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1421: The Year China Discovered America

The Sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald

The Edmund Fitzgerald

I started reading about the IPO of Manchester United and I ended up reading about the Edmund Fitzgerald.  While there are a lot of theories about why the great ship went down, the best one I have read is that it was just not structurally sound.

When Bethlehem Steel Corporation permanently laid up the Fitzgerald’s sister ship, SS Arthur B. Homer, just five years after going to considerable expense to lengthen her, questions were raised as to whether both ships had the same structural problems. The two vessels were built in the same shipyard using welded joints instead of the riveted joints used in older ore freighters. Riveted joints allow a ship to flex and work in heavy seas, while welded joints are more likely to break.  Reports indicate that repairs to the Fitzgerald’s hull were delayed in 1975 due to plans to lengthen the ship during the upcoming winter layup. The Homer was lengthened to 825 feet (251 m) and placed back in service by December 1975, not long after the Fitzgerald foundered. In 1978, without explanation, Bethlehem Steel Corporation denied permission for the chairman of the NTSB to travel on the Homer. The Homer was permanently laid up in 1980 and broken for scrap in 1987.

Retired GLEW naval architect Raymond Ramsey, one of the design team on the hull of the Fitzgerald,  reviewed her increased load lines, maintenance history, along with the history of long ship hull failure and concluded that the Fitzgerald was not seaworthy on November 10, 1975. He stated that planning the Fitzgerald to be compatible with the constraints of the St. Lawrence Seaway had placed her hull design in a "straight jacket".  The Fitzgerald’s long ship design was developed without the benefit of research, development, test, and evaluation principles while computerized analytical technology was not available at the time she was built. Ramsey noted that the Fitzgerald’s hull was built with an all-welded (instead of riveted) modular fabrication method, which was used for the first time in the GLEW shipyard. Ramsey concluded that increasing the hull length to 729 feet (222 m) resulted in a L/D slenderness ratio (the ratio of the length of the ship to the depth of her structure)  that caused excessive multi-axial bending and springing of the hull, and that the hull should have been structurally reinforced to cope with her increased length.

Former crew statements seem to back this theory up.

The stress fracture theory was supported by the testimony of former crewmen. Former Second Mate Richard Orgel, who served on the Fitzgerald in 1972 and 1973, testified that "the ship had a tendency to bend and spring during storms ‘like a diving board after somebody has jumped off.’" Orgel was quoted as saying that the loss of the Fitzgerald was caused by hull failure, "pure and simple. I detected undue stress in the side tunnels by examining the white enamel paint, which will crack and splinter when submitted to severe stress." George H. "Red" Burgner, theFitzgerald‘s Steward for ten seasons and winter ship-keeper for seven years, testified in a deposition that a "loose keel" contributed to the vessel’s loss. Burgner further testified that "the keel and sister kelsons were only ‘tack welded’" and that he had personally observed that many of the welds were broken.

And then there is this picture of another Great Lake’s freighter Algoport breaking up while being towed to China for conversion.  High seas just bent the freighter in half.

M/V Algoport sinking

M/V Algoport sinking

M/V Algoport sinking

It’s amazing reading through all of the theories how much contradictory information there is.  Rouge waves, clamps not holding, bad seamanship, hitting a shoal, structural failure.  All are possibilities and we still don’t know what really happened.

Malcolm Gladwell: The strange tale of the Norden bombsight

The Rosetta Project

How do you archive history in a digital culture?  The Long Now Foundation through the Rosetta Project tackles this problem.

What makes a great photograph great?

Ken Burns Shares What Makes a Great Story

The Atlantic has more here.

Texas is sinking!

No, this isn’t about the state economy but the U.S.S. Texas which is leaking again.

a 32,000-ton vessel that fired 255 14-inch shells toward Nazi positions during D-Day’s opening 34 minutes in 1944. The 100-year old vessel has been on display in the Houston Ship Channel for more than 60 years.

But the 573-foot dreadnought has sprung several leaks recently, forcing the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife to shut it down to visitors since mid-June. The state scrapped its plan to open it for July 4th after a new pair of leaks appeared. They have been patched with concrete, plywood and epoxy, and there are plans to open the vessel this weekend. But now a third leak began. Plans call for a pair of emergency pumps to remain aboard the vessel to fight any new leaks.

Texas has spent $300,000 on Texas since the latest round of leaks was detected June 9. The ship’s half-inch thick steel plate has been eaten away by decades in salt water.

The state wants to dry-berth the ship, and in 2007 Texas and private donors pledged $29 million to make that happen. Unfortunately, recent estimates peg the cost of the project as high as $75 million (it cost $5.8 million to build).

Before you criticize Texas (the state), remember that the U.S.S. Texas is the world’s oldest surviving dreadnaught, served in both World Wars, and has been sitting in salt water for over a century.  She needs some TLC.

The Dream Team 20 Years Later

This history of the 1992 US Olympic basketball team might only be interesting to those who watched all those games.

Chuck started Michael and Magic every game and then rotated the other three. Pippen would start one game, Mullin would start the next. Robinson and Ewing would alternate; Malone and Barkley would alternate. He was a master at managing. But in the second game against Croatia, there was never any doubt: He was putting Pippen on Toni Kukoc [who had just been drafted by the Bulls and had been offered a contract for more money than his future teammate]. Pippen and Jordan were tired of hearing about how great Kukoc was, because they were winning NBA championships.

You ever watch a lion or a leopard or a cheetah pouncing on their prey? We had to get Michael and Scottie out of the locker room, because they was damn near pulling straws to see who guarded him. Kukoc had no idea.

I watched everyone of those games and they were incredible.  Hearing the story behind those games is a lot of fun.

Should we revisit the legacy of John Turner

From iPolitics on a new biography of John Turner.

It sounds strange now, but Turner actually had collegial relationships with members of other parties. In fact, as Paul Litt notes, Turner once saved John Diefenbaker from drowning while on holiday in Barbados. With the current PM on the beach, and an opposition leader floundering in the surf, I wouldn’t go out on a limb to say what would happen next.

It sounds strange to say it today, but John Turner was also a fan of the media, the same media which fitted him out with horns on the front page of a newspaper. Can anyone in Conservative Ottawa picture Stephen Harper heading out to the Black Thorn Tavern for a beer with Lawrence Martin after a hard day on the Hill? Turner used to do that kind of thing.

But the fact that there is zero camaraderie between the media and the Conservatives is insignificant compared to what the Tories have managed to do to the press. Daily contact these days means getting an email from the PMO with suggestions for interviews you might want to do – the PMO as line-up editor. The prime minister holds press conferences whenever Halley’s Comet appears, muzzles his ministers, and forces every level of the public service to seek permission to speak. And when they do, a Tory staffer is often listening in, as Liberal MP Wayne Easter recently told me. Government is as transparent as a slab of granite. As for the media, their questions are not only limited, they are usually ignored. And despite all that, the government gets a remarkably easy ride from a profession it has done its best to marginalize.

David Frum: Trudeau was a disaster for Canada

Frum goes to town on the legacy of Pierre Trudeau.

Pierre Trudeau took office at a moment when commodity prices were rising worldwide. Good policymakers recognize that commodity prices fall as well as rise. Yet between 1969 and 1979 – through two majority governments and one minority – Trudeau tripled federal spending.

In 1981-82, Canada plunged into recession, the worst since World War II. Trudeau’s already big deficits exploded to a point that Canada’s lenders worried about default.

Trudeau’s Conservative successor Brian Mulroney balanced Canada’s operating budget after 1984. But to squeeze out Trudeau-era inflation, the Bank of Canada had raised real interest rates very high. Mulroney could not keep up with the debt payments. The debt compounded, the deficits grew, the Bank hiked rates again – and Canada toppled into an even worse recession in 1992. Trudeau’s next successors, Liberals this time, squeezed even tighter, raising taxes, and leaving Canadians through the 1990s working harder and harder with no real increase in their standard of living.

Do Canadians understand how many of their difficulties of the 1990s originated in the 1970s? They should.

To repay Trudeau’s debt, federal governments reduced transfers to provinces. Provinces restrained spending. And these restraints had real consequences for real people: more months in pain for heart patients, more months of immobility for patients awaiting hip replacements.

If Canada’s health system delivers better results today than 15 years ago, it’s not because it operates more efficiently. Canada’s health system delivers better results because the reduction of Trudeau’s debt burden has freed more funds for healthcare spending.

Pierre Trudeau was a spending fool. He believed in a state-led economy, and the longer he lasted in office, the more statist he became. The Foreign Investment Review Agency was succeeded by Petro-Canada. Petro-Canada was succeeded by wage and price controls. Wage and price controls were succeeded by the single worst economic decision of Canada’s 20th century: the National Energy Program.

The NEP tried to fix two different prices of oil, one inside Canada, one outside.  The NEP expropriated foreign oil interests without compensation. The NEP sought to shoulder aside the historic role of the provinces as the owner and manager of natural resources.

Most other Western countries redirected themselves toward more fiscal restraint after 1979. Counting on abundant revenues from oil, the Trudeau government kept spending. Other Western governments began to worry more about attracting international investment. Canada repelled investors with arbitrary confiscations. Other Western governments recovered from the stagflation of the 1970s by turning toward freer markets. Under the National Energy Policy, Canada was up-regulating as the US, Britain, and West Germany deregulated. All of these mistakes together contributed to the extreme severity of the 1982 recession. Every one of them was Pierre Trudeau’s fault.

While I disagree with Frum that Trudeau was one of the worst prime ministers of our time, I will agree that his economic legacy has impacted the country for over a decade.  Frum’s is an interesting take.

W. and Me

Walt Harrington has known former President Bush for more than 25 years and wrote a reflection for The American Scholar about his conversations with W over the years.

Twenty-five years later, George W. Bush looks great. Two years as a civilian have been good to him. His feet clad in golf shoes and up on his desk, he leans back in his chair, a well-mouthed, unlit cigar as a prop. At 7:45 A.M., he’s talking golf.

“I didn’t play golf during my presidency except the first two years. So I came back out here, and then I decided I was going to get better at golf, not just play golf.”

“And have you?” I ask.

“I have gotten better. The problem is I’m never good enough. That’s the problem with the game. It requires discipline, patience, and focus. As you know, I’m long on”—and he hesitates, smiling, losing the sentence—“well, a couple areas where I could use some improvement.”

Same W.: sentences broken and jumbled, thoughts careening.

WWII: The Campaign in North Africa

Take a look at these incredible photos from North Africa in World War II.  They are part of The Atlantic’s InFocus blog’s retrospective on WWII.  I really wish one of the media outlets in Saskatchewan (Leader-Post/The StarPhoenix or CBC) would so something similar with their photo archives of Saskatoon events.  It would take more of a historian than a journalist but it would be a fabulous contribution to history in Saskatchewan.

A look back at the Stanford Prison Experiment

It’s been 40 years since the infamous psychological experiment

The study began on Sunday, August 17, 1971. But no one knew what, exactly, they were getting into.

Standford Prison ExperimentForty years later, the Stanford Prison Experiment remains among the most notable—and notorious—research projects ever carried out at the University. For six days, half the study’s participants endured cruel and dehumanizing abuse at the hands of their peers. At various times, they were taunted, stripped naked, deprived of sleep and forced to use plastic buckets as toilets. Some of them rebelled violently; others became hysterical or withdrew into despair. As the situation descended into chaos, the researchers stood by and watched—until one of their colleagues finally spoke out.

The public’s fascination with the SPE and its implications—the notion, as Zimbardo says, "that these ordinary college students could do such terrible things when caught in that situation" —brought Zimbardo international renown. It also provoked criticism from other researchers, who questioned the ethics of subjecting student volunteers to such extreme emotional trauma. The study had been approved by Stanford’s Human Subjects Research Committee, and Zimbardo says that "neither they nor we could have imagined" that the guards would treat the prisoners so inhumanely.

In 1973, an investigation by the American Psychological Association concluded that the prison study had satisfied the profession’s existing ethical standards. But in subsequent years, those guidelines were revised to prohibit human-subject simulations modeled on the SPE. "No behavioral research that puts people in that kind of setting can ever be done again in America," Zimbardo says.

The world’s first newspaper website?

Back at the turn of the century, the Boston Globe would hang large handwritten signs out front with headlines which looked like the world’s first newspaper website/blog.

The Boston Globe breaking news

They eventually added a sports website, with streaming audio.

The Boston Globe breaking news

RSS hadn’t caught on yet so the readers had to actually visit the site.

The Boston Globe breaking news

This photo was taken during the epic 1912 World Series (first 7 games series to go 8 games and first World Series to come down to the final inning).  The practice continued into the 1960s.  Here is the 1945 headline of FDR’s death.

The Boston Globe breaking news

History on the Run: The Media and the ‘79 Election by Peter Raymont