Friday, December 9, 2011

9/11 NYC Paranoia and the Security State

I recently had a chance to visit New York city and the 9/11 memorial.  It was a very interesting experience for a couple reasons. 

The first thing you have to do is to get a ticket that will get you in for 60 minute time slot, although it is free.  I suppose they do this so that they can manage the demand and spread out the number of visitors on busy weekends. 

When you get to the site, you are informed that you will have to go through seven checkpoints where you will be required to show your pass.  Although it felt like more like a dozen people along the way asked to see my pass.

The other thing that was glaringly clear, and which is what struck me the most, was how determined they are to 'secure' the queue to get in. This manifests itself in several different ways:

  1. Security guards or cops ever 10 yards or so
  2. NYPD security cameras every 10 yards or so
  3. An airport-like security checkpoint.  Once you go past several dozen security cameras, you get to this checkpoint where you go inside and put your coat, belt, and any electronics into bins to be x-rayed (though not your shoes).  Like the airport you go through the metal detector and collect your belongings.  I was able to get a picture of the scene from outside the building, though once inside you see signs telling you not to take pictures.  

[Aside: As a result of the increasingly evident security state that we live in, I've decided not to post the pics of the airport-like checkpoint even though they were taken from outside the building and before I ever saw any signs prohibiting pictures of the area.  In my view, when one feels the need  to self-censor such innocuous details as the operation of what anyone who has ever flown already knows, it is a strong signal that the government's interpretation of free speech is soley for furthering its own purposes.

When protestors in foreign countries gain enough momentum, the Administration seems happy to support the protection of those protestors, even when it had previously supported its tyrannical leaders, yet peaceful domestic protestors are beaten, sprayed with a nerve agent, and forcibly removed from public spaces, the government's respect for dissent cannot be taken seriously or even expected.  Hilary Clinton recently told the Conference on Internet Freedom held at the Hague that "The United States wants the internet to remain a space where economic, political, and social exchanges flourish. To do that, we need to protect people who exercise their rights online, and we also need to protect the internet itself from plans that would undermine its fundamental characteristics" when meanwhile "the State Department seek[s] to block access to and discussion of evidence of their own wrongdoing and to punish as criminals those who reported it."  When this is contrasted with the fact that the NSA intercepts, without warrant, 1.7 billion emails, phone calls, and other communications, it is glaringly clear that the government complete transparency...of you, and complete opacity of them.]

If I left the memorial at this point, I would have considered the experience to be perfectly appropriate symbol of how our country has responded to the 9/11 attacks: endless security and paranoia.

I'm really curious as to why all this security is needed, the memorials themselves are quite striking, but they really don't seem to warrant the excessive security leading up to them.  It seems to me that the purpose of such security should be to protect human life or valuable assets.  In this respect, the memorials don't pose a potential threat to human life any greater than any other part of the city [would it be so surprising to start seeing checkpoints throughout the city in the not-too-distant-future? Does it take anything but the gradual conditioning to the erosion of civil liberties?], and while I'm sure the memorials cost a good amount of money, there are certainly just as many valuable assets in other parts of the city that don't have this level of security.  For example, the Guggenheim had precisely zero security.  No guards, no metal detectors, no paranoia.  Yet the building itself, as a historic landmark alone, I'm sure is quite valuable.  But there it is right on the corner of 5th and E88th for anyone to walk up to.

But to have this ridiculous display of security for a memorial, some part of which is to tell ourselves that we refuse to let the Terrorists win, is an admission of defeat to the Terrorists.  The sad part is that this is completely unintentional and yet is a perfectly accurate representation of the extent to which we have sold out to be infinitely secure. 

I think if they were really serious about combating terrorism, they would go the full distance and require a one-on-one appointment with an police officer armed with a semi-automatic weapon to escort you through the memorial while your hands are tied to prevent any shenanigans.


But we haven't even got to the memorial yet!  Anyway, the memorial itself is quite striking.  In the footprint of each the two towers are water-falls that cascade from ground level down about 50 feet.  At the center of the lower pool is another square falls about 30ft on each side, the bottom of which you can't see.  Along the edge of the ground level siding are the engraved names of all of the victims of the attacks, which is quite powerful.

Like the security to enter the memorial, the symbolism of the memorial nearly knocked me off my feet at how unintentionally apt it is in representing the nation's reaction to 9/11.  To me this represents the endless sacrifice of human life and national resources (money) to combat something that has no end.

I'm sure the designers of the memorial had something else in mind, but to me it could not be any more clear that our adventures in the middle east, and really anywhere that can be possibly justified, are a bottomless pit that will drain the country.  And perhaps that is where my interpretation breaks down. Eventually the human life/money that the country can/will sacrifice in the name of the Security State will dry up.  The memorial shows no signs of drying up.


After looking at the memorial's website, a couple questions are answered.
Regarding accessibility:

Located at street level to allow for its integration into the fabric of the city, the plaza encourages the use of this space by New Yorkers on a daily basis. The memorial grounds will not be isolated from the rest of the city; they will be a living part of it.

Since the memorial less than two months ago, perhaps all this security is temporary.  Call me skeptical.

On the design of the memorial and its symbolism:

At its core, this memorial is anchored deeply in the actual events it commemorates-connecting us to the towers' destruction, and more important, to all the lives lost on that day…. While the footprints remain empty, however, the surrounding plaza's design has evolved to include beautiful groves of trees, traditional affirmations of life and rebirth.

Fair enough. Though I still contend that it is, though unwittingly, symbolic of our futile and failed foreign (and domestic, for that matter) policy.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Santa Aint Real. Get Over It.

No presents this year. Tough economy.  Sorry kids.
What happens when someone points out the actual non-existance of a mythical being on TV?  Outrage at the callous insensitivity toward the misguided beliefs of others, of course.  Such plainly stated facts ruin the magic and wonder of blissful self-delusion.

You could be forgiven if you assumed I was talking about god.  Indeed, the paragraph above would be perfectly suited for a discussion of god.  However, the real subject of today's story is Santa Claus.

A Chicago news anchor surprised some parents and potentially confused some children when she announced during a nightly newscast that Santa Claus doesn’t exist.
What I find most amusing is that the article characterizes this as being 'announced'.  I don't think something that we all know to be true is really an announcement.

Though if kids that still believed in Santa were watching I suppose it would be an announcement to them.

Anyway, exposure to the Santa myth isn't necessarily a bad thing for kids.  In fact, it seems that it could serve as a useful lesson on critical thinking by asking questions about how your kid knows Santa exists and gently prompting them to really examine why they believe before finally accepting the fact that there is no evidence for a being that drops off gifts to billions of kids in one night using a flying sleigh powered by flying reindeer.  Not to mention the plausibility of such a situation being miniscule.

Instead of using this 'announcement' to examine with their kids the evidential basis for Santa, parents are outraged and flooded the station with complaints and demands for an apology.  Which the news anchor provided.

Not only that but people seem to be upset that this is even being reported on.  One comment on the yahoo! story said:
Why even mention this on line and increase the story. Don't you thoink [sic] kids of early age use the computer?
This kind of imposed ignorance on children seems to me to be very counter productive.  Growth and maturation involves confronting potentially dis-comfirming evidence on one's beliefs or biases.  Its going to happen.  Instead of shielding their kids from reality, parents should embrace the opportunity to help their children grow and mature.