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Collapse highlights infrastructure needs

Tuesday, August 14, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:40 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Although most of my family lives in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, and at least a couple of them, including my son, used the ill-fated, collapsed bridge across the Mississippi River on a daily basis, none of them were involved in the tragic incident. My sympathy goes out to the other families who were affected.

Just when you think you have heard all the problems we should be dealing with in America, up pops another one. Before the bridge collapse, I was already ranting over the fact that the people in charge don’t seem to ever look ahead before problems happen. The Minneapolis tragedy points again to the need for a mass transit system. Just fixing bridges, highways and roads is not enough to make either interstate or intrastate travel more secure or efficient. How many more people, cars and trucks can our infrastructure support?

It is preposterous to believe that each generation would have to start from scratch for them to understand that hospitals, schools and highways are constructed to accommodate a certain number of people and have to be expanded in order to meet greater needs. The interstate highway system was conceived and built when it became obvious that our highways were not sufficient. Are people who are capable of long-range planning still around? Or has that process been outsourced to some country that only recently became aware of the invention of the wheel?

I think we’re beginning to catch a glimmer of how quickly a declining literacy rate can affect the society. Actually, I’m aghast at how few really good ideas for how to make life better are around. The fact that the war in Iraq could go on for four years without someone in authority coming up with a political solution is telling. Fortunately, for most of us, when we are fumbling around looking for answers, we remember an old teacher or someone lurking in our past who can help us out. I guess all the people with intellectual knowledge of the Gulf area are either brain-dead or were never members of Yale’s Skull and Bones Club.

Of course, if you had a decent idea about pollution control or any other vitally important matter — and didn’t have a billion dollars to promote it — it would die for lack of attention. So, if genius should happen to be born in poverty, it could live and die without ever being discovered.

Most of us get the message when we hear about homeless people in California being thrown out of hospitals into Skid Row that facilities are overcrowded and our infrastructure is crumbling. Yet, we refuse to close our borders, and hundreds of people are illegally spilling into the country every day. And many Americans support these illegal immigrants’ demands that they enjoy every privilege of tax-paying citizens. It takes other immigrants from other parts of the world years to gain entrance into the country. It took African-Americans hundreds of years of sweat to gain first-class citizenship. And when you consider the conditions Americans labored under for years before the labor movement began to demand changes, it’s insulting to hear people talk about jobs Americans won’t do. Let’s talk about the jobs Americans can’t do because they can’t commute to China or India in the morning and get back home to their families at night. That’s where the jobs are.

I think the real problem is that we are so far removed from our history that we don’t really understand how communities and states were built and the processes by which they function. Every generation has been expected to improve on the things that were in place when they were born. Except us, of course, whose only purpose we think is to use, abuse and throw away. And such thinking is probably the greatest harm a society can inflict upon itself when it allows its educational system to falter.

An uneducated populace cannot maintain a democracy. An uneducated populace cannot maintain an infrastructure. If you don’t believe reading, writing and arithmetic matter, visit a Third World country and figure out what’s missing. Or wait a few years and you’ll probably be living in one.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at nolen@iland.net.


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