B is five months old today.
I also forgot to bring my phone and wallet with me when I left for work this morning. Once I got back to Cedalion after a visit to one of our clients, I called Abi and she and B came down to Leith to meet me for a late lunch. We bought sandwiches, and sat down by the bowling geen opposite my office building to eat, and to feed B. Autumn is on its way, but there was no wind, and the sun was warm. At just after 14:00 I went back to the office feeling full and rested.
I sat down with Craig to discuss the project we’re working on. We chatted through the relevant sections of code, and decided how to proceed. I went back to my desk, and settled down to hack away at my bits.
From behind me, in the room where the dev leads sit, Pete called to me: “Martin, come in here, you’ve got to see this.”
I went in. Pete was sitting at his desk, his face tense. James stood behind him. They were both looking at his monitor, and listening to a news report on the radio Pete keeps around for listening to the cricket. “There’s two planes crashed into the World Trade Center,” Pete said.
I looked at the screen. Internet Explorer was showing Sky.com’s news headlines page. At the top of the screen was a photo of the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center, fire licking up around the top floors. On the radio, a shocked journalist explained how two aircraft had flown straight into the towers.
At first, I thought it was some kind of joke. You know, there are spoof web sites all over the place. The Onion, a satirical news site, makes its business out of lampooning news stories in a true journalistic style. I thought that this was a sophisticated site that had air time on a radio station, so that you could pull a friend colleague in, show them the site, and make them listen to a fake news report on the radio at the same time.
It would be quite a neat practical joke to pull. But it wasn’t. I scanned the URL to see if it was a spoof web address. It wasn’t. It started, appropriately, with “http://www.sky.com/”, so whatever web page I was seeing had really come from the official sky.com servers. It was true.
I don’t remember much about what we said immediately after that. The news was trickling in slowly. The word was that the first plane had been small, but that the second one had been a 737. I think we talked about how the buildings were engineered to withstand the impact of a plane, but that no-one would ever expect that to really happen.
I went back to my desk to try and find out more, but the main news sites (bbc.co.uk and cnn.com) were off the air. As millions of people tried to get their news feeds all at once, their servers must have been overwhelmed by the load. So much for internet broadcasting.
A small knot of developers stood around Kevin’s PC. More people joined the crowd, and I went over as well. Kevin had managed to get through to a news site, and had a video clip of the second plane actually crashing into the tower. As the footage rolled, and we all saw these images for the first time, the cries of shock went up: “holy shit!” “fuck!” Rodger stood with a client at a nearby desk, and tried to shoosh us, but we ignored him, and a few moments later the two of them gathered round and joined us.
Minutes later, more news. The Pentagon had been bombed. (At the time we didn’t know it was another plane.) There were explosions on Capitol Hill.
Most of us went back to our desks, and tried to work, but we were all distracted. We were all hungry for news. The main news web sites were all down, so we all tried our own favourite sources, and emailed or messaged each other when we found a snippet. Dave Winer was keeping scripting news up-to-date with headlines and pointers to other blogs, and I that’s where I got most of my initial information. I called Abi, who was still out in town with B, to let her know what was happening.
A fourth plane down, somewhere near Pittsburgh. And then one of the towers collapsed. It collapsed. I could hardly imagine it. That collossal structure–one of the defining images of New York–almost a geographical feature–gone. I was stunned. I called Abi again.
The second tower collapsed. The two towers hold tens of thousands of people. My mum & dad took Scott & me there in 1985. We ate in the “Windows on the World” restaurant on the top floor. I remember my ears popping as we rode the elevators to the top. Abi and I walked past it when we were in New York in 1999. We didn’t go up, but we had spend over an hour walking from midtown to downtown, using the twin towers as landmarks, and indicators of how for we still had to go.
It was clear at that time that thousands of people were dead (although, as I write this, at 22:45, no-one in authority has dared to make even a preliminary estimate of the fatalities). But more than anything else, it was the complete destruction of the twin towers that stunned me and brought home the scale of the tragedy. Comparisons are meaningless, but it was like someone had blown up the pyramids. It was like the giant space ships in Independence Day blowing up the Empire State Building, but this was really happening.
I don’t think any of us got much done the rest of the afternoon. By 17:30, I had a thumping headache, and I headed home. I had planned to defrost a couple of pizzas for comfort food, but Abi was ahead of me. On her way back home she’d picked up a large sourdough bread from Valvona & Crolla, and so we defrosted some venison sausages and bacon instead. Carbohydrates & fat. Comfort food. We were both stunned, and both needed comforting.
B was picking up on our distress, and he has needed lots of cuddle time this evening.
We’ve been watching BBC News 24 all evening. Most of the news has now broken, but the commentating is only just starting. And all of the nutcases are coming out in force and being listened to seriously. Comparisons with Pearl Harbor. Talk of immediate retaliation. But retaliation against whom? Terrorists in general, apparently.
Our “Western civilised society is under threat”, a former US State Department official said. Those italics are mine, because the implication is that whatever ideologies underlie the terrorist groups responsible, and whatever countries align themselves with those ideologies, are uncivilised. The spin is already working: “they” are not attacking attacking Western imperialism, or specific Western foreign policies and actions, they’re attacking freedom itself.
Never mind that these groups, whoever they are, probably think that they’re fighting for their own version of civilization and freedom, because ours is obviously the right way.
It’s war. With war comes rhetoric and propaganda. I deplore the attacks, but I don’t have to like the spin, the propaganda, and the inevitable fervour the media, politicians and other opportunists will whip up. Because we’re not at war with a specific organisation. We won’t be at war with a specific country. We’ll be at war with principles, ideologies and ghosts. The enemy will be smoke and air, and politicians can shape that into anything they want. Consider carefully who is the threat to life and limb, and who is the threat to freedom.
What happened today was a hideous crime. It was incredibly well organised and highly co-ordinated. There will be evidence. They will have left behind tracks and traces. Maybe this is Osama Bin Laden, maybe not. It behoves a “civilised” country to seek out the perpetrators, and to punish the guilty; not to lash out at whoever presents the broadest target.
The commentary on CNN is making me sick. I’m off to bed.