Doing the Apocalypse Rag

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Nothing like a murderous natural disaster to get Southern Californians? latent self-Schadenfreude working in high gear. Here?s L.A. Times letter-writer Chris Cutter:

Though the homeowners are guilty of nothing more than wanting to live in a nice home, the developers are a different story. Honestly? The politically incorrect part of me is looking up to our desecrated mountains and saying "burn, baby, burn."

Cutter, ironically, was writing from the San Fernando Valley foothill community of Chatsworth, known mostly for being the porn capital of the world, but lately for being at the front lines of the Simi Valley fire. A Times account skillfully blends the two:

Asia Carrera, an adult film actress who lives in a Chatsworth townhome, fled with her two cats in her metallic blue Corvette. She packed some clothes and her computer because she also runs an online porn business.

She said she lived in Calabasas during the Calabasas-Malibu fire in 1993. "I've been through it before, but this is a lot bigger," she said. "I didn't sleep at all last night. I read all night. I sat by the window and looked at the sky glowing red."

And what of apocalyptic prophet Mike Davis, author of the seminal and factually stretched Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster (reviewed by Nick Gillespie here), which featured the classic chapter The Case for Letting Malibu Burn? He?s got a fire column up over at AlterNet, pointing out that, ?It is, of course, the right time of the year for the end of the world.? Then he dances an extended recall jig:

Fire ? is politically ironic. Right now, as I watch San Diego's wealthiest new suburb, Scripps Ranch, in flames, I recall the Schwarzenegger fund-raising parties hosted there a few weeks ago. This was an epicenter of the recent recall and gilded voices roared to the skies against the oppression of an out-of-control public sector. Now Arnold's wealthy supporters are screaming for fire engines, and "big government" is the only thing standing between their $3 million homes and the ash pile.

Halloween fires, of course, burn shacks as well as mansions, but Republicans tend to disproportionately concentrate themselves in the wrong altitudes and ecologies. Indeed it is striking to what extent the current fire map (Rancho Cucamonga, north Fontana, La Verne, Simi Valley, Vista, Ramona, Eucalyptus Hills, Scripps Ranch, and so on) recapitulates geographic patterns of heaviest voter support for the recall.

NEXT: Marrow Sorrow

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  1. Disasters can also bring out the worst in people.

  2. Am I the only one that finds it sickening that someone can look at another human being whose home and belongings have just gone up in flames and say, “Well, he deserved it for his leftwing / rightwing beliefs!” I thought that tragedies like what’s going on in Southern California were the types of things that brought us all together regardless of political beliefs or agendas, but then again, I’ve been wrong before.

  3. I would like Mike Davis to find me one conservative (note, real conservative, not some nut case or paleoindiot) who thinks fire departments are “big government.” I think he’ll find most conservatives consider fire departments the epitome of what government should be doing, and what they are more than glad to pay taxes for. So what’s his point?

    Also, Mr. Davis fully fails to consider that those $3 million homes are insured and can and will be replaced. The home is nothing. It is what is inside of them is often personal and irreplaceable. It takes a truly evil and callous person to take joy in the loss of another person, when any one of us would be devastated by a similar loss.

  4. Ah yes, the compassionate left, demonstrating why they should be put in charge of, well, everything.

  5. Frightened by the fire and in need of psychological bolsters, the leftist crawls pathetically into the comfort of preaching his senseless holier-than-thou white guilt liberal dreck to the choir. Sad, sad, sad.

  6. burn baby burn! maybe all the red states will get nuked too!

  7. I’m no fan of Mike Davis, but in reading the full piece (rather than the snipped quote here) it’s clear that he shows that he’s not referring to fire departments as big government. Fire protection in the canyons of Southern California entails a whole array of activity, including brush eradication, controlled burns, and, yes, massive deployment of firefighters when the flames come rushing up the canyon. Davis points out an essential contradiction — homeowners want heroic levels of protection, but they don’t want to pay either higher insurance premiums or higher property taxes. When the forest maintenance/brush clearance/controlled burns were cut back for lack of funds, the consequence is higher risk of epic fires like the ones we’re seeing now — which are far beyond the scope of a normal firehouse’s ability to respond.

  8. How’s this for arguing for fire service privatization, from some nut case paleoindiot of course

    http://blog.lewrockwell.com/lewrw/archives/002233.html

  9. There’s always some idiot out there who’s ready to believe that the lastest random disaster confirms whatever stupid vision of reality he has adopted. Hence, our hero of the moment.

  10. When the forest maintenance/brush clearance/controlled burns were cut back for lack of funds . . .

    Translation: When the politicos and their bureaucratic lackeys diverted ample tax money from essential services like fire prevention to fund their pet projects and other wealth transfers . . .

    There is more than enough tax money in SoCal to fund fire prevention. It is just being spent on other stuff that all of a sudden probably doesn’t seem so important, unless you believe that the true purpose of tax money is to collect votes for your next election.

    People don’t resist taxes because they think the state’s legitimate night watchman functions should be cut back. They resist taxes because they know they are already paying plenty for those functions, and the money is being creamed off for other activities.

  11. colmesfan nailed it — this rant is a replay of Michael Moore’s lament after Sept. 11th that the terrorists targeted the wrong people since the attacks occurred in districts that voted heavily democratic.

  12. Subject: class conflicts between the firefighters and the homeowners. Discuss.

  13. “I would like Mike Davis to find me one conservative (note, real conservative, not some nut case or paleoindiot) who thinks fire departments are “big government.””

    Damn, I guess I’m a paleoidiot. Matt’s linked article above is good, but here’s a more extensive treatment:

    http://www.libertyhaven.com/theoreticalorphilosophicalissues/privatization/firefighting.html

    Why would you expect gov’t run fire departments to do a better job than the private sector? It’s unclear to me why fire protection should get the special honor of being an exception to the rule that the private sector does a superior job.

  14. Sorry, anon @ 7:14pm was me.

  15. Lonewacko: not much conflict. Firefighters make very good money.

  16. Andy,

    Because fire protection is what’s known as a “public good.” Just because liberals have abused the term doesn’t mean there aren’t any real public goods.

    If my neighbor’s house is on fire and he has chosen not to buy fire protection, it’s bad news for the whole neighborhood, because all of our houses could burn down. Then it’s bad news for the next neighborhood, the whole city, etc.

  17. Anon @ 7:25… so it’s a public good. The market can solve these so-called “public good problems” much better than the gov’t can. If your fire protection service isn’t willing to protect you from your neighbor’s fire, then it isn’t doing its job. And for the free-rider problem… off the top of my head… fire insurance agencies wouldn’t want to cover anyone without fire protection. That alone is probably a sufficient market force to ensure enough fire protection. Also, from that article I linked, it looks like one solution that they use is to charge non-subscribers a relatively high fee for service.

  18. Mike Davis is just cranky that the tornadoes have been so light this year. And last year. and the year before that.
    What a tool.

  19. Three earthquakes today in Simi Valley, where one of the large fires has been raging:

    Magnitude 3.6 at 3:44 p.m.;
    Magnitude 1.7 at 10:46 a.m.;
    Magnitude 2.8 at 8:36 a.m.

    http://quake.wr.usgs.gov/recenteqs/Maps/119-34.html

  20. Lost in all this is a very important matter: IS ASIA CARRERRA OK?

  21. Why would you expect gov’t run fire departments to do a better job than the private sector? It’s unclear to me why fire protection should get the special honor of being an exception to the rule that the private sector does a superior job”

    anon @ 7:14, have you ever heard of Crassus? He was the Roman senator who ran the only licensed firefighting company in Rome, as he had purchased the monopoly from the state. How did it work out? Well, judge for yourself. People who owned homes purchased fire “policies” from him to respond in case of a fire; anyone who didn’t was on their own (until the fire spread to a subscriber’s house). He charged whatever he wanted and owed no one an explanation, and could and did deny coverage to his political enemies. He became the wealthiest man in the empire by far–and third most powerful behind Caesar and Pompey.

    Now, in a society where Jeff Skilling and Dennis Kozlowski might get Club Fed vacations for swindling people out of millions, do you really think these abuses wouldn’t repeat themselves in a privatized firefighting system?? No, I’ll gladly pay taxes so I don’t have to wonder if my neighbor paid his fireman’s bill this month…

  22. joe:

    “First, liberals despise the water theft and wetlands destruction necessary to sustain LA’s growth.”

    And yet they continue to drink and live there.

    “Second, for the reasons I described above, allowing “only those people who are willing to assume the risks of living in fire prone areas” to build sprawling bedroom communities increases the risk and cost to people who make more responsible choices, as well.”

    The term ‘allowing’ is one of many places where our world views diverge. One of the risks inherent in any property is what people who own the land around you might decide to do with theirs. This is, of course, a very long discussion about what constitutes a valid reason to legislate. You can probably guess my thoughts on the matter.

  23. “The landlords would pay to insure the buildings, and if they burned to the ground with all their tennants in them, the landlords could get insurance compensation.”

    And the insurance companies would twiddle their thumbs and say “oh darn, now we need to pay for all this damage… but what can you do?” Maybe, just maybe the insurance companies would demand fire protection.

    And yes, there are slums where poor people are relatively segragated to. And they tend to be very run-down. But an out-of-control fire there would be too damaging to the rich for the rich to put up with. Mass deaths, aside from any morality issues (in your scenario, the rich are obviously all sociopaths), would be an economic problem for the wealthy… the wealthy have a need for unskilled labor. Do you really think the wealthy would fail to protect this asset from annihilation?

    Also, how poor do you think these poor people are? Fire protection ranks near the top of necessities for survival. Shelter usually comes after food & water as necessities for survival… and fire protection is necessary to maintaining shelter. So unless these people are on the verge of starvation, they will invest something in fire protection.

    “Police departments next?”

    Yes. But certainly this is a more difficult one to defend, with all the issues with corruption.

  24. People build in fire-prone areas; fires occur and burn down their houses. Wow! I can definately see the wratch of God, the evils of liberalism, the evils conservatism, etc. angle! 🙂

  25. Andy D has never heard of “landlord lightening.”

    Jason,

    ‘”First, liberals despise the water theft and wetlands destruction necessary to sustain LA’s growth.”

    And yet they continue to drink and live there.’

    And libertarians often go to public parks. I’ve even heard of them calling the police when they’ve been robbed, and using a system created by the DoD to initiate discussion of political theories. Is there a point here somewhere?

    I’m sorry if the climate, geography, hydrology, and biochemistry of the hills in southern California are inconvenient for your political ideology. By whaddya gonna do?

  26. Joe: “Andy D has never heard of “landlord lightening.””

    You mean the fact that the landlord’s insurance doesn’t cover everything? The landlord’s insurance can only be expected to cover the landlord’s assets to the extent that the landlord can’t get his tenents or the gov’t to cover them. So if a tenant is robbed, the landlord won’t cover the loss. Makes sense to me. In the case of fire protection, the landlord nor the landlord’s insurance comany have an incentive to pay for it since the gov’t takes care of it anyway. If the gov’t got out of the fire protection business, this would change.

  27. Firefighters may make “good money,” but I’d imagine that very few of them can afford the average house that was burned by these fires. It’s not like El Sereno in East L.A. is on fire, now is it.

    An unmarried firefighter has little chance of owning a house anywhere in San Diego county, unless they bought it years ago. They make around $60k a year, as I recall; you can’t afford anything on that salary. However, a married firefighter whose wife also works (combined income of, say, $100k) could afford a house in Escondido or Poway.

    And Howard — nice try, but I never said the burned-out areas were poor. I said they were middle class, which is entirely accurate. Sure, Scripps Ranch has high-end homes in it (as well as middle-range homes), and there were some nice houses around Julian (and a lot of not-so-nice ones). But look at a map of the burned-out areas. Those are not rich areas. They are, overwhelmingly, middle-class bedroom communities.

  28. joe:

    “And libertarians often go to public parks. I’ve even heard of them calling the police when they’ve been robbed, and using a system created by the DoD to initiate discussion of political theories. Is there a point here somewhere?

    I’m sorry if the climate, geography, hydrology, and biochemistry of the hills in southern California are inconvenient for your political ideology. By whaddya gonna do?”

    Libertarians have the option of paying for these things or going to jail. As for using them, there is a certain fatalism after your money has been spent that allows you to seek any benefit you can get.

    Califorians who complain about a group of people choosing to defile the mountains while they choose to defile the desert have no such excuse. They are demanding that the state support their use of land but prohibit their neighbors’.

  29. My point, Jason, is that LA county enviromentalists continue to live there through the same fatalism that allows anarchists to sit on park benches. They do not “choose to defile the desert.” They do so because the prevailing system leaves them little or no choice.

  30. RC Dean pretty much hit the nail on the head. There’s plenty of money to pay for fire prevention. It’s currently lining the pockets of the unions and special interest groups who threw their support to Gray Davis and the rest of the Democrat shitbirds who run this state. We have paid hundreds of billions of dollars in state taxes over the last decade. There was plenty of cash to bribe Davis’ campaign donors with; how come there was none for fire prevention?

    Oh. Because, as noted, the people in fire-prone areas didn’t vote for Davis. Same reason Bush gave all of California the brush-off during the 2001 energy crisis.

    Also — nothing personal, guys, but nobody in this thread seems to know jack shit about San Diego. Wealthy San Diegans don’t live in the burned-out areas. The burned out areas are WHERE THE AFFORDABLE HOUSING IS. The rich live in La Jolla, in Del Mar, in Crown Point, in fancy downtown gentrified neighborhoods, etc. The people living out in places like Tierrasanta, Escondido, Poway, etc, are strictly middle-class. Rich people don’t live half an hour away from the beach and an hour’s commute from the office. The overwhelming majority of the people hurt by these fires are either long-time residents, lower-middle income families, or new homebuyers forced to the outskirts of town by our out-of-control housing prices (the highest in the nation, as a percentage of income).

  31. What a creep. I hope next his house burns down, with him in it.

    Lone Dissenter you must be some kind of psychic genius

  32. joe:

    My point is that if tomorrow we were freed from having to pay taxes that support park benches, libertarians would have what they want.

    If tomorrow, environmental policy allowed LA to dry up as it ‘should’, lefties in the region would not have what they want.

  33. Don’t be so sure about either group, Jason.

  34. Ditto about Asia C.
    I’m at work and should not look at her website.
    is she okay?

  35. Why not eliminate publicly supported fire services?

    The wealthy, educated folks, and a good chunk of the middle class will be able to pay for it, no problem. The less educated, less productive members of the middle class, and the lower class, will just burn to death.

    This will end a lot of clamoring for welfare and other public services.

    See? It’s a wonderful market solution. And who says libertarians can’t provide useful public policy solutions.

    What can we take on next… perhaps publicly run police services?

  36. Dismantle FEMA safetynets for insurers and you would be left with only those people who are willing to assume the risks of living in fire prone areas living there. Tragedy still may come, but you have to believe that the folks who move there with no insurance possible know what they are getting into.

    That said, all the phony concern for the ‘desecrated mountains’ is more than a little obnoxious. I don’t know if they’ve noticed, but by all rights, Cutter and Davis shouldn’t have any water to drink. I guess desecrating the desert with LA is okay as long as liberals can establish their western outpost there.

  37. It isn’t just their location in fire-prone areas that made these neighborhoods so vulnerable. It’s also the low density, sprawling development pattern which 1) leaves patches and corridors of highly flammable material scattered throughout the developed area, and 2) increases the size of the “front” to be defended once a fire gets going – sort of like the Eastern Front in WW2, the disaster is multiplied because of an ideological determination not to remain within short, defensible lines.

    Sad.

  38. Jason,

    First, liberals despise the water theft and wetlands destruction necessary to sustain LA’s growth.

    Second, for the reasons I described above, allowing “only those people who are willing to assume the risks of living in fire prone areas” to build sprawling bedroom communities increases the risk and cost to people who make more responsible choices, as well.

  39. Stephen Fetchet: “The less educated, less productive members of the middle class, and the lower class, will just burn to death.”

    Right on! Same goes for food production. Sure, we ~could~ let the private sector run it, but then the rich would eat like kings while the poor people starve to death!

    Sorry about the sarcasm. But for the market to fail so miserably with fire protection for the poor, a few very strange things would need to happen… the poor would need to concentrate themselves in isolated communities and the rich would need to put some kind of buffer zone (or great wall of fire) between the poor and the rich neighborhoods. And the poor would need to own all their own homes, else renters might get the crazy idea to protect their assets. Plus, the rich would somehow need to break all economic ties to the poor since fire would put an end to unskilled labor. Plus, the rich would need to be hateful bastards unwilling to help out those in need. Sure, if all that were true, then your scenario would definitely hold water.

  40. Firefighters may make “good money,” but I’d imagine that very few of them can afford the average house that was burned by these fires. It’s not like El Sereno in East L.A. is on fire, now is it.

    Speaking personally, they’d have to pay me lots and lots of money to put my life on the line to protect Barbra Streisand’s compound. The natural areas might be a different issue.

  41. In the above, “Barbra Streisand” and “Tom Selleck” are interchangeable.

  42. But for the market to fail so miserably with fire protection for the poor, a few very strange things would need to happen… the poor would need to concentrate themselves in isolated communities and the rich would need to put some kind of buffer zone (or great wall of fire) between the poor and the rich neighborhoods.

    Yeah, that would happen, because we know the poor don’t ever live in isolated communities that are cut off from the rest of society – like Trenton, or Detroit, or South Central. Those are just Hollywood make-believe – no way would poor people get clustered together like that. Nor would rich people ever be able to erect a wall between themselves and poor people… all the gated communities I see must be a figment of my imagination; never mind the suburbs where the houses run, on average, $500k+.
    Lotsa poor people in those communities, right?

    And the poor would need to own all their own homes, else renters might get the crazy idea to protect their assets.

    You mean that landlords of properties in poor areas would work hard to protect their investments? I guess that’s why tenements in the ghetto are in such good shape – because the landlords really look after them, rather than “milking” capital out of them by letting them rot, and refusing to reinvest in them. But seriously, who would really care about it? The landlords would pay to insure the buildings, and if they burned to the ground with all their tennants in them, the landlords could get insurance compensation. The remaining living relatives could sue the landlord’s insurance company – assuming the slumlord could actually get insurance, or thought it worthwhile to do so – to collect some money.

    Yeah, I guess you’re right. It would be a great market solution. We could dissolve the fire departments tomorrow and we’d probably be okay.

    Police departments next?

  43. These fires were either brought to you or enhanced to you by your friendly local Sierra Club or your perky “Let it burn before someone makes money on it” Boxer.
    In the future, anyone who seeks an injunction against forest or brushland management should be required to post a bond against possible damages.

  44. Lone Dissenter, I don’t know what you hope to prove by quoting a bunch right-wing nut jobs. And calling them conservatives shows how little you know about the word.

  45. Dan, uh, right … Scripps Ranch is such a run down, poverty striken area.

    And all those homes on the ouskirts of Julian … just little shanties, right?

    And Blossom Valley, tar shacks, I’m sure.

    — sign me, a lifelong San Diego resident.

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