Three Worlds, Give or Take a World

When I first moved to Brazil in 2001, I refused to refer to Brazil as “Third World.” I thought it was insulting, and though I recognized that as a nation it was poorer than countries like the United States and Canada, I certainly couldn’t place it in the same category as countries like Somalia and Botswana. My Brazilian friends, especially one who was in college at the time, thought this attitude of mine was really strange. Over the following couple of years I saw, time and again, the term “Third World” applied to Brazil in the media. TV news programs freely used the term, as did print media like magazines and newspapers. Socialist and communist groups seemed to relish using the term.

So, I started to refer to Brazil as “Third World.”

Now that there are practically no “Second World” countries, I’ve wondered how appropriate this terminology still might be. Perhaps it would be better to say “developed” and “developing” countries. As I was researching this topic, though, I learned that there is now actually a “Fourth World,” a term used to refer to countries that are the “least developed.” These tend to be mostly agrarian and possibly nomadic in their industry and culture and have the lowest per capita incomes in the world.

It makes sense to have a separate category for least developed countries (LDCs) because, as I’ve mentioned, Brazil may be “Third World” but it is nowhere near as “bad off” as Sudan and Sierra Leone. Despite the hardship experience generally in Brazil, there is a great deal of industry and advanced agriculture (I saw methods used on farms in Brazil that integrated technology into the process in ways most have yet to attempt in the U.S.). In any major city (and there are several in that great nation) you can go to some of the largest and best shopping malls you will ever see in your life. On your way there you will drive through areas of extreme poverty, see people living under overpasses and eventually park in a gated and guarded parking lot. The mix of technology, developed shopping areas and grinding poverty can be jarring at first, but eventually you stop noticing it as much.

Personally, I think it would make more sense to change the system, if we have to speak of “worlds,” to bump countries like Brazil up to “Second World” and the LDCs up to “Third World.” Of course, I’m not an economist or politician, so what I think doesn’t make much difference in the grander scheme of things. I may continue to speak of “developed” and “developing” countries or economies, but these terms are too broad to be of use in any other than general descriptions.

Changing Cell Types without Stem Cells

According to an article on Wired.com, a technique is being worked out to change cells from one type to another without any stem cells. For those of us who have ethical objections to the use of embryonic stem cells in research and treatment this is very good news. There is apparently a lot of work to be done to make this method truly useful, but it looks hopeful.

My only concern was that this method of changing cells types apparently employs an active virus. I’ve probably been way too influenced by science fiction (like “I Am Legend”), but the thought of using a live virus for any medical procedure makes me nervous.

Previous post: Thoughts on Stem Cell Research

iPhone Girl, iPhone Flaw and iPhone Alternatives

This morning I came across a few tidbits about the iPhone that I thought were interesting enough to share.
First, Etherized tells the story of the “iPhone Girl.” She’s a factory worker in China whose co-worker took three pictures of her on an iPhone and then failed to erase them before boxing up the product. A fellow in Britain found them on his new iPhone when he was activating it and posted them to the MacRumors forum (click here to see them). Some in that forum suggested she had been, would be or should be fired, but that reportedly hasn’t happened. I hope it doesn’t happen since there was no harm done.
Second, the Wired Gadget Lab blog reports a “massive iPhone security flaw.” If your iPhone keypad is locked, a person just has to tap the “emergency calls” option once and then the “home key” twice and voila, he or she is in your “favorites.” From there it’s possible to access the phone, sms and other features. To make sure this was really a problem I tried it out on a friend’s iPhone at work and got into his favorites. For the full explanation and a temporary fix, click here.
Third and finally, InformationWeek compiled a list of what it calls “killer” iPhone alternatives. The article is over a month old but I think it’s a pretty good evaluation of what’s out there right now. Click here for the review.

Direito Natural, Governo e a Bíblia (2)

“Toda alma esteja sujeita às autoridades superiores; porque não há autoridade que não venha de Deus; e as que existem foram ordenadas por Deus. Por isso quem resiste ã autoridade resiste ã ordenação de Deus; e os que resistem trarão sobre si mesmos a condenação. Porque os magistrados não são motivo de temor para os que fazem o bem, mas para os que fazem o mal. Queres tu, pois, não temer a autoridade? Faze o bem, e terás louvor dela; porquanto ela é ministro de Deus para teu bem. Mas, se fizeres o mal, teme, pois não traz debalde a espada; porque é ministro de Deus, e vingador em ira contra aquele que pratica o mal. Pelo que é necessário que lhe estejais sujeitos, não somente por causa da ira, mas também por causa da consciência. Por esta razão também pagais tributo; porque são ministros de Deus, para atenderem a isso mesmo” (Romanos 13:1-6).

Nenhuma pessoa sensata, olhando a história do império romano, diria que esta passagem da bíblia descreve o governo daquela época. O império romano foi brutal com a oposição. Para manter seu poder, a dita “paz romana”, a espada foi utilizada com vigor e sem misericórdia. Dentro do império grandes desigualdades reinaram. A grande maioria da população consistiu em escravos, e por isso existiu grande ansiedade entre os cidadãos romanos de que talvez teria uma revolução. Isso nunca aconteceu somente porque toda vez que deu sinal que talvez iria acontecer, as autoridades mataram todos os implicados na ação.

Neste cenário, não seria uma boa idéia se apresentar como representante de um movimento que critica a ordem atual. Mas, isso foi justamente o efeito do evangelho.

No evangelho aprendemos que é a vontade de Deus unir todas as raças, etnias, classes sociais e idiomas num só povo. Além disso, esta mensagem de um rei que veio em forma de servo e morreu executado pela injustiça dos poderes e autoridades foi realmente subversivo e uma crítica forte da incapacidade e corrupção dos governos humanos.

O apóstolo Paulo em Romanos 13 não estava afirmando que tudo que qualquer governo faz é justo e tem que ser aceito, mas estava descrevendo o verdadeiro papel dos governos terrestres. Até hoje não vi nenhum governo que cumpre completamente sua tarefa sem violar os direitos naturais do seu povo, mas sei que por enquanto é a vontade de Deus ter estes poderes na terra, junto com o reino de Deus e sua mensagem de amor, perdão e reconciliação.

Veja também:
Direito Natural, Governo e a Bíblia (1)

Update on Technical Difficulties

Last Friday night our home computer died. From what I’ve learned from web forums this is a fairly common problem with emachines. Often when the power supply dies it takes the motherboard out with it as well.
It really bothers me not to have a working home computer. My kids use it often for games and to watch videos, I use it for research and blogging and my wife enjoys using Orkut and reading up on her favorite Brazilian soap operas. School will start next week here in New Jersey and the kids won’t have a computer to use for homework unless we figure something out. In the meantime I’m paying Comcast for a service (broadband Internet) we can’t even use.
One option is to get a kit to replace the case and motherboard (I already replaced the power supply). That would run us $170. Another option that now seems far more likely is that we’ll buy a laptop. Specifically, we’re interested in the Acer Aspire 5315-2326. Wal-Mart charges $448.00 for this online, but a friend told me he saw the same laptop at a Wal-Mart store for under $400. I’d be able make payments on this laptop, so that lightens the financial burden (in the short run) a little and would get us up and running again.
This experience has shown me some things about myself. One is that I understand far more about the inner workings of a PC than I thought I did. Another is that I still have a lot to learn.
Our immediate concern is with getting back online at home. Once that issue is resolved I plan to start tinkering with PCs more. I intend to keep the parts I have and attempt to find more working computers and usable parts to start refurbishing computers.
For example, with an older computer running Windows 3.1 or higher I could verify that the hardware is still good, format the hard drive and load the Damn Small Linux (DSL) operating system. Once everything was working properly I could give the computer away to someone who doesn’t have the means to buy one and just needs it for light use. From what I’ve read DSL functions fairly efficiently and even has web browsers built in.
Another option is that I could build higher-quality PCs as my knowledge of them deepens, and I could load them with another distribution of Linux, like Ubunto. These I could conceivably sell for whatever it cost to build them. The intention here isn’t necessarily profit. It’s actually something that could be a decent hobby and would permit me to gain some more tech experience.
Previous post on this topic:Computer Issues

Direito Natural, Governo e a Bíblia (1)

“O Direito Natural, para os que aceitam a sua existência, é aquele que não se consubstancia em regras impostas ao indivíduo pelo Estado, mas de uma lei anterior e superior ao Direito Positivo, que se impõe a todos os povos pela própria força dos princípios supremos dos quais resulta, constituídos pela própria natureza e não pela criação dos homens, como, por exemplo, o direito de reproduzir, o direito de viver, etc”.Manual de Direito Público e Privado (Max & Edis) 14.a edição

O Direito Positivo é aquele feito por governos, e governos são simplesmente conjuntos de pessoas que, por um caminho ou outro, chegaram a ser reconhecidos como autoridades e lideres numa determinada esfera de influência. O Direito Positivo se consiste em leis e decretos aprovados e anunciados, publicados em forma de códigos, estatutos e (nos EUA e no Reino Unido, entre poucos outros países) decisões judiciárias.

O Direito Natural, como a citação encima explica, não foi feito por mãos humanas, mas é universal. Muitos que trabalham na área de direito não aceitam a existência de Direito Natural, enquanto outros preferem classificar este assunto como política ou filosofia. Na fundação dos Estados Unidos da América Direito Natural foi um conceito essencial para explicar e justificar para o mundo a revolução.

“Consideramos estas verdades como evidentes por si mesmas, que todos os homens são criados iguais, dotados pelo Criador de certos direitos inalienáveis, que entre estes estão a vida, a liberdade e a procura da felicidade. Que a fim de assegurar esses direitos, governos são instituídos entre os homens, derivando seus justos poderes do consentimento dos governados; que, sempre que qualquer forma de governo se torne destrutiva de tais fins, cabe ao povo o direito de alterá-la ou aboli-la e instituir novo governo, baseando-o em tais princípios e organizando-lhe os poderes pela forma que lhe pareça mais conveniente para realizar-lhe a segurança e a felicidade”Declaração da Independência dos Estados Unidos da América

Como podemos ver, o Direito Natural pode ser considerado o motivo para constituir governos e criar leis. A justiça é algo que existe sem a aprovação de qualquer governo, e muitas das vezes apesar de leis injustas feitas por homens. Neste ponto de vista, as autoridades tem a tarefa de buscar a justiça e ao mesmo tempo usar o poder da coação somente para punir a injustiça.

“Toda alma esteja sujeita às autoridades superiores; porque não há autoridade que não venha de Deus; e as que existem foram ordenadas por Deus. Por isso quem resiste ã autoridade resiste ã ordenação de Deus; e os que resistem trarão sobre si mesmos a condenação. Porque os magistrados não são motivo de temor para os que fazem o bem, mas para os que fazem o mal. Queres tu, pois, não temer a autoridade? Faze o bem, e terás louvor dela; porquanto ela é ministro de Deus para teu bem. Mas, se fizeres o mal, teme, pois não traz debalde a espada; porque é ministro de Deus, e vingador em ira contra aquele que pratica o mal. Pelo que é necessário que lhe estejais sujeitos, não somente por causa da ira, mas também por causa da consciência. Por esta razão também pagais tributo; porque são ministros de Deus, para atenderem a isso mesmo” (Romanos 13:1-6).

Esta passagem já foi utilizada muito na história como ferramenta de opressão, mas na próxima postagem pretendo explicar como este uso é errado e não de acordo com a intenção do apóstolo Paulo ou de Deus.

Veja também:
Direito Natural, Governo e a Bíblia (2)

C.S. Lewis, Space Exploration and the Christian Hope

“I look forward with horror to contact with the other inhabited planets, if there are such. We would only transport to them all of our sin and our acquisitiveness, and establish a new colonialism. I can’t bear to think of it. But if we on earth were to get right with God, of course, all would be changed. Once we find ourselves spiritually awakened, we can go to outer space and take the good things with us. That is quite a different matter.”C.S. Lewis in an interview first published in the September 1963 issue of Decision Magazine and made available on the CBN website.

There is a much better quote from C.S. Lewis out there on this topic, but I can’t seem to find it. The sentiment is essentially the same, in any event. While it was C.S. Lewis’ work that revived my faith after a very difficult time in life, I don’t feel obligated to agree with him on all points. This is one of those areas where I have to disagree to a certain extent.

Regarding the fallen state of humanity I can only say that Mr. Lewis was correct. Were we to find sentient life in the universe, with us in our present state, the consequences for the other beings would likely be disastrous. Unless, of course, they could outgun us.

Even not locating sentient life on other worlds, our impact on uninhabited planets could be terrible. We have a tendency to waste and abuse natural resources, and once human life becomes common beyond our world I see no reason why these habits would change. It’s just as likely we’d ravage Mars as terraform it properly.

On the other hand, we seem to be creatures made for exploration. I see no reason why we shouldn’t, in due time, make our way out into other parts of our solar system. Further, since there seems to be no sentient life nearby, there isn’t much risk of colonialism. Only waste and devastation remain as concerns, and considering how unpleasant most other locations are in our solar system, I’m not too concerned about them becoming tourist hot spots. Even if we do trash them up a bit, the other worlds aren’t that great to begin with.

Further, C.S. Lewis seemed to fall quite often into the mistaken idea that a disembodied state is our ultimate goal, including heaven, and that the only way we’d still be in this world materially would be before death in either a fallen or redeemed state. He seemed to forget rather often the promise of resurrection and New Heavens/New Earth.

Jesus spoke of himself as the source of resurrection:

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’” (John 11:25-26 NRSV).

Consistent with this, elsewhere in the Scriptures the apostle Paul speaks of Jesus as “the firstborn from the dead.” In other words, what God the Father did in and for Jesus, He will also do in and for us.

“For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling— if indeed, when we have taken it off we will not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life”
(2 Corinthians 5:1-4 NRSV).

Again we see that the Christian hope is not a lack of physicality, but actually being more real than we are at present. Paul elaborated, as best he could, on the nature of our resurrection hope in his first letter to the Corinthians:

“Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:51-57 NRSV).

Besides resurrection, the Scriptures speak often of new heavens and new earth.

“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed. Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home” (2 Peter 3:10-13 NRSV).

Sometimes New Heavens/New Earth is misunderstood as a return to Eden, and common as well is the misconception (derived largely from the passage above) that the present universe will be annihilated. In fact, neither view is entirely accurate.

We can never return to Eden. The birth of humanity and its subsequent fall into sin which led to all creation (whether only this planet or the entire cosmos I can’t say) being subjected to bondage all took place within what we might call “stage one.” Contrary to popular opinion, God’s purposes were never thwarted. Instead, we have taken a far bloodier and more miserable path, one that included the crucifixion and resurrection of the Son of God. We took a horrible detour, but God’s plan wasn’t derailed. We will not return to our Edenic state, however that was, but rather reach our ultimate (notice I didn’t say “final”) goal through resurrection and New Heavens/New Earth.

The idea that our present world will be utterly destroyed in the process of fulfilling God’s plan has little solid basis in Scripture. Much of the language that gives modern (or post-modern) readers this idea is actually prophetic apocalyptic speech. The ancients, especially the Hebrews, wouldn’t have understood this as referring to the collapse of space-time, but rather as speaking of a radical change from the present system. Further, it may help you to know that the word Peter used for “elements” was the same that Paul used, frequently, when condemning false teachings and sinful philosophies. The corruptions of humanity will be purged and creation set free at the revealing of the children of God.

So, for me I have no objections to space exploration. In my opinion, we’ll be doing it someday anyway after the renewal of all things.

“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:19-21 NRSV).

Computer Issues

Friday evening I went home from work a little early. I picked up a cake, wine, cheese and flowers to celebrate my wife’s naturalization as a U.S. citizen. After relaxing for a while with the wife and kids, I decided to take a look at my e-mail. I hit the power button on the computer, but nothing happened.

A very frustrated hour later I gave up, not knowing what to do. The connections were all good and the outlet was working. The computer just wouldn’t do anything when I hit the power button.

Mulling it over for the rest of the evening, I decided it had to be the power supply giving me problems. The next morning I went to Circuit City and picked up a new power supply, confident that this would resolve the entire problem. It didn’t. Checking, double-checking and then triple-checking all my connections I became convinced the power supply was not the problem after all.

A friend has an emachine similar to my own (yes, I know, please don’t tell me “There’s your problem!”) that broke down on him for apparently unrelated reasons a few months ago, so I asked him for it. Last night I took it apart and tested the switch and verified that I wasn’t crazy and that the hook-ups to the power supply all matched. I quickly ruled out a switch problem and verified once again that the connections to the power supply were all correct (there isn’t much of a way to get this part wrong anyway).

I’d like to say that I’m stumped, but I’m not. Either there’s a short somewhere (I doubt it) or the motherboard is fried. I really think the problem is the motherboard.

As I see it, I have two options.

First, I could try fixing the desktop. The most direct option is to get a motherboard upgrade for this model emachine. That would cost $170.

Second, I could buy a replacement device. My wife has been saying for a long time that she wants a laptop. A relatively affordable option is the Acer – Aspire One Laptop. Through Best Buy it would cost us $350.

The real problem is that this is an expense we can’t absorb right now. Our budget is pretty tight and we have birthdays and holidays on the horizon. I was already considering, with deep reservations, looking for a second job. When unexpected expenses like this come up we just aren’t prepared. It isn’t an option to leave the computer off for now because the kids start back to school in a week. When I was a child no one had or used computers for homework. Now they are practically a necessity, especially for online research assignments and other homework projects.

If I could find a used emachine with working “innards” I could switch out the components from my desktop to it and keep moving, but I’ve been checking the yellow pages, asking around and now checking the Internet at work but haven’t turned up a used computer parts supplier in my area.

What to do?
UPDATE #1: There is one other option I didn’t mention. I could buy another emachine for around $300. That’s probably what most people do when this problem comes up. 8/25/08
UPDATE #2: I checked out the Acer – Aspire One Laptop at Best Buy after work yesterday and I was wrong. This laptop is TINY. The screen isn’t even 9 inches! I’m running an ad on Craigslist this morning looking for the emachine parts I need. 8/26/08

Manhattan Church of Christ Sermons on Women in Ministry

Last month my family visited Manhattan Church of Christ in New York. Until the Friday before we went, I had no idea there’d ever been controversy there. The issue in question was the role of women in ministry. While most a cappella Churches of Christ hold to a fairly strict form of complementarianism, Manhattan Church moved away from this into egalitarianism several years ago. At the service itself I saw a woman lead a prayer and one or two help serve communion. In many independent Christian Churches this is considered perfectly acceptable, but it is truly rare in a cappella churches.

Though I don’t agree with his line of reasoning, I appreciated the two messages available online as podcasts explaining this church’s stance on the matter of women in ministry.

A Community Without Barriers

A Community Without Barriers II

In my opinion, the first is better than the second.

There is also a lengthy study on the topic available in pdf format: A Community Without Barriers: Women in the NT and the Church Today