Saturday, March 31, 2007

It's Everywhere

I took this photo several years ago on a
road trip through Santa Fe.

Reflection on Love

This is from my Peace Corps journal...

October 26, 2003

Tonight at dinner, a friend mentioned a Miss Universe contestant who was asked the question: What would you do if you only had 24 hours to live? The unfortunate girl replied, “I’d EAT!”

The question made me realize that if I only had 24 hours to live, I would spend that time letting people know what they mean to me—I would want to express my complete feelings without holding back. My own response saddens me—to realize that I go through life without letting people know how much they mean to me. There is never a right moment, except for that very last one, when you know you may never see someone again. Then it is the right time to express deep feelings. If you just come out of the blue, people are taken aback.

I realize also that the range of sentiment in human interaction and communication is very limited. For example, it is almost impossible for me to say to my friends that I love them. This is what I feel, but it is not socially appropriate and could easily be mis-interpreted as a base feeling when in fact it is very profound and related to the joy and appreciation I have for everyone who is part of this experience that means so much to me. Why do we only say I love you to family members and romantic partners? Part of the problem is with me not knowing how to put my feelings into words. They are not cut and dry generics—love, admiration, respect. They are subtle and circumstantial.

If the Eskimos have hundreds of words for snow, they must have also realized that one needs hundreds of words for love. Every love is different and I don’t know where to begin to explain myself. Would I be able to pull the words together fast enough if I only had 24 hours? What would I say to Peter, for example, the boy next door? I love your back flips, your Michael Jackson dance, your mango joy, your “short but strong,” your patience and maturity and the way you care for your little brothers. There will come a time when I only have 24 hours to live. Will I have said all I want to say?

Friday, March 23, 2007

Spring Break, Deep Breath

To all my faithful readers (all two of you...) See you in April!


Wednesday, March 21, 2007


There's so much CRAP on YouTube, but if you look hard enough, there's also some pretty cool stuff. It's a great tool for getting a glimpse of other countries and cultures.

Bartolomé De Las Casas

Here is a very interesting and controversial historical figure.

If you look him up online, you will find him championed as Defender of the Oppressed, the father of liberation theology, of anti-imperialism and anti-racism, and he is celebrated with statues and on stamps as a symbol of justice and human rights in Latin America. However, he is also credited by some as the instigator of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. While he fought against the enslavement of the native Americans, he proposed instead the importation of Africans. The following is by Fernando Alberto Rivera Saad. Read the complete article here.

Las Casas, a sixteenth century Spanish historian and Dominican missionary, is considered by many as the first person to expose and call for the abolition of the Spanish enslavement of the Indians in America. For almost sixty years, Las Casas confronted statesmen, potent churchmen, mighty kings, powerful encomenderos, and many others in his search for a better treatment for the Indians in America. During all this time, Las Casas was constantly writing books, letters, and treatises that tried to expose the cruelties that the Spaniards were unfairly inflicting to the Indians. That is the reason why history has called him the “the authentic expression of the true Spanish conscience” and the “Apostle of the Indians.”

However, Las Casas is a contradictory and complex individual. His overly inflamed accusations, writings, and actions were both helpful and harmful for the Indians. On one hand, he benefited the Indians by influencing King Charles and the Council of the Indies to act in favor of the Indians on many occasions. On the other hand, Las Casas was unsupportive and even detrimental to the possibility of future fairness between races in the Americas because he supported the use of black slaves in the New World and because he owned slaves when he had an encomienda. He defended some against oppression by asking for others to be oppressed.

After his request for slaves in 1543, Bartolomé de Las Casas began to repent for the blindness in which he had been when he requested the shipment of black slaves. It was around that time that he visited Lisbon and found out what was going on in Africa in respect to the manner in which Africans were being captured and enslaved. Las Casas now saw the injustice of black slavery and started writing about it. He was now convinced that the enslavement of blacks was as unfair as that of the Indians; this was reflected in his writings when he used the same terms to speak about both groups of people. Las Casas fiercely denounces the Portuguese, who had been using the European war against Islam as a way to conceal their lucrative trade of innocent Africans that were being captured on the Guinea coast. Las Casas thus became the first person of his time and the only one of his century to denounce the slavery of Africans and the cruelty and immorality of the traffic of slaves. After analyzing the unfairness of slavery, he deeply repents for his past actions and suggestions.

South Africa - 21 March 1960

Police kill 69 people during the Sharpeville Massacre

A breakaway group from the African National Congress (ANC) formed the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC). The ANC and PAC ideologies differed on the issue of European multiracialism. The PAC, who believed in the concept of Africa for the Africans and in the total eradication of colonialism and imperialism, decided to embark on an anti-pass passive resistance campaign.

The ANC had planned a similar demonstrative campaign against the pass laws due to start on 31 March 1960. The PAC rushed ahead and announced the beginning of their campaign to start ten days earlier. On 21 March 1960 the PAC led a group of protesters to the local police station in Sharpeville, near Vereeniging, to hand over their passes in defiance of the pass laws. However, the march ended in tragedy when the police opened fire on the marchers, killing 69 people and injuring 180 others, in what has come to be known as the Sharpeville massacre.

21 March, called Human Rights Day, is a public holiday in South Africa since 1994 to comemmorate this important event in history. Click here for more information.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

I Found Love... a parking lot!

This caught my eye today from the library window. Glad I had my camera...

Monday, March 19, 2007

Making Stuff

I've joined a pottery cooperative. It's such a GREAT break from reading, reading, reading...

Feet of Clay

Sunday, March 18, 2007

My Walden Essay

Walden Pond, by Arthur Chartow

Thoreau's Revolution of the Individual

Sara Bruya (c) 2007

Thoreau’s Walden is a complicated text, with many possible insights to be drawn from his critique of society and the description of his experience living at Walden Pond. The theme of non-conformity is fundamental to Thoreau’s project, as it was to Emerson’s. While this may be to state the obvious, the benefits to society that such non-conformity produces may be less so. What these benefits are and why such a revolution of the individual is important to Thoreau and for us will be the focus of this essay.

Thoreau proposes that the pursuit of truth, liberty, and creative innovation—what Thoreau calls the “elevation of mankind”[1]—depends upon the principles of non-conformity. This because “No way of thinking or doing, however ancient, can be trusted without proof. What everybody echoes or in silence passes by as true today may turn out to be falsehood tomorrow, mere smoke of opinion…What old people say you cannot do you try and find out that you can.”[2] Everything taken to be true by precedent must be tried and tested by the individual, Thoreau asserts. We should not limit ourselves by accepting the proofs and truths of others; humanity’s fullest potential has never been measured.[3]

Thoreau, like Emerson, champions the autonomy of the individual. Although Thoreau removes himself from society in his Walden experiment, I do not believe that he was ultimately advocating the removal of the individual from society, but rather suggesting an invigoration of society through the contributions and conscious actions of autonomous individuals. Conformity stifles the singular manifestation and contribution of each unique individual. Where Emerson theorized about non-conformity, Thoreau created a practical example (though by no means a sole model) of a life alternatively conceived and committed.

A primary critique of Walden, at least among my classmates, seems to be that Thoreau’s experiment does not serve as a realistic solution to his critique of society. However, Thoreau was certainly not suggesting a move into the woods as a model for others to follow. To expect Thoreau to provide an example for the rest of us to emulate is to misunderstand Thoreau entirely. He would abhor being copied. “I would not have anyone adopt my mode of living on any account;” Thoreau writes, “…I desire that there may be as many different persons in the world as possible; but I would have each one be very careful to find out and pursue his own way, and not his father’s or his mother’s or his neighbor’s instead.”[4] Thoreau would ask the individual to remove him/herself from the current of conformity and to discover, establish the solid ground of the unique, autonomous self. He wants us to “…take up a little life into our pores,”[5] nurture a vital and authentic response to life, become conscious of our conventional state, and determine whether our agency derives from our own being or from compulsion to uphold societal norms.

Thus, to read Thoreau as advocating “back to nature” would be to miss its fundamental intention. Rather than provide a practical solution to the ills of society, Walden provides an allegorical illustration of the autonomous self; and the autonomous self is that alone which is capable of providing practical solutions to the ills of society. Human agency and autonomous choice are critical to the pursuits of truth, liberty and innovation for Thoreau, and these can only be achieved through a process of distinguishing the self from the societal influence upon it. Though perhaps the self and society’s influence upon it can never be thoroughly separated, Emerson and Thoreau both assert that a most important task in life is to distinguish the one from the other, and to understand which of the two motivates one’s choices and behavior in any given situation.

Thoreau advocates a change of perspective, a shaking loose of the grip of custom and tradition. One must first see the grip, and in order to do so, a separation is necessary to gain perspective. As Thoreau demonstrated, this does not require a long journey, or a great distance, but perhaps only the retreat into one’s own nature from which to observe and critically evaluate the norms of society. It is precisely the process of making such a distinction between self and convention, and acting in accord with the new insight gained to which Thoreau’s Walden experiment symbolically refers.

We live in community, in relation. Walden poses the question: How are we going to live in relation—is it going to be from within the current of conformity or from the solid ground of autonomy, informed by a deep connection with our own selves? “What do we want most to dwell near to,” he writes, “…but to the perennial source of our life, whence in all our experience we have found that to issue, as the willow stands near the water and sends out its roots in that direction. This will vary with different natures, but this is the place where a wise man will dig his cellar…”[6]

Thoreau wanted to prove, not that man can live without society, but that man must live in society as himself, and that the autonomous self is accessible, and productive. He gives concrete form to his message of critical distance and individual agency. Thus Thoreau’s experiment at Walden provides a practical metaphor for the temporary break with convention needed in order to gain critical perspective.

Thoreau is a revolutionary, but his solution is not a revolution of society. It is a revolution of the individual in relation to society.[7] His solution is a revolution of personal behavior based on a liberation of the self from the influence of the tradition and social constraints. Thoreau’s revolution is a reorientation of self to society.

The benefits to society of developing the invigorated, autonomous individual are many. As we are, Thoreau argues, “…our reading, our conversation and thinking, are all on a very low level…”[8] Such a revolution of the autonomous individual would necessarily elevate and enrich humankind’s interactions. It is important not to confuse the kind of non-conformity Thoreau is suggesting with mere selfishness or self-centeredness. Autonomy, for Thoreau, is equivalent to a love of wisdom; “a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust. It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically.”[9]

Though Thoreau’s revolution is individual, its application can be social, even political. Gandhi credits Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience with having influence on his concept of satyagraha, or soul-force. Where Thoreau stressed individual non-conformity, Gandhi made it a vehicle for the masses. “It was no longer an individual force as Thoreau saw it, but it became a [movement] in which the majority could participate.”[10] The invigorated, autonomous individual, alone or in solidarity with others, is a powerful, conscientious force for truth, liberty, and innovation.

On this note, I turn to the question of why Thoreau’s revolution of the individual is important for us. I conjecture that Thoreau would be critical of our current system of higher education; the very one that requires an analysis of his thought and the thoughts of others, but not an exploration of the application thereof. We read about Thoreau so as to broaden our encyclopedic knowledge of philosophers and their ideas. We read for facts. We analyze Thoreau, without valuing and interweaving the perennial source of our own lives into our endless collection of theories formulated by other people. To quote Henri Frederic Amiel, such “analysis kills spontaneity. The grain once ground into flour springs and germinates no more.” While tradition, convention and the valuable ideas of life’s former sages need not be ignored, Thoreau’s point is that they must be transformed. To continue the metaphor, the flour must be leavened by the autonomous individual and contributed anew to society with the added flourish of the unique manifestation of life that each individual represents. Life, in this way, is not merely recreated according to pre-existing models, but is regenerated.

With Thoreau, I would argue that we must not continue to marginalize the divine spark, the unique manifestation of life in each of us, making of ourselves satellites instead of systems.[11] In fact, we might see it as our duty to contribute to life and society from this germ of unique insight and potential in each of us, rather than continue grinding it into flour. This will require of us a serious examination of the pedagogy by which we are presently being formed. We must be careful not to limit ourselves by the proofs and truths of others, but remember that humanity’s fullest potential has never been measured.

Dare To Be What You Are

He must have read Thoreau...

Learn to limit yourself, to content yourself with some definite thing, and some definite work; dare to be what you are, and learn to resign with a good grace all that you are not and to believe in your own individuality.
The man who insists on seeing with perfect clearness before he decides, never decides.
Analysis kills spontaneity. The grain once ground into flour springs and germinates no more.
The test of every religious, political, or educational system is the man that it forms.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Photos of Libreville


Head Hunters

1835 - King Hintsa, the Paramount Chief of the AmaXhosa, is illegally captured under a flag of truce and the pretext of peace negotiations by the military troops of the Cape Governor, Sir Benjamin D'Urban. Both the Governor and his Colonel, Sir Harry Smith, who unsuccessfully try to force him, under the threat of being hanged, to convince the AmaXhosa to surrender to the colonial government during the Sixth War of Dispossession, interrogate him for days. They murder him while he "attempts to escape." His ears (and head??) are taken as trophy. South African History Online

1996 - A delegation of Eastern Cape traditional healers and chiefs commanded by a vision-inspired Chief Nicholas Gcaleka, who says South Africa can only be free from violence and corruption once the head of the late Xhosa warrior King Hintsa is returned from Britain, has left to conduct the search. Gcaleka is the descendent of the former warrior king Hintsa. He also believes the violence and corruption plaguing the new democratic South Africa is because the head of Hintsa, taken by British soldiers, needs to be afforded a decent burial.

1996 - Gcaleka, a South African witch doctor, proclaimed his recent trip to Scotland a success. He was looking for the skull of his great-great uncle, King Hintsa. Hintsa was shot to death in the early 19th century Cape Colony Wars by a British soldier who brought the head to Scotland as a trophy. According to Gcaleka, the "spirit of a hurricane" told him the skull was in a forest near a white pony. He reportedly found the head in a cottage in a forest, with a white horse grazing nearby. Cottage-owner Charles Brooke said that he had had the skull for six years. "Before that it was in our gamekeeper's house, and we understand it possibly had some family link with the army in Africa," Brooke said. According to Gcaleka, if he brings the skull back home, peace will come to South Africa.

2001 - The University of Cape Town has found itself at the centre of a legal battle over a controversial skull. The Mail and Guardian newspaper reports (4/2/00) that an Eastern Cape sangoma (healer) has taken legal action to retrieve a skull from the University that he believes is that of the 19th century Xhosa king, Hintsa. However, forensic specialist Professor Deon Knobel says the skull is that of an "old white woman" and that he is being driven "nuts" by the persistence of the sangoma, Chief Nicholas Tilana Gcaleka.

Gcaleka initially was led by a vision to Scotland in 1996 where he found the skull which he claimed was the head of Hintsa, who was decapitated by British colonial troops in 1835. He brought it back to South Africa only to incur the wrath of the Xhosa royal family who accused him of being a fake and had the skull confiscated from him by Transkei police. The skull was then analysed by leading palaeoanthropologists Philip Tobias and Alan Morris who declared that itl was probably that of a "woman, most consistent with native variations of the Hibernian peninsula…and it doesn't fit the African spectrum".

Under South Africa's Human Tissue Act the private possession of human body parts or skeletal remains is forbidden and so the skull is being housed by UCT"s forensic medicine department where it can only be used for academic purposes. Nonetheless Chief Gcaleka is adament he wants it back so that it can be given a proper traditional burial.

British Museum's Holdings of Human Artifacts

Friday, March 16, 2007


Your work is to discover your world and then with all your heart give yourself to it.


Thursday, March 15, 2007

Partir Loin

A catchy song...can anyone translate the Arabic for me?

When will it end?

I don't usually click on the little ads that appear from MSN when I'm in my hotmail account, but I was curious to see what they would present under the category of "World Class Beauties." Here's what I found:

Hollywood is alive with cultural diversity, and these mega-talented stars have us in a trance

By Kati Johnston

In the celebrity world, there are beauties -- and then there are world-class beauties, whose charisma and grace hail from, and touch, the four corners of the earth. In keeping with this year's Oscars featuring the most internationally represented group of nominees, let us celebrate these amazing women, whose fans and admirers cross every stretch of the globe. They range from India's Aishwarya Rai and America's amazing Beyoncé to Spain's Penélope Cruz and Malaysia's Michelle Yeoh. It doesn't hurt that the camera loves them, too.

Jeez! Who knew that there were beautiful people in other parts of the world!? Or in Beyoncé's case, beauties that aren't white! Does anyone else find this as offensive as I do? Please comment!

The Space Between Birth and Death

A memory from last summer...

Josh started our class this morning by asking us to come up with a definition of soil—not a scientific definition, but a description of our own understanding of soil. I can’t describe what happened to me in the moments that followed…but it was surely some kind of revelation. If I had been asked two weeks ago, I would have had a very different response, but this morning my mind sunk deeply into the mystery of what soil really is.

I started out with “organic and mineral materials at different stages of decomposition…” but then the question sunk deeper in me and I was overwhelmed by the soil’s simultaneous identity as the location of both living and dying, generation and decomposition, and I suddenly felt like I was touching an electric current. The soil came alive for me. It was no longer inert, passive “dirt” but an active, mystical, continually transforming substance. I felt in that moment what people mean by saying that the earth is alive.

My definition felt inadequate, but here’s what I wrote: “a transitional, transformative substance between one form of life and another; the space between birth and death, death and birth; the starting and ending place.” My mind went to Alpha and Omega. “If soil is so alive, so mysterious, so sacred, aren’t we the biggest fools for not even knowing it!” I thought. Without farming, I would NEVER have given it a second thought. What we think we know is not actually knowledge. It is just what we think we know. Without active reflection on every single entity or phenomenon we encounter, how can we presume to know anything?

It was a very special moment for me. It brought me closer to an understanding of what “connected to the land” means. We really think we know what we mean when we use phrases like this…but we really don’t until we’ve had an experience that can only be explained in that way. We use such an expression only because it is familiar—we’ve heard it before—not because we’ve experienced anything like it.

Laisse Parler Les Gens

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Those who lose dreaming are lost.
-Aboriginal proverb

Pedals for Progress

Every year, affluent Americans buy 22 million new bicycles and discard millions of old ones, abandoning many more unused in basements, sheds, and garages. Most of these end up in our already overburdened landfills. Meanwhile, people overseas need cheap, non-polluting transportation to get to jobs, markets, customers, and schools. Pedals for Progress has received, processed and donated over 100,000 bicycles, 793 used sewing machines and $10.8 million in new spare parts to partners in 28 countries.

Pedals for Progress also promotes bicycle repair businesses in the developing world. Typically, a community owned non-profit bike store will get the first containerized cargo shipment for free (about 450 bicycles), but that repair store then has to earn enough money selling the repaired bikes to pay for the next shipment.

For more information, see video below, or visit Pedals For Progress.

The Devil

"In the Louvre there is a picture, by Guido Reni, of St. Michael with his foot on Satan's neck. The richness of the picture is in large part due to the fiend's figure being there. The richness of its allegorical meaning also is due to his being there--that is, the world is all the richer for having a devil in it, so long as we keep our foot upon his neck."
William James
The Varieties of Religious Experience, p. 49-50

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

FAR*TY: Hey Hip Hop

Click on the link to watch a music video from Mali. The visuals are great, but I'm not sure about this musical melange of genres. At the very least, they'll need to change their name for the English-speaking world!

The Impossible Dream

This is one of my favorite songs from Man of La Mancha. Click on the title to listen:

The Impossible Dream

To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go

To right the unrightable wrong
To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star

This is my quest, To follow that star
No matter how hopeless, No matter how far
To fight for the right, Without question or pause
To be willing to march into Hell, For a heavenly cause

And I know if I'll only be true to this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm when I'm laid to my rest

And the world will be better for this
That one man, scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable star

Monday, March 12, 2007

Happy Birthday, Kiki-ji!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Yam Grits

This is one of my favorite recipes of all time...from my friend Yuri

2 pounds of sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
2 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
3 eggs, separated
1/4 cup maple syrup

Grits: (I use Quaker Old Fashioned Grits, not the quick cooking ones.)
3 cups water
1 1/2 TB chopped garlic
1/2 tsp. salt
(pinch cayenne optional)
2 TB butter (sometimes I add a little extra- shhhh.)
1 1/4 cups grits
2 TB heavy cream

  • Place the sweet potatoes in a pot of water, with 1 1/2 tsp salt.
  • Boil, then reduce heat to simmer until tender with fork.
  • Drain and puree in food mill or ricer (I just mash ‘em up with one of those… “mashers”!)
  • Fold in rest of salt, pepper, spices and syrup.

While the sweets are boiling, cook grits:

  • Bring the water to a boil, adding garlic and butter and salt.
  • Gradually whip in the grits, bring to boil and reduce heat.
  • Simmer and cook until creamy, and the grits separate from the side of the pan.

Remove from heat, and fold in the heavy cream. Heat oven to 400. In a large bowl, mix the puree with the grits. Mix in the egg yolks after you’ve beaten them. In a separate bowl, whisk the whites into soft peaks. Gently fold them into the yam/grits mix. Spread in a 9x13 casserole dish. Bake until sets, the top will be a little light brown, about 35 minutes. Live in Ecstasy.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Book Review: Ambiguous Adventure

"It still seems to me that in coming here [Paris] I have lost a privileged mode of acquaintance. In former times the world was like my father's dwelling: everything took me into the very essence of itself, as if nothing could exist except through me. The world was not silent and neuter. It was alive. It was aggressive. It spread out. No scholar ever had such knowledge of anything as I had, then, of being."
After a short silence he added:
"Here, now, the world is silent, and there is no longer any resonance from myself. I am like a broken balafong, like a musical instrument that has gone dead. I have the impression that nothing touches me anymore."
-Samba Diallo
Ambiguous Adventure, pp. 149-50

Carolina et Miss Lolo

Quelques souvenirs pour mes freres et soeurs RPCV. Il faut danser!

Friday, March 09, 2007

Rant on Dentistry

I've had two fillings fall out in the past few months. Great stroke of luck, considering I don't have dental insurance. I went for X-rays and a check-up for an estimate on replacing the fillings and found out I need two crowns and a possible root canal.

When complaining to the dentist that the fillings are falling out left and right, he said I was lucky. "They're supposed to last only 3 to 5 years. Otherwise we dentists would be out of a job!" Hmm.

He was very kind. He showed me all my previous fillings, one by one, with a little mirror in my mouth. He helped me examine the X-rays. What I was surprised to realize was how much of my original teeth have actually been ground away by dentists over the years. I have at least two teeth that are almost completely fake, consisting of 3 or 4 fillings each.

I brush and floss every day. Why do I feel like my whole jaw is about to fall out? I've been reflecting on his statement about keeping dentists in business. Dentists, like mechanics, seem to hold your entire fate in their hands. And how many of them have your best interests in mind? Do you know what a cavity looks like or what will happen if you don't fill it? No. You just trust that the dentist knows what is best for you. But what laws are governing his/her behavior? Is she thinking of preserving my original tooth, or is she saying to herself, "if I grind this away far enough, in another couple years she'll be back for a root canal."
"A couple of my teeth are just totally gone,
and I had no idea."
A couple of my teeth are just totally gone, and I had no idea. "It's just the natural progresstion of dental maintenance over the years," the dentist explained. "First it's just fillings, then crowns, root canals, then dental surgery. In a few years, they'll just be able to stick a stem cell in there and grow you a new tooth. But we're not there yet!"

We place so much trust in people like dentists. But what motivation do they have to really take care of patients? We have to hope they adhere to a code of ethics? Is that the only recourse we have? to the ethical integrity of a complete stranger? with a valuable part of our body?

I think we have to seriously examine those professions in which the ignorance of the general public plays a major role in the transaction. There is too much room for profiting from misleading advice or outright deception by those dentists (and mechanics) whose integrity might be less than stellar.

"Do you think I can wait on this 'til I get a job with dental insurance? Three to four months?" I asked. "Oh no, I wouldn't wait," he said. "It'll only get worse." I think I'm going to consult my fortune cookie for a second opinion.

Book Review: Dorothy Day: A Radical Devotion

Stay tuned. I'm still reading!

“An act of love, a voluntary taking on oneself of some of the pain of the world, increases the courage and love and hope of all.”
Dorothy Day

Happy Birthday Mom

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Je t'invite au Gabon

This beautiful song is performed by one of Gabon's greatest artists, Annie Flore Batchiellilys. Ca me rendre trop nostalgique! For more images of Gabon set to the same music (a tourist video) see here.

Fortune Cookies

I got one yesterday that says:
"No need to worry! You will always have everything you need."
Well, that's good news!

1 egg white
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pinch salt
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup white sugar
See here for the complete recipe.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Book Review: A Prophet With Honor

A Prophet With Honor: The Billy Graham Story
by William Martin

I haven't really known where to begin with this review.
Billy Graham's life and work constitute one of the greatest evangelical efforts of all time. As Prof. Cox quipped, the journeys of St. Paul pale in comparison to the map of Billy Graham's international outreach. He preached to overflow crowds in Madison Square Garden for 16 weeks. He fills stadiums (almost) everywhere he goes.

He has kept his message simple. He asks crowds of thousands to make a decision to give their lives to Christ right then and there. He has maintained impeccable finances and has avoided other such scandals that were the downfall of other televangelists. His is really a very interesting story.

The most enlightening aspect of this 600+ page book (worth the read) is the detail about Billy Graham's relationship to several generations of American
St. Paul's journeys
Presidents. I can't help but wonder about the relationship America might have to the rest of the world if Billy Graham hadn't held such a prominent position of influence in relation to American politics, not to mention to our national mythology of being the righteous saviors of the rest of the world. Would we still be pursuing such notions of manifest destiny if a Billy Graham had not existed?

While there is much to criticize, there is also much to love about this towering figure of American
Billy Graham's "Crusades"
evangelism. I highly recommend this book to those interested in the intersection of religion and politics in the United States. For Billy Graham's recent reflections on his life's work and the problems facing the world today, see here.

We Are the World

Paolo Freire and Liberation Theology

Connecting and Diverging Themes of Liberation Education
and Liberation T

Without knowing well enough the histories of these two traditions of thought and action, and how they might have influenced each other or grown out one from the other, it is still possible to summarize their respective efforts and examine where the ideas of Liberation Theology and Liberation Education may converge and where they may differ.
Paolo Freire’s elucidation of Liberation Education hinges on several key points. First, he speaks of conscientization, or the development of the consciousness of the oppressed to the point of recognizing their position in society and the causes of it, with a view to changing it. Freire writes, “Conscientization
Paolo Freire
implies…that when I realize that I am oppressed, I also know
I can liberate myself if I transform the concrete situation where I find myself oppressed…conscientization implies a critical insertion into a process, it implies a historical commitment to make changes.”[1] Freire also speaks of praxis as reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it.[2] Thus, the ideas of conscientization and praxis are two possibilities for the human being that form the basis for a pedagogy of liberation.

On these two points, Liberation Education and Liberation Theology seem to share common elements. Gustavo Gutiérrez remarks that a new phenomenon is taking place in Latin America; that by means of progressive organizations (perhaps referring to efforts like Friere’s ?), “the poor begin to realize their poverty and become conscious of its causes.”[3] Thus, Liberation Theologians focus their reflection on the relationship between the gospel and social justice and formulate an active Christian theology which manifests as political activism on behalf of the poor. This theology emphasizes the concept that God has a "preferential option for the poor"[4] that must be carried out in Christian praxis—that the grace and salvation of Jesus can be understood through the situation of the poor.[5] Gutiérrez, in his essay Renewing the Option for the Poor, touches on several points that are also contained in Freire’s concept of Liberation Education. He stresses the importance of solidarity, that the realities of poverty must be seen and transformed, that the poor must be brought out of anonymity, and that they must participate in their own salvation and cure.[6] Liberation Theology sees this type of self-actualization as part of God's divine purpose for humankind[7] whereas Freire, from a more secular perspective, might call the process of self-actualization human potential rather than divine purpose. It seems plausible to assert that Freire’s Liberation Education is a practical, secular manifestation of Liberation Theology.

I’m not sure, from our readings, that I can determine on what points the two efforts diverge. Both embraced the concept of political empowerment of the poor. However, on certain points that are essential to Freire’s work, the question arises as to how they would be perceived or to what extent they could be practiced by Liberation Theology. One of these points is the concept of problem-posing education. Liberation Theology was clearly a radical and highly controversial movement within the Catholic Church, but because of its affiliation with a religious institution, the movement was ultimately subject to Papal authority in Rome. Liberation Theology was rejected by the Vatican in large part because of its Marxist emphasis on materialism and for its politicization of the figure of Jesus as the liberator of the oppressed. As Pope John Paul II stated, “this conception of Christ as a political figure, a revolutionary, as the subversive of Nazareth, does not tally with the Church's catechesis.” [8] I question to what extent Freire’s problem-posing model could be pursued in the context of Christian doctrine (or doctrine of any sort) where a particular understanding of Truth is seen as authoritative. The idea of problem-posing education also seems to be in conflict with the concept of evangelization, an important component to the Christian effort, according to Gutiérrez in his essay, The Task and Content of Liberation Theology.[9]

Another important concept in Freire’s understanding of Liberation Education is the dissolution of the teacher/student dichotomy with the aim of eliminating or equalizing the hierarchical structure of the educational system. This again is a notion that does not jibe with Catholic doctrine and I am curious to understand how the Liberation Theologians would consider this suggestion or how they would reconcile it with the practices of the church. For these reasons, though clearly influenced by his Christian roots, I think Freire was wise to pursue his movement for Liberation Education outside the confines of religious doctrine.

A third possible divergence is implied in the degree of political action taken on behalf of the poor versus by the poor. While both Liberation Theology and Liberation Education seem to promote political and social liberation of the oppressed, Liberation Theology describes the elimination of the immediate causes of poverty and injustice as a Christian mandate which implies a larger effort on behalf of the poor by those in solidarity with them. Freire’s model seems to focus more closely on empowering the poor to act on behalf of themselves in their immediate communities. While I think Freire would agree that the immediate causes of poverty and injustice should be addressed, he does not have the benefit of the infrastructure of the Catholic community, for example, on which to rely for action. Thus, the action for Freire must be undertaken by the poor themselves, and the poor can be helped by those in solidarity with them through the process of conscientization which happens through problem-posing.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

We're All Individuals

Book Review: The Fortunes of Wangrin

Unfortunately, a 600-page biography of Billy Graham (also a very interesting read) has prevented me from finishing this book for class this week. However, in the 80+ pages I did read, I was really enjoying this story of an African man, Wangrin, promoted to the rank of Interpreter to a French Commandant, who shamelessly abuses his power as he walks the fine line between cultures. When I have a free moment, I would love to finish this book!

My professor, Abiola Irele, has contributed the introduction to the English translation. Today in class, he illustrated the parallels between the character of Wangrin and traditional stories of "trickster" figures. (See Eshu below).

Here's a synopsis from Development Gateway:

Wangrin is a rogue and an operator, hustling both the colonial French and his own people. He is funny, outrageous, corrupt, traditional, and memorable. Just as Wangrin is a representative character at a time of transition, Hampate Ba's book bridges the chasm between oral and written literature. The stories about Wangrin are drawn from traditional oral sources, but through the power of the artistic imagination of this gifted writer, the materials have been transformed into something wonderful and new.

Amadou Hampate Ba (1901-1991) was a distinguished Malian poet and scholar of African oral tradition and precolonial history.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Rabindranath Tagore

"I have become my own version of an optimist. If I can't make it through one door, I'll go through another door - or I'll make a door. Something terrific will come no matter how dark the present."

Rabindranath Tagore

As one of the earliest educators to think in terms of the global village, Rabindranath Tagore’s educational model has a unique sensitivity and aptness for education within multi-racial, multi-lingual and multi-cultural situations, amidst conditions of acknowledged economic discrepancy and political imbalance. Kathleen M. O'Connell explores Rabindranath Tagore’s contribution here.

Democracy in Dakar - Episode 1

"You have to reflect before you elect."
This documentary is about the influence of Hip Hop on politics in Senegal. See here for Episode 2.

Vote for this video to be shown on "Current," Al Gore's user created TV-channel here.

fi yuo cna raed tihs

Cna yuo raed tihs? Olny 55 plepoe tuo fo 100 anc.

i cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod au laclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg.
The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch
at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno't mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in
a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is that the frsit and lsat ltteer be
in the rghit pclae.

The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it
whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed
ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? Yaeh
and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

March 1st

Walden Pond reflections - Concord, MA

Cash Cows

The Latin word for cattle or livestock is pecus, and before the invention of coins, in the seventh century B.C., cattle often served as a unit of account, one of the functions of money. So to be impecunious means, literally, to be without cattle. The word fee, as well, has bovine origins, coming indirectly from the Old English feoh, meaning cattle.