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January 05, 2006


She really redeemed it at the end, didn't she? You can't put a price on grace!

You wrote about how hard it must be for her to hassle people all day long. Well, it's true, and I often have a similar thought when I'm in the post office- people (the customers, that is) always seem so frazzled, I worry that it'll eat at the workers' sanity.

Anyway, I think the good attitude you and J. brought to the encounter at the border helped enliven what could have been a tedious rehearsal of the rule book and, more importantly, helped her be her best. That is why she didn't want to stop chatting!

That's a great story -- I was expecting a darker turn to the story, and it was good to find out that it all ended with the taste of plums on the tongue.

Beautiful photo, by the way!

Reminds me of the time, during the UK Foot and Mouth horror, that I flew into Logan airport wearing trainers that had visited London zoo the week before... they were summarily removed and I was left to enter the USA clad in BA tourist-class socks, the shame!

Great story. It reminded me of the time I visited Europe as a student in 1979. I had been away for 14 weeks and thought I would bring some French cheeses home to share with my family. Not a good idea, I didn't realise until we landed at Sydney that such imports were illegal. I could have tossed them, but decided to risk it by not declaring them. I figured my family was only going to eat them - how could that introduce any agricultural pests? But I didn't factor in what being guilty felt like and how unpleasant is the fear of being caught - I felt like a drug courier - and it is a wonder I wasn't singled out for a body search - I had "I am lying" written with beads of sweat on my forehead. However I was lucky - I was waved through - and the cheese tasted awful, but everyone was too polite to mention it. Nowadays I always declare everything! (I hope the Australian Federal Police aren't readers of this blog.)

The rules are labyrinthine, but the risks are very real. Introduction of alien species, contamination, fears of pandemics. Although it all seems like the more pedestrian reasons of politics.

You took me back to my early life crossing the US/Canda border via the Ambassador Bridge, Detroit to Windsor & back, weekly. I even had a cousin who worked at the customs booth. We always held up the line when he was working, for a quick family chat. I can only imagine the process is much more difficult now, and not just for agriculture inspections.

Nice you got to eat the plums.

As an organic gardener and lover of native tree species and so forth, I'm well aware of the dangers posed by alien pests, and glad that there are efforts to try to control their introduction. And basically we're happy to cooperate, know the rules, and declare our stuff - which is basically all the normal border guards want you to do; for the most part they are just ordinary people, doing their job, and they will sometimes admit(as they recite the rule-of-the-week - about beef, for instance-) that it's all based on politics coming out of Washington. (And it's always like that - it used to be Cuban cigars, then it was Canadian beef, then it was southern hemisphere produce and citrus, this week it's bird flu. When the homeland security color alert goes up a level, there are different routines, different questions that kick in, i.e., it appears to be scripted.) What has happened with all the money pouring into Homeland Security is an increase in the number of border guards and police, and greater numbers of federal hotshots being sent to border locations to observe, train, impose greater structure, rules, and enforcement. We have Syrian visas in our passports because of the trip J. took with his father a number of years ago. They never used to ask about them - now it is routine, and the questions are, if not hostile, certainly probing. You notice more firearms, more intimidating uniforms, more stone-faces as opposed to people being people, doing their jobs.

But my real question is (and everyone's should be) whether our security is actually being enhanced. Personally, I very much doubt it. A sane and humane foreign policy would do so much more than this needle-in-a-haystack approach toward making the world - let alone the country - safer, but fear and anxiety translate into Congressional budgets, and money being spent on the enforcement that we can "see". I apologize for my cynicism, but when you actually see the results first-hand every few weeks, it sure doesn't make you feel your tax dollars are being spent wisely.

This Is To Inform You

You must immediately eat
the plums
that were in
the food trunk

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive us
they were delicious
and sweet
but too Chile

Beth, that's quite a scary story, from various angles. Firstly, don't they know we are being slowly poisoned by pesticides on fruit, veg and other foods? There has been a lot of research, articles and books about it. Over here in the UK the organic food industry has become much bigger as people are more aware of the damage caused by pesticides on the human body. Recent tests on a sample of people, incl children, found that they had a large percentage of pesticide residues in their blood. Well, I'm no expert, and i do agree about keeping out bird flu etc etc but the spraying of everything may be killing the baby and the bathwater.

I can understand the desire to protect one's internal industry and ecosystem from outside malignancies, but I wonder how much the American government cares about the effect their own internal produce and other possibly infected goods has on other countries? Does Canada do as much inspection of American goods as America does of theirs? Two years ago when Japan slapped a total ban on all imported American beef until America had gotten the mad cow disease problem under control America howled in protest at how unfair Japan was being (and failing to realize that by banning American beef the Japanese government was dooming a very large number of local businesses, in particular one big beef-rice bowl chain that has never recovered due to the loss of most of its customers). But Japan was just doing what America does all the time. It really makes you wonder where the danger really lies, how much danger is really being thwarted, and if the authorities, in which ever places they hail from, tend to look in all the wrong places (your joke about the Canada geese was very apropos).

It's just too bad that you and J. didn't have a third plum... it would have been so ironic if she had been able to join in and eat one of the less sprayed Canadian plums!

And another question... why are all other speices considered "alien pests", but we always forget to include ourselves? We move about without regard for our own effect on the local ecosystems, though as much as any other creature we have a powerful effect on the places we visit. Exactly what makes humans exempt from the equation?

Exactly what makes humans exempt from the equation?

We're not. The increasing number of laws controlling movement of invasive species is a recognition that we as a species DO cause damage, and have a responsibility to mitigate it. Almost without exception, invasive species spread into new ecosystems because of human activity.

Thanks, butuki, it's good to see you here and good to have your comments. Yeah, I kind of wish we had had a third plum to leave with her!

Chris, this is one of your subjects - what do YOU think about the policies regarding spraying/treatment of "foreign" produce, and how effective are customs regulations at invasive species? I kept thinking about the huge lines of tractor trailers moving very slowly through the other side of the customs depot - how many boxes of plums, avocados, or bananas might be in one of those trucks, compared to the two in my trunk, and how can they possibly check? The trucks are sometimes x-rayed now with a large machine, and they are certainly subject to strict regulations and searches. But there is no way each truckload is being intensively searched, for produce, let alone drugs or potentially hazardous substances.

I feel the same way about it as I do about spraying roundup on invasive weeds here in Calironia: I wish it wasn't necessary. But the sheer volume of inter-continental trade means that customs inspectors are going to lose the battle. The thing is, though ships' ballast and freighters full of palleted goods and imported timber and the like are far more likely to import bad beasties, you can't really afford to engage in triage and let individual travelers off the hook. Giant truckloads full of produce have, conceivably, been subject to expert inspection, even if only by the grower. You and J. might pull plums off your gypsy-moth-pupa-covered tree and stick-em in a sack without a how-dya-do.

(OK, not you and J really. It's an allegory.)

On the other hand, it's unlikely that you and J would allegorically introduce something as destructive as the Asian Longhorned Beetle, brought into North America inside wooden pallets used to ship non-agricultural items. My hope is that when Peak Oil comes and bananas are a luxury item in North America, the pace of destructive species introduction will slacken.

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.