| |1. Followers of Jesus fail to agree about his homelandПт., 18 мая[−]
HUNDREDS of millions of followers of Jesus Christ are about to celebrate the annual feast of Pentecost, which celebrates an event in Jerusalem roughly 2,000 years ago, when it is believed that cultural and ethnic barriers were miraculously overcome. The festival, which falls on May 20th in this year’s western Christian calendar and a week later in the Orthodox one, commemorates what many regard as the establishment of the Christian church. A new kind of divine inspiration, including the ability to communicate with speakers of any language, is said to have come over the disciples who had gathered in the holy city for the Jewish festival of Shavuot, which falls seven weeks after Passover.
So there is sad irony in the fact that people who cherish that sacred story seem more divided than ever, with some rejoicing in Jerusalem’s rising earthly status and others expressing the very opposite view.
The divisions are especially pronounced among Christians who live in, or feel strongly attached to, the land they call sacred.... Continue reading
|↑|2. How global university rankings are changing higher educationЧт., 17 мая[−]
EARLIER this month Peking University played host to perhaps the grandest global gathering ever of the higher-education business. Senior figures from the world’s most famous universities—Harvard and Yale, Oxford and Cambridge among them—enjoyed or endured a two-hour opening ceremony followed by a packed programme of mandatory cultural events interspersed with speeches lauding “Xi Jinping thought”. The party was thrown to celebrate Peking University’s 120th birthday—and, less explicitly, China’s success in a race that started 20 years ago.
In May 1998 Jiang Zemin, China’s president at the time, announced Project 985, named for the year and the month. Its purpose was to create world-class universities. Nian Cai Liu, a professor of polymeric materials science and engineering at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, got swept up in this initiative. “I asked myself many questions, including: what is the definition of and criteria for a world-class university? What are the positions... Continue reading
|↑|3. The elusive phenomenon of churches without GodСр., 16 мая[−]
ONE recent Sunday, about 40 people turned up at their regular gathering place, a community centre in Seattle, and soon found themselves pondering an ethical dilemma: would it ever be right to punch a Nazi? The dicussion was led by a husband-and-wife team, who pointed out that hurting people was usually a bad idea, but that it might sometimes be the only way to protect the innocent. “In a world as imperfect as this one, sometimes the choice is between a number of terrible ideas,” suggested the husband, Mickey Phoenix.
Other recent topics for debate at the Seattle Atheist Church have included the difference between compassion and empathy, and whether or not reparations should be paid to the descendants of American slaves, as argued by the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates in a recent story for Atlantic magazine. Once they have exhausted their discussion, participants can get to know each other over juice and snacks.
Like many similar clubs across the Western... Continue reading
|↑|4. Bavaria is the latest place where the church and Christian politicians are at oddsПт., 11 мая[−]
AS ERASMUS has already noted, there are places all over Europe where right-of-centre politicians are sounding a clarion call of Christian nativism while progressive Christian clerics are pulling in the other direction, urging tolerance and respect for diversity. The latest locus of this surreal standoff is the German region of Bavaria, which has for centuries been a bastion of Teutonic Catholicism.
Markus S?der, the newish Bavarian premier, has decreed that from June 1st a crucifix must be displayed in all offices of the regional government. He described the decision as a “commitment to Bavarian identity and culture” which was not explicitly doctrinal. Given that in this context the “cross is not a sign of religion” its display did not amount to a “violation of the principle of neutrality” by state authorities. As might have been expected, the decision was immediately welcomed by politicians who stand to the right of Mr... Continue reading
|↑|5. America’s booming blood-plasma industryЧт., 10 мая[−]
TODAY Derek From is a successful lawyer in Canada. Twelve years ago, he was roughing it in Arizona, trying to break into the recording industry. So he started selling his blood plasma. Twice a week, he sat for an hour in a Grifols Biomat centre, as an apheresis machine whirled, siphoning the plasma out of his blood. For this, he took home $45. “As a poor person” at the time, he found that “a huge economic benefit”.
It was also part of a thriving industry. Blood products made up a remarkable 1.6% of American exports in 2016. Since 2005 blood-plasma collections have nearly quadrupled. To critics, this is evidence of a rapacious industry coercing the poor to auction bits of themselves to make ends meet. In fact, plasma, 90% of which is water, is quickly replenished. Giving it has no obvious negative health effects—though the long-term consequences of repeated siphoning have not been fully studied. Strict testing (and later heat-treating) of the extracted plasma ensures that those with communicable... Continue reading
|↑|6. Bans on paying for human blood distort a vital global marketЧт., 10 мая[−]
A WILLING buyer in a market with plenty of willing sellers, Barzin Bahardoust is finding life surprisingly hard. For years he has been trying to pay Canadians for their blood plasma—the viscous straw-coloured liquid in blood that has remarkable therapeutic powers. When his firm, Canadian Plasma Resources (CPR), tried to open clinics in Ontario in 2014, a campaign by local activists led to a ban by the provincial government on paid plasma collection. Undeterred, he tried another province, Alberta—which also banned the practice last year. Then, on April 26th, when CPR announced a planned centre in British Columbia, its government said it too was considering similar legislation. CPR has managed to open two centres, in far-flung Saskatchewan and New Brunswick. Even these have faced opposition.
The global demand for plasma is growing, and cannot be met through altruistic donations alone. Global plasma exports were worth $126bn in 2016—more than exports of aeroplanes. But paid plasma raises ethical,... Continue reading
|↑|7. In religion and economics, cause and effect are very hard to proveПт., 04 мая[−]
RELIGIOUS determinism, or the idea that particular forms of belief and worship lead to particular forms of political and economic behaviour, is always a fascinating field for dabbling. Indeed one might even say that such determinism is itself a form of religion, if that is defined as a system of thought which offers compelling answers to questions that might otherwise be shadowy and elusive. Recently there has been a little wave of discussion about religious determinism in the e-commentariat.
It began with a working paper for the World Bank by two economists with Bulgarian roots: the country’s former finance minister, Simeon Djankov, and Elena Nikolova of University College London. They crunched some of the results of two transnational investigations into social attitudes: the World Values Survey and a probe by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Their conclusion was that something about Eastern Orthodox Christianity had made its... Continue reading
|↑|8. Many countries suffer from shrinking working-age populationsЧт., 03 мая[−]
MANY developed countries have anti-immigration political parties, which terrify the incumbents and sometimes break into government. Lithuania is unusual in having an anti-emigration party. The small Baltic country, with a population of 2.8m (and falling), voted heavily in 2016 for the Lithuanian Farmer and Greens’ Union, which pledged to do something to stem the outward tide. As with some promises made elsewhere to cut immigration, not much has happened as a result.
“Lithuanians are gypsies, like the Dutch,” says Andrius Francas of the Alliance for Recruitment, a jobs agency in Vilnius, the capital. Workers began to drift away almost as soon as Lithuania declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1990. The exodus picked up in the new century, when Lithuanians became eligible to work normally in the EU. For many, Britain is the promised land. In the Pegasas bookshop just north of the Neris river in Vilnius, four shelves are devoted to English-language tuition. No other language—not even... Continue reading
|↑|9. The pope’s role in the plight of Alfie Evans was regrettableВс., 29 апр.[−]
IT CANNOT happen very often that, in an agonising saga that concerns a desperately sick little child, the Catholic bishops of the boy’s home city and country line up on one side of an argument, with the pope, apparently, on the other, along with two other European governments.
Nor does it often occur that a British judge, adjudicating on such a delicate and painful case, becomes so exasperated with the self-appointed advocates of the child that he calls one of them “fanatical and deluded.”
Yet these were among the many bizarre and distressing features of the story of Alfie Evans, a little boy of 23 months who died early on April 28th in a hospital in his native Liverpool.
Alfie was suffering from an undiagnosed brain disorder and was described by his doctors as being in a semi-vegetative state. The medical team at the Alder Hey hospital were of the firm opinion that keeping him alive on a ventilator was not “in his best interest” and that further treatment would be pointless and possibly cruel. His... Continue reading