Friday, April 30, 2010

Spill, Baby, Spill!

We've heard the chant "Drill, Baby, Drill!" Well, off the coast of LousianaSpill, Baby, Spill!

But, when you drill, sometimes you get a spill. That's just the way it is. As an engineer, I know we live in an imperfect world. Spills happen. Engineers may design drill rigs to avoid spills, but don’t fool yourself, nothing made by human hands is perfect. So, if the policy is "drill, baby, drill," at some point that will lead to "spill, baby, spill!"

The best thing we can do, as engineers, is design in contingencies. We know that the fuel tanks that at your local gas stations leak from time to time. Most don't leak. But leaks happen. So we now have double wall tanks. If the first wall breaches, there is a second wall to catch the leak.

We do that with fuel lines two: a pipe within a pipe. If the first pipe leaks, the second one catches it.

We need to find out more of why this spill happened and if the contingency provisions failed. This is a big one, with so much pressure, it can't just be capped. And it is very deep, too. It may take months to drill a relief shaft so the first one can be capped. When the pressure isn't too bad, one can put a valve (in the open position) on the end of a leaking pipe while the pipe is still under pressure. Once the valve is firmly in place, it can be closed slowly until eventually the leak is sealed. But, if the pressure is too great, or you can’t get to the pipe, you have to try something else.

In the mean time, the damage is occurring. There will be harm to wildlife and to the wetlands along the coast. And economic impacts, particularly to the fishing and tourist industries. The fishing and shrimping boats are all at their docks. If it takes months to stop the leak and clean-up the spill, they will be out of work for months.

This one spill doesn’t mean that we should take a knee-jerk policy adjustment and end all off-shore drilling. But it does mean we should have our eyes open on the risks that come with any energy policy that includes off-shore drilling.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Men Gather Legally with Guns - But What's the Point?

Groups of mostly men gathered on Monday, April 19th (anniversary of the "shot heard 'round the world in 1775 in Concord, Massachusetts). In separate rallies in Washington, DC and Virginia, they expressed concern about their 2nd Amendment rights. In Virginia, they carried their guns openly (as is allowed under state law).

So what's the point? It's legal to own guns. There is no proposed legislation to change this. (If there is some proposed legislation I don't know about, please tell me about it.) If these guys are just law-abiding gun owners, I don't know what the issue is.

I don't get it. Maybe they have been listening to too much talk radio or to others who just don't like the present administration and who seem to exaggerate reality. Maybe these folks, who clearly don't trust the party in power, are just hyper-paranoid that hiding behind some bush is a bill or executive order to take away their guns. And if there were such legislation being proposed, well, sure, they should be concerned. But if there is no proposed legislation, then this all sounds a bit paranoid to me.

Now I'm all for defending all our rights under the Constitution. And it's important to be vigilant, as you never know how they may be eroded by new laws or other government actions. But, still, we don't have to go to the point of creating the specter of a threat where none exists. There's a line between vigilance and paranoia. And unless I see more evidence of a threat on the matter of gun ownership, this concern seems to be trending a bit over the line towards paranoia.

Now I should point out I don't come from a gun-owning family. We lived in the city and there were no hunters in the family. Still, when war came, the men in the family took up arms to defend our land. But when peace came, they put them down and went back to their lives. So, I don't have a first-hand understanding of gun ownership. Still, as a libertarian, if there's a right to own guns (provided one doesn't use it for crimes such as robbery, murder, drug running, etc.), well, that's one's choice whether to own a gun or not.

But in conclusion, my question is: if there is no real and present threat to change the laws as they are today, why can't they just enjoy the rights they have?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Tea Party Express on Boston Common

Boston is the home of the original tea party from which the current conservative political movement gets its name. And just yesterday, while riding my bike to work on a nice, yet cool April morning, I rode right past their 3 luxury liner buses as the crowd was forming and the band was starting to play God Bless America.

No one seemed to notice or care when I took some photos of the crowd and their buses. Sarah Palin had not arrived and I guess there was no need for excessive security and no one was there to say who could attend and who couldn't. But I couldn't stay. I, like most working Americans, had to get to work, responsibilities to attend to, and didn't have time to hang around and see what was going on. Many public meetings or other political events are scheduled with us working folk in mind and occur in the evening.

From the looks of it, many attending seemed to be retired, maybe some unemployed, and maybe some who took off time from work to attend. (I hope no one was cheating by attending while "on the clock" at their job.) They were hoping for more to attend, but maybe it was poor scheduling on their part.

Now, we've heard all sorts of things about this Tea Party movement and those who belong, from the media, from pundits on the right and on the left. Frankly, I'm tired of the over politicization of everything these days, particularly the exaggerated claims on both sides. So, I'm just going to tell you what I say and my straight up reaction to it.

To me, these didn't look like cooks or disorderly bullies, at least by the behavior I could observe in passing by. Rather, they looked like folks who could be your parent's neighbors or might live around the corner from you. More or less, they seemed in the middle age to retired age bracket, and if clothing is any guide, they seemed to be firmly in the middle class (from lower middle to middle middle and a few upper middle). They seemed very orderly.

On the side of their buses were 2 major points and 5 bullets, each bullet ending in an explanation point! Here are their slogans and my reaction:

Major Points:

-- Restore Liberty
Hmmmm, what liberty has been lost? We all still have freedom of speech and the rally demonstrated freedom of assembly. No one in government is telling them how to practice religion. Is it that they may be required by law to have health insurance? We have that here in Massachusetts, enacted under the administration of Republican Governor Mit Romney. Even Sarah Palin asked the crowd "don't you love your freedom?" Maybe they need to specify the lost liberties.

--Honor the Constitution
Well, I like the Constitution and think it's about the best one in the world. I like the idea of honoring it. So, maybe they should specify who is dishonoring the Constitution.

The 5 Bullets:

  • End the bailouts!
    I think they have ended, as the economy is showing early signs of recovery. Personally, without some of the bailouts and/or stimulus, I really think the economy would have been in the can for years. I'd bet John McCain or even G. W. Bush would have paid for some bailouts.

  • Reduce the size and intrusiveness of government!
    Reducing the size is a nice idea, but from Ronald Regan to the 2 Bushes, will someone show me where they reduced the government? Pres. Regan wanted to eliminate the Dept. of Education, but kept it and created the Dept. of Veterans Affairs. G. W. Bush was not content with have the taxpayers finance only one nation, but since the Iraq invasion, we the taxpayers are now funding 2 nations. Often projects in Iraq got 100% federal funding while a similar project in the US would get 0% to maybe 50%. My challenge to my readers: show me a President, Governor or Mayor that really reduced the size of government!
    Regarding intrusiveness, everyone has their own version of this. I don't like an intrusive government that snoops on my phone calls or e-mail, cares what I borrow from the library, makes me - an American from birth - have to prove I belong here to work in a job, monitors what political movements I'm in, tells my employer they should monitor whether I use a particular substance, or micro-manages what goes on in a woman's womb. For others, they don't like being told they can't fill a wetland on their property, or that there are restrictions on where they can carry their gun, or that they should buy health insurance, etc. In other words, intrusiveness varies from person to person.

  • Stop raising our taxes!
  • Stop the out-of-control spending!
    These 2 go together. During the administrations of G. H. W. Bush and Clinton, spending was more in control and we were paying down the deficit. Then came 9/11 and 2 wars and lots of spending to pay for it. But rather than ask the citizens to take up the burden of these wars that are supposed to protect us (as was done during World War II), instead taxes were cut and the deficit rose. Then, with the near depression, the spending spree went into overdrive. Frankly, the figures are mind-boggling. But, I think any President would have done something to stave off a major depression. We didn't get instant relief, but this was nothing like the Great Depression.
    The question they don't ask is "where do we go from here?" The horses are out of the barn; the money spent. It will take decades to erase the deficit now. The government needs revenue from some combination of sources, and "revenue" means taxes. The best they can hope for with any President is to stop further spending and hold the line on taxes.

  • No Government-run healthcare!
    They really should have an asterisk on this. Today's New York Times reported that most supporters of the Tea Party movement believe "Social Security and Medicare are worth the cost to taxpayers." Now, Medicare is a Government-run healthcare system. Oh, and the Veterans Administration with its system of hospitals also seems like a Government-run healthcare system. (I don't think any Tea Party movement folks want to end the VA and its care for wounded veterans.) What I think they mean to say is that, other than Medicare and Medicaid and the VA, they don't want the Government to run a healthcare system like Canada or Europe. But I guess you can't fit such a long explanation on the side of their bus.


Call them what you want, but I think they're conservatives who want to speak out about what's on their mind. I'm a big advocate of free's a big part of the Bill of Rights our Constitution. Personally, I'd rather have conservative voices rally and speak out that have the "silent majority" as Pres. Nixon used to portray conservative voters. Conservatives don't need politicians saying what they stand for, when they can speak for themselves. I can't say I agree with everything they say, but I'm 100% behind their right to speak their minds!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Scandal in the Catholic Church Heats Up

A month ago, I blogged about the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. At the time, I thought it was a story was passing from popular conscience. But then it got "legs" big time. More allegations in more places and cases where it seems the Vatican took no or little action.

In the wake of the media activity, the Vatican took the stories as "attacks" instead of efforts to learn the truth. To many of us who are Catholics, it seemed that the Vatican was missing the simple point of the matter: protect children and remove the pedophiles.

All in all, it seems that the Church is missing the clarity it seems to have for issues like abortion. So let me state it clearly: sexual abuse of children is a mortal sin, a grieveous offence against God. That's how I interpret the Catholic education I had as a child.

I, and many, are at a loss to understand why the Church seemed to downplay these offences, using words like "failings" instead of "mortal sin" or "serious sin." How could they not get these 4 aspects of abuse:
  • Violation of a priest's celibacy
  • Violation of the Church's teaching that sexual relations should be limited to married couples
  • Violation of the trust that the laity place in the priesthood
  • Violation of the bodies of innocent children. The Church often refers to the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit. This abuse violated that temple and therefore offended God. And the victims have been seriously scarred for life
The formulation for the Sacrament of Penance would also tell any Catholic how the Church should have proceeded in the knowledge of such serious sins committed by its priests:
  1. Confess the sin; acknowledge the truth. Jesus said "I came into the world to testify to the truth." (John 18:37) So, let the Church testify to the truth: priests committed mortal sins in the abuse of children.
  2. Where serious sin was also a crime (e.g., robbery, murder, etc.), I learned that the sinner should also surrender to civil authorities and accept their civil sentence as part of the penance for their sin. So, clearly, the Church should have encouraged the offenders to turn themselves into the police.
  3. The Act of Contrition includes the words "avoid the near occasion of sin." For pedophiles, this is unsupervised access to children. Thus, it is so hard to hear how offenders were transferred by Church officials to new assignments and still had access to children.
  4. Finally, the sinner must resolve to reform his life. Any non-repentant offender should have been stripped of ministerial duties immediately. Even repentant offenders had so violated the trust of their ministerial office that they should have been banned from active ministry.
Finally, it also seems that many Church officials wanted to keep these mortal sins quiet, as publicity might damage the reputation of the Church. But, we all know that strategy backfired. If the Church had acknowledged the sins from the start, it could have used this as a "teaching moment." Even priests can commit serious sins, but as part of the Penance process, abusers of children must be removed from ministry and face the civil charges associated with their crimes.

If the Church "testified to the truth" as Jesus spoke, there might still be a scandal, but people would acknowledge that the Church acted properly in handling the scandal.

And why should the Church and groups like the Catholic League be so defensive? Being a Christian sometimes means being misunderstood and getting bad press. Believers should be glad the days of feeding Christians to the lions is long gone! In comparison, a little heat in the press should seem like nothing.