What’s the “lesson” of 9/11?

The feds tell web firms to turn over the encrypted user account passwords, just in case they need them, but they’re not going to use them without cause, and a (rubber stamp) court order. Of course.

Photo credit: PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

Every year, I hear, especially since the 10th anniversary, “Remember 9/11! Never forget!” If we somehow forgot, we’d cease to be ‘vigilant’. I remember September 11, 2001, amazingly well, thank you. Just this summer, I was at a highway rest stop on I-87, the Northway, not far from Albany, when I saw a memorial for three people who worked for the Department of Transportation, one of whom I knew not very well, who died on that day.

Even my daughter, who wasn’t even born then, knows about 9/11. Her third-grade teacher made a point of making sure those eight-year-olds knew about it. It even got covered on the local cable channel, YNN.

But what is it that we should not forget? Since then, the United States has had two of its longest wars, including with a country that had nothing to do with the tragedy.

We have had a series of laws – such as the so-called USA PATRIOT Act, which was passed less than six weeks after the tragedy, suggesting it was already in the hopper – that has directly led to the surveillance of Americans. OK, not on Americans, just our “metadata” involving our snail mail, and phones, and e-mail. The feds tell web firms to turn over the encrypted user account passwords, just in case they need them, but they’re not going to use them without cause, and a (rubber stamp) court order. Of course.

Whether or not soldiers have been fighting for our freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s abundantly clear that freedom is being stolen at home by secret courts and executive overreach, against the wishes of most Americans. If the lesson of 9/11 is that we’ll do anything to be safe, that would be yet another tragedy.

What have I learned from 9/11?

The blending of Christianity and patriotism, as though they were the very same thing, made/makes me extremely uncomfortable.

I’m not going to get into where I was ten years ago today, mostly because I did that at some point. Rather, I just wanted to muse about stuff.

I’ve still not heard a credible explanation of why WTC 7 fell. One does not need to be a conspiracy theorist to wonder about some things that happened that day.

I remember that playing the “real American” card started very early on after the attacks. There were some guys collecting money for the victims’ families that very week. Well, I didn’t know what organization they were representing. But one guy’s demeanor, in particular, gave me pause. He suggested that not contributing to the cause was tantamount to treason. Maybe those who failed to contribute were unAmerican, even terrorists.

The American Red Cross had initiated blood drives in order to treat the many survivors of the multiple attacks in 2001. Of course, there weren’t that many survivors, but they moved forward anyway. I was scheduled to donate the week following, but they called me to NOT donate. They knew they had a bunch of one-off donors, and they figured I’d come back, but that these folks likely would not. I recall there was some criticism of the organization at the time, especially directed at the director at the time, the late Bernadine Healy. From the Red Cross section on Myths and Legends:
After 9/11, the Red Cross collected so much blood that it had to throw much of it out.
Blood is a perishable commodity, with a shelf life of about 42 days. Typically, between 1 percent and 3 percent of units collected reach their expiration date before they are used. That rate was only slightly higher (5 percent) for blood units collected from people anxious to help after 9/11, including more than a quarter-million people who gave blood for the first time.
In the uncertain days following the terrorist attacks, having a robust supply of blood available seemed prudent. It takes two to three days for blood to be collected, tested, and processed, and only blood already on the shelf can be used in the immediate aftermath of an emergency.

Have I mentioned lately that, purely from an aesthetic point of view, that I really disliked the Twin Towers? Someone said it looked like the boxes the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building were wrapped in. As a result, I had irrational guilt over their destruction.

I was surprised/confused/appalled to see how quickly the so-called USA PATRIOT Act was passed, less than two months after 9/11. One might have concluded that such extensive legislation was in the hopper even before 9/11.

As the article in Truthout, “What a Difference a Decade Makes”, points out, surveillance has swelled to the point that all of us are targeted: “Over the decade, the government’s powers of surveillance have expanded dramatically. They are directed not just at people suspected of wrongdoing, but at all of us. Our phone calls, our emails and website visits, our financial records, our travel itineraries and our digital images captured on powerful surveillance cameras are swelling the mountain of data that is being mined for suspicious patterns and associations.”

The blending of Christianity and patriotism, as though they were the very same thing, made/makes me extremely uncomfortable.

I crashed Albany Pro Musica to sing the Mozart Requiem on a very windy 11 September 2002; that was the only day ever that I wore a tuxedo to work. Exactly two weeks later, I began my weekly vigil, with a number of people who had been there weeks and months before, in my opposition to the war in Iraq. What the heck did Iraq have to do with 9/11? Took a bit of grief over that. And it would have been one thing if it were only “regular people” who jumped all over France for failing to support the curiously illogical war in Iraq; it was US Congress that opted for the jingoistic ‘freedom fries’. How embarrassing.

Someone famously wrote that, after 9/11, irony was dead. Not so. One example is some conservative “humor” book with this goody:
Start a rumor:
Janet Napolitano’s Department of Homeland Security has decided to revise its color-code warning system.
If a small-scale terrorist attack—fewer than 100 expected dead—is imminent, Ms. Napolitano will describe the situation as “calm”—Color Code: Turquoise
If a larger-scale terrorist attack—in the league of 9/11—is imminent, Ms. Napolitano will describe the situation as “relaxed”—Color Code: Ecru.
If Al Qaeda is about to destroy New York and Los Angeles simultaneously with a selection of strategically positioned nuclear devices, like in 24 only way worse柚s. Napolitano will describe the situation as “vibrant”—Color Code: Taupe.
All of this is intended to show the Muslim world that the Obama administration will not “overreact” to terrorism the way the bad old Bush administration did.

Big yucks. Islamophobia is alive and well. But I think we’re better than that.

Despite it all, I think I need to try to follow the advice of the International Institute For Human Empowerment, a representative of which wrote:

The events of 9/11 crystallized for me, the belief that we must unite as peoples of the United States, and indeed of the world, against those who seek to destroy our freedoms. The beautiful diversity that we share was challenged, making us fearful, and causing us to begin to close our hearts to those whom we might have trusted.

We have a choice. We can be afraid of anyone different from ourselves, look out only for ourselves, and live so that only the fittest survive. We can allow terrorism to win by shutting ourselves down.

Or, we can decide in our hearts and minds that humanity is one family with many beautiful expressions of color, language, and customs. We can say that we will honor all those lost and those who mourn, by declaring that we will unite toward a True Democracy–where all are equal, and all are free!

The choice is one we each will make.
The MAD magazine 9/11 cover – the untold story.

What Have We Learned?

Murfreesboro, TN is about 890 miles from Ground Zero, yet someone set on fire some of the construction equipment at the site of the planned mosque there recently.

We can agree that September 11, 2001, was a terrible day in the US, indeed, world history. But can we agree on anything else?

What are the lessons we have learned from 9/11? Is it to be more suspicious of others, or try to be more understanding? Is it that most practitioners of Islam are decent people, as President George W. Bush had suggested several times, or is it, as an increasing number of Americans feel, a religion they just don’t like, so much so that a Florida minister says he was called by God to threaten to burn Korans, despite admitting not even knowing what’s in it, and inspires potential copycats in at least three states?

Taking off the table the Islamic cultural center in Manhattan mislabeled as the “ground zero mosque”, the lesson seems to be to have no more mosques anywhere in the country. Murfreesboro, TN is about 890 miles from Ground Zero, yet someone set on fire some of the construction equipment at the site of the planned mosque there recently. Other facilities from Wisconsin to California have also run into difficulties. And I won’t even get into the “Obama is a Muslim” thing.

Meanwhile, we are concluding, it appears, the war in Iraq, except for the 50,000 left behind to continue training the Iraqis. This war, built out of post-9/11 hubris when we seemed to have forgotten Afghanistan altogether, was one I openly opposed at the time. It WAS a good opportunity for some to bash the French, who like many of our major allies, also opposed the conflict; “Freedom fries,” indeed. The separate question of whether it was “worth it” remains at best open, as long as there is no operational Iraqi government.

But what do you think are the lessons of 9/11?
Jaquandor calls for a National Read a Qur’an Day TODAY, which seems like an inspired idea.


Stitching a Meme Together

I was at work, getting ready for a plane trip to Dallas for a conference the next day, when the first plane struck. Lots of confusion about whether it was an accident.

Jaquandor stitched together a couple of Sunday Stealing memes (On speed dating, but he is happily married. I am happily married, so don’t get any ideas).

1. What’s your favorite Dr. Seuss book?

Bartholemew and the Oobleck. Like most of my favorite Geisel stories, it confronts the powerful.

2. If you could live in any home on a television series, what would it be?

The USS Enterprise.

3. What’s the longest you’ve gone without sleep?

About 40 hours. I pulled an all-nighter to study for my calculus exam in my freshman year in college. I was failing calculus but ended up with a C for the semester.

4. What’s your favorite Barry Manilow song?

“Could It Be Magic”, specifically the Chopin-inspired opening.

5. Who’s your favorite Muppet?

Kermit. I mean, he’s green, about which he has sung.

6. What’s the habit you’re proudest of breaking?

I want to say none. There are things I don’t do anymore, but proud? Not coming to me.

7. What’s your favorite website?

For work, the Census site. For pleasure, probably my old blog, because I haven’t finished updating my links here.

8. What’s your favorite school supply?

A compass. No, not THAT kind of compass. THIS kind of compass:

Also, protractors. Always thought they were fun.
You don’t know what a protractor, is, do you?

9. Who’s your favorite TV attorney?

I LOVED TV attorneys! Owen Marshall, the folks on The Bold Ones, the lawyers on the first 13 years of Law & Order. It’s probably Perry Mason, an obvious choice. But I’ll pick D.A. Forrest Bedford, played by Sam Waterston on the 1991-1993 series I’ll Fly Away.

10. What was your most recent trip of more than 50 miles?

Going to Charlotte, NC in early April, arriving on Easter Sunday.

11. What’s the best bargain you’ve ever found at a garage sale or junk shop?

I’m not one to go to garage sales or junk shops. I’m not a “bargain” hunter. I’ve bought LPs I like for cheap, in the day, but nothing specific comes to mind.

12. Where were you on September 11, 2001?

I was at work, getting ready for a plane trip to Dallas for a conference the next day, when the first plane struck. Lots of confusion about whether it was an accident. Someone got a TV and I saw the first plane in the building, but that was not much to see. There wasn’t any reason to stay, so I went back to work. Then someone told me a SECOND plane hit.

So I watched it for a while, listened to the radio for a while. There were wild reports on the radion of a couple of dozen planes that had been hijacked. Went back to see the TV in time to see the first tower collapse, and then pretty much stayed there for a couple of hours.

Someone talked with my boss, who was already in Dallas. He seemed to be trying to reassure us that he didn’t think we in Albany were in danger. (One of the planes had been in Albany air space, and we were in a 12-story building.) It wasn’t that we were afraid; it was that we were depressed (and not getting any work done anyway). Eventually, we went home about noon.

I used to go ride my bike up through the Empire State Plaza roadway, take the elevator to the concourse level and ride home. It was technically illegal, but it beat taking State Street hill. Went past a policeman, who said “Hello,” but then, given the events, started worrying about the guy with a backpack, and called to me, but I feigned not hearing him and went on as usual. (A month later, after the Afghan war began, they started checking my backpack, so I went another way thereafter.)

Inexplicably, I stopped at a record store on Central Avenue, to pick up Bob Dylan’s Love and Theft CD (with two extra songs), which I had preordered, and which was released that day. I was watching the events on the TV there. Went home, watched ABC News for about eight more hours. Have a strong recollection of a film of a plane striking the second building, taken from below, i.e., the street level. Also, recall one of the smaller buildings collapsing around 5 p.m.

Some weeks later, our program was involved with a variety of programs trying to facilitate economic recovery, for which our state director won a prestigious award from SBA.

13. What’s your favorite tree?

The weeping willow. I think they are cool.

14. What’s the most interesting biography you’ve read?

Off the top, the last bio I read was probably the Autobiography of Malcolm X, with Alex Haley.

15. What do you order when you eat Chinese food?

When I was a kid, it was sweet and sour pork. Now, it was some broccoli and beef dish, or maybe General Tso’s.

16. What’s the best costume you’ve ever worn?

This one.

17. What’s your least favorite word?

I don’t know that I have one. I DO hate when a word is misused, such as “ironic” when they mean “coincidental.”

18. If you had to be named after one of the 50 states, which would it be?

Mississippi. I like typing it, and it’d turn me into an old blues singer: Mississippi Roger Green; OK, maybe not.

19. Who’s your favorite bear?

Yogi. When I was five and a half, and in the hospital for two days with an explained and uncontrollable bloody nose, watching all of those Hanna-Barbera cartoons (Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw, Yogi) made what could have been a scary experience exciting.

20. Describe something that’s happened to you for which you have no explanation.

I was 12, give or take a year. Walking down the street when one of the lenses of my glasses shattered, while I was wearing them. Fortunately, it didn’t hurt my eye. Don’t know if something fell from a tree. I don’t think it was a BB gun. It seemed to have been something that must have fallen from above me, but there was no sign of residue.

21. If you could travel anywhere in Africa, where would it be?

Victoria Falls. I love waterfalls.

22. What did you have for lunch yesterday?

Soup. It’s almost always soup or leftovers on Saturday.

23. Where do you go for advice?

Work advice: it’s my colleagues or the BUSLIB listserv. Personal advice: one of my friends or The Wife, or some friends at church.

24. Which do you use more often, the dictionary or the thesaurus?

Dictionary, mainly for spelling. I used to be a better speller before there was spellcheck.

25. Have you ever been snorkeling? Scuba diving?

Snorkeling, in Barbados in 1999, but I really didn’t take to it.

26. Have you ever been stung by a bee?

Yes, and at least once as a child by several all at once. Not fun at all.

27. What’s the sickest you’ve ever been?

The flu, sometime since I was married, before The Daughter. Out of work all week.

28. What’s your favorite form of exercise?

Since the Y closed, about the only type I get is bicycling.

29. What’s your favorite Cyndi Lauper song?

“Girls Just Want To Have Fun”. Someone made me a mixed tape with a parody: “Boys Just Want To Have Sex.”

30. What did you do for your 13th birthday?

I think it would have been just a family party. (The only big parties I had were when I was 10 and 16.) Strawberry ice cream, for certain.

31. Are you afraid of heights?

Not especially, though being on ladders doesn’t thrill me.

32. Have you ever taken dance lessons?

Once or twice. Not my strength.

33. What’s your favorite newspaper?

Unfortunately, the Wall Street Journal. The op/ed page is awful, but it has a lot of good coverage of business stuff.

34. What’s your favorite Broadway / West End musical?

West Side Story.

35. What’s the most memorable class you’ve ever taken?

At SUNY New Paltz, American Government & Politics with Alan Chartock, back in 1971, when he was young and creative.

36. What’s your favorite knock-knock joke?

My daughter has been trying to tell this joke:
Knock knock
Who’s there?
Banana who?
Knock knock
Who’s there?
Banana who?
Knock knock
Who’s there?
Orange who?
Orange you glad I didn’t say banana ?

But she muffs the punchline but laughs hysterically. No real answer.

37. What’s your least favorite commercial?

I really don’t watch commercials anymore. I catch the annoying used car commercial now and then, but it doesn’t really affect me.
However, all-time, it had to be Wisk detergent commercials. “Ring around the collar,” with the wife looking SO ashamed. Seriously, I haven’t purchased Wisk ever since, and that was on back in the early 1970s.

38. If you could go to Disney World with any celebrity alive today, who would it be?

Kristen Chenowith. She seems like fun.

39. Do you prefer baths or showers?

Baths, but I almost never take one.

40. What’s your favorite newspaper comic strip?

Pearls Before Swine. Also like, to my surprise, Luann.

41. What’s your favorite breakfast food?

Pancakes. My favorite cereal is a Cheerios/shredded wheat mix.

42. Who’s your favorite game show host?

I always liked Allen Ludden, Dick Clark, Bob Barker, and especially Bill Cullen. Probably the only working one is Meredith Viera.

43. If you could have a superpower, what would it be?

Flight. Or transportation.

44. Do you like guacamole?

It’s OK. I’m not a huge fan, but I don’t dislike it, either.

45. Have you ever been in a food fight?

Not really. I might have thrown a donut hole or two.

46. Name five songs to which you know all the lyrics.

“Help!” (Beatles); “Yesterday” (Beatles); “A Day in the Life” (Beatles); “Act Naturally” (Buck Owens/Beatles) “The Boxer” (Simon & Garfunkel)

47. What’s your favorite infomercial?

“Favorite” and “infomercial” shouldn’t be in the same sentence. I did, when they were novel, watch a couple for Time-Life music.

48. What’s the longest you’ve ever waited in line?

1965 World’s Fair in Queens, NYC for the brand-new (to the United States) creation: Belgian waffles!

49. What’s on the cover of your address book or day planner?

Nothing but the words “Address Book”.

50. Have you ever taken a picture in one of those little booths?

ALL the time when I was a kid, at the Woolworths.

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