NEWSLINK: “ISIL: Target Russia; Thousands of ISIL fighters are training in the mountains of Afghanistan, plotting an attack on the Kremlin” – Al Jazeera

Afghanistan and Environs Ethnic Map

“Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) have always considered ‘the West’ – and the United States in particular – the ultimate enemy. But following President Vladimir Putin’s policy of military involvement in Syria, Russiamay have taken its place as ISIL’s main target. Thousands of ISIL fighters from Syria, Iraq and elsewhere are regrouping in the virtually impregnable mountains of Afghanistan, plotting revenge against the Kremlin. …”

Click here for “ISIL: Target Russia; Thousands of ISIL fighters are training in the mountains of Afghanistan, plotting an attack on the Kremlin” – Al Jazeera





NEWSWATCH: “Russia squares up to Boeing, Airbus with maiden jet flight” – Reuters

Map of Russia with Russian Flag

“#Russia carried out the maiden flight of its new MS-21 medium-range passenger plane … its first post-Soviet foray into production of a mainline commercial aircraft which it hopes will rival those of its Western competitors. … manufacturer Irkut Corporation … and … state-controlled parent company United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) … [announced] a 30-minute flight at … 1,000 meters … [and] 300 km an hour. Squeezed by Western #sanctions over its role in the #Ukraine crisis, Russia is trying to rejuvenate domestic industrial production to make the country less dependant on foreign firms. …”

Click here for “Russia squares up to Boeing, Airbus with maiden jet flight” – Reuters 







Should the Indy 500 Be Shut Down? Is Auto Racing Disrespectful of Human Life?

Race Car in Pits File Photo

[reposted from 2016]

According to AP, there have been 66 deaths in connection with the Indy 500 site since 1909, including 40 drivers, 14 mechanics, nine spectators and a little boy playing in his own yard nearby.  Additional deaths, of course, have occurred in other venues.  The deaths have continued up to the current era, and have involved some of the most elite drivers, as has also occurred with stock car racing.

At a time when we need to be encouraging respect for human life  and the development of a stronger conscience with regard for human life and the dignity of the human person, in the face of assaults upon respect for human life, it probably is a good idea to ban auto racing.  Some first steps could include holding organizers financially responsible for any deaths or injuries, on a strict basis, with multiplying financial penalties added, without regard for supposed assumption of risk by spectators or participants.



Sentimentality and would-be tradition, especially in a sleepy setting like Indiana, not necessarily steeped in many other traditions, should not be an obstacle to changes.  I myself like hearkening back to some old family connections with the race, which were nice in the themselves, yet that does not balance out with more important considerations and  proactive steps to move forward.

I have mixed feelings about the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.  My paternal grandfather, God Rest His Soul, built at least one race car that ran in the Indy 500, back in the late 1920’s or early 1930’s.  My father had early childhood memories of Eddie Rickenbacker coming to the house, the great World War I flying ace who developed a passion for auto racing and, at one time, owned the Indy 500.  The family connection with racing would be interrupted when my grandfather passed on prematurely, in his late thirties, apparently from health-related reasons, when my father was only eight years old.  Years later, a brother-in-law became CEO of a Fortune 500 company, and briefly had his company sponsor a car, from a racing team led by a racing legend.



While human life in any era is sacred and precious, there is, perhaps, a temptation to think that the deaths are part of a murky past with less sophisticated technology and lower safety standards, or related to the skill of a driver. The first death at the race was in 1911, in the very first race, when a mechanic was killed.

However, just five years ago, Dan Wheldon distinguished himself as an elite driver by winning the Indy 500 for the second time, only to get killed in a crash the same year at another track.

Interestingly enough, my father, God Rest His Soul, never seemed to take people to the race, in my memory, although he and my mother did take me to qualifications once. (Ironically, the driver we saw on foot, standing near our bleachers, by coincidence was the racing legend who later had his team sponsored by the brother-in-law.)

But before I was born, my father did take some older siblings to the race itself, and there was a huge accident involving a large number of cars.  Footage from the accident would actually be used in a feature film about the Indy 500.  Real-world footage of the accident and its aftermath was embedded within the dramatized action of the film.  As I watched that movie, as a rerun on a television, one of the older siblings came into the room, saw the accident, and said that he recognized it, as an accident that had occurred at the race he was taken to, years earlier, by my father.  He remembered the iconic moment when, amidst the chaos, a wheel snapped loose and came rolling out of the chaos, continuing down the track at high-speed by itself, with no car attached.



Years later, my father and mother did attend at least one race when the brother-in-law’s company sponsored a racing team.

But, during that long hiatus, perhaps my father was quietly dissuaded from going to more races, after taking what were then small children to a race, only to witness a massive multi-car accident.  More so than witnessing an accident, there also is the danger of spectators getting killed.  In the modern era, in one instance, a wheel that broke off in an accident hurtled upwards and into the stands, killing a spectator completely at random, halfway up the stands.

It is unquestionably disrespectful to human life, and therefore un-Godly and un-American, to subject human beings to those dangers for something as trivial as a quasi-sporting event.

Arguments about technological benefits are unpersuasive.  Technological innovations can be tested in other ways, in other settings, without the same issues arising in the same way.  The competitive profit motive of auto racing and the purse might help instigate innovation, but that does not justify the loss of human life.

Actual testing tracks do not have to be built along the lines of the Indy 500.  Indeed, the Indy 500 track, which originally was brick, and has corners reportedly banked for cars going less than 100 mph, is not necessarily suitable for modern test track purposes.



And it is not clear that we even need to use human drivers, in a cockpit, for modern testing of vehicles.  It would be possible in today’s era to test vehicles, on remote testing tracks, with no actual driver behind the wheel, or with a driver who pilots the car remotely.  The point is not that there should be races run that way.  The point is, that if one argument for auto racing is that it could induce technological innovation, the response is that there are other ways to conduct the testing that are safer for humans.

An additional concern is the moral impact on moral conscience, from watering down the conscience by risking, or ending, human life for frivolous reasons.

One of the biggest challenges to human society in the current era, as always, has been to inspire the development of a stronger conscience in favor of respecting human life.

Terrorism; other forms of war; widespread prenatal child-killing (cast by its aficionados as the pseudo-clinical euphemism “abortion”); euthanasia; health care rationing; human trafficking; drug trafficking; permissiveness and sexual degradation; and other threats to human life and human dignity compound their initial impact by also besieging and undermining moral conscience.

We need a push to build a stronger moral conscience, in defense of human life, not efforts to weaken or water down human conscience.  We do not need the would-be excitement, sentimentality, false rationalizations, or mere habit-building, associated with something like auto racing, to whittle away at the proper formation of proper conscience.

One argument sometimes raised, to promote quietism in the face of the threats auto racing poses to human life, is a generic, abstract idea of simply pushing the limits of something, of going higher and faster, and so forth.

The problem is, that argument rests on the notion that limits do exist in the first place.

The issue becomes, what limits are appropriate, and what limits can be pushed.



For example, football is now realizing that head-on-head contact is a limit that has to be ratcheted back, with a firm line drawn in the sand, because of the reality of head injuries and their ripple effects.

With some kinds of risks, there is no need to push limits, because the limits are appropriate.

For example, a few individuals have parachuted from an altitude so high, that it felt like they were in outer space. In broad daylight, they rose by balloon to an altitude so immense that the blue sky disappeared, and the black sky and stars came out.  The first time that happened, the parachutist got to a point where he temporarily blacked out, and had to rely on the chute opening automatically.

The depths of the ocean are so bone-crushing with their water pressure that no human could survive without a heavy diving structure.  Yet it would be foolish to deliberately push the limits of depth for scuba-divers, to the edge of where they could be killed.  It would be frivolous to sell tickets to which whether somebody got killed scuba-diving, when they deliberately tried to go too deep.

Or, where limits exist, there might be other ways to push the limits, or to focus on pushing entirely different limits.  For example, in football, there are other ways to deliver hits without causing concussions.

One concern should be whether, in some childish, emotionalistic way, anybody would think that the seriousness of deaths and injuries in auto racing somehow translates into seriousness of purpose, or makes the race more “important.”  The opposite is true.  The seriousness of deaths and injuries in the sport highlight how frivolous the activity is, when compared with the sacredness of human life and the seriousness of the deaths.

Even worse would be if there is a small subset of the population that actually ever got a sick thrill from seeing accidents and the possibility of death.  In the Confessions of Saint Augustine, he describes a friend who apparently was addicted to visiting the “arena” as a spectator, which presumably meant gladiator fights or worse.  The friend apparently was an otherwise normal person, perhaps even aspiring to being a Christian like Saint Augustine.  The friend also knew that visiting the arena was something he should avoid.

Yet he found aspects of it addictive.

With regard to auto racing, one step that could be taken would be to make the organizers legally and financially responsible, under strict liability, for any deaths or injuries to spectators. One could try to argue that there is some assumption of risk by the victims.  Yet that is not a risk that anyone should be allowed to assume, because no reasonable person could assume such a risk and still be considered reasonable.  That is, no one in his right mind would think that sitting and eating a hot dog while a vehicle goes by at high speed is important enough to justify getting killed.

In the instance of the spectator in the late 1980’s killed randomly by a flying wheel, the widow reportedly sued for $9 million, then reached a confidential settlement.

Given financial responsibility and financial incentives, organizers would be in the best position to adopt better safeguards.

Another issue that might come up is whether some tracks or some circumstances are safer or more dangerous than others.  There has been a driving death at the Indy 500 track as recently as the 1990’s, however.

On the other hand, if other tracks and other races are more likely to have deaths now, and if shutting down tracks one-by-one, from this point forward, is the way towards a gradual step-by-step ban, so be it.



For the Indy 500 itself, one added twist is the race’s spot on the calendar on Memorial Day weekend.  Memorial Day, of course, has a focus on remembering and honoring our departed, including those who perished in military service defending the nation.  Indeed, the Indy 500 features taps as part of its ceremonies, as well as an invocation by a religious figure.  At a time when we remember the departed, and acknowledge those who made the ultimate sacrifice, the natural reaction should be to have a heightened respect for human life, and a heightened sensitivity to the realities, and loss, associated with death.  Sensitivities to these values should be raised, not lowered. To do otherwise would be un-Godly and un-American.





NEWSWATCH: “Death a grim chapter in storied history of Indianapolis 500” – AP

Race Car in Pits File Photo

[reposted from 2016]

“Yes, the Indy 500 is ‘The Greatest Spectacle In Racing’ … Mario and Dario and milk and balloons have built an event steeped in festive tradition … it prepares to celebrate its centennial …. But the race is also marked by tragedy. … 12 laps into the inaugural race in 1911, mechanic Sam Dickson became the first to die and he certainly wasn’t the last.

Drivers, mechanics, fans, even a little boy standing across the street … all are part of the 500’s saddest chapter, painful memories of just how dangerous racing on the bricks and asphalt has been …. At least 66 people have died because of auto racing since 1909 at the site, including 40 drivers, 14 mechanics and nine spectators. The 1930s was by far the deadliest decade with 21 deaths, while the ’50s and ’60s each saw eight people perish.

Click here for AP: “Death a grim chapter in storied history of Indianapolis 500”





NEWSLINK & VIDEO: “Scott Dixon out of #Indianapolis500 following scary wreck” – ESPN ……. #INDY500

Race Car in Pits File Photo

“Indianapolis 500 pole sitter Scott Dixon went airborne after making contact with Jay Howard, sending Dixon’s car into the inside fence and retaining wall in Turn 2 and shredding it in the process at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday. …”

WHITE HOUSE NEWS RELEASE: Statement from the Press Secretary [re: #Trump fires #FBI Director #Comey]

White House File Photo

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
May 09, 2017
Statement from the Press Secretary

Today, President Donald J. #Trump informed #FBI Director James #Comey that he has been terminated and removed from office.  President Trump acted based on the clear recommendations of both Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“The FBI is one of our Nation’s most cherished and respected institutions and today will mark a new beginning for our crown jewel of law enforcement,” said President Trump.

A search for a new permanent FBI Director will begin immediately.





NEWSWATCH: “Trump fires FBI Director Comey” – Fox News

FBI Building file photo

“… Trump on Tuesday fired FBI Director James Comey … ending a rocky year-long stretch for the top law enforcement officer who came under fire for his handling of the Clinton email probe — and whose agency has been investigating whether Trump’s campaign had ties to Russia. …

The president told Comey in a brief letter that he could not ‘effectively lead’ the bureau and called for ‘new leadership that restores public trust and confidence’ in law enforcement.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the president’s decision was based on ‘the clear recommendations’ of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. …”

Click here for: “Trump fires FBI Director Comey” – Fox News





 

NEWSLINK: “United Airlines flies woman to San Francisco instead of France” – Fox News

File Photo of Jets Waiting in Line at Airport, adapted from image at faa.gov

“United Airlines has found itself apologizing yet again, this time for sending a French woman on a 3,000-mile trip in the wrong direction. Lucie Bahetoukilae was recently scheduled to fly from Newark, N.J., to Paris, but instead found herself flying to San Francisco after she was inadvertently allowed to board the wrong plane …. According to Bahetoukilae, who speaks only French and allowed her niece to speak on her behalf, the airline changed the flight’s gate at the last minute, and failed to notify the passengers via email. Furthermore, Bahetoukilae claims the airline did not announce the gate change in French, despite the original flight being bound for Paris. … Bahetoukilae, not knowing any better, gave her ticket to the gate agent, who then scanned it and allowed Bahetoukilae to board. …”

NEWSLINK: “#Facebook’s Female Engineers Claim #Gender Bias; Analysis found female engineers received 35% more rejections of their code than men” – Wall Street Journal

File Photo of Laptop Computer, Tablet, Mobile Device, adapted from image at energy.gov

“Last year, a longtime engineer at #Facebook Inc. gathered data that revealed a controversial finding: Code written by #women was rejected much more frequently than code written by their male colleagues, according to people familiar with the matter and screenshots of internal discussions viewed by The Wall Street Journal.

NEWSLINK: “#Putin Pushes #Syria Peacekeeper Plan With #Trump to Save Truce” – Bloomberg

Syria Map

“President Vladimir #Putin is pushing a plan with U.S. President Donald #Trump to create security zones and deploy peacekeepers in #Syria — possibly including #Russian forces — to enforce a faltering cease-fire as he tries to find a resolution to the more than six-year conflict. …”

NEWSLINK: “In Tense Encounter, #Merkel Tells #Putin #Sanctions Must Remain” – Bloomberg

EU Map

“German Chancellor Angela #Merkel told President Vladimir #Putin that #EU #sanctions will have to remain on #Russia as the two leaders clashed over #Ukraine, human rights and election meddling at a chilly encounter in the Black Sea city of Sochi.”

NEWSLINK: “Dozens Detained In Nationwide Anti-Putin Protests In Russia” – RFE/RL 4.29.17

Russian Map and Flag

“Police detained dozens of people in several Russian cities as demonstrators joined a protest campaign urging Vladimir Putin not to run in the country’s presidential election next year. The April 29 protests came just three days after authorities moved to ban the organization spearheading the demonstrations: Open Russia, which was set up by former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.”

NEWSLINK: “Russians, in peaceful protest, call for Putin to quit” – Reuters 4.29.17

File Photo of Kremlin Wall and Tower Near River

“Several hundred Russians lined up in central Moscow on Saturday under the gaze of riot police to hand over handwritten appeals for President Vladimir Putin to quit, as similar protests took place in other cities. Putin, who has dominated Russian politics for 17 years, has not said whether he will run in presidential elections in March 2018. But the 64-year-old politician, who enjoys high popularity ratings, is widely expected to do so. …”

NEWSLINK: “Russian police arrest dozens of anti-Putin protesters; More than 100 arrested in St Petersburg at demonstration against Vladimir Putin’s expected candidacy in 2018” – Al Jazeera 4.29.17

File Photo of Vladimir Putin Gesturing, with VOA Logo

“More than 100 activists were arrested in St Petersburg on Saturday as hundreds of Russians turned out to protest against President Vladimir Putin’s expected candidacy in elections next year. Demonstrators rallied across several cities under the slogan ‘We’re sick of him.’ The protests were called by the Open Russia movement founded by Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky. …”

NEWSLINK: “#Russian authorities detain dozens at anti-#Putin rallies” – BBC 4.29.17

Russian Map and Flag

“Russian authorities have detained dozens of protesters at rallies demanding that President Vladimir Putin should not seek re-election next year. At least 30 people were reported to have been held in St Petersburg and more than 16 in the southern city of Kemerovo. Activists in some other cities were kept away from protests, reports said. President Putin has not confirmed that he will run in March 2018 but he is widely expected to do so. …”