• Doesn’t FEMA have two fundamentally different (if not outright antithetical) missions: to maintain a constant, static bureaucracy for overseeing resources (on one hand) and generating a rapid-response, adaptive, improvisational team of disaster-relief specialists (on the other)?

• I’m on the road today, leading a Clergy Day in Northern Indiana (on which more later). I miss Day Two of the Faculty Marathon at Seabury, but also miss Pippa today.

Not a Nightmare

This morning, I awoke this way:

I had been approaching a coffeeshop on Nantucket (none the I know specifically, though I would have placed it on upper Broad Street, near the Bookworks), when four women walked up, and I could hear them singing “We,” from the Roches’ first album. I looked more closely, and realized that two of the four were Maggie and Terre. I nodded and said something like “Thanks, that’s a favorite of mine,” and opened the door for them.

I ordered a cup of coffee and a bagel, and noticed that Suzzy Roche was working at the coffee bar. I walked away from the counter with an espresso cup, which I would never have asked for since I’m not an espresso drinker. Odder still, I think the cup had tea in it.

The Roches all started to sing again, and this time Suzzy sang her part, only for some reason she wasn’t having a good voice day, so she sang her part into a glass (!?).

Everyone laughed. I woke up.

Then I showered, walked the dog, and headed to Day One of Seabury’s traditional two-full-day faculty meeting.

Canine Ingenuity

This morning, I was struck yet again with how absurdly foolish our small Bichon Frisé can be. On our morning walk, she cowered submissively for the half block as a Doberman approached, then barked and leaped at the Doberman as it walked past us. I apologized — the Doberman could have swallowed Bea whole without even noticing. Then, as if to adjust her standards, she tried to pounce on the next dog we saw, a miniature poodle that walked by us (again after crouching in submission). The poodle was actually Bea’s size, but the poodle was behaving herself.

With all this manifestation of her diminished capacity, I reflected that she had no problem at all with what seemed to me an impressively abstract problem. When she’s on the leash, whenever we pass a tree, street sign, lamp post, or whatever, she always walks on the same side as I do.

The leash hangs behind her head, so she doesn’t have visual stimulation telling her she’s tied to me. I’ve never scolded her or deliberately given training relative to tree navigation. The concept of “connectedness” is pretty fluid and elusive. Yet even though she would walk out in front of a moving car, though she would challenge a Doberman, though she treats her red doggie toy as a great threat to family security, yet she understands not to try to walk around the opposite side of a tree when she’s on a leash. Strange dog.

Aftermath and Rhetoric

I’ve marveled a couple of times at how the rhetoric of emergency response has descended to the hideously banal. Why, for just one instance, didn’t Michael Brown say, “Maybe I screwed things up at first; someone’ll track that down in an investigation a few weeks from now. But the very highest priority at this point must involve rescuing and caring for the vulnerable, stabilizing the community and turning the corner from catastrophe to healing. Therefore, I ask that you give my record a righteous grilling — four weeks from now. At that point, you can have my head on a platter if you want, but I will have been able to do all in my power to save lives and rebuild New Orleans, Biloxi, and the hundreds of thousands of lives affected by this terrible storm.” That’s not exactly Jeffersonian, but it beats whimpering about being criticized and mistreated.

Ron Jeffries wondered bigger; he went right to the top and wrote a speech for President Bush.

Music and the Future

How cheap does an iPod Shuffle (or equivalent) have to get before their target market forgets that they’re paying for the material device? In other words, if I wanted to do something sweet for Margaret and make her the digital-music-era equivalent of a fancy mix tape with carefully-designed cassette/CD cover — if I wanted to make her an iPod Shuffle/Nano with a dozen or twenty love songs on it — when can I pick up a digital music device that’ll allow me to upload a modest selection of music at a cost so low (and physical size so small) that it’s not an obstacle?

Again, in other words, when does a physical receptacle for recorded music become self-playing, at a convenient size and affordable price?

Or is this already happening, and I just didn’t notice because I was looking too fixedly at storage capacity? (A quick check at Amazon suggests that it hasn’t; the cheapest alternatives I see are relatively clunky 64 MB devices for about $50.)

I’d think this would stand to complement the Coates Effect (practically infinite capacity relativizing the importance of “ownership” and selection — at a certain point, it becomes easy to “own” more music recordings than you can listen to). Since Tom wrote his first brilliant peices on the topic, the actual developments suggest to me a somewhat different trajectory from that which he proposed.

As flash storage gets more capacious and less expensive, the worth of lossless (and eventually, at denser-than-CD quality) recordings increases. We can easily foresee, say, 100-GB flash drives (roughly the size of the iPod Nano) filled with CD-quality recordings. That’s what, 150 albums worth of recordings? 3000 audiophile-caliber selections? If you devoted eight hours to listening, seven days a week, it would still take you almost three weeks to hear your whole collection. If you reduce the daily listening to four hours and sometimes miss a day, it’ll take proportional longer to listen through. We’re extraordinarily near a watershed in our listening culture — as Tom Coates indicated.

So I wonder whether we may not see the advent of both the portable musical encyclopedia, and the pocket album — say, about $10 for a Nano-sized device that holds twenty-five selections, a programmable mixtape for your friend a price you can afford, a manufacturable promotional device for music distribution (“Buy the new Kanye Spears Pod for $10, with special design on the faceplate,” or “Buy a Pod with our latest songs on your way out of the club”). That’ll influence DRM implementation (we’ll always be able to record and transmit audio output, so why invest large sums in ineffective DRM schemes?), but if a fast-acting music (or Pod) company were to get to this point first with the most, they might stand to redefine the recorded-music industry.

Maybe this, too, explains why Steve Jobs shows so little interest in a video-capable iPod: consumers probably want more music at higher quality in a small for factor (and I bet the Nano has hit that form just about exactly right) — but consumers want their video on a large screen and, increasingly, with theater-like audio. These paths seem to diverge markedly until the point that the Pod has enough capacity both to hold high-quality recorded music and to serve as a storage-space for video that will mainly be played on a laptop or big-screen TV. Ok, keep imagining: The PC-slot-pluggable Pod about which some reviewers have been talking, really high capacity, and Pods for individual movies (as well as MegaNanoes for mixed storage). . . .

Such a Night

There are eight million stories in the naked city, and many more than that among the people with their clothes on. Take, for instance, last night.

The plan was simple: go to Heather’s for the first hour of her birthday party, leave for O’Hare, where I would pick Joi up and walk him to the hotel (where he’d leave his bag), roll into town where we’d connect with Jeff, have dinner at the Bad Dog, from which I’d scoot out a little early to return home to pick Pippa up. Easy as pie, right?

Well, there’s some backstory. Joi needed a battery for his Powerbook (and I couldn’t let a brother technophile face a plane flight to Japan without a battery!), so I made some weird phone calls to Apple venues around Chicago trying to track down a battery for him. The first place I called got confused and tried to tell me that batteries are now classified as “service items” and they’d couldn’t sell me one without looking at the machine, running diagnostics, and perhaps sending the Powerbook in for service. As you may guess, I was utterly incredulous; even Apple isn’t usually that bizarre. But I called around several other venues, the first of which was willing to sell me a battery but didn’t have any on hand, and the second of which had batteries and was willing to sell, but was inconveniently remote. I decided to call back to the first place and see whether I dould reason with them. It turns out that I got through to a different call-answerer this time, and he was delighted to sell me a battery. Cool. (I brought my iBook with me, since I needed a replacement for one of those little gray rubber feet on the bottom, and the same guy who helpfully sold be Joi’s battery took me to the Genius Bar and insisted to the Genius that I needed a Powerbook thingy. “No,” I said, “I need an iBook thingy.” “No, a Powerbook — you just bought a Powerbook battery.” So I took my iBook out of its carrier and showed the Genius and sales guy the missing foot, after which they finally believed me.)

So Pippa and I drifted down to Heather’s, where we gave her her birthday ice-cream supplies (a bowl, some fudge sauce, and a water bottle — Pippa chose them). I excused myself and headed out for O’Hare, where I picked Joi up right on time. Everything was going like clockwork.

It was, until Joi pointed out that his hotel reservation was at the O’Hare Westin, not the O’Hare Hilton. I knew where the Hilton was (right dead center at the airport), but I had no idea where the Westin was, and the helpful security guy who offered us directions sent us out to Terminal Five (why? I don’t know). We sat in the breakdown lane for a while as Joi connected to the Net via Bluetooth, to get a map to the Westin. Eventually we called the Westin and got directions, and drove directly to the hotel, only a little behind schedule.

Joi registered and dropped his bag in his room, and showed me a couple of video clips on his Powerbook (he wants me to join his tribe, or guild, or something in World of Warcraft). We descended to the car, and headed off to dinner with Jeff.

We had a lovely, far-reaching conversation. We covered Warcraft, family systems theory, theological education, current events at the Creative Commons, music, Joi’s Chicago period, and various other topics. Our conversation was so vivid that I had to point out a couple of times that I was keeping an eye out for Lincoln Avenue (our destination), and I’m sure Joi was looking out, too.

Unfortunately, we missed Lincoln, and had to stop for directions at a gas station. Chicagoans being as helpful as they are, we got a whole boatload of directions — none of which agreed with the others. It was all I could do to get back into the car and suggest to Joi that he call Jeff directly, and get directions from him.

It didn’t take that long for us to get to the Bad Dog — or more precisely, the Bad Dog’s neighborhood. We ended up circling the tavern several times, peering intently out the windows, trying desperately to spot our restaurant destination.

By now — due to traffic, confusion, lostness, engaging dialogue, Warcraft video clips, et cetera — the time had come for me to pick Pippa up from Heather’s. Only one catch — I was no where near Heather’s. The logical thing would have been for me to call Heather up and explain, but (sad to say) I didn’t have her phone number. No problem — call information! But Information claimed not to know anything about Heather Voss, H Voss, the Rev. H Voss, the Rev Heather Voss, or Canterbury Northwestern. Phooey. OK, call Beth — she was at the party. But Beth diidn’t answer her phone. Call Josiah — no answer. Call Frank — he doesn’t have any of the phone numbers (he lost his directory when he moved). Call Jane — she has Heather’s and Hope’s numbers. Whew. Called Heather — no answer.

Called Hope (last — that was unintentional, but richly evocative) — she answered, brava! We straightened things out (by now I had dropped Joi off; it was great visiting with him, wish I could have joined him and Jeff for a fascinating dinnertime, and although I brought my camera along to take the canonical dinner-with-Joi picture and maybe stealth disco him, I didn’t have an occasion to take any pcitures) and was talking with Pippa on Hope’s phone. The exchange went this way:

AKMA: I’m sorry, princess, but we got lost; I’m not wasting time, hanging around on a street corner somewhere, gambling.

Pippa: Of course you aren’t gambling!

AKMA: Thanks, sweetie.

Pippa: You’re a priest!

AKMA: (flustered, thinking of several priests for whom that would not constitute prevention against profligate behavior): Well, thank you, Pip — I appreciate your confidence in me.

Pippa: And a responsible teacher!

At this point, I was quite speechless.

Anyway, I got back to Heather’s before the Big Domino Game was over, and Pippa triumphed over all her older competitors, so no one was put out at me. I was ravenous, wolfed down some carrots and hummus, edamame (thanks again for the tip, Kevin), chips and salsa,washed down with an Iron City (which Whole Foods now sells, for reasons I can’t quite fathom, but I buy out of cheapness and historic loyalty).

And so to bed.

Katrina and David

Here’s a follow-up on yesterday’s shout-out to the Rev. David Knight of St. Patrick’s Church, Long Beach, Mississippi. Someone took a picture of David standing where the church used to be (this is what it used to look like):

St Patrick's Church and its Rector

Here’s the message I got from David last night:

Today was better. We saw at least 1000 people. The medical clinic was booming and we almost ran out of food in the relief center – but more is coming.

Jennifer went with a mobile medical clinic to Waveland, a town that basically no longer exists. They went door to door and saw about 40 people who have no way to travel. Good work.

Today our diocese came down with some clergy who are coming to help us. I have two WONDERFUL Priests assigned to St. Patrick’s. The BIG question everyone asks is – what do you need? It’s the one question that is impossible to answer, other than to say, everything. Beyond that, I don’t know what I am supposed to be doing, so I just try to do something every moment. Some of it helps, some of it does not, but if I HAD a manual about this, it got blown away with every other book I have ever owned (they were all in my office – including all my notes from every class in seminary. I grieve that as much as anything).

A couple of Seaburians will be traveling down to Long Beach to lend David a hand — blessings to Mitch and Patrick, and take our prayers and hopes with you.

I’ll be sending some books to David once I hear that package deliveries are getting through (at 982 Glen Oaks Dr., Pass Christian, MS 39571) — maybe you also have some duplicates to help one of our former top students restore his library. And I’m sending a check to St. Patrick’s. You can, too, at

Katrina Discretionary Fund
C/O St. James Episcopal Church
1026 S. Washington Ave
Greenville, MS 38701

(A note to the cautious: Discretionary Funds are carefully restricted in the Episcopal Church these days (they used to be a lot more discretionary than they are now!), and David is a model of integrity; I vouch for his trustworthiness, and church structures will be keeping a close eye on how the money gets disbursed. It’s not just for parishioners — it’s for anyone who walks in the door.)

A Propos Katrina

Most importantly, everything I write here reflects what I read and hear elsewhere, and my inferences from that. I haven’t been to the Gulf Coast for several years, not to Washington DC since my participation in F2C this spring, never to Crawford, Texas, and nobody in a policy-making position has been filling me in on the behind-the-scenes details. I’ve been writing out of my horror and frustration that people who can command vast resources to evacuate and rescue people stranded in Katrina’s path did not put those resources into play promptly (I trust this is not a controversial point, since the President himself described the government’s response to this emergency as “unacceptable”), and out of my continuing anger at the mixed reports about how relief efforts are going. In part, also, I’ve been writing out of my frustration that much of what I’ve seen has focused solely on New Orleans (for obvious, painful, reasons) and has neglected the devastating effects of Katrina on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. I spent some sleepless time and pained prayer worrying about people I know down there.

That said, I defer entirely to my brother and trusted friend David, whose comments on a post below I’ll reproduce up here where they’ll be more visible:

As someone in the thick of it, I wonder if you should turn a critical eye to the media? The story in Mississippi is about UNREAL destruction. Beyond that I see people (about 500 today at our relief center) determined to rebuild AND to help one another. We are seeing groups from as far a way as Canada, many from the east coast, all helping SO much. We have thousands of National Guard here and they are ALL, EVERYONE, so polite and helpful and wonderful to us all. In our center there were white faces and black faces and old faces and young faces and crippled bodies and old bodies and just-born twins bodies. And all were together, bonded in this crazy time where we have all been reduced to just being humans without power or privilege or prestige.

And yet at a press conference in Biloxi, several media folks just wanted the EOC director to admit that the poor in Mississippi were treated differently than others.

It just ain’t so. And if the reporters would DO THEIR JOB and REPORT ABOUT WHAT IS GOING ON and TALK TO THE PEOPLE – ALL THE PEOPLE they would see a very very different picture.

Maybe that does not sell papers or CNN ad spots. But it’s the truth. I know it. And today I lived it, seeing Jesus over and over and over again. It was SO very hot and SO very hard and the people, ALL the people were SO very grateful and expressed it.

There is a different story out there. And it has nothing to do with feeble administrators and aid that is too slow (although we have been pained by both). I wish they would report that.

And guess what – tomorrow, we do it all over again.

David has more to say in his blog. The school at the place where his church used to be has been set up as a medical clinic and relief center; David’s been knocking himself out cleaning up and fixing up the school buildings, and his Lovely Wife Jennifer has been putting her extensive experience in medical missions to work administering the clinic. I can’t think of anyone with less patience for racism, or more determination to build a community grounded in love and respect. And David’s mileage in Long Beach will differ from somebody’s in Slidell or the Ninth Ward.

It won’t be over for David and Jennifer and the people of St. Patrick’s any time soon; I just emailed David to ask how I could contribute directly to their work. Maybe you could, too.

Capable of Frivolity

I’m probably unbearable in any number of ways, but let it not be said that I’m only grim and sobersided. Susie and Beth have an iTunes meme going, and I can enjoy taking part in almost anything music-related.

How many total songs?
8905 songs, 40.58 GB

Sort by Song Title – first and last songs?
First: ¡ Que !, by Phil Manzanera (followed by ‘Antmusic’ by Adam and the Ants)
Last: “Zydeco Gris Gris,” by Beausoleil

Sort by Time – first and last songs?
First: (0:4) Brad Pitt saying “Kuasehfgaiurgh” from the Snatch soundtrack
Last: (56:31) “Music for 18 Musicians,” by Steve Reich

Top Ten Played Songs
1. “Wilder Than Her,” by Dar Williams
2. “She’s Losing It,” by Belle & Sebastian
3. “Bread And Circuses,” by Billy Bragg and Natalie Merchant
4. “Walking Down Madison,” by Kirsty MacColl
5. “Days,” by Kirsty MacColl (this one comes as a surprise to me)
6. “Nao Esperando,” by Kirsty MacColl
7. “Anchorage,” by Michelle Shocked
8. “Dreaming Of Violets,” by Shannon Campbell
9. “You’re No Rock’n’Roll Fun,” by Sleater-Kinney
10. “As Is,” by Ani DiFranco

Okay, I should own up to some ideological manipulation of data here; I have a playlist of songs by women musicians that I play frequently, to balance out my otherwise male-dominant listening patterns, and that shows up here. To get a different take on my most-listened to songs, you could look at my Audioscrobbler page.

Last Ten Played

1. “Didn’t Leave Nobody but the Baby,” by Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch
2. “Blister In The Sun,” by the Violent Femmes
3. “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” by Traffic
4. “Deeper Than Beauty,” by Sloan
5. “Flower,” by Moby
6. “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me,” by Culture Club
7. “Buddy Holly,” by Weezer
8. “Go Down, Moses,” by Mavis Staples & Lucky Peterson
9. “Jerusalem,” by Steve Earle
10. “When I Was Young (Shake It Baby),” by Sunnyland Slim

Find ‘sex.’ How many songs show up?
59, counting Ron Sexsmith and the Sex Pistols. Oddest inclusion: “Missa L’Homme Arme Sexti Toni – Agnus Dei,” performed by the Tallis Scholars

Find ‘death.’ How many songs show up?
72, including a lot of Death Cab for Cutie and several variations on the “O Death” theme made popular by Ralph Stanley’s version from O Brother Where Art Thou

Find ‘love.’ How many songs show up?
581, including big representations by Dorothy Love Coates, Lyle Lovett, and Magnetic Fields (69 Love Songs)

I’d be interested to consider other categories too, such as “Most Recently Added” (and its opposite), total of “Greatest” and “Best,” or “Number with Play count = 0,” but then I could do this kind of thing all night. That reminds me to get back to my “Years in Review” posting. . . .


I’m stuck. If I say what I think about the Bush regime, I’ll evoke defend-at-any-costs apologists, and perhaps convey the impression that I think Democrats can’t be corrupted and don’t make mistakes (even though I’m all the more furious about Bill Clinton’s adultery and mendacity, since it now provides a functional (if bogus) “equivalence” that obscures the scale of the Bush regime’s deception and failures).

Here: there’s no excuse for the negligence that cost the lives of thousands of New Orleanians — particularly, African-American New Orleanians who already endured poverty, exploitative labor conditions, threadbare educational conditions, and the short ends of numerous other sticks — and that cost the material well-being of plenty of working-their-way middle-class New Orleanians. There’s no excuse for suppressing journalists’ access to the catastrophe. There’s no excuse for resisting an independent investigation of these failures.

Jon Stewart (as quoted by Joey) is correct: “Those who complain about the blame game? They’re usually to blame.”

The charge of “racism” comes in various types, in varying degrees of subtlety and deliberation. I doubt that more than a handful of vile hatemongers have taken any satisfaction in the gross disproportion of Black casualties and evacuees — but the shrugs, the self-justifying “who could foresee?” disclaimers, the delays, the evasiveness, the crass manipulation of emergency resources, all testify to an insensitivity that amounts to a great deal more than mere cluelessness. Read through Jeneane’s posts, and then let’s talk about what it adds up to.

Dave and I have disagreed about the semantics of accountability before — I’m relieved to say that at this point, I fully affirm his reflections.

[Later: as I check Google News at 12:41 PM Central Time, there are no stories reporting on the conditions in Louisiana and Mississippi (and I have the page set to show five “National” headlines). Google News highlights one story about how the government is handling the catastrophe, as though the political fallout is the real story, and one on conditions among evacuees in Houston — but in order to learn about people living and dying, coping with disaster, I have to resort to Boing Boing and the Times-Picayune. Does this show the success of the government’s suppression of news coverage of the disaster zone, or has the media’s attention-span just flickered?]


Untitled Exercise

Untitled Exercise

Originally uploaded by AKMA.

I’m having a day with more bother than real productivity. A large part of my day involved writing some business letters, and I’m a dreadfully slow letter-writer, and when I write letters of any importance I feel queasy. Between that and fiddling with budget requests relative to the Disseminary, I was stultified for the day. (Good thing I had a couple helpful ideas for my paper at the SBL meeting.) I decided to do something useful by recording and uploading some of Pippa’s art from her summer in Maine.

Tonight I’ll try to sketch my presentation for Clergy Day (meaning that Jane Ellen will have a peek ahead of time — not that any of what I’ll say will come to her as a surprise anyway). . . .