Thursday, January 03, 2019

Bible Reading Project: On Track

In September 2017, I outlined a plan for reading one page of the Bible per day. Ever seeking to celebrate small accomplishments (a good morale booster), I am pleased to report that I'm ahead of schedule.

488 days have elapsed since that post. During that time, I have read 719 pages.  That's 47% more than required by my self-imposed schedule.

Despite all this reading, I still lack the faith that Christianity requires.  But I have gained understanding, if not faith. Sometimes it's interesting reading, and soothing as well if taken in small doses.  So I shall plod on. At this rate, I should be finished in....oh, about four years.

N.B. The version I'm reading is The New Oxford Annotated Bible, College Edition, New Revised Standard Version. It's quite useful, with a nice ecumenical point of view and plenty of annotations and reference materials to make the text more accessible.

Friday, November 02, 2018

Strength in Unity: Letter to the Editor

To: William GIbbs
Editor, Coin World Magazine


I enjoyed Chris Bulfinch’s article Fasces on U.S. Coins in the October 29 edition. I’d like to expand on the symbolism behind this bundle of rods. To me, the fasces represents first and foremost the idea that there is strength in unity.  A single rod is easily broken, but a bundle of rods is very difficult to break. 

Viewed from this perspective, the fasces represented much more than authority and power. It was a potent symbol of ideals for citizenship and governance. We are stronger united than divided - an idea worth pondering in the midst of the bitter divisiveness that plagues our nation.  

“E pluribus unum” - from many, one. 

Image: Wikimedia

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting

A few days ago, a man named Robert Bowers killed 11 Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue. News reports indicate that the shooter believed Jews are the "children of Satan". 

Most of us will agree that this is a thoroughly despicable point of view. But let's be clear about this: there is language in the New Testament that supports Bowers' vile belief.  In John 8:44, which Bowers cited in one of his social media posts, Jesus says to a group of Jews:
"You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him."  
I have no desire to attack Christian beliefs. But the fact remains that the New Testament contains statements such as the following which openly blame Jews for the death of Jesus. These are the roots of anti-semitism.
  • John 7:1: "The Jews were looking for an opportunity to kill him [Jesus]."
  • John 8:34: "Jesus answered them [the Jews]...' you look for an opportunity to kill me because there is no place in you for my word.'"
  • John 11:53: "So from that day on they [the Jews] planned to put him [Jesus] to death."
  • John 19:6: "When the chief priests and the [temple] police saw him [Jesus], they shouted 'Crucify him! Crucify him!' "
  • John 19:14: "He [Pilate] said to the Jews: 'Here is your King!' They cried out 'Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!' "
  • Matthew 27:20: "Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed."
  • Matthew 27:25: "Then the people as a whole answered, 'His blood be upon us and our children.'" This is perhaps the worst of all, extending guilt to all the descendants of the biblical Jews.
Mainstream Christian thinking has evolved on this matter, becoming more Jew-friendly. I know this because I was raised as a Christian, baptized and confirmed in the Episcopal faith. I was never taught that Jews are children of Satan, or killers of Christ, or inferior to Christians. In fact, quotes like the ones listed above were never mentioned at all. Biblical scholars offer various explanations for the anti-Jewish language in the New Testament, implying that it is not quite what it appears to be. James Carroll, in his excellent book Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews explores this in detail.

Yet these harsh words remain in the Bible, which some still believe is the literal word of God and the ultimate moral authority. It is no wonder this hatred is still with us today.

Except where noted above, all biblical quotes are from The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Fully Revised Fourth Edition, New Revised Standard Version. For those who prefer the King James version, John 8:44 reads, "Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do: he was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him."

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Kavanaugh Nomination for U.S. Supreme Court

Today I sent this e-mail to both of my U.S. senators. Having resisted the temptation to post this on Facebook, this matter is still gnawing away at me to such a degree that I find it necessary to unleash it on the whole world in this blog.

Dear Senator, 
I am deeply concerned about the sexual conduct allegations that have been raised against Brett Kavanaugh. The Senate’s process for reviewing them seems to be seriously flawed. 
My concerns are as follows.
1. The FBI should investigate the allegations of Blaisey, Ramirez and Swetnick. The Senate should not vote in the Kavanaugh nomination until such investigations are complete. A hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee is not sufficient, given the severity of the charges, and the fact that Kavanaugh is being considered for a lifetime position on the highest court in the land.
2. Only one of the accusers (Blaisey) is appearing at tomorrow’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. What about the other two? Aren’t they entitled to have their concerns heard? 
3. Why hasn’t Mr. Michael Judge been called to testify before the Committee? He was allegedly a witness to the Blaisey incident. Surely his recollections are relevant. 
4. A Supreme Court justice should be a person of impeccable character and reputation. This is not a trial in which charges are dismissed and forgotten if the accuser cannot provide proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Ultimately, the allegations may be found to be unproven or unverifiable. But that sets the bar much too high, presenting the appearance of a Senate that hides behind the rules of evidence rather than doing what is best for our country. 
There are serious questions about the credibility of the Senate and its role with respect to Supreme Court nominations. If Kavanaugh’s candidacy survives and is brought to a vote, I urge you to use your judgment and vote your conscience. Set aside party politics for the good of the United States of America.

Monday, September 10, 2018

The Anomaly by Michael Rutger

The Anomaly
This book ably works through a theme near and dear to me: that of hidden mysteries

The lead character is a jaded former screenwriter, now reduced to hosting a YouTube series on unexplained phenomena. He and his second-rate production team set forth to locate a cavern in a remote part of the Grand Canyon. Discovered by a 1909 expedition but long since forgotten, it's rumored to contain "wonders". 

The author, Michael Rutger, is a screenwriter by trade. Perhaps that's why he chooses to tell this tale using clever characters who constantly trade snappy dialogue. It's an odd choice given the subject matter of this tale. But the wry banter falls away whenever the action kicks in, which happens frequently. Rutger knows how to keep the pace moving along briskly. The Anomaly is a page-turner. I just kept reading it and reading it until there was nothing left to read. 

These virtues more than balance a couple of shortcomings. A couple of incidents are a bit too similar to certain popular movies (I won't name them, to avoid spoilers). And the author makes an effort to end most chapters with a cliffhanger phrased as a short, punchy sentence, which feels just a bit too manipulative. 

Don't be put off by the negative Kirkus review. The Anomaly is much better executed than Dan Brown's books. It's not as finely crafted as Jeff VanderMeer's Annihilation or John Langan's The Fisherman. But it's still a rattling good read for lovers of weird fiction and conspiracy theories.

Saturday, September 08, 2018

An Inverted Jenny Stamp Surfaces

This rare stamp has been kept in safe deposit boxes for decades. It’s so valuable that the owner made the head of the Philatelic Foundation travel from New York to Chicago to take it out of its protective packaging. 

Link: New York Times, Sept. 8, 2018
No. 49 of 100 Jennies famously misprinted with an upside-down biplane was locked away in vaults for generations. The whereabouts of No. 66 remains unknown. 

Courtesy of New York Times

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

New York Bank Vault Hoard

Someone stored 16,000 Morgan silver dollars in a bank safe deposit box (picture in article) in 1964. They weren’t hidden or forgotten - rather, the hoard was inherited and passed on hand to hand for decades. Now the family is tired of paying for storage, so the silver dollars are coming to market. 

Based on silver content alone, these are worth nearly $190,000 (16,000 x $15/oz x 0.77344 oz.), but some are in mint condition and will be worth much more than the silver value.

Further Reading 
Gilkes, Paul. Hoard of 16,000 Morgan silver dollars to be graded, marketed. Coin World. June 8, 2018.