Set Up

09-11-01_raising_the_flag

“They’ve bombed the World Trade Center in New York,” my mother said.

“Who?” I asked.

“I don’t know. We just heard about it.”

It was a few minutes before 9 A.M. on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, and her phone call had awoken me from a sound sleep. I had lost my job at the bank almost five months earlier and had taken to sleeping late throughout that summer. I had my alarm clock set for 11 A.M. My father had an appointment with his eye doctor at 1 P.M. Exactly one week earlier one of the doctor’s colleagues had implanted some radiation pellets into his left eye; another attempt to destroy a small tumor that had formed behind the eyeball. The doctor had made his first effort to eliminate it nearly seven months earlier by cauterizing the blood vessels around the tumor. But, it had regenerated. The pellets could only remain in his eye for a maximum of seven days.

After my mother had called me, I really couldn’t go back to sleep and finally got up around 10:00. Turning on the TV, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing: the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsing. It had just occurred, and I was watching a replay. “What the hell happened?” I kept asking myself.

I thought back to Memorial Day weekend, when I visited New York with a close friend, Phillip*, who had lived there for five years. He had attended New York University, beginning in 1991, and after graduating, decided to stay and try to build a long-desired career in the film industry. When that didn’t go as planned, he returned to Dallas. Yet, Phillip kept his tiny one-bedroom apartment in the heart of Greenwich Village; subletting it college students. He hoped to move back there one day.

I had first visited New York with Phillip over Memorial Day weekend 1997. We stayed with some friends of his who lived across the Hudson in New Jersey. I had no desire to patronize the World Trade Center back then. Seeing the Statue of Liberty from a boat was enjoyable enough, but a cluster of office buildings wasn’t exactly akin to viewing the remains of Tenochtitlán.

But, before our 2001 visit, I told Phillip I’d visit the World Trade Center complex – just to say I’d been there. Then, as we made our way to Manhattan’s financial district, I stopped. Literally. In mid-stride.

“What’s wrong?” Phillip asked me.

I was silent for a moment. “Nothing,” I finally said. I don’t know what it was, but I had suddenly developed a sickening feeling as I looked at those two gargantuan structures just a few blocks away. I don’t remember exactly what I said afterwards, but I shifted my focus to an Indian restaurant Phillip had wanted me to try out. My appetite had evaporated, yet we made our way back up to the Greenwich Village area. I grew hungry, though, by the time we reached the restaurant. I couldn’t explain to Phillip why I’d abruptly changed my mind about the World Trade Center. I couldn’t explain it to myself.

As I sat alongside my father in the waiting room, we stared at the TV monitor snuggled high up into a corner. An older couple sat opposite us, and, of course, we all wondered aloud who had wreaked such havoc on us and why. None of us actually cared why. We just wanted retribution.

But, thirteen years on, I know why Al-Qaeda attacked the U.S. in so brutal a manner. It’s not like they all woke up one morning and decided to highjack those planes because they had nothing else better to do with their time and money.

 

Forgetting Afghanistan.

On December 27, 1979, the Soviet Union unexpectedly invaded Afghanistan. Back then, the average American probably couldn’t locate the landlocked nation on a map. It was the U.S.S.R.’s last concerted effort at a land grab. At the time, however, the United States was preoccupied with the Iran hostage crisis. Before then, most Americans probably couldn’t find Iran on a map either. In retrospect, though, the quandary was the U.S.’s first battle with radical Islam. President Jimmy Carter appeared thoroughly inept in his handling of it; a fact that cost him the 1980 presidential election. Ronald Reagan rode into the White House with a promise to help the mujahideen fighters drive out the Soviets. The Cold War was still very active; the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. locked in a never-ending battle of hearts and minds. In March of 1985, Reagan signed National Security Decision Directive 166, which allowed for much-needed financial and military support to the Afghan warriors. Within two years, the U.S. was shipping up to 65,000 tons of arm supplies and covertly spiriting a bevy of military operatives and specialists into Afghanistan via Pakistan. When the Soviets finally left Afghanistan in 1989, the Afghan people expected the U.S. to live up to its Reagan-born vow. We were supposed to stay and help the impoverished country move from its medieval environment into the 20th century. We never did. President George H.W. Bush simply didn’t see it as a priority. Neither did Bill Clinton. People don’t forget something like that.

Blindly supporting Israel.

The U.S. and Israel have one major thing in common: both were founded by White Europeans fleeing religious persecution who ended up displacing the indigenous peoples through violence and intimidation. As of 2013, the U.S. has been providing roughly $3.1 billion annually to support its only true ally in the Middle East. This small nation of 7.1 million was formally established in 1948 and now has the highest standard of living of any country in the region with a 95% literacy rate and an average life expectancy of 79. It’s not that its neighbors are bitterly envious of Israel’s global success. The harassment of non-Jews by Israeli police and government has always bordered on the criminal. But, any criticism of Israel’s actions is met with a harsh rebuke by its supporters. President Barack Obama is repeatedly accused of abandoning Israel; a declaration born more out of political partisanship and racism than fact. Yet, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has received scant criticism about his refusal to acknowledge a “Palestinian state,” or a “two-state solution.” The ongoing battle between Jews and Palestinians is a little like the English-French divide in Canada, but more pointless. Israel’s assault upon Lebanon in 2006 was met with silence, even as news of atrocities at the hands of the Israeli military seeped out, along with images of civilians fleeing to the island nation of Cyprus. The U.S. also remains mum on Israel’s constant push into the West Bank; forcing out entire families and destroying Palestinian property. Other democratic nations always seem to look away.

 

The United States should have seen 09/11 coming. There were plenty of signs: the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center; the 1996 assault on the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia; the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania; and the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in October of 2000. There’s also plenty of blame to go around. On September 12, 2001, people kept asking how something so horrifically grand could happen. Didn’t anyone suspect that planes could be used as missiles? Didn’t anyone believe it was imprudent to overlook the expired visas of foreign nationals? Didn’t someone think box cutters and pocket knives could be so deadly? Didn’t somebody alert authorities to the curious behavior of Middle Eastern men at flight schools? Well, yes to all of the above. Various people at various times had already expressed concern about those things. And, it goes far beyond just the infamous “August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing.”

There’s nothing that can take back the horror of that late summer day more than a decade ago. People launching themselves from the top floors of the World Trade Center towers is one of the most blood-curdling things I’ve ever seen. We’ll never just get over it. And, while I’m no security expert, I know the U.S. should never set itself up for catastrophe through an imaginary veil of isolation.

09/11 Memorial.

*Name changed.

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In Remembrance – September 11, 2001

sun-shining-through-the-clouds

“Humankind has not woven the web of life.

We are but one thread within it.

Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.

All things are bound together.

All things connect.”

Chief Seattle, 1854

 

September 11, 2001.

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Doctorate in Dumbass

Alleged proof that humans and dinosaurs lived and played together.

Alleged proof that humans and dinosaurs lived and played together.

As if the state of Texas hasn’t embarrassed itself enough by keeping Rick Perry in the governor’s office for nearly 14 years and electing the maniacally right-wing Ted Cruz to a prominent U.S. Senate seat, we now have this gem. The Institution for Creation Research, which has been attempting to educate people about the veracity of the Christian Bible through scientific research since its founding in 1970, is now making an even more concerted effort at validating the Genesis story of “Creation.” Nine Ph.D.-bearing individuals from such esteemed institutions as Harvard University and the Los Alamos National Laboratory assert that Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution are nonsense, with no basis in fact, and that the universe was created by God between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago.

“Our attempt is to demonstrate that the Bible is accurate, not just religiously authoritative,” said Henry Morris III, CEO of ICR, a nonprofit with 49 staff members and an annual budget of roughly $7 million. “The rationale behind it is this: if God really does exist, he shouldn’t be lying to us. And if he’s lying to us right off the bat in the book of Genesis, we’ve got some real problems.”

Yea, if God lies, then you know we’re all in trouble. ICR rightfully notes that most non-religious institutions in the U.S. have taught the theory of evolution for nearly a hundred years now. But, they complain it’s been a lopsided deal; no other theory of how the Earth and its inhabitants came into existence has been presented. The frustration gave birth to a new educational forum: creation science.

ICR argues – among other things – that humans lived among dinosaurs; Noah really did build a massive vessel in advance of a catastrophic global flood; and the Grand Canyon formed in months, not over millions of years.

“Most Christians are like most people,” Morris said. “They don’t want to be thought of as weird. They don’t want to go against the majority.”

ICR highlights discrepancies in scientific proclamations, or conflicts within what they consider to be purely hypothetical statements. For example, Jason Lisle, an astrophysicist and ICR researcher, points to the “spiral winding problem” as proof that galaxies cannot be billions of years old. If stars had been bouncing around for billions of years, he says, they’d look more like CDs than what we see through telescopes, which are hurricane-shaped spirals. Another problem, he believes, lies with oceans. They should be more salty, if they were billions of years old. Finally, there’s the inescapable dinosaur quandary; if dinosaur bones actually were millions of years old, Lisle proclaims, paleontologists wouldn’t be able to recover traces of soft tissue from them.

I personally believe in a “Great Creator,” but that’s just my belief. I have no proof. There is proof of the sun and the moon and radiocarbon dating, which should lay a lot of this nonsense to rest. But, it doesn’t. People will believe whatever they want, and that’s their right. Trying to make a science out of it, however, moves the discussion into another realm.

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Maidens of the Medieval Seas

Two years ago the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared once and for all that mermaids – now known by the politically correct term of “aquatic humanoids” – do not exist. But, considering that tales of the luscious watery vixens have existed for eons, it’s not likely people will stop believing in them any time soon. Drunken sailors notwithstanding, these mythical figures have appeared in Paleolithic (Stone Age) cave drawings, dating some 30,000 years ago. They also show up in stories from the Orient where they were the wives of sea dragons; in Australian Aboriginal folklore where they were often called “yawkyawks”; and, of course, in Homer’s classic “The Odyssey.”

Mermaids took on a more evil persona in medieval Europe where – not surprisingly – the Roman Catholic Church viewed them as the diabolical spawn of Eve; proof, they declared from their ivory towers, that women were harbingers of doom. Drawings of the creatures during this period often show them with mirrors and combs; both signs of vanity and lust. But, there are plenty of them! It seems that, while mermaids were viewed with some level of disdain, they still fascinated scores of medieval artists.

Depiction of Atargatis, chief goddess of Northern Syria, from the medieval text “Oedipus Aegyptiacus,” 1652.

Depiction of Atargatis, chief goddess of Northern Syria, from the medieval text “Oedipus Aegyptiacus,” 1652.

A stone replica of Atargatis who is considered the Syrian counterpart to the Greek Aphrodite.

A stone replica of Atargatis who is considered the Syrian counterpart to the Greek Aphrodite.

Mermaid in the margins of “Calendarium, Decretals of Gregory IX,” a medieval text now housed in the British Museum.

Mermaid in the margins of “Calendarium, Decretals of Gregory IX,” a medieval text now housed in the British Museum.

Wood carving of a mermaid on a bench in the Church of St. Senara, in the village of Zennor, West Cornwall, England.

Wood carving of a mermaid on a bench in the Church of St. Senara, in the village of Zennor, West Cornwall, England.

Stone delineation of a mermaid in the Monastery of Santa Maria in Ripoll, Spain, which was founded in A.D. 879.

Stone delineation of a mermaid in the Monastery of Santa Maria in Ripoll, Spain, which was founded in A.D. 879.

A mermaid on the roof of Exeter Cathedral in Exeter, England, c. 1400.

A mermaid on the roof of Exeter Cathedral in Exeter, England, c. 1400.

From the Cathédrale Sainte-Eulalie-et-Sainte-Julie d’Elne in Elne, France, which was consecrated in A.D. 1069.

From the Cathédrale Sainte-Eulalie-et-Sainte-Julie d’Elne in Elne, France, which was consecrated in A.D. 1069.

From the Church of Arles Saint Trophime in Arles, France, built between the 14th and 15th centuries A.D.

From the Church of Arles Saint Trophime in Arles, France, built between the 14th and 15th centuries A.D.

Mermaid spearing a man’s heart in “Book of the Holy Trinity,” 15th century Germany, München, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Cgm 598, fol. 2r.

Mermaid spearing a man’s heart in “Book of the Holy Trinity,” 15th century Germany, München, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Cgm 598, fol. 2r.

Mermaid and dolphin in the “Roman Book of Hours,” late 15th century, made in either Venice or Padua, Italy.

Mermaid and dolphin in the “Roman Book of Hours,” late 15th century, made in either Venice or Padua, Italy.

Pendant (enameled gold, pearls, diamonds and rubies) of a mermaid from Germany, c. 1580 – 1590, housed at the Museo degli argenti, Florence, Italy.

Pendant (enameled gold, pearls, diamonds and rubies) of a mermaid from Germany, c. 1580 –
1590, housed at the Museo degli argenti, Florence, Italy.

Mermaids besiege a ship and its crew in another medieval text.

Mermaids besiege a ship and its crew in another medieval text.

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Happy Birthday Bob Newhart!

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“The only way to survive is to have a sense of humor.”

Bob Newhart

 

From “The Jack Paar Show,” 1965

 

“Air Traffic Controller” from “The Smothers Brothers”

 

“Bus Driver Training”

 

“Interview Nightmare” from “The Bob Newhart Show”

 

“The World’s Smallest Horse” from “Newhart.”

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In Memoriam – Joan Rivers, 1933 – 2014

joan_rivers

“I wish I had a twin, so I could know what I’d look like without plastic surgery.”

“I hate housework. You make the beds, you do the dishes, and six months later, you have to start all over again.”

“I don’t exercise. If God had wanted me to bend over, he would have put diamonds on the floor.”

“I’ve had so much plastic surgery, when I die, they will donate my body to Tupperware.”

“I am definitely going to watch the Emmys this year! My makeup team is nominated for Best Special Effects.”

“A study says owning a dog makes you 10 years younger. My first thought was to rescue two more, but I don’t want to go through menopause again.”

“You know why I feel older? I went to buy sexy underwear and they automatically gift wrapped it.”

“Half of all marriages end in divorce – and then there are the really unhappy ones.”

“My breasts are so low, now I can have a mammogram and a pedicure at the same time.”

“Don’t tell your kids you had an easy birth or they won’t respect you. For years I used to wake up my daughter and say, ‘Melissa, you ripped me to shreds. Now go back to sleep.’”

“I was dating a transvestite, and my mother said, ‘Marry him, you’ll double your wardrobe.’”

“My sex life is so bad, my G-spot has been declared a historical landmark.”

“The fashion magazines are suggesting that women wear clothes that are ‘age appropriate.’ For me that would be a shroud.”

“Grandchildren can be so fucking annoying. How many times can you go, ‘And the cow goes moo and the pig goes oink’? It’s like talking to a supermodel.”

“Never be afraid to laugh at yourself. After all, you could be missing out on the joke of the century.”

“The only way I can get a man to touch me at this age is plastic surgery.”

“At my funeral, I want Meryl Streep crying in five different accents.”

“I have become my own version of an optimist. If I can’t make it through one door, I’ll go through another door or I’ll make a door. Something terrific will come no matter how dark the present.”

Joan Rivers

 

“The Ed Sullivan Show,” 1967

 

“The Carol Burnett Show,” 1974

 

“The Tonight Show,” 1982

 

“The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson, 1986

 

“The View,” 2012

 

“The Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon, 2014

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Laborious

Finally – some good news!

Finally – some good news!

A few years ago – about a year after I got laid off from an engineering company and while I struggled to find even a temporary job while trying to launch my freelance writing career – I told a close friend of mine via email that, when the economy improves, people will start switching jobs without giving much, if any, notice to their employers.

“True,” he replied.

It’s starting to happen. The recent economic crisis – the worst in this nation’s history since the Great Depression – almost completely destroyed our financial stability. Multiple factors were responsible for it: broad-based tax cuts for the wealthiest citizens and largest corporations; further deregulation of banking and housing; and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Between December 2007 (when the recession officially commenced) and June 2009 (when it officially ended), the U.S. economy shed roughly 8.7 million jobs. Employers began to add jobs in 2010. Only recently, however, have we regained all those lost jobs.

There’s no real cause for celebration. The after effects of such a prolonged economic debacle are as varied as the causes. People lost accumulated personal wealth; state and local economies suffered decreased tax revenue; and home values dropped. Wages, however, remain stagnant, despite increased productivity. People have always worked too damn hard for their money. Of course, everyone feels they’re overworked and underpaid. But now, we have statistical proof. But, according to Ben Bernanke, chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve System, the “Great Recession” actually was worse than the Great Depression. In a statement filed on August 22 with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, as part of a response to a lawsuit over the 2008 bailout of insurance giant American International Group (AIG), Bernanke said:

“September and October of 2008 was the worst financial crisis in global history, including the Great Depression.” Of the 13 “most important financial institutions in the United States, 12 were at risk of failure within a period of a week or two.”

When asked why he thought it was critical for the U.S. government to rescue AIG, Bernanke replied:

“AIG’s demise would be a catastrophe” and “could have resulted in a 1930s-style global financial and economic meltdown, with catastrophic implications for production, income, and jobs.”

Obviously, too-big-to-fail truly has become too big to fail! The Great Depression was exacerbated by the fact the Federal Reserve System didn’t take command of the banks. Billionaire financier Andrew Mellon was the U.S. Treasury Secretary during the Hoover Administration and – like a typical conservative Republican – believed the nation’s banks had gotten themselves into trouble and needed to get themselves out of it, even if that meant they failed and took their customers’ money with them. Which they did, of course, in very large numbers. At the time, though, we didn’t have a Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) to safeguard people’s financial assets. The federal government’s lackadaisical attitude at the onset of the Great Depression forced Republicans to lose both houses of Congress during the 1930 midterm elections and shoved Hoover out of the White House two years later. That same kind of ineptitude is probably what caused them to lose both houses of Congress in 2006.

Yet, as the economy continues to recover and employers continue adding jobs, I see my aforementioned prediction materializing. During sluggish markets, employers can afford to be picky on who they hire and can freeze wages and salaries at will. It’s almost cruel and inhumane the way some can behave. And, what’s the average worker to do? With children, mortgages, car payments and other debts, they’re often stuck. They have little power.

But, from January to June of this year, more than 14 million people quit their jobs. I would like to think they left for better jobs. And, I’d like to believe they gave little notice to their employers. After all, companies don’t have to give employees any real notice when they plan to let someone go; albeit, quite often, people can feel it. In 2009, there were approximately seven people for every job opening. As of June 2014, the ratio had dropped to 2-to-1. Overall, the number of unemployed has dropped by 5 million, while the number of new jobs has grown by 2.5 million. Now, there’s talk of a problem we haven’t seen in a while: labor shortage. Companies are starting to feel one of the adverse effects of an improving economy; there aren’t enough people, or at least not enough qualified people, to fill certain positions. Thus, it’s employees and jobseekers who can be picky.

And, that’s a good thing. It’s really the way it should be. Only once in my life have I had the pleasure of quitting a job I hate; in January 1989, I left a retail position, which I’d held for nearly three years. I just walked into the place and gave my immediate supervisor a typewritten note announcing my resignation. But, I’ve known a few people who, in recent years, essentially gave their boss the middle finger and walked out of a company. They recounted their experiences with glee. We spend a great deal of time at work; often more than with our own families. Work gives people personal value and a sense of accomplishment, and everyone who makes an effort to complete a job should be respected. Whether that person answers the phones in a call center; digs ditches for sewer lines; programs a voice mail system; or rings up items at a cash register, they should be considered important. They pay taxes and insurance and they put the rest of their money back into the economy as consumers.

Last week, an executive in the company where I’m working as a contract technical writer staged an impromptu meeting to announce a major organizational change. After presenting a variety of business details, he said something that I’d never heard from someone at his level: “Family is more important than work.” He emphasized that everyone needs to place greater value on their loved ones than on their careers; noting that he hadn’t done that and almost paid the price for it. I’ve heard some executives tell people on an individual basis the same thing – but never in such a large setting. He’s right. A company won’t collapse because you can’t make it to a business conference. You won’t necessarily recall that training seminar. But, you most likely will remember a child’s sports event. And, you’ll cherish it forever.

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