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Economics and Falling Bridges

by techno Thu Aug 9th, 2007 at 05:39:28 AM EST

Not surprisingly, the word of a large bridge (8 lanes, 150,000+ vehicles a day) collapsing in Minneapolis has spread around the globe.  And for good reason.  Forty-year-old bridges are NOT supposed to fail.

I supposed I could have written this sooner.  But quite frankly, I am embarrassed as hell.  This is NOT the sort of reputation we want.  This state is a creation of mostly Scandinavians and Germans--the kind of people who treat maintenance as an art form.

I am part of this near-religious cult of maintenance.  I have restored old buildings.  I have kept a car running far past its normal life.

From the diaries - afew


I walked across that bridge before it opened as a university freshman and rowed under it as a member of the school crew.  I have seen that bridge from a lot of different angles.

I took this personally.  And I am pissed off!!  In the last legislative session, my party, the DFL, passed two bills to address the huge hole in infrastructure maintenance that has accumulated over the past years.  First they passed a bill with a $.10 tax on gasoline with $8 billion for repairs.  The Republican Governor vetoed it.  So the DFL went back and passed a $4 billion package and a $.05 tax.

This time the governor not only vetoed it, but asked of the DFL at the press conference "are you stupid?"  Apparently, we are "stupid" because we cannot grasp just how wedded this poor fool is to his neoliberal / con ideals, that he is willing to stand in the way of road repairs to keep his "no new taxes" pledge.

Governor Pawlenty is talked about as a possible next VP candidate.  The 2008 Republican convention is supposed to be held in St. Paul.  And Pawlenty was right, we really did NOT understand how criminally irresponsible someone would be in order to be blessed by the right-wing fools who rule the Republican Party.

I wrote a book in the late 1980s on the theme that since our infrastructure needed upgrading and replacing, this was the perfect opportunity to make our infrastructure environmentally responsible.  I called it Elegant Technology.

Later, I would create a short video outlining this strategy.  I called it Creating Prosperity.  I have been shouting about this issue in every way I can.

Even so, I still wonder if I could have done more.  The realistic answer is no.  The economic madness of neoliberalism has done nearly catastrophic damage to EVERYTHING--manufacturing base, agriculture, medicine, education, the environment, etc.--not merely to the works of civil engineering.  This economic madness has infected the universities and the editorial policies of virtually the whole of the Anglo Saxon world so it wasn't exactly a fair fight.

I was nearly this angry when failure of levee maintenance wiped out New Orleans.  But I told myself--that was Louisiana--corruption and shoddy workmanship are what they do.  We are in the top five states for maintenance.  It will happen last to us.

Wake up world!  The days of listening to economic fools is over!  If there is EVER an economic philosophy that precludes industrial maintenance, then such ideas are indeed insane.

Display:
This time the governor not only vetoed it, but asked of the DFL at the press conference "are you stupid?"

I hope that press conference was filmed. If he does end up as a VP candidate, make sure whoever's debating him knows about this remark. Same if he sticks with running for state office again; make sure the voters remember that he said this.

by lychee on Mon Aug 6th, 2007 at 04:05:48 AM EST
Ooooh, yea. A real macacca moment. Kinda like Grover Norquists comment about government being shruck to the point of drowning in a bathtub. New Orleans was a great way to demonstrate where that idea ends up.

Dredge out that video

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon Aug 6th, 2007 at 08:40:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That video has already been run many times.  If I find a link, I'll post it.  The idea of running a picture of a bad politician and then one of the fallen bridge has occured to even the dullest DFLer.  The best part is that the Rethugs must look at this disaster when they come for their national convention next summer.

I hope this is the death of the Republican party for a generation here in Minnesota.  This is actually kind of sad.  Once upon a time, Minnesota Republicans were pretty sane.

"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"

by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Mon Aug 6th, 2007 at 10:37:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Hell, even Arne Carlson (the governor of MN for 8 years before Pawlenty and Ventura's 4 year term) was sane. Remember him trying to secure his lame-duck legacy by pumping funds into the University of Minnesota?

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Mon Aug 6th, 2007 at 01:17:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The libertarian response is pretty clear: privatize infrastructure. We had discussed that briefly.

With privatized bridges, you could at least sue someone for a fall, haha...

Where is desire for road freedom?

by das monde on Mon Aug 6th, 2007 at 05:01:12 AM EST
well if you're going to privatise infrastructure, you have to avoid something like This

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Mon Aug 6th, 2007 at 06:24:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Indeed. That looks like a serious case of parasitic monopoly pricing. Do the libertarians have a good regulatory policy in mind for privatised monopolies?

Alternatively, do they have a good proposal for slicing up property rights in a clever way that would avoid the problem? There would be a quite a few special, concrete cases (bridges, electric grids...). Tricky.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Mon Aug 6th, 2007 at 02:33:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Libertarians don't.

But I've been working on just that for the last five years and I reckon I've cracked it.

Only a partnership-based model works IMHO

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Mon Aug 6th, 2007 at 03:14:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Welsh figured it out.  

Wish Americans could.  

Do the Libertarians have a plan for avoiding extortionist monopoly pricing!?  

You dream!!  The lessons of the 19th century are far too complex for these techno-whizzes!  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Mon Aug 6th, 2007 at 04:07:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You mean extortionate monopoly pricing isn't the whole point of privatization?

I'm serious.  Is there any other point?

by Zwackus on Mon Aug 6th, 2007 at 09:25:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Is there any other point?  

None that I can see.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Mon Aug 6th, 2007 at 10:26:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
but how's it playing in the papers. I know that on the TV the conservative bloviators are going bonkers at the idea of "politicising" the failure by going on about cheapskating on maintenance. Are the papers buying that line ?

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon Aug 6th, 2007 at 08:42:09 AM EST
I saw a right-wing commentator on local TV the other night who said "this is not a partisan issue."  And in some ways, he is right.  There are really only two kinds of people--the kind who maintain bridges and fools.  Those businesses in Northeast Minneapolis are run by conservative Republicans who have been hit by a fiscal disaster because their transportation problems just got 10 times worse.  THEY understand.  Some of the most serious maintenance freaks I know are Republicans.

But the Republican governor of Minnesota MADE maintenance a partisan issue so as to impress the big boys of the Republican Party.  And THEY are pirates--and privatization has been the most profitable piracy since at least the Reagan era.

And are they rest of us going to let pirates kill and destroy us?  Not if we can help it.  Will the DFL keep beating the Republicans around the head with this issue?  OF COURSE!!!!  Will the Republicans complain?  Yes they will.  Will we ignore them?  Well D'uh.


"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"

by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Tue Aug 7th, 2007 at 03:07:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What crap. Of course it's a partisan issue. Only crazy republicans are saying 'No more taxes - and if you die in an infrastructure accident caused directly by poor maintenance, fuck you.'

It's going to take a personal tragedy to wake these fuckers up. And even then they'll spend more time feeling sorry for themselves than wondering if just maybe perhaps they had something to do with the problem.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Aug 7th, 2007 at 06:01:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There was a time during post-World War II in the 1950's and early 1960's when infrastructure development in the United States was visionary and vibrant. In New York you had a master builder, Robert Moses, who led a dramatic change in the metro New York highway/bridge and tunnel system. Unfortunately we are still living with that post World War II development. The major cities in the United States are long, long overdue for more vibrant infrastructure redevelopment.

To accomplish that requires sources of funding and that funding must come from government and therefore taxes. The debate over taxation in the U.S. for decades by both political parties has focused on the regressive nature of taxation. If you talk to the average conservative you would think that all taxes (except those spent on the military) are bad and wasteful.

I was hoping in this prolonged Presidential campaign that at least one forward thinking Democrat would come out and provide a vision that the use of tax dollars in certain directions does provide a benefit - an investment - into job creation and a better climate for business development. Investment into transportation redevelopment (not just patchwork fixes) will lead to greater employment and will create the conditions favorable for retaining and attracting new businesses and therefore greater long term employment. I was hoping that the disaster in New Orleans would generate a Robert Moses like project that created an engineering feat never before seen. Unfortunately all we are getting are the same quick fixes.

I will admit that there are many uses of taxes that are wasteful but we should not declare all taxes are wasteful. It should be the government's role to invest in the future whether it is alternative energy sources or infrastructure redevelopment. We need to have leaders here who do not use the word "can't" as in the governor you cited. The only government leader I have seen who has stepped forward with such a vision has been New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg who has recognized how out-dated the NYC infrastructure is and is pushing measures and taxes to improve it.

It should be the role of the U.S. federal government to promote future development and not just patchwork fixes.

by BJ Lange (langebj@gmail.com) on Thu Aug 9th, 2007 at 11:27:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Pawlenty is a neoconservative, a Republican - not a neoliberal.
by MMMinnesota on Mon Aug 6th, 2007 at 09:00:11 AM EST
Probably, unless this is on film and does get publicised, then you just know on Fox he's going to be a democrat.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Mon Aug 6th, 2007 at 10:23:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Fox will get it wrond, no matter HOW much evidence there is to the contrary.  It is going to be damn hard to "spin" a fallen bridge.

"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"
by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Mon Aug 6th, 2007 at 10:42:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The starving of infrastructure is also a neoliberal idea.  So this is a distinction without a difference.

The real difference is between the the Leisure and Industrial classes.

"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"

by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Mon Aug 6th, 2007 at 10:41:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Indeed. Speaking of which, is there anywhere in the West today where it's fashionable for smart students to study state-of-the-art manufacturing engineering -- you know, the quaint activity of actually making stuff?

Bookstore shelves in China are interesting in this regard.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Mon Aug 6th, 2007 at 02:53:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My perception on the issue, as a student in the 90's, was that engineering is a dead end.  You'll be overworked and underpaid by the know-nothing MBA's who "lead" your companies, and then fired at the drop of a hat - particularly if you've been there long enough to accumulate any seniority.

The advent of downsizing and mass layoffs in the wake of defense contraction was one of the main causes for this, I think.

As a complete incompetent with tools with, at best, indifferent math skills, it was never a real option for me, but neither was it for my various other friends who were far more talented in such things.  A few of them ended up in IT, the big new field of the time, but most did other things.

by Zwackus on Mon Aug 6th, 2007 at 09:31:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
that a product did not need to function, because the marketing and sales teams could make good the difference.  

So the people who actually know how to make things work were nearly superfluous, and certainly were not well paid.  

The long-term consequences of this sort of thinking are fairly obvious.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Mon Aug 6th, 2007 at 10:34:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is absolutely symbolic of a faith-based economy. If you can 'market' - i.e. spin - tap water to make it vastly more expensive, you have a perfect case study of how so much of the economy is now based on hucksterism and risible bullshit.

The parallels between business marketing and the famous neocon 'We create reality' speech are not coincidental.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Aug 7th, 2007 at 12:18:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
According to the "theory of the leisure class," the folks who create havoc in the course of "earning" their daily bread have far higher status than folks who solve difficult problems.  The quote from 1921.  "The industrial system is handicapped by dissension, misdirection, and unemployment of material resources, equipment, and man power, at every turn where the statesmen or the captains of finance can touch its mechanisms."

"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"
by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Wed Aug 8th, 2007 at 12:18:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
We treat engineers like shit in USA.  Even the engineers who work for the military-industrial complex are considered the scum of the earth.  My brother-in-law was an engineer for Boeing during the SPEA strike.  He walked picket lines with some of the best rocket scientists on earth.  What they discovered was that it took folks like the teamsters to actually help them and that truckers and rocket scientists had the same problems.

I recently read the Enzo Ferrari would have rather been known as engineer than commander.  There are countries on earth where folks brag that they are engineers by insisting their designation is included in their mailing addresses.

See if you ever see THAT in good old USA.

"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"

by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Tue Aug 7th, 2007 at 02:24:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
> Even the engineers who work for the military-industrial
> complex are considered the scum of the earth.

I consider them that way too, because come to think of it, without these prostitutes, the tech-illiterate predators couldn't get any f-cking war going, nor could they continue to rule over producers. Can there be anything more stupid than slaves building the tools of their own oppression (although they would have different choices) ?

---
Producers have solved the production problem but predators still refuse to solve the distribution problem (except for themselves).

by prod on Tue Aug 7th, 2007 at 07:29:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Welcome around here, prod!

Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.
by metavision on Tue Aug 7th, 2007 at 12:04:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Remember, those folks designing weapons could easily be convinced to design something more useful.  Just divert the money.

"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"
by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Wed Aug 8th, 2007 at 12:20:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
My brother-in-law was an engineer for Boeing during the SPEA strike.  He walked picket lines with some of the best rocket scientists on earth.  What they discovered was that it took folks like the teamsters to actually help them and that truckers and rocket scientists had the same problems.

And so do electrical engineers, computer programmers, and biotechnologists as well as bankers, managers, and marketing/sales people to boot.  Production and wealth creation requires all these economic functions.  

Parasites only require a host.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Tue Aug 7th, 2007 at 11:36:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Please note that your list (electrical engineers, computer programmers, and biotechnologists...) is one that I might have produced, too, and that engineers involved in manufacturing somehow wouldn't fit.

What are those engineers called, anyway? And why isn't this name immediately obvious?

Googling suggests that there isn't even agreement on a name -- "industrial engineering", "production engineering", and "manufacturing engineering" are all applicable, and get a similar number of hits. None sounds high-status to my ear. How many top universities in the US have a department? -- a program? -- a course?

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Tue Aug 7th, 2007 at 05:20:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm pretty sure Michigan had an industrial engineering department, and offered advanced degrees in it.  I also remember that Michigan State had a whole raft of unusual engineering specialties, down to things like packing and containers.

I won't argue as to the status of these degrees vis a vis "real science" and whatnot.  I do know the engineers at UM were a world apart.  They (along with most of the artists, oddly) had their own separate campus.  They were also strongly anti-union, despite the fact that there the engineering departments had a huge number of TA's.  Being snubbed during organizing drives was one of the only contacts I had with students in engineering.

by Zwackus on Tue Aug 7th, 2007 at 07:14:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't think there is a "manufacturing engineer" speciality but, rather, them that work in manufacturing keep their specialities distinct: mechanical, electrical, industrial, design, control, & etc.  

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Tue Aug 7th, 2007 at 08:31:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Dear old Finland is run by engineers. The majority of CEOs have engineering degrees. Lawyers, thank Zeus, hardly get a look in.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Aug 10th, 2007 at 06:35:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It was when I was talking in 1989 with a Finnish engineer who was a specialist in district heating that I realized how difficult and unsatifying it was to be an engineer in the Anglo-American countries.

It also explains why Finland, in spite of its very remote location (it is NOT true that Finland is the edge of the world even if you CAN see it from the top of the ski jump in Jyvaskyla ;-) and lack of resources, consistently "punches above it weight class" in economics.

"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"

by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Fri Aug 10th, 2007 at 08:03:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Could it be the obvious: that engineers are tuned to the dynamics of structures, in contrast to the lawyers, MBAs and Adpeople who are more focused on the gaming of systems, and perceptions.

The only perception element of eg a bridge is whether it is elegant technology or not. In engineering, 'integrity' is vital. I know it is not in quite the same sense as the human one - but for engineers it is an important insight in their deealing with organizations/structures of people.

Nokia for example accepts enormous redundancy in their organization because it allows them great flexibility in facing change. I was shocked to read that there are some US bridges that are so 'linear' that a single component failure could bring the whole thing crashing down.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Aug 10th, 2007 at 08:57:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In my experience engineers are aware redundancy is a necessity whereas MBAs, lawyers, & etc. think it is 'fat-to-be-trimmed.'    

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Fri Aug 10th, 2007 at 11:16:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
BTW Do I understand correctly that you have some Finnish or Scandinavian genes in you?

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Aug 10th, 2007 at 09:02:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
According to my sister who has done extensive research on the family, I am 1/8 Norwegian (Bergen) and 7/8 Swede (Gotland, Smaland, Skane).

My link to Finland is much more direct.  In 1989, some Finns published an early draft, in translation, of Elegant Technology (1992).  It was called "Tuottajat ja Saalistajat: Johdatus ekoteolliseen ratkaisuun" in Finnish.  How this happened is a long story but it left me with the very distinct impresson that the Finns were easily the best informed people on earth.  When the OECD report came out a few ears back ranking Finnish schools the best on the planet, I could only nod and say, "of course!"

"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"

by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Fri Aug 10th, 2007 at 10:09:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Funnily enough my daughters have both Norwegian and Gotland genes in them from my ex's side. How this mixes with my mongrel genes from the wrong side of the distant blankets of the Earls of Derby has yet to be seen. But so far looks promising.

I could imagine your book might have influenced quite a few Finns. I thought I was a bookworm till I came to Finland.

I imagine, if it is still in print, that the very knowledgeable and helpful staff at the Aalto-designed Academic Bookshop in downtown Helsinki could put their hands on a copy in seconds. This used to be the largest and most diversely stocked bookshop in the world, though I am sure it has now been overtaken.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Aug 10th, 2007 at 10:23:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I fail to grasp how you Finns expect to successfully run a modern business with people in upper management having an understanding of what that business produces.

</snark>

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Fri Aug 10th, 2007 at 11:11:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
LOL! It sure takes up a lot of time that could be better spent on thinking about their options.

I've worked with a few scions of large Finnish family-owned private enterprises (yes, these thowbacks still exist), and they all happily recount the times they spent at the very bottom, learning their business from the ground up. And how they had to conceal their identities to ensure the authenticity of the experience.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Aug 10th, 2007 at 11:25:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Here's the deal on engineering.

At one time, the finest engineering schools on earth were found at the land-grant universities like Perdue, Michigan State, Nebraska (agronomy).  These schools were responsible for many Fortune 500 companies--I cannot even imagine 3M without the chemical engineering department at the University of Minnesota.  The UM medical school spawned Medtronics, and about 50 other major players in medical equipment biz.  In one of the late Apollo flights, the entire crew was from Michigan.  You want to learn how to drill for oil, go to Texas or Oklahoma.  ETC.

While it is probably no longer possible to get an engineering education like they did in the 30s to 70s, I am certain that there are still schools that will do the job.  The biggest difference is that you better have a fault-tolerant ear for those who learned English in schools.  Just remember, these guys got their jobs because they learned math in countries like India that actually teach math to their children.  They are genuinely baffled by folks who cannot do math.

"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"

by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Tue Aug 7th, 2007 at 11:54:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The distinction might be between "designer" and "worker".

The latter sometimes does not require the same degree of skill but is the most visible. The low status is associated to the other branches. With more and more efficient production methods, fewer "designers" are needed, and their jobs become increasingly abstract (and well paid.)

Sooner or later you will need someone who can interpret between the two groups.

Sorry, I don't have a conclusion at this time.


-----
sapere aude

by Number 6 on Fri Aug 10th, 2007 at 06:26:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Engineers are less valued in the UK than in the US (even more extreme value placed on MBAs from what I've seen). From the impression I get, France and Germany hold engineers in the same esteem as the US.

Myself and most of my engineering friends are treated pretty darn well. Most of us are in the semiconductor or biomedical industry which probably makes a difference. In low or negative growth industries like aerospace the picture is different.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Tue Aug 7th, 2007 at 12:55:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I know nothing of Germany, but what is certain is that engineers are held in pretty high esteem in France. Not in the political class (where indeed, people with taste for power but no science/technology abilities go) but certainly in large companies : that is where a many CEO's and a lot of the lower management is recruited...

Top tier engineering schools tend to open a lots of doors in France.

However, it is expected of those engineers not to remain in "production" facilities for too long and to move quickly into management.

Also a note for techno : one of the main French engineering schools, the ENSAM (Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts et Métiers, i.e. National Superior School of Arts and Crafts) specializes in engineers that can actually use their hands to make stuff...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Tue Aug 7th, 2007 at 05:56:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't think the situation is significantly different in the US. I have a few engineer friends that now work in Germany and the environment is similar. Management ranks in the US have a fair number of engineers in them as well for the same reasons. An engineering degree from MIT or Stanford opens the same doors (maybe even more) than MBA degrees from the same schools. While managers make more money than engineers in the corporate world, MBA degrees are to some extent disrespected by the public, known as "a dime a dozen," and certainly do not guarantee you a management track job.

The UK quip came from myself looking for a job there - the pay was about 50-70% of what it is in the US. Good luck living anywhere near London on that sort of money. Some programmers I know from the internet working for banks in London seem to a lot better, so my view is admittedly anecdotal.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Tue Aug 7th, 2007 at 06:39:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In France, some doors simply won't open if you don't come from the proper school - Polytechnique. The top levels of many Industrial or Finance companies are open only to engineers - although that is slowly changing.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Tue Aug 7th, 2007 at 07:20:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In the US I think that's only common on Wall Street - you have to have gone to the right Ivy League school and probably been a member of the right fraternity (or have the right parents).

In my engineering experience there is very little of that. Some of it is probably due to being in the semiconductor industry my whole career. There just isn't room in the budget for non-functional employees in such a high cost, competitive industry.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Tue Aug 7th, 2007 at 07:31:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I didn't say they were non-functional...

Note that you can't bribe your way into Polytechnique (it's the school Jérôme went to, BTW), and graduating there as a top student is very hard. It is a meritocracy that selects early.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Tue Aug 7th, 2007 at 07:55:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Three cultural indicators in USA.

  1. You never see an engineer on TV.  Or anywhere else.  

  2. Engineers are NOT considered a "catch" like, for example, an MD.  In fact, engineers are considered quite unhip.  Ask any woman.

  3. People who run business in USA will actually fire parts of their engineering departments to meet a profit target and actually win approval from Wall Street for this insanity.


"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"
by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Wed Aug 8th, 2007 at 12:08:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
  1. I see about 1000 engineers every day. Ok bad joke. TV is all entertainers and journalists (haha, no difference either). It's not a problem with engineering, it's the dumbing down of TV and media, which IMO reached the point of no return during the OJ Simpson car chase back in 94.

  2. Engineers ARE less hip than average. Leave the hipsterness to English majors that need to make up for their lack of income when it comes to attracting mates. Also "catch" roughly correlates to income, so engineers are fairly high on the list. Based on most women I've talked to they'd consider doctors even less hip than engineers. 100 hours a week in the hospital doesn't leave much time to work on your cultural stylin', unless a BMW 3 series is hip (5 series once they're 40 years old).

  3. I think the problem here is management laying off everyone (ie, the makers and the builders) but themselves, resulting in a less severe form of this scenario. Yes, it IS madness, but the problem has little to do with engineers.

Culture creators (authors, artists, etc) get the most respect in this country, followed by all the white collar occupations (minus lawyers of course). Who actually gets the money is sorted out in a completely different manner. I don't have the energy for a 2000 word essay on the topic at the moment, but it's in my head. Needless to say I sit in the gray area on both points.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Wed Aug 8th, 2007 at 12:44:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As far as hipness goes, it seems almost inversely proportional to income.  Stereotypical "hip" jobs are working at a coffee shop or a record store.  As such, English and History majors score pretty well on the hipness scale, both because they have no route to gainful employment, and because what gainful employment they can find doesn't care too much about silly fashions and whatnot, allowing them more time to practice being hip.

The rise of computers and the internet has, I think, actually helped the overall "hipness" of engineer types, at least by association.  In that most are stereotypical "geeks," and that the class of "geek" suffers from a good deal less stigma than it once did.

However, native-born American engineering students, and in particular graduate students, are sort of rare these days, for the reasons cited earlier.

by Zwackus on Wed Aug 8th, 2007 at 07:48:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Q. What's the difference between an extrovert geek and an introvert geek?

A. The introvert geek looks at HIS shoes when he's talking to you....

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Wed Aug 8th, 2007 at 07:51:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"Geek" is another interesting example of a pejorative being reclaimed and used proudly. Cf "Gay" etc.

-----
sapere aude
by Number 6 on Fri Aug 10th, 2007 at 06:31:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You never see an engineer on TV.  Or anywhere else.
 

Except on Star Trek . . .

by Zwackus on Wed Aug 8th, 2007 at 07:44:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And Star Trek was produced, when?

And even the Star Trek engineers never actually did any engineering.

Actually, there are some engineers shown on cable shows on Discovery.

"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"

by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Thu Aug 9th, 2007 at 01:09:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I have to mention my favourite engineer, Barney Collier on  Mission Impossible. I'll be damned if I'm going to sit here and let anyone call Barney un-hip!

True, 60's again.


-----
sapere aude

by Number 6 on Fri Aug 10th, 2007 at 06:35:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That takes me back to being picked up by my grandparents from junior school. They had a TV, and it was either Mission Impossible, or Star Trek on on the nights I used to be picked up.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Fri Aug 10th, 2007 at 06:52:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ah, good times.
Or, rather: thank goodness for DVDs, as I was at most -10 years at the time.


-----
sapere aude
by Number 6 on Fri Aug 10th, 2007 at 07:08:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Indeed. A few miscellaneous points that I find interesting:

  • Nine out of nine of China's central governing committee are trained engineers.

  • The points that follow are substantially culture-specific in their application.

  • Manufacturing has a low status, even among fields of engineering.

  • Exalting science over engineering tends the top intellects into science, which in turn gives reason to exalt science over engineering...

  • The broad broad (but shallow) perspective on physical phenomena fostered by engineering tends to give engineers a good appreciation of science, but the deep (but narrow) perspective fostered by science tends to give scientists a poor appreciation of engineering. Note that "deep but narrow" somehow sounds superior (to my culture-tuned ear, at least) to "broad but shallow". Engineering knowledge can be deep, too, but it is of a different kind.


Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.
by technopolitical on Tue Aug 7th, 2007 at 05:11:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The broad broad (but shallow) perspective on physical phenomena fostered by engineering tends to give engineers a good appreciation of science, but the deep (but narrow) perspective fostered by science tends to give scientists a poor appreciation of engineering. Note that "deep but narrow" somehow sounds superior (to my culture-tuned ear, at least) to "broad but shallow". Engineering knowledge can be deep, too, but it is of a different kind.

the best reply to that I can think to off the top of my head is a Heinlein quote

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

-Robert A. Heinlein

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Tue Aug 7th, 2007 at 05:36:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hit the nail on the head, there.  Narrow but deep is the ONLY thing that is respected in academia, humanities just as much as the sciences.  
by Zwackus on Tue Aug 7th, 2007 at 07:17:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
the engineers at qinghua university were some of the only cadres who didn't get mixed up in the political upheaval of the cultural revolution. traditionally, it was grads in politics and history from the more activist student body at beida that formed the ruling class, but th3ese days, it's raining engineers.
by wu ming on Thu Aug 9th, 2007 at 02:31:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm curious but understand if you care not to respond. Your tag, it is geared more for Anglo-American applications, or Chinese applications (thinking of almost 20 years ago)?

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill
by r------ on Thu Aug 9th, 2007 at 09:06:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
what do you mean by "tag"?
by wu ming on Fri Aug 10th, 2007 at 03:42:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
i mean wu ming.

i thought that name meant something back in the democracy movement a couple of decades ago...

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Fri Aug 10th, 2007 at 08:08:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
the name wu ming is mandarin for "no name" or anonymous. although, with a different character for "ming" it could also be read as "without a mandate."

to be clear, my only contact with the chinese democracy movement has been conversations with random people on trains, and the occasional language teacher or interesting landlord. i'm american, and chose the name while studying in a language program a couple of years ago.

by wu ming on Fri Aug 10th, 2007 at 02:42:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Gotcha.

I was trying to remember where I had heard this (don't speak a lick of chinese obviously) name because it was super familiar so I looked it up and it came back to me - a lot of people in the democracy movement took that name. Probably because of what it means. That must be where I heard it - no other reason to have - back in university, when I was dating someone from there and Tienanmen was happening (her sister was actually there at the square when it happened) and we were all quite involved with many other friends trying to find out what was happening.

It seems like so long ago.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Fri Aug 10th, 2007 at 04:12:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
there have got to be zillions of chinese bloggers and people on BBS networks called "wu ming."

i find that 89 was a watershed year for a lot of things, but i relate far better with those who were paying attention before 89 than after 89. there's a sort of gut sense of tragedy and wounded idealism of the 6/4 generation that is quite simpatico with myself as a gen x'er.

by wu ming on Sun Aug 12th, 2007 at 11:30:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Has the change in composition of the ruling class caused any observable differences in policy or politics?

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.
by technopolitical on Fri Aug 10th, 2007 at 02:19:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
My perception on the issue, as a student in the 90's, was that engineering is a dead end.  You'll be overworked and underpaid by the know-nothing MBA's who "lead" your companies, and then fired at the drop of a hat ...

Your perception is accurate.  


She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Tue Aug 7th, 2007 at 11:01:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Your ´northener´ wires are showing, but I understand why it would feel personal to you.  It´s one more nail on the neocon-lib´s coffin and I´m glad you will be spreading the word because it has reached that personal insult level.  It is only when people are touched that closely, that the heat goes up on the elites and things begin to change.

Economics has become a psychophant "science" for the elites and I think/hope the public tunes it out because they make it more complicated than it is and then contradict themselves anyway.

Turn up the heat on ´em!

P.S.  I recognize (the abandoned Gates Rubber plant and) the light rail in Denver:  I tried to budget that bugger in the early 80s, during the conception, debate and feasibility studies.  At least we were able to build a good bus infrastructure well before the locals would even consider using it.

Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.

by metavision on Tue Aug 7th, 2007 at 11:46:29 AM EST
excellent catch

That is the old Gates plant in Denver.  A friend of mine spent 6 months hauling stuff out of there to ship to...wherever.  He thought he could get me in to that old building but his bud wasn't in the right booth.  So we waited until golden hour to take those shots.  If I had turned the camera around, I could have shot a spectacular sunset on the Rockies.

"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"

by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Tue Aug 7th, 2007 at 12:00:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
From a British historical perspective engineers were prominent in the nineteenth century, but less so since. There is no celebrity engineer in Britain today to compare with someone like Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

What seems to have happened culturally was that people educated in public (=private anywhere else in the world) schools, were prepared to rule the empire and despised the people who actually made things. These sort of schools expanded during the nineteenth century and gradually strangled the innovative impulses which had produced the industrial revolution.

This produced the sort of industrial sector where both management and workforce were convinced that the world owed them a living and that any change was a bad idea. In sector after sector innovation had largely ceased by the Great War. Foreign competitors who used new and better methods were considered to be behaving unfairly.

The profession of engineering was tarred with the same brush, so its status and visibility declined.

Of course the above is overstated as new industries were developed in Britain during the twentieth century, but I think my cultural argument is probably an indication of why engineering declined in status.

Of course in the modern era both the empire and most of the heavy industry has disappeared. However the  financial sector seems to be the prestigious area of economic activity and making things is still of lower cultural status.

by Gary J on Thu Aug 9th, 2007 at 07:53:06 AM EST
Very interesting analysis. I understand a bit better now. Filthy proles.

However, to be a gentleman of leisure and do something as a hobby - that's something to be honoured.

-----
sapere aude

by Number 6 on Fri Aug 10th, 2007 at 07:06:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
*nola.com:  Four Local Bridges Score Lower than Minnesota Bridge
http://blog.nola.com/updates/2007/08/4_local_bridges_score_lower_th.html

Four of the New Orleans area's 11 major bridges have structural condition ratings lower than the Minnesota bridge that collapsed into the Mississippi River last week, according to a review of the most recent Louisiana inspection reports.

The U.S. 11 bridge over Lake Pontchartrain, the Interstate 310 Mississippi River bridge at Luling and both of the Interstate 10 twin spans over Lake Pontchartrain were rated either "serious" or "critical," although the twin spans appear to be a special case, having been reconstructed since crumbling in Hurricane Katrina and inspected on a daily basis.

*WaPo:  In New Orleans, Water System at Risk
http://tinyurl.com/2rvpkt  

The city Sewerage & Water Board says at least 50 million gallons of water a day are now being lost to leaks, or 2 1/2 times pre-Katrina levels. S&WB officials also believe raw sewage is leaking out in places, though the extent of the problem is unclear.
...
S&WB estimates that rebuilding and improving the water, sewer and drainage systems will cost $5.7 billion over 25 years _ money the agency doesn't have.

I am seeing, beyond political divisions, a country so demoralized and deeply depressed, it cannot get up to save itself:

*The survivors, (not just nola) so hopeless that they cannot fight back, but try to make it through the day.

*The ostriches, in the sand of consumerism to avoid facing reality.

*The aware minority, overwhelmed by the constant barrage from the 43rd regime and blinded by the shock of the new reality.

*The elites, system-empowered sociopaths, who see nothing, feel nothing.

Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.

by metavision on Thu Aug 9th, 2007 at 09:02:31 AM EST


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