Poverty through the Eyes of the Poor

Panos London has recently put up a series of interviews with poor residents of Zambia and Pakistan.

"These testimonies are a powerful reminder of the human indignities that lie at the heart of poverty and why effective approaches to poverty reduction matter."

Oral Testimony of the Poor.

What is Genius?

Genius is the result of a rare natural ability which, often when nourished, creates new ideas or items.

Saying that it is a “rare natural ability” makes my definition different than that held by Simone de Beauvoir when she wrote, “One is not born a genius, one becomes a genius” (Beauvoir 133). It comes down to a philosophical question about the nature of man in which one must decide if we are all born equal mentally or whether some people are born with different mental makeups than others. My definition implies that not all humans are born with an equal mental capacity that just needs to be nourished. We are each different and unique, and some of us might be blessed with genius. “Rare” is an intentionally vague word because I really do not know how much of humanity is gifted with the potential of genius, but it is not common.

Although nourishment helps, it is not always required. Sometimes an individual can exhibit genius without seeing examples of genius or being instructed how to create new things. It seems to happen in some cases because they are not nourished. Others might not exhibit genius until being nourished to a point at which a new idea just clicks in their head.

Just because you are born with the ability to be genius does not inherently mean that genius will manifest itself. Genius must create or it will be wasted. Genius must manifest itself in an expressed intellectual manner or in a new creation if it is to be truly called genius. Otherwise, it is just potential. One might have the ability, but if that ability is not nourished and given an outlet, it might just rot away and never reveal itself. Jean-Paul Sartre spoke about genius in his essay on Existentialism: “There is no genius other than one which is expressed in works of art; the genius of Proust is the sum of Proust's works; the genius of Racine is his series of tragedies. Outside of that, there is nothing. Why say that Racine could have written another tragedy, when he did not write it? A man is involved in life, leaves his impress on it, and outside of that there is nothing” (Sartre 1206). A person can exhibit genius and we might label them as geniuses, but not everything that a “genius” does is genius.

Genius is not just expressing the old in a clearer or more concise way. It is connecting “concepts or physical elements” in a completely new way. Creation is taking what is there and bringing it together to produce new ideas and items. Genius is a new way to look at the world, the creation of a new metal, the manufacturing of an item that we all need but never realized, or a new way to interact with one another. Genius is the ability to bring to reality that which nobody has ever created before.

Genius is the result of a rare natural ability which, often when nourished, creates new ideas or items.

Beauvoir, Simone de. “Since the French Revolution: the Job and the Vote.” The Second Sex. 1949. bk. I, pt 2, ch. 8: 133. Wikipedia. 23 Oct. 2007. http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Simone_De_Beauvoir.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. “Existentialism.” The Norton Reader. 11th edn. Ed. Linda Peterson & John C. Brereton. New York: Norton, 2004. 1199-1207.

Essay Review: Jean Paul Sartre's Existentialism

Sartre's thesis is that existentialism is the belief that we are defined by our actions and we are only what our actions reveal. If I claimed to be a loving person but spent all of my time selfishly trying to con people out of money, manipulate people into doing things for me, and destroying that which I have, could I really claim to be loving even if I felt I was loving in my heart? Not at all. If I am a loving person, it is my actions that will say such – not any statement I make with my voice or meditation I do in my head.

When Sartre states “Existence precedes essence,” he emphasizes that our essence, who we are, is defined by our existence, what we do (1200). We cannot pretend that we are someone different than what we act like. Who we are is defined by what we do. If we want to be social, then we will be social only once we start acting social. If we want to be giving, we will only be giving once we start giving. According to Sartre, we cannot think ourselves into being social or giving; it is our actions that will make us be what we want to be. That is existence preceding essence.

Sartre describes anguish as “the feeling of total and deep responsibility” an individual has when he realizes that “he is not only the person he chooses to be, but also a lawmaker who is, at the same time, choosing all mankind as well as himself” (1200). Anguish manifests itself when we realize that we know we must make decisions that impact others. These decisions will make our path become the only reality we will ever know.

Forlorness is the result of realizing “that God does not exist and that we have to face all the consequences of this” (1201). This causes distress that we will encounter when we realize that there is no God who has laid out a right and wrong answer. Sartre claims that this will lead us to a point where we will have to use our “instincts” to decide what actions we should choose (1203).

Despair “means that we shall confine ourselves to reckoning only with what depends upon our will, or on the ensemble of probabilities which make our action possible” (1205). Despair traditionally means “Complete loss of hope” (Despair). He tried to redefine “despair” to mean a state of mind in which we only deal with that in which we have control over. Sartre is guilty of what he claims Christians do: “The word (despair) is not being used in its original sense” (1207). He uses the word for impact, but he uses it in a completely different sense than what it means. “I shall have no illusions and shall do what I can” (1206). To him, that is what despair is. Thankfully, he explicitly defines his terms in his writings.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. “Existentialism.” The Norton Reader. 11th edn. Ed. Linda Peterson & John C. Brereton. New York: Norton, 2004. 1199-1207.

“Despair.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. 4th ed. 2006. http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=despair. 23 Oct. 2007.

Essay Review: Paul Theroux's "Being a Man"

According to Theroux, the concept of manhood is to “be stupid, be unfeeling, obedient, soldierly, and stop thinking” (233). In defining manhood in such a negative light, he makes us probe into the question of what should a man should strive to be if he is not to strive to be manly, but he fails to clearly define any of the words that he uses in his definition. We have our opinions of what is stupid, unfeeling, obedient, soldierly, and to be a person who stops thinking, but he never elaborates on what he means by those words.

His thesis for this essay is that manliness is not a healthy goal for a man because it is “emotionally damaging and socially harmful.” His support is very weak because he never really expounds on why that is so. The closest he got to laying a framework for the flawed results caused by our society's idea of manliness is when he says that it “denies men the natural friendship of women” (234). He makes a list on how sports is a “recipe for creating bad marriages, social misfits, moral degenerates, sadists, latent rapists and us plain louts”; however, he fails to explain how sports causes those outcomes. It seems that his belief that manliness is harmful is so ingrained in his thinking and should be self-evident to anyone once the idea is mentioned that he does not need to explain how it is emotionally damaging and socially harmful.

Instead he begins to self-probe on how that mindset personally frustrates him. He spends almost a third of his essay dealing with authors who are more accepted because they have exhibited signs of manliness and laments how it is difficult to not adhere to society's idea of manliness and be accepted as a writer. This is likely a frustration to his feeling that he is not being accepted as much as those “manly” writers which he blames on his non-compliance to society's standards of manliness.

This essay provides more of an emotional hoorah to people that already believe that our society's stance on what it takes to be a man should change rather than laying out a good argument for why that is necessary or how it should be done. Despite the inadequacy of the essay to prove its point, it still brings up questions that we should carefully consider. Does who we raise our boys and girls to become damage them or harm society? What would be a better alternative? How would we go about raising children in that better alternative? How can we change an ingrained societal norm such as our expectations for men and women?

Theroux, Paul. “Being a Man.” The Norton Reader. 11th edn. Ed. Linda Peterson & John C. Brereton. New York: Norton, 2004. 233-35.

Book Review: John Tosh's Pursuit of History

The Pursuit of History is a general overview of what history is, the specific fields of history, and the various methods used by historians in studying in those fields. John Tosh's purpose in writing the book is to show that “the most accurate history possible is a social necessity” (xv). The book “concludes by asserting that historians will continue to merit the support of the societies in which they work as long as they acknowledge the validity of relevant history” (xv). To further explain that he states in the conclusion:

“If society looks to historians for 'answers' in the sense of firm prediction and unequivocal generalizations, it will be disappointed. What will emerge from the pursuit of 'relevance' is something less tangible but in the long run more valuable – a surer sense of the possibilities latent in our present condition. For as long as historians hold that end in view, their subject will retain its vitality and its claim on the support of the society in which they work” (343).

John Tosh comes out and states exactly what his biases are; however, I think that he does a good job at discussing all of the elements of historical research in an unbiased manner. His own research experience is “in the fields of African history and gender in modern Britain” (xix). Here is his statement of his opinion on the role of history and how history should be conducted:

“History is a subject of practical and social relevance; that the proper performance of its function depends on a receptive and discriminating attitude to other disciplines, especially the social sciences; and that all historical enquiry, whatever the source of its inspiration, must be conducted in accordance with the rigorous critical method which is the hallmark of modern academic history” (xix)

Tosh clearly conveys that history will remain relevant only as long as historians keep researching areas that are relevant to society at large. He seems to have a slant towards theory guiding what one researches. Despite believing in topical research, he also shows a great appreciation and sees a need for well written surveys of periods of history. The overriding theme throughout the book is that historians need to make an attempt to connect with the masses in writing and delivering their historical studies.

Tosh wrote, “Almost any theory can be 'proved' by marshalling an impressive collection of individual instances to fit the desired pattern” (218). In regards to this concern with using theory as a basis for what to probe, I was struck with a concept of biblical hermeneutics. One approach in biblical studies, which I adhere to, is that when studying the Bible we must try to empty ourselves of any preconceived notions. This allows the the Bible to speak for itself rather than making it say what we want it to say. This is not as easily done as said, but it is a worthy aspiration. It seems that the same approach should be taken in regards to history. When studying a specific period, event, or person (an idea Tosh appears to be against (119-122)) in history with an already conceived theory would always taint one's research. One aspect I deeply appreciate about the historical community is that they are quick to admit their bias; however, it does seem that the quickness to admit one's bias has led to an almost indifferent approach to bias.

One aspect of the book that peeked my interest was the section on oral history. Living in a country town where there really is no credible written history, it is depressing to see the past of this town die off with every dying generation. Oral history would be the only way to keep the story of the people residing in this working class town alive. Tosh mentions an aversion to oral history by historians as a result of “contemporaneity is the prime requirement of historical sources” and an “aversion to any radical change in the habits of work required for historical research” (312). I would add that historians have misgivings about oral history because they overvalue the credibility and accuracy of written history. Unless we have a collection of videos with audio covering all angles of an event, we have a filtered view of history. Even if we have that accurate of a view of all history, we would still benefit from an oral history in which we tapped into what people who were there, watching it live on television, and hearing about it second or even third-hand felt happened and attempt to discern what the results of that event caused and what caused that event. No written record or video can truly express the thoughts and feelings of the people or attempt to study causes and effects. Perception might not be reality, but one's perception is their reality.

John Tosh with Sean Lang, The Pursuit of History, 4th edn, Longman, 2006.

The Declaration of Independence and the Laws of Nature

“...and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them...”

With this passage of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson made the case that the newly christened United States of America deserved a spot as an equal among the nations of the earth. Unlike the story of King Arthur and Excalibur, there was no sword in the stone that Thomas Jefferson or any of the Founding Fathers had removed that could be shown as proof that their succession from British rule was ordained by God. Jefferson had to rely upon rhetoric to convince the world, the members of the British Parliament, and King George III that the United States of America were doing only that which the Laws of Nature and Nature's God necessitated that they do.

According to John Locke, the law of nature is based upon “reason and common equity” (Locke II,8). All humans are under the responsibility to do what is good for all and that is revealed through reason. Locke's arguments also calls for justice to be undertaken by any people if the law of nature is being usurped or neglected (Locke II,7). Thomas Jefferson made the argument that King George III was not living up to his responsibility as a proper king because he continued to violate the Law of Nature that “governments are instituted among men” to secure the rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness”.

In hearkening to this belief in the the Laws of Nature, the individual's responsibility to not neglect it, and the violation of those laws by the king, Jefferson made his case that the United States of America must take its place among the other nations of this world. According to the list of grievances that followed the first two paragraphs, the people in the colonies were being held under oppression and were victims of a king who violated the reasonable laws that everyone – even the king – are under.

Jefferson did not frame the Declaration of Independence against the British nation; instead, he argued that the colonies were living up to their responsibility as rational humans under the principles of the Laws of Nature. For instance, if I was a soldier stationed at a remote base in the mountains in Afghanistan and had received a direct order from President Bush that I should never leave my position guarding that base until he personally told me otherwise, I would not leave that base even if a commanding officer came along and told me to leave. This fictitious case is similar to the argument Jefferson is making. All humans are under a law given to them by God and revealed in Nature that should never be violated. If an earthly king, who is supposed to be their authority placed there by God, violates the Laws of Nature, then it is the responsibility of all people to adhere to the Laws of Nature and not their earthly king. A commanding officer never overrides the President, and an earthly king never overrides Nature's God.

Jefferson was trying to walk a tightrope in declaring the independence of the United States while not alienating the support of people in England that had stood up for the colonies' rights up to this point. It was the colonies' responsibility to assume their spot as an equal nation on the world stage due to the failure of the King of England to recognize his position under the Laws of Nature. By framing their independence with the Laws of Nature and Nature's God, Jefferson made the case that all who would oppose their independence would also be fighting against those natural and divine laws.

To paraphrase this section of the Declaration, it would be like Jefferson writing, “Because of our responsibility given to us by God to adhere to reason and look out for the well-being of all men combined with the failure of those responsibilities being taken care of in our current circumstances, we must assume our position as an equal nation among the many nations of earth.”

Locke, John. “The Two Treatises of Government.” 1690. http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl302/texts/locke/locke2/locke2nd-a.html

A Brief History of Antibiotics

Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in 1929. "At the time antibiotics were discovered, there were a number of serious infectious diseases that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Infections from contagion and trauma were rendered seemingly impotent by the long-awaited miracle drugs called 'antibiotics.' With their new-found arsenal, doctors slowly began to expand the use of antibiotics to include the treatment of bacterial diseases that were not life-threatening...We then saw the emergence of prophylactic, or preventive antibiotic prescribing. In cases that were often of viral origin, children were given antibiotics to 'prevent a secondary bacterial infection'" (Schmidt).

This brings us into the last few decades. Strains of bacteria have become more and more immune to antibiotics due to their abuse. Vancocin was a trusty and reliable last defense against any bacteria until the new superbugs figured out a way around them (Mayo). We currently have no defense against bacterial infections that have developed an immunity to Vancocin.

This has led to a major rethinking of the use of antibiotics, but it is taking a while for that rethinking done by elite medical institutions, the Center for Disease Control, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Family Physicians to reach the family practitioners around the country (CDC). "Each year in the United States, doctors write an estimated 50 million antibiotic prescriptions for viral illnesses for which antibiotics offer no benefit" (Mayo).

The current educated opinion is that antibiotics should not be prescribed every time that a patient comes into the doctor's office because of earaches, colds, or the flu (CDC). Being a parent, I know it is very tough when you have an ill child to just leave the doctor's office without a prescription. We like to feel like we are treating our child and are making him better. Antibiotics gives us the fulfilling sense that we are being responsible by the fact that we are doing something. However, feeding that neurosis is causing bacteria to develop into superbugs that we will no longer have antibiotics or anything else to treat.

Prior to the mid 1980s, we used to get antibiotics for nearly every common cold, flu, and other ailments that antibiotics had no impact on. Now that is changing. The average American still might want their antibiotics, but the educated leaders in the medical community know that it is not what is best for them in the long. Most problems just need a little sleep and lots of water.

1 Michael Schmidt, Childhood Ear Infections: A Parent's Guide to Alternative Treatments (Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2004), 27-28, http://books.google.com/books?id=nGjDjqaz-fAC&pg=PP1&dq=childhood+ear+infections&sig=_4F4viiHo13aYm2mYRN3X27TwlU.
2 Mayo Clinic, Antibiotics: Too much of a good thing, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/antibiotics/FL00075.
3 Center for Disease Control, CDC Issues Public Reminder About Proper Antibiotic Use, http://www.cdc.gov/od/oc/media/pressrel/r050106.htm.

Who is the best conference in college football? SEC, Pac 10, Big 10?

Listening to ESPN Radio and all of the hype on the SEC made me do an online search to find out which conference is actually the best conference in college football. I found a good article that has some great statistic on what conference is actually the best.

His study has been updated and here are the new results.

Watch out for the potholes.

The Gospel is the Kingdom

What is the good news of the New Testament? That is a question I always thought had a simple answer: "Jesus died on the cross for our sins, so that we might have a proper relationship with him." Although that statement is true, it is not the good news as it is described in the New Testament.

Early in his ministry Jesus started talking about the coming kingdom. "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near" (Matt 4:17). This kingdom had been what God's people throughout the Old Testament had been waiting for. This kingdom would be a blessing to the world. It would finally be the fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3: "Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father's house, To the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." The kingdom that would bless the whole world was near! The people of Israel were expecting that kingdom, and Jesus' proclamation that it was near was the good news.

Jesus states, "I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God because that is why I was sent" (Luke 4:43). We are often taught that the reason he was sent was to die on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins; however, that is not what Jesus Himself said. He said that he came to preach the good news of the kingdom. His death on the cross is part of the bigger framework of the kingdom. We should not make his death and resurrection the framework or else we miss the larger picture. The death and resurrection are glorious things indeed, but they are not why Jesus was sent. Jesus was sent to preach and bring about the kingdom.

The kingdom of God, the kingdom each Christian is residents of, is "not coming with things that can be observed" (Luke 17:20-21). This transformed kingdom was not what the Israelites were expecting. If I was a Pharisee, I would've replied, "You mean to tell me that you're going to start a kingdom but that kingdom isn't going to be visible. That is not a kingdom. You say it is already here? I see Roman soldiers just down the street. How can you say the kingdom is here among us when I see the Roman kingdom all around me?"

God does not always do what is viewed as "rational". He had Gideon lower his army from 32,000 to 500 before invading another nation. He had Joshua march around Jericho blowing trumpets in order to defeat them. He saved the world by having Jesus die on a cross. In hindsight his acts are glorious, just like his kingdom. But at the time, they usually seem to be a little off.

The kingdom of God was there among the people Jesus was talking to and is here among us. Although I live in America, my true residence is in another kingdom. All of us who profess to follow Christ need to realize that we are part of a kingdom that is among us. Our nationality belongs to the kingdom of God, not to any of the kingdoms of this world. Jesus' kingdom might not have physical borders or a common language; His kingdom is unlike any other.

And the Good News that Jesus taught was that we can be citizens in that kingdom. Too often we focus on the gate to the kingdom (Jesus dying on the cross) and describe that as the good news. That is missing the point of the good news that Jesus Himself taught. We can be citizens in God's kingdom here and now. We can be vessels in helping his kingdom breakthrough to the fallen reality around us. That is the good news of Jesus. That is what Jesus came to invite us to. That is the Gospel as the Bible describe it.

(Other relevant verses if you want to do more research: Matt 4:17, Matt 4:23, Matt 6:33, Matt 9:35, Matt 10:7, Mark 1:14-15, Mark 9:1, Mark 11:10, Luke 4:18-19, Luke 4:43, Luke 8:1, Luke 9:11, Luke 9:60, Luke 9:62, Luke 10:9, Luke 10:11, Luke 16:16, Luke 17:20-21, Acts 8:12, Acts 19:8, Acts 28:23, Acts 28:30-31, Rom 14:17, I Cor 15:24-25, Rev 1:5-6, Rev 11:15.)

A rational exuberance?

The following quote from the article on Yahoo, Secrets of 1957 Sputnik Launch Revealed, struck me as somewhat funny.

"Each of these first rockets was like a beloved woman for us," he said. "We were in love with every rocket, we desperately wanted it to blast off successfully. We would give our hearts and souls to see it flying."

This very rational exuberance, and Korolyov's determination, were the key to Sputnik's success.

Maybe the word "rational" no longer means "influenced by reasoning rather than by emotion".

Watch out for the potholes.