19 January 2011

Book Review: Shopcraft as Soulcraft

Mechanics don't usually write books. If they do write books, they don't usually reference Aristotle, Kant, MIT economists, 18th Century Banking sociologists, and Robert Pirsig.

Ok, maybe Robert Pirsig. But in his book Shopcraft as Soulcraft, Matthew Crawford references all of the above. Don't let that scare you away - after all, he's a mechanic at heart - and he brings them down to earth. So why would a mechanic write a book? Because he sees something wrong with the world. He does a job which society and high school guidance counselors try to guide young minds away from. 
It is a rare person who is naturally inclined to sit still for sixteen years in school, and then indefinitely at work.
Crawford's writing will make you laugh, and it will make you think. It will make you want to get up from your chair and go build something, or fix something. One of his greatest points is that the trades - plumbing, framing, electrical, vehicle maintenance - can't be outsourced. You can outsource software help to China. You can build the computer itself in China. But you can't pound a nail from China.

At the end of the day, the trades worker finds intrinsic satisfaction in his work: the pipes flow, the house is built, the lights turn on, the car runs. This is what I loved about framing houses with Barry: at the end of the day, I could look over my shoulder and see what I'd built. Or at the Clydesdale farm: I could see the hay - or manure - I'd stacked.

All Barry ever promised me was long hours and low wages. Little did I know that I would earn an appreciation for real work - work I'd be willing to do for even longer hours and lower wages.

17 January 2011

Paul's Letter to American Christians: By MLK

The following excerpt was delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama, on November 4th, 1956 by Martin Luther King, Junior.

I can imagine the Apostle Paul writing a letter to American Christians in 1956 A.D. And here is the letter as it stands before me:

I, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to you who are in America, Grace be unto you, and peace from God our Father, through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

For many years I have longed to be able to come to see you. I have heard so much of you and of what you are doing. I have heard of the fascinating and astounding advances that you have made in the scientific realm…I have heard of your great medical advances, which have resulted in the curing of many dread plagues and diseases, and thereby prolonged your lives and made for greater security and physical well-being. All of that is marvelous.

But America, as I look at you from afar, I wonder whether your moral and spiritual progress has been commensurate with your scientific progress. It seems to me that your moral progress lags behind your scientific progress. You have allowed the material means by which you live to outdistance the spiritual ends for which you live. You have allowed your mentality to outrun your morality. You have allowed your civilization to outdistance your culture. Through your scientific genius you have made of the world a neighborhood, but through your moral and spiritual genius you have failed to make of it a brotherhood. So America, I would urge you to keep your moral advances abreast with your scientific advances.

Let me rush on to say something about the church. Americans, I must remind you, as I have said to so many others, that the church is the Body of Christ. So when the church is true to its nature it knows neither division nor disunity. But I am disturbed about what you are doing to the Body of Christ. They tell me that in America you have within Protestantism more than two hundred and fifty six denominations. The tragedy is not so much that you have such a multiplicity of denominations, but that most of them are warring against each other with a claim to absolute truth. You must come to see that God is neither a Baptist nor a Methodist; He is neither a Presbyterian nor a Episcopalian. God is bigger than all of our denominations. If you are to be true witnesses for Christ, you must come to see that America.

There is another thing that disturbs me to no end about the American church. You have a white church and you have a Negro church. You have allowed segregation to creep into the doors of the church. How can such a division exist in the true Body of Christ? You must face the tragic fact that when you stand at 11:00 on Sunday morning to sing praises, you stand in the most segregated hour of Christian America. They tell me that there is more integration in the entertaining world and other secular agencies than there is in the Christian church. How appalling that is.

So Americans I must urge you to get rid of every aspect of segregation. The broad universalism standing at the center of the gospel makes both the theory and practice of segregation morally unjustifiable. Segregation is a blatant denial of the unity which we all have in Christ. The underlying philosophy of Christianity is diametrically opposed to the underlying philosophy of segregation.

I must bring my writing to a close now. Timothy is waiting to deliver this letter, and I must take leave for another church. But just before leaving, I must say to you, as I said to the church at Corinth, that I still believe that love is the most durable power in the world.

So American Christians, you may have the gift of prophecy and understanding all mysteries. You may be able to break into the storehouse of nature and bring out many insights that men never dreamed were there. You may ascend to the heights of academic achievement, so that you will have all knowledge. You may give great gifts to charity. You may tower high in philanthropy. But if you have not love, it means nothing.

I must say goodbye now. I hope this letter will find you strong in the faith. It is probable that I will not get to see you in America, but I will meet you in God’s eternity. And now unto him who is able to keep us from falling, and lift us from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope, from the midnight of desperation to the daybreak of joy, to him be power and authority, forever and ever. Amen.

From Aaron Stern's blog

11 January 2011

Bombers or Hospitals?

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some 50 miles of concrete highway. We pay for a single fighter with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. This, I repeat, is the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower

10 January 2011

Book Review: Starship Troopers

I'm not really into sci-fi. But Starship Troopers was surprisingly good. It's a first-person narrative of a "Mobile Infantry" soldier in some future, intergalaxy war. Although the weapons and "Navy" - read "spaceships" are different, the infantry and Navy maintain traditions dating back to "surface ships" powered by wind sails and earlier.

And the book is quite philosphical, offering a strong critique of America's current system of deterring crime, especially in youngsters. According to Mr. Dubois, the narrator's professor of History and Moral Philosphy, "juvenile delinquent" is a contradiction in terms - and treating someone as a juvenile delinquent until they're eighteen, then giving them capital punishment, is like letting a puppy make messes inside, then killing it for doing the same when it becomes a dog.

Also according to Mr. Dubois, any moral philosophy must be based in survival; otherwise, it's worthless. Almost Kantian.

And the author takes an interesting perspective on voting: only veterans are allowed to vote in the narrator's society. Why? Because they've shown they care. Anyone not willing to lay his life down for his country has no right to guide his country's decisions. This, at first glance, seems to fly in the face of the Western idea of civic militarism. According to Victor Davis Hanson, the West has won because its soldiers - from Greek Hoplites to U.S. Marines - have a say in their government. They care more than a conscript; they fight for freedom, instead of fighting from fear.

Yet the infantry in Starship Troopers still fights for freedom - they just don't have total freedom yet. So, theoretically, it still works.

Even if you're not into sci-fi, I'd recommend this book. It's a quick, and thought-provoking, read.

04 January 2011

When You Come Back Down

You got to leave me now, you got to go alone
You got to chase a dream, one that's all your own
Before it slips away
When you're flyin' high, take my heart along
I'll be the harmony to every lonely song
That you learn to play

When you're soarin' through the air
I'll be your solid ground
Take every chance you dare
I'll still be there
When you come back down
When you come back down

I'll keep lookin' up, awaitin' your return
My greatest fear will be that you will crash and burn
And I won't feel your fire
I'll be the other hand that always holds the line
Connectin' in between your sweet heart and mine
I'm strung out on that wire

And I'll be on the other end, To hear you when you call
Angel, you were born to fly, If you get too high
I'll catch you when you fall
I'll catch you when you fall

Your memory's the sunshine every new day brings
I know the sky is calling
Angel, let me help you with your wings

When you're soarin' through the air
I'll be your solid ground
Take every chance you dare

I'll still be there
When you come back down
Take every chance you dare,
I'll still be there
When you come back down
When you come back down 

Nickel Creek