Posts from March 2002

Fame: A very neat tipping-point

: A very neat tipping-point observation from Nick Denton today:

Ken Layne and Matt Welch came yesterday to talk with the class I’m teaching at Berkeley journalism school. There, at the back of the room, the groupies, who had heard somehow that these two rock stars of the blog world were in town, and had snuck in to see their heroes in the flesh. I don’t think the students – most of whom have old media ambitions – quite understood the fame of Ken and Matt in the weblog world.

Nick also started the bidding in a new Google game: He found that Ken Layne is the hottest Ken online. Nick is the sixth Nick. Of course, I checked; what healthy ego wouldn’t? I’m top 20, which is OK, considering I’m a new kid on this block. I have to fight with a cartoonist, a Nascar driver, a dead recording star, and a TV comic. Besides, Jeff is a very common, very whitebread, very dull American name; there are too many of us.

A second: Here is New

A second
: Here is New York, the gallery filled with thousands of photographs about 9.11, has opened in a small storefront uptown, on 6th Avenue between 42nd and 43rd streets, to begin a new project. They put up some photos from the main gallery downtown and I’ve probably seen most of them but each time I look, the scars are fresh.

I saw a new photo today, one that chilled me completely: the image of the second jet inches away from the second tower. I saw life in that jet and in that tower, life that would end but a second later. It hurt in a new way, every time a new way.

Blogwatch: The Sequel
: I’m sad that Will Vehrs has taken a leave of absence from Blogwatching but I’m delighted and grateful to see Kathy Kinsley pick up the slack (and I’m delighted to be among the watched). Thanks.

Blogwatch: The Movie
: A propose a new rule in the world of blogdom: Every time there is a blogfest, as there was in L.A. the other night (and, I’m sure, in San Francisco, soon thereafter), somewhat has to bring a digital camera.

Antiballistic googlebomb shield
: I was about to do my civic duty and add to the googlebomb links to make sure that people searching for news on Afghan civilian casualties would find this report instead of another. discredited report — as inspired and explained by Megan McArdle.

I have to admit I was having some nagging second thoughts about this. Gogglebombing for a good cause such as this — making sure that people find both sides of the argument — is virtuous. But I fear that this technique could be put to nefarious use; imagine what various cults and crazies and companies could do with googlebombing to steer searches their way. I fear that this will rob Google of its search credibility; we won’t know what’s manipulated and what isn’t. I worry that taking part is a bit like voting in Chicago … twice; it’s ballot stuffing; it’s cheating.

But then I worry that I worry too much.

I should have faith in technology, shoudn’t I? And I should have faith in the community of bloggers… or should I?

A Slashdot user explains that Google is onto googlebombing:

In addition to other spam prevention methods, google uses complex matrix/vector filtering to ignore link circles. Basically, if (say) the same 100 different sites link to the same set of 20 other sites, and no one else links to them, Google will map them out and realize that they are all working in a concerted effort. That way if a spammer sets up 100 ostensibly independent sites and then links them all to his e-commerce sites, google will realize what he is doing and penalize his rankings for it. The only way that a spammer can ‘bomb’ google is if he gets a large array of other sites (for instance weblogs) that have significant traffic and link to other, different sites, as well as the ones that the spammer is trying to promote. The long-and-short of it is that a group of bloggers could bomb google with a large effort, but the average spammer would have to set up an incredibly complex web of interwoven pages that garner significant traffic to fool google. Even if large groups of spammers formed a cabal to promote their varied interests, it would likely be discovered by humans working at google. So, I’d put away that violin.

Holes: Monday, on the anniversary,

: Monday, on the anniversary, as I wrote then, I visited the hole in the city, the World Trade Center. The next morning, I came to my office at Times Square and looked out the window and realized that there I stare at anther hole in the city, the hole where they are building an office tower that was supposed to be occupied by Arthur Anderson. Now this, too, is empty, thanks to greed and stupidity instead of terrorism and evil. I’m sick of the holes.

: After I wrote my story of Sept. 11, I regretted my last line, my kicker:

:”You sure you’re OK?” some nice stranger asked.

“I just look like a ghost,” I said, still shaking off the white dust. “Better to look like one than be one.”

But I feel better about it now, reading Rossi, one of my favorite writers hereabouts. She saw the CBS 9/11 documentary and wrote about being glad she saw it. She said it’s like going to a gallery near her that has stark pictures of that day. In that gallery, she writes:

Iím allowed to feel exactly how I feel all the time walking around the PC world where people are trying desperately not to talk and think about September 11th anymore.

Thatís why I felt so happy for this film and for the commemoration of the 6-month anniversary.

It was a chance for everyone to stand up and say, ìYes this is still on our minds and in our hearts. We just pretend it isnít.î

I went up on my roof last night and turned toward the place in the sky where the towers used to be and watched the memorial lights shoot up into the sky for their first night.

They are haunting and bluish-white and soft and strange.

My friend Wolf, visiting from L.A., calls them ìThe Ghosts.î

There are a lot of ghosts walking around Manhattan these days.

Some of them are dead and seem to brush past us when we walk anywhere near ground zero, or a fire station.

Some of them are alive and smile at us a little sadly when we look in the mirror.

Bloggers as social animals
: I’m so damned jealous. Ken Layne reports on a super blogger party in L.A. last night, in honor of the arrival of Instapundit himself. And today, Layne and Matt Welch go upcoast to teach with Nick Denton, who just got back from SXSW, where, he reported in IM last night, he saw “everybody.” And tonight, I’m sure, Denton et al will party with sprout-eating bloggers.

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that computers are antisocial. Once they are networked, they are the greatest socializing agent ever invented. At the end of all those wires on the Internet are people.

: Smart: CEOs of top U.S. companies set up their own wireless and web communications network in the event of the next attack.

Light: The best pictures of

: The best pictures of the memorial lights I’ve seen are from the Star-Ledger in my very own

Nuke the INS
: The INS issues a student visa to go to flight school Mohamed Atta NOW! We have idiots guarding the airports. We have idiots guarding the borders. I’m feeling blue (not yellow).

With hot sauce
: I like how Thomas Nephew says he won’t quite fit into Nick Denton’s liberal blog definition: Thomas takes “a kind of ‘dim sum’ approach to politics and issues: a little of this, a little of that.” In a half-hour, I’ll be hungry for more of Thomas’ opinions.

And now the news (cue laughtrack)
: Ken Layne has a good FoxNews column on the standing of Letterman v. Koppel in the hearts and spleens of media critics. He’s saying that network news people are basically gasbags and he’s right. News is a commodity; it doesn’t much matter who reads it to you. But there is only one Dave. Just as there is only one Howard. (There are plenty of Jays.)

: Yellow is the color of the day. We are on yellow alert on the new Tom Ridge color-coded geranimal homeland security scale. Yellow is the middle of five steps on the scale: “Elevated — significant risk of terrorist attacks.”

They could have picked a better color than yellow, don’t you think? We’re yellow? Bad connotations, you know. I can’t imagine Donald Rumsfeld saying, “We’re yeller.” It wouldn’t come out of his lips. Only Tom Ridge’s.

Fox News’s Homeland Security correspondent says we soon could see the daily terrorism alert forecast next to the weather in the paper. I can’t wait until Katie tosses to Al on Today and he says, “It’s a yellow day in the East. But in the West, it’s rainy and Red. Better wear your flak jackets under your raincoats, folks.”

I make fun. It’s actually good that there is a more specific scale. I’m all in favor of that. But it’s done in the usual Ridge way. Note that nothing on his own web site tells us what alert we’re under. Note, too, his ever-so-reassuring quotes as he announces this with that half-grin that used to infect his boss:

“We should not expect a VT Day — Victory over Terrorism Day — anytime soon.” Thanks Tom. I feel better now.

You can run but you can’t hide
: Via Metafilter comes a hilarious bit of semantic cha-cha from Bob Jones University in with the Rev. Bob suggests that he and other fundamentalists like him shouldn’t call themselves fundamentalists anymore because the “term now carries overtones of radicalism and terrorism. ‘Fundamentalist’ evokes fear, suspicion, and other repulsive connotations in its current usage.” Call yourselves what you like, you’re still fundamenalists and here’s what I said about you — from a pulpit, even:

Now, more clearly than ever, I have come to see the dangers of fanatic fundamentalism of any stripe. By this, I mean those who are so completely sure of their beliefs, so immovable in their certainty, so devoted to the utter superiority of their creed, so fierce in their opposition to any competing belief that they would do anything to further their cause: They would imprison and persecute nonbelievers; they would kill their opponents; they would commit these terrible evils in the name of GodÖ they would let their hate take flight and flame and murder 3,000 innocent people in a day.

The Times of London reports that “religious groups accounted for half of the world’s 60 terrorist groups listed in the late 1990s.” Fanatic religious fundamentalists frighten me to death.

You may not be arming yourselves with nukes or jets, Bob, but I still fear people who think they are right and everyone else is wrong. Call that what you want, but in my book, it’s fundamentalism.

The day after the day after
: The war still matters and will matter for years. The memories still matter and will forever. But it’s also time to start moving on and so I added a meaningless word to the meaningless tagline above — the tagline of a generation (the one after mine): whatever — just to cover whatever else I want to talk about here. But that won’t include steel tariffs. Sorry Nick.

: I add thanks to Matt Welch for his too, too kind words today. And by the way, I note that Ken Layne now sends about as much traffic as Professor Instant (the former linked to me before the latter yesterday). Coming up in the world.

Six months after: The

Six months after: The lights
: You can see the beautiful lights live on my site,

Six months after: Today
: I certainly didn’t plan it this way but I left my PATH train this morning at the exact minute I left it six months ago today. I was glad to get off.

Some people at work were affected by the day, others unaffected.

I was grateful for many kind links from Ken Layne, Glenn Reynolds, Matthew Yglesias, Ted Barlow, Will Vehrs, Kevin Whited, Amy Langfield, Jackson Murphy; they brightened an otherwise crappy day.

I went back to the World Trade Center and regretted it. I wanted to stand where I stood. I refused to stare. It was empty. Tourists took pictures of empty. They posed in front of empty. They stared at empty.

So empty

Six months after
: This is an important date for me. I believe six months is just long enough to begin to give us perspective on the events of September 11th and on its impact on life. It is time to make decisions.

So I have written a great deal today looking back and looking ahead:

: The terrorists have lost if….

: The city

: The senses

: The show

: A sermon

Please do read on.

Six months after: The terrorists have lost if…
: The most laughable cliche of September 11th is, of course, “The terrorists have won if…”

Now, six months later, it is time to turn the cliche on its head and ask whether the terrorists have lost.

The terrorists have lost…

…if the American economy they sought to cripple could recover. Well, only six months later, our economy has recovered so robustly that even the King of curmudgeons, Alan Greenspan, is impressed. The Dow Jones average is bigger than it was then. The economy is growing.

…if they have failed to leave us weakened, drained, divided, and demoralized. In fact, we are stronger and more united than we have been in generations.

…if they could not rile Islam into a holy jihad against the West, capitalism, Christianity, and Judiasm. There is no jihad. None.

…if they cannot even keep Muslim nations around the world as their allies and our enemies. Today, those nations are our allies.

…if they could not overthrow the governments of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. No change there.

…if they have lost control of Afghanistan. They certainly have. Afghanistan is now our ally.

…if the world now treats their people with suspicion. We do.

…if there is peace in the Middle East. Even though the war there is burning terribly hot right now, we can also see steps toward peace from Israel and Saudi Arabia, from all over these holy lands.This could go either way but I have to believe that the world cannot allow full-scale war there.

…if they bring attack and defeat on their extremist, fanatic, fundamentalist, fascistic friends in other countries. That day is coming quickly.

…if they are the objects of ridicule and hatred. They are that.

…if they are dead or hiding or sitting in our cells. All of them are.

…if the dead ones now sit in hell, the shame of Allah. Amen.

The terrorists have lost. Period. We have not finished winning yet. But they have assuredly lost.

Six months after: The City
: Walking through New York the other day, I tried to remember the city Before.

In the days after the attacks of Sept. 11, I had trouble remembering the minutes and hours just before it all happened; it took me weeks to reassemble my memories of that last PATH train ride: was I standing, what faces did I take in, what was I reading, what was I overhearing, what was I worried about?

Today, I have similar trouble reconstructing my sense of New York City before Sept. 11 so I can ask and answer how the city is different now.

The city is different. No, it’s no longer as different as it was in the days immediately after our tragedy. You don’t run into acts of unusual kindness and politeness every day; you don’t see people going out of their way to pay deference to cops and fire fighters quite so readily; you don’t run into random tears.

Still, New York is changed: sadder, more somber, quieter, less angry, less swaggering, a bit stooped, changed.

It’s as if New York City water has been injected with an antidepressant that’s only half-working on us.

I wondered whether the changes would be permanent. I’m coming to think they are.

I wondered, too, about other cities that have suffered trauma and whether they ever managed to erase the memories: Oklahoma City, Belfast, Beirut, London, Dresden.

As I thought about this, I realized that the model for New York is — or should be — Berlin. I’ve long loved Berlin — which, I know, sounds like either an oxymoron or a suspect political sentiment. But stick with me: When it comes to German cities, Munich, in contrast, is pretty but scary in its prettiness; Munich erased every bit of its damage, as if to say, “Trouble, what trouble? Nazis, what Nazis?”

Berlin, on the other hand, lets its history hang out: All over town, there are pockmarks from World War II’s bullets; destruction was preserved for memorials and, until lately, destroyed buildings even hugged the Berlin Wall; infamous headquarters also still stand, put to new uses; pieces of the Wall are here and there; horrid Communist housing lines the landscape; the cities vast rebuilt areas imply what used to be there and was destroyed in this society’s suicide.

Berlin admits its past and its trouble and then says, “Ok, now that we have that out of the way, let’s live.”

Berliners are like that: as self-deprecating as Germans get; wry; honest; direct.

And that is a role New Yorkers will play well. I think we need to wear our scars so we can get past them. Yes, we were attacked. Yes, we’re a little scared now. Yes, we’ve lost some of our strut (at the same time we have gained a new, defiant pride). Yes, you’d never think you could call us this, but we are victims. Yes, we know there’s no way to look at our city now without seeing what it no longer there.

Fine. And now let’s move on. Let’s live.

Six months after: Senses
: “It feels like you’re being buried alive,” said the lead to Caryn James’ NY Times review of the CBS 9.11 show (below). “You’re on the ground, gray ash falling everywhere, as if it were being shoveled over you, and you can hear debris rattling on a car overhead, dropping like hail.” Yes, this is what it was like.

September 11’s memories have all been in images since that day: photos and video and memories that live in the minds of the witnesses and not on film.

But after reading James’ lead — and before seeing the show — new memories came back to me, memories of the other senses.

September 11 also had sound. I heard the terrible roar of a jet approaching the second tower. I heard the gigantic, terrifying woosh of the fireball that engulfed the tops of both towers; it sounded like more than a jet, like a rocket. And when the south tower collapsed, that, too, sounded like a jet as the debris rushed on at 50 mph: heavy, fast air. The screams then were the worst. And through it all and through the rest of the day, the sirens would not end.

September 11 had a smell. It smelled like electricity gone wrong: a gigantic mixer motor that burns out and pfffts and crackles and fills the air with a small that defines acrid. The city smelled like that for days and weeks afterward, whenever the cloud of smoke came your way.

September 11 had a taste. The debris that I swallowed and breathed had a disgusting flavor, like chewing on rocks and walls. It made you want to wretch.

September 11 had a feeling. I felt small, light hunks of the building hitting me in the back as I ran away. I felt the first wave of debris: light, ethereal, fibrous, probably burned insulation and carpets and such. The next wave was of stone and walls, hard things pulverized. I felt it on my skin all day, tiny but terribly sharp; rubbing it scraped the skin.

September 11 attacked every sense.

Now, September 11 is memory.

Six months after: 9.11, the show
: It is a sentiment I’ve had more than once since September 11 as I wonder about the chance that brought me to the World Trade Center as the attacks began and brought me to write about everything that has followed here.

In the CBS 9.11 show, filmmaker Jules Naudet said it: “That day, we were chosen to be the witness.”

The Naudet brothers, Jules and Gedeon, were amazing witnesses, keeping their cameras rolling as hell erupted.

Tonight, now that I have seen their superb show, I am grateful they were there, for they captured the day: the dust, the debris, the darkness, the sound of death as it falls, the roar of utter destruction, the silence that follows, the fear, the courage, the choking cough, the closeness of death, the disbelief and gratitude of survival.

They will help us remember.

Six months after: A sermon:

Six months after: A sermon
: Here is the text of the sermon six months after 9.11 that I delivered this morning. I’m told it went well. But church people are supposed to be nice. For those few nice souls who’ve followed this weblog for sometime, many of the themes are familiar. It is about the changes in life brought on by September 11th and how we are coping with them.

By chance, the sons of one of the ministers had just graduated from Marine training camp at Paris Island and he was in the congregation in full dress uniform as I was talking about the soldiers who are off defending us and about my newfound understanding of the unfortunate necessity of war. He inspired me.

At the risk of being obnoxious quoting myself:

I believe that this is a clash of civilizations, as one historian has labeled it. This is a fight by civilization and tolerance against fanaticism and hate, a battle to defend God against those who would commit evil in His name. I believe that those of us who are in the mainstream of any faith, those of us who hold that religion and society should be open, forgiving, and full of grace and humility, must speak up and fight back — or the meek shall lose the earth. This is our war.

But what now stops me from becoming a fanatic in this war myself? I’ll tell you what stops me: My doubts. Since September 11th, I have come to treasure my doubts and questions about faith all the more, for those doubts are precisely what separate me from the fanatics….

And so I try to look at the change of these six months since September in that light. Yes, life has changed. But life is about change. It is a mark of our maturity and our civilization that we as individuals and we as a society can adapt to that change and not lose our bearings and our moral compass. For our faith may not tell us exactly, literally what to do. But it does tell us where north is. And with that, we can reset our lives around the change that comes upon us. We change. God does not.

I close with an image I’ve used before here:

And so I try to find the good. And I do not have to look far. I find it in our tremendous outpouring of charity to the victims of September 11th. I find it in our national unity and common sense of purpose and in our international unity in this fight against evil. And, of course, I find the good in the stories of tremendous courage and heroism that came from that day.

I have many images in my mind from that morning: from the beautiful, pure, clear, sunny sky that started the day to the utter darkness that quickly followed. But of all the images in my mind, the ones that stay with me most are of the faces of the firefighters and rescuers I saw rushing into those buildings. I remember them clearly: etched with fear and determination but without doubt or hesitation.

Those were the faces of the saints of September 11th.

Sane response
: In other times, it would be a punchline to say that New York State established an agency to keep New Yorkers sane. Now there’s not much funny about that. The Liberty Project put up guidelines for viewing tonight’s CBS 9.11 documentary.

Following the program, some people may have a recurrence of symptoms they previously experienced following the event: they may have trouble falling asleep, may retain images of the show, or may have difficulty concentrating. For most, the increase in distress will be temporary.

For some, the program could be helpful as people try to digest and process the horrors of September 11th.

Dust to dust
: A firefighter’s diary of working at Ground Zero, from the Observer:

It’s very ritualistic. What they’re finding is clothing – barely a trace of a human being. In a way, it’s very peaceful there, almost Zen-like. The people are mixed into the dirt. Dust to dust is not just a saying now, it’s become a reality…. Nothing has colour or tone anymore, it’s all just this dull grey. We look but there’s nothing solid except papers and office manuals. Sometimes it seems like only the bureaucracy survived.

: Thomas Nephew has a good backgrounder on anti-idiotarianism following Instapundit‘s praise for the trend (“that’s a term coined by Charles Johnson to convey that support for the war on terrorism wasn’t confined to any particular party or political group”).

Facts: The Observergives us Sept.

: The Observergives us Sept. 11 facts:

: 795,763 tonnes of building rubble have been removed from Ground Zero…

: Workers have cleared 148,429 tonnes of steel from the World Trade Centre site – including 50 handguns.

: The remains of 749 victims from the New York disaster have been identified…

: …as well as 273 complete bodies and 250 pieces of jewellery. 2,672 death certificates have been issued. A further 158 people are unaccounted for.

: ‘Asymmetrical warfare’, 9/11 and ‘Osama effect’ are set to be included in the Oxford English Dictionary.

: Twelve US soldiers have been killed in combat during the war in Afghanistan, while 14 have died in non-combat accidents.

: Wal-Mart has sold 3,000,000 US flags,10 times its usual number.

: The Dow Jones index is now worth $386bn, or 11 per cent, more than it was on 10 September.

Mornings: I’m finishing my six-months-after

: I’m finishing my six-months-after sermon for tomorrow; again, I extend an invitation to anyone in the neighborhood; it’s a harmless Congregational church. And I”m working on a lot of posts for the Monday anniversary.

: A passenger taking his first flight after 9.11: “It’s far too early to be walking next to camouflaged men wielding M-16s.” [via Kottke]

Defcon 5
: It’s about time: Tom Ridge has finally formulated a more specific alert system so that, rather than issuing the vague watch-your-ass alerts (something’s going to happen and we think we know what but we’re not going to tell you what or where or when and we’re just going to make you nervous; your tax dollars at work) they will now have more specific advisories to local authorities and a grading system just like the Defcon of Cold-War-movie fame. The first rank is business-as-usual; watch out for common criminals. The highest of three to five levels means an attack is imminent.

A town of pain
: Six months after, the NY Times returns to Middletown, NJ, the town that suffered more death in the World Trade Center attack than any other:

A middle-aged widow rarely gets out of bed when the sun is up. Another staves off the pain with mounds of paperwork and nonstop errands. One young mother, inconsolable and financially overwhelmed, has scared friends with dark suggestions that she and her children might join her husband in heaven. For a mother coping with a lost son, spirituality has become a comfort and a crusade.

Weather-beaten American flags still fly from every other minivan antenna, and the signs along Route 35 still proclaim “God Bless Middletown,” but for most residents of this comfortable, self-concerned suburb, life has regained its former hectic rhythms, marked by early morning commutes, early evening intramural sports and monthly mortgage payments.

A great post by Charles Johnson puts this story in just the right perspective, suggesting that Ted Rall — he of the cartoon mocking terror widows — read the story, rub his nose in it, see the pain even if he can’t feel it.