Trustworthy People Are Scarce: A Christian View

Helen Fealy at the Shiny Sheet observes the following:

Who knew I had so much in common with the iconic Dr. Freud, the Father of Mental Heath and the pioneer of sexuality and gender behaviors.

I share his opinion on humankind and ethics.

To prove his point, we have Tiger Woods, John Edwards, Eliot Spitzer, Mark Sanford, Bill Clinton and many more.

Religions teach the goodness of people, and there are many wonderful caring men and women. But it brings to mind the saying: “Do you believe what I tell you or what you see with your eyes?”

I’m not sure what religion she’s been checking into.  (I know what that means, or used to mean, in Palm Beach.)  But Christianity has a more complex view of the human heart than either its advocates or opponents care to admit.

One the one hand, we are taught that “I will give thanks to you because I have been so amazingly and miraculously made. Your works are miraculous, and my soul is fully aware of this.” (Psalms 139:14).  On the other hand “For all have sinned, and all fall short of God’s glorious ideal” (Romans 3:23).   We were intended for good things by our Creator, but we suffer from the blowback of the Fall.  And our lives are a fall in and of themselves.

But our lives can be–and have been–redeemed as well.  To cite a verse I heard many times during the Holy Communion at Bethesda from the 1928 BCP:

My children, I am writing to you to keep you from sinning; but if any one should sin, we have one who can plead for us with the Father–Jesus Christ, the Righteous– and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only, but for those of the whole world besides. (1 John 2:1-2)

I got a lot of Freud growing up in Palm Beach (it was the era more than the town.)  But I didn’t need Freud to tell me that people can be, to put it charitably, untrustworthy.  As I said in The Tree That Grows in Heaven, “…living in South Florida is a sure cure for universalism, reminding one that, if there’s a default option in eternity, it’s not heaven.”

We are sinners in need of a saviour.  That’s cause for both hope and humility.

Earthquake Liquefaction: Climate Change Isn’t the Only Science with Different Opinions

While most are riveted on BP’s mile deep gusher in the Gulf, my attention was drawn to another type of scientific and technological challenge with possible catastrophic consequences: earthquake engineering.  My colleagues in the geotechnical engineering field have drawn my attention to a monograph entitled Technical Review and Comments: 2008 EERI Monograph “Soil Liquefaction During Earthquakes” (by I.M. Idriss and R.W. Boulanger).  The writer is one Raymond B. Seed, Professor of Civil Engineering at the University of California at Berkeley (your eyes aren’t deceiving you, right wingers.)  It’s a response to a research report co-authored by one Izzat M. Idriss, Professor of Civil Engineering at the University of California at Davis.  But some background for the rest of us is in order.

One of the immediate consequences of an earthquake is the liquefaction of soil.  A memorable occurrence of that was in San Francisco’s Marina District during the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, when the uncompacted fill under the area liquefied during the quake, damaging many of the structures above it.  A more potentially serious consequence is the liquefaction of earthen dams, which can lead to the catastrophic failure of the dam and loss of life and property below.  So this is a serious topic, especially in California, which is why we’re looking at a war of UC institutions here.

Geotechnical engineers perform a variety of tests on soils to determine their properties, and extrapolate data from these tests to determine properties related to soil strength, permeability for water flow, and other properties important in the design and construction of structures on and with the soils.  The line of research here has been to correlate the results of certain field tests on soils with their tendency to liquefy during an earthquake.  Knowledge of this is both valuable and essential in proper design of dams, bridges and other structures that must remain functional and intact during and after an earthquake.

One of the seminal studies on this was published in 1971 by Idriss and H. Bolton Seed, Raymond’s father.  The younger Seed’s description of doing engineering computer work at Cal in those days is alone worth his monograph:

In the late 1960’s and through the 1970’s, the U.C. Berkeley campus had a single mainframe computer in the basement of the Mathematics building (next door to the Civil Engineering building.)    Performing a single site response analysis (by the equivalent linear method, using SHAKE; Schnabel et al., 1972) required punching a deck of cards and then carrying the box of punched cards to the basement of the Mathematics building and submitting them via the card reader.    The next morning, one would retrieve the results from alphabetically arranged shelves upon which the stacks of computer output would be placed.    If you were fortunate, you had a large stack. If it was only a few pages, then the second page usually informed you that you had divided by zero somewhere and the job had been aborted.    If it was a larger stack, that still did not necessarily mean a successful run; you might simply have divided by zero many times, rapidly.    If unsuccessful, you would closely examine the large deck of punched cards, make adjustments, and try again the next night.

Mercifully scientific knowledge and computing power have advanced, and subsequently both Idriss and Bolton Seed made progress together on this subject along with other researchers.  But Bolton Seed died of cancer in 1989, and Idriss went on to collaborate with others.  During this time experience with the original correlations increased, and that experience has led to new correlations, including the 2008 paper linked at the top.

The younger Seed, for a variety of reasons, has chosen to openly challenge his father’s collaborator in research.  Without going into the technical details (you can read them in his monograph) Raymond Seed summarises objections thus:

The work involved in the development of the proposed new SPT-based liquefaction triggering correlation of Idriss and Boulanger (2008) suffers from a lack of transparency; key details and important decisions including processing and addition and deletion (de-selection) of field performance case histories are wholly undocumented, and much of the work simply cannot be properly checked and reviewed in proper detail.

All of these factors–all of them–can be seen in the recent “Climategate” fiasco.  Both fields have much in common: they both involve “earth sciences,” they both involve statistical correlation of natural phenomena which are complex and not easily deterministically predictable, they both effect public policy (most dams and bridges are built by the government) and the consequences of failure are potentially dire.

Idriss has not been shy about attacking Seed’s own work as well:

Dr. Idriss has been relentlessly negative over the past decade with regard to the work of our team (Seed et al., 2003; Cetin et al., 2004; Moss et al., 2006), with the interesting result that the work of our team has now arguably been more thoroughly reviewed, and in an adversarial manner, than any previous work on this topic. Dr. Idriss has been unable to identify specific technical shortcomings, and has instead simply “felt” that the correlation developed by Cetin et. al. was too complicated, and too different from previous triggering correlations.

As we say in politics, the only thing worse than bad publicity is no publicity…

My main point in bringing all of this up–in addition to perhaps disseminating knowledge on this important but neglected subject–is to once again attack the whole business of “science as religion” that secularists keep pushing in our society.

Science and engineering are “open” disciplines in that we make hypotheses, test them to the best of our ability against either laboratory or field reality, come to conclusions, and then repeat the cycle down the road with the idea of moving both theory and practice forward.  That process doesn’t always move in a straight line, is subject to dispute amongst the scientists and engineers themselves, and is also subject to personal and bureaucratic interests that can obscure and even obstruct technical progress.  All of these are present in this dispute (and this kind of dispute has happened before in this field) and are certainly there in climate change.

Nevertheless these realities have not stopped secularists from attempting to represent scientific advancement as a seamless process which produces results unsullied by the kinds of regressive sociological and political factors that they attribute to religious or other fields.  It’s true that, in a situation like this, sooner or later the consequences of a defective hypothesis, accepted as fact by the community based on the reputation of the researchers and other factors, will take place, but by then the proponents of the hypothesis may have received both earthly accolades and eternal consequences.

My father used to say that “if” is in the middle of “life.”  I cannot bring myself to find my security in the assurances of this life, and problems like this are a major part of that reluctance.  Science and engineering have produced great things and will continue to do so, but without the backstop of integrity and eternity from the One who set it into motion, the road to secular paradise will be an endless detour.

An Episcopal Church Gets Its Roof Repaired. But Who Will Fix the Confirmation Class?

Well, at least at Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Palm Beach:

Construction is under way to replace part of the roof at the historic Episcopal Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea.

The roof covers the administrative offices and the choir room overlooking the courtyard and gardens. Advanced Roofing is the contractor.

David Semadeni, a junior warden and a member of the vestry, said $326,000 has been allotted for the project.

It is part of ongoing program of church improvements. Some reroofing work was done last year and refurnishing of the bell tower took place a couple of years ago. Work began a week ago and should be completed in July.

One thing for sure: in a church drained by litigation, Bethesda marches on.

I also noticed the confirmation class behind Southeast Florida Bishop Leo Frade:

I cannot imagine being in a confirmation class defiled by the likes of Leo Frade.  I’m glad I was able to get it done by a bishop of whom the worst was said was that his nickname was “Motor Mouth.”

One more thing: I noticed that Bethesda has a Vacation Bible School.  Fancy that, I never remember such a thing at Bethesda.  Their theme this year is “High Seas Adventure.”  Where were we during summers in Palm Beach?  Frequently, on a real “high seas adventure!

Are People Who Don’t Like the Manhattan Declaration Necessarily Bigots?

At the end of an otherwise interesting post, James Gibson at Sanctus makes the following parting shot:

The visceral reaction against the Manhattan Declaration is a case study in the evangelical ghetto mentality. Born in ignorance, it grows into bigotry and a most un-Christlike lack of charity.

If he was fishing for understanding, he needs to switch bait.

Back at the first of the year I put up a post entitled Why I Don’t Like the Manhattan Declaration.  I would be the first to admit that it was informed by a generally Evangelical view of things.  But does that make it born of bigotry, or even ignorance?

I am reluctant to call anyone a bigot, even when it’s obvious.  These days it’s just too easy to throw the term around to demonise your opponents.  The worst offenders in that regard are the LGBT community advocates, but there are others.

As I see it, the Manhattan Declaration is primarily a political statement, and should be evaluated as such.  Political alliances don’t have the same standard of theological commonality as church unifications or even ecumenical efforts.  Evangelicals or anyone else who apply such a theological standard are silly, and hopefully will see daylight when they’re rotting in prison with their Roman Catholic counterparts.

My ultimate take on the Declaration, as I stated earlier, is as follows:

The Manhattan Declaration contains many fine sentiments.  Unfortunately one gets the feeling that it will lead to the leadership of American Christianity making the same mistakes they have in the past, and at this point we have neither the time nor the luxury to indulge ourselves in doing the same things over again we’ve done before.

Augustine on the Temptations of Jesus and the Three Major Lusts

Linking the three temptations of Jesus in the wilderness with the three major lusts outlined in 1 John 2 has a long history in Christian preaching.  Here is an example from Augustine’s second homily on 1 John, with some bullet points for clarity:

These three (temptations) there are, and you can find nothing whereby human cupidity can be tempted, but either by the lust of the flesh, or the lust of the eyes, or the pride of life. By these three was the Lord tempted of the devil. (Matthew 4:1-10)

  • By the lust of the flesh He was tempted when it was said to Him, “If you be the Son of God, speak to these stones that they become bread,” when He hungered after His fast. But in what way repelled He the tempter, and taught his soldier how to fight? Mark what He said to him: “Not by bread alone does man live, but by every word of God.”
  • He was tempted also by the lust of the eyes concerning a miracle, when he said to Him, “Cast yourself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning you: and in their hands they shall bear you up, lest at any time you dash your foot against a stone.” He resisted the tempter, for to do the miracle, would only have been to seem either to have yielded, or to have done it from curiosity; for He wrought when He would, as God, howbeit as healing the weak. For if He had done it then, He might have been thought to wish only to do a miracle. But lest men should think this, mark what He answered; and when the like temptation shall happen to you, say also the same: “Get behind me, Satan; for it is written, You shall not tempt the Lord your God:” that is, if I do this I shall tempt God. He said what He would have you to say. When the enemy suggests to you, “What sort of man, what sort of Christian, are you? As yet have you done one miracle, or by your prayers have the dead been raised, or have you healed the fevered? If you were truly of any moment, you would do some miracle:” answer and say: “It is written, You shall not tempt the Lord your God:” therefore I will not tempt God, as if I should belong to God if I do a miracle, and not belong if I do none: and what becomes then of His words, “Rejoice, because your names are written in heaven”?
  • By “pride of life” how was the Lord tempted? When he carried Him up to an high place, and said to Him, “All these will I give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” By the loftiness of an earthly kingdom he wished to tempt the King of all worlds: but the Lord who made heaven and earth trod the devil under foot. What great matter for the devil to be conquered by the Lord? Then what did He in the answer He made to the devil but teach you the answer He would have you to make? “It is, written, You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.” Holding these things fast, you shall not have the concupiscence of the world: by not having concupiscence of the world, neither shall the lust of the flesh, nor the lust of the eyes, nor the pride of life, subjugate you: and you shall make place for Charity when she comes, that you may love God. Because if love of the world be there, love of God will not be there.

Hold fast rather the love of God, that as God is for ever and ever, so you also may remain for ever and ever: because such is each one as is his love. Love earth, you shall be earth. Love God, what shall I say? You shall be a god? I darenot say it of myself, let us hear the Scriptures: “I have said, You are gods, and all of you sons of the Most High.” If then you would be gods and sons of the Most High, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all the things that are in the world, is the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, which is not of the Father, but is of the world:” (1 John 2:15-17) i.e. of men, lovers of the world. “And the world passes away, and the lusts thereof: but he that does the will of God abides for ever, even as God also abides for ever.”

While Watching for the Oil Spill, a Bomb Shows Up

South Florida is riveted on the BP oil spill and the Loop Current, but in Manalapan they’ve got other things washing on the beach:

A suspicious device washed ashore on the beach this morning, prompting a call to the bomb squad, police said.

Manalapan Police and the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office bomb squad investigated the device, which was found about 10 a.m. in the 1300 block of South Ocean Boulevard. Part of the roadway was closed during the investigation, but has been reopened.

Indications are that the device belongs to the military and bomb squad personnel are currently coordinating with the military to remove it, Manalapan Police Lt. Carmen Mattox said.

The Greatest Ambition: Jerome on Psalm 84

Another gem from Jerome’s Homilies on the Psalms, this time Psalm 84 (from here):

“How lovely are your tabernacles, O Lord of hosts!” The sole ambition of some people is to possess property; others long to be enriched with the wealth of the world; still others wish to hold prominent places at conventions and be esteemed among men. But for me, there is only one longing: to see Your eternal dwelling places. To me, those are the lovely dwelling places where the virtuous and not the vicious congre­gate. “My soul yearns and pines for the courts of the Lord.” This is my one desire, this my only love, that I may see Your courts. Notice the order. First, he longs for the taber­nacles, tents without a foundation and easily portable. A tent, moreover, is always on the move, folded up and carried hither and thither. Courts, on the other hand, although certainly not houses, do have a kind of foundation, and from the court we enter the house. Our psalmist, therefore, at first longs for a tabernacle, and then afterwards pines and yearns with love to see Your courts; and when he is in Your court, then he cries out: “Happy they who dwell in your house!”

The Tree of Life, Psalm 1 and Jerome

The Tree of Life has been a topic of special interest to me since I made the connection with the lignum vitae (The Tree That Grows in Heaven.)  Here is Jerome’s linkage of Psalm 1 with the other allusions to the tree, from his Homilies on the Psalms (from here):

“He is like a tree planted near running water, that yields its fruit in due season, and whose leaves never fade” There are many who interpret these words very simply to mean that just as a tree, if planted near water, will take root and grow and not wither away because it has enough moisture, so in like manner one who meditates on the law of God will derive strength and life from his meditation. This is their simple interpretation. But we shall combine spiritual things with spiritual things and read of the tree of life that was planted in Paradise, the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This tree of life was planted in the Garden of Eden and in Eden there rose a river that separated into four branches. Likewise we read in Solomon – if one accepts that book as Solomon’s, for he speaks there of wisdom (Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God) – so then, as I was saying, where Solomon says: “She is a tree of life to those who grasp her” he is speaking of wisdom. Now, if wisdom is the tree of life. Wisdom itself, indeed, is Christ. You understand now that the man who is blessed and holy is compared to this tree, that is, he is compared to Wisdom. Consequently, you see, too that the just man, that blessed man who has not followed in the counsel of the wicked-who has not done that but has done this-is like the tree that is planted near running water, is. in other words, like Christ, inasmuch as He “raised us up together, and seated us together in heaven” You see, then, that we shall reign together with Christ in heaven; you see, too, that because this tree has been planted in the Garden of Eden, we have all been planted there together with Him.

“He is like a tree planted near running water” Indeed, it is from that fountain-head that all rivers take their rise. “That yields its fruit in due season” This tree does not yield fruit in every season, but in the proper season. This is the tree that does not yield its fruit in the present day, but in the future, that is, on the Day of Judgement. This is the tree that bears blossoms now, that buds forth now, and promises fruits for the future. This tree bears twofold: it produces fruit and it produces foliage. The fruit that it bears contains the meaning of Scripture; the leaves, only the words. The fruit is in the meaning; the leaves are in the words. For that reason, whoever reads Sacred Scripture, if he reads merely as the Jews read, grasps only the words. If he rends with true spiritual insight, he gathers the fruit.

“And whose leaves never fade” The leaves of this tree are by no means useless. Even if one understands Holy Writ only as history, he has something useful for his soul. We read in the Apocalypse of John (a book which, although rejected in these regions,we ought nevertheless to know, because it is accepted and held as canonical throughout die West, and in other Phoenician provinces, and in Egypt, for the ancient churchmen, including Irenaeus, Polycarp, Dionysius, and other Roman expounders of Sacred Scripture, among whom is holy Cyprian, accept and interpret it): “Behold, I saw a throne set up, and one Lamb and a tree alongside a river, and on both sides of the river was that tree.” This means that the tree was both on this side and on that side of the river. “And this tree” he says, “bore fruit and was yielding its twelve fruits for the year according to each month. And it had leaves, too, and the leaves for the healing of the nations”.

“I saw” he says, “a single throne set up” We believe in the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, that is true, and that they are a Trinity; nevertheless the kingship is one. ”I saw a single throne set up, and I saw a single Lamb standing in the presence of the throne” This refers to the Incarnation of the Saviour. Scripture says: “Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” – “And there was a fountain of water corning forth from beneath the middle of the throne.” Notice that it is from the midst of the throne that there issues forth a river of graces. That river does not issue forth from the throne unless the Lamb is standing before it, for unless we believe in the Incarnation of Christ, we do not receive those graces.

A tree, he says, one lofty tree had been set up. He did not say trees, but only one tree. If there is but one tree, how can it be on both sides of the river? If he had said, I saw trees, it would have been possible for some trees to be on one side of the river and other trees on the other side. Actually, one tree is said to be on both sides of the river. One river comes forth from the throne of God-the grace of the Holy Spirit-and this grace of the Holy Spirit is found in the river of the Sacred Scriptures. This river, moreover, has two banks, the Old Testament and the New Testament, and the tree planted on both sides is Christ. During the year, this tree yields twelve fruits, one for each month, but we are unable to receive the fruits except through the apostles. If one approaches the tree through the apostles, he must receive the fruit; he gathers the fruit from the Sacred Scriptures; he grasps the divine meaning abiding within the words. If, therefore, one comes to this tree through the apostles, he gathers its fruit just as we have said. If, indeed, he cannot pluck the fruit, it is be­cause he is still too weak; he is not yet a disciple, but belongs to the throng; he is an outsider, a stranger from the nations. Because he cannot pluck the fruit, he plucks only words, the leaves for the healing of the nations, for it is written: “and the leaves are for the healing of the nations”. One who belongs to the nations, who is not a disciple, who is as yet only one or the crowd, gathers only leaves from the tree; he receives from Scripture plain words for a healing remedy. Briefly, then, the Scripture says; “and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations”; in other words, the leaves are medicine. Why have we digressed on the Apocalypse? Simply because of that tree “that yields its fruit in due season, and whose leaves never fade. Whatever he does prospers.”

We have discussed the happiness of the just man. We spoke of his reward. Because of the three things he did not do and the two things he did do, he was compared to the tree in the Garden of Eden, to Christ, who is Wisdom. We have said all this about the holy man.

Mexico: The Tax Haven for Those Who Survive the Lead Rain

No kidding, this, from Rubin on Tax:

A theme we have often mentioned is that capital flows to where it is best treated. Obviously, the level of tax imposed on businesses is a key element of how capital is treated in any given jurisdiction.

A 2010 KPMG guide analyses the current tax competitiveness of 10 major countries, and 41 major cities in those countries. Among those countries, Mexico provides the best overall tax environment, with Canada following closely in second place. Japan and France find themselves in the highest tax positions at number 9 and 10 respectively. Below is the table published in the report:


Note that the tax competitiveness analysis also includes a  currency factor  so that the results are not entirely based purely on tax issues.

We’re even behind Canada and the UK, home of the Beatles’ favourite “Taxman!”  And everyone (except for the Japanese) have relative taxes decreasing, too.

If Mexico can ever gets its drug cartels to stop filling the air with lead, there’s hope for the land where everything is different.

Trading One Elite for Another: Why We Need More Than Ivy Leaguers on the Supreme Court (and Elsewhere)

Someone has finally put forth the case that only Ivy Leaguers should really be on the Supreme Court:

The gatekeeper power of such institutions is why it was so important to desegregate them (using affirmative action, among other tools) and why virtually all leaders of great universities talk about diversity and access.

For about 40 years now, all the top law schools have tried to pick students who are not just brilliant but who have the potential to be outstanding leaders from and for all of America’s communities. Today, “elite” doesn’t carry the old-boy, classist, midcentury sense.

In fact, law schools strive for an elitism that is quite democratic in comparison with many other fields. As at Yale and Harvard, we at Berkeley seek to build a campus community that is as exciting and diverse as our nation. That means a New Jersey physics major who models underwear. A single-parent firefighter medievalist from Denver. A former Navy Seal, a software designer, a late-blooming high school dropout, a dancer with published poetry. And when they are here, they teach each other, they learn to understand each other, and then they remember each other.

I write this just hours after our law school graduation ceremony. Elite? You bet. These graduates are exactly what our toughest problems demand. But beyond the paper credentials and the academic pedigree, they are more diverse in aspirations and passions than can be imagined.

We should prefer institutions that are elite in terms of excellence, while more democratic in terms of access. Even Harvard, Yale and their ilk are more open than they were a generation ago. This is for a lot of reasons, among them the rise of standardized testing, however imperfect, intended to reduce cronyism, the civil rights and women’s rights movements, and the modern system of need-based financial aid.

What Edley–himself a Harvard graduate and Clinton administration veteran–misses is the following.

The first is that those who end up in the Ivy League may be more ethnically and socio-economically diverse than they used to be, but to virtually require passing through such institutions to get past provincial ignominy guarantees that intellectual diversity is sacrificed.  Moreover, it’s easy to fancy ourselves as “diverse” when all we have to do to get ahead is to interact with those we went to school with.  Having that situation makes being important in America a decidedly “closed circle,” which explains much of the pseudosophistication we see in our leadership.

The second is that it ends the whole American construct of a nation as one of a “second chance.”  Now, if you’re not headed to Cambridge or New Haven by the time you’re 20, that’s it.  That challenges, in a way, whether the American experiment is worth it any more, but that’s a subject for another post.

Edley also reminds me that, in 1988, we had two Ivy Leaguers running for President.  We’ve not had a non-Ivy Leaguer since then in the White House.