Looking Up the Recipe for Python Stuffing

We’re spending Thanksgiving in Las Vegas with our son and his family. We won’t hit the road until next Wednesday … which means we weren’t there yesterday for our grandson Quentin’s 9th birthday. Gregory and Beth hired an animal wrangler to entertain Quentin and his guests. What a great idea!  There were snakes, snapping turtles, iguanas, wallaroos, hedgehogs, I think even a koala, and it was all hands-on … except maybe for the snapping turtle. I love this photo:

Gregory, Beth, Taylor, Quentin

My, that is one big snake.  I can help noticing Beth seems a little … ah, uncomfortable?

Well, we missed the animal party, but we’re bringing the pup with us, so between their dog Buck, our dog Schatzi, and the Thanksgiving turkey, we’ll have our own beastly blast.

Polly’s coming with us too, planning to stay over in Vegas an extra week looking for work.  Boy, how we’re crossing our fingers for her.  As hard as it is on us having an unemployed adult child at home, just imagine how hard it must be for Polly to be out of work and living with the folks again.  These days, there are probably a lot of families in this boat.  Compared to what American families endured back in the Great Depression, though?  I’ll take it, and be thankful it isn’t worse.

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A friend asked me why I’m not weighing in on what passes for debate and policy discussion among the Republican presidential candidates.  I told her I’m just too appalled and depressed, and that it doesn’t matter what anyone says if no one’s listening.

I learned a new word the other day: nescience.  The dictionary says it’s simply another word for ignorance, but I think the word includes a sense of purposefulness, as in ignorance deliberately adopted or feigned.  As in, “I love nothing more than pissing off Democrats and liberals and leftists by being purposely obtuse.”  Our level of political and policy discourse has fallen to pre-kindergarten levels.

So on to something more practical, something the informed and nescient alike can perhaps agree on: the need for a functioning national emergency alert system.  Last week the Federal Communications Commision ran a nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System.  I’m told the results were mixed: radio stations here and there ran successful EAS tests, but in many cities and towns all you heard was either static … or nothing at all.

Growing up in the 50s and 60s, I always hoped we’d never have to tune in CONELRAD, those two never-used frequencies on every radio dial, marked by ominous little circle & triangle symbols, constant reminders of the threat of nuclear war:

AM car radio dial with CONELRAD frequency marks

CONELRAD went away in 1963 but was replaced with the Emergency Broadcast System, which later became the Emergency Alert System, no longer just for civil defense but for any and all national emergencies … which is what they tried to test last week, with decidedly mixed results.

In the mid-80s I was a staff officer at the US Special Operations Command in Tampa, Florida.  That was during the heyday of the Federal Emergency Management Agency: we had FEMA text feeds on our computers and an audio feed in the command post.  FEMA had its own radio and text message emergency alert network, and all the major military commands (I suppose law enforcement and emergency response agencies as well) were plugged into it.

Alerts came in from around the country, constantly, 24 hours a day: an earthquake here, a train derailment or forest fire there, a pipeline rupture or power plant outage somewhere else … unprocessed raw information, more detailed than the public at large would ever need … but FEMA’s alert system, along with military alert systems, was a critical part of our national emergency information system.  I suppose FEMA still operates this network today, and that the Department of Homeland Security has one as well.  These networks are where critical emergency information is collected and disseminated.  It is up to FCC and the nation’s radio stations to broadcast this information to the American people during an national emergency.

The FCC grants licenses to public airwaves to privately-owned radio stations.  Along with the use of public airwaves come responsibilities, one of which is is participation in the Emergency Alert System.  I suspect one of the major contributors to problems during last week’s test was that many radio stations have simply blown off complying with FCC requirements.  Clear Channel, which today owns most radio stations, is often cited as a major offender.

One Saturday morning in 2008 a crazy person went on a two-hour long shooting and killing spree here in Tucson.  He got in his car with a high-powered hunting rifle and started driving, all the way from the west side to the east side and eventually halfway up Mount Lemon.  Along the way he stopped to shoot at homes and to fire at policemen pursuing him, killing one.  During the entire two-hour episode, and for at least an hour afterward, not a single Tucson radio station (and not a single TV station either) put out an alert.  People went about their business, blissfully unaware that someone was shooting at them.  It was a weekend, and none of our radio or TV stations had reporters on duty.  There was no one to listen to police scanners and pick up a microphone to tell people to get off the streets and stay indoors.

Is it any surprise the FCC’s test of the EAS went so badly?  Complying with FCC EAS requirements means spending money on non-revenue-generating equipment and personnel, and what business today is going to spend a dime when it doesn’t have to?  If Clear Channel blows off FCC requirements, what are the consequences?  Will the FCC take them on?  I wonder.  The tide is running against government regulation, and as far as I know, the third federal agency Rick Perry wants to eliminate is the FCC.  So maybe the need for a national emergency alert system isn’t something people can agree on after all.

Damn, now I’m depressed and appalled again.  When is this country going to grow up?

© 2011, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

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