Now that the guessing games for the date and sex of the Royal Baby are over, British bookies are taking bets on the name. The shortest odds are on George (2/1), James (4/1) and Alexander (7/1). For some reason the poor mite will be just a generic, nameless “Royal Baby” for a few weeks. It took Queen Elizabeth a full month to name her son Charles. A bit indecisive, what?
Amongst all the options, my considered advice is Arthur (16/1). Henry VII named his first-born Arthur in order to give the upstart Tudor dynasty legitimacy by linking it to the glory days of the legendary King Arthur. But Arthur died at the age of 15, seven years before his father, and the throne eventually went to his brother, who became Henry VIII. He became a legend, but of a different sort. Here’s a chance to reboot the spirit of the British monarchy by evoking the generous, adventurous days of Camelot.
That’s not the only choice, of course. How about Barack (200/1)? King Barack: that has a nice ring to it. Or Elvis (500/1), which would make him King Elvis II. One name which has been mooted is Psy, which would do wonders for relations with Korea, both North and South. Still, at 5000/1, it may be worth putting a quid or two on it as a middle name. After all, his father’s full name is William Arthur Philip Louis and there’s more than enough room on the birth certificate.
We have a lot of baby stories this week, coinciding with the Royal Birth. Joanna Bogle is also hoping for a revival in Britain, but of a Christian attitude towards marriage and the family. In the UK, some scientists are about to create embryos with three parents – a disturbing precedent, says Margaret Somerville. And in an interview with American writer Miriam Zoll, we learn that creating babies with IVF has a very dark side.
Away from babies, David Glance shows how easy it is to sketch out your friendship networks with email addresses. And Richard Solash suggest that US spy agencies may have done more harm than good by vacuuming up data.
A couple of days ago an AP report drew attention to a man who woke from unconsciousness in a Florida hospital a few months ago calling himself Johann Ek and speaking only Swedish. That would have been a relief to the authorities hovering around if he really was Mr Ek and really Swedish. But it appears he is really Michael Boatwright, an American, diagnosed as suffering from Transient Global Amnesia.
According to his sister, Mr Boatwright has led a wandering life, some of it in Sweden where he pursued an interest medieval history and jousting. A Swede who knew him from that time says he was talented at fighting in plate armour. Unfortunately there are not many openings in the US job market for Swedish-speaking knight errants, and poor Mr Boatwright is virtually destitute. Let’s hope family members (he has a son and two ex-wives) can help him find his true identity and a modus vivendi in the present.
Accustomed as we are to hearing “medieval” used as a term of derision, if not abuse, it comes as a surprise to hear of people who seem to prefer the Middle Ages to our own. The Society for Creative Anachronism, an international group dedicated to the research and recreation of pre-1600 medieval western Europe, has 40,000 members globally who adopt period personas and dress and behave accordingly at their get-togethers – lots of “m’lords” and “m’ladys”, bows and curtseys and so on.
I have a sneaking sympathy with anachronists who hark back to a time when men were men, women were women and manners were well defined. I also sympathise with Mr Boatwright, whose surname evokes forefathers who were identified in their community by their skill in building boats, and no doubt respected for it. The contemporary world of anonymous and ever-changing work and male-female relations (defined by one female author as The End of Men), must be a nightmare for some men. No wonder if they are nostalgic for another era.
One last word on anachronisms: many believe monarchy is one of the greatest historical hangovers of all, and yet look at the way the world’s media are hanging on the arrival of the next scion of the House of Windsor. If royalty can make marriage and babies relevant, though, I am all for it.
Today we have splashed out on a young woman who has become the symbol of resistance to something we all wish would fade into history. Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, shot in the head by Taliban terrorists addressed the UN youth assembly a week ago on the education of girls and we have published the full text of her inspiring speech. Swati Parashar gives Malala full marks for courage but explains why her dream of universal education by 2015 is unrealistic. Meanwhile David Zaruk views Malala as a child who has been used by adults in a (dangerous) political debate. Food for thought.
In other articles: Robert Hutchinson examines the unexpected popular opposition to gay marriage in France and what the “French Spring” betokens for the future; Francis Phillips reviews a new book on what happened to the people of eastern Europe overtaken by Soviet power in the aftermath of the Second World War; and George Friedman considers the US intelligence system’s PRISM programme, arguing that although its origins in the Second World War and Cold War are defensible, its future may well be dangerous.
Teachers nowadays fuss a lot over plagiarism. Students copy and paste from Wikipedia and internet essays and pass them off as their own. Mediaeval students had the inverse vice. They would write an essay and pass it off as the handiwork of someone else. That’s why – if you are into this kind of stuff -- you will find references to Pseudo-Aristotle or Pseudo-Cicero. Every writer of note lived on for hundreds of years as a Pseudo.
I used to think that this was a sign of backwardness and ignorance until I started getting emails with speeches, essays, interviews, and op-eds from well-known figures – which were complete fictions. I’m sure you’re familiar with them: the high school principal who delivers a tough speech to his students or the Christian preacher who debates a Muslim preacher. One which I have received several times warned me that “Modern Film News” has reviewed a new film in which Christ and his apostles are gay.
Alarming news, however, is not always true news. The place to check their veracity is Snopes. This extremely valuable website investigates chain letters, fake emails and urban legends. It shows, for instance, that the film I mentioned is a myth.
What puzzles me is why people launch emails like these into the internet. They will never know how many read them, or whether they are believed. It must be a modern version of that mediaeval impulse. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. Anyhow, I’m very grateful to Snopes for clearing up some of these mysteries, especially the following one. Snopes’s researchers believe that it is not true.
“Many will recall that on July 8, 1947, witnesses claim an unidentified Object with five aliens aboard crashed on a sheep and cattle ranch just Outside Roswell, New Mexico. This is a well known incident that has long been covered up by The US Air Force and the federal government.
“However, you may well NOT know that in the month of March 1948, exactly Nine months after that historic day, Albert Arnold Gore, Jr.; Hillary Rodham; John F. Kerry; William Jefferson Clinton; Howard Dean; Nancy Pelosi; Dianne Feinstein; Charles E. Schumer; and Barbara Boxer were born. That piece of information has now cleared up a lot of things.”
This week has been quite busy. I have written an article about the refusal of Pennsylvania’s attorney general to defend DOMA. Zac Alstin asks why people are boycotting a sci fi blockbuster over the author’s alleged homophobia.
Julie Tullberg looks into the background of Australia’s youthful cricket hero, Ashton Agar. Michael Kirke reports that a talented young minister has been expelled from her party for opposing abortion. And Nicole King reviews a searing critique of student life at Yale.
On the blogs, too, there is plenty of action. Sheila Liaugminas reviews the not-guilty verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman and reports on the fierce battle over abortion in Texas. Clare Cannon discovers that IVF plays a role in a contemporary children’s novel. Marcus Roberts says that the idea of global depopulation is catching on.
Something wonderful happened in the United States this week: an unborn baby whose life was poised between abortion and adoption was saved by not one but hundreds of offers from people wanting to adopt the child. And it all happened in 24 hours, thanks to quick action by a parish priest and the use of social media.
A young couple were planning to abort their baby who had been diagnosed with Down syndrome at nearly 24 weeks, in a state that prohibits abortions beyond that point. However, they also asked an adoption agency to look for adoptive parents.
Father Vander Woude, of Gainesville, Virginia, heard about it and got someone from his parish to post an urgent appeal on Facebook on Monday morning. “… If a couple has not been found by today they plan to abort the baby. If you are interested in adopting this baby please contact Fr W IMMEDIATELY.”
The result amazed everyone: all day long the parish office fielded phone calls and emails from all over the US and as far afield as England, Puerto Rico and the Netherlands. There were over 900 emails alone. A shortlist of three families has been presented to the baby’s parents.
Some 80 to 90 percent of babies prenatally diagnosed with Down are aborted in countries like the US and UK, many after 20 weeks, but this story is solid evidence that such a brutal and heartbreaking response to this disability is not only wrong but completely unnecessary. President and founder of the International Down Syndrome Coalition, Diane Grover, told The Washington Times, “There’s a lot of people waiting, and we are happy to always help” couples who don’t think they can cope with a child who has Downs.
I have to thank Maryland mom Mary Cooney (also a MercatorNet contributor) for alerting me to this inspiring story, which she was caught up in when emails started flying through her homeschooling loop on Monday. All of which illustrates a secondary point: the great value of the internet and social networking when it is used for a good purpose. Nothing else could have done job so quickly and thoroughly. Well done, Facebook!
In today’s articles Margaret Somerville objects to the vilification of people who accept homosexual relationships as a personal choice but are against same-sex marriage; Roger Trigg points out that, by refusing to hear religious freedom cases, the European Court of Human Rights is eroding religious freedom in Europe; Anya Kamenetz asks whether Indian education entrepreneur Sugata Mitra is correct in claiming that all kids need in order to learn is access to the internet; and Richard Solash looks at the emerging world of MOOCs – massive open online courses being offered free by American universities.
Do check out new blog posts on books for young readers and demography.
A few weeks ago my monthly trip to Hobart coincided with a nice little money-spinner for the local tourism industry, the Dark MOFO. This is a winter solstice (I live in the southern hemisphere, remember) festival celebrating sex and death.
It wasn’t all bad. There was a cheerful buzz in the city after dark and some spectacular installation art, including a shaft of light soaring 15 kilometres into the night sky.
The common thread, however, was reviving paganism. The festival’s concert was called Satanalia (sic). Devotees of the old-time religion used to bathe starkers at the solstice so there was a mass nude swim at sunrise led by the Lord Mayor.
The pièce de répugnance dominated the city: a gigantic hot-air balloon the size of two semi-trailers. This was the kind of overwhelmingly gross fertility totem which Bart Simpson would have carved had he been a priest of Moloch. Even politicians were gobsmacked by its vulgarity.
But it’s what the locals expect from the organiser, David Walsh, a multi-millionaire gambler. He has built and furnished MONA, an avante-garde Hobart museum which delights in giving a raspberry to conventional moral and aesthetic standards. I do like Hobart, but Walsh’s Dark MOFO was depressing. Even more depressing was the enthusiasm of the local government, media and crowds.
For me it was the ordination of three young men from Sydney as Catholic priests on Saturday. The crisp winter light flowed through the stained glass of the packed cathedral. Old and young, people of all backgrounds and races, watched the ancient ceremonies. Ethereal selections from Palestrina and Monteverdi soared to the vaulted ceiling. Everything was bathed in a quiet, confident, serene joy.
Cardinal George Pell, an important figure in Australian public life, clearly pleased to be forging a link from the Christianity of the past to the Christianity of the future, told the vast crowd, “we’ve got solid reasons for optimism here.”
The ceremony didn’t make the evening news. The people drifted home, leaving the Cathedral to curious rugby tourists sporting beer bellies and kilts. Like most good news, the ordination flew under the media radar. The grotesque sniggering of Dark MOFO got the headlines. But I’m quite sure that the future belongs to a crowd which celebrates light and life, not darkness and death. (The future of rugby, on the other hand, belongs to the British Lions. They smashed Australia’s Wallabies that evening 41-16.)
Speaking of religion, a lot has been happening in the last few days. The new Pope has announced that the canonisation of John XXIII, the pope who launched the Second Vatican Council, and John Paul II, and the imminent beatification of another well-known bishop, Alvaro del Portillo, the head of Opus Dei.
On top of all this, last Friday Francis released an encyclical on Christian faith. Father Carter Griffin, from Washington DC, explains why the Pope is not intimidated by atheists.
In other articles in this issue, Laura Cotta Ramosino reviews World War Z, the latest zombie film, which she finds surprisingly supportive of family values. We have the explosive text of a speech condemning abortion by Lucinda Creighton, a minister in the Irish government, in Parliament.
Francis Phillips reviews a sobering book about alcoholism in Russia and Nicole Hemmer asks why so many American journalists prefer to support power rather than challenge it.
A couple of weeks ago I was talking about my fellow inmates in hospital and mentioned a young woman who arrived in our four-bed room a few hours before I left. Emily was wheeled in on Sunday morning as two ladies of more advanced years and I were finishing our kornies and fruit cocktails. Apart from her plastered foot she was a picture of robust health, with beautiful golden skin and rosy cheeks, and an appetite that could barely be satisfied in the short timeframe dictated by the prospect of an operation later in the day.
Over the next hour or so Emily emerged as a sort of case study in young adulthood, engaging in its zest for life and openness to others, but worryingly indiscriminate in its expression. An alarm went off when she candidly revealed the cause of her injury: she had been out clubbing/bar-hopping the night before with her new flatmates and a broken vodka bottle had fallen on her foot, cutting a tendon. On another recent occasion she had been with others heading out to the beach in an SUV when the daredevil driver rolled the vehicle – from which they made a lucky escape.
The 23-year-old held down a regular job and put in time at the gym several times a week. She did competitive figure skating. All good. Another pastime was burlesque dancing – like stripping only less so, Emily assured us; “more designed to show off your curves.” The rest of us, fortunately, could stare at the ceiling while taking this in. She fired off a few texts and then was pining for magazines. I volunteered to fetch her a couple. “Anything with gossip,” was her instruction.
To say Emily was an extrovert would be a gross understatement. She seemed to live for the next sensation. What kind of a thrill it was did not seem to matter much, and it was that un-earthed energy that was making life dangerous for her – physically and probably morally. It was not surprising to learn (it all came tumbling out) that her parents were divorced, and dad settled down with another partner. Her lifestyle, to my mind, reflected the lack of a steadying, authoritative paternal hand and the reassurance of the first man in her life that she was beautiful and talented enough not to risk life or limb and self-respect in the effort to win approval.
Emily is a great girl, full of potential. I hope the weeks of enforced inactivity have not been too hard on her. They could have been an opportunity to think and reassess, but then she would need the sort of models she could not find in magazines or even, apparently, at home. Which all goes to show, I think, that MercatorNet’s focus on marriage and the family founded on it as the first and essential defence of human dignity is correct, and worth doing no matter what judges and academics and people of other persuasions say.
These reflections are reinforced, I think, by two articles today marking 50 years since Betty Friedan’s famous tract, The Feminine Mystique. Nicole King and Ryan MacPherson argue that neither women nor men have found a solution in feminism to “the problem that has no name”. I think you will find their ideas on what the real problem of modern times has been rather interesting. In her book review of Going Solo, Francis Phillips looks at another family-related issue.
In other articles: Mirette Mabrouk writes about the crisis of democracy in Egypt; Matthew Franck reviews a book analysing Mitt Romney’s defeat; Robert Hutchinson asks whether the public is, even now, getting the full story about NSA surveillance from President Obama; and Babette Francis tells a romantic tale from the last days of the Raj as India sends its last telegram.
In the Harambee blog Eugene Ohu reports that Africans remained staunch when Obama’s press corps tried to make an issue of “homophobic” laws in some countries. Sheila Liaugminas navigates a political fight over late-term abortion in Texas; Jennifer Minicus recommends a Medieval Trilogy featuring heroic boys (hooray!); and Marcus Roberts calmly assesses the latest population panic.
Australian politics is in turmoil. A Federal election is scheduled for September 14 and the governing Labor Party has been faced with annihilation. Last Wednesday, panicky parliamentarians dumped their leader, Julia Gillard, and reinstated the man she shoved from office three years ago, Kevin Rudd. The pay-off has been a quick bounce in the polls and it looks as if Labor may be able to save some of the furniture, even it loses the house.
Mr Rudd is a man of Superior Intelligence who speaks fluent Mandarin and Bureaucratese as well as quite passable English. However, his pronouncements, however emphatic, don’t necessarily convey his intentions. In particular, it is a bit surprising to see him in the Lodge again after declaring his firm, unshakable, sincere and eternal resolve never, ever, ever to challenge Ms Gillard for the leadership.
February 27, 2012: “To Julia I would say this ... You will have my absolute support in your efforts to bring us to victory. I will not under any circumstances mount a challenge against your leadership. I go one step further. If anyone turns on Julia in the 18 months ahead ... Julia - you will find me in your corner against them.”
March 21, 2013: “When I say to my parliamentary colleagues and to the people at large across Australia that I would not challenge for the Labor leadership I believe in honouring my word. Others treat such commitments lightly. I do not.”
March 22, 2013: “I believe in honouring my word. Furthermore, had I done the reverse and simply gone out there and challenged, each and every one of you here today, as journalists, here in Brisbane and around the country, would quite rightly have attacked me for a loss of credibility for having walked back on my word.”
June 26, 2013: “In 2007 the Australian people elected me to be their Prime Minister. That is a task that I resume today with humility, with honour and with an important sense of energy and purpose.”
It’s rare to find such a simon-pure loss of credibility. This is one for the record books.
So far this week we have posted five articles. Ray Pennings reviews “Why Tolerate Religion?”, a book which argues that religions merit no special privileges from governments. In a very fine analysis of the Supreme Court’s Windsor decision on same-sex marriage, James S. Cole traces the evolution of the Court’s reasoning. Karl D. Stephan reviews the sad career of the brilliant inventor of AC electricity, Nikola Tesla.
Writing from the UK, Peter Saunders gives a withering critique of the government’s decision to allow the creation of three-parent embryos. And I have written some reflections on privacy in the post-Snowden era.
You know the exhilarating feeling of having discovered the perfect time-waster? The ethical seesaw of teetering between a quick breather and limitless indulgence? Maybe it was the moment you first puzzled out a Sudoku. Or the first time you played Angry Birds.
Anyhow, that’s how I felt this afternoon when I discovered Google Poetics. A while ago Google introduced a predictive search function to make the task quicker and easier. What it never anticipated was the hallucinatory combinations their algorithm generates.
A Finnish geek, Sampsa Nuotio, twigged to this last year. He answered a phone call in the middle of a search and when he returned to the keyboard, he found this:
am i an alcoholic am i fit to drive am i allergic to dogs tell me, Andrew, am i
Isn’t there something piercing and poetic about these cries of neurotic self-doubt? Isn't the plaintive query in the last line the quintessence of the angst of our searching century? And who is Andrew, anyway?
Mr Nuotio has set up a website, Google Poetics, to curate these serendipitous creations. Some of them are terrific. I spent far too much time this afternoon trying to kindle the search box's inner flame myself. This is the best one I came up with. Any other nominations?
On another front, I am happy to announce that The Howard Center, which publishes The Family in America journal, has agreed to be a MercatorNet partner site. We'll be featuring some of its news items on Family Edge and its essays on MercatorNet. The first contribution is a book review by D.G. Hart of Godly Seed, a fascinating look at contraception and American Protestantism.
As this week draws to a close, the biggest story affecting the family is, of course, two decisions of the US Supreme Court on same-sex marriage. The implications of this worrying development are explored by Robert R. Reilly and Dwight Duncan.
Finally, Ronan Wright reviews Despicable Me 2, an animation which has revived his faith in Hollywood's power to make wholesome films. And Paul Rogers surveys the worsening situation in Syria as supporters of both the government and the insurgents pour more weapons into that tormented country.
Is Edward Snowden a hero or a villain? The contractor for the National Security Agency sent classified documents to The Guardian which revealed that US intelligence agencies have access to phone records and emails of both foreigners and American citizens. House Speaker John Boehner is calling him a traitor, along with Senator Dianne Feldstein, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, former Vice President Dick Cheney and most other politicians and journalists, at least in the US.
It is hard to defend Snowden. Personally, I sympathise with his rationale: “I don’t want to live in a society that does these sorts of things. I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded.” But the scandal he has exposed was perfectly legal, even if it was not widely known. His real aim was not to expose crimes, but to change the law. That is the job of voters and legislators, not whistleblowers.
As a champion of civil rights and critic of government secrecy, Geoffrey R. Stone, of the University of Chicago, put it, "the one thing he most certainly should not have done is to decide on the basis of his own ill-informed, arrogant and amateurish judgment that he knows better than everyone else in government how best to serve the national interest."
Nonetheless, Snowden has done the US and other countries a great favour by highlighting our rapid loss of privacy, the increasing amount of government surveillance and the weakening of the media. Much of what he revealed was already in the public domain, but no one had put all the pieces together.
Back in March the CIA's chief technology officer told a technology conference (not exactly top secret) that "The value of any piece of information is only known when you can connect it with something … Since you can't connect dots you don't have … we fundamentally try to collect everything and hang on to it forever." Now we know what the "everything" was. But why didn't journalists ask then? And why didn't journalists wonder what the NSA was going to do with a US$2 billion data centre in Utah?
The real scandal is not Edward Snowden's crime. It is the complacency of American journalists. If they had been doing real investigative journalism, there would have been no need for a whistleblower.
So far this week we have posted five articles. From the UK, Louise Kirk writes about the proper way to teach children the facts of life and Francis Phillips reviews a fascinating history of British servants early in the last century. From Canada, Denyse O'Leary says that the vaunting claims of neuroscience are starting to look threadbare. From the US, Daniel Kuebler argues that there still is no solid evidence that homosexuality is genetically determined. And from Austria, Martin Kugler contends that Christians are facing discrimination, even as Europe celebrates the 1700th anniversary of the Edict of Milan.
Back in the therapeutic 1970s it was common for people to be “working on” themselves. The idea was to get in touch with the inner child who had been victimised by the repressive upbringing of earlier decades. We all needed journaling, or dream workshops, or creative visualisation – if not primal therapy – to be truly liberated. Well, I have been working on myself quite intensively for nearly two weeks now, not to stroke my psyche but to rehabilitate my right arm. Actually, I am writing this between exercises on my wrist and another on my shoulder.
Yes, this is Part II of The Walking Wounded Diaries (or in my case, the Wounded While Walking…). After five weeks of being immobilised in a cast and sling, there’s a lot to do. My wrist does not want to bend downwards (I am tapping this out with my left hand) my elbow outwards or my shoulder anywhere much. They need firm persuasion. I have seen the hand therapist four times now and each time I come home with a couple more things to do. Honestly, it’s nearly full-time job.
Hand therapists are a new discovery for me. My first thought was that it’s a specialty because there are so many wrist and hand injuries – What do you do when you fall? Put your hands out to save yourself. But maybe it also requires special training to look after particular broken and severed bits of the body. These ladies (they all are in the practice I go to) have a sympathetic and soothing manner, but they can be ruthless. I wouldn’t dare not do my homework. Anyway, no pain, no gain – a maxim that fits the situation perfectly.
Part of the gain in frequenting the health system is meeting lots of people you never would have otherwise. My few days in hospital were the most rewarding in that respect. There was the 80+ Presbyterian ex-teacher in the emergency ward who wanted to know all about MercatorNet, leading to a rather public discussion about love and gay marriage – about which we amicably disagreed, to the edification or otherwise of other patients and staff.
In the orthopaedic ward another spirited octogenarian told us about her clairvoyant niece whom the family consult about key decisions, prompting the lady opposite to reveal that she attends a spiritualist church. (The religious instinct is alive, if not altogether well.) But the most intriguing character was a 23-year-old girl who was wheeled in a few hours before I left with a severed tendon in her foot – an injury sustained while out partying the night before. She was a case study of a certain type of young adult – but there’s too much to say here. I will have to me back to her another time. Suffice it to say for now that she confirmed for me the importance of the issues we keep coming back to on MercatorNet.
Leading our new articles is an important analysis by Mark Regnerus of the way same-sex marriage will change marriage, despite insistent claims to the contrary. Pedro Dutour reports on how music is transforming the lives of children in an impoverished corner of Latin America. Margaret Somerville writes that euphemisms are the name of the game for the euthanasia brigade in Quebec. And Jeff Fountain takes issue with a Dutch professor over his claim that human dignity can survive being cut off from its religious roots.
And, for something completely different, Australian academic Judy-Anne Osborn enthuses over the latest zombie film. In the blogs: Kathleen Pacious reviews a new dystopian novel for older teens; and Marcus and Shannon Roberts highlight momentous demographic trends in the US. Sheila Liaugminas also discusses the dramatic rhetoric in the US House of Representatives when it voted to ban late-term abortion this week.