In this episode, Paul and Bill situate themselves geographically, updating each other on their latest activities and changes in locale. Paul is on a medical mission to Billings, Montana, at the moment. Bill has moved from South Bend, where he was an adjunct professor at Holy Cross College, to Troy, NY, the hometown of his wife.
Uranium mining is on Paul’s mind during his brief departure from Wyoming Catholic College in the small town of Lander. As a PhD geologist, Paul will make a presentation on the modern-day considerations of uranium mining and nuclear power at the 2022 conference of the Society of Catholic Scientists. The conference will be held on the first weekend of June at Mundelein Seminary near Chicago. (Brother Guy Consolmagno, SJ, a consecrated brother in the Jesuits and a distinguished astronomer, will be honored by the SCS this year with its St. Albert the Great Award.)
The inconveniences of uranium, says Paul, who has studied it since his graduate studies at the University of Notre Dame, stem from its undeniable value for power generation—and some characteristics he described as compellingly “weird.” He takes us on a professor’s tour of the periodic table and the uranium mining regions near his campus.
Kazakhstan and Russia are key sources of uranium. In-situ leaching is a growing source for uranium elsewhere in the world, including in the US.
Every state regulates uranium and any mining activities. For example, Texas has a Commission on Environmental Quality. There is a complex history of regulation of uranium and nuclear energy at both the state and federal levels.
Paul referred to Bill’s membership in the international Secular Franciscan Order.
Paul offers a survey of opinions and alternatives in energy policy for the Earth. For a very recent and well-informed video treatment of sustainable energy choices for the future, see “Can We Cool the Planet?” at PBS’s NOVA series website.
India is probing possibilities for thorium as a source of nuclear energy. China is staking much of its energy future on nuclear power. In the US and elsewhere, politicians must get more serious about addressing crucial, conflict-ridden challenges, such as the storage and reprocessing of uranium.
A note: Paul recommends the episodes on Nietzsche and Epicurean philosophy from the “Food 4 Thought” podcast, presented by Jonathan Kutz, which covers philosophy and science from Christian perspective. It’s a natural for fans of “That’s So Second Millennium.” You can access “Food 4 Thought” on several platforms, including Anchor and Audible.
Cover photo: Yellow needle-like crystals of studtite ([(UO2)(O2)(H2O)2] · H2O) on flat orange crystals of becquerelite (Ca(UO2)6O4(OH)6 · 8H2O). Ex Gilbert Gauthier, via Adriana & Renato Pagano. Collection and photo by Gianfranco Ciccolini, as seen at mindat.org.
David Seitz, OFS, is a long-time professed member of the Secular Franciscan Order who holds an M.A. in theology from Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit. He has written a book, available on line, called Come Let Us Worship: Reflections on the Words and Prayers of the Mass. He produces podcasts, videos, blogs, and speaks publicly, offering reflection for spiritual growth based on the life and works of St. Francis of Assisi. Find him at tauministries.com and, on YouTube, look for his nickname, Franciscan Dave.
Bill, also a Secular Franciscan, recently appeared on Dave's podcast, and I spoke with Bill about that conversation regarding journalism and virtuous communication. We discuss whether missionaries and scientists are also journalists and the spiritual value of seeking and spreading truth. Be sure to find their original conversation at Dave's site.
Here's our pre-conversation with Matthew Cloud prior to the full interview. In this segment we talk a little bit about the Ubuntu distro, the ubuntu philosophy of computer science, and 4th and 5th generation tools for generating working code to solve computer science problems in the context of Matthew's role connected to a grant for cybersecurity education through Ivy Tech and other schools in several states.
- Paul and Bill discussed computer education and cyber-security with Matthew Cloud, professor of the practice in the computer science program at Holy Cross College in Notre Dame, IN.
- Cloud has extensive experience in education, not only through classroom teaching at schools including Indiana’s Ivy Tech network of community colleges, but also through project management, curriculum development, and strategic collaborations with other a range of colleges and universities. Cloud holds a bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M University and a master’s degree in biomedical engineering granted jointly by the University of Texas and the UT Southwestern Medical Center.
- He is working within the Holy Cross College science department to grow a distinctive undergraduate program in computer science. Through a different understanding of essential skills and characteristics, such a program could increase access to meaningful information technology careers among students with more diverse backgrounds of knowledge, training, interests, socio-economic resources, etc. Increasing the access to such positions offers advantages to the students, to companies with growing IT and cybersecurity needs, and to the safety and sustainability of societies. You can go to cyberseek.org and get the latest estimates of how many US cybersecurity jobs are currently open, waiting for applicants. Prof. Cloud says that number has been hovering around 500,000.
- One of the multi-school projects he is helping to lead is funded by a grant from the National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity. His focus on a win-win balance between the demand for tomorrow’s computing/AI/cybersecurity/data science professionals and the supply of motivated, well-trained students pursuing these fields takes the form of several partnerships funded by prestigious grants.
- The goal of attracting more US students, of all backgrounds, into computer-related studies, whether they be focused on engineering or on different fields of study (including the liberal arts, philosophy, and more), is being pursued by many institutions. You can visit http://code.org to see one approach for encouraging young people to consider a computer-related career.
- Jordan Wales, PhD, who teaches theology at Hillsdale College in Michigan, spoke with Paul and Bill about his research at the intersection of robotics and religion.
- He discussed a compelling concern in the future relationship between human beings and technology. In particular, the concern, about which he spoke at the 2021 conference of the Society of Catholic Scientists, dealt with the interaction between individuals and the entities Wales calls “apparently personal artificial intelligence” (APAI).
- APAI products are already becoming commonplace in the world of commerce, as this BBC article discusses. People will be increasingly able to purchase, and interact with, virtual friends or babysitters or therapists, for example, Dr. Wales pointed out.
- This raises moral questions related to personhood, covering both the APAI product and the user of that product. The product will not have an inner life representative of what we think of as a person, although the definition of person has an interesting history influenced by scholars such as Saint Augustine. Human beings can express and influence their own understandings of personhood through their interactions with APAI. These understandings may lead to various types of interaction, ranging from pride and manipulation to excessive empathy, and one middle ground would consist of appreciation for the humanity that underlies the production and information/formation of the APAI product, Dr. Wales pointed out.
- As the use of APAI grows, there are also concerns about how the aggregated human “input” into the experience of APAI personalities may cause a flattening-out of human perspectives on the unique qualities of each person. One current example of the trajectory for these concerns comes from the use of the auto-correct feature by Google for writing. Long-term possibilities include such features of interactions not only affecting our choices of words and expressions, but also influencing what subjects we think about and how we think about them. This highlights the moral principle that ultimately we must retain our unique personal identities and wisely discern how to exercise our responsibility and restraint in allowing some possible applications of APAI to influence us, Dr. Wales said.
An intriguing interview with a business school professor from Paul's alma mater, Anjan Thakor of the Washington University in St. Louis Olin Business School. The point of departure for this episode is Prof. Thakor's book of the same title written with Dr. Bob Quinn, and the book was launched as an analysis of why Dr. Quinn left a prestigious faculty position at the University of Michigan to go start a church in Australia.
The book and our interview discuss what seems as if it should be common sense: people perform better when they believe what they're doing has a higher purpose than extracting paychecks and profit. Yet this common sense observation is now counter to decades of economic orthodoxy, both in the "practical" world and in academia, which focus on evaluating ways for employers to control and coerce employees using the tools of the market system. And it's not entirely surprising, since in many ways human nature is always poised to devolve into this style of interaction. Listen in and, if you're anywhere near as intrigued by this work as I was, read their book for more.
- Thakor co-authored The Economics of Higher Purpose: Eight Counterintuitive Steps for Creating a Purpose-Driven Organization with Robert Quinn, business professor emeritus at the University of Michigan.
- Thakor referred to a University of Michigan study of call-center workers. They came away with a higher sense of purpose—and effectiveness—after talking with students who had received scholarships based on fund-raising efforts in which the workers were participating. If you change a worker’s mental map for seeing their job, this affects their performance.
- Authenticity requires a business leader’s believable commitment to—and passion about—the organization’s higher purpose, Prof. Thakor said. He also referred to insights from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks about the importance of societal and organizational motivation stemming from a sense of covenant, not merely contract. Covenant entails a sense of shared purpose.
- Noted business executive Bob Chapman says 88 percent of American workers say they want a sense of higher purpose but don’t feel it is integrated in their work life. Thakor said his own research shows that employees whose companies have a sense of purpose are more likely to describe a sense of purpose in their lives—a spillover effect.
- The commitment to purpose must be top-down. Then, it cascades through the organization if you help employees learn and absorb what it means for them and their job, Thakor said.
- Harvard Business Review had a special issue on the importance of a sense of purpose.
Bill and I are excited to bring you an episode about the archeology and secular history of the time when Jesus was born, grew up, and preached. Fuller notes to come on our episode with Dr. Jean-Pierre Isbouts, author of In the Footsteps of Jesus.
- Jean-Pierre Isbouts, Ph.D., is a best-selling author, historian, and filmmaker who has invested decades of work in to understand and explain the Biblical foundations of Christian faith from an interdisciplinary perspective. His career as a humanities scholar began with his doctoral degree from the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. He is a professor of human development at Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, CA.
- Isbouts’s latest book, published in 2017 by National Geographic, is In the Footsteps of Jesus: A Chronicle of His Life and the Origins of Christianity. In addition to reading his books, you can take his course, “The History and Archaeology of the Bible” through the Great Courses library of products. He has made several notable films, and he recently has posted a series of videos embodying his new book, available by searching his name on Vimeo.
- Isbouts talked with Paul and Bill about key findings that help to increase public understanding of the historical context of Jesus’ life and how he loves to deepen that understanding through visual images of lands where Jesus taught, plus explorations in maps, art, archaeology, and more. His book features a beautiful collection of images.
- The discussion with TSSM looks into Jesus’ background, which is much more extensive than the typical label of “carpenter.” He notes that Jesus’ role in rebuilding the city of Sepphoris presaged his message of action and solidarity aimed to build the Kingdom of God. The times during which he taught on earth were filled with social and economic chaos, when the rule of Herod and his son decimated the economy of Galilee and displaced thousands of peasants in severe poverty.
- These historic times, Dr. Isbouts points out, resonate with readers today during a period of pandemic and polarization. We need to hear again Jesus’ call to come together as citizens of the Kingdom to practice basic principles of the Torah—compassion, social justice, and total faith in God as Father. Dr. Isbouts himself says his studies have drawn him closer to the figure of Jesus and “what fired his ministry.” The application of various fields of scholarship helps to tear down walls that many people today see dividing the worlds of science and faith.
- Paul and Bill talk here about a mix of psychology and societal dilemmas in light of Catholic values.
- Twelve-step programs have experience with an interpersonal phenomenon often called “taking someone else’s inventory,” Paul points out. This entails one individual assessing another through a facile psychological analysis of supposed characteristics underlying comments made or behavior shown; it can be prone toward unfortunate intimations of contempt, based on emotional reaction. This has gotten worse in these days of snap judgments which assume the worst, not the best, about complex people in complex situations.
- Often, people fail to make a distinction between the actions and the basic characteristics of a person. Paul mentions The Betrothed, a novel which talks about circumstances where different sorts of reactions to evil actions were possible, for good or ill.
- The film Rudy includes a conversation where one hears the aphorism, “I’ve learned there is a God, and I’m not Him,” Bill mentions. The twelve-step programs have recognized that it is an awful prospect to have to play the role of God without having the abilities of that Higher Power, as Paul points out.
- Subsidiarity as a centerpiece of Catholic Social Thought makes sense not only as an aid to effectiveness of solutions, but also an aid to greater peace of mind about one’s agency and responsibility in addressing problems, your co-hosts agreed.
- Aida Ramos, Ph.D., is an associate professor of economics at the University of Dallas. She returns to TSSM, in this episode recorded early in the week of January 4, 2021, to discuss Catholic perspectives on United States policy efforts to stimulate the economy.
- During the discussion, Bill recalled a class he took at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs that outlined a rigorous process of federal budget management. It included multiple annual authorization and appropriations bills covering various agencies and governmental functions. He could not remember immediately the name or previous budget-leadership role of his professor from those years as a student, but he commented in general that, over time, the discipline planned for maintaining quality control over program specifics via this legislative routine gave way to habits of less regular and detailed Congressional oversight on specifics of spending.
- Ramos noted that the Citizens United case decided by the US Supreme Court in 2010 had a major effect on campaign finance which in turn greatly increased the influence of corporate lobbyists over Congressional decision-making and thereby contributed to changes in legislative practices regarding federal budget management. The multi-trillion-dollar spending bill passed by Congress in late 2020 offers examples of how management rigors, at least as they maintain a focus on common-good and fiscal-responsibility duties, changed in ways that lessened Congressional and White House priorities integrating social justice into year-end spending plans; concerns about the primacy of addressing broad, basic needs of the population, as described by goals of solidarity and subsidiarity in Catholic social thought, have not been served by enactment of policies like tax deductions for the so-called “three-martini lunch.” That policy, which economists judged to be primarily a benefit for the wealthy, favors spending practices seen in corporate and lobbying circles, Ramos said.
- The need for responsible approaches to economic management within government is an area of profound moral concern that has arisen consistently present and past policy-making. Different policy actions, including the Covid-19 relief legislation, which is separate from the aforementioned multi-agency spending bill, represent differing approaches to deficit spending in the federal budget. Deficit spending can be justified during an economic crisis if it is limited and focused fairly on necessary remedies and investments. But the US has run up deficits in various years when they were not necessary, and the national debt has exploded. The need to pay interest on the national debt to investors squeezes out spending that could go toward meeting urgent needs such as food and poverty relief in the general population. This again raises concerns through the lens of Catholic values about human dignity and the preferential option for the poor.
- The major tax cut passed during the Trump administration had components that added hugely, unnecessarily, and unfairly to the deficit, Prof. Ramos said. A morally informed discussion about taxation has to be conducted among Americans to help influence government decision-making in legislation like this.
- An absence of responsive and responsible fiscal policy, legislated by Congress, has required more action by the Federal Reserve in recent years, taking the form of quantitative easing. This is monetary policy, whose technicalities can stir misguided fears among people. One bottom line in the different forms of policy-making is the need to serve the common good and human dignity; actions which support the economic stability and participation of families and households at the local level are an example of the Catholic call to respect subsidiarity as a means toward solidarity, Prof. Ramos said.
- Pope Francis has been outspoken about the need for populations to respect Catholic social values like these in policies and relationships widely and consistently. Certain budgetary responses to Covid-19 relief for people are in keeping with the Pope’s call. The application of a moral lens to budget management that meets public needs is nothing new; indeed, the field of political economy arose out of moral philosophy, a connection personified by Adam Smith, according to Prof. Ramos.
- Our guest, economics professor Dr. Aida Ramos, returned for further conversation after Episode 114. She pointed to wisdom in papal encyclicals from the past that we still need to tap into today—for the sake of just and reasonable arrangements in society and the economy. The granddaddy of these encyclicals is Rerum Novarum, from Pope Leo XIII in 1891. Forty years later, Pope Pius XI issued Quadragesimo Anno.
- Words are important, we noted in our discussion. The root for the word subsidiarity, which is a key concept in Catholic Social Thought, comes from the Latin for assistance or help. The origins of the word economics trace back to the management of a household, which incorporated a sense of stewardship, seeking the good for all persons connected with a household.
- Ramos pointed out that the appeal of Catholic Social Thought is by no means limited to Catholics or the Church. This wisdom is compatible with a broader legacy of insights deep in the Western intellectual tradition. She discussed economic insights embodied in the Acts of Union of 1707 in Great Britain, as described in her book, Shifting Capital.
- Historical figures who helped to shape ideas of economic justice through their expertise and their advocacy regarding the Acts of Union included Sir James Stewart. Dr. Ramos also mentioned Adam Smith, the 18th century economist and moral philosopher whose book The Wealth of Nations argues for the wisdom of free market capitalism. Henry George, a 19th century economist, also contributed to the secular intellectual trends which ran counter to the individual-utility principles of today’s neoclassical economics.
- Echoes of the notions more inclined toward common-good thinking are expected to receive attention in a new introductory economics textbook now being written by development economist Jeffrey Sachs. This will integrate concepts of subsidiarity and common-good motivation, which have a long history in secular discussion and are outlined cogently in Catholic Social Thought.