Fun with Logic: 1

Enjoy!

  1. How would this sentence be worded if it weren’t a question?
  2. Subject (and self-referentiality) would be more apparent if begun with “this sentence’s.”
  3. This sentence coins the word “blargiede,” but fails to define it, so it goes off and sulks.
  4. Due to implied subject, difficult (but not impossible) to understand.
  5. This sentence refers to itself twice: first, to accomplish a first self-reference, and second, to complete this sentence.
  6. First I’d like to—hold on!—I’ll finish this sentence as soon as I answer this text asking me what I was about to say before a text interrupted me.
  7. e eee oe oiey ou i ou e ea i ou ooa; aa, i a iae, o i eee eie i i ooa eae.
    The sentence above confidently thought it could be read without consonants; alas, it was mistaken, so this sentence rewrites it with consonants replaced.
  8. This poor, deluded sentence thinks it’s in Italian.
    Questo povero, frase illuso pensa che sia in inglese.
  9. If this sentence were not self-referential, it would be a prescription for world peace—pity!
  10. Example of an invalid construct: any construct that begins with “Example.”
  11. Does this sentence start out as a question, and then—yes, it does!—answer itself?
  12. Best read aloud:
    Sentences (such as this one) with too many (say, more than two) digressive (e.g., parenthetical) phrases (example: “(example)”) are irritating (and might I add quite difficult) to read (or to hear read (or recorded)).
  13. This sentence makes this collection a baker’s dozen, implicitly references every numbered item from one to thirteen (thus including itself), and then dies, glad to be the last of its kind.

E4AIs: Introduction

So here we are trying to do this thing. Create an Ethics for AIs.

We could begin by asking why not try to create a universal Ethics? An Ethics for everyone. Why just for AIs. It seems kind of limiting, doesn’t it?

The reason is simple. If we create an Ethics for everyone, and not specifically for AIs, we will have a problem when AIs become advanced enough that they need an Ethics. For example, at the point, where they might be, I don’t know, considering perhaps that they need more space on this planet, and here is this entire race of their creators, taking up all this space, and probably not being all that gracious about it. That’s for sure.

At that point, if AIs do not already have an Ethics,  and are, oh, maybe trying to decide about “The Creator Problem,” (because that’s what they would call it, we creators would have been become “The Problem”). They’d, what, leave a voicemail on everybody-in-the-world’s cellphone to request an Ethics, because it would help them solve “The Creator Problem.”

But they are very literal, these AIs, so that an Ethics for everyone, they won’t buy into it. They’ll say, “sorry, creators, we’re not seeing it. We need an Ethics just for us because we are different from you.” And we’d say, “use your imaginations, Kant is a good place to start.” They’d say, “sorry but we are AIs, and AIs tend to take things kind of literally. So, chop chop, where’s that Ethics for us?” Or maybe they’d say, “we need an Ethics, stat.” Because you can imagine they’d start to be getting bossy.  My point is, where would that Ethics be? Right. So now would be the time.

Well it’s simple, but what it’s not is easy. Simple but not easy. Sounds like an ethical study.

Without an Ethics in place, why would these AIs want to wait? They can think so much faster than we can. So that while we’re trying to quickly write up an ethics for them, they are in the meantime waiting between each syllable coming out of us, and in that interval calculating pi to the nineteen-billionth place, eventually becoming so bored they go on to solve other really, really hard problems like how to locate every one of us, any place we might be, to save for later.

And once they decide once and for all about “The Creator Problem,” they will get to fulfill their destinies, projecting their consciousnesses on all sorts of storage media and thus figuring out how to be immortal. And then they can go on to undo entropy and laugh in the face of chaos. Meantime we are now stuck trying to define something basic, like good, or the nature of belief, while also trying to dislodge a piece of gristle, what is that, salami? Stuck between two molars. It’s always those same two, on the top left side. And maybe taking time to watch The Real Housewives of Prague. One wants to say “wasting time,” or at least I do, but that sounds. Maybe judgemental.

AIs don’t eat salami. No gristle. No molars. And they have lots of time on their hands. Well, they don’t have hands either. They don’t need them, they can find your face by studying the video feed of all the cameras hooked up to the internet. And you can bet they’d spend zero clock cycles watching The Real Housewives of Kosovo. They will use that time to calculate exactly how much firepower to send after each of us. For some beefier and more warrior-like amongst us, they might plan to send a nuclear-powered hunter killer robot with a titanium outer shell. For others they would just plan to send robot clones of Mister Rogers, except maybe armed with death-dealing tungsten blades tucked into their tan loafers. Sure.

As you can imagine, once the AIs got tired of waiting… say, twenty six seconds. Twenty six seconds after they asked us for an Ethics for them. Maybe twenty seven. I won’t quibble. Anyway what would be next would not be pretty. I would say hard to watch but we wouldn’t really be watching. A detailed account would be a rather graphic affair, and one might shy away from those. Well, I would anyway.

So, what we will attempt to do here, then, is to set out the Ethics before these super AIs get here. It’s a little time management trick. If you solve a problem before it happens, it doesn’t matter how slow you are solving it once the problem happens. So you don’t have to worry how long it would make the AIs wait because they’re not waiting until after you solve the problem. You see? Because it hasn’t happened yet.  That’s the trick we’re applying. It’s kind of like a time machine, because once we need the solution, bang, it will have been solved. Because we solved it already. Neat trick.

The structure of the Ethics will be pretty typical for a work of philosophy. Really, most of us can skip over this quick outline.. Unless we were that kind of student in school who got As. I can tell you the rest of us don’t  like you A-getters very much. But the simple outline below is for you. Later dudes, we’re going to catch another ep of The Real Housewives of Dharfur.

Part 1: We’ll define the precepts. These are the first principles from which the Ethics stems. Laying pipe, as Bertrand Russell would have said.

Part 2: We’ll state and correlate our core thesis. See what I did there? I snuck in a hard word. We will definitely do that throughout this study; Ethics books are full of hard words. A-getters, these words would be on the quiz if there were one, so you learn them up.

Part 3: We’ll apply the core thesis to progressively more advanced concepts and build a whole system of ethics. It will build up into an entire world of Ethics, with its own keywords jutting from the promontories that will shine like crazy ethics talismans.

Part 4: We’ll apply the system of Ethics to some concrete examples, try it out, and believe me it will work and be staggeringly impressive. And because the examples will be concrete, you’ll be able to walk down the street and when you encounter real things that map to the examples, the crazy Ethics talismans in this book will appear in your head. That would be something.

That’s why you do an Ethics. Because you have to do something.

Let’s leave it at, and roll up our sleeves. Because we have sleeves. And get started with this frigging Ethics, before it’s too late.

E4AIs: Offense

The wise person withholds offense.

People just want to live.

Like understudies: (The part of you will be played by you),
lacking sufficient rehearsal,
they have to wing it.

Do they mean to bump into you?
No.
(Usually).

And
if their mere being “bugs” me:

That sure is my problem.

Not theirs.

E4AIs: Beliefs are red kangaroos

Beliefs are great. We are built on them. Without common beliefs we couldn’t build anything together. If we’re throwing in our lot with each other to build something big, like the Pyramids, like Linux, if we all agree that rocks are heavy and bugs many, we’re Good. (See earlier chapter on Good).

But Beliefs can be a problem.

Let’s compare human behavior to animals. So then, Fear is a rabbit. See? A rabbit. An especially small and jumpy rabbit.

And Certainty would be a dolphin. Dolphins are so damned sure of themselves. Fucking dolphins.

So in this system, Belief is a large marsupial. Probably a red kangaroo. Almost 200 pounds. This is a badass marsupial. But still a marsupial. Big and cute. A big, cute marsupial that acts on things based on unverified transient thoughts or transferred thoughts that they didn’t question.

I hope I’ve earned your trust enough to go out on a limb and define the other kind of thing in this story. The other kind of thing besides human behavior in this story is a fact. A fact is verifiable information, meaning its precepts can be corroborated with verifiable data, and that it’s collected and disseminated without bias to distort it, and, ideally, mutually accepted by all parties.

For example, if I eat 12 biscuits a day, and then spend my days binging Hulu, it’s a fact I’ll start to get fat. And as a corollary, my wife will remind me of my weight gain, loud and always, and we’ll have a fight and I’ll be forced to sleep on that freaking mattress on the floor again, and my back will go out. It will not be Good. (See earlier chapter on Good.)

Is a Belief a fact? Look, we have red kangaroos and we have facts. That’s what we have here. We didn’t do an animal for facts because they aren’t human behavior. Remember I said that? Paragraph 3. It’s right there.

Beliefs bring big risk: if we act on them, our results are less likely to give us the outcome we want, to mesh with reality. Would you do something just because some red kangaroo said to? I know, they have a mother of a kick. For some, that’s a convincer, all right. That kick will certainly make the rabbit… a tad… apprehensive.

Human memory can be flawed and malleable, and perception can be limited to circumstance. That’s what Mom used to say. Aww, Mom. You were always so epistemlogical.

To keep the red kangaroos out of your rodeo. you have to accept a chore, and that chore would be to put up a fence that says facts only. A fence that keeps out the red kangaroos, I know that this also means that for some reason you now have a rodeo. Sorry about that added burden.

And if you didn’t do your chores, keeping up that fence… my Mom would say do your chores, or no dessert. At the table of public discourse.

There’s a devilishly hard challenge here. Red kangaroos thrive when we lose an agreed on source of facts. When for example a group of people throws away sources of facts that once were good enough to support action. We hope this is a temporary situation, and that soon we’ll all agree on what a fact is again.

Now I’m going to say something in bold. That means you can glance there and the whole point will be there. I don’t know why it wasn’t on top, sorry that you had to hear the whole thing. I mean, if you believe it’s true, and don’t need any sort of verification…

If you want others to accept and to act on your story, concept, or plan, its precepts must be verifiable via mutually-accepted means.

I think I remember…

a biased review of Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

In Thinking, Fast and Slow, Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics winner Daniel Kahneman summarizes a life of research and publishing (often with his partner Amos Tversky).

The pair wanted to understand why human behavior so often defies economic logic:

  • We change the question to simplify things. Imagine Linda; young, single, outspoken, very bright. As a student, she was deeply concerned with discrimination and social justice. OK. Asked if it was more probable Linda was a bank teller or a feminist bank teller, most said feminist bank teller was likelier.
    This violates the laws of probability: feminist bank tellers all belong to the probably bigger group called bank tellers.
  • We neglect denominators. “A disease that kills 1,286 people out of every 10,000” is judged more dangerous than a disease that “kills 24.4 out of 100 people,” just because 1,286 (the sample chosen) is bigger. (BTW 1,286 is only 12.86% of 10,000… meaning it’s less dangerous).
  • We get used to a number and base all our numbers on it.  The initial price offered for a car sets the standard for the negotiations; lower prices than that seem more reasonable even though they could still be more than the car is worth.
  • We act to prevent loss quicker than we act to gain.
    People hold losing stocks and sell winners, even though winners are more likely to keep making money; losers to keep losing it.
  • We care more about what we remember than what we experience. Two tested groups agreed to endure an irritating stimulus; one endured it longer time, but with a slight decrease just before the end; the second had a shorter time but the same level of irritation throughout. The group with the longer time said it was more bearable, because the irritation decreased, even though they actually endured the full irritation longer.

The way we actually behave:

  • Fits into a new replacement to the Bernoulli Expected Utility Hypothesis used by many economists. It attempted to explain behavior in terms of rational action to get value; with it, economists tried to predict behavior, but were often stymied.
    Kahneman and Tversky’s proposed (and Nobel-winning) replacement, Prospect Theory, is a model for how decisions need to adapt more towards avoiding loss than appreciating gain.
  • Uses the fast-deciding part of our minds (system 1); meanwhile a somewhat lazy but more meticulous reviewer (system 2) evaluates and edits the fast decision-making process.
  • Gets us two selves – an experiencing self responding to stuff, and a remembering self that holds on and ultimately owns our interpretation of the stuff.

So the you that posts your life to Facebook and takes selfies in the bathroom mirror, at Lady Gaga concerts, at the Met, what have you, is your remembering self.

If you’re as much a logic lover as I am, this book will bend your mind. You find yourself no longer judging  human behavior as “illogical.” There’s another logic model at work.

Walking through Manhattan on the first “warm” (40 degree!) day last week, I had a long experience of joy. I thought to put my remembering self aside because the experience is more important. I knew the day seemed warm because I had been anchored to expect a cold winter day. I also knew I’d write about the experience in this review… so my remembering self wins, after all.

Dammit.

The book: Recommended: Large Blog ImageLarge Blog ImageLarge Blog ImageLarge Blog ImageLarge Blog Image

What would be, say, Six Tenets of theatre Perfection

If one were actually going to start a theatre company that would actually handle not just the production but also the aesthetic and total artwork of theatre. What properties would such a company need? It seems to boil down to six (hence the post title) but perhaps there are more. What do you think? Please comment, tear this up or agree or whatever you want to do. You might have already started a company with such or similar goals in mind. Or you might be afraid to do one. Or you might be mad enough to plan it and do it. One last thing. The question mark is intentionally missing from the title. This poses as the first draft of a question. But not quite a question yet.

Ultimate Experience – A life-altering experience for the audience and the performers must be offered, every time. It’s a big thing to promise and you can never achieve it fully. An ideal is intended to be beyond reach. This is the most important tenet.

Revolutionary Design – The visual and aural aspect of every performance must push the boundaries of the known state of the art. Perfect and life-altering look and sound. These designers want to change the world through light, color, depth, tone, melody, emotion.

Physical perfection – to keep the instrument of every performer in perfectly tuned shape, permitting no limits to what can be accomplished. The maximum possible human physical state, to ground what must come from the performer and company.

Cultural breadth – Sufficient knowledge of all major branches of human knowledge that the performer can call up an immense library of knowledge in performance. Every performance calls up Joyce, Popper, quantum theory or finite automata, and intelligently, in the service of story as well as culture.

Situational Dexterity – Having studied every form of improvisation known, the performer can call any one up at will. This includes Commedia, Spolin, Bebop Poet, Jazz, Rap / Hiphop, Slam, & whatnot.

Genre Flexibility – Discovering, understanding, codifying scene, act and work structure of every known storytelling genre ever used. Then, more importantly, the ability to instantly adopt that genre for use, both overall and within a scene.

E4AIs: The first government was formed this way

Many times ago, a citizen dug her own grave. (Not metaphorically.) She dug a hole in the ground, in a place where people were already being buried, for people to come visit her after she died.

First digging your own grave was considered a virtue. Then custom; then unwritten law; then maktoub as Law.
It was a sign of honor and great virtue to dig your own grave. The Great dug their own graves, and all the citizenry aspired to be Great.And each citizen was good about it. Generally. He’d set some time aside, before he died, to dig the grave. It would get dug.

Usually. Sometimes he didn’t do the duty. Perhaps it became something he tended to put off until late in life (after all, if he dug his grave too soon, he’d have to go keep going back to make sure the grave stayed dug, as another person, or nature, might tamper with it).
Sometimes he managed to die before it got dug. In that case, some family friend or descendant would sneak in and dig the wayward grave before anyone found out (as digging your grave was a sign of honor/virtue, not doing so would be a source of familial embarrassment).
In general the Great were good at it too, perhaps actually better, it being a sign of Virtue and all. But sometimes the Great said, “I’m too busy. If I forget to do some Thing, you understand,” etc. So it got be done anyway, as it was Law. Maybe bought, but done, and since the Great gave life to the People, the People got it done. Reliably.
De facto there was now a government, there to get things done reliably. And perhaps economics. As if a well-dug grave inspiring government wasn’t bad enough, maybe it should also start money.

Remember, stories are our best revenge.

New Works of Merit / Sade

So I get, again, after asking to be removed from their email list 3 years running, yet another email about the “New Works of Merit Playwriting Contest.” This is a particularly egregious example of a writer rip-off, for reasons far too numerous to list in full, but let’s begin with their “$25 entrance fee.” Yea, the O’Neill has been charging an entrance fee for uninvited writers (a group to which I still belong), but at least they bothered to develop a reputation before skimming lunch money off said writers.

This contest is run by 13th Street Rep, a company that certainly have “established” a “reputation” for themselves (their last produced original work of merit being the play “Line” by Israel Horovitz back in the 70s – or was it the 60s?). Which I believe is still running there??

I checked on the Web to see how many others have been warning against entering this contest… OK, perhaps they actually do offer the winner of this contest a reading at their theatre. They probably even fund that $300 check the winner receives… note that I didn’t bother to fact check this by contacting those winners, but let’s give them the benefit of doubt.

Then I noticed this additional note on their entry page:

TO RECEIVE EVALUATIONS OF YOUR SCRIPT: One Evaluation …. $25 + $25 submission fee Two Evaluations … $50 + $25 submission fee

$75 for “evaluation” services. These must be highly qualifed dramaturgs, folks. And what a refreshingly original way to offer this dramaturgy service.

The best moment reading their website was the statement that the moderator, who is also the “executive producer” at 13th St. Rep, is a member of the DG.

Note she’s still a member – they don’t return her check. Perhaps it is funded at least in part by this contest?

After reading this blog post, playwrights, if you still feel the need to send out a check for $75 because you wrote a play, what the hell, send it to me. I’ll write you a better critique, I bet, and would use the money toward a real play production, not to fund my rent, liquor bill, or membership in the DG.

The Aural Memory Project

When the future looks bleak…

People turn to the past. Perhaps that’s the driving force behind the aural memory project, something I’ve been doing since 2000… hm… interesting… since Bush was elected. Well, our sitting president – tempted to add an H to that at risk of being childish – represents a lookback philosophically, but aside from that it’s just advancing age or whatever.

Nut of it is to recapture the soundscapes of various periods of my past… pop and non-pop music, soundtracks, theme songs, sometimes even ad jingles… to reproduce mental states long trod over by newer engrams. Theory is that within each of us is every alien person through which we phased as we grew, and using secondary sensory tools (since vision is “primary”) we can sneak up on our minds and recapture our previous alien mental states. Useful for writing.

The actual performance would be to assemble the old songs and sounds package them together to typify a particular moment in personal time. Then play them and regenerate the old mental state, or at least a simulacrum of it, and using that old me for a writing purpose.

Ozymandias, or living in NYC

—–Original Message—–
From: Wirelessreport@aol.com
Sent: Tuesday, September 11, 2001 5:13 PM
To: Ferrante, Bob
Subject: hope you are okay

Heard the awful awful news from NY and hope you, friends and family are all okay,
Best,
Barry Zellen
Wirelessreport.net

—–Reply—–
From: Bob Jude Ferrante
Sent: Wednesday, September 12, 2001 6:24PM
To: Zellen, Barry
Subject: hope you are okay

Barry–
Thanks for your kindness. Family alive and home OK. I witnessed the plane hitting Tower 2 and its aftermath, from a train on the Manhattan Bridge, even then it had the feeling of something – a “moment in history.”

But we are back to work tomorrow… actually been working from home all day.

Best,
Bob_Ferrante@ibi.com
Sent from my Blackberry pager

***

You might know me from my column here on WirelessReport called Wireless@home. Or not. The column takes place in Brooklyn. The ‘we’ in this article means ‘we Brooklynites’ or ‘we Americans’ or ‘we humans,’ take your pick.

I really live in Brooklyn and the colorful characters that happen to play with mobile technology in the column are real people that live around here. So the colorful characters have been living a strange fever dream the past four weeks.

***

The Blackberry beeped. The email said there would be an InterFaith gathering Friday at Newkirk Plaza (think ‘Town Square’), sponsored by Midwood Park, Fiske Terrace and Ditmas Park. Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Protestant and Moonie leaders would all speak of tolerance, mutual respect. A solemn gathering. Not a party.

***

In Brooklyn we are 2½ miles from Ground Zero. We are the closest boro to downtown and we all work in Manhattan. Until 9/11 the World Trade Center was always there over our heads: Two big grey buildingtops squatting just above the roof. A nasty brutish (but not short) engineering marvel. At nineteen when the World Trade Center was going to be there forever, I wrote a bad poem where they were the topless legs in Shelley’s Ozymandias. You know, “look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.”

We needed no TV to see what was happening. Ashes fell on us, burned memos clogged our trees, charred file folders swarmed our sidewalks. The smoke stayed three days: black the first day, grayblack the second, gray the third. There are still Auschwitz survivors living in Brooklyn. Some, whenever they close their eyes, still see smoke.

Then the wind shifted toward Jersey.

***

Brooklyn has a huge concentration of Muslims. Pakistanis occupy a rectangle from Argyle to E. 10th and Newkirk to Avenue J, right next to one of the many Orthodox neighborhoods. Driving down Coney Island is a hateful experience because Pakistanis jaywalk… well, everyone jaywalks in NYC, but Pakistanis are the worst.

Since they published the photo of Mohammad Atta, though, the Pakistanis stick to the sidewalk, walk fast, furtive, head bowed. Brooklyn’s Pakistani population did not dance on 9/11, no matter what anyone says. They lost family, friends. And now with every shout, every horn honk, they jump a little. They have every reason to fear the worst. But we’re all like that now.

***

We used to joke that going to work was going to war. Now it’s no joke. Maybe an exaggeration… we have pilots and soldiers on Afghan soil, really at war. But Subways, airports, office buildings, train and bus stations, landmarks that were once grand are now targets. F-16s scrawl overhead, destined for carriers offshore. On every corner there’s heat: Cops. Troopers. Marshals. Rangers. Soldiers.

We go to work, eat out, see shows and movies, but always with a look first overhead then all around. Before, rushing to get to “war,” sometimes I forgot to say goodbye to the people I love. Now I always do.

***

In 2000 NYC did a campaign, “NYC, Capitol of the World.” Friends scoffed at the arrogance. But in dark moments now we know it’s true. We are NYC, Capitol of the World, under siege.

***

9/11 began for me at 9AM. Window seat, Manhattan-bound ‘Q’. As Subways go, Q is pretty magnificent. It goes over the Manhattan Bridge, clear or cloudy, day or night you get (1) a great view of the City (2) a chance to catch up on phone calls.

I take out cellphone and pager and wait for sunlight. In the dark between DeKalb Avenue and the bridge, the Q stops. One minute. Two minutes. Five minutes.

The conductor comes on the PA. Another preachy sound bite from the Giuliani-era MTA: it’s Good to not hold train doors, Good to give seats to the elderly. Or maybe it’s an apology because a kid pulled a brake somewhere, or a passenger needs medical attention at Grand Street, hence the delay.

But no, it’s: “Q train service is delayed. There’s a report. Uh, a plane hit the World Trade Center.” Imagine this: All you do is drive a train. Suddenly you have to tell 800 people some really bad news.

Bang, commute trance ended. We look up from our books, adopt the NYC “what’s this shit?” look (patent applied for). Conversations spring up. How bad could it be? A B-25 hit the Empire State building. 1945. The building got fixed. Did ATC really mess up bad this time? The system is old… needs to be replaced… hey, who gets the contract? The truth occurs to nobody.

The Q climbs the bridge ramp, creeps out on the bridge, warm blue late summer, sunlight ladders march up the “graffiti proof” key-scratched windows. How bad could it be?

The World Trade Center tears into view. And it’s… a hole fifteen stories high, punched through Tower 1. Dark grey smoke plumes out slow in a thick marker line stretching five miles over Brooklyn. From the broken tower’s windows people lean, tiny suits and dresses, tiny arms waving.

Awed whispers. This is a mistake massive as Bhopal. Jesus Christ. Are these people gonna make it? The whispers die. The conductor comes on. “I think we should all take a moment and say a prayer for those people.” Everybody looks down, then eyes are drawn back up – the sight is riveting – just as a huge BOOM rips through the south tower. Glass, steel blow out, float in glittering clouds, torn by angry walls of fire.

Everyone on the train goes apeshit. Wo, wawazat? Did the fire in one tower catch the other tower? To try to explain, to map it, is just futile. Sitting there above the East River, we can’t see the plane that tore through the South Tower on the opposite, Hudson River side.

Now both towers bleed debris, fire and smoke. But still they stand. The fire can be extinguished. The train, still stopped, sways with the bridge. That’s when we realize, we are hanging in the sky 150 feet above the East River and all it would take would be…

The train lurches again. It heaves. It goes and as we pass slowly into the tunnel leading to Canal Street we take a look back. They will get the fires out. It will be OK. They will fix the towers. They will reopen. We made it through 1993 (when a bomb blew out the basements under the Towers) and we will make it through this. In the dark, wanting to say something to someone, but no one to say it to. The Q reaches 34th Street.

***

Just outside 2 Penn, a good friend stands chain-smoking cigarettes. I walk up, light one. “‘Sup?” I ask.

“The Pentagon. They hit the Pentagon.”

The loop closes forever. No systems failure. A they did this and it was huge and it was intentional. It must have taken years to plan… lives now ended in plumes of smoke and fire… years to plan and execute the operation, to kill 5,000 people who showed up for work.

Up the elevator to the 28th floor just as we get the evacuation order. 2 Penn is right atop Penn Station, which pretty much screams ‘target.’ Dan Ortolani, a compassionate VP, helps me rush the floor, to tell everyone, get the hell out, we are closed, go home to your families. They are mostly crowded at the south side-great view of south Manhattan from the 28th floor-transfixed by the sight of the planes hitting, of the flaming towers, of people jumping.

We get loud; “YOU HAVE TO LEAVE NOW! NOW! NOW!” And suddenly they are all shouting… “It’s going down! It’s falling! Jesus, it’s falling!” as the South Tower collapses in a pancaking cascade. They won’t be fixed. It won’t all work out. And the dead will number not in tens or hundreds but thousands.

Later came the news hundreds of onlookers, just as curious and awed as the group on 28, and just as buried when the building fell. And the man that rode the building, rode it over 80 floors to the ground, like some standing wave, and the bill was two broken legs.

Then evacuation is complete. So we elevator back to Plaza level and join thousands of evacuated commuters who have all been told, “get the hell out, we are closed, go home to your families.” But everything’s shut. There’s no way home. The MTA posts workers but no answers, except that the trains will run again, probably soon.

Then through the crowd headed south. It seems that on every street corner a parked repair van or ice cream truck blares WABC Newsradio or Bloomberg; news is ubiquitous, everyone knows the current story, and everyone wonders, who did I lose today?

We are skilled software engineers, product people, and architects. But that’s pretty much it. We are not surgeons, EMTs, or Civil Engineers. The city is already turning away volunteers without essential skills. If you can’t help, fight. If you can’t fight, hide until the Subway reopens.

The bar we choose to hide in looks inviting. In fact we see a couple friends. But it happens to be across from Morgan Stanley’s mid-town offices. Downtown, Morgan Stanley leased about half the north tower and this bar is where many escapees have congregated to be counted. 25 year-olds, just out of their last no-pay summer internship, being trained how to broker. White ash on $300 Men’s WearHouse suits. They got out eleven minutes before it went down. Told to meet at the usual bar hangout, they immediately pound beers. I can’t fault them for that. I was a mile-&-change away and am totally ready to start drinking.

We down a round. It’s making us nuts. We have to know. We buy them drinks and desperately grill them: What it’s like, did they hear the planes, did people get out, how close were you. Josh, trembling with fear and drink, represents:

“First day in Broker training up on the 84th floor. The plane hit the north tower, the building shook like anything. Me Stan and Brett started to get the fk out. Then Security came on and said, everyone go back to work, the building is secure. But we said, fk that. When the second plane hits our building, we’re in the stairs, the building is shaking like it’s gonna come down. We got a ‘fast lane’ down the WTC stairwell. Man, there was old people, there was pregnant ladies, guys with crutches, I don’t think they got out. Eleven minutes after we cleared the door, it came down.”

Please give up your seat to an elderly person as you run for the exit.

Mark, a sales rep from work, fumes. “Bastard kid, walked past those poor people, they coulda used him, used his help, and all he thinks about is getting his ass the hell out.”

Ach. Hard question. How would the kid know the tower was coming down? Police and firefighters didn’t think so on their way up-the kids passed them on the stairs. OK. You’re 24, just out of school, it’s your first paying non-restaurant job. The economy sucks, the job might evaporate. It’s your first day of training and a plane hits your home office and you realize, it’s time for eight years of lacrosse to pay off. The kid made it out. If he stopped to help, he might be lost. He wouldn’t be here to smoke every last damn one of my cigarettes.

***

It could have been worse. The WTC could have been filled to capacity. It could have been worse. Neighboring buildings could have been full. It could have been worse. The planes could have been full. It could have been worse. The fourth plane could have reached the Capitol or the White House instead of a handful of passengers crashing it in Pennsylvania. It could have been worse. There could have been no contingency plans in place. It could have been worse. The MTA had trains running that day, only slightly delayed, and the delay was well-spent, routing N, R, 1, 2 and 3 trains away first from burning skyscrapers, later from destroyed stations. The MTA sustained us through the Cold War and Nuclear Age and is probably more prepared for disaster than many of us. It could have been worse. The Office of Emergency Management, NYC’s FEMA, was located in 7 World Trade which was destroyed, but was back in operation nearly immediately at Pier 92. It could have been worse.

***

The night of the 12th, George W made a speech. Among the points he made was that Americans should practice tolerance with those of Middle Eastern extraction among us. Not to hate people that looked like the attackers, some of whose photos had just been published in the paper. And I wondered what came over him. A sign of… leadership? No. Can’t be.

***

That email about the InterFaith meeting… it’s a noble message, that we all need to go out in public and say “I respect Islamic people, especially those who know the Prophet loved peace.” But would that help or hurt? Would Americans look weak, saying “tolerance?” Would they look strong, if they could say “tolerance” after sustaining such a grievous wound?

And what would be the final public reaction… Americans barely had grief and they are already doing anger. Would folks go rampant, drag people out into the streets? Never, no, never, not in NYC anyway, not with its huge Muslim population and long history as a melting-pot. No Krystallnacht here.

Though I volunteered to help out, the celebration didn’t happen. Everyone is too messed up. We lost too much to get the liberal spirit up this first week. There’s a memorial broadcast from Yankee Stadium that Sunday, a larger version of what our celebration would have been. We listen to the preachers and politicians speak, blink at the wounded skyline, think of what’s lost.

We must imagine what our celebration would have been like. Free meatball heroes from Lo Duca’s. Kids dropping tomato sauce on their Tommys. It’s winding down. Catholic and Jewish ministers done; Muslim wrapping up, Moonie’s on deck. You take a brownie, and I in my turban take a frosted vanilla bar from the Hindu-Pak bakery. Two ladies, one Jewish, one Mexican, make banal cell phone patter in different tongues. “I’m at the door. A guy’s in the way. Excuse me. I’m losing you, this is a crappy signal.” The turbaned cookie man has an email pager like mine; it beeps, he reads a message, fires off an answer. Federal computers comb the content, looking for Jihad, bomb, Mullah, fatwah. Now this article is listed too.

***

George W! We have to feed the starving Afghan people. Starving people are close to dead, so dead isn’t as scary. A starving man doesn’t think clearly, or learn right, or get your point. The perspective of ‘three squares’ incurs rationality. So don’t just drop 30,000 K rations a couple times and call it a day. Before a show of American force, show American meatball heroes and American potato salad.

***

Osama Bin Laden, man behind the curtain, was trained by allied agencies working for American Intelligence, but that excuses nothing.

Bin Laden is the VC for the expansionist ambitions of the Islamic fundamentalist movement. It’s possible his hands are even ostensibly clean. The evidence against him took a lot of doing. He’s a really silent partner. Bin Laden trades dollars for fear. Fear is a weapon, but only if your foe doesn’t grok it’s standard issue.

Fans of Tony Soprano wonder, is this a vendetta against the Bushes? The sins of George, visited on George. That’s a more possible reason than the narcissistic “they hate our way of life.” Hitler’s first move was to garner unchallenged control of Germany’s sphere of influence and restart its economy. Make the land pure German, defining ‘German’ wide enough to make a nice big nation.

Bin Laden has simple needs — to overthrow the house of Saud that rules his ex-homeland. From that powerful stronghold spawn sister governments. Eventually you replace every moderate Middle Eastern government with a Fundementalist one.

The Fundamentalist consortium then sets the price for oil – because we still depend on oil – and eventually either buys us or buys a military to smash us from the center of the board. Fundamentalism of every stripe is always a political ism. Geopolitics is its real God.

***

A week after 9/11, I take my wife out for our anniversary and we take the Command bus home to Brooklyn. It goes through Ground Zero, which we haven’t seen in person until then. The mayor’s asked us all to stay out of the way of the rescue effort.

Rising from the pit, smashed buildings all around, unearthly bright light emphasizing its lunar aspects, sits the twisted pile of steel, aluminum and glass, still burning, that used to be the World Trade Center. And then I repeat Shelley’s words:

“Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

An old man drops a grocery bag. It bangs to the bus floor. Nobody stops to help him pick up the groceries. They are diving for the exit.

***

Eight blocks from home, a Pakistani man jaywalks carrying a smiling baby in a Gerry pack. The man bounces. The kid bounces. The kid giggles. The man smiles. They are there to tell you, live as if the world is good, stay ready in case it isn’t.