Wednesday, April 23, 2008

NASCAR: How Much of a Stock Car is Stock

Although the word NASCAR stands for National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, this title and the term “stock car” can be quite misleading to those unfamiliar with the sport. When NASCAR first started in the late 1940s, the drivers would go to the local dealership, purchase a new car, strip it down to get it race ready, and then take it to a NASCAR sanctioned event to compete. These were actual “stock” cars with the drivers often driving them to the race to compete and then, if the car was still in drivable condition after the race was over, using the same race car to drive home, and possibly pick up the kids from school on Monday or make a grocery run one day during the rest of the week.

Today, however, the term “stock car” is simply a holdover from those earlier days. Is there anything about a current NASCAR race car that could be considered “stock?” With the exception of a few nuts, bolts and some screws, the answer would have to be no.

The modern race car competing on the NASCAR circuit today is basically completely handmade and comes with a price tag of upwards of $125,000 to build. This includes at least $70,000 for the body, chassis and frame, $40,000 or more for each engine, and more than $15,000 in labor costs. Needless to say, you won’t be finding any of these hot rods for sale in your local dealer’s showroom or on his lot.

Let’s take a look at the basic components of today’s “stock car.”

The frames of each car are usually prefabricated and each team purchases them from a frame supplier. The frame is designed and built for the safety of the driver as well as to hold up to the constant forces that racing produces.

The body of the car is largely handmade in each team’s shop out of flat sheet metal and takes about ten working days to produce. The only exceptions to this are the roof, hood and decklid which are usually purchased from a factory supplier. While the body may resemble somewhat the make and model of car you have in your driveway, there is really nothing stock about it. Each piece is hand shaped on an English wheel to exact NASCAR specifications. Each team must use NASCAR approved templates to measure all body parts to make sure they don’t exceed the specified tolerances that NASCAR has decreed to be appropriate. In addition, not all cars are built to the same specifications. Some cars are designed specifically for super-speedway use while others are designed for optimal performance on the short tracks.

The engine block itself is actually based on an original factory design for each make of car, but they are still custom made. They do have the same cylinder bore centerlines and start out the same size as the original, but the size increases somewhat during the process of assembling the engine. Each engine produces at least 750 horsepower with engine cams that are designed to open the intake valves sooner and keep them open longer than in the average street car. Other components custom designed for racing include the intake and exhaust systems, carburetors instead of fuel injection, programmable ignition systems, and various subsystems like coolant pumps, oil pumps, steering pumps and alternators.

The tires used on the car are radials just like on your passenger car but that is where the similarity ends. The tires are treadless due to the need to increase the amount of rubber contacting the track. This works great on dry tracks but can cause the cars to hydroplane if the track is wet. Thus, you will often see rain delays or cancellations in NASCAR when too much moisture is present on the track. The tire compounds vary and are regulated by NASCAR at each race due to safety. Each compound is different depending on whether the tire is used on the left or right side of the car and due to the design of the particular track. Teams must run the mandated compounds for each tire that is placed on the car. The tires also have an inner liner which is basically a second tire mounted inside the first. If the outer tire goes flat or blows out, the inner liner will hopefully allow the driver to maintain some amount of control and help bring the car to a safe stop. In addition, most teams inflate the tires with nitrogen instead of air due to nitrogen’s lack of moisture. Any moisture in the tire will vaporize and expand when the tire heats up, causing a pressure increase. Any changes in pressure, even though they may be small, can dramatically affect the handling of the car.

This has been just a brief overview of the NASCAR Stock Car. As you can easily see from even the limited information above, there is nothing “stock” about a modern stock car. So, if you are thinking of taking your new Impala, Fusion, or Camry to the nearest NASCAR event this weekend, I would strongly advise you against it. You will need large amounts of money and expertise to get out on that track and be competitive. Save the car in your driveway for picking up the kids from school or making the grocery run. The days of building a “stock car” in your personal garage or out in the barn are long gone.

NASCAR: An Overview of Driver Safety Features

The air bags, seat belts and other safety features in your personal vehicle are designed to protect you in crashes up to 35 mph. In NASCAR however, where speeds often exceed 180 mph, the car and driver have to withstand crashes that produce more than 25 times more force than those at 35 mph. With four drivers having been killed on the track since 2000, safety of drivers has become a primary concern for NASCAR. While many drivers complain about new restrictions and safety measures, it is clear that NASCAR desires to keep the sport safe for all involved while still remaining exciting for the fans. Various pieces of equipment and safety features are standard on the NASCAR circuit. Let’s take a look at the more important ones and give a quick overview of how they work.

Driver Gear

Each driver naturally wears a helmet to protect the vital head area. The helmet is designed to dissipate the energy of a crash over the helmet and keep other debris from making contact with the driver’s head. While drivers are required to wear a helmet, they can choose to use an open-face design or a full-face model. Many drivers choose the full-face design that completely wraps around their head and face to provide them with maximum protection while others choose the open-face design arguing that the full-face helmet restricts their peripheral vision. All helmets are designed with an impact resistant shell, with a layer of foam being next, and on the inside next to the driver’s head, a layer of fire resistant Nomex in case of a flash fire.

Each driver also wears a protective suit made of either Proban or the Nomex material like that which lines the inside of the helmet. Both materials are fire retardant to give the driver protection in the event that flames erupt inside the car. The driver’s gloves, socks and shoes are also made of this material to offer the driver the maximum possible protection.

Instead of a seatbelt like you would have in your passenger vehicle, NASCAR mandates that each driver use a five-point restraint harness. This harness is made from padded nylon webbing and holds the driver securely in his seat during an impact. The seat itself is attached directly to the tubular frame rather than the floorboard to help insure that it stays in place during a crash. The seat is usually custom made for each driver by being form-fitted to his body and will provide wrap-around protection during an impact. The seat will also bend somewhat to help absorb the energy of a crash.

NASCAR has also mandated that each driver wear what is known as the Head And Neck Support System or HANS Device for short. The HANS Device is a semi-hard collar which is made from carbon fiber and Kevlar. The driver wears a collar that keeps the collar held onto the upper body of the driver. The helmet and the collar are then attached by flexible tethers that keep the head from snapping forward or to the side during impact.

The Cockpit

To the left of the driver, the window is covered with a net made of nylon mesh webbing. This window net keeps the driver’s arms inside the car during a crash or roll-over. It also keeps dangerous debris from coming inside the car during an accident. The window net is equipped with a quick release so the driver can take it down easily if he needs to exit the car quickly.

The frame of a NASCAR race car is basically composed of three parts: the front clip, the rear clip, and the middle section which also includes the roll cage surrounding the driver. The middle section and roll cage are designed to be the strongest part of the frame. It will maintain its shape during a crash to offer maximum protection to the driver. The front and rear clips are made from thinner steel tubing and will crush more easily to distribute the force of impact along the frame of the car rather than transferring that force to the driver. Also, in the event of a collision, the front clip is designed to push the engine out of the bottom of the car, rather than back toward the driver.

All windshields are made of Lexan, which is the same polycarbonate used to make fighter plane canopies and bullet proof glass. This material is shatter proof but is easily scratched or dented so the crews cover the windshield with several layers of “tear off” film that they can easily remove during a race to help clear the driver’s vision through the windshield.

The fuel tank or fuel cell is located in the rear of the car and is designed with a steel outer layer and a hard plastic inner layer or bladder. Four braces are attached from the fuel cell to the frame to hold it in place during an accident. The fuel cell is also filled with foam which reduces the sloshing of fuel and the chances of an explosion by reducing the amount of air inside the cell. Check valves are also installed to shut off the fuel in the event that the engine removed from the car during a crash.

Other Car Features

In 1994, NASCAR introduced roof flaps to the cars. These flaps are designed to keep the car from getting airborne during a spin at high speeds. Before these flaps were introduced, cars which spun at high speeds would often lift off the ground and begin to tumble. This usually happened once the car had rotated about 140 degrees. With these roof flaps in place, once a car spins to the point that lift begins to be generated, the low pressure above the flaps causes them to deploy by creating a sucking action, which disrupts the airflow over the roof and keeps the car on the ground.

Another safety feature – albeit a controversial one – is the use of restrictor plates to slow the cars down on several superspeedways. The restrictor plate is a square aluminum plate that is placed between the carburetor and the intake manifold. It has four holes drilled into it with the size of the hole varying between .875 inches and 1 inch depending on the track and NASCAR guidelines. The restrictor plate reduces the flow of air and fuel into the combustion chamber of the engine which in turn reduces horsepower and speed. Implemented in 1998, they were designed to slow the cars down and reduce the number of serious crashes. However, many drivers complain that the restrictor plate is actually the cause of more multi-car crashes due to the tendency for the cars to bunch up and rely more on the draft. With the cars bunched up like they so often are, one car getting out of control often involves several others before the accident has run its course.

Outside the Car

On the track, NASCAR has mandated that tracks install what is known as the Steel And Foam Energy Reduction Barrier, or SAFER Barrier for short. It is also often referred to as “soft wall” technology. This barrier is installed in front of the old concrete walls which line the outside of the track. The SAFER barrier is made of steel tubes welded together. Behind these tubes are bundles of poly-styrene foam, which are placed between the barrier and the concrete wall. This “soft wall” absorbs the energy released during a crash and allows the energy to be dissipated along the wall rather than by the car and driver. It also keeps the car from being propelled back into traffic on the track.

These are just some of the more important features NASCAR has instituted to keep racing safe for the driver. With the introduction of the Car of Tomorrow (COT), which should now be considered the Car of Today due to the fact that it will be used in all NASCAR events in 2008, further driver safety measures have been implemented in the very make-up of the car itself.

While drivers may complain at times, NASCAR is working hard to insure driver safety while at the same time keeping the sport competitive and exciting for the fans. While spectacular crashes will continue to occur, it is hoped that these safety measures will protect drivers from serious injury or death. We don’t want to lose any more of our favorite drivers like we have in the past with Dale Earnhardt, Neil Bonnett, Adam Petty or Kenny Erwin.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

NASCAR: The Drive-Through Penalty

A drive-through penalty is given to a driver for speeding on pit road. At each track on the NASCAR circuit, NASCAR officials have established a pit road speed limit for the safety of drivers, pit crews and NASCAR officials. This speed limit varies from track to track and is usually between 35-55 miles per hour depending on the size of the track and several other factors.

If a driver is caught speeding on pit road and gets this penalty assessed on him, he must return to the pits during green flag conditions and travel the entire length of pit road at the proper speed limit while the rest of the cars on the track are continuing to run at full race speed. The driver is not allowed to stop in his pits for any adjustments or repairs whatsoever while he is serving this penalty. Due to the racing speed of the cars on the track and the slow speed limit of pit road, the driver will usually lose a ton of track position due to this penalty.

As stated above, the reason NASCAR established a speed limit for pit road was make it safer for drivers, crew members and officials during pit stops. Numerous accidents have occurred in the past between two or more cars due to the overzealousness of drivers trying to get an edge over everyone else. Officials and crew members who come over the wall during stops have been hit by cars in a driver's attempt to get in and out of the pits quicker than the next guy. Thus NASCAR established the pit road speed limit to reduce the risk of cars crashing into one another or hitting one of the crew members or officials who are on pit lane in front of the pit wall.

What makes obeying the speed limit so tricky for drivers is the fact that NASCAR race cars do not have speedometers. The only way drivers can judge their speed on pit road is by determining what gear they are in and reading the RPMs on the tachometer. During the pace laps, before the race begins, the pace car leads the cars around the track at pit road speed. While the cars are following the pace car, the drivers check the RPM indicated on the tachometer and also note what gear the car is in at the time. This information is then relayed by the driver to his crew chief and spotter. Then, before the drivers come to pit road during the race, the crew chief or spotter can then remind them of the proper gear position and the RPM reading they should stay under. Unfortunately, even with these precautions and reminders in place, a driver can still easily exceed the speed limit on pit road due to the "heat of the moment" and the desire to get on and off pit road as quickly as possible.

The drive-through penalty was instituted by NASCAR in 2002 and replaced other penalties then in effect that NASCAR believed to be too arbitrary and thus, unfair. Previously, if drivers were caught speeding while entering pit road, they were assessed a 15 second penalty. If it was determined that a driver was speeding while entering pit road, the crew was allowed to complete any needed work on the car and once this was complete and crew members away from the car, the NASCAR official would then hold the car in the pits for an additional 15 seconds before releasing the car to leave the pit box and exit pit road.

Before 2002, if a car was caught speeding upon exiting pit road, the driver was assessed a "stop and go" penalty. During this penalty, a driver is required to enter the pit road again under green flag conditions, and then enter his pit box once again, come to a complete stop, and then proceed to exit the pits and return to the track.

So, the drive-through penalty has now replaced both the "15 second penalty" and the "stop and go" penalty. Now, if a driver is caught speeding at any point on pit road, NASCAR imposes the drive-through as the punishment. The drive-through is certainly one penalty every driver would like to avoid. It is always hard to make up the lost track position and if this penalty comes late in the race or is followed by other problems for the driver, it can be almost impossible to make up.

Friday, April 18, 2008

NASCAR: Racing Flags and What They Indicate

The flags in NASCAR (and all forms of auto racing) are designed to inform the drivers of track conditions or provide a way for officials to communicate other information to the drivers. Before radios were installed in the cars to allow two-way communication between the driver and his crew or race officials, the flags were the only way to inform the drivers of events or circumstances within the race. Each flag was designed with a specific color, color combination or symbol so the drivers will know at a glance the meaning of each flag.

Listed below, you will find each flag used in NASCAR and what it indicates to the driver, as well as the appropriate action he or the field of cars should take:


The green flag signals the start of a race or a resumption of competition at full race speed after a caution or delay of some type. Usually, a driver’s crew chief or spotter will also let him know that green flag racing is about to resume by saying, “We’re going green on the next lap” as well. The pace car will remain in front of all cars until just before the green flag is dropped. The pace car will turn into the pit road entrance as the field of cars comes by before the green flag is waved.


The yellow flag is the caution flag. It indicates that there is a hazard on the track or the track is not clear for cars to maintain race speed. This flag can be used to warn the drivers of an accident on the track or that there is debris on the track due to cars making contact or mechanical failure. The flag is also waved to bring the cars under caution due to weather-related issues. Other reasons for this flag being waved include things such as a NASCAR tire check, an emergency vehicle needing to cross the track, or a stray animal wandering onto the track. NASCAR rules allow all cars bunch up behind the leader during a caution to allow them to position themselves for resumption of green flag racing. Usually, the lead cars will line up in the outside lane while the lapped cars will start in the inside lane. No cars are allowed to pass the pace car during a caution flag unless specifically instructed to do so by NASCAR officials. An example of this would be the “lucky dog.” The “lucky dog” is the name given to the driver/car that is at least one lap down but leading all other lapped cars when the caution flag comes out. This driver gets to move around the pace car and circle the track to come up behind the lead cars to regain a lost lap. He then becomes the last car on the lead lap. A standard caution usually lasts a minimum of three laps at most tracks to allow the drivers time to pit or catch the pace car before a restart. A yellow flag during a practice session indicates that all cars should go to the pits immediately.


Waving of the red flag indicates that the track is unsafe and the situation requires immediate attention. All cars must go to a designated location and stop – this may be the pit area or the cars may simply be stopped on a part of the track that is away from the unsafe situation. This flag is often waved for an accident which requires immediate medical attention or if the track is blocked. It is also waved from time to time due to heavy precipitation which creates dangerous racing conditions. Additionally, it has become common for NASCAR to wave the red flag during the closing laps of a race to make sure the event ends under green lap conditions rather than under caution. Once the red flag has been cleared, the cars will always begin the race again under the yellow flag for a few laps to allow the drivers to warm up their engines and tires or visit the pits if necessary before green flag laps are resumed. It is important to note that all race activity stops during red flag conditions. This includes the pit crews as well as the drivers. While the cars must go to a designated place and stop until the red flag is cleared, the pit crews must also stop any work in progress on cars that may be in the garage or pits until the red flag is cleared.


The white flag is only waved once during the race. This flag indicates to the drivers and crew that only one lap remains in the event. Once the white flag is waved, all drivers know that the next time they pass the flag stand they will be seeing the checkered flag indicating the completion of the race.


This flag is also only displayed once during the race and indicates that the race has completed its scheduled distance of so many miles or so many laps depending on the particular event. Naturally, the driver in the lead position at the waving of the checkered flag is declared the winner of the race.


The black flag is known as the “consultation” flag. This flag is normally waved at an individual car and indicates that NASCAR has a concern regarding that particular driver or car. When a car/driver receives the black flag they must respond by entering the pits within five laps for a “consultation” with a NASCAR official in response to the concern. Some reasons for a driver being given the black flag include breaking a NASCAR rule, a mechanical problem (such as leaking fluids on the track, parts falling off or in danger of falling off), breaking the speed limit on pit road, or failure to maintain a minimum safe speed. Once the driver has entered his pit box, he is then informed by a NASCAR official as to what action is needed to correct the concern. During a practice session, the black flag waved in conjunction with a red one indicates to the drivers that the practice session is over.


This flag is waved at individual cars that have chosen to ignore the black flag. This indicates to the driver and crew that NASCAR has stopped scoring the car until they come into the pits for a consultation based on the black flag waved earlier. This flag, for all practical purposes, disqualifies a driver/car from the race until they obey the previous black flag and enter the pits.


This is known as the “courtesy” or “move over” flag. It is waved at cars that are down a lap or more and indicates that the leaders or faster cars are approaching from behind. It is essentially a request for the slower lapped cars to move over and allow the more competitive cars to pass them. Obedience to this flag is not mandatory and the slower cars can choose to ignore it and not give any room for the faster cars to pass. However, repeated ignoring of this flag without a valid reason is heavily frowned upon by NASCAR. This flag can be seen often at the shorter tracks like Bristol or Martinsville where slower cars can become a major hindrance to the race leaders.


This flag is normally used only on road courses by corner workers. It indicates that there is debris or slippery conditions ahead on a particular part of the track when it is held up or waved.

Almost every racing series in the United States uses this basic combination of flag designs and colors. Normally, the flags are waved by the flagman at the start-finish line to indicate to the drivers what is happening during the race. In addition, many speedways have installed lights at various points on the track as well so that drivers are aware of cautions or other conditions before they reach the start-finish line. Radio communication between the driver and his spotter or crew chief has also evolved into an important part of the process of keeping drivers informed of the track conditions.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Stoicism and Epicureanism in Ancient Greece

The intellectual climate which witnessed the birth of Stoicism and Epicureanism was one of unrest and uncertainty. The great philosophical ideas of the previous century, propounded by the likes of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, no longer seemed to resonate with the skeptical and troubled minds of the present age. The city-state along with its democratic ideals was quickly losing its appeal while the people were also beginning to question the deities and the temples that supposedly housed them. The Epicureans and the Stoics presented their world views into this climate as an answer to the questions and issues that plagued the minds of Greek citizens. Though Stoicism and Epicureanism were competing systems of philosophical thought, both took hold and gained a following during this time.


Epicureanism is named after its founder, Epicurus (342-270 B.C.), who started a school devoted to his philosophical system at the end of the fourth century B.C. Epicurus taught that all knowledge that we have is derived from our senses and the input we receive into those senses. Repeated input into those senses gives rise to general concepts which allow us to make judgments. Epicurus himself used the example that we are able to recognize a horse, a cow, or a man because our current perceptions fit our past perceptions which we have come to associate with these words. He went on to say that whether our judgments are correct or not must be confirmed by evidence of closer and repeated inspection. You might, in many ways, consider Epicurus the forerunner of the modern empiricist.

Epicurus subscribed to the doctrine of Atomism, which was first taught by Democritus. Atomism declared that all things are made up of atoms in continual motion. These atoms are infinite in number, move about in a void, and sometimes swerve at random. Epicurus believed that in a universe of colliding atoms, there could be no higher order governing things. Thus, though Epicurus admitted that the gods might exist, they exercised no control over our daily lives and remained unconcerned with our actions. We no longer had to allow our anxiety over pleasing or displeasing the gods to order our lives. He espoused a doctrine of freedom to human action and did not believe in an afterlife. For Epicurus, death was simply the end of human life and with it the end of our experience of good and evil. With the death of our body, the senses also die and death is not to be feared.

Epicurus believed that people could achieve happiness once their bodies were free from pain and their minds released from worry and fear. While Epicurus stated that each person should strive to increase pleasure for the individual, he rejected unbridled hedonism. He stated that while happiness must be pursued rationally, those pleasures that have unpleasant aftereffects such as overeating or drunkenness should be avoided. Contrary to the popular belief of Epicurus as a “party animal,” he was actually teaching the traditional Greek view of moderation and prudence. He believed the prudent person was the only one truly capable of enjoying the pleasures of the mind and putting aside the fearful thoughts of death, fate and chance which so afflict the rest of humanity.

The term epicure today still conjures up the image of a person who prides herself on her good taste, especially in matters of food or wine. It suggests someone who elevates material pleasure in personal consumption to the level of fine art.


Stoicism was founded by Zeno (335-263 B.C.) of Citium at roughly the same time as Epicureanism. Stoicism was the major rival to Epicureanism and became the most dominate philosophy in the Hellenistic world for the next five hundred years. Stoicism got its name from the poikile stoa, or Painted Porch, in Athens where Zeno began to teach around 300 B.C.

Stoicism, at its core, held the belief that the universe contained a principle of order, which was at various times called the Divine Fire, God, and Divine Reason (Logos). Being the ruling principle, the Logos underlies all reality and permeates all things. Because people are part of the universe, they shared in the Logos as well. Since the Logos was implanted in the soul of every human being, it enabled them to act intelligently and to comprehend the principles that govern nature and the universe. An important part of this reasoning on the Logos was that since reason is common to all, it means that all humans are essentially brothers and fundamentally equal. Through this, the Stoics arrived at the idea of the oneness of all humanity whether you are Greek or barbarian, rich or poor, free or slave. Because of this, one law, the law of nature applied to all human beings.

Like Socrates, the Stoics believed that the distinctive quality of each individual was his ability to reason, and that we should discipline the emotions by the rational part of the soul to achieve happiness. Wise persons should conduct their lives by the natural law – the law of reason – which underlies the universe. This ordering of our lives gives us the ability to resist the torments inflicted by others, by fate, and by our own passionate natures. Individuals who are able to achieve this are undisturbed by the misfortunes of life and are the captains of their own ship so to speak. This practice leads to self-mastery, inner peace and happiness. No matter what our bodies are subjected to, our minds are still independent and free.

It is interesting to note the fact that much of the Stoic belief system still influences us today – we are all members of one family by nature, the significance of the individual, race and rank are fundamentally unimportant, and human law should not conflict with natural law. These fundamental beliefs were seen later in Roman jurisprudence, Christian thought, and even modern liberalism. We still refer to someone today as stoic when they remain resolute and unflinching emotionally in the face of tragedy, dire circumstances, or obstacles that are seemingly insurmountable.

To conclude, both Epicureanism and Stoicism, though competing philosophies, were primarily concerned with understanding the human condition. They tried to make persons ethically independent, and help them to achieve happiness in an increasingly hostile and competitive world. In a time of spiritual unease and political insecurity, both schools sought for tranquility of mind and relief from conflict. The Greek civilization was undergoing a spiritual transformation and both Epicureanism and Stoicism were striving to provide comfort for the individual suffering from feelings of loneliness and insignificance by stressing peace of mind and the ability to overcome our anxieties through the discipline of reason.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Fall of the Roman Empire (in under 1500 words)

Numerous historians down through the centuries have spilled the blood of countless pens attempting to analyze the reasons for the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. It is an intriguing question that most all civilizations of any import have sought to analyze since Rome’s demise – if for no other reason than to keep their own civilization from making the same mistakes. To discuss in depth the fall of the Roman Empire in an article of this length is virtually impossible. Therefore, what will be discussed here will only be the highlights of the events and circumstances that most historians agree contributed to the Empire’s demise.

It is important to realize that no one explanation is sufficient to account for the fall of the Rome. It was a process that lasted hundreds of years and involved multiple reasons and events that brought about the demise of this once great empire. In other words, it was not a single event that occurred in 476 A.D. but rather a series of issues that led to that final infamous date in which Roman Emperor Romulus was overthrown and a German placed in the seat of power. It is also important to note that only the western half of the Empire fell. The eastern half remained largely intact and survived as the Byzantine Empire until the middle of the fifteenth century. This was due mainly to the fact that the eastern half was not as exposed to barbarian attacks, was more populated, wealthier and did not have as many civil wars as did the western half.

The first contributing factor to the fall of Rome is obviously the role of the barbarian invaders. The barbarians attacked mainly the western part of the Empire. The western portion was less populated and poorer than the eastern region. Rome was already weakened due to its own size and the inability of the government to provide adequate military forces to cover the demands of such a large area. The barbarian attacks devastated the population and left the survivors impoverished. Furthermore, the onslaughts of the invaders in these areas helped to aggravate the internal problems Rome was already suffering at the time. To rectify this situation and fortify her defenses, Rome imposed higher taxes on citizens in order to strengthen the military. This caused an increased burden on the lower and middle classes, which, in turn, resulted in those classes despising the very government that sought to protect them.

The second contributing factor to the fall of Rome was the apathy of the populace. This once great culture, which exuded confidence in individual potential and the human intellect, lost its desire and no longer took an interest in public life. The aristocrats, who once proudly took the responsibility of preserving traditional Greco-Roman culture secluded themselves behind the walls of their estates and did not attempt to help the Empire. Even the common townspeople avoided public service and refused to offer an organized resistance in the face of the invaders. It appears that the large majority of Roman citizenry simply gave up, despite vastly outnumbering the invading hordes.

Thirdly, the Roman government’s own decisions and tendencies, both politically and militarily, which further increased public disloyalty contributed to her fall. Rome became increasingly autocratic especially under the rule of Emperors Diocletian (A.D. 285-305) and Constantine (A.D. 306-337). As stated above, the demands and legislative decisions of the government crushed the patriotic loyalty of its citizens and many considered the state to be the enemy, fearing it more than the barbarian invaders.

Militarily, the government’s autocratic methods had led to vastly inferior soldiers and to an unbridled desire for power among the leaders. The government was increasingly unable to control her ambitious military leaders who became more enamored with their personal dreams of seizing power rather than defending the borders of the Empire. This resulted in civil wars which further increased the financial burdens on the Empire, and in turn, weakened the border defenses even more. To add to this, the quality of Roman soldiers had deteriorated during the third century. During the third century, the army was made up mostly of peasants, who were often considered the dregs of society and had no loyalty to the vision of Greco-Roman civilization. Large numbers of barbarians had also been recruited to fill the ranks and they too, had little commitment to Greco-Roman civilization or the state. Many young citizens avoided military service altogether due to their lack of patriotism.

The fourth factor in the fall of Rome was the increased tax burden on the populace. With the barbarian hordes knocking at the door and oftentimes entering the house, Rome’s military expenditures continued to increase and often exceeded the available resources. Thus, taxes were increased while at the same time the government requisitioned necessities such as wood or grain, and forced its citizens to repair the infrastructure (roads and bridges) without any recompense from the government. When citizens refused to pay the taxes, the government often resorted to force to collect.

The fifth factor in the fall of Rome was the decline in population. It is estimated that the population of the Empire fell from 70 million during the Pax Romana to around 50 million during the Late Roman Empire. Various plagues or epidemics were responsible in large part for this decline. Also, many people became discouraged by the worsening economic conditions and chose not to increase the size of their families due to the little hope they saw for the future of Rome. This decline in population had three important effects on the Empire. (1) While the population was declining, the costs of running the Empire were increasing exponentially, placing an even heavier burden on the taxpayers. (2) Fewer agricultural workers were available, creating a shortage in food supply. (3) The decline led to fewer men to serve in the army which weakened defense capability.

Economic decentralization was the sixth factor in the fall of Rome. Separation of the Empire into east and west by Diocletian and Constantine had made the situation worse because emperors in the west could no longer count on economic aid from the wealthier east to finance their needs. Also, the Empire was dependent upon an empire wide trade that was greatly hindered by slow communications and the cost of transporting goods. International trade decreased as local trade grew and regions became more self-sufficient. Many large estates contributed further to this economic decentralization by producing exclusively for the local market. This resulted in decreased revenue in the urban areas due to reduced numbers of customers who bought goods made in the cities. Many urban craftsmen and small farmers increasingly sought to work for these large estates, causing the estates to grow in size and importance.

Lastly, the Empire failed to develop new technological advances. In other words, it failed to provide new and better ways of producing goods and agricultural products. Although Rome can be credited with a few new advances in technology, she basically rested on a slim economic and technological foundation. Combined with all her other problems, this foundation began to crack and give way under the weight of the whole structure. Rome relied heavily on slave labor and since slaves have little incentive to develop more efficient ways of production, they certainly didn’t put much thought into it. The upper classes didn’t put much thought into it either, since they considered manual labor beneath them and refused to consider any advances due to their desire to distance themselves from the menial work of slaves. This failure to improve technology further limited employment opportunities for the poorer classes.

As you can see, several factors contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire. Historians continually debate as to which factors contributed the most and to what extent. In reading these factors, one realizes how much they each overlap and how each, in turn, fed off the other to produce even deeper problems. In my opinion, the Roman Empire became too vast and unwieldy for its limited economic foundation. Couple that weak economic foundation with various autocratic rulers who continually make decisions that overburden the populace, and you have a disaster in the making.

Although the year 476 A.D. may be the year that marks the fall of the Roman Empire due to the watershed event of Romulus being overthrown, it was not that single event that led to the demise of mighty Rome. The fall of Rome was years in the making, each circumstance and poor decision preparing the way for eventual destruction.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Stealing Your Way to Heaven????

I was watching the History Channel last night and one of the interesting facts thrown out was the fact that the Bible is the best-selling book of all time. I knew this of course, but I didn't realize how many copies are sold per minute. According to the History Channel, on average, approximately 50 copies of the Bible are sold every minute.

Of course, the amount of copies sold per minute is interesting, however, they mentioned one other fact during this program that was even more interesting: In addition to being the all-time best-seller, the Bible also holds the unique position of being the most shoplifted book of all time. Now, that is fascinating. Why would you steal the Bible? The Gideons and various other organizations are giving them away every day. I would imagine that you could walk into almost any church here in America and ask for a copy and it would be given to you free of charge. If that particular church refuses to give you a copy, I would strongly recommend that you find another church - obviously, the one that turned down your request for a Bible has failed to understand the whole reason for their existence.

I wonder what it's like to read a stolen Bible? How do you read what many believe to be the Word of God when you have stolen the very copy you hope to glean knowledge from? Of course, I am not talking about someone taking a copy from a motel room. Most of those are placed there by the Gideons or other Bible distributing organizations and I think they honestly hope you will take that copy if you don't have one. They will be glad to replace it. But what of those who go into a bookstore and just slip a Bible under their coat and walk out with it? I just can't imagine... I have never stolen anything but I certainly wouldn't start out with a Bible.

I guess the good news here is that people are being exposed to the Biblical message about God's love toward us in Christ no matter how it comes about. I just found the whole matter interesting and thought I would put some thoughts down on this while it was still fresh in my mind. I may come back to this subject later and ponder the idea of "stealing your way to heaven." Hmmm.