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About Jon
Thank You For Not ...

1) using profanity or any euphemisms for profanity
2) personally attacking other commenters
3) baiting other commenters
4) arguing for the sake of arguing
5) discussing politics
6) using hyperbole when something less will suffice
7) using sarcasm in a way that can be misinterpreted negatively
8) making the same point over and over again
9) typing "no-hitter" or "perfect game" to describe either in progress
10) being annoyed by the existence of this list
11) commenting under the obvious influence
12) claiming your opinion isn't allowed when it's just being disagreed with

2006-09-11 00:01
by Jon Weisman

Originally published May 5, 2006

[I saw United 93 today. If you prefer to skip the following, I understand.]

I can't always think of 9/11 without going back a couple days prior. My wife and I had taken a trip to Hearst Castle and Cambria for the weekend. During the trip, my wife started to feel ill, which was a concern because we were about six weeks pregnant with our first child at the time.

Sunday, September 9, we drove home. As we got out of the car inside the parking garage of the building we lived in, we felt a tremendous shake. There was an earthquake. Not particularly scary, especially for this here native, but it was weird to have it happen the moment we ended our multi-hour drive.

Two days later, I was up getting ready to leave for work - my job back then started at 6:45 a.m. - and I passively turned on CNN, as was my custom. I saw an image of the World Trade Center, and seconds later, registered that there was smoke, and seconds later, began to hear announcers trying to make sense of it.

The immediate aftermath obliterated anything that we felt or experienced in the days prior. We were fixated on the television and the horror. That night, we learned that my wife's cousin - whom she was not particularly close to, and whom I never met, was missing. He worked for Cantor Fitzgerald in the WTC, and he was gone. It gave me a connection to the tragedy - a somewhat phony one, to be honest, since I never knew him - but it personalized the tragedy for us in the sense that it give us a specific family's grief to think about as the punishingly grim days passed.

And then, a few days later, it was our turn. My wife again felt something was wrong. We went to the doctor for an ultrasound, and found that the baby had not been growing the way it should have been. We then had to endure the slowest, most personally painful wait of our lives. A miscarriage - you probably don't know this until you've been a party to one - doesn't happen in a moment. It was days of my wife living with death inside her, days of living with death surrounding us. It is not the loss of a parent or a sibling or a child that has already been born. But it is very bad. You can't escape the nightmare, you just have to wait it out.

Slowly, time passed. Our baby was gone. Planes began taking off again. Amid the memorials, people began getting on with their lives. And 4 1/2 years have passed. We have been blessed with two healthy children, and we have skirted the perils of life in the 21st century, from plane flights to crossing the street with a toddler by my side. Last weekend, my 21-month-old son pushed open our front gate, and I spent the better part of the evening thinking about what might have happened if for some reason I had been distracted.

Around the same time, when I read the reviews for United 93 saying how powerful the film was, I knew I had to see it. My wife, who would sooner stick a fork in her eye than go anywhere near that movie - she says she still relives the terror too often in her own mind - asked me why, and I couldn't tell her. I didn't really know why. I just told her I needed to see it. Given the opportunity to leave work a little early today, I went on my own to the theater. (It had to be on my own.)

The movie began, and immediately I was tense. I've never been tense at the start of a movie, ever. I have a habit during some movies - and I promise you it's unconscious for a few moments before I realize I'm doing it - to sort of squeeze the napkins that I have with my popcorn or whatever like I'm John Wooden coaching with his rolled-up program in his right hand. Once I realize it, I sort of continue doing it as a silly homage to Wooden. Today, though, in the opening minute of the film, I grabbed the napkins and rolled them up on purpose. Call it pathetic - really, I understand - but I felt I needed something to hold on to. Something to grip

It was because the movie grips you and I swear, it does not let you go. Again, it was unlike any experience I've ever had. Normally, if a movie starts to get to me - whether it's a garden variety horror movie or some insistent human drama (the night before and morning of the final battle of Glory comes to mind), I can step back if I need to and say, "This is just a movie." And I can breathe like a non-simpering human.

But I don't think there were 20 seconds in this nearly two-hour film that I was able to do that. I realized early on that I couldn't say, "This is just a movie," because it wasn't. For one moment, I tried to think of bigger horrors, and the December 2004 tsunami came to mind, and that gave me a moment's freedom from United 93, but the movie immediately pulled me back in, and didn't really let go of me long enough to let me think of another release mechanism. The only other moment I could step back was when I tried to understand why, as the passengers overtly prepared to fight the terrorists, why all the terrorists didn't try to barricade themselves in the cockpit. Once I understood, I was back in.

I felt I was in a room - not a plane, that would be too precious - but in a room that no matter how much I stepped back, the room would extend back behind me, elastic, a rubber room, egg-shaped, dark with only the light of the movie in front of me. It wouldn't let me bust out the back end, not even close. As I pushed back, the back of the room pushed me forward. Not harshly, but insistently. There was no getting out.

I didn't cry much. The only time I cried was when the passengers began making their farewell phone calls to their families. That pulled the string on me. Otherwise, it was just a riveted, relentless ... if the word hadn't been defined altogether differently in A Clockwork Orange, it could have been invented for this ... horrorshow.

When the plane went down, I just rolled my head back, like I was watching someone pass away quietly. It was not a jolt. It was the culmination of watching someone who had been on life support - because we knew the plane was terminal when the movie began - reach the end.

I didn't linger in the dark theater for the closing credits like I normally do. I was due home. As I walked out of the theater, there was a strange phenomenon. From the moment I saw the usher open the doors of the theater, smiling the friendly but timid smile of a good working person conscious of what her clientele just has experienced, the tables had turned. The world was offering me escape from the movie, and I was resisting. I wasn't ready to let go of the horror. I passed people in line for the Mission Impossible sequel; I passed someone recruiting for a future movie screening. Music played in and around the cinema - a song ended, and the next one, ridiculously, was Earth, Wind and Fire's "September." I passed people walking toward the ticketing area, and I felt this undeniable separation. Of course, anyone over the age of roughly 9 remembers 9/11, but they weren't going through it again like those of us who had just seen this movie were. I didn't feel superior, I didn't feel inferior. I just felt I was walking in a different plane.

As I got in my car - and I apologize for the Wonder Years-style revelation, but this is how it happened - I solved the mystery of why I needed to see United 93. I needed the reminder of how it felt. I didn't want to forget the people we lost. I didn't want to forget the baby I lost. As nice as it has been to let the fever of September 2001 dissipate, my life isn't real without it.

Sometimes the hole closes up. Sometimes, I learned this week, you need to reopen it.

This feeling will pass, which is a relief and a sadness for me all at once.

2006-09-11 11:35:40
1.   Paul Scott
Given the topic of this thread, I am guessing that the normal rules of political discourse are suspended. Feel free to delete this if they are not. With that said, some background:

On September 11, 2001 I worked for the law firm of Sidley, Austin, Brown and Wood. My offices were on the 54th floor of Tower One. I was not at work during the attacks, but instead was watching them from my balcony across the Hudson. I (and the two partners with whom I worked most closely) was saved from almost certain death by a client cancelling a trip which otherwise would have seen us eating breakfast at 8:00 AM at "Windows of the World" - the restraunt on the 114th floor of Tower One.

I state that background because of the opinion I am about to give. I think movies like "WTC" and "United 93" are rediculous. I certainly expect (and do not at all disapprove) the commercial exploitation of the events. Over-emotionalized tripe is what people want, so I fully endorse the studios taking advantage of it.

My issue with them is the broader scope. We are losing our freedoms because a single attack killed 3000+ people and caused a lot of property damage. Our over-reaction to this event is appaling, and these movies are just the most insignificant symptoms.

Some of our lost freedoms are legal freedoms, such as the acceptance of almost anything Bush does - including domestic wiretaps - in the name of "the war on terror." Some of them are practicalities felt directly by anyone who travels domestically or internationally on a regular basis.

Almost everything, from these movies, to our acceptance of Bush, to the invasion of Iraq, is a massive over-reaction to a relatively minor (in terms of economics and loss-of-life) event conducted by a group (in the broadest sense) unable to repeat the attack. The most sensible response would have been some coordination of law enforcement coupled with the legitimate military response in Afganistan. The billions of dollars spent on the massive programs outside of the two I note are wasted. More importnantly, our day-to-day lives have been changed far more by the over-reaction to the attacks than they would have been by the attacks themselves.

I don't care how engrossing or well made "United 93" or "WTC" (or the host of others bound to follow) are, econimically supporting them is not an option for me. I wish and hope it is not an option for most of you.

2006-09-11 12:37:51
Well put.
2006-09-11 14:43:35
3.   Andrew Shimmin
The propriety of artists responding to things that happen is beyond dispute. Taking issue with any particular response is legitimate (whether this is a good place to do so is a question above my pay grade), but the thing itself, the fact that artists will respond is inescapable. John Updike wrote a book that he almost certainly would not have, but for 9/11. Martin Amis (my favorite living writer, now that Saul Bellow is dead) has a three part series in The Guardian (, the basis of which (a novella he's abandoned) would almost certainly not have existed, but for 9/11 (and the European terrorist attacks). Whatever else he is, Oliver Stone is an artist. So is Paul Greengrass. Any of these works can be supported for political reasons (just as they can be ignored, for political reasons), or for the reasons people engage with any other art. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater is generally a bad idea, and one that becomes much worse when it's someone else's baby.
2006-09-11 14:57:36
4.   Sushirabbit
1 I find your viewpoint unfathomable.
2006-09-11 16:19:47
5.   Paul Scott
3 Sure. As I said, "Over-emotionalized tripe is what people want, so I fully endorse the studios taking advantage of it." That includes the artists. It is disapointing to me that it is what people want. But it is indisputable that it is so.

4 It requires dealing with the situation in a rational manner not driven by knee-jerk emotionalism. Your position that doing so is "unfathomable" is certainly consistant with the implementation of policies that have flowed fromt eh event in question.

2006-09-11 16:28:41
6.   Andrew Shimmin
5- You've not seen the movies you call over-emotionalized tripe. Have you read Updike's book? How about Ian McEwan's Saturday? If it is your position that all art inspired in any way by the event is over-emotionalized tripe, you must understand why that cannot be taken seriously.

Regarding the second paragraph, one of the reasons political discussion is verboten, here, is for just this reason. People who find the political content of your, or any, comment objectionable know perfectly well that they aren't permitted to rebut it. So they take half measures, out of frustration. Which you've graciously seen fit to make a personal attack of.

2006-09-11 16:59:16
7.   Paul Scott
6 No. I take no positions on the books. I don't need to have seen the movies, however, as I have a good deal of information on them without having seeing them - mostly through trailers and reviews.

On your second paragraph, I agree with and understand the ban on political commentary on a baseball thread. On a political thread, it seems, well, odd. Though, I'll note my invitation to delete my post if the rule applied inspite of the political nature of the original post.

I also don't consider calling something emotional, rather than rational, to be a personal attack and I am not sure why you would either. Both are legitimate responses. I am just speculating (and agreeing) that if one is not able to deal with the 9/11 attacks in a rational manner then my response may seem unfathomable. That is hardly a personal attack, unless you believe people are somehow inferior for choosing emotion over reason. The same "defect" applies to me, only in reverse. In spite of being personally involved in the attacks, I am as incapable today as I was on 9/11/2001 of formulating an irrational response.

I have my (fairly transparent) beliefs as to which is a better way to design policy, but that is hardly a personal attack.

2006-09-11 17:17:00
8.   Andrew Shimmin
7- Did you read the post? Show me the political content of what Jon wrote.

Even if you believe you find some (This is my second time through, and I haven't), the reason for you not to follow suit is that what happened, will happen. It's personally insulting to clearly attribute to another commenter's position, "knee-jerk emotionalism." Kindly do not pretend that this needs to be explained to you.

2006-09-11 17:19:19
9.   Andrew Shimmin
I'm done, by the way. And I'm sorry I participated in this thread. It wasn't ugly, last time ( It didn't need to be this time.
2006-09-11 21:38:46
10.   Sushirabbit
How do you respond rationally to the sound of people falling around you like pumpkins?

Or put another way, why is it irrational to desire some sort of retribution for the deaths of the people involved? Or to prevent similar attacks from happening again?

Or put another way, if someone is swinging a bat at your head, is it irrational to defend yourself and incapacitate your attacker? And even if it is irrational to be very angry at the person that attacks you and the people that did not stop him, isn't it quite human.

What happened was a horrific tragedy. My perception is that Jon was trying to be "rationally" honest about his emotional connection to those events; which to some of us is heroic in and of itself.... and I believe that is what most "artists" (be they sculptors, novelists, or directors) are trying to get at.

I meant my response to 4 quite literally, and I think quite rationally. I don't see it even as an attack. Perhaps the willingness to label others as irrational while at the same time denying that irrationality in oneself deserves further reflection?

2006-09-11 23:57:54
11.   Paul Scott
What happened was a horrific tragedy.

Sure. What happened was the loss of approximately 3,000 lives and a few billion in property damage. That's bad; there have been worse. Katrina killed fewer, by about 1000, but caused considerably more property damage. When you add things such as displacement and job loss to the equation, Katrina was more significant. Our response to Katrina, however, has been insignificant compared to our response to 9/11. That is just one example.

Sure, the attacks were significant, but our response to the attacks - the most significant of which was not even related to the attacks - has casused, and continues to cause, far greater loss of life and was, and continues to be, far more costly. Further, that response has caused me and many many other Americans great inconvenience for no returned benefits. The negative effects on our everyday lives of our response to the attacks have already outstripped the negative effects of the attack itself from the perspective of one of the rare people actually directly affected by the attacks. This will continue to be true long into the future. Given the limited scope of the event, I cannot say I will ever understand why that is.

The effects on anyone not in NYC or in the WTC were minimal - that is to say they were a "big news event." You see something of this magnitude, well not daily, but often enough. A few times a decade that "something" is in the U.S. For some reason, people want to treat 9/11 as something more than that. I suspect it has something to do with pride, but I am not quite sure. I can guess that there is something unsettling about being shown that we in America are not completely safe from actions of those outside. I was personally never under that illusion, so the events of 9/11 just have never meant as much to me as they apparently mean to so many others.

I predict in our history books 100 years from now the actual attacks of 9/11 will be an explanatory footnote, or perhaps a paragraph or two at most, in a chapter on the invasion of Iraq and other significant events related to the "war on terror." From an historical perspective - if you can separate yourself from the emotion of the event so recent in our past - I think you would have to agree it deserves little more treatment. It was simply not that significant an occurrence in comparison to other events even in the last five years, much less in the scope of the rather short history of our nation.

Was is an "horrific tragedy"? Sure. Was it the most significant "horrific tragedy" in the last 5 years? It was not, even if limited to those things happening in, to or by America.

Other bad things of far greater significance have happened since and will continue to happen in the future. Furthermore, in some cases, these horrific tragedies are actually things we can do something about - in sharp contrast to the "war on terror" and all that it encompasses. No single event, however, has garnered the response 9/11 has managed. And as I said at the start, our treatment of 9/11 as something of far greater significance than it was has caused more problems - even if limited only to problems for Americans - than the attacks themselves.

2006-09-12 03:24:06
12.   Andrew Shimmin
10- It's rightly embarrassing to storm off in a huff, claiming to be through with a thread, and then return to it; but I can't let stand the possible impression that I was accusing you of personally attacking anyone. I wasn't. That charge was made only in reference to comment 5, specifically the assertion that your position (derived, as it, by definition, must have been, through naught but pure logic. . . from a sentence of five words) was that it was unfathomable to "deal[] with the situation in a rational manner not driven by knee-jerk emotionalism." In addition to never having said that, you also can't be reasonably presumed to have meant anything of the sort, and it struck me as plainly an attack on your cognitive abilities.
2006-09-12 03:53:58
13.   Andrew Shimmin
Rereading 10, I see now that I missed the point. Which is too irritating for words. There's room to maintain my position with semantics (even without making the most rhetorically fatuous argument of the thread), but I made enough of a fool of myself just in returning, so I'm going to cut my losses and go find a dog to kick.
2006-09-12 03:55:22
14.   Andrew Shimmin
Really. This time I totally mean it. Honest.
2006-09-12 08:44:23
15.   Sushirabbit
Hey, Andrew, I didn't mean to say you were attacking me. You are right, I probably should not have responded, but sometimes I just can't let stuff stand. I think probably even Jon isn't going to read this, so it just seems like an opportunity to try and see why people can see things so differently. To me, Paul's statements sound like a rationalization for censorship based on politics, which I'm sure is not what he intends, but still how it sounds to me.

For instance, was/is it ok for Moore to make the movies about Columbine and 9/11? I'm guessing that Paul would say not and not to go support it, but I'm not sure.

I have trouble with the idea that artistic expression (and, with movies I'm sure we could argue about whether or not they are really art) about large emotionally charged events should be discouraged, and also that seeing them from a different perspective should be discouraged.

I also have trouble with the notion that everything can, and should be viewed rationally, even though I think can agree that a rational response are better.

Finally I think there is a difference between Paul and I on what constitutes rational response to a brutal attack. For some people that attack is very personal. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I imagine that Paul, like many people, felt/feels that my fears of personally suffering an attack are totally unfounded on fact and irrational. I'm curious about that notion-- and I always wonder if people like that are even curious about why I feel that way and what the facts are.

2006-09-12 11:10:21
16.   Paul Scott
Your fears of personally suffering an attack are very likely unfounded on fact, but given everything our government has done to encourage that fear I hardly blame you for feeling that way. The massive government over-reation to the attacks (I don't insist that people be rational all the time, but I do think it is fair to insist on that from my government) makes personal irrationality and fear quite understandable to me. If this is not the source of your fears - if merely the knowledge of the attacks alone were sufficient to cause your reaction - then I am very curious about it, because I would be left as you with me - your reaction would be unfathomable to me.

In a very direct way, my "objections" to these films (and, again, I fully understand why studios/artists/etc. would want to take advantage of the situation - that is just good business) are that they help reenforce the irrational fear our government is creating for the purpose of supporting very questionable (to say the least) policies.

Maybe, however, for the sake of this blog, we should take this conversation offline. My email (if it is not in my profile) is Feel free to email me if you want to continue.

2006-09-12 17:39:44
17.   Sushirabbit
Ah! But see you are wrong. My fears were in fact well rooted in my connections to the middle east, the military and the friends I have from Lebanon, Iran, and Iraq. And the fact that my son attends a Jewish day care-- even though we are Catholic.

So, I was probably more aware than most of al-Qa'ida and others before Sept 11, and I was well aware that they would try to continue their attacks. And in fact do so to this day.

One day close to my office, I came across Ahmed Al-Uquaily's van, and laughed him off as "irrational" in the same way you laugh off the efforts of the Bush administration and the FBI and the Justice Dept and the people that think like them. Pretty amazing that the people whose actions you deem as irrational could very well have saved my life and, more importantly to me, my son's life.

Perhaps I am irrational. But I think we just disagree rationally about what it all means.

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