Category: Public Policy

The BBC reports today a great illustration of human creativity and the intersection of technology and subsidiarity. MIT has set up what they called Fab Labs (Fabrication Labs) in what many might consider the least likely places for technological invention. These Labs consist of basic tools and software than enable people in sometimes remote and rural locations to invent and fabricate the technology they need in their daily work. MIT professor Neil Gershenfeld:

In a world of Fab Labs, you can think about the other five and a half billion brains on the planet not just as potential consumers, but as creators, as inventors. Creation itself can become much more distributed, and you can bring not information technology, but IT development to the masses. You can close what you might think of as a fabrication divide.

Can you hear me now? Gooood.

These Fabs Labs are being used in small communites around the world to create a myriad of practical tools such as a Fu-Fu pounder in Ghana (fu-fu is a dish in Ghana…read the article), a tester for bad milk in India, and a sheep tracker north of the Arctic circle. MIT set up one of these Fab Labs in the barn of sheep farmer Haakon Karlsen. He used the parts and software in the Lab to create a custom GPS sheep tracking device out of cell phones. The trackers help him find his sheep in the dark, track their movement, and even tells him the temperature wherever the sheep happen to be.

Local governments are scrambling to get their hands on these labs, hoping that they will engender a spirit of local inventiveness and will “enable…entrepreneurs and engineers alike to test their ideas, and ‘fast track the process of growth and development.’”

Gershenfeld speculates about the reason for the success of these labs and

thinks that, more fundamentally, the idea of personal or small-group fabrication has tapped into the primal need that some people have to create things, to modify the world in which they live.

I don’t know that I approve of the word ‘primal’, as this word suggests ‘chronological snobbery’. However, replace ‘primal’ with ‘essentially human’ and I think he’s got something here. Consider these words from John Paul II:

…the earth does not yield its fruits without a particular human response to God’s gift, that is to say, without work. It is through work that man, using his intelligence and exercising his freedom, succeeds in dominating the earth and making it a fitting home.

Of course these Fab Labs are thriving. Creativity, problem-solving, inventiveness: these are some of the qualities that define us as humans. We are essentially entrepreneurial beings.
This is not a new idea. Thank God some are rediscovering it.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, September 27, 2005

If you haven’t heard of this story yet, read about what Notre Dame head football coach Charlie Weis did this past weekend. His expression of compassion for a dying boy, 10-year-old Montana Mazurkiewicz, transcends sports. Weis honored a promise to Montana despite the fact that he is a first-year coach in the big business of college football, in what might be the most scrutinized and storied programs in the country.

In a personal visit to the boy last week, in addition to promising to honor Montana’s wish to call the first play of the game, Weis discussed his daughter Hannah, who has global development delay, a rare disorder similar to autism. Weis had his own brush with death recently, when in 2002 while an assistant coach with the NFL’s New England Patriots, he underwent gastric bypass surgery. Complications from the surgery kept him in intensive care for 2 weeks.

Montana died last Friday, before the game could be played, but Weis honored his pledge and called a “pass right,” even though the Irish were backed up on their own goal line. Click here to view an ESPN SportsCenter segment on the story in ESPN Motion.

“Pass Right”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, September 26, 2005

The Remedy, the Claremont Institute’s blog, links to an article in the Los Angeles Times by Richard M. Walden, head of Operation USA, that raises concerns about how the Red Cross spends the money it receives for specific disasters.

Walden levels some important and serious charges against the Red Cross, and may or may not be convincing depending on if you approve of the Red Cross’ fund-raising precedents and other activities. But Walden is undeniably right is when he raises the question of accountability and donor awareness. “Asking where all the privately collected money will go and how much Red Cross is billing FEMA and the affected states is a legitimate question — even if posed by the president of a small relief agency,” he writes.

In other Red Cross news, the group is planning to add a new symbol to the established Red Cross/Red Crescent pairing. Reuters reports, “Planned changes to Geneva Conventions governing the rules of war will allow use of the crystal – a diamond-shaped red frame on a white background – as a new protective emblem stripped of any religious or political significance.”

The final phrase is the operative one, as the intent is to make clear that the bearer of the symbol is “a neutral humanitarian player,” not one engaged in relief work because of any specifically religious convictions.

In 1969 Charles Manson and his gang set out to ignite a race war that pitted the wealthy white establishment against underprivileged blacks. The apocalyptic battle would be called “Helter Skelter,” after the Beatles’ song written by Paul McCartney. The white Manson reasoned that America’s angry black population would eventually win this war; at which time he and his group would emerge from their Mojave Desert hideout to assume leadership over what he perceived to be an inferior race.

Now comes columnist, radio host and Wayne State University journalism professor Jack Lessenberry with his own condescendingly racist and alarmingly Marxist version of Helter Skelter Redux. In the wake of the Hurricane Katrina natural disaster, Lessenberry wrote in Detroit’s Metro Times:

Today, most politicians are more willing to launch a war than try to help desperately poor Americans…. Wouldn’t it be hilarious, by the way, if Marxism turned out to be correct after all, if the world’s workers someday did rise up against people like the Bushes, who persist in acting just like imperialist pigs in Soviet propaganda? Things seldom work that neatly, or with such poetic justice.

Hilarious?

What prompted Lessenberry’s outrageous and irresponsible outburst? That, shockingly, New Orleans is among the nation’s most impoverished cities. It is also predominantly black. Readers can guess what logical leaps he makes from this. Readers may assume as well that Lessenberry ignores the billions of dollars spent on poverty programs, which have evolved into entitlement programs. Such programs have perpetuated poverty by enabling dysfunctional behaviors, eroding the family unit and stifling entrepreneurial spirit. Perhaps Lessenberry feels that a black-led Marxist overthrow of our current administration will better position elitist liberal whites to emerge for their ivory towers to create a more equitable system that robs from the rich to give to the poor.

Lessenberry would be better served by the Gospel of Luke, wherein Jesus emerges from 40 days in the desert to be tempted by Satan with the riches of the world. Resisting worldly temptation, Jesus goes to Nazareth, and reads to the synagogue from the book of the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed….”

It hardly seems that replacing poverty with Marxism represents “liberty [for] those who are oppressed.” Lessenberry’s rant reads like a call for "Helter Skelter." Maybe he should refer to Luke for a deeper understanding of liberation.

After receiving some responses to a previous post (CAFTA/Culture of Life: Enemies?), I thought I would post the the exchange with my most recent dissatisfied critic. Here’s to volleying! (I have edited the emails for confidentiality.) (more…)

Following up on my blog from last Friday: Laura Bush mentioned Strake Jesuit Prep in her remarks last night to the annual Boehner-Kennedy Dinner, which raises money for DC Catholic schools. Here’s an excerpt:

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Catholic-school teachers and principals can be proud of their students, who are living the values that they’ve been taught …

At Strake Jesuit High School in Houston, the administration initially planned on welcoming 50 students from Jesuit High School in New Orleans. Now Strake is hosting more than 400 New Orleans students.

With Hurricane Rita bearing down on Houston, Strake may need assistance in turn.

Blog author: abradley
posted by on Thursday, September 22, 2005

George Orwell wrote 1984 in 1949, long before the PC came along. Tiny cameras were not available and Big Brother typically had to be physically watching you (either in person or from a stationary camera) to catch you at a crime (the book was political of course, and not technological). Either way, Big Brother always was watching you. Now we have PCs, the Internet, tiny cameras everywhere and available to all. And of course, Big Brother wants to see everything.

Although I hate writing about how the modern world reflects more and more what we see described in Orwell’s novel (Wikipedia suggests that “Orwell is reported to have said that the book described what he saw as the actual situation in the United Kingdom in 1948″), it seems fitting to remind people of the dangers of allowing too much access to information. PC PRO published a news item today talking about some ideas the European Commission has:

The European Commission has accepted proposals to log details of all telephone, email and Internet traffic in an attempt to combat terrorism and serious crime.

The proposals, which are designed to harmonise data retention practices across the EU, will need the backing of all 25 member states. However some states believe they have been watered down in response to pressure from telecommunications firms and civil rights groups.

If these proposals are the watered down version, I shudder to think what the original proposals might have been! Just wait for the proposals to flow when we all have RFID tags “to make purchasing goods at the grocercy store easier” surgically inserted at birth.

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Jennifer Roback Morse, senior fellow in economics at the Acton Institute, examines the response to Hurricane Katrina through the eyes of Alexis de Tocqueville. Americans, de Tocqueville observed, tend not to wait around for the government to give them guidance on how to run their lives and communities. Says Roback Morse: “Meanwhile, our French friends, I mean our Louisiana politicians, are still standing there with their arms folded, tapping their feet and waiting for federal funds to rebuild the city.”

Read the full commentary here.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The Bible has a lot to say about what it means to be a “neighbor.” School officials in Fulton County, Ga., may have finally begun to come to some understanding of this concept.

Until earlier this week, county officials had threatened to use the power of eminent domain to force the private Jewish Weber School to sell a 19-acre lot so that a new public elementary school could be built. As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, “When Weber officials said they had no desire to sell the site, Fulton indicated in a strongly worded letter that unless Weber agreed by Monday to sell the property, the school board would use eminent domain to obtain it.”

When the Monday deadline approached, and Weber School refused to capitulate, the county officials did an about-face: “On Monday, Fulton Schools Superintendent James Wilson told Weber board president Steve Berman in writing and by phone that the district would no longer pursue the Weber property and that he regretted the misunderstanding.”

“It is in our interest to be a good neighbor,” he said.

What’s a good first step to being a good neighbor? “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:17 NIV)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Nigerian priest shot dead at checkpoint for ‘refusing to pay bribe’

Port Harcourt (ENI). The Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) says that the Rev. Emmanuel Akpan was shot dead at a checkpoint manned by both police and army members for refusing to pay them a bribe. “Rev. Akpan was returning from Aba town when he was killed by police and military personnel at the checking point, over his refusal to give them bribe,” said the Rev. Bayo Odukoya in issuing a statement on behalf of the Niger Delta diocese of the Anglican Church.