Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Monday, January 20, 2020

Science Night - Space Suits 

It's actually like a small spacecraft for one person. The space suit is designed to protect astronauts when they are in space, but outside the space station or other spacecraft. When we see astronauts in these things, we don't realize what goes into making them, and the kinds of problems that they have to address. As we contemplate the development of new kinds of spaceships, the space suit remains one of the most extraordinary technological developments in aerospace history. I still don't get how a suit like this can protect against the hideous extremes of temperature in space. The range is five hundred degrees (250 degrees above zero to 250 degrees below zero). But they manage to do it. Another problem in space is that, since there is no atmosphere, astronauts can be hit with tiny particles travelling at very high speeds. It all just seems very risky. But to this day, no astronaut has ever died in a space suit in space.

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Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Ming & Qing : Lessons for a Dying Culture from Two Dynasties in China 

Years ago, the faculty at the Software College (Beihang University) where I was teaching bused us to a retreat near the place where the Qing Dynasty began. It is called "Shanhaiguan" or "Shanhai Pass" (pictured above), and it is very near where the Great Wall meets the sea at Laolongtou (Old Dragon's Head).

The story I was told at the time was that the government minister from the Ming Dynasty opened the gate to let the Manchus in because the Ming had become so corrupted. The real story is a bit more complicated, and there is some dispute about the details, but one thing is beyond dispute: For the entire Qing Dynasty, China was ruled by the very people the Great Wall was built to protect them from. But lest you think that this means "walls don't work," it is important to note that, as one of my students pointed out to me, "you can't say that the Great Wall never worked." He's right. If the Wall had never worked, there would probably not have been a Ming Dynasty, or at least you could safely conclude that it would not have lasted nearly as long:

Ming Dynasty (1368 ? 1644 A.D.)
Qing Dynasty (1644 ? 1911 A.D.)

You see, the downfall of the Ming was not due to the failure of the wall. It was due to a failure of the culture. The point is that the best wall in the world cannot protect you from yourself. So the Manchus came in and the Ming Dynasty was over. As I said, the Manchus ruled China throughout the Qing Dynasty. But who were they? The Manchus were descendants of the Jurchen people, who ruled the Jin Dynasty. Chinese dynasties can be confusing, because, for example, the Jin Dynasty did not rule all of China, just a portion of it in the Northeast, so it ruled concurrently with the Song Dynasty and therefore is often not listed separately as a dynasty in China. The Jurchen were overthrown by the Mongols, and I guess it can be assumed that there was some intermarriage between the Jurchen and the Mongols. The Manchus were the descendants of the Jurchen, but really the Jurchen just changed their name, although it is true that the people group had changed too, as it became, although predominantly Jurchen, probably a mixture between Jurchen and Mongol. So I guess you could say that the Manchus were essentially Mongolized Jurchens. I say this to emphasize the the Manchus were not irrelevant barbarians who came out of nowhere. Both the Jurchen and the Mongols had been intimately involved with China. The Mongols, you remember ruled all of China under Kublai Khan. Kublai Khan was the first emporer of the Yuan Dynasty. You may not be as familiar with the Jurchen, because their dynasty was actually sort of a sub-dynasty, as I mentioned earlier.

At any rate, after Shanhaiguan, the Manchus were in charge. The corrupted and decrepit Ming had been replaced by the Qing. But was the Qing Dynasty really an improvement? Listen to this lively debate presented by the Sinica Podcast and decide for yourself:

This debate was held at the Beijing Bookworm which is (or was) over in the Sanlitun (expat bar street) area on the east side. It's interesting, but as you might expect, it focuses on the comparison between the two dynasties. I am more interested in the transition. But not just the transition from the Ming to the Qing. The end of the Qing Dynasty is also of interest. So maybe the grand question could be phrased as: "What is the end of a Dynasty like?" or "What makes a dynasty rise and fall?" This is a question most Americans do not understand well, because America has only had one dynasty, and Americans do not read history much, so they tend not to be aware that no dynasty in history has lasted forever. Dynasties rise and fall. If you look at Chinese dynasties (especially the Ming and Qing) you see that they both lasted just under three hundred years. The American dynasty will be 300 years old in 2076. If the American dynasty lasts no longer than either the Ming or the Qing, it has less than fifty years left. Can a dynasty last longer than that? Yes. The Zhou Dynasty lasted longer than 800 years. But the Zhou Dynasty went into decline in the latter half. It's a separate subject for a different time, but I believe that the writings of Confucius may have extended the Zhou Dynasty far beyond what might otherwise have been likely.

Here's my point: I believe that the American dynasty has entered a period of decline. I don't see the American dynasty lasting another fifty years. No way. Because Americans have no conception of what makes dynasties rise and fall, they tend to talk about "eliminating poverty," or "making America great again." But to make America great again, Americans need to understand what makes a dynasty great. Can you guess what it is? If you said, "democracy," that's the wrong answer. The one thing above all others that makes a dynasty great is righteousness:

Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people. (Proverbs 14:34)
But as you can see, the statement has two sides to it. Sin..corruption..dishonesty..these things erode the foundation of a culture, making it extremely unstable and vulnerable to attack. So when it comes to the basic inescapable reality that all dynasties governed by sinful man ultimately decay, the Ming Dynasty and the Qing Dynasty are more alike than they are different. The Ming and Qing both had their rise, and tney had their decline and fall.

When a dynasty dies, so much goes with it. One of main casualties is language. Don't get me wrong--when the Qing Dynasty came to an end just over a hundred years ago now, that was the end of Manchu rule, but not the end of the Manchus as a people. I have known several Manchus. There are ten million of them alive today. But there are exactly nineteen native speakers of the Manchu language left in the world. It's gone.

So what about the American Dynasty? Is it more like the Qing or the Ming? I am not sure it matters. They both fell eventually, and the American dynasty will too, perhaps sooner than we think. Is there any way to forestall the decline of the America dynasty? Sure. I just mentioned the Zhou dynasty, but with many dynasties the decline is actually not a straight line. It goes up and down. God has extraordinary forbearance toward a culture and a people who want to turn from the wrong and do the right:

If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among my people; if my people, who are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. (2nd Chronicles 7:13-14)
But when is the last time you entered a church or place where believers gather and found them on their faces before God, begging Him to have mercy on their country? Is there any place in America where you see Christians focused on praying for their country? They seem to be focused on fighting for the right to talk about politics without losing their non-profit status. America is a democracy, so it is understandable that citizens would be thinking about how best to exercise the freedom and responsibility they have been given. But even in the years since I left the United States in the mid-noughties I have seen a moral decline in America beyond what I could have imagined. Politics alone will not address this issue.

And what about China? I am often asked about this. This is perhaps the most frequent question I hear. I always say that China is a country at the crossroads, trying to decide which way it is going to go. If the people follow after truth and justice, then China will become a great country. But if they follow after money and power, then China will become a very dark place. And this direction will be shaped by the masses, not by the ruling elite. It is righteousness that exalts a nation. And it is corruption and dishonesty that bring it down.


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Friday, January 10, 2020

Gospel of John 

The Venerable Bede translating the Gospel of John on his deathbed.



John 1:1In the beginning was the Word...This lesson introduces the Logos. At issue is the identification of the Logos as indeed God. Of note is the fact that the original Greek says, "God was the Word," not "The Word was God (or a god)"

Thursday, January 02, 2020

Science Night 

What is science? To me, science is anything in nature, the existence of which can be tested. Throughout history, there have often been conflicts between science and religion. Sometimes religious beliefs are presented as science. The Bible refers to this as "science falsely so called." Creationists look at Evolution and say, "This is not science. This is religion." Evolutionists look at creation and say, "This is not science. This is religion." So who's right? Well, in that case, there are probably elements of both that are religious and elements of both that are scientific. But generally, we call a belief "religious" if it cannot be proven scientifically, but you still believe it as truth. That is not to say that it is not true. Just that it is not scientific truth. So sometimes when there is a conflict between two ideas like creation and evolution, you have to ask, which of these two ideas is most in harmony with what can be tested?

Constant testing. This is the job of the scientist. And the mathematician. Think about it...when NASA first sent a craft to the moon, they had to know that the math was going to work. The first test had to be passed with flying colors. And the landing of the Space Shuttle (Lesson 8). Such a complex procedure. Every aspect of it had to be worked out mathematically ahead of time, and it had to work perfectly. This is the beauty of the harmony between science and math.

As you go through these lessons, the important thing is to enjoy the beauty of the consistency of science and math. For lectures, debates, and discussions, listen critically, but with an open mind. Take some time to pursue tangents on your own that may be suggested by each lesson. These lessons are meant to be a starting point—to point you in a direction and give you an idea what to look for. Always remember, if you're not having fun, you're doing something wrong.

10 October 2019Mathematical Challenges to Darwin’s Theory of EvolutionThe book that stimulated this was written by Stephen Meyer of the Discovery Institute. David Gelernter of Yale was won over by Meyer's book. A noted scientist becoming a Darwin denier is not a small thing so I think it is important for you to consider watching this.
13 November 2019Atheism and Its Scientific PretensionsDavid Berlinski is an agnostic who scorns the absolutism of atheists. He does not speak as a believer, but as a mathematician who shows the unlikeliness of Darwin's idea coming to pass by chance.
26 November 2019The Origin of Life Has Not Been ExplainedJames Tour uses a unique approach here. His lecture is divided into segments, each led by a question. So a question will be flashed on the screen, and then he answers it. This is a very intense, but easily digestible approach. This does not mean to say that you will understand everything. If you have no chemistry background at all you will probably feel lost. Even if you do, you will feel challenged. But if were a reasonably good chemistry student, this will make sense to you.
30 December 2019What is a gyrocopter?It is the simple genius of the thing that attracts me to the gyrocopter. It just seems like a very clever way to create a light-weight wing. But this video is not too heavy on aerodynamics. I think it should serve as a good basic introduction to ultralight aeronautics.
20 January 2020Space SuitsIt's just kinda taken for granted, I think. But this amazing device is one of the most extraordinary developments in aerospace history, and very little that we do in space could happen without it.
29 February 2020Red River of LifeVery old but very current film on the importance and function of the bloodstream. Every middle school student in America should be required to watch this film. But what does it have to do with the issue of abortion?
30 April 2020How to Fly a ParamotorWhat do you get when you cross a hang glider and a parachute? This lesson teaches you how to fly a paramotor, which I always used to call "motorized parachutes."
30 May 2020How to Land the Space ShuttleExcellent description of the landing procedure for the now defunct Space Shuttle, which was used greatly in the building of the International Space Station.
30 July 2020The International Space StationVery casual and informative tour of the International Space Station. There is some really good science in this lesson, and if you haven't seen the Space Station before, this will acquaint you with what it is like for the scientists who live and work there.
2 January 2021What is a Glider?This is the first of a two-part series on gliders and sailplanes. It is not intended to be an exhaustive history, but a description of each and an explanation of the differences between the two.
8 March 2021How Does a Sailplane Work?This is the second of two lessons on gliders and sailplanes. It is very interesting to see how World War I—particularly the Treaty of Versailles—influenced the development of modern gliders.
14 May 2021Darwin's MethodsIf Darwin were alive today, would he endorse the work of the Intelligent Design movement and acknowledge that their conclusions are the most reasonable given our present knowledge of the complexity of the human cell?
23 June 2021Electric Transmission Lines What does the flow of electricty have to do with being a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi River? Or to put it another way, what is the relationship between current and voltage with respect to moving electrical power over long distances?
24 July 2021Molecular MotorsBuilding on what we learned in Lesson 12, we talk tonight about the concept of "irreducible complexity." What is it? The Wikipedia article on irreduciblel complexity defines it this way: "Irreducible complexity (IC) is the argument that certain biological systems cannot have evolved by successive small modifications to pre-existing functional systems through natural selection, because no less complex system would function."
30 September 2021Peregrine FalconsThe Peregrine Falcon has a tough job. She feeds on birds that are very good at getting away. Because of this, the Peregrine Falcon has only a 20 percent strike rate. But this determined hunter will not be discouraged. This extraordinary video shows the Peregrine Falcon diving and catching up easily with skydivers who are falling at 158 mph."
31 December 2021Bell and the TelephoneI think you will enjoy this video presentation by Thomas Watson, Alexander Graham Bell's assistant. The audio isn’t perfect—this is from 1933. But it’s pretty good. Kinda interesting to see where it all came from, and the science that went into making it possible for people to communicate freely over long distances. The world is getting smaller.
29 April 2022Shortwave RadioWhat is shortwave radio? What good is it? Why do you think most Americans do not know hardly anything about it? I grew up with shortwave radio, and it played a very important role in keeping me connected to the outside world.
28 February 2023That Inscrutable NewtonWho was Isaac Newton? In this post I explain how Newton's fascination with alchemy may be what opened his mind to discover the law of gravity. After all, the idea that two bodies in space would have an attraction no matter how far separated they are is something that strikes one as mystical even now.





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