Anniversaries I would just as soon forget.

Twenty-five years ago today, I sat in my loft unit in graduate student housing at Stanford, waiting for the third game of the Bay Bridge Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland As to start, when the entire house began to shake.  Thus begun one of the scariest thirty seconds of my life.

What was even worse than the Loma Prieta earthquake (for me at least, I heard some horror stories from classmates who were at the Law School when the earthquake hit) was the media in the hour or two  afterward.  The Bay Bridge had collapsed.  There were houses down and fires all over San Francisco.  Part of I-880 was flattened.  Overpasses all over the area were crumbling.

Yes, part of the upper structure of the Bay Bridge had collapsed.  Yes, there were houses down and fire in the Marina district in S.F. And the Cypress structure on 880 — oh, my God.  The original estimates of the dead were about 300 — in the end only 63 poor souls lost their lives.  This may have been because of the ball game, which because it featured the two local teams meant a large viewership.  Traffic was lighter than usual, because people were home or in bars waiting for the game, the same as I was. (Oddly, there was (in the immediate aftermath, at least) few reports from Watsonville and Santa Cruz, both which had buildings down and people dead. It may be because they were farther away from the media in S.F.)

I got a call from the Rocket Scientist’s mother on the East Coast, who had seen similar reports and was only slightly less frantic than I was.  I could not get through to RS.  All I could think of was, his office building is on reclaimed land.  (Wikipedia “liquefaction” if you do not know why I was so scared.) When he finally walked in an hour and a half later, my first words were, sadly, not “Thank God you’re safe” but “We are moving the hell out of this fucking state.” (I did then say “Thank God you’re home safe.”)

We assessed the damage: we had lost a few glasses, but most of our cabinets were aligned with the movement of the earth and stayed mostly closed.  (I would like to say that we had earthquake-proofed our unit, but I’d be lying.) The psychic damage, especially for me, ran deep.

I hear people here say that earthquakes are better than hurricanes.  I grew up in hurricane country, and I strongly disagree.  It is empirically irrational, I know, but earthquakes hit me in a visceral way that hurricanes and other storms do not.  You can see a hurricane coming: earthquakes just… happen.  (When the (mild) 6.0 quake hit this summer, I spent two days in a cold sweat. The earth is NOT supposed to move like that. My husband, with his Master’s in Geology, would disagree, of course.)

We’re still here a quarter of a century later.  All of our kids have lived with the possibility of “The Big One” all of their lives.  When he went back East to go to college, The Not-So-Little-Drummer boy said he couldn’t understand how people could have bookshelves above their bed.  Of course, back there, an earthquake is not likely to come along and collapse the shelf on top of you while you sleep.

I like the state better, now, and it is home in some sense, for the rest of my family at least.  But I hate thinking about how the earth can, without warning, turn your life upside down.

Just a reminder: this year marks the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Berkeley Free Speech movement.  It was a movement that could only take place in an environment free from social media, from a job market where potential graduates have to be very careful lest they damage job prospects.

Increasing income inequality chills the exercise of rights, be it free speech or free assembly, or standing up for the Fourth Amendment.  While technically it is illegal to retaliate against workers for speaking out against workplace conditions, employees who do so know that, legal or not, they may well face the loss of jobs, or hours. I have the utmost respect for low-wage employees who fight the good fight, because their economic (and actual) lives are on the line.

Last month, when the pictures of naked female celebrities were leaked online, I read a chorus of “What did she expect? She should have taken better precautions!” My position, articulated in the several comment threads which I deemed to participate in (most common threads are dreck), was that these were intelligent women who presumably knew to take reasonable precautions. We are all at risk from determined creeps (criminals, actually), if we were to become interesting for some reason. (c.f. Gamergate.)

Taylor Swift has written a very thoughtful piece, “A Story About Jessica,” about the challenges faced by an average teen dealing with computer security.  It is well worth reading.

” It is almost as if Plaintiff ’s counsel chose the opinion by throwing long range darts at the Federal Reporter…”

 Bradshaw v. Unity Marine Corp. (147F Supp. 2d 668 (S.D. Tex. 2001)) just may be the most entertaining court ruling I have ever read. I am making a spectacle of myself in Starbucks as I giggle, snort, and laugh outright at this gem of snarky jurisprudence.  Judge Samuel B. Kent, my hat is off to you. I have a strong suspicion that you would be a great guy to have a beer with, or a Scotch, however you roll.

Any court opinion that contains the words “What the ….?!” is worth paying attention to.

[Edited to correct the name of the case. Sheesh. My only defense is that I was laughing too hard to proofread properly.]

[Edited again to add: Actually, as it turns out, Samuel Kent wasn't a good guy after all, or a even a decent human being. He resigned in the face of impeachment hearings, following his guilty plea on charges arising from his non-consensual sexual contact with female employees.

It still is a funny opinion, though.]

The stories in the wine.

In Lisbon, there is a Institute of Port Wine ( Instituto do Vinho do Porto).  You can sit in comfortable chairs and taste different types or ports — drinking glasses of ports that are far more expensive than what you could order at home.  Hushed conversations fill the room.  This is a serious place.

One of the things I most like about the Institute is that they have descriptions not just of the individual ports but of the types of ports. White ports are different from tawny, tawny different from ruby; vintage different from late vintage different from blended. We ordered four, a white, a late-vintage tawny (1995), a twenty-year old tawny blended, and a ruby.

After I had had the equivalent of a couple of drinks (my usual limit for coherence — I’m a cheap drunk), my companion asked me what the wines said to me. I replied with stories.

 

The white, with its lightness, and its overtones of apple and pears: You sigh deeply, as you sit on the terrace at the Mountain Winery waiting for the Michael Buble concert to begin.  The duck was completely on point, of course, and you are slightly warm and every-so-slightly sleepy.  You look down to your second row seats, shrug, and order another glass of port. Love ya, Michael, but good port is good port.  You can hear the concert just fine from here.

The 1995 late-vintage tawny:  the breakup was, to put it mildly, brutal. After that final, awful, confrontation, which ended with him saying “I’m so fucking over you.  I never want to be in this place ever again.  Do what you want with my stuff” and storming out, slamming the door so hard the hinges bent, you decided to take him at his word.  The Stoli and caviar, not to mention the aged Patron Reserve and Cuban rum smuggled into the country in the (now shredded to pieces) Louis Vuitton bag, down the drain. The satin sheets given to the homeless guy who sometimes lives at the corner. You find the port, and slide the cork out and smell the heady vapors emanating from the bottle. You pour a glass — your crystal, not his — and sit by the hearth.  Antique cherry wood and vintage vinyl records make such a merry fire.

The twenty-year old tawny*: You’ve checked the pantry for the third time. Enough things to eat (and toilet paper and paper towels) and bottled water for three days, even if the power goes off. Then — and only then — do you turn the Weather Channel back on. They’ve run out of names, it seems: Snowpocalypse was a few years ago, and then Snowmageddon the year after that.  You prefer Snoverkill, yourself, but TWC seems intent on using whichever of those awful human names that they have been slapping on winter storms so that they can seem as cool and scientific as the NOAA, who hand out hurricane names. Alvin? Aldo? Whatever. In any case, the graph shows lavender about fifty miles out, deepening quickly to what would otherwise be a very pretty deep purple hovering over your neck of the woods. 24″ expected in the next 24 – 36 hours. You are not going anywhere for at least a couple of days. You sigh, put on some Corrine Bailey Rae, and open up the port which you have been saving for a special occasion.  This isn’t what you had in mind when you bought it, but at this point, any port — especially the best port — in a storm is a good thing.

The ruby: The little girl was scared.  She could do something wrong. She could spill wine down her pristine white dress! Wouldn’t that be sacrilegious? Would God forgive her? More importantly, would her Grandma? That dress had been used for her mother’s first Communion, and her big sisters’ (all three of them) and she had no doubt it would be saved and handed down to Lisa’s eldest girl (since Carrie had had only boys). She stepped forward, hardly daring to breathe: “This is the cup of my blood,” the priest intoned, as the little girl inhaled the warm grapey vapors rising from the chalice. “Thanks be to God,” she answered in a small, trembling, voice.

 

*This is the wine we ended up buying and taking home.  It is wonderful port.

 

 

Where do the rest of us fit in?

I was listening last night to the TED Radio Hour on NPR, and the subject was technology.  There were pieces about how current technology — including social media — could be used to magnify the impact of terrorist attacks, the example being the Mumbai attacks of 2008. One scary piece was how GPS technology — and the ability to spoof GPS technology — poses serious threats not merely for privacy but also for security. We are a vulnerable nation — a vulnerable world — and we should not forget that. (We actually have always been a vulnerable world, except the nature of the threat changes.  We tend to fool ourselves that simply because our children are not dying of pellagra that we are home free.  Quite frankly, I’ll take the threat of terrorism over malnutrition, typhus, cholera, and polio any day.)

And then there was the Google executive talking about the self-driving car.

In fifty years, he said, everyone will have a self-driving car.  It’s the wave of the future! Fewer accidents! Less stressful commutes!

Except, realistically, not everyone will have a self-driving car.  Those who can afford a self-driving car — the guys from Google, and Facebook, and Apple, not to mention Wall Street and K Street — will all have self-driving cars. Everyone that matters, I suppose.  It is possible that the cars will be cheap enough that the ever-shrinking middle class will be able to afford one, but I’m not holding my breath. We’re middle class, and we are still driving around cars with hundreds of thousands of miles on them.

But the guys from McDonald’s?  The baristas at Starbucks? The people scraping by on less and less (in real terms)? No way in hell.

Hopefully, human driven cars will still be legal, and parts will still be easily be available. Hopefully, more and more people will not be forced onto increasingly financially-stretched transit systems.

What galls me the most about this guy, and others like him, is the self-satisfied bubble in which they appear to live. (I recognize, of course, that when he is not shilling for his company’s self-driving car he might be a decent human being.) Self-driving cars should be the wave of the future! How about a future in which people can hold down a full-time minimum wage job and still be able to afford to house and feed their families?

Technology will not save us, cannot save us, until people who have money and power recognize that they have a responsibility to those who have neither.

There are a few advantages to growing older.

I am sad I am aging.  I miss having preteens around the house.  But…

I no longer have to deal with the mommy wars. I no longer have to feel either vaguely guilty or aggressively defiant that I do not exclusively breastfeed my babies.

I don’t have to worry about the ecological impacts of whichever diapering method I choose.

I do not have to justify sending my seven year old down the street to the park for a few minutes while I catch up with him.

I do not have to justify letting my eleven year old go to the park all by himself.

I do not have to deal with Little League.

I do not have to deal with standardized testing of elementary school children, not to mention the Common Core.  Were I dealing with young  ones today, I would want to homeschool, except I don’t know that I would be very good at it.

I do not have to deal with early adolescent boys. Puberty sucks for pretty much everybody.

I like my sons.  I think they have turned out to be pretty cool people. And I am glad I can just sit back and enjoy that.