Two quick items:

First, in unrelated projects, the works of Jonathan Edwards (HT: Reformation21) and Charles Darwin (HT: Slashdot) are set to be digitized and accessible online. Looks like the Darwin set is complete, and the Edwards works are in public beta, with only the Miscellanies and sermons available as yet.

And second, I’m headed to the exhibit, “From Abraham to Jesus,” tonight, called “the largest touring exhibit of sacred text, biblical art, and artifacts in history.” The tour opens in Grand Rapids and continues in Columbus and Nashville.

Jim Aune, blogger-in-chief at The Blogora, complained yesterday about his health care treatment. He says, “I have been in constant pain for 36 hours. I actually used a cane to go to the office yesterday for some meetings. The problem? I have a trapped nerve in my abdomen from a double hernia repair a year ago. I got shot up with steroids about 3 weeks ago, and that worked for about 5 days, but I still can’t walk without a ripping sensation (as if my right leg were being separated from my side).”

That sounds horrible. He continues: “I’m about to go see the doctor again today (he’s a nice guy, as family practice doctors usually are, as the anesthesiologist at the pain clinic), so I decided to read up on the Internets about this condition. Now, a little learning, especially online, is a dangerous thing, but it appears that entrapped nerves have gone from happening in 1% of hernia repair patients to closer to 40%, and the speculation is that the new use of plastic mesh is a possible cause.”

It seems that Aune somehow associates John Stossel with his problem. “Enter the biggest jackass on television: John Stossel of 20/20, who believes that the market solves all problems, and that any government intervention in that frictionless market creates no end of bad ‘unintended consequences.’”

What is Aune’s argument against Stossel? After citing a Daily Kos item, Aune contends, “markets are wonderful things, but they only work in cases of ‘symmetric information.’ That is,they work efficiently when both parties to an exchange have nearly similar information.” (Last night’s episode of ER dealt with a very similar issue).

Markets only work in cases of symmetric information. Is this true? Or is the opposite true? Hayek’s observations about the nature of diffuse and unequal information are the basis for his arguments against the practicality of state intervention. As Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner put it in their book Freakonomics, “We accept as a verity of capitalism that someone (usually an expert) knows more than someone else (usually a consumer).” Medical care isn’t the only example of information asymmetry, of course. Typical ones include car sales, or especially car repair, but they can apply in any instance where there is particular expertise involved.

Levitt and Dubner go on, “But information assymetries everywhere have in fact been mortally wounded by the Internet.” Now it is true that in practice, as in Aune’s experience, there are all kinds of limits on the potential for the Internet to even out information. It takes time, access, and a certain amount of patience to educate oneself about certain medical conditions, for example. Thus Levitt and Dubner go on to admit, “The Internet, powerful as it is, has hardly slain the beast that is information asymmetry.”

Aune later asserts, “markets do not work efficiently when information is asymmetric.” Maybe they don’t work as efficiently as they might otherwise, but they still seem to work, and perhaps better than any other option available to us. And there are methods for the sharing of information and such that does not necessitate government involvement (independent ratings, consumer reviews, and the like).

It’s not clear what Aune’s solution is (if there is one in his complaint), but I take it that Aune is arguing at least implicitly that the government needs to be the entity that solves the problem of information asymmetry. Would he rather have no choices, even the limited ones he is inadequately informed about, and instead have the government decide for him? Why don’t we just make doctors government employees? Then they can enforce the course of treatment they deem best.

As noted here, last week PBS ran a special by Bill Moyers’, “Is God Green?” examining the “new” trend among evangelicals toward stewardship of the environment.

Arguably what is “new” about this move is its coherence with liberal/leftist environmentalism. As also noted previously, “The Judeo-Christian community for 5,000 years or more has taken its responsibility for the environment seriously. The whole concept of ‘stewardship’ is one that comes directly from sacred texts.” Stewardship isn’t new. Perhaps the method for stewardship proposed is.

In any case, Acton adjunct scholar and spokesman for the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance E. Calvin Beisner appeared on Moyers’ program, as a counter-point to the majority of evangelical voices heard on the show. Blogger Jimmy Akin, a self-professed “old friend” of Dr. Beisner, posted a response by Beisner to his portrayal on the Moyers program, which included allusions that Moyers had confessed some overt political agenda by the timing and content of the program.

When Moyers became aware of the assertions, this apparently did not please him. His lawyers sent letters to Akin, claiming that “Dr. Beisner’s accusation is false and defamatory as it goes to the heart of Mr. Moyers’s integrity as a journalist,” and demanding “on behalf of Mr. Moyers a retraction from the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance stating clearly and without qualification that Dr. Beisner’s statement was erroneous, that Mr. Moyers never made any such statement to Dr. Beisner or anything colorably close to it, and apologizing to Mr. Moyers for the error.”

The lawyers representing Moyers in turn accuse Akin: “You have also defamed Mr. Moyers. On behalf of Mr. Moyers, we demand that you immediately publish in full Mr. Moyers’s response to Dr. Beisner, as well as the retraction and apology of the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance, if any, all with at least equal prominence to that given the false statement of Dr. Beisner.”

Also linked at the above is the response from Akin’s lawyers. This story has been picked up by numerous bloggers, some of which are run down on this post at The Evangelical Ecologist.

We’ll keep you posted on any further developments.

Update: Dr. Beisner’s response through counsel has been posted here.

Blog author: jarmstrong
posted by on Thursday, October 19, 2006

I spent another wonderful day in Washington, D.C. today. It was a gorgeous fall day in every way. I had an opportunity to spend several hours with Rev. Dan Claire, who works with the Anglican Mission in America (AMiA) and also pastors The Church of the Resurrection, a fine young church on Capital Hill. (I hope to preach there in 2007.) Dan is an unusually gifted Christian leader with a real vision for a missional church in an emerging context. He, and two other ministers who work with him, have seen rapid growth and exciting response to the gospel over the past four years. Dan is also completing a doctoral program in biblical studies at the Catholic University of America, which we toured following lunch. We also visited the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, one of American Catholicism’s greatest buildings. (It is truly gorgeous and reverential place, though the Marian elements did not move me. Some of the more clearly biblical elements, expressed in various mosaics, are breathtakingly beautiful.)

During the morning hours I made two sight seeing stops. The first was at the National Zoo where I saw the most famous guests in Washington, two panda bears from China who grace the newly opened Asian Trail. Then I found a historical site that few know even exists, the Woodrow Wilson House, located at 2340 S Street NW. This historic home is the only presidential museum in the District. (The 28th president, Woodrow Wilson, is buried in the District, near the National Cathedral.) I am interested in Wilson for several reasons. His presidency, in so many ways, was the first “modern” presidency. Our role in the world changed under his leadership more than under any previous president. I am also interested in Wilson because of his deep devotion to a thoughtful version of Reformed Christianity, of which I feel sure some readers are not aware.

Wilson’s father was a devout Presbyterian minister. At one time Wilson thought that he would pursue the ministry but eventually he chose to become an educator, finally serving as president of Princeton University. After this call he was elected governor of New Jersey. This political turn led to his being elected president in 1912. His ability as a teacher was apparently unique and his students loved him. An introvert, he loved to study and write and was often misjudged because he did not enjoy long conversation and small talk. This hurt his public perception as president, especially following Teddy Roosevelt as he did.

At the Wilson House there is a display that was created to celebrate the 150th anniversary of his birth. In that display there is a reference to Woodrow Wilson’s faith. I wrote the quote down in order to keep it. Here is what Wilson wrote:

Never for a moment have I had a doubt about my religious beliefs. There are people who believe only so far as they can understand—that seems to me presumptuous and sets their understanding as the standard of the universe.

Wilson was a historian and college administrator, as well as one of our most gifted presidents. He was a keen intellectual. He was not saying, by the above statement, that he never found problems in his study of the Bible or in his thoughts about Christian faith. It is evident to me that what he meant was that these problems never caused him to have real doubts about his beliefs because he knew his mind was not the final judge of truth in the universe. Not a bad expression of faith at all coming from a serious intellectual, or anyone else for that matter. I think it could be said that Wilson reflected the ancient Christian understanding that one believes in order to understand, not vice versa.

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Despite a recent surge in economic growth in the European Union, the lack of political will to reform unsustainable welfare systems and curb regulatory excesses does not bode well for the future. Samuel Gregg looks back to the Freiburg Ordo-Liberal School, practitioners of an economic philosophy that helped engineer the post-war revival for West Germany, as a possible path toward greater freedom and economic growth.

Read the full commentary here.

Another one for the “is there anything they won’t try to regulate?” file:

Not every idea that sprouts in Brussels is good for you…

THE Government is seeking to prevent an EU directive that could extend broadcasting regulations to the internet, hitting popular video-sharing websites such as YouTube.

The European Commission proposal would require websites and mobile phone services that feature video images to conform to standards laid down in Brussels.

Ministers fear that the directive would hit not only successful sites such as YouTube but also amateur “video bloggers” who post material on their own sites. Personal websites would have to be licensed as a “television-like service”.

Viviane Reding, the Media Commissioner, argues that the purpose is simply to set minimum standards on areas such as advertising, hate speech and the protection of children.

But Shaun Woodward, the Broadcasting Minister, described the draft proposal as catastrophic. He said: “Supposing you set up a website for your amateur rugby club, uploaded some images and added a link advertising your local sports shop. You would then be a supplier of moving images and need to be licensed and comply with the regulations.”

Not that this is a big surprise; the European Union is practically synonymous with bureaucratic over-reach and hyper-regulation. But still, shouldn’t common sense kick in at some point?

Blog author: jarmstrong
posted by on Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Today I toured the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. I was unprepared for how deeply I would be moved by my three hours in this museum. The sights, sounds and tributes all moved me profoundly. Twice I had to wipe tears from my eyes. The whole thing is so powerfully presented that it actually overwhelms you, with both information and emotional impact. I believe it is one of the most important museums I have ever toured.

The experience of standing in a German rail car, used to transport Jews to the death camps, was quite moving. How they got over a hundred people in one of those small cars is hard to imagine when you stand in one. But nothing was as chilling as the crematorium ovens, the shoes and personal items the dead left behind before they entered the gas chambers, and the iron door that came from a death chamber at one of the camps.

The Holocaust Museum has established a Committee on Conscience to alert national conscience, influence policymakers, and stimulate worldwide action to confront and work to halt acts of genocide and related crimes against humanity. The special emphasis of the museum right now is on the genocide in Darfur, which is a part of the country of Sudan in northeast Africa. In Darfur tens of thousands (some say 400,000) civilians have been killed and thousands of women raped by Sudanese government soldiers and members of the government-sponsored militia referred to as the Janjaweed. The Janjaweed are Arabic peoples and the people they are killing are blacks, or what they call “Africans.” There appears to be a clear religious connection to this violence, as there is in much of Africa these days. (more…)

Yesterday the Detroit News ran an op-ed in which I argue that corporate America should apply the fundamental insight behind President Bush’s faith-based initiative and open up their charitable giving to faith groups, since they “often provide more comprehensive and therefore often more effective assistance than purely secular or governmental counterparts.” A number of large corporate foundations either explicitly rule out donations to faith groups or refuse to contribute matching funds to them.

One of the advantages to liberalizing the corporate playing field is that such an effort would avoid potential church-state and constitutionality issues that have plagued the president’s plan. It could also potentially de-politicize charitable giving, which has become a hot topic especially in light of the recent charges levelled by David Kuo (who now blogs here, conveniently enough).

A brief side note: I had to stifle a laugh when I read Jim Wallis’ reaction to Kuo’s book. Wallis concludes that we must “beware of those who would manipulate genuine faith for partisan political purposes.” Amy Sullivan, a guest blogger on Wallis’ Beliefnet blog, posting at Faithful Democrats, writes that “at some point, being a person of good faith shouldn’t get you off the hook, it should require something of you.” Hello, pot? This is the kettle calling…

In any case, for those that are interested, after the jump I have posted a longer version of my commentary on faith groups and corporate giving, complete with links to relevant external sources. (more…)

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Tuesday, October 17, 2006

I wrote disparagingly of a developing “baby market” in a recent Acton commentary. The phenomenon is described in much fuller detail by Cheryl Miller in The New Atlantis in the course of her review of a recent book by Debora L. Spar, The Baby Business.

Aside from the blasphemy, which ought not be overlooked, one of the biggest problems with an ad like this (HT: Think Progress, which also has a printed transcript of the ad) is that it undermines itself. It’s simply bad rhetorical strategy.

Whatever potential arguments (economic or otherwise) there may be against minimum wage legislation, virtually no one of sympathetic inclinations is going to listen when you mock Judeo-Christian values by reducing something as vitally important as the divine revelation of the Decalogue to a mere political tool.

Meanwhile, Nicole Greenfield at The Revealer, while concerned with “the obvious church-state and anti-working class issues,” hopes that “this isn’t the start of a horrible new trend in political advertising.”

I hope so, too, but probably for different reasons. I don’t think economic laws, insofar as they are truly “laws” in the proper sense, rise to the level of what Zanchi calls “this perfect law,” or the Ten Commandments.

Gary North, who wrote a 450+ page economic exposition of the 10 Commandments, does connect minimum wage laws as a “price floor” under the commandment to honor parents (Exodus 20:12, North commentary pp. 118-19). This is a rather specious connection, however, and offers no justification for the Stop 42 ad.

Almost any Christian I’ve ever heard argue against minimum wage legislation (and there aren’t many) has argued on the basis of prudential judgment rather than appeals to direct divine mandate. North may be an exception, although I don’t think it necessarily follows from his brief mention of minimum wage laws under the fifth commandment that he thinks that opposition to such legislation is mandated by that commandment.

In any case, arguments against minimum wage laws already face an uphill battle for acceptance. Ads like this don’t help the cause.

Update: Having trouble viewing the Moses ad? Check out the YouTube version. Jamie Court at The Huffington Post says that this ad, about California’s Prop 89, is a “remarkable piece of political jujitsu on the practices of political advertising, and has the possiblity to remake them.”