Okay, so besides being responsible for some of my favourite structures on earth (the Sydney Opera House, the Pompidou Center, the De Young, the Angel of the North), Arup seems to be pretty much the ideal lifestyle company, a privately held trust the operates on behalf of employees. You have to admire any entity that includes “humane organization”, “straight and honourable dealings” and “social usefulness” as three of its six main aims. Indeed the whole text of Ove Arup’s key speech is as remarkable a mission statement as I have ever read.
New Yorker writer David Owen does a beautiful job of tying Arup’s ideals back into Balmond’s observation on engineering:
Terry Hill, Arup’s chairman, told me that he thinks of engineering as more than a profession: “It’s a way of thinking about the world.” Ove’s concept of the “model fraternity” is really an engineering scheme – a way of routing gravity through a professional organization, and through a life.
Good, insightful writing about engineering is a rare and, to me, very precious thing; in which context I should point out this piece by Joshua Davis. It’s so good I almost wish I’d written it; the downside is that it’s about how Jeremy’s former colleague may have murdered his wife.
Back to the blockbuster New Yorker. There were cute pieces on Tina Brown’s Diana book and a forthcoming Edith Piaf film, the usual quite forgettable fiction (I think it was called “Overprivileged, Upper Middle Class White East Coaster Experiences Microscopic Epiphany”, unless that was the poem) and then a long piece by Seymour Hersh, which like all his stories has to be read even though you know it’s going to make you want to tear out your own heart. This one is about how Major General Antonio Taguba, assigned to investigate Abu Ghraib, was scapegoated by the administration. The whole thing is a nightmare, but what left the deepest stab wound was this:
“The whole idea that Rumsfeld projects – ‘We’re here to protect the nation from terrorism’ – is an oxymoron,” Taguba said. “He and his aides have abused their offices and have no idea of the values and high standards that are expected of them.”
It is, of course, difficult for anyone to understand exactly why the neocons have done what they have done (by which I mean ignoring the August 6 2001 PDB, a dereliction of duty that led to 9/11, botching the aftermath of the Afghanistan war, botching everything about the Iraq war, warrantless domestic surveillance, failure of the federal levees in the aftermath of Katrina, failure of FEMA to respond in any useful way to the Katrina disaster, politically motivated exposure of CIA operatives, politically motivated firing of attorneys, endless, nauseating petty corruption and sexual scandals – what have I missed?)
But this observation really made me think. It’s too easy, and not helpful, to dismiss the members of the Bush administration as stupid or evil. What if Taguba is right? What if people like Rumsfeld just do not know that there is a larger world, in which science seeks objective truth, in which bipartisanship and diplomacy are necessary and expected? What if they were just extremely badly brought up? What if what we’re seeing is the incapacity for human compassion – indeed, ignorance that there is such a thing? They hack the structure, all right, but they fail to apprehend the gravity.
Makes me think that maybe raising children right is important work after all.