You will notice that we have a very eminent contributor this week: the Pope. He addressed the United Nations summit on climate change via a video this week too. The fact is that Pope Benedict XVI is “green” in the deepest and most balanced sense of the term, and, given that not all greenies are either profound or balanced in their approach to environmental issues, one could hardly do better than to get one’s bearings on the issue from him. That is why we have reproduced, under the heading ‘To till it and to keep it’, the section of Caritas in Veritate that deals specifically with the environment and its relationship to human development. Unlike some of the encyclical, this part is an easy read.
Other articles cover a wide range of topics, from evolutionary discourse of Richard Dawkins to the neo-conservative movement launched by the late Irving Kristol; from the importance of the arts in education to the problem of healthcare reform in the United States. Parents will want to take note of what psychiatrist Miriam Grossman has to say after studying the content of sex education programmes in the US -- no surprises there, but it’s good to have the facts marshalled.
I am off to a wedding in my extended family today; it is nice to see a young couple getting married in the traditional way and giving themselves the chance of a lasting, happy relationship and great family life.
The death this week of Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary fame caused me a brief pang of nostalgia for an era when pop songs still had recognisable lyrics and a tune you could sing. That is why I can still remember a whole verse of “A world of our own” -- you know, “We’ll build a world of our own, that no-one else can share…/ And I know you will find there will be peace of mind, when we live in a world of our own.”
Intelligible, catchy stuff, but also twaddle, expressing a kind of romanticism that has been fatal for true love and marriage -- as US sociologist and leading expert on this subject, W Bradford Wilcox, points out in his interview with us this week on The new divorce divide. The interview was sparked by an essay Professor Wilcox wrote for the inaugural issue of National Affairs (a journal to watch) on “The Evolution of Divorce”. It is an excellent analysis and I recommend reading it, as well as the interview.
Also this week: William West, a Sydney dad and journalist (also part of the MercatorNet team right now), gives very practical advice on DIY censorship; Christopher Blunt, an American “yeoman farmer” reflects on the contribution of Norman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution, who died recently; and both Margaret Somerville and Australian family doctor David van Gend write from different perspectives on the ever more insistent question of same-sex parenting.
There were some technical problems with last week’s newsletter, sorry; the IT boys have been onto it and this one should go smoothly.
There is something of the saviour instinct in all of us, usually focused on a cause that tends to shape our social effort. Saving the planet is very popular right now, probably more popular than saving the third world from poverty, or the first world from terrorism. Saving third world women, according to some advocates, has fallen well down the list.
But what if those women were the solution to all the other problems crying out for remedies? That, basically, is the idea at the centre of a special edition of the New York Times Magazine that I have ruminated upon this week. While I do think that women are a large part of the answer to the world’s problems, and that their access to education and paid employment is essential, I discern a mixed agenda behind the Times proposals that undervalues the family and women’s role in it. See what you think.
Speaking of the developing countries, a book review this week is a revelation. Says the reviewer: “The Beautiful Tree tells the story of private education among the world's poor—not mission schools for the rich, or government schools, but co-operative, community schools. These schools are not run for the poor by a government department, but are accountable to, and paid for, by the poor themselves.” Something to put on the “must read” list.
Our other articles look at what to do about investment bankers; the government’s role in controlling the media; an academic ghost-writing scandal that may not have been scandalous a decade ago; and the use of genetic testing by professional sporting bodies. Something for everyone there.
Hi to our readers in Africa and parts of the world where internet connections may be slow (according to Michael Cook, this includes the east coast of America) -- please note that this update now includes a text-only option for reading the articles listed, and a send me this article as an email option. We hope this helps. Do let us know.
Poverty is one of the great scandals of the global village. For a few centuries, now, we have been told that reason and science can fix such problems, but the solution is long in coming. Meanwhile, even the most rigorously rationalistic minds -- like that of utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer -- have to fall back on charity, or philanthropy. It’s a queer sort of marriage, utilitarianism and compassion, but in our leading article this week, Michael Cook shows how Singer, in a new book, almost brings it off. It’s a great read (the article, that is) -- don’t miss it.
Also this week, William West continues the discussion of new media versus old, with a convincing case for the permanent value of the newspaper or magazine that you can enjoy in the comfort of your favourite armchair.
Wendy Shalit, known to many of us as the author of her superb and ground-breaking 1990s book, Return to Modesty, wonders whether American teen idol Miley Cyrus, can resist the porno scripts that adults (including, sadly, her own parents) keep handing her -- or whether she even wants to.
Kevin Ryan follows up his earlier lament about the deteriorating status of boys, with a positive programme for bringing up the male of the species. An important read for parents.
And, from earlier in the week, there are two articles on the late Senator Edward Kennedy, around whose name controversy still swirls. Michael Cook, who happened to be right in the middle of Boston’s “Diana moment” last weekend, gives a balanced take on the senator’s human dignity profile.
There is a change in our blog spot below: we now have the most read articles from Family Edge, American politics (Sheila Liaugminas) and Demography is Destiny. Make sure you let your friends know about your favourites.
And, now that the northern hemisphere is back to work, we look forward to more feedback!
I am writing this as the American media and, to some extent, the world’s, focus on the passing of Senator Edward Kennedy. There can be nothing quite like the prospect of death to concentrate the mind on what is essential in life and what is peripheral and even worthless, and Ted Kennedy was lucky enough to have time for this.
Journalists and writers of books are people who should pray for time to repent of any tripe they have written; I have already had time to repudiate the worst of my own excesses, I hope. Actually, some of the best reads ever are the confessions of people who have completely changed their minds -- like Saint Augustine, who is commemorated today in the Christian calendar. Let’s hope the French author of No Kids: Forty Good reasons Not to Have Children, and writers of similar ilk, will live to think better of what Barbara Kay, in her article this week, aptly terms “lifestyle bumf”, and astonish us all with something wise and inspirational.
Astonishment was my first reaction when I learned from David Vincent’s article that the editor of that determinedly secular oracle, The Economist, had written, together with one of the journal’s correspondents, a book called God Is Back: How the Global Revival of fFaith Is Changing the World. “Religion is there whether we like it or not,” John Micklethwaite admonishes western journalists and intellectuals. He goes further, concluding: "Man is essentially quite a theotropic creature. If you leave people to it, give them a decent supply of religions, the chances are they will probably grasp one.” Wonders will never cease.
In other articles this week Francis Phillips reviews a book that tries to pinpoint the essence of “civilisation”; we re-run a speech by the late Sergio Vieira de Mello, who was a UN special representative in Iraq, which also reflects on civilisation but makes human dignity the more universal concept. Marilyn Ryan wonders what’s behind a new breed of US public service ads; Richard Bastien defends moral absolutes; and Jennifer Roback Morse finds a movie, My Sister’s Keeper, posing ethical questions that scientists and politicians prefer to avoid.
The debate raging in the United States over health care reform has thrown up some strange sideshows, as Brian Lilley notes in his piece on the Whole Foods company and its CEO. Behind such episodes is the deep political divide in America over centralisation, or Big Government, but there are also major ethical concerns over issues such as end-of-life care. There is a well-founded suspicion that the explosion of health costs in an ageing population will lead to rationing measures biased against the aged and chronically ill. Having just attended my oldest sister on her deathbed, at the end of a long illness, I can sympathise with this view. Fortunately for us, her family, New Zealand still has a reasonably good health system, centralised, to be sure, but then we are a very small country with a history of socialism. To keep it that way as costs climb and the ideology of euthanasia gets more traction will be as much a challenge here as anywhere else, I think.
There are other ways to economise on health spending. One of them would be to stop wasting money on unethical research which seeks to justify itself by promising pie-in-the-sky cures for Parkinsons disease and Alzheimers, among others. Just before Michael Cook flew off to the States he posted an article on stem cell research, pointing out that although there are serious clinical hurdles in using human embryo cells as cures, and although many scientists have abandoned that quest, some Harvard professors and the like are still claiming such research is necessary. Since my recently deceased sister suffered from Parkinson’s disease most of her life, I feel I have a personal stake in this debate also. There is ethical stem cell research going on that is showing promise; that is where public money should go, not into the bank accounts of scientists who are too proud to admit that they have backed the wrong horse. I recommend Michael’s article, A tarnished gold standard, for those who want to be up with the play on this issue.
In our other articles this week Barbara Lilley gives a spirited defence of having children (necessary these days, I’m afraid), Andrea Mrozek reviews a new film warning of demographic doom, Jennifer Marshall argues the need for moral reasoning in our public debates, and Denyse O’Leary warns that, since the ease of publishing provided by the Internet makes us architects of our own bias, we could all end up talking to ourselves. Food for thought.
I shall be departing on a study tour in the US shortly, leaving MercatorNet largely in the hands of Carolyn Moynihan. During my absence William West, an experienced Sydney journalist who is an occasional contributor, will help with the editing. I will be back at work in early October.
I haven't been to the US for any great length of time for about 40 years, so I shall be interested to find out whether there have been any changes. I inquired at the consulate in Melbourne and it turns out that they still speak English, climate change is still measured in Fahrenheit, and "I Love Lucy" reruns are still popular. So I will probably feel at home.
This week we have a wide range of quality reading. Denyse O'Leary shines a light on the controversial "discoveries" of evolutionary psychology; ethicist Margaret Somerville questions whether we have to be "perfect"; and British philosopher Brenda Almond argues that IVF bears an uncanny resemblance to slavery.
We also have a minor "scoop" -- interviews with experts on Iranian family planning who say that the precipitous descent of Iranian birthrates is unprecedented in human history. Godfrey Hodgson expresses some doubt about whether President Obama can live up to his promise; and Alejo Sison sheds more light on the Pope's recent encyclical.
We've also added a new technical feature to the site -- tags. Clicking on them brings up a list of all related articles. It will take a bit of time to build up the list, but they will be a great resource for the site.
8 August 2009
Carolyn Moynihan kindly posted out the newsletter last week because I took a week off. And even more kindly she will be sending it out a few more times in August and September. After one break, I got a taste for more and I'll be spending about six weeks in the US. The official line is that I will be working -- promoting MercatorNet and BioEdge and scouting for contributors and book and film reviewers -- but I may fit in another break as well. So if you reside in the US and want to promote or contribute, get in touch. Perhaps we can organise something.
While I'm swanning around the States, there will be only one newsletter each week, on Friday or Saturday.
This week we return to our perennial theme of human dignity. Martin Fitzgerald gives some background to the Pope's recent encyclical and Filipino journalist Sheila Coronel assesses the career of the late President Cory Aquino. Tackling this theme from other angles, Austin Ruse and Piero Tozzi review the UN's views on "reproductive health" and Nuria Chinchilla tries to balance work and family life.
Finally, William West has some sound tips on how to public opinion by writing letters to the editor and Associate Editor Brian Lilley reviews a controversial art exhibit in Glasgow -- a long way from his native Ottawa.
Great reading for summer holidays -- if you live in the northern hemisphere!
Lithuania is a small, eastern European country of only 3.3 million people, still recovering from the Soviet era and with problems such as a low birth rate and emigration. But it has some good things going for it, as Bryan Bradley informs us in today’s leading article. Among them is a majority of legislators with common sense. Earlier this month they passed a law to protect young people from harm in the form of material that shows graphic violence and pornography, puts drug use in a positive light, and “ promotes homosexual, bisexual, and polygamous relations." You can imagine how the Taliban of modern sexual mores reacted to that. But that is not the only sensible -- and courageous -- thing Lithuania has done recently. So read the article and cheer yourself up. If western Europe crumbles on account of its own flakiness, it may be able to get some backbone cells from the east for a transplant.
Astonishingly, something similar happened in the Italian parliament recently. That notoriously unruly body called on the government to seek a resolution at the United Nations condemning forced abortion. The initiative was led by Rocco Buttiglione, one of the most well-known Catholic politicians in Europe, who subsequently gave an interview to an Italian newspaper that dismayed some pro-life people because they thought he had gone soft on other aspects of abortion. He hasn’t, but as he explained in a long interview with C-FAM’s Friday Fax, defending the unborn and child -- and the mother -- in national and international forums is something that cannot be done all at once. If it is possible to make “common ground” in one area with those who otherwise disagree, without compromising any principle, why not? I have put a link to this interview in our Media Watch column; in my view, it is well worth reading.
Another good news article this week was prompted by the unlikely eruption of common sense in an MTV series. Christopher Blunt, an American dad, watched 16 and Pregnant and found that it demonstrated some very true things. In other articles Barbara Kay and Margaret Somerville bring sharp wits and ethical perception to the subject of euthanasia; Theron Bowers looks at what’s behind the ever-expanding definition of mental illness; Anjalee Lewis writes from an India that has just legalised same-sex activity; and Francis Phillips reviews a new edition of a British wartime classic.
President Obama and his team are in the spotlight again today as Sheila Liaugminas reports on the way his health care reform bills could sweep away all remaining restrictions on abortions in the United States. What’s really in the limelight, though, is America’s wonderful pro-life movement which, a couple of days after the bills were published, “staged the largest pro-life web event in history, a night-time webcast that drew 36,187 into a brainstorming session and a call to action.” Everyone who cares about human life and dignity has to be grateful to the Americans for their leadership in defending these most basic of values against the tide of individualism and pragmatism.
The swine flu pandemic may yet challenge pro-life ethics from another angle, as Margaret Somerville points out in her article, Competing Sorrows -- a reference to an ethical dilemma “in which there is no response that does only good and not also harm.” OK, so H1N1 may turn out to be just another serious flu virus, but there are many other issues that force us to think about health-care rationing. (Not funding abortion would be a good start if we are forced to go along this path.)
Angela Shanahan takes us to Italy, where an ageing population will no doubt make care rationing an issue, if it is not one already, and where a hard-to-explain reluctance to have children, alongside large-scale immigration, raises questions like: What would the world be like without Italians? Or, without enough Italians to sustain their distinct culture and take care of that cultural legacy which makes their country the heart of western civilisation? Dreadful thought, isn’t it?
Surveying these and other problems of recent making, Rebekah Hebbert, a young Canadian, gives the baby boomers a piece of her mind. Fair enough, too. The world needs young people with their eyes wide open, brains tuned and hearts in the right place to tackle the “mess” (yes, it’s the right word) their elders have created. More power to them.
We hope you folks north of the Equator are enjoying your summer holidays. Spare a thought for us DownUnder, and don’t forget to do essential reading…