Archived Posts April 2012 - Page 7 of 10 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, April 12, 2012
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The Hunger Games may lack a single reference to religion or God, but as Jordan J. Ballor and Todd Steen point out in an article for First Things, the books and film presents a secularized alternative to the Christian virtue of hope:
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Eric Metaxas, author of the recently published biography Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, sat down with the Alliance Defense Fund to speak on the role of the church in public policy and how Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s example is especially relevant today. Metaxas, also the author of a biography on William Wilberforce,  is slated to deliver a lecture at Acton University on June 14 and the keynote address at the Acton Institute’s Annual Dinner on October 24th. Click on the links to register online.

The Obama administration has placed a high priority on making higher education affordable. In January, President Obama spoke to students at the University of Michigan about steering American colleges and universities towards more “responsible” tuition costs.

It’s an admirable goal. According to the College Board, from the 2001-2012 school years, college tuition and costs at public universities increased at 5.6 percent a year more than the cost of inflation. For the 15 percent of consumers responsible for it, college debt totaled $900 billion in the third quarter of 2011, according to a recent Federal Reserve Bank of New York report. Such staggering figures invite questions not only about debt, but ones of morality.

The Bible does not shy away from the issue of debt. Psalm 37:21 demands that debtors pay back what was borrowed. In both the Old and New Testaments, the system of debt is likened to slavery. The issue carries moral implications for both borrower and lender. With as many outstanding college debtors as there are graduates (also from the NY Fed study), the financing of American higher education is not sustainable on its current path.

But Obama’s proposed plan, which includes a $10 billion addition to three federal grant programs, complicates itself through size and scope. Obama’s plan is performance based. It will apply sweeping categorical evaluations to public colleges and universities in varying fiscal circumstances. Schools that constrain net tuition increases will be rewarded. Those that don’t risk losing federal assistance.

The proposal forces the White House into the contentious and ongoing debate about the funding of state universities. Many states, California, for instance, have already imposed massive tuition increases as a result of equally enormous cuts to state aid.

Instead, look to Texas, another state that has faced significant education-related budget struggles in recent years. At last month’s SXSWedu conference, Texas A&M-San Antonio introduced an affiliation with Alamo Colleges, a group of local community colleges, and local high schools to give a number of accepted high school juniors a college degree at the age of 20, all for under $10,000.

The partnership, which was detailed by Thomas K. Lindsay at National Review Online, offers a bachelor’s degree of applied arts and sciences in information technology. The A&M system of schools has also announced plans to offer two additional degrees under the same program. With continued success, the model could potentially be expanded to suit a range of degrees.

The Texas A&M model, unlike the Obama administration’s, is locally-based and promises an efficient, cost-driven approach to higher education. It presents a model of loaning and spending that may be closer to Scripture’s ethical call for fair and honest fiscal relationships.

If more public colleges and universities follow suit by establishing programs similar to A&M-San Antonio’s, the nation could take a large step towards a more educated population with a strong sense of fiscal and moral responsibility.

Did you know Che Guevara was at heart an Irish freedom fighter? In this week’s Acton Commentary (published April 11), Samuel Gregg looks at how the left “has been remarkably successful in distorting people’s knowledge of Communism’s track-record.” The full text of his essay follows. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.
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On Sunday Bubba Watson, one of the most untraditional golfers on the PGA Tour, was the surprise winner of the 2012 Masters Tournament. But while golf may be his vocation, it isn’t Watson’s top priority. What he considers most important can be gleaned from the description on his Twitter account:”@bubbawatson: Christian. Husband. Daddy. Pro Golfer. Owner of General Lee 1.”

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Danny O’Dwyer of Gamespot has created an interesting video on religion in video games.  As a self-described atheist, he examines the reasons why video games “haven’t reached the point where Islam can be portrayed without a suicide bomb.”  The video also looks at various instances of religion in existing games and includes an interview with his Muslim friend Tamoor who works in the game journalism industry. You can watch his 15 minute video below.

Danny’s article over at Gamespot has an interesting quote that touches on truth: “I believe ignoring an entire culture out of some fear of offending their faith is a fantastic way of promoting intolerance.”

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On his albums Bruce Springsteen may pose as a working-class hero. But as Bruce Edward Walker notes, in his real life he’s a crony corporatist:
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Blog author: mhornak
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
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Join us as we welcome Mr. Jeffrey Tucker for the AU Online presentation of his popular lecture, The Nature and Function of Money. The online session is scheduled for Monday April 16 at 6:30pm ET. In this lecture, Mr. Tucker explores the centrality of money to market economics, its origins, the history of its development, and its functions in modern economic life. Visit auonline.acton.org for more information or to register.
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Back in 2011, then-Bishop Timothy Dolan pointed out that our nation’s budget is not simply a matter of numbers and balanced books.  “It reflects the very values of our nation. As many religious leaders have commented, budgets are moral statements.”

In a reiteration of this, House Budget Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) says local control and concern for the poor must inform national budget issues.

Ryan said that the principle of subsidiarity — a notion, rooted in Catholic social teaching, that decisions are best made at most local level available — guided his thinking on budget planning.

To Ryan’s way of thinking, this means creating government policy that empowers people in power to achieve financial independence.

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This country suffers no shortage of heroic tales. For the Union soldier who served under Ulysses S. Grant, there certainly was no greater leader. Often referred to by detractors as “a butcher” for the wake of Union dead left after his victories, he took the fight to the Confederacy. After the Wilderness campaign in 1864, where 17,000 Union soldiers died in just a few days, Grant unlike all the Union generals before him refused to lick the Federal wounds and retreat across the Rapidan River to resupply and reorganize. Instead Grant famously turned his massive columns not North, but South towards the heart of the Confederacy. Towards Richmond. Those that have studied the Civil War are familiar with the iconic story, as war whoops, hat waving, and wild cheering echoed across the forest. There was no doubt that The Army of the Potomac, which had suffered a barrage of whippings by General Robert E. Lee and the Confederacy, was under new leadership.

It was moments like this, and not Grant’s largely unspectacular two terms as president, where one can understand why his funeral procession was seven miles long. Grant’s Final Victory by Charles Bracelin Flood is not a book about his time as commander of the Union or president, but the fascinating and heroic tale of his race against time to publish his memoirs and save his family from financial ruin.

In 1884, Grant was embroiled in one of the first famous Ponzi schemes on Wall Street, and his son’s partner at Grant & Ward, an investing firm, bankrupted the company and fled. Grant and his entire family was wiped out. Grant wrote his niece, “Financially the Grant family is ruined for the present, and by the most stupendous frauds ever perpetrated.” He was personally embarrassed having lent his name and prestige to the company. Doubtless many assumed it was on firm footing with the hero of the Union watching over it. In reality, Grant had little knowledge of the day to day operations of the firm.

Soon after the scandal, Grant was diagnosed with terminal mouth and throat cancer. He was said to partake in an average of 20 – 25 cigars a day. He rushed to write his personal memoirs of the Civil War. Before his financial destruction, he was on record as having little desire to write his own account of the war. Grant eventually settled on an agreement with his friend Mark Twain that would give his widow Julia 75 percent of the profit of the book sales.

As he toiled away with his pen, sometimes writing as many as 25 – 50 pages a day, The New York Times and publications across the country offered daily updates on Grant’s condition. His suffering was immense. His throat had to be constantly swabbed with cocaine to relieve the pain. As the illness progressed, it literally began to suffocate him and he would often wake at night in a panic, trying to gasp for air. Just swallowing was especially agonizing.

Grant received an abundance of personal letters and well wishes from North and South. He felt his illness was helping to further heal the sectional divide and noted as much. The author notes Grant was especially touched by a letter by A.M. Arnold from Rockbridge Baths, Virginia. Arnold wrote:

I hope that you will allow one, who, when but a boy, laid down his arms at Appomattox and gave his allegiance to the Union, to express his warmest sympathy for you in your hour of affliction. Dear General, I have watched your movements from the hour you gave me my horse and sword and told me to go home and “assist in making a crop” – I have been proud to see the nation do you honor . . .

May the God who overlooked you in battle and who has brought you this far give you grace to meet whatever He has in store for you. And may He restore you to health & friends is the fervent prayer of one who at 15 years of age entered the lists against you and accepted the magnanimous terms you accorded us at Appomattox.

Grant had his share of well wishers in the South because of the respect he showed for General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox and the brave men of the Army of Northern Virginia. Grant also later intervened on Lee’s behalf when President Andrew Johnson and others in the federal government wanted to arrest Lee and have him tried and hung for treason.

Grant, a lifelong Methodist, was not particularly known for devoutness. Nearing death he spent more time with his Methodist pastor and was baptized for the first time in his life. Flood suggests that Grant may have at times kept his pastor at arms distance because he thought he might have been being used by the clergyman so the minister could cement his own notoriety as Grant’s pastor. Grant refused public communion near his death, writing his pastor:

I would only be too happy to do so if I felt myself fully worthy. I have a feeling in regard to taking the sacriment [sic] that no worse sin can be committed than to take it unworthily. I would prefer therefore not to take it, but to have the funeral services performed when I am gone.

As Grant declined he was moved to a cabin in upstate New York where the climate better suited his illness and suffering throat. He sat on the porch working feverishly to complete his memoirs. Former generals and military men paid their last respects, and Grant mostly communicated through notes by now. Well wishers often walked by his cabin and if they were fortunate Grant would tip his cap to them or raise a hand. One minister upon seeing Grant writing on his porch while suffering in such agony expressed that the image was “the finest sermon at which he had ever been present.”

Grant died three days after completing his memoirs in 1885. He dedicated the publication to the “American soldier and sailor.” When it was suggested that maybe he should change the dedication so that it read “the Union soldier and sailor,” he declined. The healing of the nation was always on Grant’s mind and at the conclusion his optimism shined as he stated his belief that the healing would continue. As Grant peacefully departed this life, his son stopped the clock at 8:08. The hand of the clock still remains fixed on that time in the cottage where Grant passed away. The cottage is Wilton, NY is heavily visited today and is an enduring symbol of Grant’s courageous life and death.

The well wishes poured in for one of the most beloved leaders in American history. Church bells across the country chimed 63 times, one for each year of Grant’s life. The former Confederate General James P. Longstreet called him “the soul of honor,” adding that Grant “was the highest type of manhood America has produced.”

While his funeral was epic affair of state, it clashed with the humility that Grant would cast in his memoirs. Often memoirs of great generals or statesmen are puffed up affairs, but Grant’s work would be forever known as a chronicle that praised the men around him, with the attention focused not on himself but the battles and conflict. The chronicles avoided flowery speech and was straightforward and honest, much like many of the fellow Midwesterners Grant led. Flood has written a powerful story and helps the reader to see why Grant was so loved even through faults and poor choices. It could be easily said that no American in the 19th Century was more admired than Grant and did more to save the country.