An Open Letter to Shane Claiborne Regarding Executing Grace

Shane,

We’ve never met, but from what you said about yourself in Executing Grace, we come from a roughly similar background. You grew up in Tennessee, I grew up on the exurbs of Atlanta. We’re within a decade of the same age, and we were raised in similar conservative church backgrounds. We’ve both made something of ourselves that those in our hometowns may never have suspected us capable of back in those days.

I’m currently working on what I call a “2018TBR” project, where I set before myself a set list of books I wanted to read in 2018 – over 100 books in all, and I allowed for books to be added due to my Advance Reader Copy work with a few authors and publishers. Your book, Executing Grace: How the Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why It Is Killing Us, was on that list and I finished reading it today after having just started it yesterday. (Such is the norm for many of the books, and why yours was the 30th book I have read this year.)

Just so we are upfront with one another, despite agreeing with the premise of Executing Grace wholeheartedly and finding the stories you presented moving, the overall execution of the book was simply lacking. I won’t rehash what I’ve already put openly on Goodreads and Amazon, my normal places for reviewing books. Instead, I want to try to appeal to you personally.

You see, you had some very key flaws in Executing Grace, and I know you are working on a new book about gun violence. You no doubt want it to be persuasive enough to draw people to your side of the issue. But based on your execution of Executing Grace, I fear your own beliefs will fatally flaw this new text as well. You yourself said numerous times in the latter sections of Executing Grace that you were moved not by the facts and logic of repealing the death penalty – a case that can be made just as effectively as the case you presented – but by the emotional appeal of hearing peoples’ stories. So I have little doubt that this is the approach that you will take in this new endeavor. And when you do so, you will find no new converts to your side. Because those who oppose you will be able to tell just as many stories of people who used guns effectively to save their lives in various ways.

But another of your flaws was that you often referred to “societal” violence, when capital punishment is explicitly *State* violence. Indeed, when you cited Ephesians 6:12, you explicitly chose to cite the KJV’s “principalities and powers” translation rather than the NIV’s “rulers and authorities” translation. When you cited the Early Church leaders, even when they were not just decrying Rome’s capital punishment but indeed Rome itself, even while acknowledging that these leaders were antagonists to the State, you specifically state that they were against “societal” violence. No, sir. Well, not completely. They abhorred *all* violence – not just “societal”, but also that of the State – which is a key feature that you either glossed over or intentionally misled your readers about.

This is in no doubt because with your new book, you are going to do one thing those in the Early Church never did, at least not to my own education on the subject. You are going to appeal to your readers to get government to enact legislation banning that which you oppose. You are going to condone State violence – and make no mistake, there *will* be State violence if gun bans are enacted in the US – in order to further your goal of somehow reducing violence via State violence. And in all likelihood since you ignored police executing people in the street in your condemnation of the State executing people, you will proceed in your book against gun violence to ignore the fact that the State’s police are the single group of gun owners most likely to use their guns for violence against another person. Indeed, even in Executing Grace, you appealed to a complete end to violence – without ever truly discussing just how violent not we as a society have been, but just how violent government has been. You even mention apartheid and the Rwandan genocide without ever even alluding to the fact that these horrendous acts were condoned and even encouraged by their governments.

So I want you to do better in your next book. Because while I will absolutely never agree that government should dictate anything, I *would* like to see you build a case as to why a Christian should never have a gun in his or her hand. I *would* like to see you build a case for Christian nonviolence and even submission to violence to the point of death in your book against gun violence. Because you have made a career of preaching about how Christians should be counter-cultural, and I believe these points can be made in just that fashion. I am not quite there in my own beliefs – I already own three guns and would like to buy at least that many more – but I do believe the case can be made, and I believe you are one that can make the case persuasively.

And I believe that if you can make such a case, if you can show Christians how to be truly counter-cultural when it comes to guns, maybe you might be able to show us how to be an example for the rest of the nation to voluntarily lay down their own guns – both the State and its citizens.

And if you can do that, you will ultimately achieve your goal of a gun-less society. And you will have done it not via the force of the State, but by the Power of God.

Your brother in Christ,

Jeff

Net Neutrality and Internet Packages

For those that don’t know, I’m a professional web developer for my day job (currently working desktop development, but this is the first time in my 11 yr career that I’ve done that). I also happen to be an experienced cruiser, spending over two months of my life at sea – 4-8 days at a time.

Which actually combine to offer a somewhat unique perspective on the Net “Neutrality” debate.

You see, one oft feared aspect of not having Net “Neutrality” is that you will eventually have Internet packages similar to cable packages now. I actually think that is a good thing, as those sites that use more bandwidth (and thus data as well, which is one of the current measures of bandwidth usage) *should* cost more to consume than those that use less. It also *should* cost more to use even low bandwidth (think: primarily text and even static images) sites so much that they become a drain on bandwidth. It should also cost *less* to use lower bandwidth sites and/ or not use the higher bandwidth sites frequently. And I say this as both a purveyor of a little trafficked, low bandwidth site *and* as a person who has “cut the cord” and now streams digital video – in 4K Ultra HD at that – daily. Particularly in the era of “unlimited data” on nearly any device that connects to the Internet (be it via landline or cell connection), this is the only real way to have price do its only true job – to allocate resources as effectively as possible, using basic economic theories of supply and demand.

Some will argue “but the providers will make a killing”. Maybe, maybe not. But maybe they are *losing* money hand over fist right now and are simply trying to slow the losses or even make a profit?

Now, at 300 words in, let’s get to the point, shall we?

I’ve already seen Internet packages work very well. In the particular scenario I am about to describe, I choose not to partake, but other passengers clearly partake quite a bit. This scenario is Wifi on board Carnival’s cruise ships. Which again, I’ve spent nearly 75 days on across over a dozen cruises.

Carnival only has a set amount of bandwidth possible for their satellite-based Internet, and it has to work for everything from ship navigation and communication to employee personal communication to passenger use. Because of this, they charge passengers to use their internet in a mechanism to allocate a scarce resource as efficiently as possible.

Rather than being the one price does everything for a set speed, as land based Internet providers currently do, Carnival instead uses Internet Packages, which are currently defined thusly on their site:

Social Wi-Fi Plan ($5 USD per day)*
Access the most popular social websites and applications including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Linkedin, Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, SnapChat and the most popular airline sites. Does not include access to most websites and email. Does not support access to video and music streaming (such as Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, Pandora), iMessage or Skype. Cellular-network-dependent Wi-Fi calling and Facetime services are also not supported.

Value Wi-Fi Plan ($12 USD per day)*
Access popular social websites, email and applications including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Linkedin, Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, SnapChat and the most popular airline sites as well as news, entertainment (not including streaming sites), sports, weather, banking and finance. Post pictures of your trip and make your friends jealous. Faster speeds than the Social Plan. Does not support Skype or video and music streaming (such as Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, Pandora). Cellular-network-dependent Wi-Fi calling and Facetime services are also not supported.

Premium Wi-Fi Plan (17.70 USD per day)*
Our Premium Wi-Fi plan provides you access to all sites under the Social and Value Plans at the fastest possible connection on board (3 times faster than the Value Plan). Our Premium Plan also supports Skype calling where coverage allows. Does not support video and music streaming (such as Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, Pandora). Cellular-network-dependent Wi-Fi calling and Facetime services are also not supported.

* Price based on cruise-long plans, are subject to change without prior notice and may vary throughout the fleet.

With this mechanism, Carnival is thus able to allocate its scarce resource as efficiently as possible. Note that Carnival does not allow any streaming – music or video – at all, no matter the purpose. And yes, Carnival makes a lot of money for comparatively little daily upkeep.

I don’t know their internal numbers, but based on personal observation I would assume that somewhere between 50% and 90% of cruisers have some version of the available packages. Based on my knowledge of human behavior and the apparent socioeconomic status of my fellow passengers, for purposes of the math below let’s assume that just 50% of passengers have a WiFi plan, and that among that group, 50% of them have the Social plan, 25% have the Value plan, and the remaining 25% have the Premium plan.

Carnival currently has 25 cruise ships, with two more coming online over the next 18 months. Their highest passenger capacity ship is the Carnival Vista at 3934 passengers (a boat I was just on in November 2017), and their lowest passenger capacity ships are most of the Fantasy Class of ships, specifically the Carnival Fantasy, Carnival Ecstasy, Carnival Sensation, Carnival Fascination, Carnival Imagination, and Carnival Inspiration, each with a passenger capacity of 2056. The average across the current fleet is 2656 per boat, which is the number we will use for our following calculations.

Assuming every boat is fully filled every day – not always the case, but clearly Carnival’s goal – 25 ships multiplied by an average capacity of 2656 per ship gives us a total of 66400 passengers per day across the fleet. Using our assumptions above regarding how many people have the various internet packages, we find that 33200 people have some internet package. Thus, the range of money Carnival could be making *per day* is between $166,000 and $587,640, with a likely number based on our assumptions above of $329,510. Per year, this would come out to a range of $60,590,000 to $214,488,600 and a likely of $120,271,150. Not a bad chunk of change for little overall cost, and very likely a very high ROI.

But how does this play into land-based Internet?

On land, we no longer price by data usage now that even mobile carriers have largely gone to unlimited internet. Instead, we price by speed, and buried in the contract it tells you that at a certain data point, your speed will be lowered. It is possible even land line Internet does this, but if so it is less notorious. Because of this and the wide disparity in how people actually use the Internet (and even how often, even now), our pricing model is actually dramatically inefficient. A person who uses little data and largely avoids personal use of the Internet is still charged the same as a person who streams 4K Ultra HD video to multiple devices while streaming audio to multiple devices while perusing various social media platforms on multiple devices, all at the same time.

We need a better way to capture this disparity and use price to allocate resources more effectively and more efficiently.

And that is where packages similar to Carnival’s currently come in. I don’t know what the accepted prices will eventually come to stabilize at, and I don’t know exactly what the accepted packages will be, but I strongly believe that this system will be the most efficient at resolving this disparity. With this package based approach – not allowed under Net “Neutrality” – people who rarely get online or get online often but to little overall impact would be allowed to pay less, because they consume less resources. Others would still be allowed to consume to their heart’s content, but would be expected to pay for their consumption.

This has historically been the most equitable way to allocate resources, and it is a shame we do not have such a system for Internet consumption. Even worse, that so many oppose even allowing such a system to exist.

Wild Fires and School Shootings

Nearly six years ago, I read an article on Wired.com that dramatically changed the way I think. It was regarding wildfires and how we fight them, and this particular passage struck me:

“Then, when you look at the last century, you see the climate getting warmer and drier, but until the last couple decades the amount of fire was really low. We’ve pushed fire in the opposite direction you’d expect from climate,” [Yale University pyrogeographer Jennifer] Marlon said.

In other words, nature was already adapting to keep fires minimal, but then we in our all-knowing wisdom intervened, thinking we had to prevent fires to save ourselves.

Instead, through our very actions, we caused what we sought to eliminate.

Reading the beginning of the article, specifically about wildfires, allows an easy segue into where this article applies now:

THE VAST WILDFIRES of this summer and last represent a new normal for the western United States. They may signal a radical landscape transformation, one that will make the 21st century West an ecological frontier.

Unlike fires that have occurred regularly for thousands of years, these fires are so big and so intense as to create discontinuities in natural cycles. In the aftermath, existing forests may not return. New ecosystems will take their place.

“These transitions could be massive. They represent the convergence of several different forces,” said Donald Falk, a fire ecologist at the University of Arizona. “There is a tremendous amount of energy on the landscape that historically would not have been there. These are nuclear amounts of energy.”

We could reword this in the following manner, and it would be equally true:

THE LARGE AMOUNT OF GUN VIOLENCE IN THE US of the last 25 years represent a new normal for the United States. They may signal a radical landscape transformation, one that will make the 21st century a sociological frontier.

Unlike violence that has occurred regularly for thousands of years, this violence is so big and so intense as to create discontinuities in natural cycles. In the aftermath, existing institutions may not be able to cope. New cultures will take their place.

“These transitions could be massive. They represent the convergence of several different forces. There is a tremendous amount of energy on the landscape that historically would not have been there. These are nuclear amounts of energy.”

Just as Dr. Marlon said above in relation to wildfires in the west, 25 years ago in particular the US undertook a mission to make our society safer – but we have achieved exactly the opposite results of what we expected.

There are many people with many theories as to why this is, and there are certainly, as Dr. Falk says, “several different forces” at play. But I have arrived at one that I think lies at the root of it, and I think that be correcting our course on this one issue, we may be able to correct our course overall and arrive at our desired, safer, destination.

What is that one issue?

Zero tolerance policies in schools.

I remember as an elementary school kid in the late 80s and early 90s – just before Zero Tolerance kicked in during my 6th grade year – that getting in fights was settled with either the teacher or the Principal, and usually resulted in nothing more than a stern lecture and maybe after school detention. But it also, critically, allowed the small fire to flash over and dissipate.

With the advent of Zero Tolerance in particular, all of a sudden even looking at another person wrong could result in expulsion from school or at minimum a stay at in school suspension for a few days. Fighting became guaranteed expulsion and likely criminal charges, no matter how young the kids in question were and no matter who the actual aggressor was. Now, we have actively and aggressively suppressed the small fires.

But this allows the weeds and brushes of small angers and resentments to build. Angers and resentments that even a few years prior were allowed to flash over as a small fire all of a sudden became… Jonesboro. Paducah. Columbine. And more and more others. School shootings where kids were bringing guns to schools specifically to inflict as much damage as possible, in an attempt to handle their own anger and pain.

This has only continued to build over the last 25 years, as people who were in school then and since have continued to have these grievances actively, aggressively suppressed and are taught to hold them in no matter what. And now we are to the point where these shootings are barely even news unless more than a handful are killed. Where once any attack was national level news, even ones where hardly anyone was hurt – much less killed -, we now have attacks barely make waves in the local media when similar numbers are attacked.

At the time Zero Tolerance was implemented, the 24/7 news cycle was in its infancy. The Internet – the very platform you are reading this very article on – was just beginning to come online in a big way for the average consumer. We had no way of knowing what the 24/7 news cycle, political punditry, and in particular the rise of social media and other instant communications would allow. We had no idea that allowing those small fires to flash over quickly was about to become paramount, instead seeing them as something that needed to be suppressed at all costs.

Well, now we know more exactly what those costs are – and I for one do not believe them worth it. Return us to the era where fist fighting was not encouraged, but was understood. Return us to an era where the small fires were allowed to flash over in order to prevent the widespread devastation of the wildland fire.

Will repealing Zero Tolerance restore all that we have lost over the last 25 years? Not in the short term. But maybe, just maybe, 25 years from now we will see that it did indeed patch the dam long enough for our other institutions to repair themselves and solve that problem for good.

How the Political Climate Led Me To Read More

Earlier today, I read a post on BookRiot titled HOW THE POLITICAL CLIMATE LED ME TO ROMANCE NOVELS, and the title held such promise. Unfortunately, the article itself went on yet another political diatribe. So allow me, if you will, to explain in my own way how the political climate of late has led me to read ever more.

In 2017, I read 80 books. In 2018, I’ve got closer to 120 or so on deck, and we’ll see how many of them I actually read. This, after struggling in 2008 to even read 53 books. Of course, 2008 was very different in terms of the US political climate and my own life. In 2008, I was newly married and working 100 miles (one way) from home. This was before the era of eBooks, and even audiobooks weren’t quite on full mp3 the way they are now. So I had to lug around physical books and could only read on my lunch break or a few hours at home – hours dominated by sleeping, eating, and spending time with my new bride. So 53 books that year was quite an accomplishment – one that my new bride said I should never ever repeat.

But over the last couple of years, I find the political discourse in the United States to be ever more rancorous, and honestly even I – the former Libertarian Party official and political blogger/ activist – am honestly getting sick of it. While I still debate more on Facebook than I should, I’ve also unfollowed quite a few pages, unfollowed or defriended many people, and blocked over 1500 people on Facebook in 2017 alone. But even with all of this, there is just so much discord out there. You almost can’t discuss a political topic, even among the closest of friends, without people speaking harshly to each other and in many cases seemingly coming close to throwing punches. And it doesn’t matter the topic or your position. Someone is inevitably going to disagree, and then the fight is on.

Hell, even when it comes to sports, the same discord shows through – often with similar if not identical language. Can’t even discuss weather, because someone will inevitably turn the discussion to climate change, and then the political fight is on yet again.

So I turn to entertainment. There are only a few select shows I actually enjoy watching, and I’ve now cut the cord – meaning I no longer have cable television. The video games I like to play are few and far between, but I’ve been known to dump hundreds of hours into the same few games (over the course of years). Music, as evidenced by this week’s Grammy Awards show, is increasingly becoming politicized. And there are only so many movies put out per year, even fewer that I actually want to see.

But my To Be Read stack of books I’ve already acquired – the only way they get onto my TBR list – is literally nearly 3000 books long, already more than I could possibly read in the remaining years I have on this planet. And I’ve got all kinds of stuff on the overall list. I’ve got classics of both fiction and philosophy, I’ve got romance (of many flavors), I’ve got scifi, I’ve got adventure, I’ve got drama, I’ve got various nonfiction. About the only things I don’t have on there are cookbooks, comics, and coloring books.

So I created the 2018 TBR list – a list of the books I am going to try to read in 2018. And I’m already reading number 15 on that list, plus I’ve already done a couple of Advance Reader Copy (ARC) projects. Please note that I am actually removing books from this list as I read them, so the list started out longer than what it currently shows as. For a list of the books I’ve read so far this year (minus unpublished ARCs), check out my 2018 Challenge.

With this project, I can thus get away from the rancor that is any discussion of anything remotely politically oriented and focus on escapism and some learning, but overall things I enjoy. I can carry my Kindle with me and when things get too heated, I can just escape into whatever book I’m currently reading. If the radio starts playing politicized music or ads, I can switch over to Audible and listen to at least a few of my books there.

I can have my own opinions, let others have their own, and we can be friends discussing books. What I’ve read, what they’ve read, what we want to read.

And maybe, just maybe, we can all figure out a way to survive this current climate in peace.

Through books.