Friday, August 3, 2007

Humpty Dumpty Was Pushed

Well, that's my story and I'm stickin' to it! Humpty didn't fall - he was pushed. And the king's men apparently weren't too bright since they let their horses try to fix him. Which leads me to this week's ongoing news of the bridge collapse in Minnesota.

Fox News, et al (that's "and others" for those in Wimauma) has milked this cow dry. Greta got an entire hour out of it on the night it happened. No doubt Nancy Grace will dramatize it to the point that a bridge engineer commits suicide because he approved the bolt that held the guardrails together. It's fairly common knowledge that mechanical engineers build bombs and civil engineers build targets. And, as with anything that is built by human hands, human error and time will take their toll. And sometimes, things fall down. Tragic? Yes. Newsworthy for days or weeks on end? Not always.

Seventeen years had passed since this particular bridge was first noted as being structurally unsound. Presumably, those seventeen years were uneventful or someone would have addressed the issue sooner. Not too many years ago, the Tampa Expressway Authority added an elevated, reversible deck to the over-burdened Crosstown Expressway. In the process of building it, part of it fell down. Traffic and progress were snarled for months. The project languished while someone was sought to be thrown beneath the proverbial bus o'blame. Fortunately, the Tampa incident didn't result in deaths, but it serves as a perfect example. Even the best laid plans can fail. So what makes the MN bridge failure newsworthy? What are news editors overlooking to make this the lead story? The reality is that people die every day. Motor vehicle accidents, disease, starvation, old age, murder, war, and yes, stuff falling down.

I posit that this event conveniently draws attention away from the more pressing matters of the day. The recent House vote that went awry and somehow didn't get recorded. The good news of what's happening in Iraq and Afghanistan as a result of America's hotly debated presence. And at the same time, it gives partisan lawmakers the opportunity to assign blame for this unnecessary "disaster." Years of tax cuts will be criticized, despite the fact that MN had several years of budget surplus. Government budget surplus can be summed up in a word: over-taxation. The tax cut was to allow the surplus to be absorbed. Surely the government was competent enough to know that it could reallocate some or all of this so-called surplus to critical projects in the interest of human safety. Even if they had to find a method to recoup the allocation, it would be better than allowing an infrastructure failure. The only logical conclusion is that no one believed the problem to be great enough to warrant an intervention seventeen years after it was identified.

Could it be that a combination of factors simply worked against mankind and the laws of physics played themselves out? A freight train rumbling beneath the bridge creating seismic activity. Traffic isolated to one side of the structure while the other lanes were closed. Workers using jackhammers. Forty years of wear and tear. Perhaps this was the "perfect storm" for this bridge. Perhaps blame need not be assigned. Perhaps the knee-jerk reaction of politicians and appointed officials mandating the inspection of every bridge in America is just that: knee jerk.

A levee fails and we have to check them all. A kid gets head lice and we have to check them all. A dog gets fleas and we check them all. A citrus tree gets canker and we burn them all. The concept of an isolated incident is lost in America today. Sure, some things require constant vigilance. Things like terrorism. Pedophiles. Nuclear power plants. But just because one 40 year old bridge falls down doesn't mean every other bridge in the world is now a threatened species.

For once, could we employ a little bit of common sense? Someone? Please? The media gets whipped into a fury, then the politicians do. Yet all it amounts to is a national-scale CYA.

I'm off to go read about a boy who cried wolf. I hear his actions led to his demise. I wonder which political party he joined . . .

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