Archived Posts August 2007 - Page 5 of 11 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: jcouretas
Thursday, August 16, 2007

STAND, the Student Anti Genocide Coalition, is discussing Kaylin Wainwright’s Acton commentary about Darfur and campus activism on its blog.

STAND, which says it has founded 700 chapters, answers Kaylin’s criticisms about campus “slacktivism” by pointing to its effective engagement on the Darfur issue. The PowerBlog takes no stand on STAND. We’re just glad that considerations about effectiveness are being discussed by activist groups.

Read Kaylin’s “Darfur: Taking Student Advocacy beyond the Wristband.”

From today’s NYT: “CARE, one of the world’s biggest charities, is walking away from some $45 million a year in federal financing, saying American food aid is not only plagued with inefficiencies, but also may hurt some of the very poor people it aims to help.”

“If someone wants to help you, they shouldn’t do it by destroying the very thing that they’re trying to promote,” said George Odo, a CARE official who grew disillusioned with the practice while supervising the sale of American wheat and vegetable oil in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital.

International aid needs to get more economically savvy, and in a hurry, lest unintended consequences like the ones moving CARE to wean itself from the government teat continue to undermine well-intentioned efforts across the globe.

Some charities are accused of supporting the government’s practices because it keeps them afloat.

“What’s happened to humanitarian organizations over the years is that a lot of us have become contractors on behalf of the government,” said Mr. Odo of CARE. “That’s sad but true. It compromised our ability to speak up when things went wrong.” In other words, NGOs have effectively been bought off.

“Sure it’s self-interest if staying in business to help the hungry is self-interested,” said Avram E. Guroff, a senior official at ACDI/VOCA, which ranked sixth in such sales last year. “We’re not lining our pockets.”

But, as Augustine would say, and as CARE seems to be realizing, economic self-sufficiency ought to be the goal, rather than creating cycles of dependence by destroying entrepreneurial viability abroad:

A person who sorrows for someone who is miserable earns approval for the charity he shows, but if he is genuinely merciful he would far rather there were nothing to sorrow about. If such a thing as spiteful benevolence existed (which is impossible, of course, but supposing it did), a genuinely and sincerely merciful person would wish others to be miserable so that he could show them mercy! (Confessions 3.2.3)

As you may already know, Acton’s Samaritan Award and Samaritan Guide recognize charities who take little or no government funding and are committed to moving those toward independence.

Update: There’s a brief summary of CARE’s decision in this Marketplace piece: “The issue will be part of the congressional Farm Bill debate next month.”

Jeff Jacoby, writing yesterday in the Boston Globe, takes a pleasant stroll down memory lane:

INTRODUCING Newsweek’s Aug. 13 cover story on global warming “denial,” editor Jon Meacham brings up an embarrassing blast from his magazine’s past: an April 1975 story about global cooling, and the coming ice age that scientists then were predicting. Meacham concedes that “those who doubt that greenhouse gases are causing significant climate change have long pointed to the 1975 Newsweek piece as an example of how wrong journalists and researchers can be.” But rather than acknowledge that the skeptics may have a point, Meacham dismisses it.

“On global cooling,” he writes, “there was never anything even remotely approaching the current scientific consensus that the world is growing warmer because of the emission of greenhouse gases.”

Really? Newsweek took rather a different line in 1975. Then, the magazine reported that scientists were “almost unanimous” in believing that the looming Big Chill would mean a decline in food production, with some warning that “the resulting famines could be catastrophic.” Moreover, it said, “the evidence in support of these predictions” — everything from shrinking growing seasons to increased North American snow cover — had “begun to accumulate so massively that meteorologists are hard-pressed to keep up with it.”

Yet Meacham, quoting none of this, simply brushes aside the 1975 report as “alarmist” and “discredited.” Today, he assures his readers, Newsweek’s climate-change anxieties rest “on the safest of scientific ground.”

This appears to be the first article in a two-part series. Go on and read it in full.

Acton Alum, Andrae McGary, recently launched a blog to offer some perspective on hip hop for the hip hop community. It’s called Street Soul Arts. His latest post discusses Princeton University religion professor, Cornell West, and the release of West’s second rap album. I’m glad to see this blog because he knows this world far better than I ever will.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, August 16, 2007

Stanley Cohen, the Martin White Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics, is quoted as saying that “good intentions become bad practices.”

In his critique of rather lame attempts to realize justice in the world (related to faulty definitions of justice), Herman Bianchi writes, “Even more dubious is another frame in which the formula is often couched: ‘Justice is the constant intention to give everyone his due.’ Never is it said, ‘See to it that everyone really gets his due!’ No, the constant intention apparently suffices; the result of the action is not worth mentioning. As Ovid suggests, ‘though strength may fail, intention should be praised.'” Bianchi concludes that there are many such examples of this kind of thinking in the modern world.

In searching out the source for the disconnect between intentions and consequences, Bianchi has provided us with one classical source (Ovid). I’d like to point to some others, particularly within the Christian tradition, as possible sources for this phenomenon.

One place to look, I think, for a source of the contemporary (typically liberal) valuation of intentions over outcomes is the perfectionist doctrine of John Wesley. One strategy for those who teach that perfect moral action or sinlessness is possible in this life is to restrict the notion of sin into some smaller category than it is generally taken. So, for instance, a literal interpretation of the Decalogue could allow the rich young ruler to claim that he had kept the law from his youth.

Jesus’ presentation of the law in the Sermon on the Mount radicalizes these commandments, to include not only the external aspects of the commandment, but the internal spiritual condition and intention as well. This is where Wesley’s strategy is the precise mirror of that of the legalistic ruler. Where the ruler focused only on the literal commandments, Wesley is concerned with interior intent.

So for Wesley, “Christian Perfection is that love of God and our neighbour, which implies deliverance from all sin.” Sin is narrowly defined here to only include those acts of the will that spring from “envy, malice, wrath, and every unkind temper.” There is a separation here between the intellect and the will, however, so that a defect of the intellect is not to be considered sin, properly speaking. That is, perfect sinlessness consists in the Christian’s “one intention at all times and in all places…not to please himself, but him whom his soul loveth.”

But of course if there is an error in the intellect, but no defect in the will, it is still an evil, and Wesley acknowledges this: “Yet, where every word and action springs from love, such a mistake is not properly a sin. However, it cannot bear the rigour of God’s justice, but needs the atoning blood.” So there are deeds that are not considered sins but still need to be atoned for.

Clearly the great emphasis here is on the purity of intentions and the valuation of motives over consequences. In an extreme version, intention is completely disconnected with effect and consequence. This is what I’m calling Wesley’s ditch, although Wesley is not alone in the Christian tradition on this score. Compare, for instance, Reinhold Niebuhr: “Nothing is intrinsically immoral except ill-will and nothing intrinsically good except good will.”

You do not need to be a consequentialist in order to care about consequences. I submit that Jesus’ teachings on the Sermon on the Mount, in radicalizing the nature of sin to include intentions, motives, and will, do not abandon concern with the intellect, consequences, or external effects. So, says Augustine, “there are two reasons why we sin, either because we do not see what we ought to do, or because we do not do what we know we ought to be done: the first of these evils comes from ignorance, the second from weakness.”

This is why the Heidelberg Catechism, in its description of what meets the qualification for Christian good, includes not only considerations of intentions or motives, but the external norm of God’s law. In answer to the question, “What do we do that is good?”, the Catechism answers: “Only that which arises out of true faith, conforms to God’s law, and is done for his glory; and not that which is based on what we think is right or on established human tradition.”

Good intentions are not enough.

Blog author: blevitske
Wednesday, August 15, 2007

In connection to Acton’s recent coverage of the New Sanctuary Movement, which shelters illegal immigrants in churches to protect them from deportation, see this fascinating Christianity Today piece that explains the history of the church sanctuary concept.

A few excerpts….

“As a product of a time when justice was rough and crude,” law professor Wayne Logan summarized in a 2003 Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review article, “sanctuary served the vital purpose of staving off immediate blood revenge.” If the church could be convinced that the sanctuary seeker’s life was not in danger, it would turn him over. “The church, in short, played a foremost role as intercessor,” Logan writes. Fugitives in medieval English sanctuaries, about 1,000 a year, were able to negotiate financial compensation or a punishment like scourging or exile.

In other words, sanctuary properly understood is not about protest, but about offering refuge and help. Medieval churches providing sanctuary didn’t argue that the broken laws were unjust or that sanctuary seekers were heroes. They just wanted to save lives, show grace, and offer room for repentance. Sanctuary as political protest undermines the moral authority that it invokes, for it is just a form of hospitality to like-minded allies. “If you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others?” someone once asked. “Do not even pagans do that?”

The following items are the continuation of the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation Newsletter, August 15, 2007:

Those first five major developments are themselves worthy of an entire issue of this newsletter, and the last two are significant as well. But here are some additional stories worth noting since our last issue:

1. Natural explanation for all climate variability in last century?
Science Daily, August 1, 2007

[University of Alabama climatologist Roy Spencer informed us of this article, writing, “a new paper in Geophysical Research Letters (GRL) claims all climate variability in the last century is (gasp) NATURAL! (I wonder if the mainstream media will cover this?)”–ECB]

In the mid-1970s, a climate shift cooled sea surface temperatures in the central Pacific Ocean and warmed the coast of western North America, bringing long-range changes to the northern hemisphere.
After this climate shift waned, an era of frequent El Ninos and rising global temperatures began.

Understanding the mechanisms driving such climate variability is difficult because unraveling causal connections that lead to chaotic climate behavior is complicated.

To simplify this, Tsonis et al. investigate the collective behavior of known climate cycles such as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, the North Atlantic Oscillation, the El Nino/Southern Oscillation, and the North Pacific Oscillation.

By studying the last 100 years of these cycles’ patterns, they find that the systems synchronized several times.

Further, in cases where the synchronous state was followed by an increase in the coupling strength among the cycles, the synchronous state was destroyed. Then. a new climate state emerged, associated with global temperature changes and El Nino/Southern Oscillation variability.

The authors show that this mechanism explains all global temperature tendency changes and El Nino variability in the 20th century.

Title: A new dynamical mechanism for major climate shifts

Authors: Anastasios A. Tsonis, Kyle Swanson, and Sergey Kravtsov: Atmospheric Sciences Group, Department of Mathematical Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.A.

Source: Geophysical Research Letters (GRL) paper 10.1029/2007GL030288, 2007 (more…)