Friday, September 01, 2006

The long funeral

Mick Hume from NY in The (London) Times:

It took New Yorkers little more than a year to build the Empire State Building. Within four years of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the USA had built the Bomb and won the war. Yet at Ground Zero, there has been almost zero progress on the ground through a sorry saga of political and emotional interference by everybody from elected officials to victims’ relatives groups.

At the risk of being told to mind my own Brit-ness, here is a friendly suggestion to speed things up. Forget about treating the site as “sacred ground”. On that basis half of London would have been left as a bombsite with a plaque after the Blitz.

We always build the future on the remains of the past. And don’t allow anybody to veto progress by invoking the names of the dead. Despite what it says at Ground Zero, the 3,000 killed were not all “the heroes of 9/11”. Most were simply innocent victims who should be remembered, but not revered.

On the plane to the US, I read an article in New York magazine describing the five years since 9/11 as “the long funeral”. At the end of it, New York is still left with a huge open grave. To mark the fifth anniversary the Memorial Foundation has launched a fundraising campaign under the slogan “It’s time”. It is indeed — time to move on. What New York surely needs is working buildings. And what the world needs from New York is another display of the energy and ambition that made the Manhattan skyline the symbol of modernity.

I was gobsmacked to hear this week of a crew in space suits working in a sealed bubble at the New York Historical Society. They are mounting an exhibition recreating a storefront from close to the twin towers, using the original jeans and T-shirts covered with dust from 9/11 — dust described not just as toxic, but “historic, and possibly sacred”.
Who wants to think of dead dust in a time capsule as a symbol of the city that never sleeps? Give me the American attitude preserved in an old New York tune:

Nothing’s impossible I have found,

For when my chin is on the ground,
I pick myself up,
Dust myself off,
Start all over again . . .”

He probably should mind his own business. But why is there nothing being built at Ground Zero? There does seem to be a danger that it will become a ghoulish tourist attraction simply as the absence of a building. Is it just because nobody can agree what to do with it yet?

I would have loved to see NY get to work straight away on an even bigger Twin Towers, (perhaps shaped like a gigantic 'V-sign').


Blogger Duck said...

I agree with the author. We don't need memorials to every tragedy. The one that was built for the Oklahoma City bombing is hideous, just a plot with an empty chair for every person that died. That may strike some people as profound, but I find it horribly unimaginative and ugly. Is that what you remember about someone, that they sat in a chair?

Also, don't give the families of victims absolute moral authority, as Maureen Dowd would have us do for the mothers of servicemen killed in combat. Most of these family members grieve and move on with their lives in private, but a small handful expect the world to publicly acknowledge their grief and give them a megaphone to voice their demand for every change they would make in our political and social spheres to make sure "this never happens again".

There's something self-serving about all this public grief and moral righteousness. I watched a show on Discovery channel a year after the Indian Ocean tsunami about an interdisciplinary team of scientists who made a trek to the site of the earthquake to locate the exact location on the sea floor. One scientist made the comment "we're all leaving our egos on the shore, we're here to help mankind". I think it takes a big ego to say "I'm leaving my ego at the door/shore/etc.", as if working cooperatively with others is something that they should get special recognition for doing, whereas for most normal people it is an expected behavior.

They visited one of the resort islands that was devastated. Another scientist was overawed with the aftermath of the disaster, and made the statement "we cannot let this happen ever again. I take it as a personal failure that we let this happen", as if scientists can build the perfect warning system and protection technology to make sure that no person will ever die from a natural disaster ever again. Again, it takes a big ego to take responsibility for an adt of God.

Noone can say "this will never happen again". It will happen again, whether it is war, genocide, terrorism or natural disaster. When it happens, let's recover and move on.

September 01, 2006 10:07 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

I would have loved to see NY get to work straight away on an even bigger Twin Towers, (perhaps shaped like a gigantic 'V-sign').

I have a different concept. Four buildings oriented along a northeast-southwest axis. One building on the southwest, and the two northeasterly buildings would be much shorter than the remaining building.

The front of the assemblage would be on the southern exposure, facing Mecca.

We need a dose of stiff British upper lip, stop all the mewling, caterwauling and victim worship, and get on with building whatever it will be.

September 01, 2006 11:13 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

On reading Brit's post I immediately envisioned the exact same architecture as skipper. Great minds think alike I guess.

How many people died in the United States on 9/11? The answer is not approximately 3,000. The answer is about 13,000. On an average day, about 10,000 people die in the U.S. from accidents, murder, disease, suicide, old-age, etc. Maybe 30% more than average died on that particular day.

We can't build significant public memorials for each person that dies. And, in this particular case, where the enemy wants to disrupt our way of life, I think the best response is to not erect a memorial. Rather, just let commercial interests rebuild it and sell it.

Of course, not having lived in New York City, and having no dead relatives or friends because of 9/11, it's easy for me to say that.

September 01, 2006 12:58 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Ghoulish is the word.

I was in N.Y. last September with my family. One son-in-law particularly wanted to visit Ground Zero (bad tag), so we went.

From the visitor center second floor, you could look across the pit and see a banner on a second-hand clothing store announcing, in big, big red letters, something about a FALL SALE. Yecch.

New York goes on, whatever a few professional grievance-mongers want it to do.

I am not big on memorials, but if we have to have one, I'd prefer a new blackened and burned hole where the Kaaba used to be.

September 01, 2006 1:04 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Just don't let Peter know your idea for a memorial to the Conversos.

September 01, 2006 1:54 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

You think I'm kidding.

September 01, 2006 4:40 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

I think Harry's memorial to the Conversos is a fine idea, but isn't he worried it will be stalled at the public hearing stage by well-organized angry folks yelling: "Equal Justice for Cathars"?

There's not too much to add to Duck's great take above and Harry's characterizing of it all as ghoulish works for me. The damnable thing is it is so hard to get a handle on this weirdness without coming across as one with ice water in his veins. The notion of the free citizen is being replaced by one of the citizen as expert/victim. Bereaved mothers are now not just instant authorities on geopolitics, but public health as well. I'm going to scream if I read about one more parent of a child tragically killed by accident or crime who decides to chuck it all in, form a lobby group to "fight" Washington and spend the rest of his/her days making speeches that start: "If I can save just one life, it will all have been worth it." And what is with this modern idea that the family of a crime victim is expected to attend the trial to make teary public victim impact statements and "seek closure"? That's the last place I would want to be.

The U.S was born in a bracing spirit of democracy-on-the-march and may die immobilized by soul-deadening, never-ending public consultation.

September 02, 2006 2:15 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Let's not forget the army of "grief counselors" who are on call 24-7 for the next school shooting so that they can descend on the school like some Jesuit SWAT team after a new new band of savages has been discovered in the jungle.

No doubt the grief counseling litany includes some nonsense about letting go of the desire for "vengeance", (ie. justice), and ignoring anger for the sake of just "remembering the victims". I would be thoroughly satisfied if some group of irate parents filed a lawsuit against the counselors for injecting religion into a public school. School should be a "no nonsense" zone. Unfortunately our schools act more like nonsense magnets.

This public wussification of America is a joint effort by elected officials and the "caring" professions. Local officials are thrust into the national spotlight when some newsworthy tragedy occurs in their town, so they want to defend their place in history by taking some kind of action, any action, to deal with the situation after the fact. (No doubt they will be sued by parents for not preventing the tragedy in the first place). So when they get the call from the grief counselor SWAT team, they are all too happy to give their consent to let them have at the vulnerable students.

As I mentioned above, there is also this notion that it is possible for forward thinking public servants to predict and prevent every tragedy that can possibly occur. I blame the Moon landings. Ever since then we've been infected with this notion that "we can land a man on the Moon, so we sould be able to do such and such. I was listening to a talk show on NPR a while ago after the sarin gas attack on the Japanese subway. Some twit called into the show who had been in Japan when it occured, and he was expressing his outrage over the fact that when he called the American consulate to find out where he could pick up a gas mask, the consulate official he talked to had no advice to give him. Gee, I wonder why the consulate in Japan wouldn't have foreseen that a poison gas attack was inevitable among the peaceful citizens of Japan? That's their job, isn't it? To protect Americans abroad from every possible risk and threat? I'm surprised that they aren't handing out condoms.

And don't get me started on this talk about "we must let the healing begin". The healing can start once all the guilty people are dead.

September 02, 2006 5:34 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Having my hackles raised by this whole subject, I did a Google search on grief counseling is a scam but was unable to uncover any articles by people thinking along the same lines as me, but some evidence to support my case. 4-year scandal
of the 9/11 billions

Then there's the city Department of Education. It did such a poor job of keeping track of how it spent its $32 million share of Project Liberty grief counseling funds, that four years later, the feds are still withholding $26.8 million. Finally, The News found that program after program was designed, then redesigned, with a singular goal: spend every dime.

It is official: grief counselors are a special interest group receiving pork barrel funds.

And this site showing just how wussy we have become:

Most people have strong bonds with their cats and/or dogs and, therefore, have difficulty coping with their companion animals’ terminal illnesses or deaths. In fact, grief counseling for individuals who have experienced such a loss is becoming more common.

Pet cloning companies exploit such tender emotions and lead the public to believe that deceased pets can be ‘resurrected’ through new cloning technology. According to one firm’s website, “Veterinarians have also told us that gene banking can provide relief to clients facing the death of an exceptional pet. Because gene banking gives a pet owner the option to clone the animal later, it allows the client to focus on grieving the loss of the individual pet, without letting go of the exceptional genetics.”

September 02, 2006 5:57 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

I'm rather a fan of parents of a child tragically killed by accident or crime who decide to chuck it all and form a lobby group. They're kind of real-life Batman stories.

In the U.S., that's how we got M.A.D.D. and America's Most Wanted, both of which have improved American society.

Stamping out wrongdoing and poor policy seems to me to be a better use of one's life than practicing most professions.

I further like groups and individuals whose mission it is to "fight" Washington or City Hall, even though it occasionally leads to outcomes that I find to be foolish or negative, such as the delay in exploiting the oil under the ANWR wastelands.

Bureaucrats and incumbent politicians have enough power in modern America, they always have the upper hand.
A little opposition and a few losses, to remind them of their primary duty, and whence power springs, is A Good Thing.

Grief counselors may be more show than substance, but they do fill a legitimate need. Some people can use a little help finding their bearings after a tragedy, just as we routinely counsel rape victims.

Nobody has to see a grief counselor, or take their advice to heart, so why not let those who can gain from the experience have access to a few ?

They're like motivational speakers and self-help gurus. Not everyone's cup of tea, but very helpful to a certain segment of the population.

The healing can start once all the guilty people are dead.

Hooah !!!

September 02, 2006 9:22 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I am surprised there seem to be no anti-grief counseling materials. I know it's a common reaction.

When I first started mooching about the Internet, one of the posters had the tagline: Keep those grief counselors away from me.

I encounter these creeps through work from time to time, and at the risk of seeming to be a common or garden variety Freudian, the erotic excitement they display in the presence of unfelt (by them) sadness is palpable.

September 02, 2006 9:25 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

I'm beginning to question your libertarian credentials. It is fine for grieving people to seek solace in whatever form they wish, whether that be through a religious service or from a licensed grief therapist. But it isn't the government's job to provide it. Your statement is the equivalent of saying "noone has to use the bridge to nowhere, so why not let those few who would gain from its its presence enjoy it?"

It's this notion that we have to push these grief services on people. This may seem cold hearted, but it is just stating the truth: in a situation like Columbine the number of people who are going to be overwhelmed with grief is a small percentage of the community. Every one will be shocked and saddened, but only the family and close friends and acquaintances of those killed are going to have their lives turned upside down by it. The whole community doesn't need special professional help to deal with their grief.

I'm also irked by this notion that grief counseling is some special skill that requires advanced academic training and professional certification. Helping others deal with grief is a basic human capacity. We naturally come together to console those in our circle who suffer tragedy. The emphasis on professional counseling is just another way in which interventionist government finds a way to un-wean us from our self-suffiency and back onto the government teat.

MADD was good because it focused its attention on sanctioning the people who were responsible for the problem, the perps themselves. This whole industry that we are building up to help us deal with tragedy, whether through professional counseling, memorializing victimhood or just meddling in private affairs is not aimed at solving problems but at overblowing and extending the pain that the problem caused while deadening our resolve to either deal with the guilty or to rebuild and move on.

September 02, 2006 10:31 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

You are on a roll here, Harry. Know many mediators? After memorizing all kinds of abstract drivel about "interest-based negotiations" and mastering empathy at a weekend course, they will use every psychological trick in the book to frighten and demoralize disputants, give credence to absurd allegations and put pressure on them to get an agreement--any agreement, no matter how uneven, unjust or unlikely to last more than one day. But, when they themselves get into personal trouble, it's all "Somebody call Johnny Cochrane, quick!"


I'm glad there are occasional people who publish great novels, but when every English undergrad starts thinking the world is craving to live their inner angst...

September 02, 2006 10:33 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

I'm beginning to question your libertarian credentials.

As well you ought.

(Although I note that, having had some vicarious experience with the inner workings of the California Libertarian Party, when my brother Nolayan worked at their HQ, some of the problems that the LP has are the tendencies of their members to want to conduct purges of the less-committed, and for the members that actually run for office to be somewhere between surly and insane. Not a recipe for growing a pup-tent party into a big-tent one, which is one of the reasons that my brother became less enchanted with the LP and its future prospects).


Occasional great novels are the result of lots of people offering their works, and a few getting it especially right.

Even publishing pros with decades of experience can't predict with 100% accuracy what will be successful and what will not be, and of course, aside from commercial success, tastes vary in annointing novels "critical successes".

So too with changing the world.

September 02, 2006 12:33 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

The only problem is that bad novels don't have a bad impact, they just sink into deserved obscurity. But bad ideas for "changing the world" can have terrible consequences. One great idea that has been quashed by "do-gooders" is food irradiation. Hysterical organic food boosters have incited public fears over food safety, but irradiation would wipe out food borne diseases and allow foods to be stored for longer periods of time without spoilage or the need for refrigeration.

Environmental alarmist do-gooders are also trying to prevent the introduction of genetically modified crops that could improve conditions in many chronically malnourished parts of the globe.

And lets not forget the do-gooders who feared an epidemic of satanic child abuse by parents and daycare workers that ruined many innocent lives over manufactured accusations of abuse.

When I hear that someone wants to "change the world" I grab my gun.

September 02, 2006 4:09 PM  

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