Remembering 9/11

10 years ago I decided I needed to go into work early; something seemed important. On 9/11, I was scheduled to fly to San Francisco in the afternoon, but went into the office to try and catch up on a couple of things (in those days you could get to the airport at the very last minute).

I was one of two people in the office at the time. I remember Annie, our office manager coming in and telling me about the first plane (some stupid recreational pilot I thought); and then listening to KYW News radio when the second plane hit (oh shit.)

The rest of the day is a blur to me. I remember not wanting to fly that day, as if that were going to be an option. I remember that the Internet was useless, and that our only visual line to the world was little black and white 13″ TV which didn’t have cable.

We stayed at work that day – not that much work was done. I specifically remember spending a lot of time with my co-workers in that conference room.

I kind of wished I had just walked out and planted myself in front of a TV all day. Even without doing that, the images are seared in my mind to this day.

And while that day feels like it was just yesterday, so much has passed, so many lives have been lost, and so many questions still remain, that it also feels like another lifetime.

What are your memories of that day?

TSA wants you to feel safer – even if you’re not

I don’t like to write about the TSA controversy two weeks in a row, but the furor isn’t dying down. If anything, it’s only gotten greater as there have been stories of breast cancer survivors being asked to show their breast prosthetics, scans being leaked, and the TSA’s refusal to modify their screening procedures.

I have already come to terms with the fact that when I fly next, the agents will have to grope me. As a man, I guess it doesn’t have the same stigma. I have never been sexually assaulted; I don’t know the feeling of being leered at; I don’t have a disfiguring disease that makes me self-conscious – so I will give away the right that bars unreasonable search and seizure, not because I want to, but because it’s the best of two evils.

But let’s be clear – what the TSA is attempting to do is substitute technology for a lack of intelligence (in all senses of the word). Their agents are overworked, underpaid, and trained to follow written rules to find terrorists (as opposed to teaching them how to spot a terrorist). How about spending some of the hundreds of millions that we are spending on these machines, towards better pay and better training?

But all of this will make some people feel better about travelling, and I think that’s the real point, because the appearance of doing something is often better than doing something.

The touching of junk: How far will the TSA go?

As the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) moves to more invasive forms of screening, they’re getting some push back from pilots, attendants, civil rights activists, and citizens. Some people are saying enough is enough, but once you’ve given away freedom for the promise of security, it’s hard to know where to stop.

I read a novel that described how a prostitute was “turned out”. A woman meets a great guy, until one day he gets into trouble and owes someone a great deal of money. In exchange for the money, that person is willing to accept sex. The great guy tells his girlfriend his predicament and she bails him out – just that one time. Once she has slept with one guy for money, she’s damaged goods, and she does it over and over again.

We’re that prostitute; the first time a traveller took off their Nikes so that they could be checked for a bomb, we proved that we were willing to sell ourselves for safety – and the government, like a pimp, keeps coming back to us for more. The day that a terrorist smuggles a bomb aboard by hiding it in his anus, we’ll be grabbing our ankles and they’ll be grabbing the lube. All in the name of safety.

There’s a great quote from Benjamin Franklin (actually there are  a lot of great quotes from Benjamin Franklin):

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

So how far are you willing to go?

Does terrorist equal Muslim

Seems like every year 24 starts up, every year there is a group that is upset about the identification of Muslims as terrorists.   It is a fine line that the producers of 24, and anyone else who covers this topic, dares to tread.   It is no question that there are Black, Caucasian, and Asian terrorists.   The issue is that in the year 2007 (or 6 years A. 9/11)   terrorism is defined by Al-Qaeda – and Al-Qaeda is an extremist Muslim organization.   Any discussion about terrorism in this age, fiction or non-fiction, is based on the fear and concern that the current situation generates.   Because of this – it’s hard to write a story that deals with terrorism, and not have it include Muslim extremism.   To do so would appear to ignore the reality of the situation.

Five hours into the 6th day of 24, I feel that they do a good job walking the balance.   Not only do they include terrorists in the organization who are not of middle eastern decent, but they have made strides to show Americans complicit with the terrorist acts either overtly or covertly.   But in the end, this will probably not appease the critics.

Al-Qaeda is a Muslim organization, Al-Qaeda is a terrorist organization, ergo all Muslims are terrorists?   This is obviously not true – but it is the path that the ignorant often follow.   Most Muslims are not terrorists.   One of the often overlooked things that Bin Laden has done is redefine the way we look at Muslims.   Like it or not, it is he that has had the biggest voice in defining what we think of Muslims, and like it or not, he has a following.   To not understand this view, would be to ignore the current reality.

I can empathize with the way Muslims feel.     I don’t like seeing Blacks portrayed as criminals – but there are Black criminals.   What annoys me most is when the assumption is made that all criminals are black (or even most of them).   To discuss crime in America, you have to discuss race, and Blacks.   To do it fairly you should also cover inequality and racism and the impact that it has.   The issue is similar with terrorism.   To discuss terrorism completely, the Muslim religion has to be mentioned; but to be fair, the root cause of Muslim extremism needs to be covered also.   When we stop doing both, that’s when the critics have a complaint.

9/11: Five years later

sunrise.jpg9/11/01 – I was preparing that morning to fly from Philadelphia to San Francisco. Listening this morning to the re-broadcasst of the news, the confusion of that morning comes right back. It’s weird that through all the warning signs (World Trade Center 1993 bombing, Oklahoma City, the Unabomber) that we really didn’t view ourselves as a target; 9/11 made us aware. Five years later it doesn’t seem as if we’ve addressed our problems.

It has always been easier in the U.S. to get money to clean up after a disaster than it is to get money to prevent one. We’re in a “war” the President says; a war that is unlike any other war. “We must remain vigilant”. Yet I can ride Amtrak from Washington, D.C. through Baltimore, Philadelphia and into New York City without my baggage and ID being checked. New York City subways are monitored, but trains outside of NYC are not a concern. There are concerns about our ports.

To effectively protect this country, it will cost money, a whole lot of money. And politicians, loathe to raise taxes, with an expensive war to pay for, and an American city to rebuild, don’t have the will power that it takes to make the changes necessary to fix the problems. We’ve spent so much time focusing on the threat of Muslim fundementalists we forget that the last major terrorist attack on this country prior to 9/11 was Oklahoma City in 1995. We focus on air travel as a threat, but forget that most travel and commerce is down over land and sea and present a much greater target.

Over 3,000 people were killed that day. What we’ve learned from 9/11 is that our government is not good at planning and protecting – and what Hurriane Katrina showed us is that we haven’t gotten any better.

What will it take for our leaders to finally step up?

Staying close to home

As with everyone, I woke up yesterday to the shocking news of the airline terrorist plot out of the UK. Throughout the day we then began to hear from all the experts and the true depth of the plot. The scope of this plan is frightening and makes me think twice about taking a plane anytime soon, but not because I’m afraid – I accept the fact that there is some inherent danger, but because it was already inconvenient enough.

An article on CNN has comments from experts as to what needs to be done in the U.S.

Bomb experts and troubleshooters for airline security interviewed by The Associated Press said mobile phones, computers, wrist watches or anything else with a battery should be prohibited from flights.

Nothing with a battery? OK – I don’t have a watch that doesn’t use a battery. Would I leave my cell phone at home? Imagine the flight to Hawaii without your iPod. What do I do with my car keys? They use a battery. Finally is anyone going to check their laptop instead of carrying it on? I understand that safety is paramount, but at what point does it stop? Continue reading