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Steve Gilliard, 1964-2007

It is with tremendous sadness that we must convey the news that Steve Gilliard, editor and publisher of The News Blog, passed away June 2, 2007. He was 42.

To those who have come to trust The News Blog and its insightful, brash and unapologetic editorial tone, we have Steve to thank from the bottom of our hearts. Steve helped lead many discussions that mattered to all of us, and he tackled subjects and interest categories where others feared to tread.

Please keep Steve's friends and family in your thoughts and prayers.

Steve meant so much to us.

We will miss him terribly.

photo by lindsay beyerstein


Seitan Worshipper: "Esquire - The Bag"


Thanks to Seitan Worshipper for this great link - THANKS SW!

For those of us in the NYC-Metro area, this story is a powerful reminder of The Day Everything Changed (tm).

The Bag

The messenger bag contains previously unknown information about the dust cloud that enveloped lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001. The information will affect the lives of thousands of people, starting with the life of the man who was wearing it.

By Eric Gillin

Thomas Cahill squirms in his swivel chair. He's wearing a green-and-red wool sweater covered with pills, eyeing the white garbage bag on the battered metal desk. FedEx delivered the bag last week. Cahill is impatient as the photographer documents everything: the bag, the dust-collection machine, Cahill himself. Staring at the bag with a glint, the broad, six-foot former high school tackle looks like a kid who can't wait for his parents to stop snapping pictures of him near the tree on Christmas morning.

For Cahill--for a lot of people, actually, although they don't know it yet--this bag holds a lot of answers. It has been sealed shut for more than five years, and you should have heard the excitement in Cahill's voice when he found out it existed.

Man, five years. That long?

"Are we ready yet?"

He is sixty-nine years old. In the four decades he has taught physics and conducted air-quality research here at the University of California at Davis, Cahill has seen a lot. Five years ago, he stood near the burning, pissing rubble at ground zero for weeks, taking samples, testing, telling people the air wasn't as safe as the government said it was. To the Environmental Protection Agency, and even to the president, he became a pest, a role of which he is proud.

Today, though, today is different. "This is so exciting," he says to me, actually rubbing his hands together. "We have no other samples from September 11 except your backpack. It will give us a snapshot of what people were actually breathing, which will help the doctors enormously in knowing what to treat." He told me this over the phone, before I arrived from New York to witness the opening. Now, even with me standing there, one of the people who breathed in whatever he's about to discover, he repeats it. Exuberantly. "I'm sorry for you," he says, and he means it. "But I'm also delighted!"

My black messenger bag, which is inside the white plastic blob on the metal table, is Cahill's holy grail. When Esquire called, told him I had kept it in my closet for the last five years, and asked him to test it for toxins, Cahill was stunned. Thousands of tons of debris blew through downtown Manhattan as each of the World Trade Center towers collapsed on 9/11, but no one--not the city, not a lab at nearby NYU, not the EPA--seems to have any primary evidence from inside the plume itself. A heavy rainstorm on September 14 rinsed much of the floating debris from the air, and the city was already hastily sweeping the streets and scrubbing the buildings in a mad scramble for normalcy. Scientists hadn't even arrived on the scene. (Before the bag, the closest Cahill had ever come to finding a primary source was an air filter on an office desk, but the debris had fused to the filter and was too difficult to measure.) What the rains didn't clear was quickly contaminated by the stinky diesel trucks rolling in and out of ground zero and the chemical fire raging a few stories below the street. By the time the EPA began telling people the downtown air was safe, three days after September 11, any chance of isolating exactly what happened in the initial moments of the disaster--what was in the clouds that engulfed more than five thousand people, including me, in a matter of seconds--was presumed lost.

Why did I preserve my bag that day? I can't say. I had just seen a building that took six years and eight months to build aerate in twelve seconds. I wasn't really thinking, just doing. I had walked the twenty blocks to my apartment among the cavalcade of refugees heading uptown, all of us looking like pale, disentombed corpses spreading out among the living. Once home, I stripped, then showered, but my skin still itched, as if someone had switched my cotton towels with pink fiberglass insulation. I threw my khakis and sneakers away--no way the lady at the wash-and-fold was going to touch those. But not my Manhattan Portage messenger bag. Even though it was trashed, I stuffed it into a clean Hefty bag and stuck it on the top shelf of my closet. For a long time after, I joked about putting it in a Lucite box to make a coffee table. Why did I really keep it? I don't know. Maybe because I had just bought it. Cost me eighty dollars.

- posted by Seitan Worshipper

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