Who Cares?

On the morning of September 2nd, FEMA director Michael Brown complained about his schedule.

"Last hurrah was supposed to have been Labor Day," he whined in an email to an old friend who was coming into town for a visit. "I'm trapped now, please rescue me."

picI can understand why someone in a high-stress situation might use gallows humor, or talk about his clothes, or otherwise chat idly, at least a little bit. Sending an email doesn't take very much time, and it's a good way to relax.

But we already know Brown wasn't doing enough, and here he is whining about the little he did do. And with no corresponding emails about the devastation and how it had affected him.

In De vita Caesarum, or The Lives of the Ceasars, the Roman historian Gaius Seutonius Tranquilius writes of Nero:

But he showed no greater mercy to the people or the walls of his capital. When someone in a general conversation said: "When I am dead, be earth consumed by fire," he rejoined "Nay, rather while I live," and his action was wholly in accord. For under cover of displeasure at the ugliness of the old buildings and the narrow, crooked streets, he set fire to the city so openly that several ex-consuls did not venture to lay hands on his chamberlains although they caught them on their estates with tow and firebrands, while some granaries near the Golden House, whose room he particularly desired, were demolished by engines of war and then set on fire, because their walls were of stone. For six days and seven nights destruction raged, while the people were driven for shelter to monuments and tombs. At that time, besides an immense number of dwellings, the houses of leaders of old were burned, still adorned with trophies of victory, and the temples of the gods vowed and dedicated by the kings and later in the Punic war and the Gallic war, and whatever else interesting and noteworthy had survived from antiquity. Viewing the conflagration from the tower of Maecenas, and exulting, as he said, "with the beauty of the flames," he sang the whole time "the Sack of Ilium," in his regular stage costume. Furthermore, to gain from this calamity too the spoil and booty possible, while promising the removal of the debris and dead bodies free of cost, allowed no one to approach the ruins of his own property; and from the contributions which he not only received, but even demanded, he nearly bankrupted the provinces and exhausted the resources of individuals.

...from which we draw the expression: "Nero fiddled while Rome burned."

You did a heck of a job, Brownie.

Previous Comments


Tom I read those emails about his "outfits" that were released. Its very sick and sad. This man was so wrapped up in himself that he was ineffective. But, it also gave me a different perspective on his job performance. Those emails give HUGE indication that he was just buying his time and wanted OUT before any of this happened. That doesn't excuse him. But, his heart wasn't in the job to begin with.

Lori G

*nod* And this is a very relevant point. I'm trying here to think of a figure whose name I ran across while doing research on something or other--semi-modern history--who was appointed to a position he knew he couldn't fill, protested, was refused the option of reassignment, shrugged and did his job, performed disastrously during a crisis, and was blamed for it. I researched the guy and determined that, while he could have taken drastic measures to get out from under the job, the truth is that it wasn't his fault--he had already told his superiors that he was underqualified, protested that a candidate with more relevant experience was needed, and they put him in that position anyway. And he screwed up--and had already said that he would, but nobody listened. Wish I could remember the guy's name. It'll probably come to me later. Oh, now I remember: Ambrose Burnside. And the poor fella did get a bad rap, from where I'm standing. I wonder what I would have done if I'd gotten a letter from Bill Clinton, in 1998, asking me to be FEMA chief. I wonder what any of us would have done. Could we be forgiven for, after saying "I'm not sure I'm qualified for this," taking the job after being reassured that we would work out just fine? It's a tough question. Maybe we're all being a little hard on the Beaver. Cheers, TH

Tom Head


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