Archived Posts July 2005 » Page 4 of 9 | Acton PowerBlog

“a magnificent desolation”

On September 12, 1962, President John F. Kennedy spoke these words in a speech at Rice University:

There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation may never come again. But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain. Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

36 years ago today, Kennedy’s vision became a reality when Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the Moon. That event remains arguably the greatest technological achievement in history, and represents the high-water mark for the American space program.

At the time it was believed by many that that Neil Armstrong’s “one small step” would represent the first step into a much broader realm of space exploration. Unfortunately, it was not to be. Rand Simberg notes:

The goal had never really been to open up space, so much as to win a race against the Soviets, to demonstrate our technological superiority, as a proxy battle in the Cold War between democracy and totalitarianism (sadly, it wasn’t viewed as a war between capitalism and socialism, else we might have taken a more promising approach). But with the knowledge that we were winning that race, and the budget pressures of Johnson’s Great Society and the Vietnam war, the decision had been made years before to end procurement of long lead items necessary to advance much beyond a few trips to the lunar surface.

The excitement and momentum that once surrounded manned spaceflight programs has now subsided into the stagnant Space Shuttle program, which literally can’t get off the launch pad.

But there is hope. Private companies run by people who envision market-oriented approaches to space exploration are beginning to take up the slack where governments are leaving off. Simberg notes:

Fortunately, though, unlike the 1960s, we can now see a means by which we can do so without having to hope for bureaucrats to make the right decisions as to how to spend taxpayer money. Before too many more Apollo XI anniversaries roll by, I suspect that there will be many non-NASA personnel on the moon, visiting it with their own money, for their own purposes.

I have always found NASA’s photographic archives of the Apollo program to be fascinating and inspiring (Be sure to take a look for yourself if you haven’t done so before.) And I look forward to the day when I will no longer have to wonder what it was like bear witness to a human being setting foot on some other celestial body.

For now, this will have to suffice.

Update: A personal remembrance from Scott Warmka:

Dad was carrying my brother and told me to follow him outside. The night was warm. Above shined clear the moon. Men were there, but we couldn’t see them. We waved anyway. (I think we did that for my brother’s sake.) Barely I caught the look in Dad’s eyes. Not a question, more a simple command, “See what we can do.”

Acton News and CommentaryToday we unleashed a snazzy new version of our weekly newsletter (delivered to your mailbox every Wednesday afternoon), Acton News and Commentary. Today’s issue features a new commentary written by Anthony Bradley entitled “Ghetto Cracker: The Hip Hop ‘Sell Out’,” links to the new Policy Forum on faith-based charities, a new CD release, and links to some of our blog posts. Its a great weekly publication and we encourage you all to sign up for it if you haven’t already.

Go here to sign up for this newsletter. From this page you can also sign up for our Environmental Stewardship e-newsletter, Religion & Liberty, and the Journal of Markets & Morality.

On a related note – the Acton podcast which features Acton staff and experts on various radio shows around the country is now available via the iTunes Music Store. To subscribe, go to the iTunes Music Store, click the Podcasts link in the navigation bar on the top left side of the store, and then search for Acton. There should be a link that says “subscribe” when you are presented with the search results. Or you could just follow this link.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, July 20, 2005

One of the reasons cited for various government programs promoting healthy eating, including the “fat” or “fast food tax,” is the obesity epidemic in America. This is especially true for America’s youth, as childhood obesity is often cited as one of the nation’s greatest health risks.

And experts and bureaucrats alike point the finger at unhealthy diets and “junk food.” A recent study linked childhood obesity in New Zealand with “heavy promotion of calorie-laden junk foods in advertisements near high schools.”

Various public schools, under tigher financial pressures, have made deals with vending companies, and the backlash is starting to be felt, as soda, candy, and chips take the rap for kids’ growing waistlines.

The Simpsons, as usual a reliable pop culture bellwether, had an episode called “The Heartbroke Kid,” in which Bart becomes addicted to junk food at his elementary school, gets fat, and has multiple heart attacks. The vending machines feature such “hip” treats as “Lollapalollipops,” “Krishna Krisps,” and “Dalai Lamanade.” Ingredients in one snack, as Lisa observes, include “monosodium poisonate and partially deweaponized plutonium.”

But have we been too quick to judge the root causes of childhood obesity? Duane D. Freese at Tech Central Station observes that

On the same day that the Federal Trade Commission finished a two day conference on food marketing and obesity and a couple days after the activist group Center for Science in the Public Interest called for warning labels on non-diet soda pop, up popped a study by scientists at the University of New Mexico that said most of the talk was so much hot air.

While scapegoating fast food and vending machine companies has been a favorite pastime for nutrition experts, more important contributing factors to childhood obesity have been overlooked. The greatest of these is perhaps the lack of childhood exercise. The New Mexico study

provided a glimpse at what is going on in the real world. The researchers tracked changes in body mass index, skin fold, physical activity and eating habits of 2,200 girls in three cities for 10 years, from age nine to 19.

The results? Even as eating remained the same, the rate of excess weight and obesity doubled among girls whose physical activity had markedly declined.

In other words, fast food and soft drinks weren’t the culprits. Neither was advertising of it. It was a decline in exercise that mattered. Just two to five hours of brisk walking a week — 17 to 43 minutes a day — would prevent girls gaining 9 to 20 pounds, according to the study. And even if it didn’t prevent weight gain, the additional exercise likely would make the girls healthier and feel better than all the dieting advice coming out of Washington conferences in events.

The sedentary lifestyle of children (and adults) is clear in this country. Wealth and technology, along with substandard physical education, have combined to make physical inactivity a favorite pastime.

My experience with P.E. growing up supports this. On days when P.E. was indoors, the teachers would roll out a few basketballs, and those who wanted to play would, and the others would sit and talk and watch. On outdoor days, we’d stroll lazily around the track. And even this little bit of exercise is minimized, since health class, which consists of sitting in a classroom, is often combined with P.E.

Things aren’t much better when kids get home, because there’s TV to watch, video games to play, and safety concerns with letting kids “go out and play.” Instead of so vigorously attacking fast food and “junk food” companies, people concerned about the health of children should emphasize the importance of regular exercise and physical activity.

Acting “white” is a term of derision among those who view hip hop and rap culture as authentically black. In fact, writes Anthony Bradley, it’s the rappers who’ve sold out by adopting the low-life habits first displayed among poor Southern whites. Bradley examines the hip-hop world’s violent and immoral ethos through the lens of Thomas Sowell’s new book, “Black Rednecks and White Liberals,” and other sources.

Read the full text here.

In an annual report to Congress the Pentagon claims that China now has up to 730 short-range ballistic missiles on its coast opposite Taiwan. Last year’s report found only 500. The Pentagon said China could now be spending up to $90 billion a year on defense, and that its military build-up is putting the region at risk. China has dismissed the claims, insisting its build-up is peaceful. "Not only is China not a threat to anyone, but we would also like to make friends with people in every country, work together and develop mutually beneficial co-operation in order to facilitate everyone’s progress," says Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing.

President Bush announced tonight that he has chosen federal appeals judge John Roberts to succeed Sandra Day O’Connor as an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

Roberts is not a well known figure, but has garnered respect from across the political spectrum throughout his career:

John G. Roberts Jr. was seen as smart and cautious, conservative in his leanings, but not an outspoken ideologue prone to making brash pronouncements. He was the clear favorite of Washington’s Republican legal establishment for the first vacancy on the Supreme Court — whether to replace his old boss, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, or as it turned out, to fill the seat left by the departure of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

Even leading Democratic lawyers, including former Clinton Solicitor Gen. Seth Waxman and the late Lloyd Cutler, signed a letter endorsing his nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington two years ago. They said he was a superb lawyer, a brilliant writer and an effective oral advocate.

There is little doubt that the coming weeks will provide a great deal of dramatic political theater. Your thoughts on Judge Roberts and the upcoming confirmation process are welcome in the comments section below.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, July 19, 2005

An article in today’s New York Times confirms the trend in Hollywood to make movies that are faith and family friendly. Sharon Waxman reports that

producers, directors, studio executives and marketing specialists have been looking to either mollify or entice an audience that made its power felt with last year’s “Passion of the Christ.” That film, directed by Mel Gibson, took in an astonishing $370 million at the domestic box office when released by Newmarket Films in February 2004 and – along with the empowerment of a Christian conservative bloc after the last presidential election – helped change attitudes and practices in an industry usually known for its secularism.

Rev. Sirico recently wrote a commentary on this topic, referencing a newly released report by the Dove Foundation on the profitability of various ratings. The Dove study found that G-rated films are 11 times more profitable than R-rated features.

Here’s an illustration that when there is a market for morally upright products, the marketplace responds, despite whatever disagreements vendors may have with such morality. As Taylor Hackford, director of “Ray,” says, “It’s impossible for Hollywood not to reflect the nature of the country, and Bush has made his religion clear…. People in Hollywood aren’t stupid. It flies in the face of what I believe, but you’re still working in the movie industry, not the movie art form.” The purchasing power of moral consumers is where the real strength is in the marketplace.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Remember what I said about the relationship between charity and evangelism? Here’s a tip: Be careful in Uzbekistan.

Forum 18 relates the story of a woman who runs a charity in Uzbekistan, and has been the target of harassment by the secret police. Marina Kalinkina

rejects accusations that she was conducting illegal religious activity. She stresses that her charity – which is registered with Tashkent’s justice department – helps old people and impoverished families. “On the day the police descended on us, we were celebrating the birthday of an old man to whom we had given financial help,” she told Forum 18. “It was not a religious meeting. Yes, I did pray to God before the meal – but who can stop me doing that in my own home? Nor do I believe that I am breaking the law when I discuss religious issues with my guests.”

The problem according to authorities is that Kalinkina doesn’t draw an artificial line between her “faith” and her “works.”

Begzot Kadyrov, chief specialist at the department for non-Muslim faiths at the Uzbek government’s religious affairs committee, defended the measures taken against her. “Kalinkina’s main problem is that she registered her organisation as a charitable rather than religious enterprise,” he told Forum 18 from Tashkent on 18 July. “There is nothing about religious activity in Dustlig Kuprigi’s statute. Yet in fact Kalinkina is preaching to people. In other words, she is doing the work of an unregistered religious organisation, and that is forbidden under Uzbek law.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, July 18, 2005

Who needs sustainable cities? It appears that China does. Slashdot reports that a leading architect of the sustainable city movement, William McDonough, has been commissioned by the Chinese government to create “a national prototype for the design of a sustainable village, an effort focused on creating a template for improving the quality of life for 800 million rural Chinese.” A quick survey of McDonough’s clients includes Ford Motor Company, Fuller Theological Seminary, the Grand Rapids Art Museum, and IBM Corporation.

In an interview on sustainability, McDonough cites environmental concerns as key. “The goal is a safe, healthy, just world, clean air, soil and power, that is elegantly enjoyed,” he says. “In the 70s we saw the hegemony of fossil fuels. So what would be the next design philosophy we would want to work with?”

McDonough repeats the popular axiom that the Stone Age did not end because humans ran out of stones. Indeed, that something must change in China is increasingly less debatable. A report by the Energy Information Administration of the Department of Energy identifies China’s horrible pollution situation:

“A report released in 1998 by the World Health Organization (WHO) noted that of the ten most polluted cities in the world, seven can be found in China. Sulfur dioxide and soot caused by coal combustion are two major air pollutants, resulting in the formation of acid rain, which now falls on about 30% of China’s total land area. Industrial boilers and furnaces consume almost half of China’s coal and are the largest single point sources of urban air pollution.”

News media are beginning to recognize the significance of China’s dilemma, since “China accounts for about 12 percent of the world’s energy demand, but its consumption is growing at more than four times the global rate…. The country’s top environmental officials have warned of ecological and economic doom if China continues to follow this pattern.”

A recent USA TODAY story relates the economic impact of China’s worsening environmental situation. Citing Pan Yue, deputy director of China’s State Environmental Protection Administration, the report finds “Environmental injury costs China 8% to 15% of its annual gross domestic product.” It continues, “In the north, encroaching deserts are prompting human migrations that swell overburdened cities. In the south, factories have closed periodically for lack of water…. The World Bank estimates such shutdowns cost $14 billion annually in lost output.”

China’s pollution illustrates as well the fundamental flaws in the Kyoto Protocol. As a developing nation, China is exempt from the constraints of the agreement, despite it’s enormous and growing population, and it’s huge share of global pollution. Robert Mendelsohn, professor in the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, wrote that “Kyoto is consequently a complex country-by-country agreement that includes everything from nothing to extreme measures. It is no surprise that the USA did not finally agree to Kyoto as it was negotiated.”

For more reading about the legitimacy of governmental roles in promoting sustainability, see the Controversy between Charles C. Bohl, Director of the Knight Program in Community Building at the University of Miami, and Mark Pennington, Lecturer in Public Policy at the University of London, in the Journal of Markets & Morality issue on the New Urbanism, “To What Extent and in What Ways Should Governmental Bodies Regulate Urban Planning?”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, July 18, 2005

Cigar Jack passes along this story about “faith leaders” soliciting the government to place tobacco regulation under the auspices of the FDA. The proposed legislation, which has twice been left languishing in the U.S. House of Representatives, “would give the FDA authority over the manufacturing, marketing and sale of tobacco products.”

These faith leaders, like Rev. T. Randall Smith, pastor of Deer Park United Methodist Church and president of Texas Conference of Churches, represent a faction of Christianity that is radically different than that is historically ensconced in European culture. I have remarked on this before, specifically with reference to the “the Dutch-American culture of West Michigan.”

Moments like these seem to show that public opinion is generally in favor of the government restriction and prohibition of smoking. Even something as traditionally suspect as poker has succumbed to the cultural sanitization, as at the 2005 World Series of Poker completed last week, “There’s no cursing, no smoking and no mercy at the tables in a windowless hangar-like room,” though there is “a choking haze of cigarette and cigar smoke in the hallway.”

And to think that government is an impartial arbiter of justice in cases like this, as the aforementioned “faith leaders” seem to think, is to be more than a bit naive. A case in point: Despite bitter and contentious debate about the state’s budget woes, Republicans and Democrats in Michigan can at least agree on one thing–there’s a consensus to “sell off part of the state’s future tobacco settlement for a $3 billion upfront payment.”