Friday, December 26, 2008

Essay 101

Analyze the questions. Decide what you are being asked to do. If you immediately begin to cast about indiscriminately for ideas, you may become flustered, lose concentration, and even go blank. Try looking closely at what the question is directing you to do, and try to understand the sort of writing that will be required.

Focus on what you do know about the question, not on what you don't.

Look at the active verbs in the assignment—they tell you what you should be doing. For example:
  • information words ask you to demonstrate what you know about the subject, such as who, what, when, where, how, and why.
  • define —give the subject's meaning (according to someone or something). Sometimes you have to give more than one view on the subject's meaning.
  • explain why/how —give reasons why or examples of how something happened.
  • illustrate —give descriptive examples of the subject and show how each is connected with the subject.
  • summarise —briefly cover the important ideas you learned about the subject.
  • trace —outline how something has changed or developed from an earlier time to its current form.
  • research —gather material from outside sources about the subject, often with the implication or requirement that you will analyze what you've found.Relation words ask you to demonstrate how things are connected.
  • compare —show how two or more things are similar (and, sometimes, different).
  • contrast —show how two or more things are dissimilar.
  • apply - use details that you've been given to demonstrate how an idea, theory, or concept works in a particular situation.
  • cause —show how one event or series of events made something else happen.
  • relate —show or describe the connections between things.Interpretation words ask you to defend ideas of your own about the subject. Don't see these words as requesting opinion alone (unless the assignment specifically says so), but as requiring opinion that is supported by concrete evidence. Remember examples, principles, definitions, or concepts from class or research and use them in your interpretation.
  • prove, justify —give reasons or examples to demonstrate how or why something is the truth.
  • evaluate, respond, assess —state your opinion of the subject as good, bad, or some combination of the two, with examples and reasons (you may want to compare your subject to something else).
  • support —give reasons or evidence for something you believe (be sure to state clearly what it is that you believe).
  • synthesize —put two or more things together that haven't been put together before; don't just summarize one and then the other, and say that they are similar or different—you must provide a reason for putting them together (as opposed to compare and contrast—see above).
  • analyze —look closely at the components of something to figure out how it works, what it might mean, or why it is important.
  • argue —take a side and defend it (with proof) against the other side.Plan your answersThink about your time again. How much planning time you should take depends on how much time you have for each question and how many points each question is worth.
For answers that require a paragraph or two, jot down several important ideas or specific examples that help to focus your thoughts.

For longer answers, you will need to develop a much more definite strategy of organization. You only have time for one draft, so allow a reasonable amount of time—as much as a quarter of the time you've allotted for the question—for making notes, determining a thesis, and developing an outline.

For questions with several parts (different requests or directions, a sequence of questions), make a list of the parts so that you do not miss or minimize one part. One way to be sure you answer them all is to number them in the question and in your outline.

You may have to try two or three outlines or clusters before you hit on a workable plan. But be realistic—you want a plan you can develop within the limited time allotted for your answer. Your outline will have to be selective—not everything you know, but what you know that you can state clearly and keep to the point in the time available.

Again, focus on what you do know about the question, not on what you don't. As with planning, your strategy for writing depends on the length of your answer. For short identifications and definitions, it is usually best to start with a general identifying statement and then move on to describe specific applications or explanations. Two sentences will almost always suffice, but make sure they are complete sentences. Find out whether the instructor wants definition alone, or definition and significance.

For longer answers, begin by stating your forecasting statement or thesis clearly and explicitly. Strive for focus, simplicity, and clarity. In stating your point and developing your answers, you may want to use important course vocabulary words from the question.

If you have devised a promising outline for your answer, then you will be able to forecast your overall plan and its subpoints in your opening sentence. Forecasting always impresses readers and has the very practical advantage of making your answer easier to read. Also, if you don't finish writing, it tells your reader what you would have said if you had finished (and may get you partial points).

You might want to use briefer paragraphs than you ordinarily do and signal clear relations between paragraphs with transition phrases or sentences. As you move ahead with the writing, you may think of new subpoints or ideas to include in the essay. Stop briefly to make a note of these on your original outline. If they are most appropriately inserted in a section you've already written, write them neatly in the margin, at the top of the page, or on the last page, with arrows or marks to alert the reader to where they fit in your answer. Be as neat and clear as possible.
Don't pad your answer with irrelevancies and repetitions just to fill up space. Within the time available, write a comprehensive, specific answer.

Watch the clock carefully to ensure that you do not spend too much time on one answer. You must be realistic about the time constraints of an essay exam.

If you run out of time when you are writing an answer, jot down the remaining main ideas from your outline, just to show that you know the material and with more time could have continued your exposition.

Write legibly and proofread. Remember that your instructor will likely be reading a large pile of exams. The more difficult they are to read, the more exasperated the instructor might become. Your instructor also cannot give you credit for what they cannot understand. A few minutes of careful proofreading can improve your grade. Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind in writing essay exams is that you have a limited amount of time and space in which to get across the knowledge you have acquired and your ability to use it. Essay exams are not the place to be subtle or vague. It's okay to have an obvious structure, even the five-paragraph essay format you may have been taught in high school. Introduce your main idea, have several paragraphs of support—each with a single point defended by specific examples, and conclude with a restatement of your main point and its significance.

Just think—we expect athletes to practice constantly and use everything in their abilities and situations in order to achieve success. Yet, somehow many students are convinced that one day's worth of studying and no sleep are good preparation for a test. Essay exams are like any other testing situation in life: you'll do best if you are prepared for what is expected of you, have practiced doing it before, and have arrived in the best shape to do it.

You may not want to believe this, but it's true: a good night's sleep and a relaxed mind and body can do as much or more for you as any last-minute cram session.

If you tend to go blank during exams, try studying in the same classroom in which the test will be given. Some research suggests that people attach ideas to their surroundings, so it might jog your memory to see the same things you were looking at while you studied.

Take all of the time you've been allotted. Reread, rework, and rethink your answers if you have extra time at the end, rather than giving up and handing the exam in the minute you've written your last sentence. Use every advantage you are given.

Works consulted.
Axelrod, Rise B. and Charles R. Cooper. The St. Martin's Guide to Writing. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1988.
Gefvert, Constance J. The Confident Writer: A Norton Handbook. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1988.
Fowler, H. Ramsey. The Little, Brown Handbook. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1995.
Kirszner, Laurie G. Writing: A College Rhetoric. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1988.
Lunsford, Andrea and Robert Connors. The St. Martin's Handbook. 5th ed. New York: Bedford/St. Martin's Press, 2003.
Woodman, Leonora and Thomas P. Adler. The Writer's Choices. Illinois: Scott, Foresman and Company, 1985.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Essay 25

Ideas about money have been on the minds of great thinkers for centuries. Henry Fielding said, "Make money your God and it will plague you like the devil." Ken Hakuta once said, "Lack of money is no obstacle. Lack of an idea is an obstacle." Maybe money is, after all, NOT, the key ingredient to providing some of life's most sought-after answers?

Assignment: How do you feel about the idea that there are more important things in life than money?

Essay 24

Anger is an emotion common to all human beings. Laurence J. Peter said, "Speak when you are angry and you'll make the best speech you'll ever regret." On the other hand, Malcolm X had a different point of view about anger claiming, "Usually when people are sad, they don't do anything. They just cry over their condition. But when people get angry, they bring about a change." Maybe anger has two sides, like a coin?

Assignment: How do you feel about the idea that anger can be both a positive or negative force depending upon how it is used?

Essay 23

Epictetus, who lived from 55 AD-135AD, claimed, "Only the educated are free." Just under 2,000 years later Benjamin Franklin, one of the most influential founding fathers of America, said, "An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest" Unfortunately, many people are still dropping out of school and not pursuing a degree. Maybe these great thinkers were wrong?

Assignment: How do you feel about the idea that education is not necessarily as important as the two people mentioned in the passage above claim it to be?

Essay 22

Friends are an important part of life. They make us smile, feel good and laugh. However, the famed actress Marlene Dietrich once said, "It's the friends you can call up at 4 a.m. in the morning that really matter." John Collins echoed the same sentiment when he pronounced, "It's in adversity that we know our genuine friends." Maybe friends only show their true color when times are tough?

Assignment: How do you feel about the idea that real friendship can only be truly revealed during troubled times in a person's life?

Essay 21

Sometimes in life, we lose. Abraham Lincoln lost numerous congressional elections before he went on to become President of the United States. Henry Ford went bankrupt and lost his ownership in The Detroit Automobile Company before ultimately succeeding with the Ford Motor Company. Michael Jordan’s basketball teams endured many heartbreaking playoff losses before becoming World Champions six times over. Maybe losing in the secret ingredient to success?

Assignment: How do you feel about the idea that losing might be “the secret ingredient to success”?

Essay 20

Why do people help others? Many philosophers and psychologists claim that everything people do, no matter how noble and beneficial to others, is really directed toward the ultimate goal of self-benefit. According to this view, helping others is always motivated by the prospect of some benefit to the helper, however small, and not out of genuine concern for the welfare of another.
Adapted from C. Daniel Batson, The Altruism Question

Assignment: Do we only help others in order to help ourselves in some way?

Essay 19

When people are very enthusiastic—always willing and eager to meet new challenges or give undivided support to ideas or projects—they are likely to be rewarded. They often work harder and enjoy their work more than do those who are more restrained. But there are limits to how enthusiastic people should be. People should always question and doubt, since too much enthusiasm can prevent people from considering better ideas, goals, or courses of action.

Assignment: Can people have too much enthusiasm?

Essay 18

Whether it is a child pouting to get ice cream or a politician using emotionally charged language to influence potential supporters, all people use some form of acting to achieve whatever ends they seek. Public figures of all kinds would have short, unsuccessful careers without the aid of acting. Acting—consciously assuming a role in order to achieve some purpose—is a tool people use to protect their interests and gain advantages in every aspect of life. Adapted from Marlon Brando, Foreword to The Technique of Acting by Stella Adler

Assignment: Is acting an essential part of everyday life?

Essay 17

The biggest difference between people who succeed at any difficult undertaking and those who do not is not ability but persistence. Many extremely talented people give up when obstacles arise. After all, who wants to face failure? It is often said about highly successful people that they are just ordinary individuals who kept on trying, who did not give up. (Adapted from Tom Morris, True Success: A New Philosophy of Excellence)

Assignment: Is persistence more important than ability in determining a person's success?

Essay 16

“Independence? That’s middle class blasphemy. We are all dependent on one another, every soul of us on earth.” Bernard Shaw expected to provoke controversy with these words, but I would agree with him that these days there is too much emphasis on independence. While it is certainly true that excessive dependence on others is not a sign of maturity, total independence of others is neither attainable nor desirable; we need to be mature, and unselfish enough to recognize our interdependence.

Assignment: Do we put too much emphasis on self-reliance and independence, and are we afraid of admitting that we need other people in our lives?

Essay 15

There is usually a kernel of truth in the words Oscar Wilde puts in the mouth of his most outrageous characters – they wouldn’t be funny otherwise. One such gem that is worth pondering is; the only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on. It is never of any use to oneself.

Assignment: Is it true that when we most need advice we are least willing to listen to it? Or is good advice always welcome?

Essay 14

A man who waits to believe in action before acting is anything you like, but he is not a man of action. It is as if a tennis player before returning the ball stopped to think about his views of the physical and mental advantages of tennis. You must act as you breathe. Georges Clemenceau

Assignment: Is it true that acting quickly and instinctively is the best response to a crisis? Or are there times when an urgent situation requires a more careful consideration and a slower response?

Essay 13

“What man calls civilization always results in deserts. Man is never on the square – he uses up the fat and greenery of the earth. Each generation wastes a little more of the future with greed and lust for riches.” - Don Marquis

Assignment: With our modern awareness of ecology are we likely to make sufficient progress in conservation, or are we still in danger of damaging the earth beyond repair?

Essay 12

“A man should never be ashamed to own he has been in the wrong, which is but saying, in other words, that he is wiser today than he was yesterday.”-Alexander Pope.

Assignment: Do we learn more from finding out that we have made mistakes or from our successful actions?

Essay 11

“The price of greatness is responsibility.” Winston Churchill

Assignment: Do we expect too much from our public figures?

Essay 10

Many societies believe that the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human right. But it is also true that attainment of happiness remains elusive. Perhaps Bertrand Russell had it right when he said, “To be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness.”

Assignment: What gives us more pleasure and satisfaction, the pursuit of our desires or the attainment of them?

Essay 9

“A little inaccuracy saves a world of explanation.” C.E.Ayers

Assignment: Is it always essential to tell the truth, or are there circumstances in which it is better to lie?

Essay 8

If we are afraid to reveal our lack of knowledge we will not be able to learn. In order to make progress we must admit where we are now. Such an admission of ignorance is not easy. As Thoreau says, “How can we remember our ignorance which our growth requires, when we are using our knowledge all the time?”

Assignment: Does the present system of education encourage us to admit our lack of knowledge, or is there too much pressure to demonstrate the acquisition of knowledge?

Essay 7

"That which we obtain too easily, we esteem too lightly. It is dearness only which gives everything its value." (Thomas Paine)

Assignment: Do we value only what we struggle for?

Essay 6

Time has a doomsday book, on whose pages he is continually recording illustrious names. But as often as a new name is written there, an old one disappears. Only a few stand in illuminated characters never to be effaced. (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)

Assignment: Are there some heroes who will be remembered forever? Or are all heroes doomed to be forgotten one day?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Essay 5

An actor, when his cue came, was unable to move on the stage. He said, “I cant get in, the hair is in the way.” And the producer said, “Use the difficulty. If it’s a drama, pick the chair up and smash it. If it’s a comedy, fall over it.” From this experience, the actor concluded that in any situation in life that is negative, there is something positive you can do with it. (Adapted from Lawrence Eisenberge, “Caine Scrutiny”)

Assignment: Can any obstacle or disadvantage be turned into something good?

Essay 4

I do not feel terrible about my mistakes, though I grieve the pain they have sometimes caused others. Our lives are “experiments with truth” and in an experiement negative results are at least as important as successes. I have no idea how I would have learned the truth about myself and calling without the mistakes I have made. (Adapted from Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak).

Assignment:Is it necessary to make mistakes, even when doing so has negative consequences for other people?

Essay 3

Many people believe that our government should do more to solve our problems. After all, how can one individual create more jobs or make roads safer or improve the schools or help to provide any of the other benefits that we have come to enjoy? And yet expecting that the government rather than individuals should always come up with the solutions to society's ills may have made us les self-reliant, undermining our independence and self-sufficiency.

Assignment: Should people take more responsibility for solving problems that affect their communities or the nation in general?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Essay 2

While some people promote competition as the only way to achieve success, others emphasise the power of cooperation. Intense rivalry at work or play or engaging in competition involving ideas or skills may indeed drive people either to avoid failure or to achieve important victories. In a complex world, however, cooperation is much more likely to produce significant lasting accomplishments.

Assignment: Do people achieve more success by cooperation than by competition ?

Essay 1

Every important discovery results from patience, perseverance and concentration - sometimes continuing for months or years - on one specific subject. A person who wants to discover a new truth must remain absorbed by that one subject, must pay no attention to any thought that is unrelated to the problem. (Adapted from Santiago Ramon y Cajal - Advice for a Young Investigator)

Assignment : Are all important discoveries the result of focusing on one subject?


What goes up must come down. That's the reality of oil prices, which in the past decade have fluctuated from $9 to $178 a barrel in global markets. But that reality's been disregarded in Venezuela, where $800 billion in oil earnings in the past decade provided the engine of Hugo Chavez's socialist rule. Premising his government spending on perpetual rises in oil prices, he's now facing an economy with 40 percent inflation and not enough foreign reserves to cover exports.

· After posting a surplus of 12.5 percent of gross domestic product this year, and spending at least 4.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) on a stimulus package of soup kitchen offerings, Chavez is now down to his last $87 billion in reserves, having created nothing of permanent value.

· Next year, S&P estimates a wild swing into deficit by Venezuela, forcing devaluation.

· Venezuelan oil prices are now $34 a barrel, producing 2.3 million barrels a day, down 16 percent from 2005, and now consuming 795,000 barrels of that, Chavez doesn't even have enough earnings to finance imports.

· He's given away about 424,000 barrels of oil output, and must make do on sales of about 1 million barrels.

With oil down, Chavez has entered the worst phase of the oil cycle. The cash he used to buy elections in 2004 and 2006 is no more, and his hasty call for a new measure to end term limits and enable him to be president for life is pretty much a desperate effort to end any calls for accountability in the wake of the bust. With oil prices falling, the devil is coming for his due.

But oil aside, is this not true for atleast 26 countries in the world, where presidents for life exist? Chavez, fret not you are not alone. If not for the conspiracy of the United States, the focus would be on Ghaddafi and not on you.

Source: Editorial, "Chavez Steps Into 'Devil's Excrement,' ".

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The growth of transnational gangs has been a dangerous side effect of failure to control the U.S.-Mexico border and tolerance for high levels of illegal immigration. Transnational immigrant gangs are spreading out across the United States, in suburban and rural areas as well as in established urban street gang environments; MS-13 activity, of the most notorious gangs in 48 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.

Immigration law enforcement has been a key ingredient contributing to the success of criminal gang suppression efforts in many jurisdictions across the United States, say the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS).

The aliens arrested under Operation Community Shield (ICE) collectively represent a significant menace to the public, says CIS. The vast majority (80 percent) have committed serious crimes in addition to immigrant violations, and a large number (40 percent) have violent criminal histories.

ICE gang arrests have occurred nationwide, with the largest numbers made by the offices in San Diego, Atlanta, San Francisco and Dallas:

· Nearly half, or 3,080, of the aliens arrested over the two-and-half-year period studied were affiliated with MS-13 and Surenos-13, another notorious gang with largely Hispanic immigrant memberships.

· Nearly 60 percent of aliens arrested were Mexican citizens; 17 percent were from El Salvador and 5 percent were from Honduras.

· Some jurisdictions with serious gang problems had just a few arrests: Phoenix had only 81 arrests, Houston 84 and Los Angeles, the gang capital of the nation, had fewer than 300.

· These same jurisdictions also had controversial "sanctuary" or "don't ask, don't tell" policies on immigration status in place over the time period studied.

Therefore, policymakers should take further steps to institutionalize partnerships between state and local law enforcement agencies and ICE in order to address gang and other crime problems with a connection to immigration, says CIS.

Crips, Bloods and Latin Kings - where are you?

Source: Jessica M. Vaughan and Jon D. Feere, "Taking Back the Streets: ICE and Local Law Enforcement Target Immigrant Gangs," Center for Immigration Studies, October 2008.

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Rights, properly understood, are moral entitlements embodied in law to protect all people. They are not earned. This principle was most eloquently enunciated in the Declaration of Independence's assertion that we are all created equal and endowed with inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Now, these rights have been overtaken by an extreme environmentalism in Ecuador.

These "nature rights" have just been embodied as the highest law of the land in Ecuador's newly ratified constitution pushed by the country's hard-leftist president. The new Ecuadorian constitution reads:

· Nature is subject to those rights given by this Constitution and Law; meaning that nature, where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution.

· This goes way beyond establishing strict environmental protections as a human duty; it's a self-demotion of humankind to merely one among the billions of life forms on earth.

And in other countries:

· The Socialists and Greens in Spain are on the verge of granting the rights to life, liberty and freedom from torture to great apes and devolve humans into a "community of equals" with chimpanzees and gorillas.

· The European Court of Human Rights recently accepted a case out of Austria that appeals a ruling that refused to declare chimpanzees legal persons.

· Switzerland has constitutionally established the intrinsic dignity of individual plants, based on the many similarities they share with us at the molecular and cellular levels.

But consider this: the central importance of human life is the fundamental insight undergirding Western civilization. This tenet is now under energetic, and increasingly successful, attack. If such antihumanism prevails, we won't have to worry about nature having rights, but about human beings losing them.

Source: Wesley J. Smith, "Why We Call Them Human Rights"

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A sports-team owner, a financial-firm executive and residents of Hong Kong and Saudi Arabia were among 2,702 millionaire recipients of farm payments from 2003 to 2006 and it's not even clear they were legitimate farmers, say congressional investigators. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) said 78 percent of the recipients resided in or near a metropolitan area. Further, the investigators said the Agriculture Department should have known that 87 of the 2,702 recipients were ineligible because it had noted in its own databases that they exceeded the income caps. The GAO said it was prevented by law from identifying individuals cited in its report, but the investigators offered these examples of likely improper payments:

· A founder and former executive of an insurance company received more than $300,000 in farm-program payments in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006 that should have been subject to the income limits.

· An individual with ownership interest in a professional-sports franchise received more than $200,000 for those same years that should have been barred by the income limits.

· A person residing in a country outside of the United States received more than $80,000 for 2003, 2005 and 2006 on the basis of the individual's ownership interest in two farming entities.

· Nine recipients resided outside of the United States, in Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom.

The investigators said the problem will only get worse, because the payments they cited covered only the 2002 farm-bill subsidies. The 2008 farm legislation has provisions that could allow even more people to receive improper payments without effective checks, they said.

Although not Federal govt related, the $50 billion Ponzi scheme is a real kicker. Its one thing to be wealthy, but such predatory and cannabalistic exploitation of wealth is really unnecessary in the greater scheme of things - one's life.

Source: Larry Margasak, "Saudis got U.S. farm subsidies: Despite being ineligible and because no one was checking, many millionaires, some from Saudi Arabia and Hong Kong, got agricultural payouts," Associated Press/Seattle Times, November 25, 2008.

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Friday, December 12, 2008


Last month, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, working with the European Union's statistics agency, Eurostat, published the first set of comparable data on measures of entrepreneurial activity, such as entry and exit rates, and the rate of formation of high-growth companies. So far the data -- which the OECD and Eurostat collected this year from the business registers maintained by national statistics offices, using harmonized definitions of the variables -- cover 15 European countries, the United States, Canada and New Zealand.

On average, there is faster growth in firms delivering services than those in manufacturing; at the same time, closure rates are also higher in services -- reflecting a greater degree of experimentation in services as well as higher entry and exit costs for manufacturing companies.
Not surprisingly, a high proportion of businesses fail in their first year of operation: 10 percent to 20 percent across most of the reporting countries, but as high as 40 percent in the Netherlands.
Business creation is no exception.

Among the countries surveyed, the most rapid formation of firms with at least one employee beyond the founder is taking place in Central and Eastern Europe. After many state-owned firms in this part of the world met their demise in the years after the Berlin Wall fell, new firms have sprung up like wild flowers.

Leading the pack in the rate of employer firm formation are countries like Romania (with 16 percent growth in a year), Slovakia (14 percent) and Estonia (13 percent). Lagging behind with rates around 10 percent or lower are Austria, Italy and the Netherlands. However, these firms, like others elsewhere in the world, face a more difficult economic environment in this global downturn.

Source: Enrico Giovannini and Carl Schramm, "Where Companies Grow; Finally, a way to measure countries' entrepreneurs," Wall Street Journal, December 3, 2008.

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China has now destroyed Western hopes for a new global warming agreement, just weeks before global talks in Poland aimed at writing a successor for the Kyoto Protocol -- which expires in 2012.

China has attached a ransom note to its Polish meeting RSVP: They might go along with a new warming pact if the rich countries agree to hand over 1 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) -- about $300 billion per year -- to finance the required non-fossil, higher-cost energy systems the West wants the developing countries to use.

The world is now colder than in 1940, when the Post-WWOII Industrial Revolution started spewing lots of man-made CO 2 in the first place. London had snow in October for the first time in more than 70 years.

But what I'd really like to know is, did you block the UNSC resolution to declare JuD a terrorist organisation, and if so WHY?!

Source: Dennis Avery, "China Sinks New Kyoto," American Conservative Union Foundation, December 3, 2008.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008


If you're walking by a wall covered with graffiti, are you also more likely to litter? The Broken Window Theory, crystallized by political scientist James Q. Wilson and criminologist George L. Kelling, posits that the environment has a significant effect on whether people engage in antisocial behavior. But there's been little empirical research on just how "broken windows" lead to social disorder and crime.

In a series of experiments, researchers at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands found that if people see one norm or rule being violated (such as graffiti or a vehicle parked illegally), they're more likely to violate others such as littering, or even stealing. In one setup, for example, the experimenters attached useless fliers to the handles of bicycles parked in an alley that had a sign on the wall forbidding graffiti. There was no trash can in the alley. The experimenters covertly watched how many people tossed the fliers on the pavement or put them on another bike rather than pocketing them for disposal. On another day, they set up the same condition in the same place, except with graffiti on the wall. The results were striking: When there was no graffiti, a third of 77 cyclists tossed the flier away; but more than two-thirds littered after the graffiti was applied.

Auditory cues can also set the scene for disorder; four out of five cyclists littered their fliers when they could hear illegal firecrackers being set off, whereas barely half did so when it was quiet.

Source: Constance Holden, "Study Shows How Degraded Surroundings Can Degrade Behavio,"

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Foreign adoption seems like the perfect solution to a heartbreaking imbalance: poor countries have babies in need of homes, and rich countries have homes in need of babies. Unfortunately, those little orphaned bundles of joy may not be orphans at all.

As demand for healthy, adoptable infants increases, many international adoption agencies are working to not find homes for needy children -- the ones most in need of adoption -- but to find children for Western homes.

Since the mid-1990s, the number of international adoptions each year has nearly doubled, from 22,200 in 1995 to about 40,000 in 2006. At its peak, in 2004, more than 45,000 children from developing countries were adopted by foreigners. Americans bring home more of these children than any other nationality -- more than half the global total in recent years.

Where do these babies come from? Evidence shows that babies in many countries are being systematically bought, coerced and stolen away from their birth families. Nearly half the 40 countries listed as the top sources for international adoption -- Belarus, Brazil, Ethiopia, Honduras, Peru and Romania -- have temporarily halted adoptions or been prevented from sending children to the United States because of serious concerns about corruption and kidnapping.

Yet, when a country is closed due to corruption, many adoption agencies simply transfer their clients' hopes to the next "hot" country. That country abruptly experiences a spike in infants and toddlers adopted overseas -- until it too is forced to shut its doors.

Furthermore, international adoption has become an industry driven by money -- prospective parents in the United States will pay between $15,000 and $35,000 for the chance to adopt -- yet, charged with strong emotions. Many agencies and adoptive parents passionately insist that crooked practices are not systemic, but tragic, isolated cases.

Source: E.J. Graff, "The Lie We Love," Foreign Policy, December 2008.

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There have been more than a dozen financial crises since the end of World War II, after which markets rebounded quickly.

Today, more than half of all nonfinancial debt is held by the top 15 institutions, which are the very same firms that played a central role in creating an unprecedented amount of debt by securitization, complex new credit instruments and pushed for legal structures that made many aspects of the financial markets opaque.

We will see the end of an era of ballooning nonfinancial debt, but with the techniques and institutions that generated the tidal wave of debt creation now are in disarray.

Already we are seeing a dramatic slowdown in rate of growth of household and business debt, a trend that will continue for some time.

U.S. government borrowing will continue to swell, at least for a few years.

Source: Henry Kaufman, "How the Credit Crisis Will Change the Way America Does Business," Wall Street Journal, December 6-7, 2008.

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Every day that goes by makes clearer the parallels between the current financial crisis and the one that led to the Great Depression. Then, as now, the core problem was one of deflation, or falling prices. But fixing it will require more than just low interest rates. This was the key insight of British economist John Maynard Keynes, whose theories finally explained how to end the Great Depression.

What Keynes figured out is that when conditions such as these exist, the federal government must step in to raise spending in the economy and thereby increase velocity; this means running a budget deficit, but that is only part of the solution. Spending just to buy financial assets does very little good.

Keynes argued that the only thing that will really work is if the federal government uses its resources to purchase goods and services; it must buy "stuff" -- concrete, computers, paper, glass, steel -- anything as long as it is tangible; in other words, the government must spend the way households do, by buying things.

It must also employ labor, because much of what people spend money on today is in the form of services; this doesn't necessarily mean putting workers on the federal payroll, it just means that, to the extent that the government purchases services, this will also help raise spending in the economy.

Once the federal government increases its purchases of goods and services, it preempts resources that private businesses would otherwise use in production. As they compete with each other for those resources, their prices will rise and interest rates will rise. As prices and interest rates rise, the liquidity trap disappears and money begins circulating more rapidly (i.e., velocity increases). This is what ends an economic crisis.

Source: Bruce Bartlett, "What Would Keynes Do? The government should spend on stuff, not on bad assets," Forbes, December 5, 2008.

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