[Posted at the "It Was 20 Years Ago Today" site (http://20yearsago.libsyn.com), the Starlight Teahouse message board (www.starlightteahouse.com), and my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/Sailbourne).]
Twenty years ago today, a truck bomb exploded in the underground garage of the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. It destroyed several levels of the garage, killed six people, and injured over a thousand. The bombing attack was planned and carried out by a group of conspirators led by Ramzi Yousef, a Kuwaiti-born terrorist who trained with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
On that Friday morning (the bomb exploded at 12:17 pm local time, which was 9:17 am on the West Coast), I was at work. I had just completed my probationary period as an employee of Intel, and was still settling into my new office on the fifth floor of the recently-completed Robert Noyce Building in Santa Clara, California, Intel’s headquarters.
I liked to listen to FM radio on headphones while I was working — the structure of the building was such that AM broadcasts were almost impossible to hear. Portable CD players were still expensive and skipped if you so much as sneezed on them, the algorithms that would give rise to MP3 sound files were just being defined, and streaming audio on the Internet was, at best, somebody’s pipe dream.
Immediately after I learned of the bombing, I became painfully aware that I was working on the fifth floor of the five-story building, I became painfully aware that I was working on the fifth floor of the five-story building, by far the tallest I had ever worked in. Having visited taller buildings only a few times, it was challenging — and quite frightening — to imagine what it must be like to be in one of the upper floors of the World Trade Center buildings. I tried to get as much news as I could that day.
On the wider scale, I think it was that first World Trade Center bombing that really crystallized the image of the Middle Eastern terrorist as a figure to be feared more than any other in the culture of the United States. It was not, of course, the first time a Middle Eastern terrorist had struck at Americans. But it very quickly gained the title of worst terrorist incident on United States soil, and in so doing, gave the American people something to be afraid of, which we had largely lost in the fall of the Iron Curtain and the end of global Communism.
Indeed, when the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was blown up two years and two months after the World Trade Center bombing, everyone’s assumption was that a Middle Eastern terrorist had done it. There are people who believe to this day that some Middle Eastern group — most often Iraqi — was responsible and that Timothy McVeigh was just a patsy. The fact that McVeigh became known as a “domestic” or “homegrown” terrorist just underscores how pervasive the image of the Middle Eastern terrorist had become. It is a strange distinction to draw; a distinction akin to “racism” and “reverse racism,” a distinction that should not need to be made. But we make it anyway.
I lost a friend this week.
She was a friend I had never met, and in fact I didn’t even know what she looked like – until I got the letter announcing her death.
But nevertheless, Patt Griffin was a friend — a kind and generous friend, and it feels strange to be saying goodbye. I suppose that as the age of the Internet, World Wide Web, and social networks advances, this sort of thing will happen more often to all of us. Somehow it seems appropriate, then, that I offer up my tribute to her on the Internet.
I can’t quite remember exactly when it was that I got to know Patt Griffin, but I do remember the how. It was sometime not too long after our move to Portland, when I had rekindled my interest in sumo wrestling. I wrote to the Sumo Mailing List that I wanted to see the basho, but I couldn’t get Dish Network at our apartment – at least, we couldn’t get two Dish dishes, which is what you needed to get TV Japan. (There was no such thing as streaming video in those days.) I got an email from Patt, who said that she would make copies of the basho and send them along, and all I needed was to reimburse the cost of tapes and postage. A generous offer, given that a sumo basho is 15 days, at 90 minutes to two hours of coverage a day! So six times a year, a package of five VHS came to our mailbox from Florida. That lasted a couple of years, and was renewed — in the form of a package of DVD+R discs — when we had to move back to an apartment and lost the ability to have that second dish. (Today, we have TV via fiberoptic cable, and one of the big reasons we switched was the ability to get TVJapan again.)
We also shared a love of animals — while Joe and I just had the cats, she also had dogs, and quite a few birds. When she and her husband Michael moved to California from Florida, they traveled cross country in an RV, so they could bring all the animals along. I got to share in the adventure via her emails — I always knew it was from Patt if it came with a subject line that was nothing but the day of the week it was sent.
Just a couple of years ago Patt’s husband died, and her own health, never of the best to begin with, began to take a serious downward turn. She mentioned to me that she had some sumo memorabilia and a pair of Japanese kokeshi dolls that she wanted me to have when she passed on. I said I’d be honored, that she didn’t need to do that. What else could I say? Privately I hoped that was a long time away. Sadly, it wasn’t. In July, I got several boxes from her: books, calendars, tegata (a handprint with the rikishi’s autograph) and more. I thanked her; I told her how astonished I was. I still am! Joe and I both worried for her. What else could we do?
The last email I got from Patt was in October, expressing her sympathy for us in the news we had received that the eldest of our cats was suffering from kidney failure and we didn’t know how long she might live. (Mina is still very much with us, I’m glad to say.)
Around the 14th of last month, I got a small box containing two kokeshi — antiques, I’m sure — which Patt had told me she’d had since she was a kid, when she got them from a Japanese pen-pal. There was a note inside from Patt’s friend Jacquie, which said that Patt wanted me to have these. And that she was very ill, needed round-the-clock care, and that I should pray for her. I sent notes to both of them … but a few days ago, I got another letter from Jacquie, the death announcement. Patt won’t ever read that last letter I sent. She was gone before it reached her.
As I told her in that letter, I put the kokeshi on top of our computer desk in the bedroom, so that every time I go in or out of that room, I see them and think of her and her amazing kindness and generosity. We’ve kept all the other treasures too — the model rikishi on one of the bookshelves, the calendars carefully stored. Maybe there’s room on the walls for a banzuke and a tegata or two. I still wonder what I did to deserve all this. Maybe it was enough that I was a fellow sumo fan; at least she could know that if she gave me these things, they would be appreciated for the treasures they were.
I try to comfort myself with the thought that wherever she’s gone, she’s better off. She is reunited with Michael and all her pets. She doesn’t have to worry about evil bankers trying to take her home away. And … she can enjoy all the sumo she could ever want.
I bring a lot of my own memory and experience to the history in “It Was 20 Years Ago Today.” It’s fascinating because I can look back at events which I knew at the time were world-changing. But, even more interesting, I can also look at events which were, on the day, not a big deal at all — yet over the course of time prove to be the heralds of transformation in our lives. More than perhaps anyone could have imagined.
In August of 1991, there were examples of both kinds of events. An attempt to overthrow the government of the Soviet Union failed. A physicist at a research lab in Switzerland told a group of computer scientists about a new networking protocol he’d worked out, and a Finnish student told fellow computer nerds about a new operating system he was developing.
We all knew, I think, that the USSR was on the way out. A scant four months later, it ceased to exist entirely. But did anyone even dream of the transformation those two technologies would work on the world? For one thing, without the World Wide Web and Linux, you wouldn’t be reading these words.
Join me for all of this and more in new editions of “It Was 20 Years Ago Today,” coming this weekend.
… or, is that price gouging on the Internet or American Capitalism at its finest?
I have very stubborn dandruff.
For a while, tea tree oil shampoo (a recommendation from a stylist) was enough to deal with it. Then I went through several flavors of ordinary dandruff shampoo: the salicylic acid, zinc pyrithione (Head & Shoulders), selenium disulfide (Selsun Blue), and coal tar (Neutrogena T/Gel). Finally I tried Nizoral, which contains a pretty powerful antifungal agent called ketoconazole. Worked great. Kind of spendy, for sure (around $10 for a 4 ounce bottle or $15 for a 7 ounce bottle) — but I didn’t have to use it every time I washed my hair, so it wasn’t such a bad deal.
For a while I thought I’d beat the problem permanently so I didn’t buy more. Buta few weeks ago the trouble came back so I went looking for more Nizoral.
None of the stores had it. Some had an empty section of shelf where it was supposed to be.
What was up, I wondered. So I went to Google, typed in “Nizoral shortage” and hit the enter key. The best information came in the form of a product review on Amazon — it was not so much a review of the product but an explanation of the shortage, written by someone who had called the manufacturer directly. The manufacturer had shifted production to a new plant and was waiting on FDA certification of that new plant. Supplies should be getting back to normal in July if all goes well.
In the meantime the sellers on Amazon were charging $26.95 for the 4 ounce bottle and $52.95 for the 7 ounce bottle. That’s 2.5 to 4 times the usual price. And that was the low end: the upper end was $39.95 for the 4 oz and $59.97 for the 7 oz!
I’m all for the entrepreneurial spirit, and it’s a free country with a modified capitalist economic system (so it’s not illegal to jack up the price of this stuff when the supply is low) that I don’t particularly want to change.
But 4x the price just because you can?! Seems to me some folks need an ethics transplant.
As for me, I think I’ll endure the flakes and itchy scalp for a few weeks.
A sampling of topics posted this week on the Starlight Teahouse forums (all links should open in a new window or tab):
Head on over and check out these and many more discussions, and feel free to join the community and start your own discussions!
Do if you want, no big deal. (All references to tagging apply to the echo of this post in Facebook Notes.)
If you’ve been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with the 3′s of YOU. At the end, choose 26 people to be tagged. You have to tag me so really you just need 25 more people. If I tagged you, it’s because I want to know more about you.
Three names I go by:
Three jobs I have had in my life:
Telephone solicitor (note1)
Pizza delivery driver (note2)
Three places I have lived:
Beloit, WI (note3)
Crescent City, California
Three favorite drinks:
500-Mile Chai (note4)
Three TV shows that I watch:
Dr. G: Medical Examiner
Countdown with Keith Olbermann (note5)
Three places I have been:
Glacier National Park
Three of my favorite foods:
Chicken in Marsala (note7)
Three things I am looking forward to:
Getting home tonight
My next vacation from the day job
The next Sumo tournament (note8)
(note1) Hated every minute of it. Hope I never have to do it again.
(note2) Once I went to a house with a couple of little kids. One of them yelled “Pizza Man!” as I knocked on the door; when the door was opened, the other cried, “It’s a Pizza LADY!”
(note3) Shout out to all the hardworking union folks demonstrating to keep their rights!
(note4) A chai blend from The Tao of Tea,. Kind of spendy but worth it.
(note5) Due to return on Current TV in late spring.
(note6) The classic Mexican street stall style, with soft corn tortillas, meat, cilantro and onions.
(note7) Joe makes a fantastic version of this dish.
(note8) Whenever that is. The March tournament (in Osaka) was cancelled and it’s hard to know yet whether the May tournament will be cancelled or not too.
(With apologies to Monty Python and anyone else who’s already worked this gag on this subject.)
Dear Mr. President,
Once again this week you have spoken of bipartisanship, and how you still see the possibility of bipartisan cooperation in addressing the needs and desires of your constituents, the American people. With regret, I must bring to your attention a very simple fact regarding bipartisanship.
Specifically, bipartisanship is dead. It may have died as early as November 3, 2008; without a doubt it was dead by January 21, 2009.
Please allow me to repeat myself: Bipartisanship is dead.
Dead. DEAD. No longer living. Inert. Deceased. Kaput. Expired. Extinct. Perished. Lifeless. Bereft of life. Defunct. Finished. At rest and resting in peace. Inanimate. Gone to meet its Maker. It is no more. It has ceased to be. Departed, passed on, passed away, shuffled off this mortal coil, rung down the curtain, joined the choir invisible. It’s a stiff, a corpse, a cadaver. The worms are playing pinochle on its snout. It has made the ultimate sacrifice and suffered the ultimate incapacitation. God called it home, so it has called it quits and laid down for the big sleep. If it were a cartoon, it would have big Xs for eyes. It has crossed the river, gone the way of all flesh, gone to its reward, and gone to that great Legislature in the sky. It was liquidated, offed, taken out, wasted, knocked off, bumped off, whacked, and put out of its misery. It has checked out, bought the farm, and is pushing up a lovely crop of daisies.
Please, act accordingly.
I love history. I consider myself an amateur historian — that’s what the It Was 20 Years Ago Today podcast is all about. I listen to a few podcasts that have to do with history; one is the remarkable series A History of the World in 100 Objects, presently up to episode number 88. An episode from a few weeks back, Ming Banknote, gave me an insight into just how powerful belief can be.
Consider this: the entire economic system of the planet hinges on a single shared belief: that certain pieces of paper (or nowadays combinations of electrons in a data stream or dots on a liquid crystal screen) have value. That belief is shared by virtually everyone on Earth. And from that belief flows all the economic activity in our world. When parts of that belief start to falter — for instance, when it was decided that the pieces of paper called “credit default swaps” and “collateralized debt obligations” didn’t have value any more, the repercussions were dire indeed, stretching around the world and far beyond the sorcerer’s caves on Wall Street and the City of London.
Years ago a counselor tried to illustrate for me the necessity of looking at my beliefs about myself, and how simple it could be to challenge some of them. “Look at yourself in the mirror. You don’t look like a tuba, do you? You wouldn’t say you were a tuba. Why not? Because you can show yourself evidence. Do you have any evidence that says you are worthless and no good for anybody? No. So why should you believe that, any more than you should believe you’re a tuba? Remember: you are not a tuba.”
I am not a tuba.
The image has remained, even if I’ve forgotten the lesson now and again. Enough so that when I’m really in a dysfunctional place, Joe will tell me, “You are not a tuba.”
I am not a tuba.
But I am a writer. I have things to say and stories to tell. But I haven’t been telling them. Not very much, anyway. I haven’t been fighting to get those stories told. I’ve dropped hints at the scale and scope of what’s up in my head, but for all anyone else can tell, that’s been enough for me. To have it in my head or on the shelf. I have to do better than that.
So what’s stopping me? I’ve overloaded my life, it seems, with things that ultimately matter less but still have taken up time that might have been spent getting the stories out. Some, like the jewelry crafting, are also efforts at self-expression; all the craft fairs and Christmas bazaars have been an effort to justify that self-expression through money. “It must be worth the time if I’m making money, right?”
Other things are more prosaic — the daily round of chores, caring for the cats, caring for myself and Joe. And then there’s the Facebook games … which, even though I’ve cut back pretty drastically on them, have become a really enormous time sink.
My life and my purpose are all out of whack.
It’s time to begin putting things back in order.
(Crossposted on Daily Kos and should appear on Facebook as well.)
As I write this, it looks like the BP – Deepwater Horizon oil spill may actually be coming to an end. The actual spillage, anyway. Despite the White House’s claim that three quarters of the oil spilled is now gone, the effects of this spill will last a very long time, and affect a countless number of lives in and around the Gulf of Mexico, and the whole world beyond. The ecology of the sea and the land around it has been changed, possibly forever, definitely not for the better.
I’ve been thinking for a few weeks that it would be worthwhile to put this incident into a greater context by telling the stories of other cases in our history of industrial disasters, toxic spills and mass pollutions. The truth is that nothing that’s happened in the Deepwater Horizon case is really new.
We’ve spilled it all before.
I’ve decided that before I start writing I would ask of anyone who is reading this: is it worthwhile? Would you be interested in finding out a little more about some past disasters, the lessons we could have learned from them, the motives that led to them which are not so different as those which inform BP’s actions before and after the Macondo well blew out? Or maybe someone’s already done this, and so there’s no need for me to cover that ground again. I admit, I think it would be great if that were the case.
Some of the incidents I’ve thought about covering:
- the molasses flood in Boston, January 1919: though it sounds like a joke, it killed more people than died aboard the Deepwater Horizon
the tragedy of Minamata, where a large corporation denied and covered up the truth of its deadly pollution for decades
- the toxic gas leak in Bhopal, December 1984: thousands died and the court cases drag on, one of them ending only this year
And plenty others besides. Sadly, there’s no shortage.
So please. Speak up in the comments and let me know what you think. Is it time for a history lesson?
“It seems no one reads Santayana any more. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be over there, getting drunk with the rest of the aliens.” — Susan Ivanova, Babylon 5
(Part of the larger “Jamie’s Spelling and Grammatical Pet Peeves” department.)
What with a conflict between the President and one of his generals leading the news, it seemed like a really good time to bring this peeve up.
I have been seeing (and hearing!) this phrase a lot lately: “The President is the Commander and Chief …”
From the United States Constitution, Section 2, Clause 1:
The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; [ ... ]
Commander in Chief. Not “and.”
The mistake’s an easy one to make, goodness knows. Most of us haven’t read the Constitution in a long time; and it’s easy to hear the word “and” when someone’s actually saying “in” (especially if they are speaking quickly or with less-than-perfectly-precise diction).
I just wanted to point it out, because it really does bug me.