Missing the Signs: The Religious Motivations of the 9/11 Attackers

America is reeling from President Biden’s chaotic abandonment of American citizens, our Afghan allies, and religious minorities in Afghanistan. Twenty years ago this very week, America was also reeling when two jetliners smashed into the World Trade Center, a third slammed into the Pentagon, and a fourth crashed in Pennsylvania as its valiant passengers overpowered their Islamist captors.

Read it all: Missing the Signs: The Religious Motivations of the 9/11 Attackers

After 9/11, the Ministry Remains

Today of course is the twentieth anniversary of the 11 September attacks on the World Trade Centres and the Pentagon. I’ve done this before but I’m going to post again the slide show/video I made for the Church of God Chaplains Commission about that event and the ministry response the church made, presented at the Church of God General Assembly the following year.

The video is divided into two parts. The first is a photo montage of the attacks; they’re still hard to watch. The second is a “roll call” of those in the church who ministered during and after the attacks, including some from Afghanistan.

In preparing this under the direction of the then Executive Director of the Commission, Dr. Robert Crick, it wasn’t our intention to produce a patriotic presentation but to focus on the Christian ministry that took place. Given recent events in Afghanistan, the wisdom of that choice has been underscored. What we do in ministry has eternal results that transcend the successes and failures of temporal nations and causes.

And so Jesus, also, to purify the People by his own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go out to him ‘outside the camp,’ bearing the same reproaches as he; for here we have no permanent city, but are looking for the City that is to be.

Hebrews 13:12-14 TCNT

Secular Blasphemy is Out in the Open

On Vox, at least:

What policymakers can aim for is not a total end to Covid-19 but a balancing act. On one side of that scale is containing Covid-19 with restrictions and precautions. On the other is resuming normal, pre-pandemic life. Vaccines have changed the balance by giving us the ability to contain Covid-19’s worst outcomes — hospitalization and death — with less weight on the side of restrictions. But vaccines alone can’t drive hospitalizations and deaths to zero if all the weight on the restriction side is removed.

In part, that was the point of my piece Teaching Secular Blasphemy. Given the fact that we are continually “behind the curve” in suppressing the virus, and the natural uncertainties built into processes like this, eliminating COVID altogether in a short time frame was a fool’s errand from the start. But our leaders–and that includes those in the public health community–played on Americans’ obsession with the “perfect life” concept. (And the Aussies have done that on steroids.) No one would admit that there were trade-offs in this whole process.

Perhaps this is a sign that a reality check is underway. Perhaps.

When Labour believed in Brexit

In October 1980, the colourful trade union leader Clive Jenkins took to the podium at the Labour Party’s annual conference in Blackpool with a simple message: the British public had been deceived in the referendum on European membership held in 1975. Far from the economic uplands promised by those who campaigned to remain, British industry…

When Labour believed in Brexit

Life is one big status game

Two decades before he landed in Australia, Captain James Cook was at sea facing a desperate matter of life and death. The problem was scurvy, a deadly illness caused by Vitamin C deficiency and which had been the curse of sailors for centuries. By the time that Capt Cook set sail for the South Pacific…

Life is one big status game

How did we get here? Religious freedom never took off in Afghanistan

For those appalled by the potential of widespread Christian persecution in Afghanistan, I have bad news: the persecution imposed during the era of Taliban rule beginning in the 1990s never stopped. The Taliban’s ouster in 2001 did little to change societal norms that are anti-Christian and anti-religious minority generally. Let’s take a look back at the situation shortly after the new Afghan government was elected (November 2005) and at cases of blasphemy and apostasy, and then we’ll fast forward to conditions on the ground in 2020…

How did we get here? Religious freedom never took off in Afghanistan

This is by Eric Patterson, Executive Vice President, Religious Freedom Institute. Also about Dr. Patterson: Book Review: Eric Patterson’s Just American Wars: Ethical Dilemmas in U.S. Military History.

Another Reason to Take Down William Fulbright’s Statue

This gushing review of the Fulbright Program for “citizen diplomats” is elite pap:

Since Aug. 1, 1946, the Fulbright Program — the U.S. Department of State’s flagship international exchange program — has withstood the test of time to continually enhance mutual understanding between Americans and citizens of more than 160 partner countries worldwide. But what makes the Fulbright Program a remarkable return-on-investment for the U.S. government, as well as partner governments globally?

The only actual example he cites is from Afghanistan. Needless to say, that hasn’t aged well: my guess is that the article was written before that debacle.

I think programs like this may be designed to expose people to other cultures and make them understand them better, but I think the result is that it pushes people to see everything through the narrow, provincial woke lens that is fashionable these days. That’s what’s basically wrong with the way Americans view the world around them: products of a monoculture, they are incapable of seeing anything in any terms other than their own. The Afghanistan disaster is just an outsized example of the consequences of this kind of blindness, but there are others.

I said in an earlier post about Fulbright that “Fulbright was one of those people who was educated far past his ability to properly absorb it”, and I think his program simply perpetuates it to others. If they take down his statue at the University of Arkansas for whatever reason, there may be tears shed, but they won’t be mine.

Farewell to Bourgeois Kings

What Schmitt is saying here is very important, and it might very well end up being the true cost of the Afghanistan debacle. Every ruling class throughout history advances various claims about its own legitimacy, without which a stable political order is impossible. Legitimating claims can take many different forms and may change over time, but once they become exhausted or lose their credibility, that is pretty much it.

Read it all here, it’s a gem, HT to Matt Kennedy: https://wp.me/p1Yh9A-EV. It’s as brilliant of an analysis of the meaning of our debacle in Afghanistan as I’ve seen.

Teaching Secular Blasphemy

Well it’s that time of year for academics (at least those on a semester system) when we begin another term of teaching and learning. This Fall I am somewhat officially retired from full-time teaching (if the university had started me sooner it would be official) but I am back teaching my Foundations course.

Towards the end of that course I get into a topic that is relatively new in engineering: Load and Resistance Factor Design (LRFD.) LRFD is a fancy technique that attempts to quantify uncertainty in both the way structures are loaded and how they resist that loading, Loads on civil structures include the dead weight of the structure, what the structure carries (traffic on a bridge, for example) and loads such as earthquake, wind and impact loads. The structure resists it by having material that doesn’t either break or move excessively during use, and that material ultimately includes the soil, rock or what’s in between that supports the structure.

In the past we used something called Allowable Stress Design (ASD,) which involves using factors of safety, a concept familiar to people even outside the engineering profession. Typically the literature states that we have moved from “deterministic” design (ASD) to “probabalistic” design. I don’t agree with that: we’ve always “played the odds” and built into our structures additional material to deal with uncertainties, including what one Australian engineer called a “factor of ignorance.” The difference is how we do the calculations: LRFD is supposed to be a better way of quantifying those uncertainties, although I have one colleague who disagrees with that.

In the course of teaching that, I present the following graphic.

Diagram showing the magnitude of Loads Q and Resistance R vs. How Often a Specific Load or Resistance Might Occur

This shows two bell curves (see, I’m already in trouble) of various loads and resistances. The idea is that the ability of a structure to resist loads and stay together/in service is greater than the loads it’s subjected to. Notice two things:

  • There is no one load or resistance for a structure. There is a distribution of possible loads, which includes the fact that those loads can vary over time.
  • There is always a blue shaded region where the two overlap. That’s the region where the loads can overcome the resistances. There is no way to get rid of this; we can only minimize the region.

The last point is, in the context of our society today, secular blasphemy. Why is this? Because we as Americans have been conditioned to believe that life is supposed to be perfect and without adversity. Failure to achieve this leads to most of the bile we see in the streets and on social media.

Considering the case of COVID-19, although coronaviruses have been with us for a long time, the unique characteristics of this one meant that we went into the pandemic with greater uncertainty. This meant that the “load” bell curve tended to be flatter and broader (if not in reality at least in our perception) than with other diseases. On the other hand those uncertainties extended to the way we resisted the virus, so that curve is flatter and broader too. To put it like the public health officer at our university did, our response was like building the plane while flying it at the same time.

The result of both of these is that the blue shaded overlap region is larger than we’re used to seeing. That meant that bad things happening were inevitable until our knowledge of what we were up against and how we planned to counter this were better known, the curves sharpened (and hopefully further away from each other) and the blue region shrunk. This is not an instantaneous process with any assault like this; it takes time, especially with something that is a moving target (mutations, uncertain interactions with the populations and environment, etc.)

You’d never know that from the rhetoric that comes out of our society. On the one hand we hear that, if we do such and such, the virus will completely go away. On the other we have a prosperity teaching type of denialism which tells us that these adversities are illusory. Neither of these is realistic. We can do things to improve the situation. Sometimes these things are a “breakthrough,” sometimes they are incremental. In football we can either get to the goal with one “Hail Mary” pass or we can grind from one first down to another. Anyone who has watched the game knows that, with well matched teams, the latter is more likely to succeed.

Unrealistic expectations make our society insufferable, and decrease the desire for longer life, which may explain our rising suicide rate. (There is a better way.) They’re also profoundly unscientific, and the remind us that, in spite of the gaudy rhetoric, those who run our society are profoundly unscientific as well. Our adversaries are better prepared in that regard, which doesn’t bode well for the global conflict that is shaping up.

Unhappily living with that reality is, I suppose, the price for teaching secular blasphemy.

Unpatriotic Conservatives? You Asked For It

Complaints, complaints…

The Olympics are typically a boom time for jingoism: patriotic fervor heightening among Americans of all stripes with each gold medal for Team USA. But this year, we’ve seen an unlikely faction of Americans rooting against our athletes: conservatives.

Griping about this is rich: for years those on the left have complained about what a jingoistic, xenophobic, boorish and provincial people Americans in general and conservatives in particular are. Now that the conservatives are changing their idea, those on the left don’t like it. Why is this? Because progressives have the upper hand, they want people to be boosters of their country. They never thought that their opponents would consider this volte-face (some have been working at it for a long time) and are surprised that it’s happening.

The elite progressive left has two simple choices: either they figure out a way to run the country without a large portion of the population participating or they find a way to build real bridges (and not just the phony ones they love to do) to a broader portion of the people who live here. I think to some extent they’ve leaned on people they don’t like (and who returned the favour) to just go on staffing the military, police and contributing to the economic good of the country. Now that those just might not go on doing that the way they have, they’re scared.

Personally, I think that our elites are too sybaritic and inert to make the changes necessary to make this country successful the way it has been in the past. And with looming competition out there, the consequences of that inability could be serious. But you people asked for this, the world is about to find out if you are the “meritocracy” you claim to be or not.