The day after a very painful election result, it’s tempting to rant, but rather than dropping multiple tons of science from altitude, I think perhaps lowering them very gently and under control is a better idea – anyhow, I’ve been looking for an excuse to use this funny little set of photos – so bear with me a minute.
This is the second bridge one encounters, when heading down Cherry street to the small but now quite lovely Cherry beach, sheltered by Tom Thompson park (on the ever more verdant Leslie St spit) it’s small bay also populated by at least three tiny ‘outer harbour’ marinas. (Makes me wonder – do the serious sailors like to be closer to the city, or is better if the dock is harder to get to, but the open lake, much easier?).
Scale and counterweight (top photo)
We wondered from a distance about the size and materials involved in those counterweights. Turns out that each of them is one massive (and one hopes very intelligently reinforced) concrete ‘pour’. As for their size – Nada standing underneath one gives us a good idea – gigantic!
The exquisite thing about going to all the trouble to craft counterweights that take you so close to equilibrium, of course, is that you’ve done almost all of the important work that the bridge will ever do, up front – taken the herculean task of heaving the heavy mass of the steel bridge and made it easily manageable. Mostly an inertia problem, instead.
There’s a second design elegance I quite like – someone thought to sculpt the bottoms of the counterweights, so they wouldn’t crush any pedestrians. Mind you, I’d still be a little nervous biking underneath one when the bridge was coming up (probably not the vertical clearance they had in mind, back then).
Oh man – the line-man in me gets excited when I look at this – and so does my sentimental inner wobbly – the very height of thirties industrial chic!
Plus, this is one of those spots built by workers to do important industrial work, (back when they still had it). Intrigues like a site-manager’s drawing table, or a surveyor’s choice of optics. Anything but arbitrary.
I suspect that for a generation or two, the skill of conceiving of such construction, let alone refined design within that specialized medium, fell away completely. However, though invisible to many (video-games are the greatest generational split in culture, currently active) this is among many arts now being revived, for splendid historical and dystopian use in virtual worlds! (More on generally overlooked but surprisingly optimistic signs within that subculture, soon).
Back to equilibrium and workers and industrial chic, for just a moment.
The revolutionary thing about Reagan and Thatcher, was that they convinced the middle class to stop thinking of themselves as working class people who had done well (sympathy with poor and workers), and instead start thinking of themselves as rich people who had been ripped off (sympathy for ruling class).
This worked embarrassingly well – and we should all be ashamed of ourselves.
It also meant that the equilibrium of public opinion has shifted far out of balance, which has made it much much more difficult for workers and the poor to get a voice, or to make policy really work for them (not work at-them from on high, as some well-meaners have managed to do, but actually involving them, as if their experience and dignity counted for something).
Ever since that mass political selfishness revolution, the left has been on the defensive, as workers have been stripped of pensions, dignity, safety and a living wage, while at the same time we’ve been philosophically assaulted from both sides by gleeful neoliberalism and neofascism – both of them ardently insisting that these are our only two possible options.
Sadly, we’ve been suckers enough to let them dominate the debate with this twinned-nonsense for decades – even though we all know perfectly well that they are both sugar-coated suicide pills, which can only possibly profit the seller – (and even then, not for long – the customer base shrinks rather rapidily on that model).
Oh, the math of it! Again, I find these visual geometries inherently exciting – and beyond that, they point to something really nifty about technology, that those who don’t swing tools for a living, sometimes fail to adequately appreciate.
Every solution is built on a smaller solution, and added to the next, to confront the problem that hasn’t quite been solved yet – until it is – at which point it becomes one of the solutions incorporated into the next cycle – as language!
The Warren Truss (triangulated open beams, seen here) was used in early aircraft design, for bridges, and even to create strong but much lighter floor supports, to allow taller skyscraper construction. (Plus, they make me think of Malkovich as an arrogant art teacher, in the brilliant “Art School confidential” – and his wonderful boast “Yes, I’m the one who introduced triangles”.)
But there is something we can benefit from thinking about here, also. How strong interconnected and unified are we? How light and nimble? Can we carry the heavy weight, but still get out of the way of a freighter, bearing down on us? And if not – why not? We used to know how to work this bridge.
There are so many justifications for anger, no question – fantastic ones, too – many of them heartbreaking – and so what? Anyone who thinks we’re going to win anything by amplifying our indignation – rather than organizing to win and consolidate practical gains intelligently, is missing a huge (elephant) point.
We are and we aren’t who we were – and we have and we haven’t realized it.
Means of control
First of all – we have to recognize that we haven’t yet updated our appeal, in order to swing the centre around to a position of equilibrium. More middles are still feeling like ripped-off rich people, than fortunate workers. The fact that many are in a worse position than they were twenty years ago, makes this problem much worse still. Emotionally, outrage feels entirely justified. On the other hand, we have every reason to remember and rekindle sympathy for the poor and bottom end workers, when we are among them – or just a paycheque or two away.
But lets also remember something here – we are a far more docile group, than those of a couple generations ago. Completely unrelated to policy decisions, both repressive and permissive (and also our highly paranoid perceptions), actual levels of violent crime in most stable and developed countries around the world, are a fraction of what they were at their peak (best suspect for cause is leaded gasoline having an impact on foetal development, permanently diminishing impulse-control).
So – next time you are tempted to sneer at a younger person, for not being as wild and daring with their youth as you were – remember – not only are they carrying more student debt, paying more for rent, and earning a heck of a lot less then you were in that phase of your life – they also aren’t as structurally brain-damaged! ;o)
But seriously, though – if anger was ever going to work, it would have worked back when the youth of North America were not only numerically overwhelming and furious, but also far more violent (on a statistically distributed basis).
What can actually move the weight of the bridge again? Shifting the equilibrium – and this is where individuals can still make all the difference in the world. Rather than raging and despairing, we need to be talking with the unconvinced, the skeptical, the angry, and bringing them in toward a more humane centre.
“What is a good man, but a bad man’s teacher? What is a bad man, but a good man’s job?”
(From Stephen Mitchell’s controversial but rather lovely translation of the book of the Tao)
Also, before I move on – the 1st gen gamer in me can’t help screaming “Zork!” Just from looking at that lovely old control panel. Get all the switches right – and the whole dam behind you, drains completely! The first truly epic moment in gaming history! Text-based, and so (via McLuhan) perfect visual resolution (because imagined).
Mister Strauss Trunnion Bascule himself (or so I shall always presume)
I am even going to go so far as to consider that an excellent likeness, and proceed on that basis (no disrespect to the engineers, only mean to say that I’m switching to art-head, now).
So – what(TF) do we do, when it feels like we’re fighting an endless losing battle, and the established parties and powers aren’t listening to us, or even proposing to steer in a way we consider fully sensible?
What can we do? I mean that literally – what kind of art can each of us do – what kind of volunteer work, to reach someone who needs our attention and help? What kind of sensitive outreach, to touch a bitter heart, and, by warming it, denature it’s poison?
There are as many ways to approach the question as there are of us – and more – we each have many alternates available – which means no try-and-fail ever locks us into failure – it’s just a lesson, so we can do better next go-round. So TRY!
The sun is still rising, we still know what we know – and we still care.
Which means we can still pour our hearts out – and just maybe, spread a little more caring and understanding out there in the world, with our creative voices.
Help to bring the babbling Babylon of angry voices back from their corners, so we can again know ourselves as the incredibly talented team that built this too-proud ziggurat in the first place! The only ones qualified to remodel it, sensibly – or indeed, if need calls, to tear it down completely for the good (survival) of all.
I say – lets take it upon ourselves to shift the equilibrium of sympathy and awareness back to the point where a couple of workers with a rusty old motor and a spanner to whack it with, are enough to swing the mass once more.
What do you say?