie?  (Leslie Nielson! I just remembered his name!)

Is this enumeration of the names of famous Canadians supposed to divert us from realizing you might be exactly the right person to start this SAQ list and keep it updated on your website?

Are you sure about Alex Trebek?  I do remember that Monty Hall was from there.

 

Yeah, I’m sure about Alex.

My favorite Canadian is David James Elliott – he’s the guy who plays the heroic all-American navy JAG officer lead part on that long-running television series. He’s not an American! He’s from Thunderbay, Ontario!  He went to Ryerson Polytechnic Institute (a Canadian version of Juilliard, sort of) – and at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario he won the Jean Chalmers Award as Most Promising Actor.  He did Canadian television - "Street Legal" from 1985 to 1988.

These Canadians are tricky!  They can look just like us – or even more so!

[The other dude from Thunderbay is Paul Williams who leads the band on the David Letterman Show.]

But Ric in Paris (born in Canada) sets Rick in Atlanta straight on the real deal at the US-Canada border – and about Rick being annoyed by it all -

 

It was and is US Immigration agents who are annoyed. They can't stand the idea of all those Canadians going to the United States, to buy stuff, to smuggle it back to Canada. It is Canada's national pastime. The option isn't open to Americans who already have everything, and cheap too. Canadians hope that nobody complains about the nasty treatment and ugly harassment they get because it might spoil a good thing. They might be denied entry, and have nothing to smuggle back.

There is one aspect that does perplex Canadians though. Quite often they get the feeling that US Immigration agents think they are trying to enter the United States in order to live there illegally. Very few Canadians who aren't in show business actually want to do this, because they already live in a perfectly good if boring country, with all TV channels. The main disadvantage of living in Canada is that all of its cheap shopping is in the United States. If this wasn't the case the smuggling wouldn't be so much fun.

Canadians hope that no one complains. Things are fine the way they are. Just don't tell US Immigration agents that Canadians visit Cuba sometimes too - so they can smuggle Cuban cigars home. It isn't actually known if Canadians smoke their Cuban cigars. There is an unconfirmed rumor that some smuggle them to the United States, simply to annoy the US Immigration agents. Countries that don't have carnival have to do other things for fun. America has elections all the time; Canada has mom-and-pop smuggling.

And as for putting the SAQ (Suspected al Qaeda) list on a web site?

It better be a big eeb site on an industrial server. The way US Immigration is going, who won't be on this list? Contrary to what you might think, not all French will qualify. There are some born-again Catholics here, somewhat to the Pope's disgust.

PS - How is 'SAQ' pronounced? The French way?

PPS - Another Canadian pastime is being smug. Smug as in, living next door to the United States and being an immune spectator to all that goes on there. It's worth more than all the TV programming that floats across the border unhindered.

 

Ah, so one should not worry about Canadians, much.

But should one worry about our borders and how we protect them?

It’s not just journalists who might get tossed out.

From Bob Harris over at This Modern World we get this:

 

The Cricket World Cup is coming to the West Indies in 2007. In an effort to increase US appreciation for the game, American cricketers have offered to host some of the matches in Florida.

The International Cricket Council's response: thanks, but no thanks.

The disturbing possibility that a high-profile Muslim player could be stranded at an American airport, trying to explain to bemused immigration officials that he had a vital cricket World Cup match to play in Florida, was a damaging scenario that the ICC and the West Indies World Cup organising committee dared not take.

The fall-out from 9/11 means the likes of St Kitts and Nevis, two tiny Caribbean islands with a joint population of 39,000, have outbid the United States, official population, according to the CIA factbook, 293 million.


I know this seems like trivia … but it's a small measure of how isolated the US is truly becoming, largely without our knowledge.

The ICC would dearly love to gain a foothold in the US, given what that could mean to the sport economically. Besides, cricket is a supremely international game in which national sides tour the planet frequently, often creating the sort of cultural exchange one hopes to see in the Olympics at its very best.

A recent series of matches between India and Pakistan was widely seen a key symbol of improving relations between the nuclear rivals. (Imagine a USSR hockey team's Glasnost-era tour of the US, and you get a bit of the flavor.) Despite a half-century of tension, terrorist incidents, and three actual shooting wars, Indian players touring Lahore were actually showered with flowers by Pakistanis eager for peace, a scene unimaginable to many not so long ago.

Pakistan's bowlers, batsmen, and silly mid-ons (yes, that's an actual position, a bit like a shortstop) aren't exactly terrorists -- but the world body of cricket is clearly convinced they're likely to be treated as such in America.

Our loss.

I wonder how long it will be before America learns that judging Islam by the actions of terrorists is like judging Christianity on the basis of Abu Ghraib.

I once watched New Zealand's cricket team host Pakistan in Auckland. The green-flag-waving Muslim contingent was treated as no big deal, friendly rivals, nothing more. In fact, during the lunch break, a white-robed long-bearded fellow in a large headdress took part in one of those catch-the-ball-win-a-prize things in the center of the field, and the crowd cheered him loudest of all. When his turn came, his headdress flew off, and he almost tripped on his robe, but he caught the ball and came up grinning. And in that moment, he wasn't some guy from halfway around the world. He was some guy who just got to be a little kid again, in front of 10,000 people.

It's a lovely memory, and something I wish we could see in this country someday.

Someday feels a little farther off.

 

Well then, no cricket players. (I know no one who knows that game at all, anyway – except for my friend Brindley out at JPL in Pasadena.)

And no pesky reporters from foreign parts being impertinent.

Ric in Paris says Canadians can be smug.  Really?  We’re better at it.  We’re number one!  We’re number one!

Rick in Atlanta says all this kind of thing make your country and mine look like a big frigging stupid bully.

Yeah, but we do it so WELL.  We’re number one!  We’re number one!

One might conclude, if one were so minded, that it is time for a change.  We could try to be what we claim to be – open and tolerant and all that.  We never really were, but we used to at least try to be.  The marketplace of ideas and opinions, where eccentricities (like cricket) are allowed to flourish?  I think the marketplace is closed today – as it got too scary for all that.


BONUS:

From Jean-Paul Sartre, “Individualism and Conformism in America” (February 1945)

“ … the American, whose reason and freedom are called upon every hour of the day, makes it a point of honor to do as he is asked. It is when he is acting like everyone else that he feels most reasonable and most American; it is in displaying his conformism the he feels the freest.”

“The peculiarity of the American… is that he regards his thought as universal.”

“It was this complete freedom in conformism that struck me… [and] there is no freer city than New York.  You do as you please there.  It is public opinion that plays the part of policeman.”

“American individualism seemed like a third dimension.  It is not incompatible with conformism, but, on the contrary, implies it.”

“In the United States individuality is something to be won.”

- from notes I made on Thursday, January 24, 1980, so I don’t know who provided the translation.  Wasn’t me.  That was many years before finally got to France, and, after more visits, got the hang of the language.  In fact, I jotted this down more than twenty-four years ago!  Yipes!

 

 































 
 
 
 

Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
 
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