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Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2007 09:00 pm

Letters to the Editor

Untitled Document We welcome letters. Please include your full name, address, and telephone number. We edit all letters. Send them to Letters, Illinois Times, P.O. Box 5256, Springfield, IL 62705; fax 217-753-3958; e-mail editor@illinoistimes.com.
ENGINEERING FAILURE IN ILLINOIS
I used to work for the state of Illinois in the Bridge Office and have designed more than 200 bridges and structures in the 30-plus years I have been a civil engineer. Recently, the collapse of the bridge in Minneapolis has captured my attention, as I know it has many civil engineers’. I have studied the film on TV, read the stories in the newspaper and listened intently to the reports on TV. Although the loss of human life in such a tragedy is very disturbing, I believe things could have been much, much worse and the hand of God saved many lives in this bridge collapse. But, as a bridge designer, my real purpose in reviewing the reports is to try to figure out what went wrong. The years I spent at the Illinois Department of Transportation taught me a lot. My squad leader was German Roncancio and his second in command was Suresh Desai. These two gentlemen taught me how to be a bridge designer and, I hope, a good engineer. The sad part of my story is that I have never been able to pass the Illinois Structural Engineer exam. The exam given at that time, and today, is very difficult, covering 16 hours over two days. Although I have designed more than 200 bridges in Illinois, I have never been able to pass this test. The strange thing is that most other states allow engineers to design bridges if they have a PE [Professional Engineer license], which I have. I have gotten my PE in Missouri in 1997 and can design bridges in Missouri but not Illinois. Most bridge designers in Illinois working in the Bridge Office designing bridges do not even have their SE [Structural Engineer] licenses, although the state will say they are working under someone who has their SE I know, and many of them also know, the SE has very little to do with being able to design a safe bridge. So are our bridges safer here in Illinois than Minnesota? The real question is how much is it worth to have safe bridges in Illinois? I know that IDOT has had a hiring freeze and reduced budgets for at least three years. Do you think that cutting staff and early-retiring the best-trained employees makes our Illinois bridges safer? Do you think that diverting funds from transportation to support other pet projects helps Illinois’ roads? Do you think that giving the best projects to firms who donate funds to their political friends is the right way to select design firms?
I think the Minnesota bridge failed because of delayed maintenance of critical components of the bridge which were hidden from view, perhaps the bearings. Hidden from view, kind of like the way we do things here in Illinois.
Jerald F. Jacobs, P.E.
Engineering Design Solutions Inc.
Springfield


TAKING THINGS TOO LITERALLY
Sadly, much of what is happening in Islam and Christianity recently is the result of both groups’ interpreting their religious texts as if they were written as historical and literal expressions of the things of God. Notice the recent argument generated among Christians as to who can claim to be the “real” church. There needs to be a renewed awareness in religious circles that the nature of ancient religious documents is primarily symbolic rather than literal. In more ancient times it was understood that the language of spirituality was necessarily symbolic. Ancient religious writings are efforts to explain the unexplainable. The authors were not motivated by historical accuracy or literalness. People in our culture generally think literally and physically unless reminded or encouraged to think symbolically or metaphorically. It is not our natural way as it once must have been for humans. I find many “Bible believers” feel only that which is literal and “historical” and physical is real. They do not realize that that damaging viewpoint is itself a result of the philosophical thought of the Enlighten-ment or Age of Reason of the 18th century, not of any rule from God as to the nature of these treasured ancient sacred texts.
Fundamentalism in both Islam and Christianity is a very real and dangerous example of misapplication of “reason” to the Bible. Ironically, those holding to it often see their view as the only way to be “loyal” to the Bible even though theirs is a relatively new way of reading the Bible. Eventually this prevailing viewpoint will not survive but lead people further and further away from the more spiritual and truly timeless communications that the Bible text brings. We are at risk of losing the truly spiritual elements of our religious traditions. The “historically and literally accurate” assumption about religious texts is very unfortunate. Some people might be more interested in the Bible if they knew it can be more responsibly viewed through different glasses, with the results not being the radicalism that is so divisive, dangerous, and close-minded.
Religious texts taken literally usually place the human mind into an “either-or and only” state. This becomes a mind trap that closes off all viewpoints except one. This is very hard to overcome, for it is experienced by the devotee as an ultimatum from God since it has come, supposedly, directly from revered religious texts. In contrast, symbolic interpretations of a text more often create a “both-and” state of mind, which does not carry a locked-in point of view but can carry a strong sense of personal and community responsibility to ascertain spiritual truth. This generates opportunity for genuine spiritual learning experience that opens the mind to possibilities not before imagined — a legitimate and freeing purpose of healthy religion.
Literal interpretations of the Quran have resulted in the radical Muslim movement that is so threatening and hard for Americans to comprehend. All radical religion that is exclusive rather than inclusive of other humans comes from literal rather than symbolic interpretations of ancient religious texts. The same is also true of the Biblical documents. I think a person can become aware when a “literal” reading has placed them into an “either-or and only” state of mind. It results in that feeling of having no choice but to deny, exclude, judge, or put down others or others’ points of view in one way or another. (Sadly, the pope’s recent statement implying that all Protestants are not really the church is such an example.) This is the mindset of radicalism, no matter what the religion might be. And my guess is we Christians of all types fall into a radicalism that is negative toward others far more than we realize. It is a state of mind that is contrary to the freedom in Christ described by Paul in Galatians (4:31, 5:1) and the notion of freedom in the fourth gospel (John 8:32, 36). To feel “I have no choice but to exclude or otherwise castigate others” is not a freed state of mind or being. It comes from a mind that is “locked up” (Galatians 3:23) from itself and other of God’s people. And what an anti-Christian or anti-Muslim tragedy is brewing when the thing about which “one has no choice” is but to exclude and not respect the viewpoint and gifts other human beings, sometimes even those one’s own faith.
Jim Hibbett Springfield

ENSHRININGPROPAGANDAINLAW Even nonsmokers should be alarmed when legislative acts purporting to protect the public health are premised upon propagandized talking points promulgated by special-interest lobbyists. Yet, that is precisely what the preamble to Public Act 095-0017, the Smoke Free Illinois Act, does.
     The act enshrines into law the essence of the scientifically rebuked and legally rejected conclusions of the Environ- mental Protection Agency report of 1993. Neither the legislators nor their staffs sought factual information upon which to enact this public policy. Rather, the legislators accepted the false advo-scientific numbers that the anti-smoking lobby has promoted and propagandized through it contrived public health scare and expensively financed public-relations media campaigns. Joseph J. Goleash Jr. Springfield


CORRECTIONS Doe Run Peru offered the father of a lead-poisoned child 2,000 soles, or roughly $700. Our recent story about the lead smelter provided the wrong amount in Peruvian currency [Amanda Robert, “Sisters to the rescue,” Aug. 2].     Humorist Will Rogers, who died in a plane crash in 1935, thought hard and long about politics and other subjects, but probably not in the 1950s, as we said in a recent column [Fletcher Farrar, “August amusements at the Statehouse,” Aug. 9].
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