Saturday, December 12, 2009

Sci Fi is Dangerous


So, a Canadian SF writer, Dr. Peter Watts, got into a set-to whilst crossing the border back into Canada from the U.S. His version is that he was singled out, pulled over for inspection, and when he got out to inquire what the beef was -- and for no reason whatsoever -- he was beaten, pepper-sprayed, cuffed, arrested, and charged with assault a federal officer.

The ICE version is that he was pulled over, he got out of his car, became verbally abusive, and refused to get back into his rented automobile when told to do so. When they tried to arrest him, he resisted, and tried to choke out one of the officers.

On the face of it, if you believe Watts's account, then this is simply unacceptable behavior on the part of the ICE agents.

But as in all these kinds of things, there is that pesky other side to the story, and it has that fishy smell that makes me wonder.

If you click on the link above and read Watts's account, take note of the language and alternate-world construction in which he framed it.

Consider two possibilities:

1. Watts is stopped because he is in a rental car and asked to pull over. He exits the vehicle, politely inquires as to the cause for the stop.

The agent, insulted to the hilt, screams, "Get back in the car, now!"

Watts, puzzled, repeats the query: "I'm sorry, I'm not looking to cause trouble, but what is the problem?"

Whereupon a couple of the jackboots proceed to punch him in the face, hit him with pepper spray, knock him down, kick him, handcuff him, and after stripping him half naked, throw him into the slammer. Upon his release, he is put out jacketless in a snowstorm and told to stand by because he is surely going to get a couple years in prison for the assault.

Or this:

2. Watts is stopped because he is in a rental car and asked to pull over. He exits the vehicle, says to the ICE agent, "What the fuck are you doing?"

"Please get back in your vehicle, sir."

"Hell I will. I asked you what the fuck you are doing, and I want an answer!"

It could be somewhere in between.

And we are off -- !

Watts is not twelve-years-old. One assumes that the "Dr." before his name, indicating at least a Ph.D, would indicate he has some education and might be expected to know the ways of the world.

If he mouthed off to the border guys and got feisty and, the agents were having a bad day, you can see how that might go.

But you know all major crossings have videocams covering the gates, and that vid, if it exists, will become somebody's evidence pretty quick. I'd love to see it before I passed judgement on this incident. In the case of the girl in Portland being shot by the beanbag, I did see the video and I thought the officer overstepped. In this case, while it might be possible the agents just flipped out and for no reason beat the crap out of a science fiction writer, I find that it sounds just a little, I dunno, too pat.

Why bother? Science fiction writers have the crap beat out of them by critics, fans, and literary writers all the time ...

15 comments:

Bobbe Edmonds said...

See, this is just another example of the tyrannical, abusive nature of the Canadian border guards. Ask anyone who tunneled under the peace arch to escape to America, they'll tell you about the oppression, misery, poverty and mayonnaise torture they have to endure over there in that nihilistic society.

Not only that, but American women who are detained at the border crossing are often subjected to the worst kind of dehumanizing degradation: Forced to work as "comfort women" to Canadian mounties returning from Saskatchewan.

There are horrifying reports of wholesome, moralistic American females being subjugated to cook bacon, knit, even communicate in French, for days at a time. When these women return to America, their IQ is substantially lower than before and they have usually stopped shaving their armpits and legs. Only months of counseling, deprogramming and McDonald's fries can return them to a modicum of their former selves.

I say we've tolerated this bullshit long enough! Canada must be taught it's place! We should just invade it, and turn the country into a summer retreat for the wealthy.

And the Sci Fi writers.

Bobbe Edmonds said...

>"Science fiction writers have the crap beat out of them by critics, fans, and literary writers all the time"<

What the hell is a "Literary Writer"? Is it different from a "Verbal Writer" or maybe the much-touted "Telepathic Writer"?

Could you tell me what else a writer of ANY genre could be other than literary?

Just, you know...Curious.

Steve Perry said...

Re the lit'ry thing: For those who understand these things, no explanation is necessary; for those who don't, none is possible ...

It's an old split -- there are genre writers, who toil in the fields for children, and offer bread and circuses for the unwashed masses. Then there are literary authors, who write for the intellectual elite. For many years, no genre material was reviewed in The New York Times Book Review. Bowing to pressure finally, they reluctantly added in a couple of graphs that deigned to review mystery novels.

Ten or fifteen years later, they stooped to mention science fiction and fantasy in passing ...

I've always thought of "mainstream" as a genre, but that's not how the New Yawk Lit'ry Elite see it.

Google "Greatest American Authors," you get a list that includes your favorite, Salinger. Only one guy on the list wrote sci fi, and they never tarred him with that insult -- Vonnegut ...

jks9199 said...

The truth is, undoubtedly, somewhere in the middle. I'm confident there will be video, and I can't help but suspect that if the behavior was as outrageous as is being alleged (on either side!), there would be others who were there coming forward.

Dan Gambiera said...

jks, "The truth is somewhere in the middle" is one of the most facile pieces of bullshit ever. It's nothing but a cop-out, an excuse, a way of avoiding the ugly fact that people lie and not all opinions are equal.

Let's jump straight to the Godwin level on this one.

On one hand The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion says there's an age-old Jewish conspiracy to take over the world and that Jews are trying to destroy Christianity. They do this by owning the banks. There are also plenty of accounts of Jews murdering Christian babies to use their blood to make matzoh.

On the other hand, the "reality based community" as a White House spokesman of about four years ago describes it, would say that in fact Jews have never owned or controlled even a tiny fraction of the banks. The Protocols was a Czarist forgery. And Jews do not practice cannibalism.

The truth is not anywhere near the fucking "middle".

If you want to bring it back to the world of cops and citizens I can get you literally hundreds of cases on both sides where one side was telling the truth while the other wasn't. When you're splitting the difference between truth and lies what you end up with are lies.

James said...

Hey Dan, don't sandbag, tell us how you really feel! Excellent analysis, though. Watts is a very good writer, I like his stuff. He's a PhD in Marine Biology. I'm thinkin' the ICE guys probably in the right on this one. Occam's razor and all. But the video will be deciding factor. Every time I pull someone over now, we're on video. Some of the tapes are hysterical.

Steve Perry said...

Truth in the middle isn't necessarily facile, nor bullshit.

What really happened starts getting internally spun immediately by the players. Sometimes this is conscious and deliberate. Sometimes, it's the automatic filters.

I can recall being at a newsworthy event more than a few times and reading about it in the newspaper and wonder -- Where the hell was the guy who wrote this? Because he couldn't have been there looking at what I saw.

But he could.

Recall Rashomon? One event, four totally different stories. What really happened?

If there is a video, the physical actions will be recorded. I'd guess no sound. So what got said leading up to what you see get's filtered out.

If the writer is standing there looking innocuous, hands raised in a not-looking-for-trouble gesture, which is something I learned was a good idea in an early martial arts class, that's one thing. If he is advancing on the ICE guys and combative, that's another. But just like you can supply your own dialog to a movie if you turn the sound down, the images alone might not be definitive.

My experience is that polarized arguments that shade to completely black on one side and completely white on the other often have more gray in them than either party wants to admit. Not to say one or the other can't be dead-on, only that in many cases, the truth isn't owned by either.

jks9199 said...

Dan,
You're right. On one level, saying that the truth is in the middle is a cop out. But you only read half of what I wrote. I said that if the situation were as extreme as either end, I would think that there were witnesses -- on either side! -- who would have come forward. But, without uninvolved accounts, we have to assume that both sides are attempting to present a true account, rather than an outright lie, but also that they will tell the version that supports their point of view and their interests. So, when you're given two accounts, by people one presumes are trying to be fairly honest but with interest in the outcome, the accounts probably will be different. What do we have in common here? That Watts was crossing the border; when selected for additional screening, he exited his vehicle. There was some sort of dispute, which became physical, and Watts was sprayed with OC, arrested, locked up and eventually released, apparently without his coat.


What do I suspect happened? For whatever reason, whether random chance, or a combination of factors (somewhere I saw mentioned a rental car, I don't know how long the trip was, maybe even some asshat who thought phoning a bogus tip against the guy would be funny), Watts is selected for more thorough screening. When he's asked to pull aside, he jumps out of the car, and begins to argue. He's directed back into the car, and doesn't comply. Maybe a BP agent is tired, cold, and cranky; don't know. Watts has been traveling for a while, is tired, cold, and cranky, too. But he doesn't put up with it, and somehow, they reach a point where Watts reflexively pushes back against the agents. One thing leads to another -- and Watts is forcibly taken into custody. OC is apparently employed.

Now, I've been sprayed. It ain't fun. There are two primary decontamination methods for pepper spray: lots and lots of water, or wait and suffer. Most folks go for the water... Ever eat wings from the "die if you eat this" end of the scale? Imagine that all over your face. Maybe times 4 or 5 or 10... So, Watts was hosed down. Meanwhile, he's being booked, too. Most jails permit prisoners to have only one shirt and one pair of pants, and they remove belts, shoe laces, jewelry, etc. Where his jacket is now is a good and very legitimate question; in the facilities I take prisoners to, a missing jacket would have initiated an investigation if they were notified. Doesn't get the guy his jacket right away, but they do find out what happened.

I'm pretty confident that there'll be video footage of the incident; less confident of audio. I suspect that both sides will have been found to have made less than ideal choices, and I suspect that, in light of his later comments about it, is coming to realize that he isn't blameless -- and on the advice of counsel, is waiting to go to court.

My guess -- and that's all it is, a guess -- is that, come trial, Watts will plead to a lesser offense like disorderly conduct unless the video has absolutely no support for the Border Patrol agents. In return for his plea, I won’t be at all surprised that he gets something like a suspended imposition of sentence wherein he promises to be good for a year or six months, and the charges get dismissed.

I'm not reflexively or automatically suggesting that the Customs & Border Patrol version is 100% accurate, I'm not saying that Watts is deliberately lying, nor am I saying that he is pure as the driven snow and the C&BP agents maliciously and evilly leapt upon an opportunity to beat up a Canadian author. I'm saying that, quite honestly, the truth is somewhere between those extremes.

James said...

Research update - Watts was not alone in the car which means there is witness testimony. Also, video should be available to be reviewed.It'll be interesting to see how this turns out.

Anonymous said...

well, I think jks9199 has done as good job summarizing the likley truth of the matter. Just one little add-in from a human nature perspective. What percentage of people are going to be loopy enough to decide to get out of the car and then simply politly ask what's going on? I'm thinking right around zero. By the time somebody is fracked off enough to get out of the car they're going to be pissed and showing it.

Bobbe Edmonds said...

>"Occam's razor and all."<

*Head twitching uncontrollably*

No...Oh God, No! Can't...Stop...TRANSFORMATION!!!!

*GASP!*

Dan Moran said...

When you're splitting the difference between truth and lies what you end up with are lies.

Bravo.

jks9199 said...

FYI -- More information here:
http://www.thestar.com/news/ontario/article/738143--u-s-border-guards-arrest-author-peter-watts?bn=1

Some of that suggests that there may not be video; the encounter apparently took place between the customs stations. And it explains what happened to his coat... No nefarious coat stealing; it was in the impounded car.

Irene said...

Um, somebody leaving the country in a different rented vehicle than he arrived in is anomalous, and the guards are supposed to doublecheck anomalies. Had he waited until they came back to ask for an explanation, all would likely have been fine.

As for getting out of his car to ask what's going on: when you get pulled over and the cop takes your license then walks back to his car, do you get out and follow him to ask why he pulled you over? I don't recommend that. Cops don't like it. Because people who get out of their cars to confront cops also have a likelihood of SHOOTING cops, and cops really don't like that. Whether you like the rules or not is irrelevant. Follow them. Or suffer the consequences.

Steve Perry said...

Having a great debate on another site where I am being taken to task for being a conservative in support of the jackbooted stormtroopers at the border.

Yeah, me 'n'' Rush ...

Funniest thing I've heard all week.