Friday, August 03, 2007

I35 and the Mandate of Heaven

First off, it must be terrifying to be driving on a high bridge and have it collapse while you’re mid span. I’m deeply sorry for the victims and their families and friends.

I had a friend, Stephanie, who died a few years ago, but who had a lifelong fear of driving across bridges. Since our group of friends lived in three different parts of the Bay Area, her phobia frustrated all of us. After all, it usually meant that we had to drive to wherever Stephanie was and she had a more or less ready excuse for not going to any events that were on our side of the bridge if she didn’t want to. Anyway after that bridge in Minneapolis fell into the Mississippi, I’m reminded that Stephanie’s phobia wasn’t so irrational after all.

In the meantime in sort of replay of Katrina, there’s already a media war going on between Republicans and Democrats about whose fault it was. They haven’t finished counting the bodies of course, but the President managed to mix paying respects to the victims this morning with castigating Congress for not passing his version of the Federal Budget.

“I’m so sorry for your loss….btw since I’ve got your attention let me remind you to vote Republican this fall.”

It wasn’t the most presidential way to handle the matter, but since the 2008 Republican convention is in Minnesota, I’m sure they’ll make things right before next summer. The Democrats are pointing out that the Republican Governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty, vetoed a gas tax that would have financed bridge reconstruction roughly a year ago (Pawlenty did sign a 1.1 billion dollar appropriations bill that included highway and bridge repairs though- these things are always a little more complex than the talking points ever hint at) and that President Bush shortchanged a highway funding bill two years ago as well. Fwiw, there was a 2005 American Society of Civil Engineers report that gave America’s infrastructure a D grade.

The Chinese believed in something called the “Mandate of Heaven”. In very rough terms, they saw natural events like storms, earthquakes, and comets as nature’s commentary on whether or not the right folk were in charge. In February 2003 while the Administration was preparing for the invasion of Iraq, the Challenger Space Shuttle fell out of the sky. With my ancient Chinese hat on, I saw the Challenger as heaven’s message that American technology wasn’t quite as fearsome or advanced as we thought. It was an Icarus moment, yet the administration pressed on.

Four years later, a bridge fell into the Mississippi during rush hour. It just happens that the Mississippi serves as America’s river, the waterway that symbolically divides east from west in our culture. New Orleans and Minneapolis are the two cities that mark the southern and northern ends of the river. For close to six years, my ears have rung with reverbrating reminders of threats from beyond our borders. If Michael Chertoff can have gut feelings, I can have them too. Could there be any clearer message that while we are obsessed with threats from the outside, our society is crumbling from the inside?

All those years my friend Stephanie was afraid to drive over bridges, I speculated that her phobia was metaphorical. Though she was warm, thoughtful, and always as interested in you as she seemed interested in talking about herself, she became more and more socially isolated over time. When she died, it took three days before the authorities could figure out who to notify. I suppose it’s not that strange that the I35 collapse causes me to think about Stephanie. I just never thought I’d be identifying with her phobias quite this strongly. In the meantime, I suspect that nature isn’t just talking to Al Gore. I think the I35 disaster is trying to tell us something more than “fix your bridges”.



At 8/04/2007 01:05:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is quite a wise and meanful essay, worth giving some thought too. It's based on common sense, and I think more Americans know the truths written here, but choose to ignore them our of fear they may have to give something of themselves. To bad we can't actually elect someone with common sense, rather than a money machine produced token of greed and self interest.

At 8/04/2007 09:10:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

Anonymous, thanks for the comment. It does remind me of Katrina which sent a very disturbing message about "poverty", yet seems to have gotten turned into a blame circus. In the meantime, little to nothing was done to correct some of the conditions the flooding exposed.
I'm not sure if it's a lack of common sense or a complete lack of interest in the common good.

At 8/05/2007 12:22:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think we need to go back to a more Thor time where lightning bolts were hurled with more clear and targeted intent than a hurricane which doesn't even ruffle the slithery scales of the people who really deserve it.

Some deitific singe & sizzle at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave might alert the denizens there to the grueling evil of their ways. As Jon Stewart said recently, "Every time Dick Cheney smiles, an angel is waterboarded."

I'm suggesting a version of something that happened to me about 35 years ago in the summer. I was in Dorset Vermont in a cabin ironing a shirt near an open window at dusk. There was a rumbling thunderstorm in the area and a big ball of lightning flew in the window, traveled up my arm and over my shoulder, and apparently out the window again!

It was about the fiery size of a bowling ball, spinning. I wasn't burned or even singed but I was darn astonished and shaking like a leaf. (The root of 'astonish' is 'to strike with thunder,' tho in this case it was lightning. It didn't hurt -- there was a weird shimmering infernal internal frisson and my mouth tasted metallic.) I was stunned & shocked not in the electrical sense somehow, but by having this rather huge ball of fire fly in the window.

Anyhow, I think it would be good for Thor to peg a few high inside fast lightning balls in The Executive direction someday soon & give 'em a serious scare. A Mandate of Valhalla.

At 8/05/2007 04:26:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

Mr. PB,
great story about the ball lightning.So what do you think it meant, if anything?

I'm not sure what sort of message it would take for the people who can stop this to actually do so. I do get the impression that they're not real intent on acknowledging any of the messages they have gotten from the heavens.

At 8/06/2007 04:50:00 PM, Blogger None said...

PB, A bolt to lighten(ing) things up? I like the way you think. Just where is Thor when you need him.

At 8/06/2007 05:15:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

Whether or not Thor is around, it's clear that Loki never completely goes away.

At 8/07/2007 01:42:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

cl, pl .. It occurs to me reading our musings that perhaps the Old Gods are just waiting to be asked to do a task? On the off chance, I'm going to implore Thor to rustle up a little lightning to singe SickerDick & George of the Polyps.

(Apparently Prometheus said, "I regret that I have but one liver to give for manunkind" and the other gods obliged him with, well, infinite livers. Still, maybe he could team up with fellow firebrand Thor [who really was The Hammer, not like some slick pathetic little lickspittle Texas conman]and Bring On some serious fiery fire.)

Did you hear, by the way, that In Waterboarding We Trust is going to be on the next printing of dollar bills in September?

At 8/07/2007 08:53:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

funny stuff!

At 8/07/2007 04:17:00 PM, Blogger Dale said...

When the bridge collapsed, I thought of my brother's wife who shares the same phobia your friend Stephanie had. It's a terrible way to gain credibility for a fear I must say.

There are so many ancient Chinese secrets to learn from you Chancelucky but I must go do the laundry.

Bravo on another great thoughtful piece.

At 8/07/2007 04:51:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

Thanks Dale,
Hope the laundry goes well, even if it isn't an Ancient Chinese laundry.

Yeah, it's pretty weird....I remember telling her how these things never really happened on bridges....etc. So many things we do in life where we may be better off just not thinking about it too much.


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