Category: Public Policy

Blog author: kwoods
posted by on Thursday, January 19, 2006
Wait for government help?

A couple of weeks ago, I noted the amazing “just do it” outpouring of compassion in response to the wildfires in the Central Plains. My small home town in Oklahoma was among those areas burned or seriously damaged by the fires.

Since Nov. 1, more than 363,000 acres, 220 structures and four deaths have been attributed to these wildfires. Much of the destruction has occured on Indian trust lands within such areas as the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muskogee Creek and Seminole tribal jurisdictions, as well as more densely populated areas like Oklahoma City and Edmond, Okla. As of Jan. 14, there were more than 1,000 fires and in excess of 411,000 acres burned.

But counter to the culture, many of the people affected don’t consider “government help” as the first response. Nor should they. According to one report, Oklahoma officials said it took FEMA 12 days to approve the state’s request for comprehensive disaster assistance to combat wildfires.

Of course Oklahomans are grateful for the useful government help they do get, especially for those emergency firefighters. But much of the relief work could be simply categorized as neighbors and church folks helping each other. An article from the United Methodist News Service quotes my mother’s pastor in Seminole: “Most of the work that’s done here is the community working together … We had already started doing that when the fires came.” They’re already starting to rebuild homes lost in the fire.

“The community really depends on one another and uses the churches as a hinge point for relief efforts,” said Rev. Wayne Loftin, pastor of Davis United Methodist Church.

When the need goes beyond what neighbors and community can provide, then the next level of assistance in this case has been the conference-based United Methodist Committee on Relief. The efforts of multiple churches in multiple denominations contribute, too.

Don Oxford from the Davis church said, “We didn’t do anything heroic. We just do whatever we need to do.”

Would that we could all expand our own responses to the daily needs of neighbors around us, never waiting for international, national or even local agencies to show up. Dig in and get started. So many people are willing to help and in a way that helps people rebuild their lives. And this work greatly enriches personal relationships, quickly blurring the lines between helped and helper.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, January 19, 2006

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.

A Stanford expert on philanthropy argues that tax-deductible American charity is actually a government subsidy and that philanthropy is not ‘redistributive’ enough. Acton’s Karen Woods points out (obvious to most) that helping the needy is not the exclusive domain of the state. “The real problem with government ‘charity’ is that government takes a ‘one size fits all’ approach to the problem of poverty,” Woods writes.

Read the complete commentary here.

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Friday, January 13, 2006

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: mvandermaas
posted by on Friday, January 13, 2006

There’s interesting news on the global warming front in today’s Financial Times:

Everyone knows trees are “A Good Thing”. They take in the carbon dioxide that threatens our planet with global warming and turn it into fresh, clean oxygen for us all to breathe.

But now it seems we need to think again. In a discovery that has left climate scientists gasping, researchers have found that the earth’s vegetation is churning out vast quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas far more potent even than CO2. This is not a product of trees and plants rotting, which everyone already knew was a source of methane; it is an entirely natural side-effect of plant growth that scientists had somehow missed. Yet it is by no means trivial: preliminary estimates suggest that living trees and plants account for about 10 to 30 per cent of the methane entering the atmosphere.

(Via The Corner) The whole article is well worth a read. Perhaps it’s not such a great idea to destroy the global economy via Kyoto in order to save the planet from a phenomenon that may have much more to do with natural causes than climate change advocates have been willing to admit.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, January 13, 2006

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!”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, January 12, 2006

Continuing the discussion of energy usage from yesterday, check out this review in the New York Sun of Children of the Sun (W.W. Norton), by Alfred Crosby, emeritus professor of history, geography, and American studies at the University of Texas.

Reviewer Peter Pettus says that Crosby “has written a direct and clearly expressed analysis of the energy problem without hysterics, apocalyptic threats, or partisan rancor.” These, of course, are the precisely the characteristics that are so often found in discussions of energy policy.

Crosby finds that the essence of the problem is this: “we cannot solve the growing problem of our dwindling supplies of fossil fuels by turning to such popular palliatives as wind farms and solar panels, because to do so would condemn millions of our fellow humans to inevitable death. The answer to this dilemma is (as always): We must somehow find new sources of energy. The question is: where?”

Crosby does not rest at simply raising the question, but attempts to find a solution. Must we find a new answer, some novel technology as yet undreamt of? No, for “it already exists: the nuclear reactor waits at our elbow like a superb butler.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, January 12, 2006

Some new developments on the idea to move cable television to an a la carte subscription model: Christians and minorities are “concerned.”

According to the Christian Science Monitor, FCC chairman Kevin Martin is pressuring cable providers to move away from the tier-based subscription system to “a full thumbs-up/thumbs-down choice of individual channels.”

In what’s sure to tweak the sensibilities of the cable industry, Martin threatened that if no such moves were made, “basic indecency and profanity restrictions may be a viable alternative.” In other words, it’s the “Do what I want or there’ll be trouble” method of politicking.

The pressure by the FCC may in fact work against the existence of such “family friendly” or religious fare. In a curious confluence, “Democratic politicians and Christian broadcasters are crying foul. They are concerned that a wide expansion of channel choice could raise cable and satellite prices and spell the end of small networks targeted toward niche audiences.”

Martin emphasizes that there should also be “family friendly” packages, but I don’t see the real point of this if people can pick and choose what channels they want themselves anyway. Let them decide what is “family friendly” and what is not. Of course that’s precisely the situation these “niche” broadcasters want to avoid.

For its part, the Family Research Council and its senior legal council Patrick Trueman emphasized the importance of obscenity and decency enforcement on cable and satellite TV, in testimony before a Senate subcommittee last year.

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.

Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Jeffrey Tucker at the Ludwig Von Mises Institute:

You might say that water needs to be conserved. Yes, and so does every other scarce good. The peaceful way to do this is through the price system. But because municipal water systems have created artificial shortages, other means become necessary. One regulation piles on top of another, and the next thing you know, you have shower commissars telling you what you can or cannot do in the most private spaces.

Has central planning ever been more ridiculous, intrusive, and self-defeating?