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At a lunch in Oakland

December 24th, 2001

In The Valley
I was listening to an interview on the radio yesterday, how a small, seemingly isolated event, can change the course of history. The subject was a book about battles. They discussed an early engagement between the invading Romans and the Germans (Goths), two, three thousand men. The Romans were ambushed by the Goths in a battle that should have gone by rights to the Romans, except it occurred during a downpour, the Goths taking the thunder and lightening as a portent of victory sent to them by Wotan; the Romans freaking out, holding their shields up over their heads to protect them from the rain - the shields, made of animal skin, rain soaked now and heavy, unwieldy in battle - the Goths attacking and slaughtering the Romans to a man.

That was the last campaign the Romans chose to fight along their northern border and thereafter turned their attention south. A small battle, a few thousand men, but the result: a Roman empire focused on expansion throughout the Mediterranean rather than to the German north and history went in a fundamentally different direction. Better? Worse? I don't know. But different.

Reading in the paper this morning, the California energy crisis. Laying out the sequence of events that led to our current miserable situation, locked into contracts that will force us to pay through the nose for decades. A big complex negotiation, an attempt to reward the political demands of heavy industrial users, the power industry and consumers that resulted in fundamentally flawed laws and an agreement to disaster.

The first example, a battle between Goths and Romans, resolved by a quirk of weather. The second example, a battle between competing economic interests, resolved because no one with the credibility to be believed or the visibility to be heard voiced a warning.

Now bin Laden and the world after September 11th. If he's alive in the back woods ofA shop window in Oakland. Afghanistan or Pakistan or Rooty Kazootistan with a store of spent Uranium, thinking revenge, or his followers, looking at the smoking ruins of the Taliban, maybe looking at the dead bin Laden, thinking thoughts of revenge. They have money, they have ambition, they have plenty of followers. Think about the war on drugs, twenty billion a year to keep drugs out of America, then think about their availability - cheaper, stronger, easier to find - and then think about the war on terrorism, a new twenty billion dollar budget, run by the same people. Realize we have no way, really, to stop them at the border. Some event, some combination of chance (battlefield rain) and stupidity (a foreign policy that values oil over people) unnoticed yesterday, unnoticed today, unnoticed as it happens tomorrow, may well change our lives forever.

(Yes, yes, contemplating my navel. I'm still wondering about Junior's gentlemanly C slide through life and how it plays in this presidency. He's the guy who makes the decisions. Can he figure it out, deregulated power, deregulated terrorists? One reason to hope the son of a bitch is, if not smart, then lucky. Very lucky. If we can't recognize the problem, maybe we can stumble in our deliberations into a lucky rain, that is, if we're Germans and not Romans.)

Remember the old joke? Get the bomb and be the first kid on your block to rule the world? Saddam Hussein, American armies at the gate, death chewing at his balls, these weapons at his disposal. (We weren't going to invade Iraq, you understand, until they exploded that Uranium packed suitcase in Chattohoochie.) Should he release them now to the terrorist bands, a last parting gift, his own death certain, the hounds of hell dancing in the fields of Armageddon? Shit yes. He will be the first kid on his block to rule the world, a bitch'in world of dead and dying.

Merry Christmas!

Now why in the hell did I write that? This is Christmas Eve, a time of rebirth, a time for hope and regeneration. And I'm ready for regeneration. I, like Rien, did not have a particularly good 2001, but I'm thinking that's behind me and I'm looking forward to 2002. Everyone's had these 9-11 thoughts, but they don't dwell on them at Christmas. Besides, reality runs in its own rhythm with its own rhyme and it doesn't pay attention to puffy old prognosticators. Saying life's a crap shoot says nothing about whether the world will end tomorrow. The guy they stopped on the airplane today, armed with exploding tennis shoes. They nailed him while he was "trying to light his shoe laces". Light his shoe laces? Exploding tennis shoes? This is how the world ends? Exploding tennis shoes? How sad to read that in a newspaper without laughing.

I'm with Rien about a better year ahead, positive thoughts, postive thoughts. Buy a nice cosy cave way back up in the woods in February, maybe, filled to the top with dolphin safe tuna and bottled water, filtered air and DSL, a rocking chair with an unfettered view, of the smoke, in the valley.

The banner photograph was taken at a going away lunch in Oakland. The second photograph of a James Brown Santa in a window on a street in Oakland.