Occasionally I have published articles about euthanasia (I was against it) in newspapers. The on-line comments were often astonishingly venomous. “I hope you die of cancer in agony, you wretched mongrel,” was one of the more memorable ones. I am pretty thick-skinned and these did not bother me at all.
But the intense feeling of supporters of euthanasia was new to me. Many of them, it seemed clear, were terrified of dying, terrified of pain, and terrified of being alone. With so much at stake for them, they felt desperate. But basically it was a very self-centred reaction. Their despair was blinding them to the effects that legalisation would have upon the rest of society and on the medical profession. Elder abuse is already a “hidden epidemic”. It seems obvious that the frail and aged will often become inconvenient burdens who could easily be pressured to choose death. As far as the doctors are concerned, suicide is currently legal so they are the only people whose role will change. But won’t the power to execute people corrupt some doctors?
These questions are generally ignored in discussions of euthanasia. But Canadian academic Margaret Somerville and Australian activist Paul Russell examine them in some depth this week. Dr Somerville gives an excellent sketch of the perils of legalising euthanasia. In Canada the danger is proximate, as a judge in British Columbia has just ruled that a ban on assisted suicide is unconstitutional. The decision will be appealed, but the danger is real. Paul Russell discusses the link with elder abuse.
In our other two articles this week, Harley Sims analyses the emergence of gay superheroes in the comic book world and Ronan Wright reviews Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s eagerly-awaited prequel to Alien.
To many of us the maintenance of standards in written if not spoken English is no light matter, though I have treated it with a certain amount of levity in my piece on the Queen’s English. Next to the moral issues featuring in other articles today, however, the state of the English language is a mere featherweight.
Many Australians will be feeling the same indignation as Amin Abboud following the Australian government’s conferral of the country’s highest honour on Peter Singer, the rogue philosopher who justifies infanticide. Fr Abboud draws a telling comparison with another headline news story in his country this week.
Two articles cover this week’s big news on the social science research front: the publication in the United States of two studies that cast serious doubt on claims that there is “no difference” in outcomes for children between lesbian or gay parenting and mum and dad parenting. The authors of the peer-reviewed studies, two young men working at different universities, are facing a severe backlash from the psychological establishment and the other usual suspects in gay rights debates. Read our articles by Michael Cook and Walter Schumm -- they are not the last word on the subject -- but they will help you get a handle on the facts of the matter. Needless to say, common sense is not enough when debating these issues in the public square; one needs to know the science.
George Friedman meanwhile updates us on the European crisis and the significance of the Spanish bailout. Somehow we seem to be witnessing the endgame of a western culture that has come adrift from its moorings in the family and the Christian faith. How long will it take leaders to recognise that?
“One pearl is better than a whole necklace of potatoes.” I discovered this marvellous piece of advice in a New York Times blog about the art of writing sentences. For some people the NYT is a favourite dartboard, but it does have some superb nooks and crannies. The blog attributes this guideline for style to a French mime, Etienne Decroux. Something tells me this is apocryphal, but it is a remarkably good slogan for the art of the mime.
Moving now to an apparently unrelated topic, we are once again changing our policy on comments. For a while we tried to enforce a five-comments-per-reader policy, but this has proved too onerous for the editors and sometimes unfair to commenters. However, what I have noticed is that often there are bushels of potatoes and very few pearls on the thread of comments. The art of good writing (I refer readers to the NYT’s blogger’s hints, “The Secrets of Sinful Prose”) is packing the maximum of sense into the minimum of words. We have a 300 word-limit – which is also hard to police – and good contributions to the debate can easily be shoehorned into this guideline.
Anyhow, we welcome comments – although all of them are moderated – because they add spice to the site. We don’t live in a bubble at MercatorNet and it’s great to get a variety of viewpoints.
So far this week, we have posted several controversial articles. One, by Mat Hardy, an Australian academic, suggests that there may be more ethical complications to drone warfare than meet the eye. Then, three contributors tackle the contentious area of birth control. Brian Clowes dismantles bogus statistics about illegal abortions in Colombia; Father Michael Giesler explains why US Catholics are so upset with the Obama Administration’s contraceptive mandate; and from New Zealand Richard McLeod criticises his government’s moves to incentivize contraception for mothers on welfare. Finally, Margaret Somerville analyses noisy and sometimes violent protests in Montreal this summer against… well, against something or other.
Science fiction has never been high on my reading list. There was The Day of the Triffids that was required reading at school, and after that, well, I simply don’t remember. But after reading Walter Pless’s valediction for Ray Bradbury and glancing at a couple of other obituaries today, I feel that I have missed out on something. Not just the stories, but on the man who wrote them and who, from all accounts, was a spontaneous and generous human being, unspoiled by success and totally in love with his craft. Another plus: he had a 56-year marriage with his wife Marguerite, and four daughters.
Bradbury was eccentric in a rather charming way: he never travelled by air or drove a car. And although he foresaw an uncanny number of technological developments, he criticised the use of computers and the internet. But he achieved what few writers today seem able to do today -- he captured the attention of boys. From what I hear, anyone who can get boys to read books deserves profound respect. Of course, there is stiffer competition these days from techno gadgetry, but perhaps there is also some vital ingredient lacking in much of what is churned out for teenagers.
This is a clue I picked up: Bradbury said that all of his stories, no matter how fantastic or frightening they might be, were metaphors for everyday life. And they all came from his childhood. “The great thing about my life is that everything I’ve done is a result of what I was when I was 12 or 13,” he said in 1982. I like the sound of that creativity anchored in real human experience. Perhaps that is why I am more likely to read Fahrenheit 451 than Twilight or The Hunger Games.
In other articles today: Michael Cook plays devil’s advocate to Canadian writer and convert to Catholicism Michael Coren, who has just published a book called Heresey: Ten Lies they Spread About Christianity. Lawyer James Cole explains the judicial legerdemain that enabled a US appeals court last week to declare part of the Defence of marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional. And George Friedman discerns the twilight of counterinsurgency wars.
A film about the Cristero War opened last weekend, For Greater Glory. Most Americans will be at a loss to know where or when this took place. But it was on their doorstep, in Mexico, not so long ago, from 1926 to 1929, and it lingered on for years. An estimated 90,000 people died – far too many to be forgotten.
Mexico is a complex country steeped in deep Catholic piety, fierce anti-clericalism, a history of ghastly violence, and weak democratic traditions. So its wars are bound to be complex as well. But the spark for this conflict was simple: a harsh persecution of the Catholic Church by the government of Plutarch Elias Calles. Churches were closed, priests were shot, property was seized.
Much of this was justified by referring to the Mexican Constitution of 1917, whose third article stated: “educational services shall be secular and, therefore, free of any religious orientation [and] … educational services shall be based on scientific progress and shall fight against ignorance, ignorance's effects, servitudes, fanaticism and prejudice.”
Of course, it was Calles who determined what constituted “fanaticism and prejudice”. He and his myrmidons punished them with death.
What struck me in reading some brief sketches (relatively little has been published in English, or in Spanish, for that matter) of the war was how uncannily similar those articles from the Mexican constitution are to rants on blogs and in newspapers nowadays.
It is no longer uncommon in the US, the UK or Canada to encounter petty persecution of Christian “fanaticism”. How will it end? Violence and martyrdom seem preposterous, even unthinkable. But along with many other people, I do wonder how our increasingly bitter conflicts over abortion and same-sex marriage will eventually be resolved. From that perspective alone, For Greater Glory is a thought-provoking film.
This week, Pat Fagan reviews For Greater Glory; Margaret Somerville wonders why the Ontario government wants to conceal its abortion statistics, and from London Joanna Bogle celebrates the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.
Most people who have followed the controversies around homosexuality for a little while will be acquainted with the name, Dr Robert Spitzer. For many years a psychiatry professor at the University of Columbia in New York, Dr Spitzer led the push within the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 1973. Then in 2001 something amazing happened: he delivered a paper to the APA annual meeting about research he had conducted showing that some people could “change from gay to straight”.
Dr Spitzer became a respected and even heroic figure amongst those who hold to the view that homosexuality is a disorder and that it is possible, with sufficient motivation and help, for some people to change. Here was one professional and academic from outside their ranks who had been prepared to look at the evidence and acknowledge it. For Dr Spitzer, though, there was little or no consolation in this gratitude from a despised minority when his name was mud among his own peers. Now at the age of 80, and suffering from Parkinson’s disease, he has made a surprising -- and sad -- move. You can read about it and the reaction of one expert in Michael Cook’s interview with Dr Gerard van den Aardweg.
If you need cheering up after that, go to Zac Alstin’s defence (against another dead journalist) of GK Chesterton, whose birthday was on May 29. A few quotes from GKC, even if they are on the grim subjects of Prussians and war, are enough to give one’s mood a lift. There are few worldly consolations like taking up a favourite author and losing oneself in his prose. Sometimes, when I want to switch off but my fevered brain keeps circling round some topic like internet porn, I pull The Everlasting Man from the shelf and allow myself to be swept along by Chesterton’s marvellous metaphors and wonderful wit.
I wonder what the Great Man would have had to say about the Middle East, with events ranging from the appalling in Syria to the perplexing in Egypt. He might have loathed “Prussians” but how would he choose -- as George Friedman this week suggests the Egyptians must -- between their military and the Islamists?
One can feel powerless before the problems of the world so it is great when the chance to do something practical is presented on a platter. That was the case early in the week when a young friend in the Philippines reminded me about an entrepreneurial project she is promoting. Ivanna Aguiling and colleagues are trying to raise the extremely modest amount of abut US$1600 over the next 19 days. Please go to the Demography post, Big Ups for Briggy Hall, and see if you can give them a hand.
MercatorNet passed a milestone today – we now have 2,000 fans on Facebook. Admittedly it is a very minor milestone, but we owe a big Thank You to everyone who has Liked us.
Although some of our contributors have expressed justifiable scepticism about whether Facebook helps one to become a more caring, more empathetic, kinder, wiser person, it certainly does help to promote MercatorNet. It accounts for a substantial number of hits on the site. It’s a great way to spread the message of human dignity throughout the internet.
So, if you are a Facebook user, consider Liking us so that we can reach the 3,000-fan milestone. One of my relatives works for – you are not going to believe this! – Paris Hilton, who has 1,200,000 fans. Ultimately our goal is to leave PH in the dust. Give us a hand.
Speaking of which, our fund-raising campaign is going well. It draws to a close on May 31 and I hope to give you a full report at the end of the June 30 financial year.
This week we have posted three articles. Alma Acevedo yearns for more substance in the commencement speeches which mark the end of college in the United States. There is too much fluff and comedy and too little wisdom, she contends.
From Canada, Harley J. Sims analyses Spartacus, a sword-and-sandals television series which has set new records for average number of corpses per episode -- 25 compared to HBO's Game of Thrones, with a mere 14. It’s not exactly human-dignity-friendly. And finally, I have reflected on the death of a surrogate mother in India.
Yesterday I read that Australia is the happiest country in the OECD, thanks to being quite a long way from Europe and its financial woes, somewhat closer to China, which consumes much of the Lucky Country’s booming mineral production, and having nearly full employment, which has a lot to do with mining and China. There are other factors too. An interesting one is that Australian men, believe it or not, spend nearly three hours every day cooking, cleaning or caring—one of the highest scores across the OECD's 34 member countries and ahead of men in the U.S., Germany and Canada.
But the most important reason of all -- scandalously overlooked in the OECD Better Life survey -- is all the New Zealanders living in Oz, more than 600,000 of us. And they like us so much over there that they’ve been over here the past week or so recruiting more of our workers to dig up iron ore etc. I shouldn’t repeat this, but a former Prime Minister once said that the Kiwis who went to Australia raised the IQ on both sides of the Tasman. Sorry, sorry, it’s not true. I lived over there myself for a few years, so it can’t be. I mean it can't be true that it lowered the IQ in NZ... Oh, never mind. Take-home message: Kiwis and Aussies are absolutely best friends; we just have a funny way of showing it sometimes.
George Friedman has an interesting analysis of Australia this week. This is one of the things he says: Think of Australia as a creature whose primary circulatory system is outside of its body. Such a creature would be extraordinarily vulnerable and would have to develop unique defense mechanisms. This challenge has guided Australian strategy. Sounds weird but makes a lot of sense if you read the article.
Also today: Stephen Heaney, an American philosophy professor, conducts an intriguing “thought experiment” that is very helpful in explaining why same-sex “marriage” doesn’t make sense. Michael Cook asks some pertinent questions about using high-risk technology to save the environment. And Margaret Somerville finds the sacred unexpectedly bubbling up through the Canadian press.
Sheila Liaugminas is away for a break in the mountains but if you are not yet aware of the Catholic Church’s big lawsuit against the Obama administration, check her blog. On Conjugality Michael Kirke notes that David Cameron may have to allow a conscience vote on the definition of marriage. A post on Tiger Print, “The norm of cohabitation”, has drawn a lot of interest. On Demography, Marcus Roberts writes about a wonderful programme in India that is making a real difference to women’s lives. And on Reading Matters Jennifer Minicus reminds us of a classic children’s book set in the Middle Ages -- the sort of thing I just loved as a youngster.
When I cannot think of pertinent and pithy observations to make in the newsletter about nature, society and stuff that happens, I fall back on common threads in the week’s stories.
Often these appear by accident rather than by design, as editing is an inexact science. Regimenting contributors is like herding cats, at least the way we do it. The New York Times has some faults, but at least it manages to line up five distinguished writers on a single topic!
So this week’s first theme is the natural law and morality. Douglas Farrow, from Canada, argues that the attitude of the Canadian parliament to abortion suggests that the link between law and morality has been severed in public discourse. And from South Australia, Zac Alstin makes a persuasive argument for the existence of an objective morality by drawing on the writings of the ancient Chinese sages.
You may have noticed a slight (and temporary) derangement of the MercatorNet layout. I have made my film debut in a short YouTube video. As you might suspect, I am rattling the tin cup for MercatorNet as part of our May fund-raising drive. It is a good cause, I believe, so please consider a donation.
Another of our articles is a review by Harley J. Sims of two movies by Joss Whedon. One of them, “The Cabin in the Woods”, he says, is a groundbreaking horror film. Is there a thread here? No doubt some readers will say there is…
Finally, Mary Cooney reviews a warm-hearted book about a Jewish family with four children who adopted five more from Romania and Ethiopia.
It's a version of Murphy's Law, I believe. You are running late with something and then the technology lets you down as well. That’s what happened when I tried to send this newsletter last night; the website we use for mailing has changed the user interface and I couldn’t make head or tail of it. So, with the editor’s help, here we go again…
There is a theme running through several of our most recent articles -- communication. It’s partly because there has been one of those “World Day of…” anniversaries that the UN sprinkles liberally through the calendar, and because communicating is our core business at MercatorNet. In fact, it’s our only business. Kevin de Souza, an educator who lives in Mumbai, has written a great, practical guide to using the social media, and I have ruminated on the need for silence to enrich our verbal exchanges -- a theme I owe to Pope Benedict in his Letter for World Communications Day (Sunday).
Denyse O’Leary surveys the sport of psychologising political opinion, something in which certain scientists and media hacks seem to be in cahoots. Perhaps I shouldn’t say “hacks”; as Sheila Liaugminas reminds us in her post on interviewing Rwandan genocide survivor Immaculee Ilibagiza, when we belittle others in word we don’t do ourselves any favours either. Still, a brouhaha over Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao this week came down to a combination of inaccurate reporting and reckless blogging and tweeting that showed how easily the media can destroy a person’s reputation. See Michael Cook’s post on Conjugality.
George Friedman this week asks whether France’s new Socialist president Francois Hollande will play the Gaullist hand. (Isn’t it odd that a French president should be called “Holland”…) In other blogs: Demography has Bollywood coming to the rescue of Indian girl children; Tiger Print gives the thumbs down to political point scoring over First Lady fashion; and Reading Matters has more good books.