Archived Posts May 2005 - Page 2 of 8 | Acton PowerBlog

Jordan Ballor writes about the ethical and moral implications of creating genetic chimeras. Ballor comments on a recent New York Times editorial promoting chimera research, calling their thinking "scientific pragmatism" and criticizing the general lack of understanding of both human nature and athropology. "The creation of new kinds of chimeras, using manipulation at the cellular and sub-cellular level, raises the stakes considerably," writes Ballor about the level of public controversy involved with chimera research thus far. Pursuing further research without adhering to an objective set of moral and ethical guidelines could have a devastating effect on our humanity.

Ballor has written about chimeras on this blog before.

Read the full text here.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, May 25, 2005

This Tech Central Station article, “Saving Africa,” puts some figures in perspective, citing the reason for the poverty of African nations: “Africa is poor because most countries in the region lack the fundamental elements of a capitalist system: property rights, free markets, free trade and the rule of law.”

The TCS piece quotes a 1998 Religion & Liberty article by Gary Becker, “Human Capital and Poverty,”

It is not the culture that has prevented Africa from growing but the policies governments have inflicted on their people. With good policies, there is nothing in African culture to prevent these nations from joining in increasing numbers the economically advanced nations of the world.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Emerging signs of renewed democratic action in Cuba prompted this Wall Street Journal editorial today (subscription required), which calls for the Organization of American States to "do far more to support Cuban democrats." Bringing external political pressure to bear on Cuba only represents part of the solution to human rights violations in Cuba.

As Rev. Robert Sirico wrote previously, "Everyone, except perhaps the National Council of Churches, knows it is true that Cuba has a terrible human-rights record." We might add to that list two Congressman from New York, who said the following:

"[American politicians] refuse to give the [Cuban] government the respect that it deserves."
–Rep. Charlie Rangel, NY.

"Castro is harmful to no one."
–Rep. Maurice Hinchey, NY.

Hinchey does go on to make a somewhat more valid point, however, in that the continuation of the US embargo of Cuba undermines the situation of oppressed Cubans. "To the extent that any harm is being done, it’s the continuation of this policy over the last five decades now," he said, referring to the American embargo. While its completely incredible to claim that Castro is innocent of human rights violations, this does not entail that an embargo is the best policy to pursue.

The answer, of course, is to neither gloss over the crimes of Casto’s government, nor to ignore the possibilities that lifting the embargo might have for improving the condition of Cuba’s poorest. As Rev. Sirico wrote nearly five years ago, "Opening trade relations–or, at the very least, permitting an inflow of food and medicine–actually holds out the prospect of breaking a long-running impasse. There are many issues to be worked out, of course. However, the fact remains that in Cuba, as in China, free trade gives hope to the people who suffer the most from governments that violate human rights."

Blog author: jspalink
Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visits Yasukuni Shrine.

Japan’s wartime atrocities have long been a source of tension and anger among various east Asian nations. Failure to admit guilt and continued veneration of wartime "heroes," many of whom are convicted war-criminals, cause diplomatic stress between nations even today.

In fact there is speculation that Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi abruptly left Japan before meetings with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi yesterday because of Koizumi’s stated intent to visit Yasukuni Shrine again this year. An article in The Japan Times today states:

Speculation immediately grew that China may have canceled the meeting because of Koizumi’s remark last week that he may go ahead with another contentious visit to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, which enshrines the nation’s war dead as well as 14 class-A war criminals.

The New History Textbook published by the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform.

Koizumi’s intended visit to Yasukuni comes at an already tense time as anti-Japanese protests have been occuring in China due to the approval of the New History Textbook (新しい歴史教科書) published by the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform. (An English version of controversial chapters is available from their website as a PDF file).

Chinese outrage is caused primarily by the textbook’s lack of attention directed to various events which occurred during wartime occupation of China. In particular the textbook provides one paragraph about the “Rape of Nanking,” an event which has been described as “the single worst atrocity during the World War II era in either the European or Pacific theaters of war” by the United Human Rights Council and “one of the worst massacres in modern times” by the BBC.

The New History Textbook has this to say about the Nanking Massacre, and NOTHING more:

Japanese military officials thought Chiang Kai-shek would surrender if they captured Nanking, the Nationalist capital; they occupied that city in December.* But Chiang Kai-shek had moved his capital to the remote city of Chongqing. The conflict continued.

A footnote reads as follows:

Note*: At this time, many Chinese soldiers and civilians were killed or wounded by Japanese troops (the Nanking Incident). Documentary evidence has raised doubts about the actual number of victims claimed by the incident. The debate continues even today.

The lack of any kind of detail provided is competely offensive, especially to the countries which suffered during the war. A BBC story which details some of the more gruesome accounts from the massacre states:

Based on estimates made by historians and charity organizations in the city at the time, between 250,000 and 300,000 people were killed, many of them women and children.

The number of women raped was said by Westerners who were there to be 20,000, and there were widespread accounts of civilians being hacked to death.

Yet many Japanese officials and historians deny there was a massacre on such a scale.

While the end of World War II is now almost 60 years in the past, perhaps there is still time to acknowledge the atrocities that occurred. We cannot learn from history if we deny that it ever happened, or that we ever participated. What occurred in China should be mourned by the Japanese, remembered as an example of what not to do, and forgiven.

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Antimatter warp drives: “A long way off.”

LiveScience brings us their top 10 “ways to run the 21st century,” a review of possibilities for energy sources in the new millennium. Of the top 3, only nuclear power is currently feasible as a large-scale source of energy. Fuel cells are of huge interest right now, of course. But LiveScience’s love for sci-fi is evident in their #1 choice: antimatter.

“The problem with antimatter is that there is very little of it in the universe.”
Well, that’s one problem, for sure. But can we fix that?

“It can be produced in laboratories, but currently only in very tiny amounts, and at prohibitively high costs.”
Doesn’t sound promising.

“And even if the problem of production could be solved, there is still the knotty question of how to store something that has a tendency to annihilate itself on contact with ordinary matter, and also how to harness that energy once created.”
I can see how that would be problematic.

“NASA funds research into creating antimatter drives that could one day take humanity to the stars, but dreams of antimatter-powered starships as seen on Star Trek are still a long way off, all experts agree.”
So why again is this the #1 choice for your top 10 list?

I have only yet read an excerpt of Ron Sider’s new book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience: Why Are Christians Living Just Like the Rest of the World? (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005), but much of what he says concerning the church in America strikes me as true. This interview in the Dallas Morning News (free subscription required) gives some insights into Sider’s views. Whereas Jim Wallis gets most of the religious progressive press, Ron Sider strikes me as much more thoughtful, much more theologically acute, and much more intellectually nuanced.

In one sense, he has an honest scholarly curiousity and is willing to learn and change his views when appropriate. Sider’s most famous book is Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. In the 20th anniversary edition of the book, Sider makes many changes to his original thesis, and adds some economic sense to his prophetic rebuke. For example, in the revised edition, Sider positively cites the use of micro-loans to entrepreneurs in developing nations.

Now whether or not I would agree with where Sider comes out, I think he’s authentically investigating the responsible life of faith. In the interview, Sider states that evangelicals “should have a more sophisticated view of politics. There’s no question God’s on the side of the poor, but that doesn’t tell you whether it’s a good thing to raise the minimum wage. You need to do a whole lot more homework first.”

In any case, Sider is at his strongest when focusing his critique at the church. In the interview, Sider says, “Evangelicals used to be almost twice as high as mainline churches, but they are fairly close today to the mainline denominations. In the richest nation in history, only nine percent of evangelicals tithe (meaning they give away 10 percent of their annual income).” In Scandal, Sider identifies the church in America with the church in Laodicea from Revelation 3:14-22 (NIV):

“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

An excerpt:

The history of forming associations dedicated to serving others is as old as America, itself. From abolition societies and suffrage movements to immigrant aid groups and prison reform ministries, America’s social entrepreneurs have often been far ahead of our government in identifying and meeting the needs of our fellow countrymen. Because they are closer to the people they serve, our faith-based and community organizations deliver better results than government. And they have a human touch: When a person in need knocks on the door of a faith-based or community organization, he or she is welcomed as a brother or a sister.

No one understood this better than another 19th century visitor to America whose name is well known to Calvin College: Abraham Kuyper. Kuyper was a Dutchman who would be elected his nation’s prime minister, and he knew all about the importance of associations because he founded so many of them — including two newspapers, a political party, and a university. Kuyper contrasted the humanizing influence of independent social institutions with the “mechanical character of government.” And in a famous speech right here in Grand Rapids, he urged Dutch immigrants to resist the temptation to retreat behind their own walls — he told them to go out into their adopted America and make a true difference as true Christian citizens.

–George W. Bush
2005 Commencement Address at Calvin College
Grand Rapids, MI
May 21, 2005

The Acton Institute lost a dear friend with the passing last week of Sr. Connie Driscoll, president of the Chicago-based St. Martin de Porres House of Hope, and a frequent lecturer at the Towards a Free and Virtuous Society conferences. Columnist Carol Marin of the Chicago Sun-Times described Sr. Connie as "the most unlikely nun I have ever seen: a black eye-patch-wearing, cigarillo smoking, Scotch-drinking sister. Though she had lost her left eye to a stroke, her good eye was glinty blue and fiercely focused on a mission that would guide the rest of her life and, along the way, rescue the lives of thousands of others."

Rev. Robert Sirico, president of the Acton Institute, offered these words:

Sr. Connie, known and loved by an entire generation of Acton Institute seminar alumni, followed in a long line of disciples of Christ from the Good Samaritan in the first century, the nuns who invented hospitals in the Middle Ages, William Booth (founder of the Salvation Army) in the 19th century and Mother Francis Cabrini and Mother Teresa in our own age: fearless in serving the vulnerable, trusting in God to provide for the needs, and selfless in their dedication. No one will suggest Connie Driscoll’s canonization – but she is, in many ways, already canonized in the hearts of those she served and who loved her. Her entrepreneurial spirit was a healing inspiration to those who knew her, and I count it an honor to have been her friend.

I pray the ancient prayer for her repose:

“May the Angels lead you into Paradise; may the Martyrs receive you at your coming, and take you to Jerusalem the holy city. May the choirs of the Angels receive you, and may you, with the once poor Lazarus, have rest everlasting.”

Blog author: mvandermaas
Monday, May 23, 2005

A repeat of this famous image on Mars? Not likely if NASA’s in charge.

I was born on the seventh anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s historic moonwalk, which may or may not have something to do with my lifelong love of aviation. I have fond memories from my childhood of sitting in front of the television completely captivated by network news coverage of the launch of the Space Shuttle. Now, I’m not even certain that the 24-hour cable networks cover launches anymore. Sadly, for a shuttle mission to make front-page news these days, it has to end in tragedy. How times have changed.

But in a very central way, times have not changed. Do you find it odd that nearly 25 years after the first launch of the Shuttle, we are now awaiting the tentative return to space of that same, 1970’s era vehicle? Is it not strange that 36 years after setting foot on the surface of the moon, NASA is now satisfied with making occasional hops into low earth orbit in what amounts to a glorified pickup truck?

From First Things, June/July 2005, No. 154, p. 69

The Public Square: A Survey of Religion and Public Life
• Rome Diary, etc., Richard John Neuhaus

• Of the thousands of books that deserve a review, relatively few get reviewed here or elsewhere. Sometimes we plan a review but, for one reason or another, it doesn’t pan out. Happily, that can be partially remedied by borrowing, as I here borrow from Daniel J. Mahoney’s excellent review of Samuel Gregg’s On Ordered Liberty: A Treatise on the Free Society. Writing in the Journal of Markets & Morality, Mahoney notes: “On Ordered Liberty exposes the radical limitations of utilitarian thinking and shows that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in the philosophy of academic liberalism. It also provides a much-needed alternative to libertarian dogmatism in all its forms. It shows that there is nothing authentically liberal about an approach that fails to distinguish between better and worse preferences and that refuses to acknowledge any rationally discernable distinction between the noble and the base. In truth, Gregg’s real target is not utilitarianism, as he declares, but rather the ‘contractualism’ that is at the heart of post-Hobbesian political thought. Social contract theorizing denies the naturalness of the political community and affirms that those authoritative institutions (family, church, and other intermediate institutions) that civilize and socialize human beings lack legitimacy because they limit the free choices of autonomous human beings. Defenders of the free society must finally choose between the contractualist and conventionalist denial of the Good and a more truthful and salutary concept of human freedom. They must choose between an older liberalism that freely acknowledged the dependence of modern freedom on premodem moral capital and a liberty that refuses to bow even before the requirements of Truth. It is to Samuel Gregg’s great credit that his book so thoughtfully clarifies this inescapable battle for the heart and soul of liberalism.”