Monday, 27 August 2007

Taxes Are What We Pay for Civilized Society: The View from Montreal

Things are back to normal, almost, in downtown Montreal this morning, and Mayor Gérald Tremblay is demanding that the owners of spaces in the underground city fully inspect their facilities. After a weekend of frantic work--a thousand steel supports were installed--a 1000 ton concrete slab underneath de Maisonneuve boulevard has been reinforced over the basement of The Bay department store and the passage from it to the McGill Metro station. On Friday afternoon workers at the store (which owns the passage and is supposed to maintain it) noticed cracks in the roof of the part of the store beneath the street, opened in the mid-1960s when the Metro was built. The whole area was immediately shut down—stores, office buldings, streets and the busiest line of the subway system.

Tremblay said in one of the press conferences he gave over the weekend that who is responsible for problem would be determined after the repair work was done, as would who will pay for it. The important thing was fix the problem.

This comes, of course, just a few weeks after a bridge went down in Minnesota and a fact finding investigation here on the collapse of an highway overpass completed its hearings. Once again the importance of having competent government which looks out for the public interest and security is underlined. The private sector can not be counted on, and cutting back on government only makes things worse.

And unfortunately we should not be surprised when things begin to fall apart. Constant work must be put into repair and replacement if our constructions—and our civilization—are to continue. My Saturday Photo was a young city worker, picking up trash, which at first seems only a small part of the problem. But remember that past societies destroyed themselves through toxic decline (disease bred in sewage for example) or actual submergence (in the Babylon of Nebuchdnezzar II streets were rebuilt at least twice to keep them up to the level of the constantly growing mounds of trash outside the doors of the houses.)

Without continual work, any empire, any city, any civilization will be weathered out of existence. As Shelley wrote as the grand works of the Pharohs were just being excavated in Egypt :

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley, written in 1818

And as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. said a couple of decades later:

Taxes are what we pay for civilized society.

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