Category: Public Policy

Blog author: jballor
Monday, August 15, 2005
By

Given the discussion that’s been going on around the Acton site over the last week or so (on the blog here and here, in the commentary comments section, and in this week’s poll question), I’m pointing out this timely piece in yesterday’s St. Paul Pioneer Press, co-written by Todd Flanders, an Acton adjunct scholar and headmaster of Providence Academy. Flanders’ co-author is Dr. Yvonne Boldt, chair of the science department at the academy.

In “The origin of the biology debate Intelligent design movement says the science isn’t settled on how life is shaped,” (free registration required) Flanders and Boldt ask some critical questions, “Should students be led to assume that science demands philosophical materialism? Should students be led to assume that science is settled in favor of randomness and dumb accident in the origins of life?”

In regard to the Darwinist/Intelligent Design controversy, they ask, “why should schools, indeed public schools, not teach this academic dispute? Should educators insist that dominant theories be immune from criticism, much as in an earlier time the Inquisition insisted against Galileo? Surely, in science education first and foremost, the notion that you can’t use evidence to criticize is a bad idea.”

Blog author: jballor
Friday, August 12, 2005
By

Check out this piece at Christianity Today about churches in Zimbabwe providing shelter to the poor who have been dispossessed by Pres. Mugabe’s “drive out trash” campaign:

“One Christian worker who requested anonymity said, ‘In some parts of Harare, people have gone to spend the nights in their local churches. People are squeezed into just about every space available. Churches have been openly warned not to help the ‘refugees,’ but how can you turn down someone who is hungry and homeless?'”

Blog author: jballor
Friday, August 12, 2005
By

Roy Spencer at Tech Central Station examines some of the latest climatology research published in the journal Science.

One essential point of the new findings is that the temperature readings based on satellite information may not be as reliable as previously thought. The satellite readings of the atmosphere had been at significant variance from surface temperature readings. As Spencer states of the article by Mears & Wentz, “Their final estimate of the global lower tropospheric trend through 2004 is +0.19 deg. C/decade, very close to the surface thermometer estimate, and this constitutes the primary news value of their report.”

You’re sure to hear about this trio of articles in the media, and Spencer asks, “What will all of this mean for the global warming debate? Probably less than the media spin will make of it.” Here’s a prime example of that prediction from LiveScience. In an article titled, “Key Argument for Global Warming Critics Evaporates,” Ker Than cites Roy Spencer as the head of “the only group to previously analyze satellite data on the troposphere” before the recently published reports.

In part due to the disagreement between the atmospheric and surface readings, Steven Sherwood, a geologists at Yale University and lead author of one of the studies admits that “most people had to conclude, based on the fact that there were both satellite and balloon observations, that it [the Earth] really wasn’t warming up.”

Than writes of the study that corrected an error in Spencer’s calculations: “After correcting for the mistake, the researchers obtained fundamentally different results: whereas Spencer’s analysis showed a cooling of the Earth’s troposphere, the new analysis revealed a warming.”

“When people come up with extraordinary claims — like the troposphere is cooling — then you demand extraordinary proof,” said Ben Santer, an atmospheric scientist and a lead author of another of the studies. “What’s happening now is that people around the world are subjecting these data sets to the scrutiny they need.”

Spencer himself is a bit more cautious about what the new research means. He concludes,

At a minimum, the new reports show that it is indeed possible to analyze different temperature datasets in such a way that they agree with current global warming theory. Nevertheless, all measurements systems have errors (especially for climate trends), and researchers differ in their views of what kinds of errors exist, and how they should be corrected. As pointed out by Santer et al., it is with great difficulty that our present weather measurement systems (thermometers, weather balloons, and satellites) are forced to measure miniscule climate trends. What isn’t generally recognized is that the satellite-thermometer difference that has sparked debate in recent years has largely originated over the tropical oceans — the trends over northern hemispheric land areas, where most people live, have been almost identical.

On the positive side, at least some portion of the disagreement between satellite and thermometer estimates of global temperature trends has now been removed. This helps to further shift the global warming debate out of the realm of “is warming happening?” to “how much has it warmed, and how much will it warm in the future?”. (Equally valid questions to debate are “how much of the warmth is man-made?”, “is warming necessarily a bad thing?”, and “what can we do about it anyway?”). And this is where the debate should be.

Blog author: dphelps
Thursday, August 11, 2005
By

In John Stossel’s article yesterday, he recounts a story that illustrates the dangers of artificial wage contols. (Davis Bacon is a federal law that requires construction workers be paid an amount determined by a bureaucratic formula instead of wages determined by market forces.)

When Chicago decided to repair the Cabrini Green housing project, people who lived in the project assumed such a big job would provide work for the unemployed young men who grew up there. But because of Davis Bacon, every contractor had to pay high salaries — even for the simplest jobs. So contractors, locked into paying high salaries, were not about to take a chance on beginners. They hired the most experienced union workers they could find. They used workers who would “normally never come near our neighborhood,” said aspiring construction worker John King. “I think it’s wrong that they do that. We want to provide. We’re not just derelicts and drug dealers and thugs.”

Because of the federal government’s regulation of wages, those who live in the community were essentially unemployable as entry level workers. Thus, they had no hand in working to rebuild their own community. It’s another example of how governmental controls can stymie the individual initiative and community pride that comes with a proper application of the principle of subsidiarity.

Greg Gutfield’s rather humorous item at The Huffington Post makes me wonder about this question: What would Jesus fly? (Not to be confused with the common slogan: “Jesus is my copilot.”)

While I’m pretty sure that it would be some sort of cumulus-based transport (read “clouds”; see Acts 1:9, 1 Thessalonians 4:17, and Revelation 1:7; 14:14-16), we can be certain that it would not be a private jet.

Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen. (Rev. 1:7 NIV)

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, August 11, 2005
By

Two not-so-obviously related news items from today’s Marketplace midday update:

#1) Pharmaceutical company Pfizer says it’ll change the way it markets drugs to people. The company announced this morning it will educate doctors for at least 6 months about new medicines before running television or print ads. Pfizer also says it won’t advertise male impotence drugs during the Super Bowl.

#2) Rafael Palmeiro is heading back to work after serving a 10-day suspension for using steroids. Business of sports analyst David Carter talks to Cheryl Glaser about steroids and baseball.

These stories raise the question whether Rafael’s need for the “little blue pill” is related to his use of steroids. One of the side effects listed for steroids is “increased libido,” albeit with “lowered natural production of testosterone thus effecting the male sperm count.”

In a WebMD feature, Martin Downs examines the issue, as he writes of Palmeiro’s endorsement agreement, “The deal has made people wonder whether Palmeiro really represents men with erectile dysfunction, or whether Pfizer, the company that makes Viagra, wants to persuade young men to try it for fun.” If Palmeiro’s steriod use did result in increased libido, it’s more doubtful that he had a legitimate need.

Perhaps a steroid-increased sexual appetite played a role in his VIAGRA® use. There is no doubt that Palmeiro’s baseball success, powered in part by steroid use, had some positive economic impact for him beyond his baseball stats and contracts. He became a pefect pitchman for Pfizer’s VIAGRA. (One of the suggested lines for opening dialogue with your doctor about VIAGRA used to be: “Have you seen the VIAGRA commercial with Major League Baseball Star Rafael Palmeiro?”)

And in a related story, “VIAGRA is a proud sponsor of Major League Baseball®.”

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, August 11, 2005
By

Reading this story about a man who played video games to death, I find it likely that an already existing addiction will be newly documented: Vidiocy.

My mom used to call me a “little vidiot” when I was a kid because I liked watching TV so much, but I submit this as a possible term for video game “addictions.” According to other reports, the man named Lee really was dedicated to the god of technology, as he “recently quit his job to spend more time playing games.”

Of course, maybe he didn’t really die, he just left “The Matrix.”

The difference in perspective from the ONE Campaign and directly responsible charitable efforts is summed up in the first two sentences from this article in Christianity Today:

“Eighteen-year-old Lauren Tomasik had a vision. This Wheaton Academy senior wanted to see her Christian high school raise $75,000 to build a medical clinic in Zambia to combat HIV/AIDS. And she wanted the money to come from the pockets of her 575 fellow students.”

The “We don’t want your money, we just want your voice,” mantra of the ONE Campaign, besides being disingenuous, undermines the kind of motivation for personal action shown in these Christian high schoolers’ effort.

Alumna Natalie Gorski gets at this when she says, “How awesome a God we have. He was able to use us as his instruments and say, ‘Look at what I did through Wheaton Academy. I can do that all over the United States.'”

The difference in attitudes is perfectly displayed in this Ad Council campaign on Youth Civic Engagement, revolving around the slogan, “Fight Mannequinism.” You may have seen one of these on TV, like the ad where a bunch of people stand around looking at a piece of trash laying next to a garbage can, talking about how terrible it is that someone just left it there.

“Don’t just take a stand. Act.”

One of the bystanders says, “Man, I’m like this close to throwing it away myself.” When their voices reach a crescendo, a passerby simply sees the trash, walks over, picks it up, throws it away, and keeps moving. A voiceover at the end says, “Don’t just take a stand. Act.”

While the ad campaign is aimed at voter participation, I think it speaks just as well to the difference in attitudes behind government lobbying like the ONE campaign and personal charitable activity. We could all stand around talking about how terrible the AIDS epidemic is and asking someone else (e.g. the government) to do something about it. Or we could act ourselves, like the students at Wheaton Academy have done, and be God’s instruments of charity.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, August 11, 2005
By

While post-tsunami aid pledges totalled $2 billion for Sri Lanka, “Politics and bureaucracy though have kept that money from those most in need,” reports APM’s Marketplace.

The report goes on to describe the importance of micro capital loans for rebuilding the economic marketplace, since it’s essential not to create an aid-dependent society. Nevertheless, the key to revival for many shopkeepers ends up being the need for foreign tourism…the same kind that many talking heads decried as the causes for the extent of the tsunami damage.

Immediately following the tsunami, Acton put together a “Tsunami Guide to Giving,” which emphasized some important considerations to think about before giving, including the reality that “beyond the immediate alleviation of suffering, relief efforts should be aimed at long-term self-sufficiency of local populations.”

Now that the crew of Space Shuttle Discovery is safely back on terra firma (along with the entire shuttle fleet, which has once again been grounded over safety concerns), arguments over the future viability of the Shuttle program have resumed in earnest. By far, my favorite swipe at NASA to date has to be today’s Wall Street Journal opinion column (subscription required) by Homer Hickam, a former NASA engineer. Mr Hickam argues that many NASA engineers would like to see the shuttle program shelved in favor of a newer and better vehicle, but they are blocked in their efforts by a “failed culture” within the agency that demands support for the Shuttle.

I love the astronauts, too. They’re brave and they’re smart and some of them are even my friends. Some are even engineers. But there are too many of them (around 100, an awful lot for a program that has flown but once in the past two years) and they are mostly acolytes of the space shuttle. If the shuttles were retired, most astronauts would be very much out on a bureaucratic limb, their training obsolete, their chances of getting into space again, or for the first time, much reduced. Bear that in mind the next time you hear an astronaut support the shuttle even though the U.S. is presently fourth in the ability to put humans reliably into space, behind Russia, China, and Burt Rutan.

touché.

So let’s put the shuttles on the shelf right away and give engineers the gift of designing and building new ships to carry humans into space. These are already on the drawing boards and I believe NASA Administrator Mike Griffin (an engineer) is itching to make them a reality.

I tend to agree that NASA needs to rethink the shuttle program, but the good news is that we don’t have to wait for NASA’s engineers to begin designing vehicles that will launch the next stage of manned spaceflight.