Losing Our Edge in High Performance Computing?

Our Department of Energy and National Security Agency would like for you to believe this:

As China, the US and Japan near the finish line in exascale race, the DOE and NSA are sounding the alarm that the United States is at grave risk of losing its dominant position in high performance computing. According to the assessment of the two agencies, “absent aggressive action by the US – the US will lose leadership and not control its own future in HPC.”

That is the primary conclusion of a report based on a technical meeting between representative of those two agencies held in September 2016. The document, titled U.S. Leadership in High Performance Computing (HPC), A Report from the NSA-DOE Technical Meeting on High Performance Computing, describes how the United States has been losing ground to the Chinese, who appear to be determined not just to win the race to exascale, but to usurp the role of the US as the global leader in high performance computing technology.

But it’s not quite that simple:

As we recently wrote in an article about the state of Chinese supercomputing, they are not as advanced as their top systems would lead you to believe. In the US, there seems to be a distinct tendency to over-hype Chinese supercomputing achievements. Whether that is a reflection of a “grass is always greener” syndrome, is the result of losing supercomputing hegemony in a rapidly democratizing industry, is a tactic to draw in more US government investments into HPC, or is a legitimate analysis, remains to be determined.

HPC is an important part for scientific and technological advance.  Probably the US’ falling behind in this field has its greatest general interest in weather forecasting, as I discussed in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, where we have taken a back seat to the, er, Europeans for some time.  It’s interesting to note that the previous Occupant didn’t do much to change that situation, although he was labelled the “scientific President.”

That, of course, is part of the problem: we don’t elevate people with scientific backgrounds to leadership positions in the government. (The Chinese, and many others, do.)  That’s ingrained in our culture, and fortified by the distinctly Luddite 1960’s.  As long as that is the case, we will be forced to present our ideas as dogma and not science, which is what’s taking place in today’s “March for Science.”

Relative to that, there are other questions.  What’s unscientific about the Chinese (or anyone else) getting advanced capabilities?  Isn’t it reasonable to assume that the Chinese, who have pushed STEM education with their people to degrees unimaginable here, would get this result?  Or anyone else?  Why should we have a monopoly on this?  Why don’t some of our people just emigrate like theirs, if this place is so “unscientific?”  Perhaps the “March for Science” should be called the “March for Academic Patriotism,” although the rest of the campus would go bonkers if they did that.

The road to dominance in HPC is a long one, and not particularly straight.  It’s like my description of the arc of justice: it is not necessarily smooth, continuous, or differentiable.  For a field which is all about binary thinking, the results of change can be complex and have unexpected outcomes.  But if we spent as much time inducing significant systemic changes in our own system and not constantly playing the “blame and shame” game, we’d be further down the road to solve our HPC “fading glory” problem.

HT Pointwise.

Erdogan: Touching the Sultan’s Garment is Still a Big Deal

In the wake his victory, Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan does something distinctly Ottoman:

As he stood before the tomb of Selim I, Erdogan gazed upon the caliph’s caftan and gently touched it. Would the garment become his, and more importantly, would he inherit the powers of the conquering Turkish caliph?

This custom, which finds application in the New Testament, has a long heritage in Turkey, as I explained two years ago:

The Ottomans put fair stock in touching or kissing this hem.  When Sultan Abdul Hamid II was enthroned in 1876, he went in procession to the Eyub Mosque (the Friday procession of the Sultan and his retinue to the mosque for prayers was one of the highlights of the week for residents of Constantinople).  Once the dervishes had girded him with the sabre–the Turks were and are a military people–the Sultan took three steps towards his Grand Vizier (prime minister) who kissed the hem of his garment in the name of the people.  This gesture was done even under duress; in 1808, when Sultan Selim III was murdered and Mahmud II ended up as Sultan, his soon to be Grand Vizier Bairactar kissed the hem of the new Sultan’s robe.  (Bairactar didn’t last long; he was murdered by the Janissaries, but ultimately they came to the same end).

The Ottoman emperor was also the Caliph, the head of the Islamic faithful. I think it’s fair to say that Erdogan has always had the caliphate in view, now he is one step closer. In addition to putting him at odds with Christian states like Russia (Western Europe has long since decamped from this status, as has the United States,) it also puts him at odds with Isis, which believes the Caliph must be an Arab.  It also puts him at odds with the Iranians, who are outside of Islam in the Sunni idea.

This mess isn’t going away any time soon…but watch: Erdogan’s next move along these lines is to unfurl the banner named Barack…

Translating Bossuet was Really Worth It After All

With Holy Week behind us, I’d like to stop and note an interesting email dialogue.  My persistent (well, sometimes) Canadian commenter took a catty swipe at my translations of Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries, which is an ongoing project of mine.

Evidently someone else thinks highly of the effort.  I received this from Dr. Mitchell Ginsburg of the University of California at San Diego re my translation of Bossuet’s Sermon on the Profession of Mlle de la Vallière:

I have come across the rendering from the French at the above cite. It strikes me as the most accurate rendering of the original sermon by ‘Abbé Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet that I have been able to find (even more so than in some old texts giving an English version, from the 1800s!) and would like to give the source…

I am fairly fluent in French (my wife is French and we’ve also lived in France in the past and I am a dual national, so I can vote in the upcoming French elections, as well as in California and US elections of course), so I was surprised by some of the “translations” and “excerpts” from Bossuet that I could download online that had no corresponding text in the French (parts of the “sermon” being sheer inventions on the part of the English-language editor, I’d say). I only ran across Bossuet when I was doing research on Hafiz, and found some essays by the man who became the very first professor of Sanskrit at Cambridge Univ.—I hadn’t heard of him but in reading about him I recognized some of his colleagues and even students.
(He apparently was fluent in Western languages including Latin and Greek–the old school of Classical education) as well as Arabic, Farsi, Sanskrit, Hindi, and so forth, and in one essay, in passing to set the stage for a discussion of Rumi, he spoke highly of Bossuet… the winding path of curiosity and linked ideas! ;o)

For someone whose fluency in French certainly exceeds mine, that’s a high compliment.  And an inspection of his website will show that he looks at things differently than I do.  That’s not a novelty with me; that was also the case with Ron Krumpos.

More on my Bossuet translation project is here.  There’s something universal in his appeal, and that makes the project worthwhile.

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.

Without Clouds: A Good Friday Reflection

Recently I was speaking with a Nigerian pastor about current attitudes towards adversity in life.  I have seen many concerned about the effect of prosperity teaching on African Christians, and this pastor certainly practices an approach to ministry that is full of faith.  But he also accepts the reality that there will be adversity in life, that bad things will come along, even to God’s faithful.

That reminded me of a song that we used to sing in the Texas A&M Newman Association, the Dameans’ “Without Clouds:”

(Personally, I think our Texas-raised musicians did a better performance job than those, ahem, across the Sabine, but I digress…)

The refrain is as follows:

“Without clouds, the rain can’t wash the land
Without rain, the grass won’t hide the sand
Without grass, the flower’s bloom won’t grow
Without pain, the joy in life won’t show”

When I first heard this, I was going through Aquinas’ Summa, and he makes the following observation about the effect of adversity on the just:

“Justice and mercy appear in the punishment of the just in this world, since by afflictions lesser faults are cleansed in them, and they are the more raised up from earthly affections to God. As to this Gregory says (Moral. xxvi, 9): “The evils that press on us in this world force us to go to God.” (Summa Theologiae, Ia, 21.4 ad 3)

The emphasis is a little different in each, but the root idea is the same: adversity has the potential for good to come out of it.  I came to know this as “Without Clouds Theology.”

Many secularists (including newly minted ones like Bart Campolo) have disliked this whole concept, but what’s disturbing to me is that, in the intervening time, many American Christians have come to dislike it too.  Oh, they won’t say it directly, but we have the plague of “Open Theology,” and torturous attempts to explain the problem such as The Shack.  The simple fact of the matter is that too many American Christians have adopted the idea that life should be free of adversity or pain.

This idea didn’t come out of the blue; it comes from the culture, a culture that leads the church more often than the other way around.  To a large extent that belief has destabilised our culture and our country.  We can’t even stand the idea of people disagreeing with us let alone inflicting real pain; both UC Berkeley and Middlebury College saw violence to keep up a “safe space” for their true believers.  (You’d think that someone would point out that a group of white people with Murray’s supposedly higher IQ would have more to show for it then they do, but I digress…)

Now, of course, we have those who consider the Passion of Our Lord as “child abuse,” since the Father willed that the Son go to the Cross for the salvation of all people.  It never occurs to people like this that, to be in the “happy” state where they are, those in the past have sacrificed and suffered in a secular sense.    And those who did suffer and sacrifice knew that such was necessary to carry out what needed to be done.

It is in this context that the suitability of Our Lord’s saving act on the Cross must be seen.  It’s a reminder that the adversity of his suffering and death lead to the victory on Easter morning.  In the past the general state of life reminded people of the necessity of the Passion; now the accomplishment of the Passion must not only be the road to salvation, but also a reminder that the road to victory often runs through the land of pain, suffering and adversity.

Seeing, therefore, that there is on every side of us such a throng of witnesses, let us also lay aside everything that hinders us, and the sin that clings about us, and run with patient endurance the race that lies before us, our eyes fixed upon Jesus, the Leader and perfect Example of our faith, who, for the joy that lay before him, endured the cross, heedless of its shame, and now ‘has taken his seat at the right hand’ of the throne of God.  (Heb 12:1-2 TCNT)

Palm Sunday: God Unlimited’s “Ride On”

I’ve featured traditional music (well, unless you’re Baptist…) for Palm Sunday, but this year I’m posting something more contemporary, namely “Ride On” from God Unlimited’s album by the same name.

It’s something of a “tour de force” which covers most of the Passion.

I noticed that the YouTube poster of the song used my “review” from this page (which features God Unlimited’s early albums.)  Who knows, someday I just might get more cut and pastes than Ken Scott

Xi and Trump “Getting to Know” Meeting a Good Idea

The Chinese present an interesting take on the upcoming meeting at Mar-a-Lago:

Susan Thornton, acting assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said this was a chance for the two leaders to get to know one another.

“We want them to establish a good working relationship, so they can, in times of opportunity and crisis, reach out to one another and have a good rapport,” she said.

She described having the meeting in Florida as a good chance for the two leaders, in a more informal atmosphere and relaxed setting, to discuss serious and important issues and to try to kick off a good relationship at the outset of the Trump administration.

That’s not a bad idea, one which I presented over a decade ago vis-a-vis the Iranians:

A more productive approach would be to have a meeting in a venue where concrete results weren’t expected. In an American context, this means a golf course. Let’s say that Bush invites Ahmadinejad to Medina G&CC near Chicago. Since the clubhouse looks like a mosque, Ahmadinejad would think he was winning up front, which would make him overconfident, a besetting weakness of him. But on a golf course the two could size each other up face to face, watching as each other deals with the ups and downs of the game and each other. Then Bush could figure out how he might like to proceed based on what he saw himself rather than something stupid his advisers might come up with.

In addition to the usual problem of Americans impatient for tangible results, Americans additionally don’t understand the importance of building trust before those results surface.  We’ll see if Donald Trump breaks the mould on this.

He needs to: with the stakes as high as they are because of North Korea, he’s going to need all the patience and savvy he can muster.  It bothers me, however, that we’re sliding back into a line of moralistic bluster.  With everyone complaining about Rex Tillerson’s low profile (a typical oilfield method) and others doing big talk, the American propensity for posturing could easily lead to nuclear war.  (Just like the Senate…)

Obsession with “Principles” Spreads Across the Aisle

It’s not just the Republicans any more, as is obvious in the current Democrat plans to filibuster Neil Gorsuch:

“Not only is the base there, but the politics of the moment demand it. Democrats are looking for members to take a stand,” said Democratic strategist Jim Manley, a former top aide to Harry Reid, who altered the filibuster rules in 2013 to approve then-President Obama’s stalled executive appointees. “To the extent there is any peril, it would be struggling to find a way to vote for the guy.”

Those of us who have spent years listening to movement conservatives (and religious ones) have heard “taking a stand” until we’re sick of it, especially when the results never improved.  Now the Democrats are going the principled, obstructionist route, which is the mirror image of the Freedom Caucus’ torpedoing of Ryan’s health care bill.  (That failure is a real gift to the GOP, although it will take time for that to become obvious.)

You can’t win by “standing” on anything, principles or otherwise.  You have to go on offence.  Movement conservatives were great at taking stands, but ultimately the Republican electorate got tired of waiting for results and nominated Donald Trump.  For the Democrats to come up with an unconventional candidate will require forcing same on their risk-adverse (dare I say anal) elites, and that’s easier said than done.

A Lesbian Bishop Learns a Hard Lesson

She got the boot from Jon Bruno:

The Episcopal Church’s first “lesbian” bishop was forced out of office by the Bishop of Los Angeles after she defied him by backing the congregation of St James the Great in Newport Beach in its dispute over the proposed sale of its parish properties.

On 29 March 2017, the attorney for the Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno, Bishop of Los Angeles, questioned the vicar of St James the Great, the Rev. Canon Cindy Evans Voorhees, about the events that led to Title IV ecclesiastical proceedings being lodged against the bishop.

The bishop’s attorney. Julie Dean Larsen, alleged Canon Voorhees had orchestrated a campaign to discredit the bishop and had conspired with other members of the diocese to halt the sale of the St James the Great in Newport Beach to developers.

One of the forgotten things in our rush for this new world is that, no matter how politically correct they are, if the people you’re dealing with lack basic integrity and transparency, ugly things will happen.  When Jon Bruno took over St. Athanasius church from Ian Mitchell, he told the LA Times that he was “no angel.”  The orthodox he evicted from the parishes he did know that, and now liberal lesbians such as Mary Glasspool know that, too.

Note: the president of the Hearing Panel who is overseeing Jon Bruno’s ecclesiastical trial is Bishop Herman Hollerith IV.  I’m pretty sure he’s the great-grandson of the original Herman Hollerith, who invented the punch cards that were ubiquitous a generation ago in computers.  Perhaps Bruno has found someone who is as good at punching things out as he is.

The Way You’d Really Like a Young Person to Start Bible Study

On his or her own initiative, as was the case with Bossuet.  From R. de la Broise’s Bossuet and the Bible, pp. xiv-xv:

He was fifteen years old when a happy coincidence came to mind.  His father, who returned to Dijon from time to time, led him (Bossuet) to his office.  There the young man “threw his hand on a Latin Bible, which he took with his father’s permission.  It was the first time, studying in secondary school or in rhetoric, when he opened the holy Books.  He found a taste and a sublimity which made him prefer it to everything he had read until then.  He remembered and recalled it with pleasure, all through his life, when he had touched this reading for the first time.  This moment was always present and living to him as it was the first time, as his soul was struck with these things which left him with a more profound impression of joy and lights.”

First note: that the Bible was in Latin wasn’t an obstacle for Bossuet or for most educated people of the day.

Bossuet had been raised with both extracts from the Scriptures and of course the cycle of lectionary readings that came with the Mass.  But the enthusiasm with which he studied the Scriptures themselves is significant.

Evangelicals are always looking for ways to get their young people to read and study the Bible.  And, truth be told, their efforts have not been match by the results: Biblical ignorance remains a serious problem these days, as shown by the popularity of things such as The Shack.

I think the core of the problem is that the method of Evangelicals is geared toward those who lack basic curiosity about things.  As a result little is left to the imagination, especially in Biblical studies since the idea hangs on the Bible more than it hangs on God.  For many this works, but I am not convinced that it works for the kinds of leaders that Evangelicalism claims to be so enamoured with.

The liturgical system presents a temporal framework for the presentation of eternal truth.  Sooner or later some will attempt to go “behind the curtain” and that’s what happened with Bossuet and the Scriptures.  May our presentation of God’s truth inspire that in more people!

Sailing the Last Voyage with Newton and Pascal

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