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 www.calloftheentrepreneur.com. If you have been anxiously anticipating the premiere of this film, you can go directly to our secure registration form.
As I alluded in a post last week, a number of EU governments are intent on making a switch from Windows to Linux operating systems. Part of the reason for this is the ostensibly cheaper cost of using open source software as opposed to proprietary systems.
According to reports out of the UK, “Shadow chancellor George Osbourne has estimated that the UK government could save in excess of ꍠ0 million a year if more open source software was deployed across various departments.” And of course costs are likely to be lower when regulators take an active hand in lowering the ongoing fees associated with open source compatibility. Such actions hide the true costs of open source operating systems, giving them an artificial cushion.
But one other interesting factor in the claim that Linux is cheaper to run than Windows comes from the environmental considerations involved. This article (HT: Slashdot) makes the case that Linux rigs are “greener than those running Windows” because “open source software has lower hardware requirements and needs less frequent hardware refreshes.”
Interestingly enough, that’s the same claim made by Apple in a recent Mac v. PC ad:
But then again, the costs associated with hardware upgrades aren’t the only relevant environmental factors to consider. Think about the ways in which companies have or have not worked to create responsible disposal methods for outdated or obsolete equipment. This latter consideration, in fact, is one of the reasons why Greenpeace has said that Apple “has the worst environmental policies among major electronics companies.”
PC manufacturers like Dell, on the other hand, have been praised for having “one of the best recycling programs in the industry.”
Judgments about the cost-effectiveness and environmental costs associated with the latest generation of computer hardware and software need to go beyond short-term examinations of the one-time costs of upgrades, or even the long-term hardware needs. The ‘greenness’ of computing can’t be measured by just one standard.
John Berthoud of the National Taxpayers Union has a piece in today’s Washington Examiner about the battle between Microsoft and the European Commission. Berthoud writes that it is part of a larger “anti-American” program, and “another example of old-guard European protectionism.”
Berthoud writes, “The EC’s actions against Microsoft are not isolated. It has acted against other American businesses as well. For instance, in 2001 the EC blocked General Electric’s planned acquisition of Honeywell. Assistant U.S. Attorney General Charles A. James said at the time that the EC’s decision ‘reflects a significant point of diversion’ with U.S. American antitrust regulators.”
It’s true that Microsoft isn’t the only target, although it is the one of the biggest and perhaps the most significant in the digital realm. It seems that any American company that successfully innovates and offers a valuable product can be threatened by EU regulators. The Commission has launched an investigation against Apple for potential violations of EU law, by selling music for different prices in different countries.
Berthoud gives the following advice to the EU, “Rather than try to stifle American innovation, perhaps Europe should focus more on encouraging homegrown entrepreneurial advances to vie with U.S companies.”
But it seems pretty clear that in the case of operating systems and software, the EU has chosen its horse to favor: open source. Next week we’ll examine some of the claims of superiority that might be influencing the EU’s adoption of open source software.
In the film The Pursuit of Happyness (review here), there’s a scene where Will Smith’s character arrives late for an interview with a stock brokerage firm and has no shirt on. The conversation goes like this:
Martin Frohm: What would you say if man walked in here with no shirt, and I hired him? What would you say?
Christopher Gardner: He must have had on some really nice pants.
Well, what would you say if you interviewed someone and they wore a suit looking like this?
This is the end result of a project undertaken by Kelly Cobb, an educator and designer at Drexel University. The task was to try and create a suit using only materials and workers within a 100-mile radius. Here’s the full story from Wired (HT: Mises Economics Blog).
As the piece relates, “Cobb’s locally made suit turned into a exhausting task. The suit took a team of 20 artisans several months to produce — 500 man-hours of work in total — and the finished product wears its rustic origins on its sleeve.”
Seriously, it looks like an Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer suit or something. The exercise is really an object lesson in “the massive manufacturing power of the global economy.”
For most of us, that’s a good thing. Others, though, might think that “how far removed we are from what we wear” is an overwhelmingly negative feature of modern existence.
But if nothing else, the 100-mile suit should offend your aesthetic, if not your moral, sensibilities.
Dr. Samuel Gregg – “Acton’s Chief Thinker,” according to our Executive Director Kris Mauren – put his thinking skills on display yesterday as part of the 2007 Acton Lecture Series, delivering an address entitled “The Crisis of Europe: Benedict XVI’s Analysis and Solution.”
By any standard of civilization growth and decline, Europe is in crisis. Marked by collapsing birthrates, stagnating economies, and denial of its historical roots, Western Europe appears headed for cultural suicide. In his lecture, Dr. Gregg outlined Pope Benedict’s analysis of Europe’s contemporary problems, and discusses the his proposed remedies. If you weren’t able to attend the lecture in person, you can listen online by clicking here (10 mb mp3 file).
You’ll also want to register for our next Lecture Series event, as we’ll be hearing from Mr. Ralph Hauenstein, who will discuss his experiences serving under General Dwight Eisenhower as chief of the Intelligence Branch in the Army’s European theater of operations during World War II. As a history buff, I’ve had this one marked on my calendar for quite a while, no doubt much like a lot of other people. Here’s the link for more information and to register for the event.
Over at the Huffington Post blog, David Roberts, a staff writer for Grist.org, describes the relationship between activist causes, like women’s reproductive rights and “sustainable development,” and population control.
Roberts says he doesn’t directly address the problem of over-population because talking about it as such isn’t very effective. Apparently, telling people that they and their kids very existence is the “ultimate problem of all problems” doesn’t resonate very well. It “alienates a large swathe of the general public,” you know, the ones who still have some residual moral sensibilities.
So, instead, Roberts pursues items that he think will ultimately result in lowered populations…a subordination of these causes as means to the greater end. He writes, “Each of these — empowering women and spreading prosperity — is worth pursuing in its own right. Each is a powerful political rallying cry. Each produces a range of ancillary benefits.”
But of course the greatest benefit of them both is that they help in “scaling human population back.”
And as Roberts notes, the connection between radical environmentalism and population control has been devastating for the cause, leading him to conclude that overt population control rhetoric “is political poison.”
His concluding advice? “If you’re worried about population, work toward sustainable development and female empowerment.”
And, I might add, if you are able to similarly disguise a radical environmentalist agenda and separate out the perception of pursuing population control, why not work toward that too?
As a general rule, the more media coverage an item generates, the less I pay attention, so I confess that I haven’t followed the Iran-Britain hostage situation as closely as I might have. That said, at NRO today, John Cullinan highlights some statements on the matter by two British bishops (one Anglican, one Catholic) that have provoked some controversy in the U.K. I don’t know whether the analysis of Cullinan and other critics is entirely justified, but it does seem that, at the least, Bishop Burns’ remarks skirt the question of truth: that is, whether the Brits were or were not in Iranian territory is prior to any judgment about the Iranians’ “good deeds” and “generosity.”
I’m sympathetic, moreover, to Cullinan’s general advice about bishops being more rather than less careful in their public statements on political matters, in the interest of retaining genuine moral authority—a familiar refrain to readers of this blog.
Last month the Pacific Research Institute released a report estimating that costs associated with the American tort system exceed $865 billion per year (HT). Check it out for a detailed breakdown and comparison of these costs with other sectors of the economy and government spending. (Here’s a WSJ op-ed from the authors of the report.)
ABC’s 20/20 had a segment last week on the largest lottery winner in history, Jack Whittaker of West Virginia, who won $315 million in 2002. It’s a sad story for many reasons, but I want to point out one aspect of Whittaker’s tale.
At the time of his jackpot, Whittaker owned a successful construction company that was “doing $16 million to $17 million worth of work.” According to the story, Whittaker “enjoyed years of success with few complaints, but less than a year after winning the lottery things began to change.”
“I’ve had over 400 legal claims made on me or one of my companies since I’ve won the lottery,” said Whittaker.
When asked why that might happen, Whittaker said it’s because “everybody wants something for nothing.”
Rob Dunlap, one of Whittaker’s many attorneys, said Whittaker has spent at least $3 million dollars fending off lawsuits.
Another recent development in tort news is the mainstream acceptance of animal law, which will likely be front and center in any class-action lawsuit resulting from the poisoning of thousands of pets via Menu Foods products. Are pets persons or property?
Amy A. Breyer, one of the only full-time Chicago-based attorneys who specializes in animal law, says that when animals are considered property, as they are in Illinois, they have no voice in the courts.
For more reading on the devolution of the American tort system, check out Trial by Fury: Restoring the Common Good in Tort Litigation, by Ronald J. Rychlak, associate dean for academic affairs at the University of Mississippi School of Law.
Here’s an interesting piece from the April 16 issue of Newsweek by Richard Lindzen:
Judging from the media in recent months, the debate over global warming is now over. There has been a net warming of the earth over the last century and a half, and our greenhouse gas emissions are contributing at some level. Both of these statements are almost certainly true. What of it? Recently many people have said that the earth is facing a crisis requiring urgent action. This statement has nothing to do with science. There is no compelling evidence that the warming trend we’ve seen will amount to anything close to catastrophe. What most commentators—and many scientists—seem to miss is that the only thing we can say with certainly about climate is that it changes. The earth is always warming or cooling by as much as a few tenths of a degree a year; periods of constant average temperatures are rare…
…Is there any point in pretending that CO2 increases will be catastrophic? Or could they be modest and on balance beneficial? India has warmed during the second half of the 20th century, and agricultural output has increased greatly. Infectious diseases like malaria are a matter not so much of temperature as poverty and public-health policies (like eliminating DDT). Exposure to cold is generally found to be both more dangerous and less comfortable.
Moreover, actions taken thus far to reduce emissions have already had negative consequences without improving our ability to adapt to climate change. An emphasis on ethanol, for instance, has led to angry protests against corn-price increases in Mexico, and forest clearing and habitat destruction in Southeast Asia. Carbon caps are likely to lead to increased prices, as well as corruption associated with permit trading. (Enron was a leading lobbyist for Kyoto because it had hoped to capitalize on emissions trading.) The alleged solutions have more potential for catastrophe than the putative problem.
Well, surely Mr. Lindzen is a bought-and-paid-for mouthpiece of Big Oil, right?
Lindzen is the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His research has always been funded exclusively by the U.S. government. He receives no funding from any energy companies.
You’ll want to read the whole essay – it’s well worth your time. And here’s one more quote to consider, which is perhaps Lindzen’s most important: “the evidence for global warming thus far doesn’t warrant any action unless it is justifiable on grounds that have nothing to do with climate.”
I neglected this earlier, but a Hat Tip goes to my good friend Adam Barr.
German theologian and philosopher Michael Welker describes in his book God the Spirit (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994) the biblical relationship between the prophet and majority opinion:
The prophet does not confuse truth with consensus. The prophet does not confuse God’s word with the word of those who happen to hold power at present, or with the opinion of the majority. This is because powerholders and the majority can fall victim to a lying spirit—and this means a power that actually seizes the majority of experts, the political leadership, and the public (88).
He previously outlined some of these lying spirits that have dominated recent decades. Welker writes,
“Water and air are inexhaustible natural resources”; “Dying forests are not connected industrial and automobile emissions”; “With permanent armament we are making peace more secure!”—those were some of the many astoundingly public opinions of the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s that, as has become clear in the meantime, can be ascribed to a lying spirit (85).
But if we were to ask what is the increasingly dominant opinion of the experts, the political leadership, the media, and the public of the ’00s, what would the answer be?
I have little doubt that the answer is, “Human beings are causing global climate change.”
After last week, we even have a clear “consensus” opinion on human-induced climate change from the Supreme Court. But while Welker himself might be inclined to concur with this particular opinion rather than those of previous decades, his warning about the dangers of consensus are well-taken.
And those who have taken up the prophetic mantle of climate change, like Jim Wallis and Rev. Richard Cizik, would do well to heed Welker’s words.
What does it truly mean to be “prophetic” about the issue of climate change? Does it mean the partnering of the Evangelical Climate Initiative with the Union of Concerned Scientists?
Or might a “lying spirit” behind the “consensus” position on climate change? How are we to tell?
Scripture itself gives us a pretty good rule of thumb to discern the spirits. In Deuteronomy 18:14-22, we read the answer to the question, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD?” Verse 22 contains God’s answer to the people’s question about discerning the true prophet: “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.”
So with this in mind we might have an avenue to respond to the sorts of predictions and claims about climate change popularized most notably by Al Gore. The advocates for government action to combat human-induced climate change ought to provide a specific set of predictions and criteria for the verifiability of their claims. Let them decide in which predictions they have the most confidence and which are the most easily provable. Give us a set of clear benchmarks for the next 1, 2, 5, or 10 years. Then perhaps we can begin to judge whether the prophets of climate change have “spoken presumptuously” or not.
But to demand such explicit and verifiable criteria is to expose what is perhaps the greatest weakness of the theory of human-induced climate change: its patent lack of testability. It is at once a theory that can account for any and all future climate contingencies, and is therefore really no theory at all. It is a theory of everything and of nothing.
In the most recent Interfaith Stewardship Alliance Newsletter (April 5, 2007), Dr. E. Calvin Beisner, adjunct scholar at the Acton Institute and spokesman for the ISA, links to a story that includes the following quote from an organizer of a mountain-climbing expedition intended to bring attention to the problem of global warming (which had to be canceled because of low temperatures): “They were experiencing temperatures that weren’t expected with global warming,” Atwood said. “But one of the things we see with global warming is unpredictability.”
Re-read that last paragraph and let its epistemological implications soak in. Now literally everything constitutes evidence for global warming. Something you predicted? It’s evidence for global warming. Something you didn’t predict? It’s evidence for global warming. Something you couldn’t possibly have predicted? It’s evidence for global warming. Can you spell tautology? American Heritage Dictionary gives as its second definition, specialized use in logic: “An empty or vacuous statement composed of simpler statements in a fashion that makes it logically true whether the simpler statements are factually true or false; for example, the statement Either it will rain tomorrow or it will not rain tomorrow.” Likewise tautological: “If what we predict happens, that’s evidence for global warming; if it doesn’t, that’s evidence for global warming.”
That of course is the beauty of the favored phrase “climate change,” because that term doesn’t necessarily imply warming or cooling. It could be either. And perhaps in some places neither, since we are so consistently reminded that these changes are really regional phenomena.
As so many of our scientifically-minded friends have been more than ready to remind us in the context of other debates, this raises the question: If it isn’t verifiable, is it really science?
And the theory of human-induced climate change isn’t science, what is it and what are the implications for the political debate about action to combat climate change? Welker gives us fair warning that the answer to the former question might well be, “A lying spirit.”