Part of the job of a good historian is
reconciling the contradictions in a society. But explaining to future generations how we both lavished
the best of everything on our children and also jeopardized their mental and even
physical health to make adults feel warm and fuzzy will require someone with special insight.
Two articles in this week’s MercatorNet
focus on the risk to children involved in same-sex marriage. David
van Gend makes the obvious point that children need a mother and a father
for their balanced development – but commonsense is ignored by activists. And James
S. Cole observes that the courts are giving children three parents in some
situations. Adding an extra chromosome to a child’s genetic make-up leads to
serious birth defects. I cannot see why adding an extra parent will be any more
As well, the reality of same-sex parenting often
requires IVF, a procedure which doubles the risk of birth defects. But this
does not seem to trouble its defenders, either. The best interests of the child
are being subordinated to the happiness of adults. This is a huge issue – we’d
love to get your comments.
There are two more articles. Godfrey
Hodgson questions the notion of American exceptionalism in a provocative
essay. And Cristina
Alarcon has written an angry, but well-informed and thoroughly documented, denunciation
of the ills of the Pill.
I am a little late with this newsletter because I was seized at the last minute by an urge to sound off about scenes of rioting in London that I saw on television last night. I have never liked to watch violence. Even as a kid Tom and Jerry cartoons used to worry me because the characters got knocked around so much and things got broken, and I couldn’t stand the mess and destruction of custard-pie throwing slapstick. So real life smashing of windows and wrecking of buildings worries me even more; especially when the cause is dubious and there is so much that is really wrong with the world.
English nurse Edith Cavell, whose new biography is reviewed by Francis Phillips this week, could teach today’s young protestors a thing or two about how to work for human dignity and human rights. Hers is an inspiring, heroic story, to judge by Francis’ review, which has made me want to go out and get the book. In another review, Jeff Gardner finds that Condoleezza Rice’s memoir of her family, Extraordinary, Ordinary People, is a warm and enjoyable manifesto.
Still in America, Sheila Liaugminas writes about the importance of the right to life and other basic values in the recent elections, and Mark Lickona reviews The Social Network (the movie) which leaves him with mixed feelings. Vincenzina Santoro looks at one of those big reports that the UN comes up with regularly -- this time its annual Human Development Report -- and finds that they still don’t get it right about women; and Micah Watson argues, convincingly to my mind, that the slogan, “You can’t legislate morality”, is nonsense.
Michael Cook will be back next week and there will be two updates, as usual.
After the “shellacking” he has taken at the hands of American voters this week I do not blame President Obama for wanting to get right out of the country for a while. Doing deals with India and other Asian countries over the next week or so should provide an absorbing distraction. But I have a better idea: Wellington. That’s Wellington, New Zealand, fourth best city in the world according to Lonely Planet’s new guidebook. Hillary Clinton was right onto it, arriving here Thursday morning local time while the President was still looking for new ways to say, We got beaten.
Mrs Clinton, who was on a well-timed tour of Asia and the Pacific to promote something called the Trans Pacific Partnership (which seems to be largely about countering Chinese influence in the region) certainly found the Kiwi capital a breath of fresh air. Wellington’s notoriously strong winds stood her artfully casual hairstyle on end as she stepped off the plane and only a heavy application of product kept it under control at a later appearance at Parliament. There she “survived” (her word) a Maori welcome which included the hongi (touching forehead and nose) with a few dignitaries and modestly laughed off the accidental compliment of being called “President Clinton” by a distracted Prime Minister during a press conference.
But I predict that it’s the food at John Key’s barbecue that Hillary will remember. Seafood specials including whitebait fritters, paua fritters, hapuku steaks, and crayfish grilled with garlic butter and limes; wild boar sausages, venision rack, potato-kumara salad; pavlova with passionfruit curd, kiwifruit sorbet… all washed down with top local Rieslings, chardonnay and pinot noir… Hungry? Thirsty? Just remember, Wellington has it all. If you can stand the wind. Myself, I prefer Auckland.
For serious perspectives on the US mid-term elections you should read today’s articles by Michael Coren and George Friedman, as well as Sheila Liaugminas’ many posts. In other articles Blake Robinson writes about socially responsible investing as a way to fight porn, and Miguel Valerio surveys the literary output that has earned Peruvian-born writer Mario Vargas Llosa a Nobel Prize -- and the admiration of those who value his commitment to human rights and dignity.
Australians are dimly aware that something
important is happening in the US today, but they have bigger fish to fry. Today
was the Melbourne Cup, the race that stops the nation. It is a public holiday
in Melbourne, and for the whole week the city is full of good cheer and women
in silly hats.
This year, to my great delight, I drew a 2
to 1 favourite in my sweep, So You Think. This is the closest I have ever come
to winning in The Cup. And did it win? No, it was beaten by an American-bred,
French-trained and ridden horse called Americain. The Australian horse just
didn’t have enough ticker in the last furlong. So You Think placed third, but,
as they say, “show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.”
I know that the other race will have
winners and losers, too. But at least both Democrats and Republicans can have
the satisfaction of being horse-racing hegemons no matter which of them
controls Congress next year. To say nothing of the French.
And speaking of France, our lead story this
week comes from the town of Saint Nazaire. A quadriplegic woman of amazing grit
and resilience has been made a chevalier of the legion of honour for her battle
against legalised euthanasia. It’s a very moving story.
Paul Adams writes from Hawaii about a renewal
of wedding vows in the Maldives which went terribly wrong. Leonard Franchi
reviews a sturdy defence of liberal arts. And Margaret Somerville finds
important bioethical lessons in the recent film Never Let Me Go.
This may not be the appropriate forum to disclose my personal failings, but I am a closet meetings junkie. What a rush! Minutes, budgets,
proposals, votes, agendas. Weekly targets, monthly targets, yearly targets. The
infinitely creative variety of throat-clearing excuses for not meeting any of the targets. The
caffeine hits. The Krispy Kreme headache relief. I could go on, but you get the
idea. I always look forward to meetings, especially if the alternative is work.
Unfortunately, at MercatorNet we don’t have
many meetings, because the team is so dispersed. Tomorrow, however, we shall be
holding the Second Annual International New Media Foundation Conference in
Sydney. Carolyn Moynihan, our Deputy Editor, and Nicci Loader, our new
marketing manager, are flying in from New Zealand. We will be thinking about
redesigning the website, adding more blogs, and boosting the number of
subscribers. It’s a bit late in the day, but if you have any suggestions about
improving the product or about the best kind of Krispy Kremes, please make comments. I’ll
put them on the agenda.
As you may know, there was no newsletter
earlier this week because Carolyn was away on holidays. We’ve posted several
interesting pieces. Michael Coren writes from Toronto about the election of a
politically incorrect mayor. George Friedman reflects on Germany’s about-face
on multi-culturalism. Francis Phillips reviews a memoir by the last of the
bright young things of 1930s Britain, Deborah Mitford.
The Oxford philosopher John Finnis (one of
Australia’s better exports) tackles Peter Singer on infanticide. Vincenzina
Santoro lifts the lid on an attempt in the United Nations to impose universal
sex ed. And finally, I have reviewed an insightful book by MercatorNet
contributor Robert R. Reilly on the theological roots of Muslim terrorism.
I am flying into Hobart, the capital of Tasmania, at the moment, as
comments on Cristina Alarcon's article on euthanasia accumulate.
Tasmania is also debating euthanasia and this reminds me of Janet, an
80+ widow I once met in a sunless Hobart suburb. I may have told this
story before, so please stop me if I repeat myself. A friend of mine and
I had been chopping firewood for Janet (long story, will explain later)
and stayed for a cuppa afterwards in her chilly cottage.
Janet's life story was dismal. She was born with a disfiguring wall-eye
which probably explains why her mother abandoned her at birth to a state
orphanage. She left at 14 and at 16 married a garbage collector. He was
not a bad fellow really but drank heavily. One or two of her children
had died and her eldest grandson had just been released from jail. One
or two others were drug addicts. Her health was not good and she had a
huge tray of pills for every possible ailment a woman of her age could
have. Blind in one eye, she could barely read the gigantic headlines of
the tabloid on her coffee table with the other. In short, she seemed a
candidate for the euthanasing ministrations of her doctor.
Not a bit of it. Janet was bubbling with loquacious exuberant vitality.
Her only problem in life was meeting her date with destiny. She was
about to become a great-great-grandmother, not, as she noted with some
disdain, an ordinary, run-of-the-mill, garden variety,
great-grandmother, like her friends. A great-great-grandmother. Was she
happy or what?
We left her house wondering if Tasmania's dying with dignity crowd
should pay her a visit for a bit of a pick-me-up.
After reading Ms Alarcon's article, try Godfrey Hodgson on the
Tea Party movement in the US and Michael Coren on police madness
PS -- Deputy Editor Carolyn Moynihan is on holidays next week. There
will only be one newsletter, at the end of next week.
Something peculiar happened in the past
week here in Australia. The media went into a frenzy about a girl from
Melbourne: liftouts, wrap-arounds, TV specials, live coverage – the demand for
features was insatiable. And it wasn’t Nicole Kidman. It was a nun who founded
a teaching order and died in 1909.
I have heard it rumoured that in the days
when the Pope was merely Cardinal Ratzinger he remarked that Australia was the
most secular nation on the planet. It’s nice to be noticed, but I thought that
places like New Zealand or Finland had that distinction sewn up. Whatever the
truth of this is, the Australian media has a reputation for robust hostility
towards Christianity and the Australian public for indolent indifference. Over the
past few years the Catholic Church, especially, has taken a shellacking over
some egregious sex abuse cases.
But on Sunday Mother Mary MacKillop (1842-1909)
was canonised in St Peter’s Square – Australia’s first saint -- and the nation
was mesmerised. The papers were full of descriptions of her charity, compassion,
fortitude and holiness – not to mention detailed descriptions of her miracles. It
was a continent-wide Sunday school.
Forgotten were all the scandals. There was
no venom, no ridicule. The national joy in celebrating the flowering of virtue
and love of God in a dusty, distant land was heartfelt. There seems to be a
lesson here. If the Church wants better PR, it needs more saints. I hope that a
few more are on the way Down Under.
Fortified by a weekend of exhilaration, we
turn to some sombre realities this week. San
Francisco psychologist Melissa Farley has written a searing indictment of the
international prostitution industry. It’s not easy reading, but many countries
are thinking of legalising prostitution and people need to know the facts. Then
Pauline Cooper-Ioelu reviews a book about pornography by a life-long feminist which
has angered many of her colleagues.
Finally Rebekah Hebbert writes from Canada
about the environmental controversy surround the Alberta tar sands. Some big
American companies are boycotting fuel made from the messy sands. Is that
really ethical, she asks.
As the story of the Chilean miners and their 69-day ordeal unfolds through countless media outlets it is difficult to be interested in any other news. What is a million Frenchmen marching against raising the pension age when 33 men are back from the dead, so to speak, their families bursting with emotion, the country bursting with pride, the world audience living through it all with them in solidarity and wonder. This morning I wept over my breakfast as I read what Mario Gomez’ wife Lilianette has said about the ordeal and its miraculous outcome. The oldest of Los 33 wants nothing more than to restart his life with her, beginning with a church wedding. Isn’t that marvellous?
Both Sheila Liaugminas and myself have written our tuppence-worth on this epic, as you can see from the links below. I have speculated that the men will not need a bevy of psychiatrists to rehabilitate them. (I read this morning that some of them actually rebelled against daily talks with psychologists while still in the mine, and were bought off with cigarettes.) Sheila has captured the emotion of the moment and some uplifting (!) details of the rescue.
The really stand-out feature of the miner’s rescue was that the story was 100 per cent positive: it was all about saving lives and bringing the brains of several countries to bear on the way to do it. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the news, solemnly headlined during the week, that a US company has begun using human embryonic stem cells for the first time with human subjects. Patrick Cusworth pours cold water on this unethical scheme and warns potential patients not to hold their breath. Also today Alessandra Nucci reflects on the way Papa Ratzinger’s ratings keep bouncing back despite all efforts to the contrary.
We are always on the lookout for heroes of
human dignity. And finally the Norwegian committee has come up with someone who
deserves its Nobel Peace Prize. He is Liu Xiaobo, who was jailed – not for the
first time – on Christmas Day for his subversive sentiments.
Mr Liu is a writer who participated in the
1989 pro-democracy student demonstrations in Tiananmen Square. But what really
disturbed China’s authoritarian rulers was the Charter of ’08, a stirring manifesto
for democracy and human rights, which he signed with 300 other dissidents and
What I find admirable about Mr Liu is that
he refuses to live in exile. The Chinese government would love see him being
feted by the West because he would unable to stir up mischief at home. However,
as he writes in one of the essays which landed him in jail, “The loyalty bought
by the promise of a comfortable life has a soul that is rotten to the core.”
I am not familiar with the body of his
work, but translations of some recent essays show that he is sustained by a
firm belief in human dignity – not what he calls “the quagmire of absolute
relativism”. Western intellectuals could learn a lot from him.
This week Kerry Brown contributes an
article which gives some background on the Peace Prize laureate and we feature
some excerpts from his essays. Francis Phillips reviews the latest book by
Roger Scruton (an implacable foe of relativism). Jennifer Roback Morse sees in
the tragic suicide of an American college student proof that sex is too
powerful to be used as a mere toy.
A number of you may have heard from me already this week, via an email inviting you to “Check out my photos!” Now, as you may have guessed from the length of time it has taken me to get a halfway decent picture of myself up on this website, I am the last person in the world likely to want to share a whole album with you -- on the internet, for goodness sake! The invitation was the result of some dirty trick by which an outfit called Fanbox got hold of my email list and mailed out to everyone, apparently.
My apologies for the annoyance; I have learned not to respond without double checking, even to people I know, when they invite me to do anything other than very boring, routine things. There was an upside to this episode, however: I had nice messages from people I have not corresponded with for several years. It confirmed for me that the people we deal with through MercatorNet are a very civilised and kindly bunch on the whole. Thank you.
Michael Cook has been away this week so we did not send out our usual Tuesday newsletter. The result is that we have more articles for you today. A couple of them are rather long but provide great reading: one is the text of speech given by Alan C Carlson, a US historian and President of The Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society, at a national Marriage Day dinner in Australia in August. It is an entertaining and penetrating round-up of the reasons we must keep working for a renewed culture of marriage. The other is an interview with a top French academic, Remi Brague, who explains the importance of distinguishing between secularity and secularism in the debate about the place of religion in society. I was very excited to come across this interview on the Open Democracy website and only wish we were the ones to have published it first.
But wait, there’s more: William West reports an interview on Australian television with Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, who defends Pope Benedict against calls by a certain legal prima donna to prosecute him for “crimes against humanity”. Zac Alstin suggests that the sexual culture of adult society is the real problem behind the sexualization of children. Michael Cook points out that, 60 years after an appalling US medical experiment in Guatemala, abuses are still happening there. Bill Muehlenberg looks at the latest push for euthanasia in Australia, and I find that the father of IVF does not really deserve the Nobel Prize.