Just three weeks later…. …My

Just three weeks later….

…My wife finally played for me the phone message I Ieft her minutes after the second plane hit the World Trade Center (and I still feel guilty about getting a cell phone line, knowing what I know now). That was an hour before I escaped the collapse of the south tower and five hours before I could leave another message, saying I was still fine. I couldn’t listen before; I couldn’t listen now. I thought I was fine then. But even I couldn’t understand myself, I was talking so fast, no breaths between words: too much fear, fright, adrenalin, horror…

…The images that haunt me most are the faces of the firemen and police I saw running into the towers and their deaths….

…The image I hate seeing every morning as I drive toward New York: the city without its towers…

Overheard near Times Square today: A mother in a store on her mobile phone telling her pediatrician that she wants her son to get a smallpox vaccination because she’d seen on CSPAN that the vaccine still exists (even though it’s not used anymore). Sane or insane?

-Salman Rushdie, a man who knows about Islam’s bad side, in today’s Washington Post: “Terrorism is the murder of the innocent; this time, it was mass murder. To excuse such an atrocity by blaming U.S. government policies is to deny the basic idea of all morality: that individuals are responsible for their actions…. The fundamentalist seeks to bring down a great deal more than buildings. Such people are against, to offer just a brief list, freedom of speech, a multi-party political system, universal adult suffrage, accountable government, Jews, homosexuals, women’s rights, pluralism, secularism, short skirts, dancing, beardlessness, evolution theory, sex. These are tyrants, not Muslims.”

– Jason Kottke’s weblog on news withdrawl: The immediate aftermath was filled with facts; today’s news is brimming with spin. To quote:

Network. What a great movie (reviews), probably in my top 10 of all time. Hollywood should be proud that they once upon a time made this movie, but should not be so proud that they haven’t made one like it in quite awhile.

You may have noticed (or perhaps you didn’t) that I haven’t been talking about the Current Situation much lately. It’s not that I’m becoming apathetic or have been somehow desensitized to the whole thing. Far from it in fact. I saw video of the second plane ramming into the WTC for the first time in a couple weeks and all the grief, incredulity, and pain bubbled right up to the surface again…not that it was very far from the surface to begin with.

The problem I’m having is with the (intrinsic?) nature of news coverage itself. In the early stages of a situation like this, the news comes fast and hard and for the most part, unfiltered. It was mostly facts…there was actual reporting going on. Some of the reporting was crappy, and some of it was even dead wrong, but on the whole, it seemed honest and human and generally from a place of truth.

Now the spin and the analysis phase has set in. The PR machines of our government, large corporations, special interest groups, various agencies, and political parties have had time to mobilize. Everyone now has an “angle” appropriate to their political/corporate/religious/cultural affiliation. It feels like I’m not hearing the truth from humans anymore, I’m hearing careful crafted and sanitized PR from government/company/agency/media spokespeople. Perhaps it’s my fault for immediately distrusting spin, but I just don’t see how I can believe anything I’m hearing or take any notice of the analysis going on because it’s based on incomplete and faulty information.

Does that make sense? I know I’m probably not explaining this very well…and hopefully this analogy won’t make it any worse: I feel like I’m the last person in a giant game of telephone in which most of the participants are deliberately modifying the message so that when I actually do receive it, there’s little of the original message left. And I don’t feel like playing anymore.

However – and this is a hell of a however – I’ve decided that I’m going to try to ignore that instinct to give up. I’m going to continue to read and watch and listen to all the coverage out there with a critical mind. It’s important to me as a functioning part of humanity that I stay educated about what is going on around me. The world is a crazy place, but if I can understand just a bit of it, I can keep myself sane and who knows, maybe even help a few of my fellow citizens out.

– Rossi’s weblog on her mother, telling her about the Holocaust and her family, over and over, making her repeat the words, “Never again”…. To quote:

I remember growing up, my mother would tell me the stories of the Holocaust, about our family members who had died there and the stories she had heard from those who managed to escape. She began to tell me these stories when I was quite young, maybe only 5 or 6 years old.

They terrified me.

When I got older I asked her why she felt it was so important to keep telling me these stories over and again, the same stories each year. She said it was so I would always remember. That it was my duty to remember so it would never happen again.

She said, “Slovah … you must always remember the words … never again.”

So I do remember, and if I ever have children, I will tell them about the Holocaust and make them promise to repeat the words “never again.”

Then I will tell them about the towers and try to explain that in every generation, evil, blind, soulless people do inexplicably terribly things.

But the good has always outweighed the bad.

– Israeli site Debka.com says the Russians will play a large role in our Afghanistan military mission — “The anti-terror alliance has split its task into two parts. The Americans and Russians will go for Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda force in the Pamir Mountains, while the UK and Western allies will take on the Taliban in south Afghanistan.”

– A WTC burn victim prayed, “Please God, make it quick.” He walked down 82 floors in terrible pain and survived. Quoting:

Mr Dhingra said he had just emerged from the lift for a day of trading at Andover Brokerage when “I was just covered in a ball of fire”.

He said: “I thought it was over,” he said. “I thought it was a bomb.”

Then he realised he was alive and that “there’s nobody going to come up to the 82nd floor”, so he began walking down despite the searing pain.

Two co-workers helped him, clearing the way as they descended the flights of stairs and occasionally fetching water for his rapidly dehydrating body. He said that the pain was so severe he couldn’t allow his friends and colleagues to touch him.

He said their greatest help was in deceiving him about the trip down. Once, when he wanted to rest, they told him to keep going because there were just 10 floors left. He found out later they were on the 61st floor.

After the trip down, he was bundled into an ambulance. He did not know the twin towers had collapsed until he was safely in the hospital.

– Families of the many missing will get an urn filled with soil from the World Trade Center site.

Bin Laden spottings.

– 121 people have died in other terrorist attacks since Sept. 11

– Toy stores in United Arab Emerites to be shut down if they sell toys with Israeli flags on them.

Idiot du jour: Ukranian woman does 2,060 kneebends to protest American military action. OK, that changed our minds.

– Rudy Guilliani’s great speech to the UN: “Look at that destruction, that massive, senseless, cruel loss of human life and then I ask you to look in your hearts and recognize that there is no room for neutrality on the issue of terrorism. You’re either with civilization or with terrorists…. We are right and they are wrong. It’s as simple as that.”

So long, Mom, I’m off

So long, Mom, I’m off to drop the bomb, so don’t wait up for me… (from a Tom Lehrer classic): NBC reported this morning that Osama bin Laden called his mother two days before the attack to tell her something big was going to happen and then he wouldn’t be able to call for awhile. Hard to believe he ever had a mother.

A nice Flash guide to the basics of war with Afghanistan from the Guardian.

A collection of home pages of news sites from around the world on September 11, for history.

Middle-East sites of note: Al-Ahram,

Middle-East sites of note: Al-Ahram, published in Cairo (with analysis of the American military, perspective on Afhanistan, and commentary by Edward Said); Gulf News from the UAE; Turkish Daily News; ArabicNews.com; all in English, of varying quality. On the other hand, there are some frightening sites, such as Net Iran and the Syria Times,

with a story arguing that the Israeli Mossad had a hand in the WTC attack. Click carefully.

A Time survey says 60 percent of Americans say life in their communities has returned to normal (the other 40 percent live around New York and Washington). Newsweek says that 85 percent believe there’s a likelihood of an attack with biochemical weapons. Some normalcy.

Bob Dole and Bill Clinton

Bob Dole and Bill Clinton are chairing the charity I’ve been waiting for: a scholarship fund for the children and spouses of all the victims of Sept. 11. Read the news story here (or permalink). The Familes of Freedom Scholarship Fund’s home page is here. Just click and donate!

From the Jerusalem Post, experienced Israeli advice on how we should fight this war; and a report that New Yorkers are starting a counterterrorism group.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports on what’s happening to reshape the armed forces to defend the homeland.

The Jerusalem Post’s Top 10 List for us:

1. Avoid panic. While some emotions are properly strong in the aftermath of the attack, others are less appropriate. The terrorists are being handed an additional, if perhaps temporary, victory by the irrational fear of immediate repetitions. The economy is suffering seriously while the airline and travel-related industries are particularly hard-hit.

Shouldn’t someone tell the American people every few hours that if the terrorists needed three to four years to plan this last attack, another one is unlikely to occur soon? A terrible thing has happened, but this doesn’t mean that it is going to take place every week. Osama bin Laden’s forces last struck effectively against US embassies in Africa more than three years ago. His operatives are now heading for cover and it will take them some time to regroup.

2. Focus resources. America is a big, powerful country used to having all the resources needed to meet any goal. But security resources are inevitably limited. Don’t waste assets trying to protect everything or spreading your forces to thin. To cross the ocean and hit America, terrorists are not going to focus on a shopping mall in Muncie, Indiana.

Priority must be put and kept on high-profile targets, especially in New York, Washington DC, and Los Angeles, along with specific buildings in other key cities.

3. Don’t fight the last war. America is now gearing up to protect itself from a group of terrorists who hijack aircraft using knives and fly them into buildings. Much of the American security strategy seems keyed to preventing precisely the same attacks as those occurring on September 11.

But terrorists, too, read newspapers and know this is happening. Moreover, the whole point of terrorism tactically is an ability to change targets and methods. The next attack could involve anything ranging from renting private planes to chemical warfare, or an Oklahoma-type attack using a car bomb, to just shooting at people. Counterterrorist planners need to have some imagination – but not too much (see point 2, above) – in figuring out the more likely threat and not just a rote repetition of the previous assault.

4. Basic defenses are the most effective ones. With all the attention focused on security failures, a simple but obvious point is being neglected. If the X-ray machines and metal detectors had been run properly, the terrorists probably would not have succeeded.

Rather than invent all sorts of new technology and defensive forces, it would make more sense to ensure that the existing ones perform properly. At a recent congressional hearing, a senator recounted how he had gone through an airport – after the September 11 attack – and those staffing the X-ray machines had been engaged in horse-play rather than paying attention. You don’t need air marshals or armed pilots if you do proper inspections on the ground and keep the cockpit door locked. Most of Israel’s airport security systems have been in use since the 1960s with relatively little change.

5. High-quality people. There is no substitute. In Israel, the best people go into security and intelligence work. At airports, security relations with passengers are handled by bright young people who know the importance of what they’re doing and are especially conscientious because this is their first job. In America, with exceptions of course, those doing this work are there simply because they cannot get other employment.

There was a warning about 15 years ago that the airport security people were paid less than those working at fast-food restaurants. No matter how much you spend on technology or what clever plans you develop, these are only as good as the people implementing them.

Precisely because attacks are so rare, Americans have a very hard time taking security seriously. Given the high levels of crime, though, this is a luxury that cannot be afforded. I visited a famous journalist friend who lives in a community where residents pay thousands of dollars a year for protection. A few days after the attack and practically within sight of the World Trade Center, the guard waved me through when I mentioned my host’s name. It became quickly apparent that he thought I lived there without checking anything. In America, the job title “security guard” is a joke, and it is not unknown that the “guards” may have criminal records themselves.

6. The security issue that dare not speak its name. America is not under attack by tribes from the Amazon river, Eskimos, Polynesians, or Zulus.

Everyone knows this fact, but even to mention it is to invite the most vicious personal attacks and name-calling. But let’s say it for the record: the terrorist attacks on the United States are being planned and implemented by Muslims from the Middle East, primarily Arabs. Therefore, it may be politically correct but it is also politically insane to pretend otherwise.

The great majority of Muslims and Arabs in America (or in the Middle East for that matter) are not involved in such terrorism. The civil liberties of all Americans should be respected. Nevertheless, if intelligence and security resources aren’t focused on this area, then how can anything be effective? Everyone is at great pains to stress that prejudice is wrong and innocent people should not be harassed.

Yet almost no one has pointed out – except for Daniel Pipes – the extremely important point that key Muslim groups, including those invited to meet with President George W. Bush, are controlled by radicals who support terrorism. If the lives of thousands of people are at risk, the importance of being politically correct or not hurting someone’s feelings may seem less significant.

Ethnic profiling does make sense. Anyone who believes this has never stood on line behind a Colombian citizen at an American customs’ station. Surveillance of Islamic and Arab groups in the United States does make sense. There is a valid reason for national and ethnic profiling.

Sorry, but that’s the truth. Ignore it if you want to do so, but understand that this puts lives at risk.

7. Avoid questionable allies: If Iran, Syria, Yemen, and Lebanon are invited into an anti-terrorist coalition, can one expect success? Whatever grudge some of these leaders have against the Taliban or desire to get some reward for fooling the United States, are these regimes really going to help fight terrorism?

Let’s face it: When and if the current crisis cools off, bin Laden may be a respected consulting terrorist living in Teheran, Damascus, or Baghdad. These countries are going to sabotage any US military strike or pressures, because they know that similar methods could be used against them some day. They don’t want to turn in the names of terrorists, because they might be hiring them in a few months. Already the US government has been whitewashing such countries as Saudi Arabia and Yemen, which it was castigating only weeks ago for their refusal to cooperate in solving previous terrorist attacks against Americans in their countries.

8. Tell the American people the truth about what’s being said in the Arab world and Iran: Most of the statements cited in the American media are formal expressions of regret from Middle Eastern leaders. Yet the support and sympathy for anti-American terrorism is sharply understated.

Here is one example from MEMRI, one of the groups (Palestinian Media Watch should also be mentioned) doing a remarkable job of making this material available. The chairman of the state-sponsored Syrian Arab Writers Association, Ali Uqleh Ursan, wrote in the group’s “intellectual” organ that, on hearing about the attacks, “I felt like someone delivered from the grave; my lungs filled with air and I breathed in relief, as I’d never breathed before.”

And incidentally, he cited American attacks on Korea, Vietnam, and Libya (in addition to support for Israel) as reasons for taking revenge. I have compiled about 300 pages of this material from a wide range of sources since September 11, including many expressions of joy on non-public Islamist chat groups.

9. If you don’t deter today you will pay tomorrow. In 1998, hundreds of people were killed in attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Most of them were black Africans and a number were surely Muslims, though the terrorists didn’t care about that. The American response was a joke: an hour-long bombing attack on Sudan and in Afghanistan. And even this was criticized as excessive by many observers, who questioned whether there was full evidence for hitting the site in Sudan.

If punishments are so limited, why shouldn’t states sponsor terrorists, including bin Laden, and individuals become terrorists? Why aren’t American leaders and opinion makers saying every day: The failure to hit back hard after previous terrorist attacks is one of the main reason why 5,000 people are dead in New York? Such a conclusion certainly suggests the importance of tough – and violent – action today.

10. Listen to those who have been right all along. Instant experts are proliferating everywhere: people who a month ago couldn’t have told you the difference between a Sunni and a Shia Muslim are now expounding on the details of Islamic doctrine and radical Middle East politics.

American and British troops have

American and British troops have entered Afghanistan.

The White House gets testy with the media.

From Salon:

On the same day last week that “NBC Nightly News” anchor Tom Brokaw sat down to interview former President Clinton, executives for the program received unexpected phone calls from senior communications staffers at the White House, expressing disappointment about the decision to spotlight Bush’s predecessor.

While not asking the network to refrain from running the interview, they expressed the feeling that the Sept. 18 interview with Clinton would not be helpful to the current war on terrorism. Neither NBC nor the White House would comment on the phone calls, but sources familiar with the calls confirmed that they happened.

This news comes on the heels of revelations that President Bush and Air Force One were not, contrary to earlier White House claims, targets of the terrorists who attacked the Pentagon and the World Trade Center Sept. 11. The White House is now saying that those claims, which it used to explain why the president didn’t return to Washington immediately that day, were a result of staffers “misunderstanding” security information.

On Wednesday, tensions between the White House and its media critics, real or imagined, threatened to rise even higher. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer took a slap at “Politically Incorrect” host Bill Maher, who called U.S. military strikes on faraway targets “cowardly.” Fleischer blasted Maher, claiming it was “a terrible thing to say,” and didn’t stop there, noting “There are reminders to all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do, and this is not a time for remarks like that; there never is.”

Boonies look better: The NY Post reported yesterday that New Yorkers are heading to the ‘burbs to look for houses. Today, the Washington Post reports that richer New Yorkers are just moving to their summer homes; school attendance in the Hamptons is up.

From the Washington Post:

This is a diaspora of the rich and upper-middle class, a well-funded flight from the city’s death and destruction.

In the weeks since the World Trade Center towers disintegrated, a small but rising number of people who can afford to escape Manhattan are doing so. A quick count finds that about four dozen New York City families have suddenly enrolled their children in private and public schools in the Hamptons, along the gilded southern shore of Long Island.

A property caretaker in Montauk reports that 35 of his clients have moved back into their summer homes full time. Many other families — the numbers are difficult to pin down and change from day to day — have retreated to vacation homes in Upstate New York and the Jersey shore.

These New Yorkers have handsomely appointed second homes and incomes large enough to ease the dislocation. They talk of their move as a chance to soothe their nerves and calm their children.

But some emigrants prefer not to look back. They are moving permanently to the wealthier suburbs, enclaves 10 and 15 miles from New York. In Alpine, N.J., real estate agent Dennis McCormack said clients from New York City have signed $40 million worth of home contracts since the Sept. 11 attacks.

“I’ve experienced a crazy buying frenzy these past two weeks,” said McCormack, president of Prominent Properties. “All are from Manhattan, most live on the Upper East Side and have children.