Saturday, October 17, 2009

Remembering Loma Prieta

Twenty years ago, this afternoon, I was stopped at a red light when I thought I had been hit from behind by another motorist. The car behind was too far away to be the culprit. At the same time the signal went into flashing mode and my radio station went off the air. Within the next mile I saw two more flashing signals and a broken water main.

I was commuting home through Orinda to Richmond along Camino Pablo and San Pablo Dam Road. I may have learned on the way that it had been an earthquake, in which case I would have fearing what I might see as I came near San Pablo Dam. Otherwise, I did not suspect anything until I came around the ridge into Richmond and saw smoke rising from San Francisco. I spent the rest of the evening glued to the TV and checking in with family and friends.

For most of us in the Bay Area the disaster never rose above the level of inconvenience. I had a day or two off work and never missed out on groceries. My electricity never failed. Perhaps we who have it so easy fail to appreciate the potential severity of such an event. Living in a society with good building codes and emergency services has shielded us from the level of suffering endured by so much of the world in disasters. For perspective; the death and destruction in New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina is probably worth more than 50 years of seismic activity in all of California.

Here's hoping you take time to prepare for what is likely coming your way.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Thin Blue Line

I am currently working on a utility construction project in Oakland, California. Police officers are assigned to the worksites for security and traffic control. I have time to talk with them, frequently at length. This is not about the police, but about human nature.

People working in law enforcement are constantly forced into close proximity with the worst of human nature. The natural conclusion one would make, serving in such capacity, would be that these are the worst humans. It is easy to conclude that some people are just incapable of civilized behavior. This conclusion is born out by the frequent use of excretory metaphors by police officers when referring to micreants.

I would like to suggest, instead, the we are, all of us, fully capable of uncivilized behavior. Under the manners and consideration, we are all still savages. Psychological profiles of Hitler's henchmen did not reveal monsters, but men who were quite normal. Any society is capable of committing a holocaust. In Nazi Germany the social permission for the Holocaust was created by the unrelenting anti-semitic rhetoric of the propaganda machine and the expectation by the perpetrators that there would be no accounting.

The evolution of cultural institutions has been, generally, in the direction of peace and stability. That evolution, however, is in the web of habits and obligations of the way we deal with each other, not in the fundimental structures of who we are. It is learned behavior that we are all able to unlearn under the wrong conditions.

Love, and consideration,

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Playing at Playing Trains

This roughly drawn plan is where I indulge my penchant for model railroading. It is a base image used by Train Player, software for animating a line drawing of a track plan.

I expect to never actually build a model railroad; I have so many things I tell myself I want to do - I have to actually pick one as the overriding commitment. I picked photography.

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