Satan! Dangerous Person! Neo-Liberal!

Tonight I attended a “Catholic Media Ethics” talk at my church. This was my comment and question during Q&A:

Using abstract nouns like “society”, “community”, and “humanity” seems to disregard the important fact that, in reality, there isn’t some perfect consensus; individual persons are divided on every single political, economic, social, and moral question. Do you think there is a ‘media party’ with a consistent ideological bias because of the idea that there is (or can be) a homogenous, social consensus on things when no “shared story of collective humanity” actually exists?

The speaker (from The Catholic Register) shouted, “Satan!!!” and pointed at me while stepping back to distance himself from me. Then he said, “You are a dangerous person. You are giving us an individualistic, neo-liberal view that I don’t think is at all compatible with the Christian concept of community.”

An audience member said with outrage, “Just like Margaret Thatcher!”

The speaker then argued that the neo-liberal view is mainly an economic one and that its adherents have the wrong anthropology.

“What if the ‘neo-liberal’ anthropology is actually quite truthful and ‘Catholic’? I mused.

He said, “Try to make the case sometime.” Then he noted Father Raymond de Souza as an example of a ‘right wing’ Catholic who gets published in The Register.

Nice to have one token conservative.

Given how relevant economics and politics is to our lives, shouldn’t we be able to discuss these controversial topics in the light of faith and from a plurality of perspectives?

I think this is why Father Sirico founded the Acton Institute. And I’m thankful he did. Acton University is the first place I ever learned the term “philosophical anthropology.” Michael Matheson Miller told us that JPII had said, “The fundamental problem of socialism is anthropological in nature.” What he meant is that socialists give an incorrect account of the human person.

That experience at ActonU was one of the most illuminating and memorable moments of my life and has influenced me personally, academically, and professionally. Who we are and what it fundamentally means to be human persons is a debate that is, of course, not “settled.”

I don’t think that all my fellow Catholics and, more broadly, fellow citizens should think like me. I do hope though that we would be able to think about things together without excommunication from the conversation on the basis of different political and economic perspectives.

It’s the Creed that’s universal among a particular faith community.

Is it not some form of idolatry then to elevate policy opinions (and, dare I add, social doctrine) to the status of dogma?

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At Yonge and Dundas Square: Collecting Street Propaganda so you don’t have to

So, I recently moved to Toronto. And often I pass by Yonge and Dundas Square, a main public square downtown. It’s always a lively and bustling place. You can count on seeing street performers and people handing out free stuff.

On day 2 here, I got bored of saying ‘no, thank you’ to everyone handing out tracts, pamphlets, etc. so I decided to accept anything anyone is handing out and share it with you in this blog.

You might say no to pamphleteers, but I know you’re curious about what they’re spreading around!

Free copies of the Qu’ran:

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Handbooks about Islam:

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Toronto Pig Save pamphlets:
“As long as there are slaughterhouses…there will be battlefields.” – Leo Tolstoy (quoted inside brochure)

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A Toronto Vegetarian Directory:

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And a promo piece for the Vegetarian Food Festival:

And reminding you to:

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And what would a public square be without conspiracy theorists?

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Time for a snack!

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Momentum Report: “Some Party That I Used To Know” (Updated 18 April 2013)

Thank you to everyone who has shared the “Some Party That I Used To Know” video with their family, friends, and fellow citizens through email, Facebook, and Twitter.

The response has been great! Here are some highlights:

YouTube View Count:
10, 248 (Views on YouTube in One Week)

Continue reading

Alberta PCs: Some Party That I Used to Know

Alberta PCs: Some Party That I Used To Know
CALGARY, ALBERTA (APRIL 11, 2013)

Today marks the launch of the YouTube “Alberta PCs: Some Party That I Used To Know.” This video is a grassroots effort and is not affiliated with any political party.

Check out the video and share it with your friends and network and share your comments.

For more information and to support further related projects, please contact me at amanda.achtman@gmail.com

From the grassroots and for ordered liberty,
Amanda

The Letter I Wrote to Ralph Klein When I Was 15

Ralph Klein died on Good Friday 2013. Along with Christ, he knew the importance of sacrifice. It is a great testament to his leadership and character that almost every Albertan has some story about ‘King Ralph.’

The first letter that I ever wrote to a politician was to Premier Klein. Receiving a response encouraged me in my youth to be enthusiastic about the opportunity to participate in politics. Here’s my letter.

June 1, 2006

Office of the Premier
Room 307, Legislature Building
10800 – 97th Avenue
Edmonton, Alberta T5K 2B6

Dear Mr. Ralph Klein:

Thank you for leading our province to where we are today. Your goal towards a debt-free province for the next generation (my generation) was challenging for many as you insisted on a tight budget. However, the fruits of the discipline that you encouraged have rewarded us all with a profit!

It was generous of you to decide to give everyone in our province $400.00 and I find it very interesting and exciting to see, hear, and read how people have chosen or are choosing to spend their money.

I became very interested by the stories that I had heard. Some of the kids at school were excited about buying Ipods, MP3 Players, and other cool toys and electronics. I choose to invest my money in the training that I am required to obtain for a summer work position with the City of Calgary.

It has come to my attention that you have even more money to potentially dispense throughout the province. What a blessing it is to call Alberta home! At first, I thought it that it would be great to get more “Ralphbucks” with my name on it. But, now I think that it is important to put the rest of the money towards education.

I’ve learned that my school is being forced to compromise the values that it stands for and raise money through casinos to provide me with great opportunities such as field trips, option courses, and guest presenters. These programs enhance my learning experiences and make school so much more fun. However, I do believe that the cost is too high when we have to compromise what we believe in to receive a quality Catholic education.

Having to raise money through means that contradict our morals and values can and is influencing all education systems because gambling has so many negative effects on people’s lives. By using the money we are condoning the continuation of this highly addictive activity without even wanting to.

With the financial surplus, I feel strongly that the money should be invested into quality education so that we can continue having special learning experiences without paying the price of compromising our morals and values.

Thank you for your time and consideration and for everything that you have done that has lead our province to this financially responsible place in Canada.

Sincerely,

Amanda Achtman
Grade 9 Student
École Madeleine d’Houet School

A few thoughts on conference etiquette

“Etiquette is the science of living. It embraces everything. It is ethics. It is honor.”
– Emily Post

Attending numerous conferences renders one particularly perceptive to the unique kinds of manners and conduct that can be typically observed at such gatherings.

Recently I attended a political conference and inspired by a few observations I made, I would like to share a few thoughts on conference etiquette.

Arrival: When arriving to a conference there is usually a registration desk. Regardless of how much you may expect to be recognized and greeted by name, it is a courtesy to take the initiative to introduce yourself upon arrival. This way you help expedite the registration process and make it easier for those at the registration desk to find your name tag and confirm your attendance on their list.

Dress Code: Sometimes the conference organizers inform attendees of the dress code. If not, it is appropriate to ask the organizers. Otherwise, err on the side of professionalism. Sometimes I like to look at photos of the same conference or event from previous years to get a more exact sense of how people dress for the particular occasion. If you find yourself making excuses to yourself for your attire, chances are that you should change.

Business Cards:
Everyone who attends a conference should bring business cards -enough cards for every conference attendee even. A key purpose of conferences is networking and exchanging business cards is a great way to make connections. When you receive a business card, you should receive it graciously. This may mean taking note of the design or some interesting piece of information on the card and making a comment or offering an affirmation. Then, the card should be respectfully placed in a pocket or cardholder. Cards should not be carelessly left behind on tables, the floor, or the buffet table. At the earliest opportunity, write a note about the individual you met on the back of their card. Perhaps note the key topics of your conversation or the most interesting things you learned from them. Then, when you return home from the conference, send them an email to follow-up and thank them for the pleasure of meeting.

Language: Avoid jargon and acronymns. Both jargon and acronyms can serve to exclude people unfamiliar with the terms and also tend to carelessness in speech. There is a way to explain words that may not be known by everyone rather than patronizingly defining them. By taking the time to explain what you mean, people will be attracted by your inclusiveness and thoughtfulness.

Research: Conference programs are generally released in advance and usually you can predict what kinds of people will be there. It is a good idea to research the panelists, keynote speakers, attendees, and organizations involved. This will make introductions smooth and you can have a solid frame of reference for most conversations.  People are flattered when you recognize their place of work, their research interests, their latest media appearance, and especially anecdotes from their biography. Be careful not to lead on to just how extensive your research has been or to how sharp your memory is. This somtimes comes across as creepy.

House Rules: The recent conference that I attended invoked the “Chatham House Rule.” Essentially, this rule was summarized: “What is said here, stays here.” Curious about the origin and nature of this rule, I did some research.

The Chatham House Rule reads as follows:

“When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.”

It is important to respect the conference rules because how you honour or dishonour the rules will be a reflection of you. It is especially helpful to know the spirit of the rule so that you can adhere to it accordingly. All of this is especially good to bear in mind in light of new technologies that grant us the opportunity to publish instantly. As the adage goes: “Think before you tweet.”

Questions: At most conferences there is an opportunity to ask questions publicly. In this excellent article How to Ask a Question Peter Wood laments that we seem to have lost the art of asking good questions. He begins his article explaining what happened when the floor was opened for questions at a debate:

“The questioners by and large had no questions. Instead they offered up prolix piles of words that led nowhere in particular. Some sought to show off what they mistook as their own superior knowledge. Others scolded. A few got lost in their own labyrinths. The closest we came to a question was the j’accuse rhetorical jab more or less in the form, ‘Don’t you agree that you are an ignorant buffoon?’

Some of the questioners were deliberately abusing their opportunity. That’s bad manners and an erosion of the civility that is needed for worthwhile public debate. But a good many of the questioners simply didn’t know how to ask a question. They were caught in the fog between wanting to communicate something that seemed to them urgent to declare and the need to ask.”

When asking a question at a conference, I recommend beginning by stating your name and where you are from (city or university or company, for example). Avoid providing an oral resume. Far too often individuals spend two minutes describing how qualified they are to ask the question before finally taking a full minute to ask it. When asking a question, remain standing at the microphone until the question has been answered.  Avoid the most specific references in questions that are outside of the parametres of what has been the focus of discussion. For example, it seems odd when, after a session on the principle of religious liberty or the global financial crisis, people stand up and ask very particular questions about Latvia and Pakistan. Share your personal and niche interests when you mingle, not during question period.

Speakers: When you are the speaker at a conference, arrive early. It is good to arrive early enough to visit with conference participants and perhaps to join them for a meal. Then, it will also be appreciated if you can stay for a short while after to address individual questions and to receive compliments! Making time for participants when you are the speaker in this way will show that you respect your audience and are willing to go above and beyond showing up to speak and collect a fee or honorarium.

Speakers should definitely avoid apologizing during their presentations and confessing to a lack of preparation. A speaker should not say “in conclusion” or “I have only a few minutes remaining” when he is only halfway through his presentation. This makes the audience anticipate a speedy end to the presentation that they would otherwise likely be far more attentive to sit through were the speaker to make no reference to time.

The chair of a panel or the master of ceremonies should always greet the speakers who they invite to the podium with a handshake. It is important for the chair to take this initiative and for the other speakers to respond the gesture. The podium should never be left unattended. Applause should occur consistently before and after each speaker and it is the role of the chair to model this to the audience. Applause should be held until the speaker arrives to the podium to be greeted by the chair. Even when the chair and a speaker are friends, hands should be shaken rather than a hug or any other reception at the podium.

For more resources on public speaking and leadership, check out Toastmasters.

Moderation:
At conferences there tends to be buffet meals, plenty of socials, and lots of occasions to go out for drinks. It is typical to not feel even a bit hungry or thirsty throughout such a conference. However, consider how moderation and a little sacrifice can serve to cultivate discipline that can sharpen your conscientious dealings with others. Intentionally foregoing some of the luxuries at conferences is a good way to stay focused on the purpose of the conference and to be sensitive to others.

Intensity: Conferences are intense experiences. They provide opportunities for tremendous growth personally, professionally, academically, and even spiritually. Aim to strike a balance between total immersion and a bird’s eye view.

Reflection and Goal-setting: After a conference has ended, take the time to reflect on your experiences. Write down your observations, memories, highlights, etc. Then, set goals. What actions do you resolve to take inspired by this conference? Do you intend to attend the same conference again? Are there similar ones that you can attend? What were the highlights? How will you transform your experience into action? How has the conference shaped your character?

Happy conference-going!

The Day I Bought Tomatoes with Toilet Paper

Recently I traveled to Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico on a mission trip. At the beginning of the week, we Canadians had a team-building activity called the Cuernavaca Quest. This quest was a sort of scavenger hunt. We were divided into teams that each received a list of five items to purchase with sixty pesos, the salary of a poor Mexican and a little less than $5.00 CAD. We were also given instructions to shop at only two places: the MEGA Supermarket (a Walmart equivalent) and the People’s Market (a flea market where the poor sell goods at vendor stands). We set out to purchase our five assigned items including: 1 kilo of rice, 1 kilo of green tomatoes, 1 kilo of tortillas, “1-2-3″ cooking oil, and one roll of toilet paper.

My team and I began at the MEGA Supermarket. We searched throughout the store and price-checked the items. Ultimately, we decided that it would be best to purchase the cooking oil and toilet paper there, but that we could get the food items for a better price at the People’s Market. There was one problem though and that was that toilet paper was not sold individually, but only in quantities of at least four rolls. I suggested that we buy the cheapest four-pack and then use the remaining three rolls in excess of what was required to buy another item on our list. My teammates laughed initially, but agreed that it was worth a try. We purchased the four-pack of toilet paper and the “1-2-3″ cooking oil and then set out for the People’s Market.

When we arrived to the market, we found some young women selling tortillas. Our time and money were limited and so we bargained with them. It was mildly difficult to bargain with the poor since we likely appeared as though we could afford the cost. Eventually, we settled for a little less than a kilo of tortillas according to our tortilla budget. Next, we strolled throughout the People’s Market in search of green tomatoes. Almost everywhere the tomatoes were being sold for six pesos. I then insisted that my teammates put away their cameras since it would not likely go over well to haggle while holding digital cameras.

Eventually we came upon a woman selling green tomatoes. We explained that we did not have very much money to spend and would she trade a kilo of tomatoes for two rolls of toilet paper? She shook her head to that offer. I pulled out a third roll of toilet paper, desperate to seal the deal. She lit up and with three rolls, we had a deal! By selling the rolls, we gained money back that we had spent on the four, making the earlier expense cheaper and we acquired another needed item. She was pleased with the exchange because she thought that the value of three rolls of toilet paper was greater than the price of her tomatoes.

The last item that we had to buy was the kilo of rice. We only had ten pesos remaining. Everywhere that we went we found that a kilo of rice was being sold for twelve pesos. We must have had our offers refused at a dozen different kiosks. Finally, we came upon some young men with rice for sale and asked how much. They said, “Eleven pesos.” We were delighted. Would they take ten? Sure. I commended them on their fine business skills and informed them that they had made the sale because of their ability and willingness to be competitive.

My team and I had accomplished the Cuernavaca Quest! I was filled with enthusiasm and pride at our success. The activity, I thought, had been a terrific lesson in capitalism, voluntary trade, subjective valuation, creativity, ingenuity, and entrepreneurship.

Once all of the teams regrouped, we debriefed the quest. The rest of the group thought that they had succeeded at the activity by failing, as if the purpose was to realize that it could not be done and that needs could not be met with the low daily wage. Initially, everyone found our idea creative, but soon became frustrated. They accused me of coming up with a solution that was beyond the abilities of the poor. They argued, “It is very hard to think like that. These people do not have the university education that you do.” I insisted that the poor are even more inventive than I was this day and that they are already doing what I did on a daily basis to support their families. “Necessity is the mother of invention,” I insisted. The group argued that the poor do not have time to think of making a profit, but only of spending their daily sixty pesos. That is no way to break the cycle of poverty, I thought. And the barter system certainly preceded university education.

As Robert Murphy says in this blog, ”When two people engage in a voluntary trade, they both benefit. In other words, they both walk away with the ‘more valuable’ object.”

I will always remember this lesson of the mutually advantageous benefits conferred in a free market because of the day that I bought tomatoes with toilet paper

Originally published on mises.ca