Archived Posts 2007 - Page 65 of 92 | Acton PowerBlog

The Duke Lacrosse case seems to have stirred tensions in America on issues regarding race and class. Many blacks writing about this case seem to have reactions that highlight these tensions. This raises many questions in my mind: Is this case about race and/or class? Where is the national conversation about the morality of stripping? What are we to make of the perspectives below? Does this case do damage to our confidence in the rule of law? Thoughts, anyone?

Christopher Bracey, Professor of Law and Associate Professor of African & African American Studies at Washington University in St. Louis offers these thoughts at

A couple of thoughts. First, I cannot help but make the connection to the Brawley affair. Did a sexual assault occur, or was this yet another sister crying out for help? Is this justice delayed for blacks, or justice denied for the whites? Sadly, we will never know the full story.

Second, and on a similar note, I wonder how the local black Durham community is feeling right now. Do they feel victimized by the Attorney General, who dismissed the charged? Do they feel duped by the local District Attorney, Nifong, used this case to secure re-election?

Third, I wonder about the impact of the dismissal of the charges. Will rape survivors be less inclined to report incidents? Will the public be more skeptical of claims of racial discrimination? What sort of expectations will there be for potential claimants of racial insults?

Gregory Kane,, however, takes a different approach. He confesses that he feels no sympathy what so ever for the three Duke lacrosse players because being falsely accused is something that blacks have has to deal with in America for centuries. Admittedly, this approach is disturbing. Kane writes:

As expected, the cadre of right-wing commentators defending the three have gone into overdrive. And, once again, I’m compelled to write about how I’m so not feeling any sympathy for these guys. I say again, they got off easy. Why do I day that?

Four reasons: Calvin Crawford Johnson Jr.

Twenty-three years ago, Johnson found himself in the same boat those Duke players say they’re in: falsely accused of rape. The similarity in their situations ends there. Let’s look at how they differ, shall we?

The three players are white. Johnson is black. The three players were accused of raping a black woman. Johnson was accused of raping two white women. The three Duke guys were arrested, charged, arraigned, posted bail and walked out of jail. Johnson didn’t get bail. He went to court every day with his hands and feet shackled.


A number of theories are buzzing around the Internet, related to the Virginia Tech killer’s choice of identification on the package he sent to NBC, “Ismail Ax.”

According to published reports, “One popular theory comes from a story in the Quran, the holy book of Islam, about Ibrahim and his son, Ismail. This theory picked up speed because many bloggers wondered if the shootings could be related to terrorism.”

The report continues, “In Islam, Ibrahim is known as the father of the prophets and, upset that people in his hometown still worshiped idols and not Allah, he smashed all but one statue in a local temple with an ax. Ibrahim’s son is Ismail, who also became a prophet. Ibrahim is Arabic for Abraham, who plays a significant role in Christianity, Judaism and Islam.”

From what I’ve seen, however, there is no other evidence so far linking Cho Seung-Hui to Islam.

One of his rants does include this portion, presumably to his classmates: “You had everything you wanted. Your Mercedes wasn’t enough, you brats. Your golden necklaces weren’t enough, you snobs. Your trust fund wasn’t enough. Your vodka and Cognac weren’t enough. All your debaucheries weren’t enough. Those weren’t enough to fulfill your hedonistic needs. You had everything.”

These complaints echo Dinesh D’Souza’s take on the major motivations behind Osama bin Laden’s animosity toward the United States: “the immoral ingredients of American values and culture,” and “a decadent American culture that angers and repulses traditional societies.” But its not at all clear whether D’Souza is ultimately right, and therefore even more questionable whether such perceived similarities reflect any real link.

The words “Ismail Ax” were also written in red ink on the killer’s arm. The Times of London relates the identity of Ismail in Islam as the ‘son of sacrifice’. NBC News says that the killer’s manifesto includes the following statement: “Thanks to you, I die like Jesus Christ, to inspire generations of the weak and the defenseless people.”

Of course, despite the killer’s intentions, that’s where the similarities to Jesus Christ end. Jesus is the one who resists the temptation to strike back at his oppressors and willingly endures suffering for the sake of others: “For all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” More on this by PowerBlog contributor John H. Armstrong at his home blog, “A Tragic Day in Blacksburg: Making Sense of People’s Actions and the Words of Jesus.”

But, then again, maybe the explanation for “Ismail Ax” is just as simple as this: “Ismail Ax” is an anagram for “Alias Mix.”

Update: A columnist in a Kuwaiti newspaper writes that America leads the world “towards the abyss and towards a bitter fate – and the crimes that we hear of occasionally are just a drop in the sea of their false culture.” If Cho Seung-Hui wanted to indict American culture, then anti-American sentiment around the world is certainly lending its assistance to his purpose.

See also PowerBlog contributor Jennifer Roback Morse’s piece in NRO, “Waiting Until It’s Too Late: Mental illness and the Virginia Tech massacre.”

Update #2: Jerry Bowyer at NRO on the contents of the killer’s media package: “Envy, deep and powerful, comes through it all. Resentment against our society. Christianity, capitalism, and sports all take their hits. This was a man who hated the American regime — our very way of life.”

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, April 19, 2007

One of my favorite industries to criticize is the state-run lottery business.

Philosopher William F. Vallicella writes the following: “Your chances of a significant win are next-to-nil. But suppose you win, and suppose you manage to not have your life destroyed by your ‘good fortune.’ The winnings are arguably ill-gotten gains. The money was extracted via false advertising from ignorant rubes and is being transferred via a chance mechanism to someone who has done nothing to deserve it” (HT: the evangelical outpost).

One could of course argue that the winner did take the superficially meritorious action of risking a small amount of money for the potential for a huge reward. Lottery players do at least have to “opt-in.” Perhaps that’s the action that accrues some semblance of desert.

But then again, if Vallicella is right about the nature of the system and its state-sponsored advertising, in the larger sense participation in such a corrupt industry might overshadow any meritorious action.

Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that in modern life characterized by the lack of meaning,

One gambles with the future. Lotteries and gambling, which consume an inconceivable amount of money and often the daily bread of the worker, seek the improbable chance of luck in the future. The loss of past and future leaves life vacillating between the most brutish enjoyment of the moment and adventurous risk taking.

Add to those effects government sponsorship and promotion, and you have a pretty foul mix.

The John Locke Foundation recently published a report linking lotteries to high poverty and high unemployment in North Carolina counties. See the case of Jack Whittaker for someone whose ruin was occasioned by the influx of great wealth.

Even so, philosopher David Schmidtz expresses a way in which the “merit” of lotteries shouldn’t be accrued to the actions leading up to the windfall, but rather following it. Speaking of what he calls transitive reciprocity in his recent book, Elements of Justice, Schmidtz writes,

Having received an unearned windfall, we are in debt. The moral scales are out of balance. The canonical way to restore a measure of balance is to return the favor to our benefactor, as per symmetrical reciprocity. However, the canonical way is not the only way. Another way is to pass the favor on, as per transitive reciprocity. Transitive reciprocity is less about returning a favor and more about honoring it – doing justice to it. Passing the favor on may not repay an original benefactor, but it can be a way of giving thanks (83).

Schmidtz leaves us with a picture of the lottery winner as one who has inherited a responsibility to act in an attitude of thankfulness and gratitude, passing the favor on to others.

I like that.

Anthony Bradley revisits the case of the Duke lacrosse team, and finds that most everyone involved — including op-ed pundits — had something to learn from the scandal. “This case reminds us that broken, weak-willed women can easily be taken advantage of and can easily deceive,” he writes. “America was ‘called out’ as a culture more concerned about its kids’ achievements than their moral formation.”

Read the full commentary here.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, April 18, 2007

I’m pleased to announce that the Acton Institute PowerBlog has added two new contributors to our cast of cutting-edge commentators.

Dr. E. Calvin Beisner, national spokesman for the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance, associate professor of historical theology and social ethics at Knox Theological Seminary, and adjunct scholar at the Acton Institute, will be posting some of the annotated comments and links from his periodic Interfaith Stewardship Alliance Newsletter. Dr. Beisner is an author and lecturer on the application of Biblical worldview and theology to economics, government, public policy, and the environment. For online ordering of books by E. Calvin Beisner, go to his website here.

Prof. Anthony B. Bradley is an Acton research fellow and assistant professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis. He is completing a doctorate in historical and theological studies at Westminster Theological Seminary and holds an M.Div. from Covenant Theological Seminary. Prof. Bradley will be lecturing at this year’s Acton University, and is a frequent author of Acton Commentary articles, including one posted today, “The Duke Case in Review: Justice Prevails, Virtue Interprets,” a follow-up to his “Wanted: A Duke Lacrosse Team Hero,” from April of 2006.

You can continue to look forward to posts from these and other PowerBloggers on topics like environmental stewardship, business and culture, and theology and ethics.

Socrates in some sense has come full circle. In a case of life imitating art, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Central Florida in Orlando have received a grant to create life-like virtual representations of historical figures, with whom students can interact, dialogue, and inquire (HT: Slashdot).

“The goal is to combine artificial intelligence with the latest advanced graphics and video game-type technology to enable us to create historical archives of people beyond what can be achieved using traditional technologies such as text, audio and video footage,” said Jason Leigh, associate professor of computer science and director of UIC’s Electronic Visualization Laboratory. Leigh is UIC’s lead principal investigator.

This project seminally resembles the technological world depicted by Robert Silverberg in his mid-80’s novella, Sailing to Byzantium. In that work set in the 50th century, Silverberg’s characters travel to variously themed reconstructions of cities, complete with interactive simulacra of historical or mythological figures.

The UIC/UCFO project will focus on creating digital “avatars,” who mimic the mannerisms and characteristics of the persona they represent: “Leigh said his team hopes to create virtual people who respond with a high degree of recognition to different voices and the various ways questions are phrased.”

Some commentators wonder if the concept has commercial appeal. Judging from the popularity of the cities in Silverberg’s novella, I would certainly think so.

But what is more striking is how a project like this provides an answer, albeit one that is incomplete, to the conundrum of communication posed by Socrates himself so long ago.

In the Phaedrus, Socrates makes the following critical observation about the nature of writing:

I cannot help feeling, Phaedrus, that writing is unfortunately like painting; for the creations of the painter have the attitude of life, and yet if you ask them a question they preserve a solemn silence. And the same may be said of speeches. You would imagine that they had intelligence, but if you want to know anything and put a question to one of them, the speaker always gives one unvarying answer. And when they have been once written down they are tumbled about anywhere among those who may or may not understand them, and know not to whom they should reply, to whom not: and, if they are maltreated or abused, they have no parent to protect them; and they cannot protect or defend themselves.

We now have within our sight a superficial answer to Socrates’ critique; these avatars will presumably be able to know “to whom they should reply,” and “to whom not.” Indeed, the simulacra might be able to give more than “one unvarying answer.”

But I think in some ways this simply sharpens rather than dismisses Socrates’ criticism. Will these avatars, in spite of the technological achievement of interactivity, fundamentally represent anything more than the illusion of intelligence, or “the attitude of life”? Whence comes the dynamism and spontaneity of human rationality, willing, and consciousness? Is it possible to truly recreate such things by means of “artificial intelligence”?

The Call of the Entrepreneur, Acton’s new documentary on the importance of entrepreneurs in society, premieres in Grand Rapids on May 17, 2007. The film will begin at 7:00pm at Celebration Cinema North with a reception to follow, and a VIP reception will be held beforehand at 6:00pm. If you have not yet heard about The Call of the Entrepreneur you can read a bit more here and here, and be sure to visit If you have been anxiously anticipating the premiere of this film, you can go directly to our secure registration form.