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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Part II — Some Mitigating Factors

As I said in Part I, the prospect of the next four years under Barack Obama and a strongly Democratic Congress disturbs me greatly.  The following are some of the reasons why the outcome of the election might not matter as much as I fear.  (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, November 4, 2008 at 10:30 am | Edit
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If I'm going to make a political post before Election Day, I'd better move quickly.  This won't have as much as I want to say, nor as much careful crafting as I want to put into it, but it will still be too long and take too much time.  It will be in three parts, reflecting my three conflicting and complementing moods as I contemplate the next four years.

Part I — Why This Election Is So Threatening

It is far too tempting to begin this section with a slight alteration of Mark 13:14. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, November 4, 2008 at 9:50 am | Edit
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The European Parliament has awarded its Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to Chinese activist Hu Jia.  I'm embarrassed to say I know very little about his work, but the fact the the Europeans defied Chinese pressure to ignore him is enough for me to cheer about.

Read more here.
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, October 23, 2008 at 5:17 pm | Edit
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Having read this analysis of what the next U.S. president (and other members of the Executive and Legislative branches) must face, I have two questions.

(1) This job clearly requires someone of superior intelligence, knowledge, skill, courage, and moral grounding.  Where in our political process is the ordinary voter given the opportunity to evaluate the candidates on those qualities?

(2) Why would anyone in his right mind want the job?

Read the article.  It's scary, but it's well-written and reasonably non-partisan.
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, October 3, 2008 at 3:14 pm | Edit
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I like to ignore politics as much as possible.  I want to be a well-informed voter, but I don't believe that political propaganda—whether in the form of paid advertising or news commentary—serves that purpose well, and I'd rather change a dirty diaper than listen to a presidential debate. But as Pericles said, Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you.  And economics even more so.

In the last month I've changed many diapers, and the worst of them did not smell as bad as the current state of our economy and what it might lead to.  I've lived through several economic downturns, and haven't yet found them worth the worry they engender, if one has adhered to a policy of regular savings, avoided the get-rich-quick mentality, stayed out of debt for depreciable assets, and been willing (and able) to take a long-term view.  "This too shall pass" has always been an effective philosophy.  (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, September 28, 2008 at 1:10 pm | Edit
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