George Friedman's The Next 100 Years:  A Forecast for the 21st Century is not yet available, but there's a long and fascinating excerpt at InvestorsInsight.  If some of Friedman's predictions seem nonsensical, the same cannot be said about his conclusion that the least reliable predictor of the future is our expectations.  In the immortal words of investment prospectuses, "past performance is no guarantee of future return."

Friedman dramatically illustrates his point by imagining what observers standing at each even decade from 1900 to 2000 might reasonably have expected the future to be like.  In most cases they would have been proven wrong within a decade. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, January 24, 2009 at 10:34 am | Edit
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It doesn't really matter that Barack Obama was not my candidate of choice (see my election series, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 for some of the reasons why); as a friend said, "I didn't vote for him, but I hope he's the best president ever."  What boggles my mind is the adulation, ethusiasm, and outright joy that Inauguration Day 2009 brings—it's not all media hype.  I can't imagine any presidential inauguration inspiring that kind of joy in me.  At best I usually manage feelings of relief that the worst candidate did not win.  But perhaps that's just a character flaw:  I find it hard to get that enthusiastic about anything.  We recently returned from our daughter's fabulous wedding to a wonderful man, and though I am pleased and enthusiastic and joyful, even for that event I can't imagine participating in the kind of jubliant demonstration associated with Obama's inauguration.  Be that as it may, I truly wish our new president the best, and pray for him, because he will need it.

And yet my primary commentary on this Inauguration Day is a thank you to outgoing President Bush.  History alone will tell,  but as far as I can see the evidence so far pronounces George W. Bush a good man but an unfortunate and often unwise president, the same judgment I gave to Jimmy Carter.  Nonetheless, he had his successes, and a very important one was highlighted by yesterday's Mallard Fillmore.

alt

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, January 20, 2009 at 8:31 am | Edit
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This morning Google News reported the following two stories sequentially [emphasis added]:

Controversy Over New 'Conscience' Rule:  Bush Broadens Rule on Refusal of Health Services for Moral Reasons

An 11th-hour ruling from the Bush administration gives health care workers, hospitals, and insurers more leeway to refuse health services for moral or religious reasons.

The rule, issued today, becomes effective in 30 days. Its main provisions widen the number of health workers and institutions that may refuse, based on "sincere religious belief or moral conviction," to provide care or referrals to patients.

"This rule protects the right of medical providers to care for their patients in accord with their conscience," says Health and Human Services Secretary Michael O. Leavitt....

A wide number of medical groups strongly oppose the new ruling. These groups include the American Medical Association (AMA), the American Nurses Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and 27 state medical associations.

"Today's regulation issued by HHS under the guise of 'protecting' the conscience of health care providers, is yet another reminder of the outgoing administration's implicit contempt for women's right to accurate and complete reproductive health information and legal medical procedures," says a statement from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Shocking revelation: Santa Clara University professor mirrors famous torture study

Replicating one of the most controversial behavioral experiments in history, a Santa Clara University psychologist has found that people will follow orders from an authority figure to administer what they believe are painful electric shocks.

More than two-thirds of volunteers in the research study had to be stopped from administering 150 volt shocks of electricity, despite hearing a person's cries of pain, professor Jerry M. Burger concluded in a study published in the January issue of the journal American Psychologist.

"In a dramatic way, it illustrates that under certain circumstances people will act in very surprising and disturbing ways,'' said Burger.

The study, using paid volunteers from the South Bay, is similar to the famous 1974 "obedience study'' by the late Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram. In the wake of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann's trial, Milgram was troubled by the willingness of people to obey authorities — even if it conflicted with their own conscience.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, December 21, 2008 at 6:28 am | Edit
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Because I have often written about Germany's persecution of parents who believe the education of their children is best accomplished outside of the state public schools (this post will lead you to some of the other stories), it's a pleasure to be able to bring some good news as well:  Prosecutors are dropping charges against the Brause family, which had faced up to two years in prison and the loss of their children.  If this seems a "Well, duh!" kind of accomplisment, it is important to remember that it was not so long ago that we were celebrating such events as great victories in the U. S.

[T]he announcement came after the court received a detailed psychiatric report that there is no psychological harm to the children from homeschooling. The report also stated that the children have not been harmed [academically], which is evidenced by [the] exit exams [of the two oldest children] from high school

Lest we complacently conclude that the plight of homeschoolers in Germany is Germany's problem, not ours, American citizenship is not a sufficient defense if you live in Germany and want to teach your own children.  An American family living in Berlin was recently ordered to court because of their homeschooling, and under legal advice the mother and children have fled to the United States until the situation can be resolved.

I'm delighted to see evidence of progress anywhere in the world, and also for the reminder that "watch, work, and pray" never ceases to be necessary.
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, December 11, 2008 at 6:53 am | Edit
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I've known for a long time that the plight of homeschoolers in Germany is dire, as I've written before (for example, here, here, and here); I've also known that the situation in Switzerland is worrisome, legal in some cantons, illegal in others, and sometimes in between.  The Swiss are careful to point out that they are not German so I have hope that they will distinguish themselves by moving in the direction of more liberty.  It wasn't that long ago, after all, that homeschooling in the United States was similarly at risk.  However, Principled Discovery has discovered some alarming news.  (Thanks, DSTB.)

According to the Tages Anzeiger, one of the most widely read newspapers in Switzerland, homeschooling is about to become severely restricted in the Canton of Zurich.

Private Education: Parents threaten with disobedience

December 4, 2008

Beginning next summer at the latest, parents will only be allowed to educated their children at home when they have a teacher’s certificate.  Eight families are resisting—with all means.  Tages Anzeiger

The article goes on to say that this new regulation will affect fifty families, but apparently only these eight families have chosen to fight.  The Education Director has thus far rejected all offers of compromise.  If they continue and do not win their cases, the families face fines of up to 5000 Francs (about $4,100) and a possible citation for disobedience of official orders.

Read the whole story.  Those with a working knowledge of German may want to read the Tages Anzeige article directly; I can only hope it is the translation that makes the language sound strident and authoritarian.

The most chilling words are in the law that was not passed, so perhaps the Swiss will be more resistent to educational tyrrany than the Germans.

Private schools should teach the same world view as taught in public schools.

That, alas, is what many people, even in the United States, mean when they talk about the "socialization issue" with homeschoolers.  It's not that they worry that homeschooled children won't learn how to get along with other people, but that they will learn to think independently and not conform.
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, December 9, 2008 at 9:41 pm | Edit
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We bought some luggage today.  Amongst the choices, we found an American Tourister set that would do the job, but decided to look a bit further.  Then we found some Swiss luggage that made my heart sing.  It was billed as being made by the same people who make the Swiss Army knife, was an arresting red color easy to spot on an airport carousel, and was marked with a Swiss cross emblem.  Besides, it was Swiss!  Must be good, right?  It was also more than twice the price of the other set, another supposed indicator of quailty.

After further investigation, we went for the lower cost, because there was no convincing evidence that the construction was any less durable, even if it did lack the je ne sais quoi factor.  We would have happily paid the additional money, however, had the luggage really been made in Switzerland.  But no, both the Swiss Army bags and the American Tourister were...made in China.
Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, December 7, 2008 at 3:00 pm | Edit
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What older person hasn't looked into the mirror, whether physical or metaphorical, and noticed, "I'm becoming my mother/father!"?  I've observed both tendencies in myself, but the latest revelation is that I'm becoming my husband.

For much of my young life it was illegal in the United States to buy or import products made in China.  Aware of this, I looked with awe upon a cheap Chinese toy in a Canadian gift shop, wondering perhaps if it might blow up in my hands or impart some poison into my body.  Still, when the ban was lifted, I saw no reason not to buy the Chinese products that began to trickle onto our shelves.  I grew frustrated with Porter's insistence on buying products made in the U.S.A. whenever possible, and embarrassed at his constant checking for the origin of items in the stores.  I'll admit it:  I laughed at his parochialism.  After all, don't Chinese families have as much right to live and eat and make money as American families?  (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, December 5, 2008 at 5:46 pm | Edit
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A recent news story highlights the perils of giving birth in Afghanistan.  It's a great thing that midwives are being trained to help improve the country's appalling maternal mortality rate, which is as bad as it gets unless you give birth in Sierra Leone.  However, the article indicates to me that we are training them in the medical model of care when it comes to childbirth.  Given that childbirth is a natural and normal process for all but a small percentage of births, lack of access to (or willingness to use) doctors and hospitals is hardly the main problem.  Promoting the Midwives' Model of Care along with good nutrition and prenatal care would probably do more than anything else to reduce the grip fear, pain, and death on Afghani mothers.

Afghanistan needs Ina May Gaskin—albeit with a bit of censorship required, especially the part about orgasmic childbirth.  That wouldn't go over with the imams, no, not at all....
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, December 5, 2008 at 1:59 pm | Edit
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I've said before that most so-called conspiracies can be more readily explained by simple human stupidity.  Take, for example, the recent brouhaha over NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, whose climate data for October reported temperatures to be an astonishing three-quarters of a degree above normal.  It turns out the data was badly skewed because in several cases September's data had been used rather than October's. 

Some of the commentary I've read accuses the GISS of deliberately putting out a false report, but I see no need to propose a more complicated explanation when a simple one will do:  The GISS was expecting to see warming, so they didn't question the data.  This is why scientific experiments are double-blind whenever possible.  In lieu of that, it might be wise to have your enemies proofread your work:  those on the other side of the global warming debate found the error quickly.
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, November 17, 2008 at 7:37 pm | Edit
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U.S.A. Today recently printed an excellent editorial in support of saving large hunks of taxpayer money by replacing the one dollar bill entirely with dollar coins.  What do I mean by "excellent"?  (1) They got the facts right, which is not nearly as common an occurrence as it should be, and (2) they agree with me.
Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, November 15, 2008 at 10:40 am | Edit
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Maybe commenter Phil had the right idea after all.  Since the government is bound to foul up even the best plan when it involves too much money and power, doing nothing might have been the better course.  We had a liquidity crisis from which we probably could have recovered with relative ease had the government bought up massive amounts of undervalued bank debt and sold it at a profit when stability returned.  That would have been a $700 million investment, not a bailout.

Instead, we're all but nationalizing our banks, and now Paulson wants to turn this into a bona fide bailout, pouring money into credit card debt, which must be the worst possible kind short of getting involved with a Mafia moneylender.  (A friend's credit card company, which recently raised his interest rate to thirty-four percent, might be taking lessons from the Mafia, except that his kneecaps are still intact.)  I know we can't change immediately from a society based on massive debt to something more sane, but do we have to discourage reasonable behavior?

It's like Florida taxing people who know better than to build high-rise condominiums on the beach to support those who don't care if a hurricane blows down the building as long as the state continues to underwrite insurance for them.
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, November 12, 2008 at 2:30 pm | Edit
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Thanks to Janet's question about one of my favorite hymn tunes, LLANGLOFFAN, I was reminded this morning of one of my favorite hymns, O God of Earth and Altar, with its amazing and always-timely words by G. K. Chesterton.  (KINGS' LYNN is another great tune for this hymn.) 

O God of earth and altar, bow down and hear our cry,
Our earthly rulers falter, our people drift and die;
The walls of gold entomb us, the swords of scorn divide;
Take not Thy thunder from us, but take away our pride.

From all that terror teaches, from lies of tongue and pen,
From all the easy speeches that comfort cruel men;
From sale and profanation of honor and the sword;
From sleep and from damnation, deliver us, good Lord!

Tie in a living tether, the prince and priest and thrall;
Bind all our lives together, smite us and save us all;
In ire and exultation aflame with faith and free,
Lift up a living nation, a single sword to Thee.
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, November 12, 2008 at 10:01 am | Edit
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Curbing the time I spend writing doesn't mean there won't be new posts; rather, you'll get less of me and more of links to interesting things I find.  Here's one in honor of recently-deceased Michael Crichton, author of (among many others) The Andromeda Strain, Jurassic Park, and Five Patients: The Hospital Explained; you probably have not heard of the last one, but it was my introduction to Crichton and the only of his books to reside in our library.

Aliens Cause Global Warming.  Check it out with an open mind.  Crichton's purpose isn't to tell you (or his Cal Tech audience) there's no other intelligent life in the universe, or that atomic bombs and second-hand smoke are safe, or that there's no such thing as global warming.  His concern is that our approach to all these issues (and many more) is that of false prophets, taking the name of Science in vain.  (Since apparently Science was Crichton's god, you can see why this would be particularly upsetting to him.)  We are invoking Science to back the positions we want to support when in fact there is no truly scientific evidence undergirding our conclusions.   The Priests of Science are allowing this to happen, even participating in the abominations, and Science's lesser worshippers follow blindly.  If Crichton cannot cleanse the temple, perhaps he can at least clear our minds.
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, November 7, 2008 at 6:01 am | Edit
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My own fears about an Obama presidency and a heavily Democratic Congress notwithstanding, I can see one factor in his election that may do much for both the economy and the country:  Hope.  Gripe as I may about the messianic adulation of Barack Obama, there are a lot of folks who are happy right now, and people who had all but given up on the American political process who now believe in it.  Confidence in the system and hope for a better life can be powerful forces for good. 

(Li'l Writer Guy is even now on an airplane, winging his way toward the French Alps.  I can still manage short posts on my own, however.)
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, November 6, 2008 at 5:25 pm | Edit
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Like it or not, our country has placed itself under the threats I mentioned in Part I, and I can only hope that the mitigating factors of Part II will enable me to say, at the end of four years, "That wasn't so bad."  Regardless, although I believe the results of this election will make life more difficult, the important things do not change.  Here's some of what I believe we need to do in the coming years.

Who is the "we" in the following ruminations?  Mostly I'm speaking for myself, to myself, but often there will be a more general application, anyone who wishes to come along for the ride is welcome. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, November 5, 2008 at 6:51 am | Edit
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