Archived Posts July 2006 - Page 3 of 7 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Tuesday, July 25, 2006

In his New York Times column this week, Peter Steinfels has an insightful analysis of an intriguing and provocative new book by C. John Sommerville, The Decline of the Secular University.

Those who study the history of American academia are familiar with the story of the secularization of universities as recounted expertly by Christian scholars such as George Marsden (The Soul of the American University) and James Burtchaell (The Dying of the Light), who decry the shunting of religion from the corridors of intellectual influence. Sommerville, in contrast and in Steinfels’ apt description, “is less interested in any loss to religion than in the loss to the university.” In brief, Sommerville argues that the universities’ indifference or hostility to religion has rendered them increasingly marginal and ineffectual in a society that remains heavily religious.

HT: Rick Garnett at Mirror of Justice.

The Super MoneyMaker Pressure Pump

No, we’re not talking about Elmore James’ Blues hit covered by the likes of George Thorogood, Fleetwood Mac and The Black Crowes nor its racy subject matter.

Rather, it’s how members of the other oldest profession in Kenya and Tanzania power the irrigation pumps that extend both their growing season and range of crops. This foot-powered move beyond subsistence farming to much more profitable harvests, such as vegetables, is facilitated by the aptly named MoneyMaker series of pumps. 

KickStart (previously Approtec) 10 years ago produced the Original MoneyMaker Pump; the over 4,000 in operation still generating $3.9 million in profits annually. Since then the Super MoneyMaker Pressure Pump, resembling and operated much like a Stairmaster, can push water uphill 7 M (23 ft.) to irrigate 2 acres. The newest – and most affordable – version, The MoneyMaker Plus Pump relies on swinging one’s hips side to side on a skateboard-like platform, a motion that, unlike arm-powered pumps in particular, can be performed all day. Costing $34, KickStart officals claim it generates $1000 in profits the first year.

Though even this amount can be out of the reach of the world’s poorest, KickStart co-founder Martin Fisher, insists on a business model. Along with enriching “farmerpreneurs”, Kickstar has created a private supply chain though hundred of farming supply shops that sell the pumps and spare parts. Undercutting these local merchants and removing their incentive to stock parts would be one of the serious disadvantages of giving away the pumps.

Beyond the pragmatic concerns, their ultimate goal is to “create dignity,” Fisher said on NPR’s Weekend Edition. He concluded, “When you give things away, you are really just creating dependency and people hanging out waiting for more handouts.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, July 24, 2006

Hunter Baker, blogging at his new home on the American Spectator Blog (recently added to our blogroll), responds to a post by James G. Poulos, which emphasizes President Bush’s “proposed emphasis on math and science education, to the patent detriment of the humanities.”

Says Baker, “Although I am a faithful disciple of the humanities, I often take comfort in the fact that the majority of students won’t have much exposure to the offerings on hand. Better they remain busy with their business and engineering degrees than that they should hear too much of the soul-killing discourses that reign in the older buildings on campus.”

I have pointed out the funding disparities between the humanities and the sciences before in a paper given earlier this year (for a visual example of the disparity, click here). And Baker may well be right: what passes for the “humanities” in the acadmey today isn’t worth funding.

But in response to Poulos, the humanities, as they ought to be pursued, should receive more attention and funding commensurate with their value as the classical basis for Western civilization. But I also don’t think it’s in keeping with the humanist spirit to make their pursuit dependent on government funding, which is why I also point out, “public sources of funding, or the lack thereof, are not the end of the tale. Most freely available digital history initiatives are underwritten in whole or in part by private charitable foundations.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, July 24, 2006

An article in yesterday’s NYT, “Saving the World, One Video Game at a Time,” by Clive Thompson, gives a good overview of the current trend in the video game industry, especially by nonprofits and activist groups, to create “serious games,” a movement which “has some serious brain power behind it. It is a partnership between advocates and nonprofit groups that are searching for new ways to reach young people, and tech-savvy academics keen to explore video games’ educational potential.”

“What everyone’s realizing is that games are really good at illustrating complex situations,” said Suzanne Seggerman, one of the organizers of the third annual Games for Change conference in New York. “And we have so many world conflicts that are at a standstill. Why not try something new?”

One such game is Peacemaker, which is a political simulation based on the current situation in the Middle East. Another is the World Food Programme’s Food Force (which I review here).

Of course, serious simulations are nothing new in the gaming world, and even predate the advent of video media. An argument could be made, for example, that games like Axis & Allies and Risk, while focusing on military aspects, are in some sense serious (albeit limited) teachers about the realities of war policy and foreign affairs. And games like Shadow President, released in the early 1990s, are relatively complex and immersive political simulations.

A typical game of Risk in play. Many game elements such as the board, dice, units and cards are visible. (GNU Free Documentation License)

Related PowerBlog Items:

“Video Games Can Save Lives and More…”, Thursday, June 1, 2006.

“Speaking a Language They Can Understand”, Wednesday, February 15, 2006.

‘Your mind makes it real’, Tuesday, November 22, 2005.

“Vidiocy”, Thursday, August 11, 2005.

“Family Values and Grand Theft Auto”
, Wednesday, July 27, 2005.

“Game Review: Food Force”, Thursday, May 12, 2005.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, July 24, 2006

Juliet Eilperin, “Bush Pollution Curbs Are Rated Equal to Clinton’s: Science Panel Says Proposed Cap-and-Trade System Will Help Clean Air,” Washington Post, July 24, 2006:

The report from the National Academy of Sciences, released yesterday, represents the latest effort to assess how best to reduce air pollution estimated to cause as many as 24,000 premature deaths each year. The panel concluded that an earlier Bush plan would have allowed pollution to increase over a dozen years, but it found that the administration’s more recent Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) — which targets emissions from power plants in 22 states and the District of Columbia — would help clean the air over the next two decades.

The CAIR approach aims to reduce nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions by 70 percent by 2025 at the latest, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, through a system that would allow utilities to sell and buy pollution credits as long as industry emissions as a whole stayed below a pre-set cap.

Cap-and-trade schemes may be better than command-and-control techniques, but maybe they’re not all they’re cracked up to be.

Hugh Ross, “The Faint Sun,” Facts for Faith, Reasons to Believe, 2002:

The timing of humanity’s arrival—near the end of life’s long tenure on Earth—may appear tragic at first glance. But a longer look suggests it may be viewed as a gift. Scanning the horizon of civilization—farms, ranches, towns, cities, and all the transportation and communication arteries linking them—one sees a plethora of building materials derived from nearly 4 billion years of life and death: gems, sand, steel, asphalt, concrete, copper, limestone, marble, plastics, etc. Most of the energy that drives civilization comes from biodeposits—oil, coal, wood, kerogen, natural gas, and so forth. Many of the fertilizers that support agricultural production also come from biodeposits—phosphates, nitrates, and such.

Such bountiful provisions powerfully indicate a Provider who carefully planned and prepared the planet through the ages for human life. They speak of a purpose for the human race. The Bible reveals a purpose that involves, yet goes beyond, the current “heavens and Earth.”

More here on the providential purpose for petroleum. (HT: John Linsley of RTB)

Associated Press, “Christian Ministry Wants to Build Turbines to Spread the Gospel,” The Church Report, July 23, 2006:

A Christian ministry group wants to build 36 wind turbines on the roof of a former steel company to generate money to help spread its message….

Energy produced by the turbines will be sold back to Wisconsin Energy Corp. through a buyback program.

More here on these so-called “Cuisinarts of the air.”

Blog author: sgrabill
posted by on Friday, July 21, 2006

If the most common Protestant objection to natural law revolves around sin, as we saw in Part 5, we should now address the second most common objection that natural law is a rival to God and Scripture.

Contemporary evangelical critics, such as Carl Henry, object that natural law elevates autonomous human reason above divine revelation. Henry thinks the Thomist doctrine of natural law teaches a universally shared body of moral beliefs that exist independently of divine revelation. This contrasts, he thinks, with John Calvin’s view, which is said to ground the law of nature in divine revelation, thus cutting off the possibility of a so-called independent foundation for morality. The real issue for Henry is his perception that natural law makes God’s existence and the authority of the Bible irrelevant to ethics. For him and many evangelicals following him, it is believed that the very content of morality originates in divine revelation and the Bible. That there is no standard of right and wrong apart from the commands issued by God. Yet, it is fair to ask whether the Reformers juxtapose natural law and divine revelation as Henry does?

The simple answer is no. The Reformers do not hold to a necessary opposition between divine revelation and the doctrine of natural law. By the way, they also do not oppose special and general revelation, grace and nature, faith and reason, or supernatural and natural theology. In a nutshell, they think all forms of natural knowledge come from using the natural powers of acquisition belonging to the mind, whereas all forms of supernatural knowledge come from a graciously infused power bestowed on the mind by God. Like natural theology, natural law arises out of the order of nature. Whereas supernatural theology, transcending the powers of nature, belongs to the order of grace. But, and this is the key point, both natural law and supernatural theology arise as revealed knowledge, not as the product of autonomous reason.

Thus far in the series I have focused on showing that natural law was not only received by the Reformers but also was put to important use by them, in Part 7 I will move into a discussion of the limitations of natural law as understood by the Reformers.

This has been cross-posted to my blog on natural law, Common Notions.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, July 21, 2006

After ruminating earlier this week about foreign policy and just war, I asked a series of interrelated questions yesterday about just war.

Prof. Bainbridge was kind enough to respond, and offered the critically important distinction between jus ad bellum and jus in bello, that is, justness up to war and justness in war. This gets at the difference between justification for the cause or occasion for war, causus belli, and the way in which that war is conducted.

Bainbridge concludes, “As I understand it, violations of jus in bello do not affect the jus ad bellum question. As an example, I think most people have concluded that the RAF’s deliberate targeting of civilians during WWII violated the principles of jus in bello. But I don’t know anybody who thinks that WWII therefore was an unjust war.”

He also refers the matter to Prof. Anthony Clark Arend of Georgetown, who affirms this distinction, but who also passes along the take of his mentor, the late William V’ O’Brien of Georgetown, on the relationship between the two senses of just war: “for O’Brien, for a party to be deemed to be acting justly in a given conflict, it would have to ‘meet substantially’ both the jus ad bellum and jus in bello criteria.”

My questions and confusion certainly arises from a conflation of the two senses of just war, as Bainbridge rightly points out. I do think, however, that such a conflation or composite sense of the term is the popular usage. Certainly, at least, on its own the term just war is ambiguous, especially if it has this divided sense betwen jus ad bellum and jus in bello. The meaning of simply calling a particular war just is not clear in and of itself, and raises the sorts of questions I had yesterday. Is a particular war just in its causes, its execution, or both? If each is distinction is a necessary but not sufficient condition for describing a war as just, perhaps we ought only to use the bare term just war by itself to refer to this composite sense.

One implication of this question is what I was trying to get at yesterday…that is, that the way in which a particular war is waged can make a war unjust, even when the criteria for jus ad bellum is met. This is also what Prof. Bainbridge was arguing in his TCS Daily column. Prof. Arend also gives us his judgment in this matter: “To me that does not mean that every single use of force by each and every soldier be proportionate or discriminate for the war to be just, but rather that the general policy and practice of the belligerent is to use force in a proportionate and discriminate manner.”

This raises the further prudential issue of judging what is the general policy and practice of the nation at war. Does the use of WMD as a policy negate the jus in bello and therefore make the war unjust? This gets back to my question about the use of annihilating tactics in WWII. It is hypothetically possible that a war that is just in its causes can be executed in a way that makes the war itself unjust. This is in fact what Prof. Bainbridge seems to be arguing in the case of the current Israel/Lebanon conflict, but also what he does not acknowledge with regard to WWII. Or again, perhaps in the case of WWII the preponderance of Allied policy and practice met the criteria for jus in bello, and therefore this condition was met, despite the firebombing of Dresden and the nuclear attacks on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

Update: Exhibit A…The Remedy’s Michael Brandon McClellan concludes regarding the Israel/Lebanon conflict, “This is war, and it is a just war.” It is unclear to me whether he is looking exclusively at what we would label the ius ad bellum issues in making this judgment, or arguing that the ius in bello criteria need to be contextualized within the broader historical situation.

Update #2: A round-up of related commentary has been posted at Against the Grain.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, July 20, 2006

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post about just war, I’m passing along this TCS Daily piece by Prof. Bainbridge, “Just War for the Sake of Argument” (it’s also discussed at The Remedy and Bainbridge’s own blog).

Bainbridge’s piece measures the current Lebanon/Israel conflict by the standards of just war, and finds it wanting. He makes the following important point: “Although Catholic scholars and theologians have thus made valuable contributions to the just war tradition down through the centuries, the principles of that doctrine apply to everyone, not just Catholics. Just war is a part of both the natural law and the positive international law.”

I have wondered about these issues the past week in various forms. Here are some attempts to formulate the question: Must all acts committed in a war meet the just war standard in order for the war to be just? That is, must a just war be perfectly just? If not, must the aggregate of the acts simply weigh in favor of a preponderance of justice? Or must the officially commanded actions and campaigns meet the standard, while the actions of individual soldiers are exempt?

One of the points here is that just war is not simply about justification for war, but also about the way in which that war must be conducted. Just how many unjust acts can a just war encompass before it ceases to be a just war? Does the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or the firebombing of Dresden, for example, mean that World War II is not a just war?

Blog author: dphelps
posted by on Wednesday, July 19, 2006


“…can one build something lasting if the goal is not truth, but power? The few, most penetrating minds of that time understood that what constitutes the sickness of contemporary culture is the repudiation of truth for the sake of action…”
Czeslaw Milosz, 1942

In this week’s commentary, “Transcendence and Obsolescence: The Responsible Stewardship of Oil,” I ask the question: “Why did God create oil?” I raise the question within the context of debates about global warming and the burning of fossil fuels, including Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth and the work of the Evangelical Climate Initiative.

I argue that nonrenewable resources, especially fossil fuels, “have the created purpose of providing relatively cheap and pervasive sources of energy. These limited and finite resources help raise the standard of living and economic situation of societies to the point where technological research is capable of finding even cheaper, more efficient, renewable, and cleaner sources of energy.” Nuclear power is one source that meets these criteria. The NRO blog Reconcilable Differences passes along this NYT magazine story about the potentially bleak future for nuclear power in America, “Atomic Balm?”

The point about nuclear energy is important because the burning of coal accounts for over half of the domestic use of electricity, and that high-profile campaigns like “What Would Jesus Drive?” paper over this key fact. I wonder “just how many coal-powered SUVs have you seen lately?”

Well, it turns out that there is technology that allows us to turn coal into oil, although it is costly and potentially ineffecient. Even so, the high costs of oil are currently turning this into a more feasible economic possibility. For more on this, see this NYT story, “Mining for Diesel Fuel; The Search for New Oil Sources Leads to Processed Coal” (TimesSelect required).

Read the entire commentary here.