I hate TSA and customs

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

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

Other good news: I wasn’t groped anywhere.

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

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

But the good news is that nobody touched my buttocks.

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

Oy, am I hungry!


  1. Posted November 20, 2017 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Apparently you are unaware that most physicists do their best work when young. Guess they haven’t been corrupted by their elders yet.

    On Mon, Nov 20, 2017 at 12:34 PM, Why Evolution Is True wrote:

    > whyevolutionistrue posted: “Well, I wasn’t groped this time, but it was > still a nightmare getting into my own country. The flight from Puebla to > Houston was fine: I got to the airport early (about 6:00 am) and had > breakfast with two physicists, Mario Livio and Adam Riess (yes, a No” >

    • Posted November 20, 2017 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

      Yes, that’s what Mario told me when I was surprised that Adam had gotten the award so young. I also realized that, with the exception of the EPR paper in 1935, Einstein really didn’t do much after proposing the theory of general relativity in 1915. Yet he lived until 1955. Mario confirmed my impression.

      • jhs
        Posted November 21, 2017 at 8:55 am | Permalink

        I read Livio’s “Brilliant Blunders.” I can see why he probably has many stories to tell. Whether the blunder are really blunders is disputable, but they sure make good stories. I especially like the bit about Rosalind Franklin who played a key role in the study of DNA and unfortunately died young. Perhaps because she is less known (to me at least) and would have received a Noble prize for her work.

  2. GBJames
    Posted November 20, 2017 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    For Customs relief you need to sign up for Global Entry (GOES). It includes TSA-Pre but eases you past the Customs line.

    • Posted November 20, 2017 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I was stupid not to have done that when I got Pre-check; I didn’t realize it was an option and cost only about $15 more. It will probably be a lot more if I got it now by itself, as my Pre-Check goes for about 4 more years.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted November 20, 2017 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

        Makes a bit of a farce of the whole thing, doesn’t it. I’m sure all the best terrorists and drug smugglers have Pre-check, Global Entry, and all their papers in perfect order. Why would they not?


  3. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted November 20, 2017 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    Hate has no home here – the sign on my lawn SCOLDS you

  4. alexandra Moffat
    Posted November 20, 2017 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    I hope TSA dosn’t have some list of
    “people we need to make pray so we’ll delay them until they do”.

  5. David Harper
    Posted November 20, 2017 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    “Further, why did they have only one customs agent in Houston to handle such a long line of arrivals?”

    In my experience of flying from the UK to the US over almost thirty years, into various airports, US immigration is almost alway a nightmare for non-US citizens, with long queues and too few immigration officers when several international flights have all landed at the same time.

  6. Posted November 20, 2017 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    Other good news: You haven’t groped anyone anywhere.

    You should take comfort in that, at least.

  7. George Rieck
    Posted November 20, 2017 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    Ok. You seem to employ all the proper processes, except maybe Global Entry instead of TSA Pre. But as a pilot once told me (due to my rate of medical diversions), “I never want you to fly on my plane.” you have a curse, that is the only explanation…

    I am glad to you keep us informed of you comings and goings as Chicago in my hub to Europe.

  8. Randall Schenck
    Posted November 20, 2017 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    They should have put you on the non stopper to Mexico verses that through Houston stuff. It makes a half day travel into all day travel. There is suppose to be some benefit in living in the big city.

  9. Lee
    Posted November 20, 2017 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    You got to sit with Julia Sweeney, her Letting go of God is one of my favorite monologues. I wish I could be so lucky as to sit with such brilliant people while waiting for a flight.

  10. BJ
    Posted November 20, 2017 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    But, Jerry, I thought you loved the TSA and customs! They love you, you know. Why else would they obsess over your butt so much? Reciprocate. Grab that federal agency by the butt and don’t let go.

  11. Yoly
    Posted November 20, 2017 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    Wow That’s unfortunate. I hate TSA too.

  12. Jenny Haniver
    Posted November 20, 2017 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    Here in my corner of the world, we now have cannabis infused hazelnut butter. All one needs for homemade nutella is to stir some into a little melted chocolate and cocoa powder – Voila! Only problem is not to consume the hazelnut butter before the chocolate melts.

  13. Curt Nelson
    Posted November 20, 2017 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    I really enjoy listening to Mario Livio. He’s en excellent talker — he speaks clearly and efficiently,

    • Posted November 20, 2017 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

      And a great conversationalist, too. It was a dark, cold, 45-minute ride to the Puebla airport, we shared a car, and he kept me entertained the whole way telling me about his “Five scientific blunders” book.

  14. Ken Kukec
    Posted November 20, 2017 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    About that “goodies bar”: no maíz dulce?

  15. JohnnieCanuck
    Posted November 20, 2017 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    Allow me to point out the framed sketch on the wall that PCC(E) seems also to be drawing attention to.

    Ceci n’est pas un président.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted November 20, 2017 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

      So, “The Treachery of Politics”?

    • Craw
      Posted November 20, 2017 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

      I zoomed in. That’s very clever!

  16. Ken Kukec
    Posted November 20, 2017 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    So, “The Treachery of Politics”?

  17. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted November 20, 2017 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    “I Hate TSA and Customs”.

    Congratulations, Jerry, you just made it to the top of their Delay, Harrass, Intimidate and Subjugate list. If you weren’t there already.

    Anyone who openly says they hate the TSA is surely the worst kind of terrorist. Worse than ISIS. (After all, ISIS and TSA have a symbiotic relationship – ISIS provides a raison d’etre for the TSA and a permanent handy excuse for whatever humiliating thing TSA wants to do to people; and the TSA causes massive disruption and aggravation to millions of Americans without ISIS having to lift a finger, and with hardly any collateral damage to ISIS. It’s win-win.)


  18. Newish Gnu
    Posted November 20, 2017 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

    My TSA annoyance story pales in comparison but…

    After spending 20 minutes in line to get to the security check, they refused to let me take my toiletries through because they were in a clear one gallon ziplock bag instead of a clear one-quart ziplock bag. They helpfully told me I could get a free one-quart bag back where the line started.

    I pointed out that I had been using one-Gallon bags for, oh, a decade or so and this had never been a cause of concern for TSA in all that time. The TSA agent said, and I quote, “well, it is today.” I let them have my deodorant and shampoo.

    • Posted November 20, 2017 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

      A while back I read an article by an anonymous Israeli soldier about working at checkpoints. He wrote that they’re trained to not be consistent, but rather to be independent and unpredictable.

      Maybe TSA follows that same strategy.

      • Posted November 21, 2017 at 11:48 am | Permalink

        Using a cryptographic strength random number generator? 😉

  19. Posted November 21, 2017 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    Maybe I’m weird, but I would much rather have someone grope my ass then stand around waiting in lines for two hours.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted November 21, 2017 at 9:26 am | Permalink

      Ah ha! False dilemma!

      … I can’t help spotting false dilemmas.

  20. docbill1351
    Posted November 21, 2017 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    IAH in Houston is THE WORST airport to go through passport control, and I live here.

    On a recent flight from London they had TWO of 28 stations open. TWO. One for citizens and one for non-citizens. It took nearly an hour for 10 of us to get through. Nearly. An. Hour.

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