9/11 Memory

Today the Wisconsin State Journal printed two pages of memories from readers concerning the horror of 9/11.

My words were part of recollections to be found in the printed edition. And online.

Gregory Humphrey: ‘It was a serene sadness’

Memory picks up not only the mundane things I did on 9/11, but the quiet to be found in places around Madison that usually are bustling with noise.

On the way Downtown, I stopped for coffee at Borders. In the parking lot, an employee who I always chatted with over the years had arrived for work. We looked at each other, just shook our heads and walked in silence through the store door.

On Capitol Square, I recall how quiet it was. People were out and yet the loudness of the city was calmed by the horror that had struck the nation. No one was yelling or screaming across the street. It was a serene sadness. Signs were going up at banks and stores; each of the signs had been individually created. Each shared the same purpose: alert customers that the place of business was closing at a certain early hour considering the terror in New York. No two signs were alike.

The Capital Times had printed its afternoon edition, and it had landed in the news boxes, one of which was located outside a restaurant on Mills Street. On the front page, a searing image of one of the towers on fire dominated any print about the story. Inside the restaurant, the mood was somber. All were watching CNN and eating slowly. Big windows faced the street where young college kids, usually energized, were instead huddled around one who had bought a copy, all reading in disbelief.

Kent Kobersteen, former Director of Photography of National Geographic
“The picture is by Robert Clark, and shot from the window of his studio in Brooklyn. Others shot the second plane hitting the tower, but I think there are elements in Clark’s photographs that make them special. To me the wider shots not only give context to the tragedy, but also portray the normalcy of the day in every respect except at the Towers. I generally prefer tighter shots, but in this case I think the overall context of Manhattan makes a stronger image. And, the fact that Clark shot the pictures from his studio indicates how the events of 9/11 literally hit home. I find these images very compelling. In fact, whenever I see them they force me to study them in great detail.”

Your Tuesday Perspective (On Bernie Sanders)

As the Democratic Party is now about to run at full steam towards Super Tuesday I think we need to calm down just two seconds and ponder a fact.

As of now, three states have been involved in the process and about 687,000 Democrats have voted — 156,000 of them for Bernie Sanders — representing about two-tenths of one percent of the nation’s population.

Sanders has money and a determined machine to support his path in the days and weeks to come, but today the hype over it all is just that.  Hype.

The vetting that is about to take place for Sanders–especially concerning his views on international policy–will be illuminating.  In just a few hours on Monday, his adoration for a Fidel Castro literacy program was headlined.  Nothing wrong with literacy, but no smart and grounded candidate lauds Castro and interjects that into a contest where the objective is to beat Trump in the fall.

Then it was reported that when American hostages were being held in Iran starting in 1979 Sanders was giving vocal support to the entities who stood with Iran. 

Virtually all Americans—Democrats, Republicans and independents—united in support of the hostages and the international call for their freedom. One prominent political figure on the 2020 stage, then almost completely unknown, stood apart by joining a Marxist-Leninist party that not only pledged support for the Iranian theocracy, but also justified the hostage taking by insisting the hostages were all likely CIA agents. Who was that person? It was Bernie Sanders.  

Sanders would like the public to believe, as an AP story put it, that “democratic socialism [is] the economic philosophy that has guided his political career.” But that has not always been the case. In 1977, he left the tiny left-wing Liberty Union Party of Vermont that he’d co-founded, and in 1980 instead aligned himself with the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), the self-proclaimed Trotskyist revolutionary party, became its presidential elector in Vermont, and campaigned for its candidates and platform that defended the Iranian hostage seizure.  

Yes, much will happen with this process as we move to nominate our candidate for the fall ticket.  So do not hyperventilate if you fear what Sanders could do to the ticket if nominated, just as others should take air from a paper bag thinking this is all over and Sanders is the winner.

This is what a runner calls the warm-up exercises before the all-out strides take place.

Donald Trump Either Got It Wrong Or Should Have Never Said It

Fallout continues from the presentation by the man-child-in chief on Sunday following the death of Daesh leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.  I posted that the words of a president matter, and that the manner in which Trump spoke to the nation was just another example as to why Trump is not suited for the office he holds.  He is not able to conduct himself with any degree of character and maturity that the office requires.

In conversations with friends on Monday, there was a continuing theme from others that the lack of presidential gravitas and just plain common sense was demonstrated in his rambling dialogue.  Today the heavy hitters from the defense and intelligence community are adding their perspective. 

It is not going to be a good day for this White House.

A “beautiful” and “talented” dog got injured. A robot had been on standby to aid in the hunt for al-Baghdadi if needed. U.S. Special Operations Forces arrived in eight helicopters and were on the ground for about two hours. They entered al-Baghdadi’s compound within seconds by blowing holes in the side of the wall. They chased al-Baghdadi into a web of underground tunnels — many of them dead ends — that they already knew existed. Before the U.S. forces left for the 70-minute, “very low and very, very fast” helicopter ride back along the same route from which they arrived, they captured some of al-Baghdadi’s henchmen and seized “highly sensitive material and information” outlining the origin of ISIS and plans for future plots.

A few of those colorful details were wrong. Many of the rest were either highly classified or tactically sensitive, and their disclosure by the president made intelligence and military officials cringe, according to current and former U.S. officials.

Why this matters is most obvious.  To most of us, I should add, it is most obvious.  The utterance of what might seem innocuous information to the layperson can, and often, has a far deeper meaning to the ones on the front lines.  Either our front lines in keeping the nation safe or from those on the front lines who seek to use terrorism to undermine the West.  That is why the following is almost breath-taking.

“We agonized over what we would put in his briefings,” one former senior White House official said, “because who knows if and when he’s going to say something about it.”

“He has no filter,” the official added. “But also if he knows something, and he thinks it’s going to be good to say or make him appear smarter or stronger, he’ll just blurt it out.”

When the nation needs to treat a president likes a child perhaps it is time to replace that person with an adult.

Memories From 9/11, From My Book

Today at our home, on the Madison isthmus, we observed 9/11 with a special flag.

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From my book, Walking Up The Ramp.

Starting on page 245.

James was at home on Wilson Street on 9/11. Sixteen months had passed since we had met. Using some apples he had picked from a tree just down the block from his place, a tree standing along a desolate parking lot, James was baking a cake when the towers were hit. I was at my apartment and called him with the news. He struggled to stir cake batter and hold the phone to his ear while I recounted the breaking news.

No one alive at that time will forget the day the Twin Towers of New York fell, or when the plane destined for the US Capitol crashed into the field in Pennsylvania while another struck the Pentagon. Chaos. Whatever mundane things we were doing that morning are etched on our memories. Given the gravity of the events and the years which followed, we as a nation will never forget them.

I was at my apartment and had turned the television on as I came downstairs for coffee. The first plane had struck one of the towers, and the smoke could be seen pouring out, but the general consensus, such as it was, hoped that an accident of some kind had taken place. Then the second plane struck, and by now I was holding my cup and wondering what in hell was happening. Though none of us knew precisely what was taking place, it was clear that some type of national attack was underway.

I called James at once. He had worked as a teacher in New Jersey and had friends living in New York. His first classroom had a view of the Towers from the other side of the Lincoln Tunnel. He used to spend time gathering his thoughts between classes, contemplating their massive size. (We would learn later that he, like so many others, lost college chums who worked in the Towers.)

As I mentioned earlier, James was in the midst of making an apple cake and was finding he had more batter than pan. Since we spent a lot of time together, he had his apartment fitted out for basic living but somehow had not found it necessary to have a television. I couldn’t just tell him to turn his set on and watch. Over the phone, then, I was telling him to get his radio dial turned to WBBM-AM 780, the all-news station from Chicago that had been my station to turn to for instant information since being a teenager. I knew that James was not a fan of AM radio, often mimicking the sometimes static sound with a cupped hand over his mouth while trying to impress on our friends that I am more unique then they had any idea about when it came to what I listened to on the radio. Not skilled in fine-tuning radio dials as I, James struggled to get the station set and listen along. I think that on the morning of 9/11, James altered his feelings a bit about radio as he listened to the news. (Though I did question if his conversion were complete.)

In those first minutes of the national tragedy, we made plans for me to pick him up later in the morning. By then, we might know a bit more about what was happening on the east coast, and James’ cake would have been successfully removed from the oven and cooling on the stovetop.

I next called Mom, and knew instantly she was truly upset. She did not want to think about what was going on in New York. Dad had taken the car out for something to be fixed that morning, and so Mom was hearing all the news by herself. She was scared and alone.

Shortly afterward news reports made known that the Pentagon too had been hit. I called an older friend, Kaye, and asked, “What is happening to my country?” Kaye had worked for years in our Capitol office as a ‘floating secretary’, a member of a pool of assistants loaned out to the various legislators. We had become good friends.

Over the years Kaye and I had traded phone calls about every sort of news event as we both loved politics and history, but this one was so god-awful that I recall crying while talking on the phone and watching the events play out on television. She was nervous and yet more contained. She had, after all, lived through World War II. My generation, however, had never witnessed anything like this. (Our friendship would sadly dissolve after I took a firm and outspoken stand against the Iraq War in 2002, and marched for my beliefs. My involvement in the protests was something Kaye very much disproved of, and she let me know of her feelings in brusque terms.)

When the Towers fell, it was the most gut-wrenching moment ever to fill the television screen. I bolted to the shower and just wanted to get together with James. There was something about the events that played out that day which demanded connection to others. On the way downtown, I stopped for more coffee at Borders and will always remember that one of the nicest guys who worked there was arriving as I was entering the store. We had talked many times in the past, but that morning we looked at each other and both just shook our heads and walked in silence through the store door.

James’ cake was cooling by the time I arrived at his apartment and we started that running conversation that would last all day and into the night, and in time would include more people along the way. Since James lived on the isthmus we walked just a couple blocks to the Capitol Square and were struck by how quiet it was. People were out and yet the loudness of the city was calmed by the horror that had struck the nation. No one was yelling, or screaming across the street. It was a serene sadness. Signs were going up on banks and stores; each of the signs had been individually created. Each shared the same purpose: alert customers that their place of business was closing at a certain early hour in light of the news from New York. No two signs were alike, and yet each conveyed the same sadness and the same shock that we both felt.

We took the cake to the home where eventually James and I would come to live during the fall of 2007. We dropped the cake off with Henry and made plans to come back and meet all the others for dessert and tea. We were part of the grouping that made up Henry’s ‘salons’. Over the years, politics, books, and movies were the topics of grand discussions at Henry’s place.

James and I had lunch that afternoon at a small Chinese restaurant on Regent and Mills Streets. The Capital Times had printed their afternoon edition, and it had landed in the news boxes where I bought two copies. On the front page a searing image of one of the towers on fire dominated any print about the story. Inside the restaurant, the mood was somber. All were watching CNN, and eating slowly. There are big windows that face out onto Mills Street and young college students were huddled but lacking the usual energetic movements that accompany such a gathering.

Later that day back at Henry’s, his usual group gathered in the living room, and watched hour after hour as the coverage continued. The only bright spot was the apple cake with whipped cream topping and the tea selection that always made Henry’s home a perfect place to weather a storm.

That single day changed our politics, international affairs, how we fly, and the way we think, and unfortunately how we view others. As a nation, everything changed. In the weeks following the incident, heightened security measures were in place even at the Wisconsin statehouse where James worked. On a personal level, while we still have many of those same people over for tea and dinner and conversations I am hopeful that we never again meet in this nearly one hundred twenty-five-year-old house for a day like the one when we joined in friendship to deal with 9/11. 

Calling Out Antifa Activists

There comes a time when we can not stay silent any more.  Like now.

Many have talked or blogged about antifa activists.  While I have read about this group I have not blogged about them, mainly due to always finding another story which propelled me to my keyboard with more passion.  But then I saw this photo.  I did not know who the man was or what happened.  It was his eyes which drew me in to find out more.  He looked more than hurt, he looked stunned.  That is what got my attention.

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The man, Andy Ngo is an Oregon photojournalist who covers Portland’s frequently violent protest scene.  He was taken to the hospital Saturday after being attacked by black-masked antifa activists.

Being an editor at the online platform Quillette comes with many responsibilities.  But needing to know how to defend oneself as a journalist should not need be a prerequisite for heading out to do the job.  Ngo was struck on the head and face “multiple times” by antifa protesters, who also threw objects and a milkshake at him as he tried to walk away.

Again, not what any one should expect when covering a news story.

The attack, recorded in part by the Oregonian and posted on Twitter, came during Saturday’s Rose City Antifa counter-protest against a rally held by the far-right group Proud Boys in downtown Portland.  Let me be clear in stating that neither group is the type we would want dating our sister.   But it was the antifa crowd which damaged and hurt this journalist–and that is why this post is written.

Bloody cuts and bruises is the aim of the antifa crowd, as demonstrated on far too many occasions.  Ngo was punched several times in his face and on his head–and this all took place in the middle of a street.

In America.

There is no refuge on this blog for anyone who attacks a journalist.  Period.  What happened to Ngo was reprehensible.

How Many More Angry Males Like Cesar Sayoc? Right-Wing Nuts Prove To Be National Threat

Right-wing lunacy has made headlines this week with pipe bombs being mailed to prominent Democratic leaders. The Facebook account of Cesar Sayoc, the Florida man who was arrested today, has almost exclusively pro-Trump content, including pictures and videos Sayoc purportedly filmed at one of the president’s political rallies.  His Twitter feed is littered with far-right conspiracy theories or violent threats aimed at some of Donald Trump’s most outspoken critics.

His tweets falsely claimed the February 2018 mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, was a false-flag operation orchestrated by Soros and his liberal allies.  And on and one it goes with this type of ridiculousness.

I am very glad they have his backside in jail tonight where he will likely spend the rest of his life.  Sayoc’s Twitter feed reads like a greatest-hits of right-wing media anger and conspiracies.  But hsi rants are not unlike those of Trump and his followers who have no facts but still spew rot about Soros, Kaepernick, Benghazi, Fast & Furious, while bowing to all things reported on Fox News and their tribal elder Sean Hannity.

Right-wingers would be a joke if not so dangerous to public safety and our republic.  The mind-set of Sayoc, and many others as we all know, is directly related to that happens when free-thinking and factual basis is removed for group-think and idol worship of Donald Trump.

Trump has blamed the attempted murder of prominent political leaders on the press.  That is absolutely despicable.  These pipe bombs are just the next step in the war of terror being waged by white nationalists, white supremacists and members of the far right who are afraid of the changes that have come to the United States during the past several decades.  Boo-Hoo that they are not able to stay abreast of technological changes, advances in science, and wince at social progress for minorities.

The simple-minded who drink Trump’s Kool-Aid are lulled into thinking that the biggest threat is coming from a caravan of poor and desperate refugees.  But these white angry voters are missing the undermining of their health care and the give-a-way in tax cuts to the wealthiest in the land.  Trump has the right-wing looking for the object he wants to make glitter while he undermines the economic ladder and safety net that so many of that demographic rely on–even though many are not aware they get federal subsidies.

They spit and spew and make treats and now as we see, pipe bombs.  Clearly we know who needs watching in this nation.

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800 Year Old Mosque Destroyed By ISIS

This is simply galling.

Iraqi forces say IS blew up the Great Mosque of al-Nuri and its famous leaning minaret as jihadists battled to stop advancing pro-government troops.

IS said American aircraft had destroyed the complex, a claim denied by the US.

Aerial photographs show the complex largely destroyed.

The mosque, which was more than 800 years old, was where in July 2014 IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi demanded allegiance in his first and only public appearance following the declaration days earlier of a “caliphate”.

In Solidarity With Britain