Why would a hip hop group called “Crime Mob” be invited to the campus of a Historically Black College? And why would the group’s “Rock Yo Hips” music video — featuring college cheerleaders as strippers — get so much play on television? Anthony Bradley looks at the effect of misogynistic and violent music on a black culture that desperately needs healthy models of academic achievement and honest economic progress.

Read the full commentary here.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Over the weekend I had the chance to see an airing of the 1998 documentary, The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg on Detroit public television. The film does an excellent job portraying the life of a baseball superstar complicated by social and political events in the 1930s and 1940s.

One of the film’s featured commentators was Alan Dershowitz, who said Hank Greenberg was the most important Jew in the world in the 1930s because he exploded Hitler’s propaganda myths about the physical superiority of Aryans. Greenberg stood 6’4″ and in 1938 Greenberg finished the season with 58 home runs, making a remarkable run at the home run record of Babe Ruth.

During that decade Greenberg thought of himself as hitting “home runs against Hitler.” But in 1941, Greenberg traded in his bats for bullets, serving in the armed forces between 1941-1944 during WWII.

While he was not particularly observant religiously, the film does a good job of showing how important Greenberg’s Jewish identity became to him as his career wore on, as his prominent standing within the local, national, and global Jewish communities increased along with his accomplishments on the field.

“Hank Greenberg was a great hero in Detroit, especially to the Jewish population,” said Tigers Hall of Fame broadcaster Ernie Harwell.

In a strange twist of fate, the still-productive Greenberg was traded before his final season from the Detroit Tigers to the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he was present for Jackie Robinson’s entry into the majors. Greenberg and Robinson faced each other on the field, and Greenberg was able to give Robinson words of encouragement in the face of virulent racism.

In seeing the hatred that Robinson faced Greenberg was able to relativize the powerful anti-Semitism he had faced in his own breakthrough to the major leagues. Greenberg felt that after his feats on the field of baseball and the field of battle that it was only after WWII that the question of his ethnic and religious identity was pushed to the background. He had finally become simply a baseball player…and he hopefully predicted that Jackie Robinson would one day come to achieve that recognition as well.

As we mark the beginning of baseball season this week in 2007, it’s a good opportunity to remember the contributions of Hammerin’ Hank Greenberg on the baseball field and to the cause of social and religious tolerance in the modern world.

Greenberg was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1956, and in just nine full seasons finished with a career batting average of .313, along with 331 home runs and 1276 RBI.

Tiger great Hal Newhouser said of Greenberg that if he had to pick one batter to drive in a run in a crucial situation, he would pick Hank Greenberg over greats like Ted Williams or Joe DiMaggio. Unless, of course, the batter would be facing Greenberg’s arch-nemesis, the great Cleveland pitcher Bob Feller!

This post has been cross-posted to Blogcritics.org.

Today marks the second anniversary of the PowerBlog’s inaugural post, which reflected on the recent passing of Pope John Paul II. Given that the average blog lifespan is measured in months and not years, we’re proud to have reached this milestone.

Thanks to all the contributors both within and without the Institute who have helped to make the blog successful. Special recognition is especially due to Jonathan Spalink, who is the man behind the slick design and functionality of the blog. And of course without the PowerBlog’s faithful readers, the entire enterprise would be pointless.

In the last two years the blog has grown to be a significant feature of the Acton Institute’s online presence. Here are some of the vital stats from the last 24 months:

  • 1500+ blog posts

  • Currently between 1500 and 2000 daily visits
  • As of April 3, 2007, top 5 post categories (# of posts in parenthesis): Business and Society (297), News and Events (245), Environmental Stewardship (194), Effective Compassion (170), Bible and Theology (142)

Please leave your comments, questions, and suggestions in the comments sections of this post. We’d love to hear what you love about the PowerBlog, what you don’t like, and anything of which you’d like to see more or less.

Are there special topics or events you’d like to see us cover? Do you want to see more live-blogging of particular conferences? Is there anyone you’d like to see added to our cadre of blogging personalities? Can you not wait to get your hands on an Acton Institute PowerBlog coffee mug (details forthcoming)?

We’re always looking for ways to improve our offerings here and your thoughts would be most helpful as we celebrate the PowerBlog’s “cotton” anniversary.

St. Ephrem the Syrian

O Lord and Master of my life!
Take from me the spirit of sloth,
faint-heartedness, lust of power, and idle talk.

But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience,
and love to Thy servant.

Yea, Lord and King! Grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother, for Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.

Discourse “On Love” by St. Ephrem (+373):

So then, my beloved brethren, let us not prefer anything, let us not hasten to obtain anything more than love. Let no one have anything against anyone, let no one repay evil for evil. Do not let the sun go down on your anger, but let us forgive our debtors everything and let us welcome love, because love covers a multitude of sins.

Because what gain is there, my children, if someone has everything, but does not have love which saves? For just as if someone were to make a great dinner in order to invite the King and the rulers, and were to prepare everything sumptuously, so that nothing might be lacking, but had no salt, would anyone be able to eat that dinner? Certainly not. But he would have lost everything he had spent and wasted all his hard work, and brought ridicule on himself from those he had invited. So it is in the present instance. For what advantage is there in toiling against winds, without love? For without it every deed, every action is unclean. Even if someone has attained complete chastity, or fasts, or keeps vigil; whether they pray or give banquets for the poor; even if they think of offering gifts, or first fruits, or offering; whether they build churches, or do anything else, without love all those things will be reckoned as nothing by God. For the Lord is not pleased by them. Listen to the Apostle when he says, ‘If I speak with the tongues of Angels and of humans; if I have prophecy and know all mysteries, and have complete knowledge, so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I gain nothing’. For one who has enmity against their brother and thinks they offer something to God, will be as though they sacrificed a dog, and their offering will be reckoned as the wages of prostitution.

Last week I participated in the inaugural “Culture of Enterprise in an Age of Globalization” symposium at the Cato Institute. The event, co-sponsored by Cato and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, is part of an ambitious new program that aims to encourage scholarly reflection on and greater awareness of those factors that contribute to the building and maintaining of a humane and vibrant economy—a “culture of enterprise.”

The papers are available for listening or viewing at Cato’s site.

If you observe very much of the conference, you will see that, while there is much common ground with respect to economic freedom, there is some tension between those who emphasize cultural issues (including virtue and morality) and those who minimize the importance of those issues. It is not news that there are differences between, for lack of more precise descriptions, “free market Christians” and “secular libertarians.” What puzzles me a bit, however, is opposition to the very notion of virtue, reflection on which, as I stressed in my talk, predates the birth of Christ and is part and parcel of the Western intellectual tradition.

Among the symposium’s exchanges was one between George Mason University economist Bryan Caplan and me about the relative importance of “political culture” and “personal culture” in the development of a thriving economy. I confess to not yet being certain about what the two terms are supposed to mean, but, operating on my guess about the distinction between the two, I wonder what Professor Caplan would do with the problem of corruption. Obviously it increases transaction costs and therefore is a major drain on economic productivity. It seems to me that it is also clearly a matter of personal culture. Not that it is not also a matter of political culture, but that is the point I tried to make in the course of my remarks: one cannot ultimately separate the two. In any case, virtue is necessary in the context of either political or personal culture—a claim that, it seems to me, should not be controversial among advocates of a culture of enterprise.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, April 3, 2007

It’s global warming media day at the NYT and elsewhere following the SCOTUS decision on Massachusetts v. EPA:

www.calloftheentrepreneur.com is now open to the public. Stop on by for the latest updates on Acton’s new documentary, The Call of the Entrepreneur. You can view the trailer via YouTube or watch a higher resolution version via the “View the Trailer” tab. Find out where the premieres will be, or request to host a screening by visiting the “Premiere Information” tab. To see a little bit more about the people featured in the documentary, visit the “About the Film” tab. Read a little bit more about the calling of entrepreneurs and the place of business in society via the “Related Materials” tab. Finally, you can leave and read feedback on the trailer or the documentary by visiting the “Feedback” tab.

Updates regarding the documentary will be posted on this blog and on The Call of the Entrepreneur Website. Stay tuned!

The Supreme Court ruled today (5-4) in the case of Massachusetts v. EPA (05-1120) “that the federal government had the authority to regulate greenhouse gases that may contribute to global warming, and must examine anew the scientific evidence of a link between those gases and climate change.”

Toward the end of last year some were arguing that “this case is not about the science of climate change. There is no dispute that human emissions of greenhouse gases affect the global climate.” As we can see, the Court did find that the science of climate change is at issue.

Now that the Court has found in favor of the state of Massachusetts, affirming the state’s standing in the case, this may end up being a more important case than many, including myself, first thought. The “maze of procedural issues” ended up not preventing the Court from reaching this decision. More on this in coming days.

Update: The Court’s opinion can be read here (PDF).

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, April 2, 2007

A couple weeks ago the NYT magazine ran a piece by contributing writer Tina Rosenberg, which attempts to outline some of the ways in which “everyone in a wealthy nation has become the beneficiary of the generous subsidies that poorer countries bestow upon rich ones.”

What does she mean? In “Reverse Foreign Aid,” Rosenberg asserts that there are five major forms of poor-to-rich international subsidy. The first is the tendency among poorer nations to build-up great reserves of hard currency, often in the form of T-bills. The problem here is that there is an opportunity cost in holding the low-return but ultra-secure US Treasury bills: “All the money spent on T-bills — a very substantial sum — could be earning far better returns invested elsewhere, or could be used to pay teachers and build highways at home, activities that bring returns of a different type.”

A second form of subsidy is in the WTO requirements that member nations abide by copyright and intellectual property protections. “There are good reasons for countries to respect intellectual property, but doing so is also an overwhelming burden on the poorest people in poorer countries,” writes Rosenberg.

So-called “tax holidays” form a third kind of subsidy, in which poorer nations offer tax incentives and various other breaks to multi-national corporations to entice them to bring their operations to their country. Rosenberg writes, “Since deals between corporations and governments are usually secret, it is hard to know how much investment incentives cost poorer countries — certainly tens of billions of dollars. Whatever the cost, it is growing, as country after country has passed laws enabling the offer of such incentives.”

Rosenberg also describes brain drain as a form of subsidy, in which skilled professionals who are trained in poorer nations emigrate to wealthier ones. She also points out the adverse effects that domestic subsidies of various industries, such as agriculture, can have on poorer nations. Somehow or other this direct subsidy becomes a “reverse subsidy” because “corn, rice or cotton exported by rich countries is so cheap that small farmers in poor countries cannot compete, so they stop farming.”

And finally, Rosenberg calls the disproportionate negative effects of climate change on poorer nations the “ultimate subsidy.” She writes, “American energy use is being subsidized by tropical coastal nations, who appear to be global warming’s first victims.”

The essay is really a bit uneven. It’s hard to fathom why, for example, cheaper imports of agriculture commodities from wealthier nations should be seen as “reverse” subsidies. Just because a certain practice or policy negatively affects a poorer country doesn’t mean that it is a “reverse” subsidy. And just because wealth is created in the first world doesn’t mean that it comes at the expense of someone in the third world, although there are good reasons to see that Rosenberg is right about the consequences on agricultural sectors in developing nations.

With respect to the second form of “reverse subsidy,” Rosenberg is really describing a kind of competition between developing nations, and the beneficiaries aren’t so much wealthier governments but large multi-national corporations. Of course, many critics of the developed world can’t or won’t distinguish between these two (all the better to fit into the picture of a growing neo-liberal “empire”).

Brain drain is a real problem for the developing world, but as is the case with so many of these instances of “reverse subsidy,” Rosenberg is pointing to a legitimate issue or concern but failing to ask the right kinds of questions, and thus providing some questionable solutions (a neo-Keynesian answer for T-bill stockpiling?). Why, for instance, are professionals leaving developing nations to work in places like the United States? In many, if not most, cases money surely is a motivation. But there certainly are other factors at work, and the potential for greater income isn’t a sufficient explanation as to why so many people leave their home, friends, and family to go live in a foreign country. Indeed, large-scale migration out of a nation is a pretty reliable indicator that something is wrong in the native country.

And maybe the fact that poorer nations don’t respect copyright and IP rights is as much a contributor as it is an effect of their lower economic status. How can you expect to be a country that fosters innovation if there are no legal protections for innovation and invention?

A recent NBER paper, “Globalization and Poverty,” examining some of these issues makes the case that globalization is a complex phenomenon and that in some cases segments of the poor can be made worse off. This is no doubt true, and the merit of Rosenberg’s piece is that it points out some of the real-world issues that a globalized economy faces. The question remains, however, whether at least some of these negative effects might be mitigated by a freer and more liberalized system of trade rather than one which relies on subsidies, tariffs, and protectionism.

MY DEAR WORMWOOD,

It is indeed fortunate that Our Father has seen fit to quech our appetites in another way and put you in a new role despite your losing in quite dramatic style your former patient to our Enemy. At least you have the good sense to continue our counsel together.

I note what you say about your patient’s apparent obsession with things terrestrial and that you’ve been taking care that he sees a good deal of his apoplectic friends. You have an opportunity here that with any modicum of sound judgement and decisiveness will yield more favorable results.

Recall that our business is foremost to get him away from the Eternal (not to mention any association with our Enemy) and from the Present, lest he conduct his life in a way that makes him of any real use to Them. Keep his passions pointed at the Future and all such wildly imaginable possibilities that the present warming of the terrestrial could cause — significant hardship, terrific bouts of weather, droughts, disasters ad nauseum — with no way to know the outcome.

For him to act as you wish your patient must believe himself capable of both utterly dismantling creation and being its savior. Encourage him to depend on cleverness and ingenuity to think his way out of these problems, never mind that they exist only in his own mind. He is thus kept foresquare in the midst of all of Our Father’s best vices – fear, avarice, lust and ambition – all the while thinking himself the selfless humanitarian. I say again, we want a man hag-ridden by the Future, haunted by visions of an imminent heaven or hell upon earth, dependent for his faith on the success or failure of schemes whose end he will not live to see.

Make the results of his scientific inquiry of a veiled past certanties to him. As long as Hypothesis is truth he will use it to guide all of his actions and attitudes. Since his truth is devoid of "grace" scorn and blame will abound. Others will be goaded into following, expanding your influence. Never allow him access to Truth else he will become like that Moses who used the Enemy’s famines and disasters over our Lord Ra in Egypt to benefit the Slaves. Or worse still – the Son of the Enemy to whom weather and swine submit.

Our Father always encourages in humans the sense of ownership – ownership of life, body, time, the elements, & etc. Humans are always putting up claims to ownership which sound equally funny in Heaven and Hell. Much of his environmentalism (such an artful term!) comes from the patient’s belief that his world is utterly affected by the smallest of his actions. His "ism" becomes a pastime in which it is only a matter of time until he can bring it completely under his maternal submission.

Just as he reaches the zenith of his personal piety don’t neglect to remind him he is merely an ape and has no more right to lord over the planet than any fungus. Or that he is in fact toxic fungus with no right to exist. Such despair is a feast for the senses!

Our Father has not yet ascertained why the Enemy is gently warming the terrestrial world, nor why He is granted free reign to unite governments and scientists and industrialists and activists in fruitless attempts to stop it. Until then you must ask what use the Enemy wants to make of it and then do the opposite. If all that can be accomplished for now is blame heaped upon mankind and the patient alike, and blindness to the Enemy’s hand in these affairs, you will likely achieve more success than before.

Your affectionate uncle,
SCREWTAPE