27 January 2013

Children Cannot Be Taught, But They Can Learn

Children are not taught, they learn. How well and how much they will learn depends upon the skills that they master, long before they are aware that they are learning. Whether or not they have the chance to master those skills depends upon their caretakers.

Even the best of us is limited in what we can learn and what we can conceive. Such limitations applied to Albert Einstein and they apply to you, and your dangerous child. But all of us can learn ways to push against our limits, if we wish. Most people never come close.

The video above, "Cognitive Limits," is a useful introduction to the cognitive science of attention, memory, and learning.

Concepts of "Attention and Memory" are key to understanding how a relatively inexperienced and ignorant human infant can develop into a skilled walking and talking toddler who is into everything he can reach, learning and remembering as he goes.

Everyone is limited in what he can hold in his short-term working memory -- some more limited than others. Likewise, each person is limited as to how many active thinking processes he can maintain simultaneously -- how many dynamic activities he can keep track of.

Brief intro. to Cognitive Load Theory:
In essence, cognitive load theory proposes that since working memory is limited, learners may be bombarded by information and, if the complexity of their instructional materials is not properly managed, this will result in a cognitive overload. This cognitive overload impairs schema acquisition, later resulting in a lower performance (Sweller, 1988). Cognitive load theory had a theoretical precedence in the educational and psychological literature, well before Sweller’s 1988 article (e.g. Beatty, 1977; Marsh, 1978). Even Baddeley and Hitch (1974) considered “concurrent memory load” but Sweller’s cognitive load theory was among the first to consider working memory, as it related to learning and the design of instruction...

...Schema acquisition is the ultimate goal of cognitive load theory. Anderson’s ACT framework proposes initial schema acquisition occurs by the development of schema-based production rules, but these production rules may be developed by one of two methods (Anderson, Fincham, & Douglass, 1997), either by developing these rules during practice or by studying examples. The second method (studying examples) is the most cognitively efficient method of instruction (Sweller & Chandler, 1985; Cooper and Sweller, 1987; Paas and van Merriënboer, 1993). This realization became one of the central tenets of cognitive load theory.

Once learners have acquired a schema, those patterns of behavior (schemas) may be practiced to promote skill automation (Anderson, 1982; Kalyuga, Ayres, Chandler, and Sweller, 2003; Shiffrin & Schneider, 1977; Sweller, 1993) but expertise occurs much later in the process, and is when a learner automates complex cognitive skills (Shiffrin & Schneider, 1977), usually via problem solving. _Cognitive Load Theory

Reference examples for the deeply interested who have a research bent:

Cognitive Bottleneck in Multitasking (PDF)

Dynamic Competition and the Cognitive Bottleneck (PDF)

Advanced educators not only try to introduce useful "schemas" to the learner -- they also try to choose conceptual schemas that will be useful in multiple contexts:
Students do not automatically connect, apply, or extrapolate what they know to other learning contexts. So what foundations can we put in place to ensure we are dong the best we can to nurture conceptual understanding and seek its transfer to new contexts? Here is my attempt to map out a few strategies that work for me:
  1. Make transfer the big goal of conceptual teaching and learning – always have ideas in mind about how students can transfer their conceptual understandings and skills to new contexts.
  2. Concepts over content – think big picture not activities. The exploration of concepts during collaborative teacher planning sessions will lead to a multitude of activities that can be applied in the classroom – the activities will always take care of themselves!
  3. Less is more – working with fewer conceptual understandings means that you can use and extend the knowledge and skills students present in a meaningful, formative way – be mindful.
  4. Prior knowledge – Take the time to nurture student’s interest and avenues into the concepts you are teaching.
  5. Authentic assessment – map out the formative and summative assessment opportunities that are likely to arise through the teaching and learning experiences. Through these opportunities, challenge student’s misconceptions, stereotypes and tendencies toward rigid thinking.
  6. Levels of transfer – transfer can happen on a “near” level where contexts can be very similar, or transfer can happen on a “far” level where the context is more abstract and removed from the original learning, some learners are natural abstract thinkers, others are not.
  7. Think discriminatively – be measured about when opportunities arise for students to apply transfer, be mindful about when you can make it happen authentically, create opportunities for success and not failure.
  8. Value thinking, nurture it and make it visible – train and engage students in a variety of daily thinking routines, use Socratic questioning in discussions to connect new ideas with existing knowledge. Metacognition, metacognition, metacognition!!
  9. Nurture the potential of transfer in younger students – (EY- G1) value and reflect upon the meaning of children’s connections in collaboration with others. Make children’s connections visible and a part of discussion for other learners.
  10. Homework – getting students to apply what they are learning in class and explore the meaning of concepts to their own lives can provide rich and diverse opportunities for transfer. Infinitely more valuable than completing worksheets!
_Conceptual Learning in Classroom
In terms of modern classroom educational practise, many of these ideas are more useful than a lot of what one sees -- if they are ever applied in anything but the rare, ideal classroom setting, which is unlikely.

More commonly, the best of theoretical intentions go badly awry when the rubber meets the road. This is particularly true when the masses of teachers attempt to implement the conceptual ideas and schemas of theorists, most of which they themselves only vaguely comprehend.

Remember: The teacher does not teach. Instead, the learner learns. If the learner's mind is not structured and ready to learn the concept for the day, it will not matter how well the teacher has prepared his lesson.

The learning mind must be "empowered" from the earliest age, and continuously reinforced -- until it is the child himself who is doing the reinforcing. This self-reinforcement occurs at different ages for different children -- even under the most ideal conditions. Young Mozart, for example, required much less external reinforcement to achieve a given level of mastery than did young Salieri.

So far, we have skipped around one of the central issues: how to learn difficult concepts which do not come naturally to most children. We know that boosting self-esteem doesn't work for that. We know that paying a cash reward doesn't work. Even the promise of sensory pleasure and euphoric mind states are limited in how well they will expand the learner's conceptual grasp, within apparently innate cognitive and conceptual limits.

But we must learn to walk before we learn to run a marathon up a mountain. This is a blog, not a textbook. Our approach will necessarily seem a bit scattered and of variable depth. Readers may choose to stop reading and abandon the quest at any time, without penalty.

That is not necessarily the case for those who work at the Al Fin Dangerous Child Institute.

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20 January 2013

Habits are not Like Hobbits: They Don't Just Disappear

Taken from an article published on Al Fin, the Next Level

Even without magic rings, hobbits tend to disappear when one closes a book or turns off the DVD player. They may persist for a short time in the mind, but they tend to fade fairly quickly.

Habits, once formed, tend to stick around -- sometimes for one's entire life. That is one reason why it is important for children to form habits that help them to fulfill their life goals, and form them while they are still quite young.

The following is a list of useful habits that will serve a dangerous child well, at any age:

The core of the 16 habits of mind is found in the list above, and brief explanations for them are found in the embedded slideshare below. Those who are acquainted with the concept of frontal lobe "executive function" (EF) will immediately see the similarity between the 16 habits of mind, and strong frontal lobe EF.

Explanations of Habits of Mind

Habits are usually formed unconsciously, and can be very difficult to eradicate if found to be dysfunctional or destructive.

Smart psychologists understand that habits can be displaced, or substituted. Habits are thought to consist of a "cue," a "behaviour," and a "reward." The cue triggers the habitual behaviour, which supplies the reward that feeds the entire cycle.

If the person can disconnect the cue from the dysfunctional behaviour, and re-connect the cue to a more functional and less destructive behaviour which can supply a sufficient reward, the destructive habitual cycle can be displaced or substituted by a more positive habitual cycle.

Even more advanced ways of dealing with habits are being developed in mice, using optogenetics. By interfering with the infralimbic portion of the mouse's prefrontal cortex, researchers were able to break unconscious ingrained habits. But unless the habits were "overwritten" or replaced by new habits, the old habits tended to return.

It is best to learn good habits from the very beginning. That is one reason why many of the most enlightened parents put strict limits on exposure to television, video games, and other popular entertainments, until the child has developed strong habits of self direction and goal fulfillment.

The workings of a habit often occur unconsciously, just as the formation of a habit can do. In that sense, habitual behaviours can occur very much like hypnotic trance behaviours. And indeed, some of the most effective hypnotic trances tend to be those which incorporate unconscious habits of behaviour.

More on this idea later, on another blog.

Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind is a book edited by two educators, Arthur Costa and Bena Kallick, found here. An important caveat regarding the book: Like most modern cogs in the machine of modern educational theory, Costa and Kallick appear to be caught up in the "blank slate" delusion of thinking which was refuted so effectively by Steven Pinker, in his book "The Blank Slate." If the reader is able to understand that this underlying philosophical and biological confusion underlies many of the confused ideas which are mixed in with a number of useful ideas about habits of learning, a quick scan of the book can be worthwhile.

Otherwise, a study of prefrontal lobe executive function is likely to be much more satisfying and edifying, if the reader is easily able to apply the ideas to childhood learning and development.

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Peak Oil Doom In Context

Previously published on Al Fin Energy

...Peak Oil catastrophism is largely a manifestation of our primary cultural myth: that all things end with suffering, death, and then resurrection. Belief in apocalypse is programmed into western civilization. Given our heritage, “the end is nigh” is the nearly unavoidable personal and collective response to times of uncertainty and rapid change. _Pattern Literacy
Peak oil predictions go back at least to the 1850's. Predictions of "the end of oil" have been with us as long as oil itself.

Peak oil has a longer history than you think. Although the models that define the American peak oil hypothesis were first advanced in the 1950s, predictions of the imminent depletion of American oil reserves can be found much earlier. In fact, one of the earliest known warnings that the United States would run out of oil was released on Jan. 19, 1922, when the U.S. Geological Survey warned the public that only two decades of oil remained in the ground, if present consumption patterns held steady. _Motley Fool
King Hubbert is the originator of modern peak oil models, but most of Hubbert's real world predictions are proving wrong.

Most people acknowledge that the Earth's supply of petroleum is finite, and will one day become too expensive to extract. The problem, to many people, seems to be in timing the peak.

Modern history of peak oil predictions (Wikipedia)

But the issue of peak oil is secondary to the issue of peak affordable energy. Modern societies are slowly shifting much of their energy load to electrical power sources, which can be generated by multiple forms of energy besides oil.

Newer, safer, more scalable, reliable, and affordable forms of nuclear power would be the obvious goal of rational societies, in the pursuit of an electrical energy future. But ample supplies of natural gas, coal, gas hydrates, bitumens, kerogens, and eventually advanced biomass, could supply careful societies with power and heat for centuries to come.

The question seems to revolve around the issue of "liquid fuels," for powering airplanes, ships, trains, and other transportation vehicles. And yet we know that with the assistance of high temperature gas-cooled nuclear reactors (HTGRs) -- already well along in the design and development stage -- the world's massive supplies of gas, coal, hydrates, bitumens, kerogens, and biomass can be converted affordably into high quality liquid fuels, chemicals, polymers, lubricants, fertilisers, and other useful substances.

The problem, though, is neither "peak oil," nore "peak energy." The problem is "peak ingenuity," or the shortage of good ideas and the will the implement them.

For readers who have freed themselves from "the apocalyptic compulsion," and who are honestly looking for a path out of the apparent abyss, take a careful and open look at The Ultimate Resource.

As long as human minds remain free, solutions to problems can be devised. Whether governments and other powerful interests will allow problems to be solved, or not, is another question. Many of those governments and powerful institutions are led by people who are in thrall to the apocalyptic instinct.

But we will do what we can to find pathways to a more abundant future. Nobody said it would be easy.

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19 January 2013

Dooms that Failed: Resource Scarcity; Overpopulation; Climate Catastrophe

Doom and utter devastation tend to get one's attention. The human mind is programmed to home in on signs and portents of doom or catastrophe. Clever con men have taken advantage of this tendency for millenia, for purposes of profit and power. Modern times are no exception.

Here is a short list of failed predictions of doom -- many of them coming from people who might otherwise be considered respectable and reliable (h/t WUWT):
 In 1865, Stanley Jevons (one of the most recognized 19th century economists) predicted that England would run out of coal by 1900, and that England’s factories would grind to a standstill.
    In 1885, the US Geological Survey announced that there was “little or no chance” of oil being discovered in California.
    In 1891, it said the same thing about Kansas and Texas. (See Osterfeld, David. Prosperity Versus Planning : How Government Stifles Economic Growth. New York : Oxford University Press, 1992.)
    In 1939 the US Department of the Interior said that American oil supplies would last only another 13 years.
    1944 federal government review predicted that by now the US would have exhausted its reserves of 21 of 41 commodities it examined. Among them were tin, nickel, zinc, lead and manganese.
    In 1949 the Secretary of the Interior announced that the end of US oil was in sight.
    Claim: In 1952 the US President’s Materials Policy Commission concluded that by the mid-1970s copper production in the US could not exceed 800,000 tons and that lead production would be at most 300,000 tons per year.
    Data: But copper production in 1973 was 1.6 million tons, and by 1974 lead production had reached 614,000 tons – 100% higher than predicted.
    Claims: In 1968, Paul R. Ehrlich wrote The Population Bomb and declared that the battle to feed humanity had been lost and that there would be a major food shortage in the US. "In the 1970s ... hundreds of millions are going to starve to death," and by the 1980s most of the world's important resources would be depleted. He forecast that 65 million Americans would die of starvation between 1980-1989 and that by 1999, the US population would decline to 22.6 million. The problems in the US would be relatively minor compared to those in the rest of the world. (Ehrlich, Paul R. The Population Bomb. New York, Ballantine Books, 1968.) New Scientist magazine underscored his speech in an editorial titled "In Praise of Prophets."

    Claim: "By the year 2000 the United Kingdom will be simply a small group of impoverished islands, inhabited by some 70 million hungry people ... If I were a gambler, I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000." Paul Ehrlich, Speech at British Institute For BiologySeptember 1971.

    Claim: Ehrlich wrote in 1968, "I have yet to meet anyone familiar with the situation who thinks India will be self-sufficient in food by 1971, if ever."
    Data: Yet in a only few years India was exporting food and significantly changed its food production capacity. Ehrlich must have noted this because in the 1971 version of his book this commented is delted (Julian Simon, The Ultimate Resource, Princeton: Princeton Univesity Press, 1981, p. 64).
    The Limits to Growth (1972) – projected the world would run out of gold by 1981, mercury and silver by 1985, tin by 1987, zinc by 1990, petroleum by 1992, and copper, lead and natural gas by 1993. It also stated that the world had only 33-49 years of aluminum resources left, which means we should run out sometime between 2005-2021. (See Donella Meadows et al., The Limits to Growth: A Report for the Club of Rome's Project on the Predicament of Mankind. New York: New American Library, 1972.
    Claim: In 1974, the US Geological Survey announced “at 1974 technology and 1974 price” the US had only a 10-year supply of natural gas.
    Data: The American Gas Association said that gas supplies were sufficient for the next 1,000-2,500 years. (Julian Simon, Population Matters. New Jersey: Transaction Publications, 1990): p. 90.

Population and Poverty
    In the mid 1970s the US government sponsored a travelling exhibit for schoolchildren titled, "Population: The Problem is Us." (Jacqueline Kasun, The War Against Population, San Francisco: CA, Ignatius, 1988, p. 21.)
    In 1973, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's vote in Roe v. Wade was influenced by this idea, according to Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong: "As Stewart saw it, abortion was becoming one reasonable solution to population control" (quoted in Newsweek of September 14, 1987, p. 33.).
    In 1989, when the US Supreme Court was hearing the Webster case, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor brought the idea of overpopulation into a hypothetical question she asked of Charles Fried, former solicitor-general, "Do you think that the state has the right to, if in a future century we had a serious overpopulation problem, has a right to require women to have abortions after so many children?"
   World Bank president Barber Conable calls for population control because "poverty and rapid population growth reinforce each other" (Washington Post, July 16, 1990, p. A13)
    Prince Philip advises us that "It must be obvious by now that further population growth in any country is undesirable" (Washington Post, May 8, 1990, p. A26)
    37 Senators wrote President Bush in support of funding for population control (Washington Post, April 1, 1990, p. H1)
    The Trilateral Commission and the American Assembly call for reduction in population growth (U. S. News and World Report, May 7, 1990)
    Newsweek's year-ending cover story concluded that "Foremost of the new realities is the world's population problem" (December 25, 1990, p.44)
    The president of NOW warns that continued population growth would be a "catastrophe" (Nat Hentoff in the Washington Post, July 29, 1989, p. A17)
    Ted Turner (Atlanta Journal Constitution, Wed. Dec. 2, 1998) in an address to the Society of Environmental Journalists in Chattanooga - blamed Christianity for overpopulation and environmental degradation, and argued that the people who disagree with him are "dummies." He stated in part, "The Judeo-Christian religion says man was given dominion over everything, and his salvation was that he was to go out and increase and multiply. Well, we have done that ... to the point where in Calcutta, it’s a hellhole. So it's not an environmentally friendly religion."
    Ellen Goodman laments "People Pollution" (Washington Post, March 3, 1990, p. A25)
    Herblock cartoon shows that the U. S. neglecting the "world population explosion" (Washington Post, July 19, 1990, p. A22)
    Hobart Rowen likens population growth to "the pond weed [which] grows in huge leaps" (Washington Post, April 1, 1990, p. H8).
    A Newsweek "My Turn" suggests giving every teen-age girl a check for up to $1200 each year that she does not have a baby "in order to stop the relentless increase of humanity" (Noel Perrin. "A Nonbearing Account", April 2, 1990, p. 9).

Climate Change
    Claim Jan. 1970: "By 1985, air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half." Life MagazineJanuary 1970. Life Magazine also noted that some people disagree, "but scientists have solid experimental and historical evidence to support each of the predictions."
Air quality has actually improved since 1970. Studies find that sunlight reaching the Earth fell by somewhere between 3 and 5 percent over the period in question.   Claim April 1970: "If present trends continue, the world will be ... eleven degrees colder by the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us in an ice age." Kenneth E.F. Watt, in Earth Day, 1970.
    DataAccording to NASA, global temperature has increased by about 1 degree Fahrenheit since 1970.

   Claim 1970"In ten years all important animal life in the sea will be extinct. Large areas of coastline will have to be evacuated because of the stench of dead fish." Paul Ehrlich, speech during Earth Day, 1970.

    Claim 1972: "Artic specialist Bernt Balchen says a general warming trend over the North Pole is melting the polar ice cap and may produce an ice-free Arctic Ocean by the year 2000." Christian Science MonitorJune 8, 1972.
    Data: Ice coverage has fallen, though as of last month, the Arctic Ocean had 3.82 million square miles of ice cover -- an area larger than the continental United States -- according to The National Snow and Ice Data Center.

    Claims 1974: "... when metereologists take an average of temperatures around the globe they find the atmosphere has been growing gradually cooler for the past three decades. The trend shows no indication of reversing. Climatological Cassandras are becoming increasingly apprehensive, for the weather aberrations they are studying may be the harbinger of another ice age. Telltale signs are everywhere--from the unexpected persistence and thickness of pack ice int eh waters around Iceland to the southward migration of a warmth-loving creature like the armadillo from the Midwest. When Climatologist George J. Kukla of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory and his wife Helena analyzed satellite weather data fro the Northern Hemisphere, they found that the area of ice and snow cover had suddenly increased by 12% in 1971 and the increase has persisted ever since. Areas of Baffin Island in the Canadia Arctic, for example, were once totally free of any snow in summer; now they are covered year round."
    Later in the article, "Whatever the cause of the cooling trend, its effects could be extremely serious, if not catastrophic. Scientists figure that only a 1% decrease in the amount of sunlight hitting the earth's surface could tip teh climatic balance, and cool the planet enough to send it sliding down the road to another ice age within only a few hundred years." 
    Source: "Another Ice Age," Time Magazine, June 24, 1974. 
    Claim 1989: "Using computer models, researchers concluded that global warming would raise average annual temperatures nationwide two degrees by 2010." Associated Press, May 15, 1989.
According to NASA, global temperature has increased by about 0.7 degrees Fahrenheit since 1989. And U.S. temperature has increased even less over the same period.    Claims: "Britain's winter ends tomorrow with further indications of a striking environmental change: snow is starting to disappear from our lives."
    "Sledges, snowmen, snowballs and ... are all a rapidly diminishing part of Britain's culture, as warmer winters--which scientists are attributing to global climate change--produce not only fewer white Christmases, but fewer white Januaries and Februaries."
    "London's last substantial snowfall was in February 1991." "Global warming, the heating of the atmosphere by increased amounts of industrial gases, is now accepted as a reality by the international community."
    According to Dr. David Viner, a senior research scientist at the climatic research unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia, within a few years "children just aren't going to know what snow is" and winter snowfall will be "a very rare and exciting event." Interviewed by the UK Independent, March 20, 2000.     "David Parker, at the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research in Berkshire, says ultimately, British children could have only virtual experience of snow."
    See "Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past." The Independent. March 20, 2000.
    Data: "Coldest December Since records began as temperatures plummet to minus 10 C bringing travel chaos across Britain." Mailonline. Dec. 18, 2010.

    Claim: "[By] 1995, the greenhouse effect would be desolating the heartlands of North America and Eurasia with horrific drought, causing crop failures and food riots ... [By 1996] The Platte River of Nebraska would be dry, while a continent-wide black blizzard of prairie topsoil will stop traffic on interstates, strip paint from houses and shut down computers." Michel Oppenheimer and Robert H. Boyle, Dead Heat, St. Martin's Press, 1990. Oppenheimer is the Albert G. Milbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs in the Woodrow Wilson School and the Department of Geosciences at Princeton University. He is the Director of the Program in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy at the Wilson School. He was formerly a senior scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund, the largest non-governmental organization in the U.S. that examines problems and solutions to greenhouse gases.
    Data: When asked about these old predictions Oppenheimer stated, "On the whole I would stand by these predictions -- not predictions, sorry, scenarios -- as having at least in a general way actually come true," he said. "There's been extensive drought, devastating drought, in significant parts of the world. The fraction of the world that's in drought has increased over that period."
    However, that claim is not obviously true. Data from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center show that precipitation -- rain and snow -- has increased slightly over the century.
_Dooms that Failed
This is just a hint of all the failed predictions of doom over the past few decades. Remember: While there is certainly a sucker born every minute, there is also a grifter born at least every few minutes. The cleverest grifters take advantage of a sucker's gullibility in order to become rich and powerful -- and sometimes popes and presidents.

Matt Ridley: Apocalypse Not

Ronald Bailey: Remembering Peak Oil Madness

Environmentalists' Wild Predictions

Doomsday Prophecy for Environmentalists

Coping When the World Doesn't End

Peter Glover: Ehrlich, False Prophets, . . .

A Few of the Last Chances to Save the World

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17 January 2013

The Life Span of Empires: 250 Years?

Previously published on abu al-fin

Sir John Glubb was a British author and lecturer, who was decorated for his service in the Royal Engineers in WWI, and was commander of the Jordan Arab Legion from 1939 to 1956. His famous and succinct essay, The Fate of Empires and Search for Survival (PDF), looks at the lifespan of empires from their origins to their eventual decline.

Glubb estimates that most empires do not last longer than roughly 250 years, with many of them lasting much shorter periods of time. He describes many of the stages of empire, and many of the reasons why they break down and eventually disappear.

As seen in Glubb's image above, most of the world's great empires lasted no longer than 250 years. Glubb looks at the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire as two different empires, based upon their distinct forms of government.

One of the reasons for decline of empire described by Glubb is the influx of masses of people from outside cultures, religions, and ethnic groups, who are different from the core populations making up the founders and conquering peoples who brought about the original empire.

Glubb's summary at the end of the essay:
(a) We do not learn from history because our studies are brief and prejudiced.

(b) In a surprising manner, 250 years emerges as the average length of national greatness.

(c) This average has not varied for 3,000 years. Does it represent ten generations?

(d) The stages of the rise and fall of great nations seem to be:

The Age of Pioneers (outburst)
The Age of Conquests
The Age of Commerce
The Age of Affluence
The Age of Intellect
The Age of Decadence.

(e) Decadence is marked by:

An influx of foreigners
The Welfare State
A weakening of religion.

(f) Decadence is due to:
Too long a period of wealth and power
Love of money
The loss of a sense of duty.

(g) The life histories of great states are amazingly similar, and are due to internal factors.

(h) Their falls are diverse, because they are largely the result of external causes.

(i) History should be taught as the history of the human race, though of course with emphasis on the history of the student’s own country. _PDF Download of Sir John Glubb's Essay on Fate of Empires

Useful background reading:

Decline of the West by Oswald Spengler

The Evolution of Civilisations by Carroll Quigley

History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Vol. 1 by Edward Gibbon

Historians often disagree over details -- both large and small. That leaves it up to each of us to learn what we can, and to make up our own minds as to the lessons that we can apply from history to more modern times.

Note regarding comments: Glubb considered the "250 year" observation to be interesting, but not something to be made into a dogma. His main point was that empires evolve over time -- and generations of people -- so that the spirit and cohesiveness which brought about their creation tends to dissipate. The decay was observed to take place over roughly 10 generations, but could require much less time if a rival empire was ready to take over at an earlier time.

The study of civilisations is much more interesting than the study of empires, since a civilisation can jump from empire to empire, and evolve in many different population groups -- assuming their cognitive abilities are sufficient to support it, and their genetic / behavioural instincts are compatible with the underlying spirit of the civilisation.

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16 January 2013

A Place Where It Is Better to be Born

In a world of steel-eyed death, and men who are fighting to be warm
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm” __Bob Dylan, Shelter from the Storm
If you came into the world today and could pick your nationality, there are at least 15 better choices than to be born American, according to a study by the Economist Intelligence Unit. The firm looked at 80 countries, scoring them across 11 variables to determine “which country will provide the best opportunities for a healthy, safe and prosperous life in the years ahead.”

...the Nordic countries come out on top, alongside Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. The top 15 also include Austria and Switzerland, which seem to meet similar criteria. The three best places to be born are, in order: Switzerland, Australia and Norway.

Here’s a surprise: the top-ranked countries also include Asia’s two super-rich city-states, Hong Kong and Singapore... _WaPo

Yes indeed. But almost all of these highest ranked countries have relatively small and homogeneous populations, compared to the US. Statistically, where is a person more likely to be born? In a tiny rich country with a low fertility rate, or in a highly populated African or Asian cesspool with a sky-high fertility rate?

In spite of Asia’s miraculous growth and of Europe’s economic decline, factors such as political rights and health standards keep the Western world overwhelmingly desirable. Other than a small number of exceptions, most of which are mentioned above, the top third of the rankings is dominated by Europe and other Western states. _WaPo
Nations of Europe and the Anglosphere score well in the rankings -- for now. But with dysfunctional immigration policies that welcome the unassimilable, untrainable, fertile, and impoverished third world peoples -- and with economic policies that punish the native born who are productive and ambitious -- these "fortunate countries" are setting the stage for a less fortunate future.

There are some demographic factors which the Economist Intelligence Unit was not brave enough to face. For example, can you imagine the quality of life in a Switzerland, Singapore, or Hong Kong, which was populated mostly by black Kenyans or South Africans?

The average population IQ correlates very well with a nation's GDP. I wonder why the Economist Intelligence Unit neglected that crucial demographic factor?

The next time you are born, consider New Zealand, if only on the basis of natural beauty. The hobbits certainly like it there.


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15 January 2013

Everything You Think You Know, Just Ain't So

Humans cannot perceive reality directly. Instead, the outside world is filtered through our various senses. Significant filtering and pre-processing occur in the sensory organs themselves. Inside the brain, "primary" areas are devoted to each of the senses, where further filtering and pre-processing of information take place -- under the influence of feedback from "higher" brain areas. From the primary sensory cortex, the information proceeds to "associative" sensory areas and other cortical and sub-cortical parts of the brain, where an incredible free-for-all of clashing and matching information occurs deep below the level of consciousness.

All of these sensory and mental processes find themselves immersed within a sea of emotions, influenced by the hormonal, biochemical, physiological, and genetic state of the individual. Every moment of time contains its own mix of emotions, frequently linked and tagged subconsciously to subtle sensory cues, such as fragrances, colours, or musical phrases.

This insistent background will shade our "knowing" in different ways, at different times.

Within the great tumbling scrum of the subconscious, a number of the brain's default mechanisms operate below the level of awareness, detected only by careful testing. But when put under the magnifying glass, the mind betrays its inner workings in the form of a number of sensory illusions and cognitive biases.
Many of the cognitive biases come about due to subconscious laziness, or a type of ongoing conservation of energy by the brain. Others are simply quirks resulting from the basic design of brain circuits and function.

But even after information has survived these minefields -- of sensory filters, perceptional illusions, emotional biasing, and cognitive biasing -- there are other types of information distortion which must be traversed. More on the conscious level, humans must face a large number of "logical fallacies" that are incorporated into verbal communication for many reasons -- some of the honest, and some of them quite devious.

Always remember that descriptions and explanations of logical fallacies may in themselves be fallacious and misleading.

Top 20 Logical Fallacies

Ad hominem
An ad hominem argument is any that attempts to counter another’s claims or conclusions by attacking the person, rather than addressing the argument itself. True believers will often commit this fallacy by countering the arguments of skeptics by stating that skeptics are closed minded. Skeptics, on the other hand, may fall into the trap of dismissing the claims of UFO believers, for example, by stating that people who believe in UFO’s are crazy or stupid.

A common form of this fallacy is also frequently present in the arguments of conspiracy theorists (who also rely heavily on ad-hoc reasoning). For example, they may argue that the government must be lying because they are corrupt.

It should be noted that simply calling someone a name or otherwise making an ad hominem attack is not in itself a logical fallacy. It is only a fallacy to claim that an argument is wrong because of a negative attribute of someone making the argument. (i.e. “John is a jerk.” is not a fallacy. “John is wrong because he is a jerk.” is a logical fallacy.)

The term “poisoning the well” also refers to a form of ad hominem fallacy. This is an attempt to discredit the argument of another by implying that they possess an unsavory trait, or that they are affiliated with other beliefs or people that are wrong or unpopular. A common form of this also has its own name – Godwin’s Law or the reductio ad Hitlerum. This refers to an attempt at poisoning the well by drawing an analogy between another’s position and Hitler or the Nazis.
Ad ignorantiam
The argument from ignorance basically states that a specific belief is true because we don’t know that it isn’t true. Defenders of extrasensory perception, for example, will often overemphasize how much we do not know about the human brain. It is therefore possible, they argue, that the brain may be capable of transmitting signals at a distance.

UFO proponents are probably the most frequent violators of this fallacy. Almost all UFO eyewitness evidence is ultimately an argument from ignorance – lights or objects sighted in the sky are unknown, and therefore they are alien spacecraft.

Intelligent design is almost entirely based upon this fallacy. The core argument for intelligent design is that there are biological structures that have not been fully explained by evolution, therefore a powerful intelligent designer must have created them.

In order to make a positive claim, however, positive evidence for the specific claim must be presented. The absence of another explanation only means that we do not know – it doesn’t mean we get to make up a specific explanation.
Argument from authority
The basic structure of such arguments is as follows: Professor X believes A, Professor X speaks from authority, therefore A is true. Often this argument is implied by emphasizing the many years of experience, or the formal degrees held by the individual making a specific claim. The converse of this argument is sometimes used, that someone does not possess authority, and therefore their claims must be false. (This may also be considered an ad-hominen logical fallacy – see below.)

In practice this can be a complex logical fallacy to deal with. It is legitimate to consider the training and experience of an individual when examining their assessment of a particular claim. Also, a consensus of scientific opinion does carry some legitimate authority. But it is still possible for highly educated individuals, and a broad consensus to be wrong – speaking from authority does not make a claim true.

This logical fallacy crops up in more subtle ways also. For example, UFO proponents have argued that UFO sightings by airline pilots should be given special weight because pilots are trained observers, are reliable characters, and are trained not to panic in emergencies. In essence, they are arguing that we should trust the pilot’s authority as an eye witness.

There are many subtypes of the argument from authority, essentially referring to the implied source of authority. A common example is the argument ad populum – a belief must be true because it is popular, essentially assuming the authority of the masses. Another example is the argument from antiquity – a belief has been around for a long time and therefore must be true.
Argument from final Consequences
Such arguments (also called teleological) are based on a reversal of cause and effect, because they argue that something is caused by the ultimate effect that it has, or purpose that is serves. Christian creationists have argued, for example, that evolution must be wrong because if it were true it would lead to immorality.

One type of teleological argument is the argument from design. For example, the universe has all the properties necessary to support live, therefore it was designed specifically to support life (and therefore had a designer.
Argument from Personal Incredulity
I cannot explain or understand this, therefore it cannot be true. Creationists are fond of arguing that they cannot imagine the complexity of life resulting from blind evolution, but that does not mean life did not evolve.
Begging the Question
The term “begging the question” is often misused to mean “raises the question,” (and common use will likely change, or at least add this new, definition). However, the intended meaning is to assume a conclusion in one’s question. This is similar to circular reasoning, and an argument is trying to slip in a conclusion in a premise or question – but it is not the same as circular reasoning because the question being begged can be a separate point. Whereas with circular reasoning the premise and conclusion are the same.

The classic example of begging the question is to ask someone if they have stopped beating their wife yet. Of course, the question assumes that they every beat their wife.

In my appearance on the Dr. Oz show I was asked – what are alternative medicine skeptics (termed “holdouts”) afraid of? This is a double feature of begging the question. By using the term “holdout” the question assumes that acceptance is already become the majority position and is inevitable. But also, Oz begged the question that skeptics are “afraid.” This also created a straw man (see below) of our position, which is rather based on a dedication to reasonable standards of science and evidence.
Confusing association with causation
This is similar to the post-hoc fallacy in that it assumes cause and effect for two variables simply because they occur together. This fallacy is often used to give a statistical correlation a causal interpretation. For example, during the 1990’s both religious attendance and illegal drug use have been on the rise. It would be a fallacy to conclude that therefore, religious attendance causes illegal drug use. It is also possible that drug use leads to an increase in religious attendance, or that both drug use and religious attendance are increased by a third variable, such as an increase in societal unrest. It is also possible that both variables are independent of one another, and it is mere coincidence that they are both increasing at the same time.

This fallacy, however, has a tendency to be abused, or applied inappropriately, to deny all statistical evidence. In fact this constitutes a logical fallacy in itself, the denial of causation. This abuse takes two basic forms. The first is to deny the significance of correlations that are demonstrated with prospective controlled data, such as would be acquired during a clinical experiment. The problem with assuming cause and effect from mere correlation is not that a causal relationship is impossible, it’s just that there are other variables that must be considered and not ruled out a-priori. A controlled trial, however, by its design attempts to control for as many variables as possible in order to maximize the probability that a positive correlation is in fact due to a causation.

Further, even with purely epidemiological, or statistical, evidence it is still possible to build a strong scientific case for a specific cause. The way to do this is to look at multiple independent correlations to see if they all point to the same causal relationship. For example, it was observed that cigarette smoking correlates with getting lung cancer. The tobacco industry, invoking the “correlation is not causation” logical fallacy, argued that this did not prove causation. They offered as an alternate explanation “factor x”, a third variable that causes both smoking and lung cancer. But we can make predictions based upon the smoking causes cancer hypothesis. If this is the correct causal relationship, then duration of smoking should correlate with cancer risk, quitting smoking should decrease cancer risk, smoking unfiltered cigarettes should have a higher cancer risk than filtered cigarettes, etc. If all of these correlations turn out to be true, which they are, then we can triangulate to the smoking causes cancer hypothesis as the most likely possible causal relationship and it is not a logical fallacy to conclude from this evidence that smoking probably causes lung cancer.
Confusing currently unexplained with unexplainable
Because we do not currently have an adequate explanation for a phenomenon does not mean that it is forever unexplainable, or that it therefore defies the laws of nature or requires a paranormal explanation. An example of this is the "God of the Gapsa" strategy of creationists that whatever we cannot currently explain is unexplainable and was therefore an act of god.
False Analogy
Analogies are very useful as they allow us to draw lessons from the familiar and apply them to the unfamiliar. Life is like a box of chocolate – you never know what you’re going to get.

A false analogy is an argument based upon an assumed similarity between two things, people, or situations when in fact the two things being compared are not similar in the manner invoked. Saying that the probability of a complex organism evolving by chance is the same as a tornado ripping through a junkyard and created a 747 by chance is a false analogy. Evolution, in fact, does not work by chance but is the non-random accumulation of favorable changes.

Creationists also make the analogy between life and your home, invoking the notion of thermodynamics or entropy. Over time your home will become messy, and things will start to break down. The house does not spontaneously become more clean or in better repair.

The false analogy here is that a home is an inanimate collection of objects. Whereas life uses energy to grow and reproduce – the addition of energy to the system of life allows for the local reduction in entropy – for evolution to happen.

Another way in which false analogies are invoked is to make an analogy between two things that are in fact analogous in many ways – just not the specific way being invoked in the argument. Just because two things are analogous in some ways does not mean they are analogous in every way.
False Continuum
The idea that because there is no definitive demarcation line between two extremes, that the distinction between the extremes is not real or meaningful: There is a fuzzy line between cults and religion, therefore they are really the same thing.
False Dichotomy
Arbitrarily reducing a set of many possibilities to only two. For example, evolution is not possible, therefore we must have been created (assumes these are the only two possibilities). This fallacy can also be used to oversimplify a continuum of variation to two black and white choices. For example, science and pseudoscience are not two discrete entities, but rather the methods and claims of all those who attempt to explain reality fall along a continuum from one extreme to the other.
Genetic Fallacy
The term “genetic” here does not refer to DNA and genes, but to history (and therefore a connection through the concept of inheritance). This fallacy assumes that something’s current utility is dictated by and constrained by its historical utility. This is easiest to demonstrate with words – a words current use may be entirely unrelated to its etymological origins. For example, if I use the term “sunset” or “sunrise” I am not implying belief in a geocentric cosmology in which the sun revolves about the Earth and literally “rises” and “sets.”
Applying criteria or rules to one belief, claim, argument, or position but not to others. For example, some consumer advocates argue that we need stronger regulation of prescription drugs to ensure their safety and effectiveness, but at the same time argue that medicinal herbs should be sold with no regulation for either safety or effectiveness.
No True Scotsman
This fallacy is a form of circular reasoning, in that it attempts to include a conclusion about something in the very definition of the word itself. It is therefore also a semantic argument.

The term comes from the example: If Ian claims that all Scotsman are brave, and you provide a counter example of a Scotsman who is clearly a coward, Ian might respond, "Well, then, he's no true Scotsman." In essence Ian claims that all Scotsman are brave by including bravery in the definition of what it is to be a Scotsman. This argument does not establish and facts or new information, and is limited to Ian's definition of the word, "Scotsman."
In Latin this term translates to "doesn't follow". This refers to an argument in which the conclusion does not necessarily follow from the premises. In other words, a logical connection is implied where none exists.
Post-hoc ergo propter hoc
This fallacy follows the basic format of: A preceded B, therefore A caused B, and therefore assumes cause and effect for two events just because they are temporally related (the latin translates to "after this, therefore because of this").
Reductio ad absurdum
In formal logic, the reductio ad absurdum is a legitimate argument. It follows the form that if the premises are assumed to be true it necessarily leads to an absurd (false) conclusion and therefore one or more premises must be false. The term is now often used to refer to the abuse of this style of argument, by stretching the logic in order to force an absurd conclusion. For example a UFO enthusiast once argued that if I am skeptical about the existence of alien visitors, I must also be skeptical of the existence of the Great Wall of China, since I have not personally seen either. This is a false reductio ad absurdum because he is ignoring evidence other than personal eyewitness evidence, and also logical inference. In short, being skeptical of UFO’s does not require rejecting the existence of the Great Wall.
Slippery Slope
This logical fallacy is the argument that a position is not consistent or tenable because accepting the position means that the extreme of the position must also be accepted. But moderate positions do not necessarily lead down the slippery slope to the extreme.
Special pleading, or ad-hoc reasoning
This is a subtle fallacy which is often difficult to recognize. In essence, it is the arbitrary introduction of new elements into an argument in order to fix them so that they appear valid. A good example of this is the ad-hoc dismissal of negative test results. For example, one might point out that ESP has never been demonstrated under adequate test conditions, therefore ESP is not a genuine phenomenon. Defenders of ESP have attempted to counter this argument by introducing the arbitrary premise that ESP does not work in the presence of skeptics. This fallacy is often taken to ridiculous extremes, and more and more bizarre ad hoc elements are added to explain experimental failures or logical inconsistencies.
Straw Man
A straw man argument attempts to counter a position by attacking a different position – usually one that is easier to counter. The arguer invents a caricature of his opponent’s position – a “straw man” – that is easily refuted, but not the position that his opponent actually holds.

For example, defenders of alternative medicine often argue that skeptics refuse to accept their claims because they conflict with their world-view. If “Western” science cannot explain how a treatment works, then it is dismissed out-of-hand. If you read skeptical treatment of so-called “alternative” modalities, however, you will find the skeptical position much more nuanced than that.

Claims are not a-prior dismissed because they are not currently explained by science. Rather, in some cases (like homeopathy) there is a vast body of scientific knowledge that says that homeopathy is not possible. Having an unknown mechanism is not the same thing as demonstrably impossible (at least as best as modern science can tell). Further, skeptical treatments of homeopathy often thoroughly review the clinical evidence. Even when the question of mechanism is put aside, the evidence shows that homeopathic remedies are indistinguishable from placebo – which means they do not work.
Tautology in formal logic refers to a statement that must be true in every interpretation by its very construction. In rhetorical logic, it is an argument that utilizes circular reasoning, which means that the conclusion is also its own premise. Typically the premise is simply restated in the conclusion, without adding additional information or clarification. The structure of such arguments is A=B therefore A=B, although the premise and conclusion might be formulated differently so it is not immediately apparent as such. For example, saying that therapeutic touch works because it manipulates the life force is a tautology because the definition of therapeutic touch is the alleged manipulation (without touching) of the life force.
The Fallacy Fallacy
As I mentioned near the beginning of this article, just because someone invokes an unsound argument for a conclusion, that does not necessarily mean the conclusion is false. A conclusion may happen to be true even if an argument used to support is is not sound. I may argue, for example, Obama is a Democrat because the sky is blue – an obvious non-sequitur. But the conclusion, Obama is a Democrat, is still true.

Related to this, and common in the comments sections of blogs, is the position that because some random person on the internet is unable to defend a position well, that the position is therefore false. All that has really been demonstrated is that the one person in question cannot adequately defend their position.

This is especially relevant when the question is highly scientific, technical, or requires specialized knowledge. A non-expert likely does not have the knowledge at their fingertips to counter an elaborate, but unscientific, argument against an accepted science. “If you (a lay person) cannot explain to me,” the argument frequently goes, “exactly how this science works, then it is false.”

Rather, such questions are better handled by actual experts. And, in fact, intellectual honesty requires that at least an attempt should be made to find the best evidence and arguments for a position, articulated by those with recognized expertise, and then account for those arguments before a claim is dismissed.
The Moving Goalpost
A method of denial arbitrarily moving the criteria for “proof” or acceptance out of range of whatever evidence currently exists. If new evidence comes to light meeting the prior criteria, the goalpost is pushed back further – keeping it out of range of the new evidence. Sometimes impossible criteria are set up at the start – moving the goalpost impossibly out of range -for the purpose of denying an undesirable conclusion.
Tu quoque
Literally, you too. This is an attempt to justify wrong action because someone else also does it. "My evidence may be invalid, but so is yours." 
__Skeptics Guide to Logical Fallacies

This is just a bare introduction to a few of the ways that human knowledge is filtered, processed, shaded, twisted, obscured, and misled -- just in the everyday course of events. Over at the blog Al Fin, the Next Level, they will be looking at some of these issues more closely from the standpoint of Dangerous Child training.

More: Thinking Skills for the Dangerous Child

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14 January 2013

Oil Prices: Is the Fox Guarding the Hen House?

Prices are not determined by the fundamentals in a manipulated market they are determined by oil being an “Asset Class” which is code word or a euphemism for giant Casino in New York instead of Vegas.

...The price of oil, and as such gas is determined not by supply and demand factors, but by whether Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS) or Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS) or J.P. Morgan (NYSE: JPM) puts $400 million on Black or Red, the literal Oil Roulette game of the big banks... If Goldman Sachs puts $400 million on Black prices go up, if they put $400 million on Red prices go down, as simple as that, this is actually how the price of oil is determined, nothing more and nothing less. _Dian Chu
In a simpler world of fewer trades, where commodities futures can be monitored closely by a conscientious overseer, manipulating the market would be more difficult. But in the modern, ultra-high volume speed-of-light trading by the giant banks with minimal oversight, the smart money bets on the smart manipulators.
...lets just abolish the SEC and the CFTC, as they are completely useless. Furthermore, since all markets are ripe with manipulation, essentially the wild-west; why not reduce government costs by cutting funds to these two agencies entirely. They serve no real purpose when markets are corrupted everyday with Fake Orders, Dark Trading Pools, High Frequency Trading Algos, and the like except to further government costs & bureaucracy while strictly providing the illusion of fair markets. These organizations are a complete joke, and have been for decades!

... _Dian Chu

If you combine Dian Chu's reasoning above with Andrew McKillop's thinking featured in this Al Fin Energy article, you may begin to see a pattern developing.

Even in an era of relative oil oversupply, markets can be tweaked so as to bring oil prices further upward -- until it is time to let them drop again.

It is difficult to deny that global oil markets have become the equivalent of casinos, with all the big players standing around the wheel, placing bets and exerting small bits of control over the ball, here and there, now and again, over and over again.

As for US government oversight, fuggidduhbowdit! The Chicago outfit only wants to make sure that it gets its piece of the action.

Update: Dian Chu expands her argument on her own site

There are many indicators suggesting that big governments and large intergovernmental agencies are very content managing a world where data transparency is limited to those on the top, politically and economically.

This has generally been the case in Asia and Europe (and for the UN, World Bank, and IMF), but is becoming increasingly the case in the US under the Obama administration, also known as the Goldman Sachs administration.


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12 January 2013

Greenland Is Still Too Cold for the Vikings

Around the time the Vikings disappear from the island’s archaeological record, temperature appears to have plunged. _Source
The Vikings had things very nice in Greenland for a few hundred years, during the medieval warm period -- a warm period just as warm or warmer than modern times. It was so warm during that time, that the Vikings were able to grow barley, for beer.
We know that the little ice age cooled the Greenland climate to a point where the Viking's traditional foods and livestock were more difficult to grow. But were there other reasons why the Vikings packed up and went back to Iceland?
When settlement began in the early 11th century, only between 20 and 30 percent of their diet came from the sea. But seal hunting played a growing role in the ensuing centuries. "They ate more and more seal meat, with the animals constituting up to 80 percent of their diet in the 14th century," explains team member Jan Heinemeier, a dating expert from the University of Aarhus, in Denmark.

His fellow team member Niels Lynnerup, an anthropologist and forensic scientist at the University of Copenhagen, confirms that the Vikings of Greenland had plenty to eat even as the climate grew colder. "Perhaps they were just sick and tired of living at the ends of the earth and having almost nothing but seals to eat," he says.

The bone analyses show that they rarely ate meat from their own herds of livestock. The climate had become harsher on the island starting in the mid-13th century. Summer temperatures fell, violent storms raged around the houses and the winters were bone-chillingly cold. For the cattle that had been brought to Greenland, there was less and less to eat in the pastures and meadows along the fjords.

On the smaller farms, cattle were gradually replaced with sheep and goats, which were easier to rear. The isotope analyses show that pigs, valued for their meat, were fed fish and seal remains for a while longer but had disappeared from the island by around 1300...

...if it wasn't starvation or disease, what triggered the abandonment of the Greenland settlements in the second half of the 15th century? The scientists suspect that a combination of causes made life there unbearable for the Scandinavian immigrants. For instance, there was hardly any demand anymore for walrus tusks and seal skins, the colony's most important export items. What's more, by the mid-14th century, regular ship traffic with Norway and Iceland had ceased.

As a result, Greenland's residents were increasingly isolated from their mother countries. Although they urgently needed building lumber and iron tools, they could now only get their hands on them sporadically. "It became more and more difficult for the Greenlanders to attract merchants from Europe to the island," speculates Jette Arneborg, an archeologist at the National Museum of Denmark, in Copenhagen. "But, without trade, they couldn't survive in the long run." _Spiegel.de
The Spiegel article above cites archaelogical research that suggests that the abandonment of Greenland was more of a tactical retreat than a "dieoff." The young women had long since been packed off for greener pastures, there were no more babies, and toward the end of the colony, it was apparently only the die-hard old cobbers who remained.

It is only relatively recently that the glacial ice has melted back to allow a better examination of crops and wild forage and forest that grew on the edge of Viking settlements. In other words, Greenland is just now recovering from the icy ravages of the deep freeze conditions of the Little Ice Age.

In the final phase, it was young people of child-bearing age in particular who saw no future for themselves on the island. The excavators found hardly any skeletons of young women on a cemetery from the late period.

...In addition, there was a rural exodus in their Scandinavian countries at the time, and the population in the more remote regions of Iceland, Norway and Denmark was thinning out. This, in turn, freed up farms and estates for returnees from Greenland.

However, the Greenlanders didn't leave their houses in a precipitous fashion. Aside from a gold signet ring in the grave of a bishop, valuable items, such as silver and gold crucifixes, have not been discovered anywhere on the island. The archeologists interpret this as a sign that the departure from the colony proceeded in an orderly manner, and that the residents took any valuable objects along. "If they had died out as a result of diseases or natural disasters, we would certainly have found such precious items long ago," says Lynnerup. _Spiegel.de
Lately, it is beginning to warm up again on Greenland -- although cattle and barley growers have been slow to jump at the opportunity to put in new herds and crops there.

Perhaps Greenland is still just too cold -- even for the Vikings and Vikings at heart.

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Who Will Become the 51st US State?

The USA has been stuck on just 50 states for over half a century now. There has been a good deal of talk about adding Puerto Rico to the US as the 51st state, but both the Puerto Rican population and the US population seem at least a little bit ambivalent about that choice.
Another candidate that has been tossed around a bit, is Taiwan!
...David Chou comes right out and says it: Taiwan should become the 51st state of the United States.

Mr. Chou is not joking. He has a plan. It may never work, but just try telling Mr. Chou that. He has been working on it for years.

Mr. Chou set up the 51 Club in 1994 to promote his idea. He admitted 51 members. But to him it is not a gimmick. It is a cause. And with all the confusing explanations that Taiwan's Government puts forth about whether it is part of China or something separate, Mr. Chou's unusual proposal is refreshingly straightforward.

''If we were a state, our most serious problem -- security -- would be solved,'' said Mr. Chou, 49, who looks and sounds considerably more normal than his proposal might suggest. ''The current Government can't solve it; neither can the opposition. But statehood can.'' _NYT
Perhaps it is possible that the security situation for Taiwan may grow dire enough for its people to look to the US for the "absolute security" that statehood would guarantee. Time will tell.
The names of other currently independent nations -- such as Canada and Mexico -- have been tossed around for potential statehood, ever since the passage of NAFTA.

The USA's North American neighbors already exist under a US defence umbrella, and are given very privileged trade status. But actual statehood may be too much for the US' neighbors to the north and south to swallow, for now.

Other potential candidates across the Pacific in addition to Taiwan that have been discussed in the context of statehood, include the rapidly de-populating Japan, the Philippine Islands, and South Korea. As with Taiwan, the most likely reason for a majority of the people of any of those countries to be willing to submit to US statehood, would be for security reasons -- although economic and demographic reasons may also come into play over time.

Most of the US' great land acquisition took place during the 1800s. Since the year 1900, the US has given up more territory than it has acquired. One of the most important territories to have given up, was the Panama Canal Zone. The Philippine Islands were also given up in 1946, after having been considered for full statehood prior to the Japanese occupation.

It may seem odd to be talking about adding more states to the USA, when so many current US states have been discussing the possibility of secession from an increasingly dysfunctional union.

Under President Obama, the US government has overstepped itself far beyond the putative limits of the US Constitution, as never before. For that reason, as well as for other reasons, a number of scholars are predicting the collapse and dissolution of the USA as we currently know it.

But for such a collapse to occur, there would need to be some form of viable alternative as global economic, military, and political hegemon. To this point, nothing except a coming anarchy has shown its future face as a replacement for the USA.

And even in decline, some organisations have been known to attempt to bloat themselves up to massively oversized proportions, just before the end. Much like spouses in a failing marriage often choose to have more children, in a last-ditch attempt to preserve the union.

Citizens of the US are being given an opportunity -- in a second Obama term -- of seeing how badly the US could have declined during a second Jimmy Carter term. National malaise under Carter was admittedly severe. If not for the surprising "US fracking boom," things would likely be even worse by now, under Obama.

If Obama embraces the boom in US oil & gas resources, along with the coming boom in next-gen nuclear power reactors and the accompanying booms in nanotech, biotech, materials science, advanced automated manufacturing, and a number of other significant scientific and technological advancements which an abundant economy would allow -- he could be known to future generations as one of the great US presidents, despite the underlying reality.

Should that unlikely recantation of his previous life occur, the US might be looking at rates of economic growth previously only dreamed of in the history of the country. At that point, the idea of 51 states -- or 57 states, for that matter -- would not seem such outrageous subject matter.

In such a case, for the sake of avoiding a more rapid decline into an Idiocracy, the US might well choose candidate territories with higher -- rather than lower -- population average IQs than the current US population IQ average..

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