How insensitive.

As predictable as the “politicization” of the Minneapolis bridge collapse are the condemnations of it — the finger-wagging, more-in-sorrow-than-anger pleas for just a little human decency:

There can no longer be any such thing as a tragic accident in our country. We apparently no longer have the ability to witness such a horrific event, learn from it, and move on to simply do things better and try to reduce the chances of similar, future horrors. A sacrifice will be demanded, initially, and it shall be found. Inevitably the first goat led to the alter will turn out to be some low to mid-level functionary from the City Engineering department or something similar.

Of course, not all are so gentle:

Shame on the Star Tribune’s Nick Coleman and the rest of the left who are laying the blame for the tragic collapse of the I-35W bridge on GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty. We don’t even know the number–let alone the names–of people killed. Doesn’t matter to Coleman and his ilk. Take any shot to smear a Republican.

You could argue whether laying blame at this point of the recovery is helpful — although I read the Coleman column in question and it’s hardly over-the-top; this is the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, after all. Here’s probably the most pungent passage, and it comes after several paragraphs of sorrow, gratitude to the heroes and the rest of it:

For half a dozen years, the motto of state government and particularly that of Gov. Tim Pawlenty has been No New Taxes. It’s been popular with a lot of voters and it has mostly prevailed. So much so that Pawlenty vetoed a 5-cent gas tax increase – the first in 20 years – last spring and millions were lost that might have gone to road repair. And yes, it would have fallen even if the gas tax had gone through, because we are years behind a dangerous curve when it comes to the replacement of infrastructure that everyone but wingnuts in coonskin caps agree is one of the basic duties of government.

I’m not just pointing fingers at Pawlenty. The outrage here is not partisan. It is general.

Both political parties have tried to govern on the cheap, and both have dithered and dallied and spent public wealth on stadiums while scrimping on the basics.

How ironic is it that tonight’s scheduled groundbreaking for a new Twins ballpark has been postponed? Even the stadium barkers realize it is in poor taste to celebrate the spending of half a billion on ballparks when your bridges are falling down. Perhaps this is a sign of shame. If so, it is welcome. Shame is overdue.

I hate to be the turd in the birdbath here, but this is a perfectly reasonable point to make, and now’s the time to make it. Everybody I’ve talked to about this has said some version of the same thing: “I can’t believe it hasn’t happened here yet.” Minneapolis is a haven of prairie progressives here in the Midwest; good lord, they have light rail there. I was last there in 2004, and compared to Detroit, it’s Munich. (They tax the pants off their residents, but Michigan/Wayne County/Grosse Pointe Woods taxes the pants off me, too, and I don’t feel like I get all that much for it, other than a halfway-decent school system and sidewalk snow removal. Many city employees, on the other hand, get city-provided cars. My congresswoman leases a Cadillac at taxpayer expense to travel around her district, but she has yet to stop by.) I expect a bridge to fall in Detroit any day now.

To politicize, I guess, means “to bring politics into the situation,” but politics is the term we use for the process of making public policy, and the building and maintenance of infrastructure is about as close to the heart of public policy-making as you can get. It’s not very sexy; you don’t get a Bridge to Nowhere every legislative session, but to say politics shouldn’t be brought into this discussion is simply fatuous. Here in America’s rusting heart, we see on a pretty regular basis what happens to sewers, roads, bridges and electrical grids when they’re 100 years old or older — the steam pipe that exploded in midtown Manhattan last month, the combined sewers that overflow into rivers, the rural section roads that have to be widened and resurfaced to accommodate the suburbanites pouring farther and farther out into exurbia, the schools that have to be retrofitted to make them ADA-compliant. Take your pick.

And Coleman is right that too many legislatures have spend too much time, and way too much money, on showy projects like stadiums and other sports venues, which serve to further enrich the already obscenely wealthy while providing little to the people who pay for them other than the opportunity to take the family to a major-league game and pay hundreds more for the privilege.

So, yeah, it’s time to talk politics. Time to start the drudgery of figuring out what we need to fix and how much it will cost and how we will pay. Nothing wrong with doing it before the funerals, even before the bodies are recovered. The matter is urgent.

So, let’s keep the bloggage light after such a leaden kickoff. It’s Friday:

National treasure Jon Carroll on the question of accessibility* in poetry. I always wonder how hard he sweats his writing, because it all sounds so breezy and effortless:

There is always ferment in the world of poetry, probably because there is rarely money in the world of poetry (absent the eccentric bequest), so turmoil is the only recreation available.

Lance Mannion, who graduated from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, can tell you a thing or two about poets, and that is Word.

I should check Premiere film critic Glenn Kenny’s blog more often. He challenged his readers to name the film that’s the source of this image, and offered as a lure his undying respect. I knew instantly — thank you, Jeff Borden, for making me see it — but someone else had posted it in the comments. I still get the undying respect, I hope. (I’d hot-link to the image — his bandwidth is paid for by Premiere magazine, I assume — but budgets are tight all over the print world, so you’ll have to click through yourself. Then hit his ads. I’m doing this every day on my favorite blogs now, and so should you.)

And that’s it for me. Thanks to the several of you who sent nice notes about my “subject and theme” post day before yesterday, and said it helped you get past obstacles in your own work. I’ve been feeling a little draggy about this self-imposed blog obligation this summer, and told a friend the other day I needed to get a few strokes with a kind hand rather a riding crop, and that did it. Re-energized, I’m back in the game.

* stupid spelling error fixed; thanks, Brian.

Posted at 9:40 am in Current events, Media |

23 responses to “How insensitive.”

  1. brian stouder said on August 3, 2007 at 10:06 am

    Regarding the politics of the bridge collapse, and with no “but” –

    I agree with all you said. Job A1A of the government is public safety; and the people who set the agendas at the top end of the executive and legislative operations occasionally have to stop primping for the cameras and actually SUPPORT the people tasked with ensuring public safety.

    I guess human nature (and mental health) will dictate a general slip into complacency, and then some preventable Bad Thing happens (a plane crashes because a cargo door blows off, or pets keel over because their Chinese kibble is full of poison, etc) and then action is spurred.

    And journalists like Coleman are just the ‘spur’ that the primping class needs

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  2. Connie said on August 3, 2007 at 10:12 am

    So if I click on your ad link and only stay there for a few seconds, does that count?

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  3. jmm said on August 3, 2007 at 10:47 am

    Lets build another bike trail

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  4. Danny said on August 3, 2007 at 11:39 am

    Reminds me of one of my pet peeves over the years. Here in California we have something like a 32 cent per gallon gas tax that is supposed to go to roads. Instead, it goes to a general fund black hole and they build toll roads.

    I think this is from Jeff Foxworthy, Poli-tics: Poli meaning Many, tics meaning Blood-Sucking Parasites.

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  5. Danny said on August 3, 2007 at 11:57 am

    I’m am so with you on the bike trails. If I had a safe corridor to work, I would ride several times per week. As it is, there is one area that is so unsafe that even experienced cyclists have been killed by vehicles. I refuse to truck with that.

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  6. MichaelG said on August 3, 2007 at 12:46 pm

    Well, Nance, your first guy up demonstrated the need for an editor or at least a bit of proof reading: “first goat led to the alter”.

    I wonder at the great Jon Carroll’s writing every day. I read the Chron at lunch. I mean the actual paper paper spread out on my desk. I save him for last.

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  7. nancy said on August 3, 2007 at 1:00 pm

    I love Jon Carroll because he’s the personification of a certain kind of writer that certain kinds of editors simply loathe. These are the ones who insist columnists should not ever write about anything personal, that they’re just reporters with pictures next to their bylines, and what’s more, that this is the only type of column readers support, because who cares about your toilet-training problems, anyway?

    And yet, Jon Carroll, day after day, can write about nothing, and makes it such a wonderful experience to read about you lap up every word. He doesn’t always write about nothing, but whatever he writes about he does so well you don’t even care what’s caught his fancy today. I mean, if you told some of these editors that this was a guy who wrote about his cats, his granddaughter, and sometimes just about what it’s like to read a magazine on a warm afternoon, their eyes would cross. And yet, he’s Jon Carroll, and they aren’t.

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  8. Danny said on August 3, 2007 at 1:15 pm

    Hey, Jon Carroll, for a good time call 555-NALL. Heheh. Just joshin’

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  9. brian stouder said on August 3, 2007 at 1:29 pm

    This was my favorite line in the Carroll article (quoting Billy Collins)

    “Some poems talk to us; others want us to witness an act of literary experimentation.”

    Just so.

    And by the way – good ol’ Nance mis-spelled accessibility…not that anyone is keeping track, or anything

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  10. Mary T. said on August 3, 2007 at 1:44 pm

    Good points. And nice turtle photo. I like turtles.

    Living in Seattle now, believe me, everyone here is very nervous about bridges. They’re closing down part of a major interstate here for several weeks this month — I-5, which goes right through downtown — because it’s the only time dry enough to work on it. The word “crumbling” has come up. A portion of one of our floating bridges did collapse into the lake several years ago.

    It makes one pause!

    In other news, can we please outlaw the use of the word “ilk” on both sides? Damn, I get sick of republicans and democrats and their ilk talking about other people and their ilk.

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  11. brian stouder said on August 3, 2007 at 2:22 pm

    To be honest, the spelling of ‘accessibility’ only caught my eye at the Carroll article, and I betcha his editor fixed his.

    And on an unrelated matter, I was reading this horrible article a few moments ago

    about a woman who, over the past several years, has been quietly having babies and then murdering them. And then I came to the last paragraph of the story, and went from cringing to laughing out loud – and then feeling guilty!

    Some neighbors said they thought Freeman had recently appeared to be pregnant. And while they may have found her foul-tempered, none of them thought she was capable of unleashing such fury on her own baby. As one stunned neighbor put it, “Everyone’s got skeletons in their closet, but not four in their backyard.”

    To say the least!

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  12. MichaelG said on August 3, 2007 at 2:41 pm

    You mean Carroll is a better writer than some who write about personal stuff like Lileks and his ilk?

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  13. Connie said on August 3, 2007 at 2:47 pm

    My husband walks in a county park frequently and takes great pictures. My favorite is the one of 10 deer swimming across the river, but check out this great turtle picture.

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  14. Julie Robinson said on August 3, 2007 at 3:06 pm

    Thanks, Connie, for passing that one on! First time I’ve laughed all day!

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  15. Futz said on August 3, 2007 at 3:58 pm

    The previous mayor of Columbus, Ohio devoted a great deal of time and energy into attracting a sports team and building an arena for them downtown. It definitely improved the area. With that venue as a destination, restaurants and clubs sprung up all around it, making the area vibrant in the evening when the rest of downtown is moribund at sundown.

    His successor focused on fixing up and cleaning up the neighborhoods, ignored by the two previous mayors and their fixations with professional sports venues. There’s nothing flashy or sexy about fixing sidewalks and enforcing zoning laws, but it’s amazing what it did for the city’s livability factor when you concentrate your attention on where people actually spend most of their time.

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  16. joodyb said on August 3, 2007 at 5:26 pm

    omg i love both turtle pictures. thanks for the lift.

    (day 3 and my peeps are accused of oversaturated bridge coverage. christ i hate this business anymore.)

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  17. Kim said on August 3, 2007 at 7:39 pm

    The thing about America that gets to me is how somebody always needs to pay, to be at fault. We feel better when we can point at a person, not a process.

    As for Mr. Carroll, nicely done. A poet quote came in the e-mail the other day, also nicely done (except for the use of “that” instead of “who”): “Poets are soldiers that liberate words from the steadfast possession of definition.” (Eli Khamarov)

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  18. ashley said on August 4, 2007 at 12:00 am

    Hey Nance, way to include a ton of public works projects, but omit the one that killed over 4000.


    It’s going to take shit like this happening to people who live in Amerika, as opposed to those of us who “should have known better than to live there” for you all to realize that infrastructure matters.

    Oh, and we’re the UNITED states, last time I looked.

    To quote the cover story in Time this week: “The most important thing to remember about the drowning of New Orleans is that it wasn’t a natural disaster. It was a man-made disaster, created by lousy engineering, misplaced priorities and pork-barrel politics.”

    Wow. 5 whole people dead. Call me when 800 more bridges collapse, then I’ll give a flying fuck.

    Our fate is your fate, and we’re fucked.

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  19. Danny said on August 4, 2007 at 10:00 am

    C’mon Ashley. If it wasn’t for your personal tragedy, we would not have gotten that great song, “When the Levee Breaks,” by Memphis Minnie McGhee and then Led Zeppelin could not have covered it. So can you please stop being so selfish and thinking so much about yourself and have a care for the needs of those of us who love great music born of pathos?

    And what is this fate crap? Haven’t you heard Rush’s song, “Freewill.” Don’t get all Calvinistic on us. Update your CD collection. Geesh!

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  20. michaelj said on August 4, 2007 at 3:11 pm

    The goat that ought to be led to the ALTER is the neo-federal regime that’s ignored a litany of annual reports from the American Society of Civil Engineers on infrastructure issues, particullarly urgent bridge reconstruction.

    According to ASCE (all the way back to the 80s), somewhere between 80 and 90% of bridges are in need of repair, the majority drastically so. The most recent estimate for bringing all US bridges up to safety performance standards is$190 billion. I guess I’d be a Noxious-Weed-hating partisan trying to coddle and encourage evil-doers that hate are (sic) freedom if I pointed out that the invasion and occupation have burned $500 billion on the books so far (Lord knows what mare in accounts for slushy days and unavoidable future outlays).

    Anyway, since I’m picturing a surgical grade gonad guillotine, perhaps “alter” is a fortuitous solecism. Remove these dumbasses from the ongoing propagation of the human genome.

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  21. Kim said on August 4, 2007 at 6:17 pm

    Ashley- I absolutely did not mean to be insensitive to NOLa. What I said applies: Americans need someONE to blame (like Brownie). If it’s a process, it’s too complicated. I wish people would wake the hell up.

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  22. basset said on August 4, 2007 at 8:12 pm

    if a bridge fell in Detroit, someone would find a way to make it a racial issue.

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  23. Ricardo said on August 4, 2007 at 10:15 pm

    To me, It makes no difference if a terrorist blows up a bridge or if it falls down because of neglect. The end result is the same, tragedy and having to rebuild.

    So we don’t have money to pay for fixing a bridge that crosses the Mississippi to St. Paul. Well, we are sure going to find the money to build a new one, and it is going to be a whole lot more.

    BTW, I heard that those billions just reported that the pentagon ‘lost’ over in Iraq was exactly the same amount estimated to inspect and fix all of the defective bridges. Hell, the TRILLION with a t would buy a lot of bridges, schools, highways, health care, etc. Instead, it went down that rat hole called Iraq.

    I watched them build the I-75 bridge over the Rouge. I watched them rebuild it over and read about several other rebuilds. Why is it they got the Brooklyn Bridge right the first time? Also, it is beautiful.

    Finally, LA Mary, I heard that several SoCal bridges needed repair, plus we have earthquakes. But then I heard that the bridges here were built better in the first place because of the earthquakes, so they are less likely to fall down with everyday wear. We saw what happened in Northridge a few years ago, but I don’t think of that as normal wear and tear.

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