Archive for May 2013
I am going to post Bill Nye’s video and the response.
I would note that I work with engineers, several of whom are people of faith. One of my cousins is a world-renown research doctor who is a born-again Christian. He doesn’t disbelieve evolution so much as he believes the evidence for it has been misinterpreted due to the presuppositions of folks like Bill Nye. Another is a biologist who is also a Christian who leans toward Intelligent Design theory. I know a couple of University level geophysical science researchers who are also believers in Jesus Christ and skeptics with regard to evolutionism. Note the “ism” on the end of that. Evolution has evidence that supports it — somewhat. Evolutionism contends that its a slam-dunk proven case. There is a difference.
This is why I AM a “gun zealot”. I don’t own an arsenal myself. I can’t give you a rundown of every gun in the world like some people can. I don’t particularly like guns.
I like being able to protect myself and my family. Yes, I live in a state where large carnivores think humans might be tasty, but I also grew up in a town that didn’t have enough police officers to protect us from crime, so my mother had to scare away three men who went down the street and raped another girl. The only difference between Mom and that girl’s father who ended up getting his ass kicked and then having to watch his daughter be brutalized was that Mom had a gun and she wasn’t afraid to use it.
It is absolutely ridiculous that this woman was unable to defend herself. The answer is not more cops, because if you have enough cops to deal with every crime, when there is no crime they have to justify their existence by harassing citizens and finding something to charge them with. The answer is the people being able to exercise their natural right of self-defense.
In a grim sort of way, it’s rather entertaining to watch the hysteria over the bridge collapse on the Skagit River. Don’t get me wrong – I’m sure it was an exciting 30 seconds for those who were on the bridge as it fell and there were some minor injuries. I just think the Huffington Post’s hyperbolic lead about the “tragedy” was a bit – well, hyperbolic. CNN was a little bit more circumspect – saying we should NOT be worried about bridge failures, but we should be wary.
I work with civil engineers now and, although I am not a bridge expert, some of them are. Might as well learn about it while I’m there.
Bridges, like all mechanical devices, require repair and replacement from time to time. This used to be understood in our country, but has been lost in the “yikes, the sky is falling” era. Huffington Post is apoplectic hearing that our infrastructure only gets a C+ from the American Society of Engineers.
REALITY: That’s a passing grade and as the Alaska State Department of Transportation explained in numerous news articles over the weekend, it’s also a moving target.
Bridges are inspected every two years, or more often if they are nearing the end of their lifespan. In most cases, the problems a bridge might develop are discovered by inspectors a long time before a failure could occur. A bridge that is “in need of repair” is not an imminent danger of failure. Of course, the term “failure” conjures up the image of the cars riding the bridge into the Skagit River, but failure is a technical term that does not necessarily mean anything close to that catastrophic. A failure could be that the paving needs resurfacing. Do potholes seem scary to you?
Terms like “structurally deficient” or “functionally obsolete” sound alarming, but in reality it just means that the bridge no longer meets current design specifications. That doesn’t mean the bridge is an imminent danger of collapse. It simply means that, compared to new bridges, it’s not designed as well as it could be.
For a comparison, consider a modern car with fuel injection, emissions control and anti-lock brake. Now think about a car manufactured in 1959 – four-barrel carburetor, no emissions control and drum brakes. Is that car dangerous to have on the road or is it just different from the cars that are being manufactured today? It is functionally obsolete, but plenty safe to drive.
In the past 20 years, the percentage of structurally deficient bridges has been halved. The remaining bridges requiring upgrade or replacement are not classified as unsafe because they aren’t. Major bridge failures, such as collapses, are rare. There was one in Minnesota in 2007 that was a result of a newer design flaw. It was not at all a maintenance or age issue. The Queen Isabella Causeway collapse in 2001 was caused by four loaded barges crashing into one of the support columns. Not a design or maintenance issue, but an outside circumstance. The Skagit River collapse was caused by an oversized semi-truck hitting one of the support members. The BBC is one of the few sources to actually cover this angle as well as it deserves. The bridge took a significant external hit that triggered the collapse. Yes, a brand new bridge would have a redundancy to prevent a collapse, but it might have other, unforeseen structural issues that the older bridge didn’t have. The fact is that, while the bridge was of an obsolete design, it was safe for the normal traffic it received. The truck and its pilot car caused the collapse.
I admit to a bit of nervousness about writing that because someone will take it to the extreme and want to outlaw semi-trucks or some like nonsense. Moderation is the key in this. Oversized loads are supposed to know the route they’re taking and be in constant contact with their pilot car to avoid unforeseen circumstances. Apparently, in this case, there was a failure of one or both of those safety features that interacted with the bridge. Had it not taken the hit, the bridge might have continued doing its job for decades to come with occasional maintenance.
I’m sure I’ll get some arguments about this, but the trucking company should have to pay for the repairs of the bridge. It’s highly unlikely that any company carries enough insurance to cover the replacement of an Interstate highway bridge, but they should have to make up what it will cost us for the premature replacement of this bridge because they caused the collapse.
I’m also going to argue a point here – CNN’s article makes it seem that President Obama has been asking for upgrades on all the bridges that are “functionally obsolete”, but just hasn’t been able to convince Congress to pony up the funds. Point Number 1 is that with the ban on earmarking, Congress has been forced to hand monies over to the US Department of Transportation to use any way it sees fit and those funds have not been used to upgrade bridges. Why? I don’t know. Maybe President Obama would like to tell us the REAL answer to that.
Point Number Two is also that it is not surprising Congress is unwilling to give the USDOT more money since it is not using the money it already receives where it seems to be needed. The country is out of money. It’s time for us to recognize that we cannot afford Ferraris and need to either repair the old Chevy or buy a new Ford. The administrative state needs to learn to do its job at a level of funding the country can afford. The American people also do not want the federal gasoline tax raised. The American taxpayer is already strapped to the ground with taxes and the very real inflationary prices of food, fuel and electricity. Most of us are unwilling to pay for an increase in the federal gasoline tax because we see it wasted on projects like the Big Dig and we’re unwilling to agree to an increase in our state gasoline taxes so long as the federal tax remains so high.
Bridge repair and maintenance should be our first priority and then, with careful planning, truly dangerous bridges should be financed through the sale of tax-payer-approved bonds. Yes, the voters should be allowed to vote on whether or not to mortgage their homes and businesses to pay for replacing bridges. I think we’d quickly find out that a lot of bridges just needed some repairs.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) suggested the United States should take “baby steps” toward privatization of rail service in Amtrak’s northeast corridor.
Shuster said he will not push for complete Amtrak privatization, like his predecessor, Rep. John Mica (R-Pa.), but he would look for opportunities to introduce private companies to the northeast, which is Amtrak’s most profitable corridor.
“We’re not at the point where we’re going to have two competing companies on the line on the northeast corridor,” Shuster said. “[There are] baby steps we have to take to bring the private sector into the operations of it, whether it’s operating the equipment, whether it’s operating the personnel on the train that sell the tickets … there’s lot different ways to do it to bring the private sector in.” The private sector is interested in operating rail service in densely populated areas of the U.S. like the northeast.
“If you look what’s happening in Europe today, the EU has mandated that on every passenger rail, there has to be competition,” he said. “So our friends in Europe have figured out the magic of competition and what it can do to improve all different types of industries.”
Congressional lawmakers are expected to consider a Passenger Rail Investment and Act (PRIIA), which is the bill that traditionally authorizes Amtrak’s funding. Amtrak usually receives about $1 billion annually in subsidies from the federal government. It would take time to disengage from such a huge budget, but it’s entirely possible to do so, if Congress will plan long term for it.
In an era of shrinking budgets and the reality of the federal debt, the only real solution for Amtrak’s survival is privatization and the Northeast Corridor is a good starting point because it is profitable. Private operators, who could negotiate on wages and other costs, would be free to serve those routes that attract the most passengers rather than the ones that are backed by the most political muscle.
Privatizing Amtrak doesn’t mean an end to all long-distance passenger trains either, though it probably means an end to some. And, I am not necessarily opposed to government owning the tracks and even the trains themselves, though I believe the trains should be leased to the operating companies and track access provided by competitive bid. Limited government does not mean no government and a case can be made for public ownership of the tracks.
As a lover of trains, I personally wouldn’t object to my passenger car being linked to freight cars for a long distance route cross-country. Freight would make the trip affordable and profitable at the same time. I would enjoy the stops along the way, similar to the stops the Alaska Marine Highway makes going through the Inside Passage. Private railroads would be more likely to develop innovations that will attract new riders – like reinstituting sleeper cars so passengers can enjoy the slower pace of the freight train. Amtrak’s California trains are some of the poorest performers in the Amtrak system. Daily long-distance trains in the West could probably be replaced by weekly and/or seasonal cruise trains.
When Canada stopped running trains from Vancouver to Banff and Calgary, a private company called the Rocky Mountaineer entered the market with cruise trains and now offers four different routes. Such cruise trains typically operate only about once a week and are aimed at completely different markets from Amtrak.
And, that may well be the point. People in the Midwest and West like their cars and the independence that comes with it. They are unlikely to commute via train, but they may be willing to vacation by riding the rails. Amtrak can’t do it affordably, but Holland America might.
The administrative state in all its glory.
On the 15th of May, I wrote a post titled The Bureaucratic Swamp That Is D.C. (District of Corruption). It that post, I quoted from an article in the Washington Post by George Will who, in turn, used this quote from Christopher DeMuth (a Fellow of the Hudson Institute) at George Mason University:
Government power is increasingly concentrated in Washington, Washington power is increasingly concentrated in the executive branch, and executive-branch power is increasingly concentrated in agencies that are unconstrained by legislative control. Debt and regulation are, DeMuth discerns, “political kin”: Both are legitimate government functions, but both are now perverted to evade democratic accountability, which is a nuisance, and transparent taxation, which is politically dangerous.
My good friend and favorite satirist, Manhattan Infidel, left a comment saying: “it’s now the government of the bureaucrats, by the bureaucrats, for the bureaucrats“. I agree with him and…
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Some interesting information here for aspiring writings, like me, who are considering self-publishing.