Category Archives: Unusual Stuff

I’m not sure what to make of this, even if I posted it.

Those African Immigrants Sure Are Encouraging

Carol Swain, the Vanderbilt professor who took early retirement after ruffling the feathers of their very politically correct establishment, tells this turning point while growing up in Roanoke, VA:

She married in her teens and wound up a “divorced welfare mother of two sons.” It was a fellow shift worker at the Liberty House Nursing Home, an African immigrant named Abou, who persuaded to try her hand at higher education. Against these steep odds, she climbed the academic ladder all the way from Virginia Western Community College to a law degree at Yale and professorships at Princeton and Vanderbilt. Prominent mentors along the way—at Roanoke College, where she completed her bachelor’s; Virginia Tech, her first master’s degree; and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, her doctorate in political science—helped make it possible. But these days, she reflects, “In some ways, I feel like I didn’t always turn out the way people had hoped I would turn out.”

Seven years ago, my Kenyan department head and his Cameroonian assistant sat me down and told me I needed to get my PhD.  He’s told others that, but I took his advice.  The rest is history.

The Bad Little Bunny: An Easter Tale

On the day we celebrate Our Lord’s resurrection, I usually try to do something uplifting, like this.   This year, I dunno, maybe it’s time for something completely different.  This story goes back a long way, but perhaps it has some relevance for today.  Hopefully it will brighten yours.

We moved our family business to Chattanooga in 1960As I’ve described elsewhere, we didn’t exactly fit into the scene here.  Chattanooga was a very “ingrown” place with a very definite social hierarchy.  Those having the “mountain top experience” were at one end and those in the valley had another, and the two didn’t care much for each other.  That battle isn’t what it used to be except in the Hamilton County Department of Education, which is one reason why they’re having such a time finding a new superintendent.

In the midst of this scene, it was necessary to get my brother and I into school.  My mother, both in Chattanooga and later in Palm Beach, always preferred to see her sons in private school.  After a year an a half in the county school (I am a kindergarten dropout, which is a real hoot when you end up with a PhD) we transferred to the Bright School, which was and is this town’s most prestigious private primary school.

I came there in second grade; it was the year Bright moved from its old campus downtown to the Riverview location it occupies today.  Our teacher was nearing retirement; the first day of class she went around the room and pointed out several students.  “I taught your father…I taught your mother…I taught your uncle…” and so forth.  I should have known I was behind the 8-ball when this took place. It didn’t take long for that to surface.  I was adjusting to a new school and a new teacher, and neither was smooth.

The biggest bump in the road took place at Easter.  They had a school play, which featured a “good” Easter bunny and a “bad” Easter bunny.  After the performance we were instructed to write thank you letters to the cast.  Well, I decided to make mine memorable: I told them that the bad bunny was “the bomb” and loved his performance.  I’m not sure what prompted me to do this.  I could have figured it would get under my teacher’s skin.  Also, I grew up in a house where people who didn’t show the requisite IQ were referred to as “dumb bunnies,” so when one made a good impression, it was an event.  Finally, being the kid always picked last, I may have sympathised with the guy who must have drawn the short straws to get the part.

My teacher’s reaction was predictable: she went ballistic.  I was in hot water and so were my parents.  Fortunately cooler heads prevailed in the form of the Headmaster, Dr. Mary Davis, who was brought from where I teach now to succeed the school’s founder.  She arranged for me to come to her office periodically to discuss “things.”  With a sympathetic ear at school, I settled down, and so did my teacher.

The following year at Bright was much better.  But my time ran out there; my health was poor in Chattanooga, and we moved to Palm Beach.  Socially I was getting used to Chattanooga, but I doubt that my father shed a tear when the Mayflower moving van pulled out of our Tennessee house.

In looking back, I guess the thing that intrigues me is this: what would happen if this (or something like it) had transpired today?  Two possibilities come to mind.

The first is the “everyone gets a trophy” theory: the bad little bunny needed to be praised just like everyone else.  In that case I would have done the right thing.  Face it: he came to the practices and learned the lines, why not?

The second is the more unfortunate outcome.  There’s a good chance that such a play now would be a “politically correct allegory” written to inculcate the desired morality these days.  Say, for example, that the bad bunny was a stand-in for Donald Trump, who was trying to “make Easter great again?”  Just thinking about the blowback from that is stressful.

The one unlikely outcome, sad to say, is the measures that Dr. Davis took.  It takes patience and understanding to deal with children that don’t fit the “norm of the day,” and that too often is in short supply in both our public and private schools.

But ultimately the message of Easter, which concerns the resurrection of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, is obscured by the pagan inclusion of bunnies, good and bad alike.  The key here is that, when it comes to Easter, it doesn’t pay to be a dumb bunny.

The Geniuses Really Do Commit Suicide…Well, Some of Them

We have some data on the issue:

For the first time reliable data has shown that the suicide rate among people working in creative roles is significantly higher than the national average.

The first-ever study of suicide by profession from the ONS, which covered England in the years from 2011 to 2015, showed that people who work in arts-related jobs are up to four times more likely to commit suicide.

My prep school freshman and sophomore English teacher put my parents off with this:

My parents had a far lower impression of this man, and much of that came from the first parent-teacher conference they went to.  The basic problem (although he wouldn’t put it this way) was that I was insufficiently deconstructionistic to suit his fancy.  Somehow he conveyed this to my parents, who came back with their idea that I was very intelligent and did well elsewhere.  His response: yes, but geniuses commit suicide.

What’s interesting about this study is that the geniuses doing themselves in are in the arts, not the hard sciences.  Had I stuck with the arts, he may well have been right.  But I didn’t, either stick with the arts or commit suicide.

One reason why I shifted into engineering–in addition to the desire for steady meals–was to get away from people such as him.  Doing that, as Robert Frost would say, has made all the difference.  The road is not only better but, on this side of eternity, longer too.

Reflection: Sounds of Salvation

Reflection RL 310 (1974)

If there’s one genre that’s mostly AWOL from the “Jesus Music” era, it’s prog.  To a great extent that’s still the case; a major exception is this dance troupe, which sets their Christian dance to some very good prog music.  We’ve featured prog on this site (especially this.)  But at the top of the heap, without a doubt, is this masterpiece, from the UK.  It not only sets the standard for what progressive Christian music should sound like; it’s one of the most memorable productions ever undertaken in the era.

Commissioned by the Methodist Church, if their objective was to product a Christian album to appeal to a secular audience, they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.  It goes from its noisy start to the hard-driving “Overseers” (which is probably what my students think of me) to a visit to Hell in “Many Regrets” to what is one of the nicest musical representations of the new birth in “What’s That I Hear.”  And that’s just the first side.

It’s an album that has to be experienced.  There’s an entire blog (something of a stub) about it.  This posting is based on the conclusion that the “distribution” that has been out there for a long time is a “needle drop” operation; there are also rumours afoot that same operator has passed on.  If this is not the case, let me know; I’d love to point to a full re-release of this monumental work.

The songs:

  1. Montage & Because My Mouth
  2. Jesus Is The Rock & Overseers & Psalm 94
  3. Who Am I
  4. Many Regrets
  5. For An Instant & In The Dark
  6. What’s That I Hear
  7. People I Live With
  8. Love III
  9. Kumbaya & Prayers
  10. What Is It Like, Lord
  11. Lonely
  12. For A Little Freedom
  13. Prayers
  14. Salvation Hymn
  15. Because My Mouth (reprise)

DL

More music

Next Thing, They’ll Start Declaring Students as “Unmutual”

Syracuse University leads the way:

Syracuse University wants student to combat hate and report bias incidents to the administration when they encounter them on campus. Given how broadly the university defines bias, it’s surprising that students have time for anything else.

According to Syracuse, bias involves “telling jokes,” “excluding or avoiding others,” using the phrase “no homo” (does anyone even say that anymore?), making comments on social media, and a dozen other things.

Avoiding others?  Forced socialisation?  Reminds me of the classic series The Prisoner, where in “A Change of Mind” #6 is declared “unmutual” for his independent ways:

The series was, sad to say, prophetic.  Be seeing you!

What College Used to Look Like, and a History of Tau Beta Pi

What a “college man” used to look like, in this case my grandfather, C.H. Warrington, who is at the right. He started out at the University of Illinois but ended up at Lehigh, where he graduated with a Civil Engineering degree in 1912. (It was another eighty-five years before a member of the family would obtain another civil engineering degree.)

Lehigh is best remembered in engineering academia as the birthplace of Tau Beta Pi, the premier engineering honour fraternity, and gave the fraternity its seal brown and white colours. However, my grandfather wasn’t the Tau Beta Pi type, let alone a member; he was more comfortable with what was referred to as the “Gentlemen’s C.” My experience teaching has informed me that the Gentlemen’s C is very much alive and well in engineering!

Tau Beta Pi

Speaking of engineering’s premier honour fraternity, below is an account of the founding of Tau Beta Pi, from the 1912 Epitome, Lehigh’s yearbook (pp. 199-200):

THERE exist in the college world three well-known societies, membership in which signifies college honor, in the manifestation of high scholarship. They are Phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Xi and Tau Beta Pi. The first of these finds its membership in the men pursuing literature and the arts. The second selects its men from those who have shown distinction in the sciences and who have performed some research work. The last, Tau Beta Pi, of which we write, enrolls the honor men in engineering courses. Of the three Phi Beta Kappa is the oldest, having been founded in 1776, while the dates of founding of the other two were separated by only one year-Tau Beta Pi, 1885, and Sigma Xi, 1886. The existence of Tau Beta Pi is owed to Prof. Edward H. Williams, Jr., an alumnus of Yale and of Lehigh where he became Professor of Mining Engineering and Geology. The motives leading to and the circumstances attending the formation of this society are interesting and worthy of record in a book of this nature.

As valedictorian of the class of 1875 at Lehigh, Prof. Williams had been elected an honorary member of the Sigma (New York) chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, and was anxious for the establishment of a chapter of that society here. There were, however, two obstacles standing in the way, first, the fact that the council, in whose hands the granting of charters lay, met only once in six years, and, second, the strong objection in Phi Beta Kappa against the admission of technical men into its membership. Owing to the highly technical character of Lehigh’s courses the likelihood of an establishment of a chapter here was very slight and even with a charter granted the membership would be confined to a very small number.

Prof. Williams was aware of the necessity for the recognition of a man’s ability other than the diploma which he received, and further that the recognition should be given while the man was still at college, and not as he was just passing out through her portals. The attitude which some men had towards a diploma can best be shown by the following incident: As the valedictorian of one of the ’80 classes came from the stage after graduation Prof. Williams congratulated him, to which he received the reply” …… ‘s got one too.” The fellow in question had flunked every examination in his four years of college. There was no limit to re-examinations in those days and he had taken enough until he had passed.

These were the motives leading to the formation of the society. The details of organization are briefly given as follows: Prof. Williams’ conception of the society was that its membership should be taken from those men whose grades showed them to be in the first quarter of the class. Their rating must be above 75% and they must have no conditions. In practice this was to work as follows: At the end of their Junior year the men standing in the first eighth of their class became eligible for election and at the beginning of the Senior year the first quarter of the class became eligible. The election of these men, however, was not to be on the basis of scholarship alone but in addition the men must possess high morals, qualities of good fellowship, and manifest a healthy interest and rational participation in college activities.

To start such a society so that election into it would be sought and so that its .establishment would be firm and give promise of vigorous growth was a matter requiring much careful work. How this was accomplished is best told in Prof. Williams’ own words, and we quote from a letter from him on the subject, giving the Editor of the EPITOME this information on request.

” …… Now, too many cooks spoil the broth of society building; so I decided to take nobody into my confidence. I knew what I wanted and I went to work alone.

“I first drew up a constitution and provided for granting new chapters, for an executive council, and for alumni advisers to act as a balance wheel to keep things going in line, and I made it hard to amend this instrument. I then drew up By-laws for Lehigh.

“Next, there must be a body of alumni behind the affair before the first undergraduate was let in. I delivered the valedictory for ’75 and so was eligible to the society. I took the old faculty records and calculated the standing of every man who graduated, during his four years; drew up a list of the men in the order of their stand. They must be in the first fourth of the class and also have a general average of 75. Having the eligible men of the past, I had Edwin G. Klose, of the Moravian Book Concern, buy a series of special fonts of type, which are now in the possession of the society, a lot of electrotypes of the society key, and some other matter and print a lot of diplomas. . ….. I signed them as secretary, to which office I elected myself. The answers I received from the boys were refreshing. One valedictorian said he would value it more than his diploma.

“Then I had my friend Newman, of John St., New York, file out a society key, to see how the thing looked. Then I was ready for the undergraduates. I went slowly, however, and it was May, 1885, before I told Irving A. Heikes, the best man in ’85, to stop after recitation, one morning, and asked him if he would like to be the first undergraduate to join a society. He wanted to think it over, and finally said ‘Yes,’ so I initiated him. He took post-graduate work, I think, and in the fall he and Professor Meaker, who helped me initiate the classes for several years, and Duncan, ’80, initiated the men from ’86 and the Wilbur man from ’87.

“For several years I was elected president of the society and directed the body till it began to have a good number of alumni and many representatives in the Faculty. It took like hot cakes and soon its elections were looked for. “I wanted to have Tau Beta Pi in full blast before Phi Beta Kappa came, as it would not then be looked upon as an imitation by a lot of men who could not get into the latter. In deference to the general tradition I limited the membership in Phi Beta Kappa to students in the liberal courses, and I had the charter given to a council of a few graduate members, Mr. Kitchel, Albert G. Rau, myself and a few others.

“This is the way Tau Beta Pi came to Lehigh. It was the culmination of a lot of work covering four years. I could not give as much time to it as I wanted, owing to the growth of my department. Breckenridge was elected an honorary member. Heck became president and a ‘member of the advisory board, and then it began to form chapters outside. While the founding is wholly my own unassisted work, the spread is due to others …….. “

In June, 1910, the society had a membership of 3680 divided among 24 flourishing chapters, located at institutions of acknowledged leadership in the instruction of engineering. The twenty-fifth anniversary was celebrated here at Lehigh last June and the attendance and enthusiasm in connection with the convention gave every evidence of the solidity and prestige of Tau Beta Pi. J. L. B.

Happy New Year, Comrades, and Thinking About the Class Struggle

To the right is a Soviet New Year card; I’ve featured these before.  If they look suspiciously like Christmas cards, well, that’s just the genre…

As it happens, this New Year isn’t one our counterparts on the left have looked forward to ever since That Man With the Big Hair won a couple of months ago.  There have been many recriminations about this.  For some of us the question is this: how could you people, who have showered trillions on the population while taking complete credit for it, miss running the table at election time?  (Same question in 2000, and 2004…)  I think the answer to that question comes in part from the country that produced that New Year’s card.

The left has traditionally had three wedges to drive into Euro-Christian civilisation: sex, race and class.  A fourth one, the environment, is used to underpin the other three.  This combination is a metastable one; it can work for a while, but can be only maintained with a great deal of propaganda while relying on their opponents to help keep the rickety chandelier together.

One way to simplify things is to de-emphasise one or more of them and concentrate on the others.  American conservatives like to characterise their opponents as Marxists.  This is not entirely true: there are very few real Marxists on the American political scene, even in academia.  That’s because, while Marx focused on one of those wedges–class–American liberals concentrate on sex and race.  That was certainly in evidence this last election cycle.  Had the American left struck a better balance among the three, Donald Trump–or any other Republican for that matter–would have never stood a chance of winning the White House, and that defeat would have probably taken the Senate with it.

But they didn’t.  Instead they took their stand with the pro-choice and identity politics–the latter of which is, in a sense, trying to revive pre-Enlightenment ways of governing society–and ignored the fact that income inequality only worsened under Barack Obama.  Bernie Sanders attempted to shift this back to a more class-based dialectic, but his attempt wasn’t entirely successful.  And, as we all know, the Democrat party leadership was in no mood to nominate him anyway…

Marx’ obsession with class–and that of his disciples–has its shortcomings.  The racism embedded in Russian society never changed during Soviet times.  The move to women’s rights didn’t go very far either, even though they had very liberal abortion and divorce legislation.  Their environmental policies were a disaster they are still suffering from.  But they built a nation to be reckoned with and a great industrial power.

The American left, however, is still pursuing its (or its parents’) hippie dreams of a land with free love and no need to achieve.

I still think that the American left could finish the job (close the deal, perhaps?) To do that, however, will need a lot better leadership then has surfaced up to now.  I used to say they needed to find their inner Lenin; I’m not sure they’ve got anyone at this point up to Otto von Bismarck or even Léon Blum.

Which, I suppose, is the best insurance for happiness for the rest of us…Happy New Year, comrades.

Prayer for Rosh Hashanah

From the Jewish High Holiday Prayer Book:

O God, divine Ruler of the universe, as the twilight of the old year fades into the night that marks the birth of another year, we gather together in Thy house with mingled emotions, mindful of the blessings and the sorrows Thou hast seen fit to lay upon us.

Thou, O Lord, art without beginning and without end.  Before Thee, time and change are as naught.  A thousand years in Thy sight are as yesterday when it is past, but as for man, his years are numbered; every hour is precious for Thou hast set a limit to his days on earth.  On Rosh Hashanah we become aware of the flight of time, the vanity of our possessions, and the uncertainty of life.  We feel the need of pursuing that which is timeless and indestructible.  O may our prayers on these Holy Days arouse within us lofty resolves.  Stimulate us to find richer meaning and fuller content in all our daily tasks and aspirations.

We pray that this year be for us and for all mankind a year of life and health, a year of sustenance and cheer.  Help us to make it a year of consecration to the Torah, of devotion to Israel, of loyalty to Zion and of service to humanity; a year of faith and wisdom to meet the perplexities and perils which may beset us.

On this Rosh Hashanah and in the days to come, may we acknowledge Thee our Father and regard all men as brothers.  May it be a year of peace, concord and serenity, a year in which Thy spirit will fill the hearts of all Thy children everywhere.  Amen.

Advice to Graduates: The Two Promises I Made to Myself

It may seem an odd time to do a pseudo-graduation piece. Obviously the University of Tennessee thinks so: this weekend I am supposed to officially receive my PhD degree, but the university, having spent a great deal of money on a new, traditional looking quad, doesn’t do an August graduation ceremony, with a graduation speech of any kind. So this will have to suffice.

In accreditation standards, this degree is referred to as the “terminal degree.” I agree: by the time you’re done with it, you’re just about dead. But I have other things to commemorate this year. One of those is the twentieth anniversary of our family divesting itself of our business. Accompanied by the loss of my father and brother, it was one of those times when everything was different at the end than it was at the beginning. In the wake of those events I took stock of things, sought God and made myself two interrelated promises that I have pretty much kept in the score that followed. I think they’re worth passing on because, in the midst of swelling words, it’s easy to lose sight of practicalities.

The first was that I would never again allow myself to be dependent upon one source of income. Up until that point the family business—a company with one product to boot—had been my main livelihood for eighteen years. In those years it was impressed upon me that, from a professional standpoint, the business should be like segregation to George Wallace: first, last and always. Although I had the usual consulting contracts, they wouldn’t last that long, and there were the equally usual non-compete agreements in them. With the unhappy memory of every day being a “hero or zero” event, I decided to diversify my income. It’s been very helpful. We’re supposed to sleep a third of the time; that decision made that third (and the other two-thirds) a lot happier.

One of those diversifications has been my online activity, which started the year after the business went away. It hasn’t been the most lucrative thing, but in the process of putting stuff up I’ve delved back into our family history. We’ve been successful since we’ve been here, and for my father’s family that’s about a century and a half. Much of that success has been due to the diverse nature of the income: my great-grandfather’s yachts, my grandfather’s cars and airplanes, etc. Even the “one product” family business, at the turn of the last century, had a diverse offering which included bridges, dredges, and other products. There was a historical lesson that had been forgotten, and this is a country which habitually forgets historical lessons.

To make that really work involves another family habit: living below your means and staying out of debt to the greatest extent possible. That flies in the face of a credit-driven society driven by instant gratification, and it isn’t always easy in a country where wages are compressed the way they are. That being so, without it, the advantage in your life will always shift towards those who make the payments.

The second was that I would never let my professional (or other) identity be taken over by another institution or individual. This will take a little more explaining.

When your family has been in our business as long as ours was, the public image of the two tend to run together. But which came first? My great-great-grandfather started the company in 1852, sold it eleven years later, his sons bought it back in 1881, we got out of it in 1996. It should be obvious that the company was ours as long as we had it. But that wasn’t the message I heard, especially from the family and those in the company. The message I heard all too often was that the business made us what we were and that we owed the business in perpetuity because of that. That justified the aforementioned idea that it should be the sole source of income.

Getting out of the business didn’t solve that problem. I worked for people who wanted my professional identity completely contained in the work and institution which they ran. That wasn’t any better at what was strictly a job than it was at my own business. But there are others who saw it to their advantage to let “me be me” and they reap the benefits from that. In those cases it’s been a “win-win” situation for everyone. (Remember that, in job hunting, they’re not only choosing you; you’re choosing them.)

There are two parts to this issue: the practical and the “theoretical.” From a practical standpoint, in a world where companies, institutions and even lines of work are in a perpetual state of upheaval, it doesn’t make sense to have one’s reputation in the marketplace dependent upon one institution. Sometimes one can end up the “last man (or woman) standing” in a profession, where the skill set has gone out of currency and you’re the “go-to” person. But even then the reputation needs to be yours, not your employer’s.

The “theoretical” part is a little trickier but just as important, because it goes to how you look at life in general, which in turn will determine where that life goes.

Christianity teaches that we derive our worth and value from God who created us and made our salvation possible. That being the case, it’s always amazing that, in what has been up until now a predominantly Christian country, that so many in church every Sunday pursue personal validation in this society with such gusto. We insist on driving the proper car, living in the proper house, and raising the proper children to communicate the message of success, when the Gospel tells us that none of these things is necessary for happiness.

Secularizing the country will only make this problem worse, because it takes away the alternative to worldly success without obviating the need for perpetual validation in the society. The enforced online groupthink, where we are forced to go along with the herd’s course or else, is only the most distasteful manifestation of this problem. Consider the matter of same-sex civil marriage; in a society as polarized as our is and where cohabitation is as common as it is, it’s really strange that neither or both sides could bring themselves to pitch the institution of civil marriage altogether. Everyone argued under the assumption that the state had to validate a marriage in order for it to be one. The same thing goes for our elite institutions. Whether they provide a better education is open to question; whether they confer on those who endure their degree programs a glow of respectability is not.

I used to think that my family I was born into didn’t like my Christianity because it put God in charge of things, not them. That’s true as far as it goes, but the more I think about it the more I realize that they didn’t like the fact that God defined who I was and not them. The person who defines who you are controls you, which is why identity is such a big deal in this society. My God loves and forgives, and that’s more than I can say about many people and institutions in this world.

These, then, are the two promises I made to myself past the mid-point. I am glad I did. I think you will be glad if you do too. May God richly bless you.