Sunday, January 22, 2006

Books Block My Blogging

Sometimes I get so involved in reading books, that I don't pay attention to the Internet or my blog. The previous post shows the last book I read before the one I just finished. I've decided that I'm going to blog on every book I read this year.

I estimate that I read between 20 and 30 books a year. That of course doesn't count the reading that I get though newspapers, magazines and websites. Thankfully I have a fairly good city library just across the road from me, because that saves me plenty of dollars. I do buy books as well and I currently have three book store gift cards tucked in my wallet from Christmas (see, everyone knows I like reading).

I've nearly given up reading fiction, for when I do delve into a novel I find that in the back of my mind while I'm reading a little voice tells me, "It's all fake." And I can't seem to shut that little voice up. I guess at this point in time in my life, I'd rather just try to sort out reality. The subject matter I read includes, science, humanities, politics, history, social issues, economics, and other things in the real world.

The book I just finished was San Francisco Is Burning by Dennis Smith. This book is about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. It's written in a "novel" fashion in order to make the book seem more personal to the reader of the people involved during the three days that the city faced being completely burned down. I'm not a big fan of this type of history, but I certainly understand the writer using this method as nobody that witnessed the event is still alive to tell the tale. Yet, Mr. Smith does do well in providing facts.

What most affected me is that there was a sort of reminder of what happened in New Orleans this past year. San Francisco during its catastrophe didn't handle it well and plenty of mistakes were made that ended up costing lives and property. San Francisco as well was aware that they were in effect a "sitting duck" for cataclysmic destruction and didn't prepare for the eventuality.

One interesting fact that I wasn't aware of was that on the first day San Francisco came under marshall law due to the mayor's acquiescence to the local Army commander. This became probably the worst consequence to the disaster. The commander (who had no experience in fire control) decided that using dynamite and explosives to destroy buildings as a way to create firebreaks was justified. In this misguided effort more fires started as a result of the explosions. In some cases the explosions were not even needed as the fires in the area were burning themselves out or were being handled by the fire department.

The marshall law aspect also reminded me of New Orleans as "shoot to kill" orders were instituted. Estimates of as many as 500 people may have been killed by either the military, the national guard, or "deputized" armed citizens during the three days. Another factor was that the military was told to evacuate the city and in their lust to follow this order many homes burned down as homowners that were having an effect at preventing their homes from starting on fire, were ordered to leave at the point of a gun.

There certainly were heros in San Francisco during those three days. The one that jumps out the most was a naval commander who arrived with his ships early on the first day. He provided much help to the fire department as he used his small fleet as fire boats and water taxis to retrieve water. The fire department had been faced with water shortages due to the poor water supply for the city in those years. The earthquake destroyed water mains to add to the problems.

Finally, it should come as no shock to find that San Francisco is probably less prepared for another earthquake of that size than they might have been a few decades earlier. Between Oakland and San Francisco there is only one fire boat of any stature and the author points out that budget cuts have forced the fire department to downsize in the past few years. Well, I guess there is always FEMA.

So, now I'm into another book. I'll tell you about it later.


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