Humanity In A Moment Of Desperation

911jumpers

Salon
What They Went Through
by Garrison Keillor

It was painful to hear the woman in anguish on the 83rd floor of the World Trade Center, crying, “I’m going to die, aren’t I? I’m going to die.” Melissa Doi was 32, beautiful, with laughing eyes and black hair. She was lying on the floor of her office at IQ Financial, overwhelmed by smoke and heat, calling for help. And then there was Kevin Cosgrove on the 105th floor, moments before it collapsed, gasping for breath, saying, “We’re young men, we’re not ready to die.” And then he screamed, “Oh my God” as the building started to collapse. It’s in their voices, what they went through. […]

This is an amazing column by Keillor and something that I personally needed to read (thank you, David).

For hours upon hours after the towers went down, I watched my neighbors leaping to their death on TV and on that day, I couldn’t, I wouldn’t turn away. I studied every moment. I did so because I inherently recognized that for every detail I could make out of their silhouetted images dropping through space and time towards their moment of blackness, I felt as if I was with them… and they weren’t alone.

In those fleeting seconds, their humanity was my humanity and mine—as much as I could will—was hopefully theirs.

As the moments and hours turned into days, which quickly turned into weeks and months, and life resumed to some form of normality in NYC, my perspective of 9/11 shifted.

Every day for the next 18 months, I commuted directly past the remains of the WTC on foot. I watched street vendors sell Ground Zero t-shirts and hats to tourists, while photographers—amateur and professional alike—lined up to document their moment in the aftermath of tragedy.

Over time, as I walked past the blue, particle board construction walls that lined my path to Jersey City on the south side of the mass graveyard, I saw them build up with graffiti, expressing the raw emotions of New Yorkers concerning 9/11, the victims, and the impending wars. Ten months in, they were all painted over by city workers, only to be “thought vandalized” once again.

Somewhere within that surreal period of time, I stopped looking at images of that day, but I never lost why that person leaping from the tower meant so much to me in those fleeting moments as they headed towards eternity.

I needed to say that out loud today.

No One Left Behind

leftbehind

Jonathan Hutson, Talk To Action
The Purpose Driven Life Takers

Imagine: you are a foot soldier in a paramilitary group whose purpose is to remake America as a Christian theocracy, and establish its worldly vision of the dominion of Christ over all aspects of life. You are issued high-tech military weaponry, and instructed to engage the infidel on the streets of New York City. You are on a mission – both a religious mission and a military mission — to convert or kill Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, gays, and anyone who advocates the separation of church and state – especially moderate, mainstream Christians. Your mission is “to conduct physical and spiritual warfare”; all who resist must be taken out with extreme prejudice. You have never felt so powerful, so driven by a purpose: you are 13 years old. You are playing a real-time strategy video game whose creators are linked to the empire of mega-church pastor Rick Warren, best selling author of The Purpose Driven Life.

[…]

This game immerses children in present-day New York City — 500 square blocks, stretching from Wall Street to Chinatown, Greenwich Village, the United Nations headquarters, and Harlem. The game rewards children for how effectively they role play the killing of those who resist becoming a born again Christian. The game also offers players the opportunity to switch sides and fight for the army of the AntiChrist, releasing cloven-hoofed demons who feast on conservative Christians and their panicked proselytes (who taste a lot like Christian).

Is this paramilitary mission simulator for children anything other than prejudice and bigotry using religion as an organizing tool to get people in a violent frame of mind? The dialogue includes people saying, “Praise the Lord,” as they blow infidels away.

The designers intend this game to become the first dominionist warrior game to break through in the popular culture due to its violent scenarios and realistic graphics, lighting, and sound effects. Its creators expect it to earn a rating of T for Teen. How violent is that? That’s the rating shared by Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell – Chaos Theory, a top selling game in which high-tech gadgets and high-powered weapons – frag grenades, shotguns, assault rifles, and submachine guns — are used to terminate enemies with extreme prejudice.

Could such a violent, dominionist Christian video game really break through to the popular culture? Well, it is based on a series of books that have already set sales records—the blockbuster Left Behind series of 14 novels by writer Jerry B. Jenkins and his visionary collaborator, retired Southern Baptist minister Tim LaHaye. “We hope teenagers like the game,” Mr. LaHaye told the Los Angeles Times. “Our real goal is to have no one left behind.” […]

Freedom of speech and anti-censorship laws exist in this nation to protect our ability to hold civil discourse—even when it’s in the form of twisted, violent, crusading game narratives aimed at our children and marketed through the tenticles of the mega-church.

The redeeming factor behind the development of this specific game, is that the motive of the religous right is on display for the world to see. Too often their hatred becomes cloaked in motive numbing rhetoric—placating tales of Jesus’ love for all humanity as long as humanity devotes itself to Jesus. Over the past 20 years, such rhetoric has masked their intent, allowing them to gain a strong, political foothold in America—specifically with moderate Christians.

So when the religous right’s arrogance is responsible for removing their own metaphorical hoods, we need to gaze into their hateful, soulless eyes and take detailed notes.

The “Up In Arms” Crowd

It’s interesting to note that historically, church groups have been the most active in denouncing hip-hop music and video games for their violent content, arguing that they influence kids to become violent, misogynistic, or even worse, question authority.

Left Behind: Eternal Forces is scheduled to release in October 2006, just four months away. Where are these vocal groups now? Is “bling” and “bitch” rhetoric more deserving of protest than marketing to children a programmed, interactive virtual reality for cleansing non-Christian people from the face of the earth?

Hillary Clinton railed hard against the Hot Coffee mod, a locked, sex scene found in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (a scene that only a slight percentage of geeks even knew existed) in a move that smelled of pandering to the family values crowd. Where is her outrage?

The War Tapes: A Soldier’s Story

Yesterday, I attended the film’s world premeire at the Tribeca Film Festival as a guest of Director, Deborah Scranton. The air of the theatre was chock-full of tangible anticipation, as the audience verbally spatted with itself before, during and after the screening.

What else would you expect?

We’re waist deep in a war that has spiraled out of (non)control into random acts of sectarian violence, kidnappings and assassinations. But no matter your position on the war in Iraq, The War Tapes is a must see. It isn’t propaganda for empire building and it isn’t anti-war material. The film is 90-minutes of brilliantly edited (from 1200+ hours of raw footage), first person perspective of three National Guard soldiers who agreed to film their year-long tour of Iraq. The narrative twists and turns through adrenaline rushes, moments of self-reflection and gut-wrenching honest discourse. It’s nothing but real, human storytelling of real, human beings.

The Q&A session following the film was interesting, both from the filmmaker and audience perspective. While we were being told about the thousands of hours of footage and IM conversations behind the making of the film, a few guys in the front of the audience began shouting randomly at the audience, defending the complexity of the war to a group of people who might have had a particular political perspective, but were incredibly apropos with their attention and questions directed squarely at the film itself.

wartapes

Deborah and crew gracefully handled the protests and gave their mic’s to the soldiers (Stephen Pink, Mike Moriarty and Zack Bazzi), who casually stepped into the spotlight and delivered their $.02 on the whole experience. I guess a film premeire isn’t too much pressure after spending 365 days watching each other’s backs on the other side of the planet.

Following the Q&A, we stopped by the after party at The Bubble Lounge. While packed with friends, family and industry types, we eventually bumped into Deborah and her son. During our conversation, Deborah told me that due to the success of this project, a handful of soldiers have since contacted her, looking to become armed with the latest weapon of warfare: a video camera. Citizen media has a new brother in arms, and soldier media has a five star director.

Grind To The Back

jazz-gallery

So what do you do when the grind of the city commute smacks you in the face? You find a comfy spot in the back of The Jazz Gallery and let Steve Coleman’s workshop grab ahold of your soul.

Coleman wasn’t on my radar before tonight, but leave it to Jonathan to introduce me to a hot act in the Jazz scene. This guy is dope. He’s currently playing a 1-1-2-2-2-1-1 then a 1-1-2-2-2-1-1-1-1 then a 1-1-2-2-2-1-1-1-1… 1-1 beat, getting his drummer up on cue to the progressive, deterioration of the riff. Man, this is a workshop. Sue Mingus runs a “workshop” with the B and C players of the Big Band and Orchestra, occationally practicing new compositions. I love you Sue, but that’s not a workshop. That’s income.

Steve just invited audience members to join him on stage and work out the riff. Now with two women on the mic and the drummer carrying the beat, he gets abstract off the beat — like a launch point of a ramp built in progressive takes.

Two boards added, a half peeled away, two and a half stiched on, pause for a second, add three and gone!…

Now an audience member is on the piano, riffing to the progressive beat, Coleman standing back, checking out the take… and the first woman on the mic scatting… add Coleman…

Coleman’s not only brilliant, he has the patience and explanatory skills of a seasoned teacher.

Alright, now he’s dropping the improv down an octive and slowing down the tempo, mixing up the original riff into more paused flashes of laddders. Live blogging a jazz show… if I could visually describe what I’m hearing, well, imagine it to be something like this.

Dope!

2005: A Year For Change

fireworks

The funny thing about running into the posting wall, is that it almost always comes out of the blue, often at the most random of times. Well, unlike past years, in 2005 I hit the wall at the most appropriate time of the year.

So in order to get back up on the blogging horse, I’m now going to confront what annoyed me the most over the past week or so by presenting you a better late than never (maybe), hodge-podge list of the best stuff I personally experienced in 2005:

Going freelance
Yeah, I know you can’t buy this or go see it, but it was somewhat of a life-changing moment for me. And while I’ve gone back and forth between full-time and freelance gigs over the years, unless the perfect full-time opportunity to build smart experiences and flex skills with like-minded people arises, this time I just might not go back.

Beginning to blog full-time
While I’m still a bit of a beat-down blogger, I’m pretty amped that I’ve been writing consistently since last April. Because my last job consumed so much of my time and energy, my posts were few and far between in 2004 and without writing, sketching, or being creative on some level for me and me alone, I begin to lose it. Maybe I won’t post as much this year, but when I do, they’ll be accompanied by original creative output (illustrations, music, podcasts, etc.).

Working with Media Matters
Admittedly, before I took the gig to collaborate on the redesign of the Media Matters site, I had never heard of David Brock. So as I researched Brock and Media Matters the week prior to starting the job, I became fascinated with his story, especially how the concept of his book literally became a functional venture (the Media Matters for America non-profit) to clean up the media. Does the released information architecture of the site exactly reflect my vision for a forward-thinking domain? Not quite, but it’s getting there, and man, does our media need a real-time ecosystem of accountability.

Picking up my father’s habit of watching the 11 o’clock news
My father is religous in catching the local 11 o’clock news. Aside from catching the weather for the following day (ever notice how the weather is placed at the end of the newscast?), it provides him daily insight into the local news that he feels he needs. Well, I’m now picking up his tradition by religiously catching The Daily Show. Yes, with the amount of in-depth news I catch on my aggregator, I need Jon Stewart’s take on our twisted planet to close out my day-to-day.

Returning to The Chuck Nevitt Invitational
In 1999, the innaugural CNI season, my handicapped parkin’ squad ended up tying for first place. Thanks to Carver High, an invite was extended to me six years after I released my entire fantasy baseball squad due to the real-life threat of a strike (I thought they’d never get over that one). I’m only a few healed players away from having the trophy living in my den for the next year, so Bonzi, Emeka, hurry up and get healthy!

Becoming active by donating to causes I believe in
Historically, I’ve backed organiations by talking them up and defending their practices within mixed crowds. Similar to how I viewed my ability to become a Big Brother (not responsible enough), I also thought that one needed to be rich to financially support an organization. Well, after giving a few hundred dollars to EFF and TerraPass, I’ve come to realize that one doesn’t have to be wealthy to contribute. This year, I’m looking to expand my philanthropic range, so I guess I’ll just have to kill a few magazine subscriptions and keep my heat down at night.

Really Simple Syndication: For real
I’ve been using feeds for years, but not to the degree I used them this past year. Bloglines has become my primary source of information and news from around the world. Out of my 130+ subscriptions, less than ten would be considered mainstream media, so for the first time in my life my perspective is being primarily influenced by people like me. This is a post all in it’s own.

Moving to Greensboro, North Carolina
As I posted before I left JC to come to Greensboro, I’ve a bunch of mixed feelings. On one hand, going from a long-distance relationship to living with Angela has been great. Just as cool has been seeing my brother much more than once every six months. Greensboro is a laid back town, larger in scale than my one-time home of Williamstown, but similar in vibe; small enough to get away from the hustle and bustle, but large enough to ensure that your girlfriend isn’t one degree away from your doctor, dentist, shrink, yoga instructor, etc. On the other hand, it’s not New York City.

Well, that’s that. This post isn’t chock full of top movies or albums, but hey, those types of posts probably annoy you just as much as they annoy me. If 2005 was my year of change, then I’m thinking that 2006 will be the year of transparency across the board. The internet has far too many dedicated, passionate people and easily accessible, open hooks to not dig into rich domains (such as government) to create open, honest conversations.

Transparency and accountability in 2006.

To Move On…

montclair-manhattan-skyline

I grew up across the Hudson, about 13 miles west in a town called Montclair. Our home stood on a hill on the western side of town, with my bedroom resting on the top, eastern side of our three floor Victorian. My eyes could skip over Anderson Park, past downtown Upper Montclair and over the thin tree tops in neighboring towns, catching the very tips of The City skyline.

As a young boy that daily exercise both excited and enticed, as my minds eye continued on, landing me deep into the midst of Manhattan, my perceived gateway to the world.

My parents are both artists and educators who met at Columbia University in the 60’s. As a child in the late 70’s, they’d take me and my brother to gallery openings in old Soho and to the West Village to experience (off) Broadway shows. Our days in The City were fun, provocative and inspiring. When family or friends came to town, we’d enter tourist mode and scale the Empire State Building for a die-cast statue and snapshots of the view down or dine at Windows on the World, pretending to fit in with our fumbled, New Jersey appearances and mannerisms.

The City was as big as the world; they were one and the same to me.

Life Lessons

From an early age, my parents allowed me the freedom to explore my surroundings in our neighborhood and around my suburban town, but on their terms, making sure to teach me the basics before letting me out the door—to always look left and right before crossing the street and call home collect whenever I needed a ride. America circa the 70’s.

Times in the suburbs were much simpler back then. Conversely, the streets of The City had a different lesson in tow.

Whenever I visited, The City schooled me that a world filled of vertical cities lived above street level, while below the streets, the world was connected, full of roaming individuals whom I couldn’t engage with by conversation or by sight.

The City’s rationale (it spoke to all of us), was that in those pre-Giuliani times—the Bernard Getz era of NYC and only a few years removed from the Son of Sam and the craziness of the NYC blackout—you’d be pegged a tourist for simply looking 45 degrees higher than your line of sight and that transgression could open yourself up for a con or a mugging. The City would tell me:

That’s how people are taken advantage of!

The City spoke so I listened, because I trusted The City. It was everything I dreamed of being; creative, mysterious, exciting, fun… I learned to glance and frame the moment of people, places, and things; take it all in, but mind your own business was the underlying lesson I learned.

These two sets of rules—my parent’s light schooling of linear confrontations and the hierarchical laws of The City—represented the checklist of street smarts I owned at age ten. Now 34, though schooled by many more life lessons of much greater complications, I continue to think, dream, plan, and move about my life with these early lessons in tow.

Why?

Because The City gave me Don Quixote and Starlight Express and George Segal pedestrians and giant, 5-foot pencils and toothbrushes on West Broadway. It gave me the Bronx Bombers, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and hot dogs on the sidewalk. It even gave me Yellow Cabs with mini, fold-up seats facing away from the driver, which perfectly fit my smaller frame.

The City bought my complete trust with the allure of growing up to possess a soul similar to the Great Grid and all that lay in-between. So I walked between the buildings and never looked up; I glanced at the people and never saw a face.

All Grown Up

In 1996, my first gig in The City had me commuting in from Jersey City—a large, underdeveloped, undervalued coastal city on the New Jersey side of the Hudson and a solid 45 minute commute away. I worked just below Canal Street in a multimedia shop set above a Futon outlet; one of the twenty some-odd Futon stores on the block. My daily trek proved to be a nice contrast to my previous reverse commute deep into the Western expanses of New Jersey.

wtc-escalator

Once I landed in Manhattan at the WTC PATH station, I’d ride the packed escalators to ground level and walk the twelve blocks to my job, breathing in the fresh air of downtown Manhattan, mixed with the smell of roasted peanuts and my fellow commuter’s secondary smoke. I’d stop at the same street vendor to pick up fruit and coffee before settling into my studio window desk seat that overlooked the ancient rooftop water towers sprinkled across the Soho skyline.

As the long day of animating cartoon characters and holding lunch meetings at classic spots, such as Fanelli’s and Bar 89 came to a close, I looked forward to the walk back to the WTC, and the ride under the river’s surface to my affordable existence.

It wasn’t what I had imagined growing up, but I was finally living a dream within the gateway.

The Turn

Just as I felt my dreams of experiencing The City beginning to come together, my daily trek began to take on a different vibe.

I began to loathe my commute, with the crowds of suits on the PATH and our long escalator ride up into the heart of the WTC underground mall, squashed together like sardines. Innocuous moments became unbearably annoying. Experiences like passing the WTC Disney Store each morning as I approached the exit to street level began to chew on my desire to be a part of a less commercialized world.

The business epicenter of downtown Manhattan was eating away at me; more and more, I actually became upset watching three-quarters of my fellow travelers disappear every morning like worker ants into this building, a structure that I now only used as a thousand foot-tall roof twice a day and a directional beacon while uptown.

What happened to the romance of The City?

In my 25-year old mind, the WTC—my newfound entrance and exit point of The City—began to viscerally represent the home to corporate yes men; guys who would just as soon knock over a woman stepping onto the PATH as they would verbally drool over her once they landed their prime positioning in front of the opposing exit door. The PATH was so crowded at times, I actually witnessed smaller people get lifted off their feet in the shifting and shoving and cramming of bodies to get to work, or more direct to the point, to get to a pay day.

It was around this time that I was struck by a profound realization; not only had I broken one of the golden rules I learned from The City as a child by gawking at a vertical city, I’d been gawking at the epitome, the archetype of a vertical city.

For months on end I had been staring up into the WTC’s belly, observing its machinations, and deconstructing its inhabitants, and my behavioral mechanisms had begun to match its particular pace. As I consciously pondered this epiphany—the notion that I was changing, and not for the better—The City reacted in it’s best Don Pardo voice to quell my new found sensibilities the only way it new how:

“Forget why you thought you loved me; classic Yellow Cabs are gone, Soho is an outdoor mall, the eighties are done. Try on these duds for size!”

A valiant effort indeed, but this time, I wasn’t buying.

My eyes were open, as prolonged glances into the eyes of the people who surrounded me provided me with droning negativity in return—the pangs of repetition; the exhaustion; the real-life scheming of men and women desperate to keep up with the Jones’—they made my shift in perspective clearer each day.

Now when I walked through the grid of The City, each of the vertical cities above ground began to take on a new representation to me. Hierarchy, wealth, and confliction loomed over the masses of citizens who were both explicitly and implicitly schooled to not look into the eyes of the beast as well.

I came to the conclusion that by not looking all these years, really looking at what was happening in those corner offices, we were each complicit in allowing these vertical cities to intimidate our lives with dangled carrots and unattainable conclusions of never ending pursuits.

Moving On

To completely unravel and digest such a revelation, I knew I needed to shift gears, both psychologically and physically, so I left town for the rural expanses of the Berkshires and the promise of Silicon Village.

When my 10 year-old mind’s eye had constructed the essence of The City, it romanced the Great Grid, but not the office towers with white collar whips; it romanced the unknown personalities, the diversity, and the creativity of the people of New York City themselves. Once clear of a visceral connection to these expansive white collar, networked resources, only a matrix of interlocking paths of human relationships remained.

It was criminal how long it took me to recognize the situation as such.

Tonight marks the fourth day of the second week of my new life in Greensboro, North Carolina. The last time I left The City it ended up as only a brief respite, serving as a pit-stop before heading back to reconnect and take on the vertical cities from within.

I’m not so sure I’ll take the same path this time.

Maybe I’ve come to realize that seeing my passion to fruition won’t occur within a representation of the confrontational juxtaposition itself.

Maybe I’m better off planning, expressing, and implementing from a room on the eastern side of an old wooden home, with a window overlooking the thin, slumbering Oaks and Elms of a quaint town, while the far off tips of a different skyline glistens in the early morning sky.

Maybe I’ll now feel comfortable looking directly into the eyes of my fellow travelers, and explore relationships with the people underground and above—walking proudly with the roaming individuals themselves.

– – – – – – –

Note: Today marks the four-year anniversary of the tragic events of 9/11. Prayers for those who were lost or affected, which on my most clear days I realize includes myself. To those who abused their power by responding with an obtuse war to a criminal act, there’s a special place in hell for you.

in the darkness she shines

woman

i look to my left and see your smile
all the while i try to file
away my past
my stumbles
my gaffs
your eyes scream a subtle cry
try to tell me why
i can’t look away
today is the day
i step up to you standing straight
today is the day
in with the love, out with the hate
yeah, today is the day
i’m ready to say
i could leave this big city
the loss of my metrocard ain’t a pity
i’d go to the ends of the earth to be with you
if only just for a moment
it’d be time well spent
you see you have my heart
my lungs
my synapses
my tongue
twisted
back to the front
you know all about the game
i’m all about the hunt
but this time shit is for real
i never thought my wounds would heal
feel
me
oh my
believe it or not
i’m puffing a natural high
one plus one equals two
fu, baby
f.u.

Native Tongues Knitting Away

dres

Last night I got to check out one of my all-time favorite hip-hop acts, Black Sheep, as they rocked the Knitting Factory along with The Jungle Brothers.

I’ve been waiting for another Sheep album to drop since Non-Fiction and apparently one is on it’s way called 8WM. I haven’t seen these guys live since a ’91 show with Tribe and Naughty at the Newark Symphony Hall… and they didn’t disappoint.

Dres is one of the coolest MCs in the industry, with a tight flow and a lounge stage presence. As the night began, he was a bit pissed that the mostly 30+ white crowd didn’t know any of their old, obscure tunes and weren’t getting into the act, but after some straight up cuts on the audience and a few timely dropped hits, the entire crowd was all over the Engine, Engine #9 bar.

Constantly sipping from a brew, Dres got more and more sentimental and couldn’t stop expressing his love for the JB’s (who were out of control), and after Mr 9.5 performed a spoken word love fest to a lady in the crowd (as only he could), the show wrapped with the entire cast doing De La’s Buddy.

The golden years of Hip-hop for just one more night…

Mingus Big Band And Smalls

A frenetic interpretation at the fez
A frenetic interpretation at the fez

So I was hanging out with my bud JD last night at the Fez, checking out Mingus Big Band as I usually do every other Thursday night, when news through the player’s grapevine hit me like a left hook.

Smalls is closing saturday night. Smalls!

I’ve been going to this club for almost 7 years now. They’re the most lax Jazz club in the city; it’s BYOB to stock in their own fridge, with jamming until 10am for $10, a cozy environment with plush velore seats… man. A damn shame. I talked to one of the regular musicians last night and he was bummed, but he turned it around by saying:

Hey, that’s what clubs do. They close.

I guess if he can look at it like that, I should be able to as well… but still, NYC is losing a great, intimate venue for up and coming Jazz acts and established ones alike.

fuck cnn

embedded reporting

*click*

embedded eyes for the world to see
aggression
repression
straight up atrocities
the coalition of two
with the paid help of thirty eight
the move to baghdad’s gate…
a soldier’s eyes dilate…
garbled orders seal their fate

iraq didn’t hit new york
the pentagon
or even pennsylvania
they sure as hell didn’t fund the aggression
but they’re gonna catch hell like tony pena
you see america is a game of power and repression
the residue of 75 years of administration masturbation
so what can a private do?
now that he’s been ordered to commit pow! pow!
walk in the direction of home?
fire one shot off into his dome?
no.
no way.
not now.
he now does what he’s been told
because he’s now a (brainwashed) soldier
even as voices rush through his mind screaming
“murderer!”
and “i told ya!”…
everlasting memories
anti-social
distant
colder…

the night is quietly turning into day
blood red sky creeping out of gray
embedded eyes for the world to see
time to turn in for bed
time to turn off the tv.

*click*