Finnish Kids Finish First

Pardon me for the alliteration and the weak attempt at punning in the title of this post. I could not resist the temptation. But anyhow, the Finnish educational system’s successes underlines my convictions about what features define a good system. Here’s a report in today’s Wall Street Journal, “What Makes Finnish Kids So Smart?“. (Hat tip: Abhishek Sarda. Sorry that article will go behind the subscription firewall in a few days.)
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View of the Airbus 380 Cockpit

The Airbus 380 cockpit. Click on the image above to see the amazing 360 degree view (which will open in a new window or tab.) Note the controls at the bottom of the screen which allow you to zoom and tilt the view. (Thanks Yuvaraj for the link.)

The last time I sat in the jump seat of an Airbus was a flight from New Delhi to Paris on Aug 31st 2001. I had been traveling a lot on business and gotten to know the flight crew. I spent a couple of hours chatting with the captain that night as we winged our way across the world under a starry sky. A few days later, on Sept 11th, the opportunity for most people to ever hang out in the cockpit of a commercial jetliner vanished for good.

Reality Disconnect

There appears to be a thriving cottage industry which is primarily engaged in churning out shallow pieces of journalistic garbage. The pieces detail a particular person’s or family’s struggles and then juxtapose it in some dramatic way with perceived overall prosperity. The implicit argument is that there is an immense injustice being perpetrated against the poor, that it is all the fault of those who are not poor, and that the poor have absolutely no responsibility for the miserable state of affairs. These articles reveal a lot without intending to. They plainly state that the author did not quite learn the lesson that stared them in the face when they were investigating the story.
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Ridiculing Religious Insanity

Religious insanity should be ridiculed as strenuously and as frequently as one can. Here I am talking about the recent demand by the Pastafarians that since their religion forbids the eating of pasta without meatballs, all vegetarian pasta dishes be banned. It offends the Pastafarians that people can even contemplate the eating of pasta without the required half a dozen meatballs.
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Religious Affiliation in the US

A NY Times report by Neela Banerjee refers to a new survey of religious affiliation by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

The report shows, for example, that every religion is losing and gaining members, but that the Roman Catholic Church “has experienced the greatest net losses as a result of affiliation changes.” The survey also indicates that the group that had the greatest net gain was the unaffiliated. More than 16 percent of American adults say they are not part of any organized faith, which makes the unaffiliated the country’s fourth largest “religious group.”

The money quote for me is:

Muslims rival Mormons for having the largest families. And Hindus are the best-educated and among the richest religious groups, the survey found. [emphasis added.]

Now that is what I call globalization: India importing the Indian rate of growth from the US. Notice that the socialistic Nehru rate of growth of 2 percent per year was prevalent for nearly forty years after India’s independence. Only in the mid 1990’s did the pace pick up — around the same time that Indians started making it big in the US.

Breathes there the man . . .

Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
“This is my own, my native land!”
Whose heart hath ne’er within him burned,
As home his footsteps he hath turned,
From wandering on a foreign strand!
If such there breathe, go, mark him well;
For him no Minstrel raptures swell;
High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim;
Despite those titles, power, and pelf,
The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust, from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonoured, and unsung.

From The Lay of the Last Minstrel by Sir Walter Scott.

On Writing Well

This is meta-writing: writing about writing.

Ankan wrote:

You write extremely well. You have very good ideas, but your posts are a joy to read even when I do not agree completely with the ideas.

They say good writing comes as a result of clarity of thought. Is it just that, or can one do something more to improve one’s written ability? Is there any advice you would like to give to someone who wishes to write well?

Thanks for the generous comment.

I am not qualified to give advice on how to write well. Attempting to do so would be presumptuous, as it would imply that I myself know how to write well. By definition, only a few of us can do something well. Much of the time it is a combination of innate talent and years of practice. Little can be done about talent except to accept what one is endowed with gracefully. What one can do is practice enough to become better at something – and perhaps do it well. So what follows is briefly what I believe it takes to become a better writer.
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