Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Fire in the Hole!

Before continuing on to the title item of this week's entry, we pause to mark an anniversary. Ten years ago this past weekend, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in the case of Bush v. Gore, the final decisive moment of the post-election struggle in Florida, 2000.
I guess there's no keeping this event from becoming just another understudied moment in U.S. history. Current and future students will get the short version of how Mr. Bush took office under the slimmest of all possible electoral margins. Future teachers may even neglect to mention that the actual popular vote went to Gore, though that is not, as we should know, the deciding factor in presidential elections.
But getting the full story in this case requires a whole book or two. Like the maze of public and private actions we now just call "Watergate", there was a cast of dozens of people with a role in the outcome in 2000. Some of these remain prominent while others have returned to relative obscurity. I once used almost a half hour of Toastmaster club meeting time to give my version of the whole post-election story. The club members hated it.
So I can't do that again. Let's just conclude that the legal basis for Bush v. Gore was so convoluted that the Supreme Court itself (!) pointedly stated that the decision was not to be cited in future cases. I think that was the best part of the decision. As for the whole event (which started in Florida even before the election took place), I suggest doing something old fashioned - going to a library and getting a book.

Now, in California, one thing we seem to have plenty of is suburbs with Spanish names. I might not be able to find Escondido even with one of those talking car place finder thingies. It's somewhere WAY South of here.
The folks in the city noticed something unusual last week. Right in the middle of suburbia there was a house loaded with explosives. The fellow who lived there I presume had a reason for this unusual behavior, but we don't know that yet. The man, for what it's worth, is a native of Serbia in his 50's.
Back to the house itself. How do you deal with such a danger, one rarely encountered anywhere before, and certainly never in Escondido? The city officials gathered and consulted, knowing that a solution had to be found quickly. Simply unloading the house, it was felt, would be too dangerous, so the best option would be burning it down, making sure that neighbors were evacuated and that any explosive forces would be directed up, away from other homes and a nearby freeway, which I guess every Southern California suburb has.
Without (as far as I know) leaning on state or federal authorities for any real help, the city put its fairly comprehensive plan into action. People took up watching points from their own roofs, binoculars and telescopes in hand, since no one was allowed within 400 yards or so from the home. At the moment when winds were thought to be least dangerous, the house was ignited by remote control.
The results? Better than anyone had a right to expect. Some explosions inside the home, and a long, nasty-looking cloud curling up from the cite were about all that could be observed. No injuries, damage to neighbors' homes or flying hunks of cement, just - a sigh of relief.
I don't know if Escondido was lucky enough to have specially trained firefighters or haz-mat folks on the payroll, but they deserve local thanks and our recognition that government entities can do things well even in unfamiliar circumstances. Given the scary randomness of this kind of danger in recent years, that's a good thing to know. Let's put up one little "w" for California.


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