Thursday, September 15, 2016

How we perish in Paradise

From Wrath of Gnon:



Richard Fernandez:

... words and history have surprisingly little force. They convince people headed for the cliff not in the least. People only believe in consequences when it happens to them. Then remorse kicks in piteously and it is "Oh God save me and I will never do it again." ...

That's why the stories in the Bible have a depressing sameness. They always involve idiots who mess up and persecute every prophet sent to warn them until disaster strikes and then it's "help! Help!" We honor the prophets only after we bury them. Before that they're too busy making a getaway from us.

The story of mankind is the tale of someone who wakes up in Paradise and decides to burn it down. Happens every time. It doesn't matter that the survivors wrote it all down for our edification, because we'll just stop reading the Bible and watch some 'reality' TV show. ...

Each time mankind gets up from catastrophe it says "mebbe this time, maybe next time." Maybe never.
George Bernard Shaw once observed, ""We learn from history that we learn nothing from history." This is true, but incomplete. Why do we not learn from history? Perhaps this passage from A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller is a clue:
The closer men came to perfecting themselves a paradise, the more impatient they seemed to become with it, and with themselves as well. They made a garden of pleasure, and became progressively more miserable with it as it grew in richness and power and beauty; for then, perhaps, it was easier for them to see that something was missing in the garden, some tree or shrub that would not grow. When the world was in darkness and wretchedness, it could believe in perfection and yearn for it. But when the world became bright with reason and riches, it began to sense the narrowness of the needle's eye, and that rankled for a world no longer willing to believe or yearn.
We burn down paradise over and over because we cannot tolerate it in fact, only in wishing. But now I am not confident that we even yearn for it. I see the state of the 2016, North American church and I realize that we have not moved a tick on the chart closer to embodying the Kingdom of God than our ancestors of 1916. Or 1816. Or 1416. And the record of the ancient Jews shows that they never did, either.

If civilizations are never murdered but commit suicide, we are well underway. I would call upon the North American Church to re-fulfill its calling, but this assumes that it ever did fulfill it to begin with and that our failures are of recent vintage. Of the former I cannot recite much evidence and of the latter I cite the 1963 “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” by Martin Luther King, Jr. in which he lamented,

The contemporary church is often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch-supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent, or often vocal, sanction of things as they are.
But I am trying to discern an historical time when this was not the case and I cannot.

Plato and Moses alike would be stunned (or maybe not) that the human race has learned nothing in the last few thousand years. Neither the ancient Jews nor Christians of the last 2,000 years have been reliably faithful to their Covenants. Our  histories are of occasional faithfulness to our Covenants and then usually-prolonged abandonment of them. The main difference is that the Jews understood themselves better than we Christians have. Over and over we have had to learn what St. Paul wrote to the church in Galatia: "God can't be disregarded. You will harvest what you plant."

Brothers and sisters, the harvest is coming in. It is coming in good and hard. For the severest punishment God ever lays on us is to let us have what we want.

Update: Near the end of his life, John Wesley, principal founder of the Methodist movement, understood that the "people called Methodist" would not disappear after his death, but he nonetheless was filled with some foreboding:

1. I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid, lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case, unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.

2. What was their fundamental doctrine? That the Bible is the whole and sole rule both of Christian faith and practice.
But he foretold what would happen only a few paragraphs later:
9. It nearly concerns us to understand how the case stands with us at present. I fear, wherever riches have increased, (exceeding few are the exceptions,) the essence of religion, the mind that was in Christ, has decreased in the same proportion. Therefore do I not see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any revival of true religion to continue long. For religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality; and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in all its branches.

10. How, then, is it possible that Methodism, that is, the religion of the heart, though it flourishes now as a green bay-tree, should continue in this state? For the Methodists in every place grow diligent and frugal; consequently, they increase in goods. Hence they proportionably increase in pride, in anger, in the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, and the pride of life. So, although the form of religion remains, the spirit is swiftly vanishing away.
And what is the UMC today? Only formally the United Methodist Church, for in habit and thinking more and more Upper Middle Class (of whom I include myself, so I throw no darts that do not boomerang back to me).

Friday, September 9, 2016

When I drove an Indy Race car

I cashed in my gift certificate yesterday to the Mario Andretti Racing Experience. It was at Kentucky Speedway. The weather was perfect, sunny and temps in the high 70s for my slot with the 10 a.m. group. I had eight minutes of driving time. Details after the video; the camera was a GoPro (model unknown) mounted just aft the top of my head:


Okay, here is some information you will want to know before you decide to buy. They will tell you all this in your pre-drive class, but it's good to know ahead of time:
  1. This is, just as advertised, a real race car. It had slight mods for use by the non-professionals who will be driving it, but otherwise, it's the same as the cars you see every Memorial Sunday at the Brickyard. 
    1. One of the mods is that you do not shift gears. The instructor explained that the transmissions are four-speed but they have fixed them in fourth gear because they got tired of repairing transmissions. So when they start your car they push you from the rear with a large ATV while you push the clutch pedal to the floor. When your driving controller, speaking to you by radio, tells you to let off the clutch and give it some gas, the motor engages and off you go. 
    2. There is an RPM limiter that kicks in at 5,000 RPM. I think this is track specific, though. The instructor explained that maximum power and speed will be achieved just below that. I am pretty sure the reason for it is so that the car won't spin out in the curves. The instructor said several times, "Do not back off the throttle when you enter a curve. You cannot drive fast enough on this track to make the car spin on a curve, so maintain speed." I found this to be true.
    3. You do not have either a speedometer or a tachometer, although for all I know neither do the racing versions. The controller is always telling you (and race drivers) info about speed anyway, so there really is no need for either.
  2. There are three cars on the track at one time plus a dual-cockpit car for people who just want the speed sensation without driving. These are driven by professional drivers and will stay and the outside of the track. Trust me, they will also pass everyone else. 
  3. You paid-for time includes all the time your car is in motion, which includes the time you spend on the apron exiting pit row, which takes a half lap, and the time you spend returning there at the end, which is another half lap. Altogether, this will come to 1.5-2.0 minutes so frankly, if you do only the five-minute event, you won't do much driving at speed. 
  4. While driving, your controller will tell you when to merge onto the track when starting off and when to exit back to the apron to wrap it up. He will also tell you what pace to drive starting out, which will not be fast because he will not turn you loose until he knows you're not going to do something stupid and will follow directions. This is important: with other cars entering the track or exiting all the time, you may pass other cars only (a) on a straightaway and (b) when the controller says so. Screw this up and he may kill your engine remotely. 
  5. Speaking of the radio-connected controller, they really need to consider what in my military career were called "pro-words," or procedure words. I learned that the controller used the same terms to say that I was about to be passed or could pass (or not) someone else. This was very confusing and they seriously need to have different phrases for one and the other. Another example is how air traffic controllers and pilots talk; their phrasing is very exact and terms are very specific. When I was flying I was taught that I would be "cleared" only for takeoffs, never for landings or taxiing or anything else. So, as once happened to me, when you are short final to land and you hear the controller say, "static you are cleared for static" you know he's not talking to you and you'd better start looking for an airplane trying to take off on the same runway you have already been given permission to land! At the race track, audio you get in your headphones is not crystal clear anyway, so single-meaning words and short phrases would be a big help.
  6. These cars steering response is very sensitive. There is no need to turn the wheel more than a little bit. The faster you go, the more the car sticks to the track; it's actually more secure to go through the curves faster than slower. Also, the track's banking and leveling work very well to keep the car on course. 
  7. When they say, repeatedly, to stay at least five feet above the solid yellow line marking the beginning of the apron, they mean it. No driver in my group failed to do this, but the instructors were very clear: in an Indy car, if your wheel touches that line, you will wreck. The Indy car is very rigid and unforgiving of such. 
  8. When the controller tells you that you can open it up, go right ahead. The car is very powerful (duh) and will burst forward. Because you are siting so close to the track's surface, you will think you are going faster than you are, so if you feel confident, push it. Remember, the car is stabler faster. (This is my one regret, that I didn't push it as much as I retrospectively wish I had.) 
All this being said, it was a great experience, one like I've never had before, even when driving about that fast on the Autobahn in Germany.

I can also understand why there were so many repeat drivers in my group. One time does not give you enough familiarity with the car to really get up to high speed. So maybe there's another drive coming sometime in the future.

It was definitely fun, although not a passive kind of fun. This is not a passive experience at all! It's kind of like going on an extreme roller coaster, and discovering that you're not merely riding you're also having to drive it and you don't know which curves may throw you off the track if you take them at the wrong speed or wrong angle.

But yes, I would do it again in a heartbeat! Here are a few photos:

Pit row
Waiting to go.

I am in the red car, center. The cockpit is pretty tight to get into since the top opening is smaller than the interior. You don't have any spare room once positioned, but you do have enough. You are actually mostly lying down; legs straight in front and back angle well off vertical. 

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