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August 2005

Google Earth Helps Place the Flow from a New Orleans Neighborhood into the Canal in Context


This is the Google Earth superimposition of this photo I posted yesterday, showing water flowing out of a neighborhood, over the levee at Surekote Rd. and into the canal. (In case you're wondering, those little rectangles are the rooves of houses. The big red rectangles are city blocks.) The Google Earth group working on this has created a number of such superimpositions. I asked Shawn if he could please do the Surekote picture for me. Thanks Shawn.

UPDATE: I've now got an album up of this kind of image: Katrina Floods New Orleans, 2005.

A FURTHER TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCE for the Google Earth users: Shawn writes, via email

Check this one out...

It's a google maps hack, allowing users to add markers with information on the area.

In a fastmoving disaster situation, this looks to be especially useful.

FINALLY (at 11:03 PM), I'm tired and want to go to bed. But Xeni's readers have provided her with more links  over at Boingboing. Goodnight.

Continue reading "Google Earth Helps Place the Flow from a New Orleans Neighborhood into the Canal in Context" »

NASA's First Katrina Before and After Comparison


The images are shown in false color to make water visible against the land. Water is black or dark blue where it is colored with mud, vegetation is bright green, and clouds are light blue and white. The large images provided above provide a broader view of the region. They show flooding along the Mississippi and Alabama coast, particularly around Mobile Bay and parts of coastal Mississippi. The large images are at MODIS’ maximum resolution, but both the August 30 and August 27 images are available in additional resolutions from the MODIS Rapid Response Team.

NASA images courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC

[My husband David points out that their description is confusing. I believe the turquoise blue color is shallow water in the city of New Orleans.] See also their Mississippi and Alabama coastal comparison photo.

And the water has had another 24 hours to rise since that photo was taken.

NASA update 8:48 PM, 8/31: The Washington Post has a NASA simulation using satellite maps of how much of New Orleans disappears under water as water levels rise.

(Via BoingBoing, hat tip to Lis Riba.)

MEANWHILE, there begins to be talk of a death toll in the thousands. (My personal estimate is that this is an event on the scale of the French heat wave in terms of its body count; I'm guessing low five figures.)

"We know there is a significant number of dead bodies in the water," and other people dead in attics, Mayor Ray Nagin said. Asked how many, he said: "Minimum, hundreds. Most likely, thousands."

The frightening estimate came as Army engineers struggled to plug New Orleans' breached levees with giant sandbags and concrete barriers, while authorities drew up plans to clear out the tens of thousands of people left in the Big Easy and all but abandon the flooded-out city.

There will be a "total evacuation of the city. We have to. The city will not be functional for two or three months," Nagin said.

Most of those storm refugees — 15,000 to 20,000 people — were in the Superdome, which had become hot and stuffy, with broken toilets and nowhere for anyone to bathe. "It can no longer operate as a shelter of last resort," the mayor said.

Nagin estimated 50,000 to 100,000 people remained in New Orleans, a city of nearly half a million people. He said 14,000 to 15,000 a day could be evacuated.

In light of the situation, I can't imagine why the current Washington Post headline reads More than 25,000 People to be Evacualted. More? Yeah, I'd say 50,000 - 100,000 is more than 25,000. A whole hell of a lot more. From what planet are they reporting on this story? Perhaps NASA could be persuaded to give them a lift back.

UPDATE 9/7: NASA has more Katrina photos up.

Continue reading "NASA's First Katrina Before and After Comparison" »

not too far from filling in the bowl

Helicopter_1Where to begin? How are they going to evacuate the people still in New Orleans? (Transporter beams? Scottie, where are you when we need you? In military helicopters? The caption to the Times-Picayune photo to the left reads, Acadian Ambulance workers rush two small children from a Louisiana National Guard helicopter as they were evacuated from the Superdome. Story problem: there are 20,000 people in the stadium. Oh, never mind.) The current plan for evacuating the stadium, according to an MSNBC story from a few minutes ago, seems to be this:

With the city still flooding after levees failed, officials on Wednesday made plans to bus the 25,000 evacuees at the Superdome and other shelters to Houston's Astrodome. . . .

Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco said everyone still in the city, now huddled in the Superdome and other rescue centers, needs to leave. She said she wanted the Superdome evacuated within two days. . . .

Houston officials later said those evacuees would be sent via 475 buses to the city's Astrodome. The stadium's schedule was cleared through December to make it available.

How many are there left? Let's see: a city of 1.3 million people; 1 million flee. How many remain? Or let's say the city was 90% evacuated. How many remain? And how will they know when they've got them all?

And about those broken levees: How are they going to fix them with so much water rushng through? I spent last week at the beach, so every time I think about plans I heard about involving sand, I keep thinking of a small child trying to fix a damaged castle in the face of the rising tide. I gather there is some new plan involving lots of cement blocks that are on trucks somewhere enroute.

And what if the levees can't be fixed? Was that perhaps the thought behind Governor Blanco's remark that some of those taking refuge in and now trapped in the stadium "do not have any regard for others”? That perhaps it would be okay if only the Good were saved?

Yesterday, some of us noticed that in some photos water seemed, incomprehensibly, to be flowing out of a neighborhood and into the canal. The explanation, which I came across this morning is chilling. If you can stand it, read the whole thing:

Flooding will only get worse by Mark Schleifstein, Times-Picayune staff writer

The lake is normally 1 foot above sea level, while the city of New Orleans is an average of 6 feet below sea level. But a combination of storm surge and rainfall from Katrina have raised the lake's surface to 6 feet above sea level, or more.

All of that water moving from the lake has found several holes in the lake's banks - all pouring into New Orleans. Water that crossed St. Charles Parish in an area where the lakefront levee has not yet been completed, and that backed up from the lake in Jefferson Parish canals, is funneling into Kenner and Metairie.

A 500-yard and growing breach in the eastern wall of the 17th Street Canal separating New Orleans from Metairie is pouring hundreds of thousands of gallons of lake water per second into the New Orleans area. Water also is flowing through two more levee breaches along the Industrial Canal, which created a Hurricane Betsy-on-steroids flood in the Lower 9th Ward on Monday that is now spreading south into the French Quarter and other parts of the city.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin warned Tuesday evening that an attempt to plug the holes in the 17th Street Canal had failed, and the floodwaters were expected to continue to rise rapidly throughout the night. Eventually, Nagin said, the water could reach as high as 3 feet above sea level, meaning it could rise to 12 to 15 feet high in some parts of the city.

Louisiana State University Hurricane Center researcher Ivor van Heerden warned that Nagin's estimates could be too low because the lake water won't fall quickly during the next few days.

And then there's this bit from another Time-Picayune story:

With solid water from the lake to the French Quarter, the inundation and depopulation of an entire American city was at hand.

"Truth to tell, we're not to far from filling in the bowl," said Terry Ebbert, the city's director of homeland security. The waters were still rising at 3 inches per hour, and eventually could move close to the French Quarter levee.

In the media hype leading up to landfall, there was the illusion that other than those performing essential functions, anyone else left in New Orleans was either tucked away in the stadium or was a French Quarter drunkard. The quantity of media reports of people needing to be rescued from their houses tells a different story. Do they even know how many people stayed behind?

MEANWHILE, I see from earthhopper's photogallery on Flicker that Shawn's Google Earth initiative is yeilding fruit (and this presumably overnight):


The second one seemed to be attributed to "Mickey" on the Google Hacks site. I don't have any attribution for the other one. I would also appreciate descriptive details from those who have them.

UPDATE: Shawn tells me a group attribution for a group of about nine Google Earth users is in order. (I presume the poster, dOLLYLLAMA also deserves credit.)

New Orleans-Mississippi-Flood/Damage Compilation

New Orleans Flood Damage
~A collection of overlays, placemarks and photos, by various contributors.

~Check video link

thanks:Modest baggydog Shawn_McBride drew10dall vyruss equitus jay_babin,johnmora,mwarren,reuters,AP
If i forgot to mention please forgive, I wanted to get this out fast.


Continue reading "not too far from filling in the bowl" »

New Orleans Levee Break(s) Before and After

[Preface, September 12th, 2005: It is now nearly two weeks since this blog post was begun. In its initial draft it was quite short. As more information came in, it was revisied, corrected and expanded on the fly. Some of the information may be out of date. -KC  9/23: For info in the new breaches, see New Orleans Area in Trouble from Rita Storm Surge. -KC]

I'm probably violating all kinds of copyrights here, but since I haven't seen it elsewhere, here is that levee in New Orleans before and after the break (or at least a levee before & after). Note that the expanse of water in the after picture was formerly (or perhaps currently) occupied by houses.

The first picture comes via Matthew Harris's Flickr account, extracted from Google Earth. [SEE CORRECTED IMAGE w/ BREAK IN A DIFFERENT PLACE FURTHER DOWN THE PAGE.]


The second comes via a comment in Making Light and originates at the URL, beyond which I don't know its provenance.


I don't guarantee that these are actually the same spot, because of the vagaries of all this. There are some differences in the buildings, but I don't know when the Google Earth picture was taken.

UPDATE: At Making Light, David Bell comments

Looking at Kathryn's pictures, the red-roofed building is very prominent on the Google Earth imagery, by the north end of the canal. It's on the lake shore. In the background haze you can see the high-rise buildings of the city centre. And the trees and the buildings on the opposite side of the canal are good landmarks on Google Earth.

30d01m07s N 90d07m17s W

And that looks like a 200-foot breach, similar width to the canal.

So the marked breach on the one photo may not be the same as the other. Is there more than one? I'm on a Mac so I can't get at Google Earth.

(Additional aerial photo references appreciated.)

FURTHER UPDATE: in the comments a fellow named kevin has accomplished what I haven't. He has gotten me a corrected "before" shot. I have them from Google Maps and GlobeXplorer, but couldn't seem to either link to them, or get copies. (They're too clever for the likes of me.) I had my digital camera in my lap all ready to take pictures of my screen, when his link arrived.  Thanks, kevin!


The question that remains is what the Harris picture represents. Is it the breach that was reported earlier?

(Web collaboration is a beautiful thing.)

Matthew Harris clarifies his breach picture, saying, Note these images are not current they are from older aerial photos that have been superimposed with graphics, they are for illustration purposes only. There are two breaches:


He has a second, closer, "Before" picture:


Via email, Mark Bernstein points out that it is being reported that the I-10 Bridge has been destroyed. Here's a Before shot, taken with my digital camera pointing it at my LCD monitor. Anyone got an After pic?


And here's the Houston Chronicle write-up:

Portions of the Interstate 10 high-rise bridge over the mouth of Lake Pontchartrain, east of New Orleans and south of Slidell, have collapsed. Some sections of the I-10 twin span — a lifeline between the south and north shores of Lake Pontchartrain — are missing; others have shifted position but are still standing.

"We know that the I-10 twin span has blown over, is no longer with us," said Mark Smith, spokesman for the Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

Here's an AP photo of the state of the bridge. The car is the same one as in the CNN video. Watching the CNN video a couple of times, it looks like something is flopped over the steering wheel, though you can't see into the car from this angle. (Follow the link for a crisper image.
This is from the Times Picayune, where I finally did get their slide-shows to work.



An Afterthought: we blog-folk are doing this by the seat of our pants and actually getting somewhere. But as Xeni Jardin asks, "media evacuates, there is no grid, damage map?" Why do you see this attempt here and not on the CNN of MSNBC site?

This isn't a disaster movie. It's real. People care about specific people in specific places. They want to understand precisely where the water is 20 ft. deep, where the water is coming in. Many, many people have very specific, individual relationships to this city. The specifics we are being given just don't cut it. If I can look this stuff up, why don't they?

St Bernard's Parish, via dipdewdog on Flickr, provenance unknown, though it looks like a news photo:


Here is what I gather is roughly the same area from Google maps (again, via my digital camera. Anyone know how to do screen shoots in Tiger? [8/31 UPDATE: I've been given much helpful advice. Thanks.]).


[9/2: A Google Earth image for comparison is available in the album, thanks to Scott Sherris.]

Returning to the subject of breached levees, here is another photo from Flickr, this one posted by darrelf, again of unknown provenance, though it looks like a news photo. His caption reads, New Orleans, LA -- notice the water coming over the levee at the bottom.


Peter Trei notes that this break in an MSNBC graphic is not one of the ones we've been talking about, but is instead at 30 01' 12.39" N 90 04' 14.72" W ( decimal: 30.020108° -90.070756°).


I'm trying to get a good Before Satellite photo to position it. UPDATE: Trei has helped me out and sent me a couple:


He remarks:

The front page shows a breach about 150 feet long. I've managed to identify the location in Google Earth, based on the shapes of the houses. . . . Google earth shows that this is on a different canal than the others - its on the west side of the London Avenue Outfall Canal, opposite Pratt Street, a few houses south of the bridge carrying Robert E Lee Blvd.

In a subsequent email, Trei point out this MSNBC picture, which I think is of the same break as the image I got from darrelf, about which he says:

This one appears to be a highly foreshortened view of the bridge the carries State Hwy 39 over the short canal connecting the river and the Main Outfall canal.

The breach appears to be at opposite Jourdan Ave, near N Roman Street, at about 29 58 12.48 N    90 01 24.64 W

The thing I don't understand is that the water in this photo seems to be flowing  INTO the canal.



Here is a hybrid sat photo street map, also courtesy of Peter Trei, showing the location:


The governor has announced a complete evacuation of New Orleans, for obvious reasons.

MEANWHILE, a post-apocalypse SF novel plays itself out. This is from the Times Picayune (via email from Mark Bernstein).

Law enforcement efforts to contain the emergency left by Katrina slipped into chaos in parts of New Orleans Tuesday with some police officers and firefighters joining looters in picking stores clean.

At the Wal-Mart on Tchoupitoulas Street, an initial effort to hand out provisions to stranded citizens quickly disintegrated into mass looting. Authorities at the scene said bedlam erupted after the giveaway was  announced over the radio.

While many people carried out food and essential supplies, others cleared out jewelry racks and carted out computers, TVs and appliances on  handtrucks.

Some officers joined in taking whatever they could, including one New Orleans cop who loaded a shopping cart with a compact computer and a 27-inch flat-screen television.

Officers claimed there was nothing they could do to contain the anarchy, saying their radio communications have broken down and they had no direction from commanders. . . .

Inside the store, one woman was stocking up on make-up. She said she took comfort in watching police load up their own carts.

“It must be legal,” she said. “The police are here taking stuff, too.”


The caption on begins, President George W. Bush is handed a map by Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagin.

Shawn in the comments is really onto something, figuring out a way to superimpose media images on Google maps:


Finally -- because I plan to go to bed shortly -- here is a photo from the Washington Post showing the flood waters rising around the stadium which, as far as I know, still has 10,000 people in it.


4:38 AM, 8/31: Shawn writes via email,

The google earth community is really flowing with people matching up arial photos to the levee breaks. There's one group of people setting up an auto updating google earth file. I placed all of the good ones I found at

You need Google Earth to be able to use the files he's posted there.

For more images, see my subsequent post. The superimposed images are toward the bottom.

NOTE 8/31 at 3:36 PM: the fist NASA comparison satellite photos are in.

9/1: CNN has an interesting animation/video of how the levees broke.

PS: If you are trying to make a comment and it gets rejected, email it to me at kathryn.cramer at


Continue reading "New Orleans Levee Break(s) Before and After" »

Internet Problems

There is apparently some kind of network problem  having to do with AT&T and TWTelecom cutting off or limiting access to a number of sites.

So Making Light, which I found to be one of the better sites or monitoring the situation with the hurricane yesterday, is inaccessible this morning, as are some of my other regular reads.

UPDATE: Of course, now that I mention it after several hours of outage, Making Light seems to be back in business.

A Windfall Kite, Mass Pike Sunday Drivers, & the Oncoming Storm

Img_0042Here is a photo I took yesterday morning  returning to our motel from the beach in Marshfield, Massachusetts. Before heading home, I got the kids up at 7AM, so we could go to the beach one last time.  It was high tide, but almost immediately we found a kite. The string was stretched a long way down the beach, and at the end of the string was a wet, but flyable, Dragon Ball Z kite.  I shot this picture as we were carrying our windfall kite back to the motel just before changing clothes and checking out. This is the beach where David's grandfather built a beach house in about 1910 which remained in David's family until the 1970s, so it is the beach where David spent summers as a child. We stayed over on our way back from Maine.

So now we're home in this final week of summer before school starts. Taking stock when we got home yesterday after a long grueling drive back from Massachusetts, it began to appear that New Orleans was in significant danger of being wiped out by the incoming hurricane.

Img_0067Looking at the photos of long lines of cars streaming out of New Orleans, I was reminded of our midday experience on the Mass Pike: Here are a few Mass Pike pictures. There was some kind of huge accident west of the Millbury exit, so the Pike was closed in both directions. This set the stage for some really appalling behavior on the part of frustrated drivers. I honest to God saw someone pull out onto the shoulder of the road and cut off an ambulance with lights flashing and sirens blaring. Here are the cars driving in the breakdown lane next to a guard rail, cutting off access for emergency vehicles, and the cop car and the car it was trying to escort. Most drivers behaved themselves, but there was a significant contingent that seemed mostly unconcerned with getting out of the way of emergency vehicles that were trying to reach the accident. There were scores of minor accidents as cars jostled each other in the bumper-to-bumper traffic. From the radio coverage, I gather that the traffic jam was ultimately resolved by the arrival of a Medvac helicopter. We didn't see the actual accident site.

I wish I'd thought to get out my video camera to tape the scene of a frustrated cop trying to escort a couple in a visibly damaged car off the  highway. He got out of his car and rapped on the window of the car in from of him twice. And he also went to one of the cars trying to tag along, put his hands on his hips and asked "Why are you following me?" I didn't hear the driver's reply.

Img_0069I hope the Louisiana drivers were more considerate of each other than the people I witnessed yesterday. 

And so now, a hurricane, a huge hurricane. Lucky me, we don't have cable TV. So I don't have the opportunity to subject myself to endless looping anxiety as CNN covers the story with way too little data because it would be potentially lethal to do the usual coverage. My first words to David this morning were "Well, New Orleans isn't gone yet."

My great-grandmother, Agnes Gleason Cramer, died and was buried somewhere in New Orleans in about 1908; we don't know where. She died when my grandfather was 10 months old, as I understand it from complications from childbirth. So my grandfather never knew his mother. A few years ago, we established that the family seemed to have no copies of her picture. Last night, I had a dream that her bones were floating out to sea.


Find the Flounder

Seapoint Bach, Kittery Point, Maine

David said, did you see the flounders? I said, no, I didn't see them. David points at the screen, showing me the flounder in the picture I took. Can you spot it?

Here are a couple more pictures from the same tide pool. (I don't think these have flounder in them.)


PS: Chopped fresh kelp added to the cooking water of instant mac & cheese (Annie's White cheddar in this case) improves the consistency of the sauce.




Un-Glasgow Photos

I've begun a photo album of what we did while David went to Glasgow, which features such amazing shots as James Morrow climbing a tree, the skeleton of an extinct Stellar's sea cow, and even a live bear in a dumpster.

Typepad won't let me into the Configure screen this morning, so I'll have to wait until later to do the album design work.  (Also, I've got to get on with my day in a few minutes.)


Elizabeth shows her teeth.

A tech note: The photos taken in Washington, DC are by far the sharpest, because they were taken with my brother-in-law Tom's expensive Nikon digital. The photos of kids in the kiddie pool were, in fact, taken by Tom. After DC, all the photos are taken with my video camera (most extracted from video footage).

A Westchester Afternoon: Post-Scarcity Suburbia

Riding in the car this afternoon, the news came on the radio. After the news was mostly over, Peter (about to begin the 3rd grade)  remarked on the absence on any terrorists in our neighborhood and in neighborhoods nearby. He seemed to think that terrorists must be prevalent in other people's neighborhoods but that we were somehow lacking them. And he wondered why.

Meanwhile, there is something that's been eating me all day.  I was reading the NYT article about the high mortality rate for heart disease in the New York City suburbs (which, given David's angioplasty, I read thoroughly), defying all the usual socio-economic indicators. I couldn't resist the temptation to check on the socio-economic indicators for this precise area. And I came smack up against the cold hard fact that our income is just about half the median income for families in our school district. No wonder I can't afford much babysitting!

There are these studies that show that a really large percentage of the population thinks they are middle class, and on the other hand there are also surveys showing that 20% of the population thinks they are in the top 1% financially. I knew, in principle, that by the inflated standards of this area, that we are poor. It is quite another thing to have the numbers in hand, to know that if I had the highest-paying job I've ever held, it would bring us only a small way toward the "median" income for families in our school district. (I don't even want to know what the average is, because with the really high incomes averaged in, the average is surely much higher.)  But despite my shock at confrontation with the actual numbers (which are probably a little out of date, and therefore a little low) mental arithmetic suggests that they are about right. The typical household in this area probably does have an extra seven thousand dollars a month to spend. 

I would like to say that I can't imagine what I would spend that money on, but it isn't true, because I've watched them do it. Moment by moment I have to resist the social signals as to what "normal" households spend. So I know. I know it in my very bones. Just why haven't we remodeled our kitchen three times in the past decade? Why don't our kids attend summer camps that cost $5,000 per child per summer? Why haven't we added that stone facade yet?

In an earlier post, I referred to this area as "post-scarcity suburbia." I was partly joking, but I think that term was more accurate than I intended it. Definition: Post-scarcity suburbia is a suburb in which you are able to contract for nearly everything a neighborhood is supposed to provide. While there may be some reciprocity between neighbors, none is necessary since whatever services you require are available for hire and you can (or are expected to) afford them.

Design Changes

Despite my determination to avoid major site maintainence tasks until at least mid-September, I seem to have done a redesign this afternoon.  And here is my new author photo, a picture David took at the Clearwater Music Festival in June:


Lightning Strikes

The NYRSF work weekend was first baked, then rained out. After a Saturday of temperatures approaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit (indoors and out: we have no air conditioning), the Sunday of the work weekend was plagued by unending afternoon thunderstorms, climaxing in a lightning strike on a tree in our yard. I  was on our screened porch at the time, and my right ear still hurts a little from the sound. A tree in the area of our children's play area, which we call the "circle of stumps" was hit about halfway down. This resulted in a helical gash about 25 feet long. There are large pieces of the tree as far as fifty feet away. Here are a few pictures:


Here are twelve foot strips of tree by a Little Tykes slide.


Here is a charred piece of tree.


Here's a shot of the gash. My initial estimate was that it was about twelve feet long and six inches across. A closer look revealed that it is more like 25 feet long, and as much as 12 inches wide in places.


Kevin Maroney, David Hartwell, & Judith Klein-Dial await the moment when we can turn the computers back on and continue working on the magazine. Around five, David sent them home. (There were unrelenting storms for an hour and a half after that.)

(Photos taken with my video camera, so they're a little grainy.)

Mapquest vs. Google Maps: A Difference in Opinion

Mqmapgendwebsysaolcom_3I asked Mapquest and Google Maps directions from Washington, DC to State College, PA. Google Maps says: 216 mi (about 4 hours 38 mins). Mapquest says: Total Est. Time: 3 hours, 49 minutes Total Est. Distance: 208.20 miles.

I won't quibble about the difference between estimated distance, but the difference in estimated time is greater than 20%. Why is that?  Looks like basically the same route to me.

Maybe Mapquest users drive faster.

On Living in Someone Else's Utopia

Pleasantville, New York, is one of those places the suburbs were invented. It figures into the books on the suburbs in two ways. It is the place the Reader's Digest moved to when it moved its headquarters out of New York City. (The first Pleasantville  Reader's Digest headquarters is now the location of the Pleasantville Police Department.) And we are also about a mile from Usonia, a utopian housing development created in the 1940s by Frank Lloyd Wright and friends. In our street of houses, built ten years after Usonia, you can see the echoes of Usonia: curved streets with no sidewalks; houses very carefully sited on one acre lots to give the greatest sense of being in the woods. In our development, called Old Farm Hill when sold in the '50s, the houses were not individually designed; rather there are about six designs sprinkled throughout. About 10 years ago, we were invited to a dinner having something to do with the Mt. Kisco Unitarian church and arrived at an address in Bedford (as I recall) to discover that they had our house. In the past six months, two houses from the Old Farm Hill development have been bought by a building contractor who, I'm told, bought them for the lots. They are apparently to be torn down and replaced by 2 million dollar houses. (Could this be the same developer who talked the town into selling an acre of undeveloped parkland on the same street? Eight hundred thousand dollars is a formidable price to pay for an acre of land.) I have difficulty imagining relating to neighbors who paid that much for their house. And perhaps I have no need to be anxious about that: such houses usually come with keycard entrance driveways. Don't even think about trick-or-treating there. And so it goes: Pleasantville, one of the places where the suburbs were invented, is also one of the places where the suburbs are being reinvented.

So here we are, an hour and forty-five minutes into August 2005. The car service picked David up to take him to the airport nine hours ago. David is probably at his hotel in Glasgow by now.  One of our annual book contracts was not renewed and our publisher's contracts person seemed to need to reinvent the wheel in order to get our other contract out the door, and here it is August and we have not yet been paid for something that was supposed to be settled months ago, and so the financial chickens  (or are they ravens?) come home to roost. So despite our longstanding plans to go to Scotland as a family, David has gone alone; this despite our longstanding practice of traveling as a family as our own little nomadic band. There is something very primal, very natural about traveling as a family. When on long trips, it has seemed to me that nomadism is a much more functional lifestyle than it is ever given credit for. But David is a science fiction editor, in some ways the very Jungian archetype of The Science Fiction Editor, and so he must go to the WorldCon.

And the kids and I remain behind in the postmodern bastardization of Frank Lloyd Wright's utopia. Because we were planning to go to Scotland, I signed Peter up for a scant two weeks of day camp which have now been over for ten days. When Peter was about three, I remarked that if you say a child outside in midday on a summer weekday, it was like seeing a raccoon out at that time of day: it meant the child was sick. On summer weekdays, buses roar through here about nine and vacuum up all the children, returning them at about five. The idea behind this utopia is that in the future, everyone will have lots of money. (This is the future; post-scarcity suburbia, you have lots of money, right?)

Part of the idea of the post-Wrightian "Winners' Circle" suburbs is that they take lots of things that came for free, that were basic elements of the of the Seattle neighborhood I was small in, and they separate those out, so they can be sold back to you at a premium price. The summer-long price of that camp that comes with the bus, that is so popular in these parts: five grand per child, last time I checked -- for five grand, you can arrange for your child to have other children to play with in the summer. Peter's day camp was considerably less, and to my mind, better, but required nearly 2 hours per day of camp of maternal driving time. And I signed him up for only two weeks back during the January sign-up period, because we were going to Glasgow.

So David gets in the black car and drives away. In my mind's eye, both kids then look at me and say Here we are; entertain us. That's not actually what happened. It being a Sunday evening, neighborhood kids ran in a pack for about two hours. After dinner, I lulled Peter and Elizabeth to sleep with a mathematics propaganda video: Multiplication Rock. It would be nice to think that a mile away, the moms of Usonia are faring better, but I know that is not the case: a Usonian mom of my acquaintance was undergoing horrible but necessary eye surgery right about now which will require her to remain in a facedown position for ten days; when discussing the difficulties of this in the Tae Kwon Do waiting room, it did not sound like living in Wright's utopia conferred any special advantages. Camp. the kids go to camp. And when they're not at camp, they're yours, all yours.

When on car trips, we have a family term: utopia, as in, Oh, look there's a utopia! You know the kind of house I mean. There you are in the middle of nowhere and there on the front part of maybe ten acres of what probably this time last year was a farmer's field is now this brick house with fancy light posts and garden statuary and a gazing globe (or maybe one in each color?) and at least one "water feature," usually the ubiquitous fountain, but maybe a custom trout pond/skating rink with that statue of a black boy fishing. Someone finally got what she always wanted. These houses were built to be utopias. A partially inground pool was built in out yard in about 1967, lasting until about 1990. (This year, the old pool area is an especially productive raspberry patch.) And okay, I confess, I've got garden statuary: a winged lion, a frog gargoyle reading a book, a couple of ammonites. This year we are lacking a water feature because I didn't bother to set up the fountain. (Given Elizabeth's track record so far this summer with getting into tempra paint, it would have been spouting "nice clean black water" in no time.) You don't have to go more than a block here to find a house with a work in progress and obligatory backhoe or  bulldozer in the back yard. Make no mistake: the processes of utpoia are still in progress here.

We tried to go to the "swmming beach" in Croton Point Park on the Hudson Friday. Where do you get off, lady? What's the matter with you that you aren't by the pool at your swim club? The beach is covered with goose shit and we were run off by the patrolling cop because you're only allowed to swim on weekends when the county provides a lifeguard. As I wrote in the comments over at Making Light:

I hauled the kids through Metro North and the NYC subway system to the American Museum of Natural History Thursday and was surprised to see very little in the way of increased security.

On the other hand, I took the kids to the beach at Croton Point Park yesterday. It may be because the park has a view of the Indian Point nuclear power plant, or it may be because the county was concerned about the possibility of drunk, rowdy teenagers. But there was abundant security at the park, including guys in military fatigues guarding what looked like a side road leading into the Metro North train yards.

We drove in and I paid the rather steep eight bucks to park. On paper, there is a nature center there, but it was closed even though I thought the sign listed hours that suggested it would be open. That having not panned out, I got the kids in their bathing suits and took them to the "swimming beach." No one else was there, except about 100 Canadian geese, nearly as many ducks, and one shy blue heron. The beach was covered with goose poop. There were lifeguard chairs and a roped off area for the lifeguards to guard, but no lifeguards in evidence.

Elizabeth chased off the geese, and Peter found fairly quickly that there were little crabs in the water and set about catching them. There was a snack bar building that was boarded up and fenced off, and a building clearly meant to house changing rooms and showers which looked like it had been closed for years bearing a sign that it was being rennovated. The situation was pretty sad, since clearly if the beach had people on it in the summer on a daily basis, it wouldn't be covered with goose poop.

I managed to avoid having a conversation with the first cop who came by on beach patrol, because Elizabeth took her water shoes off at just that moment, and I didn't want her running around on goose poop in bare feet. When the second one came by about half an hour later, he informed us that "swimming" was not allowed without a lifeguard present; from the way it was phrased it seemed that what Peter was doing, looking for crabs in ankle-deep water, constitued swimming. The guy was clearly trying to be nice; these were just the rules, it seemed. There are a couple of other beach-like areas in the park, but it seemed to me that if the same cop caught us "swimming" on a different beach, I might really be in trouble. So we packed up and went home.

(Also, it occured to me while we were there that if the Health Department came out and tested the water at that particular spot, they might close it for health reasons because of contamination caused by the abundant poop.)

I had only ever been to the park before during the Clearwater music festival, which gives it a rather different ambiance. But without the festival, it had a very police state ambiance. Homeland Security: keeing America safe from little boys catching small crabs at the beach.

The situation was clearly the result of a collision between budget cuts for parks systems and the emergent Homeland Security infrastructure. I don't think we'll be going there again any time soon.

But here we are: David's in Glasgow. The pool is a raspberry patch. There is no camp except Mother camp. The cat has a thyroid problem, I was informed last week, requiring daily medication. One misguided part of my utopian process was getting Peter a bunny. My stepson Geoff Hartwell, guitar god, is teaching at the National Guitar Workshop (a utopia unto itself) for the next two weeks and thus is not available for vacation pet care. (The beta fish and various ampbians have slower metabolisms, and some of them eat alge and so are less of a probem.)

The obvious thing to do is to hit the road. But it seems I have four, not just the ordinary two small mammals, to accomodate. Do I load two kids, a hyperthyroid cat, and a ferocious bunny rabbit into the back of the van and drive of looking for the nomadic utopia tomorrow morning? Or do I do something else? Your guess is as good as mine. The process of utopia starts here.