The Daniel Fast: It's a Diet After All

An interesting analysis of one of Evangelical Christianity’s more popular trends:

Motivated by both faith and fitness, today many protestant Christians around the country are, like Daniel, occasionally limiting themselves to fruits and vegetables for 21-day increments. Several such believers told The Atlantic that while their intention for the initial fast was simply to enter a period of Lent-like self-denial in deference to their Lord, they have since found that the fast broke a life-long pattern of unhealthy eating and seems to have set them on a course toward better nutrition even after the 21 days ended. Now, a longer-term version of the Daniel fast is being promoted by the California-based Saddleback Church, the seventh-largest church in the U.S.

This is a big deal.  My own church does this at the beginning of the Gregorian calendar year (I make this distinction because, if they really want to go all out, they’d synch it with the Jewish calendar).  The one thing that has always bothered me about this is that it is characterised as a fast.  I don’t think that is deserves that characterisation and I don’t think the Scriptures warrant that characterisation either.

It’s good to go back to the incident where Daniel and his companions “invented” the discipline:

And the king appointed them a daily provision of the king’s meat, and of the wine which he drank: so nourishing them three years, that at the end thereof they might stand before the king. Now among these were of the children of Judah, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: Unto whom the prince of the eunuchs gave names: for he gave unto Daniel the name of Belteshazzar; and to Hananiah, of Shadrach; and to Mishael, of Meshach; and to Azariah, of Abednego. But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself. Now God had brought Daniel into favour and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs. And the prince of the eunuchs said unto Daniel, I fear my lord the king, who hath appointed your meat and your drink: for why should he see your faces worse liking than the children which are of your sort? then shall ye make me endanger my head to the king. Then said Daniel to Melzar, whom the prince of the eunuchs had set over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, Prove thy servants, I beseech thee, ten days; and let them give us pulse to eat, and water to drink. Then let our countenances be looked upon before thee, and the countenance of the children that eat of the portion of the king’s meat: and as thou seest, deal with thy servants. So he consented to them in this matter, and proved them ten days. And at the end of ten days their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king’s meat. Thus Melzar took away the portion of their meat, and the wine that they should drink; and gave them pulse. (Daniel 1:5-16 KJV)

One of the big problems that Daniel and his friends would have had with the king’s food was that it was not prepared in accordance with Jewish dietary laws.  (Kinda like that boneless ham that WalMart tried to sell in California for Hanukkah…)  That includes both the prohibition of pork and other meats and the requirement that any meat be absent of blood.  Doubtless the Babylonians did not follow this.  The simplest way to get this done was to eschew meats altogether, and that’s the way that Daniel called the eunuch’s bluff on this.  It worked.

It’s noteworthy, however, that the Scriptures are not concise on what Daniel’s diet really was, other than vegetarian.  Did it really, like the Mormons, prohibit caffeine?  (Hardly: the ship taking those first worthies in the Book of Mormon had already sailed for America…)  The connection between what Daniel and his friends ate and what we’re told is “from the throne room” in the Daniel Fast isn’t precise.  And, most importantly of all, the “Daniel Fast” cannot be characterised as a fast any more than observing the dietary requirements of the Law.  (Whether it was God’s intention that we be vegetarians from the start is one I address here, and it’s a popular piece, too.)

The core problem that the Daniel Diet addresses is simple: Evangelicals, on the whole, eat too much and much of what we eat isn’t good for us.  That’s especially true since the centre of Evangelical Christianity has shifted to the South, and that gets us into the alcohol business.  We’ve tried to make a deal with God on this: we’ll dry out (and get away from some our other destructive practices) if you’ll overlook gluttony as a sin.  Unfortunately it’s getting to the point where our swelling waistlines are making it hard for God to overlook much of anything.

The health benefits of a regimen such as the Daniel Diet are undeniable.  And, if can clear our bodies and minds out, we can spend more time looking upward than downward.  But it’s not a fast.

When Bad and Really Bad Cut a Deal

A few months ago, when the Iranians elected themselves a new president, I asked an Iranian friend what he thought of the election.  His response was simple: the Iranian people had a choice between bad and really bad in the election and chose only bad.

Now that the U.S. and others have chosen to cut a deal with bad over nuclear development, it makes me think: in 2012 (and 2008 for that matter) the American people had the choice of bad and really bad, and in those matches chose really bad.  And really bad, his Middle Eastern policy wrecked by strategic mistakes in Egypt, Libya, Syria and elsewhere, needed something to salvage his reputation, and this is it.

But we should know: when really bad tries to salvage his reputation in this fashion, the result will doubtless be really bad for the rest of us.

The World Is Not As Flat as They Thought

Would-be White House photographers learn this the hard way:

The nation’s largest news organizations lodged a complaint Thursday against the White House for imposing unprecedented limitations on photojournalists covering President Barack Obama, which they say have harmed the public’s ability to monitor its own government.

The organizations accuse the White House of banning photojournalists from covering Obama at some events, and then later releasing its own photos and videos of the same events.

“Journalists are routinely being denied the right to photograph or videotape the president while he is performing his official duties,” according to a letter the organizations sent to the White House. “As surely as if they were placing a hand over a journalist’s camera lens, officials in this administration are blocking the public from having an independent view of important functions of the executive branch of government.”

You’d think that, with most of the media in the tank for the Occupant the way they are, that same Occupant wouldn’t feel the need to control things the way he does.  And you’d think that, with all the “new media” and the ways people can supposedly get around traditional channels, that we’d have more ways to discover what’s going on, not fewer.

You’d be wrong.

One thing that people in countries with centralised power (I’ll avoid the pejorative adjective “totalitarian”) know is that information technology tends to further centralise power by giving rulers easier access to what the people are doing and saying and the people fewer options to hide it.  That works both ways; it gives such rulers more opportunities to feed their message to their masses.  They don’t have to put expensive statues in every public square or their picture on every wall to get their “divine” status across, although most don’t mind that either.

In our provincial naïvité, we thought it could never happen here.  The NSA/Snowden business shows that the powers that be can reach out and gather an enormous amount of information using technology.  Now the Obama White House shows that it can use social media to bypass even its beloved mainstream media and get its message out to the exclusion of other voices.

So the world is neither being flattened nor made more egalitarian with the Internet, appearances and hope notwithstanding.  It will take a more determined and clever populace to slow the trend, but looking at the one we’ve got I’m not holding my breath.

Should Have Nationalised Medicaid to Start With

Barack Obama would do well to take a hint from the “Duck Dynasty” candidate’s victory:

Medicaid expansion is popular, even if Obamacare isn’t. Riser was a Jindal acolyte in the state legislature who saw first-hand the governor’s approval rating dip as he opposed the expansion of Medicaid. That’s the dilemma Republicans face: As unpopular as the president’s health care law is, even Republican voters like the free benefits that come with Medicaid expansion.

That’s why most swing-state and blue-state Republican governors have jumped aboard the Medicaid expansion bandwagon, and Democrats have used the issue as a cudgel against those who haven’t. Ohio GOP Gov. John Kasich’s support of Medicaid expansion back home has become Obama’s new favorite talking point, a political necessity for him as he faces a competitive re-election next year.

As I noted in early 2010:

Here’s a suggestion: nationalise (or more accurately federalise) Medicaid.  Currently a joint venture of the states and the Feds, making it an entirely Federal program would have many possibilities:

  1. It would relieve the states of their largest running budget headache.  That would insure the support of all fifty governors, Republican and Democrat alike.
  2. It would enable the Feds to set a uniform standard for eligibility, etc.   That problem has bedevilled the current process, and led to the more egregious payoffs (LA, NE, etc.) we saw in the Senate process.
  3. It’s already a government program, so this (in principle) doesn’t “expand the role of government.”  That would put the small-government Republicans in a box.
  4. It addresses the medical insurance issues of the portion of the population least able to afford it.  Isn’t that what social welfare is all about?
  5. It would end the “health insurance shopping” that helped turn TennCare into the disaster it became before the state pared down the eligibility requirements.

If there’s one thing that Social Security and Medicare should have taught us, it’s that a free (well, consistently taxed and doled out) government benefit is popular, whether conservatives like it or not.  It’s interesting that the more “conservative” Republican won in part because he wouldn’t go along with Bobby Jindal’s stalling on Medicaid expansion.

Expanding Medicaid would have been a lot easier if Obama, instead of wasting time, money and political capital on the kludge we’ve got now, would have simply nationalised Medicaid and expanded it to taste.  It would probably have been cheaper as well.  But that’s a major reason I have so little use for American liberals; not only do they reject basic economics, but they can’t even put their own principles into action without making a complete mess out of it.

It's Crunch Time in Chattanooga for Same Sex Benefits

I guess it was inevitable sooner or later, but now we’re here: last Tuesday, Chattanooga’s City Council approved an ordinance to extend employment benefits for the city to domestic partners and not just those joined by civil marriage.  As is the case with many unicameral legislatures, it takes two readings to make this official, and so this Tuesday night the City Council will make its vote final.  The two usual sides to the issue are lining up in the two usual ways.

Readers of this blog know that, because I advocate the abolition of civil marriage, my take on this is going to be a little different.  The city’s proposed ordinance with summary is here, so let’s take a look at it.

Let’s start at the end of the summary:

Based on initial research, companies and other municipalities that have adopted a similar benefits program have experienced a financial impact of not more than one (1%) percent of their total budget.

At this point, with the vagaries of Obamacare kicking in, an estimate of the impact of health care costs on anyone’s budget is just that: a guess.  As with financial advisors, past performance many not be indicative of future results.  Given that many people outside the public sector struggle with no or expensive health care coverage, from these standpoints expanding the cost structure of city employees is ill-timed, to say the least.

One interesting facet is that many corporations offer benefits for domestic partners.  “Offer” and “pay for” however are not synonymous in the private sector, especially with dependent health care coverage.  When a private company offers “domestic partner benefits,” in reality it may mean only “access to insurance for domestic partners.”  In the public sector, the dynamic is different.  Traditionally government entities have compensated for below-private sector salaries by more generous benefits.  In many “blue” states both salary and benefits are often ahead of those in the private sector, and this has led to the solvency issues which have gotten some attention.  Tennessee is a low-tax state, not particularly generous in this regard, but given the shaky solvency of the public sector in general, expanding the cost base probably isn’t a good idea at this juncture.

Health insurance, however, brings up another issue: why, with the promises of universal coverage of Obamacare, is this even being brought up?  In places where health care coverage is now universal, neither public or private entities even worry about such things.  Put another way, if the LGBT community had spent the effort pushing single-payer health care in this country that they’ve put into same-sex civil marriage, they’d have significantly “leveled the playing field” between married and unmarried couples.  But I guess, with the special interest dynamic in place in American politics, that’s too much to ask.

Before I “cut to the chase” let me look at another issue: who is eligible for domestic partnership status.  The summary tells us the following:

The city employee and the domestic partner have chosen to share one another’s lives in an intimate and committed relationship of mutual caring;

What’s this about?  How will we know this is so?  Sex cam?  I’ve delved into the topic of “committed relationships” before, but this, in the context of our society, means that the relationship is sexualised.  How do we know that?  This:

The city employee and domestic partner cannot be lineal ancestors or descendants or related to a degree of kinship that would prevent marriage under the laws of the State of Tennessee

The core reason closely related people cannot get married (an interesting topic in view of our history here in Tennessee) is because of genetic problems that result from those kinds of union.  (I even got a lecture on our mountain ways when I was in the old Soviet Union!)  But why should this restriction stand?  What about people–related or otherwise–who don’t sexualise their relationship?  (Don’t tell me, those types of relationships don’t exist, right?)  This restriction says more about the motives of the proponents than the equity of their proposal.

And that leads me to the civil marriage business.  Opponents say that this undermines marriage.  Without going into all the serious problems with civil marriage in general, let me reiterate that, when pursing “marriage equality” same-sex civil marriage wasn’t the only way to get to the goal.  Getting rid of civil marriage altogether would make more sense, but that’s not the way the LGBT community–or at least its leadership–chose to do it.

So then you ask: what would a “benefits” criteria look like without civil marriage?  The ordinance pretty much lays it out, although as I said earlier we could dispense with the implicit sexualisation of the relationship.  It may be clumsy and complicated looking, but at least it would need a year before the City would extend benefits, which would slow down opportunistic or ephemeral marriages.

My final take is that this thing needs some work.  Getting that work done in the context of the charged debate is probably not in the cards; as we know, there’s already a move to put its repeal as a ballot initiative, should it pass.  In saying that, however, I should put one note of caution to everyone.

The whole idea of extending benefits to unmarried couples (as opposed to recognizing same-sex civil marriages from other states) is probably a device to get the thing passed.  In doing so, its proponents not only undermine “traditional” civil marriage, but they undermine the legal device, including same-sex civil marriage which they have advocated for so long.  They may (or may not) achieve a temporary victory, but in the long run those of us who have advocated for civil marriage’s abolition, either de jure or de facto, may be the only winners here.

Now if we can keep from going broke in the process…but I’m not counting on that either.

Camelot Not Quite: My Reflections on JFK, Fifty Years After

This piece is, in some sense, obligatory.  Just about everyone alive and out of the crib then remembers where he or she was when they learned that Jack Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas on 22 November 1963.  Although there have been recent potshots at the Boomers’ obsession with the subject, it’s not a bad enterprise to step back and take a look at this turning point event.  The first question is, “Turning point to what?” but I’ll get to that.

So to answer the obligatory question: I was home sick from school.  We lived in Lookout Mountain, TN then, and I spent a lot of time sick from the various allergies and pollution that characterized the region (the pollution is gone, the plethora of pollen isn’t.)  With little to do, I turned on the television to discover that our President had been shot, and the rest of the events that unfolded afterwards came in black and white: Oswald’s murder by Jack Ruby, the funeral process.  It swept aside just about everything else for several days.

One thing of local interest that got swept aside was the centenary of the Battle of Chattanooga, including Lookout Mountain itself and Missionary Ridge.  In one sense this was regrettable: the Battles for Chattanooga were a major milestone on the road to Appomattox, and the Civil War remains the central event of American history.  In another sense it was not; to live in or around Chattanooga is to commemorate that war every day, both in terms of the many monuments that dot the place (it is one of the best preserved battlefields of that war) and in terms of the North-South interchange that’s a part of daily life here.

My family’s view of Jack Kennedy was not a high one.  But our situation, in some ways, mirrored his, and the reason it did related to that same Civil War that got shoved aside in a nation’s grief.

When we moved the family business—and the family—to Chattanooga in 1960, we had over a century of success in this country, which included public service and civic prominence.  We quickly found out, however, that success may have been more readily obtained in these United States than elsewhere, but transferring that success was more easily said than done.  At the time (and to a lesser extent still) Chattanooga was dominated by a relatively small group of families, most of whom were perched on Lookout Mountain and were descendants of people who came to Chattanooga from the—ahem—North after the Civil War.  (The term “carpetbaggers” has been applied here, but technically it’s inaccurate: Tennessee never formally went through Reconstruction.)  You’d think that there would be an invite for us, but there wasn’t: this bunch expected a long, multi-generational integration into their society, and for my father, coming from a family that considered itself a prominent WASP clan, that was a hard pill to swallow.

Turning to Jack Kennedy, to understand the political idea of Jack, Bobby, Ted and their descendants, you have to go back to their father, old Joe Kennedy.  This was a man with an axe to grind.  Growing up in Boston, he was rejected by Boston’s very WASP Brahmin aristocracy, Ivy Leaguer though he was, because he was a) Irish and b) Catholic.  That induced hatred, hatred that passed down to the sons.  His ambitions for them were in no small measure to prove that he could beat the WASP’s at their own game, and he was largely successful, although his family paid an enormous price in the process.  In some ways their signature accomplishment was Teddy’s promotion of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, when legal immigration was opened up to more than white Europeans.  My guess is they figured that, if the first wave of immigration couldn’t finish the WASPs off, the second would.

Much has been made about “Camelot” and the romance of Jack, Jackie and the family in the White House.  Boomers tend to look back on the era as a sort of paradise lost, but it’s worth observing that the Boomers didn’t vote for or against him: our parents did.  (Mine didn’t; because they moved in 1960 and 1964, residency requirements blocked them from voting against either Jack or Lyndon Johnson, whom they affectionately called “Flap Ears.”)  Jack’s win in 1960 was a squeaker, facilitated by both Dick Daley’s control of Chicago’s voting machines and Johnson’s pull in Texas.  But our parents, coming off of the Depression, World War II, and in the process of raising the most insufferable brats the world has ever known, longed for the urbanity and grace that the Kennedys brought to the White House.  The loss of that, and the subsequent chaos that ensued in this country, have put a glow on the era that it really does not deserve.

Considering that glow leads us to Jack Kennedy’s legacy.  Would things have really been better if he had lived?  Would his reputation?  From a legislative standpoint, it’s hard to make the case.  Johnson, for all of his differences with Kennedy, pretty much carried his water on legislation, which included the Civil Rights Act and Medicare.  Much of the social revolution of the era was greased by the Supreme Court, and it’s hard to see that Kennedy would have had a different impact on that.  But the issue that would have made or broken Jack with the Boomers was Vietnam.  Jack didn’t quite start our involvement in Vietnam, but he increased it.  It’s hard to see that the man who brought the U.S. closer to nuclear war that it had been before or since in the Cuban Missile Crisis throttling it back.  Jack’s assassination was a tragedy, but having Vietnam hung around his neck would have dimmed just about any afterglow he had.

Today we have comparisons of Jack Kennedy with Barack Obama.  In some ways the comparison is fruitful.  Barack Obama too was ushered in by a wave of enthusiasm by a new voting generation, but the suffering is different: the Millennials, scarred by a generation of fatherlessness, Boomer conflict and eroding economic prospects, turned to a relatively young, charismatic man.  Given that entrance, it is likely that Barack Obama will ascend to folk hero status no matter how badly his time as Occupant comes out (just look at Latin America and figures such as Juan Peron and Hugo Chavez for comparison).

But cooler heads may have a different idea.  To use Lloyd Bentsen’s pithy phrase, Barack Obama is no Jack Kennedy.  But more profound is the fact that the United States, and especially the government itself, isn’t what it was when Jack Kennedy demanded that people ask what they could do for the country.  An easy comparison is putting a man on the moon; Jack Kennedy put forth an ambitious timetable, the government found the people with the right stuff and within that timetable we had a giant leap for mankind.  An action oriented country had, within limits, an action-oriented government, one that additionally won wars and built interstate highway systems.

The government of Barack Obama, by and large, is designed more to prevent people from doing things or to furnish entitlements than to carry out goals in its own right.  That shift was the result of larding the state with endless regulatory agencies designed to fulfill an agenda of inaction at best and retrocession at worst.  To get positive things done, you turned to the military, private contractors or both.  Such a state of affairs is a major reason for the antipathy the government has these days, even by those who benefit the most from its largesse.

When Obama managed to get his BFD called the Affordable Care Act, he needed a government that could get things done.  But he didn’t have that.  In a sense he and the entire American left were hoisted by their own petard; the result they’re wrestling with was inevitable.  How that plays out—and how Barack Obama will be seen by those who will look at this Republic in the rear view mirror—remains to be seen, but the prospects are unappetizing.

As for me, the year after Jack Kennedy’s assassination we left for Palm Beach and a social system with its own challenges.  Eight years after that I left the Episcopal Church in the rear view mirror and began my “Tiber swim” at the same Catholic parish where Jack Kennedy fulfilled his obligation to take part in the sacred mysteries, and sat behind a bronze plaque commemorating same.  That was an sign that, for me and others, one of the pillars of WASP life, the Main Line church, was crumbling.  More crumbling pillars were to come.  In that respect Jack Kennedy’s legacy—or more properly his father’s—was fulfilled, but sad to say they and those who have come in their wake forgot that, if you arrange another’s Gotterdammerung, don’t forget to leave Valhalla before you torch it.

From Hard Currency to No Currency

What a difference two decades makes:

Predicting the imminent collapse of the U.S. dollar, a Russian lawmaker submitted a bill to his country’s parliament Wednesday that would ban the use or possession of the American currency.

Mikhail Degtyarev, the lawmaker who proposed the bill, compared the dollar to a Ponzi scheme. He warned that the government would have to bail out Russians holding the U.S. currency if it collapses.

The old Soviet Union had what we called a “state-controlled” currency, i.e., the Soviet rouble was what the government said it was worth.  Prices and wages were likewise fixed by the state, as was the exchange rate.  As long as the Soviet economy was isolated, the system held together, although living under it wasn’t always pleasant.

Given that, Russians differentiated between their own currency (a “soft currency”) and Western currencies, especially the U.S. Dollar, as “hard currencies”, with the latter very much desired.  Although the legal status of holding same varied from prohibited to tolerated, that didn’t stop people from trying to get same.

When the country and its system came apart, the currency followed suit, resulting in tragic/hilarious situations such as the one I describe in Half a Million Roubles.  Is it Enough?  But the distinction between internal soft and external hard currencies remained.

Now we see things reversed, with the Russians obviously considering their own currency a hard currency and ours as the soft one.  My take is that they are correct but I would observe the following:

  1. The U.S. Dollar has become a soft currency (that being a relative term) because it, like its old Soviet counterpart, is a creation of the state.  The big difference is that it is freely traded and backed by a strong economy with a long history of stability, which means that people have faith in it.  It’s also subject to manipulation by same state, and that’s certainly the case, especially these last five years.
  2. I think that, sooner or later, the Fed will run out of bullets in their easing gun, and we will have inflation and a general loss of the faith that holds things up.
  3. I think that the wisdom of holding U.S. Dollars should be left to the Russian people and not be the subject of legislation.  Predicting dates like this can be problematic, and in any case the Russians have shown a great deal of ingenuity in dealing with the ups and downs of their “coin of the realm”.  I doubt that Americans are anywhere as near ready for such an event here.

If They'd Known He Was a Republican, They Wouldn't Have Honoured Him

Abraham Lincoln, that is:

A public university in President Abraham Lincoln’s home state of Illinois is adorned with a plaque that states Lincoln – arguably the most famous and influential president in American history – was a Democrat.

Lincoln was a Republican.

History is such a stinker sometimes…

Thinking and Living Bureaucratically in America

National Journal’s Ron Fournier is sorry:

I’m sorry you campaigned for reelection on the famous false promise: “If you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan. Period.”

I’m sorry your aides debated whether to tell the full truth (that people could keep their insurance only if it hadn’t changed and if it met your standards) and decided instead to institutionalize the lie.

I’m sorry that when Americans recognized the deception you tried to reinvent history: “What we said was you can keep it if it hasn’t changed since the law passed.” No, no, no, no, no—that’s not what you guys said.

I’m sorry you didn’t trust Americans with the truth.

Unfortunately, like the X-Files, the truth was out there.

It wasn’t easy figuring out what this monstrosity called Obamacare was all about, which prompted Nancy Pelosi to make her famous remark that they’d have to pass the bill to find out what was in it.  But one thing was clear, to me at least: you couldn’t keep your health care coverage (and I’m thinking individually here) after it was passed if there were ANY changes in the policy.  I wasn’t even sure that the additional provisions mandated by Obamacare (such as keeping your mid-20’s children on the plan) wouldn’t give the government the opportunity to cancel everybody’s policy and start over. So I acted accordingly.  Up to now, things are good, or as good as they can be.  But one never knows.

A long time ago one visitor to my web site family, after reading this, asked me if I was a prophet.  I told him I’d leave that up to him.  I think there’s too much self-validating “leadership” out there, based on my experience in the church.  And, based on the performance of the current Occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, that problem isn’t restricted to Christian churches.

I certainly wouldn’t claim a prophetic gift here.  What I will claim, however, is that years of working in my family business, including dealing with the Internal Revenue Code, all of the other laws and regulations out there both Federal and state, and of course selling into a market dominated by public works, convinced me that survival depends, in no small measure, on thinking bureaucratically.  Many of my fellow U.S. citizens thought that I was crazy (and many doubtless still do)  but realistically dealing with the maze of government stuff, including what laws and regulations really said rather than what people thought they did, was essential in keeping things moving forward.

That does alter your life.  It’s one reason why I take such a jaundiced view over the civil marriage debate.  If people on both sides really understood the nature of American family law–and I’ve documented some of this on this blog–they too would call for the abolition of civil marriage.  Instead we have a debate driven by people who place the sentimental value of a piece of paper from the government ahead of the reality behind it, and whose goal is to convince enough people deluded in the same way that their take on the subject is the right one.

But I digress.  Is this heavy emphasis on “thinking bureaucratically” or “living bureaucratically” unAmerican?  Of course.  But we have a choice: we can stumble through life swallowing the pap our leaders feed us with catastrophes following, or we can take the trouble to sort things out the way they are and get through them in reasonable order.  I wouldn’t be silly enough to say that such leads to infallible success; stuff happens, the bureaucrats sometimes get the best of us.  But as Keith Green used to sing, we do our best, and God takes care of the rest.

People say that these United States won’t survive the current state of affairs.  That’s doubtless true.  But I think we need to concentrate on making things better for the inhabitants than fixating on the nation itself.  After all, Jesus Christ died for sinners, not nations.

My Perspective on Driven Pile Drivability Studies

Recently I had a round of correspondence with a county official in Washington state re pile drivability studies and their place in the contract process.  (If you’re looking for some explanation of this, you can find it here).  His question was as follows:

During the bidding process, is the contractor’s sole basis for anticipating the size of the hammer needed the WEAP analysis? Does a contractor rely solely on design pile capacities or does the contractor combine geotechnical boring logs and cross-sections with his expertise? Who will be ultimately responsible that a large enough hammer is considered in the bid and brought to the site, the contractor or the preparer of the design package?

My response was as follows:

First, at this time the WEAP analysis is the best way for contractor and owner alike to determine the size of a hammer (both to make sure it isn’t too small with premature refusal, or too large and excessive pile stresses) necessary to install a certain pile into a certain soil.

It is a common specification requirement for a contractor to furnish a wave equation analysis showing that a given hammer can drive a pile into a given soil profile.  As far as what soil profile is used, that’s a sticky issue in drivability studies.  Personally I always attempt to estimate the ultimate axial pile capacity in preparation of a wave equation analysis.  There are two important issues here.

The first is whether the piles are to be driven to a “tip elevation” specification vs. a blow count specification.  For the former, an independent pile capacity determination is an absolute must.  For the latter, one might be able to use the pile capacities if and only if he or she can successfully “back them out” from the allowable capacities, because the design factors/factors of safety will vary from one job and owner to the next.  Some job specs make that easy, most don’t.

Even if this can be accomplished, there is the second problem: the ultimate capacity of interest to the designer and the one of interest to the pile driver are two different things.  Consider this: the designer wants to know the pile with the lowest capacity/greatest settlement for a given load.  The pile driver wants to know the pile with the highest capacity.  If you use the design values, you may find yourself unable to drive many of the piles on a job or only with great difficulty.  I’m seeing a disturbing trend towards using the ultimate capacity for design and running into drivability problems.

As far as responsibility is concerned, that of course depends upon the structure of the contract documents.  I’ve discussed the contractor’s role; I would like to think that any driven pile design would include some consideration of the drivability of the piles.

Some of the FHWA publications I offer both in print and online (including the Driven Pile Manual) have sample specifications which you may find helpful.

Hope this long diatribe is of assistance.

After this, there’s another way of looking at this problem from an LRFD (load and resistance factor design) standpoint that might further illuminate the problem.  The standard LRFD equation looks like this:

\sum _{i=1}^{n}{\it \gamma}_{{i}}Q_{{i}} \leq \phi\,R_{{n}}

This is fine for design.   With drivability, however, the situation is different; what you want to do is to induce failure and move the pile relative to the soil with each blow.  So perhaps for drivability the equation should be written as follows:

\sum _{i=1}^{n}{\it \gamma}_{{i}}Q_{{i}} \geq \phi\,R_{{n}}

It’s worthy of note that, for AASHTO LRFD (Bridge Design Specifications, 5th Edition)  \phi can run from 0.9 to 1.15, which would in turn force the load applied by the pile hammer upward more than it would if typical design factors are used.  Given the complexity of the loading induced by a hammer during driving, the LRFD equation is generally not employed directly for drivability studies, and the fact that \phi hovers around unity makes the procedure in LRFD very similar to previous practice.

The problem I posed re the hardest pile to drive vs. the lowest capacity pile on the job is still valid, especially with non-transportation type of projects where many piles are driven to support a structure.  When establishing a “standard” pile for capacity, it is still the propensity of the designer to select the lowest expected pile capacity of all the pile/soil profile combinations as opposed to the highest expect pile resistance of all the pile/soil profile combinations necessary for drivability studies.

Put another way, the designer will tend to push the centre of the probability curve lower while the pile driver will tend to push the centre of the probability curve higher.  This is a design process issue not entirely addressed by LRFD, although LRFD can be used to help explain the process.