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I read about monetary easing
And thought of a guy painting a house
Who didn’t give a shit.
He was mad at trans people
He didn’t think of the Fed and his paycheck
He was thinking about chicks with dicks and bathrooms
And he was caught in economic deflation
And the degraded value of his labor
And the asset inflation made him wiggle like a mosquito
in a spider’s web
And yet he’s not thinking of excess trading value
It’s all those dicks, he’s thinking to himself, wriggling around
In an invisible dance of dollars.
Being pushed from job to job, house to house
The dollar making him whip it out, I mean his money,
And buy more expensive
Cigarettes and beer and chicken and barbecue
While people laugh at his overalls
And tumescent paintbrush
“All those breasts and dicks,” he keeps thinking.

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Brussels …

Seeing or hearing children in pain or danger is something that has come to cause me physical pain since I’ve become a parent and I’m sure most people feel the same way and have to do something to overcome the feelings of base impotence. Turning your rage on Muslims (or giving power to those who tell you it’s OK to do so) is one of those things you would likely be tempted to do. It’s wrong. It shows an incapacity to understand your own place in the world. It narrates the innocent into guilt by association. And worst of all, it doesn’t even show comprehension of the nature of the attack today, which in Brussels specifically concerns a matter of assimilation of minority communities. Trying to recreate those conditions here does no favor to the living and does not honor the dead. My heart goes out to Brussels, as an American and as a person who has lived in a city targeted by terrorists.

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Je Suis Paris

scan0020I’m hurting for Paris right now. Though lots of people are, I think New Yorkers who lived through 9/11 (and maybe those in Madrid and Mumbai) are feeling it perhaps a bit more acutely. There’s something about living in a big city. Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t just make you some jaded creep. You live every day as a certain trust exercise with people in very close proximity. You constantly meet people with different accents and languages and backgrounds and amazing life histories if you bother to ask them questions. To negotiate this kind of maze requires humility and respect and reserve. You are all sitting on top of each other in sometimes cramped conditions and you have to make it work, and that requires in many ways boundless optimism. Your body comes to know patience and forbearance and you marvel that something so big and complex can work at all. To be that close to people and to have members of a sick cult betray that trust, violently, is something that made me physically ill after Sept. 11. And I felt it a little bit again tonight after seeing the images from Paris, a beautiful city I once visited and hope to again.Eiffel Tower

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Is This A Joke?

I didn’t know Ignatius T. Reilly was a real person. But evidently he is and he’s writing for The New York Times now.

I’m still trying to decide whether this article is an elaborate joke played on the Times. In it, an apoplectic op-ed columnist opines that David Patraeus is a phony because he dresses well and sometimes rides around in a jet. A real general, we are reminded, eats nails for breakfast and kills people with their bare hands. Like Patton. Also, Patraeus did not conquer Iraq. The author does not explain what that would entail, exactly. It’s not occupying Iraq, evidently, nor purging its dictator. I guess it means we should have killed everybody there. I’m just guessing. But at the very least, it means you are not ever allowed to flirt with any woman, so I assume that warriors don’t have a sex drive or if they do it is completely sublimated into the act of vivid Normandy style ultraviolence at all times. Also, real men don’t floss.

Is this the rant of some guy from the local bowling alley? No. Evidently the writer was embedded with Patraeus in Iraq and is I guess still smarting that the general did not share his entire war strategy with him. The journalist certainly had the right to be offended. I’m sure he didn’t come across as pushy, choleric or passing strange. Not from what I can tell of his trenchant, and not remotely confused torrent of boy taunts. I don’t have a dog in the Petraeus fight. I don’t care whom he screwed or if he retires, nor blame him for the hopelessly politicized wars we’ve undertaken in the Muslim world. I would feel a bit protective of the general, however, if, say, a random homeless person approached him on the street wanting to Indian wrestle, which is kind of what this writer sounds like.

There are a lot of covetous journalists who would love to prize away precious New York Times white space and fill it up with their own kaleidoscopic musings. We are a jealous bunch, we writers. So I hope this does not sound catty when I say I am completely befuddled at how an unfocused pub rant without almost any facts in it somehow spilled like dark bitter onto the paper of record. Either the author knows somebody there, he filibustered a tired editor or (again, my favorite suspicion) this is an elaborate prank. If it’s not, it’s probably the the worst article I’ve ever read in the Times. Ever. And remember, I’ve read Judy Miller’s article where she said she saw a scientist off in the distance pointing at the ground where Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction components were buried. It’s so bad, I’m feeling a wee bit less jealous.

If you want a real story about Petraeus and are ready to leave go the lip-biting sex gossip and windy conspiracy theories, check out Robert Wright’s piece in The Atlantic. If you remember how awful the CIA was some 40 years ago, Wright reminds you that with a little human ingenuity and coalescing of power, it could indeed be awful again.

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The 9/11 Tribute In Light

This is a bit of an update to yesterday’s post. The cowards at “The Rumpus” didn’t post my comment. So you can officially file that site under the heading “Glib, small-dicked wussies masquerading as dissenters but secretly afraid of dissent.” Yes, a cumbersome file name, but I’m not much of a bureaucrat.

Again, I’m not one for sad anniversaries, but I have noticed that I do commemorate 9/11 in a very special way. Every year, I seem to become a Republican for a day. This isn’t by design; it simply seems to be the nature of the arguments I have. When far leftists tend to discuss Sept. 11, they usually have one of two problems: 1) Even if they kindly acknowledge it as a mass murder (thanks, pinkos!), they still have to carefully couch their language so that it meets the prescriptive of their doctrinaire worldview (America’s behavior on the world stage means this action was understandable). Or 2) They deny we were attacked altogether and insist 9/11 was an inside job.

I tried to pulverize that first argument yesterday, though I left out a couple of side notes: If the writer for the Rump Ass considered his “compassionate celestial” view more carefully, he would have realized that a celestial view isn’t a compassionate one at all. It’s simply indifferent. I would challenge the writer to interview a family member of one of the 9/11 victims, to ask specifics of how their loved one died, and then dare ask the question: “Did you know, when your husband ran back into the building to save those last three people on the stairwell, who America was giving money to in El Salvador in 1983?” As it happens, I did interview family members after 9/11. It caused me great anguish because I felt their pain in many ways was none of my business. I should have known, however, that I was helping keep their memories alive. This clod at The Rump Ass, however, brags about his unfamiliarity with those who died, and therefore his Wittgenstein-like refusal to speak of things he knows not. It’s for a very simple reason. If he ever had to interview a family member or write a profile of somebody at Cantor Fitzgerald who died instantly and had never even heard the name Osama Bin Laden, he would go back and look at the horrible article he wrote for the Rump Ass and he would destroy it. He would print it out and dip it in kerosene and burn every word and bury the ashes in quicklime. And he would have wished to god he had not spoken with such glibness and vanity about compassion being selective. He would have realized he traded empathy for doctrine. This guy says, 150,000 people died around the planet on 9/11, so why are 2700 Americans special? Should I similarly disregard anybody who died in Rwanda in 1994 because each of those days saw thousands of deaths elsewhere? Does it not bear remarking that most people don’t die horrifically everyday for political reasons when they are struck down by machetes or trapped in buildings that have turned into ovens? The Rwandans just wanted to kill each other, so why should I care or hope my government should do anything about it? If the author chooses not to show compassion for political reasons on 9/11, then he would have to spread that dispassionate view equally to Rwandans. Can he? Would he?

But let’s look at No. 2, the 9/11 Truthers. I was once working with a filmmaker from Germany on a Long Island movie, and we hit it off. Then on the subway ride home he tried to convince me that no men in caves could have brought down the Twin Towers, and that it was obviously a controlled demolition. I was thoroughly disgusted. It was a bit like finding out you’ve hit it off with a racist or an anti-Semite or a cannibal. One of the first things any engineer, philosopher, writer, linguist, philologist or doctor would know in his respective field is the rule of simplicity. It’s called Occam’s Razor and it means you don’t overcomplicate simple insight to fit a theory. Engineers don’t try to improve on the Pythagoras theorem by changing the numbers in gravity. Writers don’t come up with a hundred jargon words to say “The dog walked down the street.” Doctors don’t triple check a broken arm by opening a person’s heart. And a real thinker doesn’t remove the plane from a plane crash. This is logic so simple that my infant son would know it. And yet every time I’m on this here CB radio called the Internet I must confront people who say that the Twin Towers were brought down in an inside job, theoretically because g-men had days and days and days to plan and ably overcame bureaucracies and witnesses not noticing the tons of explosives being placed around the complex. The smoking gun: George Bush wanted war in Iraq. Therefore he destroyed the towers. There. It’s proved.

The fact that so many Americans believe this is truly chilling. These people are also, we presume, driving cars and raising children and handling knives. If you point out the fallacy, post hoc ergo propter hoc, they have the easiest retort in the world–they simply add you to the plot. Dehumanize you and your argument. George Bush has programmed you. It doesn’t occur to them that if you simply agreed with them to avoid confrontation, you would be much more of an automaton, much more a tool of somebody else’s will.

Why do people complicate simple insights? Helplessness. When the world seems bigger than you are, when you personalize complex events and the world makes you feel small, vulnerable, feckless and inferior, a conspiracy theory is one of those things that gives you false sense of power. You are suddenly part of a group of people who know a secret. Having joined a group, having become a joiner in the worst sense of the word, you ironically enjoy a feeling of false emancipation. You think you are a free thinker, even though you haven’t done the work free thinking requires: due diligence, proving steps, finding chains of causality, finding the simplest explanations. Having your ideas put up to scrutiny.

It is doubly repulsive because the Truthers, I think, are the people who made the world safe for another detestable “-er,” the Birther movement. I see these two buds inextricably intertwined like roses on a trellis. It was the Truthers who created a toxic polemical environment where even proof of Barack Obama’s citizenship with a birth certificate was no longer proof. Witnesses were no longer witnesses. Hospitals are no longer hospitals. Hawaii is no longer a state.  The real insight is that Barack Obama is black, and so how could he be president, ask the Birthers, of “our” country. The same logic is at play with Truthers. “George Bush wanted a war, so how could 9/11 have really been plotted by the people like Islamist extremists who made categorical confessions of their own guilt?”

The rest is window dressing. Truthers pull out lots of meaningless specific heat capacity calculations to prove their theory that paper fires don’t melt steel. You try to tell them that steel doesn’t have to melt in order to stop doing its job, and for that you’ll get called a Manchurian candidate. Or they point out that falling debris can’t fall down on top of more debris with the speed of gravity because the building itself is “the path of least resistance.” In other words, the Twin Towers should have fallen over on their sides if they were destroyed by planes. Never mind that a house of cards wouldn’t fall over “on its side” if you knocked it down. Never mind that if you watch videos, the impact points of destruction start from the top and move down, where the falling floors cumulatively add new destructive weight, whereas controlled demolitions start from the bottom (using gravity as a weapon, perhaps the best weapon). Raise your hand if you saw the Twin Towers crumble from the bottom.

But again, by getting into these arguments, you remove the planes (some people actually try to do that too, by making 9/11 the world’s greatest advertisement for PhotoShop ever). To remove the planes makes you a non-thinker. A partisan who places himself at the center of a paranoid web of strange facts and non-facts. I’d feel better frankly, if many of these people just admitted they were lying. Then they would merely be scumbags. Instead, they poison the sort of thinking required of enlightened individuals to synthesize, dialectically, a better world. They’re making us all stupider.

I thought to further my contribution to a better world, I might offer some of the better Web sites debunking the Truthers. Here is one from a site called “Implosion World.” They say they are independent. So to Truthers, that means they’re probably part of the plot.

And then there’s this wonderful YouTube video that gives common sense descriptions of what happened when the planes hit the towers. If you are a non-Truther, I bid you a nice time enjoying your brain.

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The 9/11 Tribute In Light

It’s human nature to politicize things that ought not be politicized–even the weather. I have personally come to believe that politics is not evil incarnate or the instrument of the devil, as Bob Dylan once put it, but as natural a process as cell division in biology. Some day, a scientist will show the direct parallels between a cell’s meiosis and a polity dividing. It starts with memes, symbols, words, and codes. Soon, people are debating, disagreeing, self-identifying and self-segregating around those semions, just as surely as haploid cells divide in meiosis. Because I’m not a scientist, I had to content myself with writing a novel about this process. It’s called “The Ghost and the Hemispheres,” and I’m shopping it to agents now.

But we are political and we do seek out political differences, perhaps because of a genetic imperative to innovate. That’s why I should have expected a horrible, recrudescent strain of 9/11 backlash articles like this shitty one. Like a good leftist speaking in the codes of his faith, just like Michele Bachman does to her flock, the guy runs at the mouth with a lot of the same predictable schtick about the evils of American exceptionalism. Not stopping to figure out that it was outsiders who decided to single us out in 2001.

Maybe I should confess that I agree with 20% of the piece, specifically the idea of Sept. 11 as a dubious cultural rallying point. I have not been much enamored of the 10th year anniversary memorials for 9/11. The author calls it the “pornography of grief,” which is a nice touch. But mostly he slips into the kind of pedantic, “told-you-so” moralism that characterized the far-left writings after 9/11. Lest we forget, this kind of attitude smeared the entire left wing in 2002 and 2003 and allowed warmongers to launch their immoral war because they could easily con the political center into thinking everybody on the left was crazy. As a left-winger, I get pretty torn up when liberals are wrong, as many of them were when they said the United States deserved the attacks in New York and Washington for all of its sins. I’m sure there’s a folksy phrase for this fallacy: Maybe killing Peter to pay back Paul.  So I wrote this long tirade in the comments section of the Web site:

“This is an execrable piece. A piece that trades one fell morality for another like chips in a poker game, when in fact, as none of you can evidently see, the writer is willing to abdicate his morality altogether to settle petty political scores. He is unwilling to apply a simple categorical imperative that the murder of thousands of innocent people for religious reasons is wrong. If you think the Iraq war was wrong, as I do, for the simple reason that the United States wasn’t attacked by Iraq, then you must be willing to assert that the murder of thousands of Americans in for one man’s specious political calculation and religious chauvinism was wrong. The idea that “they hate us for our freedom” is stupid. The idea that Osama Bin Laden’s motive was the freedom of the Palestinians, whom most of the Arab world regularly spits on, is just as stupid. Bin Laden built himself up on American power and then turned on it. He decided to make thousands of Americans victim of an internecine squabble with his own government. To make him the moral voice of the oppressed Vietnamese or the Chileans is an act of stunning stupidity. But let’s talk about your celestial view. Isn’t Putting 9/11 into “perspective” a bit like putting the Manson murders into “perspective”? Yes, it was sad that a pretty pregnant lady got stabbed, but Charles Manson was right, the black people are oppressed, while rich white people are drinking champagne. This article offers the supreme intellectual dishonesty that anybody who lives in the United States and is willing to walk into a tall building, even to work, is worthy of being burned to death by jet fuel or defenestrated from the 87th floor for what has happened in Nicaragua, East Timor, Panama, Angola, El Salvador and Vietnam. There is no philosophy or ethics or morality that wouldn’t collapse under the weight of this viewpoint, and for the author to invoke unnamed children dying in huts is particularly pitiful; he’s not making the point that people should be equal but that misery should be. It’s anti-humanism at its worst. And if the author stops to think about it, it’s also an imperialist outlook. He’s not speaking FOR anybody. He’s just speaking against the United States as a sometime participant. And knee-jerk anti-patriotism is just as bad as knee-jerk patriotism. You all let that sink in. If you can. We all grieve in different ways; some of us get over it more quickly than others. I live in New York and did not choose to watch all the coverage tonight because I don’t want my grief to be preserved in amber. But if somebody else decides they want to be part of the grief–to give to charities, to comfort friends or to simply imagine that it could have been them (because if you’re an American, it could have been), then that’s his choice. If you decided that you did not belong to a country that day, that’s fine too. But be warned: you’re sounding a lot like a Tea Partier, who gets to pick and choose when he belongs to a commonwealth or the human race. The Tea Partier may decide to opt out when its time to help fund health care for everybody, but you, my friend, have decided to opt out when it comes time to show pain for 2700 people dying all at once. So today, you have made the Tea Party look good, the left look bad, and put your hatred on display for all to see. I only hope they can.”

I don’t normally read this site, and I don’t usually pick fights on bulletin boards, but usually keep my polemics to myself at this, your 24-hour Rasmussen station. But when my Facebook friends on the left started coughing up some of the old shit from their scarred lungs, I decided to go ahead and speak up. To lie down and do nothing while somebody is selling you a bill of goods is … un-American. And on certain occasions, I’m proud to be one.

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The 9/11 Tribute In Light

Here’s something I don’t post very often: A story I wrote almost ten years ago–five short bios of rescue workers who died at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. As I posted last year in a more personal account, the Sept. 11 attacks caused me, at the time a not-so-serious journalist, to confront a more serious world. One of the hardest things I was asked to do by editors at the time was call up bereaved families while the story was still in progress. For a long time, I shrank from that task. Chasing grief was not something I had ever wanted to do as a writer in New York City; all I had ever wanted to do was be creative. But with mayhem all around, with ashes of the iconic towers snowing down on my neighborhood and with no real idea of what I was doing, I had to finagle a subway ride into Manhattan and go interview people. I had to come to grips with my limited talents and see if there was something (anything?) I could offer the world as a writer to deal with something so monstrous and inhuman when I’d led my life before chasing whimsy. One wonders at a time like that how competent he is, how necessary in the vast scheme of things, when all around there is need and he hasn’t prepared himself. One wonders, I hate to say, about things he hoped he’d never have to, even about topics he’d shunned since his teen years. I wondered for a time what is masculinity, and would I have served the world better as a warrior or a burly firefighter rather than a cowering writer in my garret. These are the psychological wounds that 9/11 inflicted on some of us, too.

And as I confronted these problems, nearly wanting to collapse with heartache, instead, I made myself write something; I made myself be part of the world.I’d ask you to click the first link to see the brave men (and women!) who didn’t have to think about it, because they were too busy acting on instinct to save people, and for that died.

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On Tuesday, the United States’ East Coast was struck by a 5.8 earthquake centered in Virginia that sent tremors all the way up to New Hampshire and all the way down to South Carolina. It’s the worst earthquake the East Coast has seen in decades.

Is that an earthquake?
Or twenty secretaries
Coming back from lunch?

Thought I lived in the
New York City Area
Not San Francisco

I was in Red Bank.
My office mate thought I was
Kicking my desk hard

Is that an earthquake
Or do you always kick things
When you are thinking?

No dams have broken
But water sloshed in glasses
Says the New York Times

Buildings swoon, neighbors
hug; no wait, they are hugging
Cause the Dow Jones jumped

Day of infamy:
America mourns the loss
of prized knickknacks

If I die in Red
Bank, it won’t be the quakes but
crossing the damn street

FEMA probably
Stayed on vacation I guess.
What’s the point, really?

If you didn’t sleep
Through it, you are likely
Forever changed.

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The 9/11 Tribute In Light

I guess I spoke too soon. People did eventually fill the streets in Lower Manhattan to cheer and wave flags Sunday night, wearing face paint and shouting “America No. 1!” But I was not wrong about the long, long process of closure. In fact, it seems like there’s a battle for the soul of American justice and how we pursue it.

As people cheered, there was a competing sentiment about Osama bin Laden’s death (perhaps even mine in my previous post) suggesting that this closure should be po-faced, grim and puritanical, that it should be a new opportunity to mourn, not a photo op moment to celebrate more bloodshed.

It’s pretty silly, after all, to say America is great because some Navy SEALs shot a supposedly unarmed guy in the head (I say, “supposedly” because the story corrections and equivocations continue to flow from the White House like an eruption of chocolate party fondue that never quite hardens. This ought be a clue to conspiracy theorists if many of them weren’t so beastly dumb: Even attempted transparency can be contradictory. Now that the White House has decided not to show the photos, you can prepare for years of headache-inducing “Osama’s Alive” stories.)

Almost immediately after Bin Laden went to heaven to claim his virgins, letters and comments and tweets and posts appeared condemning Americans’ jubilation, quoting and misquoting Martin Luther King’s admonitions about hating enemies. Many people on this New York Times’ mood meter summed up the general feeling of the minority: “I refuse to celebrate the death of any human being.” “I take no joy in yet another killing.” “The death of one person should not be celebrated, even to save thousands.” One of my favorite comments: “Anyone who thinks death or physical pain is a valid form of retribution for any crime is an absolutist.” A rhetoric lesson for the author: Anyone who starts a sentence with, “Anyone who …” is also an absolutist. Some Bertrand Russell might be in order for this gal.

You might think that last sentence was meant to be cute. It’s not. I, too, feel something less than glory in bin Laden’s death. But many of these critics are displaying an absolutism all their own.

The perception that people are in the streets cheering only at the blood is A SUBJECTIVE ONE that says a lot more about those who point it out than the people it aims to criticize. The statement willfully ignores other things Bin Laden’s death might mean to people, emotions of relief and hope. Certainly there were people at the WTC site shouting, “Let the dogs eat him.” Weren’t there? Well, yes, there is some of that as there would naturally be, and no, it’s not healthy. But I also heard a lot of other defensible sentiments more along the lines of “We got him. Or, “We did it,” and simply, “I’m proud of my country.” Maybe, “America No. 1.” It’s always likely that jingoism is going to be the order of a day like Sunday’s. To be fair, though, it’s kind of hard to put euphoria into words (just as it was hard to put into words the complicated reasons we were attacked in the first place–by a former ally, no less, with grudges that cut both ways).

But for those of you who only see a celebration of death Roman gladiator style, let me give it a try: This ain’t a sporting event, and we aren’t crazed football fans looking for a high. This was, arguably, our deliverance from ten years of a questionable moral universe in which a religious cult leader willing to murder thousands of people–secretaries, waiters, delivery drivers, security guards, airplane passengers, Christians, Jews, Muslims, etc.–was going to go unpunished mainly for political reasons: First, because our scurrilous U.S. president at the time decided to settle an unrelated score elsewhere, and second because the murderer was safe in the bosom of a chaotic nuclear power. As I said in my first post on this subject, many people celebrating in the streets on Sunday night were children when 9/11 happened, and many of them likely grew up disillusioned that the defining moment of their young lives was going to have an ambiguous, nihilistic conclusion. “Life isn’t fair,” is a hard thing to tell children, as is telling them that they could die instantly and violently for political reasons and the killers would go free. It’s an outlook that could easily lead to despair and erode many people’s sense of morality or accountability. Do you agree, moralists? Do you believe it’s OK to be happy that we’re freed from that reality, at least for the time being? Being happy, are we allowed to cheer? Being allowed to cheer, are we cheering in a way that’s chaste enough to clear the hurdle of your sanctimony?

But that’s the complicated argument. The real hypocrisy of the “humanists” this week is an obvious point they miss: Some of us are cheering because a couple of wars might come to an end, not because a guy got shot in the face. This is something fairly easy to see, unless you’re really, really inclined not to (or if your critical sword only cuts one way). This war, lest you forget, was in a lot of people’s minds about bringing Bin Laden to justice. His death doesn’t mean we’re leaving Afghanistan next week, of course, but the main symbol of our struggle, bin Laden, who ought to embody our entire casus belli, has been removed from the scene. That fact augurs peace, not to mention justice. It suggests deliverance from the nightmare that was the 2000s and the wars that defined the decade. Why is it not allowed for a moral person to celebrate that?

Yet self-proclaimed humanists choose not to look at it that way. Why? What’s the bias? Must they assume those of us who feel a sense of relief and satisfaction right now are just dancing in blood because we have violent ape natures and a nationalistic chauvinism and no reflection and no morality and life for us is like a particularly gruesome version of Battlefield 3?

My thought is that it’s a bit of a tip off, an advertisement of the critics’ conflicted and unhappy relationship with their country. How many of them, I dare ask, used 9/11 as a moment mainly to rip into U.S. foreign policy, as if suggesting that a cult religious figure kicked out of Saudi Arabia had right to avenge El Salvadorans, and in the confusion temporarily left their “humanism” at the door that day? Evidently, there were enough of them that they managed to turn Marxist Brit Christopher Hitchens into a U.S. right winger. I guess people really do have the power.

I, too, disliked a lot of American foreign policy both before and after 9/11 and believe America has committed crimes for which we ought to spend a few years in an international court. But that doesn’t blind me to the clear immorality of Bin Laden’s mass murder or to what his removal means: the possible deliverance from a violent person and a violent past, the need to live in the past with the twin specters of the World Trade Center and the need for more bloodshed.

Merry Christmas, humanists. War is over. Geddit?

Next: Why is it not OK to be happy that a mass murderer is not out mass murdering anymore? That’s kind of a perverse thing to ask for, isn’t it? Why should deliverance from that reality not be worth celebrating? Why is it not right to say, “Rot in hell, Osama!” to give comfort to yourself or others? Was it not OK for Jews to celebrate Hitler’s passing? Would you deny them that, or only deny it for yourself and your own countrymen? You might say all death diminishes us, even Hitler’s, that hatred demeans you, even if the mass murderer wouldn’t show you–or thousands of others–the same sympathy. To want to be better than your murderer is a fine goal. But warning: there is also perhaps a lack of self-regard in it. You wouldn’t force that morality on a rape victim, say, if she said she was glad her attacker had been killed. To say that one person must be allowed to live, to hate and sow new violence based on his medieval religious outlook is a form of extremism, too. Beware your own extremism if you’re going to denounce it in others.

Did bin Laden deserve a trial? Another good question. Remember that a trial of Osama bin Laden would have become a trial of his ideas. And that ought to lead you to this question: Do all ideas deserve trial? Do Hitler’s ideas deserve trial? (Ohhh! That comparison again. More on that later.) Does the madness of a murdering extremist refusing to participate in society (ours and his own) demand society’s channels of due process? Maybe. Would it be more important than emotional closure? Maybe. Is it realistic? No. The reasons for why that is will be debated forever and never answered to anybody’s satisfaction. The violence of one sometimes can’t be made square with the peace of the many. I’m not generally for the death penalty, but as Groucho Marx said, “for him I’ll make an exception.” Does that make me a sell-out to my own values or a person with a bit of depth perception?

OK, the Hitler argument. Isn’t it facile and self-serving to compare Bin Laden and Hitler? Let’s get quickly to the argument that festers underneath this like a hard-to-kill staph infection: Did America deserve 9/11 in the first place? Many people who smartly wheel in horror at mindless patriotism somehow turn dumb really quickly when it comes to mindless knee-jerk anti-patriotism, which they ought to realize is just as bad, especially if they are not willing to support their country doing something inherently good, such as protecting its citizens against a religious maniac. If you insist that every American citizen is guilty, regardless of party or philosophy or details on the ground, for what has happened in Nicaragua, East Timor, Angola, Iraq, etc.,  so guilty he or she, every one, is worthy of dying in a hijacking at the hands of an Islamic religious fundamentalist with an agenda specific to his own idea of God, your outlook can’t survive what we’d call humanism or rationality. It’s such a hopeless argument, I feel dumb even bringing it up. And yet every once in a while … I see that post or hear that argument: “You might not know this about 9/11, but America’s done some awful things…” So goes the critical insight of the new Mother Jones subscriber.

Yes, it’s better to take the moral high ground and not hate or take satisfaction in violence, because it doesn’t do your enemies any harm really, and it doesn’t do you any good either, to say nothing of your humanity. And yet, as much as I hate to say it, I think a fair burden of proof falls back on some of the “humanists” this week. Are you seeing hate in the streets because it’s there or sometimes because maybe you hate a little too? Why should I not feel relief and joy at being delivered from the past? Why do I have to explain myself to you?

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The 9/11 Tribute In Light

I was about to turn off my computer late Sunday night after resting my eyeballs on some mindless TV when all of a sudden, a quick scan of the New York Times shook my peace and ruined my planned sleep. Bin Laden dead. Bin Laden killed. He’s bin terminated. He’s a has Bin. He’s bin there done that.

The Upper East Side, the sleepiest part of the city that never sleeps, had already gone to bed. Two hours after the announcement, I’m still looking out the window on my beautiful city and its always changing landscape and seeing no gathering of people. The local ABC affiliate immediately ran out to Times Square after the announcement and the reporter gushed that it was filling up with people. Behind her, trash blew around in the deserted sidewalks. I highly recommend this clip to the producers of “The Soup” and perhaps Columbia Journalism School graduates who want to learn how to avoid embarrassing themselves.

But put aside the levity and let’s attack the meat of the matter:  The man who slaughtered almost 3000 innocent Americans 10 years ago is dead. The man who was willing to exploit American power for his own ends in Afghanistan until he decided he’d rather murder American civilians to impress psychopathic Islamic fundamentalists–is gone. The man who evaded capture for 10 years and told us what his real aim was–the restoration of the caliphate along the lines of the repressive Taliban, is obliterated.

I am one of those people who has never believed in the concept of closure, whether it’s political, spiritual or even romantic. People love closure the way they like crack–they promise this time is always the last time, and yet they always seem to want more of it after it’s over. So when my wife said to me tonight, as we watched the updates on ABC, that this entire thing felt anticlimactic, I knew exactly what she meant.

It feels that way for several reasons. One, the war is not over. Al Qaeda, what started out as an agreement over a table a couple of decades ago among a few rogue military leaders, one of whose rules was to have good manners, has metastasized into several networks with different leaders all vying for prestige and leadership over a restive culture of America-haters. Two, the relatively bloodless dispatch of Bin Laden in a raid on his compound in Pakistan reminds us of something we have all forgotten: He was just a man. He was not a God. He was not a country. He was not even much of an army. One of the biggest tragedies of 9/11 is that it showed us how a relatively small group of people can cause so much harm. We were attacked by a club, a mafia even, and the justice meted out was never going to compensate emotionally for the pain inflicted. It’s for similar reasons that we can’t accept the idea that Lee Harvey Oswald may have acted alone: How can one puny, limited, brutish person cause so many hopeful people so much grief? It’s for denial of that reality that America inevitably overreacted to 9/11 by invading not one but two countries, one of which had nothing to do with the attack.

The next reason it feels anticlimactic is that we will never get back the people we loved that day. As President Obama said, children are still missing fathers, husbands missing wives. Friends missing friends. The death of one man can’t make up for the pain of that either.

And finally, the reason bin Laden’s death feels anticlimactic is that we waited so horribly long for the day to arrive. For ten years, we had to live with the idea that the man who openly admitted to plotting the destruction of the World Trade Center was indeed sitting somewhere exactly where we imagined him–not in a cave fighting hand to hand but in a comfortable compound in Pakistan, in the nurturing bosom of friendly Pakistanis–drawing ten more years of breath. That was 10 years for many of us to get comfortable with some uncomfortable ideas–that life isn’t fair. That a mass murderer might indeed go unpunished. When George Bush announced at one point that bin Laden had been marginalized and was no longer a big deal, you might have read it the same way I did: He was practically promising that this account would not be reckoned. Now the mass murderer is indeed gone, but the uncomfortable idea remains. What if there had been no tip off last August? What if bin Laden had lived to a ripe old age? It was entirely possible. There were lots of Nazis, after all, who died peaceful deaths after spreading out to the four corners.

I think about this as I look at many of the faces gathering in Washington and Lower Manhattan on television. Many of them are young adults. A lot of them seem to have even been children in 2001. For them, 9/11 was likely the single most important political and philosophical experience of their lives, the event that forged their characters and their morality. It would be much harder for them to live the last 10 years with the same existential unease–that an evildoer would prevail. It doesn’t matter whether they lived in New York City and watched the World Trade Center smash into the ground (as I did) or whether they are willing to put the events in some sort of historical context (which I try to do, as painful as it can sometimes be). For them, bin Laden simply couldn’t be walking about freely in a moral universe. He had to go. I felt that way at one time. I was 31 on Sept. 11 in 2001 and the attack drove me to a despair I’d rather not describe. I had a hard time sleeping for a long time and the sound of planes gave me the creeps. For a few months, many New Yorkers lived with a grim, almost mordant pessimism that the end was near. But my hatred for bin Laden and my desire to see his lifeless corpse dragged through the streets behind a chariot yielded after a while. That kind of hatred did me no good.

But anticlimax or not, we’re still fighting a couple of wars (though Iraq is winding down). And probably the most important question raised by Osama bin Laden’s death is now this: Why are we over there? Osama bin Laden was for so long the answer to that question that you needed little other. But now the palimpsest has been erased. The central premise of our wars overseas has been removed. Though we might still be fighting networks that mean to harm America, we’ve now reached the point in which we remain present only to fight those who fight against our presence. The idea of Afghanistan slipping back into a Taliban-ruled violent, repressive theocracy is repugnant, but so are the accidental killings of civilians and the razing of towns by American forces and the funneling of American money into the pockets of Taliban leaders through public works projects. Now is the time to save face and ask if it’s time to leave. Barack Obama can have his own “Mission Accomplished” moment if he likes. It’s no sin to bug out if what we’re doing in Afghanistan is counterproductive and we got what we came for.

But I’ll sign off with this thought–I’m proud of my country tonight. As I was about to drag my sorry ass to bed, part of me wanted to throw on my clothes and go downtown at 2 in the morning to cheer with my fellow New Yorkers the removal of Osama bin Laden and his hatred from this planet. There is a narrow, joyless view that everything America does it does Energizer Bunny-like for money and oil. Sometimes, it happens, I’m sure. But a more expansive view might allow that Americans have altruism in them and that there is a goodness in us that is worth protecting. Naive perhaps, sometimes, about their own role in the world. But definitely capable of good.

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