Monday, October 27, 2014

Apple #686: Remembering 9/11 -- The World Trade Center

Well, this one is the granddaddy, isn't it?  In case you haven't noticed, I've been avoiding this one.  It's hard to talk about, and even harder to find something positive to say about what happened without sounding like some brainless twit of a Pollyanna.

It's also taking me a long time.  Whenever I've sat down to try to put this together, told myself, Finish this post and then you can move on, I found I couldn't do very much for very long.  It's one thing to read a whole lot of stuff about what happened in NY on 9/11, but it's another thing entirely to think about it in some coherent way, form meaningful words, and write them down.  What you'll read here in this one post has taken me weeks to get down.

Ground Zero, after the attacks.
(Photo by Alex Fuchs/AFP, from The Guardian)

My goal is to tell you some of the facts I learned.  Because they were news to me -- though maybe they won't be to you.  Some of the facts are pretty gruesome, and up until now, I've shied away from talking about such things.  But that was one of the questions I had, when I was re-visiting the events of that day.  Thousands of people were killed.  We saw all kinds of evidence all over the place of the buildings that were completely destroyed, but we didn't see very much evidence of the people who must have been injured, their bodies wrecked.

I am not a gore-seeker.  There are people out there who are.  I really do not want to cater to those interests if I can help it.  My reason for wanting to know some of the gory physical facts is because, after all the time that has passed, I wanted some irrefutable thing that would tell me, this happened to people.  Not just the horrible, choking, toxic dust (I will give you a few facts about that), not just the surreal and incredible sight of those planes crashing straight into the towers, but what happened to people.  I want survivors and family members to know that the few facts I have to share about that, I say with the utmost respect.  I want to talk about this because I think it is important that we who weren't as directly touched by the events can face the consequences of these acts.  The terrorists hurt people.  A lot of them.  This wasn't just one ideology clashing with another.  This was people doing violence to other people.  I think it is important to talk about that.

I learned some other facts that are a little less upsetting, or maybe I should say a little less bloody.  I want to share those with you too.  I make no promises that the sequence with which I present the odd bits that I learned will make any sort of sense.  I mean, the whole thing doesn't really make any sense, so why should my presentation of a few of the facts within it have any kind of cohesiveness?

OK.  Enough throat-clearing.  Here goes.

Effects of the Initial Fireball Explosions

  • When the jets collided with the buildings, they ripped holes in the walls and ceilings and floors and elevator shafts and so on of the buildings.  The jets themselves were also basically shredded.  So one of the things that happened was that jet fuel leaked out of the planes and caught fire.  10,000 gallons of jet fuel.  The way I've described it sounds slow-moving, but it all happened pretty much instantaneously.
  • In the North tower, the exposed jet fuel erupted into a fireball on impact.  You've seen in movies how fireballs expand outward super-fast.  Well, the fireball ballooned into every open space available, including down the elevator shaft.  
  • The fireball blew down the shaft and exploded out of the shaft onto several floors, including the 77th, the 22nd, the West lobby on the ground floor, and the B4 level, 4 stories below ground.  That fireball traveled from the 92nd floor all the way down to 4 floors below ground in seconds.

The fireball that erupted from the South Tower upon impact.  But the scale of it gives you an idea of the size of the similar fireball that blew exploded down the elevator shaft in the North Tower.
(Photo from the Daily Mail)

  • People who were standing in the lobby, 92 floors below the impact, waiting for elevators or whatever they were doing, were visited by a a great flaming ball of jet fuel that billowed out of the elevator shaft and incinerated them.  
  • Firefighters on their way to the North Tower were 100 yards away when a man, completely on fire, ran in front of the truck.  He saw the firetruck coming only after he'd run out in front of it, and the driver of the engine said it was clear from his expression, the man thought he was going to get run over.  But they skidded the fire engine to a stop just in time, firefighters got out and rolled him in a jacket, doused him, and wrapped him in a burn blanket.  They later learned that he survived.
  • When the firefighters ran into the buildings, they saw people lying on the floor, charred.  
"A man, already dead, was pushed against a wall, his clothes gone, his eyeglasses blackened, his tongue lying on the floor next to him. The other was a woman, with no clothes, her hair burned off, her eyes sealed.
“'The woman, she sat up. I’m yelling to her, ‘Don’t worry, we’re going to help you,’” John M said. “She sat up and was trying to talk, but her throat had closed up. She died right there.'” (From the Appleton Post Crescent, via the FDNY Ten House)
  • The floor of the lobby was covered with broken glass from the plate glass windows, water from the sprinkler systems, and blood.  Outside, in the plaza between the two buildings were briefcases, bags, purses, wallets, and also bits and pieces of people's bodies--as well as the bodies of those who had fallen or jumped from the windows above the impact.
  • Over two years later, remains found at or near the site were still being identified.

Falling or Jumping

  • There is a lot of controversy about the people who fell or jumped.  When the planes hit the towers, they severed the elevator shaft, blocked the stairwells, and even severed the pipe that firefighters plug their hoses into to shoot fire up into a skyscraper.  Not only was there no exit, the place was filled with burning jet fuel and black smoke and intense heat.  In some cases, the windows were smashed open by the force of the impact.  In others, people broke windows on purpose to get air to breathe. 
  • Some who were on lower floors looked out the windows and saw people plummeting past them.  Some say they caught glimpses of people's faces, and they say the falling people looked surprised.  Shocked, as if they didn't know they were falling until it was too late.  So these people say that those who fell may have stumbled toward the window, unable to see much of anything because of all the smoke, and then discovered they had fallen out as they were falling.
  • Videos and photos of people falling became some of the most controversial images of the attacks.

"The Falling Man," photo taken by Richard Drew of a man whose identity is still uncertain, falling from the North Tower before it collapsed.
(Photo from Wikipedia)

  • Some people refuse to accept that those who plummeted from the burning towers jumped on purpose.  They find the concept of intentionally jumping -- suicide -- to be too upsetting to be accepted. Some say the jumpers were cowardly, or that what they did was shameful.
  • The New York medical examiner ruled the deaths of all those who fell were not suicides but rather deaths by blunt force trauma.  A spokesperson for that office said they were not suicides because
"Jumping indicates a choice, and these people did not have that choice. That is why the deaths were ruled homicide, because the actions of other people caused them to die. The force of the explosion and the fire behind them forced them out of the windows."
(spokesperson for NY medical examiner, quoted in the Daily Mail)
  • One man who found evidence that his wife was among those who fell said he takes comfort in the belief that she jumped.
"'It made me feel she didn’t suffer and that she chose death on her terms rather than letting them burn her up.'

"He has no time for suggestions that she took the easy way out. 'The people who died that day weren’t soldiers. They were everyday people — parents and housewives and brothers and sisters and children.'"
(Husband of a woman who died in the attacks, quoted in the Daily Mail)
  • It is estimated that some 200 people jumped or fell.  Authorities can't be certain because the bodies of those who plummeted were "obliterated."
  • For my part, I think the concept of discovering you're falling to your death only when it's too late to be horribly frightening and awful.  
  • At the same time, those who were clinging to the broken outer edges of the building and decided to let go -- somehow, this seems less awful to me. 
  • I think, had I been one of those people choking and coughing because of the burning jet fuel and the black smoke billowing everywhere, the heat of that awful fire coming ever closer, the outside air might have seemed like a relief.  I might have believed I could possibly survive the fall when I certainly would not survive the flames.  There were some people who held clothes over their head like a parachute as they fell, so they may have thought something similar.  The fabric was ripped out of their hands on the way down, so that plan did not work.  But I think that, for some people, jumping was an attempt to save their lives, not to lose it one purpose.

People clinging to the outer edges of the World Trade Center as it burned. This is a choice no one would ever want to have to make.
(Photo from Moon & Neptune in Twelfth House)

  • Many survivors who were in the towers when they were hit and escaped say they only understood the full extent of the danger when they saw people falling to their deaths outside the windows.  Only then did they realize it was urgent that they get out.  Many say, had it not been for those who fell, they would not have survived.

FDNY Ten House

  • Looking at one example can sometimes say a lot about the larger picture.  At 124 Liberty Street, Engine Co. 10 and Ladder 10 of the NYC Fire Department -- referred to as 10 House -- is across the street from the World Trade Center site.  This is one of numerous fire departments that responded to the attacks, and suffered casualties.
  • Five of its firefighters were killed during the response.
    • Lieutenant Gregg Atlas
    • Firefighter Jeffrey Olsen
    • Firefighter Paul Pansini
    • Lieutenant Stephen Harrell
    • Firefighter Sean Tallon
  • 10 House's proximity to the WTC meant that the firefighters were uniquely trained and its engines were uniquely designed to fight fires in skyscrapers.  The engine was built with a lower ride height so it could be driven into underground parking garages, firefighters had experience dealing with fires at great heights that required special responses with hoses, and the fact that it is not possible to break through the roof and work down, as most fire crews do in smaller buildings.
  • Just as their proximity to the WTC meant they had unique skills, that same proximity also put them at a huge disadvantage: 
"As the towers collapsed, tons of building debris fell onto the firehouse and forced its way into it, blowing out windows and doors and causing extensive damage to the facade, interior structures, utilities, lighting and the roof. Inside the firehouse, the apparatus floor was flooded with over three feet of debris and in some areas in and around the firehouse the debris from the collapse was nearly six feet deep. The building’s ventilation system, air conditioning units and Nederman exhaust system were completely destroyed."  (NY Mayor Bloomberg Press Release, from FDNY 10 House)

Ten House's location across the street from the WTC site.
(Photo by NOAA, from FDNY 10 House)

Outside the front door of 10 House after the buildings collapsed. Firefighters who had been rescuing people from the burning buildings and getting themselves and others out after the collapse came back to their engine house -- their home base -- and found this.
(Photo from FDNY 10 House)

The street sign that used to be posted near FDNY 10 House's front door.
(Photo from FDNY 10 House)

The door from their fire engine, damaged due to the force of the buildings' collapse.
(Photo from FDNY 10 House)

  • Here are various firefighters describing the collapse:
"The second collapse was much worse because the dust that was on the ground already started up a cloud that was much bigger than the first one. That's a detail most of the people who weren't there don't realize: the collapse of the second building started much more dust and debris than the first collapse."  (Firefighter Larry Monachelli, from a different engine house)

“This stuff came through and it was hot. It had a hissing noise to it, with a big gust of wind. It was like wiping crushed glass on your skin. It was like an avalanche coming at me through a valley." (Firefighter Pete D'Ancona, 10 House)

[After the collapses] “Everybody was gray, covered in soot. You couldn’t tell what color or nationality anyone was. They were all gray.” (Firefighter Pete D'Ancona, 10 House)

The dust cloud billowing out after the collapse of the North Tower, from several blocks away.
(Photo by NY photographer Tobias Everke)

  • Surviving the fires and the collapses was not enough. Because the firefighters from 10 House (along with firefighters from many other locations) had to comb through the wreckage, looking for survivors and after a certain time had passed, remains.  To be specific, body parts.  Every time they found a hand, a firefighter's foot in a boot, a scrap of some flesh that had once belonged to a person, they had to bag it, label it, and put it in a cart that would be taken to the morgue.
  • This went on, day after day, with barely any breaks, for two months.
  • After that two months, the entire engine house had reached its limit.  They all went on sick leave for about a month.
  • One of the firefighters, Pete D'Ancona who described what it was like to be in the dust cloud, had to have surgery to have glass particles removed from his sinuses.  

The Toxic Dust Cloud

  •  The clouds that billowed out when the buildings collapsed contained all sorts of bad stuff.  Building materials for sure were part of that cloud, including but not limited to such lovely materials as 
    • pulverized concrete
    • asbestos
    • lead
    • freon
    • silicon
    • sulfur
  • Also in the mix was jet fuel and the fumes released from its incineration, plus PCBs, and traces of elements that are poisonous: arsenic, chromium, and cobalt, to name a few.
  • I'll talk about just the asbestos.  I've read a lot about asbestos over the years, so I have a many asbestos-related facts in my head.  To be brief, asbestos was a hugely beneficial material that kept buildings from catching fire or keeping fires from spreading back in the day when less was known about fireproof building materials.  So it once upon a time saved a lot of lives.  However, it's a mineral that, once it's disturbed, shreds into thousands of tiny tiny particles.  A certain kind of asbestos -- the kind that was used most often in the past -- has a hook-like shape.  Those tiny particles with their little hooks catch in people's lungs and tear up the tissue and wreak all kinds of havoc.
  • At first, the government refused to say that the air or the water in Manhattan was toxic or dangerous or threatening or particularly bad.  A frenzy of patriotism had been whipped up in the aftermath of the attacks. For some reason, admitting that people were suffering the effects of the attacks -- admitting the truth of the matter and dealing with the myriad health issues that people were suffering as a result of the attacks -- was considered to be somehow unpatriotic.
  • It took 9 years for Congress to pass legislation (commonly known as the Zadroga Act) setting aside funds to compensate responders and other people suffering the physical and mental effects of the attacks. Legislators who opposed establishing such a fund did not want to promote "entitlement."

Survivors covered in the toxic dust created by the collapse of the two towers. They sure look like they want to be "entitled," don't they?
(Photo by Gulnara Samoilova from the AP, at Pop Photo)

  • Many responders and survivors continue to suffer from what is now commonly called the "World Trade Center cough."  
  • Many are even now still suffering from forms of PTSD, being startled every time the floor of a building shakes, or flinching when a jet flies over, in addition to respiratory problems, asthma, pulmonary disorders, cardiovascular problems, scarring from burns, reproductive failures, cancer of various kinds.  You know.  No biggie.  Nothing anybody ought to try and DO something about. 
  • Due to respiratory problems, many responders today have difficulty walking up a flight of stairs.  Ironic, isn't it? 
  • One part of the Act was due to expire October 2015.  Various lawmakers made impassioned pleas to extend the Act, but I can't find any evidence that Congress has voted on the issue.  If anyone knows the status of this, let me know and I'll update things here.

Some Good Things

  • After all that, here are some positives.

FDNY 10 House's new fire engine filling a reflecting pool at the WTC memorial site on the 2005 anniversary of 9/11
(Photo from FDNY 10 House)

  • The names of every person who died in the 9/11 attacks and in the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center are inscribed into bronze panels surrounding the reflecting pools at the site of the buildings.
  • The new World Trade Center, dubbed One World Trade Center, is scheduled to open in a few short days: November 3, 2014.

One World Trade Center
(Photo from the NY Observer)

  • One World Trade Center was built exceeding the new standards of building construction, as developed based on lessons learned from the impact and collapse of the towers.  Some of those features include
    • Shatterproof glass on the lower floors
    • Special filters in the buildings HVAC system to filter biological and chemical agents
    • Concrete-encased sprinkler systems, elevator shafts, and stair risers
    • More structural columns encased in concrete to prevent collapse
    • Communication system designed to allow continuous communication between fire departments and other rescue personnel who might respond in an emergency
  • In addition, architects, engineers, and construction experts continue to update and refine the safety and security of high-rise buildings in a handbook regularly consulted by construction professionals.
  • 2,977 people died in the attacks on the Towers.  Somewhere around 14,000 to 15,000 people were in the Towers when they were hit.  That means some 11,000 to 12,000 people got out.

Bretagne, one of the dogs who searched Ground Zero for survivors, returned to the Memorial in September 2014.
(Photo via the Huffington Post)

Genelle Guzman-McMillan (in the blue dress) was one of the people the search & rescue dogs found in the rubble -- in fact, the last person to be pulled alive from the wreckage.  Here she is with her husband and her three daughters outside their home in 2011.
(Photo by Dan Callister, from Today)

See also Remembering 9/11: The Pentagon and Remembering 9/11: Shanksville, PA

If you want to read more extensively about what that day was like, these are some especially good sources:
Ed Culhane, Appleton Post Crescent, Amazing Grace: Fire Truck from Clintonville embraced by FDNY Ladder 10, 2002
Undicisettembre, World Trade Center: an interview with firefighter Larry Monachelli
Pop, 9/11: The Photographers' Stories, Part 1 (there are 4 parts)
The History Channel's documentary 102 Minutes  That Changed America, showing footage taken by various videographers at various locations around the Towers, is a powerful thing to watch.  They don't have the entire video online, but their website gives you a good introductory feel for the documentary. 

Additional Sources
National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, Chapter 9: Heroism and Horror
Tom Leonard, Daily Mail, "The 9/11 victims America wants to forget: The 200 jumpers who flung themselves from the Twin Towers who have been 'airbrushed from history,'" September 11, 2011, "The story behind the most powerful image of 9/11: The Falling Man," September 12, 2013
Steve Fishman, "Toxic Dust," New York Magazine, August 27, 2011
Dan Amira, "Deal Reached on 9/11 Health-Care Bill," New York Magazine, September 10, 2010
Raymond Hernandez, House Passes 9/11 Health Care Bill, The New York Times, September 29, 2010
NYC governmental site, 9/11 Health, Physical Health Effects Articles
9/11 Memorial
Curbed NY, "One World Trade Center Has an Opening Date, or Two," October 24, 2014
Raymond T. Mellon, esq., Zetlin & Chiara, The Construction Standard of Care After 9/11

Monday, September 22, 2014

Apple #685: Remembering 9/11 -- the Pentagon

Continuing my previous entry about the 9/11 attacks, I'm going to tell you a few things I learned about the plane that crashed into the Pentagon.

I don't know about you, but I tend to think of this one a little differently than the others because the building that was hit was a military building.  As if, all those people working there were military employees of one degree or another, and when you sign up for that job, you know that violence and death might come with it.

That said, it probably doesn't get more "desk job" than the Pentagon.  I doubt that any of the people who worked there ever expected an attack to land right on their doorstep -- or their very desk.

But then I only recently learned that over half of the people in the Pentagon who were killed were not members of the military, but were civilians.

The Pentagon, headquarters of the US Department of Defense. This photo was taken in 2008, after the 9/11 attacks but before the entire reconstruction was complete -- though I don't see any signs of work in progress.
(Photo from Wikipedia)

Here are some numbers:
  • 58 passengers (including the 6 hijackers) and 6 airline crewmembers were on American Airlines flight 77 when it hit the Pentagon. 
  • Ages of the passengers ranged from 71 to 3.
  • At least 2 passengers made phone calls to people on the ground and told them the plane had been hijacked. One of those passengers was Barbara Olson.

Barbara Olson née Bracher, one of the passengers on Flight 77.
(Photo from Find a Grave)

  • Olson was an attorney and legal commentator for CNN, Fox News, and other conservative news programs. She was flying home a day early so she could be with her husband, Ted, on his birthday.  She called Ted, who happened to be the US Solicitor General (this person's job is to represent the US government in cases that come before the US Supreme Court).  She told him her flight had been hijacked and then the call got cut off.  He tried to call Attorney General John Ashcroft, but was unable to reach him.
  • She called her husband again, he asked where the flight was, but the best she could tell him was that it was "flying over houses" and that it was heading "northeast."  By this time, the plane had long since turned around from its destination flight path to Los Angeles and was instead heading toward Washington, DC.  
  • Her husband told her of the other two planes that had hit the World Trade Center.  She did not seem panicked, nor did she seem to think her own plane would soon crash.  But about 10 minutes later, at 9:37, the flight she was on hit the Pentagon.
  • As the plane zoomed closer to the Pentagon, the wings hit streetlight poles and one engine hit a power generator, causing an explosion shortly before the plane hit the building. 
  • Before impact, the hijacker "advanced the throttles to maximum power."  The plane hit the Pentagon at about 530 miles per hour.
  • All 64 people on the plane were killed.  125 people on the ground were killed.  70 of the people in the Pentagon killed were civilians.
  • The part of the building that was hit was in the process of being renovated, so fewer people were there than otherwise might have been -- only 800 of the possible 4,500 who might otherwise have been there.
  • The plane ripped a 90-foot wide hole in the west side of the building.  It penetrated the limestone exterior and 3 of the Pentagon's famous 5 rings -- a total of 210 feet.  
  • Within 40 minutes, more of the building collapsed, making rescue efforts even more difficult.  However, the incident commander was told beforehand that a collapse was likely, so he gave the order to evacuate the building, and the evacuation was swift and efficient. No first responders were injured.
  • The 4,300 gallons of airplane fuel (some say there were 7,000 gallons of fuel) resulted in fires that burned in the building for several days.  
  • The area that was hit was equipped with a newly installed sprinkler system, but other parts of the building did not have sprinklers, and it was there that the fire spread and caused the greatest damage. Also at that time, the building was "packed with thousands of tons of asbestos, brushed with lead-based paint and constructed with mercury and PCBs."

This gives you an idea of the vertical size of the impact into the side of the Pentagon.
(Photo from the FBI)

In this overhead shot, you can see the hole in the outer wall.  It's hard to see any damage to the 2nd ring, but then you can see the blackened area on the inside of the 3rd ring
(Photo from the FBI)

Devastation, two rescue workers, and their dog at work.
(Photo from the FBI)

  • I found out many years later, someone from my high school was in the Pentagon when it was hit.  He was one of the people helping others to get out.  
  • I wanted to upload the video of CBS News recalling 10 years later what happened at the Pentagon, but they won't let me embed the video.  So here's a link to the CBS page where you can watch the clip, if you're interested. He's the tall skinny guy in the naval uniform.  He describes how he and some others ran into the hole made by the aircraft to pull people out, and how he freed a man trapped under his desk.
  • The Pentagon Memorial is a large park filled with benches and with lined with trees.  The benches are aligned on the path the plane took toward the building.  Each bench is for one victim.  The benches are arranged in chronological order by the birth dates of the victims.  

Benches at the Pentagon Memorial. There is a little pool of water beneath each bench.
(Photo by VeloBusDriver at Flickr)

  • The first bench at one side of the memorial is for John D. Yamnicky, Sr., a defense contractor who was born in 1930, fought in two wars as a Navy pilot, and who had a patch over one eye.  He was a passenger on Flight 77.
  • The last bench at the opposite side of the memorial is for Dana Falkenberg, 3 years old, born in University Park, Maryland. She was a passenger on Flight 77.  She was traveling with her father and her sister, Zoe.
  • Here is a random sample of some of the other people who have benches in the memorial:
    • Allen P. Boyle, born 1970, lived in Fredericksburg, VA.  He was a Defense Department contractor.
    • Janice M. Scott was born in 1954 and was from Springfield, VA.  She was a civilian employee of the US Army.  She often visited the National Archives and she researched her family history, going back several generations to ancestors who had been slaves in Mississippi and left after the Civil War.

Janice M. Scott, one of the scores of people killed by the attacks on 9/11.
(Photo from The Washington Post)

    • Peggie M. Hurt was an accountant for the US Army.  She was 36 years old and lived in Crewe, VA. She sang in her church choir and made the 3- to 4-hour drive every third Sunday to go back to her hometown church to sing. The night before the attacks, she'd taken her godmother out to dinner to celebrate her 86th birthday.
    • Dong Chul Lee was a passenger on Flight 77.  He was born in 1953, and was from Leesburg, VA.  He worked as an engineer for Boeing, which meant he often flew to Seattle for his job.  He had a wife, Jungmi, and three children. 
    • Johnnie Doctor, Jr. was an information systems technician first class for the US Navy. He was 32 years old, from Jacksonville, FL. He used to wear a pendant on a chain around his neck. They found the pendant on his body, but no chain. The pendant was the thing that convinced his wife he was really gone. 

Johnnie Doctor, Jr., another of those killed in the crash into the Pentagon.
(Photo from The Washington Post)

What the Pentagon Memorial looks like at night.
(Photo from mla.march.penn)

See also Remembering 9/11 -- Shanksville, PA and Remembering 9/11 -- the World Trade Center

National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, "We Have Some Planes" and Heroism and Horror
FBI, Ten Years After: The FBI Since 9/11, Response and Recovery: The Pentagon in Flames and The Flights
The New York Times, Barbara Olson, 45, Advocate and Conservative Commentator, September 13, 2001
Daily Mail, Wife's secret call from hijacked plane [date not provided]
CBS Evening News, Heroic tales from the Pentagon on 9/11/01, September 8, 2011
Los Angeles Times, Pentagon, a Vulnerable Building, Was Hit in Least Vulnerable Spot, September 16, 2001
The Washington Post, A Long-Awaited Opening, Bringing Closure to Many, September 12, 2008

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Apple #684: Remembering 9/11 -- Shanksville, PA

Last week I had an appointment way on the other side of town before work. I got there early.  Exhausted due to a cold I've been battling, I parked in the lot, locked my car doors, put my seat all the way back, and intended to take a nap.  This particular location turned out to be much closer to the airport than I'd realized, I discovered by the number of airplanes flying over.  They were taking off, each one very loud at first but then slowly fading off into the distance.  After maybe a minute of quiet, here came another one roaring up into the sky.  This incessant noise of airplanes taking off one after another reminded me: it was Thursday, September 11.

(Photo by addicted eyes at Flickr, sourced from TripCart)

So I started thinking about the events of that day as I remembered them.  I was nowhere near New York City or the Pentagon or Shanksville, PA on that day.  Everything I know came to me over the radio or by TV news or in the newspaper.  But because so much of it was broadcast, non-stop, live, and for so long, and mostly because it was so shocking and unbelievable, it is of course stamped on my mind as I'm sure it is for anyone who was alive and sentient on that day.

As I was recalling some of the events of that day, I realized there was a lot I didn't know about the plane that went down in Pennsylvania.  When I got home, I looked it up.  Because the whole "Let's roll" phrase got co-opted by politicians, I didn't pay much attention to the facts of what actually happened at the time.  So the other day I wound up learning quite a lot about what took place on that plane.

I went on to read about all sorts of things -- the hijackers, the contents of the toxic cloud of debris, specific engine houses of the FDNY and how they were affected, and on and on.  Once I'd started, I couldn't get it out of my mind.  I'd turn something over in my mind, imagining it, wondering at it, and discover I had another question.  Back to the internet to find out the answer.

Then I watched a program on the History channel, 102 Minutes That Changed America.  (The interactive thing they have on their website is worth checking out.  It gives you a piecemeal idea of what the documentary as a whole is like.)

Initially released September 11, 2008
(Image of DVD cover from Wikipedia)

It's all videos that were taken by various people on that day at various places around New York City.  The videos have been edited together to be are presented in roughly chronological order.  There is no voiceover, no commentary, only the ambient sound in the videos.  If someone speaks to the cameraperson, you hear that.  If someone shrieks in the background, you hear that.  When the program comes back from commercial, you see a black screen with a running time stamp, and you hear audio from one of the recordings.  Then the visual fades in.

I found myself trying to remember, at what time exactly did the first tower collapse?  Wasn't it 10:02?  So I kept watching.  Even as I remembered that strange, detached, disbelieving feeling -- am I really seeing what I think I'm seeing?  Is that actually happening? --  I wanted to tell the people on the screen who were standing about, staring up at the towers and the black smoke billowing out of them to get moving, go, get out of there.  Because this time around, I knew what was going to happen.  I knew how real it was.  I wanted to take the shoulders of the firefighters as they walked past in a line, in full gear that would be all too insufficient, heading toward the towers to try to get more people out of them.

(Photo from Undicisettembre)

The program goes until some time after both towers have collapsed.  There is hardly anyone in the streets, everything is coated in that terrible thick beige dust that one firefighter said was filled with tiny shards of glass, and everything seems coated in silence.  One cameraperson is walking down some street that is otherworldly and apocalyptic in this way, and out of the haze of debris emerges a large lump the same beige color as the debris.  It's moving, it's a man, covered in the terrible dust.  His hair, his face, his eyeglasses, his shirt, his arms, his legs -- everything about his person is covered in the thick stuff.  He says to the cameraperson, "I heard something give and I ran.  I'm 69 years old, but I can still run."  He continues walking past the camera, his shoulders stooped, probably from a lifetime of work at some desk that is now vaporized, his footsteps making hardly any noise in the dust-thickened street.

After I watched that documentary, it seemed as if it had all just happened.  The sights, the sounds, the emotions were so immediate, all over again.  The next day, I checked the news, expecting to see some sort of follow-up, someone talking about it.  But of course there wasn't much.  This did after all happen 13 years ago, not the day before.  But watching those videos of the planes plowing into the towers, the black smoke billowing out of them, the towers collapsing in on themselves with a horrible feeling of doom that you can feel collapsing in your stomach, and the apocalyptic streets afterward--it all seems to me now to have just happened.

So I've kept thinking about it, remembering things I saw, looking up more facts, learning new details.

I thought about discussing some other topic entirely in this blog post, especially since the spirit of this blog is supposed to be geared toward positive things.  But this has been so on my mind, it seemed flippant to talk about something mundane and silly.  So if I was going to do a post on 9/11, maybe I should give you a list of things that are somehow positive that have come out of the attacks.  But that is so one-sided, it seems almost like telling a lie.  Because what did happen first was awful.  To ignore that, to pretend like the carnage inflicted is somehow not worth mentioning, or is too unpleasant to mention, or should be passed over only slightly, is somehow to betray all those people who lost their lives, all those firefighters who did rescue people from those buildings, all those people who did manage to get out, all those people who still suffer the effects of that horrible toxic cloud of debris and the aftershocks of what happened on that day.

(Uncredited photo posted at Keenly Kristin)

So, what can I tell you?  I think I'll pass along some of the things I've learned in all that I've read and watched over the past few days.  Some of the things you may already know; in fact, many of the things may not be new to you at all.  But these details filled in little gaps in my knowledge, or reminded me of aspects I'd forgotten.  Some of them might be demonstrations of the goodness of people during horrific events.  Some of them might be unpleasant or uncomfortable.  And, fair warning, some of them will be gruesome.  Because those are facts, too, things I've wondered about.  All of it falls under the question: What, exactly, happened?

I'll leave it to you to decide whether you want to continue reading or move along to something elsewhere that is more cheerful, more 2014.

United Airlines Flight 93, crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania

Composite of the crew and passengers on board Flight 93.

  • Once the passengers were sent to the back of the plane, they called spouses or loved ones or even 911 on their cell phones or on the in-flight telephones. Because the plane was flying so low, it was possible to establish cell connections.
  • The two planes had already crashed into the World Trade Center, and people on the ground told the passengers about this.  So they realized that the plane they were on had been hijacked for a similar purpose. They took a vote of some kind and decided to try to resist the hijacking.
  • One of several passengers who made calls was a man named Tom Burnett.  He called his wife four times during the flight. She told him about the other hijackings.  He passed the information on to fellow passengers and they decided to resist.  
  • Burnett's wife had once worked as a flight attendant, and she told him to "sit down, be still, be quiet, and don't draw attention to yourself." This is what flight attendants are trained to tell passengers in the event of a hijacking.  But he told her he was "putting a plan together," and that he and other people on the plane were "going to do something." 

Deena Burnett holding a photo of her husband, Tom, one of the passengers involved in resisting the hijackers. For more than a year before the hijacking, Tom had been attending daily Mass, and he believed that God had something important in mind for him to do. This may have been why he was able to keep calm and form a plan during the hijacking.
(Photo from Diablo Magazine)

  • The hijackers had already knifed a passenger and someone else in the cockpit, most likely the pilot. It is likely that they also killed one of the flight attendants when she struggled against them.  The hijackers closed the door to the cockpit as they redirected the plane toward Washington, DC. Meanwhile, after gathering information and coming up with a plan, the passengers apparently attempted to storm the cockpit, rolling the food cart into the door to bash it open.
  • Lisa Beamer was on the phone with her husband, Todd Beamer, who was on the plane and among those who were resisting the passengers.  She said that his final words, which he said while he was on the phone with her, were "Let's roll!"  
  • The hijacker flying the plane, Ziad Jarrah, pitched the nose up and down to shake the passengers and stop their attack. The cockpit voice recorder captured "loud thumps, crashes, shouts, and breaking glasses and plates," and Jarrah apparently assumed he'd thwarted their attack.  But some seconds later, someone shouted, "Roll it!" and the sounds of fighting continued.  
    • By the way, the official report does not include the phrase, "Let's roll," but rather "Roll it." For whatever that's worth.
  • In response to continuing struggles from the passengers, Jarrah said, "Is that it? Shall we finish it off?" and another hijacker answered, "Yes, pull it down, pull it down!" Jarrah pulled the yoke hard to the right, rolling the plane onto its back and it plunged toward the ground, even as sounds of the passengers resisting continued.

Ziad Jarrah, the hijacker who flew United Flight 93 into the ground. This photo really gets to me.  It was taken during his flight training in Florida in 2000. He looks like a pretty normal person, doesn't he?  I've stared at this photo, wondering how does a person go from smiling in a fairly normal way to hijacking a plane and killing scores of people.  Jarrah was born in Beirut, Lebanon, to an upper middle class family.  He, like the other hijackers, seemed normal, courteous, and friendly to Americans who met him in the years before the hijacking. One researcher who has studied the hijackers hypothesizes that it was becoming obsessed with religion, specifically with a doctrine that emphasized revenge and attacking others, that changed them.
(Photo from Wikipedia)

  • The plane plowed into the ground at 580 miles per hour, in an empty field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, about 20 minutes' flying time from Washington, DC.
  • The impact was so great, followed by four explosions, the fire chief in the Shanksville Fire Department felt the ground shake.  In the fourth grade classroom of a nearby school, the ceiling tiles bounced and settled again.
  • Nearly all of the plane and everyone on it were blown to fragments. The coroner said, when he examined the crash site, the only recognizable body part he saw was "a piece of spinal cord with five vertebrae attached."  However, he never saw a single drop of blood. "The only thing I can deduce," he said, about why there was no blood visible anywhere, "is that the crash was over in half a second. There was a fireball 15-20 meters high, so all of that material just got vaporized." 

Flight 93's impact site. It looks like a bunch of burned dirt because when the plane hit the ground, large sections broke off, and the explosions burst those to fragments. The rear of the plane was driven into the ground, and the loose soil collapsed in around it, effectively burying it. (See On Hallowed Ground)
(FBI - investigation photo sourced from NPS site)

  • The passengers on Flight 93 never would have known about the other planes, and probably would not have resisted, had their flight taken off according to schedule. Flight 93's take-off was delayed 42 minutes because of too much air traffic at the airport in Newark.  Had the flight not been delayed, the passengers never would have known anything about the other flights and Flight 93 might have gone on to the hijackers' destination.
  • It was thought that this flight was intended to hit the White House, and that plan was actually discussed.  Interviews and testimony after the crashes revealed that it was probably intended to hit the US Capitol instead, which is more easily visible from the air.
  • 8 days after the crash, all the passengers and crew of Flight 93 were nominated for the Congressional Gold Medal.  It took until this year, 2014, before the medals were actually awarded. 
  • The Congressional Gold Medal is Congress' "highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions." 

The Congressional Gold Medal awarded to the crew and passengers of Flight 93 that crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, rather than into the US Capitol, thanks to their resistance.
(Photo from Coin Update)

Congressional Gold Medal awarded to the crew and passengers on the flight that crashed into the Pentagon, and to the people on the ground who were killed.
(Photo from Coin Update)

The Congressional Gold Medal awarded in honor of those killed at the World Trade Center towers. The numbers 11, 175, 77, and 93 on the front of the coin are the flight numbers of the planes that were deliberately crashed, and they are positioned as if on the face of a clock, at about the times when the planes crashed.
(Photo from Coin Update)

The site of the crash of Flight 93 is now a memorial site.  There is a large plaza with a walkway that leads to a wall bearing the name of each crew member and passenger. The entire memorial is surrounded by a field of wildflowers.

(Photos from the National Park Service Flight 93 National Memorial)

Their names are also engraved in bronze at the 9/11 memorial site in New York City.
(Photo by Amy Dreher, from the 9/11 Memorial)

That's all I can do for today.  I guess I'll have to break this into multiple posts.  Which means the flight that hit the Pentagon will be next.

National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, "We Have Some Planes"
Tom Burnett Family Foundation, Transcript of Tom's Last Calls to Deena
The Age, "Let's roll": A catchphrase that became a battlecry, September 9, 2002
The Age, On Hallowed Ground,  September 9, 2002
Diablo Magazine, "This is Not my Life. My Life is Quiet, Suburban, and Ordinary." August 26, 2011
The Washington Post, The 9/11 Hijackers: Perfect Soldiers, May 1, 2005, Flight 93 families honored, and thanked, at U.S. Capitol (article)Flight 93 families honored, and thanked, at U.S. Capitol (photos), September 11, 2014
US House of Representatives, Congressional Gold Medal Recipients

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Apple #683: Days of the Week

I was thinking about doing a Daily Apple on Tuesday.  Wednesday is hump day, Thursday is now apparently throw-back Thursday, Friday is the end of the work week, but what about Tuesday?  No one pays any attention to Tuesday.  Except sometimes there are two-for-Tuesday things.

I wondered what Tuesday is named for.  I don't know if I was taught this way, or if this is something my brain came up with on its own, but I thought that the days of the week were named for Roman gods.  Saturday is named for Saturn, obviously.  The other ones I was less sure about. Thursday must be named for Thor -- not Roman, but still a mythological god.  Friday was maybe named for Friya.  But again, what about Tuesday?  Could there be some relationship to the word "two?"

Days of the week -- in bottlecaps
(Photo from BeansThings on Flickr)

Wrong. Some of my assumptions were actually correct, but for wrongity wrong reasons.  Saturday is in fact named for Saturn, but, oh, let me show you what I found out.

  • The days of the week are named for the planets in our solar system, including the sun & the moon. (The planets are named for gods, so there's some overlap here.)
  • This is more obvious in the Romance languages than it is in English. 
  • Let me show you with a table.  Blogger is terrible at handling tables, so I hope this turns out OK.

Day Celestial Body French Spanish Italian
Sunday Sun Dimanche Domingo Domenica
Monday Moon (Luna) Lundi Lunes Lunedì
Tuesday Mars Mardi Martes Martedì
Wednesday Mercury Mercredi Miércoles Mercoledì
Thursday Jupiter (Jove) Jeudi Jueves Giovedì
Friday Venus Vendredi Viernes Venerdì
Saturday Saturn Samedi Sábado Sabato

  • It's really easy to see where French, Spanish, and Italian used the names of the planets for their days of the week.  The only one that doesn't quite fit is Sunday.  In these languages, their word for Sunday means "Day of the Lord."
  • I suppose if the Earth's rotation had allowed for more days of the week, we'd also have days named after Uranus and Neptune and maybe even Pluto.
  • But hang on a minute.  The order of the planets in this list does not correspond with the order in which we usually think of them, in terms of their distance from the sun.

Nine planets (minus Pluto) and their position relative to the sun. This is not how our days of the week are ordered.
(Image from Nine Planets)

  • Here is what some people have proposed as the reason for this order.  Put the celestial bodies in our list in a circle, assuming Earth is at the center.  Order them according to their time of revolution around the earth, and you get this:

(Diagram from The Calendar FAQ)

  • OK, now start with the moon (Monday), and count one position clockwise around the circle for each hour of the day: Saturn 1, Jupiter 2, Mars 3, Sun 4, Venus 5, etc.  Stop when you hit 24 and your finger will be on Mars.  The next day of the week.  Do the same thing again, beginning with Mars, and the 24th position will be Mercury. And so on until you have the planets listed in the order we've seen above.
  • Pretty clever, eh?
  • So why don't our words for days of the week look like those French & Spanish words?   Why isn't our Tuesday more like Mars Day?
  • Answer: because of that whole Old English thing.

Celestial Body Old English Current English
Sun Sunne Sunday
Moon (luna) Mona Monday
Mars Tiu Tuesday
Mercury Wōden Wednesday
Jupiter (Jove) Þunor Thursday
Venus Frigg Friday
Saturn Saturnus Saturday

  • You can definitely see the similarities between Old English and our present-day English.
  • But it sure seems like a big leap from "Mars" to "Tiu," and from "Mercury" to "Wōden." And what's that weird letter Þ?
  • Tiu -- sometimes spelled Tiw, this was the name of the Old English/Germanic god of war.  Mars was the Roman god of war.  Tiu's name is a descendant of the old Norse name for their god of war, Tyr.  Just as people say the Roman god of war, Mars, and the Greek god Ares were the same thing (though they kind of weren't), so you could also say that Tiu and Mars were pretty much the same gods. Tiu is also known as the god of hand-to-hand combat, heroism, and justice.

This is Tiu, or Tiw.  He was kind of a bad-ass.  There was a seriously bad wolf, Fenrir (hello, Harry Potter fans) whom the gods were trying to tie up and subdue. The wolf said he would never give up unless one of the gods put their hand in his mouth. Tiu was the only god who had the guts to do so.  The dwarves made a magical ribbon and the gods used it to bind up the wolf, but not before he'd bitten off Tiu's hand. So Tiu is often depicted as being one-handed.
(Image from Saxons and Vikings in Britain)

  • Wōden -- this is another descendant of a Norse god, in this case, Odin.  Wōden was an Anglo-Saxon god who was the big cheese, in charge of all sorts of things. He created the earth and sky out of the body of a dead giant, he made the first man and woman, and he made the laws that govern the universe.  You'd think that would make him like Jupiter/Jove, but he was also the god of learning, poetry, and magic. So he got correlated with Mercury, who was the god of poetry, communication, speed, trickery, and the escort to Hades.  Tiu (or Tiw) was one of his children.

This is Odin, the Norse god whose Anglo-Saxon counterpart was Wōden. Odin was seriously cool. He's flanked by his two ravens, Thought and Memory, who flew off and came back to him with news of each day's events. It's hard to see it in this drawing, by he's often shown missing one eye because he agreed to lose one for the privilege of drinking from the fountain of wisdom.
(Image from U Colorado Mythology Course)

  • Þunor -- First of all, that weird letter Þ is called a "thorn." It's from the Old English alphabet and it's pronounced th. So you'd say this name Thunor.  Looks like thunder, doesn't it?  This is the Anglo-Saxon god whose counterpart in Norse mythology is Thor, who was the god of thunder, lightning, storms, oak trees, strength, and war. (I'm beginning to wonder, who wasn't a god of war?)  Þunor was another son of Wōden's. 

Þunor, or Thor, using his hammer to fight off the giants. In addition to all those other strong-man things, he was also the god of protection of humankind.
(Painting by Winge, 1872, from Wikipedia)
  • Frigg --  Frigg was the wife of Wōden. Sometimes her name is spelled Frigga. Some say she is not the same goddess as Freya; others say she is very similar and so might be the same.  She is the goddess of love, marriage, and motherhood.  She weaves the web of destiny, so she knows everyone's fate, but she does not reveal it. This may explain why Friday is such an exciting day of the week.

Frigg, goddess of love and marriage and motherhood, and also weaver but not revealer of destinies. She looks like she knows more than she's telling, doesn't she?
(Image from Norse Gods and Goddesses)

  • The rest of the days -- Sunday / sun; Monday / moon; Saturday / Saturn -- seem pretty obvious, so I won't go into them in detail. You get the picture.
  • You might be thinking, well, this is only Western cultures that have named their days of the week this way.  
  • It is true that in many other languages, the days of the week are simply numbered -- 1st day, 2nd day, 1st day off, 2nd day off.  
  • But take a look at the days of the week in Japanese:

Orthography Romanization Translation
Sunday  日曜日  nichiyōbi  Sun day
Monday 月曜日  getsuyōbi Moon day
Tuesday  火曜日  kayōbi Fire day
Wednesday 水曜日  suiyōbi Water day
Thursday  木曜日  mokuyōbi Wood day
Friday  金曜日  kin'yōbi  Gold day
Saturday 土曜日  doyōbi  Earth day

  • You might think at first that this is a completely different method for naming the days of the week -- at least, except Sunday & Monday.
  • But if we look at these names through the lens of the Chinese theory of the five elements (yes, I know Chinese and Japanese culture are two different things, but they did borrow things from each other quite often), you start to see something pretty familiar.  Remember, the Japanese terms are elements.
    • Fire -- the color red, south, summer, midday, and the planet Mars
    • Water -- the color black, north, winter, midnight, and the planet Mercury
    • Wood -- the color green, east, spring, dawn, and the planet Jupiter
    • Gold -- the color white, west, autumn, dusk, and the planet Venus
    • Earth -- the color yellow, the center, the end of each season, and the planet Saturn
  • Adding those definitions to our chart, we get this:

Orthography Romanization Translation Celestial Body
Sunday  日曜日  nichiyōbi  Sun day Sun
Monday 月曜日  getsuyōbi Moon day Moon
Tuesday  火曜日  kayōbi Fire day Mars
Wednesday 水曜日  suiyōbi Water day Mercury
Thursday  木曜日  mokuyōbi Wood day Jupiter
Friday  金曜日  kin'yōbi  Gold day Venus
Saturday 土曜日   doyōbi  Earth day Saturn

(with thanks to Bathrobe's Days of the Week)

  • Again, pretty cool, eh?
  • By the way,  the days of the week in Chinese (Mandarin), are essentially numbered, as in ritual-day one, ritual-day two, ritual-day three, etc.  
  • However, there is one old set of names in Mandarin for the days of the week that nobody uses anymore, and that set is based on the planets.  
  • The theory, very speculative, is that the planet-based names originated in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. That tradition was picked up on by the Greeks and Romans and spread through the Western world. It also traveled westward to cultures in Persia, the Middle East, and Central Asia, and eventually reaching China and Japan.

Oxford Dictionaries, Just Plutonic? Roman gods and their relationship to the days of the week
Bathrobe's Days of the Week, In the West, Japanese, Chinese
The Calendar FAQ, The Week
Lawrence A. Crowl, The Seven-Day Week and the Meanings of the Names of the Days
Calendars through the Ages, Our Seven-day Week
Infoplease, Woden
Behind the Name, Þunor and Thor
Encyclopedia Mythica, Frigg
Norse Mythology for Smart People, Frigg

Monday, August 25, 2014

Apple #682: Dog Days of Summer

It has finally turned humid this summer.  For weeks and weeks, the weather has been beautiful -- sunny, breezy, warm, and none of that oppressive humidity.  But a few days ago, we had a big fat thunderstorm, and it left a lot of that humidity behind.  Looks like it won't budge for the whole week, either.

Which makes me think, we have finally entered the Dog Days of Summer.

What does that mean, anyway?  I have always imaged it means this:

(Photo from Doggie Cakes)

(Photo by Snowlight at Flickr, sourced from Low Country Dog)

(Photo from The Pet Wiki)

The Dog Days of Summer: when the weather gets so hot, all the dogs are panting.

But no, that is not the correct definition.
  • The Dog Days refers to the position of Sirius, the dog star (No, not Sirius Black), relative to the sun.

Sirius is the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major (Bigger Dog). It's just below Orion -- the 3 stars of Orion's belt point to it.  The story goes that Canis Major is Orion's hunting dog.
(Image from

  • Ancient Romans noticed that during the hottest time of the summer, the brightest star in the night sky -- Sirius -- was rising and setting roughly the same time as the sun. 
  • Some people say the Romans thought that Sirius's conjunction with the sun was adding heat to the days, and that's why those particular days were hotter.  
  • In reality, while Sirius is the brightest star in the sky, it is much too far away for its heat to have any impact on us.  

Sirius is larger and brighter and hotter than our sun -- though it's too far away for us to feel its heat.
(Image from Astro Bob)

  • The Romans were pretty smart cookies, though, so they may have known this and simply been aware that the two were in the sky at the same time. 
  • Ah, yes, here we are.  An astronomer named Geminus wrote, around 70 B.C., "It is generally believed that Sirius produces the heat of the 'dog days,' but this is an error, for the star merely marks a season of the year when the sun's heat is the greatest." 
  • (So, Weather Channel and everybody else, quit making the Romans out to be a bunch of dummies.)
  • Knowing that the two stars were in the sky at the same time, the Romans named that stretch of days the Dog Days of Summer. (Actually, the time period goes from about 15 days before the two rise together through 15 days after)
  • Exactly what part of summer that happened is also now in question.  Because of the very slow change in the Earth's orientation on its axis, when Sirius rises with the sun now is slightly different than when it rose back then. 
  • Some say it used to happen from July 23 though August 23, or thereabouts.
  • Now, however, the Farmer's Almanac says the Dog Days officially happen each year from July 3 through August 11, and everybody more or less goes along with that.
  • You kids with your smart phones, you've probably got an app that allows you to point your phone at the sky and it will tell you where the constellations are.  If you don't, this app called Star Walk ($2.99) supposedly does just that. Get an app like this, and you can see for yourself where Sirius is, and whether we're actually in the Dog Days or not.
  • (I know, he fell through the portal and he isn't coming back.)