Twenty years ago today, a truck bomb exploded in the underground garage of the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City.  It destroyed several levels of the garage, killed six people, and injured over a thousand.  The bombing attack was planned and carried out by a group of conspirators led by Ramzi Yousef, a Kuwaiti-born terrorist who trained with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

On that Friday morning (the bomb exploded at 12:17 pm local time, which was 9:17 am on the West Coast), I was at work.  I had just completed my probationary period as an employee of Intel, and was still settling into my new office on the fifth floor of the recently-completed Robert Noyce Building in Santa Clara, California, Intel's headquarters.

I liked to listen to FM radio on headphones while I was working -- the structure of the building was such that AM broadcasts were almost impossible to hear.  Portable CD players were still expensive and skipped if you so much as sneezed on them, the algorithms that would give rise to MP3 sound files were just being defined, and streaming audio on the Internet was, at best, somebody's pipe dream.

Immediately after I learned of the bombing, I became painfully aware that I was working on the fifth floor of the five-story building, I became painfully aware that I was working on the fifth floor of the five-story building, by far the tallest I had ever worked in.  Having visited taller buildings only a few times, it was challenging -- and quite frightening -- to imagine what it must be like to be in one of the upper floors of the World Trade Center buildings.  I tried to get as much news as I could that day.

On the wider scale, I think it was that first World Trade Center bombing that really crystallized the image of the Middle Eastern terrorist as a figure to be feared more than any other in the culture of the United States.  It was not, of course, the first time a Middle Eastern terrorist had struck at Americans.  But it very quickly gained the title of worst terrorist incident on United States soil, and in so doing, gave the American people something to be afraid of, which we had largely lost in the fall of the Iron Curtain and the end of global Communism.

Indeed, when the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was blown up two years and two months after the World Trade Center bombing, everyone's assumption was that a Middle Eastern terrorist had done it.  There are people who believe to this day that some Middle Eastern group -- most often Iraqi -- was responsible and that Timothy McVeigh was just a patsy.  The fact that McVeigh became known as a "domestic" or "homegrown" terrorist just underscores how pervasive the image of the Middle Eastern terrorist had become.  It is a strange distinction to draw; a distinction akin to “racism” and “reverse racism,” a distinction that should not need to be made.  But we make it anyway.

Category:text recollections -- posted at: 4:01pm EDT
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20 years ago today, Joe and I were celebrating our first anniversary.  It had been a challenging year, but we'd made it through, and we decided to celebrate by visiting one of our favorite restaurants at the time, the Cardinal diner, for an early supper.  It wasn't far from home, just down the street at the corner of Meridian and Hillsdale Avenues.  (In 1991 it was quite new -- it had a look that nowadays is called "retro" with a lot of brass and red glittery vinyl seating.  It apparently closed sometime last year, more's the pity.)  Just before we left a news report came on the television about a fire in the Oakland hills.

When we returned, no more than two hours later, we turned on the television and the local stations were all broadcasting images that looked like a classical version of Hell -- flames lighting the night sky in blazing ribbons and clouds of luminous smoke; tall trees ablaze from root to crown, and sometimes exploding.  We were watching the Oakland Hills firestorm, an incredible disaster that, before it was finally controlled some 72 hours after it began, destroyed over 3700 homes, killed 25 people and injured some 150.

Many of the awesome (in the original sense of the word) images of that night are still very accessible in my mind's eye, but for those who never saw (or don't remember) the firestorm, the SFGate has put up a small slideshow which captures it and its aftermath.  They also have an article which focuses on one family, their tragedy and recovery.

Over the years since we have occasionally joked about what sort of karma we had, that on our first anniversary the Oakland hills burned up.  There are a fair share of notorious events that have taken place on October 20 in years past: the Saturday Night Massacre, the opening of the HUAC hearings, the Johnny Bright incident.  But a few pretty cool ones too:  The Police played their first US show in 1978; Jacqueline Kennedy married Aristotle Onassis in 1968.  As I say in the show close, every day has a multitude of stories.  October 20, more than maybe any other day in the year, is the day that I go looking for them.

Category:text recollections -- posted at: 7:37pm EDT
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(This is the first of what may become a series of short text postings, on events for which I wasn't able to write and record a complete podcast, for whatever reason. --jamie)

Today is Friday, June 10, 2011.

Twenty years ago today, an 11-year-old girl named Jaycee Dugard was snatched off the street as she was waiting for a school bus, shoved into a car and driven away.  Despite the fact that her abduction was witnessed -- by her stepfather -- and a good description of both the car and the kidnapper was given to the police almost immediately, it wasn't enough.

But unlike so many cases of child abduction, when the victim is found dead -- or never found at all -- Dugard was found.  It took 18 years to do it; for all that time, she had been held prisoner by the couple who abducted her, Phillip and Nancy Garrido.  

I do have some memory about Jaycee Dugard’s disappearance in 1991; it was pretty big news in the San Francisco Bay Area at the time.  As with Michaela Garecht and many others before her, the memory of Jaycee Dugard slowly faded from the awareness of all but a few -- family, friends, perhaps the police.  Theirs was the struggle to come to terms with the idea that she was gone forever, or to keep the hope alive that she would be found some day.

And if this particular posting has a theme, it would be that hope -- hope beyond reason, beyond sense if you like.  Hope that sometimes is lost, sometimes set aside just to cope with the never-ending press of day-to-day life.  Hope that, against all the odds, is rewarded now and then, as it was with Jaycee Dugard.

Just a few weeks ago, the trial of the Garridos ended abruptly when both of them changed their pleas to guilty. Twenty years from now, they will both be still in prison -- and we can hope we will all have forgotten them.

Category:text recollections -- posted at: 7:03pm EDT
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