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Aug 23, 2006

Your Turn: Pregnant Pause

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Besides responsibility for the senseless death of thousands of American service people in Iraq, and the squandering of America's reputation around the world, the greatest sin committed by George Bush was the hijacking of 9/11.

As an American, a parent, and a psychologist seeing a full caseload of patients that September, the intensity of the shock and anxiety generated by the terror attacks was unimaginable, particularly as a collective social experience.  By immediately politicizing and appropriating the incident for his own purposes, Bush deprived individual Americans and the cultural as a whole of the opportunity to own, make sense and create meaning out of the event in a more open, deliberate and intentional way.

Like any trauma, these experiences eventually make their way to the surface on their own.  We are seeing many instances now in the arts and media.  For example, Vanity Fair has a photo gallery this month of images from the new book Watching the World Change: The Stories Behind the Images of 9/11 by editor David Friend.  I found the images very powerful, especially those, like the one above, that capture elements of "normal" life in direct juxtaposition with visual display of the breaking tragedy.

In this image, according to VF: "architect and amateur pilot Isabel Daser, eight months pregnant, asked a co-worker to take her portrait as a record of the day" but Daser was not aware of what was taking place in the distance.

I am interested in your impressions of this image, both as a stimulus for your own recollection and for your associations to this startling scene.

(image: Isabel Daser Bessler via Vanity Fair.  Photo Essay Feature.  8/21/06)


"Daser was not aware of what was taking place in the distance."

What? How could she not be aware of what was taking place in the distance?
It sure looks to me as though everyone is outside to gawk at the burning towers. How could anyone be so clueless. "Hey, take my picture." "huh, somethings going on behind me?"

While most people are looking at the towers, it appears some people in the background are not aware or are not paying attention. The towers are difficult to see in the photo and I didn't notice them until I read the entire text accompanying it. Since Daser appears to be near a storefront I wonder if she had just stepped out of the store to get the photo taken and didn't yet know what was going on.

I think it's completely unreasonable to be angry at the lady and call her clueless. There's so many explanations as to why she wouldn't have known about the towers yet that it's ludicrous to claim she's lying or self-absorbed.

That said, I have always found these kinds of profile pregnancy photos odd. It's as though the mother is documenting how large she got and nothing more. However, having never been pregnant myself I don't really know why a mother-to-be takes these kinds of photos.

Daser looks like she's almost in another world away from everything behind her, as though her shopping trip photo is superimposed on a news photo of the towers. And Daser must have had her child soon after, she's carrying low.

This photo captures how indeed the world changed for most Americans on that day. Ms. Daser's face is tranquil, as were most Americans before 9-11. One does not see the anxiety and worry that parents would soon have for the futures of their children. I recall how before September 11, 2001 I was filled with optimism for both our country and the world. We had finished a decade in which the cold war had ended, the Clinton years had been prosperous and guided by rational thinking. It seemed that the world was transforming with the advent of the internet and communications between people unprecidented in the history of humanity. I thought that ignorance, hate, most wars and genocide would be extinguished as people met, talked and exchanged ideas from around the world. How were dictators and tyrants going to brainwash their populations now? Looking back, I see myself as having been "fat and happy", like most of my fellow citizens. Then suddenly a furious, hate filled storm arrived- seemingly out of nowhere. It has only gathered strength...

I didn't notice the towers at first, either.

But why did she ask to have a photo as a record of the day? Record of what? I have four children, but I never took any of those profile pictures. Of course, I wasn't so photogenic at eight months...

It does seem like people are out in the street looking at the WTC, though. And it does seem like some of them aren't looking at them - but how can that be? If some of them saw it, surely they would have made enough of a commotion that the others would look, too. And what's the situation with them? Have they both been hit at this point? Has this already been going on for a while, so their eyes aren't glued to them, and they're doing something else like trying to make phone calls or something? If so, how can she - and the woman taking the picture - not know?

The photo unintentionally represents the birth of American Fascism.

I'm shocked at comments that the pregnant woman "should have noticed", etc., but no mention yet that our Mil, Admin., etc., claim they were as clueless as this pregnant woman appears to be.

I don't understand (having fathered four children myself) why people would be mystified because a mother to be wants a picture to record her pregancy! Is there a suspicion that she dastardly planned to attack the background of her foto with the demise of the WTC? Hunh. I mean..."marking the day" can mean this was the day she named the baby, or the day she was in the city, or the day she had a real good just seems odd to heap suspicion on her. I seriously doubt if you were standing there watching those huge plumes of smoke crumple into the sky, those vast towers falling to the ground, you could just look stoic and wait for someone to snap your pic while you turned your head away from a once in a lifetime view.

This shot to me is very powerful. It just jabs me in the belly. And reminds me of my own life in the city that September, and of all the ruin downtown, and all the stink that wouldn't leave the air for so long....and how horrible to think that so many lives are being lost as this photo is begin taken. The life awaiting birth seems to juxtapose the loss in a stark manner.

PS: While we're here, buildings cannot "pancake" down into their own footprint at freefall speed unless explosives are used to blow out the supports of each floor in split-second intervals to avoid any resistance on the way down. This is a truth all scientists and physicists know. It's just physically impossible in the true sense of the phrase. Saying the Bush administration "hijacked" the event doesn't begin to accurately describe their involvement. I know it's a horrendous thing to contemplate, but that is the nature of a Big Lie, and that is how it even works. Eventually we will all know this to be a horrible, horrible truth. It may take time, but truth will out.

Bush and Cheney and Rummy in irons. It's my last dream.

You're spot-on that the emotional release of that day was appropriated by others. Oklahoma City's memorial was more inclusive...

We're still very primitive people and there's been very little recognition "at the top" that our strengths have been turned against us in so many ways; to wit: every time a passenger has to sumbit to a search because "reasonable cause" now has such a broad definition, then (quite frankly) the terrorists have won.

...the United States should have been mature enough to take it--and then ruthless enough to seek out those responsible. Instead, we've a vigilante possé running around the world: taking out bad guys, taking out guys who aren't good, ...taking out guys who aren't good enough.

But they've forgotten the Viking admonition: "Never kill in the same family twice!"

In response to the question of buildings pancaking, perhaps all "scientific facts" taken off the Internet should be marked as such, asterisks maybe. Next we'll be hearing about the grassy knoll.
This is the equivalent of hearing Bush still yammering about the WMDs.
What on earth would be the false sense of the phrase "physically impossible?"

Is it inconceivable that a pregnant woman would fib? Apparently so, according to some commenters. I find it hard to believe Ms. Daser's claim that she didn't know what was happening in the background (or around her), unless she and her coworker are *blind* architects. But since she's impeccably dressed, I doubt she's blind. (That's a subway lantern behind her, and I also doubt she took the subway that day at eight months pregnant.) As "portraits" go she's completely out of focus, and all lines lead the eye directly to the tower. Of course she can't know that the towers were going to collapse within the next hour and a half (can't read the clock behind her head, but let's say only the North Tower has been hit): at this point in the event, most people still thought it was a small plane accident. So as an *architect,* can she take her eyes off this accident for a moment to record this once in a lifetime event? Of course she can! And if both towers have been hit, she *definitely* knows there are smoking towers in the background (if nothing else, she'd have noticed the sudden absence of traffic on the city streets). Does it matter? It must, judging by her own revisionism and by the comment thread.

I'd hardly call this "normal life," as The BAG does above. Among other things (like I don't think she's American), since I believe this image is perfectly conscious, I don't think it represents "normal life" on that day at all.

A beautiful young woman serenely looks out at us. In the background the WTC starts to crumble.

Why does it make a difference whether or not she knows what is going on in the background? What do we expect from her, we viewers who see woman and catastrophe through the lens of history? We ache with the inconsistency. We expect her to scream, to react to the terror: We were all so terrified that day.

It is just inconceivable that someone could be that serene on such a terrible day.

But, now that you mention it, perhaps our desire to see specific emotions and behaviors re-enacted is a consequence of the appropriation of the terror by Bush for his war agenda. The idea that someone, at least at the moment this picture was taken, was not consumed with terror is quite radical: You mean we don't HAVE to feel terror?

...let me add that for myself, our television was out that day during some remodeling. Our first "news" came from a phone call of a friend. When we turned on the radio, we were hearing about the Pentagon?

...very disturbing. My advice that day to those who asked me: "Fly the flag. Talk to your neighbors. Protect civil liberties." How have we been doing?

The Vanity Fair caption begins "Not yet realizing a terrorist attack was in progress, architect and amateur pilot Isabel Daser …" Ms Daser knew that smoke was pouring out of the WTC, she didn't understand the significance of the smoke. That same morning the Decider made a "quip" about bad pilotin', walked into a second grade classroom and buried his nose in "The Pet Goat". He didn't understand the significance either and he'd recently been briefed by the CIA on Bin Laden's intention to fly hijacked passenger jets into buildings.

I watched events of that morning from a half a continent away over the internet. I was alerted by a phone call at about 8:45 CDT — the towers were still standing, something had happened at the Pentagon, stay tuned. In conversations and updates with friends and family that day our questions were first what is happening? As that storyline stabilized the next question for us was Why? (Not Who?) What cause or fault or failure promotes this?

Five years later I'm not aware of any serious effort to answer that question. Because They Hate Our Freedoms is an insult not an explanation. I'd have more respect for them if they'd just come out and say It's None Of Your Fucking Business.

RE: Whether the people in the photo knew what was going on.

I am more interested in the people in the mid background of the photo. Contrast the guy in the white shirt vs. the guy in the blue shirt. Blue shirt might have seen the smoke, but doesn't grasp the enormity of what is going on. Look at the slump of his spine as he listens to the other end of the conversation. He's not present, he's listening to the person on the phone.

White shirt however is starting to realize what's going on. He's walking away from the store, but his gaze is being pulled down the street, to the enormous column of smoke. WTF is about to become Oh Shit.

But the classic is the woman in the green top. She's got whaever she came to buy, and she's figuring out what's the best way home, taxi or subway.

I remember September 11th (is it too much to ask people to say the date, versus make it a sound bite?) as a series of WTF becoming OS. When my alarm came on at 6:00 here in San Diego Bob Edwards was describing a plane crash. As I slowly came awake I realized that there may be something on CNN. I got the TV on before the first tower went down. I am fuzzy as to whether I saw the 2nd plane hit or just saw reruns.

I know I called to my wife to wake up and come see. We both huddled on the couch. We dealt with our disbelief, noting how much it looked like just an incredible special effect in the movies.

I was working for a startup, and everyone in the company stayed home, not out of fear, but in mourning. Everyone I know poured money into the Red Cross, and we especially gave money to the Rescue Dog Foundation. The statup made high speed open-air networks and we desparately tried to get ahold of anyone who could use our product, knowing how many fiber optic networks ran through the PATH tunnels and must have been damaged.

We tried to help. But when we were told to go out and spend, I wrote another check to the Red Cross, and realized how badly we were led.

Of course she knew what was going on. And the fact that a couple people out of the entire mob happen to be looking somewhere other than at the burning buildings, at that split second that the photo was taken, does not indicate that those people did not know what was happening. In fact, people look around all the time. As the one guy turns his head at that particular moment to say, "Holy shit! Do you have a Mentos?" The fact that both buildings are burning is another indicator that she most certainly did know what was going on, unless she had her head up her arse for the previous infinate amount of time between the two hits. The shot was framed much too perfectly...the symbolic message much to clear. This is yet another example of how americans can sensationalize and sell even the most sick and tragic incident for their own gain.

More pathetic: Although I didn't do an exhaustive search on this woman, I did Google her, and she seems to have graduated from a French architecture school/program, which doesn't make her French absolutely, but she sure doesn't look or dress like an American, even a wealthy one. So I think you're wrong when you say, "This is yet another example of how americans can sensationalize and sell even the most sick and tragic incident for their own gain." Sorry! Do you want to substitute "the French" for "americans" in your assumption? I bet not.

Hmmmmm, an architect and amateur pilot sees the towers burning and has her friend take a picture. "Make sure you include my belly pointing in the direction of the burning towers, makes for great symbolism, you know."

By god, I think we've got The Smoking Belly!

Meanwhile, back at the elementary school ranch, a former pilot gone AWOL, grinning nervously like the village idiot, proceeds with a careful reading of My Pet Goat, even after being told Mission Accomplished Armageddon had finally commenced in NYC.

Honestly, is this what we've been reduced to? Raggin' on a photo of a pregnant woman who seems oblivious to unfolding tragedy when this damn administration has used obliviousness as a strategy from day one?

Need we be reminded yet again of how f****** clueless the Commander-In-Chief appeared to be when he got word that a plane had struck the towers?

"From the demeanor of the president, grinning at the children, it appeared that the enormity of what he had been told was taking a while to sink in,” according to a reporter standing nearby at the time." [Daily Mail, 9/8/2002; Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001]

I remember that day clearly. My two year old was watching Sesame Street when I heard news on the radio of the WTC being hit. I immediately turned to national news and watched the horror unfold. What I remember most clearly was the sense that we were all flying blind that day. Have any of these negative commenters ever been to NYC? Is it beyond the realm of possibility that a person could be walking along a crowded street, hemmed in by buildings, see plumes of smoke, and not realize the enormity of the situation?!? No one (besides the perpetrators) would've guessed that those towers would collapse on their own footprint in so short a time. No one (except for the guilty) knew that those plumes of smoke were the result of a terrorist act.

There's a lot of anger being directed at Ms. Daser in these comments. Why?

A Neocon Plan is hatched.

"Physically impossible" is used in the sense of "against the laws of physics." As in "freefall." As in the speed all falling objects fall to the earth given that there is no resistance.

Given that there is no resistance.

I first I though it was fashion shoot of some sort, then I realized that the towers where used as background. At one level it is moving, its life/death portrayed in a stark manner. But then, when you look at her face, it sort of becomes a form or faux artistic chic. The only way to reconzile these two aspects of the photo would be to see her face when the towers collapse and the wave of dust and smoke comes rushing out to swallow the city.

Somehow, this picture is far more disturbing than the fake picture of a tourist atop the WTC towers with the American Airlines plane about to hit that was circulating soon after 9/11.

A college student in Boston at the time, I had been to New York for the first time one August weekend, only a month before 9/11. I got to the bottom of the World Trade Center towers, but had to run to catch my return bus before I could visit the top. I said to myself, "next time", only to see the towers crumble on TV a month later.

I have written a short story revolving around 9/11; see for a snippet and the full text of the story.

...Things fall down. Even our reason it seems.

Occam's Razor applies... although the secretive and power-grabbing executive branch hasn't helped alleviate the suspicions.

The Vanity Fair caption for the featured photo reads, Not yet realizing a terrorist attack was in progress, architect and amateur pilot Isabel Daser, eight months pregnant, asked a co-worker to take her portrait as a record of the day. It doesn't say that she hadn't seen something terrible happening at the World Trade Center; it says that she didn't yet realized that it was a terrorist attack in progress. Lots of us who couldn't get to a TV took a while to realize exactly what it was that was happening. I think that's all that they meant.

Incidentally, if she's really only eight months in that picture, I kind of wonder if she might have been carrying twins. (They probably would have mentioned that.)

They did not hijacked 9-11, they caused it. The bigger the lie, the more believable it is (Nazis believed the same...)

Just saying...

I'll look at the photo and let the motives fall where they may.

I didn't see the towers for a long while. I noticed the date first, and even then I assumed we were somewhere in Europe. I'm not familiar with those subway lanterns, and the varigated colors of the stonework behind her(echoed in the light and dark shadows on the wall above) seem very European.

She looks european, and the date is backwards, but then when you see what the reference is, you look closer and find the burning tower(s). But for me, even knowing that I was looking at a pregnant woman took some deciphering, because old yellow-shirt with the backpack has no head, so I was partly trying to put her head on those shoulders. I guess you could read something into that ambiguity...

OK, then after the situation sinks in, it's time to reinterpret that look. One of my favorite photos is one I took where my subject, quite by accident, looks very beautifully sad. When people are speaking or reacting, they transition through different expressions. Her look is calm, as if this disaster is of minor importance. Not only that, "up" is framed to her stance. That makes NY City tilt to the right a bit.

I think the message her is that this pregnant woman is the center of things- that humanity rolls right along come dark ages or terrorist attacks.

Sorry to offend commenter "chris" with a moment of less-than-perfect vocabulary selection. I now understand what his question is regarding "in the false sense." I'll answer directly.

When I wrote "physically impossible in the true sense of the phrase," the implication was that many people use the phrase "physically impossible" quite colloquially, as in "man, that's just...NO WAY!" This stands in contrast to my current use, which happens to be a literal one, as in "against the laws of physics."

I'm sure this last comment of mine is redundant after the previous one I left, but I thought I would slow down for once and make sure I was communicating to the listener's ear, rather than to my own. I hope my intent is now clearer!

I need breakfast already. Did someone say "pancake?"

Kerstin, not sure who you're reading as angry in this thread. I've lived in New York since 1996, so I was here on 9/11 (I was working in an office building in Times Square). I remember clearly what the day was like too: It was election day and the weather was unusually gorgeous for New York (happens only twice a year), the kind of electric blue sky that holds you spellbound. I can't imagine Ms. Daser could be clueless about a burning building in New York on any day (unless she has no survival instincts), nor do I think the photo is a casual setup. I for one was responding to *The BAG's* comment "but Daser was not aware of what was taking place in the distance."

And out of simple curiosity about the landmarks (a subway entrance, east side of town, one of the towers at the end of an east-west running street several blocks away), I was trying to figure out exactly where she was standing and which tower was on fire in the distance. That's because it's a neurotic NY impulse to name the location, but also, I couldn't reconcile what The BAG had said about "normal life" with the image. I was trying to conceive of normal life in NY on that day, and I can't. I saw many abnormal sights on 9/11 (one of which was *everyone* in Times Square — hundreds of tourists — *sitting down,* watching the LED news displays). The only thing I saw that day that was normal was my cat sleeping on the bed like nothing had happened. The smell of burning petrochemicals coming through the window from 40 blocks away didn't seem to bother her.

But in general I was also wondering why in the world The BAG chose this particular photo. There's nothing wrong with it, but because it's not ordinary in the least, it's distracting. It distracts from larger issues, although that doesn't surprise me coming from Vanity Fair.

I personally hold Bush responsible for 9/11, not for hijacking it. 9/11 never should have happened.

People: get a grip. Like zatopa made clear, she didn't know it was 9/11 Yet. She saw a burning Trade Center; she didn't see bin Laden, Bush, or anyone else. When the first tower was hit, no one knew for sure if it was an accident or an attack. It was only when the second plane hit that people knew for sure that it was deliberate.

Buncha assholes.

King of Pants = I rest my case.

readytoblowagasket: "in general I was also wondering why in the world The BAG chose this particular photo. There's nothing wrong with it, but because it's not ordinary in the least, it's distracting. It distracts from larger issues, although that doesn't surprise me coming from Vanity Fair."

You say the picture isn't ordinary in the least, that it is distracting from larger issues. Can you elaborate? What larger issues is this distracting from?

I think it is a fantastic picture. This was taken just before the terror really hit and we all were rewired. Everyone is going about their routine things. They know something is up--enough to record it--but they are still blind to the extent of the catastrophe. As humans, we assume continuity from one minute to the next, we assume that the events of the next minute will be familiar, similar, predictable. Confronted with something new, we start by trying to assimilate it into our familiar worldview. Then, depending on the experience, we change our worldview to accommodate the experience. This photograph records an extraordinary moment in which our illusion of continuity and control was smashed.

Most of us responded to the events of that day through stages of astonishment, fear, horror. We didn't know what was going to happen next. We moved from thinking this was a day like all previous days to comprehending an entirely new reality. We kept trying to find the right frame in which to understand what was happening.

I remember the first few days during which Bushco was re-enacting their WW2 & Cold War scripts, trying to make this event fit previous events that were both familiar and hopeful.

Meanwhile, my mother, brother, and sister were up at the lake, without electricity and out of phone reach. They arrived home on Friday, three days later, cheerful, sunburnt, clueless. They were like Rip Van Winkle, people who had slept right through history.

At our family's lake place we have a cartoon of two fishermen out on the lake. In the distance is a huge mushroom cloud. The one fisherman is saying to the other, "You know what this means, don't you? No size restrictions and screw the limits!"

In a way, this picture of Isabel Daser reminds me of that cartoon. It was taken in the moment before you fully comprehend the disaster.

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