Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Want to file for aid online? Better run Windows

FEMA site requires assistance seekers to use Internet Explorer 6

The good news: If you've survived Hurricane Katrina, the government will let you register for help online. The bad news: But only if the computer you're using is running Windows.

Yes, it turns out that to make a claim with the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Individual Assistance Center, your Web browser must be Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 6 or higher and you must have JavaScript enabled. It even says so right on the page itself. One problem: IE6 isn't available for Macintosh or Linux computers.

This is bad on many levels. I am conflicted because I'm now involved in Firefox through the Mozilla Foundation, but I think this is just rude. I think it's bad when companies argue that Internet Explorer is good enough for everyone, but the government should be held to a higher standard. The government should not be reinforcing monopolies and building such critical services on platforms that are exclusive.

danah boyd has some thoughts on this issue.


@ 2005-09-08 15:30 EST

Does the online application require Internet Explorer?
Yes and no.
Currently to complete your application online you must be using Microsoft's Internet Explorer 6.0 or above. We are in the process of modifying the application so that it will be available to additional browsers.

It's just plain dumb. There is not one single good reason to restrict what amounts to a simple form to require IE6/PC. They obviously got a total incompetent to do this work for them AND probably paid them 10x market rates. Sick sick sick.

As far as I can tell, it works fine with Opera. Obviously, since I'm in Seattle, I don't qualify for aid and didn't fill out the application, but I didn't get the "OMG YOU MUST USE IE 6!!!111" error that I got with Firefox. Looks like they're just checking the user agent string.

Can the assistance seekers sue FEMA for monoploy of practice ? And also for denial of service ?

How can a .gov body have such incomptence ??

Hey hello everyone,
there's something else I found there ...
- On there's the link titled "Register online". Clicked there and the browser (yes, firefox) kept reloading. So I did this:
# wget
=> `integration'
Connecting to[]:443... connected.
HTTP request sent, awaiting response... 302 Moved Temporarily
Location: [following]
=> `index.html'
Connecting to[]:443... connected.
HTTP request sent, awaiting response... 200 OK
Length: 716 [text/html]

100%[==================================================================================>] 716 --.--K/s

11:18:05 (6.83 MB/s) - `index.html' saved [716/716]

So I'm being redirected to here. Let's look what index.html look like ... aaaaah interesting:

# wget
=> `index.html.1'
Connecting to[]:443... connected.
HTTP request sent, awaiting response... 302 Moved Temporarily
Location: [following]

They're redirecting me where I've just been coming from - that's what I would call a classic endless loop.


I am conflicted because I'm now involved in Firefox through the Mozilla Foundation, but I think this is just rude.

I hear you, Joi, but I think you are giving FEMA too much credit. Frankly, they are too disorganized and incompetent to take advantage of the situation by staging a monopoly of practice. (Or whatever it should be called.) IE6 is what they use at home. Mozilla? Firefox? What's that? Never heard of it.

Now, there are other groups who are unquestionably taking advantage of the tragedy, however. For example, Chevron is engaging in BLATANT profiteering buy buying up condemned property in Baton Rouge, as we speak. Think they'll sell it at a bargain? Think again.

They have already figured out ways around Sarbanes Oxley.

I wish you were here in the States, Joi. You should see it. There is political change in the air.

It seems like active stupidity to deliberately filter out other browsers. They're EASIER to design for than IE6, which is a booger.

How can a .gov body have such incompetence ??
Gosh, I hope that was a joke.

There is political change in the air.
Really? I can't smell it and my nose is definitely in the air. You must be watching the MSM.
(Unless you're referring to all those solid N.O. Democrats relocating permanently to Texas and other red states.)

Mike B: Wanna bet?

Let me suggest two things:

1. Politically, this is the second luckiest thing that has happened to one of our luckiest Presidents. We have just seen the first wave of reaction to all of this, and it clearly did not favor Bush. No question about that. But there are many waves coming, my man. I don't like Bush, but it seems pretty clear by a fair reading of this that an enormous part of the blame for events lies in Louisiana or that some of the criticism of his administration if rooted in cherished (by some) myths about earlier administrations. Examples:
-Why was nothing done by LA and NOLA authorities to begin logisitical preparations for evacauation in the interval between when Bush asked Blanco and Nagin to announce an evacuation and when they did (and Bush was the one who asked earliest for an evacuation).
-Bush's FEMA is incompetent, but the story about the well-oiled professional machine of the Clinton years is starting to fall apart as various non-partisan performance analyses, case studies (eg the response to hurricane Floyd), etc. surface. FEMA has pretty much always been a problem organization. It has never had a stellar track record. Under both presidents it was pretty eqaully mediocre in comparable disasters (ask people in the Eastern part of my state (NC) about FEMA and the great hurricanes of the Nineties like Fran), and on the Clinton watch it never experienced a disaster remotely on this scale.
-Bush cannot simply send Federal troops in light of the fact that one important task for which they are needed is to quell the unrest in NOLA. He must invoke the Insurrection Act, and Blanco's bizarre obstinancy on certain points left Bush only with the option of invoking that Act in a very draconian fashion, which has huge political risks of its own.

I could go on. And Bush will not ever fully escape criticism for his handling of this. The point is that as time goes by the blame for this will become more widely spread, making such pressure as Bush is now experiencing far less acute.

Meanwhile, the hurricane gives Bush a new challenge that can become a cornerstone of his legacy to replace the other faltering 2nd term candidates (eg social security reform). Don't forget that in Klingon the word for crisis is also the word for opportunity ;)

2. It is the worst thing that could have happened to the Democratic Party. Why? Because they need to focus their political energy on developing a coherent message and agenda that speaks to America's middle class. That is the key to enduring political victory. By comparison, opportunism of the sort you are seeing only ever yields limited and temporary gains. If they had such a message and agenda, I wouldn't have as much problem with this since they might as well try to pocket a few more chips as opportunities present themselves. But the problem Mike is that they don't, they haven't in at least 5 years, and they don't seem to recognize the urgency of developing these things.

You've seen the first act in what will be a long and likely surprising play. Lets sit back and see how things unfold.

Peter -

Well, look... first of all, it was inappropriate for me to get giddy about Bush's political woes in the wake of a disaster that killed so many countrymen. I hope you'll realize that I'm grasping for the golden lining in this black cloud.

The point is that as time goes by the blame for this will become more widely spread, making such pressure as Bush is now experiencing far less acute.

Yeah, but here's the thing. The phenomenon you describe is called SPIN.

It's not truth, it's spin. We both know that Bush's fuck-ups are so huge that they have crossed a threshold wherby nobody else's additional fuck-ups (no matter how horrible) will really mitigate or divert attention from his.

While Bush has been Prez, we've lost:

1. Our economic surplus
2. Our allies
3. Our Peace
4. Our prosperity
5. The World Trade Center
6. A chunk of the pentagon, rings A-E.
7. 3000 lives in New York
8. ~2000 American lives in Iraq and Afghanistan
9. About 100,000 Iraqi lives.
10. The separation of Church and State.
11. Our intelligence infrastucture.
12. Our emergency management infrastructure.
13. Our middle class.
14. City of New Orleans
15. The entire Gulf Coast.

It goes on...

The point is that as time goes by the blame for this will become more widely spread, making such pressure as Bush is now experiencing far less acute.

Are you sure?

Spin, little doggie, spin. You are beginning to look like you're chasing your own tail!

Meanwhile, the hurricane gives Bush a new challenge that can become a cornerstone

Very optimistic of you, but it's too late for him. You cannot pick up the ball and take it past the goal posts once the play is over. Thousands of people died in New Orleans because Bush is stupid. Yes, there is a cause-effect relationship there. Bush ran against Kerry saying that he could protect the country better than Kerry could. Well, we see now that he can't.

Don't forget that in Klingon the word for crisis is also the word for opportunity ;)

Well, Bush may be as warlike as a Klingon, but he's not nearly as honorable. And besides, he can't even speak clearly, so how do you expect him to remember something like "crisis is also the word for opportunity."

You've seen the first act in what will be a long and likely surprising play. Lets sit back and see how things unfold.

No, dude. It's like the 15th act. Another beauty in a lineage of screw ups. But instead of sitting and waiting for things to "unfold" people are more and more willing to tear up the butcher paper.

Yes, dude, it is the 1st act of the Katrina story, to which I referred.
Now, point by point:
1. Our economic surplus. I am an economist by trade. The worst you can say is that he worsened the debt. That surplus was far transitory in terms of what we we actually experienced and completely illusory in terms of the grand projections when Bush took office. The story isn't really about Bush or Clinton. Its about Greenspan. Federal coffers swelled in the Nineties as economic activity reached a sizzling pace because of...overly loose monetary policy that cause an asset bubble in financial markets. Note that Greenspan has since replaced that bubble with another, this time in housing. History will largely sideline Bush and Clinton in terms of the factors driving the US economy in the last 15 years and instead place some credit and great deal of blame at the feet of Greenspan.
In any case, all of these fiscal shifts, as well as the cost in the wqar in Iraq, are piss in a bucket compared to the unfunded social liabilities presented to us by the aging of the Baby Boom generation. Trust me about that. Bush has been sort of irresponsible about this (he gets a mixed report card) but no more or less so than his predecessors. And ultimately the blame for this challenge being unaddressed lies at the feet of the US voter, who would rather do anything than face tough realities. But that isn't unique to us. It is basically the political culture of today's France and Germany. I'm sure that Joi would agree that it probably applies more or less to Japan too.
2. Our allies. Again, that's a long debate. Many thoughtful people can and have argued that what has Bush has done merely reflects the fact that the world has changed. Our basic cold war arrangements persisted through the Clinton administration, despite the fact that they are an anachronism.
3. Our Peace-This is so strange I don't even know how to answer it.
4. Our prosperity-See 2. Oh, and by the way, at the moment the picture is far less conclusive in comparision with, say, Clinton, than you think.
5. The World Trade Center-Lapses were made in terms of security, no question about that. These were routed in insitutional failures that transcended Bush's Presidency. They moral and legal culpability, for this, however, rests SOLELY with the savages who carried out this attack.
6. A chunk of the pentagon, rings A-E. See 5.
7. 3000 lives in New York See 5.
8. ~2000 American lives in Iraq and Afghanistan-I the first case you may have a point (again, we'll have to wait for history's judgment). If Bush hadn't gone into Afghanistan the American people would have lynched him.
9. About 100,000 Iraqi lives.-See 8. Note however that this exceeds the net lives lost by the invasion. Saddaams regime was not a neutral baseline in terms of human welfare.
10. The separation of Church and State. Here I agree with you.
11. Our intelligence infrastucture. Read aany of the really authoritative histories of our intelligence services. We've never really had one in an effective sense.
12. Our emergency management infrastructure. Yes, but so what? Its now clear by comparing performance in similar events that in terms of actual efficacy Fema is about as mediocre now as ten years ago. This myth about a well oiled smoothly efficient machine during the Clinton era is just that-a myth. Read for instance assessments of the any of the Carolin coastal hurricances in the Nineties. They all have a familiar ring to them.
13. Our middle class. This is silly. We have a middle class. It has waxed and waned throughout the post-war era in multi-dimensional senses. The story has generally always been mixed and now is no excpetion.
14. City of New Orleans. This is an empty statement. Bush didn't cuase NOLA to be lost. Even if he had agreed to Army Corps of Engineers funding requests, the work would not have changed the outcome here. Flood walls (and recently upgraded ones, by the way) failed, not levees proper. The levee work would simply not have spoken to the type of failure that occurred here. Moreover, levees are a big project-even with complete support by the Bush administration from the outset, the project would only be a small percent completed at this point by the Corps proposed time table.
15. The entire Gulf Coast. This is a meaningless statement. Are you suggesting that Katrina was a policy instrument of Bush?

Look, Mike, I've dealt with you before: you are a very smart and reasonable guy and hence know that the world is not a simple morality play.

I suspect the verdict of history will be the following: more than anything Bush was just mediocre, just like at the least his two predecessors.

At least none of the three of them set our nation up for the kind of risks Allen Greenspan has.

Sorry I meant to write
That surplus was transitory
That surplus was far transitory


I'm not really sure if you're saying that Bush should get away with it, or if you're saying that there's just a chance he might. If you just want to gamble on it, then you're right to say there's a chance. There's time. Sure, there's time for him to bullshit his way through his own mess, but that's the best we can hope for out of him.

An American President shouldn't have to aim high when he's bullshitting and probably shouldn't even be bullshitting, period. In fact, it looks as if Dubya really does hope to be seen as a noble and "take charge" guy just for cleaning up his own messes. Or in some cases, perpetuating them.

There's room for the little worm to wiggle. And maybe he's not responsible for *all* the garbage that he is worming his way through, but my point is that all the problems in the past few years tested his leadership. And he failed them all very badly. He is a know-nothing prick that cannot even speak clearly. Times like these require top-notch leadership. I hope you don't think that Bush is the guy for that.

One more thing. Ken Lay (Enron) and Bin Laden are probably amongst the most notorious villains of our time. Bush used to call them both friends. Friends go their separate ways, but they still usually have a lot in common.

Mike B.,
Thats right. And I could build you an impressive list of scoundrel friends of virtually US President, right up to and including Bush's Predecessor. It is the Roman side of our political life. No question.

One interesting dimension of this story that is emerging is the reluctance for political reasons for one level of government to flex its muscles on another. Gov. Blanco apparently ran into stiff, and unconscionable (in light of events) resistance in rounding up buses from the non-affected Parishes of Lousiana, and was reluctant to invoke powers as Governor that could force the issue. So she delayed. Later, as it was clear that state, city and parish officials had simply lost whatever little control over the situation they had, Bush was reluctant to seize control under Presidential powers vested in the Insurrection Act, because the politics gave him pause. He has the weight of precedent against him (there is wide consensus generally speaking that these powers should rarely if ever be invoked becuase they raise all kinds of ethical, legal and political complications for our federalist system, our notions of the US military's role in civilian affairs, etc.). On top of that he was afraid because of complex gender and party politics swirling around the relationship with Louisiana. Blanco wanted his help but was reluctant to accept the only really workable division of powers. That leaves Bush with the option only of the article in the Insurrection Act with the greatest consequences in terms of the factors I just described.

The thing is, Mike, it is easier to judge than do. A lot of people are saying "the US is the richest nation on earth, they should get gazillions of resources there instantly". The truth is that, whatever the power of the US, that belief was mistaken and in the end those who held it have no one to blame but themselves for their personal outrage in that respect.

Today on the radio, for example, they discussed whether we could have gotten more helicopters there more quickly. It was a long discussion, but the upshot is this: helicopters are magnificent machines (we've all seen that). But they have a achilles heal: compared to most forms of transport they need massive amounts of logistical support. For instance, they need roughly one hour of maintenance for every one hour in flight, and the need to stop for maintenance grows early and exponentially with each successive hour flying. So, if you simply send hundreds of helicopters in (and they have to come for hundreds of miles becuase of their normal distribution of bases and the fact that many had to be moved out of Katrina's way lest they be lost), most of them will be beyond their safe flying window without maintenance by the time the arrive. And the logistics takes a while to get in place. The disucssion seemed to suggest in the end that in fact the logistics were moved into place as quickly as possible, and at each stage as many helicopters as the logitics in place could support were in the air over NOLA.

I am sure that helicopters aren't the only example of this. I am also sure of two other things: mistakes were made and many are really emotionally raw over the images they have seen. At first I was raging mad at Bush that he didn't just send some companies of marines in to deal decisively with these brigands preying on their fellow storm victims-but then I got an education in how difficult and limited a Presidents legal options really are for using federal troops to enforce the law domestically. As a private citizen, I have the luxury of ignoring little details like that and, to my shame, I did.

People want someone to blame. So who should they blame? They should first blame the fates: this was a massive and deadly storm that fell on a particularly vulnerable city, and there was essentially no reasonable way to avoid a fair amount of tragedy here. They should blame Federal officials for underfunding storm defenses (though, as I explained earlier, it didn't really make a difference in the end) and LA and NOLA politicians for a culture of corruption and incompetence stretching back centuries that made the levee project seem like pork. These local and state officials are the first to blame for this because they are the ones that turned a vital project into a boondoggle and hence made it vulnerable in the too and fro of federal budget competition. Another story here is that the state itself failed to hold up its own far more modest end of the fiscal deal. They should blame FEMA and state and local officials, current and former (on all levels) who never had an adequate plan or whose plans had serious achilles heals. They should blame Nagin and Blanco (more Blanco) for their slowness to call an evacuation (it is hard for Nagin to make one work until she agrees, and she appears to have been the holdout), even after Bush had requested one, and the totally incompetent manner in which logistical preparations were handled on the Saturday before the storm (more Nagin). They should blame Bush but mostly Blanco for allowing the federal response to become tied up in federal statutes becuase LA officials continued to cling to demands for unrealistic arrangements to guide a massive Federal response. They should blame Bush for his failure to have the political courage to simply deal with the fallout from doing so and just Federalizing by force under the Insurrection Act on the Wednesday after the storm struck. Politically, Bush should blamed for not getting on the air to lend calm and direction to the American people at a point when emotions were spiraling out of control. And finally we should blame ourselves: as I have indicated we had unreal expectations of what our society could and should do, and when those expectations were shattered, we decided to blame everyone but ourselves for those illusions. We failed to be clear eyed about the limitations of our capabilities in the way that responsible citizens should. Instead, before the storm we all along with a national delusion because, as Al Smith once said, "the American people don't carry umbrellas, they prefer to walk in eternal sunshine." Frankly, this includes you and Mike. So, if you are looking to assign blame for the purpose of improving our society (the only constructive reason for doing so), start at the mirror.

I don't know whether Bush failed or not in other ways. None of us do. History is strange, and none of us face the kind of constraints that a President does. I used to fume about Clinton's foreign policy, but the passage of time, of age on my part, and a slowly gathering appreciation of Clinton's position, partly as the truth slowly filters through spin on both sides, has left me with a more complex view of Clinton. I still haven't absolved him in my mind, but I also admit that the situation is not as ssimple as it seems. Most likely so too with Bush.

The world is complex and it is very easy to call plays from the stands.

Sorry, I meant to write "Frankly this includes you and me."

I missed this:
"I'm not really sure if you're saying that Bush should get away with it, or if you're saying that there's just a chance he might. If you just want to gamble on it, then you're right to say there's a chance. There's time. Sure, there's time for him to bullshit his way through his own mess, but that's the best we can hope for out of him."

Getting away with it has nothing to do with what I am saying. There is no justice in this world, in that sense, so don't waste precious time in your life looking for it. What I am saying is that it gives him a definable challenge where he will likely be able to build a mandate if he is skilled enough. In this sense the storm story is in fact just like 9/11. The problem Bush had on the eve of both is not that his presidency was a disaster (or, to the degree you think it qualifies as a disaster, it says more about what a charmed fucking life Americans have had than any really meaningful yardstick of disastrous performance based on the recent experience of humanity) but that it was a mediocrity. He was stuck in the doldrums, so to speak. These events offer the opportunity to catch, ride and steer powerful political winds generated by discrete events such as these. It introduces a dynamism that gives him the chance to gain some traction and momentum. He can abandon the floundering projects (eg social security reform) that had left him in the doldrums and instead define himself by this event which is and will for quite a while be unfolding (remember, we have in fact only seen the first act of this play).

Actually, in that sense Bush and Clinton have had the basic political problem. In post-Cold War, post-Reagan Revolution America it is very hard to build a coalition to pursue much of an affirmative agenda for anything. The electorate is just too fragmented, none of the issues (however dear they are to the advocates attached to them) have enough broad political weight one way or the another, etc. In that sense both Presidents are very lucky becuase one-off events disguised this fundamental political powerlessness. In Clinton's case it was a prosperity that he had little to do with but benefitted him politically anyway (by the way, don't this is Clinton bashing: we are still going to pay for the manner in which that prosperity was achieved, and I won't be blaming Clinton then either). In Bush's case it was a series of galvanizing discrete traumatic events (9/11, Katrina). But fundamentally the Presidency is a pretty weak institution right now in terms of indepednetly junp-starting any sort of real affirmative agenda. In that the similarities between Bush and Clinton strike me more than the differences.

You could contrast this perhaps with Japan and Europe. The problem in Europe is that you have a comparatively engaged electorate but one which still have not confronted a fundamental contradiction in voter sentiment. Witness Frech voters who rejected the EU constitution in a vain attempt to both protest not experiencing the fruits of structural reform as well as the prospect of structural reform. In Japan, I suspect that there is a broad base that would support reform (in that sense you don't have fragmentation as in the US) but there is also voter apathy because of entrenched forces that are able to frustrate popular reform to an extraordinary degress (I've often joked that Japan is like a country where every important issue has a National Rifle Association).

Hi Peter -

Thank you for all your comments. Sorry I can't write more, but I'm a little pressed for time.

Basically, I agree with everything you're saying, except...

There is no justice in this world, in that sense, so don't waste precious time in your life looking for it.

I guess that's my problem. Even Mother Nature would have us kill to survive, so maybe there isn't even justice in the entire Cosmos.

But I believe that civilization requires order and that order produces a need for justice, otherwise the order deteriorates sooner or later. I share the pessimism of those who feel there's probably no justice, but I really hate those who behave under the assumption.

So, if you are looking to assign blame for the purpose of improving our society (the only constructive reason for doing so), start at the mirror.

There are many things I can do to improve myself for the betterment of the USA. And there are many things I should do for my country, even though I don't. But just because I'm not yet perfect, it doesn't mean I shouldn't bitch about injustice.

Can't we bitch and do at the same time? Of course we can.
Sometimes bitching IS doing. That's exactly why I work as hard as I can to undermine Bush and his family's oligarchy.

Sorry I couldn't give your comments the thorough response they deserve, but I gotta go to bed. Thanks so much.

Mike B.,
Its all good. I'm about to head out of the country, so I don't have time to write much either. We'll catch up soon, and probably on Joi's site.