IJM Book

I recently finished Gary Haugen's "Good News About Injustice" audiobook. He's the founder of the International Justice Mission and a friend of mine and his wife spent a summer in Thailand helping bust criminals who abused children. I wanted to remember several great points in his book:

- Churches should fight on behalf of individuals rather than for a specific economic or political system--and thus case work goes directly to helping people in need. I agree with this though of course governments and other individuals can and should fight against communism and totalitarianism to help people--this just shouldn't be the emphasis of the Christian church.

- Just over a hundred years ago, America was in very bad shape in terms of human rights. Besides the obvious civil rights and racial and gender inequality issues, there were actually brothels in the US were children were enslaved and the local authorities didn't do anything about it (sounds like many third world countries of today--and this can actually show that progress can happen faster than you'd expect).

- He had a sobering quote from a theologian (someone named Wright I believe) regarding the problem of evil: no supposed "solutions" regarding the explanation for evil can be taken seriously unless they address issues like the intentional burning of children.

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Inputs

I finished Homer's Odyssey a few nights ago--the excellent Robert Fagles translation--and enjoyed the beautiful phrases that were repeated regularly (e.g. "When young Dawn with her rose red fingers shone once more..." or "wine-dark sea..."). I was also impressed by Odysseus's machismo but surprised at how violent the ending was.

Yesterday we saw a very good movie: "Tell No One" which was an intelligent thriller with a great story, action and many twists and turns.

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Hard Focus

*http://calnewport.com/blog/2009/06/22/on-the-value-of-hard-focus/*

"School work, like any work that requires demanding thinking, is tiring. After a grace period of maybe 20 - 30 minutes, your mind starts to disengage. In the red book, I compare the sensation to a weight descending inside your skull. Your energy fades and you begin to experience a desperate craving for novel stimulation. Nothing in the world seems more tempting than to go seek such stimulation — to check your e-mail, or sift through your Facebook feed like a hyper-extroverted gold prospector.

Hard Focus

To succeed as a student (or a novelist) you have to fight that feeling and keep working. I call this ability hard focus.

Our student from above probably lacks hard focus muscles. She has no training in keeping her concentration locked even after resistance builds. And because of this, she’s collapsing well short of the finish line in the mental marathons she needs to run as an upper-level student.

Fortunately, as Marukami explained, this deficiency can be remedied in the same way that a runner builds his endurance: you have to try to push yourself, each day, a little farther than is comfortable. Over time, your threshold raises.

My Marathon Training

Consider my own example. I’m in the middle of a challenge that might scare most students in my position: I’m writing a doctoral dissertation and a book simultaneously. (Literally: my thesis and manuscript are due within a week of each other.)

This requires, on average, 4 - 6 hours of hard focus (split about evenly between the two projects) per day, five days per week.

I could not have pulled this off five years ago. But in the intervening half decade, I’ve been pushing hard to expand my hard focus capacity. As my graduate student experience progressed, I systematically increased the amount of time I would force myself to work continuously without a break to seek unrelated stimulation. This culminated in my current schedule in which I write for 2 - 3 hours, take a break for lunch, e-mail, and exercise, and then work on my thesis for 2 - 3 hours, before finishing for the day.

My life right now is not easy. And you’ll have to ask me in September if my training was sufficient to get me all the way to the finish line. (I don’t like to mention my challenges publicly because I’m superstitious and feel like its taunting the Gods. I made a reluctant exception for this article because I think the bigger point is so important.) But for now, it’s not overwhelming. Like the well-trained marathoner at the 19th mile marker, I’ve built up the required muscle mass to keep moving at a good pace.

Conclusion

These thoughts all lead to a simple conclusion. When assessing your progress on producing things of real value (the best path to building a rewarding and well-rewarded life), consider your own capacity for hard focus. Most important accomplishments boil down to this single, often overlooked ability."

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Kite Runner & Odyssey

Finally saw this movie last night & it was excellent. Agi had read the book
and she said the movie was probably just as good. I loved the father
character and how he stood up to the Russian soldiers. He also had a very
interesting perspective that all morality was based on theft: don't steal
another life or tell a lie to another as that steals his ability to tell the
truth (kind of sounds like an article in Fortune or what an Ayn-Randian
disciple would say). But the idea has merit.

I'm also nearly finished with Homer's Odyssey. Nearly every evening I've
been chipping away at it. It's surprisingly exciting and violent and but
certainly beautiful too.

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Vaccinated

Agi and I were on the priority list at our doctor's office and got the call today to come in and get vaccinated. The nurse who gave me the shot seemed pretty sick and beat up actually and said she "probably had the swine flu a few weeks ago." Our nurses and doctors just got their H1N1 shots today too in fact. Very nice of them to bring us in on the action.

Most importantly, we're very thankful our boy has been so healthy and he'll be 4 months next week. On a walk with him the other day using the "bjorn borg" carrier it was crystal clear to me that if I had to press a button to die 100 trillion deaths for him I'd do it immediately. I suspect I'll never have to push such a button. But I've realized that I'll probably have 100 trillion opportunities (I hope!) made up of moments of every day for years and years that call for sacrifice and inconvenience for our little guy. This will be hard but good.

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Movie Update

We've watched this past week (and recently re-subscribed to Netflix--we love
those guys):

- Love Story: Excellent. The male lead was especially good and authentic I
thought. My expectations were low for this film (thought it would be
standard chick flick) and the characters developed in a very genuine way.
Agi loved this movie in high school and said she specifically remembers how
the young couple were studying together all entangled on the couch and
thought that's the way to to go.

- Born into Brothels: Very moving real-life portrayal of kids living with
their parents in a brothel in India and a young American woman's efforts to
give them a better life and an education.

- Underground: A Serbian movie some friends from church highly recommended
and one that Agi had seen in college. She said it's like "Pulp Fiction of
Central Europe." It was wild, maniacal, beautifully filmed and left you
with an understanding of the deep tragedy that the Yugoslavian countries
lived through in the 20th century. Others brutally abused them and they
abused themselves up through the 1990s.

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Truly Inspiring Life: Marek Edelman

http://www.economist.com/obituary/displaystory.cfm?story_id=14585545

HE WAS sure that once he started fighting, he was going to die. No point in
being scared about it. Death was death; there was nothing more, nothing
bigger, that could happen to him. At least in this way, taking up arms, he
could die on his own terms rather than theirs. His time, his place. Suicide
would have been another way to do it, but he never considered that. Going to
the gas chamber or the mass grave with quiet, considered dignity, like many
of the residents of the Warsaw ghetto, was another way: far more admirable
and more difficult, he thought, than running through random bullets as he
did. But it was not for him. Only by dying as publicly as possible, loudly
and with his gun blazing, could he let the world know what the Nazis were
doing to the Jews in Poland.

The odds were overwhelming. He was deputy commander of 220 untrained “boys”
with pistols and home-made explosives. Against them were around 2,000 Nazi
soldiers, the pick of the Wehrmacht, with plenty more behind them. The Nazis
had come on the eve of Passover, April 19th 1943, to liquidate the Warsaw
ghetto, from which they had been deporting 6,000 Jews a week to the death
camps. For almost a month Mr Edelman helped keep them at bay, barricaded in
the streets around the brushmakers’ district until the whole place was
burned down round him.

The ghetto had been established in October 1940 to cut off the city’s Jews,
with a high wall and wire, from the general population. Jews were crammed
into its four square kilometres from all over the city, Poland and the
German Reich. By April 1942 half a million people lived there, many on
filthy straw mattresses directly on the ground. Around 1,500 were dying each
week from hunger and disease. In those conditions, Mr Edelman said, the most
important thing was just to be alive: not to be one of the naked corpses
wheeled past on carts, heads bobbing up and down or knocking on the
pavement. A “terrible apathy” took hold, in which people no longer saw or
believed the random horrors round them. He tried to rouse them, first by
staying up night after night to print mimeograph newspapers, and then by
fighting.
Through the sewers

As a messenger at the ghetto hospital, Mr Edelman was one of the few allowed
out. He passed on news of Nazi atrocities to the larger Polish underground,
and gathered up weapons and fighters. Precisely how much help he got is
still disputed. He implied later that gentile Poles both couldn’t do much,
and wouldn’t, to help the Jews they still distrusted, even though they faced
a common enemy. But the beleaguered Jews were disunited too: secular,
socialist, non-Zionist Jews like him, with ardent Zionists and communists,
all bickering over tactics at the edge of the abyss.

He considered himself both a Pole and a Jew, despite his white armband with
its blue star. Warsaw was home to him; his parents had died when he was
young, leaving him to be brought up by staff in the hospital. He spoke
Polish, Yiddish and Russian. His dream was not of some Zionist homeland, but
a socialist Poland in which Jews would have cultural autonomy. He continued
to hope for that all his life.

During the final throes of the ghetto uprising 50,000-60,000 Jews were
deported to the camps. Mr Edelman survived, escaping with a handful of
colleagues along tunnels barely two feet high, slimy water up to his lips,
to safety. Some 16 months later, in August 1944, he took part in the larger
Warsaw uprising, which was crushed after 63 days. It led to the razing of
the city by the Nazis in a last act of revenge.

After the war, Mr Edelman was one of the few Jewish Holocaust survivors who
stayed in Poland. He moved to Lodz, where he graduated in medicine.
Subsequent waves of anti-Semitism did not dislodge him: not even one in 1968
when up to 20,000 Jews left, including his wife and daughter. When he lost
his job, he merely moved to another hospital. Nothing else terrible happened
to him, as he put it. In 1981, having become an activist for the Solidarity
movement, he was briefly interned under martial law. He had known worse.

Mr Edelman could be brusque and difficult with colleagues. But it was his
quiet thoughtfulness that most irritated people. He refused to express open
hatred for the Nazis, and for years would not talk about the ghetto
uprising. As Bronislaw Geremek, another ghetto survivor, said once, he was
“a hero who didn’t like heroism”. Only in old age did he start to speak out,
not least to try to influence the present. In 1999 he publicly supported
NATO strikes in the Balkans, arguing that a policy of pacifist
non-intervention only played into the hands of dictators.

His expertise was in cardiology (uninhibited by his chain-smoking), and the
heart and its emotions seemed to intrigue him more as the years passed. His
last book, published this year, made a point of describing the love affairs
of the Warsaw ghetto: the “marvellous things” that happened, and the
ecstatic moments of happiness, when terrified and lonely people were thrown
together. Man was naturally a beast, but love could overwhelm him, and love
could also be taught. As for his general devotion to medicine, that was
easily explained. Someone who had known so much death, he used to say, bore
all the more responsibility for life.

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