Three Sheets to the Wind: Seminary Academics and Orthodoxy

Way back in 2003, Christianity Today ran an article that began like this:

Elaine Pagels, the famous historian of early Christianity, once told a revealing story about the social world behind the scenes of high-powered biblical scholarship. As a young up-and-coming professor at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, she was invited to a closed-door, after-hours smoker. The men there (Pagels was the only woman) were all prominent Bible scholars. Many of them didn’t even believe in God, and those who still called themselves Christian were anything but orthodox.

The liquor flowed freely, and as these men got in their cups, they began to sing old gospel songs. To her astonishment, they knew all the tunes and words by heart. Then it dawned on her—these atheist and liberal Bible scholars must have grown up in evangelical churches.

I wonder what our own left-leaning seminary academics do in their closed-door “smokers.”  One thing for sure, though: like Elaine Pagels, as someone who grew up outside of Evangelicalism (both ecclesiastically and socio-economically,) I’m always amazed at the staying power this culture has, even on those who are bailing on its orthodoxy.

God as Mathematician? Why Not?

Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku lays it out:

“I have concluded that we are in a world made by rules created by an intelligence,” Kaku said, as quoted by the Geophilosophical Association of Anthropological and Cultural Studies. “To me it is clear that we exist in a plan which is governed by rules that were created, shaped by a universal intelligence and not by chance.”…“The final solution resolution could be that God is a mathematician,” says Kaku.

That idea–which may come as a shock to many Christians–is the basis for My Lord and My God, which has been on this site for most of its existence and which uses mathematics to solve problems that theologians have messed around with for centuries.  The whole business of transfinite numbers was inspired in part from Georg Cantor’s interest in mediaeval thought.

Mathematics is the mother science; without it science is but a toy.  The connection between it and God is one that needs more exploration than it gets–for both scientists and theologians.

Show Us the Money, Donald Trump

Glenn Harlan Reynolds laments the way campuses (or campi, really) have reacted to the lachrymose response to Trump’s victory:

The response to the shock has been to turn campuses into kindergarten. The University of Michigan Law School announced a ”post-election self-care” event with “food and play,” including “coloring sheets, play dough [sic], positive card-making, Legos and bubbles with your fellow law students.” (Embarrassed by the attention, UM Law scrubbed the announcement from its website, perhaps concerned that people would wonder if its graduates would require Legos and bubbles in the event of stressful litigation.)

I don’t know what they did in Knoxville, but this is the message we got in Chattanooga (both of us teach at the University of Tennessee):

The Office of the Dean of Students recognizes that individuals on all sides may be trying to process and understand this election season. A lot of anticipation has been building up for many of us over the past few months. Many of us may be experiencing a range of emotions, both positive and negative, leaving us feeling drained. While we do not have the answers or possibly even the right words, we want each member of our community to take time to acknowledge what they may be feeling and remember the importance of self-care. For each person this may look different–some need to unplug from media, engage in physical activity, eat a balanced meal, or surround themselves with a community of support.

This was followed by a long list of campus activities, most of which were already on the schedule.

I teach civil engineering.  Engineers in general and civil engineers in particular are in an interesting place because, when the government spends money on infrastructure, civil engineers benefit.  So our relationship with the state is a little different.  OTOH, that effort makes society more productive and raises living standards.

One of my students was expressing a little disquiet about the results of the election.  My response: if Trump comes through with his promises to improve infrastructure, we in the civil engineering community will be busy and paid.  That thought lightened the discussion considerably.

Trump has told us that, in his world travels, he has discovered that many countries have infrastructure (airports, rail, roads, etc.) that make us look like a third world country.  Unfortunately we live in a place that is so full of itself that pointing that out is, by itself, a non-starter.  Beyond that, infrastructure improvements have been trapped in a bipartisan political limbo for many years; Obama’s stimulus never addressed this issue.

Trump promises to “make America great again.”  You can’t make the country great only by improving infrastructure, but the country won’t be great without it.  We’ve been burned before on this issue; show us the money and commitment, Donald Trump, and things will move a long way forward.

You Like #Calexit? So Do We

Now that the tables have turned, the people who want secession have also:

Since Donald Trump’s electoral victory was first announced, #Calexit has been trending on Twitter, with distraught Californians looking to form their own state.

Liberal Californians who are serious about this should take comfort: you’ve got many conservative friends east of you who would be more than glad to help you make this happen.

The last time some of us tried to do this, it ended badly.  There’s no reason this has to happen again.  It’s time for a really meaningful bipartisan effort, and if #Calexit is it, let’s get going.

Sometimes making “a more perfect Union” involves knowing who to keep in and who to let out.

The Student Evaluation Problem Comes Back to Haunt Hillary Clinton

Back in January, I made the following observation on a study which showed that American female students tend to give male professors better ratings:

Too much extrapolation is always a danger, but if American female college students can’t bring themselves to bump up their faculty counterparts, how are they going to bring themselves to vote en bloc for an American woman for President?  Laura Schlesinger made an offhand comment one time that it wasn’t the men who wouldn’t vote for a woman for president, it was the women.  She may be on to something.

Well, that happened:

When it came to women voters, Clinton won 54% compared to Trump’s 42%. Even though 70% of voters said that Trump’s treatment of women bothered them, they still didn’t flock to the woman who could have broken the glass ceiling. Obama won 55% of the women’s vote in 2012.

The gender gap has long been a feature of the political landscape, but one would think that Clinton could have done better than Barack Obama.  She didn’t; had she done so, it probably would have made the difference.

I’ve complained about the lacklustre quality of evangelical leadership.  I think American women and their “leadership” need to do some serious thinking about how they plan to break the glass ceiling at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  That should be in focus when President Trump meets with Prime Minister Theresa May, who was the beneficiary of another élite “brown pants event,” Brexit.  (They have a better system, but that’s another post.)

One more thing: I had no idea it would generate the interest it did, but my post on Donald Trump and Mar-a-Lago has dominated the statistics of this site during the year.  Thanks to all of you who stopped by and read it.  I still believe that the man who shook up Palm Beach’s social system will do the same with the country, but I also believe that, just as Palm Beach goes on, so will these United States.

Until the debt becomes unpayable…

Blast From the Past: Bring a Suitcase Full of Money

I saw an Facebook friend repost a prophetic piece relating a 2001 prophecy to this election.  The following isn’t exactly prophetic, but it dates from February 1999, when this site wasn’t even two years old.  It was written in the wake of Bill Clinton’s unsuccessful impeachment.

The impeachment trial is over with.  The current occupant of the White House gets to stay a little longer.  Most everyone is thrilled at this result, if you believe the media and the polls.  Somehow the Constitution has been preserved, even though either result would have been constitutional.

Most people have concentrated on the fact that the whole matter centered around a sexual scandal.  This is true of both sides of the debate; many Christians and conservatives are shocked that the President defiled the Oval Office in the way he did, and liberals can’t believe that anyone in this day and time would object to this kind of behavior.  It seems that the latter have done their propaganda well; they (through their colleagues in the media) have succeeded in making this trial about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky rather than what it was really about.

And just what, you ask, was it about if not that?  Well, at no point in the entire process, whether we look at the Special Prosecutor’s work or that of the Congress, was the legal status of the President’s having an affair with an intern or anyone else called into question.  What was called into question was his conduct in legal proceedings subsequent to that affair, both in terms of perjury and obstruction of justice.

There’s enough of the Sixties radical left in me to want him to be ejected from office just because of his refusal to be honest about his true feelings about a relationship, especially since he himself is the embodiment of much of what the Sixties were all about (his wife covers the rest.)  Unfortunately his honesty would have ended up costing him money in a sexual harassment lawsuit, something neither he nor his lawyers could stand.  So he attempted to cover himself in the usual manner.  This didn’t work out according to plan either and so we have the ordeal we have just been through.  He ended up paying the money to Paula Jones and we ended up with the impeachment process.

People who object to the whole process based on its roots in a sexual relationship should consider the following:

  1. Sexual harassment lawsuits are by their nature intrusive, messy affairs involving people’s most intimate activities.  This fact didn’t deter Congress (or the feminists who pushed them) into passing sexual harassment legislation.
  2. Our legal system depends on the honesty and availability of the parties involved; this honesty is enforced by perjury and subpoena laws.  If this is breached most litigation — especially civil — will turn into an unresolved black hole.  This is in fact what took place with the investigations on campaign finance violations in the 1996 election; this is why that really serious issue never made it to the impeachment proceedings.
  3. A legal system that has any fairness associated with it must proceed according to its own rules; if parties in litigation interfere with these, it’s obstruction of justice, and the system becomes unfair.
  4. Both (2) and (3) either apply to any kind of litigation or they apply to none.  If they don’t then the Congress has two choices: they should repeal legislation that has gone out of fashion to avoid problems like this for all of us (and not just some of us) or they should take the opportunity presented to demonstrate that they mean business about the integrity of our legal system.

As it stands we have the worst of both worlds.  On the one hand we have a Congress that goes on passing mind-numbingly complex and intrusive (in many ways, not just sexual) legislation; on the other we see them letting certain people off of the hook for political expedience. Representatives and Senators who participate in this “amnesty” overlook the fact that legislation is the only real way the Congress has to enforce its will on the government and the people.  When legislation becomes ineffective, so does Congress.  They might as well do like the old Supreme Soviet did: meet, rubber stamp anything the executive or “the party” puts in front of them, and go home.

Is this what our President wants?  To some extent it is, because this kind of political environment is exactly what he had in Arkansas, a state with a long history of one party, interest driven politics where a relatively small number of people work the system to their own advantage and the rest drift along in varying degrees of poverty.  The President’s sycophants in the media — who have done yeoman’s service on his behalf from Gennifer Flowers onward — may not think that this is a problem, but they only need look at the history of what used to be called the “Land of Opportunity” to see how this really works.

Moreover many of the powerful in this country — especially in the media and entertainment business — are taking a fresh look at the relationship between themselves and their government.  Why constantly fight something you can control?  In the early years of our country we turned our back on this kind of oligarchy, which is normal in most places, for a system where a broad base of people had a chance to make a difference for themselves.  The key to making this a reality is a universal respect for laws and a judicial system with basic integrity.  If we start putting people above laws on a routine basis our country will lose much of the “bottom-up” dynamic that has made it great, and really its reason to exist.  Liberals especially need to think this out because their entire agenda, from environmentalism to civil rights and, yes, sexual harassment have largely been implemented by enacting and enforcing laws.  Are they really thinking clearly now?  Or are they so cocky of their ability to control the system and manipulate public opinion that they figure they can advance their agenda through the fiat of loyal bureaucrats and elected officials?

In his fascinating book The Seduction of Hillary Rodham, David Brock tells us that “If Hillary could have her way, she would establish here exactly the sort of cradle-to-grave nanny state that exists in Denmark or Sweden.”  What her husband has gone a long way to bringing here comes from a little further east — a state such as Russia, where real power and influence is not based on legal standing but on the amount of money — and firepower — you have at your disposal.  Under these conditions everyone loses, especially those who lack the resources — the poor and middle class — or those whose conscience won’t allow them to fully participate in such a system.

In this new world we won’t bring a lawyer to critical proceedings, just a suitcase full of money.  (Maybe we’ll still bring the lawyer along to carry the suitcase.)  With the new 500 Euro note, this job will be simpler.  But our country will be much the poorer for the bargain.  Maybe then we will have a greater appreciation for the morality so many  disparage today in the name of “tolerance,” but by then it will be too late.

Saying One Thing, Doing Another: The Way of Our Elites

…and there’s nothing new about it.  Consider this, from Philo Judaeus’ The Worse Plotting Against the Better, XXI, written about the time Our Lord was on the earth:

But it is the nature of sophists to have for enemies the faculties which are in them, while their language is at variance with their thoughts and their thoughts with their language, and while neither is in the least degree consistent with the other. At all events, they wear out our ears, arguing that justice is a great bond of society, that temperance is a profitable thing, that continence is a virtuous thing, that piety is a most useful thing, and, of each other virtue, that it is a most wholesome and saving quality. And, on the other hand, that injustice is a quality with which we ought to have no truce, that intemperance is a diseased habit, that impiety is scandalous, and so going through every kind of wickedness, that each sort is most pernicious. And, nevertheless, they never cease showing by their conduct that their real opinion is the reverse of their language. But, when they extol prudence and temperance and justice and piety, they then show that they are, above all measure, foolish, and intemperate, and unjust, and impious; in short, that they are throwing into confusion and overturning all divine and human regulations and principles

If there’s one thing we should be learning from the Wikileaks revelations, it’s that our elites don’t operate any different now than from the sophists of Philo’s day.  And that’s something that this blog has hammered on for a long time.  The fact that Christians can so blithely think they can “move up” and have an impact in this society without entangling themselves in this kind of thing is a major failure of the church.

The No-Win Position of @BethMooreLPM (and Others)

She’s taken a stand, all right:

On Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016, popular Bible teacher and speaker Beth Moore broke her silence on political issues and posted a series of tweets that sent waves through the evangelical community. Moore’s tweet-sized messages called out Christian leaders who have turned a blind eye to the plight of women who have been objectified, sexually abused and sexually harassed.

But is it as helpful as it looks (to some people, at least?)  Not really.

This is an election.  We get to choose between two or more candidates.  None of those candidates (yeah, I’ve heard the Evan McMullin crowd) is a really “proper” choice for Evangelicals.   And nobody in real Christianity is really happy with someone who reaches for what he shouldn’t.

But by calling out Donald Trump on this, Beth Moore is doing two things that really aren’t correct.

The first is legitimizing Hillary Clinton.  For reasons that long predate this election, I don’t think she’s suitable for such support.  I should also mention that the recent email eruption over Huma Abedin’s computer is just a reminder that Hillary Clinton has serious problems of her own.

The second is that it puts her (Moore) in a classic no-win position.  If Trump wins, she’s on the losing side, and Evangelicals are too busy running a popularity contest to want to be there.  If Hillary wins, she’s going to eventually have to explain the bad consequences of an inevitable kulturkampf which is coming in a Clinton presidency, or that  the neocons are mostly behind her because they think she’ll get us into another war.

Beyond that, both Moores (Beth and Russell) and the Trump cheerleaders are both working under the same shared assumptions.  They both think that politics is a legitimate, transparent process which Christians can take part in without danger of moral hazard or having to settle for “second best.”  That’s never been the case and certainly isn’t now.

There’s a movement to repeal LBJ’s prohibition of our ministers endorsing candidates from the pulpit.  There’s also a movement for our ministers to actually run for office in a big way.  But honestly Evangelical leadership, with few exceptions, has shown itself too naïve to constructively engage in politics.  Leave it to the laity; they have to make hard choices all week.

NPO VNIIstroidormash: Soviet Construction Equipment Technology

On my companion site vulcanhammer.info, I have posted several articles on Soviet (and after that Russian) pile driving equipment, such as diesel hammers, concrete pile cutters, and vibratory and impact-vibration hammers.  These are very specialised topics, even by construction industry standards; here I want to present some photos of more general interest to you heavy equipment fans.  The Soviet Union was known for its commitment to heavy manufacturing and construction equipment like this is certainly a big part of that.

NPO VNIIstroidormash is the Soviet name for the Moscow-based institute which designed and tested the equipment shown below.  The name means the All-Union Scientific Research Institute of Construction and Road-Building Machinery.  It was put together in 1975, and survived past the end of the Soviet Union in 1991 as a share society, i.e., a privatised corporation.  In addition to the pile driving equipment which got me involved with the organisation, it designed many other types of equipment, and the best way to show this follows, from their catalogue produced around 1986.

DZ-110A-1 Bulldozer with laser-beam steering and control system. Surface-working accuracy +-5 cm at 10-400 mm distance from the laser source. Such a set-up is common today; at the time it was not.
DZ-110A-1 Bulldozer with laser-beam steering and control system. Surface-working accuracy +-5 cm at 10-400 mm distance from the laser source. Such a set-up is common today; at the time it was not.
Similar, laser-levelled concept with a DZ-122A-13 motor grader.
Similar, laser-levelled concept with a DZ-122A-13 motor grader.
EO-4125 excavator. The excavator is probably the single most versatile and important earth moving machine on a construction site. This one sported servo-controlled valves, which makes current excavators much easier to operate than their older counterparts.
EO-4125 excavator. The excavator is probably the single most versatile and important earth moving machine on a construction site. This one sported servo-controlled valves, which makes current excavators easier to use than their older counterparts.
Excavators are versatile in that things other than the usual bucket can be mounted on the boom. In this case, the MTP-71A excavator has an extended backhoe that is used for large swing radii and canal digging. It's mounted on rubber tyres (the one above is on tracks) for softer soils; it's also easier to transport on roads.
Excavators are versatile in that things other than the usual bucket can be mounted on the boom. In this case, the MTP-71A excavator has an extended backhoe used for large swing radii and canal digging. It’s mounted on rubber tyres (the one above is on tracks) for softer soils; it’s also easier to transport on roads.  To increase the effective counterweight it sports outriggers.
EO-3323 excavator, also mounted on tyres with outriggers. The red bucket on the end has a capacity of 0.75 cu.m.
EO-3323 excavator, also mounted on tyres with outriggers. The red bucket on the end has a capacity of 0.75 cu.m.
Turning to cranes, this is a 12.5 (metric) ton hydraulic truck crane. Very useful for light lifting, they're fairly common on construction sites and other places.
Turning to cranes, this is a 12.5 (metric) ton hydraulic truck crane. Very useful for light lifting, they’re fairly common on construction sites and other places.
40-ton truck crane, another versatile tool.
40-ton truck crane, another versatile tool.

Our business used these often for the assembly of our larger hammers, but sometimes things didn’t go according to plan.

For really heavy lifts, Vulcan could have used this for its biggest products. Cranes such as this were used in the early 1980's for the modification of its biggest hammer.
250-ton crane.  For really heavy lifts, Vulcan could have used this for its biggest products. Cranes such as this were used in the early 1980’s for the modification of its biggest hammer.
Vibration roller for compaction. These machines are not really intended for deep compaction of soils but surface smoothing, which is necessary when building roads and airfields.
DM-476 vibration roller for compaction. These machines are not really intended for deep compaction of soils but surface smoothing, which is necessary when building roads and airfields.
DZ-140 motor grader, used for final levelling of roadways before smoothing and paving. The blade is 4.8 m long.
DZ-140 motor grader, used for final levelling of roadways before smoothing and paving. The blade is 4.8 m long.
A skid steer loader, better known on American jobsites as a
TO-31 skid steer loader, better known on American jobsites as a “Bobcat” after the popular American brand. Maybe they should have named this a “Siberian Tiger.”
A bulldozer-ripper. Most people connect bulldozers with moving soil, but this one is designed to break up rock for removal.
A bulldozer-ripper. Most people connect bulldozers with moving soil, but this one is designed to break up rock for removal.
Computer aided design, 1980's style: VNIIstroidormash's computer room.
Computer aided design, 1980’s style: VNIIstroidormash’s computer room.
VNIIstroidormash's library.
VNIIstroidormash’s library.
VNIIstroidormash's female ski team.
VNIIstroidormash’s female ski team.

Our family business first connected with the Institute in 1988, and our contacts continued for the next six years.  Sometimes things got strange but we discovered an organisation that put out some very good designs for construction equipment.  Unfortunately the Soviet manufacturing organisation was not up to proper quality control, especially in the civilian sector, and that weakness was one of those which ultimately brought the Soviet Union down.

Maybe No One in the U.S. Really Likes Democracy Anymore

Jeet Heer thinks that the right has given up on democracy:

Public-opinion polling shows that Trump’s low opinion of American elections has practically become Republican Party orthodoxy. According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Friday, Republicans have an “unprecedented” level of “concern and mistrust in the system.” Roughly 70 percent of Republican voters believe that if Hillary Clinton wins the election, it’ll be due to fraud. In both this poll and an NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll, only half of Republicans say they’d accept a Clinton victory. (In the latter poll, by contrast, 82 percent of Democrats said they would accept a Trump victory.)

But they’re not alone:

Those aren’t the only political data that set young millennials apart from their elders. According to an exhaustive report by political scientists Roberto Stefan Foa and Yascha Mounk in the Journal of Democracy, young people today are considerably more authoritarian and antidemocratic by attitude and temperament than any other generational cohort, especially baby boomers. Only 30 percent think that it’s “essential” to live in a country with a democratic system of government, and a terrifying 24 percent actually think that a democratic system of government is a bad thing. Only 32 percent of millennials think that it’s “absolutely essential” that “civil rights protect people’s liberty.” According to a Pew Research Center report, 40 percent of millennials want the government to ban “offensive” speech.

Does anyone really care if we have democratic process any more?  Or is it just a matter of winners and losers?

To this I have two observations:

  1. Our country’s elites have been raised in an environment where they don’t know what real freedom is, and that’s trickled down in our society, especially with the millennials.
  2. Our system is based on a stronger consensus than we have now; when it breaks down, we have a mess.

Sailing the Last Voyage with Newton and Pascal

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