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Most of my family lives in the Los Angeles area, so when I heard about the quake that struck Tuesday, I was concerned. . .

. . . until I heard it was “only” a 5.8 (later downgraded to a 5.4). Anything under a 6, and I think, “not to worry.”

I’ll let the LA Times pick up the story:

The earthquake that rattled Southern California on Tuesday might have caused devastation if it had taken place in some parts of the world, but relatively strict building codes ensured that most of the region's infrastructure -- homes, schools, freeways and rail systems -- rolled with the magnitude 5.4 punch, which was centered near Chino Hills and felt as far as Las Vegas.

The story also points out that most of the buildings in the area had been built or retrofitted since codes were strengthened in the wake of the 1994 Northridge quake, so it’s not just that this temblor might have caused devastation if it had struck in a different place, it very well might have caused destruction and death if it had happened in a different time. Had this been LA circa 1968, the “news” might have been filled with news.

At first blush, that might seem like a matter-of-fact point—big deal, things get better, hooray for science! That sort of thing. But the underlying message is far from run-of-the-mill. Tuesday’s Chino Quake was an example of the triumph of government regulation; it was an example of what a responsible and responsive government can and should do for its citizens. As Sara Robinson notes:

The fact that Los Angeles returned to normal (as if anything in Los Angeles can ever be considered normal) within just a few hours is one of those invisible but important lessons in the collective power of a functioning government -- the kind of non-controvertible, essential fact that conservatives tend to gloss right over when they talk about shrinking government until they can drown it in a bathtub.

California's seismic codes are serious, strict, and effective. The state has been working on them for 80 years now, refining them through the years after every major quake to incorporate new knowledge and engineering practices. (A major revision this year has recently sent all the state's architects, engineers, and contractors back to school yet again.) To see the results of this ongoing effort, consider the 1931 Long Beach quake, a 6.4 shaker that damn near flattened Long Beach, killed 120 people, and caused over $40 million (in 1931 dollars) in property damage. And then reflect on the fact that in 1989, it took a quake eleven times bigger -- the 7.1 Loma Prieta quake -- to create a comparable amount of damage.

. . . .

Generous state support is one reason CalTech was able to build the world's first and foremost seismology department, where the Richter scale and the seismograph were developed. Decades of government competence has also ensured that California's county building inspectors are widely considered the toughest, smartest, least corruptible pros in the country.

Forty years after the Long Beach quake, a very young me lived through the San Fernando (or Sylmar) Quake, which weighed in at 6.6, killed 65, and caused about a half-billion dollars in damage—and scared the shit out of me—but our house was built to post-Long Beach standards, and suffered only minor damage.

My parents’ house was further upgraded to incorporate what was learned and legislated after the San Fernando quake, so when the stronger and much closer Northridge quake rung in a January 1994 morning at 6.7, the house lost its old brick chimney, but otherwise remained intact.

So, the next time a selfish, single-minded Republican (or Libertarian, for that matter) asks what government has ever done for the American people, you can point to me and my family, and the countless other Californians who have survived numerous major seismic events thanks to improvements instituted and enforced by a strong government.

But perhaps my continued existence will not be considered a plus. In that case, point out how much money was saved by the city, state, and federal government because they didn’t have to rebuild as much infrastructure as would have been the case in an unregulated world. And they didn’t have to provide as much disaster relief as they might have, either.

Or point out how much private industry has saved because they have standing buildings with safe, healthy workers inside. Look how fast Los Angeles got back to work on Tuesday—without improved and enforced building codes, things wouldn’t have looked the same.

I have often worried that after nearly thirty years of Republicans underfunding and defunding our social institutions, many in this country have forgotten what government can do for them. They don’t know what to expect, nor do they know what they have a right to demand. A simple contrast drawn between the neglected levees in Louisiana or Iowa, or the neglected bridges of Minnesota, and the highway overpasses, homes, and businesses that stand safe and sound today in and around Los Angeles is a good place to start remembering.

- - - - -
(cross-posted on capitoilette and The Seminal)

Originally posted to Red Wind on Wed Jul 30, 2008 at 04:33 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  It shouldn't be earthshaking. . . (16+ / 0-)

    . . . to see a government act responsibly on behalf of its people. . . and yet, that's how far we've fallen.

    Everyone I know in L.A. is OK; I hope that you all can say the same.

    Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.

    by Red Wind on Wed Jul 30, 2008 at 04:33:10 AM PDT

    •  Amen to this. (3+ / 0-)

      I was also in the Sylmar quake (one of those never-to-be-forgotten experiences), and my family was in the Northridge quake. My parents' house suffered extensive damage, but it was one of 7 out of 14 on their block that was still habitable afterwards. They had done a fair bit of retrofitting after the Sylmar quake; they'd also taken out earthquake insurance. (A $20K deductible on $50K worth of damage--better than nothing.)

      Haven't talked to my family still in LA yet, though I will call when it's a decent hour (it's 14h00 here in France, so only 5 a.m. there). My daughter in San Diego, however, wrote a brief email to say she hadn't felt the earthquake, to her great disappointment. (She's been living in Calif for 4 years now and would like to experience something... preferably small!)

      Book excerpts: nonlynnear; other writings: mofembot.

      by mofembot on Wed Jul 30, 2008 at 05:01:48 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I love how the uninitiated think of quakes. . . (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        gem spa, FishBiscuit

        . . . as thrill rides. I always hear how "disappointed" people are that they didn't get to experience a big quake.

        Having been in a "big one," I am here to say that they are not thrilling--they are effin' scary! They can make one minute feel like a year.

        Glad your daughter is disappointed and OK.

        Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.

        by Red Wind on Wed Jul 30, 2008 at 05:09:32 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yes, indeed. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Red Wind, gem spa

          I can understand that she'd like to feel what it's like, especially after sleeping through quite a few tremors down her way, but I hope she never, ever experiences how truly terrifying a significant quake is. Sylmar was horrible (I think I hated how the electricity went out and plunged us into pre-dawn darkness just as the worst of the shaking had begun).

          I have no idea why she didn't feel yesterday's quake, given the time, and given that her colleagues did. She does get very engrossed in her research, however. Plus maybe she did feel it and didn't realize what it was. Who knows.

          As her mom, I don't want to have to worry about her any more than I already do. The likelihood of not being able to find out how she is, especially at this great distance, would be excruciatingly hard to bear.

          Book excerpts: nonlynnear; other writings: mofembot.

          by mofembot on Wed Jul 30, 2008 at 05:15:16 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  One of my co workers (4+ / 0-)

    was on the phone with someone who was in the quake.  The person was quite calm and said she'd call back after the earthquake.  It gave us a good laugh, because three or four times a year we have to get off the phones because of tornado warnings.  We decided we'll take our tornadoes over their earthquakes!

    Always ask yourself: WWDD

    by karesse on Wed Jul 30, 2008 at 04:41:48 AM PDT

  •  Excellent. Am glad you (6+ / 0-)

    and your family are well...and you're absolutely right:

    But the underlying message is far from run-of-the-mill. Tuesday’s Chino Quake was an example of the triumph of government regulation; it was an example of what a responsible and responsive government can and should do for its citizens.

    I have never understood the rush to de- and un- regulate, whether it's businesses (see the financial sector meltdown) or pollution (see political EPA chief overrules scientists) or whatever.  Regulations of that sort make us all safer and more secure.

    Tipped and rec'd.

    Our economy is a house of cards. Don't breathe.

    by Youffraita on Wed Jul 30, 2008 at 04:51:36 AM PDT

    •  smash and grab mentality (5+ / 0-)

      greed, short-sightedness, instant gratification, take the money and run, and screw you to all the little people without whom this wouldn't have been possible... yada yada yada

      Free University and Health Care for all, now. -8.88, -7.13

      by SoCalHobbit on Wed Jul 30, 2008 at 05:01:02 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yes, I know that (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Red Wind, gem spa

        I just don't understand it.  Just like I don't understand corporations putting short-term profiteering ahead of long-term strategizing.  Sheer, blatant stupidity...and greed.

        Our economy is a house of cards. Don't breathe.

        by Youffraita on Wed Jul 30, 2008 at 06:11:18 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  You're thinking too hard (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          gem spa, Youffraita

          this is low effort, low brow, sort of thinking. There are no high ethics or morals involved. We're talking Capitalism here. Screw everybody. No empathy allowed.
          It's a special kind of stupid...

          Free University and Health Care for all, now. -8.88, -7.13

          by SoCalHobbit on Wed Jul 30, 2008 at 06:28:25 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Heh...I don't understand (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Red Wind

            free-market capitalism either.  I've been a semi-socialist since the age of 17 or 18 and have never understood GREED.  What everyone wants--well, what most of us want--is enough to cover our bills and let us lead comfortable lives without having to worry about the electricity being turned off or going to the food bank or whatever.  I don't require much: no car, no cable bill, computer my only major indulgence and it was built by my friend's husband: I can subsist on very little.  But it would be nice to have single-payer healthcare.  It would be nice if the government would start investing in infrastructure (including green technology) again: everyone, the entire populace, benefits.  FDR understood all that; what happened?

            Our economy is a house of cards. Don't breathe.

            by Youffraita on Wed Jul 30, 2008 at 02:54:56 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  It's the damn stock market! (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Youffraita

          It is essentially government-sanctioned gambling. It encourages short-sighted moves for short-term gain.

          Something has to be done about the way the markets are run. They are destroying American business strategy. (Plus, most of the benefits from the system go to the already rich and powerful.)

          Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.

          by Red Wind on Wed Jul 30, 2008 at 12:45:21 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Yeah, it is (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Red Wind

            I don't believe in legalized gambling.  It's like an extra tax on the poor; frankly, you have better odds of winning in a friendly poker game than you do on Lotto.

            The stock market is gambling for the rich.  When they get overly exuberant, the rest of us suffer.

            Nevertheless, the market has been around for a long time: what has changed is the feeling that regulations are bad, and the markets will regulate themselves.

            As any farmer can tell you: you don't leave a fox in the henhouse overnight.  But the fox stole the last two elections and the henhouse is all feathers and no eggs....

            Our economy is a house of cards. Don't breathe.

            by Youffraita on Wed Jul 30, 2008 at 02:59:08 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  *progressive* libertarians have no problem w/... (3+ / 0-)

    ...sensible regulations, for example to protect people from natural disasters and contaminated food.

    The key here is that the regulations in question are a) necessary to protect the public from b) a real and serious hazard that c) is not ordinarily visible to an individual in such a manner as to be a subject of adult consent, and d) is not an issue in which people willingly choose to accept risk.

    For example, banning lead paint in toys: the average person has no way to tell if a toy they see at the store has lead paint on it.  Further, a child is not in a position to give consent to being poisoned by lead, and the parent has no right to make that decision for the child since it would lead to lifelong disability.  So we ban the lead paint and tough s--- for companies that wanted to cheap out and make a few more cents by poisoning children.

    So with earthquake engineering: the average person is not in a position to evaluate if a house or apartment, or their workplace, is seismically safe, so they are not in any position to consent to a risk (unlike riding a bicycle without a helmet: you can tell when you don't have a helmet on).  

    Last but not least, there has never been a liberty issue raised about some kind of right to live or work in unsafe buildings.  No one, if given the choice, would so so.  Instead, some people, if given the choice, would try to make ill-gotten profit by foisting unsafe buildings upon others against the will of the latter, if the latter had any idea what was being done to them.   That makes it roughly equivalent to fraud, which is impermissible in any libertarian value system, Democratic or Republican.  

    ---

    Meanwhile here I sit right next to a "soft story" building that will no doubt fall on my head when the big one hits.  For which reason I am going to get out of here as soon as economics make it feasible to do so.  

  •  Regulation is cheaper in the long run (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pHunbalanced, Red Wind, Dale Read, gem spa

    When you consider the expense of replacing a flattened building, the lost work hours and equipment, the cost of relocation, etc., it's cheaper to require buildings that are safe. But most Americans (especially Republicans) take the short-sighted approach of saving a few bucks now, figuring that they'll leave others holding the bag later.

    I made it through Loma Prieta (1989) relatively unscathed; my mom's home (in Palo Alto) was in a pocket that suffered little damage (though there was some heavy damage to the older buildings at Stanford University a few miles away), and the building where I worked was covered under current building codes so all we had was a big mess down in Central Files where the folders came off the shelves and scattered all through the aisles.

    Glad to hear that all are safe and sound, other than some jangled nerves...which unfortunately didn't affect the LA Dodgers who beat my Giants 2-0 last night...

    "Old soldiers never die -- they get young soldiers killed." -- Bill Maher

    by Cali Scribe on Wed Jul 30, 2008 at 05:35:39 AM PDT

    •  Fred Lewis seemed a little jangled (0+ / 0-)

      fumbling Casey Blake's hit into the stands, and all. . . or maybe the call was just compensation for tossing Blake out of the game the night before.

      Either way, this Dodgers fan was grateful after Monday night's debacle.

      Then, there's this take:

      "Any stronger and I would have gone out like I came in -- naked and alone," Giants reliever Tyler Walker said. "I could hear it coming. I was asleep, but I could kind of hear that rumbling and I knew it."

      No offense, but are we sure he wasn't referring to the Giants' season?

      (Warning: the entire rest of my family is made up of Giants fans, so this sort of ribbing is pretty much bred in the bone. So, seriously, no offense meant.)

      Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.

      by Red Wind on Wed Jul 30, 2008 at 12:40:16 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  well said... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Red Wind

    donate to a shelter box please http://www.shelterboxusa.org/

    by TexMex on Wed Jul 30, 2008 at 06:02:27 AM PDT

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