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Dust thou art, and unto Dust shalt thou return. The Collapse of Concrete Buildings

Dust thou art, and unto Dust shalt thou return. The Collapse of Concrete Buildings

We don’t know yet what could be the causes of the recent collapse of the condo building in Surfside, Florida. But it is likely that the corrosion of the reinforced concrete was one of the main reasons that weakened the structure of the building. It is a subject that I described in one of the chapter of my book “Before the Collapse” (Springer 2018) that turns out to have been timely and, unfortunately, also prophetic. We may see many more of these collapses in the future

Extract from Chapter 3.1 of “Before the Collapse” (2019) by Ugo Bardi 

In the late morning of August 14, 2018, I was busy writing this book when I happened to open my browser. There, I saw the images of the collapse of the Morandi bridge, in Genoa, almost in real time. It was a major disaster: the bridge used to carry more than 25 million vehicles per year and it was a vital commercial link between Italy and Southern France. When it collapsed, it not only took with it the lives of 43 people who were crossing it, but it was nothing less than a stroke for the Italian highway system, forcing the traffic from and to France to take a long detour. It will take years before a new bridge can be built and the economic damage has been incalculable.

How could it happen that the engineers who took care of the maintenance of the highway could not predict and contrast the collapse of such an important structure? Much was said in the debate that followed about incompetence or corruption. Perhaps the fact that maintenance of the highway was handed over to a profit-making company was a recipe for disaster: profit-maximizing may well have led to cutting corners in the maintenance tasks…

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2019 Annual GWPF Lecture – Prof Michael Kelly – Energy Utopias and Engineering Reality

2019 Annual GWPF Lecture – Prof Michael Kelly – Energy Utopias and Engineering Reality

Imagination, STEM and Reading Lolita in Tehran

Imagination, STEM and Reading Lolita in Tehran

Azar Nafisi, author of the international bestseller, Reading Lolita in Tehran, explains that the title of her book came from her diary in which she kept track of activities that were no longer allowed in post-revolutionary Iran, but which people engaged in as a form of resistance. One of those activities was reading Vladimir Nabokov’s 1955 novel, Lolita, about a middle-aged professor of literature who finds himself sexually pursuing a 12-year-old girl—a tale that is not exactly consistent with Islamic revolutionary clerical sensibilities.

Nafisi spoke recently to a small gathering I attended at the home of a friend about her life, her writings and her fears for American democracy. She shared her concerns that warning signs are all around signaling the decline of democratic life in her adopted country. She did so in part by invoking a recurrent theme in the academic world to which she belongs. That world contains two cultures which seem forever split, the sciences and the humanities.

The craze over so-called STEM—science, technology, engineering and math—in education policy and practice has devalued the development of individual imagination which Nafisi regards as the cornerstone of an educated mind. Instead, cultivation of the imagination is replaced with the notion of a “race” against the Chinese and other commercial rivals to dominate world markets with new, domestically developed technologies.

No thought is given to whether those technologies will enhance our individual lives. More likely, those technologies—the cellphone was much on her mind—are designed to do our imagining for us. You might say that the STEM crowd is substituting their imagination for ours. (Here and below I mix in my own reactions to Nafisi’s presentation.)

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Scientific Education as a Cause of Political Stupidity

Scientific Education as a Cause of Political Stupidity

While we’re discussing education, the theme of the current series of posts here on The Archdruid Report, it’s necessary to point out that there are downsides as well as upsides to take into account. The savant so saturated in abstractions that he’s hopelessly inept at the business of everyday life has been a figure of fun in literature for many centuries now, not least because examples of the type are so easy to find in every age.

That said, certain kinds of education have more tightly focused downsides. It so happens, for example, that engineers have contributed rather more to crackpot literature than most other professions. Hollow-earth theories, ancient-astronaut speculations, treatises arguing that the lost continent of Atlantis is located nearly anywhere on Earth except where Plato said it was—well, I could go on; engineers have written a really impressive share of the gaudier works in such fields. In my misspent youth, I used to collect such books as a source of imaginative entertainment, and when the jacket claimed the author was some kind of engineer, I knew I was in for a treat.

I treated that as an interesting coincidence until I spent a couple of years working for a microfilming company in Seattle that was owned by a retired Boeing engineer. He was also a devout fundamentalist Christian and a young-Earth creationist; he’d written quite a bit of creationist literature, though I never heard that any of it was published except as densely typed photocopied handouts—and all of it displayed a very specific logic: given that the Earth was created by God on October 23, 4004 BCE, at 9:00 in the morning, how can we explain the things we find on Earth today?

That is to say, he approached it as an engineering problem.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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