Personal opinions and comments.

You may agree or disagree, but please don't bother to argue unless I have made factual errors that you feel compelled to correct.

TOPIC
Date
Satan is lovely and delicious. December 14, 2007
Courting Disaster. October 22, 2007
What "Time" means to the real universe. July 28, 2007
What's in YOUR Reader's Digest? May 27 2007
I hate Rome January 26, 2007
Scientific Atheism December 10, 2006
Can we learn anything from random acts of violence? October 5, 2006
"Downgrading" to a scooter when you can't drive? September 24, 2006
Down with Newscasts ! September 10, 2006
Who should take care of us in a disaster? August 28, 2006
What is a "human" and when does "life" begin? August 26, 2006
Run That Red Light !! August 23, 2006
Getting Old July 31, 2006
What's in the minds of Islamic extremists?
(Opens in a new window, close to return here.)
July 30, 2006
Boston's Tunnel Failure July 26, 2006
Where does freedom stop, and responsibility begin? July 25, 2006
"It's no big deal!" July 15, 2006
"Defeating" Terrorists July 13, 2006
Personal Freedom and Motorcycle helmets July 6, 2006 (Updated July 25, 2006)
Drunk (or drugged) Driving July 5, 2006
Muslim extremism July 4, 2006 (Updated Aug. 25, '06)
Red-light Cameras; Big Brother is watching July 4, 2006
Regular additions - please check back soon.
©2006 W. J. Laudeman: All rights reserved.
Personal-use copy permitted if this notice is included.

December 14, 2007

The Devil is chocolate-covered (and topped with whipped cream.)

The nature of Satan and the manner of his rebellion have been debated and discussed for centuries by theologians (visit http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04764a.htm for more on this topic.) But regardless of the many theories, it is generally agreed that Satan was once an angel of great intellect.

Based only on that assumed fact, you must wonder why artists and writers have for ages presented Lucifer and his legions as frightful and ugly. Surely Satan knows that it is easier to sell sweet than bitter, and that beauty is more attractive than ugliness. So, unless the devil is bent on failure, he is likely to present us with temptations that are attractive, not so?

That's why greed and lust rank so high in the list of sins. We are greatly attracted to things; we want things, and when we have acquired things, we find that their possession drives us to need still more things. Likewise, we are pulled toward beauty and if we abandon reason, that attraction can easily become the craving named "lust."

Expecting to find evil unappealing is like expecting to find that it is easy to lose weight or stop smoking. Most of us know all too clearly how ridiculous that is! It is hard to resist temptation because the things we are tempted toward appear – at least in the moment – as good. A person who is tempted to inflict pain on himself would be judged to have a mental illness.

So even as we turn away from pain and suffering and turn toward pleasure and comfort, we should always be concerned that the presumed "good" may actually be an offering of the Evil One. Take, for example, power; gaining power surely looks like a good thing. With greater power we are less restricted in our actions, and we have a better chance of accomplishing whatever task we have before us. Perhaps you are running for some public office, or you are due for promotion within some organization. These must be good things . . . but they can also be bad: more power easily leads to excessive pride and tempts the powerful with greed for still more power and influence. A higher rank often opens the door to abusive treatment of inferiors and an inflated sense of personal value that leads to narcissism.

I believe that I once read of a heresy that claimed that all earthly good was really the work of the devil. While that is nonsense, it is equally nonsense to think that Satan will make his work obvious by its bad smell, unpalatable taste, or gruesome appearance. What we must do is resist the impulse to immediately grasp things that appear good, without first carefully considering our real needs.

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What's in your Reader's Digest?

When our June, 2007 issue of "Reader's Digest" arrived in the mailbox I grabbed it and plunked myself down on the couch for a few laughs; their jokes, "Humor in America" and so forth always top my reading priorities.

Uh -- wait a second. There's another first thing; remove all of those pesky card inserts that force you to open to the place where they are inserted. Those guarantee a "No-Sale" because I have vowed to never buy whatever it is that they advertise.

Now I can flip pages as I desire without having to fight the cards. And I noticed that the magazine is a lot less bulky and somewhat lighter too. So much lighter and thinner that I felt compelled to check on just how much of the magazine is editorial material and how much is advertising. Admittedly this is not scientific, but since I never read the tiny condensed print in the medical products' ads, and I gravely doubt that any other subscriber has ever read even one of these, I decided to remove those too. In an effort to be fair, I did not remove any ads that are backed with editorial content of any kind, but a page with nothing but advertising on both faces - - - it's GONE!

Wow! The end result is a nice flexible magazine crammed with good stuff and nearly devoid of irritations. It's easy to flip pages as I read, and every page (at least on one side) has something of interest to me!

Here's the result - - by weight, not by page count - -

Magazine as received in the mail, not including shipping plastic and "inserts" in there: 185.5 g.
Magazine less card-stock inserts: 145.8 g.; there are 39.7 g. of cards in each magazine.
Magazine less cards AND less advertising-only pages: 109.6 g.; 75.9 g. of the original is TRASH.

Friends, that's 75.9 / 185.5 = 40.9 percent by weight is pure garbage, of no interest, and actually a positive irritant.

Mediaweek says their monthly circulation is 10.228,531 copies. Multiply that by (say) 76 g. (2.68 oz.) shows that Reader's Digest is shipping MORE THAN 857 tons of waste paper per month!

Some tree hugger please help me out here -- how many huggable trees is that every year?

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I hate Rome!

Hey! Wait just a doggoned minute -- not "Rome the City" -- "Rome the Bureaucracy!" It's the bunch of (mostly Italian) bureaucrats that have been running my Church for the last 1769 years that disturb me. If someone offered to fund a tour of The Eternal City for me, I'd probably jump at the chance -- well, maybe not "jump" -- I'm a bit too old and feeble to do much jumping -- but I'd be happy to go stare at the scenes, soak up the historical stuff, and enjoy some good Italian food.

Nope - it's that huge and (may I say it?) Byzantine cadre of cardinals and nameless clerics who hold captive the Church founded by Christ - that's what I hate! You want to know why? Okay, here's why - - -

  • Power hungry: The men who control the physical presence of the Roman Catholic Church are hungry for power, and they understand how to build it and how to keep it. After all, they have nearly 20 centuries of success in the field. One way they hang on to power is with the threat of eternal damnation for anyone who opposes them; they say that they own the Keys to heaven, and you can't get in unless you obey them. Oh yes - and they wrote the rules too, so the game is going to be played their way or not at all. Those who disagreed in the past have either been burnt at the stake, or forced to - what irony - start their own bureaucracy! Interestingly enough, most of the rebels (who lived to tell about it) ended up falling into the same pattern of male-dominated, inbred system of control. Hhmmm - do you think that there's something more to this than meets the eye? Or, perhaps, some subtle force driving all of it?
  • Worldly: The organization which has formed around the core of men who direct my Church controls enormous worldly power. It has, in the past, started wars, influenced the fates of Kings and Presidents, and almost literally changed the face of the planet.
  • Dogmatic: An interesting word, this: my old Roget's Thesaurus gives synonyms such as believing, certain, obstinate, orthodox, prejudiced, and unpersuadable - I especially like that last one, unpersuadable. I didn't even know that was a real English word, but it certainly describes the attitude and philosophy of the Roman Bureaucracy! If there is any quality that is universally shared by the Cardinals, Monsignors, Priests and clerks of Rome, it is UNPERSUADEABLE. I can't recall any significant occasion of these men having been persuaded of anything in the past 1500 years. Earlier than that, I'm unsure of my history, so perhaps they may have changed their corporate mind about something 'way back then, I don't know.
  • Selfish: Hang on now - I know that none (almost none?) of the Bishops, Priests, Monsignors, Cardinals, Popes, or civilian clerical types are now, or have ever been personally grasping. By far the vast majority of these men have historically given freely of themselves whenever asked to do so, and I'm sure that the same can be said of those now running things inside the Vatican City. "Selfish" here is used in the sense of egotistic; vain. This pride of position is a subtle poison; it leads men to act without due regard for others. It is an egotism that allows decision-makers to say and do things simply because "I know that I am right!"
  • Deaf: Simple enough - Even when listening, they can't hear you.
  • Paternalistic: This one takes some historical perspective. You have to realize that the "Roman" part of "Roman Catholic" is very significant. Rome was a purely Paternal Society; its structure and its religion were based on fatherhood and male dominance. Romans were children of Rome regardless of their origin and location of the moment, if they were citizens they were Rome's children, and Father ruled the home with a rod of iron. The founder of our current Roman Hierarchy wasn't a follower of Christ, and the Christian Church before the founding of the Roman Bureaucracy was not headquartered in Rome. Sure, Sts. Peter and Paul had gotten themselves martyred in Rome, which may have been one good reason for the leaders of the early Christians to avoid the place. But the guy who set up the organization now headquartered in the Vatican was Constantine. This co-emporer of Rome was in Istanbul (now called Constantinople!) and after winning a famous, but actually fairly small battle, he saw a way to break the political power behind his competing "co" by ousting the pagan Roman Priesthood. It was those Roman priests who really held the loyalty of the army. Constantine managed to replace them with the leaders of the Disciples of Christ. In doing this, he made these previously hunted fugitives beholden to himself. So the Roman power structure was not even started by a Christian; Constantine did not "convert" until on his deathbed. But in the meantime he told the Christians how to run things, and he gave them the very things that Christ shunned - worldly power, wealth, and domination. Constantine made the leaders of Christianity "fathers" in the Roman Imperial meaning of pater, and they have held on to the title to this very day.
  • Inbred: One might think that fathers would need mothers. A family cannot remain healthy through generations unless mothers (okay, and fathers too) are brought in from outside to refresh the gene-pool. Inbreeding, while useful when raising livestock, has never proven safe or productive where humans are concerned. But our Roman bureaucrats recruit and train their own replacements without the benefits of mothers. The reasons behind the fact that women are barred from membership in this exclusive club can be traced back to the time of Christ. Face it, 2000 years ago, being female was a real disadvantage. Success, even survival, often depended on sheer physical strength and aggressiveness. Being pregnant, bearing babies and caring for children could get you killed, and at the very least, restricted your ability to run and hide from invaders. But Jesus never taught, or even implied in the least, that women were inferior; He treated women the same way He treated men - - commensurate with the social situation in which He lived. But times and social structures change - and today there is no reason to hang on to male dominance with tooth and nail.
  • Faithless: The characteristic of those Roman bureaucrats which most offends me is their refusal to have faith in the words of Christ when He promises to always be with His people and to send the Holy Spirit to guide and protect them. I am convinced that these men simply cannot bring themselves to trust in the Holy Spirit, so they grasp their worldly power and wealth.
  • Un-Christian: How do you define Christian? My criterion is simple - is this the way Christ told us to do things? If you see Jesus Christ sitting on a golden throne, demanding the death of unbelievers, then you may qualify for membership in that Roman Vatican Empire. Not me; I remain a Catholic Christian, but I sure as heaven am not Roman!

Let's kill someone in the name of God!

I believe that I understand some of the "reasons" (the word implies logic, but there is little here) behind much of the violent actions of (mostly) young, male Muslims. The driving forces that seem to be at the bottom of this are fear, frustration, powerlessness, ignorance, and indoctrination since youth to hate a society they do not understand.

That indoctrination (teaching) by leaders imbued with hatred (based on their own interpretation of religious writings that include ambiguous references to violence and killing,) is the root of the problem. Second only to this is a social system structured on an ancient version of "Honor" which westerners cannot understand.

Islam - admitting no earthly authority - makes every Muslim (male!) a potential authority. And if that Muslim has enough personal charisma to attract a substantial following, he cannot be silenced or successfully debated. It is this shunning of central authority and belief in direct inspiration by the Almighty that makes Islam (and other similar religions) so dangerous. Daily we see some popular Imam teaching violence, under the umbrella of "divine inspiration" without any possibility of counterclaim or argument.

But where are the voices of "moderate" Islam? Why is there no overwhelming outcry against the violence perpetrated by killer wolves dressed in sheeps' clothing? Why aren't the voices of thousands of Imams raised in condemnation of those who slaughter randomly?

Don't rant to me about equally senseless crimes committed in the past by Christians -- (a) those were roundly condemned by other Christians at the time, (b) there was no justification for them in Christian scripture (and don't quote the Old Testament to me unless you want a long lecture on religion) and (C) Euro-Western societies have changed enormously since then and striven to find an ethic that permits individual liberties while safeguarding the larger social community.

Anyway - we aren't talking about 100 or 1,000 years ago, the past can't be changed; we are talking about today and tomorrow and bringing to an end the escalating TREND toward violence that has no goal except the total destruction of the perceived enemy (-- us!)

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Have a good time, and kill a neighbor.

It is completely beyond my comprehension why anyone unable to control their need for intoxicants should be operating a motor-vehicle on public roadways.

We worry about guns - but states with "Concealed Carry" laws show that legally armed people aren't killers, while legally (?) drinking people kill thousands! Someone wants to sue gun makers for manufacturing a device that criminals use to hurt people, so why doesn't someone sue auto manufacturers, whose products kill tens of thousands every year?

Let's adopt the law (is it Norway's?) that confiscates the vehicle and cancels your license on the first offense for drunken or drugged driving. A second conviction sees the criminal imprisoned for years. Do you think this is unreasonably harsh? Ask the mother of the dead child or the widow of the slaughtered husband to explain "harsh."

Sure it will be costly - we'll need more enforcement and incarceration facilities; but the savings in lives and material losses will more than compensate!

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Is "Big Brother" watching that traffic light?

We recently observed the installation of "traffic cams" at several busy intersections here in Chattanooga (well, actually, in Red Bank - a suburban village on the margin of town.)

As you might have guessed, there was a lot of howling and barking from the local big dogs - which continues as tickets begin to impact pocketbooks. Most of the complaints appear to be based on these four ideas:
(1) This is sneaky and unfair;
(2) The cops are spying on us;
(3) If we put up with this they'll next be putting cameras in our bedrooms (bathrooms, locker rooms . . . wherever);
(4) these d----d things will cause a lot of accidents as honest, God-fearing, hardworking taxpayers slam on their brakes to avoid running a yellow light.

You are left to assume that no one would complain about getting a ticket if the cop was dressed in blaze orange, carrying a big sign identifying his intended ticket-writing task and standing in the middle of the intersection.

Likewise, the facts (the cameras are in plain sight alongside public roadways, within the right-of-way and not on private property) are ignored by the complainants, who, I guess, make the assumption that running "stop" signals is okay as long as you are in a hurry, or are afraid to stop quickly because the guy behind you is in a hurry, and obviously you are a God-fearing, honest, hardworking taxpayer.

Analyses (it's spelled right, it's a plural) by national safety groups and the absence of numerous skid marks notwithstanding, local wisdom is still waiting for an upsurge in whiplash injuries and a boom in the auto bodyshop business.

So while I'm hoping that more cameras are in the works, I wait for at least 2 seconds after the light turns green before daring to move through most busy intersections in Chattanooga.

Oh yeah --- if you are behind me and in a hurry, please don't hit me - I'm very sensitive to whiplash injuries.

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Helmets - or - Freedom?

If you have never ridden a motorcycle, you probably can't empathize with the hardheaded (literally) gals and guys who refuse to wear a helmet while riding. Try to understand that riding with as little as possible between your skin and the air comes about as close as you can get to flying like a bird.

Okay - if you ride a Harley, flying like an eagle. Point being, it is sheer FUN. And the bareheaded can give you lots of arguments about the dangers of wearing a helmet. Well, they're wrong - period. Too many independent and well certified tests and too much weight of statistics make it clear that a helmet is by far the most important item you can wear when you ride. (Check these articles for more.)

The helmet's shape, make, color, etc. are of little importance. Cost is a factor, and I suppose that the most expensive are also the best (isn't that the case in nearly everything?) and a full-face helmet surely protects the face and chin better than open-face units. I've been wearing an open face helmet with a bubble face shield; it seems to work well, keeping wind and bugs out of my eyes and teeth. Then, working on the scooter the other afternoon, I set the helmet on the seat, and it fell off onto the garage floor - - and the bubble face shield popped off. That's what I call an eye-opener.

What kind of jolt was that 3 foot drop, compared to the wallop generated by a spill at, say, just 20 mph? If my face hit the pavement, that bubble wouldn't do anything to protect my whiskers and beak!

So I'm shopping for a full-face helmet. Since I can't figure out how to try them on via Internet, that means going to local bike shops and laying out full retail.

Sheesh! I hate to pay full retail.

This brings me to another gripe -- sun visors. Actually, it's the absence of sun visors that tweaks me. Would you buy an auto that lacked sun visors? Our Mercury Sable has two driver-side visors, allowing me to partially shield both the windshield and the side window simultaneously. It's amazing how often this makes driving more comfortable -- and safer! But there is no motorcycle helmet with an easily deployed sun shield. Oh, some allow you to "unsnap" a face shield and substitute a sun visor, but how practical is that when you come around a bend late in the day and BLAM! -- directly into the sun?

There must be some way to include a lightweight, internal, darkened visor in the upper 1/4 of a face shield, deployable with the flick of a finger, without breaking the bank. Come on, helmet designers - you have created stunning graphics and build helmets that protect racers' heads at 140 mph -- so give us practical sun visors!

UPDATE: July 25, 2006 -- Well now! A "Google" search disclosed at least two different "inserts" that cling to the inside of one's helmet visor. I have ordered one of these and will update this again when it has been tested.

Later: I find that those "window film" inserts work fine, and I could have saved money by buying the smallest possible piece of the highest density window tinting film at any auto parts store. Do it yourself - and save not only $$ but perhaps your bike and yourself!

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Can Terrorists be "defeated?"

With many of the world's legitimate governments impacted by terrorists' strikes against their citizens, it would appear that -- since no one has come up with an effective response -- this is a "war" that isn't being won.

So maybe the issue is the basic assumption that it's a war? It's obvious to me that defeating terrorists is not going to happen in the universe of battlefield tactics, aircraft carriers, tanks and artillery. They've been tried, and no doubt will be tried again because our generals always fight the last war; with what result? Growing, spreading, escalating terrorism; eager recruits apparently flocking to their ranks.

Hhmmm; our mode of warfare doesn't seem to be working very well - does it? Sort'a like getting rid of fire ants by mashing each one with a sledge hammer.

Terrorists, it seems to me, fall into two broadly defined groups:

(1) Desperate, discouraged, angry, frustrated people without any apparent and effective peaceful and legitimate way to correct or redress their complaints.

(2) Opportunistic leaders whose desire for power cannot be satisfied through peaceful civil channels.

The first group have little, if anything; so they have nothing to lose by hurting those they hate. A combination of vengeance and demand for attention fuels their passion. Entire populations lack a secure social structure in which individuals might build a life of at least minimal comfort and happiness. If you have known nothing but pain and misfortune, the satisfaction of violent reprisal has to be exceedingly attractive.

The second group may be either truly dedicated, or cynically self-centered; in either case they are leaders with some personal magnetism - at least for those in group one - and they possess a forceful will combined with a singular disregard for everyone outside their chosen cause. It has proven impossible to convert, persuade or reason with these individuals; if you do not kill them, they will kill you.

The iron rod within the hulk of terrorism is this leadership, group; but they become simple criminals if deprived of the support of the first group. It is there that anti-terrorism effort should be concentrated. Having noted that the majority of active terrorists hold a warped view of the rest of the world, and that they are misled and poorly educated, we have their weakness. The causes of their "shortcomings" lie in the societies where they were born and live; governments rife with crime, greed, perversion, disregard for basic human rights . . . Does that sound suspiciously similar to the description of terrorist leadership?

Now we are getting closer to the root cause; leadership. We humans are fundamentally lazy - we search for a leader who will relieve us of the burden of decision-making. We want - mostly - to be "left alone." If those who hold the power over the social structure around us meet those two criteria, we are by-and-large satisfied. Unfortunately, this shortsighted viewpoint gives us leaders who adhere to ancient Rome's "bread and circuses" program; which blinds us to the fact that the barbarians are at the gates. This is not something that you or I can change overnight; it demands long term and persistent action by each and every one of us. We must demand a return to ethical principles which include honesty and respect for a rule of law. We must do this in our personal lives and work to elect those who live it in their own lives -- not just those who say what we want to hear.

Modern governments are built on the foundations of centuries of abuse; we can't change this by waving some kind of magic wand - it's going to be painful and take years. Do it for your grandchildrens' grandchildren. As for me, I joined and financially support the Libertarian Party - who have no chance of turning around the enormous inertia of our government, but it's all I can do.

Or should I be making bombs?

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It's No Big Deal!

If you've ever had to confront an acquaintance or relative who has committed a "minor" social or legal transgression, the culprit may have made the excuse that "it is no big deal." And, you know, perhaps you were even leaning toward agreement . . . after all, no one was (seriously) injured!

Consider the Empire State Building; solid and imposing, no? Built to stand for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. But look very closely and you'll see that this building is held together by trillions upon trillions of tiny bonds between grains of sand and particles of metal. We rely on the fact that, although a few of those bonds might fail, there are many, many more that will hold together to support the structure.

Suppose, walking past the Empire State Building, you see a man scraping at the mortar between the facing stones with a small tool. You watch for a while, and note that he has removed a few grains of sand - perhaps a teaspoonful. Would you call the police and report that someone is trying to destroy the building? It's no big deal!

But when we reject and violate one of the basic legal and social rules that govern peaceful society, we are grinding away a tiny bit of the social "fabric" that allows us to enjoy peaceful commerce and personal security. If the instant effect is too small to be measured (It's no big deal!) we can take comfort in knowing that we got away with it. And we would, too - except that no one lives in isolation; our actions are small components in the larger movement of humanity. The grains of mortar and shavings of steel we file away have to be added to those removed by our neighbors - and every other living person in the world.

The total effect of millions and millions of teeny, tiny little grindings and whittlings add up to immense damage. Look around, it's everywhere. War, hatred, religious intolerance, terrorism, greed and destruction; they all start small but with the help of lots of "workers" add up to devastating damage to mankind.

That guy scratching a little mortar from between the bricks?

Why, he isn't a big deal!

Is he?

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The Boundaries of Freedom, the Borders of Responsibility.

We are jealous of our freedoms -- as we should be -- and it may be difficult to draw a clear line between freedom and the rules that restrict it. Consider this photo - - -


This dude is obviously free! Apparently he is enjoying himself and as far as can be seen, harming no one. So can you say that he is in the Land of Freedom, or has he ridden past the Border of Responsibility?

There seems to be no other nearby traffic (if you discount the photographer's vehicle) and a lack of visible damage to the Harley is testimony to the rider's skill -- or luck. Assume with me that he has no relatives or companions who would feel loss were he killed, or have to bear the burden of his care were he injured. If he is talking to someone on the Cell-phone (how can anyone hear with the wind noise?) it might be no one who has any relationship with him. Assume that the bike is paid for and not insured.

Would you say that the worst thing he is possibly doing is setting a bad example for juveniles or the weak-minded who see him riding like this? So --- where is the border between what you want and what you should? And, equally important, how can you tell you have crossed that boundary? Can you build, buy, or invent a mechanism that can be calibrated to set off an alarm as you approach the border?

What this misguided individual is doing -- regardless of the presence of absence of witnesses or the lack of any physical damage -- is diminishing his own value. His reckless disregard for his own safety and security wears away and decreases the justifiable concern he must have for himself. Without that he cannot have any sense of the real value of others. The amount of loss "per event" may be so small as to be difficult to perceive; but nonetheless there is some erosion. Eventually a person who habitually demeans himself in this manner will also demean everyone else. The "alarm system" that warns us when approaching the fogbound border of Responsibility is called conscience. If you want to make an exhaustive study of the concept, go here; http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04268a.htm otherwise use the short form from my Unabridged Dictionary - - -

Conscience: Knowledge or feeling of right or wrong; the facility, power, or principle of a person which decides on the lawfulness or unlawfulness of his actions, with a compulsion to do right; moral judgment that prohibits or opposes the violation of a previously recognized ethical principle.

The problem? A conscience is not something you can run to the corner mini-mart and buy; it is the product of time and effort. You have to build your own! It is safe to say that the relaxed dude on the Harley has failed the rest of humanity by neglecting to form a fully-functioning conscience, and in the failure, he demeans himself and all of us.

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The Deadly Failure of a support in Boston's Tunnel

It is impossible for me to imagine the horror of being in the auto that was crushed by a fallen ceiling panel in Boston's highway tunnel. It is equally difficult for me to understand how this horror could have been allowed to happen. I'm not an engineer, but I have more than 50 years of technical training and work behind me, and a deep interest in both engineering, and safety; with that in mind, look at this photo of one of the bolts supporting those roof panels - - -

- - - that inverted "U" is the hanger that supports the panel which weighs 6,000 pounds. This is, of course, only one of several such supports. However, when one fails, the remaining supports must take up the added weight, and is is unreasonable to expect those supports to be in better condition than this one.

The scabby-looking stuff around the shaft of that loose bolt is epoxy. Now, I have every reason to trust epoxies in general. As a one-time professional Marine Surveyor [then a full member of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers,] I studied these materials because they are widely used in the construction of recreational boats of all sizes. However, there are at least two glaring errors in this epoxy application: (1) the support relies on the bond between the epoxy and the surface film of concrete around it, and (2) the force resulting from the weight (and vibrations!) of the supported panel are SHEAR forces on that thin film.

The impressive-looking bolt(s) don't mean a thing -- all of the strength of this support is in the surface of that bond between cement and epoxy. The slightest deterioration of the interface between cement and epoxy destroys that bond. Age, humidity, acid fumes from exhausts, vibration; all may weaken the bond.

Putting aside the question of why use such massive overhead panels, isn't there a better way to hang a dead load of this kind from concrete? Sure -- drill clear through the roof of the tunnel and run bolts through exterior load-distributing washers. If that wasn't possible due to construction, or if a similar support could not have been cast in place during the forming of the tunnel roof, there are supporting inserts that spread into a wedge under load. This kind of insert will fail only when the surrounding concrete itself shatters.

Better yet, lighter-weight panels should, in my opinion, have been supported from BELOW by load bearing members going downward and outward into the walls of the tunnel; visible for all to see and subject to easy inspection.


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"Getting old . . ." means what?

At age 74 I feel qualified to talk about the negative and positive aspects of aging. The plusses seem to [at least] balance the negatives! Here's a tabulation - - -

Negative
Positive
Pain
Everything from joints to innards seems to ache or twinge most of the time.
Lowered sensory
thresholds
I have either gotten used to pain, or just lost some sensitivity to it.
Weakness
Legs, feet, arms, hands, neck -- all too weak to accomplish much.
Reduced needs
I'm not very interested in doing anything anyway.
Guilt
Looking back, I see lots that I did wrong, and even more that I failed to do at all.
Informed
Judgment
At last "don't sweat the small stuff" starts to make sense, as does "it's all small stuff."
Fear
Illness, and that ultimate sickness "Death" are looming (and valid) worries.
Resignation
I finally understand that there are lots of things I can't do anything about. So why fret?
Fragility
Not just physically, but also mentally fragile; any change can easily be seen as a threat.
Adaptable
Having survived vast changes in the past I know there are usually some benefits in a new situation.
More
I know that there are many more problems of aging.
Failing memory
Thank God, I can't remember what they are.

So are you planning on avoiding the problems of growing old? Bah, humbug!

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Run that Red Light !!

Here's a recent press report from Washington state - - -

Driver Flees After Fatal Crash

August 21, 2006

By KOMO Staff


TACOMA - A 43-year-old Tacoma man was struck and killed late Sunday night, and the driver who hit him remains at large.

James Nance was on his motor scooter going north on South Hosmer Street when he was broadsided in the intersection of South 72nd Street by a truck that ran a red light, said Tacoma police spokesman Mark Fulghum.

Nance was transported to an area hospital where he was pronounced dead. The driver of the pickup truck that hit him slowed down and then drove off and remains at large.

Fulghum said several people who witnessed the collision are being interviewed by detectives.

"We got some information, and detectives are actually out right now following up on some leads," he said. "It would be a lot easier for everyone if he, or she, would turn themselves in."

The fleeing truck was described as a dark colored, late 90s full-size pickup. Fulghum said the truck likely has front end damage due to the impact with the motorcycle.

Like everyone else (except the guilty driver) I'm looking forward to seeing the killer spend at least a few years in jail.

But we should look at it from the killer's viewpoint; surely he or she was in a hurry - and likely had been drinking of had some other "excuse" for running that pesky stop light.

The stop would have delayed me for nearly a minute, and what's some dummy's life compared to 30 seconds of My Time? Get the hell out of my way... anyway, the idiot was riding a scooter -- for Pete's sake - a damned little toy scooter, and I'm in my honkin' big pickup!

Anyone else out there in a hurry? Like the guy in a "Tacoma" who passed me [across a double yellow line at a blind curve] on Lupton Drive yesterday afternoon? I too am guilty of riding a scooter - and I was putting along at 30 mph. (My excuse? The speed limit there is 25 mph.)

Oh yeah; "Tacoma Guy" made it to the signal at Hixson Pike about 4 seconds ahead of me . . . where he was stuck when I arrived. But he showed the whole world how powerful he is - burned 1,000 miles worth of rubber off of one rear tire when finally freed from the stop light.

What a champ.. er .. chump.

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What is a human and when does life begin?

Questions that seem abstruse and speculative to many. Perhaps because anyone reading this is indisputably alive and human; therefore secure in the protections granted you by law, custom, and ethics. But you were once a 2-celled "thing" just like those seen as a source of material that might -- might -- save lives. At that distant time, would you have willingly forfeited the life you have today in order to better the race?

The essence of many an ethical dilemma lies in the difficulty of drawing definite borders; ethics often work in those uncharted dimensions we call "gray areas." Does life begin when a baby draws its first independent breath of air? Or - as some suggest - when it can survive with the maximum of medical intervention if delivered from the womb? A well-worn joke suggests that "... life begins when the last kid leaves home and the dog dies," and many a retiree will agree with that definition too.

Here's where it gets tough to decide. Whenever a tough ethical decision must be made, it is always best to "fail safe," that is, to make that decision that reduces harm to a minimum. With that in mind, and knowing that there is no universally accepted definition of life, I suggest that we must assume that life begins at the instant an egg and a sperm fuse to form that primary 2-celled creature.

"But what about all of those unwanted bits of "cellular matter" (fertilized eggs - nascent embryos) frozen in nitrogen somewhere that will never become living human beings, and will eventually be destroyed? Shouldn't they be put to good use rather than wasted?" This is not germane; it simply introduces a second question under the guise of a solution. A subtle and common debating society tactic, raising a second issue does not resolve the initial one. Regardless of the ethical issues of bringing those embryos into existence, they do now exist. Destroying them in any way is the issue now, shifting the focus backward to their generation will not affect the question of their status.

Even less germane is the question of relative value; a "few cells" versus a presently living, breathing, lovable person. This frightening line of reasoning logically calls for the use of "lesser" persons for the benefit of "better" persons. So, who will proclaim who is lesser and who is better; the parents of a distressed infant - the family of a diseased person - the government - your worst enemy? That unanswerable question is why ethical rectitude demands that "the end does not justify the means." Never!

The development of a method for harvesting a single cell from an embryo of perhaps 100 cells claims to avoid the issue by being "nondestructive." This may or may not be true; if that embryo had been you, would you have volunteered 1/100th of your body to science - not knowing exactly what part(s) were being removed? Again, this issue falls into a gray area - no one can say what damage is done - and the victims can't argue.

As ethical humans we should do nothing that might harm the innocent and defenseless.

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What can be done after a "Katrina-Sized" disaster?

A year after Katrina wiped out most of the mid-Gulf-Coast we are still wringing our hands and pointing our fingers at one another in an effort to fix the blame for the "poor response" to this tragedy. Democrats are blaming Republicans, Federal authorities are blaming State authorities - - - etc. etc. etc. ad nauseam.

All of which gets exactly nothing done, of course. Maybe that's what is intended, because if nothing gets done, no one can be blamed for mistakes in cleaning up and recovering.

Well, to Hell with blame - - let's look at this from a management and engineering viewpoint.

Engineering: What we have here is an enormous amount of garbage, the solution to this is to bulldoze all of the stuff and dispose of it as cleanly and quickly as possible. It is not possible to wait for every home owner to sift through the wreckage and salvage each shred of the past. So lets require insurers to settle, and then pay every property owner a fair amount for the lost real estate which will then revert to common ownership -- federal property.

Management: we have a huge population of displaced persons, a large number of dead businesses, and a total disruption of the civil support structure (fire, police, hospitals, garbage collection, water purification and so on. It is obvious that local municipalities are simply powerless to leverage their own rebuilding; the very facts of the disaster have removed nearly every important source of income from these towns and cities. At the very least, the citizens of the several states must share the burden of whatever rebuilding might take place. There is some, if lesser, justification for demanding that all Americans share this cost-- but this calls for more consideration.

So, if all of us taxpayers are going to pay for the repairs, then we taxpayers have a say about what, and how those repairs are going to be accomplished. One thing is certain: we never want to go through this again. Beautiful and attractive as Gulf Shore areas may be, we know that they will be wiped clean by another storm sooner or later. If you want to live and invest there, you may not demand that the rest of us indemnify you against loss.

This means that private homes and capital-heavy businesses may not be built within some distance of the coast. By paying for the cleanup and (one assumes) assisting those who have lost all or most of their investments there, the citizens of the country, through their federal representatives, will assume control of the entire coastal storm-damage zone. I dislike the words "federal control" but this is an example - like National Parks - of a situation in which local control will guarantee failure. There is no other way to assure that local and state governments will not sell property to speculators. Speculators who will make a killing -- then the next big storm wipes out the poor suckers who bought property that actually belongs to the ocean. The entire Gulf Coast must be left to low-capital, easily recovered development such as parks, wildlife reserves, etc. that can be abandoned and later repaired at little cost and with no risk to human life.

The apportionment of the costs of cleanup and recovery might be done on a percentage basis: using the dollars / acre valuation for each jurisdiction versus the same valuation of the decimated area.

For example, if Mississippi's average valuation is, say, $1,234 / acre, and their share of the decimated coastline worked out to be 1 percent of the state's total area, with an average value of $2,400 / acre, then Mississippi would have to contribute (1234 / 2400) x 0.01 = $.514 per acre. Montana might show an average valuation of $1,050 / acre and it's share of the damaged coast would be perhaps 0.001 percent (of the entire U.S.A.) [These are not "real" numbers, merely illustrative of one possible way of sharing the costs logically and fairly.] By calculating the "load" each state must assume, we could assure that those who profited the most from the damaged areas in the past, will pay the larger part of the cost of recovery, while every taxpayer in the country contributes a fair share.

Regardless of the method used to apportion the costs, there is no doubt that we can never satisfy all of those who suffered losses. It is also certain that if we redevelop the coast along the lines of the past we will surely have another disaster in a year, or a decade, or two. We can't beat the weather and we can't stop the sea from claiming what is it's - we are silly if we try. Shore-dwellers cannot expect "inlanders" to underwrite their enjoyment of beach and surf, and building a city in a swamp and trying to keep it afloat after it sinks is a waste of time and money.

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Unplug my TV!

I've just made a decision that I believe will greatly improve my quality of life. I'm going stop watching television newscasts!

Oh, I'll still check to see what's going on, but it will be via Google News - - which, as yet does not babble, scream at me, or thrust red violence in my face. Newspapers and Google News let me decide what's important and what isn't. Then I may follow up on things of interest whilst avoiding the sensationally gory.

After all, watching the graphic details of the latest murdering bomber's accomplishment is not going to improve my mind, nor will my ignorance increase the odds of a similar attack happening again. My inattention will, on the other hand, enhance my personal well-being and elevate my attitude.

If everyone followed this rule, I believe that terrorist activities would decrease, as those responsible found that no one knew what they were doing. After all, if you aren't terrorizing anyone, why bother to detonate yourself? Or, if you still feel the urge, you might as well blow yourself up somewhere out in the desert.

A "statement" which goes unheard is ineffective; the statements made by suicide-murderers are only valuable when publicized. The wider the publicity, the greater their value to those dispatching the misguided suicide-murderer. Doesn't that make the big international new agencies the primary facilitators of terrorists' missions? And since those news organizations (mostly) rely on the support of us viewers to pay their expenses, it is our insatiable appetite for blood and violence that underwrites terrorism.

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Here's a news report - - -

Seen in the Charlotte NC Observer . . .
"Man riding scooter hits car, killed
DAN DUFFEY
Staff Writer

A 75-year-old Lenoir man who was riding a motor scooter he'd recently bought was killed after he swerved in front of an oncoming car Wednesday.

Willis Tommy Bentley, of 316 Abingdon Road, was riding his 2006 Honda Metropolitan scooter about 5 p.m. Wednesday on Harper Avenue, near the intersection of Fairview Drive, when he swerved into the left lane and hit a 2005 GMC Yukon head-on, said Jason Postell, traffic crash investigator for the Lenoir Police Department.

The Yukon was driven by Chassidy Jurney of Granite Falls.

Bentley was airlifted to Carolinas Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead about 1:30 a.m. Thursday, Postell said.

Bentley's [sic] bought the scooter recently, Postell said, after his driver's license had expired and he had been declared blind [emphasis added by Bill] because he couldn't see out of his right eye."

It's hard to figure out where to start here - - - the Honda Metro is a 49cc 40 mph scooter, the driver lacks 3-dimensional vision, is legally blind, and not allowed to drive. Who told him that he was "safe" riding a scooter?

What made him feel that riding is less demanding than driving? Why did he think that handling a scooter safely was easier than driving an automobile? Didn't anyone among his friends or family question his decision to ride a 2-wheeler in traffic -- apparently with little or no training or experience?

A look at the location (in my map program) shows that poor Mr. Bentley was less than a mile from his home when he died. What a pity. How sad!

Learn from this: Don't let friends ride if they aren't qualified, and have the sense to quit yourself, if you aren't fully capable!

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What can we learn?

Can we learn anything from apparently random and senseless murders like the ones recently wherein men kill totally innocent children? I mean, other than the obvious fact that there are dangerous persons loose amongst us, completely unknown, and likely to explode without warning.

It seems to me that some small fraction of the money and effort dedicated to publicizing these tragedies might be better spent studying the killers. Were there no clues in their lives that may have allowed anyone to guess that they would do something so completely insane and inhuman?

The cost of media coverage has to run into the low tens-of-millions of dollars; and for what? To "entertain" us? Not only is that a sick concept in and of itself, but it might even be one of the triggers that initiates the next horror story.

Not being trained in psychology, I couldn't even start to figure out how these twisted minds work; but surely there are brilliant PhDs who could be working on this if only someone would pay the cost. Those killers did not pop up from a hole in the ground - they had friends and family, they worked and lived somewhere, and were seen, if not truly observed, by at least a few others. Isn't there something those "others" -- we -- could do to predict their future inflammability? Before they burst into flames?

And although I am a ardent supporter of individual liberties and rights, I cannot help but wonder: Should privacy be so highly valued that a spouse, sibling, neighbor or associate would not -- having observed those signs that the psychologists can describe -- intervene or call the ticking time-bomb to the attention of law enforcement? To follow that chain of reason farther, should the protective structures of law enforcement be unable to step in to prevent these crimes BEFORE they happen?

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Scientific Atheism

Several well-known and highly respected scientists have recently used their considerable influence to publish their opinions (expressed as scientific fact) that religion(s) are a hoax, are lies, and are responsible for most of the human suffering we witness daily.

The 'suffering' bit is, of course, compelling - - in the face of brutal sectarian violence sweeping through much of the Islamic world, and harking back to Christianity's own shameful Inquisition and Crusades, it seems impossible to ignore the religious roots of so much bloodshed. However, brilliance in science is no proof against human failing, and these brilliant mens' opinions fail to account for many other notorious acts of human violence (Hitler's Holocaust is an outstanding example.) While it is not necessary to explain every one of mankind's horrendous crimes to justify their atheistic theories, neither may a logical person ignore inconvenient evidence - and there is ample - that violence will find an excuse somewhere; be it religion, ancient injury, recent injustice, or simple prejudice against another's skin color, language, or personal habits.

So-called religious violence is nothing but human violence (Dare I call it EVIL?) hiding behind the emblems of one or the other system of worship. I am not sufficiently educated in other religious disciplines to defend them; but I can say categorically that nowhere in the teachings of Jesus Christ or his disciples is there an excuse for doing harm to any human being.

You may quote pre-Christian scripture (The Old Testament) in an effort to prove me wrong - - but this demonstrates a poor education or thoughtlessness. The educated, thinking Christian knows that the Old Testament merely prophesies the coming of the Messiah. From the birth of Christ forward, only His teachings may guide - or you are not, in fact, a Christian. Nowhere in Christ's words is there justification for harming another person. Even his anger - the purging of money changers from the Temple - sees only things being damaged; persons may have been upset or frightened, but no one was bloodied or injured.

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©2006 W. J. Laudeman: All rights reserved. Personal-use copy permitted if this notice is included.
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