The week’s most prominent tragedy, the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 killing 150 people, seems increasingly to be part of the mystery of evil. Zac Alstin, reflecting on the awful event before the latest indications that the co-pilot was a depressive, writes that the most likely motives for his taking all those people to their deaths with him seem to have been absent.
"So at present we are haunted by the more disturbing possibility that some undetectable, untreatable, simply malicious act of volition was behind it all. Like the mysterious tragedy of Malaysia Airlines flight MH317, what we fear most is an unknown cause, a risk we cannot identify."
What such heinous crimes – if that is what this is – confront us with, says Zac, is the lack of a shared concept of virtue in our societies. We have become experts in dealing with people who “go bad” but “we do not know how to make people want to be good.”
He makes an excellent point, and one that shows that there is a positive, constructive response to such man-made disasters – if only our societies will embrace it.
What is going on in the schools of any nation is of vital interest to every citizen. Governments want more people educated and trained for the research and technology sector, and this means closing the gap between girls and boys in science and maths achievement. But according to a new OECD report, girls are hanging back and boys are more interested in video games than doing well at school. People differ as to how important gender equality is when it comes to specific professions. They also disagree about the best schooling environment for bringing out the best in girls and boys.
I've had a look at this issue, not mainly because of the OECD report but thanks to a tip from friends of MercatorNet who alterted us to an Icelandic feminist who believes that single sex schooling is the way to close the gender gap. This was such an unexpected marriage of ideas that I was intrigued. See what you think. There's a TEDx talk by this lady, Margret Pala, with my article, which is an easy way to get the hang of it all.
Doug Mainwaring has a great line in his account (see below) of how he moved from being a gay activist to a supporter of a tradtiional understanding of marriage: "But it is impossible to be on the right side of history while simultaneously being on the wrong side of natural law." It boosts my confidence that the flaring red giant of same-sex marriage will eventually collapse into a black dwarf star.
Today we present two interesting stories on contraception. Gerard Migeon reviews a "brilliant" short documentary about natural family planning, Miscontraceptions. "Kudos [he writes] for demonstrating dialogue about a common sexual challenge honestly, in a humorous way and without vulgarity. The dialogues are authentic and fun, and the use of special effects and graphics is highly creative and eye-grabbing."
And Helen Alvaré warns that long-acting reversible contraceptives could have serious social consequences, which have not been considered at all by policy panjandrums. It is the disadvantaged who will suffer most, she predicts. "Under the “infertility default” option, poor women would get sterile bodies at state expense, while they still lack access to good education and employment opportunities."
One of MercatorNet's themes is that we must be wary of the denumanising effects of technology. Interacting with others is easier when this is mediated with chemicals, gadgets or apps. One of the latter is Tinder, a dating app which has acquired 50 million users in 24 languages in just three years. Matt Beard analyses how this sleazy tool (and others like it), is changing modern romance in our lead article below.
Our articles today range over conscience, civilisation, bureacracy, women, free speech and happiness. Alas, I have not had time to do more than glance at some of them, but I can guarantee that if you read them all attentively you will be better informed on all these subjects than if you went to bed with a detective book or watched season six -- is it? heavens, how it goes on -- of Downton Abbey. Or than if you merely went to sleep -- which is what I plan to do quite soon.
It must have been 1979 and I found myself helping to host the L’Arche founder Jean Vanier on a visit to Auckland where friends were setting up a L’Arche-style community with intellectually disabled people. I remember two things from that personal encounter: his serene, spiritual presence and the fact that he liked my pumpkin soup.
In the years since, his fame and that of the communities that grew from his highly individual and deeply humane initiative have spread far and wide. Now he has been honoured with the Templeton Prize, worth US$1.7 million and one of the world’s largest annual awards to an individual person. No doubt it will all go to the continuation of the good work that he began 50 years ago.
Jean Vanier is a man with a big heart, and deeply spiritual – that’s what the Templeton Prize is all about. His family background and personal journey before L’Arche is a fascinating story in itself, even in the summary form provided on the Templeton site. In the video I have included with his acceptance speech you can hear him addressing the big questions in life in his wise, compassionate way. It’s five minutes well worth spending. Margaret Somerville has also written a personal tribute.
Congratulations, Jean Vanier, and thank you for showing us how to love the different other!
It's time for another advertisement for our newly-developed apps for the iPhone and the iPad and for Android phones and tablets. They are free, easy to use and fantastically convenient. Just download them by clicking here for the iPhone and here for the Android. Please tell your friends.
While we are on the subject of marketing, let me tell you how much we hate pop-ups at MercatorNet. They are vile, ugly and intrusive.
Yet, like the drunkard who curses his bottle, we are addicted to them. We know that they do annoy some readers (although they are easily flicked away), but they are vital for gaining new subscribers to our mailing list. No mailing list, no MercatorNet. We made a simple utilitarian calculation and the benefits outweigh the costs. Thanks for your patience.
New Zealander Marcus Roberts, co-editor of our Demography Is Destiny blog with his wife Shannon, writes today about the 2015 World Cup Cricket in New Zealand. Since NZ has performed so well and is playing on its home turf, I am sure that Marcus is hoping for a NZ victory in a NZ-Australia final. (That's not what I am reading in the Australian press, Marcus.)
I appreciate that about 50% of our readers have 0.000% interest in cricket, but about 25% of the rest of the world has a 150% interest, which is the demographic point made by Marcus. How little we understand the rest of the world! Will cricket overtake soccer? Not in the short term, but it is growing. In its World Cup debut, Afghanistan beat Scotland by one wicket.
Anyhow, whenever I mention cricket, I can never resist recommending that Bollywood classic Lagaan, a fable about the beginning of cricket in India. The village women are impossibly beautiful; the village men are impossibly heroic; the mustache-twirling English sahibs are impossibly arrogant; the songs are impossibly romantic; and the climactic cricket match is impossibly tense. I give nothing away by revealing that Aamir Khan wins the match on the last ball.
Turkey can expect a big spike in tourists in April as thousands of Australians descend upon Gallipoli, a long peninula along the Dardenalle Straits. In 1915 Australian and New Zealand troops first fought there as independent nations. Anzac Day, as it is called, is celebrated on April 25, and the centenary next month will be a moving event. About 100,000 men, both Allies and Turks, died in the eight-month-long campaign.
However, a thought should be spared during these celebrations for the victims of the Armenian genocide, which began on April 24, the day before the Allied troops landed at Gallipoli. It was a messy, long-drawn-out affair which took place mostly in the eastern half of Turkey, but by the end of World War I, an estimated 1.5 million Armenians had perished. Historians are still arguing about whether it was a civil war (for Turks died as well) or a genocide. But the fact was that hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians died.
In a fascinating article in today's newsletter, German historian Michael Hesemann shows that this tragedy probably shaped the response of Pius XII to the even greater slaughter of the Jews during World War II. It is essential reading.