Category: Business and Society

Blog author: jballor
Monday, December 17, 2007
By

Late last Friday the US Senate passed a federal farm subsidies bill, amounting to over $286 billion over five years.

For the first time funding has been extended to new areas like support for fruits and vegetables. That $3 billion of the bill is not direct aid, but rather is marked for “research, marketing, farm markets and providing fruits and vegetables to more school children.”

So perhaps you can expect the federal government, as any good nanny state should, to fund initiatives mimicking this to convince your children that “carrots want to go to the party in your tummy.” (Hey, it works on my 2 and a half year-old.)


David Gavin, a fruit and vegetable farmer in Michigan, says of dependence on federal subsidies, “When you look at how much is spent, you start scratching your head. I’m glad we (fruit and vegetable growers) haven’t gone down that road. Once you get to a certain size, I think you can afford to do it on your own.”

And by the way, you can check out a brief interview I did yesterday morning on the topic of farm subsidies with Charlotte, NC talk radio station WBT 1110-AM here, based in part on the Acton Commentary Ray Nothstine and I wrote a few weeks back.

See also: Jimmy Carter, “Subsidies’ Harvest of Misery,” Washington Post

Blog author: dwbosch
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
By

Who’s the Worst Nanny of 2007? No surprise the list includes PETA:

The competition is fierce. Vying for the title: Overzealous state legislators pushing bans on common food ingredients; health officials prohibiting full-grown adults from eating dessert; prominent food activists caught in acts of rank hypocrisy; and animal-rights fanatics using the force of law to make food companies conform to their radical anti-meat dogmas… Adria Hinkle and Andrew Cook, “Dumped Dogs Tell No Tales” Award — People for the “Ethical” Treatment of Animals (PETA) employees Hinkle and Cook admitted in court to picking up healthy dogs and cats from North Carolina-area shelters, killing the animals in the back of their PETA-owned van, and tossing the bodies into nearby dumpsters.

This one takes the cake too – literally:

Putnam County Office for the Aging, “86-ing Octogenarians’ Food Choices” Award — Health officials in this small New York county tried to take donuts from the elderly. To protest the ban on donated baked goods at local retirement centers, senior citizens wore signs to remind officials that they’re “86, not 8.”

Bet ya a buck all these self-appointed society nannies are "pro-choice" too.

[Don’s other habitat is The Evangelical Ecologist.]

I’ve seen this commercial a number of times this holiday season and it bothers me more and more every time:


But what precisely is wrong with this ad, and the spirit that animates it?

Rev. Billy might say that the problem lies with the gifts themselves. While he might be satisfied if the gifts came from places such as “the shelves of mom and pop stores, farmers markets, artisans and on Craigslist,” he certainly wouldn’t approve of gifts from a “big box” store like Best Buy.

But I don’t think the problem is with the gifts per se. I think it’s with the “givers.”

Speaking of material goods, Augustine writes, “Sin gains entrance through these and similar good things when we turn to them with immoderate desire, since they are the lowest kind of goods and we thereby turn away from the better and higher: from you yourself, O Lord our God, and your truth and your law.” Material goods, just like any other created reality, can be an occasion for sin and idolatry.

So if that is the problem, with our immoderate desires, what is the solution? Reordered desires. Rightly valuing material goods and gifts as penultimate and limited created goods.

What might change in this commercial if we applied these solutions? How would the commercial look different? Rev. Billy might have the family give handmade gifts or secondhand items, or perhaps forego material gifts altogether and take a family walk. These things all have their own value.

But there are good things at Best Buy and other stores, too. That’s what makes it so important to be discerning about how we use good gifts, and that’s what makes Rev. Billy’s message so problematic.

An Augustinian solution to the problem in that Best Buy ad would be something more like this: the family would bring some gifts to Grandma to share with her, and the family would all spend time together enjoying each others’ company and the material goods associated with the holiday. The focus wouldn’t be exclusively on the gifts themselves (as it is in the commercial’s current form), but neither would such a view denigrate the objective, albeit limited, good of material gift-giving.

Rev. Billy: “We’re supporters of Jesus.”


What’s wrong with Christmas consumerism? It isn’t the fact of consumption itself. It’s in the disordered and immoderate desires for earthly goods when compared with the truly and ultimately important spiritual goods.

So while the Best Buy ad runs afoul of virtue by over-emphasizing material goods, Rev. Billy goes to the opposite extreme by not valuing them enough. As Augustine also wrote, “He who uses temporal goods ill, however, shall lose them, and shall not receive eternal goods either.” This would include not appreciating the material benefits God bestows on us.

Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president of the Acton Institute, is scheduled to join Fox Business host David Asman tonight to discuss the new documentary, “What Would Jesus Buy?” They’ll be joined by documentary producer Morgan Spurlock and performance artist Bill Talen, of the “Church of Stop Shopping.” The segment is set to air between 7-8 p.m. Eastern time. Check your local listings — and expect a lively debate.

Watch the WWJB? trailer here.

Update: Here’s the interview…

Are farmers hooked on pork?

Jordan Ballor and Ray Nothstine look at the current battle over farm subsidies. “By encouraging the production of overabundant commodities, the government is creating a cycle of dependency that undermines entrepreneurial initiative,” they write.

Read the full commentary here.

Blog author: jspalink
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
By

What’s behind the stunning defeat of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez in a popular referendum this week? Undoubtedly, he overestimated the appeal of his “21st century socialism” among Latin Americans. A new poll also shows that the most trusted institution in Latin America is not the government — but the Catholic Church.

Read the full commentary here.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
By

When I first heard that the epic tale of Beowulf was being made into a feature-length film, I was excited. Ever since I had first seen the live-action version of The Fellowship of the Ring from Peter Jackson, I had thought that a similar project could do a wonderful job with the Beowulf epic.

And then when I learned that the Beowulf film was going to be done entirely with computer-generated images (CGI), I was disappointed. Frankly I lost interest in seeing the movie entirely. But as time wore on, enthusiasm for the film from some of my friends, as well as some of the trailers, reinvigorated my hopes for the film version of the Beowulf epic.

And now that I’ve seen the film, I’m crestfallen. To be sure, the movie delivers in the special effects department. I saw the IMAX 3D version, which is projected in 3D throughout the entirety of the film. One of the advantages of using CGI which I had not considered at first, was the quality of the 3D images. In contrast to the climactic scene in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, for instance, the 3D effects were crisp, clean, and stunning.

That’s where the strengths of the film end, however. Far too often the plot deviates from the storyline that made the Beowulf epic a classic for the last millennium. Set in the fifth and sixth centuries of the common era, the Beowulf story includes all the great elements of heroic mythical narrative. The modern retelling departs from the tale’s classic history in at least two major ways, and these departures are most decidedly not improvements.


The first has to do with the treatment of religion, specifically Christianity, in the modern version. While the poem was first composed in the high Middle Ages, it was set in a pagan culture prior to the Christianization of Scandinavia. There is a great deal of scholarly debate on whether the tale is solely about pagan virtues or whether Beowulf is “a Christian Ur-hero, symbolically refulgent with Christian virtues.”

In the new film version, Beowulf is neither simply a pre-Christian pagan nor a proto-Christian eminent pagan. Christianity plays an explicit and confused role in the film, seemingly brought in to act as a counter-point to Beowulf’s embodiment of the pagan heroic virtues. At one point, Beowulf seems to be reading directly from a text like Nietzche’s The Anti-Christ. In contrast to Beowulf’s heroic humanism, the hero would agree with Nietzsche, “Under Christianity the instincts of the subjugated and the oppressed come to the fore: it is only those who are at the bottom who seek their salvation in it.”

If the attempt to bring Christianity explicitly into the Beowulf tale was an attempt by Hollywood to cater to the newly invigorated evangelical demographic, it fails at the same level of ineptitude as Howard Dean’s attempt to woo Christian voters in his 2004 election run (when asked what his favorite New Testament book was, Dean responded, “Job”).

Besides injecting this curiously modern anti-Christian element into the story, the people responsible for translating the epic poem into a screenplay modify the plot of the story greatly. Without giving away any spoilers to those who insist on seeing the film in spite of my warnings, I’ll only say that the Beowulf epic is conflated with a dynamic from another great hero saga, that of King Arthur and his demise at the hands of his bastard son Mordred.

If you are looking for a modern work recasting the Beowulf epic in a new way that is actually interesting and compelling, check out John Gardner’s novel Grendel, which tells the tale from the monster’s perspective in a quirky twist of existentialist angst. Unless you go to the film solely for the special effects or have absolutely no appreciation for the narrative legacy of the epic, avoid this Beowulf film.

Oh, and there are no fire snakes. Boo!

See also: “Never Mind Grendel. Can Beowulf Conquer the 21st-Century Guilt Trip?”

And: “Anti-Christian Crusade: Beowulf is the latest installment in Hollywood’s attempt to reconfigure history.”

Cross-posted at Blogcritics.org