We are at the beginning of a long weekend in Auckland, Monday being the Queen’s Birthday holiday, and if the weather holds up, that means outdoor excursions and treats. Hamburgers and chips down at the waterfront, soft drinks, icecream… or, for the yuppies, lunch at a café where they serve you an artistic pile of food on a plate big enough to carry the Christmas turkey, an extra glass of wine…
Eating for sheer enjoyment – not to say, over-eating – is so much a part of modern life that it is hard to know what we would do with the spare time if we ate only what we needed and stopped treating food as a form of recreation. But that is more or less what Zac Alstin is proposing in his article today about the “escapism of food”. As usual, his philosophical musings contain many sharp insights – for example:
… [B]eing overweight is for many people like a mysterious illness or unfortunate predicament that just happened to befall them while they were otherwise occupied. In a sense this is true: your body gained weight while your mind was lost in the pleasures of the eating.
Challenging stuff. I recommend reading it after dinner.
Speaking of “stuff”, the quote of the day for me comes from 62-year-old Mrs Sweat, who lost just about everything in the Texas floods: “God said, ‘You have too much stuff.’” What a staunch lady!
Lovely young women are the face of the euthanasia movement these days. Brittany Maynard became a household name in America before her death a couple of months ago. In New Zealand this week we have had Lucretia Seales, a 42-year-old lawyer with a brilliant and glamorous career behind her asking the High Court to declare her right to have a doctor give her a lethal dose when her brain cancer makes her life unbearable.
It is very moving to hear them tell their stories, and they have a certain kind of courage, but I just can't get under their skin and imagine myself planning to have myself killed. Apart from moral objections, I simply wouldn't have the nerve.
My real sympathies lie with Stephanie Packer, a young Californian mother who is the subject of a post on the Careful blog today which includes a great video. As Dr Aaron Kheriaty, who appears in the video, said in an email to us today, "Opponents of assisted suicide need to not only articulate policy arguments, but also tell more compelling stories." And, thank God, there are compelling stories to tell about living life to its natural end.
It is too easy to be too pessimistic, as Alistair Nicholas suggests in his review of a lurid book on organ harvesting in China (see below). There are persistent rumours that imprisoned members of Falun Gong are being killed to supply a black market in kidneys, corneas, hearts and livers. However, the solid evidence for this seems to be more than a decade old. It could be true, but for the time being the verdict has be "unproven".
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Denyse O'Leary zeroes in on an interesting phenomenon in her Connecting blog post today. She points out that a youthful infatuation with social media and connectivity is not necessarily the primrose path to health, wealth and happiness. Social media divides society as much as it unites it, she says, citing a dating app called Luxy, which describes itself as "Tinder without the poor people". However, what does correlate with a young person's great expectations is stable family life. Better a loving dad than an iPhone.
Back in 1995 a book about Irish history jumped onto the New York Times best-seller list and stayed there for two years. Its title was How the Irish Saved Civilization. The author contended that Irish monks preserved the literary heritage of Rome as it was being trashed by hairy German barbarians. The Land of Saints and Scholars, he said, "singlehandedly refounded European civilization throughout the continent."
Some 1,500 years later the Irish have rediscovered their destiny of shaping Western civilisation. But in a different way. Last Friday they voted to change their constitution to permit same-sex marriage, the first time that this novel instituition has been approved in a national referendum. This is reverberating around the world. Here in Australia, one influential politician has already cited Ireland as a reason for his back-flip on same-sex marraige. Below is some reaction to the referendum.
We have gone a little overboard with same-sex marriage and parenting articles today, but it just reflects the momentum of this issue in society. I am writing this when the Irish will have started voting in a referendum from which a Yes majority will give Constitutional recognition to same-sex marriage, with far-reaching consequences for children and religious freedom. By the time you receive this newsletter the writing may be on the wall, either way.
The New York Times ran a debate yesterday about whether the Catholic church "can maintain its long-held moral and political authority" in Ireland if the amendment passes. I must say the four contributors looked a rum lot -- I couldn't bear to read what they had to say about "women-led faith services" and being a Catholic without believing in all that the church teaches. Good luck to them. I'd rather believe the church than a free-lance Irishman.
In an article yesterday I put forward some arguments against executing Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokar Tsarnaev –arguments based on my objection to the death penalty for any person.
Today Zac Alstin looks at the effect that European embargoes on exports of execution drugs is having on attitudes to the death penalty in the United States. He argues that, as recourse to older, non-medical means of killing criminals reveals “the intrinsically violent reality of killing a human being”, capital punishment “will become increasingly unsettling to a public that has taken for granted the promise of a painless execution.”
Personally, I hope that US states concerned will drop the death penalty (the Nebraska legislature has just voted to do so) without anyone having to be executed by firing squad, electrocution or the gas chamber. There’s enough killing in the world – including that of millions of unborn children medically executed every year; let’s stop sanctifying it as a form of justice.
I see that Saudi Arabia is advertising for eight public executioners at the moment. No qualifications are needed and there are no competitive public exams. Just a strong arm for wielding a sword. There seems to be plenty of work for successful applicants. Last year there were only 87 executions; this year there have already been 84. The death penalty is one of the least attractive aspects of Saudi life.
Which makes me wonder why the Boston marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, has been sentenced to death. At a time in history when the West needs to demonstrate a spiritual "competitive advantage" over militant Islam, isn't it important to act with forbearance and mercy? Read Carolyn Moynihan's article below for her analysis of Tsarnaev's sentence.
American pundits are fond of asserting that Government should stay out of people's bedrooms. Presumably this goes for Big Business as well.
It's hard to disagree, but this is a principle which appears to apply only to Americans. For many years, the US government and American philanthropists have been champions of condoms, abortion and contraception throughout the developing world.
And the developed world as well, it seems. A philanthropic foundation created by an Irish-American businessman has been showering money on Ireland's same-sex referendum. (See article below.) If the Yes vote wins, you might be able to say that American dollars will have paid for an amendment to Ireland's constitution. Anyone nostalgic for the good old days of cultural imperialism will sleep easy.
The horrors of First World War battles were so great that they have overshadowed one of the War's greatest tragedies, the Armenian Genocide. Perhaps as many as 1.5 million people perished. And they might have been forgotten were it not for a novel by the Austrian writer Franz Werfel. He was inspired to tackle the topic in the late 20s and he published his monumental book in 1933, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh. It's a very stirring tale which was recently republished. It deserves to be made into a movie -- not about the atrocities, but about the heroic resistance of a few Armenian villagers. Check out the review below.