Showing posts from December, 2012

the self-defense argument for guns examined

This really isn't much of an examination. There have been many great articles on the irrational American obsession with weapon ownership. I've read several at (expected), the Economist (the non-American perspective which is WTF?) and at the American Conservative (totally unexpected).  The argument that armed citizens stop crime is pretty weak. Trained and armed police are more effective, but even they can cause collateral damage, see the NYC story. More guns in our country seems to have a pretty close correlation with more gun deaths in our country. If you need more depression in your life, make sure you follow the twitter feed @gundeaths, which tracks all reported gun deaths in the USA. It tends to fill up my twitter feed every single day. But many of my fellow americans, read the comments on facebook or on news websites, and the NRA just keep hollering that citizens need to be armed to protect themselves. Previously, I suggested people get dogs instead. I do realiz…

book response: Letters from a skeptic by Greg Boyd (2010)

I picked this up for my Kindle when it was free for a day. It's only two bucks and change now, and this book is worth so much more. It is so much better to read apologetics from a correspondence between an honest skeptic and a humble apologist. This is narrative instead of academic. Boyd knows a great deal, he studied theology at Princeton and Yale, but he is not ashamed to admit what he doesn't know, his own struggles with doubt, his own mistakes in faith, or the limits of what can be claimed on behalf of Jesus and the Bible. Boyd is not a fundamentalist which enables him to write about Jesus much more winsomely and not as a hard dogmatist. He acknowledges the diversity within Christendom, and explains why he makes the choices within it without condemning those who have chosen otherwise. He also talks about the fringe groups and what makes them fringy. In fact, he started his Christian journey in one of them, oneness pentecostalism. He wants his skeptical dad to know that he …

Top 10 UmBlog posts of 2012

This truly surprises me.

an explanation of ferrocement house constructionmy book review of Terror by Night by Terry Caffeymy book review of Rowling's newest book A Casual Vacancybuilding arched roofs without modern materialsgrain bin homes for Haitiansa book review of the excellent Jesus: A Theographymy hare-brained proposal about combining rammed earth with straw balesmy excitement over a bike with a drive shaft, the Runaboutmy thoughts on this crazy article at Slatemy proposal to drop the word "marriage" as a legal word Only one of these topics is directly involved with my stated purpose of this blog. I'm glad people are reading my book reviews, since I like reading books. I'm glad people are interested in crazy house ideas. They've also become popular on my Pinterest page. I found more houses than I can blog about and put them there. The same is true of bicycles. I have several of them pinned as well. I also don't link to as many blog posts either. I do…

book response: Manhunt The 12 day chase for Lincoln's killer by Swanson (2007)

One of my favorite things to do on holiday vacations is to read. Napping is the other, and they go together like hand and glove. Despite my napping, this book, which I had to borrow from the library after reading James Swanson's newest book, went too fast. Swanson writes history at a quick pace, it's only 12 days after all in this story, but adds so much color to the characters and their times. He incorporates the quirks, the dress, the songs, the headlines, the personal letters, diaries, sights, smells, and sounds into an immersive environment for the reader. In an afterword, incorporated into the Kindle edition, there is an author interview, where we find out Swanson, who shares Lincoln's birthday, grew up fascinated with Lincoln history, and was buying memorabilia when he was a teenager. He himself is fully immersed in Lincoln, but is able to write well enough to bring us, his readers along for the swim.

John Wilkes Booth was a white supremacist, a secessionist, a brilli…

i'm pretty sure cars are different from guns

In the ongoing internet debates in America about gun control, gun ownership advocates frequently like to compare gun owners to car owners. The common factor being that cars are just as capable as killing people as guns are. However, assault rifles and high capacity magazines and pistols are designed exclusively to kill humans. Cars are designed to protect humans, airbags and such. Other than the Ford Pinto, I don't know of any car designed exclusively for killing humans. In fact, car manufacturers do respond to complaints of deaths and injuries and will bend under pressure to improve their product. Gun manufacturers, however, despite technology to improve the safety of their products, do not. Even if James Bond makes it cool, by preventing  his own gun from being used against him in this summer's movie. In driving school, drivers are taught to avoid humans. At shooting ranges, life-size silhouettes of humans are optional targets, as well as faces of people. Not everyone uses t…

book response: Bloody Crimes by James Swanson (2010)

I borrowed from my local library the digital version James Swanson's book Bloody Crimes: The chase for Jefferson Davis and the death pageant for Lincoln's corpse, and I was so sad last night that I finished it. Swanson writes good history about a topic, the American Civil War, that I have read plenty about over the last dozen years. This was so good I already checked out his previous book, Manhunt: The twelve day chase to catch Lincoln's killer.

Swanson certainly admires Lincoln, he was certainly admirable, but he does not hide Lincoln's warts. He is not a fan of Jeff Davis, but he does not hide his admirable qualities either. The following paragraph is a good example of Swanson's presentation.
Lincoln, who was not an abolitionist, agreed with Jefferson Davis that the Constitution protected slavery. Thus, the federal government had no power to interfere with it wherever it existed. And like Davis, Lincoln—at least the Lincoln of the 1840s and 1850s—accepted white …

Charity vs. security: one dumb Xian's perspective

As an ambassador of Jesus, driving around my assigned territory of Connecticut yesterday, ;-), I heard an interesting piece on NPR yesterday about the incredible impact that wise giving can make in the world. I've talked about wise giving recently. The British group, Giving What We Can, founded by an Oxford ethics professor, Toby Ord, strips away all the  feel good aspects of charity and looks at what charities save the most lives per dollar. As an ambassador of a kingdom whose founder's basic premise for all our interactions is to love our neighbor as ourselves, and not someone who's primary concern is the 2nd amendment of the USA, I'm really interested in how I can help more of my neighbors with the stipend granted me.

Other kind-hearted and well meaning ambassadors feel that possessing personal firearms, that they could use against those who would visit evil upon us, like at an elementary school Newtown, CT, 26 killed, or on a family in Cheshire, CT, three killed. W…

a dumb xian ponders american gun rights

I'm not speaking of anyone pejoratively in the title, because I am the dumb Christian. I've seen many insensitive Christians on my Facebook feed make sure the world knows where they stand on the 2nd amendment in light of the Newtown massacre. Insensitivity is not stupidity, though. I'm wondering though, as a citizen of another kingdom, an ambassador of Jesus, how I am to represent Him in these times, in this country I was born in, the USA. I keep thinking of Jesus' statement in Matthew, which I tweeted yesterday, because it seems to throw a monkey wrench in the 2nd amendment argument. When Jesus is arrested in the garden of Gethsemane, at night, by a cohort of soldiers, one of his closest friends, Peter, whips out his sword and manages to clip the side of a servant boy's head, taking off the poor boy's ear. Jesus miraculously reattaches his ear and tells Pete, "Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword." …

Advent Christianity in tragedy

In times of great tragedy, most of us seek answers to the "why?" of the situation. It seems that some of the people of my religious persuasion like to explain it by the cessation of religious instruction in the public schools. The argument seems to be, Since Johnny wasn't taught the Ten Commandments in school, nor forced to hear or recite the Lord's Prayer every morning, he is more likely to shoot up his mother and her elementary school classroom. In effect, blaming the victims. I wish that would stop. I can't imagine losing so much and having someone come alongside me and blame the refusal of the government to pick a religion for official sponsorship. That's like hugging a cold stone. I imagine any human being who is able to put an arm around me and weep with me would be more than adequate. Their religious, or political, views would not interfere in that time of deep pain.

I led a Bible study last night with high school students through the 2nd chapter of M…

Fiscal cliff politics

Most of the news I encounter lately is about this budget deal, nicknamed the Fiscal Cliff, bearing down on Americans. It's a sledgehammer approach to reducing spending and increasing taxes. Wikipedia has a decent summary. The good part of this deal is that important programs for the needy, Social Security and Medicare, will not be cut at all. The bad part of this deal is the projected delay from the current recession. The in-between parts will be higher taxes for everyone and reduced spending on defense and non-defense items which will result in job losses at military contractors, in government offices, and programs that seek to improve our level of civilization in general. I call it the in-between parts because not everyone hates every part of those cuts. All of this could be resolved if the Republican party which controls the House of Representatives, where budget bills must originate, and Democrat President Obama can come to an agreement. Here is how I hear their positions boil…

be informed before you donate in a crisis

Renaissance Ronin's blog first attracted me because he's building affordable houses around the world out of shipping containers. He's been around the block for awhile and has seen the darker side of humanity take advantage of other's generosity in crises, such as the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. That aid boondoggle is well documented, see this Haitian news blog. Good organizations do exist, they probably don't spend as much money advertising themselves. When it comes to housing, Habitat for Humanity, has done good in Haiti. But a recent blog at Ronin's, How do you help?, also shares how the poor who need to be helped get taken advantage of despite the good intentions of donors and helpers. He's not saying where to invest, I have suggestions for you, but he wants us informed.

You have to start at the grass roots community level. If Haiti taught us anything, it was that dealing with multi-level “.coms and .orgs”, tied in closely with government just didn’t work.…

book response: This Republic of Suffering by Drew Gilpin Faust (2008)

I can't stay away from books on the American Civil War. Drew Gilpin Faust's book, This Republic of Suffering was available in the library's digital lending section and seemed worth a shot. At first, I didn't know if I could push on through this book. The extended discussion in the beginning about the Victorian concept of the good death got old. Her examples piled on top of themselves about so many soldiers trying to die in a way that could comfort their families with memories of their devotion in their last moments. But it got better as I persevered. The facts of the war are brutal. (Instead of page numbers, the Kindle gives locations.)
The number of soldiers who died between 1861 and 1865, an estimated 620,000, is approximately equal to the total American fatalities in the Revolution, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, and the Korean War combined. The Civil War’s rate of death, its incidence in comparison with the si…