Thursday, September 30, 2004

Cut & Paste

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Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Legalizing Torture

This post is very important. It's regarding a rider or amendment to the 9/11 bill under consideration at present, and it would allow the US to extradite prisnors to countries that will torture them - with no recourse to judicial review. I probably don't have much of a readership, but I'd urge, cajole and beg anyone who stumbles upon this to take action and contact their representatives.

The post ends with:

To other bloggers: Please consider linking to this post. This bill will pass unless people know about it, and no newspaper has reported on it. The press coverage of the CBS memos showed that blogs can break a story and have an effect--and this story is about 100 times more important than Bill Burkett's shenanigans and CBS news’ negligence.

I'm talking to Republicans, conservatives and libertarians as well as to Democrats and liberals. I know that you are more decent than this, and that you do not approve of torture. Please prove me right, and do something about it. Republicans are the majority in Congress, and they are much more likely to listen to you than to any Democrat. The press is much more likely to report on the story if liberal and conservative blogs both cover it.

Gunfighting Time

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SpaceShipOne Attempts first X Prize Flight

From slashdot. Original here.

"The Ansari X Prize is being attempted at this moment: 9:30am EST. Bert Rutan and Paul Allen's Scaled Composites is preparing to make the first of 2 launches necessary. For the uninitiated, the X-Prize is a $10M prize available to the first entirely privately funded organization that creates a vehicle that travels to 100km above the earth's surface (low earth orbit) twice within 2 weeks. IIRC, SpaceShipOne is planning 3 flights for that 2 week period, for safety. Best of luck to Private Spaceflight. Did anyone else notice that Virgin Galactic has just been launched?" Project Zen writes "MSNBC has an article about how the seats won't be filled with people but mementos of the crew." Several readers sent links to CNN's story on the flight, and's continuing coverage, including by webcam; NASA TV also has an eye on the launch.

Sign That There Is No Hope for Our Culture #23

I can't believe we're still talking about this. Maybe we should start a "Jesus Hates You Because You're Stupid" campaign.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Nothing to Hide

The next time I’m discussing the loss of civil liberties in this country and some idiot says to me, “You shouldn’t mind the government spying on you if you’ve nothing to hide” I’m going to ask them if they leave the stall doors to the bathroom open when they take a dump in a public place.

  • Or if they leave the blinds up and the lights on when they have sex
  • Or if they leave their online banking on the screen when they walk away from their desks
  • Or if they leave the doors to the changing room open when they try on clothes

It’s all natural and perfectly legal, you’ve nothing to hide, right?

Defacing a Sign

In junior high school, I never understood the lure of vandalism. I just didn’t get it: in what way was it fun to make something ugly? I suppose, as with many things, the main kick was the getting away with it, and there weren’t too many opportunities in junior high school for the kind of surreptitious splendor that awaited us in the back seats of cars or unsupervised basements when we finally got to high school.

To a certain extent, I understand graffiti, at least inasmuch as it’s often a functional demarcation of territory or – in very rare cases – actual art. At the least it has the potential, albeit seldom realized, of improving its canvas. One could make the argument that the majority of our highways and cities are littered with acts of corporate and municipal vandalism, the constant visual noise of advertising and civics. In a more extreme example, when protests turn to riot (or, more often than not, when law enforcement incites a riot), you could consider the ensuing damage a type of vandalism even though it lacks the limited foresight and planning of an 8th grader with a can of spray paint. Still, protesters and even rioters are exercising a kind of free if not protected speech when they destroy or deface symbols of the things they oppose.

It was this rather specious line of reasoning that led me to vandalize a sign Saturday night. Actually, I set out to do it more because I was tired of having public land so close to my house commandeered for rightwing propaganda. The philosophical underpinnings emerged about three drinks into my deliberations on methodology. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

From the highway, one enters my neighborhood through a long boulevard filled with hundred year old trees aligned neatly and receding into perspective just like the most domestically tranquil picture you could imagine. Real Norman Rockwell stuff. However, for the last year, someone has been placing signs on the first tree you see as you leave highway and enter the boulevard. First, a yellow ribbon after the invasion of Iraq; next, an American flag. After president Reagan died, they put up a large photo of him. The yellow ribbon I can let go, if for no other reason than its mighty cliché value. The American flag gave me more trouble – I recall in the weeks after 9/11 the number and size of American flags in New York, seemingly on every building and some several stories high, reminded me of nothing so much as pictures of the Nuremberg rallies. Still, I suppose I can live with one relatively small flag on the public property leading to my house. I had considered taking the Reagan picture down; I still have difficulty believing that man was our president for 8 years. As incredible as it seems, he was in fact the president, and as distasteful as I found our nation’s collective double think after his death, some folks were in mourning, so I let it go. But when they took down the picture the Gipper and put up a Bush/Cheney sign, I knew I had to do something.

As I mentioned, this sign is in a highly visible place. It is also on public property. That this person (or people) had decided to treat the entrance to my neighborhood as their own private soap box offended me. Moreover, I knew it offended some of my neighbors who also share the view that it would be better to vote for Satan than reelect our current batch of war criminals, thugs, and idiots. So it was clear to me that this sign needed fixin’.

Initially, I thought I’d just tear it down. However, after my first Fine Kentucky Bourbon and upon reflection, I realized that tearing the sign down was not so much a statement as a negation. If Joe Lockstep wanted to make a political statement on public property – and law enforcement was apparently OK with this – than why couldn’t I? The problem was, there wasn’t any room to write anything on the sign. I considered putting a up Kerry/Edwards sign on top of it, but that idea struck me as a little petty, not to mention predictable. Besides, I didn’t have a Kerry/Edwards sign. After my second drink of Fine Kentucky Bourbon, the solution, elegant and simple, presented itself: an X. I’d take the fattest Sharpie from my wife’s rather formidable arsenal of all things graphic and deploy an inescapable geometry to express the will of the people.

Trouble is, that Bush/Cheney sign already represented the will of the people, at least half of them anyway. I had no hope, really, of changing their minds. I had to be honest with myself, after my third drink of Fine Kentucky Bourbon: I was doing this to extract a little vengeance and to show that some Liberals are ready to mix it up a bit. Which brought me to my next problem. What if I did have to mix it up a bit? What if the, no doubt, knuckle dragging, barely post-Neolithic “artist” spotted me and decided to give challenge? I’m not a great runner, and the boulevard is quite exposed with few places to run and hide anyway. I’ve handled myself in a couple of street fights, but I had no idea how many troglodytes might assail me. I could arrive armed with a large Mag Lite, one of those 18 inch jobbies, but that would be cumbersome during the actual defacement. I could bring my easily concealed yet very efficacious ASP telescoping baton or even my tension assisted lockback knife. However, bringing any kind of weapon could create all kinds of other problems. First and potentially most disastrously, I’d be cockier during a confrontation. Next, if law enforcement got involved – either because of an actual fight or because someone called in my “suspicious” behavior – having any kind of weapon would make the situation vastly worse. I might be able to point out that I was only exercising my right to free speech on public property, but if a passing police patrol discovered I was armed, than the conversation would no longer be about free speech.

And that reminded me of the principals at stake. I thought of Jesus and Gandhi. Why should I be afraid of confrontation when I was in the right? Moreover, this was a public place with lots of passing traffic. Short of being shot on sight, anyone who decided to attack me wouldn’t have enough time to do real damage before the police arrived. Really, I should wait until tomorrow morning and march on over in broad daylight to do this thing as publicly as possible. I was in the right; I should renounce my fears and have the courage of my convictions.

So I took the baton. Jesus and Gandhi never had to deal with Bush/Cheney supporters.

The sign is about a ten minute walk from my house (one and a half cigarettes to be exact.) I set off around 10:30. I walked calmly and slowly, savoring the notion that I was about to correct a small injustice in a personal and hopefully private way. At the corner of my street where I would turn to walk the half block up the boulevard to the offending sign, a group of young men, ruffians my father would call them, were hanging around a tricked out Civic and talking loudly. I was glad I didn’t have to walk on that side of the street, but it ruined my Zen-like protest-samurai groove, and my heart started pumping a wee bit faster, little rushes of adrenalin sending flashes down my back. I was seconds away from the big oak and conditions were perfect: no traffic and few lights in the adjacent houses. I crossed the street, unsheathed my Sharpie and looked up.

And of course the sign was gone. Somebody had beat me to it in the six hours since I first spotted it. I wasn’t sure whether to be disappointed or relieved. Walking home, it occurred to me then that I’m not really as alone as I sometimes feel, that it’s not just my circle of friends and the folks I read on the internet who loathe the slights and outright slanders of the Right and their merry bandwagon. Someone else was with me and took the opportunity to confront the Right’s appropriation of our public spaces and discourse, at least in some miniscule way. The next afternoon, at the annual neighborhood picnic, I told a friend about the sign. He laughed and said “You’ll get another shot. Somebody put a new one up today.” So, minus the Bourbon, I walked out again last night, Sharpie in hand, to discover that once again someone had already torn it down.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Today's Funny, Random Thing Brought to You by Birth Control

Found this blog entry with blogger's "random" button. Funny as hell, but it's not for the squemish.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Happy Autumnal Equinox

Here's a link to the US Naval Observatory, your source for all things chronological. The very Official Looking table is here. And here's a link about the equinox.

Now, get out and dance around a tree in a bed sheet or, um, something.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Sophistic Musings on Premonitions

Yesterday at work we had an electrician in our garage repairing an overhead light. At one point the guy needed someone to hold the flashlight for him, and our maintenance man was at lunch, so I lent a hand. While he stood on a short ladder, working over his head, in my mind I very clearly saw him fall, land on his hip, and lie there moaning in pain. This morning, I arrived at the office to find our maintenance man telling everyone about how the electrician fell, hurting his hip badly.

I used to get premonitions all the time as a child, knowing for example, the night before any of our numerous pets died. As I got older, I’d always know a few minutes before one of my parents, for no apparent reason, would awake in the middle of the night and walk toward the kitchen (which adjoined the den). This trick came in handy as girls and illicit substances tended to be consumed or fondled in the middle of the night, in the den adjoined by the kitchen, he said in the passive voice….

As an adult, I’ve had several “mini-premonitions,” and a couple of actual premonitions. A good example happened during an all company meeting (about 300 people) in which the company held a random drawing for a set of four business class upgrades. As soon as they mentioned the drawing, at the start of the all-day event, I knew that I’d win them. And indeed I did at the end of the day. I knew it like I know this laptop will fall to the ground if I drop it. An odd feeling indeed.

I don’t quite know what to make of this. Certainly confirmation bias plays a huge part in most of the “mini-premonitions” as they tend to focus on things that are likely to happen anyway. I also distinctly recall other equally visceral premonitions that did not come true, again pointing toward confirmation bias when my premonitions do “come true.” Moreover, the Law of Large Numbers tells us that, statistically, most folks will have premonitions that come true, if they stop to think about it long enough.

Nevertheless, for me at least, a distinct feeling accompanies the experience of having a premonition. It’s most similar (if it can be said to be similar to anything at all) to what it feels like when you suddenly remember an important appointment you have completely forgotten. One minute you’re sipping mojitos on a beach in the D.R. thinking of nothing more taxing than whether to snorkel before or after lunch, the next minute everything changes as the insidious and absolutely undeniable truth that you forgot to attend a meeting with your boss the day before you left on holiday explodes in your mind. Not that that’s ever happened to me, of course.

My guess is that when you have a premonition what is actually happening is your subconscious suddenly fits what was until a moment ago random bits of disparate information into a pattern, and this pattern indicates something extraordinary is about to happen. The fact that premonitions “feel” different than normal thought processes leads me to believe that the mind is experiencing something different and unusual. I just think that this different and unusual thing is the sudden and perhaps surprising apprehension of a new pattern. Of course, you might interpret what that pattern means incorrectly, or you might even be seeing a pattern when none is there; hence “false” premonitions.

So in this sense, I think premonitions are potentially useful. Maybe if I’d told that guy he should be a little more careful, he wouldn’t have fallen yesterday. If I had a premonition of a loved one dying (thank god I haven’t), I’d certainly phone them, and that’s not such a bad thing. I’m not sure what I’d do if I had a premonition of my jetliner crashing just before I boarded it. Probably get on anyway and chalk it up to my only intermittently housebroken fear of flying - either that or my subconscious looking for an excuse to get loaded during the flight. And that’s not such a bad thing.

Monday, September 20, 2004

In Case You’re Wondering What to Get Me for Christmas…

Anything from this site will do. Except the Morbitek Zombification Ray MK I. I’ve already got one, but you knew that, didn’t you?

Saturday, September 18, 2004


Early this morning, the last shards of Ivan flooded, for a while, my backyard and tore down several huge, hundred year old trees in my neighborhood that in turn took out multiple power lines each. Semi-spontaneously, we hosted visitors all day, first two other couples and their (in total) three children. With my young primate, there were four mini Ivans threatening to flood the cat and down ten-year-old lamps. Then the brother of a dear friend showed up unexpectedly from Down South with his new bride in tow. He and I slipped out to the back deck later in the afternoon to smoke, and it was then I noticed that it was cold.

The temperature and wind had moved to just beyond comfortable shirtsleeve weather. At dusk I went out to inspect the downed trees and see what progress Con Ed was making in putting things back together again, and I put on my lightest jacket, a very plain one cut somewhat like Hoffman's in the Graduate, tan on the outside and blue on the inside. It's exactly the right weight for the type of weather we get in New York in April and then later in September and much of October. I really like how the jacket hangs on me, but I often rue its lack of gusseted pockets in which to conveniently store smokes and wallets and flasks. I think it might be made of some kind of microfiber or have a nanotech coating or at least some Space Age Polymers in it as water beads up unnaturally, like mercury, on it. Then again, maybe not; I have two hand-woven sweaters, one from Normandy and one from County Ulster that do the same thing. But they're made from wool, which is made from sheep, which are certainly not made from Space Age Polymers. Well, not most of them anyway.

But I digress.

So this was the first cool evening, the first signal that Autumn is upon us here in New York. I love that New York has four distinct, generally well-demarcated seasons. You always know where you stand, weather wise, around here. I lived in Holland for many years and have visited places like Seattle and San Francisco and Christchurch where my light jacket might be just as appropriate in June as it is in November. The suddenly, unexpectedly busy social schedule today is also very Autumnal for me. Folks are all back from their holidays, suddenly the Outside doesn't lure us all away from each other. Just like the start of a new school year, all the old friends return this time of year.

I always feel a strange mixture of melancholy and expectation at the onset of Autumn. Most of the important things in my life happened in Autumn: I met my future wife, moved away from the States for nine years, learned of the death of my best friend all in Autumn. Perhaps, even more than Spring, Autumn seems full of momentum for me, a time when Things Happen. I wondered tonight, as I've apparently done for many years on the first cool evening, what's going to happen this time around.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Jesus Saves (you money)

This gem arrived in my junk mail folder this morning. Normally I just detete this stuff, but who can resist a Dying Jesus being crucified against an American flag? OK, Christians are supposed to be nice; they couldn't be any worse than the heathens from whom I purchased my initial mortgage. Hmmmm, let's take a look at the fine print....

If he has exacted usury Or taken increase -- Shall he then live? He shall not live! If he has done any of these abominations, He shall surely die; His blood shall be upon him. (Ezekiel 18:13)

OK, now I'm REALLY confused....I mean, I want a home equity loan, but I don't want to be on the wrong side of the Jebus, especially not a Jebus that might have the occasional breakfast with Mr Ashcroft.

I suppose there’s probably some “out” in the New Testament, there usually is. Still, I didn’t think looking for refinancing required full scale Biblical exegesis. Sheesh, and I thought credit reporting agencies were tough.

Friday, September 10, 2004


I’ve never really written the whole thing out. I’d even forgotten, almost, that the anniversary was coming up. It took a beautiful sculpture surrounded by the most profane of situations in Staten Island to remind me today.

The morning of 9/11 I was on the subway when I first noticed something might be amiss. We were delayed after Union Square, I don’t really recall where. The only odd thing about this – the trains are delayed if someone sneezes on the tracks – was that there was no announcement saying some shitforbrains had sneezed on the tracks. I thought nothing of it.

I emerged from the cocoon of the New York subway system somewhat sleepy from my long commute and had trouble adjusting my eyes to Actual Daylighttm. I walked the block to the little deli where I always bought my two eggs scrambled light with cheese on a roll and large café au lait without even noticing that one of the Towers was aflame.

Stereotypical New York reaction, I know; but, really, you have no idea how big those towers were, how far to the top it was, unless you lived here for a while. I recall driving back from visiting my family down South and knowing when I saw the tops of those towers miles out on Route 80 that I was almost, relatively speaking, home.

However, the deli was alight with chatter enough to make the even the NSA anxious – did you see it? It was a small plane, a Piper, I’m sure….No, it was a small jet…Hell no, I saw the thing, and it was a big jet, like a 747 or something….

New Yorkers, contrary to popular belief, are an inquisitive bunch who will not hesitate to pounce upon someone who appears to know something they don’t. Between keeping half an eye on the flat, greasy grill to make sure Paco wasn’t overcooking my eggs, I politely asked: “What the fuck are you all talking about?” Almost in chorus girl unison, the banker types and the software types and the construction types said,” A plane crashed into the WTC. It’s on fire.”

Well, that was odd. Still, as I left the shop with what I was sure was an overcooked egg and cheese sandwich (it was), I thought to myself, “Well, those things are fucking huge; it was really only a matter of time before some flyboy bumpkin passed out from a massive coronary and did a kamikaze into them.”

Then I saw the explosion from the second tower. The plane, I’m told, hit from it from the South. I only saw the flames suddenly shoot around the building. Still, incredibly naive as it may seem, I supposed it was some kind of secondary explosion from the initial fuck up. It’s gonna be a bitch to be NYFD today. I called my friend Dennis on his cell. He said he’d seen the plane, a small one, probably a four seater. Still, he was concerned and told me to remember that if that tower went down, it was most likely headed my way. He may be an architect, but he’s as prone to dramatics as I am, and I promised him I’d call when I got to my office to let him know everything was ok.

I walked quickly to my office a block away, at the corner of Houston and Hudson, about 10 Midtown blocks (about ¾ of a mile) away from the World Trade Center. It was then that I first began to suspect that something was really wrong. By really wrong, I mean something more than just the standard plane crashing into a building type accident. As horrible as it sounds, that’s just not the kind of thing to keep folks away from their jobs here, yet the building was empty. I walked into the swank, too swank, offices of the software company for whom I was extraordinarily gainfully employed and found the front desk abandoned, no one in Development (well, those cats didn’t show up until after 10:00 anyway)…but no one in Sales!? I headed to the Big Conference Room, the one we used when we had a really big sale coming up or were entertaining analysts, and watched with about 10 others as the television informed me that two jetliners had hit the WTC.

What the Fuck?

A single accident, well that’s certainly unusual and definitely tragic, but not really entirely unexpected. But TWO planes? This was truly extraordinary and called for immediate action. So I went to the roof to eat my egg and cheese on a roll and smoke a cigarette. The Towers on fire. Damn, that’s not something you see everyday. What on earth could have gone wrong? Traffic control at JFK or EWK gone haywire? One screw up Jacking up the entire system? One thing was for sure; not a lot of work was getting done today.

I finished my sandwich and walked back to the Big Conference Room. Now there were about 35 people there, and the Television was showing the Pentagon…or I thought it was the Pentagon. Something about another plane and a truck bomb at the Senate…the Mall was on fire… I looked around and, finally, it dawned on this stupid fuck that this was not business as unusual, not some New York moment to be discussed over cocktails at that New Bar in SoHo next week. Everyone in that room had a look on their faces, one is tempted to say the French have a word for it, but my French isn’t that good. We just all looked at each other like, this can’t be happening. Has David Lynch suddenly been put in production of our lives, severally and jointly?

Just so you know, Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” is playing right now. When I go, that’s the tune I want in my head. But back to the more different “S.”

Most of the Marketing Department was there, are jobs being the most superfluous and thus the most subject to the fallacy of Workers Who Put in Longer Hours are Valuable. I walked outside with three or four other colleagues and watched the Towers burn, a straight shot down the street from me. We smoked and wondered aloud what to do. There were few managers at the office. Should we leave? Surely they’ll tell is if we should leave. After about a quarter of an hour of Damn, Can you Believe this Shit’s and Fuck, What Should We Do’s, we all doefully marched back to the empty battery of elevators and went back to the office, although not all to our desks.

I went to my office and closed my door (I was one of the few folks not at VP level to have an actual office, one of the few perks of doing what I did for a living at the time.) I called my wife. We were living in the Outer Boros at the time, and she had recently moved back from Philly to get pregnant and possibly look for work. In the middle of assuring her I was all right, she screamed. She was out on our back deck, looking across the Sound as one of those mammoth, outsized even for New York towers suddenly decided to disappear. At first, I didn’t understand what she was saying, partially because she was screaming and partially because I just couldn't conceptualize the notion that one of the Towers might fall down. It could be on fire, yes. Perhaps even ruined for a long time, but to cease to exist as a structure? That was truly unthinkable.

Until a little while later, outside smoking with two guys from Sales who got out of a hotel across the street from the Towers as the second plane hit, I watched the second tower vaporize in slow motion.

Shortly after the first tower went down, we lost Internet access, and most phones, landline or cell, were useless. We weren’t close enough to be embroiled in the debris cloud, but we could see it making it’s way up the avenues like some dirty glacier on crack. We stood outside as fire engines and ladder companies sped past us, heedless of their velocity or the huge chucks of cement streaming off their vehicles. None of us could call anyone; none of us had any idea what to do. After half an hour or so, we all decided to pack it up and leave, and we trudged once more back up the sixth floor to collect whatever we thought was appropriate.

Two stories played out at this point, one of which I witnessed, the other of which I have no reason to doubt.

The first happened as I walked back into the building after our little consensus building panic outside, and saw the lobby flooded with ninja like men, all in black, all sporting those small H&K automatics across their backs like katanas. They didn’t move, didn’t speak – just stood there far enough from the main lobby as to not be within normal conversational distance, looking around. When I got back to the office, the main security guy was walking around with his walky talky. In my former line of work, I generally made friends very quickly with the local security, seeing them as kindred spirits and potentially valuable in case I needed a Quick Exit. I asked him, should we evacuate? What was going on? He ducked behind an unoccupied cube and informed me that Guillani was on his way downstairs and that once he’d left, we’d know what to do. Well, I couldn’t just let THAT go. It turns out that the Mayor had driven up in his Mayor-mobile (yes, he has a very tricked out Class A motor home mobile command center that no one until that day seemed to know existed. And a squad of ninjas. Who said being mayor of New York was no fun?) He had asked the owners of the building if he could use it as his, for the moment, forward command post. The owners happened to be the NYC Carpenters Union who also happened to tell the Mayor, quite politely, that No, he couldn’t use their building, but here’s a lovely parting gift, a 2x4 with which to Cheney himself. Saatchi & Saatchi across the street took the honors, at least for those few first hours when no one actually knew what was happening.

The latter I learned about three days later when, after three military check points, I finally got to the office to retrieve one of my laptops. Our COO was a former spook, old school NSA who did most his 20 years in the Gulf aboard a sig intercept ship disguised, poorly he claimed, as a fishing boat. Our SVP of Sales and Marketing was a former NFL linebacker. Our COO and his wife were also staying at a hotel across the street form the WTC. Mike, the SVP described to me that Friday how, after the first plane hit, they left the office with a flashlight and hoofed it down to the WTC to get the COO’s wife out. The lights were off at the hotel; they found her locked in the bedroom wrapped in bed sheets, and apparently there is still some kind of secret handshake between the NSA and NYPD, so they got our COO’s wife out and got the hell over to Jersey on a boat. A month later, as the invasion of Afghanistan put paid to our company’s come back plan, I asked our COO what had really happened that day? He smiled, and told me about when he’d been in boot camp. As a final test, they dropped the potential spooks off in the middle of the desert out West in pairs with a small piece of string and a toothpick (or something equally ridiculous). They were supposed to get to some point on a map they had memorized, undetected. Of course, no one actually made it there undetected, and when one was captured, one was interrogated. The whole point of the exercise wasn’t to teach them to bravely make their way through enemy territory after everything went to hell; it was to teach them that they WILL be captured and they WILL be tortured and they WILL break. The moral of the story being: Never, Ever Fuck Up. Well, my COO and his buddy knew that this was the deal, as did every other field work recruit, and said to themselves, fuck this, and hitched a ride all the way to Montana with a passing trucker. They managed to pull a two-day binger in some bumfuck hotel before they were, inevitably, caught. Yes, they were interrogated, and although he never elaborated, he strongly hinted that an impromptu field interrogation was not really worth gaming the system. This, of course, didn’t answer my question, but it did shut me the fuck up.

My assistant (an assistant in name only; in every meaningful way he was my equal or better and everyone at the company knew it) and I joined the millions making their way uptown, wondering when the trains would run again and cringing every time a plane passed overhead, not knowing if they were “ours” or “no longer ours.” An abortive taxi ride, several bloodied victims on the street later, we abandoned our attempt to stay together. I managed to get a call through to both my wife and to Dennis the Architect. My wife told me to be careful and get home as soon as possible. Dennis told me he’d found an open bar about 25 blocks North of me. I love my wife, but sometimes her priorities are in the wrong place.

I joined Dennis and a few folks from his office at some Cajun place in the East 50s. We drank, ordered some calamari, watched the Television, and admired the chutspa of the owners to stay open. It was, perhaps, one of only a handful of places that stayed open. I’m sure their Samaritan routine netted them more in one afternoon than they saw that entire month. True New Yorkers. Eventually we made our way to the 86th street IRT line and, several hours and a multitude of sweaty bodies later, made our way home. We were in another bar in our neighborhood getting take out and drinking beers when the final building went down. I recall standing on my deck and watching the smoke rise, as it did for days afterward and once, two weeks later when I found myself at a nearly abandoned bistro way downtown, I smelt the ruined, smoldering bodies and finally understood what people meant when they said that the smell of burning human flesh could only very inadequately be described as “sweet.”

I remember calling my friends the next day – I’d called my family that night; they were nearly apoplectic as they knew I worked downtown and my father and step mother were across the street from the Pentagon when it was it hit – and I recall wanting blood. Really, anyone’s blood would do. A friend of mine in Seattle said, well that’s that for civil rights. It was then that I, finally, realized the impact this event was going to have: how many good, otherwise liberal folks like me wanted blood and would gladly trade our civil rights for a little Rambo style payback?

Well, here we are three years later. We’ve traded our liberty for blood, and most of us gladly. Our nation’s disastrous path since September 11th, 2001 is a familiar rant. We are neither safer nor do we remain defiantly free. I won’t go into all that. Every day brings a new idiocy scripted by Kafka, every day brings news that only a fool or a Republican could construe as anything other than Rome in the fourth century.

But what good is it to live in the decline of a great empire if you can’t enjoy the decadence? Surely I’d be ok in the end. At first, I had a little PTS, like many folks, but not as bad as the guy across the street who lost his firefighter brother. A few sleepless nights, some general, undifferentiated ailments were all I thought at the time were my due. Three years later, my first child and my first house later, I understand that I lost a lot more that day than I thought.

My career, for one. I was on my way up, baby. Maybe our company wouldn’t have made it anyway, but we had a damn good shot with out new software and it’s stellar reviews and great forward positioning. In any case, I had three firm, standing offers to jump ship anytime I wanted. Anytime before 9/11 it turned out. I’ve since had one job where I made as much money and another where I made even more as a smaller fish in the really, really big pond. But I wasn’t happy with either, and both ended in disaster. I lost my in in the one industry I’ve worked in that I loved, and I’ve come to hate what I used to do for a living – in no small part because the industry I loved collapsed just as I was beginning to make my way into something other than lying for a living. I’ve abandoned that career, vowing to become an honest man for the first time: at least honest as to how I make my money. My clear and shining path out of even this current economic downturn turned into a foreshortened movie set minus Dorothy and her band of merry midgets. Maybe that would have happened without 9/11. Perhaps, but I know that my company tanked – as so many did – as a direct result of the attack and our response to it.

Emotionally, an odd type of fatalism has enveloped me. I no longer see inevitable progress in the human condition, a way up and out for everyone if only they’ll reach out and grab it. I realize that the events of 9/11 were indeed neither without precedent nor unanticipated. My parents (well, not mine, but a lot of folks’) parents may have worried about The Bomb, but now we know that the world doesn’t have to end with Slim Pickens astride an H Bomb – one or two guys with symtex strapped to their waists could end all I consider good in the country tomorrow by just walking into a shopping mall in Des Moines or Boise and pressing a button. Perhaps before I felt that politics didn’t really matter, that it didn’t really affect the average guy in any meaningful way. I now understand that this is true, only not in the way that I thought it to be: the only reason it doesn’t affect the average guy is because he has no control over how his reality is shaped by those in power. We don’t need 1984 or the Matrix. This is 1984 and the Matrix, except without the groovy lingo or hot babes in black leather.

I’m still incensed at the misplaced patriotism surrounding 9/11, the calling of men and women who’s only action was to go their jobs “heroes” instead of victims, the wailing and beating of breasts of rednecks who watched the whole thing on their local FOX affiliate thinking they have one fucking iota of a clue as to how it affected the very real people of this city. This may as well be another episode of whatever reality show du jour to those fucks. My career is in ruins and sooner rather than later I have to decide whether or when to abandon this country for the sake of my son.

So I won’t be watching any faux solemn shit on Television tomorrow, nor will I observe any moment of silence for the fallen. I am the goddamned fallen, and the best I can hope to do is go about my life with as little fear as is feasible. I’ll be scrubbing rust from and painting playground equipment tomorrow in the hope my son gets a chance to fall off it someday. If that’s the least of his tragedies, I’ll be glad - and very surprised.

Thursday, September 09, 2004


A friend of mine mentioned to me that thrice in my young blog I’ve maligned “rednecks” or people who live in trailers or “godforsaken” places such as Florida. Really, I don’t have anything against Floridians. Well, not much anyway. But I can’t abide a redneck.

What exactly, you might ask, is a redneck? Having grown up in the very buckle of the Bible Belt, most folks would feel I’m qualified to comment, for many people associate rednecks with the American South. I can tell you, though, that there are rednecks all over the face of the Earth. Redneckery knows no geography, no class or race. It is perhaps one of the most equal opportunity of existential conditions. It’s also a mistake to assume all rednecks live in the “country.” There are probably more rednecks per square kilometer in Long Island than anyplace else in the contiguous United States.

The defining characteristic of a redneck is not a lack of urbanity or education; it’s not a dearth of sophistication or an inability with social niceties. There are probably just as many middle class and wealthy rednecks as there are poor ones. The defining characteristic of a redneck is a deeply ingrained distrust of and - given the opportunity – active persecution of people or ideas outside of their own group. That’s right: the reason I hate rednecks is their exclusivity.

I know it must be difficult to reconcile the Wal-Mart herd mentality of the average redneck with the concept of exclusivity, but think about it for a minute. Why do rednecks bask in their willful ignorance of, well most anything, but in particular world affairs? Because the rest of the world is not of their local tribe of rednecks; the rest of the world is excluded from their little circle of reality. If it don’t affect Texas, who gives a flying cow patty? When people or ideas from outside the tribe threaten them with, say, racial integration or sushi, they react instinctively to exclude the Different Thing. Extraordinary school board meetings are called to order, covered dish suppers organized, and if you get them really riled up, they might even grant you the rare sighting of an actual book burning.

They are humanity’s white blood cells. And in this sense they are profoundly conservative. They exist to preserve things just they way they are.

The problem arises, just as it does in all autoimmune disorders, when these self appointed guardians break free of their local sphere of influence and begin to eat the body of humanity itself. Mostly their “simple” values are both beneficial and straightforward. The good people of the land and all that. However, taken to extremes (for reference, see the United States of America’s Republican Party), these genuinely conservative values become radicalized, destroying innovation, eliminating tolerance and generally bringing progress to a stop.

So really, while most people think rednecks are merely displaying their inherent bad taste by embracing the lowest common denominators in clothing, food or elected officials, they are actually broadcasting to other rednecks their affiliation with the same or perhaps an aligned tribe. You’d be surprised how much a NJ redneck has in common with a SC redneck. Modern America has developed a kind of Panredneckism, if you will. And now what was once just an annoyance or perhaps cause for a giggle is a daily challenge for folks who value progress. Or Ethiopian cuisine.

But we can take some small solace in knowing that God has tried to balance things out. No, I don’t mean the counter-weight offered in the newfound popularity of all things homosexual. I mean direct Acts o’ God. Verily, doth He send His Tornados and Hurricanes unto them; and the trailer park is an abomination in His eyes.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

The Well Dressed Hustler with Balls of Steel

There’s this one fellow who’s hustled two of my colleagues, one of our drivers, and a rabbi. He's attempted to hustle some of my company’s clients and a few of the other neighborhood businesses. His method was fairly straight forward: he’d wait until after business hours, then tell folks he worked for us but had locked his car in our garage and left his key to the garage at home. Could they give him a lift to [insert town far enough away to be inconvenient but not so far as to be implausible]? No? How about $20 for the train? Well, OK then.

His ruse went awry when he actually had the balls to walk into our place of business and tried a similar line, claiming to work for the business across the street. Needless to say, we showed him to the door and reminded him that our business is very, very tight with the local police precinct.

We didn’t hear anything about this guy for six months.

So, today I get a call from a local Chevy dealership asking us when we were planning on picking up our ’97 Chevy Whatsitsname. We own no ’97 Chevys of any sort, I informed the man, and I asked him who had dropped off the car for repair. A well dressed well mannered guy? soft but well-spoken? in his early to mid 30s? on the tall side? acts demure, even a bit effete? very short hair? racial features sort of indeterminate? Indeed. Well, let me tell you a little bit about this fella…

So it will be interesting to see how Mr. Hustler with the Balls of Steel reacts when he comes to pick up “our” company car and discovers that several uniformed officers would like to take him for a ride in another type of car altogether. In an odd way, I’m actually kind of rooting for him. Just a little bit.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Market Researcher

A market researcher called me tonight just as I was getting my severely jet lagged wife and son to bed. The very bored sounding girl on the other other end of the phone - and she couldn't have been more than 25 judging by her vocal inflection and what little unscripted diction I managed to elicit from her - said she was working for a "major television network" and wanted to ask me a few questions about the upcoming election ("Are you aware that there is a presidential election in November?) I figured that, existing in a desirable demographic as I do, my answers might in some small way push "our" media toward something other than election coverage that panders to the trailer and gun set. Not that I have anything against guns or even trailers; it's just that most of the people who own both these items tend to be idiots who shouldn't be allowed to have a drivers' license, much less be allowed to vote.

But alas, the survey was very badly designed, it's outcome preordained: e.g., incorporating only very binary possibilities like "Do you consider yourself a conservative, somewhat conservative, somewhat liberal or a liberal." The one thing that did strike me is that the survey asked several questions gauging how I felt about the possibility of an October surprise and how that might affect my feelings for the candidates. I'll leave the question of how extreme a paranoid reaction questions such as this coming from a major media outlet should engender as yet another exercise for the reader.

So after many seemingly poorly constructed questions (questions actually very cleverly designed to manufacture a target audience), my hapless interlocutor launched into Florida Orange Juice. Yes, Florida Orange Juice. How often did I drink orange juice? Did I know what a tag line was and which of the following most makes me want to drink Florida Orange Juice....
Now, I'm not saying that the 2004 election will be determined by which candidate can sell the most OJ, but I get the strong feeling there's a group of wealthy rednecks out there who have no doubt that come January 2005, they're soiling the sheets in the Lincoln Bedroom. Personally, I think Kerry can sell more orange juice. President Bush the Younger's message of, "You Could Die At Any Moment" makes me want one more Big Mac, not a healthy, life sustaining glass of citrus goodness.

Monday, September 06, 2004

The Wedding

First, I'm not a particularly traditional guy. I will say, however, that there is a good reason tradition dictates the bride and groom don't see each other between the rehearsal dinner and the wedding itself.
But everything worked out ok, the happy couple are off to Thailand to generate their own stories of South East Asia, the sort of stories with which I famously bore my friends. I really don't mean this vindictively, but now that my friend is married and traveling someplace where waving a few dollars in someone's face and shouting won't get him his way, I'm looking forward to many an evening of "I told you so's."
I tend to think of weddings nowadays as more expensively orchestrated, slightly less sadistic sorority or fraternity initiations. Really, the only reason to have a formal wedding is to ritualize your entrance to the club. Most of your audience are already card carrying members, and welcome the newcomers with gifts, grins, and the occasional grimace. The ceremony itself - if done properly - and the speeches afterward, can be quite moving, even for this jaded primate. But by and large, a formal wedding is much more about demonstrating fluency in the genre and less about the joy that lies inherent in realizing the chairs are in six rows of five instead of five rows of six, awaiting only a last minute panic to reveal its inner beauty, like a Rodin.
But what changes, really? Potentially quite a lot. A strong marriage, such as the kind I like to think Mrs. Primate and I have, is a heavily invested partnership. Even without the house and children, she's so crucial to everything I do, every decision I make, I can hardly fathom life without her. This is not a needy thing - both of us are fairly resilient people who could go it alone and successfully at that, something we both know. But it's so much better to have a partner to gently (ok, well maybe not always so gently) encourage you along the right path, someone you trust to weed away those parts of you that just don't work. Friends and family can help you become a better person, but short of intense personal tragedy, only a life partner can engender the intimacy to affect real change in a fully formed adult. There are also other advantages, but I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader [insert smirk].
OK, that was pretty sappy and somewhat ethnocentric. I suppose the point is that I enjoy seeing my friends get married, especially when I like both of them a great deal and think that they've a good shot at building a real family. And, I guess the fact that I'm embracing this sentiment is the revenge of the generations before us, the ultimate, "I told you so." Oh well, being mistaken about this marriage business is a sophism of my youth I don't begrudge having corrected.

Can someone 'splain me

Why, while watching CNN, not a habit of mine, in the Phoenix airport this morning, I got 36 minutes (including commercials) on this admittedly inconvenient hurricane in Florida and 2.3 minutes on the Russians burying their 335 dead, 156 of which were children? I suppose dead children don't give sound bytes nearly as entertaining as the hicks who lost the trailer but saved the family mutt.

Saturday, September 04, 2004


Here in Sedona, staying at the Amara resort, which was designed (re-designed? I need to ask) by a friend of mine who's getting married here this weekend. Actually, he and his blushing bride to be are in many of the promotional photos for the place.

They claim to have no Gila Monsters here, but I'm keeping my eyes open anyway. So far, it's all just some desert style gecko type critters. And dry heat my ass - by 8:30 a.m. it's as hot as Harlem in July.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Ya know...

I hate to say that God still hates them for 2000, but...God still hates them for 2000. Posted by Hello

Thoughts on the 2004 Election #3

Here’s my plan for deciding the disputed election of 2004. Many people think the Supremes’ decision to hand the election to President Bush the Younger was biased; I think it was merely capricious. This election should be different.

So, this time when - with the help of our friends at Diabold - Florida or Ohio or some other godforsaken place screws up their vote, let’s at least get a little entertainment out of the fracas. I say forget the Supreme Court and Congress and screw the Constitution: let the First Twins mud wrestle the Kerry Daughters, winner’s daddy takes all.

The First Twins may have the benefit of youth, but the Kerry Daughters have the weight advantage. I’d give them equal points for the potential for treachery, eye gouging, nipple twisting, and general viciousness. A pretty fair fight, if you ask me. Fairer, anyway, than entrusting an election to Congress or the Supremes.

Look at it this way: at least it’ll all be over quickly and we can go back to our Big Macs and Big Screen TVs. Oh, wait, we never left them in the first place….

Elvis Power

He may have left the building, but his power remains. Posted by Hello

The Big White X

Posted by Hello
This is the Big White X that was in the train station parking lot for many months. I didn't like standing near it.

The message on the Big White X looked like it was scrawled by some Unibomberesque misanthrope with access to a Predator drone. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

True Story #1

About this time last year, I attended a wedding in Cozumel, an island off the coast of Cancun in Mexico. I like to think of myself as a fairly accomplished traveler, and told the groom he didn’t need anyone to pick me up at the ferry dock. Well, that and he didn’t offer.

Anyway, I fly into Cancun, change out of my Don’t Search Me or Screw with Me flying clothes into my White Guy in the Tropics clothes in the airport bathroom, wait an hour for a bus that takes me to the dock, dash through the monsoon-esque squall in my White Guy in the Tropics Raincoat (with anglewings, naturally), catch the ferry, relax belowdecks with a local brew, and arrive at Cozumel in high spirits at high noon.

Shouldering my pack, I walked through the main tourist part of the city to a residential neighborhood, ask directions only once (and somehow manage to understand them) and arrive at the address the groom gave me, a little three story house with a veranda. I knocked, but no one was there, so I went on in. That was a bit odd, as they’d be expecting me, but I figured they probably had gone for a swim or something. A little more odd was the fact that I didn’t see any of their gear lying around – no suitcases, clothes, toiletries, etc. So I had a look around and discovered a stairway around the back of the house that led to three other apartments or rooms, all of which were locked and apparently unoccupied at the moment.

So, I went back to the main house, took a shower in what I took to be the master bedroom figuring that the bride and groom, very close friends, would forgive this small indulgence. I took a short siesta on the couch then moved outside to the veranda to escape the heat and wait for someone to come home.

Toward the end of the day, some little Local Dudeman rode up on his bicycle, opened the gate and walked onto the veranda. We exchanged hellos, me explaining that I was here for the wedding, he explaining that he lived above. I asked when the owner would be back as I’d like to get to my room, but he didn’t seem to know (or perhaps understand?). He disappeared upstairs, and I took a walk, bought some beers and smokes, and returned around dusk.

The bride and groom in question are pretty smart people, but a wedding can scatter anyone’s brain. I was not the only person arriving that day, and I knew that they should have been back by now. But I figured they were off someplace having a good time, and I’d be with them for a whole week soon enough.

Still, I was hungry and not a little bored waiting around. Little Local Dudeman had told me if I was bored to knock on his door and we’d do something. So I did, and we sat on the roof and drank beer while watching possibly the worst high school marching band I’ve ever heard practice in the whitewashed courtyard a half a block away.

Now it was legitimately dark and I was legitimately hungry, so Local Dudeman and I took off for eats in the locals’ area (a very bad torta) then went into to “town.” There we met up with some hipster locals: a dive instructor, and underwater photographer, a recreational fisherboat captain. All very interesting people. The drank some strange Mexican version of a shanty and I drank a Herradura. They also all spoke pretty good English, and it was then that I began to realize that I’d better get back to the hacienda pretty soon, for after talking to them it appeared that my Local Dudeman had not really understood why I was there.

When we got back, the gate was open but the front door was locked. This was less than optimal since everything I owned, aside from about $20 worth of pesos, was in the house. Local Dudeman did not have a key. About half an hour later, a guy showed up in a taxi, got out and walked up to us. He asked me pointedly and in English what I was doing there. I explained that I was here for the wedding, but the wedding party wasn’t back yet and had, apparently, locked me out of the house. He then informed me that, no, they hadn’t locked me out of the house, he had when he fixed the broken lock and could I please explain again what the hell I was doing there.

It turned out that this was a private apartment rented by an American girl who had left for a week’s holiday. I had showered, napped and hung out in her place all day because the lock on the door had been broken. Fortunately, the Taxi-locksmith knew that the owner of this building also owned another building, and he offered to drive me there where I found the rest of the wedding party, awaiting myself and another lost soul to whom they’d given the wrong address from the owner’s website.