Friday, October 27, 2006

God Hates San Francisco

Fosco does like the occasional author talk, although unfortunately any future talks at Bookshop Santa Cruz are now totally out of the question, thanks to the store's nasty opposition to raising the Santa Cruz minimum wage. (If you're a Santa Cruzian, join the boycott!) But it was Fosco's personal assistant Geoffrey this time who dragged a worn-out Fosco to the Capitola Book Cafe last night to see geological (and more) essayist Simon Winchester.

Anyone who has read Fosco's recent journey across the country on I-80 (see Achives "2006-07-09" and "2006-07-16" below and to the right) knows that Fosco is fascinated by geology--especially the violent kind (sedimentation is, let's face it, a little snoozy). However, Fosco is a bit of geology snob: he prefers Princetonian and Pulitzer-Prize-winning John McPhee to "bestseller" authors like Simon Winchester. Of course, the problem is that Fosco has never actually read Simon Winchester... But Geoffrey has, and so there we were last night at Capitola Book Cafe, where Winchester was promoting his book about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

It turns out that Simon Winchester is really smart and entertaining. If I had known he was British (and an Oxonian), I wouldn't have resisted reading his books for the last few years. I'm not going to summarize his whole talk, which, interestingly, was a talk and not a reading (talks being preferable to readings, in my book); however, I will note three points he made:

  • He characterized the governmental response to the 1906 earthquake as something of which Americans should be "proud," in contrast to the governmental response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 (of which Americans should "ashamed.") He also noted that the governmental response to the next San Francisco earthquake (and the clock is ticking) is likely to be bad, unless we start preparing now.
  • He traced the historical accidents by which the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake could be blamed for the rise of American Christian Fundamentalism. Apparently, one of the most influential Pentecostal ministers in LA made a prediction three days before the Earthquake that God was going to send a sign. The next week, his church was overflowing and the Pentecostal movement was born.
  • Sometime in the next 2500 years, the volcano under Yellowstone Park is going to explode, completely burying the entire Pacific Northwest under tons of ash. Of course, as Winchester notes, the human race will be extinct by then (even Americans!).

The thing that made me saddest about the 1906 Earthquake (I mean, other than all that death...) was that it destroyed the 1000 room Hotel Nymphomania. It seems that SF was Fosco's kind of city even then.

Here's a pic of Winchester preparing to sign a book for an aging hippie (ah, Santa Cruz...).

Oh, and here's a startling tidbit: according to Winchester, there is a 67% chance of a 6.5 magnitude (on the Richter Scale) earthquake occuring on either the San Andreas or Hayward fault by 2025. The San Adreas quake would flatten San Francisco; the Hayward quake would destroy Berkeley and Oakland. Assuming that Fosco remains in Santa Cruz for the next six years, basic probability theory explains that there is a 33% chance that the devastating quake will occur while he is here. Of course, either quake would be much less damaging in Santa Cruz, but still... Yikes.

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