criminal-jailThere are two types of ideas that dominate current public discourse—the contrarian and the counterintuitive. A contrarian idea is one that, whether correct or incorrect, opposes or rejects popular opinion or goes against current practice. A counterintuitive idea is one that is contrary to intuition or to common-sense expectation but is nevertheless correct. Getting the two mixed up can have a detrimental effect on society.

Take, for example, the increasingly popular contrarian-posing-as-counterintuitive idea that locking up more criminal offenders isn’t making people any safer. As the Washington Post‘s Emily Badger writes,

As economists would put it, there are diminishing returns to incarceration. Lock up one criminal in town, and crime will decline. Lock away two, and it will probably decline further. But each criminal in prison yields a smaller and smaller impact outside of it — until finally, there’s no new impact at all. Now we’re effectively imprisoning more and more people with no benefit to public safety.

The first four sentences are perfectly reasonable, but the last sentence draws the wrong conclusion. Let’s create a simple model to show why that reasoning is flawed.
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“If we’re not heaven bent on doing more, we’re hell bent on trying to escape all the stuff we have to do.”

In Evan Koons’ concluding vlog on the Economy of Wonder, he tackles the difference between sloth and what Josef Pieper has called “virtuous idleness.”

It turns out sloth isn’t just about being lazy or doing nothing or sleeping in till 2. That’s called college. Sloth, at its core, to paraphrase field scholar Josef Pieper, is when we give up on the very responsibility that comes with our dignity: that we do not want to be what God wants us to be, and that means that we do not want to be what we really, in the ultimate sense, are. Hishis very good, gratuitous, useless creations born out of nothing more than his love and abundance.

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dead cupidForget the candy hearts, chocolate, the local Cineplex and bistro this weekend. St. Valentine’s Day somehow has been hijacked by Global Disinvestment Day, which means you should protest fossil fuels and encourage shareholders to submit proxy resolutions to leave oil, coal and gas resources untapped. Your significant others are guaranteed to love it because … Gaia.

Behind this movement are nominally religious shareholder activists such as As You Sow, as well as the World Council of Churches, filmdom’s The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and extreme-environmentalist rabble rousers Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein. Figuring out the endgame of divestment advocates isn’t difficult – Naomi Klein laid it all out for us in a recent interview in Grist:

Another point I would make, [about] carbon pricing, is that when we make the argument that this is a rogue sector, that their business plan is at odds with life on earth, we are creating an intellectual and political space where it becomes much easier to tax those profits, to increase royalties, and even to nationalize these companies. This is not just about the fact that we want to separate ourselves from these companies, it’s also that we have a right to those profits. If those profits are so illegitimate that Harvard shouldn’t be invested in them, they’re also so illegitimate that taxpayers have a right to them to pay for a transition away from fossil fuels, and to pay the bills for a crisis created by this sector. It’s not just about dissociating ourselves from their profits, but potentially getting a much larger piece of them. [emphases added]

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On August 12, 1943, months after having been arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned, the Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote to his young fiancée Maria von Wedemeyer:

When I consider the state of the world, the total obscurity enshrouding our personal destiny, and my present imprisonment, our union—if it wasn’t frivolity, which it certainly wasn’t—can only be a token of God’s grace and goodness, which summon us to believe in him. We would have to be blind not to see that. When Jeremiah said, in his people’s hour of direst need, that “houses and fields [and vineyards] shall again be bought in this land,” it was a token of confidence in the future. That requires faith, and may God grant it to us daily. I don’t mean the faith that flees the world, but the faith that endures in the world and loves and remains true to that world in spite of all the hardships it brings us. Our marriage must be a ‘yes’ to God’s earth. It must strengthen our resolve to do and accomplish something on earth. I fear that Christians who venture to stand on earth on only one leg will stand in heaven on only one leg too.

Dietrich to Maria (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
Friday, February 13, 2015
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Jails Have Become Warehouses for the Poor, Ill and Addicted, a Report Says
Timothy Williams, New York Times

Jails across the country have become vast warehouses made up primarily of people too poor to post bail or too ill with mental health or drug problems to adequately care for themselves, according to a report issued Wednesday.

European Baptists Appeal to Russian, Ukrainian Baptists
Paul Hobson, Ethics Daily

The European Baptist Federation (EBF) has challenged Russian and Ukrainian Baptist leaders to issue a joint statement calling for peace while acknowledging their differences.

Vatican’s economic reform on track despite some resistance
Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service

As fresh economic reforms begin to take hold throughout the Vatican, the Council for the Economy has faced some resistance from larger offices that had been used to having greater autonomy, said a cardinal member of the council.

An Faq With Robert P. George On The Moral Purposes Of Law And Governement
Justin Taylor, The Gospel Coalition

Several years ago First Things published an essay entitled “Law and Moral Purpose” by Robert P. George, Princeton University’s McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions.

geoengineering-the-planetFor at least forty years, scientists and policy makers have considered addressing climate related issues by means of climate engineering, or as it more commonly referred to, geoengineering. A prime example is found in a story published in Newsweek that proposed (albeit with reservations) to use geoengineering to fix a climatic “problem”:

Climatologists are pessimistic that political leaders will take any positive action to compensate for the climatic change, or even to allay its effects. They concede that some of the more spectacular solutions proposed, such as melting the Arctic ice cap by covering it with black soot or diverting arctic rivers, might create problems far greater than those they solve. [emphasis added]

That quote comes, of course, from the now infamous 1975 Newsweek story about the dangers of global cooling. Nowadays, melting the Artic ice cap is considered a problem in need of a solution, not a solution to fix the problem.

More recently, other ridiculous geoengineering ideas have been proposed, such as shooting millions of tons of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere or taking similar actions to put reflective particles in the atmosphere to block some sunlight.

While such proposals are frightfully absurd, it appears cooler heads are beginning to prevail on ideas about how to “fix” global warming. According to a new report by the U.S. Academies of Science, Engineering, Medicine, and National Research :
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Blog author: sstanley
Thursday, February 12, 2015
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FIW-Map-01RGB_0Global Democracy and freedom are under attack. Freedom House, a nonprofit organization which monitors freedom and advocates for democracy and human rights just released the 2015 “Freedom in the World” report. The results are not good. In his introduction, Arch Puddington, vice president for research says that “the condition of global political rights and civil liberties, showed an overall decline. Indeed, acceptance of democracy as the world’s dominant form of government—and of an international system built on democratic ideals—is under greater threat than at any point in the last 25 years.” The report offers several examples of how citizen’s freedoms are being trampled. (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, February 12, 2015
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Grandfather’s body could be exhumed after relatives of Muslim buried alongside complain he was an unbeliever
Gregory Walton, The Telegraph

Local authority in Leicestershire tells the family of Shadrack Smith, 89, he might be moved to another plot after complaints from a Muslim family.

Study Claims Oil Divestiture May Hurt College Endowments
John Schwartz, New York Times

Universities that decide to shed their investments in fossil fuel stocks could hurt the value of their endowments, according to a new report.

American labor-union strikes are almost completely extinct
Matt Phillips, Quartz

In 2014, there were only 11 strikes or lockouts in the US involving more than 1,000 workers. That was down from 15 the previous year, and tied for the second-lowest total on record, according to just-released numbers from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Are Christ and Christianity Coercive? A Christian Economist’s Perspective
Anne Bradley, Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics

While Christianity is not coercive in that Christ tells us to give of our wealth others without cause, many shy away from Christianity because the choice between Christ and hell seems manipulative at best and malicious at worst.

“Who cares about the suffering and premature death of millions in the developing world?” asks Bruce Edward Walker in this week’s Acton Commentary.”Not religious activists agitating for fossil fuel divestment.”

In another trendy move, environmentalist shareholder activists are pressuring energy companies in which they invest to scale back in part or completely their interests in oil, gas and coal. For example, Danielle Fugere, president and chief counsel at the As You Sow religious shareholder activist outfit, told The Guardian last month that “market fundamentals” are changing. “We see a whole number of factors moving markets away from fossil fuels – pollution, technology changes, efficiency increases, competition from low-cost renewables,” she said. “We’re seeing the market changing – the world is moving to cleaner resources, and these energy companies have to move with the market or they’ll get replaced.”

The full text of the essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

thatcherForty years ago today, to the surprise of almost everyone, Margaret Thatcher was elected leader of the Conservative Party. She was the first—and to date the only—woman to be elected leader of a major political party in the United Kingdom. Four years later she became the first—and again the only—female prime minister of Britain.

Thatcher served as PM for nearly a decade, during which time she became, along with Ronald Reagan, one of the West’s greatest champions of free enterprise, anti-communism, and individual liberty.

Here are nine things you should know about the former British Prime Minister.
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