We remember…

I remember growing up hearing stories about where people in my parent’s generation were when President Kennedy was assassinated. My grandparent’s generation could tell you where they were on a Sunday in December when news broke of a sneak attack on America’s fleet in the Pacific. To me, those dates and names were pages in a history book. I was too young then to appreciate that these events weren’t dusty history to the men and women who lived through them. They were visceral, living parts of their life’s narrative.

As each year we’re further removed from the shock and disbelief of a September morning. For more and more of our citizens, September 11th is just one more of those dates that mark an historical reference point rather than a life experience. For those of us who lived through it and the days that followed, though, I have an increasing suspicion that the day will always feel a bit like current events – a recent memory, still very much alive and tangible.

The stories of where we were, what we were doing, and who we were with will probably always be seared into our individual and collective memories for as long as one of us remains to tell it. The confusion at first report, the wide mouthed disbelief at seeing the second plan burrowing in, the continuous loop of smoke rising from the Pentagon, and two buildings that crumbled in front of us are were a clarion call to arms, to unity, and to remind us that our long experiment in democracy was and remains surrounded by those who would snuff it out.

Seventeen years on, it’s a punch to the gut I can feel just as strongly today as I did all those years ago. Over all the long years from then to now, we sought justice and rough vengeance, we rebuilt, thousands of families found the internal fortitude to go on living and endure, but most important, on this day and always, we remember.

Skippy Blowemup…

I’ve always said that if I wanted to strike fear into the hearts of Americans, I’d find ten or fifteen fanatics, strap bombs to them, and send them off to ten or fifteen random coffee shops to blow themselves to pieces. It wouldn’t be in New York or DC. Those places are predictable targets. We’ve come to expect terrorist attacks there as just another feature of “life in the big city.”

I’d have pointed my boys (because let’s face it, the ones who are usually willing to get themselves killed in the process are almost always young men) at Kansas City, Boise, Tampa, Salt Lake City, or Cleveland. If I had more people and more supplies, they’d go to even smaller cities – maybe no more than 20,000-30,000 people. I mean do you really think the average person getting their caffeine fix in Henderson, Kentucky is looking some half-assed wannabe jihadist to come walking through the door with a pipe bomb strapped to his gut?

As much as I like to think I’m aware of my surroundings, no one knows more than I do how often and how easy it is to find yourself distracted. I suspect that even the best would say it’s difficult to impossible to stay “on” all the time… and even if you manage it, being suspicious of everyone walking through the door is a hard way to live. You’ll just have to assume that I’m right on that one based on my personal lack of trust in just about everyone.

Point is, we got lucky in New York today. We got lucky because Skippy Blowemup was a shit bomb builder. We won’t get lucky every time. I can’t imagine we’ll get lucky even most of the time. Terrorism with a small “t” has come to America. It got here a while ago, but it’s hard to believe we won’t see more if it. It’s just easier to get your hands on a pipe bomb or pressure cooker than it is to find a airliner and trained pilot sitting around. As a country we do a fair job of getting out hands around the big problems – I mean skyscrapers aren’t toppling on a regular basis. We’ve put security in place that helps prevent that from happening.

The real question, though, is how good are we going to be at catching the small timers with a death wish? Our daily life is built around the idea that we’re free to come and go when and where we please? How likely are any of us to put up with a pat down or full body scan every time we go to the local shopping center or get on a subway train?

I swear to God the longer I’m in it, the more I hate the 21st century.

Bias Much?

I was working in a FEMA office when the first reports of levees breaking in New Orleans came across the wires. Within minutes it seemed that the federal government was useless and the administration incompetent.

Today, five days after Sandy pummeled the East Coast, residents of New York and New Jersey are in almost exactly the same situation, but the media collectively don’t seem to be pounding the same drum.

I’ve certainly got my own view on why the two stories seem to be getting different treatment. I hope there are plenty of people out there in the blogosphere noticing the same thing. And above all, I hope there are readers from coast to coast wondering why one was the “story of the century” and the other doesn’t seem to be getting much more attention than a few “human interest” stories. It would be farcical if the result wasn’t so damned important.