Tuesday, February 2, 2016

not professional

"20 years of schoolin' and they put you on the day shift" - Bob Dylan

Perhaps the ability to tolerate decades of formal education is the only thing a professional title indicates.

Recent stories that caught my attention include the heaving of the Nipigon River Bridge, the disinterest in recognizing management failures at Toronto Hydro, the intimidating behavior of the Attorney General of Vermont, the disinterest in the parameters of responsibility of Ontario's new Environmental Commissioner, and just because that annoyed me I'll add one more instance of lazy green economics.

I first commented on the split in the new Nipigon River Bridge on Facebook when it occurred. If you're not familiar with it, a very snazzy bridge was built on the one road across Canada, but it now appears it wasn't built for a Canadian winter. In one news story we made the farcical part of South Parks "follow the only road" song the lyric indicating the road is "to code". I wrote on the bridge again this past weekend, inspired by a letter to an editor that seemed to be written by an engineer, but not signed as a professional engineer.

Broken Bridge: Caring isn’t competence
image from the CBC
...it’s clear ascetics and a heavy weighting of environmental issues were significant contributors to the choice of a bridge design not tried in a similar environment in the past.
I think it’s equally clear that the concerns should be on the design, engineering standards and certification bodies, at least as equally as materials.
I find it particularly unsettling that Michael Hogan’s letter to the editor isn’t signed by Dr. Hogan (as it could be), with the professional engineer designation. It’s disconcerting if the letter writer is not an engineer, but it’s more disconcerting if engineers do not have a professional concern about engineers’ role in the failure of the only road allowing cross-country travel.

A professional engineer advised me part of becoming an engineer is swearing not to bad-mouth other engineers, which explains why the excellent letter to the editor wasn't signed, but could also explains why the search seems to be on for a scapegoat, more than a cause.

I understand the desire of the engineering body to handle things internally, but I think they need to figure out a better communication strategy - perhaps one including the announcement of a review.

Postscript (September 22, 2016):
The government has released a report - the conclusions of which do not point to design:


Vermont's Attorney General is intimidating an anti-wind activist with the threat of impersonating a lawyer at Public Service Board hearing. From the Associated Press:
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Annette Smith has been fighting the power for more than 15 years, tenaciously opposing energy projects she believes harm the environment or quality of life in Vermont.
Now she is the target of a criminal investigation into whether her efforts constitute unlicensed legal work — but her allies say her only offense is too often annoying a green power industry that boasts deep pockets.
The complaint filed with the state attorney general's office alleges Smith has improperly provided legal advice to parties before the state Public Service Board, a court-like regulatory panel where utilities and project developers often hire lawyers at $250 per hour or more. Many residents and small towns say they don't have money like that, effectively barring them from full participation in board cases.
Smith maintains she has never held herself out to be a lawyer. She does not bill those she advises but welcomes donations to her nonprofit, Vermonters for a Clean Environment, which has also helped oppose large farm and mine expansions as well as additives in public water supplies.
Getting harassed for not being a lawyer strikes me as more than a little bizarre. 

Here is a letter reportedly from professional lawyer Deborah T. Buchnam, Esq.:
Vermont’s Attorney General has filed a complaint against Annette Smith, the activist who helps Vermonters opposed to Industrial Wind, navigate the administrative jungle that best describes the Public Service Board proceedings. I have represented folks opposed to Industrial Wind at the Public Service Board, and the hearings are overrun by lawyers—most of whom favor the government’s and the developer’s positions on Industrial Wind. Neighbors opposed to an Industrial Wind project face a phalanx of government and industry lawyers in a proceeding that is costly, time consuming and often confusing. In other words, the fix is in. 
Now the Attorney General is siding with Vermont’s large law firms and big lobbyists to deprive opponents of Industrial Wind the advice of a person who knows the intricacies of the proceedings and can help those who cannot afford the high priced lawyers the developers can. And make no mistake: even though this is a preposterous charge, and will likely be thrown out, its purpose will be fulfilled: to chill anyone’s free speech rights who dares to question the powerful in Montpelier.
The full letter, which can be read at Yes Vermont Yankee, concludes,
Vermonters are being strangled by government overreach. The Attorney General’s action is a disgraceful example. If you don’t agree with the powerful and well-connected in this state, then just shut up, or you may be the target of the Government and its unlimited resources.
Maybe Vermont should build a wall to separate themselves from "live free or die" New Hampshire .

Back in Ontario, Tom Adams has excellent back-to-back guest posts on his site, one from Jay Shepherd and the other from Paul Kahnert and David Grant.  Both involving Toronto Hydro. In some ways bring up Toronto Hydro's Anthony Haines is the opposite of arguing against credentialism, but if you believe leaders should be responsible...

Since 2006 Toronto Hydro has been given, by the Ontario Energy Board, a combination of over $3.5 billion and recently, another $2.5 billion for a staggering total of $6 billion in rate increases for the businesses and citizens of the City of Toronto. It’s important to note that before the arrival of the current CEO, there was a solid ten year, plan to refurbish Toronto Hydro that would have cost $1.5 Billion. 
The current CEO is famous with me for stating, "The system is now alive and tingling sending information so that the biggest storm in corporate memory would have the fastest restoration time in corporate memory," not long before some freezing rain wiped out power through much of his territory, leaving many of his customers without power days later, on Christmas.

It seems Toronto has become a place where people in certain circles need neither credentials nor deeds.
Please her, please him, buy gifts
Not that Toronto's mega-whos don't see a different problem.


December 1st, 2015 started the term of the latest Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, Dianne Saxe. Saxe is apparently a well regarded environmental lawyer and former head of the gawd awful entity behind the propoganda wind turbine at Toronto's Exhibition Place - the one where the rumour is the city's elite shareholders were bailed out of the financial dud by Toronto Hydro. As with Toronto Hydro's CEO, I decided my opinion on the new ECO some time ago, writing in unprofessionals on electricity"Diane Saxe is annoying." Saxe used, not surprisingly, Steve Paikin's show to launch her ECO agenda. Ontario's New Eco-champion stated she wanted to direct the public's attention to critical issues such as "fossil fuel subsidies", and a newspaper report shortly afterward made it clear where she first wanted to do so:
Ontario’s new environment commissioner wants an end to cheap diesel for farmers
The National Farmers Union didn't share the ECO's ignorance on the taxation of coloured diesel:
Coloured diesel for agriculture is priced lower because it is taxed less – not because it is subsidized. The additional fuel tax the ECO would have farmers pay is used for building and maintaining provincial transportation infrastructure. Local roads are already covered by municipal taxes. Farm vehicles, such as tractors, are primarily used in private farm fields for food production, so the fuel used in them should not be taxed to pay for the costs due to passenger cars and trucks being driven on highways.
Well, who could expect a lawyer, particularly an environmental one, to know about such things?

But how about an economist?

The Energy Institute at Haas blog, which I think is great, has a story titled "Gas is too cheap" - a premise I happen to agree with, but I live in a place with a minimum price for beer. The annoying part about the post, for me, is a standard stupidity with "green" economics:
The external costs for a gallon of gasoline, as estimated in a now classic paper, are approximately $2 per gallon.
Here's the $2 from the now classic paper:

Notice that the costs here include $1.68/gallon unrelated to the fuel - or to put it differently, 8 cents per mile (of 10) aren't related to the internal combustion engine, but the cars.

Does anybody who doesn't have 20 years of schoolin' think taxing gasoline everywhere, including on the farm, is the best way to deal with congestion some places?

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