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"And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." - John 8:32
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Author:  Larry Simoneaux
Bio: Larry Simoneaux
Date:  August 12, 2007
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Topic category:  Other/General

Water falls. Bridges shouldn't.

Over the course of 50+ years, Iíve learned that thereís something other than death and taxes that we all can be sure of. This would be the fact that if something made by man is not taken care of, itís going to fail.

We just donít know when.

We recently had a bridge collapse in Minnesota and, by the time this column is printed, I expect that the finger pointing over this incident will be well underway.

Ignore it and wait for the engineering reports. Thatís where the real answers will be.

With those reports, weíll learn Ė as nearly as possible - what happened and why and, then, we can try to keep something similar from happening again. Once thatís done, we can then decide who Ė and, if weíre honest, itíll be a very collective "who" Ė was at fault.

What this bridge collapse should also do, however, is remind us that civilization is a complex proposition.

Hereís an example:

Need a gallon of milk? Trot down to the local supermarket and get one.

Pretty simple equation until you stop to think about that gallon of milk.

Weíre not all that self-sufficient anymore and I doubt that many of us keep a cow in the back yard.

For starters, our homeownersí associations would likely implode. Then, the county would get apoplectic about code violations and the local humane societies would squawk about what "Bossy" was enduring just to ensure that we had milk when we needed it.

So, no cows at home. However, in order for us to get that milk, some dairy farmer has to produce it for the rest of us. Thus, weíre talking plenty of cows - too many for any one person or family to milk by themselves.

To milk those cows efficiently, that farmer needs milking machines. Dairy farmers donít have time to build milking machines, therefore another company would have to make and, then, ship them to the farmer.

For that to happen, though, the milking machine manufacturer would need parts made from various metals and plastics that had been shipped to his factory. These would come from other companies that would have to have the raw materials necessary to produce those metals and plastics shipped to them.

Put all of this together (believe me, Iím skipping a lot of steps here) and our dairy farmer can milk his cows. However, those umpteen thousand gallons of milk would sour unless that farmer had a way to store, refrigerate, and ship that milk Ė generally by truck - to a place where it could be packaged and, again, shipped to some supermarket.

I think you can see where this is going.

To keep all of this "stuff" moving, we built a system of highways and bridges. And, with that system of highways and bridges, a truck driver can drive almost anywhere to pick up and, then, deliver that gallon of milk. Which is what I hold in my hand when my friend Gail checks me out at the local Albertsonís.

Damage this system, though, and things can get bad pretty quickly. If you doubt this, ask anyone whoís been cut off from "civilization" - think major storms and closed roads - for even a few days.

The bridge that collapsed in Minnesota was built in the late 1960ís. Our Interstate Highway system was begun even earlier than that. This means that theyíre getting old.

When any system ages, it needs to be inspected, repaired, and replaced when needed - not when convenient - and, certainly, long before anything collapses. Doing this is neither glamorous nor inexpensive. It is, however, necessary.

I raise as much hell as anyone when my taxes go up. Thatís mostly because Iíve learned from experience that a lot of my money will be poured down holes that donít need to be filled or into pockets that are already stuffed. I donít, however, get upset over money well spent to repair or replace roads and bridges.

I donít think we need any more reminders that this needs to be done Ė efficiently (at some point, yet another study becomes something more than ridiculous), honestly (I confess to being a dreamer), and in a timely manner. If it isnít, I think we can expect more of what we saw in Minnesota.

And, if we let that continue to happen, cows in back yards might not be all that far out of the question.

Larry Simoneaux

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Biography - Larry Simoneaux

Larry Simoneaux is a regular columnist for The Everett Herald in Washington state. He is a retired ship driver for the US Navy and NOAA.

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Copyright © 2007 by Larry Simoneaux
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