Out of the ruins
As the dust settles and we begin to take
stock, one thing is clear: the United States in general and
the City and County of San Francisco in particular have some
major repair work to do.
The economy, which was stumbling before
September 11, has fallen flat on its face, leaving thousands
of people newly unemployed. This bellyflop presents problems
of its own, but it also makes our other tasks much, much
What other tasks? Everywhere you turn, a
new one pops out at you. On the national level, not only is
the airline industry floundering; the security system that
we depend on turns out to be haphazard — to put it mildly.
The American Airlines plane crash last week also raised
questions about delayed maintenance and aging equipment. And
a major alternative means of transportation — Amtrak —
has announced that it may not have long to live.
Here at home, we have begun to doubt the
security of the bridges that connect us to the rest of the
Bay Area. Our already ailing public health system seems
hardly fit to tackle a full-blown epidemic and, Laura
Wellman points out in the Chronicle, our lack of an air
ambulance landing site near SF General makes it difficult
for us to extend our expert emergency care to the
The city’s schools are in shambles. The
recent election was fraught with suspicion. Understaffed,
underfunded police departments allow homicides to go
unsolved, as Carol Dimmick ably details in Getting Away with
Murder in the City of St. Francis. The list goes on.
We’re talking about infrastructure.
While the happy grasshoppers of the 1990s played, the
networks that hold our society together frayed. And now,
when they urgently need infusions of cash, the coffers haven’t
got much to contribute.
Perhaps more distressing that the lack of
funds, however, is the lack of concern that the public has
expressed over the state of its health. Somebody — the
government? the media? — hasn’t been doing a very good
job of keeping people informed. And other somebodies have
been willing to take advantage of the lack of oversight.
What’s the answer? I don’t know.
Probably a lot of small steps to reverse a lot of other,
misdirected ones. But I do know that we’ve got to learn
— maybe relearn — to ask probing questions, to realize
that official actions affect private lives, and above all
that silence doesn’t mean everything is A-OK.