Sunday, September 10, 2006

Notes from September 11, 2001

Here are my thoughts that I wrote and published on one of my web sites late in the evening of September 11, 2001. My apologies for the spelling errors. I may post some of my other "diary" entries, but they are all already online at that web address and have been for close to five years now.


I'm here down in Washington, DC now. It's calm in a strange kind of way. Everybody talking about the details of the crashes, but there weren't that many hurt at the Pentagon compared to NYC. People get very philosophical about what should be done. Nobody has a clear answer. Every "solution" has drawbacks. Some say this is definitely Bin Laden's work. Others say that Bin Laden is doing this (as well as previous terrorist acts) in conspiracy with Iraq. And then there's the issue of Afghanistan's "harboring" of Bin Laden. People in Washington are focused on this kind of stuff compared to the sheer damage and loss of life in New York.

I was on the internet early but signed off right at 8:45, so I just missed the news. About 9:15 I left my apartment when is six blocks north of the White House and was on my way to a Senate hearing when I saw the Pentagon smoke just a few minutes before 10 am when I was near Union Station, but I didn't hear any explosion so I figured it must be a large fire and not a bomb. Other than that smoke, I saw no signs of anything wrong.

A lot of people were leaving the Senate office buildings, but they hadn't started a formal evacuation yet, as of 10:00 am. I asked the guard at the building just after 10 am and he shrugged his shoulders and said they weren't evactuating and people were just leaving by their own choice. I went to the hearing (Senate Banking hearing on the failure of the Superior Bank in Illinois held in the Dirksen office building), which was packed, and it started about 10:05. Senater Sarbanes said he wasn't goto to let "them" shut down his hearing. The hearing went for about 15 minutes before the guard informed us that we had to evacuate.

Some of us sitting near the windows had heard a distant boom around 10:11 am. I ran into somebody later who said it was a sonic boom from a jet fighter. I saw one fighter once and could hear them on occasion, but could not see them. The sky was fairly clear with just a few clouds. Lots of helicopters coming and going to the Pentagon.

I listened to some reporters interviewing Senators out in the park across the street. But the reporters couldn't call in their quotes because their cell phones wouldn't work due to too many people using their phones. I stayed there a little while. Some people had their car radios on so we could listen to the news. I actually didn't know what had happened until after the hearing started. I just knew that "something" had happened over near the river. One of the Senators being interviewed has Senator Levin who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and who will be involved at the center of the investigation of what happened and whatever response occurs.

Then I and then walked down to the river where we could see the smoke still billowing from the Pentagon. They had all the monuments roped off, but I was able to walk across the bridge and could see the Pentagon from fairly close. Close enough to smell the smoke. They weren't really stopping people from moving around. A while later I got close enough to the far side to see where the damage was. The gash in the side of the building was not that big, at least looking at it from a very oblique angle, but we could not see straight in at the bulk of the damage. They were still fighting the fire late in the day. The building is solid concrete, but the roof is wood and tar and just very difficult to put out. Eventually we could see workers atop the roof right at the gash.

I was able to talk to some people who were in the Pentagon at the time. On woman was watching the news of the NY crash and one of her co-workers said "Well, at least they didn't hit the Pentagon" and then ten minutes later they did. They evacuated and the police kept moving them further from the building. At one point the police cars roared up with their PA system warning that "A hijacked plane is incoming". Whether that was the Pittsburgh plane or just a too-late warning about the first plane wasn't clear. At that point people ran and tried to get behind a stone wall (the entrance to the LBJ Memorial Grove). People calmed down and walked over the Crystal City, not more than a mile away. Most did not come back and the parking lot was half full even at the end of the day. The woman I talked to had come back for her car and was very calm about the whole thing.

Just about everybody I ran into was fairly calm about the whole thing. But the damage in DC is far less than in NY. At dinner I was talking to a guy from NY who lives not far from the Trade Center whose wife had gone out for coffee with a friend and looked up just in time to see the collapse. Her friend's husband worked in the Trade Center. This guy knows somebody who worked on the 40th floor and made it out, so not everyone died. That's so much more different than DC where maybe only 100 or less (besides the plane passengers) died. Nobody has the numbers for sure yet.

I heard one police officer say that they had too many volunteers and had sent a lot of them home. There was a virtual parking lot full of emergency vehicles of every sort at the Pentagon. But they only had three water canons going.

I was over at the Pentagon until 7:30 pm. I could hear that the Metro train was running again near the Pentagon. Some highways near the Pentagon were closed, but not all. There were a moderate number of cars on the road. I walked along the river and crossed over to the Lincoln Memorial. All the memorials were completely lit, but roped off. I had to detour around the White House area since a whole bunch of blocks were closed.

Virtually all restaurants were closed, except those in hotels and they required that you be a guest. But I got into the Marriott Courtyard across the street from my apartment and had dinner. I just got back to my apartment around 10:30 and still had not seen any TV news (I don't have a TV either). Luckily the internet is working fine right now. I still haven't seen any pictures of the World Trade Center, but I know from personal experience what the Pentagon looked like. One officer at the Pentagon checkpoint said he had been at the site earlier and he saw no large pieces lying around, but I think they're all inside the building.

People are just waiting for the President to decide what he's going to do. Downtown DC will probably be back to work within a couple days since there's no damage over here. Ironically, the section of the Pentagon which was hit was the part that was just renovated. But that meant that not everyone had moved back into their offices and many people were away at meetings.

There's a state of emergency of some sort here in DC, but no curfew or restrictions other than the fact that most people just went home, so most businesses other than hotels are closed. The police stationed throughout the city are all pretty casual about everything.

The Metro subway train was closed early on, but eventually opened except for the lines that ran past the Pentagon. But I think everything was eventually open.

There was a lot of confusion with traffic because they told everybody to "go home" all at once. That was a mistake. They should have told people to take their time and enjoy the weather in the park areas and the malls. I wouldn't have wanted to be in a car driving past some government building that might be attacked.

Strangely, it didn't feel uncomfortable in the Senate office building. In fact, when they told us to evacuate, people just sat there for a couple of minutes, even through they all knew what had happened. That's the kind of people you get in Washington -- nobody wanted to give up their seat in a packed hearing! In fact, the chair I took was actually the CSPAN cameraman's chair. I figured I'd sit there until he got back, back he never came back. The camera was on auto-pilot.

That's the way it was on Tuesday. Tomorrow's a different story.

-- Jack Krupansky

Should all carry-on luggage be banned?

An editorial in the NY Times entitled "A Ban on Carry-On Luggage" and suggests that "For now, the surest way to keep dangerous materials out of the cabin is to keep virtually all materials out of the cabin." Maybe, or maybe not, and is it really worth the effort and hassle and loss of peace of mind.

Materials might also be implanted or ingested and I can't imagine a ban on shoes, belts, padded bras, hairpieces/wigs, stuffed animals and dolls, etc.

Let us also keep in mind a basic concept of security measures: For every measure there is a countermeasure, and for every countermeasure there is a counter-countermeasure, and so on ad infinitum. If you set zero risk as your required goal, you will never get there and will always have failed at your goal.

I prefer the concept from the nuclear industry called ALARA: As Low As Reasonably Achievable. The emphasis is twofold: continuously reviewing processes and technologies to upgrade them as developments unfold, but only as the upgraded technologies and processes would be reasonable.

My basic response is that we should always avoid extreme measures, and The Times seems committed to the wrong-headed concept of minimizing risk at all costs, but I would argue that we employ measures that impose no more than reasonable costs, and accept the simple fact that life is always full of risks, even if we do not acknowledge them every day. So, let's limit air travel security to only reasonable measures, and accept that just like with plane crashes and accidents, sometimes things happen. Sure, we seek to minimize dangers, but let us not sign up for cures that are fare worse than the disease.

That said, I would certainly love to see a lot less carry-on luggage. I myself am more of a minimalist, with everything in my small backpack.

How far can you go? Well, I attended some of the 9/11 Commission hearings in Washington, D.C., and at one hearing, on Tuesday, January 27, 2004, commissioner Bob Kerrey, former U.S. Senator from Nebraska, also a former Navy SEAL, noted in discussion with an aviation security executive that anyone with special ops training could walk on a plane naked and still accomplish their mission. Here's an abbreviated excerpt from the official transcript of the 9/11 Commission of that exchange between Kerrey and Edmund Soliday, a former security executive for United Airlines:

MR. SOLIDAY: ... Senator Kerrey, in honesty with you, you are a trained spec ops person. You know as well as I, sir, that these people could have gotten on that airplane stark naked and done what they did.

MR. KERREY: Yes, they could have.

MR. SOLIDAY: So all of this discussion, you and I both know if we were taking knives away, they would have planned the spec op around those knives not being there.

MR. KERREY: ... These 19 guys who knocked us over just as easy as could be, they exploited every visible weakness. And you're exactly right, once they were on that plane their chances of failure were practically zero. ... And by the way, I'm a customer, and when this commission finishes this work today, I'm taking the train back to New York and no small measure because I find the security procedures not only to be a nuisance, but I think they're largely ineffective.

I mean, you're exactly right, buck naked I sit on that plane and I say, well, I hope they've got this thing figured out because -- well, first of all, they'd never let me on, that would really be obnoxious, let me on buck naked, but you -- yeah, you're not anxious to see that. I mean, I hope that you'll help us by being as honest as you possibly can and as frank and as detailed as you possibly can about what we aren't doing that we ought to be doing to prevent this in the future.

Armored cockpit doors -- plus rules requiring that they never be permitted to be opened during flight -- would prevent the suicide attacks that were employed on 9/11.

Smuggling bombs or bomb-making materials into the main cabin or in checked baggage is certainly a possibility, but the number of times it has been successfully employed is so small as to suggest that severe or extreme countermeasures are wholly unwarranted. Yes, let us take measures, but only those that are reasonable and reasonably unobtrusive. Sure, "experts" (and politicians and critics) can make all manner of claims about potential effects, but rarely do these "experts" inform us of the very real side effects of taking extreme measures.

To answer the question: Should all carry-on luggage be banned? My answer: No.

-- Jack Krupansky

Friday, September 08, 2006

Remembering memories of 9/11

Since Monday, September 11, 2006 will be the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it is time to start collecting and recollecting memories of that day, like where I was, what I was doing, how it felt at the time, what seemed to be going on at the time, and how it all looks in hindsight. I don't know how much I'll actually pull together, but at least I'll try to post something. Meanwhile you can read some thoughts that I wrote on my web site at the time, from September 11, 2001 into October, mostly while I was in Washington, D.C., but also when I back up in New York City. I had apartments in both cities at the time.

Here's a very eerie photo of the Palm trees inside the Wintergarden atrium of the World Financial Center just across the street from where the north tower of the World Trade Center had stood.

The trees survived the collapse of the towers, but somebody I met down at the trade center site a few weeks later told me they saw them being cut down. They put a large scaffolding inside the atrium to keep the undamaged half from collapsing and over the next two years they rebuilt the damaged half and then planted new trees that look just like the old ones. The river-side of the atrium was mostly undamaged, as I could see as I took the New York Waterways ferry boat from the east side of lower Manhattan over to Hoboken, New Jersey and back eleven days after 9/11.

Just a few weeks earlier I had stood not more than 50 feet behind where the photographer was probably standing and looked up at the north tower through the atrium glass.

I used to talk around lower Manhatan on Saturdays and stop in the atrium to rest for a few minutes in the afternoon before heading back to my apartment.

The atrium is now completely restored, "as good as new", but feels a bit lifeless even though physically it is every bit as good as new.

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Secrecy versus collaboration

It seems that each person has an inherent bias towards either secrecy or towards collaboration. Sure, all sane people have a combination of the two abilities, but a bias as well.

And I'm not so sure it's as simple as being introverted or extroverted. After all, some people are quite outgoing and even manipulative, but nonetheless unlikely to share their inner thoughts.

Personally, I lean towards collaboration and find secrecy somewhat unnatural.

To me, secrecy feels manipulative.

Secrecy feels like it takes more effort.

Collaboration seems easier and more natural.

Secrecy seems like more of a "necessary evil".

So, the difficulty comes when we try to mix people bent on secrecy with people bent on collaboration.

-- Jack Krupansky

Saturday, September 02, 2006

We need a lot more new cities

A relative was just complaining about how bad traffic is these days. I can't disagree, but I have a proposed solution: new cities.

Given the rapid deployment of broadband network access and the increasing friendliness of businesses to flexible work arrangements, it is much more feasible than in past years to build a moderate-sized "city" that is somewhat remote from existing urban and suburban "sprawl" areas, so that people can have enough room to live and breathe and work without having the need for massive highway systems for transporting goods and people long distances to concentrated areas.

I don't expect any new cities to be built any time soon, but newer energy technologies and difficulties with fossil fuels may provide the needed impetus to move in this direction within the next decade.

Maybe enterprising Indian nations will see new cities as a logical extension of their casino and resort efforts.

My preference would be to authorize states to start building new cities with funds from the sale of bonds that are independently guaranteed by the Federal government. It should also be possible for private entities to also petition for those bond guarantees, provided that sufficient oversight can be maintained.

A key component of new cities is that we establish an infrastructure for corporate satellite work centers that make it easy for companies to hire workers and organize teams that are more dispersed than is common today.

At the core of this conception of "new cities" is the idea that the average worker must be able to travel from home to work in less than 10 minutes without the need for traffic-intensive transportation.

-- Jack Krupansky