Taking Pictures from a Train

This is a very moving story about a foreign tourist being removed from a train for taking pictures:

The train is a half hour west of New Haven when the conductor, having finished her original rounds, reappears. She moves down the aisle, looks, stops between our seats, faces the person taking pictures. "Sir, in the interest of national security, we do not allow pictures to be taken of or from this train." He starts, "I……." but, without English, his response trails off into silence. The conductor, speaking louder, forcefully: "Sir, I will confiscate that camera if you don’t put it away." Again, little response. "Sir, this is a security matter! We cannot allow pictures." She turns away abruptly and, as she moves down the aisle, calls over her shoulder, in a very loud voice, "Put. It. Away!" He packs his camera.

Within a minute after our arrival in New Haven, two armed police officers entered the car, approached my neighbor’s seat. "Sir, we're removing you from this train." "I….;" "I……" "Sir, you have breached security regulations. We must remove you from this train." "I…," "I….." "Sir, we are not going to delay this train because of you. You will get off, or we will remove you physically." "I….."

Nearby passengers stir. One says, "It’s obvious he doesn’t speak English. There are people here who speak more than one language. Perhaps we can help." Different ones ask about the traveler’s language; learn he speaks Japanese. For me, a sudden flash of memory -- a student at International Christian University in Japan, I took countless pictures without arousing suspicion.

The police speak through the interpreter, with the impatience of authority. "The conductor asked this man three times to discontinue. We must remove him from the train." The traveler hears the translation, is befuddled. Hidden beneath the commotion is a cross-cultural drama. With the appearance of police officers, this quiet visitor is embarrassed to find he is the center of attention. The officers explain, "After we remove him from the train, when we are through our investigation, we will put him on the next train." The woman translates. The passenger replies, "I’m meeting relatives in Boston. They cannot be reached by phone. They expect me and will be worried when I do not arrive on schedule." "Our task," the police repeat, "is to remove you from this train. If necessary, we will do so by force. After we have finished the investigation, we’ll put you on another train." The woman translates. The traveler gathers his belongings and departs.

My earlier suggestion that you imagine being in his place leaves you free to respond and draw your conclusions. Remember: you’ve been removed from the train, are being interrogated, perhaps having your equipment confiscated; while I continue to do what I take for granted ­ traveling unimpeded, on to Providence.

The more I replay the scene, the more troublesome it is. It is the stuff of nightmares. Relations between people and countries lie at the heart of the issue. The abstract terms that inform political and social debate appear, as if in person, unexpectedly, near enough to hear, touch, feel. Taking no position is not an option. As an educator, I would prepare and deliver a lecture on how others perceive America in the world community, then seek an audience. I'll spare you. But -- I just watched armed police officers remove a visitor from the train for taking pictures. I don't understand this. I’m disturbed ­ no, shaken ­ to bear witness to these events.

EDITED TO ADD (11/13): A response from the writer of the original article, after people questioned the veracity of the story.

Posted on November 8, 2007 at 1:53 PM • 135 Comments

Comments

AnonymousNovember 8, 2007 2:19 PM

I see nothing wrong with this, unless it turns out the police prove to be wrong, in which case they are guilty of false arrest, armed robbery, kidnapping, and false imprisonment, which together should be good for 25-to-life.

There has to be a balance here, so that those who make mistakes are punished for their mistakes, in proportion to the severity of those mistakes.

Anyone who acts like the secret police should be treated accordingingly, disappearing into camps forever, never to be heard from again. Abject fear has its uses.

Andre LePlumeNovember 8, 2007 2:27 PM

Didn't read TFA, but could it be this was near electric boat in CT?

This is beyond stupid.

bobNovember 8, 2007 2:32 PM

I am a train buff. I have hundreds pictures and many hours of video taken from and of trains; (mostly overseas, where they actually exist; including EAST Germany DURING the cold war). I am hard pressed to think of any picture I have taken that would help me perform a terrorist act.

Would he also be subject to arrest for seeing a train inside, for example, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Railroad Museum if it still the same machinery in use today? Or if he drove alongside the tracks in a car and videoed the same scenery he was seeing from the train?

Life sucks today and politicians in the US (not "terrorists") are the cause.

Paul RenaultNovember 8, 2007 2:33 PM

Swap New Haven for, say, Baykonyr, and replace Providence with Aralsk and reread the story.

Most would say: "What do you expect? Kazakhstan is a dictatorship!"

So, swap the real placenames back in. What's changed?

IanNovember 8, 2007 2:36 PM

If it's a public train running through a public area then I can't see the problem. The "National Security" argument is thrown about far too easily these days and rarely justified imho. Flexing official muscle in this way does nothing to convince me that the action is justified, quite the opposite. I've taken pictures from trains, planes and automobiles before. Since the digital camera age I am far more likely to shoot random shots in the hope that they may turn out to be worth it, something I was less likely to do when it required a trip to the developer.

I'm far more concerned by loud phone calls on a train than someone snapping a few pictures. In fact, does this apply to camera phones too?

paulNovember 8, 2007 2:39 PM

The #@$%@# Amtrak train from New York to Boston is a matter of national security?! I guess I'm going to have to bang my head against a wall until I erase the memories from dozens upon dozens of trips. Or until I figure out what trackside view might possibly be of any more interest to terrorists than any other easily accessible part of the tristate infrastructure. No doubt the thousands of commuters who travel that section of track daily will all be investigated and issued security clearances.

At the height of the cold war, it was often pointed out that tourists could be arbitrarily arrested anywhere in the eastbloc for taking pictures, because the authorities categorized roads, rails and power lines as "military installations" and hence proscribed from photographs. Perhaps someone in the US thinks that the soviet union fell because they just didn't enforce this rule strictly enough.

alphadogNovember 8, 2007 2:42 PM

Before we all go in with our opinions, biases and agendas drawn, can we see if there is more to the story than is being given at first pass?

T ManNovember 8, 2007 2:44 PM

We've seen similar things happen on various commuter railroads around the Northeast, such as on NJT, MTA, MBTA, LIRR, SEPTA, etc., and in each case, the policy allows for people to take pictures of both trains and the surroundings.

Especially considering that Amtrak, on their own site, under the Whistle Stop section, even goes as far to offer tips on taking photos from within an Amtrak train. They WANT you to take pictures to submit to the site. See: http://www.amtrak.com/servlet/ContentServer?c=WSArticlePage&pagename=WhistleStop%2FWSArticlePage%2FBlank_Template&cid=1178293990840

I'm sure this had a lot to do with the language barrier, but quite ridiculous.

Look at Fred G's response in this thread on the railroad enthusiast site railroad.net, and notice the name of the town that he mentions gave hims problems:
http://www.railroad.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=3624&highlight=aem7

MichaelNovember 8, 2007 2:49 PM

Actually, Amtrak allows people to take pictures on, or of, their trains. They have for years. So does Metro-North, who runs the commuter rail in Connecticut.

This incident is the result of an overzealous Amtrak employee, NOT Amtrak policy. Before you commenters get all excited and start complaining to Amtrak, do a little research.

Still, the conductor's actions are the result of terrorism - she clearly thought photography was wrong. Why is this? Because we're scared. Because we think everyone has a bomb in their backpack. Because we've been terrorized.

Matt from CTNovember 8, 2007 2:53 PM

Glad to see we have plenty of details in this to verify.

You know, time and date (not a generic "Saturday in the Autumn"). Maybe a conductor's badge -- surely it wasn't the only time he was scene. Badge numbers or names of the Troopers involved (at least for the commuter trains, it's the Connecticut State Police and not local PD who have jurisdiction.)

Nicely written essay, but lacking facts to check. Which as others point out means you could just substitute the cities for those in totalaterian countries.

It's premise that photography is not allowed of or from Amtrak equipment goes against a few things, too.

Like Amtrak brochures that give tips on taking photographs from trains:


SCENIC PHOTO TIPS
The “camera��? symbol on your
Route Guide Map marks the best
spots, so have your camera ready.
Outside shots: Medium speed films
(ISO 200 or higher) are recommended
for shooting scenery through the train
windows. If your shutter speed is
adjustable and light conditions
permit, set it at a higher speed (1/125
or 1/250 sec.) for the clearest results.
Hold your lens close to the window to
eliminate glare and reflections.

http://www.amtrak.com/pdf/routeguideadirondack.pdf

Hmmm, well, I guess since "Autumn" is after the vernal equinox and Amtrak's latest photo contest ended on September 21st, 2007 maybe the conductor didn't think it was allowed anymore?

http://www.amtrak.com/photocontest

Stuff ain't adding up here folks.

But hey, why try to find facts to fight fear, when fear mongering works pretty darn well, too. FUD fought with FUD. Lovely.


Ulrich BocheNovember 8, 2007 2:54 PM

In the US, if somebody shouts "National Security", people jump up, put their right hand on their heart, switch off their brain, and sing: "America, so beautiful".

doughNovember 8, 2007 2:55 PM

It's easy to pick on someone who can't understand - they are the easiest of targets.

Couple that with idiot bureaucrats who have a square inch of power and you have the beginnings of a totalitarian state.

Peter E RetepNovember 8, 2007 2:56 PM

I was once almost shot by local military for taking a picture from a train in Mexico, with a Kodak Instamatic.

Matt from CTNovember 8, 2007 2:57 PM

I just have to chuckle at the posts from Alphadog, Tman, and Michael made between when I had started and finished with my post :) A sudden burst of sanity perhaps.

Mike WymanNovember 8, 2007 2:58 PM

I concur with Matt's comments. It strikes me that there is far too much literary license taken in the essay to render it plausible.

AnonymousNovember 8, 2007 2:59 PM

one suggestion, when any front-line functionary is overreaching their authority be sure to request their identification, and clearly make a note of it. In this case, if several of the bystanders took down the names and badge numbers of the conductor and the officers it would make them clearly accountable for their actions.

Next step, hold them accountable. If they are very clearly out of line, report them. I like letters to an appropriate level in the chain of command with copies to their superiors, eg the New Haven Chief of Police copies to the Mayor and all City Councilors.

NB, I like it even better when I'm personally acquainted with someone up the chain of command, unfortunately or perhaps fortunately I'm not in the New Haven area, but there's a great enjoyment from including a personal note to the Mayor or Congressman or Governor at the top of the food chain! In such cases I make sure the complaint is addressed to my contact and copied down the line...

MikeNovember 8, 2007 3:00 PM

Terrorists often times use photos for intel purposes. However, it is generally done from a secluded location with a zoom lens and the photos are shot of one specific target. A terrorist will get as many shots of the target from as many angles and sides of the target as possible.

Proper photographic intel cannot be accomplished from a moving train. It also takes DAYS of reconnaissance to gather proper intel to successfully complete a mission. I could understand the POSSIBILITY of alarm if he was taking pictures at the station of schedules or security points, but from a moving train? PLEASE!!!

I'd bet it is safe to say that the shots he managed to take are probably no different than images you can find on any image search online.

Let's say he snapped some shots of a nuclear power plant. So what. I can find countless images of nuclear plants right from the comfort of my desk.

Since when did tourists taking pictures become a national security incident? Wake up America and quit running scared!!

Chris NorrisNovember 8, 2007 3:03 PM

As a photographer, this type of activity makes me sad and angry. I see it a lot amongst photographers in my area: people being stopped for shooting buildings, bridges, travel areas, etc. I've been stopped for shooting pictures in a parking garage near a VIB (Very Important Building).

When these happen I know that 1)freedom is on the decline and 2)the security of said thing is brittle and ineffective.

AnonymousNovember 8, 2007 3:05 PM

@Matt, what's scary is that it's credible, and does seem to add up despite your assertion that it doesn't.

And it does add up more convincingly with T Man's link to a posting (Fred G's), which independently cites New Haven police harassment for photos of Amtrak facilities.

Maybe there is a problem, even if you'd rather dismiss it. You should be open minded to that possibility too.

Instead you heap FUD on the initial report. Take your own medicine.

AnonymousNovember 8, 2007 3:08 PM

@Matt,

btw I liked your approving comment about TMan's post when his post actually undermines your position, nice reinterpretation there.

markNovember 8, 2007 3:13 PM

The movie Babel is a dark meditation on some of the same communication issues in this story.

Recent HireNovember 8, 2007 3:28 PM

I moved into the US a couple of years ago. The first feeling that I got was that I ended up in the Soviet Union of the 1970's. I brushed this feeling off for a long time, assuming it was all about being uncomfortable with a new country and not fully adapted yet. The more I dig into it, though, the more I realize this is the Soviet Union of the 1970's.

At least there, ordinary people realized the system was a joke and treated it accordingly. Over here, people are either supportive of this oppression or apathetic. Both attitudes will only lead to the worsening of the situation.

bzelbobNovember 8, 2007 3:43 PM

I agree with some here that the article is lacking in detail, but you have to consider why we think such a story is believable in the modern USA:

- Proposed attempts to ban photography in New York City subways
http://www.nppa.org/news_and_events/news/2005/05/subway.html

- Free speech "zones". (Sometimes behind fences)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_speech_zone

- No Joke "zones" at airport security
http://www.stuff.co.nz/4256682a1861.html

I could go on...One day we'll have a zone for everything and the authorities will only have to say, 'you're out of your zone citizen' and we'll meekly bow and heads and put up with it.

In short I find no immediate reason why this story could not have happened exactly as reported. Overzealous, misinformed frightened cowardly employees are absolutely real.

LeoNovember 8, 2007 4:10 PM

@bzelbob -
This story actually does have some things that make it questionable. The author claims to have attended a Christian university in Japan. He claims to have travelled on trains taking pictures in Japan. Yet he couldn't recognize a Japanese accent (or mannerisms or language) well enough to ask for a Japanese translator. Someone else on the train had to do that. Of course, it's far more likely a Japanese tourist could speak broken English than it is that someone else on the train actually spoke Japanese.

The _Christian_ university, the author being an _educator_ who spent time in Japan _traveling freely_, these and other things are designed to tug at your heart and make you want to believe it. This is most likely well written but false propaganda. Until and unless actual verifiable details are provided it should be treated as such.

Notan EpiscopalianNovember 8, 2007 4:13 PM

Another "phototerrorism" suspect. :-{

Interesting comment from the original blog entry:

"...I wonder what would have happened if all of the passengers had refused to let the police take the man off the train...."

I suppose Americans have given up defending their rights, and the rights of their neighbors, on such a small scale. Maybe we should be glad they won't be doing anything like throwing perfectly good tea in the water any more.

WilliamBNovember 8, 2007 4:14 PM

I am a Canadian, born and bred in British Columbia. I am in my early 40s and over the span of my life, have travelled to, and within the U.S., many times. I have many American friends, and I deeply respect the American people and the values they hold dear to their hearts.

It is only with the events since 9/11 that I have become uncomfortable with visiting the U.S.

I am appalled at the amount of damage that day's events have wrought on my American friends' society and its values.

Fear is the mind killer, I see it every day.

Fraud GuyNovember 8, 2007 4:19 PM

When I traveled to Mexico for our honeymoon a few years back, we took a bus tour around our resort.

The tour guide specifically told us that we could not take pictures of military personnel. The quote was along the lines of "this is not the United States. If you are caught, they may take your camera, or arrest you."

Following the logic, apparently this is no longer the United States, either.

number5November 8, 2007 4:40 PM

The scary thing about this article is that it is entirely plausible.

"At least there, ordinary people realized the system was a joke and treated it accordingly. Over here, people are either supportive of this oppression or apathetic. Both attitudes will only lead to the worsening of the situation."

Can anyone explain the difference between treating the system like a joke and being apathetic?

I'm not sure I believe this story itself. I'll tell you this much, if I saw something like this unfolding I would definitely speak up. They can't ship all of us to gitmo!

JoshuaNovember 8, 2007 4:51 PM

I, too, doubt the veracity of this story. But, I think this is the key point, as the Anonymous first poster said: "There has to be a balance here, so that those who make mistakes are punished for their mistakes, in proportion to the severity of those mistakes."

Indeed. If the event described had happened, there would have been no consequences for the conductor or the police officers. No doubt they would be defended for "doing their job". I don't even have to guess at this, because that's what always happens with these cases.

The people responsible for security never get punished for overreacting, and that is a serious problem.

Apathetic in the USANovember 8, 2007 4:52 PM

@Recent Hire (and everyone I suppose)

"Over here, people are either supportive of this oppression or apathetic. Both attitudes will only lead to the worsening of the situation."

I would argue "and why not?". What exactly should the 'rainbow waiving, glbt rights spouting, vegan, hippie, drug-laden, heathen, left-wing, heretical, liberal, free-thinking fucktard panzies' like us do against the goddamn mega-corporations and the Unified Church of Jesus Christ's Robot Academy for Profit™?

Do we call our senator? Our representative? Oh, sure sure... maybe lobby a little? Quit our jobs and roam around the country with mega-phones and picket signs? Donate some money to Green Peace? Coup d'état? Oh oh, maybe we vote for the right candidates in November? Robot 1 or Robot 2? Ah... please give us your suggestions.

Our country is run by the richest, greediest, and ultimately the most ignorant of the entire cross-section of self-serving, inbred lunatics that call the USA 'home'. It's 1% of the population controlling 99% of the money, catering easily to the mindless, devout, religious robot masses that put them into office after dropping a few Jesus Christ bombs.

So what do we do, the *minority of the remaining 99% of the population, holding 1% of the money? We watch, and we die a little inside with every headline, every new law, every election. Without apathy, the best we have to look forward to each day is a broken heart, and the worst: execution for 'treason'.

Look, in the minds of people like me there are two things that will inevitably destroy our world as we know it: nationalism, and religion. Invisible lines and imaginary friends. Arguing the former lands you in prison for treason or terrorism or whatever the fuck they feel like labeling it on that 'cool Autumn evening'. Arguing the latter is tantamount to trying to convince a severely schizophrenic man that the voices aren't real.

These two issues are the direct cause of (what has to be at least) 99% of all the killing, raping, and brain-washing of the minds, hearts, bodies and souls of the people of this beautiful planet for (at least) 2000 years. The only difference today is that many opposing sides now have a nuclear arsenal, and all (except China, hahaha) are running out of money, power, and resources to sustain themselves.

For those of us that abhor both nationalism and religion, and happen to be wage-slaves just to pay the rent, apathy is the only thing we can offer. Why? Because (at least in my case) I believe in my human, earthbound life. Nothing more, nothing less. The only thing I truly care about is making it to a ripe old age with the people I love, and feeling as though I left this world having accomplished and experienced everything my daydreaming heart desired, because as far as I'm concerned I'm nothing but dust post-mortum.

Waking up every day worrying that some schizophrenics with bombs are going to blow me up in a fight over invisible lines, material possessions, and the 'true and righteous path' to fly their magical, faith-based carpets along to get to wherever the hell their monotheistic fantasy fuck world is.... Well that, sir, is *my personal hell, and I refuse to volunteer for damnation.

If you ask me, I'll tell you what I think about anything, but I won't waste another precious second of my life trying to claw myself to the top of a sheer metal wall with bare, naked hands... just like I won't spend my time trying to convince schizophrenics that the voices aren't real.

LeoNovember 8, 2007 4:56 PM

Just checking one of the details in this post - "Different ones ask about the traveler’s language; learn he speaks Japanese. For me, a sudden flash of memory -- a student at International Christian University in Japan, I took countless pictures without arousing suspicion."

As far as I can tell ICU, www.icu.ac.jp, whose primary web pages are in Japanese, requires non-Japanese speaking students to learn Japanese. If the author of this propaganda had actually attended ICU and traveled around Japan as he claims he would have learned at least a little of the language and recognized that this traveler was Japanese himself.

With what's actually happening, in Boston and elsewhere, do we really need to engage in this sort of thing? As someone who has no respect for the religious right in part because of the dishonest propaganda they spread about the persecution of Christians in the United States I have to think that spreading propaganda like this only serves to embolden those who really would take away our rights, as they can now claim that those who are bothered by the real loss of freedom are just liars and can be dismissed accordingly.

Of course, if there are facts that support this story then someone *please* prove me wrong. Show me the details.

LeoNovember 8, 2007 5:08 PM

@Apathetic - "Waking up every day worrying that some schizophrenics with bombs are going to blow me up ..."

Engaging in stereotypes doesn't help your argument. In fact, if you really are waking up every day that way *you* are probably schizophrenic. Schizophrenics aren't generally violent. Look it up. It's people like me you need to worry about (but so far I've been able limit my occasional outbursts to inanimate objects).

Not all schizophrenics hear voices. Some of them just spend their lives fighting off irrational thoughts, like waking up everyday thinking there's a specific group out to get them.

UNTERNovember 8, 2007 5:10 PM

What's everyone expecting? Whether this anecdote is true or false, it does speak to the reality of Soviet America. We know that a dragnet on our communications is happening - if it wasn't AT&T and their bodies wouldn't be lobbying Congress like mad to get retroactive immunity for doing it.

If the big boys get involved in that kind of stupid, counterproductive, Soviet-era mentality, what do we expect of the little people?

Say this story were true. A conductor for some reason thought the picture taking was suspicious. What would be the proper response by the police? To investigate. Ask questions, maybe take a note down and pass it up the hierarchy to someone who could judge better the meaning of this tid-bit of information or noise.

But we've come to expect the stupidest possible response from security personnel. To harass people without the slightest possibility of actually gaining anything useful from it, and worse, to destroy the possibility of actually gaining useful intel by burdening themselves with noise by overreaction. To bully in the most asinine of ways.

Ten years ago if someone had reported this story, everyone would have thought it was crazy and impossible. But then ten years ago we wouldn't have expected to be arrested for not carrying our papers; we wouldn't have expected to be herded into "free speech zones" or tasered when we had the temerity to be a bit obnoxious and actually, publicly give our opinions without approval by authorities. We wouldn't have expected to need federally approved id to enter our own courthouses. We wouldn't have expected to have our phones tapped, or for the government to have the temerity to publicly claim that that was constitutional, and to even claim it could be used in prosecutions -- we have no legal expectation of privacy today without encryption. We wouldn't have expected that the US government would try to deny American citizens their day in court, no matter how heinous the accusations. We wouldn't have expected to have our travel blocked by secret lists of "names" without any form of due process, or to have to fill out federal documents tracing our economic transactions in order to buy a used car.

And I wouldn't have expected something called the "Episcopalian Daily" to be accusing my country of lapsing into Soviet style bullying. That was for the crazy college cultist who scream fascist if you take their pot away, not church newspapers.

I guess I won't try to guess what things will look like in ten years.

Jon SowdenNovember 8, 2007 5:16 PM

Artistic licence, perhaps, but there is nothing in the essay to say the author wasn't also the (or one of the) interpreters. Also, it is reasonable that the victims language wasn't apparent prior simply because he didn't speak in his native tongue until enquiries were made.

Either way, true or not, the essay is an all too plausible story about travelling in the US in 2007. Isn't that worrying enough?

LeoNovember 8, 2007 5:24 PM

UNTER - "I guess I won't try to guess what things will look like in ten years."

I wonder what you would have said during the height of McCarthyism, you know, that period of time around ten years before "the sixties". Things aren't good now, but losing perspective doesn't help anyone. This isn't the first time America has gone through something like this.

GaryNovember 8, 2007 5:33 PM

I'm currently on a trip around the world. I'm writing this in Japan in fact.

One of the things I've found surprising is how little desire most travelers have to visit the US. Even with the weak dollar, outside of LA, Vegas, and NYC, people would rather not come to the US.

We have made it a very inhospitable place to visit. Our policies aren't friendly. Knowing the Japanese media, I'm they would be all over a story like this.

MNovember 8, 2007 5:33 PM

There's quite an interesting blog called The War on Photography (http://nycphotorights.com/wordpress/) about this issue. Especially in the New York area, police and transit officials are freaking out about people with cameras. They are afraid that the photographers are scoping out sites for future terror attacks. This has run full tilt into the world of train otakus, who like to take these excruciatingly dull pictures of train platforms and stations (or movies of trains passing by -- you can see hundreds of them on YouTube). So there's been quite a number of people detained for taking pictures of trains and subways. It's disgraceful, but at least this poor Japanese man is in good company.

I had a small run-in like this myself. One morning earlier this year, I took the train into NYC, planning to go to a round of meetings and then catch a plane out that evening. For obvious reasons, I didn't want to lug my heavy suitcase around the city for the day. Unfortunately, I simply could not find any place that was willing to stash my suitcase, no matter how much I offered to pay. Since 9/11, Grand Central has eliminated its left luggage place; none of the hotels around the area will take your bag. Ultimately a cop noticed that I was wandering around with a bag asking questions. Instead of offering advice, help or even commiseration, he threatened to arrest me for suspicious, apparently terrorist-like behavior. He kept demanding to know what was in my suitcase and asking in the name of 9/11 what I was doing and demanding that I stop it. I said I just wanted to leave my bag somewhere and that it contained clothes. We were standing on Park Avenue arguing about this. Finally I was sufficiently annoyed that I simply opened up my suitcase right there on the street and invited him to take my underwear to the lab for testing. Confronted with the untidy proof that my suitcase contained clothes, he backed off, I think in some embarrassment.

NeighborcatNovember 8, 2007 5:37 PM

The tourists have already won.

But seriously, this sort of thing will continue, and get worse. Once on the path of a government run amok, nations rarely recover gracefully. It's the course of empires and we are no exception.

Life is too easy here in the USA. Who wants to risk arrest or worse standing up to the government when there is a warm house and dinner waiting if you stay in line?

Things have to get considerably worse, or at least worse for a greater number of people, before any significant portion of the population decides to fight.

Shoot StraighterNovember 8, 2007 5:37 PM

@number5

> if I saw something like this unfolding
> I would definitely speak up.

Me, too. Anonymously, of course.

> They can't ship all of us to gitmo!

Right you are. For some of us they:
10) Call us terrorist-sympathizers
9) Arrest us for flashy name badges
8) Arrest us for lite-brite ad campaigns
7) Bar us from political events because we're wearing dangerous t-shirts
6) Have FBI follow our activities
5) Deport our family members
4) Put us on no-fly lists
3) Fly us to Turkmenistan
2) Match our fingerprints to partials found on bomb fragments
1) Out our CIA operative spouses


RonKNovember 8, 2007 5:54 PM

@ Matt from CT

> But hey, why try to find facts to fight fear, when fear mongering works pretty darn well, too. FUD fought with FUD. Lovely.

@ insider

> the story is faked.

Frankly, it doesn't matter that much even if it is true (that the story is faked). The fact that someone bothers to post a story like this shows that there is something wrong... very wrong...

If the situation in the US were such that people couldn't start to believe this might very well happen, it wouldn't have been posted.

Apathetically Oxy-MoronicNovember 8, 2007 6:02 PM

@Leo

Your comment is too ridiculous to respond to, but I'm feeling reactionary, and you seem to like vain attempts at calling people out...

"if you really are waking up every day that way *you* are probably schizophrenic."

I think you missed the last sentence of that paragraph, the one about not opting into being afraid. Which (upon reflection) means I totally agree with your statement above, and that actually kind of pisses me off a little, haha.

In fact, Leo, you missed the entire point of the comment altogether, considering you're taking my 'schizo' metaphor quite literally, but thanks for the Psych 101 lesson, it's been awhile since college. If I may offer some scholarly advice, you could use some work on your critical thinking skills, and perhaps your reading comprehension.

"It's people like me you need to worry about"

You're soo right, but for all the wrong reasons. Luckily for me I happen to practice what I preached above: apathy (look it up... *wink).

UNTERNovember 8, 2007 6:04 PM

Leo: "I wonder what you would have said during the height of McCarthyism, you know, that period of time around ten years before "the sixties". Things aren't good now, but losing perspective doesn't help anyone. This isn't the first time America has gone through something like this."

I would have worried, but seriously look at the comparison. There were no no-fly-lists. Your mail and phone conversations were legally protected, even if they were possibly tapped. There was no vast dragnet on snail-mail, the equivalent of today's AT&T scandal. In the America of the '50's, you still had the possibility to simply disappear. In the '50's you could lose your job for being sympathetic to communism; now you can lose your job for simply saying that the enemy are not cowardly demons (ask Bill Maher). NO ONE WAS BEING DISAPPEARED. NO ONE.

Each period of repression has had different problems, but the reason that "we've gotten through it" is as much dumb luck as anything else. Lincoln got shot, putting the Republicans in disarray and maybe avoiding a presidency-for-life. FDR pulled back from calling the American Legion out on the streets during his inauguration as a nucleus for his own brownshirts. JFK beat Nixon by out-cheating him in Chicago, and thereby averting that the '60s would be an amplification of '50s McCarthyism. We've been LUCKY! You want to trust on luck, Leo?

If you want a more reasonable comparison to claim this is hysterics, the last equivalent period we had was WWII. Jehovah's witness were murdered and castrated for refusing to salute the flag. Race riots racked cities every time the Navy came into town. German cultural institutions were shutdown across the country, and it was suspicious to even learn the language -- even though that would have been the most useful thing a citizen could have done. And of course everthing that could be tapped, was tapped -- lose lips sink ships. If FDR hadn't come to a deal with the labor unions to fight the war, you also would have seen outright violence between the government and unions, but luckily FDR was no Hoover, Coolidge or Wilson.

And even then, in the middle of a war which would see more than 60 million dead, we were still capable of giving our enemies trial, even saboteurs caught in the "homeland".

So, don't accuse me of hysterics. This is a very cold-eyed comparison. We're approaching levels of internal repression we haven't seen since WWII, when we actually objectively had an enemy threat of invasion. And of course none of the repression was relevant, since we won by superior industrial strength, distance from the battlefields and superior mathematical expertise.

What "doesn't help" is pretending that this isn't going on, and acting like the old "frog in the slowly boiling pot." I'm sure most Russians felt that Soviet Russia was "normal" -- it's at least what they're telling they're children and grandchildren today who overwhelmingly look back at the Soviet Union as a golden age (look at the polls).

And the reality is the for most, everyday people, even the vilest repression is fairly invisible. Most Russians never had to fear the KGB - they were nobodies, of no interest as long as they showed up to work and didn't get drunk till 11am. Most Cubans today are too busy making ends meet to really bother about Fidel, or worry that they might say the wrong joke, because they simply don't care. They care about work the next day and don't have "opinions about the regime" other than government sucks, just like anywhere else.

I think it's time that people get a bit worried, a bit honest with themselves, and that those who yell "hysterics" quit with their apologetics and self-delusion.

Leo, one more timeNovember 8, 2007 6:05 PM

While everyone is getting paranoid about how bad things are getting here in America it should be noted that Star Simpson appeared in court this week. Her lawyers asked for a trial by judge rather than jury, if it goes that far. They also asked that the one remaining charge against her be dismissed.

Won't it be terrible if the judge agrees to dismiss the charges? How will we reinforce our fears of a government run amok then? How could the judge even have agreed to hear such an argument? Doesn't he know that he's part of a government run amok eagerly taking our rights away?

Note that Simpson's lawyers asked for a trial by judge and not a jury. They have less fear of a government judge than a jury of her peers. What's really the problem in this country - the gov't or the people, you know, the kind of people who won't stand up when they see the police taking an unjustified action against someone?

TravelerNovember 8, 2007 6:18 PM

I have been recently in Montreal, Canada. As a tourist, I started taking picture of a shopping mall. I was impressed by the concentration of fast food.

Immediately a security guard jumped on me and kindly asked me to stop taking pictures because of security reasons.. I think it's stupid, specially today where there are cameras on every cell phone, and is rather easy to take picture unnoticed. At least, I wasn't arrested, just asked to put my camera away.

I really hope politics (and first of all people who vote for them, it's just too easy to blame on politics) will get more sensible.


NE PatriotNovember 8, 2007 6:19 PM

Going only on those bare details in the story...
What is the reasonable expectation of privacy? The Open Fields Doctrine generally holds that all which is visible from the public street isn't at all covered by the fourth amendment. Oliver v. United States spoke to this, in that there's no societal interest in protecting the privacy of activities conducted on an open field. Peeping through a window can be argued as a violation, because society expects to be secure in its home, but it's a tough argument to suggest that shooting pictures from a moving train violates a right to privacy. If you want to keep things secret, build a wall around it.

Leo, before I leaveNovember 8, 2007 6:37 PM

@ Apathetically Oxy-Moronic -
You're right. I didn't read your post closely. I saw the slur and stopped.

No, it wasn't a metaphor. It was a bigoted slur. Your statements equating terrorists and those with an excessive fear of terrorism with schizophrenics are bigoted statements. It is no different from saying that black people are intellectually inferior to white people or that women are too emotional too handle "men's" jobs or that homosexuality is equivalent to pedophilia or that Islam is not a religion.

Whether I would have agreed with your general point or not, you're statements are the statements of a bigot and I tend not to listen to bigots.

Peter E RetepNovember 8, 2007 6:52 PM

re: Wanting to Act Out Social Harm:
Someone above said the arrest was O.K. if one was photographing train schedules!

Pardon? These are published and public documents, distributed for free use.

This unmasks another pathology besides Fear which operates in the "[Preventing] Terrorism as an Organizing Principle" environment, which we also see in the announcement on airport public radio that airports and parking lot waiting areas are "no-joke zones" [LAX] and that "Humor is innappropriate to Homeland Security." [Chertoff]

It's not in the absurdity or over-reaching, it is in a defect of character that even imagines such attitudes and actions are either workable, feasible, or possible. (In theThird Regime in Germany, luggage porters became GESTAPO officers in train stations. They allowed no humor, because of the sense of power that it gave them, and they took others fear of them as validation that they had been transformed [delusionally] into superior human beings.

Analogy GuyNovember 8, 2007 6:53 PM

Click my name to go to the author's blog.
You'll see a picture of him, he appears to be at least 60 years old. If he went to Japan as teen or in his 20s, that's 40 years to forget any Japanese he may have picked up over there.

UNTERNovember 8, 2007 6:57 PM

"Won't it be terrible if the judge agrees to dismiss the charges? How will we reinforce our fears of a government run amok then?"

Ah, poor poor Leo. He's a bit soft in the head. He can't distinguish between single events and patterns. That might be why he's so upset by the perceived slur against schizophrenics. That's exactly a symptom of schizophrenia - the inability to contextualize data. In fact, it's the defining characteristic. It often leads to them believing that they have a magical insight that no one can understand.

Isn't it terrible when you try to have a discussion only to realize half-way through that you were too slow to see that your partner has the mind of a turnip? I will go hide in shame now...

Matt from CTNovember 8, 2007 8:20 PM

@Anonymous
>@Matt,
>
>btw I liked your approving comment
>about TMan's post when his post
>actually undermines your position, nice
>reinterpretation there.

No reinterpretation what so ever.

I was referring to his post at 2:46pm -- which provided the same link I found. Only after your comment did I go back and realize the previous post, at 2:44pm, was also by him -- huh, fact checking. Imagine that, it works to clear up misunderstandings.

I've never been a fan of literature and art for "change" or "social awareness" or whatever higher purpose some people give to it. When you have a work like this essay that can't be independently fact checked, I will remain skeptical. Call it the Snopes effect.

Yes, we live in scary times.

We live in scary times because it seems far too many people who read George Orwell in high school english literature class came away with the lesson that he wrote instruction manuals.

==============================
FWIW, I had some fun with Google.

At 8:26 AM Saturday 13 Oct 2007 the NHPD did log an "Other Investigation" for 1 Union Avenue (they use "1" a lot -- indicating it's generically somewhere along the street). The Amtrak station is at 50 Union Avenue.

Had the author written along the lines of "around 8:30 we pulled into the New Haven station, a beautiful day in mid October, a pair of New Haven police officers..." we might have some pretty strong corrobaration anyone with half decent google skills could find. But, alas, we don't know the time of day, the date less then a 45 day window, or which agency was involved.

Rather then good essayists, I'd prefer articulate writers who can present compelling arguments with verifiable facts.

Matt from CTNovember 8, 2007 8:27 PM

Missed the last part of this paragraph in the last post:

At 8:26 AM Saturday 13 Oct 2007 the NHPD did log an "Other Investigation" for 1 Union Avenue (they use "1" a lot -- indicating it's generically somewhere along the street). The Amtrak station is at 50 Union Avenue, and there is a Regional train that arrives around 8:30 AM.

AnonymousNovember 8, 2007 8:37 PM

“The conductor asked this man three times to discontinue."

No she didn't, the tourist doesn't speak English. She might as well have said, "bkjkdfka asdkfj lksdak dfjksdffkjkd fkajdfk" and it would have had the exact same effect i.e. asking someone something requires communication which requires a common language. If there isn't a common language then no communication took place and thus nothing was asked.

Am I the only one who thinks that even if 10 years ago it was against regulations to take pictures from a train, that back then the cops would have just had it explained to him and sent him on his way?

What has happened to people's ability to think? I mean, I know it's pretty bad today, but seriously...

AnonymousNovember 8, 2007 8:56 PM

@Traveler:

My wife recently went with her parents to Toronto, Niagara Falls, Ottawa, Quebec City, Montreal, etc and took pictures galore! NOT ONCE did they get stopped and asked to not take pictures. Gotta say that you're either lying or ran into one of the insignificant few security guards that think that they're in the US and US citizens.

DschoNovember 8, 2007 9:03 PM

The funny thing is: everybody complains, but nobody does something. So things will stay the same.

CindyNovember 8, 2007 9:32 PM

@ Gary - very true. Many Australians (I'm in Australia) feel the same. Specifically, for me, I kind of object to a foreign government taking my fingerprints when I enter their country, so I exercise my choice - I don't go to the US, unless my employer forces me to. I have to admit, that's a damn shame, as I have a number of American friends.

ArclightNovember 8, 2007 9:41 PM

Some time ago I was standing in line to buy a ticket at an Amtrak station in California. The teenager in front of me did not have a government ID and the Amtrak lady would not sell him a ticket.

She even went as far as to get security to chase him away to prevent him from getting another passenger to buy his ticket. When I approached the window to get my ticket and inquired, she explained what had happened and how she couldn't sell him a ticket.

I replied that "Yes, I guess it is a pretty stupid law."

Her repsonse was "The 9-11 people didn't think it was stupid."

*sigh*

AndrewNovember 8, 2007 10:31 PM

This is the sort of expensive confrontation that inhibits the relationships between Americans and other peoples of the world, and costs us valuable tourist dollars to boot.

(paraphrased) "You cannot fight evil with evil, any more than you can fight a shadow by casting a larger shadow over it. You erase a shadow by putting light on it. This works with evil, too."

Once it became clear that a language barrier was in question, a competent officer would start over at step one and get versions of events. They can't hang onto the train due to scheduling issues -- so removing an individual passenger may have been their only option.

However, the follow up should have involved that conductor being severely disciplined -- execrable customer service, very poor human relations, and an apparently complete ignorance of Amtrak policies on photography.

I hope that the passenger was refunded the cost of their fare for their inconvenience. Perhaps this policy should be added whenever TSA, Amtrak, police, etc. decide to interrupt a traveler's itinerary. Are they going to let a terrorist incident go because they're too cheap to eat $200?

Todd PetersonNovember 9, 2007 1:33 AM

Welcome to the land of Freedom - please wear your orange Guantanamo-overalls at all times.

averrosNovember 9, 2007 1:34 AM

> The funny thing is: everybody complains, but
> nobody does something. So things will stay
> the same.

Some of us support Ron Paul in various ways.

The ruling demo-publican fascist elite has to go, and he's a good man to spearhead the change.

adderNovember 9, 2007 1:40 AM

The US security hype is more and more ridiculous. It seems that there is no policy or purpose behind what is being enforced. Why drag thousands of tourist and citizens through the security theatre at your airports (asking my 2yr old daughter if she was affiliated with the Nazi-party of Germany during WWII!), while at the same time "intruders" are free to cross your borders unhindered? Take a look at the report and video from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO): http://www.gao.gov/media/video/gao-07-884t/

AleNovember 9, 2007 3:00 AM

If it is a fake, it is a pretty complex one with a lot of resources thrown in. Do not focus on the train story alone; the rest of the website includes all kinds of self-supporting accounts with respect to the author, his time in Japan, why he writes the way he does, why he focused on the emotions rather than the facts, and so on.

I know, this is not really evidence - but it at least prevents it from being automatically labeled as fake. I agree that most scientifically-oriented readers would have preferred a clean account of verifiable facts. Ironically, such an account would have been so alien in the context of the other writings of the author as to be a sure fake.

Dave RNovember 9, 2007 4:28 AM

@Leo
"Yet he couldn't recognize a Japanese accent (or mannerisms or language) well enough to ask for a Japanese translator. Someone else on the train had to do that. Of course, it's far more likely a Japanese tourist could speak broken English than it is that someone else on the train actually spoke Japanese."
There wasn't anything in the article actually stating that the tourist's nationality, Japanese just could have been the only language they knew which other passengers recognised.

Dave RNovember 9, 2007 4:30 AM

I can't believe that nobody's made a comment about the US winning the War on Tourism yet.

NoneTheWiserNovember 9, 2007 4:47 AM

Heh. Home of the brave, land of the free? My boss is beginning to understand why i refuse to travel to the US. i would sooner switch jobs than travel to the US again.

Robert TalbertNovember 9, 2007 5:02 AM

Not to show my Midwestern bias, but do you think this is more of an East Coast issue than an endemic problem with all of America? I can't see train attendants in the south or the midwest being nearly as uptight and goose-stepping as those in the story. I've taken commuter trains in Chicago and from South Bend, IN into Chicago and back before, taken pictures, and never seen any problems. And that's with the SB-Chicago commuter rail going through Gary, IN, one of the most crime-ridden cities in the world.

And while I've never encountered anything as outrageous as this story, in my travel experiences the travel attendants based on the east coast have a sort of attenuated, trigger-happy authoritarian streak that almost always shows up, whether it's on a train or in the Newark airport or what have you. Whether that's due to some aspect of east coast culture, memories of 9-11 which hit close to home, etc. is anybody's guess.

AndyNovember 9, 2007 6:38 AM

Unfortunately, that was pretty much my impression of police in the US too. I was in Hawaii and saw a Japanese tourist getting leapt on my police - for drinking a can of beer in public.

I mean, they didn't approach him and ask him to stop or gently remind him of the law in the US - they body-checked him like a hockey match, grabbed the can off the confused and scared Japanese fella, and threatened him with arrest.

And that wasn't even 'Anti-terrorism'.

CindyNovember 9, 2007 6:42 AM

East Coast/Mid-West/West Coast? Are your serious? How would YOU feel if when you visit another country apart from "Oh sooo sorry September 11" and had your fingerprints taken? NoneTheWiser has hit on the point - we DON'T travel to the USA unless our employers demand it. So how about you put your big girls panties on and deal with facts rather than so-called news.

I feel safer travelling in Karachi - and at least us Australians are free to travel (oh, we must provide our fingerprints to the good old USA - something that here we only have to provide if we've committed a major offence).

@ DaveR - umm, scroll back a little, my friend. :)

Cindy

jetNovember 9, 2007 7:52 AM

I'd like to see at least one or two actual facts in that story. "I was on the number so-and-so train", "deputies from the Podunk County Sheriff's Office", or a date and time. This is the sort of story that requires a few facts so that it can be properly researched.

Owen BlackerNovember 9, 2007 7:55 AM

Yet another reason why I have no intention of visiting the fascist police state that is the USA until all the stupid laws instigated by your idiot president after he *lost* The War Against Terrorism — and passed by your supine Congress — have been repealed.

I wouldn't mind, except the fools who lead my home nation (the UK) take their lead from the fools who lead yours and instigate similar laws, passed by a similarly invertebrate Parliament. Two police states, for the price of several more in our tax pounds and dollars.

Bin Laden must be very proud at how well his flights went, frankly. Oh for the land of the free to become free again.

xreyNovember 9, 2007 8:06 AM

I think Dave R is correct about the Japanese language "discrepency".

The way I read the article, the tourist spoke Japanese as a *second* language, which just added to the confusion.

I am reminded of another (possibly apocraphal) story of a father and son who took some pictures along a freeway. When they stopped at a motel, they were awoken by police who questioned them and confiscated their camera. Scary stuff indeed.

T ManNovember 9, 2007 8:21 AM

I originally approached this as true, but I have some serious doubts. It does seem too literary.

Anyway, another post from railroad.net, with people in the actual railroad industry, has kind of debunked this, at least pending further verification, if it does in fact exist.

See here:
http://www.railroad.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=45086

In particular, I found this telling from that forum post:
"I asked for train numbers and the chief's log reflecting the delay at New Haven. Haven't gotten them yet."

I think we have come full circle here somewhat. Now everything that we see that could possibly show some post-9/11 abuses of power, we seem to approach as gospel. When in fact some of these accounts are pure fiction. Bruce has posted a few things recently ringing the alarm bell that were later proven to be false.

nertNovember 9, 2007 8:23 AM

Are people really arguing ,"It doesn't matter if it's fake. It *could* happen"?

Well, it doesn't matter whether he's a terrorist. He *could* be.

For some people the bogeyman is terrorism, for some it's the police state. Both groups look like idiots from here.

btezraNovember 9, 2007 8:31 AM

as a photographer I rely on two basic mantras, if it's private property be careful, ask permission to snap the shutter and always have a release ready...when in the public domain shoot away, if confronted and on public property, be respectful and do not incite any heightened emotions, people tend to overreact, be straight-forward, explain your rights and fire away

AnonymousNovember 9, 2007 8:37 AM

@Leo, re Star Simpson not wanting a jury trial

for one thing, being acquainted with Star I'll assert that it is extremely unlikely she'd have a jury of her peers. More likely she would be judged by a jury with much smaller minds and much greater fears influencing their ability to discern truth and justice.

for another, a day or two after Star's arrest it was the topic of Dan Rea's call-in show on WBZ, the Boston radio station that covers much of the eastern half of the country at that hour. I was the only caller in the 90 minutes I heard that did not advocate sentencing Star to Gitmo or something equivalent. From that sample I conclude that it would be impossible to avoid a jury prejudiced by the news coverage of the event itself, or by water cooler rants about it in the days following.

UNTERNovember 9, 2007 8:47 AM

Nert: "For some people the bogeyman is terrorism, for some it's the police state. Both groups look like idiots from here."

It just amazes me the number of people who live in la-la land. "Don't worry, Be Happy!" -- I haven't had this trouble!

No, Nert, people aren't arguing that "It doesn't matter if it's fake. It *could* happen," what they are arguing is, whether it's fake or not, it's amazing that so many of us think it's believable. That things have changed enough, that enough other police state behavior is going on, that we don't immediately react with incredulity. That so many of us have seen enough security abuse, that this episode describes other things we've seen.

I understand its a subtle distinction, but it's pretty idiotic to glide over it. We used to have plenty of people who cried wolf over non-existent threats, so now we have people claiming that it's just crying wolf when there actually is a wolf. That's even more dangerous than crying wolf in the first place. I guess just one more class of "idiots," hey Nert?

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TheDoctorNovember 9, 2007 9:22 AM

@Cindy,
you are lucky, in germany we have to give our fingerprints to get a passport. It's said it will increase falsification protection (they are only stored in a chip on the passport)
And they say these chips are safe...
...but for safety reason these chips are NOT in diplomatic passports.
...hmm ?

Back to topic.
This story sounds quite realistic, nevertheless leo's arguments are right.

And the is no "good" or "bad" propaganda, stays propaganda and will not help the cause.

TheDoctorNovember 9, 2007 9:23 AM

too fast fingers...
And there is no "good" or "bad" propaganda, it stays propaganda and will not help the cause.

Peter PearsonNovember 9, 2007 10:31 AM

Bruce, I suspect you've been snookered. People have been so primed to see the US as a police state that an uncheckable narrative is accepted as fact. Come on, people: refuse to be terrorized -- the other way, too.

AnonymousNovember 9, 2007 10:36 AM

This story reeks of falsehood. The writer has taught in Japan but cannot instantly place a Japanese accent? Heck, he cannot SEE that the tourist is Japanese? What, "all yellow faces look the same", is that what it is? Poor wittle simple folks can't tell a Han from a Hmong, now can they?

Plus, what Amtrak employee in his right mind would do such a thing? It'd be useless, probably illegal, and extra work. Amtrak employees aren't feds, they can be sued into oblivion, and they know it.

I call BS. Stop beating this dead horse of a story until conclusive proof is offered.

pga123November 9, 2007 10:53 AM

What is more disturbing is that the police encountered no resistance from the other passengers who were more numerous, and could easily have opposed them. Do they really think that they aren't going to be next?

AlanNovember 9, 2007 11:34 AM

Heinlein was right when he predicted that America would go insane around the millenium. I don't think he quite understood the depth of the insanity. (Or the willingness of people to justify it in the name of "order" or the "War on [Fill in the blank]".

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PhilNovember 9, 2007 12:31 PM

@Matt

"You know, time and date (not a generic "Saturday in the Autumn"). Maybe a conductor's badge -- surely it wasn't the only time he was scene. Badge numbers or names of the Troopers involved (at least for the commuter trains, it's the Connecticut State Police and not local PD who have jurisdiction.)"

Dunno about you, but if I saw jackbooted brownshirts (oops, I mean 'law enforcement officials") hauling some poor bastard off a train for the crime of not speaking English and taking photos in a public place, I wouldn't be jumping in and writing down badge numbers - good way to get sent to [insert favorite secret prison here].

America has jumped the shark. Will the last one out please turn off the lights

CGomezNovember 9, 2007 12:45 PM

There's no question that, all over the U.S. people with a tiny bit of authority (TSA employee, train conductor) are making mountains out of molehills over these sorts of things.

Why? It's not worth it to be wrong when there really is a tragedy of some kind.

The witch hunts that go on after a sad tragedy like Columbine or the Va. Tech incidents cost good people their careers. Good people, doing good police work, can not stop every crime from happening. Yet when one garners national attention, we crucify those people who were just doing their jobs, and doing the best any person could be expected of.

So can you blame overreacting chiefs-of-police or TSA employees? It's not worth it to be wrong, no matter how infinitely small that chance is. Your career ends... your livelihood and means of supporting your family is destroyed... by the witch hunters.

There is no excuse for this kind of story, although I remain properly skeptical of it being little more than realistic fiction. But the way we've gotten here came long before 9/11. Witch hunts of authorities doing the best they can do have gone on much longer.

F.K. BushNovember 9, 2007 1:11 PM

It's not just trains. The last time I was in the states was to visit Nantucket Island. Me, my wife and our American hosts were on the ferry, and being a tourist I was doing touristy things, like taking pictures of my friends on the ferry.

A (very polite) TSA/Homeland Security guy with a nice, friendly gun, (gotta watch those islanders, they make try an insurrection with their heirloom tomatoes) told me that I was not allowed to take pictures *inside* the ferry. This thing was nothing more than a floating waiting room - rows of chairs, lots of windows. So, I put my camera away. No big deal, but it really made me shake my head.

Odd I couldn't take a picture of my friends sitting on a ferry, but they had several monitors displaying GPS heading, speed, course and track, along with a flashing dot showing where on the map the ferry was. So, mister terrorist, here's all our data, but OH NO YOU HAVE A CAMERA!

It just makes your country look stupider and stupider with each passing day.

nertNovember 9, 2007 1:40 PM

UNTER: "It just amazes me the number of people who live in la-la land. "Don't worry, Be Happy!" -- I haven't had this trouble!"

You mean the way the people on this board act toward terrorism?

"No, Nert, people aren't arguing that "It doesn't matter if it's fake. It *could* happen," what they are arguing is, whether it's fake or not, it's amazing that so many of us think it's believable. That things have changed enough, that enough other police state behavior is going on, that we don't immediately react with incredulity. That so many of us have seen enough security abuse, that this episode describes other things we've seen."

Police abuse has always happened. It makes the news now because people can attach the "terrorism" or "police state" tags to them.

"I understand its a subtle distinction, but it's pretty idiotic to glide over it. We used to have plenty of people who cried wolf over non-existent threats, so now we have people claiming that it's just crying wolf when there actually is a wolf. That's even more dangerous than crying wolf in the first place. I guess just one more class of "idiots," hey Nert?"

Thanks for explaining the point of the "crying wolf" story, but I understood it the first time.

Even if this story is true, this isn't a Bush henchman abusing a tourist. It's one otherwise-powerless individual, a rent-a-cop working for a private company and apparently acting on his own and against his company's policy. So declaring an imminent police state over this particular story is akin in my mind to calling a blinking LED a terrorist threat.

AlanNovember 9, 2007 4:01 PM

" People who think it is better to give up some freedom in favor of security deserve neither'

UNTERNovember 9, 2007 4:24 PM

Nert: "Police abuse has always happened. It makes the news now because people can attach the "terrorism" or "police state" tags to them."

Gah, are all apologists morons, or is it that the apologies can only sound moronic? Nert, they don't make news because we can attach those tags to them --- it's because those tags are now the justification for the abuse.

"Bad things" always happen. But when you can invent a "good reason" for doing "bad things," they become endemic. Even worse, they are also "stupid things," which is even worse than simply being "bad".

"So declaring an imminent police state over this particular story is akin in my mind to calling a blinking LED a terrorist threat."

Your mind is quite empty, isn't it? No, recognizing an emerging police state using this story as one data point to describe today's cultural mindset is nothing like calling a blinking LED a terrorist threat. It's more like reporting on poll numbers in Iraq to gauge the support in the middle east for terrorist attacks, or using the fear of terrorism among folks in Illinois to infer that fairly recently there have been terrorist attacks somewhere in the United States.

And here is the greatest idiocy: "You mean the way the people on this board act toward terrorism?"

Do you see many posters claiming that there is no threat of terrorist attack? Or that no terrorists exist? No, the usual statement is that our government is over-reacting or reacting stupidly. That the threat is being over-hyped, resulting in a lessening in our ability to properly respond.

That's a world away of pretending that there is no danger of an emerging police state, despite all the evidence to the contrary. So your position in La-La land is equivalent to someone claiming that there are NO terrorist anywhere, and there is NO practical terrorist threat. That we have NO need for security against them, or that we have NO need to improve our security apparatus.

Everyone knows that those are all false proposition, just as everyone who isn't simply acting as a shill and a fool knows that many elements of a police state have been put into practice, and a real threat exists of conditions getting worse.

djmNovember 9, 2007 6:57 PM

I wrote to the author to ask for the details, and he replied:

"Amtrak #2290, September 15, 2007, Acela express, the quiet car, female
conductor, New York City to Boston, stopped at New Haven when the police
boarded."

FrancesNovember 9, 2007 7:50 PM

djm, you beat me to it as well. I also sent an e-mail to Mr. Merchant and received a reply today with the same information. I believe it.

Michael AlexanderNovember 9, 2007 8:30 PM

@ Peter E. Retep
Someone above said the arrest was O.K. if one was photographing train schedules!

If you are going to quote me, please come correct. I did not say nor believe that it is O.K. to arrest someone for taking pictures of schedules.

I said, "Proper photographic intel cannot be accomplished from a moving train. It also takes DAYS of reconnaissance to gather proper intel to successfully complete a mission. I could understand the POSSIBILITY of alarm if he was taking pictures at the station of schedules or security points, but from a moving train? PLEASE!!!"

If you weren't reading only the parts you wanted to see, you would have realized that I was criticizing the over-reactions that have been displayed. As I have mentioned before on other topics, I have knowledge of terrorist tactics and some experience in counter-terrorism as a result of particular duties that I was assigned to during my first two years in the Corps.

To defend my "Possibility" statement; Let's say I was a terrorist and I wanted to target a train full of commuters and tourists. Three most valuable pieces of intel would be: Security (locations, shift change, and response time by security and various law enforcement), Train schematics (Most vulnerable part of the train, Most damaging effect, greatest number of casualties), and the SCHEDULE (most secluded part of route, when it will be there, best escape routes once target has been hit).

You may want to go back and review what I wrote. I believe you lost the message entirely.

ShadNovember 9, 2007 9:32 PM

Blogs dedicated to such stories (hope the filter takes the addresses):
photopermit.org
nycphotorights.com/wordpress

CannoliFanNovember 9, 2007 10:53 PM

A similar thing happened to me about a year ago. I was on my first visit to Boston (this was back before the 1-31 Boston ATHF ad overreaction) and had just left the airport. I was waiting in the MBTA station, and decided to take a few pictures; I'm a transportation engineer, and it's a nice heavy urban rail facility. (There's a picture of it on Wikipedia's Blue Line page, in fact: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Line_%28MBTA%29 )

As I was taking pictures, a train pulled into the station. The train driver opened his window and started yelling at me to stop taking pictures. It took a few (15-20?) seconds for me to notice; I didn't think that I was the one being yelled at, since I wasn't doing anything wrong. The driver said I wasn't allowed to take pictures there (in a public building), threatened to call security, said he wasn't going to leave until I put the camera away.

I did, mostly out of consideration for the passengers on the train -- he was inconveniencing probably dozens of people. I was tempted to ask if I'd gotten on the wrong flight, since I was trying to get to Boston, America, the birthplace of the Revolution. But, as I said, I didn't want to waste everybody else's time. And I was only in town for a day and didn't really want to spend it in the justice system, particularly since I'm a Canadian. I don't want to be deported to Syria or anything.

The only other time I ever felt any sort of fear or concern for taking pictures in a public train station (and it was less than in Boston) was in Pyongyang, North Korea.

And this is why I refused to fly via the USA on my next trip.

RSaundersNovember 10, 2007 9:48 AM

@Matt,
I asked, and they have provided the specifics:
Editor's note: Amtrak #2290, September 15, 2007, Acela express, the quiet car.

I've also received a reply from Amtrak that does NOT accept that the incident happened.

Fred MoraNovember 10, 2007 11:02 AM

I am still very suspicious. I went to the New Haven police blog site (http://www.newhavencrimelog.org) and looked for that incident. On Sept 15, 07, you'll find nothing of the sort recorded at the Amtrak train station (on Union Street).

My biggest red flag with the story is still that the author said he studied in Japan and yet couldn't instantling place the tourist as a Japanese, and couldn't communicate with him. This would deserve explanation, to say the least. And what about the badge numbers of the little KGB wannabes? How come nobody wrote them down and posted them? That would have given instant leverage against Amtrak. Remember, the Amtrak employess aren't Feds. You might be disarmed against a TSA goon, but in court, a train controller abusing his meager authority is minced meat.

Understand me, this type of pointless harassment shoud be HUGE news. If this is confirmed, I'd like to see heads roll; policies changed, officials apologize. But we need to do our homework.

RustyNovember 10, 2007 11:26 AM

Just to lighten the mood, when I was last in Boston I was walking past a fire station and was taking a few pics of the trucks from the sidewalk. A fireman walked over to me after a minute or so, and I thought 'uh oh'. To my delight, he invited me in for a look around, and asked if I'd like to sit in the firetruck and take pictures.

So, it ain't all bad.

JoshNovember 11, 2007 8:18 AM

Mr. XXXX,

Thank you for your recent email.

As information, amateur photography that does not interfere with passengers or crew is permitted on board trains. Regarding the recent article you referenced, Amtrak is investigating the matter. While the results of investigations involving our employees are confidential, please be assured that Amtrak is committed to customer service and any appropriate action will be taken.

We appreciate your interest in Amtrak and hope we can serve your travel needs in the future.


Sincerely,

Amtrak Customer Relations

-----Original Message-----

Sent: 07 Nov 07 21:28:23
To: Amtrak Cust Relations
Cc:
Subject: Travel Feedback

Message:

This story about an elderly Japanese tourist is getting some currency:

http://www.episcopalcafe.com/daily/war_and_peace/every_day_diplomacy.php

I have had only good experiences with Amtrak staff (I was a frequent Amtrak traveler). Is this story true??

sjmNovember 11, 2007 9:08 AM

@Fred Mora,

The New Haven train station is Metro North railroad property. The most likely police response would be from Metro North (aka MTA) police. They are the police force of the NY MTA, but are also commissioned in CT.

They don't have a slick web display of log information like the NHPD. I can't find an MTA police log.

Here's what we know:Amtrak #2290, September 15, 2007, Acela express, the quiet car, female conductor, New York City to Boston, stopped at New Haven. That would be about 9:30 AM. The Amtrak forum moderater at railroad.net has asked the NH station chief to confirm a delay that day, but has not recieved an answer, either positive or negative. The article writer, Joseph Merchant, states that the story is true and provides the train #, date, and car.

Anyone else want to try some detective work?

DelboyNovember 12, 2007 9:22 AM

I've just joined this site having met Bruce earlier this year. I am amazed not only by the story but the degree of interest in it and the variety of responses from support to condemnation. We had a similar occurrance in the UK with station staff refusing to permit trainspotters to remain on platforms. Most dedicated trainspotters know vastly more about the national rail network than some functionary in a station. In the case of the Japanese gentleman I agree with an earlier post, this is caused by fear and is translated into funding by those with an agenda.

alphadogNovember 12, 2007 1:21 PM

To sum up:

No idea if the story is true or not. No independent confirmation. No one else on the train has somehow been heard anywhere else. No common sense applied. No statistics (Is this an isolated event, handful of blogged anecdotes notwithstanding? This line? This company? This country?) given.

However, flushing out fully-rabid "lefties" (ex: using "Soviet America" in a blog post) and "righties" (a.k.a. Patriot Act lovers) has been a complete success! Those guys are really enjoying turning this one story into a full-blown excuse to vent their own fears, biases and neuroses.

Please, don't stop on my account... or for verified facts.

- alphadog

stpeterNovember 12, 2007 1:57 PM

Is the story a fake? It's not that hard, folks. There are enough facts here for us to find out, because the editor of the website where this story was posted has added a note that this incident occurred on September 15, 2007 aboard Amtrak train #2290 ("the Acela express") and that the passenger was sitting in "the quiet car". According to the story, the passenger was removed from the train in New Haven. So presumably Amtrak knows whether this incident occurred, and perhaps the New Haven police know as well (I don't know who has jurisdiction at the New Haven train station; perhaps Amtrak has its own security force but they may not have the authority to take passengers in for detailed questioning). In any case I have contacted both Amtrak and the City of New Haven for independent corroboration (I have also asked the folks at snopes.com if they know about this story). I'll post the results at my blog, stpeter.im.

Joel MerchantNovember 12, 2007 2:17 PM

Joel Merchant's comments:

1. These are the details:
Amtrak #2290, September 15, 2007, Acela express, the quiet car, female conductor, New York City to Boston, stopped at New Haven.

2. I am not a fiction writer. I would no sooner spin a yarn about the event on this train than I would construct the story about my daughter's death.
( www.a-reminiscence.com )

3. One person wrote to me, "Any Amtrak rider between Buffalo, NY and Albany, NY will recognize this drama. It plays out almost daily on The Lake Shore Limited, and probably other trains as well. The riders get on in Buffalo, no problem. Several will have crossed into the U.S. from Canada that day. At the next stop, brown shirts (literally! I guess they are sheriff's deputies?) are waiting on the platform. They board the train and go through the cars asking everyone if they are U.S. citizens and also ask for identification from anyone who looks to be a foreign national. Many on-board respond indignantly with "I beg your pardon?!" or similar responses such as "Is this still the United States of America?!" etc. Each and every day, a few or several will be escorted from the train. No one really knows what happens to them after that."

4. Another wrote: "Thank you for the quick reply. I appreciate your candor and respect your sincerity. I believe you, and other similar actions elsewhere bear their own kind of witness, but you must understand how a person who thinks critically might think that the story could have been designed to manipulate."

5. One person thought the essay is fictional on the basis of "the word terror is not used in American airports.

My response is: Go fly sometime. When you do, overlook whether or not you hear the precise word, "terror." What's important is the larger picture -- how people respond to fear. The loudspeaker, which in some places does indeed use the word "terror," also uses a variation on the phrase "the threat level is high."

For frequent travelers, this has become such a common announcement, we block it out -- along with lots of other heightened airport and travel stimulus input.

In fact, people hear "threat," and they think "terror." "Lurking." "Danger." The basis of that response is very human, and part of our genetically hardwired "fright-flight" preparedness to guard against danger.

Ah, but the "fright-flight" response is not the basis for leadership in the world, or in any civilized model of what Lyndon Johnson called the "Great Society."

The 2001 catastrophic events in New York, Washington, Pennsylvania were fuel for an administration which has, at every opportunity including its 2004 re-election, reminded us that we should be very afraid.

It is not a big leap of imagination from "be very afraid" to an individual's response of terror. It is classic paranoia. Many people express it. A friend of mine, educated, professional, told me about a flight during which he sat next to "a person who looked Middle Eastern, probably Arabic." He said he was ready to use his necktie to strangle his seatmate should he cause any trouble.
Great scott.

We hear about threats, homeland security, wars so often -- the result is we are less capable of differentiating what is a threat, what might reasonably stimulate an appropriate fright-flight response.

This is not the first time our nation has been gripped by fear. Just one example was our response to the crumbling economy in the late 1920s. That set the stage for Roosevelt's comment, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself."

Our current administration cannot have it both ways. They live in an upside down world. Our country models leadership and exports democracy and goodwill by making war in for a fabricated cause. Really ? This is antithetical. ( Historians will recognize the justification for Christian crusades against pagan Muslims. )

We cannot do both things: i) establish a peace-motivated diplomatic presence in the world, and ii) encourage the fear / threat / terror / (axis of) evil mindset. It's a sad downward spiral, for which the nation does not have the luxury in which to engage.


Joel Merchant
Honolulu, Hawaii
(frequent traveler, business consultant)

echocatcherNovember 12, 2007 3:54 PM

I'm somewhat dubious about the original story. Last summer I took something like a hundred and fifty photos from an Amtrak train between Washington DC and New York City. I was quite open about what I was doing. I took pictures of anything of interest, including several chemical plants. No one ever said anything. I've done similar photo shoots out of commuter trains in the San Francisco Bay Area.

On the other hand, at Citicorp Plaza and at a shopping center in New York, I tried to take photos of fountains and similar public features, but was approached by security guards who said it was forbidden.

We are in a strange time, and photographers do come up against considerable paranoia. Still, that train story seems a bit questionable. Off the top of my head I'd give it a 30% chance of being true.

foxNovember 13, 2007 4:46 PM

First, it is obvious that the writer has a definite political viewpoint which is evident in his original piece and his further comments.
I question aspects of the original:
Merchant says the conductor first collects tickets, requests identification, etc. and (quote) “It is clear from their conversation he (the passenger) doesn’t know English.��? If it is clear, then why later, when the ‘camera incident’ allegedly occurs, does the conductor seem to not know that the passenger doesn’t know English? Did the conductor suffer memory loss from one instance to the next?
The way he describes the conductor’s behavior is as stereotypical, as he’s accusing the conductor of being. “Repeating and talking louder��? to foreigners, while I don’t doubt this happens – is more common in an SNL routine now than it is in real life, esp. with gov’t workers – Amtrak (or even railroad workers) who have to go through sensitivity and political correctness classes routinely to keep up with whatever the latest victim group demands. His writing on this is either pure spin, subjectivity coming through some prejudiced viewpoint on how foreigners are handled in general, or there was more to the ‘innocent photographer’s��? actions than he either didn’t say or perhaps didn’t see.
Another factor that could have been more operative than ‘security breach’ is the ‘quiet car’. If you google “��?quiet car��? incidents��? you’ll see some reports of people taking other people’s cell phones and smashing them against the train, and other quite heated arguments and incidents that people have related in various forums and blogs. While Merchant says that the conductor opens with (remember she already knew he didn’t know English) “Sir, in the interest of national security… blah, blah…. “, I wonder if it was ‘in the interest of ‘the quiet car policy…’. And btw, the quiet car sign has an ‘international symbol’ finger to lips.
And why “two _armed_ police officers��?? Most police carry weapons – or were they brandishing them? If not, then why the modifier ‘armed’ when it’s a given, if not to spice up the story. I bet they were ‘semi automatics’ too!
Then… “hidden beneath the commotion is a cross-cultural drama. … the quiet visitor is embarrassed to find he is the center of attention.��? Come on. Anyone, any culture is going to have a similar or worse reaction to such a scenario. He already made the “cultural point��? on language, this is just ‘piling on’. A Japanese, in Japan, on the Tokyo Express would be just as embarrassed in a similar situation.
Joel Merchant's comments:
1. These are the details:
Amtrak #2290, September 15, 2007, Acela express, the quiet car, female conductor, New York City to Boston, stopped at New Haven.
- No new facts past the editors note on Episcopalcafe. Which police? New Haven, MTA, Amtrak? Conductor’s name, badge?
- The crime log for that day in New Haven has no incident reported by the New Haven Police, and that includes reports as innocuous as ‘loitering’ and ‘unwanted person’ ‘suspicious person’ and none, on all accounts, on or near the train station.
- Neither the New Haven Independent nor N.H. Register have any report or story of this ‘national security’ incident, which would be ‘big news’ in this corridor.
- Amtrak – upon being contacted by some commenters, has said that there is no ban on photography on the trains. They even have photo contests. And that they have no report of the incident and that they will investigate the incident but such investigations are confidential as to the employees involved, but a report would be made public if such an incident occurred. So far, no report.
2. I am not a fiction writer. I would no sooner spin a yarn about the event on this train than I would construct the story about my daughter's death.
( www.a-reminiscence.com )
- I can’t believe he would interject this aspect of his life into this particular story, although this is a common prophylactic ploy by both sides of the isle from dragging out Michael J. Fox to showing aborted fetuses.
The rest is just anecdotal to further elaborate on his political viewpoint ad nauseum. Invoking the ‘Great Society’?? That had more to do with institutionalizing poverty – it was suppose to ‘end’ it, than anything having to do with this event!
No further comments, but the rest shows how much of a political spinner this guy really is.

AlbatrossNovember 14, 2007 2:48 PM

"First, it is obvious that the writer has a definite political viewpoint which is evident in his original piece and his further comments."

Idiot, of COURSE he has a definite political viewpoint. So do you, as if your handle wasn't indication enough... you're trying to delegitimize his report because he has a political point of view? Wouldn't you EXPECT him to have a political point of view after witnessing such an event?

It's regrettable that your exaggerated fear of terrorists has trumped your fear of the erosion of our Constitutional rights.

foxNovember 14, 2007 4:18 PM

You miss my point entirely. When you say “Wouldn’t you expect him to have a political point of view after witnessing such an event?��? Yes I would. My point was there is good reason to believe he may not have witnessed such an event. That his politics either got in the way of telling it as it is, or like many other ‘reporters’ mainly from your side - some of them Pulitzer prize winners, some just phony soldiers who never made it out of boot camp - made up either part or all of the story for political purposes. I have no exaggerated fear of terrorists and with no collaboration, if the incident didn’t happen, there was no erosion of constitutional rights here….idiot.

PatNovember 15, 2007 3:45 PM

AT best I find Fox's criticism without merit. At worse I found them to be an inflammatory attempt at mud-slinging and manipulation: Trying to discredit the validity of this story by using innuendoes and questioning the author's stylistic choices is so transparent as to be insulting.

Based on the substantial number of similar, fully documented stories - and worse one! - coming for all corners of the United States, I find it far easier to believe than to doubt.

I've had my own, first handed, and a collection of others told to me by friends in security and law enforcement. Any frequent traveller has probably witnessed or experienced such events. If not - count yourself lucky.

Being in denial of the facts will not change the facts or make them go away.

John David GaltNovember 15, 2007 9:51 PM

I see everything wrong with this. No authority has any business punishing an act that is not against a previously published law. This basic requirement is called the Rule of Law and dates back to Rome's Early Republic period. There can be no justification for violating it, and in any case such a restriction is just security theater, since it's easy enough to use Google Earth images or various types of concealable cameras if you really intended mischief.

What a stupid bunch of Keystone Gestapo.

TomNovember 18, 2007 9:22 AM

The mentality of "you are threatened" and "you should determine what is threatening" and "people taking pictures is threatening" is the problem here. Most people haven't any idea what a threat is, so if you encourage people to determine what is threatening, you'll continue to get bad determinations.
The "culture of fear" is simply to 1) distract and ennervate the public & 2) break down mutual trust in the community, leading to the impossibility of concerted resistance to tyranny.

SebNovember 19, 2007 12:05 AM

It it interesting, to read this Story I am visiting California, and went to Sacramento to visit CSRMF. In fact I dared to take a picture of a parked train. Instantly a security person showed up and asked me to stop.
In fact i was searching for an official Amtrak Photo policy when I found this.

Therefore I think this story might be true, but do not see it proofed yet.

Robert CDecember 4, 2007 8:05 PM

I just want to comment that here in P.R. China (Where I am permitted to take pictures from trains; but, not of military facilities) Japanese is a common second language. These is no assurance that because the man spoke Japanese that he was Japanese. It would be like trying to communicate with me in French. It could be done but it would take a lot of effort on the part of all parties.

maddyDecember 5, 2007 6:52 PM

What a sad, sad story, and even more sad, that it is the occasion for small-minded sniping and axe-grinding.

RonDecember 10, 2007 1:36 PM

This is a typical senario where law enforcements jumps to conclusions. Instead of taking all 5 minutes to determine if the person even spoke english, they automatically assumed he was purposly being unresponsive. one can argue that law enforcements sometimes tend to abuse their power and when they realize they were wrong they look elsewhere to blame others.

On the other hand its important to tell someone if you see something suspicious. It is a tough world we live in and there is a trade off into some liberties we have and what gets taken away from us.

Big BrotherAugust 1, 2008 6:38 PM

The moment the US set up the Deptment of Homeland Security it was screwed.

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