The identity wars find some individuals in very deep water, as a disturbing anecdote opening Zac Alstin's essay illustrates. It is enough to bring the most diversity-tolerant liberal up short, and yet there is a certain logic to the case. Zac identifies the roots of this sad trend, in my opinion. How it happened historically is a large question I would like to delve into further.
Pornography is an ugly topic, but a necessary one, as our culture is becoming saturated with sexuality. Statistics on an industry which is hard to define, partly underground and widely criticised are seldom reliable. However, in his article today on MercatorNet, paediatrician David Perry estimates that the US market in 2012 was US$8 billion, about as big as the bottled water market, albeit not as pure.
Dollar values fail to convey the impact of pornography on personal and social life. The internet is awash with free stuff, so much that Playboy, once the flagship of the industry, is losing money. Why buy a magazine when you watch it on YouTube? As Playboy’s CEO told the New York Times recently, “You’re now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so it’s just passé at this juncture.”
That’s why parents, especially, need to be firmly convinced that pornography is terribly destructive, not just tasteless. Dr Perry’s article offers comprehensively documented proof of its harms. Read it below.
There has been lots of Sturm und Drang in the media over the last three weeks in Catholic circles because of the Synod of Bishops in Rome. This seems to have been studied and analysed and haruspicated by European vaticanisti with an intensity that American and British journalists save for national elections.
I have always been bemused at the number of religion correspondents in the European press -- it seems all out of proportion to the number of people who declare that they are "religious". There's probably a book in that, or at least an article. George Weigel, a notable American expert on these matters, has wriitten a summary of the achievements of the Synod. Read all about it here.
Germaine Greer is consistently described as "a feminist icon", although many younger feminists would be loathe to hang this particular icon in their living room. Ms Greer, who can both swear like a trooper and decipher Shakespeare, is a woman of robust and sometimes unprintable opinions on women and sexuality. But from time to time she hits the bullseye with her unconventional insights into issues like abortion, contraception, IVF, pornography, and now, transgender men. Read all about it here.
As you may have realised, we are conducting a campaign to keep MercatorNet afloat. A number of people have already responded quite generously. Dig deep! Or at least consider doing what this young lady told us: "sorry im 13 and dont have any money, but i will definitely tell my mom".
It is fascinating to observe how, in spite of all the radical ideas about sex and gender flosting around, nature makes herself heard occasionally. According to Marcus Roberts on the Demography blog today, a British fertility expert is calling for fertility education of young people. No, not sex education; not how to have sex without babies; but how to have babies, before it's too late -- if you are a woman -- and your fertility has gone south. Allan Pacey, whose specialty is andrology (men's health), is amazed at how little the 18- and 19-year-olds in his undergraduate classes know about their reproductive system. Who would have thought it.
The theme linking today's three stories is the "technocratic paradigm", the impulse to use logic and technology to control nature and to see human beings as ghosts trapped inside machines. It's a catchphrase that Pope Francis threw out in his recent document on the environment, and a very thought-provoking one.
It fits our first two stories on bioethics. In the first, genetically-engineered pigs could possibly save people with organ failure. It sounds very positive, but it's a possibility whose ramifications need to be studied very carefully. In the second, scientists believe that they can help children with a rare genetic disease by injecting them with cells from aborted foetuses. Philippa Taylor argues that technical effectiveness does not make a procedure right.
And finally, with a nod again to the Vatican, the Archbishop of Los Angeles points out men, women and their chilldren -- families -- must not be treated as raw material to be engineered using technology, medicine, even law and public policy.
Not one, but two, films about righteous journalists battling the Establishment and exposing lies and skulduggery are contenders for next year's Academy Awards.
One is Spotlight, which surrounds the Boston Globe's squad of investigative reporters with an aureole of heroism. For bringing to light a ghastly story of sexual abuse by priests in 2002, it won a Pulitzer Prize. In his article below Kevin Ryan complains that its obsession with the disgraceful actions of a few priests tarnished the self-sacrificing lives of the vast majority.
The other is Truth, which tells the story of the downfall of CBS anchor Dan Rather and his producer, after they used a fake document before the 2004 election to accuse President George W. Bush of lying about his military record. The producer insisted that while some of the details were wrong, the larger story was still true -- even if she couldn't prove it.
Despite their differences, the two films converge on a fundamental weakness of journalism. Basically, journalists are small-picture guys. They assemble the pieces of a two-dimensional jigsaw puzzle without understanding the three-dimensional big picture. That's part of what we are trying to achieve at MercatorNet.
"Yankee ingenuity" has been part of the story of America ever since industrialisation. Mark Twain satirised the stereotype in his novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, in which a mechanic ends up in 6th Century Britain. In short order, he invents explosives, bicycles, lightning rods, barbed wire and Gatling guns. (These come in handy when civil war breaks out and he slaughters the knights of Camelot.)
Ridley Scott's new film, The Martian, gives new life to this ever-popular American theme. Astronaut Mark Watney has to make communications equipment, air, water and food from the meagre supplies of a damaged Mars station so that he can survive long enough to be rescued. It's a fascinating and (so they say) realistic film. Read Laura Cotta Ramosino's review below.
Bruce Jenner, marches everywhere, a series in the New York Times ... It seems as though transgenderism is the next big thing in sexual rights. Why? Is there something here we really need to comes to terms with? In an interview today Dutch psychologist Gerard van den Aardweg gives some straightforward answers to our questions.