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September 11, 2011

What is true, no two men know
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 12:00 AM * 95 comments

If history is with anybody, it is with those who are not sure where it is heading.
—Clive James, The Crystal Bucket

My mother read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings to me when I was four years old. I reread them many times over the subsequent years. I had, for a long time, my own visions of the places and characters of the books. I knew what the plains of Rohan looked like, and Minas Tirith of the seven circles, and Gandalf with his sword and staff. My Gandalf, I mean, the one I saw in my head when I reread the books, built up of my own impressions and imaginings. My own private Gandalf.

In the early 21st century, Martin and I were in the habit of going to near New Year’s parties at the house of a friend of ours who had taught Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse. The gatherings were full of fans and experts, and there was but one topic over the black bun and single malt: what do you think? Each year’s film was discussed, dissected, analyzed, and criticized; who was well-treated and who poorly? Was the divide between the lines Tolkien gave the characters and the ones Jackson did too painfully clear? Was Glorfindel’s absence a flaw? Tom Bombadil’s?

Although I liked the films, and enjoyed the discussions, that time was one of intangible loss for me. The pleasure was tinged with resentment, because they overwrote my private Gandalf. I can no longer remember him. It is an irretrievable loss.

So it is today, though against a darker and more painful background.

We each have our own private memories of September 11, 2001. I certainly have mine, wrapped up in the suicide the day before of someone in my then-online community*, the phone call from Martin while I was in the charity shop with my five month old baby looking for overalls, the bus ride home to the terrible images on the television. The comfortlessness of a candle in the window. The horror and anger of the people I was chatting with online.

Those are painful memories. I grieve again, writing this.

But what I resent, what makes me upset and angry in a helpless and unhelpful way, is the fashion in which pundits and politicians are trying to do to our memories of that day what those films did to my private Gandalf. It feels to me that the media wants to overwrite our own recollection, our own reactions and considerations, with their carefully packaged interpretations: clash of cultures, fanatics rather than faithful, they hate our freedom, they’re just like us, they’re nothing like us, they’re a ‘them’ rather than part of ‘us’…

Furthermore, this is not being done in the pursuit of art, or even of entertainment. Indeed, it is not being done for our benefit at all. We are being farmed for our anger, fertilized with the same images over and over again, that we may come ripe on election days and when the pollsters call.

I’m not interested in being part of that. I’ve lost enough already.

* /me misses hermetic, even now.

Comments on What is true, no two men know:
#1 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 12:57 AM:


#3 ::: Semilog ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 01:47 AM:

Yup, that. Thank you, Abi.

#4 ::: siriosa ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 01:49 AM:


#5 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 01:55 AM:

We are being farmed for our anger, fertilized with the same images over and over again, that we may come ripe on election days and when the pollsters call.

I cannot imagine a more apt description. May the harvest be not what they desire.

#6 ::: hat_eater ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 04:02 AM:

There's a world of difference between what people do and what most of the media do. Between giving you their perspective and THE perspective. Between explaining yourself to the world and explaining the world to you. Thank you for helping me to remember this distinction.

#7 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 05:53 AM:

I did something quite exciting when I heard the news of the plane in the first tower. I was talking routing protocols, scribbling on a whiteboard and trying to get my colleagues up to speed on networking.

I believe I was talking RIP, but it may have been OSPF, at the time. We took a short break, then continued. I was about half-way through BGP when the second tower happened.

It took me nine years to teach routing again, far too long. But, at least, my teaching of routing does not seem to be correlated with large-scale terrorist attacks, it was only the first time where it co-incided.

#8 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 07:55 AM:

My experience of that day and its aftermath was ... idiosyncratic.

I lived 35 miiles west of the Towers in a tony suburb with a direct train into the city. I went to high school at a fancy private school with the children of doctors and lawyers and financiers. I sang in the choir at a church full of well-to-do commuters.

All of which is to say that the adults in my world were the sort of people who had offices in the Towers, or attended meetings there, or regularly flew out of EWR and BOS. And so I spent the whole day, and several days after waiting for the axe to fall. Knowing that the next friend I saw in the halls of my school would be the one whose parents didn't make it out of the towers. Looking for the families in the pews that were one short.

And the axe never fell. My school lost one alum, who only a handful of teachers had known. My church lost one member who I could not remember ever having met.

So my experience of that day was one of miraculous deliverance. A terrible thing had happened, but the damage was not irretrievable. It didn't feel like anything irrecoverable had been lost. The world could still right itself.

And my grief today is for what happened after. For warrantless wiretapping and war in Iraq. For innocent Hindus and Sikhs murdered by deranged "patriots" who thought their head-covering looked too much like a turban. For the slow, soiling feeling of watching the country I love drive itself mad with fear and rage. For the phrase "...or the terrorists will win."

#9 ::: jim ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 08:23 AM:

Ten years ago I was at a meeting in the Australian Embassy here in Washington. We hadn't actually started the meeting, still munching pastries and drinking coffee, when the news broke. A television was wheeled into the conference room and the meeting abandoned.

The Prime Minister of Australia happened to be in Washington; he was hurried into the Embassy and a number of large men took up positions in the atrium. The ceiling of the atrium has, picked out in lights, the stars as seen from Australia. In those days, I used to go to the Embassy every other Friday evening for "Evening Prayers", to drink Australian wine under the Australian night sky, and the presence of those men (one could see them from the balcony outside the conference room, where I went several times to try to call my wife to tell her I was OK) was jarring.

The Australians told us we were welcome to stay as long as we wished and were attentive hosts. The conference room had glass walls on two sides, overlooking Scott Circle and Massachusetts Avenue and we alternately watched the towers fall again (and again) on CNN and the river of people stream west on Massachusetts Avenue. Sandwiches were brought in for lunch. Eventually we heard that the bridges had reopened and a colleague and I (he was the official US rep to the meeting; I was there as his tech support) made our way to Metro and home.

The enduring memory: that array of grim faced men, immovable, under the Southern Cross.

#10 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 08:26 AM:

What is gone is gone.

Today is also the birthday of my best friend, who died of a heart attack not quite a year ago at the age of 47. He was an ornament to the universe and left an astonishing number of people another reason to ache on this day for the rest of our lives.

#11 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 09:02 AM:

This is exactly right.

I grieve for the nation we used to be, or that we thought we were.

#12 ::: Daniel Boone ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 09:41 AM:

I have no memories of that event significant enough to be overwritten. I was on the other coast, so far north and so far out in the bush that I didn't even hear about it until the next day, when a helpful stranger pulled his riverboat into our moose camp along the banks of the Yukon to tell us the day-old news. It was ten days before I saw any of the footage, and by then, the media had reached consensus on which few seconds of clip would stand in for the extended horror everybody in the nation but me, saw. It was a year before I knew about some of the most graphic and horrifying footage. (Remember, that was years before YouTube.)

From that great distance and emotional remove, surrounded by extreme rural societal dropouts for whom "New York City" was an epithet in the mouths of the Pace picante sauce cowboys more than it was a real place populated by real people, I was angry too. But my anger, and the anger of the people near me, was anger at the damage to the republic. We mourned not the people (it's very tough to mourn unknown abstractions even when you feel you should) but the loss of civil liberties, the over-reaction, the insane national spasms, the prospect of a war with no defined enemy, these things that we all agreed were inevitable and would make this nation less than it once was.

That anger has not faded with time, because we none of us were dire enough in our predictions of how bad it would get. Two long ground wars? The president and vice president of the United States giving television interviews in which they defended and chuckled over the tortures they ordered? A permanent prison camp for political prisoners in Cuba? We expected the nation to convulse in damaging shameful ways, but we never imagined it would be so bad or last so long. Perhaps being so distant from the human side of the tragedy left us with an insufficient apprehension of how crazy things would get.

I can't be farmed for my anger. The farming attempts do fuel it, but the narratives aren't designed for me and mostly don't work on me. Instead, I get angry because all the breathless journalistic attention strikes me as directed at the wrong villains -- the long-dead ones, instead of the ones who took their deeds and used them to diminish our collective dream of America.

#13 ::: Rob Hansen ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 09:45 AM:

This is an interesting, reflective piece on how 9/11 changed one firm:

#14 ::: DBratman ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 10:34 AM:

Your comparison of what has been done to our personal memories of 9/11 to what has been done to our personal memories of Gandalf, on a level of aesthetics and emotional reaction, is excellently drawn.

Realizing that one, not the other, is the real topic of this post, I still want to add that your "They overwrote my private Gandalf ..." is, like many other statements I have seen to the same effect, a complete refutation to the fatuous fools, for that is what they are, who think that "The book is still on the shelf" is an adequate reply to complaints about plot and character changes made in movie adaptations.

#15 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 10:37 AM:

#7 ::: Chris W.:

The thing which mostly drove me away from NPR till tomorrow, was their 9/11 Ten Years After episode, which wasn't mining grief, it was new interviews with people they'd talked with soon after 9/11.

I was thinking it was all so much disaster without even mentioning torture-- it turns out that there's a segment which wasn't on the radio which covers the effects of the Abu Graib photographs.

It wasn't just your neighborhood which dodged a bullet on 9/11, fandom did, too. IIRC, at least one fan wasn't in the towers because she was late to work that day.

#11 ::: Daniel Boone:

I'm not sure how predictable the outcome was. History is made of human decisions, and I don't think they are very predictable.

I can remember when people were saying that GW was stupid, but he had competent people around him who'd take up the slack. I can't remember whether all of those optimists were Republicans, but I don't think they were.

#16 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 10:38 AM:

I taught a class, as an adjunct instructor at a community college that morning when the first plane struck and was on my way to my regular job when the second plane struck. Because I travelled by bus and train I didn't know about the attack until I got to work and my department chair told me. I thought he was joking at first.

I had to respond to the attack in the American government classes I taught for the community college. That's when I found out that one of my students had been present when the US embassy in Nairobi had been bombed in 1998. A student in another vanished abruptly. When he returned a week later, I found out that one of his closest boyhood friends, like him an immigrant from Côte d'Ivoire, was a busboy at Windows on the World. He had been at work that morning.

#17 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 10:54 AM:

My thanks to you all, but especially to abi and to Daniel Boone @11.
I can grieve for the lost; having a loved one taken from you so suddenly is like having a living tooth yanked out of your jaw. I am furious that this pain, and the fear of similar pain, has been used as it has, and as for those who would use this for gain, whether votes or campaign contributions or advertising dollars--I spit on them.

#18 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 12:15 PM:

Nancy, 14: IIRC, at least one fan wasn't in the towers because she was late to work that day.

That would be me, I suppose.

Chris W at 7 isn't the only one with an odd angle on the day's events. I arrived on the scene after the first plane and before the second, and stood on the sidewalk across the street, opposite to the side of the South Tower the plane hit, so all I observed at the time was one tower on fire, then the other suddenly exploding. Did one tower ignite the other somehow? It made no sense.

Then I hightailed it to the subway, which was still running, and caught a train back to Brooklyn. I lived with my mother at the time near the Brooklyn Bridge, and I got home, called people to tell them I was safe, and was at the diner on the corner buying breakfast when I heard the news that one tower had collapsed. The towers were part of the view from Ma's and my apartment, yet I saw neither fall with my own eyes.

Ma had a harder time coming home from her doctor's appointment on the other side of Brooklyn than I did. Her best friend's son, who I only met a handful of times, is the only person of my acquaintance who lost his life. As an eyewitness, I was spared much through sheer chance, and the event doesn't define my life the way it does so many others (entirely reasonably).

So I'm more pissed off than grieving - pissed off because it was crucial that my country not blow it on the response, and my country blew it, and my country keeps blowing it, and the ones in power who keep on blowing it will probably die in their beds as honored statesmen.

#19 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 12:40 PM:

Paul Krugman has I think the best comment on 9/11, ten years after:

What happened after 9/11 — and I think even people on the right know this, whether they admit it or not — was deeply shameful. The atrocity should have been a unifying event, but instead it became a wedge issue.

Krugman fhtagn!

#20 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 12:41 PM:

Chris, I thought it was you, but I wasn't dead certain my memory was accurate.


About the media and the search for ratings-- there seem to be a lot of people who don't want a week of 9/11. It's possible that I know a bunch of rare outliers, but it's also possible that the media is driven as much by a desire to not appear insensitive as by anything else.

#21 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 01:17 PM:

Nancy, #14: You can't take up the slack for someone who (1) doesn't realize there's slack to be taken up, and (2) has the authority to reinforce that worldview.

fidelio, #16: Precisely. It's the reason that (with one notable exception) I haven't made anything in red-white-and-blue since then. I saw too many people at the gem shows making money off that pain, and I refuse to be one of them.

#22 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 01:26 PM:

Well, I had just gone from contractor to employee the day before, and there was some doubt in my mind whether I'd be expected at 8:30 (the time I'd gone to orientation September 10) or at 10:00 (the time I'd been coming in as a contractor). I chose to assume it would be 10:00, and therefore was not on the 96th floor of One WTC at 8:46.

But that doesn't exactly count as "being late," much as that's how my mother tells the story.

#23 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 01:26 PM:

Raven #18: Ia! Ia! Krugman neblod Zin!

#24 ::: VCarlson ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 02:04 PM:

Furthermore, this is not being done in the pursuit of art, or even of entertainment. Indeed, it is not being done for our benefit at all. We are being farmed for our anger, fertilized with the same images over and over again, that we may come ripe on election days and when the pollsters call.

What you said, but especially that.

I was living and working in King of Prussia at the time (a co-worker lost a 1st cousin, one of the pilots). I got to work in time to hear that a small plane had hit one if the towers, but when we pulled up an image I knew that was no small plane.

When I got home, I flipped through channels observing media consolidation (oh, that's who owns them), until I settled on The Beeb. I could see the farming beginning in the US productions, and wanted no part of it. I, too, feared the direction we would take, and was temporarily relieved at the initial moderate response of so many. Not being inflammatory enough, that response was corrected, of course.

I had a fannish acquaintance, an EMT in the DC area, who spent the day shuttling burned people out of the Pentagon (and, having NYC ties, lost friends in the first responders at the towers). Because she's of ME extraction, she was subject to a lot of "random" security. Just as a reminder that it wasn't just innocent turban-wearing folk who came in for a lot of shit, but equally innocent ME folk. Tim McVeigh, after all, did not speak for me, and nobody assumed he did.

#25 ::: Jörg Raddatz ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 02:11 PM:

Ten years ago, we were at the Dutch coast. My wife, her mother, her mother's partner and I were in the restaurant at the Palace Promenade in Scheveningen, eating belated lunch, when we realized that everyone else was staring at the tv. We saw the second plane hit.

It seems almost forgotten how little everyone knew about the scope of the attacks. Today it is obvious how many planes there were, where they hit etc. But then, it could have been everyone, there might have been many more attacks coming, with targets all over the world. Just driving by Schiphol that evening was a bit eerie.

#26 ::: Peter Patau ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 02:24 PM:

So sad, all this media-hyped American self-pity mixed with patriotic excess, to no end except to extend the Forever War. Why I won't be watching much TV today.

#27 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 02:38 PM:

So I went to church this morning, and the readings were all about forgiveness. At intercessions, when we pray as a community, the first communal prayer was for our "enemies." It was interesting, during Father Jimmy's homily, which was also all about forgiveness, to observe the body language of my fellow parishioners: most were listening and receptive, but a few folks near me sat with rigid bodies, mouths tight, arms folded across their chests. Ah, well.

I did not lose anyone close to me when the towers fell, or at the Pentagon, or in the planes, but people I know did. I have several friends who are Marines, all of whom spent time in Iraq and Afghanistan, and lost comrades. We prayed for all of them today.

#28 ::: Velma ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 02:46 PM:

Thank you for this, Abi.

#29 ::: Lenore Jean Jones/jonesnori ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 03:22 PM:

Lizzy L @26 - at out church also the focus was on forgiveness. The gospel for the day even was about that. I didn't notice anyone resisting the message, though I ran into a former church member on-line a while back who would have resisted it for sure. Not everyone is able to get there, I guess. Hoboken lost 53 people IIRC. A number of their survivors met at our church for many years, dealing with their grief and anger. They donated a bell to us in 2004, which we still toll every 9/11 at the times the planes hit.

#30 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 03:23 PM:

I like to quote Mark Twain's The War Prayer, but it runs afoul of Poe's Law pretty easily.

#31 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 03:34 PM:

Lizzie L @26:

The sermon for us was about how difficult forgiveness is, and about the consequences, personal and within the community of nations, of not forgiving. Our first prayer was that we can learn to forgive, both personally and as communities. (The sermon was not primarily about 9/11; it was merely one example among several that he used.)

It's an interesting thing that the rota of readings should drop that text on us today. A hard thing, too, but there's not a lot easy about this.

#32 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 03:52 PM:

I spend today as I did that day ten years ago, here in my living room with my friends all across the world.

#33 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 03:54 PM:

What Xopher said, @10.

A dear friend and coworker called me about 6:45 that morning and told me to turn on the TV, now. (We're both west coasters, and she knew I'm not a morning person, but she was up getting her kids ready for school and had the TV on.) We're so fortunate that most of the 50,000 who worked there either hadn't arrived at work or had time to evacuate.

Another friend's father had been injured during the evacuation from the 1993 bombing, so he was no longer working at Cantor Fitzgerald.

#34 ::: J. E. Richards ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 04:39 PM:

What I remember so vividly is the day after; driving into work with a sky with no airplanes or contrails;and suddenly everyone being a litte bit more patient and understanding of everyone else. The sudden concept that people were not going to always be around tomorrow. It was a brief moment, but that has stuck with me more than the video pictures from New York.

#35 ::: kate ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 04:57 PM:

Oh my good lordy yes.

I don't have anything to add to this, other than incandescent anger, so I'm instead going to go off and take a walk, either to the store or the pond. Either way, I can be outside and not thinking about it all.

#36 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 05:15 PM:

Yes, I'm pretty much ignoring everything but my favored online communities today. Here in Oklahoma it tends to be a day that also evokes memories of the Murrah Building bombing, though not necessarily deep thinking about home-grown versus external terrorism, alas. And our dear old friend Sally Kern has taken this anniversary as an opportunity to reiterate her repellent claim that gays are more dangerous than terrorists. So I think I'll just watch a couple of Castle episodes tonight and linger over the loving aerial shots of New York City.

#37 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 06:00 PM:

Abi, yes, and thanks for writing this.

#38 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 06:00 PM:

Abi, yes, and thanks for writing this.

#39 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 06:01 PM:

Apologies for the double post. I got a failure message after the first attempt.

#40 ::: Daniel Martin ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 07:01 PM:
It feels to me that the media wants to overwrite our own recollection, our own reactions and considerations, with their carefully packaged interpretations: clash of cultures, fanatics rather than faithful, they hate our freedom, they’re just like us, they’re nothing like us, they’re a ‘them’ rather than part of ‘us’
This rewriting attempt started before the ashes had cooled. The whole country went insane, nearly immediately, and the media was right there with the rest of us.

Or at least, that's what it felt like. I still don't really understand what happened, and certainly didn't understand it at the time.

I've found today some files I wrote around then that I'd written to put down my memories of what just happened. At the time, my intention was to record things because I figured I'd someday have a child who'd need to ask me what I was doing that day, and what I remembered, for a school project.

One thing that I've found slightly surprising looking back on what I wrote then is that things could have been much, much worse. We didn't, by and large, have a huge national wave of anti-Muslim vigilantism (I was really worried in the immediate aftermath of all the Sikh-owned gas stations in the area; the distinction between Sikh and Muslim not necessarily being evident to those who'd commit such violence). The death toll turned out to be an order of magnitude smaller than what I can find people throwing around online in my logs from then. (Seriously, people were thinking on the order of 30K dead)

We did have more war afterward than anyone I knew imagined at the time.

#41 ::: Lin D ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 07:01 PM:

I woke to the sounds of the tv, got up and staggered out. My brother had spent the night, as we were to head out to his lawyer's that morning. "A plane flew in to the World Trade Center," Jeff said. My reaction was, "swell, I knew one day someone would." As I stood there watching, the second plane flew into the other tower. I said, "one was an accident. Two is an attack." I told Jeff we wouldn't be heading in to downtown LA today, even if the lawyer's offices were open.

And so my brother Jeff and I watched and listened, as the reports of the plane hitting the Pentagon came in, as my cousin in DC reported she could see the smoke from her office window, as we heard of the plane going down in Pennsylvania... as the towers collapsed. I remember my reaction to that: oh thank god, they fell straight down.

I was proud of my country for a short while, as we came together to help one another thru grief, anger, pain and loss.

And then I was shamed, as people in power twisted our efforts to their own ends, and frightened us into losses and pain more grievous than death. Slowly, with a drip drip drip worthy of water wearing away a stone, took away that which made us who we are.

#42 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 07:12 PM:

VCarlson @ #24:
Tim McVeigh, after all, did not speak for me, and nobody assumed he did.

This. So very much this.

#43 ::: Lin D ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 07:18 PM:

And thank you for this thread. I read Abi's post and some of the comments to a friend. He was very moved, and now I think more fully understands why I hang out here. With luck, I may get him to hang out here on his own.

#44 ::: Laura ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 08:33 PM:

I see that a number of people complain about the nation's response after 9/11, the wars, etc. - but no one has had a thing to say about what ought to have been more constructively done. Easy to snipe, I suppose.

Harder is to face realities - that there are people who hate us because we ARE - and to choose to love people in spite of that, to be willing to be a sacrifice, if it comes to it, instead of letting others take the hit for me.

#45 ::: johnofjack ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 09:04 PM:

Laura @ 44:
Laura, are you honestly claiming to believe that, when the chair breaks under us, we have to pinpoint the fault beyond "I would have liked the chair to bear my weight and it did not"?

I'm having trouble imagining myself doing the same, especially in light of all the differences it might require in my interactions with doctors, plumbers, electricians, and tech support.

#46 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 09:19 PM:

Laura @44 appears to be a drive-by, with nothing to say other than right-wing talking points.

Are you a real person who's here to enter the conversation, or did someone pay you to troll 9/11 posts with that crap?

#47 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 09:22 PM:

Daniel Martin: "Seriously, people were thinking on the order of 30K dead"

I was on a bus (actually the second bus) when the first person to say anything mentioned that the WTC towers had fallen, and she used the number 70K.

She also laughed. I have never wanted to punch anyone as much as I wanted to punch her.

#48 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 09:27 PM:

I did the math back in 2005 and wrote this. Hopefully it puts 9/11 in perspective. I've left the links out so the post doesn't get trapped in moderation, but you can find confirmation for these numbers easily enough.

I'VE BEEN THINKING ABOUT THE ISSUE of giving up my civil liberties to stop a terrorist attack. In other words, if we allow extraordinary rendition, give up habeas corpus, and allow the government to undertake warrantless searches and surveillance, do we save enough US citizens to justify the loss of our rights?

Let's start by pretending that the answer isn't obvious. After all, it's not hard to calculate the actual probability that one of us might die of a terrorist attack on US soil. If we count Oklahoma City and 9/11, plus the smaller terrorist attacks, we end up with something close to 3100 terror deaths in ten years. That's about 310 deaths by terror on US soil per year. By comparison, we lose about 400,000 people per year to tobacco, and 20,000 to "ordinary" homicide.

Here's a helpful chart. Let's look at the numbers and perform some simple calculations. You're more likely to die due to smoking than in a terrorist incident by a factor of 1290 to 1.

You're more likely to die due to "poor diet and physical inactivity" than terrorism by a factor of 1240 to 1.

Auto accidents vs. terror? How about 85 to 1.

Incident involving firearms? More likely than a terror death by a 94 to 1.

So let's ask a simple question. Would you be willing to allow the government to engage in torture and warrantless surveillance/searches in order to end deaths which relate to abuse of firearms? How about deaths in auto-accidents?

Obviously not. The very idea is ridiculous. Can you imagine shipping Ford executives off to Syria for water-boarding? How about monitoring your telephone and emails to make sure you don't die due to a poor diet? We can send in the goons each time someone orders a hamburger instead of the salad. And what about alcohol deaths? You're more likely to die during an alcohol related fatality than terrorism by a factor of 274 to 1. So why don't we monitor the phones of bar owners without warrants. We might find out when the next shipment of beer is coming in, intercept it, and save some poor College Republican's life.

Here's another helpful chart.

At the very top, we learn that about 2.5 million people die in the US every year. (To be exact, 2,443,387 people died in 2002.) In other words, your chance of dying of any other cause, vs your chances of dying by terrorism are 7881 to 1.

That's right, your chances of not dying in a terrorist attack are about 7900 to 1.

And let's get real. We're all going to die. No matter how many people we spy on without a warrant, no matter how many people we water-board, you're going to die. Even if the government spends billions of dollars and breaks every clause in the Constitution just to save you, you will still die of something. So will your children.

Get over it.

But you're not going to die in a terror attack. In fact, you're more likely to die by overdosing on non-prescription pain relievers like Advil or Motrin than in a terror attack by a factor of 24 to 1. (We had 7,600 deaths due to "Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs Such As Aspirin" in 2000.)

So why are we allowing the government to run rough-shod over our civil rights? We could have a twenty-fold increase in terror deaths and we'd still be in more danger from Motrin!!

Granted, there's the possibility that terror attacks will increase, and we should be on our guard against this. But before we give up our civil liberties and our standing in the world community as a defender of freedom, it behooves us to ask how much danger we're truly in, and what the alternatives are. Can we infiltrate the terrorist groups? Give the FBI and CIA a bigger budget? Work on the social and political causes of Arab terrorism? Lean on the Saudis, who are the main financiers of terrorism?

So when someone says "We've got to give up the rule of law altogether so we can be protected," I'm very sure that the person saying so is afraid beyond all rationality. And that's what the cowardly, terrorized, right-wingers are saying. They want to take all the legal restraints off the executive in the belief that this will make them safer. They want to allow warrantless searches, an end to habeas corpus, and torture to keep them from a fate that's less likely than overdosing on Motrin by a factor of more than 20 to 1.

I'm not afraid of being killed in a terrorist attack. A rational look at statistics tells me that dying of terrorism is far less likely than any other form of death that doesn't start with the word "other." Once you do the math, the risks vs. rewards of allowing unfettered executive power becomes obvious - the risk is much, much higher than the reward. Before we allow our government to engage in warrantless monitoring of US citizens, when FISA rules already allow a 72 hour retroactive warrant I'd like to have the risk of death by terror be worse than the risk of ODing on non-prescription pain medication. I think that's a fair standard.

I firmly believe in American civil liberties, and I'm willing to allow some risk to myself, my wife, and my children in order to preserve those liberties. (IMHO, taking a risk for liberties is what being American is about.) And forcing our intelligence agencies to obey a law which gives them 72 hours to file for a warrant after they begin surveillance simply isn't a big risk, not when I'm 13 times more likely to die of a peptic ulcer (4079 deaths in 2002) than get blown up by a jihadist.

So where does this leave us? Once you look at the numbers, there's no justification at all for giving up a single form of liberty, and my reponse to those who would take my liberties away is as it's always been - throw the bastards out!

#49 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 09:54 PM:

Alex, you can include as many URLs as you like if they're in plaintext, and people can copy-and-paste them if they want to; hyperlinks are what trigger moderation. I would very much appreciate being given the URLs for your source material!

#50 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 10:12 PM:

Lee @ 49:

Here you go. They've updated the links since I wrote this in 2005, but it's the same material for later years, thus the numbers have probably changed slightly. The logic still works just fine, however.

#51 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 10:34 PM:

I managed not to turn on the radio today, and I don't have TV. I did skim my usual websites, but clicked on nothing. However, though I thought I might not want even to come here, in fact, I am here, and have been all day. Thank you, my friends, for the comfort this community has given me.

I was thinking today about the people on United Flight 93. If that plane had hit the Capitol, as it was intended to, the convulsion of fear and rage across this nation could indeed have been much worse than what did happen -- and what did happen was bad enough. I dislike using the word "hero" because of the way it has been misused. But the people who sent that plane plummeting into a field in Pennsylvania made a real sacrifice for a real good. I honor them.

#52 ::: Laura Runkle ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 12:01 AM:

Went to church. Sang hymns, visited with people, discussed CROP walk, and establishing a Family Promise presence in our town. Didn't attend the interfaith memorial service at the baseball stadium, sponsored by the churches, the Islamic Center and the Mother Mosque, the temple, and possibly others. Probably not an anger-mining ceremony.

My experience was also a bit different. I was in the radiology waiting room of the local hospital. Everyone there was tied up in individual concerns, watching the news, and the second plane hit. Cell phones blossomed everywhere. "Are you ok? Turn on the news." Instantly, a motion to collective concerns, individually expressed.

And I still think the Onion was indeed the best response.

#53 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 01:51 AM:

I spent the whole weekend at a Renaissance Festival, where I am the shop manager of a jewelry shop. I did not miss not having watching/listening to the endless media things there.

That said, my take on it ( and I may be wrong and stupid and etc. i'm willing to take that blame) is that the whole thing should have been laid at the feet of the Saudis. Not to the ravage of Iraq or Afghanistan or etc. On the other hand, we should have severed our love affair with oil back in the 70s when we had the embargo. Think how much farther along we should be if that had happened. I'd rather just go 'screw the whole middle east, we don't need oil anymore to make things happen." But our government and all the senators and congressmen are beholding to the oil barons. So screw the people.

#54 ::: VCarlson ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 02:55 AM:

Alex R @48: Which is why I get angry when I hear various pols try to justify their actions by claiming their first duty is to "keep us safe." No.

All I can say is it's much easier to rule when there's a war on. So many dare not question, so much can be hidden behind "National Security."

#55 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 06:25 AM:

The tragedy of 'after 9/11' is the tragedy of observing people using the same tricks, over and over again, to get the same responses from people that tricky, power-hungry pols have been sucking out of them for centuries. And they still work. Not only do they work, but thanks to the internet, the echo-chambers and the rage-powered machines are bigger, faster and more persistent than they've ever been.

I don't know how you reconcile that with this. I'd like to, but from here, I can't see it.

#56 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 10:15 AM:


I see that a number of people complain about the nation's response after 9/11, the wars, etc. - but no one has had a thing to say about what ought to have been more constructively done. Easy to snipe, I suppose.

Harder is to face realities - that there are people who hate us because we ARE - and to choose to love people in spite of that, to be willing to be a sacrifice, if it comes to it, instead of letting others take the hit for me.

I am sure you are a drive by, not actually thinking about the boilerplate you are spewing.


Talk is cheap. What sacrifices have you made? Real ones, what time have you put in dangerous places? What jobs have you given up money to pursue, because the ends are so important?

Your position is small-minded, reductionist, jingoistic, and; when all is said and done, stupid.

And don't you dare tell me I was not "willing to sacrifice". I was in uniform on That Tuesday, and stayed in uniform for another eight years; with a combat tour, dead friends, and an 80 percent disability to show for it

I doubt, very much, you've put half that much money where your mouth is.

#57 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 11:14 AM:

#50 ::: Alex R.:

(discussion of mortality numbers starts on page 19) This has a lot of nice chunky detail, including a long list of the companies in the weight loss industry who were giving money to the man responsible for the original inflated number. However, it's annoyingly in a pdf. (a summary in html)

Your stats on poor diet and inactivity turned out to be inaccurate-- there isn't a good way to measure that. The high number seems to have been part of an anti-obesity campaign. It was revised down to 25,000.


I remember that the initial mortality estimate from NPR was 20,000 or possibly 30,000. I don't know where they got the number from. Maybe the maximum number of people who could have been in the buildings?

In any case, I hope to remember to be dubious about very early numbers.

Soon after the event, it occurred to me that things could be worse-- at least we were capable of an (almost) accurate count and naming of the dead. I'm not sure they caught all the undocumented immigrants.

The estimates of the dead in Iraq range from a million to 66,000.

Here's an excellent piece about mindfog after 9/11.

#58 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 12:31 PM:

It is only recently that I have realized that I cannot remember any of the days following 9/11, up until the memorial service held in Ohio State's stadium the following Saturday.

Apparently, part of my mind checked out right after I watched the image on one of my Tarot cards become real...

My partner tells me she knew something was wrong, but she didn't know what to do to bring me out of it. I know I went to work, and I must have acted normal, but ???

#59 ::: Rob Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 01:18 PM:

I was working in Alexandria, Virginia at a software company. I remember staying in the office when everybody left, then logging onto Everything2 and giving minute-by-minute updates as I heard them.

Finally, I remember driving home to Arlington onto a completely empty road and a silent city. It seemed that the whole world was in shock. Actually, they had closed the George Washington Parkway and somehow I slipped on and off without anyone noticing.

#60 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 01:40 PM:

Terry, #56: Our drive-by did have one semi-constructive comment -- that no one had talked much about the ways in which our response, as a nation, could have been better. I can think of two things we could have done, right off the bat:

1) Taken that downtime to install locking doors on the cockpit of every commercial airliner. Actually, this should have been done decades ago -- if not after the first hijacking, then certainly after the second or third. As others have mentioned, it would have been a relatively cheap and extremely effective way to shut down that particular activity. And yet, AFAIK, it has still not been done. Why not?

2) Taken the worldwide outpouring of sympathy and offers of help to catch bin Laden. Countries with decades of experience in handling terrorist attacks were begging to help us, and we threw all of it back in their faces (just as we did in 2005 when the Dutch offered their expertise in dyke-building after Katrina, but that's a different rant). We could have had the architect of the attack alive, had a real trial and an execution. But that wasn't convenient for the people who were in office at the time. We could have had genuine security procedures that would actually do something to make flying safer, instead of pointless security theater and rampant theft from checked baggage that can't be secured any more.* All that global goodwill, just... squandered. And for what?

Any further suggestions?

* I don't check bags any more. If I have more baggage to take than can fit into my regular bag, I pack it in a box and SHIP it back and forth, because I know FedEx won't open it and rifle the contents.

#61 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 01:41 PM:

Rob Thornton @59:

I didn't realize you had been (are still?) a noder. If you were on E2 that night, we probably saw each other in the catbox.

#62 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 01:42 PM:

Terry at 56: thanks.

*dusts hands*

And that takes care of that.

#63 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 01:54 PM:

Lee 60: Any further suggestions?

We could have stayed focused on Afghanistan once we invaded, instead of taking that insane and lethal sidetrack into Iraq.

We could have made sure all our people behaved legally and honorably in both places and seen to it that American and international standards for treatment of detainees were upheld at all times, instead of going all 24 and making everyone think we're monsters, putting the vast majority of American servicepeople who ARE honorable and DO maintain standards at additional risk.

We could have made sure that returning military got the treatment and support they need, and acknowledged our real debt to them (which IMO is unaffected by whether the action they fought in was justified at levels above their paygrade), instead of leaving them to fend for themselves, and trying to deny that anyone needs treatment for PTSD or even, sometimes, TBIs.

All this has been said here before, but I feel shame and anger again every time I think of these things, especially that last one.

#64 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 02:00 PM:

My memories are being overwritten and reinforced, but not in the way the media and the pundits want.

The emotions I felt at 9/11 got overwritten by my sister's death last year on the 10th of this month. I didn't realize until halfway through the morning, that it was the anniversary of her death. I will, now however, think of Kiki on 9/11 since she was a 911 dispatcher. I'm still grateful Twosie was safe during the attack. Nothing will ever overwrite that.

At the time of the attack, I got irritated with the reporters who kept repeating the same stuff over and over again, acting as if this was a new, horrible thing. All I could think of after the 2nd iteration was "What about the Japanese Kamikaze in WWII?" and "What about the politically driven sky-jackings of the 70's and 80's?" The 9/11 attack method is the hate-child of those two. (My first thought was "Twosie! Is she safe?" followed by "Of course they wouldn't hijack an inbound plane. Not enough fuel on board.")

So when I hear the fear mongers and jingoists restart that same old song, again.... All I can think are "look at those idiots -- the Modern McCarthys."

#65 ::: Rob Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 02:02 PM:

Abi @ 61

Wow, small Net!

I haven't been on E2 in a long while. My most famous node is probably Too much bad poetry on E2.

I should have noded my 9/11 experiences or at least copied my catbox chatter from that day. Anyways, I ought to go back to E2 again. I went on to the catbox a few weeks ago and it was like I never left. :)

#66 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 02:06 PM:

Lee @60:
Any further suggestions?

We could have built a coalition to press for, enforce, and reward a genuine and just peace between Israel, Palestine and the other countries in the area. That would have robbed the attackers of one of the engines of grievance whence they get their power.

We could have chosen to own our wars like grownups, and honored our military by paying attention to what they were doing, and who among them was dead, instead of flying their bodies home under media ban like skeletons in our national closet.

#67 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 02:39 PM:

Rob @65:

You may not remember me much from E2; I didn't talk there the way I talk now. Most of what you'd see would be comments like this in the catbox: evilrooster talks about itself in the third person, because it knows that there is nothing so very memorable as a good affectation.

My best nodes were probably On the Night Train to Paris, Thersilion (ASCII art is fun), Type, and, most of all, Be Appropriate.

I'm no longer on E2, for a number of reasons. The shortest, kindest thing I could say is that it and I no longer suited one another. But I did enjoy the time I spent there, and had I stayed, I probably would not have ended up on Making Light.

#68 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 02:41 PM:

IIRC, the Israelis had been nagging us for a decade before 9/11 to reinforce cockpit doors. Also, I think there's a mention of reinforcing cockpit doors in The Number of the Beast.

More sf: I think there's a bit in The Stars My Destination about how just having more people means getting a wider range of behavior. What are the odds of someone who's very wealthy throwing away the pleasant parts to become a terrorist and happening to do vastly more damage than he planned?

I'm thinking about putting out a call for everyone who avoided news media because they didn't like the amount and/or type of 9/11 coverage to contact the media they usually would have been an audience for about handling 9/11 differently in the future.

After all, the media aren't likely to know why we're staying away (or even that we were staying away) unless we tell them.

Anyone have a feeling for whether most people were satisfied with 9/11 coverage this year?

#69 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 03:02 PM:

abi @ 67... evilrooster talks about itself in the third person

Coming soon, "The Incredible Evilrooster"!

#70 ::: Dr. Psycho ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 03:54 PM:

I was driving home from work (a night shift at a nursing home) and I turned on the radio. An airplane had struck one of the towers. A number of thoughts ran through my mind:

* I should have guessed that Osama bin Laden would regard the survival of the WTC after his first attack as a challenge, and would strike there again.
* My wife is out of town looking after her daughter, who has cancer. I hope she is safe and this situation doesn't make it difficult to travel or to meet her daughter's needs.
* I wonder whether the one building will take down the other (that there would be another plane, I never guessed).
* Innocents have suffered today. As a result, others will suffer.
* Should I keep the kids home from school, or try to preserve normalcy?
* Should I turn on the TV to watch the coverage, or shut it out for now?

I got home, turned on the TV. My wife called to urge me to watch -- "The world's coming to an end." I didn't think it was that much of an exaggeration. She told me
she was safe and should return on schedule.

I took our youngest to school. He said he would rather stay and watch the news. I told him they would probably talk about it at school, but quietly hoped they wouldn't (they didn't).

I watched the news.

I went to sleep (night worker, remember?).

I didn't cry that day. Not for nearly a year. Then I was sitting in a waiting room and opened a news magazine. A biologist was just home to New York after spending several months studying aggressive behavior in chimpanzees and was driving his son to nursery school when a bulletin came on the radio that a plane had flown into a building downtown. The boy said, "Will the airplane be all right, Daddy?" After a long pause he said, "I don't think so."

And THEN is when I cried.

#71 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 04:07 PM:

Lee @ 60: Actually, according to the FAA FAQ, locked and reinforced cockpit doors were installed on commercial airliners immediately following 9/11: FAA Fact Sheet. I thought I remembered that, from the last commercial flight I took. Mind you, I gather there are still problems with the system . . .

#72 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 04:20 PM:

Nancy Leibowitz @68: I'm thinking about putting out a call for everyone who avoided news media because they didn't like the amount and/or type of 9/11 coverage to contact the media they usually would have been an audience for about handling 9/11 differently in the future.

Isn't figuring out who's watching their shows something media companies are really good at? I would naïvely expect that it would take a serious ratings dive for them to reconsider such an orgiastic response in the future.

I suppose putting a human face on their numbers might be useful.

That set (media companies I avoided yesterday) includes Making Light, yes, even the good parts of the Internet. I'm another 9/11 birthday. I guess I needed that space to preserve some guttering personal emotion amidst the hurricane of others'. (I was half a continent away; at the time I knew no one and nothing connected. All of that is different now, of course.) It's so hard not to thereby seem callous. I don't know.

I respect your (plural) grief, but it is not my grief.

#73 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 04:35 PM:


...therefore, never send to ask for whom the bell tolls -- it tolls for thee...

#74 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 05:25 PM:

Bah, fumble fingers I meant @72... Sigh.

#75 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 05:35 PM:

Me, @ 71: I screwed up the link. Typical of my fumble-fingers. Here's the url, if anyone is interested:

#76 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 06:49 PM:

After 9/11, we could have had a serious conversation about what our foreign policy actually was, what effects it was actually having--not just abroad, but at home as well. We could have tried to figure out how to be as benevolent as we had imagined ourselves to be. Instead--well.

#77 ::: LLA ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 05:25 AM:

When I read about the rumors of another attack to mark the anniversary of 9/11, and saw them competing on the same newspaper webpages with the President's Jobs speech, I was aghast at what our country has become.

When so many people are facing such daily hardship, I can't help but compare our generation to that of my grandparents.

Yes, Pearl Harbor was a horrific event. Yes, it was the beginning of a war. Yes, millions of people died in that war.

On the other hand, a decade after Pearl Harbor, they weren't acting as though it was a reason to continue the war. They were striving to re-integrate Japanese- and German- Americans into the general population and to move on to the next threat.

I feel like our culture has gotten caught in a distressing time warp over 9/11. Instead of truly mourning our dead and moving on, we're trapped in a cycle of fearing it will all happen again tomorrow -- and, as so many have said, forgetting what we have done in the interim.

I, too, want to return to the time before it all happened, but really, I only want to regain the spirit of the sense that we can move on from what happened, set aside fear, and live again in peace.

I want 9/11 to be about remembering the American values I cherish -- and not remembering the fear/anger/hate/grief/anguish I cannot change.

#78 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 08:33 AM:

They were striving to re-integrate Japanese- and German- Americans into the general population and to move on to the next threat.

Alternatively, they were smuggling Nazi war-criminals into the country so the could mine their expertise to make new weapons, while ramping up decades-old tropes of anticommunist paranoia to unprecedented levels...

Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof, and each day has its evil...

#79 ::: LLA ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2011, 04:20 AM:


Nice. Thanks for cheapening my grandparents' experience of no longer being asked if they were Nazi sympathizers because they had an obviously Germanic last name.

The fact that their family had been U.S. citizens (like many Muslims today) for a very long time didn't matter during the worst of the crisis of war, but thanks for linking them to public policy decisions they had no control over and indicting them once again -- seventy years after the fact.

It's nice to see that my hopes of setting aside fear/anger/hate/grief/anguish etc. were well received here at Making Light.

#80 ::: Gray Woodland ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2011, 06:44 AM:

abi, that was a most excellent post. I remember...

I'm a Brit, a Londoner. I turned the television on for some reason just as the attack was unfolding. I was working alone from home at the time, coding database stuff. At first I couldn't process it properly: only the dumb reactive disaster-movie bits of my brain were working. I didn't like it much, but it was like that. Then some more of me caught up, and I began to understand just how many people were in and around the Center. I still thought it was an accident. I felt sick and twitchy and headachy, like I'd overdosed on coffee; I was wondering what I was, that most of my human feeling seemed to be still offline.

Then they said that a second plane had hit, and I knew with the rest of the world that it was done on purpose. I left the damned box on, and spent hot hours wearing a hole in the carpet, stewing in news and speculation and trying to get my mind around what world I was living in now. I was all there again, scared and sorry and angry. There goes the millennium, complained the selfish little homunculus that lives in the back of my head.

Beyond that, the rest of my recollection is pretty much common fare.

...Back on your main point, the overwriting machine:

We are being farmed for our anger, fertilized with the same images over and over again, that we may come ripe on election days and when the pollsters call.

Not just for our anger or even our agreement with any selected narrative, I think. This whole cult of the anniversary in modern news media is something I used to blame on mere laziness. You provoke the thought here that there may be a nastier instinct behind it: the importance of overwriting our recollections with the commentary of Qualified Persons, the incantations of the priesthood who alone can interpret for us what it really was and what it really meant. Agreement with any particular narrative may be less important than the lowest-common-denominator implied message: that some of us are fit to narrate our past, whereas others are fitted only to receive a competent narration, and have their own inexpert scrawlings scraped out of memory like bad verse off a palimpsest.

Persistence of the unprocessed eye and ear and heart, we need it.

#81 ::: Janet K ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2011, 08:46 AM:

A Washington Post article "An anniversary dissected in the media unlike any other" by Paul Farhi, starts--

"On the 10th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, there were no special newspaper sections remembering its great battles or dwelling on its meaning. The leading media of the time remarked on the milestone but acknowledged it with restraint."

Gene Roberts was quoted about the media anniversary coverage "I think this is what 24-hour news cycles result in."

Too much time to fill. Everyone had an angle.

I turned off the TV and radio for the day. And didn't read the special section of the Post.

#82 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2011, 12:25 PM:

Gray Woodland @80: some of us are fit to narrate our past, whereas others are fitted only to receive a competent narration

Ben Hammersley's speach to the Information Assurance Advisory Council.

#83 ::: Gray Woodland ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2011, 01:17 PM:

Jacque @ 82: That is a very interesting speech, and a very interesting audience to have heard it. The comment thread isn't bad either. Thank you for drawing my attention to it.

Datapoint: On initially reading your comment, I assumed the 'Information Assurance Advisory Council' to be self-evidently satirical in nature.

When will I ever learn?

#84 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2011, 02:41 PM:

Agreeing, Jacque. Amazing implications in that speech.

#85 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2011, 04:20 AM:

I'm sorry, LLA, but facts are facts, Operation Paperclip happened, McCarthyism was real, and there were a lot of people in 1950s America feeling just as persecuted for their opinions as others ten years earlier had done for their ethnicity. Pretending otherwise doesn't actually help anyone; admitting reality doesn't 'cheapen' anything, either.

#86 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2011, 04:36 AM:

@82 - great speech, excellent points to make to the 'security theatre' industry.

OTOH, lines like this, "We expect everything. And we expect it on our own terms", really need breaking down. A society in which everyone is a self-absorbed, entitled, wanker is not a nice prospect.

Openness is all very well, until you get an illness you don't want others to know about, or have to protect a colleague or family member from a distressing revelation, or yourself from a stalker - or the kind of griefer troll that the UK courts just banged up.

Grassroots networked democracy is great, until swarms of sexist, racist homophobes realise how empowering it is, or minor local policy decisions become flamewars that go on for months, and spill over into fistfights in the supermarket... Or the grassroots turn out to be astroturf, and a hundred Teaparties take over the world...

#87 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2011, 03:19 AM:

p.s. to the above:

#88 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2011, 01:49 PM:

alex @ #85:

When somebody alerts you that they have been dismayed by something you have said, it is rarely useful to explain to them that they are mistaken and can't have really been dismayed.

Furthermore, when you feel moved to explain that you are in the right and have nothing to apologise for, the words "I'm sorry" should have no place in your explanation; apologising for having nothing to apologise for just makes you look like a jerk.

#89 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2011, 03:11 PM:

In case Paul A. was too subtle for you, alex: don't say "I'm sorry" when what you really mean is "tough shit."

#90 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2011, 03:34 PM:


Tough shit, LLA, but facts are facts, Operation Paperclip happened, McCarthyism was real, and there were a lot of people in 1950s America feeling just as persecuted for their opinions as others ten years earlier had done for their ethnicity. Pretending otherwise doesn't actually help anyone; admitting reality doesn't 'cheapen' anything, either.

I would also point out that LLA had said nothing about his/her grandparents' personal experiences before deciding that my comment 'cheapened' them, so it seems to me rather cheap to be laying responsibility for hurting someone's feelings on me for pointing out that historical reality was more complex than they were claiming it to be, in response to a post which asserted the nature of a 'generation', not anyone's family.

If we're not going to be farmed for our anger, we shouldn't be farmed for our false nostalgia, either.

#91 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2011, 11:48 PM:

It is generally my nature to try and put numbers on things; people say about the Civil War "The North had slaves, too" but well over 99% of slaves were in the South.

I don't have any numbers for "how many German-Americans and Japanese-Americans were persecuted during WW2" vs "how many alleged Communists were persecuted in the Red Scare". However, I'd be interested in some estimates.

If facts are, indeed, facts, let's get some facts on the table.

#92 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2011, 01:22 AM:

alex, a useful reminder: on the Internet, if you can do an outstanding impersonation of a troll... you are one.

Right now you're not being a troll (yet), but you are being a shit.

#93 ::: VCarlson ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2011, 07:39 PM:

I do have to say that LLA's accusation that alex cheapened his/her grandparent's experience by accurately pointing out that the US Government was bringing in Nazi scientists to work on weapons to aim at our "new" enemies, the dirty commies, came out of the clear blue sky. (I now have Tom Lehrer's "Werner Von Braun" as a minor earworm.)

If LLA had included the info that he/she strongly empathizes with germanically-named grandparents who were, apparently, very badly treated during WWII, maybe alex wouldn't have been quite so heavy-footed in his/her reminder of Operation Paperclip. Most people don't know your internal dialogue.

And, possibly feeling attacked by LLA's response, alex chose to be, um, aggressively combative and offensive in response.

Not every ethnic German was treated badly in WWII - my stepmother wasn't, though she now says the Nazis made it so she could no longer feel proud to be German.

I'm very sorry LLA's grandparents were treated so badly. I'm also very sorry that my government has a long history of encouraging (when not actively supporting) attacks on groups of people it finds make convenient targets. It would be very helpful if we could find some way to stop this pattern.

#94 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2011, 02:06 PM:


We went down to the edge of the North Sea, and never thought about it.

Thank you for that day.

#95 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2011, 02:17 PM:


It was a lovely evening, with jellyfish and seashells and photos and a beautiful sunset. It was one of those times I want to set in amber and keep forever. Thank you both.

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