Blog author: berndbergmann
posted by on Thursday, April 24, 2008

In the April 24 edition of the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi focuses on the origins and lessons of the global financial crisis. In a previous article, Gotti Tedeschi argued that the downturn is an opportunity for Italy to reform its economy and cut down on unnecessary public spending.

He now examines what the crisis means for the state of international finance and draws some unusual but noteworthy conclusions. In his view, the principal answer for improving global financial architecture cannot be provided by more government regulation.

Instead, Gotti Tedeschi interprets the crisis as a wake-up call to return to “other rules – older rules which restore the priorities of the banking profession.” These rules of sound economics have been partly eroded by an excessive lowering of interest rates by central banks, inducing other actors to take excessive risks in their financial operations.

The over-stimulation of markets led bankers and business leaders to abandon the path of solid long-term growth in favor of short-term gain: “Too often managers with a poor sense of responsibility have created the illusion of realizing miraculous growth and profitability.” They abandoned the search for “concrete results and above all, long-term sustainability.” His advice is to return “to what is real, responsible and durable.”

He suggests that what is needed is a spiritual refreshment to deepen the understanding of how a successful bank or business is run. This would enable people to resist temporary financial fashions and evaluate real risks and possible gains adequately.

Gotti Tedeschi is in a good position to combine the practical insights of the world of banking with a profound theoretical grasp of business ethics. While he is one of the most well-known bankers in Italy, he has also found the time to write books about the relationship between Christian values and economics.

His advice deserves to be taken seriously. As politicians around the world propose a whole range of new regulation in response to the credit crunch, it must not be forgotten that public authorities provided the markets with cheap money and excessive stimuli. The result was a widely distorted perception of risk and profitability. It would be unfortunate if a period of over-stimulation was followed by a period of over-regulation.

The relationship of the Christian church and the broader culture has been a perennial question whose genesis antedates the life of the early Church.

In his Apology, the church father Tertullian defended Christians as citizens of the Roman empire in the truest and best sense. If all the Christians of the empire were to leave, he wrote, “you would be horror-struck at the solitude in which you would find yourselves, at such an all-prevailing silence, and that stupor as of a dead world. You would have to seek subjects to govern. You would have more enemies than citizens remaining. For now it is the immense number of Christians which makes your enemies so few,—almost all the inhabitants of your various cities being followers of Christ.”

In the post-industrial Information age, Christians remain at the forefront of social and cultural formation. In the context of the developments at the dawn of the third millennium, the engagement of church and culture has taken on a new form, focused most especially on new forms of technology and communication. The internet in particular, and related “new” media, have raised important issues for the ways in which Christians communicate with each other and with non-Christians.

The basic question has been raised in different ways arising from various concerns. The 2008 Evangelical Outpost/Wheatstone Symposium puts the question thusly: “If the medium affects the message, how will the Christian message be affected by the new media?” (more…)

This blemish-free sun brought to you by OxyClean!

Submitted for your consideration:

THE scariest photo I have seen on the internet is www.spaceweather.com, where you will find a real-time image of the sun from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, located in deep space at the equilibrium point between solar and terrestrial gravity.

What is scary about the picture is that there is only one tiny sunspot.

Disconcerting as it may be to true believers in global warming, the average temperature on Earth has remained steady or slowly declined during the past decade, despite the continued increase in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, and now the global temperature is falling precipitously.

All four agencies that track Earth’s temperature (the Hadley Climate Research Unit in Britain, the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, the Christy group at the University of Alabama, and Remote Sensing Systems Inc in California) report that it cooled by about 0.7C in 2007. This is the fastest temperature change in the instrumental record and it puts us back where we were in 1930. If the temperature does not soon recover, we will have to conclude that global warming is over.

The author of this story is Phil Chapman, a geophysicist, astronautical engineer, and the first Australian to become a NASA astronaut, just in case you were wondering. No word on whether he’s picked up his briefcase full of cash from Exxon yet or not. Perhaps our local independent media can do some checking on that…

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, April 22, 2008

I know there are some economic arguments against recycling, at least some forms of it. Many of these seem to be based on the fact that there’s no real profit margin, so proponents have to either engage the coercive power of government to get people to recycle (by charging them a fee or by offering city services) or people have to simply donate their recycle-ables gratis.

But one “economic” argument I’ve never understood is the on that goes like this: it’s not worth my time. After all, I get paid $X per hour, and I’m not getting paid at all to recycle. Why waste the time doing something for free? One economist puts it like this: “as one of the great one-liners of economics goes: ‘Recycling is the philosophy that everything is worth saving except your time.’”

And so, “Why don’t we recycle in our house? Because our time is worth more than a pile of newspaper.” Other economists have made similar arguments against volunteering, to which I’m a bit more sympathetic, at least insofar as it isn’t always a better use of time to volunteer.

But c’mon, “our time is worth more than a pile of newspaper”? That sounds more like rationalizing laziness than true economic sensibility. I understand the concept of opportunity costs, but it isn’t as if you are making your standard wage 24/7/365.

My time is worth more than a pile of dirt, too, but that doesn’t mean my house doesn’t need to be cleaned. Just because the negative externalities of throwing your trash into a public dump aren’t visible doesn’t mean that you don’t have a responsibility to manage your waste.

And don’t tell me there aren’t good economic arguments in favor of recycling, too. Take a look at the legacy of Ken Hendricks, a high school dropout and an entrepreneur who made a fortune in the building materials business. He passed away late last year, and during his life “Hendricks loathed waste and dedicated his life to recycling and rehabilitation in all their forms. He resuscitated decaying buildings, directly through the millions of square feet he personally owned and indirectly through the hundreds of millions of square feet restored by his customers.”

Maybe Prof. Anthony Bradley can help me out

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A statement of the reformer Heinrich Bullinger, an influential second-generation leader in Zurich, on his preferred form of government:

God had established through Moses in His law the most excellent, the most admirable and convenient form of republic, depending on the wisest, most powerful and most merciful king of all, God, on the best and fairest senators and not at all on extravagant and arrogant ones, and finally on the people; to which He added the judge, whenever it was necessary. They would have maintained it at any cost had they been wise; but rarely is the multitude wise. In general it is changeable and always fickle, ungrateful and eager for new things (trans. J. Wayne Baker, Heinrich Bullinger and the Covenant [Ohio UP, 1980], p. 69).

See also: “Our Counter-Majoritarian Constitution.”

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Monday, April 21, 2008

Patriots’ Day is a festive celebration commemorating the battles of Lexington and Concord. The holiday observes the April 19 anniversary of when the American colonies first took up arms against the British Crown in 1775.

Massachusetts and Maine officially recognize the historic anniversary. Recently the holiday has been observed on the third Monday in April to allow for a three day weekend. The Boston Marathon takes place today and the Boston Red Sox are always scheduled to play at home.

Historian David Hackett Fischer has an excellent narrative account titled Paul Revere’s Ride . Fischer’s book also chronicles the Lexington and Concord skirmishes in a manner I found to be nothing less than fascinating. His account also references clergymen who took up arms against the British as well.

Jules Crittenden also provides a substantial amount of first hand accounts of Lexington and Concord with a nice tribute to Patriots Day titled“April Morning.”

Charlie Foxtrot provides a humorous comment on his blog which pokes fun at Senator Barack Obama’s recent gaffe on religion, guns, and small town America. Foxtrot notes that “233 years ago, a group of bitter men clung to their guns and religion, driven by their antipathy towards people who weren’t like them. In the end, I think it worked out OK.”

This sounds like a book with a compelling narrative: McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld.

I’ve often thought about the connection between organized crime and legitimate governmental structures. In the NPR interview linked above, “Journalist Misha Glenny points out that while globalization may have given the world new opportunities for trade and investments, it also gave rise to global black markets and made it easier for criminal networks to do business.” There’s a lot of cogent analysis of trade issues and how government policy not only combats but also contributes to the existence of globalized “black markets.”

It has occurred to me more than once, in watching shows like HBO’s “The Sopranos,” that a good deal of the socio-political aspects of organized crime is explicable in terms of alternative (and often obsolete) forms of governance. That is, often when extorting money from business owners, superficially legitimate services are offered, like “protection,” i.e. protection that the official authorities like the police are unwilling or unable to provide.

Can Tony Soprano claim to be the “king,” or at least “kingpin” of a more feudal or monarchical socio-political structure? Perhaps, just perhaps, there is the hypothetical exceptional situation in which the “outlaws” represent a more legitimate form of governance than official but tyrannical structures (think of Robin Hood, for instance).

But there is at least clear precedent for understanding the reverse to be true; legitimate authorities can certainly degenerate into outright banditry even if bandits may not be able to rise to the level of authentic sovereignty. As Augustine has reflected on the nature of legitimate sovereignty,

Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies? For what are robberies themselves, but little kingdoms? The band itself is made up of men; it is ruled by the authority of a prince, it is knit together by the pact of the confederacy; the booty is divided by the law agreed on. If, by the admittance of abandoned men, this evil increases to such a degree that it holds places, fixes abodes, takes possession of cities, and subdues peoples, it assumes the more plainly the name of a kingdom, because the reality is now manifestly conferred on it, not by the removal of covetousness, but by the addition of impunity. Indeed, that was an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized. For when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, “What thou meanest by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst thou who dost it with a great fleet art styled emperor.” (City of God, Book IV, Chapter 4, “How Like Kingdoms Without Justice are to Robberies.”)

And so the appeal to political legitimacy can only be made in recognition of the rule of law, the higher law or the “law beyond law,” that governs all human endeavors.

Blog author: dwbosch
posted by on Friday, April 18, 2008

I’m hosting this month’s Oekologie environmental science blog carnival. Lots of interesting stuff if you’ve got a hankering for a little less politics shaken on your greens.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, April 17, 2008

Late last year controversy arose after the federal Bureau of Prisons had created a list of approved religious and spiritual books that would be allowed into prison chapels. Among those authors who was excluded from the list was the greatly influential twentieth-century theologian Karl Barth.

The potentially incendiary nature of religion was apparently the impetus behind the bureau’s attempt to control access to religious works, which was quickly reversed. As one blogger put it, Karl Barth was “going back to prison!”

But concern about zealous inspiration hasn’t been the only worry that has kept Karl Barth out of prison reading rooms in the past. In writing about his experience in prison ministry and prison abolition activism, Lee Griffith relates that he was prevented from bringing a volume of Barth’s Church Dogmatics into the jail for a visit.

“I was told that one of the books I had brought would not be allowed into the city jail,” he writes. “It so happens that the individual volumes of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics constitute a threat – not, presumably, because of content but because they are of sufficient size and weight to serve as weapons.”

As a whole, Barth’s massive Church Dogmatics is constituted by 14 individual installments or “parts,” comprising four larger “volumes.” In 2004, T&T Clark did a great service to theological study by re-releasing the volumes in paperback. But even so, the sheer amount of material in the Church Dogmatics defies facile apprehension.

Enter Logos Bible Software with one of their latest efforts, the publication of the complete and updated Church Dogmatics produced in cooperation with the Center for Barth Studies at Princeton Theological Seminary. (more…)

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Thursday, April 17, 2008
Clinton or Obama?

A few of you may have noticed that we’ve added a small polling widget on the right side-bar of this blog. This, of course, is all highly “un-scientific” and doesn’t really mean much, but can provide some interesting results. The current poll asks who you would prefer as the Democratic candidate for the general elections in November – Omaba or Clinton. The results, so far, show Clinton ahead of Obama by about 58% to 42%. This is in contraction with the nationwide polls right now.

I’m curious to know a little bit more. Why would you prefer the one over the other?

  1. Are you a Republican and think that the candidate you chose would lose the General Election to McCain?
  2. Are you a Republican and think that if a Democrat is going to be elected, you would prefer the one over the other?
  3. Are you a Democrat and favor the one candidate over the other?
  4. Are you a Democrat and just think the one has a better chance of winning a General Election over the other?