November 14, 2007

Bridge Fisk

Since August, Nick Coleman has positioned himself as the foremost expert on the I-35 bridge collapse. Why, he's practically an engineer, at least in his mind. He knows, by gum, who the guilty parties are, where the failures occurred and why his underwear insists on being brown and damp each morning.

Nick's latest brain dribble:

Get ready to be gusseted.

Don't worry, Nick. This being one of your columns. . . we're ready.

I doubt that many Minnesotans heard of gussets before Aug. 1, but since the collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge, "gusset" has become a favorite word in the mouths of politicians, particularly those looking to cast suspicion not on their politics or policies, but on inanimate steel objects.

Yes, because it was "politics and policies" that caused the collapse, not something engineers and architects simply didn't expect. For Nick, it's always failed politics and policies that are to blame for everything. The very idea that engineering experts could have made a mistake or accidentally missed something crucial until after a disaster is just unthinkable. No, it HAS to be politics and policies, because everybody knows a state governor has the ability to keep bridges aloft through mind powers alone, like Palpatine was able to keep Darth Vader wheezing through his warped manipulation of the Force.

Gussets are steel plates used to reinforce joists or connect girders. Although a three-year study of the problems of the ailing I-35W bridge did not focus attention on the bridge's gussets, and although the bridge was still in the Mississippi River, it took only a week after the bridge fell for the Bush administration's secretary of transportation, Mary Peters, to finger the culprits: Gussets.

Ah, yes, of course, it's gotta be the fault of the Bush administration. It always is. I had a cough last week that I was fairly certain was attributable to the Bush administration.

She was immediately echoed by a private consulting firm hired by the Pawlenty-Molnau administration within hours of the collapse -- without public bid. That firm Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, was hired for $2 million -- coincidentally, the cost of a plan for reinforcing the bridge that was rejected by the Minnesota Department of Transportation months before the collapse.

And, coincidentally, since we're talking coincidentally here, that reinforcement plan was rejected because it was feared such reinforcement efforts may, coincidentally, weaken the bridge they were, coincidentally, meant to reinforce. Of course Nick, coincidentally, fails to mention that, because he's a shitty assed columnist with a stick up his butt.

The Pawlenty administration has been accusing critics of jumping to conclusions about the cause of the collapse because we argue, whatever the physical causes, that there was a dereliction of a public duty to keep bridges standing and bridge users alive.

There was actually a bill, signed by Pawlenty earlier this year, calling specifically for a "dereliction of public duty in the interests of ensuring the collapse of bridges in order to kill people." I kid, of course, but I do so just to point out the simplistic way Nick's "mind" works. Something like a bridge collapse is great fodder for simpletons like Coleman. He can get away with throw away lines like "whatever the physical causes," in order to jump ahead and point to a dereliction of duty, even if there wasn't one. It's not like anyone can disprove a dereliction of duty. See, no matter what the physical causes for the collapse turn out to be, no matter how minute, unexpected or impossible to detect until after a disaster, Nick and his ilk can always point to a dereliction of duty and Strib-reading lemmings will always nod their heads in agreement because it's such an easy narrative to follow.

It isn't the critics who are jumping to self-serving conclusions.

The hell he hasn't. Nick's been conclusion jumping like Q-Bert ever since this disaster happened. Nick's written countless inches of self-serving, self-righteous, conclusion jumping twaddle practically on a weekly basis.

It is officials who are trying to manage the political fallout of the collapse and who, after months of cautious release of information to the public, are complaining that the news media are demanding more.

Or, maybe the officials are telling an overly demanding media to slow the hell down and let the investigation into the cause of the bridge collapse to proceed before pointing fingers like a two-year old who can't find his blankie.

Did the bridge really fall?

If you listen to Minnesota's officials, it's almost like the bridge never fell. It couldn't have. After all, they had a great plan for keeping it up.

On paper.

If it was up to "Know-It-All-Nick," swarms of engineers and construction workers would have been crawling over that bridge in July, tightening every last bolt and securing every last rivet. Of course, if that were the case, Nick would no doubt have penned several columns about the waste of money going into bridge repair when roads need it more, and the dire impact of having the bridge shut down for repair. Nick would have obviously included man-on-the-street interviews with people who were inconvenienced by the shutdown for the bridge repair. Jesus, how creepy is it that I can see how Nick's little brain would have worked, in retrospect?

This is an illustration of the disconnect between no-tax politics and the real world, where gravity is stronger than wishful thinking. One of the most heavily used bridges in the state was deficient and consultants were urging it be reinforced, but MnDOT tried to get by on the cheap. Instead of bolting plates to critical parts of the bridge, the state crossed its fingers and decided to step up inspections.

No, you dipshit, the "state" decided that reinforcement efforts may, in fact, have made the bridge weaker. Nick knows this, of course, but why let something like that get in the way of his simple narrative.

Darn those gussets.

Blame the physical cause

Pinpointing the physical cause of the collapse will require long forensic investigation. But CYA is Chapter One in the political playbook, so the pols are clinging to their Grassy Knoll Gusset theory.

See, this is what's hysterical when it comes to Nick's "logic." On the one hand, he admits "the media" is demanding answers, but then he gets mad when a possible culprit, gussets, is provided. It's a no-win situation for state officials: if they stay silent during a forensic investigation into the physical cause, they're stonewalling and playing politics; if they provide a possible cause, like gussets, they're just throwing out a "Grassy Knoll Gusset theory" and playing politcs. Either way, Nick gets to write an outraged column. Great work, if you can get it.

Peters, the federal secretary of transportation, repeated her gusset tale Nov. 1, causing one gob-smacked Republican who heard her, Edina's Rep. Ron Erhardt, to state the obvious:

If gussets failed, he said, "What is that but a lack of maintenance?"


No, not "exactly." It neglects to ask the question "what would have gone into reinforcing/replacing the gussets?" Would such "maintenance" have further weakened the bridge in the interim? Would the bridge have to have been shut down for such maintanence? Would Nick Coleman have screamed his bloody head off either way?

But even if it was the gussets, blaming the collapse on them is like blaming the 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger on an O ring in a rocket booster.

Yeah, IT'S JUST LIKE THAT! 80 gazillian tons of solid booster fuel and cutting edge rocket science that could go disasterously wrong down to the smallest decimal point is JUST LIKE a bridge that's been standing since 1967. Nick needs a good cock punch.

The failure that caused the deaths of seven crew members was the decision by NASA officials to proceed despite being warned that it was too cold to safely launch on a January morning.

That would be a patented Nick Coleman history lesson, courtesy of Google, or possibly Wikipedia.

Did MnDOT apply pressure?

One question in any investigation of the 35W bridge collapse should be whether engineers working for the state were pressured to back down from recommendations for reinforcing the bridge structure. Those recommendations, made by a San Francisco company called URS Inc., were made after years of studying the aging bridge. A Sunday Star Tribune article by reporters Mike Kaszuba and Pat Doyle recounted that URS recommended a $2 million plan to reinforce the bridge with steel plates. The plan seemed to be proceeding toward approval when it abruptly ran into opposition at MnDOT.

Yeah, an opposition that wondered whether such a project would further WEAKEN the bridge. Why does Nick insist on pushing that fact to the furthest reaches of his column? It's almost as if he knows people won't read all the way through, as per the rules of he "inverted pyramid" theory of journalism. The readers have already been told to blame Pawlenty and the Bush Administration, early in the column, so Nick will tuck any unfortunate little facts at the end.

The consulting firm (revealed in a 2003 e-mail to be hoping to win more work from MnDOT) backed off and agreed to a cheaper plan to step up inspections. Within two days of the collapse, MnDOT was defensively saying money wasn't the issue, but that adding steel plates to the bridge might have weakened it.

We'll never know.

Which won't keep Nick from postulating and blaming, of course.

Interestingly, URS made very little mention of problems with the gussets.

ARGH! Because the gussets weren't suspected until AFTER the collapse. Such is the unknown nature of disasters, Nick! Don't be such a moron!

So why are officials pointing fingers at the nasty little gussets instead of at their own failure to follow recommendations from engineers who studied the bridge for three years?

Do you really need me to answer that for you?

No, we don't, Nick, because your answer would be wrong. As usual.

Posted by Ryan at November 14, 2007 10:51 AM | TrackBack
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