First, high finance:

Joe F: ‘I still have not been able to locate three of my friends. I just returned from volunteering in the City this past weekend. I do not have much $$$. I donated to one of my friend’s families and have about $750 left to play with. I was thinking of taking the rest and investing. I know it is not much at all, but I would like to help jump-start the economy. Is this wise?’

☞ Only if you run no credit card balances, have no 10% car loans, etc., and truly can afford to put this away for the long term.

Coming to NY to help is patriotic and generous. Trying to prop up the world’s financial markets with $750 is tremendously well-intentioned – you deserve a big hug – but ——ic. (Fill in whatever blanks you like. I can think of words, of varying lengths beginning with Q, U, I and M.)

Like water, the market will find its level. It seemed to do just fine yesterday. No panic; no propping required. If it goes back down to 6500, where five years ago it was seen by some key players as dangerously OVERvalued, that will hardly be the end of the world – and you should let your friends know it. I’m not predicting that it will go so low. I sure hope not. But whether it does or doesn’t, if this $750 is truly long-term money, you would likely do just fine investing it today.

And now the letters:

I was moved by all three of these. Please don’t miss the last one, as it comes from our mutual friend, the estimable Less Antman. It is he who makes the case that . . . we’ve won. (Separately, Less has heard the report that the SEC is investigating whether bin Laden shorted stocks before the attack. Remembering that Al Capone was sent up for tax evasion rather than murder, Less wonders . . . oh, never mind.)

1. From Yasmine: ‘As an American, a New Yorker and an Afghan, I have struggled with many feelings. I have wondered what I can do to educate people about the state of affairs in Afghanistan now and over the past 20 years. The Soviets invaded Afghanistan in December of 1979, it is September 2001 and my father’s country has been destroyed day by day for over two decades. I am disgusted by the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. For my family, these have been household names for years prior to the tragedies we witnessed on Tuesday. My father has spent years trying to get people in our government to listen – he has sat around our dinner table talking to his children for hours on end about what was happening to his homeland – so many of our friends have listened as my Dad spoke passionately about the hateful crimes the Taliban was committing against innocent Afghans all in the name of Islam, an Islam that my family does not know, an Islam that cannot be found in the pages of the Koran.

‘I beg you, as friends, to take the anger we all feel and try to learn and spread knowledge. We all want retaliation. We want someone to pay for the innocent people whose lives were taken away. But, please, please, please understand that Afghans like me and my family have never supported the Taliban. In fact, we have watched helplessly as these cowards took the little bit of dignity the Afghans had left after the Soviet war.

‘I went to work the other night and watched groups of friends, bright and educated people, stop their conversations as I approached. I have never experienced anything like this. My Dad recently grew a beard, but after seeing images of bearded fundamentalists on TV, we have asked him to shave it off to quell any possibility of attacks out of ignorance. For the first time in my life, I am afraid to tell people my ethnic background. My name is a liability. My coloring makes me feel scared when people look at me on the subway. I find myself thankful that my sisters and Mom have lighter coloring.

‘We all feel helpless right now. If nothing else, please try to educate your friends. Please do not perpetuate hate. Hatred brought down the World Trade Center. Hate is hate – there is no gray area.

‘It is very possible that we will bomb Afghanistan in the coming days. Maybe emails like this will not stop that from happening, but let’s not pretend that we do not know that those actions will kill innocent and helpless people who have lived under the terror of the Taliban for years. We turned our backs for so long. We have not written about them, or if we have, we have not read those articles, we skipped past them. People did not know where Afghanistan was until three days ago. How is that possible? Bin Laden was behind the first WTC bombing, the bombing of the Cole and the embassies in Africa — ask yourself, how did we not pay attention? Pay attention now. Know what is going on in our world. All we have is hope, unity and the ability to open our eyes. Open them.’

2. From Will Proctor: ‘I went outside tonight at 7 pm for the candlelight vigil across America. Jason and I were the only two on our block at first. The lawn man and his wife were here, cutting the grass and triming the hedges. They just smiled but didn’t say anything. They don’t speak English. I offered them a candle and even though they don’t have Internet access and hadn’t heard the news about the vigil, they understood what we were doing. They didn’t hesitate to join us.

‘Then our neighbors from next door came out to see what was going on. And Jason gave them a candle. A pregnant mother and her daughter walked down the street. The mother wouldn’t make eye contact with me, but then I held out a candle in her direction and she came over to take it. They stopped and stood with us on our lawn.

Three Hispanic men had been standing across the street, laughing nervously at the spectacle at first. Then one timidly made his way over towards us and stood on the sidewalk. I offered him a candle and he took it. And one by one, his friends followed suit.

An Armenian grandmother from across the street saw us out her window. She came down to her front porch with her candle and smiled at us.

‘Then out of a rowdy group of teenagers up the street, a boy with chains around his neck, a blue baseball jersey and cap moved swiftly towards us with a swagger and attitude as strong as any kid of the streets. I stood my ground. He stepped right up to me. ‘May I have one?’ he asked. So I gave him a candle and followed him back to his friends. Pretty soon they all joined in as well.

‘Looking up and down the street, people had come out, quietly, and joined us on the sidewalk. It was truly an amazing sight. The Armenian grandmother, the Hispanic family, the teenagers, the gay couple, and many others all standing there together, feeling the same thing, understanding how similar we are. And acknowledging not only all the people who died and are grieving, but also, for the very first time on our incredibly diverse street in the middle of Hollywood, acknowledging each other.

‘For the three months Jason and I have lived here, barely a word of acknowledgement has passed betweeen us and our neighbors. But that has all changed. No longer can we pass each other with eyes averted. No longer can we avoid conversation because they don’t speak English and our Spanish isn’t that good. No longer can we avoid conversation because they are too macho to speak to us and we are too educated to speak to a group of laborers. No longer can we avoid conversation because a fifteen-year-old is too cool or too hip to talk to a thirty-year-old and a thirty-year-old doesn’t know what to say to a fifteen-year-old.

‘Tonight we saw ourselves in each other. We realized that we all just want to love and be loved and belong and make a difference. That is what being a human is all about. That’s it. Nothing more and nothing less.’

3. The estimable Less Antman: ‘In all the hand-wringing over what should be done to respond to the terrorism of September 11, it seems to me that a critical point has been overlooked by many: The terrorists have already lost.

‘The world is shocked, including the entire Muslim world. Iran, Libya, Pakistan are all feeling genuine outrage and compassion for the US. Anyone who saw Yassir Arafat on television knows that he is speechless in his anguish over what has happened. The longer we refrain from a visible attack that kills innocent people, the more we have gained a moral authority that is the last thing Al Queda wanted to have happen.

‘Osama bin Laden doesn’t care if he dies: he WANTS to be a martyr. What will torture him is for the Islamic world to be united with the West because of his actions. What will ruin him is acts of kindness by Muslims toward non-Muslims, and acts of kindness by non-Muslims toward Muslims. He thought he would be a hero: now he is afraid to claim credit. I hope bin Laden lives to be 100, for it will be the greatest punishment possible for him to see how a vision of Hell brought the entire world to its senses and turned him into a pariah among those he thought would consider him a savior.

‘Terrorists need a large number of people who, while not participating, sympathize with their cause. This is crucial. Don’t say that Osama bin Laden and his gang don’t care about public opinion: they desperately need the sympathy and the sense of heroism that they had before September 11 in much of the world. Now they have only the criminals. If they are not raised to the level of martyrs, youngsters will stop dreaming of growing up to be suicide bombers, for they will know this will make everyone they love and respect feel ashamed of them.

‘I’m not saying we should do NOTHING. Our counterattack needs to be on three levels:

‘(1) Government. Patient police and intelligence work with the cooperation and involvement of as many other countries as possible will take the victory we have been handed and solidify it. In truth, merely making it indisputable public knowledge corroborated by Islamic governments that Al Queda committed this crime will force them to hide out like rats in sewers for the rest of their lives, unable to continue their work. A few captures would be a nice bonus, but we’ll probably only get a few suicides out of it when arrest is imminent. Some consolation. But their inability to operate anymore with the tacit support and admiration of the large numbers of people who used to consider them vaguely heroic will cripple them beyond repair: logistically, financially, morally, and emotionally.

‘(2) Practical. Free markets and free trade make the world safer. It is not surprising that virtually all terrorist nations are countries without active stock markets and where American businesses don’t exist. To this day, as Thomas Friedman of the New York Times has pointed out, there has never been a war between two different countries which each had McDonald’s franchises. China needs our market: as horrible a regime as they are, we need to keep investing and trading with it, knowing that the more prosperity the people have, the more they will have to lose from being an enemy. Be an investor, and be a global investor. It is your contribution to world peace as much as it is to your own wealth.

‘(3) Personal. Our adrenaline is flowing, and we need to do something. In addition to working and investing (see number 2), we need to channel our anger into donations to the Red Cross, the September 11 fund for victims, and charities and religious organizations whose purposes appeal to us individually. We also need to stop perpetuating hate and stereotyping of entire nations and races: that is what the terrorists have done. Muslims around the world have been laying flowers in front of US embassies: a few bouquets in front of mosques would be warranted.

‘The Islamic world doesn’t need more parking lots [as in: bomb their cities into parking lots]. It needs time to think, to realize the role that public hatred has in encouraging sick minds, and to reconsider attitudes and actions that might have made it easier for those tiny numbers who are terrorists to feel like heroes. Such reflective thought will stop the moment the first American plane drops a bomb. The American administration deserves a great deal of credit for not giving in to the lowest common denominator to this point, and I hope it continues a while longer. Now excuse me while I add a little money to my mutual fund account and make an online donation at’

For some photos from around the world that eloquently bolster Less’s point, click here.


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