The War On The Poor

The most significant political development in the United States occurred between 1854 and 1968 — from Lincoln to LBJ — during which the Republican Party switched from being anti-slavery to pro-slavery, while the Democratic Party switched from being pro-slavery to anti-slavery.

After 1991 — from W. Clinton through Obama to H. Clinton, almost — the Democratic Party steadily regressed back in the direction of its original pro-slavery orientation. This regression is a part of the grand bipartisan War On The Poor, which continues today. The Republicans are the leading force in this war, with the Democrats reactively following.

Today’s efforts at political organization by the anti-slavery movement are vigorously opposed by the bipartisan pro-slavery powers, and their War On The Poor is structured as organized white supremacy-dominated greed claiming to defend the rights of unorganized individual greed — called “freedom” — against the supposed slavery that organized sharing — called socialism — would impose against “individual initiative.”

Many of the naïve victims of the War On The Poor are hampered in defending themselves by their political immaturity, which is a consequence of their ignorance, biases and wishful thinking.


The Thermodynamics of 9-11

When hijacked airliners crashed into the tall Towers of the World Trade Center, in New York City [on 11 September 2001], each injected a burning cloud of aviation fuel throughout the 6 levels (WTC 2) to 8 levels (WTC 1) in the impact zone. The burning fuel ignited the office furnishings: desks, chairs, shelving, carpeting, work-space partitions, wall and ceiling panels; as well as paper and plastic of various kinds.

How did these fires progress? How much heat could they produce? Was this heat enough to seriously weaken the steel framework? How did this heat affect the metal in the rubble piles in the weeks and months after the collapse? This report is motivated by these questions, and it will draw ideas from thermal physics and chemistry. My previous report on the collapses of the WTC Towers described the role of mechanical forces (1).

Summary of National Institute of Technology and Standards (NIST) Report

Basic facts about the WTC fires of 9/11/01 are abstracted by the numerical quantities tabulated here.

Table 1, Time and Energy of WTC Fires

ITEM                              WTC 1           WTC 2
impact time (a.m.)          8:46:30          9:02:59
collapse (a.m.)               10:28:22        9:58:59
time difference               1:41:52          0:56:00
impact zone levels          92-99            78-83
levels in upper block       11                 27
heat rate (40 minutes)     2 GW            1 GW
total heat energy             8000 GJ       3000 GJ

Tower 1 stood for one hour and forty-two minutes after being struck between levels 92 and 99 by an airplane; the block above the impact zone had 11 levels. During the first 40 minutes of this time, fires raged with an average heat release rate of 2 GW (GW = giga watts = 10^9 watts), and the total heat energy released during the interval between airplane impact and building collapse was 8000 GJ (GJ = giga-joules = 10^9 joules).

A joule is a unit of energy; a watt is a unit of power; and one watt equals an energy delivery rate of one joule per second.

Tower 2 stood for fifty-six minutes after being struck between levels 78 and 83, isolating an upper block of 27 levels. The fires burned at a rate near 1 GW for forty minutes, diminishing later; and a total of 3000 GJ of heat energy was released by the time of collapse.

WTC 2 received half as much thermal energy during the first 40 minutes after impact, had just over twice the upper block mass, and fell within half the time than was observed for WTC 1. It would seem that WTC 1 stood longer despite receiving more thermal energy because its upper block was less massive.

The data in Table 1 are taken from the executive summary of the fire safety investigation by NIST (2).

The NIST work combined materials and heat transfer lab experiments, full-scale tests (wouldn’t you like to burn up office cubicles?), and computer simulations to arrive at the history and spatial distribution of the burning. From this, the thermal histories of all the metal supports in the impact zone were calculated (NIST is very thorough), which in turn were used as inputs to the calculations of stress history for each support. Parts of the structure that were damaged or missing because of the airplane collision were accounted for, as was the introduction of combustible mass by the airplane.

Steel loses strength with heat. For the types of steel used in the WTC Towers (plain carbon, and vanadium steels) the trend is as follows, relative to 100% strength at habitable temperatures.

Table 2, Fractional Strength of Steel at Temperature

Temperature, degrees C      Fractional Strength, %
200                                     86
400                                     73
500                                     66
600                                     43
700                                     20
750                                     15
800                                     10

I use C for Centigrade, F for Fahrenheit, and do not use the degree symbol in this report.

The fires heated the atmosphere in the impact zone (a mixture of gases and smoke) to temperatures as high as 1100 C (2000 F). However, there was a wide variation of gas temperature with location and over time because of the migration of the fires toward new sources of fuel, a complicated and irregular interior geometry, and changes of ventilation over time (e.g., more windows breaking). Early after the impact, a floor might have some areas at habitable temperatures, and other areas as hot as the burning jet fuel, 1100 C. Later on, after the structure had absorbed heat, the gas temperature would vary over a narrower range, approximately 200 C to 700 C away from centers of active burning.

As can be seen from Table 2, steel loses half its strength when heated to about 570 C (1060 F), and nearly all once past 700 C (1300 F). Thus, the structure of the impact zone, with a temperature that varies between 200 C and 700 C near the time of collapse, will only have between 20% to 86% of its original strength at any location.

The steel frames of the WTC Towers were coated with “sprayed fire resistant materials” (SFRMs, or simply “thermal insulation”). A key finding of the NIST Investigation was that the thermal insulation coatings were applied unevenly — even missing in spots — during the construction of the buildings, and — fatally — that parts of the coatings were knocked off by the jolt of the airplane collisions.

Spraying the lumpy gummy insulation mixture evenly onto a web of structural steel, assuming it all dries properly and none is banged off while work proceeds at a gigantic construction site over the course of several years, is an unrealistic expectation. Perhaps this will change, as a “lesson learned” from the disaster. The fatal element in the WTC Towers story is that enough of the thermal insulation was banged off the steel frames by the airplane jolts to allow parts of frames to heat up to 700 C. I estimate the jolts at 136 times the force of gravity at WTC 1, and 204 at WTC 2.

The pivotal conclusion of the NIST fire safety investigation is perhaps best shown on page 32, in Chapter 3 of Volume 5G of the Final Report (NIST NCSTAR 1-5G WTC Investigation), which includes a graph from which I extracted the data in Table 2, and states the following two paragraphs. (The NIST authors use the phrase “critical temperature” for any value above about 570 C, when steel is below half strength.)


“As the insulation thickness decreases from 1 1/8 in. to 1/2 in., the columns heat up quicker when subjected to a constant radiative flux. At 1/2 in. the column takes approximately 7,250 s (2 hours) to reach a critical temperature of 700 C with a gas temperature of 1,100 C. If the column is completely bare (no fireproofing) then its temperature increases very rapidly, and the critical temperature is reached within 350 s. For a bare column, the time to reach a critical temperature of 700 C ranges between 350 to 2,000 s.

“It is noted that the time to reach critical temperature for bare columns is less than the one hour period during which the buildings withstood intense fires. Core columns that have their fireproofing intact cannot reach a critical temperature of 600 C during the 1 or 1 1/2 hour period. (Note that WTC 1 collapsed in approximately 1 1/2 hour, while WTC 2 collapsed in approximately 1 hour). This implies that if the core columns played a role in the final collapse, some fireproofing damage would be required to result in thermal degradation of its strength.” (3)



Airplane impact sheared columns along one face and at the building’s core. Within minutes, the upper block had transferred a portion of its weight from central columns in the impact zone, across a lateral support at the building crown called the “hat truss,” and down onto the three intact outer faces. Over the course of the next 56 minutes (WTC 2) and 102 minutes (WTC 1) the fires in the impact zone would weaken the remaining central columns, and this steadily increased the downward force exerted on the intact faces. The heat-weakened frames of the floors sagged, and this bowed the exterior columns inward at the levels of the impact zone. Because of the asymmetry of the damage, one of the three intact faces took up much of the mounting load. Eventually, it buckled inward and the upper block fell. (1)

Now, let’s explore heat further.

How Big Were These Fires?

I will approximate the size of a level (1 story) in each of the WTC Towers as a volume of 16,080 m^3 with an area of 4020 m^2 and a height of 4 m (4). Table 3 shows several ways of describing the total thermal energy released by the fires.

Table 3, Magnitude of Thermal Energy in Equivalent Weight of TNT

ITEM                                  WTC 1              WTC 2
energy (Q)                          8000 GJ           3000 GJ
# levels                              8                       6
tons of TNT                       1912                 717
tons/level                           239                  120
lb/level                               478,000           239,000
kg/m^2 (impact floors)       54                    27
lb/ft^2 (impact floors)         11                    6

The fires in WTC 1 released an energy equal to that of an explosion of 1.9 kilotons of TNT; the energy equivalent for WTC 2 is 717 tons. Obviously, an explosion occurs in a fraction of a second while the fires lasted an hour or more, so the rates of energy release were vastly different. Even so, this comparison may sharpen the realization that these fires could weaken the framework of the buildings significantly.

How Hot Did The Buildings Become?

Let us pretend that the framework of the building is made of “ironcrete,” a fictitious mixture of 72% iron and 28% concrete. This framework takes up 5.4% of the volume of the building, the other 94.6% being air. We assume that everything else in the building is combustible or an inert material, and the combined mass and volume of these are insignificant compared to the mass and volume of ironcrete. I arrived at these numbers by estimating volumes and cross sectional areas of metal and concrete in walls and floors in the WTC Towers.

The space between floors is under 4 meters; and the floors include a layer of concrete about 1/10 meter thick. The building’s horizontal cross-section was a 63.4 meter square. Thus, the gap between floors was nearly 1/10 of the distance from the center of the building to its periphery. Heat radiated by fires was more likely to become trapped between floors, and stored within the concrete floor pans, than it was to radiate through the windows or be carried out through broken windows by the flow of heated air. We can estimate a temperature of the framework, assuming that all the heat became stored in it.

The amount of heat that can be stored in a given amount of matter is a property specific to each material, and is called heat capacity. The ironcrete mixture would have a volumetric heat capacity of Cv = 2.8*10^6 joules/(Centigrade*m^3); (* = multiply). In the real buildings, the large area of the concrete pads would absorb the heat from the fires and hold it, since concrete conducts heat very poorly. The effect is to bath the metal frame with heat as if it were in an oven or kiln. Ironcrete is my homogenization of materials to simplify this numerical example.

The quantity of heat energy Q absorbed within a volume V of material with a volumetric heat capacity Cv, whose temperature is raised by an amount dT (for “delta-T,” a temperature difference) is Q = Cv*V*dT. We can solve for dT. Here, V = (870 m^3)*(# levels); also dT(1) corresponds to WTC 1, and dT(2) corresponds to WTC 2.

dT(1) = (8 x 10^12)/[(2.8 x 10^6)*(870)*8] = 410 C,

dT(2) = (3 x 10^12)/[(2.8 x 10^6)*(870)*6] = 205 C.

Our simple model gives a reasonable estimate of an average frame temperature in the impact zone. The key parameter is Q (for each building). NIST spent considerable effort to arrive at the Q values shown in Table 3 (3). Our model gives a dT comparable to the NIST results because both calculations deposit the same energy into about the same amount of matter. Obviously, the NIST work accounts for all the details, which is necessary to arrive at temperatures and stresses that are specific to every location over the course of time. Our equation of heat balance Q = Cv*V*dT is an example of the conservation of energy, a fundamental principle of physics.

Well, Can The Heat Weaken The Steel Enough?

On this, one either believes or one doesn’t believe. Our simple example shows that the fires could heat the frames into the temperature range NIST calculates. It seems entirely reasonable that steel in areas of active and frequent burning would experience greater heating than the averages estimated here, so hotspots of 600 C to 700 C seem completely believable. Also, the data for WTC Towers steel strength at elevated temperatures is not in dispute. I believe NIST; answer: yes.

Let us follow time through a sequence of thermal events.


The airplanes hurtling into the buildings with speeds of at least 200 m/s (450 mph) fragmented into exploding torrents of burning fuel, aluminum and plastic. Sparks generated from the airframe by metal fracture and impact friction ignited the mixture of fuel vapor and air. This explosion blew out windows and billowed burning fuel vapor and spray throughout the floors of the impact zone, and along the stairwells and elevator shafts at the center of the building; burning liquid fuel poured down the central shafts. Burning vapor, bulk liquid and droplets ignited most of what they splattered upon. The intense infrared radiation given off by the 1100 C (2000 F) flames quickly ignited nearby combustibles, such as paper and vinyl folders. Within a fraction of a second, the high pressure of the detonation wave had passed, and a rush of fresh air was sucked in through window openings and the impact gash, sliding along the tops of the floors toward the centers of intense burning.

Hot exhaust gases: carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2), water vapor (H2O), soot (carbon particles), unburned hydrocarbons (combinations with C and H), oxides of nitrogen (NOx), and particles of pulverized solids vented up stairwells and elevator shafts, and formed thick hot layers underneath floors, heating them while slowly edging toward the openings along the building faces. Within minutes, the aviation fuel was largely burned off, and the oxygen in the impact zone depleted.

Thermal Storage

Fires raged throughout the impact zone in an irregular pattern dictated by the interplay of the blast wave with the distribution of matter. Some areas had intense heating (1100 C), while others might still be habitable (20 C). The pace of burning was regulated by the area available for venting the hot exhaust gases, and the area available for the entry of fresh air. Smoke was cleared from the impact gash by air entering as the cycle of flow was established. The fires were now fueled by the contents of the buildings.

Geometrically, the cement floors had large areas and were closely spaced. They intercepted most of the infrared radiation emitted in the voids between them, and they absorbed heat (by conduction) from the slowly moving (“ventilation limited”) layer of hot gases underneath each of them. Concrete conducts heat poorly, but can hold a great deal of it. The metal reinforcing bars within concrete, as well as the metal plate underneath the concrete pad of each WTC Towers floor structure, would tend to even out the temperature distribution gradually.

This process of “preheating the oven” would slowly raise the average temperature in the impact zone while narrowing the range of extremes in temperature. Within half an hour, heat had penetrated to the interior of the concrete, and the temperature everywhere in the impact zone was between 200 C and 700 C, away from sites of active burning.

Thermal Decomposition — “Cracking”

Fire moved through the impact zone by finding new sources of fuel, and burning at a rate limited by the ventilation, which changed over time.

Heat within the impact zone “cracks” plastic into a sequence of decreasingly volatile hydrocarbons, similar to the way heat separates out an array of hydrocarbon fuels in the refining of crude oil. As plastic absorbs heat and begins to decompose, it emits hydrocarbon vapors. These may flare if oxygen is available and their ignition temperatures are reached. Also, plumes of mixed hydrocarbon vapor and oxygen may detonate. So, a random series of small explosions might occur during the course of a large fire.

Plastics not designed for use in high temperature may resemble soft oily tar when heated to 400 C. The oil in turn might release vapors of ethane, ethylene, benzene and methane (there are many hydrocarbons) as the temperature climbs further. All these products might begin to burn as the cracking progresses, because oxygen is present and sources of ignition (hotspots, burning embers, infrared radiation) are nearby. Soot is the solid end result of the sequential volatilization and burning of hydrocarbons from plastic. Well over 90% of the thermal energy released in the WTC Towers came from burning the normal contents of the impact zones.

Hot Aluminum

Aluminum alloys melt at temperatures between 475 C and 640 C, and molten aluminum was observed pouring out of WTC 2 (5). Most of the aluminum in the impact zone was from the fragmented airframe; but many office machines and furniture items can have aluminum parts, as can moldings, fixtures, tubing and window frames. The temperatures in the WTC Towers fires were too low to vaporize aluminum; however, the forces of impact and explosion could have broken some of the aluminum into small granules and powder. Chemical reactions with hydrocarbon or water vapors might have occurred on the surfaces of freshly granulated hot aluminum.

The most likely product of aluminum burning is aluminum oxide (Al2O3, “alumina”). Because of the tight chemical bonding between the two aluminum atoms and three oxygen atoms in alumina, the compound is very stable and quite heat resistant, melting at 2054 C and boiling at about 3000 C. The affinity of aluminum for oxygen is such that with enough heat it can “burn” to alumina when combined with water, releasing hydrogen gas from the water,

2*Al + 3*H2O + heat -> Al2O3 + 3*H2.

Water is introduced into the impact zone through the severed plumbing at the building core, moisture from the outside air, and it is “cracked” out of the gypsum wall panels and to a lesser extent from concrete (the last two are both hydrated solids). Water poured on an aluminum fire can be “fuel to the flame.”

When a mixture of aluminum powder and iron oxide powder is ignited, it burns to iron and aluminum oxide,

Al + Fe2O3 + ignition -> Al2O3 + Fe.

This is thermite. The reaction produces a temperature that can melt steel (above 1500 C, 2800 F). The rate of burning is governed by the pace of heat diffusion from the hot reaction zone into the unheated powder mixture. Granules must absorb sufficient heat to arrive at the ignition temperature of the process. The ignition temperature of a quiescent powder of aluminum is 585 C. The ignition temperatures of a variety of dusts were found to be between 315 C and 900 C, by scientists developing solid rocket motors. Burning thermite is not an accelerating chain reaction (“explosion”), it is a “sparkler.” My favorite reference to thermite is in the early 1950s motion picture, “The Thing.”

Did patches of thermite form naturally, by chance, in the WTC Towers fires? Could there really have been small bits of melted steel in the debris as a result? Could there have been “thermite residues” on pieces of steel dug out of the debris months later? Maybe, but none of this leads to a conspiracy. If the post-mortem “thermite signature” suggested that a mass of thermite comparable to the quantities shown in Table 3 was involved, then further investigation would be reasonable. The first task of such an investigation would be to produce a “chemical kinetics” model of the oxidation of the fragmented aluminum airframe, in some degree of contact to the steel framing, in the hot atmosphere of hydrocarbon fires in the impact zone. Once Nature had been eliminated as a suspect, one could proceed to consider Human Malevolence.

Smoldering Rubble

Nature is endlessly creative. The deeper we explore, the more questions we come to realize.

Steel columns along a building face, heated to between 200 C and 700 C, were increasingly compressed and twisted into a sharpening bend. With increasing load and decreasing strength over the course of an hour or more, the material became unable to rebound elastically, had the load been released. The steel entered the range of plastic deformation, it could still be stretched through a bend, but like taffy it would take on a permanent set. Eventually, it snapped.

Months later, when this section of steel would be dug out of the rubble pile, would the breaks have the fluid look of a drawn out taffy, or perhaps “melted” steel now frozen in time? Or, would these be clean breaks, as edge glass fragments; or perhaps rough, granular breaks as through concrete?

The basements of the WTC Towers included car parks. After the buildings collapsed, it is possible that gasoline fires broke out, adding to the heat of the rubble. We can imagine many of the effects already described, to have occurred in hot pockets within the rubble pile. Water percolating down from that sprayed by the Fire Department might carry air down also, and act as an oxidizing agent.

The tight packing of the debris from the building, and the randomization of its materials would produce a haphazard and porous form of ironcrete aggregate: chunks of steel mixed with broken and pulverized concrete, with dust-, moisture-, and fume-filled gaps. Like a pyramid of barbecue briquettes, the high heat capacity and low thermal conductivity of the rubble pile would efficiently retain its heat.

Did small hunks of steel melt in rubble hot spots that had just the right mix of chemicals and heat? Probably unlikely, but certainly possible.

Pulverized concrete would include that from the impact zone, which may have had part of its water driven off by the heat. If so, such dust would be a desiccating substance (as is Portland cement prior to use; concrete is mixed sand, cement and water). Part of the chronic breathing disorders experienced by many people exposed to the atmosphere at the World Trade Center during and after 9/11/01 may be due to the inhalation of desiccating dust, now lodged in lung tissue.

Did the lingering hydrocarbon vapors and fumes from burning dissolve in water and create acid pools? Did the calcium-, silicon-, aluminum-, and magnesium-oxides of pulverized concrete form salts in pools of water? Did the sulfate from the gypsum wall panels also acidify standing water? Did acids work on metal surfaces over months, to alter their appearance?

In the enormity of each rubble pile, with its massive quantity of stored heat, many effects were possible in small quantities, given time to incubate. It is even possible that in some little puddle buried deep in the rubble, warmed for months in an oven-like enclosure of concrete rocks, bathed in an atmosphere of methane, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and perhaps a touch of oxygen, that DNA was formed.


[1] MANUEL GARCIA, Jr., “The Physics of 9/11,” Nov. 28, 2006, [search in the Counterpunch archives of November, 2006 for this report and its two companions; one on the mechanics of building collapse, and the other an early and not-too-inaccurate speculative analysis of the fire-induced collapse of WTC 7.]

[2] “Executive Summary, Reconstruction of the Fires in the World Trade Center Towers,” NIST NCSTAR 1-5, , (28 September 2006). NIST = National Institute of Standards and Technology, NCSTAR = National Construction Safety Team Advisory Committee.

[3] “Fire Structure Interface and Thermal Response of the World Trade Center Towers,” NIST NCSTAR1-5G, (draft supporting technical report G),, (28 September 2006), Chapter 3, page 32 (page 74 of 334 of the electronic PDF file).

[4] 1 m = 3.28 ft;    1 m^2 = 10.8 ft^2;    1 m^3 = 35.3 ft^3;    1 ft = 0.31 m;    1 ft^2 = 0.93 m^2;    1 ft^3 = 0.28 m^3.

[5] “National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Federal Building and Fire Safety Investigation of the World Trade Center Disaster, Answers to Frequently Asked Questions,” (11 September 2006).


This article originally appeared as:

The Thermodynamics of 9/11
28 November 2006


Fire Evacuations vs. Homelessness Abatement

Just in from the edge of the fire zone at Annadel Park, Santa Rosa, in Sonoma County, California, U.S.A., on 18 October 2017. Fires in this vicinity raged from 8-17 October 2017.

Fire Evacuations vs. Homelessness Abatement

An advocate for the homeless (Miles Sarvis-Wilburn) just posted on his blog (link below) a criticism of Sonoma County (CA, U.S.A.) for working so hard and spending so much to help the county’s well-housed residents avoid the catastrophe of wildfires (during October 2017) destroying their homes and threatening their lives and prosperity, yet failing to eliminate the chronic homelessness of the county’s destitute street-people. Mr. Sarvis-Wilburn called this “hypocrisy.” The following is my reply to this argument.


This is the U.S.A., it’s all about the money. The chronically homeless population in Sonoma County is a small fraction of the county’s population, and the current public expenses for them are not monumental (and I am sympathetic to the reasonable and compassionate arguments for increasing that public spending: federal, state and local).

Tens of thousands of Santa Rosa city and Sonoma County residents (normally well housed) were displaced by evacuations during the October Fires (I heard the number 70,000 at one point). The Herculean task of fighting the vast fires to save those homes and residences (rental housing, trailer parks and hotels, where possible) was clearly in large part motivated by instinctive human solidarity: to save lives and prevent and alleviate suffering.

However, another motivation in the public interest was to save housing stock to prevent suddenly having a huge increase in the local long-term homeless population (many aged), and thus a huge increase in unanticipated local public expenses.

The solution to the problem of chronic homelessness is known and has been successfully implemented elsewhere: provide secure affordable (i.e., free) housing for the homeless. Once street-living people are securely housed (and fed), social service professionals have a much easier time helping such people overcome the numerous other problems that bedevil their lives, and which overwhelmed them to the point of becoming homeless.

This solution has been found to be cost-effect because it eliminates many public nuisances = public expenses created by having people-in-need living on the streets indefinitely.

Also, and most crassly, preventing the homes and neighborhoods of secure tax-paying residents from being incinerated, and those residents becoming impoverished, bankrupt or fleeing the area, would prevent a drastic loss of revenue for local governments, and a loss of trade (income) for local businesses. The economic motivation to fight the fires is: to prevent a sag, even collapse, of the local economy.

What prevents, or at least slows, the elimination of homelessness in the U.S.A. is simply the individual and organized selfishness, which we in the U.S.A. call “conservative” politics and “free market” economy and personal “freedom,” as opposed to the “wasteful-pay-for-the-losers” political attitude known as “socialism,” which is disliked by “conservatives” because it “raises taxes” and in general makes greedy people apprehensive about not being able to get as much as they lust for.


Fire Evacuations vs. Homelessness Abatement,
Miles Sarvis-Wilburn’s criticism of Sonoma County


Why the Columbine and Las Vegas Massacres?

After the 1999 school massacre in Columbine, Colorado – an exurbia community – by two disaffected teenage boys (who also killed themselves), I came to the conclusion that the killers’ “motive” was not at all a purposeful urge, goal, revenge or obsession, but instead a complete self-abandonment into nihilism – a giving up – and the horrible eruption of that destructive nihilism was a symptom of those boys’ lack of culture – an abysmal lack of culture. I see the same about Stephen Paddock, the shooter in Las Vegas; his fury to kill emerged out of a profound lack of culture.

It seems to me that these rapid-fire suicide-killers had been born into and raised (probably somewhat thoughtlessly) in a cultural void. Their world was a generic beyond-suburbia commuter outpost of sprawl, malls, video games and Internet pablum and porn, instead of real books of literature, real art instead of plastic flamingo-level decorations, and real music instead of throwaway canned between-commercials pop. They had never absorbed real culture, which is the emotional and intellectual glue that binds an individual to the wider human communities both in the present and through the long arc of time.

Those boys (young and old) had lives of material ease, but they had absolutely no spirit because the nurturing and feeding of the spirit – the essential purpose of culture – was absent from their lives. I believe the spiritual-cultural hollowness of their cores was a reflection of the spiritual-cultural desert that was their environment.

By their late teens the two Columbine killers had had enough of it, and could see nothing in their possible 60 to 70 years of future living except more of the same. That “more of the same” is the listless life Stephen Paddock lived until he too had had enough, at age 64. As they looked into their futures the Columbine teens could have thought that maybe they could become insurance agents or realtors, or some other “normal” occupation that would see them harnessed to the spinning wheels of pointless money-making. And they would have their free time to be just as hollow as their comfort-providing work would be: more video games or video poker?, hanging out at the same beer joints with the same kind of empty-headed crowd?, watching another game on TV?, getting married and keeping up the same kind of families they had grown up in?

What would be the point? It was like looking down an arrow-straight empty four-lane freeway across a dry-lake salt-flat that stretched out to their 80th year and led to nothing but a dead end. Why spend the better part of a century bored, waiting to get to nowhere after having spent the whole trip doing nothing because nobody cared anyway, and end up just as useless as they were now, then die unnoticed and thereafter remain forgotten? Why not cut out all the slow stuff, the boring, tiresome waiting and pointless work, and just get one incredible orgasmically exciting machine-gun humping high, and then check out in a blink before the let-down set in?

I think it is the deep, personal absorption of and sensitivity to culture, and even tradition, that fills a psyche with the substance needed for living life joyfully; and the substance which occupies what would otherwise be a spiritual-cultural void that can only produce interminable lassitude or explosions of destructive nihilism erupting out of deeply submerged despair.

I think the appreciative absorption of culture, along with the received gifts of affectionate nurturing, kind friendship and confident love, are the necessary courses in a complete education of the human heart. I see major tragedies like the Columbine and Las Vegas massacres, as well as so many little-noticed murders of the same sort, to be the result of our society’s many failures at providing all our people with that necessary education of the heart.

I was prompted to write these comments after reading the following article, pointed out to me by Anthony Tarrant.

I went to School with the Vegas Shooter
Greg Palast
13 October 2017

See Anthony’s comments at his blog page:

Why Stephen Paddock Snapped In Vegas
15 October 2017


The photo above is of John F. Kennedy’s grave as it appeared in April 1964. My photos of this grave are the only ones I have with any relation to guns and gun violence.


Now published at Dissident Voice:

Why the Columbine and Las Vegas Massacres?
18 October 2017


A Day with Ella – #822


A Day with Ella – #822

It was a perfect day.
It started with mother waking us both far too early,
and on such a damp chilly morning,
a holiday for us, mother rushed off to work.
As always,
you had to have your way,
so we were in the park while the ducks were still sleeping,
one leg up and bills tucked in back under a wing,
the pond glassy still,
white tufts of down spread over its waxy surface.
The swings were coated in dew
and I used all but one of my pocketed paper napkins
to wipe one dry for you,
and after a minute you were all done.
Swinging through the quiet chill of heavy morning air,
just you and I alone in the entire park –
besides the sleeping ducks –
is not much fun as it was on Saturday,
a balmy sunny day with children laughing and playing everywhere.
You reached for a high bar to swing out on
but the dew-coated metal slipped right through your hand
and you landed on your back in wet sand –
shocked, hurt, angry.
I had to hold you in my arm,
brushing off the sand
as your cry filled the empty quiet over the pond.
I held you that way a long time,
through the park, around the town,
and later back at home.
We spent the whole day together,
never more than an arm’s length apart.
We washed a little,
sampled the aromas of all the herbs and spices –
some things must spill, it’s not important –
and we made a tent,
a big one with three chairs and a quilt,
then we went inside and turned on our flashlights.
It was very funny being in that tent,
quiet too, you hardly heard the rain pattering on the roof.
In the end, you fell asleep on my chest,
while I slumped on the couch,
listening to Mozart piano music
and motets by Thomas Tallis.
As Spem in alium floated into the corners of the room
and your warm heaviness sank into my heart,
misty rain filled the forest on our mountain
and I began to reclaim some of the oceans of sleep that I’ve lost
these last two or so years.
I know it was a perfect day.

21 January 2002


Waking The Dead, Redeeming The Living


Waking The Dead, Redeeming The Living

“They make a wasteland, and call it peace.”
— Cornelius Tacitus

“Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that His justice will not
sleep forever.”
— Thomas Jefferson

Noam Chomsky,
Christopher Hitchens,
Robert Bly,
Thich Nhat Hanh.

From the exact to the sublime,
the timely to the timeless,
the perceptive to the transcendent,
my mind begins to awaken to the magnitude of the crime,
my mind begins to open to my complicity in the evil —

The Black Wall in Washington
is not a monument to dead soldiers,
it is a continuous dirge to a nation’s lost honor,
an innocence lost over and over again,
a loss of soul.
Nothing can ever be right until we expiate that crime,
a crime that continues
by the willful ignorance, the convenient unknowing
of we who enjoy the bounty of this American life.

Oh, dear God, don’t call us to accounts for a thousand years!
for it would take at least that long — even if we tried —
to compensate for the enormity we have created;
and yet,
how sad to think our gods could be so cold,
our universe could be so empty and soulless,
that retribution for such evil could not possibly arrive —
even tomorrow.
What other comfort can the peasantry of the world have
as they shiver under the lengthening shadow
of our remorseless empire?

Monsoon-soaked ground bubbles up mines like a deranged apocalypse —
playthings for children —
and rivulets of poison trickle out of air-dropped wastelands
to seep into the veins of a new generation
and wither its fruit in the womb;
and here, in Jefferson’s land of the “ignorant and free,
in a state of civilization” that “never was and never will be,”
reflection on a withering career bubbles up memories,
fresh, gnawing, immune to time’s erosion,
buoyant against convenient forgetting,
stinging in their rebuke against my compliance to the course of evil.
Yes, even us little nobodies are faced with moral challenges,
inconveniently, unfairly, when we are young, when we are fragile.
We survive, we connive, we comply,
we feed our children and make our way,
but dare not hold out a cupped hand of water
to Jesus on his way to Golgotha.
My God, think what it would do to your career —
our future.
So we let others stretch out their hands
and we survive, quietly, into this future —
are we proud of it?
what great truth and what measure of courage
do you pass onto your children setting off on their own?
“Do you remember the Vietnam War, dad?”

We tell our children nothing about this,
we lie, we deny,
we glorify garbage myths for commercial exploitation,
we honor our greatest living war criminals
with prizes, bank presidencies, book contracts, speaking fees,
and we honor our greatest dead war criminals
by naming airports for them, by entombing them in televised temples.

Yes, I remember the Vietnam War.
I was not brave,
I did not challenge evil,
I looked out for myself,
and I am here.
All I can offer you is the truth,
and hope in that to find some redemption for my moral weakness,
and some grace in awakening you to greater good,
to deeper meaning,
to honest judgment that unfolds in your actions.

I want to cleanse my children’s country,
I want to cleanse my soul — in this world;
let the trials begin.

25 June 2001