Sherlock Holmes solved many of his cases because he saw things which others simply noticed. In one famous story, Holmes refers to “the curious incident of the dog in the night-time." His puzzled colleague objects: "The dog did nothing in the night-time." To which Holmes responds: "That was the curious incident."
The family in social policy is a bit like that. Politicians and social scientists can’t see it for looking. Why for instance, have murder rates been rising in US cities? Police are puzzled.
But as Nicole King points out today in MercatorNet, the answer is right in front of them. “Areas in which wedding bells rarely ring out are areas in which gunfire often sounds.” It turns out that the murder rate tracks the percentage of female-headed households. Perhaps the best crime prevention measure would be to encourage stable marriages.
Our deputy editor, Carolyn Moynihan, has broken (smashed, really) all records for controvery on MercatorNet. Today the tally of comments on her article on Kim Davis, the Kentucky country clerk who refused to issue marriage licences to same-sex couples, topped 500.
Quite a few readers disagreed with her, but that's part of the robust (and hopefully civil and respectful) discussion that we want to promote. In the light of subsequent developments, she has responded here in a second article.
You could make a good argument that Ground Zero for the secularisation of Western culture was the French Revolution. Although the ideals of Liberté, égalité, fraternité are almost inseparable from our conception of democracy, they were forged in a crucible mixed with the official policy of "decristianisation". This meant that the symbols and the practice of Christian (mostly Catholic) life were to be eliminated from French society. Hundreds of priests, nuns and Catholic laymen went to the guillotine; hundreds of thousands died in a civil war (some call it genocide) in the Vendée.
Was all this a precursor of the culture wars in Europe and the United States today? We've asked an historian at Cambridge University. Read the interview here.
Kim Davis, an elected county clerk from Kentucky, is in jail today for contempt of court. Her name is making headlines around the world for her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples – or, indeed, to any couples for the time being. I admire Mrs Davis for taking a stand that requires a lot of courage but, as I explain in my piece on the subject, I think she goes too far. Marriage champion Ryan T. Anderson, whom I quote, suggests a better way.
Though most of us use it every day, the internet requires us to be constantly on our guard. Will moral and social responsibility prevail on the information highway? Raphael Cohen-Almagor, an Isreali academic and author of a new book on the subject, believes that it can. As he says in today's interview:
"The internet enables such direct participation of people, eliminates geographic distances and recreates direct Athenian-style democracy. It empowers good citizenship and public partnership in promoting shared social values and norms. As the internet affects the life of each and every one of us, we have a vested interest in attempting to have a social tool that enables the promotion of social good. It is argued that the internet will be stable in the long run only if Net-users generally perceive it as a legitimate instrument; only if the internet will be perceived as right and good, based on shared values and norms."
He has his own (patented) idea for achieving this vision on the internet - an open-source browser which would filter out illegal and morally repugnant material. Read the interview -- it's great to see someone thinking seriously along these lines.
If you are looking for one book to background yourself on the most divisive issue of the decade, try Ryan T. Anderson's Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom, which Carolyn Moynihan reviews in an article below. It is designed to summarise the issues and suggest ways in which marriage can be promoted and defended in the wake of the US Supreme Court's recent decision that same-sex marriage is constitutional.
At the moment, the most statesman-like politician in Europe is Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor. In the face of a refugee crisis in Europe, it would be easy for her to take a populist line and close her country's doors. Instead, Germany is taking 800,000 refugees this year. This is four times last year's figure and more than any other EU country. She says:
"Universal civil rights so far have been closely linked with Europe and its history — it was one of the founding motives of the European Union. If Europe fails on the question of refugees, this close connection with universal civil rights ... will be destroyed and it won't be the Europe we want."
There is something quite disproportionate about the anger over refugees in Europe, the US and Australia. Of all the major industrialised countries, only Sweden is in the top 10 list of refugees per 1000 native population. It takes 12. The figure for Malta is 23. But Lebanon has taken 232 -- according to last year's statistics. That is an intolerable imposition. Something has to be done to share the burden of misery. See our view on the topic here.
Shannon Roberts alerts us to a very significant development in MercatorNet's terrific Demography Is Destiny blog, which is edited by her and her husband Marcus. There is a looming crisis in care-giving as baby-boomers age. At the moment, there are 6.8 potential family caregivers for every American in the high-risk years of late life.
But by 2050, there will only be 3 of them. As a society, we are already finding it hard to cope with the stress of caring for the elderly: there are too few young people to take up the burden. But how will we fare when the ratio has more than halved? More cuddly Labadors? Robot nurses? Essential reading.
Amnesty International's support of completely legalised prostitution has strirred the waters of debate in a big way. Even if you do not need convincing that prostitution is a bad thing that should not be encouraged, it is worthwhile reading what Jokin de Irala and Cristina Lopez of the University of Navarre, and researcher Melissa Farley have to say on the subject. As with so many other things today that seem self-evident, one needs good arguments to support common sense.
Also, for the record, Michael Cook has put up an edited version of a letter written by sociology professor Paul Sullins about the aftermath of a recent debate in Sydney on same-sex parenting.
For light relief take a look at Susan Reibel Moore's homage to Lewis Carroll on the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. It makes me want to read the book again.
It's called "medicalisation" or, more caustically, "disease-mongering". I refer to the the issue discussed in today's articles about "Pink Viagra..." and "Medicating our unhealthy lifestyles" -- namely, the often drug-company-driven recourse to costly medical technology for health problems that on the whole require only a change in lifestyle, and sometimes for problems whose very existence is doubtful.
I find this issue personally challenging as I am one of the gadzillions of adults on statins to reduce bad cholesterol, which should be possible by dietary change. I just mention that in case my article seems to be delivered from some high moral ground. Far from it. Healthy living for most of us is a work in progress.