Trickle Down Terrorism

NOTE: The following was originally written around 2004, performed on live radio on KSCO AM1080, and posted online (at a now defunct site) shortly thereafter. I just stumbled across it today. It’s astonishingly prescient, and as such makes me look smarter than I probably am. Unfortunately, we seem to have done it to ourselves, and brought the American Dream closer to its end than toppling two buildings and killing 3,000 people ever did.

On the upside, we may end up with that “stronger, more responsible society” I allude to, if we do the right thing moving forward.


Television has done a great service to the criminal population, by sharing secrets that you previously had to be sent to prison to learn.

I learned on CSI: Miami that burning a body to ash will destroy all DNA evidence, and that mixing drain cleaner with vanilla yogurt will create a topical poison impervious to metal detectors that will leave you with incredibly smooth skin. Spend an evening watching a little Law and Order and COPS, and you’ll learn everything you need to know about crossing the border, hiding your pot and building bombs that look like cell phones.

I feel compelled to extend this service to the terrorist population, by sharing a few insights that otherwise may not be taken into consideration, and to help get you focused not on dropping skyscrapers and bridges on innocent people but rather on lifting the wallets of American consumers so they can’t do what they love to do more than salute the flag: spend money on crap they don’t need and can’t afford.

It should be clear by now that flying airplanes into buildings or mailing anthrax to the editors of our tabloid press is not the most effective ways to undermine the United States. Oh sure, you’ll get lots of press and it’ll make you a martyr, get you a stable of virgins in the afterlife and a herd of goats. But it’s an extremely high-profile undertaking, it’s regionally localized, and it calls attention to your intentions, which might be satisfying in the short term because you can gather all your Mullahs around to see yourself on America’s Most Wanted, but is really counter-productive in the long run if you’re serious about undermining your enemy’s way of life. All it does is piss us off and force us to hold the Olympics where the building used to be. We sell t-shirts to commemorate the event, and record songs to raise funds for the families of victims, and small companies make millions selling cheap American flags that attach to the passenger windows of our SUV’s. In the long run, it’s a boon to the economy.

If you really want to cause real harm to a capitalist economy, you need to be much more subtle.

Driving airplanes into our buildings to destroy America is like burning the Flag to destroy America. It confuses the symbol for the thing, the sign for the signified. Buildings are symbols of our economy, but they are not our economy. Our economy is our economy: the flow of money, the free and liquid investment in new business and new technologies. It is the healthy personal portfolios of families with long and stable work histories, the promise of a comfortable retirement before 70, the ability to educate our children in a better way than we had for ourselves, and enough pocket money to buy new CD’s and DVD players and hamburgers and wicker toilet seats and other miscellaneous unnecessary crap that keeps the populace at large employed as fry cooks and cashiers and bagboys and truck drivers and middle-managers and cleaning crews and bank tellers and meter readers.

They say that the introduction of the Mediterranean fruit fly into California was a subtle act of agriterrorism, aimed at slowly undermining the agricultural industry and the nationwide distribution of food by destroying the ability of trees to pollinate over the course of decades.

This is what I call Trickle-Down-Terrorism, and frankly it’s where I’d like to see more terrorists focus their efforts.

Imagine finding a way to appeal to the base desire of the average investor to create not a long-term plan, but a short-term killing; to get millions and billions of dollars invested in absurd shell-games and ponzi schemes, to actually get those ponzi schemes publicly traded, to have Wall Street recommend millions of middle-American families and young professionals and retirees to invest their futures there, and then take it all away from them in a weekend.

Imagine finding a way to bring one of the oldest, largest, most highly visible international corporations and entry-level employers into its first quarter of fiscal failure. Feel the shudder in the foundation of fiscal stability, see the panic in the eyes of under-educated food service workers who support families on minimum wage pushing the buttons with the pictures of food on them as their hours are reduced, smell the fear on Wall Street as another Blue-Chip stock tumbles for the first time in history. Watch as the truck drivers who deliver the goods have fewer runs to make, the packaging factories have less to manufacture, the napkin and straw and cup wholesalers scale back their shifts and their workers go on aid to keep their children in overcoats and galoshes. Taste the impact as our faith in fundamental American Capitalist Icons is shaken to the core. And imagine the satisfaction of having created a climate in which this company consciously put itself into this situation by making the decision to sell more of its popular product for less than it pays for it, to satisfy a selfish and self-absorbed, short-sighted consumer public who insist on cheaper faster food with no conception of where the goods come from, how much they cost to purchase or package or ship or prepare.

The beauty of trickle-down terrorism is, it’s something we can handle.

They tell us that all we need to protect ourselves against high-profile terrorism is a roll of saran wrap and some duct tape. The good silver kind, not that cheap red stuff. (And just for the record, magic transparent tape won’t help you at all. It’ll make your wrapping job look great, and you can write on it [Dear terrorists, I’ve taped my front door shut. Please go away.] but it won’t keep the anthrax out.) All it takes to protect yourself is a bag of Doritos and a Gloria Estefan T-Shirt. I don’t know why, but they say that our enemies will not have this insight; and so we will win.

Defending myself against high-profile terrorism just makes me a boy in a bubble.

The way I figure it, if terrorists start focusing on trickle-down acts, maybe we’ll finally stop doing it to ourselves. It doesn’t take baling wire and zip-lock baggies to fight trickle-down terrorism. It takes forethought and maturity, it takes responsibility and social conscience. It takes being willing to pay fair prices for quality products, which employ American families in responsible companies that offer real health care. It takes a willingness to pay $1.49 for a hamburger instead of insisting on .99 cents, so that McDonalds can remain strong and continue to make entry-level jobs available to workers of limited resource.

I’m ready for trickle-down terrorism. I can benefit from trickle-down terrorism. I’ll be in a better, stronger, more responsible society if we need to rise to the challenge of trickle-down terrorism. Defending myself from trickle-down terrorism keeps me from investing in companies shilled by talking sock puppets.

And that can only be a good thing.

That’s it. That’s all I got.

Don't videotape at the mall if you're a terrorist.

Shooting some b-roll at the mall tonight (people shopping, sale signs, etc) for Programming The Nation and was asked by security what I was shooting. I said “my wife” (she was sitting nearby, and at that moment I was shooting her) and he said “okay, just don’t shoot around the building.” I said I would be sure I didn’t get anybody’s face in any shots (I wasn’t) but he said that wasn’t his concern… just that I don’t video the structure and design of the building itself… because of terrorism. I assume it’s because the tape could be used to figure out structural weaknesses.

Anyway, I found it interesting that he simply believed me and moved on… didn’t ask me to stop. How easy we apparently make it for terrorists.

Never Done

This essay was originally written and performed on KSCO 1080am on the second anniversary of 9/11. 

My father told me once that he was glad my mother had died first. He loved her too much to wish he had gone in her place, he said. The harder thing was to be the one left behind. He wouldn’t wish the pain and guilt and insecurity and loneliness and self-loathing on an enemy, much less on the woman he loved. Best for her to have gone first, he said. He alone would bear the crushing weight of the following empty years for them both. 

This staying behind and suffering stuff is heroic. Being the one who has to continue, guilty that we’ve survived, forcing ourselves to go out and see the latest Jim Carrey movie, buy a new washer and dryer, take a long evening walk and watch a beautiful sunset in an eerily empty sky that we know is being enjoyed by one less person than it ought to be. And as if that weren’t enough, we’re burdened by the responsibility of representing the deceased to the future, the responsibility of ensuring that the rest of the world understands how unfair it was, how unnecessary it was, how tragic it was, what a saint they were. We are all thrust into selfless heroism, for fifteen minutes, by virtue of our survival.

It’s funny how families only reunite at funerals. Well, weddings and funerals, but it does always seem to take some kind of tragedy to get people to hop on a plane or a bus and take a weekend out of their lives to stand around uncomfortably with people they spend the balance of the year badmouthing to their spouses, eating miniature spinach quiche and questionably warm shrimp.

When my mother died, my father and brothers and sisters and cousins and uncles gathered together for the first time in years. The tragic event is spent bonding. Oh, how we bond. We recall how much we miss one another, we re-tell those hilarious stories about Uncle Milo’s embarrassing toupee mishap, we reminisce about the years we spent as the best of friends, and make heartfelt apologies for our lack of communication… we promise to stay in touch. We were so close once… I miss you so… blood is thicker than water, family is everything, how did we let so much time get away, I promised your mother I’d raise you as my own, where’s that waiter with the Seven and Seven.

I went to another funeral, more recently… Not somebody I know, just a guy. The funeral of a guy who knew a guy I knew. Died of liver failure. Drank too much.

It was funny the way everybody completely ignored the way this guy died.
The guy had died a long and painful and unnecessary death of cirrhosis. A self-inflicted death brought on by years of drunken debauchery, parties and drugs and alcohol and general short-sighted irresponsibility.

Not funny. Just true.

What was funny was that those that spoke for him at the service stood up and told tales of a fun-loving, hard-living good old boy. Oh Yes, his old friends from the Program said, and they shifted their beers from one hand to another. They talked about his wayward youth, his motorcycle, the time he made his wife walk three miles to the store on a dark country road at 1am because he’d run out of Jack, he was such a card, what a wacky guy. Boy Howdy, his first wife, his kids, his brother agreed, and they laughed and they clinked their coolers and martinis in agreement. He was a misunderstood man, a dynamic and creative soul who couldn’t be shoehorned into a single relationship, a regular job, a responsible lifestyle. He couldn’t be expected to be something so mundane as a dependable parent or a reliable spouse. They were going to miss him, why did this happen, why hadn’t they seen it coming, they lamented the unfairness of it all, he was so young, it was so unnecessary, and his counselor and his priest and his third wife raised their glasses in unison and toasted the memory of a guy who had no faults.

Not funny ha-ha. Just funny sad.

This veneration, combined with the warm fuzzy feeling we get from our reunion with all the other surviving loved ones is a happy thing, because for a little while all the family drama is gone; we are galvanized anew in our rekindled familial dedication. We are all brothers… we’re filled with unconditional love for one another… the arrogance and dysfunction and the abuse and the misogyny and the hate and the intolerance and the inequity are gone, and we all put stickers on our cars, and play country music, and wave to each other knowingly with secret signals, hand over heart as we pass on the freeway, and we pinkie swear to become blood brothers and we’ll beat the crap out of anyone who questions our god-given virtue. We fool ourselves into believing that the arrogance, dysfunction and abuse and misogyny and hate and intolerance and inequity truly are gone, and that the stickers on our cars are the proof of it. That productizing our grief and pride with t-shirts and country songs and ‘very special episodes’ of Law & Order will make it so.

Clearly the loss is tragic. And it is always unfair. I would rather that no one had to pass, and if they do, it should be in their sleep, after a good meal and a fine sunset and the love of a soul mate.

And the surviving is hard. I would rather none of us had to be survivors, to suffer the going on, the persevering, the slow but inevitable normalizing of our lives and the guilt we feel over the eventual waning of grief.

Or the strange dereliction we feel in remembering with any fondness the closeness and intimacy and vulnerability we will always share with the soul who sat next to us on the couch while we silently watched the images repeat before our eyes in slow motion.

But unlike my father, I’m not happy that my mother died first. I don’t think that being the survivor is the harder role to play. As survivors, we’re given the bitter-sweet opportunity to pursue many things.
To avenge.
To remember.
To deify.
To correct.
To grow.
To learn.
To introspect.

My mother has been gone six years, and in the intervening time I’ve punished myself for not being a better son, for not appreciating the sacrifice she made, for not seeing the person she was beneath the mother. And in so doing I’ve set aside the petty differences I had with my father, forged a friendship that is stronger than our disagreements, and bridged our estrangement. I’ve allowed myself the latitude to be wrong, I’ve allowed my father the latitude to be wrong, and I’ve allowed her passing to help me become just a little bit better person, a little bit better father, a little bit better son.

Parents are just people, trying their best. It was a great revelation for me to realize that… and interestingly, being one didn’t do it. Losing one did. That it took my mother’s death to manifest that is a cruel irony, because she is probably the one person who would have taken more joy in this than me.

The real tragedy in my experience is in how we often don’t do those things. The real tragedy is the way we lie to ourselves.

We lie to ourselves when we think that tragedy offers no lessons, that we needn’t question our virtue. We do ourselves a disservice by insisting that we needn’t entertain introspection … by inferring that there are no lessons left to learn, and that we are the best that we can hope to be. We hurt ourselves when we learn nothing from tragedy but defensiveness and separatism, anger and mistrust, fear and hatred. We are all just people trying our best. It was a great revelation to realize that. Ironically, being one didn’t do it. Losing some did.

I miss you, mom. I’m sorry you suffered, guy who knew a guy I knew. I promise to not simply tell your story, to do more than defend and avenge, to do more than grieve, to be more than merely angry. I promise to try to be a different and better person, to be willing to introspect, to call, to visit, and to acknowledge that I am not, and may never be, done.

Our world is a much more complicated place than that. And we are, I hope, much more complicated beings.

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got.