Against Proselytizing

July 24, 2010


If you found something you thought was a great thing now and that you believed would put you in a much better place when your body decides to stop breathing, wouldn’t you want to share it with other people?

Not unless they asked for my advice, because I’ve found that what works for me has no bearing on anybody else’s life. And I believe it’s especially arrogant to assume such things when they take the form of advising someone on “the one, true way”.

The above statement contains several unacknowledged assumptions about the nature of the world. Religious people with these ideas seldom seem to understand atheism in anything but a very shallow way. I wouldn’t group Christianity with sun-worship, and I expect that, before a Christian tries to change my mind on a topic as sensitive as religion, they should have an adult grasp of the arguments involved. Otherwise, all they’re communicating is, “I don’t give a damn about what you think, I know what’s best for you,” — which is how the the Dutch felt about the Congolese, and the Portuguese felt about the South Americans.

Aggression can be Subtle

In offering unsolicited advice, an advisor is leveraging the listener’s wish to not be rude; many people will feel uncomfortable being proselytized to but will put up with it for far longer than they feel is reasonable. It’s happened to me and I’ve watched it happen to others. The unfairness increases when it becomes a two against one situation, which is often the case with Mormons knocking on one’s door. I’m well able to handle them (and do so politely) but it makes me mad when I think of others who are not as robust or able.

Proselytizing is Coercive Persuasion

Coercive persuasion attempts to force people to change beliefs, ideas, attitudes, or behaviors using psychological pressureundue influence, threats, anxiety, intimidation, and/or stress. [Martyn Carruthers]

It’s repellant, and it’s both morally and ethically bankrupt—which is not a great way to start a conversation about The Ultimate Truth.

It staggers me that supposedly mature adults place themselves above basic morals, and even simple manners, and proceed from there to tell me how they understand the fundamental nature of the universe. I’m, like, “Do you have any idea of the basic human principles you just trampled on?”

The Silver Rule

When it comes to religion, the Golden Rule should be discarded in favor of the Silver Rule:

“Do not treat others in ways you would not like to be treated.”

This is why, even though we know that eating like a pig will give you diabetes (and cause national budget problems down the road which affect everybody) we don’t allow government to send anyone into our homes to harangue us into eating broccoli. And we get annoyed when confronted by a dietary do-gooder who tries to do the same, just because he’s sure he knows better*.

Multiply by a million when it comes to something as personal as a religious worldview. Nobody should be so arrogant as to think they know what’s best for anybody else.

* Of course, the dietary do-gooder is actually objectively correct: most people will be far better off eating fresh vegetables instead of donuts; the difference being that his assertion can be backed up by science, evidence, and common knowledge—whereas religion is an elaborate fantasy without a shred of evidence, science, or common sense to back it up.


I’ve been a GTD dork for about two years, but only recently found Merlin Mann’s GTD-dork-centric video pod-casts, which led me back to 43folders.com (hadn’t visited in a while) and thence to lifehacker.com. I can’t think which is sadder: the fact I only found lifehacker the other day, that fact I’ve been reading it and 43folders every day since, or the fact I just used thence in a sentence. It’s fookin’ 2007. Whither my trenchancy?

The fundamental idea in GTD is that you get everything out of your head and into a system, so you don’t have to remember anything, which you’re very bad at. One of the pillars of a functioning GTD system is a process called ubiquitous capture—also known as, “Writing Shit Down”. Now, things will almost certainly occur to you when you are not in a position to do anything about them. You’ll be at your computer, debugging a gnarly php function or brining yet another Web 2.0 style button into the world, when the perfect chat-up line pops into your head. What do you think you’re looking at, sugar tits? You write it down. Later, you transfer it to your awesomely comprehensive Great_Chat-Up_Lines!.rtf file. Even later, being a GTD cult member in high standing, you review this chat-up file as part of your weekly review. Awesome.

But here’s a problem: what do you do when inspiration strikes, say, when you’re driving? Well, maybe you have some kind of voice-recorder handy and neeeeep you nailed that mutha. All right, all right. But say you’re on the potty and your laptop is in another room and, although you have 150 feet of shimmering quilted double-ply at your disposal, darn it, your Space Pen is in the other room too.

Pop quiz, hot shot! Whatchagonnado?

Well, here’s what I do. I learned this technique from an improve-your-memory book two hundred and fifty years ago and I’ve used it ever since. It’s super simple. It never fails. It allows you to remember up to ten items at a time, and recall them easily at any time—even, if you feel like impressing yourself, in reverse.

  1. Bun
  2. Shoe
  3. Tree
  4. Door
  5. Hive
  6. Sticks
  7. Heaven
  8. Gate
  9. Wine
  10. Hen

The trick is to link whatever it is you have to remember to one of the peg words above using the most ridiculous or obscene image that comes to mind. Let me stress that again: ridiculous or obscene. Must be one or the other. Felicitations if you can embrace both.

So you have to deposit checks at the bank. That’s item number one. Bun. The chick at the bank is so pleased to see you, she rips open her blouse to reveal two double-d cupcakes, still in their corrugated wrappers. Furthermore, the cherries on top shoot off and blind you.

You have to do some photo research for a project. You don’t want to do it. So boring. Item number two. Shoe. You imagine SuperNanny spanking your naughty little arse with a giant red stiletto. Someone takes a picture and uploads it to iStockPhoto. It becomes the most downloaded Internet picture of all time.

You have to put an order in for the final Harry Potter book or your special someone will cream you. No problem. Item number three. You imagine one of those giant trees from Lord of the Rings attacking your favorite bookstore. On its black and rotten bough hang the dead bodies of Harry, Hermione and Ron.

At least, that’s what works for me. You come up with your own disgusting images.

This is ubiquitous capture on the run, or on the potty, or on the potty with the runs. When you get back to your Hipster PDA, you simply write it all down. Don’t worry about re-using the same numbers over and over. Don’t even worry about keeping multiple lists in your head. Your mind has an endless supply of unique and sick images to help you remember your stuff.

Craig’s Pissed

January 23, 2007


I’m a self-employed graphic designer. In the old days, when I was greener than a leprechaun’s testicles, nothing would make me consider suicide quicker than a potential client who was, in fact, just some deluded jackass. The hook was usually, “If you do this job cheap, I’ve loads more work for you!” and I bought that line more times than anyone with an ounce of sense ought to have.

This morning, the following was posted on CraigsList. It’s been doing the rounds on design boards and blogs in a big community whoop because it captures and excoriates so perfectly the ignorance and arrogance inflicted on designers by design morons.

The post was quickly flagged and removed (i.e. censored) by CraigsList users, but not before it became the gift that keeps on giving. Who was that masked crusader? Designers everywhere owe him a hot coffee and a big hug.

   

Post from CraigsList

Every day, there are more and more Craigs List posts seeking “artists” for everything from auto graphics to comic books to corporate logo designs. More people are finding themselves in need of some form of illustrative service.

But what they’re NOT doing, unfortunately, is realizing how rare someone with these particular talents can be.

To those who are “seeking artists”, let me ask you; How many people do you know, personally, with the talent and skill to perform the services you need? A dozen? Five? One? …none?

More than likely, you don’t know any. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be posting on craigslist to find them.

And this is not really a surprise.

In this country, there are almost twice as many neurosurgeons as there are professional illustrators. There are eleven times as many certified mechanics. There are SEVENTY times as many people in the IT field.

So, given that they are less rare, and therefore less in demand, would it make sense to ask your mechanic to work on your car for free? Would you look him in the eye, with a straight face, and tell him that his compensation would be the ability to have his work shown to others as you drive down the street?

Would you offer a neurosurgeon the “opportunity” to add your name to his resume as payment for removing that pesky tumor? (Maybe you could offer him “a few bucks” for “materials”. What a deal!)

Would you be able to seriously even CONSIDER offering your web hosting service the chance to have people see their work, by viewing your website, as their payment for hosting you?

If you answered “yes” to ANY of the above, you’re obviously insane. If you answered “no”, then kudos to you for living in the real world.

But then tell me… why would you think it is okay to live out the same, delusional, ridiculous fantasy when seeking someone whose abilities are even less in supply than these folks?

Graphic artists, illustrators, painters, etc., are skilled tradesmen. As such, to consider them as, or deal with them as, anything less than professionals fully deserving of your respect is both insulting and a bad reflection on you as a sane, reasonable person. In short, it makes you look like a twit.

A few things you need to know;

1. It is not a “great opportunity” for an artist to have his work seen on your car/’zine/website/bedroom wall, etc. It IS a “great opportunity” for YOU to have their work there.

2. It is not clever to seek a “student” or “beginner” in an attempt to get work for free. It’s ignorant and insulting. They may be “students”, but that does not mean they don’t deserve to be paid for their hard work. You were a “student” once, too. Would you have taken that job at McDonalds with no pay, because you were learning essential job skills for the real world? Yes, your proposition it JUST as stupid.

3. The chance to have their name on something that is going to be seen by other people, whether it’s one or one million, is NOT a valid enticement. Neither is the right to add that work to their “portfolio”. They get to do those things ANYWAY, after being paid as they should. It’s not compensation. It’s their right, and it’s a given.

4. Stop thinking that you’re giving them some great chance to work. Once they skip over your silly ad, as they should, the next ad is usually for someone who lives in the real world, and as such, will pay them. There are far more jobs needing these skills than there are people who possess these skills.

5. Students DO need “experience”. But they do NOT need to get it by giving their work away. In fact, this does not even offer them the experience they need. Anyone who will not/can not pay them is obviously the type of person or business they should be ashamed to have on their resume anyway. Do you think professional contractors list the “experience” they got while nailing down a loose step at their grandmother’s house when they were seventeen?

If you your company or gig was worth listing as desired experience, it would be able to pay for the services it received. The only experience they will get doing free work for you is a lesson learned in what kinds of scrubs they should not lower themselves to deal with.

6. (This one is FOR the artists out there, please pay attention.) Some will ask you to “submit work for consideration”. They may even be posing as some sort of “contest”. These are almost always scams. They will take the work submitted by many artists seeking to win the “contest”, or be “chosen” for the gig, and find what they like most. They will then usually have someone who works for them, or someone who works incredibly cheap because they have no originality or talent of their own, reproduce that same work, or even just make slight modifications to it, and claim it as their own. You will NOT be paid, you will NOT win the contest. The only people who win, here, are the underhanded folks who run these ads. This is speculative, or “spec”, work. It’s risky at best, and a complete scam at worst. I urge you to avoid it, completely. For more information on this subject, please visit http://www.no-spec.com.

So to artists/designers/illustrators looking for work, do everyone a favor, ESPECIALLY yourselves, and avoid people who do not intend to pay you. Whether they are “spec” gigs, or just some guy who wants a free mural on his living room walls. They need you. You do NOT need them.

And for those who are looking for someone to do work for free… please wake up and join the real world. The only thing you’re accomplishing is to insult those with the skills you need. Get a clue.

Thinking About Adoption?

January 13, 2007


Grinnin'

The missus and I are pretty open on-line about our daughter, whom we adopted from South Korea in April 2006. So every couple of weeks, someone sends me a note that says, roughly: “Me or someone I know is thinking about adopting. Where can I start?”

We’re in the U.S. but the following points probably hold true in most places…

Requirements

If you’re planning on adopting internationally, each country has different requirements. Korea has the toughest: you have to be under a certain age, not obese, no health issues, married, etc. China has far more relaxed rules, though things are tightening there now too. Guatemala is another place to look into. Russia is popular too and has a strong, well-oiled program.

Travel

Some countries require that you travel abroad to attend court meetings, etc. Korea doesn’t and there are a few others like that, but most do.

Attachment Issues

You want a little one that’s been in an orphanage as little as possible because, no matter how good the orphanage, the standard of care is just not that great. Specifically: nutrition, health, developmental and emotional issues. It’s not the end of the world if the child doesn’t arrive home until 12 months old, or even a bit later, but it is a consideration in terms of emotional issues. You want to stack the odds in your favor as much as possible—so the earlier the better. This is why we looked into Korea and Guatemala: in both countries the children stay with foster mothers, so they have great bonding abilities. However, Korea is slowing down its program so you’d need to research carefully now. If we were to adopt again, we’d probably look into China.

Health 1

Our decision was to stress health over any other consideration. For example, looks are important to some people in terms of having a child that looks like one of the family. As it happens, we got a supermodel but the only thing we stressed to the agency was health, health, health. You don’t always have your pick there but if, as in our daughter’s case, two referrals come into the agency at the same time and only one couple is stressing health, the other couple will get the less healthy child. It’s more of a concern with some countries than others. Research will lead you down the right path.

Health 2

Some countries provide very good health records (immunizations, health issues, genetics, etc.) and some countries don’t. There is always an uncertainty factor that you just have to live with. When you think about it, it’s not such a stretch: pregnancy has its own risks.

Research

Go to any major bookstore and flick through their adoption and parenting sections. There’s an incredible amount of info available now. It’s not like the old days, with all that secrets and lies and shame crap. There’s a U.S. magazine called “Adoptive Families” which is absolutely fantastic and I’d imagine there’s something like it available from the UK market. Maybe there’s even something specific to the Irish market. And, as always, give Google a spin. There are some good links at the bottom of this article too.

Disclosure

The current thinking is that your child, by the time they become an adult, should have been told everything about their background that’s known. This can involve some fairly brutal details. There’s always sadness in adoption stories because no-one wants to give a child away—our daughter’s story happens to be very pleasant and loving—but you may have to consider a story that involves dire poverty, drug abuse, murder, violence, incest, abandonment, and race. No matter what, you always have to confront a lot of unknowns: genetics, health, family history. A child is a child is a child. You don’t think about any of that when someone hands you a picture of an innocent baby. But adoption can involve heavy stuff.

Cultural Reasons Children are Placed for Adoption

One of the reasons we went with Korea was that the children there are given up for cultural reasons: for all their techno-savvy it’s practically impossible for single mothers over there, and its even harder for their children. In China, the one child policy means lots of girls are up for adoption. So, in both countries it’s not war or abuse or poverty or famine, which are the kinds of reasons children are placed for adoption in other countries: Ethiopia, Haiti, India, and Western countries.

Expense

Yes, it’s expensive. In the US there’s very good tax relief, so in the long run it’s not too bad. But in Ireland things are oddly unprogressive. You might have to shoulder most of the financial burden.

Emotions

No matter what, it’s a roller-coaster. The paperwork, the interviews, the money and, worst of all, the waiting. Our process seems to have been easy as things generally go, but we thought it was tough! The waiting was definitely the hardest: you see a picture and get a few details and, from that moment on, your heart will just not stop. Every day you’re waiting for the call. It’s tough. Then the agency calls and tells you they forgot some piece of paper and it’s going to delay things another week. Then that happens again. It’s really stressful. But, in the end, someone puts your little one in your arms and you forget all that. Truly.

Visibility

The culture around adoption has changed significantly since we were children. In the U.S. it’s its own demographic. Asian adoptees are their own demographic. In fact, even Korean adoptees constitute their own demographic! That’s how common it is. And there are enough open-minded people in the world now that an interracial family, with an obviously-adopted child, elicits warm smiles and coochee-coos from strangers in the supermarket aisle.

Adoption is a wonderful thing. We wish you the best.

Onine for American Parents
http://www.adoptivefamilies.com/
http://www.adoption.com/
http://forums.adoption.com/
http://adoption.about.com/

Online for Irish Parents
http://www.oasis.gov.ie/birth/adoption_and_fostering/adopting_a_child.html
http://forums.adoption.com/uk-ireland-adoption/
http://www.adoptionboard.ie/
http://www.adoption.org/adopt/adoption-ireland.php
http://www.iaaireland.org/guide/


Starting Up is Hard to Do

Newly-independent designers often worry about finding clients and work. It’s scary. The cost of health insurance and the ability to generate work are the two things that keep normally creative, defiant thinkers working for the man. If you’re dreaming of the independent life—your own hours, no commute, working in your underpants—the most common advice is not to jump ship until you’ve got a couple of solid gigs lined up. Make a master list of all your business contacts and get busy. While you’re planning your bust out of Alcatraz, stash away enough loot to keep you afloat for at least three months. More often than you think, those promised, guaranteed, definitely-green-light projects will be postponed at the last second, or fail to materialize at all.

The Bills Your Boss Used to Pay

Having to pay for your own health insurance and fund your retirement really sucks. I have an HMO through my local Chamber of Commerce. It’s restrictive but it covers our family. In 1996 a spider bit my ankle. Nothing bad happened. But between the grime of New York Sticky and scratching that delicious itch, the bite swelled up so much I couldn’t bend my ankle. What with doctor visits and meds, I spent about $900 in two weeks. I hate my health insurance premium (especially when I feel healthy, young, eat well, etc.) but you just can’t do without it in this country. If you can’t afford an HMO, a Health Savings Accounts in conjunction with Catastrophic might be your next best bet.

Too Much to Chew

In the past, I’ve had periods where I’ve taken on too much work. It was never worth it. Even when I was in my twenties and made of rubber, staying up half the night (or all night) drained my life’s energy. Every time I did it, it crushed a little piece of my soul. There’s nothing worse than that burned-out feeling, where you’re dragging your increasingly chubby ass to work only to climb a mountain—all the while worrying about your other clients looking for an update on their project. I’ve learned to pace myself and say “no” when necessary. I’ve learned not to work with jerks. I’ve learned not to work on projects I’ll hate.

Shark-Infested Waters

It took me five years to realize that whenever a potential client said, “If you do this one cheap, there’s a lot more work down the line,” it was, in each and every case, a load of number two. It wasn’t around when I was a tender wee lad but No!Spec is a great resource for independent designers.

Losing Your Way

One of the slipperiest slopes is trying to be all things to all clients. I started in print design, did that for a number of years, then the Web came along. For a long time, I tried to do both. Last year, however, I decided I was kidding myself if I thought I could be the greatest pixel pusher known to man and Milton Glaser’s print nemesis. It’s an easy mistake to make. When you’re running the shop, you need to pay the bills. So when a client says, “Can you turn that brochure you did into a Web site for us?” you say, “Sure!” and off you go. I’ve learned a lot doing things that way. The problem is that developing real expertise in a field means you can’t spend half your time fiddling around with something else. For me, being a full-time Web head means constantly reading, constantly learning, constantly keeping up with new Web technologies. It is a full-time job. At least now I can snort at designers who “specialize” in print, photography and Web design.

Losing Your Way, Again

Unless you take steps to maintain your perspective, tunnel vision will happen to you. Life can become a blur of work, work, work, work, work. For designers based at home, say, it’s a real struggle to maintain a solid work/life split; when my office was in the house, I never really managed it. With the computer calling out to you morning, noon and night, “I’ll just check my e-mail,” inevitably turns into an hour’s work, or more. This is a bad way to live. Your work-life is supposed to feed your home-life, and vice versa. Your home-life shouldn’t have a stapler and pile of invoices in it. I now have a separate building for the office. It’s on our property, but at the end of the day I can leave all my work paraphernalia where it belongs. I work strictly 9-5 and almost never on weekends. I know designers who seem to be able to keep their work and home lives separate, even when their office is part of their living room, but if you’re not that disciplined, and you don’t have a separate space for your studio, renting space may be something to think about.

Procrastination

Tied with work/life is every designer’s favorite guilty pleasure: procrastination. Some swear by it: they say the last minute pressure fuels their best creativity. Maybe so. If we’re honest, though, most of us probably swear at it, and ourselves. Procrastination cheats both designer and client. By 2005 I was so sick of my ways I read six or seven books on the topic. The best by far was Neil Fiore’s compact classic The Now Habit. I keep it with Getting Things Done in my office. Both have key-for-me passages highlighted. They’ve saved my bacon many a day.

Staying Organized

I don’t have a problem keeping track of multiple jobs. I’m well organized and have a system in place (taken from David Allen’s Getting Things Done) that does 90% of the work for me. But I sometimes find that switching from one project to the next can be quite tricky. When I’m on a roll, I’d rather spend 3-4 hours working on a project. It bugs me to have to stop and start. But keeping multiple clients happy means I’m often forced to work in 30, 60, and 90 minute project-chunks. Clients need to see a little progress every day or two. When you have 15 or more active projects running, it’s challenging.

Admin

You have to be your own bean counter. Keeping track of expenses, paying quarterly taxes, typing up invoices. Is that vomit in your mouth? I’ve got it down to about seven hours a week. Two hours for billing, the rest for planning, office work and publicity.

Isolation

Not the least of the independent designer’s problems, working alone can be a serious stress on your well-being. No matter how wacky your workspace, you just get sick of being in the same environment every day. An on-line design community like HOW or Creative Ireland can take the edge off, but nattering with peers, especially when there’s an argument brewing, can become a major time-suck.

Once or twice a week, a change of scenery works wonders; WiFi is now so widespread you can easily work from multiple locations, cappuccino in hand. My local library and nearby cafés all offer free WiFi. Noice.

I read somewhere that you need 12 social interactions with different people every day—or you’ll go mad. Mad! Thankfully, they don’t have to be deep: a quick chat with the post office clerk counts. Doesn’t matter. Seeing familiar faces and dealing with your larger community just keeps you feeling topped up.

Once a day, I walk the dog and check in with the neighbors. They keep chickens, make hunting bows from scratch, distill things they shouldn’t. There’s always something going on. One guy is an expert balaphone player. Another is missing half his nose and lets his poodle shit inside the house; not, I imagine, the best of combinations. That guy annoys his closest neighbor, a crusty old geezer who fought the Commies in the Korean War, hates his brother’s dog and likes to shop at Target. That’s what’s goin’ down in my ‘hood.

In 2010, still struggling with this issue , I joined a coworking space. Many large cities have several coworking spaces, and even some smaller cities. It’s been a huge help seeing familiar faces several times a week.

I Hate Television

June 6, 2006


   
I hate Television: its frantic pace
and gaudy palette of low emotions;
its dumb addiction to the doctored face,
celebrities and their bonehead notions.

And yet, for lunch, on Wednesday afternoon,
with my bowl of chow and my Fruitfield spoon,
I sat my Web-entangled self before
the television, for an hour or more.

The network brass will never get inside
my little mind—they try so frequently!—
but I’ll gladly watch a film if time
permits and I haven’t seen it recently.

   Alas, three films are always on the box.
   I loved them once but now I think they’re pox.

Juliet, iridescent with romance:
she glows, she swoons, she sobs courageous tears!
Her lover’s strange, fluorescent neck and pants—
who chopped his locks to bits with garden shears?
   Our souls are stirred, we need them to elope,
   but Fate secures a noose around our hope.

Superb at noon, her green projectile puke,
and how she twists her rotten head around.
I always hope they’ll miss some gore by fluke,
those pesky censors on their scrupled mound.
   But their cutting cuts the crucified crotch,
   the Satanic barbs, so the whole is botched.

It’s no conundrum after all these years
of pouring over dull Endora’s clues.
We see our boy is under Stress. For here’s
the ancient dame he always has to screw,
the giant mom, the bro who acts the clown—
   I think we get what’s getting Gilbert down.

Such unremitting repetition only serves
to cool our blood and numb our nerves.
Executives, what makes your hearts grow fond?
Your ends and means don’t seem to correspond.

United 93

June 6, 2006


   
There’s a lot more to United 93 than the inevitable. It’s still too close to the event, of course, but the race is on in Hollywood to make the “definitive” movies about 9-11. Is it better to have strong talent make strong movies sooner rather than later? Who wants to see another me-too flick, no matter how good? The truth is probably grubbier: movies now means big bucks in pocket X instead of pocket Y.

I tried to Google for when the first films about WWII were made but couldn’t find a definitive list quickly. That’s probably because, of course, films about WWII were made during WWII. For example…

Aventure Malgache (1944)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock. This film (along with Bon Voyage) was made by Hitchcock during WWII at the request of the British government. When viewed by government officials they decided that the films were inflammatory and withheld them from distribution. Aventure Malgache, is set in Vichy-controlled Madagascar where the Resistance leader battles to keep his island free.

The first half of United 93 focuses on the very mundane event of passengers getting on the plane. Is there anything more bone-chilling than the mundane? The section where United 93 is still on the ground while the first two planes have hit the WTC is very hard to take.

The film has almost no soundtrack. The director never resorts to emotional manipulation. There are no moments. The most unnerving line for me was a throw-away comment from one of the passengers. He’s chatting on his cell phone before he gets on the plane, squeezing in one last business call, and he says something like, “Cc that e-mail to me, would you?”

During one scene, we see a few passengers recite lines from the Lord’s Prayer while the terrorist in control of the plane prays to Allah in Arabic. I don’t know how to classify that juxtaposition except to say I found it piercing, virtuosic.

United 93 is particularly compelling where it doesn’t demonize the hijackers. They’re obviously deluded, evil people—and the movie shows that—but it doesn’t lower itself to cliché. In fact, the movie even goes so far as to put you in the terrorists’ skin, a gutsy decision on the part of the director, Paul Greengrass (who also wrote the film). We’re not given cartoon villains, but men praying, men quietly preparing for their day, men experiencing fear as they galvanize their will.

Most moving of all, the film gives the quick-thinking, resourceful, brave passengers their due. It’s something to be shown ordinary, decent people working together quickly and fighting for their lives.

I was in NYC a few weeks ago and drove past the site. I haven’t been downtown since before 9-11 and I haven’t watched any of the documentaries about the day. From what I could see from my car, it’s all neat and tidy, barricaded off, but that big gap there, in the middle of all those buildings, is shocking and awful.

Some day, somebody will make a comedy about 9-11, just as there are comedies set in concentration camps. There used to be a sitcom on the BBC called ‘Allo ‘Allo about the French resistence; millions of viewers every week. It ran for years but I couldn’t take a full episode. I’m not po-faced. There are some funny films about WWII, but there’s always that dubious, queasy element. Five years on, 9-11 is still so big and close it’s just too soon for anything beyond the bare, unembellished facts.

United 93 succeeds very well there; it’s an effective document and potent cinema. Considering the subject matter, it’s extraordinarily even-handed and unsensational in tone. (Marian Bantjes’ analysis of the United 93 Web site over at Speak Up confirms that restraint was the core ethic surrounding the production.) It has a mix of actors, non-actors and real world players that builds an air of grave authenticity right from the start. I left feeling that it was as respectful as a movie could be.

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