Category: Public Policy

Before reading the rest of this post, let’s try a little experiment. Here are a set of quotations…your job is to decide who said it, a real-life scientist or Agent Smith from the Matrix trilogy (see answer key below the jump):

“Do you hear that, Mr. Anderson? That is the sound of inevitability.”

1. Humans are “no better than bacteria!”

2. “Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet.”

3. “There is no denying the natural world would be a better place without people. ALL people!”

4. “Planet Earth could use another major human pandemic, and pronto!”

5. “Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment, but humans do not. Humans move to an area, and multiply, and multiply, until every natural resource is consumed.”

PowerBlog contributor Don Bosch has a great post over at his home blog, the Evangelical Ecologist, reacting to today’s piece from Deroy Murdock, “For them, people are just in the way.”

Murdock cites William Burger’s letter to Acton’s Jay Richards, in which Burger says, among other things, “From where I sit, Planet Earth could use another major human pandemic, and pronto!” Check out the full text of Burger’s letter in PDF form here. (more…)

A recent NYT article outlines some recent research showing that many people who give to charity “often tolerate high administrative costs, fail to monitor charities and do not insist on measurable results — the opposite of how they act when they invest in the stock market.” Tyler Cowen writes in “Investing in Good Deeds Without Checking the Prospectus,” about the research of John A. List, a professor at the University of Chicago, which “implies that most donors do not respond when they have opportunities to be more effective in their giving.”

Cowen, who is a professor of economics at George Mason and blogs here, concludes, “If donors do not abandon failing causes, those efforts will continue. Perhaps the content of donor pride needs to change. Rather than taking pride only in their generosity, donors should also take pride in their willingness to confront unpleasant news.”

The bottom line is that when you give to charity, you have a responsibility to give to charities that are good stewards of the money, thereby rewarding good charities and punishing bad ones. Doing this gives the proper incentives for charities to work well.

Part of the problem is that people may not really know how to measure the effectiveness and stewardship of a given charity. The Acton Institute’s Samaritan Guide is a tool designed to assist donors in meeting this responsibility.

Indeed, Acton’s effective compassion initiatives, based on Marvin Olasky’s seven principles for effective compassion, are largely based on providing the education that donors need to find out the sort of issues and questions that they should be asking.

HT: EconLog

Blog author: kschmiesing
Friday, June 16, 2006
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I’ve noted before the ballooning and bipartisan feeding at the public trough conducted by this Congress, for projects of dubious value.

Brian Riedl reports on NRO today that there is at last some good news. Some of the pork from the latest spending bill has been plucked, credit due not least to a strong veto threat from the president. One might speculate that Republicans are rediscovering the benefits of spending restraint just in time to impress voters in November—but that doesn’t explain how President Bush suddenly found the gumption to do something he should have done many times before.

“Amtrak officials seem to be working hard to patch up the older parts of the system. But recent delays serve as only the latest reminder that Amtrak’s problems are not bad management so much as stingy government. With gas prices up and airplanes overloaded, the nation’s leaders should be trying to figure out why this advanced nation does not have a more advanced passenger rail system.” Thus says an editorial in today’s NYT, blaming the lack of government subsidy for the woes of the US train system.

It doesn’t seem to occur to the editorial writer that the current situation may in fact be the result of the railway system’s historic dependence on the government, which has fostered the inability to run competitively, independently, and efficiently. To me this sounds like the lament when any other government program fails: “But we didn’t have enough funding!”

I do know that booking travel on an Amtrak train can often be more expensive than flying by plane to the same destination. If a slower, more expensive form of transportation is what government subsidization gets you, no thanks.

Blog author: jspalink
Thursday, June 15, 2006
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During this year’s hurricane season, global warming will likely become a topic of discussion at dinner tables across the United States (and likely in other countries as well).

Al Gore recently released his documentary on climate change. “An Incovenient Truth” asserts that global warming is indeed a real occurance, and that it is being caused by CO2 being pumped into the atmosphere by factories, vehicles, etc. Gore also asserts that the majority of the “scientific community” agree that global warming is a human caused phenomenon. Tom Harris, writing for the Canada Free Press says that climatologists are beginning to get fed up with these assertions.

Harris argues that the so-called “majority” of scientists who are cited in reports like those in Gore’s film are not climatologists. They are very qualified in reporting the effects of climate change, but are not qualified to report on the causes of climate change. Reports that computer simulations predict massive climage change are also misleading. These simulations are not really predictions, they are scenarios. According to Dr. Tim Ball, climatology professor at the University of Winnipeg, not only are these models only scenarios but “these models have been consistently wrong in all their scenarios.” Ball claims that it is irresponsible that the researchers behind these simulations have allowed the public to think that their scenarios are predictions.

Graph of solar activity versus climate

Before I point you to the rest of the article, there’s a quote from a professor of climatology that I loved: “Gore’s circumstantial arguments are so weak that they are pathetic. It is simply incredible that they, and his film, are commanding public attention.” That comes from Prof. Bob Carter.

Now, while I don’t endorse massive pollution of the environment on principle, I also don’t condone finger pointing at empty space (there is a big star that tends to have quite an impact…some people call it the Sun). That said, this is a great review and commentary on global warming that also cites several experts on climate change.

If you’re interested in reading more about climate issues, check out our entries tagged with “global warming” and “climate change.”

Hat tip, Slashdot.

Pro-family and church groups are battling over a proposed policy that would allow viewers to select their cable TV plans on an “a la carte” basis. But why are they asking the federal government to referee this fight? In this week’s Acton Commentary, I examine at the most powerful communications policy: Turning off the TV.

Read the full commentary here.

Related Items:

Daniel Pulliam, “Preachers and pornographers unite,” GetReligion, June 12, 2006.

Jordan J. Ballor, “Evangelicals and Cable TV,” Acton Institute PowerBlog, June 12, 2006.

Piet Levy, “Evangelicals vs. Christian Cable,” Washington Post, June 10, 2006.

Jordan J. Ballor, “Concerns about A La Carte,” Acton Institute PowerBlog, January 2, 2006.

Jordan J. Ballor, “A La Carte,” Acton Institute PowerBlog, December 2, 2005.

Jordan J. Ballor, “Faith in the FCC,” Acton Commentary, March 23, 2005.

Jordan J. Ballor, “Confusing Coercion and Conversion,” Acton Commentary, May 5, 2004.

Jordan J. Ballor, “Television not to blame for America’s laziness,” The State News, January 16, 1997.

Joe Knippenberg, who blogs at No Left Turns, provides a thoughtful and engaging analysis of the particulars of the recent Iowa court decision finding against InnerChange Freedom Initiative, an outreach of Prison Fellowship Ministries. In “Penitents in the Penitentiary?,” at The American Enterprise Online, Knippenberg writes, “Despite my general support for the faith-based initiative, and for religious efforts to put the penitence back in penitentiaries, I’m inclined for the most part to agree with Judge Pratt. In this particular case, where the state and Prison Fellowship self-consciously tested the outer bounds of current church-state jurisprudence, they went too far.”

Reaction from PFM’s president Mark Earley is available here and at the special IFI verdict page. I have written before in support of work of PFM, and this decision does nothing to change my mind on that score.

It does expose the real complexities involved with taking for Christian ministries, even those that have a strong social service component. As Knippenberg writes, InnerChange staff ran up against the difficulties of abiding by what I consider to be the increasingly rigid and invalid separation of secular and sacred elements: “Where so much of the program is devoted to inculcating a Christian worldview, it is difficult, if not impossible, to precisely delineate what portion of a staffer’s time, or what fraction of a piece of equipment’s value is devoted to secular, as opposed to religious, purposes.”

I’ve written more about the entanglements and effects of the faith-based initiative in the case of the Silver Ring Thing, and there’s conversation between myself and Knippenberg on this linked here, here and here.

Blog author: jcouretas
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
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TerraPass is a way to assuage a guilty conscience caused by your car’s CO2 emissions. In the interest of trying to be balanced on the whole CO2 debate, here’s a link to their climate change blog with plenty of GW posts.

To each his own. But it sounds like a way for the common folk to buy into what Iain Murray calls "the new aristocracy:"

Al Gore justifies his enjoyment of a carbon-intensive lifestyle in a speech in the UK:

He said he was "carbon neutral" himself and he tried to offset any plane flight or car journey by "purchasing verifiable reductions in CO2 elsewhere".

Translation: I am rich enough to benefit from executive jets and Lincolns because I pay my indulgences. All you proles have to give up your cars, flights and air conditioning. The new aristocracy; there’s no other way to describe it.

I can’t afford a G-5, but thanks to TerraPass, I don’t have to give up my car or A/C now.

You can do whatever you want with your money, and obviously this isn’t the worst way to spend it. But I hope people buying this service will make sure it actually goes to alternative energy and doesn’t become just another trough to fund global warming politics.

"Indulgences" is an interesting choice of words, by the way. If you’re new to church history, Martin Luther’s stand against this method of buying your way out of a guilty conscience had him branded by the Catholic aristocracy as a heretic. The way the global warming debate is going, the heretic label will be plastered on anybody who defies the religion of climate change. Maybe it’s fair to place the blame squarely on false religion, which has set up this whole notion that guilt is something you can buy or work your way out of.

Christ is the only answer to guilt driven ecology. As EEN describes in this series of Bible passages, people are guilty of sin (including pollution). God loved us enough to send Jesus to tell us first hand about stewardship, and then pay the price for our guilt by dying on a cross. He sends the Spirit of a risen Christ to transform our lives and ultimately all of creation. Christian ecologists are motivated by love instead of guilt, living out our thankfulness for what God’s done for us by loving others and caring for what God has made.

So rather than only spending our money to "make a difference," maybe we should be spending more time on our knees getting to know the One who made us and everything around us, and find out what He wants us to do to be good stewards of it.

Look – You can toss a couple bucks in the offering plate and go home to watch football on a Sunday afternoon, or you can invest your life in a Christian community and volunteer your time. In the same way, you can toss your money at others to plant your tree for you, or you can spend a day picking up trash or planting trees yourself, and give God a chance to get you outside in his Creation for a while.

The choice is ours to make. The consequences are eternal. And as far as getting rid of that guilt is concerned, it doesn’t cost a red cent.

On April 3, I reported the story of Texas scientist Eric Pianka, who allegedly argued in a speech that the only hope for the planet was for a mutated Ebola virus to exterminate 90% of the human population. Forrest Mims, who attended the speech, broke the story. Over the next few weeks, there was a media firestorm over the incident, and Mims was accused of misrepresenting Pianka’s speech. As a result, I received several emails telling me that I should retract the story. I did not, and I have no plans on doing so. I remain convinced that Mims basically got the story right.

The problem was that Pianka had asked that video cameras be turned off during his speech, and partial transcripts released later failed to fully corraborate Mims’ account. But, as Mims’ pointed out, the transcript lacked precisely the part of the speech with the offensive comments. In any event, Mims’ claim had several other corroborating pieces of evidence, which James Redford discusses in a blog posted entitled, “Forrest Mims Did Not Misrepresent Eric Pianka.” Cathy Young’s piece in the Boston Globe focused the issue properly: the point was not that Pianka had called for the active extermination of 90% of the population. It’s that he thought such an extermination by natural causes (like the Ebola virus) would be a “good thing.”

This story became especially irritating because many bloggers were more interested in the views of Forrest Mims than of Eric Pianka. Perhaps more troubling is that many commentators insisted that a respected scientist would never say that he looked forward to the deaths of billions of human beings. As a result, these commentators assigned Mims’ account a prior probability of about 0. This meant that virtually no evidence would be enough to confirm that Pianka had said more or less what Mims reported.

But anyone who reads widely in the environmental literature knows that suggestions such as Pianka’s are not uncommon. In fact, the desire for mass human death follows logically from the anti-human beliefs of some radical environmentalists. Some are more consistent in their beliefs than others. But Pianka is by no means the only person to express such opinions. Back in November, 2005, I reported on some personal correspondence from a prominent scientist, who expressed some Piankish views. He complained about “the devastation humans are currently imposing upon our planet” and then added:

Still, adding over seventy million new humans to the planet each year, the future looks pretty bleak to me. Surely, the Black Death was one of the best things that ever happened to Europe: elevating the worth of human labor, reducing environmental degradation, and, rather promptly, producing the Renaissance. From where I sit, Planet Earth could use another major human pandemic, and pronto!

Since I didn’t post the letter, however, I received several skeptical inquiries. So, in light of the recent events surrounding Pianka, I have decided to post a PDF of the letter. Anyone who looks at this letter will notice that it did not come from some obscure researcher, but from a scientist who for many years held a significant position. I do not post this for the purpose of harming the individual who sent this letter. Rather, I am posting it in hopes that more people will recognize that profound misanthropy is afoot in the academic and scientific community, most of it officially motivated by a desire to save the planet. It is naive to continue acting as if this type of death wish is reserved for isolated crackpots. On the contrary, it is well on its way to being respectable opinion in some quarters–held by the well educated and the otherwise civilized–just as eugenics was respectable a century ago.

A story over the weekend in Washington Post gives a good overview of the mixed motives behind evangelical campaigning for and against a la carte pricing of cable channels, despite the poorly chosen title, “Evangelicals vs. Christian Cable” (as if Christian broadcasters aren’t largely evangelicals of some sort or another). Just a sign that in the MSM evangelical is becoming a term with primarily political rather than theological content.

On the one side, lobbyists who want to be able to single out stations that they don’t want to receive. For some evangelicals, this is important because they don’t want to pay for or support stations that carry objectionable material.

On the other side, Christian cable broadcasters who are concerned that there won’t be enough demand for them to stay afloat. Or if there is enough demand, it will only be among Christians, and so they ministry that these stations offer will be truncated.

This seems to me to be an either/or situation, and I’m generally in favor of the former, although if consumers really want a la carte they shouldn’t need the crutch of federal legislation to get it. If you are going to allow choice for moral reasons on the one hand, you can’t force other people to get religious programming if they don’t want it. As it works now, most of these Christian stations are simply there as part of the basic package, whether you want them or not.

“‘We do not believe that ‘a la carte’ is the cure for the disease,’ said Colby May, attorney for the Faith and Family Broadcasting Coalition, which represents Trinity and CBN, in addition to other stations. ‘In fact, it is a cure that may very well kill the patient.'”

“But the Christian networks’ main concern is that the only ones willing to subscribe would be Christians. If a la carte were in existence, May argues, conversion experiences for alcoholics and people contemplating suicide or suffering from a crumbling marriage never would have happened.”

I actually do have some sympathy for this argument, but am not swayed simply because TBN and other Christian cable broadcasters are enjoying a sort of subsidization of their ministries from cable companies by means of these limited and rigid packages. What TBN and CBN have to fear is that many Christians won’t even sign up to pay for their station programming, and there are other ways to get the gospel message out to people, free of charge.

The Back to God Hour, for example, is the electronic media ministry of the CRC, and part of what the ministry does is to use radio signals to pipe the Gospel into areas where Christianity may be oppressed or illegal. By the way, Bob Heerspink, new director of the Back to God Hour, blogs here.

More thoughts here previously, here and here.

Update: GetReligion weighs in on the issue.