Subject: Re:Code Created Malpractice Opportunity-Rigid v. Flexible Diaphragms
From: Charles Greenlaw <cgreenlaw(--nospam--at)speedlink.com>
Date: Sun, 30 May 1999 21:58:32 -0700
What follows crosses from an older thread to this later one
At 09:43 AM 5/28/99 EDT, Frank E. McClure wrote, under a previous subject:
You are "right on target." I agree with your assessment of Harold
Sprague's conduct and performance. We are all richer for his example.
I wish I could "unring the bell" concerning some of my Seaint List Service
messages that I have posted, sometimes in the middle of the night, when I was
having a "bad hair day."
My mother, like many other mothers, told me that if I could not say something
nice about a person, it was better not to say anything. I wish I had
listened to my mother's advice more often.
Well, I agree that Harold Sprague has done very well, but I disagree that
Frank McClure has done badly at all.
They have undertaken to participate in entirely different sorts of topics
from each other, and which require entirely different writing styles and
approaches to other writers.
Harold typically answers questions on engineering materials and their
behavior. He offers facts and opinions about facts. While he is on code
writing committees, to this list he is rarely an advocate, much less a
commenter on other people's advocacies.
Frank however engages head-on in controversies on codes that are intended to
control the behavior of engineers, and which originate in the behavior of
small groups of engineers. He offers opinions about opinions, and opinions
about other people's grand plans. Planning of policy-laden codes for
controlling others, regardless of richness in engineering content, is
inevitably and inherently political. Repeat, Political. That means
ambitious, control- motivated, and contentious.
A perennial failing among engineers is to suppose that codes are merely
dispassionately objective research findings gathered up, with a numbering
system added, and a few words like "shall" sprinkled in here and there, and
benignly offered up in the interests of information and convenience.
Pertinent to ongoing, modern code formulation work --which is political and
thus bound up with differences of opinion and prejudice-- are revered Prof
Hardy Cross's "three stages" that engineers pass through in their careers:
"At first they use certain routines, formulas, fixed specifications,
[and] standard procedures.
"[Later, in the second stage] they are in a position to revise,
discard or invent routines for others to follow. Formalized procedures are
set up for the guidance of [engineers] of less experience.
"Eventually, [they] may reach a third stage...[where] their problems
have ceased to be formal engineering problems and have become national
problems [interrelating engineering with] applied science, economic theory,
finance, social relations, and industrial relations."
It is apparent SEAOC is stuck addictively in this second stage, and its
hallowed committees are devoted to constant reinvention of routines and
procedures for everyone else to follow, in ever-greater complexity, as
though we all were still incorrigible first-stagers who would be lost and
dangerous without this control, and who sort of deserve to be punished as well.
Well, I'm 56, and Frank McClure was going to ICBO meetings the year I was
going to Kindergarten. Just maybe he has a little of that third-stage
perspective and is offering his input to the second-stagers in a way they
find inconveniently challenging. I gather he might as well have mailed his
comments directly to the dead-letter office.
Dennis Wish is 50 now, and he's a bit senior to be talked down to as a
first-stager by a privileged committee boss and a committee that doesn't
have Dennis's insights, experiences, risks, perspectives and track record in
custom residential woodframe work.
Former HEW Secretary John W. Gardner, who has been on the Advisory Council
to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, wrote of institutions such as SEAOC and
FEMA: "We do not expect organizations or societies to be above criticism,
nor do we trust those who run them to be adequately self-critical." He adds
in an endnote, "One reason the individual can rarely think clearly about the
renewal of a society to which he belongs is that it never occurs to him that
he may be part of the problem, that he may be part of what needs renewing."
Significant to that last, SEAOC officers and committee chairs acquire power
by "apostolic succession", that is, by proving acceptable to their mentor
predecessors and being chosen by them. Influence of individual voting,
dues-paying SE Assn Members on who runs things at the top is remote to the
point of being non-existent. There are no multiple-candidate ballots,
platforms, campaigns, referenda, or any other means available for individual
members to hold the top people accountable, or to abort any unwanted actions
As to tolerance of dissenters, Gardner said, "We know that from the ranks of
the critics come cranks and troublemakers, but from the same ranks come the
saviors and innovators."
I would add that it is useless to offer dissent and criticism and still
expect to be popular and have nobody ever feel offended or their prestige
rattled. One has to choose which role to take, and do it diligently.
Regretted missteps can be apologized for, and have been. No apology is in
order for being a critic per se, nor for expressing one's displeasure with
another's deed or utterance on the matter at hand. It's political, remember.
Manipulation of dedicated, good faith dissenters and critics through sweetly
spun appeals to them to "be nice" is entirely out of place.
And what about behaving "professional", as that euphemism is used? Isn't it
ironic that so many list members recently agreed it is very professional to
blow the whistle and criticize inadequacies believed to exist in a building
under construction, but so many of them doubt the professionalism in blowing
the whistle and criticising inadequacies believed to exist in a building
CODE under construction-- a code intended to control ALL buildings and ALL
But, you say, that building was by some unknown misguided person, whereas
the Seismic Code is a collective, altruistic effort by our grand old
Association, which is so revered and honored. Well, I hope that the
codewriting effort's true purposes haven't become altered to make paramount
SEAOC's prestige, or its committee members' reputations, or the FEMA
contractor's, because as Robert Pirsig put it, "Any effort that has
self-glorification as its final end point is bound to end in disaster."
Charles O. Greenlaw SE Sacramento CA
ref: Hardy Cross, Engineers and Ivory Towers. 1952
John W. Gardner, Self Renewal. 1963
Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. 1974