Monday, September 19, 2011

Price-fixing and (the) IRS

(Wiki Commons)

Now that I've got your attention, this isn't about the IRS we all know and loathe. It is, however, about a woman whose initials were IRS, and who was loathsome. She was a managing editor for a publishing house I worked for back in the dusty eons of recorded time...and I got her good. Indeed, it was one of my finest hours, and I'm going to crow about it a little. Since I paid for my fun with blood, sweat and tears, I figure I'm entitled.

“Men of the same trade seldom meet but that it ends in a conspiracy against the public.” -Adam Smith
I was reading a great column on Smirking Chimp just now in which the author, Joshua Holland, editor at Alternet, made the case that the "new right" is not a political ideology at all, but a religion, and a particularly hide-bound fundamentalist one at that. Included at the bottom of one of the comments to that column was the quote above. It put me in mind of my editorship of a little known, and totally crappy, publication called P.S. For Private Secretaries.

I wanted that job badly. I NEEDED that job badly. My husband and I had just moved from Athens, GA, to NYC with a scrimped thousand bucks to our name. We had just spent more than $600 of it getting a teeny little apartment on the Upper East Side, a pricey neighborhood but safe. Except for the woman killed on the block I lived on a week before we moved...but I didn't know that until I visited my new dentist, who told me while poking around my teeth and occasionally peeking at his car, parked on the West Side docks, to see if it was still there. This was NCY in the 70s, not yet Disneyized, but as god made it, warts and all. (The dentist's office was on the 52nd floor of the Empire State Buildling; I still miss going there. Plus he was a great dentist.)

So, anyway, I got the job. I had interviewed after a publishing specialist employment agency had shoehorned me in at the last minute.  I was given a "test" assignment to write. And I did it really, really badly. But I knew it. So I simply wrote another one and delivered it. My spunk and the quality of the second one clinched the deal. Whew!  We could eat!

Time passed, but not much time before I realized the publication was crap and the managing editor, initials IRS, certifiable. We didn't know about the Queen Bee syndrome then, but she could have been its poster girl. Some of us took to killing off her flowers while she was at lunch by pouring salt into the vase. We would knacker her desk chair by letting string twine around the rollers on the legs. She was really a fright, and truly deserved the pranks. But still, I decided, after less than six months, that I had had enough. I decided I could begin freelancing, as I knew ALL the ropes by then. (Stop laughing.) I did have good feedback from no less than Lewis Lapham...but never did get published by him.

I did, however, get my own back with IRS. On the back page of each issue was a cute little feature whereby we slightly messed up a few of ten sentences and the trick for the private secretary reading the issue was to find the bad grammar or spelling. Luckily, I had that task for my final issue. I shared editing that title with another editor, which left both of us so much free time that we wrote a porn novel that actually was purchased for publication by some sleazy book publisher. But we pulled it. She was a minister's daughter, and I was chicken.

In that final P.S. issue, one of my sentences read something like (who can remember exactly after almost 40 years?): "The CEOs of several major corporations met to discuss what the price structure of their products should be for the coming year." It was one of the un-screwed up sentences, so it flew by IRS's final edit.

Then the issue came out. My buddy, Pam, called me when it arrived. "You should have been here," she said, or something similar. "I thought IRS might literally fly, she was so wound up.  We had a great time at the editorial meeting. And when can we have lunch?"

I remained friends with Pam for years. She left that company, eventually, and went to a fashion/pattern publisher. She convinced her colleagues to hire me to write copy. As a result, I know more about Kenzo and Betsey Johnson than most freelancers alive, and moreover, I can write about them in very few characters, as copy was specified to fit ad layouts. I can also instruct people on inserting zippers. But it was a fun gig. The offices were freaking perfumed, very pleasant. The company was on lower Fifth Avenue, the edge of Greenwich Village, so there were lots of good places to have lunch.

Eventually, Pam and I lost touch. But not before we had gotten to know and appreciate each other quite well. Who knew she would knit? But also be able to climb a mountain? This seemed an odd combination to me back then, but I used it to create the first short story I ever sold.

Moral: Do what you have to do, up to and including zingers for horrific bosses who would be better off in Bellevue's psych ward than on the eighth floor of a publishing house in Manhattan. Oh, yes. About those CEOs. I was pretty much right, no?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

If he did it

Bush, blowing his own horn, at Ground Zero. Take it as you will. (Wiki Commons)
There is little doubt in many minds that the book If I did it by O.J. Simpson was in fact a boast by a tortured mentality--an ego of global proportions, enhanced further by successfully playing the diametrically opposed race card simultaneously. It can hardly be considered a denial; rather, it is a most profound mea culpa dressed up like the doggy's dinner.

Not long after that book came out, O.J.--high on what he doubtless perceived as another wool-over-eyes coup--was arrested for a stupid crime. A crime an imbecilic high school footballer has been might have done. Idiocy.

What does this have to do with September 11, 2001 and the major player in that game, George W. Bush?

Everything. The only reason we don't have an "If I did it" book concerning the take-down of the Twin Towers by George W. Bush is that he wrote his book in blood on sand instead of ink on paper. He expiated his failure (I'm not going to deal at length here with whether he was actively responsible, but he was at least passively culpable) by embarking on a 'book tour' of the Middle East, loudly proclaiming that he/his nation had been wronged "If I did it"-style, and demanding that others pay attention.

Bush's behavior is so like O.J.'s after he was found out, it's scary. O.J. went on his "slow speed" chase. Bush went walkabout on Air Force One. O.J. made his jail cell into Party Central; Bush partied whenever he could--more than any president in history, even those who served in less perilous times--at his ranch or Camp David.

You doubt it? Today, in his column for the New York Times, Thomas L. Friedman applied the party idea to everything Bush did in office. He wrote: "...rather than use 9/11 to summon us to nation-building at home, Bush used it as an excuse to party — to double down on a radical tax-cutting agenda for the rich that not only did not spur rising living standards for most Americans but has now left us with a huge ball and chain around our ankle."

The appearance of truth can be bought and paid for
O.J. spent his fortune on the trickiest lawyers money could buy, and counted on them to intimidate the mere functionaries in the D.A.'s office who had never prosecuted such a high profile case before. He also managed to get two highly respected lawyers to work for him, F. Lee Bailey and Alan Dershowitz, lending an air of respectability to OJ's side of the courtroom.

Bush surrounded himself with the greatest number of glib scoundrels he could amass--Rove, Rumsfeld, Yoo--and counted on them to dazzle a public whose sight was dimmed with the tears of a recent unfathomable tragedy. He also prevailed upon a man of good character, Colin Powell, to carry the Bush message--all lies though it was--abroad in the universe, via an equally duped United Nations.

In the years after each man's involvement in murder--for whether one believes Bush orchestrated the events of 9/11 or not, he most certainly killed thousands of Afghans, Iraqis and US soldiers--that man continued to live pretty much the life he had lived before, except for the odd inconvenient snub by those who believed they were guilty and wanted nothing to do with them as a result. Each man enjoyed the unconscionable good will of those who had something to gain from continuing the friendship. With OJ, it was other ex-football players and Hollywood hangers on. With Bush, it was the authoritarian, knee-jerk Christian dry-drunk apologists of the neo-con movement.

In each case, the man is known by the company he keeps. As for me, I'm waiting for Bush to over-reach as OJ did, to attempt another high-profile crime of some sort, for which he can be caught, tried and, if found guilty, convicted. I imagine there is a reason Bush hasn't traveled to some European nations, though; some of them were reportedly unwilling to wait for a second instalment in the Bush saga of global criminal acts to arrest him, although the Washington Post reported a few months ago that his arrest is more possible in theory than in actuality, global alliances being what they are.

But no one ever failed to accuse Bush of being a coward, least of all me.

Monday, September 5, 2011

9/11 and the Sway of Fear

Popular sentiment in England: Could America benefit from a bit of it? (Wiki Commons)

There is little doubt that the events of 9/11 were fearsome. Until the past ten years, the longest period in US history marked by fear was the lead-up to and duration of  World War II.  Amazingly enough, civilians were less frightened and more willing to pitch in during WWII than they are now. There are abundant very logical reasons for this difference. Most would cite the fact that, back then, the fighting and dying was all done on foreign shores, even if US GIs were dying, too, fighting for Europe's freedom.

Back then, the US government, in demanding sacrifices of consumer goods to support the war effort, rewarded the population with as much support as it could muster: “Feel good” movies were produced, rewards for heroic acts at home were bestowed, the opportunity to assist as plane spotters was created to involve everyone in the endeavor, and so on. 

In the current “fright theater,” the deaths that caused the problem were on US soil, but the government reacted in ways that made the horror even worse. This time, rather than demanding sensible sacrifices by civilians, the government simply ramped up the tax bite on the many and lowered it on the fewalways grand for morale. With the money--and more--it invaded sovereign states in the name of protecting America. This was the precise opposite of WWII, in which US GIs attempted to save sovereign states already invaded by a dastardly rogue government. In short, this time, instead of fighting to save others from fascism, the US acted like a fascist state and invaded for one simple reason; because its leader wanted to. Like Hitler. (The collusion between the Bush family and Hitler's Germany has been well chronicled by others; a simple googling of Bush-Hitler will give you more information than you can digest.)

Rather than giving the population work to do, such as WWII's plane spotting (a useful task in those days with those planes), it made the US into a nation of snitches and quaking whiners who feared a murderous Muslim lurked around every corner. “Report suspicious activity” flashed from overhead signs on every highway, making some of us who are at least casual students of history cringe at how reminiscent that was of the old USSR; students of literature knew that the ersatz world of Orwellian fiction had come to pass.

Bush: A decade of insufferably inferior leadership
The difference between the 1940s and the first decade of the 21st century resides first and foremost in who was sailing the ship of state. In 1941, it was a man who had faced a debilitating disease, polio, and coped with it before he won the presidency. He was wealthy, which no doubt made all things easier. But he was no stranger to pain, and no shirker of the hard choices and the difficult tasks. He was Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

In 2001, the putative leader was a man who had faced nothing in his entire life, George W. Bush. Bush was coddled through school, and passed on for his MBA despite lacking the intellectual rigor and basic honesty to earn the degree, according to his major professor. Yoshi Tsurumi, one of Bush’s professors at Harvard when Bush was shoehorned into Dad’s school’s MBA program, said Bush “showed pathological lying habits and was in denial when challenged on his prejudices and biases. He would even deny saying something he just said 30 seconds ago. He was famous for that. Students jumped on him; I challenged him.” 

(Aside: One has to wonder why no one in Congress challenged him. One need not wonder why Cheney did not challenge him; in Bush, Cheney’s pathology had found a perfect mouthpiece for Cheney’s own dark compulsions and biases. Bush famously said, in his Harvard class, that poor people need not be bothered with because they were lazy. Such intellectual laziness itself, and such incautious speech and cavalier attitudes alone, should have been enough to warn all and sundry that this was no fit person to led the free world. Unless one were equally unfit…and severalCheney, Rove, Yoo, Rumsfeldwere.)

Bush sat out his National Guard service god knows whereanywhere but on a military postwhile so many young men and women were suffering and dying in southeast Asia. The closest he had ever come to death was pushing the button on a record number of executions when he was governor of Texas, a state that illogically elected him despite his rather dubious dealings with sports club ownership in that state.

Fear explains it all
There is little doubt that when Bush wasn’t presenting the world with a vacant stare. When (we are told) Bush was informed by an aide of the Twin Towers disaster while he visited a second-grade class in a “safe place” for him--his governor brother’s state, Floridahe was whipping the nation into a frenzy of illogic based on a surfeit of fear. It is hard to think straight when you’re terrified out of your shoes. Bush’s every action post-incident was calculated to lead to an increase of the nation’s fears. A man with the agenda carried by the Bush family and supported by intelligent, rapacious, unscrupulous hangers on like Cheney and Rove would need a population frightened into witlessness to get away with it all, despite his well-documented ability to claim he hadn’t said what he said not 30 seconds earlier.

What he did spoke louder than what he said; it always does
At the moment, there is a catchphrase in England that should have been the motto for the reaction of the US post-9/11. That catchphrase is “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

Did Bush suggest anything of the sort? Not at all. Rather, he instituted a nerve-wracking system of colorful alerts, with red naturally being “Jeez, god, the Muslims are at the freakin’ door.” All the while, of course, Bush’s lips were moving like the proverbial lying lawyer’s, telling the world how tough America was even as he made it weaker. Bush was busy telling the rest of the world how tough America was as we failed over and over at bringing American justice to other cultures that had little, if anything, to do with what happened on 9/11. Unless, of course, American justice has descended to globally shooting and asking questions later. That's the hallmark of Texas justice, of course. So perhaps it is no surprise after all.

Bush apparently heeded well the words of a world-class crooner, Frank Sinatra. Sinatra quoted, in The Way You Wear Your Hat, as saying, “Fear is the enemy of logic.” Bush could not afford to have a thinking electorate, one to whom logic was as natural as turning on the stove to cook a meal. He needed an electorate so busy looking for the gas knobs and some sort of instruction manual, their heads down and getting hungrier by the minute, that they wouldn't notice that nothing Bush did made the slightest sense for the nation as a whole, but only for the small cadre of oligarchs whose aberrant psychology was in charge.

The second mistake
Thus misled and purposely confused, Americans followed the lead of a man in control of only one thing, his own escape from responsibility. If Bush simply instituted a system of alerts, his minions could post them without his interference and he could get on the plane to his ranch with a light heart and a goofy grin. And so it was. And so it became apparent rather quickly, despite the compromise of so much of the nation's intelligence by fear.

An excellent question: Why?
But why did we allow fear to continue to hold sway?  Because the Master Chef of Unreasoning Terror was not finished with the feast yet. He was cooking up more treats to deflect our knowledge of what was happening.

First, of course, there was the anthrax attack. That was fear-inducing….and it went on and on and on with swamps drained and a man under suspicion, but no resolution. Finally, supposedly, the man who did it committed suicide in 2008. The original suspect? He was exonerated, but the bugle wasn’t loudly sounded. If he was the culprit, then why was another man found to have killed himself over it?

Everything….EVERYTHING…about the anthrax scare suggests, in fact, that that is precisely what it was, a scare, and no perpetrator need ever have been identified as long as the population became more afraid. The first suspect, Dr. Steven Hatfill, was awarded huge monetary damages by the Justice Department, when charges against him were dropped. The award was so huge that neither he nor his heirs will ever have to work again, possibly an adequate payoff for the suffering and ruined reputation. 

Dr. Bruce Ivins, identified finally as the perpetrator, killed himself. Did he do it? Or did he react that way to being informed of an investigation by the Justice Department? Who can know?  But it doesn't matter. However the anthrax incident was contrived, it had the desired effect. The population was terrorized. To quote George W. Bush, mission accomplished.

“To him who is in fear everything rustles.”


While it was OK, after the suicide of the putative perpetrator, to give up the unreasoning fear of anthrax, how to keep the population afraid so that another fear-mongering Republican could be elected? The population's terror of anthrax was kept alive for seven years via the occasional announcement in the press about this or that additional finding, despite no additional biological attacks. But that fear had abated, and the popularity of the president could be measured most accurately in its absence.

A new flash point for fear had to be found. It wouldn't be terrorists, or at least not so much, because that would give the lie to all the extreme measures taken that the administration claimed kept the US safe from terror.

What to do?

AHA!  People with no stable employment are easily made fearful, aren’t they?

Do you really believe in coincidence? It will be difficult to, if you read this and think even half of it might be true.

Post 9-11: What to do about the fear

FDR: Fireside chat (Wiki Commons)
 (Read the companion piece to this article here.)

What to do about the fear
AHA!  People with no stable employment are easily made fearful, aren’t they?

And whose homes are being snatched out from under them? How much worse could that fear be if they were effectively prevented even from declaring bankruptcy in Bush’s land of the corporate serf, or at least, not without signing the rest of their natural life away to do so. (Please read Republican Tortures for the Middle Class for more information.) Unlike corporations, of course, which can go bankrupt totally, at will, leaving the employees empty-handed.

It’s no wonder the population was still scared seven years after 9/11 when it quakingly elected a man they thought perhaps, just maybe, could bring some sanity and safety back to their lives. Because deep down, they KNEW they were not safe. They knew that everything they had ever planned, hoped and dreamed was more at risk in Bush’s America than at any time in US history. Even their superstitions had failed to provide solace for their misery.

Never mind religion; There’s a new opiate for the masses
No less than Bertrand Russell, one of the philosophical giants of the 20th century, noted that, “Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom. (An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish)

Superstitiously, restaurant had owners changed French Fries to Freedom Fries in the months after 9/11. Why? Because the French government refused to join Bush’s juggernaut against the entire Arab world. The restaurateurs thought casting the French symbolically out of the ignominy of the rancid fat in the deep-fryer and into oblivion would keep them safe. Their customers ate it up.

Superstition was responsible for that minor cruelty, a mere stupidity in the run of human events, but it was emblematic of many much, much larger ones to follow. For example, suddenly Saddam Hussein had to be overthrown, despite his antipathy toward Al Qaeda, which the same agencies that failed to warn of an attack had miraculously identified as the perpetrator of 9/11. 

They had help ignoring the warning signs, of course. And there was the impenetrable fug of Bush’s mind to cope with, and the hubris of the leaders of the agencies involved in public safety and, not to put too fine a point on it, the likelihood that Cheney’s once and future connections with the likes of Halliburton stood to gain mightily from any protracted military action the US was involved in.

But Hussein was an Arab, providing reason enough for the superstitious mind to want to destroy him. Destroying him would bring peace. Wouldn’t it?

Daddy Bush and Baby Bush
For Bush, destroying Hussein held more magic still.  Bush’s father had failed to destroy Hussein; what the man failed to do, the boy attempted and so very unfortunately succeeded. Not that Saddam was a saint. He was a horror show. But he was his own nation’s horror show, not ours. And toppling him led Bush to superstitiously believe that Bush and Co. could do no wrong, and worse, could get away with just about anything. They had lied to get the US into the war. They would be out of office before anyone had to tell the truth and get the military out. They would be busy with their revisionist memoirs when…if…the nations they invaded and destroyed got busy resurrecting whatever could be salvaged of a culture, an infrastructure, and any belief system except despair.

One has to wonder if somewhere, sometime, the misfiring synapses in Bush’s pickled brain ever suggested to Bush that what he had done was wrong. He had taken apart a nation and killed its leader by constructing a not-totally-credible lie about WMDs, and further, caused some of those who followed him to lie as well. 

An officer and a gentleman
Colin Powell, a decent human being and honorable man, did not have the devious constitution to understand that the man leading the free world would lie to him, and get him to lie, to achieve ends that were wildly less than sterling. As much as anyone, Powell was the victim of the Bush government. Luckily, Powell’s strength of mind has outlasted most of the damage done to his reputation. But his public service is probably a closed book because of the way he was duped, on a world stage, by Bush & Co.

Cruelty is not gratuitous
Fear is the parent of cruelty, wrote James Anthony Froude in Short Studies on Great Subjects. Cruelty cannot be said, thus, to be without explanation, nor can cruelties be done for no reason at all. Cruelty is in thrall to fear, is part and parcel of fearits very offspringand must, therefore, follow fear absolutely.

From their fear of the demonized Iraqi population and the terrorists they were told were hiding behind every tree*, American military personnel tortured and degraded prisoners in wild contravention of the Geneva Conventions, rules that were written by wiser, calmer men to grapple with the natural fear that combatants feel in a war.

Some of the American military in Iraq chose to ignore their own humanity, in a superstitious belief that if they sufficiently degraded and dehumanized their prisoners, they themselves would be more than they thought they were, forced into a meaningless war by gormless politicians who exposed them not only to enemy fire but to vitriol from those at home who saw the truth. Not that many doves castigated the servicemen and women. Indeed, in Bush’s wars, the home front was at pains to honor the service of the soldiers but agitate against the decisions of the politicians. So at least the Bush-era GIs were spared some of the demoralization  faced by GIs in the Vietnam era. However, not being idiots, those very servicemen had to suspect something was not right and they were part of it. They had a hard time figuring out how officers and gentlemen (and women) had become tools of a craven mentality that cared no more for them than for the copperhead he killed last night at the ranch.

George Bush wielded more power than anyone lacking empathy or a conscience should ever wield in the universe. He is an opportunist for all the worst reasonssupremacy, not having to be accountable, acquisition of toys and of undeserved honors. Indeed, if he has not earned the honors, he is completely capable of wearing the badge anyway, as he did whenever he donned flight togs, gave a victory salute, and attempted to ingratiate himself with bona fide officers and gentlemen. He is corrupt to the bottom of his soul, and, as Prof. Tsurumi noted, he is a pathological liar.

Power corrupts, but it gets worse
“It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it,” wrote Aung San Suu Kyi in Freedom from Fear.

The fear-based psychology of America’s leader at its most vulnerable moment was the start of a superstitious period in which ordinary people clutched at absurdities, like renaming French Fries, as a way to protect themselves. It was also the start of a level of corruption rarely seen in human history. 

The corruption has so pervaded America that ordinary people believe that the two percent of the population that controls fifty percent of the wealth will help them up the ladder. They have become Teabaggers, a name they chose themselves unwittingly. It refers to a gross sexual act. They thought it cunningly described the ludicrous hats they constructed when they began protesting against universal health care, at the same time demanding that Medicareno more than universal health care for the old and unwell, and therefore infinitely more costly than truly universal care which would save money on the young and healthynot be touched. They demand, now, to be called Tea Partiers, but they are not hosting an event any sane person would wish to attend. The Tea Bag nation celebrates half-truths, lionizes stinginess, and exhibits the same pathology as any garden-variety sociopath.

It is easy to be corrupt and to foster corruption when it is so easy to control others by instilling fear; it is easy to become corrupted when one fears what those in control might do. One will likely believe any liesthat is, subscribe to any superstition (Horatio Alger gone mad, too broke for health care, no way to create a healthy economy for everyone, etc.) in order to be exempt from the very conditions the fear has induced.

It may well be that there is no antidote for the gut-wrenching terror most Americans find themselves living in. I’ve experienced a recent dose of it myself, although I gave up living in America a while back. America still has a long reach, and unfortunately can export its own brand of greed and hubris worldwide.

I was spending all my time conditioning myself to cope with the frightening and suddenly headlong dissolution of both the institutions of government and population of a nation based on a great idea, freedom and liberty for all. Then for some. Now, sadly, for almost none.

Something has to change.

It is time for a new Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It is time for America to come to grips with its fear; possibly, it will take putting the architects of that fear on trial. Bush, Cheney, Rove, Yoo, Ashcroft, et al. At least, they must be marginalized, forgotten as thoroughly as Rutherford B. Hayes (who?). It is time for someone, anyone, to begin convincing the quaking mass of disheartened Americans of the thought by which Roosevelt dragged/pushed/cajoled America through the Great Depression and through World War II:
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself--nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, First Inaugural Address, Mar. 4, 1933

What a different world we would be living in today if FDR had been in the White House on September 11, 2001.
In Iraq, terrorists were and are hiding behind every tree. But the problem is, of course, that destroying a nation gratuitously is likely to make its people eager to remove the invader however they can. In short, US military presence has created most of the terror they are facing. 

How do you get people who volunteered to fight for their nation's honor and safety--US military--to fight when it is obvious they are engaged in an unjust war? Here are some clues: brutalization by their own command (see Abu Ghraib), the knowledge that there are no jobs at home, and treacherous re-deployment when a combatant's psychological reserves are diminished. All of these have been factors the military has faced for the entire recent past.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

9/11’s tenth anniversary remembrances: Day One

Twin Towers, Apr. 15, 2001 (Galvin Costello;Wiki images)

September 1, 2011

The New Yorker is publishing the memories of its writers concerning September 11, 2001. Where they were, what they were doing, how their lives have changed since that date. Not surprisingly, the first memoir I read was by Jane Mayer, who wrote an amazing book, The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals, that I took with me on vacation a couple of years ago, and devoured. In Key West.

I’ll grant that it is unusual to take a heavily political book on a beach vacation. But any trip to Key West, wasfor mea drinking vacation as well. Open-air bars abound, so one can amuse one’s self by getting some fresh air while lubricating one’s brain cells and watching the passing parade.

What of the rest of us, though? What of those of us who were not, like Mayer and other New Yorker writers, immersed in the middle of the seminal event of probably all of our lifetimes?

Where were we when?
I was alive when JFK was killed, and when his brother was killed. And when Martin Luther King was killed. And when the Iranian hostages were taken. And when the Berlin Wall fell. And when Russia was opened up for criminal activity not associated with the Kremlin.

September 11, 2001 was far more life-changing than any of those events, or even all of them combined. Here’s how it unfolded in my small corner of the world.


I had the habit of bathing, making breakfast and watching some of the Today show while eating. I generally turned the TV off before nine, so I could be in my home office working, or at least preparing to work, by then. That day, I needed to phone a friend about riding our horses together that afternoon.

About five after nine, I tried to call. Her office was less than 30 miles from my apartment, but I kept getting a message, “All circuits are busy.”  How odd.

A phone glitch gets serious
About 20 minutes later, I decided to call a friend who lived in the same apartment complex and leave him a message about an event coming up, as he generally left for work by 7:30 a.m.  But he answered the phone. Was he home sick?

“Didn’t you know?” he asked. “The World Trade Center has been attacked so we were sent home.”

None of that made sense. We lived in Baltimore. OK. There was a building called the World Trade Center in Baltimore, but it wasn’t THE World Trade Center, and Don worked miles and miles away from it. Why would he be sent home if that was attacked?

I couldn’t get it straight, until finally he realized what page I was on and turned to it. “No, the World Trade Center in New York.”

My knees buckled. Like all native New Yorkers, I had both loved and loathed that building. But I had to admit, when I had taken Don’s two sons to NYC a couple of years earlier, that I had loved the way the towers shimmered on a hot summer day as we rode toward them on the Staten Island Ferry. His sons had bought me an NYC shot glass for my collection; on it were the Twin Towers. I’ll have to put that away, I thought to myself, the memories of Scott and Sean and our brilliant day-trip flooding in along with the realization that as many as 50,000 people might die.

“Come on over,” Don said. “Jeffrey and I are watching the coverage and drinking coffee. There isn’t much else to do, and it’s pretty horrible. You don’t want to be watching alone.”

No, I didn’t. Don and Jeffrey were two of my best friends. It would be good to share tears with them.

As I walked through the end-of-summer breeze, under the maple trees dappling the path between my building and theirs, I thought, “Ah, it wasn’t nine o’clock yet when it happened. New Yorkers don’t go to work early. Indeed, most arrive sometime between 9:30 and 10.” New Yorkers work late in the evening, though, and they’ll work hard and work Saturdays. But they avoid morning rush hour if they can.

I was proved right. The only people in the building were building workers themselves, financial types who are there before the stock market opens and their support teams, and some restaurant workers from Windows on the World. Not a full complement in all the offices or the retail space underground. Thank goodness.

Hijackers: Ignorance or planning?
I wondered, then, if the hijackers were ignorant of New York’s working hours and thought that they’d do extensive killing, like the Oklahoma bomber did by arriving early. Or perhaps they didn’t want to kill as many as they would have killed by flying later, and so they chose early flights to hijack. The first theory held more water if they were really ignorant hijackers, hired only to wreak havoc and not for their ability to assess a culture and a target.

The latter theory held more water if whoever had organized the operation wanted more to make a statement or to change the course of history than to actually kill people.

I was leaning toward one of those conclusions as early as that first morning.

But mainly, I felt sad and oddly disconnected. Everyone felt oddly disconnected, I suspect. But my feelings of disconnection had also to do with the fact that I felt I should have been there, should have been in MY city with my peers witnessing and suffering through this worst of all global terror attacks in history. I felt I had made a cheap escape by living elsewhere, when my heart belonged in the Big Apple, my spiritual, and often my physical, home during much of my life.

New York would recover. I never doubted that. But as the day wore on, what I doubted was that any nation that had elected George W. Bush as president could deal effectively with whatever it was that had wreaked havoc that morning. By that time, it was clear to anyone with one scintilla of common sense that George W. Bush was too common to cope with a multi-faceted disaster, a fact that crystallized more profoundly later on as he failed during Katrina as well, and during the financial meltdown. 

Being kind to Bush
Using the term failed is a kindness; what I mean nowand probably had inklings of thenwas that Bush was responsible in large part for the terror attack (whether by omission or commission will be debated in some circles for decades), the ineffectualeven cruelresponse to Hurricane Katrina, and the execrable trashing of the American economy by his leadership or lack thereof until the financial meltdown and his handling of it as he left office.

Did I know all that then? I’ve been a journalist for a long, long time. My instincts were kicking in, alerted by the stench. And on the morning of September 11, 2001, there was a lot more stench in the air than that of jet fuel and crumbling glass, steel and mortar. There was a stench of negligence at best, complicity at worst. It’s a stench that lingers still, as the posturing buffoons of Bush’s dunderheaded government continue to spew their filth onto the population they served so ill.