Save the incredible sinking, leaning Washington Monument
(Thankfully, The Times' story Thursday didn't say which way it's leaning, so we won't have to wade through a comment board full of wisecracks and loony conspiracy theories.)
Fortunately, the leaning is nothing like that tower in Pisa. The sinking? That's another matter:
The obelisk -- which is 555 feet, 5 inches tall -- has subsided only two inches since it was finished in 1884, according to new data from the National Geodetic Survey.
But naturally (if you're of a certain political persuasion, that is), things have gotten worse since President Obama arrived:
Preliminary data collected Wednesday showed that the monument has sunk two millimeters since the last survey was done in 2009.
And you thought the "birther" thing was nasty. Just wait until Fox News gets hold of this story. Not to mention the fact that Obama has apparently switched the country to the metric system behind our backs. Must be part of his evil plot to remake the U.S. into one of those European countries.
I can hear Newt Gingrich now: "Not only do we have $4 a gallon gasoline, but this president has no plan for saving the Washington Monument. Elect me and not only will I fix it, I'll build a monument to myself right next to it! And it won't cost taxpayers a thing. Sheldon Adelson will pay for the whole thing!"
Of course, you may think that Washington is a swamp. But you may not know that that's literally true:
Dave Doyle, the government's chief geodetic surveyor, is trying to determine how much of the sinking is a natural result of building an 81,120-ton stone pillar on reclaimed land, and how much was caused by last summer’s quake.
"People see the Washington Monument sitting on a nice little hill. They think that was always there, and it wasn't; much of it was swampy," he said.
If you know your history, you know that many people weren't keen on building the nation's capital on this land. Now we know why:
In fact, the entire western end of the National Mall is built on former marshland, meaning the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials are sinking at about the same rate as the monument, according to Doyle’s measurements.
If you appreciate irony, though, there's this:
The Capitol and the White House are on firmer ground, and Doyle said there is no evidence they are sinking.
Doyle's a professional, so I'm sure there's no political intent behind his observations about "sinking" and "firmer ground." My theory, though, is that it isn't so much the firmer ground but the fact that "hot air rises" is holding up the Capitol and the White House.
Anyway, I for one am pleased to see that at least someone in Washington knows what they're doing.
Doyle's going to keep measuring, and hopefully we're not going to see a real-life version of those History Channel "Life After People" episodes.
George Washington probably would be mad enough at the mess we've made of his country. Let's not ruin his monument too.
-- Paul Whitefield
Photo: David Doyle, chief geodetic surveyor with the National Geodetic Survey, at the base of the Washington Monument. Credit: Charles Dharapak / Associated Press