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Stateside with Rosalea: The Mastodon's New Hose

Stateside with Rosalea

The mastodon's new hose

There's a popular US saying that refers to something being so obvious and so discomforting that nobody even mentions it - "the elephant in the living room". One such creature loomed large in the nation's living rooms last Sunday night when CBS broadcast (from 9-11pm) video footage filmed by two French brothers who, in the summer of 2001, just happened to be making a documentary about a newbie firefighter at a fire station in lower Manhattan.

CBS called the programme "9-11" and it was sponsored by Nextel Communications, whose CEO made much in his introduction of the fact that there would be only three interruptions. I have to confess to missing a bit of the introduction because those naughty people over at the local Fox affiliate chose to play the world television premiere of the trailer for "Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones" at exactly the same time, and I was watching Tem Morrison say "They'll do their job well". I wonder if he ever imagined he was going to go head to head against Robert de Niro on prime time US television? Sorry, but on both channels it was Actors 0, Platitudes 10.

Yes, Robert de Niro was the narrator of "9-11" and he said we were going to witness the heroism of New York's firefighters. Everyone knows how heroic NY firefighters are and the police and all the rest of the rescue crews (though no-one seems to think much of the steelworkers who face even greater dangers and see the same awful sights in the clean-up). The three breaks in the program featured photos of firefighters, police, emergency workers, paramedics, dispatchers, etc from across the nation, including a kind of bay watch boy babe from surf rescue in Hawaii. Nice packaging.

But something was missing. The promised heroism. All we saw was a bunch of firefighters teasing the "probie", eating a leg of lamb, going to the twin towers, milling around a lot in the lobby, and sitting around a lot back at the fire station after the buildings collapse, watching television or discussing what body parts they'd seen as they tried to find survivors. To be fair to the firefighters - there is no way in hell that I would want to have been a part of the hell that they were part of that day and in the days that followed. To be fair to the programme, obviously the brothers couldn't go anywhere without the firefighters or the permission of someone in authority. At one point when Gedeon is trying to get down to the World Trade Centre because his brother Jules is there, a policeman orders him and his camera out of the area: "This ain't fucken Disneyland - let's go!"

The mastodon in the living room is the non-existent rescue plan for the now extinct World Trade Centre. New York had 30 years to work out a viable plan to evacuate the people who worked in the twin towers, yet rescue came down to a bunch of people with hoses slung over their shoulders walking up stairs - one minute for every flight of stairs. Did those firefighters actually rescue anyone, that's all I wanted to know, and the question was never answered. Probably because nobody asked it. Robert de Niro said it was a time "when good men did great things", but I'm damned if I could see any great things being done. Emperor's new hose, anyone?

Monday was the six-month anniversary of The Event, and we were subjected to the obligatory remembrance of it any way possible. Surprising in its tone was Bush's speech outside the White House that morning. For the most part lacking the usual arrogance, the speech was the "talk softly" partner of the "carry a big stick" story from the previous day about the US being prepared to use nuclear weapons. Still, I suppose I should be grateful I don't watch Kabul TV, where I don't imagine they get the luxury of making a tidy infotainment package out of the destruction of one or two buildings and a finite number of non-combatant lives lost.

In the middle of the week the members of the US Senate had the opportunity to be real-life heroes by passing the parts of a larger energy bill that would have mandated increased fuel economy for sports utility vehicles, which now do only 20 miles to the gallon. The bill would have required auto manufacturers to increase that to 36 mpg. The change failed by almost 2:1 as senators from both sides clutched their oxygen bottles - full of campaign contributions from auto makers on one side and auto workers on the other - close to their hollow chests. What the hey, creating a pipeline route through Afghanistan is easy if you bomb the hell out of the rugged terrain, and has the added bonus of creating jobs, patriotic fervour, and more primetime hero stories as the body bags go home, so why would you want to decrease your reliance on fossil fuels?

Then came the stunning news that the Immigration and Naturalization Service had sent visa extensions for two of the dead hijackers to the Miami flight school where they'd been students. Heads rolled and were served up on a large platter to the commissioner of immigration and naturalization on Friday. I think there are a couple of mitigating factors for those errors: apart from the names on the visa forms being spelt completely differently from the way they were spelt by the media, there is also the incredible backlog of work the INS has had for years, which probably doesn't encourage close inspection, especially as the extensions were the result of a manual process.

On the other hand, if you're into conspiracy theories and think that the flight school was a front for the CIA then what better way to deflect interest in the flight school than by throwing a grenade into the very agency that is in a position to investigate the school's dealings with foreign students. Let those job losses in a high places be a lesson to you, INS lackies! And just as a back-up, Attorney General John Ashcroft also sent a letter to Congress on Friday asking lawmakers to give the INS the authority to fire personnel for misconduct or incompetence. Misconduct, I suppose, includes whistleblowing. This is "talk loudly and wield a big stick" made to look like terrorism is the target, when the target might equally be anyone who asks embarrassing questions and is in a position to get them answered.

But there I go again joining the dots and finding a very unpretty picture. The next thing, I'll be suggesting the brothers Naudet worked for the DGSE - the French intelligence service that in 1993 listed as its top espionage target in the US the Boeing company, specifically its navigation systems. To make the Airbus more competitive, the CIA said at the time.
Lea Barker
Saturday, 16 March 2002

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