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Posts Tagged ‘Osama bin Laden’

You expect amazing stupidity from conspiracy theorists, who use bullying tactics to get you to believe that they are smarter than you and tell you that you’re programmed if you don’t let them program you. But rarely do they push news organizations into such amazing blunders.

At least a couple of different online news sites, the Mirror and the Daily Mail Online, are reporting today that Osama Bin Laden was not, after all, dumped in the Indian Ocean after his ignominious end at the hands of Navy SEALs last May. Instead, according to internal e-mails stolen from Austin, Texas security firm Stratfor by hackers, bin Laden’s body was taken to the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Bethesda, Maryland for examination and cremation. Stratfor, which does security work for the United States government, is called by detractors the shadow CIA. The firm supposedly has extensive knowledge about U.S. internal security and handles accounts for some of the largest U.S. corporations doing business overseas and thus stands at the nexus of commerce and power, say its foes.

According to the e-mails, which appeared on Wikileaks.org, a Stratfor executive named Fred Burton posted in an e-mail subject line, “Body bound for Dover, DE on CIA Plane” when referring to bin Laden’s corpse, which would then be sent onward to Bethesda. That e-mail came at 5:51:12 on May 5, 2011. This elicits the response from George Friedman, the company’s president, that the sea burial was an unlikely account. It sounded to him like the disposition of Adolf Eichmann’s body:

“Eichmann was seen alive for many months on trial before being sentenced to death and executed. No one wanted a monument to him so they cremated him. But i dont know anyone who claimed he wasnt eicjhman [sic]. No comparison with suddenly burying him at sea without any chance to view him, which i doubt happened.” The FBI wouldn’t let that happen, he opines.

The Mail goes on to show pictures of the supposed aircraft carrier next to the supposed pathology institute, and top if off with a nice post-prandial sorbet: a sidebar explaining who Adolf Eichmann was.

Problem is, a later Stratfor cable the news organizations didn’t bother to read says, “Never mind.”

I first read this story after seeing a thread on The New York Times Web site about a bunch of hackers being arrested who were vaguely linked to the same large Anonymous movement that has targeted firms like Stratfor. One commenter said that the Bin Laden cremation story had appeared all around the world “except in America, due to the heavily censored government/corporate media.” There’s no telling why the Times would gain from burying this story, since the paper has regularly published Wikileaks material. Supposedly the Times, Dow Chemical, Stratfor and Barack Obama are now all in cahoots.

Smart readers probably already knew the story was a hoax when they read Friedman only “doubted” that the bin Laden burial at sea was true. That means the alternative Bethesda cremation story was simply conjecture by the Stratfor guys, a bunch of armchair analysts obviously outside the loop or still gathering information. But if that wasn’t enough to convince conspiracy theorists or gullible newspaper reporters hot for copy, then certainly this memo should have been:

“Down & dirty done, He already sleeps with the fish….” ** Fred’s Note: Although I don’t really give a rats ass, it seems to me
that by dropping the corpse in the ocean, the body will come back to haunt us….gotta be violating some sort of obscure heathen religious rule that will inflame islam? I was sleeping thru that class at Langley.”

The time code on this: 15:11:03, May 5, 2011. Well after the first two e-mails.

So, Stratfor concedes in the later memo, Osama bin Laden, was indeed thrown into the sea. How did they know? They probably heard it on the god damn news.

You can debate all day whether it was important for hackers to target Stratfor, which seems to have as many conspiracy theories about Julian Assange as he does about them. Reading the links is sometimes less like reading John Le Carre and more like listening to “Dueling Banjos.” When you read through Stratfor e-mails, you hear a mix of braggadocio and paranoia that is likely the proper cocktail of people who work in the spook business, but what you don’t hear are the voices of powerful people who control our daily lives. Sometimes they seem just as out of the loop as anybody (“Look here! Everything we need to know about our hacker enemies I found in this issue of Wired!”) The hackers who broke into the company regard it schizophrenically as an evil perpetrator of black ops standing at the nexus of power but then disdainfully as a company too drag ass to even protect its own computers from attack.

I wrote extensively about Assange last year, noting that even though information is always a good thing, his motivations are nutty. Of course, why should I care about that if the leaks are substantial? Well, in this case, much of the information was stolen by people who also stole credit card information from companies, assuming all companies are part of the complex. It so happens I write about finance, and perhaps part of my paycheck comes from advertising money doled out by a hated industry. Does that make me part of the complex? Does that make my credit card worth stealing?

I only worry about that because conspiracy theorists lump everybody into plots, damning innocent and guilty alike, and what’s more, especially in this case, THEY DON’T KNOW HOW TO READ OR TELL TIME. And yet their conviction is such that they will not be moved, they bully dumb reporters into stories like these, and finally, their extremism promotes criminality. If what they find in their hacking promotes the greater good, like the Pentagon Papers, I’m ready to defend them. And Stratfor seems to be full of nutty right wing conspiracy theorists itself. But there’s the rub. Conspiracy theorists are usually notable only by their infantile feelings of helplessness and their need to be in the know. And often, on both sides of the debate, they can impress us only in being smug, self-satisfied and wrong. In this case, the firm’s detractors seem as unlikable as the firm they invaded.

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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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As I get older, I feel less enthusiastic about marking the anniversaries of horrible events (or even good ones). I hope that doesn’t sound callous, especially since I didn’t lose any friends or family members in the Twin Towers. But at some point, grief becomes self-perpetuating. I have known people who have built entire shrines to their grief as a way of holding on to it. I was familiar with this behavior on Sept. 11, 2001 from reading. I know it first-hand this year after losing my mother in a car wreck. Grief is something you have to let go of. And anniversaries are just one more way of preserving grief in amber.

But for documentary purposes, I’ll tell you that as a New Yorker, I went through periods of shock, depression, mania and denial due to the terrorist attacks, if not nervous breakdown. I’ve heard there are studies suggesting that the closer you were to the towers on Sept. 11, the greater your chances of suffering post-traumatic stress disorder. I was two miles away, for whatever that’s worth. And looking back, I sometimes wonder if I indeed suffered from it, if not from some milder, derivative form of despair.

I was a freelance journalist at the time, living in downtown Brooklyn. I had just finished up a morning Web feed for a financial news site when a friend called and told me to turn on the TV. Seems the World Trade Center had been hit by an airplane. I walked to the Brooklyn waterfront and found not one but both buildings gashed, with flames licking up the sides–vast walls of flames that it takes you a moment to realize are as tall as small buildings themselves. But why two crash sites? I thought at first that maybe one plane had sliced through Tower 1 and hit Tower 2 (though the trajectories didn’t match). The radio said two planes.  “That’s impossible. Surely I’m hearing it wrong.” Terror wasn’t in my thoughts.

Though I knew about Al Qaeda and the bombings of the U.S.S. Cole and the African embassies, I never really understood Osama bin Laden, a former U.S. ally whose beefs still seemed too esoteric and obscure to me. He didn’t seem to be a guy fighting against colonialism or for the freedom of his people but rather a self-important freebooter who felt double-crossed by the American military. He seemed so proud, blustering and overly sensitive that he had probably felt double crossed a lot in his life–by the Americans, by the Saudis, by his family. People like that make great sociopaths.

I then made what in hindsight turned out to be a foolish decision. I decided to go back home and call a few editors to see if there was anything I could write about the emergency. I have never been much of a spot reporter, but 2001 was the year I had quit my job with the intention of being more of a go-getter.

So I ran home thinking, again foolishly, that the fires, still burning at that point, would be contained. “Why sit here and watch it burn?” I thought. “It’s not like the towers are going to collapse.” In 1993, the World Trade Center had already been attacked, when a terrorist loaded up a van full of explosives. The destruction underground opened 100 foot holes five stories tall. And yet the towers stood. And a B-25 Mitchell had hit the Empire State Building in 1945 without felling it.

My bad. As we all found out later, the math changes when the most vulnerable beams are all on the outside of your building. They didn’t have to melt. All they had to do was fail. I raced home to find out from the radio that  Tower 2 had indeed fallen right where I’d stupidly left it. Shows how good a spot news reporter I am. I ran home from the real story.

I then sallied back outdoors to see from my cramped Brooklyn vantage point what Lower Manhattan had turned into. Many TV cameras have caught the images of that day, so I doubt I could do them justice with poetic ruminations of destruction. But what had been lower Manhattan was subsumed in a dark purple-yellow cloud with some buildings sticking up out of it. It looked as if part of the sky had been erased by a furious illustrator unhappy with the work he’s done. But it was obvious from the columnar shape of the cloud that what had been erased was a building.

A guy nearby on the Brooklyn waterfront said “I know there’s a God now because I’m over here and not over there.” It sounds horrible, but the graveyard humor started before both towers had gone down.

I headed north to my friend Michael’s house. He  lived much closer. Before I got there, it started snowing–not precipitation but pulverized concrete, getting into my eyes and piling up on the cars. Winter in September. And overhead of course, the lighter material was flying away–reams of paper. You could only imagine what was printed on it. Thousands (millions?) of pieces of paper flying away on top of the rising heat. With Brooklyn suddenly enmeshed in clouds of the destroyed Tower 2, I had to go indoors with my friend and watch the final destruction of Tower 1 play out on television like the rest of America. I knew by that point we’d be going to war. Some friends and I went to the water front again when the skies had cleared a bit. “This is the new skyline,” said a guy with a video camera. “Guess we better get used to it.”

I went back home to attend to e-mails flooding into my box from friends and family asking me if I was OK. On the map, I looked very close to the destruction, especially to people out of state.

At some point I cried. I don’t remember what set it off. I think it was a friend’s letter asking me what they could do. I wasn’t sure what to do next, but then a friend from Texas gave me a virtual slap upside the head: “You’re a writer. Write about it.” As it happens, I had only one writing gig at that point at a nurse’s magazine. Not exactly what I had in mind. But they wanted a story. All of a sudden I was a real reporter covering a life and death situation.

So I lay down on the floor and had a panic attack. Not only was I going to have to write about something I hadn’t come to grips with, but I was going to have to become a spot news reporter instantly, which I hadn’t been before. My chest hurt and I felt when I got up like I was going to fall over. At some point, though, I made it to the George Foreman grill, and shoved a piece of chicken into it, then ate the bland, vulcanized thing for the protein. It was the bit of strength I needed to get out the door.

I somehow got a subway train to Manhattan, which coughed me up in Greenwich Village, but most of the routes downtown were barricaded at Houston Street. Nobody was allowed to go south, even if they lived there, and I couldn’t convince the cops to let me through. It was the middle of the afternoon and the day was still, all things considered, quite pretty. The traffic was diverted and in the middle of Sixth Avenue, the usual river of taxis had dried up. In the middle of the empty thoroughfare was a young man who had set up an easel and was splashing across his canvas a giant expressionistic acrylic version of our national tragedy while it was still in progress. More gallows humor (or coping?)

I went to St. Vincent’s hospital and found a press area, defying the press credential requirement and jumping into the pit. I asked doctors and nurses what kind of injuries they were seeing. Turns out, there weren’t many. Sept. 11 was extremely binary in its casualties list (at least during the first day) Either you died or you didn’t. You can read the story I wrote on it here if you like. It’s not Pulitzer material, but it got me through the day.

Drinks were free that night. We told more inappropriate jokes. We asked each other if we were OK. Some people hooked up. Others just walked around. The next day was like a Saturday at Disneyland. People walked around with their kids in a light so soft it was almost impressionistic. People called friends they hadn’t called in years. Even I called an ex with whom I’d had an acrimonious break up. I don’t know why. I had to make sure she was OK.

I met Stephanie a few months after the attack and went back to work full time and can say now that 2002 was one of the best years of my life, following 2001 which was undeniably the worst. I came through it better, but different.

I am extremely clear headed about the political questions raised by 9/11. Whatever America has done in Chile, Nicaragua, Vietnam, East Timor, Angola or Cuba, you can’t possibly take the side of a murderous religious fundamentalist, somebody who wants to revive a medieval caliphate, and think it’s OK for him to murder American civilians to right American wrongs. If you are one of the people who think America had 9/11 coming, I don’t count you much of a thinker. I think of you as doctrinaire and sad.

At the same time, the burden of introspection on Sept. 11 was unfortunately on those who were hurting the most. Only a few brave contrarians pointed out back then that Afghanistan was going to be a mess if we invaded. Now we have that mess. People cried war, because at the time we figured at least 10,000 people were dead and surely that was an act of war. Logic didn’t bear this out, however, since no government per se had attacked us. Ultimately I backed our president’s incursion into Afghanistan because the Taliban were at least undeniably protecting the people who attacked us.

Not so, Saddam Hussein. Americans still in pain 20 months later were still not thinking critically at all, and they let George Bush and his cadre of think-tank neoconservatives take advantage of us by leading us to war in Iraq. We know in hindsight that we were vulnerable to manipulation. It’s very, very hard to say we should have anticipated it from Day 1.

But the political realities are just one thing that have made me grow up. More important was that 9/11 made me realize  how much I love my city. Moving here and becoming part of New York with its bustles and frustrations had been a dream of mine since I was little. Learning the city means making it a part of your body–you have to know the rhythms, the steps, the hustles, the battles. You have to know when to step back from the subway. You have to know when to fight city hall and when not to. When you make the city so much a part of your own body, perhaps it just makes sense that you would hurt when it hurts. The strangest thing I can say about 9/11 is that, even though I didn’t lose anybody close to me in those planes or in those buildings, I took the attack very personally. This great metropolis they had built was in my mind, despite its flaws, a paradise. And to see so many ideals ripped down at once–the aspirations of young people, the aspirations of peace makers, and the aspirations of people who build things like tall buildings–was the saddest thing to me as a New Yorker and a young person, too. Soon, I wasn’t young anymore.

Photo: The 9/11 Tribute in Light

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(Originally posted Tuesday, March 25, 2008 )

2 CBS
In the series finale of the canceled show “Jericho,” the angry producers end the story with the former United States being completely overrun by a sea of Islamic hordes on horseback, and Osama bin Laden feeds his beast of burden oats on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, using the Constitution as his own personal toilet paper.

4 NBC
“Medium”: “Allison, I understand you can read minds. Can you read my mind now, Allison?: Fuck you, that’s what I’m thinking, Allison.”

5 ABC
“The Bachelor–London”: ‘Tis Pity She’s a ‘Bachelor’ Contestant

10 CNN
Cross-eyed ex-hookers still waiting outside hopefully, just in case somebody wants to, I don’t know, talk with them about the Eliot Spitzer case again. Or about the sex business in general. Or anything else. C’mon, let us in! It’s freezing out here!

13 PBS
Charlie Rose: Old, heterosexual, rich, white men distraught over the passing of William F. Buckley. “He was our Martin Luther King,” cry distraught, effete, wealthy Caucasians.

15 Animal Planet
What do chimps fantasize about when they masturbate? That’s right! Pamela Anderson!

16 Disney
That’s So Adolf!

17 CW
You know, they have a name for “Gossip Girl” in prison, Serena, it’s called “Snitch Bitch.”

18 CNN Financial
A single share of the dismantled financial giant Bear Stearns now costs less than the one-piece “a la carte” meal at Kentucky Fried Chicken

20 E! Entertainment Network
Jar Jar Binks: The E True Hollywood Story

38 Fox News
John McCain loses whatever credibility he had left by letting idiot Mongoloid man-child Sean Hannity put words in his mouth for an hour while he shakes like a neutered Spanish Civil War concussion victim.

38 Fox News
Bill O’Reilly wants to know everything about this golden shower business. And don’t lie to him or spare him any detail–this is the no-spin zone, damn it!

39 Oxygen
We’ve realized that we can now strike the greatest blow for women by airing numerous cat fight shows.

40 Lifetime
Movie: It involves a mother, a daughter, drugs and a pimp. You can fill in the rest, even if you don’t have any imagination whatsoever.

40 Lifetime
Movie: ” ‘I Am Not a Moron’: The True Story of Eliot Spitzer Call Girl Ashley Dupre,” a Lifetime movie event starring Mischa Barton

41 History
“The Prophecies of Nostadamus, Part IV”: Nostradamus predicts that tonight he will eat a lean, tasty dish of mutton.

42 HBO
“The Wire”: The cancellation of this seedy tale destroys Baltimore tourism, as those excited to come and visit its densely packed, crack cocaine-infested streets will now likely spend their tourism dollars elsewhere — in places such as Newark and Detroit.

43 Hallmark
I knew that if I looked through 1,500 channels, I could find “Matlock” somewhere

44 ESPN
“American Gladiators”: A few lions and Christians would take this show to the next level.

45 Discovery Health
“Dwarf Family Revisited”: A dwarf family wants to explode all the myths about little people. Except the one about how they are ravenously oversexed.

46 Ovation
David Hartman gives long, tedious lecture about Restoration theater that might be more interesting if it had a few extra plunging bodices

56 Independent Film Channel
Pedro Almodovar’s most recent necrophilia movies are just getting too sentimental for me

57 Turner Movie Classics
Charlie Chaplin: Hamming it up and violating interstate white slavery laws.

58 Crosswalk
“Democracy Now”: In a cruel, ironic “No Exit” kind of existential hell, left-wing journalist Amy Goodman realizes she’s going to have to ride out the rest of her life contending with idiot mouth-breathing 9-11 conspiracy theorists, kind of like a baby-sitter for adults.

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(Originally posted Monday, October 29, 2007)

Top Internet Myths Being Debunked By Snopes.com

–*Ramadan is a Muslim holiday meant to celebrate the attacks against America on 9/11.

–*Diet Coke, when drunk every day for a year, erases all the memories of life between ages 5 and 12.

–*Barack Obama is first cousin of Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden and his wife wears a hijab.

–*Mexican nationals in this country illegally have already annexed certain portions of Los Angeles.

–*The Statue of Liberty is a natural formation sculpted by wind and rain.

–*There was a spike in birth rates nine months after Sept. 11, 2001, nine months after the August 2003 blackout in the American northeast, and nine months after the final episode of “Friends.”

–*Construction workers sifting through the rubble at the World Trade Center site found I-beams in the shape of a minus sign, a double integral, an ancient Indian mandala, a happy face, and the Starbucks logo.

–*Osama bin Laden owns Snapple, Wrigley’s Spearmint gum, and the entire Beatles back catalogue.

–*A good way to remove an embedded tick is to blow it off with a .9 mm Glock.

–*Atheist groups pressured Congress to have the hit TV series “Touched By An Angel” changed to “Disabused of Some Stupid Ideas By An Atheist.”

–*Albert Einstein said that compound interest was the most powerful force in the universe, and in the same statement coined the phrase “I gots to get paid!”

–*The band Kiss’s name is an acronym for “Kids in the service of Soupy Sales.”

–*The Chevy Nova didn’t sell in Mexico because “no va” means “it doesn’t go,” and this was followed by the even bigger failure of a car whose translated name means, “I shit in your milk.”

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