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Can I keep him, Mom? Please? I’ll feed him and love him and call him my own.

Oh, your lion eyes…Check out the two articles from this week’s journal Nature as reported on Newsday.com. (There must be an editor at work here with a sarcastic sense of humor.)

In the first article, a commentary by Josh Donlan, a plan is proposed for fighting the loss of endagered species: repopulate the American Plains with (among other things) elephants, wild horses, cheetahs, and yes, lions.

The “rewilding” of parts of North America’s heartland could restore some balance to an ecosystem that lost a slew of similar species around 13,000 years ago, according to a commentary in this week’s issue of the journal Nature. Although conceding that “huge cultural obstacles” would have to be surmounted, lead author and Cornell University ecologist Josh Donlan argues that the long-range plan also might help preserve animals in danger of extinction elsewhere.

One must wonder if in the minds of these retro-evolutionists, the phrase “huge cultural obstacles” actually means “people”?

One must admire the work of those who seek to preserve endangered species. That being said, the problem here is the same problem with many environmentalists: a mindset that a world without the infection of humanity is somehow a better world. The idea is that the pre-historic world, or a world without the corruption of modern man, is paradise.

Yes, this could be you…

Being someone who considers himself mildly ‘outdoorsy’ and culturally ‘rural’, I understand this eco-nostalgia. Creation is beautiful and ought to be enjoyed. I would love to romp through undefiled, silvan wonderlands just as much as the next Nalgene-toting, Birk-calced, Steve Irwin wannabe. (The opening sequence of Last of the Mohicans seems to the ideal for many enviros…that is, until Daniel Day-Lewis fires a lead ball through the neck of an elk…)

There goes the neighborhood…

But come on. To ‘rewild’ North American plains? The unstated premise is that what is ‘tamed’ is wrong. This ideology denies the human person’s role in developing the world and its resources. It denies that environmental stewardship means to cultivate the world, not simply to retrofit it to our romantically fuzzy notions of a Majestic Past. But many environmentalists think that left to itself, wild nature is somehow more just, more ideal, more…ahem…humane. I think Mr. Donlan has seen The Lion King a few too many times.

And, oh yeah: the other article about lions? Lion attacks on humans are on the rise in Tanzania.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, August 15, 2005

Given the discussion that’s been going on around the Acton site over the last week or so (on the blog here and here, in the commentary comments section, and in this week’s poll question), I’m pointing out this timely piece in yesterday’s St. Paul Pioneer Press, co-written by Todd Flanders, an Acton adjunct scholar and headmaster of Providence Academy. Flanders’ co-author is Dr. Yvonne Boldt, chair of the science department at the academy.

In “The origin of the biology debate Intelligent design movement says the science isn’t settled on how life is shaped,” (free registration required) Flanders and Boldt ask some critical questions, “Should students be led to assume that science demands philosophical materialism? Should students be led to assume that science is settled in favor of randomness and dumb accident in the origins of life?”

In regard to the Darwinist/Intelligent Design controversy, they ask, “why should schools, indeed public schools, not teach this academic dispute? Should educators insist that dominant theories be immune from criticism, much as in an earlier time the Inquisition insisted against Galileo? Surely, in science education first and foremost, the notion that you can’t use evidence to criticize is a bad idea.”

The difference in perspective from the ONE Campaign and directly responsible charitable efforts is summed up in the first two sentences from this article in Christianity Today:

“Eighteen-year-old Lauren Tomasik had a vision. This Wheaton Academy senior wanted to see her Christian high school raise $75,000 to build a medical clinic in Zambia to combat HIV/AIDS. And she wanted the money to come from the pockets of her 575 fellow students.”

The “We don’t want your money, we just want your voice,” mantra of the ONE Campaign, besides being disingenuous, undermines the kind of motivation for personal action shown in these Christian high schoolers’ effort.

Alumna Natalie Gorski gets at this when she says, “How awesome a God we have. He was able to use us as his instruments and say, ‘Look at what I did through Wheaton Academy. I can do that all over the United States.’”

The difference in attitudes is perfectly displayed in this Ad Council campaign on Youth Civic Engagement, revolving around the slogan, “Fight Mannequinism.” You may have seen one of these on TV, like the ad where a bunch of people stand around looking at a piece of trash laying next to a garbage can, talking about how terrible it is that someone just left it there.

“Don’t just take a stand. Act.”

One of the bystanders says, “Man, I’m like this close to throwing it away myself.” When their voices reach a crescendo, a passerby simply sees the trash, walks over, picks it up, throws it away, and keeps moving. A voiceover at the end says, “Don’t just take a stand. Act.”

While the ad campaign is aimed at voter participation, I think it speaks just as well to the difference in attitudes behind government lobbying like the ONE campaign and personal charitable activity. We could all stand around talking about how terrible the AIDS epidemic is and asking someone else (e.g. the government) to do something about it. Or we could act ourselves, like the students at Wheaton Academy have done, and be God’s instruments of charity.

As I have mentioned before, we must be extremely careful about our language when we debate one another on any issue. So often, an argument is won, lost, or irredeemably confused because of a definition. If truths can be unlocked in careful definition, so can lies be reified in careless ones.

A case in point: what we mean by ‘poverty.’ The BBC has a story exploring how the definition of this word has changed as social conditions improved in England. The gist of the article is that once the deep poverty of Victorian England became history, poverty aquired a new definition; the new definition emphasized not the inability of people to sustain themselves (as was once the measure) but how a given person’s income related to society at large.

This of course begs the question: in a society of immense wealth, are those people in poverty who can afford only a fraction of the luxuries that others can afford? Can we so easily hijack a word, complete with its connotations? If you think that words cannot be so easily hijacked, so easily skewed, or so simply misunderstood as to serious impact culture and life, I submit the terms ‘liberal’ and ‘human rights’ for your consideration.

In a recent post, Jordan Ballor highlighted the efforts of Mr. Armen Yousoufian, who has been seeking public disclosure of records relating to the financing of the new stadium built recently for the Seattle Seahawks largely at taxpayer expense. Mr. Yousoufian has responded to Ballor’s post with the following comment:

In reply to: “They picked on the Wrong Armenian”, which is about my successful and landmark Public Disclosure Act violation lawsuit here in Washington state, thank you for the coverage. The case goes to court again on August 19 for determination of penalties and the amount of legal fees I am to be awarded for my two successful appeals of the original verdict (that will be the 4th round in over 8 years, after I won every step of the way and all the way to the state Supreme Court). If you or your readers would like more information, please visit my website: www.ArmenYousoufian.com or my blog: www.Yousoufian.blogspot.com. Lots of material, including trial briefs at all four stages of the litigation. Or email me at ayousoufian@comcast.net with something in the subect line referring to this comment left at this site.

Armen Yousoufian
Vashon Island, Washington

Those are some websites that are probably worth keeping an eye on.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, August 1, 2005

Here’s a view of procreation that doesn’t line up with the UN-sponsored “World Population Day”. In the midst of a discussion about a Jewish tradition mandating that each couple has at least one male and one female childe, Bryan Caplan at EconLog writes,

I’m on the record in favor of having more kids. I believe that, in most cases, both individuals and society would be better off if families had three or four. A lot of people have small families because they are mildly tired when they are young, and fail to consider that as a result they will be very lonely when they’re old. Two grown children is not enough to get a decent quantity of phone calls and grandchildren.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, July 28, 2005

Here’s a great interview from the Marketplace Morning Report with Chris Farrell, in which he argues for the lifting of trade sanctions against dictatorial and oppressive regimes. He compares the cases of Cuba and China, in which two different strategies have been used, with vastly different results.

We need to “stop the policy of broad based sanctions against nations that we don’t like,” says Farrell. This is directly opposite of the view, for example, which primarily blames economic engagement and the concern that, in the words of Kai Ryssdal, “some of these governments will be propped up.”

This is something the Acton Institute has been talking about for years. Read Rev. Robert A. Sirico’s “It’s Time to Do Unto Cuba as We Do Unto China,” from The Wall Street Journal, July 5, 2000.

Following months of Zimbabwe’s brutal “Drive Out Trash” campaign, pleasantries exchanged between Mugabe and a UN delegation may have made some headway. The UN report on the situation, according to Claudia Rosett, began “with a delicacy over-zealously inappropriate in itself to dealings with the tyrant whose regime has been responsible for wreck of Zimbabwe” by describing Mugabe’s reception of the UN officials with a “warm welcome.”

Despite the shortcomings of the UN report with respect to policy solutions (more aid!), the combination of a “stick and carrot” approach may be bearing some measure of success. ENI reports today:

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe was being feted as a key African leader in China when his security forces finally declared a respite in a two-month long destruction of homes of poor people in urban areas that triggered the ire of international church groups and the United Nations. The South African Council of Churches said a container of relief supplies would be sent to Zimbabwe at the beginning of August as part of its “Operation Hope for Zimbabwe”, aimed at relieving suffering after the government’s Operation Murambatsvina which means in the Shona language, “Drive Out Trash”.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Mr. Phelps takes issue with my characterization of Stanley Fish’s position as amounting “to a philosophical denial of realism.”

Let me first digress a bit and place this comment within the larger context of my post. My identification of a position that “words and texts have no meaning in themselves” is really just an aside within the larger and more important question about what measure of authority authorial intent has in the interpretation of documents, specifically public documents like the Constitution.

This aside is essentially a further claim than I need to make to demonstrate the flaws in Fish’s analysis. All that needs to be done to expose Fish’s error is to show that authorial intent or acontextual (deconstructionist?) interpretation are not the only two options. I argued, along with Ramesh Ponnuru and Ann Althouse, that the contemporary corporate understanding of a public document is the most definitive human factor in determining the meaning of a text. One way of putting it would be to say, it isn’t the Sitz im Leben of the author of a public document that norms meaning, it’s the Sitz im Leben of the document’s ratifiers, adherents, affirmers, et alia that is normative (or should I say “more” normative).
(more…)

Blog author: dphelps
posted by on Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The recent blogpost by my colleague Jordan Ballor discusses an op-ed written by law professor Stanley Fish. I am more familiar with Stanley Fish from his days as a literary theorist, and perhaps a quick review of a younger Fish will contribute to the conversation.

Fish is known for, among other things, an idea of literary interpretation he called ‘interpretive communities’ that suggests meaning is not found in the author, nor in the reader, but in the community in which the text is received. His famous illustration of this theory is as follows: He once left a list of names of literary theorists on the board of his classroom, told the class it was a medieval poem, and asked them to interpret it. Of course the duped and eager students developed a wide array of convincing interpretations, thus illustrating the power of the interpretive community.

So you can image my mild suprise when I read Fish endorsing ‘authorial intent’ in opposition to what in literary circles is known best as Formalism, the idea that “the text itself” contains the meaning. Of course, the modernist and post-modernist theorists have shared a strong aversion to “the text itself” theories. But I think it is a mistake to suggest that simply because the Mods and Postmods attacked both Formalism and Realism, anyone who attacks Literary Formalism is attacking Realism. There are other theories and theorists who would not (properly speaking) align themselves with staunchly relativistic theories and yet would take issue with Formalism (a phenomonologist such as Wolfgang Iser I think would be one of them.)

How does this relate to the larger question of Constitutional Interpretation? To deny ‘textualism’ is not necessarily to suggest that meaning is subjective in the author, the reader, or the interpretive community. Denying texutalism is not necessarily to deny objective reality. One can question textualism and maintain absolutism. What allows for this is the fact that all language, especially in a publicly crafted document like our Constitution, is in some sense ‘corporate’ (the etymological connection between ‘communication’ and ‘communion’ speaks volumes on this point, I think).

As far as we humans are concerned, there is always an element of mystery in language, in the Word. To my knowledge, there is only one who can express an icon of meaning so perfectly as to unite the Utterance with its Reality. All (human) language is at best an attempt at meaning, a part of meaning, and never the last word.