11 September 2021


 I remember watching the Twin Towers going up in the 1970s from a pier in Bay Ridge Brooklyn. Before that there were rows of electronics stores on Cortlandt street I recall going to as a kid for a reel to reel tap recorder that was then still made in the USA. There was still a produce market on nearby Washington Street, before it was all transformed by development. Years later I had an office downtown a few blocks from there and for a time a parking space next to one of the towers due to street signs an associate managed to get put up. I spent a lot of time there either at Windows on the World, the underground mall, or visiting one of the offices in the buildings.

In its early days CNN had a glassed-in studio on the ground floor, and as time passed it was still a place where frivolity was possible, whether it was someone climbing all the way up to the roof of a tower, or an incredible aerial ballet by a man on a wire suspended between the two towers, as everyone looked up in disbelief and delight. All of that was before security became ubiquitous after 9/11. Times have often been characterized as periods of innocence, but now it is clear that was truly the case then.

Today you can't enter an office building in Manhattan without showing a photo ID, stating the purpose of your visit, wearing a mask, then receiving a pass, and being directed to a specific elevator. You used to be able to walk up the City Hall steps, and I remember even being able to temporarily park there. Now it is surrounded by tons of tall iron fencing, concrete barriers and tight security surround the police headquarters, and free movement is a thing of the past.

I was married at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox church, which in the dusk made a tiny rectangular silhouette against the giant towers, dwarfed by their immensity. That image still haunts me to this day as the church was also obliterated on 9/11.

In the early days they had a hard time renting the space so a lot of the World Trade Center wound up being occupied by New York State offices. When George Pataki became Governor he couldn't wait to get away from there and relocated offices to midtown where it was more convenient to railroad to upstate from Grand Central. Thus, but for fate, there could have been a significantly different set of people there on September 11.

I remember well the first failed attack which killed those who unfortunately happened to be in the garage at the time, and people pouring out afterword covered with soot. But the towers stood and no one, in their wildest imagination, could then have conceived of the horror that took place years later in 2001. By that time I was no longer situated in the area, but any of us could have been there, and in truth all of us were there, for it truly was an assault on all Americans.

There has been only one film that really captured all that happened, which was called The Path to 9/11, which once aired on ABC, but which the scoundrels who now run Disney incomprehensibly refuse to re-release. Other attempts at the story have been pretty bad.

I haven't been back to the area where the towers stood since. It is still just too painful, having a vivid memory of what was once there, which has since passed into cruel oblivion, along with all those innocent souls that just happened to be there that day. Given that so much that transpired since has been reversed by recent events, today has become an ever more sad and somber anniversary, but one of events that we must not and will not ever forget.

10 September 2021


The most striking thing about the past twenty years is how little has changed. Think for a moment of what, of any substantive significance, exists today that did not exist twenty years ago, and you will soon conclude the answer is not much. It is an atypical time of stasis, where not much has changed culturally, politically, socially, or technologically.*  Contrast this with almost any other twenty year period that comes to mind, i.e. 1940-1960 and clearly change was far more extensive. Or 1920-1940, or 1900-1920, and on and on. In each instance there are clearly substantial cultural, technological, and social changes that simply have not been equivalently replicated over the past two decades. 

Thus the present moment is atypical compared to the relatively recent past. This may or may not be attributable to the event, but things seem oddly frozen since September 11, 2001. As if to cruelly bookend this phenomenon, the Afghanistan disaster indicates we are now closer to the conditions on September 10 of that year, as much of what transpired has been completely reversed.  

But what has changed during this period is us. We are that much older. Thus, someone young and starting out twenty years ago is now approaching middle age, with the course of their life largely set. Someone just born back then is now fully grown. Much of what characterizes our lives happens over a twenty year period. We are young and then not so young, almost suddenly; for even though we know, objectively that we are going to age, it still comes upon us unexpectedly.  

So we have aged, yet the times seem frozen, which is the opposite of what has usually characterized human experience, where the times change but we remain the same. So most of the problems that were with us then are still with us now, and the stasis that grips us has only become more rigid. Yet nothing stays the same and sooner or later there is going to be a breakpoint. 

What has been lost during this time is a certain faith in progress- that things will always get better, that now seems faded. Yet tragedy has always been a major part of human experience that has perhaps been unnaturally masked in modern times. Things are better, things are worse, there are good times and bad times, and always will be, even though the present seems oddly frozen in place. But sometimes tragedy comes in a different sort of magnitude that overwhelms everything else. That is the legacy of September 11, 2001, now made even worse on its twentieth anniversary as we have so terribly deprived of catharsis due to avoidable recent events. Yet there may be hope, as people have finally had enough and the intolerable present finally reaches a breaking point that ultimately ends the stasis of the times. 

*To be sure the Internet is more widely utilized and woven into the fabric of our lives, and the now giant companies mislabeled as “big tech” were virtually unknown two decades ago, but the basic parameters of the Internet were already well established. (They are, with the exception of Apple, hardly “tech” companies but rather big media companies, still fundamentally based on little more than a website). 

09 September 2021


 During most of the years following the Civil War Robert E. Lee was one of the most admired men in American history, in both the north and the south, for good reason. Lee was never an advocate of slavery, or secession (until federal troops were sent into the south), and above all he was an honorable man of exemplary character. But the main reason Lee was universally respected was his conduct following the Civil War. For it was then that Lee worked tirelessly for reconciliation and peace and contributed greatly to those ends. Just consider the alternative to the honorable surrender he provided. There could have been ongoing  violent resistance and endless guerrilla warfare in the south for many years, in the absence of leadership from such a highly respected figure. Lee was the essential figure in making the conclusion of the war final, and in his efforts to bring the country together going forward. 

Thus, even though he had, with a broken heart, commanded the forces of the rebellion, what resonated was what he did with the rest of his life. There was little controversy about this until recently, when a fanatical radical minority began a campaign to remove confederate, and then other statues from public display, sometimes at the behest of as little as only one “offended” person. But the current removal of Lee’s statute from Richmond, Virginia is even worse, as it is happening with the concurrence of a rotten political establishment that has turned its back on heritage and history. It is ahistorical to the extent that it misconstrues Lee’s true character, as well as anti-historical, in the attempt to erase the past. 

Furthermore it outrageously violates a basic trust given that the statue was donated with the understanding and guarantee that it would stand into perpetuity. That this could so blatantly be undone by the rotten, unprincipled current authorities means that no guarantee, no trust is sacred and can simply be discarded at the whim of a subsequent generation. How then can anything pledged today be taken seriously going forward if it can be subject to subsequent arbitrary dismissal?  This is worse than the Taliban’s destruction of what to them are sacrilegious historic edifices, which at least stood for many centuries unmolested, but without any guarantee. Here, barely a century and a half has passed and the trust has been violated. Such a violation of trust must inevitably be accompanied by a serious loss of legitimacy in the institutions facilitating it. 

Such things are happening despite a lack of pubic support and the (unfortunately passive) opposition of the majority of the people. The scoundrels who have perpetrated this travesty must be held accountable, and if long-term legitimacy is to be restored it must be enshrined in law and precedent that is inviolable. Otherwise we are acquiescing in the notion that everything is ephemeral and relative, that there are no fixed and transcendent principles over time, that our ancestors are totally irrelevant, nothing is sacred, and that a passing change in sentiment can undo all that has come before. If we no longer have a past, we no longer have a future.