The most cheerful news of the week has to be the announcement that a royal baby is on the way in Britain, and MercatorNet joins in congratulating the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on this beautiful development in their marriage. The fact that Kate is so sick takes the edge off the jubilation, at least for her, and one hopes very much that whatever remedies are available work for her. Probably the best cure would be complete isolation from the British media for several months and some restful private life with her husband and extended family. This, as articles we published earlier in the week highlighted, is a big ask for some of the nosiest paparazzi in the world but it would certainly say much for the sincerity of their esteem for the royal couple.
A couple of our bloggers have posted thoughts on the royal baby. Sheila Liaugminas makes the pertinent observation that William and Kate are not just going to have a baby -- they already have one. Kate is less than 12 weeks pregnant and already the bookies are speculating on the baby’s sex, height, hair colour, name… This is not just a “potential baby” as children of that gestation are sometimes considered -- it is practically grown up and on the throne!
On Demography, Shannon Roberts, who gave birth to her first child very recently, thinks it’s a shame that Kate had to tell the world so early. She writes: “Of all people, William and Kate I’m sure would have appreciated more time to get their heads around the pregnancy and to be sure that it will go to term. However, hopefully all goes well for Kate and she gives birth to another healthy royal baby around July next year!” Amen to that.
Royal pregnancy joy contrasts strongly with the situation in Canada where there is no legal protection whatsoever for the unborn child. Margaret Somerville in her article tackles the difficult question of what can be done in this situation when political reality rules out making all abortion illegal. Her suggestion deserves careful consideration -- and courteous comment (please).
In other new articles: Shawn Murphy reviews an important new book for those engaged in the marriage debate; George Friedman examines possible scenarios in Egypt; and Harley Sims, on the 75th anniversary of the first publication of The Hobbit, has written a lovely appreciation of that story and other gifts of Tolkien’s imaginative genius. I look forward to enjoying a bit more of that in my holiday reading.
While Carolyn, assisted by William West, were slaving over hot keyboards (thanks very much!), I went on a jaunt to Rome and London. The technical name for this is a conference. Mine was sponsored by Intermedia, an international clearinghouse for innovative media projects, which asked me to give a presentation on MercatorNet. I came away with a few good ideas which we may be rolling out in the next few months.
The powwow was held in a conference centre outside of Rome in the village of Castel Gandolfo. This is an incredibly picturesque spot perched on the rim of a volcanic lake. The mediaeval popes built a summer residence there and named it after the wizard in The Lord of the Rings. Or so it appears, although I admit to being insufficiently versed in Italian to read the explanatory placards.
Which brings me to the problem with Europe. Not the Eurozone crisis, but something even more intractable and sad, Europe’s isolation. Admittedly, Europeans do have a lot of impressive ruins and murky paintings with beautiful gilded frames and such-like, but they are so dismally distant from the centre of things. It takes them nearly 24 hours to fly to Sydney.
It would be so much better if at least some of the unused bits – the ones which are haunted by Rome’s quadrillion cats, for instance – could be exported. There is quite a bit of room Down Under. It could be done, you know. London Bridge is now in Arizona.
I don’t wish to paint too dark a picture of a continent which has given so much to the world but there is also the issue of linguistic isolation. I actually encountered large numbers of people who don’t speak English. I tackled this in two ways. My favourite was to speak slowly and loudly.
The other, which I found more challenging, is to speak the lingo. The lingua franca of the Intermedia conference was Spanish, of which I know a few words, mostly pleasantries about the weather and the whereabouts of certain facilities. To my consternation, I could hear my own Spanish sentences collapsing into a jumble of wrong tenses and moods and genders. My conversations invariably commenced with interlocutors listening with benevolent condescension, but swiftly changing to fidgety bafflement. Then they started speaking fluent English.
Wouldn’t it be better if all these talented people just spoke English from birth? This system works quite well in Australia. One continent, one language; more efficiency, less stress. I recommend it.
Back to the business end of things, we have a forum on the Leveson Inquiry. For anyone interested in the future of the media, this is a must. Iver Gaber gives an overview of the landmark report; Michael Kirke reflects on media standards in Ireland; and I examine Leveson’s views on privacy.
That’s not all, of course. Francisco Tatad, a former Senator in the Philippines, exposes the scandalous machinations of overseas NGOs in the local push for population control. And Meg McDonnell wonders whether Obama won because he wedded younger women to the welfare state.
Tremendous excitement in the New Zealand capital this week: the first of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit films had its premiere in Wellington, with a plane-load of the cast and other visitors in attendance. Tens of thousands of fans turned out in the balmy, early summer afternoon to greet them, many in full Middle-earth drag and sporting large furry feet or elfish ears or wizard hats and beards. Stars of the movie repaid their devotion with a generous number of signatures, while Andy Serkis (Gollum) ran the entire length of the 600 metre red carpet and back high-fiving fans along the way, and gave TV viewers a thrill with a sound-bite in his “preciousss” voice.
It was a scene of pure happiness, and a joy to behold because, honestly, there are a lot of things people go wild over that are far less worthy of adulation than a Peter Jackson version of a Tolkien story. The books, which I only discovered for myself a decade ago, are marvellous works of imagination, utterly absorbing and at a certain level utterly real -- but, best of all, inspired by a worldview that is noble and optimistic. As for the movies, I’d be less than patriotic if I thought they were less than wonderful. After all, with one significant wideshot of the New Zealand landscape about every 10 minutes (according to one preview) The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has to be a boon for our tourism industry.
And now for the serious stuff over the past week. A momentous vote in the UN in favour of Palestinian statehood has grabbed the headlines today and leads in an article by UK contributor, Peter Smith, on the necessity of the two-state solution to Palestinian-Israeli conflict and practical steps towards it aimed at improving life for the people of Gaza as soon as possible. George Friedman also mentions Gaza but focuses more on the independence movement in Catalonia -- something that, in line with resurgent nationalism elsewhere, is “moving from the realm of the preposterous to that of the almost conceivable,” he says.
A fascinating study relating to divorce and ageing by Teresa Cooney and Christine Proulx of the University of Missouri is the subject of the article “Till death do us part”. Denyse O’Leary reviews a book tracking the suppression of free speech in universities in name of equality; interestingly, the atheist author was shocked to discover how badly Christian groups are treated on campuses.
Jenet Erickson points out that men don’t mother (no matter what the “genderless parenting” enthusiasts say); Seamus Grimes reports on a trip to Kenya and finds that even at the World Bank they are far from worried about its population growth. And Mary Cooney, with the help of friends -- moms all of them-- comes up with a spirited riposte to a New York Times article that “priced” the raising of a child at nearly $2m!
I am writing this as America turns off the lights on Thanksgiving Day. It seems to me that folks there are lucky to have a big family celebration in addition to Christmas -- which in my country carries pretty well all the symbolic weight that is spread over two feasts in the US. Sheila Liaugminas and Katie Hinderer (Tiger Print) have both written beautiful posts on their respective blogs (highly recommended reading) listing small and great things that they give thanks for. One of Katie’s is “The architecture of Chicago” where she travels to her new day job, having moved recently from Boston to the Midwest. Thanks, Katie, and our other bloggers, who all have day jobs, for keeping all the balls in the air.
Gratitude is an endearing and very civilising habit which helps you to notice more and more things in people and all around them that are good and admirable. I suspect it is the key, or one of them, to correcting the besetting sin of the 21st century, namely, approaching creation as something just to be used and exploited rather than, in the first instance, as something to be received, admired, understood -- and give thanks for. This is an idea (not original) I’m working on.
Some people find reasons to be grateful in rather unlikely events. A volcanic eruption is not everyone’s idea of a blessing, but when one of New Zealand’s active volcanoes rumbled and spouted a plume of thick grey smoke from a vent on Wednesday -- terrifying a group of schoolchildren nearby -- the local tourist industry was thrilled to bits. “Fantastic for business,” said one tour guide. “People love being near it, they come to gawk at a truly active volcano…”
Current affairs, unfortunately, seldom deliver unmixed blessings. In our new articles this week, Constance Kong hopes for the best but prepares for more of the same under China’s new Politburo; Bradley Miller describes the negative impact of same-sex marriage on human rights and the institution of marriage after 10 years; Michael Kirke writes from Ireland about opportunistic furore over the country’s abortion law following the death of a woman who was miscarrying; and my piece looks at the implications of the large Latino vote for Obama. Ronan Wright reviews a movie about the 1979 Iran-US hostage crisis.
On a positive note, William West reviews a new book that offers many facts and reflections that could be useful for those who are trying to turn the tide against the abortion of disabled babies.
Final word: if you missed the newsletter on Tuesday it’s because there wasn’t one. I should have warned you last Friday. And there won’t be one next Tuesday either while Michael Cook is still away. After that, back to normal -- until Christmas.
Oh yes, one more thing: thanks to all who read, like, comment, pass on, and variously support MercatorNet. We do appreciate you.
We publish many original articles in MercatorNet that I consider must-reads, but today’s leading article from our partner site The Public Discourse (a power-house of scholarly comment on today’s burning issues) is one out of the bag. It is actually a book review written by Charles J. Chaput, Archbishop of Philadelphia, before the recent US elections. He acknowledges that elections are “tough times” for today’s serious Catholics -- or any committed Christian -- who may feel, as the US Catholic Bishops collectively stated, “politically disenfranchised, sensing that no party and few candidates fully share our comprehensive commitment to human life and dignity.” And that’s a feeling not confined to America.
Yet the Archbishop offers no counsel of despair. Rather, he draws from the book, The Unintended Reformation by Notre Dame historian Brad S. Gregory, a compelling diagnosis of exactly what ails our Western societies (a world where meaning is self-invented and meaninglessness is the public philosophy) and prescribes a remedy that is within everyone’s reach. And don’t be fooled by the title into thinking that it was all the Protestant reformers’ fault. The book clearly gives no quarter to the Catholics who have brought the faith into disrepute over the centuries. This is one I am definitely going to read -- on my Kindle. (I’ll just check the exchange rate first…)
Also in today’s list: Margaret Somerville looks at the deeper questions raised by a massive corruption scandal in Quebec; Martin Cullen, a Sydney intensive care specialist, regrets the way euthanasia talk is putting up barriers between doctors and patients’ families, and Paul Cullen objects to efforts to change the terms of the euthanasia debate; and George Friedman explains how the global strategic situation gives the United States some much-needed breathing space.
I am told on good authority that sacred cows make the best hamburger -- and this week’s articles support this hypothesis.
The first of these, by Thomas Coy, asks why the health risks of gay sex are being ignored, while the health risks of smoking are publicised far and wide. It’s a provocative article full of intriguing statistics.
Then Walter Schumm analyses a controversial study by sociologist Mark Regnerus. You may recall that Dr Regnerus nearly lost his job earlier this year because he had the temerity to find that gay parenting often resulted in poor outcomes for adults. Dr Schumm doesn’t whitewash the study, but he finds that pro-gay researchers use the same methodology.
Finally, I have responded to the news that Australia is going to have a royal commission into child sex abuse. Perhaps this will clear the air and vindicate the efforts of the Catholic Church to clear the decks and start afresh.
I shall be taking holidays so you will only receive the Friday newsletter for the next two weeks. Carolyn Moynihan will be at the helm. Please send your news tips and suggestions to her.
We have mentioned before in this newsletter the wonderful British website World Wide Words, run by Michael Quinion. It is a treasury of information on the evolution of the English language since goodness knows when, and it recently drew my attention to a very useful neologism:
Looking back If you have a secret yearning for the good old days and a general distaste for our contemporary culture, you may be a retrophile. Retrophiles yearn for the simplicity of earlier times, without all those complicated electronics that seem to be taking us over, when people were polite to one another and strangers didn’t call you by your first name and when films had plots rather than just sequences of computer-generated mayhem. The condition is called retrophilia.
I had a bad attack of retrophilia this week as the US election results came in, homesick for the days before anyone thought of anything as simultaneously ridiculous and sinister as same-sex marriage, let alone persuaded people who are quite sane in other ways to vote for it. Whether or not anything else changes in the US over the next four years, the advance of this “cause” now looks assured. I write from New Zealand where President Obama has been invoked as the inspiration for a redefinition of marriage bill now in our parliament. Forward! Says the US Commander in Chief. No, Back! I say. Back to sanity. Back to basics. Back to the moment before we got so carried away with our own cleverness that we imagined we could reinvent human nature…
As I said, it’s a bad attack, but here’s something on the real way forward from an American I admire a lot -- Helen Alvare, a professor of law and founder of a movement giving a voice to women who do not see free morning after pills as a human right. She wrote yesterday:
Well, I guess I see it this way... We cannot fool ourselves for a minute that the main work we have to do is anything but cultural -- at the level of ideas and practices. We will continue to press our cause before every branch of government, of course, but each of us, working in our spheres of influence, will likely do our most important work where we live.
One of the women on WSFT wrote me yesterday saying that she was worried that if the Republicans won, we would fool ourselves (again) that politics could save us. It is clear as can be at this moment (again) that it will do nothing of the kind...if anything, our government is growing more and more secular in the manner of the secularism one sees in various European nations.
To finish the week we have a couple of articles that are not about the elections. Harley Sims reviews a book by the (gay) American literary critic Bruce Bawer on victimology in higher education, and Francis Phillips writes a moving and uplifting account of her last hours with her brother Johnny. May he rest in peace.
As usual, in the office sweep I picked the horse with the longest odds in this afternoon’s Melbourne Cup. I don’t know why this always happens to me. Tac de Boistron was a French six-year-old whose career best was getting beaten by a short head in Paris. A week ago, he finished 6th out of 7 in Geelong. His odds in The Cup were 100 to 1. Well, only three horses ever won The Cup at 100 to 1 and the last of those was in 1940. As I said before, it always happens to me.
However, the gala race on Tuesday, 6 November 2012, is taking place in the USA. The odds are much shorter on Mitt Romney, but the bookies are still favouring Barack Obama by a short head. We’ll see what happens in a few hours’ time.
MercatorNet is dignitarian, not liberal or conservative, and certainly not Democrat or Republican. We don’t like taking sides in partisan politics. But today’s election will have an impact on human dignity which will ripple throughout the world. So we have to take a stand.
All of the issues raised in this campaign affect human dignity in some way or other. Health care, management of the economy and foreign affairs are particularly important. But the bedrock of society is the family. An Administration which fails to support the institution of the family stumbles at the first hurdle. President Obama’s track record on this is dismal. He began his term by unequivocally backing abortion rights and he has ended it with a strong endorsement of gay marriage. The appointments he makes to the Supreme Court will extend these attitudes far beyond his second term.
Whatever Mitt Romney’s other shortcomings, he and his running mate Paul Ryan are committed to defending the rights of the unborn and of the traditional family. They deserve the support of MercatorNet readers who are voting today.
Later this week, we will post an election special, with analysis from our contributors. Keep an eye on your in-box.
Last weekend I was chatting with a young relative who has just turned 16 and asked him whether he felt ready to vote - not just on which political party should govern New Zealand but on whether the country should be, say, a republic rather than a constitutional monarchy with, currently, Queen Elizabeth at the top. The question was prompted by a move in Scotland to extend the vote to 16- and 17-year-olds at the country's independence referendum in 2014, and I was secretly sceptical.
"Well, no," said the 16-year-old, "because I don't know anything about it. But I could get the information and study it and then I suppose I could vote on it." Thinking about it further, I believe he could cast a considered vote, because he would be discussing it thoroughly with his parents and at school. If there were a conflict between the two -- home and school -- or even between mum and dad, I am not sure which view would win, but I am pretty sure the outcome would be determined by personal influence rather than "information". On a critical issue such as changing the form of government most of us would be consulting wiser heads than our own.
So I am inclined to agree with Shawn Murphy, writing on the Scottish referendum question, that giving these younger teenagers the vote could encourage them to become thoughtful and responsible citizens. My big hesitation comes from thinking about other issues and who would influence them most. Take the question of same-sex marriage, or euthanasia. With parental influences you take your chances, but when it comes to schools, the dice seem loaded towards liberal views. A popular teacher, peer pressure, media campaigns -- young people just beginning to assert their independence of parental views are more susceptible to these things. On balance, under present circumstances, I think maybe not. What do you think?
In other articles today: Zac Alstin ponders a crisis in the Australian parliament over "misogyny" and informs us on an important point of grammar; Scott Yenor shows how some people are three steps ahead of where we think radical opinion is on marriage; Francis Phillips reviews a book by a major British writer who rediscovered the Christian faith after 20 years of atheism; Alma Acevedo asks whether skill at rhetoric should determine one's vote; and George Friedman questions the familiar election year trope concerning "deep divisions" in US society.
Our Hurricane Sandy piece by Ed Blakely looks at the political opportunities nature has handed to both presidential candidates. Our concern, however, is for all those whose cities, neighbourhoods, homes and lives have been devastated by the storm. Above is a remarkable picture from the Wall Street Journal that Reading Matters editor Jennifer Minicus, who lives in New Jersey, sent us today - showing a shrine of Our Lady intact among storm wreckage. May she speed the recovery!
The number one most-emailed article in the New York Times at the moment is Thomas Friedman’s “Why I am pro-life”. Friedman is a regular columnist and Pulitzer-winning author. He is opinionated, clever and insightful, but also a supporter of abortion rights, so I was intrigued by the headline.
“Respect for the sanctity of life, if you believe that it begins at conception, cannot end at birth,” he thunders. What about gun control? What about biodiversity? What about free breakfasts in underprivileged schools?
I detected a link here to this week’s focus on the theme of “Can Christianity bounce back?” For 2000 years Christianity has provided a framework for moral argument. In recent years, however, this has been dismantled in some countries and is looking rather shabby in others. This is unfortunate because without clear ideas on ethics, people get their priorities quite muddled.
Friedman is a classic example. He claims that the most pro-life politician in America is Michael Bloomberg. Why? Because the New York mayor has banned smoking in bars and parks and giant sugary drinks, all of which are killers. I am no expert on public health, but it seems a tad inconsistent to be pro-choice about the lives of babies and anti-choice about cigarettes and Fanta. Perhaps Friedman sees something in Bloomberg’s moral rectitude that I don’t. More likely he is just very confused.
Clarifying moral priorities is one good reason why we all have a stake in the revival of a vigorous and intellectually robust Christianity. Benedict XVI sees this clearly. He has just concluded a gathering of the world’s Catholic bishops in Rome for a pow-wow about re-Christianising the West. He is optimistic and so are our contributors. Edward Pentin reviews the legacy of the landmark Second Vatican Council; yours truly has written about alternative visions of salvation; and we interviewed Mike Aquilina about the first Christianisation, back in the first 400 years of the Christian era.
I almost forgot – Happy Halloween for those Americans who are not shuttered inside, waiting for Hurricane Sandy to finish his destructive work. To mark the occasion, I have speculated a bit about the bioethics of zombie euthanasia.