Category: Business and Society

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, January 19, 2006
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Mark your calendars: The Institute for the Study of Christianity and Culture at Michigan State University is hosting a conference on April 7-8 with the keynote address to be given by Dr. Randall Balmer, Ann Whitney Olin Professor, Barnard College, Columbia University.

From the conference site: “Dr. Balmer will be giving a lecture and a panel discussion on the topic of his upcoming book Taking the Country Back: How the Religious Right is Winning the Culture Wars.”

There will also be a Saturday morning roundtable on the topic, “Politics, Culture Wars, and the Soul of American Evangelicalism,” featuring Dr. Balmer as well as Dr. Corwin Schmidt, Professor of Political Science and as Director of the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics at Calvin College.

Blog author: jspalink
Friday, January 13, 2006
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Apologies for a second Apple-related post in a row, but I thought this example might prove to be a decent case-study of competition in the marketplace. One of the new products that Apple recently introduced was iWeb, a new program that makes it easy “to create websites and blogs — complete with podcasts, photos and movies — and get them online, fast.”

Why do I bring this up? The reason is that a small software company has been working on a similar program, Sandvox. “Sandvox makes website creation elegant, intuitive and fun.” Karelia Software released a public beta last week in response to rumors that Apple was releasing a program called iWeb so that people wouldn’t think that iWeb came first. This is not the first time that this has happened to Karelia. A similar conflict existed between Karelia’s Watson program, and Apple’s Sherlock.

So why do we care? While many people might shrink from the challenge of taking market share from a large corporation, Karelia has embraced the challenge as an opportunity to provide a better product to its users. From Karelia’s blog:

What Sandvox can offer is a compelling alternative to iWeb, just as Watson turned into an alternative to Sherlock 3; Path Finder is an alternative to Finder; NetNewsWire and a host of others are alternatives to Safari’s RSS reader; and Adium can replace iChat. As each of these offer solutions to the limitations provided by Apple’s software, so too will Sandvox.

…As we move forward past version 1.0, we will be able to further distinguish Sandvox from iWeb by focusing on features that our users demand that will never be a part of the iLife suite.

Here’s tipping a hat to a company that understands that competition exists not to stifle, but to bring out innovation; and for embracing that challenge to produce a better product.

Blog author: jballor
Friday, January 13, 2006
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Many of you may have already heard of the new line of Levi’s jeans due out later this year, the iPod compatible RedWire DLX jeans: “With a joystick remote control built into the watch pocket, the new jeans will allow wearers to play, pause, track forward or back and adjust the volume on their iPods without having to take them out of their pockets.” There is also a built-in pocket designed to “conceal the bulge of the iPod.”

But Levi Strauss is a bit late to the concealment racket, at least as far as the iPod is concerned, since iPod-friendly underwear produced by Play, wittily named the iBoxer, is currently ready to ship. These boxer-briefs come in three standard colors (turquoise, black, and orange) with other print patterns available.

Worried about concealing the bulge? The iBoxer promises “a discrete front pocket.” FreshPair.com, a distributor of undergarments, also assures us that for every 2 iBoxers purchased, we’ll get 3 Free iTunes (Coupon Included in Order). Top sellers include Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” and The Black Eyed Peas’ “My Humps” (iTunes required).

I’ve resisted the urge to pain you, dear readers, by posting a picture of the iBoxer, but for those of you who are gluttons for punishment, click here.

On a more serious note, Apple should perhaps be concerned about market saturation. The typical cycle for pop culture rotations is the move from popularity in an underground sub-culture to the broader marketing and popularization of the movement. This is followed by backlash from the sub-culture and the accusation of “selling out” to corporate interests. We’ve yet to see whether such a backlash will occur from the tech-savvy (much like what has occurred against Microsoft).

And while Pat Buchanan recommends buying up gold reserves, I for one am waiting for the day when the currency switches over from dollars to iPods. Here’s a sample conversation:

Buyer: “How much is that 60 GB iPod?”

Seller: “3 iPod Shuffles.”

Buyer (crestfallen): “But I only have 1 iPod Shuffle and 1 iPod Nano!”

As the nation prepares to celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 15, it’s time to broaden the discussion of race relations in America to include not just blacks and whites, but Asians, Hispanics and Native Americans. The long fixation on black-white relations has obscured some important measures of racial progress — or lack of it — in American society, argues Anthony Bradley. “In fact, the greatest impediment to appropriating King’s dream is our unwillingness to move beyond a white social barometer,” he says.

Read the complete commentary here.

Check out this interview with Acton senior fellow in economics Jennifer Roback Morse from the Zenit News Agency, “Righting the Wrongs in Modern Sex and Marriage.”

She talks about writing her recent book, Smart Sex: Finding Life-Long Love in a Hook-Up World (Spence) and says, “I wanted to write a book for the ordinary person who wants to get married and stay married. Most readers are not economists or theologians, so I wanted to convey to the public that this book is meant for them.”

The Real Clear Politics Blog passes along an op-ed from Bob Herbert, “Blowing the Whistle on Gangsta Culture,” a NYT Select item (subscription required). In the column, Herbert discusses the “profoundly self-destructive cultural influences that have spread like a cancer through much of the black community and beyond.”

Tom Bevan calls the piece “suprisingly candid,” and “some stiff, righteous stuff – all the more impressive coming from the source.” Herbert, of course, has been a NYT columnist since 1993, and Bevan thinks that “If Herbert is disgusted with the current state of black leadership in America then we may indeed have reached a tipping point.”

Acton research fellow Anthony Bradley has written widely on the moral status of rap culture. Be sure to check out these items: “Candy Shopping – Rap’s Dehumanizing Message” and “Ghetto Cracker: The Hip Hop ‘Sell Out’”.

A newly certified Guiness World Record, presented without further comment.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
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Jonathan Gruber, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says his research shows that “regular religious participation leads to better education, higher income and a lower chance of divorce. His results (based on data covering non-Hispanic white Americans of several Christian denominations, other faiths and none) imply that doubling church attendance raises someone’s income by almost 10%.”

The article linked above gives a good overview of Gruber’s methods, and touches on some related ideas in the history of economics, including Max Weber’s thesis. What’s new about Gruber’s work is that it purports to be “quantitative research on whether religion affects income directly and if so, by how much.”

If Gruber’s study is true, and I’m inclined to think something like it may well be given my own anecdotal experience, it immediately raises the question of how church attendance has such an effect. One of the causal possibilities Gruber offers is the idea of the church as a center of “social capital,” a burgeoning field of study in economics. Social capital is “a web of relationships that fosters trust. Economists think such ties can be valuable, because they make business dealings smoother and transactions cheaper. Churchgoing may simply be an efficient way of creating them.”

Russell D. Moore over at Mere Comments notes that Barbara Ehrenreich, pseudo-Marxist social critic, relates a tale in her latest book about attending “a Christian ministry for job-seekers in Georgia. She writes of the charismatic speaker encouraging the unemployed seekers to learn how to network. ‘And who should be our first networking target?’ the motivational speaker queries. ‘The Lord.’”

The author of The Economist article notes that “given that Jesus warned his followers against storing up treasures on earth, you might think that this wasn’t the motivation for going to church that he had in mind.” I might also note that putting Jesus at the center of your life, or viewing Christ as the “center” of theology or the Bible (as the title of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s lectures might intimate: Christ the Center), doesn’t mean that he becomes the central hub of your business networking.

The sociality that is initiated by the Gospel in the Christian Church is a multifaceted and complex phenomenon. But if the motivation to go to church in America is increasingly to raise income levels and build social capital, Avery Dulles might just have to add another and less than lauditory appendix to his Models of the Church: The Church as Country Club.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
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In the latest issue of Touchstone, Acton senior fellow Jennifer Roback Morse examines the issues of procreation and property in contemporary society, and the seemingly growing opinion anyone can be a parent if they so choose. In “First Comes Marriage” Morse contends, “There is no right to a child, because a child is not an object to which other people have rights.”

She goes on to make a clarification about meanings of “rights” language that are often conflated:

We must distinguish between “the right to have a child” in the sense of possession and the “right to have a child” in the sense of procreation. There is one coherent way to imagine a right to procreate. Two people of the opposite sex can come together to conceive a child, without permission from the state or anyone else. People do it all the time.

To put it another way: Every individual is sterile. No one can have a baby by himself. Each human infant has two parents, one male and one female. Therefore, any right to have a child should be held by a couple, not by an individual who wishes to be a parent.

Read the whole thing and subscribe to Touchstone here.

The NYT’s John Leland has an excellent article on the engagement of culturally conservative Christians and popular movies. In “New Cultural Approach for Conservative Christians: Reviews, Not Protests,” (login required) Leland writes about the shift in attitude, from one of abstention and withdrawal to critical engagement.

Professor Robert Johnston of Fuller Theological Seminary says that “evangelicals as a group are becoming more sophisticated in their interaction with popular culture. There’s been a recognition within the evangelical community that movies have become a primary means, perhaps the primary means, of telling our culture’s stories. For this reason, evangelicals have become much more open to good stories, artfully told, but they also want stories whose values they can affirm or understand.”

The latest issue of Religion & Liberty has a number of articles dealing with movies and morality, including an interview with Ralph Winter, producer of Fantastic Four, X-Men, and a number of the Star Trek films, as well as an article by Michael Medved.

For more reading on Christian engagement of the culture of Hollywood, check out “Would C.S. Lewis Have Risked a Disney ‘Nightmare’?” and “The Culture’s Animating Values.”

And here are a few sources for Christian reviews of current and past films: Christianity Today Movies, Decent Films Guide, and World Magazine’s Cinema Veritas.