Archived Posts March 2006 » Page 6 of 6 | Acton PowerBlog

If you haven’t seen it yet, NRO is hosting a special blog worth taking a look at: CrunchyCon. The discussion is on the thesis of Rod Dreher’s new book, Crunchy Cons: How Birkenstocked Burkeans, gun-loving organic gardeners, evangelical free-range farmers, hip homeschooling mamas, right-wing nature lovers and their diverse tribe of countercultural conservatives plan to save America (or at least the Republican Party).

Participants include the author, NRO’s Jonah Goldberg, Caleb Stegall (editor of the New Pantagruel), Frederica Mathewes-Green, and various other NRO contributors. Subjects so far have ranged from Russell Kirk and the Amish to neoconservatism and libertarianism.

Check it out: http://crunchycon.nationalreview.com/

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, March 3, 2006

In the latest issue of Science & Spirit magazine, Acton director of research Samuel Gregg is interviewed about the ethical aspects of the genetic engineering of food. In “God and the New Foodstuffs,” author Trey Popp writes about the opposition to such endeavors:

Some scientists and environmentalists fear GM crops may have unforeseen consequences. Many organic and small-scale farmers see the new crops as an economic threat; there have been cases in which GM corn has contaminated nearby fields, ruining the market value of neighboring crops. Some social justice activists assert that a precious few wealthy companies reap the benefits of GM crops at the expense of farmers and consumers.

But Gregg offers a counter to the opposition from a variety of perspectives. “There’s an imperative in Christianity in particular, but also in Judaism and Islam, of helping the poor and dealing with questions about poverty and hunger. Hunger is something that afflicts the developing world in particular. Genetically modified food has the potential to radically transform that situation,” says Gregg.

I have written a theological/biblical exposition of the case for genetically modifying plant life with respect to crop yields, nutrition supplementation, and other aspects of improvement in “A Theological Framework for Evaluating Genetically Modified Food.” My basic point is that the primary created purpose for plantlife was that of providing sustenance for beings with the breath of life. Having a primarily instrumental created purpose, therefore, I’m in agreement with Gregg that the use and “alteration” of plants on a genetic level can be a proper fulfillment of stewardship mandate.

What isn’t always made quite so clear in the article is the biblical distinction between plants on the one hand and beings with the “breath of life” (animals and humans) on the other. So, for example, Calvin DeWitt, president of the Au Sable Institute of Environmental Studies, opposes GM foods on the basis of his interpretation of the flood narrative. “There is not much concern for individuals when Noah is asked to put animals on the ark two by two. The emphasis is on lineage. And although, at the time that was written, there wasn’t the terminology to say that these are genetic lineages, they in fact are, of course. These lineages are creations of the Creator, and they are…gifts to the whole of creation,” he says.

But the relevance of his observation is not immediately apparent. The parts of the flood narrative that DeWitt is talking about concern animal life, not plant life (see my post here about ways in which the Noahic covenant is misinterpreted and applied to environmental issues).

I think there it is much tougher to make a theological case for the genetic modification of animals than it is for GM crops. For more on the genetic modification of animals, especially with regard to the creation of human-animal chimeras, see my forthcoming article in the premier issue of Salvo magazine.

An interesting piece in Tuesday’s Financial Times (registration req.) by Jagdish Bhagwati, economist at Columbia University. In the form of a letter to U2 front man Bono, Dr. Bhagwati offers a (I think) stinging criticism of attempts to save Africa through appeals for more governmental spending. (This is especially interesting since Bono plays off the songsheet of another Columbia economist Jeffrey Sachs.) If you can find a copy of the article, I highly recommend it, but in the meantime, here is a sample:

But, if you have erred in allying yourself with the development experts who wrongly focus exclusively on aid spending in Africa itself, a greater folly is to have tied your initiative to the aid target of 0.7 per cent of GNP. This target goes back to 1969 and has not been met except by a tiny fraction of donors, essentially the Scandinavian countries. The problem is that the target relates to government spending. Fiscal spending is subject to what economists call “hard budget contraints.” There are always many demands on the government. The US, for instance, has just had a colossal increase in spending on the Iraq war and on Hurricane Katrina relief and reconstruction…

How, then, are we to translate the enthusiastic altruism that you have generated, dear Bono, into larger, sustained flows of aid? Surely the answer is to go after personal, rather than governmental, flows…

So, if you take seriously the estimated audience for Live8 concerts at 2bn, halve it for those who were there for a lark or are impoverished themselves, and halve it again for those who attended the concerts twice, you would have half a billion who could sign up for an average pledge of $50 a head as a supplement to their normal giving, yielding a net sum of $25bn outright. The money would be worth almost twice that amount in actual aid, since they would be grants wheras most aid consists of loans that must be repaid.

This would mean abandoning some of your current allies. But you can do nothing less if your efforts are to yield results. In a recent interview, you said that you expected your music would endure forever but poverty would have ended in a hundred years. I wish you good luck on your music. But not even a hundred years would suffice to end poverty if you fail to correct your course.

A Wit Exceeded Only By His Coiffure

I was waiting for the shuttle this morning when it struck me–an idea, I mean, not the shuttle. We talk a lot here at the Acton Institute about how economics needs morality and morality needs economics; or, as Fr. Sirico phrased it in his NRO salute to Ed Opitz, “Christianity qua Christianity [offers] no specific economic model any more than economics qua economics has any specific moral model to proffer—which is precisely why they both need each other.” I’ve thought of a powerful illustration of this idea–though I am sure I’m not the first to make the connection–and it has been sitting unassumingly on my bookshelf at home, an essay in almost every freshman literature textbook: Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal. This work offers a very efficient, well-planned, and minutely-detailed cure for the hunger of the Irish: let them eat their young. And as I am sure most of our readers know well this work as a prime example of the power of satire, I think it also a great (and gruesome) primer to the idea of economics without the guiding hand of morality. Just a thought. Off to lunch.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, March 2, 2006

Yesterday I recommended Professor Plum’s EducatioNation, and I’ll do so again today.

Here’s a tidbit from a recent post titled “We Need More Unions” on Prof. Plum’s blog: “Once again, America’s teachers unions reveal that all their blather about being child centered, about being stewards of America’s children, and about social justice and diversity, is nothing but a disguise for their real interest—which is self-preservation via monopolistic control of the means of education.”

Prof. Plum, who daylights as a master’s level education professor at a large public university, certainly knows how to turn a phrase. Read the rest, including a link to and text of an OpinionJournal article (with Plum’s commentary included!).

Washington lawmakers are falling all over themselves to pass legislation aimed at curbing corruption in high places. But, as Kevin Schmiesing points out, the most effective solution to the problem has been known for hundreds of years: limited government and moral restraint.

Read the full commentary here.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, March 1, 2006

“The First Amendment does not cover burping.” (from episode 2F22)


One of my favorite websites to check out on occasion is Professor Plum’s EducatioNation, and the first quote on the homepage is this from Thomas Jefferson: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” [Thomas Jefferson to Charles Yancey, 1816]

To underscore the relevancy of Jefferson’s point, a recently released study by the new McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum “found that 22 percent of Americans could name all five Simpson family members, compared with just one in 1,000 people who could name all five First Amendment freedoms.”

In addition, “Only one in four Americans can name more than one of the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment (freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly and petition for redress of grievances.) But more than half can name at least two members of the cartoon family, according to a survey.”

According to the AP, “About one in five people thought the right to own a pet was protected, and 38 percent said they believed the right against self-incrimination contained in the Fifth Amendment was a First Amendment right, the survey found.”

More available at the Freedom Museum and the First Amendment Center.