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Security a priority at Vermont City Marathon

BURLINGTON, Vt. –

Public safety concerns are on the minds of race organizers for the Vermont City Marathon. It’s the largest single-day sporting event in the state. Upward of 30,000 people will descend on downtown Burlington for Sunday’s big race. And in light of recent events in England and with the memories of the Boston marathon bombing, security will be a priority.

“In our industry, we had a watershed moment in 2013 when the attack occurred at the Boston Marathon,” said Peter Delaney of RunVermont. The blast shook the streets of Boston and the entire racing community. The Vermont City Marathon held its annual event just five weeks later with new protocols.

“Plastic gear bags for the runners, transparent plastic bags for trash containers and things like that in all of the race venues,” Delaney said.

New regulations that will stay in place for the upcoming marathon. Police will also be out in force.

“We haven’t had to change our focus post-Boston. We have always been vigilant with the event,” Burlington Deputy Police Chief Shawn Burke said. Law enforcement officers say the bombing in England is a reminder the public needs to be vigilant, too.

“There is no one that knows their neighbor or surroundings better than themselves,” Burke said. “That is why we are always campaigning if you see something, say something.”

While the Green Mountains may be an unlikely terror target, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott says Vermonters should keep their eyes open at big events like the marathon.

“We have to be vigilant here and we have to pay attention to make sure that we don’t let our guard down and we do report when we see something that doesn’t seem right,” said Scott, R-Vermont. Runners are continuing to train for the 29th annual marathon. It will be Brian Cantrell’s first. He says while he aware of the bombing overseas, right now he’s focused on finishing the race.

“I’m not concerned about that,” he said. “I just don’t believe you should let bad guys dictate what you are doing.”

One thing that will be different this year is a 7 a.m. start time which is an hour earlier than past years. Partially in an attempt to avoid any heat out on the course that plagued runners last year.

That Time the TSA Found a Scientist’s 3-D-Printed Mouse Penis

When Martin Cohn passed through airport security at Ronald Reagan Airport, he figured that he d probably get some questions about the 3-D-printed model of a mouse penis in his bag. The model is 15 centimeters long, made of clear translucent plastic, and indisputably phallic like the dismembered member of some monstrous, transparent, 11-foot rodent. One of Cohn s colleagues had already been questioned about it when she carried it on an outward flight from Gainesville to Washington D.C. She put it through the security scanner, and the bag got pulled. A TSA official looked inside, winked at her, and let her go. She was amused but embarrassed, so Cohn offered to take the model home on the return flight. Once again, the bag was pulled[1]. A TSA officer asked if Cohn had anything sharp or fragile inside. Yes, he said, some 3-D-printed anatomical models. They re pretty fragile. The officer pulled out two models of mouse embryos, nodded to herself, and moved on. And then, Cohn recalls, she pulled out this mouse penis by its base, like it was Excalibur.

What is this?

Do you need to know or do you want to know? said Cohn. I m curious, she replied.

It s a 3-D print-out of an adult mouse penis. A what?

A 3-D print-out of an adult mouse penis.

Oh no it isn t.

It is. The officer called over three of her colleagues and asked them to guess what it is. No one said anything, so Cohn told them. They fell apart laughing. Cohn, who s based at the University of Florida, studies genitals and urinary tracts, and how they develop in embryos. Around 1 in 250 people are born with birth defects affecting these organs, and although such changes are becoming more common, their causes are largely unclear. By studying how genitals normally develop, Cohn s hoping to understand what happens when they take a different path. And like many scientists, he is working with mice. He recently analysed a mouse s genitals with a high-resolution medical scanner. To show his colleagues how incredibly detailed the scans can be, he used them to print a scaled-up model, which he took with him to the conference in DC. And because the conference was just a two-day affair, Cohn didn t bring any checked luggage. Hence: the penis in his carry-on.

Scientists, as it happens, are full of tales like this[2] because as a group, they re likely to (a) travel frequently, and (b) carry really weird shit in their bags. In previous years, Cohn has flown with the shin bone of a giant ground sloth and a cooler full of turtle embryos. Just last month, Diane Kelly from the University of Massachusetts, who studies the evolution of animal genitals, was stopped by the TSA because she was carrying what is roughly the opposite of Cohn s item: a 3-D-printed mold of a dolphin vagina[3]. Technically it s not even my dolphin vagina mold, she says. I was carrying it for someone. Other scientists who responded to a call for stories[4] on Twitter have flown with bottles of monkey pee[5], chameleon and skate embryos[6], 5,000 year old human bones[7], remotely operated vehicles, and, well, a bunch of rocks[8]. ( I’m a geologist. I study rocks.”) Astrophysicist Brian Schimdt was once stopped by airport officials on his way to North Dakota because he was carrying his Nobel Prize[9] a half-pound gold disk that showed up as completely black on the security scanners. Uhhhh. Who gave this to you? they said. The King of Sweden, he replied. Why did he give this to you?, they probed. Because I helped discover the expansion rate of the universe was accelerating.

Anthropologist Donald Johanson has flown with probably the most precious and the most famous of these cargos: the bones of the Lucy[10] the Australopithecus, who Johanson himself discovered. In a memoir[11], he recalls having to show her bones to a customs official in Paris. The man was an anthropology buff, and when Johanson told him that the fossils were from Ethiopia, he said, You mean Lucy? A large crowd gathered and watched as Lucy s bones were displayed, one by one, on the Customs counter. I got my first inkling of the enormous pull that Lucy would generate from then on, everywhere she went. Several people have stories about more animate luggage. Jonathan Klassen from the University of Connecticut[12] studies leafcutter ants, and the permits that allow him to collect wild colonies stipulate that he must hand-carry them onto planes. Inevitably, some poor security officer gets a duffle bag full of 10,000 ants and gets really confused, he says. Indeed, many animals have to be hand-carried onto planes because they don t fare well in the cold of cargo holds, (and often can t be shipped for similar reasons). That s certainly the case for the amblypygids docile relatives of spiders with utterly nightmarish appearances that Alexander Vaughan once tried to carry onto a domestic flight. My strategy was to pretend that everything I was doing was perfectly normal, he tells me. Others were more upfront about their unorthodox cargo. Ondine Cleaver from UT Southwestern Medical Center once tried carrying tupperware containers full of frogs from New York to Austin. At security, she realized that she couldn t possibly subject the animals to harmful doses of X-rays, so she explained the contents of her bag to a TSA agent. She totally freaked out, but had to peek in the container, says Cleaver. We opened it just a slit, and there were 12-14 eyes staring at her. She screamed. She did this 3 times. A few other agents came by to see, and none could deal with the container being opened more than a bit. But they had to make sure there was nothing nefarious inside, so we went through cycles of opening the container, screaming, closing it laughing, and again. They eventually let her through.

Many scientists have had tougher experiences because their equipment looks suspicious[13]. The bio-logging collars that[14] Luca Borger uses to track cattle in the Alps look a lot like explosive belts. And the Petterson D500x bat detector[15], which Daniella Rabaiotti uses to record bat calls, is a big, black box with blinking lights on the front. She had one in her backpack on a flight going into Houston. The security people said, Take your laptop out, and I did that. But they don t really say, Take your bat detector out, and I forgot about it. When the scanner went off, she had to explain her research to a suspicious and stand-offish TSA official, who wasn t clear how anyone could manage to record bat calls, let alone why anyone would want to do that. So Rabaiotti showed him some sonograms, pulled out her laptop, and played him some calls all while other passengers were going about their more mundane checks. By the end of it, he said: Oh, I never knew bats were so interesting, she says. Many of the stories I heard had similar endings. The TSA once stopped Michael Polito, an Antarctic researcher from Louisiana State University, because his bag contained 50 vials of white powder. When he explained that the powder was freeze-dried Antarctic fur seal milk, he got a mixed reaction. Some officers just wanted to just wave me on, he says. Others wanted me to stay and answer their questions, like: How do you milk a fur seal? I was almost late for my flight.

Airport security lines, it turns out, are a fantastic venue for scientists to try their hand at outreach. Various scientists are said to have claimed that you don t really understand something if you can t explain it to your grandmother, a barmaid, a six-year-old, and other such sexist or ageist variants. But how about this: can you successfully explain it to an TSA official someone who not only might have no background in science, but also strongly suspects that you might be a national security threat? Can you justify your research in the face of questions like What are you doing? or Why are you doing it? or Why are you taking that onto a plane? Cohn did pretty well to the four assembled TSA agents who started quizzing him about his mouse penis. They noticed that the translucent object had a white tube inside it, and asked if it was a bone. It was indeed the baculum. I explained to them that most other mammals have a bone in the penis and humans have lost them, says Cohn. I do outreach at the drop of a hat, and I m ready to teach a bit of evolution to the TSA if they re interested. And they were freaking out. Eventually, Cohn asked if he was free to go.

You are, said the agent who first looked inside his bag. And then: I gotta go on break, my mind is blown.

References

  1. ^ the bag was pulled (twitter.com)
  2. ^ full of tales like this (www.forbes.com)
  3. ^ 3-D-printed mold of a dolphin vagina (gizmodo.com)
  4. ^ a call for stories (twitter.com)
  5. ^ monkey pee (twitter.com)
  6. ^ chameleon and skate embryos (twitter.com)
  7. ^ 5,000 year old human bones (twitter.com)
  8. ^ bunch of rocks (twitter.com)
  9. ^ because he was carrying his Nobel Prize (blogs.scientificamerican.com)
  10. ^ Lucy (www.theatlantic.com)
  11. ^ In a memoir (books.google.com)
  12. ^ University of Connecticut (uconn.edu)
  13. ^ suspicious (twitter.com)
  14. ^ The bio-logging collars that (twitter.com)
  15. ^ D500x bat detector (www.batmanagement.com)

Why Do We Have Borders, Anyway?

During arguments in federal appeals court last week, a lawyer representing Hawaii argued that Donald Trump’s travel ban for people from certain Muslim-majority countries was simply beyond the pale. “The government has not engaged in mass, dragnet exclusions in the past 50 years,” former Obama administration solicitor general Neal Katyal said, referring to the president’s (still blocked) ban of a “whole class of people” as “something new and unusual.”
[1][2]

It’s been looking for some time now like Donald Trump’s most notorious policy will make it all the way the US Supreme Court. But even under Barack Obama, the United States was pretty damn inaccessible to a “whole class of people”: the world’s poor, who often can’t afford travel visas and have traditionally been legally and customarily excluded from immigrating[3]. The fact is we live on a planet that has largely come to accept and operate within a system of defined and militarized borders. So even if you abhor his shameless appeals to nativism, Trump’s ban (cruelly) reinforces a concept almost everyone you know buys into. But should they? Reece Jones, associate Professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and author of the recent book[4] Violent Borders: Refugees and the Right to Move, isn’t so sure. He thinks getting rid of borders should be your ultimate goal if you believe in human rights for all people and that recognizing and reckoning with the system of borders itself is essential to dismantling it.

I recently spoke with Reece about how to make sense of debates about the Muslim ban and Trump’s proposed wall given the way borders have worked over the centuries, and what it means to be alive when the international border system is at a violent crossroads.

VICE: Why should we be paying attention to borders as a concept right now?
Reece Jones: I’ve been studying borders[5] for 15 years, and over that time, I’ve noticed two big trends. The first is the construction of border infrastructure, the deployment of a lot more agents at borders, the construction of walls at borders the spending of a lot more money on borders. In the 1990s, there were 15 border walls around the world. Today, there’s almost 70 of them. I also noticed this really troubling trend of the dramatic increase of the number of people dying at borders. If you look at the data from the 1980s or 1990s, we’re talking about maybe a few hundred deaths per year at borders globally. It just wasn’t something that [widely] existed: civilians dying trying to cross a border. By the mid 2000s, that number was 1,500 to 2,000 people dying per year, and of course that number has gone up even more dramatically in the past few years. In 2015, there were more than 5,000 deaths at borders; in 2016, a staggering 7,500 people died or went missing trying to cross a border. That’s why I decided to write this book: to think about why are so many people dying at borders and what the connection is between borders and this violence that surrounds them.

Most of us know what some of that violence looks like: military guards at the border, or migrants killed or injured by negligent or abusive smugglers. But in the book, you refer to a much broader conception of what makes borders dangerous.
There are different types of border violence. There’s obviously direct violence carried out by border guards, where they kill people trying to pass through border spaces. We see that on the US-Mexico border: There have been something around[6] 35 or 36 people since 2010 killed at the US-Mexico border by the US Border Patrol. The Indian border security force is notorious for killing people at its edges: More than a thousand Bangladeshis have been killed by the India’s border security force in the past 15 years. That’s a very violent border with direct violence carried out by the border agents. But borders are also an example of structural violence, of using a system of laws and regulations that deprive other people of opportunities through the imposition of borders. The other ways borders are violent emerge from those structural factors. To me, the act of creating a border is inherently violent. If you draw a line and say, “What’s on this side of the line is mine and what’s over there is yours,” that relies on the threat of violence. If someone violates that and comes into the space that’s yours, eventually the only option is to use some sort of force to move them out. It relies on the implicit claim that violence will eventually be enacted to enforce that claim. Border guards are the most obvious iteration of that, but the whole legal system is based on the same sort of logic of implied violence.

The way that most people die crossing a border, however, is not at the hands of a border guard, but instead it’s because of all the infrastructure that has been built at borders. Because of the walls and the guards that are there, people are funneled to more dangerous places to cross. Instead of being able to cross from Tijuana to San Diego as many people in the 1950s and 1960s would have done, today those sections of the border are quite closed. So instead, people have been funneled to these much more remote places to cross the border. And indeed that’s the strategy of the border patrol: Their documents talk about making it harder to cross the border in order to deter people from crossing. I would read that to say, “We are going to kill some people who try to cross the border by making it really dangerous to cross, with the hope that will convince other people not to make this dangerous trip.” That’s why there are so many people dying today at borders; that’s why, in 2016, despite all of this focus on people on security and even humanitarian policing in the Mediterranean, there were nevertheless the most deaths ever last year.

When and why did the borders we all know begin to emerge in the first place?
We tend to think of borders as if they are these natural things that have always existed. But of course the idea of borders and the idea of having countries is a very recent phenomenon. It’s something that’s emerged really in just the past few hundred years, and in a lot of the world, the last 50 years or 75 years since World War II. It’s really a new and somewhat radical experiment for thinking about the relationship between people and land. The history of borders and maps are very closely tied to each other. It’s not by chance that the system of borders that we have today emerges as cartography advances the ability of people to depict the world at a very large scale, because then it becomes possible to draw lines on maps and to then use those lines to make claims of control over territory. There were, of course, in the distant past, edges to the control of different groups, but they weren’t depicted on maps, and they weren’t fixed lines in the way that we imagine them today. That system really comes into being in the late 1600s in Europe and is spread around the world through colonialism. As Europe colonizes the rest of the world they change the political systems there to match their system of borders, territory, and sovereignty. There are periods where that system starts to break down. That can be most obviously visualized with Germany in the 1930s. So after World War II, the idea of the United Nations is to create what is essentially a global clearinghouse to systematically establish the borders of all of the countries around the world. When a state joins the UN, they have to agree to respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all the other member states: It essentially forces all countries to respect each other’s borders. After WWII and after the period of decolonization that followed through the 1970s, borders have been really quite fixed.

Primarily, a system of borders is a system for controlling resources, it’s a system for controlling people, and it’s particularly a system for excluding other people from access to those resources. It protects some sort of privileges that have accrued in a particular place whether that’s control of the resources, wealth, or a set of cultural or political practices in that place and it excludes other people from the ability to have access to it.

But some things can still move freely in this system. Labor is trapped, people are trapped, but money isn’t. What’s that got to do with the rise of populist types in the West like Trump?
The current system is what we term “globalization,” but globalization is really only for capital. I’s for consumer goods; it’s for the wealthy to be able to move freely around the world. Consumer goods and corporations very easily cross borders. As corporations are accessing lower wage labor in other places around the world to make quite expansive profits, there’s the need to contain labor, because if people have the opportunity to move to another place where there are higher wages, they would do that, and indeed millions of people are doing that right now. So border restrictions are about precisely that: containing labor and keeping people who would otherwise move to a place with higher wages in a poorer place in order to suppress wages there and to maintain that pool of low-wage, low-skill labor. It’s bad for workers on both ends of it: Workers in other places are trapped where they are, have no other option but to take a really low wage job with often really poor conditions. It’s bad for workers in the US and Europe as well because the jobs they used to have that had been protected by labor unions, had pensions, had healthcare, had relatively high wages those jobs have disappeared as manufacturing jobs have moved abroad. In some ways, Trump’s political moment is a reaction against this exact problem. My suggestion would be to open up movement for people and allow labor to move freely around the world, which would stabilize wages and would remove the incentives for companies to move jobs to other places. The huge advantages built in the current system for corporations would be undermined if labor could move freely. Of course, Trump’s solution is the opposite: It’s to contain both labor and capital. He’s trying to close borders to trade and put limits on the ability of corporations to move across borders. So it’s seeing the same problem but suggesting the exact opposite solution.

Watch our chat with a Vermont mayor trying to welcome refugees from Syria.

What does resistance to that border regime realistically look like? What are the roles for migrants and non-migrants?
I have a passport, and I travel, and in the process, I submit to this whole system that I’m critical of, and it’s definitely a bit of a conundrum. There are millions of people on the move right now who are contained by these rules of citizenship, by borders and walls and the security apparatus, but nevertheless are ignoring it and deciding to go ahead and move anyway, using their feet to protest the unjust system of immigration control that we have. So in a lot of ways they are the real activists who are questioning and raising concern about the system of using borders to protect privileges and perpetuate inequality.

There are, of course, a lot of other people doing things as well. There are organizations like No One is Illegal[7] that provide help for people without documents and assist with legal aid. There are “No Borders” activists who also do things to facilitate people on the move. There’s a number of apps for smartphones that help people with information on how to access safe passage. There’s the Watch the Med project[8] in the Mediterranean that’s a number that people can call if they’re in distress. There are people providing sanctuary for people who don’t have documents. All of these are steps to question the legitimacy of the current rules that we have limiting the movement of other people.

Do you see the mainstream consensus starting to be challenged at all, with a shift toward questioning borders? Is that one way to look at the uproar against Trump’s travel ban?
I was definitely heartened by the protests that rose up in response to Trump’s Muslim ban and wall plans. In some ways, it’s interesting to me that people are so riled up about this Muslim ban, for example, but they seem to be OK with all these other sorts of movement restrictions. What does this ban really do? It restricts the entrance of some elite people from these six or seven countries who were in the past able to get visas to come to the US. If you look at many of these countries, the rejection rates on visas to the US were already more than 50 percent. And the people who were even able to apply for those visas were [often] the elite. So the poor of these countries were already [effectively] banned from coming to the US. Still, it’s an issue that not that many people were talking about ten years ago. I think that the global discussion has really changed dramatically since 2006, when all of those senators voted[9] for that original wall on the border. And my guess is that if that vote were to be held again today that none of them would vote for it even in the more limited form that they thought they were voting for at the time. My hope is that now people have been awoken to the exclusion that happens at borders that they will start to question more of the restrictions that happen in these places. I think you see that happening. People are talking about the problems with borders. Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, said[10] last year that “borders are the worst invention ever made by politicians.” It’s not like he’s some obscure guy saying that.

But given the reactionary sentiment around the world, the sort of retreat by some major Western democracies, aren’t borders as indelible as ever in human culture?
These systems are always changing. Two hundred years from now, the people who are alive at that time are not going to be living in the world of states we have today. It’s going to change. For me, it’s going to change upward. We’re going to have some sort of a system that can address a lot of these global issues that have emerged. The idea of these separate countries with absolute sovereignty over territory is an idea that’s waning at the moment. And there are certainly reactions against it waning and you see that with the nationalist fervor in a number of countries. But just because people are afraid of that change does not mean that change is not going to come.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Follow Stephen Lurie on Twitter[11].

References

  1. ^ arguments (www.reuters.com)
  2. ^ Donald Trump’s travel ban (www.vice.com)
  3. ^ have traditionally been legally and customarily excluded from immigrating (scholarship.law.duke.edu)
  4. ^ author of the recent book (www.versobooks.com)
  5. ^ studying borders (www.theguardian.com)
  6. ^ something around (www.southernborder.org)
  7. ^ No One is Illegal (www.nooneisillegal.org)
  8. ^ Watch the Med project (watchthemed.net)
  9. ^ voted (www.politifact.com)
  10. ^ said (www.businessinsider.com)
  11. ^ Twitter (twitter.com)