Thursday, September 11, 2008

9/11 2008: Episode 9: “Woke Up, Fell Out of Bed...”

A Day in the Life

The Beatles wrote “A Day in the Life” back in the 1960s in a far more innocent time. Yet the song sustains in the minds and imaginations of so many because of it’s initial levity, its profundity, and it’s famous lengthy orchestral crescendo and finale, with the long, long, long sustained note of the piano at the end.

In the progress of the song through it’s “upbeat busy part,” the protagonist, “Woke up, fell out of bed, dragged a comb across my head.”

Here’s me before arriving at the third part of that musical phraseology. Ironically, this is not me now, but me from c. spring of 2006. It has taken me this long to finally feel motivated enough to drag this picture from my phone to my Mac, and then, to post it on the web. I think I want to include it in my dating profile so women get a bit of “truth in advertising.” Yep! That's me having a bad hair day. Or, actually, what I look like when I towel dry getting out of the shower. It is my self-portrait entitled “Yarr!”

What motivated me to post this picture? 9/11. For the sake of this project, I’m cleaning out the images in my mobile phone built up over two years. Dragging and dropping them into folders. At least initially sorting them. I have more objectives today than just this. Yet it is an example of the sort of humor and sublimity life can have when “I went into a dream.”

After falling asleep before, I was awoken at two times. I had my alarm set for 10:45 AM Pacific (1:45 PM Eastern). Yet nearly precisely at 9:00 AM (Noon Eastern) I was awoken by my friend from Cambodia. He is still having problems paying his rent, and wondered if he could stop by. I told him sure, if he came by at 2:00 pm. He’s found a little bit of day work, but not enough of it to cover September’s rent. It is September 11th. He knows he is late. His landlord is very aware of this too.

Today we have to decide how he will cover September’s rent. Do I loan him the money? If I do, what terms do we agree to? Ben Franklin reminds me, “Neither a borrower or a lender be.” Yet if I do not do this, Ben, what happens to my friend? Moreover, what happens to his daughter? Do they become homeless? This is a big problem. It requires legal services. Foreign language services in Lao. Far bigger than I can solve personally. We have a couple of government services to call this afternoon when my friend drops by at 2:00 pm.

Then I went back to bed. Slept for 90 minutes, approximately, and then got a call that said I had been awarded “free technical support services.” Except that the “free” services required me to pay for shipping. And pay a recurring charge for an ongoing subscription to their services.

I asked them if they would give me the free service they offered for free. No additional charges. No shipping costs. No additional subscription. They immediately wrapped the call and hung up.

It is amazing how “free” suddenly mushrooms into “fee-for-service.” No truth in advertising.

Yet this is the “land of the free” — the customer’s favorite price — and “the home of the brave.”

After being woken up this second time at 10:30 AM, I decided I was up for good. Not a lot of sleep, but enough for the day. And the day was entirely different than before.

Those low-lying clouds that turned the night sky as dark chocolate-orange as a bar you would buy in a candy section from last night had dissipated slightly, but remained to give the sky a white, luminous glow. As the sun progresses up in the sky now, at 11:17 AM, the white is slowly giving way to blue as the clouds further burn off.

Yet there is a sort of soft-glazed nostalgic glow in the air. I thought it was just my glasses, so I cleaned them. Yet it is apparent when a picture is taken. I’ve taken two photos here which I’ll bring over to show. That’ll take a few moments, so pardon me as I get it sorted out. Time will pass. Hopefully the results are worth it.

Here is one image, of the day outside my window. See how white the sky looks? It looks humid. Hazy. Cars glide softly down California Street a block away. The day is much crisper and sharper now than this image shows.

11:30 AM Pacific Time (2:30 PM Eastern)

Historically by this point, the FBI was confirming to CNN this was a terrorist attack.

2:00 PM Eastern, George W. Bush boarded the plane from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. He is heading to the SAC Bunker at Offutt AFB.

Andy Card said, “The right thing is to let the dust settle.” Andy? Know what? In 2008, I don’t think the dust has settled yet for some people.

Yet for most of us it has. Thankfully. We can be grateful the vast majority of us 305,124,620 estimated Americans were not at Ground Zero today, celebrating the loss of a brother or sister, father or son, mother or daughter, husband or wife, friend or lover.

Let’s consider one objective comparison of loss. How does the war in Afghanistan measure up to the domestic crisis of cancer?

Cost of War

The September 11, 2008 attacks resulted in 2,974 dead. 24 missing and presumed dead. 19 hijackers (Wikipedia).

That loss was approximately 1 out of 100,000 Americans.

It also resulted in the loss of 586 additional Americans in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan, and another 375 other foreign nationals, for a total of 961 dead. Not including native Afghan civilian and government losses.

The cost of the war in Afghanistan, separate from the DoD budget for operations in Iraq and elsewhere in the world, is $172 Billion from 2001 to FY2008.

That is approximately $24 Billion annually.

If one divides the cost of the war across the US lives lost, that is either $47 million spent per casualty (if one includes the US casualties suffered in Afghanistan), or $57 million spent per casualty (just looking at the dead and missing from the 9/11 attacks).

If one also includes the thousands of injured checked in to hospitals for the attack, one can easily justify doubling the number of casualties, thus halving the per-victim cost. There were at least 2,100 people checked into New York hospitals by 3:55 pm on 9/11, with 200 in critical condition. That still makes the cost of the war approximately $23 million to $34 million per direct victim.

Cost of Cancer

In comparison, cancer will kill an estimated 565,650 people in the US this year (Reuters).

That loss will be approximately 185 out of 100,000 Americans. 90-185 times the casualty rate of 9/11.

The US government budgets about $4.75-$5 Billion annually to the National Cancer Institute.

Dividing $5 billion amongst the estimated people lost annually to cancer, the US government is spending $8,839 per victim annually. Even if we multiply that value by seven, to show what we would spend over seven years, that would be $61,875. Yet then you have seven years of cancer deaths to factor against that.

In other words, we spend far less money per year than a typical American would spend on a decent car, like the Saturn Aura, for hundreds of thousands of cancer patients, than we do of the nation’s treasury buying the equivalent of an F-18 Hornet for each victim of 9/11.

This is not to dishonor those who died. This cannot dismiss or lesson the personal grief of anyone. Nor does it take into account the indirect accounting for the economic shock to the country, the depression of those who were exposed to 9/11, or any of the other intangibles. Then again, neither does it take into account the economic, psychological or spiritual losses suffered by the victims of cancer or their families, friends and employers.

It is simply to frame the issue objectively. Seven years later. To measure how we have responded to one issue that costs lives of Americans in an acute crisis, versus another issue that costs lives of Americans on a chronic basis.

More Calls Before Noon

My friend Gordon Mullin called me. We know each other from Saint Jude’s Episcopal Parish in Cupertino. We spoke about how life is going. Forgetting things and remembering things. Making sure we scheduled correctly for the day. Tonight I’ll meet with Gordon to talk, and then we’ll go to Choir Practice.

He skimmed over the letter I wrote about 9/11. As a busy guy getting ready for a trip, he doesn’t have time to focus his attention on 9/11, though he is aware of the day.

I wrote “too many words” as usual. I was accused of this at Cisco. I write too much. Too long. It is mentally demanding for people these days. We’re all busy. I was always reminded of that scene in Amadeus when the Austrian royal personage waved his hand and said to Mozart, “Too many notes!”

Yet Gordon’s not paying attention is actually a good sign. It means he is too busy to care to read the whole thing. It means that life goes on, and we are not sociologically as fascinated and gripped by the fear and trauma as we all were back then. During those first days after the attack, all someone needed to do was to show the image on the screen and we were all riveted. For hours. Over and over again.

The pattern was always hypnotic. Voice over. Impact. Explosion. Cut. Impact. Cut. Explosion. Cut. Close up. Cut. Collapse. Cut. Collapse. Queue music. Fade to face of Firefighter. Fade to American flag. Fade to black. Either that, or “more news at 11.”

It was a real event made super-real. Hyper-real. Unreal. Make no mistake: actual human heroism occurred that day. In thousands if not millions or hundreds of millions or billions of ways. In the planes. On the ground. Around the cities and communities affected. Across the country and around the world.

Yet after a while, the tragedies of 9/11 began to turn from what it was, actually, into what people wanted it to be for them, ideally and ideologically. Economically and politically. For the past seven years, 9/11 has been a battleground of memetic control over the fate of its historical and political interpretation.

Ads and marketing. Propaganda and polemics. The “possession” of 9/11 has been fought over by all sides, far more fiercely than any patch of ground. We’ve been warring over the meaning of our lives, of our families, of our communities and our denominations, and our country, our alliances, and our world.

This is why I never wanted to write about it before now. To talk about it publicly. It was alive. Raw. Spiritually resonant. Too much passion and unbridled fury. Too much irrationality and hatred came out. Too much stupidity uttered by the unwise and uneducated was accepted as “truth.” Too much malicious propaganda was issued by all sides for their own purposes.

Maybe Andy Card was right. The dust needed to settle. Yet there are differences between when the President of the United States of America needs to get involved in a national crisis, and when each private citizen, not elected to office, decides to take on responsibility and civic action. As a historian, as a philosopher, as a writer and author, I felt in my heart my time had not yet come. Until now.

It is now 1:08 pm. In New York on 9/11, 2001, by this time of day, 4:08 pm, there were over 2,100 people admitted to New York City hospitals. 200 were in critical care. Building 7 was now on fire. CNN was just starting to report there are “good indications” Osama bin Laden was involved.

I can’t recall what I was doing at that time in my real life that day. I only recall the phone call from my girlfriend Kathy that morning. The rest of the day is a blank for me. I suppose, psychologically, my own life didn’t matter that much. As in, other people needed to come first. I remember I tried to call family, yet didn’t get far. There wasn’t much to be done. That could be done.

There are likely things I have logged here in my computer as to how I spent the day and evening of 9/11 in 2001. Yet for now, I still need to “drag a comb across my head.” Time for some lunch and a good walk to Hobee’s and back. Time for some sunshine and flowers. To withdraw from memories of New York to the reality of California.

1:15 PM: The sun is shining brilliantly now.


  1. What happened to your pledge of confidential assistance.

    "Because of the honor and dignity people deserve, I will keep the personal stories of those whom I serve private and confidential. Yet in the past month alone I've helped counsel, pack, shuttle, research and find employment for a growing number of people either at-risk of losing their places to live, or who are already out on the street."

  2. At a certain level, I have to speak about what is going on to obtain help for these people. If someone needs specific help, I have to speak to someone about specific aid requests. Yet here is not where I wish to name names.

    In the long run, for instance, I may be soliciting funds through various non-profits for people at-risk. You cannot ask for funds and then, when people say "For what, specifically?" just tell them "Trust me. It's for a good cause."

    What cause? "Can't tell you."

    There are ways to divorce who is getting what aid from the truth that certain aid is being provided.

    I hope it is reasonable to express such truths without engendering excessive fear. If we shut down all conversation about a crisis, we cannot collectively address or solve the crisis.

  3. It is not about fear, it is about dignity.

  4. True. I treat the people I am helping with respect and dignity. On that we agree.

    Confidential assistance requires bringing certain people into specific private confidence. Yet the general trends and generic examplars of truth: "a crisis is happening, such as x, y and z" is an issue for public dialog.

    I am not providing "secret" assistance. There is no conspiracy here. I have not sworn utter privacy such that I must take all facts and knowledge to my grave.

    People who know me personally and what I do in a day know who I am helping and why. People who read my blogs may also observe truths revealed over time. Certain specifics remain private and confidential. Certain items require communications to 3rd parties. Others require communications to the general public.

    So my pledge of confidential assistance is there implicitly. In most cases, there are not specific document-by-document, conversation-by-conversation legal contracts. Most of this is based on what I hope to be day-to-day, moment-to-moment decent and fair judgment.

    Again, just as a clarifying point, I am not under any present legal contract of confidentiality. I am not "licensed" or "bonded" or in any way limited by the sorts of laws many institutions providing certain care are limited to or held to. Nor have I warranted that I have met any specific standards of care, other than being a good Samaritan, and my general Alpha Phi Omega life membership pledge of leadership, friendship and service.

    A further clarification: there is no Constititutional "right to privacy." We have certain laws promoting confidentiality — for instance, trade secrets, privacy acts, HIPPA for health care — but generally unless otherwise prohibited by law, the legal Freedom of Speech in the United States and the Freedom of Expression guaranteed by the United Nation's 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights generally takes precedence over most privacy privileges unless specific harm or malice can be proven upon the person expressing themselves.

    Hence, once again, I hope it is reasonable to express truths without engendering excessive fear.

    Yes, this is about dignity. We may have a significant difference in how to dignify a fellow human.

    I accept them when they are troubled, and I try to get them assistance. Sometimes that may require communicating that plight to others. Not to shame them. To get them help. Then, after a single individual gets help, there may be a trend. We then need to speak up — and we should be encouraged to speak up — to talk about the general trends where people need assistance.

    That is what I am doing on a day-to-day basis these days. That's the basis of highlighting crises and conflicts in the world.

    On such matters, I shall share what is appropriate to keep others informed of general progress and setbacks, while preserving people's peace of mind and making sure they know that, beyond all else, I care for them and stick by them during these troubled times.

    If people I help do ask for me to keep something specific private and confidential, you will generally not see it blogged here. Yet if I feel that someone is trying to manipulate a situation to avoid public notice of a situation that is inherently "not good," I may indeed speak up and write about it here.

    That, to me, is the difference between a harmful "secret" and a trusted "confidence."

    Hopefully this clarifies matters to your satisfaction, and to the satisfaction of other readers.

    If anyone has any issues they wish to discuss with me personally, they can reach me at 650-906-3134 (mobile) or