Fires, storms, and the crisis of authority

Smoke from the Bastrop Fires

Smoke from the Bastrop Fires

Of course we’ve been tracking the fires in the Austin area, especially the massive complex fire in Bastrop, and I’ve been thinking how to make sense of the disaster. Marsha and I drove toward Bastrop, Texas Monday to get a better look, not expecting to get very close (we didn’t want to be in the way). We drove within ten miles – not close, but close enough to capture photos of the massive tower of smoke: http://www.flickr.com/photos/weblogsky/sets/72157627607062626/ Jasmina Tesanovic was there the same day, and posted her thoughts here.

The whole area is a tinderbox after an unprecedented drought, and a great, now dangerous, feature of the Austin area is that cities and suburbs here have pervasive greenspaces, and we’ve built residences and other structures close to, and surrounded by, foliage that is now potentially explosive.

The current disasterous fires have a climate change signature; they’re products of the record Texas drought – at least exacerbated by, if not caused by, global warming. They were fanned by strong, oddly dry, winds from tropical storm Lee, and while no single storm is specifically related to global warming, their increasing number and severity may be related. While I’m not looking for a climate change debate here, it’s frustrating that the issue has been politicized on both left and right, and leaders have ignored scientific consensus for so long that prevention is no longer an option. We should be thinking about adaptation, but that’s not happening, either.

In fact, we’re not prepared for disaster. Marsha and Jasmina returned to Bastrop Tuesday hoping to volunteer, and Marsha spent much of Wednesday as a volunteer at one of the evacuee shelters. So much is happening so quickly, it’s hard to manage – and there’s no clear leadership or structure. The fire has destroyed 1,386 homes, and it’s still burning. Much of the attention and energy is focused on core concerns. On the periphery of the disaster, there are too few leaders or managers and too many details to manage.

This is a metaphor for global crisis. Economies are challenged and systems are breaking down; at the same time, we have real crises of authority. At a time that demands great leadership, we have no great leaders. Politicians left and right are stumbling. In Texas, which has needed great insightful leadership for some time now, the governor dismisses science and leads rallies to pray for rain.

In difficult times past, great leaders have emerged. Where are they now?

How was the Picture Quality of “The George Burns & Gracie Allen Collection”?

Got an email from Netflix asking how George and Gracie looked. I responded that the quality was acceptable, but that’s only part of the story. It was actually phenomenal, if you consider that I was streaming it over my iPhone with Netflix’s new streaming app. I’d say that digital convergence has arrived… I was sitting in a movie theatre, the Alamo on South Lamar, in Austin, waiting for a film, and showing Marsha the Netflix app (which wasn’t too much of a distraction from the Sudoku app on her phone). I could stream any episode of a favorite 50s television series and any of hundreds of films. We’ve been alternating Netflix streaming, more and more of which is HD, with Blue Ray DVDs. I have more media than I can possibly track, and persistent opportunities for new media experiences. I’m in hog heaven.  Marsha and I took a walk yesterday and talked about the challenge of managing anxiety of the seemingly endless possibilities vs inherently scare opportunities – making choices about how we fill our time. We’ve been working many hours lately, so our cognitive surplus is increasingly scarce.

But I’ve been making time to watch all the old episodes of “Kolchak: The Night Stalker,” and re-experiencing the 70s. (Where’s my leisure suit?)

Rescue

“Life is as ephemeral as dew.” I think that’s from Rashomon.

The black kitten we found two weeks ago, aka Midnight, died this morning. We thought we were nursing him back to health, but the vet said he probably never had a chance. She said his mother might have abandoned him as the runt of the litter; he was malnourished when we found him and evidently never recovered.

MidnightHe seemed okay last night, but Marsha found him this morning so still she thought he had died. Then we saw he was laboring for breath, and called a local vet, who referred us to a pet emergency clinic, the AMPM Animal Hospital. The vet was sensitive and helpful; said aggressive measures would be costly and unlikely to succeed… and the kitten died as we were holding him and saying our goodbyes.

We rescued the kitten from real misery and gave him a good couple of weeks. We did all that we could for him – food, shelter, love.

I’m thinking our life is just a series of reciprocal rescues like this. We help each other along, give comfort as we can. Some need more than others, some can give more than others. In the end we all meet the same fate, but if we’re lucky someone rescued us, fed us, kept us warm and reasonably content until the end.

(Originally posted on Facebook.)