Nipigon Bridge Failure —Social Vs Real Engineering—

“Murphy’s Law” kicked in up in Canada, as a brand new bridge on the Trans-Canada Highway buckled. Nipigon 1 1297792332567_ORIGINAL

This obviously is due to a mistake in the engineering of the bridge. There is discussion about whether the buckling was caused by a storm’s high winds, or very cold temperatures causing cables to contract more than expected, or both, but it really doesn’t matter. Problems such as these are suppose to be discussed and solved before construction even begins. It is a bit late to be heading back to the old drawing board.Peter Arno drawing board cartoon, New Yorker 1941-8x6

It is at this point that the wonders of tracing down the reasons for the SNAFU start to appear. This is also known as “The Blame Game,” and involves the absurdity of politicians, and a sort of engineering that has very little to do with real engineering: Social Engineering. Call it “spin” if you will, but it involves attempting to warp reality in such a manner as to benefit some, and to basically crucify others.  It departs from firm foundations and launches into a sort of false reality which often creates the very engineering mistakes it later is in such a hurry to cover-up, or excuse, or blame on others, or in some way, shape or form deny responsibility for.

Already I’ve seen the “Blame Game” regarding the Nipigon Bridge blame Spain. I didn’t bother to dig into the details, but I gathered some thought the mystery of Canadian politics had involved employing a Spanish construction company, which had less-than-usual experience with arctic cold and what such cold can do to construction materials, in the building of the Nipigon Bridge. Others blamed China, because some of the materials had been obtained more cheaply abroad. It all struck me as somehow splendid. One can only marvel at the ability of some people to blame disaster, occurring on their own doorstep, on nations and peoples thousands of miles away.

This is not to say politics isn’t to blame, for often it is. Rather than the best engineer, some brother-in-law of a person who donated to the party-in-power’s election gets the job, though he happens to be a complete doophus. The result is then a doophus’s debacle, such as the buckling of a brand new bridge.

The buckling of the Nipigon Bridge was due to real problems with real engineering, and created a whole new set of real problems for Canada, as Canada’s major cross-country highway was cut. On one hand real engineers set to work coming up with real answers, to open at least one lane of the bridge. Nipigon 2 nipigonbridge02jpg.jpg.size.xxlarge.letterbox

However these real solutions to real problems swiftly began to overlap the world of unreality created by social engineering. For example, the real engineers stated the most heavy loads could not cross the bridge, and this includes the super-heavy engines for wind-turbines, (which happen to be an unreal solution to the unreal problem of Global Warming). Those in charge of the real problem of wind turbine logistics then began to seek alternate routes down through the United States, but this of course involved crossing a border, which is an imaginary line involving passports, paperwork, and all sorts of complications involving paying politicians what are basically bribes, but is excused by calling them “fees”, or perhaps “tariffs”, or some other fancy-pants word.

At some point we are forced to stop and scratch our heads, and wonder why on earth we put up with Social Engineering.  All Social Engineering seems to do is to get in the way of doing jobs correctly in the first place, and then gets in the way of fixing the mistakes that Murphy’s Law makes all too common, even when we strive to do things correctly in the first place. Why don’t we strive to stick to what is real? Real Engineering seems to trump Social Engineering every day in every way.

I have thought long and hard about this subject, likely because as a schoolboy I was guilty of being a bald-faced liar, when it came to telling the teachers the truth regarding the whereabouts of my homework. The reality was too stark for me, and I sought to avoid facing reality. Had I been a true engineer I would have faced the facts, and the facts were I hadn’t done my homework and must bear the punishment. However I didn’t like those facts. I wanted to change the facts. And therefore I made up some of the most amazing stories teachers have ever heard. So incredible were my tales that teachers gaped, their jaws hanging in total astonishment, and they were unable to act. I paralyzed them with my bull, and then the bell rang, and I made a beeline out the door thinking I had escaped punishment.

Of course I didn’t escape punishment. You can’t escape reality, as real engineers know. A day comes when the bridge you built simply falls down, like the gorgeous structure over Tacoma Narrows known as “Galloping Gertie”.

In my case the punishment wasn’t quite so dire. It was basically a test I sat down to take, and then flunked because I’d never done any homework. This led to further punishment, because if you get poor grades then doors that are open to others are closed to you. The only doors open to me were the doors that open if you call tell a tale so amazing it makes teachers gape.

Obviously I should have gone into politics. I was such an excellent liar I likely could have gone far. The problem was that the real reason my bull could be spell-binding, and enchant teachers to a point where they forgot to punish, was because, as strange as it sounds, my fabrications were founded on Truth.

The Truth was that I hadn’t done my homework because I’d found something better, and finer, and higher than homework. It is something most boys know about but many forget as they grow up, and it isn’t politics. It is something Mark Twain attempted to describe when he wrote “Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn”, and is every bit as much a Truth as the Truths incorporated by the best engineers. It is in some ways crucial to life, and is spiritual, and therefore is about as far from modern politics as one can get.

(I hope that explains why I was repelled from politics, despite apparently being an excellent liar. It is the best I can do.)

Now, when I start to speak of Higher Truths, I warn you I am starting to weave my enchantment, and you are in danger of becoming as spell-bound as my teachers once were. Keep in mind that Truth is Truth, and there is no way around it. Be firm, even grim. Remember that if a bridge isn’t built correctly it will buckle and sway, and that many more people than the stockholders in the shamed construction company will have to pay a price, to fix the mess made by incorrectness.

The point I wish to make is that there is a reason behind the bull of Social Engineering. Unfortunately it hidden from, and even called incorrect by, the politically-correct. The problem with political-correctness is that it seeks to profit from spirituality, which is basically ludicrous, and is in a sense like trying to make money off giving to the poor.

Suppose your brother-in-law is a complete doophus. The spiritual instinct is not to damn him, but rather to uplift him. The problem with the politically correct is that they assume uplifting the fellow means you should practice blatant nepotism, and give him the job of engineering a bridge that he will likely turn into a doophus’s debacle, meanwhile ignoring a far more qualified engineer who happens to be a total stranger, and unlikely to ever offer you any personal kick-back if you give him the job. And the problem with this political correctness is becoming increasing apparent, as brand new bridges fail, or major waterways silt up causing floods in England, or the US Navy’s latest high-speed troop transport is exposed as having a bow that crumples in gales.

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-01-14/navy-s-fast-sealift-ships-can-t-stand-buffeting-from-high-seas

However we should not blame the instinct to upraise doophuses for these increasingly common examples of doophus’s debacles. Rather we should blame the selfishness attached to politically-correct nepotism and cronyism.

The distinction between the Social Engineering that seeks to uplift a doophus even at our own expense, and the Political Correctness that seeks to profit off a doophus, should be blatantly obvious, but tends to be hidden in a haze of economic uncertainty, wherein fewer and fewer are self-reliant farmers, and more and more are holders of government jobs or government pensions or government welfare, and are completely reliant on so-called benefactors who are in fact beneficiaries of reliance. In this haze it is only when a bridge buckles that we are abruptly faced with the facts.

Because it is important to highlight the distinction between uplift and personal profit, I searched about through the history of mankind for examples I could use, and quite by accident chanced upon an example involving the Father of my Country, George Washington. Of course, as soon as his name is evoked one is looked upon as being a bit maudlin, but this example was too perfect to ignore.

The year 1776 had pretty much seen Washington fall from the heights of popularity to the pits of what was close to ignominy. He’d moved from driving the British from an untenable position in Boston to attempting to defend an untenable position in New York, being driven from New York, and being driven in retreat across New Jersey. What was left of his army was half starved and in rags. 2000 troops had walked away simply because their enlistment was up. He was very nearly completely defeated. It was the black night that Tomas Paine described by stating, “These are the times that try men’s souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman“.

It is all well and good to talk in that grand manner, but without any evidence besides retreats and defeats, the politically-correct “sunshine patriot” tends to shun the loser, even if he once was a winner. Even one of Washington’s most steadfast and loyal friends, Joseph Reed, was starting to feel Washington might be too “indecisive”.  Washington relied so heavily on Reed that he once pleaded for Reed to return to service because Washington needed someone who could do more than follow him; Washington needed someone could think for him, but now Reed apparently didn’t think much of him,  and said as much in a letter to Washington’s second in command, Charles Lee.General_Charles_Lee

Meanwhile Charles Lee, despite Washington’s clear requests for reinforcements, was very slow leading his forces south, as he apparently thought joining Washington was likely a lose-lose proposition, and also apparently felt he should replace rather than assist Washington. He sent a letter back to Reed, who Washington had sent south to enlist reinforcements, but this letter happened to pass through Washington’s camp. Washington, desperate to learn how close Lee’s reinforcements were, opened the letter, and the opinions of the two men became glaringly obvious.

One can only imagine how Washington must have felt. Rather than reinforcements and rescue coming from north and from south there was basically conspiracy and collusion. It was a position where other desperadoes in other lands, and where other dictators in other times, would have have lopped off the heads of their opposition, calling them traitors. What Washington did was somewhat amazing. He resealed the letter and sent its on its way, including an apology to Joseph Reed for having opened another man’s mail.

That’s the end of the story, because right there you have an example of a man living on a different and higher level than your ordinary dictator or desperado. Despite Lee behaving like a doophus, and Reed behaving like a doophus, Washington uplifted, apparently gaining nothing but self-respect.

Of course, you likely want the story to go on, so I will mention that Lee, leading an army of over 2000, managed to get captured in his nightgown by 25 English soldiers on horses, because he was lollygagging three miles behind his troops, writing letters in a tavern. His second-in-command promptly led his troops south more than three times faster than Lee had planned. They were as haggard as Washington’s troops, and many lacked boots and, with their feet wrapped in rags, left the famous bloody footprints in the snow. Meanwhile Joseph Reed was writing Washington that he should consider a counterattack, which Washington was already in the final stages of undertaking, and which is remembered as the “Crossing of the Delaware” which resulted in the victory at Trenton on Christmas morning 1776. That victory was like a bolt from the blue to many who deemed Washington already defeated, and was such a huge boost to the moral of the Revolution that it is seen as the point when a pendulum swinging one way started to swing the other way.

I, however, see the swing as occurring when Washington opened the letter he was never intended to see. Why? Because if you want proof your fellow man sucks and isn’t worth the time of day, that letter supplied proof. However Washington apparently didn’t need proof. He already knew his fellow man sucked and wasn’t worth the time of day, but he didn’t use that as an excuse to behave like low-life himself.

This is something worth musing upon, as we have to deal with buckling bridges, and likely other signs of bad engineering. There is bad engineering of many sorts, and that includes bad “Social Engineering”. Even as we strive to be clear about the distinction between Real Engineering, (which deals with that which is), and Social Engineering, (which deals with how that is viewed), we should also strive to see the distinction between Social Engineering that is spiritual and uplifts, and Social Engineering that is basically selfish, politically-correct greed.

PS  —GREEK ENGINEERS ALSO NEED TO BRUSH UP THEIR BRIDGE WORK–Greek Bridge downloadThis is after a nasty winter storm this week.

“Winter shows teeth” in Greece – Video

 

 

 

 

 

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11 thoughts on “Nipigon Bridge Failure —Social Vs Real Engineering—

  1. That bridge being compromised effectively cuts the country in half.I believe that transport trucks now have to go through The States for a while.Hope you’re feeling better Caleb. D’oh I posted this on the wrong article, It’s late!

    • I replied on the wrong site as well. Duh!

      There is a long, on-going and interesting open-thread over at Bishop Hill discussing the silting up of waterways, flooding, and the possibilities and problems involving using tides as a source of energy. It is interesting because the difference between Real Engineering and Social Engineering is constantly brought into focus.

      Many who have zilch knowledge about Real Engineering apparently take refuge under the umbrella of “Environmentalism”, which is a place where all sorts of humbug can prosper in the guise of being “Social Engineering” that is “good for the grandchildren”, though of course many are actually greedy for subsidies. The greedy tend to be disdained as “The Green Blob”.

      http://bishophill.squarespace.com/unthreaded/

  2. As a canuck I think it is likely that the material is at fault ie too much contraction in the cold … and it wasn’t even very cold at the time -18C if I remember correctly.
    The wind is nonsense, although it may have triggered the release of the bridge deck but it was the tension in the cables that did the lifting of the bridge deck. This is pretty low level material engineering and so I doubt it wasn’t spec’d properly but who knows perhaps some spanish loon was totally incompetent in designing the bridge. I wonder too if the tension in the support cable was to spec since if they were over tightened then a problem like this may occur.
    But hey … I’m just a dumb geologist so I will let the brighter engineer types fight this out. I have never been a fan of bridges like this but politician nitwits think they are real purdy and so they seem to be getting all too common.
    There should have been two bridges to prevent a fuster cluck like this but Ontario spends all the highway dollars in the Toronto area and leaves the poor of northwestern Ontario to suffer with substandard roads.
    The loons of the left will find a way to blame this on climate change 😉

    • Sadly the loons who blame Global Warming or Climate Change are becoming increasingly dull and boring. Ten years ago they could involve you in all sorts of interesting discussions that forced you to research all sorts of interesting topics. Now they increasingly merely bray.

      You’ll have to be my Canadian reporter, but my guess is that we will see the topic of the Pipigon Bridge vanish from the news. That seems to be the current way of handling a complete fiasco. For example, after the the EPA’s fiasco at the Gold King Mine poisoned the Animas river, a very strange silence decended in the media.

      The corruption of the press is “Social Engineering” of one of the worst sorts.

  3. Hey Caleb,
    A bit off topic, but do you have any idea what’s going on at DMI? It appears that both their ice extent graphs haven’t been updated in a week, and the only remaining sources I have are the regular NSIDC graph and their MASIE numbers (about 500K difference). The DMI 30% number was running way above average, so I’ve been very curious to see if it’s stayed that way. I know you’ve been taking a bit of time off of your ice tracking, but would beg restful for any insights.
    Best for your recovery,
    Taylor
    P.S. Snowing like crazy over here on the coast of Maine

    • I have no idea what is up with them. I miss the DMI maps, but am able to use the Weatherbell polar maps.

      Hopefully I’ll find time to write about the Arctic situation soon. It looks like the cold is not staying up there, but is pouring south both in Europe and in North America.

      • Good news, DMI posting again. 30% numbers still running nearly a million sq km above normal, 15% numbers more typical, but above NSDIC, and slightly above MASIE. Are you seeing other DMI data now as well?

      • oops, should have looked at your latest post first, before making this comment – great so see you back in the arctic (although it feels a bit like the Arctic down here now…)

      • The maps are working today, but were not working yesterday. I’m not sure what they are up to; perhaps it is some sort of upgrade.

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