Smog Check

I had delayed getting my Saturn Vue smog checked for a very long time; I paid the registration fee, but the vehicle needed to have the brakes replaced and getting a smog check costs money too, and so I put it off until we could afford it.

So, today I took it in to be checked (yes, I got a pass from the DMV so I could drive it); although it passed on both emissions and visual inspection, because the OBD System was “not ready to test” it failed. Emissions were as follows:

CO (carbon monoxide) at 728 RPM (idle) could be a maximum of 1 per cent. My car put out 0.02 per cent.

CO at 2500 RPM could be a maximum of 1 per cent. My car put out 0.01 per cent.

Hydrocarbons could be a maximum of 100 parts per million. My car puts out 0, both at idle and at 2500 RPM.

But because the OBD (on board diagnostic) system wasn’t up and running like it should, I failed. And what does it mean that my OBD system wasn’t “ready to test”—it means that I need to drive the car so it fills up with data; the reason it was not ready to test is because we had let it sit for a long time, then replaced the battery, so it was, essentially, cleared. At least the fix is easy. But I must admit to being puzzled by the State of California. If the purpose of the smog check is to see to it that emissions are kept to a minimum, then why does anything else matter? I have hardly any emissions. About the only way it would be better is if my car is electric. But because the OBD wasn’t working? I don’t understand. I suppose there’s a reason besides just the bureaucratic.

This is the same smog place I’ve been going to since I’ve lived here in Lancaster and I’m happy with them. The nice man who did the smog test today was very friendly and gregarious. He asked me what I did and I told him I was an author, which he found interesting. He told me he had been a university professor before he came to the US six years ago, and that he also was a computer programmer—he taught computer science and he’s hoping to move to Seattle soon for a job up there—he’s got family there who work for Microsoft.

So he had some questions about writing, and how to keep the text from drifting off into other subjects; he told me, in essence, that he easily gets off on bunny trails—he finds something fascinating, it triggers ideas, and off he goes. He told me his students would complain about that tendency. He also kept telling me he likes to talk a lot, which was certainly true.

I enjoyed listening to him, and tossing in ideas about how to write; I explained how I fix that sort of problem in rewrites—that you just get the book done first, and then you go back and excise the extraneous material and rearrange things to fit the outline you created ahead of time. He likes to outline and organize before he gets started—though, as he said, he has a problem ignoring the outline once he starts writing.

Later he asked me what sorts of books I write and I told him science fiction and religious books. He then asked me if I’d written anything about Islam. I told him I hadn’t, though I had read the Quran in translation a couple of times.

He asked me if he could tell me about Islam briefly (which turned into much longer than anyone’s definition of brief, but he really did enjoy talking to me a lot).

So he talked to me about the differences between Islam and Christianity and explained that while Islam is logical, Christianity is not. And he spent some time discussing issues he had with the trinity and the various attempts to give analogies, such as the egg (yolk, white, shell). He also didn’t like the concept of God “resting” after creating the universe—how could God be tired? And he didn’t think it was reasonable that God would wrestle with Jacob—how could God come down and be a man and allow a man to challenge him. In Islam, God is entirely transcendent.

He also couldn’t understand how or why God would have a son—how could he need a companion or someone to rely on? And he explained that it made no sense for God to exist and then at some point form the Son and then the Holy Spirit.

He thought it strange that most Christians, in his estimation don’t think, and they don’t read the Bible—unlike Moslems who have to read the Quran every day. He also found it peculiar that the names of God and Jesus change from place to place in the world—that in Spanish the name of Jesus is pronounced entirely differently than it is in English. He also talked about the variation from place to place with the word God, or Jehovah, or Yahweh.

Unlike Christianity, in Islam, you pray to God only in Arabic, and you carefully learn how to pronounce it, and so no matter where you go, US, Saudi Arabia, Germany, China—it is always Alahu Akhbar. And the Quran is studied only in Arabic, and read only in Arabic.

He explained that Shiites are not Muslim at all, because they venerate a man, and that only the Suni are truly Muslim.

He explained how in Islam the men who go to war, to fight jihad, expect to either be victorious or to die trying—and that either one is a win for them. Unlike Americans who want to come home to their families and houses and cars. A Muslim leaves his family, leaves everything, and will either win or die.

Under Islam, there is only the rule of Islam, no democracy; if you fight against Islam, then you will die. If you don’t fight, then you are free to believe what you will. But if you don’t accept Islam, then you must preach only in your churches—and you cannot build new ones—and you can worship only at home. And you must pay a tax for the privilege. He extolled the advantages of punishing wrongdoers publically and extremely: if you steal, we cut off your left hand. Do it again, your right. And how many people will steal when they see that sort of swift justice; having a lengthy trial, putting them in prison, how does that keep someone from misbehaving. You hang adulterers in the public square, let everyone see—and the men and women will be constrained from that sort of thing. Same with homosexuality.

He sees the conflicts, the wars in the Middle East and the beginning of the end times—the great battle when Islam will become dominate.

He only briefly mentioned Israel as a place that he expected Islam to soon rule over.

After I had paid for the smog check—he told me to pick out a drink from the cooler—he liked to do that for good friends and customers. And he told me if I had any questions, or wanted to talk more, he was always open to it. We shook hands repeatedly and he kept wanting to chatter on, but said he really should stop and let me go. Which he finally did.

It was an interesting discussion. He was very nice, very friendly, and I enjoyed talking with him.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm a deacon at Quartz Hill Community Church. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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