All Panoramas, All The Time

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“But you can just use your phone to make those, right?”

Technically right. But it wouldn’t be possible to take the one above, which is a long exposure, panoramic selfie. Who would hold the camera?

But the panoramas I’m making these days are a tad more involved than ones from the phone. These are all panoramas made with a DSLR camera and a neutral density filter, using the degrees settings on my brand-new tripod. I love panoramas and I only just learned how to do this in February (in beautiful Rocky Mountain National Park).

The main differences between a phone panorama and one done on a DSLR are the precision with which I can focus, and the level of resolution that is possible. In each of these photos, there is more than one frame blended into each other to form a single image. This is the best way that I can capture what the high Alps here in Italy really look like, given that they are so impressive and GIANT in person.

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I don’t have Photoshop at the minute, so it’s difficult to pull off the kinds of Focus Stacking that many landscape photographers use these days. The idea is to have focus all the way through the image, which is something that can only be done with several images blended together. By blending several frames with different focus points together into a panoramic shot, I can achieve a similar look without the use of Photoshop. This is the best example of the technique.

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I love learning new things, and this summer will most likely be full of photographic opportunities. There’s a gallery to view them in more detail below. Keep coming back to see more!

Things that seems normal after three months in Vietnam but actually aren’t if you stop to think about it for a second

I open the Italy lock on the door to our apartment complex. It’s a clunky dimple lock, the kind that it supposed to be secure. For extra security, we have a small hole through which we must put our hand to unlock it from the outside. Measures against bolt cutters.

I pull my bike outside and lock the door through the tiny hole. Then I’m on my way, one of the bustling ant people on the roads in this city of eight million. My commute mirrors the ant superhighway in our house, except that we’re following roads instead of pheromone trails.

It was hard for me to come up with this list, because the things on it have become so normalised.

I want to emphasise that for the most part, our life here is ridiculously comfortable. I feel very happy indeed living in Hanoi. It’s not always easy, but that’s precisely why we wanted to live here.

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That said, this is definitely not a familiar place when you first arrive. I described Hanoi back in April as:

Bustling, but not stressful. Loud, tempered by silence after curfew. Trust and intense connection with a human community, such as must have once existed in major cities all over the world but which is vanishingly rare in 2017. It’s not always confortable, oh no. It’s real, though. It sweeps you up an makes you think about what you’ve been missing, living in a boxy gray concrete apartment and ignoring your neighbours every time you misfortune to find yourselves in the same hallway. If you’ve become a city person, you can eventually relax into it.

And it still is. Despite the fact that I’m tired a lot of the time from teaching, and that I don’t have the certainty that living in the Western world supposedly grants (but doesn’t actually follow through with), I love my time in Vietnam. For Teacher’s Day we went on a bicycle tour and rode through the banana fields that are about 3km from our apartment. I had no idea they were there.

Hanoi is still surprising me. But much is becoming a new home.

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We thought of many of these sitting at Epoque Furniture/Cafe store (which is basically someone’s rooftop of the house converted to bring in a few people for coffee, tea, and cocktails). These situations  feel totally normal after three months in Vietnam (but actually aren’t).

 

  1. Loose, live chickens scratching happily in the gutter outside your cafe
  2. Piles of burning fake money on the sidewalk every 15th and 30th of the lunar month
  3. The infamous ‘bum gun’ in place of toilet paper in all placesdsc_0168-01-1990794196.jpeg
  4. The hardcore gastrointestinal crossfit workout which Russell terms a ‘Vietnamese Poop Cannon’ once a week (at least)
  5. Clapping one’s hands when entering an alleyway, toilet block, garden, or classroom and saying, “Ho, rat!” to scare them off before you see them
  6. Purposefully squashed rats like so many bloodied pancakes outside of schools22548576_10105628614593133_6958832645589720001_o
  7. Ordering something, setting a time for delivery, and having a company call you after the appointment time to ask, “Did you order XYZ?”
  8. Setting a time for an appointment and having people be shocked and unprepared that you are there at the time you stated
  9. Setting an appointment and being asked to ‘take a seat’ for 10-30 minutes
  10. Setting an appointment and being stood up completely
  11. Setting an appointment, changing it according to a message you receive from the person you make the appointment with, and then having a very angry person on the other end of a phone line wondering where on Earth you are
  12. Setting an appointment, forgetting that naptime is from 11:00-14:00 and getting no message about whether the person is coming or not (because they are napping, of course)
  13. A sense greater than in any other place I’ve lived (yes, even Chile or Italy) that there is not a shared cultural sense of timewp-image-1118353373
  14. Pour over coffee (something I’d never seen until 2017 and now my very favourite. I even did a taste test in May)
  15. Sweating through clothing so rapidly that you take three-four showers per day and have to change at lunchtime
  16. Napping anywhere and everywhere at anytime
  17. The excuse, “She’s just very lazy” being not so much a bad thing as a character description without malice
  18. Near misses  on the roads twice weekly (Your weekly sphincter checks! Hope it’s not Poop Cannon day!)
  19. Headlights that looks like searchlights in the night because of the combined humidity and air quality IMG_8956
  20. A single, non-gender correct person dubbing all the voices on a TV show
  21. 22 C being ‘very cold’
  22. Shoe shiners at every cafe, constantly pointing out the sorry state of your worn out shoes (can’t buy new ones because my feet are huge here)
  23. Wearing suiting to go out and have a coffee with all the others in suits having coffee
  24. Eating at a place that makes you think, “Oh well, if I die tonight from eating this, it was worth it.”
  25. Government speakers on lightpoles to make announcements and wake everyone for morning exercise
  26. The fact that “I never do morning exercise” is one of the most shocking statements I’ve made in front of my studentsIMG_9301
  27. Thinking something that costs $2 US is really quite expensive
  28. Wondering why I can’t seem to find XYZ for our house and realising that labour is so cheap here that everything from hairdrying to vacuming is a job for someone in the city
  29. Merging across all lanes of fast traffic with mopeds flying everywhere, doing a U-turn, and then immediately merging across all lanes of traffic again to make a right turn on the other side of the road22366386_10105602467791533_4775423928414036272_n
  30. Questioning whether any product I pick up is authentic or not (and then deciding whether to care if it isn’t)
  31. Tailored clothing being cheaper than off-the-rack for the same quality
  32. Devastating headaches after enduring 76 decibels as the ‘low volume’ of my classes for 70 minutes, and then walking straight back in to another class again
  33. College students who shout, “Hello!” just like five year olds when we pass them having coffee near their classes for the 50th day in a row
  34. Takeout delivery that is from the whole menu of a restaurant, not just pizza
  35. Dragonfruit (riper than in China)
  36. Wedding pavilions that appear on the sidewalk overnight and disappear about 24 hours laterIMG_8576
  37. Children’s clothing with really inappropriate sayings in English on it (favourite so far = “Mother Fucking Airplane” on a pink sweater)
  38. People saying, “Yes” when they probably mean, “No, not at all.”
  39. Wondering where ‘Shoe Street,’ ‘Plant Street,’ ‘Tea Street,’ ‘LED Street,’ or ‘Golden Monkey Replica Street’ are and being dead serious about it
  40. Christmas of course being an excuse to have sales, but not a day off work
  41. Writing ‘No Youtube English’ on the board as a rule because students continuously use the phrase, ‘Fuck you, bitch’ to disagree mildly
  42. Dressing well above my pay grade wp-image-899568256
  43. 35-50 students per class
  44. A totally unrelated hoarse voice after Monday’s classes
  45. Bad behaviour moving from class to class within a school like a malevolent zeitgeist, infecting each group in turn and making a good day of hard work suspect (Who will fall to the star-decimation next?)
  46. Students fighting with rulers constantly
  47. Wondering if making shivs and shanks is actually an instinctual behaviour for the genus Homo, given how young the stabby classes are and how pervasive the drive to sharpen one’s ruler appears to be

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    Make sure the small child doesn’t have a shiv before approaching (in any country)

  48. Dodging typhoons for all of autumn (I dodged two on the day I arrived to Vietnam, one near Taipei and the other here in Hanoi)
  49. Wearing my hair in styles that work with a helmet (in other words, only low braids and low ponytails)
  50. Sheer exhaustion come 22:00

It’s been a long time coming, this list. I find myself with lots of hours off, but tons to do during them to be truly ready for my work (or at least, tons of relaxing to do to be mentally calm enough to do the work).

 

Ten Things You Don’t Know About Immigration

Hey readers, this article got picked up by Economy, a website devoted to demystifying economics and making it personal. Check out the version that got published here. 

Being married doesn’t always help you to live in the same country

I’m from the States. My husband is English. This is a problem, in spite of the ‘special relationship’ between our countries, we are not allowed to live in either country at this time. We can visit under visa wavier programmes, but we cannot work in the same place without residency. We therefore choose to live in 3rd countries, where we are both subject to the same visa process.

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Sign here, dear…

I do not get tax breaks associated with marriage due to my husband’s non-citizen status. Both our immigration records include notes that we should be asked more questions at the border due to being married to a citizen. We are separated temporarily right now, me in the US and him in the UK. We chose to spend three weeks in Vietnam in part because we knew we could be together as spouses.

Money matters much more than it should

Did you know that one can purchase a passport in some countries? Yes, if you happen to have $3,000,000 lying about you can buy the right to vote in elections and pass freely through borders. Recently my own government (er, excuse me, the Kushner firm that happens to be tied directly to President Trump) was accused of selling access to the US Green Card programme for just $500,000 in China. 

The thing is, this is an official programme called the EB-5 visa.

The Kushners did not invent it. Those who apply need not worry like the plebs about a criminal history or health problems. Who knows how many Green Cards are being bought already?

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Those who dare to fall in love with a foreigner face serious financial difficulties in the US and the UK. In the UK, one has to have £18,600 to bring a a spouse over. That might not sound like much, but according to some estimates it is more than 41% of the population could come up with, more than what 55% of women could. Every child that is part of the family ‘costs’ an extra £2,400 per year.

If you are disabled, unemployed, or even a war veteran you cannot use your public funds to prove you have enough money for the right to family life. Money matters, not family bonds.

Immigration can make you sick

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Shingles. April 2015. I got so stressed out by the Chinese Visa process that the Varicella virus dormant in my spinal cord since preschool burst forth on my forehead, scorching scars and leaving a trail of nerve damage in its wake. Let me tell you, there is a reason they call shingles ‘hellfire’ in many Scandanavian languages.

Immigrants suffer under the stress, and own health is commonly affected. Anxiety and depression are more common among immigrants than the general population, and not being covered by healthcare available to local citizens can take a toll. Many suffer insomnia around their applications, too.

Health exams are still common (and invasive)

When I taught my students in China about Ellis Island, they were universally horrified that a health exam was required to enter the USA at the time. I sputtered. The next day I brought part of my immigration records for China, which was the clean result of my own health exam.

At Ellis Island, you had about six seconds to prove you were healthy and fit for work. In the suburbs of Shanghai, we spent two hours undergoing a full physical, an exhaustive questionnaire about mental and physical health, a blood workup, a chest X-ray, and an abdominal ultrasound. Both health exams are awful, and most people who’ve never applied to work abroad don’t realise this remains a requirement.

It’s the same for each work permit I’ve obtained. The health exam cannot be skipped for many other visa categories, either. If I do decide to apply to live in England, I would have to do the same.

It’s not as simple as ‘Filing the Paperwork’

Paperwork should be straightforward. Immigration paperwork requires a lawyer. Or at least lawyer’s eyes. A single stray mark or the wrong coloured pen and your application could be rejected. I dream stress dreams about not checking a single box correctly in an application form and spending weeks or months separated from my husband.

On the upside, I am more organised than I have ever been in my life these days as a result of immigration. Some files that couples create for their spousal visas are more than 1000 pages long, with love letters (on paper, Facebook doesn’t count!), photographs, tax documents, and interview transcripts. It’s a huge undertaking, and is less like applying for a new Driver’s License and more like jumping into unknown, freezing waters.

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Catch-22s pervade everything

‘So what’s your husband’s Social Security Number?’

‘He can’t have one yet, since he’s not a resident.’

‘Well, I can’t add him to the bank account without one.’

‘Ummm, but we can’t apply for residency until we have a shared bank account.’

‘Ummmmmmmmmmm.’

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You must have a job to work, but to get a job you must already be in country for the interview. You must have enough money to live in London, but you must not work more than 20 hours per week. You will be trained for a degree by a top university in country, but are required to leave before your graduation ceremony.

Elections have a direct effect, almost always

Trump. Brexit.

Enough said.

It takes years to immigrate

A fellow nomadic travel blogger, Runaway Juno, just received her immigrant visa to the USA recently. She posted herself happily with the page-sized sticker in her Korean Passport, the relief after 14 months of application and processing to join her spouse flowing out of the portrait itself. Once she passes her final border interview and moves to the US, she still has to fulfill many other requiresments before she can be secure in her status.

In many countries, one cannot even apply for residency until having lived there for 5-10 years.

We spoke to a lawyer in Boulder after we got engaged, and she said that although we could apply from outside the US it would take about 18 months on average to receive the Green Card. It is unpredictable and fluid, the length of time for a visa. A lot of hurry up and wait. Sometimes, a scramble for the right documents when the email comes down demanding them right fucking then or the whole thing is off. In the UK, the Home Office makes a call when one applies for ‘indefinite leave to remain’ about whether they require five years or ten of residency.

Months. Years.

Permanent Residency is not the same as citizenship and isn’t always permanent

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In both the UK and the USA this year, several groups of ‘permanent’ residents were told that they could not re-enter or leave the country, or that they should make plans to leave. Some, such as EU spouses who’ve lived in the UK for 20+ years, have no other place to go back to. A few such examples:

Even if one follows all the rules, permanent residents do not enjoy voting rights in most districts. They cannot leave the country of their residency for periods longer than six months or less. They are required to check in with immigration officials and any minor infractions may result in issues. They still have to go through separate immigration lines in many airports, away from family.

Immigrants also look like me

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I tell my family who lean right to imagine my face, to pull it up before their eyes in the ballot box. I tell them to picture me every time someone uses the word ‘immigrant’ in a political rally. I do this because of the sneaking suspicion that they don’t know any immigrants, or that they don’t realise that my family (their family) is directly impacted by their choices in elections. Or that they think immigrants are some Other who looks nothing like them.

Yes, immigrants look like people from every place on Earth, and there are more than 300 million of us. That’s more than at any other time in human history.

To put that into nationalistic terms, we are almost as large as the whole United States’ population, scattered as we are around the world.

Humans are by nature adventurers. We left our species’ origins and spread around the globe long before immigration papers and passports had ever even been close to being imagined. There is evidence to suggest that we share a common vision of what a beautiful nature landscape looks like, and many of the descriptions put together by social scientists include a path arching off into the distance.

Immigrants have always been the ones to take that path.

This nation of immigrants is not going anywhere (strictly metaphorically speaking), and we will continue to grow. Talk to us. Seek us out. Connect with us. If necessary, defend us. You never know when you may have to join us. Don’t worry. There is a lot of space. Welcome, friends.

Hanoi

Unexpectedly, we find ourselves unemployed.

“What are we going to do?”

“I dunno. Vietnam?”

This was a condensed version of a conversation from March that we had. We’d always wanted to go to southeast Asia. We knew it was cheap. We knew that we liked Vietnamese food, eating it most Sundays before going out to hike in Busan. We wanted to be in the same place for a few weeks before going back to our ‘own’ (less and less, yearly diminishing returns on sense of nationality) countries.

Vietnam or Bali was the choice. I’m sure that Bali is great in many ways, but I’m really happy we went with Vietnam.

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Hanoi 2017

Vibrant is a term that I never truly new the definition of until I walked through the Old Quarter of Hanoi. It’s thrown around in the travelsphere like a talisman; Look how vibrant this costume is! This rickshaw ride showed us so much vibrancy in the city! The people are so vibrant! You know that you’ve read these descriptions of the many places that travel bloggers now travel and blog.

But Vietnam is actually vibrant.

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Bustling, but not stressful. Loud, tempered by silence after curfew. Trust and intense connection with a human community, such as must have once existed in major cities all over the world but which is vanishingly rare in 2017. It’s not always confortable, oh no. It’s real, though. It sweeps you up an makes you think about what you’ve been missing, living in a boxy gray concrete apartment and ignoring your neighbours every time you misfortune to find yourselves in the same hallway. If you’ve become a city person, you can eventually relax into it.

Hanoi’s Old Quarter has streets for everything. There may well still be guilds, functioning as ever within the ancient and less-ancient city walls. They each make and sell different things. There is fan street. Coffee street. Knickknack street. Beer street. Grave marker street. Wedding street. Bead street. Jade street. Everywhere people, all the time. Except after 23:00. That’s the city-wide curfew.

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Hanoi is walking, eating, walking (always slowly, zen masters crossing the traffic in all directions at each intersection), beer, eating, coffee, walking, eating, bia hoi (fresh beer), eating, ice cream, beer, sleeping. On weekends the city centre becomes a playground for the children, zooming around on hand-modified hoverboards that they sit on and make dart around the ankles of adults. Traditional music is played on street corners, mixed with modern pop and Ed Sheeran’s intractable beats.

Hanoi is a steam room in the afternoon, a mobile sauna that sweats out all the toxins in your body without the need for pretentious terms like ‘wellness’ and ‘sterilisation.’

Hanoi is every meal as the best thing I’ve ever eaten. Hanoi is wanting to learn how to make all this abundance and knowing that the only real way would be to apprentice with one of the vanishing grannies who knows the old ways.

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Hanoi is desperately human, and overwhelmingly successful. Abject poverty is not the ever-present albatross around a traveller’s neck that Mumbai gifts you the moment you leave the international airport. People are, truly, ‘Happy Enough.’

Hanoi is relaxing in the din. It feels like a place I’ve always been looking for, especially since falling in love with the loud and ancient feeling of Napoli more than eight years ago. A real city. Hanoi is not as old as Napoli, but it feels like the city will be much the same in 100, or even 1000 years. The thread of humanity living in citites, holding on and making do and keeping going, not giving up but not getting all big in the head about how awesome everything is and is going to be. That was a crazy, disorganised thought. But that’s how Hanoi is.

May it always be so.

On September 11th

A woman at the bar when I came in this afternoon:

“Well, he’s a foreigner.” She spat the word. “He’s a dicksucker, but I mean what do you expect?”

I think my eyebrows lifted off my forehead and were lost somewhere in my hairline. But I don’t know what to expect in the US these days, to be honest.I haven’t lived here full-time since 2009, and I notice differences. I quickly folded my face back into something resembling neutral, but I know the girl with short hair saw my hastily-hidden shock. I ordered a Golden Mosaic and went to sit in the sauna-like bier garden out back.


It’s downright weird to be here on September 11th. That day seems so far away now. Put it the way I did to my students last year during our discussion of the Paris attacks…it’s more than half my life (and will always be).

We’ve been at war in Afghanistan since I was 14. I’m 28.

My 14 year old students were born after September 11, 2001. That means that it’s much more distant in time to them than the Fall of the Berlin Wall was to me. I was barely a year old and have no real recollection of the event. They weren’t even yet conceived.

The collective grieving has slowed, but not stopped. Today, as every 11th September for fourteen years, the names of the 2,977 who died that day in New York, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania were read aloud at the World Trade Center site. I noticed that they deliberately used children of eleven or twelve for part of the ceremony. They, like my students, were not even beginning life when this thing happened. And yet there they were, enacting a national grief that they don’t really…get. They read the names in practiced, perfect, put-on adult tones suited to the seriousness of their task, the importance of the commemoration.

I fidgeted uncomfortably, watching them.


How I wish I were Orwell. I’d write some well-crafted, searing essay that would convince you all. But all I am is Coleen, and all I have is pathos layered on statistics. The huge, sweeping, perpetual national grief over 9/11 is a problem.

It masks our bigger problems. For fifteen years, we’ve been distracted by the “War on Terror.” Do you remember it ever stopping? Was it when we declared to the world, “Mission Accomplished?” Was it when our troops were pulled out of Iraq? Was it when Osama Bin Laden was shot through the head and paraded in horrific Blair Witch tones, nightvision photos the vindication we sought for years after the Twin Towers fell?

It hasn’t stopped, but then it probably never will. It’s useful, this expedient blaming of terrorists and ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ for all the ills of our society. In Donald “J” Trump’s campaign, it’s crystallised. Everything is an outsider actor’s fault. We’re under attack. Our American values are under attack. We are the last bastion of Western values (You’re on your own, ‘No-Go Zone’ Europe.).

I am disgusted.

There is a silent war at home that has marched on in spite of all the effort, money, and lives spent ‘fighting terrorism’ since the attack on 9/11. While we worked to revenge those who were taken away by terrorism on that awful day, the cultural diseases that threaten Americans much more were left to fester. Chicago is only one of the cities that displays our issues to the world.


Since September 11th 2001, the US Armed Forces count 2384 deaths in Afghanistan and 4504 deaths in the Iraq War.

The combined total is still more than 1000 people lower than the shooting deaths in Chicago during the same period:

More than 7916 people are dead who were shot on the streets of Chicago since September 2001.

Since this data was published by the BBC and Chicago Tribune last Tuesday, 13 more people were shot and 3 more have been killed.

The BBC’s coverage this week is just amazing. Take a look at this documentary that came out this week. 

Chicago is only the beginning.


“According to figures from the US Department of Justice and the Council on Foreign Affairs, 11,385 people died on average annually in firearm incidents in the US between 2001 and 2011.” –BBC World News

If we take that estimate, which includes suicides and police involved shootings along with homicides, then multiply by the 15 years since September 11th:

~170,775 killed in those fifteen years

Oh yes, but it could be higher. The CDC estimated that between 2005 and 2013, the number of violent gun deaths between just is

301,797. 

Jesus. That’s not even counting the years between 2001-2005. Given that we average 12,000+ firearm deaths in the US per year, let’s call it

326,000.

Put another way, that’s about 110 September 11ths. Imagine if there had been a terrorist attack the size of 9/11 ever 49.7 days, every single year since September 2001. For half of my life, 2,977 people dead from firearms every fifty days. It boggles the mind.


The one that really got me was when this was published. The claim was that more people have been killed in the USA by firearms since 1968 than in ALL wars in US history.

It’s a claim that sounds so outlandish that it just couldn’t be true. It would be too depressing. What would it say about us?

But it’s true. 

Total US deaths in all wars in our history: 1,171,177.
Total US deaths by firearms (homicide, accident, suicide): 1,384,171

Those numbers are from 2013.


I don’t have some grand statement to make about these numbers. I just feel sad. There is an acceptance of gun violence that borders on making it into a natural disaster in the US. Imagine tornadoes armed with AR-15s. An act of God. It feels wrong to reverently read 2,977 names aloud each year for fifteen years when so many anonymous thousands lay dead in the same time period. We’ve forgotten the terror we wreak upon ourselves.


Americans know that toddlers killed more Americans than terrorists in 2015. Americans know that the University of Texas just passed a policy that allows students to carry concealed weapons on campus.We know that a major party candidate called for political violence against his opponent this year, calling on “2nd Amendment People” to take matters into their own hands. We know that each time something like Sandy Hook, Columbine, Aurora, San Bernadino, or Charleston happens, the discussion will peak with thoughts and prayers, and lead to exactly no change whatsoever.

We mobilized $4.4 trillion in the aftermath of 9/11 to fight terrorists around the world. Where is the will to fight our demons at home? Where are the somber adverts with people looking out over the Hudson River, remembering the thousands slaughtered in acts of the mundane? Who will read aloud those names?

I have nothing profound left to say. It grinds along, this violence, and nothing I or anyone else says seems to be able to make a difference. I just wish that this day of remembrance for the last fifteen years was more accurate.