Talk about space exploration brings out a
sadistic streak in me, I’m afraid. Whenever I meet enthusiasts, I listen for a
while and then ask whether they have seriously considered claims that the moon
landing was a hoax: funny shadows, the Stars and Stripes rippling in a lunar
breeze, authoritative photography experts on YouTube, and so on. What do you
think about that, huh?
As with bungee-jumping, this is a sport for
people with a low threshold for danger. Sometimes the resulting conversation
can become quite heated – a bit like standing beneath a Saturn V as it is
launched. However, it is reported that 20 percent of people in various surveys
believe that man never walked on the moon and that NASA faked the whole
This is sad, because space exploration is
one of mankind’s greatest achievements. And today is the 50th anniversary of
the day it began, when cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbited the world three times in
1961. This week Sue
Alexander-Barnes laments that it might not happen again, not for a long,
In other posts, Richard
Fitzgibbons and Peter Kleponis ask whether justice was done in Philadelphia
recently when a number of Catholic priests were suspended over allegations of
sexual abuse. Mary
Rice Hasson reviews a disturbing book about the destructive influence of
America’s hook-up culture. And Andre
van Heerden commemorates the opening shots of the American Civil War by reflecting
on Lincoln as a model of leadership.
We all have our little or grand obsessions from time to time. For Colonel Gaddafi, it is staying in power. For Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo it is refusing to concede that he has lost it. For the Japanese authorities it is bringing the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station under full control -- even as another big earthquake shakes the country. For the British Royal Family it is the wedding of Prince William to Catherine Middleton after Easter. And for me, it is a fundraising social event I am helping to stage tomorrow, which is now perilously close. So this newsletter needs to be short and sweet.
Our latest bunch of articles include two reviews of Jesus of Nazareth (Part Two) by Pope Benedict XVI. We don’t often go overboard on theology but this work by a leading theologian who happens also to be the pope has attracted an amazing amount of interest. It had an initial print of 1.2 million copies and has been on the New York Times religious best-seller list for a couple of weeks, as well as topping the Amazon religious chart. Part of the interest for religious folks is that it deals with the final week of the life of Christ -- events that will soon be solemnly celebrated in Christian churches. Frankly, it is a nice change to be able to make a song and dance about a good religious book rather than sigh over the effusions of atheists. Bishop Basil Meeking, a great fan of Joseph Ratzinger’s writing, and our regular reviewer Francis Phillips between them offer a great introduction to this important book.
Also: As royal wedding mania spreads around the globe, Joanna Bogle -- a loyal royalist who will be buying “a commemorative mug or two” -- has mixed feelings about the event. From Kampala, Uganda, Martyn Drakard speaks up for the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the present troubles in northern Africa and wondering why the rich world won’t open doors to them. And political scientist Carson Holloway provides a useful framework for thinking about US foreign policy -- and, in particular, intervention.
There are also plenty of new things on the blogs including updates on the euthanasia debate raging in Australia. Do check them out.
By definition, demographic trends are never
cutting edge news. The world’s glacial ageing won’t be worse tomorrow than it
was yesterday. But it is both more certain and potentially more threatening
than climate change. In a news item
that went completely unnoticed by the world media, the average life expectancy
of Europeans is increasing by two to three months every year. A modest rise in
fertility rates will not be enough to prevent population decline in Europe
And immigration is not the answer, although
it has helped to slow ageing. As Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban
commented sardonically, "He who waits for help from elsewhere will sooner
or later have to pay the price for it."
In fact, there is often a demographic
dimension to current events which other media overlook. France’s leading role
in the Libyan conflict, for instance, may have a lot to do with fear that Libyans
fleeing a bloodbath will seek refuge in France.
Anyhow, we are trying to keep you informed
through our Demography Is Destiny blog and with articles on the home page.
But this week, the themes are a bit
Moore, a Greenpeace founder turned nuclear power advocate, has a
fascinating conversation with one of his former colleagues about climate
change. Long as it is, this is a must-read piece. John Lloyd
reviews a book which has created quite a stir on the internet because the
authors argues that Twitter revolutions are self-deluding myths.
Santoro, our correspondent from the corridors of the United Nations,
reflects on a speech by Italy’s president about capital punishment.Ronan Wrightreviews Route Irish, a sombre new film by British director Ken Loach about the
Iraq war. And finally, Mary
Kaldor asks whether war is the best way to achieve noble humanitarian goals
It’s amazing how
quickly important news stories slip off the radar. The civil war in Libya has
pushed a nasty conflict in the Ivory Coast off the front page.
But as I write
this, it appears that power is slipping away from strongman Laurent Gbagbo. His army chief has deserted him and forces loyal to
the victor in recent elections, Alassane Ouattara, appear to have the upper
hand. It appears that democracy has won in West Africa without Western
significant Western intervention. A good news story. To understand it fully,
read a backgrounder
published on MercatorNet last month.
In the second half of the week, we have
published six articles. My contribution is a reflection on battlefield
bioethics and the conflicting responsibilities of army doctors. George Friedman
also writes about war – but from a very different angle. He suggests that
perhaps we need to revive the custom of declaring war – something that has been
neglected since 1941.
Three others deal (by coincidence) with
religion. Angela Shanahan draws attention to the plight of the Egyptian Copts.
Michael Kirke wonders how Christopher Hitchens feels about his impending death
from cancer. And Bill Muehlenberg discovers that some activists want a
translation of the Bible which does not discriminate against animals.
Finally Denyse O’Leary reviews a
significant book about morality based completely on neuroscience. She is not impressed.
You may have noticed that we recently changed
the layout of MercatorNet’s home page. It’s not meant to make it prettier –
that will come later. At the moment, we are employing the black arts of search
engine optimisation to draw more readers to the site.
Of course, your own recommendation is the
best way to build up MercatorNet’s readership. Please forward your favourite
articles to friends or post them on your Facebook page. We have found that
Facebook has been a great help – feel free to become a Facebook friend and get regular
Last week Carolyn alerted you to three of
our blogs. We have several others. We are really delighted to host Sheila Reports,
whose focus is human dignity and American politics. But Sheila
Liaugminas, a distinguished and experienced journalist based in
Chicago, also ranges further afield and produces terrific commentary on the latest
Moynihan edits Family Edge, whose
focus is the daily news and the various interesting, sound, inspiring,
creative, humorous, annoying, ridiculous, dangerous… ideas that it turns up
which are relevant to the family. It’s a fantastic resource and a key part of
Roberts and Shannon
Buckley have taken over Demography is Destiny. We
launched this after seeing two themes crop up constantly in the media: that
humans are a cancer which is destroying our planet and that world population is
spiralling up to unsustainable levels. DID tries to counter this with sensible news
At the top of our shopping list for a
redesigned MercatorNet is making the blogs more visible. There’s a lot of
terrific material there. Sign up for the regular updates!
On the home page this week, Francis Phillips waves good-bye to Hollywood’s
Elizabeth Taylor in a generous but realistic look at her life. David van Gend reminds us that one of
the dangers of euthanasia is people who think that the unproductive have a duty
In a very intriguing interview, Michael Casey asks why some governments
enforce tolerance with intolerance. And finally, Mariette Ulrich discusses YouTube’s potential for bullying.
Recently we ran a Mercatornet subscriber satisfaction survey
which a number of people kindly took part in. If you were one of them, many
thanks. We will give you some feedback on that next week, but in the meantime I
would like to highlight one aspect of our site which is passing under the radar
of many readers. I am talking about the blogs, the topical “diaries” that you
can find down the right-hand side of our front page.
Just to mention the first three: Careful! deals with
euthanasia, ReadingMatters with children’s books, and TigerPrint with fashion
and other young adult issues. The editors -- Michael Cook (Careful!), Jennifer
Minicus (ReadingMatters) and Katie Hinderer (TigerPrint) are working hard to
keep these up to date and relevant to the needs of special interest groups as
well as general readers. We highlight the latest entries at the foot of this newsletter
each time it goes out, but it seems many readers are not aware of at least some
of these blogs and are missing out on useful information and commentary. It can
also be entertaining!
To tighten the focus even more: there is a real treasure
trove of reviews building up in the books blog, Reading Matters, which
parents of young children through to late teens would be well-advised to
consult. Of the contributors, Jennifer Minicus is a mother and former teacher
who conducts book clubs for young children; Clare Cannon runs a book business
in Sydney and is very knowledgeable about books aimed at adolescents (see her review of Halo, a
Twilight look-alike); and Tim Golden also has long experience in children’s
literature. If you are dealing with children’s books at all, do visit the blog
and subscribe; that way each new entry comes to your inbox. Same with the other
Now to our latest articles: Michael Cook explains why Catholic bishops in Australia’s most populous state are warning voters not to
vote for the Greens Party in this weekend’s state election. Chinwuba Iyizoba
says Nigeria’s infamous email scammers are making life difficult for their
honest countrymen. Matthew Rarey is enthusiastic about a new biography of
American Founding Father Charles Carroll, a too much neglected figure. And psychology
blogger Denyse O’Leary is back with an update on the debate about free will.
Perhaps I should take a break from personal
reminiscences for a while in this column. It doesn’t take long for the mother
lode of an uneventful life to run out. This reminds me of Henry Lawson
(1867-1922), who is probably Australia’s greatest short story writer. He ran
out of puff relatively early. One sign of that was a detail in a story, “The
Drover’s Wife”, about a woman alone and afraid in the outback with her
children. She wants to have a good cry, but as she sobs into her handkerchief,
her fingers poke through the holes and she breaks into laughter. The same
delightful image crops up in another story late in his career, written as he
succumbed to depression, drunkenness and debt. The poor man’s creativity had run
dry and he was forced to recycle his insights.
Anyhow, there is plenty to discuss in this
week’s MercatorNet. Alistair Nicholas contends that the managers of the
Fukushima Daiichi power plant were ill-prepared for an emergency, despite the
catastrophic consequences of failure. Ronan Wright reviews Matt Damon’s latest
film, The Adjustment Bureau. George Friedman wonders how the Libyan War will
turn out. And finally, Babette Francis has written a hilarious piece about the
23 sexualities whose rights the Australian Human Rights Commission is trying to
protect. I always thought that there were only two. How wrong I was!
It has been a dramatic week, with its mixture of natural and
man-made disasters. While thousands of Japanese earthquake and Tsunami
survivors wait in emergency accommodation for things as basic as water and food
supplies, frantic efforts to prevent catastrophic meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear
power plant have riveted world attention.
Nuclear energy is the debate of the moment, and George Friedman’s article explains why
Japan took the nuclear option. But there is a question about the natural
disaster that many of us find ourselves pondering and which Michael Cook is bold enough to ask: Why
them? It’s a question that some of the commentariat ridicule, but I’ll bet that
many Japanese are asking right now, Why us? We may not -- and probably should
not -- have a ready answer, but in solidarity with the suffering we ought not
to dismiss the question.
The Libyan revolution meanwhile has suffered a disastrous
reversal but a last-minute UN resolution imposing a “no-fly zone” over the
country (this means -- I had to look it up -- that US and other warplanes can
bomb Libyan air defences to prevent them being used against the rebels) has
given new heart to the rebels. Other Middle Eastern countries are on the boil
and the situation is changing from day to day. Goodness knows what will come
out of all this. It would certainly be a good thing if oil ceased to rule the
The disaster theme also runs through Constance Kong’s review of a book called When A Billion Chinese Jump -- an allusion to the environmental impact
of China’s headlong modernisation. And in Germany, writes Paul Miller, politicians and ethicists are divided over the use of
a technique to screen IVF embryos for genetic disorders -- so they can be
aborted -- this in a country where the memory of Nazi barbarities is very much
Finally, for something completely different, I interviewed British
TV personality Aggie MacKenzie about
what she has learned from sorting out filthy houses and helping put their
inhabitants back on their feet. Aggie is a keynote speaker at a London conference (March 17-18)
about professional approaches to housework. What a difference it would make to
the world if more homes were clean and orderly!
Before I take my leave to catch up on some neglected chores
-- please note that the Demography
blog is up and running again, thanks to Marcus Roberts and Shannon
Buckley, two fellow Kiwis who are giving a hand.
I lived in the southern island of Kyushu
for couple of years as a small child, so I have always had a soft spot for
Japan and its culture. My memories are dim, apart from fighting with my brother
over a dish of fresh fish eyeballs and an excursion to volcanic hot springs. I didn’t
appreciate at the time that with volcanoes go earthquakes and tsunami.
ga nai” – it can’t be helped – is a common
expression in Japanese. They will get on with the job of rebuilding their
shattered seaside towns and cities. Hopefully the emergency at the nuclear
reactor will soon subside, although twittering journalists are sending
nerve-racking news. Zac Alstin and I have commented on aspects of this
But we shouldn’t forget the Ivory Coast and
Libya, two countries we have highlight in recent articles. The tsunami has come
at a good time for Moamar Gaddafi. The world has only so much capacity for
horror and Japan’s distress is distracting attention from his vengeful advance on the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.
There will be a bloodbath if the insurgents, whom he calls "rats and
terrorists", are defeated. Nature is stern, but man is malevolent.
In other articles Katie Hinderer asks whether the current girly-girl culture of
adolescent and ‘tween girls will keep them from becoming independent, free
thinking, and strong women. And Lea
Singh, a Harvard Law School grad and now a stay-at-home mother, argues that
home life is a real career.
I woke up this morning with this newsletter on my agenda and some thoughts ready on the unfolding of the Christchurch earthquake story, only to find that the devastation of that city has been eclipsed by an 8.9 earthquake that hit off the coast of northeast Japan yesterday afternoon (evening New Zealand time) sending huge walls of water surging into cities and washing away nearly everything in their path. Tsunamis travelling at up to 800 kilometres an hour fanned out across the Pacific basin causing goodness knows what damage to islands in their path, though having very little expected impact here. I don’t need to rehearse events that will be on your television screens all day, except to say that living at the edge of the Pacific has begun to feel somewhat insecure.
More important, right now, is to feel and show solidarity with all those suffering the effects of these natural disasters. This has been demonstrated in a wonderful way in response to the post-quake situation in Christchurch, and no doubt the world will now rush to the support of Japan (search and rescue experts from there have only just returned home from Christchurch).
But what can be done for Libya and its freedom movement? Or the Ivory Coast, which today’s headlines indicate is descending into a bloodbath? Or any of the countries shaken and devastated by internecine rivalries and warfare? Anti-intervention sentiment is strong in the West and it is not clear, in the wake of Iraq, what good it would do on balance. We have two articles on Libya today which examine this question and give very helpful background.
In other articles, Pedro Dutour gives us a glimpse of the human heart of Mexico -- a country about which we hear almost exclusively bad news. In this one, two groups of women from very different social groups respond to basic human needs. From Australia, where it is a live political issue, Mary Joseph offers a helpful Q&A on same-sex marriage; Alistair Nicholas gets indignant at Hollywood, and I take a look at the world’s billionaires and the woes of the super-rich.