Wednesday, November 7, 2007

FEMA: Doublespeak for The Ministry of Truth

I have always been an avid reader of dystopian fiction, or, as a not-so-literary friend of mine likes to tease me, "anti-Utopian" works. The first time I picked one up was during Banned Books Week at the local public library. The work itself, Lois Lowry's Newberry Award-winning The Giver, is well on its way to being everyone's first dystopian book. I have since read (and recorded) as many dystopian works as I could (see Dystopia - Goals Of Dystopian Fiction).

The one that has lent the modern incarnation of the English language the most words is, of course, Orwell's 1984. If the greatness of a piece of literature is based merely upon its long-lasting and quite popular impact amongst readers, 1984 is the foremost dystopian work ever written. From the titles of television shows to popular political discourse, Orwell's imagery and words are as much ours as his.

Which is precisely why I thought I was dreaming of 1984 on Wednesday, October 24, 2007m the day I was informed of the now-infamous news conference in San Diego. Slate parodied it, but for those of us that have yet to properly read either of the question lists, I have a little exercise: Discern the BS. Below are five questions for FEMA, some from the faked news conference and some are made up. Can you tell which are which?

1) What lessons learned from Katrina have been applied?
2) What type of commodities are you pledging to California?
3) Can you address a little bit what it means to have the president issue an emergency declaration, as opposed to a major disaster declaration? What does that mean for FEMA?
4) There are a number of reports that people weren't heeding evacuation orders and that was hindering emergency responders. Can you speak a little to that, please?
5) Sir, we understand the secretary and the administrator of FEMA are on their way out there. What is their objective? And is there anyone else traveling with them?

Are you ready for some answers? Apparently, FEMA wasn't ready to answer anybody's questions. All of the questions above were from the real fake conference (doublespeak again). FEMA gave actual reporters fifteen minutes' warning before the news conference. Fifteen minutes?! The 15 Freeway was closed down as well as parts of other freeways due to the fires that dotted the California landscape that day less than a month ago. California traffic is bad enough on a normal day, let alone when a disaster was happening.

John Philbin was FEMA's external affairs director when the conference happened, but he is no more a part of FEMA. It's a good sign that the man who is being blamed for this has been fired, but more must be done. The news conference required not only Philibin's planning power, but also the compliance of FEMA staffers, cameramen, and anyone else who was aware of what was going on. Massive complicity in the face of obvious wrongdoing is much more dangerous than the schemings of a single man, especially when the truth of a national disaster situation is at stake.

BS Factor:
Ought not to assess it, for...

Or, even worse:

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