First, Happy Father’s Day to all the American dads and others around the world who are the centre of attention this Sunday, and rightly so. Brad Wilcox has tipped me off about a great article in the Wall Street Journal on the importance of dad-style parenting, which you can find through the link below in Family Edge. In Reading Matters Mary Cooney wonders why dads don't get a better run in kids books. Good ideas, and ammunition, for you, dads.
This morning I noticed a headline in my newsfeeds as I gave them a cursory scan: What’s causing all this recent crazy weather? It was about the terrible flooding, drought and tornadoes that have marked the North American Spring. Well, it doesn’t stop Down Under, either. Round about the time MercatorNet’s editor was writing our Tuesday newsletter and speculating on the outcome of a Puyehue-volcanic-ash-cloud-defying flight to Tasmania later in the week, the earthquake-weary citizens of Christchurch, New Zealand, were trying to pull themselves together after a series of strong aftershocks reaching magnitude 6.0 and wrecking even more of the city.
Their situation is really dreadful. Basically, the place has hardly stopped shaking since last September. As I looked in disbelief on Tuesday at the poor souls shovelling liquefaction sludge again, thought about nights without power and near zero temperatures, and the ongoing uncertainty about whether they have lost their homes -- and city -- for good, I felt the “Why?” question coming on. The worse things get, the more important it becomes to find some meaning in our suffering.
The inability of an increasing number of people to do that is driving the demand for euthanasia. And that is driving a new and macabre demand in the medical world, as Michael Cook uncovers in his article on Belgian transplant surgeons -- having earlier brought the issue into the media mainstream through BioEdge. Please let your friends know about this excellent and increasingly influential bioethics newsletter.
In other new articles: Mishka Gora writes a spirited defence of soldiering; Adela lo Celso interviews a leading cultural theorist about what’s going on when you respond to clever advertising; and Ronan Wright gives Hollywood a serve for a poor menu of movies. Also, Muslim scholar Abdullah Saeed tells that -- contrary to some terrible injustices that still occur -- the Quran itself does not prescribe the killing of “apostates”.
To tell the truth, I didn’t pay much
attention to the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano last year. My eyes
glaze over when I read articles featuring
names that I can’t pronounce. I suppose that means that I don’t take my
professional responsibilities seriously enough.
Anyhow, for my sins, I find myself
wondering whether I will be able to return from Tasmania this weekend. The
Chilean volcano Puyehue, which I can pronounce, has erupted, sending tons of
billowing ash into the stratosphere. J.R.R. Tolkien obviously previewed this
before describing the fall of Mordor. The
photos of sinister charcoal clouds, illuminated from below by the glowing lava
and from above by jagged bolts of lighting, are apocalyptic.
The prevailing winds are westerly, but what
goes around comes around and the ash has circled the globe and is now gliding
over Australia’s lower latitudes.
Qantas and Jetstar cancelled flights, the scaredy-cats,
leaving thousands of people stranded even though Virgin Blue continues to fly beneath
the ash plume. I booked with Jetstar, so if Puyehue decides to have another
hissy fit, I may be writing the next newsletter from Hobart. There are worse
This week MercatorNet features a forum on
homosexuality and same-sex marriage.Carson
Holloway asks how gays will actually benefit from redefining marriage to
include their relationships. Katherine
Spackman, in a look at the Australian situation, argues that creating new
family structures will only harm children.
And, in an article which has already
attracted a number of comments, Peter
Saunders comes out of the closet and declares that he is a homosceptic. Finally,
Elias says that he knows why the rainbow has been hijacked as a symbol of
the gay movement: there is a critical shortage of colours. Is it about time for
the government to step in and do something about it?
International conferences in exotic places are one of the perks of academic life -- and sometimes of journalistic life, as I’ve discovered. The ones I have attended have been friendly affairs, involving mainly folks of similar values but different experiences and leading to a fertile exchange of ideas. When Peter Baehr, a sociologist at Lingnan University in Hong Kong, signed up for a conference in Tehran on “Multiculturalism and Global Community” last year he might have expected something similar. I mean, “multiculturalism” and “community” are nice friendly words, aren’t they?
Well it didn’t turn out exactly like that, and all because Professor Baehr raised some honest and highly relevant questions about multiculturalism and diversity -- that buzz-word beloved of politicians and, it turns out, some academics. We publish today his riveting account of that conference and what he learned from it. Highly recommended.
But wait, there’s more. Film reviewer Ronan Wright is super-enthusiastic about the latest X-Men movie. Lawyer James S Cole explains what’s behind a US Supreme Court order that the state of California reduce its prison population. Denyse O’Leary is sceptical, and even a little nervous about a branch of neuroscience that could end up making the life or death of a prisoner dependent on a brain scan. And Brendan Malone looks at evidence from Australia that undercuts claims about the safety of chemical abortions.
In the blogs: Sheila Liaugminas has a lovely post about leisure and more weighty things; in Family Edge we have some advice for Anthony Weiner; in Reading Matters Jennifer Minicus recaps a children’s classic; in Demography Marcus Roberts notes the burden of disability growing with ageing populations; and in Careful! Michael Cook notes a report on the suffering of millions of people worldwide who die without palliative care.
The number of comments on the articles and
blog posts has been rising and rising. This means not only that readers (you
guys) like what we publish but that a MercatorNet “community” is developing. Some
people read the comments first before deciding whether or not to read the
However, not all comments are of equal
value. The ones I like respond to the article itself by filling gaps, expressing
a different point of view, linking to other sites, and so on.
The ones I like less have lost touch with
the article itself. Instead, acrid disputes spring up amongst the commenters,
with abuse flying back and forth. Often they taunt each other’s ignorance or
obtuseness or hurl brickbats at each other over increasingly obscure points. Perhaps
it’s a late-night sport after the gym has closed.
As long as comments are not personally
abusive or offensive, we don’t mind too much. MercatorNet benefits because of
the extra traffic and comments which are inconsistent with our ideals are
instantly refuted by well-informed readers. However, a lot of psychic energy is being
expended in a futile effort to have the last word. But on the internet, you’ll
never, ever, have the last word.
Anyhow, this week, Martyn
Drakard discusses the debate over Kenya’s new Chief Justice, a
strong supporter of gay rights.Cristina
Alarcon brings good news from Illinois about conscientious
objection. Robert Reilly,
a former head of the Voice of America, laments the decline of public diplomacy.
German economist Michael-Burkhard
Piorkowsky, discusses the home as an economic unit. And finally, Zac Alstin
wonders whether it would have been better to treat Osama bin Laden as a
ON THE BLOGS – Sheila
Liaugminas argues that an unemployment rate around 9% will make it
difficult for President Obama in the 2012 elections. Tim Golden gives a
moral analysis of the His Dark Materials series in Reading Matters. Marcus Roberts sees
a bright, or at least brighter, economic future for the US because of its
relatively high birth rate. Carolyn Moynihan announces that New Zealanders have finally discovered self-control in Family Edge.
Fear is spreading in Europe today over an outbreak of a mutant E-coli strain and news sites are plastered with pictures of the nasty little bacterium and piles of fresh vegetables that people wouldn’t touch with a barge-pole in case they are contaminated. But there is also good news - great news - from Europe, from Hungary, to be precise, where they are wiping out the last strains of the communist plague that debilitated eastern Europe last century, as well as inoculating themselves against the virulent secularism that has been sweeping in from the west of the continent.
I am talking about Hungary’s new Constitution which, as Bryan Bradley writes in one of our articles, proudly “acknowledges the role that Christianity has played in preserving our nation”, “declares human life worthy of protection from the moment of conception”, and several other wonderful things. Of course, some people are ropable about it, but read Bryan’s article and be encouraged about the future of Europe, where what cows eat is much less important than what people take into their minds and souls.
In other news articles today: Michael Kirke reflects on the deep historical and cultural significance of Queen Elizabeth’s visit of reconciliation to Ireland -- another great step forward for Europe. Jennifer Roback Morse, in an address given to the Minnesota legislature, brings a clarity to the issue of same-sex marriage that few others can achieve in the same number of words. And yours truly suggests a reason why the ethics of public figures seem to have reached a low ebb.
In the blogs: Readings Matters reviews a couple of great books which deal (1) with the loss of a parent and (2) with a social awareness tale that knocks the socks off Slumdog Millionaire; Tiger Print gives the thumbs down to the box-office hit Hangover II; Family Edge has very practical advice on obedience; Sheila Liaugminas finds the campaign trail for the US elections getting lively; and Demography looks at the business of ageing in New Zealand.
I visit the Australian state of Tasmania
about once a month. At the risk of sounding absurdly pompous, what I like most is its essential
truthfulness. Tasmania is obviously an island in the Southern Ocean, but
Hobart, its capital, is an island in a ocean of wilderness. You can stand in
Collins Street and look north to a tree-covered hill and look south to a
tree-covered hill. The truth is that even we city-slickers live
in high-tech bitumen islands bobbing on the capricious waters of Nature, as earthquakes,
tornadoes and floods remind us. Normally we forget, but in Tasmania you can't.
It’s not what New
Yorkers would call a dynamic place, although there are two new round-abouts on Churchill
Avenue (No, I lie, three) and tenagers have been planking on the
white marble pig in Elizabeth Mall. It is moderately successful at
exporting fish, timber and minerals, although its most significant export of
late is Greens politicians to Canberra, where they will soon hold the balance of
power and fight the good fight for euthanasia, same-sex marriage and a
All this is by way of introducing Hobart’s
freshly-minted Museum of New and Old Art, the
biggest private museum in the southern hemisphere, which is, according to Steven
Jacks, “a temple of atheism”. Apparently it is underpinning the local
tourism industry. Which is odd, because a friend of mine innocently from the
Mainland paid a visit not long ago with his wife and afterwards felt physically
ill. Perhaps atheism is meant to do that to you. On the other hand, a critic
New York Times described it as “a spiritual experience”. Read the article
and judge for yourself.
What else is new in MercatorNet this week? Ronan
Wright reviews the latest instalment in the Pirates of the Caribbean
Somerville discusses the bizarre case of a Canadian couple who are
conducting an experiment in gender creativity with their baby. And Mishka
Gorareflects on the capture of the general who allegedly carried out the Srebrenica
massacre in Bosnia in 1995.
It is two weeks since I tapped out my last Friday update (I was otherwise engaged last week) and I recall issuing an invitation to improve upon the popular song, There’s No-One As Irish as Barack O’Bama. Actually, I thought it was a new invention but it dates back to his election in 2008, which rather takes the edge off it. Perhaps that is why nobody sent in any verses. However, being loath to abandon the idea of marking the US President’s visit to his ancestral stamping ground (and mine) I decided to have a go at some versifying myself. The following should be sung to the well-known tune of Phil The Fluter’s Ball:
Have you heard about the President of the United States,
Who went to visit Ireland on his way to the G8,
Which he go to via London and two dinners with the Queen,
And made a good impression, O, wherever he was seen?
Before he stopped at Moneygall to greet his long-lost relatives
Obama learned the Irish for his slogan, ‘Yes, we can!’
And when he got a chance to say the magic words, ‘Is feider linn!’
The crowds went wild and cheered him, cousin Barack, to a man.
With hello and goodbye and a banquet in the middle,
With a speech and a wreath and Michelle still at his side,
Ping-pong, barbecues, talks with David Cameron --
I wouldn’t be surprised if like Canute he turned the tide!
Anyone who cares to add a verse is welcome…
To more serious matters -- if anything can be more serious than what the American President does. The new fad of “planking” which is sweeping Australia lies somewhere between deadly serious and completely frivolous, something that gives our resident philosopher Zac Alstin food for thought. In a similar vein, Denyse O’Leary politely disagrees with Stephen Hawking about what comes after death.
From the UK, Dr Peter Saunders writes about the latest Christian, another doctor, to be harassed by officialdom for sharing his faith with a patient, and I take a look at a major report published today in the US that makes connections between the state of the family and the economy. It’s an excellent piece of research and I recommend reading the whole report. Oh, and George Friedman raises doubts about Obama's new strategy in the Middle East.
No one was more
surprised than I when last week’s article on New Age thinking rapidly ran up
more than 100 comments – about 10 times more than my own contribution, which
made me a bit jealous. Thanks to Sue Alexander-Barnes for a very stimulating contribution.
To be honest, I
thought that New Age was the province of a tiny minority. Perhaps it is, but it
is certainly vocal, as the comments testify. There are a lot of fans of Wicca
out there. Perhaps we should investigate further.
In some ways, New
Age has had a bad press. It merits serious study because its perplexing success
reveals a lot about our sceptical age. Ultimately, its devotees are using it as
a guide to happiness without committing themselves to truth and a code of
morality (which is basically the truth about what men and women are). But all
they learn is how to maintain an inner calm by telling themselves absurd
spiritual yearnings of New Age signal the end of the road for materialism and
relativism. Clearly people are looking for a certainty beyond an ever-improving
standard of living. And who can seriously maintain that truth and God don’t
matter when millions of educated people at the beginning of the 21st Century
are paying gurus to tell them lies?
We begin the week with four crackerjack
Kay is delighted that a court in British Columbia has abolished anonymous
sperm donation. Jenet
Erickson offers impressively documented proof that children need mothers --
until recently, not an idea that needed proving. Chinwuba
Iyizoba is delighted that there could be as many as 725 million Nigerians
by 2100. And Kevin
Ryan asks why the US Federal Government is wasting its time investigating
sexism at Yale.
One of the most endearing images of the year has been Queen Elizabeth laying a wreath at the Irish War Memorial on Tuesday – a scene that
most people in both the United Kingdom and the Ireland never dreamed could
happen. Her visit – the first by a British monarch to the Republic -- was proof that a determined effort to achieve genuine peace and reconciliation can succeed.
It is a hard won achievement and in some hearts old
hatreds smoulder away, but it was wonderful to see her courageous attempt to set
decades, even centuries, of hostility to rest. “With the benefit of historical hindsight we can all see things which we
would wish had been done differently or not at all,” she said ruefully in her eloquent
address at a state dinner. It was better by far than her grandson's wedding.
We wind this week up with four articles.
Speaking of the RW, Margaret
Somerville reminisces about April 29, which began for her with royal pageantry
and ended with Gore Vidal. Carolyn
Moynihan reflects about the latest development in happiness research. Sue Alexander-Barnes's article about New Age has quickly become a surprise hit. Finally, I
major reporton sex abuse by US Catholic clergy.
years ago a radical Muslim group plastered Britain with a sticker which
juxtaposed Islamic Values and British Values. Islamic Values were “worshipping
Allah, honesty, charity, family values, morality” while British Values were “state
terrorism, exploitation, homosexuality, alcohol, gambling.”
This is an absurd caricature, but it gains
in plausibility every time a leading Western politician is hauled up for
disgraceful behaviour. Bill Clinton, John Edwards, Elliot Spitzer, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Silvio
Berlusconi… Not to mention the serial polygamy of Nicholas Sarkozy. Now Dominique
Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund, an institution known
for forcing austerity budgets on heavily indebted nations, has been charged
with the attempted rape of a New York chambermaid at his US$3,000 a night
One odd thing about l’affaire DSK is that no
one has commented on the contradiction between his unbridled private life and
his day job preaching austerity and self-control. In fact, in France he had a
reputation as “the great seducer”, a reputation which his wife (his third)
defended, telling the press: "It's important for a politician to be able
But the double standard is unlikely to
escape the notice of the enemies of Western values. Is it too naïve to say that
the West needs statesmen whose personal integrity is above reproach if it is to
persuade followers of Islamic values of the value of democracy, the dignity of
women and freedom of conscience?
So far this week, we have posted three
Friedman points out that the strategic dilemma faced by Israel really
hasn’t changed much since the time of King David, three thousand years ago. Zac
Alstin takes apart a new theory about human reason – that it evolved to win
arguments, not to find truth. And Deputy Editor Carolyn
Moynihan comments on the guilty verdict for World War II deathcamp guard
In the blogs: Carolyn Moynihan reports inFamily Edgethat (who
could think otherwise?) the best place to be a kid is in a home with a married
mom and dad. Tiger
Print editor Katie Hinderer finally unveils her young adult novel, Aurora
Undefined. (Only $2.99 on Amazon!) In
the United States, jockeying for the Republican nomination for President has
already started. Sheila Liaugiminas surveys some of the candidates in Sheila Reports.
On a more sombre note, Peter Saunders
reports in Careful!that voters in Zurich – alas! – like their legalised assisted suicide. And did
you know that Nigeria is on target to become the third most populous nation in
the world at the end of the century, with 730 million people? Shannon Buckley
has the story in Demography
is Destiny. And to end on a cheerful note, fans of children's books will be intrigued by Jennifer Minicus's review of a book about a boy and his dinosaur in Reading Matters.