Reply to Giles Fraser: The Effects of Bullying Cut Both Ways

I think the Canon has really stepped into it on this one.  In his editorial re the defeat of women bishops at the recent Church of England synod, he tells the following tale:

There was this lad at school who got bullied all the time. When he wasn’t being bullied he was being ignored. He was thin, quiet and spotty. It says something that I cannot even remember his name. But at some point he got picked up by the Christian Union. They made him feel like he belonged and gave him a club to be a part of. And from then on, he began to wear the slightly superior look of someone who thinks he knows something that other people don’t know. Being an outsider became a badge of pride. He was now a Christian. And, in a way, the more ridiculous and unpopular the things he believed the better.

For his beliefs became a sort of barrier against the cruelty of the world. So the more people said his views were stupid, the more he felt the need for the protection they afforded him. His six impossible things before breakfast were a Maginot line against a world of hurt. Which is why he could never give them up or subject them to any sort of critical scrutiny.

Actually, I have made this person up. But I am trying to paint a picture of the mentality of conservative evangelicals, the people who have recently scuppered the female bishop legislation, without invoking the standard caricature of these modern-day puritans as life-denying fun-sponges obsessed with being right and with other people not having sex. Not that this latter image is all that far from the truth. The problem is that from Marlowe, Shakespeare and Jonson all they way through to Blackadder (and that brilliant episode where his rich puritan relatives come round to fulminate against fornication and inadvertently chomp on a penis-shaped turnip), this has become an overused trope that describes someone who seems to have stepped out of the Tardis from another century. The thing is, they are alive and well in the 21st century.

Another take on this is here, but as someone who knows a thing or two about being on the wrong end of bullying, I think he’s said more than he meant to here.

Giles Fraser is a well-known advocate of the full inclusion of the LGBT community in the life of the church, in his case the Church of England.  And let’s be honest, LGBT people have been bullied, which is why they’re at the forefront of anti-bullying campaigns on this side of the Atlantic.  (My objection to these is the implication that LGBT people are the only ones to be bullied, which is patently false.)

That being the case, let’s rewrite the first two paragraphs as follows:

There was this lad at school who got bullied all the time. When he wasn’t being bullied he was being ignored. He was thin, quiet and spotty. It says something that I cannot even remember his name. But at some point he got picked up by GLSEN. They made him feel like he belonged and gave him a club to be a part of. And from then on, he began to wear the slightly superior look of someone who thinks he knows something that other people don’t know. Being an outsider became a badge of pride. He was now an outed LGBT person. And, in a way, the more ridiculous and unpopular the things he believed the better.

Fraser is trying to caricature the way Evangelicals “carry their attitudes”.  But if that’s a result of bullying, then so is the way many LGBT people carry their attitudes.  And anyone who has missed the self-righteous, censorious rhetoric coming from that direction lately isn’t paying attention.

And why do you look at the straw in your brother’s eye, while you pay no attention at all to the beam in your own? How can you say to your brother ‘Brother, let me take out the straw in your eye,’ while you yourself do not see the beam in your own? Hypocrite! Take out the beam from your own eye first, and then you will see clearly how to take out the straw in your brother’s. There is no such thing as a good tree bearing worthless fruit, or, on the other hand, a worthless tree bearing good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit. People do not gather figs off thorn bushes, nor pick a bunch of grapes off a bramble. A good man, from the good stores of his heart, brings out what is good; while a bad man, from his bad stores, brings out what is bad. For what fills a man’s heart will rise to his lips. (Luke 6:41-45 TCNT)

How to Lower Carbon Emissions: Tank the Economy!

Nothing to it, really:

It’s a message no one wants to hear: To slow down global warming, we’ll either have to put the brakes on economic growth or transform the way the world’s economies work.

That’s the implication of an innovative University of Michigan study examining the evolution of atmospheric CO₂, the most likely cause of global warming.

Atmospheric CO2 (monthly average) as measured in air samples collected at Mauna Loa, Hawaii (Keeling curve) from Feburary 1958 to Februrary 2012. Units are parts per million by volume. Estimated preindustrial concentrations, at levels between 200 and 300 ppm, would be far out of the graph.The study, conducted by José Tapia Granados and Edward Ionides of U-M and Óscar Carpintero of the University of Valladolid in Spain, was published online in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science and Policy. It is the first analysis to use measurable levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide to assess fluctuations in the gas, rather than estimates of CO₂ emissions, which are less accurate.

“If ‘business as usual’ conditions continue, economic contractions the size of the Great Recession or even bigger will be needed to reduce atmospheric levels of CO₂,” said Tapia Granados, who is a researcher at the U-M Institute for Social Research.

This is really the core of this issue.  Ever since Jimmy Carter put on his sweater and addressed the nation about energy conservation–and was rejected at the polls–the key issue here isn’t whether the Republicans are “scientific” or not, but whether the American people are ready to take a major hit in their standard of living for energy conservation or reduction of carbon emissions or whatever.  Trying to sugar coat this with “green jobs” or new energy sources (which will take a while to really bring up to speed, unless the left is ready to literally go nuclear) won’t cut it. Up to now the answer has been “no”; the Democrat-controlled 2009 Congress was unable to get global warming legislation out, something that was in part effected by the health care debate sucking the oxygen out of the agenda.

But wait…maybe Barack Obama killed two (or more) birds with one stone.  We get routinely regaled with calls for carbon taxes and other means of cutting carbon emissions, but this study shows an easier way: just tank the economy!  Look at the graph above, especially 2008.  If Obama can make these conditions or worse the norm–and with Obamacare added with the new stampede of regulations, it’s going to happen–he can also cut carbon emissions, which forwards his environmental agenda.

There are ways of getting things done, and then there are ways of getting things done…

Playing the Cards We’re Dealt

My regular readers are probably aware that, among my other activities, I’m pursing a PhD in Computational Engineering at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.  It’s been an experience for several reasons.  Starting such a degree in my superannuated condition wasn’t an easy thing to do for that reason alone.  Being both on the faculty and being a student at the same time is a bizarre experience; I’ve taught students one semester only to have them as fellow students the following year!

Such a course of study is demanding by nature; I challenge any of the talking and writing heads who claim to be so “scientific” to try it sometime.  My “baptism of fire” in this came with a course entitled Computational Fluid Dynamics I.  The first day of class I sat down and looked around.  There were students from all over the world: Iran, China, India and a few of my fellow Americans thrown in for comic relief.  It didn’t take long to realise that this was the smartest group of people I had ever taken a course with in my life.

It also didn’t take long to realise I was unprepared in many ways for this adventure.  To start with, it was the first course in fluid mechanics of any kind I had taken in over thirty years; in spite of this, I have gone on to specialise in things under the earth, not things that fly over it.  Beyond that it requires a complete command of linear algebra, something that was also lacking in my repertoire (although I’ve tried to make up for that since, with some success.)

So this was a tough course.  When it came to mid-term time, I didn’t do so well, but all things considered neither did the class in general.  This led our professor to deliver one of the most abject “half-time” speeches I have heard in academia, although I’ll bet that Derek Dooley’s addresses to the Vols this past season were at least on par.   The most memorable takeaway from that address was that we were dealt certain cards in life, and that we had to play them.

These days there’s a lot of “post-game wraps” going on after our election; mine is here.  On the conservative side there’s still a general disbelief: how could this happen in this country?  What are we going to do?  What can we do?  How can we make a comeback?  Lastly, and more immediately, how do we keep from falling off this “fiscal cliff”?

We can debate these questions from now until the cows return to their dwelling places, but ultimately these debates don’t change anything, action does.  Although Evangelicals will take exception to putting it this way, this son of hard-drinking, card-playing Episcopalians won’t: we need to start by playing the cards we are dealt and stop living in the subjunctive of the way we’d like things to be.

There are two basic (and usually unsaid) assumptions floating around the conservative world that I cannot subscribe to, and they both relate to my Christian world view.

The first is that we can solve our problems by putting the ideologically correct people in power and implementing the ideologically/morally correct program.  That puts too much stock in politics as the linchpin of our happiness.  If we really believe this, we are no different than either the left (who live to exert power through the political process) or the Islamicists (whose religion makes politics and faith a unity).  Christianity is among other things a rejection of this kind of thing.  At the start Jesus rejected the Jews’ general opinion that their national salvation came from restored nationhood.  The Jewish leadership never quite figured that part of his message out (Pilate did, but then turned him over for crucifixion for convenience sake).  It seems as if that comprehension has been lost in our day once again.  That’s not a difficult mistake to make in a society where the government is or is becoming the all in all, but it’s one we must avoid.

The second is that we can only be happy under ideal conditions.  This is a product of the fact that, in many ways, the United States has been (with exceptions) two hundred years under ideal conditions.  This article of faith has been propagated on both sides of the cultural divide.  On the one hand atheists and secularists have challenged the existence of God based on the fact that bad stuff happens in the creation, which wouldn’t (supposedly) happen with an omnipotent creator.  On the other hand Christian preachers go on with one form or another of prosperity teaching, where being wealthy (definition?) and happy are an integral result of what Robert Tilton used to call “the God kind of faith”.

Neither of these ideas is either tenable or Biblical, but that hasn’t stopped Christian leaders from continuing to propagate both even in the face of recent disasters.  We need a reality check and we need one in a hurry.

We’ve said that, if things continued on their present course, we would have disaster.  Well, they have and we will.  Our health care system will be damaged beyond repair with Obamacare; we’ll need a passport and a plane ticket if we want decent medical procedures in the not to distant future, since they’re going to make it difficult if not impossible to bribe the doctor.  We’re going to get stuck with same-sex civil marriage one way or another, although that result was entirely avoidable if we had pushed for the abolition of the institution when we had the chance.  Our economy will continue to be run down by a political class that is neither up to limited government nor big government that accomplishes substantive things (like nice airports and transportation systems, etc., we see elsewhere in the world).

But, as I reminded people before the election, we have only one true country, and it isn’t this one.  So, you ask, what about our children?  That was precisely the question our ancestors’ generation asked before their children came to this country.  If things are bad enough they can repeat the feat and start over somewhere else.  To do that they’re going to have to ignore much of the swelling rhetoric about pursuing their dream and get some marketable skills before they move, something those coming to this country do all the time.

Life can be bad, but that doesn’t mean that we have to be miserable.  “Listen! a time is coming–indeed it has already come–when you are to be scattered, each going his own way, and to leave me alone; and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me. I have spoken to you in this way, so that in me you may find peace. In the world you will find trouble; yet, take courage! I have conquered the world.”  (John 16:32-33 TCNT)  That comfort is ultimately what makes it possible for us to play the cards we have been dealt.

Rubio’s Not a Scientist, but They’re Not Either

He fields the usual trick question:

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio declined to firmly answer a question of existential importance in an interview released Monday.

An interviewer for GQ magazine asked the Republican, a Catholic and potential 2016 presidential candidate, how old planet Earth is. Rubio didn’t give a direct answer, but suggested children should be exposed to both scientific and religious theories.

(FWIW, my position on this is here, a repost of a 2005 piece that really kicked off this blog.)

People on the left love to parade this to show how “unscientific” their opponents are, which by implication shows how “scientific” they are.  But the truth is that, particularly when one considers their intellectual and political antecedents, those on the left are equally unscientific, irrespective of what they “believe in” (a religious statement in and of itself).

Since liberals are so big on educational credentialism these days, let’s look at the kind of people they “kick upstairs”.  The current Democrat to occupy 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is an…Ivy League lawyer.  So was the last one.  Some scientists.

Let’s contrast this with our main competitor in the world, the People’s Republic of China.  I’ll start with a quote in this 2009 piece:

Consider the nine wonders of the modern world; the nine men who comprise the Politburo Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, led by PRC President Hu Jintao, a hydraulics engineer; Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, a geotechnical engineer; five other engineers; and two economists.  (An economist, I have been told, is an engineer without charisma.)  How is that possible?  How could engineers run a nation, let along the largest one on our planet?  And how could they do such an amazing job, simultaneously applying two polar-opposite political/economic systems to convert an ancient, rural giant into a modern, industrial colossus?

And the tradition continues: Xi Jinping, the current General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, is a chemical engineer by education.

My challenge to the left: put your money where your mouth is.  Or, since you prefer to use other people’s money, put their money where your mouth is.  Start running people with at least an educational background in the hard sciences.  Don’t cheat with the soft ones.  Then we’ll see who’s really scientific and who isn’t.

Forty Years Ago, I Left. Today, the Diocese of South Carolina Leaves.

Through this year, I have posted from time to time about my journey forty years ago from the Episcopal Church to the Roman Catholic Church.  Today is the fortieth anniversary of that transition.  On a very nice South Florida November afternoon, I took my baby blue Pinto on the very short drive to St. Thomas More Parish and, with just me and Fr. Connolly there, I took the profession of faith as a Roman Catholic.  These days, both churches like to do stuff like this in big public ceremonies but, as was the case with my baptism seven years before, it was in private.

My family wasn’t happy with the decision, and my liberal Episcopal school chaplain wasn’t either, although I probably spiked the football harder about it than I should have.  But for a senior in high school in a church which careened between no answers and silly ones, there weren’t many viable alternatives at that point other than the one I took.

I’ve said before that my years as a Roman Catholic were the spiritual adventure of a lifetime.  Today, of course, we have another Episcopal Church departure of far greater import that also promises to be an adventure of another kind: the decision of the Diocese of South Carolina to exit the church, with the central office already preparing a faux diocese complete with Potemkin bishop from here in East Tennessee.  The confluence of the two, although not comparable in scope, leads to some reflections.

The current Presiding Bishop likes to say the people can leave TEC but churches and dioceses cannot.  Rubbish like this notwithstanding, I have come to realise that conservatives departing individually is an expected result.  One Anglo-Catholic bishop told me many years ago that liberals, in fact, want conservatives to leave, and for many on the left that’s probably the case.  The current church-wide triumph of the “revisionist wing” was facilitated by the massive departures of conservative Episcopalians for other church homes.  By the time the LGBT community upped the ante with V.G. Robinson’s enthronement in 2003, there weren’t enough conservative prelates/dioceses/parishes/lay people left to organise a successful resistance on a church-wide basis.  That’s something that was obvious to some of us at the time; others have had to learn this in great pain.  That’s the situation that the DioSC finds itself in.

The problem with parishes and dioceses leaving, however, isn’t people but property.  I’ve said this before, but I’m still amazed that people as ostensibly socialistic as those on the Episcopal left have made such an expensive stand with the property.  In the 1960’s we were told that we needed to get out of our pews overlooked by stained glass and get real; in the 2000’s TEC has bankrupted itself keeping both.  There are two basic reasons for this volte-face, although they are not flattering to the mind changers in TEC.

The first is that TEC, for all the changes, still fancies itself as the church of the upper reaches of society.  What has changed is the composition of that upper class.  Before the revolution we had industrialists like my family and professionals such as attorneys and physicians.  Now we still have the latter but we now have the noblesse de robe from the government and academia.  These still like to liturgise in the same nice surroundings as those departed did.  The historical property is still a major draw for the church, and thus is fought over.  But that’s a long way from the radical vision that helped to kick off the revolution in the first place.

The second is simply…because they can.  Overall, the success rate of TEC in our judicial system is pretty good.  That’s in part because our courts have traditionally been reluctant to interfere with the operations of religious bodies, although that reluctance is becoming selective, as the flap over Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate indicates.  But more profoundly the judiciary is made up with the same élite style of mind that permeates TEC, and in many cases the two are one in the same.  They find a church’s reluctance to apply the same “equality” standard that is being imposed on society highly distasteful, and so take that aversion out on the conservatives in the litigation.

The Diocese of South Carolina is both the early bird and the latecomer to the war transferred to the court system.  They made their missteps early but have learned from their mistakes and those of others.  Whether their plans are successful remains to be seen.  The U.S. used to have a predictable rule of law, but the more complex our laws have become and the more “outcome-based” our judiciary is the less predictability exists.  That bodes ill for us as a country and not just for DioSC.

It is my prayer that the Diocese of South Carolina will prevail and join the orthodox Anglican world on a formal basis.  It is also my prayer that in its own way their departure, like mine, will be the spiritual adventure of a lifetime, because once we have split we must then build, not only for this life but also for the life to come.

A Patronage Driven Political System Should be Called for What It Is

And not whine about it when people point out the obvious:

So he (Mitt Romney) casts about, looking for some other explanation, and he lands on one: “gifts” that, to sway voters, the Obama Administration handed out to the President’s key demographic groups—“especially the African-American community, the Hispanic community, and young people.”

“With regards to the young people, for instance, a forgiveness of college-loan interest, was a big gift,” he reportedly said during a conference call with his campaign’s national finance committee held this Wednesday afternoon. According to the New York Timess Ashley Parker, he went on to explain:

Free contraceptives were very big with young college-aged women. And then, finally, Obamacare also made a difference for them, because as you know, anybody now twenty-six years of age and younger was now going to be part of their parents’ plan, and that was a big gift to young people. They turned out in large numbers, a larger share in this election even than in 2008….

You can imagine for somebody making $25,000 or $30,000 or $35,000 a year, being told you’re now going to get free health care, particularly if you don’t have it, getting free health care worth, what, $10,000 per family, in perpetuity, I mean, this is huge. Likewise with Hispanic voters, free health care was a big plus. But in addition with regards to Hispanic voters, the amnesty for children of illegals, the so-called Dream Act kids, was a huge plus for that voting group.

Ever since Mitt made this statement, our left-wing media has been all over him about it.  But it only proves two things that I’ve come to know are true:

  1. If you want to make an American really angry, state the obvious.
  2. Our political system has become a patron-client system, with the main patron being the government and the clients the various groups it gives “gifts” to.

But Democrats shouldn’t gripe about this state of affairs, because the simple fact that the Republican philosophy is the antithesis of this is a major reason Barack Obama got re-elected.  As long as patronage is the order of the day, the Democrats will always have the upper hand, and those who are really in the know among them understand this.

That is, until the patron goes broke…

The Men Who Saved the Computer From the Hippie Radicals

For all the hoopla these days about being “scientific”, the history of science still gets the short shrift.  We are happier discussing the philosophical advances engendered by the Enlightenment and not the people on the STEM (science, technology, math and engineering) end who actually made those advances a reality.  We’re also happier lionising those who came up with the “right” answers (and demonising those that didn’t) and not looking at the process by which “right” answers become accepted.  These and more would enrich both the discussions we have about science and ease its advance.

But history of any kind is full of inconvenient truths which challenge our conventional wisdom and make us think, and all the promoters of being “scientific” these days would rather have these truths stay in the archives.  The one I propose to remind people of today is a good example of that.

Peter Lax is one of the outstanding mathematicians of our time.  He is best known for his work on developing numerical methods of analysis, crucial in the design of just about everything these days.  These contributions include Lax-Wendroff, Lax-Friederichs, and of course the Lax Equivalence Theorem, which states that solutions which are consistent and stable are also convergent.  But outside of the field Lax had his “fifteen minutes of fame” (appropriate to use an Andy Warhol quip) in a potentially (literally) explosive situation.

Around 1100 5 May 1970 (shortly after the Kent State shootings) around 100 strikers at New York University attempted to gain access to the Atomic Energy Commission’s CDC 6500 computer.  These strikers were members of a radical group, possibly the Transcendental Students or the Weathermen.  Their first assault was unsuccessful, but Dr. Jacob Schwartz, computer science department chairman, saw the handwriting on the wall and shut the computer down.

Evidently their attempt to take control of the Courant Institute (where the computer was housed) and the computer were successful, because the afternoon of 6 May they sent a telegram to the university stating that they were holding the computer hostage and that, should the University fail to fork over US$100,000 for bail for a jailed Black Panther, they would take “appropriate action”.

The deadline for this was 1100 7 May.  Just before this the strikers left the building.  It was easy to assume that all was well, but it wasn’t.  Accompanied by both troops and University officials, Lax led them in to secure and assess the situation, but they found the computer complex filled with smoke.  The strikers had indeed prepared a bomb to damage the computer, but two assistant professors of mathematics (Emile Chi and Frederick Greenleaf) had stamped out the fuse before the Molotov cocktails went off.  This not only prevented damage to the computer but to the 1,000 or so people nearby.

It’s easy to dismiss this as ancient history.   In those times the computer was looked on by much of the radical left with suspicion, especially one in the hands of the AEC.  (Remember the opening of the Moody Blues’ On the Threshold of a Dream)? Today most people carry around as much computer power as that CDC 6500 had.  So what’s the big deal?

The fact is that the left, very much in the driver’s seat in this country these days, is largely the follow-up to the 1960’s radical agenda.  One should think of the 2008 election; the Democratic primary was a battle between a 60’s radical who was actually there (Hillary Clinton) and one who absorbed the philosophy of its leading light (Barack Obama/Bill Ayers).  Two years before the incident at New York University, Mary Hopkin recorded the Russian song “Those Were the Days” which included the following prophetic lyrics:

Oh my friend we’re older but no wiser
For in our hearts the dreams are still the same

That’s pretty much where the American left is at.  Their dreams, Luddite to the core, have never changed, and they are certainly “older but no wiser”.  They can wrap themselves in their “scientific” flag all they want, but their vision of life would take us back to a more primitive stage of living if fully implemented (assuming we survived the shock).  That’s why, for example, they would never dare consider nuclear power to reduce greenhouse gases, even though Greenpeace’s founder has seen daylight on the issue.

It’s that kind of thing–that kind of memory–that makes me profoundly sceptical of anything our left-wing does or says.  And I think it’s sad that our society has allowed them to run down the system the way they have and then say they do so in the name of science.  In the past science was a dirty word; now it’s a mantra.  Who can trust such people?

Veni, Venite, or Coming to Terms with Proper Latin Pronunciation at Christmas

One of the significant changes that has come to this blog in the year fast ending is the incorporation of proper WordPress statistics for the webmaster to contemplate.  This gives me a better idea of where my readers are coming from and what interests them (better than Google Analytics, I might add).

This blog (and all of my sites are pretty much the same way) doesn’t live primarily off of the new content, although the visits do get a kick from time to time from popular pieces of the moment.  It’s more centred on content of perennial interest, like this.  That’s because my general instinct is towards education, and real education is sorely needed these days.

That in turn leads me to a place where some further instruction is in order.  Two years ago I posted Gloria in excelsis Deo. Now Let’s Get That Pronunciation Right! which set forth the proper pronunciation of the Latin words that creep into our Christmas carols.  Evidently I’m not the only one who thinks something is amiss with our Advent repertoire because the interest in that piece is pretty steady.

With that time of year, when choirmasters and music ministers alike prepare to butcher the language of Cicero and Tertullian, it’s time to issue a reminder that you don’t have to be wrong about this.  In the earlier piece I focused on “Angels We Have Heard on High” but this time I’d like to remind readers of the following:

I think it’s time that we pitch this so-called “ecclesiastical” pronunciation of Latin which plagues such classics as “Veni, Veni, Emmanuel,” (O Come, O Come, Emmanuel) “Adeste Fideles,” (O Come, All Ye Faithful)…and pronounce the language the way the Romans did when Our Lord actually laid in the manger in swaddling clothes.

In the case of these two classics (both of which started out in Latin) the most egregious problem is the way the various forms of the Latin verb venire (to come) are pronounced.  The proper way to do this, as set forth by the source for the original piece, is to pronounce the “v” like a “w” (yes, we know the Germans do it this way…)

It’s time to “come to the party” on this issue, and I don’t mean the one where the eggnog is served.  I’m also aware that the nature of the eggnog is in dispute as well, but, as I like to say, that’s another post.

Taking the Last Voyage with Newton and Pascal

He’s not widely known outside of the fields he specialised in, but Adhémar Jean Claude Barré de Saint-Venant (1797-1886, usually known in the Anglophone world as simply Saint-Venant) was one of the premier scientists, engineers and mathematicians of the nineteenth century.  His accomplishments were many and include the following:

  • Successful derivation of the Navier-Stokes Equations for a viscous flow before Stokes; these equations are the basis of computational fluid dynamics and the analysis of things that fly.
  • Systematisation and development of methods in the theory of elasticity of solids, including his semi-inverse methods for torsion, important in things such as automobile crank shafts.
  • Methods for the analysis of wave mechanics in bars, which we see in many places, from musical instruments to driven foundation piles.

Saint-Venant was born into a royalist, aristocratic, traditionally Roman Catholic family at a time when it was not safe to be any of these: the French Revolution, at that point stumbling from the Reign of Terror to control of France–and most of Europe–by Napoleon Bonaparte.  It was about the latter where Saint-Venant made a statement about himself that got him into trouble with the “new” Europe.  As described in S. Timoshenko’s History of Strength of Materials:

The political events of 1814 had a great effect on Saint-Venant’s career.  In March of that year, the armies of the allies were approaching Paris and the students of the École Polytechnique were mobilized.  On March 30, 1814, they were moving their guns to the Paris fortification when Saint-Venant, who was the first sargeant of the detachment, stepped out from the ranks with the exclamation: “My conscience forbids me to fight for an usurper…” His schoolmates resented that action very much and Saint-Venant was proclaimed a deserter and never allowed to resume his study at the École Polytechnique.

Saint-Venant’s statement of conscience was at once a political and religious statement, and “progressives” of his day didn’t miss either.  The French, then and now innocent of anti-discrimination legislation or sentiments, made his life miserable. The École Polytechnique was and is France’s premier technical institute of higher learning; getting kicked out of it was the equivalent of, say, being expelled from Princeton or MIT.  He worked in the powder industry for nine years, then was admitted to the École des Ponts et Chausées, where his fellow students shunned him.  He graduated first in his class anyway and began his illustrious career in technical things both theoretical and practical.

In spite of his difficulties within France, his reputation outside of her was another matter.  When François Napoleon Moigno wrote his book on statics, he discovered the following:

He (Moigno) wanted the portion on the statics of elastic bodies to be written by an expert in the theory of elasticity, but every time he asked for the collaboration of an English or a German scientist, he was given the same answer: “You have there, close to you, the authority par excellence, M. de Saint-Venant, consult him, listen to him, follow him.” One of them, M. Ettingshausen, added: “Your Academy of Sciences makes a mistake, a great mistake when it does not open its doors to a mathematician who is so highly placed in the opinion of the most competent judges.” In conclusion Moigno observes: “Fatally belittled in France of which he is the purest mathematical glory, M. de Saint-Venant enjoys a reputation in foreign countries which we dare to call grandiose.”

The French finally broke down and admitted Saint-Venant into the Academy of Sciences in 1868.  He continued his work, much of it from his home, up until the time of his death.  When the President of the Academy announced that passing, he made the following statement:

Old age was kind to our great colleague.  He died, advanced in years, without infirmities, occupied up to the last hour with problems which were dear to him and supported in the great passage by the hopes which had supported Pascal and Newton.

Europeans of the time would not have missed the import of the last statement: Pascal and Newton were Christians, and Saint-Venant was being identified with them as one also.  It was also a statement that Saint-Venant, for all of his achievements and interests which have enriched the world, also had an eternal goal as well.

There’s no evidence that Saint-Venant was ostentatious in his faith walk; descriptions of his life show the contrary.  And–shock to today’s atheist–there’s no evidence that it ever impeded the progress of his research or his thought.  As the statistician and eugenicist Karl Pearson, no friend of Christianity, noted:

The more I studied Saint-Venant’s work, the more new directions it seemed to me to open up for original investigation of the most valuable kind. It suggested innumerable unsolved problems in atomic physics, in impact, in plasticity and in a variety of other branches of elasticity, which do not seem beyond solution, and the solution of which if obtained would be of extreme importance. I felt convinced that a study of Saint-Venant’s researches would be a most valuable directive to the several young scientists, whose recent memoirs shew their interest in elasticity as well as their mathematical capacity. Many of the problems raised by Saint-Venant’s suggestive memoirs were quite beyond my powers of analysis, and I recognised that the most useful task I could undertake, was by a careful account of the memoirs themselves to lead the more competent on to their solution.

The biggest impediment he had to face was the blowback from his stand at the École Polytechnique, and that came from his secularist colleagues.  But, when the end came, all of his colleagues knew where he stood, in this life and the next one.

I spend a lot of time on this site and others talking about sea (and sometimes air) voyages.  And I’ve spent most of my career (and all the academic part of same) in the applied sciences.  But when I take my last voyage into eternity, I want to do it in the same hope of Newton and Pascal–and Saint-Venant and Euler for that matter–namely that which comes from following Jesus Christ out of the grave and into eternal life.

And you should too.

Note: my main source for this article was S. Timoshenko’s History of Strength of Materials.  Other sources were as follows:

  • Pearson, Karl. The Elastical Researches of Barré de Saint-Venant. Cambridge: University Press, 1889.
  • Thurston, Herbert. “Saint Bénézet and his Biographer.” Catholic World, Vol. 86, No. 517, December 1907.

Passing Up Making Lemonade on Civil Marriage

In Israel, of all places:

Hundreds of Israeli evangelical couples have traveled out of the country in order to get married because the Jewish government does not officially recognize their faith. Church leaders are escalating efforts to change that.

The Council of Evangelical Churches in Israel (CECI), which includes 51 churches and organizations such as Campus Crusade and the Bible Society, formally requested in August 2011 that Israel recognize four denominations on behalf of nearly 5,000 followers. More than a year later, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—who must approve the request—has yet to respond, says Michael Decker, chief counsel for the Jerusalem Institute of Justice (JIJ).

“Not being recognized leads to practical problems,” said Botrus Mansour, director of Nazareth Baptist School, regarding marriage, divorce, and education matters. “We hope a lawsuit will [help].”

Israel doesn’t have civil marriage as we know it, but recognises various religious bodies to perform marriages which then have acknowledgement by the state.  Evangelicals, popular neither in Israel or here, have troubles getting their plethora of churches (maybe we need to discuss this problem first) recognised.  (Perhaps if Barack Obama realised how Evangelicals are viewed by the Israeli government, US-Israel relations would improve). So Evangelical couples go abroad for a civil marriage.

IMHO, these churches are passing up an opportunity their American counterparts can’t get their head around either: marriage performed by a church but unrecognised by the state.  Evangelical pastors love to trumpet their “scriptural authority” (I wonder if Israeli pastors are as triumphalistic as their American counterparts, somehow I doubt it) but they can’t seem to find it when it comes to really putting their seal on “what God joins together”.  AFAIK, Israel doesn’t have laws against “unlawful conjugal relations” unlike the Muslim countries that surround it, and any Western-style country like Israel deals regularly with couples not joined in state-recognised marriage or civil union.

But I’m not holding my breath…