Environment: All the World Gasped

A tragic gas leak offers a parable of industrial life

In Specimen Days Walt Whitman created a terrible picture of the proximity of human progress and human frailty by describing the U.S. Patent Office when it was used as a hospital during the Civil War. There the dead and dying soldiers lay on cots surrounded by the latest inventions of the day, high shelves packed with gleaming instruments devised to ensure the world's safety and advancement. India provided some specimen days last week. On Monday the death toll was 410. On Friday, more than 2,500. By the weekend, numbers had no meaning...

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