Archived Posts December 2005 » Page 5 of 6 | Acton PowerBlog

I wrote previously about the result of the recent world information summit that resulted in ICANN’s continuing governance over Internet domain registration worldwide. Fast Company Now provides us a link to the letter from Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez that may have precipitated the détente. Among the salient features of the letter:

  • The contention that “support for the present structures for Internet governance is vital. These structures have proven to be a reliable foundation for the robust growth of the Internet we have seen over the course of the last decade.” If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

  • “Burdensome, bureaucratic oversight” (read UN involvement) “is out of place in an Internet structure that has worked so well for many around the globe.”
  • An emphasis on non-governmental solutions: “The history of the Internet’s extraordinary growth and adaptation, based on private-sector innovation and investment, offers compelling arguments against burdening the network with a new intergovernmental structure for oversight. It also suggests that a new intergovernmental structure would most likely become an obstacle to global Internet access for all our citizens.”

The tone of the letter is rather unyielding (principled, perhaps?) in the face of complaints against ICANN (and implicitly American) dominance over Internet administration. I find the arguments rather compelling, especially given that ICANN seems to be responsive to global concerns.

For example, a new Internet domain for the European Union opened up this past Wednesday. This will allow interested parties to register with the new “.eu” suffix instead of having to choose from country-specific codes, such as “.uk” or “.fr”, or other generic options, “.com” and “.net”.

So ICANN is listening to the EU, even if the push for the new domain isn’t a grassroots campaign. The question is whether Europeans actually desire a “.eu” domain name: “Some business groups are uncertain how popular it will be. Europeans have an EU flag, an EU passport and an EU anthem but many have a lukewarm attitude to European integration —as French and Dutch ‘no’ votes to a new constitution showed this year.” I don’t think a “.na” (North America) domain would be that popular for Canadians and Americans, for instance.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, December 9, 2005

You probably have heard of Pascal’s Wager, but have you heard of Kant’s Bet? Immanuel Kant, the 18th century moral philosopher, famous for his discussion of the categorical imperative, has an interesting section bearing on economics in his Canon of Pure Reason (which comes at the conclusion of his Critique of Pure Reason).

In the section discussion epistemology, entitled, “Opining, Knowing, and Believing,” Kant explores the difference between subjective conviction that something is true and objective certainty. The personal basis for such a judgment depends in part on the strength of the subjective belief. Talking specifically about pragmatic beliefs, which adhere to some activity and particular action, Kant writes:

The usual touchstone, whether that which someone asserts is merely his persuasion — or at least his subjective conviction, that is, his firm belief — is betting. It often happens that someone propounds his views with such positive and uncompromising assurance that he seems to have entirely set aside all thought of possible error. A bet disconcerts him. Sometimes it turns out that he has a conviction which can be estimated at a value of one ducat, but not of ten. For he is very willing to venture one ducat, but when it is a question of ten he becomes aware, as he had not previously been, that it may very well be that he is in error. If, in a given case, we represent ourselves as staking the happiness of our whole life, the triumphant tone of our judgment is greatly abated; we become extremely diffident, and discover for the first time that our belief does not reach so far. Thus pragmatic belief always exists in some specific degree, which, according to differences in the interests at stake, may be large or may be small.

In such a way, we can arrive a subjective value of actual beliefs, while at the same time exposing the truth that full subjective conviction cannot be immediately translated into objective certainty. Thus we have Kant’s Bet, not something Kant invented of course, but merely passes along to us as part of the philosophical tradition.

In the twentieth century, Italian statistician Bruno de Finetti came up with a rather more refined and complex version of something like Kant’s Bet, designed as “a method to gauge someone’s confidence in the chances of a given event occurring by measuring it against a lottery with a known probability” (See The De Finetti Game via the evangelical outpost). All this really is a philosophical way of getting at the old cliché, “Put your money where your mouth is.”

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Thursday, December 8, 2005
“Oh Holiday tree, oh Holiday tree…”

“Happy Holidays” has become the accepted greeting in December. Even the White House has embraced “Happy Holidays” over the more traditional and Christian “Merry Christmas.” Understandably, many people are upset about the use of the word “holiday” rather than “Christmas.” I wanted to take a quick look at some traditions surrounding the December holidays, sorting out which situations should be using “Christmas” and which should be using “Holiday.”

First off, saying “Happy Holidays” is a very easy, quick, inoffensive and non-oppressive way to express greetings and love to a variety of people. December 25 is a day special to both Christians and Jews, who celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah, respectively. December 26-January 1 is Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, both non-Christian celebrations. Therefore, it would make sense to use “Happy Holidays” to express festive greetings to those who celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa. It is definately quicker than saying “Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Kwanzaa.” When the White House greeting card says, “With best wishes for a holiday season of hope and happiness 2005,” we can assume that rather than waging war against a traditional Christmas, the White House is simply acknowledging that different people are celebrating different holidays.

The same goes for store window signs, or for clerks working at stores (and other people that Rev. Jerry Falwell and the “religious [far] right” are angry at). Why shouldn’t they be able to acknowledge people who aren’t Christians by expressing joy about other cultural or religious celebrations?

Problems exist – I agree; but I think that these problems are more along the lines of cultural ignorance (I’ll quickly admit that I don’t know much about either Hanukkah or Kwanzaa). In the same way that we should be open to other cultural celebrations and holidays, we should be able to keep our own straight. The Christmas Tree (according to the much disputed Wikipedia) was appropriated by Christian missionaries from the German celebration of the Winter Solstice – the Yule. It remains a traditional (although not neccessarily Christian) element of Christmas – which is a Christian celebration; therefore we call the tree a Christmas tree. Logically, if the Christmas tree is adopted by other religions or cultures as elements of their celebrations (which the Christians did) then it would make sense for them to call it what they wanted – the “Kwanzaa tree” or the “Hanukkah tree.”

So – just to summarize – I have no problem with “happy holidays,” so long as you are referring to the holidays, and not to a specific holiday. If you’re talking about only Kwanzaa, say “Happy Kwanza.” Hanukkah? “Happy Hanukkah!” Its a “Menorah,” not a Holiday candle. Its a Christmas tree, not a Holiday tree.

I wonder what’s on C-SPAN tonite.

An interesting piece today by George Will, outlining what he calls a new government entitlement program that is being batted around the House and Senate: $990 million (according to the House) or $3 billion (according to the Senate) to subsidize digital converters for television sets. The idea is that by 2009, analog transmission will be a thing of the past, and even though most households by that time will already have digital televisions, our beneficient leaders consider it their responsibility to ensure us that no one is left out in the analog cold. Apparently, the question of personal initiative in this matter is not an issue.

…today’s up-to-date conservatism does not stand idly by expecting people to actually pursue happiness on their own…Given that the transition to digital has been under way for almost a decade, why should those who have adjusted be compelled to pay money to those who have chosen not to adjust?

But leaving the questions of inititative and subsidies aside–whether or not the government ought to be spending money to, in effect, make consumer decisions for us–what makes Congress think this particular sector of the market–televisions–has anything to do with their legislative responsibilities? Who am I, a faithful taxpayer, paying to sit around and write up these plans? Then again, the primary tool of Orwell’s Big Brother was the television screen.

So if these plans pass, twenty-five years after 1984 we can rest assured that Big Brother will be safeguarding all our entertainment needs. Unless, like one scholar around the corner from me at Acton, you hope to be rid of your television by that time anyway.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, December 8, 2005

“No man is an island unto himself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”
John Donne

“For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone.”
Romans 14:7

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Wednesday, December 7, 2005

The new Paramount movie Aeon Flux starring Charlize Theron paints a picture of a post-apocalyptic future for humankind. But the “perfect society” will remain a myth this side of the eschaton, says Jordan Ballor. The fulfillment of merely human potential cannot approach the “fullness of hope that comes with the recognition of God and an afterlife,” he writes.

Read the full commentary here.

Winter in Vancouver

For those of you looking for some holiday reading, check out the new issue of Religion & Liberty. The issue features an interview with Ralph Winter, producer of such films as X-Men, X-Men 2, X-Men 3, The Fantastic Four, a Star Trek here and there, and a host of other films. Besides being an A-list producer in Hollywood, Winter is known for his Christian faith and insights into ‘the industry of influence’. The issue also features an article by critic and talk show host Michael Medved.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, December 7, 2005

A Boston-based program operated by clergy and police officers, the Boston Re-Entry, was denied further funding for their ex-convict re-integration program, seemingly and at least in part because they were not forthcoming about their program’s results. The Black Ministerial Alliance is one of the major groups involved in the program.

The Boston Globe reports that “applicants for funds from President Bush’s Prisoner Reentry Initiative were required to demonstrate a record of success in rehabilitating ex-convicts. The proposal from the ministers and police supplied scant information about the results of its program, which has received about $1.1 million in local, state, and federal government funding since 2001.”

Spokesmen for the Black Ministerial Alliance and Boston police officers are decrying the move as undermining the welfare of the city of Boston. But, as the Globe states,

Boston did not lose the new grant altogether. But instead of funding the well-known ministers-police partnership, the Department of Labor awarded the grant of $660,000 to Span Inc., a nonprofit agency that for 29 years has been helping prisoners in the Greater Boston area reenter society.

A Globe review of grant documents, along with interviews with the directors of the ministerial alliance and Span, suggests that Span may have edged out the Black Ministerial Alliance and police because it was better able to demonstrate that its programs work.

A key point in making the determination apparently was the demonstration of “measurable outcomes.”

Lyn Levy, the founder and executive director of Span, said the following: “You absolutely have to be able to show outcomes and demonstrate successes or you’re not going to be able to get the money.”

It’s hard to see whether there are any faith-elements in Span’s work, but clearly when governments are facing budget pressures, merely being faith-based isn’t going to be enough. Results matter, too.

For a listing of faith-based non-profits that have an emphasis on participant outcomes and transformation or change a presence of faith elements, visit Acton’s Samaritan Guide.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Wednesday, December 7, 2005

Anyone familiar with the Acton Institute knows we appreciate the work of economists. But we also object when economists overreach and try to apply useful tools and concepts in inappropriate ways. This happens, for example, when they claim that the charity of Mother Teresa can be exhaustively explained by reference to self-interest. (She gets warm feelings and satisfaction from what she does, you see.)

Well, here’s a blunt example of such thinking. Richard Tomkins in the Financial Times complains this holiday season about the trend toward “ethical gift giving.”

One can appreciate his skepticism over the idea of buying someone else a brood of chickens in a developing country so as to emphasize one’s own righteousness. But in his broader analysis of gift-giving, his cynicism goes too far:

No one, after all, does something for nothing, except when helping family members – and even then, it is with the aim of perpetuating their own genes. In the case of non-relatives, it makes no sense at all to help others without getting anything in return. Instead, humans help others who help them (and shun those who fail to help them) because they learnt long ago that they were more successful working together than alone. It was from this understanding that moralistic emotions such as gratitude and guilt emerged.

Leaving aside the moral evolutionism, it should be obvious that the ethical message of Christianity is directly at loggerheads with the view expressed here. But non-Christians, too, ought to be able to recognize the inadequacy of such a theory of human action. A society composed of people whose motivations were as simple as Mr. Tomkins’ account would be harsh and inhumane. It is neither accurate as description nor attractive as prescription.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Says Harvard economist Kenneth Rogoff:

Hollywood’s cartoon-like caricatures of evil multinational corporations may some day seize mainstream consciousness, leading to political upheavals that shatter today’s social contract. That won’t be good for profits, or for the poor.

For more on Tinseltown’s demonization of multinational corporations, see “The Manchurian Mistake.”