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Moats: On Watching Backhoes

05/18/10 5:55PM By David Moats
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(HOST) To most of us highway construction work is just an inconvenient necessity, but to commentator David Moats it's an opportunity to observe and reflect.     

(MOATS) Every day as I drive to work I pass through a construction zone where Route 7 is being widened and rebuilt.

As I wait for the flag person to turn her sign from Stop to Slow, I get a look at the choreography of big machinery and engineering as workers chip away at a small hill of marble and haul the stone away.

It's interesting to watch in the way it must have been interesting for our grandparents to watch the building of America - back in the first half of the 20th century.

My grandparents were born in the 19th century. They watched the construction of highways, skyscrapers, airports, whole cities.

Later we understood the cost of all that building. I remember my grandfather sitting back in his later years, reflecting with some regret, "You know, it's all the fault of the automobile." So now we scrutinize more closely what we intend to build, trying to limit the damage.

But still, building something new is exciting, even a half-mile stretch of roadway - the thinking, the energy, the enterprise.

When President Obama announced he would continue the exploration of space, I was glad, partly because if we were to quit we would forget how. Space exploration would become like the construction of medieval cathedrals - something great that we no longer really know how to do.

I think Obama should have a slogan: "Let's build America." The word is "build" - not "rebuild" - because we're not trying to return to
something.

We wouldn't be building 20th century America - we've done that. We need to build the new technology, the new infrastructure, that will liberate us from the technologies that are bankrupting us and ruining our world.

I flew over West Virginia recently, and when I looked down I saw a strange sight: a mountain whose peak had been sliced off, exposing a blackened plateau that was being mined like an open pit - only it wasn't a pit, it was a mountain. I'd heard of mountaintop removal. This was it.

Then there's the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, where a vast expanse of ocean is being poisoned.

And we're doing these things to extract energy sources that are cooking our atmosphere.

It's time to build America, not destroy it.

It can be exciting, and it's possible. The railroads, telecommunications, clean energy and smart technology - we know how to do it, or if we don't know, we can learn.

So this summer I'll be in that line of cars on Route 7.

Highways aren't exactly new technology, but unless we're willing to let our world fall down around us, like the Champlain Bridge, we have to keep building.

And those backhoes are fun to watch.
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