Difficult Conversations – Do Not Repair that Crack!

The collapse of the 12-storey residential building in Miami is tragic – but instructive.

Buildings collapse because they cannot support their loads.  Loads can be categorised as short-term and long-term.  Loads that are applied for a relatively short time include: hurricanes, earthquakes, collisions, and explosions.  Loads that are applied for a long time include furniture and appliances, and those from human activities, like sitting, walking and dancing.

An occupied building that collapses, without being impacted by short-term loads, likely weakened to the point where it could no longer support the long-term loads.

ALL BUILDINGS WEAKEN.

A building weakens when its building materials deteriorate naturally.  For example, steel reinforcement can corrode; moisture can damage timber, masonry, and concrete building components; insects can damage timber frames; and the sun’s intense heat and UV rays can damage plastics, binders, sealants, and paints.

Designers should try to reduce the rate of weakening, by selecting durable materials, and protecting non-durable materials.  This tends to be done if maintenance is an important design criterion.  It rarely is.  For it to be, Clients should insist on it.

BUILDINGS COMMUNICATE.

Buildings that progressively weaken, normally signal that they are under stress with structural cracks. Therefore, it is critical that building cracks be accurately interpreted before any remedial action is taken.

If cracks are found to be structural in nature, then the building may need to be strengthened.  If they are non-structural, then they may be sealed and painted.

Given the critical importance of accurate crack interpretation, and the limited number of experienced structural engineers to accurately interpret them, I wrote a simple descriptive book called “What Do These Cracks Mean?”.  The book helps the public interpret cracks in buildings, to identify both structural and non-structural cracks.

SEE NO EVIL.

Some building owners want to know which cracks are structural, because they are concerned about the safety of the occupants.  Other building owners are more concerned about attracting and keeping paying tenants, and do not want anything visible that may cause them alarm – certainly not a visible crack.

A building owner may be tempted to instruct that all visible cracks be sealed and painted over, to hide them from the view of occupants. This gives all parties a false sense of security. If a structural engineer inspector was unaware of repaired structural cracks, then the engineer may inaccurately report that the building is not under stress – when it may be under severe structural stress.

This tragedy in Miami should teach us not to ignore a building’s crack-warnings. Maintenance persons should never seal and paint over cracks – until they have been interpreted as non-structural.

SPEAK NO EVIL.

During my first term as president of the Barbados Association of Professional Engineers, I was contacted by several Engineers, who were visiting Barbados.  They were alarmed at the structural condition of the hotels in which they were staying, and asked what sort of outfit we were running.

I admitted that I had not inspected hotels in Barbados – only outside of Barbados.  So, I promised them that I would visit the hotels in question.  I was appalled at what I observed.  I immediately contacted the Ministry of Tourism, and the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association, and we agreed to a strategy on the way forward.

HEAR NO EVIL.

I was to privately inform the hotels’ management of what I had observed, and suggest that they get it independently inspected and addressed.  To my surprise, the hotels asked me to put my concerns in writing.  I was elated that they were treating this with the seriousness that it demanded, and I hand delivered each letter.

Their response was alarming.  I received letters threatened me personally with legal action, if I disclosed what I had seen.  This happened near the end of my term as President.  After seeing how harshly I was treated, the new President chose not to attract similar threats, and the program was abandoned.

BREAK FOR YOURSELF.

There is no requirement for structural inspections of buildings in Barbados, neither during nor after construction.   Buildings generally appear to be unnecessarily designed and constructed to be high-maintenance – in the environmentally harsh Caribbean environment.  That maintenance of buildings is a low-priority item, is evidenced by the number of abandoned buildings around Barbados.

Given that some building owners seem to think that structural cracks will magically repair themselves with sealing and painting, all building occupants must attend to their own safety.

BREAK FOR YOUR NEIGHBOURS.

If they see cracked concrete, corroding steel reinforcement, or deformed structural steel, especially in a multistorey building, they should insist on having it inspected.

If they see someone repairing structural cracks by sealing and painting, they should inform them that if they continue, and the building collapses, they may be charged with manslaughter.  If they persist, then they should be informed that their now intentional act may upgrade the charge to murder.

Grenville Phillips II is a Chartered Structural Engineer. He can be reached at NextParty246@gmail.com

53 comments

  • It is unfortunate after reading the 825 words the blogmaster is non the wiser which hotels according to Grenville and engineer friends have “structural condition of the hotels”.

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  • What an interesting article. A couple years ago, I attended an event at the Tom Adam’s Financial Center and during intermission, observed a number of rather large cracks in what I assume were structural walls, across from the area in which the refreshment were served. I thought it unusual at the time to be able to observe such large and numerous crack in such a tall and massive building although I did not think it out of character for the government of the day. I do not know if the situation has been rectified since.

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  • You dont have to go far back for of lack of maintenance….the sewage plant. You build on marl things are going to shift the lucky thing is you stopped building on top of caves. Stay away from multistory buildings make sure of strength of concrete and make sure rebar is good. My buddy has a condo at the crane the salt does crazy damage to anything metal… electrical panels etc you really have to watch all that for sure.

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  • Ignorance and coruption rule, the non existance in LAW of building, electrical, plumbing etc codes are a definite indicator of THIRD WORLD. Wily has always maintained that the word MAINTENANCE does not exist it Barbados, MUST BE IT’S somehow associated with the old colonial slavery powers. Non wonder a small storm passing 60 miles south of the island with winds only of 60kph could cause so much damage. In countries with regulations and enforcement this would have been a NON EVENT.

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  • AS i said to John Knox recently, why do you bother Grenville? Why?
    YOU HAVE AGAIN GIVEN CLEAR AND INSTRUCTIVE INFORMATION TO THE PUBLIC.

    A WORD TO THE WISE OUGHT TO BE ENOUGH, BUT YOU CAN NOW EXPECT TO ENDURE THE COMMENTS OF THE BU ATTACK DOGS.

    WHERE IGNORANCE IS BLISS, IT IS POINTLESS TO BE WISE.

    MY ADVICE TO YOU SIR IS SIMPLE…….Look to yourself, that YOU lose not those things which YOU have wrought, but that YOU receive a full reward.

    Liked by 1 person

  • William Skinner

    @ David
    And herein lies the problem. You expect Grenville to publish the names on the blog and then end up in court. Not a penny will be raised here to assist with the thousands of dollars he would be expected to pay to fight the case.
    We should be glad that he at least has the balls to say that there are poorly constructed hotels that are waiting for an accident to happen.
    Everyday we talk about corruption in high places and no damn names are published. Does that mean there’s no corruption. In all your years of writing about corruption can you tell us how many names you have printed.
    I think on this occasion @ Grenville has done us a public service.

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  • @William

    As usual you missed the point. The more substantive issue is that Grenville although revealing what he did – the blogmaster has no problem with it – however the reality is that the establishment will not respond because they know they are protected by the process (legalese).

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  • David
    Skinner and Grenville are right.
    This problem is so profound that naming particilar buildings is irrelevant and misleading. What is important is to have a radical revisit to construction methods, maintenance and codes etc.

    Liked by 1 person

  • NorthernObserver

    And do you think the establishment sole owner is any different from the 400 condo owner association.
    The entire process has changed to AVOID LIABILITY. You do not want a “condition report’, that may open doors you cannot close.
    Building inspectors currently inspect NEW builds. They do not randomly or otherwise look at aged structures. That too will come. The current maintenance budgets are largely skewed in favour of the aesthetic features and not the structural.

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  • “To my surprise, the hotels asked me to put my concerns in writing. I was elated that they were treating this with the seriousness that it demanded, and I hand delivered each letter.

    Their response was alarming. I received letters threatened me personally with legal action, if I disclosed what I had seen”

    Amusing. Clever and wicked.

    —-x—
    .These remarks are general statementd and are not directed at Grenville.

    I remember the underground structure that was destroyed. No names were
    ever mentioned.

    Yesterday, one blogger stated that he wanted the names of a lawyer at a public company. He was told these names were never provided to the public.

    We also have instances where victims remain silent and refuse to name the victimizers.

    In general, providing names is not a part of the psyche.

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  • @Pacha

    What will be the push or trigger factor if we cannot hit those responsible where it matters, in the bank account?

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  • @Pacha

    To follow this comment, we have some out there who can support Grenville’s claim, all they have to do is email particulars to BU. Problem solved.

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  • That tragedy in Miami should be a lesson taught and a message sent to govt officials who knowingly engages in kick backs and stands firm holding hands with corruption and immoral behavior against the best interest of the people
    The upside of this tragedy is that the USA media has been vigilant and diligent in exposing the unconscionable actors .designers and arthitects accountable for this Mia condo disaster

    Liked by 1 person

  • You mean the BU attack dogs of which YOU were one until you discovered he is a fellow Trump supporter?

    Murdah!

    But here’s the thing, there is nothing to attack here and so this dog awaits the response of the BHTA to these explosive statements.

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  • Read all about the underlying and built in conditions that cause the condo to collapse

    https://nypost.com/2021/06/27/developers-of-fla-tower-were-accused-of-paying-off-officials/

    Liked by 1 person

  • Take a look at the Miami Court House built almost 100 years ago.

    https://edition.cnn.com/2021/07/10/us/miami-dade-county-courthouse-concerns/index.html

    The historic Miami-Dade County Courthouse has been closed after an engineer reported “safety concerns” following the collapse of a condo in nearby Surfside, Florida, officials said Friday.

    Courthouse staff has been directed to work from home after the engineer’s report — prompted by the Champlain Towers South condo collapse — “identified safety concerns with various floors,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said in a joint statement with other officials.
    The report “recommended floors 16 and above be closed to staff while repairs are swiftly completed,” the statement said.
    All court business will be conducted remotely starting Monday, officials said, and anyone who has scheduled court proceedings will be getting notices with instructions for remote access.
    The courthouse — a 28-floor building located at 73 West Flagler Street in downtown Miami — was built between 1925 and 1928, according to documents from the county’s Office of Historic Preservation. It was designated a local historic site in 1985 and, four years later, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
    As of Saturday morning, at least 86 people have been confirmed dead in the collapse of Champlain Towers South, which has spurred a flurry of reviews of buildings throughout the area to ensure their structural integrity.

    Speaking at Saturday morning’s news conference at the site of the condo collapse, Mayor Levine Cava said the county “has taken the steps in light of what has happened here to be very aggressive about pursuing safety in all of these buildings.”

    As for the courthouse, “we know there have been problems in this building,” she said. “Some structural concerns were identified, some columns that needed to be — some support work that needed to be done.”
    “This was known and the activities had continued, but given the circumstances, we’ve already authorized that repair work to begin,” she added. “And so hopefully it can be done quickly and we can return to normal operations at the courthouse.”
    Staff had been working remotely for the last year due to Covid-19, and they had only returned to the building about a week ago, the mayor said.
    “So they have … everything they need to continue to operate remotely and also at other locations,” the mayor said, adding it should not “substantially” disrupt court business.

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  • Authorities should be proactive given the disaster that has occurred.

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  • Our Supreme Court Building had problems from the outset.

    Sewage first and then air quality.

    Liked by 1 person

  • David
    Sooner ot later a category 5 or higher hurricane is going to hit Barbados.

    Grenville rightly told us more than 10 years ago that 90 percent of the housing stock cannot survive such a hurricane.

    And Barbados does not have the capacity to rehouse the surviving population should God stop being a Bajan, as we like to say.

    We could waste nuff money on shiite projects like Greenland but a disaster which can happen anytime there are no “underground” capacities to remedy.

    We don’t even care about prevention as all kinds of people continue to build death traps.

    David, cant we see that the people we think we could beg for help when something bad happens give not an “uck.

    Liked by 1 person

  • @Pacha

    Agreed. We know the issues, it is always about triggering the solution. You

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  • So….if the people sent threatening letters I would expect that Grenville still has them. I would expect that he can prove he communicated his detailed concerns and findings. I expect he would know if any corrective work has been undertaken.

    So….what gives?????

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  • PachamamaJuly 14, 2021 10:52 AM

    David
    Sooner ot later a category 5 or higher hurricane is going to hit Barbados.

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    Don’t have to wait on a Cat 5 hurricane.

    Florida has the same coral cap as does Barbados with the same sinkholes.

    Arch Cot springs to mind.

    It isn’t only flaws in buildings that are an issue.

    After Arch Cot I was told by a Civil Engineer I know that geotechnical services are required for new buildings.

    I was also told that a house at Apes Hill costs twice and thrice what it would cost to build in areas where the coral is not as cracked and fissured as it is there.

    … and then there are earthquakes.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Very often sinkholes are works in progress!!

    Liked by 1 person

  • @ Quaker John,
    How does this fit in with Mia’s ambition to build a hotel corridor along Barbados West and South coast.

    Over the years, I have highlighted how Barbados beach front is disappearing rapidly; just like a man in his mid-twenties with a fast receding hairline.

    A couple of days ago, “The Nation” highlighted this subject. Take a good look at the photo in this article. Once that beach front is eroded the sea will join up with the land mass: We can then wave goodbye to our tourist industry.

    https://www.nationnews.com/2021/06/22/beaches-taking-bashing/

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  • You need to “look” beneath the land as you see it in the photo and visualise the sea naturally intruding under the beach and well inland to as far as Sheraton Mall which is the northern limit of the Sheet Water area.

    Caves form wherever fresh water concentrated and floats on top of the sea water.

    So if you look at the Graeme Hall Swamp there is a depression … large sinkhole if you like.

    It is there because he rain in the 1156 catchment area dissolved some carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and became slightly acidic .. carbonic acid.

    The fresh water naturally flows to the Graeme Hall Swamp. When you look at the water level in it you will find it is at sea level.

    The acid reacts with the limestone, calcium carbonate, CaCO3 and dissolves it.

    Collapse ensue and we see today a depression/sinkhole.

    If you dig a hole on the beach away from the sea you will hit brackish water.

    If you go further inland and dig a well (just a deeper hole) you will also hit brackish water at sea level.

    Once upon a time sea level was well above the coconut trees and the beach was well inland!!

    So don’t worry too much about saving the beach, sea level rises and falls according to a higher hand over which you have no control.

    Liked by 1 person

  • The Quakers came and found the beach approximately where you see it today.

    What I described happened millennia before their arrival … or the Arawaks, Caribs or whomsoever you may say were the first peoples.

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  • Critical Analyzer

    @Grenville
    Your biggest problem remains you are trying to force change on a system before the system is ready to accept that change.

    I found your book “What Do These Cracks Mean?” on Amazon. It is a very interesting read based on the table of contents and preview available. Unfortunately, it is not in kindle form otherwise you would have already had a sale so I will have to put it on my list to buy the next time I order from Amazon.

    Might I suggest you combine this book with your other various disjointed works such as Home Strengthening Guide and other articles of use to current and prospective home owners into one book named something like The Complete Home Owner’s Guide to Robust Home Construction and Retrofit Practices (A Layman’s guide to greatly improving your wood or wall home’s chances of surviving a Category 5 Hurricane). You would make a killing and you would be putting the information in the hands of the people who want it and will use it.

    I have known many people, especially women that have no idea their houses were being poorly constructed or built/repaired with cheap substandard materials even though they were paying top dollar for the work.

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  • @Critical
    @GP2
    I agree with critical.

    Many of us are planning to build somewhere in the Caribbean. Apart from the usual hassles of building, it would be good to have a source that we can use as a reference.

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  • peterlawrencethompson

    @Grenville
    This is a first rate reminder of the cultural deficits which imperil us as a nation. I wish we had a way to know which buildings currently pose a threat to life so that some public spirited person could document the structural cracks photographically and then publish them anonymously by using an untraceable email address paid for in cryptocurrency from behind a good Virtual Private Network…

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  • peterlawrencethompsonJuly 15, 2021 2:21 PM

    @Grenville
    This is a first rate reminder of the cultural deficits which imperil us as a nation. I wish we had a way to know which buildings currently pose a threat to life so that some public spirited person could document the structural cracks photographically and then publish them anonymously by using an untraceable email address paid for in cryptocurrency from behind a good Virtual Private Network…

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    If citizens feel that way and have to hide behind a cloak of anonymity to highlight duties the authorities are neglecting then it is not worth having a country.

    Anyone should be able to contact a reporter and let them go and see for themselves.

    We have created a joke for a country.

    Maybe that is why the NIS building had to come down.

    It was about to expose the liability of the GOB and now all the evidence is gone.

    We know the VAT building is built over a cave and cost an additional $84 million to build.

    Did the Codrington family ever get any compensation from the Arch Cot disaster?

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  • I attended the Coroner’s inquest for Arch Cot.

    It was all in the open … just seems a though nothing got done after.

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  • Frightened people do not deserve a country.

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  • @John

    In theory yes, in a democracy this should be the case. Then you have to consider how societies like individuals develop characteristics based on unfolding experiences.

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  • Make smoke carbon/ strobe fire alarms mandatory, you have a better chance of dying in a fire than a collapse

    Liked by 1 person

  • Critical:

    That is a part of my current doctoral research. The complete construction drawings and materials list for a 3-bedroom 2-bathroom economical and safe starter house, will be available to be downloaded free of cost.

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  • @nextparty246: “That is a part of my current doctoral research. The complete construction drawings and materials list for a 3-bedroom 2-bathroom economical and safe starter house, will be available to be downloaded free of cost.

    Excellent.

    Personally, I don’t find most PhDs terribly useful. I find they tend to write too much without doing (or even understanding) much practical.

    But laying out some basic guidelines which anyone with a basic understanding of physics and thermal dynamics might use for their own analysis might go a long way.

    Please reach out to me if you’d like some input about how power is very different than Cat6 or even fiber. Right down to the layer zero.

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  • peterlawrencethompson

    @John July 15, 2021 2:37 PM
    “If citizens feel that way and have to hide behind a cloak of anonymity to highlight duties the authorities are neglecting then it is not worth having a country.”
    ++++++++++++++
    You have made a worthwhile a point John, but it is not the political “authorities” who are responsible for this atrocious circumstance, it is the capitalist “authorities”… the owners of the hotels in question who use intimidation, lawsuits, and blackballing, and even violence to potentially get away with murder.

    I fully agree with you that it is not worth having a country unless we overthrow these capitalist “authorities.”

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  • @PLT: “I fully agree with you that it is not worth having a country unless we overthrow these capitalist “authorities.

    We have eaten Sushi together in “meat space”. I hope this comment is constrained to the non-violent management of the situation.

    Seriously, dude!

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  • PLT doesnt that seem to be the complete opposite of what the cubans are protesting for right now. Sure sounds like they want more capitalism and less of your socialism

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  • Quaker John,

    You stated:

    “Once upon a time sea level was well above the coconut trees and the beach was well inland!!”

    Are you saying that it is inevitable that an island measuring 166sq miles should prepare itself to become a smaller entity?

    Four years ago, the sea aggressively encroached on Speightstown.

    With the icecaps receding rapidly and man’s destructive influence on our climate; Barbados is in mortal danger of losing vast tracts of land and at a faster rate than most of us could imagine.

    Today in Germany we witnessed flash flooding on an unimaginable scale. A large number of buildings collapsed. It is been reported that over 50 people have died and over 80 people are missing.

    Check the second video in the link. It makes for harrowing viewing. Is Barbados preparing its people to make preparations for an unsafe future knowing that the sea will reclaim it. Those chain of islands that peep their heads above sea level in a miraculous chain risk being swallowed.

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  • TLSNJuly 15, 2021 7:34 PM

    Quaker John,

    You stated:

    “Once upon a time sea level was well above the coconut trees and the beach was well inland!!”

    Are you saying that it is inevitable that an island measuring 166sq miles should prepare itself to become a smaller entity?

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    It is inevitable that Barbados will become a bigger or a smaller entity.

    Everything goes in cycles!!

    Relax and enjoy the ride because we can’t do anything about it.

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  • Here is an indicator I watch and try to link to observations in weather fluctuations.

    https://origin.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/analysis_monitoring/ensostuff/ONI_v5.php

    If you look at WARM (red) and COLD (blue) seasons in the Nino region you will see that there is a period of 3-5 years.

    Since I started observing the weather more closely in 2016 In Barbados my observation is COLD (blue) goes with rain and more storms, (La Nina) and HOT (red) goes with drought and less storms (el Nino).

    El Nino seems to affect Temperate regions with more weather extremes while La Nina seems to affect Tropical regions with more weather extremes.

    Sea level doesn’t bother me unduly as I expect the period in sea level fluctuations is far greater than the period in temperature fluctuation.

    I am a fan of climate fluctuation and not climate change.

    I don’t believe mankind can in some way alter the climate for the better or worse when far greater forces are at play.

    There have been far more severe storms in Barbados in the distant past than there have been in the more recent past.

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  • peterlawrencethompson

    @Chris Halsall July 15, 2021 5:50 PM
    “I hope this comment is constrained to the non-violent management of the situation.”
    ++++++++++
    Indeed it is Chis… I cannot stand the sight of blood.

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  • angela cox July 14, 2021 9:55 AM “…designers and arthitects accountable for this Mia condo disaster.”

    Not the designers, architects etc. But lawyers happy to make a quick dollar and long dead from old age, calling themselves turned “developers” and their political friends.

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  • Thanks Grenville.

    In your opinion can you tell us if the inspected buildings needed to be demolished or strengthened, and how much would remediation cost compared to the current value of the buildings?

    Thanks.

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  • @GP July 14, 2021 8:03 AM “A WORD TO THE WISE OUGHT TO BE ENOUGH, BUT YOU CAN NOW EXPECT TO ENDURE THE COMMENTS OF THE BU ATTACK DOGS.”

    We can agree with Grenville’s engineering and your medicine even while disagreeing with your politics and/or your religion.

    Is that so hard to understand?

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  • Cuhdear,

    Don’t mind GP! Who was it that used to attack Grenville’s Bible knowledge mercilessly and relentlessly every week? The only reason he is singing a different tune is because Grenville stated that Donald Trump did more for black Americans than anybody, on account of the low unemployment numbers.

    Since then GP transformed himself into a Grenville supporter talking shite about how he sees that Grenville is a decent and honest fellow.

    GP thinks people have short memories. He has no shame at at, at all!

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  • Thanks Hants. Scary. But as the professor said hurricane straps might mitigate.

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