Friday, December 31, 2004

House of Sand and Blog

Of course, those of you in the know -- you San Francisco Bay Area chums and California cognoscenti -- understand that here in the low hills of Oakland we are far far from the beach. We are, however, less than three miles from the Port of Oakland and a fraction more than that mileage from the Bay Bridge. (Take a look here. We live just east of Lake Merritt.) The tsunamis won't get us, but the terrorists might if they go for either of those comparatively attractive targets. It's the Golden Gate for prime-time terrorism -- 12 miles distant; yippee! -- but if you want long-term economic damage, I would aim at the Bay Bridge, if you can knock it down, not just punch a hole in the roadway.

Now, for a dirty bomb, obviously radioactive pollution of downtown San Francisco -- I think I would hit somewhere around the TransAmerica pyramid near North Beach -- would have the biggest psychological impact. But really San Francisco is so much toys and tinsel, so D.C., New York City and Los Angeles are probably higher up the list. If I'm a terrorist, do I wait patiently on an A-list target or do I probe for the point of least resistance on a longer list of targets ranging in value from "will make them crap their pants" to "will certainly get their attention"? I don't know. I'm not a terrorist. I'm not a religious fanatic. I never was a religious fanatic. I was more of an enthusiast.

So why such grim thoughts on such a winter's day? All the top newspaper columnists do a year-end column of some sort. Ellen Goodman used to do a list of the mistakes she made, though I don't recall her admitting she ever made a serious mistake. I believe I read in the New York Times that it is going to start correcting some of the more egregious misstatements on its Op-ed page, where in 2004 William Safire seemed incapable of conceding that any of the Bush administration's explanations for invading Iraq were wrong, even as they were ground to ever finer dust. It made me want to scream.

Will you tell another lie, Billy Boy, Billy Boy? Will you tell another lie, Charming Billy? Yes, I'll tell another lie and who cares how many die ...

Actually, Safire is responsible for my rather dire first paragraphs. I have a half memory that around this time of year Safire would publish a column filled with outrageous predictions for the coming year -- either to disingenously imply his own fallibility or to get down on paper some outrageous prescriptions for what should be done but what those in power were too weak or stupid to do. I started to play with that idea and suddenly I started thinking about the obvious fact the Bay Area is an attractive target for terrorism. It's also an attractive target for an earthquake, though I do not impute intentionality to earthquakes. (A religious fanatic would. I'm not sure about a religious enthusiast. I think I will send this post to Pastor Kathy. I know she's not a fanatic, and I don't think she's an enthusiast.)

I'm guessing an earthquake will show up before a dirty bomb. If I'm a really patient terrorist I think I would wait until I lay my hands on a suitcase nuke and really do some damage. Moreover, if I had a suitcase nuke, I would not waste it on San Francisco, no disrespect intended. But what if you had a terrorist who was a Stanford grad who took the intercollegiate sports rivalry with Cal too much to heart? Anyway, I was thinking about a list of predictions for 2005, and I started thinking about terrorism. Took all the fun out of that.

I could do a list of good books. I could do a list of resolutions. I could do a list of things I'm thankful for! But those "thankful" lists seem so condescending and self-satisfied. I think -- I hope -- we all have a list of people we are thankful for, and it rather seems to me we should communicate that conclusion to them personally. This is a blog. Rare is the blogger who, like the columnist for even the smallest newspaper, can claim that she/he speaks for her/his many readers and thus can employ the royal "we" on the expectation that a certain number of dour emotionally paralyzed readers will thrust today's "thankful" column into the hand of the beloved, the idea being that "This is what I would say had I the words to say it."

Or if you are particularly frozen up inside you rip the column out of the newspaper -- roughly torn; jagged edge -- and stick it to the refrigerator door with a magnet and hope the beloved finds it. But with a blog if you start printing things out and thrusting or sticking, it's like you're sharing an Excel spreadsheet.

(Pause for my own real-time personal communication of thanks to individual sans thrusting, tearing or sticking.)

Hummmm. Likewise I'm sure, she said. And that's as good a note as any on which to end a year in which I seemed to live in a charmed circle while so much else went so very wrong for so many. Life isn't fair. Nice to stand on the sunny side of that statement.

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