Archived Posts January 2006 » Page 4 of 6 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Check out this review of James Howard Kunstler’s new book, The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century (Atlantic), which describes it as a “litany around the increasingly fashionable panic over oil depletion.” This paucity of oil will in large part contribute to a future in which “the best-case scenario is a mass die-off followed by a forced move back to the land, complete with associated feudal relations. As the title implies, this is to be an ongoing state rather than a crisis to be overcome – a sentiment that the US critic Susan Sontag described as ‘apocalypse from now on’.”

Kunstler in part attempts to rehabilitate the figure of Malthus, who he says was generally right, but who could not take into account the veneer of transitory economic advancement enabled through the use of fossil fuels. Kunstler’s book fits in with a newly ascendent genre of apocalyptic writing, which unanimously agrees that humanity faces extinction. “The core elements of the litany are predictable: climate change, disease, terrorism, and an-out-of-control world economy. Other elements such as killer asteroids, nanotechnology or chemical pollution can be added according to taste,” writes the reviewer Joe Kaplinsky. Indeed, the view is shared across ideological and religious lines. The Rapture Index, for example, is currently at its high point for 2006: 154.

He contends that in The Long Emergency Kunstler essentially views humans themselves as the problem: “He has long argued against suburbia and the car, in favour of a ‘New Urbanism’. In places it is perhaps possible to read The Long Emergency as a revenge fantasy. Embittered at his inability to convince others that they should change their ways, Kunstler takes refuge under the wing of Nature’s avenging angel. He can be ignored (he attributes this to a psychological flaw in his detractors); the inhuman laws of nature cannot.”

For an introduction to New Urbanism, check out the controversy in the Journal of Markets & Morality on the question, “To What Extent and in What Ways Should Governmental Bodies Regulate Urban Planning?” beginning with an essay by Charles C. Bohl, director of the Knight Program in Community Building at the University of Miami, and continuing with a response by Mark Pennington, lecturer in Public Policy at the University of London. As is typical of the controversies, there is then one more cycle of responses.

Kunstler continues, noting that “apparently, those who will suffer most terribly in the long emergency are the US Republican states whose culture is built on violence and fundamentalist Christianity. Neighbourhoods with spacious housing (‘McMansions’) and ‘poor street detailing’, a particular insult to Kunstler, are singled out for destruction. Europeans, by contrast, may pull through in better shape. There is an uncanny alignment between the supposedly objective, inevitable laws of nature and Kunstler’s prejudices. Perhaps the best summary of his views is found in the book’s epigraph: ‘I don’t know if the Gods exist, but they sure act as if they do.’”

The remainder of the review gives a lengthy examination of Kunstler’s underlying claims, evidence, and prejudice, including his view of the effects of “entropy,” and is well worth a read.

Blog author: kjayabalan
posted by on Wednesday, January 11, 2006

There are two good articles out there in today’s press about socialist thinking, which alas is all too prevalant, especially in issues concerning the environment.

The first is a tribute to Arthur Seldon in the Daily Telegraph. Some of Seldon’s friends and family are gathering in a London synagogue today to remember one of the founders of the Institute of Economic Affairs.

The creed was capitalism, a concept about which Seldon wrote his most distinguished book in 1990, and which had been under sustained assault for much of the 20th century. Seldon’s work begins with this typically unapologetic statement: “Capitalism requires not defence but celebration. Its achievement in creating high and rising living standards for the masses without sacrificing personal liberty speaks for itself. Only the deaf will not hear and the blind will not see.”

The second is another hilarious take-down of environmentalists by Mark Steyn in The Australian.

While Seldon helped lauch free-market thought throughout the United Kindgom and the United States, it’s clear that the environmentalists still command headlines with their scare tactics and incoherent arguments. The world desperately needs more Arthur Seldons.

Check out this interview with Acton senior fellow in economics Jennifer Roback Morse from the Zenit News Agency, “Righting the Wrongs in Modern Sex and Marriage.”

She talks about writing her recent book, Smart Sex: Finding Life-Long Love in a Hook-Up World (Spence) and says, “I wanted to write a book for the ordinary person who wants to get married and stay married. Most readers are not economists or theologians, so I wanted to convey to the public that this book is meant for them.”

The long wait is finally over. Federal vouchers are coming!

Before you get too excited, however, I have to inform you that the vouchers are not for education. You can’t use these vouchers to send your child to the school of your choice.

Instead, because of the government-mandated switch for broadcast TV from analog to digital bandwidths, set for Feb. 17, 2009, upwards of 20 million television sets will be obsolete, only able to receive the then-defunct analog signals.

“To avoid a consumer revolt, Congress has set aside about $1.5 billion to smooth the transition. Owners of outmoded TV sets will be eligible for two vouchers, worth $40 each, to help buy converter boxes that will enable today’s analog TV sets to receive digital signals,” Fortune magazine reports.

The government argues that the move will open up huge new areas of bandwidth for greater technical innovation and delivery. Once broadcast TV is moved to the digital spectrum, the old analog bandwidths will be auctioned off, and the government stands to make a pretty penny on the deal. “The sale of this valuable, scarce real estate is expected to bring in about $10 billion, maybe more. That will help reduce the federal budget deficit,” writes Marc Gunther.

Of course, those companies buying up the newly-opened space will be better off too: “With the new auction, we will finally become a broadband nation,” says Blair Levin, a Washington analyst with Stifel Nicolaus. “Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, Intel, Dell — these companies will all benefit. The more broadband pipes you have, the more applications will come along, the more often you will upgrade your device.”

The interesting thing about these digital tuner vouchers is that one argument for their issue is that the poor will be disproportionately affected by the switch. Gunther writes, “But for consumers with one of those 70 million sets — many of whom are likely to be poor, elderly or uneducated, being forcibly switched from one technology to another will be a nightmare.”

Gunther goes on to describe the “nightmare scenario,” in which “people who depend on free, over-the-air TV for news and entertainment will lose their access, or have to pay more for it, so that the rest of us can get faster service on our Blackberries and ESPN on our cell phones.”

Last I checked, news and weather information on which people depend is still freely available over the radio. And maybe some of us would be better off with less access to TV. AC Nielsen reports (PDF) that “During the 2004-05 TV season (which started September 20, 2004 and just ended September 18, 2005), the average household in the U.S. tuned into television an average of 8 hours and 11 minutes per day.”

We’ve all heard the stories about families on federal assistance in the inner city with big screen TVs, or living in trailer parks with satellite dishes. Nowadays, Marx might say that TV is the opiate of the people rather than religion, or better yet, that TV has become the religion of the people.
(more…)

Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Monday, January 9, 2006

Monopoly #1: I was somewhat shocked the other day when I heard a strong critique of the much-vaunted Canadian national health care system on NPR. I wasn’t dreaming – here’s the link to prove it. The report notes that “after 50 years, the Medicare dream has turned nightmare for many” – something that many advocates for socialized health care in the US would do well to take note of. It also takes note of the recent precedent-setting court decision in Quebec which gives residents who are on waiting lists that jeopardize their health the right to opt out of the public system. (You can listen to the report in Real Audio format by clicking here; previous posts on the topic here, here, and here.) Government health care in Canada seems to be teetering on the brink.

One facing a judicial red light; the other, green.

Monopoly #2: The same can not be said for the governmental education monopoly in Florida. Last Thursday, the state Supreme Court struck down Florida’s statewide voucher system.

In a 5-2 ruling, the high court said the program undermines the public schools and violates the Florida Constitution’s requirement of a uniform system of free public education.

This is unfortunate, for the simple reason that the introduction of vouchers has been an effective education reform measure in Florida. The Wall Street Journal noted the positive effects of the program back in June:

The saga began in 1999, when Gov. Jeb Bush signed into law the first money-back guarantee in the history of public education: the Opportunity Scholarship Program. Under the program, whenever a public school receives two failing grades on Florida’s academic performance standards, state educational officials come into the school with a remedial program, and the students are allowed to transfer to better performing public schools or to use a share of their public funds as full payment of private-school tuition.

Six years later, only 750 children are attending private schools using opportunity scholarships. But their footsteps have reverberated across the state, prompting failing public schools to reform. Steps taken by failing schools have included spending more money in the classroom and less on administration, hiring tutors for poor performing teachers, and providing year-round instruction to pupils.

Defenders of the status quo insist that such reforms were already under way. But a freedom of information request by the Institute for Justice from school districts that lifted schools off the failing list revealed ubiquitous reference to the dreaded V-word: Without such measures, school officials warned, we wind up with vouchers. The rules of economics, it seems, do not stop at the schoolhouse doors.

The results have been stunning. Even with tougher state standards, nearly half of Florida’s public schools now earn “A” grades, while a similar percentage scored “C’s” when the program started. A 2003 study by Jay Greene found that gains were most concentrated among schools under threat of vouchers.

Most remarkable has been minority student progress. While the percentage of white third-graders reading at or above grade level has increased to 78% from 70% in 2001, the percentage among Hispanic third-graders has climbed from 46% to 61%, and among blacks from 36% to 52%. Graduation rates for Hispanic students have increased from 52.8% before the program started to 64% today; and for black students from 48.7% to 57.3%. Minority schoolchildren are not making such academic strides anywhere else.

And so we revert to the status quo. Sadly, the ones most harmed by the status quo are the ones most in need of the reforms that school choice would bring – the poor.

My predictions: As Canada introduces more market oriented solutions to its health care problems, the quality of care that Canadians recieve will rise and fewer Canadians will have to head south of the border to obtain it; and until American public schools face genuine competition, the quality of the education they provide (especially in inner city and poor areas) will increase negligibly if at all. (more…)

It took place this morning in the Vatican. Click here for the text from the Vatican’s website.

Blog author: kjayabalan
posted by on Saturday, January 7, 2006

Despite his many writings, scholarly expertise and long service to the Church as Prefect of Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, there’s still much of an unknown quality surrounding Pope Benedict XVI.

In the last two weeks, three reputable commentators made some informed guesses about what to expect from the new pontiff.

The National Catholic Reporter’s John Allen wrote a piece for The Spectator (U.K.) entitled “The Pope won’t back Bush” (no longer available on-line to non-subscribers). Although he takes issue with the way The Spectator’s editors presented the article in his most recent column, Allen tells us that Pope Benedict is not a conservative, especially when it comes to economic questions. Here’s a quote:

Recent popes have also been among the sternest critics of the international economic order that the United States and Great Britain have had a significant role in creating. Some right-wing Catholic intellectuals, aiming to reconcile free-market logic with Catholic teaching, have tried to bring the popes along, without much to show for the effort. Though papal statements on economic matters have occasionally been slippery enough to give spin doctors hope, at the end of the day papal social teaching is much closer to democratic socialism than to Adam Smith.

Papal biographer George Weigel penned an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times addressing some of the challenges Pope Benedict will face on the governance front, i.e. reform of the Roman Curia and appointment of bishops:

More than a few of the cardinals who rallied to support him in one of the shortest conclaves in modern history did so because they believed Ratzinger, having spent more than two decades in the Curia, would know what was broken and would fix it.

That may yet come. The pope is a careful, prudent man, not given to impulsive action or premature decisions. At the same time, it was precisely because he was not a product of the current Curial system, but rather a scholar who had to struggle to get things accomplished within it, that his supporters expected him to bring to the papacy a well-developed sense of where changes, even dramatic ones, need to be made in both structure and personnel. Those supporters are waiting, now a little anxiously, for serious change to be implemented.

Then there is the question of the appointment of bishops — and the volatile but unavoidable question of whether the church ought not devise criteria and processes for removing bishops who are manifestly incapable of leadership. Whether Benedict XVI undertakes a far-reaching reform of the Catholic Church’s Roman bureaucracy or not — and my bet remains that he will, although perhaps slowly — his papacy will be judged in no small part on his shrewdness in choosing bishops and his courage in facing questions of episcopal failure. With half a dozen major appointments coming in the next three years in the United States alone, the stakes are very high.

Finally, Fr. Jospeh Fessio, a student and long-time associate of Cardinal Ratzinger, was interviewed for one hour by Hugh Hewitt. The transcript is availabe here. Fr. Fessio draws attention to where Benedict want to draw our attention: Jesus Christ, and he even compares home schooling to monastic life:

[H]e’s been clear what his papacy is supposed to do. And number one was fidelity to Jesus Christ, that we must serve Jesus. He’s our Lord. He’s our master. Everything else is secondary, which was beautiful for him to say that. Secondly, he wanted to work on conjunction with, with the prayers and support of all his fellow bishops and cardinals. Thirdly, that he wanted to help the Catholic Church go into the future by understanding properly the II Vatican Council, which was all the bishops in the world getting together to try and chart a course. But then, when he came to the content, he said the very first thing we have to do, and make sure we do well, is to praise and worship and adore the Lord in a proper way. If we do that, then everything else will follow from that.

[...]You don’t, nor do I, have much control in this country, or the world, or even the city we live in. But we have control over our own hearts, and our own loves, and our own lives, and our families. And I think we just have to follow the Lord and wait on His call.

[...H]ome schools are the monasteries of the new dark ages. That is…and you non-Catholic Christians have a lot more of them than we Catholics do, but we’ve got a lot. And I think that is where families are having children. They’re passing on the faith to their children. They’re giving them wisdom and the knowledge of our culture.

All in all, a lot of engaging commentary on Pope Benedict. And much anticipation in Rome over what comes next.

Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Friday, January 6, 2006
George Weigel

Acton President Rev. Robert A. Sirico appeared today at the January Series of Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan to introduce a lecture by theologian and author George Weigel. In his address, entitled “Revolutionary Papacies: John Paul II, Benedict XVI,

Rev. Robert A. Sirico

and the Future of the Catholic Church,” Weigel touched on 10 areas in which Pope John Paul II made important contributions to Catholic teaching, ecumenism, and world politics, and also described some of the major challenges facing Pope Benedict XVI, especially relating to the cultural and demographic decline of Europe.

Audio of Weigel’s January Series address will be available online at Calvin’s website. If you’re interested in hearing more from Mr. Weigel, you can purchase a copy of his biography of Pope John Paul II, Witness to Hope, along with a recording of his Lord Action Lecture Series address from 1999 on his experiences writing that book, by visiting the Acton Bookshoppe.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Friday, January 6, 2006
Theophany of the Lord

Today, Orthodox Christians all over the world are celebrating Epiphany, one of the great feast days of the Eastern Church.

Epiphany is, for the Orthodox, the manifestation of the Lord’s divinity and the mystery of the Trinity, the inauguration of the sacrament of baptism, and the beginning of the preaching of the Kingdom of Heaven. For the Orthodox, Epiphany is also a profoundly ecological moment. Churches hold Blessing of the Waters services which commemorate Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River, an event that transformed not just earthly Creation, but the entire cosmos.

In a 1991 article, Bishop Irineos Pop of the Romanian Orthodox Church wrote, “The blessing of the waters shows us the sanctifying and redemptive power given to an element of creation through the invocation of the Holy Spirit by the Church. What is important for us, however, is that the baptismal water represents the matter of the cosmos, the world as life of man. And its blessing at the beginning of the baptismal rite acquires thus a truly cosmic and redemptive significance. God created the world and blessed it and gave it to us as our food and life, as the means of communion with him. The blessing of water signifies the return or redemption of matter to this initial and essential meaning. By accepting the baptism of John, Christ sanctified the water – made it the water of purification and reconciliation with God. It was then, as Christ was coming out of the water, that the Epiphany – the new and redemptive manifestation of God – took place, and the Spirit of God, who at the beginning of creation “moved upon the face of the waters”, made water – that is, the world – again into what He made it at the beginning.”

The Armenian Orthodox writer Vigen Guroian observes that “the Orthodox rites of blessing show how closely ecology is related to the theological notion of oikonomia in Eastern theology. The object of the divine economy is the oikoumene — the whole inhabited Earth. For, as the Psalmist says, “The Earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof, the world, and those who dwell therein (Ps. 24:1, RSV). Orthodox theology founds this cosmic scope of the divine nurture and restoration and renewal of creation in the Incarnation.”

His All-Holiness Ecumencial Patriarch Bartholomew is in Tarpon Springs, Fla., today to celebrate Epiphany. Information about his visit, including a live Webcast of the Partriarchal Liturgy, is linked here.

Today the grace of the Holy Spirit, hallowing the water, becomes co-worker (with Christ our God).

Today the heavens gaily bedew from above with the dew of grace, and today shone forth on us the sun inextinguishable, and all the world is radiant with light.

Today the moon beams forth with a great light, and withal the world is filled with splendor.

Today the light-clad luminaries work hearty good unto all that dwell on earth.

— From the Armenian prayer for Epiphany

Topping today’s Science/Nature section at BBC News, “Population size ‘green priority’”, by Richard Black. The article focuses on the thoughts of Professor Chris Rapley, Director of the British Antarctic Survey, who contends that the “current global population of six billion is unsustainably high.” This is to say nothing of the growth rate and future generations.

Based on a column Rapley wrote for a new BBC feature, The Green Room, the article presents the view that “humankind is consuming the Earth’s resources at an unsustainably fast rate,” based on “a number of studies.”

The basis for Rapley’s concern, as you might expect, is carbon emissions, but he writes, “Although reducing human emissions to the atmosphere is undoubtedly of critical importance, as are any and all measures to reduce the human environmental ‘footprint’, the truth is that the contribution of each individual cannot be reduced to zero.”

He concludes, “Only the lack of the individual can bring it down to nothing.”

Rapley laments that there is a paucity of opportunities to discuss population growth, since it is not often discussed at global environmental summits. “Rare indeed are the opportunities for religious leaders, philosophers, moralists, policymakers, politicians and indeed the “global public” to debate the trajectory of the world’s human population in the context of its stress on the Earth system, and to decide what might be done,” he writes.

Rapley does seem to overlook the UN’s World Population Day, which is little more than a campaign for population controls. And the myth of humanity as a plague species has been fodder for London’s “The Human Zoo,” as well as happening to be the view of Agent Smith in the Matrix movies.

As we saw in a recent commentary by Acton research fellow Jay Richards, Rapley is certainly not alone in his concern. A letter to Richards about his book on intelligent design from a prominent scientist read in part: “Still, adding over seventy million new humans to the planet each year, the future looks pretty bleak to me. Surely, the Black Death was one of the best things that ever happened to Europe: elevating the worth of human labor, reducing environmental degradation, and, rather promptly, producing the Renaissance. From where I sit, Planet Earth could use another major human pandemic, and pronto!”

Perhaps some individuals have imbibed such a view, as birth rates in the developed world are not growing. A 2004 UN report showed 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.” Most of the countries in the developed world which will account for the decline in birth rates belong to the EU. The US, on the other hand, is one of the eight nations that will “account for half of the world’s projected population increase.”

But part of the reason that Rapley’s concerns aren’t getting much attention beyond pop culture phenomena and some macabre colleagues is that the population explosion myth has been rather thoroughly debunked. The case of carbon emissions is simply the latest hook for population control advocates. For more on population and the environment, check out Acton’s policy section, which links to a number of helpful resources.