Take this ironically or not, as you choose.
Sunday night; exhausted.

Saw the opening of “Enterprise,” the new Trek series; I had to quit after the opening credits, because the special effects hadn’t been done. Everyone’s staring at green screens; might as well have the words THE FUTURE WILL GO HERE painted on the screen. I did see the opening credits, which any self-respecting fan of the show will watch with the sound off - they have a song, which is just awful. The visuals are okay - an account of man’s progress from the first ship to the first warp-capable vessel. Very nice. But the song is just stupid, and if we all write enough letters and heap enough obloquy (now available in the new heapable form!) on the producers, they’ll change it.

The opening sequence sets the tone nicely, and essentially pits an Oklahoma farmer with a pulse rifle against a marooned Klingon. Shall we say: complications ensue. I think I’m going to like it.

Had a little housewarming party on Saturday, and yea it was a success - although like most parties, I didn’t get to spend any time with anyone for most of the event. You greet, give a tour, point them to the bar, greet the next batch, repeat, and whoa: it’s three AM. I did my part to express solidarity with my partygoers by drinking the same cheap scotch I expected them to drink. (Aged in plastic casks for the better part of afternoon, it’s Clan Anderson! Well, no - but that was the name of a really cheap scotch in my first book, and my mind calls that up whenever I’m presented with brown stagger-water.) Stayed up and talked with the remaining guests, including the last shift, until four AM. This seemed like a good idea at the time, and an exceptionally bad idea when my wife woke me four hours later to take care of Gnat. Needlesss to say we’re all walking around exhausted and pummeled - the mark of a good party.

Everyone needed this.

Everyone is tired of the news. I had a TV on in the basement; not a soul wandered down to watch until the very end of the party.

The next day, of course, the news is back; the news never goes away. The networks are back to their drivelicious programming, but the news channels are constant, like a toothache you’ve learned to live with. I can’t watch and I can’t not watch. Today there was a memorial service at the Minn. State House, and I didn’t listen to it all . The woman who ran the thing had the most annoying & inapt voice for the occasion - reedy, halting, and oddly resentful, like a school office bureaucrat huffy because the new administrator wanted to change the forms for ordering erasers. I heard most of the National Cathedral ceremony (how we’ve actually managed to have such a thing without being sued, I’ve no idea) and was so heartened to hear the different voices, see the faces - a Muslim cleric, a Rabbi, a Christian pastor. That these different faiths should join in the same ceremony is absolutely characteristic of who we are now, and it’s another of the attributes that America great. And now: for the last time: I am aware of the history of the United States. The myriad deficiencies that arise from it being composed of human beings, not Swiss robots. I am well versed in these things.

I’m getting bored with having to proclaim I’m not Jumping Jimmy Jingo because I take pride in the good this country offers , and I don't immediately append a 30-minute codicil putting it the context of our atrocities of the Phillippine war. If this bothers anyone, I’m sorry.

Translation: not sorry at all.

This morning I heard a commentator pronounce “Taliban” as “Tollybon,” and instantly I sang a Harry Belefonte song. Let’s call it it Pray-O, the theme song of the Pakistan delegation to Afghanistan earnestly trying to change their minds:

Come mister Taliban / give us this Bin Laden
US bomb and we want to have home

The planes are back in full force - and now I like the sound. I love the sound. Come on in, boys. I can see the flag on the fusillage; I give them a nod as they fly overhead. But of course the planes still have an ominous aspect; you drive from your mind the thought of them exploding over the house, because if they were hijacked, they’d probably be heading elsewhere, not landing . . . but such thoughts are cold comfort. At the grocery store today I bought soup, and I bought the kind that doesn’t need water (might not have any) and doesn’t require a can opener (might not have one.) Bought some Sterno and some canned dog food, matches, instant coffee . . . where are we going with this? Why, out of the city, of course, fleeing an attack.

Overreaction? Sure. Preparing for an unlikely scenario? Sure. Imprudent? Not at all.

Just talked to my brother-in-law - the day of the attack they did five times normal business at the station. In Fargo. And he didn’t raise his prices a penny: that’s the spirit.

Every day brings the same braid of emotions - chest-pounding confidence, resignation to the latest bad news, bright-white fury, dread, great sadness, and this feeling of peevish annoyance about how every innocent thing seems to be changed & tainted. Today I consoled myself by editing the August family video, which understandably had languished in the last week. I did the fair footage. Essentially a reshoot of last year’s half-arsed job. Back then I held all the shots too long, padded out scenes to meet the music cues - this time I shot ten times more than I needed, so I had enough material for lots of scenes. It’s much crisper. The music was once more “Summer Evening” by Delius; once more I used the same rides to illustrate the climax of the music; once more I had slo-mo shots of the riders spinning in the sky in seats suspended from chains, a lovely image of people floating and flying in space . . . and I thought of bodies falling from the World Trade Center.

Then I didn't. Because you can't. Because you shouldn't. You demean beauty by forcing it to wear whatever soiled togs are pasted to your back. You ruin your ability to recognize beauty, to value it when it occurs.

Speaking of the WTC: Ada Louise Huxtable, in today’s Wall Street Journal, discusses the building’s replacement; she fears it will be a conservative design, too careful, too portentiously memorial. Maybe; maybe not. But she does say what no one else has said - the WTC towers weren’t very good. They impressed by their size, and little else. Paul Goldberger - then the architectural critic for the New York Times - said the same thing years ago, and made the brilliant observation that we were lucky there were two of them: just one would have been oppressively dull and imaginative, but two made the center into a severe piece of modernist sculpture. Such bad food yes, but thank heavens for such large portions.

We have two buildings by that architect here in town; one is a ripoff of an old Roman temple in France - er, Gaul - and the other is a stupendously bad monolith on Washington Avenue. Makes me regret the absence of the Mpls site for the moment - I’d link. I also thought today, idly, that I should get that site back up, in case Minneapolis gets taken out; the server is in Atlanta, and it would be nice for there to be a record of what we were.

These things are considered the way you’d remind yourself to move some money from savings to checking.

Anyway, it’s a nice piece of work, if I say so myself, and in the future when we all have broadband and I’ve endless server space & bandwidth, I’ll run the video. Of course, I’ll probably have a better version by then. This is the sort of thing I’ll do every year - same place, same music, same sights, retooled and perfected.

And there will be other chances.

I don’t know how to say this - it might seem to be my imagination, but when I look at what I shot, I did not have the feeling of looking back at some innocent era free from worry. I’ve had this wierd feeling for months, maybe longer: something was due. As Andrew Sullivan pointed out last week, it’s almost a grim relief - the truth of what we face has been presented. The commissions that study terrorist threats no longer have their reports covered on A5 of the paper before disappearing into the grey slurry-pit of Washington policymaking. We’re awake now.

Wide awake.
Most of today felt mostly normal. This will change, I’m sure. Then things will feel normal again - and you won’t even notice how “normal” has been redefined. It’s not that anything is radically different, but there are different emotions now, and you get used to them.

Hmm. I’m rewriting my Backfence column, it seems. Well, the Fence and the Bleat are starting to melt together, in accordance with my Master Plan. (Now if I could just bring the Diner into it, all three fictional realms would be reconciled. Nostradamus predicted that, I believe.)

Well, I wrote the column from 1:17 to 2:49, so I’m allowed to rethink things. And having rethought them, I stand by my column. . . except to note something I left out of the paper today. This morning I had a bout of the Gnawing Bowel Dread, the feeling that there is a small smouldering weasel lodged in your intestines. No specific reason - I hadn’t heard any news, or considered anything I hadn’t considered before. Just one of those times when the juxtaposition between Gnat playing on the floor and the hideous news on the radio was just too nasty, too infuriating. It passes. But: I thought of WW2, when people didn’t have this feeling for a morning, or a week, but years.


It was worse in the dark early days of the war, when Europe was lost - it’s one thing contemplating a war to defeat a country, but when that entails the liberation of a fargin’ continent, it would seem a task beyond the ken and means of the United States.

The people who lived here - in the very room where I sit now - went through that. This neighborhood today looks exactly as it did then, which somehow is an odd comfort.

I wonder if it rained on V-E day. I can see neighbors leaving their house anyway to stand on the sidewalk and smile and shake hands. I can see the big stolid cars rolling down the hill honking horns - those old serious hey-bud-move-it horns, not today’s needle-in-the-ass meeps. I can see the clouds rolling away by noon and everything sparkling as the sun it up every last drop of rain.

Big losers in this Current Situation: Chechnya rebels. Read today that they’d taken out some Russians in a surprise attack; Putin is going to have free hand to pound them into meat paste now, which is exactly what he knew he’d get by supporting the US cause. Any number of causes which might have captured world attention have now been pushed to the margins - or, conversely, been redefined as aspects of the conflict. It’s not surprising that there’s a militant Islamic componant to many; what had seemed to be an isolated example of a regional conflict suddenly appears to be another part of the Conflict as we’re beginning to understand it. Every day the paper astonishes me with signs of the West’s laxity; in the Wall Street Journal today was a story on Germany’s tolerance of militant Islamicists, including the Armed Islamicist Group. Hmm. People are certainly within their rights to assemble to discuss means to spread the faith, preferably by pamphlets and good examples, but when you put “Armed” in your name, you’re asking for it. The groups assumed - correctly - that agitating for the death of the West would bring no consequences.

This will change, I think. Like yesterday.

Other losers: psychics. Any psychic who wants to be taken seriously will have to be asked if they predicted the WTC bombing, and prove it. They can’t, of course. I can only hope Miss Cleo isn’t on record here - “O, gurl, you know dat man no good, he fly plane into bildin’ next week - am I right?”

“That’s amazing, Miss Cleo - he has all these training manuals for 757s, and he’s taking training even though he hasn’t been applying to airlines. How did you know that?”

“The cards, they no lie, gorl.”

Save us.

Off to write the next column; every day, another column. I have to get around to promoting this book of mine, too. And answering letters. Apologies to all who’ve written and not heard back - a big mass-mail apology is in the offing, I fear. I can’t even say that I’ve read them all, because time is tight. But I will.

Gads - the MP3 player just kicked in with “Let’s Remember Pearl Harbor,” a ridiculously upbeat song. All fifes and trumpets and martial drums. I don’t think we’re going to see this sort of clueless claptrap this time; doesn’t work anymore. It’s interesting to note the music the nets are using for intros and outros - stern, pissed off, resolute, and grimly confident. We’re different people now, in a way. We don’t need marching music. We don’t have time for marching music. We have to get to work.

And we won’t stop working ‘til it’s over . . .over here.
Wrote a furious Backfence today; too much. Killed it. Working on a Bleat that is just as furious; must give it another day, let it cool, because it’s nuclear. Must stop for a night; just have - to - stop.

But I laughed last night. Laughed! I turned off the news and watched one of the last-season Royle Familys I hadn’t seen. Two fat-arsed British men dancing to “Mambo #5” while scraping wallpaper. I nearly wept. Possibly the first actual good laugh I’ve had since this pre-postwar era began.

Laughed again today when, to my delight, there was a note in the email box from D. Barry:

Kevin Richardson, of the Backstreet Boys: “[The terrorism] raises questions in my mind: What has our government done to provoke this action that we don’t know about?”

You know, if you go back to ‘41, you’re not going to find Frank Sinatra asking what we did to panic those crazy Huns.

Anyway - more tomorrow, furious or not.
Gnat walked across the room today. Having accomplished this feat, she just decided she’s going to walk now. And so she does. It’s adorable, but when she grabbed my car keys and staggered for the door I thought: well, this is going to have its downside eventually.

Last night I worked on the monthly family movie - and of course this one is grim business. I’d recorded much of the war’s first day - I had the towers going down, the stunned disbelief of Peter Jenning’s voice (“Has a part of the facade fallen?” “No,” said the reporter on the scene, “the whole tower has collapsed.” “The whole tower?” Jennings replied, almost beseeching the reporter to correct himself.) I edited the salient images down, laid them out chronologically, and added a music bed. I know we often demean these stories & drain them of their true horror when we make them into montages. Horror is remarkably accomodating when we seek to soften its blow; it’s almost as if it knows it has a better chance of working its evil again if we think we can use aesthetics to soak up the blood. But this was the music I heard last week. As I noted, I’d been haunted by the song “For Those In Peril on the Sea,” and had found the version I wanted on the “Crimson Tide” soundtrack. It comes at the end of a distubing seven minute movement by Hans Korner. Martial, but shrouded in dread, with two despairing crescendos. Then, at the end, the balm of the hymn. I just laid the track down and watched.

A friend of mine in the video business once advised me not to edit to music cues; let it all fall where it wants, and it’ll turn out better than if you force the pictures to hew to the words. He knew what he was talking about - and in any case, I wouldn’t have felt right trimming scenes to fit the swelling strings; that’s just . . . wrong. I did this to something that captures the emotions of these day, but it turned out to be astonishing - the music just cleaved to the story; it belongs to the images like nothing else I’ve ever tried to do.

And, having done it, I cannot bear to watch it again.

Yesterday I was in the grip of the Furies, a condition that comes along daily but rarely lasts sunup to sundown. I made the mistake of writing a column in this mood. It won’t run. I let a friend read it, and while he seemed to enjoy the thorough flensing I gave some folks, he deemed it wrong for the Backfence. And he was right. This was my instinct too - I was holding back what I really felt, , and that weakened the piece. It just sounded as if I was hissing.

I can hiss here, of course; this is the big sloppy Etch-A-Retch for the daily moods. If I’m reading my mail correctly, different people take different things from the Bleat - on the same day I’ll be commended for a wan jape, scolded for my bellicosity, cautioned against defeatism. In the same day! Well, I don’t think anyone would have wondered what I meant had I posted the bleat I wrote last night. But in retrospect I was essentially rewriting and refiltering the comments on andrewsullivan.com - the lad’s done a fine job of dredging up appalling remarks of the accomodationist elements of the intellegentsia, as well as the voices of those who regard militant, intolerant, gay-hating, gynophobic messianic Islamic fundamentalism with a clear eye. What a bracing hoot to find myself on the same side of Christopher “I Hate Mother Theresa” Hitchens - but of course, when the President and Daschle had that brief intense embrace after the speech tonight, I imagine millions of Americans had the same sensation.

Locally, I ran across something that bothered me greatly, because I think I know the guy who wrote it; he used to be one of my editors. He now runs a website devoted to Twin Cities news stories not covered by the regular media. Bravo for him. But there’s this paragraph on the site:

The U.S.—and much of the Western world—would have to set about reassessing pretty much everything they believe in: stuff like progress, modernity, independence, the pursuit of happiness. These are the ideas we live by, the products we export happily to the so-called developing world in the not-altogether-misguided notion that if it works so well for us, why won’t it work for everyone else. It’s why Baywatch is the most watched TV show on the planet, why the McDonald’s in Moscow is the busiest fast food joint in the world. It is our great gift to civilization—and part of the reason so many people around the globe hate us with such intensity.”

They hate us for Baywatch, eh. Really. Personally, I think someone in a grimy industrial city might watch Baywatch for the same reason I enjoy Star Trek. We all need a little escapism. If the “they” that hates us is animated by “Baywatch,” then doesn’t this suggest they're an intolerant minority bent on imposing their religious views on an unwilling minority? It’s not as if we’ve sent troops into every TV station of the world, forced them to yank “The Mosaics of Q’om” and replace it with “Baywatch.”

In other sense, to suggest that “they” hate us because of Baywatch suggests they are, in some way, possessed of the superior cultural criteria of our elite, which also despises the common man for enjoying pictures of pretty people fighting crime in the sun.

As for “progress, modernity, independence, the pursuit of happiness,” let me timidly peep up my voice in support of these things, and suggest that cultures that reject these notions have bigger problems than an excess of imported Hasselhoff. And of course there’s the rote slam at McDonald’s. I have a friend who was posted to Moscow for a few years, and she explained the attraction: it’s clean. The food doesn’t poison you. And the clerks, unlike most post-Soviet-era clerks, smile.

Here the “they” is rather broadly defined - either "they" are the entire non-American world forced against their will to consume McMeals and watch Baywatch a la Clockwork Orange, their eyes held open by metal prongs, or “they” are a small clique of people grinding their teeth in fury because people are willingly choosing things the “they” think they shouldn’t. If it's the latter that hates us, the whole Baywatch-McDonalds bit is irrelevant. They'll hate us just for being us. Because we tolerate religions other than Islam. Because, unlike Egypt, we don't hold mass trials of gays for the crime of being gay. Because we don't stone adulterers. Do you want to accomodate them? Don't bother - they'll come for us with the same idiot conviction that drove the Crusaders. Trust me, the pilots who drove the airships into the WTC weren't striking a blow against Erika Elianiak or Shamrock Shakes.

Contempt for the things people choose of their own free will is, at its heart, contempt for free will.

Does the line “our great gift to civilization” refer to “progress, modernity, independence, the pursuit of happiness”? If so: bully for him, and bully for us. Unless you’re a monarchist, or a theocrat, or any number of political animals who regard the West as a gangrenous limb, or unless you’re someone who thinks that an imperfect manifestation of perfect idea condemns 200+ years of effort. By this logic, we shouldn’t have stood up to Nazism, because of our own horridly racist practices. By this logic - which constantly asks us to justify and tolerate the failures of other cultures to liberate their own citizens - we cannot recognize the range of human accomplishment, or judge the inability of some to break free from history, from hatred, from their own forms of racism and intolerance. There is only the failure of America and the great benign Other, which is absolved its own atrocities the moment it takes common cause with those in the West who despise their own culture. If he believes that Baywatch and McDonald’s constitutes our gift to the world, and this trite observation illustrates the great grey malignancy that America represents, well -

If I met him tomorrow, I think I’d just ask about the kids and wish him well, because we have absolutely nothing to say beyond that.

I’m tired tonight. I’m tired of people who can watch 5,000 people from 62 nations burned alive and crushed to death, and think: well, you know you had this coming. I’m tired of people who presume I am ignorant of history because I hang a flag. No: .Not tired. Annoyed. Annoyed like I was while walking Jasper Dog tonight, and passed the great high school football field at the end of the block. It was lit like noon, with huge banks of lights lluminating the field, blaring through the thick autumn fog. Grunts and shouts and whistles blowing. As natural and ordinary a September sight as you’ll see, and all I could think of were the lights hoisted over the site of the World Trade Center, casting flat dead light over men who pulled the arms and legs of people from the rubble.

It angered me that this ordinary sight had been soiled - then I thought: That’s where we are now. Think of it. Think of it when you turn the corner and the lights fade. Never forget.


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