Of the dozens of articles I have read this year about Donald Trump – and there have been some excellent ones – none, I think, is more telling than today’s Public Discourse article by Caitlin La Ruffa and Hilary Towers. Caitlin, a young wife and mother who runs the Love and Fidelity Network (America’s pro-marriage university movement) and Hilary, mother of five and a psychologist, challenge the presidential campaigner where, arguably, he is weakest: on the fundamental importance of stable marriage to a flourishing nation.
Their open letter is a tour de force. It’s polite but full of conviction as well as home truths for Trump and others who want to see America “great again”, including some of his angry followers and the odd ex-president. It surveys the fragile state of marriage in the US (as elsewhere) and the trends that have undermined it, but it also finds grounds for hope in the younger generation who have rallied to initiatives like Love and Fidelity – an organisation Trump once mocked. Great work, ladies! Yours is a message for the world, not just America.
Monday is the anniversary of the death by burning at the stake of the heroic (Saint) Joan of Arc – not one that we would normally observe, but we couldn’t resist a lovely tribute to her from Campbell Markham, a Presbyterian minister from Australia.
Forty-plus years ago when population panic was driving the legalisation of abortion in Western countries, newspapers and television channels controlled the public debate. If today’s information technology had been available then the outcome might have been very different.
Today, you can make a short film showing what happens when an unborn child is surgically aborted, put it on your tablet device, walk down the street and show it to people, who, though they have seen practically any other horror you can name, have never seen such a thing.
And that, as Sheila Liaugminas highlights today, is exactly what the pro-life group Live Action have done – to dramatic effect. The reactions of the young adults who were shown the strictly factual animated film (there are no photos, but it is still not for children) are also captured on film. It’s powerful stuff -- go to Sheila’s post and see the videos for yourself. Millions already have.
Whatever else Facebook and Youtube are up to, they are performing a service here.
A great deal of ink has been spilt over the rather dreary topic of the state of public bathrooms in the United States. Transgenders, it is argued, clearly have a civil right to access the bathroom of their choice. This is an issue which affects, at most 0.3% of the population.
For my money, Carolyn Moynihan, our deputy editor, has penned the most sensible contribution to this debate. She asks why Americans are working themselves into a frenzy over bathrooms when nearly 1 in 6 young men between 18 and 34 is either out of work or in jail. That is a national civil rights catastrophe. The transgender imbroglio is, in Emerson’s words, “the hobgoblin of little minds”.
In another development at MercatorNet, we have been forced to take down two stories on our Conjugality blog. They had mentioned PAS and YMA (to use the English court’s pseudonyms), who are prominent figures in the entertainment world and the world’s most famous gay married couple. They have two young children and very deep pockets.
PAS has successfully applied for an injunction in England and Wales banning publication of some incidents in his personal life. Because the legal arguments are very relevant to the reality of same-sex marriage, MercatorNet published two articles on the topic, without the sordid details.
We were discreet, but that made no difference. Lawyers working for PAS kept sending us threatening emails. Eventually we had to comply because our mirror site in the Unites States would have been shut down. We could not afford that.
To me, this is an object lesson in how determined supporters of gay marriage can be to smother criticism. Furthermore, while websites around the world are being muzzled, the couple’s PR machine is promoting sycophantic articles in the English press about them. North Korean despot Kim Jong Un would blush to read such oleaginous drivel. The public interest is not being served by censoring free speech about PAS and YMA and distorting public perceptions of gay marriage.
Facebook has about 1.6 billion monthly users, about 200 million of them in the United States. It's obviously a great platform for influencing public opinion in an election year. One election strategist says that Facebook is “more than seven times more effective at converting undecided voters than direct mail”.
In recent days the company has had to deny that it has stacked the deck, as it were, against conservatives in its trending news feed. But the allegations have created a public relations crisis for the world's biggest social network. In our lead article today, Jeffrey Pawlick explains some of the technology behind the growing influence of social media.
In our lead story today, Margaret Somervillle discusses the ethics of head transplants. Or whole body transplants, which sounds a bit more acceptable. This is, no kidding, a serious proposal by an Italian transplant surgeon. One person has already volunteered to be the head. All that is needed is a body and a country where an ethics committee will give its blessing to the project.
This brought back fond memories of late-night creature features. In the 50s and 60s they really knew how to make B-grade horror films. Lots of blood and gore, a few mad scientists, a barely plausible pretext for a plot, and a flickering black & white TV. Nothing can be more satisfying than that.
Given the Italian surgeon's proposal, The Brain that Wouldn't Die now looks prophetic. Does anyone remember The Fly, about a scientist who also loses his head, albeit in a more creative way? Or, my favourite, The Blob, Steve McQueen's first feature? If this is prophetic, we're in trouble. From a meteroite oozes a gooey slime which dissolves and absorbs everything living it touches, eventually absorbing most inhabitants in a small American town. Steve & Co dispose of it by dumping it in the Arctic. We're safe, says Steve, "as long as the Arctic stays cold." With global warming, who knows how long that will be?
Mother Teresa of Calcutta is to be canonised in Rome on September 4. Although her name is a byword for generous service to humanity, the Albanian-born nun has attracted some criticism. Gëzim Alpion, also Albanian, a sociologist at the University of Birmingham, has become an expert on her life, writings and reputation. His book Mother Teresa: Saint or Celebrity? was published in 2007 and another book is on the way. Michael Cook asked him why he is so interested in Mother Teresa, and his answers are very interesting.
Alpion does not follow any religion but describes himself as a “spiritual-rationalist”. He says he is interested in Mother Teresa not because she was particualrly enlightened, rather, because "she was in the dark all her life" -- a reference to her experience of spiritual desolation. He concludes:
Mother Teresa’s hagiographers and friendly biographers should not be afraid that she could become less appealing if we know more about her. On the contrary, the more we uncover about her as an individual, the more her personality and legacy as a missionary would appeal to Catholics, followers of other faith, as well as those who profess no religion.
Concussion, abortion, suicide, bathroom battles -- the world looks a rather serious place today. But there is a remedy: go to our front page video and see what motivates Mariza the Stubborn Donkey and her owner to get going in the face of impossible odds.
It’s hard to keep track of the rich and rapidly evolving LGBTQ linguistic landscape. So I missed this development completely, perhaps because it was announced during the Christmas rush.
As Daniel Moon points out in his thoughtful article below, “Lost in the Gender Triangle”, you have to mind your pronouns in New York City. No, not who and whom, or I and me, or which and that – baffling enough, except for pedantic editors like I (no, I meant "like me"). But pronouns such as they/them/theirs or ze/hir for referring to transgender or gender-nonconforming persons.
You really need to watch your Ps and Qs, as you can be fined US$250,000 for "willful, wanton, or malicious" misuse of pronouns. The NYC Commission for Human Rights helpfully explains what this means: “For example, repeatedly calling a transgender woman ‘him’ or ‘Mr.’ after she has made clear which pronouns and title she uses.” How this would be enforced is hard to imagine, but the regulations at least show the world that grammar Nazis take their job seriously.
I always understood that stem cell researchers were banned from allowing human embryos to grow in a Petri dish for longer than 14 days. Around the world this bright line was either a law or a scientific guideline. I don't believe that embryos should be grown in Petri dishes or experimented on at all, but the idea that scientists believed in some limit was a comforting sign of respect for human life.
How ignorant I was. It turns out that the longest time that an embryo had ever grown in a Petri dish was 9 days. It was easy to observe the limit because it was unreachable anyway. Praising researchers' restraint was like awarding medals for services to endangered species to hunters who refuse to kill unicorns. Earlier this month, however, researchers announced that they had grown embryos for 13 days. Immediately, leading scientists suggested that the 14-day rule be revisited. No doubt this will happen quickly unless there is a robust debate. Below, Xavier Symons discusses some of the ethical complications.
These were some of the stories in my news feed last week:
“Italy’s Parliament voted Wednesday in favor of a new law legalizing same-sex civil unions” (Slate). “A victory for Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who supported the bill” (New York Times). “It's the last country in Western Europe to do so” (NPR).
It all sounded like a triumph for democracy. But then I read a phrase in The Economist – “Polls show that most Italians still oppose same-sex marriage”. Huh? Did I miss something or has the Italian democratic process steamrolled Italian democracy?
In a story below Chiara Bertoglio explains how political expedience and Machiavellian deal-making explain how Italian legislators blew a raspberry to the people they represent.