Archived Posts September 2005 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: jballor
Friday, September 30, 2005

Why review a television show that never completed even its first season nearly three years ago? The confluence of events and circumstances that resulted in the cancellation of the Fox show Firefly in 2002 has done little to destroy the resiliency of the Firefly phenomenon. While only 14 episodes were ever made, and only 11 of those ever shown, once the complete series of Firefly came out on DVD, it topped sales at Amazon for months (it’s currently ranked #7). Fans of the show around the country host parties to watch the complete series with their friends. And today a full-length movie debuts in theaters, bringing the resurrection of the Firefly franchise full-circle.

Just what is it about this show that has made it such a phenomenon? It’s one part western, one part space opera, and one part action-adventure, a creation of Joss Whedon, of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame. Others have commented on the show’s libertarian themes, but in the final analysis I think these claims are somewhat overblown. While libertarian emphases are clearly present, contract ultimately is not king.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, September 29, 2005

An article by City University of New York professor Richard Wolin celebrates the legacy of Jürgen Habermas, who represents a shift from philosophers such as Marx and Nietzsche. “Among 19th-century thinkers it was an uncontestable commonplace that religion’s cultural centrality was a thing of the past,” but in the words of Habermas, “For the normative self-understanding of modernity, Christianity has functioned as more than just a precursor or a catalyst. Universalistic egalitarianism, from which sprang the ideals of freedom and a collective life in solidarity, the autonomous conduct of life and emancipation, the individual morality of conscience, human rights, and democracy, is the direct legacy of the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love.”

Wolin himself is able to appreciate that at least some aspects of religion may be meritorious:

laissez-faire’s success as a universally revered economic model means that, today, global capitalism’s triumphal march encounters few genuine oppositional tendencies. In that regard, religion, as a repository of transcendence, has an important role to play. It prevents the denizens of the modern secular societies from being overwhelmed by the all-encompassing demands of vocational life and worldly success. It offers a much-needed dimension of otherness: The religious values of love, community, and godliness help to offset the global dominance of competitiveness, acquisitiveness, and manipulation that predominate in the vocational sphere. Religious convictions encourage people to treat each other as ends in themselves rather than as mere means.

That a world leading philosopher like Habermas is ready to give some positive credit to religion in general and Christianity in particular is noteworthy, and at the same time promising. Perhaps we might see concord in the future between religion and philosophy, as the latter deals with the inherent religiosity of the human person. Conflict between the two was not always as bitter and strident as it can be today.

Thus John Calvin is able to affirmatively cite pagan thinkers in his Institutes. He appeals to Cicero to argue the universality of religious practice: “But, as a heathen tells us, there is no nation so barbarous, no race so brutish, as not to be imbued with the conviction that there is a God. Even those who, in other respects, seem to differ least from the lower animals, constantly retain some sense of religion; so thoroughly has this common conviction possessed the mind, so firmly is it stamped on the breasts of all men.”

Indeed, this universality of religion is so important to Calvin that he sees it as constitutive of what separates human beings from animals: “Thus Gryllus, also, in Plutarch (lib. guod bruta anim. ratione utantur), reasons most skillfully, when he affirms that, if once religion is banished from the lives of men, they not only in no respect excel, but are, in many respects, much more wretched than the brutes, since, being exposed to so many forms of evil, they continually drag on a troubled and restless existence: that the only thing, therefore, which makes them superior is the worship of God, through which alone they aspire to immortality.”

Hurricane Rita
Hurricane Rita nearing the Texas-Louisiana border.

In the wake of overwhelming need of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, thankfully a number of us are voicing irritation with the inquiry, “How important do you think that faith-based organizations are to helping people”?

Before ANY organization — government agency of any kind or national nonprofit — made a move, faith organizations had already moved. In San Antonio, where several Russian students were among New Orleans evacuees, Victory Fellowship, a faith-based, privately funded substance abuse treatment program, simply did the obvious. Victory Fellowship staff picked up the students, took them back to the Victory facility, let them get cleaned up, fed them, and let them call home.

Up to that point, these students had not been allowed to call to notify families that they had, in fact, survived the hurricane. Tragically assuming the worst, several families were already arranging funeral services in Russia. And I hesitate to even relay this story; given the media reporting patterns of late, the issue will turn not from the tremendous things being done without a dime of public money but rather who is to blame that these students weren’t allowed to call home.

We highlighted the immediate action of ABC Pregnancy Resource Center in Lake Charles, LA, as evidence of the helping opportunities available to people all over the country. Two Little Rock, AR, churches saw this story, contacted ABC for specific needs, loaded trucks with those supplies—and more—and headed south. According to Neta Mire, ABC’s director, “The response has been simply incredible. People have sent money, brought specific items that were needed, and apologized for not being able to do more. One organization even paid to overnight diapers, clothes, baby formula, and a new car seat to us immediately after Katrina evacuees arrived in Lake Charles.

THEN Rita hit Lake Charles and frankly, neither we nor new Little Rock friends have been able to find the ABC Center folks.

Some organizations, including the Nation Center for Responsible Philanthropy decry recent charitable giving incentives (CARE Act, Katrina Tax Relief Package [Bill Number S.1696]) and laud exponentially increased, no doubt, funding for government capacity. And gross inferences about motives are nonetheless irresponsible: “Since corporate charity is increasingly in the form of donated goods and services as opposed to what charities really need—cash—one might suppose that there are some highly self-interested corporate lobbyists involved with corporations that have some prodigious loads of product to dump and are looking for some extra benefits for their corporate sponsors.” Mr. Cohen demonstrates his lack of “in the trenches” experience; the charities such as ABC specifically asked for donated product, and were thrilled to get exactly what they asked for. May the vehicles that generate these win-win relationships for small, locally based charities increase.

Blog author: dphelps
Thursday, September 29, 2005

Because too much has already been said about the recent gulf hurricanes, I won’t put in my two cents. I will, however, direct the reader to the most insightful take on this situation that I have yet to stumble across. As you read it, think again about the importance of the definitions of the words we use, such as ‘responsibility’ and ‘authority’ as are discussed in the mentioned article and those mentioned in previous posts here and here.

Federal involvement in education has grown steadily throughout the nation’s history, encroaching on what is still viewed by American’s as mostly a state and local responsibility. Kevin Schmiesing looks at a new book that examines U.S. education policy, the red tape and bureaucracy that has resulted, and the opposition to federal control that arose from parochial school administrators.

Read the full text here.

Blog author: kschmiesing
Tuesday, September 27, 2005

A wonderful piece by Deroy Murdock today on NRO. Though most fiscal conservatives understandably vote Republican, the record substantiates the theory that spending is less responsible when Congress is dominated by one party—either party—than when each party has enough votes to frustrate the other. Others have drawn attention to the problem of Republican pork, but Murdock does so in an especially devastating way.

The BBC reports today a great illustration of human creativity and the intersection of technology and subsidiarity. MIT has set up what they called Fab Labs (Fabrication Labs) in what many might consider the least likely places for technological invention. These Labs consist of basic tools and software than enable people in sometimes remote and rural locations to invent and fabricate the technology they need in their daily work. MIT professor Neil Gershenfeld:

In a world of Fab Labs, you can think about the other five and a half billion brains on the planet not just as potential consumers, but as creators, as inventors. Creation itself can become much more distributed, and you can bring not information technology, but IT development to the masses. You can close what you might think of as a fabrication divide.

Can you hear me now? Gooood.

These Fabs Labs are being used in small communites around the world to create a myriad of practical tools such as a Fu-Fu pounder in Ghana (fu-fu is a dish in Ghana…read the article), a tester for bad milk in India, and a sheep tracker north of the Arctic circle. MIT set up one of these Fab Labs in the barn of sheep farmer Haakon Karlsen. He used the parts and software in the Lab to create a custom GPS sheep tracking device out of cell phones. The trackers help him find his sheep in the dark, track their movement, and even tells him the temperature wherever the sheep happen to be.

Local governments are scrambling to get their hands on these labs, hoping that they will engender a spirit of local inventiveness and will “enable…entrepreneurs and engineers alike to test their ideas, and ‘fast track the process of growth and development.'”

Gershenfeld speculates about the reason for the success of these labs and

thinks that, more fundamentally, the idea of personal or small-group fabrication has tapped into the primal need that some people have to create things, to modify the world in which they live.

I don’t know that I approve of the word ‘primal’, as this word suggests ‘chronological snobbery’. However, replace ‘primal’ with ‘essentially human’ and I think he’s got something here. Consider these words from John Paul II:

…the earth does not yield its fruits without a particular human response to God’s gift, that is to say, without work. It is through work that man, using his intelligence and exercising his freedom, succeeds in dominating the earth and making it a fitting home.

Of course these Fab Labs are thriving. Creativity, problem-solving, inventiveness: these are some of the qualities that define us as humans. We are essentially entrepreneurial beings.
This is not a new idea. Thank God some are rediscovering it.