Friday, September 30, 2005

Listening with Sonny: Freedom/Chaos/Unity and Art (not Pepper)

A lucky New York Times reporter spent an afternoon listening to some choice tracks selected by the great jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins: Fats Waller, I’m Going To Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter; Lester Young: Afternoon Of A Basie-ite; Charlie Parker: Another Hairdo; Coleman Hawkins: The Man I Love.

While sampling Charlie Parker, Rollins rifts on his jazz aesthetic:

"People playing jazz have to try to understand where he [Charlie Parker] was coming from, what that was, and emulate it and absorb it. This is what jazz is: jazz is freedom. I don't think you always have to play in time. But there's two different ways of playing. There's a way of playing where you can play with no time. Or, you can have a fixed time and play against it. That's what I feel is heaven - being able to be that free, spiritual, musical. I would say that's an ideal which is underappreciated."

Here he seemed to sense that he was getting into rough waters. "I mean playing free without any kind of time strictures - there's nothing wrong with that either. I'm not saying that's inferior. But I guess I'm getting older now, so I'm getting to be a person that's steeping myself in the tradition of Fats Waller and all of these people we're listening to today, who are playing time music. I'm probably going to be dissing myself to the new guys coming up somewhere, but a lot of our audiences still relate to time. I'm still in the era of time being an important component of jazz. I'm still there, O.K.? So kill me."

Rollins, like so many artists (hell like anyone interested in life), is navigating the narrow, yet deep, rift between anarchy an order, freedom and unity, structure and chaos – like Coltrane recording quiet ballads after the experimental explorations of Live at The Village Vanguard, momentarily turning from the abyss.

Total freedom, freedom with no rules and no structure (chaos) drifts into nihilism and limits expression, simply put, you end up asking, “Now what?” The discipline of some rules (structure) can lead to (truer) freedom and beauty, like a Buddhist monk spending years meditating; or imagine the opposite, poetry as just a random utterance of vowel sounds, maybe of interest for a minute or two, but then you move on to washing dishes. Art is the tension between chaos and order, Robert Johnson’s crossroads—that is the force, the passion, that drives creation. As Camus writes,

This passion which lifts the mind above the commonplaces of a dispersed world, from which it nevertheless cannot free itself, is the passion of unity. It does not result in mediocre efforts to escape, however, but in the most obstinate demands. Religion or crime, every human endeavor in fact, finally obeys this unreasonable desire and claims to give life a form it does not have. The same impulse, which can lead to the adoration of the heavens or the destruction of man, also leads to creative literature, which derives its serious content from this source.

The source. Cracked dishes and blemished silverware. Birds in rough weather. Decent into language and the rhythm of time…

"And The City Now Has Gone"

The town of Holly Beach, LA destroyed by Hurricane Rita.


How the clock moves on, relentlessly,
with such assurance that it eats the years.
The days are small and transitory grapes,
the months grow faded, taken out of time.

It fades, it falls away, the moment, fired
by that implacable artillery-
and suddenly, only a year is left to us,
a month, a day, and death turns up in the diary.

No one could ever stop the water's flowing;
nor thought nor love has ever held it back.
It has run on through suns and other beings,
its passing rhythm signifying our death.

Until, in the end, we fall in time, exhausted,
and it takes us, and that's it. Then we are dead,
dragged off with no being left, no life, no darkness,

no dust, no words. That is what it comes to;
and in the city where we'll live no more,
all is left empty, our clothing and our pride.

-Pablo Neruda, trans. Alastair Reid

Cameron, LA -- damage from Hurricane Rita.

What a difference a week makes – last week at this time worry and stocking up on water, and now the heat has finally broken; the sky is blue with a few high clouds reminding me of gentle waves – a beautiful day. But for thousands of displaced people in East Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi their lives are still uprooted. The humbling thought is next time it could be me, or any of us – the clock relentlessly moves on for all of us. The least we can do is stop and help someone along the way….

Habitat for Humanity

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Hildegard von Bingen

Listening to The Origin of Fire...

echoes in a cathedral of skeletons


from your heart's haven

you poured a more human space into this shadowy world.


Monday, September 26, 2005

"six poems equal the dirt in the road"

Not long after my post below on “Crisis Aesthetics” I happened upon an essay by Raymond Carver where he loosely describes his “minimalist” approached to writing.

But extremely clever chichi writing, or just plain tomfoolery writing, puts me to sleep. Writers don't need tricks or gimmicks or even necessarily need to be the smartest fellows on the block. At the risk of appearing foolish, a writer sometimes needs to be able to just stand and gape at this or that thing—a sunset or an old shoe—in absolute and simple amazement.

Is contemporary poetry missing this sense of wonder? Or at least a sense of amazement at something other than its own language?


My only recourse lay in a sort of divination,
lying down conjuring the Fred and Ginger building

so to pollenate my categories like catbirds and cowbirds.
“Missing footage suggests she lost an arm.”

Subtitles appear as grass under our feet
Though we would like to read what they say of us

(with the fungible singers of the fainter ochers
droning through the ivy netting on rash brick)

–Ange Mlinko, “The Treasury of Plain Sense,” from STARRED WIRE, recently selected to be part of the National Poetry Series


Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distance of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year’s horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.

–James Wright, “Lying in A Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota”, ABOVE THE RIVER

I like Mlinko’s poem, especially the line, “Subtitles appear as grass under our feet.” And I like some of the other poems in her new book. But they ultimately seem to be just about the language, the unique image or sound, and not much else. While Wright seems to be using the language not only to create something beautiful out of language but to also touch and explore something more essential. One could argue that Wright’s poetry is also only about the language, that it’s only reference point is the poem itself. But then you would have to argue that all language refers only to itself. I know there are complex theories of language and I have tried to wade through some of them, but in the end when you tell a child, “Go to your room!”, the child knows what that group of sounds means, what parts or the real world they refer to.

This is not to say I’m opposed to experimentation in poetry and art – far from it. I think experimentation is an essential part of art. The Wright poem at the time it was written was a break from tradition, it was an experiment. I can’t imagine jazz without the experiments of Coltrane, Coleman, Davis, or Monk; the visual arts without Picasso, Rothko, Agnes Martin, and countless other artists. What would poetry be without Stevens, Elliot, Pound, O’Hara, Berrigan, Howe, and many other poets? It would be repetitive and boring. Experiment for experimentation's sake might be necessary at times to advance the art, to breakup a log-jammed imagination, but experimentation alone can also harm the art. As Carver goes on to say

Too often "experimentation" is a license to be careless, silly or imitative in the writing. Even worse, a license to try to brutalize or alienate the reader. Too often such writing gives us no news of the world, or else describes a desert landscape and that's all—a few dunes and lizards here and there, but no people; a place uninhabited by anything recognizably human, a place of interest only to a few scientific specialists…But if writers haven't taken leave of their senses, they also want to stay in touch with us, they want to carry news from their world to ours.

Deserts can be beautiful and moving and simple “news” boring. But I think what Carver is saying is that a poem or story must still be in touch with everything that makes us human, not just language, which is an essential part of humanity. I think William Carlos Williams was saying something similar when he wrote,

It is difficult /to get the news from poems /yet men die miserably every day /for lack /of what is found there.

I think experimentation is always needed in order to say things new, but experimentation that loses sight of the soul, of the human, of reality will ultimately fail and fall flat. Somehow Coltrane, even at is most experimental, was always grounded in the human spirit.

Wittgenstein wrote,

Like everything metaphysical the harmony between thought and reality is to be found in the grammar of the language.

What contemporary poetry may need is a little less “thought” and a little more “reality” – poets who can harmonize the last 50 years of experimentation with thousands of years of human experience.

Where wrought iron spears
punctuate the common and rain
turns to snow a minute
I learned six poems

equal the dirt in the road
twenty more make a cobweb
thirty five muddy bodies equal a wall
one and a half jobs don’t make a living
great novels are stainglass
their pain is their color

—Fanny Howe, “Goodbye, Post Office Square,” SELECTED POEMS

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Live from Houston: Saturday Afternoon


The sun is actually shinning and the streets are dry. There has been some blustery wind all day and you hear an occasional chain saw as someone cuts up a downed branch. Luckily, there is only one medium-sized branch down on our block, and lots of scattered leaves. We lost electricity from about 4:30am to 8:30am. But thankfully we are OK, as are all our neighbors. Late this morning I walked the dog and checked on the elderly woman who lives at the end of the block. She has lived there for 50 years and survived several hurricanes. She was tired but fine, and brought out her 1 month-old Quaker parrot. I had no idea she raised birds. She has two pairs, plus babies. I’ve learned a lot about my neighbors over the last couple of days – a great bunch and they definitely made riding out Hurricane Rita much better.

Luckily for us, riding out Rita turned out to be little more than a roller coaster ride, though a roller coaster ride with a big build up. There were 30-40 mph sustained winds all night long with occasional 50+ mph gusts – it was like a very long severe thunderstorm with no thunder or lightening. We didn’t get much sleep and we are tired, but considering that a couple of days ago they were predicting that one of the most powerful hurricanes on record would hit Houston head on, a sleepless night and an afternoon of tape removal and leaf raking is close to nirvana—just some karmic yoga.

The power and unpredictability of nature is awesome especially when compared to fragile human lives and our ongoing, but semi-futile*, attempts to understand and control nature and our fate. I’m reminded of Camus’ definition of absurdist reasoning:

“The acceptance of the desperate encounter between human inquiry and the silence of the universe.”

* I don’t say futile, because we have made technological progress – as one meteorologist said just 10 years ago once a hurricane entered the Gulf of Mexico everyone on the Gulf Shore had to be ready because they didn’t know if it would hit Mexico or Alabama, now they can do a pretty good job of predicting were it will hit within 300-500 miles 5 days out, giving people time to prepare.


When did everything become an “event”? I’ve heard several emergency management and weather officials say things like “flooding event,” “heavy-rain event”, “hurricane event?” As one of my neighbors quipped, “An event is catered.” Is this a byproduct of our entertainment-oriented society and/or bureaucratic-speak? Plus, it’s redundant – just say “flood” or “hurricane”, I know what you mean.


Poet/Blogger Brian Cambell commented:

I love your poetry quotes. Shows the usefulness of poetry in moments of crisis, and bolsters my faith in the in the relevance of this art we all love.

Which got me thinking about the nature of poetry—it is interesting that during recent crises—9/11, the tsunami, Katrina, and now Rita—I didn’t reach for John Ashberry, Wallace Stevens (who I love), Ron Silliman, or a first book from an Iowa MFA grad, but Donne, Auden, Eliot, Celan, Neruda, James Wright or the Chinese masters like Tu Fu or Li Po. What does that say about poetry?

I enjoy the aesthetic games and beauty of post-modern poetry – on a leisurely day Michael Palmer is lyrically wonderful and Ted Berrigan is disjunctively beautiful. But when I’m trying to make some sense of human experience, of human tragedy, trying to find, dare I say in this postmodern era, human truths, I find myself turning to poets who were also concerned with exploring these ideas in poetic language. Not that these other poets aren’t concerned with humanity, but I wonder has poetry become too caught up in the language game and become too removed from something more essentially human?

The wind runs free across our plains,
The live sea beats forever at our beaches.
Man makes earth fertile, earth gives him flowers and fruits.
He lives in toil and joy; he hopes, fears, and begets sweet offspring.

– Primo Levi

Live From Houston: Early Saturday Morning

Hurricane Rita officially made landfall at 2:38 am near Sabine Pass, TX about 100 miles east of Houston (one should say the eye of Hurricane Rita, because people have been feeling the effects for hours). So we have officially been spared the brunt of this storm.

We have had fairly heavy winds all night long but not a lot of rain, and we, obviously, still have electricity. Not all Houstonians are so lucky. It’s being reported that about 450,000 homes in the Houston-area are without power, and that areas closer to the coast have experienced heavier winds, rain, and more damage. Thankfully, for now, we only have hundreds of green leaves scattered across our deck.


I watch the limitless distance of autumn,

the far-off dark rising up in layers

where icy waters merge with the frozen sky
and the city is blurred with mist.

Last leaves are torn into flight by winds,

and sunless, distant peaks fade fast.

A lone crane flops home at dusk.
The trees are full of crows.

– Tu Fu

Friday, September 23, 2005

Live from Houston: Late Friday Night

The winds have picked – maybe 20-30mph sustained winds, which is not bad, considering. But there was just a big gust that blew over something like a potted plant because we were just surprised by a big crash. We are trying to sleep downstairs – though we missed the brunt of the storm I still feel safer staying downstairs. I’ve left a couple of lights on and the TV news is still going but the volume is down. My wife is on the couch, and I was, until that last gust, curled in on over-sized stuffed chair with an ottoman. I’m going back to try and get a little sleep.

The old joints of the house
cracked in the gale but the house
held around the bass chimney.

– Alan Dugan, Winter Gale

Live From Houston: Friday Night

Just had a big gust of wind, but otherwise the wind is not much stronger than late this afternoon – the wind you’d expect as a summer thunderstorm approached. There’s been just enough rain to wet the streets. And I expect there will be more rain and wind, but it looks like, if you dare say it, that we lucked out—this time. I don’t think I’m even going to fill the bathtub.

But I’m already thinking about how to be better prepared for next time. I’ve got plenty of food, water, and other emergency supplies stocked up, but I think I will get more batteries, more duct tape, maybe a hand-crank radio, and have pre-cut and labeled plywood stored in the garage, since I wasn’t able to get any plywood for this storm.

Any suggestions for getting tape off windows? (I hope I’m not being premature.)

The sad, strange thing is our “dodged bullet” is someone else’s “killer storm.” Port Arthur, Beaumont, Cameron, Lake Charles and other communities along the Texas-Louisiana are in for a very nasty night. Human lives will be affected so we are all, in some way, affected.

Once dry, these wildflowers bend and, there
where the wind is sweeping, fall.

– Tu Fu

Live from Houston: Friday Evening

I just returned from my evening dog outing—several of us in the neighborhood get together everyday after work and let our dogs run around and play. All of us stayed, so our dogs were able to get some exercise before being cooped up for a day or so.

We were all a little more optimistic about the situation, since the storm keeps tracking to the northeast and away from Houston. Everyone is still preparing for a long night, but maybe feeling a little relieved. However, I know things could still change.

The wind just picked up and a little rain is falling. But the cloud cover to the west has thinned and there is a pale yellow, blue-gray sunset.

I yearn to travel…

And all during this blustery evening,
from mountain after mountain, yellow leaves are blown.

– Wang Po

Live from Houston: The Butterfly Effect

The wind has increased and the sky in now gray. I walked outside and was greeted by a butterfly hovering at my door.

Live from Houston: Friday Afternoon

The wind is starting to pick up, and heavier clouds are starting to roll in from the north – though the sun is still visible. The streets are quiet. I’m no longer hearing the sounds of band saws, hammers and electric screwdrivers. I think people have made most of their preparations. I added some more tape to windows and secured the inside shutters in the front of the house, which made it very dark there. I’ll do the back shutters tonight. But for now it’s nice to have some natural light. If we lose power, we’ll be in the dark for awhile.

A couple of hours ago we walked the dog around the neighbor. Besides all the people staying on our block, it seems like quite a few people didn’t leave. There were kids playing on a local playground. A couple of guys were playing tennis. A woman was tying down her driftwood sculpture. A couple of people were still putting up plywood. Other people were also out walking their dogs. For now, life goes on.

It is interesting being in the middle of a “news event.” You realize that news reports are only a one-dimensional sketch—just a collection of a few facts, quotes, nouns and verbs that provides a rough outline of the story.

You also realize how myopic politics (politics in the narrow sense) is sometimes. I’ve read a few political blogs (admittedly not in depth at the moment) and you already get the feeling they are circling the post-Rita analysis like vultures (I know a cliché but apt). The pundits, wonks, ideologues, and politicos probably can’t wait, if they are, to “analyze” and spin the performance of Bush, FEMA, Gov. Perry, Mayor White, and the dog catcher. Critiquing performance is important, if the goal is to improve ongoing and future performance. But too much of it is about scoring political points, and has little to do with the human lives involved. That’s my political rant for now. The storm is approaching, and maybe approaching faster than originally predicted.

If the wind doesn’t pick up much in the next couple of hours and the rain hasn’t started, we’ll probably walk the dog one more time and check in with the neighbors. Then fill the bathtub with water, secure the back shutters, settled in with a good book, and wait.

The curtains belly in the waking room.
Sails are round with holding, horned at top,
and net a blue bull in the wind: the day.
They drag the blunt hulls of my heels awake
and outrigged by myself through morning seas.
If I do land, let breakfast harbor me.

–Alan Dugan, Landfall

Live from Houston: Friday Morning

It’s Friday morning. The sky is blue with some high wispy clouds, and there is a slight breeze ruffling the leaves. It’s hard to imagine that a hurricane is approaching.

But it is. And it is still tracking to the east. However, a couple of models show it tracking back west or even making landfall to the east and looping back toward Houston. Despite all our science and technology nature is still uncertainty.

And so is life. And life can be sad and tragic. The news is reporting a truly tragic story. A bus carrying elderly evacuees from Houston caught fire on I-45 just south of Dallas, and they think about 20 people died. How horrible – and how horrible for those people hunkered down at home or stuck on the freeway wondering if it was their loved one on the bus.

The worlds revolve like ancient women
Gathering fuel in vacant lots.
– T.S. Elliot, Preludes

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Live From Houston: Pre-Hurricane Party

I’m back from our Pre-Hurricane Party. Our neighbor’s sister is on vacation in England, so she went over and cleaned out her sister’s freezer, since she feared everything would go bad. Her husband grilled up some chicken and sausage. We brought over some tuna steak and a bottle of red wine. Other neighbors brought beer.

We were a diverse group. A Republican sculptor (if you believe the Bush/Cheney 04 bumper sticker on the back of his pick up truck) and his wife—they own several cats and currently have 2 stray dogs. A contractor originally form Easton, PA, wearing a Grateful Dead T-shirt and his wife – by the way they own a dog named Shelia. A sales manager from an international shipping company, who is pet-less and new to the block. And our hosts, a graphic designer and her musician husband who have 4 dogs and several cats. And my wife and myself—we have a dog and a cat.

We ate good and drank some – a nice break from 24-hour hurricane news and prep. Our host has a very nice music room lined with guitars, records, and CDs. We listened to some Wilco, Radiohead, Peter Gabriel, and the Police. And for those brief moments of melodic intensity it felt pretty good to be alive. Maybe being reminded of the fragileness of life makes life more real, more worth living.

The threats are real, but there is only so much you can do. And sitting around worrying doesn’t seem to help much. You have to live life, and isn’t this what community is for—safety in numbers, mutual help, shared experiences and friendship? Plus, I think, and I may regret this in 24-hours, it is better than this…

I would hate to be caught on the highway by the Hurricane. And this is still going on tonight even with the contra flow traffic patterns. The news is still showing, at 1:00 AM on Friday, bumper to bumper traffic – a stream of red tail lights going no where…

Every street-lamp that I pass
Beats like a fatalistic drum,
And through the spaces of the dark
Midnight shakes the memory
As a madman shakes a dead geranium.

--T.S. Elliot, Rhapsody on a Windy Night

Live from Houston: Riding The Storm Out

Well. I’m still here in Houston. I’m about 60 miles inland on high ground in the Heights, one of the highest points in Houston, and we are well stocked with food and water, and other emergency supplies. I’ve spent the day moving those supplies to a downstairs shower stall that is tiled on three sides and under the stairway, so they should be fairly safe. We’ve move all our plants, outdoor furniture, and the porch swing into the garage so they don’t become flying projectiles.

I’ve taped the windows, which considering the force of hurricane winds seems futile, but it makes us little humans feel like we are doing something to protect ourselves. And it does cut down on the windows shattering, but they’ll still break.

I have to say that Katrina was a wake up call and, thankfully, because of that hurricane I had already stocked up on food and water and had gotten other emergency supplies. I suggest everyone, no matter where you are, do the same – you just never know.

The evacuation has been messy, and I feel for those thousands stuck on the highway in 100 degree heat – yes, it’s that hot here. And there is no gas anywhere. I have a full tank if we decide to bug out, and you never know now that they have put the contra flow plans in place on I-45 North and I-10 South – traffic may clear up, but you’d have to go a long way to find a place stay. Hotels all over Texas are booked. And two families in our neighbor tried to leave. One family never made it out of Houston, and another headed out to Austin via some back roads, but then got stuck in traffic and didn’t move for 2 hours. Both families came back and are staying.

As of now, it looks like the storm has weakened since yesterday – I was a little panicked then. Plus it seems to be tracking to the east of Houston, which is good news for us. But we are still in the “cone of possibility,” so we still have be prepared.

We have several neighbors staying and we are checking in on each other and helping each other – there is real sense of neighbor cohesion, which gives you, maybe falsely, a little extra sense of security. You know you are not in this alone.

And I have to give praise to the local news stations here – usually they are, well, pretty lame. But this is thier moment. They have been broadcasting 24-hours a day since yesterday. They have there flaws, but they are providing good information and the weather people have been very good and surprisingly calm.

The local officials, especially Mayor White and County Judge Robert Eckels, have been very good and are giving regular news conferences. The contra flow traffic plan was not part of the original evacuation plan (maybe it should have been and I’m sure it will be in the future), but they it put together with TXDOT officials on the fly. They have been evacuating the elderly and sick for several days using buses and planes. I think people learned something from Katrina.

And I think the local politicians are really trying to cover all the bases, and I hate to be cynical there is probably a little CYA as well – but if it benefits the people, more power to them. Also, there have been some mixed signals from the pols. I think the plan was to get all of the people in the costal/storm surge areas out first – thus the mandatory evacs today, yesterday and Tuesday. And this has happened – I think people have been scared by Katrina and are heeding the warnings. Unfortunately, you can’t stop people from Houston also leaving and that has caused some of the traffic jams and some tension between officials from costal counties and Houston and Harris County. And some pols, like Governor Perry and a local councilmen were basically indicating to people if you can get out then get out regardless of where you are. While other officials were saying you should “run from the water and hide from the wind,” suggesting if you are not in a flood zone or live in a trailer home or other weak structure, it may be safer to stay put. But who can blame people for leaving, especially yesterday when a huge Cat 5 was heading right for Houston – I know I was really worried.

I’ll keep you posted as long as I can. I figure we will lose power. For now, we are trying to keep a sense of normalcy. I just got back from walking my dog. (The streets are eerily quiet expect for the occasionally sound of a band saw ripping plywood). My wife baked scones – we are trying to use food that will spoil in the fridge but keep once cooked, so we have also hard boiled eggs and grilled some chicken that should be good for a day or so. One of our neighbors is grilling up some chicken and sausage, and several of us are getting together for a pre-hurricane dinner. We are hunkering down and hoping for the best.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Should we "modify existing jurisdictional authority to give the Pentagon functional first-responder status?"

Daniel Henniger at the WSJ also wonders if the military should become the first responders or “movers” in a disaster like Katrina:

The question raised by the Katrina fiasco--and by the Pentagon's new Homeland Defense Strategy to protect against WMD attack--is whether the threat from madmen and nature is now sufficiently huge in its potential horror and unacceptable loss that we should modify existing jurisdictional authority to give the Pentagon functional first-responder status. Should we repeal or modify the Posse Comitatus Act so homicidal thugs have more to fear than the Keystone Kops? Should a governor be able to phone the Defense Secretary direct, creating a kind of "yellow-light authority" and cutting out the Homeland Security or FEMA middleman? Should presidential initiative extend beyond the Insurrection Act?

Instinct says the answer is forever no. Survival suggests we had better talk about it.

Read the whole piece, apparently the military was preparing a week before the storm:

According to accounts provided by several sources involved with preparations for Katrina, the Pentagon began tracking the storm when it was still just a number in the ocean on Aug. 23, some five days before landfall in Buras, La. As the storm approached, senior Pentagon officials told staff to conduct an inventory of resources available should it grow into a severe hurricane. Their template for these plans was the assistance DoD provided Florida last year for its four hurricanes.

And a week earlier than this, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld issued an executive order delegating hurricane decision authority to the head of the Northern Command, Adm. Timothy J. Keating. Four days later, as the tropical storm soon to be named Katrina gathered force, Adm. Keating acted on that order.

Before the hurricane arrived in New Orleans, Adm. Keating approved the use of the bases in Meridien, Miss., and Barksdale, La., to position emergency meals and some medical equipment; eventually the number of emergency-use bases grew to six. And before landfall, Adm. Keating sent military officers to Mississippi and Louisiana to set up traditional coordination with their counterparts from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. As well, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England ordered the movement of ships into the Gulf.

By the Pentagon's account, it carried out these preparations without any formal Katrina-related request from FEMA or other authorities. The personnel behind the massive military effort now on display in Louisiana--airlift evacuation, medical, supply, and the National Guard--was on alert a week before the hurricane.

Another sign that people are thinking the military may be best suited for dealing with a disaster of this magnitude is that embattled FEMA head, Michael Brown has been replaced as the head of the Feds onsite relief efforts by Coast Guard Vice Admiral Thad. W. Allen.

However, Henniger does bring up the important issue of our long held federalist traditions. States do have a role here and can serve as a balance against the feds exercising too much power. And we should be careful about rushing judgments and solutions, because that is what created the Department of Homeland Security, which may turnout to be too unwieldy to respond to the threats it was created to handle. Though it seems a more streamlined response with a clear chain of command would save more lives.

However, FEMA seems to have done an acceptable job dealing with smaller disasters in the past, so what are the chances of another disaster of this scale occurring? There are several other cities potentially at risk from major disasters, manmade and/or natural. And I've never been comfortable with the "hundred-year-storm (or flooding)" or "once-in-a-life-time" mentality, since neither nature nor our enemies seem to work on that schedule. I've already been in New York on 9/11, witnessed Katrina and been at ground zero for many of her evacuees, and seen two major Mississippi River floods (1973 and 1993) in my home state of Missouri, and don’t forget the tsunami, and many other disasters that I haven' been directly involved in—that already seems like enough for one lifetime, but I doubt it will be. So I think it would be wise to err on the side of preparedness (individuals should also do their own preparing). However, there are limited recourses and many demands on those resources. So we have to make choices and find a reasonable way to balance the risks with the costs.

I hope we can get past the partisan bickering long enough to ask the tough questions and develop real solutions. In the meantime, I’m going to restock my own disaster preparedness kit.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Declaring an Emergency: Supplementing the Assistance or Coordinating the Administration of Releif?

I’m no expert in the arcane realm of administrative law that runs federal agencies, but I’ve been trying to make sense of exactly what in means to have a state of emergency declared and what it means for federal authority over state and local officials.

Based on this timeline (though from a lefty site it seems, based on the supporting documentation/links, pretty accurate in regards to timing of certain key events before Katrina):

1) On Friday, August 26th Governor Blanco declares a State of Emergency in Louisiana

2) On Saturday, August 27th, 5 AM, Hurricane Katrina is upgraded to a Category 3

3) On Saturday, August 27th, Governor Blanco asks President Bush to declare a State of Emergency

4)On Saturday, August 27th, President Bush declares a State of Emergency for Louisiana – 2 days before the storm hits

At this point, what if anything changed in regards to federal authority? First, lets look at Blanco’s request:

“I have determined that this incident is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the State and affected local governments, and that supplementary Federal assistance is necessary to save lives, protect property, public health, and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of a disaster. I am specifically requesting emergency protective measures, direct Federal Assistance, Individual and Household Program (IHP) assistance, Special Needs Program assistance, and debris removal.”

She is admitting that responding to the coming hurricane will be beyond the ability of state and local government, but only wants supplemental help. Does this mean she would still control the state’s response? She goes on to say:

“I request Direct Federal assistance for work and services to save lives and protect property…In accordance with 44 CFR § 206.208, the State of Louisiana agrees that it will, with respect to Direct Federal assistance:

1. Provide without cost to the United States all lands, easement, and rights-of-ways necessary to accomplish the approved work.
2. Hold and save the United States free from damages due to the requested work, and shall indemnify the Federal Government against any claims arising from such work;
3. Provide reimbursement to FEMA for the non-Federal share of the cost of such work in accordance with the provisions of the FEMA-State Agreement; and
4. Assist the performing Federal agency in all support and local jurisdictional matters.In addition, I anticipate the need for debris removal, which poses an immediate threat to lives, public health, and safety.”

Still this does not make it clear who will be in charge?

Now let’s look at Bush’s declaration:

“The President today declared an emergency exists in the State of Louisiana and ordered Federal aid to supplement state and local response efforts in the parishes located in the path of Hurricane Katrina beginning on August 26, 2005, and continuing.

The President's action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to coordinate all disaster relief efforts which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population, and to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures, authorized under Title V of the Stafford Act, to save lives, protect property and public health and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe.”

This says the feds are to supplement state and local efforts, yet it also authorizes Department of Homeland Security and FEMA to coordinate all relief efforts caused by the storm. Does this mean that Feds authority starts the minute the storm hits? Does this mean they should be assisting with and/or coordinating with first responders as well as all following efforts? Does it mean that once the storm hits they have authority over state and local agencies? Does it make sense that to accomplish this legal obligation, if that is what it is, planning prior to the event is required by the Feds? (I’m thinking specifically of short term planning in the 2 days prior to the storm, and I’m not saying it didn’t happen.)

Both the governor’s statement and Bush’s statements provide no clear indication of who is in charge, are very formal and governed by the Stafford Act, which I’ve just read.

Here are a few of the more relevant sections (all emphasis added):


a. Appointment of Federal coordinating officerImmediately upon his declaration of a major disaster or emergency, the President shall appoint a Federal coordinating officer to operate in the affected area.
b. Functions of Federal coordinating officer In order to effectuate the purposes of this Act, the Federal coordinating officer, within the affected area, shall--
1. make an initial appraisal of the types of relief most urgently needed;
2. establish such field offices as he deems necessary and as are authorized by the President;
3. coordinate the administration of relief, including activities of the State and local
governments, the American National Red Cross, the Salvation Army, the Mennonite Disaster Service, and other relief or disaster assistance organizations, which agree to operate under his advice or direction, except that nothing contained in this Act shall limit or in any way affect the responsibilities of the American National Red Cross under the Act of January 5, 1905, as amended (33 Stat. 599) [36 U.S.C. §§ 1 et seq.]; and;
4. take such other action, consistent with authority delegated to him by the President, and consistent with the provisions of this Act, as he may deem necessary to assist local citizens and public officials in promptly obtaining assistance to which they are entitled.;
5. State coordinating officer When the President determines assistance under this Act is necessary, he shall request that the Governor of the affected State designate a State coordinating officer for the purpose of coordinating State and local disaster assistance efforts with those of the Federal Government.

Here it seems that the individual appointed to run the federal efforts during a disaster is charged with “coordinating” relief efforts but “assisting” in obtaining post-disaster assistance. What isn’t clear to me is what the difference is? If I’m reading this correctly, this official is to organize federal, state, local, and volunteer agencies during the immediate relief efforts. Then help citizens and local officials apply for monetary and material aid for recovery. But this is not clear, and assisting and coordinating can be very different things.


All requests for a declaration by the President that a major disaster exists shall be made by the Governor of the affected State. Such a request shall be based on a finding that the disaster is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the State and the affected local governments and that Federal assistance is necessary. As part of such request, and as a prerequisite to major disaster assistance under this Act, the Governor shall take appropriate response action under State law and direct execution of the State's emergency plan. The Governor shall furnish information on the nature and amount of State and local resources which have been or will be committed to alleviating the results of the disaster, and shall certify that, for the current disaster, State and local government obligations and expenditures (of which State commitments must be a significant proportion) will comply with all applicable cost-sharing requirements of this Act. Based on the request of a Governor under this section, the President may declare under this Act that a major disaster or emergency exists.
(Pub. L. 93-288, title IV, § 401, as added Pub. L. 100-707, title I, § 106(a)(3), Nov. 23, 1988, 102 Stat. 4696.)

In conjunction with the request to declare an emergency, it seems clear, at least in this section, that the Governor still has a responsibility to execute state emergency plans


In any major disaster, the President may--
1. direct any Federal agency, with or without reimbursement, to utilize its authorities and the resources granted to it under Federal law (including personnel, equipment, supplies, facilities, and managerial, technical, and advisory services) in support of State and local assistance efforts;
2. coordinate all disaster relief assistance (including voluntary assistance) provided by Federal agencies, private organizations, and State and local governments;
3. provide technical and advisory assistance to affected State and local governments for--
A. the performance of essential community services;
B. issuance of warnings of risks and hazards;
C. public health and safety information, including dissemination of such information;
D. provision of health and safety measures; and
E. management, control, and reduction of immediate threats to public health and safety; and
4. assist State and local governments in the distribution of medicine, food, and other consumable supplies, and emergency assistance.
(Pub. L. 93-288, title IV, § 402, as added Pub. L. 100-707, title I, § 106(a)(3), Nov. 23, 1988, 102 Stat. 4696.)

Here it seems after the emergency declaration the president can choose whether the federal role will be in support, to coordinate, or assist.

§ 5170b. ESSENTIAL ASSISTANCE {Sec. 403}

a. In generalFederal agencies may on the direction of the President, provide assistance essential to meeting immediate threats to life and property resulting from a major disaster, as follows:
1. Federal resources, generallyUtilizing, lending, or donating to State and local governments Federal equipment, supplies, facilities, personnel, and other resources, other than the extension of credit, for use or distribution by such governments in accordance with the purposes of this Act.
2. Medicine, food, and other consumablesDistributing or rendering through State and local governments, the American National Red Cross, the Salvation Army, the Mennonite Disaster Service, and other relief and disaster assistance organizations medicine, food, and other consumable supplies, and other services and assistance to disaster victims.
3. Work and services to save lives and protect propertyPerforming on public or private lands or waters any work or services essential to saving lives and protecting and preserving property or public health and safety, including--
A. debris removal;
B. search and rescue, emergency medical care, emergency mass care, emergency shelter, and provision of food, water, medicine, and other essential needs, including movement of supplies or persons;
C. clearance of roads and construction of temporary bridges necessary to the performance of emergency tasks and essential community services;
D. provision of temporary facilities for schools and other essential community services;
E. demolition of unsafe structures which endanger the public;
F. warning of further risks and hazards;
G. dissemination of public information and assistance regarding health and safety measures;
H. provision of technical advice to State and local governments on disaster management and control; and
I. reduction of immediate threats to life, property, and public health and safety.
4. Contributions Making contributions to State or local governments or owners or operators of private nonprofit facilities for the purpose of carrying out the provisions of this subsection.
b. Federal share The Federal share of assistance under this section shall be not less than 75 percent of the eligible cost of such assistance.

c. Utilization of DOD resources

1. General rule During the immediate aftermath of an incident which may ultimately qualify for assistance under this title or title V of this Act [42 U.S.C. §§ 5170 et seq. or 5191 et seq.], the Governor of the State in which such incident occurred may request the President to direct the Secretary of Defense to utilize the resources of the Department of Defense for the purpose of performing on public and private lands any emergency work which is made necessary by such incident and which is essential for the preservation of life and property. If the President determines that such work is essential for the preservation of life and property, the President shall grant such request to the extent the President determines practicable. Such emergency work may only be carried out for a period not to exceed 10 days.

Here it seems that the president is given fairly broad powers to provide assistance in an emergency. Yet, as a general rule, military assistance should be requested by the governor.

What is missing from this very brief analysis is the accepted, or precedent, for the way these laws are general interpreted. If there is an expert in this area, please comment.

Despite my lack of expertise, it seems to me that the Stafford Act does not make it clear who is in charge after the president declares a state of emergency. It does seem the federal government can assume a fairly strong leadership role to direct and coordinate efforts in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, once a state of emergency has been declared. However, it’s not clear that it is required by law, even if it is expected by citizens, or that state and local officials surrender their control.

Once the finger pointing stops (if it does and yes, I’m guilty of it) and people look to improve our response to the next disaster (if that is possible in light of mother nature’s power) I would encourage lawmakers to not only re-examine who responds, but also the laws for declaring states of emergencies and establishing chains of command in a major disaster—because ponderous bureaucratic rules seem to lead to ponderous bureaucratic responses.

"A large military, combined-services unit, trained and equipped specifically for large cataclysmic events"

Email of the Day…from a conservative historian friend of mine, who I have been discussing this with…
First, every citizen should take responsibility for evacuating and/or preparing for disaster instead of waiting for someone in authority to make their decisions for them. Secondly, an emergency deployment division could work very well if the commander has broad authority to act without fear of reprimand, dismissal, criminal prosecution, or litigation (all within reason, whatever that is.) A competent general, properly equipped and prepared, would have put his assets in the area by the next morning, suppressed the looters, rescued victims, and dropped in limited food, water, and medical supplies.

A large military, combined-services unit, trained and equipped specifically for large cataclysmic events (heck, St. Helens near Seattle should be added to the list) could accomplish things that would boggle the mind.

I think this pretty much sums up what needs to be done post-Katrina. As shown by the quick and efficient response of the Coast Guard, Emergency Management and Response should be turned over to the military and taken out of the hands of ineffective bureaucrats in Washington.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

"The memo politely ended, 'Thank you for your consideration in helping us to meet our responsibilities.'"

I’ve been trying to hold back, but the more I read about the failures of Michael Brown and FEMA the angrier I get, especially after reading this about a Michael Brown memo documenting FEMA’s slow response:

“The government’s disaster chief waited until hours after Hurricane Katrina had already struck the Gulf Coast before asking his boss to dispatch 1,000 Homeland Security employees to the region — and gave them two days to arrive, according to internal documents.”

Why the hell, with a Category 5 Hurricane about to slam into New Orleans, where these people not dispatched BEFORE the hurricane hit. These people should have been in Houston, Memphis, Oxford, MS, Baton Rouge – any number of cities out of the direct path of Katrina but within striking distance so they could be on the scene as soon as possible. Instead, they weren’t deployed until several hours AFTER a PREDICTED category 5 hurricane, and then given two days to get there. This was set up to fail before it got started.

“Brown said that among duties of these employees was to ‘convey a positive image’ about the government’s response for victims.”

Where they just supposed to be PR flacks or where they suppose to manage recovery and rescue efforts?

“Before then, FEMA had positioned smaller rescue and communications teams across the Gulf Coast. "

Where were they positioned? Was anyone positioned in New Orleans’ designated emergency shelters? Where they communicating information to FEMA? Because FEMA chief Michael Brown didn’t seem to know what was going on.

“He [Brown] proposed sending 1,000 Homeland Security Department employees within 48 hours and 2,000 within seven days.

Knocke [Homeland Security spokesman] said the 48-hour period suggested for the Homeland employees was to ensure they had adequate training. 'They were training to help the life-savers,' Knocke said.

Employees required a supervisor’s approval and at least 24 hours of disaster training in Maryland, Florida or Georgia. 'You must be physically able to work in a disaster area without refrigeration for medications and have the ability to work in the outdoors all day,' Brown wrote.

What the f*%K? These people weren’t trained yet? In post 9/11 America, Homeland Security employees assigned to respond quickly to either a terrorist attack or a natural disaster are trained and cleared for medical conditions AFTER the emergency occurs. Shouldn’t this have been done as a normal course of business, and then shouldn’t people be assigned to their duties instead of asking for a supervisor’s approval? Who runs an organization like this?

This is not a partisan issue. This is an issue of competence vs. incompetence, an issue of being prepared for a major emergency, man-made or natural, vs. being unprepared, an issue of national security. And the cabinet-level agency charged with domestic national security, the Department of Homeland Security, has failed.

One federal agency deserves praise for their fast, brave, can-do response the United States Coast Guard. Let’s put the Coast Guard in charge of FEMA – maybe something would get done right (at least they have training).

OK enough with the finger pointing, which accomplishes little at this point, but when I see what happened I just get angry.

"...along with state and federal partners, and voluntary agencies.”

It looks like FEMA might finally be getting it together, but now that Rove has taken over Federal Emergency Image Management Agency, please don’t accept everything FEMA says it’s doing at face value, and be leery of statements like, “FEMA, along with state and federal partners, and voluntary agencies.” I’m not a conspiracy theorist, just a healthy skeptic of political spin.

For example, this from a FEMA Press Release on 9/4:

"Even as progress is being made, we know that victims are still out there and we are working tirelessly to bring them the help they need," said Brown. "FEMA and the entire federal government, is deploying every resource available to treat wounds, aid the suffering and protect and preserve lives. We will not rest until every need is met.

Brown, along with state and federal partners, and voluntary agencies, is holding press briefings twice a day to provide updates on response efforts. To date:...

As of yesterday, 308 shelters in nine states had a total population of 94,000.”

If other areas receiving evacuees are anything like Houston, most of this is being done by the Red Cross, local officials, churches, and faith-based charities, not FEMA…though FEMA works with the Red Cross, and might have some coordinating function, but many of the smaller shelters seemed to have been set up spontaneously by local groups. To be fair, several other items listed on this press release seem like operations that would have more FEMA involvement. However, I also saw Chertoff stating the 300-shelters claim in an interview.

As a side note, also, from this press release:

“Affected individuals in declared counties can register online for disaster assistance at or call FEMA's toll-free registration line 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) - TTY 800-462-7585, hours. Victims are encouraged to register on-line due to the possibility of high call volume.”

Does FEMA realize many victims have no electricity, let alone a computer, or internet access, but they are encouraged to apply for FEMA aid via computer? Thank goodness folks are donating laptops for use at the Astrodome.

Also on the FEMA website there is a FEMA Slideshow. It shows two photos from Houston, one inside the Astrodome and one of the stockpile of donated clothing, both with the credit “FEMA Photo.” I’m no expert on how FEMA operates, and I’m sure they have some bureaucratic oversight role in what is going on in Houston. But from my two days volunteering at Reliant City and from local news reports it seems that the huge evacuee centers set up in Houston were due to the quick response of Mayor White, the Red Cross, Houston and Harris County officials, Harris County Citizen Corps (an offshoot of Freedom Corp, which might prove to be one of Bush’s best post 9/11 ideas--the Harris County chapter at least responded faster and more efficiently than FEMA), average Houston citizens, the Salvation Army, Star of Hope shelter, local businesses and churches, etc. I have yet to see or hear from one FEMA official here in Houston.

Not that FEMA isn’t finally doing something, but with the Bush Administration’s apparent strategy of shifting all the blame to local officials (not that they don’t deserve it as well) and away from their own poor response, watch out for them also trying to take credit for all the amazing responses of state and local governments around the country, and more importantly of volunteer organizations and private citizens.

Delta Blues

An oddly poignant political cartoon.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Re: Out of a Clear Blue Sky

The AmbviaBlog has a couple of great posts.

After reading all the annoying blah, blah, on various political blogs right and left about who to blame for the aftermath of Katrina, both sides lining up lock step, the lefties bashing Bush, the righties bashing the lefties for bashing Bush and posting ponderous defenses of his inaction (yes I have my opinions and frustration but they don’t seem very necessary now and are probably pretty raw and ill informed), I read this little gem.

And then there is this amazing post on still being haunted by 9/11 (go read the whole thing first), which inspired a lengthy response that I decided to post here as well:


I understand completely, though I don’t think I ever totally “moved on.” I still get very emotional when I see images from that day. (I like that you put that phrase in quotes; it is in so many ways an inane phrase).

I was working in New York then, and that day I was, as I had been for several weeks, pretty emotionally raw because my wife had nearly bled to death after a bungled operation at Lenox Hill Hospital. So those two events and the strong emotions involved will always be linked.

I still remember the bus ride into New York the morning of 9/11. There was a low fog in the fields along Route 29 as it rose out of the Delaware River Valley and away from Lambertville, NJ. I still remember what I wrote in my journal early that day:

His voice was low fog in a field
Half water, half air suspended

By the time the bus was in sight of the Towers the sun was up and the sky clear. The Towers rising over the New Jersey skyline were always the first sign we were close to the City. Then two days later as I went into work, really to just be in New York to show sympathy and support, the first thing I saw as we approached the city was the smoke towering over the skyline.

And now this, just 300 miles away…where I have several booksellers friends I work with (so far I’ve heard from 2 and about a 3rd and they are fine, but there are still a few folks I haven’t heard from yet) in a city I’ve grown to love after visiting it regularly for business, a city that though very different from New York in ways reminds me of New York – New Orleans even has it’s own Brooklyn-like accent, the “yat” accent, when you hear it, you would swear the person was from Brooklyn or North Jersey.

Now with the destruction along the Gulf coast, all the emotions I had after 9/11 have come back full force.

When I volunteered yesterday at Reliant Arena helping evacuees as they came off the buses, the glazed look in their eyes, their slumped shoulders and slow walk reminded me of New Yorkers in the days after 9/11 when the sadness in the air was literally tangible. Yet this is worse…think of 9/11 New York times 10. The scale of the human toll is unimaginable. Thousands of people were arriving with only the clothes on their back, and maybe a few personal items shoved into a trash bag or a single suit case.

I watched one woman pull out a handful of Polaroids and snapshots from a bag. She wasn’t looking at them so much as feeling them to make sure they—some of her last possessions in this world—were really there. Writing about it now, I’m reminded of the way people clung to the photos of loved ones missing after 9/11, posting them desperately around the city.

And yet even with the massiveness of this tragedy and 9/11, one thinks of even worse tragedies—the Holocaust, last year’s tsunami with an estimated 23,000 dead, surviving the sieges of Stalingrad and Leningrad, Rwanda, the massacre of the Armenians, Rwanda, Darfur, the Rape of Nanking—not to diminish the tragedies of Katrina or 9/11 but to realize how vulnerable we all are, even we who live in the United States, who live in such safety and who, like me, often think we wont suffer such things—but we do, and maybe we are, somehow, more human for it.

All the best,


WWL-TV New Orleans

Once again, I want to praise WWL for their on-going, nonstop coverage of the situation in New Orleans. They have moved to Baton Rogue, borrowed studios from various other stations including Louisana Public TV, and provided what I think is the best coverage of the situation. Both their live feed and their blog are provided information and coverage not found anywhere else. These folks should get a special Emmy award.

With everything going on it seems odd to focus in on a news organization, but it's important to get good information and these folks are providing it, even though there own lives and homes have been disrupted.

Once again, be sure to give to the Red Cross or the relief charity of your choice.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Volunteering at Reliant Arena

Spent the day down at Reliant Arena, which is in Reliant Park where the Astrodome is located. They have set up a temporary shelter there now that the Astrodome is full. I started out working in the temporary staging area where they were putting people as they got off the buses. We directed them to seats, got them food and water, handed out blankets, collected trash, whatever was needed. Then they got registered and waited for clothes, showers, and then to be moved on to a place with cots. I also sorted clothes for awhile. The response from Houstonians has been heart warming. The efforts seem to be totally run and staffed by volunteers, even the doctors and nurses. The only paid staff was probably the police and firemen.

The people are coming basically with the clothes on their back and the few items they can shove in a garbage bag. They are tired and weary, but are also calm and patience, (and probably just stunned and wiped out), no one was causing trouble, and they were very appreciative of the help. People had lots of questions -- one the big ones "When can I take a shower?,” which was coming.

I'll probably go back over the weekend...they are going to need volunteers 24/7 for days if not weeks. I'm not sure if there is a stage 2 plan in place to help people long term (but if FEMA is involved, based on their current performance, I doubt it ). It's going to be probably months before they can go back to New Orleans, if they do. I have a feeling many will stay in Texas. In and around Houston alone they estimate there are 100,000 evacuees, from those just arriving to those who left before the storm hit. They plan on opening Reliant Center as a third large shelter and then the George R. Brown Convention Center.

One of the saddest things was the lost children area where the they have volunteers playing with kids who can't find there parents.

The whole thing is both heart breaking, yet the way people can pull together in a crisis is heartwarming -- rather cliché but apt (and I'm too tired for details).

Also, I have to give kudos to local Houston officials and Mayor White for really stepping up to the plate and providing some semblance of leadership in this crisis, unlike the President who, in my opinion, is failing on that front. And thanks to all the citizens of the Houston-area who have opened their city to those in need, opened their hearts and wallets, and given their time.

Please donate what you can to the relief charity of your choice. Here is a link to the Houston Red Cross.

I leave you with this…

No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee. --John Donne

Astrodome Update

For the safety reasons the Astrodome was closed to new refugees. Around 12,000 are now there. Officials did open up near-by Reliant Center, a large space in the Reliant Arena/Astrodome campus used for shows and conventions. Refugees are temporarily being housed there until they can be taken to other large shelters now being set up in Dallas and San Antonio.

They are currently accepting donations and volunteers. I plan on going down there today.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Asking The Right Questions

Via Ambivablog:

A black conservative blogger verbalizing what I've been wondering:

"If helicopters can fly in to send us back pictures of people huddled on highways and wading through water to get to higher ground why can't we fly helicopters in to drop those people food, water, and supplies until we can get them out? "

Astrodome Closed

Breaking new from Houston...

Local news stations are reporting that the Houston Fire Marshal and the Red Cross have closed the Astrodome to new refugees, leaving busloads coming to Houston with no place to go.

There is no reasons currently being given, but there is speculation that someone died, that they have already run out of hot food (fruit is apparently still available), that they have simply run out of space, and that there are not enough volunteers to handle all the people (though lots of people have tried to volunteer).

Also, the original plan was to accept from 22,000 to 25,000 refugees but apparently only 10-11,000 are now there. But none of this is confirmed. But it seems certain that it is not nearly as many people as they had originally planned for.

Just more insult and injury for these people, and poor planning. People in Houston have been lining up outside the Astordome to donate food and time and have been turned away. I do think Red Cross officials had good intentions, but planning seems short sighted.

Also, I thought post 9/11 we had been planning for handling large scale disasters – it shouldn’t matter whether it is manmade or natural. Not very comforting. I know we can’t plan for everything, that nature has a way of throwing us curve balls, but still….


At 12:26 AM, local Houston news is reporting that officials at the Astrodome are now at least letting in people from the buses currently on the grounds and outside the Astrodome (about 20-30 buses). No word on what will happen to refugees still coming from the Superdome. Information seems spotty.

Update 2

12:45 AM Over 100 buses waiting outside the Astrodome. Reports are that the Fire Marshal was overruled. Still no word on what they are doing about buses still coming from New Orleans.

City of Ruins

I have to return to blogging after the tragedy of Katrina, mainly because I don’t know what else to do other than donate.

So please give, and then give again:

For other charities see the list compiled at Instapundit.

Some of the best coverage of the situation in the New Orleans-area is local TV-station WWL, which has been airing non-stop coverage, and New Orleans Times-Picayune, which as been publishing on the web from Baton Rouge.

Here are a couple of great appreciations of New Orleans, from very diverse sources: the National Review and the New York Times.

I can’t even express my anger at the pathetic federal response, but just compare House Speaker Dennis Hastert comments with the chaotic scenes outside the New Orleans convention center.

I have tried to be reasonable and not jump on the bashing bandwagon, but the more I see and read I just don’t understand how after 4 days the richest country in the world can’t get food and water to these people, even with the thugs and idiots disrupting things there. This is only 300 miles from my home (I drive there regularly for business) not Somalia.

I’ll leave you with this (it’s only a short snippet and written about post-9/11 New York but Springsteen’s song is vary apt).