What do I remember? Quite a bit, actually. I wasn't there, everything I experienced was mediated through the TV, the internet, newspapers, and most especially my friends, friends who were there.

My friends, they all came home safe. Thank God. But they all lost people, all knew people who did not come home.

My friend, the funny one, doesn't talk about it anymore. He was on a ferry that docked just as the second tower was hit. He didn't get off the boat, he just rode it back to Hoboken, watching the fire. He gave a ride home to a stranger, a guy who had carpooled with his roommate and needed a ride to an apartment in Jersey City. My friend stayed with him at his apartment, waiting for a call from the roommate, quietly drinking beer and watching CNN. The guy's roommate never called. He'd left his phone in his office on the 31st floor of the North Tower, assuming he'd be back. He essentially walked from the WTC to the Washington St Bridge and didn't get home till 9:30 PM.

My friend, the chef, he worked in Building 7. They left with stuff still in the ovens, he left his knives, his street clothes. They were all still there, he imagines, when they tore it down. He's never talked about it, but he probably saw the very worst. All he ever did say was that when he saw people had started jumping, he turned around and started walking North. He'd seen enough.

My friend, the kind one, was supposed to go to a meeting at Windows on the World. If he hadn't decided to stay on a phone call, he'd be dead. A talkative client saved his life. Shortly after that he began working on his exit from the NYC financial life, he retired early. It was never explicit, but its obvious he didn't want to be there anymore, in part because he lost so many acquaintances, coworkers, friends.

My friend, the master of the Universe, she was at the WFC. She couldn't get the smell out of her nose for a long time. So long, it was uncomfortable and probably psychological. She watched the Towers fall. Was covered in gypsum dust and ash, and probably human remains, too. She always got mad when people would say "they couldn't believe it." "WTF do you mean?" She'd say. "They are fucking gone. Gone. Believe it."

There are others, kids at school, mundane stories of grief and confusion, panic and bravery. They are all in their 40's now, some with middle school or older children. Each of them is a story of hope.

It was such a perfect, beautiful September day. I remember that most of all. Such a blue sky. Crystal clear. Calm, serene weather.

The end of an era.
  • Current Music
    Mozart: Requiem in D minor

Game of Thrones.

What to say about Game of Thrones?

I'm one of those annoying people who start most conversations about GOT with the phrase, "well, if you've read the books..." I won't be that guy today. However, there is something to be said about how the excellence of the first seasons paralleled the excellence of the first novels in A Song of Ice and Fire. Then, just as GRR Martin went off the rails in books 4 and 5 and has since faced terminal writer's block, so too did the HBO series begin to falter as they were forced to simplify Martin's increasingly labyrinthine plots and construct a satisfying conclusion to the epic in the time allotted them by the network.

For all of the wonderful things about GOT, the conclusion was less than satisfying.

First, the transformation of Daenerys from the Breaker of Chains to Rage Monster, to what? Nice tits Hitler? was just unconvincing for me. I get that there are parts of her personality, and her family history, that make a descent into Aerys II-like madness possible. But the show didn't do nearly enough work to make the psychotic genocide of King's Landing a believable part of her character. People online who point to her actions in Slaver's Bay or among the Dothraki as evidence of her instability are using very different and often justifiable exercises in violence and power as a post hoc justification for what is really a cheap plot device that turns a major protagonist into the series's final nemesis with the ringing of a few bells. Boo! Do your work, Show Runners. That being said, once the show had her burn women and children alive by the tens of thousands, for no reason other than rage, and once they had her super creepy "you will be made to care," speech framed in a way that would make Leni Riefenstahl blush, Dany had to go. Jon did a good days work sticking her with the pointy end.

Next, the show just straight up threw away the entire premise of the series by crowning Bran. The great thing about ASOIAF was that it tried very hard to get real politics right. GOT took all that brutal, hard nosed, Machiavellian scheming from early in the show and said, "Too hard. Let's just hope for a happy ending, shall we?" I mean, Bran. Fuck. First off, Day One, Bran has to go to war with the North, right? That has to be Tyrion's advice. I mean, if the North can make a legitimate claim for independence, then what about Dorne? What about the Iron Islands? Daenerys more or less promised Asha and Theon independence, why didn't Asha just say, "Yeah, us too?" The new Dornish prince (they couldn't think up a name for this guy in 2 fucking years!!!) would have just said, "Yeah, since we were late to this whole Seven Kingdoms thing, we'd like out, too. 'Unbowed Unbent Unbroken,' dude." The Reach can, apparently, buy and sell the rest of the Seven Kingdoms, so why wouldn't Bronn of the Blackwater just say, "Rebuild King's Landing? Nah, I'll be too busy fucking whores." The Riverlands and the Eriye are likely to align themselves with their blood relatives in the North. Pretty soon, you are just down to the Stormlands and poor Gendry Baratheon, who is going to be in so far over his head that he will be lucky last a year without taking a knife to the ribs and the Lannisters of the Westerlands, and after their recent losses they may have to consider reworking their words to something more like, "A Lannister will gladly pay you Tuesday for a Bowl of Brown today." So, yeah, that whole thing rang very false to me. It would have been more reasonable to just do away with the Kingdom altogether. Just return to a pre-Aegon world of seven kingdoms.

Then, the disposition of the most powerful Army in Westeros, The Dothraki and Unsullied, was handled, it seems to me, mainly by hand-waving. In the real world, a king like Bran the Broken would see these men as huge, existential problem, even if they are the reason he is sitting on the slag heap which is now the Iron Thrown. Do the Dothraki just go back to Essos and their lives as hardscrabble nomads? Why??? They are, apparently, the only undisciplined hoard of barbarian horsemen who are able to defeat heavily armored and highly disciplined infantry at will. Wouldn't the entire history of the Dothraki lead you to believe that they would just start looting and raping on a Ghengis Khan-like scale across the fertile, largely supine, Westeros landscape? These are a people who routinely, and without hesitation, kill each other for matters of honor. Are we to believe they will just head home after Jon Snow takes the Black? Khal Drogo tore out a man's tongue through his throat for calling Dany a whore. Jon should have been creatively and creatively dismembered that very night, right? Everything we know about Dothraki culture makes it seem unlikely that many, or even any, would decide to settle down and become small farmers in Riverlands or weavers or smiths in King's Landing. They have deep contempt for settled agriculture and urban life, the chances they would just convert to the Faith of the Seven and integrate into the Kingdom is fanciful. Now, the good news for Andals is that, long term and without the support of dragons, heavily armored and disciplined infantry have a huge advantage over undisciplined light cavalry whose entire military doctrine can be summed up in a single word, "Charge!" In the show Grey Worm and the Unsullied just sail off to Naarth. Naarth. The most ruthless killing machines ever created by man, a heartless, conscienceless, pitiless, remorseless and unstoppable army who has never know peace or lived by any means other than slaughter, are just sailing to Naarth for some fun on the beach? To Naarth. Home of the Peaceful People, a land of absolute vegan pacifists. OK. That is nice. As a tag line. But how does that work out exactly? The dream of Missandei and Grey Worm was a dream for two people. This is 5,000 or more Unsullied. Did you see the look on Grey Worm's face? What will they do? They have no skills, they can't farm, fish, herd, or engage in any productive labor. How will they eat? Poor Naarth. On the other hand, in the books, anyone who travels to Naarth dies of Butterfly Fever within the year. So... poor Grey Worm.

Finally, there is the Tyrion solution to the problem of Monarchy: have the king chosen, not by primogeniture, but by election from among the great houses of Westeros. Oh,for fuck's sake, GOT. First, Tyrion is ostensibly on trial for his life as a traitor. Why on Earth does he get to start proposing solutions to the political issues facing the nobility of Westeros? Second, if it is going to be an election, HOW IS THAT BETTER??? OK, we can all agree, after 10 years of war and rapine, after dodging the triple bullets of the Night King, Cersei the Tyrant and Mad Queen Daenerys, choosing Bran the Broken, a near immortal, near omniscient, tree-human hybrid, to lead the kingdom through Winter and into a Dream of Spring makes sense. OK. Fine. But what happens after Bran? Is there an "after Bran?" How will that work? Brynden Rivers was going on strong as the Three-eyed Crow at the age of 128, does that mean that generations of Westerosi will be born, live and die never knowing another king? Suppose Bran lives to be 200 years old, how does he adapt himself to a changing world? Imagine if George Washington was still alive, still president. How would we handle it if he died? More importantly, over the course of 200 years, the chances of Bran's ideas significantly diverging from those of this people increases from 0 to 1. Then what? He is the Three-eyed Raven. How do you sneak up on someone who knows everything that ever happened and everything that ever will happen who can, at will, send his mind into the mind of anything or anyone he wants. Ick. How does Bran not become the God-Emperor of Dune? And remember, this is the best case scenario! Bad case is that Bran lives a normal life and dies at, say, 80, in his own bed, with a belly full of wine, and a girl's mouth, etc. What then? The only large empire that used an election system like this for a long time was the Holy Roman Empire. That only worked because it was pretty much a pro forma rubber stamp on the next in line to the throne via primagenture. Bran will have no surviving children, so by right, it will go to the child of Sansa. But what if Jon found Ygritte 2.0 and bore a new Targaryen heir? Now we have a dilemma, and one not particularly amenable to the noble houses from south of the Neck. What if the various grandee's do not agree? What if the succession is disputed? We know what happens from our own history. It means WAR. We are right back where we started. And this will happen again, and again, and again. It is a recipe for instability and more violence.

Anyway, that is my take.
  • Current Music
    Rains of Castermere

Choose the form of your Destructor! Choose, and perish!

I never post. Who even reads this anymore? Who will notice? But I do want to make a record of my thoughts today, Inauguration Day 2017.

I did not vote for Donald Trump. Neither did I vote for Hillary Clinton. I stood aloof this cycle, unwilling to lend my endorsement to any candidate. I could not lend my support to such a despicable pair. God help us.

That being said, because I am a Republican of a libertarian-ish bent, there was something not unpleasant in watching House Clinton come up short in November. I confess the Schadenfreude was strong. Few cliques of smug, self-righteous, preening snobs have deserved their come-uppence more justly. And that they received it from the very hands of voters they have taken for granted for a generation made it even more delicious. Despite my dismay at Donald Trump's vulgarity, ignorance and braggadocio, I have to admit I began to really root for his success. Partially because our country desperately needs effective leadership, but also because having a successful Trump presidency will really but the boot in those who have presented themselves for so long as our moral and intellectual superiors. Watching the condescending faces of the MSNBC and CNN reporters fall into confusion and sadness on election night is something that needs to happen again, and again, and again. I'm not sure those emotions are entirely creditable on my part. But there it is.

So far, I am guardedly hopeful. His cabinet appointments have been not terrible. They are evidence of an Administration that is seeking real substantial change, if not radical change. Since that is the very platform on which Trump ran, I think this is refreshing. It looks like he wants to keep his promises. Will it work? Well, about that I am not very optimistic, since bureaucracies and the beneficiaries of bureaucracy are deeply entrenched and will howl mightily with every attempted change and doggedly obstruct even the most modest alteration of the status quo. Will Trump be able to be a steady, forceful hand? Or will he descend into Trumpian caricature? Before the transition I would have thought, "you can't treat the government like a game show, he is going to tweet himself into irrelevancy." Now? Its anybody's guess. I have been so comprehensively and uniformly wrong about Trump from the moment he rode down the golden escalator into our lives till 11:30 PM on November 8th, I now feel that he is as likely to be another Washington as he is to be chosen form of Gozer the Gozarian.

I do know this: We have fetishized the Office of the President for too long in this country. For my whole life, and long before, we have been heaping more and more power and authority on the person of the President and giving a wink and a nod to behavior that would have sent men like Washington, Jefferson and Madison to the barricades with pitchforks and torches in hand. A lot of folks on my Facebook and elsewhere are acting as if we have truly elected Gozer. That what is at stake is the fundamental survival of our republic. I think this is overblown hooey. However, if you do believe this, does it change, even a little, your former support for the way we weaponized the Executive Branch of our government to do the heavy lifting that was to be handled by our Legislature? President Obama famously quipped that if the Congress was going to be "obstructionist" he had "a phone and a pen" and could legislate by regulation from his desk in the Oval Office. And he did. Many of my liberal friends cheered this when it should have raised the hackles of any person who loves this country. Why? Because now Trump will do the same. Only the opposite. I love this country. And I adore our Constitution, warts and all. Let me say that the separation of powers and the equal nature of each branch of government is not one of the warts. With the 1st Amendment it is the bedrock that has allowed our country to stay free. If the President can't get the votes to pass his agenda, that is a feature, not a bug. That is our system of government working exactly as it is designed to work. He must work with the Congress as an equal, not rule by diktat. The President is not a king. Maybe, just maybe, we can start remembering this as a society. Maybe the calls for deference to a president's agenda and the will of the people who elected him will be muted. Maybe the press will start doing its job again. Maybe we will start to remember that federalism isn't always a bad thing and that if people in California want to do thing differently than folks in Texas, maybe that is OK. Maybe we will decide that vesting so much power and authority in the Federal government isn't always in our best interests.

If Donald Trump can do this, then I think he will have done our country a great service, even if he didn't mean to do it.

God help us. God bless us.
  • Current Music
    It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine. REM

Thirteen Years.

Can it really be thirteen years? How is that possible? That time can slip past us, all the time noticed, marked, remembered, honored and yet... invisible.

I haven't posted to this journal for eight years.

How much have I forgotten about that day? How much have I remembered that I had once forgotten? Memory is a fragile, transient thing. The pancakes I ate today at our local diner taste the same as they did then. Our friends still meet there, mostly on happy occasions now. Our faces are all older. Our hair grey, or thinner, or gone. Did we really go to the beach after? Was the sky so very blue? Yes. Yes. Were my brother and sister-in-law really in the dark? No. They had heard about the first plane, but didn't get to see how bad it really was, didn't know the full story. My niece, appearing in my memory as a diaper clad toddler, is a junior in high school, a field hockey star, beautiful as any 16 year old, tall and lithe and full of all the hope and optimism that comes with youth, health, opportunity. Yet she isn't innocent like she was then. She knows. Everyone knows what can happen. No one talks about it. No one wants to acknowledge it. Like that slightly irregular mole on your shoulder, or the new lump under your armpit, or the occasional tingling in your left hand... best not to look too closely. Best not to think about it. Surely all will be well. Surely. If we just leave it alone, shut it away, close our eyes, surely all will be well.


I didn't think I'd be this bitter. This disappointed.
  • Current Music
    Hazy Shade of Winter, Simon and Garfunkel

5 years

Wrote this for a debate. It seems worthwhile to put it here, seems like it is something a more dedicated journalist would post.

I was upstairs, putzing around on the interwebs. I may have even been on LJ. Anyway, I pottered downstairs and asked the wife if she wanted to go out and get breakfast. The summer season was pretty much over, the restaurant was only open weekends and I was in a celebratory mood that called for pancakes. I will never forget the look on her face. She was watching Good Morning America. Her face, the one I love beyond all others, was a picture of shock and grief. "A..a..a plane hit the WTC. They said it was a commuter plane, or something. But another plane just hit it again. Another plane just hit the WTC. It just flew into it. It just blew up" It was 9:04 AM and she was crying now. I, on the other hand was totally confused. I think my reaction was akin to "Whaaa..???" My mind was still contemplating on pancakes. I went over, sat next to her and tried to figure it out. She explained how it had been breaking news. A freak accident. But it looked really bad. Tragic. Then, the other plane. No one knew what was going on. It took me about two minutes and three viewings of the now ubiquitous images to see that we were under attack, that this was terrorism's finest hour. I didn't need Katie Couric to tell me so, it was self evident. "What does this mean??" "It means we are at war." We sat there together and watched, and watched. The rumors. Bin Laden, a name vaguely recalled. Afghanistan. Then, the Pentagon, more rumors, was it a helicopter crash? A bomb? No, another jetliner. More rumors, conjecture, punditry. We watched it all, time seemed strangely suspended. The endless repetition of those poor people's final seconds. Then, the first tower collapsed. She was distraught, I was completely incredulous. "How many people?" "I don't know," I said, but my heart said, "10K, or more." "Is is going to stop??" "I don't know," I said, but my heart said, "No." Then the second tower collapsed. We couldn't watch anymore. It was time to get out of the house.

We decided to go see her sister, who lives just a few blocks away. Unbelievably, she and my brother-in-law had no clue that anything was amiss. They had been forced by my three year-old niece to watch Teletubbies all morning. Disbelief, explanations, shock, opinions. More tears. My niece's confusion and sadness at our grief...touching but also heartbreaking, her world was changed and she would never remember any different one.

We went to breakfast. I got my pancakes and ate them mechanically. Everyone was subdued, the conversation, which included nearly all the staff and diners, was serious. Everyone knew someone in the city. We began to worry about our friends. It dawned on us that we needed to start making phone calls. We totaled up 17 people who were close to us, who we knew well, who either worked or lived in NYC. Three actually worked in the WTC or WFC. One family lived in Chelsea. Several were employees at college at NYU, Fordam, or Columbia. Others commuted into the city, landing at Chelsea piers and walking to work. It was agonizing, leaving messages, waiting for calls back. It took till 10PM that night for the last person to check in, but we were lucky, everyone on our list was OK. Their stories, some amusing, some quite shockingly horrible, I won't go into.

We wound up at home again. I don't think we turned on the TV for quite a while. We went up to the beach, and looked at the clear, blue beautiful day. A perfect day. Not a cloud in the sky, except for a dull smudge of smoke along the northern horizon. Not an airplane in the sky now either, except for the occasional fighter jet flying north toward the smoke.
  • Current Music
    Roland, the Headless Thompson Gunner

The vagaries of the interweb.

Wending my way from colintj's debate post on literature,


I encountered this meme, which struck my fancy. Some are ridiculously easy, some will probably puzzle. This is not by design.

1) Select 5-10 (or so) favourite books.

2) Post the first line from them.

3) Don't mention the title or author. That's for everyone else to figure out.

4) After someone correctly identifies the book, update the original entry to reflect that fact.

1.) Tell me, O muse, of that ingenious hero who travelled far and wide after he had sacked the famous town of Troy.
The Odyessy, Homer. Spotted by herbaliser

2.) The music room in the Governor's House at Port Mahon, a tall, handsome, pillared octagon, was filled with the triumphant first movement of Locatelli's C major quartet.
Master and Commander, Patrick O'Brian. Spotted by YOSSARIAN.

3.) Midway in our life's journey, I went astray
from the straight road and woke to find myself
alone in a dark wood.
The Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri. Spotted by midnightglobe

4.) Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.
Mrs Dalloway, Virginia Wolfe. Spotted by herbaliser

5.) Two men were sitting in the bar-parlour of the Angler's Rest as I entered it; and one of them, I gathered from his low excited voice and wide gestures, was telling the other a story.

6.) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The Gospel of St. John. Spotted by herbaliser

7.) So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by
and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness.
Beowulf, Anon. Spotted by midnightglobe

8.) Theoretically a good cook should be able to preform under any circumstances, but cooking is much easier, pleasanter, and more efficient if you have the right tools.

9.) Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendered is the flour.
The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer. Spotted by herbaliser

10.) There were four of us-- George, and William Samuel Harris, and myself, and Montmorency.
Three Men in a Boat, Jerome K. Jerome. Spotted by herbaliser
  • Current Music
    Faster Pussycat to the Library, Sam Phillips

(no subject)

In response to a radically changed world situation since the Islamist attacks of 9/11, the United States under George W. Bush has adopted a broad new approach to national security. The Bush Doctrine, as this policy has come to be known, emphasizes the need for preemption in order to “confront the worst threats before they emerge.” It also stresses the need to transform the cultures that breed hatred and fanaticism by—in a historically stunning move—actively
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This is a true story.

So, I was struck by lightning.

Dramatic pause.

Well, to be honest it wasn't me so much as policraticus. At the beginning of August we had some wicked weather (no offense NOLA/Galveston) and the upshot was that pretty much every piece of technology in the house was in some way shorted out, fused, melted or otherwise rendered into so much scrap. Check this out: every light bulb was burned out. Fridge light included. Even my beloved, triple surge protected IMac G5 had its modem turned into slag. And that is the story of where I've been for two months, waiting for an opportunity to haul my butt to the Apple Store and get a new modem. Now, modem installed and restaurant nearly closed, I will be free again to wander the internets and lurk about LJ.

Am I better off? I wonder.

A hopefully humble response to the debate question, God? or Mother Nature?

From my point of view, God created the world, and the way it works. Therefore plate tectonics, subduction, earthquakes and tsunamis and the physics behind it all are his work. In fact things like tectonics, the water cycle which produces storms, vulcanism are actually necessary for life to exist on Earth. However, why do these natural forces produce evil like we've seen in South Asia? Well, as with most things in the faith, it has to do with a humanity that has been endowed with a will and a mind. Man is able to understand the forces of nature and to understand where it is safe, or failing that, the warning signs of approaching calamity. In fact, an entire tribe of sea nomads in Thailand were saved because they had a tradition of watching for the tsunami tide and running very fast up hill when they observed it. But, due to our sinful, disobedient and prideful natures we are often unwilling to learn these lessons or obey them when we do. Thai and Indian officials had ample warning of the tsunami and many years to prepare for the event. They chose to ignore it. If people fail to respect natural forces such as tsunamis or remain willfully ignorant of the danger, it seems that the responsibility lies with them, not God. Much like people who remain in places like San Francisco or Los Angeles, or people who continue to build on barrier islands in the paths of hurricanes or live in trailers in the Oklahoma panhandle. Sin, brought into the world by man's rebellion, has created a disharmony between us and God and us and Nature. This unbalance causes evil in the natural world the same way it causes evil within the hearts of men.

That being said, what could be God's purpose in designing a world where this was even a possibility? Well I don't think I am making much news here when I say that I don't know. The answers I've given you, natural processes coming into conflict with faulty human judgment, are somewhat unsatisfactory. We know that God is all powerful, all knowing and supremely benevolent. We know he has endowed mankind with a capacity for choice. We know that evil, painful things occur that can be easily understood, and there are other evil, painful things that seem totally incomprehensible. What I would say, as a Christian, is that God is as sovereign over the things we cannot understand as he is sovereign over those we can. His actions in this world are done to accomplish his will and are done with the full knowledge of eternity behind them. We, as limited, mortal creatures lack the ability to know, or in some cases even the capacity to discern the reasons behind events in this life. All I can say, ultimately, is that God loves us, and wants us to be happy and that this disaster, as with all pain and evil in this world that we cannot understand, is working within that plan and toward that goal. That doesn't mean we cannot be angry, nor does it mean we should not mourn and weep for the many who have lost all, and even more. It certainly does not mean we should not question and look for understanding in this tragedy. Your Aunt may consider herself very religious, but she has made a grave error in ascribing to God a motive that may well be false. It is presumptuous to say that God is somehow "angry" with these people, and has wrought this destruction as punishment. God is indeed angry with man, as man is in rebellion against God, it could hardly be otherwise. But the reaction that I as a Christian would point to is not plagues and disasters but to the life and reconciliation that God offered to us through his son, Jesus. God is not a God who is only filled with wrath and vengeance, he is a God who loves mercy and offers it freely.

A Happy Easter to all, and to all a good night.

Seven Stanzas at Easter
John Updike

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells' dissoultion did not reverse, the molecules reknit, the
amino acids rekindle, the Church wil fall.

It was not as flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that--pierced--died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
makeing of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages;
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck's quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen,
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.