A High Standard

Three folks on a streetcar in Utrecht, Netherlands, didn’t get off. Not alive.

Someone, maybe the man in that picture, killed them.

He’s been caught, apparently no more bodies have been found, and that’s as much as I know so far. know for sure, anyway.

This incident grabbed my attention, partly because it’s been happening in the Netherlands: one of my wife’s ancestral homelands. Instead of trying to focus on something else, I decided to share what I’ve been reading — and some odd speculation.

Feelings Happen

I’m not, putting it mildly, happy about Friday’s mass murder in New Zealand or today’s streetcar killings in the Netherlands.

But my being angry or scared won’t help anyone, or change what happened.

There’s nothing wrong with the emotions, by themselves. Trouble starts if I let the feelings take over. (June 13, 2018)

I wrote most of what follows before Utrecht police said they’d caught the suspect in today’s killings. Instead of going back and re-writing the post, or starting over, I’ve left the thing pretty much as I wrote it.

Death on a Streetcar

(From PolitieUtrecht/Twitter, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“Police released this image of Gokmen Tanis”
(BBC News))

Utrecht shootings: Hunt for gunman after attack on tram
BBC News (March 18, 2019)

Three people have been killed following a shooting on a tram in the central Dutch city of Utrecht, the city’s mayor says.

“Nine others were injured in the incident, which police say appears to be a terrorist attack.

“Police are looking for a 37-year-old Turkish man named as Gokmen Tanis and have warned people not to approach him….”

Utrecht Shooting: Gunman Kills 3 People On Dutch Tram In Possible Terrorist Attack
NPR (March 18, 2019)

“…Details are still emerging about the incident, which took place around 10:45 a.m. local time (5:45 a.m. ET).

“The Netherlands has been shaken by the attack, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said in a televised news conference.

“‘An act of terror is an attack on our open and tolerant society,’ Rutte said, according to NPO Radio. ‘If it is an act of terror, there is only one answer: our rule of law and democracy is stronger than violence.’…”

The killings happened when the streetcar was at or near the 24 Oktoberplein stop.

It could have been much worse.

Maybe it is, or will be.

Police haven’t found the man they think killed those folk. Utrecht’s population is around a third of a million, so he needn’t run short of targets. Not unless he’s picky about who he kills.

A Dutch anti-terrorism official said that attacks happened at other locations, but didn’t say where. News from Utrecht is, understandably, a trifle sketchy.

Another disturbing possibility is that a pile of bodies somewhere in the city hasn’t been found yet.


(From BBC News, used w/o permission.)

Utrecht officials and news media figured this morning’s carnage was terrorism: not in the generic ‘actions causing or related to terror’ sense, but the more specific sociopolitical definition. That seems to have been the default assumption, at any rate.

Whatever the motive, the attack or attacks stopped Utrecht streetcar service and political activities connected with this month’s provincial elections. Authorities evacuated the city’s mosques and schools are closed.

For all I knew this morning, Gokmen Tanis might completely innocent. Maybe the killings were a disgruntled student’s way of declaring a school holiday. Or someone wanted another day’s preparation for an election debate. And Mr. Tanis was hiding somewhere: considering whether it’s safer to turn himself in, or flee the city.

Motives, Probable and Otherwise

(From Google Maps, used w/o permission.)
(Utrecht’s 24 Oktoberplein tram junction, on a bright blue October day in 2018.)

The disgruntled student or desperate candidate scenarios might make a nifty conspiracy theory, but I’d be astonished if either was true.

Without more information than what little I’ve seen, “terrorism” is a likely motive. Quite possibly the sort with a particular religion-themed ideology.

Or maybe the motive is a trifle more eccentric.

The attacker may be a sensitive architect, driven to desperation by the bourgeois banality of the 24 Oktoberplein’s facades. Or someone enraged that Utrecht recently added streetcar service to its traditional bus routes.1

Perhaps an owner of the nearby driving school feared that public transportation would put him out of business.

Or maybe other nearby businesses are involved. Perhaps vegetarian options at the Thai Orchid offended a gourmet. Or someone seethed with fury at inadequate service at the hair salon or furniture store took out their frustration on commuters. All three business within a few blocks of the junction, on Admiraal Helfrichlaan.

None of those motives make murder okay. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 22682269)

Killing an innocent person was among the ‘you shall nots’ of the Decalogue. Our Lord said that cherishing anger and hurling insults were wrong, too. (Exodus 20:13; Leviticus 19:18; Deuteronomy; Matthew 5:2126; Catechism, 2262)

“But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.”
(Matthew 5:22)

The ‘no grudges’ idea wasn’t new. Just one that keeps getting lost in the shuffle.

“Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countrymen. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.”
(Leviticus 19:18)

Friday’s mass murder in Christchurch and today’s deaths on a streetcar don’t affect me personally. Dismissing whatever anger I’ve felt about the incidents is easy. Or maybe not.

Maybe I didn’t dismiss the anger so much as diverted it. That could explain the weirdly-improbable motives I imagined. That’s something I should think about.

On the other hand, I’m not concerned enough to hit the ‘delete’ key. Maybe they’re examples of emotionally-appealing but irrational motives. Or evidence that I’ve got a ripply sense of humor. Maybe both.

And maybe a family fracas sparked the killings:


(From BBC News, used w/o permission.)

Christchurch shootings: Stories of heroism emerge from attacks
BBC News (March 17, 2019)

Stories of heroism have emerged from Friday’s attacks at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in which 50 people died and dozens were wounded.

“A worshipper says he confronted the gunman and threw a credit card reader at him.

“Two police officers, one of them armed with only a handgun, chased and arrested Brenton Tarrant, 28.

“The suspect had explosives in his car and was planning more attacks that day, said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern….”

Friday’s mass murder, bad as it was, could have been much worse. Folks at the Linwood mosque say Abdul Aziz saved lives there when he threw a credit card machine at the attacker, who shot back. And missed.

Others died while trying to stop the attacker, or helping others get away.

“…Farid Uddin said his wife had helped several women and children escape from the building as the attack unfolded.

“‘We feel proud of what she did. She died in a good cause. She did exactly what she loved and what I loved,’ he told the BBC.

“‘I lost my wife but I don’t hate the killer. As a person I love him,’ he added. ‘I forgive him… I pray for him.’…”

Since I think only God can forgive sins, lambasting Mr. Uddin for daring to forgive his wife’s killer is an option. But not, I think, a reasonable one.

I think only God can forgive sins and that Jesus said we should forgive others. (Luke 11:14; Catechism, 1441, 2759)

Books have been written, parsing exactly what “forgive” can mean. I’ll opine that the word, in my language and in this context, has a whole mess of nuances: and leave it at that.

Saving Lives

(From BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“No words to describe the pain”
(BBC News))

“…The video showed 50-year-old Naeem Rashid, originally from the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, apparently trying to tackle the gunman before being shot. He was taken to hospital but later died.

“‘There were a few witnesses who said he saved a few lives by trying to stop that guy,’ his brother Khurshid Alam told the BBC. ‘It’s our pride now, but still the loss. It’s like cutting your limb off.’…”
(BBC News)

I think there’s much to be learned from the example set by Farid Uddin and Khurshid Alam. And this excerpt from Sirach —

“Forgive your neighbor the wrong done to you;
then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.
“Does anyone nourish anger against another
and expect healing from the LORD?”
(Sirach 28:228:4)

I’ve talked about this sort of thing before:

1 Background:

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Christchurch: Headcam at the Mosques

You’ve almost certainly seen the news by now. Someone killed more than four dozen folks at a Friday afternoon prayer meeting in Christchurch, New Zealand.

One attack was east of the city’s center, the other west. Both were about a mile from Cathedral Square.

The Bangladesh Cricket team were on their way to one of the prayer meetings. They hadn’t quite arrived when the killing started. They’re a bit rattled, but otherwise okay.

The cricketers weren’t the only ones who had their day disrupted. Christchurch authorities stopped a climate change rally in Cathedral Square and put the city’s schools in lockdown.1

The attacker’s identity was obvious, at least in 20-20 hindsight. He identified himself by name, and livestreamed video of at least one attack from his headcam.

I noticed familiar angles in today’s news and op-eds covering the attacks:

That’s understandable. Even if some outfit managed to get all the facts and discussed how they’d affect — or might affect — everyone, I doubt that anyone would read the result. Maybe a few news wonks, with entirely too much time on their hands.

I’ve got an angle or two, myself.

Dead or Missing

(From Getty Images, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“A floral tribute on Linwood Avenue, near one of the mosques that was targeted”
(BBC News))

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”
(Romans 12:15)

I’m not sure which would be less pleasant: knowing that someone in my family had been killed, or knowing only that he or she is missing and might be dead or injured.

Either way, I’d almost certainly prefer knowledge to uncertainty. From the trouble taken to update missing persons lists, I’d say that others share my preference:

‘Weeping with those who weep’ is easier for me in cases like this, where I can identify with the mourners. Maybe that needs an explanation.


I’m a Christian, a Catholic. From some viewpoints, I’d be expected to see Muslims as enemy threats.

I don’t, partly because respecting other religions is a good idea. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 839845, 2104)

And partly because I’m a Catholic, living in a country where some folks may still see us as minions of a foreign power.

There’s a little truth behind that fear. The pope isn’t an American. I can’t vote for or against an amendment to the Decalogue, or even collect signatures for a referendum on trans-species marriage.

I could, actually. And that’s anther topic.

But, undemocratic and un-American as it is, I’m pretty sure “Romanism” won’t engulf this fair land in its tentacles of tyranny, superstition, bigotry and ignorance.

I figure many Muslims living in America and New Zealand take their faith as seriously as I do. Particularly those who let themselves be seen following their religious practices.

Not that I’d hope to convince stalwart defenders of ‘their’ country that Islam and Muslims are no more a threat than creeping Catholicism and Papists with too many kids.

Not Missing ‘the Good Old Days’

(From BBC News, used w/o permission.)

The attacker’s livestream video apparently went straight to his Facebook account. Folks who share his attitude promptly shared it in assorted social media.

I think there’s a lesson or two here, and it’s not that civilization is doomed unless we limit social media content to material screened by right-minded officials.

I don’t even think that social media, the Internet, guns or motor-driven vehicles make people behave badly.

Turning our thoughts into actions is easier with technology. Whether we help or hurt each other? That’s up to us. (February 4, 2018; January 28, 2018)

Online social media didn’t exist until a few decades back.

The technology and its developing social structures let me communicate with folks I’d never meet otherwise.

Some share my viewpoints, many don’t. For me, that’s nothing new. Or disturbing, by itself. Some of the attitudes I see are another matter.

I’d much prefer living in a world where pretty much everyone didn’t act as if “different” and “evil” were synonyms. And saw other folks as neighbors, not foreign threats. That’s not how things are in today’s world.

It’s not how they were in my ‘good old days,’ either.

Maybe it was easier to ignore everything that wasn’t in the nightly news or discussed during coffee breaks.

But it was harder to learn what editors hadn’t selected for the day’s network news and national news services. As I keep saying, I don’t miss ‘the good old days.’

And I sure don’t want a world where only the ‘right’ folks are allowed to express opinions. Even if the information gatekeepers said they had only my best interests in mind. That’s a can of worms for another day.

Love and Dignity

I’ll wrap this up with a few points I’ve made before. Often.

I should love God and my neighbors — and see everyone as my neighbor. Everyone. (Matthew 5:4344, 22:3640; Mark 12:2831; Luke 6:31, 10:2537; Catechism, 1789)

I think human life is precious, sacred. (Catechism, 2258)

We each have equal dignity. That’s true, no matter how we act, who we are or where we live. (Catechism, 360, 17001706, 19321933, 1935)

I also think working together makes more sense than the alternative:

“…We must overcome our fear of the future. But we will not be able to overcome it completely unless we do so together. The ‘answer’ to that fear is neither coercion nor repression, nor the imposition of one social ‘model’ on the entire world. The answer to the fear which darkens human existence at the end of the twentieth century is the common effort to build the civilization of love, founded on the universal values of peace, solidarity, justice, and liberty….”
(“To the United Nations Organization,” St. John Paul II (October 5, 1995))

Maybe I’ll say more about what happened in Christchurh yesterday, when there’s more information and I’ve got more time.

Meanwhile, here’s the usual list of somewhat-related posts:

1 Background:

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Estate Sale

The house where my wife grew up is empty now. The family has been dealing with what my father-in-law left behind when he died.

My wife’s been contacting folks who had clocks and watches waiting to be repaired.

That, and passing along household items, has been keeping the extended family occupied for the last several months.

Not fully occupied, of course. Like anyone else, our lives aren’t quite that simple.

My father made clocks and watches, as well as repairing them.

Some of those, and other items, will be sold at an estate sale next month. (April 6 and 7; and 12, 13 and 14, 2019) More about that at kaasclocks.com.

The 500 block of Main Street is going to seem empty to me, now. I don’t know what’s happening to the house.

My family is in no position to maintain two houses, and we’re thoroughly settled into the one we’re in.

My guess is that the local Knights of Columbus will be looking for another place to put their Christmas creche next year.

There’s more to say about death, family, legacies and life. But not today.

Instead, I’ll quote bits from Sirach and 1 Corinthians.

“The number of their days seems great
if it reaches a hundred years.
“Like a drop of water from the sea and a grain of sand,
so are these few years among the days of eternity.
“That is why the Lord is patient with them
and pours out his mercy on them.”
(Sirach 18:911)

“But as it is written:
‘What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard,
and what has not entered the human heart,
what God has prepared for those who love him,'”
(1 Corinthians 2:9)

More, mostly life, death and the big picture:

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Commercial Spaceflight: Another Step

The SpaceX Crew Dragon demonstration and test flight has gone well. The spacecraft returns to Earth Friday morning.

Folks may be riding Crew Dragon to and from the ISS later this year.

I found quite a bit about space stations, docking technology and other more-or-less-related topics. But if this is going to be done in time, that must wait until another day.

— Update, March 8, 2019 —

The Crew Dragon’s heat shield and parachutes worked. The capsule landed in the Atlantic, about 280 miles off the Florida coast:

Now, back to what I had ready yesterday.

Space Stations: Imagined and Real

(From NASA, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(ESA astronaut Hans Schlegel, in the ISS Columbus module.)

“2001: A Space Odyssey” wasn’t spot-on accurate about early-21st century tech and space flight. In 20-20 hindsight, it’s easy enough to see that straight-line extrapolation of 1960s spaceflight progress wasn’t likely.

On the other hand, I think the assumptions were good enough for a movie. Although the scale of 2001’s orbital and lunar installations seems extravagant.1

We’ve had about a dozen space stations launched during the last third of a century. Some didn’t stay up long enough to house a crew, one fell into the Pacific before reaching orbit, and all but one or two aren’t there any more. One became part of the ISS.

The International Space Station, ISS, has been in orbit and in use since 1998. Folks started staying there for extended periods in 2000.

Like Kubrick’s Station 5, it’s still being assembled. Apart from that, and having a shirtsleeve environment inside, it’s not much like its movie counterpart.

The ISS doesn’t have artificial gravity, accommodations don’t include a Hilton Hotel and it’s nowhere near as roomy. But much of the interior is white, like Kubrick’s Station 5.

Transportation services aren’t as apparently-affordable, either. From 1982 to 2011, each Space Shuttle launch to the ISS cost $450,000,000 to $1,500,000,000.

The Shuttle could carry 35,380 pounds to the ISS, $12,720 to $42,397 per pound. Today’s SpaceX Dragon costs are about the same, averaging $30,000 per pound on the same run.

I’m not sure how to compare that with commercial airline rates. Numbers I’ve seen for air transport expenses have been in cost per hour, not cost per trip.

Commercial Flights

(From Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division/Andro96, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Airline service, the early years: DELAG’s L 7 zeppelin.)

I don’t know what sort of commercial flight schedule would make sense for service to and from low Earth orbit (LEO). That won’t stop me from guessing. And making some whacking great assumptions.

Something in LEO takes 128 minutes or per orbit. Many satellites orbit every 90 minutes. Space Shuttle missions spent considerable time in orbit. It made sense, since the Shuttle sometimes doubled as a space station before returning to Earth.

That’d be like an airliner arriving at Macau International Airport on Monday and waiting there until Saturday before going to its next stop.

I suspect that commercial passenger and cargo service will operate more like air transport.

I’ll assume, reasonably or not, that a typical spaceline’s LEO round trip will take five hours. That’s 90 minutes travel, an hour in orbit and another on the ground.

I’ve read that flying an Airbus A380 costs $26,000 an hour. At five hours, that’s $130,000 — a small fraction of Shuttle and Dragon flight expenses.

It’s still a bargain, compared to using single-use launch vehicles.

I figure costs will go down, as tech improves spaceflights become more routine.

We didn’t get aircraft like the A380, after all, until nearly a century after DELAG’s first zeppelin started ferrying passengers between Frankfurt am Main and Düsseldorf.2

Crew Dragon visits the ISS

(From NASA, used w/o permission.)
(ISS staff inspecting the SpaceX Crew Dragon. They’re wearing protective suits to avoid dust, in case some got shaken loose during launch.)

SpaceX Crew Dragon Hatch Opened after Successfully Docking to Station
Anna Heiney, NASA Blogs (March 4, 2019)

“After making 18 orbits of Earth since its launch early Saturday morning, the Crew Dragon spacecraft successfully attached to the International Space Station’s Harmony module forward port via ‘soft capture’ Sunday, March 3….”

This week’s Crew Dragon flight carried 400 pounds of cargo to the ISS and will return with 300. But it’s mostly a test flight, with no passengers apart from “Ripley,” the test dummy.

Ripley’s sensors include a microphone to record what folks would hear during the flight. The idea is to tell SpaceX and NASA what someone would feel and hear.

Maybe a test pilot could give more nuanced observations, but I don’t see a point in taking the sort of risks that eventually killed Otto Lilienthal. (May 26, 2017)

That brings me to another difference between space travel as imagined in “2001” and what we have today. Kubrick’s shuttle and lunar lander were apparently so reliable that passengers and crew didn’t need spacesuits in transit.

We’re not there yet. My guess is that some sort of pressure suit will be standard apparel for takeoffs and landings for a long time, like fasting seat belts on today’s airliners.

The SpaceX spacesuit seems to be designed mostly as safety gear: “…each custom-tailored suit is meant to provide a pressurized environment for all crew members aboard Dragon in atypical situations such as cabin depressurization….” (Dragon, SpaceX)

Maybe SpaceX has found ways to make a pressurized spacesuit flexible and svelte. More likely, designers figure that even in an emergency folks in the Crew Dragon won’t need to move much.

There’s a single control panel inside, but normally the spacecraft’s AI serves as pilot.3

Being Human

I’m pretty sure that airlines, space stations and reusable launch vehicles won’t solve all our problems. Neither will what we’re learning about this universe.

I’m also sure that seeking knowledge and developing new technology is part of being human. So is deciding how we use our knowledge and tools. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1723, 22922295)

I’ve talked about that sort of thing before:

1 In the movies:

2 A century of zeppelins and spaceships:

3 Commercial spaceflight, mostly SpaceX:

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