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August 11, 2014

If You Have "Visit the Mosul Dam" on Your Bucket List, Better do it Soon

(NOTE: I held this article over the weekend in order to not "break format" on the blog. News during the week, gaming/food/guns on the weekend. The concept works pretty well, so why mess with the status quo?)

I'm just saying.

Thanks to Drew, I read this ABC article Friday afternoon. Good read, but it raises some questions. So let me get this straight:

1. The Mosul Dam was built in the mid-80s and has been on life support since the day it was built, due to (in the words of David Petraeus) a foundation of soluble soils that are continuously dissolving, resulting in the formation of cavities and voids underground that place the dam at risk for failure, ...or as we say in the geotechnical business...Constructed in One of the Worst Possible Places to Locate a Dam. The US Army Corps of Engineers referred to this structure as needing "extraordinary engineering measures" to remain standing. Think about that. The same group who thought that the New Orleans levee system was "adequate" considered this particular structure to have the stability of a three-way sexual relationship between Andy Dick, Lindsey Lohan & "Eddie" the dog from "Frasier". At least they did in 2006, and I seriously doubt that anything has improved since then.

2. ISIS, the modern day heirs to The Mongol Horde, have either captured this dam, or are perilously close to capturing it depending on who you believe. Based on their prior performance, I seriously doubt their first point of order upon reaching the dam will be to Seamlessly Transition Into the Dam Failure Prevention Business.

3. The Peshmerga, who are The One Eyed Man in The Country of the Blind militarily speaking, are currently providing protection for this dam. This would be the same Peshmerga who had to withdraw from engagements with ISIS earlier this week due to shortages of ammunition. So, while these troops are tougher than a $2 ribeye, they might not be able to defend this structure if they're down to fighting with harsh language, sharpened garden tools, and weaponized unicorn farts.

4. ISIS has a track record of destroying anything in their path that is not strictly adherent to The Koran. Since (as far as I know), the Koran has no commentary on "magical portland cement concrete and compacted clay that prevent water from seeping through soil rapidly", my guess is that The Mosul Dam and its reservoir are considered to be Satan's In-Ground Swimming Pool by these sub-geniuses. And even if they were so inclined to preserve this structure, the process of injecting bentonite into the soils beneath this structure might be "a bridge too far" for their technical competence. Did Allah have any commentary regarding pumps? I do not know. But I have my suspicions.

So the Mosul Dam? Not a matter of if, but when. And you're screwed too, since our own BenK called dibs on The Mosul Dam in the AoSHQ Global Infrastructure Deadpool.

Me? I'm gonna stick with my pick from 1990: The Three Gorges Dam. I'm stubborn like that. Tres Gorges is gonna go McCain '08 one of these days, and then I can say "I told you so from the get-go."

But that brings us to my other point, which I will address below the fold: The Boogie Nights Corvette Rule.


This is a well known engineering truism that I just made up on the fly: No matter how well you design a structure, vehicle, or process, it will never live out its design life if you delegate maintenance on said item to Greg Sargent.

Or, you know, anyone else who likes to lick bus windows, invest in Nigerian Email Schemes, or attend Justin Bieber concerts.

The comparison is simple. Remember Boogie Nights? Pretty good movie, especially if you like Heather Graham on wheels. But that's not my point here. Fairly early in the movie, Mark Wahlberg goes out and buys himself a sweet red Corvette Stingray with his dirty-dirty hiney-touching money. By the last quarter of the movie, Wahlberg and John C. Reilly are pushing the battered remains of said Corvette down the street because........yeah. Dirk Diggler was responsible for maintaining it. You've got the look, you've got the power....but apparently you don't have the ability to call Steve down at Jiffy Lube and schedule an oil/lube/tire rotation. I mean, what the hell. If you're a little short on cash, they usually have a punch card where you can get the 5th oil change free!

This isn't a condemnation of Saddam's Iraq per se: It's a condemnation of ANY country where political connections among contractors and subcontractors, sketchy material suppliers and corrupt or frightened quality control inspectors come together in a big Venn Diagram of "Oh Shit!" Hell, it's hard enough to keep infrastructure standing tall in America (remember the I35 West bridge collapse in Minneapolis/St. Paul?), but The Third World? Fuhgeddaboudit!

Three Gorges? Toast. The Mosul Dam? Toast. Burj Dubai? Toast. It doesn't matter how many First World engineers and architects participate in the design process. As long as the construction or maintenance process is left up to a 3rd cousin of the King in the Middle East, or a business subsidiary of the PLA in China, the structure will never live up to the promise of its design life. Ozzymandias by any other name is still a big pile of debris. And a big-name project that is touted as a crowning achievement of a country where a significant portion of its population has to burn animal dung for cooking or haul their own "night soil" out to fertilize the crops will fail before it should. Every time.

And you can take that to the bank.

(This rule is primarily intended to be applied to flagship projects that are used to demonstrate that, much like Fredo Corleone, the country in question is smart & does big, important things. Basic projects? Generally OK, because they don't come with big glitzy promises of long design lives, and their budgets provide minimal opportunities for graft. Building a 3-story hospital building or a simple 100-foot long two lane bridge over a river? SHOULD be fine, but if you google "China building collapses", you will see that my rule can scale down to smaller projects if the government & contractors are corrupt enough.)

digg this
posted by Russ from Winterset at 01:26 PM

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