Sunday, January 17, 2010

Culture has Consequences

David Brooks makes a lot of sense in his January 14th column in the New York Times.  The Times titled it "The Underlying Tragedy".  The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette called it "Haiti was destroyed by People, not Nature".  Me, I'd call it "Culture Has Consequences".

Without a doubt, the situation in Haiti is enormously tragic. And I agree that the populace had no immediate means to fix things, before or after. But I agree with the cold logic of his argument. A culture or society that allows ineffective leadership to persist over time will be poorly prepared to cope with an unusual event.

I am glad that Pittsburgh is not in a seismically active area. Our own abode is 140 years old, and the load-bearing walls are two layers of brick set with old, old, old mortar. If we got a magnitude 7 shake here, it would definitely come down.

Building codes are a good thing, and they come from governmental or pseudo-governmental organizations. Rebar: it's not just a good idea: it's the law. Even the Haitian Government yielded to geophysical reality.