Dawkins Advocates Abortion of Gays, Blondes and Brits

I read Richard Dawkins’ Selfish Gene back in the day. At the time I thought the book to be overrated,  and now find it pretty much outdated, proven wrong by later research. But that proof  hasn’t stopped Dawkins from parlaying his initial fame into a long career that recently has evolved into becoming the bete noire of Christians. He and his supporters like to portray themselves as standing against ignorance and don the mantel of the scientific greats who suffered under the Inquisition, but these days are quite different than the time Galileo lived. In fact given the tendency for some followers of a particular “religion of peace” to saw off the heads of non-believers, I’ll start taking Dawkins seriously when he dons a Mohammed mask and pees on the Koran. It’s easy to rile up Jews and Christians; they won’t stick a dagger through your heart (as one member of the religion of peace did to Theo Van Gogh) or issue a fatwa against you the way the Ayatollah Khomeini did to Salman Rushdie. Islam is another matter, and I’m always amazed how the Left censors itself in regards to that religion, focusing their ire instead on Christianity, as if the Pope will send a suicide bombing altar boy to silence them.

So Dawkins’ latest rant calling for the abortion of babies with Down’s Syndrome is just so much more greenhouse gas emissions by the former scientist. As the uncle of no less than TWO kids with Down’s, I could expound on how these children are endless fountains of Love in this despairing world we live in, but instead I’ll take another tack.

Dawkins’ argument is that those with Down’s suffer a poor quality of life and it is our duty to kill them to prevent their suffering. “I personally would go further and say that, if your morality is based, as mine is, on a desire to increase the sum of happiness and reduce suffering, the decision to deliberately give birth to a Down baby, when you have the choice to abort it early in the pregnancy, might actually be immoral from the point of view of the child’s own welfare.”

So if the standard to judge is quality of life,that a Down’s child has less quality of life than a non-Down’s child, then shouldn’t we apply this logic to other conditions? Perhaps we could take it a step further down this slippery slope Dawkins has plopped his atheistic butt on. Current thinking is that people are born gay, and if true then it should be possible to eventually determine whether someone is gay while they are in utero. Since gay people are more prone to drug abuse, alcoholism and suicide than straight people, then should Dawkins morality apply to those as well? After all if gays suffer a lower quality of life than straights, shouldn’t the parents abort the gay baby and try again? Ditto children with autism, left-handedness (lower quality of life than right handers), brunettes (lower quality of life than blondes), and those born in Britain (lower quality of life than Americans).

My opinion? Anyone who bases their reproductive success on the opinions of that bloviator shouldn’t reproduce in the first place.

This Should Get Obama’s Attention

On the Writings of Julius Caesar

A few days ago marked the 2000th anniversary of the death of Augustus Caesar. The event passed quietly as far as I can tell which is a shame in my opinion. Augustus as well as his adopted father Julius Caesar shaped the foundation of our society in a way that even they would not have imagined. He should at least be remembered if not celebrated.

Most of us get history shoved down our throats. I remember being forced to read Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar freshman year of high school when I was more interested in smoking pot and listening to Blondie than understanding Elizabethan English, even that of the Great Bard. Of course Shakespeare’s take on Caesar was about as factual as Tina Fey’s of Sarah Palin so I suppose I didn’t miss much. But as I’ve gotten older I’ve developed an interest in and a deep appreciation of ancient works. For this I credit “Black Swan” author and philosopher Naseem Nicholas Taleb, and the crazy frat boy turned project manager who turned me on to him. Taleb is one of the few writers I’d like to meet, and he has written extensively about the stoics and other ancient philosophers. I started reading Seneca because of him, and it hasn’t been easy. I’ve learned that I am weak when it comes to translated works. I need the rhythm and comfort of modern speech to appreciate these ancient writings, and while I’ve struggled with Seneca’s translation, The Complete Works of Julius Caesar as translated by W.A McDevitte and W.S. Bohn has been a good investment of $1.50.

Caesar writes in the 3rd person as if some disembodied narrator which I find somewhat annoying, but once you get past that his story comes alive. You are in the mind of one of history’s greatest generals at a crucial point in our civilization’s history.

One thing becomes quickly clear: Caesar is always at the disadvantage in battle. In Gaul his forces are always out-manned by the tribes arrayed against him, but Caesar understands victory does not rely on numbers alone, and his tactical genius combined with a veteran, well-disciplined force overcomes the numerical advantage of his enemies. But it isn’t easy. Here is a sample of Caesar in battle.

Caesar had everything to do at one time: the standard to be displayed, which was the sign when it was necessary to run to arms; the signal to be given by the trumpet; the soldiers to be called off from the works; those who had proceeded some distance for the purpose of seeking materials for the rampart, to be summoned; the order of battle to be formed; the soldiers to be encouraged; the watchword to be given. A great part of these arrangements was prevented by the shortness of time and the sudden approach and charge of the enemy. (Gallic Wars, Book 2, Chapter 20)

What comes through his narration is the unpredictability of war. One would also expect Caesar to embellish his successes while airbrushing away his failures, yet Caesar’s retelling of events comes through as exceedingly honest. For example, Caesar didn’t win all his battles. In fact at the battle of Dyrrachium he almost lost everything against another one of History’s great generals, Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus or Pompey the Great.

Pompey had taken up a position upon some hills with his back to the sea. Unable to assault Pompey directly Caesar set about building fortifications around Pompey’s position with the idea of boxing him and eventually strangling his army. Pompey’s navy controlled the sea so his army could resupply whereas Caesar’s could not, but thousands of horses need a lot of forage Caesar became expert at picking off cavalry in search of food for their horses. A stalemate descended on the battlefield, and it wasn’t until two Gauls defected from Caesar’s camp to Pompey that the stalemate was broken. They informed Pompey about where Caesar’s forces were weakest, and Pompey focused his attack on that point. Caesar’s army turned and fled, and he struggled to figure out what happened, stopping panicked soldiers himself for details of the rout. Learning the circumstances Caesar believed that he had lost the war. Then his luck changed. Caesar writes,

In this calamity, the following favorable circumstances occurred to prevent the ruin of our whole army, that Pompey suspecting an ambush (because, as I suppose, the success had far exceeded his hopes, as he had seen his men a moment before fleeing from the camp), didn’t approach the fortification, and that his horse were retarded from pursuing… By retarding the rapidity of the enemy’s pursuit, preserved our army. (The Civil Wars, Book 3, Chapter 72)

Caesar had developed a reputation for daring as a general, but this can only have been abetted by his experienced army. Nowhere was this more apparent then at the Battle of Pharsalus, the climactic battle of the Roman Civil War. Before the battle Pompey had managed to starve Caesar’s army of supplies. Pompey employed this strategy of attrition, waiting for Caesar’s forces to fall apart under the stress of skirmishes and lack of supplies. Caesar in turn sought to provoke Pompey into battle, appreciating for himself the wisdom of Pompey’s strategy but Pompey resisted being drawn into battle. At this point Pompey had the high ground on a hill and had double the number of troops – 45,000 vs Caesar’s 22,000.

The pressure on Pompey to finish off Caesar’s forces was strong. His advisers and lieutenants pushed the old general to destroy Caesar and his army, and they claimed the victory at Dyrrachium proved that Caesar was fatally weakened. Excited at the prospect of ridding themselves of Caesar and returning to Rome as heroes, Caesar quotes one of Pompey’s generals as denigrating Caesar’s forces. “(This is not) the army which conquered Gaul and Germany… a very small part of that army now remains… the flower of the forces perished in the two engagements at Dyrrachium.” Finally Pompey relented, announcing “I have persuaded our cavalry, and they have engaged to execute it… to attack Caesar’s right wing on the flank, and inclosing their army on the rear, throw them into disorder, and put them to the rout, before we shall throw a weapon against the enemy.” (The Civil Wars, Book 3, Chapter 87).

Throughout his works Caesar portrays himself as favoring a peaceful resolution to a crisis over war, and when war was necessary, enforcing a just peace on the defeated. The lives of captured soldiers were spared; towns that surrendered to his army did not have their citizens put to the sword. These were uncommon practices by his enemies according to his Caesar, and his concern with his enemy and the Republic showed before battle. Facing double the number of men in his army, a force well supplied and enjoying better ground and lead by a general Caesar himself respected, Caesar exhorted his forces as Pompey  began arranging his men for battle. “He took care to remind them that he could call his soldiers to witness the earnestness with which he had sought peace… he had been always reluctant to shed the blood of his soldiers, and did not wish to deprive the republic of one or other of her armies.” (The Civil Wars, Book 3, Chapter 90).

The pivotal battle turned out to be somewhat anti-climatic from a modern point of view, but here again Caesar’s experienced troops were the deciding factor. Charging towards Pompey’s forces required Caesar’s soldiers to cross a vast no-mans-land between the two armies. Pompey under the advice of his adviser Caius Triarius held back his men, waiting for Caesar’s troops to tire and then be easily beaten. But his experienced troops understood what Pompey was doing and changed tactics in the middle of their run. Caesar writes, “(Caesar’s men) perceiving that Pompey’s men did not run to meet their charge, having acquired experience by custom, and being practices in former battles, they of their own accord repressed their speed, and halted almost midway; that they might not come up with the enemy when their strength was exhausted.” (The Civil Wars, Book 3, Chapter 93). Caesar notes that Pompey’s men did not fail in the battle, “for they received our javelins, stood our charge, and maintained their ranks,” but within minutes the tide of the battle changed. Caesar had made up his thin ranks not in the customary three rows but four. This crucial fourth row of men were able to withstand the cavalry charge Pompey had planned; had that fourth row not been there the cavalry would have broken through Caesar’s line and been able to attack his forces from behind. But the fourth line held and pushed back the cavalry, sending it routing. Once that happened the battle was for all intents and purposes over. Pompey left the battlefield and returned to camp, eventually disguising himself and fleeing.

Throughout the books Caesar drops names of those who helped him which reminds me of the way American presidents pepper their speeches with the names of average Americans. I find it fascinating that over 2000 years later these men, or at least their names, are not forgotten thanks to Caesar’s pen. Caesar writes, “There was in Caesar’s army, a volunteer of the name of Crastinus, who the year before had been first centurion of the tenth legion, a man of pre-eminent bravery. .. He looked back at Caesar and said “General, I will act in such a matter today that you will feel grateful to me living or dead.”” Earlier in the Gallic Wars he notes “two very brave men, centurions, who were now approaching the first ranks, T. Pullo and L. Varenus. These used to have continual disputes between them which of them should be preferred, and every year used to to contend for promotion with the utmost animosity.” These two men became the main characters of the HBO series Rome. Caesar sprinkles these names and vignettes throughout this works, betraying what I consider to be a literary sensibility by the writer. Caesar was educated in the Greek classics so he probably understood the importance of supporting characters to help tell a story, and since the Romans themselves were just as interested in their own history as we are in theirs, he no doubt knew that his story would be much more interesting if it wasn’t filled with self-aggrandizing commentary. It’s a lesson our current leader should learn if he was open-minded enough to appreciate the thoughts of a “dead white male.”

I know I’m not the first to realize this, but the epiphany that a long-dead man like Julius Caesar could come alive in my imagination through his writings has been profound and humbling. The Renaissance thinkers believed that the Greeks and Romans had discovered all there was to know about the human condition, and that it was up to them to rediscover that knowledge and refine it. Like them I am simply amazed at how little has changed between Caesar’s era and our own when it comes to the human condition. Caesar is betrayed and lied to just as the EU is today by Vladimir Putin. He experiences fake friends just as the US does in the guise of the Saudis. His men act with honor and cowardice just as our soldiers do today. We may shoot missiles instead of launching javelins but I would bet that if you took one of Caesar’s legionaries and put him in a foxhole in Afghanistan he would get along just fine with American soldiers.

It is readily apparent to me why Caesar has not been forgotten over the millennia. He speaks to us across Time to remind us of that we face the same struggles he did, possessing the same soul-destroying fears as well as our own capacity for courage and greatness. Through his writings he transcends death and serves as an important guide for us as we stumble towards our own future.

 

Council Submissions: August 20, 2014

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Hail Caesar! 2000th Anniversary of Augustus Caesar’s Death

Today marks the 2oooth anniversary of the death of Augustus Caesar. Born Gaius Octavius he was the grand-nephew of Julius Caesar and became his heir after his assassination. After consolidating his power and defeating his rival Mark Antony, Rome entered a time of peace and prosperity later known as Pax Romana lasting 200 years. When we think of Roman emperors today we tend to think of madmen like Caligula or Nero, but Augustus was nothing of the sort. He lived a quiet personal life and shied away from extravagance, choosing to live in a modest home in the city’s Palatine. Historian Suetonius wrote, “He lived at first near the Forum Romanum, afterwards on the Palatine in a modest dwelling remarkable neither for size or elegance, having but a short colonnade with columns of local stone and rooms without any marble decorations or handsome pavements. For more than 40 years he used the same bedroom in winter and summer.”

Leftist university professors won’t admit it but our civilization, the one that has dominated the world for 500 years freeing hundreds of millions from slavery and bringing untold wealth and prosperity to every corner of the globe has its roots in Greco-Roman culture, a culture shaped by the brilliant mind of Augustus Caesar.

Rosario Iaconis writing in Investor’s Business Daily notes, “Few leaders in the history of the world can match the statesmanship or success of Caesar Augustus. Rome’s first emperor rescued a nation in the throes of disorder, plus established an enduring polity that would shape the destiny of Western civilization for the next 1,500 years.”

Missouri’s Petulant Police in Ferguson

Last night the police didn’t intervene as the looters took to the streets of Ferguson Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. “I think the first message is to remind all law enforcement that they are hired to serve and protect and if they’re going to sit back and watch looting, they’re not serving us; they’re not protecting us,” Pastor Robert White told the local Fox News affiliate. Former St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch tweeted: “You did not see “police restraint” overnight. You saw police reluctant to act. We cannot keep stoning the keepers at the gate.”

This is a case of a police force clearly acting as petulant as a five year old who doesn’t get its way. Either we allow the police to do what they want, treat American soil as a de facto warzone and act as an army of occupation that is allowed to shoot first and ask questions later, or it’s not going to do its job. The “keepers at the gate” referred to by former police chief Fitch clearly have forgotten their mission to serve and protect. Their motto isn’t to disarm and pacify. This is Ferguson not Fallujah. Perhaps they need to get stoned to remember that, and if one of those rioters can’t hook them up Colorado is only 2 states away.

Do all American cops think this way? Do they see themselves working in a constant state of war in hostile territory? I need to understand how cops have become more paramilitary forces who subjugate and pacify the enemy and less beat cops who know the people they protect. I don’t see why such paramilitary tactics are needed in cities and suburbs in America of the 21st Century. We are a less violent society today than we were 40 years ago, so why are cops dressing and reacting as if they are living in a dystopian nightmare from the 1980s movie Robocop?

I want to believe that all cops don’t think this way, that there are some who understand the difference between policing and pacifying. But just because I want to believe doesn’t make it real.

The Danger to Civil Society Posed by Militarized Police

Watching events in my hometown of St. Louis over the past few days has sickened me even though there is quite of lot of sickening things happening in the world. St. Louis isn’t a bad city but it is an American city and what we are seeing there can be extrapolated all too easily throughout the country.

For those unfamiliar with the area what is known as St. Louis is really more accurately called the St. Louis metropolitan area encompassing the city of St. Louis and the surrounding counties in Missouri and Illinois for a total population of about 2.5 million people. St. Louis county is politically separate from the St. Louis City and is composed of 91 municipalities and 9 unincorporated census-designated places. Many of those municipalities lack their own police forces and have agreements with the county to provide police and fire services, but many also do not. Anyone who has lived in the area quickly learns the speed traps run by police forces like Charlack (population 1,413) and Bella Villa (687 ), the latter even providing a link to online payment of traffic tickets. Locals soon learn where to speed and where to run a mile or two an hour below the speed limit to avoid being pulled over. Outsiders and those traveling through lack this knowledge and so get fleeced.

Ferguson is one of St. Louis county’s moderately sized municipalities of 22,000 people, and it has its own police force as you may no doubt already know. Having grown up in the area it was common knowledge that the best cops were the city and county cops because they were more experienced and professional. Being a teen meant that I was pulled over a lot growing up in the area, and I understand why and don’t really resent it. County and city cops never hassled me unlike the smaller municipality cops, and when they were needed the county and city cops were the ones who knew how to investigate crimes or handle bad situations. There is a basic reason for this: experience. Small municipal cops may know how to issue a ticket but they won’t know how to investigate a murder because such crimes rarely occur in these areas. In most such cases the county would be brought in to do the heavy lifting, but I always believed citizen safety and well-being would have been much better had the county cops done all the policing in the county instead of just the unincorporated areas or the ones with municipal agreements. Of course size is no guarantee of professionalism, just witness the troubles of the LA Police Department, but Michael Brown’s chances would have been better with a county cop than one of Ferguson’s finest.

I don’t know what happened that day. Messing with an armed cop always seemed suicidal to me.  He may not have been in his right mind, drunk or on drugs and felt invulnerable. I understand that, having done stupid things myself while under the influence. But I also understand that wearing a badge can make some cops feel like Judge Dredd and have seen cops act in a way while wearing a badge that they wouldn’t without one. Add a gun and its sanctioned use by Society and the mix can prove to be a volatile cocktail too powerful for some.

He may not have attacked the cop at all, and even if he did reports that he was shot while running away scare me because as a gun owner I know the laws and the limits of self-defense usage of a firearm. Even if I had been attacked by an unarmed Brown, if I had shot him while he was running away I would be charged with murder. Stand your ground does not apply when your attacker is fleeing, and while the Stand Your Ground laws don’t apply to the police, other laws do.

Writing in Time Magazine Senator Rand Paul discusses another aspect of this case: the militarization of the police. He quotes Instapundit’s Glenn Reynolds, a law professor at the University of Tennesee who has been writing about the attitude changes among the US domestic police forces from a force protecting the people to an occupation force. Reynolds notes, ‘Dress like a soldier and you think you’re at war. And, in wartime, civil liberties—or possible innocence—of the people on “the other side” don’t come up much. But the police aren’t at war with the citizens they serve, or at least they’re not supposed to be.” Rand also quotes Walter Olson from the Cato Institute, “Why armored vehicles in a Midwestern inner suburb? Why would cops wear camouflage gear against a terrain patterned by convenience stores and beauty parlors?... Why would someone identifying himself as an 82nd Airborne Army veteran, observing the Ferguson police scene, comment that “We rolled lighter than that in an actual warzone”?”

Paul ends the must-read piece,

The militarization of our law enforcement is due to an unprecedented expansion of government power in this realm. It is one thing for federal officials to work in conjunction with local authorities to reduce or solve crime. It is quite another for them to subsidize it.

Americans must never sacrifice their liberty for an illusive and dangerous, or false, security. This has been a cause I have championed for years, and one that is at a near-crisis point in our country.

Libertarians have been warning about the militarization of the police for years. In 2006 Radley Balko warned in his book Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America that the most common use of SWAT teams was the serving of narcotics warrants. As a reminder these are non-violent offenses. Balko writes, “These increasingly frequent raids, 40,000 per year by one estimate, are needlessly subjecting nonviolent drug offenders, bystanders, and wrongly targeted civilians to the terror of having their homes invaded while they’re sleeping, usually by teams of heavily armed paramilitary units dressed not as police officers but as soldiers. These raids bring unnecessary violence and provocation to nonviolent drug offenders, many of whom were guilty of only misdemeanors. The raids terrorize innocents when police mistakenly target the wrong residence. And they have resulted in dozens of needless deaths and injuries, not only of drug offenders, but also of police officers, children, bystanders, and innocent suspects.” The Glenn Reynolds piece that Paul quotes above was written in 2009. While their conservative allies may squirm as they question the legality of an increasingly militarized police, they should appreciate the danger to the Constitution.

The police are supposed to be guardians of the community they live in not foreign occupiers. It is time we rehumanized the police and returned them to the task of watching over the people instead of watching the people. Perhaps the killing of Michael Brown will start us down a new path that leads to a more peaceful and free society instead of the violent nightmare of the path we are on.

Update: Military vets sound off on the paramilitary tactics here.

The Council Has Spoken: August 15, 2013

Council Winners


Sixth place t with 2/3 vote –Nice Deb A Weak Horse Will Not Defeat ISIS

Non-Council Winners


On the Death of Robin Williams

We all have our demons, the voices that seek to confuse us, ruin us, then laugh at our own destruction. For some people these demons are mere shadows, rarely seen and easily ignored, but for others these demons are as real as anything else in the world. Their voices ring in our ears, their touch as cold and painful as plunging a hand in ice water. They are a constant presence, inescapable and a burden carried through life.

To deal with these demons we often medicate ourselves, seeking oblivion to silence their voices, to dull their touch. Whether it’s cocaine, alcohol or gambling the addictions are an irrational attempt to deal with an irrational situation. These vices provide momentary comfort but only make the demons heavier, stronger, perpetuating a cycle that so often leads to the grave.

Those of us who have managed to escape the cycle, usually only temporarily, understand our fate. We see the demons, every horn and wart, smell their fetid breaths with each gasp of our own, but are too damned stubborn to let them beat us at the moment. Each day, each hour, each second when we don’t succumb to the false cures weakens the demons ever so slightly, making the next day, hour or second slightly easier than the last. But we don’t kid ourselves; no matter how long we’ve been sober the demon is still there. Its voice may be weaker, its stench just a little less pungent, but it will never disappear. It will always be with us.

When we witness one of our own overwhelmed by his demons, it saddens us. Rich or poor, famous or not, we are all united through our struggle against powers we never asked to fight in wars we never asked to be part of, and we are left embittered by the fact that so often those overwhelmed by his or demon are the least deserving of the fate. Why do they fall while so many others who have become real demons tormenting real people draw breath? Where are the inner demons of the men executing women and children in ISIS controlled Iraq? Why aren’t the savages launching rockets as they cower behind children in Gaza immobilized by doubt and fear?

It isn’t fair and yes I’m old enough to recognize that Life isn’t fair. But it sure does suck.

Council Submissions: August 13, 2014

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We Don’t Need This Fascist Groove Thang

Compare and contrast the following videos. In my opinion Laibach does the Euro-fascist thing much better than the Putinites.

How My 2006 Nissan Xterra Became a Lawn Ornament

 

In 2005 to celebrate her impending graduation from medical school the Wife decided that she wanted to buy a new car. Since she is obsessed with Africa, her idea of transportation is this:

(photo credit: Muda Mrefu)

Of course we didn’t have the money for a Land Rover, particularly one that comes with dents from rhinos, so she ended up settling on a Nissan Xterra. I wasn’t very keen on the truck. Although I had nothing against Nissans the Xterra got terrible gas mileage (17-19 mpg at first) and seemed to be more truck than she needed. But Wife gets what Wife wants, and so we used the USAA car buying service to find and price the Xterra she wanted. We drove to the dealer after settling on a car and price, but as we sat down the dealer refused to sell us the truck at the price negotiated by USAA. Our first mistake was not walking out, but with a youngster in tow and a crest-fallen wife I tried to negotiate the deal myself on the spot – which means I got screwed. I ended up paying about $2,000 more than planned for a stripped down model instead of the fully appointed one USAA promised.

At first things went okay.  The Wife took the truck up to northern Pennsylvania on her rural rotation and the truck seemed to enjoy the rough roads. We quickly learned that while the exterior of the truck was pretty tough the interior suffered from flimsy plastic and vinyl. Within weeks there was our first casualty: the cupholder snapped off from rear of the passenger console.  On one of the maintenance runs to the dealership we asked for a replacement. They said since we broke it, it wasn’t covered by the warranty. They wanted to charge us $500 for the cupholder. A few months later the dog’s claws had punctured through the vinyl cover of the console; also not under warranty – but we spent $400 replacing the vinyl.

The sound system that came with the truck was terrible. Everything that played sounded flat and almost mono. First I replaced the speakers, and there was no change. Then I replaced the car stereo with the exact same Panasonic model I used in my ‘99 Honda. While music sounded better there was something about the truck’s acoustics that just ruined it. It didn’t matter if you were listening to Bach or Bad Brains the sound always seemed smashed together with no bass or treble highlights to speak of.

But hey, we’re adults. We can live with bad sound. What we couldn’t deal with was the gradual decline of the car as soon as the warranty expired. The wheels ate bearings like tic-tacs to the point where once the mechanic needed to heat the axle in order to free them. All four wheels had their bearings and associated control rods replaced at least twice during our 8 years of ownership.

For some reason the car couldn’t maintain alignment which caused me to burn through tires, a problem I exacerbated by buying larger alloy wheels. Yes I am an idiot. I thought that bigger tires would provide the Wife a better ride. All I did was jack up the cost of each tire by $30; there was no change to the ride. I tried to rotate the tires every few months and had the truck aligned about twice a year but never managed to get the treads to wear evenly. Several times I had the car aligned and brought it back to the shop immediately afterward only to be shown the computer printout stating the truck was aligned. It reached a point where I simply thought the roads were made concave and maybe higher center of gravity trucks were more sensitive to this than my Honda.

Small problems continued. I ended up downloading the manuals on the Xterra and hanging out on internet forums, doing the repairs myself. But then the big hits started coming.

First it was the rear differential, setting me back $2400 and a week of a car rental. Soon after that the check engine light started glowing and a trip to the dealership confirmed I needed new catalytic converters for $3,000. At this point the truck was just over 120,000 miles. I ended up replacing the catalytic converters elsewhere with non-OEM cats for $600 but that didn’t fix the problem with the codes. An investigation determined that the 2nd generation Nissan Xterras have cast iron exhaust manifolds bolted onto a cast aluminum engine. Since aluminum and iron expand at different rates, the manifolds tend to develop cracks which allow air into the exhaust. This extra air passes through the catalytic converter and makes the oxygen sensor report the catalytic converter is bad. Another $1000 problem.

On March 30, 2014 while on a business trip the heater stopped blowing warm air. A few minutes later the engine temperature spiked but then returned to normal, and after another 50 miles the heater began blowing warm again. After returning home I took the car to a local mechanic who discovered the transmission cooler within the radiator had failed, allowing radiator coolant to mix with transmission fluid. $600 replacement of the radiator and two system flushes later the transmission slips out of gear, often at critical moments like while turning in intersections. The car suddenly became undriveable, and I had to park it in my field.

It turns out the Nissan Xterra has a transmission computer that actually sits in the transmission fluid pan. As some of you PC geeks may know it is possible to submerse computers in oil or distilled water and have them work just fine. That’s because many oils and distilled water are non-conductive, so while it may look scary, as long as the computer is designed properly for the cooling medium, all will be well. Nissan engineers in their ultimate wisdom decided this was a good idea in the second generation trucks, although the computer was outside the transmission in the first generation trucks. Also they decided to embed the transmission radiator within the engine radiator. This should be no big deal; my Honda has the same configuration. What my Honda does have that the 2nd generation Xterra lacked was a well-made radiator. Nissan’s radiator was defective, and Nissan knows it.

So you have a computer embedded in transmission oil that is cooled through the radiator which uses a 50-50 mix of ethylene glycol and water. The transmission radiator within the engine radiator failed, allowing the antifreeze to sink into the transmission. This caused the overall fluid level to dip. Since the engineers also designed the heater to pull warm coolant from the top of the radiator, the drop in fluid kept the heater from warming up. Only when the engine had warmed up in the cold March air did the fluid expand enough to feed the heater.

But the damage was done. Transmission oil is non-conductive but antifreeze is, and the mixture shorted out the computer. The mixture of green radiator coolant with transmission fluid has even earned a name in the Nissan aficionado community: the Strawberry Milkshake of Death (SMOD) – because that’s exactly what it looks like. Pop off your radiator cap and you’ll find a milky reddish mix. But it’s far from delicious, and Nissan got sued over it.

In 2012 Nissan reached a class-action settlement whereby it extended the warranties of Nissan Xterras and Frontier pickup trucks to 80,000 miles full coverage, 90,000 miles with a $2,500 copay and 100,000 with a $3,000 copay. The meager offerings to Nissan owners only prove what I’ve always believed of class action lawsuits: they are income makers for lawyers and not for the plaintiffs. I never received notice of the settlement nor was I notified of any recall related to the problem.

By this point I was well past the settlement terms. So I did what I’ve done successfully many times in the past: I wrote a letter. I wrote to Jose Munoz, head of Nissan North America.

 

Mr. Muñoz, I grew up loving Datsun. When I see a 280z on the road I notice that I’m not the only one who turns his head to watch that legend slide passed. My very first car was a 1983 Sentra that I bought and taught myself how to drive stick on while leaving the dealer. I put 90k on that car while in college and it never let me down. So as I grew older I always considered Nissan whenever I needed to buy a new or used vehicle.

I like my Xterra. It’s a good solid car with the exception of the damage caused by a poorly engineered transmission cooler. Living in rural North Carolina I need the Xterra to safely take me and my family where we’re going on and off the roads. But the cost of the repair just doesn’t make economic sense and is too much for me to justify putting into the vehicle no matter how much I like it. Still, the idea of scrapping it just offends my environmental sensibilities. This car has many miles left on it before it ends up in a landfill, but I can’t risk driving it until it’s fixed.


 

Weeks passed and on Friday I heard back from Nissan North America.

 

Actually I didn’t get this letter in the mail, although that was the gist of a curt call I had from Meghan at Nissan North America.

So now the Xterra sits in the field waiting for me to decide what to do with it. Replacement of the transmission would run about $3,000. Then there’s still the check engine light issue to deal with plus  new tires for another $2000. $5,000 into an 8 year old car with over a 150,000 miles doesn’t make sense.  I’m driving my ‘99 Honda with close to 200,000 miles on it to dealerships pricing Toyotas and Hondas, and when asked whether I have a trade-in I don’t mention the Xterra because I don’t even know how I’d get it to the dealer to trade in.

As I wrote to Jose Munoz, she is a good looking truck. I can see her from where I write. No rust. No paint issues that a good buff couldn’t fix. She loves the dirt and the North Carolina dust, and she doesn’t look like a suppository the way other SUVs do. When the wife heard about my dealings with Nissan she texted me, “So sad I loved my Xterra but she has broken my heart.” But the wife has a new romance in her life, an Italian Fiat 500 convertible. And I have my trusty Honda CRV which I had ordered specially built for me from Saitama Japan. I’ve sworn the Honda will leave me through my cold-dead hands considering how little trouble that car has given me in 15 years of ownership.

I grew up in an era when few cars made it to 100,000 miles. I’ll never forget pushing my 1983 Dodge Omni into the Toyota dealership in 1987 at 45,000 miles. The car my mother bought with that trade was still going when she traded it in at 150,000 miles. Today used cars often have over 100,000 miles on them. But there are some around like the Nissan Xterra which might look good on the outside but just aren’t built to last the way Toyota 4Runners and Honda CRVs are. It’s been a long, expensive lesson for me.

If I had run that truck into the ground rest assured I wouldn’t  have wasted time writing Nissan, but the fact that it has been a money pit since the warranty expired shows Nissan cannot stand up to its Japanese and European competition in terms of quality.

When I pushed that Dodge into the Toyota dealership I swore off American cars. Almost thirty years later I have not purchased a car made by Ford, GM or Chrysler. Nissan now joins that list.

Why complain? Why waste my time with all this writing? Because the only reason why we don’t pitch cars at the 100,000 mile mark today is because we stopped putting up with badly made cars in the 1970s and 1980s. Today there are many high quality vehicles on the road, but they are only there because consumers expect and demand them. If we let the automakers get sloppy the way the US automakers did in the 1960s and 1970s and don’t hold them to a higher standard of quality, then we’ll have only ourselves to blame.

The Council Has Spoken: August 8, 2014

Non-Council Winners


Bandaging a Finger in New Jersey Shows Rot at Heart of US Healthcare

A NJ teacher cut his finger. After it wasn’t healing properly he visited the ER. No x-ray, MRI or anything more than a bandage, a tetanus shot and some ointment. He didn’t even see a doctor and was instead treated by a nurse practitioner.

He was billed $8,200 for the visit.

He called around and found the going rate at most clinics and hospitals was between $400 and $1000.

I’m not sure which is worse: the $8,200 bill from the ER he went to or the fact that the other hospitals and clinics he contacted charge $400-1000 for the same thing.

The cost of the bandages and sterile supplies was probably a few dollars max. I’ll guess $10 for the tetanus shot.  NPs in NJ probably pull in about $120k with benefits, and that’s on the high side. So if he spent 10 minutes bandaging the patient and another 20 minutes writing up the charge sheet and documenting the visit, we’re looking at $60 for labor. Add in hospital overhead consumed by the patient – everyone he spoke to that helped him in his visit, and the visit likely cost the hospital about $120.

In a free market system we could draw the line there and say, “So how do you justify netting $8000 for the visit?”

But our health care system is nowhere near a free market system.

Consider the fact that hospitals cannot legally turn anyone away due to their inability to pay. I’m not a lawyer and I do believe there are limits to this, but from the hospital’s perspective they can’t have lawyers triaging patients in the ER. So they end up providing free care – free to those who receive it but paid by everyone else.

So we have to add on an “indigent care” tax to that $120. How much do we add? That’s a very good question and one that’s not easily answered, but for fun let’s say $130 – turning the visit into a $250. We’re still a long way from $8,200 but you should begin to get a sense that things aren’t as clear-cut as they should be.

Then there’s the issue of Medicaid. Hospitals have to take it, but the reimbursement costs are notoriously below the cost or providing care. Therefore to keep the hospital profitable (for the few progressives who stumble on this post substitute the phrase “from not going bankrupt” for the “P” word) we need to add the cost of treating the medicaid recipients. How much should that surcharge be? How about $50. So now we’re at $300.

The particular hospital the teacher visited is a for-profit (progressives: substitute the word “evil” here) hospital. At this point the hospital can pretty much charge what it wants, so why not $8,200? When’s the last time you walked into a hospital or doctor’s office and seen a board with a list of services and fees on the wall? That used to be a common site but now it’s almost unheard of. Go into any body shop or auto repair mechanic and you will see signs telling you how much the business charges for labor and for common procedures to your car. Yet when you walk into a doctor’s office or clinic you have no clue to what your treatment will cost even if it’s something minor like bandaging a wound or getting a tetanus shot.

This may make it seem like the doctor is doing her work because she loves it, and that the nurses are taking care of you because that’s just the kind of people that they are. But the doctor has $200k in medical school debt and a mortgage, and the nurse has a kid in day-care that needs to be clothed and fed, and “kindness” doesn’t pay back student loans, mortgages or day-care bills. You are paying a high price for that ignorance but you just don’t know it.

The people who do are the ones without insurance or the under-insured who get hassled by bill collectors, and the few people like the New Jersey teacher who think $8,200 is ridiculous regardless of who pays it.

Americans need to grow up and become responsible for their own care, but that’s the long-term solution. The issue is how do we get there? We can start by mandating transparent pricing wherever medical care is offered. The mere fact this hospital would be forced to put “Bandage a Cut – $8,000” on the wall would likely drive down the costs of the service at that particular institution. Eventually people would become aware of the limitations of their insurance and act accordingly, just as people are aware that they pay more to get their cars fixed at the dealership rather than the local mechanic down the street.

The US healthcare system is such a mess that such a simple solution isn’t going to solve everything. The key is to “do no harm” and make the system worse such as what Obamacare has done.

 

Council Submissions: August 6, 2014

Council Submissions


Honorable Mentions


Non-Council Submissions