Having recently exchanged my day job for the primary care and feeding of a 10-month-old male offspring, these eyes and ears are getting more in tune with daytime TV and talk radio than at any time in the recent past. A couple of days into the new gig I turned on the tube to watch a Columbo rerun and, lo and behold, I saw the end of the world. It had to be.
The screen was filled with fire and Tom Brokaw was reading from the book of Revelation. Well, I thought, so much for my mushy evolutionary co-creationist ideas about eschatology.
But, while I was contemplating the prospect of a thousand years bad luck and trouble, the NBC News camera panned back to show that the fire was limited to a couple of buildings on a dry prairie. Then the legend "Waco, Texas" appeared at the bottom of the screen, and in an instant it was obvious that David Koresh's Branch Davidian community was going down in flames. What I witnessed, and maybe you, too, on that sad midday live report, was a tragedy less cosmic than the Apocalypse, but all the more painful for its very human specificity, and its absurd futility.
The TV discussions that day often compared the Davidian holocaust to the mass murder-suicide at the Peoples Temple community in Guyana some 15 years ago. But my own sense of déjà vu went back even a little further, to the scene in Los Angeles in 1974 when a confrontation between the police and the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) ended in a barrage of gunfire and a raging inferno.