September 1, 2014

"Our badly damaged labor market is not just an economic crisis, but a moral one"

Michael Strain has written a terrific essay on A Day to Celebrate Work — and think about how we can help the millions who can’t find it.

The statistics are so slow to improve that I fear we are desensitized to them. Over 11 million workers are unemployed — 7.4 percent of the labor force is looking for work but can’t find it. An unemployment rate of 7.4 percent is awful. Over 8 million workers are working part-time for economic reasons, given only limited hours because of slack business conditions or because they could only find a part-time jobOver 4 million workers have been unemployed for 27 weeks or longer. The unemployment rate for high-school dropouts is 11 percent. The unemployment rate for black teenagers is over 40 percent. The share of the population aged 25 to 54 with jobs — one of the best indicators of the overall health of the labor market — took a big hit during the Great Recession, and hasn’t even come close to recovering. At the recent pace of employment growth, it will take many years to restore the labor market to full employment.

Labor Day is set aside to celebrate American workers. It seems a touch unpalatable to celebrate American workers when so many of them can’t find jobs.

Work does set us free — it emancipates us from our passions by occupying our time. It frees us from among the worst torments of modern (and comfortable) life: boredom. Work frees us by giving us the opportunity to do what we ought.

Work educates the passions by directing them to productive ends. Work gives us a sense of identity; much of who we are — for Americans, probably too much — is defined by what we do. Work gives us a sense of purpose. Work gives us the ability to meet among the most primal needs: providing for our children and caring for those whom we love.

Work allows us to be creative, to express ourselves. In the parlance of our MBA culture, work allows us to contribute to the team. In extolling the virtue of the price system over central planning, the great economist F. A. Hayek, in one of the greatest essays ever written in economics, celebrates “the knowledge of the particular circumstances of time and place.” Hayek writes: “It is with respect to this that practically every individual has some advantage over all others because he possesses unique information of which beneficial use might be made, but of which use can be made only if the decisions depending on it are left to him or are made with his active cooperation.”
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It is no stretch at all to say that work, properly understood, is deeply spiritual. Blessed John Paul II wrote in Laborem Exercens that man is “called to work.” John Paul the Great points out that “in the very first pages” of the Bible, in the book of Genesis, in being told to “subdue” the earth, man is told to work. “Man is the image of God,” writes John Paul, “partly through the mandate received from his Creator to subdue, to dominate, the earth. In carrying out this mandate, man, every human being, reflects the very action of the Creator of the universe.”

If to know God we have to be like Him, then we have to build, to create — to work. Indeed, the Church teaches that in working, even in our ordinary, daily tasks, we are “unfolding the Creator’s work.”

Those who can’t find a job are deprived of all this. In this sense, our badly damaged labor market is not just an economic crisis, but a moral one. How can a young person build a life, find a spouse, and make a home without a job? The probability of suicide goes up when a worker is unemployed. Divorce rates are higher when the unemployment rate increases. The children of unemployed workers tend to have relatively worse labor-market outcomes. Unemployment is associated with a range of psychological problems. The loss of a job often means a loss of self, of identity, of purpose, of the ability to provide for yourself and your family, to contribute to society.
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this Labor Day, let us leaven our celebrating with solidarity. Let’s think of the unemployed.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:41 PM | Permalink
Categories: Career

How to get the most out of college

Read Walter Russell Mead's essay, Back to School

1.  The real world does not work like school.
Creativity, integrity and entrepreneurial initiative will pay off; following the old rules and hoping for the old rewards is a road to frustration.  You have to fight the tendency of the educational system to turn you into a timeserving baby bureaucrat, following the rules and waiting for the inevitable promotion…..

2.  Most of your elders know very little about the world into which you are
headed.
Technology is going to rock your world and economic changes and upheavals are going to change the rules on you over and over.  This is not how the  knowledge professions (law, medicine, teaching, the civil service) used to work. 

3.  You are going to have to work much, much harder than you pr
obably expect.
Your competition is in China and India – and your competition isn’t hanging out at frat parties or sitting around watching sitcoms with dorm-mates.  It isn’t getting stoned and it isn’t putting its energy into chasing the opposite (or apposite) sex.  Your competition isn’t taking lots of courses on gender studies; it isn’t majoring in ethnic studies, or (unless it is planning to go into movie making) the history of film.
Your competition is working hard, damned hard, and is deadly serious about learning.

4. Choosing the right courses is more important than choos
ing the right college.

5.  Get a traditional liberal education; it is the only thing
that will do you any good.
Following this advice will be hard; a liberal education is no easy thing to get, and not everybody wants you to have one.  However, in times of rapid change, it is paradoxically more useful to immerse yourself in the basics and the classics than to try to keep up with the latest developments and hottest trends.  …

First, getting a liberal education means you have to achieve literacy in math and at least in one science – and come to grips with the scientific method.  I’d recommend biology as the science you should spend the most time with; this is probably the science that’s going to be changing the world most radically during much of your life — and since you need some chemistry to make sense of it, you will be getting a grounding in two disciplines rather than just one.. …

Second, study the basic ideas, debates, books, people and events of the western world – with special attention to the Anglo-American subset of the western tradition.  You can’t understand other people’s cultures and traditions until you understand the one that surrounds you.  Art, literature and music are part of this.  Don’t neglect them.

Third, study the United States: its history, regions, culture, politics, literature and economy. You would be surprised how many highly educated people have never seriously studied (or traveled much in) their own country. Fourth, study at least one language and at least one culture that is alien to youFifth, learn to write well.  This paradoxically is going to be more important than ever for the next generation. 

Fourth, study at least one language and at least one culture that is alien to you.

Fifth, learn to write well.  This paradoxically is going to be more important than ever for the next generation.

6.  Character counts; so do good habits.
One of the weaknesses in contemporary college education is that many teachers and administrators don’t think enough about the need that students have for moral education: reflection on right and wrong, the development of good habits that make good decisions easier to make and easier to stick with, a healthy spiritual grounding that can see you through the storms of life, and the kind of self knowledge that can only come from a life of serious moral engagement and thoughtful reflection.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:32 PM | Permalink
Categories: Education

In math, rote memorization is far better than 'discovery-based learning'

Memorization comes easily for children.  From time immemorial, children have been encouraged to memorize poems, historical dates, the alphabet and multiplication tables.    What is memorized in childhood is never forgotten

Only in our modern age have educators disparaged memorization in favor of understanding math concepts as if the former precludes the later.

Now neuroscientists using brain scans tell us that  Rote memorization plays crucial role in teaching students how to solve complex calculations.

Memorizing the answers to simple math problems, such as basic addition or the multiplication tables, marks a key shift in a child’s cognitive development, because it helps bridge the gap from counting on fingers to complex calculation, according to the new brain scanning research.
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In effect, as young math students memorize the basics, their brains reorganize to accommodate the greater demands of more complex math. It is a gradual process, like “overlapping waves,” the researchers write, but it clearly shows that, for the growing child’s brain, rote memorization is a key step along the way to efficient mathematical reasoning.

As a scientific justification of rote learning, the study seems likely to further polarize the controversy over math teaching styles, in which arithmetical fundamentalists are squared off against the popular and progressive forces of “discovery-based” learning, in which students are encouraged to find their own ways to the right answer.

By illustrating the benefit of repetition and memory, and showing how it serves as a stepping stone to mature calculation, the research is likely to embolden the fundamentalists, who have only recently started to win back lost ground.
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One critic of the government’s adoption of “discovery-based learning,” Ken Porteous, a retired engineering professor, put it bluntly: “There is nothing to discover. The tried and true methods of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division work just fine as they have for centuries. There is no benefit and in fact a huge downside to students being asked to discover other methods of performing these operations and picking the one which they like. This just leads to confusion which ultimately translates into frustration, a strong dislike for mathematics and a desire to drop out of any form of mathematics course at the earliest opportunity.”
Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:03 PM | Permalink
Categories: Education

Investing has got much easier

Index funds are the only way to go.

The debate about whether to hire an active fund manager to beat the market or use a passive index fund is over

Charles Ellis claims in the July/August issue of the Financial Analysts Journal that the “active vs. passive investment debate” is largely over. After their high trading fees and expenses, “active managers are no longer able to earn their keep,” and therefore most investors will get higher returns and pay lower fees with index funds. Ellis expects that the triumph of index investing over active fund management is generating a “wave of creative destruction” that will put many portfolio managers out of business.
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My advice is to build your investment portfolio using a variety of index funds — it’s not settling for average, it’s just refusing to believe in the miracles and magic of active management.

No matter what, the long-term investor comes out ahead of the short-term trader

For any manager who outperforms in a given year, only 1 in 10 will continue to outperform in two of the next three years. In other words, 10 percent of our original outperformers — about 3 percent total — can keep their streak alive for three consecutive years. Over five years, only 1 in 33 of our original alpha generators keeps the winning streak going. Once we figure in their costs and fees, it works out to be less than 1 percent — 1 in 100 — who manage a net outperformance of a few basis points a year.

In the real world, the win goes to the passive indexer.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:43 PM | Permalink
Categories: Financial Planning, Wealth

August 29, 2014

Mesmerizing

This time-lapse video of ships entering and leaving the Panama Canal is absolutely mesmerizing and I don't know why.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:46 AM | Permalink
Categories: Just for Fun

August 27, 2014

"‘I didn’t want to appear racist’ is the ‘I was only obeying orders’ of our age"

From Rotherham , a large town in South Yorkshire of about  258 thousand comes the horrifying, appalling report of police, councilmen and social workers allowing mainly white girls as young as 11 to be raped, threatened with death and turned into sex slaves by Pakistani gangs so no one could accuse them of being racist.    A grotesque sacrifice of young girls on the altar of political correctness.

You can be sure that none of them will be punished and taxpayers will bear the cost of damage awards of the civil suits that are sure to follow.

Rotherham sex abuse scandal: 1,400 children exploited by Asian gangs while authorities turned a blind eye

More than 1,400 children were sexually abused over a 16 year period by gangs of pedophiles after police and council bosses turned a blind eye for fear of being labelled racist, a damning report has concluded.

Senior officials were responsible for “blatant” failures that saw victims, some as young as 11, being treated with contempt and categorized as being “out of control” or simply ignored when they asked for help.

In some cases, parents who tried to rescue their children from abusers were themselves arrested. Police officers even dismissed the rape of children by saying that sex had been consensual.

Downing Street on Tuesday night described the failure to halt the abuse in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, as “appalling”.  Following the publication of the report, the leader of Rotherham council, Roger Stone, resigned, but no other council employees will face disciplinary proceedings after it was claimed that there was not enough evidence to take action.

New York Times 

A report released on Tuesday on accusations of widespread sexual abuse in the northern England city of Rotherham found that about 1,400 minors — some as young as 11 years old — were beaten, raped and trafficked from 1997 to 2013 as the local authorities ignored a series of red flags.

Some children were doused in gasoline and threatened with being set on fire if they reported their abusers, the report said, and others were forced to watch rapes and threatened with the same fate. In more than a third of the cases, the victims appear to have been known to child protection agencies, but the police and local government officials failed to act……

The vast majority of perpetrators have been identified as South Asian and most victims were young white girls, adding to the complexity of the case. Some officials appeared to believe that social workers pointing to a pattern of sexual exploitation were exaggerating, while others reportedly worried about being accused of racism if they spoke out. The report accused officials of ignoring “a politically inconvenient truth” in turning a blind eye to men of Pakistani heritage grooming vulnerable white girls for sex.
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Some officials were apparently ordered by their managers to withhold information on the ethnic origin of the abusers, the report said. As a result, no contact was made with local Pakistani leaders for help in identifying gangs that continued to assault and abduct teenagers.


Some Pakistani councillors in Rotherham 'blocked attempts' to tackle child abuse… and some 'tried to force social workers to reveal the refuges where domestic violence victims were staying'

Sue Reid 'I was called a liar and a racist for exposing this sex gang abuse horror'

Even those of us who warned for years of young girls being traded in provincial towns as sex slaves were shocked at yesterday’s revelations of the scale of the crimes.  Particularly shameful was the silence of police, councillors and senior social workers. For crucial information about the crimes that had been given to the authorities — often by parents frantic about their daughters going missing or turning up drunk and dishevelled late at night — was either suppressed or ignored.

And so the brutal street-grooming and sexual abuse went on for 16 years. One girl quoted in the report says she thought ‘gang-rape was a usual part of growing up’.
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It is vital to stress two important things. First, that the great majority of Asian men are law-abiding citizens with strong family values. Second, that rape and pedophilia are problems across all sectors of society and have nothing to do with race and ethnicity.
Yet the responsibility for these crimes to continue unpunished for so long lies with the weakness of those authorities whose duty it is to care for the vulnerable.
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Speaking on conditions of strict anonymity because she fears for her safety even though she has now left the town, one of the early victims of the Rotherham gangs told me that she was at primary school when she was first attacked. ‘One minute I was playing with dolls, the next I was a sex slave.’

'I saved all my clothes I was raped in but the police lost them and said it was my word against his': Shocking claims of Rotherham sex abuse gang victim whose parents sent her abroad when authorities failed to protect her

The Rotherham child abuse scandal is a tale of apologists, misogyny and double standards

White experts and officers have for too long been reluctant to confront serious offences committed by black and Asian people. Such extreme tolerance is the result of specious morality, that credo that says investigating such crimes would encourage racism or enrage community activists and leaders, or, worse, make the professionals appear racist. So, instead of saving children who were being gang raped, drugged, assaulted, threatened and terrorised, they chose to protect rapists, abusers, traffickers and drug dealers. And themselves.
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The perpetrators are not pedophiles in the normal sense of the word. Racial and cultural odium as much as ugly lust and power drives them to abuse. Most of them are also irreversibly misogynist. It is a lethal mix, this sexist psychopathy.

I partly blame their families and communities. Too many Asian mothers spoil their boys, undervalue their girls, and demean their daughters-in-law. Within some British Asian circles, the West is considered degenerate and immoral. So it’s OK to take their girls and ruin them further. Some of the most fierce rows I have ever had have been with Asian women who hold these disgusting views.

Ann Althouse “I’d like to see more detail about this ‘fear of being thought as racist.’ It sounds like a confession of deliberate law enforcement paralysis, a choice to permit thousands of children to be raped for decades on end, because of befuddlement about how on earth to begin to do anything without looking bad or because of a sense that your community is already hopelessly overwhelmed by evil forces that will only become more aggressive and violent if opposed.”    Perhaps they need to consider the possibility that there are worse things than being thought racist. Of course, if that idea were to spread, a powerful tool of social control would vanish.

"Political Correctness is Fascism Pretending to be Manners"  Bookworm Room

‘I didn’t want to appear racist’ is the ‘I was only obeying orders’ of our age writes Ed West in the Spectator

How could this have happened? A clue is given by the report’s authors, who state that ‘several staff described their nervousness about identifying the ethnic origins of perpetrators for fear of being thought racist’.

Racism has become so hysterical a subject that it has crowded out all other moral concerns, including in this case the concern to look after children…..

Political correctness was supposed to make us nicer, but in reality it just makes people stupider. As anyone who has done any sort of online test will tell you, much of human intelligence comes down to pattern recognition; the whole purpose of political correctness is to stop us noticing patterns even when they stare us in the face.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:46 PM | Permalink
Categories: Civilization - Can We Keep It? | Categories: Culture and Society

Jihad in America

For two bloody months, an armed jihadist serial killer ran loose across the country. At least four innocent men died this spring and summer as acts of "vengeance" on behalf of aggrieved Muslims, the self-confessed murderer has now proclaimed. Have you heard about this horror? Probably not.

That would be Ali Muhammad Brown of whom Ace writes What if There Was a Coordinated Group Terror and Murder Campaign Against Gays Living In America, and The Media Didn't Report It?

a group of men, led by a Ali Mohammad Brown, used the hook-up phone app "Grindr" to arrange liaisons with gay men, before Brown murdered them. (I do not know the extent of the accomplices' involvement.)

Ali Mohammad Brown is a "strict Muslim," according to one press account, and according to prosecutors, was murdering people for terroristic motives, as part of a "bloody crusade" against the US government as vengeance against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Apparently he chose gay men as among the most unrighteous of all possible terror-murder victims.

Robert Spencer 10 Acts of Jihad in America That Americans Haven’t Heard About

While the world’s attention is focused on the Islamic State, and its jihadis tell Americans that they will “drown all of you in blood,” jihad activity continues in the United States – although hardly anyone notices through the fog of mainstream media obfuscation.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:28 AM | Permalink
Categories: Culture and Society

August 26, 2014

Yay Mark Bustos

Mark Bustos is a 30-year-old hairstylist in Manhattan who goes around on Sunday offering haircuts to the homeless and to people who can't afford them.

 Mark Bustos

Every weekend, he wonders the city's streets to find people who look as though they could do with a haircut and who might otherwise not be able to afford it. 
Mr Bustons experience in hair-styling goes back to when he was a teenager. At the age of 14 he was styling out of his parent's garage.
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His motto is simple: 'Be awesome to somebody'
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His haircuts for the homeless was inspired after taking a trip in May 2012, to his native country of The Philippines where he snipped away on underprivileged kids.  He said the trip gave him the idea and momentum to continue the good deeds back in the States.  'The feeling was so rewarding, I decided to bring the positive energy back to New York City.'
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The transformations seen after a simple haircut and shave are incredible. Bustos says that people are treated better when their hair is styled neatly.

 Homeless-Client-1

Many more transformations were captured by photographer Devin Masga and can be seen at the link.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:42 PM | Permalink
Categories: Meaning, Passion and Purpose

"Jaw-dropping revelation"

The only way government officials are held accountable is by  a DOJ investigation or by Congressional investigation and eventually by the courts.  Thank heavens we have Judge Emmet Sullivan

Contemptuous and Arrogant StonewallingA Justice Department official admitted that former IRS official Lois Lerner’s apparently missing emails actually exist on a backup server, but the government doesn’t plan to retrieve them.  "It would be too hard"

Judicial Watch Statement on Discovery of Backups for “Missing” Lois Lerner IRS Emails

The Obama administration attorneys said that this back-up system would be too onerous to search.  ….

This is a jaw-dropping revelation.  The Obama administration had been lying to the American people about Lois Lerner’s missing emails. There are no “missing” Lois Lerner emails – nor missing emails of any of the other top IRS or other government officials whose emails seem to be disappearing at increasingly alarming rate. All the focus on missing hard drives has been a diversion. The Obama administration has known all along where the email records could be – but dishonestly withheld this information. You can bet we are going to ask the court for immediate assistance in cutting through this massive obstruction of justice.

IRS Shocker: Filing Reveals Lerner Blackberry Destroyed  The device was wiped AFTER Congressional inquiry began

The IRS filing in federal Judge Emmet Sullivan’s court reveals shocking new information. The IRS destroyed Lerner’s Blackberry AFTER it knew her computer had crashed and after a Congressional inquiry was well underway. As an IRS official declared under the penalty of perjury, the destroyed Blackberry would have contained the same emails (both sent and received) as Lois Lerner’s hard drive.

Conflict of Interest New Documents: Justice Dept’s IRS Representation Conducted by Former IRS Attorney Involved in Targeting of Conservatives Himself

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:44 PM | Permalink
Categories: Government

August 25, 2014

Health roundup: Salt, aspirin and new hope for the paralyzed

No need to cut back on salt: New study claims most people don't need to lower amount they eat

A large international study questions the conventional wisdom that most people should cut back on salt, suggesting that the amount most folks consume is OK for heart health — and too little may be as bad as too much. The findings came under immediate attack by other scientists.

Limiting salt is still important for people with high blood pressure — and in fact, a second study estimates that too much sodium contributes to up to 1.65 million deaths each year  The first study's leader, Dr. Salim Yusuf of McMaster University's Population Health Research Institute in Hamilton, Ontario, urged keeping an open mind….Yusuf's study is observational, rather than a strict experiment, and has big limitations in its methods. But its size lends strength — more than 100,000 people in 17 countries, the largest on this topic. It's also from a general population, not just people at high risk of heart disease, as many past studies have been.

Everyday drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen could help treat depression after scientists found inflammation may influence mental illness.

A study at Cambridge University suggest that the immune system plays an important role in mental health by ‘cranking’ up the body’s responses and increasing the risk of subsequent mental illness.  But inflammation-fighting drugs could provide a readily-available, safe and affordable alternative treatment.

Overweight women with breast cancer 'could halve the risk of the disease coming back' by taking aspirin regularly

Scientists hailed the study as encouraging because overweight women are more at risk of breast cancer coming back than those of a healthy weight.  Their research suggests the humble painkiller may cut by 50 per cent the chances of recurrence and also leads to a ‘sizable delay’ of two years before it does.

Diabetes drug that could help us all live longer: Doctors say it could also stave off cancer

A drug widely prescribed to treat type 2 diabetes could help us all live longer, a study says.  Research suggests metformin, which controls glucose levels, may also stave off cardiovascular disease and cancer – whether someone has diabetes or not.
Scientists who studied more than 180,000 people found a ‘small but statistically significant improvement in survival’ in those taking metformin, compared with those given older anti-diabetic drugs and a group without diabetes.

New hope for the paralyzed.  Hope for stroke victims after radical stem cell treatment enables patients to move and talk again

Stroke patients have shown remarkable signs of recovery after they were given a radical new treatment.  Five people who had suffered severe strokes regained the power of speech, use of their arms and legs and improved cognition after just six months, according to British research published today.

The three men and two women, aged between 45 and 75, were treated with stem cells extracted from their own bone marrow in the first experiment of its kind.  The treatment, developed by scientists at Imperial College in London, is thought to be so effective because it triggers the rapid regeneration of brain cells that are damaged during a stroke.

Scientists cautioned that the new treatment is at a very early stage, and said it needs to be tested on thousands more people before it can be declared a complete success, but they said the results show great potential to revolutionize life for stroke patients.

New hope for paralyzed patients: Scientists grow links between spinal cord and the brain for the first time

Spinal injury victims left paralyzed have been offered new hope of walking again thanks to a breakthrough in stem cell science.
U.S. scientists have regrown spinal cord neurons from a patient’s own cells for the first time.
Implanting the cells in rats, they found that the neurons caused the animals’ nervous systems to rewire the spinal cord and brain.
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Currently, there is no way to treat spinal injuries once connections between the neurons are lost, resulting in connections between the brain and the body being cut off.

Professor Tuszynski said : ‘Earlier work has shown that grafted stem cells reprogrammed to become neurons can, in fact, form new, functional circuits across an injury site, with the treated animals experiencing some restored ability to move affected limbs.’
However, he warned that further tests to find out how best to graft stem cells and cure paralysis could take ‘months to years’.
He also said that experts should be cautious when conducting a human trial in the future.
‘The enormous outgrowth of axons [verve fibres] to many regions of the spinal cord and even deeply into the brain raises questions of possible harmful side effects if axons are mistargeted.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:13 AM | Permalink
Categories: Health

Yay, Lillian

Every Day, This 99 Year Old Woman Sews a Dress for a Needy Child

 Lillian Weber 99 Dress-A-Day 
This is Lillian Weber of Scott County, Illinois. She's 99 years old but still very active. Every day, she sews a dress for Little Dresses for Africa, a charity that sends clothing to impoverished children in Africa. She gets up in the morning, starts to work on a dress, takes a break, then finishes in the afternoon. For the past 2 years, she repeated this routine daily, producing 840 dresses. Ms. Weber plans to make 150 more by next May when she will turn 100 years old.

 Weber-Dresses

Ms. Weber works from a standard pattern, but she personalizes each dress by combining different fabrics and trims. A child who wears one of her dresses isn't getting a copy of a mass-produced dress, but an original.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:57 AM | Permalink
Categories: Aging with Grace and Grit | Categories: Meaning, Passion and Purpose

Spiritual but not religious is not enough

David Mills has a word for People Who Find God in Sunsets

It’s too vague, too hazy, too . . . pointless. It advertises itself as a steak when it’s really made of cotton candy, and sugar-free cotton candy to boot. It says “I’m a serious, grown-up faith,” but it’s not.

A serious, grown-up faith tells us “Thus says the Lord,” or at least “Thus says the universe.” It deals with the problem that we don’t seem to fit in this world very well. It calls us to some ideal we’re not reaching. It offers us a hope that our life and our world will be better. It gives us things to do to be better.

Buddhism, the religion closest to “spiritual but not religious,” is a serious, grown-up faith. It demands something of you. It’s hard work, being a serious Buddhist. Buddhist monks don’t stare at sunsets while drinking wine on the porch.

A serious religion is solid. You may think it completely wrong, but you can see it clearly and decide what you think about it. You can take its measure. This kind of “spirituality,” there’s just nothing there to see. It can be anything and nothing.
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That a beautiful sunset makes you feel good about everything doesn’t help you when you really need help. The sunset’s still beautiful when your wife has cancer, you’ve lost your job, and you have to be out of your home in a month, but so what? The same nature that produced the sunset is producing the cancer cells threatening to kill your wife.

The man wasting away from pancreatic cancer will, as I’ve written elsewhere, get no help nor comfort from the “spiritual,” which will abandon him when he feels pain morphine won’t suppress. He has no one to beg for help, no one to ask for comfort, no one to be with him, no one to meet when he crosses from this world to the next. He wants what religion promises.

He links to Lillian Daniel, author of When 'Spiritual But Not Religious' is Not Enough who writes

Being privately spiritual but not religious just doesn't interest me. There is nothing challenging about having deep thoughts all by oneself. What is interesting is doing this work in community, where other people might call you on stuff, or heaven forbid, disagree with you. Where life with God gets rich and provocative is when you dig deeply into a tradition that you did not invent all for yourself.

Thank you for sharing, spiritual-but-not-religious sunset person. You are now comfortably in the norm for self-centered American culture, right smack in the bland majority of people who find ancient religions dull but find themselves uniquely fascinating. Can I switch seats now and sit next to someone who has been shaped by a mighty cloud of witnesses instead? Can I spend my time talking to someone brave enough to encounter God in a real human community? Because when this flight gets choppy, that's who I want by my side, holding my hand, saying a prayer and simply putting up with me, just like we try to do in church.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:50 AM | Permalink
Categories: Spirituality and Religion

August 23, 2014

Miscellaneous articles of note

I loved this story in the WSJ  In Tehran,  Couple Turns Their Cab Into a Rolling Library; 'Books on Wheels'

The Street’s Secret Code  by Paul Lukas  What asphalt tags say about the city

Three years after the Boston program’s implementation, Cardarelli is now a full-fledged A-tag evangelist. “It’s a no-brainer!” he says. “I don’t understand why every city hasn’t done it.”

Outside. We Don't Need No Education by Ben Hewitt

At least not of the traditional, compulsory, watch-the-clock-until-the-bell-rings kind. As a growing movement of unschoolers believe, a steady diet of standardized testing and indoor inactivity is choking the creativity right out of our kids. The alternative: set 'em free
….
This was the childhood I wished I’d had, equal measures freedom, responsibility, and respect, with none of the rote soul-crushing memorization that had soured me on school. Sure, Crescent and Orion could be a bit wild—I once found the front bumper of my truck kissing a spruce tree that stood between the driveway and the house—but they were precocious and self-aware, brimming with confidence and curiosity. They looked you in the eye and spoke in full sentences. They were constantly running and laughing and playing. I’m not sure how else to put it except to say that never before had I known kids who so fully embodied childhood.

When Penny, then my girlfriend, came to visit, she noticed it, too. “Those kids are amazing,” she said. “I didn’t even know there were kids like that.”

Gracie Olmstead responds in Unschooling: the Future of Education?

What a gorgeous, mysterious video of an ocean of fog  Full Moon Pacific Blanket

Introducing the Bible! Now with Less!
Delete the chapter and verse numbers. Kill all the notes. Make it one column. Make a million bucks.

If you watch Adam Lewis Greene's Kickstarter campaign page - Bibliotheca -for more than a couple of seconds, you can see the number of pledges pop higher. With two days left, Greene's goal of raising $37,000 to print a Bible "designed and crafted for reading, separated into four elegant volumes, and free of all numbers and notes" has been met several times over.  In fact, it just surpassed $1 million.

How liberalism became an intolerant dogma by Damon Linker who writes, "Liberals are increasingly religious about their own liberalism, treating it like a comprehensive view of reality and the human good."

Ten Reasons Why I Am No Longer a Leftist by Danusha V. Goska

How far left was I? So far left my beloved uncle was a card-carrying member of the Communist Party in a Communist country. When I returned to his Slovak village to buy him a mass card, the priest refused to sell me one. So far left that a self-identified terrorist proposed marriage to me. So far left I was a two-time Peace Corps volunteer and I have a degree from UC Berkeley. So far left that my Teamster mother used to tell anyone who would listen that she voted for Gus Hall, Communist Party chairman, for president. I wore a button saying "Eat the Rich." To me it wasn't a metaphor.

I voted Republican in the last presidential election.  Below are the top ten reasons I am no longer a leftist. This is not a rigorous comparison of theories. This list is idiosyncratic, impressionistic, and intuitive…..

Hate - If hate were the only reason, I'd stop being a leftist for this reason alone.
I needed to leave the left, I realized, when I decided that I wanted to spend time with people building, cultivating, and establishing, something that they loved.

Damon Linker again. What religious traditionalists can teach us about sex Modern notions of sexuality are here to stay. But traditional strictures on sex served a profound purpose.

Welcome to The Future! (Please enjoy responsibly.)

Absurd levels of luxury. Enjoy material comforts the kings and queens of old could never have imagined. Hot water on demand in virtually every home, no fire necessary. Heaters, fans and “air conditioning technology” allow you to even adjust the temperature of the air itself to match your preference, any time of year. Enjoy fine soaps, lotions, textiles and perfumes. Even spices and teas are readily available, in hundreds of exotic varieties. Be shuttled around the globe in automobiles and flying machines, even if you have no royal blood at all.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:18 PM | Permalink

August 21, 2014

The Rise of the Administrative State: Unelected, Undemocratic and Unaccountable

Comic book references are lost on me; nonetheless, The Sinestro Theory of the Administrative State by Ben Domenech is well worth reading .

First, the stunning graph from Pew showing the rising levels of distrust in government

 Trust-Distrust Amer Govt

On the whole, it presents a picture of how far the Administrative State is willing to blatantly ignore any checks on their ability to enact their whims.

The Founders believed that you can check that power with the mob, either democratic or anarchic, for only so long before government would turn to despotism. So their solution was to deliberately balance the forces of power against each other, to tie the governors’ hands via limited, enumerated powers of national government. The Constitution made the action of government – in nearly all areas outside of waging war – deliberately difficult, and that was on purpose. It was supposed to be hard to pass new laws, not because the Founders were opposed to new laws, but because they wanted to make it impossible for those laws to oppress the people.

What the Founders did not anticipate was the degree to which those invested by the Constitution with the power to make law would find it politically advantageous over the course of a century to steadily cede their power to unelected governmental bodies of vast size and with an ever-enlarged mission. Representative government, it turns out, is very difficult. Better and wiser to shift the responsibility for such decisions to someone else – to tell the frustrated citizen that it is beyond your control to address their concern, and isn’t there an agency for that? This new unchecked branch of government has seized the power it wants along the way: the power to reward friends and grant waivers and special privileges to people and firms who they like or who play by their rules, to abuse their power in the course of punishing those who they don’t, the power to live large and cover up mistakes without that difficult legislative process.
---
When bad things happen in the real world, heads roll. But in the world of the Administrative State, resignation is the worst possible thing you can demand of someone. So political appointees are given taxpayer funded vacations, cops who break the law are put on leave, and district attorneys who drive out-of-their-minds drunk demand they keep their job. Life in the bureaucracy is too sweet to lose, no matter what – and those who hold those positions know how good a deal they have and won’t give it up under any conditions.

Mark Steyn has the latest ludicrous example of the punitive bureaucracy

Demanding a CITES certificate for bagpipes is a burden upon free-born citizens. Restricting the paperwork's validity to only 28 ports of entry is an unduly onerous burden. Requiring the bagpipers to come back on the Wednesday to those 28 ports of entry because the inspector's washing her hair on the Tuesday is an even more onerous and insulting burden. And charging an American $476 to play his bagpipe in Montreal is a shakedown racket unacceptable in a free society. Tyranny starts at the edges and nibbles its way in. This bagpipe regime is tyrannous, but it will not stop there.

As I said before, where is "the party of small government" on this? When will they pipe up?

Or do bagpipers have to loot and riot to get any attention from anyone who matters?
Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:36 PM | Permalink
Categories: Government

"Sex change is biologically impossible"

Dr. Paul McHugh, the former psychiatrist-in-chief for Johns Hopkins Hospital and its current Distinguished Service Professor of Psychiatry, writes in the Wall Street Journal,  Transgender Surgery Isn't the Solution

Policy makers and the media are doing no favors either to the public or the transgendered by treating their confusions as a right in need of defending rather than as a mental disorder that deserves understanding, treatment and prevention. This intensely felt sense of being transgendered constitutes a mental disorder in two respects. The first is that the idea of sex misalignment is simply mistaken—it does not correspond with physical reality. The second is that it can lead to grim psychological outcomes.
--
With the transgendered, the disordered assumption is that the individual differs from what seems given in nature—namely one's maleness or femaleness. Other kinds of disordered assumptions are held by those who suffer from anorexia and bulimia nervosa, where the assumption that departs from physical reality is the belief by the dangerously thin that they are overweight.
--
You won't hear it from those championing transgender equality, but controlled and follow-up studies reveal fundamental problems with this movement. When children who reported transgender feelings were tracked without medical or surgical treatment at both Vanderbilt University and London's Portman Clinic, 70%-80% of them spontaneously lost those feelings. Some 25% did have persisting feelings; what differentiates those individuals remains to be discerned.
---
We at Johns Hopkins University—which in the 1960s was the first American medical center to venture into "sex-reassignment surgery"….stopped doing sex-reassignment surgery, since producing a "satisfied" but still troubled patient seemed an inadequate reason for surgically amputating normal organs.

A 2011 study at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden produced the most illuminating results yet regarding the transgendered, evidence that should give advocates pause. The long-term study—up to 30 years—followed 324 people who had sex-reassignment surgery. The study revealed that beginning about 10 years after having the surgery, the transgendered began to experience increasing mental difficulties. Most shockingly, their suicide mortality rose almost 20-fold above the comparable nontransgender population. This disturbing result has as yet no explanation but probably reflects the growing sense of isolation reported by the aging transgendered after surgery. The high suicide rate certainly challenges the surgery prescription.
---
At the heart of the problem is confusion over the nature of the transgendered. "Sex change" is biologically impossible. People who undergo sex-reassignment surgery do not change from men to women or vice versa. Rather, they become feminized men or masculinized women. Claiming that this is civil-rights matter and encouraging surgical intervention is in reality to collaborate with and promote a mental disorder.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:28 PM | Permalink
Categories: Culture and Society | Categories: The Sexes

"Your liberal and democratic principles are worth nothing here"

Our sufferings today are the prelude of those you, Europeans and Western Christians, will also suffer in the near future. I lost my diocese. The physical setting of my apostolate has been occupied by Islamic radicals who want us converted or dead. But my community is still alive.

Please, try to understand us. Your liberal and democratic principles are worth nothing here. You must consider again our reality in the Middle East, because you are welcoming in your countries an ever growing number of Muslims.  Also you are in danger. You must take strong and courageous decisions, even at the cost of contradicting your principles.  You think all men are equal, but that is not true: Islam does not say that all men are equal. Your values are not their values.  If you do not understand this soon enough, you will become the victims of the enemy you have welcomed in your home.

Archbishop Amel Nona, Chaldean Catholic Archeparch of Mosul, now exiled in Erbil  source

In the NYT, Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress writes Who Will Stand Up for the Christians?

WHY is the world silent while Christians are being slaughtered in the Middle East and Africa? In Europe and in the United States, we have witnessed demonstrations over the tragic deaths of Palestinians who have been used as human shields by Hamas, the terrorist organization that controls Gaza. The United Nations has held inquiries and focuses its anger on Israel for defending itself against that same terrorist organization. But the barbarous slaughter of thousands upon thousands of Christians is met with relative indifference.

The Middle East and parts of central Africa are losing entire Christian communities that have lived in peace for centuries. The terrorist group Boko Haram has kidnapped and killed hundreds of Christians this year — ravaging the predominantly Christian town of Gwoza, in Borno State in northeastern Nigeria, two weeks ago. Half a million Christian Arabs have been driven out of Syria during the three-plus years of civil war there. Christians have been persecuted and killed in countries from Lebanon to Sudan.

---
Historians may look back at this period and wonder if people had lost their bearings. Few reporters have traveled to Iraq to bear witness to the Nazi-like wave of terror that is rolling across that country. The United Nations has been mostly mum. World leaders seem to be consumed with other matters in this strange summer of 2014. There are no flotillas traveling to Syria or Iraq. And the beautiful celebrities and aging rock stars — why doesn’t the slaughter of Christians seem to activate their social antennas?
---
The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is not a loose coalition of jihadist groups, but a real military force that has managed to take over much of Iraq with a successful business model that rivals its coldblooded spearhead of death. It uses money from banks and gold shops it has captured, along with control of oil resources and old-fashioned extortion, to finance its killing machine, making it perhaps the wealthiest Islamist terrorist group in the world. But where it truly excels is in its carnage, rivaling the death orgies of the Middle Ages. It has ruthlessly targeted Shiites, Kurds and Christians.

“They actually beheaded children and put their heads on a stick” a Chaldean-American businessman named Mark Arabo told CNN, describing a scene in a Mosul park. “More children are getting beheaded, mothers are getting raped and killed, and fathers are being hung.”

This week, 200,000 Aramaeans fled their ancestral homeland around Nineveh, having already escaped Mosul.

The general indifference to ISIS, with its mass executions of Christians and its deadly preoccupation with Israel, isn’t just wrong; it’s obscene…..

The Jewish people understand all too well what can happen when the world is silent. This campaign of death must be stopped.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:53 PM | Permalink
Categories: Civilization - Can We Keep It? | Categories: Culture and Society | Categories: Spirituality and Religion

Thinking past ourselves, 'more than me, more than now'

Ryan Dobson Get Over Your Selfie  Gazing in the digital mirror, we lose the habit of seeing ourselves as part of a bigger story.

A Facebook  timeline goes back to 2007. The timeline for my father, James Dobson, goes back four generations to his great-grandfather. My great-great-grandfather was on his way to kill a man when he was diverted to a tent revival in a small Texas town. Instead of taking a life that night, M.V. Billingham gave his life to God. He left his gun on the altar.

M.V. was unarmed, but after that he habitually deployed a secret weapon. For most of his adult life, he routinely prayed for his son, for his son's children, and for their children to the fourth generation . . . all the way to my dad.  Whatever a "selfie" says about a person, this man was the opposite. With a strong sense of "more than me, more than now," more than a century ago, he prayed for people he'd never meet.

Did it make a difference? My family says yes. Among other things, my dad grew up aware of his place in a bigger story. He knew the next leg of the race was his to run; the baton was his to hand off.  Who's going to drop out of a relay like that? Not me. ….

We're losing the habit of thinking past ourselves. As we do, we lose our best selves and our best chances to help shape what comes next. We drop the baton.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:04 PM | Permalink
Categories: Culture and Society

The Shame of PWC

The shame of an American company.  Price Waterhouse Coopers fined $25 million for role in terrorist-state money-laundering

Auditing giant PriceWaterhouseCoopers is getting slapped with a $25 million fine for helping a Japanese bank launder money for terrorist states like Iran, Sudan and Myanmar.
New York’s top financial services regulator is putting the screws to PwC after it aided the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi hide the true nature of the illegal transactions on a 2008 financial statement, according to a settlement between the auditor and state officials announced Monday.

That director was Richard Inserro, who is now a PwC partner dealing in banking and capital markets, a source familiar with the investigation told The Post. 
PwC is also suspended for two years from consulting.

The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi settled last year with Lawsky’s office for $250 million. In May 2008, the Japanese bank told PwC that it had a written policy to strip wire messages of any information that related to countries blacklisted by the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control, according to the settlement.

Rebecca Hamiliton calls it Funding Rape, Kidnapping, Beheading and Genocide

About PWC from  Wikipedia

PricewaterhouseCoopers (trading as PwC) is a multinational professional services network. It is the world's largest professional services network, as measured by 2014 revenues, and is one of the Big Four auditors, along with Deloitte, Ernst & Young (EY) and KPMG.

PwC is a network of firms in 157 countries with more than 184,000 people. It had total revenues of $32.1 billion in FY 2013, of which $14.8 billion was generated by its Assurance practice, $8.2 billion by its Tax practice and $9.2 billion by its Advisory practice.

The firm was formed in 1998 by a merger between Coopers & Lybrand and Price Waterhouse.  The trading name was shortened to PwC in September 2010 as part of a rebranding.

As of 2012 PwC United States is the fifth-largest privately owned organization in the United States.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:18 AM | Permalink

August 19, 2014

The best government in the world

By almost all measures, Switzerland has the best government in the world

By almost any measure of human accomplishment, and particularly in creating a most successful country governance model, the Swiss are clearly No. 1 in the world.  Switzerland is a small, landlocked nation without much in the way of natural resources. It has managed to stay out of wars for two centuries and developed a long-term multilingual and multireligious democracy without strife. There is a rule of law with competent and unbiased judges and strong protections for private property.

Among the countries of the world, Switzerland ranks:

No. 1 in "life satisfaction" (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development's Better Life Index);
No. 1 in "global competitiveness" (World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Index);
No. 2 in "labor -force participation rate" (OECD Labor Force Statistics);
No. 3 in "happiness" (United Nations World Happiness Report);
No. 4 in "economic freedom" (Fraser Institute and Cato Institute Economic Freedom of the World Report);
No. 7 in "per-capita income" on a purchasing-power parity basis (International Monetary Fund World Economic Outlook);
No. 2 in "overall prosperity" (Legatum Institute's Prosperity Index); and
No. 1 in "life expectancy at birth" (OECD Better Life Index).
Switzerland also ranks higher than average among the OECD countries (the 35 most-developed economies in the world) in levels of education and student test scores, and has lower levels of air and water pollution.

Civil liberties are strongly protected, including freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly and even the right to own guns. It does not get much better than this.

The Swiss have also avoided creating the "cult of personality" around their elected leadership. The elected rulers of Switzerland are not well known by their own countrymen and are almost invisible to the rest of the world.  The odds are very high you have never heard of Didier Burkhalter.  He's the current Swiss President.

Here at home Dana Milbank writes in the Washington Post that  Americans’ optimism is dying

It is the very essence of the American Dream: an irrepressible confidence that our children will live better than we do.  And now it is gone.  It has been slipping for some time, really, but a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll this month put an exclamation point on Americans’ lost optimism.

When asked if “life for our children’s generation will be better than it has been for us,” fully 76 percent said they do not have such confidence. Only 21 percent did. That was the worst ever recorded in the poll; in 2001, 49 percent were confident and 43 percent not.
--
the gloom goes beyond wealth, gender, race, region, age and ideology. This fractious nation is united by one thing: lost faith in the United States.

Yang’s suspicion, which I share, is that something deeper is also at work: Americans are reacting, in part, to the breakdown of the political system, which leaves people quite rationally worried about American decline and the nation’s diminishing ability to weather crises. “One of the hallmarks of being an American is the optimism that your children will be better off,” Yang told me. The lost optimism, he said, “says a lot about how shaken we are by the inability of our political system to address seemingly easy issues, and it leaves us worried about the future.”

Talk about easy issues, Congress can't even come together to protect the electrical grid from total collapse due to an EMP or a solar flare- something that could be done quickly and at little cost.  No wonder people are discouraged about the future.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:20 PM | Permalink
Categories: Government

An electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, is "the most significant threat" to the U.S. and our allies in the world.

In the Wall Street Journal, James Woolsey former director of the CIA warns us of  The Growing Threat From an EMP Attack  A nuclear device detonated above the U.S. could kill millions, and we've done almost nothing to prepare.

In a recent letter to investors, billionaire hedge-fund manager Paul Singer warned that an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, is "the most significant threat" to the U.S. and our allies in the world. He's right. Our food and water supplies, communications, banking, hospitals, law enforcement, etc., all depend on the electric grid. Yet until recently little attention has been paid to the ease of generating EMPs by detonating a nuclear weapon in orbit above the U.S., and thus bringing our civilization to a cold, dark halt……

What would a successful EMP attack look like? The EMP Commission, in 2008, estimated that within 12 months of a nationwide blackout, up to 90% of the U.S. population could possibly perish from starvation, disease and societal breakdown.
--
What to do?

Surge arrestors, faraday cages and other devices that prevent EMP from damaging electronics, as well micro-grids that are inherently less susceptible to EMP, have been used by the Defense Department for more than 50 years to protect crucial military installations and strategic forces. These can be adapted to protect civilian infrastructure as well. The cost of protecting the national electric grid, according to a 2008 EMP Commission estimate, would be about $2 billion—roughly what the U.S. gives each year in foreign aid to Pakistan.

When the lights go out forever…

It is ironic that, in just a handful of generations, America’s dependence on electricity and computer technology is absolute. Its disappearance would lead to the collapse of civilization, a prospect which must look quite enticing to those actors who wish to do America harm.
----
Can this dark future be prevented? Of course, but the will to address this threat in Washington apparently does not exist.


Tech companies and influencers seek to prevent EMP damage

Concern over the destruction inflicted by an EMP attack from North Korea has heightened since Congress created the first Congressional EMP Commission in 2001, but the electric grid’s vulnerability to disruptions associated with solar flares has been known for more than 150 years.

Industry watchers attribute the grid’s poor security to turf wars involving the federal government’s Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the international nonprofit North American Electric Reliability Corporation, as well as a lack of urgency by both organizations

The Foundation for Resilient Societies, in a July op-ed in the Capitol Hill publication The Hill, for example, blasted NERC and FERC for a May 2013 vote against improving the physical security standards for the grid after six men with AK-47 machine guns shot up a substation in California.

Only after FERC report about leaked almost a year later did the agency pressure NERC to improve physical security

Sifma: Terrorist Attack Could Temporarily Drain Account Balances

Wall Street’s biggest trade group has proposed a government-industry cyber war council to stave off terrorist attacks that could trigger financial panic by temporarily wiping out account balances, according to an internal document.

The proposal by the Securities Industry and Financial Market Association calls for a committee of executives and deputy-level representatives from at least eight U.S. agencies including the Treasury Department, the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security….

“The systemic consequences could well be devastating for the economy as the resulting loss of confidence in the security of individual and corporate savings and assets could trigger widespread runs on financial institutions that likely would extend well beyond the directly impacted banks, securities firms and asset managers,” Sifma wrote in the document, dated June 27.

The cost of protecting our electrical infrastructure is so small - $2 billion - and the devastating impacts of an EMP attack so horrendous and immediate, there should be not a single Congressman who is opposed to it, no matter what their political persuasion.  I urge you to demand that your Congressman or candidate for Congress go on record as to the urgent need for legislation and immediate action to protect this country's electrical grid. 

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:39 PM | Permalink
Categories: Civilization - Can We Keep It? | Categories: Disasters, natural and manmade | Categories: Government
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Thinking past ourselves, 'more than me, more than now'
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