In a week overshadowed by bloody atrocities, it's good to see a ray of sunshine. President Obama and President Raúl Castro, of Cuba, have agreed to restore diplomatic relations, remove Cuba from a terror list, and roll back restrictions on trade and travel. Inside the American political hothouse, this is sure to provoke a heated, and very partisan, controvery. Outside it, it seems about time. After all, the US long ago normalised relations with Vietnam and China -- even though China often poses a serious economic and even military threat to its interests.
An interesting angle on this development is the role played by the first Pope from the Americas. Pope Francis helped to broker the deal, as Sheila Liaugminas and her son, Fr Andrew Liaugminas, explain in the article below.
If there is one thing I have learned editing MercatorNet, it is not to compare calamities. For relatives and friends, a car accident which kills one teenaged driver is just as painful as a tsunami which kills thousands.
So all I shall do at the moment is to note that a few hours after the deaths of a Muslim gunman and two hostages in Sydney were broadcast around the world, a handful of Taliban terrorists stalked the corridors of a school in Peshawar, Pakistan, killing as many children as they could. Which, at last count, was 132, plus nine adults. Words fail me when I try to understand the beliefs of men who could be so resolute in carrying out this atrocity.
Sydney was on the front pages of world newspapers this morning after a self-styled Muslim cleric held about 20 people hostage in a café in the heart of the city. In the climactic shootout, two hostages and the gunman died. There have been plots by Islamic radicals and some incidents of violence before, but no one has ever died in a terrorist attack in recent times on Australian soil. It has been a bitter reminder that globalisation means more than eating the same Big Mac in 119 countries. It means sharing in the horrific violence which is rending Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria and other countries.
We have several articles touching on marriage and the family today -- in keeping with the season. Andrew Cherlin's new book, Love's Labour Lost: The Rise and Fall of the Working-Class Family in America, is the focus of one of them. Women and heart attacks features in another, and there's a neat infographic from the Institute for Marriage and Family Canada.
In contrast to the US Senators reporting on the CIA and torture, we've been thinking about the best in human behaviour and have come up with five nominees for the 2014 MercatorNet Dignitarian Award.
Human dignity, you might remember, is our guiding star. Among the hundreds of people featured in articles which have crossed our desks during the past year, a few have stood out for their commitment to this principle. At no small cost to themselves, they have stood up for unpopular causes or risked their lives to do what is right.
Post your comments on the article, and next week we’ll announce our final choice. Watch this space.
"Indefinite attitudes to the future explain what’s most dysfunctional in our world today. Process trumps substance: when people lack concrete plans to carry out, they use formal rules to assemble a portfolio of various options. This describes Americans today. In middle school, we’re encouraged to start hoarding “extracurricular activities.” In high school, ambitious students compete even harder to appear omnicompetent. By the time a student gets to college, he’s spent a decade curating a bewilderingly diverse résumé to prepare for a completely unknowable future. Come what may, he’s ready— for nothing in particular..."
That's a piece of wisdom from Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal and author of Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future, which is reviewed today by Isaiah Berg. I recommend it; there are some important ideas in there that go far beyond the "how to" you might expect from such a book.
The report on the CIA's treatment of 9/11 detainees by a US Senate committee dominated by Democrats is a thought-provoking document. However, it's unfortunate that its human dignity message will be dissipated by a failure of process.
GOP views in the report were marginalised and as a consequence the report's credibility is being questioned. Bitter lessons from the War on Terror may end up being ignored.
One exception to this political polarisation is Republican Senator John McCain. We have republished his eloqent repudiation of all torture.
"After reading dozens of books in the past year, we have decided to highlight the most memorable titles we encountered in 2014," say children's books bloggers Jennifer Minicus and Jane Fagan introducing their Christmas list. "Some are newly released, others old favorites, but all of them worthwhile. Links to our original reviews are provided when possible. We hope you and your children enjoy them as much as we did. For a complete list of our recommendations, please see the links in the right-hand column under 'our picks'. " -- So if you have younger children on your prezzie list, check out what these experts have to say.
Children's toys feature on the site today, too. A line of kitsets to nurture budding lady engineers provokes some reflections by Engineering Ethics blogger, Professor Karl Stephan. But Tamara Rajakaria thinks a campaign against the "gendered marketing of toys" is a bit over the top. (And, I would add, booorring.)
Seven years ago, a baby girl was born in England to a 19-year-old mother who had drunk heavily throughout her pregnancy, despite warnings from health care workers. The baby now suffers from foetal alcohol syndrome. But when her guardians applied for Criminal Injuries Compensation, it was denied. Why? The baby was not a "person" when she was in the womb, only an "organism". Philippa Taylor exposes a clever campaign by British abortion activists to protect the status quo, even at the expense of a handicapped child's welfare. An excellent analysis.
I just finished reading an article by an Australian academic who argues that smartphones, tablets and computers have revolutionised learning. "Remembering information is simply not important now," she says. I think that the two parents whose articles are featured below would differ. Zac Alstin worries that gadgets distract from reality and Cris Rowan, a psychologist, cites a number of horror stories about children who have become gadget addicts. I find technology incredibly useful, but also faintly dehumanising. What do you think?