Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Big strawbales for house construction

First I was here, a small house blog. But he pointed to here which led me to here. The last link is a house made with jumbo strawbales for a house in Maine, schematic to the right. Bob Theis is a west coast architect who thinks about strawbale construction.

His excitement for this project is contagious. He writes,
These 3'x3'x6' or 4'x4'x8' jumbos, moved by forklift, are denser than conventional bales, and their use would eliminate a majority of the joints that give straw bale walls most of their instability. In addition, the extra thickness of the wall would give the geometry far more resistance to buckling or bowing.

For modest roof spans , the load at the foundation would be so dispersed that radical simplifications of the foundation system are possible.

Intriguing new aspects of design emerge as well: whereas a window sill in a conventional bale wall has a thickness that suggests a window seat, a window opening in a 4' thick wall creates an alcove for a bed, desk or couch.

It sounds cool to me. Also, the simplification of building the walls from a couple hundred bales to a dozen or so is very intriguing. Start to dry-in must be much quicker. With walls 3 or 4 feet thick, I don't think winters remain a heating problem. He has a simple strawbale house for Mongolians to live in, where, in their typical homes, they spend 2/3 of their income on heating.
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Saturday, March 27, 2010

book report: Ten Hills Farm by C. S. Manegold 2010

A couple years ago, reporters from the Hartford Courant published a book on slavery in Connecticut called Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery and in my immature self-righteous belief that the North did little compared to the South, I refused to read it. I figured it was a white, liberal self-flagellation. Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago and I encountered the book this report focuses on, Ten Hills Farm, The forgotten history of slavery in the North by C. S. Manegold. This time I was ready to learn. And I did. Ms. Manegold smacks my northern arrogance around. She confronts it directly.
This matter of station has consistently and perhaps conveniently been confused with ideas about the supposedly "gentle" culture of slavery as it evolved in the North. Yet that assumption breaks down with even the scantiest analysis. The great shibboleth of northern slavery is that it was somehow "benign," softer than its southern cousin, even vaguely "familial" in some way, as though all could gather happily around a kitchen table, a master at the head. Yet the reality for these slaves could not hae been more at odds with that fine fantasy. For them, the most fundamental truth was this: Whites who ruled their lives at Ten Hills Farm and in the big houses along Brattle Street were, in many case, the very same men and women who had ruled their livers on warmer shores. p.180
There is nothing gentle and familial about the ownership of humans. Even worse was it was ongoing from nearly the founding of the colony of Massachusetts. At first Governor Winthrop, founder of Ten Hills Farm in modern day Medford, Mass. owned native american slaves. The third owner of the property, Isaac Royall owned at least 40, if not 80, in the colonies, and perhaps as many in the Caribbean climate, growing sugar cane and making rum to enlarge his fortunes. The somewhat religiously devout citizens of Boston tolerated or owned slaves.
By 1700, there were more than four hundred slaves counted in the colony. Thirty-five years later, when the Mastre bought Ten Hills Farm, the number was six times as great, and the total would continue growing. In 1754, when Massachusetts officials made their first formal tally of black slaves, 4,489 were included in the count. The second census, completed in 1765, showed the number growing still - up by more than one thousand to a total of 5,779 black men, women, and children without freedom. p.181
She lists numerous examples of black slave families being separated to satisfy the financial whims of their white owners. Slaves were also executed for things or whipped or beaten without any recourse.

Around the time of the Revolutionary War, when white americans were declaring they refused to be slaves of England, the hypocrisy was getting harder to ignore. Even some whites were brave enough to be counter cultural and advocate for the abolition of slavery.
In A Disuasion to Great Britain, [James] Swan, cited the bible to underscore his point. Dueteronomy 15:13-14 required that slaves go free after a term of seven years, the colonial essayist reminded readers. Nor should those former slaves be sent off empty-handed. "Thou shalt furnish him out of thy flock ... and out of the floor, and out of thy wine press; of that wherewith the Lord thy God hath blessed thee, though shalt give him. This is in token that thou dost acknowledge the benefit thou hast received by his labors." That argument failed, too. Slavery kept its grip, for now, at least. pp. 210-1
It was a religious region, but as is typical, religion was not allowed to interfere with commerce and personal pleasure. Considering the amount of drinking and gambling this upper class indulged in, I'm sure they molded their religion to their lives, instead submitting to their religion. Treating fellow humans as neighbors instead of means to ends has been our difficulty since the beginning of time, see Cain and Abel. To this day we may tsk-tsk these hypocritical religious slave owners, but make every excuse for our tolerance for the murders of babies in wombs. Over and over again, as I read the history of our inhumanity to each other, I think of the phrase, "the veneer of civilization is very thin," from Iris Chang in her book the Rape of Nanking. I think we white wash our histories because we want to believe that someone in our past was noble. Reading history always helps to silence that notion.

Manegold writes well. She's read some of the books I have reported on here before. And she also points me to new ones for me to learn from, including the one about slavery in Connecticut. I think I am ready for the death of my notion that my state was innocent.
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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The gospel. a short video.

I feel guilty about not posting in a while. I've been reading another good book, but I'm only half way through it. It's about slavery in New England. But since Resurrection Day is coming, I thought this video was worth sharing. First seen at Evangel.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

book report: St. Patrick by Jonathan Rogers (2010)

I am part of Booksneeze, Thomas Nelson Publishers, blogging book review crew. I picked this book for review, because this is the season to learn about St. Patrick.

Rogers opens the book with some of the amusing and fantastic anecdotes about Patrick. The problem for the biographer of Patrick is that he only left two documents, but his admirers have enlarged this humble man's accounts to something greater than Jesus Christ. Rogers tries to work from Patrick's two writings and fill in some of the gaps. How did Patrick get out of slavery? What happened to the patronage he inherited? Did he bribe Irish leaders for protection and influence? What was his shameful sin in his adolescence that almost kept him from becoming a bishop? Did Patrick walk around with a glowing halo over his head or was he subject to the passions and weaknesses of regular men? How did he respond to his adversaries?

Rogers does a great job setting the context of Patrick's era from the effects of Rome's withdrawal from England, the warring tribes in Ireland, the internal politics of the church, and Patrick's pioneering approach to world missions at the time. But all of this is lead up to Patrick's actual surviving documents. Not even 30 pages by his hand, but powerful in revealing his heart for the Irish, his adopted people, and the power of God through him.

These are some of my favorite quotes by Patrick.

I am greatly God's debtor, because he granted me so much grace, that through me many people would be reborn in God, and soon after confirmed, and that clergy would be ordained everywhere for them, the masses lately come to belief, whom the Lord dres from the ends of the earth, just as he once promised through his prophets... pp.115-116.

So Patrick was part of a massive revival among the Irish people. But how marvelous was this. Later he writes,
So, how is it that in Ireland, where they never had any knowledge of God but, always, until now, cherished idols and unclean things, they are lately become a people of the Lord, and are called children of God; the sons of the Irish and the daughters of the chieftains are to be seen as monks and virgins of Christ. p.117
But all of this came at a high cost, personally, emotionally, spiritually and financially. He writes,
And many gifts were offered to me with weeping and tears, and I offended them [the donors], and also went against the wishes of a good number of my elders; but guided by God, I neither agreed with them nor deferred to them, not by my own grace byt by God who is victorious in me and withstands them all, so that I might come to the Irish people to preach the Gospel and endure insults from unbelievers; that I might hear scandal of my travels, and endure many persecutions to the extent of prison; and so that I might give up my free birthright for the advantage of others, and if I should be worthy, I am ready [to give] even my life without hesitation; and most willingly for His name. And I choose to devote it to him even unto death, if God grant it to me. p.115

After serving in slavery himself, and miraculously escaping to freedom under the direction of God, he willingly abandoned all personal pleasure and ambition to seek what God would have for him. He was truly an amazing man, whole heartedly devoted to God. As a result, Ireland became a Christian nation, who helped save Western civilization. It truly is a happy St. Patrick's day, and I'm glad I'm Irish.

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

cinema review: Cry Freedom (1987)

In 1987, when I began my senior year of high school, non-white South Africans were still living under the oppressive regime of apartheid. This racist system began in 1948, when my parents were born and ended in 1994, two years after I had graduated from UConn. An entire generation had lived under an overt legal oppression. I don't know how many generations lived under overt racism before this set of laws even worse the the Jim Crow laws of the United States.

Cry FreedomImage via Wikipedia

Steve Biko grew up in oppression under this system and sought to unchain the minds of his generation, not unlike Malcolm X in the United States, though from a Christian perspective. Cry Freedom is based on the book, Biko, by white South African journalist Donald Woods. It's also about Woods' escape from South Africa, so that he could get his book published. He had to escape after seeking to expose the government's tacit approval of Biko's beating death in jail, not unlike dozens of other black activists. He forced an inquest, which found in favor of the police.

Biko is portrayed by Denzel Washington, who also portrayed Malcolm X. I like Denzel, but he usually plays himself, but this younger actor, eager to make his mark in cinema, tries harder to become someone else. The cinematography is fantastic. I couldn't understand how the director could get large black crowds to portray the denizens of S.A. shantytowns beaten by S.A. police. How could such a raw nerve be touched? But it was filmed in Zimbabwe. Huge crowds were used as extras for student strikes, resulting, in real life, in 600 children killed by S.A. police. The were also used for Biko's funeral scene and a political rally.

The movie left room for the white politicians to explain their motives. They claimed pride in their ancestors turning the country into the success it was and would not turn over such hard-won gains to the blacks. But the whites were the minority, living so successfully on the backs of the black africans, denying them equal treatment as human beings. Their lives were regulated as to their freedom of travel and expression and education. They were treated no better than cattle or pets. Unlike cattle or pets though, as human beings, they resisted the de-humanization of apartheid and got the world to join them. Finally, President de Clerk pardoned Nelson Mandela in 1990. Mandela became the first black president of S.A. in1994.

It's hard to believe, in our modern era, that such oppression still continues. Perhaps racism is not as pronounced these days, but religious oppression is still pronounced, even in Africa, from the religious violence in Nigeria between Christians and Muslims to the very similar oppression methods against Christians by the communist government in Eritrea. And so we Christians pray to God, "let your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."
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Friday, March 05, 2010

book report: Sealing Their Fate by David Downing

David Downing's book, Sealing Their Fate: The twenty-two days that decided World War II,

A navy photographer snapped this photograph of...Image via Wikipedia

focuses on the 3 weeks before the bombing of Pearl Harbor but across three main theaters of war and a few minor ones as well. It's an ambitious project but also the kind I'm really attracted to as well. It is hard to appreciate from books focused on only one front, the equally important things happening on another front thousands of miles away during this war. I haven't appreciated before this book that the German army was retreating from the Soviet Union when Japan's planes and mini-submarines were setting the American naval base in O'ahu aflame.

Unlike Terry Brighton's book, Patton, Montgomery, Rommel: Masters of War, which I reviewed in January, Downing has little admiration for Rommel and points to numerous mistakes and poor decisions of Rommel's that only added to his troubles with poor supplies and support. But Downing has little good to say of most of the characters in his history. This quote from the beginning of the epilogue demonstrates his attitude.
There is far too much deference accorded by historians to political and military leaders, most of whom ally average intelligence to above-average doses of the less desirable human attributes. The history of these twenty-two days is replete with stupidity, incompetence, short-sightedness and evil in high place, and remarkably deficient in wisdom, simple competence, far-sightedness or human empathy. Finest hours were thin on the ground. p.330
Downing makes clear that there are no heroes in war, just wounded survivors. The main theaters of his interest are the Russian front, the North African front, and the Pacific theater. But he also follows German ships around the world's oceans sometimes escaping from Allied patrols and sometimes succumbing. He notes the Nazi efforts at becoming more efficient in successive attempts at settling the Jewish problem in the conquered Slavic territories. He lets the horror of the genocide speak for itself and through the voices of survivors.

He recreates conversations from war diaries of the generals, the politicians and the survivors. The point of the battles in these three weeks were the Pyrrhic nature. Pearl Harbor was a rousing success for the Japanese in the short term, but resulted in two nuclear detonations on their soil. The German invasion of the USSR was an amazing example of blitzkrieg until the appalling example of poor logistics planning resulted in German men and machines freezing to incapacity. In the same way, Rommel's brilliance in tank warfare was only as good as a resupply from Italy of tanks to replace the ones lost to England and gas to keep them running. England could keep throwing at them thin-skinned underpowered tanks, which might be sacrificed at ten per German tank, as long as the British could keep replacing and refueling their tanks but Germany could not. Stalin could keep throwing infantry against the Germans, using up their artillery and bullets, knowing that he could supply more men than Hitler, especially since Stalin gave his men warm coats and weapons that could withstand the bitter cold. What a cruel calculus. May the Lord return before we do this again.
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Monday, March 01, 2010

Tiny homes for Haitians

These were built for Haitian families in Fouche before the quake and survived.
From Haiti trip Feb 2010

These are only two buildings, but Mission E4 would like to build 1,000. They are small, but so are the stick and blanket shelters and tents. Unlike the stick homes, these can also withstand hurricanes.
From Haiti trip Feb 2010

One of these suffered a little damage at the door lintel.
From Haiti trip Feb 2010

It was quickly fixed. The tin roof keeps the weight down on the walls. They cost $1500 each and can be built with local technology and are culturally acceptable. Local workers can make these easily and be paid which stimulates the local economy. They only hold a bed, clothes, cooking supplies, a few other things. They have no bathrooms or running water. But they provide solid, reliable shelter for poor families.

These shelters won't suffice.
From Haiti trip Feb 2010

This won't do in a hurricane.
From Haiti trip Feb 2010

The spring rains have started in Haiti and I don't think this construction will help much either.
From Haiti trip Feb 2010

The tiny concrete block houses are indeed tiny, but if supplemented with these short term shelters, then the space is sufficient. But these flimsy shelters are all some people have now.
From Haiti trip Feb 2010

Can you imagine if these were your kids and this was your home and the rain was coming down so hard the water was running under your feet and through your roof?
From Haiti trip Feb 2010

Look at the pictures of the torrents coming down, at this blog, just this week in Les Cayes, a few miles away.

If you can help, please donate to Mission E4. Thank you.
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