Thursday, December 13, 2007

Glass Stoppered Bottles and Rare Specimens.

For those of you interested in the esoteric and serendipitous, I highly recommend B Van Honkytonk's newest blog.

And Elsewhere in the Underworld...

I was chatting last Sunday with a veteran City-dweller and he was regaling us with stories of the local m*f**s. He mentioned *r*sh P*l*c* M*f** and the Ch*n*s* F*r* D*p*rtm*nt M*f**-- bureaucratic brotherhoods reaching back to the very dawn of the polis, so deeply entrenched in the fabric of the city as to be impossible to separate from the legitimate workings.

I confess, I love conspiracy theories. Who really wants to believe that our fair country works just like our naive 11th Grade Social Studies teacher told us? Do you really think our leaders stare at those brightly colored flow charts about "How a Bill Becomes a Law" and take careful notes?

But No One Can Deny The Work of Civil Government Goes On

Its easy to take the position that m*f**s are bad. At first I was horrified. The status quo seemed so sinister. Were these the organizations behind the local slave trafficking and the nefarious parking stings? (A parking sting goes like this-- in the middle of the day, city crews will put up "no parking, construction zone" signs for that day, and then the Meter Maids will scoot around and ticket every single vehicle, and shortly after that, the city tow department will tow and impound them. When the innocent civilians return, their cars will be gone, and to get them back, a number of fees will have to be paid to the proper city officials. Wink wink, nod nod).

I contemplated this sorry state of affairs on my way to work. I imagined local bosses getting together in seedy Italian restaurants and discussing which recalcitrant neighborhood would have a power outage that day. I wondered if there was a Water Dept M*f**, or an Education Dept M*f**. Who would have to be paid off to get a bus pass or a building permit? What about the housing projects-- were people held hostage under the guise of "government housing"? While these dark thoughts bumped in my head, Geary Street was a real-life Busy Town. Sewer crews were disappearing into manholes. Paving crews were busily filling in potholes. All of the stop lights were working. Cars queued up at the limit lines so an old blind man could cross the street. PG&E crews repaired power lines. Buses lumbered up and down the street. Something seemed to be working.

Thank-You, Tamany Hall

If my friend was right and we blamed the bad things in the city on the local m*f**s, what about the things that worked? Without fail, I have turned on the tap and drinkable water has poured forth. I flip the light switch, and voila! I can call security at work an a competent bouncer will arrive within minutes (most of the time). Should we thank the M*f** when things go right? When the trains arrive on time? When the ambulance comes? When the drains get cleared? When the streets are passable?

The Lines Between "Good" and "Effective" get blurred

An organization can be morally bankrupt but still get the job done (and other jobs, too). I had unconsciously related effectiveness with goodness. This is probably a classic American/industrial era assumption on my part. History shows that two don't go together very often at all, I don't know why I am surprised.

I still feel a little queesy when I wonder about my own culpability. On the other hand, I have plenty of good company.


Sacha said...

"An organization can be morally bankrupt but still get the job done" - I congratulate you for recognizing this. It's conventional wisdom on the East Coast, but most Californians I know have struggled to get their heads around it.

Camille said...

I wonder why that is... the relative newness of the state, or sunshiny nature of place beguiles the populace.

Franny said...

I think there might be a library one. The more I find out about the library, the more I believe this is true. Plus, we sometimes meet in seedy Italian restaurants to discuss which books are going to get weeded out.

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