Archive for category: News Outta My Control

Deja Vu All Over Again

05 Nov 2002
November 5, 2002

During yesterday’s Kojo Nnamdi Show on DC’s public radio station, WAMU, the show was interrupted with a news flash that five people had been shot in Montgomery County. Listeners were understandably upset. Was this becoming a disastrous pattern?

Well, no, actually, it turned out to be a War of the Worlds mistake. Kojo, who recently hosted NPR’s syndicated Public Interest show, called in sick at the last minute and technicians had to quickly find a past show to air. Without thinking they grabbed the October 3rd tape. That was the day the sniper first struck in the DC burbs.

Kojo was talking to neurologist Richard Cytowik on dreams and nightmares when the interview was interrupted by the news flash. The show continued for three more minutes before station managers pulled the plug after being alerted to the faux pas by listeners. An apology appears on the show’s Web site and many of the listeners who called or emailed the show received personal apologies.

This is like deja vu all over again. Kojo, next time consider Yogi Bera as a substitute host.

Now This is Really Scary

30 Oct 2002
October 30, 2002

I don’t think we’ll ever be ready for John Allen Muhammad or John Lee Malvo Halloween costumes. But if you’re still undecided about who you would like to be tomorrow night, there is still a overabundance of very scary public figures who just may fit the bill.

But please, be careful not to frighten your kids (or your significant other) too much. Scaring the begeezus out of your stockbroker is ok (via Forbes).

The Wicked Witch is Dead

27 Oct 2002
October 27, 2002

She’s dead. You killed her.
Hail to Dorothy. The Wicked Witch is dead.

Chorus: Hail to Dorothy. The Wicked Witch is dead.

The Wizard of Oz

It wasn’t exactly like that.

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s third book of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Return of the King Sam awakens from what he thinks has been merely a long bad dream to discover that Gandalf has returned from Death and that he, himself, thought he was dead. “What’s happened to the world?” Sam asks. Gandalf replies “A great evil has departed from the world” and laughs. And Sam bursts into tears, because he had not heard the “sounds of merriment, of pure joy” for days uncounted (thanks for the reference Adam).

Well, it wasn’t exactly like that either. I am relieved but haven’t felt any overwhelming catharsis. It’s much more subtle and subdued than that. The conclusion is amazing in an intellectual sort of way. If we hadn’t lived under a cloud for the last three weeks, I would simply be pouring over the particulars of the end in detail, like a good mystery novel. And, in fact, part of me wants to know the specifics of John Allen Muhammad’s life. It deflects the reality of the spell Muhammad tried to cast over us. It reduces him.

In the end John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo weren’t superhuman wizards from the underworld. We could finally visualize their faces (albeit not their motives). Shooting from the trunk of their car: it was chilling how subhuman they really were.

Three weeks of pulling down the shades, not riding my bike, and letting the grass grow longer than my good suburban senses should allow. Three weeks of feeling safer in downtown Washington than in my own neighborhood, concern for my children, and wondering how to answer their questions. I now know what it’s like to protect your children when you, yourself feel vulnerable. It takes a certain amount of strength.

These things have a half life. September 11th. Anthrax. The Snipers. In each situation we have been forced to alter our perceptions of our comfortable lives: our American-way-of-life lives.

No sooner had the snipers been caught than the FBI issued a terrorist alert: “Captured al-Qaida photographs of U.S. railroad engines, cars and crossings raised concern about the threat,” the FBI said. And I met Irina Hans‘ husband, parents and 7 year old brother Friday. They had come to Washington to gather her things, meet with police, and see where and with whom she worked. Things are different—again.

I was initially relieved but not joyous. I was simply sober. It took two days for it to start to sink below the surface. I took note of my six year old’s exuberance when I came home from work on Friday: “They caught the bad guy!” she shouted as I opened the door. I received a long and deep hug around my knees. “I’m sorry someone else got the reward” I told her. “We can’t buy your pony now.” Early last week she was hopeful that mom would find the shooter, reap the reward, and buy her a horse—a contemporary turn on every young girl’s wish. “I don’t care!” she shouted.

We went to a Halloween party yesterday afternoon, culminating in a parade of costumed “munchkins” walking down the block to the local park. It was the first time I could share my relief with others. We were not the only family to keep our blinds drawn during the day and to turn on extra lights outside at night. Fellow parents laughed about how many errands they had to do: Halloween costumes to be bought, gas to be pumped, and leaves to be raked.

Standing in the middle of the playground, my full attention was on my girls and not the surrounding grove of trees. I suddenly noticed I was breathing deeply and naturally, not the staccato breaths of a few days ago. Even the weather cooperated. The cold and dreary days of the early week gave way to a sunny, 70 degree afternoon. I wore nothing more than a t-shirt, my cloaking device now back in storage.

I’m thankful this is over and I can walk in straight lines with my head in its normal upright position again. My chiropractor will be pleased.

A Few Words on Violence

19 Oct 2002
October 19, 2002

Since the sniper attacks began, there have been 18 “traditional homicides” in the area. They included a congressional intern who was also a poet. A mother found stabbed in her apartment. A young man who called his mother every day to tell her he loved her.

The Washington Post

Add to that list Irina Hans who was an intern at our museum. I read the article that appeared on her homicide in Monday morning’s paper. But, like most murder stories, I glossed over it. Violence and breakfast do not sit well together. It wasn’t until I got to work that I made the connection. We were all devastated.

The loss of someone so full of energy and promise to an act of violence was bad enough. But added to the three weeks of angst, we have been feeling an incredible weight this week.

One of the “water cooler” rationalizations around town has been the fact that one is more likely to be killed in an auto accident than by the sniper. The message is that one must live their lives as normally as possible. And while I agree with that sentiment, I find little solace in this statistic. Most traffic accidents are just that: accidents. The shooter is looking to kill and frighten. There is a difference.

However, there is something valuable about considering how one lives their life. For many around the world, what we in Washington have been experiencing this month is part of their normal state of affairs. In Israel and the West Bank, in parts of the Philippines, and other areas of Asia, just to name a few, people are dodging snipers every day.

One of our good friends is from Ireland. Our children go to school together and on the Monday of the school shooting, we talked as we picked our girls up under police escort. “This is why I left Belfast,” she told me as we walked quickly to our cars. “I didn’t want my children to have to go through this.”

Irina Hans’ parents have made their way from the Ukraine this week to attend her funeral. Their picture of life in America will forever be colored by her violent death. How many more parents will similarly bury their children this week around the world?

Rather than comparing the chances that one might be gunned down by the sniper to being killed in a car accident, I’m trying to compare how I feel dodging bullets with what others have been living with for some time: in Southeast Asia or in Southeast Washington.

A Nagging Zig Zagging

18 Oct 2002
October 18, 2002

I feel a little foolish. I find myself unable to stand still or walk in a straight line these days. With the sniper still at large, I am zig zagging in suburbia. I don’t seem to feel this compulsion when I am working downtown.

Jason Kottke reports seeing this walking phenomena in it’s “natural” state on a wind-swept, rough crossing on the Nantucket ferry. There is nothing natural about the way I am walking.

I have become ultra aware of my surroundings. My head quickly scans right and left as I walk down the street: not the smooth head rotation of an owl, but more like the independent staccato eye movements of a chameleon. I attempt to observe in all directions simultaneously while trying to blend into the background.

Conventional wisdom about urban safety is being turned inside out. Some suggest walking in unlit, dark streets rather than in bright light to avoid detection. I want to move in odd eccentric paths, bobbing my head left to right and up and down, but I have a hard time maintaining the stance. To do so means accepting my heightened, albeit justifiable paranoia. And I feel foolish. And angry.

The Terrorist Amongst Us

07 Oct 2002
October 7, 2002

What does a terrorist look like? After five days of living amongst someone who gets his kicks from killing and scaring people, I am trying to visualize him: to think about what he really looks like. To see a face when a faceless creature seems so much more powerful.

What does he look like naked, without his high power rifle? What does he see in his mirror? I am looking closely at him, observing every inch from head to feet. And I see him. From farther away than his 600 meter bullets can go. It’s hard, but I see him.

What do victims of terrorism look like? What’s the difference between “justifiable” war and terrorism? Where is the slippery slope? What’s it like to be thought of as a terrorist? Let me ask the families of 9/11. Let me ask the Kurds, Somalis, Palestinians, and Israelis. Let me ask my neighbors.

Montgomery County Police Chief, Charles A. Moose, wants us to “engage [our children], talk to them and explain this mess to them” tonight. And I’m trying to figure out just what to say.

President Bush is preparing to talk to us tonight about another terrorist. Our focus will be on George Bush and Suddam Hussein. But what if we look at the people of Baghdad and we think about terrorists amongst their neighborhoods. What will we see in our mirrors?

It’s a lot to think about. I’m trying to visualize it. And how will I explain this mess to my children tomorrow?

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