From Free Speech to Filthy Speech

This little tidbit emerged from Geo-Strata‘s interview with Dr. J. Michael Duncan of Virginia Tech, justifiably characterised as a legend in his (and my) profession:

Q. What was it like at Berkeley during the ’60’s? “Berkeley in the ’60’s” is typically required reading in U.S. history classes now.

A. (Laughs). I’m surprised you ask this question. When I got to Berkeley in 1962 to do my PhD, that was about the beginning of the free speech movement, which became the filthy speech movement, and so on. For the most part, we engineers were not the drivers of the protests; we were mainly observers. The civil engineering building was on the opposite side of campus from where most of the protests were happening.  We just wanted to stay on our side of campus and do our interesting work.

That changed eventually as a result of the Vietnam War and especially President Nixon’s Hanoi bombing campaign, which fostered anti-war sentiments and changed things for a lot of people. So back to your question, there was an evolution in the movement from the “flower child” atmosphere over the course of those years. We did understand that we were in the middle of history, but we felt more like observers rather than drivers of the changes that took place.

As Derek Leebaert noted in his book The Fifty-Year Wound, there were two revolutions afoot in the 1960’s: one anti-war and Luddite in the streets, the other the birth of “high-tech” that would transform American life in the 1980’s and beyond. Although Duncan’s field of study doesn’t strike people as “high tech”, it certainly involved computerisation, as his fellow Cal graduate Raymond Seed attested to.

Unfortunately the revolution taking place on Duncan’s side of the campus and elsewhere in science and technology has been overtaken by the Luddites. The “can-do” and problem solving ethic of our profession has been beaten down in a morass of regulation and a refusal to consider really scientific solutions. The global warming debate is a good example of this: the obsessive allergy to nuclear power (not universal, I might note) has blocked solving the problem in a reasonable time, leaving solutions which are not fast enough to prevent major dislocations in our civilisation.

As as for free speech…we have come full circle.  But it was always this way.  The campus radicals of old had no intention of making speech really free, just what they wanted to hear.  And it was filthy. The ones now are no different, and in some cases are one in the same, although I see they have plenty of disciples to carry on the repression.

Our Foreign Policy Block

Damon Linker starts out his piece on American foreign policy with this predictable assertion:

Unlike so many of the blustering Know Nothings trying to become the Republican nominee for president, Clinton and Kagan know a tremendous amount about the world. Clinton, in particular, sounds comfortable talking in granular detail about the intricacies of international affairs, and her confident grasp of the complexities of the Greater Middle East far outstrips what any of the GOP candidates are capable of.

But then he comes back with this:

Yet Clinton’s speech and Kagan’s essay manage to inspire very little confidence. Both are deeply mired in a delusion that began to spread through the American foreign policy establishment at the end of the Cold War and has risen to complete dominance since 9/11. This is the delusion that the United States can and should act as the world’s “indispensable nation,” leading not just the “free world” but the entire world, using “smart power” to get numerous powerful, independent nations to do exactly what we think must be done to enforce global order as we conceive it.

Foreign policy is the perennial disappointment of the United States.  For all the knowledge that our “knowledge classes” have, and how much superior they are than the provincial yokels of That Other Party, the solutions they come up with are at best no better.  There’s something in the water–or the culture–that, for the education and travel we have regaled our ruling elites with, they’re still provincial boobies at heart.

I suppose that you can be a great American or you can be an expert in foreign policy, but you can’t be both.

Perusing My Parents’ Bookshelf

Boomers have always had a love-hate relationship with the generation before them, transitioning from “don’t trust anyone over thirty” to calling them “the Greatest Generation.”  Most of those who brought us into the world are gone now, and the ones who are left are “full of years” to use the Bible’s expression.

Part of the problem was that our parents’ weren’t very forthright about what they were really all about.  Products of more than a decade of adversity in the Depression and World War II, they wanted to put it all behind them and create an ideal place for their children to grow up in.  That was a mistake; it resulted in a generation that lacked a sense of reality that has plagued our country ever since.  Understandable, but still consequential.

One place I have turned to to see what “made them tick” was my parent’s bookshelf.  My parents were intelligent, sharp-tongued people, but neither of them earned an undergraduate degree.  (My mother, I found out later, quit high school to run off and get married, but that didn’t dull her smarts either).  Like generations of Americans, they were literate but not literary.  The library at home reflected their interests and not a cultural aspiration.

Obviously it is impossible to recreate that library, long broken up with moves and a nasty divorce.  But university library sales and other sources have allowed me to savour some of the books that sat on the shelves, many of which I never read before.  (At the time most of my interest in the bookshelf was centred on the World Book encyclopaedia).  So let me do some “miniature reviews” of some of these titles.

Peter Freuchen’s Book of the Seven Seas
is his delightful and encyclopaedic account of human history at sea.  Freuchen, a Danish explorer who was part of the last generation to make really new discoveries on the earth, is the “Herodotus of Marine History”, not always precise with his facts but so entertaining and engaging in his narrative and sweeping in the scope of knowledge that his work is still the best place to start a study of the subject.  It conveys better than anything else why the sea is so compelling with a sense of awe that we’ve really lost.

An entirely different experience at sea–well, sort of–is William Brinkley’s Don’t Go Near the Water.  A satire on Naval public relations in the Pacific during World War II, his book has been criticised for its desultory organisation and lack of connecting plot (like the 1960’s art movies that shortly followed).  To some extent that criticism is justified; it is more a loose progression of short stories with a running undercurrent of one Naval officer’s attempt to romance an island girl with more culture that he had.  With World War II satires Boomers preferred Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, but this novel was a major best seller when it came out in 1956, the choice of the participants rather than their offspring.  The language is very salty (as one would expect in the Navy, my father’s similar speech came from the Coast Guard) but it shows a willingness–indeed a need–to make fun of the military that has been lost.

More for the coffee table than the bookshelf is the National Geographic classic Men, Ships, and the Sea (The Story of Man Library).  The text was written by the Australian mariner Allan Villiers, but it was loaded with the gorgeous photographs that were the trademark of National Geographic publications.  I grew up on what is now known as “NatGeo”, the monthly magazine was a staple at our house.  (I strongly suspect that my grandfather, in his years in Washington, got to know the Grosvenor family and the Society).  In some ways it parallels Freuchen’s book but the photographs don’t make up for Freuchen’s narrative.  In the back is a good summary of small craft operation and navigation that we, er, could have used…(this post’s date is the fiftieth anniversary of my father sending the check back to NatGeo for the book).

The strangest–but in the long run the most important–book I got from their bookshelf was the Bible.  Most Evangelicals have the Bible handed to them, literally and in the life of the church.  As an Episcopalian, that didn’t happen to me.  It took an encounter with God to impress upon me the need to find out what was there.  So I went to the bookshelf and found a little white one, only to be informed that only girls had white Bibles.  I quickly substituted that for the black cover, red-letter King James that became my first Bible.

That Bible was older than I thought; it was only as an adult that I found out why the maps in the back looked strange.  But it was a start.  For five years it was the only Bible I had, until I acquired a New English Bible and started looking at more modern translations (and older ones too, like the Vulgate and Tyndale’s).  But my voyage with God was one where I at least started out somewhere ahead of an impressed deck hand, and for that I will be eternally grateful.

Maybe the Turks Will Unfurl the Banner Named Barack

For those of us with long memories, an old conflict resurfaces:

The shooting down of a Russian jet by Turkey is a “stab in the back” committed by “accomplices of terrorists”, Vladimir Putin has said.

The Sukhoi Su-24 was warned 10 times before being downed near the Syrian border by two Turkish F16 jets for violating the country’s airspace, according to the Turkish military.

In Ottoman/Tsarist times, the two countries were serious rivals.  And the Ottomans, Muslim caliphs though they were, had the support of “Christian” Britain and to a lesser degree France against the Russians.  That was what the Crimean War was all about, and that too is in play again these days.

Given Erdoğan’s Islamicist tendencies, perhaps he’ll want to unfurl the banner named Barack, as Sultan Abdul Hamid II did at the start of the Russo-Turkish war:

The banner of the Caliphate, to which the Sultan alludes in his speech, is that which the Turks call ‘the Heavenly Standard,’ and, in their language, ‘Bairack.’ (Barack) Its color is green, and they believe it to have been the banner of the Prophet Mohammed, delivered to him by the angel Gabriel, through the medium of Ayesha, as an indubitable token of victory over their enemies. This standard was formerly laid up in the Treasury of the Sultan of Constantinople, but Is now kept in the Mosque at Eyoob (Eyub), where the new Sultans on the day of their coronation gird on the sabre of the Caliphate. In case of any serious struggle, a religious duty compels the Sultan to give orders to the ‘Mullas,’ (Mullahs) or Mohammedan clergy, to display the Prophet’s standard before the people and army, and proclaim ‘Al Jehad,’ (Jihad) or the holy war, by exhorting the Moslems to be faithful to their religion and defend their Kingdom.

If Erdoğan is not careful, he’ll get the same result as Abdul Hamid did, i.e. lose.  He has squandered two legacies of Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey: a secularist state and a strong military.

But this is a dangerous situation.  People always speak of a Sarajevo-like event to plunge the world into war, and this is one of them.  That’s especially true if Barack answers the call of the banner that bears his name.

The Persian Origin of the Title “King of Kings”

Today is the feat of Christ the King, and it’s right to consider the title “King of Kings”:

From his mouth comes a sharp sword, with which ‘to smite the nations; and he will rule them with an iron rod.’ He ‘treads the grapes in the press’ of the maddening wine of the Wrath of Almighty God; and on his robe and on his thigh he has this name written– ‘KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.’ (Revelation 19:15-16 TCNT)

The title “King of Kings” might seem redundant to some, since, in the absolutist world some of us live in, there is only one king.  But the title has a meaningful origin, and dates back to the time of the Medes and the Persians.  As Michael Axworthy explains in his book A History of Iran: Empire of the Mind:

The provinces were rules by satraps, governors who returned a tribute to the centre but ruled as viceroys (two other officials looked after military matters and fiscal administration in each province, to avoid too much power being concentrated in any one pair of hands).  The satraps, who often inherited their offices from predecessors within the same family, ruled their provinces according to pre-existing laws, customs and traditions.  They were, in effect, provincial kings, while Darius was king of kings (Shahanshah in modern Persian). (p. 21)

Artaxerxes was also referred to in this way: “From: Artaxerxes, king of kings To: Ezra the priest, a scribe for the Teachings of the God of Heaven: I wish you peace and prosperity!” (Ezra 7:12 GW)  How this played out could be seen vividly in Nehemiah’s conflict with Sanballat (Nehemiah 4).

In its early years at least, the Persian Empire’s power distribution was surprisingly loose.  This puts the lie to the idea that strict top-down authoritarianism is the Biblical model, especially at a point in Biblical history so auspicious to the Jews.  The application of the title to Our Lord and Saviour also puts some interesting twists on the idea of his authority and how he plans to exercise it after his return.

So next time you hear the title, just thank a smart Iranian for coming up with the title and the concept.  And remind him or her at what point in history it came in…

Party Animals Turned Jihadis

It happened in Paris:

Just a day after her death, family and acquaintances gave extraordinary accounts of a young woman with a ‘bad reputation’ who was known for her love of alcohol and cigarettes rather than devotion to Islam.

Her brother Youssouf Ait Boulahcen said that she had had no interest in religion, never read the Koran and had only started wearing a Muslim veil a month ago.

This is pretty much the same pattern we saw here in Chattanooga last summer with Mohammad Abdulazeez, the electrical engineer who shot up the unarmed (!) military recruiting centres.  Abdulazeez was facing drunk driving and drug possession charges, his family had problems and he had lost his job.  People attribute his action to his mosque, but that’s not quite true: Islam in Chattanooga is as respectibility-obsessed as its Christian counterpart has been in the past.  What I think happened was that he realised that he was about to shame his family and himself with his actions.  He goes online and sees jihadi websites extol the virtues of killing for Islam, the eternal rewards for doing same, etc., and decides to recover his and his family’s honour by killing and dying for Allah.  But he ends up shaming his family and his mosque even further.

And these two aren’t the most important party animals turned jihadis either:

Thinking about engineering students in the 1970’s should make a person think about one in particular. The scion of a successful family, he wandered about his native region as a student, visiting various places of sin on the way (sangria at the Mexican restaurant was about as far as most of us got in that.) At one point, this engineering student had a religious experience that changed his life and catapulted him in a trajectory that ended up crediting him with a well-publicised “engineering” feat: the destruction of two of the world’s tallest buildings. The student, of course, is Osama bin Laden, and the buildings were the World Trade Centre, destroyed on 9/11. The religion is Wahhabi Islam.

So, if you’re looking for the next jihadi in your midst, perhaps you should look in the bar and not the mosque.

In the interest of completeness, I have known many people who have turned from a life of drinking and partying to Jesus Christ, but not one of them have gone out and blown things and people up unless they joined the military.

Will the Real Islam Please Stand Up?

Boomers whose brains have not been completely fried by the mind-altering substances (and that number is small) will remember the game show To Tell the Truth.  In it three contestants were lined up, all were supposed to be a single person but (usually) only one was.  The panel, by quizzing the contestants, were supposed to figured out who was the real person and who were the impostors.

Although attacks by Islāmic groups and individuals against non-Islāmic targets get the most attention, it’s easy to forget that a larger number of victims in the war on Islamic careerism are Muslims.  It’s true that Christians, Yazidis and secular French and Americans are in the crosshairs, but, since there are more Muslims than others to kill in the Middle East, the number of Muslims that have perished has been greater.

The idea of jihad, to fight the infidel under the banner named Barack, was ostensibly meant for non-Muslims.  But it’s amazing how often “infidel” gets defined by the type of Islam that is not to one’s taste.  Once the label is applied, the fighting begins.

The largest divide is, of course, the Sunni-Shi’a divide.  Although the divide goes back to the very beginnings of the religion, Shi’a Islam didn’t really crystallise as a major part until the eighteenth century, and of course is the religion of the Islāmic Republic of Iran.  Salafis (and that includes both the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia and ISIS) don’t believe that Shi’a Muslims are Muslims at all, which certainly justifies jihad.  (The Ottomans didn’t either).  Shi’a Muslims still nurture the grievance of the killing of Hosein, Muhammad’s own descendant.

Although it isn’t a big problem, Shi’a Muslims are divided between the “Twelvers” (those who believe that the 12th Imam will reappear at the end) and the Ismailis, the “Seveners” who believe there were only seven successors. On the Sunni side, we have the Salafis, the followers of Qutb, etc. On the edges we have the Druzes and Alawis who are an important part of the complexity of Syria and Lebanon, and the Yazidis who have borne a great deal of ISIS’ wrath.

Somewhere in the mix are the Sufis, who at one time or another have been on both the Shi’a and Sunni sides of the divide.  The Sufis have attempted to infuse Islam with a more personal relationship with God, which is lacking in the Islam of the imams.  The imams response to this has been mixed but has drifted to more hostility in modern times.  Sufi Islam, like many personal religions, tends to go against institutionalism, and the institutionalists don’t like it.

Then we have ethnic differences.  ISIS believes, for example, that the caliph must come from the Arabs, while the most successful caliphate was that of the Ottomans, who were Turks.  We normally think of Islam as an Arabic religion, but the various ethnic and national blocks such as the Iranians, Turks, Berbers, Pakistanis, Indonesians, Sudanese, etc. each look at things a little differently.  One of the major conflicts going on in Islam these days is between those who want to continue Islam as they have practiced it and the well-funded Saudi Salafis who insist that their strict way is the only true Islam.  Hostility towards the Arabs is not unknown among Muslims, as my Algerian lab assistant reminded me.

One could go on ad infinitum about these differences, but they create conflict.  When mixed with politics, it leads to war. And, like many conflicts, the bystanders can get hurt or killed themselves.  That is what is happening in many parts of the Middle East today.

The realities of these should put away many of the fallacious concepts that float around our culture.  For example, some tell us that ISIS is not Islāmic, when in fact a)they certainly think so and b)it depends on how one defines one’s Islam.  Others speak of “moderate” and “extreme” Muslims, but both characterisations must be placed in the context of the kind of Islam you’re talking about.  People ask me whether Shi’a or Sunni Islam is more extreme, but there are moderates and extremists in both.  And some very hard-core Muslims have decided that the violence that stalks the planet isn’t the best way to live or propagate Islam.

And so, if we were to impanel representatives of the various groups within Islam and have them on a To Tell The Truth format, at the end they would all stand up, and probably fight.

What we need to do is to make clear what behaviour is acceptable in our countries and what is not and to enforce it, instead of engaging in online parlour games about “moderates” and “extremists.”  To do that would need a lot stronger leadership in the West than we have now, one which actually believes in the civilisation we have.  Until then we will engage in the futile pursuit of asking the real Islam to please stand up.

Ending Authority Has Never Been the Problem

David Fowler’s generally incisive piece on the current mess our institutions of “higher” learning are in repeats, unfortunately, a misconception that needs to be challenged.  Down in the article he states the following:

Relativism, by definition, must question anything that purports to be authoritative, and, of course, nothing can be authoritative if there is no source of authority. Consequently, today’s public universities and “elite” private colleges must therefore implicitly, if not explicitly, call into question all sources of authority.

Getting rid of authority has never been the goal of collegiate revolutionaries or anyone else on the left.  That was true in the 1960’s and 1970’s and it is still true today.  That faulty idea has been perpetuated in both liberal and conservative circles and has created problems for both.

Let’s start with the conservatives.  In the wake of the student uprisings of the 1960’s and the rebellion the Boomers instigated, conservatives in general and Christians in particular responded by attempts to “re-establish authority”. In Christian circles the main apostle of this idea was Bill Gothard, and his authoritarianism has created problems that dwarf his sexual misconduct.  Politically the most egregious responder to this was George W. Bush, who allowed a major expansion of government during his administration, which in turn facilitated its continuation under Barack Obama.

To say that campus rebels in the 1960’s and now are promoting freedom gets liberals off of the hook for what they are really doing, which needs to be seen through the lens of their reliance on statism to carry out their agenda.  Moreover anyone who suppresses speech in the name of freedom is duplicitous.

There are anti-authoritarian strands on both sides.  But both are now out of the mainstream of their respective political communities.

What we had fifty years ago and have now is not a rebellion against authority but trying to supplant one group of people in power with another.  Christians don’t like to think of things in this way, and for spiritual warfare that’s good, but when we enter the realm of politics, we must understand that the name of the game is for us to be in power and for them to be out of it.  Perhaps this is why the New Testament exhorts us not to fight with “flesh and blood”; it’s part of getting out of the power holder/power challenger dynamic that dominated the Middle East then and now and which has widely infected our own system.

In politics ideas are ultimately embodied in people, however imperfectly; replacing one group with another will ultimately replace one idea with another.  Chairman Mao said that revolution was the replacement of one class with another, and as a revolutionary he was no slouch.

The sooner we understand this, the sooner we can either play this game to win or, better for the Christian, find another one.

The Problem with “Going Dark” in the Technical Literature

When starting out on a major research project in science or engineering, the first thing to do is to go through “the literature” (which usually means the peer-reviewed body of articles and published books, although internet stuff is becoming increasingly important) and try to figure out the current “state of the science” (we used to say “state of the art” but people are less inclined to use that expression than they used to be).  From here we proceed to do new things which will hopefully advance the state of whatever field of endeavour we are operating in.  As I stated in my master’s thesis:

In any investigation such as this the ideal goal is to come up with something truly novel, and many of such works emphasize their novelty to the denigration of those who have gone on before. While in some fields of endeavour this might be appropriate, in this case such sweeping novelty cannot be claimed. This work fits the mould as outlined by Pascal above: it takes the work that has been done before, advances it a step while realizing that there are many more steps before “perfection” is achieved.

But stepping back to those who have “gone before”, the scientific and engineering literature isn’t as transparent as one would like.  In recent years fraud and misrepresentation of results has required any researcher to be careful as to what he or she believes.  There are also situations where stuff that looks really good at one point in time get abandoned later for various reasons; we have to make sure our research takes a long sweep in time as well as topic.  We also have the problem of “non-novel” papers, which are really rehashes of stuff figured out a long time ago but put back into the literature to give glory to someone else.  These don’t do much for the originality reputation of their writers but, sometimes, can be useful, putting back into currency things which have “gotten lost in the shuffle” over the years.

But one serious problem that deserves some attention–and one that doesn’t get a lot of press–is the matter of “going dark” in the literature.  An overview of the pattern of scientific and engineering advance is in order.

Generally speaking, in any given field there are “seminal papers” (usually more than one), which is where the field was kicked off.  From there we have what comes after, which usually refers back to the seminal paper.  In my field of pile dynamics, we have one paper that gets cited in just about everything written on the subject.  From here the science and technology are developed and things advance.  And then, without much fanfare, the literature “goes dark”.

That doesn’t mean that people stop publishing anything on a given topic.  Far from it; however, it’s like a line from Hogan’s Heroes, when Gestapo Col. Hochtstetter tells Klink that he can make Hogan talk.  Klink’s reply was, “You can make him talk.  He just doesn’t say anything”.  A lot of the literature is little better than fluff or promotion of a new idea without substantive detail on how these “new” improvements really work.  The obvious question is why.

One reason is that the material is classified for military or national security purposes.  Generally speaking, however, the literature doesn’t go dark as much as it’s dark to start with and it’s only later when things come to light.

Another reason is that the field has become inactive, usually temporarily.  There are a number of reasons this happens.  In my field, wave propagation in driven piles was discovered in the early 1930’s in Australia, and the English carried out some research later in the decade.  (The Americans got into a food fight on the subject).  But things went dark for a very big reason: World War II, which focused the participants on other matters, such as rational soil classifications and nuclear weapons.  After that conflagration, things resumed and progressed to the current state.

In my experience, however, the biggest reason the technical literature goes dark is because of commercialisation.  In the early stages, the research is the “property” of academic institutions, individuals and the government (especially since World War II) which funds it.  In these conditions there is a relatively free exchange of ideas and expression of these ideas in articles and books.  However, when technologies are commercialised (especially when it’s done by a relatively small number of organisations) things start getting proprietary, and then things start getting secret.  Although it’s possible to have patents and copyrights to protect oneself in some cases, it’s not possible to copyright an idea; it’s easier to simply use trade secrets, even if those trade secrets are derivative from research from more “open” sources.

The fact that a technology can be commercialised is a good thing in that it shows that it works and is useful.  Over time, however, it happens that organisations use institutional inertia and human habit–to say nothing of our tort system, which stifles innovation by punishing experimentation which can go wrong–to make their proprietary method a “standard” and keep its true nature under wraps to discourage its replacement or even improvement.  In time this slows the advance of science and technology in ways that are not obvious to most people.

Researchers who set out to try to advance methods in areas which have “gone dark”–assuming they can get funding for their work in the first place–face a number of obstacles.  First they must realise that beyond the dark literature are doubtless some improvements the nature of which are obscure.  They may find themselves “reinventing the wheel” in an unavoidable way.  If they get past that, they find that they lack the benefit of the learning curve which those who actually use the existing method.  The road to advancement can be a perilous one under these circumstances.

But advancement is what science and engineering is supposed to be about, isn’t it?

The Anglican Communion and the English Breakfast

Oliver Pritchett’s piece on dumping brunch and bringing back the English breakfast has me thinking of many things English, American and otherwise.  That’s especially true with the upcoming Anglican Primates’ meeting and Justin Welby’s last throw at getting everyone to play nice.  In particular, this statement from the Curmudgeon piqued my interest:

And it can no longer be called “Anglican”, because while that term may once have taken its meaning from the doctrines and worship of the Church of England, that body’s ever-dwindling membership, too, is no longer of one mind on just what its doctrines and worship should be…Having left the Episcopal Church (USA) on account of its adoption of blasphemous marriage rites, I no longer even have a formal tie to the wider Communion…

That, I think is the core problem with ACNA’s whole approach to the Church of England: they’re fixated on communion with Canterbury, which they see as the tie to the “wider Communion.”  Getting Foley Beach to the Primates’ meeting was a major step in that direction; getting TEC out of it will be, as the Curmudgeon points out, an entirely different matter.

That’s where the English breakfast comes in.

I’m one of these people who, with exceptions, eats pretty much what is put in front of me.  That’s a product of upbringing, where even criticising the food was, as the Chinese would say, buxing. That’s held me in good stead during my travels in China, Russia and other interesting places.  But it was another matter with many of my working colleagues, and the following story illustrates that point.

In 1982 two of my field service people and I went to Rotterdam, the Netherlands on a major repair project.  We stayed in the Novotel and were regaled with the “Continental breakfast” of cold cuts and hard bread.  (The Finns and Russians raise the stakes with smoked salmon, I must admit).  One of my service people was a country boy from Stevenson, AL, who was just starting out in field service.  He had had enough of the “baloney sandwich” for breakfast and demanded a bacon-and-eggs production like he had back home.  My senior man and I looked at each other with one of those “this should be interesting” looks.

The Novotel came back with bacon and eggs, all right, but it was the “English breakfast” and not the “Southern breakfast”.  And there are important differences.  Right off the bat there’s the definition of “bacon”, although the Canadians have tried to broaden our view of same.  (Sausage, with its German, East European and Southern variants, complicates things further). Then we have the grilled tomato, which I don’t mind but in a region where the ne plus ultra of tomatoes are the fried green kind, it doesn’t go over very well.  Finally much of this food is, by our standards, barely cooked, with the eggs runny and the fat glistening in the “bacon”.

My junior man got through his breakfast, but he never asked for it again.

Implicit in the idea that the Anglican Communion revolves around the Church of England is the idea that the CoE is the”reference standard” for everyone else.  But the British Empire, which the Communion is one remnant of, doesn’t support that idea.  As I’ve noted elsewhere, the British Isles, for all of their storied castles and history, managed to fill up two continents with people who wanted or had to leave.  And the former colonies represented at the Primates meeting are, in various ways, an improvement over the mother country, which is why people from the UK keep moving to these places.

Quite a bit of that improvement is the food.  Most white Southerners (like Foley Beach) are descendants of people who came from the British isles, but they modified and (IMHO) improved the cuisine from the mother country in many ways.  (I’ll bet that, while in the Greater London area, Beach and his colleagues won’t search out the English restaurant). In the meanwhile they improved a few other things, such as a written Bill of Rights that addressed some shortcomings of English law, and they disestablished the beloved Church of England, which ended up being a boon for Christianity in general and the Episcopal Church in particular until the latter lost its way.

The idea that Anglicanism can be improved by getting away from Mother England may come as a shock to some, but there are some possible benefits.  To look at a parallel situation in another part of Christianity, we should look to Russia and the sad story of the Old Believers.  This started when the Patriarch Nikon decided to impose the ways of the Greeks on the Russian church, and ran into vehement opposition, which he and the Tsar brutally suppressed.  It never occurred to Tsar or Nikon that the Russians, isolated for centuries after their “baptism” by the intervening Mongols and Turks, had practices more authentically in line with traditional Greek practice than the Greeks did!  I suspect that the Russians regarded the Greeks as the “mother church” and felt that they had to “keep up with the Joneses”.  Well, the Greeks were under the Ottomans, the Russians had (and have) a larger church, and the Russians would have done themselves a favour to realise that they were the Joneses!

The divisions in the Anglican Communion are far larger than those faced by Nikon, Avvakum and others in their day.  Ultimately, however, the weight of the Communion, both in numbers and in future, is in the African provinces and their allies elsewhere.  They need to put in forcefully to Justin Welby that they, like the Russians of old, are at the centre of this part of Christianity and that either he gets with their program or he will end up isolated in his own Constantinople, dominated by the same religion that took the last one.

That’s what I’d like to see in this Primates’ meeting.  The North Americans in particular need to put sentiment–and really ancestral ties–aside and realise that the only blood line that really matters is the one that flows from the Cross.

Who knows, unlike my field service man, we may get a decent breakfast in the bargain.

Sailing the Last Voyage with Newton and Pascal

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