put the flags away

Today marks two years since the unthinkable happened on American soil. Over two thousand people died. Hundreds more would go on to die as a result of illness caused by toxic fumes they inhaled that day. Hundreds more than that would die as soldiers in the ensuing War On Terror.

So why are people buying merchandise to commemorate this event?

I first saw a September 11 t-shirt less than 48 hours after the second tower fell. Someone on campus thought enough of this tragedy to buy a simple white shirt to commemorate the occasion. As the weeks wore on, peddlers of chintz slapped "9-11-01" on everything from souvenir license plates to sneakers. As the War On Terror began, so did the peddling of Osama Bin Laden urinal pads. What I find most appalling about all of this is that there was a captive audience who just gobbled up this crap. Some of the proceeds went to charity, but most of them went to owners of Taiwanese factories cranking out American-flag goods by the boatload.

And these goods are still with us.

Every day as I walk to work, I pass by windows where patriotic Americans placed the American flags that were printed in their newspapers just under two years ago. The flags are now a faded memory, their colors bleached and the paper yellowed from constant exposure to sunlight. I see cars with bumper stickers bragging about how we need to bomb everyone and let God sort the bodies out. Cheap t-shirts sold on the street now mix "These Colors Don't Run" with witty 12-year-old slogans like "Saddam Hussein? So damn insane!"

Please, for the love of all that is holy: stop buying this crap. Put it away already. My family and I were swept up in the moment: we proudly displayed the flag in our window and sang along with "God Bless America" in the later months of 2001. But like all New Yorkers, we recognized the need to get back to work. The economy has been through some rough times, but now shows signs of recovery. Had we wallowed in our despair, brushing away tears with commemorative Twin Towers tissues, our nation would have been defeated. America rose to the occasion and picked up the pieces. Now we need to move forward.

There will always be people trying to make a quick buck. Even the recent blackout prompted profiteers to print t-shirts. Those shirts will quickly end up in the trash after serving their proper role as punch lines for late-night comedy shows. The patriotic buying spree that splashed red, white, and blue on everything imaginable is tiresome. We all know how important New York City is, but New York is alive and well. Let's get on with our lives already.

We do not celebrate the days when people die. On Memorial Day and Veterans Day, we are to look back on our past and remember those whom we have lost. It pains me to see so many paper and plastic tchotchkes, July 4 playthings with "NYC 911" hastily scrawled on them, still dotting our way of life.

Perhaps the most comparable American day to this anniversary is Pearl Harbor day, the first "day that will live in infamy." On December 7, scarcely a word is said any more about the lives lost during that fateful morning more than 60 years ago. Simple memorial services and tributes mark the day. I sincerely doubt that on December 7, 1942, people were driving themselves down to the local megastore to buy American flag napkins and arrogant bumper stickers. While America has come a long way since World War II, it still hasn't learned how to eat humble pie.

I wrote some words about this day in 2001 (http://weill.org/aspects/2001/09/29/) and didn't mention it at all in anything I wrote in September 2002. This, I would hope, is the last I have to mention of that day.

So get this: tonight, I was invited to present at a Harvard Law School symposium. Say what?

That's right. It's BloggerCon, and it's all about social engineering through weblogs. Now that I'm in (nominal) charge of Bob Graham's blog, I get to share a stage with Mathew Gross, the college dropout from Utah who made Howard Dean's blog and subsequently netted Dean a few million dollars. I haven't netted anyone that much in my life!

So it goes, so it goes. I won't impress anyone, but at least I'll get a nice weekend in a funky town where I get to talk about, well, bullshit. Everything2 will definitely make its way into as many of my ramblings as possible.

Anyway, I'll be in Cambridge on the weekend of October 4th. If anyone's getting wicked retahded that weekend, I'd love to be part of it.

Details on the shindig are at http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/bloggerCon/nutshell .

“Mike, you need to come downstairs and watch television.” Eh? Television, what the fuck I want with that at this hour. The voice at the door belongs to my mother, I can already tell by the tone that she is not going to let sleep return. The strain on the word need bleeds through the door to what was my brother’s room some nine years ago.

Before both of us grew up and moved on into the world.

“What?” Grumbling, I roll over and mutter something that I want to say louder but will not because even in this day and age there are some things that you do not say to your Mother. “Why?”

“Just come downstairs.”

“Something happen?” Cole. All I can think of right now is the Cole or something like the Cole. Some of my brothers and sisters now mangled somewhere because of policy decisions on which I am officially ordered not to have an opinion.

“Sort of, you need to watch television right now.” Again the urgency is readily more than apparent, almost palpable.

“Okay, okay, hang on.” Rolling out of bed, I pull on a pair of surf shorts and a T-shirt that reads in large blue letters across the chest: Our Lady of Perpetual Inebriation Catholic School. “Jesus Christ, Ma. You’d think the world was coming to an end or something.”

“Cut it out.” She says as I throw the door open and walk down the stairs toward the living room and television. “Not right now, okay?”

Our somewhat neurotic, clingy and oddly brilliant Bernese Mountain Dog Sophie sits at the bottom of the stairs, tail wagging away and very happy to see me awake. She barks quietly, letting me know that this is good that I am awake and now able to pay attention to her.

“Sophie dog. Sophie, Sophie, Sophie. C’mere, lemme hold your nose. Good girl.” I gently latch on to her nose and let go, for some reason I am the only member of the family that she will tolerate this from. “Let’s go find out what Mommy saw on television that made her all upset, huh?”

‘You are the older one. You throw snow for me in the winter. You feed me treats when Mommy is not looking. You disappear for months and come home smelling like other places that I have not been. I miss you when you are not here.’ Wagging and half-barking, she leads me into the living room. ‘Mommy is upset, maybe sad right now, but I am a good dog. Fix her. She is always happy when you are here. I am happy when you are here too, maybe you can stay longer this time?’

Seven minutes ago, byproducts from the reaction driving the star at the center of our solar system produced some photons. These particles, traveling in both packets and waves, exploded from the furnace and sped toward Earth. They were polarized and filtered, bounced around, jostled and then finally slammed into a building. They then bounced off of the building, moved some thousands of feet where they were collected, focused and digitized by a camera on top of another building.

That signal was pumped into a room full of people who I will never know, fiddled with slightly and then sent packing again. It bounced through some satellites, miles of cables, through some filters, then out of a wall socket in this house and into the tuning circuit of the television before me now.

The tuner picked the signal apart and turned part of it into electrons which were fired out of a electron gun at the back of the device only to slam into a phosphor coating on the inside of the tube. The impact causes the surface to fluoresce and emit photons, which travel across the room to several pairs of eyeballs.

‘Now you are curious, maybe upset too.’ A pair of these eyeballs belong to Sophie, who does not understand the image of a burning building on the screen but instead is able to fathom that now is not the time for tail wagging. She stops moving across the kitchen area, pads carefully to where I am standing in front of the television and gently nuzzles my hand with a damp nose. ‘You too are upset now. Play with me, do not be upset. Angry is bad, I am good.’

“…some kind of accident. Initial reports seem to indicate that an airplane…” An airplane hit the building? Is this like in forty-something when that B-17 flew into the side of the Empire State Building by accident?

Little gray shape.

Moving. Flitting across the screen.


We are trained to know what aircraft look like. We are trained to take a split second image or moment and make a decision based on what we see. When you spend years learning that people may live or die based on your split-second assessment of what is going on in a given situation you become quite adept at this process.

“…something, some kind of explosion…” I am moving across the room, nearly stepping on Sophie in the process. My Mother has not seen this version of her son before, this is not the child that she knew and raised. This is someone, something else.

Fingers dial as rapidly as possible, six one nine five four five number number number number. The voice on the other end picks up and smoothly rattles off: “Aich ess ell forty nine duty office this is a non-secure line may I help you sir or ma’am?”

“Hey, it’s Yurei. I’m on leave in New Mexico. Do I need to find a plane?”

“Hey dude.” Steve says. “No recall right now, stay where you are. Got a phone number I can reach you at?”

“Yeah.” I rattle off some numbers. “The first one, the five oh five area code, yeah that is the one here and then the second one is my cell. Call the cell first and the other number second. They close the base yet?”

“I think so, nobody knows what the hell is going on. Hey, hang on a sec.” Steve sets the phone on the desk where I can hear a muffled statement from the Squadron Duty Officer about the base gates now being closed. “Hey, still there?”

“Yeah. What’s up?”

“SDO says that they’ve closed the base. Smitty and Pat and them are downstairs arming one-eleven and one-twelve.”


“Yeah, they got fifties and Hellfires down there. Doing patrols off the coast.” The gravity of this action is lost on neither of us.

“Shit.” Not the most erudite thing that I have ever said, but it pretty much sums up what I am thinking.

Yeah, everything’s all fucked up.”

During a tour of the country, President Bush visits a school to explain his politics to kids. He invites the kids to ask him questions.

Bobby stands up and says to him

"Mr. President, I got 3 questions":

  1. How come, that although the count of votes was not in your favor, you still won the election?
  2. Why did you attack Iraq without an imminent reason?
  3. Don't you also consider the bombing of Hiroshima the biggest terrorist attack of all times?

Before the president can answer, the recess bell rings, and the kids leave the room.

After they came back, Bush invited them again to ask questions. Joey stands up and says to him

"Mr. President, I got 5 questions":

  1. How come, that although the count of votes was not in your favor, you still won the election?
  2. Why did you attack Iraq without an imminent reason?
  3. Don't you also consider the bombing of Hiroshima the biggest terrorist attack of all times?
  4. Why did the recess bell ring 20 minutes early?
  5. Where's Bobby?

this joke is in the public domain

I don't want to sound like a terrible person, I don't want to get flamed either, but I felt that I had to post this.

Today I have vowed not to watch TV. It is all going to be a restating of that terrible day, with the same footage being shown over and over again. I was discussing this with my soon to be wife and she asked me this question. "At what point do we stop bringing up the same old stories and the same old questions? Will Fox News and MSNBC be reporting on the 11th every year?"

I don't know how that will work. I wonder how the families and other close friends/relatives feel every time the same stories are brought up? Imagine that you are moving towards closure on the topic and the images and feelings are once again thrust upon you.

On another note, supposdly Osama Bin Laden released another tape praising the sucide bombers. "Whoever wants to be taught about loyalty and honesty should have known them" 1. Of course there were also the threats to make the 2nd aniversary bigger and better, which means bigger and worse in my point of view, then the first time. I wonder how many of these threats are real. Do the news people release them to help us panic and stay glued to our TV? Or does the government release them to just proove they are doing something about this War of Terror?

Call me a sap. Call me a weakling. I don't care. Two years later and I still can't get my mind totally around it. I don't think I ever will. Like a lot of people, perhaps, there is a pre-9/11 me and a post-9/11 me.

I'm not special. Until the day before, I swam the backstroke in a sea of oblivion, my Speedos emblazoned with "What, me worry?" across my ass, a case of Bud and a big screen TV awaiting me on the beach. I had called in sick to work in order to finish a programming project for school. Then my Mom called. "Put on the TV."

Vix and I watched, dismissing it initially as a freak accident. We switched between ABC and CNN, and those early reports referred to a possible private plane, not really quite yet grasping the scope and dimensions of the impact on Tower One. My mother-in-law called to see if we were watching. My Dad called back. Then we saw the South Tower explode.

I can't write about this without my chest tightening and tears welling. Like I said, call me a sap. I don't recall sitting, only standing and pacing, squatting occassionally to get a better look at the nightmare glowing on our tiny TV. Then we heard about the Pentagon.

"They're heading south." We wonder if and when Disney, less than an hour away, will shut down. (It does sometime before noon, I think.)

An uneven stream of information punctuated the unreal pictures we saw. The White House evacuated. The President is in Air Force One, destination unknown.

Then the South Tower collapsed. "It's gone," I said. "It's just gone." "No," she said. "It was another explosion." "Yes. Oh God, it's gone." She started crying. "Who would do this? Who would do this to us?" She cried and hugged me, she who never does this. Pulling away, she held herself, keeping the witnessed chaos from tearing her apart. "Should we get the boys from school?" "No," I said. "School is the best place for them now. They don't need to see this." This is probably one of my better decisions.

Twenty-three minutes later, the North Tower peeled away in a catastrophic ballet of fire and smoke and debris and bodies.

I felt like I'd been hit in the face with a shovel. Only the momentary impact never ended. All day long the horror hammered away at us in a numbing assault. A blinding poison of anger and helplessness and heartbreak and rage raced through me. I alternately wanted to kill and save.

Then why did I keep watching? Good question. Part of me wanted to know what would happen next. What could possibly compound this massacre? Another part knew, absolutely knew, that these events on this day marked a turning point in this country, if not the world. I stepped in to my backyard before getting the boys from school and looked up. We live in the landing path of OIA. The sky was silent, and slowly, I felt myself change.

How? Until a few months ago, it was a prolonged reactionary change. From liberal pacifist hippie to right-wing Rumsfeld-booster. I found out quickly I was too old for any armed service or even the reserves or National Guard. Too old to be a sky marshall. So I supported the president, and I think he did a good job in those following months. I wore a flag pin every day (still do). My workouts became tougher because now I never knew when I might meet these bastards. Every plane was a bomb.

Now I've swung back, just not all the way. My old beliefs don't quite seem valid today, although I've revisited them lately and have picked out a lot of the seeds and stems. What's left I've rolled in a yellowed copy of Patton's speech. I'll smoke this at a future date in an undisclosed location, wearing tie-dyed boxers and wrapped in the flag.

Let the exploitation begin!

It’s the second anniversary of the September 11 attacks, and the airwaves are again filled with shots of people crying over lost loved ones and emotional recollections on the part of newscasters of the terrible day when they were forced to stop being entertainers and start doing their jobs. Could even the robotic Katie Couric manage to squeeze out a tear? I’m not sure -- I turned off “Today” before I could find out.

9/11 was a terrible event, and it needs to be remembered. But the return of all those horrible images, not to mention all the interviews with survivors and their loved ones just seems almost ... pornographic.

No offense to the people in the Midwest who want to feel part of the national tragedy, but I live in Washington, D.C. -- official terrorist target number two. On October 1, 2001 I was among the first civilians given a tour of the Pentagon crash site -- I stepped into the building through the scorched gash left behind by Flight 77’s impact, saw the damage that it wrought on the structure. The Pentagon’s role in 9/11 is very real to me -- I saw the deserted, half-preserved offices of people who died in the building, the family photographs still on the walls. Bookshelves, office supplies, coffee cups left behind -- it was like an ash-ridden Marie Celeste. This isn’t entertainment -- people’s lives were torn apart by this. I think of this every time I return to New York and see the absence of the Twin Towers in the skyline, or pass the Pentagon on the yellow line out to Virginia.

A tasteful memorial is fine, but too much memorial and it becomes a circus -- a show. People far-removed from the impact of the attacks can watch Fox News and get misty-eyed along with Brit Hume just like they would if they were watching a movie on Lifetime. Without at all thinking about how this affects the survivors and their families. The President can use 9/11 next year for the Republican National Convention and to show what a strong guy he is -- he’s the action hero President, almost a star in the 9/11 cinematic epic, like Bill Pullman in Independence Day.

But 9/11 not a movie -- it is a real event. And it deserves more dignity than what the media is giving it. I know that I will not be watching the news today out of respect for those who died.

I'm done mourning.

I'm still respectful and sympathetic. I didn't lose anyone two years ago, but lots of people did. The fact that I'm not mourning anymore doesn't mean I'm refusing to let folks who lost family and friends continue mourning.

But I'm definitely through mourning.

I'm done with getting guilt-tripped, too. From now on, no one is allowed to tell me that I have to support the President, have to support his wars, have to support the Patriot Act, have to excuse the EPA for lying about environmental hazards from the collapse of the WTC, have to support indefinite detentions, random searches, secret wiretaps, databases of citizens' reading preferences, past drug use, political affiliation, and sexual history because "everything changed on 9/11". And anyone who wants to even pretend that dissent is treason should feel free to fuck off. Permanently and lethally, for all I care.

But I'm looking forward to next September. The Republican Party is going to hold their nominating convention in New York City. They've even scheduled it to coincide with September 11. They plan to exploit 9/11 for their own political purposes. Not a big surprise, really, since Bush and his cronies have been exploiting 9/11 for less-than-American purposes for the past two years. Something tells me that New Yorkers aren't going to be amused by this. Something tells me the protests, if the administration even allows them to go on, are going to be impressive.

I've considered taking a trip to NYC next September, but I half-suspect that my political opinions have put me on the CAPPS do-not-fly list. Heck, I half-suspect that a red terrorism alert will be declared for the Big Apple for all of August and September. Nothing like martial law to put the kibosh on protestors, right? But if it's allowed to go on, y'all have a brew for me. I'll be with you in spirit, if nothing else...

Another anniversary, another daylog

I felt sick.

I felt horror.

I felt fear.

I felt panic.

I Felt.

It was a day I remember.

Live where others might have.

Complete their dreams.


My life since September 11, 2001 has been one giant game of buzzword bingo. Enough jingoism, war-hawkery and hoorah, hooyah, and hooah to make a promotional recruitment film for each of the services.

We've had combat speakers. Honor speakers. Important flag officers. Battle hardened grunts. And of course, the Commandant of the Naval Academy, who can't decide if he's a classical history scholar or a special operations infantryman. Sometimes he doesn't make up his mind and spouts Thucydides and Full Metal Jacket in the same sentence.

Tip of the spear.

In Harm's Way.

Born to Liberate.

Free the World from the menace of terror.

Here's a buzzword for you: surreal. On that fateful night, I spent the dog watch hiding under a ghilie blanket with a short range walkie talkie, binoculars and a towel rack for self defence watching Annapolis Harbour. Yeah, go ahead and laugh. I do today. Yeah, I'm going to pick off some terrorist climbing over the seawall with a shower curtain. The Midshipman Officer of the Watch sure thought I could. Since then, it's been a constant stream of "Get ready, get set, go... wait, just giving you an idea of what combat is really like!".

Hero? Maybe some other day. Not today, nor yesterday.

It constantly amazes me the extent to which tiny changes make huge differences in my life.

I've been on this South Beach diet thing for about two weeks now. I feel healthier than I have in a long time. "Detoxing" my blood of carbs and training my body to process complex carbs before simple carbs has made an amazing difference in my energy level. I'm still sleepy a lot of the time, but when I am doing things I feel like I have a lot more in the way of reserves. More energy, in fact, than inspiration, which is sometimes irritating. But I'm gradually feeling better, and I dropped six to eight pounds in the process as well. I'm quite pleased. I am on "phase 2" (limited carbs) at the moment but I will probably go back to phase 1 again in a week or so for reinforcement/weight loss.

I bought some new toys yesterday. I purchased a planter-basket for hanging vines and put three types of ivy and fern in it. It's hung from a mounting bracket above my desk now. It brings the room alive to an incredible degree. I've wanted some plants in there for a long time, but had not been able to find any low-light vines I liked. There's a yearly plant sale on campus, though, sponsored by some sorority/Greek group, and I picked up the things there. Just a plant basket made the room feel much healthier somehow.

I also bought a woodburning tool/soldering iron yesterday. (Yay for impulse purchases). I'd been looking for a soldering iron for a while, and bought this kit because it was snazzy. Now I have the moral responsibility of being accountable for kitch, though. I made a couple woodburnt "sighs", one to go on my altar, the other just as practice. I may try to sell some at a local store, I'm not sure. But man... woodburning is just about the ultimate in kitchy Americana. I feel like my soul should be melting upon becoming responsible for introducing more of it into the world. Oh well, it's fun and it'll keep me out of trouble at least for a day or two until I get bored of it. The cats need to learn--fast--not to jump in my lap while I'm using it, though. That's a Bad Thing.

I wasn't going to write anything here. After all, too much has already been said and done in direct response to the terrible events two years ago. But a thought struck me, as I read Jet-Poop's write-up here. He mentioned that the President had been making use of those events 'for less-than-American purposes' for two years. And the thought that struck me was this:

What has the morality of the President's action got to do with Americanness?

That's not very well expressed. This certainly isn't meant to be picking on Jet-Poop, whose sentiments I wholeheartedly share. It's the usage that intrigued me. Why less-than-American instead of (say) less-than-moral or less than seemly? When Tony Blair makes dishonest use of the imagery and political context of the attacks in the USA, is he Unamerican? I find it very hard to appreciate this connection between nationality and morality. Learning about McCarthyism as a teenager, I found it very curious that the enquiry had borne the title 'House Un-American Activities Committee'. The ideas of being American, being a spy, and being a communist, seemed almost completely unconnected in my mind. Studying The Crucible in English Literature classes gave me an insight into the mindsets underlying the sorry incidents referenced both in the main text and the subtext of the play. But I still didn't understand the linguistic peculiarity that, in a democracy, political belief was referred to in explicitly national terms.

Today is Patriot Day. By order. The word 'patriot', these days, makes my blood run cold. Once, when I was younger and more naïve, I thought of myself as a patriot. I stood for God Save the Queen, and I felt that truly, this was the happiest of lands. In these later days, 'patriot', along with 'American', has so frequently the connotation of politically orthodox, from an occidental right-wing perspective, that I wish I had some other way of describing my now much-muted enthusiasm for my own country. Patriot Day, a mean-sounding, nebulous term, certainly not to be confused with Patriot's Day, is followed by the Patriot Act. This name turns out to be an acronym for an ungainly phrase about anti-terrorist measures. Patriotism, therefore, is to be interpreted as willingness to sacrifice your constitutional rights, indeed your fundamental rights as defined by convention, in order to help the American government achieve a strategic military end. It is a form of conscription from which there is no conscientious objection. And all this, despite the bombings in Bali and elsewhere, is an explicitly, exclusively, uniquely United States patriotism.

I would ask each of you, especially United States citizens, one question. Do you seriously believe that your nation has an unique and positive moral character that justifies the use of words like 'American' and 'Patriot' in the partisan, political context of a government or administration's agenda?

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