This is a piece I wrote in 2011, on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. (Originally posted here.)

I believe that the sauntering I refer to has diminished. But instead of sauntering, our local and county police departments seem to have taken up a different hobby: Shooting unarmed people of color. I think the problems underscored in this essay are mostly worse now than they were five years ago, and the argument I make here for what happened since 9/11/2001 is stronger, more clearly demonstrated by event. Also, the link between 9/11 and the Donald Trump candidacy is as clear as a brand new picture window right after the window washers left.

I’ve made minor edits, but left time references as they were five years ago. This will not affect you reading of this post.

Happy Anniversary 9/11


A former engineering student, on seeing film of the World Trade Center towers collapse on September 11th, 2001, indicated surprise. He told a friend that he would have thought that on being hit with jumbo jets, the two or three immediately affected floors of the tower would have been destroyed but the structures would probably remain standing, or at most the floors above the impact sites could possibly collapse due to melting support beams but the lower floors would stand. The complete collapse, above and below the impact sites, of both of the structures was a surprise to him, given his engineering training.

Those remarks were made shortly after the 9/11 attacks. Almost ten years later the same man who made these remarks was shot to death by US special forces agents in a raid on a residential compound in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad. And just like Osama bin Laden, the former engineering student1 who made those remarks, also a businessman, and ultimately, the world’s most serious terrorist ever (and no relation to me), I also have a hard time believing that it happened. But it did happen and the fallout from that event is still with us, and in fact, getting worse.

Many have spoken of the Post Patriot Act world, affecting day to day life in America, the wars, our treatment of our fellow humans at Gitmo and untold secret prisons around the world, the rise of the most expensive bureaucracy ever, all that. Icons of post 9/11 loom over us largely, and also exist in a small way in every nook and cranny of day to day life. And it rarely makes sense.

I once told you about a rural Iowan, who felt trapped and scared in the Big City, calling an elderly African American homeless wheel chair bound gentleman a “Terrorist.” That was an example of regular people substituting mundane daily fears, in this case, the “inner city” the “Black man” and I suppose “Wheel chairs” … oh, and we were in a “deli” run by “middle eastern people” so there was that too … with the largely made-up bogeyman of “Terrorist.”

One day last summer criminals drove down our street and carried out a criminal act before our very eyes, so we called 911. The police showed up way too late to matter and with way too many cops to make me think they were anything but frightened to go out alone, and the first thing they did was to demand to see my identification. I’m standing in my yard at the Weber, coals hot, brats cooking, a long bbq style fork in my hand and an apron that says “A Man and his Grill” on it and the cop is asking me for my identification.2 I blew him off with a stern look, and he went away. (Our cops are fairly meek. That would not have worked everywhere.) But that has become the norm: When the cops show up, you better damn well assume we live in a police state at least for that moment, or pretty soon you’ll be assuming the position just for standing there. Yes, folks, more and more people are being treated just like black folk in this country always have been. That should tell you something. One step backwards. Then a few more steps backwards.

I used to be a guy who called 911, when appropriate, and probably more than others on average. Now, I only call 911 if someone is in physical danger or needs medical attention. If I’m going to get shaken down for helping the coppers, the coppers can help themselves, thank you.

When an accident happens, or even some crap falls off a truck and causes an obstruction in the road, the First Responders show up and close more lanes than they need to and they saunter. Yes, that’s what I said. Instead of rushing in and managing the situation safely and effectively, they saunter around in full view of the drivers who are all forced over onto the shoulder to get by the scene. One day I sat in traffic for a half hour going north on State Route 169, and for the last six or seven minutes of that I could clearly see the two fire trucks that were blocking most of the lanes of traffic and the first responders sauntering around with absolutely nothing going on, no debris, no inured citizens, no other vehicles, nothing on the road to clean up, no “investigation” in progress, and they were passing around coffee. I’m sure there were donuts somewhere. I’m a fairly observant person and I’m not especially paranoid, and I’m pretty sure that I’m right: Post 911 first responders think they are the shit because hundreds of them died in the World Trade Center. This change in status and attitude is seen everywhere in our culture, I don’t need to convince you of that. Here, I’m just adding in that extra bit of unnecessary and costly sauntering at scenes that should be cleared. Because the cultural details matter even when they are small.

Do you know that during the late 1960s, when the US was in the throes of an unpopular war and a on the edge of revolution at home, there were an average of well over one hijacking of a commercial airplane flying out of a US based airport every month? Do you know what the reaction to that was? Metal detectors, and eventually baggage screening. Society did not change. It just got slightly harder, but not much harder, to get onto an airplane. Post 9/11 changes have been enormous and far reaching and pervasive. Now, I’m not trying to equate, or even compare, the scores of hijackings in the late 1960s and early 1970s with 9/11 and related acts (such as the attack on the Cole and the earlier WTC bombing, etc). There is no way to make that comparison. What I am trying to compare is the reaction, then vs. now. And, I’m not even comparing the reaction, exactly. What I’m trying to point out here is that in the 60s, the governmental and societal reaction to a significant spate of hijackings was to address airport security. The more recent reaction (to 9/11) was to shift all of society and almost every aspect of American culture, the activities of ever government department and agency, the expectations and rule sets, the budgets, the procedural manuals, and everything else to a paranoid modality and to institute what is essentially a low-level police state. That’s a difference worth noting. And worth complaining about.

Generation 9/11. History will be at least a little embarrassed by us.

Recently, we’ve been discussing the State Mandated Recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in schools. The reason this is becoming increasingly enforced around the US is because of various state laws passed in time to be in place for today’s anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, or more generally as part of a post 9/11 culture. In one of our local schools, students had interesting responses to this happening on their turf, expressed in a school paper’s “debate” layout. The printed views were even … same number for and same number against. Those against the pledge requirement made all the usual and generally quite convincing arguments and did a great job. Those in favor of the jingoistic approach were, well, jingoistic, but, with an interesting and very positive twist; Most of them gave sway to atheists and agnostics. They said that they fully supported people leaving off the “under god” part and totally understood why they might do that. And none of the pro-pledge opinions were dripping with religious commentary or reference. It is important to note that of all the high schools in the region, the one to which I refer to is in the top four or five with respect to conservatism of the area served (it is in a Michele Bachmann clone’s Congressional District), and in the top two with respect to per capita wealth of the residents, and is probably the least diverse district in the state.

And that is interesting because the average high school kid is about 16 years old, meaning that they were 6 when the 9/11 attacks happened, and therefore, the attacks themselves are not necessarily part of their own cultural composition to the same degree that it is with older folk. These are kids that grew up in the post 9/11 world without necessarily feeling the powerful disbelief that many of us felt, followed by whatever fear or rage or helplessness or sense of dread or revenge that affected so many. The bad news is that this generation has become accustom to a much, much lower standard of freedom than many older people have, but this also means that when they confront this lack of freedom they may be more willing to rebel against it because they related less directly to the Defining Moment.

Sauntering firemen and cocky police officers are not the end of the world and they are not the Nazi’s or the Bradbury’s Salamander. They are, rather, puddles of dried blood from a minor wound. When you get into a bad accident, you may get a major wound that could kill or maim you, but you will also get a lot of minor wounds that on their own would not mean much. But you know that the accident was truly traumatic when the minor wounds add up to a plethora but are uncounted or ignored because they are just background. Sauntering firemen, cocky police officers, and Iowans who label homeless wheel chair bound African American old guys as “terrorists” are the tiny scrapes and bruises on a battered corpse.

And now might be a good point to ask the question, “What has risen from the ashes of the 9/11 attacks?” There was much talk at the time, and since then, and again today, about how great America is, how great Americans are, and how we will move forward and become better and stronger and so on and so forth. But it is just talk. What has happened instead is something entirely different.

The giddy fear and sense of dread that comes from a violent moment clouds the mind, of the individual or more broadly but also the collective social mind. The disorientation that caused that lady from Iowa to mistake the wheel chair bound homeless man for a “terrorist” represents an internal derailing of logic. The guard rail is down, the road is slippery, and rational thought has spun not just into the ditch but across the highway into oncoming traffic. The playbook has become garbled and the Quarterback is running the wrong way. The general, gone mad, is locked up on the army base with the launch codes. Twelve Angry Men, Lord of the Flies … stop me before I metaphor again! I think you get the point. There are a lot of people who benefit from our present social pathology, and that surely has been a factor. But also, it is simply a social pathology that we are experiencing, a terrorist victory, a lack of character on our part as a nation.

But the scary part is what comes out of it, and by now you have probably guessed my point. The Tea Party and things like the Tea Party. Strongly held anti-social illogical destructive beliefs with no hope of critical self evaluation, in a large and organized part of the population. It is obvious why this happened in the Republican Party and not the Democratic Party, but people on both sides of the political aisle have contributed. Literalist, libertarian, paranoid, self-centered, easily frightened, reactionary, sub-average in intelligence, deluded in self worth and unmovable in conviction and belief despite all evidence to the contrary. The lady from Iowa, the sauntering firemen, the sheep who welcome being harassed by the TSA agents at the gate, the people who are happy to click “I agree” when confronted with a 43 page EULA that, somewhere in there, tells you the thing you just bought and paid for is not yours; A general social willingness to be told what to do, fear of not being told what to do, cynicism that we can think of what to do on our own, and utter disbelief that collective progressive action any longer has potential or meaning.

The little puddles of drying blood are everywhere, splatter evidence not from the 9/11 attacks but from our national and social flailing about and rending of cloth and flesh as aftermath. It isn’t just that the terrorist won on that day; It is much much worse than that. First they beat us, then they recruited us to do ourselves in.

Happy Anniversary 9/11


1Apparently there is some question as to whether or not Osama bin Laden was actually an engineering student, but we’ll roll with it for the present purposes. Here’s the video of him making the remarks I paraphrased:

2I’m exaggerating. There was no apron. But I was wearing my Darwin I Think Cap.

We really only know things work when we test them to the limit and see what it takes to make them fail, or nearly fail. All those air planes and space ships and regular shops and nice cars that usually don’t fail have a pedigree of prototypes or prototypes of parts that were pushed until they broke. Chickens fired into running Boeing 757 engines with a special Chicken Cannon. Crash dummies driving vehicles into specially built walls. Rocket engines exploding on test ranges. But many systems are never tested that way, and really can’t be. We build the systems and convince those who need convincing that they are stable, adaptable, appropriately designed, and ready. Then, real life comes along and pulls the fire alarm. It is not a drill. The system is stressed, and if it fails, that may be the first time we learn it wasn’t good enough.

Obamacare’s computer nightmare is a good example. It actually worked, ultimately, but at first it was one of the largest interactive computer services ever built and brought to so many users in such a short amount of time. There is general agreement that the system was built improperly and that is why it failed, but I don’t think that is necessarily the case. It may simply be that we can’t know that such a large and complex system is going to work when it is deployed, we should probably expect failure, and we should probably be ready to jump in and patch and repair and redo as needed. And, as a society, be a bit more grown up about the failure.

Three systems have been tested by the current Ebola outbreak and found wanting. One is the system of rational thinking among people. That is just not working very well. We have people in villages in West Africa thinking that health care workers who have come to help them are the cause of the scourge. We have tin-hat wearing Internet denizens insisting that that Ebola has already gone airborne, and that the US Government has a patent on the virus, and somehow it all makes sense, thanks Obama Bengazi! The failure of rational thought, which is a system supported by home grown culture and formal education, has been stressed and found wanting. We are not surprised, of course. I bring it up mainly because I want to point out that this is a general human failure, not just a failure among the victims in Africa who are so easily overtly blamed.

The global public health system has been tested and proved to be an utter failure. WHO and the CDC and all that have done a pretty good job with earlier, smaller, outbreaks of Ebola and other diseases, when they can fly in more people than even live in some remote African village, and most likely the hardest part of those missions is the logistics of getting to the field. That has been facilitated in the past by on the ground aid workers, missionaries, and in some cases, public health researchers who already knew the terrain. But they had a plan, they had gear, and it all mostly worked very well. We assumed the plan and gear and expertise and personnel was in place for a major outbreak. It wasn’t. That system has been tested and failed.

And now we are seeing a third system showing itself to be a failure, and it is actually kind of surprising. In speaking of the problem of screening for possible Ebola carriers coming in to the US on planes we learn that there isn’t a way to keep track of people flying to the US from other countries. From CNN:

“All options are on the table for further strengthening the screening process here in the U.S., and that includes trying to screen people coming in from Ebola-affected countries with temperature checks,” a federal official said… “It’s not as easy as it sounds. There aren’t that many direct flights from Ebola-affected countries to the U.S. anymore. Many passengers are arriving on connecting flights from other parts of the world, and then they come here, so that makes it more of a challenge.”

So, a couple of dozen well funded and well trained terrorists get on airplanes and destroy the World Trade Center and mess up the Pentagon, etc. This makes us consider more carefully the threat of terrorists attacking the US. We set up draconian laws and expensive systems that have the net effect of measurably removing freedoms for Americans, annoying people in other countries, and nudging us closer to a police state than ever before. We’ve even closed the border with Canada to anyone without passports, and even there, US and Canadian citizens can no longer assume they can freely travel back and forth. We fly drones over villages in other countries and blow people up (It’s OK, they were all bad) and we keep closer track of everything all the time everywhere than ever before.

But we can’t tell where a person getting off an international flight originated? Wut? I would have thought that would be the number one thing that would be implemented as part of the Homeland Security Upgrade. First thing.

Homeland Security in the US, the biggest shiniest newest system on Earth, fails the Ebola test.

In some ways, that is actually a bit comforting. But it is also terribly annoying.

Trigger warning: Explicit video of a homeless man being executed by the cops.

I strongly recommend that you don’t call the police. If you do, because for some reason you have to, get the hell out of there before they arrive. Why? Because our Post-9/11 first responder philosophy is not the first responder philosophy you grew up with. First responders have one primary directive: Protect themselves, at all costs. Your safety is the cost. For firefighters and the like this means running the other way when there is danger, because of 9/11. Recently, a New York City fire chief was quoted as saying “Good thing we didn’t get here sooner” (or words to that effect) in relation to a gas explosion. In recent weeks somebody who did not get the memo called the cops for a “domestic disturbance” happening in a public park. When the cops arrive they killed a man that was trying to help. It goes on and on. The police, generally, will protect themselves before they protect you, even if it means gunning down people who are not really a threat to them.

Here is the video. Yes, the guy had knives. He was probably either a bit disturbed when the cops got there or became disoriented when they started shooting flash bangs at him. But they had him surrounded, run to ground, and it was only after he turned away from them that they gunned him down. After he was gunned down the police acted like he was a live cobra, but really, he was just some guy bleeding out on the ground where they dropped him.

I predict that this will be determined a justifiable shooting.

I’m quoting here from Daily Kos who quotes AP (the AP site is borked):

The illegal camper shot by Albuquerque police this week was turning away from officers when they fired at him, according to video released by Chief Gorden Eden on Friday.

The shots come after a confrontation in which the man, identified as 38-year-old James Boyd, tells police he’s going to walk down the mountain with them.

“Don’t change up the agreement,” Boyd says. “I’m going to try to walk with you.”

He tells officers he’s not a murderer.

Boyd picks up his belongings and appears ready to walk down toward officers. An officer fires a flash-bang device, which disorients Boyd.

Boyd appears to pull out knives in both hands as an officer with a dog approaches him. He makes a threatening motion toward the officer, then starts to turn around away from police.

That’s when shots ring out, and Boyd hits the ground. Blood can be seen on the rocks behind him.

Raising Julia, who is ow 18, I taught her to trust the cops, what cops were, when you should go to them or call them. Now, Huxley is 4. I’m teaching him differently.

A former engineering student, on seeing film of the World Trade Center towers collapse on September 11th, 2001, indicated surprise. He told a friend that he would have thought that on being hit with jumbo jets, the two or three immediately affected floors of the tower would have been destroyed but the structures would probably remain standing, or at most the floors above the impact sites could possibly collapse due to melting support beams but the lower floors would stand. The complete collapse, above and below the impact sites, of both of the structures was a surprise to him, given his engineering training.

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I will surely write something about 9/11 on 9/11, but in the mean time I thought I’d repost something I wrote some time ago about how things changed after the WTC towers collapsed. In the post reproduced before, I’m saying essentially what is being said here. I won’t bother mentioning that I said it many years ago, that would be obnoxious. The original post was titled 911 Reverberates in Boston.

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We Shall Never Forget 9/11 Coloring Book – Graphic Coloring Novel is a coloring book for kids produced by Really Big Coloring Books Inc of St. Louis, MO. Their coloring books cover a lot of different topics, including African-American Leaders with this description:

African American Leaders celebrates the diversity, history, and accomplishments of African Americans in North America. Used widely in schools around the nation for educational purposes. This is a Really Big Educational Coloring & Story Book!

and Dinosaurs

Dino’s has 32 exciting pages of Dino coloring, including Velociraptor, Tyrannosaurus, Seismosaurus, Pretty Jaw and much more. This book includes two pages of Dino cutouts, Dino plants, and a Dino forest. A Really Big Coloring Book!

But also Noah and the Ark ..

Noah and the Ark is one of the best known and most beloved stories of the Old Testament. In addition to telling the traditional story, the coloring book includes many animals for children to color. The Noah coloring book has been used as a teaching tool.

and Blessing of the Pets Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Custom Coloring Book, whatever that is, and Story of Creation and the Ten Commandments

This book describes to children the story of creation and lists the Ten Commandments. The commandments are all listed on one page and then each commandment is written seperately on 10 different pages. A Really Big Coloring Book.

But I digress.

Part of the description of the 9/11 book is:

The September 11, 2001 attacks on America are now commonly referred to as 9/11. It was a series of coordinated attacks by a radical Islamic Muslim extremist terrorist group who call themselves Al Qaeda. They were self-proclaimed Jihadists; many American people refer to them as homicide bombers. Their leader was a Saudi national named Osama Bin Laden. He and his men used hijacked U.S. airplanes as weapons. A total of 3,000+ innocent people from over 70 countries were killed. There were no survivors from any of the airplanes.

And it includes this picture of Seal Team Six killing Osama bin Laden and his family:

The Guardian reports that

The Council on American-Islamic Relations has condemned the book as “disgusting”, saying that it characterises all Muslims as linked to extremism, terrorism and radicalism, which could lead children reading the book to believe that all Muslims are responsible for 9/11, and that followers of the Islamic faith are their enemies.

And, here’s the promotional video for it:

I have no comments at this time. But I will. I’m saving them up.