A 9/11 Letter to a South African

Dear Mary,

Thank you for your interest in my 9/11 story, when I responded about this on Twitter.  I see you’re from Pretoria, a city I’ve been to.  Thank you again.

I’ll start with the following:  Where I grew up in Brooklyn, I watched the buildings go up, outside my parents window.  In school, I was in that building daily to take the PATH train to New Jersey.  I ran errands there, had interviews, jobs, etc.  The buildings were a part of my world.

Now to that morning.  I watched from opposite where I grew up.  The other side of Manhattan on the Hudson River.  

I didn’t see the first plane hit, but sure saw the second plane.  This was no drill, to quote what was said at the attack on Pearl Harbor, sixty years earlier.  

I watched it as though watching a Bruce Willis action thriller, too shocked to absorb the reality.  The weather was clear blue skies, perfect temperature and nice until this.

Then, the buildings collapsed like toys.  You think, that could’ve been you, being on an errand in those buildings, or the PATH station, way down below the surface.  

I drove home in shock.  The next few days, would be eerie to put it mildly.  I spoke with my youngest sister Debby.  She and my other sister at the time worked in the same office at the time, at 51st Street and Lexington Avenue.  With a long, convoluted subway ride to my sister Sarah’s house in the Clinton Hill section of Brooklyn, they finally made it.  (Debby lives fifty miles East of Manhattan on Long Island and couldn’t get a Long Island Rail Road train home).  They got out of the Clinton-Washington subway stop and described paper blown across the East River from the devastated towers, like giants snowflakes and the smell of burnt meat.  For the latter you can use your imagination.

Day 2, Wednesday, September 12th, 2001.  It’s my mother’s birthday, but she and my dad are out of the country at a conference.  This will come up later.  I’m glued to the news.  

I’ve traveled many places where I’ve seen police and soldiers armed to the teeth, South Africa being one of them.  I never thought I would see this on the news in my country.  I would be dealing with more of that.

Day 3, Thursday September 13th, 2001.  Donated blood, thought about joining the Red Cross.  I spoke with my Toastmasters friend and partner in crime George Tully.  I’m about to tell you about the one person I know, who escaped from Tower One of the World Trade Center.  

George worked on the 72nd Floor.  The plane crashed above them around the 90th Floor.  People just got up from their desks and headed into the stairwell, which was full of smoke.  He remembers many firemen passing him going upstairs (343 New York City firemen died that day.  More, who survived that day are dying slowly from poisons picked up working at Ground Zero).

He got down the seventy-two flights, where a police officer directed him through a side door to the street.  He remembered seeing a large puddle of blood.  The next thing he remembers is being two and a half miles away at Penn Station.  He walked there in shock and the crowds in the station jarred him out of shock  He remembers nothing of his walk.

Day 4 Friday, September 14th, 2001.

That night, my wife and I drove to West Orange High School (West Orange, New Jersey), to hear the acting Governor speak about what was being done.  There had been attacks on Muslims.  The Governor made it clear such behavior wouldn’t be tolerated.

Day 5 Sunday, September 16th, 2001.  My parents were flying back from Europe.  We only found out at the last minute, they would be on one of the first International flights allowed back into the United States.  We weren’t sure if we would have to drive eight hours to Montreal or fourteen hours to Toronto to pick them up.

It was a drive I will never forget.  Military checkpoints at bridges and tunnels.  The New York region is full of bridges and tunnels.  Makes the region a target.  

JFK Airport was jammed like I’d never seen.  A flight from Central Asia emptied.  There was an upset woman with a thick New York accent waiting for her husband, crying and sobbing angrily when the people in Muslim garb walked past us.

When we drove my parents to my childhood apartment, they stared in shock at the still smoking remains of the World Trade Center.  I watched the buildings go up, I watched them come down.  The smoke went on for months.  

I’d lost my job, along with many other people.  We met on Wed. morning at New Jersey Unemployment in Professional Services Group.  The New York Area economy had a tough time.  I had nightmares.

I live in Tucson, Arizona now.  The nightmares are gone.  I had a queasy feeling, when I was staying with my parents.  The PATH station had been rebuilt, but you had to walk through scaffolding to the trains, where you could look into the giant hole, that was Ground Zero.

Yesterday was the sixteenth anniversary.  A long way away.  My buddy George and I used to make jokes that we would join the U.S. Army and fight in Afghanistan, but we were too old then and the Army was really scraping if they needed us.

September 11th steered my life in a different direction, that’s for sure.

I have to let another South African friend, Althea Garner know I finally came through at wrote my 9/11 story.

Please don’t hesitate to share this and ask me questions.

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Mitch, Paul, You’re Fired!

Picture the Oval Office as the boardroom in The Apprentice.  The Congressional team loses and Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan are summoned.

Normally, on The Apprentice, the losing team is given a chance to explain.  President Trump makes sure the cameras are there and rails at both of them.

I thought of this, when I realized in the last two weeks, President Trump is going after his own party more than the Democrats.  Then it occurred to me.  You’d think Trump would blame the Democrats.  No.  Why?  The Democrats aren’t doing anything.  They don’t have to.  The Republicans control both houses of Congress, but haven’t gotten the job done.

Now look at President Trump’s history and how he’s run his business interests.  The Democrats are a rival company.  He sees the Republicans in Congress as his employees  Except Trump realizes a problem.  He can’t fire these employees.

Or can he?  Four-fifths of the Republican Party now support the president.  What if the president just finds other Republicans to run against the established ones?  Think of this as a hostile takeover of the Republican Party.  Like the hostile takeover of a corporation.    The presidents supporters are the stakeholders, the Republican congressman his employees, the Democrats the competition.  Maybe both parties can become casinos.  (In Tucson our two tribes, the Tohono O’odham and the Pascua Yaqui, each have casinos).




Posted in A Sarcastic Look at Life, A Silly Look at The World, Arizona, Casinos, Mitch McConnell, Pascua Yaqui, Paul Ryan, Political Science, President Trump, Republican Party, The Apprentice, Tohono O'oodham, Uncategorized, United States, United States Congress, United States House of Representatives, United States Senate | Leave a comment


You’ll get some history, with me analyzing and connecting dots.  You’ll also get my sarcasm, free of charge.

No doubt, you’ve read and seen many news stories about what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12th, 2017.  

    This is more personal, with some observations.  I’ve visited Charlottesville many times.  The University of Virginia is a great place (I actually considered it for grad school).  I worked in a Virginia library, and many of my meetings were in Charlottesville.  The university is lovingly referred to as “Mr. Jefferson’s university.”  

     So why Charlottesville for such a protest?   Statues of Robert E. Lee are a staple in Virginia.   

It’s the desire to remove these Confederate monuments that sparked this.  

Click on https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2017/08/15/how-other-countries-have-dealt-with-monuments-to-dictators-fascists-and-racists/?utm_term=.c4065bc39136 for a good comparison I’ve seen between the Confederacy and Nazi Germany.  

The most important one?  With Nazi Germany, we conquered a country that brutally occupied much of Europe.  With the Confederates, the goal was to keep them in the United States.  Doesn’t that beg the following question? Would President Lincoln have been better off saying, “Let them go?”  Just a historical fork in the road to think about.  

Please allow me a philosophical question.  Can you judge Nineteenth Century America by Twenty First Century standards?  By today’s standards, Abraham Lincoln was a racist.  The only reason he agreed to African-Americans in the military was because the war was going badly for the Union, and he needed the manpower.  Lincoln, as with many of his predecessors wanted to ship the African-Americans to Liberia.  If Eli Whitney hadn’t invented the cotton gin, American slavery wouldn’t have grown the way it did, and shipment to Liberia in the early Nineteenth Century may have really happened.  You could be morally opposed to slavery the institution, but not like African-Americans as people, as many abolitionists did.    Saving the Union was the “moral” reason for the Civil War.  The real reason?  Money talks.  Saving the Union sounds better, than “All that cotton.”  As for deporting African-Americans, there were too many by then.  I wrote an essay about this, click here

I’m Ashkenazic Jewish with according to 23andMe 0.1% East Asian ancestry.  Wanted to get that out.  Alt-right is my enemy, to them, doesn’t matter how many generations I’ve been here.  Their problem, not mine.  I would’ve been with the counter protesters in Charlottesville.

Those protesters chanting “Blood and soil?”  Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska said the following on his Twitter feed:  These people are utterly revolting–and have no understanding of America. This creedal nation explicitly rejects “blood & soil” nationalism.

Yes, we do.  We’re based on an idea, not ethnic nationalism.  I also found it interesting that the alt right marchers chanted “Jews will not replace us.”  Tells me they are afraid of Jews.  What’s eating them is becoming a minority.  If they want to yell at anyone, it would have been President Lyndon Johnson.  He loosened U.S. immigration laws in 1965.  They’ll need a seance to do that.  

I remember going to Stone Mountain in 1983.  It was like a Confederate theme park.  We differ from the victory over  Nazi Germany, because Germany was a demolished country, starting at ground zero.  In our case, we were trying to reintegrate the rebellious states.  Officers on both sides attended West Point together.  Friends now enemies.   

I need to throw some more historical accuracy in.  The flag you see is actually the battle flag of General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, who surrendered at the end.  According to Civil War historian Bruce Catton, Lee considered disbanding the army and sending the men into the mountains to fight a guerilla war.  Some of his officers wanted that.  Luckily, Lee was enough of a leader with vision not to do that.  I was raised with the idea of Robert E Lee as a man of honor.  Hard getting used to the darker side, though I can’t say I’m surprised.  

    The battle flag is used by haters all over the country now.  Two years ago, I wrote an essay after Dylan Roof shot nine people in a Charleston church.  At first I thought, ok, what’s in a flag?  The power you give it.  

I’m not saying the flag should be destroyed totally.  It needs to be used as a teaching tool., along with the statues.  Those who don’t study history are condemned to repeat it, like Groundhog Day.  

I have had many Southern friends across the years.  My favorite cousin grew up in Montgomery, Alabama.   I enjoyed The Dukes of Hazzard and the car, the General Lee.  Loved the accents, lol!  Another factoid I remembered from the book Culture Shock the South.  Seven out of ten white Southerners have an ancestor who fought for the Confederacy.  Yes, and Jews fought for the Confederacy.  My father told me about a letter from General Lee, stating his Jewish officers could attend Yom Kippur services, because of a lull in the fighting.  Here in Tucson, you have the prominent Drachman family.  They first landed in the United States from what’s now Poland in Charleston.  They fought for the Confederacy.  

The problem is much of history isn’t black and white, cut and dried.  I need to close with the following:

Many of the people in my life have heard me speak and write about my beloved former boss, teacher and adopted big sister Susi Baldwin.  I knew her from 1976, as a bratty nineteen year old from Brooklyn to her untimely death in October, 2012.  I need to share two stories that may or may not make you laugh.

Susi was very much a daughter of the South.       Most of her family settled Savannah, though there was a Virginia branch.  (Stonewall Jackson was an ancestor).  Susi was a bubbly personality.  She was ten years older, very much a part of the liberal Sixties and Seventies.  

Why am I telling you this?  Not everything is black and white.  

The first story takes place in 1999.  She was living in Purcellville, Virginia, near Leesburg, where there is debate about another Confederate statue.  I was staying with her to help her enter the computer age and set up her computer equipment.  I went to sleep that night on the living room sofa, underneath the photographs of the Confederate ancestors in uniform.  

She told me the second story at dinner.  My other boss was an African-American woman named Karen.  Karen and Susi were friends.  One day Karen said, “We are going to Uncle Thurgood’s house for dinner.”

Susi told me she thought nothing of it until United States Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall opened the door.  

My point?  History like politics, makes strange bedfellows.  While Susi had the pictures of those Confederate ancestors, if she were alive and healthy on August 12th, she would have been there with the counter protesters.  In other words, where does heritage stop and hatred begin?  I’m asking this as a philosophical question.  The Confederacy was proven wrong, as was Nazi Germany.  Does that mean it was inappropriate for Susi to have her ancestors pictures on the wall?  Each individual is shaped by the history of the world and the influences around them.  Should Susi have been ashamed of her Confederate ancestors?  Questions I might have put to her.  

Charlottesville as a city rallied against the Alt-Right.  Remember something though.  This is the school and city founded by Thomas Jefferson.  If you’re “Politically Correct,”  when do the questions about him begin?  Keep debating it.

Posted in Abraham Lincoln, Africa, Arizona, Brooklyn, Culture, Hamiltonian vs. Jeffersonian, History Made Fun, How Monty Python Ruined My Life, Jews, Reading History Like a Novel, Susi Baldwin, Tucson, United States | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Fellow White Americans.

Well, I am 0.1% East Asian, according to 23andMe.  I am also Jewish, so to these guys, I’m not white anyway. 😛  OK Read this, Katherine Fritz did a great job.


My fellow white Americans.

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Cynthia Nixon Sex in the City Governor of New York?!

When my wife told my Cynthia Nixon, (For the uninitiated, she played Miranda Hobbes in Sex in the City),  was mulling over running for Governor of New York State, I had to look for the news stories.

    I may live in Tucson, Arizona now, but I’m Brooklyn born and bred.  I lived on the same block until I was twenty-five years old.  

Mom still lives in the apartment I grew up in.  Therefore, I pay attention to what goes on in the city and state.  

    I need to ask Mom whether there are New Yorkers that angry with Governor Cuomo.  I’ve read he might run for President in 2020.

    Well he wasn’t counting on Cynthia Nixon’s wealthy friends thinking she would make a good Governor.  I must give her credit.  She has worked and advocated for better schools in the state.

Just because we have a president, who is a performer, doesn’t mean we need more.  Then again, in the second book Monty Python member John Cleese wrote with his friend and therapist Robin Skynner called Life and How to Survive It.  They talked about the celebrity culture in the United States.  Well, we’ve certainly made that true.  Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Donald Trump.  

    Not just did I grow up in New York, but I was a Political Science major and have traveled all over New York State     Cynthia Nixon is part of a limited group of wealthy, chic people.  She will do well in Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn.

There’s a very different world north of New York City.  You won’t find Cynthia Nixon living in Buffalo, or Watertown.  I’ve met some hard people up there.  In much of Upstate New York, the economy has been declining for decades.  Go to South Buffalo, the childhood home of journalist Tim Russert.  Go to a town on the St. Lawrence River, opposite Canada.  There you will find another New York.  Not sure you will appeal to these people.  Let’s get closer to New York City.  

I grew up in Brooklyn Heights, but the neighborhood was not the chic place it is now.  I look more like the men you would see in front of a social club in Bensonhurst.  You and your friends would consider me a Bridge and Tunnel man.  I still have what people think of as a Brooklyn accent.  

    Can you appeal to what I consider the “Real New York?”  I mean the entire Empire State.  Oh, and if elected, you have to live in the Governor’s Mansion in Albany.  


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Central Asians Knocking on China’s Door

I wrote previously about my Mom’s Central Asian ancestry.  According to 23andMe, I’m 0.1%  East Asian.  Maybe one day, that’ll be narrowed down, East Asia is a big place.  

    The first emperor of a united China, Qin Shih Huang Di, built the beginnings of the Great Wall of China for a reason.  There were pieces of walls previous kingdoms built, but the Qin Emperor made it thicker and longer.  Why?  Because Mom’s Central Asian ancestors kept knocking at the door.  

Another wall, between England and Scotland called Hadrian’s Wall, was built.  Why was the wall built?  Because as George MacDonald Fraser described it in the book, The Border Reivers, every child in the North of England could give the same answer.  To keep the Scots out.  The Romans realized, the blue skinned (Comedian Billy Connolly will tell you, because they were cold, not because they painted themselves), whisky drinking lunatics out there weren’t worth conquering.  Emperor Augustus described conquering all of Britain and Germany beyond the Rhine as fishing with a golden hook.  The catch wasn’t worth the bait.

     I bring up Hadrian’s Wall for a reason.  As with the Great Wall of China, it was a deterrent, not a complete barrier.  The most determined with pluck and luck will break through.  It happened many times in Chinese history.  Some of them, the Mongols and Manchus created dynasties.

  For the Chinese, North and West of the wall, was wilderness.  There is the famous gate with the graffiti, where Chinese were sent through into exile.  The steppe nomads wanted to trade for Chinese goods, but steal them when they could.  There was little the Chinese wanted from the steppe barbarians.  The names of the barbarian groups changed, but to the Chinese they are still, well…Barbarians.

    Imagine a Chinese sentry, on an isolated stretch of the wall, looking into the vast emptiness beyond the wall.  


There is nothing exciting about this.  Every so often, first you catch of whiff of eau de nomad in the air.  You see the picture, see anyplace for water, drinking AND bathing nearby?    

    Then you see them at a distance, riding in on their horses.  You wait for them to approach.  They may still be forty miles away from you, but as they get closer, you know it.

    The wife of an official catches a whiff.  “Can’t you do something about those animals?  Why don’t you cowards go out and kill them?”

    “Because my lady,” the sentry says with strained patience, “They come here, they are playing our game, according to the military bible of Sun Zi.”

     “I just know they foul the air, oh, get it over with, sentry!”

     The nomads after a few hours finally come up to the wall.  Forget the bored look of the guards at the castle in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the guards are trying not to swoon.  Who knows if the smell is the first shot at chemical warfare?  

    The first of many Central Asian nomadic leaders came knocking on a gate in the Great Wall.  “Open up, or we’ll attack.”

   The Chinese commander looked down in disgust.  The official’s wife screamed at the sentries.  “Well don’t just stand there, peasants, shoot those scum now!”

    The captain of the guard smiled.  “Confucius teaches us, men order women.”  She stamped her foot and got her husband, who gave the same order.  

The sentries raised their bows and arrows.  Bad move, the nomads were faster.  Also more nomads appeared, while the Chinese sentries weren’t looking.  They broke through the gate and were in.  This happened every so often.  

The ultimate was Genghis Khan, who created a Chinese Dynasties.  The Manchus did the same with the Ching Dynasty.  Hey, why trade, when you can raid?  

The modern world has changed everything.  The Chinese don’t need the Great Wall.  They are pushing past it into Central Asia.   China is rebuilding the Silk Road, by road and rail.

OK, this is a very abbreviated, silly look at Central Asian nomads, knocking on China’s door.  As you can see, they usually just break the door down.  


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King Alfred and the Cakes

For the full true story click on British History.  The following is my silly take:

King Alfred had his version of his merry men, long predating Robin Hood.  Mix this with King Arthur and Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  King Alfred was being chased by Vikings, and found shelter in an old, poor woman’s house.  

    She says, “If I’m to feed you, watch my cakes, while I perform other chores.  King Alfred was distracted, by Vikings, the Three Headed Knight and the Knights, Who Say Ni, (Sorry Monty Python can be a bad influence.  At this point, Graham Chapman would have cried, Dear Sir, I was expecting a documentary about King Alfred and it got silly).

    As I stated, King Alfred was distracted.  He was lost in thought, not watching the cakes.  When the woman smelled and saw the burned cakes, she was furious.  “Leave it to a man, not to obey instructions!”  

“You can’t speak to me that way, I’m your king!”

(Quoting Dennis the Peasant in Monty Python and The Holy Grail), “Oh King very nice.  Well if you are King Alfred, you aren’t good at very much, are you?  The Vikings, the three headed knight barking contradictory instructions, the Knights Who Say Ni, coming into my humble hut, you can’t even watch cakes baking.  Some king you are.

   King Alfred left and whupped the Vikings.  Sometimes it takes a strong woman.  Well that’s the way I heard it.  Now watching for the lightning bolt.






Posted in A Sarcastic Look at Life, A Silly Look at The World, England, How Monty Python Ruined My Life, Uncategorized | Leave a comment