March 26, 2024

Thoughts on the Key Bridge Collapse

I awoke this morning to the news that the main span of Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge was struck by a container ship and plunged into the Patapsco River. Dramatic video was already on the Web showing the accident. The ship, the Dali, apparently experienced a power failure and drifted into the south pier of the central span. Unsurprisingly, a collapse followed immediately. Apparently, the ship sent out a mayday message, and police were able to divert traffic before the I-695 bridge was hit. News reports this afternoon were raising questions about the bridge design.

The span in question was a continuous truss opened in 1977. There is no indication that the bridge was in any way defective.  It is difficult to imagine any that 1200-foot long bridge could survive a significant strike of a main support. Since the bridge was built, cargo ships have gotten much larger. The Dali is nearly a thousand feet long. Such a ship, even at low speed, carries enormous momentum. The bridge could perhaps have been protected by a fender or wall to protect the main piers. But any such protective obstacle would need to be massive indeed given the size of current cargo ships.

The immediate question is what a replacement for the bridge should look like. One attractive alternative would be replacing the bridge with a tunnel. This would be an expensive, time-consuming, and disruptive option. I suspect a new bridge will be built instead. Although the main span of the Key Bridge was a continuous truss, its approaches were carried by a series of simple beam bridges built into the river. The most obvious and secure way to protect a new bridge from out-of-control vessels is to increase the span of the bridge, perhaps even putting its piers on dry land. This would require that the much longer bridge would need to be a suspension bridge. Not only would such a bridge be better protected from accidental damage but also it would allow for construction with hardly any negative impact on traffic in what is a vital shipping channel.

Today, I heard replacement of the Francis Scott Key bridge compared to the rapid bridge replacements effected recently in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Such comparisons are absurd. The task faced in Baltimore is enormous and will, in any case, take years.

We will have to wait to see what sort of replacement roadway is ultimately chosen. Neither a cheap nor a fast replacement is possible.

March 7, 2024

Solar Eclipse

There is much excitement in Clifton Springs, N.Y., and nearby communities about the total eclipse of the sun that will be visible here on April 8. How visible is yet to be determined. April 8 is often cloudy, though an eclipse is an extraordinary and rare event even on an overcast day. Many organizations are planning viewing and celebratory events. I plan to attend the day-long program sponsored by the Clifton Springs Library in the park across the street from the library and a block from my apartment. The program ends with dinner and dancing.

The other day, I walked a block down Main Street to visit Main Street Arts, whose current exhibition is called “Path of Totality.” Although I wasn’t looking for inspiration, the exhibition perhaps had me thinking about the eclipse as I worked on some new curve-stitch designs for my Web site. I don’t normally name my designs, but I decided that the image below should be called “Solar Eclipse.” The design was one of a family of related images I was treating as simple abstractions. When I saw this design, however, it was impossible not to think of the coming eclipse. I thought readers would like to see it.

Solar Eclipse
Solar Eclipse

A scalable version of “Solar Eclipse” can be seen here. I considered several similar designs, by the way, which had a smaller dark center. I could change my mind, but the image here is my current favorite.

March 5, 2024

The Supreme Court Deprecates the Fourteenth Amendment

To the suprise of few Supreme Court watchers, the high court ruled on March 4 in Trump v. Anderson that Colorado did not have the power to remove Donald Trump from the Republican primary ballot on the basis of Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment. The court did not consider whether Trump “having previously taken an oath … to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same.” The court declared that “responsibility for enforcing Section 3 against federal officeholders and candidates rests with Congress and not the States.”

Upholding Colorado’s right to remove Trump’s name from the primary ballot would, according to Justices Sotomayor, Kagan, and Jackson “create a chaotic state-by-state patchwork, at odds with our Nation’s federalism principles.” In separate concurring opinions, Justices Sotomayor, Kagan, and Jackson; and Justice Barrett complain that the court should have gone no further than overturning the Colorado action. Instead, the majority decided matters not at issue in the case and insisted that only Congress can disqualify a candidate under Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment.

As an aside, I offer my own view of what the court should have done. It should have observed that the Fourteenth Amendment did not apply to the Colorado case, as the matter at hand was Trump’s seeking his party’s nomination, not his ascension to federal office. It should have further observed that an actual candidate cannot run for an office he or she cannot hold or, at the very least, cannot hold the office sought irrespective of the election outcome. In a perfect world, this would discourage the Republican Party, by whatever mechanism, from making Trump its nominee. In our imperfect world, such a decision would likely kick the can down the road. If Trump became the GOP nominee, some federal decision would need to be made that he could not run. This decision, which would surely be challenged in court, could be made by the Attorney General. Ultimately, the real question would then have to be dealt with, likely by the Supreme Court: was Donald Trump indeed an oathbreaking insurrectionist.

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court appears to have made it virtually impossible to derail Trump’s attempt to again become president on the basis of the Constitution. It is inconceivable that the current Congress will disqualify Trump if only Congress can disqualify him under the Fourteenth Amendment. The Constitution does not require an act of Congress to disqualify a presidential candidate not born in the United States or under the age of 35. Why should it require an act of Congress to disqualify an oathbreaking insurrectionist?

Justices Sotomayor, Kagan, and Jackson point out the ludicrousness of the court’s requiring Congress to determine disqualification based on Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment:

Section 3 provides that when an oathbreaking insurrectionist is disqualified, “Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.” It is hard to understand why the Constitution would require a congressional supermajority to remove a disqualification if a simple majority could nullify Section 3’s operation by repealing or declining to pass implementing legislation.

I fear that the hope that the Fourteenth Amendment can save us from a second Trump term has been dashed. Whether Donald Trump or the Supreme Court is the greater threat to the Republic is an open question.

March 3, 2024

Republicans Are Not Conservatives

I am tired of the media characterizing the Republican Party or Republican politicians as conservative. The party is not interested in conserving anything other than white supremacy and the unconstrained ability of corporations and billionaires to act as they see fit. It would be more proper to characterize Republicanism as anti-woke rather than conservative, where woke entails freedom of speech, freedom to read, freedom to demonstrate, freedom to vote, freedom over one’s own body, equal justice under law, nondiscriminatory treatment regarding race, creed, sex, or sexual identity, and the ability of the government to seek the common good.

Reporters should insist that nearly all Republicans are not conservatives, but reactionaries or regressives. Moreover, Republicans who are not the most radical of right-wingers—Nikki Haley comes most readily to mind—are not moderates. They, too, are reactionaries. Being a conservative, leaving things as they are, is a moderate position. Wanting to dismantle recent innovations and return to earlier times is reactionary. Wanting to change society to increase personal liberty and protect citizens from misfortune and the rapaciousness of their fellow citizens is a liberal position. Conservatives can be found in both parties, but, in 2024, are rare in each. Republicans are by-and-large reactions, and Democrats are by-and-large liberals.

Vote for liberals, or, if you must, for moderates. That means voting for Democrats to restore sanity to the Republic.