Monday, January 31, 2005

NY Post, #3: Return to Nashville

This morning I was looking at Ground Zero, now I'm here in my little apartment in Nashville. It just doesn't seem possible. It's a grueling trip in a car, but it's certainly not of the grueling caliber of say, a trip in a horse-drawn carriage.

All of this morning was dedicated to seeing quite possibly the ugliest part of New York, Lower Manhattan, which not only has the gaping hole in its skyline from the WTC collapse, but is a general mess anyway--parts of Wall Street and its surrounding area are completely torn up--roads are in terrible condition, or not even there (strong metal plates serve as "roads"). Construction aplenty. We didn't have much time, but we couldn't get to the NYSE from the paths we took, since New York is a maze of one-way streets, and almost every time you say, "We'll take a left at (name of street)," it's only one way going right, or vice-versa.

There are some nice buildings down here, like the Trinity Church, but what I took from it was an area of New York still trying to get back to glory. Even though its business has moved on, the aesthetics of the place are still mired in high maintenance. How much this has to do with 9/11, I am not completely informed on this matter, but it looks like they are slowly rebuilding the look of it. I'm in no way criticizing anything, but I'm rather shocked at how much in disarray this whole area is.

Due to icy conditions on the Hudson River, we were unable to get a close look (via some sort of ferry or cruise) at the Statue of Liberty, our final sight. We drove down Liberty Street and parked at a little circle where we could see the statue, got some pictures, then headed out through the Holland Tunnel, which got us into New Jersey and the NJ Turnpike, where we got another pretty good view of the statue, this time from behind.

The Ground Zero site, where there were many people gathered to look into its fenced region, is indeed the most shocking of all. Two 110-story buildings were here, and now it's just a gap. I'm certainly not the first person to look at this and be amazed and dumbfounded, and nothing I say here can be any different from anyone else's thoughts on the matter--but on my own perspective, seeing it up close for the first time, I had never gotten the eerie feeling from watching it on TV, since the 9/11 attacks always seemed like cinema, brutally morbid cinema with the content of a snuff film, but cinema nonetheless. When it all happened, I was here in Nashville, at the Metro Courthouse, taping a deposition (an entirely weird and bizarre story in its own right). I had never been to New York, so I didn't have any perspective. As an American, I was outraged. As a Nashville native 900 miles away, I didn't have any sense of danger or loss.

I now can only imagine what that was like, where people might have been in the city where they would have had frightening views of all that was taking place. It must have been one surreal sight to be anywhere close to Lower Manhattan at the time. To me, it's almost like the way Terminator 2 transitions from showing a nuclear apocalypse to a desolate, burned-out playground in the next scene. I replayed the video of 9/11 in my mind, and WE CUT TO: a fenced-in void.

Which brings me to my answer on your question, Mike, about charities. There is, of course, a 9/11 charity which has accrued lots of money. Yes, 3000 people died in these attacks. A tragedy, for sure, but certainly not the number of people who die from other causes (OK, I also know that there were many, many other people affected by this, namely families left behind, but it still isn't near the highest). However, I think you can get into trouble determining a best charitable cause for your money sheerly based on numbers. If you decide that your money is definitely going to charity, I believe you have to find a cause you feel is most important and stick with it. Your decision may very well rest on the numbers, but then we compare one's pain versus another's pain. The problem I would have in most cases is knowing what my money is doing.

I guess I'm a little cynical about the whole thing. There are lots of smart people around but we still have problems, and that fundamentally bothers me. To me, that means that mostly dumb people (or dangerous people, or both) are in power and usually impose their will on the system. I speak in general terms here, because I could go on several pages worth of a rant tackling specific problems that I haven't the power nor the money to make work. I see the problem being that if one really bright person, or several really bright persons, come up with bonafide solutions to world issues, another, more powerful dumb person, or several more powerful dumb persons, finding a way to shoot the solutions down, either because it's not going to make them money or give them recognition, or they feel uncomfortable with aspects of the solutions (i.e., "Stem cell research is against God"). It's going to take smart, impartial, powerful people to turn the tide. This goes along with, in some ways, what I thought the best business would be (in my example, movie theatres). I would gather a community of people I know are problem solvers, who would not be affected by outside causes or organizations, to come up with solutions that cannot be turned away.

In sum, I believe the answers to the world's problems exist, right now, in millions of people's heads. It's a matter of getting them all together and making the discussions non-political, team-based for recognition, and uninfluenced by outsiders.


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