The Horrors And Hurt Feelings Of Profiling

This is for sale at outdoor vending machines in Japan.
Ver are your papers!

“Um. Hang on. I’m sure I have them on me. Wait. Here,” said the man, handing them over.

The clerk examined them closely. He arched his eyebrow. “Your papers,” he said, pausing slightly, “are not in order.” A sly grin spread across his face.

The man’s eyes darted back and forth. He turned his body as if to go and reflexively reached out to retrieve his papers, but the clerk held them close. “No, that can’t be right. Are you sure? They must be,” he said, his desperation turning the last few words into a bare whisper. “Check again,” he pleaded.

The clerk did not look at them again, but said, “Yes. They are fine.”

The relief on the man’s face was evident.

“So that was a large Miller Lite?” asked the clerk.

The man nodded, accepted his beer, and walked away.


The transformation of the Wall Street Journal into the New York Times, only with more charts, is nearly complete, as evidenced by today’s front page story, “White Hair, Wrinkles Aren’t Valid ID At These Drinking Establishments.”

The subtitle of this injustice-of-the-day-article, a staple of the Times and now the WSJ, goes to prove the contention that there is no worse crime than to hurt somebody’s feelings: “Universal Carding, Flattering to Some, Aims to Halt Profiling.”

Yes, not asking to see the ID of a man “90 years old in a wheelchair”, a man whom any even half-sane ex-terrorist-bomber-murderer professor at Columbia could tell was older than 21, is profiling. The piece doesn’t say, but we all have been trained well and know that profiling happens because of racism.

The point of asking to see the ID of everybody, even obviously older people—one foolishly proud bartender boasted of asking to see the ID of a 96-year-old—“is to eliminate the guesswork and social goofs that often seem to go with making sure youngsters don’t drink.”

And there it is, the standby, “What about the children!” Heaven forfend the occasional 20-year-old is sold a six-pack at the 7-11. This nation’s attitude to alcohol is best described as, and here I use the technical term, insane. Better to ask all for an ID lest a swarm of lawyers swoop down and sue. It won’t be long—mark my words—before records are kept on who’s buying what. “I see Mr Briggs that last week you bought a fifth of Old Overholt, yet here you are for more.”

The trick to avoid being non-profiled is to say when asked to shown ID “I don’t have one” or “I didn’t bring one with me.” It only works at smaller establishments where the mercenary interest of the owner usually trumps his political correctness. It hardly ever flies at chain stores where the poor clerks at the checkout are just “following orders.”

There’s a Japanese grocery story chain I frequent when in Silicon Valley which insists on IDs for everybody. I learned this after trying to buy a bottle of Orion (brewed in Okinawa, where I once lived). The clerk asked me for an ID, which I stupidly showed her. But since I am a New York resident, my out-of-state drivers license flummoxed her. A senior clerk was called over to ponder this most complex situation. Finally, it was decided to take my ID to the back where a manager gave the OK. All this for one bottle of brew.

I learned my lesson and don’t buy booze from them anymore. But another time I was in the store with a colleague who was still naive. He was asked for his ID and showed it. Since he’s Californian, it was all right. Then the clerk asked for my ID, too. I told her I wasn’t buying the beer: I wasn’t buying anything. She said it was “store policy” to see the ID of everybody who is together.

No way was I going to show her anything. I asked her what do you do when a mom and child come in? Refuse to sell her alcohol? No reply. I then told her it was against my “policy” to produce an ID when I wasn’t buying anything. Nothing. Logic clearly wasn’t working and so I finally told her to pretend I wasn’t with my friend, which I proved by walking out of the store. My colleague got his beer, but just barely.

There is some hope. Tennessee and Indiana mandated universal IDs. “But then some crabby old folks got on the phone and gave the politicians an earful” and the laws were repealed. What’s sad is that the poor writer doesn’t know the difference between “crabby old folks” and “irate commonsensical people.”


  1. Rich

    Thank you for bringing that article to my attention.

    “”We don’t discriminate,” said Ms. Severino” but of course they do discriminate, ruthlessly, against under-age drink-purchasers.

    “…make universal ID checks mandatory in package stores (not bars). Mayor Craig Johnson, 53, says liquor sales to kids evaporated.” How does he know?

    “Scott Pelath, the Democratic minority leader, says, “All it did was set folks off. We forgot that there’s a fine line between clever and stupid.”” On the part of whom? He doesn’t say.

    The air of triumphalism from those who’ve implemented this is particularly irritating.

    My ego would not be ‘soothed’. I don’t imagine for a second that that charming girl behind the counter mistook me for a 17 year-old.

    I also relish the irony that grumpy old men like me can get grumpy about this.

  2. Ken

    RE: “The piece doesn’t say, but we all have been trained well and know that profiling happens because of racism”

    …AND…when it comes to anything involving women, because MEN are CHAUVINISTIC PIGS. So I’ve heard…just saying…

    …and then came this bizarre assertion:

    RE: “It won’t be long—mark my words—before records are kept on who’s buying what.”

    Where have you been Briggs??? You need to get with the times….

    …Those days were one could claim ‘won’t be long’ are lllooooonnnngggg past. Don’t believe me, go read the following:

    How Target Figured Out a Teen Girl Was Pregnant Before Her Father Did:

    The Internet Surveillance State (with numerous links in this essay, each highlighting facets of the surveillance “state” we are now in…and its not government, so much, doing the ‘surveilling’):

    Dangers of Surveillance (a Harvard Law Review paper):

    Even mainstream Time understands the issue:,9171,2058205,00.html

    Even Liberal Al Franken gets it: AND AND a recent speech of his:

    You see, Briggs, as a statistician you should be on top of trends like the above–there’s a market for your statistical services in ferreting out personal facts marketers can use to market & sell stuff more effectively.


  3. DAV

    Back in Pennsylvania, where the drinking age was always 21, it was easy to get served in a bar at 17. The guy behind the bar would always ask “You got a card?” to which the reply was “Sure!”. Never did figure out why he wanted to know if I had a library card.

    Seriously, though, what he meant was an Liquor Control Board ID. It was (and maybe still is) the only valid proof of age. In PA some people over 21 weren’t allowed to have one and not asking a stranger for one could lead a heavy fine. Strangely, I never had to produce one until I was 25.

  4. Gary

    Tell the clerk you’re there to vote. That should stop the nonsense.

  5. Katie

    Records of buying are already collected. One store where I buy an occasional 6-pack always scans my ID. Who knows where this information is sent off to and stored?

  6. dearieme

    A friend (a friend, see?) lived in the US for three months when he was 19, back in ’66. He found that he could buy a beer in NJ or NY or DC by showing his British driving licence and asserting that it proved he was old enough to drink.

    It also worked in California for wine. Apparently.

    He never did learn the official drinking ages for those jurisdictions.

  7. Ye Olde Statistician

    In 66, drinking age was 18 in NYC and DC and 21 in NJ, leading to the NY/NJ border’s designation as a “blood border.”

  8. Sylvain Allard

    Legal drinking age in Canada is 18.

    21 is kind of excessive.

  9. margaret berger

    Loved your comment about WSJ turning into NYT. Dropped the WSJ about a year ago and don’t even watch FOX anymore. Rupert sold his paper and tv station to keep his son out of prison.

  10. Bernie Hutchins

    Back about 18 years ago my wife and I owned a liquor store here in Ithaca (this detail for Matt). We did a good job of carding, and the police station was literally across the street. At times we did card someone who just looked young. It can’t be helped, and no one minds much. My wife carded a man who was 40, apologized, and he said “That’s OK, they always card my father too.”

    We were responsible for all members of a group, including kids in a car outside (small drive up plaza storefront). So when a group of three or four or five youngsters arrived, we just recognized that there was no sale to be made, and figured we could just have some fun. So at check-out we carded the “designated buyer” and addressed him by name: “Mr. Jones, I need to see the ID’s of the other members of your group.” This meant any of them standing there, and others who had to come inside, or come BACK inside. Brief arguments, if any, could be ended by saying “Mr. Jones, are you buying alcohol to provide to minors?” Rarely we had to tell them they could check the law by asking at the “police office right across the street.” These were college kids and they picked up on the operative phrases.

  11. Luis

    Bah, you think you are corageous by exposing this kind of crap, mr Briggs?

    Well, if you are, then I will gladly point you towards Sam Harris and his airport profiling opinions which have gathered the hatred of the blogosphere and the wider internetzz, albeit the fact that his points were pretty much rational and spot on.

    This is peanuts. Not that I mind, I love me some peanuts :).

  12. Briggs


    Courageous? Are you kidding? More like sick (I mean for real) and feeling crotchety.

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