Archived Posts March 2007 - Page 2 of 8 | Acton PowerBlog

I’ve discussed previously the complex interrelationships between the next-generation gaming consoles and hi-def DVD formats, especially as complicated by the pornification of culture and technology.

So far I’ve focused on the battle between Sony’s PS3 (paired with the Blu-ray format) and the Xbox 360 (paired with the HD-DVD format), and argued that the hi-def formats rather than the porn industry itself would act as a decisive influence.

In an recent Newsweek article, Brian Braiker conclusively exposes the vacuous nature of the often highly exaggerated claims about the influence of the porn industry on technology (HT: Constitutionally Correct). He rightly wonders,

If people aren’t buying adult DVDs in the numbers the “official” estimates suggest—and, in fact, if cable and free online porn is driving the demand for physical product even lower—how does it make sense that porn will be the deciding factor in the battle for supremacy between Blu-ray and HD-DVD formats?

It doesn’t make sense, and that’s why the “conventional wisdom” about the power of porn needs to be questioned. And there’s more and more reason to suppose that Blu-ray is beginning to turn the tide against HD-DVD, even though the latter is far more porn-friendly. New plans have also been announced about the release cheaper Blu-ray players from Funai Electric Co. Ltd and from Sony later in 2007, increasing the low-end competitiveness of the format.

There’s a good debate on video about the format wars here, which also addresses the question of porn’s influence. Tom Arnold, editor at Hollywood Reporter, raises the observation that neither format can win as long as both are readily available. In this way, the format wars can really be seen to mirror the “cola wars” of the 80’s between Pepsi and Coke. If the market is large enough, perhaps it can support multiple formats, brands, or flavors. Arnold also said, “Porn is not the driver.”

But beyond the issue of the influence of porn on the format war, and its indirect impact on the next-gen console conflict, the dichotomy of the PS3 vs. Xbox 360 also needs to be adjusted. The fact is that Nintendo’s Wii is an important and powerful player in the console gaming market. This despite the accusations leveled by some that the Wii is not truly “next-gen” because it displays at 480p resolution (which qualifies only as “enhanced” and not “high” definition). But this past February saw the Wii dominate both the PS3 and the Xbox 360 in sales.

So, assuming that the Wii doesn’t suffer from the attempt by a Christian group to label it a “portal to porno” because of the potential to access adult content through its connection to the Internet, the next-gen console contest is officially a three horse race.

Internet access is a feature shared by the other next-gen consoles too, and despite the rather unfriendly response from the gaming community to’s message, I see it as a praiseworthy and well-meant attempt to inform parents about the reality of technological advances. It certainly is true parents often are unaware of the potential content and capabilities of game consoles.

Hey, what can I say – sometimes in the great war to save Gaia, you have to do some… unsavory things, like killing baby polar bears so they don’t have to suffer the humiliation of being raised by humans after being rejected by their mothers. With an assist from our resident Photoshop genius, Jonathan Spalink, I humbly present this artistic token of support to our friends in the environmental movement, in the hopes that it will help them to educate the public about the importance of their quest to save this bear by killing it.

The boss is out of town this weekend, and he left me the keys to this sweet blog!

It should be noted that cooler heads have prevailed in this situation…

Update: Atomic cuteness bomb explodes over Germany; mass cases of “the snuggles” reported

Blog author: jarmstrong
Friday, March 23, 2007

I have tried to read everything that I can find the time to digest on the subject of global warming. I saw Al Gore’s award-winning documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" and even had some nice things to say about it. I have always been put off by the use of terms like "environmental whackos" and "earthist nut balls" from the political right. There is, in my humble opinion, little doubt that the earth is getting warmer. What is in great doubt is almost everything else. How warm will the earth become and how soon? Why is it really warming? What can we do about this problem now? How fast should we respond? And will radical responses, the kind that Al Gore argued for this week in the House hearing room on Capitol Hill, make a real difference? Bottom line: Will these alarmist responses help or harm the overall state of things on the earth? I am presently a skeptic when it comes to proving most of the claims being made by the alarmists. Something inside of me wants to agree with the climatologists who have deep concerns, if for no other reason than to avoid association with the right wing craziness and the radical left.

But make no mistake about it, this issue is politicized in every possible way. Anyone who argues otherwise is asleep. Both sides have a horse in this race. And alarmism does sell right now. Just think about the conspiracy theories that run rampant throughout modern life. Al Gore spoke of the planet "having a fever and if your baby has a fever, you go to the doctor. If the doctor says you need to intervene here, you don’t say, ‘Well, I read a science-fiction novel that tells me it’s not a problem.’ If the crib’s on fire, you don’t speculate that the blanket is flame retardant, you take action." That is about as alarmist as you can get it, so it seems to me. I am not sure if Gore is referring to Michael Crichton’s novel State of Fear, when he refers to a science-fiction novel, but it is a best-seller that has had immense impact on many, including me. Before you blow it off please read it. Be sure to read the forty-plus pages of annotated notes and bibliography of books that Crichton read in order to write this book. It is a fun book, but it makes a serious point that I think Gore and his friends miss. (I actually wonder if the book makes them angry because it is so good.)

The press reports say that Al Gore was at his "most passionate" when describing global warming as a "moral imperative." Dennis Hastert (R.IL) offered agreement with Gore saying that human activity is to blame for the rise in temperature, as did some other Republicans. This crusade has taken on the tones of a moral crusade with many people becoming more and more alarmed. This includes a number of evangelicals who have signed unwise and misleading statements on the climate. I, for one, take the words "moral imperative"  very seriously. I think these words are being pressed into service in troubling ways that border on becoming vacuous if we are not truly careful.

In a column published yesterday by Hoover Institute scholar Thomas Sowell he says that we should not expect a lot of fair and open debate about climate change in the near future. Why? National Public Radio (NPR) recently did a debate in which people were polled before and after the debate. After hearing the debate a good number of people who previously believed global warming was primarily caused by human carbon emissions changed their minds. Sowell suggests that this spells the end of such open debate in the near future. That would be a real shame. If this is really a "moral imperative" then those who are convinced that it is should not fear the debate but rather enter it and show people like me why they are right. I am open to facts and would change my mind if I saw the right reasons to do so. Attacking the motives of the non-alarmists is not convincing at all. In fact, it makes me loathe to accept the Gore thesis more than ever. After all, isn’t this the same politician who invented the Internet?

John Armstrong’s thoughtful post below reminds me of the critiques of Jim Wallis offered in this space, here, here, and here (by Armstrong himself).

And over at FirstThings today, Joseph Bottum, courtesy of David Brooks, gives me a term that I hadn’t encountered and that serves well as a moniker for the phenomenon Wallis embodies: “beyondism.” As in the effort (or rather the claim) to “get beyond” partisan polemics. As Bottum astutely observes, the program of the beyondist usually can be summed up thus: “The way to get beyond the liberal/conservative divide is for all of you on the other side to agree with me.”

Now there’s a sense in which I’m in favor of beyondism, meaning two sides coming to agreement so as to progress toward a shared goal. The key point is that those in favor of a given policy must accomplish two things: articulate the desired end in a way that shows that both sides are striving for a common goal; and convince opponents that the policy in question will better achieve progress toward that goal than the alternatives. The problem with beyondists is that they attempt to short-circuit this process by ignoring the imperative to demonstrate the superiority of their advocated policy and, instead, try to achieve consensus (or at least neutralize opponents) by rhetorical flourish—i.e., “My program takes us beyond the old divide of right and left.”

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, March 22, 2007

Non-evangelicals and progressive Christians continue to throw their support Rev. Richard Cizik’s way. Now the Institute for Progressive Christianity has released a statement commending “the courage and Christian concern displayed by Rev. Rick Cizik and the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) for recommending preventive action on the issue of global warming.”

Given the care that Cizik has ostensibly taken to distance himself from radical environmentalists, both of the secular and religious variety, and the care with which he has attempted to connect creation care with other evangelical political issues like abortion, I wonder just how welcome these expressions of solidarity really are.

Kishore Jayabalan reported yesterday on the latest happenings with the Acton Institute’s office in Rome and the most recent installment of the Centesimus Annus Conference Series, “The Religious Dimension of Human Freedom.”

As Kishore notes, the conference took place within the context of the spate of media attention to the religious situation in China, especially with reference to the relations between Beijing and the Vatican.

Last month Acton’s director of research Samuel Gregg wrote in The Australian about the increasing integration of religious identity into Chinese society. “Christianity and other religions previously viewed with intense suspicion by China’s communist authorities are increasingly considered potential social lubricants for China’s fast-transitioning economy,” he writes.

Gregg also observes that “increasing numbers of Communist Party members are reportedly embracing religion, even though this violates party policy.” But given the Marxist antipathy toward religion, how can this be?

As Gregg rightly points out, there is increasing recognition of the social benefits of religious belief…perhaps the Party leaders are seeing the usefulness of religion as a means of increasing social stability and productiveness. And, indeed, the Marxist view of religion as an “opiate” would fit well with a regime obsessed with social control.

But there’s another phenomenon that is facilitating this odd mix of Communism and Christianity. As Forum 18 reports, the radical secularization of religious belief into a hermetically-sealed private sphere provides assurance that religious beliefs won’t impact Party loyalty.

The report sounds a note of caution:

It would be hard to argue that the rising number of religious believers across China will never affect government policies. However, it would be wise not to assume that greater numbers of religious believers automatically lead to changes in government policy on religious freedom. One (or three) hundred million “individual” religious believers, unwilling to engage in direct dialogue and negotiation with – let alone to confront – the government, are not in themselves a collective force for positive political change for all of China’s citizens.

Indeed, a religion that restricts itself to a realm of authority subservient to and derivative of the state may fulfill the role that the Party desires, but it does not reflect the comprehensive symmetry of doctrine and practice, faith and love, that is at the core of Christianity.

Al Gore’s Assault on Reason
Darn it! I messed up that title again…

Oh, I’m sorry. I messed up that title. Gore’s newest book will be called The Assault on Reason. Here’s the book description from

A visionary analysis of how the politics of fear, secrecy, cronyism, and blind faith has combined with the degration of the public sphere to create an environment dangerously hostile to reason…

…We live in an age when the thirty-second television spot is the most powerful force shaping the electorate’s thinking, and America is in the hands of an administration less interested than any previous administration in sharing the truth with the citizenry. Related to this and of even greater concern is this administration’s disinterest in the process by which the truth is ascertained, the tenets of fact-based reasoning-first among them an embrace of open inquiry in which unexpected and even inconvenient facts can lead to unexpected conclusions.

How did we get here? How much damage has been done to the functioning of our democracy and its role as steward of our security? Never has there been a worse time for us to lose the capacity to face the reality of our long-term challenges, from national security to the economy, from issues of health and social welfare to the environment. As The Assault on Reason shows us, we have precious little time to waste.

Gore’s larger goal in this book is to explain how the public sphere itself has evolved into a place hospitable to reason’s enemies, to make us more aware of the forces at work on our own minds, and to lead us to an understanding of what we can do, individually and collectively, to restore the rule of reason and safeguard our future. Drawing on a life’s work in politics as well as on the work of experts across a broad range of disciplines, Al Gore has written a farsighted and powerful manifesto for clear thinking.

Heady stuff, to be sure. Al Gore, Defender of Reason! But come now; let’s face facts. On the issue that he is best known for – climate change – Gore has done absolutely nothing to reasonably engage in debate. Quite the contrary – he denies that a legitimate debate exists, and his current popularity depends entirely on his ability frame the issue of climate change as a “crisis,” regardless of what the facts actually say.

(An aside: at the moment, I’m watching C-SPAN 3’s live coverage of the Senate hearing on climate change, and I’m pretty sure that Sen. Barbara Mikulski just credited Gore with “saving drinking water.” WOW; I never knew. And Barbara Boxer just invoked the name of Rosa Parks – they’re hauling out the moral big guns today.)

Far from being a friend to reasoned debate, Gore has a long history of ignoring facts that may be inconvenient to his predictions of global catastrophe. For instance:

…in March 1995, Gore gave his annual Earth Day address at George Washington University. ‘‘Torrential rains have increased in the summer in agricultural regions,’’ he said, referring to a yet-to-be published paper by federal climatologist Tom Karl. In fact, Karl had found no change in the frequency of daily rainfall in excess of three inches. What he did find was a tiny change in the amount of rain coming from summer storms of between two and three inches in 24 hours, but these are hardly ‘‘torrential’’ and are most often welcomed by farmers everywhere, who pray for such rains. America’s breadbasket is usually in great need of moisture come August.

In July 1998, Gore visited northeast Florida, which had experienced a series of substantial range and forest fires. He said the conflagrations ‘‘offer a glimpse of what global warming may mean for families.’’ The reason Florida went up in smoke during this normally hot season was the overabundance of vegetation that resulted from excessive rains in the previous winter. While it might be convenient to finger the 1997–98 El Nin˜o as the cause, statistical studies show El Nin˜o is in fact associated with less-than-average burned acreage in Florida.

These – and a myriad of other – inconvenient facts haven’t stopped Gore over the years, and even though the facts still dog him today, he doesn’t appear to be troubled by them one bit. (Another aside – at the moment, he’s referencing the movie 300 and the crusade against Nazism, presumably to lend the deep moral credibility of previous efforts to save civilization to his climate change efforts. Credit where credit is due: the man has some real… self confidence.) Rather, Gore’s preferred method of “debate” is to simply not acknowledge any other argument. So much for reason.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, even supporters of Gore are admitting that he takes some liberties with the facts in order to advance his argument, and here’s yet another bit of evidence that Gore will ignore in service of his Higher Truth. No doubt Gore’s new book will go over big with certain audiences; as for me, I’d say that Gore is the last person in the world who should be complaining about an assault on reason.