Archived Posts June 2009 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: ken.larson
posted by on Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Last week I took Friday afternoon off and did the yard work. I’d been listening to radio broadcasts about the vote in Congress on HR 2454 – what some of us call the “cap and tax” climate bill. You know, the one none of the members had read before the vote? Yes, I know, there’s more than one bill that they haven’t read prior to voting.

Yard work is good for my psyche. In two hours I can make a measurable and meaningful contribution to my property’s appearance. Few things in life are so neatly determinate; and the activity allows me to ponder other issues at the same time that I’m tilling and trimming.

My plan was to relax over the weekend in the run up to my birthday; and moving the yard work to Friday seemed appropriate. My modest Saturday agenda included helping to reduce the ironing pile by doing my half. My wife welcomed the help and suggested that I do the ironing first so I could also enjoy a Saturday morning ritual in doors — listening to “The Opera Show” on local FM station KUSC — and not having to use the pocket radio and earphones required when I’m outdoors.

During its season, KUSC hosts The Metropolitan broadcasts from New York, but the presentation last Saturday was a replay of the Los Angeles Opera Company’s April performance of Walter Braunfels’ The Birds, part of a series titled “Recovered Voices.” These are works by Jewish composers and musicians that were banned by the elected German Chancellor Adolph Hitler before and during the WWII era’s Holocaust and have been nearly forgotten.

Aristophanes’ play The Birds is a “comedy” written around 430 B.C. that pokes at the antics of Greek politics, specifically Athens’ leader Cleon, and at what was termed “the noble lie” at the time. The plot — VERY briefly described — follows the trek of two disgruntled humans who are lead by a raven and a crow toward a life among the birds which they are assured will be free from strife. You can imagine that there’s a bit of Plato’s philosopher-king tossed in for good measure. And with characters named “a sycophant” you can imagine how in the Germany of the 1930s a man with Braunfels’ talent might see some sardonic fun in using this plot to frame a libretto for his very solid musical creation.

Only minutes into my ironing the iron gave out: not enough heat and not enough steam. On the drive to the local Target — my wife went along — I continued to listen to Braunfels’ haunting music. Our beeline to the shelf and through the checkout line took only minutes, but on the way my eye caught an item in that area where picture frames are marketed. It was a 24″ x 36″ framed poster of Barack Obama and the text “Yes, We Can…” at the top. There was more text — the entire ‘yes we can’ speech. No, Really!

I asked my wife, “Did Dayton Hudson get TARP money?”

As we walked out to the car a guy with arms and legs full of tattoos was escorting a scantly dressed woman equally decorated and pierced into the store. I made a remark to my wife. She responded, “You don’t get out enough.”

At home I unpacked the new iron and began the process of dismantling the protections made mandatory by the same kind of folks who hadn’t bothered to read HR 2454. First the plastic tie that loops through the holes in the plug tips. You have to cut it away. As I untwisted the wire that bound the cord I noticed and took time to read the attached white label.

Warning: The power cord on this product contains lead, a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer, and birth defects or other reproductive harm. Wash hands after handling.

I learned to iron when I was in sixth grade after my mom went to work to earn the extra money that paid for my brother and I to have orthodontic braces: a gift for which I will be eternally grateful. Her lessons and my vast experience in ironing has paid off in unnamed ways. It was the era when what today we’d call Chinos or Khaki trousers replaced Levi’s for a time. It was also the era before clothes dryers; and one of the devices to make pressing your pants easier were metal stretchers that gave the air dried pants a rough crease to perfect. Ironing can refine one’s eye for detail.

As I listened to Braunfels’ melodies and maneuvered the iron around the yoke of each shirt in a process developed over time but yielding to modification for the short sleeved “polo” shirts on the pile I allowed myself to be drawn to those days in the early 60′s when the Ivy League style predominated and the button at the back of the collar just above that centered pleat prevailed. There was also a buckle on the back of the trousers, above the pockets and just below the belt loops. I also thought about things like why women’s blouses button the opposite way from men’s shirts. I wondered if a “Kingston Trio” CD wouldn’t be more appropriate than Braunfels’ opera on the radio.

It just may be for me that ironing is right in there with yard work. A time for reflection that also allows bona fide, measurable results relatively quickly and without malice toward another. I’m not sure that people reflect so much on things these days. That vote on HR 2454 last week seems to confirm my hunch.

Simple, mundane tasks can direct us. And while I haven’t done any extensive research on the subject I have a sneaking suspicion that something was lost and ordered liberty may have began to unravel with the introduction of the inherent lie of “permanent press.” That wrinkled look of wash and wear may excuse ironing, but what’s replaced that saved time? Certainly not paying more attention to who’s being elected or what Target is hawking in their stores.

Walter Braunfels might have had some advice for us about what posters of a political leader for sale in a store can portend but he died in 1954. But there are clues as in stories like The Birds.

Over at World Magazine, Lee Wishing cites a speech by Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president and co-founder of the Acton Institute, on the subject of putting our faith in God and our own abilities instead of the government to manage economies. He quotes Rev. Sirico: “Many thinkers throughout the ages have noted that we face a choice between holding a robust faith in God or putting faith in man and institutions such as the state.”  In such tough economic times, we are reminded that we need to put our faith and trust in God first.

According to the Catholic News Agency, an Italian newspaper claims to have acquired some parts of the upcoming Caritas in Veritate encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI.  Some of the quotes published by Corriere della Sera are claimed to be from the encyclical and align with the predictions that the Pope will be advocating for morality to be the basis of solving our economic crisis. Here is a quote:

Without truth, without trust and love for what is truthful, there is no conscience or social responsibility, and the social action falls under the control of private interests or logics of power, with the destructive effect on society, even more on a society on the way to globalization, in difficult moments like the current ones.

Corriere della Sera also says that the encyclical will address a number of global issues, including world hunger.  The Italian paper pulls a few other claimed quotes from the Pope’s encyclical: Charity in truth requires an urgent reform to confront courageously and without hesitation the great problems of injustice in the development of the nations; Food and water are universal rights; [and] the development of all nations depends above all in recognizing that we are one single family.

Despite all of the rumors, predictions, and claims to know what the Pope’s encyclical actually says, we are going to have to wait until to release to finally hear the Pope’s words.  The PowerBlog will continue to cover the encyclical prior to and after its release.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Speaking of “green” jobs, here’s the ultimate green job:


Maybe we’d all be better off if our federal lawmakers took their own jobs this seriously.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Monday, June 29, 2009

A reader makes a request:

My purpose for writing is simply to request the Acton Institute make a public statement on its website to repudiate Mr. Sanford’s actions, in large measure because he was prominently featured in Volume 18, Number 3 of Religion & Liberty journal. Of course your organization is not expected to guarantee moral behavior of its featured contributors simply because none of us knows what is really in the hearts and minds of our neighbor. Governor Sanford previously demonstrated he was a man of character and integrity, but even the most upright man is in danger of falling. My request is for the Institute to denounce Mr. Sanford’s actions in the same public manner it praised his approach to politics last summer, in order to assure its viewers that it is not complicit with his actions.

If not exactly a denunciation, here’s an explanation for why we interviewed Gov. Mark Sanford. We opened the pages of R&L to the governor because of his record as a fiscal conservative and his willingness to talk about the way faith guided his public life. Here’s a sample of the interview:

R&L The religious views of candidates and their support among various faith traditions played a big role in the 2008 presidential race. Is this a good thing?

Sanford It is. But I don’t know if it was more window dressing than not. Obama had Rick Warren speak at the inauguration, and then got some guy of another persuasion to give the benediction. I don’t think you want it as an accoutrement. I think that you want it to show up in policy. In other words, conversation is certainly an important starting point. It can’t be the ending point.

Somewhere, that “deeds, not words” philosophy fell by the wayside. Yes, Gov. Sanford fell and fell hard. But he was lying to many people about his public life and private conduct. And we got taken in, too.

Now, we watch the sad spectacle of a politician clinging to power after he has obliterated any moral claim to continuing in office. He is refusing to go, and absurdly compares himself to Biblical figures. (more…)

Only if there are new human beings will there be a new world, a renewed and better world.

When the Pope said these words at Vespers on Sunday, perhaps he had Bernie Madoff in mind.

Today, Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison for defrauding his investors of nearly $65 billion over the course of 20 years. His corruption and crimes ruined the livelihoods of thousands of businesspeople, charity workers, and families that trusted his sterling reputation to protect everything that they had worked to earn.

Unfortunately, Madoff is not the only man to have betrayed his financial responsibilities to others. The last few years saw financial scandals at Enron and WorldCom shake the public’s trust in corporations. Just two weeks ago, Texas billionaire R. Allen Stanford was arrested by the FBI on charges that he used a bank in Antigua to mask his $8 billion fraud, stealing from his investors.

When Pope Leo XIII published his encyclical Rerum Novarum in 1891, he wrote that “A small number of very rich men have been able to lay upon the teeming masses of the laboring poor a yoke little better than slavery itself.” The global economy has come a long way since then, with the rise of laws designed to fight white-collar crime, the expansion of opportunities for Third World entrepreneurship with the removal of tariffs, and the creation of enough wealth to eliminate most of the horrific working conditions of the Victorian Era. (more…)

There has been much discussion, commentary, and debate on Pope Benedict’s much anticipated encyclical on the economy Caritas in Veritate (remarkable for a statement that has not yet been released).  At the PowerBlog, we will keep you informed on what is being said about the encyclical and, when it is released, we look forward to providing great coverage.

Two of the most recent commentaries came from John Allen Jr. in the National Catholic Reporter and Michael Novak in First Things.  In Allen’s preview of the new encyclical he states:

In effect, what Benedict laid out last night likely amounts to the theological and spiritual substructure of the encyclical, minus the specific economic prescriptions.

The core of what Benedict said, during an ecumenical vespers service at the grand basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, is that building a better world requires forming better people.  Structural reform thus presuppose personal moral and spiritual renewal, including a life devoted to prayer and the sacraments.

Allen further hints at the theme of the encyclical with his statement:

The idea that a better world must be built on better people is likely to be a core theme in Caritas in Veritale, and the pope dealt with it at length yesterday.

“Paul tells us [that] the world cannot be renewed without new human beings,” Benedict said. “Only if there are new human beings will there be a new world, a renewed and better world.”

There is much speculation that the new encyclical will be in favor of free markets and Novak responds to the criticism from those on the left:

For moralists, it is essential to see how often (not always) government itself sins grievously against the common good, out of a lust for power and domination over others.  Furthermore, government often (not always) generates foolish and destructive regulations, and often dispenses justice that winks rather than justice that is blind.  Government is more frequently the agent of injuring the common good than the ordinary lawful actions of free citizens.  During the twentieth century, governments too often destroyed the common good of their citizens for years to come.

Clint Eastwood’s 2008 project Gran Torino has recently been released on DVD, and what a delight it is. Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a Korean War vet and retired auto worker whose wife has just passed away.

I was unable to catch the film in theaters, despite my desire to do so. Based in Michigan, Gran Torino was filmed places like Royal Oak, Warren, Grosse Pointe, and Highland Park. As the production notes state, “Though the screenplay was initially set in Minneapolis, Eastwood felt Walt’s past as a 50-year auto worker would resonate most as a resident of ‘Motor City’—Detroit, Michigan.”

It was a wise decision. Everything about Gran Torino rings true, from Walt’s disdain for his priest, whom he calls “an overeducated 27-year-old virgin,” to his way of speaking (he “slings racial slurs like most people use nouns and verbs”), to the local ambiance (including a “ghetto clothesline” in the basement of Walt’s Hmong neighbors). The film’s action revolves around the title character, a 1972 Gran Torino, Walt’s prized possession, a car that he had a hand in building himself. Walt’s bigotry extends most virulently to his neighbors, the Lor family, Hmong immigrants from southeast Asia. One of the boys in the family, Thao, is eventually pressured into joining a neighborhood gang. His first assignment is to steal Walt’s car.

gt1
(more…)

Today, the Wall Street Journal published a letter I wrote to the editor opposing mandatory health insurance. This solution would burden the poor beyond their means, and it would deny the principle of subsidiarity by sacrificing family economic decisions to the priorities of federal legislators. Here is the text of the letter:

“Sen. Ron Wyden’s plan to make every uninsured American buy health insurance makes about as much sense as would forcing every poverty-stricken and starving Haitian to buy food (“Wyden’s Third Way,” The Weekend Interview, June 20). Sure, having every American insure himself would save us all money from unneeded emergency room visits, but there are bigger things in the way of universal coverage than just imposing a legal mandate.

Requiring every American to buy health insurance would make millions of families change their economic priorities in ways that would lead to unfortunate consequences. Almost everyone believes that getting health insurance for themselves and their families is a high priority, but virtually no one thinks that insurance comes before food and housing. Even if the government passes the Healthy Americans Act or some other sort of mandate, and succeeds in making everyone buy insurance, the victory will be Pyrrhic. The needs that come before insurance for the 15% of Americans will still exist, but the money they use to meet these needs won’t.

According to research done by the Kaiser Family Foundation, National Public Radio, and the Harvard School of Health, health insurance costs individuals an average of $4,800 annually. The cost for families to get insurance is even higher, at around $12,000 annually. These kinds of costs would push many people over the edge financially. How does Sen. Wyden propose that we pay for more people who will be unable to afford food, housing and education if they have to pay for health insurance? Effective health-care reform would be better accomplished by other means. Sen. Wyden’s own proposals to switch America from employer-based to individual health-insurance markets, for example, would do a great amount of good by encouraging competition and innovation without making life harder for the people having the most difficult time getting insurance.

Matt Cavedon
Cambridge, Mass.”

soraya

Tomorrow, June 26, theaters across the nation will begin screening for the general public “The Stoning of Soraya M.” This drama reenacts the true story of an Iranian woman falsely accused of adultery and punished according to sharia law. The film is produced by Stephen McEveety (“The Passion of the Christ”) and features an impressive international cast.

Since the movie’s title gives the climax away, rest assured that the film contains much that is suspenseful. Jim Caviezel portrays French-Iranian journalist Freidoune Sahebjam. Much like Spencer Tracy’s character in the 1955 John Sturges film, “Bad Day at Black Rock,” Sahebjam chances upon a town with a dark secret – in this instance, the stoning of the title character through the manipulations of a husband who wishes to take a 14-year-old child as a wife and fears he cannot afford to maintain two households.

When Soraya refuses her husband a divorce, he puts in place the dramatic machinery leading to her death. The filmmakers ably display how a less-than-free society can be easily corrupted, but doesn’t adopt the too easy tropes that all men are bad, all women victims – or even that Islam is a bad religion.

I highly recommend this film, but must warn that the violent act of stoning is graphically depicted. The direction of the script is taut and suspenseful, and the acting and production values superb.

I interviewed McEveety on June 10. Below are several of my questions and his answers. For more of this interview, readers can access the Mackinac Center for Public Policy Web site beginning July 3.

Bruce Edward Walker What is it about Soraya’s plight that you and your collaborators found so compelling?

Stephen McEveety It was the characters that were for me so intriguing. I knew that the story could be new and fresh if done right. I think the story unfolds quite well and that viewers come to care very deeply about the characters. There are good guys and bad guys, but viewers can see parts of themselves in all of the film’s characters.

BEW When/how did you decide, “I have to make this movie”?

SM The story that was presented to me blew me away. I wasn’t looking for this, it came to me. I was able to finance it without too much difficulty. It just came together…. When I finished reading the script, my reaction was probably similar to when I finished watching the completed film. The story was so compelling, and it was incredible how quickly we were able to put it together. But I have to say that I think the movie is 10 times better than the script.

BEW I like how the filmmakers succeed in making nearly all the characters three-dimensional. Even the husband isn’t depicted as being 100 percent evil.

SM It would’ve been easy to show him as the embodiment of pure evil, Bruce, but that’s seldom true of any human in any society. It’s important to know that even if he’s a terrible man with horrible motives, he’s not beyond redemption. Maybe not by human standards, but certainly by God’s.

BEW Is the film intended to be an indictment of Islam or the hypocrisy of some of those who may practice it as in any other faith or religion?

SM I believe this is a very pro-Muslim movie. From the beginning we approached this as very respectful toward the true Islamic faith. This wonderful, beautiful Muslim woman keeps her faith to the end. She’s representative of the Muslim faith. The film is an illustration of how any religion can be abused in a repressive environment. It’s a true story made by persons familiar with the world Soraya M. lived in. We have shown it to Middle Eastern audiences and they have embraced it.