Archived Posts May 2005 - Page 6 of 12 | Acton PowerBlog

Thorny issues arise when non-profits take government funding, especially when said non-profits have an explicitly Christian (and evangelistic) purpose. Case in point: “The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit yesterday against the Department of Health and Human Services, accusing the Bush administration of spending federal tax dollars on an abstinence education program that promotes Christianity,” aka Silver Ring Thing.

I first heard about the Silver Ring Thing via a special documentary broadcast on NPR, “With This Ring: Pledging Abstinence.” All in all it looks like a praiseworthy effort communicating the message of Christian holiness…in policy lingo “a faith-based abstinence message.” I don’t know if they still do it or not, but the NPR documentary said that at the end of the event students are given a Bible compliments of SRT.

I’m inclined to think that the SRT mission would be better served if it didn’t rely on the government for funding…even if that funding is legal and the government wants to give it. Consider it a form of forbidden fruit (with strings attached, of course). If the ACLU wins the suit, SRT might be faced with the decision to abandon the explicitly evangelistic elements to remain eligible for funding. And other faith-based non-profits might be tempted to do so preemptively, to avoid the tangles and confusions of litigation.

HT: The Corner

Rev. Gerald Zandstra, director of programs at the Acton Institute, has taken a leave of absence to enter the race for the U.S. Senate. This AP story quotes Jerry, and sizes up the campaign.

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, May 17, 2005

In a row over the Freedom of Information Act, Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s administration has finally acknowledged expense information first requested by media outlets nearly two years ago. According to the Detroit Free Press, documents were turned over last month, “But in dozens of instances, pages were missing, or information on the city-supplied records was blacked out.”

Now that the Free Press has obtained unedited and complete copies of the records, comparison of the two sets of papers shows, “The information blacked out on records the city provided frequently dealt with Kilpatrick’s spending while out of town,” and, “More than a dozen documents dealing with the Kilpatrick administration and his family’s spending at hotels were not included with what the city turned over to the newspaper. Those documents were included in Harris’ unedited records.”

Poor bookkeeping practices, disputes of charges, and reimbursements were cited by Kilpatrick for the delay in making the documents public. Here’s an example of the kinds of charges made on Kilpatrick’s city-issued credit card:

In January 2003, when Kilpatrick went to Washington for the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ winter meeting, the city was billed for 36 hours of chauffeur service during the 62 hours Kilpatrick spent in the capital, according to detailed receipts obtained from the auditor.

The total cost to taxpayers was $3,837.60. City officials blacked out all but $135.15 of those charges from the mayor’s credit card statement and pulled receipts before providing documents to the newspaper. Beatty said the city is disputing those charges, too, and did not provide documentation.

For more about the rude reception an investigative reporter received when following Kilpatrick to a recent mayors’ convention, see this post.

For my take on proposals like Kilpatrick’s “fast-food tax,” see this op-ed from Sunday’s Oakland Press (PDF).

And for other mayorial mischief, see these two pieces (here and here) on Grand Rapids mayor George Heartwell’s contention that his position deserves a raise to $85,000 per year, more than double the current salary.

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, May 17, 2005

This story from The Boston Globe (via Arts & Letters Daily) relects on the changing place of tobacco in contemporary American society. The efforts of various municipalities and anti-smoking activists have largely managed to turn the cigarette into a symbol of knavery rather than gentry.

As A.S. Hamrah recounts, “Smokers were once thought to make the best conversationalists, the best soldiers, even the best husbands.” The merits of tobacco have been celebrated, for example, by J.R.R. Tolkien in his Lord of the Rings trilogy (recall the effusive praise heaped upon pipe-weed by the hobbits). As a friend of mine once said, “Smoking just looks cool.”

Of course as cultural mores change, this claim is more open to challenge than it has been previously. Is it instead a mark of our sophistication that we are evolving into a “smokeless” society? My first impression of Calvin Seminary when I began attending in 2000 was the number of people standing around outside smoking. I was flabbergasted, not having been reared in the Dutch-American culture of West Michigan. Then I heard tales of how in years past professors and students used to smoke in classrooms, during meetings, and in the lounge areas, as layers of smoke would collect on the ceiling.

Of course, one of the defining characteristics of European culture that I’ve found in my admittedly brief travels was a love of smoking. While many anti-smoking efforts have been put in place in the EU, I wonder if the per capita number of smokers is greater in other parts of the world, compared with the US.

Hamrah relates that “wherever tobacco has been smoked it has also been railed against, massively taxed and banned.” According to one of the books reviewed in the story, King James I increased the tax on tobacco to 4,000 percent to dissuade his subjects from smoking, “claiming that it made its users unfit servants of the state.”

One thing we can be sure of is that such policy “solutions” tend to not be very effective. The anti-smoking activists have done a good job of realizing that to defeat the culture of smoking, people’s attitudes toward the practice need to be changed, not simply through taxation or legal prohibition, but through changes in popular culture.

Blog author: jcouretas
Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Political leaders in Europe who have tied their fortunes to the creation of the new EU superstate are now dismissing the growing sentiment against the metastasizing, power-hungry bureaucracy in Brussels as “whims of changing opinion polls or referendums.” That’s from German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who finds it increasingly difficult to bully his countrymen into the deal. Here’s how a story in Der Spiegel describes the mood of voters:

Citizens are quickly becoming wary of the transfer of power to a largely anonymous authority in Brussels — an authority with limited legitimacy that claims to have a better handle on what is good for Poles, Germans or the Portuguese than the Poles, Germans and the Portuguese themselves. Europeans are rebelling against their own governments, which, at least according to popular perception, are allowing themselves to be led around by the nose by the EU’s centralized power.

An explosive mix of fear, anger and frustration with Europe is building, especially in Germany and France. And with regional elections approaching in Germany and the European constitution referendum scheduled for the end of the month in France, it’s quite possible that these emotions will soon come to a head.

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, May 17, 2005

My more detailed response to last week’s NYT editorial defending chimera research is posted over at WorldMagBlog.

An excellent reflection on the role of Christianity and its relation to political loyalties from Joe Carter at the evangelical outpost. The key conclusion: “As a fellow traveler of the GOP, I find myself walking side by side with the party toward the same goals. But at other times our paths will diverge and I must follow where my conscience as a Christian conservative leads me. After all, to stand with Christ means that I can’t always stand with the Republican Party.”

Some of my thoughts on “partisan Christianity” are available here.