Simon Winchester Scares the Crap Out of SF

After convincing friends to shell out $20 to hear Simon Winchester “in conversation with” Scott Shafer on Monday, I was nervous after entering the Herbst Theater and finding us to be the youngest audience members by a few decades.


But after all, we routinely pay upwards of $25 to hear 90 minutes of our favorite bands; why not pay to hear favorite authors? Unfortunately, in this case, it was a strained Q&A session with Shafer/Winchester instead of a lecture along the lines of the Jared Diamond talk I heard in July. (For free, thank you Long Now Foundation!)
So yes, Simon is the geologist/writer famous for Professor & the Madman, Krakatoa, and his new book A Crack in the Edge of the World which details the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Much of the conversation was around earthquakes and our (lack of) preparedness. He kept insisting on the “not if, but when” idea of the Big One in the overly-seismically active Bay Area. References to Hurricane Katrina look to be part of the lexicon for the foreseeable future.
Random thoughts:
* The historical spin-job that big businesses put on the disaster, renaming it “The 1906 San Francisco Fire” to cover up the non-preventable earthquake portion of the disaster and to encourage business to re-invest in the area.
* The over-emphasis Simon puts on the Japanese preparedness for earthquakes with their drills, etc.
* Simon called us out for the travesty of the Bay Bridge squabbling that has been going on since 1989.
* When polling the audience for earthquake-insurance policy holders, 50-75% of the audience raised their hands?!
* Simon the super-Brit chooses to live in Massachusetts?!
* Audience members kept circling back to the Daniel Burnham plan to restore the city post-fire. Not sure why this element of the story was so intriguing?
* Simon refutes the concept of Earthquake Weather… which I find amusing to continue to believe in.
* William James took one of the last trains up from Stanford to interview citizens in their post-trauma state.
* The most powerful earthquakes in (continental) US history occurred in New Madrid, Missouri? Is the US breaking apart?