Sometimes It Pays to Give Your Professor a Little Attention

I’ve been forced to broaden my horizons in my PhD pursuit.  That’s because, although I’ve done coding since I was eighteen, I’ve had to acquire a deeper understanding for two things: linear algebra and numerical methods.  It’s no understatement to say that both of these are at the core of the advances wrought by computerisation, whether we’re talking about statistical analysis or (in my case) simulation.

After my initial boffo performance, I turned to my Iranian friends for more help.  So they let me use some of the books they found useful for study back in the “old country”.  One of those was a sizeable book entitled Applied Numerical Methods by Brice Carnahan, H.A. Luther and James O. Wilkes.  As was the case with their wedding video, the heart skipped a beat, because the middle author, Hubert A. Luther, was my Differential Equations teacher at Texas A&M, forty years ago this spring.

Applied Numerical Methods was, AFAIK, the first really comprehensive textbook which combined linear algebra, numerical methods, and coding (in their case, FORTRAN IV) in one text.  Although some of the methodologies have been improved since it was published in 1969, and languages have certainly changed, it’s still a very useful book, although a little dense in spots.  Many of the books on the subject that have come afterwards have learned from its mistakes, but still refer back to the original.

Dr. Luther taught me the last required math class in my pursuit of an engineering degree at Texas A&M.  It wasn’t an easy class, even after three semesters of calculus (which I did reasonably well at).  Although he was originally from Pennsylvania, he acclimated himself to the Lone Star State with western shirt, belt and string tie, the only professor I can remember who did so. The start to his course was especially rough; the textbook was terrible, he was a picky grader, the scores I got back were low.  I thought I was facing the abyss…until another one of those “aha” moments came along.

We (the engineering students) were standing outside our Modern Physics class, which came before Differential Equations.  I found out I wasn’t the only one having this problem.  But one of my colleagues, a Nuclear Engineering student who went on to become my class’ wealthiest member, had a simple suggestion.  Go visit his office, he said.  He’s lonely (he was nearing retirement) and likes the company.  Your grade will go up.

I wasn’t much for visiting my professors, but I was desperate enough to try anything.  I made a couple of office visits.  I’m not sure how helpful his advice was, but his grading became more lenient and I got through the course OK.

Today I’m on the other end of the visitation.  I spend a lot of time in the office with no student visits.  Part of the problem comes from scheduling, both theirs and mine.  But I’ve found out something else about student visits: the students that come to see you really care about what they’re supposed to be doing in your class.  Although there are still students who think it their duty to “tough it out” without asking questions, many others just want to get through in the quickest and least time-consuming way they can find.

I’m glad I took my classmate’s advice and made the office visits.  But there are two other lessons I have learned since that time.

The first is that I wish I had taken a numerical methods course taught by Dr. Luther, it would have prepared me for what I’ve been doing both before and during the time of my PhD pursuit.

The second is that, when I started my MS degree twenty years later, I took a course over basically the same material taught by a Russian.  I found out that there was a great deal I hadn’t learned from Dr. Luther, and that American math education leaves a lot to be desired of.  So sometimes making the way easier up front comes back to get you in the end.

The Assault on Christians Wasn’t Supposed to Happen This Fast

Back in 2006, before the accession of the current Occupant, I began to write a little novel entitled The Ten Weeks.  It describes, among other things, the result of a democratically elected left-wing government and how it, using the sexual revolution as one of its weapons (and mob action as another), took progressive power in the society.

If we look at history outside the U.S., the progression of left-wing regimes pretty much follows a pattern, one which varies depending upon how, when and where that regime got into the driver’s seat.  But the idea that this was coming has been in the background of this blog since its inception.

However, to tell the truth, even I am surprised at how fast things have come “over centre”.  This is supposed to be a “rights” crusade.  But in a society deeply in debt, with growing economic inequality and a weak moral compass, “rights” are a dicey concept.  That’s especially true when we consider how one-sided these rights are administered, the result of an outcome-based judiciary and administrative system.  It decides what it wants to happen and “interprets” the law to make that decision a reality.  Under those conditions the judicial redress option is too iffy to really count on any more.

So that leaves us Christians with Lenin’s (and Russia’s really) favourite question: what is to be done?  I’ve got a few suggestions that hopefully will take root, especially with our leadership, whose “deer in headlights” stance is all too clear.

The first is to remember what we’re supposed to be doing here.  Our core goal is eternal life; that needs to stay our mission, for ourselves and for those to whom we reach out.  We’ve gotten off track with our attempts to show that who we are and what we do has “social value”.  At this point our opponents don’t care if what we do has social value: if it doesn’t empower them and fit into their ideological lens, they will hate it no matter what it is.

That refocusing of our mission also applies to the other time and energy wasting thing that Evangelicals in particular are bad about: upward social mobility.  There are certainly benefits for drying out, getting off of drugs and being responsible.  But when your opponents only recognise the right to party as the core goal of life, any attempt to instil austerity will be met with opposition.  And trying to move up will likewise engender opposition from an established “clerisy”.  I found the following statement interesting in Rod Dreher’s secret interview with elite-school law professor “Kingsfield”:

“I could still imagine having a kid who was really strong in his faith, and believing that God was calling him to going to a prestige college. I’m not ready to say ‘never’ for that, but I do think there are a lot of kids that we need to steer away from such hostile places, and into smaller, reliably Christian schools where they can be built up in their faith, and not have to deal with such hostility before they’re strong enough to combat it.”

I tire of Christians trumpeting the entrance of their progeny into “élite” schools as a sign that they have “arrived”.  I’ve always taken a jaundiced view of such “advancement”, and now a few people have figured that out.  (I’ll bet that Harvard is wishing it turned down Ted Cruz, but that’s their problem…I’ll deal with the merit issue of these institutions next month).

That leads to the next point: stick together.  That’s not as easy as it looks, but at this point it’s necessary.  If those opposed to us figure out they can split us on stuff, it will be very difficult to live in this society.  That in turn will make two other things which will make our lives easier.

The first is to allow ourselves to enter into patron-client types of arrangements.   That’s the essence of what the LDS church did in Utah with their new law.  The Roman Catholics are probably thinking the same thing; the biggest problem there is disunity among the bishops.  Given the perils of Americans negotiating, this can be a tricky proposition.  It’s a fine line between entering an arrangement and carrying their water.  Getting past that problem, we may not like heading towards a system more like the Ottoman millet system than anything else, but face it: the old Ottoman millet system beats what is fashionable these days, which is ISIS.

One interesting part of this direction is taking place in New York.  It didn’t get much press, but SCOTUS declined to review the appeals court decision that allows the City of New York to boot churches from meeting in schools.  Then Mayor DeBlasio allowed them to continue.  DeBlasio has his shortcomings, but he is one of the few prominent politicians on the left who realises that the LGBT community is not the be-all and end-all of progressive politics.  That, in turn, was doubtless driven by the many non-white groups who have their own opinion of the LGBT community, and they’re a part of DeBlasio’s–and the Democrats’–base as well.

The other thing is to do what we have to do to insure the integrity of our institutions.  Dreher’s “Kingsfield” discusses that in some detail; I would throw in that our ministers should take the Marriage Pledge and get civil marriage out of the church altogether. One thing that would advance this is to lose the idea that church as a private club is bad; I dealt with this in my response to Frank Matthew Powell.  Evangelical churches are obsessed with this open, populist idea of church, but it’s a luxury we’ll find harder to afford as time passes. In Roman times the church was looked at as a collegium, which is a form of private club.

Finally, I also think we need to realise that, if it ever was, the U.S. isn’t our country any more.  That must inform how we act on a number of issues, from military service to how we look at the state to even where we do send our children to college.  (There’s no dishonour going abroad).  Besides, it’s hard to be really fired up about a country that, one the one hand, promotes LGBT rights all over the world and on the other is hell-bent on signing a nuclear agreement with a regime that hangs the same people from hydraulic cranes.

It’s not going to be easy and it’s not going to be fun.  But Our Lord never promised either.

Duck and Cover Catholicism? Maybe, Maybe Not.

R.R. Reno at First Things isn’t happy:

Some months ago, I predicted that Catholicism in America would basically accommodate itself to whatever sexual regime dominates our society. The accommodation won’t be explicit. The Church won’t endorse homosexuality or gay marriage. Instead, the bishops will step aside, avoid controversy, and just stop talking about things that carry a high price for dissent. This duck-and-cover non-statement fits perfectly into this trajectory.

I’m the first to decry the frequently Jesuitical tendency of the of the RCC to deal with issues (they elected one as Pope, after all).  But I think that the RCC, along with other religious institutions, is looking at this differently.

Given what’s going on in Indiana, the easiest way to put this into perspective is to look at another state and another church-defined religion to see how things can work out in another way.

The other state is Utah and the other church-defined religion is the LDS church, the Mormons.  The LDS church and the LGBT leadership basically brokered a deal which carves out exemptions for the LDS church (and anyone else who wants to go along for the ride) to allow them to practice their faith without impositions by pansexualists.  Some on both sides whined about this, but compared to the virtual slugfest we have in Indiana, it’s pretty peaceful and accepted by both sides.

The difference is that, in Indiana and anywhere else where RFRA type legislation is either being considered or on the books, the practices of religious people are protected by such legislation as a matter of right, not because their leadership cut a good deal.  For the LGBT leadership, whose goal is to swap one set of rights for another, this will not do.  For people who think that politics is all about different identity and special interest groups getting ahead through government action, it won’t do either.  Changing that very nature of politics and political life is a core (if unspoken) aim of the left in general and the Democrat Party in particular.

The RCC has a longer history of wheeling and dealing with governments of all kinds, from the Roman Empire onwards.  And, because of its sacramental concept of marriage, it’s in a better place (as, for a different reason, is the LDS church) to deflect public accommodation assaults on its churches to perform same-sex civil marriages.  Civil marriages? It’s marriage system is even ready to dispense with that nuisance, although it’s traditionally loathe (and in places like France, unable) to do so.

So it’s likely, IMHO, that what Reno sees as cowardice is in fact the realisation that the political food fight going on in places like Indiana isn’t their battle.  And they may be right.  The RCC has outlasted Hitler and Stalin; only Mao’s nationalisation of the RCC in China still sticks in the craw.  The RCC knows an undemocratic dictatorship when they see one; why voluntarily go into the political arena when the deck is stacked and the game is fixed?

The group left in the lurch are the Evangelicals, who have relied on “inalienable” rights to protect their status since the beginning of the Republic.  To pull off what the Mormons did in Utah would need a more cohesive leadership (difficult with their diffuse organisation) and a negotiating process with the LGBT counterparts.  Evangelicals view the latter pretty much in the same light as they view Obama’s negotiating with the Iranians.  (What we really need to see is the LGBT leadership go to the mat with the Iranians…)

This process isn’t going be pretty moving forward.  I’m not convinced that the low-laying strategy of the RCC is the best, but what the “Religious Right” has done the last forty years or so hasn’t worked either.  It’s time to get creative, and in a hurry.

What You’re Supposed to Sing on Easter Sunday

Nothing Baptistic on this blog:

Salve-Festa-Dies(Don’t ask me why, they don’t allow embedding on this video, but you can click to go to it on YouTube anyway).

The lyrics are very old, going back to the end of the Western Roman Empire.  The tune is by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

One of the advantages of this hymn is that it can be “recycled” with different lyrics for several feasts, such as Ascension, Pentecost, etc. This makes it easier for the choir and other involved musicians.

Losing this great hymn was one of the “hits” I took when leaving (?) the Anglican-Catholic world.  Hopefully, like Bill Clinton’s Eucharistic Theology, this too can be fixed.

To The Holy Trinity: The Blessedness of the Soul, Image of the Holy Trinity, in the Trinity of His Persons

Wrapping it up for this elevation in Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries, 2,9:

When God made me in his image and likeness, he made me to be happy like him, as much as a creature can be; and, this is why he placed in me these three things, in me who was made to be happy, the idea of my happiness and the love or the desire of this happiness.  There are three things which I find inseparable from me, since I do not exist without being something which was made to be happy. As a result I carry in myself both the idea of happiness and the desire to carry it out, which necessarily follow from this idea.

When people ask me which of these three things I would rather lose, I do not know how to answer.  Because first, I do not want to lose my being: I want, to say so, less to lose my happiness, as without happiness it would be better if I never was, conforming to this word of the Saviour about his unhappy disciple: It would be better if this man had never been.  I do not want to lose my happiness more than my being, neither to more to lose the idea and the love of my happiness more than my happiness, as there is no happiness without this idea and this love.

If there is something in me which has always been with me, it is this idea and this love of my happiness; because I cannot have ever been without fleeing that which harms me and to want that which is appropriate:  that which can only come from the desire to be happy and the fear of not being.  This sentiment begins to appear from childhood and as we carry this coming into the world, one should have this, although more obscurely and more muffled, from the womb of one’s mother.

Here is an idea which is born in us and with us, and a sentiment which comes with this idea; and all this is in us before all reasoning and reflection.

When reason begins to sprout, she does no other thing than to seek good and bad means to make us happy; that which shows this idea and this love of happiness is in the foundation of our reason.

In a certain way, this idea which makes us know our happiness and this feeling which makes us love it, becomes in time our only idea and feeling.  For the feeling, it is clear that all our other feelings relate to this one; and, as an idea, it follows that it is only to fulfil this one that we pay attention to all the others.  Let us suppose that God gives us all and can also take away all which pleases him, then takes everything away, except for our being and the idea of our happiness and the desire which presses us to find it; we will be something very simple; but in our simplicity, we will have three things which will not divide our simplicity, but rather drive all three to its perfection.

Then will we be happy?  Alas not at all!  We will only want to be and by consequence we will not be, as happiness cannot co-exist with need of which the desire is the proof.

So what is necessary to fix all of this to make us happy? It is necessary to fix the confused idea that I have happiness, the distinct knowledge of the object where it consists, and at the same time to change the confused desire of happiness by the actual possession of what it is.

But where can my happiness consist except in the most perfect thing which I know, if I can have it? That which I know to be the most perfect, it is doubtless God, since I cannot find in myself another idea of perfection other than God.  It remains to know if I can have it.  But what is having something, if not knowing it?  Can it be had otherwise than knowing its perfection? I am thus capable of having it, since I am capable of knowing it, as long as in knowing it I am brought to love it, as to know it without loving it, is in effect to know it badly.  After this happy addition which takes place at the knowledge and the idea that I have my happiness, will I be happy? Not at all.  But why? I know and I love God and this in itself, we have said, is to have it: and this is to have that which I know best; and we have said that this is to be happy: thus where am I?  Thus if I be happy, I will desire nothing; can I say that I have nothing to desire? Far from me be this blindness; I am thus not happy.

Thus it is necessary to search in myself what I lack.  I know God, I admit it, but very imperfectly; that which makes up my love for him is very weak, and from there also comes the weakness of wanting both good and bad things.  I have the desire to know God more perfectly than I do: to know him, as Saint Paul says, as I am known; to know him without covering, to discovery, in a word to see him face to face, without shadow, without veil, without obscurity.  When God repairs this, may he say to me as Moses: I showed you everything well; then I will say like Saint Philip, Master, it is enough for us.  But this is not for this life: when this happiness comes to us, we will have nothing left to desire for his knowledge.  But for love, what will this be?  When we will see God face to face, can we make something more than to love?  Doubtless no; and Saint Paul said that love lives eternally without ever being lost.  So will our love be more in this eternal and happy state, unless it is perfect coming from a perfect knowledge?   And he will not be able to change as he does in this life; and he will absorb all of our will into one which will be that of loving God and there will be no more wailing and our tears will be dried forever and our desires will come with our needs.  Then we will be reduced to perfect unity and simplicity; but in our simplicity, we will carry the perfect image of the Trinity; then God, united at the foundation to our being and showing himself, will produce in us the happy vision which will be one sense God himself, he along being object as he is the cause.  And by this happy vision, he will produce an eternal and insatiable love which will not yet be another thing but God himself seen and possessed;  and God will be all in all, and he will be all in ourselves; one God alone in our depths, producing himself in us by the vision and completing himself in unity with us by an eternal and perfect love.

Then our perfect unity will be accomplished in ourselves and will all those who have God with us; and that which makes us all perfectly one, that is what we will be and we will see and we will love, and all that will be in us all the same single life.  And so what the Saviour said will be accomplished: As you my Father are in me and I in you, so they will be one in us; one in themselves and one with all the members of the body of the Church which they make up.

Let us form in us the holy Trinity: united with God, knowing God, loving God: and as our knowledge, at present imperfect and obscure, will come; and that the love in us be the only thing which will never arrive and which will never be lost: let us love, let us love, let us love: let us do without end that which we will do without end in eternity.  O that time is troublesome! The needs weighing down our time carry us!  Who can endure the distractions, the interruptions, the sad necessity of sleep, of nourishment, other needs? But those of temptations, of bad desires, are they not as shameful as they are afflicted?  Unhappy man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death?  O God, time is long, it is heavy, it bears down.  O eternal God, take time away from me, fix me in your eternity! In waiting, make me pray without ceasing, and pass the days and nights in contemplation of your law, of your truths, of you yourself who is all truth and all good.  Amen, Amen.

To The Holy Trinity: Essential, Personal, Generating and Generated Wisdom

Again with Bossuet in Elevations on the Mysteries, 2,8:

God has possessed me, said Wisdom (Proverbs 8): that is to say, God has generated me in conformance to that word of Eve, when she gave birth to Cain and  said: I have possessed a man by the grace of God.  He has generated me, before doing anything elseI am ordered, and keep my rank through all eternity and from all antiquity, before the world was made: the abysses were not yet and I was already conceived.  God gave  birth to me in the hills: that is to say, before all time and all eternity, because there is nothing except eternity before all time.  But does God only have wisdom which he generated?  To God it does not please! because we we cannot produce in us our word, our interior word, if there was not in us a foundation of reason of which our word is the fruit: even more so, there is in God an essential wisdom, which was primitively and originally in the Father, which made him fruitful to produce in this womb this wisdom which is his Word and his Son, his word, his reason, his intelligence, his bubbling up to say so or the first pouring out of his heart and the only result who he made to truly name father before all time.  It is from this, Saint Paul says, from which all paternity in heaven and earth comes.  It is from there that to us is given, to us who believe in the unique Son, the power to be children of God in his image, in being born neither of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, but of God, who by his good and by the grace of his adoption has allowed us to associate with his unique son.

Happy Nowruz to My Iranian Friends

It’s a little controversial, but I’ll say it anyway: I’m wishing my Iranian friends a Happy Nowruz.  How Nowruz came about, and how I came to know my Iranian friends, are two interesting matters.

Let’s start with the first: Nowruz, the celebration of the Vernal (Spring) Equinox, goes back to pre-Islamic times when Persia ruled the Middle East with such great emperors as Cyrus, Darius, Xerxes, Artaxerxes and the like.  If they sound familiar to students of the Bible, they should: it was Cyrus who allowed the Babylonian exiled Jews to return to Jerusalem.  In Islam these times are called al-jahiliya (the time of ignorance) but at least one of my Iranian friends would move that to another time in Iranian history.

And how did I get these friends?  I started my PhD in the Fall of 2011, and found myself “behind the 8-ball” in many ways.  It was also the first semester for the group of Iranians in the program.  The first class was a challenge for everyone, including the instructor, who gave as sad a half-time (after mid-term exam) speech as Derek Dooley ever gave the Vols.  As the final exam approach, desperate for help, I turned to two of them for help, and they did: I probably wouldn’t have gotten through the course without them.

Since those times I have gotten to know them better.  To begin with, as witnesses as disparate as David “Spengler” Goldman and CBN News‘ George Thomas have pointed out, they are the most charming and sophisticated people in the Middle East.  For a small example, in another class there was one other person from the Sim Centre (where I am studying) but I wasn’t sure who it was.  When she arrived with designer glasses and book bag, I said to myself: she must be Iranian.  She was.  Engineers have a reputation of being nerds, but this reality never got into the Persian culture.  In a region where good social skills are really expected, they’ve hit the ground running.

As a Christian, hanging around these people is like walking through the pages of the Word in double precision and parallel processing.  The group I’ve been with isn’t terribly Islāmic, not in the sense we normally think about it.  I got a better lesson about Jesus’ use of the marriage analogy for his return watching their wedding videos than any place else.  Another, frustrated that his research was not moving forward, said that he had to “find the way”, which has been the preoccupation there for a long time:

“We do not know where you are going, Master,” said Thomas; “so how can we know the way?”

Jesus answered: “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life; no one ever comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:5-6 TCNT)

Some have come to church with us; the observation of one that people left our church happy and the mosque sad is profound.

Their opinion of this country is generally positive.  One told me that his father had worked here in the 1970’s (before “the Revolution”, they, born after it, are amazed I remember it) and thought that it was a better country then than now (it was).  Their opinion of their leadership in Tehran varies; some don’t talk about it and some are openly hostile.

And they are good friends.  When my mother-in-law died last year, it was our Iranian friends who came from UTC.  One walked from the Sim Centre to the National Cemetery; we gave him a ride back in the family limo.  Another wrote me an email in this way:

I got very sad when I heard about your loss, I remembered that you said she  had a sad time because of her sickness, I know she is now in peace and rest and we are here for you as a good friend because you were like that for us always.

When things have gotten frustrating (which in inevitable when you live and die by writing code) they’ve been an encouragement.

And as for our current negotiations re their nuclear program?  One of them commented as follows:

Negotiation with any dictator is in vain, they smuggled 1 B $ in bank notes during the past month only , and this is reported to Mr. Kerry, a nuclear terrorist country is not approved even by other semi-terrorists countries like Russia, their religious leader is weeks away from death and his successor is a radical one, any deal might become a disaster for the entire world and mankind, they already started military drills in the Gulf and poured forces to Lebanon to use it as a leverage against Israel if needed.

Personally I think our people in Washington are out of their league negotiating with these people.  It’s not a pretty thing to think about, but every four or eight years Americans simply swap one set of provincial boobies for another.  Our Lord, right in the centre of the Middle East, exhorted his followers in this way:

Remember, I am sending you out as my Messengers like sheep among wolves. So be as wise as serpents, and as blameless as doves. (Matthew 10:16 TCNT)

But we cannot seem to get past vacillating between rigid neocons and moralistic interventionist liberals, except when a critical mass of people get tired of being cannon fodder.  Sometimes conspiracy theories bubble up, to which I say: our foreign policy is so stupid, conspiracy theories are the only rational explanations!

So I say again: Happy Nowruz.  May it be a reminder that Persia has been a great nation and will be again, especially if we move a few obstacles out of the way…

The Outpouring: Alive at the Community Coffeehouse

OUTA1 (Fall 1993)

The coffee-house ministry was the gathering par excellence of the Jesus Music era.  Although there are live recordings out there of concerts, coffee-house recordings are few and far between.  This site features only two, both from Texas: the Answer (and that was a rehearsal) and the Latter Rain.  And both of those were recorded from the floor, with all the reverberance to go with them.

Outpouring is no stranger to this blog; their 1979 album is probably the most progressive American album on the site, although this and this are not far behind.  It represented a push into the artistic, a push notoriously lacking in most American Christian music.

This production, fourteen years later, isn’t exactly in the Jesus Music era, but the performers certainly are, and they’re in the same community they were for the first production, too.  The idea of doing a live coffee-house recording from the board is an improvement in and of itself.  And, of course, Outpouring and their community had the task of proclaiming the gospel in the toughest part of the U.S. to do so (except for you know where…)

And the music? It isn’t as “artsy” as the first album, and it’s more directly evangelistic than the first too.  But it’s on a good level musically; there are some fun pieces, some jazzy ones, even a little country.  It’s a great representation of the genre, one that is way too few and far between.

The songs:

  1. A Matter of Heart
  2. Like a Seed
  3. Self-Rejection Blues
  4. Maybe
  5. Heart Divided
  6. Standing Still No More
  7. Not Your Fight Alone
  8. Heart of Hearts
  9. Choose to Believe
  10. Time to Get Serious
  11. Lord’s Prayer
  • Songs (2) and (9) written by Jim Albano and Fran Rosato
  • Song (1) written by Jim Albano and Donna Albano
  • Song (5) written by Jim Albano and Cliff Natoli
  • All the rest written by Jim Albano
  • Produced and engineered by Cliff Natoli and Mark Grasso
  • Mastered by Tom Rucktenwald
  • Outpouring logo by Barbara Christopher
  • Coffeehouse logo by Vinne Albano

Thanks to David for this music.

DL

 

Sailing the Last Voyage with Newton and Pascal