Archived Posts July 2005 - Page 6 of 9 | Acton PowerBlog

Nearly 1,000 people were on three trains that collided in southern Pakistan Wednesday morning, killing at least 107 people and injuring 800 more. Police now say the death toll is at least 150. One train, the Karachi Express, rammed into the back of another, the stationary Quetta Express, after missing a signal causing several cars to derail. The derailed carriages were then hit almost simultaneously by a third train, the oncoming Tezgam Express, which was taking passengers from Karachi north to Rawalpindi, near the capital of Islamabad. It is well known that Pakistan’s railways are antiquated, and dozens of people have been killed in train accidents in recent years.

Poor infrastructure, coupled with poverty, increases the likelihood that this will happen again. This supports the idea that long-term sustainable economic growth, not permanent international aid or charity, will improve the quality of life as demands for better infrastructure will occur. Having been on the outdated trains in India I can tell you that I’m surprised that this does not happen more often. People are packed in the rail cars like sardines. It’s amazing to see how people can even breathe. Old trains, old technical systems, coupled with increased passenger demands, opens up dangerous possibilities. Countries with the most advanced rail systems have fewer casualities when accidents do happen.

Blog author: abradley
Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Jason Battista, 28, is citing stress from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in a bid for less prison time, the second time the argument has been used by a bank robber. Battista is expected to be sentenced for robbing 15 banks in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey. He was "impacted deeply" by the terror attacks, said his attorney, Stephen Seeger. "He was unable to function properly because of what he saw," Seeger said. "The drug use seemed to spiral out of control after 9-11. He wasn’t the same individual." Last year Pamela Kaichen, known as the "Blond Bandit," received a reduced sentence after arguing she had a mental condition that developed from volunteering at ground zero in New York following the attacks. "It’s clear this defendant was acting under significant mental disabilities triggered by her horrendous experience at ground zero," U.S. District Judge Ellen Bree Burns said at the time.

In our culture of blame it seems that nothing is one’s own fault. If one adopts the "unconstrained vision" of the human person described by Thomas Sowell, one would conclude that since the human person is basically good at the core the only viable explanation for Battista’s and Kaichen’s behavior is that fact that some outside influence operated against their "good nature" to cause them to rob banks.

However, the "constrained vision," which operates under the assumption the people have inherent moral limitations and do bad things, would throw the 9/11 argument out of court because it is irrelevant. Battista and Kaichen, as stressed as they may have been, still had a choice. And what they did choose, says a biblical anthropology, was to embrace sin. Judge Burns, that is not 9/11’s fault.

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, July 12, 2005

In this interview for, Acton Institute senior fellow Marvin Olasky talks about his book, The Religions Next Door. Olasky says, in part, on the importance for Christians to learn about other religions,

Number one, as part of general knowledge, we should know about other religions if we want to understand something about American history, world history, and different cultures of the world. For the purpose of understanding the world and people, then sure we want to do that. Number two if we want to take practical policy actions in regard to say Islam as well as other religions then we have to understand how that works out. That’s going to heavily influence our judgment on what we can do in Iraq and lots of other places. Number three, there are evangelistic purposes that are significant and I think the approach of taking a bullhorn and shouting out Bible verses is not particularly effective. It’s much better to discuss something with a person, find out where that person’s coming from, and be able to deal with the real questions that person has.

Blog author: jballor
Monday, July 11, 2005

Following last month’s Supreme Court decision in No. 04-277, National Cable & Telecommunications Assn. v. Brand X Internet Services, which denied the use of established cable lines to high-speed ISP competitors, there might be a new addition to the broadband internet market.

High-speed internet access is now available in three main ways: via a cable modem, a DSL line, or satellite (this being by far the least common). There are advantages and disadvantages to each, but the Brand X decision solidified a cable company’s sovereignty to it’s own cable lines. This effectively reduces the pool of possible competitive vendors, since even if all three methods are available to you in your particular location (which very often one or more is not available), typically you have the option of only one vender per method.

But today’s Houston Chroncle reports on the possibility of high-speed internet access being made available through powerlines (called BPL, or broadband over power lines), perhaps adding a whole new set of competitors to the game.

And on a related note, check out the possibility that the Brand X decision confers the regulatory powers of the FCC in a radically new way to IP services.

Over at OpinionJournal, Robert Bork examines the effects of “radical personal autonomy” on American jurisprudence in “Their Will Be Done: How the Supreme Court Sows Moral Anarchy.” Says Bork:

Once the justices depart, as most of them have, from the original understanding of the principles of the Constitution, they lack any guidance other than their own attempts at moral philosophy, a task for which they have not even minimal skills. Yet when it rules in the name of the Constitution, whether it rules truly or not, the court is the most powerful branch of government in domestic policy. The combination of absolute power, disdain for the historic Constitution, and philosophical incompetence is lethal.

Blog author: jballor
Monday, July 11, 2005

In a recent commentary criticizing the fast food tax, I wrote,

the fast food industry is really too easy a target for the government. Besieged by the media and public opinion (consider the popularity of the film Super Size Me), quickservice restaurants have gotten the reputation for being extremely unhealthy.

But the truth of the matter is more complex. The National Restaurant Association reports that two-thirds of quickservice restaurants have added low-carb options to their menus. As usual, the service industry responds quickly and efficiently to customer demands.

Here’s some more proof: “NEW MENU CHOICES: Fast food changes quickly,” by Caron Alarab, The Detroit Free Press, July 8, 2005

Blog author: jballor
Monday, July 11, 2005

Today is the UN-sponsored World Population Day, which most of us have never heard of, I’m sure. From the name, I cynically (and rightly) assumed that rather than celebrating human life, this day would instead address many of the spurious “crowded planet” concerns put forth most popularly in Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb (first edition 1968).

Equality empowers…to do what exactly?

You won’t see Ehrlich’s name plastered all over World Population Day materials, but I’m convinced that his thesis is what underlies the effort. Instead, the campaign has cloaked itself in the language of gender equality and the empowerment of women.

Are we having too many children? One way to address the problem is to acknowledge that “reproductive health and rights – such as the right to decide on the number, timing and spacing of children – are central to women’s empowerment and gender equality, and to women’s enjoyment of other human rights.”

A surface reading of such a statement should be non-controversial. If it means that we are all against forcing women to bear children against their will, so be it. But somehow I think there’s a more insidious meaning beind the “right to decide.”

World Population Day 2005 is a day of measured celebration for those opposed to the expansion of human population. A UN report released in 2004 shows that “because of its low and declining rate of population growth, the population of developed countries as a whole is expected to remain virtually unchanged between 2005 and 2050″ For developed nations, “The primary consequence of fertility decline, especially if combined with increases in life expectancy, is population ageing, whereby the share of older persons in a population increases relative to that of younger persons.”

And there are signs of success even in the developing world, since “in the least developed countries, fertility is 5 children per woman and is expected to drop by about half, to 2.57 children per woman by 2045-2050. In the rest of the developing world, fertility is already moderately low at 2.58 children per woman and is expected to decline further to 1.92 children per woman by mid-century, thus nearly converging to the fertility levels by then typical of the developed world.” (More at the aptly named

So if the goal of the UN project is to get the world birth rates to fall below replacement levels (usually averaging 2.1 children per woman), they are well on their way. Developed nations continue to set the pace for non-replacement, where “fertility is currently 1.56 children per woman and is projected to increase slowly to 1.84 children per woman in 2045-2050.”

Blog author: jballor
Friday, July 8, 2005

As the jobless levels across the nation continues to decline, Michigan continues to lag behind. The nationwide unemployment rate decreased to 5.0% in June, to the lowest levels since September, 2001 according to reports. Meanwhile, Michigan remains at the bottom of the list with the worst unemployment levels, upwards of 7%.

But the key to understanding why these improving numbers have not translated into job gains in Michigan appears in the same report: “Factory payrolls shrank for the fourth straight month as auto assembly and parts plants cut back on production. A glut of inventories has prompted many automakers to slow production lines until demand can catch up. Some 96,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost since August 2004.”

Michigan’s manufacturing-centered economy has simply been unable to compete in the global marketplace, and state policies have tended to restrict rather than promote new business enterprise. An op-ed piece in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal argues that Gov. Granholm’s proposed tax plan

does nothing to reduce the excessive overall tax burden on job providers. The governor’s $2 billion bond proposal places taxpayer dollars under the control of “independent job creation experts” (the administration’s term; in the real world, we call them entrepreneurs) and instructs them to invest directly into the perceived industries of tomorrow.

This additional debt does nothing to improve Michigan’s attractiveness to investors, but instead hopes the administration’s handpicked experts will invest “other peoples’ money” effectively. And the governor’s $40.5 billion budget increases spending $1.6 billion above last year’s level and includes $300 million in tax increases. History and basic economics teaches us that Gov. Granholm’s attempt to tax-spend-and-borrow Michigan to prosperity will fail.

The answer to increasing economic growth, creating jobs and raising incomes in Michigan is simple and works whenever tried: Reduce taxes.

On the heels of the defeat of proprosed protections for intellectual property at the hands of the European Parliament, according to the AP the European Commission is addressing an aspect of the same debate: online music and copyright.

With respect to the potential economic benefits, “The most effective model for achieving this is to enable right-holders to authorize a collecting society of their choice to manage their works across the entire EU,” said the Commission in a statement, adding such a system would “considerably enhance” earnings for artists.

It seems the European Commission is determined to be a force for unity, while the European Parliament is a bit more, shall we say, divisive.

HT: Slashdot

The Thinking Toolbox: Thirty-Five Lessons That Will Build Your Reasoning Skills, by Nathaniel Bluedorn and Hans Bluedorn, illustrated by Richard LaPierre, ISBN 0974531510, 234 pp. Christian Logic, 2005.

Nathaniel and Hans Bluedorn are brothers who live in Indiana (more about them at and The Thinking Toolbox is a follow-up to their first book, The Fallacy Detective. These books are primarily intended for use as homeschooling textbooks, and the Bluedorns’ interest in this area stems largely from their education at home growing up.

In an interview, Nathaniel gets at the intention behind the book: to make logic accessible and enjoyable for students. “Logic books are notorious for being very difficult, very austere,” he says. Instead, logic should be “a very enjoyable thing that everybody can do.” Hans affirms that the first step is to get kids to “think at all, and then the next step is to get them to think correctly.”

The book is a course of 35 lessons, with illustrations, applications, and exercises forming distinct little units. Colorful illustrations abound in the book, courtesy of Richard LaPierre. The book starts with the most basic building blocks of critical thinking, inculcating rules like “Just because somebody tells you something, that doesn’t mean it is true,” and moving on to examine things like the different kinds of discourse, and recognizing the difference between facts, opinions, and inferences.