Last Nail: Why, or why?


Last Nail

Why, oh why?
Wishing homes and roads would last longer

By Dennis McCloskey

When I was in high school I heard a story that was probably fictitious but it helped to shape my thinking about the world we live in. I’d heard that a philosophy professor gave a final exam consisting entirely of one word: “Why?” One student answered: “Why not?” and received an “A.”
After hearing that apocryphal story, I began to ask a lot of existential (and some practical) questions but often the answer was, “Because!” And that usually left me sizzlin’ mad, like spit on a griddle!
My often-unsuccessful quest to get answers to things that were seemingly so obvious you didn’t even have to connect the dots, made me realize that some people can’t see past their nose. Even now, decades after leaving high school, I still like to pose “why, why not” questions. Like, why can’t coffee makers make a recyclable coffee pod? More than 91 per cent of Canadians drink coffee and 40 per cent of homes have a single-serve brewer that uses coffee pods. With an estimated 10 billion coffee pods thrown away globally, you’d think someone could invent a compostable pod. Why not?
My “why nots” know no bounds. If a satellite can read a licence plate from space, why can’t a weather satellite spot the beginnings of a forest fire in regions that are prone to them? Firefighters could be alerted to the origin of a small fire in the forest and snuff it out before communities are destroyed, like Fort McMurray that lost more than 1,600 homes and buildings. Why not?
I could list dozens of whys and why nots that are obvious questions for me but others might suggest that I need my sleeves lengthened so they can be tied behind my back. But I’ll just mention two bugbears of mine that relate to roads and houses:
HEATED ROADS: I live in Ontario that gets, on average, more than 100 centimetres of snow each winter. In the entire country we have nearly one million kilometres of paved roads, and every year we hear of the carnage on icy, snow-covered roadways and highways. And as sure as God made shovels, you’ll hear of people dropping dead of heart attacks after shovelling the white stuff.
So, why aren’t all of our driveways and roads heated by solar-powered, electronically-controlled surfaces? Our roadways are constantly being re-paved and repaired, so it could be done. Another alternative to melting snow and ice would be electric currents under the asphalt to generate radiant heat on a wire or across a mat, much like an indoor floor-heating system. Goodbye ice. Goodbye snow.
Yes, the cost would be astronomical but if the Canadian government can consider spending $44 billion on the proposed F-35 jet fighter project, and an estimated $40 billion on building 15 new naval vessels, why not divert some of that money to heat the highways and bi-ways of this northern country? The government has deep pockets. The budgetary expenditures for the 2015/16 fiscal year amount to $241.6 billion. I may be bumpin’ my gums on this, but I believe in the old business adage, “The cost of getting what you want is often costly.” Or, as billionaire Warren Buffet likes to say, “Price is what you pay; value is what you get.” Ice-free winter roads are a possibility. Trouble is, old-timers and “yesterday thinkers” would say, “Yes, it could be done but it’d kinda be like puttin’ socks on a rooster.”

BETTER HOMES: Why don’t we build houses that last 1,000 years instead of 100? When I hear that Britain’s oldest home is 11,500 years old, I wonder about today’s construction techniques. Granted, the ancient circular structure of hewn and split timbers was unearthed by archaeologists a few years ago near Scarborough, North Yorkshire, but it made me wonder why today’s buildings aren’t sturdier and longer-lasting.
There are churches in Europe that are a 1,000 years old. We often see pictures on TV of a swath of homes levelled by a tornado or hurricane. Why aren’t more homes built with concrete or stone that can withstand anything Mother Nature can throw at us? Earthquakes don’t kill people, buildings do. Come on builders, designers and architects, you can build sturdier homes that are built to last and would survive even fire. And make them affordable. Why not?
While I’m on the bandwagon about building better homes, why are the doorways and stairways so narrow in some homes? I recently helped a relative move into a townhouse and it was no picnic trying to squeeze and wedge a chesterfield, large cabinet and treadmill through a 32-inch doorway. That main doorway was narrower than hen’s eyes! There is a company in New York that takes apart your furniture to get it through doors or windows. There really should be no need for such a service.
I may be spitting in the wind with some of my fanciful “why, why not” questions, but there are some people, like singer Hilary Duff, who is on the same wave-length when she sings:
Why not
Take a star from the sky
Why not
Spread your wings and fly
It might take a little
And it might take a lot
But…why not
Why not?

By Dennis McCloskey