Note: To quote FDR from 60 years ago, this truly is "a day which will live in infamy."
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Please pardon the lurid, deliberately bad-taste image I smashed together with surprising pique above. As you know, my site has up until now tried to cover stimulating, positive topics in many fields. Not this time. Above I struggled to find a visual metaphor for evils we all know about, and must avoid, especially in this aftermath. With all the real world flames, this section is also a "flame," as I'm really angry right now, and want to share some of the reasons with you.
I'm old enough to have learned that knee-jerk answers are usually not the best available. You can occasionally discover a best or near-best idea rather surprisingly quickly. In composing music it seems to hover around 50:50, the good ideas that come into my head unbidden, even when I'm just about to go to sleep, versus those which I sweat near-blood over, in lame imitation of what we know of Beethoven's working and reworking habits: editing over and over to find "the ultimate way this should be." How lucky for us he cared so much. It's similar to that witty comment about creating with sculpture, you know? You carve away what's NOT part of the desired object, then what is left is the minimum required to represent that particular object. With life the working methods are much the same. Our Country may have to work hard at finding the best way to proceed. Or we may be lucky, and when least expecting it, an ideal concept will just reveal itself to us.
And no, I don't think real life decisions are any more difficult than the creative arts require. They're usually more important, well, sure. But the act of discovery for mere mortals is similar in whatever field of endeavor we work. It's always hard to discover truth, beauty, and the ideal solution to a problem or a threat. In the case of this terrorist attack, we may not have the time to wait very long. Inaction tends to become one's choice. When we do nothing but talk it may sound like that was intention -- do nothing -- when to us all it may signify is that we were slow, too thoughtful, or too indecisive.
Remember that we're not dealing with a completely rational enemy. It was high risk to attack the one remaining "superpower.' The pilots and hijackers may have demonstrated a methodical kind of courage, grant them that. But their cause has been the action of cowards. Unlike Pearl Harbor, we have no one to go after this time. Many of us are demanding we "go out and bomb someone." Bomb WHOM? Yes, we have evidence, and I'm not doubting for an instant, that Osama Bin Laden was an essential part. Yet we don't currently know where he is! This may not be a huge planet, as we've seen since the famous Apollo photos, but there are still plenty of places to hide.
I'm also fearful of what a recent metamorphosis in our country could presage. I read that many of you are, too. All my life I've been what used to be called a "Centrist". My dad loves to repeat his philosophy over and again: "life often gives us choices, and there are usually three ways to go, the A side, the B side opposite it, and the one in the middle (C?)." He says he's been able to reach an impressive age (95 in another couple of months) in part by taking the path in the middle: not too much nor too little, too fast or too slow, too hot or too cold. Okay, a decent 25 cent supposition. A word that comes to mind is "moderation." I guess I'm much the same way, and used to find some comfort in seeing both sides of most issues. The danger is you may become a compulsive fence-sitter, but you seldom make any grave mistakes.
Most of my voting years I've remained independent, voting for both parties, choosing based on the issues, not some partisan lack of thinking things through, giving up the right of choice. Since the end of the 70's I've been surprised to realize that the country has slowly veered off to one side, to the right. Suddenly folks like me find ourselves viewed as too liberal in our views, when all we can observe is that the reference grid has been shifted, so what used to be at the midpoint, is now to the left of center. That bothers me. I'm not particularly political, although I was brought up with a deep respect for ethics, morals, and all those decent, compassionate values that we know about. I'd rather err by being too generous with others, helping those in need, who have no one to speak for them, than to always just choose the selfish path, which is no choice at all. A baby "knows" it is the center of the universe, and is the only one in the world who matters. That self-centered view is something I thought we all grew out of as we became adults.
"If you don't take care of numero uno, no one else will." "Too much is never enough." "I've got my end." Yeah, yeah, right -- those sure seem to be the preferred flavor of the moment, what's called the "me" generation. Like a baby, these folks still want their comfort, still want their own way, all the time. The only way they'll let you "cooperate" is by agreeing with them. For adults the major topics become vanity, money and sex. Drugs. Power (the biggest drug of all). Greed and narcissism run rampant. A good friend once described her own kids as "the mirror and wallet generation." It seems to be the trend since WW II, talk about a wrong-headed way to search for a Meaning to Life... (pseudo-science ain't gonna help, either). Increased numbers of the general population, without a real understanding of it, have been investing in the stock market, many assuming the upward trend was inevitable, would continue indefinitely, overrating their own prowess. An unfortunate scenario has unfolded under our noses.
Unsurprisingly, support has gradually increased for the conservative right (where have all the great moderates gone?), for simply selfish reasons, not to the benefit of the country (ideals seem to be "out"). Listen to the "Marie Antoinette Method" of concern for those who have no bread to eat: "Let them eat cake." Charming, really. No one lucky to be born into a family of wealth and power ought assume "this is my right!" As individual homo sapiens, if not with talent or intelligence or beauty, we really are all equal. And no one deserves to determine what is right for everyone else, to suggest that lack of money and power represents some kind of weakness or feeblemindedness.
The last election has troubled many nonpartisan thinkers in the country. Europeans see it clearer, viewing it from without, seeing forest and trees, both. I watched as five zealous justices stood together and hypocritically went against all they had previously demanded about state's rights and self determination, to do what, choose to make their own side the winner? By a majority of one? Immediately those who sided with this unsubtle, dubious decision began to tell the majority of the country: "get over it!" Shame on you -- to sound ever so much like a rapist demanding the victim: "sit back and enjoy it." How selfish and arrogant can you get?
Another delightful human trait is hypocrisy. Add some ignorance for the catalyst, and you come up with a heady brew. Here's a nifty example. Let's say you support businesses and corporations, and believe the country ought be run as one. Shortly after taking office, with a generous budget surplus and falling national debt, you poke it all like a rabbit INTO a hat, and hey presto, "anyone see a bunny around here?" Try this in a real corporation and report back to me on Friday. Yes, I'm being flip here, but I'm angry. Aren't you? What's the opposite of "Robin Hood?"
Such stuff has made it impossible to be a centrist for the first time in my years. It takes away my free choice, damn them. Today I'd be ashamed to admit voting for anyone on the right. This is also the first time that I have tried to write out some of these painful realizations in protest, on the eve of our great loss. I feel like our country has become gradually hijacked, in more ways than was done two weeks ago. If the rest of us can find a bit of courage, demonstrate just a tad of the zeal shown by those now running things (how much simpler to see everything as black and white), we can balance the seesaw, get it back somewhere towards the middle again. It could happen.
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When you bring Religion into Politics,
you may think you have made
an Alliance with God.
But what you really have is
a Bargain with the Devil.
There's one final ingredient in this overripe stew we're stuck with: drink it, swim in it, set it aside, cherish it, or flush it down the drain. It's another kind of swing to the right, to religious fundamentalism and intolerance. Are we so blind as not to learn from history, that we must repeat the same mistakes every few generations? There is good reason for the separation of church and state. We were founded largely by people who were seeking freedom of act and of belief, freedoms that were sadly lacking in their place of origin. Our country's founders exhibited great wisdom to attempt to insure that these debacles and outrages would not happen again, or at least would not happen here.
For most of our existence this has been largely true. Other parts of the world frequently look longingly on our individual liberty, civil rights and freedoms. I am proud to be an American, and thank the lottery of life each time I return, that I was fortunate enough to be born here. This in no way justifies the history of how we got here, the brutal way we took away those same freedoms from people who had arrived here thousands of years before us, through Asia: the Native Americans. It was another example of blind hypocrisy, one that continued with the enslavement of those of darker skins. It returns whenever someone claims others not like them are "subhuman" in several ill-defined, arbitrary ways. Most of us are affected and uncomfortable with these vile episodes, when selfishness and greed overrode ethics, compassion and common sense. There's still hope for the human race, if we only remember and learn from our past mistakes.
Yet Northern Ireland continues a conflict of death and destruction, decades old, whose motivation is what? Color of skin or eyes or hair? Ethnic roots and location of birth? Language? How about their music? No, the problem is religion. Any other issues nominally stem from that one (at least that's the way the political forces direct the mutual hatred between two halves of a whole). The former Yugoslavia has just lived through another episode of war over religion and ethnicity. The Middle-East has lost much life and property in the long continued wars over "my god's better than your god, also my ancestry -- so there!" Long ago the Crusades took life and limb in the name of Christianity. Nazi's provided a role-model of Evil Incarnate, as Christians tortured and gassed Jews and others, who were perversely painted as "less than human." On and on, just how many have been slaughtered "in the name of God?"
It's not the beliefs themselves which are to blame, of course. Most religions teach that killing is wrong, that stealing and lying are also wrong. Love and compassion and respectful kindness are offered as the proper way of life. So what goes wrong -- why do people commit the greatest assaults on others while considering themselves to be on the path to a heaven?! Looked at more analytically, the twist from essential moral conviction into evil masquerading as devotion, comes about with Dogma. It's the unyielding pretense of having absolute knowledge, absolute truth, that pulls it all down in shards, just like it toppled the WTC. It's a matter of ego and arrogance.
Even the usual antipode to religion, Atheism, is frequently riddled with the same pose of dogma, the same scorn for those who don't happen to agree, the same desire to "assist you" over into their belief -- of non-belief, in this case. Anyway, it's not important who or what you do believe in, anyway, I'm not trying to convince you of any of the alternatives. I have yet to see any convincing case made for why only one path is "the true path," as a lot of traditional ideologues proclaim. If that be true, isn't it only common sense and curiosity to ask: "then either all choices are 'the one true path,' or none of them are, right?" I'd dearly love there to be a God and/or a Godess on High, a Heaven and eternal reward for a life well lived, and all those other extremely appealing images. It would make life on Earth more forgivable, especially when deeds best described as Satanic happen as they did on the 11th of September.
But Carl Sagan, as he lay dying, admitted he still had no good reason not to believe this was all wishful thinking. He's probably right, you know. Einstein, who certainly was intelligent if anyone was, made pithy commentary saying it was a matter for "weaker minds" or some such. Could this be the same Einstein who told us: "God does not play dice with the universe!"? And was reprimanded by Bohr: "Stop telling God what to do!"? Anyway, I remain in the middle, again fence-sitting, with certainly no preference for any particular path, as long as you lead a good, moral life, with more than your own selfish hide at interest. Leave the world a bit better for your being here, if you can, at least not worse. Be kind, don't hurt anyone else if you can avoid it. You know, the old Golden Rules. And if you are more comfortable putting a particular name to it, well blessings to you and yours and by all means carry on!
When you compare the philosophy and excesses of one far right religious group, there you find much in common with all the others. Looked at dispassionately, the Taliban and arch zealots of Islam (and the arch conservatives of history or alive and kicking today) share a lot with fundamentalists in the USA. There's a smug pride in one's self, a superiority over all others, with the hypocritical pose of being "more moral than thou." This self-serving flatulence is too similar for comfort, don't you think? When those suicide pilots acted completely against what Mohammed taught, perhaps they had a clever mental "reinterpretation" for why they ought zip straight to heaven after causing mass death to the Infidel (that's us). It's a problem with those who aspire to absolute anything: in their hearts they know they're right. Right of Atilla the Hun -- you get the idea.
When countries have allowed their clerics and religious leaders great power, the clock has been pushed back, freedoms and tolerance have tumbled, the focus has narrowed. Virtual Theocracies within the Islamic world have raised a dangerous new generation of young zealots unafraid to "maim and kill then die for Allah." Of course that's "doublethink," but you can't talk common sense (or virtue) with indoctrinated "robots." Dogma-bound Jews and Christians are quite capable of similar extremism. Even Galileo went down under the Pope and Cardinals of Rome. Look around you, and don't think it couldn't happen here, happen anywhere.
It's enough to make one pause. And worry. The current leaders of this country seem to be treading rather closely to several all too familiar slippery slopes. Many of them are good people, fine citizens, much more helpful and generous than I am in daily practice. But they do seem oblivious of how near to several dangerous edges they are, and think and function. Great compassion and great intelligence might prevent an accidental slipping off the edge. Do you see either one right now?
The stakes have risen suddenly. We've experienced dramatic, vivid proof that the next risks will probably not come from the high tech, high risk, high cost, guided missiles bearing "state of the art" weapons of mass destruction. Phew! So we don't have to pretend we can create the neat, but fictional, technology of a Star Wars. Makes a great movie, not a plan of "defense." We can acknowledge that Artificial Intelligence, which such a system depends upon, doesn't exist and won't for a century or two, so we don't have to grasp what is beyond our reach. We needn't spend funds where a fraction of the amount could help the country's less fortunate citizens, the elderly, the poor, the sick. People ascribing to the highest moral and ethical standards would simply want to help those in need, anyway, actions over words. That's all still true, isn't it...?
I used to taunt some of the music community (when the synthesizer was new): the Chinese have an elegant, subtle curse. They tell their enemy: "May you live in interesting times." It's certain that we are so cursed, as that's the best description I can find for the choices and opportunities ahead of us, one huge tragedy behind us. I hope we choose wisely, for all of our sakes. We need ALL of us to pull together, to consider ideas from BOTH sides, not just the loudest minority. Seek the council of those with experience, enlist the intelligent, and let the truthfully best options hold the day. Or we may blunder badly. I think most of us are honest and decent, just less visible than a small minority of quite dangerous, "humility-challenged" individuals. Either way, whatever the outcomes, it will be, well, "interesting"...
New York City, September 2001
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First of all, I'd like to extend a sincere thanks to all of you who have written graciously, to lend support to this section. I felt it slightly risky in these dangerous times to speak out at all. One can become fearful that our hard-earned democracy in the USA may become compromised by some of the latest red-flags of "police state american-style" that are waving, and reconsider our free speech. You've made me see that even now, especially now -- there is still reason for hope, for honest debate, for disagreement, but always seeking the wisest path. I'm grateful to you for confirming an optimism in our species and the inherent dignity of human liberty.
No one could have been looking forward to the first year anniversary. My friends and I relived the sting of sorrow, pain, and dread, one year later. For over a week we were numb, unable to do much but to sit and brood. As I've said above, I was luckier than most, having lost no family, no loved ones. Others were not so fortunate, and I send my deepest sympathies to all of you, who marked the anniversary with fresh anguish, and anguish recalled.
Quite a few memorial gatherings were empathetic, sensitive, and entirely appropriate. It was deeply moving to find us all hushed together and "in sync" in a world in which time was momentarily frozen. Tears, hot and salty, slid down many faces, as though it had all occurred again. Most television channels carried special programs commemorating the victims, in addition to the selfless heroes who tried to save their fellow neighbors in a city often, and nearly always falsely, depicted as cold and heartless.
It was difficult not to feel proud about this town and the surrounding neighborhoods. We did well, people! Under conditions which would have tested a-n-y-o-n-e. The perspective of one year provided us some hope, too. My emotional recovery has been far swifter than in 2001. Then it took me weeks to steel myself enough to the discipline of assembling this Aftermath page. But tonight, two weeks plus one year later, it's easier, without the added sensation of needing to "purge" nightmare images within my head and heart.
Like many of you, I spent some hours in front of my video monitor, trying to comprehend the thoughts and feelings of others wiser than me. It was moving to learn about our human reactions and questions. Details about the building and ultimate collapse of the towers were well handled, educational. I also heard soul-searching revelations, said with care and great difficulty. A few in religious lives had felt challenged, despairing of the dark side of their chosen vocation. It was also surprising to run into comments parallel to my own up above, cautioning the dangers of rampant supernaturalism, dogma, and the pointless infighting about just who's one true god is the one true God. Perhaps some small measure of good may spring from honesty. Perhaps, in confronting the face of our own inner demons, a proper humility can be grasped, held onto.
That said, there's another issue which you can bet will be discussed in years to come, another danger we're currently living through. This one comes from within, even while it's been upstaged by the external dangers. A day after those who actually cared wept anew, we heard our pain being used, abused, to justify what is unjustifiable: the US attempting to play god, unilaterally and in perpetuity. Say, what? We heard a US ultimatum to the UN, after two years of refusing to go along with anything that body had decided. We heard hyperbole and blatant dissembling, conducted in a manner that shrewder minds would have felt hesitant, embarrassed to attempt.
It is one year later. During that year billions have been spent in an unsuccessful "war" -- no Al Qaeda, no Laden -- adding to a deficit that was self-inflicted in the first place. The rest of the track record's lousy, unless you're lucky to be one of the 1% who are still smiling. The rest of us have good reason to hope for some change. Yet as fragile, imperfect human beings, we can be distracted, misdirected from the crucial questions, as we head into another election. With one "war" still a failure, wiser, less arrogant folks might be hesitant to jump into another armed conflict. When you're rushing to catch a plane it's probably not the best time to make a decision about changing careers, yes? Bring one crucial stress to completion before starting another, right?
Unless you have a different agenda you'd prefer to attend to while not admitting it. I suspect it is only human to want to hold onto power and money, once you've got it. Not much of a conjecture. It would be unsurprising to learn that those in control might seek a means to assure they don't lose their unearned fortune. A good street magician knows the method, how to misdirect an audience's attention so that the real heart of a trick passes unnoticed. Where did that wadded up paper ball go to -- that silk handkerchief come from, just "poof" -- thin air?
We shall see how well this audience picks up on the sleight of hand. Many of us will cry out in justifiable anger as others get to bear the costs -- with their life savings, or if this BE war, with life itself. We can guess that human nature will prevail, and with it some people are not to be trusted. Look out -- especially when they're too certain -- or too eager. Warning bells yet? Check their sleeves. Look under the table. This is an IQ test, dammit, are you paying attention? Or will we allow our own selfish larcenies (we all have some) to support something so cynically calculated, which in post 9/11 grief can masquerade as self-righteous "patriotism"? All we may find under this rock is lust for more money, more power, and a steadfast, deeply abiding faith in: "everyone else but me be dammed"!
New York City, September 2002
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