Monday, September 19, 2005

Before Returning To Omphaloskepsis

These quotes were found in the 9/19/05 edition of the Federalist Patriot Newsletter.

"I think the question of what went wrong is a very simple one. It actually [was]a failed local and state government. And when you're in that situation, there's a limit to what the national government can do... DeTocqueville understood this in 1840, when he published Democracy in America. He said a nation can establish a free government, but without municipal institutions, it cannot have the spirit of liberty. And that's the point. That's what we saw on September 11th, that it was in the Mayor and the police and the fire departments, and the other municipal institutions in New York, that you saw the spirit of liberty,
and you measured the health of that society. And that's what has failed with
this guy who's the mayor of New Orleans, and with this governor of Louisiana,
and this hysterical meltdown by Senator Landrieu of Louisiana." —Mark Steyn

"A republican form of government presupposes self-government—the capacity of citizens to govern themselves according to reason—and does not, if it intends to survive, champion them as 'victims' when they don't. But the shocking lack of self-government demonstrated by New Orleanians is the one area of government that our republic's vapid media won't scrutinize in their post-mortems on the city's collapse. Reporters keep shaking their fists at 'the government,' as if America were not a republic but a statist autocracy in which remote rulers can snap their fingers and make problems vanish for their subjects. Reporters alsokeep saying that the government's response last week was 'embarrassing.' What Ifind more embarrassing is the media's infantilizing of New Orleans citizens whochose not to evacuate despite loud and obvious warnings. Does personalresponsibility mean nothing at this point? Aren't citizens 'the government'too?... What's disgraceful, and positively dangerous, in a republic that dependson self-reliance is a media that encourages a culture of victimization. Anhonest media in a republic not wobbling toward statism would—while acknowledging that some citizens couldn't evacuate for reasons beyond their control and showing compassion for those who could but foolishly didn't—stop infantilizing and romanticizingthese citizens as 'victims' of government indifference... Yet by their own standards of indulgence—if they can rationalize the decision making of citizens who are told to evacuate but don't, why aren't they similarly tolerant of inadequate planning by FEMA?—their ferocious appetite for blame appears utterly capricious. But worse than that, it is destructive to the life of a republic, rendering individuals passive and derelict at the very moment its survival requires more not less self-government." —George Neumayr

Sunday, September 11, 2005

"The Animating Contest of Freedom"

The North Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed at 10:28 AM September 11, 2001.

"Contemplate the mangled bodies of your countrymen, and then say, 'What should be the reward of such sacrifices?' ... If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude than the animating contest of freedom, go from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains sit lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen!"

--Samuel Adams

Death Toll

United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in a field in Shanksville, PA at 10:10 AM September 11, 2001. The passengers and crew fought back.

A large portion of the Pentagon collapsed at the same time

  • American Airlines Flight 11: 81 passengers, two pilots, and nine flight attendants
  • United Airlines Flight 175: 56 passengers, two pilots, and seven flight attendants
  • American Airlines Flight 77: 58 passengers, two pilots, and four flight attendants
  • United Airlines Flight 93: 38passengers, two pilots, and five flight attendants
  • World Trade Center; New York City, NY: 2,595 people who went to work
  • Pentagon; Washington, D.C.: 125 people people who went to work

Four Thoughts

The South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed at 10:05 AM September 11, 2001.

In the months and years since September 11, 2001 we have thought frequently about the following things.

  • Referring to this day as 9/11 trivializes the day and its events. The event was horrific and epic the least the living can do is to refer to the day as Septmeber 11th, without shortening it to some catchy soundbite shorthand.

  • As mentioned in an earlier post, everyone who died on September 11, 2001 was simply going to work. This fact forever changed the meaning and potential outcome of "going to work."

  • One of the realities of life in NYC after September 11th was the smell. Until the fires -- the longest burning industrial fires in US history -- were extinguished in December 2001, an acrid and sometimes overpowering smell of smoke and death hung in the air. After the fires were put out, the smell of death lingered for months.

  • While reading the profiles of the murdered that ran in the New York Times in the months following the attacks we came to redefine the meaning of "ordinary." Each person killed was, in actuality, extraordinary, possessing skills and traits unique to them, never to be duplicated nor replaced by those who knew and loved them.

Four Years After

United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center at 9:03 AM, September 11, 2001.

In August 2005, while on a shoot in NYC, we took some colleagues for a late night visit to Ground Zero. Not much was said, not much needed to be. This place, this gaping, scarred hole in downtown Manhattan, possesses a spiritual power greater than any other that we have ever visited. This is holy ground, sanctified by the blood and sacrifice of people who woke up that morning and went to work but never came home.

From a Rooftop in Brooklyn

American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46 AM September 11, 2001

This is a letter we sent out 9/15/01 to friends and family in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. All mistakes and errors were in the original.

First, we'd like to thank everyone who sent us notes of concern, and called to
make sure that everyone was OK. The old network of friends and family was really
buzzing over the past few days, and it has been *such* a comfort to know that
everyone is there. We are physically fine.
Emotionally. . .

At about quarter to nine on Tuesday morning we were gearing up to be in work at the crack of 10:20. We had finished our run, and were showering up when the announcer on WNYC announced that there had been an explosion at the WTC. I ran to the front of the apratment -- we could see the towers from there in the winter, when leves were off the trees -- and a plume of smoke was rising into the sky. I put my shoes on, and ran up onto the roof, with N right behind.

The day was crystalline. You could see the individual columns of the buildings' metal
facade, and you could see the debris hanging out the gaping holes. Perhaps, one
of the most amazing visions from this horrible day is the site of millions of
sheets of paper fluttering into the air, and being caught by the wind. They
sparkled. It was almost like the souls of all those people were escaping.

I snapped some shots, we stood on our roof, shaking, horrified and
uncomprehending when suddenly we heard the turbines of another jet whining off
to our left. Even more confused now, I turned off to look and saw a United
Airlines jet -- Blue and gray, with the multi colored "U" on the tail, this was
UAL 175 -- streaking up the harbor, over the docks of Red Hook towards WTC 2. I
thought "Oh, he's low. He must be going to see what happened. . . wait, jets
don't do that, he's going to Newark, he'll go below the tip of the island, oh my
god! he's going to hit the buildings on the east river oh my god! he's going
into the other tower!. . ." This passed through my mind in a second, I swear to
you all, and then he waggled his wings -- this is a salute pilots give, he
dipped his wings in a little wave, and then he slammed into the building. We saw
the fire ball, then heard the boom, and then felt the concussion.

In the days following we have witnessed so much pain and suffering, and so much
compassion, and understanding. I have been to within 3 blocks of the pile. IT
was hot and dusty and acrid smelling. There were dozens of iron workers trying
to get in to help, nearly brawling wiht the cops and National Guardsmen who
wouldn't let them in. THere was a guy playing a guitar near a salvation army
comfort truck. THe air allegedly contained 800 PPM asbestos -- but everyone
wanted to get onto that pile, no one wanted to leave. I toured the relief
centers at Chelsea Pieres and at Salvation Army HQ on W 14 St trying to drop off
aspirin and soap -- they said they needed it -- and saw so many volunteers off
loading trucks filled with food and water flashlights. On Wednesday, Nancy and I
made cookies for one of the fire houses -- co. 205, on Middagh St., Brooklyn
Heights -- we guessed correctly that were probably on the scene early. They lost
seven men. I walked by another company on W 10 St. -- the door was closed,
covered in flowers and surrounded by candles. I don't even know how many are
lost. I sat on the sidewalk and wept. We saw a picture of the destroyed ladder
truck of the "Happy Hookers" from Red Hook on TV. We often shopped alongside
them at the super market. . . again, I don't know how many they lost, but their
truck was in ruins.

It's almost too much to bear. THe pain, the anguish,
the suffering. THe streets are blanketed in makeshift posters of people
searching for loved ones. All of those beautiful smiling peopple, loved by many,
lost. The acrid smell of fire and destruction blows into our apartment when the
wind shifts -- our neghborhood was covered in thick ash and papers from the
towers on Tuesday, amost like a snow storm, but so awful. I fear what the wind
will carry with it as time passes. As I said, it's almost too much to bear, but
knowing that there is a network of friends and family out there, thinking of us
and praying for us, and for the nation makes it seem as if, despite everything,
we'll be OK. We'll dust ourselves off, and continue. We're Americans, that's
what we do.

Having witnessed this atrocity first hand, awakened by
sirens every morning, and hoping that somehow this will all be just one big
nightmare that dissipates in the beautiful fall light that has characterized
every day but Friday, since the attack, I'd like to make one comment: We should
never forget this. We should never permit oursleves to slide back into the lax
attitudes and self satisfaction that typified us before the attack. The best has
been brought out in America by this most awful of events. People are basically
good. Our reaction typifies this. We should rigorously maintain this sense of
mission and Brotherhood. We will need it in the days, weeks, and I think, the
years to come, as we begin our move to payback those that have done this to us.

As with everything, time moves on, and as Broadway demonstrated Thursday
night, the show must go on. We are leaving for a vacation, today. We leave with
heavy hearts, and distinct sense of guilt, but we have planned this, and we will
go. If we don't, evil wins (FYI, Vermont, 2 wks. and we're driving). New York
will be here when we get back, the hole in our skyline, and our hearts will be
here, and so will America.

Thanks to everyone for your words, and
thought and prayers. Please pray for the victims, their families and the rescue
workers. Thank a cop or fireman, EMT, doctor or nurse the next time you see one
-- who else runs into a building that everyone else in the world runs away from?
Give blood. Make a donation to the Red Cross, or Salvation Army. Remember
September 11, 2001.

God Bless America.

Love -- N & T

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Journalistic Follow-up

Journalistic follow-up is, of course, oxymoronic. Journalists follow a story only until some new crisis, or semi-pornographic incident arises to displace the first. Once that happens the circus decamps, and relocates to the latest scene. This saves reporters from having to write conclusions and permits more airtime and column inches to be devoted to the latest outrage or titillating news story.

This pattern is already beginning to appear in coverage of Katrina's aftermath. In fact, it started almost as soon as the storm passed. All eyes, and all news vans, turned to New Orleans as she sank. Armed looters, rapists and floating corpses made for better visuals and bylines than did the more-or-less dry, and orderly aftermath in Mississippi and Alabama. However, when a man shot his sister in the head over a bag of ice -- as happened in Hattiesburg, MS -- then the porn appeal of that town's aftermath-experience went through the roof and the media covered it, turning away, however briefly, from NO. Now, we see even the story of NO's submersion and ensuing misery being displaced by coverage of the increasingly bloody blame-game being played at all levels of government.

The slinging is now directed chiefly at the POTUS, and the story of N'Awlins falls quickly below the line as journalistic Ahabs pursue their favorite quarry, the elusive W. The suffering, rape and floating corpses no longer represent the story of Katrina's aftermath, but rather have evolved into symbols of the incompetence of the federal government under Bush. Never mind that the first line of defense is state and local governments; blame Bush. The spectacle of politicians playing the blame game during a truly precarious moment for this nation is even more disheartening than the image of looters running wild in NO. While the water begins to recede from the streets of the Big Easy, the rhetoric rises ever higher, submerging the real story of devastation and eventual (hopefully) revival, beneath an ocean of blame-Bush recrimination.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

The Big Easy

Sharks and alligators swim in the streets. Untold hundreds dead. Armed looters run amok. Three to twenty feet of water cover 80% of a major metropolitan area. Fire shoots up from under the water. Garbage, oil, sewage, corpses and who knows what else, float all over. Civilian gangs shoot at US Army choppers, there to help despite the fact that the civilians ignored all warnings to evacuate. I'm not sure the scene could be more Boschian than what is streaming across the various media outlets and their 24/7 coverage of this disaster.

Like the 12/26/04 Tsunami our understanding of the situation's enormity built slowly within us as news emerged from NO and the rest of the shattered Gulf Coast. Our sympathy grew as we learned more. However, that sympathy is beginning to recede more quickly than the waters of Ponchatrain and the Gulf. The survivors in NO are hardly carrying themselves with any grace -- easy to say, yes, from our above-sea-level-position -- but we were in NYC during the blackout of '03 and anarchy was almost entirely absent. Taking food and water from stores where it will spoil without refrigeration, I can see. Holding up a truck with supplies for a hospital is beyond the pale. No one can eat or drink looted televisions, jewelry and sneakers -- nor guns from Wal Mart.

Of course these are a few bad apples, ruining the reputation of NO. They show the worst in human nature and illustrate just how thin is the line between civilization and anarchy. Katrina demolished not only the physical infrastructure of the Crescent City, but also the moral infrastructure of more than a few of her residents. The wind and floods revealed the heart of darkness that dwells in not a few of us. Katrina served a terrible blow to the inhabitants of the Gulf Coast, and we offer our thoughts and prayers to the people of this region. We should also pray that the social unrest does not spread further and does not cause further loss of life and suffering. Unfortunately, that seems too much to ask for as this nature-created situation grows more dire, exacerbated by the basest of human impulses.