Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Great Mistake (and the Curse of Paris)

This was a post I started in April regarding a feature on the San Francisco Earthquake that, well isn't quite topical anymore, but given the Curse of Paris and the catastrophe that is still unfolding in the Paris of the Ninth Century and the lingering aftermath in the Paris of the South is certainly still relevant.

The promos running on Salon for “The Great Quake” make the series look quite compelling and I'd watch it had I the appropriate channel. However, it was the copy that goes with the show that, well, gave me pause.

Key excerpts:

One hundred years ago, San Francisco suddenly awoke to the destructive power of a 7.9-magnitude earthquake. It was the beginning of 74 hours that would see 26 aftershocks, one of the worst urban fires in American history and drastic measures to save the largest city on the Pacific coast. What's worse, the stunned people of San Francisco put their faith and trust in a corrupt mayor who had been more interested in lining his pockets than preparing the city for a disaster of this scale.

The Great Quake brings to life in high definition this epic story of heroic survival, the terror of catastrophe and political manipulation. Based on personal testimonies of survivors and drawing on present-day experts, The Great Quake depicts the calamity that tore San Francisco apart at the seams. This world premiere event transports viewers back 100 years to what was the largest and most influential city on the Pacific coast, often referred to as "The Paris of the West."

1) First, “Paris of the …” That phrase sounds familiar. That's right, the “ Paris of the South". Corrupt politicians? Check and check. Lining their pockets - hmm, check. Unprepared for catastrophe. Double, dog check. What's that about those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

2) Incidentally, it's, um, apparently not so great to be “the Paris of” someplace. See also, “Paris of the Antilles”, the “Paris of the East”, the “Paris of the Middle East”, the “Paris of the Orient” or the “Paris of the Midwest”. Most telling however is what has happened to “ Paris of the Ninth Century”. Seriously, I’d be packing up the moving trucks if I were Buenos Aires, Tromso, Kansas City, Shanghai, Bucharest, Asheville or Carrboro in North Carolina, or even Deep River, ONT (though I think there alternative nickname might provide some protection)

But back to the synopsis:

The Great Quake also details how the city was betrayed by its inept and corrupt mayor, Eugene Schmitz. Rushing to rebuild San Francisco and his tarnished image, Mayor Schmitz was seemingly driven by the fear that money and business would desert a withering city proven vulnerable to earthquakes.

A massive campaign of deceit was orchestrated to conceal the true nature of the tragedy. The Great Quake reveals how photographs were retouched to downplay the destruction caused by the quake. City officials referred to the event as the "Great Fire" rather than the "great earthquake." The official death toll was underestimated at less than 500, even though experts now state that the number of dead reached well into the thousands. And the deception continued even further. The lessons of that tragic April day in 1906 were deliberately and successfully buried.

Unfortunately, the lessons from the Great Quake of 1906 have not been fully learned. A significantly weaker earthquake struck the city in 1989, and many buildings fell as a result of some of the same construction flaws that were a factor in the 1906 devastation.

The Great Quake takes a close look at the lessons learned from these and other great catastrophes brought on by natural disasters. Is our government prepared to take an active role in preparing our cities for emergencies, or will the burden of survival again lie with the common person?

Betrayal by a public figure, campaign of deceit to conceal the full nature of the tragedy, rebuilding a tarnished image, failing to learn from and even concealing the lessons of the tragedy…. Plus ça change, plus la méme chose. The answers, tragically, to the final questions would probably depend on the current leadership. Let's see, who is president again? Ah, then the answers would be, "Sadly, No", and then almost certainly yes.

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