US Secretary of State John Kerry had a busy start to his week. On Monday he was in Geneva hammering out the remaining points of a nuclear deal with the Iranian Foreign Minister. On Tuesday he was back home, presumably, where he announced the appointment of gay man Randy Berry as “first-ever Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons”.
What he did on Wednesday I don’t know, but I look forward to his imminent announcement of the appointment of Carl A. Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, as the first-ever Special Envoy for the Human Rights of Christians and Members of Other Religious Minorities”. Or, if that is too futuristic, of Mrs P Fernandes as the first-ever Special Envoy for the Human Rights of Filipino Maids and Other Foreign Workers”. Both would have their work cut out in the Arab world alone.
Is there an election next year, or something? Is President Obama cuddling up to the pink vote? I dunno, but with Isis, Iran and Russia on the table, wouldn’t you think he and his administration were challenged enough without running up a flag for something that is not even a human right, but is going to irritate them all?
Read Robert Reilly’s excellent analysis of this daft move.
In a fascinating article in today's newsletter, psychiatrist Aaron Kheriaty examines the effect of the practices endorsed by 50 Shades of Grey upon the brain. "With sexual behaviors, things get wired into our brain rather easily; even experimentation or dabbling has tangible physical effects... Forming the addiction was easy; recovering from the addiction is hard."
And he argues that BDSM fuses fear and pain neural pathways with sexual arousal pathways in a way that could be toxic for a young person's whole life. The damage done by this book and film may be incalculable.
In Britain, the House of Lords votes today on whether or not to legalise the creation of three-parent embryos. We have covered the ethical problems with this solution to tragic mitochondrial diseases before. But Irish researcher Caroline Simons identifies several important scientific questions that went unanswered or even unmentioned during the long debate. (See story below.)
It turns out, for instance, that often "mitochondrial disease" is not actually in the mitochondria at all, but in the corresponding DNA in the nucleus of a cell. Hence, this technique will not work for many families. It makes one despair of science journalists.
And of scientists. Last week a journalist for New Scientist, a widely-read magazine in the UK, said that most of them concealed their true opinions on the matter out of “political expedience”. Some people would call that lying. One hopes that he is wrong. It would be a tragedy for the UK if scientists are serving up their bad science with bad faith.
With his usual panache, Robert Reilly gives President Obama's plans for combatting extremist ideology a good thumping in this issue. What struck me about his well-informed argument was the use he made of remarks by President al-Sisi of Egypt. In December al-Sisi addressed a large gathering of Muslim clerics and delivered a startling message: "the Islamic nation is being torn apart, destroyed, and is heading to perdition" because of terrorism.
"We need to revolutionize our religion," he said. "Is it conceivable that 1.6 billion [Muslims] would kill the world's population of seven billion, so that they could live [on their own]?
Dealing with the threat from ISIS and other islamic terrorist groups is a huge problem. But there are clearly lots of Muslims who agree with this. The voice of common sense is asserting itself in the Muslim world.
When was the last time you handwrote a letter with pen and ink instead of emailing your aunt or messaging your old school buddy? I've noticed that the notes on my Christmas cards are becoming shorter and shorter every year, as if people have lost the ability to write with a pen instead of a keyboard. (Although I confess that I have lost the ability to send Christmas cards, which is worse.)
Teachers have noticed the trend, of course, and in some schools, they have abolished instruction in penmanship, as Americans call it, altogether. But are today's kids missing out if they can only communicate on a keyboard? Read Carolyn Moynihan's terrific piece.
After a three-day summit in Washington DC on countering violent extremism, today's newsletter focuses on the terrorist threat from radical Islam. Admittedly, it is hard to find the right words to describe the enemy. Even President Bush, who was blunter than his successor, was at a loss for words. "Some call this evil Islamic radicalism,” he said in one speech. “Others, militant jihadism. Still, others Islamo-fascism. Whatever it’s called, this ideology is very different from the religion of Islam.” Mr Obama, however, seems reluctant to link Islam with terrorism. Given the well-publicised atrocities committed by the Islamic State in recent weeks, I wonder if he still needs to be so fastidious.
There has been a dramatic retreat from marriage in the United States over the past 40 or so years. Non-marital childbearing, single parenthood, and family instability have all increased, but especially among less-well educated and poorer Americans. As Brad Wilcox, a familiar voice in MercatorNet, argues, this must be reversed -- if for no other reason than its economic consequences.
He points out that "the retreat from marriage is not the only factor contributing to negative economic outcomes in the nation, but it is one important factor that must be addressed if the United States seeks to reduce poverty and economic inequality, and to increase the odds that every man, woman, and child has a shot at the American Dream."
It is my pleasure to announce a new addition to the MercatorNet team: long-term contributor Zac Alstin (pictured) has officially joined our ranks as Associate Editor, and has from this week begun learning the ropes, incantations and IT mysteries that keep MercatorNet humming along from week to week.
Zac has a background in philosophy, a career history in Bioethics research and policy, and a penchant for quoting obscure Chinese sages. He lives with his wife Shannon and young son Eli in Adelaide, South Australia, from where he is currently pursuing a PhD in Philosophy of Religion.
Zac has been a regular presence at MercatorNet since 2010, and with over 60 articles published there’s a good chance you’ve read at least one of his pieces and maybe even liked it!
We look forward to working with Zac in the coming year and hope you will join us in welcoming him.
Not long ago, the news that the Pope had said something off the cuff about breeding and rabbits and children swept through the world media. Lots of chuckles from talk-show hosts and a few grimaces from puzzled parents of large families. He was misquoted, as often happens. But he has more than made up for the gaffe in an address last week: "Not to have children is a selfish choice. Life is rejuvenated and acquires energy by multiplying: it is enriched, not impoverished!". Read Carolyn Moynihan's analysis here.
I haven't read too much about this in the media. However, when Europe discovers how desperately it needs large families, these words will seem prophetic. They ought to be taken to heart in Italy, where (as Marcus Roberts reports) the country's health minister said "we are a dying country". Apparently 2014 saw fewer Italian babies born than in any other year since 1861 when the modern Italian state was formed.
Yesterday, the Pew fact-tank tells me, was the 206th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth. While not an official holiday (though that seems a distinct possibility), says Pew, “Darwin Day” has been adopted by scientific and humanist groups to promote everything from scientific literacy to secularism.
Pew’s article goes on to look at the state of belief in evolution, so to speak, in America compared with some other parts of the world. However, my mind wandered off to the question of what the great scientist would think of the state of our social evolution today in the light of a certain publishing phenomenon, and the movie spinoff launched in many countries, including mine, on Darwin Day. I believe Darwin was quite a moral sort of man; might he think he had made a mistake and that humanity was sliding back into the primeval swamp?
However it is Valentine’s Day that the film has really hijacked, and Family Edge editor Tamara Rajakariar, soon to be married, is pretty angry about that. "A real man trumps Mr Grey any day," she tells FSG author E. L. James – see her piece today.
Frankly, I am sick of hearing the name of this porn franchise, but such is its popularity and the excuses being made for it by mainstream journalists, and all the winks and nudges accompanying them, that one cannot ignore the thing. On the contrary, the public acceptance of FSG calls for strong light to be shone on its dark assumptions and the harm of accepting them. We have done a bit of this already but expect more on the topic next week.
Meanwhile, to all real lovers: take back Valentine’s Day!