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Minimalist Memorial

Tribute in Light 2013

I think Pittsburgh tops NYC in terms of beauty.  It’s a bit like San Francisco plopped in Appalachia.  The geography and terrain are an integral part of Pittsburgh, something that’s missing for the most part in NYC.   There, the terrain is manmade.

But if there is one thing I miss about NYC, it’s lower Manhattan.

I used to take the PATH to the city and passed through the eerie chasm of the World Trade Center.  The Freedom Tower that is taking its place has a name that reminds me of the worst dumbing down tendencies of the Bush years. But the building itself is light and tall and majestic, a prism of reflecting planes of light.  It thrusts weightlessly over the area where Occupy made its home at Zuccotti Park.

I also miss the Tribute in Light that I used to watch from the Jersey City side of the harbor.  Some things are best when they are simple.

On 9/11 of this year, the New York City Ballet celebrated New Beginnings on the roof of 4 WTC at sunrise with a performance of Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain.  The music is one of my favorite minimalist pieces, Spiegel im Spiegel (Mirror in Mirror) by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt.

9/11

George Bush and Barack Obama at 9/11 ceremonies (pool photo NYTimes)

Paul Krugman comments today on the perplexing subdued nature of the commemorations of the 10th anniversary of 9/11.  He thinks that the shame of the anaphylactic shock that followed the event has finally caught up to us:

What happened after 9/11 — and I think even people on the right know this, whether they admit it or not — was deeply shameful. Te atrocity should have been a unifying event, but instead it became a wedge issue. Fake heroes like Bernie Kerik, Rudy Giuliani, and, yes, George W. Bush raced to cash in on the horror. And then the attack was used to justify an unrelated war the neocons wanted to fight, for all the wrong reasons.

A lot of other people behaved badly. How many of our professional pundits — people who should have understood very well what was happening — took the easy way out, turning a blind eye to the corruption and lending their support to the hijacking of the atrocity?

The memory of 9/11 has been irrevocably poisoned; it has become an occasion for shame. And in its heart, the nation knows it.

While I agree with Paul that the aftermath that followed was disgraceful and shameful, I don’t agree that the memory has been irrevocably poisoned.  For me, the memorial service at Ground Zero is for the families of the people who lost their lives that day.  It’s could also be a place for grandstanding and politicians or other bad actors who use the event to push a political agenda are, in my humbler opinion, violating the spirit of the place.  But I don’t think the memory of 9/11 is poisoned.  My aunt who has visited Shanksville, PA several times tells me how powerful the place is.  It’s really not more than a scar on the landscape.  I think the thing that awes her is the idea that a group of desperate passengers were not going to go down without a fight.  Knowing that their chances of survival were slim, they armed themselves with pots of hot coffee and service carts and took the bastards on.  The plane disintegrated on impact and hit the ground in rural Somerset county PA with such force that some of the pieces buried themselves.  It makes us wonder if we would have that much courage.

The other day, I listened to an interview with a firefighter who survived the collapse of the North tower along with the rest of his company and a woman who he couldn’t bring himself to abandon on the way out of the building.  What I found so appealing about Jay Jonas’ account was that he didn’t attribute his survival to God.  He knew that physics and gravity had a lot more to do with it.  And timing.  If he hadn’t stopped to help Josephine Harris instead of abandoning her to her fate, he would have been further down the stairwell when the building fell and that would have killed him and his company.  It was cosmic chance that delayed their flight out of the building that put them in the “sweet spot” pocket on the fourth floor of the stairwell.  When it comes right down to it, you might as well stop and help your fellow traveler.  As the NY State lottery ad used to say, “Hey, you never know”.

I’ve thought a lot recently about the way the nation changed after 9/11.  What I think affects me most is the way children in this country have been raised in the wake of 9/11 but I have to be honest with myself and admit that those changes were already upon us.  9/11 just accelerated them and amped the changes up to 11.  My daughters are 14 years apart in age but they might well have lived in different centuries judging by their childhoods.  Child number one grew up in a suburban environment where children were already overscheduled to death but where she attended sleep overs every weekend, roamed the neighborhood without a chaperone, was able to walk to her friend’s house several blocks from our house and played games in the street into the evening.  Child number two started kindergarten the week that 9/11 happened.  Her every breath and movement have been strictly monitored by neighbors, school officials and parents of other children.  Sleep overs happen but infrequently and invitations require almost a background check.  There is no walking- anywhere.  The school is locked up like a prison and number two child, always a couple of years ahead of her peers, bitterly complained about the video cameras that were installed in the middle school.  I chalked it up to typical adolescent angst until I went to the middle school office to drop something off one day and saw a bank of monitors on the wall, remotely patrolling the hallways.  It was like being in lockdown.

After 9/11, the world for children has gotten harsher, less forgiving, and not at all fun.  Children get one chance to make a good impression.  There is no tolerance for childish behavior.  They live in a bubble.  Their friends are selected for them by their parents at venues and sporting events regulated with military efficiency.  Their academic success is judged not by their abilities and passions but by a matrix, as if a child’s efforts can be strictly quantified in some Six Sigma model.  Children who step out of line even slightly are treated like juvenile delinquents.  Children who defiantly march to their own drummers are socially ostracized.

We do this to our kids because of our own fears.  And those fears have been inflamed constantly over the last couple of decades by Eyewitness News and Fox and Glenn Beck types.  The fear of death keeps people in line.  It makes them look for saviors and big daddies who will protect them.  So, it’s not at all surprising that 9/11 put the nail in the coffin of American childhood.  The new American social landscape is more reminiscent of the village life depicted in the German film The White Ribbon.  Conformity and social hierarchy is strictly and cruelly enforced.  It makes me wonder if the Lesser Depression was also a result of this return to social hierarchies exacerbated by the effects of 9/11.

The NYTimes covered the ceremonies at Ground Zero this morning.  There are beautiful new fountains on the site outlining the footprints of the original towers into which water is falling.  George Bush and Barack Obama were present at the ceremonies this morning and describes their appearance this way:

It was the first time President Obamaand former President George W. Bushhad stood together at ground zero. Mr. Bush declined Mr. Obama’s invitation to join him at the site last spring, days after the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

But on this bright morning, they stood shoulder to shoulder behind a bulletproof screen — two commanders in chief whose terms in office are bookends for considering how the United States has changed since Sept. 11, 2001, particularly in its response to terrorism.

Mr. Obama read from Psalm 46: “God is our refuge and strength.” Mr. Bush read a letter from Abraham Lincoln to Lydia Bixby, a widow in Massachusetts who was believed to have lost five sons in the Civil War.

Unlike Mr. Obama, Mr. Bush drew a brief cheer from the crowd before his reading. Applause also followed Mr. Bush as he left the stage.

They applauded the author of all the mayhem that followed.  He got a cheer for the torture and war and trillions of dollars wasted in Iraq.  This was the guy who was frozen on his little chair when he heard the news.  He didn’t excuse himself and stride purposefully from the room.  His security agencies were malfunctioning before the attack and couldn’t get his attention.  This is a man who unleashed the godly on the rest of us.

This is not a man who deserves applause.  Any president would have been foolish not to go after Afghanistan and in George Bush’s case, bin Laden wasn’t even his preferred target.  Saddam Hussein was.

Barack Obama got silence.  Maybe that’s because the 9/11 families know his assertions about the Iraq War were empty.  Maybe it’s because his PR department sent an ill-advised memo outlining how government officials should guide and shape public opinion regarding the commemoration of an event for which those families needed no instruction.  Or maybe they’re starting to realize that he doesn’t know what he’s doing with the economy.  Personally, if I were him, I would have had no role in the ceremony.

What was even more disturbing was the photo that accompanied the article.  There is George Bush, head bowed piously, and Barack Obama, nose stuck up in the air.  Pictures say a thousand words and this one says that someone at the NYTimes is preparing to Gore Obama.  Why not use 9/11 as just another opportunity?  That’s shameful.

Better yet, leave Ground Zero to the families.  It’s their day and their space.  The best way to commemorate 9/11 is to go to Jersey City just before sunset and walk to the pier on the other side of Manhattan.  As the sun goes down, the Tribute of Light will appear, filling up the sky where they once stood, those Americans and our friends that lost their lives that day.  They’re still there.  We’re still here.  We live another day to make things right.

Tuesday: Jumping the Shark

Ok, I promised myself I wouldn’t go over this subject again but it seems we have lost perspective.

It pains me to point this out, but here goes.

In the past two decades, those of us on the left have watched with increasing alarm at the rise of the right wing noise machine.  I forgot who called it the Wurlitzer but it’s an accurate description.  The Wurlitzer is loud, rude and everywhere.  You can’t get away from it.  I don’t know how many times we have wrung our hands in frustration that we can’t trust the news, can’t find any reliable news and can’t seem to get on the airwaves.  When there is something important the left wants to say, the right puts us on mute.  When there’s an issue that deserves debate, the right rolls out slogans like “cut and run” and “weapons of mass destruction” and “congenital liar” (that last one was from William Safire to describe Hillary Clinton).

Two weeks ago, it seemed like the sentiment on most lefty blogs, including this one, was that the news was a waste of time, that cable news, in particular, was chock full of conservative voices.  Atrios frequently points out the number of conservatives vs liberal voices on the talking head programs and asks us to “document the atrocities”.  We all agreed that the right was abrasive, aggressive, dehumanizing, and was out to shut us down.  We despaired that if Obama got the nomination, the right would draw and quarter him in the general election campaign in 2008.  (They didn’t, which should have been a sign that they were up to something)

We think Glenn Beck is appalling, Rush Limbaugh an arrogant, bigoted, asshole with a suspected taste for sex tourism.  We couldn’t stand Fox News and its ubiquity in doctor’s waiting rooms and liquor stores.  We glommed onto any tiny slivver of hope of an alternative voice, includeing Keith Olbermann’s, at least for awhile.

The right owns just about every TV network in some capacity, makes all of the editorial decisions, floods talk radio and used to dominate the internet.  In fact, just about the ONLY outlet that the left has with a major presence is The Huffington Post.  That tells you how bad it is.

The right can make or break you.  Give you 15 minutes of fame or 15 years of infamy.  Put your relatives into a trance like state and ruin your Thanksgiving Dinner.  Turn your friends into walking, talking right wing zombies.  Make state legislatures into non functioning entities.

And yet, in spite of all of the intolerance, intimidation, screaming and yelling, lies, misleading nonsense we have had to put up with for almost 20 years, we have now come to the point where we are defending the right to say any stupid, dangerous thing it wants and we will applaud it.

We see Sarah Palin give an “in your face”, “go on and make me”, shameless, defiant video that pretty much is saying, “go on, make our day, we can say and do whatever the f^&* we want and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it” and we …

applaud it?

They have managed to make most of us here say, “don’t pick on the right wing noise machine.  That’s *Political* and it isn’t faaaairre.”

???

I’m not the least bit surprised that this has happened.  I suspected their guys were on it the minute I heard the term “politicize”.  Oh, man, Karl Rove couldn’t have crafted a better meme to shut the left blogosphere up.  The fact that the right is everywhere a contributing factor.  When that is the message that is broadcast for several days in a row non-stop, it starts to almost seem reasonable.  Before you know it, it’s unthinkable that anyone would ask the right to tone down their rhetoric.  It would be rude, unAmerican.  The right would NEVER politicize a tragedy.  NEVER.

Hello, Terry Schiavo.  Remember her?  Remember how the Republicans rushed back to Washington to pass a bill to override a court in Florida to prevent Terry Schiavo to die with dignity?

How about the Iraq War?  Wasn’t 9/11 invoked relentlessly by right wing media and Republicans to get us into a war we didn’t need?

We seem to have forgotten how ruthless and unsentimental the right can be about politicizing personal tragedies when their agenda can benefit from it.  No one here should be under any illusions about what the right is capable of when it comes to turning on the histronics to 11.

If it had been a Republican legislator gunned down, the right would be on the air right now screaming for the rescission of the first amendment from the Constitution and some Republican extremist in Congress would be drafting legislation to make sure that Fox was the official news channel and the Roberts’ court would be standing by, ready to not only invoke the amendment but retroactively remove all of the speeches it finds offensive in elementary school text books.  Goodbye, “I have a Dream”.

And now we are made to feel sorry for Sarah?  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t BLAME her for the shootings.  But for being a careless, opportunistic, participant of the dehumanization of the left, yeah, I blame her for that.  It’s regrettable that the left has lost its moral authority to call her on it because they’ve gone batshit crazy on Sarah since August 2008.  But that doesn’t mean that Sarah is a nice guy.

So, here I sit, from my perch, unsullied by the media madness, watching as my friends and fellow bloggers jump the shark, abandon all sense of self preservation and defend the right’s right to inflame, shut up, and shout down the left.  We hand them the mallet and say, “Here you go.  We’re sorry we questioned your right to trample us without limitations.  Please beat us some more and do it harder this time.  Harder, Harder!”

Guys, I’m not into S&M.  If you want to beat yourselves up for failing to speak softly to the right and making them cry, go right ahead but I’m not going to do it.  I now expect that commenters will scream that I want to take away our right to free speech, and I have said nothing of the sort.  Or that I am connecting the shooter with the insane political atmosphere in Arizona.  I think the jury is still out on that one and anyone who says there is NO connection is just as wrong as anyone who says that there is.  Or that I am denying the misogyny directed towards Sarah Palin, to which I say that even a target of misogyny can turn out to be a person with questionable motives and no scruples.  Just because they’re picking on you, doesn’t make you innocent of everything you’ve ever done.  But I am not going to do the right’s work for them by blaming everything on the patriarchy.

When we start pulling our punches with the right and feel that we don’t have the right to question their virtual monopoly on the media or the way they have damaged discourse and debate in this country in the past 20 years, then we have truly jumped the shark.

Well, some of YOU have anyways.

Friday: Be very afraid?

Last night on Conflucians Say, we discussed anger and why it’s sometimes a very useful emotion.  You have a right to be angry if someone has abused you or has done something untrustworthy.  Keeping anger inside or giving in to pressure that says you shouldn’t get angry because it isn’t polite can lead to frustration, depression, health problems and passivity.  Healthy organisms with good survival instincts get angry and do something about it when they are treated badly.

So, why didn’t we get really angry after 9/11?

Because if there was ever a time to get really overwrought, sharpen those pitchforks and march to DC to demand answers and George W. Bush’s criminal ass out of the WH, it was immediately after 9/11.  Terrorism might not be entirely preventable and let’s face it, the US was past due for someone to strike us over something, but there was plenty of evidence that the people in charge *knew* 9/11 was coming and they did nothing to stop it.  Not only that but some of us believe they let it happen on purpose to usher in their brave new world of unfettered capitalism shock and awe.  Maybe they didn’t think it would be so spectacular but the odd passivity of the administration coupled with weird coincidences (military jets on exercise that day?  Really?), can make even perfectly sane people reach for the Reynold’s Wrap.

So, why didn’t we storm the castle and toss the inhabitants into the moat?  I think it was because of fear.  Many of us were scared out of our wits, a situation that was exaccerbated by the introduction of the terrorism alert system.  We lived in a state of code red for years.  And every time the fear level subsided a little and voters started to ask questions, the director of Homeland Security would up the red end of the spectrum.  A little jolt of fear does wonders for keeping the populace in line.

I’m bringing this up because the news about the economy is grim.  It’s very serious.  We didn’t live through the Great Depression but we can read all about it and consult our grandparents, if they’re still around.  Our 401Ks are depleted, our jobs are disappearing, our way of life is going the way of the dinosaur, or so it seems.  It’s very frightening.  And now there are people at various websites scaring the pants off of us with even more dire scenarios.  Ian Bremer of the Eurasia Group gave an apolcalyptic scenario on Planet Money on Wednesday where he basically said that the little people, and by this Oh Best Beloved, he meant *us*, do not have the luxury of being angry about the bonuses.  We should be worried about our own subsistence and meeting the basic needs of food and shelter.

Oh, really?

Fear is also a useful emotion.  If can provoke the fight or flight mechanism.  But it can also short circuit the ability to reason.  It makes us vulnerable to emotional manipulation.  It can make even normally sane people do crazy things, like re-electing the bastard that got us into the mess in the first place.  So, let’s assume that the people who are suddenly worried about economic Armageddon are being honest.  What is the logical thing to do?  Preparation is everything.  Don’t take on new debt right now.  Liquidate some assets so you have a cushion in case you get laid off.  Start making a plan B in case the worst happens.  Start a vegetable garden.  Run for public office.  Contact your congress critter and let them know you’re how you feel.  Turn off the cable news idiots. Pay attention to signs in your environment as to how the wind is blowing.

But for gawd’s sakes, don’t let anyone tell you that you haven’t got the luxury to be angry.  Feel the rage over what the laissez faire capitalists have done.  Be frothing mad over the way that the last administration and the current one have allowed the greedy bastards to do whatever they want without any kind of regulation.  Now that we know what they are up to, what is keeping the Obama administration from reining them in?  Even now, AIG is funneling, tunneling, billions of dollars to Goldman Sachs and nothing is being done about it.  The bankers get away with murder and are never forced to take a haircut while union workers in Detroit have to give up their compensation packages and Obama introduces the concept of merit pay for teachers.  Why is it that the people at the top are NEVER held accountable? We are talking about the siphoning away of billions and billions of our hard earned money.  Screw David Broder and the Village idiots he rode in on, we are frakking angry and we’re going to stay that way.

Now, short of violence, vandalism  and death threats, go forth and get angry.  The times require it.

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The Day That Froze America In Time

Still Stuck Here

Stuck

Prior to the attacks of September 11, 2001, newly-selected President George W. Bush was enjoying a fairly decent approval rating of between 50-60%. Then, as he so heartlessly stated, he won the “trifecta.” And America was frozen in time, much as Bush was frozen for several minutes in that Florida classroom after the second of the two World Trade Center towers was hit.

After those attacks, George Bush had the full support of nearly every American – and, of our allies across the world, including Iran, which was led by a much more moderate faction at the time. And what did he do with this political capital? He spent it – and made sure that we would be mired in the 20th Century for the entire length of his Reign of Error.

Bush used Bin Laden’s attacks as an excuse to push America into a bizarre “war on terror.” This was, he warned, going to be a war that would take many years and be unconventional in its approach. What he did not tell us is that the “war on terror” would be used as an excuse to seize an unprecedented amount of executive power, invade a country that did not attack us first, and would actually INCREASE the strength of Al Qaeda and the number of terrorist attacks around the world.

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