As an expat American, yesterday, Halloween, triggered all sorts of memories for me, mostly centring on an upset stomach. In the days before helicopter mothers and police escorts for the ant-like procession of costumed children from house to house, hustling for candy was serious business.
You shunned the houses that gave apples and fruits and nuts and targeted bright windows and open doors with mothers who ladled out M&Ms and peppermints and Mars bars and Lifesavers and bubble gum. Little sisters with cute pigtails and shy smiles got the pick of candy, but you had more stamina and could visit more houses. And finally there was the triumphant stagger home, bag full of booty to be hidden in the cellar and gobbled at leisure. Sharing was for wimps. Hence the upset stomach.
Which brings us to this year’s celebration, the day on which the world’s population hit 7 billion. No doubt it was a sly joke by the UN’s Population Division to associate more people on Planet Earth with the witches and goblins and monsters of Halloween. I have written a brief critique...
I have just watched two party political broadcasts on television. This is the great anti-climax to the Rugby World Cup (last mention, promise) -- New Zealand’s national elections next month. The cheering thing is that the election season will be mercifully short, vanishingly small, almost non-existent by American standards.
I don’t know how the Yanks can tolerate such a drawn-out process as I see recorded in news headlines day by day. Kiwi parties can easily exhaust their political bag of tricks in a couple of weeks. Tonight, neither of the main parties was talking about the things that matter most to me -- and, I believe, to the country: the state of the family and the moral tone of society. That may sound rather sanctimonious but, really, healthy families and a well-founded moral consensus are basic to whether economic or social policies work.
I would like to send our Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition a copy of the “Back to basics…” article on economics by John D Mueller that we have published this week. In fact I will send it to them. It refers mainly to the United States but the principles are generally applicable, in particular the importance of love and gifts within the family, which, when properly appreciated, save countries from “the deadly mix of legal abortion and high social benefits that was the recipe for demographic winter in developed Europe and Asia, as well as the economic policies that have weakened the U.S. economy.” Well, it’s pretty long and a bit technical here and there but I think we have to exercise our brains a bit on these issues now, don’t you? After all, who wants to end up like Greece? Or Detroit?
Our two articles on contraception, one by Arland Nichols of HLI America and one by me, illustrate how the architects of the demographic winter, the population control movement, show their true colours when confronted with the unintended consequences of their programmes. Their claims to be doing it all for the health and wellbeing of women sound rather hollow.
In other articles Charles Kanjama, a Nairobi lawyer, explains Kenya’s incursion into Somalia; George Friedman asks Now what? about Libya after Gaddafi; and Angela Shanahan has some down to earth reflections on the proliferation of baby rearing advice.
Finally, I warmly recommend Intermedia’s very creative Christmas peace project for the social media. Please follow the trail to the Facebook page and become a fan. If you scroll down a bit you will find the video, The Christmas Truce 1914 from Oh, What A Lovely War!
My mobile rang this morning sometime between midnight and one o’clock, sweet dreams, the Sandman and all that and I heard a distinguished Oxbridge baritone saying, “This is the BBC World Service”. I was about to say, “Look, mate, this is a phone, not a radio, and if I want to listen to the news, I don’t need a ***** wake-up call.” However, it turned out that the baritone was ringing from London to seek my advice on Sharia Law in Libya. Not being well versed on this topic, I referred him to one of our excellent contributors.
I report this not to big-note myself, but to impress upon our readers that MercatorNet involves 24/7 workplace stress and other Occupational Health and Safety Issues. Which is why I was anxiously barracking for the New Zealand All Blacks in the Rugby World Cup. Carolyn Moynihan (deputy editor), Marcus Roberts and Shannon Buckley (Demography is Destiny blog) and Nicci Loader (marketing) all live in Auckland and had the All Blacks lost to France, they would have… No, there are no words.
Try to imagine what would happen if the Yomiuri Giants won the World Series: Yankee fans swarming lemming-like off cliffs, mental hospitals filled to overflowing, Prozac purchased in truckloads. That would be a mere 1 on the Richter Scale of stress. An All Blacks loss would have been a 10. New Zealand would never have recovered. MercatorNet would never have recovered.
Anyhow, thanks be to God, they did win, by a single point, 8-7, and now we can move on to the cricket. For those of you who cannot muster the slightest interest in cricket, please watch this trailer for the Oscar-nominated Bollywood epic Lagaan. It is one of the few films I could watch three more times. It may make you a fan.
For several weeks, now, I have kept a discreet silence on a topic touching New Zealand and Australian national pride, not to mention that of several other countries, but with the Rugby World Cup finals about to begin, it is time to say my tuppenceworth on the tournament that has, in the words of a very useful media cliché, transfixed the Kiwi nation. I have been advised by the editor, who, after all, lives in Australia, that triumphalism is not a virtue and I will try to bear that in mind.
The All Blacks, after decisively beating the Wallabies last weekend in a style that was universally admired, are looking more than a match for Les Bleus in the contest for the Webb Ellis Cup on Sunday night. They are looking very good indeed. In fact, I read an article by an Australian social scientist who had researched the subject and concluded that the ABs are “invincible on their own ground”.
Still, the French sneaked past the Welsh last weekend in a style that was universally considered peculiar, leaving the Welsh Reds to play the Aussies for third place tonight. And Gallic unpredictability has upset Kiwi complacency before. After the 1999 loss at Twickenham the New Zealand stock market slumped, a university offered grief counselling to students and baggage handlers at Auckland airport wrote "Losers" across the team's bags on their return.
Actually, that’s an aspect of the sport I don’t like -- the fans can be quite obnoxious to the opposing side and ruthless with their own. In fact, there’s not a lot about the game itself I find attractive. The guys are constantly in a heap on the ground and getting sent to the blood bin etc -- though the gore is nothing, I suppose, compared to the early days of rugby when according to Wikipedia, “there was no fixed number of players per side and sometimes there were hundreds taking part in a kind of enormous rolling maul.”
Nevertheless, I watched the semi-final and I will watch as much of the final as I can bear because it’s not about the sport itself; it’s about patriotism, about wanting your country to be the best, and cheering on the fellows who are putting everything they’ve got into not disappointing you, or themselves. So, go the All Blacks! But first, go the Wallabies!
In our latest articles: Michael Cook alerts us to a European Court of Justice decision that recognises the dignity of the human embryo; Izzy Kalman says we are taking quite the wrong approach to bullying; Danny Dorling looks forward to a world without borders and passports as population declines and workers become scarce; I report on a new study that shows many teens are starting sex because of pressure; and George Friedman gives us a handle on the situation in the Middle East.
No, you didn’t miss last Tuesday’s newsletter – I was away on holidays and I’m dying to show you my photos. Sorry, just kidding. Are there more terrifying words in the English language than “let me show you my holiday photos”?
But my few days at Kenthurst, a rural area to the northwest of Sydney, did help me to solve a mystery. Nearly every morning, in a distant gully, I thought I could hear the monotonous creaking of an old dredging rig, although creek dredging had stopped years ago. One afternoon I heard the creak above me. Hidden in the branches was a lovelorn bird. Its mechanical call – wonk, wonk, wonk, wonk, wonk, wonk, wonk, up to a hundred times in a row -- was astonishing. According to Neville Cayley’s classic What Bird Is That?, the Leucosarcia melanoleucaorWonga Pigeon can be heard a kilometre away.
Sydney bird life is rich – I have seen about 30 species in just a couple of acres at Kenthurst – and some have amazing calls. The Kookaburra’s manic laughter sounds like the mad woman in Jane Eyre after a night on the turps. But I had never heard anything like the Wonga Pigeon. No wonder he was lovelorn. Being paunchy, drab melancholy, and monotonous is unlikely to attract a bevy of twittering particoloured girlfriends.
Other than that, the holiday was uneventful. Upon reflection, perhaps I have just proved that there is something more terrifying than holiday photos...
Down to business. Philip Longman makes ten controversial proposals for renewing the vitality of the family in Western societies. An expert in business ethics, Max Torries, tells us why his beloved Giants never made it to the World Series. Bob Laird points out that President Obama is subtly undermining the institution of marriage when it is most needed to sustain society. And Margaret Somerville analyses a distasteful “win a baby” competition.
Is there anything quite like the thrill of one’s first successful bicycle ride? I remember mine well; it came after one lesson of the fall-off-and-skin-your-knees variety conducted with brusque efficiency by my friend from across the road. We were both eight or nine years old, growing up in an era free of helicopter parents and relatively free of cars, and there was nothing to stop me wobbling along after Pamela on her sister’s bike to rediscover the neighbourhood on wheels. Oh, the joy, as confidence grew, of being mobile, of mastering the machine and feeling the breeze in one’s face as we bowled along quiet streets beyond the boundaries of our regular haunts.
It is twenty years since I was last on one of these miraculous machines (balancing on two skinny wheels has always seemed a wonder to me) but the desire to do it again hit me strongly early this week when I read Christopher Blunt’s story. In “A bicycle built for two” he describes how his cycling career came full circle after giving up a veritable addiction in favour of fatherhood, and then stumbling on a way to perfectly reconcile the two. It’s a lovely piece and I am sure you will enjoy it too.
About balancing on a bike -- I know it’s all to do with forward motion, and maybe there is a moral in that. Achieving a well balanced character is partly a matter of constantly making progress. But it matters whether the progress is flat, uphill or flying downhill, morally speaking. Kevin Ryan deals with this in his article on character building, which was prompted by news that two New York City schools have committed themselves to teaching virtues.
You can only get so far on the flat (unless you live in Holland, perhaps) before you have to climb up or drift down. The downward drift, or rather plunge, is all too evident in the subject that Melinda Tankard Reist and Patrick Trueman deal with in their articles: the tide of pornography that goes largely unchecked by authorities and that we have to find ways of turning back.
In our other articles this week: Brad Wilcox and Carlos Cavalléof the Social Trends Institute introduce a report on the connections between marriage, fertility and the world’s current economic woes -- something politicians still don’t get. Richard Egan reports on the latest effort to clone embryos and the bribes being offered women to provide eggs for the research. Anthony Billingsley worries about democracy in Egypt and Ioan M Lewis explains why Somalia is so chaotic.
That’s a rather large serving, I’m afraid, but next week we will be back to our usual two updates and more genteel portions.
During a week in which at least three major reports (there are no minor reports, you understand) arrived in my inbox, all of truly compelling interest (you can get a taste of two of them here and here) a lot of other tempting messages languished unopened.
But one in particular caught my eye. It was from a friend of MercatorNet in Canada who sends good tips for Family Edge. It took me to an article in the Washington Post: “How to stop email overload? Think before you hit send”. Chris Anderson, a media entrepreneur, observes, as many others have, that we are drowning in email, and he puts his finger neatly on the cause: The total time taken to respond to an email is often MORE than the time it took to create it.
Well, that didn’t happen to the professor who decided not to respond at all to my carefully worded list of interview questions a couple of weeks ago, but it can happen with the simplest message. Say, me to the editor, “I thought it would be good to get the head of the IMF to write an article for us on the Eurozone crisis. What do you think?”
Open-ended questions (even when the preceding idea is not so crazy) can be very demanding on the recipient. They are the subject of one of the rules in an EMAIL CHARTER that the above writer has drawn up and posted online. It’s the result of many people’s suggestions. Other rules: Short or slow is not rude. Slash surplus cc’s. Cut contentless responses (“Great!” “Wow!”) I recommend it -- and hope to practice it as well.
Having said all that, please keep sending your feedback and suggestions. We would rather get too many emails at MercatorNet than not enough!
Our articles at this end of the week deal with philosophical, bioethical and financial matters. Zac Alstin sees crunch time approaching for the idea of moral diversity, which is more honoured in the breach anyway. Richard Umbers finds a close resemblance between the utilitarians who have so much say in things today and the Daleks of Dr Who fame.
Nancy Valko, president of Missouri Nurses for Life, backgrounds the disturbing new practice of donation after cardiac arrest. And George Friedman looks into the Eurozone financial crisis and finds a cultural clash between the German ideal of the disinterested, rational civil servant and Southern and Central European scepticism.
In the blogs (see below): Sheila Liaugminas scratches her head over the Wall St protests; Jennifer Minicus reviews what is regarded as a modern children’s classic; Marcus Roberts is not scared at the thought of seven billion humans (watch the very good video in his post); and Katie Hinderer takes issue with the celebrity-divorce rumour mill. Do we really need to know?
Just a reminder: no newsletter next Tuesday. Michael Cook is taking a well-earned break.
There are many things wrong with the world. We are solving a number of them in MercatorNet, but one is proving damnably difficult to nail – improper use of the semicolon. Its principal employment nowadays is as a supporting character in the Great Internet Emoticon Show: ;-] for wink; >;) for evil; and ;( for angry and so on. What a comedown.
I once made a living out of semicolons. As a trainee journalist at the Sydney Morning Herald, I manually replaced all commas with semicolons in the law lists for the following day’s courts. This took several hours every evening. Who knows? without my blue pencil people might have been wrongly convicted.
Later on, I was hired by one of the Big Eight (now one of the Big Four) to copy-edit an internal newsletter on Australian accounting standards. The selection process had been rigorous – three interviews, each time with someone stuffier and higher up the food chain. On my first day I was handed a four-page newsletter in which I replaced commas with semicolons and semicolons with commas and corrected a few grammatical errors. This took one hour. To my surprise, there was nothing else to fill the remaining 59 hours a month until next month’s newsletter. ;-]
I owed this dream job to a partner in Canberra who was obsessed with slovenly punctuation. He had been driving my boss mad by circling errors in the newsletter and sending nasty notes about the competence of Sydney accountants. ;(
I would have welcomed more challenging assignments but my boss was very happy with the absence of nasty notes. To give everyone else the impression of unflagging diligence I sat at my desk in a remote corner of the vast office and read the Oxford English Dictionary and Fowler’s Modern English Usage. (The ever-perspicacious Fowler is particularly acute on the topic of semicolons, by the way.) This continued for a year and a bit, perhaps until the retirement of the partner in Canberra. Then I was pensioned off with a long, expensive lunch and thanked profusely for my contribution to the firm.
I can’t resist recalling a bon mot by the poet James McAuley after his colostomy: “Better a semicolon than a full stop.” Would anyone out there like to share their experiences with punctuation or emoticons?
This week began with a review by Francis Phillips of an history of how a few men ruled the far-flung British Empire. Later on we published Paul Rogers questioning the morality of armed drones in war. Then Denyse O’Leary reviewed a history of Canadian eugenics, Nobel laureate Peter Doherty reflected on his prize, and Matt Hanley asked why the link between breast cancer and abortion is being studiously ignored.
Next week there will be no newsletter early in the week as I shall be taking a brief holiday.
Earlier this week we posted a video on the front page, “I will be a humming-bird,” in which Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan battler who won the Nobel* Peace Prize in 2004 for her work in reforestation and environmental defence, compared herself to the little bird who carries drops of water to the forest fire while all the big animals stand helplessly by. I made a mental note when it went up but didn’t watch it until yesterday and was not aware until then that she had died on Monday.
The startling thing was that I only watched the video because I stumbled across news that another distinguished Kenyan woman, Dr Margaret Ogola had died -- only a few days before Ms Maathai. Both died of cancer; Ms Maathai was 71 and Dr Ogola only 53. More extraordinary still, when friends sent me an article from a Nairobi paper, it revealed that two other prominent Kenyan women had died as well in the past month. My instinctive reaction was, “Africa cannot afford to lose its women leaders!”
This feeling is strongest with regard to Margaret Ogola, whom I once interviewed by phone, and who immediately impressed me as someone of great character, with a big heart and formidable intelligence. She was funny too. I cannot help feeling sorry that she has departed this life -- though surely she lived the short life she had at double strength, as will be clear even from the obituary I have written. In doing so, I am sure she inspired other women who will carry on her values and work. Rest in peace, Dr Margaret.
In an important article today, Stanton L. Jones and Mark Yarhouse, academic psychologists, give a summary of the final results of a seven-year study of homosexuals wanting to change their sexual orientation. These results have been published in a peer-reviewed journal -- quite an achievement since, no matter how good the research is, few publishers will touch anything that breaks the “professional consensus” that change is impossible. Already, in the last hour, I have deleted a comment that ended with a nasty ad hominem attack on the authors for daring to get it published.
Also: British peer David Alton reflects on the need for heroic journalism in the wake of the phone hacking scandal; Australian blogger Bernard Toutounji sees hypocrisy in official campaigns to stamp out smoking while waving condoms at behaviour that is more profoundly damaging; and Denyse O’Leary reviews a book with a promising title (Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength) but in the end is not impressed. Too bad. We need a really good book on willpower.
This letter is looking quite long so I will sign off.
Over the weekend, Kenyans made a clean sweep in the Berlin Marathon. Twenty-six-year-old Patrick Makau set a world record of 2 hours, 3 minutes and 38 seconds. His countrymen Stephen Chemlany, Edwin Kimaiyo and Felix Limo finished second, third and fourth. Florence Kiplagat, also of Kenya, took first place in the women’s marathon.
The Ethiopian who is the current record-holder, Haile Gebrselassie, retired at 35 kilometres in the 42-kilometre race. His asthma flared up and he doubled up in pain. Gebrselassie says that he will keep running but the baton has clearly passed to younger runners.
I’ve always loved watching marathons, perhaps because I am in no danger of being dared to run in one. A childhood bout of polio put me out of contention. A limp excuse, I’m told, but it works. There is still time, I suppose, to train up. The oldest marathoner is said to be a 92-year-old British woman who completed the course in Hawaii in 9 hours and 53 minutes last year.
There is something altogether extraordinary about the courage needed to endure the exhaustion and pain of a marathon. But for my money, the world record belongs to Tanzanian runner John Stephen Akhwari. In the 1968 Mexico City Olympics Akhwari fell, cut his knee badly and banged his head. Long after the medals had been awarded he hobbled into the stadium. Night was falling. The crowds had drifted away. But he crossed the finish line.
Why did he bother? After all, of the 75 competitors, 18 others had dropped out. There was no dishonour in quitting after sustaining such an injury. "My country did not send me 10,000 miles just to start the race; they sent me to finish the race," he explained. John Stephen Akhwari: a real champion.
Anyhow, on to other challenges. Benedict XVI was busy in Germany last week throwing down the gauntlet to what he calls the public mindset of positivist reason. He delivered an extraordinary lecture to the Bundestag which should be required reading for politicians. We have published on the site.
In the same vein, British philosopher Roger Scruton calls for the remoralisation of the economy. Man does not live on the market alone, he argues. And Peter Jon Mitchell defends faithful monogamy. It’s amazing, but a number of writers contend that marital fidelity is, you know, so yesterday? Mitchell’s article is a good riposte.
Finally, the 19th century Gothic romance Jane Eyre never seems to pass out of fashion. Ronan Wright reviews the latest of dozens of versions and Carolyn Moynihan explains why its popularity is evergreen.