Together with our
hard-working web developers at Encyclomedia in
Mumbai, we have relaunched Sheila Reports, MercatorNet’sblog on “politics
and culture, faith and reason”. Thanks, Debasish and
You may have visited
it before, but a fresh layout has done wonders for Sheila Liaugminas’s acute commentary on the US political scene
and beyond. Sheila is an award-winning journalist working out of Chicago, with
lots of experience in radio, TV and print media, including Time magazine. Take a look and sign up for the regular
updates.Don’t miss out: www.mercatornet.com/sheila_liaugminas/
We’ve wound up the
week with four controversial pieces which should
attract a good deal of comment. John
Robson listened carefully to President Obama’s
State of the Union address and found it full of “shallow
narcissism”. Joanna Bogle detects a disconnect between
the resurgence of British political conservatism and the retreat of British
social conservatism. Francis Phillips
reviews a thought-provoking book about religion in India. And Carolyn Moynihan, our Deputy Editor,
has written a crackerjack piece on contemporary sexual mores.
PS – J.D.
Salinger, author of Catcher in the Rye,
died this week after many years in famous obscurity. Anyone interested in
writing an appreciation of one of America’s most influential writers? I thought
of doing it myself, but I last read the novel a long, long time ago when I was
mostly interested in its four-letter words, and that doesn’t seem very MercatorNet-ish.
Yesterday, January 26, was Australia Day, commemorating the day in 1788 when British sailors stepped ashore in Sydney Cove and claimed the continent for the English crown. Things were different then, and no one bothered with public consultations about the new constitutional arrangements with the local residents.
However, it is a public holiday here, so, together with some friends, I headed for Dee Why beach, a long, sandy crescent facing the Pacific, for a 7am breakfast and surf. Too late. All the picnic tables had been taken by hundreds of people with the same idea. I doubt if many of them knew who had stepped ashore, or why, or when, but it was going to be hot and the water was cool. A great day for a family barbie, a swim and beach cricket.
It was inspiring -- for me, at least -- to see the crowds. Dee Why is an “Anglo” area, so bronzed, blue-eyed Aussies, from babes in strollers to septuagenarian surfers weathered by decades of sunburn, predominated. But there were also lots of Asians, Indians and Polynesians, all waving Australian flags and wearing Australian t-shirts and Australian face paint. On the beach the local surf lifesaving club paraded, followed by a full Scottish pipe band trudging through the sand.
By some quirk of history, January 26 is also a public holiday in India, where they celebrate Republic Day. Ties between the two nations have been strained in recent weeks because a handful of Indians here have been bashed and even murdered. The victims might have been in the wrong place at the wrong time, but sadly there could have been a racist element in the attacks. But on Australia Day 2010 at Dee Why there was no hint of that. It was multicultural to the max.
The multicultural theme extends to this week’s MercatorNet, as well. Our first story this week comes from China. Constance Kong describes some of the appalling demographic consequences of the one-child policy. Then Peter Ziehan predicts a victory for pro-Russian forces in next week’s elections in the Ukraine. Johanna Mendelson Forman describes the difficulties of rebuilding Haiti. And finally Canadian bioethicist Margaret Somerville questions whether we should call chimpanzees and dolphins “persons”.
There are some very interesting blog posts, too. Matthew Mehan asks why babies shouldn’t be allowed in bars in Family Edge. And Katie Hinderer points out in Tiger Print that the American Red Cross raised US$22 million for Haiti through text messaging -- “one of the many reasons why I love social media and modern technology,” she says. Why not sign up for regular blog updates while you’re at it?
As of today,
MercatorNet HQ has relocated to Sydney from Melbourne. The formalities of
finding an office to entertain readers and contributors with good conversation
and bad coffee are next week’s adventure.
I shall definitely miss
Melbourne’s many excellent coffee shops -- one of the many features of
Australia’s second largest city of which residents of Australia’s largest city
are lamentably ignorant. In fact, in the 20 years or so when I was living in
Sydney I never once heard or read a single positive word about Melbourne, just
the ghastly weather, awful beer, ridiculous football, no real beaches and on
and on. I am not exaggerating. So when I moved there five years ago, the
excellent qualities of Melbourne came as a delightful surprise.
More about Sydney
later, as you will be more interested, I am sure, in our controversial articles.
The most contentious,
judging from the comments, deals with Uganda’s proposed anti-homosexuality
bill. Apparently Hillary Clinton tried to monster Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni, to get
him to quash it. Hang on, asks Martyn
Drakard, what about capital punishment in the US? Is this a case of double
standards, or what?
In other articles, Matt Hanley wonders whether harm
reduction policies will ever curb the epidemic of STDs. When football is played
with helmets, more players get hurt, he points out. Margaret Somerville asks whether a failure to find meaning in dying
is responsible for the push for euthanasia. Canadian columnist Michael Coren defends Pope Pius XII
against allegations of cowardice and anti-Semitism. Finally, Francis Phillips reviews a recent biography of Winston Churchill, whose
courageous leadership, she says, puts contemporary leaders in a very bad light.
Why Haiti? As the tragedy of the earthquake victims and their nation continues to unfold, the question which, according to certain learned persons, we are not supposed to ask keeps bothering many of us. Why did this catastrophe have to strike the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere?
Christopher Hitchens may scoff, but as Michael Cook points out in his excellent article in today’s list, looking for meaning in such a disaster is a thoroughly human and rational response. The problem for atheists is that it leads to God. The problem for believers is that it raises agonising questions about God’s loving providence.
But neither of these problems troubled one 65-year-old Haitian woman rescued from the rubble after seven days that I heard about on the news tonight. She came out smiling, said the Associated Press correspondent; she had spent the whole time praying to God for the others in her family to be saved. Some of them were, and some were not. The spirit of this survivor was the most impressive thing he had seen all day, said the reporter.
Impressive people show up in the most rickety of states. In an interview with MercatorNet Harvard professor Robert I Rotberg says that Haiti cannot survive as an independent state and its best hope for the foreseeable future is as a UN protectorate, or something similar. Daniel-Joseph MacArthur-Seal goes a step further and suggests that, instead of spending $1.9bn refurbishing its Manhattan headquarters, the UN should relocate to Port-au-Prince. For one thing, it would “ensure the world, represented by the 2,000 plus diplomats passing through the streets, never forgot the challenge of poverty, crime and disease or the legacy of slavery, colonialism and misrule.”
Mundane as it seems beside Haiti, Tuesday’s political upset in Massachusetts -- Republican Scott Brown winning a Senate seat held by Democrats for 57 years -- was naturally pretty big news there. Brian Lilley has the story. Moving outside the realm of politics and into the world of adolescence, we hear from Providence College sophomore Viviana Garcia, one of a new breed of young leaders who are working to make a difference to the sexual culture on campuses. Great stuff.
Just a quick note to say thank you for a brilliant job with Mercatornet. Most articles are professionally written, erudite and interesting. The best thing is that the content can be an excellent source for discussion with family and friends. -- RF, Jan 19, 2010
As the international community rallies to the support of the devastated people of Haiti, our lead stories today mark the 50th anniversary of another international effort, the contraceptive pill, tested in the neighbouring island state of Puerto Rico and then unleashed on the world to create a veritable social earthquake.
Dr Jose Bufill writes: “The first large-scale study of norethinodrel’s contraceptive effect was conducted in Puerto Rico, a site not chosen randomly. Comstock laws were never in force there; it was an island with very high population density; and the local government was very cooperative, having established a network of family planning clinics with the assistance of Planned Parenthood years before. In addition, Pincus noted that the US press would be less likely to interfere if studies were conducted away from the mainland.”
Fifty years later, getting women to ingest a daily dose of synthetic hormones is still the rich world’s answer to the development problems of the poor world, and there are probably experts shaking their heads at this very moment over the “population problem” in Haiti.
Recently The Economist hailed the pill as the chief cause of women’s triumphal progress through the workforce. And yet, first world women these days are as keen to get off the pill as they once were to get on it, because of its unpleasant and in some cases potentially lethal effects on their health. Dr Robert Conkling, who specialises in fertility care, discusses some of these documented effects in his article and wonders when the medical establishment will face up to them.
In other articles Martyn Drakard draws attention to the suffering of albino Africans in cultures that are struggling to throw off old and dehumanising superstitions as well as develop economically, and Bill Muehlenberg protests at the latest outbreak of Big Brother activism -- a proposal to criminalise “psychological violence” against spouses.
Tiger Print, our new lifestyle blog, is excited about the new season of American Idol -- after all, it was a similar show that gave us the amazing voice and thrilling rags to riches story of Susan Boyle. Do check it out, send in your comments, and get your friends to visit and sign up!
The biggest earthquake in 200 years struck Haiti a few hours ago and has left the country in ruins. Thousands may be dead. Many foreigners providing policing and economic aid are buried under the rubble, including, probably, the head of the UN stabilisation mission there. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere and seems to stagger from one natural disaster to another.
I don't know about you, but I don't know what to say when I read news like this. Instinctively you feel a desire to make a gesture of solidarity, to lend a hand, to comfort distant strangers. But you can't. It's a time when the only adequate response is prayer for the dead, dying, injured, bereaved and ruined.
It's the only adequate response, but not the only response. I shall scream if I read another one more febrile news story about why the earthquake shows the importance of Twitter for gathering hard news. This angle on disaster just shows an impoverished sense of humanity.
So far this week, we have posted three stories. In mine, I've tried to draw attention to an important response to assisted suicide from disability advocates. George Friedman and a colleague discuss the havoc wreaked by a suicide bomber on the CIA's operations in Afghanistan; and Carolyn Moynihan remembers -- not fondly -- feminist icon Mary Daly (RIP). Jennifer Roback Morse's article on gay marriage in California has proved surprisingly controversial. Check out some of the numerous comments.
Great reading. Tell us what you think in the comments!
week we launched our new blog on fashion, style and culture, Tiger
Print. In all modesty I can report that my own fashion sense has
been described as remarkable. But not remarkably good. It is basically
limited to selecting which shade of blue for jeans and detecting
which tie is not gravy-spattered. I am also a bit red-green colour
blind, which is awkward when crossing intersections and buying purple
Katie Hinderer, the editor, has the smarts that I lack. She is a
dynamic young journalist and fashionista in St Louis, Missouri, who
is very enthusiastically taking up the challenge of putting a
dignitarian spin on contemporary lifestyle. Tiger Print is going to
add a lot of spice to MercatorNet and I am looking forward to seeing
it unfold. If you would like to do some guest blogging, contact Katie
Sign up to get Tiger Print's regular updates.
week Nigerian writer Nwachukwu Egbunike heads up our stories with a
reminder not to stereotype his countrymen after the weird episode of
the underpants bomber.. Then Andy Yee asks whether China's brand of
capitalism authoritarianism is a model for the future;.Alejo José G.
Sison wonders whether new rules to keep bankers in line will do any
good; and demographer Phillip Longman foresees a return to
small-scale business and manufacturing. Finally Dr Jennifer Roback
Morse, a familiar contributor to MercatorNet, rings alarm bells over
the most recent court challenge to California's ban on gay marriage.
They say that the best moment to kill a boa constrictor is after it has consumed a wild pig or turkey because all of its mental capacity is engaged in digestion. I am afraid that the wheels upstairs are also revolving slowly after a very enjoyable Christmas & New Year break in which vast quantities of turkey, mince pies, ham and Christmas cake featured prominently.
Eventually, however, digestion tapers off and the time for facing a new decade of challenges arrives. My first one is to shift up to Sydney from Melbourne. For those with only a dim appreciation of Australian geography, this involves a hour and a half plane flight north to a warmer climate and very bad traffic jams. More on this later.
So far this week, we have published four articles. One is our pick of the films of 2009. This is always controversial and I would be very surprised if some people aren’t outraged by some of the selections. Your comments are welcome. George Friedman comments on the latest attempt at terrorism in the US. Denyse O’Leary examines whether our brains are hard-wired to believe in God (which means that the question of his existence is irrelevant). And Charlie Hegarty takes a light-hearted look at a contemporary Scrooge, Ayn Rand.
Speaking of comments, I’d appreciate hearing what you think of the new system. I am aware of a few bugs and we are trying to fix them up as soon as possible.
I have already broken a resolution and the New Year hasn't even started. We had fully intended not to post out a MercatorNet
update, but so many excellent articles have appeared that we thought
that you should know about them. There are two Christmas-related pieces
by myself and Gianfranco Amato; book reviews by Martyn Drakard and Francis Phillips, and three fine pieces on Darwinism by Carson Holloway and Leslie Tomory to wind up the year of Darwin. Plus reviews of James Cameron's blockbuster Avatar by Canadian columnist Michael Coren and of the stirring Invictus, by William Park.
other news is that we are installing a new software for commenting
called "Intense Debate". This allows you to have a profile (start
thinking of what avatar you want), to accumulate reputation points for
quantity and quality, and to keep track of all your comments. I'm
encouraging people to set up an Intense Debate profile, but you can
comment without logging in. You can also log in with your Facebook or
Twitter account. We hope that this will make MercatorNet a more engaging site to visit. The new system has been installed on all of our blogs and will soon be operative on MercatorNet as well.
is down side, however -- life is like that. At the moment, we cannot
import the old comments. They will still be stored on the site, but
hidden. So as your Christmas present to MercatorNet, consider creating an Intense Debate profile and fill up our stockings with comments.
If you have any suggestions for improving the site, please get in touch. We are making our New Year's resolutions right now! All the best for a Happy New Year to you and your families.
PS -- I'll also be sending you a list of the most popular articles of 2009.
What I really want to talk about is Christmas, but first a word about climate change. The Copenhagen summit has ended with an agreement to limit global warming to a 2C temperature rise, alongside a $100 billion a year in aid from 2020. Brian Lilley sums up The 12 Days of Cop15 as “countries attempting to see if their national self-interest could mesh with the self-interest of other nations.” Latest reports indicate they did not altogether succeed.
However “settled” the science of climate change is, the sacrifices involved in mitigating it (or attempting to) have to be “sold” to the citizens of each country -- or imposed by the less democratic governments according to their own agendas. Only the Save the Earth zealots, the Muslim Brotherhood of climate change, appear to be keen on a legally binding treaty, an eye in the sky to monitor performance and an international body to enforce commitments. Mariette Ulrich finds it ironic that this quasi-religious movement should favour tactics that would not be tolerated for one moment if they came from a traditional religion.
As it happens, the leader of the world’s largest body of Christians has made it plain this week, again, that he believes there is an “ecological crisis”. Pope Benedict released his World Day of Peace message ahead of January 1 under the heading "If You Want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation." It’s required reading for anyone still trying to get a sound moral perspective on the issue. The Pope speaks of responsible stewardship, the need for sober lifestyles, solidarity with the poor and with future generations -- none of which will occur without addressing “human ecology” -- the “cultural and moral crisis of humanity”. It’s the overheated climate of “my choice” and “I want it now” that has to be changed first.
Which brings me to Christmas. For some time now, a large part of humanity has pretended that we can save ourselves -- which is why we have an ecological crisis in the first place. The truth is, we need to be saved from ourselves, and that requires divine intervention. Bethlehem shows us, however, that converting people is a labour of love -- not just of science and politics -- of teaching people their true value and so motivating them to take care of others and work for the common good, which includes the good of the planet. If only the eco-prophets and politicians would spend some time at the Crib this Christmas they would learn something very helpful to their campaign.
To other articles: The campaign against Christmas continues in some quarters but, as Joanna Bogle shows, points in a direction that no political leader should want to go. John Robson gives an excellent perspective on the Tiger Woods affair, and Richard Umbers reviews a book by an Australian mathematician that is a must-read antidote to post-modernist scepticism.
I have gone on too long. Let me just add that the MercatorNet team is winding back a bit so the next newsletter will go out on Wednesday, January 6. I am on holidays till then but Michael Cook will be on deck and updating the site. There will be plenty of Christmas and New Year reading for our fans!
Thanks for your support during 2009 and we look forward to developing the relationship, as well as the site, during 2010.
Meanwhile, have a very happy Christmas!
Excellent issue of MercatorNet. Very provocative and from a point of view not often available in the usual sources. Thanks to you and your staff bringing us such fine information." - Nancy