Wednesday, September 29, 2004


Asked "What is the Commons?," the Tutor says:
The owned by all, rather than a few. Folklore as opposed to Disney, air as opposed to bottled water, the town green as opposed to a mall.
One could say, by way of wrestling with such protean notions:

The commons is owned by no one. Folklore, sure, but whose? Don't give me Johnny Appleseed and whitey. In fact, one might ask why the United Corporations of America has consistently had to borrow folklore instead of acknowledge its own. Town greens are fine, though in some towns in New England and elsewhere, the commons are so pristine that aliens from six miles away are asked to move on if ever so bold as to venture in. The problem isn't the commons, but the anal, squinting towns around them. Icons invoking tradition come loaded with unreassuring overtones of American heritage, violently waved little flags, and bad marching music. How about zocalo instead?

Why bind the discussion of commons within the constraints of property and ownership when the sense of commons, and common sense, work to undo those leathery straps for the sake of a different order of access to reality that involves sharing, custodial trust, and unalloyed giving?

The Tutor is justly critical of tidy sites that employ "the high dry style of the MBA, the manager, the venturer." Would he agree there is more than style to the "purchase" of style? On the occasion of a conference in Banff devoted to Collaboration, Technology, the Arts and Democracy, we are helpfully reminded of a sort of vernacular, the speaking of the vulgus:
To hold out for the commons is to hold out for traditions, including literary, philosophical, religious, and democratic traditions, of giving and "being in the world." These traditions include Mardi Gras, The Feast of Fools, and the Carnivalesque world of Rabelais.
This is the saturnalian style, a mode of subversion of which white papers and conferences are blessedly innocent. So far. The Tutor seems hell bent on their deflowering:
may we never forget where we come from - the dumpster of broken lives.

Monday, September 27, 2004


And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create blah blah
- Eliot
Have I mentioned how much I detest T.S. Eliot? Sick fuck. There is no time, ever. Of that much I am quite sure. Which brings me to point out that I am not reading your blog. I haven't time. Ok? I might have found a place to live, O joy. But the real point of this is not this or that, but to say I happened to be watching Martin Scorsese's My Voyage to Italy, which I'd never seen, not being a major fan of Marty's, and lo and behold, he has the most honest and upright appraisal of Roberto Rossellini there, a marvel, full of generous-sized clips from some of his very, very difficult to see films. A two-disc DVD worth finding, which I did, at the local Blockbuster, of all places, which usually has nothing.

Living in a town which never had much going on, and where most of which aforementioned nothingness is now rather flat, in my van, of an evening, I watch movies. I've been watching a fair amount of Zhang Yimou. To Live is up there with Roberto's best. Anyway, I'm watching this nice flick by Scorsese, who really does know from Italian film, and seeing so many of the moments of Rossellini's early work, and later stuff, which puts him so far ahead of every USian filmmaker who ever lived, I had to bother to pay attention, and sure enough, RR doesn't disappoint, but there, towards the end of the first of the two-disc set, he puts the past year of my biographical segment in perfect Albertian perspective:
"People today only know how to live in society, not in community. The soul of society is the law. The soul of community is love."
Scorsese quoted this, making my day, and of course I couldn't remember it, so I checked, and found it on this remarkable blog, justifying blogging's existence as far as I'm concerned.

Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
T.S.: Yo:
take a memo:
blow me.
Which somehow provoked a search for something else from RR, which led to this review of Tag Gallagher's great bio of Rossellini. A good review, full of exactly what it is about Rossellini that puts him in a category beyond what we normally think of as directors, or art, or life, for that matter. If you wish to study what it means to be a source, as in, the origin, with all the paterfamilial baggage that comes with it, Rossellini is unavoidable, in ways that, say, Robert Bly is not.

Rossellini's art, though fully imaginative, fully "fantasy'", fully creative (and never simply "documentary") is of the here and now. "Neo-realism", as Gallagher argues at length, was not a style, not a movement, it was an attitude that belonged essentially to Rossellini, and him alone: the attitude that a new world can be made, or found, around us, that we make the world over through the force of our passion and conviction. "Art is a window, not a playhouse" (645), Gallagher concludes. And what this modest window lets us see, if we know how to look, respond and feel, is the truth of Rossellini's long-held conviction that "from a very humble position [anyone] can ... revise the whole conception of the universe."
The review also quotes Gallagher:
Art, Rossellini and [Leon Battista] Alberti claim, is a "science", a way of knowing things; it constructs a substitute world in order to reach the "real" through fantasy, that is, through our imagination, which may be mathematical, artistic, or whatever.
Rossellini portrayed Alberti in The Age of the Medici, one of the most acute films ever concocted. This is what our time is made of. Not James Joyce, not clever litterateurs. Because, you know,

"People today only know how to live in society, not in community. The soul of society is the law. The soul of community is love."
Ballsac says wot?
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
Sure. Why not. Live a little.

Sunday, September 26, 2004


Hurricane 4, known as Jeanne (but names do what?), came near, but then swerved northward, pestering Floridians elsewhere. I will sum, for the record, our particular hurricane experiences:
Hurricane 1 ("Charley") - Direct uppercut, down for the count.

2 ("Frances") - Glancing sideways blow, slept through most of it.

3 ("Ivan") - Went to the beach, not even good waves.

4 ("Jeanne") - Blustery, strong but bantam gusts. Not good sleeping. Power's on and we're fine.
I've posted some pics taken this morning on Flickr.

Purse lips unsquare mountain

An email prodded me to check out A Picture's Worth, a site featuring contributed photos and text from a lot of people. The concept is David Chin's.

Quickly skimming thumbnails in the September gallery, one caught my eye. Clicking, I saw it was a lovely image taken at Machu Picchu. As much as I loved the image, it was the text that got me going, voicing experiences I had had in Mexico. Here's part of it:

After finishing my archaeological fieldwork in 1997 I visited Machu Picchu, the so-called "lost city" of the Inka. Actually, the only reason it got lost was because the Inka travelled and lived along the tops of mountains, whereas the Spaniards and their descendents lived and travelled along the valley bottoms where they couldn't see it.

Of all my pictures of Inka architecture, this is my favourite. I love the way the lines of the structure's roof mirror the angle of Wayna Picchu, the mountain in the background. I love the narrow footpath that reaches between the buildings and the mountain on which they are built. And I love that the clouds are eye level.

To me, this one shot captures how the Inka lived in the world. Nature and culture slide together until it is virtually impossible to tell them apart. ...

But perhaps the term "landscape" is not entirely applicable, as the land is not considered inanimate. Places on the land are now known as tirakuna, and they watch and interact with people regularly. As Catherine Allen explains, "Tirakuna are not spirits who inhabit the places, but the Places themselves, who live, watch, and have ways of interacting with human beings, plants, and animals that live around and upon them." In the Andes, mountains are related to each other, just as are people. ...

I remember thinking that Western culture tells of places where the gods walk the earth among us; in the Andes, you can't separate one from the others.
It only then that with further delight I realized both photo and text were from the always stimulating Anne Galloway, who also co-produces a blog entitled space and culture. Brava Anne!

Saturday, September 25, 2004

one more thing

The email seems to be, for the time being at least, abgefeuked. I can be reached at matrullo at gmail dot com Spammers need not take the trouble.


Weather Underground is a useful site for tracking all sorts of weather.

Five-day forecast for Jeanne.

Five computer models for Jeanne. The most accurate model for three previous storms of the season, the NOGAPS model, has Jeanne coming nearest our way.

bat·ten v. bat·tened, bat·ten·ing, bat·tens v. intr.

1. To become fat.
2. To thrive and prosper, especially at another's expense:
The pampered monarch lay battening in ease. --Garth.

Skeptics, with a taste for carrion, who batten on the hideous facts in history, -- persecutions, inquisitions. --Emerson.
n 1: stuffing made of rolls or sheets of cotton wool or synthetic fiber [syn: batting] 2: a strip fixed to something to hold it firm v 1: furnish with battens; "batten ships" [syn: batten down, secure] 2: secure with battens; "batten down a ship's hatches"

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

unconscious, and dangerous

...we are a dangerously unconscious civilization.

Not only do we seem to be devoid of useful memory, but when we do remember accurately it has little or no impact on our actions. It is as if, when we come to public action, our greatest desire is to generalize and institutionalize a syndrome resembling Alzheimer's disease. One-third to one-half of the population of Western countries is today employed in administering the public and private sectors. In spite of having a larger and better educated elite than ever before in history; in spite of knowing more than we have ever known about ourselves and our surroundings, we actively deny the utility of public knowledge.
from The Unconscious Civilization, John Ralston Saul. Thanks to Jon Husband for the pointer.

How come Canadians get it and we don't? They seem at ease with a working ability to address complex matters that we USians seem to not have begun to formulate (except perhaps deep within the groves of academe - so deep as to appear to be nothing but slugs and bogs and stinking fens to the larger universe of discourse). Without a shared sense of public good, there can be no common sense. It is abundantly clear, given our tabloid minds, that USians have little of either. We are contractually bound to forget our mother's name, if it improves the next quarter's bottom line.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

of democracy: the Red Queen

Three prisoners in Iraq. A second head sawn off, one to go.

We were offered a choice. Since doing nothing amounts to voting, we voted.

How does this differ, in substance, from democracy in the US?

Monday, September 20, 2004

Rich savor taxpayers' lunch, thanks to Porter

Another bit of awkward Porter Goss arcana:

North Captiva island off the coast of Southwest Florida is one of those exclusive barrier islands that one needs a boat just to get to. Captiva Island, where Robert Rauschenberg has long had a studio, is itself quite the fancy address. But North Captiva, also known as Upper Captiva, is even more uppah, and much in the news now because for the past few years wealthy folk have been able to build large homes there, taking on enormous insurance risk.

Problem is, when these multi-million-dollar homes are flooded, flood insurance, backed by taxpayer money, helps clean them up and get them ready to be hit by another storm. (And when they're destroyed by winds, overextended insurers fall back upon taxpayers to bail them out, much like the Savings and Loans of the 80s).

Barrier island living is not unlike San Andreas fault living: both are forms of building on amphetamine geology, says ocean activist David Helvarg. Besides providing space for nesting sea turtles, barrier islands, as the name implies, usefully interpose a buffer between raw nature and human civilization.

But that's not how Porter Goss sees it. Goss, President Bush's nominee to head the CIA, opened the way for rich folk to build on North Captiva in 1999, one of the wealthiest zip codes in the US.

The other day I happened to be speaking with a roofing contractor who had just come back from the island. Every home on it is worth a million or more, and every one had sustained extensive damage from Hurricane Charley, he said.

Damage the taxpayers will pay for, if it involves flood. See this Naples Daily News article for more. Here's Mr. Goss's own testimony on behalf of opening North Captiva to construction.

One has to wonder if Mr. Goss has an 800 number to handle whatall's hitting the fan.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Imago Corporis: The Institutional Mirror Stage

A loose hypothesis hinged on anecdote, with a corollary and two anecdotes:

Hypothesis, easier annotated than formulated: Built into the communications system is a fundamental unit of syntax, namely, that the speaker will endow the listener with the same attributes which he, she, or it possesses him, her, or itself.

Corollary: If you represent an institution such as a corporation, you will, over time, internalize an image of the corporate body, as it were. You will incorporate, internally, the structure and features of the corporation. This is in part why people representing companies often sound like they have never heard of meatspace, but exist entirely in realms of hierarchical infrastructure.

Thus: Institutional representatives who have "self-incorporated" in this way will project that internal image upon customers with whom they come in contact in the normal course of business.

Example A:
A storm has killed your home. Your normal framework of life and work is disolved. You call your insurance company to tell them your expenses have exceeded their disbursements of funds alloted for "Loss of Use."
"Do you have receipts"


"Can you fax them to us?"

"I don't have a home."

Silence. "I'll have to have a supervisor call you."
Example B: Sprint, meanwhile, has exceeded even its own generous estimate of how long it would take to restore telephone service to my home after it was knocked out by a hurricane on August 13. The company had indicated it would get around to repairing it by September 13, but as of today, service is still out.
The company has thoughtfully provided an 800 number so we might keep in touch.
From which, Frere Jacques, one accedes to the Hypothesis of the Institutional Mirror Stage: To The Corporation, I'm not a person. I am a ghastly creature consisting of an numbered account, a stream of money, and a metallic voice on a wire. From my head, or right shoulder perhaps, sprouts a fax machine, or better, an All in One fax/copier/scanner/printer/, while my larynx has telephone/answering machine capabilities, and my arse, I suppose, contains a shredder.

QED: The corporation is always addressing a spectral image of itself, even when it has trained its employees to sound human. This holds true at all times, especially when the provocation for contacting the Corporate Imago is to address the absence of these very items.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

wide area enterprise mesh

Doc: Nobody expects to pay nothing to operate in a free marketplace. But they don't want that marketplace conceived and run as a one-way piping system for pumping "content" from entertainment and publishing producers to the same consumers who have been soaking up "media" in the same manner for the past 50 years.

What smart cities and counties want is to create the conditions where enterprise can flourish.
I hadn't seen Doc's comment yesterday when I slapped together a bunch of links about wireless mesh, but surely he's got it right. And, "enterprise" need not be confined to media, i.e., to "content." Rather, in order for "content" to be truly enterprising, it must be freed from the constraints of the current model. I.e., instead of trying to tell Comcast or Fox how to run their business, we could be running our own. The best enterprise we little folk could aggressively pursue would be to produce, from the bottom up, a wireless mesh network, always on, durable and easily replaceable, of which we are shareholders and partners. As Clay Shirky sez:
There are two ways to build $10 billion in network infrastructure. The first is to get ten large firms to pony up a billion, and the second is to get 10 million users to spend a hundred dollars each. Wifi fits that second model, and has created an explosion of interest and experimentation that would be impossible to create in a world where the 2.4Ghz band was treated as property.
Then we'd begin to live on something other than a one-way street. There's a lot more to this, having to do with how we (mis)understand property, and how corporate media hegemony (mis)shapes our every waking thought.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

All our base are belong to us. not

I seem to keep having to be reminded that technology is only as good as the humans wielding it.

A few links below point to stuff about wireless and wireless mesh. Nice that some places have started mesh projects and are encouraging neighbors to build it out:
The Champaign-Urbana Community Wireless Network (CUWiN) has built a communications network using wireless networking equipment. This is essentially the same "WiFi" equipment used in homes and offices, but we put it on rooftops to connect neighbors and form a high-speed community network.
The significance of the technology could lie in how it nudges US communities to start thinking less monadically. Here's an example of the hapless adjacency of monadic communal life: After Hurricane Charley hit Charlotte County, Florida, insurers gathered to process claims. Some moved faster than others, but soon large parking lots in heavily damaged shopping centers were being used as temporary parking zones for mobile trailers sent in by many of the larger insurance companies.

So, on one hand, lots of mobile insurance units set up to serve insurance policyholders, including offering immediate cash to help those who lost homes to cover immediate alternate living expenses. On the other hand, lots of policyholders very eager to talk with their insurers.

Only, it was random. The trailers were scattered all around the county, so the chances of a customer stumbling on his company's trailer (except the high profile ones like Allstate) were less than ideal.

Here, then, was a relatively simple information opportunity: All that was needed was to compile a list of which company was where, then publish it in the local papers, announce it on radio and TV, and post it on, say, the county's emergency office management site. I suggested the idea both to the newspaper and to the office of the county's crack emergency manager, to no avail.

Apparently it does not occur to USians to ease the highly inefficent, wasteful predicaments where easily capturable data could be centralized for rapid, economical dissemination. I suspect this has something to do with what we have learned from capitalism and Frank Sinatra. I found my company (five miles south, in an abandoned Kmart shopping center) only after the adjuster who came to my house told me that they had arrived and where they were. Other people never found their companies (some never even got through to them by phone). Although the temporary "presences" of the insurers were supposed to remain here for months, most vacated ahead of Hurricane Frances, and have not returned.

In sum, the companies made a show of showing up, more or less like FEMA, but neither did they nor did the invariably award-winning purveyors of community news and information in fact bother to improve upon the entropy of sheer randomness. It is this curious mindset that I'm wondering if wireless mesh technology could, if not cure, perhaps alleviate. If USians begin to think about mesh networks, they might also begin to imagine how data, properly integrated, could help a community actually have something in common.

Champaign Urbana Community Wireless Network
Wifi News
Corante Mobile Mesh Networking
Wireless Networking
802.11 Wireless Networks: The Definitive Guide (O'Reilly Networking)
Deploying License-Free Wireless Wide-Area Networks
Building Wireless Community Networks
Wi-Fi Handbook : Building 802.11b Wireless Networks
Daily Wireless
Reiter's Wireless Data Web Log
Wireless Hacks
MIT roofnet
RFC 3561
Mobile Mesh Networking
Wifi (Wikipedia)
Free Wifi (Wikipedia)

Monday, September 13, 2004

build the frigging mesh already

If Ivan is a non-event here (southwest Bushieville), it's not and will not be a non-event else where.

Necessity, if not the mother of all invention, certainly offers some incentives.

I'm for the moment stationed, AKMAtically, outside the closed-in-trepidation-of-the-no-longer-threatening-Ivan public library, where customers keep arriving and being disappointed at being turned away -- not just today, but tomorrow as well, but where the wifi is still running. I have as yet to be accosted by woolgathering gendarmes, net polizei, or, if there is any distinguishable difference, cable/dsl hitmen, but the clock is running on my batteries, so the hell with the long post I was going to write about news media as rococo teapot in a tempest of open source recapitalization of the world as we know it. Or something like that.

The thing is, wireless mesh networks. Period. Posit that the technology becomes available to the extent that we can lay these out to any cut of any jib. Right now the local mall would be drawing lots of attention if it offered wifi in its food court.

Clay Shirky has a lovely piece about The Possibility of Spectrum as a Public Good. Read it. If we all participated in the production process for wireless mesh, we'd have it to redeploy after storms, terrorists, FEMA, or stupidity knocked out dinos like Comcast, Sprint, etc., no? If people owned the network, they would run it smarter than corporations. That's a wager. Care to lay odds?

Friday, September 10, 2004

cleaning up

"...the 'state of emergency' in which we live is not the exception but the rule" ~ Walter Benjamin.
The worst thing about a third hurricane story in the same region is it really screws up the news cycle. You've done the terrified citizens thing twice already. The hasty preparations, the fearful families, the brave news crews. Everyone has memorized the location of shelters that take pets. We've all heard, to a bulimic breaking point, about the gas, food, water, and ice shortages, the blasted homes, the aftermath-story chestnuts about folks cleaning up, dedicated volunteers, brave emergency managers, sincerely caring high officials, and the down-to-earth business of getting on with our lives.

Barely have we turned to What's up with Kerry? the dog shot that guy? Can that really be Fallujah? Britney's cellulose? Eisner's swan song? when another one hits. Headlines now bellow, "Hurricane Fatigue takes its toll," but like many media "events," what they in fact reflect is how the media feel about covering this story yet again, their queasy discomfort that, in fact, nobody gives a single good god-damn anymore. Been there, done that, twice in fact. God -- for Whom the Eternal Return of the Same is pretty much all that's ever on the tube -- has weighed Florida in the balance and found it a little light in the loafers. Sheeit, what do we do now? Lop the freaking state off already -- maybe it can still manage to enjoy a seedy nano-celebrity's afterlife in Vegas.

More to the "point" here, as we await the cone of error of Ivan to melt, thaw and resolve itself into an actual event or nonevent as the case may be, is the uneven modality of time in the before, the anteroom of the Thing in Itself.

For example, there's the odd adjacency of stringent emergency preparations and routine daily exercises: Home Depot has become a Mexican shrine, besieged by endless lines of pilgrims seeking the intercession of Saint Plywood and Blessed Duct Tape; homeowners whose homes have not yet been sufficiently wrecked busily nail boards to windows; gas stations choke with Mad-Max gasoline addicts. All the while, schoolkids quietly do their homework in the library, out of town Realtors scout cheap waterfront lots (1), FEMA contractors tear up front yards (2) like nothing special is up.

Inside the zone, or cone, of a state of emergency, normal life takes on a surreal disposition -- the strangeness lying not in what "normal people" are doing, but in the fact that they cannot seem to stop doing it. The endless chatter du jour, the political sniping as regular as lawn sprinklers, the uninterrupted blogging of this and of that, the random everydayness of the day, takes on a kind of arbitrary perversity, as if, in the suspended moment after the first plane had found its target three years ago less a day, setting us all up to witness the accuracy of the second, interpolating that feeling even before we knew it, a foreboding sense that not only were ladders of Capital falling, but so was some invisible membrane, a fourth wall that had always seemed to be there, a kind of NBC of national broadminded complacency and delusion keeping us safe from any extreme of anything, this wall now attenuating, fraying, opening to something we preferred remain on the other side of the mirrored world we pretend to live in, as if, in the dawn of our knowledge of that fraying, we took a moment to look around and found everyone we knew just as they'd been an instant before, sweetly oblivious to what now irreversibly was past and seduced by an eternal deja-vu apprehension of what nevermore could be, smiling, chattering, blogging, so like ourselves.

(1) Days, or maybe hours, after Hurricane Charley hit, lemonade signs went up from Realtors offering to buy homes, especially those on waterfront property. [Later edit: e.g.

(2) Contractors working under FEMA's direction have been cleaning up some streets by the novel method of digging holes in people's yards and burying rubble therein. Saves the trouble of carting it off, even if a few water mains and the last trees still standing get torn up.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

irony as russian roulette

Is Wayne Booth’s account of irony sufficiently straightforward?
asks Stanley Fish, via wood s lot and Jeff.


“Ideogram, at least as a poetic principle, is not a Sinophile fad. It inheres in Aristotle on metaphor.” And: “On a page of poetry there are set in motion the intelligible species of things. words are solid, they are not ghosts or pointers. The poet connects, arranges, defines, things . . ." Hugh Kenner, The Poetry of Ezra Pound, found here, via Ray Davis's exquisite post here.
...appended, as it were, to a prior passing reference to Hero.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

dinos to masticate dust?

Sprint, the most ironically named company, says it might get around to restoring telephone service to my house as of Sept. 13, the one-month anniversary of the hurricane that knocked it out.

One odd thing: telephones were still working the night of Charley, after the storm had passed. It was the next morning that dialtones went away.

Comcast has also been out since Charley, leaving customers (of which I am not one) feeling abandoned at first. Then everyone ran out to buy dishes, (many of which got blown away by Frances). Then one heard comments like, "At first I thought I was going to die without cable. Now I'm like, 'Who needs all that crap on TV anyway?'"

The point is, these companies appear to view their communication infrastructure differently from the way Florida Power & Light treats its electrical infrastructure, and from how the US Postal Service operates. FPL got electric back to most of its customers within days, largely through a massive influx of subcontractors who seemed well coordinated and efficient.

The local post office in Punta Gorda is out of commission, after a six-ton air conditioner, among other things, blew off its roof. But the Monday after Hurricane Charley, the mailman came around, checking his route, with biscuits for dogs. The next day, he was back delivering mail, via a temporary facility set up to handle the flow.

Is there some way in which Sprint and Comcast view their role in society, which facilitates voice and data communication, as less essential, less of a necessary utility, than the PO or FPL? More like a commodity, perhaps?

Meanwhile, I access the Net from the public library.

Maybe it is really time to be thinking about the virtues of a wireless infrastructure. You know, little antennae, like leaves of grass. So, they get blown away in a hurricane. The Air Force -- or somesuch, as in Afghanistan -- drops replacement bundles on the area, people go around sticking them back up, and pretty soon, without lots of trucks and poles and wires and boxes and switches, we're reconnected.

Oh, and the kid and I saw Zhang Yimou's Hero last night. Un. fucking. believable. Aeschylus would have approved. Interesting to compare with Kill Bill un et deux, given world enough and time. One thing, though: Where Tarentino seems to feel the need to create the world first, then follow the characters and story, Zhang's world is his character, and his character contains his world. As the final scene, in which Broken Sword's 20th variant for "sword" is brought into legibility. Anyone see a bit of Kleist in this film?

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

sturm, drang, wal-mart, etc.

In our little corner, Frances was full of less sound, fury and bilge than Zell Miller, but still signified nothing. We didn't even lose power.

I always learn something when I go to Wal-Mart. After a major storm, Wal-Mart is often the only place that is operating. When there's no power, and the cable company is knocked out, and the satellite dishes aren't working, America flocks to Wal-Mart, to watch televisions in the store. We stand gaping, watching sitcoms, music videos, feeling our eyes have been restored. This past weekend we were treated to an ad praising Wal-Mart for being open to serve the public sooner than the Red Cross.

Apart from the food section, the other aisle that comes alive after a storm is full of fishing paraphenalia.

On Sunday, as Frances drove arrays of clouds across the harbor, I took my kid and two more, ages 12, 11, and 10, to the park on the water. The storm was alive in the waves and the air and the clouds. Small birds flew up against the gusting winds and did neat backdives. Trees warped, an overturned boat smashed up against the seawall. The storm entered the kids, running and running like the waves and the clouds and the bruhaha that began not far, perhaps, from St. Helena, where Napoleon's gaze may once have rested on boiling waters promising dreams of far-off havoc.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Let my people freak: tips for Floridians in Exodus

In Nature, it's a picture perfect day here in Southwest Florida. Blue skies, puffy white clouds, calm waters contrast with the drumbeat of televised fear and trembling heralding the advent of Hurricane Frances. The granulated elongation of hysteria that is the true lifeblood of advertising-driven news media has kicked into high gear.

Yesterday, Gubernador Jeb Bush, emulating his brother's epimethean strategy of "Command First, Plan Never" issued an evacuation order for 2.5 million East Coast residents, many of them elderly. His exact words, as I recall them from Thursday's press conference, were, "The time for planning is over. It's time to act." So 2.5 million people acted. They got on the roads. They ran out of gas. Roads jammed. Cities along their routes ran out of gas. Shelters in counties they headed for were not ready to receive them. Those counties in turn began to run out of gas and lodging.

Now, it's certainly possible that in retrospect the decision to evacuate much of the coast, though a tad premature, might prove to have been a good idea. The storm is vast and strong, and people in its path need to get out of that path, once they know what it is.

But merely telling people to run doesn't qualify as rational emergency management. It's more like shouting "fire!" in a crowded theater. That is to say, no plan accompanied GubJeb's order. He and his FEMA advisors offered no sequence of departure, no strategies for parceling out the masses in exodus -- advising people in Miami, say, to head for Collier County on the Gulf Coast, while directing people from Stuart to head over to Manatee. Bush and FEMA issued no anticipatory orders to the counties up the road, requiring them to open emergency shelters, and to publish lists of available shelters and hotels on local and national radio and TV stations. They did nothing in anticipation of gas shortages. Other than issuing that single panicky command to flee, they had nothing to offer.

There is no actual responsibility for the health, safety and welfare of the public in evidence here. This is a wisp, a semblance of command, a shellacked outer casing of mastery, a bold, clear alternative to actual forethought. Bush Leadership all the way.

Twenty-seven hours after the order to stampede was given, the storm is still lingering over the Bahamas. So perhaps a few tips for Floridians might still be useful:
1. If you have horses, and you worry that a storm might send them far afield, buy paint. Paint your phone number on your horses' asses in bold white paint. That worked for one guy in a previous hurricane.

2. If anyone commands you and 2.5 million other people to immediately all go somewhere, consider that 2.5 million people in motion all at once, concerned by circumstance but terrified by their leaders, might be less safe than a major storm. (Especially the way Floridians drive.)

3. If you plan to vote in the General Election, get an absentee ballot here. Doing so will not only ensure that you are able to vote (many polling places were closed by weather during the Primary, with the predictable result that many winners rode in on less than 20 percent of the voting population), but also that your vote has a paper trail. In the 15 counties that will be using touchscreen voting, your vote will not be recountable in the event of a close election. It will be null.

4. If you see the Guv or any of his FEMA advisors, make sure they're wearing their phone numbers in bold white paint.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Pissing in the wind

We are keeping an eye on Frances. The other eye is bloodshot from a different sort of ill wind, emanating from Madison Square Garden. Storms are a pain in the ass, or they kill you. Republicans like Miller, Cheney, and that truly stupid ambitious man, Giuliani, produce a foetid stench offensive to the nostrils of Dizzie Gillespie, and he's dead.

Shame the RNC wasn't held in Miami.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Groundhog Day

I'm about to let off a little steam here. What with dealing with the debris from Hurricane Charley, and now, with the prospect of Hurricane Frances swallowing the penile state whole, well, it's a bit much.

The immediate target of this imminent ventation is not FEMA, although it might as well be. Rather it is Charlotte County's emergency manager, Wayne Sallade. Wayne's brilliance is on display here:
Wayne Sallade, Charlotte County’s emergency management director, met Saturday with the Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to develop plans to put hundreds of 14-foot, three-bedroom trailers on 90 acres next to the Charlotte County jail on Airport Road, just east of Interstate 75.
Given that Mr. Sallade has spent most of his post hurricane time giving lengthy interviews to every bit of media that has the dullness of wit to bother with him, and when not facing batteries of microphones, has been sucking the long dong of FEMA in virtually every paper in the nation, it is hardly a surprise that he's not found time to update the emergency information on his county's Office of Emergency Management Website.

With a mother of a hurricane like Frances due in a day or two, we find it disheartening that in Wayne's World, it's Friday, August 13, 2004, all day, every day. Not a word about anything past the hour when Chicken Little's prophecy came true, his ship came in, and he got his picture taken with the President.

After all, keeping us apprised of what might happen is only part of the Emergency Manager's job. He's also supposed to be managing things like debris removal, which is happening so slowly that people who survived Charley are likely to get killed by its debris, as it turns into high speed buzzsaws driven by the oomph of Frances.

It's one thing to "manage" emergencies. One can certainly understand that disasters may exceed the managerial prowess of even Mr. Sallade. But since Wayne got hit by media lightning, residents of his county are all potential victims of his crisp new status.