“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

tales from FEMA

I don’t know if I’ve told this story in some post. But here goes…

I once worked, temporarily, for FEMA. I was in Santa Fe, trying to write a novel. I needed a job, so I went to a temp agency and was sent out on various jobs.

The instructions I’d get from the temp agency sometimes merely consisted of an address. One morning I set out for one of those addresses. The previous night I’d been at a party, and indulged in a little doobie. I still felt a bit of the pleasant bloodborne vertiginousness of the joint in my system as I found myself driving into the parking lot of what looked like a police station. Vertigo turned immediately into paranoia. I went into a building that seemed occupied by cops, and went down several flights of stairs until I found the office I was to report to.

It was FEMA.

The place was crawling with ex military. My boss was recently retired from a fat gig with NORAD, about which he liked to reminisce at lunch time with the other ex Norad boys – the times they would commandeer planes and go to Labrador on fishing expeditions, or parties to which they would fly in girls, etc. It sounded like the defense of our nuclear capability was a lot of fun if you were in the right circles. That first day, however, when I was briefed as to what they wanted me to do, I had this feeling that I must have smoked more than pot the night before. This was their plan: they wanted me to transcribe into a computer a typed up list of places in New Mexico that had, check one, toilet facilities, check two, kitchen facilities, three sleeping facilities. This list was supposed to be pulled out in case of nuclear attack. My boss even, helpfully, pulled out a diagram illustrating nuclear attack on a city, with circles of the various degrees of salvation radiating out from the dead center.

I should point out that this was 1993. I should point out that my boss wanted this work done because they had the funding to do the work, even though, as he acknowledged, it might not be the most useful work. I should point out that the list I was using was last updated in 1970.

So for the next two weeks I became an expert on where New Mexicans could take a dump in 1970.

In my last post, I was trying to analyze the culture of busyness that, I believe, intersects with the macro ineffectuality which plagues all plans floated in the Bush culture. The emphasis here is that busyness can operate even better as the content of busyness – the acts of busyness – tend towards zero. At zero, there can be complete speed and control. The ur-Bushites – Bremer and Brown – were peculiarly talented in pushing busyness towards the zero. My little FEMA job (under Good King Clinton, it should be added) was no more nor less busy than other jobs I have had, but it is distinguished by its outstanding uselessness. It had one justification – it was funded.

Those who would say, hey, that is the government. Private enterprise can’t afford such luxuries should study the exemplary career of the CFO of Enron. Profit is not a sign of content, as any hedge fund trader could tell you.

Eventually, I was displaced from my office at FEMA by the Governor of New Mexico, as a real moral panic arose in the state. There was an outbreak of a hantavirus carried by field mice that seemed especially potent, and the Governor commandeered an office in FEMA to make it seem like he was in charge.

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