The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – September 11, 2017

The Daily Escape:

On September 8th 2017, a full moon passed through a test of the Tribute in Light at the National 911 Museum. By Gary Hershorn

Sixteen years post-9/11, we are mostly healed, but it was difficult to get here. Before 9/11, we had the luxury of dealing with one domestic disaster at a time: The San Francisco earthquake, the Chicago fire, the Galveston hurricane, Mt. St. Helens, and hurricanes Andrew and Sandy.

With the collapse of the twin towers, the Shanksville PA crash and the Pentagon attack, we had to find the ability to process the enormous shock and grief of three simultaneous events. That wasn’t easy, particularly since the media constantly reinforced the scale of the disaster, and how things would never be the same.

But most people grieved, and some helped those who were more afflicted. The government helped by shifting our focus to the foreign enemy who had committed these terrible acts.

Now on 9/11/2017, we have had two hurricanes back-to-back in the east, and have more than 100 wildfires are burning in the west. How do we process all of the shock and grief? Now our sole focus is on how to dig out, resume our lives, and rebuild. Where will the resilience come from?

And where will we find the money?

In retrospect, 9/11 helped to show us the way to heal when these unspeakable disasters happen. That’s a pretty thin smiley face on an awfully grim day in our history, but it’s true. Some healing began that very day, and time and distance from it is still (slowly) bringing people to a better place.

Some healing has yet to occur. Many still mourn family and friends who died on that day 16 years ago. Wrongo has adult children who worked in Manhattan at the time, who still will not ride the NYC subways.

The NPR show “Here and Now” had a brief segment with Rita Houston, the program director and an on-air personality for WFUV, Fordham University radio. They discussed the station’s most-requested songs on 9/11, and in the days and months afterward.

Surprisingly, the top tunes requested were those that referenced New York in a sentimental way. Mostly, they were songs that took listeners back to an earlier, more innocent time. Not many requests were for patriotic songs, or “pick us up by the bootstraps” messages. Rather, people wanted to hear songs of sweetness and emotion. Amazingly to Wrongo, the most requested song was Elton John’s “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” from his album “Honky Château”, written in 1980.

But for music as a healer, the October 20, 2001 “Concert for New York” can’t be beat. It was a highly visible and early part of NYC’s healing process. It has been described as one part fundraiser, one part rock-n-roll festival, and one part Irish wake.

One of the many highlights of that 4+hour show was Billy Joel’s medley of “Miami 2017 (seen the lights go out on Broadway)” and his “New York State of Mind”. Joel wrote “Miami 2017 in 1975, at the height of the NYC fiscal crisis. It describes an apocalyptic fantasy of a ruined NY that got a new, emotional second life after he performed it during the Concert for New York. 

The concert brought a sense of human bonding in a time of duress. It isn’t hyperbole to say that the city began its psychological recovery that night in Madison Square Garden.

Joel now plays it frequently. Here he is with “Miami 2017” and “New York State of Mind” from the October, 2001 Concert for New York:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

Most of the visible scars of 9/11 are gone, but America still lives in persistent fear. We fear Kim Jong-un and his missiles. We distrust Russia. We are afraid that ISIS will attack us on our streets.

We worry that our budget deficit will bankrupt us. We fear for our kids’ safety if they walk to school alone. We fear the mob outside our gates. We fear the immigrants already inside the gates.

So today’s wake up call is for America. We can never forget the heroes and the victims of 9/11, but we have to stop letting fear drive our actions.

Check out the audience reaction to Joel’s songs. That doesn’t look like fear, and that’s where we all need to be emotionally in 2017.


Isn’t It a Pity?

Wrongo and Ms. Right were in PA on 9/11, and we attended an outdoor concert at the Longwood Gardens, about 30 miles west of Philadelphia. We went to see Taj Mahal, who was in fine voice, and the crowd loved him.

The opening act was Bettye LaVette, who has spent the last 50+ years trying to become a success in blues music, finally winning Best Soul Blues Female Artist this year. She acknowledged that we were gathered on the 15th anniversary of 9/11, and sang a searing version of George Harrison’s “Isn’t It a Pity“. It redefined the song for the audience, who like Wrongo, remembers it as a statement on the breakup of the Beatles.

Ms. LaVette’s version packed a fantastic wallop, and seemed entirely correct as a way to think about the 9/11 tragedy, and the various other tragedies that 9/11 has spawned over the past 15 years.

Harrison wrote the song in 1966, but it was rejected for inclusion on at least two Beatles albums. He included it on his solo album “All Things Must Pass”, issued in 1970. The song hit #1 on the Billboard charts in 1971.

Ms. LaVette had included “Isn’t It a Pity” on her 2010 CD called “Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook”. Here she is doing it live back then, although it lacks the searing emotion that we heard from her on Sunday night, it is worth a listen:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

Partial Lyrics:

Isn’t it a pity, isn’t it a shame
How we break each other’s hearts, and cause each other pain
How we take each other’s love without thinking any more
Forgetting to give back, now isn’t it a pity.

Some things take so long
But how can I explain
When not too very many people
Can see we’re all the same

Thinking about 9/11, brings to mind this from the Pant Load:


Its always been about The Donald!

The Pant Suit has problems of her own, what with Pneumonia gate and the “Basket of Deplorables”. Wrongo has had pneumonia a few times in his long life, and it failed to disqualify him for anything. The Basket of Deplorables used to be sold by Harry and David for Thanksgiving, aimed at the budget-conscious consumer.

Hillary’s apologized. Is there anything more quintessentially Democratic than making a perfectly legitimate attack, and immediately apologizing when there’s pushback?

(Mostly) weird links you probably missed:

Turkish prosecutor thinks that Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen (who lives in the US), was appointed as a secret cardinal by John Paul II in 1998. Turks apparently love conspiracy theories, particularly when they can link Gulen, the enemy of Turkish president Erdogan with the US, the enemy-in-waiting.

There was a sushi chef fight on Long Island: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

The violence at the Ichiban Sushi restaurant on Montauk Highway in Oakdale left one of the kitchen combatants so sliced up, he had to be rushed to Southside Hospital. His injuries were not life threatening, police said. Police busted Kong Chen for assault. It was not clear what caused tempuras to flare.

Newly discovered blood fluke is named after Obama. What a way to help burnish his legacy! Left wing anglers now prefer the new Obama flatworms when fishing in fresh water. Right wing anglers are resisting calls to take the bait.

Here a list of North American companies producing edible insects for sale. Start wherever you are comfortable with your alternative sources of protein. Billions were killed so you could try eating bugs.


September 11, 2016

(There will be no cartoons today. Instead, Sunday cartoon blogging will be tomorrow, Monday 9/12.)


After 15 years, some of the sharp pain of the events of 9/11 have faded, and an idealized view of the towers like this one, is all we need to take us back to that point in time when American invincibility ended. We remember the tragedy, but perhaps we now have enough distance from it to begin to put 9/11/2001 in a context for today.

Tom Englehardt makes the point that on 9/11, al-Qaeda launched a four-plane air force against the US, and now, 15 years later, the air war still has not ended. Englehardt states that the costs have been staggering. Pentagon figures show that just since 2014, the cost of the air war to the taxpayers has been $8.4 billion.

The point behind these numbers is that America’s air war in the Greater Middle East and Africa has become institutionalized, and is now a part of our politics. No future president will end our drone programs. In fact, both The Pant Suit and The Pant Load are essentially committed to continuing the US air war for at least their first term in office.

Mohammad Atta, the kingpin hijacker, pursued a master’s degree in city planning at the Hamburg University of Technology, where he wrote his thesis on urban planning in Aleppo, Syria. Slate’s Daniel Brooks traveled to Hamburg in 2009 to read the thesis and try to get a sense for how Atta saw the world:

The subject of the thesis is a section of Aleppo…Atta describes decades of meddling by Western urban planners, who rammed highways through the neighborhood’s historic urban fabric and replaced many of its once ubiquitous courtyard houses with modernist high-rises. Atta calls for rebuilding the area along traditional lines, all tiny shops and odd-angled cul-de-sacs. The highways and high-rises are to be removed —in [Atta’s] meticulous color-coded maps, they are all slated for demolition. Traditional courtyard homes and market stalls are to be rebuilt.

We see Atta’s commitment to the culture of Islam:

For Atta, the rebuilding of Aleppo’s traditional cityscape was part of a larger project to restore the Islamic culture of the neighborhood, a culture he sees as threatened by the West…In Atta’s Aleppo, women wouldn’t leave the house, and policies would be carefully crafted so as not to “engender emancipatory thoughts of any kind,” which he sees as “out of place in Islamic society.”

As a student, Atta called for demolishing the western-style high rise buildings in Aleppo. He then got the assignment to crash a plane into America’s tallest and most famous high-rise.

The circularity is striking. The decision to attack America led to the US decision to invade Iraq. That led to the Shia takeover of Iraq, which led to a Sunni exodus into Syria. The Sunni exodus, along with the Arab Spring, led to the on-going anti-Assad revolution in Syria, which led in time to the destruction of the rebel-held parts of today’s Aleppo.

Atta’s demolition plans have been wildly successful.

Finally, we have spent $1 trillion since 9/11 to protect the homeland from terrorists. Are we safer? On the positive side of the ledger, the 9/11 attack killed almost 3,000 people, while the total deaths by jihadists on US soil since 9/11 is 94 people. On the negative side, it remains questionable if we are safe from future terrorist attacks.

We are safer from the 9/11-style orchestrated attack. It’s harder for terrorists to get into the country, and harder for them to pull off something spectacular. But, as the Orlando massacre reminds us, the world is populated by lone wolves, and those living among us can easily obtain military-grade weapons. This makes their attacks much more lethal, and harder to detect in advance.

Our defenses are stronger, but we are trying to defend against more and different threats.

Again, focus on the political: We live in an America where one terrorist slipping through the armor is deemed to be total failure politically. Sooner or later, we must accept that we can’t continue a “zero terrorist events” policy, and Congress can’t use “zero events” as an excuse to make everything a top priority.

Politicians won’t prioritize among the programs for anti-terrorist funding, because they fear looking weak on terror. They also want to keep getting PAC funds from defense contractors. That means our political leaders will declare everything a top priority. In fact, 119 Congressional committees or subcommittees assert some kind of jurisdiction over the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Everybody has a finger in the pie.

We need to start making better decisions and fewer enemies. Let’s start by asking the presidential candidates:

  • What have you learned from our 15 years of unsuccessful wars in the Middle East, and how would you apply those lessons in your administration?
  • Do you agree with the Obama administration’s plan to spend a trillion dollars modernizing our nuclear weapons?
  • What is your strategy to protect against cyber warfare?
  • How will you address the on-the-ground complexities of the Syrian civil war and of the Greater Middle East?
  • Is China, Russia, or ISIS our greatest threat?

At 15 years post-9/11, these questions should be answerable by ANY prospective US Commander-in-Chief. (Sorry, Gary Johnson)

Insist on better answers.


Friday Music Break – September 12, 2014

Today’s music break is a reflection on 9/11. It’s still hard to process those events, despite the millions of words written about the attacks. Musically speaking, it was a very creative time. But there were bad calls too. After the attack, a Clear Channel program director took it upon himself to identify a number of songs that certain markets or individuals may find insensitive: No less than 165 songs were purportedly banned, ranging from Peter Paul and Mary’s “Leaving on a Jet plane,” to Sugar Ray’s “Fly,” to REM’s “The End of the World as We Know It”, and all songs (!) by Rage Against the Machine.

The music created in the aftermath of 9/11 documents America reacting to our collective trauma. There is sentimentalism. Anger. Calls to arms. Revenge. This long after 9/11, you already know many of the tunes that, like in church, are played on each anniversary, and you know where to find them, they are not here today.

For the 13th anniversary, here are a few songs (and a short film by Woody Allen) that you may not have heard/seen as much that memorialize how we felt after the attacks.

Among the best songs produced after the attack is On That Day by Leonard Cohen from his 2004 album, Dear Heather. Cohen is simply “holding the fort” for a “wounded New York.” No pointing fingers, no aggression, its a healing number to get you started on your day of reflection:

Here is the key lyric:
Some people say
It’s what we deserve
For sins against god
For crimes in the world
I wouldn’t know
I’m just holding the fort
Since that day
They wounded New York

If there was nuanced reaction to 9/11, it was Springsteen’s 2002 album, The Rising. With “You’re Missing,” Springsteen translates the horror of 9/11 into raw pain:

Pictures on the nightstand, TV’s on in the den
Your house is waiting, your house is waiting
For you to walk in, for you to walk in
But you’re missing, when I shut out the lights
You’re missing, when I close my eyes
You’re missing, when I see the sun rise
You’re missing

Children are asking if it’s alright
Will you be in our arms tonight?

Next, from the British band James, here is Hey Ma. James’ lead singer Tim Booth sings, “Now the towers have fallen, so much dust in the air,” on this title track from the Brit-pop group’s 10th studio album. The song examines the price paid for revenge. Many of us felt a need to avenge the wrong that was done, perhaps by making “choices worse than the fall.” Some images are disturbing:

Next, Juliana Hatfield takes us through the early parts of the 5 stages of grief with her song, “Hole In The Sky”. This is a conversation by the artist and DJ George Bodarky on WFUV, Fordham radio,with her song mostly in background. Hatfield admits that she was terrified about going into New York City after the 9/11 tragedy. She was also too afraid to fly. She talks about creating some of the lines in the song as well:

Finally, a short film by Woody Allen made for the Concert For New York City, 2001. Watch it and laugh:

Best lines:
I was mugged coming back from the Opera. They took my gas mask, my flashlight, all my Cipro™“.
(You may remember that Cipro™ was for the deeply paranoid who thought that there would be anthrax attacks)

Bebe Neuwirth: “I heard that Rudy Giuliani and Al Sharpton got a house together on Fire Island


Thinking About the Slurry Wall on 9/11

It’s 13 years since that beautiful sky-blue September day when our world changed.

Consider the parallelism. Today, as we remember the terrorist attack 13 years ago, we begin another “war” against yet other group of Sunni terrorists. Mr. Obama, who was elected in 2008 to get us out of wars in the Middle East, has us on track to lead another “coalition of the willing” into the ME. The purpose of this crusade sounds depressingly familiar: To blunt the threat of another attack on the Homeland, despite little evidence that an attack is possible or imminent. And we do this because the people who face a direct ISIS threat can’t (or won’t) handle it for themselves.

The rise of ISIS is in part a consequence of US policy in the ME. Our war in Iraq and the subsequent 8 years of Iraqi internal political squabble have left many Sunnis in Iraq willing to support any challenge to the Shia central government. And now, 13 years after 9/11, we’re again strapping on our weapons and heading into war.

So today, let’s talk about the slurry wall at the World Trade Center. The Wrongologist took this photo in July, 2014 of the portion of the slurry wall that remains exposed in the Foundation Hall of the National September 11 Memorial Museum:

WTC Slurry Wall

The slurry wall is the outer wall of what WTC engineers called the “Bathtub” in the 1960’s:

The bathtub is the 9-block area of the World Trade Center site that is excavated down to bedrock…and ringed by the slurry wall. The bathtub was created to enable the building of the Twin Towers’ foundations, and was ultimately filled with seven stories of basements housing the parking garage, mall, and building services.

Except that this bathtub kept water out of the 70’ deep basement. The ground water level at the WTC site is just a few feet below the surface, while bedrock is about 70 feet below the surface. Creating the bathtub required first building a 7-story dam below the water level of the adjacent Hudson River – that was the slurry wall.

After the 9/11 attack, the concern was that the slurry wall would fail. A breach in the wall and a flooding of the bathtub might have also flooded other adjacent below-grade structures, such as the PATH tunnels that passed through the bathtub. The NY subway, built below the PATH tubes could also have flooded with a breach of the wall.

On 9/11, most of the central portion of the wall’s south side (bordering Liberty Street) had moved inward by more than 10 inches. But, it held. According to the New York Times, George Tamaro, a former staff engineer at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, who was closely involved with the construction of the trade center, believes: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

[The slurry wall construction]…may have helped prevent the Hudson River from flooding parts of Lower Manhattan

According to Tamaro’s report on the aftermath of the attack, the PATH tunnels in Jersey City, New Jersey, at the Exchange Place Station, were 5 feet lower in elevation than at the WTC PATH Station. Exchange Place became a sump for fire water, river water, and broken water mains discharging into the bathtub. But the slurry wall held.

Looking up at the exposed portion of the slurry wall in Foundation Hall, one can’t help but be thankful for the work of engineers and construction workers back in the sixties who built the bathtub, and the engineers and firefighters who stabilized the walls after 9/11. Since the attack, that unseen wall is now a symbol of the resilience of both New Yorkers and America.

But the world has spun off its normal axis since September 11, 2001. Isn’t it interesting that 9/11 was supposed to be about America striking back against a foreign enemy of freedom. Yet in the process of attempting to win the “War on Terror”, American citizens have given up a significant part of their personal freedoms. And just this month, we are starting to have a national discussion about how, since 9/11, the US Department of Homeland Security has transformed our local police into a paramilitary force. For example, the Los Angles School District Police got a MRAP (mine resistant vehicle) and 3 grenade launchers.

Schools need grenade launchers now? James Madison said in 1787:

A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defense against foreign danger have been always the instruments of tyranny at home…

Today, Americans own enormous numbers of weapons. Pew Research reports that the number of guns in the US is between 270 and 310 million, or roughly one for each of us. But, estimates are that about 37% of us actually own all the weapons.

So, today on the 13th anniversary of 9/11, we need to ask each other: What are we to make of a country in which:
• Local police are militarizing
• Citizens continue to arm themselves
• The federal government tramples on our Bill of Rights

Let’s think about what has been won and lost so far in the War on Terror. And let’s think about what remains of our social fabric. Is it as strong as that slurry wall? Will it hold when attacked? Do we still have that same problem-solving genius that built a slurry wall that was strong enough to survive attack?

Is America still built to last?