What was I up to in September 2001?

These posts are as they were when written at:

The world goes mad: Diary for September 2001

Anything in italics is commentary from now in 2016.


I first knew of 9/11 early in the morning of 12 September when I happened to turn on the radio. I promptly got out of bed and turned on the TV to see those images now so familiar.

One current reflection I strongly recommend: Paul McGeough, Fifteen years after September 11 attacks, one aim of terrorism remains unchanged.

Terrorist attacks have become ridiculously cheap. Analysts estimate that the entire 9/11 operation cost al-Qaeda about $US500,000. More recently, its affiliate al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed its notorious “bomb-in-ink-cartridges” operation, which was uncovered before the devices were detonated on flights between Yemen and the US, cost a mere $US4200.

More recent attacks have been even cheaper – Nice cost only as much as the hire of a 19-tonne truck. Orlando was just the price of a few firearms. The Boston marathon bomb – it cost maybe $US100 for a device that inflicted personal and property damage in the vicinity of $US350 million.

Now to some of my posts from September 2001.

What a month. It seemed as if September 2001 would live in history as September 1939. There was the unspeakable horror of September 11, and all the world seemed to go mad. I think I did a little myself.

Read Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent. It seems apt.

11 Sep 2001

Thoughts of a survivor: Guest article by Ian Smith, the Dowager Empress of Hong Kong

It is difficult to give advice to any one regarding HIV/AIDS. However here are a few thoughts from a long-term survivor.

Do not panic. This is easy to say, but the best thing you can do, is ignore the virus as much as possible, within reason. If you are on medication, never miss a dose. Always have safe sex to avoid passing the virus to someone else, and keep alcohol and other recreational drugs down. By this I do not mean give everything up, just try cutting down. Think, ‘Do I really need that E tonight?” If you do, take only half, or less. This has the advantage of saving money. It also has the advantage of not damaging your immune system as much.

Explore alternatives. Smart little dinner parties work out a lot cheaper than a night out on the bars, and have the advantage that you can still hear the next morning.

If you can’t cook, learn; I never eat fast food–eating at home is cheaper and more nutritious than fat-laden Maccas etc.

Do not give up working unless you are forced to do so. Possibly the worst thing you can do is go on the Disability Pension, and then sit around in poverty, brooding about your situation. This causes stress, and all the indications are that stress hastens the progress of the disease. Never even think, ‘I have AIDS!” You do not!! You are HIV+.

Coming out as positive is as hard as your original coming out. You will find some people drop you, and others are wonderfully supportive. Choose who you come out to with care; you do not want the news to be all over the scene within five minutes.

Personally, I am totally out. If I meet a new person, and the conversation looks like leading past the bar or club, I disclose. It is easier than getting into bed and saying “by the way, I am positive” then watching them run. Give them the choice of backing out gracefully in the venue; the damage to your self-esteem is far less.

Find other HIV people. It is easy to do, about half of my friends are positive, the rest negative; all are friends.

Never “Out” someone as positive. They might not be as open about their status as you are. Remember, they have trusted you with the knowledge of their status. Do not spread that knowledge around.

Always try to set long-term goals, and meet them. My present long-term goal is to be at Gallipoli for Anzac Day, 2015*. My doctor, who thinks I am crazy, says he will be there with me. Start with targets a year or so away and increase the length of time.

On the Yahoo group pozguysau

*Ian passed away in 2010.

12 Sep 2001 Dies irae

Horrible. What more can I say?

When I was seventeen the following poem (I print here the first and last stanzas only) was one we did; ever since it has recurred to me when the world has displayed yet another atrocity:


W. H. Auden

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.
Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleagured by the same
Negation and despair
Show an affirming flame.

16 Sep 2001

Day of Mourning

The Company of Lovers

Judith Wright

We meet and part now over all the world.
We, the lost company,
take hands together in the night, forget
the night in our brief happiness, silently.
We who sought many things, throw all away
for this one thing, one only,
remembering that in the narrow grave
we shall be lonely.
Death marshals up his armies round us now.
Their footsteps crowd too near.
Lock your warm hand above the chilling heart
and for a time I live without my fear.
Grope in the night to find me and embrace,
for the dark preludes of the drums begin,
and round us, round the company of lovers,
Death draws his cordons in.

Your medicine is in you, and you do not observe it. Your ailment is from yourself, and you do not register it.
–Hazrat Ali

I believe in God, but do not profess to know what that means. Increasingly the Quakers and the Buddhists seem people of insight to me. It is high time less notice was taken of weird dead guys who came down from mountains or out of deserts claiming to have found the hotline to God, and knowing such vitally important things as how hot Hell is, what to do about nocturnal emissions (see Leviticus if you don’t believe me) or whether it’s right to polish your shoes on Sunday.

God is in every move towards peace and respect for human life in this world; in fact maybe he actually is that growing consciousness.

I, meanwhile, am now being consigned by ardent religionists all over the world to the realm of lost souls for such heresy.

Before you ask, yes I have read the Jewish and Christian Bibles, the Apocrypha, much of the Qu’ran, and more besides. I have decided God is not a writer. But in those texts are many beautiful insights, seeds of hope. On the other hand, “I come not to bring peace but a sword”–Jesus of Nazareth. A mixed gift.

I mourn the dead of last week.

I am still horrified that anyone could do such a thing–but in their eyes they were “ridding the world of evil”.

My mother tells me she went outside and threw up when she heard about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I applaud her instincts.

I mourn the dead on the ground in Iraq, Belgrade, Cambodia,….you name them. Count them. What is their number? All had family, loved ones, hopes, desires…

I send my condolences, America, from the bottom of my heart.

Please be careful.


I spent the afternoon in a working bee making red ribbons for World AIDS Day, and on the way home met some old friends, one of whom is from New York, with a sister (OK!) in Soho, near the World Trade Centre. Like me she was worried about the wisdom of talk of cleansing the world of evil; it strikes us that all-out war would create more terrorists–aside from the loss of life involved. May the spirit of God (as I understand it) guide the leaders in their decision-making–but sometimes the spirit seems impotent, sadly. May it also enable a clear vision of the reasons for all this hatred: not in the religion of Islam per se, and how encouraging to see Osama Bin Layden’s own family denounced his alleged actions as unIslamic. No, the reasons are deeper in the inequities of the world we live in. See for one reference Karen Armstrong’s excellent The Battle for God (Harper Collins 2000) for some depth. Even consider David Korten’s When Corporations Rule the World (Earthscan 1996) and Noam Chomsky, World Orders Old and New (Pluto 1994). I don’t agree with everything in the last two, but there are clues there about why America may be so hated.

This takes not one jot away from my revulsion against the perpetrators and sympathy for those who suffered. God save us from making things worse, that’s all.

17 Sep 2001

An evil man

Much may (I think) rightly be said about the folly of American foreign policy, or its arrogance–and America has sometimes set a nasty hypocritical tone to an outsider like me: supporting corrupt and tyrannical regimes, engineering the downfall of governments they do not like (as in Chile), callously speaking military-talk about “collateral damage”, and so on. On the other hand, this is a country free enough to allow those thoughts to be expressed, as they are by many: Noam Chomsky to name one. Dissent is more viable in America than in most other nations. The world is paradoxical.

On the other hand, having just watched an excellent documentary on ABC (Australian that is) Four Corners on Osama bin Laden: oh my God! What an evil bastard that man is.

I find myself looking again at the model of a post-Cold War world given in Samuel P Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations (1996) and find it compelling and prescient. I still feel he draws the lines too starkly, and disagree with his proposed policies, except maybe to pull back from insisting on the “Westernisation” (as distinct from “modernisation”) of the rest of the world. Huntington also presents a very flawed view, a straw man view, of multiculturalism, something he does not understand in the way it has been understood in Australia for example. He does not give sufficient credence either to the fact that cultures actually can change, compromise and meet. In a sense he is agreeing with the extremists who so bedevil this world. Nonetheless, it is one of the best available models for making sense of what is occurring at this moment.

23 Sep 2001

State of the world

Internal links not guaranteed, but as of 11/9/16 there are readable versions courtesy of the Internet Archive.

On world affairs yesterday, and in the diary for the day before, I raised a few questions. Looking back, I realise how devastated I have been by the events that have unfolded since September 11. One symptom is how the time elapsed since then seems almost a blur, almost unreal. I think I am settling back now, but I still feel a deep apprehension. My unease, combined with the usual end-of-term stresses, may even have impinged on my personal relationships, I suspect: perhaps in the form of leaning on some too heavily as a respite from the gloom.

I recommend looking at this article in Asiaweek, which goes some way towards realism about the way the rest of the world might feel about how the United States responds to September 11. The Economist examines the questions “Who is to blame?” and “Why do they hate us?” rather well. This article is pretty close to what I think; however, I think, while agreeing that the motives of such crazy people may be hard to fathom, that the U.S, policy issues raised in that editorial may have more significance, at least in creating a climate for hatred. Finally, The Atlantic Monthly has some good background articles, one set of which is at the other end of that link.


I am reading The History of God by Karen Armstrong (a former nun), partly to background current issues, but also to review my knowledge of the Bible, religious history and so on. Illuminating on the three monotheisms–Judaism, Christianity and Islam:

We shall see that Yahweh did not remain the cruel and violent god of the Exodus, even though the myth has been important in all three of the monotheistic religions. Surprising as it may seem, the Israelites would transform him beyond recognition into a symbol of transcendence and compassion. Yet the bloody history of the Exodus would continue to inspire dangerous conceptions of the divine and a vengeful theology… The myth of a Chosen People and a divine election has often inspired a narrow, tribal theology from the time of the Deuteronomist right up to the Jewish, Christian and Muslim fundamentalism that is unhappily rife in our own day. Yet…In all three faiths, (God) has inspired an ideal of social justice, even though it has to be said that Jews, Christians and Muslims have often failed to live up to this ideal and have transformed him into the God of the status quo. [p.28-29]

[Mr R] recently said that the religious are often the nicest people on campus, and he is right I suspect; I was in the Evangelical Union myself and like to think I was one of the nicest people on campus in my day 😉 Today I am a religious seeker as much as ever, I think; but I have seen through and beyond the simplifications and circular arguments (and self-satisfaction) of the “simple faith” that believes the Bible is the Word of God because it says it is; Christian theology then becomes a matter of ignoring the embarrassing bits in the Bible, ironing out or glossing over inconsistencies, and getting into more and more desperate trouble trying to sustain the unsustainable. And yet there is in the Bible a core that is absolutely wonderful.

Today I would recommend anyone interested in the Bible should of course read it. But they must learn to see it historically, not as a magic thing, a box of texts all of equal relevance. Guidance may be had from believers and unbelievers alike: David Marr, The High Price of Heaven (Sydney, Allen and Unwin 1999); Robin Lane Fox, The Unauthorized Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible (Penguin 1992); Bishop John Selby Spong, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism (Harper 1991).

25 Sep 2001

Year 12 Farewell and…twelve months on

In the entry before last I mentioned the UTS research project was coming to a climax, and that yesterday would be a busy day. It was. However, it went well, and a high point was a lunchtime barbecue for the 7F class who were the subjects of the research, food provided by UTS. I also received a nice card and a mug for my efforts.

That barbecue was also the first time I had a halal sausage. Some in 7F were Muslims.

I did go to Cafe Max afterwards, where I had a good talk with an old teaching colleague, Greg. That made the day end rather well.

Today was the Year 12 Assembly. They (at their own choice) changed a few traditions, making the Assembly more dignified but not stuffy. They had also foregone the traditional “muck-up” in favour of fundraising for the Children’s Cancer Research Council by stopping cars on Anzac Parade to collect money. They expected maybe $500 but collected $4500! Finally, they did away with the luncheon (a bit tedious last year?) and had an afternoon garden party in the courtyard of the school for staff, students and parents–a good idea, and the storm held off just long enough….