May 10th, 2006

Lack of Thought

Every once in a while I come across someone on-line who has all the signs of complete intellectual vacancy. He is literate enough to use the English language with a moderate level of function--one that would allow him to graduate from public high school, in any event, which is not exacly difficult these days--and obviously has enough computer savvy to get on-line and post his opinions there. But the opinions he posts are worthless regurgitations.

I'm not going to name the source or the location in order to protect the stupid, but on a certain site I frequent there is a thread (Title: "Islam sucks") about the atrocities being committed, on a daily basis, in the name of Islam. The second post in that thread says:

"I believe all religion should be abolished for good and start teaching evolution and thinking rationally and logically."

My reply was rather acrid:

While you're deciding what people should believe and think, are you also thinking of controlling what they eat, watch, read, and wear? Because obviously you think none of us is smart enough to make up our own minds, pray tell us what we should do?


The issue here is not that "Islam" sucks, not exactly.

Over the past fifty years, "Islam" has ended up being turned into a haven for extremists who would like nothing better than to have total control over what people think and believe. Sha'ria--the fundamentalist Islamic law--is nothing but a totalitarianist government hiding behind a facade of relgion.[sic*]

The fact is that millions of uneducated people have fallen under the sway of people who think that they know better than others what people should believe and think, and how they should live. Ultimately that is the issue that Islamic terrorists have: we have a freedom to choose our own ways, and the ways we choose are not the ways THEY want.


*yes, I make typos all the damn time. Sue me. on second thought, don't.

What was his reply?

"What use is religion? Believing vs. actual scientific evidence is way more substantial. Believe all you god damn want to, what it boils down to is science. What you can see, feel, touch, experience. Reading some ancient text is a waist [sic] of my time, in my opinion. You can go your way but I think for humans to really evolve is abandon religion."

I couldn't let that slide:
First post: ...all religion should be abolished for good....
Second post: Believe all you god damn want to,...

Which is it? Will you, in your infinite wisdom, let me have freedom of religion, or not? First you say that all religion should be abolished for good. "Abolished" means outlawed, made illegal, eliminated entirely. Then you say I can believe all I "god damn want to". So which is it?

Do you want religion abolished, or not?

In any event it's a nice attempt at sidestepping my point: that such attitudes are no better than islamo-fascists who think that everyone should worship THEIR way.


He replied: "Yes, religion should be abolished yet you still have a right to believe in what you want. It's a double standard."

So I sez to him, I sez:
No; that is not a "double standard". That is SELF-CONTRADICTORY.

A "double standard" is what happens when two people in the same circumstances get different treatment. For example, if I go to the gas station and have to pay $3 per gallon for gas, but another guy goes there at the same time and only has to pay $2 per gallon.

Normally a double standard exists because of predjudicial factors: skin color, religion, creed, what-have-you.

Your compound statement, on the other hand, contradicts itself. You say that certain belief systems ought to be abolished.

[Here I put a link to the definition of "abolish" on]

You then say that I have a right to believe what I want. If my religion has been abolished--and you advocated that in your first post, that all religions should be abolished--where is my right to believe in it? If it has been abolished by a law making it illegal, I do not have a "right" to believe in my religion, do I?

Under United States law as currently written, I do have a right to freedom of religion, just as you have a right to say that you think religion ought to be abolished. But if religion HAS BEEN abolished, I no longer have the right to believe what I care to; freedom of religion is gone.

In any event, I will reiterate my original question to you, which you have still not answered: While you're deciding what people should believe and think, are you also thinking of controlling what they eat, watch, read, and wear? Because obviously you think none of us is smart enough to make up our own minds, pray tell us what we should do?

Do you only pay lip service to the idea of intellectual freedom? To the long-established rights set forth in the Bill of Rights? Because you can't have it both ways; if you advocate the abolishment of all religion, how can you be for religious freedom? How can you say, with a straight face, that all religion should be abolished and--in the same breath!--say that people have a right to believe what they want to?


In order not to distract him from my question I avoided the rest of his latter reply:

"Without religion, you wouldn't have people who believe they will be sent to heaven or saved by flying into towers. You will be able to rationalize and see the science behind everything. If there was a a [sic] Texas-sized meteorite right now going to slam into the earth, pray all you want, but the real thing is it's going to kill probably everything on earth. Some people rationalize it was god this and god that, point is you rationalize everything for that because you think there is a God and to think otherwise would send you to hell. What is a God to send you to hell because you don't believe in him? That's a narrow minded God."

...but it's rife with sloppy thinking.

"Without religion, you wouldn't have people who believe they will be sent to heaven or saved by flying into towers." Post hoc, ergo propter hoc: If religion didn't exist, people would not attack other people. Of course that is complete nonsense. Religion has been used as a justification for a lot of violence, it is true; but more often religion has played no role in war and violence, or an invese role. What role did the religion of Judaism play in the events in Germany in World War Two? It certainly did not cause the war. What about the 100,000,000 people killed by Communist regimes in the twentieth century? (That may not, actually, be a good example. Marxism is a jealous god and tolerates no other belief systems.)

"You will be able to...see the science behind everything."

Here, he shows his complete and utter ignorance of religious faith.

I know of very few people who are religious yet who don't accept science. There is a word for people who reject all science because some parts contradict their religion: fools. It may be hard for him to understand this, but most Christians in the early 21st century accept such facts as:

* The Earth is nowhere near the center of the physical universe.
* The Earth revolves around the sun
* The Earth is a sphere
* The law of universal gravitation
* If they fall from a high place, God will NOT save them from dying even if they pray

Further proof of his utter ignorance of religion comes from his statement, " think there is a God and to think otherwise would send you to hell."

Many of the Christians I chat with on-line do not believe in God beause they are afraid of going to hell. In fact, that isn't even faith. Most of them believe in God for deeply personal and/or spiritual reasons which have nothing to do with hell at all.

If you don't believe in God, why on earth would you believe in hell anyway? How does the fear of hell force one to believe in God if one does not already believe in Him? Hell does not exist unless there is a God Who created it, right?

"What is a God to send you to hell because you don't believe in him? That's a narrow minded God." (...I note with irony here that he capitalized "God".)

I think much of the failure of religion in the latter fifty years stems from people elevating themselves above God. People ask why they should have to follow God's rules--or face the consequences--when those rules seem arbitrary or mean or keep people from having fun?

Who is this guy to say what God should and should not do? Obviously since this guy is for the abolishment of all religion he doesn't really care, but most of the faithful accept that God is...well...God! He created the entire stinking universe for crying out loud. He owns the game! He made up the game! I'm pretty sure that means He can set whatever rules He wants!

Train Worries

I had occasion to look over the Missouri-Pacific main line that runs through town, north to south, early Tuesday afternoon.

I was driving Mom around the area so she could run some errands--taking her shopping, to buy her monthly supply of smokes, drop off some dry cleaning, etc, etc. While she ran into the cleaners', I ate lunch, looking at the Mo-Pac main line...and saw something rather disturbing.

I used to be heavily into trains. Every time my brother-in-law Carl was around he and I would go out and do some train-watching. It was great fun; and I was a budding model railroader. As I got older I drifted away from fiddling with model trains, although I still have all my rolling stock, including a nice Athern MP-1500 locomotive that I got for Christmas in 1982. (I think it was 1982.)

I actually got to drive an MP-1500, once--about fifty feet forward, then fifty feet back. Somewhere there is a picture of me at the controls of the thing with the biggest grin I've ever worn in my life. The MP-1500 is an EMD locomotive (Electro-Motive Division of General Motors) which is primarily used for switching cars, but the MP designation means "multi-purpose". When I decided to ask for an Athern model locomotive for Christmas I specified the MP-1500 because I had gotten do drive one, once.

Stuff I've Driven
Now that I think of it, I've herded a good number of machines. In chronological order:

powerboats (including personal watercraft)


In all the time I've spent looking at trains and such I have never seen rails in the condition I saw the main-line rails in on Tuesday afternoon.

It probably comes as no surprise that train tracks are made out of several parts. Individual pieces of rail are around 20 to 40 feet in length, and they are typically manually assembled on-site. A series of wooden or concrete ties are laid down; footer plates are installed atop these, and the rails lain atop these footer plates. Spikes or bolts then hold the rails down against the ties, sandwiching the footer plates between rails and ties. The rails are joined with joiner plates that span the joint, and are bolted through the rails with very large bolts.

This method has several advantages. First, the joints are staggered, like bricks, so that as the trains travel over the track, the joints go clickety-clack (in Japanese, gatan gaton, which I think sounds better). In Russia they lay them out like model railroad tracks, in sections, with the rail ends even; and the trains go BAM-BAM-BAM as they pass over the rail joints. Staggered rails lead to a quieter ride and less wear-and-tear on the running gear.

Second, if any one component of the track fails, it can be replaced without having to replace the entire works. You can pull a rotten tie out and replace it with a fresh one, just by digging a bit and pulling a few spikes. A bad section of rail can be cut out and replaced, or the entire piece of rail (however long it may be) can be replaced in its entirety.

But such maintenance is critical. These rails carry a lot of tonnage, both in instantaneous terms (ie as the trains travel over them) and in aggregate. The gauge (width) of the track must be maintained; failure to do that will result in derailments.

Railroad cars have flanges on their wheels, but most of the time the flanges do not actually contact the inner side of the rail. Most of the time, the cars are kept on-track by the taper of the wheel face; the flange is only there to ensure the wheel cannot ride off the rail. If the track narrows a bit, the car rides a bit higher; if it widens a bit, it rides a bit lower. In general the track is set up so that the wheel flanges almost never ride on the inside of the rail.

Besides the track maintenance, the cars themselves must be maintained. In an emergency stop, it's not uncommon for the wheels of cars to lock up--but when you drag a railroad car over a section of track (even an empty one!) the wheels will "flat spot". There is an enormous amount of pressure riding on that miniscule contact area between wheel and track, and although the steel is smooth, it is not perfectly so. Perfectly smooth steel would reduce or eliminate the tractive effort that the locomotive could supply, thus making the whole exercise utterly worthless. So if you drag a car, wheels locked, down the track, you grind a flat spot into the wheels of the car. When this happens, the wheels must be removed and either turned (lathed) round, or replaced.

If you have ever waited for a freight train to go past, I can guarantee you have heard a car with flat wheels; you may not have known it, but you have heard it. When you hear a car go by that is going BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM, you are hearing those flat spots hit the rails; that is a car which has been dragged over the rails with its brakes locked.

Flat wheels do not do your rails any favors. If a typical rail car weighs 40 tons empty, and it has eight wheels on it, for each revolution of each wheel you are hitting that rail with the force of five tons per square inch. This is why the car goes BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM, even loaded, as it rolls down the track: 10,000 PSI is a force to be reckoned with. The elasticity of the steel makes up for some of it, but not all. It's hard to believe that rail (which weighs tens of pounds per linear inch) can actually deflect, but it does--a little. And the wheel will deform, as well, just a bit. But even so, every revolution of every flat-spotted wheel is a 10,000 pound hammer blow.

One of the reasons steam locomotives are no longer used--other than the fact that they're much less energy efficient than turbocharged diesel/electric locomotives--is that the driving wheels did much the same sort of thing to the rails. The huge counterbalances in the driving wheels offset but did not eliminate the pounding forces due to the swinging of the drawbars; steam locomotives literally pounded rails to death. But locomotives are heavy things, by necessity.

And over the past couple of years I have gauged the growth of the economy by how many trains I've heard running down the old Mo-Pac line: more than I ever remember hearing, even during the 1980s. There have been nights when I, sitting here at my computer and working on a novel or just surfing the net, have counted a handful of trains going through town in a single hour on a Sunday night. In fact, while I have been working on this entry, I've heard at least three. And while waiting for trains I have heard an inordinate number of flat wheels going by--more than I ever remember hearing.

I mention all this because of what I saw Tuesday afternoon; I wish to place it in the proper perspective.

I was eating some kind of wrap-sandwich-thing from Kentucky Fried Chicken when my eyes fell upon a rail joint close to the van. I actually got out of the van and walked over to the track to look at it: where the joint should have been straight across, I could see that the rail ends had been pounded down to the point that the rail heads had deformed. The top of one of the rails had actually spalled away, leaving a rusty crater with radiating cracks.

As I further looked over the track I saw that none of the joints in sight were in any better repair. One joint was so bad that the joiner plate--itself a non-trivial piece of steel!--was damaged. I counted at least ten jutting spikes within forty feet of where I stood. The ballast around the ties--the rock and slag which keeps the railroad bed in place, allowing for drainage of rain, and such--was eroded away in many spots.

In short, this track is not being maintained.

The track is not being maintained. The cars are not being maintained. And rail traffic seems to be at an all-time high, at least on this railroad line.

See why I'm worried?