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October 26, 2007

Nothing’s changed at FEMA
Posted by Teresa at 05:31 PM *

As I pointed out here a while back, in a comment to Lis, Bush & Co. have always treated FEMA like a branch of public relations:

I’ll bet you already know that FEMA jobs were handed out to a lot of the guys who participated in attacks on vote recounts in Florida in 2000. I’ll bet you also know that Bush & Co. have always regarded FEMA as an arm of their PR operation. When Florida was repeatedly hit by hurricanes during the run-up to the last presidential election, FEMA agents got there practically before the hurricane hit. They empowered people to act for them on an extremely casual basis, and pretty much ladled money out over the heads of the hurricane victims. (Also non-victims: FEMA paid for a good many funerals of people who weren’t killed by hurricane; and by more than one report, it was enough to take your banged-up car in and claim it was damaged in the hurricane to get it repaired on the federal dime.)

The difference between FEMA’s behavior in Florida before the election, and in Louisiana after it, was so striking that I’m surprised it hasn’t gotten more attention. Of course, the difference between FEMA’s behavior in Florida before the election, and in Florida after it, has also been worthy of comment.

There’s the thing I wish red-state diehards would notice: It could have been them. FEMA’s being run by members of the buccaneer’s crew, they don’t know what they’re doing, and now that George doesn’t need our votes, the only thing they’re interested in is giving out lucrative contracts to friends of their operation.

The disaster could just as easily have been widespread forest fires in Idaho, or another New Madrid-type earthquake in the Mississippi Valley, or a volcanic event along the continental Pacific Rim, or a massive brownout in the Southwest in July, or a killer ice storm in the Carolina Piedmont. FEMA would have screwed it up just as badly as they screwed up in Louisiana.

You know that cynical and untruthful line about how a conservative is just a liberal who’s been mugged? I’m hoping some newly-minted centrists will be conservatives who’ve suddenly noticed that the us-and-them line has been drawn a lot higher than they thought it would be, and that it’s well above their heads.

In case you thought FEMA had cleaned up its act:
FEMA Workers Play Role of Reporters

(10-26) 13:39 PDT WASHINGTON, (AP) —

The White House scolded the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Friday for staging a phony news conference about assistance to victims of wildfires in southern California.

The agency—much maligned for its sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina over two years ago—arranged to have FEMA employees play the part of independent reporters Tuesday and ask questions of Vice Adm. Harvey E. Johnson, the agency’s deputy director.

The questions were predictably soft and gratuitous.

“I’m very happy with FEMA’s response,” Johnson said in reply to one query from an agency employee.

White House press secretary Dana Perino said it was not appropriate that the questions were posed by agency staffers instead of reporters. FEMA was responsible for the “error in judgment,” she said, adding that the White House did not know about it beforehand and did not condone it.

“FEMA has issued an apology, saying that they had an error in judgment when they were attempting to get out a lot of information to reporters, who were asking for answers to a variety of questions in regard to the wildfires in California,” Perino said. “It’s not something I would have condoned. And they—I’m sure—will not do it again.”

The point isn’t that they won’t do it again; it’s the attitude that led them to do it at all.
She said the agency was just trying to provide information to the public, through the press, because there were so many questions.

“I don’t think that there was any mal-intent,” Perino said “It was just a bad way to handle it, and they know that.”

FEMA gave real reporters only 15 minutes notice about Tuesday’s news conference . But because there was so little advance notice, the agency made available an 800 number so reporters could call in. And many did, although it was a listen-only arrangement.

Could they make it clearer that they still think they’re doing public relations? They’re like the old Brezhnevite Soviet Union, only much less competent.
Comments on Nothing's changed at FEMA:
#1 ::: Rose ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2007, 06:08 PM:

Living in Florida during the hurricanes, I can tell you I heard many stories of things being paid for by FEMA. Funnily enough, though, everyone that I spoke to who went to FEMA was denied any help whatsoever.

Sure, there must've been someone who was helped by FEMA, but the ones needing chainsaws (for downed trees, etc. on property) or generators (for help with power outages that stretched days or weeks) didn't get any reimbursements or such.

Most of the people I know were on their own for home rebuilding, etc.

#2 ::: Debbie Notkin ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2007, 06:30 PM:

Yes, yes, yes.

Although the topics could not be more different, nonetheless your post here made me think of
this post on Shapely Prose some time back
, which addresses the difference between specifics and contexts very well.

#3 ::: L. L. Daugherty ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2007, 07:15 PM:

When I read that story I was struck, again, by the hubris of this administration. Bush, Chenney, Chertoff, et al, not just think by know they can get away with stunts like this because no one with sufficient clout can call them to account. Living in the U.S. right now is like riding in a runaway train and the mustachioed villian has jammed the hand brake so the train will crash into a wall.

#4 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2007, 07:36 PM:

NPR did a story on this during "All Things Considered." However, considering this was an overt act of government deception, the story was rather lighthearted. I did like the idea of calling the ensuing scandal "Interrogate" though.

I hope this story takes hold, but I'm not holding my breath for the scandal. Admitted wrongs tend not to lead to scandal.

#5 ::: Spherical Time ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2007, 08:21 PM:

I'm sure you've already seen the articles that describe conditions in the Qualcomm Stadium, but I thought that this article could be related to your point.

The affluent San Diego suburbanites are eating catered meals courtesy of the government while the poor urban New Orleans residents were in squalid conditions.

I'm not saying that this is competence by FEMA, but it certainly makes for a better photo op for the Governator and GW.

#6 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2007, 08:35 PM:

Spherical #5: Are they checking incomes before you get in, and booting you if you don't have enough? Otherwise, I think the lesson is, you want to live someplace where the local government is able to handle disasters, because God help you if you have to count on help from the Feds.

New Orleans in Katrina was triply-screwed; a poor, badly run city government, backed up by a poor, badly run state government, backed up by an incompetent federal government. If the city or state had been competent, the FEMA problems would have looked like the ones from Florida--some mishandled reimbursement checks and corruption.

#7 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2007, 08:37 PM:

My question: Is the Bush Administration winning the War on Reality?

#8 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2007, 08:40 PM:

Ha! I just saw this and was heading here to post it, but of course you beat me to it.

Their arrogance is mind-boggling.

#9 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2007, 08:43 PM:

#5: The affluent San Diego suburbanites are eating catered meals courtesy of the government

I wouldn't believe this without independent confirmation from people actually in San Diego. Sounds very Potemkin to me.

#10 ::: DCA ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2007, 08:50 PM:

Two points from San Diego:

1. FEMA? Who's that? So far as I could tell the lead agencies
for fighting the fires were all the fire crews, with a lot of support from the state. The lead for information was the county. Relief
was the Red Cross (at schools) and the city (at Qualcomm). So yes, local competence counts. We will see how FEMA does at the reconstruction phase.

2. This was a LOT easier than Katrina. Outside the fire everything was normal--if someone from the unaffected part of the city wanted to bring food to Qualcomm, they could. And, since everyone (nearly) has a car, evacuation was pretty easy. Finally, 5/6 ofthose evacuated stayed with friends--again, the fire effects are local.

#11 ::: Raph ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2007, 08:50 PM:

I live in San Diego. I was evacuated. I wasn't at Qualcomm, but I was at Mira Mesa High School for some of the time.

Pretty much everything was organized locally. FEMA didn't really show up until near the end -- more than midway thru the week. High schoolers were the volunteers. Local restaurants provided food. I don't know what it was like in the latter half of the week at Qualcomm, but I can tell you that early on, when it mattered, it was the people here who pulled together.

By the way, plenty of lower-income areas, rural areas, and apartment buildings were hit by the fires, right along with the affluent ones. One of the victims was a schoolteacher. Rancho Bernardo is probably half retirement community. It is dangerous to generalize.

#12 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2007, 09:37 PM:

Ran into someone recently who was in Florida when Hurricane Andrew hit. As I recall, that was well before the election; it was 1992. She says that FEMA was nonexistent there, too, and she's frustrated that their plight didn't get the media that FEMA's New Orleans screw-ups did.

Can anyone here opine?

#13 ::: Zak ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2007, 10:09 PM:

Living in North County San Diego, and not in an area that was evacuated, I can't speak to the conditions in the shelters.

What #10 DCA says is true. This was an extremely different beast from Katrina, not least of which because all the pertinent services got to practice the exact same drill at more or less the exact same scale 4 years ago when fires pillaged the state to much the same tune as they did this time. We were told then that it was the kind of fire you only get once in a hundred years. Random numbers at that scale can look a lot less random to us short-lived meat-critters.

My wife and I were lucky in that we didn't need to evacuate, so I can't really speak about the quality in the shelters. However, the news that FEMA was coming came at least two days in and my response was "oh hell, now we're screwed."

And then I saw that Bush was coming to tour and I knew we were really screwed. From what news I've heard of his visit, they had to ground the planes and helicopters that were busy fighting the fires while he flew over, and then one whole community was blocked from returning home so he could have his photo op.

#14 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2007, 10:23 PM:

Zak @ 13

I saw that story. Worse, they were blocked from getting to the recovery centers, where they could talk to the various people and agencies about what to do now. For three hours, while George did his 'I'm wonderful: look at all the help I'm promising' bit, on the highway, in their cars, in 80-degree-plus weather. They're lucky they didn't lose people right there, because a lot of the evacuees are elderly.

#15 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2007, 10:31 PM:

This reminds me of the previous time the Republicans were caught at propaganda, when they gave out those "Oh I'm pretending to be a reporter pretending to interview people pretending to be happy about the ridiculous prescription drug benefit" videotapes to news stations.

#16 ::: Raph ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2007, 11:03 PM:

#14, I live in Rancho Bernardo; my office was about two blocks from the fire, and my house about two miles, maybe. (I evac'ed on Sunday when I saw the fire coming over the hills).

When returning, I did in fact hit that same traffic jam caused by the presidential visit. I do have to note, just for reality's sake, that it was pretty trivial to go down I15 to another exit, and bypass it. It was pretty dumb that it blocked easy returnee access to the assistance center, though.

There was a plane flying around right overhead while he was in RB, though; we speculated that it was probably from the govt. :)

To me, if there's a big story in terms of how the fires were handled, it is the way in which blogs, Google Maps, and Twitter became the best info channel, while standard websites were inadequate (and even then, better than phone and TV). Special kudos here to KPBS, who did a stellar job, and SignOnSanDiego, which had not only a great newsblog but also offered forums broken up by neighborhood.

KPBS Twitter: http://twitter.com/kpbsnews

KPBS fire map (constantly updated): http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?hl=en&ie=UTF8&msa=0&msid=114250687465160386813.00043d08ac31fe3357571&om=1&ll=32.949911

SignOnSanDiego fire blog: http://sosdfireblog.blogspot.com/

SignOnSanDiego fire forums: http://forum.signonsandiego.com/forumdisplay.php?f=156

A silver lining: the way the moon looks in the rippled smoke and clouds in the sky tonight.

http://www.raphkoster.com/2007/10/26/the-smoke-does-help-some-things/

#17 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2007, 11:13 PM:

Madeline F #15:

I think that's a pretty standard PR/propoganda tactic; I recall reading about this at least ten years ago in (I think) _Brill's Content_, and I think it wasn't new even then. Apparently, it's common to provide footage and scripts to make it easy to customize the story for various lengths, and to airbrush your own person into the role of interviewer.

A couple tricks similar to what you're describing I've read about are "push polling" (I call you up pretending to be a pollster and ask how you feel about McCain's black love child) and a different style of pretend interview where the interviewers are shills doing the same trick as the push-pollers. Another variant is the "viral marketing" guys who pay shills to wander around public places making impromptu "I'm so happy with the SUX-9000" comments to passers by.

I think the whole industry of convincing people of stuff (PR, marketing, advertising, propoganda, "public-service" announcements) is broadly pretty unconcerned with truth or honesty or what I'd consider to be ethical behavior. If lying, smearing people, inciting violence, confusing the issues, making up data, or some similar thing helps convince the mark, they just do it.

#18 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2007, 11:21 PM:

Raph @ 16

I was hitting the North County Times and The Village News, which had good coverage of the Rice fire (and many complaints about the lack of coverage from outside that area).

The San Diego county fire maps were really good. I think I know what program they were using to make them; it makes it more impressive, because (although it's the major piece of software in the field) it can be a real pain to use, especially if you're working at some level smaller than a census tract, or trying to actually draw a map. [mutter, curse, mutter, mutter]

#19 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2007, 11:30 PM:

Raph, #11. It's pretty sad to hear that a schoolteacher counts as an example of the 'lower-income' and 'less affluent' people affected.

Not that teachers here haven't slid very badly backward over the last 30 or 40 years in pay, and perhaps respect, compared to many other equally skilled and important areas here in Oz. The highest-paid ones are only a moderate amount above the 'average' wage.

#20 ::: Zak ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2007, 11:52 PM:

#16 Raph:

The twitter blogs were so much better than any of the other media sources that I only ever saw major media coverage when I was going through Google's news portal on my way elsewhere. During the worst of things I had signonsandiego.com, twitter/kpbs, twitter/nateritter and the kpbs google map all open and constantly refreshed them.

As a direct result, I felt much more connected to what was happening than I did during the Cedar fire, when we just kind of closed all the windows and watched useless cable news show the same three stories repeatedly.

#21 ::: Another Damned Medievalist ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2007, 09:14 AM:

Agree with albatross @ #6 -- a friend on LJ posted about this as major evidence of racism. While I don't doubt at all that race plays a part in the response, I know from almost personal experience (my dad was a firefighter in SoCal, then retired and became a Red Cross coordinator) that the infrastructure is just hugely better there. I don't think FEMA actually has much of a role, except for coughing up money and showing up to take the credit. The locals and state have a lot of it handled. Also, even though the homes in the hills do tend to belong to richer white folks, I can't think of many places in SoCal where the population isn't so dense that fires and firefighters couldn't discriminate even if they wanted to. Also, there are lots of people who have lived in those areas for years -- since before the land boom -- who really aren't all that wealthy. The neighborhood where I lived for about ten years with my best friend and her mom is packed with houses that sell for over half a million dollars. These are 1200 sqft tract houses. My best friend's mom was a single mother who worked most of her life as a waitress. The neighborhood is probably 60% Latino and 40% other. Almost all the houses are owned by the residents, and some families have several houses within a three-block radius. The thing is, the houses cost about $25k when they were built, and most of the families have been there for 40 years. It's still a fairly low income neighborhood, but most of the people have real estate wealth -- although they can't move, because they could never afford to buy somewhere else in CA.

Just something to think about.

#22 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2007, 01:17 PM:

Another Damned Medievalist: They can afford to live elsewhere in Calif. What they can't do is move to another urbann area in Calif.

Maia's folks' neighborhood is running to about $750k per 3/4 acre parcel (the place across the street is being sold, property value, with a 1.2M listing; with a condition that the present house be knocked down, and a new house; already planned, be built. I don't think it will sell, and more's the pity, because, as is, it's a nice place, but I digress).

So if they sold their place, they could probably (in the present market) get $750k.

If they wanted to move to Visalia, we were looking at a place there, $292k, 2.3 acres, two buildings (one purpose built for breeding snakes/keeping mice) with a well.

But they'd be in Visalia.

#23 ::: Raph ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2007, 01:49 PM:

Mez @ #19,

I wasn't so much giving the example "schoolteacher = lower income" as I was attempting to illustrate that the affected are not just the stereotypical "affluent SoCal people." I just get irritated at blanket generalizations that ignore the human dimension.

Me, I'm affluent. :P A former co-worker (who is way more affluent than I) actually fought the fire from his multimillion-dollar mansion with a hose and saved the structure from burning (stupid, but brave, I suppose). His kids and wife got out of the area with literally minutes to spare. Had they not made it, it would still be a tragedy.

Four bodies were found in a canyon -- probably extremely poor illegal immigrants who were hiding out there. Still a tragedy.

P J @ #18,

I actually found the SD County maps very frustrating in terms of planning our return (we ran clear to Anaheim), because they showed our immediate area, as well as south of it along the 15 through Carmel Mtn Ranch, as under mandatory evac for two full days after people were back... apparently, they only went by zip code. Same for the 211 line. The street by street and neighborhood openings were only available on the blog and Twitter.

#24 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2007, 02:47 PM:

"There’s the thing I wish red-state diehards would notice: It could have been them."

...the failure of empathy and imagination...

#25 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2007, 03:01 PM:

Raph - I wasn't looking at maps of reopenings -those, as you said, were better handled elsewhere. I was looking at the maps to see where the fires were burning. Those maps had major streets and highways and Thomas pages (making it easy to find where you wanted to look), in PDF files that they were updating as needed.

(For non-Californians: the Thomas guides are the most-commonly-used road maps in the area, leading to them being referred to as 'the gospel according to the brothers Thomas'. You can find them everywhere, including the supermarket.)

#26 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2007, 03:59 PM:

P J Evans #25: In The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump, Harry Turtledove creates an order of monks called the Thomas Brothers, who provide information on every place in California.

Spherical Time #5: I've lived in suburban San Diego. I don't think I'd have qualified as an 'affluent suburbanite' at the time.

The Chancellor of UC San Diego sent out a mass e-mail today saying that the campus had been spared.

#27 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2007, 06:30 PM:

Fragano - It's been long enough since I read that one that I'd forgotten that one (the in-jokes were fun).

#28 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2007, 07:20 PM:

P J Evans #27: Indeed so. If there's an earthquake it won't be San Andreas' fault.

#29 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2007, 07:33 PM:

Fragano @ #28, No, but it might be Rita Hayward's.

#30 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2007, 07:50 PM:

Linkmeister #29: Not Rita Hayworth's?

#31 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2007, 11:56 PM:

A few choice quotes from Chertoff about this incident:

"I think it was one of the dumbest and most inappropriate things I've seen since I've been in government." (Oh, really...?)

"I have made unambiguously clear, in Anglo-Saxon prose, that it is not to ever happen again[....]"

Anyone wanna volunteer to reconstruct his admonishment past the initial "Hwaet!"?

#32 ::: Scott ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2007, 01:32 AM:

@Julie #31

As a person involved in "The English Industry" in East Asia, even without the incorrectness (which is of course relevant) of the Anglo-Saxon comment, it's really nearsighted to think of (or refer to) English as especially Anglo Saxon. So, even if he were to admit that the language he used was... you know... Modern English... he'd still be wrong.

I mean... official language of the EU and all that. Not to mention the unofficial language of international shipping and trade in the Pacific (possibly the world, but I don't have any point of reference outside of the pacific...)

#33 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2007, 01:33 AM:

Fragano @ #30, No, Hayward.

It was a bad pun, sorry.

#34 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2007, 09:45 AM:

Linkmeister #33: Sorry. I seem to have been afflicted by dullness yesterday afternoon!

#35 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2007, 09:50 AM:

Julie L. #31 & Scott #32: What Chertoff meant is that he told his subordinates something along the lines of 'You fuckers had better not commit another fuck-up like this again! This shit stops here!' (And, yes, I know that 'fuck' is not attested before the 15th century.)


#36 ::: Tania ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2007, 11:59 PM:

Jim Wright, an amusing fellow that comments over in Scalzi-land, posted this on his blog earlier today:

Foolin' Everybody Management Agency

The sign-language translators comments/actions are the icing on the cake.

#37 ::: vian ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2007, 12:10 AM:

Fragano @35

So, basically, he was telling us that he was cross enough, in a manly and uncompromising way, about the whole debacle to use the AS expletive, only he was too much of a wuss to actually, you know, use it?

Wow. Harsh language. I suspect FEMA is shaking in its boots. Wonder what it would take to get him to actually fire someone?

(Julie - I liked your Hwaet the Helle ... )

#38 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2007, 08:48 AM:

A related issue. Everyone keeps telling me we're in a war with Islamic terrorists, and I seem to recall them crashing planes into buildings with some pretty ugly effects a few years back. If the next such attack takes out the local government, or happens someplace where the locals aren't able to respond, is FEMA able to step in and help in a timely way? I gather it's not, and some people comment that it was never intended to be able to. But if we're serious about the war on terror, don't we need that ability? I know that's not as important as spreading around the anti-terror money for boondoggles in North Dakota or something, but supposing a terrorist nuke goes off in Portland or someone drops a 50 lb bag of freeze-dried anthrax spores off the Arch in St. Louis, it'd be nice to have some efficient Federal assistance available.

Now, if serious terrorist attacks are not a threat, then we shouldn't worry about this ability. But then, we ought to be able to save a ton of money by getting rid of 95% of the money we're spending on homeland security (most of which appears to me to be either boondoggles or money that was formerly being spent under another label).

It's kind of striking to me that our response to 9/11 was to invade two countries, threaten several others, wiretap and spy on everyone inside the US, start abducting and torturing suspected terrorists, but not to prepare to recover from another attack. It's almost like we don't really think there will be another attack, but want to use the fear of it to do a bunch of police-state stuff at home, and build an empire abroad.

#39 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2007, 10:24 AM:

albatross (#38): efficient Federal assistance -- these days, alas, that sounds like a complete oxymoron.

#40 ::: Leigh Butler ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2007, 12:25 PM:

I was infuriated at the commentary on some news network (I think it was CNN), talking about how great it was that FEMA had "learned from their mistakes" in Katrina, because look what a fabulous job they're doing in CA!

What? First of all, FEMA's not doing crap in CA - California is handling it. And gee, isn't it remarkable how CA, which would have the 7th highest GDP in the world if it were considered a country, has such wonderful resources?

Not even to mention how the two situations are utterly different from each other. Don't get me wrong, I've lived through wildfire season in CA myself and it's hardly happy fun time for anyone involved, but in terms of disaster relief logistics it doesn't even remotely compare to the clusterfuck that Katrina created on the Gulf Coast. It's like congratulating someone for playing "Chopsticks" after mangling Rachmaninoff.

But that's actually neither here nor there; the fact is, CA is important, and rich, and governed by a Republican, and Louisiana was (and is) not any of these things, apparently.

The proof, as they say, is in the catered pudding.

#41 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2007, 12:41 PM:

Leigh @ 40

Add to that, that Orange and San Diego counties are fairly reliably GOP in their leanings (especially SD: look at their congreescritters!) and you see why Shrub showed up fairly quickly and FEMA is being very noisy. (San Bernardino and Riverside counties also have serious GOP tendencies.)

#42 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2007, 03:51 PM:

Well, that's nice.

* * *

FEMA Spokesman Loses Spy Job Offer
By PAMELA HESS Associated Press Writer

Oct 29th, 2007 | WASHINGTON -- The man who staged a fake Federal Emergency Management Agency news conference has lost a chance to be National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell's top public information officer.

John P. "Pat" Philbin, FEMA's external affairs director, who had been scheduled to move into the new job on Monday, will not be getting it after last week's phony news conference. The staged question-and-answer session was harshly criticized by both the White House and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, whose department oversees FEMA.

"We do not normally comment on personnel matters," DNI spokesman Ross Feinstein said Monday. "However, we can confirm that Mr. Philbin is not, nor is he scheduled to be, the director of public affairs for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence."

* * *

Personal matters?

#43 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2007, 04:10 PM:

albatross @ 38

Ya think?

Interestingly, your example of a nuke in Portland (I assume you meant OR?) points out why it matters where you live, and not what the Federal Gummint has promised you. A CBR attack, such as a dirty nuke, on Portland would meet with a fairly well planned (if inadequately provisioned) response. One of the things we do have in Portland is supercomputers and people who like to use them to model physical problems. So we have a sheaf of simulations for different times of the year and weather conditions that show where the fallout/gas/spores are going to be blown by the wind from a given source point, and how long it will take to get to a given other point in the metro area. Even if we don't have the requisite protective gear and decontamination facilities, we can at least tell the people most at risk where to run.

I'm not aware of any program by the Feds to take these techniques and duplicate the results in any other city. I wonder why?

#44 ::: Another Damned Medievalist ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2007, 06:11 PM:

Terry Karney @ #22 -- Yeah, that's kind of what I meant. You can't afford to move across town if you only have the money from the house and a normal income. I did have one of the all-time best breakfasts ever in Visalia once. Although it's possibly because I was coming back from a week in Kings Canyon ...

#45 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2007, 01:34 AM:

Some of the red states are starting to take notice. Coming back from MileHiCon, I was looking at the local paper in Oklahoma City, and one of the lead stories was about how Oklahomans are getting pissed because they weren't able to get squat in the way of Federal disaster aid after one nasty set of wildfires and two vicious ice storms, but California is pretty well having Federal money poured over their heads.

Does anyone else get the nasty suspicion that the Republicans know they can count on Oklahoma to vote red, but are wooing California?

#46 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2007, 05:03 PM:

Bruce #43:

My sister worked on some simulations of this (I think it really was a 50 lb bag of anthrax spores dropped off the Arch) in grad school, and I know there is some kind of widespread computer/human monitoring of emergency room data to look for bioterrorism, though I think it's more likely to catch unintentional outbreaks of nastiness.

It may be that all kinds of work has been done on this stuff. It's not widely discussed, probably because you can't win many voters over with discussions of supercomputer simulations of fallout patterns. The PR aspect of the war on terror is really odd, though--sometimes, people seem to be downplaying threats, other times playing them up for political effect or to justify more funding, still other times trying to reassure us in ways that scare the hell out of me, and sometimes doing perfectly sensible stuff and calmly telling people about it if they ask. I guess this tracks with the high variance of competence and objectivity both between and within government agencies.

#47 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2007, 09:58 PM:

I ... I ...

I think this is spam. Maybe. If so, it's a giant of its kind, a true masterwork of the spam genre.

Or, it's a truly massive cry for help. Wow.

It is certainly a koan, one way or 'tother.

#48 ::: Vicki suspects comment spam ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2007, 10:02 PM:

I don't know whether they're selling anything, and it's definitely of the "tl;dr" sort, but there are certainly bunches of x @ y strings in there.

#49 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2007, 10:09 PM:

Greenland is a Dutch providence for a reason::::The Netherlands is the "piss" of the Scandanavian penis clue.

Huh?

#50 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2007, 10:09 PM:

albatross @ 38 - it always seemed to me that in the context of the (stated) fear of terrorism you'd damn well want to have universal health care as well -- how else could you even hope to respond to bioterrorism?

But nobody in charge is really concerned about terrorism; it's their stock in trade. The more terrorism there is, goes their calculus, the more Republican votes there will be. Never mind that it's stupid -- they're not the sharpest tools in the shed.

#51 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2007, 10:16 PM:

Vicki, I do not know what you are saying. But it sounds very perspicacious.

#52 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2007, 10:22 PM:

I guess this bit: "Please find the web site address in this document to find my sound file site." kind of makes it spam. I guess. Weird. And I do enjoy my spam, it's kind of an obsession.

#53 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2007, 10:30 PM:

Wow. Someone is off their meds.

#54 ::: Xopher suspects poster with a serious neurochemical disorder ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2007, 10:33 PM:

I mean, clearly a wacko, but is it a garden-variety internet wacko, or an actual psychotic? Hard to know for sure.

#55 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2007, 10:39 PM:

I used to kind of dote on Internet crazy-writing, but after a while it got boring. There's a sad banality to the wackiness, and the fact that there's a confused and unhappy person on the other side is a distinct bummer.

#56 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2007, 10:44 PM:

There was another long screed by the same person over on Chaucer's blog a while ago; iirc it's one of the few comments which GC has ever erased. The wording and phraseology was very similar-- "the penis of Scandinavia" was mentioned there as well-- but not identical, which suggests enough bizarre stamina to write out new permutations over and over again.

#57 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2007, 11:14 PM:

Julie 57: I'm not sure I'd call it stamina. I'd call it "inability to stop." It's much more horrible than just having stamina.

#58 ::: Rymenhild ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2007, 11:24 PM:

There are a few personalities who wander about my university campus and the surrounding neighborhood carrying signs rather like that post. I tend to think of them as garden-variety local wackos, and never thought to associate them with internet oddities until now. Now I'm wondering if the man who tends to scream and wave signs at a particular street corner has access to the Net.

#59 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2007, 11:50 PM:

...actually, now that I've poked around elseweb for other finalprophet spoor, I think (s)he may have an archive of prefab chunks of text for handy cut'n'pasting in semirandom order, although every so often new ones are added and old ones are revised; quite possibly each post has some extemporaneous material as well. Judging from the host page at beliefnet, the "free soundfiles" are probably recitations of some of these chunks (no way am I clicking on any of those .wav files).

At our local library, there's a loud nutter who regularly comes through; I'm not sure whether he uses the internet computers, but the librarians seem to be calling the cops when he shows up.

#60 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2007, 10:32 AM:

Well, maybe it's not human... That would explain the inability to realize that individual posts don't generally exceed 64K in size. (See where it cuts off mid-word?) A generative grammar with lots of ... odd lexical choices could do a dandy job with this kind of post.

Maybe the world mind is just trying to communicate. About Scandinavian penises, Italians, and Jewish clone hosts.

#61 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2007, 12:48 PM:

I expect that if I dodder off into the realm of spampunditry, I'll be a lot more terse than the sloppy example above. Anyway, here's an on topic link to divert your attention from the fact that the moderators haven't deleted #47 yet:

Just Who Was At That Fake FEMA Briefing?

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