Archived Posts October 2005 - Page 3 of 7 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: dphelps
Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Last night, at Acton’s 15 Year Dinner in Grand Rapids, former president of El Salvador Francisco Flores gave a reason for his county’s great economic success: it stopped blaming others. Compare this with another statement yesterday by another politician, Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm. In a bid to the federal government to help the ailing Michigan manufacturing industry, she said (among other things) that “a crisis is upon us and the Federal Government needs to step up and do its share” presumably because “NAFTA and CAFTA have given Michigan the shafta.”

Now, I may be a sucker for semi-witty wordplay, but the reason I bring this up is simply to point out the following: one politician, whose state was once in a financial ruin Michiganders cannot imagine, pulled his country to increased prosperity with a “don’t blame others; take responsibility for yourself” mentality (to read another speech he gave along these lines, click here); another politician, whose state is on the economic slide, blames the policies of the federal government for it and then demands that the same federal government fix the problem. The irony that these two politicians made these two statements on the same day in Michigan evokes in me–well, lafta.

The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.
—James 1:9–11 (NIV)


Blog author: jcouretas
Monday, October 24, 2005

In case you missed it, the Washington Post did a fun review of the new three-volume art book on the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip. For a parent who raised two daughters during the strip’s 10-year run from 1985 to 1995, it’s refreshing to learn that creator Bill Watterson rejected all attempts at further commercializing the adventures and musings of the young boy and his stuffed tiger.

It seems that every children’s flick and television series of the Calvin and Hobbes era – remember those greedy orange cats, troubled baby dinosaurs looking for their mothers, and rebellious mermaids? — was released with the primary motive of selling everything from beach towels to underpants. Many children’s films were – and are — simply 90-minute commercials intended to convince children they needed to own junk emblazoned with registered trademarked likenesses.

Watterson quit while he was ahead and his strip is still vibrant, witty and charming. He had no interest in turning Calvin and Hobbes into a Spielberg film, television series, calendars or anything else. Those atrocious stickers you see on vehicles with a young boy resembling Calvin urinating on Chevy bow-ties and Ford blue ovals? Rip-offs.

Instead, Watterson held firm to the integrity of his strip, which featured characters named after John Calvin, Thomas Hobbes, and a teacher named Wormwood — Satan’s nephew in C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. The strip was imaginative, frequently hilarious and often discussed philosophical concepts without coming down definitively on any side.

The beauty of the free-market system is that it grants us freedom to earn as much as possible, but also grants us the freedom to say “enough.” We can know how much money is enough for our individual needs – and that art and literature might suffer terribly at the hands of merchandisers who would dilute its value for a quick buck.

Blog author: jcouretas
Monday, October 24, 2005

Jose Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission, is calling on all “civilized and rational” people to combat anti-trade populism of the sort that is designed to whip up fear and protectionism. In an interview with The Times (London), Barroso issued what he called a wake-up call: “If the signal we give to our children is ‘Protect yourself — hide under the table because there is globalisation, resist it’ — then we are nothing.”

This week, European leaders are headed to London for a meeting designed to “forge a consensus on the way forward for Europe,” The Times said. Barroso described the populist problem as widespread, but one that was chiefly engineered by France and Germany. As the Time reported:

France has led a series of attacks on the Commission’s free-market policies, which have caused chaos in world trade. France and Italy, among others, pushed the Commission into putting up barriers to Chinese textile imports, which led to clothes being piled up at European ports recently.France, Spain and other countries tried to block talks about it because they were concerned about the Commission’s promises to cut farm subsidies. France and Germany also torpedoed an attempt to open the internal market for services in Europe. President Chirac of France denounced “neo-liberalism” as the “new communism” earlier this year.

Senhor Barroso hit back at leaders, including M Chirac, who curry support by denouncing free markets. “There is now a kind of populism from the so-called Right or Left. Because it is against the market, it is against the institutions we have created, it is against some values — of tolerance, for instance — because there is also some kind of xenophobia coming up.”

The 2005 Samaritan Award Grand Prize winner was announced today! If you are unfamiliar with the Samaritan Award, or the Samaritan Guide, information can be found here, here, here or here. The winner of the $10,000 award was the Lives Under Construction Boy's Ranch Residential Treatment Program. This program, based in Lampe, Missouri, takes in boys with serious behavioural problems and turns their lives around. The program teaches the value of making right choices, emphasizing the importance of good work and instilling a sense of self-worth in those who feel that the whole world is against them.

The program features physical job training (carpentry, animal husbandry, welding, mechanics, housekeeping, cooking...) as well as educational assistance. An 11 minute video presentation ( - 20Mb) gives a brief but concise description of this amazing organization.

Samaritan Award Honorees were also announced and include the Washington City Mission, Washington, Pa.; Panama City Rescue Mission, Panama City, Fla.; Promise of Hope, Inc., Dudley, Ga.; Hearts of Christ Youth Outreach Ministry, Memphis, Tenn.; Citizens for Community Values of Memphis, Memphis, Tenn.; Good Shepherd Shelter of Los Angeles, Los Angeles, Calif.; Samaritan Inns, Inc., Washington, D.C.; Union Gospel Mission Twin Cities, St. Paul, Minn.; and Knox County Christian Women’s Job Corps, Knoxville, Tenn.

Please read the official Acton Press Release for more information. Also, please visit the Samaritan Guide for more information about these individual programs.

Blog author: jballor
Friday, October 21, 2005

“I don’t think many of the conflicts I’ve covered were really about religion. It’s about territory. It’s about power. It’s about other things. It’s just broken down along religious lines.”

James Nachtwey, war photographer, 56, New York City
(Interviewed by Cal Fussman, Esquire, Oct 01 ’05)

Spurred on by the specter of miraculous cures to horrible diseases, Irving Weissman, director of Stanford’s Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, is working on experiments combining human brains and mice. The Stanford Daily reports that Dr. Weissman “has worked with the transfer of human neurons to the brains of mice for several years now. He has already bred mice whose brains are composed of 1 percent human neurons, finding that transplanted human brain cells could successfully connect to a mouse brain.” Such experiements yield what are known as “chimeras,” the creation of organisms composed of material from multiple species.

But what a mere 1% can’t tell you, Dr. Weissman bets the other 99% will. Dr. Weissman “wants to initiate a new experiment by transplanting human brain-stem cells to an inbred strain of mice whose natural brain cells die before the mice’s birth. Human brain cells would then replace the mice’s own, creating a breed of mice whose brains are composed entirely of human neurons.”

This kind of transplantation seems to be a rather different from other kinds of brain transplantation that has been discussed before, since the brain-stem cells would develop once they had been implanted in the mice. With respect to the possibility of the transplant of a completely developed brain, Dr. Ben Carson, who has been director of pediatric neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions for over 20 years and is a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics, says, “As a brain surgeon, let me say we don’t have to worry about transplanting human brains into other animals because we’re already dealing with billions and billions of neurons and hundreds of billions of interconnections, and it’s not going to happen.”

But even this supposedly less complex kind of transplant proposed by Dr. Weissman has been acknowledged by him that it “may not even work at all.” For the time being, Dr. Weissman’s proposals are on hold until a clear scientific consensus is reached on the ethical dimensions of the research.

Recent testimony given by members of the President’s Council on Bioethics attests to the diversity of opinion on these issues. Dr. William Hurlbut, himself a consulting professor in human biology at Stanford University and who was not quoted in the Stanford Daily article, says:

It is possible using certain technologies to transplant whole modules of developing portions of the embryo from one species to another. This has been done by Le Dourian and Balabon, where they actually transplanted a portion of the developing brain, early neurologic system at that stage, and got the crowing capacities of a quail put into a chick.

And so he actually transplanted a unit of behavior. Just to draw that a little farther, I think we should also be careful to not do that with elements of human form. In other words, it isn’t just a matter of cognition that we’re concerned about. The categories of our world, the conceptual categories that organize our world provide an intelligible world to us. These are not to be taken lightly.

The way we understand our world is by the separations within the world. For very serious purposes we might mix those, but I think we should be careful not just to see that as a matter of inner psychological or cognitive functions, but we need to preserve the human form, the dignity of the human form.

Diana J. Schaub, a professor of political science at Loyola College in Maryland, discusses a study on the subject and argues that “transplanting human neural stem cells into a mouse no more transforms the mouse than transplanting a pig heart valve into a person transforms the person. All of the rules that the authors recommend seems to me sensible, and although they don’t acknowledge it, those rules are based on preserving species integrity. Transfer the smallest number of cells necessary; use dissociated human stem cells rather than larger tissue transplants; and select host animals carefully, preferring distant relations over our nearer primate cousins.”

When Dr. Alfonso Gómez-Lobo, professor of metaphysics and moral philosophy at Georgetown University, discusses the possibility, he says:

Let me start with the most extreme and highly unlikely case. Suppose human neurological stem cells are transplanted into a primate so that the animal acquired some key human features. It seems to me that this would be morally troublesome in spite of the often heard argument that there’s nothing wrong with enhancing the capabilities of an animal.

In my opinion, this procedure should be viewed the other way around. It is not that an animal is thereby enhanced, but rather that what is essentially human is really debased. It is closer to the production of a human being in the wrong body.

And I often imagine what it would be like to wake up one day only to realize that I have the body of a chimpanzee. Luckily, we’re told that this is virtually impossible because the human body as we know it seems to be absolutely necessary for the development of the human mind, and I’m thinking about size of the brain, the cranial space, et cetera.