By Colby Cosh - Tuesday, May 17, 2011 - 21 Comments
In Morinville, Alta., Catholicism is part of the public school system
The town of Morinville, Alta., population 6,775, cannot offer Donna Hunter’s children the secular, non-denominational education most Canadian parents expect as a matter of course. She is leaving for nearby north Edmonton and taking her three young children. And her sister. And her sister’s two kids. And her retired parents. Mrs. Hunter led the family’s march to Morinville in 1999; not yet a mother, she didn’t realize that all of the town’s public schools are, because of an anomaly in Alberta’s constitutional development, formally Catholic. The school board’s stated mission: “ensuring that Catholic values permeate all school activities.”
Morinville belongs to the Greater St. Albert “Catholic Public” school district—a historically French-Canadian area that declared itself Catholic for education purposes under territorial law in 1884. For generations, non-Catholic parents accepted the status quo, but Morinville schools have grown more strident about their identity even as the town becomes more diverse. Hunter leads a group of Morinville parents demanding a non-religious option, but the Catholic board will not provide one, and apparently can’t be forced to despite its officially public status. The province’s education minister acknowledges the problem but, say critics, has been slow to address it.
As Hunter leaves Morinville, her group is enjoying some progress. The Catholic board is surveying town residents to test the appetite for secular education, perhaps provided within Morinville under the auspices of a neighbouring district. “But the survey won’t count people who already left because of the Catholic monopoly, or those who never move here,” notes Hunter. “Every year that passes while we await a solution, more Morinville parents will face my choice. Stay? Leave? Wait? How long?”
By macleans.ca - Friday, May 13, 2011 at 11:10 AM - 0 Comments
The RCMP officers involved in Robert Dziekanski’s death face perjury charges, while scientists prove Einstein was right
Some justice at last
It’s been over three years since Robert Dziekanski died at the Vancouver airport after RCMP used Tasers to subdue him. Now B.C.’s attorney general has laid perjury charges against the four officers involved for allegedly giving misleading testimony during the exhaustive Braidwood inquiry. While some, including Dziekanski’s mother, Zofia Cisowski, are disappointed the charges don’t relate to the tasering itself, Cisowski still applauded the move. The wheels of the law may be slow, but they do keep moving, and in this sad case the charges offer at least some measure of justice.
Harnessing hot air
Energy sources such as wind and solar could provide 80 per cent of the world’s power supply within four decades if governments provide the cash and policies to make it happen. That is the landmark conclusion of a UN panel that says it’s not too late to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a “safe” level. In the meantime, farmers are enjoying the heat. According to separate research, Canadian crops have been largely spared from the scourge of climate change—and our historically hard-luck farmers are profiting from increased demand.
When the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded this year’s Peace Prize to imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, it was a blow to China’s human rights record. But the big winner may be Scottish fish farmers. In a fit of pique, China has stopped buying salmon from Norway—its biggest supplier—and signed a deal with Scotland. Perhaps that contributed to the unprecedented majority won by Alex Salmond’s Scottish National Party in the May 5 elections. Good news for nationalist politicians, not so much for fish.
It’s all relative
A NASA study has confirmed two of the “most profound predictions” about Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity: that space and time are both warped and pulled by Earth’s gravity. Astrophysicists say the results, based on data measured by an orbiting space probe, will have implications “beyond our planet.” In other physics news: engineers have developed a golf ball that won’t slice. Now there’s a breakthrough we can relate to.
In the post-Mubarak era, Egypt is transitioning, but to what? Christians and Muslims clashed in Cairo, leaving 12 dead and two churches in smoldering ruins, amid signs Islamist hard-liners are asserting their power. At the same time, Syria continued its crackdown against anti-government protesters, killing scores of people and injuring hundreds, while in Libya, forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi hammered rebels. Clearly the fight is far from over for the pro-democracy movement across the Middle East.
Tens of thousands more baby boomers will face retirement without a company pension plan, Statistics Canada reported this week. Since the recession, membership in private sector plans has fallen below that of the public sector for the first time ever. Which is why Canadians should be cheering the Canada Pension Plan’s tripling of its 2009 investment in Internet-calling-company Skype, recently purchased by Microsoft for US$8.5 billion. Unless you work for the civil service or at a university, the CPP may be all the help you will get.
Lord Triesman, the chair of England’s failed bid for the 2018 World Cup of soccer, is alleging at least four FIFA members demanded bribes for their votes, including a knighthood for Paraguay’s representative. Trinidad’s football head wanted $2.5 million cash for an “educational centre.” London’s Sunday Times reports two West African delegates were paid $1.5 million to support Qatar’s winning bid. And in France, the national team is embroiled in scandal after it emerged officials considered quotas to limit the number of African and Arab-born players on their development squads. The ugly side to the beautiful game.
A good marriage isn’t necessarily built on love or even physical attraction, suggests new research in the Journal of Politics. Among the strongest shared traits between U.S. spouses is their political attitudes, the study found. The political bond forms early in marriages, but it’s not always enough to keep them together. Just ask political power-couple Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver, who separated this week.
By Brian Bethune - Wednesday, March 30, 2011 at 6:57 PM - 0 Comments
Book by Timothy Beal
It’s nothing new to point out that Scriptural passages can be used to argue for or against slavery, for the equality of men and women or for patriarchal supremacy, for pacifism or for war. Likewise, others have argued before Beal, with equal passion if often less eloquence, that it is precisely the Bible’s tensions—the arguments between its individual books—that make it so spiritually potent for Christians. What is new, and intriguing, about Beal’s work is the way it explores the Bible’s status as a cultural icon in America, and how the unblinking worship of it as God’s book of unambiguous answers to all questions coexists with ignorance of its contents.
Half of Americans tell pollsters they believe the Bible is the literal word of God. Strange then, that far fewer than that number can name its first book (Genesis); two-thirds of Americans—including some of their most prominent champions — can’t name at least five of the Ten Commandments. (Asked on The Colbert Report to recite them, Georgia Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, co-sponsor of a bill to display the Ten Commandments in the chambers of Congress, could only remember three.) And even while Bible literacy plummets, Bible sales boom: in 2008, American sales reached $823 million. Small wonder the most common visual image of the Bible in the U.S. is a closed black book.
How could this come to be, Beal asks. Two centuries of American Protestantism’s emphasis on Scripture as the key to everything from keeping husbands sober to saving souls has made it too sacred to question, Beal writes. Many Christians believe there is a single right way of understanding the Bible’s manifold contradictions, and are loath to look into it for fear of getting it wrong. It can’t last, Beal argues; the end of print culture will be the end of this book’s iconic status too, recreating the fluid Scriptures of Christianity’s first centuries.
By Kate Lunau - Thursday, March 17, 2011 at 10:25 AM - 0 Comments
How Tommy Douglas honed his political skills behind the pulpit of a small-town church
Even before his political career began, Tommy Douglas—who immigrated to Canada from Scotland as a child, and came from hardscrabble roots—understood that, “at the end of the day, politics needed to be about practical things,” says Vincent Lam, an emergency room doctor and Giller Prize-winning author, whose latest book, part of Penguin’s Extraordinary Canadians series, profiles the father of universal health care in Canada (in stores March 8).
During the Depression, Douglas—then a small-town preacher in Weyburn, Sask.—was deeply affected by the poverty and inequality that surrounded him, Lam writes, and worked tirelessly to address the problems. “For him, being a preacher was completely practical,” Lam says, “because it meant you would deal with people.” This was Douglas’s guiding philosophy in those years, as well as through to his stint as Saskatchewan premier, and, finally, as the first leader of the federal New Democratic Party. Douglas “wasn’t someone who came to socialism from a rarefied academic perspective,” Lam says. “His thinking came from the ground up.”
As premier, Douglas presided over North America’s first socialist government, from 1944 to 1961. Yet he proved to be a unifying figure, admired by those on both sides of the political spectrum. “Some of the most creative thinking in policy and government doesn’t bow to those easy ideas of left and right,” Lam says. The health care system, he adds, “is part of the idea that societies should be constructed primarily to take care of people, and for people to help each other.”
While those investors who had become rich in the soaring equity markets of the 1920s lost their shirts in the Depression, many workers and farmers lost their pants, socks, and underwear. As Tommy and Irma, a young couple who looked more like teenagers than a pastor and his wife, settled in Weyburn, Sask., the price of grain collapsed, local businesses were shuttered, loans were called in, and family farms were foreclosed. Children did not attend school in the winter for lack of shoes to wear. The streets of Weyburn were lined with young men who had nothing to do. Saskatchewan was economically devastated.
By macleans.ca - Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 3:35 PM - 30 Comments
‘How could the entire Jewish people have been present at this moment to call for the death of Jesus?’
Pope Benedict XVI has personally exonerated Jews in the death of Christ in a new book. Though the Vatican has for decades taught Jews were not responsible for killing Jesus, certain Bible passages have long been thought to lay the blame on Jewish people as a whole. “St Matthew attributes the request for the crucifixion of Jesus to ‘all the people’. But he cannot be stating a historical fact: how could the entire Jewish people have been present at this moment to call for the death of Jesus?” Benedict writes in Jesus of Nazareth. “The historical reality appears in St John and St Mark. The true accusers were those circulating in the temple at the time (the priestly hierarchy).”
By macleans.ca - Thursday, February 17, 2011 at 3:54 PM - 34 Comments
Jean Tremblay will appeal Human Rights Tribunal ruling barring religious symbols from council chambers
Saguenay Mayor Jean Tremblay says he has no intention of abiding by a Quebec Human Rights Tribunal ruling ordering an end to the city council’s pre-meeting prayer and the removal of a crucifix and a two-foot-high statue of the Sacred Heart from its chambers. “I am the first mayor in the history of the world to be punished for reciting a prayer,” he told The Globe and Mail, adding he would challenge the decision in court. (Tremblay is asking for donations to pay for the appeal rather than using public funds.) Last Friday’s ruling came as a result of a resident’s complaint the prayer violated his freedom of conscience. He awarded him $30,000 in damages.
By Brian Bethune - Friday, February 11, 2011 at 7:00 AM - 36 Comments
From evolution to safe sex, Benedict revealed himself to be a surprisingly activist Pope
In this story first published in 2011, Brian Bethune considered the ways Pope Benedict XVI was changing the Catholic Church:
It wasn’t supposed to be this way, not according to confounded Vatican watchers. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was already 78 years old when he became Pope Benedict XVI in 2005. He was widely seen as the arch-conservative doctrinal enforcer, the sharp spear point wielded by his charismatic rock star predecessor—Joshua to Pope John Paul II’s Moses, in the words of one Jewish scholar. The consensus opinion was that Benedict would provide a quiet, business-as-usual continuance of John Paul’s 27-year reign and, given his age, a brief pontificate that would allow the 1.1 billion-strong Roman Catholic Church time to catch its breath and consider its future options.
No one, it seems, asked Benedict what he thought of the caretaker idea.
From inflaming the Islamic world by quoting medieval anti-Muhammad remarks to welcoming disaffected Anglicans into the Roman fold, becoming personally embroiled in the clerical sex-abuse scandal, endorsing the (sometimes) use of condoms, writing a passage in his newest book exonerating Jews from the charge of killing Christ, and a host of less headline-grabbing initiatives (including a casual acceptance of the theory of evolution), Benedict—as he celebrates his 84th birthday and sixth anniversary as Pope (April 16 and 19, respectively)—continues to be far more active, innovative, and outright newsworthy than expected.
By macleans.ca - Tuesday, February 8, 2011 at 5:18 PM - 124 Comments
Assembly of Bishops requesting taxpayer dollars to cover operating costs
Quebec’s Catholic bishops are asking the provincial government to help their struggling parishes make ends meet. The group’s proposals include a request the province start covering the day-to-day operating costs of churches. The Assembly of Bishops says that, barring government help, catholic churches in province are liable to be sold to developers, who’ll transform them into condominiums or music venues.
By Brian Bethune - Thursday, December 23, 2010 at 2:00 PM - 57 Comments
An academic who is ‘not serving the interests of any faith’ derides self-serving portrayals of Christ
Maurice Casey is fed up. The emeritus professor of New Testament language and literature at Britain’s University of Nottingham—a scholar, that is, of the only sources we have for the life and times of Jesus Christ—knows that history is not done in his field like it is in any other. The stakes, and the passions, are simply too high, when those who study the central figure in Western history place him along a spectrum that ranges from God incarnate to mythic creation. What truly disturbs Casey, however, is the way the once vast middle ground in historical Jesus studies is being squeezed, just as it is in many aspects of the increasingly intense faceoff between religion and secularism in modern society.
A resurgence of conservative scholarship on one side, including historians (like Paul Johnson) who accept what Casey considers unbelievable miracles detailed in untrustworthy sources, and revisionism that stretches to outright denial of Jesus’s existence on the other, have led him to pen his own take, Jesus of Nazareth: An Independent Historian’s Account of His Life and Teaching. It’s less a full-blown biography than a vigorous defence of historical methodology—of the moral necessity of applying the same historical standards to the study of Jesus as we apply to, say, Julius Caesar. Casey’s magnum opus offers, for those who accept his reasoning, an impressive array of facts about Jesus Christ, and a slashing attack on almost everyone to the left or right of him.
By macleans.ca - Friday, December 17, 2010 at 11:35 AM - 82 Comments
Prayer, religious leaders barred from subsidized facilities
Beginning next June, Quebec will no longer tolerate expressions of religion in government-subsidized daycares. Under the new rules, daycare administrators will no longer be permitted to make children recite prayers, though they will be able to recite their own, and religious leaders like rabbis, priests and imams will no longer be allowed to visit the centres. The province has in the past allowed religious organizations to run public daycares and government documents show about 20 subsidized daycares currently feature religious instruction as part of their programs.
By Erica Alini - Thursday, December 9, 2010 at 1:00 PM - 0 Comments
Once dominated by the Catholic Church and its bans, the Irish now lead the way in the use of birth control
When Pope Benedict XVI departed from previous Church doctrine two weeks ago by saying condoms are acceptable in certain cases, Catholic-dominated Ireland was so distracted by news it might need an economic bailout that it barely noticed. There was a time, though, when a Vatican softening on the contraception veto would have made the top headline in Irish newspapers. A time when, in Ireland, things like condoms, pills and diaphragms were not just taboo, but outright illegal, according to a 1935 law forbidding the import and sale of contraceptives. In the 1970s, Irish feminists would challenge their government’s anti-birth control policies by staging protests like massive condom-buying expeditions to Northern Ireland, where contraception devices were legal. But this was still an Ireland where taking on the Catholic Church was socially daring and politically suicidal.
By Scott Feschuk - Wednesday, November 24, 2010 at 4:00 PM - 102 Comments
FESCHUK: In the throes of a serious shortage, the Church tries out some new strategies
Looking for work? Seeking a new challenge? Now may be the perfect time to consider a career in the exciting ﬁeld of demon exorcism.
The U.S. Roman Catholic Church is in dire need of dedicated professionals with the courage and theatrical overacting required to cast out evil spirits from the bodies of the faithful. American bishops even held a conference last weekend in Baltimore to train clergy on the tactical points of coaxing a demon from its human host. That’s one souvenir conference tote bag we’d all like to have: Exorcism 2010—The power of Christ compels you . . . to support our sponsors!
The New York Times summed up the Church’s predicament: “There are only a handful of priests in the country trained as exorcists, but they say they are overwhelmed with requests from people who fear they are possessed by the Devil.”
You can imagine the mishaps that ensue. When a newbie exorcist is pressed into action before he’s ready, it’s easy to panic and grab the wrong magical weapon. Note to rookies: a silver bullet kills a werewolf, garlic wards off vampires and a Big Mac lures Kirstie Alley down from a tree. You want the crucifix, the holy water and, if Hollywood has taught us anything about exorcisms, a few Wet-Naps to clean yourself up afterwards.
By Martin Patriquin - Friday, November 19, 2010 at 12:20 PM - 16 Comments
Former British PM Tony Blair on the rights of the religious to be heard
So Tony Blair, former prime minister of the Queen’s England, home of the shoe bomber and the London subway terror bombings, a country riven by tension over a growing Muslim population, walks into a Quebec hall to talk about reasonable accommodation.
Fish-out-of-water daydream? Set-up to a tasteless joke? No. The former British prime minister actually did as much in Montreal last week. Blair, at once a devout Catholic and ex-prime minister of notably secular Britain, has spent much of the last three years promoting the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, which aims to show how “faith is a powerful force for good in the modern world.”
“I became Middle East envoy for Israel and Palestine, so that’s been quite challenging. And then I decided to try and bring religious faiths of the world together and create an understanding, so that’s been quite a challenge, too,” Blair, sitting in an ornate red leather chair, said to a crowd of about 400 gathered in a downtown ballroom. “And then I decided to do some work on climate change, so this is probably an indication of Napoleonic delusion.”
By Brian Bethune - Thursday, October 28, 2010 at 9:20 AM - 0 Comments
Religious denominations no longer divide Americans—religion itself, and its role in public life, splits the nation
Half a century ago, when religion entered the political arena in the U.S., it was as a matter of tensions between denominations, the kind of flare-up in tribal loyalties sparked by Catholic John F. Kennedy’s 1960 run for the presidency. With a full 30 per cent of respondents telling pollsters that they would never vote for any Catholic, Kennedy had to repeatedly assure voters he didn’t take marching orders from the pope.
But religion itself was quiescent—certainly in comparison to other times in American history, including the present—primarily because both religious and secular Americans held the same conservative views on sexual morality. It’s an era that now seem almost as far in the past as the Inquisition: by 2004, when Catholic John Kerry ran against George W. Bush, the religious tribes had almost vanished and Kerry’s denomination was of little interest to Protestant voters. What counted was how devout he was, and how his religiosity, or lack thereof, affected his policies on the hot-button moral issues of American politics.
How American religion lost its interior animosities (mostly, that is—Mormons and Muslims are still largely outside the tent), while becoming a much more militant side of a deep religious-secular divide, is the key question for Robert Putnam and David Campbell in American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us. To find the answer and to see if current trends seem likely to hold up, the co-authors comb through the two most comprehensive surveys ever done on religion and public life in the U.S., specially commissioned for their book. Campbell and Putnam, the latter a political scientist who rose to fame in 2000 with Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital, get where they’re going all right, and they turn up a lot of fascinating information about America’s ever-evolving religious life along the way.
By Jaime Weinman - Friday, October 8, 2010 at 2:26 PM - 0 Comments
Apart from being Coma Week on Glee, this was Religion Week on U.S. broadcast TV. At least three shows, including two of the biggest hits, had stories revolving around issues of religion and spirituality: first Glee, then Modern Family, finally Community (which has another religion plot coming, according to episode descriptions). When three shows deal with religion in three days — on three different networks, yet — something has to be in the air, particularly when you factor in the rampant religious overtones on many science-fiction/fantasy shows. It’s like religion episodes ae to 2010 television what Soviet defector episodes were to 1980.
Nearly all TV episodes about religion wind up offering the same message: “Everybody has to believe in something.” It’s done in different ways on different shows, of course: on Glee, it was presented sort of seriously (people need something “sacred” in their lives even if it’s not God); on Community, which is a genuine comedy, it was comic (everybody is entitled to their insane beliefs). But it usually comes down in the same area; even if the creator is an atheist or a believer in a specific religion, the episode will end up telling us that a) Everyone believes in something more or less spiritual and b) It’s all good.
Part of this is, of course, the middle-of-the-road tendency of all Hollywood entertainment, the need to be fair to both sides and all sides. The “everybody believes in something” message on religion is of a piece with the message of most TV episodes about politics, which is that all the political parties are essentially the same and it doesn’t really matter who you vote for — but you should still vote. It’s hard to use an expensive, collaborative, advertiser-supported television episode for advocacy, even if this were desirable, and I’m certainly not saying it is.
But I think this genuinely reflects the thinking of many people in Hollywood. Hollywood, remember, is a place where a large number of people do believe in a generic “something.” It’s not a very religious town, but the number of outright non-believers is still pretty low; non-traditional religious beliefs run rampant, and people who don’t believe in religion may take up some vague form of spirituality. The idea that you have to have some form of faith may not just be a truism, but what Hollywood writers frequently believe themselves. Part of the point of that Community episode was that you have to live and work with people even if they believe in nutty, cultish things; that’s undoubtedly something you have to accept to work in Hollywood (or anywhere, really, but especially Hollywood, where your co-worker’s beliefs may be known to the entire world).
And, secondly, Hollywood is a place where a lot of people really do consider themselves middle-of-the-road, centrist, open to all views. That seems like a strange thing to say, I know. But because it’s their job to please the masses, Hollywood people can become convinced that they do in fact represent the midpoint between the extremes. Jon Stewart isn’t “Hollywood” geographically, but his “Restore Sanity” rally is a perfect example of what I’m talking about: there are people out there on the left and right who are equally bad, and here I am, the voice of centrist sanity. Given that many show business people think of themselves this way, it’s not surprising that their views on religion, as expressed in their work, tend to be very vague.
This kind of thing has a long history in Hollywood, of course. After the power of the Catholic Legion of Decency was broken in Hollywood — meaning that writers and producers no longer had to be on the side of Christianity at all times for fear of risking a boycott — anti-religious views became more common than they are now, but pretty rare unless they were balanced out in some way. By the end of the ’70s, with the rise of generic spirituality (celebrated most famously in Star Wars, the ultimate “you have to believe in something really vague” movies), we were moving toward the modern status quo where devout religious belief and convinced disbelief were rare on TV.
So for example, in this episode from 1980, the year of Russian Defectors, there’s only one character who doesn’t seem to have at least a bit of religion. And her lack of belief his soft-pedaled by having her say that she believes in some non-religious, humanist conception of God.
Outright TV atheists still continued to exist into the ’80s (Maddie on Moonlighting came out as one), but there was almost some kind of spiritual belief attributed to them. What’s rare on TV is the opinion expressed by Dwight MacDonald in response to Ingmar Bergman’s religious angst: “I don’t believe in God and am not much interested in whether I am right.”
By macleans.ca - Thursday, October 7, 2010 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
Berlusconi strikes again, Justin Bieber as wedding singer, and B.C. investigates the alleged bunny killer
Her future’s so bright
Carrying not one but two glasses of bubbly, Beth Ditto trotted the catwalk for Jean Paul Gauthier at Paris Fashion Week. Ahead of the show, the U.K.’s size-28 singer discussed her weight with a British TV host: “One of the most tiring parts of being fat and being proud of it is you do a lot of proving yourself.”
Or an old-fashioned prorogue
Former Conservative cabinet minister Michael Fortier has a novel idea to eliminate the constant threat of a referendum in Quebec: make the province hold one every 15 years, with no option to hold another in the intervening years. “As a federalist, I’d prefer that we didn’t hold them anymore,” he said. “But I’m a realist.” Unfortunately for Fortier, novel ideas aren’t necessarily good ones. Federalist politicians across the country were quick to pan the proposal. “I’m sure there are better things to schedule every 15 years,” said PMO spokesman Dimitri Soudas, “like a high school reunion.”
Because the camera doesn’t lie
He’s as sharp on TV as he was on the stump, but Eliot Spitzer is still fighting the creep factor in his new role as co-host of the new CNN talk show, Parker Spitzer. “Crossfire meets Moonlighting” is how the New York Times television writer Alessandra Stanley described the show, noting an ill-advised air of flirtatiousness between the former New York governor and fellow host Kathleen Parker, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist with conservative leanings. Seated cheek to cheek behind a round table strewn with newspapers, the pair traded smiles and interrupted each other like second-marriage newlyweds, as they chewed over political news of the day with guests. Clearly, we’re supposed to forget the call-girl scandal that chased Spitzer from office. But his tight smile and darting eyes make it hard to suspend disbelief.
By macleans.ca - Wednesday, October 6, 2010 at 2:44 PM - 0 Comments
Event would have featured a presentation on communicating with spirits
The Western Development Museum in Moose Jaw, Sask. has cancelled its Halloween fundraiser after religious groups objected to the event. “We don’t think a seance is what the people of Moose Jaw want to be associated with,” said Pastor Larry Gerow of Victory Church in Moose Jaw, one those who objected to the museum’s plan to hold a presentation on communicating with spirits, which would have been followed by a demonstration. After provincial legislators and the museum’s directors were bombarded with complaints, museum officials finally decided the fundraiser wasn’t worth the trouble and canceled the event outright.
By macleans.ca - Tuesday, October 5, 2010 at 12:47 PM - 0 Comments
Award granted to IVF pioneer is “completely out of order,” he says
Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life, says giving the Nobel Prize for Medicine to Robert Edwards, who pioneered IVF treatment, is “completely out of order,” the BBC reports. Nearly four million babies have been born using the fertility treatment since 1978, which he said has led to the destruction of human embryos. Without the treatment, there would be no market for human eggs “and there would not be a large number of freezers filled with embryos in the world,” he told Italy’s Ansa news agency, adding that in-vitro fertilization represents “a new and important chapter in the field of human reproduction.” His statements were his own personal view, he said. According to the Nobel medicine prize committee, Edwards’ work brought “joy to infertile people all over the world.”
By macleans.ca - Friday, October 1, 2010 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
K’naan is the Teflon man, Hillary Clinton’s hair makes waves, and Elmo opens up about that Katy Perry fiasco
A big week for Hillary’s hair
“Oh Hillary, that hairstyle just doesn’t cut it,” carped the U.K.’s Daily Mail, bemoaning U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s “lanky locks.” “Hillary Clinton wears hair clip to the UN: ‘Do or don’t?” asked the Huffington Post. Hill’s hair, object of fascination throughout Bill’s presidency, had the fashion police on high alert at the UN. Meanwhile, its owner quietly intensified U.S. efforts in the fledgling Mideast peace process.
Not so big in Iran, then
When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stirs trouble abroad, it’s a safe bet he faces problems back home. This week, the Iranian president was in full diversionary mode, suggesting the U.S. played a role in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, then mocking Western media for spotlighting cases like that of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, an Iranian woman sentenced to death for adultery. (Hossein Derakhshan, an Iranian-Canadian blogger, also faces the death sentence for creating online forums Tehran considered a political threat; a similar campaign is building in his favour.) The uproar over Ashtiani, complained Ahmadinejad, is far greater than that over the plight of Teresa Lewis, a borderline mentally challenged woman executed in Virginia on Thursday. His remarks didn’t stop U.S. media from looking past the bluster to the real story: growing divisions among Iran’s conservatives over the election 15 months ago that gave Ahmadinejad his second term. No wonder he wants to change the channel.
C’aan the man do no wrong?
What does K’naan have to do to be criticized? After organizers of a Vancouver-area charity concert fell short of his $40,000 fee, the Somali-Canadian musician refused to take the stage, leaving fans and the charity in the lurch; Simon Fraser University, where the benefit was being held, reportedly offered to pay the difference, to no avail. Yet event organizers, including charity chief Clement Apaak, fell on their swords, accepting full blame, and offering refunds. The Teflon star’s cred is unblemished by even a summer spent touring for Coke, to whom he sold his hit, Wavin’ Flag, for its World Cup marketing campaign, the corporate giant’s biggest ever.
A homer odyssey
If you hadn’t heard the name Jose Bautista before this fall, don’t feel bad. The Toronto Blue Jays slugger had hit fewer home runs in his three previous seasons combined than he has in 2010, and there was nothing to presage the power surge that this week lifted him into the company of legends like Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle. Having surpassed the Jays’ team record of 47 dingers, Bautista cracked his 51st and 52nd over the weekend, giving rise to inevitable questions about the source of his unaccustomed power. Bautista swatted aside queries like so many hanging curve balls. “I understand because of the [sport’s] history,” he said when asked if he’d used performance-enhancing drugs. “But those days are gone.”
The devil is in the details
With his bald head, sinister black Van Dyke beard and dark sunken eyes, it’s hard to forget that Scott Robb, who’s running for Edmonton’s city council, is a practising Satanist. Still, religious issues aren’t a big part of the message for the founder of the Darkside Collective. Rather, the 31-year-old security guard’s platform focuses on opposing a plan to shutter Edmonton’s City Centre Airport, and proposes to run downtown light-rail transit lines underground. Robb eschews political donations and is spending his own money—$400 so far—on his campaign. Which would mean his name isn’t the only eerie similarity he bears to Toronto mayoral candidate Rob Ford.
Elmo loves Katy Perry—but not inappropriately. “We had a good time,” the Sesame Street puppet told Good Morning America. Elmo’s talk-show appearance was meant to help defuse reaction to his onscreen play date with the pop singer, whose low-cut, cleavage-revealing costume irked parents and led the show to cut the segment. “We’ll have another play date,” Elmo told host George Stephanopoulos, who until recently hosted ABC’s Sunday political show This Week, where he interviewed powerful world leaders. In other news Perry- and puppet-related, the pop queen will appear in a special live-action episode of The Simpsons this Christmas. “In the wake of Elmo’s terrible betrayal, the Simpsons puppets wish to announce they stand felt-shoulder-to-shoulder with Katy Perry,” said Simpsons executive producer Al Jean.
How many women does it take to make a cabinet?
With the election of Simonetta Sommaruga to the Swiss cabinet, the conservative country crossed an unlikely threshold: with Sommaruga, a Social Democrat, as transport minister, Switzerland, which until 1971 barred women from voting, now has a majority-female cabinet—three men, four women—what Social Democrat chair Christian Levrat called an “essential, decisive step.”
A real guitar hero
Vancouver’s Don Alder entered the sixth annual Guitar Superstar competition on a whim—the top 10 finalists, he’d heard, get a nod in Guitar Player magazine, the enthusiast’s bible. Not only did the 54-year-old win, he earned the night’s only standing ovation. Judges deemed his performance “flawless” and “transcendental,” with one adding: “The world needs to hear you.” Alder took up the guitar at the urging of Rick Hansen, a childhood friend (they were together when Hansen was injured after being thrown from the back of a pickup). They were out fishing eight years ago when Hansen said, “Why don’t you get back to your music?” Alder told the Vancouver Sun. “He told me failure is not trying—ever since it’s taken me down this amazing journey.”
Do as he draws, not as he does
What began as a campaign against plagiarism ended as a lesson in irony. Taiwan’s “Protect Copyright” contest launched last year, soliciting entries for a poster campaign. Judges were particularly fond of Wu Chih-wei’s dramatic entry, “Work—Shattered,” featuring a plunging paper plane, words trailing its wings like smoke. The entry earned him a medal and a cash prize, and his poster went up all over Taiwan. Only problem: he’d ripped off Dutch artist Dennis Sibeijn. Wu was stripped of his prize and faced up to three years in jail, but Sibeijn declined to press charges. He would like an apology, though.
Aafia got her gun
Aafia Siddiqui is a 38-year-old Pakistani neuroscientist with degrees from MIT and Brandeis University. Arrested in Afghanistan in 2008, she was found to carry bomb-making recipes and a list of American tourist attractions. When U.S. officials visited her for questioning in jail, Siddiqui grabbed a discarded rifle and began shooting, saying in exquisite English: “I want to kill Americans.” The FBI called her a terrorist. Yet during her trial Siddiqui’s lawyer argued she’s mentally ill. Siddiqui disagreed. So did the judge, who gave her 86 years in prison. That led to riotous protests in Pakistan, where PM Yousaf Raza Gilani called her a “daughter of the nation.”
He hasn’t got a wife to spare
Maybe Ndumiso Mamba figured a man with 14 wives would take a philosophical view of infidelity. But Mamba lost his job as justice minister of Swaziland this week after he was found under a hotel room bed with his king’s 12th wife. Rumours of an affair between Mamba and Nothando Dube, a former Miss Teen Swaziland, had run rampant in the royal court for weeks. Dube reportedly disguised herself as a soldier to sneak out for their trysts, but officials loyal to King Mswati III cottoned on and set up a sting operation to catch the pair. Some predicted Mamba would be allowed to flee. But a long prison term seems more likely. “Mamba knows too much,” said one expert. “If he flees into exile with the royal secrets, that would be a major problem.”
Too mad for Mad Men?
He’s still a contender for Hollywood’s greatest train wreck, but things are looking up for Mel Gibson. News that he’s in danger of losing his house—and his church—to unpaid construction bills didn’t stop Jodie Foster from rising to his defence. “When you love a friend, you don’t abandon them,” she said. Her vote of confidence came as details of Gibson’s ugly split with wife Oksana Grigorieva trickled out: he was apparently willing to cough up $1 million for tapes of his foul-mouthed tirades. But some were buzzing about a comeback. Last week’s hot rumour from Liz Smith had him signing on for a role in the hit series Mad Men, though she retracted after producers demurred.
Catch and release
Captains of Chinese fishing trawlers don’t often trigger diplomatic crises. But that’s what 41-year-old Zhan Qixiong did when, on Sept. 8, while poking around islands claimed by both Beijing and Tokyo, he allegedly rammed Japanese coast guard cutters—twice. Arrested and jailed in Okinawa, he sparked the most serious standoff between China and Japan in recent memory, a dispute closely watched by a world concerned about a rising China. The incident sparked nationalist fervour in both countries, with some in Japan complaining after Qixiong was released on Saturday. Japanese PM Naoto Kan maintained that Tokyo would issue no apologies.
Buck stops here
Last week, Linda Buck, a Nobel Prize-winning biologist who studies how the brain processes odour, retracted two journal articles because they don’t pass the smell test. That makes three times Buck has disavowed papers co-authored with her one-time post-doc Zhihua Zou (who conducted the experiments), because she couldn’t duplicate the findings. Zou, who has reportedly returned to his native China, agreed to the first retraction, but not to last week’s.
By macleans.ca - Tuesday, September 28, 2010 at 4:36 PM - 0 Comments
Conscious rejection of faith leads to knowing more, says researcher
Atheist and agnostic Americans know more about religion than their religious fellow citizens, according to a new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. A survey found that self-identified non-believers answered questions about Christianity with better results than participants who identified as religious. For example, a majority of Protestants did not know who started the Protestant Reformation (Martin Luther), and 40 per cent of Catholics didn’t understand the concept of transubstantiation. Asked for his comment, Reverend Adam Hamilton told the LA Times, “I think that what happens for many Christians is, they accept their particular faith, they accept it to be true and they stop examining it.”
By Andrew Coyne - Monday, September 20, 2010 at 6:00 AM - 0 Comments
Pastor Jones was too handsomely rewarded for his threats
For one mad moment, it seemed as if the standoff over the burning Qurans and the controversy over the Ground Zero mosque would both be settled at one go—with a trade. Terry Jones, the deranged Florida pastor threatening to burn 200 Qurans to protest Islam’s responsibility, as he sees it, for the Sept. 11 attacks, announced to a waiting world he would call off the bonfire, in return for a promise by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the slightly saner cleric behind the proposal to build a mosque in downtown Manhattan, near the site of the attacks, to move it further uptown.
It soon emerged that the deal existed only in the pastor’s crowded head. And a good thing, too: such an exchange would not only have rewarded Jones for his threats, but implies a false equivalence between the two events, the one involving the destruction of a religious symbol, the other the construction of one. Yet for all their differences, both raise essentially the same question: when is it reasonable to take offence, and when to give it? A civil society, it is often forgotten, imposes mutual obligations: not to give offence needlessly, certainly, but also not to take offence too easily.
By Brian Bethune - Saturday, September 11, 2010 at 8:23 AM - 0 Comments
A renowned lawyer makes the case that the Pope should have his day in court for harbouring pedophiles
God in the Dock, meaning God on trial, is a familiar concept in Britain, both from the title of a famous collection of essays by C.S. Lewis and as a general term for skepticism about religious belief and doctrine. But Pope in the Dock? Literally? Perhaps not in our lifetimes, as British lawyer Geoffrey Robertson concedes in The Case of the Pope: Vatican Accountability for Human Rights Abuse, a book set to appear just one week before Benedict XVI makes the first-ever papal state visit to Britain. But, Robertson argues, the once unthinkable idea that Benedict or a successor could be charged with obstructing justice or for “harbouring pedophile priests” is now very thinkable, and—given evolving trends in international human rights law—may soon be practical.
The plain facts of the case to be answered are horrific and undeniable. Since the dam crumbled around the turn of the decade, a cascade of child sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clergy has come tumbling into the open. So many cases emerged that the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference commissioned an expert study, which concluded in 2004 that, since 1950, 10,667 individuals had made plausible allegations against 4,392 priests, 4.3 per cent of the entire body of clergy in that period. The total bill in settlements with victims is spiralling toward $2 billion and won’t stop, Forbes predicts, this side of $5 billion. Depressingly similar stories from other First World countries, including Canada, soon emerged; the situation in Latin America and Africa, where no investigations have ever been made, can only be imagined.
By Andrew Potter - Wednesday, September 8, 2010 at 5:52 PM - 0 Comments
Angela Merkel has weighed in on the Islamophobia sweeping the US right now. Short…
Angela Merkel has weighed in on the Islamophobia sweeping the US right now. Short version — Koran burning is wrong, but Mohammed cartoons are ok. I pretty much agree with that, though one thing she said struck me, in her defence of Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard:
“It is about whether or not he can publish his cartoons, yes or no,” said Merkel. “Whether they are necessary or helpful or tasteful or not doesn’t matter. Is he allowed to do it? Yes, he is.”
It’s maybe worth pointing out that this is the exact same argument that some muslims have made in defence of the “ground zero” mosque. American law gives them the right to do it, end of story. In response to which, conservatives have responded with that obnoxious line that was being passed around: “That we allow them to build the mosque says a lot about us; that they’ll build it says a lot about them.”
Again, muslims said pretty much the exact same same thing back when the Danish cartoons were published. It went something like: “Just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean you should, especially if it causes great offence.” It shouldn’t surprise anyone to find muslims shoving that argument back in the face of the people who told them to get stuffed in 2005.
As always, the best-case solution to all of this would be for people to just stop believing in God. Religious intolerance is the proximate cause of the strife, but religious belief is the ultimate source of the problem. As Richard Dawkins likes to point out, religious people shouldn’t find atheism all that difficult. After all, every believer already doesn’t believe in a great many gods — the trick is to just go “one god more” and stop believing in the one god you’ve settled on.
But that’s not going to happen. The second-best solution would be for everyone to exercise a bit of religious toleration.
But that’s not going to happen either. So what to do? I think it is incumbent on all Christian groups, this Saturday, to burn a big stack of Bibles. In such heated times, a show of solidarity amongst all of Abraham’s children would go a long way.
By Adnan R. Khan - Wednesday, September 8, 2010 at 3:00 PM - 19 Comments
Salafi preachers travel the globe preaching the ‘true’ Islam. Their converts are fertile ground for jihadists.
Canada’s Muslim community is reeling again after the arrests of three of its own last week in another alleged homegrown terrorist plot. In particular, the case of the dancing doctor, Khurram Syed Sher, has raised some serious questions, not only for those who practise Islam but for those who make their living from identifying threats to Canada’s security. How does an educated, Canadian-born Muslim and Canadian Idol aspirant with all the apparent hallmarks of moderation allegedly turn to violent jihad?
That question has become central to the discourse on the future of jihad, in Canada and among Muslims around the world. Canadians, who have already witnessed the case of the Toronto 18, are not alone in their concern over the radicalization of young Muslims previously considered immune to violent ideologies. In Pakistan, a spate of attacks over the past year has focused attention on a growing trend of radicalization among educated young people. One attack, in December 2009 near the capital of Islamabad, on a mosque frequented by Pakistani military officers, led to the arrest of a group of middle-class Pakistanis who had studied at some of the top universities in the country, and hailed from families with addresses in the posh, tree-lined laneways of Islamabad. They certainly did not fit the typical militant trope: the madrasa-educated fanatic out to cleanse the world of the infidel.
By Stephanie Findlay - Tuesday, August 17, 2010 at 4:56 PM - 0 Comments
The sisters of Poor Clares have an unlikely ally in their mission of prayer: a customized news reading device
The Monastery of Poor Clares on Lawrence Street in York, England, is home to just over a dozen nuns.
Most are over the age of 80 and, having taken vows of poverty, chastity and enclosure, haven’t left the convent in 30 years but for doctors’ appointments. And yet their prayer must be “pertinent,” because practical prayer is part of their mandate to bring the world closer to God. So the nuns listen to the radio, surf the Internet and answer letters and emails from people requesting prayers. Now, they have another tool to keep their prayers up to date: Goldie, an electronic device that displays rolling headlines from 25 news sites, including the BBC, the New York Times and Reuters.