By default, I am largely ignorant of the world of Star Wars, but the enthusiasm of people with good taste leads me to think that I may one day set myself to watch the series. Meanwhile, I am happy to prepare myself (being something of a dunce at interpreting sci-fi) by reading articles like the one we have published today by Dr Jordan Ballor, a research fellow at the Acton Institute. It begins:
“You cannot deny the truth that is your family.” Lor San Tekka (Max von Sydow) speaks these prophetic lines to Kylo Ren, the master of the Knights of Ren and the main villain in the latest installment of the Star Wars film franchise, The Force Awakens. Ren’s violent response to Tekka’s words underscores the fundamental dynamic that appears throughout the films.
Interesting, don't you think?
Enjoy your weekend. It's a long one here in NZ with a holiday on Monday commemorating the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. It's our national day, but never without a bit of controversy -- this time our government's signing (and hosting of same) of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Maori in particular see it as undermining Treaty rights and there have been very noisy protests here this week. Perhaps they are correct, but then it is hard for a nation of less than 5 million people at the bottom of the world to live in the style to which we aspire without doing trade deals with more populous countries. Of course the TPP has to be ratified by 12 countries yet, so we won't hold our breath.
In spite of all attempts to make the charge “Hitler’s Pope” stick, the last word has definitely not been said about Pope Pius XII and the Nazi leader. The latest account of his role in World War II and the fate of the Jews comes from Mark Riebling, an acclaimed writer on secret intelligence.
From all accounts – including today’s review by Francis Phillips – Church of Spies is a first-class spy thriller. On the book’s Amazon page we learn that Riebling’s interest was piqued by a couple of retired spies who insisted that the Vatican had the best intelligence system around. But he adds:
Less abstractly, I just thought that much of what had been written about the wartime Church was wrong!
Same-sex parenting is supported by an industry which supplies the wherewithal for sperm donors and surrogate mothers. Children become "genetic orphans" cut off from their biological past. This is happening to thousands upon thousands of them every year.
The dark history of gamete donation, however, began with married couples who saw it as a cure for infertility. Nobody seems to have asked what the kids might think about it. In any case, the normal practice was not to tell them. Stephanie Raeymaekers, a 37-year-old woman with two children of her own, was one of the first donor-conceived children in Belgium. Now she is an advocate for their rights. She spoke to MercatorNet about the psychological trauma of learning that her father was an anonymous sperm donor. Read her moving story below.
A disease that no one has ever heard of may cause conditions that no one has ever heard of -- but it has become a health emergency on a par with Ebola, according to the World Health Organization. The Zika virus, a generally mild mosquito-borne disease which originated in Africa, has spread to Latin America. There is has been associated with clusters of Guillain–Barré syndrome, which causes temporary or permanent nerve and muscle damage, and microcephaly. Infants with this condition are born with abnormally small heads and may have severe intellectual and physical disabilities.
But this frightening scenario in lurid newspaper articles is not the full story. As you can see below, Ana Maria Carceres, a 24-year-old Brazilian journalist, was born with microcephaly. She went to university, plays the violin and has written a book. And she is very indignant at the suggestion that abortion is a solution for pregnant women with the Zika virus. Read all about it.
It was said that Americans of the Victorian era were so prudish that they enveloped the legs of table and pianos with frilly garments to safeguard their modesty. This canard seems to have been the malicious invention of English novelist Frederick Marryat.
However, the mythical spirit of Victorian repression is alive and well in Italy, of all places. Last week Iranian president Hassan Rouhani paid a state visit to Rome to stitch up an US$18 billion trade deal. Much to the amusement of journalists at the press conference at the Capitoline Museums, classical nudes were covered with large boxes, presumably not to offend the Shi’ite dignitary.
This is the sort of event which sends journalists into paroxysms of sarcastic hilarity and pitches op-ed contributors into lugubrious forecasts about a Muslim Europe. In fact, no one has taken responsibility for requesting or authorising the prudery packages.
Whatever the facts of the matter, MercatorNet contributor Chiara Bertoglio sees in the event an opportunity to reflect on the Judeao-Christian view of the human body. “Each one of us, even if we are old, ugly, fat or disproportioned,” she writes, “is a creature in whom God rejoices: in our Creator’s eyes, each one of our bodies is as beautiful as the perfect nudes of Classical sculpture.”
For a mother to lose her baby when giving birth is surely one of the saddest things in the world. Charlotte Bronte, creator of the passionate and long-suffering Jane Eyre, once wrote of stillbirth, so common in her day:
“There is, I am convinced, no picture that conveys in all its dreadfulness, a vision of sorrow, despairing, remediless, supreme. If I could paint such a picture, the canvas would show only a woman looking down at her empty arms.”
Often enough in the mid-19th century the mother herself would die in childbirth, and Charlotte also died tragically together with her unborn child, though during pregnancy and possibly from the effects of severe morning sickness.
Her “vision of sorrow” comment is quoted in today’s lead article by Priscilla Coleman applauding an effort by The Lancet medical journal to address the burden of stillbirth on mothers, families and nations. As many as 6 million babies are lost this way each year. At the same time Dr Coleman wonders when leading scientists and journals will acknowledge the even greater burden represented by some 40 million induced abortions a year. (Imagine how horrified Charlotte Bronte would have been by that!)
Dr Coleman is an academic who has published a number of research papers on the psychological effects of abortion – research which typically meets with denial from her professional peers. Her superb article, however, shows that there is solid evidence to support what seems all too obvious to a reasonable person – that women do suffer serious consequences from terminating the life of their child.
There’s a well-worn saying about statistics that suggests we should put very little faith in them. Yet in the big controversies of the day, numbers really count, even when the people using them apparently cannot.
That is the gist of today’s article by sociologist Walter Schumm on the fraught subject of same-sex parenting. It summarises part of a much longer journal article dealing with other controversial topics as well, and illustrates how scientists can count and weigh the same things differently depending, it appears, on the results they want.
Researchers on both sides of the gay parenting debate have been accused of this, but only those with negative findings have been pilloried in the press. Read Dr Schumm’s piece and see what the other side have been up to.
How can a country with 1.35 billion people have too few of them? The leaders of the Chinese Communist Party are scratching their heads over this puzzle as the country's working-age population shrinks for the second year in a row.
As Marcus Roberts points out below, years of draconian enforcement of a one-child policy are bearing fruit. The proportion of young people is contracting while the proportion of their elderly parents and grandparents is growing. That's not a unique problem, but in a country which is still poor on a per-capita basis, it could be a disaster. The Chinese may find that they are growing old before they grow rich.
Sorry, but there won't be a newsletter tomorrow, as we are celebrating Australia Day Down Under. Normally that means barbecues, backyard cricket and beaches, but all that looks unlikely in Sydney as it is raining heavily at the moment.
Why January 26 -- a date we share with India's Republic Day? It is the day in 1788 when Governor Arthur Phillip, commander of the First Fleet of 11 convict ships, arrived at Sydney Cove and raised the Union Jack over Great Britain's new colony.
It is an increasingly popular holiday, even though there are lively debates every year about the meaning of the celebration. There is also a shadow over it. The indigenous people who watched the First Fleet sail in were probably alarmed. They had a right to be. It wasn't long before disease and conflict had reduced their numbers and shattered their culture. As early as 1938 representatives began protesting Australia Day and declaring it "a day of mourning and protest".
So there is a serious side to tomorrow. But basically it is a good excuse to chill out. We will be taking advantage of it.
We cover some very weighty topics below, but my favourite today is Tamara El-Rahi's praise of childhood chores. They are "a proven predictor for a sense of mastery, self-reliance, responsibility, empathy and respect for others — and the sooner that the kids start, the better," she writes. And what's more, her advice comes with an ironclad guarantee that you won't be a slave driver or an evil parent. Check it out!