In a land of a billion people, there are sure to be many heroes. But it must be hard to find anyone who beats Chen Guangcheng, the blind campaigner against China’s draconian one-child policy, for sheer grit and intelligence. He has defied jail, beatings, and thuggery to defend the rights of women who are forcibly aborted and sterilized. We salute his courage in today’s lead article.
Chen is making world headlines at the moment, even though both the Chinese and US governments probably wish that that he had stayed in his village weaving baskets. Less well-known are local heroes who are prepared to go to jail for their ideals. Liz Preston’s husband Graham is one of those. She writes about his experience in our second feature.
In our other two articles, Phil Elias discusses the bizarre world of justifications for same-sex marriage and Martin Shaw asks whether the Obama Administration is sincere in its vow to fight atrocities around the globe.
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There are two things I would like to stop writing about, at least for a few weeks; they are the United States of America and sex. America, because it seems presumptuous to sit in Auckland, New Zealand, and opine on problems (usually) that only Americans themselves can tackle. Sex, because, well, my ideas on the subject are quite limited and I don’t like to repeat myself. Today, alas, I found myself writing about both subjects again -- in the same article! My excuse is that US news dominates the global village, and often, as in the present case of the Secret Service agents misbehaviour in Colombia, it is only NZ/Australian/British issues writ large.
Still, next week I will have a go at oil fracking in the North Sea (or wherever they do it) or the first wedding anniversary of Prince William and Kate, or the question of whether Peter Jackson’s new digital technique for filming The Hobbit is a success or a flop. I do hope it’s a success because that would be one Important Thing that happened in New Zealand rather than you know where…
Actually, our other articles at this end of the week extend our scope considerably. Phillip Elias looks at the question of Anders Breivik’s sanity and George Friedman writes about Russia’s plan to recover its lost dominance on the world scene. (I was looking at a map yesterday to locate Lithuania -- see Family Edge post -- and could hardly believe how small Russia appeared.) And Zac Alstin takes us into the realm of philosophy where he explains the finer points of the argumentum ad hominem.
Tomorrow, as assiduous readers of this newsletter all know, is Anzac Day in Down Under. I would love to go, as it is the quintessence of Australian patriotism and no rain is forecast. But tomorrow begins in five minutes and attending a Dawn Service at 4.25am will take more energy than I can muster. Sorry about that, guys.
However, let me recall a Dawn Service I attended in Hobart a few years ago. As always, I walked with hundreds of others through the dark to the Cenotaph on a frosty morning. There was silence as people listened respectfully to a memorial service delivered by an elderly Protestant minister. He gave a short and eloquent address about the heroes who had died for Australia which managed to make everyone, both religious and secular, happy.
There was something quite eccentric about his delivery, though. Every couple of paragraphs there was an pause. It only lasted long enough to remind all of us how cold we were, but it was slightly embarrassing. Then he would embark upon another burst before lapsing into silence again. Finally, he concluded with an Amen and a reverent silence.
He added a personal note. In a quavering voice he said that this had been his last Anzac Day service. He was 85 now and had done it for 30-odd years. Time to pass the baton on to someone else. And then he apologised for those pauses. “It was so cold,” he said, “I had to blow on my fingers so that I could keep on reading.” Suddenly it dawned on me: the old minister was blind and had been reading in Braille with his frozen fingers. You find heroism in the most unexpected places…
Before I forget, along with MercatorNet in Spanish, there is also MercatorNet in Italian. Only a few articles have been translated, but I am delighted that someone esteems them enough to bring them to the attention of speakers of other languages.
So far this week we have posted three articles. I have made some comments about the trial of Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian mass murderer. David J. Peterson analyses how Mitt Romney managed to secure the Republican nomination, and Jennifer Roback Morse argues that the state needs to be involved in marriage to protect the rights of children.
On the blogs, Marcus Roberts has a hilarious deconstruction of lamentations in the New York Times about Nigerian over-population. Sheila Liaugminas reflects upon the inspiring legacy of Chuck Colson, the Nixon aide who went to jail and became a born-again Christian. And in Family Edge there is a stirring Proctor & Gamble ad about “the hardest job in the world”. Not surprisingly, it is timed for Mother’s Day.
I have to apologise for the rather unpleasant subject matter of the article I posted today. When I read in my local paper last Saturday that 10,000 copies of a porn novel called Fifty Shades of Grey had gone on sale in mainstream New Zealand bookshops I felt my hackles rising. I then thought about ignoring it; then again it seemed important to strike a blow against what appears to be a concerted effort to drag women en masse into the global multi-billion-dollar porn industry. So there it is. Sorry.
Thankfully, we have something really edifying to close the week as well -- an interview Michael Cook conducted with Chicago doctor Anthony J Caruso, who quit working in the field of IVF after 15 years because of a change of heart. Leaving one’s professional niche for moral reasons must be very difficult, especially today when everything, including porn, is tolerated except a person’s conscience. So, good on you Dr Caruso.
George Friedman writes this week about the re-emergence of Turkey to a significance it hasn’t had for a hundred years - since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. There are new posts, too, on Conjugality (David Cameron copping flak from left and right), Family Edge (Melinda Gates’ crusade for global contraception), Reading Matters (The Yearling), Demography (ageing) and Careful! (Mickey Rooney on elder abuse). I think that’s all. See links below.
Once a month I take the train for 18 relaxing minutes to Macquarie Park, a railway station which services a large industrial estate. Politicians once promised that this would become the fourth largest business district in Australia.
Fortunately, promises and politicians seldom mix. I nearly always have the vast, spotless, brand spanking new underground station to myself. No one is entering. No one is exiting. The attendants sit in their cubbyholes and chat quietly on mobile phones. Business at the kiosk is quiet. Everything is quiet.
I have sung the praises of this station before and I am no longer bruised by derisory “get a life” comments. I do not shrink from admitting that I look forward to taking the Macquarie Park escalators. If I have time to spare, I go up and down twice. There are two sets of them placed in serene symmetry on either side of Lane Cove Road. How often do you get a chance to be the only person on two-stage escalators slowly ferrying you up, up and up 10 storeys to the distant sunlight? I get a thrill out of pretending to be the solitary figure dwarfed by those towering angular buildings in Jeffrey Smart’s paintings.
But it’s time to insert a moral somewhere to justify rabbiting on like this. At MercatorNet we do tend to grumble about how technology can dehumanise society. This is even a theme that I touch upon briefly in my article on the Pope’s birthday. But technology can project a haunting beauty as well, a beauty that too often is overlooked. Much to my surprise, no one else has ever rhapsodised about Macquarie Park Railway Station. Once again, you read it first in MercatorNet.
In our other articles, Suzy Ismail explains Islam’s respect for unborn life and Alistair Nicholas asks whether Hollywood really has a sense of corporate responsibility.
Recently I made one of my periodic attempts to purge the collection, or rather, accumulation of books occupying a significant portion of the basement and other parts of our house. These efforts usually come to a standstill as soon as I discover one of those tomes I have always meant to read but never have. This time it was -- I almost blush at its irrelevance to the issues of the day -- Antonia Fraser’s Mary Queen of Scots, a thick, yellowing paperback printed more than four decades ago -- when it cost a mere 75p in the UK and $2.25 in New Zealand. It is not a handsome volume by any standard and the small print is rather hard on the eyes, but the content is fascinating.
What happens to it next, is the question. I fear there is no future for an old paperback other than the recycle bin. Anyone still interested in MQOS can get in on their very reader-friendly Kindle for US$9.99 from Amazon -- or from the library stacks for nothing. The e-reader is clearly the future for accessing books both new and old and I feel myself about to be swept up by this juggernaut. The price alone is compelling -- and let me remind you that MercatorNet’s own first e-book, a collection of articles on same-sex marriage, is available on Amazon for only $2.99. Buy now, and hone your arguments for this ongoing debate!
Musty paperbacks we can certainly do without, but beautifully produced volumes of classics? Surely we can still find space for some of these works of art in our homes -- and there are still people who love the craft of book making enough to produce them. Matthew Mehan, our US contributing editor, discovered a lovely short film of a book being made the traditional way at a bindery in England, and, since the video is not in a format we can show on MercatorNet, you may like to view it on the Telegraph site. It’s a real treat to see something being produced with such precision and loving care.
From books to articles, roast dinners to packed lunches (but very nutritious ones): James Cole today wonders why President Obama’s concern about judicial activism vis-à-vis his health reforms does not extend to much more important examples; Jennifer Roback Morse has figured out why it is so difficult to debate with gays and feminists; Mariette Ulrich suggests that over-stretched parents make some tough decisions; and George Friedman looks at Iran’s regional role, including in Syria.
Sorry about this, but in mad rush. Slept in over holiday and all that. Wanted 2 hit Easter button w. comments on Richard Dawkins debating Australian cardinal, but got so interesting it morphed into article. No good 4 newsletter.
Similar sentiments from atheists here and here. Dawkins & Co sounding more & more isolated, extreme & eccentric. Oh well.
Other gr8 MNet articles: G. Friedman on Israel’s strategic dilemma; José H. Gomez on America’s forgotten Hispanic heritage; Nathan Schlueter critiques libertarianism. Most impressive & must read: a fresh look at origins of autism by Matt Hanley.
It’s not often that the foreign pages feature good news. But the April 1 election in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) may herald a new beginning for a country which has suffered for decades under an secretive military dictatorship.
The heroine of this is the graceful and dignified leader of the opposition, Aung San Suu Kyi, a woman who has endured imprisonment and house arrest without rancour but with indomitable perseverance. She won the Nobel Peace Prize as long ago as 1991. But she has had to wait until now to see significant progress.
Her party, the National League for Democracy, has won at least 40 of the 45 seats it contested in a by-election for the nation’s parliament. Although this is only a sliver of the 664 seats, the result suggests that the retired generals who run the country are doomed if they hold a fair and free general election.
Even in victory Aung San Suu Kyi has been restrained and modest. She told her cheering supporters to "take special care that the success of the people is a dignified one." In a world where commitment is in crisis, she is committed, passionately, to her country’s freedom. I found her words in last year’s BBC Reith Lecture, very moving:
“Passion translates as suffering and I would contend that in the political context, as in the religious one, it implies suffering by choice: a deliberate decision to grasp the cup that we would rather let pass. It is not a decision made lightly -- we do not enjoy suffering; we are not masochists. It is because of the high value we put on the object of our passion that we are able, sometimes in spite of ourselves, to choose suffering.”
There will be no second newsletter this week because of the Easter holiday. We wish all our readers a very happy Easter!
We will continue to post articles, so stay in touch. So far this week, Francis Phillips wonders if Alain de Botton’s new book on spirituality for atheists is an aesthete’s joke; a British psychiatrist, Pravin Thevathasan, asks why his colleagues are ignoring post-abortion trauma; and Derek Miedema urges governments to get out of the gambling business.
I almost forgot. Because same-sex marriage is such a big issue in so many countries, we have published an anthology of MercatorNet articles on Amazon. You can download it for only US$2.99. Just click here.
A special thank-you, too, to Nicci Loader, who retired this week after working hard behind the scenes as MercatorNet’s marketing manager. She has been a great help in drawing much more traffic to the website.
All revolutions, it seems to me, have an aura of heroism about them, whether they deserve it or not. The French revolution, the American revolution, the Russian revolution, the Prague Spring, the Arab Spring… Even the industrial revolution, despite all the nasty things it did to people and the countryside, retains the character of a great leap forward in human development. Despite the terrible blood-letting that came with the French and Russian upheavals, for example, the end -- getting rid of tyrants -- is held to justify the means.
It is a bit like that with the sexual revolution that began with the advent of the contraceptive pill -- the subject of my article today. Feminists seized on the opportunity to escape the tyranny of their own bodies but soon they found it necessary to claim the right to kill the children who were “misconceived” anyway. Other, ongoing human misery can be traced to this revolution as well, but still it retains its heroic status in the minds of leading men and women. Luckily for Americans events in the US have lifted the lid off this taboo subject, but it’s a debate we need to have everywhere.
One important reason for that can be seen in the article by David and Amber Lapp, a young American couple who are doing qualitative research (for the Institute for American Values) into how working class young adults in one small Ohio town form families. It is a sadly haphazard process, as you might guess, although the young men and women have some good values. The sexual revolution has not done this class any favours.
In our other articles, Margaret Somerville writes on a report from a legislative committee in Quebec that reads like a pro-euthanasia manifesto, not an unbiased study. And George Friedman writes about the US’ policy regarding North Korea - a strange policy for a very strange country.
On the blogs: Conjugality has some positive news from Slovenia. Family Edge focuses on thrift. Sheila Liaugminas has updates on resistance to the White House contraceptive mandate. Reading Matters has new book reviews. Demography has some incisive observations on the Population Under Pressure Conference held this week in London. Tiger Print has a great series going on social media. Careful comments on the Quebec report on euthanasia. And BioEdge reports that sperm donors must soon have to identify themselves in Victoria, Australia. Golly, that’s quite a list.
Journalists and politicians are normally at loggerheads but one quality they share is scads of humility. I’m something of an expert myself and I recognised it in Campbell Newman, the man who led the Queensland Liberal National Party to one of the biggest victories in Australian history over the weekend. He reduced the governing Labor Party from 51 to 7 seats -- in the state which gave the world its first Labor government back in 1899. And he had never even been a member of Parliament. It was quite an achievement. True to form, he declared in his victory speech that “we will conduct ourselves with humility, grace and dignity”.
The odd thing about political humility is that it is more evident at the beginning of a term than at the end. President Obama, for instance, was “humbled by the task before us” in his inaugural speech. Not many months later it was with “great humility” that he received a Nobel Peace Prize. As their careers draw to a close, however, most politicians feel more humbled than humble. Good luck to Mr Newman and Mr Obama.
One exception to this was Joseph Stalin. I have been reading a history of Communism and I stumbled across this gem. Apparently the “Gardener of Human Happiness” and “Father of Nations” was asked to edit his own biography late in his life, a task which he did with great relish. He even added the following paragraph: "Although he performed his tasks as leader of the party and the people with consummate skill, and enjoyed the unreserved support of the entire Soviet people, Stalin never allowed his work to be marred by the slightest hint of vanity, conceit or self-adulation."
On second thought, perhaps the really dangerous politicians are the ones who begin as men of humility and end as paragons of humility. Only journalists are allowed to do that.
So far this week, we have posted four articles. Béatrice Stevenson reviews the state of Christianophobia in Europe. In a special feature on the regulation of abortion, Margaret Somerville questions whether most women have truly given informed consent and I ask whether the British government is taking its regulatory task seriously. Finally, Denyse O’Leary reviews a best-seller which gives a dark picture of America’s white working class.