Thursday, February 14, 2013

Earthquakes, Traffic, Deserts and Democracy

Despite the pious claims of various would-be oligarchs, Democracy -- and Anarchism -- do work, because the average person is not a stupid sheep who needs a proper Ruling Class to make him do what he needs to survive.  I've seen proof of this myself, three times over.

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The first time was right after the Loma Prieta Earthquake, which reached nearly 7 points on the Richter Scale, and had the dubious distinction of breaking up the 1989 World Series.  'Twas the first time in history that the record books noted: "Game called on account of earthquake".  The quake also shook down the elevated Nimitz Freeway, which ran through the center of the poorest section of Oakland, a slum commonly nickamed Dogtown, trapping lots of cars and their occupants in the rubble.  When those 17 frantic seconds of shaking stopped, the local residents of Dogtown picked themselves up, looked at the collapsed freeway -- and became instant heroes.

 One of the few employed residents used his keys to open a warehouse, take out a large forklift and pallet, drove them out to the collapsed freeway and used them as an elevator to lift rescue-workers to the top of the rubble-pile.  An unemployed resident followed him into the warehouse, grabbed all the pickaxes and shovels he could carry, and handed them out to the volunteer rescuers.  The corner drugstore donated bandages and wound-dressings.  The liquor store down the block donated vodka and Everclear for more wound-dressings.  A local pimp used his cell-phone to call the official services -- police department, fire department, hospital ambulance fleet -- for help, only to find that they were overwhelmed by damages and emergencies elsewhere.  A local heroin-pusher donated his supply to treat the injured.  The two local residents who had working cars volunteered to take the injured to the nearest hospital and then come back for more.  An ancient long-retired former Army medic (World War Two vintage) took charge of the medical department, and the local whores volunteered as nurses.  A nearby coffee-shop donated food and coffee to become the rescue-workers' free canteen.  Local residents donated food and coffee, as well as labor.  Everyone else became volunteer rescue-workers, digging survivors out of the rubble.  Folks from elsewhere in the surrounding towns -- including me -- volunteered labor when and as they could.  Over the next week, those volunteers saved nearly 100 survivors from the wreckage of the collapsed freeway.  It was all spontaneous.

Not only was the government no help, its service organizations being frantically busy elsewhere, but it became an active hindrance.  President Bush planned to visit the site of the disaster, so the Secret Service came in ahead of him to "clear the area".  One of them marched into the coffee-shop/canteen and ordered it to shut down.  Why?  Why, to make sure that there was no nearby area out of view of the SS crew.  The cooks promptly told him where he could go.  He made a grab for one of the cooks, who hit him with a frying-pan.  The rescue-workers in the canteen then picked him up and forcibly ejected him from the premises.  Likewise, a local cop climbed up on the rubble-pile and ordered the rescue-workers to cease and desist, and come down from the pile.  Why?  Because some would-be assassin might have hidden a rifle in the wreckage, in hopes of taking a shot at the POTUS.  While the other rescue-workers looked at each other, trying to find a polite way to say no to an Oakland cop who was likely to wave his gun around, one very large rescue-worker pulled a chunk of concrete out of the rubble and said, "Okay.  Hold this," and handed it to the cop -- who took it.  The 200+-pound chunk promptly flattened him, whereupon the rescue-workers went back to work.  Bush decided not to visit the Nimitz Freeway site, but went elsewhere for his photo-op.  The rescue-workers eventually pulled the chunk of concrete off the cop.

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The second incident happened nearly ten years ago, here in Phoenix.  Long before Global Warming became a handy political football, the Phoenix valley was subject to sudden ferocious storms during the rainy seasons, and on this particular day a classic firehose-in-the-sky storm dumped enough water, hard enough, to short out the traffic signals all up and down the length of Camelback Road -- one of the main drags of the sprawling city -- in the middle of a working day.  There weren't nearly enough cops in all the city to direct traffic at every intersection on Camelback Road.  So what did all those drivers do?

With no possible verbal -- and very little visual -- contact with each other, the drivers worked out a safe system for driving through the signal-blind intersections.  On coming up to an intersection the drivers would stop and look at traffic on the crossing street.  If no cars were right up to the crossing line, then the drivers would proceed across -- about five of them.  After five cars the drivers would pause again, by which time some traffic had usually gathered at the crossing street.  The drivers would wait until about five cars had gone through the intersection on the crossing street, at which point the crossing traffic would usually pause and let about five cars go through on Camelback.  This tacit agreement worked, with no accidents, for the rest of the day.  Fortunately, the city engineers got the traffic signals working again (long after the rain had stopped) before dusk.

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The third time was a few years ago, when the late Frank Gasperik and I took a driving tour out to the desert interior of southeastern California.  Out beyond the mining-town of Trona, which also sported an enormous array of solar electric panels, an eastbound road continued beyond where the pavement ended: a dirt road running out into the empty desert.  According to the map (topographical, satellite-survey), at the far end of that stretch of desert, in the foothills of the distant mountains, lay a ghost-town called Ballarat.  This had been a small mining-town, built a century ago, abandoned when the mines played out around 1910.  Never having seen a real ghost-town, I persuaded Frank to turn the car that way, and we set off across the desert.

 When we arrived, covered with dust, we found perhaps half-a-dozen ancient buildings -- dry and skeletal as withered leaves -- plus a pump attached to an old well, a homemade hydroponics tank, and one small house-trailer parked nearby.  The ghost-town was inhabited by a little more than ghosts.  The sturdiest of the old buildings, the original town jail, was inhabited by the local historian -- a middle-aged fellow, happy to meet some strangers, who had shelves full of books and documents about Ballarat and its history.  We chatted awhile, learning how the present-day town worked.  The folks who owned the trailer also had a working car, and once a week they'd go into Trona to pick up supplies, and mail, for all the half-dozen non-ghost residents.  Other than that, the mortal residents were happy to live out at the end of the desert -- and be left alone.  We thanked the historian, and asked if he'd like a beer from our car's supplies.  He flinched, and said in a very neutral voice: "I... don't drink beer."  Right there, in a flash of insight, I realized why he'd isolated himself out here in a desert ghost-town, without transport of his own.  "How about some root-beer, then?" I quickly offered, and he gratefully accepted.

As we strolled out to the car to get the root-beer, we heard a roar of motors and saw no less than a dozen heavy-duty motorcycles come rolling up.  The riders wore hard-traveling gear, and pistols openly displayed on gun-belts -- this in southern California, mind.  Frank, an old biker himself, recognized the gear if not the riders themselves, and tossed them a complex in-group salute that made them smile.  They paused by the pump just long enough to fill their canteens, and then rolled on -- up the extension of the dirt road, which wound further up into the mountains.  A quick glance at the topo-map showed another old (and supposedly abandoned) mining town up in the hills.  A question to the historian, about how many people lived up in that other ghost-town, harvested only a shrug.  "We all get along well," was all he said.

So Frank and I picked up some mineral samples -- chunks of remarkably pure galena -- got in our car and headed back toward "civilization", speculating on how those forgotten towns survived.  We concluded that all they needed were reliable wells with working pumps, and they made all the rest -- including their social system -- by themselves.  Their system worked, and it was all entirely off the grid.  We also speculated on how many other such invisible communities exist in the US today.

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I know there are plenty of other examples, but those are three that I saw myself.  I don't think anyone can convince me, after that, that the people can't create and maintain working societies for themselves.

--Leslie <;)))><   )O(     



Carolyn said...

The details of your earthquake story remind me a lot of your song "The Day It Fell Apart." Was that the inspiration?

Leslie Fish said...

Heheheheh. Ah, you guessed!

--Leslie <;)))>< )O(