Until June of 2010, homeschooling was legal in Sweden, albeit within some onerous regulations.  But with the passage of a comprehensive revision of the education system, the right of parents to direct the education of their own children has been virtually abolished, in apparent violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, Protocol 1, Article 2:

No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religions and philosophical convictions.

If you want to become depressed learn more, there are many stories, often heart-wrenching, at the Home School Legal Defense Association site.  (I may have some quarrels with the HSLDA's approach, left over from the early days of homeschooling, but that doesn't negate their importance as a source of homeschooling advocacy and information.)

As part of an effort to raise awareness of their plight, Swedish homeschoolers are staging a Walk to Freedom from Askö, Sweden to the Finnish island of Åland, to which many Swedish homeschooling refugee families have fled.  (No, they're not walking on water, but plan to secure the help of a ferry for the last leg.)  Their adventure begins tomorrow.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, July 12, 2012 at 10:32 am | Edit
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Given that the events occurred not far from home, yet have become international news, I'll say a few words about the Trayvon Martin case.  Not many (by my standards), because, frankly, no one knows enough to say anything definitive, though that's not stopping everyone and his sisters and his cousins and his aunts from speaking out.

I won't say, "it's not about race," because it may very well have been—who knows what was going on in the mind of George Zimmerman.  Or Trayvon Martin, for that matter.  But from where I sit, it's about a lot more than race.  "Walking while black" was only one of three strikes against him, though it may have been the fatal one.  He was also walking while male, and walking while young.

I've written before of the frightening, and abusive, encounter that a young friend had with the police, a young man whose only "crime" was biking while young, and male, and (legitimately) in his own neighborhood at a time when the deputy thought he should have been sitting in a school classroom.  Certainly it was wrong of Zimmerman to consider Martin to be suspicious based on race, if those were indeed his thoughts, but it is equally wrong to suspect someone of ill intent based on sex or age, and I believe that happens frequently, insidiously, under the public radar, and without going viral on social media.

In Travon Martin's case—as in O.J. Simpson's, and Casey Anthony's—it's the public uproar that has me the most concerned, however.  We the People believe we know better than those who have seen the evidence and heard the arguments, and want "justice" done without any respect for or patience with the due process guaranteed every one of us.  Yes, the system sometimes fails, sometimes makes mistakes; I've seen it fail our own family.  But vigilante "justice" is a terrifying prospect.  Remember A Man for All Seasons?

What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ... And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you—where would you hide ... the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws from coast to coast ... and if you cut them down—and you're just the man to do it—do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!

Without implying comment one way or another on the Second Amendment issue, I'll end with a quotation from Robert Heinlein's science fiction book, Tunnel in the Sky, in which a seasoned military officer expounds on the dangers of guns in the hands of the untrained:

One time in a hundred a gun might save your life; the other ninety-nine it will just tempt you into folly. ... I know how good a gun feels.  It makes you bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, three meters tall and covered with hair.  You're ready for anything and kind of hoping you'll find it.  Which is exactly what is dangerous about it.

Such folly took away Trayvon Martin's life, and destroyed George Zimmerman's.  There's a reason police officers receive intensive training—and even so they occasionally make fatal mistakes when threatened.  That our young friend was merely abused, rather than shot, may have had less to do with his not being black than with being accosted by a real sheriff's deputy rather than a wannabe.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, March 27, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Edit
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We are the Folk Song Army
Everyone of us cares.
We all hate poverty, war and injustice,
Unlike the rest of you squares.
(Tom Lehrer, 1965 or earlier)

With all the publicity given to the Kony 2012 social media campaign, this looks like a good time to bring back Tom Lehrer's wonderful Folk Song Army. (Brief, mild, visual grandchild warning at the very beginning.)

Seriously, there is good reason to worry that this popular campaign will do more harm than good.  As this Guardian article explains,

There is no question that the LRA has been one of the most horrifying armed forces in the past half century. But while the video urges spreading the word, signing a pledge, buying an action kit of Kony 2012 bracelets and posters, and of course donating to [advocacy group] Invisible Children, it's hard to understand how this will aid the current slow chase of Kony and his forces through some of the most intractable terrain in the world.

US military advisers have been helping the Ugandan army track the LRA since October, and Invisible Children wants to keep pressure on the US to maintain or improve that assistance. But as there has not been a whisper of possibly withdrawing this support, raising it as the reason for urgency seems slightly odd.

...

The arc of the video tells you that before, no one cared but, thanks to technology and Invisible Children, everyone can now take the necessary action to earn Kony the infamy and arrest or death he deserves.

But since Invisible Children as an organisation began with a few north Americans stumbling into a conflict they didn't know existed and then resolving to help the child victims by making a movie, the base level of great white saviourdom is already high. Implying that finally now, by getting the word out about Kony via celebrities, bracelets and social media, can the LRA be ended plays into this narrative of white rescuers coming to help poor Africans and totally ignores the efforts, good and bad, by Ugandans to fight the LRA for 25 years. I belong to a discussion group of hundreds of Ugandan journalists, and so far only one has been willing to stand up and say this campaign is a good thing (and mainly because it might help more people find Uganda on a map). Nearly everyone else finds Kony 2012 self-aggrandising, patronising and oversimplified.

Remember the war against Franco,
That's the kind where each of us belongs.
Though he may have won all the battles,
We had all the good songs!

So join in the Folk Song Army,
Guitars are the weapons we bring
To the fight against poverty, war, and injustice.
Ready, aim, sing!

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, March 9, 2012 at 8:56 am | Edit
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Way to make everyone mad, Susan G. Koman folks.  Either make a decision, or don't.  If you're thinking about an action as inflammatory as appearing to attack an American idol like Planned Parenthood, be sure you have the guts to stick it out—or don't even start.

Frankly, it never occurred to me that you would be taking money donated to help find a cure for breast cancer and giving it to such a controversial organization.  Now I know that for me to support Susan G. Koman for the Cure makes about as much sense as for a PETA member to invest in Big Meat.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, February 3, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Edit
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We interrupt the Life with Joseph series to bring you this very important post from the Occasional CEO:  Lowell on the Yangtze.

Whenever I read about the Industrial Revolution—or watch a movie like How Green Was My Valley, I can't help thinking that it could have been done better.  Couldn't we have had automation and factories without all that dislocation, degradation and filth?

Of course we could have.  Raping the landscape, tearing families apart, and keeping workers in virtual slavery are not essential to production—if businesses are willing to take a little less profit, and consumers to pay a little more for the product.  But that's not how it happened. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, January 29, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Edit
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alt

The Corpse Walker: Real Life Stories, China from the Bottom Up by Liao Yiwu, translated by Wen Huang (Pantheon, 2008)

With a title like The Corpse Walker, you might expect this to be a frightening book.  And you would be correct.  But there's not a zombie in sight.

We are so Euro-centric.  We repeatedly hold up Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany as the epitome of evil.  If pressed, we might acknowledge Joseph Stalin, but Russia is more distant, foreign, and unknown than Germany.  Compared with Mao Zedong's China, however ... well, you can read more about that in this article on democide.

The Lord of the Flies meets 1984.  Liao Yiwu's book is must reading for anyone who still hangs on to the idea that unfettered human nature is basically good, or that the acquisition of power is not one of the most deadly, corrupting circumstances ever. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, December 21, 2011 at 12:15 pm | Edit
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Although I've been a Democrat for every one of my 50 voting years, I've been accused of abandoning the party by voting more often for Republicans than Democrats in recent years.  I've never been a party-liner for any party, but I don't deny the truth of that accusation.  I will plead, however, that it was my party that abandonned me, taking oppositional positions on many of the most important issues, not the least of which is the right and responsibility of parents to direct the education of their own children.

Be that as it may, it gives me pleasure to announce that my hero-of-the-day is a Democrat, the Governor (redux) of California, Jerry Brown.  Why?  Because of what he wrote, refusing to sign into law a bill that would have criminalized, for everyone under 18, skiing or snowboarding without a helmet.  (H/T Free-Range Kids)

I am returning Senate Bill 105 without my signature.

This measure would impose criminal penalites on a child under the age of 18 and his or her parents if the child skis or snowboards without a helmet.

While I appreciate the value of wearing a ski helmet, I am concerned about the continuing and seemingly inexorable transfer of authority from parents to the state. Not every human problem deserves a law.

I believe parents have the ability and the responsibility to make good choices for their children.

I'm not sure which is my favorite line.  It's a tie among "I believe parents have the ability and the responsibility to make good choices for their children," "I am concerned about the continuing and seemingly inexorable transfer of authority from parents to the state," and "Not every human problem deserves a law."

Well done, Governor Brown!  We may disagree on many points, but when you're right, you're right, and I'm happy to celebrate the victory.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, September 8, 2011 at 7:37 pm | Edit
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altThe Raw Milk Revolution:  Behind America's Emerging Battle Over Food Rights, by David E. Gumpert (Chelsea Green Publishing, White River Junction, Vermont, 2009)

That the forward to The Raw Milk Revolution was written by Joel Salatin—whose Polyface Farms is the poster child for independent, sustainable farming—gives the reader a good idea of where the book ends up.  That's a lot more than the author knew when he began his investigation.  He was over 50 when he had his first glass of raw milk, and hadn't given milk of any form much thought for some 30 years.

But for a writer with interests in both small businesses and health, the growing demand for unpasteurized, unhomogenized milk—and the increasing governmental interference with the small dairy farms that are its only source—was a natural field to investigate.

I had my first glass of raw milk at lunch, with a homemade chocolate chip cookie....  Suddenly I was back in my childhood, with my all-time favorite snack.  The milk was as creamy and rich tasting as it looked, with a slight sweetness I didn't recall from my childhood milk. ... But I'd be lying if I didn't admit that overhanging the experience was an anxiety-laden question provoked by my American history classes highlighting the importance of pasteurization in saving lives:  Might this wonderful milk kill me?  I actually went to sleep wondering whether I'd wake up. ... Of course, there was no bad reaction of any sort, and I became a regular customer.

Gumpert is lucky.  The places one can legally purchase raw milk are few.  In Switzerland Janet lives an easy walk from a local dairy, where she can buy all she wants at a good price.  Pennsylvania is one of the few states in the U.S. where raw milk is legal, and Heather can get some for the cost of a long drive and a lot more money than the grocery store charges for their agri-business milk.  In Florida we can't buy it legally at any price, except as (very expensive) pet milk, "not for human consumption." (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, July 10, 2011 at 5:11 pm | Edit
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I've broken fillings, chipped teeth, and done other costly damage while eating sandwiches, popcorn, grapes, yoghurt, soup, and other items that I reasonably expected to be bone-, stone-, pit- and kernel-free.  And yet it never once occurred to me that the suffering and expense should be blamed on someone, preferably someone other than me, and with deep pockets.  Accidents happen.  Life is not pain free, and I believe that when something bad happens it doesn't always need to be someone's fault.

Unlike Dennis Kucinich, eight-term Representative from Ohio, who is suing the House cafeteria for $150,000 in damages incurred three years ago when he bit into a sandwhich and had an unpleasant encounter with an olive pit.

What was Kucinich thinking?  Like a spoiled toddler or delinquent teen, does he believe negative publicity is better than none?  Could $150,000 possibly make up for being remembered as the politician who sued a sandwich-maker over an olive pit?  He should have learned a lesson from Stella Liebeck, whose name became synonymous with frivolous lawsuits after she filed suit against McDonald's over hot coffee.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 5:28 pm | Edit
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Perhaps the worker at Babies R Us had noticed me walking up and down the aisles, examining the toys, sighing, and putting them back.  Or perhaps she was just doing her job.  But when she asked, in a friendly manner, "Are you finding what you're looking for?" I hesitated, then replied, "No."

"What are you looking for?"

"A toy not made in China."

alt

(Today's Mallard Fillmore comic strip.)

She was certain she could help me, but as she checked toy after toy her astonishment grew.  She discovered one item—alas, for a much older child than our six-month-old grandson—made in North America, and I pointed out the one toy I had found that was made in Thailand.*  Other than those two, everything was from China.  Every.  Single.  Toy.  Clothes are made all over the world, judging from my label-reading experience:  Honduras, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Domincan Republic....  But not toys.

I was not surprised, having been through this drill before, but the helpful salesperson was astonished, and even called a supervisor for help.  Perhaps that's one reason China has a virtual monopoly on children's toys, and agri-business rules our food supply:  we don't know where things come from.  I left empty-handed; our grandson will have to make do with something more creative.

 


*Alas, my sources in Thailand tell me that as far as the safety of children's toys goes, this is no more reassuring than "Made in China." But at least it broke the monotony.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, December 18, 2010 at 9:42 am | Edit
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The more I learn about Julian Assange, the more I like Terry Jones.

They're both inconsiderate, irresponsible idiots in my book, though each started with good intentions and the belief that his actions were righteous and courageous.  But Jones had the grace to back off when he saw that his Koran-burning threat stunt was endangering innocent lives around the world.  Assange is using the threat of further, more dangerous WikiLeaks revelations to fend off prosecution on, among other things, rape charges.

There is a place for whistle-blowing, and shedding light in dark places sometimes requires great courage and controversial actions.  But if you want to be a hero rather than a two-bit blackmailer, it’s wise to break no more laws—civil and moral—than absolutely necessary.

One who lays his life on the line for the sake of others may be a hero, but the sacrifice of other people’s lives, even for a great cause, is a less clear path.  That’s why the right to make such decisions is generally given to regulated, designated authorities, like the military or police forces.  Being made up of human beings, they may make disastrous mistakes, and can be corrupted, but on the whole they are safer holders of that power than unregulated, untrained individuals and mobs.  There’s a good reason vigilante action is feared—and illegal.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, December 6, 2010 at 8:25 pm | Edit
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On the day after Election Day* I felt some commentary to be necessary, so I struggled to find something about our political system that is better now than in the past.

I considered the 19th Amendment:  that’s a significant improvement.  But I’m not so old that I was ever disenfranchised because of my sex, so it doesn’t really count.

The 26th Amendment did make a difference in my life, but I have mixed feelings about that one, seeing as extending the voting age downward corresponded with an upward movement of the age of responsible maturity.

Much about our political system has taken a turn for the worse during my lifetime.  (I’m not saying it was always better—we’re not longer literally tar-and-feathering our opponents.)  But one positive change I am thankful for on this third day of November is openness(More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, November 3, 2010 at 9:42 am | Edit
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"Harm reduction," a new term to me, though not a new concept, is a controversial approach to social problems, in which illegal, immoral, or otherwise harmful behaviors are attacked, not at the root, but at the branches:  distributing condoms to slow the spread of AIDS, needle exchange programs for drug addicts, and legalized prostitution, for example.  It is palliative care: attempting to ameliorate the symptoms of an apparently incurable social disorder.

Whether you approve of the idea or think it only exacerbates the problem—like Needle Park in Zurich, one of Switzerland's early experiments, which succeeded in reducing AIDS infections and drug-related deaths, but attracted addicts and professional drug dealers from all over Europe—the following story is heartwarming.  It brings to mind Mother Teresa, who, if she couldn't cure the ills of the lowest and the poorest in Calcutta, at least gave them the touch of a loving hand, and a clean, safe, comfortable place in which to die.  (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, October 6, 2010 at 6:29 am | Edit
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altEverything I Want to Do Is Illegal:  War Stories from the Local Food Front. by Joel Salatin (Polyface Inc., Swoope, Virginia, 2007)

Until now, I've written more about Joel Salatin than I've read by him:  almost a year ago in Strange Bedfellows?  Not Really, and three months later in my review of The Omnivore's Dilemma.  Wanting to correct that sin of omission, I grabbed the only one of his books available in our local library:  Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal.

On every side, our paternalistic culture is tightening the noose around those of us who just want to opt out of the system.  And it is the freedom to opt out that differentiates tyrannical and free societies.  How a culture deals with its misfits reveals its strength.  The stronger a culture, the less it fears the radical fringe.  The more paranoid and precarious a culture, the less tolerance it offers.  When faith in our freedom gives way to fear of our freedom, silencing the minority view becomes the operative protocol. — Joel Salatin

Salatin wants to opt out of a little more of the system than I do, but I hear his cry.  You could call him bitter, but if you consider the miracle that is Polyface Farms, you have to wonder why our government is working so hard to stamp out such elegant, inexpensive, healthy, delicious, and truly "green" (in a conservationist sense) endeavors. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, September 11, 2010 at 9:21 am | Edit
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I wasn't going to write about the two recent examples of September 11-related hysteria run amok, because (a) there has already been too much reaction, and (b) believe it or not, the fate of the world does not hinge on what I write on the Internet.  But in another context I was invited to share my opinion, and you know how I love to get double duty out of the effort it takes to write.

First, the "Ground Zero mosque" flap.  Whether a mosque, or Islamic center, or church, or store, or apartment building, or library, or strip club is built in New York City is none of my business.  Nor is it the business of 99% of the others who have weighed in on the issue, including President Obama, foreigners, and talk show hosts.  It is New York City's business, at whatever level zoning regulations are made. If the neighbors object to a proposed project, they have the right, and possibly the duty, to oppose it at zoning board hearings, to write letters to local papers, to make local speeches, to go from door to door with petitions.  My opinion is irrelevant, as is that of the President of the United States.  (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, September 9, 2010 at 8:52 am | Edit
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