Alexander the Exceptional

It’s been a while since I posted about my reading because of my son’s birth and all the complexities that come with a newborn. However, there is no need to panic because I am still keeping up with my daily page goals. My current project is Tackle the Library – Aristotle – the completion date is scheduled for June 12th. Aristotle is the peanut butter to the jelly of Plato – both philosophers form the bedrock of Western thought. To better understand Aristotle, it is essential to decipher his teachings within the context of ancient culture. One way of understanding that context was through my most recent book – Alexander the Great by Philip Freeman. Alexander the Great was the student of Aristotle for three years, and during that time he learned about medicine, philosophy, morals, religion, logic, and art; a breadth of study that led him to be one of the greatest kings of all time.

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Alexander was born in 356 BC to the then Macedonian ruler, King Philip. Macedonia was a northern state of the Greek peninsula and was looked down upon by the more cultured city of Athens. King Philip expanded his territory through an advanced fighting force and paved the way for his son’s conquests. Alexander took over the throne at age 20 after his father was assassinated by a jealous male lover. The young king quickly consolidated his control of Greece and went eastward to conquer the hated Persians. Over the next ten years, Alexander traveled 11,000 miles and established the largest empire up until that point in history; at only 30 years old, he ruled the entire world from Egypt to India.

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All good things must come to an end – at 32, Alexander mysteriously died; some say it was poison while others say it was from natural illness. The death of Alexander led to the eventual decline of the Macedonian empire. Aristotle was eventually pushed out of Athenian society because of his former history with the great king. I marvel at the life of Alexander the Great because he was mature beyond his years. At 25, my average day entailed Facebook and TV. At 25, Alexander’s average day entailed riding a horse into battle and leading thousands of men to victory. I believe Aristotle played a vital role in the great king’s success; throughout Alexander’s campaign, he was concerned with the central tenets of Aristotle’s teachings: political justice, virtue, ethical leadership, and philosophical contemplation. Alexander’s success led to the founding of Alexandria in Egypt – the city became the epicenter of culture and intellectualism in the ancient world.

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For me, the story of Alexander and Aristotle points to one fundamental fact: Mentors and teachers make a big difference in a person’s life, no matter the age. I’m sure we can all think of that favorite teacher from long ago; my favorite teacher fostered a love of writing. What we must ask ourselves is whether we are a mentor in someone’s life right now? Are we passing the baton on to the next generation? Are we equipping our friends and family to live the best lives possible? How are we fostering the future Alexander the Great or even the next Alexander the Exceptional? Like the lighthouse of Alexandria and the great philosopher Aristotle, be a beacon of wisdom for the world.

 

Without Further Adieu…My Son!

Last week, January 5th at 2:40 in the morning, Theodore Wallace Reynaldo Oldham came into the world. He weighed 6 pounds 6 ounces and measured 20 inches in length. These stats pale in comparison to the circumference of his head – 13 inches. Christina had to push that dome through her pelvis!!! Let’s go back in time before this herculean feat to fully grasp the immensity of her labor. The date was January 4th, and my wife was very pregnant; a state of pregnancy that requires not only a pregnancy pillow but also regular back massages, pep talks, and trips to the bathroom. There is a joke that fits Christina’s state of mind at this point…

How many days are there in a month?

Each month has an average of 30-31 days, except the last month of pregnancy, which has 5,489,234.

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In short, she was ready for Teddy to come out. Her readiness escalated on January 3rd when we went to her OB appointment and found out that she was already 5 cm dilated. Later that day, we went to the hospital because we thought her water broke. She wasn’t having intense contractions, but we wanted to be cautious – after three hours and Christina’s only complaint being chapped lips – we were sent home. The next day, January 4th, Christina was off work and tried everything possible to induce labor. The morning entailed three hours of bouncing on a yoga ball. The afternoon entailed a nice walk outdoors. The evening entailed a spicy burrito at our favorite Mexican restaurant. There was no progression, and by the time I went to sleep at 10 PM, there were no signs of labor. Now I want to be honest and give you guys the real story – the story that gets censured in polite conversation. When I went to sleep, I prayed to God that if He thought it best, we would have sex to induce labor. You may be wondering why I would pray this odd prayer. Without going into to much detail, our sex life at this point was far from honeymoon status. I was scared to death of poking Teddy in the head, and Christina felt the opposite of attractive.

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Hence the prayer and the unlikelihood of us having intercourse the night of January 4th. Yet something strange happened. I woke up at midnight because I was restless and decided to hit the bathroom. Before going back to sleep, I noticed Christina was still up watching TV. Our eyes met, and something clicked in our loins – the dirty commenced like we were fresh fawns in a field. Immediately afterward, and I mean immediately afterward, Christina went into full blown labor! She had contractions that bent her body in half, and she felt a strong urge to push. I told her to push on the toilet, and we waited to see if the contractions would abate – they got stronger, and her water conveniently broke. By that point it was 12:45 AM and we rushed to the hospital. At 1:00 AM I dropped her off at the Emergency Department, and a tech wheeled her to the labor and delivery floor – when I say wheeled I mean he ran like hell through the hospital. I parked the car, and by the time I got to the room it was 1:15 am. The nurse checked her cervix, and she was 8 centimeters dilated. Contractions were getting worse, and because her dilation was so advanced, there was no time for pain medications. At 1:30 AM, Christina was notified that she would have to go through a natural labor. When I told her to embrace the pain, she looked at me like our marriage was on the line. The contractions continued to worsen, and she got on her knees to relieve the pain. By 2:15 AM the doctor was in a position to catch the baby – his head kept prairie dogging. Chistina looked exhausted, and her face had broken blood vessels from all the pushing. By 2:35 AM she was about to give up – another contraction was out of the question. I tried to coach her. I tried to relieve her pain. I tried to videotape.

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The final contraction came, and with all her might Christina pushed out the behemoth 13-inch head. Teddy slid into the world crying and needing a hair cut. Both Christina and Teddy came out healthy; Christina had to be stitched up but she is healing nicely, and now she has a war story to tell. Teddy lost 20% of his body weight after two days but is now back to his birth weight after 24 hours of constant feeding. I am so proud of my wife and new family. My son is beautiful, and I am thankful to God for answering all of my prayers :). I am tired, and I apologize for the delayed post – my writing feels a little choppy but bear with me – we’ll have many more refined Teddy posts in the future.

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John D. Rockefeller – Sinner or Saint?

A way to a man’s heart is through sex, food, and Ron Chernow books. The last one is probably particular to me, but thankfully my wife knows me very well; for Christmas last year she bought me Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr by – you guessed who – Ron Chernow. I first became interested in Rockefeller after watching the History Channel series The Men Who Built America which profiles the dominant imperialists of the Gilded Age. The History Channel usually churns out complete garbage, but this show was actually informative and entertaining – compared to the ubiquitous alien conspiracy theory shows. Rockefeller is one of the most complicated men I have ever read about and hence Chernow’s biography of him took up a mammoth 700 pages.

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Rockefeller, unlike Vanderbilt or JP Morgan, was not your typical Rober Baron who accumulated money for the sake of hedonism. Wealth and success to Rockefeller represented God’s blessings – blessings which could not be squandered. He lived a simple life relative to his fortune which in today’s money was worth 400 billion dollars. Oil was the foundation of that fortune and for decades his company, Standard Oil, dominated the global refining business. With vast wealth comes enormous controversy – Rockefeller was a ruthless businessman who negotiated unfair trade deals with the railroads – squeezing out small refiners in the process. These shady business practices were during a time when industry was mostly unregulated in America. Ida Tarbell, the famous Muckraker journalist, vilified Rockefeller – subsequently rallying public opinion and the US government to break up Standard Oil’s monopoly. Ironically, the break up of Standard Oil made Rockefeller even wealthier – he continued to own large shares of his stepchildren’s companies still known today: Exxon, Mobil, Amoco, Chevron, Sun, Conoco.

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Rockefeller stepped away from the oil business in his late 50’s and enjoyed a long retirement of philanthropy. Thanks to several Rockefeller foundations, the fields of education, medicine, and research were expanded. It can be argued that the United States world-renowned college system is a direct result of Rockefeller – he set the standard for medical research and founded the prestigious University of Chicago. Before Rockefeller, the state of medicine in the US was that of snake oil salesman – after Rockefeller medicine evolved into a rigorous scientific discipline. Some would question whether we should support philanthropy from “dirty” oil money? I would argue that Rockefeller made business decisions like a strict father; they were harsh but many times fair, as the oil business was in large part saved by Rockefeller’s big thinking principles. During the financial crises of the late 19th century, many small refiners went bust all while Standard Oil maintained record low prices for the consumer. Capitalism is tough and Rockefeller was one of the toughest. When we critique his decisions, we must look at things contextually. Rockefeller was not without blame, but I don’t think that his legacy is one of a sinner. I think his legacy is complicated and the fairest assessment should come from his opponents…

“The press, once hostile to him, formed his biggest cheering section. ‘It is doubful whether any private individual has ever spent a great fortune more wisely than Mr. Rockefeller,’ Pulitzer’s World editorialized in 1923, while the Hearst press, not to be outdone, states, ‘The Rockefellers have given away more money and to better advantage than anybody else in the world’s history since the ark stranded on Ararat.'”

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I believe that Rockefeller is no saint when compared to the world as a whole…but maybe a saint when compared to the wealthiest individuals in the history of the world. Excessive wealth usually corrupts and leaves no positive legacy. Rockefeller following his religious views used each penny wisely. Those pennies may have been tainted, but in the end, they were shined up for a noble purpose; a purpose which Rockefeller pursued until his death at 97 years old. So what’s your verdict? Was Rockefeller a sinner or a saint?

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Rock Star Nurse

Whenever I get sick I turn into a three year old. Whining, tantrums, and self-pity all intermingle with my nose blowing, coughing, and aches. They say men are babies when they get sick. This is 100% true and I may take more advantage of the stereotype because my wife is a nurse.  Christina is a Psychiatric Nurse who enjoys working with mentally unstable patients; her desire to help the mentally ill may be why she found me so attractive. Christina is patient, caring, and simply a rock-star nurse. She is the type of nurse you would beg to have if you were sick in the hospital. There are a lot of mean nurses that really should change careers or retire; to get a truly compassionate and competent nurse is a blessing. Simply put, Christina is the Filipina version of Florence Nightingale. She has to treat people who many times don’t know where they are and what is truly real. There have been stories of patients smashing their heads against the wall, patients running around the unit butt naked, and patients selling sex for pain medications. This all happens during an exhausting 12 hour shift with very little time for rest. A nurse has to chart everything that happens to their patients which makes the paperwork absolutely horrendous. Added to the incessant documenting, nurses must contend with disrespectful and egotistical doctors. Doctors are notorious for belittling and berating nurses in extremely unprofessional manners. I know some doctors are excellent but in general that profession is made up of those who were good at studying but not good at communicating.

Our society idealizes doctors for their intelligence, composure, and god-like power. On the contrary, we should idolize our nurses because they are the ones who truly treat the patients. If you are admitted to the hospital, 90% of the care you receive will come from a nurse. The doctor will pop in for 5 minutes and if you’re lucky you’ll receive mediocre bedside manner. The nurse is the one who comes to your call light. The nurse is the one who cleans up your crap. The nurse is the one who sits down with your family to explain care. There is no other career that combines so much responsibility with so little respect. We need doctors to get off their high horses and work with nurses as a symbiotic team-not a authoritarian dictatorship. If you think I am exaggerating these claims just take 15 minutes to talk with a nurse-you will be enlightened with a plethora of anecdotes. We take for granted the care we receive and many times forget that nurses are overworked and unappreciated.  I want to thank all the nurses out there for doing what you do. Christina goes to work and is responsible for multiple human lives all while balancing paperwork, mean doctors, and naked people running through the halls. Thank you Christina for taking care of me when I am sick and taking care of people that truly need your awesome skills.

When Prayer Kills

Guess the context…”They found a two-year-old boy whose treatable kidney tumor weighed six pounds and a twelve-year-old girl whose bone cancer was the size of a watermelon. They found a two-year-old girl who had accidentally inhaled a small piece of a banana…turned blue and died…They found a twenty-three-year-old woman who had come to an emergency room after fifty-six hours of active labor because her baby’s head was stuck at the vaginal opening. The dead baby, delivered by caesarian section, ‘was in an advanced stage of decomposition.’ The mother died within hours from puerperal sepsis: a bloodstream infection. The coroner noted that ‘the corpse of the infant was so foul smelling that is was inconceivable that anyone attending the delivery could not have noticed…Swan and Asser also found children who had died from treatable bacterial infections such as pneumonia, meningitis, and sepsis. A one-year-old girl named Eva Swanson died of sepsis after she had accidentally spilled a pot of scalding tea on herself. A fifteen-month-old boy named Dustin Gilmore ‘was deafened, blinded and killed’ by meningitis…” Is this list of atrocious medical outcomes from a third-world country? Maybe it is from an isolated area where there are no medical treatments available? Sadly, all of these examples occurred in the United States within the last 20 years and are only a few instances of hundreds that occur every year. How could this happen in a country where there is relatively easy access to vaccines, antibiotics, and children’s hospitals? Paradoxically, the cause of all these unfortunate stories was religion and more specifically certain Christian denominations which do not believe in modern medicine.

I learned about these unfortunate truths in the book Bad Faith: When Religious Belief Undermines Modern Medicine by Paul A. Offit, M.D. In total, there are 23 Christian denominations that practice faith healing with 5 sects accounting for most adult and child deaths due to avoidance of medical treatments: Christian Science, Church of the First Born, End Time Ministries, Faith Assemble, and Faith Tabernacle. In general, these sects reject medicine because it is a product of man and believe that having illnesses is a test of faith. These denominations literally interpret verses like Mark 11:24: Whatever things you desire, when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you shall have them. These ardent beliefs come from the common stand of many Christian denominations that their interpretations of the Holy Bible are correct and subsequently God looks favorably on them now and in Heaven. These literal interpretations lead to using prayer as the only treatment for a medical illness. For example, imagine my son had diabetes and needed insulin to survive. Instead of getting a vial of insulin and giving it to my son I would hold a prayer group over him while he threw up and suffered until eventually dying. I would rationalize that God wanted my son to die, that God is punishing me for my sins, and/or I didn’t have enough faith in God’s healing powers.

How the heck could a parent let their child die when they call themselves a Christian? First off, Jesus loved children and said in Mark 9:27:”Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” As a Christian, the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. Love is the zeitgeist of Christianity! If there is a way to save an individual within reasonable means then every effort should be taken to provide that help. Modern medicine is not the work of the devil or an avenue taken by unbelievers-modern medicine is the result of great thinkers throughout time. God created those great-thinking brains and thus gave us the ability to invent and the resources to better help people. The other side of this unbelievable coin is the government allowing it to happen. 45 states permit the medical neglect of children if the parents have justifiable religious reasons. Religious freedom cannot trump the inalienable right to life which is taken away from children by these laws. Children are protected by the 14th amendment which says that no state shall “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” This medical neglect is outlawed in many countries and it is time for the US to actually follow the constitution when it comes to protecting children’s lives. In the end, Christians please remember the greatest commandment, recognize the dangers of myopic religious beliefs, and don’t use prayer as a complete substitute for medical care.