We are trying to roll out a few improvements in the website during the Northern summer when things are a bit quieter. The most evident one is changing from a newsletter delivered twice a week to one delivered five times a week, Monday to Friday.
Why? For two reasons. At the moment there are too many articles in each newsletter for any of you to read. We are publishing too much! Our feeling is that it will be easier if you only have three or four articles to check out.
Second, we can probably get more hits if we send out a daily newsletter at a regular time. Sometimes we have been a bit erratic. Given our resources, it will be easier for us to be punctual with a Monday to Friday newsletter.
You know that something is a Very Important Issue if the New York Times editorial board makes a statement about it – as they have today concerning a Supreme Court ruling about buffer zones around abortion clinics. I have not yet read the editorial but the headings on the front page tell me everything I need to know. “Abortion Rights Lose a Buffer”, and “Threats faced in trying to exercise a constitutional right were ignored” – the right in question being, clearly, the extinguishing of inconvenient lives, not the right to protest and attempt to counsel peaceably against it, which the court has defended.
Interestingly, though, there’s an opinion piece alongside the editorial by the prominent liberal (Harvard) constitutional law professor Lawrence H. Tribe headed, “The Court Was Right to Allow Anti-Abortion Protests”. Something else to read tomorrow. That’s the thing about the Times; they are all out for abortion rights and similar liberal causes, but they acknowledge that thinking people have other perspectives and cater for them, at least in boutique fashion. Keeps us reading.
Abortion is one of those issues we keep coming back to on MercatorNet because it concerns one of our core values – the dignity of human life itself – and is therefore, like same-sex marriage, something we can never make peace with. In that respect we are rather like the NY Times. Today’s article by Margaret Somerville addresses the situation in Canada, which, unlike every other Western democracy, has no law at all governing abortion. But there is a very live debate about whether and what sort of law there should be.
Starting from zero to achieve some protection of the unborn child presents a completely different challenge to that faced by pro-life movements in other countries, who have fought to retain established protections. What is possible in Canada? That is the question that Dr Somerville deals with, and I believe her suggested strategy deserves a fair hearing. I am sure she will welcome constructive comments.
There’s a good mixture of other new articles on the site, but if you feel like scoffing at something to let off steam just take a look at Michael Cook’s piece on the PC pretentiousness that is Sydney’s Festival of Dangerous Ideas.
Next Saturday, June 28, will mark the 100th anniversary of the assassination of the Grand Archduke Ferdinand, the event which triggered the First World War. The next four years of grinding, murderous conflict changed the world for ever. Even today this conflict is never far from the headlines. In the 1990s the city where it all began, Sarajevo, was once again the centre of a vicious war. Today, a rallying cry of the jihadists in Syria and Iraq is repudiation of the Sykes-Picot agreement, a secret World War I protocol which created today’s borders in the Middle East.
A popular interpretation of World War I is that it was the all-but-inevitable consequence of impersonal forces – the search for new markets, colonialisation, population pressure, Social Darwinism and so on.
I’ve never found those very convincing and so I was delighted to read a new book this summer on the war’s remote causes which demolishes such theories. Margaret MacMillan, of Oxford University, argues in her hefty book The War That Ended Peace that Europe could have pulled back from the brink. But key men in high places were too stubborn, vengeful, rigid, ambitious, venal or greedy to defend the peace.
“If we want to point fingers from the twenty-first century we can accuse those who took Europe into war of two things,” she writes. “First, a failure of imagination in not seeing how destructive such a conflict would be and second, their lack of courage to stand up to those who said there was no choice left but to go to war. There are always choices.”
Please God, there will be no Third World War. Most of us will never dodge bullets. But we have all been conscripted into a cultural war over some of our deepest values, especially marriage. MacMillan’s insistence that it is men and women of character who change history for better or worse is as true today as it was in June 1914.
As someone who lives more than 18,000 kilometres, or 11,000+ miles, from her Queen (Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth) and is seldom troubled by anything she does, it was probably a bit rash of me to write today about the Spanish monarchy, which is just as far away and even less relevant to my life. But there is something irresistible about the idea that that there are still kings and queens other than Elizabeth in Europe and that they occasionally do something dramatic, like abdicate or ascend the throne.
The passing of the Spanish throne from King Juan Carlos I to his son Felipe VI is such an occasion, accomplished this week on the very day that the Spanish soccer team lost to The Netherlands – something that clearly was not meant to happen after their great win last time. (“Cemetery of Kings,” read one Spanish headline yesterday of the World Cup defeat, according to a New York Times report.) The euphoria of a football win would have provided a terrific start for the new King – good try, Spanish Royals, sorry it didn’t come off.
Anyway, in spite of everything I think I am a royalist, and on top of that I am pro-Spanish. There is so much that is vibrant and attractive in the culture that I really want to see the country strong again – and that is the reason I have stuck my neck out and offered some tips to King Felipe.
BTW I asked the editor whether he thought it was a good topic and he replied, Yes. (Actually, he said, “Royalty sells.”) Then he wrote this: “My plan is constitutional reform so that Princess Mary of Denmark (born and raised in Hobart) will become Queen of Australia so that we will not have to curtsey before that dreadful Charles.” It sounds unlikely, I must say, but I agree with the sentiments…
In March and April 2003 an allied coalition led by the United States invaded Iraq to topple an appalling dictator, to neutralise weapons of mass destruction and to crush al-Qaeda. Iraqi soldiers melted away and within a few weeks, the Coalition had occupied Baghdad.
Eleven years later, Iraqi soldiers have melted away and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, a group more appalling than Saddam Hussein and more vicious than al-Qaeda, is approaching the gates of Baghdad. It’s a most dismaying spectacle. Did 5,000 coalition troops and somewhere between 100,000 and 500,000 Iraqis die in vain?
Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister who sent his country’s troops into Iraq, says that it wasn’t his fault. “We have to liberate ourselves from the notion that ‘we’ have caused this. We haven't … The problems of the Middle East are the product of bad systems of politics mixed with a bad abuse of religion going back over a long time.” Nothing to do with us, nope, not at all.
I’m afraid that my sympathies are with Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, and a contender for the Tory leadership. He responded in the London Telegraph: “In discussing the disaster of modern Iraq he made assertions that are so jaw-droppingly and breathtakingly at variance with reality that he surely needs professional psychiatric help.”
The disaster zone which is Iraq (and Syria) today is a monument to the tragedy of good intentions. It was quite foreseeable that the tensions which built up under Saddam would explode with the force of an nuclear bomb when he was vanquished. It was negligent beyond belief for the Coalition to assume that ancient hatreds would subside as soon as the defeated Iraqis were delivered relief parcels labelled “freedom” and “democracy”.
I realise that this is a contentious issue with no easy solutions. Leave your comments here…
Keeping an eye on the news headlines today has induced a kind of schizophrenia. On the one hand Islamic militants are over-running Iraq and Russian tanks are rolling into Ukraine, as though World War III is about to break out. On the other, half the world at least has its attention riveted on a football tournament in Brazil, as if there were nothing left to do but play or be entertained.
It is a sad thought that many millions of people today, who would otherwise have passed a few innocent and enjoyable hours watching the World Cup opening rituals and game with family and friends, are living in extreme (in the case of Syria and Iraq) or relative (in the case of Eastern Ukraine) misery because of incompetent leaders and power-crazy usurpers. The latter could learn something from the history of soccer.
Brazil is a real melting pot of peoples, with plenty of reasons to be at each others’ throats, but, according to one of the articles below, during its “golden period” Brazilian football “transcended the country’s racial, ethnic and religious structures – not because they won internationally, but because of the style in which they won.” Mere “futbol” became a “beautiful game” which lifted people’s spirits and unified them.
Argentinian coach Carlos Menotti said in 1978 after his team beat the Dutch, “You can lose a game, but what you cannot lose is the dignity earned by playing attractive football.” In other words the Dutch played beautifully too.
People do not respect leaders and parties that play the ugly game of winning at all costs. They might surrender to them but they fear them and wait for their downfall. Putin has everything to gain by playing a more beautiful and dignified game over the issues with Ukraine, one that would stop the fighting and killing for a start. It will be interesting to see how Russia’s team plays in the World Cup.
As for the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria”, it is doubtful that beauty and dignity are in their vocabulary. Or if they are, it is with meanings that half a million Iraqis fleeing in front of them find strange and threatening. We who are free and comfortable should not forget these and a multitude of other refugees and those in war zones as we watch the football – or whatever we find more attractive.
If you are Croatian, or you otherwise need cheering up, do play the Shrek video in Martin Fitzgerald's piece on Dawkins and fairy tales.
I went to the New South Wales Art Gallery on the weekend. It’s not exactly the Louvre, or the Prado, or the Hermitage, but it has a fine collection of Australian colonial, impressionist and modernist paintings. Plus a few prizes from Victorian England. My favourite is “The Widower”, by Sir Luke Fildes, an illustrator of Dickens. It is a massive canvas depicting a farm labourer who has obviously just lost his wife. Talk about misery! The house is squalid; the five children are dirty; the one in his arms looks terribly sick.
Modern paintings are not supposed to have morals, but “The Widower” does: children thrive in an intact biological family with a mother and a father. The Victorians were absolutely convinced that children were at risk of abuse and poverty if they were separated from their parents by death or illegitimacy. The wretched life of an orphan is the theme of many of Dickens’s novels.
This is true no matter how well-meaning the managers of an orphanage are. This is the real message, I think, of the controversy over a Catholic home for unwed mothers in Tuam, County Galway, which closed in 1961. There are claims that 796 children are buried in a mass grave. It has become clear that this is nonsense, but I am sure that life was very rough for the children who grew up there. There is no substitute for a mother and a father, not even a kindly nun.
This is another reason why the drive for same-sex marriage puzzles me. The experience of centuries upon centuries is that it takes a mother and a father to raise children. If they lack either or both, they are definitely at risk. Same-sex marriage deliberately excludes a mother or father from the child’s life. Nothing can come from this but disaster. If you don’t believe me, read Oliver Twist, or Bleak House, or David Copperfield.
On another note, we are rolling out a new commenting system, called Disqus. Most of the old comments have been imported. The new system has a few small advantages: the person who is being replied to is shown on the comment heading; hovering the cursor over the up or down vote symbol shows who has voted the comment up or down; and a share button below each comment allows it to be shared on Twitter, Facebook or Disqus.
History has made some of the biggest stories in the news this week: the World War II D-Day landings; the crushing of the Tiananmen Square students protests 25 years ago; and shocking revelations about a mass grave in Ireland containing the remains of nearly 800 infants. While the thousands killed in Normandy in 1944 and the hundreds killed at Tiananmen Square died for noble causes – liberty in one form or another – the little children were victims of heartless and criminal neglect by Catholic nuns running an institution for unmarried mothers and their babies. At least, that is the story you will have read in your daily paper.
According to this account, while brave soldiers were battling the Nazis in Normandy, the Sisters of Bon Secours were doing something at least as bad as the Nazis: callously letting children die and “tossing” (that’s the word the journalists keeping using) their little bodies in a disused septic tank, simply because their mothers were sinners in the eyes of the Church – a church which would not even baptise their innocent babies.
Now, if you find this narrative plausible, Michael Cook’s call to suspend final judgement while all the facts come to light will probably offend you. Doesn’t everyone already know how ghastly the Irish Catholic Church has been? Who needs to hear any more excuses? But if it strikes you that even Irish (or French and Irish) nuns deserve a fair hearing, then you can find many things to ponder both in Michael’s piece and this comprehensive post on Caroline Farrow’s blog.
For myself, the story got my Irish up. My paternal great-grandparents came separately to New Zealand from an Irish populace that after five centuries of British rule could hardly feed its children, and a Church suppressed and demoralised by penal laws that had lasted until 1829. Poverty was still widespread through the first half of the twentieth century and government funding for institutions like the Tuam home for mothers and children was tight. Nuns were cheap labour.
There was a lot wrong in Irish society of that time and its Church, but the same could be said of many places. History will judge our own time for its crimes against the unborn child, and the public figures and journalists who defended them. We have our excuses now; they had theirs then. We should at least try to understand all the circumstances.
To change the subject completely: The only story this week for teenagers, it seems, is the release of the movie version of The Fault in our Stars – a book that has a huge fan club among young people. For this reason Clare Cannon, editor of the Good Reading Guide and contributor to our Reading Matters blog, has gone to a lot of trouble to review the book and offer a really cool discussion guide to use with teens. Such a discussion is highly recommended. As Clare says, most teens have read it and they will want to see the movie. The only question is, What will they take from it?