Category: News and Events

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Friday, July 27, 2007

In the July issue of Christianity Today, White House spokesman Tony Snow offers a moving account of his struggle with colon cancer in “Cancer’s Unexpected Blessings.” Snow, who delivered the keynote speech at the 2001 Acton Annual Dinner, wrote this in response to CT’s question about “the spiritual lessons he has been learning through the ordeal.”:

The moment you enter the Valley of the Shadow of Death, things change. You discover that Christianity is not something doughy, passive, pious, and soft. Faith may be the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. But it also draws you into a world shorn of fearful caution. The life of belief teems with thrills, boldness, danger, shocks, reversals, triumphs, and epiphanies. Think of Paul, traipsing though the known world and contemplating trips to what must have seemed the antipodes (Spain), shaking the dust from his sandals, worrying not about the morrow, but only about the moment.

Read the entire article on the CT site.

…But far be it from me to make it. Fortunately, Spiegel Online does all the joking for us. Headline: Tiny Brain No Problem for French Tax Official.

The commonly spouted wisdom that people only use 10 percent of their brain power may have been dismissed as a myth, but one French man seems to be managing fine with just a small fraction of his actual brain.

In fact the man, who works as a civil servant in southern France, has succeeded in living an entirely normal life despite a huge fluid-filled cavity taking up most of the space where his brain should be.

Be sure to read the whole thing – it’s pretty remarkable. But the headline is just too good not to post.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in post-apartheid South Africa has been hailed as the standard for working for restorative justice in the contemporary world.

One of the misunderstandings surrounding the work of the commission, however, involves the relationship between the forgiveness, reconciliation, and amnesty offered by the commission in relation to the coercive power of the state.

David Schmidtz, in his recent book Elements of Justice, writes,

South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission set out in 1995 to document human rights abuses between 1960 and 1994. Part of its mandate is to grant amnesty to those who cooperate in documenting relevant facts. Now, these crimes were not ancient. It was not a situation where innocent people were being asked to pay for crimes of their ancestors. Many of apartheid’s perpetrators were very much alive, and by no means beyond the reach of the law. Yet, even so, Mandela’s goal (like Desmond Tutu’s) was reconciliation, not revenge. He wanted to prevent the legacy of apartheid from continuing to hang over future generations (214).

It is important to note that the cooperation of many these witnesses was accomplished by means of the threat of punitive action. The offer of amnesty was a carrot only in relation to the overarching threat of the stick.

Where the carrot wasn’t taken, the stick must still be used. And so we find that some South African apartheid-era officials who did not cooperate with the commission are now being charged with crimes.

These officials “will be tried for a 1989 attack on the Rev. Frank Chikane, who, at the time, was the general secretary of the South African Council of Churches, an organization at the forefront of the struggle against minority white rule.”

This news is noteworthy for two reasons. First, “This is the first case of the prosecution of apartheid-era atrocities in which alleged perpetrators were denied or did not seek amnesty from South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was led by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, retired archbishop Desmond Tutu.”

And second, it shows just how dependent on the threat of force the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission really is. This is why Christopher D. Marshall, in his work Beyond Retribution, notes that the TRC occupies a mediating position between the proceedings of war crimes tribunals like Nuremberg and complete offers of amnesty among some Latin American nations.

It’s my hope to explore the theoretical connections between reconciliation and punishment in a paper on restorative justice that I’m currently researching.

I will make no friends with this post but some parts of black America are trapped in a moral crisis. The crisis will be on display this Wednesday when B.E.T. (Black Entertainment Television) debuts a new show called “We Got To Do Better” which is based off of a website called “Hot Ghetto Mess.” It’s time to stop playing words games and be honest: blacks (and others) who embrace a “ghetto” mentality are in deep trouble and, by extension, so are the rest of us.

The NAACP should be marching against the worldview on display on this show much more than fighting a crusade against the “N-word.”

The Washington Post describes the show:

Since 2004, [Jam Donaldson's] Web site, http://Hotghettomess.com, has featured a motley assortment of gangbangers, hip-hop poseurs and strutting hoochie mamas, set off by quotes and comments that suggest Donaldson’s disapproval. The featured “Mess of the Month” for June is an unnamed plus-size woman wearing a halter top split almost to her navel. Her accessories are arm and chest tattoos and an oversize necklace with a cross. The caption beneath her photo is a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.: “Nothing in [all] the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

[The show] features video clips of young African Americans (as well as folks of the Caucasianpersuasion) engaged in various acts of idiocy (random street brawls, gratuitous booty-shaking, etc.). It also puts cultural ignorance on display (people are asked in man-on-the-street interviews whether they know what “NAACP” stands for; they don’t). The tone, Donaldson says, is more or less in keeping with the same finger-wagging critique embedded in the Web site’s slogan: “We Got to Do Better.”

I have mixed emotions about the show. But it’s good to expose this for the following reasons:

(1) The shows puts on display for the world to see the moral crisis in some parts of black American culture. Perhaps many in the black community will take notice.

(2) The show will validate the concerns of many blacks like Bill Cosby, Walter Williams, Thomas Sowell, Starr Parker, John McWhorter, Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, LeShawn Barber, Shelby Steele, and others.

(3) The show will expose how the “ghetto mentality” is sabotaging significant portions of American culture, of all races. Perhaps the show will highlight a point made in the movie Forrest Gump, “stupid is as stupid does.”

(4) Hopefully, this will rally some black pastors to deal with issues in the black community instead of building names for themselves and trying to build the largest churches possible. The “ghetto” culture is completely void of any moral voice or authority.

(5) The show will highlight the fact that for much of black America the largest obstacle to overcome in the 21st-century is not racism but the adopted norms of “ghetto” culture.

(6) The “ghetto” life must cease to be glamorized and normalized in the entertainment industry. Sadly, there is a huge demographic of Americans who are medicating their own personal pain through self-sabotaging, “ghetto” behaviors. The show represents a massive cry for help!

The content of the website is pathetic, disturbing, sad, and frustrating. The burning question remains: what must happen to turn blacks, and others, away from “ghetto mess” onto the journey of healing, virtue, dignity, and human flourishing?

A big tip o’ the hat to Joe Carter over at evangelical outpost for including the Acton PowerBlog in The EO 100, which he describes as “the top 100 blogs that I have found to be the most convicting, enlightening, frustrating, illuminating, maddening, stimulating, right-on and/or wrongheaded by Christians expressing a Christian worldview.”

Also check out the 30 Most Influential Religion Blogs at Faith Central by Times (UK) reporter Joanna Sugden. Alas, the PowerBlog did not make the cut for this eclectic ranking. Then again, maybe we simply didn’t have the right stuff, the je ne sais quoi that elevates one’s religion Web blog into the elite flights alongside productions such as The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Hmmmm.

Arnold Kling had the opportunity to screen The Call of the Entrepreneur and published his reactions to it on Tech Central Station. In this rave review Mr. Kling, in the first paragraph, calls The Call both the “most subversive film” he has ever seen, and “a threat to tyranny everywhere.” He points out that while the film uses the so-called “G-word,” it avoids the scare-tactics that “An Inconvenient Truth,” also a religious film in his view, makes use of and is based around a much more rational exploration of evidence.

Read Mr. Kling’s review at Tech Central Station. Arnold Kling also blogs at EconLog, and has posted a notice of the review there.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Thursday, July 19, 2007

How do you “end poverty” in the developing world? Well, certainly not by promoting a “poverty agenda” that has proven to be a failure again and again. The two items below both appeared yesterday. The first is from a review of “The Elephant and the Dragon,” a book by Robyn Meredith, a Hong Kong-based correspondent for Forbes magazine. The second is from a commentary by the chairman of Microsoft India in the Wall Street Journal (reg. req’d).

As Ms. Meredith shows, comprehensive, market-oriented reforms — China’s began in 1978, India’s in 1991 — have sparked a new dynamism and remarkable economic growth. In the 1990s alone, more than 200 million people escaped poverty in the two countries, lifting the per-capita standard of living beyond the wildest dreams of previous generations. “We got more done for the poor by pursuing the competition agenda for a few years,” says one of India’s former finance ministers, “than we got done by pursuing a poverty agenda for decades.”

“The Boom Beyond Our Borders”. By Matthew Rees. OpinionJournal.com

Lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty cannot happen through “corporate social responsibility.” Important as these initiatives are, they are neither sustainable nor scalable, and therefore achieve limited impact. Nor will poverty be overcome through the “bottom of the pyramid” initiatives that seek to make the poor into bigger consumers of shampoos and televisions by enabling them to pay per use.

We need a new approach driven by innovation. We need to focus less on doing small, nice deeds for the poor, and less on selling them affordable versions of what rich people consume. Instead, we must marshal the best resources of big, innovative corporations to think freshly about the shackles that keep people poor and invent solutions that break these shackles.

“Innovate for India’s Poor”. By Ravi Venkatesan, Wall Street Journal

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Wednesday, July 18, 2007

John Edwards formally kicked off his poverty tour in New Orleans’s Lower Ninth Ward this week and of course blamed the president for the government’s mishandling of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Edwards also played up symbolism by visiting some of the samel cities Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy visited during their famed poverty tours. Edwards may not significantly differ from other Democratic front runners for the White House, although some say he is the only candidate with a truly universal health care program.

Edwards does however stand out from the field of Democratic front runners in terms of actually visiting impoverished locations, although not always to the delight of everybody in the region. In addition, there is not a lot of vote power or political contributions likely to emerge from the places he stopped on his poverty tour. He is often accused of orchestrating a well crafted political strategy for trying to draw attention to the nation’s poor, while attempting to distance himself from recent criticisms of his own affluence and lavish spending. Even in the age of overly scripted politicians he should be given the benefit of the doubt, and acknowledged for raising awareness to a critically important moral issue, although his solutions lack the right method for addressing poverty.

While the language and symbolism of his tour is recycled Great Society rhetoric, it adds a dynamic reminder of the failed attempt at combating poverty through massive federal spending and initiative. Of course, that’s not Edwards’ intention but he helps us recall these failed policies.

Lyndon Johnson in his first State of The Union Address declared “an unconditional war on poverty in America.” The same president vowed to “not rest until that war is won.” The War on Poverty in fact institutionalized poverty by trapping people in a vicious cycle of dependency. No doubt, there won’t be any talk of meaningful tax cuts, deregulation, and economic freedom in the Edwards poverty tour. If there is one legacy the Great Society left, it is that the government is not a job or wealth creator — the entrepreneur creates jobs and wealth. Jesus himself proclaims the “poor shall always be with us,” and so shall well meaning but misguided poverty tours.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, July 17, 2007

It’s a recurring bit of guidance throughout the Christian tradition, that if Christians will only do what is right, they will make the best citizens and be respected, perhaps even celebrated, by the society and the government. This wisdom is an expansion of Paul’s note in Romans 13 that if you “do what is right” then the civil magistrate “will commend you.”

It seems this isn’t quite true these days, at least as it relates to the Christian virtue of chastity. Take the case of Lydia Playfoot, “a 16-year-old who has taken her school to court over its decision to ban her from wearing her silver ring symbolizing her chastity pledge.”

Lydia is participating in the UK version of the purity ministry named the Silver Ring Thing. Youth take a pledge of sexual purity and abstinence and signify this pledge by wearing a small silver ring. School officials deemed that this decoration violated the school’s dress code policy.

According to reports, “The school, which allows Muslim and Sikh students to wear headscarves and religious bracelets, argued that the ring was not an integral part of the Christian faith and broke its uniform policy.”

I guess government educrats have taken it upon themselves to determine what is and is not adiaphora. Far from commending the voluntary commitment to chastity, the British school system disrespected Playfoot’s virtuous expression of faith.

This case seems to be part of a larger social campaign against chastity. For instance, see the NYT review of More Sex is Safer Sex: The Unconventional Wisdom of Economics by Steven Landsburg (HT: NewsBusters), a book which claims:

It’s true: AIDS is nature’s awful retribution for our tolerance of immoderate and socially irresponsible sexual behavior. The epidemic is the price of our permissive attitudes toward monogamy, chastity, and other forms of extreme sexual conservatism. You’ve read elsewhere about the sin of promiscuity. Let me tell you about the sin of self-restraint.

Is the government living up to its responsibilities when it actively discourages chastity?

Update (and bumped): ‘Schoolgirl loses “purity ring” battle’ (HT: Religion Clause)

Says Playfoot: “I believe that the judge’s decision will mean that slowly, over time, people such as school governors, employers, political organisations and others will be allowed to stop Christians from publicly expressing and practising their faith.”

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Friday, July 13, 2007

Cuban–American author Humberto Fontova has a new book out titled, Exposing The Real Che Guevara and the Useful Idiots Who Idolize Him. Che worship is something I have been fascinated with for quite some time, especially among the young Americans who are hyper consumers. Investor’s Business Daily ran an interview of Fontova concerning his new book on July 10 and here are some essential quotes by Fontova from the interview.

“My dad doesn’t like to take orders. There’s this myth that anyone leaving Fidel Castro’s revolution had to be a millionaire, a gangster or a crook. All he wanted was to not be a slave.”

“Cuba in 1961 had 6.3 million people. According to Freedom House, 500,000 Cubans have passed through Cuba’s prison systems, proportionately more than went through Stalin’s Gulag. At one time in 1961, 350,000 Cubans (were) jailed for political crimes and 1 out of 18 Cubans was a political prisoner.”

“He had an arrogant nature. I interviewed people who visited him and tried to save their sons from firing squad executions without trial. He liked to toy with them. He liked to pick up the phone in front of weeping mothers and bark out, “Execute the Fernandez boy right now!”

“They have big notions, especially the young kids who see Che as a hero — that he is a revolutionary, that he fought “The Man.” No, sir, I say, he was “The Man” that rebellious people fought against. You got it completely backwards.”

The disinformation out there about Che is staggering. Che was unsuccessful leading Marxist revolutions in Africa and Latin America, so much so Fidel Castro sent him on a suicide mission. He was a tyrant and murderer. And even one book against one tyrant and murder is a book against all of them.

Religious Cubans also suffer from the oppression of a hostile regime just 90 miles from the American shore. If the Che t-shirt culture reminds of us anything it’s the fact and sadness of the billions of people who live under totalitarian oppression are often forgotten. Unfortunately the evil Stalinist – Che ideology is not just forgotten but knowingly and sometimes unknowingly propped up by copycat consumers. In fact the National Council of Churches and other like minded organizations have defended and propped up Castro’s Cuba.

In contrast Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) said, “We must stand with the oppressed rather than their oppressors and defend human dignity by supporting those who toil for freedom.”