Sunday, April 28, 2013

Thoughts on the Packers' 2013 Draft Class

In no particular order:
As of this minute, it seems like former sixth-round pick James Starks will be the odd man out when the Packers cut their roster to 53 players. Like DeShawn Wynn, a seventh-rounder in 2007, Stars has plenty of talent but simply hasn't stayed healthy enough to justify keeping him around any longer. Eddie Lacy and Jonathan Franklin are the kind of power backs for whom DuJuan Harris should be a nice change of pace. If one of the three gets injured (likely, given Lacy's long history of same) or McCarthy simply wants to be prepared for that happening, the Packers could keep Alex Green on the roster and carry four. Green has been the forgotten man this offseason; he's a former third-round pick in just his third season, and this year will be two years removed from his ACL tear. Green has a chance to surprise. 

The knocks on Lacy are his injury history and his mediocre speed. Watching highlight videos of Lacy's Alabama career, he just doesn't look like a fast back. I think he will struggle some at the NFL level, what with defenders taking better angles on him and with a meh offensive line in front of him. At the same time, he reminds me a lot of Brandon Jacobs as a guy who just rams into people and will not go down easily. You know how a "possession receiver" is a guy who doesn't get open for 20-yard catches, but is really good at getting open for 5 or 8-yard gains and moving the chains? Lacy's going to be like that for the Packers. He's going to be really good at getting a solid 4-5 yards per carry and converting third-and-short opportunities. Just don't expect him to bust it for 60 once a game.

I think it's very possible that the Packers could open the season with Lacy, Franklin, Harris, Green and John Kuhn at running back. There should be a little extra space on offense, since they're unlikely to keep six wide receivers again. Greg Jennings and Donald Driver are gone, and while the top three are set in Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and James Jones, the bottom three--Jarrett Boykin, Charles Johnson and Kevin Dorsey--will likely be fighting for two spots. 

I loved the Datone Jones pick. Everything I've heard about him is that he's a high-character, high-motor player and a good inside rusher. He's also tall and athletic, a big plus, and should fit right in as a starting 3-4 end and a nickel rusher next to B.J. Raji. Remember when Cullen Jenkins was providing fairly consistent inside pressure with Raji in 2010, something the Packers haven't had since? If quarterbacks are feeling the heat from Jones coming up the middle, that will instantly make life easier for Clay Matthews and Nick Perry coming around the edges. (Speaking of Perry, I'm really excited to see what he's capable of in Year 2. The Packers arguably haven't successfully turned a college DE into a starting 3-4 OLB yet--Matthews had 3-4 experience at USC--but Perry has more talent than any of the guys they've tried with.)

Mike McCarthy said that rehabbing tackle Derek Sherrod is still very much a part of the Packers' plans. The ideal scenario would be to have a rejuvenated Sherrod at left tackle and keep Bryan Bulaga at right, with Marshall Newhouse, Don Barclay and now David Bakhtiari backing them up. If Sherrod isn't healthy, they could try Bulaga at LT and have Barclay and Bakhtiari compete at RT. Either way, the Packers now have more options at tackle than they've had in some time. J.C. Tretter is the early candidate for the No. 1 backup at LG, RG and C, and might even compete with Evan Dietrich-Smith for the starting center spot. 

Don't forget about the Packers' stable of young corners. I think that's possibly the best place on the team to look for improvement in 2013. Casey Hayward, Sam Shields and Davon House should only continue to get better. I've come to accept that Tramon Williams might never play back to his 2010 form, but hey, he's still a decent cornerback with potential to one day be great again. It took Nick Collins three years as a decent starter before the light came on and he became a Pro Bowl safety. I'm not saying Morgan Burnett is on the same career path, but this will be his fourth year and third full year in the NFL, and now would be an excellent time for him to put it together. The Packers can get by with Jerron Macmillan or M.D. Jennings at the other spot, but Burnett has to excel for this secondary to work again.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Thousand-Yard Rushers: First-Round Backs Still Rule

It being NFL Draft Day and the Packers being at least outwardly in the latest phase of their perennial need at running back, I thought I’d take a look at where most good NFL runners are taken. I went to the NFL stats page and looked up every running back from the past five years who’d posted a 1,000-yard season; both numbers are necessarily arbitrary, but all I wanted was a crude snapshot. With guys like Alfred Morris (sixth round) and Arian Foster (undrafted) tearing up the league and coloring my expectations, I thought it’d be a fairly egalitarian position. Wrong again. Not unlike offensive tackles, first-round backs dominated the field of forty different runners (18 of 40, 45%). Backs taken in the first three rounds made up seventy percent (28 of 40).

Here’s my data, with the backs organized by round and by position in that round. The number of 1,000-yard seasons they had within the marking period follows in brackets. It’s a bit odd to count only one thousand-yard season from guys like LaDanian Tomlinson and Thomas Jones, but I couldn’t really exclude them, either. My crude count did not forgive injuries, because that’s part of being a running back. Production was the only criterion I used.

Reggie Bush (1-2) [1]
Cedric Benson (1-4) [3]
Darren McFadden (1-4) [2]
Ricky Williams (1-5) [1]
LaDanian Tomlinson (1-5) [1]
Jamal Lewis (1-5) [1]
Thomas Jones (1-7) [1]
Adrian Peterson (1-7) [4]
C.J. Spiller (1-9) [1]
Marshawn Lynch (1-12) [3]
Ryan Mathews (1-12) [1]
Jonathan Stewart (1-13) [1]
Rashard Mendenhall (1-23) [2]
Willis McGahee (1-23) [1]
Chris Johnson (1-24) [4]
Steven Jackson (1-24) [5]
Doug Martin (1-31) [1]
Chris “Beanie” Wells (1-31) [1]

Matt Forté (2-44) [3]
Clinton Portis (2-51) [1]
LeSean McCoy (2-53) [2]
Ray Rice (2-55) [4]
Maurice Jones-Drew (2-60) [3]

Frank Gore (3-65) [4]
Shonn Greene (3-65) [2]
Jamaal Charles (3-73) [3]
Stevan Ridley (3-73) [1]
Steve Slaton (3-89) [1]

Brandon Jacobs (4-110) [1]

Michael Turner (5-154) [3]

Alfred Morris (6-173) [1]

Peyton Hillis (7-227) [1]
Derrick Ward (7-235) [1]
Ahmad Bradshaw (7-250) [2]

Arian Foster [3]
BenJarvus Green-Ellis [2]
LeGarrette Blount [1]
Ryan Grant [2]

First-round backs produced 34 of the 75 seasons (45.3%), and backs taken in rounds 1-3 accounted for 58 of 75 (77.3%), which is spookily on par with the earlier percentages. Moving away from statistics, most of the electrifying talent is in the first three rounds as well; Turner had a ridiculous combination of power and speed in his prime, Morris is perfect for the Redskins’ zone scheme, Bradshaw is a great, scrappy pass-blocker and solid runner, and Foster is Foster. The rest of the fourth-round or later backs are fairly uninspiring.

The second- and third-round backs, and the cluster of running backs at positions 23 and 24 in the first round, speak to the depreciation of value at the running back position. It is possible to get a solid guy around where the Packers are picking, or to pick someone up in the second or third round, although it’s less likely. I’d like to go back and do this again including busts, but we’re out of time. Bottom line: the Packers have invested two high picks at this position since 2007, those being Brandon Jackson and Alex Green. They’ve been content to get by with dirt-cheap options through most of Thompson’s tenure, including UFA Samkon Gado, for-nothing trade Vernand Morency, a cheap free-agent Ahman Green, seventh-round DeShawn Wynn, undrafted Grant, sixth-round James Starks, the younger Green, and now UFA DuJuan Harris. They’ve gotten by at this position without a 1,000-yard runner or a true No. 1 back since 2009, when Grant was in his prime. If the Packers are serious about upgrading the position, we’ll see them reach high for a back during this draft. If not, we’ll get by with an assortment of mediocre or limited options once again.

Stray notes:

The Buffalo Bills are freakishly good at this, having drafted or signed four different 1,000-yard rushers (Spiller, Lynch, Jackson, McGahee). Meanwhile, the Giants have made a freakish amount of more with less (Bradshaw and Ward are seventh-rounders, Jacobs was a fourth and Martin was 1-31, while Ryan Grant was undrafted).

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

FEMA Corps Members: Enjoy Your Time in the Program While It's Here. (Yeah, You Heard Me.)

"Our memories of yesterday will last a lifetime... We'll take the best, forget the rest, and someday we'll find... these are the best of times." -Dennis DeYoung, lead singer of Styx

We've been experiencing some serious attrition in our Physical Training sessions of late. Earlier today, two of our people were still on spring break (having taken extra vacation days), two were injured (I have a whiny hamstring) and two were generally unenthusiastic. So our PT overlords decided that instead of a traditional session of sport and exercise, we would take a long walk instead and meditate on our lives. Our straggly line ambled from the Extended Stay Motel past corporate parks and blooming trees, through a clapboard housing development and around a few turns before turning around by an odd little sump in the middle of a green, grassy field. Through all this resplendent spring glory, while my comrades were presumably deep in thought, I was twirling my Communist-themed Frisbee and drumming bits of "Abbadon's Bolero" by Emerson, Lake and Palmer. It's not that I was incapable of being serious, it's just that I had no deep topics on which to meditate, no soul-scouring issues burning for my attention. I was free and clear. 

I guess that whistling, airy walk, combined with the looming awareness of our mortality program's imminent end, is what brought on this rambling post. Here's some free advice for my fellow FEMA Corps members as we crunch into our ninth month as a part of this program: 

Enjoy yourselves. Relax for a second. Let the crummy bits of your jobs wash away and remember where you are, who you're with, and what you've done in the past eight months. 

Isn't this awesome? I mean, come on, who gets to do these things? We live out of a bag! And it's wonderful!

We get to live with teams of splendid people, free of charge, in crazy places around the country. We get to cook dinner together and laugh and share stories and bond together. Yeah, we get to fight with each other too, but that's what happens in families. What other jobs do you know that actively encourage and enable you to go out and do community service? Where else can you wake up each morning and genuinely not know if you're about to be whisked away to Alaska? These kinds of experiences don't come along too often in a lifetime. And living and working with people that share the same stories and situations day in and day out, the way we do, is a good way to forget how special it is. 

And the places we've gone! And the things we have seen! I've met the President, for God's sake, and two Cabinet secretaries, and the deputy head of FEMA and the chief of CNCS, and the mayor of New York City just thrown in for spice. We've all lived on a ship! We all did Sandy relief for months! I helped move twenty-five tons of ham once, and 120 miles of toilet paper another time! Want to hear the list of states I've lived in since August 13th? Mississippi! Alabama! Georgia! Maryland! Connecticut! New York! Maryland again! When job applications ask if I'm willing to relocate, I just laugh. Who does these things?! We do! This is a fantastic experience that we're all so jaded we don't even recognize anymore! Yeah, the work can be lousy, and there are plenty of reasons for the FEMA Bore Corps-style slubberdegullions to moan and whinge. But come on. Look at the life that's right in front of you, and think about how great most of it is!

And pretty soon, it'll all be over. If you're a Vicksburg kid, it's a short, short 43 days until we all get into cars or onto planes and scatter back to the tiny little specks on the map from whence we came. Some of us, including a few of my best friends, have already dissipated in this way. Maybe you're heartbroken just thinking about it, and maybe you can't wait to get a diploma in hand and spit fire from your heels. But I urge you, either way, to take some time and appreciate this life. Let it wash over you. 'Cause unless you're among those brave few that are coming back for another round, this is it. This is all you get. And I have a sneaky hunch that, as the man says, we'll remember these as some of the best times of our lives.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

How to Survive FEMA's Disaster Application Process, Part II

You’ve made it through the natural or man-made disaster that struck your town or city, and now you’re wondering what comes next. Non-profit agencies such as the Red Cross, Convoy of Hope or the Salvation Army will be there to take care of your basic food, clothing and shelter needs. Your insurance company or companies will take care of their piece of the rebuilding process, or at least as much as you can squeeze out of them. But what about the Federal Emergency Management Agency? What about the Small Business Administration? What can they do for you, and what should you do in order to navigate their disaster assistance process and get help in the quickest way possible?

Here, from a current FEMA Corps member, is your guide to getting disaster assistance from FEMA. Part I generally focused on what you should expect from FEMA and its partner agencies, in terms of assistance and how you get it. Part II will cover the tips, tricks and pitfalls I’ve witnessed in eight months of FEMA Corps work, including four months working in Hurricane Sandy relief.
Here are seven specific pieces of advice for your application and post-disaster process:

-The FEMA application will ask you if your home has been damaged, to which you can answer “Yes”, “No” or “Unknown”. If you were evacuated from your home and don’t know if there was damage, put ‘Yes’ anyway. If you put ‘Unknown’, your application goes to Narnia and you will find it difficult to get aid.

-Similarly, when asked if you are willing to relocate, put ‘Yes’. It doesn’t mean ‘are you willing to move away permanently’, it’s determining whether you are going to need rental assistance for a temporary move during repairs. If you say no, you’ll have a hard time getting rental assistance even if you do move out of your house for a time.

-If the information on your application is not perfect and complete, it will be denied*. You can appeal this once you’ve gotten the correct information, but it is a long and arduous process. For this reason, make sure you’ve got your stuff together as best you possibly can before starting the application process. A few days’ wait won’t make much difference. If your important documents were destroyed in the flood, call the relevant agency (the city or state DMV for drivers’ licenses, the Social Security Agency for social security cards, etc) for replacements. In New York, you could sometimes find document-replacement people sharing space at FEMA Disaster Recovery Centers (DRCs). Check your local DRCs for similar aid.

-One application per household; more than that gunks up the works. Make sure when you apply that you’re the only one in your family applying.

-As I advised in the last post, document everything. Keep the receipts for everything you buy after the disaster, for hotel bills, contractors’ bills, wet-dry vacuums, everything. If your FEMA inspector stayed for twenty minutes and didn’t look in the garage where you told him to look, and you later want to dispute the damage estimate he assigned to you, it’s really helpful to have documentation. What day did he come? What did he say? What did or didn’t he do? Document, document, document.

-Please, please, fill out the packet from the Small Business Administration if you get it. Canvassing door-to-door, people generally gave me one of two reasons why they didn’t:
they weren’t a small business or they didn’t want a loan. To the first: despite its name, the SBA extends loans to individuals as well as small businesses, so you can totally apply. To the second: Even if you don’t want a loan, apply anyway. You’re not obligated to take anything that the SBA offers you. And if they do not offer you a loan, if they decline your application, you will be put back into the FEMA system and considered for other FEMA benefits. This can ONLY happen if you apply for a loan and are declined. If you apply for a loan, are approved and turn down the offer, it’s no skin off FEMA’s nose; the process simply ends there. Basically, nothing bad can come from filling out the SBA app; either you get considered for other monies, you get a loan offer, or nothing. 

--> Insurance. Make sure you know all the ins and outs of your insurance policy. Do you have flood insurance? What is the deductible? Will it pay your rent for a time if you’re displaced? Will it pay full value for your damaged appliances, or some kind of adjusted depreciated value? Will they cover sewer backups? What about your homeowners’; will damage from wind-driven rain or debris, say, be covered by them? All of this stuff is good to know in advance, so shake some answers out of your insurance company or companies.

EDIT: As pointed out by Dover in a comment on Part I, flood insurance typically will not cover the contents of your home unless you have a rider for contents. S/he also notes that flood insurance tends not to cover damage outside the foundations of your home, such as to a well on the property; I have no personal experience with this bit, but it seems to fit with the whole.

*I have argued long and strenuously that there should be a different, friendlier process for people who don’t have access to all their important documents. However, nobody listened to me, so this is how to deal with the process that currently exists.

Monday, April 22, 2013

How to Survive the FEMA Disaster Application Process, Part I

You’ve made it through the natural or man-made disaster that struck your town or city, and now you’re wondering what comes next. Non-profit agencies such as the Red Cross, Convoy of Hope or the Salvation Army will be there to take care of your basic food, clothing and shelter needs. Your insurance company or companies will take care of their piece. But what about the Federal Emergency Management Agency? What about the Small Business Administration? What can they do for you, and what should you do in order to navigate their disaster assistance process and get help in the quickest way possible?

Here, from a current FEMA Corps member, is your guide to getting disaster assistance from FEMA. Part I will generally focus on what you should expect from FEMA and its partner agencies, in terms of assistance and how you get it. Part II will cover the tips, tricks and pitfalls I’ve witnessed in eight months of FEMA Corps work, including four months working in Hurricane Sandy relief.

-First of all: FEMA does not provide food, clothing and shelter. Your local and state governments, as well as the non-profit aid agencies mentioned above, will take care of that. FEMA may eventually give you money to replace your personal property (we’ll get to that), but it will not hand out physical items to you. Also, FEMA will not pay to replace food. If your power goes out for two weeks and the food in your refrigerator spoils, you may be able to get some food from voluntary agencies, but FEMA will not reimburse you for the lost food.

-The guiding principle of FEMA, and something that is not well-known outside of FEMA itself, is that the agency exists only to fill in the cracks when all other sources of aid have failed. Here’s an example: If you have flood insurance and your home gets flooded, and your insurance policy covers all of your losses, FEMA has nothing to do with you. If your home gets flooded and your policy doesn’t cover everything, or you don’t have flood insurance at all, that’s when FEMA can help you… up to a point. The absolute maximum amount of money that FEMA can give you is $31,900, which is fixed by Congress. Critical caveat: most people will not get $31,900 from FEMA. That is the maximum, and it is seldom reached.

-Registration: Step one of the FEMA disaster process is to register with FEMA. You will need: your social security number, the address and phone number of your damaged dwelling, an address and phone number where you can be reached, and possibly your bank account information (if you opt to have assistance direct-deposited into your bank account). You’ll be asked a few questions about the damage to your home, whether you’ve incurred certain kinds of expenses and so forth; we’ll get into those tomorrow. Finally, you’ll get a FEMA registration number--memorize this! If you’re doing this in person at a Disaster Recovery Center, ask for a “Help After a Disaster” recovery booklet; it’s amazingly helpful but isn’t always handed out.

-Rental Assistance: If you’ve been forced to leave your home due to a disaster, FEMA can help you through their Rental Assistance program. They’ll help you find a “rental resource”, or a place to stay in the medium-to-long term, and pay your rent for up to eighteen months while your home is being repaired. Again, this comes out of the $31-9. You’ll have to get recertified that your home is still unlivable every so often. 

-The Inspector: If you suffered damage to your home, an inspector will contact you and set up an appointment to look at your house with you. This inspection will be the primary method FEMA uses to determine how much damage you had. It is completely okay to clean things up before the inspector gets there; having your home be livable is more important than keeping it ready for the inspector. If you do this, however, make absolutely certain you document the way the house was when it was damaged or unlivable. Pictures and video and lots of them are very helpful here. Theoretically, the inspector will call you 7-10 days after you send in an application, but in a big disaster, this may mushroom.

-Repair & Rebuilding: It sounds like a lot, but for refurbishing a home, $31-9 is really not very much money. It is supposed to be enough to make your home “safe, sanitary and functional”, not to put it back together the way it was. Insurance is the primary way that most homes get fixed. Critical caveat II: Your insurance claim must be settled before FEMA will give you any assistance for repair and rebuilding. This can take a while, because flood insurance companies can be swamped (pun done) or jerks. You have up to a year to submit your insurance paperwork, because that’s how bad the delays can be. If you're waiting on an insurance claim and your neighbor doesn't have insurance, they will probably get R & R money before you do. That's just how it happens.

-ONA, or Other Needs Assistance (Medical/Dental/Funeral): If you have these needs, FEMA can help with them, although it all comes out of the $31-9. I never dealt with anybody who had these costs in Sandy’s aftermath, so I don’t have much information about them. I know that it’s a separate program, ONA, while the two programs above are part of the Individual and Households Program (IHP). Most of my work had to do with IHP, so I apologize.

-Small Business Administration: After you’ve passed through those steps above, you should get a packet in the mail from the SBA. It will offer you an application for a low-interest loan. I’ll discuss this one more fully tomorrow, but for right now I’ll just say, fill the son of a bitch out and send it back in.

-ONA (Again): If the SBA denies your loan application, you’ll be considered for other miscellaneous expenses. These include damage to a car, reimbursement of your cleanup gear that you bought (e.g. a chainsaw to chop up downed trees, a pump to get stuff out of your home and so on. Not everything is eligible for reimbursement, it changes with the disaster, so ask!), the cost of renting a storage locker for your stuff, etc. Ask about where personal property falls; it may be in here, but again, I am not sure because this is not my home turf.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Lessons from Yitzhak Rabin: The Boston Bombings

The memorial to slain Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, in the city of Tel Aviv, is at the precise spot where he was killed. It is simple and unornamented: a churning pile of rock slabs, seemingly caught in the middle of some violent upheaval, is cordoned off by a small iron fence. Tiny discs of metal mark the participants in Rabin's last moments; a security guard there, a bystander here, the murderer standing two feet behind the prime minister, who was looking in the opposite direction. A simple plaque on a nearby pillar reads "Here, at this spot, on November 4th, 1995, Israel's Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Yitzhak Rabin was murdered. Peace shall be his legacy." 

Rabin may very well have been the best-ever hope for peace between Israel and Palestine. He signed a peace treaty with Jordan that has lasted through the present day, and he helped broker the Oslo Accords, creating a legitimate Palestinian governmental entity and giving it control over most of the Palestinian population. A zealous young Israeli, a far-right extremist, shot him dead after he'd finished giving a speech in Tel Aviv. 

The name of that extremist is on the Wikipedia page about the incident, and presumably emblazoned in 'most every account of the shooting afterwards. But at the Israeli memorial, there is no name. Every other disc has a name for its participant, but not the shooter. He is simply "the murderer", or perhaps "the assassin"; my memory is failing me and I have no photograph of it. That struck me at the time, and it's stuck with me since. The names of Lee Harvey Oswald and John Wilkes Booth, among others, are carved into our national memory. We grant them a platform to espouse their ideas, however disgusting, that they have done nothing to deserve. The assassins of history do not deserve to be remembered for their crimes. We mourn our dead and grieve for innocent eras long past, but we should not honor the monsters, the mentally ill, the men with guns who crown our best in blood. 

As I write this, law enforcement agents apparently have at least one suspect for the criminal who loaded pressure cookers with nails and shrapnel. I say 'criminal', not 'terrorist', because the latter is a term loaded with fear while the former is society's runoff. Terrorists spread fear and panic in the pursuit of a political ideal, and I worry that we spread far too much fear and panic in hunting them down. Better to call the rictus grin that bombed the marathon a criminal, a twisted soul gripped by hatred and fear, than to fear him and his kind ourselves. 

Like the man who murdered Yitzhak Rabin, the bomber of the Boston Marathon does not deserve a name. He does not deserve the time he will receive at the center of our national consciousness, nor does he deserve the outpouring of fear and anger that the people of our country will inevitably direct upon him. Whether he was inspired (if you can call it that) by al-Qaeda, or whether he is simply the latest in a long and ugly parade of domestic terrorists, we should not be afraid of him. He and his kind are out there, and perhaps they always will be. And let us guard ourselves and be watchful, as best we possibly can, that such a horrible thing does not happen again. But we should not lash out in hatred and fear and rage against him, for that would only give him what he wanted. Let us instead follow the words of Yitzhak Rabin's memorial. Let peace be the legacy of the Boston bombings. And let us, by doing so, defeat this man and his ilk once today and a thousand times to come by showing them that we are not afraid, that the worst he can do is to gash us and to shock us, but that he can never crush our spirit. There is so much more good in that city, in this nation, in this world than the evil that he and his kind struggle to infect us with. Let us show him and show the world that we are stronger than he ever imagined, and in spite of him and all that he can do, that we are not afraid. 

The tomb of Yitzhak Rabin and his wife Leah, in Jerusalem.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

First Week At The NPSC

(Nipsy? Nipsee? Whatever.)

It's the National Processing Service Center either way, dear readers, and Summit 5 (along with Bayou 6 and Summit 6 and some other team I haven't seen yet) is working in it. I've started describing the NPSC to people as the last line of defense for FEMA's version of customer service. If I don't know the answer in the field, I tell you to call the helpline. If an Individual Assistance person doesn't know the answer, go straight to the helpline: 1-800-621-3362. As far as I was concerned for the past eight months, those calls went straight into the luminous aether and were answered by helpful and oddly specific spirits. Now I know better. Like all good myths, this one has a boring real-life explanation: they're answered at one of the three NPSCs around the country (Maryland, Virginia, Texas). That's our home for our last project round unless a disaster intervenes.

There appear to be two main types of calls for us to take: helpline calls, which are what they sound like, and registrations, when a survivor is calling to register with FEMA. The former are more difficult, since they require knowledge of the National Emergency Management Information System (which we've only been trying to gain access to since November) and can be anything from a simple question about FEMA policy to, God forbid, someone who's lost everything in a disaster and wants to end their own life. We're starting on the registration lines because that's quite a bit easier; you really just have to walk through the same form a survivor would fill out on the website and ask them a bunch of questions about it. In fact, almost everyone in our training class (three teams) has already done the equivalent of this at some point, except that was talking to a survivor in person. 

That's our gig for the next couple of months, pending some kind of weather-induced skullduggery elsewhere in the land. Honestly, I've been assuming since Sandy that spring would be the busy season for disasters; tornadoes happen, hurricanes happen, the West wakes up and stretches its shoulders and then catches on fire again, there are freak blizzards and ice jams and who knows what else, so we can dream of being called out to respond to something in our final project round. For now, it's the phones for us (and a commute that starts out in Maryland, passes through West Virginia and ends up in Virginia--it's actually not that long, which is one of the weird things about the Northeast). Accommodations are good at the Extended Stay, food is well-prepared by team chefs, and yeah. I'm headed back to Ohio over the weekend for the third time this spring, this time for an interview in Columbus. Spending today doing R^3 (rest, relaxation and research), then I'm heading out tonight!


Friday, April 5, 2013

Travel, Housing and Work Update

Well, it's been a ridiculous week for Summit 5, but we're now ensconced in what will hopefully be our permanent housing for this spike. My red bag is unpacked, clothes are in the drawer, books are on a makeshift bookshelf, Red Menace (my Frisbee) is on the table and the Battlestar Galactica flag is on the wall. Feels like home already, or at least like New York.

Brief backstory on our adventures: In Vicksburg, my team was initially told we'd be living and working in Washington, D.C. Then we were told we'd be moving to Jessup, Maryland, which is not a big city (under 9,000 population) but was close enough to D.C. for it not to matter. We set out to Rivendell Jessup on Tuesday, intending to get there Thursday, but were told to take an extra travel day, so we stopped in Luray, Virginia, in the middle of the Shenandoah Valley. We got to an EconoLodge in Frederick (MD) last night, and were told we'd be working instead in Virginia, in the National Processing Service Center in Winchester. After much grumbling, we finally got our permanent housing earlier today, in an Extended Stay Motel in Frederick. (Early on in the program, my friends and I mused that the whole NCCC program was really just a deferred subsidy for Wal-Mart, where we spent all of our food money. Now I know better. It's a sop to Extended Stay.)

So yeah. I was initially not happy with this, because I love D.C. and cherish it and was really looking forward to staying there, and because our original assignment had been to work at Headquarters instead of a NPSC. However, the extended stay is nice and we're staying with three other teams, so that's a thing. Our hotel is away from the freeway, which is nice, and right near a large mall-like entity with restaurants and a movie theater and a suit store should we need emergency good looks. It's only an hour to D.C. and there's a rental car place in town, so I'll be able to go to Cleveland for minimal cost next weekend (job interview-excitement!).

Beyond that, I have little information on what we're going to be doing or how long it might last. We just spent the day in Baltimore, though, and I found it extremely nice. They have a great waterfront--there's a Civil War frigate, a World War II submarine and a reasonably modern cutter there to be seen, as well as tons of restaurants and an aquarium and a Barnes & Noble built out of some kind of old factory, plus a fleet of dragon boats sitting in the harbor. (Pedal-pushers. John, Katrina, Malinda and I rented one and had both some fun and a workout--those things are hard to push!) I went to an old used bookstore and picked up Bruce Catton's Civil War in three volumes, The Forever War (which I'd been meaning to read for, well, ever), and a copy of The Return of the King. I have owned that since I was in elementary school, but having just read Fellowship and Towers and without a copy of the third one handy, I'll gladly pay the three bucks rather than wait months to finish the story. Also picked up A Clash of Kings at Barnes & Noble because I haven't read that yet. That's the news from Frederick; see ya next time!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

One Member's Goodbye to Joseph Massenburg

I never knew Joseph. I wasn't in his program, let alone on his team, and although we shared a campus, I had never met the eighteen-year-old young man who went to New Orleans this spring looking to do good and righteous work. I never will. We will never know what he would have done, what heights he was capable of achieving, what lives he would have touched. He died earlier today, shot down on a New Orleans street corner for who knows what cloudy reason.

I never knew Joseph Massenburg, but I wish I had. I cannot imagine what his team must be feeling right now, much less his friends, or his family. I hate that any of the Americorps family had to find out. But we are all part of the A family, and none of us will go untouched by it.

Good night, Joseph. I wish the world had known you longer, and I wish I'd known you at all.