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Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, November 9, 2005
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A long oral and written tradition about the mixing of species has been noted on this blog before, specifically with regard to Josephus. I just ran across this tidbit in Luther that I though I would share, which points to a continuation of a tradition of this sort running down through the Reformation.

Luther is commenting on the Old Testament character of Anah, and debating whether we might consdier Anah to have committed incest. He writes:

We could say that Anah also slept with his mother and that from this incest Oholibamah was born and many similar things. But nothing is to be imagined in Holy Scripture without clear testimonies of the Word. Below (v. 24) we shall hear that Anah was a notorious rascal and the author of an abominable act of copulation, namely, of asses with horses. But if he had no respect for the order and sight of God and nature but dared to mingle animals of a different genus, which is contrary to nature and the ordinance of God in the creation and concerning which Holy Scripture says in Gen. 1:25: “God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the cattle according to their kinds, and everything that creeps upon the ground according to its kind,” it could also come to pass that he slept with his mother.

Here we can see Luther’s logic: if Anah were the type of person to so flagrantly violate the creation order and engage in that “which is contrary to nature” and “an abominable act,” the mixing of animals across genus, he is clearly the type of person who would commit incest iwth his own mother. I would say that’s a rather striking indictment of such primitive genetic engineering.

Luther actually thinks that we should not attribute the crime of incest to Anah, but engages in this thought experiment to show us one way of arguing that Anah could have. The basis for this commentary is a genealogical passage, specifically Genesis 36:18, which could lead one to believe that Anah’s daughter was conceived by his own mother. Luther rejects this interpretation, attributing it to Jewish rabbinical tradition, but interestingly enough at the same time affirms an interpretive tradition regarding Genesis 1:25 and the ordering of the animal species.

The Kill Malarial Mosquitoes NOW! coalition announced today that Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has endorsed the campaign to use DDT as a primary weapon in the fight to control and eliminate malaria. The coalition wants 2/3 of world’s malaria control funds to be spent on DDT, or any more cost-effective insecticide, plus artemisia-based combination therapies (ACTs).

Archbishop Tutu describes malaria as a “devastating” disease that is holding back African development.

Many African countries desperately need cost-effective insecticides, such as DDT, to battle the deadly mosquitoes that transmit the disease. It is a human tragedy that children die largely because donors fail to support appropriate and effective solutions to this preventable disease.

Read more on this important issue and the latest list of endorsers of the KMMN declaration.

A story on today’s Morning Edition by Claudio Sanchez examines the future of the school system in New Orleans following the hurricane Katrina disaster. New Orleans school superintendent Ora Watson complains that charter schools are stepping in to fill the void left when public schools were cancelled for the remainder of this school year.

She says, “There are so many different agendas. The mayor has decided that the city can run 20 schools under a charter. We have individual schools going to individual groups saying, ‘Would you charter me?’ They’re picking the school district apart. This is a real, real frustration.” Of course it’s easy to see why this would be a “real frustrating” for someone with a vested bureaucratic interest in maintaining the pre-Katrina state of publicly administered education in New Orleans.

According to the report, Watson worries that New Orleans could be the “first urban school system in America to be taken over by special interest groups.” I assume she means special interest groups other than the National Education Association.

Listen to the rest of the report for other viewpoints on reconstructing education in New Orleans. In many ways, the disaster can be viewed as an opportunity to improve a broken and failing system.

It’s clear that superintendent Watson is ardently opposed to introducing a principle of freedom of choice and competition into the system. For more on how competition, rightly practiced, can work in the educational arena, see this interview with J. C. Huizenga, chairman of the National Heritage Academies.

Real estate mogul and reality show guru Donald Trump made a guest appearance on the NBC soap opera “Days of Our Lives” last week and, in a real stretch, he played himself. The brief cameo was in the context of Mr. Trump’s visit to the Horton Foundation, a charity based in the fictional town of Salem. The dialogue between Trump and Mickey Horton gives us some insight into Donald Trump’s view of economic success and the resulting responsibility:

Donald Trump

Mickey: Thank you very much, Mr. Trump, for your generous contribution to the Horton Foundation on its anniversary. And I can assure you that it will be put to very good use.

Donald: Well, I’m glad to do what I can, Mickey. I’ve always believed that with success comes a responsibility, and that responsibility is very important — helping those in need. Your foundation’s been doing a great job for a long time. Happy 40th anniversary, and keep up the great work.

Mickey: We’ll try. I want to thank you for taking time out of your very busy schedule to come all the way up here to Salem.

Donald: I’ve been hearing so much for so long about what you’ve been doing, and I really had to come up and see the place for myself. It’s great. It’s really terrific.

Now of course in many ways this view might be an artifact of the need to find some device for Donald Trump to appear on “Days”. But this season of Trump’s reality show, “The Apprentice”, gives us some other clues in this regard.

On his own show, the reward for the winning team in Week 3 was to “give back to the community” by “distributing tens of thousands of dollars worth of free electronics to kids in the hospital.” This is in distinction to past rewards, which include jet-set getaways and expensive jewelry and gifts.

Joy to the World: Mark enjoys his time with hospitalized kids during Excel’s Santa Claus moment. (Week 3: Tech Expo)

(Kevin T. Gilbert/Blue Pixel)

“It puts everything into perspective,” said Josh. “You can’t really quantify the value of giving a gift and a smile to a kid.” Added Mark, “It was like being Santa Claus.”

And on Martha Stewart’s version of “The Apprentice”, for which Trump serves as executive producer, the Week 2 reward again was “an opportunity to give back to New York City. The corporation banded together with New York Cares to help the Hudson Guild community organization create a garden in Manhattan’s Chelsea district. They transformed a dingy dirt patch into a beautiful oasis of flowers outside the Guild’s new recreation, arts, and children’s center. Working alongside volunteers and neighborhood children, the candidates of Primarius [the winning team] were touched by the joy of giving.”

These are just some of the most recent examples of compassion coming to the small screen. The newest show this season is NBC’s “Three Wishes”, hosted by Christian musician Amy Grant. I’ve discussed before the issue of mixed-motives in the commercialization of compassion, especially with respect to ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”. I’m still inclined to give such shows the benefit of the doubt…whatever the motivations, there is good being done. And even if there is duplicity and the motive is purely that of economic self-interest, this merely attests to the foundational reality of mutually beneficial exchange at the heart of the market system.

This post has been crossposted to Blogcritics.org.

The 2005 Samaritan Award Grand Prize winner was announced today! If you are unfamiliar with the Samaritan Award, or the Samaritan Guide, information can be found here, here, here or here. The winner of the $10,000 award was the Lives Under Construction Boy's Ranch Residential Treatment Program. This program, based in Lampe, Missouri, takes in boys with serious behavioural problems and turns their lives around. The program teaches the value of making right choices, emphasizing the importance of good work and instilling a sense of self-worth in those who feel that the whole world is against them.

The program features physical job training (carpentry, animal husbandry, welding, mechanics, housekeeping, cooking...) as well as educational assistance. An 11 minute video presentation ( - 20Mb) gives a brief but concise description of this amazing organization.

Samaritan Award Honorees were also announced and include the Washington City Mission, Washington, Pa.; Panama City Rescue Mission, Panama City, Fla.; Promise of Hope, Inc., Dudley, Ga.; Hearts of Christ Youth Outreach Ministry, Memphis, Tenn.; Citizens for Community Values of Memphis, Memphis, Tenn.; Good Shepherd Shelter of Los Angeles, Los Angeles, Calif.; Samaritan Inns, Inc., Washington, D.C.; Union Gospel Mission Twin Cities, St. Paul, Minn.; and Knox County Christian Women’s Job Corps, Knoxville, Tenn.

Please read the official Acton Press Release for more information. Also, please visit the Samaritan Guide for more information about these individual programs.

We’ve discussed textual interpretation a bit on this blog here before (here, here, and here). Paul Ricœur, who is famous for his “attempt to combine phenomenological description with hermeneutic interpretation,” passed away earlier this year.

One of Ricœur’s important contributions involved an observation about the nature of textual interpretation in distinction to personal dialogue. He writes, for example in his book Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences,

Dialogue is an exchange of questions and answers; there is no exchange of this sort between the writer and the reader. The writer does not respond to the reader. Rather, the book divides the act of writing and the act of reading into two sides, between which there is no communication. The reader is absent from the act of writing; the writer is absent from the act of reading. The text thus produces a double eclipse of the reader and writer. It thereby replaces the relation of dialogue, which directly connects the voice of one to the hearing of the other.

Ricœur notes some effects of this “double eclipse” and formulates a theory of the “sense of the text” to norm textual interpretation. In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates makes a somewhat similar observation about the nature of writing:

I cannot help feeling, Phaedrus, that writing is unfortunately like painting; for the creations of the painter have the attitude of life, and yet if you ask them a question they preserve a solemn silence. And the same may be said of speeches. You would imagine that they had intelligence, but if you want to know anything and put a question to one of them, the speaker always gives one unvarying answer. And when they have been once written down they are tumbled about anywhere among those who may or may not understand them, and know not to whom they should reply, to whom not: and, if they are maltreated or abused, they have no parent to protect them; and they cannot protect or defend themselves.

Of course, general agreement with Socrates and Ricœur does not entail a necessary acceptance of a kind of “sense of the text” radically disconnected from any authorial intent.

Even so, the inherent limits to written communication form an essential point of reference for articulating any coherent interpretive scheme. Yale philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff, in his 1993 Wilde lectures, published under the title Divine Discourse, makes a key point in his critique of Ricœur on the pervasiveness of the “double eclipse” problem:

It is not only the temporal endurance of texts but also the spatial transportability of texts which grounds the difficulties of interpretation to which Ricoeur calls attention. But our technological ability to broadcast utterance, as well as record it, has the consequence that we are forced to interpret even “live,” non-recorded, utterance in situations spatially distanced from the originating situation. Thus what Ricoeur attributes to writing is in fact equally true of recorded and broadcast utterance. Ricoeur conducts his discussion as if we were living in a pre-Edisonian age!

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, October 5, 2005
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Also from last week’s McLaughlin Group, Mort Zuckerman from U.S. News & World Report makes the important point that rising costs of gasoline greatly impact the poorest and most vulnerable populations.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: …It is very difficult in America to really cut back on gasoline consumption, because people go to work and go shopping in their cars. We do not have public transportation in the way that Europe does.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, we need that for the macroeconomy and the microeconomy.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes, we do need — absolutely, because it is the sole means of transportation both to jobs, to schools and to entertainment. So it is —

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Forget the means. I’m talking about consumption, consumption, consumption.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I’m talking consumption, yes. But the other part of it is when gasoline prices go up, if they go up by 50 cents a gallon, people use 20 gallons a week. Okay, that’s $10 a week or $500 a year. And for a couple, that’s $1,000 a year. For the poor people or the people earning relatively…It really hurts a lot. So it really disproportionately hits the poor.

So while prices go up and the market adjusts and people will make decisions based on that, some of us don’t have all options to choose from that a large amount of disposable income allows. If you struggled before when gas was $1.50 a gallon to afford what it takes to commute to your job, imagine when that cost is doubled. Certainly there are still general possibilities for off-setting some of this burden (such as carpooling or relying on what public transportation there is), but especially the short-term effects when the costs of a commodity like gasoline rise as they have, as Zuckerman says, it “disproportionately hits the poor.”

So while on the broader economic level it is best to let the market work, at the same time churches, charities, and community groups should be acutely aware of this, and attempt to address these individual situations as best they can.

Blog author: dphelps
Thursday, September 29, 2005
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Because too much has already been said about the recent gulf hurricanes, I won’t put in my two cents. I will, however, direct the reader to the most insightful take on this situation that I have yet to stumble across. As you read it, think again about the importance of the definitions of the words we use, such as ‘responsibility’ and ‘authority’ as are discussed in the mentioned article and those mentioned in previous posts here and here.

After receiving some responses to a previous post (CAFTA/Culture of Life: Enemies?), I thought I would post the the exchange with my most recent dissatisfied critic. Here’s to volleying! (I have edited the emails for confidentiality.) (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, September 15, 2005
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I’ve finally had a chance to respond to this piece on Tech Central Station, “The State of Nature in New Orleans: What Hobbes Didn’t Know.” In this article, TCS contributing editor Lee Harris takes George Will to task for his citation of Hobbes, to the extent that, as Harris writes, “my point of disagreement is with Hobbes’ famous and often quoted characterization of man’s original state of nature as one in which human life would be ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.'”

Harris’ problem with Hobbes’ formula is that in his estimation, it is patently and empirically false. Harris writes:

The problem I have is with the first adjective: solitary.

If you step back and look at what really happened in New Orleans, the fact will jump out at you that human beings, instead of running around solitary and alone, immediately clumped together into gangs and groups, of two fundamental divergent types: one purely aggressive, and the other purely defensive.

On the one hand, you had gangs of ruthless young men who looted, raped, and murdered, doing whatever they pleased and taking whatever they wanted. On the other hand, you had weak and frightened individuals who could only defend themselves by gathering into protective clumps — circling the wagons, so to speak.

The problem with Harris’ criticism is that it doesn’t really apply to Hobbes. The conception of Hobbes’ state of nature is, in Hobbes own words, one which “It may peradventure be thought, there was never such a time, nor condition of warre, such as this; and I believe it was never generally so over all the world.” Hobbes allows for the existence of the state of nature in localized pockets, but doesn’t think it was ever the sort of thing that existed at one time in all places.

But even further, Hobbes’ point is to get at the basic state of human existence in nature. When he emphasizes that it is “solitary,” he doesn’t mean that man is always alone in the state of nature. He means, rather, that the basic unit of human reliance and trust is individual. People tend to trust themselves the most. As Jimi Hendrix once said, “I’m the one that’s got to die when it’s time for me to die, so let me live my life the way I want to.” Hobbes sense of this solitariness and independence of human existence isn’t primarily about physical proximity, but rather an astute judgment about the corrupted and fallen condition of human social relations.

Thus Hobbes writes, “Men have no pleasure, (but on the contrary a great deal of griefe) in keeping company, where there is no power to over-awe them all. For every man looketh that his companion should value him, at the same rate he sets himself: And upon all signes of contempt, or undervaluing, naturally endeavours, as far as he dares…to extort a greater value from his contemners, by dommage; and from others, by the example.”

The fear of competition and the enmity thus created, and inherent vulnerability shared by every man, creates the motivation for men to join in league conspiring together. This is the natural and expected result in the state of nature. The solitariness of man’s existence creates the context in which men will see one who possesses more, and “will come prepared with forces united, to dispossesse, and to deprive him, not only of the fruit of his labour, but also of his life, or liberty.”

Harris’ criticism falls flat, as a contextual read of Hobbes’ formula shows that the tendency for people to join together in gangs or bands of brigands is an expression of the state of nature rather than the opposite. After all, these bands are usually united around a lead figure, who dominates the others. In this way, physical human proximity and relationship can still manifest the state of natural war and domination.

The critique of Hobbes’ judgment concerning the state of nature is not, as Harris would have it, that it is inaccurate. It is rather all too accurate…but limited in the sense that it only gets at “natural” or “fleshly” man, not “redeemed” or “spiritual” man.