The title of this post is not intended to imply anything by way of comparison between Smith and the American gentlemen. It is only to report that the United Kingdom has launched a new 20£ note sporting the visage of the Father of Economics.

Peter Heslam spins the news to good effect in a brief comment on Smith’s moral sensibility. To investigate that issue more thoroughly, see James Halteman’s 2003 article in the Journal of Markets & Morality.

Check out the links from this piece by Joe Knippenberg at No Left Turns, which make the case that “small-scale support for private slum schools—through scholarship programs, backing for school-voucher schemes, or subsidized microfinance—might do far more good than a big aid push directed at government-run education.”

Combine that with the insights from this recent NBER paper, “The Effects of Education on Health,” which examines the “well known, large, and persistent association between education and health,” and you could reach the conclusion that private education in the developing world could do much to raise the level of global health.

Meanwhile, Oprah’s private school initiative in South Africa is under fire from some parents for being “too strict” (HT). This includes the imposition of a diet of “fruit, yoghurt and sandwiches.” It seems to me that if this diet were enforced in public schools in America it might do a great deal to increase health.

The Acton Institute won first place in the Free Market Solutions to Poverty category in the 2007 Templeton Freedom Awards competition. The award, managed by the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, recognized Acton for its use of the “power of the popular media to challenge common beliefs about how to alleviate poverty.”

Using the tagline, “Don’t Just Care, Think!,” the Acton project used documentaries, short films, public service announcements, print ads, and other educational materials to make the case that good intentions alone will not help the world’s poor.

This is the third award for Acton. The Institute also won Templeton Freedom Awards in 2005 in the Excellence in Promoting Liberty category -– for its Toward a Free and Virtuous Society conferences — and in 2004 in the Ethics and Values category for “its extensive body of work on the moral defense of the free market.”

The multi-faceted awards program, which attracted this year more than 200 entries from 53 countries, recognizes innovative civil society programs sponsored by independent research institutes around the world. The program is named in honor of famed investor and philanthropist Sir John Templeton. “Economic and political freedom are advancing globally, and men and women focused on ideas, rather than violence, are leading the way,” said Atlas President Alejandro Chafuen. “The winners of this year’s Templeton Awards demonstrate the breadth of this movement.”

Read more on the award here.

Speaking of a “red-letter hermeneutic,” for which I criticize Vince Isner of the National Council of Churches, Tony Campolo says that the new group of evangelical activists, who “transcend” partisan politics, has decided to go by the name of “Red-Letter Christians.”

“By calling ourselves Red-Letter Christians, we are alluding to the fact that in several versions of the Bible, the words of Jesus are printed in red. In adopting this name we are saying that we are committed to living out the things that He said,” writes Campolo.

They chose that name because “progressive evangelicals” might be construed in such a way as to be seen as “a value judgment of those who do not join us.” If it’s one thing these “red-letter Christians” don’t want to be seen as, it’s judgmental. After all, “Do not judge” appears in red letters in the Bible.

Of course, this doesn’t really mean that the agenda of the “red-letter Christians” is not progressive. Thus, Campolo speaks of the “progressive social agenda we espouse.”

Who’s the “we”? Just mainstream evangelical types like, “Jim Wallis of Sojourners magazine; Richard Rohr, a well-known Catholic writer and speaker; Brian McLaren, a leader of the Emergent Church movement; the Rev. Dr. Cheryl J. Sanders, a prominent African-American pastor; the Rev. Noel Castellanos, a strong voice in the Hispanic community, and several other outstanding Christian communicators.”

John Henry Newman called him “by far the greatest thinker America has ever produced,” but I venture to say very few Americans have ever heard of Orestes Brownson. (Acton devotees, of course, are unusually well informed and have seen him featured among our “Liberal Tradition” biographies.)

Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., recently deceased, wrote a biography of Brownson some seventy years ago, but there had been little interest in the nineteenth-century Catholic convert from transcendentalism since then—until recently. The unmistakable signs of a rehabilitation of the reputation of Brownson include the Patrick Carey-edited series from Marquette University Press and ISI Books’ new collection of Brownson’s thought in its Works in Political Philosophy series.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, March 12, 2007

As promised I saw ’300′ on Saturday night. The IMAX was sold out, so I saw it in “digital cinema presentation,” which was of noticeably higher quality than a regular showing.

I really liked the film (Anthony Bradley gives it a ‘B’). The visuals are quite striking and impressive. The action sequences alone are well worth the price of admission. Gerard Butler gives a powerful performance as King Leonidas, and his wife, Queen Gorgo (played by Lena Headey), does more than hold her own. When an emissary from Xerxes arrives in Sparta, he is taken aback that a woman dare speak in the counsel of men. Gorgo responds that only Spartan women are capable of birthing “proper men.”

In the strength of her performance, however, Headey stands above the rest of the cast, which are constantly in danger of being overwhelmed by the sheer forcefulness of Butler’s portrayal. In particular the portrayal of Delios, the narrator and witness to the events of ’300′, by David Wenham (who also played Faramir in the Lord of the Rings trilogy) suffers notably in comparison to Butler’s Leonidas.

There is a fair bit of titillation, from the sensuality of an “drunk adolescent” oracle to the lurid temptations faced by the Ephialtes, and once the violence starts it is quite graphic. This film certainly won’t get the Dove Foundation’s approval.

The grim gallows humor of the dialogue lends itself to numerous memorable one-liners, mostly from the mouth of Leonidas. He tells the self-proclaimed god-man Xerxes, for instance, that he cannot kneel in submission because his legs are cramped from killing Persians all day. At other times the dialogue seems a bit uneven, perhaps because of the notable difference in verbal requirements between a graphic novel and a screenplay.

The film has received mixed reviews, in large part due to the facile comparisons that could be made between Leonidas and George W. Bush. A leitmotif of the film is the battle between the free citizen warriors of Sparta and the slaves under the tyrannical domination of Xerxes. Thus, says Leonidas, “A new age has come, an age of freedom. And all will know that 300 Spartans gave their last breath to defend it.”

Particularly suited to contemporary comparison is the scene in which the other Greeks abandon Leonidas and his Spartans to their death at the hands of Xerxes’ forces. It is almost impossible at that point not to think of the splintering of the coalition forces in Iraq. Of course there are many reasons that the movie shouldn’t be taken as an allegory for the modern situation, but the ease with which parts of the film can be interpreted in this way no doubt explains much of the media’s ambivalence toward the film.

It’s worth noting what Lord Acton observed about the character of freedom and democracy in particular after the united Greeks were victorious in the Persian wars. This ushered in a period where Athens dominated the confederation of city-states, and whose abuse of power (from the perspective of the Spartans) led to the Peloponnesian War.

Acton writes of Athens and their democracy, “But the lesson of their experience endures for all times, for it teaches that government by the whole people, being the government of the most numerous and most powerful class, is an evil of the same nature as unmixed monarchy, and requires, for nearly the same reasons, institutions that shall protect it against itself, and shall uphold the permanent reign of law against arbitrary revolutions of opinion.”

We can see this danger in the film itself, as the commitment of the warrior-state of Sparta to the purity and strength of bloodline leads to the practice of eugenics and infanticide. This practice comes home to roost in an ironic fashion indeed, playing a direct role in the demise of Leonidas himself. And so perhaps there are some contemporary lessons to be learned from ’300′ after all beyond the obvious ones about the value of bravery, fortitude, and commitment.


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

Blog author: jarmstrong
posted by on Monday, March 12, 2007

It has become common for politicians to cite God in promoting their programs and views. Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has recently joined this growing list by invoking God’s name in promoting a new Illinois health care program. This proposal is a tax-increase-for-health-insurance plan that the governor promoted last week as something "God intended" for the people of this great state since God does not want people without health insurance. He even says his new tax increase is a "moral imperative." That sounds pretty important to me.

Al Gore, in accepting his Oscar at the Academy Awards ceremony two weeks ago, said that his "inconvenient truth" about global warming was the great moral issue of our time. Now the governor of Illinois says that universal health coverage and a significant tax-hike for Illinois’s citizens is a "moral" issue.

Blagojevich, who is an Eastern Orthodox Christian, is not known for expressions of personal faith and has generally not injected God-talk into his political agenda. A spokeswoman for the governor, however, said this reference was not accidental because he does have a "deeply held belief" that everyone should have access to health care based on moral principle. Blagojevich has previously cited the "Golden Rule" and made a few references to biblical history to promote several similar ideas. The facts are pretty clear. More and more politicians on the left do not want to be left out on God-talk.

The problem here is one that we see on the left and the right routinely. Moral imperatives too easily become associated with particular programs for solving social problems. The same governor who invokes God for this tax increase also promotes using tax-payer money for embryonic stem cell research. He has also voted to require pharmacists, who have problems of conscience with birth control, to dispense birth control pills against their conscience or they will not be able to practice pharmacy in this state.

Most agree that Blagojevich is bringing God into his agenda in order to make his very partisan points. It sure seems that way to ordinary observers. Illinois House Republican leader Tom Cross of Oswego, the son of a Methodist minister, baptized one of the governor’s daughters. What is his agenda as a Republican? To promote the expansion of gambling in the state. Former Senate President James "Pate" Philip of Wood Dale was at least honest when he once said, "I’m an Episcopalian, but not a very good one." Blagojevich is Orthodox for sure but to those Orthodox Christians I know his practice of faith is so inconsistent that they conclude with me that it seems, at least on the surface of things, like he is not a very good one.

Leave it to politicians, based on the numerous polls that routinely say people still retain a place for God in their private thought and public response, to invoke God’s name more and more in the coming days. I think the next time I hear a politician tell me that some program "is a moral imperative" I am going to hold on to my wallet and have some serious doubts.

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: jballor
posted by on Friday, March 9, 2007

I’m planning on going to see the film ’300′ tomorrow, in all its IMAX glory.

This despite Scott Holleran’s quite critical review that calls the film “history hijacked by horror,” and says that “The script is filled with words—tyranny, freedom, reason—that go completely unsupported and have no meaning. The Spartans, portrayed as snarling animals seeking hostility for its own sake, claim superiority over mysticism, but cartoonish mystics inflict real damage, thereby negating the power of reason over faith.”

He also can’t help but draw unfavorable comparisons to the US government’s place in the contemporary global political situation. These are allusions the movie’s director has called “unavoidable,” but has also said, “The point is only that there can be nobility in sacrifice. That is a real thing.”

G4′s Attack of the Show provides a nice and short introduction to the film-making philosophy behind bringing a graphic novel to the big screen:


For some background resources on the battle of Thermopylae, especially on teaching the history of the war, check out these items from Professor Plum’s page on designing instruction on the Persian Wars. See especially this PowerPoint and this strategy page.

Some of Michigan’s economic woes are pretty well outlined in an editorial in today’s OpinionJournal, “MoveOnOutofMichigan.org”.

It begins by noting a symbolically important defection:

Comerica Inc. was founded in 1849 in Detroit and the Detroit Tigers play in Comerica Park, but this week the bank holding company announced it is moving its headquarters to Dallas–where, it said, the bigger growth opportunities are. Consider it one more vote of confidence in the state the national expansion forgot, and especially in Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm’s economic agenda.

Read the rest here.

Michigan’s unemployment rate was 6.9% in January, the worst in the US, and has been one of the worst in the nation for about the last two years.

As a side note, the actual website MoveOnOutofMichigan.org is “coming soon.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, March 9, 2007

Joe Knippenberg reflects on President Bush’s speech earlier this week about advancing social justice in the Western Hemisphere:

Bush has lots to say about encouraging what he calls “capitalism for the campesinos.” He ties this to “social justice,” by which he means, above all, “meeting basic needs” to education, health care, and housing so that people can “realize their full potential, their God-given potential.” But social justice, thus conceived, doesn’t require massively redistributive government action; rather, it requires unleashing the potential of individual initiative, sowing some seeds, and leveraging the efforts of non-governmental organizations, especially faith-based ones.

In comparison to a speech from President Kennedy in 1961, Knippenberg concludes, “If you compare GWB to JFK, you’ll see that the goals aren’t all that different, but the thought put into the methods is.”

See also today’s WSJ editorial, “Capitalism for Campesinos.” More on Bush’s visit in the context of socialism in the NYT today.