I am making an unscheduled appearance for the weekend newsletter. Carolyn Moynihan, who normally composes it, recently had a nasty fall after a near miss by a careless driver. She will be convalescing with some minor injuries for a while.
So this week’s message is shorter than usual, I’m afraid.
Among the articles on the home page, geopolitical analyst George Friedman argues that the US and its European allies do not have the resources to stop the bloody civil war in Syria, however appalling it may be. Ashley Crouch writes from Manhattan about the fantasy world of fashion magazines.
And we have two features based in the Netherlands. Queen Beatrix has abdicated after 33 years in favour of her son Willem-Alexander. This ends more than 100 years of women on the Dutch throne, writes Susie Protschky. And on a less festive note, I have reviewed an audacious fraud by Dutch social psychologist Diederik Stapel, in which I detect lessons for the same-sex marriage debate.
There’s lots to read in the blog posts as well. Since we placed a selection of them on the main feed, they have been far more popular.
Huge cracks appeared in the building on the day before the disaster. Since several factories had collapsed with the loss of scores of lives in the last few years, employees were probably nervous. But the building’s owner, who was also a local politician, assured them that it was safe. Afterwards he disappeared although he was caught as he tried to cross the border into India.
Disasters like this happened in the United States, too, in the early days of the industrial revolution. In 1860 something similar happened in Lawrence, Massachusetts. A mill buckled under the weight of the sewing machinery, killing about 150 workers. Nothing happened to the owners. In 1911, a fire broke out in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York and 146 workers, mostly young immigrant women, died. The circumstances were very much like a fire which killed 112 in Dhaka last November. The New York owners were prosecuted but acquitted. In fact, they actually profited from the disaster because the insurance payout exceeded the cost of the losses.
Incompetence, skulduggery and knavery are constants in human nature. Surely the Western brands whose products were being cut and sewn in these grimy factories in Dhaka must have known that costs were low because safety standards were low. I’d endorse comments by Human Rights Watch on this tragedy: “It is time for companies to say that they will take no clothes from companies that do not meet minimum standards. Ignorance and cost can no longer be an excuse for some of the biggest companies in the world."
There is reading aplenty in this issue of the newsletter. Raffaele Chiarulli says that Iron Man 3 is a delightful combination of humour, whizz-bang special effects and intellectual depth. Andrew E. Harrod reports from Germany about a gay politician with a unique family: two fathers, two mothers and one child. Luke Kemp and Deputy Editor Carolyn Moynihan disagree on opportunities for Gen Y as the baby boomers start turning up their toes. Karl D. Stephan explains why the explosion in the town of West, Texas, was so destructive.
Finally, we have two articles on abortion. I have written one about a new abortion bill in Tasmania, which could be the world’s worst, if it becomes law. And Robert Reilly says that he cannot share President Obama’s cheery words for Planned Parenthood.
Lots to read. You’d better get to work straight away!
Oh, and before I forget, we are reaching the end of our appeal for funds. We desperately want to keep MercatorNet going -- please consider a donation.
Down Under yesterday we commemorated Anzac Day (see Marcus Roberts' fine post on Demography), and having a holiday on Thursday is not conducive to getting everything done by Friday afternoon. Perhaps that is why I am even later than usual with this newsletter; that’s the only excuse I can think of.
Last week our parliament voted to “Mondayise” this holiday -- and Waitangi Day (our “founding” day) -- when they fall during a weekend so that workers get their full quota of public holidays. For various reasons -- some noble, some merely commercial -- it was a closely won vote, unlike the same sex marriage law which sailed through on the same day with an almost two-thirds majority.
Ironically, one of the three grey-haired National (conservative) MP’s who distinguished themselves by their impassioned and witty speeches for gay marriage on the basis, putting it briefly, that tradition is bunk, was heard passionately arguing in the House a few weeks ago against Mondayising Anzac Day on the basis that this tradition is very important to New Zealanders.
Shifting the emphasis to the holiday aspect would not, he averred, “do anything to grow the weight of history that makes these days worthy of being so important that they require people to stop their routines to reflect, which is, after all, the reason we have public holidays, so that we can remember, pay tribute, and teach the next generation why we as a nation are where we are, and what was sacrificed to get us here.”
Indeed. Traditions are great, apparently, when they suit your party line but not when you have a personal reputation for liberal thinking to make.
Speaking of the next generation, my sister travelled home from a visit to our brother in Napier yesterday and for part of the trip had a boy of about 13 next to her. He was a pleasant lad, a military cadet, who was happy to have taken part in the Dawn Parade and a later turnout. The sad bit was that his mother saw him onto the bus at Napier and his father was to meet him at the other end; they are divorced and each has a new partner. The boy revealed all this matter-of-factly, but how pitiful it is that the young are learning to respect the sacrifices of past generations while missing out on the best things that they fought for -- values that have received another heavy blow with the redefinition of marriage.
There’s good news, however, in my piece about a lesbian academic who changed her mind about sex and other things when she struck up a friendship with a good Christian pastor. In other articles Susan Hansson clarifies the debate about religious liberty; Brendan Malone suggests there is a good take-home message in zombie movies; and, to be really controversial, Christie Thompson highlights some points from a bipartisan report refuting official claims about the use of torture on detainees.
Finally, on the Reading Matters blog Clare Cannon highly recommends a recent fantasy series for younger readers -- watch her video. How I wish I had time to read some of these stories, which often sound superior to adult novels!
Quite some time ago, I worked as a beginning journalist in the business section of a Sydney newspaper. One of the senior fellows there was a Afrikaner from Johannesburg. But he was no fan of the apartheid regime then in power. He told me that when he was a junior reporter there, he was told to attend the morning police press conference. He returned bursting with excitement. “What’s up?” the editor said. “Amazing. There were six murders all in one night. This must be front page stuff,” my friend said. “Blacks, were they?” said the editor. “Forget it.”
I was a bit shaken by this story – as was he, which explained why he migrated to Australia. But the problem of what makes news is still with us, even if the desperately unjust situation in South Africa belongs to the past. What makes bombing deaths in Boston worthy of more space in newspapers than bombing deaths in Baghdad? It’s actually a question which I have tackled in the lead story.
Carolyn Moynihan has done a round-up of expert opinion on lessons from the Boston Marathon bombings. One interesting angle from an authority on the media is that breaking news is broken. The idea that tweets and social media will deliver quick, accurate information is quite wrong – as several ghastly blunders by major news organisations proved.
In other articles this week, Ronan Wright reviews a stunning Danish film, A Hijacking, a drama about negotiations between a shipping company and Somali pirates. Olivia Carter discusses the first study which shows (scientifically) that a five-month-old child is conscious. And Bernadette Tobin analyses the issues at stake in patenting genes. This is an important issue with big consequences for health, business and human dignity which is now before the US Supreme Court.
If you are a Sydney resident and you would like to help us create a better MercatorNet, come to our focus group on May 4 in the CBD. Contact our Business Manager, Tim Lee for details (firstname.lastname@example.org).
I think my only encounter with Byzantium, growing up, was learning some stanzas of G K Chesterton’s epic poem about the Battle of Lepanto (1571). We actually recited them aloud, as we did many poems in those days, and consequently I have never forgotten the opening lines: “White founts falling in the courts of the sun, / And the Soldan of Byzantium is smiling as they run…” No-one, as I recall, explained the intriguing image or much else about the poem other than the fact that it was about a Catholic victory over the Moslems. Still, its unforgettable rhythm, images and sounds are occasionally evoked by some event.
It came to me today as I read the article written for us by Lars Brownworth, author of a book called The Forgotten Byzantine Empire that Rescued Western Civilisation. He reminds us that there is a Christian “Byzantium” which has survived ancient schisms and Muslim domination, only to be driven out by the current upheavals in the Middle East. Thanks to ancient prejudices, however, the Western world apparently couldn’t care less that Christian communities dating back to the time of the Apostles are disappearing. This is a real tragedy and injustice; I wonder what GKC would have to say about it.
History rises up to rebuke us again this week in our excerpts from Martin Luther King Jr’s powerful Letter from a Birmingham Jail. It is 50 years this week since he wrote his defence of civil disobedience against unjust laws and, while racial segregation has ended, many people do not understand the natural law argument on which he based his defence. Indeed, a lot of intellectuals and political activists reject natural law completely – and so they are completely wrong when they claim the “civil rights” mantle for the campaign for gay marriage. And that’s all I have to say here about the stupidity and injustice New Zealand politicians inflicted on the country this week.
In other articles Patrick Stokes suggests a principle that should govern protests against the dead; Pat Fagan of the Heritage Foundation rolls out some of the data confirming the essential connection between the intact family and national prosperity; and Tim Lee backgrounds the imminent Malaysian elections.
Speaking of gold… You might have noticed we are running an appeal for funds right now. We need your support to continue our work -- we need to raise $30,000 this month to cover our costs until the end of the year. To help us battle on, please give whatever sum you can afford.
It’s hard to know what to say about the bombing at the Boston Marathon. So far three people have died and there are horrific injuries. Perhaps the best thing is to say nothing and pray for the killed and the wounded and their families. Trying to fit this tragedy into a prefabricated framework may feed the ego, but it makes you look like a jerk.
Exhibit A is Dan Bidondi, a writer for a conspiracy website who was the first to ask Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick a question at his press conference. "Is this another false flag attack staged to take our civil liberties?" To which the governor politely replied, No, and asked for the next question. But it gave Mr Bidondi a crack at appearing on TV and an excuse to tweet his notoriety.
It’s always best to wait for the facts. Whoever the bomber is, killing and maiming probably came second in his mind to spreading fear and hatred. Feverish speculation is a good way to lend him a hand.
So far this week we have posted three articles. Ronan Wright reviews a film from Argentina about priests working in a ghastly slum. It may be helpful in understanding the new Pope’s background. I have written an obituary of Robert Edwards, the investor of IVF. He died two days after Margaret Thatcher and he may have changed the world more than she did. And Carolyn Moynihan has given the New York Times a big F for its coverage of the abortion scandal in Philadelphia.
Finally Robert Reilly reflects upon the philosophical background to the push for same-sex marriage. It's a long article, but well worth reading.
You might have realised that we are in the middle of a fund-raising campaign. MercatorNet is free: help us keep it that way!
Carolyn Moynihan, who is taking a break this weekend, has interviewed a Harvard economist about the demographic freefall in Europe. It’s quite a fine piece and I recommend it. As a bonus it contains his fine characterisation of his colleagues: people who with a head for crunching numbers but who lack the personality to be actuaries.
I tried my hand at crunching numbers a while ago when I was writing an article about big families. It turned out, I seem to recall, that only about 25% of women of childbearing age had 3 or more children but they contributed more than half of the children. The future, in other words, belongs to children from big families. Demographers ought to pay more attention to this segment of the population. They will change the world…
As long as we are on this topic, Clare Horsfell, a new mum, has written a charming piece for Family Edge – the ten best things about life in a big family. It went viral on Facebook and has become one of the year’s most popular articles. Check it out here. Thanks, Clare.
Some of our other articles this week deal with the demography theme. I have reported about the “little emperor syndrome” in China. Researchers say not only that these children really are spoilt but that their self-centredness could eventually be a problem for the country’s economic development. Philippa Taylor reports from the UK about a development which opens the door to genetic engineering of children.
Darren Curnoe, an evolutionary biologist, asks why science journals devote so much space to discoveries of fossils of the ancestors of homo sapiens when there are so many other important issues to discuss. Finally, from London, Brendan O’Neill analyses why so many people are jumping on the same-sex marriage bandwagon.
The world is paying tribute today to Margaret Thatcher, the former prime minister of Britain, who died yesterday. The Economist described her as a “blue-rinse Boadicea” (the British queen who rebelled against the Romans), a witticism which gives an insight into how much she was hated and admired. In some parts of the country she is still loathed as the tyrant who made a wasteland and called it peace. One miner told The Guardian that her legacy was “catastrophic” and “horrendous”.
But Winston Churchill was reviled, too, and he is acclaimed nowadays as the greatest of Britain’s prime ministers, just as Mrs Thatcher is being described as its greatest peacetime PM. She led her country out of decades of listless gloom and helped to restore it to its position as an economic, cultural and political powerhouse. In this issue, Peter Smith,Joanna Bogle and Lord David Alton weigh up her career and declare that the balance is positive.
"I am not a consensus politician. I am a conviction politician," said Mrs Thatcher when she became leader of her party in 1975. Any public figure who dares to have convictions will have enemies. I wish there were more of them.
#margaretthatcher may have been the trending hashtag in London today, but not in Los Angeles, which is mourning #annettefunicello, who also died yesterday. No, I was neither a Mouseketeer nor a fan of Beach Blanket Bingo. But she always projected an appealing image. In reading her obituaries, I discovered that, unlike most other child stars, she didn’t flare and burn out. After navigating a few of life’s speed humps, she raised a family and lived out of the limelight.
It was her later years for which she ought to be remembered. Since about 1987 she battled with muscular sclerosis, which eventually left her unable to walk or talk. But she accepted her decline with a deep faith, good grace and patience. There are many roads to greatness. Maggie Thatcher took one; Annette Funicello took another.
Let’s not stop here: there’s more to read in this issue. Margaret Somerville asks why Canada’s prime minister refuses to debate sex-selective abortion and Jennifer Bryson argues that the West is losing opportunities to help the Arab world become more democratic.
They say there is no such things as a free lunch, but that’s not quite true. I have had several free lunches at a local eatery and it’s all thanks to our local (free) suburban newspaper. Every week The Western Leader runs a crossword competition and correct entries go into a draw for lunch for two at The Falls, an historic house in West Auckland turned into a restaurant.
My sister and a couple of friends religiously do the crosswords and post them off by Tuesday, winning over the last few years at least half a dozen lunches. Yet although the meals are free they are not completely unearned, since they involve research in some rather arcane fields of knowledge: television programmes of the 1980s, Rugby heroes of the early 20th century, colloquial names for New Zealand towns, obscure NZ rivers, winners of the Melbourne Cup (horses), celebrities unknown to people (us) who never watch local soaps, and so on.
This is where I come in, being the one detailed to find this information on the internet. And I must say that it is remarkably easy, thanks to Google. The search engine has never failed yet to fill in the blanks in the crossword. Thanks, Sergey Brin and everybody. Isn’t the internet a wonderful thing?
Of course, the net has its downside, as we all know. This week the NZ government introduced legislation to crack down on cyber-bullies and create a new agency to hear bullying complaints. That should help solve unemployment… Seriously though, kids have killed themselves after being persecuted online. But what is the answer? Izzy Kalman, a regular contributor and expert on bullying has some very practical advice for parents in one of our new articles – tips that don’t involve new government expenditure.
In other articles: Tracy Mehan points out that the idea that nature is unchanging and that man is a destructive intruder is now questioned by many ecologists. Paul Russell in Australia and Peter Ryan in Canada tackle aspects of euthanasia; and George Friedman explains why the United States will continue to grow in power on the world scene.
Our featured blog posts include fresh angles on Danish demography, African exceptionalism, polling in the US on same-sex marriage, and what Black pastors there are saying about that issue.
You might notice something new about MercatorNet’s home page. Selected posts from our blogs are appearing, together with the articles. We’ve felt for a long time that we need to showcase the blogs. We are quite proud of them but because of the way they are displayed, some readers don’t even know that they exist. It can be a bit discouraging for their hard-working editors.
So, as an experiment, some of the posts from Sheila Reports, Conjugality, Demography is Destiny, Family Edge, Reading Matters and Harambee will be displayed on the home page. I hope that they spark your interest in becoming regular readers.
Later in the year, we hope to roll out a completely new design for the website. Our aim is to display the rich content better and to make MercatorNet easier to share through social networks. We are in the business of promoting sound ideas about human dignity and we want the message to spread far and wide.
It has been a whole week since the last newsletter so the list of articles is long. With the gut-wrenching topic of child abuse in the news so often, this week we cover two scandals so big that films have been made about them. It turns out that both have major flaws in their arguments. Read Ronan Wright on the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland, and Sean Murphy on how the Catholic Church handled an abuse case in Wisconsin.
Francis Phillips reviews a history of forgotten Russian aristocrats. John Tirman decries a lack of sympathy for ordinary Iraqis and Afghans caught up in a ghastly war. Philip Sutton argues that the US Boy Scouts would be unwise to allow gay leaders in their ranks. Tristan McLindon says that getting married at 21 isn’t such a bad idea – he should know, as he just became engaged after a whirlwind courtship. And, for Easter, Peter Smith did a profit and loss statement on the creed which underpins Western culture.