November 15, 2001--Altered Landscapes

Is this a Russian gas mask, or a giant insect head
devouring packets of flag pins? (From a store window
on Broadway around 30th Street.)

On my lunch hour I walked up to B&H Camera on 34th Street, to trade in my camera and buy a new one to use to shoot the Leonid meteor shower this weekend. I passed through Penn Station on the way, probably for the first time since the attack; on the left wall, near the entrance were reminiscences, missing posters, mural paper where people (mostly from Lubbock, Texas) had written their thoughts: supportive, religious, patriotic. My favorite, near the end of this stretch, was New York, you're still beautiful! I exited at 34th and 8th Avenue. On the avenue there was a line of people; at the corner there was a "prayer station" and Red Cross workers handing out water. I figured it was probably relatives of the victims of the Flight 587 crash, waiting for buses to take them to the relief station at the Javits Center. When I came back with my new camera, though, I saw it was actually for a World Trade Center job fair, presumably being held in Madison Square Garden; a long line of people was slowly moving, doubling back on itself. I found it hard to look towards them, thinking of the horror they'd seen and experienced.

I went back through Penn Station and passed by the remembrance wall again; I noticed things like a sign that said "deport them all" (the 5000 Middle Eastern people who had been questioned, I presume), and a bumper sticker calling for the U.S. to withdraw from the U.N. That's the last thing we need; the U.N. is not a perfect organization, but the U.S. has been isolationist enough of late. (It's ironic that George W. Bush, with a history of turning his back on treaties, should be the one to try to assemble and hold together an international coalition against terrorism.) We need to learn not to pull away or take unilateral action but to find better ways to work in conjunction with other countries, to forge cooperation and dialogue, to help to truly make the world a safer and more peaceful place. Our government has shown a disturbing trend to resist cooperating with international coalitions that it can't control. With two much unilateralism, we run the danger of becoming a rogue nation in the literal sense, beholden to no one, with little compunction about orchestrating "regime changes". As the only remaining superpower, we have dominant military strength in most situations; may we have the presence of mind to use it wisely.

On the way back to work I walked along 31st Street, and passed a firehouse; as is typical these days, there were a lot of flowers and candles in front of it, also large photos of several of the fallen firemen, one at the wheel of a firetruck, smiling, another playing golf. I turned south on Broadway, through a group of vendors on the street and stores that mostly sold wholesale. The centerpiece in one window was a gas mask; with the metallic-looking hood, bulbous eyes, and breathing nozzle, it looked rather like a giant mosquito head.

Back at work, I looked on the web. After losing Kabul, the Taliban have retreated into the Southern hills where they are facing uprising by local tribesmen as well as attack by the Northern Alliance, while the hunt is on for bin Laden. Mullah Mohammad Omar, the Taliban?s leader, made a statement in which he claims that the extinction of America is near, by some undefined plan. Today Northern Alliance troops found documents in an al-Qaeda safe-house that showed designs for nuclear weapons. Bin Laden recently claimed that al-Qaeda had nuclear (and chemical) weapons. Is this just a bluff by the besieged leaders of an unraveling government, or might they be farther along in their weapons program than our "experts," government, or media are willing to believe--or admit? It certainly adds to the anxiety of living in New York (even if it's a "briefcase nuke" that "only" is supposed to devastate things within a half mile or so); New York wouldn't necessarily be the target, but somehow I doubt they would choose to nuke Peoria. I'm thinking of getting a cell phone in case bin Laden takes the grid out again (though if a nuclear explosion, the resulting electromagnetic pulse would fry elecronics within a couple of miles). There's been all sorts of items, mostly on news-media websites, telling what to do in case of biological, chemical, or nuclear attacks. For a nuclear attack, one said hit the ground, for there'll be two shockwaves, one heading outward from the explosion, and a second, a minute or two later, heading back inward. Of course, it only helps if you're far enough away.

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