my_public_email at yahoo.com
Tue Sep 13 02:04:01 MDT 2005
This discussion reminds me of the great cartoons in Krug's
"Don't Make Me Think", where the usability consultant is
on the phone with a client who, near the close of a project,
wants to conduct focus groups. The bubble over the
usability consultant's head is, "Focus groups?", as if they
cannot believe the inappropriateness of their client's
suggestion. In reading this thread, I've had the same
bubble going on the whole time--"Usability?"
I would like to emphasise the role of the government
in creating this unnatural disaster.
Reports continue to emerge of the strategic ill-will and
incompetence of the goverment. It is these actions and
intentions of the government that deserve criticism.
How would you improve the delivery of the message
"First Responders Urged Not to Respond"?
The levels of gross incompetence--and that's being polite--
are almost too many to believe:
o Strategic neglect of the levee infrastructure (caused,
in part, by funds drained by an expensive, unpopular
and aggressive war)
o The lack of precaution for evacuation plans for all but
those who owned cars
o The several-day delay in taking any substantial actions
o The open-air morgue conditions sufferred by those who
did get manged to get evacuated
o Imposition of martial law, where due process is replaced
with "shoot to kill" orders for suspected looters,
carried out by hired mercenaries fresh from Iraq and
o Relentless disaster profiteering by the same companies
profiteering off of the war in Iraq
I think that the government's message is clear. It is
delivered point blank within firing range of those who
tried to leave, as well as those who tried to help. (See
links about FEMA below.)
This is not an issue of whether the emphasis on their web
site should have been italicized or bolded.
Perhaps the best way to illustrate what I am talking about
is to point to a story of some people who survived the
flooding, which includes numerous examples of this inhumane
(If you are in SF, you can hear these two speak on
Wednesday, 9/14 at 7PM--ask me for details if you are
As well, I would like to evaluate the other side of the
discussion, which includes blaming the users (victims),
whether it be active or passive: What about personal
responsibility? What about peoples' well-founded
distrust of the government due to racism?
The logical conclusion of the "personal responsibility"
argument is that, ultimately, each person is responsible
for his or her welfare, and in the case of hurricane
Katrina, each person bears the ultimate responsibility
for the consequences of not having evacuated. Those who
didn't evacuate were not really victims but were simply
If this sounds like a caricature of the notion, I will
only point out that it sounds this way coming out of the
mouth of FEMA chief Michael Brown, who claims that the
high death toll is "going to be attributable a lot to
people who did not heed the advance warnings."
The structural problem with the "personal responsibility"
argument is that it does not take into consideration the
material reality and systematic problems of society.
Clearly, each person ought to make wise choices among
those available to them, can be held responsible for
those desicsions. But what about the limitations on
those decisions? Who is held responsible for the context
of decisions made within a situation of poverty?
To illustrate this, simply consider who is responsible
for the situation of slave child? The child? Ridiculous,
you say: they had no choice in the matter. His or her
slave parents? Equally ridicuolus: is it not clearly
the the slave owner, and the state who supports him, who
impose their will by force, who are responsible for the
loss of freedom, the poverty and exploitation of a slave
What we see in New Orleans is the legacy of slavery.
To impose a morality of "personal responsibility" upon
people suffering systematic oppression ignores the
overriding oppression that is constraining their ability
to overcome poverty and racism. It places the blame
upon the individual victims, away from the oppression
that is ultimately at the root of their condition.
This "personal responsibility" argument is the same one
used by the Clinton administration to "end welfare as
we know it". It is no coincidence that many of the
victims of that policy and also victims of hurricane
What ever happened to 40 acres and a mule? It seems that
the demand for reparations, which was easily ignored,
has, at best--and only as a result of the civil rights
movement delayed by a century of segregation--turned into
a case for affirmative action. Yet even today, we see a
fierce opponent of affirmative action, former chief
justice Renquist, feted incessently by the entire state
apparatus, and another blame-the-victim idealogue, John
Roberts, is offered up to fill Renquist's shoes.
This is the reality of our political situation in the
USA. I believe that changing this situation requires
changing the political system, and taking matters into
our own hands; the established system has proven itself
to be outside the realm of humanitarian, and in fact has
shown itself to be anti-humanitarian. Perhaps you will
draw different conclusions than I, but I encourage you
to undertake those discussions, since we will never get
anywhere by focusing simply on usability of government
To keep this reply focused on usability, I will
say that any effort, however well-intentioned, spent
trying to improve the usability of FEMA's communications
would be, at best "polishing a turd". If we can't
accurately assess the gravity of the overall situation,
how can we even begin to contribute to its "usability"?
We do no one a favor, whether it is a client, or in this
case, our own society, by ignoring what is fundamentally
broken, and instead reducing our focus to only those
things that constitue "usability". That serves only to
reinforce bad results.
bird at alum.mit.edu
"I did not come here to be anti-American. I would not
waste my time doing that. I came here to speak the
truth, and if the truth is anti-American, then blame
the truth, don't blame me." - Malcolm X
FEMA won't accept Amtrak's help in evacuations
FEMA turns away experienced firefighters
FEMA turns back Wal-Mart supply trucks
FEMA prevents Coast Guard from delivering diesel fuel
FEMA won't let Red Cross deliver food
FEMA bars morticians from entering New Orleans
FEMA blocks 500-boat citizen flotilla from delivering aid
FEMA fails to utilize Navy ship with 600-bed hospital on board
FEMA to Chicago: Send just one truck
FEMA turns away generators
Do You Yahoo!?
Tired of spam? Yahoo! Mail has the best spam protection around
More information about the stcusesig_l