Helping Out Peter Watts

Peter Watts, the Hugo-nominated author of Blindsight, is in an interesting (and by “interesting” I mean “bad”) predicament thanks to an incident at the US/Canada border, and may need some help. Here are the details, from Watts’ friend, writer David Nickle:

Hugo-award-nominated science fiction author Dr. Peter Watts is in serious legal trouble after he was beaten, pepper-sprayed and imprisoned by American border guards at a Canada U.S. border crossing December 8. This is a call to friends, fans and colleagues to help.

Peter, a Canadian citizen, was on his way back to Canada after helping a friend move house to Nebraska over the weekend. He was stopped at the border crossing at Port Huron, Michigan by U.S. border police for a search of his rental vehicle. When Peter got out of the car and questioned the nature of the search, the gang of border guards subjected him to a beating, restrained him and pepper sprayed him. At the end of it, local police laid a felony charge of assault against a federal officer against Peter. On Wednesday, he posted bond and walked across the border to was released into Canada in shirtsleeves (he was released by Port Huron officials with his car and possessions locked in impound, into a winter storm that evening). He’s home safe. For now. But he has to go back to Michigan to face the charge brought against him.

The charge is spurious. But it’s also very serious. It could mean two years in prison in the United States, and a ban on travel in that country for the rest of Peter’s life. Peter is mounting a vigorous defense, but it’s going to be expensive – he’s effectively going up against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and he needs the best legal help that he can get.

He’s got that help, courtesy of one of the top criminal lawyers in the State of Michigan. We, Peter’s friends and colleagues here in Canada, want to make sure he gets the help he needs financially to come out of
this nightmare whole.

The need for that help is real. While Peter is a critically successful science fiction writer, he is by no means a best-selling author. Without help, the weight of his legal fees could literally put him on the street by spring.

We can’t let that happen. So there’s going to be fundraising.

We’re going to think of something suitable in the New Year – but immediately, anyone who wants to help can do so easily. Peter’s website, has a link to a PayPal account, whimsically named the Niblet Memorial Kibble Fund. He set it up years ago for fans of the Hugo-nominated novel Blindsight and his Rifters books, to cover veterinary bills for the cats he habitually rescues from the mean streets of Toronto. Peter has made it clear that he doesn’t want to use the veterinary money to cover his lawsuit. But until we can figure out a more graceful conduit for the legal fund, that’s the best place to send donations for now. Just let Peter know that the donation’s for his legal defense, and that’s where it will go.

Here’s the link to the backlist page on Peter’s website. The link to the Niblet Memorial Kibble Fund is in the middle of the page. The page also links to creative-commons editions of all his published work, which he’s made available free. Peter would approve, we think, if you downloaded one or two or all of them. Whether you make a donation to the legal fund or not.

Speaking personally, I’m a friend of Peter Watts and also a fan of his writing; he and I shared a reading at the last Worldcon and his story was just terrific. I don’t know any more details about his altercation with the US Border Guards than what I’m sharing with you now (update: Peter’s side of the event is now on his site), but I’m certainly willing to believe that he’s innocent of the charge laid on him, and this is a mistake as opposed to a genuine international incident. But mistake or not, it’s still going to be expensive for him to deal with.

So, if you’re a fan of his and want to help him deal with this, you know what what to do. If you’re not a fan yet, go check out the work of his linked to above, and if you find it interesting, send some cash his way. Thanks.

Update, 2pm: Bill Schafer at Subterranean Press says that from now until the end of the day, the first 50 people who purchase the “Judge Sn Goes Golfing”  chapbook from SubPress directly will see all proceeds go to to Peter Watt’s legal fund. So if you’ve been putting off getting “Judge Sn,” now you have a good excuse to get it. Here’s a link to the SubPress order page.

Update, 5:30pm: Sold all 50 and Subterranean Press has sent $1,000 to Peter’s legal fund. Thanks, everyone!

232 Comments on “Helping Out Peter Watts”

  1. I go away for five minutes to vote you annoying and when I get back this is the article. Thanks for doing something so cool and making me look like a putz.

  2. I so hate this crap. Cops do something sketchy, then throw an assaulting an officer charge on top of it. The *best* case scenario is that the victim here ends up agreeing to drop the civil suit in exchange for them dropping the criminal charge. And cops return to their regular scheduled beatings.

    I’m functionally illiquid right now, but I’ll find a few bucks to send his way.

  3. Well, being a one-time co-author of Peter’s, and having seen him write a great intro for my collection, I damn well am ponying up some cash. Part of me rolls my eyes at Peter for being the person he is, climbing out of the car to question these yahoos. But the smarter part of me realizes that because of people like Peter, we have someone who can push back at the bullshit the first time so that the rest of us don’t get the shit kicked out of us when we finally get tired of it all and push back as well.

    Thanks for posting this, John. Way more attention comes to it here than would come from my little world.

  4. Derryl Murphy, #3: “Because of people like Peter, we have someone who can push back at the bullshit the first time so that the rest of us don’t get the shit kicked out of us when we finally get tired of it all and push back as well.”


  5. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict the reality of this situation is somewhere between the gestapo shit quoted above and what the feds say happened. I’m also going to wager Mr. Watts got mouthy. Good advice: Justified or not, don’t sass the cops.

  6. Eli Cash:

    Being mouthy, even if it were the case, would not in itself justify a beating, pepper spray and an assault charge.

    In any event, I don’t think we need to go down that particular avenue of speculative conversation at the moment. It’s derail-y.

  7. Peter Watts is one of the best hard SF writers we’ve got. As a research scientist, I often have to ‘suspend my disbelief’ over the science described in many current authors’ SF work. Not with Watts. He nails the biology, and then extrapolates it into unnerving territory.

    I won’t pretend to know the actual events that occurred (however, having traveled across borders in the last few years, I have my suspicions), but acting purely on enlightened self-interest I’m sending him money – whatever it takes to keep the man writing his SF.

  8. While I’m sure there is more to this story, I can’t imagine Peter Watts doing anything that would warrant a beating and pepper-spray.

    As soon as I get home from work I am wiring him what money I can. I really hope he gets out of this without too much difficulty.

    Is there any precedent for cases like this? Have people been wrongfully beaten at the border and then won the case?

  9. PS – Hopefully this will get Peter’s name out there and maybe more people will buy his books. Lots of people tweeting about this incident, so it may increase his readership! Would definitely help him pay for the legal fees.

  10. Has the CBC picked this up? I’ll just go hit up a couple of friends who might have contacts there.

    Let us make a genuine international incident out of it, because then the border patrol might be embarrassed enough to make the problem go away.

    PNH, will this go front page at Making Light? I know boing-boing alread has it, but the more, the merrier.

    Any mil-sf writers in the vicinity have friends/contacts at ICE? I had a look at their web site, and I don’t see where “beating Canadian authors” is part of their mission.

  11. OMG. This is literally one of my worst nightmares. I just sent him some money via PayPal then sent him email so that he knows it’s for his lawyers, not his cat.

  12. Get the videotape of the port inspection point. They probably have already erased it and will claim no machine was working. Unless, of course, it would help their case.

  13. Thank you for sharing this information, John. This is horrible. If I was a little more financially flush right now, I’d definitely donate. Hopefully I will be in the new year.

    What really boggles my mind about all this (on top of the brutality and the spurious charge) is why the heck were U.S border police stopping him in the first place? Last time I checked, it was the jurisdiction of Canadian border officers to check people who are entering Canada. This little point makes me think that the whole thing was fishy from the moment they stopped Peter’s car for the search.

    Just my (admittedly grossly uninformed) observation. Perhaps a little beside the point as well.

  14. As a prosecutor I have to add my 2 cents. He probably shouldn’t panic yet. The US Attorney’s office will review the allegations filed by the border police and decide whether or not to actually charge Mr. Watts. They might decline to prosecute. It happens all of the time. Also, his “high powered” attorney probably knows the local US Attorney and will call and discuss the situation before any charges are filed.

    Of course, this is all speculation on my part but this is how it works in my area.

  15. I’ll chip in. I’d be lying if I said I was a fan of his, but that’s not really relevant.

    In my extremely limited experience, Canadian border guards are professional, polite, and even generally friendly. US border guards act like they assume you’re a drug-dealing terrorist and hope they can find anything to pretend that they’re right.

    (Also, what, no tasering? What self-respecting jackboot doesn’t carry a taser these days to shock down anyone not showing due deference?)

  16. Apologies, John. My point was that the truth usually falls somewhere in the middle of the two stories being told and right now we only have one of the stories. I’d be interested to know what the government has to say in this case.

  17. Can anyone explain why he was dealing with US border guards anyway?

    He was going from the States to Canada, so he should have been dealing with Canadian guards, AFAIK.

  18. Disclaimer: I don’t know Peter Watts or his work. He is very likely a wonderful human being and a talented writer. I wish him the best in getting out of this unfortunate predicament relatively unscathed.

    Having said that, I’m now going to jump in on the wrong side- as usual- and ask, why does this post and virtually every response so far seem to assume Peter’s innocence and jump to the conclusion that the border guards must be jack-booted thugs?

    Dude’s crossing the border in a rental car. That’s a flag for a search, pure and simple. Or maybe the guards just had a quota. Or were bored. Who cares? They were doing their job, and have every right to request a search of any car they please. Again, say it with me here: It’s Their Job.

    So Homeslice (probably) gets all righteously indignant and hops out of the car and demands to know why he’s being inconvenienced. Why would you do that? You know who does that? People with something to hide and self-important jackasses do that. More to the point, why would everyone reflexively rally to his defense for doing so?

    I (obviously) don’t have any idea what happened next, and it’s certainly possible (likely, even) that the guards totally overreacted by beating and pepper-spraying Peter. But what if he actually took a swing at one of them? It’s not outside the realm of possibility, and clearly makes the situation completely different.

    I’m just saying that it’s weird that people would default to sending money for the defense of someone wronged by The Man instead of assuming that he got himself into it.

  19. Hmm, I see I took way too long to write that post and didn’t adequately check before submitting it. Sorry for the cross-post, no Mallet required.

  20. @TheOtherKeith – The reason so many of us are defending him without knowing more is that nothing in his blogs or his writing or anywhere he communicates suggests that he would do anything to deserve a beating and arrest.

    I can definitely see him doing something stupid like mouthing off at a guard, but that happens ALL THE TIME at the border. It doesn’t make it right, but it doesn’t make a physical response like that necessary.

  21. The Other Keith:

    “why does this post and virtually every response so far seem to assume Peter’s innocence”

    Among other reasons, because we have a system of law here in the US which holds that people are in fact innocent until they are proven guilty.

    Again, let’s not wander down this particular conversational path. I’ve noted the information I have is the information I’ve shared so far. If and when I have more information, I’ll share. But we don’t need to derail into theoretical arguments about people’s dispositions to believe or disbelieve innocence on the part of the accused.

  22. The Other Keith @ 25:

    I’m not exactly assuming jackbootery so much as I’m playing the odds.

    Agreed that there may be — likely is — more to the story. That’s as good a reason as any to help Mr. Watts out with legal expenses.

  23. No worries Bearpaw, et al. I understand the desire to speculate on this stuff. But until I know more, I don’t really want to have a theoretical discussion about events that are really happening to someone I know. I hope that makes a bit of sense.

  24. @25: Because both Canada and the United States have legal systems that assume the innocence of the individual?

  25. I, for one, have assumed neither innocence nor guilt on Peter’s part — not knowing the man.

    I do have to wonder about the guards though. Were they, in fact, patch-carrying DHS employees, or were they contracted non-government rent-a-guards? Like the kind that used to work the gates at a lot of the posts and bases, until recently.

    That was an odd shift, frankly, following 9/11/01: the appearance of contracted rent-a-guards in the guard shack, instead of MP’s. And while nearly every rent-a-guard I’ve ever or dealt with, whether I was in or out of uniform, was generally cool, I’ve always thought that rent-a-guards who take no oath and are not bound by anything like UCMJ shouldn’t necessarily be acting in the stead of MP’s.

    Same for the border. If we must have tightened security, let it be done by people who belong to an actual police department of some kind, state or federal.

    As we’ve seen with organizations such as Blackwater, when you give civilians guns and an inflated sense of authority, combined with an inflated sense of immunity, bad things can happen. Sometimes, very bad.

    It will be interesting to see how this case develops. Hopefully Peter doesn’t hold it against America et al, though I am sure the border security wins no points with he or his close friends and family.

    Having said all of this, sometimes people can be complete and total assholes to anyone who even remotely resembles The Fuzz. Some people go out of their way to be antagonistic and confrontational. I hope Peter didn’t go this route. If he did… Eh, I can’t say I exactly feel sorry for him, especially if the guards in question were simply doing their jobs, and Peter was being a beligerent jerk.

    Again, none of us was there so none of us knows what happened. I am going to suspend judgment until more facts are released.

  26. Comment #24 is spot on. When returning to Canada, you deal only with Canadian border guards; there is no “exit” border check, only “entry” border checks conducted by the country you are entering.

    Something doesn’t add up here. The story is bogus as it stands now.

    Here’s the layout of the crossing:

  27. Canadian:

    “The story is bogus as it stands now.”

    No one appears to be disputing that Peter Watts was stopped on the US side by US border guards, so I’m not sure what you mean by “bogus,” here.

    Again, however, let’s stick to what we know as opposed to what we speculate.

  28. #24: In my experience as a frequent border crosser, it’s uncommon to be stopped on the US side before crossing into Canada but not unheard of. It’s happened to me a couple of times, although thankfully nothing as extreme as described here (and also not at the Blue Water Bridge, come to think of it). The questions they’ve asked have mostly been about drugs.

  29. All of You Yankee-Folk Please consider calling Your elected representatives about this, and ask them to take a position on the situation!!!
    Thank You Mr. Scalzi for what You’re doing!

  30. Wow. That’s a very raw account (from the link at 34). I don’t have anything to add.

    Whatever happened, he’ll definitely need legal help. And that costs. I can’t imagine what it would feel like to be in his spot.

  31. @Canadian, #36: According to Cory Doctorow, who’s made that crossing several times, there is a separate U.S. exit border check before one reaches the Canadian entry point.

  32. @36

    I’ve never been searched in Port Huron while crossing over into Sarnia. However, I have been stopped and quite thoroughly searched on the US side of the Niagra Falls crossing, while entering Canada.

  33. @36 Canadian:

    You are forgetting about something.
    For some time the definition of “border” extends quite some way into the US country.
    You don’t have to be at the actual border line to get into a “border”-search.

  34. When it says “one of the top criminal lawyers in Michigan,” I hope to Zeus it’s not Geoffrey Fieger!

    I’m a Michigan-licensed immigration attorney, (now in Indy), and know plenty of people who are versed in both immigration and criminal matters that he could use.

  35. @40: “Raw” doesn’t begin to do it justice. I think “useless” is a better term. Honestly, I’m not one to leap to the defense of the government, but I’d like to know what they have to say about this. If nothing else I’ll feel better about giving the man money if I know what he’s supposed to have done.

  36. Sadly, I’ve heard of too many similar incidents to not accept this at face value, at least at first. The first rule of dealing with these sorts, especially the low-end ones like border guards and TSA employees, is to say “yes sir” and “no sir” and nothing else.

    Too many of these protofascists thing “disrespecting authority” is a crime despite the Bill of Rights.

  37. Look, anyone who knows Peter knows that he questions things. He pushes back against what he perceives as crap, and yes, this is something that sometimes irritates the hell out of people. But, knowing Peter, he did nothing – nothing at all – that justified a physical response. And as a matter of fact, Peter has written his first note on this:

    But you know what? My father was a cop, my uncle was a cop, and my oldest friend is a cop, and I can emphatically state that none of them would believe that a bunch of them ganging up on someone for questioning them would be the right response. Indeed, even if Peter had taken a swipe at one of them, the proper response would be to drop him quick, cuff him, take him in and charge him. And then when it’s time to let him out, release him in a manner that is safe and courteous (here feel free to Google “Neil Stonechild” or “starlight cruise”).

    A retired police officer who worked with my father said to him a few years ago that he was worried about the new crop of recruits coming up, that the all seemed to get their inspiration from TV and movies. Me, I worry that their inspiration seems to be coming from somewhere even darker and harsher. Because this is not the only time that law officers have pulled this sort of stunt.

  38. @28: First, I’m one of those people who wants to know why someone going onto _Canada_ was being searched by _US_ guards at a road crossing. That’s an exit search. They have to go out of their way to do it at most entry/exit points; is this normal at this crossing? I honestly don’t know.

    Second, as a regular international traveller, I can count the number of _good_ experiences I’ve had with US customs on one hand. (And by “good experiences,” I mean pleasant and not having myself and group not hassled, harassed, delayed inappropriately for extra inspection, or just treated rudely.) I can count the number of _bad_ experiences I’ve had in this way with non-US customs (Canada, the UK, Japan, Thailand, a few UK overseas possessions) on one hand, as well.

    For the record, I’m an experienced international traveller, am always dressed appropriately whether travelling on business or pleasure, always have my documents and information ready and in good order. I carry a US passport. And I have _never_ “mouthed off” to – or even joked with – _anyone_ at a border crossing. I know how to do “business pleasant,” and I do it.

    Bluntly speaking, US customs is infamous in the G8 for being surly and looking for an excuse to swagger at you. My group and/or I have been delayed for extra inspection or questioning many times by US customs, and _never_ by _anyone else_. I’ve had my car drug-searched by dogs. I’ve done the sit-for-an-hour-while-nobody-will-tell-you-anything dance. I’ve had my airline luggage inspected without the theoretically-required TSA notice, and I’ve had things go missing. (These things go together – go fig.) I’ve had members of my party (also with US passports) detained for questioning while, again, _no one_ will tell you _anything_ about what’s going on. No one has ever been arrested (detained isn’t arrested), charged, or hurt – or, for the record, guilty of anything other than daring to cross a US boarder legally – but it’s something for which you should plan.

    I also have friends who will not come to the US anymore. If I see them at all, I see them in Canada. (I live very close to a border crossing.)

    Frankly, US customs is a disgrace, but nobody in power has any interest in doing anything about it. (Same notation for US immigration, btw. Absolutely shameful.)

    So this is why when some of us who travel internationally hear stories like this, we tend to believe them. This is _absolutely_ worse than usual – neither I, nor have any of my travelling companions, been struck, beaten, or maced by anyone at any crossing point – but, still. I can believe it.

  39. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict the reality of this situation is somewhere between the gestapo shit quoted above and what the feds say happened. I’m also going to wager Mr. Watts got mouthy. Good advice: Justified or not, don’t sass the cops. [emphasis added]

    I’m going to out on a limb here; you don’t know what you are talking about.

    More to the point, the first sentence (an automatic response that the truth must lie in the middle), and the last, (that deference to cops is to be practiced, as much for self-defense as anything else) is part of why we have this problem.

    Cops are paid to put up with abuse. They are trained to it. They are also in pretty much unique position; they are often the only arbitrer of law. If they don’t charge you with something, it basically never happened.

    But if they do, the assumptions (that something must have happened, or you wouldn’t have been charged) means the odds are one will be convicted, if not in the courts, then in the public eye (go look at the number 5 comment at Boing Boing, and the follow on; where he makes a bet it started because Peter shoved a cop who was trying to make him “back off”.

    I’m not much of a fan of slippery slopes, but saying one has to never enage in things a cop might think of as “Sass” is a way to make cops expect more and more automatic deference from the citizens who both employ them, and trust them, to fairly apply the law.

    They are not (or at any rate should not be allowed to be) above the rest of us. If anything they need to be held to higher account, because of the privilege they wield.

  40. I’d previously downloaded the Creative Commons copies of Peter’s books, and have now thrown him a donation for roughly the amount I’d have paid for them in paperback, with a note of support to let him know what it’s for and how appalled I am that he had to go through this.

    Here’s hoping it will be resolved as quickly and as painlessly as possible.

  41. See
    The Stanford prison experiment.
    “what we got here is failure to communicate”

    There’s a simple soloution to this problem. Digital video cameras are cheap and small. One in the hat and one on the gun. Everything an officer see is admisible, why not get it on video? People like to say if you haven’t done anything wrong why not cooperate with the police? Well it goes both ways, if the police aren’t doing anything wrong they shouldn’t mind haveing it on video.

  42. I wouldn’t bet that Dr. Watts “got mouthy”, despite his apparent reputation.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if his initial question was polite, and after that he got a bit more insistent.

    If we take his account at face value, and I see no reason not to, then I think the guards could have given him a polite response rather than ignoring him.

  43. What Terry Karney and others have said about not sassing the cops being BS. Complete displacement of blame and dangerous assumption of the rightness of authority. No one should be assaulted for talking. Off to boost signal on this.

  44. Oh wait, I lied.

    I got uppity at a US customs agent once, in 2003, crossing back from Toronto, when he hassled me and my partner about being married dykes. I suppose I should count myself lucky I wasn’t beaten and thrown into a cell for resisting verbal harassment.

  45. Had been planning to buy “Judge Sn” soon; decided to do so now to support Peter. I’ve been a fan of his for a long time and am horrified by what happened to him.

  46. I have made a donation.

    I visit the US (from the UK) far less often than I used to. I won’t say more here.

  47. Terry, you’re about 40 comments behind Mr. Scalzi in taking me to task for that particular poorly-worded comment. Way to keep up. Anyway, what I meant was this: be polite. It’s good advice in all situations.

  48. I think the assumption is that when it gets to the point of pepper spray, then clearly the border agents have alot to answer for. They pretty much have to bring some kind of charge just to cover their butts.

    There are two sides to the story. I think if someone gets out of the car when you don’t expect them to, that involves a higher level of awareness than being Mr. Polite Police officer. However, if you rush out and restrain the person then break out the pepper spray without any good reason then that’s excessive force. The only way that can even close to be justified is if he actually pulled a weapon of some sort, which he didn’t.

    Even the guy was “sassing the cops” they’re supposed to be trained to handle that stuff with a higher level of restraint than expected of ordinary citizens even, especially at the federal level. If you get to the point where you’re pepper spraying someone for a (supposedly) routine search, then you’ve failed at your job.

  49. Released without a coat into a winter storm.

    That’s wrong.

    I hope that point gets played for all it’s worth, because it doesn’t matter if you need to impound a coat— provide something. Winter is no joke.

  50. Can I just say that, the more SF author blogs I read, the more I see the name “Bill Schafer of Subterranean Press” popping up doing compassionate and classy and generally awesome stuff?

    Even if Sub. Press didn’t produce obscenely beautiful products, I’d still want to go buy everything the man sells just because he keeps doing stuff like this.

    Much luck to Peter, and I’ll try to donate whatever my pathetic bank account will allow.


  51. Firstly the Bluewater Bridge is the main way I visit the US.

    Secondly exit stops at the Bluewater Bridge are unheard of or new since late November. It is difficult to even get to US Customs from the Canada bound bridge lanes.

    Thirdly no one is allowed to cross the Bridge on foot.

    Fourthly the US Border post is staffed by Homeland Security officers not rentacops.

  52. John,

    Please pass along my thanks to Bill Schafer for doing this for Peter’s defense fund. I’ve just purchased “Judge Sn Goes Golfing” and next I’m planning on sending a PayPal donation as well.

    Is there some way of finding out whether or not 50 copies sold today as a result of Bill’s gesture?

  53. What Dara said. US immigration and customs has had a well-deserved reputation for years for being belligerent, dick-swinging and abusive. There is a complete disconnect between what the laws actually say and how they are enforced by the people carrying the guns.

    Yes, mouthing off and getting out of your car are dumb. No, that dumbth does not justify nor excuse a disproportionate, violent response.

    Like Dara I used to live in a border town. I also have friends who practice immigration law. The only surprising thing to me about this story is that he is not still imprisoned.

  54. The “don’t sass the cops” argument isn’t even slightly relevant. I don’t see how questioning police officers in any tone could be construed as a threat worthy of a charge of assault. This is a clear abuse of authority, for which the people who pay the officers’ salaries are accountable to the public.

  55. Ah, I’ve google-answered my own question. Although there aren’t even inspection booths when leaving the U.S., some policy enacted in the past few years has Customs now conducting aggressive outbound inspections as well as inbound. Good job, Bush and Obama!

    So Watts’ story actually doesn’t have any holes in it – he could well have encountered U.S. border guards while departing the U.S. Perhaps he was as surprised as I was to learn that the U.S. is now searching people leaving the country, and he was foolish enough to let his surprise show.

    Are there any other countries today that aggressively search outbound individuals? Any countries that aren’t dictatorships, anyway?

  56. #23, Eli Cash:

    “The truth usually falls somewhere in the middle of the two stories being told”

    In fact, no it doesn’t; that’s a vulgar logical fallacy.

    The truth is whatever the truth is. If there are two stories being told, it’s entirely possible that one of them is the truth and the other isn’t. It’s equally possible that one of the stories is false, and the other is false in a more extreme way, in the same direction as the first story.

    If you go around believing that “the truth usually falls somewhere in the middle of the two stories being told”, you’re a sitting duck for anybody who wants to con you into believing something. All they need to do is arrange for you to hear two stories whose in-between “middle” point is what they want you to believe.

    Wise up.

  57. MyName:

    Even the guy was “sassing the cops” they’re supposed to be trained to handle that stuff with a higher level of restraint than expected of ordinary citizens even, especially at the federal level.

    Absolutely. “Sassing” the cops, while in very bad form, should be totally a non-issue when it comes to their response. A cop who gets physical over sass needs to be tossed out on his ear and have criminal charges brought against him at the very least.

    However, if you rush out and restrain the person then break out the pepper spray without any good reason then that’s excessive force. The only way that can even close to be justified is if he actually pulled a weapon of some sort, which he didn’t.

    Not so much actually. Pulling a weapon is grounds for the cops shooting you. Pepper spray is a means by which physical confrontations, even unarmed ones, may be ended without a shooting or any other kind of permanent damage, not even bruising. If a subject uses physical resistance to legal commands (note that I’m by no means saying Mr. Watts did or didn’t, not even speculating here) pepper spray is one of the kinder things to use on him.

  58. Well, this moved up my order of Judge Sn and my preorder of God Engines; once I wrangle out household finances with my wife tonight, I’ll be sending off a separate help packet to the Kibble Fund. Also: spreading the word via the SF club I belong to and the associated e-mail list that reaches rather further than just the club. As has been said, unless Mr. Watts got physical, the response by the border people was far beyond the pale and should not stand.

  59. It’s good advice, as John has repeatedly urged, to avoid speculating about whether Peter Watts is innocent or guilty, and if guilty, what he is precisely guilty of doing. The comments also largely seem to overlook or discount the fact that if Mr. Watts can’t afford an attorney, one will be appointed to him at public expense. Because we do that in this country. It’s a good thing.

    Also, regarding the comment @ 61, “The only way that [using pepper spray] can even close to be justified is if he actually pulled a weapon of some sort, which he didn’t.” That’s false. Pepper spray is painful and obnoxious and debilitating. It’s supposed to be. And, importantly, it leaves no injury or damage behind. It is so much better than using, say, a baton to subdue a resisting person. (Please don’t trot out the hen’s-teeth-rare cases of people having fatal allergic reactions, either. Pepper spray saves lives and reduces injuries, both to suspects and officers.)

    The comment @ 51 goes out on a limb to accuse another poster of not knowing what the prior poster is talking about. A milder form of the same criticism could be made about the suggestion that “Cops are paid to put up with abuse.” Not exactly. They are paid to enforce the law. In the course of that work, they are the targets of frequent abuse. It’s a little like saying the postal worker is paid to deal with angry dogs. The fact that it happens does not mean it is part of the job description.

    Fact: people in cars pose a high risk to officer safety. Consider someone who, for example, gets out of a car in an agitated way and confronts officers. (I am not suggesting Mr. Watts did this, but am merely posing the hypothetical.) Suppose the officers have received information that makes them reasonably believe the car is involved in criminal activity. Suppose their commands that the person have a seat are ignored. Then what? I’ll tell you what: you’re sitting the back of a squad car, or worse, depending on what the person does next. When officers are performing their official duties, then individual liberties get momentarily reduced. It’s the cost of doing business. Yes, it sucks when it happens to you, but there is no jackbooted thuggery in that.

    Sure, there are inappropriate uses of force by police. It happens, and happens far too often, even in well-trained and highly-accountable departments. It is equally true that nearly every use of force by police is seen as excessive by the person on the receiving end. Big grains of salt are in order.

  60. “Don’t sass cops” is in the same category as “don’t flash your iPhone in the slums”. It isn’t about rights…it is about staying secure.

    The question of what is illegal is sadly orthogonal to the question of what keeps you safe, sound and without legal bills. We certainly should try to change that, but acting as if the world works in the high-minded way it should is a good way to get yourself in a shitload of trouble.

  61. One short follow-up:

    Patrick Nielsen Hayden, @ 71, takes issue with the proposition that “the truth usually falls somewhere in the middle of the two stories being told.” I think his criticism is a bit harsh. The word “usually” is important. It’s not so crazy to think that two interested parties, each telling their version of events, will tend to omit those details unfavorable to them. It might not even be a conscious effort. It’s what we all do, to some extent, as we live our lives.

    The original post, @ 23, presumes that both of the stories in question are being told by interested parties. That being so, it’s a different hypothetical than the one posed by Mr. Hayden — that two stories are being arranged to deliberately dupe the listener. Surely that’s not the case here.

    I do like the point that two stories might both be false, in the same way, with one more extremely so. But in the context of an adversarial system of justice, for example, that’s not generally the case.

  62. Ordered “Judge Sn Goes Golfing”.

    I don’t know if Peter was mouthing off to the cops or what, but mouthing off doesn’t deserve a beating.

    As an American, the reputation that the US gets from its border people really pisses me off.

  63. I agree with everyone who says that the “sass” argument is no excuse for border guards beating the shit out of an innocent man.

    However, I think there does need to be some investigation into how and why Peter got out of the vehicle, and how he was approaching and speaking to the guards.

    Hopefully there is video and audio that will surface, so that we’re not relying on guards-vs-author testimony alone. Because it’s a safe bet the guards will swear up and down that Peter was being “aggressive” and “threatening”, just to cover their asses regardless of what actually happened.

    In the Reserve, I have worked with a lot of corrections people, police, MP’s, etc. They can tell you, some people just have a problem with authority figures — especially authority figures they consider to be less intelligent than themselves.

    I remember my wife almost got herself arrested during a traffic stop once, because she clearly thought the cop was a dumbass — and he was — and she let him know it by the way she was speaking to him, her body language, etc. Very combative and dismissive. Rising voice, etc.

    The ticketing was bogus, she and I both knew that.

    She could have a) kept being confrontational and probably gone away with the cop in the back of his vehicle or b) what she actually did, which was keep her temper under control, then dispute the ticket before a judge, who tossed the ticket due to lack of merit.

    Cops and guards aren’t always right. Sometimes they need to be told they’re wrong. Ergo, the correctors need to be ‘corrected.’

    How you go about this, can determine whether you walk away with justice, or a black eye.

    It’s not necessarily fair, but it’s the way it is.

    Again, it will be interesting to see how the case develops. For Peter’s sake, hopefully achieves full vindication and — at the very least — some kind of formal apology from someone at DHS, if not actual compensation for damages, if it comes to that.

    For the guards’ sake, if Peter was genuinely causing a problem, they’d better hope they have solid proof — video and audio — with which to argue their cause for use of pepper spray and restraint. It’s probable that lots of people will make a very big stink about this, and it’s going to be a public relations fiasco for whoever was in charge at the crossing.

    In any case, the entire thing seems very unfortunate and very unnecessary.

  64. I hope Mr. Watts situation is resolved fairly and appropriately. Based on his comments (and the fact that I’ve enjoyed his writings) I will make a contribution to his defense.

    But people have to keep somethings in mind. Crossing the border is not an unconditional right. Persons crossing the border are obligated to report to border crossing stations and are obligated to cooperate in searches. Your 4th Amendment rights are curtailed, to a large degree. Another example is that persons owning property in the vicinity of the border are obligated to report certain activities. The vast array of rights that we enjoy within the U.S. proper is not fully implemented in the border zone.

    So while it may offend civil libertarian sensibilities (including my own), discretion IS the better part of valor in dealing with law enforcement along the border. There is a lot better chance they can get something to stick in that zone, then they would otherwise. And for those who don’t like that, take it up with your Congressman/woman.

  65. Well I’ve just ordered my copy of Judge Sn Goes Golfing, and I aim to donate more when I get my hands on more money. Who would have thought that working at McDonalds would do some good afterall?

  66. 1. Abuse of civil liberties is bad.

    2. Also, am I the only one who feels like Subterranean Press is always poised to swoop down to help in charitable causes? They’re really cranking it up to eleven with the whole “making the world a better place” thing.

    3. I really need to buy something from them when I get my next paycheck.

  67. I posted this on Making Light, but I thought I would copy it here:

    Every time I see things like this there’s only one thought that runs through my mind:

    The Terrorists have won.

    When you change society to “fight terrorism” you’re playing into their hands. Every time civil rights get eroded, society takes another step down the road toward becoming what the supporters of stricter controls and greater repression say they are fighting.

    What happened to Peter Watts was a victory for everyone who has ever called the US “The Great Satan” and a defeat for everyone who believes in the Bill of Rights.

  68. I happened to have enough in my PayPal account to pay for a copy of “Judge Sn,” which has been ordered. I hope it’s still in the “first 50” window…

  69. Um,wasn’t one of the reasons that the US didn’t get the olympics was the hassle with border crossing? I don’t know Dr.Watts,other than reading his books.Getting out of his car was dumb,anything other than abject submission runs a risk.And yes the US has gotten much worse in many ways, This may be yet another example.I am inclined to go with the Innocent until proven guilty.

  70. Getting out of the car and questioning the officer was ill-advised.

    But it in no way earns a beating. Physical force is to be used ONLY when there is a clear and present physical danger being posed by the suspect. One unarmed dude in a completely secured area with a load o’ security does not constitute that danger.

    Also, I dunno if it applies to border cops, but I do know that “sassing” regular cops is not against the law, and cannot be used to justify restraint, arrest or anything else. You can say anything you want to to a cop–call his mama a bloated sack of protoplasm–and he can’t (legally) arrest you. He can only arrest you if there’s probable cause to believe you’ve committed an actual crime.

  71. John said, “Being mouthy, even if it were the case, would not in itself justify a beating, pepper spray and an assault charge.”

    I got mouthy with a cop in my own yard on March 28th. I told him to get off my property, more or less. It got me arrested, beat up and charged with resisting arrest, a two year felony charge. The charges were dismissed on November 10. I have a great attorney, and that little drama cost a lot. You know what, anyone who hangs at BoingBoing knows cops do this kind of stuff all the time. America is way too close to the police state than most of us like to think. In Michigan, a cop does not have to give you a reason for why he’s arresting you. If you persist in asking why, you can then be charged with resisting arrest. My heart goes out to Peter. This must have really hurt him deep down. This will cost about 20 grand to defend.

  72. Anon @ 75

    The comments also largely seem to overlook or discount the fact that if Mr. Watts can’t afford an attorney, one will be appointed to him at public expense. Because we do that in this country. It’s a good thing.

    Well, yes, but. The thing about court-appointed representation is that it’s a bit of a crapshoot. If Mr. Watts gets a court-appointed attorney, they may or may not be a good attorney. That’s the thing about them being court-appointed; someone else picks ’em.

    So if he can afford to pay his own way — with a little help from his friends — it’d probably be a good idea to do so.

  73. I already ordered “Judge Sn Goes Golfing” long ago, but if I can find out how many copies Subterranean sells today I’ll match their donation, up to $900 for all 50.

  74. The more I hear stories like this, the more I wonder if I actually want to visit the US. I’m planning on visiting a friend in Washington next year, and even before reading this I was worried about customs. I shouldn’t be thankful that I am a non-threatening white Christian female, it shouldn’t matter that I have Middle Eastern stamps in my passport.
    I wish Mr Watts the best in defending this lawsuit. It must be made even more difficult by being in another country.

  75. Carl Rigney:

    As noted in the updated entry, all 50 copies sold and SubPress has already sent the money (rounded up to $1,000). Feel free to match any percentage of that, and thanks.

  76. Anon: It’s certainly true that adversarial judicial systems depend on the ability of judges and juries to assess the plausibility of competing claims. But we were engaged in a conversation, not a court proceeding. My point was and is that the assumption that the truth is “somewhere in between” is a sloppy heuristic, and one liable to lead you astray.

    Yes, when you have a clear set of contending claims, which is what courtroom procedure is designed to establish, it’s often wise to look at the range “in between.” Right now, given what we know? Not so much. We have what Peter Watts and his witnesses have said, we have the fact that he’s been charged, and we have a lot of people’s speculations about what the cops thought they were doing. Any point we hypothesize “in between” all this is a fantasy that we made up in order to satisfy our need for the world to be explicable.

  77. Last time I looked, there were 34 totally interior checkpoints (mostly down in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas) where those traveling within a state are treated like you’re entering from a foreign country, presumed hostile and guilty; you can play without being an international traveler. They really don’t like it when you reply to their barked “Papers.” with “Papieren, Bitte?” (“Papers, please” in German.) Just don’t do that ….

    Sorry I missed the sale; contribution on the way. You’ve done a good thing here, John & all. Thank you.

  78. Mr. Hayden (@ 94):

    Fair enough. I was proceeding on the assumption that although right now we don’t know much of anything, eventually there will be two competing versions. Until we know what the versions are, who can say? However, given that this is a matter in which felony charges have apparently been filed, the production of competing versions is likely, right? And, when that happens, the statement we’re debating — that the truth will usually be somewhere between two versions — will become not only relevant, but a reasonable (if kind of obvious and not that interesting) point.

    Thanks for the response, by the way.

  79. Last summer, I got stopped for speeding in Pennsylvania.

    I knew I was guilty. Absolutely. I never questioned the officer, turned over my license and registration, and paid my fine immediately when I received it in the mail.

    Now, what if I knew I’d been driving at 54 mph? Would I have been so contrite?

    No way!

    So I don’t think Peter Watts questioning the officer was the wrong thing to do.

    “Professional” law enforcement would have simply answered his question. Sadly, Peter did not meet up with professionals this week. I hope these people are fired.

  80. funny thing — I was just talking to one of our security guys about this, and he said he’s heard lots of stories about the border patrol in SoCal doing things like this, and that when he’s asked friends in the Feds, they say it’s pretty common, because there aren’t the usual checks and balances that you’d see in normal police agencies.

  81. Interesting that using hypothermia to stress “suspected terrorists” at Guantanamo is torture, but doing the same to Canadian citizens at the border is a “starlight tour.” Makes me sick.

    Well, actually, it makes me buy books I wasn’t planning to buy, since that’s more helpful (I did it before 5:30).

    What Peter is alleged to have done did not warrant the border guards putting his life at risk, and it’s a damn good thing he survived. It’s probably too much to hope for an investigation into the way they handled this case, but that’s what needs to happen.

    Whether he is guilty or innocent of the charges is irrelevant. Nothing he allegedly did warranted dumping him in a winter storm at night without transportation or a winter coat.

    Hopefully, he has another computer, somewhere, because they seized his laptop. If that’s his only machine, they’ve also hindered his ability to make a living as a writer.

  82. Anon @98, I seriously doubt that he has been officially indicted with a felony yet. The original arrest charge would still have to be reviewed by the prosecutor. He was “arraigned” in front of a magistrate in order to set bail and that’s all. His charges could still be rejected by the US Attorney. It’s way too early to know.

    I’m a state prosecutor and not a federal one but it’s still the prosecutor’s job to seek justice and make a final decision on the probability of guilt.

  83. Holy shite. This is hideous, and exactly the kind of crap that needs to be opposed. I wish I could help, but I’ve just been bankrupted by HM Customs and Excise.

    This is abysmal :( All I can offer is my shame and sorrow, and to Retweet.

  84. The Times Herald has a little news story on the event (link). Here is the rebuttal from the border officers, take with salt grains as needed:

    [QUOTE]Jones said Watts was crossing into Michigan from Point Edward when he was selected at random for a secondary Customs inspection. Watts exited his vehicle “angrily” and border officers began checking the black sport utility vehicle he was driving, Jones said.

    Border officers ordered Watts back into the vehicle, and when he refused, officers attempted to handcuff him, Jones said. At that point, Watts began to resist and pull away from the officers “and became aggressive toward officers,” Jones said.

    Jones said a border officer used pepper spray to subdue Watts. Jones said Watts “choked” an officer during the struggle. [/QUOTE]

  85. In a criminal proceeding in the United States, if you are listening to both sides and proceeding to make a decision by trying to find the truth somewhere in the middle, you are ignoring your jury instructions.

    To convict in a criminal court, the burden on the prosecutor is to prove the suspect is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” I don’t find that consistent with “weigh both sides and see who’s right.” So if there is any effort to prosecute–as several upthread have pointed out, that’s not a given just based on arraignment–I sincerely hope the jurors aren’t looking for some hypothetical (and frankly largely mythical) “truth that falls somewhere in the middle.”

  86. [quote]Jones said a border officer used pepper spray to subdue Watts. Jones said Watts “choked” an officer during the struggle. [/quote]

    So they attempted to cuff him because he didn’t want to get back in his car, he pulled his hands back not wanting to be arrested and then they pepper sprayed him….his hands rushed up to his eyes and in the process possibly hit an officers throat?

    Anyone else getting the same “feel” for what happened?

    Anywhoo, this is a day to be truly “proud” to be an American.

  87. What bothers me most is that there is even room for speculation: these are government employees acting as representatives of the US government in a capacity that is frequently disputed. These officers should be carrying cameras and microphones to document their every interaction with the public, and that information not only should be available on request, but should be produced immediately upon the receipt of a complaint or the filing of a criminal charge. Anything less than that is not only inviting abuse but abetting it.

  88. Note that the Port Huron Times-Herald story claims he was crossing into Michigan from Canada, which is the opposite of what we’ve heard from Watts and the witnesses to the event.

    And indeed, we know (and it can be corroborated) that he was in the US the previous several days; he had driven from Toronto to Nebraska (a rather epic drive in itself!) to help a friend move.

  89. OMG. You know, I wish everyone would take Scalzi’s advice and quit the speculation on the facts of the case. You’re not helping Watts regardless of your intentions.

    I know you guys care but really, it really might cause an issue that you guys can’t foresee.

    Okay, I’m going back to Julie Julia now and try not to read this any longer.

  90. As a guy that lives 20 miles from the border and probably crosses it at least a dozen times a month, I can honestly say that while I have met the occasional rude border guard, the majority of them have been perfectly reasonable people doing a sometimes interesting but mostly tedious job.

    That being said, I have personally witnessed dozens of acts of incidents involving border crossers (US and Canadian) ranging from petty rudeness to outright hostility. I think it mostly comes from the long waits that sometimes happens at the heavier trafficked points of entry. Interestingly enough, I have seen the same thing at the TSA checkpoints at Airports. People getting outright pissy and nasty because they had to stand in line and want to dump on the people during their jobs.

    I am not passing judgement on this case. I have seen too much in my professional life to discount tomfoolery by people in authority. However, don’t discount how vile regular ordinary normally reasonable people can be when they feel that they have been held up and the friction that occur at these places. The cops could have massively overreacted and been on a powertrip…or the guy could have been abusive and uppity to the cops and that degenerated to the situation that occurred. It is really up to the Courts to determine what happened.


  91. Agree with #107. I’m betting the video/camera-footage of the event never gets released. In the interests of “national security”, I’m sure.

    Here’s hoping the charges are dropped pronto.

  92. And Peter Watts has responded to the story (link):

    [QUOTE]Thanks to whoever posted the link to the Times-Herald story. I have three comments about the allegations therein. Firstly, the story claims that I was entering the US, not leaving it: this is empirically false. Secondly, I find it interesting that these guys characterise “pulling away” as “aggressive” behavior; I myself would regard it as a retreat. And thirdly, I did not “choke” anyone. I state this categorically. And having been told that cameras were in fact on site, I look forward to seeing the footage they provide.[/QUOTE]

  93. Anon @ 75

    For many of the posters here this isn’t about siding with one group of strangers or another. These are people who know Peter Watts and believe that “assaulting a federal officer” is entirely out of character. For them, no grains of salt (large or small) are necessary.

    They’re not rushing to judgment, they’re being good friends.

  94. In his rebuttal (Linked @ 112) he notes that he didn’t start the campaign.

    I was watching an old show about building the transcontinental railroad and after it finished I caught a bit of the story about the MIT guys finding the ten balloons scattered across the country in less than a day. It seems silly, but that sort of thing is still mind boggling.

    I wonder what it feels like to come out of a challenging experience (whatever his role is ultimately determined to be) and find that in a small matter of time social networking media has been engaged to capture thousands of supporters and at least a few thousand dollars. And be the recipient of that sort of support.

    I’ve been touched a few times in my life to have friends standing by to help me out of a jam. I think the overwhelming support might just go right past heart warming into full on freak out.

  95. Canadian citizen facing two years in an American jail? No, he’s not. He’s a Canadian citizen facing being on Homesec’s list of unwanted for the rest of his life, regardless of whatever the outcome of various legal proceedings.

    Welcome to the land of the free (to beat and pepperspray whoever we want whenever we want) and the home of the brave (as long as we have all the guns). Imagine what would happen to people trying to enter the U.S., and not leave it.

    However, I remain confident that justice will be served as soon as the camera footage is made public – I’m sure that the camera footage will be forthcoming, right? Just like in any incident where DHS proves its case? Right?

  96. Police roughing up somebody because they weren’t completely obsequious… not hard to believe at all. That kind of crap happens all the time here in Dallas, and I’ve heard of it happening alot at the border with Mexico. (along with “minutemen” shooting and killing immigrants crossing the border without provocation, and getting away with it)

    The Border Patrol are glorified bouncers. They are not a highly trained, educated police force like the FBI. The kind of people that join it are the same kind of thugs that work as correctional officers in prisons.

    I hope Mr. Watts has a stellar attorney, and I hope that the government of Canada catches wind of this and exerts a little bit of influence on his behalf.

    Even here in the suburb where I live, where the cops are almost universally polite during traffic, stops (unlike the city cops 20 minutes away), I always practice observant silence and obedience. Regardless of who is just, self-interest tells me to cooperate with whatever they say, and make note of anything untoward they do so I can report it and challenge it later. But there in the heat of the moment.. you should do what the guy with the gun and the badge says. It’s just the smart thing to do.

  97. anon@77: It’s not so crazy to think that two interested parties, each telling their version of events, will tend to omit those details unfavorable to them.

    yeah, sure, try that with “global warming is real” versus “global warming is bunk”. Or how about “Iraq has WMD’s” versus “no, they don’t”. Or how about “America is the land of the free” versus “America imprisons people indefinitely without charge”.

    What those examples should demonstrate to anyone sane is that one of the “interested parties” is a flat out liar, and the other is telling the truth.

    Party1: 2+2=4
    Party2: 2+2=8

    By your rule: 2+2=split the difference=6

    So, uh, no, that doesn’t work.

    All you’ve done is make a very complex argument for saying nothing more than the old “Well, if he didn’t do anything wrong, why were the cops talking to him?” reply.


  98. the same kind of thugs that work as correctional officers in prisons.


    I knew it would eventually get to this. Blanket smearing of whole professions, because one man had a terrible experience at the hands of a few.

    I realize it’s easy — when tempers flare — to begin painting with a too-broad brush, especially where the folks with badges are concerned. But really, as someone who has worked quite a bit with “the same kind of thugs that work as correctional officers in prisons,” I feel obliged to point out that not everybody who works the jails is a loose cannon, or a brownshirt.

    One particular individual — of whom I am thinking right now — is a devout father, husband, Reservist, and happens to be in Afghanistan on yet another deployment. He’s highly intelligent, a wonderful fellow to be around, and goes out of his way to avoid doing anything physical or otherwise harmful to the prisoners under his care. Even when they’re some of the most nasty, beligerent people you can imagine.

    You would happily invite this man into your home and let him have a holiday meal with you. He is that kind of person. Not a cruel or mean bone in his body.

    Please don’t blame him — or others like him — just because he’s a convenient target. Save your blame and anger for the individuals directly involved in this particular case.

    Is that too much to ask?

  99. ———–
    geekygirl602 @ 102:

    Fair enough. I was jumping ahead in the process, engaging in the hypothetical wherein charges had been filed and the adversarial system had fully ramped up. Once that happens, positions and narratives surrounding the event tend to harden (though cases can certainly head sideways), with the less-favorable details minimized. (Note that I’m not suggesting prosecutors hide unpleasant facts. To the contrary, the best prosecutors ackowledge them head-on and deal with them as best they can. But in a closing argument, each attorney will typically emphasize the parts of the case which favor their side. That’s advocacy for you.)

    punkrockhockeymom @ 105:

    Jury instructions in my state tell jurors that they may believe all, part, or none of any witness’s testimony. There is no requirement that they accept or reject either side’s theory of the case in its entirety. And a guilty verdict is still proper even if the prosecution’s case has some gaps, as long as those gaps are not of such a quality that they leave the jurors with a reasonable doubt regarding the defendant’s guilt.

    Also, In determining whether the prosecution has proved the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, they are expressly instructed to weigh the evidence. Conflicts in testimony are common — I’d say unavoidable, given that different people can and do honestly recall details differently. It happens in every criminal trial. Therefore, some amount of weighing (or evaluating, or considering, or whatever term you’d like) is part of the process.

    PalookaJoe @ 114:

    Great point. Understood, and no disrespect intended to anyone’s friend.

    GregLondon @ 118:

    I love a good “fail” tag.

    Yes, there are true statements and false ones. True statements do not become less true when confronted with a baseless denial. “Is not” + “Is so” =/= “Might be.” I get that.

    In determing whether law enforcement has used excessive force (which appears to be the question under discussion here), the answer is usually going to be slippery. There are times when police lie. There are times when those who are arrested lie. Those are not the typical path these cases take. Now, you might reject that premise out of hand, in which case maybe there’s nothing left to talk about. But in my experience, what is more common is that through the lens of hindsight, and with the benefit of calmly analyzing how a confrontation unfolded, actions get exaggerated or minimized, with the course of events being reshaped to fit the desired outcome.

    Use of force cases are particularly prone to this phenomenon. In just about every case, you can look back at some of the police actions and at the very least say, “Hmm, that wasn’t the best police work.” And you can usually look at the suspect’s actions and say, “Hmm, I can see why that might have been misunderstood as threatening.” Often you can make much bigger criticisms of the actions of one side or the other, or both.

    I’m speaking in generalizations, because that’s all we have. John’s admonition not to speculate on details is on the money, and since Mr. Watts is well-regarded by so many, I wish him the best. But I never said that he must have been doing something wrong or else the police would not have talked to him. At most, what I have said is that in this case both parties have a reason to shade the truth, and may be doing so, consciously or not.

    But, you know, maybe that’s another fail?

  100. Thank you, Messrs. Scalzi and Schafer, for your diligence and generosity. Though not a fan of Dr. Peter Watts per se, did my bits in support of his anticipated needs.
    For the record: I yearned to own a copy of JSGG before this reprehensible charlie-foxtrot came to light. Let’s just say that you both provided another reason to do the right thing.

    One more thing: FREE THE SQUID!

  101. Anon @75

    “It’s good advice, as John has repeatedly urged, to avoid speculating about whether Peter Watts is innocent or guilty, and if guilty, what he is precisely guilty of doing. The comments also largely seem to overlook or discount the fact that if Mr. Watts can’t afford an attorney, one will be appointed to him at public expense. Because we do that in this country. It’s a good thing.”

    That is a fairly rosy picture that one paints of legally aided clients.

    In actual fact, what the state considers “can’t afford” and what people in the real world considers “can’t afford” are very, very different.

    I speak from experience; I have 18 years in a legal aid clinic representing poor people. I have had folks who have had modest incomes with legal problems that I could not help because according to Legal Aid, the could “afford” a lawyer. In actual fact they could not and if they proceeded with a legal action, they either did it unrepresented or they paid lots for a solicitor that they really, really could not afford.

    I work in Ontario which has a relatively generous system. I suspect that Michigan, with all it’s fiscal problems, is not so generous. A person of modest means who is wrongfully arrested by the police would likely be financially ruined (or at least very hard pressed) defending themselves.

    I have sent my donation.


  102. Chris@110: I think we all inevitably believe that our experiences are typical. Back when I lived within a 30 minute drive of the border and crossed it frequently, I was never able to convince a custom official of my US citizenship without documentation. This was pre-9/11. Back then, US citizens didn’t need a passport to go back and forth between the US and Canada. Almost everyone else I knew simply declared they were US citizens and moved on. (My parents, in their wisdom, insisted I get my passport as soon as I could drive.)

    I, on the other hand, was regularly subjected to harsh questioning. They scrutinized minor details of my trip. They searched my car. Most of the time, the way they asked for documentation was merely to thrust their hand out at me, assuming that I’d know what they want. (Of course, I did.)

    Now, they have never strip me of my clothes. They have never physically assaulted me. Compared Peter Watts, I’ve gotten off incredibly lucky. Compared to you, Chris, I must have gotten that “occasional rude border guard” nearly every time I crossed the border. Honestly, I’ve never had a border crossing experience where they didn’t suspect that either I was an illegal alien or smuggling illegal aliens. (The latter would be the cases when they wanted me to prove I owned my car then they searched it.)

    This shouldn’t need to be said, but my parents raised me to be utterly obsequious to border guards. I never raised my voice. I answer their questions in my perfectly idiomatic and accent-free English. I do everything they ask me to do calmly and politely. And yet, I always get the harsh treatment. Everyone else would simply drive through. I’d get interrogated. There is no escalation. They start off brusque, suspicious and aggressive.

    In other words, my treatment wasn’t because I didn’t cringe enough in front of them. I do have to admit I was treated better when I wasn’t crossing alone. Then I merely got singled out.

    Now, I don’t doubt that you have nearly always had a courteous, professional experience with border guards. I just wanted to you see that it’s not unreasonable to think that for someone else, the courteous, professional experience was the exception. And I will admit to the occasional courteous, professional experience, with the caveat that they always asked for proof of citizenship back when it wasn’t mandatory to do so and they did it by thrusting their hand at me, expecting me to just know what they wanted.

  103. anon@120: At most, what I have said is that in this case both parties have a reason to shade the truth, and may be doing so, consciously or not.

    What you said was little gems like this:

    anon@98: And, when that happens, the statement we’re debating — that the truth will usually be somewhere between two versions — will become not only relevant, but a reasonable (if kind of obvious and not that interesting) point.

    That right there is circular logic. You’ve proven nothing. All you did was handwave a lot of words around and then end with the conclusion you wanted. There was no argument anywhere in your post that logically supports the idea that the truth must be “somewhere in between” the stories of the cops versus Peter Watts.

    That was your original assertion, that the truth must be somewhere in between. You don’t come right out in say it, but implicit in every statement you’ve made is that Peter Watts must be lying, even if only subconsciously.

    What you’ve done is assert what appears to be one of your personal little adages that you’ve taken a shine to: the truth must be somewhere in the middle. And then you went and applied it to a particular situation, not knowing a damn thing about the facts yourself. And when called on it, you stick to your assertion and defend it by repeating the implication that Peter Watts must be lying so that your cute little adage can be true.

    Oh, it’s a cute little adage, to be sure, the truth is out there somewhere, in between what everyone is saying, and all it takes is a seeker of the truth like you to find it and tell everyone else where it is.

    So, once again, fail.

    If you want to stop failing, then stop defending that which you have no proof to assert. Stop implying that Peter Watts must be lying when you don’t have a clue what really happened. All we know is what both sides are saying, and you have no special knowledge that allows you to imply that both must be lying. You’re doing nothing but speculating, hiding behind circular logic to try to justify the speculation.

    kasrkin@117: The kind of people that join it are the same kind of thugs that work as correctional officers in prisons.

    Speaking of speaking the truth, can we dispense with the blanket statements about all cops, border patrol, and other state officers? It’d be nice if for once an individual instance of a cop behaving badly didn’t always devolve into “all cops are thugs” type comments.

  104. Ah. So peter wrote for Homeworld. That makes this somewhat personal (loved that game). Definitely can spare a few dollars for that.

  105. The only thing that depresses and angers me more than hearing about shitty police actions like this is hearing about all the people that have been conditioned to accept said shitty police actions. Their subtle and not so subtle methods of automatically blaming the victim simply infuriate me.

  106. Homeworld is one of my favorites. Although I found Homeworld 2 more polished, smooth, fun, and epic. Did Peter write for 2 also?

    As far as blanket statements about cops… other than the unusually polite local town police that we have here, my experiences with law enforcement agents during “routine” stops and searches has been universally negative, so I will continue to make blanket statements about them and consider them to be (mostly) thugs. I have insufficient evidence to think otherwise.

  107. @126: I think there’s a big difference between conditioning and learning. Conditioning is involuntary. In the case of border crossers such as Mr. Chu, his interest is in crossing the border, not creating a civil rights case, justified though he may be in seeking that case.

    I personally have gotten out of several tickets simply by saying to the cop, “yes, you’re right, I screwed up, and when I realized I was wrong, I tried to make it as safe as possible as fast as possible.” They’re so used to dealing with a hostile public that someone who treats them as a professional doing their job for a good reason gets respect.

    Realize that I do this, not because I am conditioned to respect authority, but because I want to get out of the ticket if possible. There is a difference.

  108. John Chu @ 123 brings up a point that I was thinking as I heard about the incident and read the comments about it here and elsewhere. We are always hearing African-Americans complaining about treatment like this from law enforcement. (I assume that other non-white people face the same thing, but we don’t hear about it as much.) Mr. Chu points out that he is always treated rudely at border crossings. In fact, his parents trained him how to avoid serious trouble crossing the border. His polite behavior doesn’t make the officials more pleasant, but it keeps him from being beaten and jailed. If this incident were about a person of color crossing the border, especially the Mexican border, would we be as outraged? Would we even hear about it? I suspect this is an ongoing, systemic issue with the border patrol and police in general.

    For the record, I am a white female from Southern California. For some reason, the issue of race relations is presenting itself to me more and more recently. I’ve been aware of the difference between the way white people and people of color are treated at the Mexican border for decades. The only thing that surprises me about the Peter Watts story is that he is a white guy who was crossing into Canada.

  109. GregLondon @ 124 said: “What you’ve done is assert what appears to be one of your personal little adages that you’ve taken a shine to: the truth must be somewhere in the middle.”

    I think what this might boil down to is the idea that people make poor witnesses, especially when emotional states are elevated into the fight or flight zone. For years psychologists have been demonstrating how weirdly unreliable human memory is by having people self-report on what they just saw (usually a vid or staged incident with shouting and screaming and fear). So, the “truth in the middle” thing is a way of saying that someone who hasn’t witnessed the event from inside the head from each person involved, is at a loss to know the truth. Sometimes a video camera can make things very clear, and in my own experience with the cops, they simply lied and said they didn’t have the video. Cory Doctorow really helped educate me on the issue of bad police behavior. You’re one of his, aren’t you?

  110. For whoever is interested in going to Michigan to protest, I’m volunteering to be the contact point for US caravans, particularly ones going North from or through SW Ohio.

    No event is scheduled at this time, but, if you would like to stay informed of events or be included in carpooling, send me an email at

    Feel free to post the above email address and its purpose (coordinating US protest caravans) far and wide.

    Please be open to altering events based on requests for prudence from Dr. Watts’s legal team.

    ,Dora P.

  111. One of my acquaintances wasn’t allowed back into the country from visiting relatives in Canada, even though his visa was really quite valid. A few days of detention was involved. They didn’t believe when his company—headquartered in the US *and* one of the most famous tech companies—said that he worked for them. This was years after 9/11.

    Currently he works in the China office, because that ended up being easier.

    So yeah. I tend to believe Peter Watts and have sent him money, along with I think quite a lot of SF fandom. I hope his situation works out better than that of my acquaintance.

  112. So, the “truth in the middle” thing is a way of saying that someone who hasn’t witnessed the event from inside the head from each person involved, is at a loss to know the truth.

    No, not really. It’s a way of being contrary without actually having to take a point of view.

  113. I see a lot of don’t blame the officers for doing their job, this being a representative example:

    Please don’t blame him — or others like him — just because he’s a convenient target. Save your blame and anger for the individuals directly involved in this particular case.

    Is that too much to ask?

    The problem with this reasoning is that he is not such a nice guy if he helps cover up wrongdoing by fellow officers. That’s the nub of the problem: it’s not that police behave badly on occasion, or that there are villainous little pockets of corruption. It’s that they seem to be relatively immune from prosecution, even in cases where their conduct is not just unlawful, but egregiously unlawful. And of course, when called on it, they start spouting off about the “thin blue line” and how us “civilians” have no idea what it’s like being a cop.

    No. The problem is that cops seem to get way to much of a free pass for bad behaviour.

  114. Sandi @130 sums up my sentiments. I was more surprised that this happened to a white man than that it happened at all. Nobody from the outside looking in can make a definitive call as to what happened during this altercation, but we can certainly all imagine realistic scenarios where this sort of thing could go down.

    I remember in college being able to drive from Seattle to British Columbia for the day, with little more than a wave and a brief declaration of citizenship to get back into the US. Those days are long gone. I recently visited Waterloo in Ontario. Coming through US customs to return home, there was a palpable chill, with a note of thinly veiled hostility, to the proceedings that I don’t remember ever encountering before — not even during a trip to Montreal six months after 9/11. And I’m white, and a US citizen. (The Canadian border guards were lovely, which made it all the more noticeable.)

    It was one incident, and purely anecdotal; I don’t presume to tar all border guards with the same brush. But I shudder to think how those particular guards would have treated a person of color who didn’t act with sufficient subservience. It seems that electing our first black president is actually heightening racial tensions, rather than abating them.

    At any rate, best wishes to Peter Watts, and may he be exonerated in full.

  115. TheGrayArea: I think what this might boil down to is the idea that people make poor witnesses, especially when emotional states are elevated into the fight or flight zone. For years psychologists have been demonstrating how weirdly unreliable human memory is

    Do you think you’d remember assaulting a police officer? Maybe you assaulted an officer this morning, and you just forgot. Psychologists have been demonstrating this for years, so it must be true that you assaulted a cop at some point in your life and just plain forgot.

    Uh, no.

  116. Mr. Watts may have a problem. Pulling away, or possibly retreating as he puts it, could well sustain a resisting arrest conviction. Based on my ancient (and possibly out of date) criminal law class, Mr. Watts would be guilty if: 1) Mr. Watts knew the person attempting to handcuff him was a police officer; and, 2) physically opposed or obstructed the officer. Opposition or obstruction does not mean a full on assault. Twisting, pulling or retreating would constitute an offense, if done to prevent a known law enforcement officer from making the arrest.

    Once a person has “resisted” then officers can use non-deadly force to restrain the resister. They will pepper spray, etc., as they have no obligation to engage in a push pull match or to say “pretty please may I put the cuffs on you.” In some jurisdictions, the act of resistance also counts as an assault on the officer, as no attack need occur, only that the officer was apprehensive of an attack.

    He probably would have been better off if he had simply gone limp and let them deal with his dead weight, as many protestors do. Though its been many years and I’m not sure of even that true anymore.

    In the old days of this country (pre-1960s) it was in some states a defense to resisting arrest that the citizen had actually committed no crime. The theory was then that if no crime was committed, then the attempted arrest itself was illegal. In the name of officer safety, law and order, etc, those rules have been changed.

  117. Oh, and if Mr. Watts has anyone he speaks to on this board, you might want to recommend that he stop talking about the incident until he clears it with his lawyer. His out of court statements can be used against him and he should tread carefully until his case is fully vetted.



  119. Hate to tell you guys this, but there is video of the incident, and it supports the customs guys. Someone with a doctorate ought to have enough sense not to start a fight with feds. He actually got off pretty light.

    I knew from at least the fourth grade that you never throw the first punch, and living in Michigan, I’ve known since about that same time that your rights are abrogated at the border and you don’t screw around when crossing.

    Customs has operated under an exemption to the search warrant rule under the Fourth Amendment since 1789. They’re looking harder at things now than they were in the 1970s, but they’ve always been able to search you and your vehicle. I’ll bet they were unpopular bastards during Prohibition, too.

    Anyway, too bad about all the money you donated without actually seeing the evidence first.

  120. Eli Cash@8:
    Good advice: Justified or not, don’t sass the cops.

    Here’s some good advice for law enforcement officers: If you can’t handle “sass” without resorting to common assault, find another job where your lack of self-discipline and impulse control doesn’t matter. Preferably something in a very isolated part of the world, far far away from other human beings.

    Meanwhile, I don’t think I’ll be spending my next overseas vacation stimulating the American economy. I can get all my uniformed arsehole needs satisfied right here at home.

  121. Juniper,

    Hate to tell you guys this, but there is video of the incident, and it supports the customs guys.

    Do feel free to link it here, then; I am sure that everyone will want to see it.

  122. Indeed. If you’ve seen it, Juniper, than it means that it’s available for anyone to see. If you haven’t seen it, then it means either you’re taking someone else’s word for what’s on the tape (i.e., you’re carrying on speculation), and that person’s assessment may or may not be accurate, or you’re simply a troll.

    Produce the video, please. Otherwise, try not to be an ass.

  123. [Deleted because two troll attempts don’t make a substantive post. Dear Bill: piss off, why don’t you. There’s a lad — JS]

  124. Sorry, it’s not up to me to mess with this case in that fashion. Time will tell.

    John, I respect you and your writing a lot, but you’ve made some logical fallacies in your post that you should reconsider. Not the least of which is the fact that you and pretty much everyone else here are taking Mr. Watts’s word for it, and given his emotional state and his predisposition to believe the government is Out To Get Him, his account may also not be accurate.

  125. Juniper:

    “Sorry, it’s not up to me to mess with this case in that fashion. Time will tell.”

    Oh, bullshit. If you were genuinely concerned with “not messing up the case,” you wouldn’t have made your initial post about what the tape shows. Spare me the nonsense.

    Also, re: “logical fallicies”: Also bullshit. I said I didn’t know any more than what I had been told, and that I was inclined to believe Peter, based on the fact I know him. Aside from that I’ve not speculated publicly nor have I suggested others do so.

    Verdict: You’re trolling, Juniper. Do it somewhere else.

  126. OK, I’m gone. I’m not a troll, though. I’m really disappointed in you and the science fiction community in general. You’re being sadly naive about all this.

  127. You know, given a choice between helping someone I consider a friend and disappointing some random person who gives every appearance of trolling, I know which of these I’m going to pick.

  128. I just hope this doesn’t become another crosscountry “ours is better” flamefight. Border patrol on both sides are just absolute…insert derogatory phrase here.

    Just last week, Canadian border patrol detained my friend, an Ontarian DJ and ADR talent who looks dark French/vaguely Arabic (she is not Arabic at all), on suspicion of hiding cocaine in her body cavities. As a result of the strip search and her passport confiscated, she missed her flight.

    In 2006 I faced constant interrogation from both sides as to why I was only going to Canada for a long weekend (answer: to get my stuff, as I hadn’t gotten it all when I left university in Newfoundland). Trying to get back home, I was forced to miss my flight because RCMP decided a 24 year old American national with valid passport and Florida driver’s license was a 16 year old runaway from Halifax. It took them ages to run my documents and while I didn’t have to wait anywhere but the terminal, where could I go? They jumped on me when I tried to check in and they took all my identification. No apologies were rendered for making me wait 8 hours in a tiny terminal with next-to-no-services for the next flight to Boston. And I very nearly got arrested, I’m sure, due to the absolutely evil look I shot the U.S. guard at the Halifax airport once I was finally allowed to leave the smegging country when he dared to ask me why I spent so little time in Canada…I haven’t been back since.

  129. I just read your blogpost. It’s one side of the story.

    Where’s the other side? I’ve been over the borders numerous times and never had a problem with USBP.

    SOMETHING set them off.

    Why do you react so readily to a one-sided story, posted for the purpose of raising $$ for the one telling the story? Don’t you think the whole thing is self-serving? Told to make the ‘victim’ look as good as possible, but to make the ‘evil perpetrator cops’ look bad?

    And you folks ‘pony-up’ the bucks without question?

    I mean, maybe – just MAYBE, the guy did something to deserve scrutiny and then mouthed off or made some threatening gesture or remark.

    I don’t have a horse in this race. I don’t know the alleged ‘vic’ or the alleged ‘perps’. I just think we need to step back and try to be objective, don’t y’all?

  130. Where’s the other side? I’ve been over the borders numerous times and never had a problem with USBP.

    SOMETHING set them off.

    No, not really.

    Something may have, but there’s more than enough instances of security people behaving badly to expect that there HAS to have been something to set them off. Radley Balko has documented countless incidents of unprovoked violence performed by authority figures.

    Whether or not this happened in this case has yet to be determined, but you’re extremely naive and ignorant of reality to think that there’s necessarily “another side.”

  131. Julia: I just hope this doesn’t become another crosscountry “ours is better” flamefight. Border patrol on both sides are just absolute…insert derogatory phrase here.

    It’s already become two things, my country is better than yours and law enforcement (or border patrol) suck. I’ve had some bad experiences with cops myself, one that was particularly scary, but I can’t bring myself to say cops suck.

  132. Mark Pitrone:

    So it’s “objective” to assume that Peter Watts is a liar, a money grubbing scam-artist and must have done something to earn a smack down?

    Does the whole idea of the presumption of innocence until proven guilty when accused of crime register with you?

    With all due respect, there are many adjectives I’d apply to our host, “gullible” and “knee-jerk cop basher” not among them.

    Back on planet Earth, it’s the time of years when the world is full of shop clerks who’d like to bitch-slap the next customer who gives off even a hit of a crap attitude. Dare I say it, a good proportion of them might even have some something to deserve it. Just don’t expect much sympathy from me for people who enter into high-stress occupations they can’t handle.

  133. Craig,

    I do not assume that the poster is lying. But I also don’t assume that he is telling the truth. I assume that he is human, and will tell the story to make himself look as good as possible without actually lying.

    Presumption of innocence goes both ways. Where is it for the BP agents?


    you said: “Whether or not this happened in this case has yet to be determined, but you’re extremely naive and ignorant of reality to think that there’s necessarily “another side.””

    You are correct – it has ‘not yet been determined’, and there should be every bit as much consideration of the presumption of innocence on the part of the BP agents as there should be for the alleged vic.

    Bottom line = we don’t KNOW. We need to hear BOTH SIDES to make a proper, informed and right judgment.

    Conclusion jumping is the only exercise a lot of folks get.

  134. Being people, both sides could be telling the truth – from thier own point of view! No lying is neccesary whatsoever. I also find it likely there is a ‘somewhere in the middle’ point that is more accurate.

    For example, what to the BP agent seemed like an aggressive suspect who ‘tried to choke me’, from Watts POV could have been an arm that flailed involuntarily during a struggle, bumping the agent in the throat, and mentally ‘discarded’ as unimportant by Watts brain, thus ‘never happened’. Perception is everything, and our brains lie to us all the time, omitting some items and filling in others that never happened. (for anyone who wants a good intro on how the brain works, try reading ‘Welcome to Your Brain’, by S. Aamodt, Ph.D., and S Wang, Ph.D. – it’s an informative, but fun and easy read)

  135. This sucks. Watts is such a good guy and no one deserves this, especially him. It makes me so sad for him and my country. What the fuck, for lack of better words.

  136. mark@163: Have the BP agents been charged with a crime? If not, then what are we presuming them innocent of? Also, as far as I can tell, they have not disputed that they did, in fact, pepper spray and engage in a “physical altercation” with Peter Watts.

    What I find interesting though is the idea that if Peter Watts merely “mouthed off or made some threatening gesture or remark”, that’s sufficient justification for pepper spraying followed by physical assault. IMHO, some angry words is not nearly enough justification for physical violence in return. As far as I’m concerned, even if Peter Watts did the worst that anyone has accused him of so far, he still didn’t deserve the treatment he received and he still does deserve a vigorous defense.

    And this doesn’t even take into account those who actually know him and how they think he might have reacted. All things considered, I trust the speculations of those who actually know the man more than that of someone who is a stranger to him.

    As an aside, I also find it interesting that jumping to conclusions is apparently verboten, but baseless speculation of what Peter Watts might have done is an absolutely fine thing to do. What evidence do you have that Peter Watts’s experience of the border patrol is anything like yours? If you have none, then “I’ve been over the borders numerous times and never had a problem with USBP.” is a pretty irrelevant statement. Like I said above, we all assume that other people’s experiences are like ours and we really shouldn’t do that.

    For example, it’s apparently policy now that the border patrol check all rental cars. If you’ve never crossed the border in a rental car, then Dr. Watts was clearly having a very different experience from yours from the get go.

    If you don’t want to contribute to his legal defense fund, don’t. However, I don’t see the value in shouting “we should wait for all the facts” while simultaneously speculating baselessly on what Dr. Watts might have done. In fact, those two actions seem to contradict each other.

  137. “Like I said above, we all assume that other people’s experiences are like ours and we really shouldn’t do that.”

    But isn’t that what you are doing when you cast aspersion upon the statements about crossing the border all the time and not having a problem? Your comments lead me to believe that you are guilty of the thing that you are accusing others…but that being said, I do raise my hand and claim to be guilty. I believe that if you obey the rules (which are clearly posted) and are courteous and act like an adult, 99% of the time you are not going to have a problem at the border no matter which way you are crossing or how many times your vehicle is chosen to be searched (happens to me about 1 in 5 times I guess). Crossing the border use to be simpler and I don’t agree with all of the measures and searches put in place or like the occasional long waits (I have waited up to 45-60 mins at the Thousand Islands Crossing), but I can’t control that I can just control how I react to it.

    I don’t assume that Dr. Watts is guilty or deserving of the beat-down. I have witnessed a US Border Cop way way way overreact to a tourist getting out of a car and going to the trunk to get something out of it (mostly because the man was in his late 60s at least and moving so incredibly slow that I would have approached the guy ‘carefully’ rather than pull a pistol on the guy and face-planted him) so I am capable of believing that something similar happened here. But neither am I am ‘spectulating baselessly’ that the BP were acting improperly. My initial statement the other night was meant to convey that everyone should wait and see. The only strong feeling I have about any of this is the rush to automatically assume the border cops were in the wrong on this one and vitriolic attacks upon them made by some posters is distasteful to me given my decades of experience crossing the border both ways (pre 9-11 and post 9-11) have been mostly uneventful and most (not all) of the events that I have personally witnessed were border crossers acting like idiots and not following instructions. Go hang out for an hour at the crossing at Niagra Falls when drunk college students are staggering back on Saturday night if you don’t believe me.

    I absolutely support the rights of folks to raise money for Dr. Watts based off their previous friendship or like of his writing. One should probably be supportive even if it appears that he conducted himself improperly.

    Anyrate, Courts are going to determine what happened here and that is how it should be.

  138. Chris, you got nothing but a conspiracy theory.

    That’s all you’ve got. Go read it.

    No, really. Go read it. I’ll wait.

    What do we know about this situation? Watts got stopped. Cops ordered him to do something. He didn’t comply as quickly as they liked. A beat down ensued. And, yeah, pepper spray, puched in the face, locked up, car confiscated, a night in jail, and dumped in Canada in a snowstorm with no coat, that qualifies as a beatdown.

    What did Watts do? The cops claim he choked an officer. Are you kidding me? You want to believe *that*?

    Because conspiracy theorists like you normally only insert doubt on the claims they don’t like. Rarely do they actually come out and try to assert something as true, because the assertion usually sounds like batshit insanity.

    Go read the link.

    Then tell me what are you actually asserting here? Nothing. You’re inserting doubt on Watt’s claims, but you’ve avoided asserting that the cop’s claims are true. And yet, you insist that we should all “wait and see” what the truth is.

    Did Watts choke an officer or not?

    If he did, then that’s a serious assertion you’re making that most people will see immediately as far-fetched.

    If he didn’t, then, hey, guess what, the cops are lying.

    So knock it off with the conspiracy theory. All you’re doing is claiming you’re taking the “wait and see” route while avoiding the version of stories that both sides have presented.

    Both stories cannot be true. One side is lying.

    I don’t know Watts in any way, but I’m willing to say that I find it highly unlikely that he attacked an officer and choked him.

    So, the cops lied.

    Maybe a cop pepper-sprayed Watts, Watts lifted a hand to rub his pepper-burned eyes, and Watt’s hand brushed against an officer because Watts was temporarily blinded, and the cops are trying to call that “choke”.

    But I don’t think any reasonable human being would call whatever happened an attempt by Watts to choke an officer, to strangle him, to cut off his oxygen by force.

    Now, you can play whatever “wait and see” games you want to play. Hey, it’s your world. But now that you’re making it public, all you’ve done is try to insert doubt into the narrative without actually asserting anything to replace it.

    Both stories cannot be true. And I willing to believe that Watts did not choke an officer. If you want to insert doubt on that, then come out and say that you think Watts did in fact choke someone.

    If not, if you aren’t willing to say Watt’s choked a cop, then Watts did NOT choke someone, and the officers lied about it. And if the officer’s lied about what really happened, why are you inserting doubt into the narrative?

  139. Dude,

    Awful lot of post with absolutely zero sense attached to it. The only things I am claiming at the end of the day is the following:

    1) I have had zero negative experiences with BP in 30 years of crossing the border. I have witnessed a handful of instances that I would consider BP misconduct.

    2) I have seen border crossers exhibit an entire array of negative behaviors several times.

    3) I do not know Peter Watts nor have I read his books. Others who do assert who is a good guy and not the type to start something.

    -hence…based off by own personal experience, I am not predisposed to think that the BP did anything wrong. Nor am I predisposed to think that Dr. Watts did anything wrong based off the words of others. The basis of my arguement is not to say that either side is guilty because guess what, I WAS NOT THERE. NEITHER WERE YOU. Yes, I am not willing to take Dr. Watts at his word. and Yes, I am not willing to take the BP at their word. If stating what my personal experience at the border has been and then saying we should wait and see what the courts have to say on the matter is somehow wrong than whatever Dude.

    What I am not going to do is make a buttload of suppositions like you have in your entire argument about what may or may not have transpired there and then arrive at the conclusion that the BP are the party to blame. All you got is the personal account of the aggrieved and a newspaper article on the subject. You are in no more position to claim police brutality than I am in assuming Dr. Watts is guilty.

    -The pure and simple truth is rarely pure and never simple- Oscar Wilde…in other words, calm the heck down and wait and see.

  140. I am surprised there seems to be such a strong disagreement as to what happened. Considering the upgrades to the border crossings, I would have thought everything would have been caught on tape (maybe even from a few different angles). It should seem any disagreement as to what happened will eventually be easily resolved.

    I actually used that very border crossing a number of times myself 2 months ago. We had very good experiences. I suppose this was just the experience of myself and my friend and things could have changed (like the people at the border crossing or other circumstances). Anyhow, our experience was that the crossings were reasonably fast (most of the time) and that the personnel were very professional (on both sides of the border). In fact, my friend, who was driving, was acting weird on one of our crossings (asking stupid questions like why they wanted to know if we had guns with us and would it be a problem if we did—obviously we didn’t, but he was just trying to cause trouble). Fortunately, the border people seemed to realize that my friend was just acting like an idiot and we were able to move on.

    I hope it all works out for your friend!

  141. I would bet that the whole area is videotaped so that officers can produce video to support their version of events if they so desire. Cars approaching the border are video’d. Booths have video cameras. I can’t imagine the general area not having video cameras and security oversight. Perhaps it’s possible to pry said tapes from Homeland Security’s unwilling hands?

  142. Chris: Awful lot of post with absolutely zero sense attached to it.

    Right back at you.

    I am not predisposed to think that the BP did anything wrong. Nor am I predisposed to think that Dr. Watts did anything wrong based off the words of others.

    Why do you think your lack of predisposition makes you special? I’m not predisposed to think Watts or the cops did anything wrong either. I’m looking at what was presented and judging based off of that.

    The basis of my arguement is not to say that either side is guilty because guess what, I WAS NOT THERE. NEITHER WERE YOU.

    The basis of your argument is NOT to blah. You never say what the basis of your argument IS.

    Yes, I am not willing to take Dr. Watts at his word. and Yes, I am not willing to take the BP at their word.

    So, you’re an ultra skeptic. Good for you. That doesn’t mean everyone else has to be an ultra skeptic too. See below.

    If stating what my personal experience at the border has been

    Your personal experience might actually count as bias if you were up for jury selection on this case. But you present it as if it gives you privileged information and makes you better suited to find the truth.

    saying we should wait and see what the courts have to say on the matter

    Dude, what do you think the courts do? Magically produce videotape out of thin air? Create a time machine and send a jury back in time to witness the event first hand?

    Do you realize how many cases boil down to “He said. She said.” situations?

    The real world isn’t like a CSI-Nevada TV show. They don’t all end up with DNA tests, trace evidence like hairs and fibers, security video images, and other stuff like that. Sometimes they boil down to a whole bunch of witnesses saying what they saw, and then the jury has to decide which side is telling the truth. And I’m telling you this as someone who has been on jury duty a couple of times.

    So, what the courts decide on this may be nothing more than what people are doing now, listening to the different versions of the stories and deciding which one is real. There may be no video that exists anywhere. The trial may be nothing more than various witnesses saying what they saw. And then the jury has to decide where the truth is.

    And a lot of people here are saying they find the cop’s version of the story, that Watts assaulted an officer and tried to choke somebody, hard to believe. They’ve decided that Watt’s version of the story, that he questioned the officers actions without cursing or assaulting anyone, is more likely to be true.

    is somehow wrong than whatever Dude.

    Dude, Scalzi knows Watts personally. He heard what happened, believes Watts didn’t do all the things the cops say, believes the cops overreacted and could not have possibly had justification for pepper spraying him, believes Watts deserves a fair trial, knows Watts doesn’t have a lot of money, and decided to point people to ways they can donate to his defense. Worst case, they donate a few bucks to help someone get a fair trial.

    If that is somehow wrong, then, whatever, dude.

    But your ultra-skeptic approach doesn’t hold water.

  143. But there is where you are wrong…what has been presented is so incomplete that making ANY assessment off of it is an exercise in futility. You have made the assessment that the BP are lying off a article and a what the guy said on a blog. You are right that the courts have to take imperfect information and make an assessment. You are correct that if there is no video (unlikely) than they go to witnesses and make a judgement off of that…but they are going to have alot more info than what we have now and the argument that has been presented (I know the guy and he would NEVER do what he has been accused) is not going to hold alot of water. You have seen no video, not heard any statement from the cops at the scene (just a single line in a newspaper article) and you are predicating your argument off the ‘he’s a good guy’ statement of another. Damm right, I am a skeptic. That is the basis of my arugment so either accept it or not but I am not inclined to accept yours until more information is available.

  144. RE: possible video(s) of the incident

    By some odd quirk of modern video technology, I gather it tends to fail more often in circumstances when the officers’ portrayal of the event seems dubious.

    RE: legal fund

    Even if Mr. Watts turns out to be guilty, it is worth chipping in to his legal fund, for exactly the same reason as it’s in everyone’s best interest for anyone to have good legal representation even if they turn out to be guilty. By supporting defendants, the system is made stronger, and guilty verdicts are more meaningful.

  145. Chris: Damm right, I am a skeptic.

    What’s your point? Are you campaigning to get people to STOP donating to Watts’s legal fund? If yes, then come out and say that. If no, then, what actionable thing around Watt’s legal fund are you looking to achieve by telling me youre the most skeptical skeptic on this thread?

    And getting everyone to think like you doesn’t have anything to do with Watts. That’s all about you.

  146. Bearpaw speaks good sense. I don’t know about Canada, but in Michigan, if you have to use a court appointed lawyer, you’re doomed (remember To Kill A Mockingbird?). Everyone knows this to be the unspoken truth.

  147. Umm, sorry, but deciding to depend on the charity of others so you can treat cats? It’s called priorities. If he was spending all of his money on this, I might look further into making a donation. I have a feeling that this story is embellished. I don’t doubt that something occurred, but you don’t get beaten by the cops for nothing.

    If you’ll excuse me, I am off to the food pantry to make a donation to help people who are really in a bad spot.

  148. “Umm, sorry, but deciding to depend on the charity of others so you can treat cats?”

    If you actually were paying attention to the page the donation page is on, you’d notice that Peter offers up quite a lot of fiction, so people making the donation are getting something of value in exchange for any money they voluntarily choose to give, and Peter chooses to use what he receives to help cats. He’s not depending on it — he puts in his own money, apparently — but he uses what he gets for that purpose.

    Is there something wrong with that? Moreover, if people want to donate to help feed cats — or help out with Peter’s legal fees — what’s it to you?

    Perhaps you might title yourself “It is called basic reading comprehension” next time you come here. Or alternately “It is called belittling others to feel smug about my own choices.”

  149. “I absolutely support the rights of folks to raise money for Dr. Watts based off their previous friendship or like of his writing. One should probably be supportive even if it appears that he conducted himself improperly.”

    As I clearly articulated in my post (read the whole thing please), I support people giving money to Dr. Watts for his legal defense. I would do the same for a good friend of mine even if I suspected he may have been in the wrong.

    My arguments in my post are directed at those that had already decided who was in the right and who was in the wrong.

  150. I was able to look this case up on the St. Clair County website (see

    Mr. Watts is facing a state charge of resisting and obstructing a law enforcement officer. He has been arraigned, and a plea of not guilty was entered. He petitioned for appointment of a public defender.

    With my attorney hat on, I’ve defended a few of these cases. The “normal” result for a case like this, assuming guilt, no prior record, and no serious injuries suffered by any of the officers, would be probation.

  151. My arguments in my post are directed at those that had already decided who was in the right and who was in the wrong.

    Ah, well, then, yay you. Someone ought to give you a “Skeptics Silver Cross” medal or something. A real person was beaten, pepper-spayed, and thrown in jail, and you’re debating what is the proper epistemology of the universe.

    Good to know where your priorities are.

  152. I didn’t read through all the comments, but has anyone contacted the ACLU? If the facts are as they are presented here, it seems to be right up their alley.

    If this happened to me, I would be filing a civil suit.

    (Don’t yell at me, this comment is based purely on the info in the blog post.)

  153. For the “skeptics” participating in this discussion, I think it’s important to remember that a large number of people here have some kind of history with Peter Watts. They’re either friends, colleagues, or fans. To them, Watts isn’t just some schlub who got in a fight with a cop, and it’s understandable (even admirable) that they’re so generous in their support.

    You may have good reasons to be skeptical about his story. But deriding people’s respect for Dr. Watts is a poor way to express it. It’s a bit like going to a funeral and telling the mourners to buck up. After all, the deceased was kind of a bastard and a lot of people are glad he’s dead. Your point may be valid, but don’t be surprised when the response is a little heated.

  154. Chris@167:”But isn’t that what you are doing when you cast aspersion upon the statements about crossing the border all the time and not having a problem?”

    It might be if I had done that. However, I’ve gone out of my way to say that I believe that there are people who cross the border all the time with no problem. What I’m calling out is the assumption that because one person has no problems crossing the border, that this necessarily follows for someone else.

    The argument always boils down to “I have not had any problems with the border patrol and so Dr. Watts should not have had any problems either.” However, as I’ve said several times now, one person’s experience may not match another’s. Just because the border patrol treats you one way doesn’t mean they will necessarily treat someone else the same way.

    For the record, I used to live in Amherst, NY and made the crossing at Niagara Falls all the time. I used to shop for groceries in St. Catherine. Even though I followed all the rules to the letter, I invariably fell into your 1%. Now, I don’t go around assuming that everyone who crosses the border will be treated like me. It makes as little sense for you to assume that everyone who crosses the border will be treated like you.

    Either way, it seems to me that we’re circling around the real point. Some of us think that pepper spraying then physically beating someone is a reasonable reaction to a few angry words. Some of us don’t. Since a few angry words is the most anyone has accused Dr. Watts of, for those in the second group, whether Dr. Watts did anything at all isn’t relevant.

    I’m not assuming that Dr. Watts had problems because I always have problems. I’m saying I don’t care what he did at the border. The worst he’s been accused of is not nearly enough to justify being pepper sprayed and beaten.

  155. John Chu: Since a few angry words is the most anyone has accused Dr. Watts of

    The cops are saying Watts actually choked an officer. I assume that’s what the “assault” charge stems from. That and he’s charged with resisting arrest.

    I find the idea of half a dozen officers surrounding a phd guy, and the phd guy deciding to take one of them on, to be more than ludicrous, so I highly, highly doubt that Watts went all Rambo on the cops.

    But your argument still stands, just because one person never had problems with the cops doesn’t mean someone else won’t.

  156. If this guy was nominated for a Hugo, he must have sold a LOT of books. Why should anyone donate to his legal defense fund? He can probably afford his own lawyer/barrister. Better than I can, anyway.

  157. Oh! He’s helping to feed CATS with the money! I’m sorry where can I sign up? And to what does he feed the cats?

  158. If this guy was nominated for a Hugo, he must have sold a LOT of books.

    Your faith in the market for well-written SF novels and the reimbursement rates for SF writers is charmingly naive.

  159. After reading through the last couple of posts, I do believe we have arrived at an impasse in the argument and further discussion is done. I am the skeptic and though I have an opinion about what I think occured that evening at the border, I am not going to state it because I do hold to my original argument that not enough is known to make a rational reasoned assessment about what truly happened and my opinion on what occured has no more validity than anyone elses at this point. Otherwise, I am pretty secure in my position as it appears you (JC and GL) are in theirs.

    I decline to post further on the subject and with that, I look forward to seeing how this resolves one way or another and I cede the floor to you!



  160. I am the skeptic and though I have an opinion about what I think occured that evening at the border, I am not going to state it because I do hold to my original argument that not enough is known to make a rational reasoned assessment about what truly happened and my opinion on what occured has no more validity than anyone elses at this point.

    Chris, bud, if you’re a skeptic, you can’t have an opinion. Period. I will further state, based upon my own observations of you that what you really mean is that you do have an opinion, it doesn’t favor Mr. Watts, you have no basis for it, and that you’d like to sell it under the guise of being ‘skeptical’ because you’re too cowardly to come out and say so.

    But who knows. I could be wrong ;-)

  161. ScentOfViolets, what kind of universe do you live in? What part of being ‘skeptic’ means ‘no opinions allowed’???? WTF??? Last time I checked, being skeptical just means not taking people – ANY people – at face value, seeing as how people are people, and prone to make mistakes, misremember, misrepresent, etc.. (that’s how the human brain works, btw…)

    Everyone has opinions, just like everyone has … well, you know the rest of the adage :P. One can hold an opinion, while not being married to it (so to speak) and just be interested in seeing how that opinion compares to what the reality ends up being.

  162. I admit that I’ve enjoyed the social experiment taking place on this thread but it’s getting pretty silly now. It’s not helping Mr. Watts. I wish everyone would just STFU. There, I cussed. I never cuss. Sheesh!

  163. Sleeplessinoregon: Last time I checked, being skeptical just means not taking people – ANY people – at face value

    being a “skeptic” means doubting any assertion that someone tells you. it’s the opposite of “gullible” which means you believe any assertion that someone tells you.

    Both skepticism and gullibility, at their extremes, are unworkable positions. complete skepticism means you can’t do anything, because you can never *know* anything with absolute certainty. Being completely gullible is unworkable because you believe everything you’re told.

    As for Chris, he said “I am the skeptic and though I have an opinion about what I think occured that evening at the border, I am not going to state it”.

    Chris isn’t skeptical about what happened. He has an opinion about what happened. if he was a true skeptic, he would doubt everything until everything is proven with absolutely certainty, as in a videotape is provided, witness testimony is given, cross examinations, everything. And if he were a true skeptic, he would start with zero assumptions and zero opinions, and maintain that until absolute proof is given that determins what happened.

    If he has an opinion about what happened that night, it is an opinion based of non-certain evidence. He’s taken the stories of either side, and he has decided the truth is somewhere else. and he has no proof. He isn’t skeptical about it.

  164. [i]…but you don’t get beaten by the cops for nothing.[/i]

    Apparently you do not live in America :-(

    Here’s an example that Bruce Springsteen wrote a song about:

    AMERICAN SKIN (41 SHOTS) was inspired from the incident that took place on 04 Feb 1999, when four white New York City plainclothes police officers, shot dead Amadou Diallo, a 22 year old black West African immigrant. The four men suspected Diallo to match the profile of a rapist that had committed crimes in the area then (Bronx), and when he tried to pull out what they later found out was to be his wallet (which they presumed to be a gun), they opened fire, “41 shots”, 19 of which hit the target. The officers were later tried for murder, but were found innocent by the jury. The verdict was not welcomed by many groups which created an atmosphere of tension in the city.

    Same basic situation….Innocent guy does something stupid (song: Attempted to pull out wallet Watts: Attempted to talk with BP) and the cops massively overreacting (song: Firing WAY more bullets than the situation called for Watts: Beating the hell out of him after they pepper spayed him).

    Don’t believe for a second that police have a valid reason to beat you.
    Google something like: “innocent beating by cop” for examples.

    A man can beat his wife for no reason at all…..Police/BP are just people and they too can just be assholes.

    Now, my stance on this is that I can completely imagine the situation unfolding as Watts said it did.
    I do not believe that a well trained BP should have allowed the situation to have gotten to the point that the BP say that it did.

    Watts is obviously guilty of a few things (not listening to the BP guard at the very least) and the guard is definitely an asshole (based on information from both sides of the argument), had he just said “it’s routine, we’ll get you out of here ASAP, just sit in your car until we’re done” the situation probably would have been avoided.
    Had Watts just gone back to his car when he was told to, the situation would have been avoided.

    Neither of those things happened & now the evidence has to be weighed (hopefully there is videotape) to determine who’s telling the truth & what the proper course of action is from here.

    Guilty or innocent of what he is accused of, Watts has a lot of fans and if they want to support him by sending him some money, what is the problem? Why do people have to be jerks and say things like “I’m going to donate to a shelter instead because they need it more.” Why does that matter?
    Whether you’re poor and need help buying food or are innocent of a crime and need money to pay for your legal defense, you’re BOTH in NEED of money! Without money, both of these peoples lives will go down the crapper!

    Whether you believe he’s innocent or guilty, realize that either way, people have the right to donate to his cause.

  165. Rob – I have an opinion on that, but I’m something of a skeptic myself. I’m going to refrain from commenting until all the facts are in.

    But, I think some of these guys know each other. And of course there are the haters. You know, the ones so willing to accomodate the power of the definition of words. Shiny Black Dustjacketed dictionary wielding thugs.

    But like I said. I’m going to refrain from comment until we can get an annotated play by play. Because, being a skeptic I just can’t judge until the truth announces itself in triplicate.

    Basically, I blame Watts. But I’ll hold that back for now.

  166. The rational approach to this is – I may be wrong but, going by Peter Watts’ vocation (phd and SF writer) and the high esteem in which he`s held by other notable writers and fandom BNFs, I’m willing to believe that the BP went into Cartman-mode when PW got out to have a chat. Uh-huh, from ‘Why are you searching my car?’ to ‘YOU WILL RESPECT MA AUTHORITAH!’ in one step.

    Of course, its possible that hitherto unknown evidence may show Dr Watts going full-on Jackie Chan against six policemen (with Kwai Chang Caine mood music in the background), complete with slo-mo effects and the border cops grimacing and uttering drawn-out growls, the whole bit!

    But I doubt it, somehow.

  167. I know this is like, weeks later, but there are two points I need to remind people:

    1) You all mentioned that it was “okay” to use pepper spray on someone who is resisting arrest. I have no problem with that on its face, though it sounds like there were many trained men on one guy, so I don’t think they would have needed the pepper spray unless the guy was on drugs or an athlete or something. In fact, it seems like the use of pepper spray in this case is something close to excessive force. Of course, the courts tend to give officers the benefit of the doubt here, but that still doesn’t change the fact that it seems suspicious for this to happen under routine conditions.

    2) My other problem is the fact that you can’t arrest someone for resisting arrest. That is a charge added to the docket along with whatever they were being arrested for (which may be “assaulting an officer”). Again, this seems like a nebulous charge as if he had swung first, that would have meant battery, not assault.

    That being said, none of us were there and there doesn’t seem to be any video out there, so it’s just speculation at this point.

  168. rockitboy says:
    “The rational approach to this is – I may be wrong but, going by Peter Watts’ vocation (phd and SF writer) and the high esteem in which he`s held by other notable writers and fandom BNFs, I’m willing to believe that the BP went into Cartman-mode when PW got out to have a chat.”

    Coming at this from a point of, “I never heard of him before this, and whether he is held in high esteem by other people I’ve never heard of or not is irrelevant to how I should react,” I’d say “Let’s hear the whole story before we make any judgments” is more the rational approach.

  169. “Blood at the polls and blood in the streets, but Scudder won the election. The next election was never held.”


  170. I am not inclined to support Peter Watts. I don’t believe his account. I think the police account rings truer.

    Let’s start with what both sides agree about:

    1. Watts was stopped for a search as he exited the United States.

    2. Watts left the car to ask the officers what was going on.

    3. Watts refused an order to return to the car.

    4. Watts was placed under arrest.

    5. Watts tried to evade arrest and was pepper sprayed and forced to the ground, and subdued.

    6. Watts was held for a few hours and released.

    Watts claims that the officers arrested him for merely asking questions, and used excessive force in doing so. The police claim that Watts was irate, refused an order to return to his card, and choked one officer in a struggle to avoid arrest.

    I believe the following:

    1. Watts was purposely provocative. The reasons are, first, that it was obvious what was going on (a search at the border); even if it wasn’t obvious to him, Watts didn’t need to leave his car to ask what was going on; there was no reason for him to refuse to get back into his car.

    2. Because Watts resisted arrest — something he admits to on his blog — some level of force was needed to subdue him. Whether Watts actually tried to choke an officer, and whether he was beaten in response, is impossible to know at this time.

    3. The blame for the incident rests mainly, and probably entirely, with Watts, for having provoked a confrontation, refused to comply with reasonable instructions, and resisting arrest.

    What we still need to know:

    1. Whether Watts really tried to choke an officer, and whether one or more officers used more force than necessary to get Watts under control pursuant to his arrest.

    2. The full extent of Watt’s demeanor and non-compliance with instructions, leading to his arrest.

    3. The initial catalyst for the incident. What was it that Watts needed to know to begin with? Did he really have a question, or did he exit his car purely to start an argument?

    In a perfect world, the answers to questions #1 and #2 and #3 would determine the harshness of the penalty imposed on Peter Watts. In the meantime, however, I do not sympathize with him. Quite the contrary.

  171. Furthermore, I have to chuckle at this legal defense fund.

    I fully support the right of anyone to spend their money in any legal fashion they choose, so it’s not a question of someone’s right to send money to Peter Watts. I chuckle at the gullibility of those who do so, at least those who aren’t the man’s close personal friends.

    A fully rational consideration of Watts’s story shows it to be far-fetched. Believing him doesn’t cost anything and is therefore understandable for those with weak minds, strong prejudices, or both. But putting money behind that belief? Forgive me, but I think that’s God’s way of telling you that you’ve got too much cash sitting around.

    Come on, there are plenty of homeless people who actually need help.

  172. JJMan,

    You are mising one thing. The testimony of people who know Dr. Watts well is that he is not a liar. Under your assumption, those people must be liars themselves, or alse be decieved about Dr. Watts’ character, despite close acquaintance with him.

    On the other hand, it is well known that police officers frequently lie to cover up their own misconduct. That is “ripped from today’s headlines”.

    Law enforcement in the US is out of control. Too many officers feel that their badge places them above the very laws they are charged to enforce. Dr. Watts was fortunate not to be shot down like a dog for the crime of “failure to cringe”.

    These are the same guys who ganged up on you and gave you a swirly in gym class. (Or perhaps you were one of the swirly givers?)

    Those who contribute to the defense fund, if they are wise, are undoubtedly doing so with one eye on the famous saying “…when they came for me there was no one left to speak up”.

    Have a nice day (while you still can).


  173. @211, so Peter Watts has friends who like him, and is attracting fans who hate American law enforcement. Neither group was there, and neither group has really focused on the facts. They are acting on assumptions and prejudices, as opposed to fact-based deductive reasoning.

    Look, if people want to send money to Peter Watts, I have to give him a certain back-handed congratulations for his cleverness, just as I do with televangelists. Think about it: They both have good stories and a suggestible flock.

  174. JJMan: What we still need to know: 2. The full extent of Watt’s demeanor and non-compliance with instructions, leading to his arrest.

    Your bias is showing. We also still need to know the full extent of the cop’s demeanor, the full extent of how much they turned a non-confrontational incident into confrontational, and the full extent of how much they lied about the incident

    But keep yapping your “no cop ever did nothing wrong” nonsense. Maybe Fox News will pay you to be one of their nonthinking bobble heads.

  175. I would love to hear the audio recording, if there is such, because I wonder if it’s one of those American-English vs Canadian-English exchanges; usually the Canadian is calm enough that these don’t escalate, but American-Cop-English speaker might not understand Canadian-PhD-English (and vice-versa.)

  176. @Greg London, you’re really no different than Fox News and that crowd. You won’t look at the facts here. It’s easier to rely on your preconceptions and prejudices than to risk the possibility than someone you perceive as a friend, Peter Watts, was in the wrong.

  177. @htom, yes, it’s pretty tough for a Ph.D. to understand something like, “Sir, we need to look in the car.”

  178. JJMan, I’ve seen you around on other websites and you’re obviously on some sort of campaign to discredit Watts and mock his defenders. That’s you’re right, I’m sure, but I question your motives for doing so.

  179. William, are you also witheringly skeptical of Watts’s supporters who have been all over the Internet telling his story? Didn’t think so.

    And what about the rampant censorship of the naysayers by Watts and most of his friends? What are they afraid of, anyway? Are you worried about that? Didn’t think so.

  180. Nice deflection. You’re mad that your comments got censored and now you’re on a vendetta. Got it. Bait your hook with someone else, pal.

  181. Who wouldn’t be upset at being censored, especially by a group of smugsters who imagine themselves to be thinkers?

    But my point at #218 was really about the application of a single standard to everyone. See, I think everyone should have free speech, and that bloggers, while legally entitled to do whatever they want, should invite a variety of comments rather than limit expression to one side of an issue.

    Similarly, when you complain that I have commented in several places on the internet while not complaining about comments in multiple places by Watts and his supporters, you’re dodging. Your complaint has no basis in anything other than your tribalism, which is a defense against thinking whether the tribe is the Sarah Palin tribe or the Peter Watts tribe.

    Really, you’re far, far more similar to your adversaries than you imagine yourselves to be.

  182. Okay, here’s something different, then.

    Lightning won’t strike here, but if it did strike, this is what the lightning strike would look like. It would be in the form of the following statement from Peter Watts:

    “I am going to utter the three rarest and most beautiful words in the English language: ‘I was wrong.’

    “My arrest at the border was proper. I was irritated when stopped, and I let my irritation get the best of me when I yelled at the border guard, ignored their instructions, and resisted arrest.

    “Those actions were wrong. I compounded my error by misrepresenting the incident to friends and the public, encouraging them to form a misimpression of what happened.

    “My actions that day, and afterwards were illegal, unwise, and immature. Not only did I cause needless problems at the border, but I manipulated other people into blaming my actions on others. In doing so, I lowered myself, and my friends, and undermined those who, in the past or in the future, might have legitimate complaints about police misconduct.

    “I was wrong, and I deeply apologize for my mistakes.”

    Trust me, folks, I am not going to be waiting for lightning to strike. Peter Watts is never going to admit to what is plainly visible. He has a Ph.D., several books in print, a reputation as a political truth-teller, and (most importantly) an ego the size of North America.

    Nevertheless, if he were a man, he’d cut a deal with the Michigan district attorney, publicly say he was wrong, and let the chips fall where they may. It’d be the honorable thing to do, but honor is in short supply these days.

  183. @211, I wanted to respond again to you. If you look at the comments attached to the story from the Port Huron, Michigan newspaper, you will see people vouching for the character of the police officer who arrested Watts.

    I think we can stipulate that both of them have friends. Which, by the way, is irrelevant anyway. If either or both of them were friendless, this wouldn’t invalidate either story. All that matters here is facts and logic. The rest is tribalism, emotion, and prejudice.

  184. JJMan:

    The fact of the matter is that you don’t know the facts of the case any more than the rest of us, and what you term as “plainly visible” is not.

    As you don’t in fact know the facts of the case, all the rest of your suggestions/opinion/assessment is merely your speculation founded on your own biases.

    My own bias in this case is counter to yours; in either case, however, what Mr. Watts should to is get good legal counsel and then listen to it. To impugn him for doing anything but that, especially when you don’t in fact know the truth of the matter, is a bit silly.

    Now, unless you have anything to say that based on anything but your own speculation, wrap it up, please.

  185. John, you are showing your true colors. Watts and his crowd really and truly can’t stand being disputed. The minute the dispute becomes effective, rather than engage on the details they will invoke censorship.

    Trust me, you are not alone. This happens on right-wing websites too. Try going to FreeRepublic and arguing that the U.S. has been torturing detainees. Try going to one of the sites maintained by Watts and his friends and arguing that Watts was wrong.

    The same thing will eventually happen in both instances. I’m telling ya, you’ve got one hell of a lot more in common with those people than you are willing to admit.

  186. JJMan:

    “John, you are showing your true colors.”

    Yes. I’m suggesting that everyone under the law is innocent until proven guilty, and that I don’t know the facts of the event, so I won’t bother to speculate about it.

    I don’t really have a problem with that.

    JJMan, again, you know nothing of the facts of the case either, and you don’t actually appear to have anything to contribute aside from an intent to troll. I don’t care what anyone else is doing on any other site, but I do generally take a dim view of trolling here.

    If that’s all you plan to do, you can go ahead and move on.

  187. It’s simply not true that I don’t know the facts of the case. Actually, virtually of the facts are known, as I pointed out in post #209. To really boil it down, Watts has already incriminated himself by admitting, on his website, that he resisted arrest.

    There are a few interesting questions left, but their main value is to determine how harshly he ought to be punished. In legal terms, I am sure Watts’s lawyer will be advising him to cut a deal with the D.A., given that he’s admitted the charge.

    That’s one of the oddities in all of this. You say Watts is “innocent,” but it’s not so. He says he pulled away from the officer as that officer tried to handcuff him. That’s a form of resisting arrest, my friend. In the narrow sense, his goose is cooked, and the only question is to what temperature.

    The way these things usually go is that if the defendant agrees to a reduced charge, i.e., a misdemeanor, it’ll end there. But if Watts prolongs this and forces the D.A. to get tapes and arrange witnesses and spend money, they’ll go after him on the felony rap.

    Peter, my own lack of sympathy aside, you don’t want a felony rap, and I doubt the other side does either. It’ll keep you out of the U.S. forever, except (if it gets really ridiculous) to serve some time in a Michigan correctional facility. (I don’t know if it’d be jail or prison.)

    I wonder if they still have the rental car. Sheesh, that’d be a bitch, wouldn’t it? He was arrested on the 8th, and now it’s the 19th. That’s 11 days of excess rental charges, and counting. Pete, I hope it was worth it, ’cause this one’s gonna cost ya.

  188. There is one bright spot, and that’s that (for now, anyway) the U.S. attorney won’t be involved. That ought to tell Peter that he can make this go away if he plays ball. Get the feds back into this one, and they’ll nail his ass to a crucifix and display him on the Appian Way. Presuming there weren’t drugs in the car, not even I would want to see that.

  189. JJMan:

    “It’s simply not true that I don’t know the facts of the case.”

    It simply is. What you know are what people have said about the events, publicly, which is not the same thing. These are not the same as the facts of the case. That’s up for a judge or jury to determine.

    Now, please stop asserting that you know what you in fact do not know.

  190. Exactly what false assertions have I made? Be specific.

    If the two opposing sides agree on a point, can’t we safely assume that it’s a fact? In this case, both sides agree on almost all of the salient points, including the most important one, the matter of resisting arrest. The only things that are really missing are:

    1. Peter Watts’s justification for not returning to his vehicle, as directed

    2. Why Peter Watts was outside of his vehicle to begin with.

    3. What was said at the very beginning of the incident, i.e., when the cops pulled him aside, what they told him.

    Those are interesting points to those of us who are focusing on this, but they don’t bear on Watts’s guilt, which he has already admitted with respect to resisting arrest. They only bear on the degree of his offense.

    As for “speculation,” I’ve speculated on only one thing here, and it was a side issue. It was when I wrote, “I am sure Watts’s lawyer will be advising him to cut a deal with the D.A., given that he’s admitted the charge.” I think that’s a pretty reasonable speculation, given the underlying facts, but it is indeed a speculation. I haven’t speculated as to any of the facts of the case.

    Others in this thread have, though. In particular, more than one poster has alleged that Watts was “beaten” for merely getting out of his car and asking a question, and/or for not being completely “obsequious,” when in fact both the police report and Watts’s own account make clear that the officers used force only after Watts resisted arrest.

    Interestingly enough, John, you were nowhere to be seen objecting to those particular speculations. You see, speculation from your fellow Watts supporters is one thing. Speculation from someone who regards Watts and his supporters as immature, tendentious, unthinking, tribal fools fundamentally no different than the Bush-Palin crowd is quite another.

    One more point: Labeling your opponent a “troll” before banning him is a tired Internet trick. If you’re going to pull the electronic plug here, I hope you’ll reach higher. I’m not a troll. I merely disagree with you. I am making points that you’ve been unable to counter, and when that happens you’ve pulled the old standby out of the kit bag, “He’s a troll.”

    If there’s a trial in this case, I wonder if the police will say that Watts was “trolling” them.

  191. In any case, I think the L.A. Times said he has to appear in court on Monday or Tuesday. I will be surprised if this isn’t resolved before then. One additional benefit of settling would be that Watts could then tell everyone he settled not because he was guilty but because the oppressive and evil United States was getting ready to drain his bank account.

    If there’s a tape, it’d be interesting, but I’m going to be very surprised if it’s useful at all, let alone definitive. Remember, it was an exit search. You have to wonder where the cameras would be to begin with. Is there even a regular lane for these things, or to they just motion people over to the side in no dedicated (and videotaped) space?

    If the tape isn’t useful, then it’ll be Watts’s word against that of a bunch of Michigan cops, with the trial behind held in Port Huron. Peter, I’m not even your buddy, but I really do think it’s in your best interest to settle this one.

  192. JJMan:

    “Exactly what false assertions have I made? Be specific.”

    That you know the facts of the case. As I have mentioned before. What you know is what each side has reported, which may or may not be accurate. Again, that’s for a judge or jury to decide.

    Please learn to differentiate between what you think happened, and your opinions therein, which you’re perfectly entitled to have, and what actually happened, which you don’t know, and can’t know, and look a bit foolish for continuing to maintain that you do. If you can’t actually do this, you can go ahead and move on from this thread.

    Update: Actually, now that I think of it, I am sort of fed up with people on either side masticating this event; there’s nothing new being said, nor is there anything new to be said until Peter gets his court date. Also, this is a friend of mine, and I’m tired of smug jackasses who don’t know a thing about him running him down for sport on my site. So I’m closing the thread.

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