Category: Public Policy

Hunter Baker, blogging at his new home on the American Spectator Blog (recently added to our blogroll), responds to a post by James G. Poulos, which emphasizes President Bush’s “proposed emphasis on math and science education, to the patent detriment of the humanities.”

Says Baker, “Although I am a faithful disciple of the humanities, I often take comfort in the fact that the majority of students won’t have much exposure to the offerings on hand. Better they remain busy with their business and engineering degrees than that they should hear too much of the soul-killing discourses that reign in the older buildings on campus.”

I have pointed out the funding disparities between the humanities and the sciences before in a paper given earlier this year (for a visual example of the disparity, click here). And Baker may well be right: what passes for the “humanities” in the acadmey today isn’t worth funding.

But in response to Poulos, the humanities, as they ought to be pursued, should receive more attention and funding commensurate with their value as the classical basis for Western civilization. But I also don’t think it’s in keeping with the humanist spirit to make their pursuit dependent on government funding, which is why I also point out, “public sources of funding, or the lack thereof, are not the end of the tale. Most freely available digital history initiatives are underwritten in whole or in part by private charitable foundations.”

Blog author: jballor
Monday, July 24, 2006
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An article in yesterday’s NYT, “Saving the World, One Video Game at a Time,” by Clive Thompson, gives a good overview of the current trend in the video game industry, especially by nonprofits and activist groups, to create “serious games,” a movement which “has some serious brain power behind it. It is a partnership between advocates and nonprofit groups that are searching for new ways to reach young people, and tech-savvy academics keen to explore video games’ educational potential.”

“What everyone’s realizing is that games are really good at illustrating complex situations,” said Suzanne Seggerman, one of the organizers of the third annual Games for Change conference in New York. “And we have so many world conflicts that are at a standstill. Why not try something new?”

One such game is Peacemaker, which is a political simulation based on the current situation in the Middle East. Another is the World Food Programme’s Food Force (which I review here).

Of course, serious simulations are nothing new in the gaming world, and even predate the advent of video media. An argument could be made, for example, that games like Axis & Allies and Risk, while focusing on military aspects, are in some sense serious (albeit limited) teachers about the realities of war policy and foreign affairs. And games like Shadow President, released in the early 1990s, are relatively complex and immersive political simulations.

A typical game of Risk in play. Many game elements such as the board, dice, units and cards are visible. (GNU Free Documentation License)

Related PowerBlog Items:

“Video Games Can Save Lives and More…”, Thursday, June 1, 2006.

“Speaking a Language They Can Understand”, Wednesday, February 15, 2006.

‘Your mind makes it real’, Tuesday, November 22, 2005.

“Vidiocy”, Thursday, August 11, 2005.

“Family Values and Grand Theft Auto”
, Wednesday, July 27, 2005.

“Game Review: Food Force”, Thursday, May 12, 2005.

Juliet Eilperin, “Bush Pollution Curbs Are Rated Equal to Clinton’s: Science Panel Says Proposed Cap-and-Trade System Will Help Clean Air,” Washington Post, July 24, 2006:

The report from the National Academy of Sciences, released yesterday, represents the latest effort to assess how best to reduce air pollution estimated to cause as many as 24,000 premature deaths each year. The panel concluded that an earlier Bush plan would have allowed pollution to increase over a dozen years, but it found that the administration’s more recent Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) — which targets emissions from power plants in 22 states and the District of Columbia — would help clean the air over the next two decades.

The CAIR approach aims to reduce nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions by 70 percent by 2025 at the latest, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, through a system that would allow utilities to sell and buy pollution credits as long as industry emissions as a whole stayed below a pre-set cap.

Cap-and-trade schemes may be better than command-and-control techniques, but maybe they’re not all they’re cracked up to be.

Hugh Ross, “The Faint Sun,” Facts for Faith, Reasons to Believe, 2002:

The timing of humanity’s arrival—near the end of life’s long tenure on Earth—may appear tragic at first glance. But a longer look suggests it may be viewed as a gift. Scanning the horizon of civilization—farms, ranches, towns, cities, and all the transportation and communication arteries linking them—one sees a plethora of building materials derived from nearly 4 billion years of life and death: gems, sand, steel, asphalt, concrete, copper, limestone, marble, plastics, etc. Most of the energy that drives civilization comes from biodeposits—oil, coal, wood, kerogen, natural gas, and so forth. Many of the fertilizers that support agricultural production also come from biodeposits—phosphates, nitrates, and such.

Such bountiful provisions powerfully indicate a Provider who carefully planned and prepared the planet through the ages for human life. They speak of a purpose for the human race. The Bible reveals a purpose that involves, yet goes beyond, the current “heavens and Earth.”

More here on the providential purpose for petroleum. (HT: John Linsley of RTB)

Associated Press, “Christian Ministry Wants to Build Turbines to Spread the Gospel,” The Church Report, July 23, 2006:

A Christian ministry group wants to build 36 wind turbines on the roof of a former steel company to generate money to help spread its message….

Energy produced by the turbines will be sold back to Wisconsin Energy Corp. through a buyback program.

More here on these so-called “Cuisinarts of the air.”

After ruminating earlier this week about foreign policy and just war, I asked a series of interrelated questions yesterday about just war.

Prof. Bainbridge was kind enough to respond, and offered the critically important distinction between jus ad bellum and jus in bello, that is, justness up to war and justness in war. This gets at the difference between justification for the cause or occasion for war, causus belli, and the way in which that war is conducted.

Bainbridge concludes, “As I understand it, violations of jus in bello do not affect the jus ad bellum question. As an example, I think most people have concluded that the RAF’s deliberate targeting of civilians during WWII violated the principles of jus in bello. But I don’t know anybody who thinks that WWII therefore was an unjust war.”

He also refers the matter to Prof. Anthony Clark Arend of Georgetown, who affirms this distinction, but who also passes along the take of his mentor, the late William V’ O’Brien of Georgetown, on the relationship between the two senses of just war: “for O’Brien, for a party to be deemed to be acting justly in a given conflict, it would have to ‘meet substantially’ both the jus ad bellum and jus in bello criteria.”

My questions and confusion certainly arises from a conflation of the two senses of just war, as Bainbridge rightly points out. I do think, however, that such a conflation or composite sense of the term is the popular usage. Certainly, at least, on its own the term just war is ambiguous, especially if it has this divided sense betwen jus ad bellum and jus in bello. The meaning of simply calling a particular war just is not clear in and of itself, and raises the sorts of questions I had yesterday. Is a particular war just in its causes, its execution, or both? If each is distinction is a necessary but not sufficient condition for describing a war as just, perhaps we ought only to use the bare term just war by itself to refer to this composite sense.

One implication of this question is what I was trying to get at yesterday…that is, that the way in which a particular war is waged can make a war unjust, even when the criteria for jus ad bellum is met. This is also what Prof. Bainbridge was arguing in his TCS Daily column. Prof. Arend also gives us his judgment in this matter: “To me that does not mean that every single use of force by each and every soldier be proportionate or discriminate for the war to be just, but rather that the general policy and practice of the belligerent is to use force in a proportionate and discriminate manner.”

This raises the further prudential issue of judging what is the general policy and practice of the nation at war. Does the use of WMD as a policy negate the jus in bello and therefore make the war unjust? This gets back to my question about the use of annihilating tactics in WWII. It is hypothetically possible that a war that is just in its causes can be executed in a way that makes the war itself unjust. This is in fact what Prof. Bainbridge seems to be arguing in the case of the current Israel/Lebanon conflict, but also what he does not acknowledge with regard to WWII. Or again, perhaps in the case of WWII the preponderance of Allied policy and practice met the criteria for jus in bello, and therefore this condition was met, despite the firebombing of Dresden and the nuclear attacks on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

Update: Exhibit A…The Remedy’s Michael Brandon McClellan concludes regarding the Israel/Lebanon conflict, “This is war, and it is a just war.” It is unclear to me whether he is looking exclusively at what we would label the ius ad bellum issues in making this judgment, or arguing that the ius in bello criteria need to be contextualized within the broader historical situation.

Update #2: A round-up of related commentary has been posted at Against the Grain.

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post about just war, I’m passing along this TCS Daily piece by Prof. Bainbridge, “Just War for the Sake of Argument” (it’s also discussed at The Remedy and Bainbridge’s own blog).

Bainbridge’s piece measures the current Lebanon/Israel conflict by the standards of just war, and finds it wanting. He makes the following important point: “Although Catholic scholars and theologians have thus made valuable contributions to the just war tradition down through the centuries, the principles of that doctrine apply to everyone, not just Catholics. Just war is a part of both the natural law and the positive international law.”

I have wondered about these issues the past week in various forms. Here are some attempts to formulate the question: Must all acts committed in a war meet the just war standard in order for the war to be just? That is, must a just war be perfectly just? If not, must the aggregate of the acts simply weigh in favor of a preponderance of justice? Or must the officially commanded actions and campaigns meet the standard, while the actions of individual soldiers are exempt?

One of the points here is that just war is not simply about justification for war, but also about the way in which that war must be conducted. Just how many unjust acts can a just war encompass before it ceases to be a just war? Does the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or the firebombing of Dresden, for example, mean that World War II is not a just war?

Blog author: dphelps
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
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“…can one build something lasting if the goal is not truth, but power? The few, most penetrating minds of that time understood that what constitutes the sickness of contemporary culture is the repudiation of truth for the sake of action…”
Czeslaw Milosz, 1942

In this week’s commentary, “Transcendence and Obsolescence: The Responsible Stewardship of Oil,” I ask the question: “Why did God create oil?” I raise the question within the context of debates about global warming and the burning of fossil fuels, including Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth and the work of the Evangelical Climate Initiative.

I argue that nonrenewable resources, especially fossil fuels, “have the created purpose of providing relatively cheap and pervasive sources of energy. These limited and finite resources help raise the standard of living and economic situation of societies to the point where technological research is capable of finding even cheaper, more efficient, renewable, and cleaner sources of energy.” Nuclear power is one source that meets these criteria. The NRO blog Reconcilable Differences passes along this NYT magazine story about the potentially bleak future for nuclear power in America, “Atomic Balm?”

The point about nuclear energy is important because the burning of coal accounts for over half of the domestic use of electricity, and that high-profile campaigns like “What Would Jesus Drive?” paper over this key fact. I wonder “just how many coal-powered SUVs have you seen lately?”

Well, it turns out that there is technology that allows us to turn coal into oil, although it is costly and potentially ineffecient. Even so, the high costs of oil are currently turning this into a more feasible economic possibility. For more on this, see this NYT story, “Mining for Diesel Fuel; The Search for New Oil Sources Leads to Processed Coal” (TimesSelect required).

Read the entire commentary here.

One of the more lively and illuminating discussions at last week’s Advanced Studies in Freedom seminar revolved around the question whether and how classical liberalism is applicable to foreign policy, specifically with regard to questions of war. In the New York Times earlier this week, Robert Wright, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, wrote a lengthy op-ed that bears on the relevant questions, “An American Foreign Policy That Both Realists and Idealists Should Fall in Love With.”

Wright argues, “It’s now possible to build a foreign policy paradigm that comes close to squaring the circle — reconciling the humanitarian aims of idealists with the powerful logic of realists.” He calls this paradigm “progressive realism” and the remainder of the essay outlines the planks of such a platform. Wright’s alternative is rife with important observations and useful principles.

For example, he writes that “the national interest can be served by constraints on America’s behavior when they constrain other nations as well. This logic covers the spectrum of international governance, from global warming (we’ll cut carbon dioxide emissions if you will) to war (we’ll refrain from it if you will).” Even so, the problem beyond the mere curtailment of absolute national sovereignty is the ability of mutual enforcement. America doesn’t want to get stuck being the only one who plays by the rules.

Wright also observes that “domestic security depends increasingly on popular sentiment abroad makes it important for America to be seen as a good global citizen — respecting international laws and norms and sensing the needs of neighbors…. Much of the war on terror isn’t military.” There’s a sense in which what Wright is arguing for is a system of international affairs that will foster some sort of solidarity, an end that advocates of globalization and increasing free trade recognize. Thus Wright says, “A correlation of fortunes — being in the same boat with other nations in matters of economics, environment, security — is what makes international governance serve national interest. It is also what makes enlightened self-interest de facto humanitarian.”

During the discussions last week about classical liberalism and war, my reaction was not to first ask the question: “What is a classical liberal approach to war?” I’m not so concerned with simply finding and articulating a classical liberal position, but instead am focused on finging the right position.

To this end, I contend that we ought to begin with just war theory, an approach that predates by millennia the rise of classical liberal thought and which is officially advocated by the Roman Catholic Church, among others. We then might apply classical liberal principles and see to what extent the two are compatible, and there may be reason to adjust the conclusions of one or the other on the basis of an insight that one of the perspectives provides. It does strike me that on many levels, however, Wright’s “progressive realism” is an approach that has significant cross-over appeal for classical liberalism.

These are questions, of course, of the utmost relevance for today. A worthy post at the Belmont Club (HT: No Left Turns) raises the question of collateral damage and the loss of civilian life in military campaigns. This is an issue that stands at the heart of just war theory.

Detroit News editor Nolan Finley raised the question of our policy toward rogue regimes like Iran and North Korea: “Why don’t we just nuke ‘em?” You can gauge the response to this question from the survey of letters to the editor here. But even so, Finley’s column raises an important and real difficulty with regard to nuclear weapons: “We know as well as our enemies do that we’ll never push the button.”

As one of the faculty observed at the seminar last week, the question of whether it is immoral to possess nuclear weapons is different than the question of whether it is moral to use nuclear weapons, and the two may not be entirely compatible. There is the potential for a paradox, which is what Finley is getting at I think, in that it may well be moral to have nuclear weapons as a deterrent, in the style of mutually-assured destruction, but that it would always violate just war principles to use them. Even Finley’s emphasis on tactical and smart weapons is overwrought, I think, given that even conventional smart weapons almost always result in some sort of collateral damage to civilians. We have seen this most remarkably in the events between Lebanon and Israel in the last few days.

My piece on the debate over chimera research and the relevance of your worldview to the debate appears today at BreakPoint, “A Monster Created in Man’s Image.”

Drawing on the work of C.S. Lewis, and among the questions and conclusions included, I write, “Chimera research may indeed have some potential benefits, but we cannot ignore the question of potential costs. What toll does such research take on the dignity of human beings? Must we destroy the human person in order to save it? As a society, we need to question whether our technological reach has exceeded our moral grasp.”

This issue was thrust into the national spotlight when President Bush spoke about the creation of human-animal chimeras in his State of the Union address this past January: “A hopeful society has institutions of science and medicine that do not cut ethical corners and that recognize the matchless value of every life. Tonight I ask you to pass legislation to prohibit the most egregious abuses of medical research, human cloning in all its forms, creating or implanting embryos for experiments, creating human-animal hybrids, and buying, selling or patenting human embryos. Human life is a gift from our creator, and that gift should never be discarded, devalued or put up for sale.”

These kinds of stories make me sick, and they are all too common. In today’s Washington Post, a lengthy article examines the Livestock Compensation Program, which ran from 2002-2003, and cost over $1.2 billion.

In “No Drought Required For Federal Drought Aid,” Gilbert M. Gaul, Dan Morgan and Sarah Cohen report that over half of that money, “$635 million went to ranchers and dairy farmers in areas where there was moderate drought or none at all, according to an analysis of government records by The Washington Post. None of the ranchers were required to prove they suffered an actual loss. The government simply sent each of them a check based on the number of cattle they owned.”

Texas rancher Nico de Boer says, “The livestock program was a joke. We had no losses,” de Boer said. “I don’t know what Congress is thinking sometimes.” On the $40,000 he received, de Boer continues, “If there is money available, you might as well take it. You would be a fool not to.”

But the story doesn’t just stop there. The moral ambiguity of simply taking the money that is offered to you is eventually replaced by the incentives to actively seek out and campaign for more funds, effectively defrauding the government.

Under the original terms of the plan, “a rancher had to be in a county that was suffering from a drought and declared a disaster by the agriculture secretary in 2001 or 2002. More than 2,000 counties had such declarations at the time, including many with only modest dry spells.” But once the pork started flowing out of Washington, everyone wanted to get a spot at the trough.

Increasing pressure from lobbyists and special interests eventually made even the original flimsy requirements too onerous. Speaking of 2002, “There was pressure that year to grow emergency declarations for drought,” recalled Hunt Shipman, a former top USDA official who now works as a lobbyist in Washington.

The results? “Under Congress’s new version of the program in 2003, livestock owners could qualify as a result of any type of weather-related disaster declaration by the secretary of agriculture. Or they could become eligible if their county was included in a presidential disaster declaration. Under the new rules, the time period covered also was extended, to Feb. 20, 2003. One rule remained the same: Livestock owners still did not have to prove a loss.”

And under that new situation, “With the rules relaxed by Congress, federal agriculture officials pushed their local offices to find disasters that would make more livestock owners eligible, records and interviews show. It didn’t matter if it was a cold snap or a storm that was two years old.”

There’s not much else to say, I think, besides recognizing the truth that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10 NIV).