Category: Public Policy

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, August 19, 2005

“Zero-energy homes” are a new trend in what might be called environmental charity, giving energy back to the grid, at retail prices. Details here in this Marketplace report.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, August 19, 2005

A piece in the American Prospect Online by Chris Mooney examines the recurring “Frankenstein myth,” and its relation to contemporary Hollywood projects and the state of modern science. In “The Monster That Wouldn’t Die,” Mooney decries the endless

preachy retreads of the Frankenstein myth, first laid out in Mary Shelley’s 19th-century classic and recycled by Hollywood constantly in films from Godsend to Jurassic Park. I’m sick of gross caricatures of mad-scientist megalomaniacs out to accrue for themselves powers reserved only for God. I’m fed up with the insinuation (for it’s never an argument, always an insinuation) that there’s a taboo against the pursuit of certain kinds of knowledge and that certain technological achievements — especially those with the potential to affect life itself — are inherently “unnatural.”

Mooney does think that there are some things that shouldn’t be done. But “preaching” isn’t the way to define them. “I agree that certain lines shouldn’t be crossed. We shouldn’t, for instance, clone fully grown human beings. But not because it’s taboo; because it’s unethical. The point is, we need to use philosophical arguments, not preaching, to determine where the lines ought to be drawn,” he writes.

A greater concern lies in his discomfort “with the way in which the weapon of the Frankenstein myth is repeatedly used as a club against modern-day medical researchers, who are seeking to cure people, not to become God. The ‘forbidden knowledge’ aspect of the myth is also troubling. Last I checked, knowledge is a good thing, even if many kinds of knowledge can also be abused.”

Well, the last I checked, Adam and Eve had some trouble with “forbidden knowledge,” too. Mooney articulates an extremely naive view of knowledge and technology, with no account for the reality of human sinfulness and corruption. Moreover, his view that art should explicitly manifest philosophical arguments as opposed to “preachy” myth is quite unfounded, and alien to the artistic impulse.

This piece exposes Mooney’s ignorance of the source of human sin and evil. When he writes of the recent movie The Island, what he calls “yet another in a long sequence of anti-cloning, anti-science diatribes,” Mooney observes, “Presiding over this nightmare scenario is, sure enough, a mad-scientist character who is described as having a ‘God complex.’ There are about a million flagrant ethical violations embedded in the world of The Island, but as far as I’m concerned, ‘playing God’ is rather low on the list.”

Conversely, the biblical Genesis story relates just how the desire to “play God” lies at the center of the human fall into sin.

“You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. (Genesis 3:4-6 NIV)

What Mooney really wants is a morality divorced from any theological or religious concerns. Providentially, the arts do not seem to have abandoned these in the way that modern science seems bent upon. But for this reason, they will continue to be the object of attack.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, August 18, 2005

News from Los Angeles:

Two homeless men were attacked with baseball bats and one of them critically injured, allegedly by teens inspired by videos of homeless people brawling that have sold hundreds of thousands of copies over the Internet.

The alleged attackers told officers they had recently seen the DVD “Bumfights” and wanted to do some “bum bashing” of their own, police Officer Jason Lee said.

I examine the intersection between the market, technology, and violence in this recent commentary. In an earlier draft of the piece, I named Bumfights.com in particular as one of the sites that “profit from setting up taped fights between homeless people or other vulnerable populations.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, August 18, 2005

Zimbabwe churches form body to help demolition victims

Harare (ENI). Church groups in Zimbabwe have formed a coalition to help victims of a clean-up drive that left hundreds of thousands homeless and drew condemnation from the United Nations and international aid organizations. “Churches have formed a broad-based ecumenical body in the aftermath of the clean-up operation,” the Rev. Charles Muchechetere of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe told Ecumenical News International. The alliance comprises EFZ the Zimbabwe Council of Churches and the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

Can I keep him, Mom? Please? I’ll feed him and love him and call him my own.

Oh, your lion eyes…Check out the two articles from this week’s journal Nature as reported on Newsday.com. (There must be an editor at work here with a sarcastic sense of humor.)

In the first article, a commentary by Josh Donlan, a plan is proposed for fighting the loss of endagered species: repopulate the American Plains with (among other things) elephants, wild horses, cheetahs, and yes, lions.

The “rewilding” of parts of North America’s heartland could restore some balance to an ecosystem that lost a slew of similar species around 13,000 years ago, according to a commentary in this week’s issue of the journal Nature. Although conceding that “huge cultural obstacles” would have to be surmounted, lead author and Cornell University ecologist Josh Donlan argues that the long-range plan also might help preserve animals in danger of extinction elsewhere.

One must wonder if in the minds of these retro-evolutionists, the phrase “huge cultural obstacles” actually means “people”?

One must admire the work of those who seek to preserve endangered species. That being said, the problem here is the same problem with many environmentalists: a mindset that a world without the infection of humanity is somehow a better world. The idea is that the pre-historic world, or a world without the corruption of modern man, is paradise.

Yes, this could be you…

Being someone who considers himself mildly ‘outdoorsy’ and culturally ‘rural’, I understand this eco-nostalgia. Creation is beautiful and ought to be enjoyed. I would love to romp through undefiled, silvan wonderlands just as much as the next Nalgene-toting, Birk-calced, Steve Irwin wannabe. (The opening sequence of Last of the Mohicans seems to the ideal for many enviros…that is, until Daniel Day-Lewis fires a lead ball through the neck of an elk…)

There goes the neighborhood…

But come on. To ‘rewild’ North American plains? The unstated premise is that what is ‘tamed’ is wrong. This ideology denies the human person’s role in developing the world and its resources. It denies that environmental stewardship means to cultivate the world, not simply to retrofit it to our romantically fuzzy notions of a Majestic Past. But many environmentalists think that left to itself, wild nature is somehow more just, more ideal, more…ahem…humane. I think Mr. Donlan has seen The Lion King a few too many times.

And, oh yeah: the other article about lions? Lion attacks on humans are on the rise in Tanzania.

Blog author: dphelps
posted by on Wednesday, August 17, 2005

In a FoxNews article, Jack Spencer of the Heritage Foundation reveals some interesting finds from their year-long study of the military industry: US Defense relies heavily on a global free market for its equipment. This may seem to fly in the face of the idea that if anyone ought to buy American, it is the American government. But as Spencer points out

Congress has tried repeatedly over the years to steer defense contracts in directions that would supposedly shore up or expand America’s military-industrial capacity. Yet these efforts have nearly always interrupted the natural tides of the market and led to unintended consequences, including inefficient practices, high prices and limited choices for the military. America’s war-fighting institutions have consistently achieved better results when they have relied on the free market to decide where and how products should be made.

Simply put, for good stuff, the free market delivers. This is a fact. For a concise case study of how and why free markets work (and why subsidies don’t), check out the rest of this article here.

Pope Benedict’s highly publicized trip to Germany for this week’s World Youth Day stands as an opportunity for the event to, in the words of Kishore Jayabalan, engage “serious theological and intellectual work.” The pope’s homecoming means, “If there is a place to show how the Christian faith shaped Europe and formed heroic persons even in its darkest hours, this is it.”

Read the full text of this commentary.

…You might be a Member of Congress:

Members of Congress want to establish a new government-backed venture capital program…

OK, but what’s the catch?

…to replace one that’s being phased out because of sizable losses.

I wonder if they’ve considered whether the Government should even be involved in the venture capital business in the first place?

Hat Tip: Don Luskin

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, August 17, 2005

A wide ranging piece in Policy Review by Robert W. Han and Paul C. Tetlock examines current aid practices, suggests the implementation of “information markets,” and looks at how such markets might impact current policy analyses like the Copenhagen Consensus and the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDG). The MDG are the nearly exclusive focus of the ONE Campaign, and the failings of the MDG as such become closely tied to the failings of the ONE Campaign.

The authors write of the MDG in “Making Development Work,”

At this point, the MDG represent little more than a wish list specifying what some well-intentioned practitioners would like to see happen. The goal setters do not appear to have paid significant attention to the benefits and costs of different options before setting goals; nor does it appear that the goal setters paid sufficient attention to real budget constraints so that they could provide a realistic assessment of the feasibility of meeting the goals. It also does not appear that the goal setters have given much serious thought to putting proper incentives in place to assure that maximum benefits will be achieved for a given level of expenditures. Instead, hundreds of countries and organizations have signed on to support the goals without any clear rewards if they are reached or penalties if they are not.

A move to a performance-based policy arrangement, linked to well-functioning information markets, would have the ability to transform the vagaries and ineffiencies of traditional aid programs, like the MDG, into a system that “encourages accountability. It also encourages openness, because the information gained in evaluating the effectiveness of projects and paying for results could be made public.”

One other possibility is that “because the performance-based policy framework increases accountability and transparency, it may prove to be part of the solution to the corruption problem as well.”

A promising brief recognizing the critical role of civil society in Nigeria, and especially that the Christian church, from Ecumenical News International:

Nigerian president urges African churches: Play part in governance

Abuja (ENI). Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo has urged African church leaders to become key players in the process of achieving good governance in the continent.

“The Church must be a critical partner in the on-going efforts at strengthening the structures of democratic governance, and bringing about sustained development in an environment of justice, equity, and fairness,” Obasanjo told leaders at a meeting of the Nairobi-based All Africa Conference of Churches.