Posts from December 2001

Objects- Jim Dwyer of the

Objects
- Jim Dwyer of the New York Times has been writing a simply spectacular occasional series on the objects that have taken meaning in survivors’ lives since Sept. 11. I’ve recommended the pieces before and will again.

The latest: A yellow stroller and the mother and children with it. Previous objects: A pair of handcuffs used to dig the last two survivors out of the debris… A paramedic’s uniform… A photograph in the rubble… And best of all, the dramatic tale of a squeegee that was the key to life.

Each of these is a story that brings Sept. 11 down to its most human level: an object that ties a few people together through the struggle and pain and heroism of that day.

I say this has been the best of the Times’ coverage. It is great feature writing, Pulitzer stuff (except the Pulitzer people like showier things, things that run on too long for mortal people to read, big for the sheer sake of bigness). Dwyer’s pieces are big because they are so small.

Every time I read one of Dwyer’s stories, I also think of the objects from my Sept. 11.

In my garage, I have a bag inside a bag and inside that is the briefcase I carried that day and — foolishly — bent to pick up more than once as the 50-mile-per-hour cloud of debris enveloped me, as I tripped and almost fell, as I heard crashes and screams in the dark around me, as I feared I could die. What the hell was I doing picking up my damned briefcase? I don’t know. Obviously, I had some primal attachment to my stuff: the laptop, of course; my addresses; my papers. And so, having fought to keep it, I’ve saved it. When I cleaned up that day, I threw out my shirt and pants and even my socks and underwear, they were so encrusted with dust; I shook my jacket out on my driveway and collected hunks of concrete that filled my pockets. But I kept that briefcase. It is completely covered and filled with dust and unknown fibers; it reminds me of the cloud; it carries the cloud. I’ve looked at it only once, when I showed it to my parents, who needed to know what that day was like. The briefcase spoke for me. Then I put it back in the bags, on the shelf.

I kept a pen, too, that was in my shirt pocket. The concrete dust was so thick and so forceful that it filled my pocket and filled the pen from underneath such that I cannot open it.

I kept my glasses, brand new glasses, the titanium kind you’re not supposed to be able to bend or mangle. They survived that day. A testimonial to titanium.

I lost my cell phone. That struck most people I know because I do love my gadgets. My son knows I lost it; that was what he told his little sister; that is how he connected to the event. My coworkers laughed; here was my excuse to get a newer and neater phone, they said. They were right.

I think I keep this weblog as an object of Sept. 11, as well; I hold onto it so I don’t get too far away. The impulse is the same.

And finally, there is a receipt for paper towels. When I escaped the cloud, the most precious thing to have was a paper towel and a little water. After breathing and swallowing too much of the remains of the World Trade Center, I finally had the presence of mind to breath through my handkerchief until I lost it. When I found refuge in an office building, I tried to wash off what I could. But I kept breathing the dust; it filled my eyes and lungs and mouth. What I wanted most as I escaped north, a refugee from terror, was a paper towel and a little water to breath through, to clean with. At the East River, I came across a supermarket being turned into a command center. They gave out water; I kept that Poland Spring bottle all day. But I had no towels. I went inside and found, bless be, a roll of paper towels. A cop stopped me and asked me to tell him what it was like back at the World Trade Center. He was worried about his brothers. I told him. Then I went to pay.

I got in line at a checkout. And, of course, the lady behind the counter growled — in the last New York moment I remember — “I’m closed!”

I dragged down the line, defeated, looking like a reject from hell. I didn’t have it in me to be a New Yorker: There was nothing left with which to throw a self-righteous psycho fit. I just wanted the right to open up those towels. I said nothing.

But then pity poured out. A manager spotted me and called me back. The checkout lady had quick second thoughts and called me back. They apologized all they could and said that, of course, they would take me in line. The checkout lady asked how I was; I said I was just fine, absolutely fine. She said she was going to go home and try to find a relative who was there too. I pray he was fine.

I walked out, triumphant with my water and towels, cleaning my eyes and face. A cop stopped me again and asked whether he could have some for his partner, to get the concrete out of her eyes. I rolled it out for them and some others and poured water for them. I kept those paper towels all day as I walked up from the World Trade Center to Times Square.

I just found the receipt from that purchase.

The hot-foot follies- The Sunday

The hot-foot follies
- The Sunday TImes of London reports that when hot foot Richard Reid tried to fly to Israel, the El Al security officer in Amsterdam wanted to stop him: “It took an alert El Al security guard seconds to see that Richard Reid betrayed the tell-tale signs of a terrorist suspect.” But Israeli officials wanted him to go to track him and find out whom he was going to see. They sat him next to an armed guard. Love that El Al.

- It’s clear that there must be better communication among law-enfocement officials. The Times story says that if Israeli officials had shared their concerns about Reid, it might have kept him off future flights. A top Brit cop yesterday also called for better sharing of intelligence about suspicious individuals. Amen.

- Be warned: British Air and Virgin just dropped plans to have sky marshals on their flights. Bad idea. Really bad idea. All airline officials henceforth should ask themselves a very simple question every day: “What would El Al do?”

- The Times says that U.S. officials want to administer truth drugs to Reid. That and a 3-foot length of hose, perhaps.

- The NY Times has photos of the hot-foot flight.

Short shoelace stocks
- Fashion prediction: Loafers will be in, especially for travelers, who won’t want to bend down — a very vulnerable position — tying their shoes after they go through airport security. Buy Nike, which just created a trend in laceless sneakers.

Fear of flying
- The Observer‘s year-end list of trends you’ll be glad were in 2001 come 2002 begins:

Fear of flying no longer simply meaning the fear you’re about to die because of turbulence or the flaps making that awful schmeeee all-gone-wrong sound, as if that wasn’t enough, but now encompassing the fear you’re about to die because you’re too close to the vortex from the plane in front, or some suicidal madman’s about to fly you into the sea, or some thin-lipped fanatic’s about to fly you into a major city landmark, or the bastard in front wants to blow off his own feet.

Sabres rattling
- Bush urges Pakistan and India to cool it. But in a Pakistani paper, you can still hear the sound of sabres jangling. In the Observer, too. Meanwhile, in the Times of India.

Unsafe at any altitude- A

Unsafe at any altitude
- A man is arrested in the Memphis airport with a loaded gun in his carry-on after he had gone through two other airports — Tampa and Atlanta — without getting caught!

I repeat: I don’t feel safe. I repeat: Homeland security is a damned mess.

This has to be fixed. Ridge has to take action, action, action and I have lots of suggestions. Previous rants below: First, second, third, fourth.

- Now they’ve just decided that airport screeners do not need to be high-school graduates. Did the idiot who decided that even graduate from third grade? What idiocy! [via Drudge]

Me, me, me!
- Hey: Ken Layne is getting credit for my Fly Naked initiative. Now, I’ve come to love Ken like the brother I never had but I’m getting pretty damned jealous of the press he’s getting for this. First Natalie Solent gave him credit — even though he had given it to me. Then Thomas Friedman in the NY Times claimed the idea as his own, ripping off Ken and me. Now Charles Johnson gives me the news that a Mark Steyn column gives Ken credit again — even as Ken generously gives me credit on his blog. I think I’m going to patent this as my idea for the only sure way to fly safely and then I’ll make a lot of money with the lawsuits when American Airlines changes its name to Naked Air (what else could you do if you were the president of that poor, besieged company?). Here are my posts on the topic: First, second, third.

- See also Charles Johnson‘s own coincidental complaint with the same column. We don’t mind being quoted — so long as we’re quoted at all and quoted properly. We have egos, too. Stroke them.

Support Blogger
- Steven Den Beste of USS Clueless bemoans the fate of Blogger, Blogspot, their proprietor Evan Williams, and all their users after a damned hacker/cracker caused a day’s downtime and interrupted our posts and Ev’s vacation this week. Den Beste is quite right that we’re all vulnerable.

But we all don’t have his ability to run his own software on his own machine; he’s a software engineer. I’m not a software engineer; I merely hire them. Here, I’m just a writer, just a blogger, and I do this in my spare time thanks to the fact that Blogger and Blogspot and Ev make it so damned easy.

The answer is not to abandon Blogger; I couldn’t run its alternatives. The answer is to find ways to support Blogger et al. Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit said we should all buy off our ads for a mere $12 a year — a major bargain; I did it and only wish I’d thought of making it into a campaign of support before Reynolds did. We should buy Pyrads when they’re back up; it’s cheap and fun. Ev asked for bandwidth help and apparently he’s getting some. The idea of getting a foundation grant for Blogger is brilliant; who can help? What else can we as a community do to support our community’s infrastructure? (Full disclosure: In my day job, I got my employer to invest in Blogger/Pyra early on but I’m not speaking from that perspective now; I’m just another blogger). See Instapundit today.

Civil discourse
- Will Vehrs of Quasipundit and I have been trading Qs and As regarding homeland security: He challenged me; I answered his good questions (see my posts yesterday and the day before, below); we didn’t end up agreeing but we talked. On his site, Vehr takes this exchange as an example of the kind of true dialogue bloggers engage in — and print pundits usually don’t. Having been both, I have to say he’s right. When I wrote for magazines and newspapers (I was a columnist for TV Guide, People, and the SF Examiner before I became a media suit) I have to say that I often dreaded contact with the audience (especially those among them whose writing implement was a crayon). Don’t get me wrong, I loved the audience; I respected the audience; but I didn’t necessarily want to have lunch with them. But the Web and blogs in particular lead to an entirely new relationship with the audience, in which the audience is the publisher, the owner, the boss and that’s how it should be, really.

God v. god
- In the Times of London, Matthew Parris argues that the exploitation of God on and since Sept. 11 will lead to another field of conflict: those who came closer to God and faith because of that day and those who were repelled farther from God and faith because of how God has been used by fundamentalists and extremists of many flavors; their fear: that ” ‘extreme’ religion is a strong version of the weaker mainstream variety. Reasonableness in religion comes from a lack of total commitment.” He concludes:

Stronger commitments from some, then, and stronger antipathy from others. Could things be coming to a head? Could we be seeing a polarisation of public attitudes to faith? For more than a century now the dominant attitude in the Western world has been an apathy which I would describe as covert agnosticism masquerading as weak observance. Is Osama bin Laden flushing this agnosticism out? If so, we may see an increase both in the religious enthusiasm of the minority, and the avowed scepticism of the majority. When it comes to the relationship between modern man and religious faith, the century now beginning may prove make-up-your-mind time. I hope so.

Interstate ER- Thomas Nephew at

Interstate ER
- Thomas Nephew at Newsrack has a great addition to the list of recommendations on homeland security I started two days ago (scroll down for the posts). Nephew says we should treat the ability to handle surges of patients (due to attacks) as a national priority of defense preparedness — just as Eisenhower sold the Interstate system as a necessity of homeland defense.

Shoe boy and Hamas
- Shoe boy Reid used the explosive of choice of Hamas, says the Times.

- The Guardian: “Moussaoui and Reid had a more substantive relationship than just going to the same mosque,” said a US intelligence source. “They went to the same training camp in Afghanistan, where Reid had explosives training. Plus there are records of telephone calls between Moussaoui and Reid.”

- The Telegraph: “FBI agents are investigating the possibility that the shoe bomber Richard Reid was trying to mark the anniversary of the Lockerbie bombing with a suicide attack. He first tried to board a Paris to Miami flight on Friday, Dec 21, the 13th anniversary of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which killed 270 people in 1988.”

Sullivan’s lists
Enjoy Andrew Sullivan‘s wrapup of 2001.

Laboratories of death
- The Times of London says it has the evidence that bin Laden et al were working on creating dirty nuclear bombs and biological and chemical weapons in their Afghan workshops. More and more.

More homeland security fumble fixes
- I’m finally getting through the latest Economist and they have yet more complaints — and fixes — for Tom Ridge’s Office of Homeland Security (see my own complaints and fixes yesterday, below).

Preparations against another terrorist attack range from the patchy to the poor,” says the Economist. “Compared with the $15 billion doled out to the airline industry, the cash [legislation provides] for things like emergency health care is puny….”

They say we need:

- Better nuclear power plant security.

- A bolstered Coast Guard, “the weakest part of America’s border defenses.”

- Plans for evacuating cities and, importantly, schools.

- Plans for emergency communications.

- Far better communication and coordination among law-enforcement agencies, federal and local.

- New plans for hospitals to take sudden floods of patients and even plans for hospitals and health officials to get email!

To start slow and build cautiously will be fine, they conclude — “so long as the terrorists take their time too.”

ShoeBomb.com
- A report says shoe boy bought his materials on the Web. So glad that ecommerce is working. Thank goodness, he was also incompentent; the fuse was wet.

The camcorder goes to war
- A perceptive piece by Thomas Sutcliffe in The Independent on the power of video in this war: from the images of jets flying into the World Trade Center that happened to be captured to the moments when bombs interrupt news video in Afghanistan to the bin Laden videos, showing us his hate and lies.

John Walker’s parents, meet Richard Reid’s parents
- Shoe boy’s mother is, of course, shocked.His father: He’s “not a bad lad.” Expect to hear soon from the parents of the Australian turncoat and the parents of the frozen French corpse found in Afghanistan.

Airborne idiot roundup
- From Ananova: A Japanese man on one flight makes a bomb crack. Jail for him. A man on an Argentine flight makes a fireball threat. Flight diverted. Handcuffs for him. Meanwhile, from the Times of London, a report on the Bush guard refused a seat on a Dallas flight “because the pilot queried the agentís credentials. After 75 minutes of questioning by the pilot and other airline security staff the presidential guard, who was carrying a gun, missed the flight from Baltimore on his way to join staff protecting the President on his ranch for the new year holiday. The move brought a complaint from the Council on Arab-Islamic Relations. ìThey didnít see an American, they didnít see a law-enforcement professional,î a spokesman said. ‘All they saw was a racial and ethnic profile they didnít want on their flight.’” Oh, come on. If anybody should understand caution it’s this guy. The pilot was 100 percent correct. You take no chances when it comes to letting an armed man on a flight today, ferchrissake.

India v. Pakistan = trouble
- I agree (again) with Joshua Micah Marshall that the terrorist attack on the Indian parliament is leading to very serious trouble. See the drumbeats of war at the Times of India and Pakistan’s News International and Frontier Post.

- Will Vehrs is on this case, too.

Doctor, shield thyself
- The amazing story of the hospitalized Taliban prisoners who’ve been holding off the opposition with guns and grenades taped to their bodies is heading to a climax. What an amazing tale.

How to fix homeland fumbling:

How to fix homeland fumbling: Tom Ridge’s to-do list
- Will Vehrs of Quasipundit challenges me on my grumpy post below in which I whine that Director of Homeland Security Tom Ridge has done too little. What would I have him do? asks Will. Would I have him pull an Ashcroft and head down the road to martial law (even while I pound Ashcroft, too)? Just what do I want this homeland security swat team to accomplish? Fair questions.

Let’s focus on two words: action and information. I understand that Ridge has, instead, had to concentrate on a third word: politics. That’s reality in Washington — usually. But these are far from usual times. Ridge needs to see that now is the time to step around politics; if you take action and if you inform the people and have them — us — on your side, then you win at politics; that comes along for free. If you bog yourself down in politics for politics’ sake, you lose.

So here is my to-do list for him:

1. Get armed law enforcement on every possible flight — especially long-haul flights, domestic and even foreign: air marshals, cops, federal agents, military police, CIA spies, even private security. Let it be known that we’re armed and ready.

2. Get every pilot and flight attendant trained in security and in the use of stun guns and get them equipped as quickly as possible. The worst that happens is that a mean drunk or a guy with untied shoes gets zapped.

3. Go after the quality of every airport security operation — domestic and foreign — and insist that even before they are federalized, they must meet minimal standards; if they don’t, humiliate them. Start with the French! And if Minetta doesn’t get off his butt and get things done, stun gun him. Show us that you are on the case because somebody has to be.

4. Develop very close communication with law enforcement across the country, especially in target cities. Make sure they know what’s happening. Make them your best allies.

5. Develop and disseminate clear plans for what officials and citizens will do in the event of various kinds of attacks: biological, chemical, nuclear, truck bombs, hijackings…. Be prepared and let us know that you are prepared. Let us know exactly what we can expect so we do not fear the unknown.

7. Work with the CDC and Tommy Thompson (oh, I forgot to include him in my list of bumblers) to have clear plans for vaccinations, antibiotic stockpiles, and stockpiles of other treatments. Make sure that every doctor and every hospital is regularly informed of procedures for diagnosis, treatment, and reporting of anything suspicious (learn from our mistakes, no matter how understandable they were, in the anthrax cases). Be very public about this so that we know what doctors know.

8. Work closely with Justice to have plans for identifying and questioning (and jailing or deporting) suspicious individuals. When gooshy-headed idiots in Oregon refuse to interview Muslim men then ridicule them, attack them, shame them into doing their patriotic duty. If other countries are lax in their security, shame them.

9. Stay ahead of Congress by developing a very clear agenda for homeland security: equipment, training, support, authority, intelligence in every field of battle.

10. Most important, make sure that we the people are regularly informed with constant updates via press conferences and the Web. Tell us about news. Tell us what you’ve done. Tell us what we should do.

So there’s a 10 point plan to start on.

Now go look at Ridge’s wimpy web site and tell me what you see: biographies of Ridge, vague and terribly useless advice (“Be alert and learn where emergency exists [sic] are located”) and only one thing to brag about: Canadian border security. Oh, boy, this makes me feel safe and secure. After looking at this, it makes me want to move to some far-away foreign land — except I’m afraid I might not survive the flight there.

Action, action, action should be your motto, Mr. Ridge. Think Schwarzenegger growling “ection, ection, ection” and make him your role model.

Take action and then tell us about it: Information, information, information.

Let nothing stand in your way.

Will Vehrs also asks in his email to me whether I really think Bush stole the election. Sure, I do. All those bad ballots; all those confusing ballots; all those inadvertant Buchanan votes. Absolutely. But that doesn’t mean I’m unhappy today that Bush is in. He and his team — his defense and diplomatic team, not his domestic team — have done a good job. Now the question is, can he keep it up? We’ll see. He still has to win this war. He has to protect us on the home front (see above). He will have to deal with his international IOUs as other crisis appear. and most important, he will have to fix the economy. Would/could Gore do a better job? That’s entirely moot. But if Florida weren’t a corrupt backwater, it wouldn’t be moot or hypothetical, for he would have won.

Shoe boy’s world tour
- The Times of London reports on shoe boy’s travels: Egypt, Jerusalem, Turkey, Pakistan, Brussels, Amsterdam, Paris and possibly Afghanistan. “Last night one senior security source in Tel Aviv said: ‘We can be sure that he did not come here for the scenery.’ ”

Thanks, Ev
- Blogger is back, thanks to Ev. Hell, Blogger is here, thanks to Ev.

Homeland fumbling
- What has Tom Ridge actually done so far? Held press conferences, reluctantly. Tightened up border security … with Canada. Started an uninformative web page. In short: Nothing of note. The Christian Science Monitor tries to make this look like something but it’s not. We should see swat-team action on behalf of our security. We’re seeing slow motion.

Meanwhile, Minetta’s not tearing up the runway, either, trying to get airport security in line; Time reports on the frustration surrounding delays in getting any improvements on security. Shoe boy did these guys a big favor picking France as his launching pad; if he had managed to act from the U.S. — or if one of his accomplices does — there will be an outcry on the lack of domestic security action.

Let’s repeat: Ridge, Minetta, and Ashcroft are no Rumsfeld, Powell, and Rice.

- See also yesterday’s NY Times story on the anthrax investigation: a “tale of missed cues, misread evidence and erroneous assumptions that led scientists and decision makers to misjudge the threat to postal workers and, through the mail system, to the American public.”

Countdown
- The NY Post reports that during New Year’s Eve on Times Square, cops will be carrying geiger counters to detect radiation and thwart nuclear attacks.

There’s no business like shoe business…
- The NY Times gives us details of the events and mood on the shoe flight. They say the passengers did not know the extent of the danger — the fact that Reid had explosives in his shoes — until much later. They also reveal the name of the heroic flight attendant who saved the day — Hermis Moutardier — though not yet the name of the passenger who first spotted the match and whose scream actually saved the day.

- The Independent was too quick to say that the shoe bomber had no tie to bin Laden. Yesterday, I quoted the Times of London saying that “Reid” went to the same mosque as the alleged 20th hijacker. Today, MSNBC reports that Afghan prisoners recognize shoe boy from their bin Laden terrorist training camps.

- Times of London quotes French television saying that shoe boy took El Al flights to scope out Israeli security.

- The shoe bomb was “very, very sophisticated,” says CNN. Not much doubt that the bin Laden attacks continue…

Ch-ch-ch-changes
- The Times of London tallies the changes in the world since Sept. 11, seeing more change for Russia than for America. A pure political perspective, very British perspective. It ends saying that Bush will emerge a lightweight.

Religious? No. Corrupt? Yes.
- The Guardian on the corruption of the Taliban — bribes and even prostitution. “Where the west saw fanatical warriors willing to kill and die for an Islamic utopia, he saw frauds and hypocrites hungry for dollars.” The Times of London also reports on prostitution under the Taliban’s nose and burqa.

Fly Naked redux- I want

Fly Naked redux
- I want the record to show that I came up with the idea of flying naked on Dec. 22 and Dec. 23 — long before Thomas Friedman of the NY Times. Thanks to Will Vehrs and to letter-writer Frank Millheim, Jr. for giving me the credit I so richly deserve. Now if only I can get credit on the Wall Street Journal’s Opinion Journal and in Slate‘s new weblog, I’ll know I’ve arrived. Care to nominate me since I’m too humble? Tell them: Opinion Journal.

The germ
Two arguments that the anthrax villian is foreign (which remins m theses until I see evidence to the contrary):

> The Times of London says the literary sleuth who helped unmask both the Unabomber and the temporariliy anonymous author of Primary Colors says we should be looking to Pakistan.

> And the Wall Street Journal’s Opinion Journal says the trail leads to Lebanon or Saudi Arabia.

Change for the sake of change
- Michael Wolff has a half-right column in New York about the changes in American after Sept. 11. He wants to poo-poo this as a big change, a monumental change in life because the war is short and most of America doesn’t (a) live in New York or (b) read newspapers. That’s where he’s wrong. Even granting that my own perspective is skewed as a witness and survivor, I still say that there are inevitable changes in how we live as a society now that we have been attacked on our own soil, now that we find a common cause against terrorism with a sometimes surprising worldwide coalition, now that we are forced out of what had been a growing isolationism, now that we have found unity. Oh, many of the changes that we have seen will be temporary (will New York stay nice?). But many will be long-lasting. We just don’t know which ones those are yet. And Wolff, at the end of his long screed [boy, it takes print people a lot longer than bloggers to say what they think -- perhaps because print people are paid by the word and bloggers aren't paid for anything] finally concludes that we don’t yet know exactly how Sept. 11 changed us. So he’s right there. And he’s right, too, when he points to big changes in media: hard in, soft out. War is Viagra.

Already?
- I know this is stupid but I was surprised to realize, thanks to the White House site, that Bush has been in office (almost) a year already. It seems like almost yesterday when he stole the election. It was only yesterday when we were innocent of war. It seems like forever ago when tech and the economy were riding high.

Meanwhile, back at the front…-

Meanwhile, back at the front…
- The Times of London reports that the shoe boy, whatever his name turns out to be, “worshipped” in the same mosque with none other than Zacarias Moussaoui, now under indictment in America as the “20th hijacker” who was too stupid to make it on board on Sept. 11. Good enough for me. The Times also quotes the leader of the Brixton mosque as saying that the shoe boy was “incapable of acting alone and was probably on a test mission for a new terrorist technique when he apparently tried to detonate C4 plastic explosive packed into his shoes on American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris to Miami last Saturday,”

Douse the yule log and get back to war.

Friggin’ Frogs
- Sorry for the francophotic smear but what bozos they are for letting shoe boy on a flight Saturday after rejecting him Friday. The Times reports they even put him up in a four-star hotel.

A Christmas gift
- I came home tonight, at midnight, from my Christmas Eve services — one for the children, who make this all so worthwhile; the other with candlelight, lessons, and carols that I sing gamely but badly. It is Christmas as last.

It hasn’t felt much like Christmas in New York lately; it has been too warm, too sad, and too strange. I was counting on these services to cure that and they started the treatment. Then I came home to do my elfen duties, delighted to stack up my kids’ presents, all the happiness they’ll be unwrapping in the morning. And that continued the treatment. It is Christmas at last.

But it’s still a different Christmas for so many reasons. Among them: This year, my wife and I decided not to exchange gifts and convinced our parents to refrain as well; we just didn’t feel like malling it. So I wasn’t expecting any gifts.

And then I got a quite unexpected gift, a wonderful one from a fellow blogger, Thomas Nephew, the proprietor of Newsrack. I had made reference in the post-cum-sermon below and in an email exchange to a Christmas Eve message from a concentration camp delivered by Martin Niemˆller [via at Die Zeit] that I had been trying to translate (I speak German about as well as I sing in a choir: not well).

And I came home tonight to find Thomas’ complete and eloquent translation of the Niemˆller sermon awaiting me in my email.

I can’t tell you how much this gift meant to me. That he would go to this effort is emblematic of the community of close strangers I’ve found myself in here in Blogdom. Three months ago, I didn’t know Thomas Nephew or Ken Layne or the vacationing Matt Welch or Reid Stott or Charles Johnson or Glenn Reynolds or Will Vehrs or Tim Blair or Oliver Willis or Andrew Hofer or Rossi. And now I count them as colleagues and friends. Now one of them — one of this true community — went out of his way on what is surely a busy Christmas Eve to translate this long sermon for a stranger. Thank you Thomas.

Merry Christmas

And G’bless us, every one.

[Fresher posts below.] Merry Christmas,

[Fresher posts below.]

Merry Christmas, world

- So 2,000 years ago, we are led to believe, strife and suffering in the Holy Land led God to send his only son to Earth to wash away our sins and give mankind the hope of a new beginning.

Now, exactly 2,000 years later, at this Christmas, there is still strife and suffering in the Holy Land and it has spread the world around, escalating to nothing less than a World War against terrorism and evil now being fought at our door.

Yes, this is a depressing thought — not exactly the gift you were hoping for this Christmas.

It would seem as if we’ve made no progress in all this time. In fact, it would seem as if we’ve made things even worse. And if we are left still with sin and suffering and without hope, then perhaps God also made a mess of things or did what He did in vain. It can look like that.

But stop there. Now is the time — if there ever were a time — to look at what Christmas actually means. And I come to believe that Christmas is not about the light — the star, the gifts, the warmth, the virtue — but instead about the contrast, about the dark around it. Christmas is about the need for hope among the hopeless, virtue amidst sin, light in the darkness.

I come to think of another Christmas: December 24, 1944, when the Rev. Martin Niemˆller preached in Dachau. I’ve long been fascinated by Niemˆller: A U-boat captain in World War I who supported Hitler, he came to oppose the Nazis when they opposed his church and he spent eight years in concentration camps as Hitler’s personal prisoner. Niemˆller is famous for the often-paraphrased warning: “When Hitler attacked the Jews I was not a Jew, therefore I was not concerned. And when Hitler attacked the Catholics, I was not a Catholic, and therefore, I was not concerned. And when Hitler attacked the unions and the industrialists, I was not a member of the unions and I was not concerned. Then Hitler attacked me and the Protestant church ó and there was nobody left to be concerned.”

What fascinates me about Niemˆller is that he came to virtue through the back door. He was not on the right side of things in Germany and he confesses that he came to the right side only when the situation affected him, when he became a victim. But then he stepped up and showed great vision, fortitude, and courage. He fought Hitler, for Christ’s sake.

And in 1944, he preached to a tiny congregation of fellow prisoners in Dachau. Die Zeit reprints that sermon this week and I only wish I could reliably translate it. But let the scene speak for itself: Here, facing the worst of despair and despotism was a man who held onto Christmas. He needed to.

The first Christmas was about trying to find hope when it was most needed. That Christmas in a concentration camp was much the same. And now, this Christmas, 2000 years after the first, we face nothing so dark and terrible and yet we despair at the grief of the 3,000 families of Sept. 11; we worry about the evil that fights us, we see darkness. And so we need Christmas.

Whether you believe in Christmas or not is entirely your business and not mine. But regardless, I think we all can see that the events of Sept. 11 have forced us, not unlike Niemˆller, to decide where we stand and what we must do when faced with evil and with choice; it changes us even if it does not seem to change the world around us. I think we all can agree on the need for renewal and rebirth in the world — in the Holy Land, in Afghanistan, in too many places. I think we all can agree on the need for grace and the need to learn how to love our neighbors as ourselves (which sometimes means protecting them against their neighbors). I think we all can agree on the need for an example and for hope.

So Christmas is not lessened this year because it is a bad year. No, precisely because it is a bad year, Christmas is more needed, more meaningful. For Christmas is a time for the future — for our children and for hope.

So merry Christmas, my friends.

-jeff