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Too Bad Hippocrates Wasn't an Engineer
NY Times ^ | June 11, 2006 | JOHN SCHWARTZ

Posted on 06/11/2006 9:53:40 PM PDT by neverdem

IN ancient Babylon, they knew from accountability. Under the Code of Hammurabi, "If a builder build a house for someone, and does not construct it properly, and the house which he built fall in and kill its owner, then that builder shall be put to death." What's more, "If it kill the son of the owner, the son of that builder shall be put to death."

Engineers these days don't have that worry. Mistakes may carry legal penalties and a measure of shame. The people who die are those who depend on the engineers' work.

Nearly 1,600 people died in Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina and the flooding that followed. A June 1 report from investigators working for the Army Corps of Engineers concluded that flaws in the design, building and maintenance of the New Orleans hurricane protection system — the levees, floodwalls, pumps and gates — played a big role in putting 80 percent of the city under water.

Critics of the corps had argued for months that mistakes made the toll worse than it might have been, and they've alleged that there were more flaws in the system than the corps' report conceded. But with the admission by the corps, the tragedy of Katrina moved officially from the exclusive realm of natural disasters to that of disasters caused, in part, by man. John Barry, author of "Rising Tide," about the Mississippi floods of 1927, called the Katrina flooding "by a large margin, the worst engineering mistake in the history of civilization."

Thus do the dirt, concrete and steel of New Orleans take their place on the dishonor roll of engineering disasters. The list is long, and includes the failure of the Teton Dam in Idaho in 1976, which killed 11 people and caused an estimated $1 billion in...

(Excerpt) Read more at nytimes.com ...


TOPICS: Business/Economy; Crime/Corruption; Editorial; Government; News/Current Events; US: District of Columbia; US: Idaho; US: Louisiana; US: Texas
KEYWORDS: disasters; engineering; engineers; katrina; science

James L. Long Associates
Shuttle, 1979 The space shuttle Columbia was scheduled for its first mission in 1979. But when protective tiles fell off as it was being shipped to the launching site, it was back to the drawing board.

Vincent Laforet/The New York Times
Levee, 2005 The floodwall at the 17th Street Canal was one part of the New Orleans system that failed, sending water gushing through the levee.

Jerome Delay/Associated Press
Airport, 2004 Investigators pointed to four basic flaws in the design and construction of the passenger terminal at Charles de Gaulle airport north of Paris that collapsed, killing four people.

United States Bureau of Reclamation, via Associated Press
Dam, 1976 The Teton Dam, built on a geologically suspect site, burst not long after it was completed.
1 posted on 06/11/2006 9:53:43 PM PDT by neverdem
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To: neverdem

Is it possible that the engineering mistake was to choose to build a city below sea level?

Nawww,,,,,, we can do that!


2 posted on 06/11/2006 9:57:24 PM PDT by RonHolzwarth ("History repeats itself - first as tragedy, then as farce" - Karl Marx)
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To: neverdem

I've heard that at one time parachutists in the service were dying because of improperly packed chutes. So they implimented a policy of making the parachute packers jump using one of the chutes they packed, picked at ramdom. It cut way down on chutes that failed to properly deploy.

I wonder what kind of engineering we would get if the lives of the engineers depended on the consequences of their poor design?


3 posted on 06/11/2006 9:59:00 PM PDT by metmom (Welfare was never meant to be a career choice.)
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To: neverdem

Too bad journalists and editors aren't held to the same standard engineers are. A good 99% would be in jail by now.


4 posted on 06/11/2006 10:01:10 PM PDT by randog (What the...?!)
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To: metmom
I wonder what kind of engineering we would get if the lives of the engineers depended on the consequences of their poor design?

So you don't think that engineers drive cars, live in buildings, lived in New Orleans, fly on airplanes, ride on trains? They share the same risk of "poor designs" everyone else face.

5 posted on 06/11/2006 10:02:32 PM PDT by Texasforever (I have neither been there nor done that.)
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To: metmom
I wonder what kind of engineering we would get if the lives of the engineers depended on the consequences of their poor design?

I know engineers that have gone to jail for malfeasance.

6 posted on 06/11/2006 10:03:38 PM PDT by randog (What the...?!)
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To: neverdem

bump


7 posted on 06/11/2006 10:08:31 PM PDT by indthkr
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To: neverdem
More people died from the North Sea flood of 1953 in the Netherlands than died in Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina. Due to levee breaks, 9% of the Netherlands' farmland was inundated by sea water. That's the worst levee-breach caused flooding in modern history in terms of loss of life.

Even more people died in the Johnstown Flood of 1889, which was caused by a dam collapse after years of neglect.

Bad engineering and neglect has happened over the course of human history.
8 posted on 06/11/2006 10:11:17 PM PDT by conservative in nyc
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To: randog
Well said. A bit of engineer bashing going on here. What isn't said is that in the above mentioned examples it was likely a pointy headed manager that overrode the engineer's more conservative approach.

How many reporters give half a seconds worth of thought into the implications of what they write? Engineers by nature consider the downside of their design failing - before they commit it to being built. Then they test and retest before subjecting the public to their product. Then some damn fool finds a way to break it and gets a lawyer to sue.

There was a time when engineers were heralded as makers of the bright future. Now whiny journalists complain and lawyers destroy careers. And we wonder why few students want to study engineering. :(
9 posted on 06/11/2006 10:13:11 PM PDT by anymouse
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To: metmom

For railroad bridges it used to be that the engineer would stand under it when there was the first [test] train driven across the bridge.


10 posted on 06/11/2006 10:18:33 PM PDT by GSlob
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To: neverdem
Add to the list, the Kansas City Hyatt Hotel. There were "skywalks" that collapsed during a "tea dance." 46 people were killed in 1981.

Mark

11 posted on 06/11/2006 10:19:26 PM PDT by MarkL (When Kaylee says "No power in the `verse can stop me," it's cute. When River says it, it's scary!)
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To: neverdem
THANK YOU for linking to the Printer Friendly version of the article.

Those of us trapped in 56K dialup HELL really appreciate it!

12 posted on 06/11/2006 10:20:48 PM PDT by upchuck (Wikipedia.com - the most unbelievable web site in the world.)
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To: Texasforever; potlatch


Live in a swamp

Die in a swamp

--

My liberal NYC enviro sister sez New Orleans will be under water within a certain number of years anyway

Why rebuild on below seal level land that sinks more as you add more weight above it and is surrounded by water?


Money wasted on bridge studies, water fountains, casinos, bribes -


If they had wanted to hold back the waters they would have copied the Dutch

But instead the New Orleans politicians and scammers went for the quick and dirty buck instead -









13 posted on 06/11/2006 10:21:50 PM PDT by devolve (fx AMERICANS_KILLED_IN_2003_BY_ILLEGALS FBI-DOJ_REPORT_4380+4745=9125 NO__NUEVO__TEJAS!)
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To: devolve

All true!


14 posted on 06/11/2006 10:25:46 PM PDT by potlatch (Does a clean house indicate that there is a broken computer in it?)
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To: randog

the NY Times had a hand in covering up the deaths of millions of people during Stalin's reign of terror. Since then, the NY Times has had a hand in bringing Castro to power, as well as in helping the North Vietnamese and the Khmer Rouge come to power. I wonder what the penalty should be for a newspaper that repeatedly does things like that?


15 posted on 06/11/2006 10:27:58 PM PDT by vbmoneyspender
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To: RonHolzwarth
Is it possible that the engineering mistake was to choose to build a city below sea level?

No. That was a political mistake. The engineering mistake was in determining the building and maintenance requirements (the first and fourth steps in most standard engineering projects).

When I was in the Navy operating nuclear reactors we had to periodically test everything to make sure that our equipment operated up to specifications. You never build something and expect it to last forever. In some cases it was difficult to test something by conventional means so alternate tests were performed (such as using radiography to test welds). But nothing was ignored.

Contrast this with the levees in New Orleans. How did they know (and certify) each year that the levees would operate to specifications? They didn't in reality. They just signed paperwork to make it look like they were. The most significant flaw was the settling of the levees and the sinking of the city so that the levees were overtopped. By measuring the height of the levees they could have determined if they needed to be repaired.

The biggest issue in this disaster is that the Army Corps of Engineers gave custody of the levees to the corrupt New Orleans Levee Districts assuming that since levee failure would hurt them the most, they would do a good job of making sure the levees were in specification. What a mistake!

Additional testing is more expensive. Perhaps New Orleans and the federal government wouldn't have bought the levees if they realized that. But that was a political issue. As far as I can tell, the initial design engineers did their jobs correctly. The maintenance engineers and politicians fouled this hole situation up.

16 posted on 06/11/2006 10:30:22 PM PDT by burzum (Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.--Adm. Rickover)
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To: metmom

We'd walk everywhere we go - for starters.


17 posted on 06/11/2006 10:30:38 PM PDT by DB ()
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To: burzum

The levee wasn't designed to take a cat 5 hurricane straight on.


18 posted on 06/11/2006 10:34:13 PM PDT by DB ()
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To: upchuck
THANK YOU for linking to the Printer Friendly version of the article.

Those of us trapped in 56K dialup HELL really appreciate it!

What about the pics in comment# 1? Do they cause any grief?

19 posted on 06/11/2006 10:39:35 PM PDT by neverdem (May you be in heaven a half hour before the devil knows that you're dead.)
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To: DB
The levee wasn't designed to take a cat 5 hurricane straight on.

I concur. The politicians didn't want to build one that big. But that isn't the primary issue with the New Orleans levee failure. The levees failed because the water level was over specification. That is problem #1. Problem #2 is that some of the levees had sunk below design specification.

As someone who had to evaluate operational failures I can't really say much about problem #1 other than to say you get what you pay for. On problem #2, which made this casuality worse, I would rip out the hearts of the maintenance engineers and politicians.

20 posted on 06/11/2006 10:40:02 PM PDT by burzum (Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.--Adm. Rickover)
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To: DB
Sorry, I wasn't clear. Obviously the most important issue in the New Orleans disaster was that water exceeded specifications. But from an engineering perspective, the most important issue is that the levees sunk, because engineers aren't responsible for stupid people not buying the bigger levees.
21 posted on 06/11/2006 10:43:52 PM PDT by burzum (Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.--Adm. Rickover)
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To: neverdem
You may be surprised how often engineers are over ruled by the schedule pushers. Sometimes errors are not fixed because they are behind schedule.
22 posted on 06/11/2006 10:53:21 PM PDT by Dawggie
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To: MarkL

That one wasn't the fault of the engineer. The contractor made a change to the design of the sky bridge, which made it a lot easier to build, but much less capable of bearing weight.


23 posted on 06/11/2006 11:01:34 PM PDT by redgolum ("God is dead" -- Nietzsche. "Nietzsche is dead" -- God.)
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To: anymouse

"Then some damn fool finds a way to break it and gets a lawyer to sue."

Yup, not an ordinary fool, but a damn fool. Hence the expression "you can make it fool proof, but you can't make it damn fool proof."


24 posted on 06/11/2006 11:02:44 PM PDT by Flash Bazbeaux
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To: metmom
I wonder what kind of engineering we would get if the lives of the engineers depended on the consequences of their poor design?

That was one point of the Hammurabi code: if your building fell down, you would be buried in the rubble. But the other key to the Hammurabi code was that builders were given authority as well as responsibility. Instead of having to build according to tradition, they were given the right to build things right -- as they saw it.

25 posted on 06/11/2006 11:06:18 PM PDT by AZLiberty (America is the hope of all men who believe in the principle of freedom and justice. - A. Einstein)
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To: Flash Bazbeaux

Make it fool proof and in walks in an idiot.


26 posted on 06/11/2006 11:07:09 PM PDT by Dawggie
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To: neverdem

I thought the levees failed because George Bush et al blew 'em up?


27 posted on 06/11/2006 11:20:57 PM PDT by uglybiker (Don't blame me. I didn't make you stupid.)
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To: metmom
I wonder what kind of engineering we would get if the lives of the engineers depended on the consequences of their poor design?

Journalists and lay people have a very poor understanding of risk and risk management. Engineers can build to any safety standard deemed desirable, but then society might not be able to afford it.

Doctors might be able to spend millions of dollars to keep one person alive with extraordinary care, but can't afford to do that for everyone. Engineers face the same dilemma every day. They can't afford to build everything "bullet proof" so someone has to decide how resources are allocated. Usually that someone is a politician holding purse strings who has no way to assess risk/benefit of most expenditures and therefore responds to political pressure from special interests.

Any idiot (yes, I include lawyers and journalists here) can can come in after something fails and assess blame. The hard part is looking at something BEFORE it fails and deciding if it needs to be fixed and how much the fix is worth.

The very best consulting engineers in the world make about $200/hour. You can go through the phone book in any Podunk town and find dozens of divorce lawyers who make two to three times that much. What does this say about our society? You want to come down hard on engineers? Prepare to get in line when you want a seismic upgrade on your apartment building, because bright people can always find a less risky and more lucrative way to make a living.

28 posted on 06/11/2006 11:27:31 PM PDT by BigBobber
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To: anymouse

...not to mention beady-eyed contractors cutting corners when no one's watching...


29 posted on 06/11/2006 11:51:12 PM PDT by castlebrew (true gun control is hitting where you're aiming!)
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To: GSlob

likewise for Roman bridges as the army marched across


30 posted on 06/11/2006 11:52:04 PM PDT by castlebrew (true gun control is hitting where you're aiming!)
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To: anymouse

"Well said. A bit of engineer bashing going on here. What isn't said is that in the above mentioned examples it was likely a pointy headed manager that overrode the engineer's more conservative approach."

I agree with everything you posted except "pointy head manager."

Not pointy head manager. Pointy head politician.


31 posted on 06/12/2006 12:18:27 AM PDT by LibertarianInExile ('Is' and 'amnesty' both have clear, plain meanings. Are Bill, McQueeg and the President related?)
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To: DB
The levee wasn't designed to take a cat 5 hurricane straight on.

Katrina was not a cat 5 when she made landfall.

See this thread and its remarks.

32 posted on 06/12/2006 3:19:08 AM PDT by raybbr (You think it's bad now - wait till the anchor babies start to vote.)
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To: neverdem

One thing this article fails to address is the political corruption withing NO and the political pressure place on the CORP by the NO folks to not make waves.


33 posted on 06/12/2006 3:22:12 AM PDT by roaddog727 (eludium PU36 explosive space modulator)
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To: neverdem

Bump for later.


34 posted on 06/12/2006 3:22:46 AM PDT by Fzob (Why does this tag line keep showing up?)
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To: RonHolzwarth
Is it possible that the engineering mistake was to choose to build a city below sea level?

No, zoning board mistake.

35 posted on 06/12/2006 3:25:38 AM PDT by Lonesome in Massachussets (NYT Headline: 'Protocols of the Learned Elders of CBS: Fake But Accurate, Experts Say.')
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To: MarkL

That walkway at the Kansas City Hyatt was actually designed properly. The on-site construction manager modified the original design because one of the components used to support the walkway was very difficult to find and would have had to be custom-made.


36 posted on 06/12/2006 3:34:31 AM PDT by Alberta's Child (Can money pay for all the days I lived awake but half asleep?)
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To: neverdem
What about the pics in comment# 1? Do they cause any grief?

Relatively speaking, a minor amount.

Most of the news portals are so graphic intensive anymore that it can (quite literally, I'm not kidding) take several minutes to download a story.

The beauty of the printer friendly version is that it has few, if any, graphics and downloads very quickly.

A pet peeve: news organizations that take a story and spread it over several pages so they can torture you with a new set of graphical ads on each page. Grrr!

The local newspaper recently redid their web site. There are now so many graphics and ads in Flash movie format that the site has become unusable for me. It takes, again, I'm not kidding, over FIVE minutes for the home page to load. And I have a "fast" dialup connection of 50.2 Kbps.

Sorry for the rant. Thanks for asking about the pix.

37 posted on 06/12/2006 5:23:16 AM PDT by upchuck (Wikipedia.com - the most unbelievable web site in the world.)
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To: DB
The levee wasn't designed to take a cat 5 hurricane straight on.

Take a look at the second photo in #1. (The water is draining back into the canal.) That levee wall also wasn't designed to take being rammed by the barge at upper right (now resting in a residential area -- outside the canal...)

38 posted on 06/12/2006 6:18:59 AM PDT by TXnMA ("Allah" = Satan in disguise)
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To: RonHolzwarth

"Is it possible that the engineering mistake was to choose to build a city below sea level? "

The Dutch seem to do ok.


39 posted on 06/12/2006 6:32:04 AM PDT by dljordan
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To: neverdem
Practical real world engineering can be summarized as:

"I can give it to you fast, cheap, or good. You pick two of the three."

In other words, real-world engineering is a matter of trade-offs. As a user, I'm willing to trade off "cost" to get it "fast" and "good". A manager and/or politician, however, may choose to trade off "good" to get it "fast" and "cheap".

As long as managers and/or politicians with little or no engineering knowledge control the purse-strings, there is a risk you will see shoddy engineering fielded. Remember the Pinto? Goldin's "Faster, Better, Cheaper" plan at NASA?

40 posted on 06/12/2006 6:43:47 AM PDT by Jonah Hex ("How'd you get that scar, mister?" "Nicked myself shaving.")
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To: neverdem
"What about the pics in comment# 1? Do they cause any grief?"

I can comment on the Shuttle picture since I was working at JSC (for Lockheed) at the time.

When they shipped the Orbiter to the Cape, they did not have all of the flight tiles finished yet. Those were to be added at KSC. There were concerns about the aerodynamics of the Orbiter atop the 747 transport if they flew without a full set of tiles, so temporary tiles (without the thermal protection capability) were added. Because they were to be removed at the Cape, they were stuck on with a temporary glue. (I believe it was water soluble).

The 747 went through a rainstorm en route, and when it stopped to refuel (I believe at San Antonio) it was discovered that a lot of the temporary tiles had fallen off. In engineering terms it was no biggie, because these tiles were supposed to be removed, and the Orbiter/747 system flew just as well without the tiles as with. (In plain English, they did not need to add the temporary tiles.)

Some media whores took pictures of the vehicle, and spread it across the airways as an example of NASA incompetence. NASA management then panicked, and ordered the temporary tiles replaced with permanent glue, so as to stop the press criticism. It was done, the new tiles did not fall off over the rest of the trip.

Unfortunately, they also did not come off in the processing facility. They had to be chipped off. It took a lot longer, and some of the flight tiles were damaged while trying to remove the temporaries -- requiring replacement in turn, further delaying things.

So the REAL problem was not due to the engineering decisions. They made the right call. Stick on temporary tiles with temporary glue. Don't worry if they fall off. On the other hand, management decisions managed to screw up the processing schedule big time. And why? To keep the press from playing gotcha games, which is all this article is anyway.
41 posted on 06/12/2006 6:47:04 AM PDT by No Truce With Kings (The opinions expressed are mine! Mine! MINE! All Mine!)
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To: BigBobber

Well said.

Nothing in engineering (or life for that matter) is risk free.


42 posted on 06/12/2006 9:10:01 AM PDT by Fzob (Why does this tag line keep showing up?)
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To: metmom
I wonder what kind of engineering we would get if the lives of the engineers depended on the consequences of their poor design?

I design chemical plants. Then I help start them up. Then I go back to do more projects - debottleneck, new processes, new production lines, etc. My life DOES depend on the consequences of my designs. A lot of other peoples lives do too. Get real.
43 posted on 06/12/2006 11:00:14 AM PDT by NonLinear (He's dead, Jim)
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To: neverdem
"IN ancient Babylon, they knew from accountability."

In ancient New York, they knew how to speak and write the English language.

44 posted on 06/12/2006 11:45:39 AM PDT by Redbob
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To: metmom
"I wonder what kind of engineering we would get if the lives of the engineers depended on the consequences of their poor design?"

As an engineer who does drive the vehicles he designs, as most do, I can only wonder what kind of engineering we'd have if someone like YOU were an engineer?

45 posted on 06/12/2006 11:48:48 AM PDT by Redbob
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To: Redbob

The Ford Pinto comes to mind...


46 posted on 06/12/2006 3:05:15 PM PDT by metmom (Welfare was never meant to be a career choice.)
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To: redgolum
The contractor made a change to the design of the sky bridge, which made it a lot easier to build, but much less capable of bearing weight.

And a structual engineer signed off on the change.

BTW he did'nt make it much easier to build. He made it possible to build. The original design featured metal rods threaded for a good 15 meters. A tricky proposition at best.

47 posted on 06/12/2006 3:13:20 PM PDT by Dinsdale
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To: LibertarianInExile

politicians are managers with even less sense of responsibility for their actions and even greater inflation of their sense of self-importance.


48 posted on 06/12/2006 9:23:54 PM PDT by anymouse
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To: neverdem

What did the Code of Hammurabi say about those committing treason against their own country, such as the NY TIMES?


49 posted on 06/12/2006 9:29:14 PM PDT by MrCruncher
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