Thursday, September 1, 2011

9/11 + 10

On the 10-year anniversary of the World Trade Center attack, it is time to share a note written the morning after.


"When you are going through hell, keep going." Winston Churchill

San Antonio (6:30 am, Wednesday, 12 September 2001)

As some readers may know, I have had the honor of serving as SEG Editor for the last two years. With this job go certain responsibilities, time commitments, and priority adjustments. For me, one casualty of this process was the Seismos column which had appeared at erratic intervals since 1992. As my term drew to a close there were requests that I restart Seismos -- they were few, but sincere.

The way it works is this. The new Editor takes over at the close of the annual meeting, which is typically noon Thursday. (So someone with an eye for detail will realize that as I write this I am still Editor for a day-and-a-half.) It seemed natural to mark the end of my term with the (re)beginning of Seismos. I even had a topic. Back in 1992 I wrote a column on ancient Greek seismology, called it Part I, and promised the imminent delivery of Part II, which never came. But now it would, and -- who knows? -- I might win some kind of infamous notoriety for the longest publishing gap in the history of the Society.

To help celebrate all of this I invited my son David (age 16) to San Antonio. He arrived on Monday afternoon and with the help of Larry Rairden and his Porsche 911 we got back to the hotel in time for the Editor's Dinner. At this event the Editor recognizes all those who keep the Society publications going through remarkable volunteer efforts. There were about ninety people in the room and it was a wonderful dinner party; friends, family, laughs and introduction of my successor Gerard Herman. Our scientific and popular press is in very good hands.

It was an early night for me because the nest morning would bring the speaker's breakfast at 7:30, followed by the TLE Forum on Geophysics and the Environment which I was to chair.

David and I scrambled out of bed in time for the breakfast. From there it was a blur of meeting with other session chairmen, final room arrangements and last minute notes. The session began at 8:30 am.

Things went along more or less as expected till about 10 o'clock. The speaker at this point was Dennis Wright, a biologist with Canada Fisheries. At some point I noticed our AV technition, James, had come around behind the speaker's podium to speak with me. In a surreal, slow motion scene I squatted with my ear tilted to hear him over the speaker as he laid out in brief terms the unfolding horror in the world; two hijacked civilian jets, World Trade Center, Pentagon...

I returned to my seat and sat in silence as the speaker continued. A curious mixture of numb shock and darting thoughts washed over me. Then James came again with a printed document and instructions to have me interrupt and read it to the room. With Dennis still at the podium I touched his arm, he stopped, and using the table microphone I read the text from my seat at the table.

"SEG Delegates and Guests: We have a very important announcement...[full text]... and will provide announcements regarding any change in the conference status."

I can make no claim to have handled this well. My voice quavered adn I sat reading while the speaker was stranded at the podium. I offered an open question to the room whether we should proceed or stop the Forum -- someone somewhere nodded and I caught his eye, no one else seemed to move. I took this small affirmation and turned my question to the pane where there was clear spirit to continue. Last (how insensitive can a session chairman be?), I turned to Dennis and asked if he would like to continue. To his great credit, he carried on and finished the talk. Jack Cladwell, our final speaker, did the same. Remarkable people on a remarkable day.

The forum ended, we had lunch on the Riverwalk, then David and I walked evey inch of the exhibition floor. He colleccted every freebie in the place and met dozens of my friends. We did not watch CNN as I resolved early to gt my information in print to filter out the inane real-time speculations.

So my Greek Seismology II Seismos column will have to wait a bit longer. But I will work on it. I will work on it as the world deals with fear and hate and reprisal.

I will work on it while the world changes.

First page of the note hand-written on 9/12/2001.

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