Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

October 31, 2013

Prosaic sight and poetic insight

Filed under: Catastrophes,Futures,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on October 31, 2013


Once Again by Amy Medina

Tuesday an exhibition of photographs related to last year’s assault by the one-time Hurricane Sandy opened at the Museum of the City of New York. It will run through March 2, 2014. I saw a sort-of-preview at the International Center of Photography in September.

The photography critic, James Estrin, headlined his blog post on the exhibition, “A Prosaic View of Hurricane Sandy.” The title provokes several questions, including: Is it possible the results of Sandy point toward a future when similar events will become ordinary, everyday, vapid, humdrum, tedious, tiresome, uninteresting… prosaic?

Based on our behavior, this is how most of us perceive 150 murders a day in Syria (in the US three people are killed by gun per hour) or the continuing suffering in Haiti or the accelerating entropy of US infrastructure or… another choice from a long list of seemingly intractable crises.  Plenty of prose is available on each.  But persuasive insight?


Photojournalism by Matt Nighswander/NBC News

Many — maybe most — of the more than 200 images in the exhibit are amateur color digitals of Americans in the midst of circumstances we still consider far outside the ordinary: destroyed homes, flooded streets, surrounded by mountains of donated clothes, waiting in long lines for water or food or fuel. The images personalize vulnerability (or should I write threat or consequence or simply stick with risk?).

Because you read Homeland Security Watch, you would probably do what I did with most of these photographs: Connect each human face and its context to a policy, strategy, or tactic. Consequence of subsidized insurance. Consequence of delayed maintenance. Consequence of unsolicited donations. Consequence of coordination failure. Consequence of faulty problem analysis. And so it goes, cause and effect unfolding.

None of this is necessarily wrong. Observation and analysis are among the best bets in the human toolkit. Lessons-learned can be very important the next time.  But I suggest this is seeing — and thinking — in prose.


Image_DSC6477b.jpg by Alex Fradkin

Prose is where most of us should spend most of our time and energy.  There are ordinary, everyday, tedious problems and issues to engage.  A bit more time and energy on a disciplined process of risk analysis for fuel distribution in the New York metro area would have paid big dividends twelve months ago.

But there is also a profound need for more poetic seeing, thinking, and doing.

Prose can be good at breaking apart the complicated into its component parts.  Prose alone is usually insufficient for perceiving — in any meaningful way — the whole or envisioning entirely new possibilities.  Prose needs at least a touch of poetry to move from understanding to transforming.

The classical Greeks understood poiesis, from which our poetry is derived, as any kind of creating or making.  Trying to interpret the Greek sense of the term, Martin Heidegger blends making (machen), production (herstellen), and power (macht).  Does anyone anymore even aspire to this sort of poetics?

The problems and opportunities of homeland security need both prose and poetry.  But we are especially deficient in poetry.


Jetstar by Alex Fradkin

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Comment by William R. Cumming

October 31, 2013 @ 3:32 am


Comment by Dont' really want to be known

October 31, 2013 @ 8:19 am

I probably come to HLSWatch at least once a week, sometimes more. I scan mostly, read carefully occasionally and have never before commented.

This morning I mostly looked at the pictures first. Then I read Phil’s essay or commentary or homiletic or whatever’s the right name.

Comment by Dont' really want to be known

October 31, 2013 @ 8:41 am

Oops pushed the submit button by mistake.

Anyway, something prompted me to scroll back a few weeks. Some impressions from the accumulated posts, poetic or prosaic, you tell me.

Maybe its just Phil or maybe its homeland security (had to go back and make my capital H and S lower case) or both. But I perceive a kind of existential crisis brewing. Or maybe its me projecting my shadow (is that Freud or Jung?).

What I see Chris and Arnold and Phil all doing is trying to bridge the gap between hs and life. That’s why, I expect, the Red Sox are used as exemplars of resilience. (I was really hoping for the Cards.)

I read/hear that I’m not just a civil servant, a father, an ex-husband, retired Army, sometime want-to-be Christian. I am a human being. More than the sum of my parts.

Did any of you see the report on the Buffalo bus driver who noticed the suicidal woman and stopped and checked and followed procedures and then decided he had to act? Did any of the rest of you worry that you were more likely to be the guy on the bike who just rode by?

So anyway, what I am reading at HLSWatch is three guys each in very different ways encouraging me to pay attention, to listen to others, to ask questions, to think openly and creatively, and to have courage. I have a sense Phil would say not “have courage” but “be courageous.” OK take the point.

Today I wanted to take time to say thanks.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

October 31, 2013 @ 9:51 am


Thanks. I saw the same story. I am also concerned I would have been one of the many who just passed by. Here’s some raw video from YouTube. I’ve seen better reports, but this will give others some idea of what we’re talking about.


Comment by Philip J. Palin

November 1, 2013 @ 4:44 am


I tried to send an email,this is more personal than public. But the address you provided is bouncing back. In any case, I think your response deserves more of a response.

I very much appreciate your review of prior posts. I took some time this morning to do the same thing. A couple embarrassed me, but mostly I was happier with the collection than I would have predicted.

As you note, there is a remarkable convergence of concern among the three principal posters… especially because we are three very different men. (But even more diversity would make HLSWatch more lively, I wish a serious DHS-wonk or Hill-rat would make weekly contributions. Maybe I should stop calling them wonks and rats and they would feel more welcome.)

Regarding your reference to an existential crisis: I appreciate the concern. We each have our (Jungian) shadow with which to contend. For myself, though, I have to say (tried to communicate in today’s Friday Free Forum) that existence is, right here and now, pretty marvelous. I recognize this is desperately not the case for millions.

Perhaps it is this recognition that causes each of us to resonate with the Buffalo bus driver’s decisive action. I want to be engaged now and practically in the very real problems that abound.

At the very same time, I should fully acknowledge the grace and beauty that, especially in contrast, I do not deserve; but for which I (we?) ought to engage in joy and thanksgiving.

Just the hint of a poem?

Thanks, again.

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