Archived Posts February 2007 | Acton PowerBlog

Good news (at least I think it is). Acton.org is a site not blocked by the “Great Firewall of China” (i.e. government censors). A big HT to GetReligion (which is blocked).

Blog author: dwbosch
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
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In a follow up to The Goracle’s energy bill imbroglio, Bill Hobbs has this stunner today:

As the controversy over global warming hypemaster Al Gore’s voracious energy-eater mansion rolls on, there’s an angle I think merits deeper investigation than it is currently getting. In its original story, The Tennessean reported that Gore buys "carbon offsets" to compensate for his home’s use of energy from carbon-based fuels. As Wikipedia explains, a carbon offset "is a service that tries to reduce the net carbon emissions of individuals or organizations indirectly, through proxies who reduce their emissions and/or increase their absorption of greenhouse gases." (snip)

So far, so good. But how Gore buys his "carbon offsets," as revealed by The Tennessean raises serious questions. According to the newspaper’s report, Gore buys his carbon offsets through Generation Investment Management:

Gore helped found Generation Investment Management, through which he and others pay for offsets. The firm invests the money in solar, wind and other projects that reduce energy consumption around the globe…

Gore is chairman of the firm and, presumably, draws an income or will make money as its investments prosper. In other words, he "buys" his "carbon offsets" from himself, through a transaction designed to boost his own investments and return a profit to himself. To be blunt, Gore doesn’t buy "carbon offsets" through Generation Investment Management – he buys stocks. (snip)

One way to misrepresent things: Tell a newspaper your stock purchases are really purchases of "carbon offsets."

Meanwhile, Gore runs around the country and the world trumpeting "climate crisis" and blaming man’s use of carbon-based energy – burning thousands of gallons of jet fuel as he goes. His efforts have served to put climate change at the top of the national and even global agenda, driving up the value of the stocks and companies viewed as "green" or environmentally friendly. Companies like those his investment management firm invest his own and other peoples’ money in. (You can see a list of Generation Investment Management’s holdings here, courtesy of the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission.)

As one commenter posting here and on other blogs has noted:

Hmmm. The Goracle is chairman and a founding partner of Generation Investment Management LLP, a boutique international investment firm that invests other peoples’ money, for a fee, into the stocks of ‘green’ companies. … So when Al beats the drum for possible future global warming, he’s also drumming up business.

And profiting from hyping the "global warming" crisis.

In a nutshell, Gore consumes large amounts of carbon-based electricity while he trumpets a growing "global warming" crisis that drives up the value of "green" companies like the ones in which he buys carbon offsets invests in their stocks…

Bill is doing work the mainstream media refuses to do. After 6+ years pounding Bush/Cheney for their "big oil" relationships, will they be as tough on Gore?

Don’t hold your CO2.

Have you heard about Logos Bible Software? Here’s a bit about the founding of the company from the February NewsWire update (and on their blog here): “A couple of young Microsoft programmers with their entire careers of high-pay and lucrative Microsoft stock options ahead of them, dropped everything to join a partner and risk it all on pursuing their dream.”

The story continues: “They weren’t satisfied with using their skills to help businessmen have access to the latest and greatest in technology just so they could be more productive or do better in business…

They wanted more.

They wanted to use those same skills to help God’s people in every walk of life have better access to the treasures of God’s Word.

They wanted to use the latest and greatest in technology to create tools for taking people deeper into Bible study than they ever thought possible.”

Logos Bible Software is the tool of choice for many seminaries, including my own school, Calvin Theological Seminary. I continue to be impressed with the range and quality of the products offered by Logos. There clearly is a commitment to providing research tools that are relevant and highly powerful, tailored to theologians, pastors, and laypersons alike.

I’m especially a fan of their pre-pub system, which allows users to express interest in future products and get them at a discount, while giving the company an idea of the viability of a particular offering. For instance, check out pre-pub offering of the full 14 volumes of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics. They’re now doing for Barth’s Dogmatics what they’ve done previously for Pannenberg’s Systematic Theology, Luther’s Works, and Hodge’s Systematic Theology.

And now, Logos Bible Software has been named a finalist for the prestigious “Consumer Product of the Year” award given by the WSA, a technology and trade organization. The latest iteration of Logos’ premiere software, Logos Bible Software 3, is up for the award.

If you’re not familiar with Logos, check them out. To be sure, there are some other useful (and less costly) options out there, such as the Christian Classics Ethereal Library. But the entrepreneurial, innovative spirit and the God-centered commitment of the folks at Logos have combined to create a research tool well worth consideration.

If you are familiar with Logos, you can voice your support by voting for Logos Bible Software as the “Community’s Choice” winner at the WSA (it will be up to the official judges to award the “Consumer Product of the Year” honor).

If you would like to show your support, simply create an account and vote for Logos Bible Software.

You will have to create an account here.

Next, vote for Logos Bible Software here.

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
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As a follow-up to the rather wide-eyed optimism I expressed in a post almost a year ago, the city of Grand Rapids has rejected the sole bid application received for development of property on the Grand River.

Duane Faust’s group did submit materials by the deadline, but the application lacked $65,000 in fees. WOODTV.com reports that there were two other developers in the running, but “Faust’s bid was the only offer to come into the city offices on Friday, but without $65,000 needed as an earnest deposit and to cover the cost of evaluating the proposal. Initially, city officials were assured the money would be in their hands by the end of business last Friday. But it wasn’t and still isn’t.”

“I am at a point where I personally would not like to see this go forward,” said Grand Rapids mayor George Heartwell. “Chalk this up to experience. Sooner or later we will develop that property, but not this time around.”

It looks like for the time being at least the plans to make Grand Rapids a “cool” city won’t include that riverfront property.

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
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This piece from the Scientific American examines the difficulty that human beings have achieving happiness even in a world characterized by material prosperity.

“Once average annual income is above $20,000 a head, higher pay brings no greater happiness,” writes Michael Shermer, in the context of Richard Lay૚rd’s observation that “we are no happier even though average incomes have more than doubled since 1950.”

Shermer examines various reasons that increases in objective well-being don’t necessarily correspond to increases in subjective well-being, or happiness. Perhaps it’s because of our genes. Or perhaps, as Emory University psychiatrist Gregory Berns argues, it’s because we seek happiness in pleasure rather than satisfaction: “Satisfaction is an emotion that captures the uniquely human need to impart meaning to one’s activities.”

But none of these or the other possibilities Shermer surveys offer a complete answer. He concludes, “To understand happiness, we need both history and science.” I think that’s true, but I would add we also need theology.

Consider the truth of Augustine’s observations about the nature of sin and the search for happiness in a fallen world. First, “absolutely all of us want to be happy” (Confessions 10.21.31). But given the reality of sinful human nature, we constantly seek happiness and fulfillment in inappropriate places, arrogating our own misguided quest for happiness to the place of controlling priority.

Augustine’s understanding of uti and frui, or benevolence and complacence as Jonathan Edwards calls them, is illuminating here. The former regards the right use of things as means to achieve happiness, while the latter is the resting and right appreciation of something.

Thus, says Augustine,

there are some things which are meant to be enjoyed, others which are meant to be used, yet others which do both the enjoying and the using. Things that are to be enjoyed make us happy; things which are to be used help us on our way to happiness, providing us, so to say, with crutches and props for reaching the things that will make us happy, and enabling us to keep them (On Christian Teaching, 1.3.3).

Ultimately it is only God in whom we are to seek our happiness, resting in him complacently. Speaking to God Augustine confesses,

A joy there is that is not granted to the godless, but to those only who worship you without looking for reward, because you yourself are their joy. This is the happy life and this alone: to rejoice in you, about you and because of you. This is the life of happiness, and it is not to be found anywhere else. Whoever thinks there can be some other is chasing a joy that is not the true one; yet such a person’s will has not turned away from all notion of joy (Confessions 10.22.32).

Happiness can only truly be enjoyed when there is a right ordering of our affections for transient objects as means to enjoying and resting in God alone. That’s the insight provided by theology, and it helps explain the happiness conundrum plaguing various disciplines of social science.

Bjorn Lomborg has a better Powerpoint presentation than Al Gore. He’s also a more captivating speaker, and uses decent logic in his presentations. Is there any way we can get him an Oscar for the following 17 minute tour-de-force?

Via Planet Gore, where a bunch of contemptible low-lifes hang out and engage in that filthy practice on a par with Holocaust denialClimate Change Skepticism. I shudder just thinking about it. Oh, and Jay Richards blogs there too, the disgusting little lout.

Blog author: jarmstrong
Monday, February 26, 2007
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Rarely have I seen a movie that moved me the way Amazing Grace did last evening. The new film, which opened across America on Friday, is the story of the life-long struggle of William Wilberforce to end slavery and reform British society in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The movie should compel Christians to understand how culture can be truly altered by incrementalism, deep faith, sheer perseverance, and quite often with great personal sacrifice.

When the anti-slavery movement began in earnest in the late 18th century almost every leader in the British Empire embraced the retention of slavery on economic and, in some cases, so-called “Christian” grounds. One of the chief influences against the horrible institution was John Newton, the evangelical Anglican clergyman who wrote the world best-known hymn, “Amazing Grace,” thus the title of this new movie. Newton had been a “slaver” himself and thus knew well what happened to the Africans who were sold into slavery. After his conversion Newton lived with the nightmare of 20,000 African souls perishing through his own complicity and consistently opposed the grim sale of human people. He not only preached the gospel, as a faithful evangelical minister, but resolutely opposed slavery to his last breath. The young Wilberforce had sat under Newton’s gospel ministry and had adopted his stance against slavery as a very young MP. Wilberforce then forged a deep and lifelong friendship with William Pitt, who later became prime minister. It was Pitt who often helped Wilberforce in his efforts, though at times Pitt wavered in his own resolve when Britain faced possible revolution after the American and French Revolutions. The great wisdom of Wilberforce was to resist the short-cut of revolution, both in rhetoric and reality, and to do so with an abiding determination to end slavery without bloodshed. As a result of his determined efforts Britain was spared the terrible conflict that plagued America from 1861-1865. In this case one man did make a huge difference!

This movie provides moving portraits of John Newton, William Wilberforce, William Pitt and even Wilberforce’s wife, among many others of that era who played major roles in these dark times. This film grips the heart, moves the soul, and deeply and profoundly impressed upon me the need for true reformers in our time, men and women who have both the spiritual depth and the moral courage to wisely oppose evils that plague our modern societies. We too soon forget that slavery still exists, in the form of female prostitution. We also forget that Africa still faces major crises that bring about the death of millions every single year, including Muslim attacks upon whole people groups in the Sudan and the ravaging scourge of HIV/AIDS that wipes out multitudes every day.

Some have said Amazing Grace does not present the gospel and thus fails to tell our story. Don’t believe it. The Four Spiritual Laws are not presented, as if this is the only way to tell the gospel, but the message is there in a powerful way. Amazing Grace will inspire you. Hopefully it will also move you to act on your conscience to support every cause that advances justice and reform in society and throughout the world. As I left the theater I thought of many modern reformers but the contributions of Bono were particularly brought to my mind as I prayed and thought about those who persist in making major efforts for justice and Christian concern in our day, just as Wilberforce did in his time. I can’t help but think that far too many conservative Christians are sleeping through a time that calls for radical sacrifice on our part. Maybe this movie will stir minds and hearts. I pray so. See it as soon as possible.

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."

U.S. high school students are taking harder classes, receiving better grades, and from every indication in recent data, leaning much less than their counterparts fifteen years ago. Go figure. All the talk about spending more money and about improving testing and teacher standards and the end result is that two decades of educational reform may not have improved things overall.

The U.S. Department of Education released two studies Thursday that raised very tough questions. David Driscoll, the commissioner of education for Massachusetts, notes, "I think we are sleeping through a crisis." He called these two new studies "stunning." Two means were used for this study: (1) A standardized 12th grade test, and (2) An analysis of the transcripts of 2005 high school graduates.

The fascinating thing is that students in 1990 had a GPA of 2.68 and in 2005 it rose to 2.98, and this included students taking more college preparatory courses than ever before. 12th grade reading scores have been dropping steadily since 1992. So, what are students learning in college prep classes? As for math fewer than 25% scored in the "proficient" range.

This study involved 900 U.S. schools, including 200 private schools! 26,000 transcripts were used. The chief of curriculum for Chicago high schools said, "We know the root to solving the problem is having more rigor in classes." But how? We already have teachers who fear their students, killings in our schools, and armed guards in most U.S. high schools. What next? The fact is few leaders, and especially politicians and educators, have real answers. The system is broken. Do parents and citizens have the will to fix it? I have my doubts. Such problems call for Christians to make a difference. Talk about a cultural opportunity, here is a huge one. But most of us have run away from public education, condemning it with John Dewey and  his ilk to the pit. Even if we do not want our children in the public system can we afford to form ghettos for Christians and ride this storm out to its long term conclusions?

The movie Amazing Grace came out this weekend. We desperately need a Wilberforce-like leader (or hundreds of lesser known but similarly courageous leaders) to begin to work for the real education of our children or our values will be entirely lost in a few more decades.

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."

Blog author: jballor
Friday, February 23, 2007
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Anthony Esolen, from the March issue of Touchstone:

The most bountiful alms that the rich can give the poor, apart from the personal donation of their time and means, are lives of virtue to emulate. It is their duty. But when they use their means to buy off the effects of vice, or, worse, to celebrate it, that is an offense against those whom Jesus called ‘little ones,’ and no amount of almsgiving can lighten the millstone.

Read the whole thing (HT: the evangelical outpost).

ON SECOND THOUGHT, the reality of the situation is probably a bit more complex than the editorial above indicates. That is, there is a cyclical and reciprocal dynamic in the popularization of any trend, as it moves from sub-culture to the mainstream. Very often the rich are dependent on the poor for determining what is “cool”. The rich and famous are typically derivative and dependent in this sense. Just as often the newest trend is wearing a trucker hat or grunge as it is Dolce & Gabbana.

Take the case of rap music. An underground, urban, and grassroots phenomenon has become mainstream. And in any such transition, there are disputes as to who is loyal to the movement itself and who has simply latched on to cash in on the mainstream popularity. Thus, for instance, the dispute between Eazy-E and Dr. Dre in the mid-90’s about who is a real “G.”

This dynamic does underscore the truth of Esolen’s observation about the “disconcerting sameness” between rich and poor. Wealth and power certainly do not by themselves confer any special moral standing or integrity, and as our namesake quote from Lord Acton indicates, they can often be the occasion for greater and more comprehensive corruption.

This made me think of this.

From the NYTimes: “Zimbabwe’s economy is so dire that bread vanished from store shelves across the country on Wednesday after bakeries shut down, saying government price controls were requiring them to sell loaves at a loss. The price controls are supposed to shield consumers from the nation’s rampant inflation, which now averages nearly 1,600 percent annually.”

From the poem, “The Incredible Bread Machine”:

Now bread is baked by government.
And as might be expected,
Everything is well controlled.
The Public well protected.

True, loaves cost a dollar each,
But our leaders do their best!
The selling price is half a cent.
Taxes pay the rest.