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The overheating Samsung S24F356 – and thoughts about why there are so many complaints about capitalism

There are several reasons, mostly to do with me getting older, which have caused me to slow down as a Samizdata contributor, but just recently something more mundane has been getting in my way. I needed a new computer screen, my previous one having stopped working. I thought that a sprint, metaphorically speaking, would sort this out, but the sprint turned into a marathon.

When buying things like computer screens, I prefer shopping in actual shops to internet shopping. I find returning defective goods to shops less complicated than returning them to internet suppliers, not least because I now get free travel on London’s public transport system, but also because I have a face in front of me to complain to and from whom to demand satisfaction. But more fundamentally, I like to see, close up, what I am thinking of buying, rather than relying on imperfect internet imagery. When I start out buying something like a new screen, I don’t really know what’s now being offered or what I would now like, until I start looking at what’s now available, in the flesh, so to speak.

So, for instance, as I got stuck into my screen browsing, I realised that I might appreciate at some time in the future being able to attach my screen to one of those bolted-onto-my-desk swinging arms, thereby freeing up some desk space. Not all screens have the screw holes in the back of them to make this easy. Often, those imperfect internet images don’t tell you about this.

I will spare you a blow-by-blow account of everything that happened during my screen marathon, but two particular things made life difficult. One, shops (Currys PC World in particular) have a nasty habit of displaying screens as being on sale when, it turns out, they aren’t available on account of having run out. Only the one manky old display version remains. Twice, my efforts to buy a screen were thwarted by this nasty little shop habit.

But worse, far worse, was that the first screen that I decided to buy, a Samsung S24F356, turned out to be defective. When I got it home and plugged it in, I discovered that it was seriously overheating. The right hand edge of the screen, near to where the power feeds in, quickly became almost too hot to touch. That couldn’t be good. The tropical weather that has been afflicting London lately solidified my determination not to tolerate this. So, back I went with it to Currys PC World Tottenham Court Road. And I swapped my Samsung S24F356 for an identical model, another Samsung S24F356. Everything else, apart from the overheating, about the Samsung S24F356 seemed very nice, and I assumed – well, I hoped – that the overheating on the first Samsung S24F356 was a one-off misfortune.

Wrong. Exactly the same thing happened again, with my second Samsung S24F356. This too suffered from an identical overheating problem, in the exact same places. At that point, the Samsung S24F356 was definitely off my list of potential screens, and if you are thinking of buying a Samsung S24F356, the very least you should do is get someone to plug it in to check if it overheats, before you even think about buying it.

My quest for a satisfactory screen continued. I visited two different branches of Maplins, neither of which, it turned out, sold any screens at all, but by then I was also looking at those swinging arm thingies, which Maplins do sell. And I also visited John Lewis in Oxford Street, Peter Jones in Sloane Square, and no less than four different branches of Currys PC World, before I finally saw (and was able to buy) what I wanted, in the last of those four Currys PC Worlds, the one in Brixton.

While on my travels I discovered another Samsung S24F356 that was on show and plugged in, in another branch of Currys PC World, which was also overheating in the exact same manner that I had become familiar with. And, I also discovered that an identical fault afflicted at least one manifestation of the slightly more expensive curved version of the Samsung S24F356, namely the Samsung C24F396. I cannot say for sure that all versions of the Samsung S24F356 and the Samsung C24F396 are thus afflicted. Is this a design fault, or merely a faulty batch of some particular component? I do not know. What I do know is that at no point in my searchings did I encounter any versions of these two screens that were on show and plugged in that were not overheating in the manner I have described.

When I finally got my screen, I only succeeded after I had made a scene, in Currys PC World Brixton. I found a screen that looked perfect, not least because it was not a Samsung, and I then asked a Currys PC World Brixton shop assistant: Have you got any of those, actually for sale?

Er, let me see, er, um, er, um: … no.

Cue the scene, in front of several other customers. “It is very, very annoying when you put things on show and up for sale, which turn out not to be for sale. This has happened to me several times recently in various Currys PC Worlds and I’m fed up with it.” Or words to that effect. (If all else failed, I could switch my screen searching to the Internet, and both they and I knew this.)

Further efforts to find a screen of the sort I wanted which they could sell to me were then made by various Brixtonian Currys PC Worlders. In total, about four different shop assistants got drawn into all this drama, and it must have taken over half an hour in all. But the upshot was that eventually, after much searching in their storage basement, and after me doing a repeat performance of my scene, to the discomfort of another shop assistant, also in clear sight and earshot of more customers, a screen which had been on display but which was still in good nick, and its box, and all its appendages (both documentary and physical), was found. So I bought it, and I am now using it. And it seems, complete with its screw holes in the back, very good.

Why do I go to all the bother of describing my computer screen frustrations in such detail, given than I have become so remiss here lately in failing to complain about the world in a more general sort of way? Short answer: because it worked, and because I enjoy telling you about it all. Eventually, all my complaints had the desired effect. Defective screens were acknowledged to be defective. After the second one had proved defective, my money was returned. Not nearly enough to cover all the bother I had been put to, but at least I wasn’t out of pocket in mere cash. (Also, by then I was starting to realise that a Samizdata blog posting would do much to console me for all the bother.) And, finally, crucially, I eventually got my hands on what seems now to be an excellent screen.

This is the thing about capitalism. When you complain about it, it often responds by getting better. Yes, it makes mistakes, often huge mistakes, and yes, it may at first pretend that there’s no problem. But if you raise your voice a bit, the way I did and am doing now, especially now when such voice-raising can also be done on social media, you stand a very good chance of getting their attention, and of getting your problem sorted.

The Currys PC World shop assistant who refunded my overheated Samsung S24F356 money assured me that a written report of the reason for my double Samsung S24F356 dissatisfaction would be penned, by him, to be fed along the food chain. And who knows? Maybe, alerted by Currys PC World, or perhaps even by this blog posting, Samsung will realise that they have a potentially serious problem with their overheating Samsung S24F356s and maybe also their Samsung C24F396s.

I say serious, because if you google “overheating Samsung S24F356” (a phrase I was careful to include in the title of this) you get a lot of stuff about the very public overheating of various versions of the Samsung Galaxy mobile phone, which did not surprise me because I distinctly recalled all that fuss as soon as google started reminding me about it. Samsung already have a lot of experience with overheating problems. Worse, the number of different versions of the Samsung Galaxy thus afflicted suggests that the problems with the Samsung S24F356 may be more than just a few faulty components. I intend to keep on googling on this subject. So far, I have found nobody else who has noticed the overheating of the Samsung S24F356, or for that matter the overheating of the Samsung C24F396, but I am a very poor googler. Can the Samizdata commentariat discover more? If there are others who suffered as I did, Samsung could be in the middle of a quite serious problem, what with all the hoo-hah they suffered with their various Samsung Galaxies. They are starting to look like The Corporation That Cannot Prevent Overheating.

Compare all the above dramas with the public sector. In this connection I recommend that you read or re-read, whichever, this posting, that I did here in 2011, back when I used to post here more regularly than now, and which I think is one of the better Samizdata things I ever did. That posting was about an equal-but-opposite drama which I suffered at the hands of the British Post Office. On that occasion, as you will learn if you read or re-read that posting, it was I who had to suffer the assertive verbiage, which I was subjected to by the Post Office. And it was I who had to bite my tongue and pretend to be happy. They behaved ridiculously, and I had to keep totally quiet about that. (Until the Internet came along and I was able to have a good old moan about it all, here.)

So, this is the Samizdata-friendly moral I am attaching to all my screen searchings. People moan about capitalism, partly because they just do, but partly also because such behaviour is, when targetted at some particular bit of capitalism, at least as likely to be rewarded rather than punished. The problem will quite likely be solved.

Beneath and beyond the mere customer satisfaction issues with the particular product involved in this or that drama, there is the deep pleasure to be had from being publicly and incontrovertibly right about something of some significance. All those Samsung S24F356s were definitely overheating, as was that Samsung C24F396. Something was and is definitely wrong with them. I know that I am right about this, and now I know that I am being rather more publicly right about it. No wonder people sound off, as I have done, about this or that capitalist defect. It’s fun, and it works. The result is this constant hum of anti-capitalist complaint, and the constant downfall of capitalist enterprises that, metaphorically speaking – and perhaps in the case of Samsung, literally – cannot take the heat.

But if you complain about some government department or alleged government “service”, then quite aside from them merely announcing that this means they need more money, and that taxes should go up to pay for this, the only thing they are likely actually to do for you personally, or to you personally, is to punish you in some way for your insubordination.

If all you do to explain the – on the face of it utterly ridiculous – contrast between how much people complain about capitalism while simultaneously failing to complain a hundred times more and more loudly about the hugely worse public sector, is to bang on about how much better capitalism is and so very obviously is, you miss the point, or at any rate you miss my point. Which is: Look at which sort of complaining is likely to accomplish anything good, for you personally, if you personally do it. Once you do this, the contrast starts to make sense.

When you are having an argument with someone about about the relative merits of capitalism when compared to state provision, and when they point out how much people complain about capitalism, don’t just say: People do this because they are stupid. Say: People do this because it works.

42 comments to The overheating Samsung S24F356 – and thoughts about why there are so many complaints about capitalism

  • Ian

    All I can add is that the Samsung S24E650 I recently purchased runs as cool as a cucumber, and it’s a very nice screen.

  • why there are so many complaints about capitalism

    Capitalist economies have problems, as do socialist economies, because you always have problems when humans interact.

    The problems in capitalist economies are inherent in economies.
    The problems in socialist economies are inherent in socialism.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Same is true of Marks & Spencers clothes. Why do they get so many complaints? Because they do something about them.

    In fact the M&S policy on returning clothes was so generous that they started having to take measures to stop dishonest women (it is mostly women) buying an M&S outfit for a special occasion, wearing it, then returning it and getting a refund.

  • Alisa

    because I have a face in front of me to complain to and from whom to demand satisfaction.

    ‘Now that’s what I call a dead computer screen…’

  • Fraser Orr

    Your story reminded me of an experience I had when I was a kid, about 15 years old I think. I had saved up my money to buy something, and went to Woolworths. The customer service they gave me was absolutely awful. They treated me like a stupid kid who they could push around. I walked out without my purchase, clutching my hard won money, deeply upset, and vowed never to shop at Wooolworths again. Which I didn’t, and I got a certain degree of satisfaction later when they went out of business, no doubt prompted primarily from the loss of my business.

    Of course that was completely unfair. Just because one shop assistant with a bad attitude one day pissed me off, really isn’t a good reason to write off the whole store.

    But here is the thing: I could. It was completely within my power to tell them to f-off, because I could go to the store next door.

    When the guy at the DMV treated me much worse, I had to grin and bear it, because there is no DMV next door.

    Irrespective of any other economic benefits, this fact alone is reason to privatize absolutely everything that it is possible to privatize.

  • Rob Fisher

    A very entertaining article and a very good point. Thank-you, Brian.

  • Rob Fisher

    “When the guy at the DMV treated me much worse, I had to grin and bear it, because there is no DMV next door.”

    I have been noticing more and more these notices at service counters which say something like, “do not be rude to our staff”. Usually they use more words and are quite condescending. Now I have just formed the hypothesis that these notices appear mostly in places where you can’t just take your custom next door.

  • Sigivald

    Not all screens have the screw holes in the back of them to make this easy


    Do people actually sell monitors without VESA mounts in 2017?

  • Brian Micklethwait (London)

    Sigivald: Yes, they most definitely do, in London anyway. Hewlett Packard do. And I came across one by Acer which I nearly bought and would have bought had they had one actually on sale. Thank goodness they didn’t even though it cost me an extra day’s hunting, because that too lacked screw holes behind.

  • Brian Micklethwait (London)

    Rob: Thanks for the kind words.

  • Sam Duncan

    “Do people actually sell monitors without VESA mounts in 2017?”

    I’ve heard they’re actually on the decline for some reason that I haven’t been able to determine. Possibly it’s because displays are now so thin and light that attaching one would significantly reduce the thinness and lightness.

  • An excellent post Brian, with useful follow-up comments from Natalie and Fraser. (In case of interest, I give below my summary version which I will use in conversation should appropriate opportunity offer.)

    BTW, Curries/PCWorld exists for people who want to buy computer stuff but do not feel comfortable using a computer to do the buying. On the rare occasions i ever went there, I sometimes wondered if it employed assistants who can relate to the customers on this point. (At least they would lack the knowledge to behave as the assistants do in the gramophone sketch from “Not the nine o’clock news. 🙂 ) AFAICR, the more general store John Lewis has been OK for such things when members of my family have purchased there.


    People moan about capitalism, partly because people moan about things, but mostly also because such behaviour is, when targetted at some particular bit of capitalism, more likely to be rewarded than punished. The problem will quite likely be solved. But if you complain about some government department or alleged government “service”, then quite aside from them merely announcing that this means they need more money, so your taxes should go up to pay for this, the only thing they are likely actually to do for you personally, or to you personally, is to punish you in some way for your insubordination.

    Look at Marks & Spencers clothes, for example. Why do they get so many complaints? Because they do something about them. A friend of mine once had lousy service in Woolworths, so he walked out and never shopped there again. He admitted afterwards that that was completely unfair. Just because one shop assistant with a bad attitude one day pissed him off, really isn’t a good reason to write off the whole store. But here is the thing: he could. It was completely within his power to tell them to f-off, because he could go to the store next door. Then some guy at the DMV treated him much worse, and he had to grin and bear it uncomplainingly, because there is no DMV next door.

  • Myno

    Being on an island and desirous of a 3D TV, with no local outlets selling such rare items, I was shopping on the Web. Went with a mid-range Samsung, direct from Samsung. Won’t ever do THAT again. [After copious Web interface issues, pages lying about shipping costs, discussions with shipping subcontractors allowing as to how everything I was suffering at the hands of Samsung USA was de rigur, sprinkled liberally with copious human error and incompetence, the unit arrived… but then Samsung USA tried to charge me twice for the unit. Had to forward my email chain with Samsung to my credit card company to stop that madness.] As for the unit itself, the hardware display is simply outstanding. It’s a 4K with “uprez” and it makes the output of our Oppo Blu-Ray player look fantastic for all of our 3D movies. But the trouble is that that fabulous hardware runs an Android operating system. Regularly has to be unplugged from power for several minutes to reset the unit, and hazes us with unexpected behaviors. As for the market forces involved, Samsung seems to my experience to be quite blind. Heck of an opportunity for its competition!

  • bobby b

    In order to renew auto licenses and titles, and apply for Driver’s Licenses, we used to have to go to a state-owned-and-operated DMV facility. It was open weekdays from 9 to 5, which was inconvenient. If you went at 9am, there would be five or six workers waiting behind their counters with nothing to do. If you went after 3 (when everyone else could make it) you’d see the same number of workers, with long lines and an hour’s wait. They were surly at times, and heaven help you if you commented on it.

    Then my state authorized the franchising of those offices. Private facilities appeared, paid for by a $3 fee added to your transaction. They were open 6 days per week, from 8am to 7pm. They adjusted staffing levels to meet demand. They were usually eager to help. They made the actual DMV look quite bad.

    They eventually closed most of them, as they caused demand at the state-run offices to drop so much that there was talk of laying off state employees. The state employees union lobbied everyone concerned, and the state dropped talk of layoffs and simply took franchises away until there were sufficient customers at the state-run spots to justify their staffing, so we’re back to taking off from work early and standing in line. Progress.

  • Laird

    bobby b, progress indeed. You’re in Wisconsin, right? Birthplace of AFSCME and home to predatory public employee unions. The only thing which surprises me is that they experimented with those “franchises” in the first place; the end result would have been completely predictable from the beginning.

    FWIW, in my state (SC) they restructured the DMV several years ago and it’s now one of the better (most customer-friendly) state agencies. The hours aren’t much better than yours (8:30 – 5), but you can download many of the forms so you can be better prepared when you walk in. They have a “greeter” who figures out what you need and puts you into the proper queue (different windows for different matters). You’re assigned a number and a big screen shows who is up next and where. And in my experience the employees are reasonably friendly and helpful. I complain about many aspects of my state government, but surprisingly DMV is no longer one of them. So it can be done even without outsourcing, if there’s a will.

  • bobby b

    Minnesota, Laird. We’re worse than Wisconsin. Clinton won here. 😆

  • Laird

    My condolences.

  • Eric

    … I have a face in front of me to complain to and from whom to demand satisfaction.

    Well, of course you get better results if you threaten pistols at dawn.

  • Cal Ford

    The service in Currys is so comically inept that you just couldn’t make it up.

    I’ve had endless problems with Samsung screens, and will never buy another one ever again. Dell, on the other hand, make fantastic screens, and I can assure you that you can buy their screens with confidence without needing to see it one in the flesh.

  • Sean

    In a capitalist society, complaining may get your issue fixed (eventually). In a socialist one, complaining will get you (the problem) fixed.

  • Roué le Jour

    I live in the boondocks of Thailand. My local DMV equivalent also has a reception desk that checks you have the correct documents and gives you a ticked for the right window. There is a flat screen showing the current number. Recently renewing my motorbike tax I found I was twelve back. I breifly contemplated wandering out to the car park for a cold drink (one of the advantages of living in a third world county is that wherever there are a number of people there are refreshments) but I would have missed my slot if I had. The clerk was averaging an impressive 90 seconds a customer.

    I mention this because first worlders sometimes fail to grasp how fast the rest of the world is catching up.

  • Fraser Orr

    One comment from this naturalized American, who grew up in Scotland. If you think the DMV or the IRS are bad you should try the INS (or BCIS as they call it now.) At least the DMV and IRS are theoretically accountable to the voters, but for the poor immigrant who is utterly without power, it is quite amazing how abusive these people are. Honestly, they treated me nicely enough, though there was all the hours of waiting and the “oh you didn’t cross this t you’ll have to reapply in triplicate, which will take another six months”. But I am white skinned and allegedly speak fairly good English.

    Brown skinned people, or people who don’t speak English well were treated absolutely horrendously. Imagine, if you will, sitting in a room full of people whose hopes and dreams are about to be decided by some petty little bureaucrat with barely a high school education. One wrong word and the caprice of these people sends you back to live in some third world hell hole. Imagine pathetic little jumped up shits with government badges yelling and screaming at families in front of their kids, humiliating them, because they can’t understand, tormenting them for the crime of not getting the photo perfectly in accordance with some petty government standard, and then kicking them out of the office to some horrendous uncertain future. And nobody dare speak a word lest their own situation be jeopardized by them.

    I understand that immigration is a privilege not a right, but I challenge you Americans to go sit in that room some time and see how these hopeful foreigners longing for the American dream, are treated like so much trash. It made me ashamed of my newly adopted country, or its government at least.

  • llamas

    What Fraser Orr said. And double for immigration agents at the border.

    It surprises me to say this, but UK Border Force officers are actually streets ahead of US immigration officers.

    The Americans all seem to be on some sort of bizarre power trip, the connection of which to their actual goals seems tenuous at best. When you see some morbidly-obese, pig-eyed, poorly-shaven, scruffily-dressed, but heavily-armed ICE officer (a fully-loaded Glock, two extra mags, pepper spray, baton – really? Lots of riots in the arrivals hall, are there?) screaming contradictory directions at the top of their lungs at a mass of people in a mixture of patois and the richest dialects of the inner city, you have to ask yourself – is this really contributing to the goals of keeping our borders secure?

    The Brits, by contrast (or at least, the ones I have dealt with lately) seem to be generally smart, well-spoken, calm, polite, and focused on their actual goals, which would be finding people who should not be let into the country. I’ve been effectively mind-frisked on several occasions at Heathrow, to the point where I recognize the techniques they are using – they actually make sense.

    The last time I came through Detroit Metro, the international arrivals had about 10 officers doing crowd control – directing people to the ‘automated’ data terminals with that peculiar mixture of officiousness and ineptitude which immediately makes one think ‘ah! Union employees!’) and about 2 officers checking documents. A 90 minute wait. And when one finally arrived FTF with an actual immigration officer, the ‘inspection’ was so perfunctory as to be laughable – the guy was 8 parts asleep, obviously gloriously disinterested in what he was doing, and clearly longing for the end of his shift. I was not inspired with confidence in the ‘security’ being provided.

    We should be ashamed, but we’re not.



  • Michael Jennings

    Of course that was completely unfair. Just because one shop assistant with a bad attitude one day pissed me off, really isn’t a good reason to write off the whole store.

    Retailers with good customer service understand this point very well – which is that one bad experience with one employee can lose a lifetime of business. (“Be nice to fifteen year olds” is probably also good advice, because this is one of the points in life when people are likely deciding where they are going to be spending their money for the next x decades). I have seen (good) retailers spend surprisingly large amounts of money to fix things so that a bad customer experience becomes a very good one, because responding to a complaint well is actually one of the best ways to create loyalty.

    Woolworths were not a retailer with good customer service, though.

  • Michael Jennings

    It surprises me to say this, but UK Border Force officers are actually streets ahead of US immigration officers.

    That’s true, but I would add a caveat that you should be careful about making the comparison unless you are entering both as a citizen, or both as a foreigner. (If you are finding the British officers more pleasant than the US officers when using a US passport for both, then that is really damning, however).

    Security procedures when departing from British airports – where the people who conduct security checks are privately employed by the airports to enforce government rules, rather than actually working for the government – are somewhat less unpleasant than those carried out by the TSA in the US in my experience, too.

    As an aside, until about five or six years ago, London’s three largest airports – Heathrow, Gatwick, and Stansted – belonged to a single company. (This was Margaret Thatcher’s fault. Privatising the airports was obviously a good idea, but they should have been sold separately rather than together). Heathrow made most of the profits, and had most of the attention of management. The attitude of security staff at the other airports – Stansted in particular – was ghastly. (I wrote an enraged post on this blog after a particularly bad experience once). The three airports now have three different owners. Security at Stansted is now very fast and efficient, and the staff are friendly and helpful. Isn’t it weird what competition can do?

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Brian, if age is ‘slowing you down’, you might want to try an inexpensive dietary supplement called CoQ10 (there are many brands of it). I’m 75, have been using it for maybe five months, and have more energy than I’ve had in years.

  • Alisa

    What Llamas said.

    If you are finding the British officers more pleasant than the US officers when using a US passport for both, then that is really damning, however

    I am, although I am dark-skinned and have a noticeable accent – but still.

  • patriarchal landmine

    I know it’s not uncommon nowadays to hear that a company aired yet another ad that slathers on yet more anti male blood libel, but I do remember samsung attempting this.


    as it turns out, this seems to be their new operating principal.


  • llamas

    Michael Jennings – YHS is a US citizen and travels to both places on a US passport.

    Howesomever – your humble servant was not born in the US, but in the Netherlands. And your humble servant speaks with a strong Home Counties accent, definitely ‘received pronunciation’. I can still ‘pass’ in a South London pub with no problem.

    An immigration officer – anywhere – should take a second look at me because I have an unusual background. The UK Border Force officers do – they obviously have some details about me on their screens, based on the questions they ask. ‘Do you still maintain a UK driving license’ was one they asked me, a few trips back. ‘Where are you staying while you are in the UK? (answer) How will you get there? (answer) How long do you expect to have to drive to get there? (the kicker question)’. It’s classic questioning technique.

    The US officers are semi-comatose at best, their questions are formulaic and delivered as series of semi-intelligible grunts. I’m not impressed b the added ‘security’ they provide.



  • Rob Fisher

    Llamas: “I’ve been effectively mind-frisked on several occasions at Heathrow, to the point where I recognize the techniques they are using”. I think I know what you are talking about but I would like to hear more about these techniques and compare them to my own experiences. Is it anything more than asking a few questions about the nature of your trip?

  • Rob Fisher

    patriarchal landmine: I can’t bring myself to be so easily offended.

  • bobby b

    ” . . . aired yet another ad that slathers on yet more anti male blood libel . . . “

    Samsung needs to expand their female market now that all of the males know that their screens overheat.

  • Sam Duncan

    “The service in Currys is so comically inept that you just couldn’t make it up.”

    It is strange that, as Brian says, complaining to them will get you somwehere as an individual, case-by-case as it were, but DSG, almost uniquely among retailers, never seems to learn over time. They’ve been terrible for at least 30 years. To the point, even, that the Dixons name became so tarnished they had to retire it. And still continued being rubbish.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that they only reason they survive is that if you know exactly what you’re looking for, know the going price, and it comes in a sealed package that they can’t have sold to someone else before you (14″ Hitachi TV, back in the 90s; found the previous receipt in the box… everyone has a Dixons story, right?), they’re not completely horrible.

  • Michael Jennings

    If you are a citizen entering a country you are a citizen of, you have a right of entry. The immigration officer has no discretion as to whether you may enter or not. The only question of relevance is whether you are a citizen or not. Is the passport you are carrying genuine, and is it yours. If are you are not a citizen, his job is to decide whether you may enter or not. This is a fundamentally different thing, and his job is quite different.

  • Alisa

    Michael, the point is that – at least in my experience – the UK immigration officers seem to be much nicer and smarter than the US ones, regardless of who is in front of them.

  • NickM

    USA TSA, Fort Lauderdale, 2006…

    She confiscates a can of Guinness from the guy ahead of me and openly swigs it.

  • bobby b

    On an average day, around 1,200,000 people cross the border into the USA.

    On an average day, around 100,000 people cross the border into the UK.

    Border protection can be handled using the Israeli model, or the dumb model.

    In the Israeli model, intelligent and discerning people interact with all entrants at some point in the process – sometimes at the actual counters, sometimes in casual conversation somewhere in the airport – and get a personalized feel for each entrant. Quality of personnel is high.

    In the dumb model, paperwork is the key. Low-wage, low-ability cattle herders push entrants through the chutes and ladders of the paperwork-approving process. Little reliance is placed on personal interaction or questioning. Quality of personnel is low.

    Most European countries have chosen some variation of the Israeli model.

    Here in the USA, we’ve chosen the dumb model. I suspect this is partially because it would be very expensive to hire enough intelligent probers and give them discretion over who to admit, and partially because we’ve allowed our legal system to wipe out discretion across all operating areas of government. (Discretion allows for discrimination; it’s safer to simply Apply Rules.) This is why the visa system is so important for us: it’s our only check on who is coming in.

    And this is why our borders are staffed with arrogant petty a**holes with little intelligence and less compassion. Apologies for that.

  • Douglas2

    Fraser Orr, I’ve decided that the US immigration system is designed to be impermeable until your sponsor seeks aid from the staff of a senator or congressperson. Then all paths are magically made smooth. I think they expect to get votes from it or some such.

    I’ve had a UK immigration officer notice that the expiry date of my visa was incorrect (one year earlier than it should have been, and I had not noticed in my jet-lagged state when it was issued), and say “well this is obviously wrong, they must have set the date stamp wrong — let’s just get this fixed”. And it was, in mere minutes.

  • llamas

    @ Rob Fisher re: questioning techniques.

    The US approach, generally, is very prescriptive, oppositional and confrontational, with an emphasis on factual details and specifics. It’s why the US immigration forms for foreigners are so ridiculous – have you ever supported the overthrow of the US government? There’s an underlying belief that the collection of data is a useful tool in these matters. Couple that with the widespread use of elements of the Reid technique, which permeates US law enforcement like a bad smell, and you end up with what I and others described above – fat, sweaty, scruffy ICE officers barking stupid and meaningless questions at tired and frightened foreigners about where they will stay and whether they have a return ticket. As I’ve observed before, real terrorists and bad guys will be quiet and compliant and their papers will be in perfect order – because that’s what the US immigration system uses as its primary tool of examination. It’s why the first stop on the immigration line is an automated terminal. There’s a saying in law enforcement – play stupid games, win stupid prizes – and US immigration is a specimen case of this principle in action.

    In Europe, by contrast, there seems to be a much stronger tendency to look at the person and not at the papers, and to examine the characteristics of the person, and the primary approach seems to be to look for inconsistencies in a person’s story and signs of deception. A bad guy’s cover story will likely be quite good, but it’s hard to be deceptive in depth and about things that are not directly connected with the story you’re trying to put across. So the approach is to question tangentially, to ask about things which should be easy to answer, and to ask the same question in many slightly-different ways, looking for inconsistencies and disconnects.

    Yelling at people doesn’t work, and is a sure sign of frustration and a loss of focus on the supposed goals. And – as I’m sure many other frequent travelers will attest – the behaviours of US immigration and ‘security’ staff often seem to have very little to do with their stated goals and much more to do with getting people processed, operating a highly-prescriptive process with as little thought as possible, and punishing travelers for their ‘bad’ acts, none of which have much to do with safety or security.

    Mouth off to a TSA agent and you’re likely to suffer humiliating and time-consuming consequences. But ask yourself – how likely is it that a bad guy will actually try and draw attention to themselves in this way?

    bobby b. has the right way of it – the US has chosen the dumb-automaton approach.

    Douglas2 – all paths are magically made smooth? Te salud – getting a Kipling quote in there. I all but missed it.



  • Alastair

    A couple of other government services in the UK are way better than in the US. Filling in a tax return can be done on line with a relatively simple form and good online help and they process it very quickly and respond on line too. My 16 year old son recently renewed his passport and applied for his first ever driving license. The former is a simple paper form and submit a photo. The passport came in three weeks. The driving license application is all online. They use the photo from your passport; the DVLA (our equivalent of the US DMV) IT systems actually being able to communicate with the Passport Office ones. It came in a week.

    I hypothesise this may be because historically the government has outsourced a lot of what is hard to privatise. Until recently I worked for a provider of outsourced prisons in the UK. They perform much better than the public ones on average. The head of the business used to be a public sector prison governor and he speculated the main benefit to the Ministry of Justice of outsourcing was being able to threaten under-performing public prison governors and the Prison Officers union with further outsourcing if they didn’t shape up. They could of course privatise them all but there is a lot of political opposition to that. They seem to find having a few is politically acceptable and enough pour encourage les autres.

  • Thailover

    Samsung’s overheating problems aren’t manufacturing problems. they’re design flaws. Pure unadulterated laziness. I say this as someone with a minor degree in electronic engineering.

  • Thailover

    “Yelling at people doesn’t work”

    Yelling works wonderfully unless you’re dealing with enforcement types. The last thing a retailer wants is for a customer to go ape s*** crazy.