Posts from September 2003

Back to zero

tv.jpgBack to zero

: This week, I went to the World Trade Center site to talk to a French TV crew about the World Trade Center memorial competition. I was the one entrant they happened to talk to, simply because they found me on the web, because I’m not an architect and because I was just a guy who happened to be there that day.

And so it felt strange, even wrong, to be standing at the grate overlooking the site as they shot B-roll of me: guy stares pensively into the pit. I didn’t like this spotlight (and I do like spotlights). For I have no story other than being damned lucky; there are thousands of better, more telling stories than mine. But this is TV; gotta have film. So I stood there in the rain (wearing my American-flag lapel pin, this being for a French audience), telling them why I entered (because I had to) and how it worked but not what I proposed (because the rules demand secrecy to protect the anonymity of the competition). This is TV; gotta have sound.

: They needed to shoot me pointing to a computer screen explaining the rules. But none of us had a computer handy, so we went to the Millenium Hilton, across the street from the site (where I stood when the second plane hit that day) and they couldn’t have been nicer. We went up to the business center and shot the scene.

path.jpgThe windows look out onto the site from the fifth floor. I had not seen it from this perspective and that pulled at my gut: more memories. There’s where Number Five was; there’s where I ran; there’s where I saw…. You know.

I looked down at two large, white, tubular towers being built on the northeast corner of the site, wondering what they were. And then I saw the stairs going down between them and realized: This is the new PATH entrance. At first, that was almost shocking: Such an everyday thing in such an extraordinary place. But I found myself relieved to see those stairs; I liked seeing the everyday return here. This is good.

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: This place needs life. But, of course, that doesn’t mean that we want to act as if nothing happened; nobody’s looking for a blinders-on return to normalcy. No, part of the life this place needs is memory: That’s why we are going to build a memorial here. And that’s why thousands of people come here, because it is an extraordinary place, because they need to see it and need to leave a piece of themselves — a word, a picture, a thing — as a tribute.

See the first picture above: People from all over the world have been coming to this polace since September 12, 2001 to leave tributes. I took that shot this spring, preparing for my memorial entry.

Now see the second picture above and see how we are treating them: POST NO BILLS.

Damn, that’s rude and heartless. Who’s the cold soul who decided to cut off the memory, the caring, the empathy, the tributes that have filled that wall?

: Of course, everyone has an opinion about what should happen to this place, no one more — and no one with more right — than the families.

Some of them have argued that nothing should be built on the footprints of the towers; they want them left vacant down to the bedrock. As much as I respect their view and why they hold it, I disagree. I think the site needs a memorial on those footprints (that’s the first rule) but it also needs people and life around it. A hole in the ground is not our best tribute.

It so happened that a group of these families holding this view — a dozen or so — came to the site this day to block the entrance and stage a protest and media event, to make their point. The French TV crew went to shoot them along with one of every TV crew in New York. TV must have film at 11.

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Power

Power
: I just watched most of Seven Days in September on A&E, the film about filmmakers who captured the days after 9.11.

I’m overtaken by a surprising feeling of powerlessness.

We see New Yorkers jamming the streets to give things: food, flashlights, batteries, anything. God bless them, they had to do something and this was something they could do. But there was, tragically, so little use for so much of that stuff (I do wonder what happened to it all).

We see New Yorkers in a park getting into an argument en masse over politics: a preview of the maddening fights to follow with a couple of imported twits taking the Euroweenie party line. It ends in hugs. I wish it hadn’t.

We see children unable to understand what just happened. But then, none of us could.

And we see the scenes we haven’t seen in awhile now: the building’s skeleton sticking up out of the ground like a steel ghost and the dust.

The dust is gone but the emotions aren’t.

I think we make progress but then I see this and wonder, especially hearing that stupid argument in the park iwth the same lines we hear these days on Iraq.

Of course, we’re not powerless. Just sometimes, it feels that way.

I gotta get outa this place, if it’s the last thing I ever do…

I gotta get outa this place, if it’s the last thing I ever do…
: NPR tonight quoted New York commuters quite rightly taking the city to task for its half-assed evacuation in the blackout.

As the second anniversary of 9.11 approaches, it is quite sobering to see that we’ve learned little and prepared less. It took too many hours and too much difficulty to get people out of the city again.

The goal is simple: To get as many people out of the city as quickly as possible so they can get home and so they will not strain the services of the city for those who must stay.

This is not hard to figure out. What the city should be doing:

1. Enlist all boats — tour boats as well — to get people across the river from all available piers.

2. Get busses, and just busses, shuttling through the tunnels out of the city to predetermined points — shelters, meeting points, and places where commuters can get further transportation. Those busses should bring emergency workers the other way.

3. Set up shelters in the city with generators and supplies. It’s time to reinstitute Civil Defense shelters.

4. Have points throughout the city where people can get information — where, for example, police or city employees equipped with walkie-talkies and megaphones can tell people what is happening and what they should do.

I was one of those people in the city trying to get out on 9.11 and I was within a half-hour of being stranded in the blackout. I don’t want to face this again.

What have we been doing these last two years?

Should we add Indonesia to the axis of evil (or just scratch those vacation plans)?

Should we add Indonesia to the axis of evil (or just scratch those vacation plans)?
: Getaloada what Indonesia’s VP said:

Indonesian Vice-President Hamzah Haz has accused the United States of being the “king of terrorists” in a scathing attack using language similar to that used by many of the Bali bombers.

In remarks that may signal an emerging split in the Indonesian Government’s campaign against terrorist groups, Mr Hamzah ridiculed suggestions Indonesia had a serious terrorist problem.

Less than a day after an Indonesian court cleared the muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir of heading the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiah, Mr Hamzah went to an Islamic boarding school in Central Java and declared:

“Who is the real terrorist? It is the United States, for they have attacked Iraq. In fact, they are the king of terrorists….”

The families of all the Bali bombing victims should perhaps pay this dork a visit and talk about their terrorism problem.

Here’s how the Indonesian VP’s language echoes that of the convicted Bali bomber and grinning ninny Mukhlas:

Key Bali bomb suspect Mukhlas said yesterday that he was small fry in the terrorism world, despite the deaths of 202 people in the attacks, and labelled US, British and Israeli leaders the “big fishes”…

“These big fishes in terrorism are the ones who conducted extraordinary crimes against humanity,” Mukhlas told the court, naming US President George Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon….

“They are the ones who made Muslims no longer go to the mosque, Christians never go to the church and Hindus never go to the temple but rather choose to go to places which offer to satiate lust,” said Mukhlas, alias Ali Gufron. “They made people no longer know anything else but lust.”

Retail

Retail
: I keep seeing more and more evidence of how online is changing — read: threatening — the offline world. Today’s small anecdote: I hit a half-dozen bookstores trying to buy Virginia Postrel’s book (it’s not in yet — though it has been shipping from Amazon for days) and I try to buy Roger Simon’s novel (it’s in-stock at Amazon but out of stock at the bookstores I’m trying). And I’m trying to buy Warren Zevon’s album (but it’s cheaper online — and I was half-tempted to wait until all the labels reduce their prices — at long last answering the pressure from online downloading). So I order from Amazon.

Offline is still too slow responding to online innovation. It’s more than disruptive technology. It’s destructive technology.