Sour grapes and stuff

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Published June 20, 2011

MOST AWESOME LETTER:
Here’s a story for you.
I have taken three vacations to Iceland over the past several years and enjoyed my experiences, until last night.
      I was detained by security for three hours prior to the boarding of my Icelandair flight to the US. I am a mid-30s professional, blond hair, blue eyed woman. I have never had any infractions and did not set off any metal detectors at the airport.  All of that said, the boarding pass I was given yesterday in Keflavik–after a week vacation in Reykjavik with my husband who has a similar background–had a special security code on it. This code alerted the airport personnel to perform a secondary screening of me. I asked repeatedly why was I being held aside, and I was told: “any number of reasons or possibly just a random computer drawing.” I was handed a typed piece of ripped paper, which stated: “You have been selected for additional security screening due to requirements set by the US TSA. The process requires your cooperation for the duration of time until departure.”
    I was  taken to a holding room, without windows or flight monitors. They searched my purse–which contained nothing more than my travel papers, gum, airborne, and a couple of Ipods. They patted me down and ran the gloves they used to determine if there were any bomb materials on me. It was immediately determined that I did not have anything, but I was forced to stay in this locked security room–against my will– until boarding. I was treated like a criminal.
    They provided bottled water. About 18 other people were pulled aside during the time I was there. All were on planes going to the US, most were American citizens. Two others were on my plane to Boston–both blond women–though they were European citizens. One woman in her 20s was crying the entire time–not surprising, given how stressful this experience was.
    The Icelanders were very kind; though, they were speaking Icelandic during the process. They would then ask you targeted questions in English, but there was a lot going on that I did not understand. They wrote down my passport number, name, and details. Finally, five minutes before our plane was set to take off, I was escorted by the airline to the plane and not allowed to purchase any food or drink prior to boarding.
    For three hours, I was imprisoned in a room without windows. It is difficult to remember any good details of my trip to Iceland after all of this.
    I have contacted my US Senator, US Homeland Security, and the airline.  In the US, with random selection, if you are determined free of explosives or other dangerous materials, you are let go into the airport. They do not detain you like a prisoner. I have never even so much as been issued a parking ticket, so this type of treatment is very difficult for me to understand. It was like I had entered another world–one where you are guilty without any proof or reasoning.
    I have never acted like a criminal; thus, before yesterday, I had never been treated like one.
Thank you.
Victoria Harnish
American Citizen
Dear Victoria,
thank you for your letter. Your story sounds horrible! Seriously! We had no idea that the Keflavík airport had such intimidating rooms and procedures (although the whole of the Reykjanes peninsula is sort of intimidating, really). We thought those terror rooms were restricted to U.S. airports, where they are used to fight terror on a daily basis. Then again, CIA planes full of detainees have ‘allegedly’ been touching down in Iceland every now and again, and who knows what kind of relationship US Homeland Security has with The Leifur Eiríksson International Airport (indeed, it was built and funded by the US Army and everything).
     But back to your horrible story. It’s horrible! We wouldn’t wish that kind of treatment on our worst enemies, no matter the colour of their hair and eyes or level of professionalism (OK maybe a couple, but both those writers are blondes).
    We must say that we did find it slightly odd of you to be outraged that a “mid-30s professional, blond hair, blue eyed woman” would be nabbed by TSA agents for what a supposedly random screening. Quite frankly it would have made more sense to get a letter from a North African Muslim who was tired of being detained for ‘looking like a criminal’ every time he goes through security (“DO I LOOK LIKE A TERRORIST MR. BROWN?” HA HA HA).
    Imagine, if we let this go on we might some day reach the point where regular blond-haired-blue-eyed-thirtysomethings could be detained at random before being locked up indefinitely in maximum security facilities on questionable grounds—no one telling them why they’re there or what they’ve done wrong—with the occasional waterboarding, genital torture or religion-based humiliation session as their only source of amusement.
    That would be horrible.
     But again, your story sounds really awful! And we wouldn’t wish it upon anybody, whether they were blond or brunette, professional or non-professional, green eyed or brown eyed, spiffy or frumpy (whatever that means).
    So, we would like to apologise on behalf of our relatives working at the Keflavík airport (surely we have some relatives working there) as well as the Icelandic nation as a whole. Sorry. Hope the free t-shirt makes up for some of your suffering.
    (Lastly, we really are sorry. This sucks, and we would be totally furious if it happened to us. But, you know, if we wish to subject people to this sort of treatment ‘at random’ to ensure our safety whilst flying, then this is surely part of the bargain. Right?)

Hey guys,
I follow your feed on twitter, and it’s good to be kept up-to-date throughout the day, but it looks like you’re posting every story twice, once manually from twitter, then automatically whenever you make a facebook post. Maybe most twitter users have such a busy stream that they don’t notice, but my stream is pretty quiet and this sticks out.
    Could you restrict story posts to one or the other?
Cheers,
Gary
Dear Gary,
thank you for your letter. No.

Re: Demonstrations in Spain
Dear Grapevine,
My name is Alexander and I am writing to you from Thessaloniki, Greece. Although my country is pretty far from Iceland, I believe that financial matters lately have brought the people of our countries close.
    I’d like to congratulate all of you for your very interesting articles. The one about Spaniards and their way of protesting was really informing. Though, I’d like to add Athens, the capital of Greece, to the list of cities where demonstrations of the “Outraged” are occurring. There’s been 15 days since the first demonstration of the “Greek Outraged”. Please note that 400.000 people congregated last Sunday in Syntagma Square, Athens, to protest about the last austerity measures discussed by the Government.
    This country is in dire straits, people are losing their jobs and others are migrating, while the future seems dark for us. If you look through demonstration photos, among flags of Greece and Spain, you might see one Icelandic. That would be me. Takk for you time reading this letter.
Yours sincerely
Alexander Cyberian
Dear Alexander,
thank you for your letter. It’s reassuring to hear people are protesting BS all over the world, although at the same time it is sorta disconcerting to learn that the need to do so prevails all over.
We wish you good fortune in your struggle. Thanks again for writing.



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