Monday, September 12, 2005

The First Four Years

I'm a day late with this because in general I don't blog on weekends. There's too much real life to conduct outside the cubefarm that is my office. Be that as it may the anniversary of our nation's big awakening didn't pass without notice in the local branch of RUFNKM either.

Sure, I have my memories. On that day I was still living in SF. At 8:45AM Pacific time, my then roommate ran into the bedroom I shared with my then girlfriend and yelled "Oh my god! Wake up! We're under attack! The World Trade Center has been destroyed! I need help working the TV to get CNN on..." (We had a very complicated setup involving Direct TV and it was a pain...) We rolled out of bed mildly annoyed, thinking he was effin' kidding us. He wasn't. As I messed with the remotes to get CNN on, he told us how his girlfriend, in New York at the time, called him, sobbing, in a panic. She had seen at least one tower catch fire. Once we got CNN on, we heard about the Pentagon. My first thoughts were about my brother and my father.

My brother lived in DC, my father was in Fort Meade. I tried calling both of them, but couldn't get through to either of their cell phones - the lines were full. I was in a panic too. I spent 45 minutes alternating speed dialing them until I finally got through to my father. He said he was fine but couldn't get in touch with my brother either. An hour later I did get through to my brother. He said he had driven to downtown DC for a meeting, seen a huge amount of smoke, decided that whatever it was was going to cause way to much traffic, so he parked his car and took a walk. When he found out what the smoke was, he decided he needed a scotch and had somehow got one. Other than being emotionally shaken he was ok. He wasn't able to get through to my father or mother and he asked me to get in touch with them to tell them, which I did. I remember being jealous that he could have a scotch and I couldn't, because I was going to have to go to work.

The rest of the day is something of a blur. My girlfriend, roommate and I watched CNN in shock for a while. At some point I met up with my carpool to work, and we rode mostly in silence that was interupted only once - by a phone call from another co-worker of ours who's friend had escaped the south tower just before it collapsed. Being at work was bizarre - no one quite knew how to take any of it and most of us just watched CNN and tried to get to grips with the enormity of it all. At some point our CEO sent out a really weird email that was an attempt at a combination of empathy and "get back to work, sissies!". He said something to the effect that if we didn't ship our games on time, the terrorist win. I have always credited him on his prescience if not his ability to run a successful software development organization.

The following sunday I went to church for the first time in 5 years. Unsuprising for a Unitarian service we performed, among other rituals, an Islamic prayer for peace. What was suprising was hearing coded calls for war, along with a littl fire and brimstone, coming from a Unitarian minister: "We should pray for peace, and we should pray for tolerance, but we should also not forget the bravery of the fire fighters and honor that bravery with our demands that those who did this meet with God's swift and undeniable Justice!" "If this is what Unitarians in San Francisco are preaching," I thought, "I don't even want to know what Pat Robertson is saying." Later I did find out what he said. Why he and Falwell aren't trash collectors as a result of those statments is still a source of confusion for me.

That day I also started sorting through the political ramifications of the event and, even before Hitchens, I made my private break with the "far left". "No more Chomsky and Vidal", I said to myself, "if it's the subtle tyranny of global markets or the abject tyranny of worldwide fanatical Islam, I'll take markets. And if the US needs to maintain some sort of military hegemony, well, that is a price worth paying in the short term." Seeing the knee-jerk peace protests made me more sure of my decision. Contrasting the farce of the 2000 election with the very serious events of 9/11, it seemed to me that what we needed then was a serious politics that, while critical of our foreign policy, needed to take a full accounting of how we could behave in the world. I looked forward to a discussion of how best to ensure civil liberties at home while protectinng our country from this threat. None of my usual guideposts seemed relevent; they simply operated on auto-pilot.

Instead, we got even more of a farce. In an event that to this day I maintain was completely staged, Bush - demonstrating his talent for empty symbolism - stood on the rubble of the towers and promised vengence. The usual suspects on cable news offered either empty platitudes or witless war-mongering. Sides were being drawn up, and it was all insanity. Crazed vengence and even crazier internal security measures were the order of the day.

It's become a grotesque cliche' that 9/11 changed everything. This is true, but not in the way people think. 9/11 made the hot-heads hotter, the gasbags gassier, and the country a worse place to live. People who would serve the country better as janitors took center stage in our debates. Instead of becoming more serious, we have become more reactionary. Unthinking jingoism and an acceptable racism have become the norm. Certain people think that half the country ought to be imprisioned or sent away. In short, things no red blooded American ought to stand for have become the expected.

But on another level, 9/11 didn't change a damn thing. Everything done in the name of 9/11 was on the table before 9/11. The administration has no interest in the needs of the populace - they just want us pliant so they can implement more and more measures designed to enrich a select few. The only change since 9/11 is our willingness to be more pliant. We've allowed ourselves to become prisoners of a new Animal Farm, where we celebrate "freedom" by marching in heavily regulated events. Instead of demanding competence from our leaders, we demand that those who point out that incompetence be shut up. We demand defference to a leader who, time and again, has shown he doesn't deserve anything but scorn - not for being "stupid", but for doing a crappy job.

This is all old news four years later. Luckily I'm an optimist, and I think the American people know when we've been had. Some of us just take a little longer to get there than others.
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