Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Infrastructure Indicator

Whether it is true or not, it was said that Benito Mussolini “Made the trains run on time.” I was reminded of this famous saying when reading the paper this morning (New York Times) and learning that in Pakistan the lights go out for 10 hours a day in major cities and up to 22 hours in rural areas. Never mind that such claims deserve detailed documentation, with pointers to sources; what I can be fairly sure of is that electric power is failing, or shut down, often enough to generate demonstrations—and that the disruptions last a long time. In turn that reminded me of the failure of power in Iraq. An online paper, Al Monitor, reported on April 9 of this year that around-the-clock electricity is still something to be achieved there. Add to this context that we experienced two bridge-failures within days of each other, one near Seattle and one in Missouri south of St. Louis—in wake of which we got statistics on the huge number of bridges that belong to the “endangered” species. We moved to the Detroit area in 1989—but for two decades, earlier, we routinely traveled on I-35W, crossing the Mississippi, where, in August 2007 one of the more spectacular bridge-failures took place.

Do I suffer from Chicken Little syndrome? No. But I am quite interested in cultural indicators. At the same time, I am convinced that all things are linked. Therefore problems with a culture at its more airy-fairy levels, like its thought, its moral grip, its political cohesion, and its financial clouds, will, sooner or later, be reflected in its physical underpinnings—like water, sewers, power, and bridges.

I’ll add as a footnote that I routinely, daily, drove beneath, I don’t know—surely about 50 Detroit bridges every day, commuting to work for 20 years before retirement. In that process I also drove on top of quite a few. The view from below has been—and remains—the most instructive. You can see the erosion of the concrete and the bleeding of re-bars thus exposed to the rusting action of rain. Drive on them or beneath them. In either case, beware. The money is headed for the invisible stratosphere of where Goldman Sachs sits on a throne. Down below the infrastructure crumbles.

1 comment:

  1. Literally, I was fascinated by your writing.
    Starting from "Do I suffer from..." you turned a metaphor for decline into stark, hard reality, and in the final paragraph I was thinking of Milton's Paradise Lost at first, then Dante next, as you wended your way in the hell of rotting infrastructure as Goldman Sachs sat plotting upon his throne.


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