I know there are Donald Trump supporters out there.  I don't have the right to say much about them, as I don't know any of them, not even on Facebook.  I do know some Bernie Sanders supporters, and the passion with which they believe in him.  I'm going to go out on a limb, however, angering them all, I'm sure, and say that both camps have much more in common than they will ever believe.

They don't care much about history, economic theory, or diplomacy, and they are each pushing for paths that can take our country down, fast.  What they do know is that things are badly wrong, and they're rightfully upset about it. Never mind that they think it's different things that are wrong.

The "anything is better than what we have" mentality really doesn't know—or doesn't believe—how bad things can be. (See above comment about ignorance of history—and of many other present-day cultures for that matter.)  All the same, it doesn't do well for any political party to ignore the needs and frustrations of the people until so much pressure builds up that all hope of rationality is gone.  This is what gave us the Affordable Care Act instead of a reasonable, workable, affordable approach to health care. (Have I mentioned that the Swiss health care law both works and is only sixty-some pages long? Though even they admit to being dependent on American pharmaceutical innovation that may well be on its way out now.)

Porter found this article that explains Donald Trump's popularity, and importance, better than anything I've seen yet:  "Donald Trump is Shocking, Vulgar, and Right:  And, my dear fellow Republicans, he's all your fault.

Consider the conservative nonprofit establishment, which seems to employ most right-of-center adults in Washington. Over the past 40 years, how much donated money have all those think tanks and foundations consumed? ... Has America become more conservative over that same period? Come on. Most of that cash went to self-perpetuation. ... Pretty embarrassing. And yet they’re not embarrassed.

Conservative voters are being scolded for supporting a candidate they consider conservative because it would be bad for conservatism? And by the way, the people doing the scolding? They’re the ones who’ve been advocating for open borders, and nation-building in countries whose populations hate us, and trade deals that eliminated jobs while enriching their donors, all while implicitly mocking the base for its worries about abortion and gay marriage and the pace of demographic change. Now they’re telling their voters to shut up and obey, and if they don’t, they’re liberal.

On immigration policy, party elders were caught completely by surprise. Even canny operators like Ted Cruz didn’t appreciate the depth of voter anger on the subject. And why would they? If you live in an affluent ZIP code, it’s hard to see a downside to mass low-wage immigration. Your kids don’t go to public school. You don’t take the bus or use the emergency room for health care. No immigrant is competing for your job. (The day Hondurans start getting hired as green energy lobbyists is the day my neighbors become nativists.) Plus, you get cheap servants, and get to feel welcoming and virtuous while paying them less per hour than your kids make at a summer job on Nantucket. It’s all good.

When was the last time you stopped yourself from saying something you believed to be true for fear of being punished or criticized for saying it? If you live in America, it probably hasn’t been long. That’s not just a talking point about political correctness. It’s the central problem with our national conversation, the main reason our debates are so stilted and useless. You can’t fix a problem if you don’t have the words to describe it. You can’t even think about it clearly.

This depressing fact made Trump’s political career. In a country where almost everyone in public life lies reflexively, it’s thrilling to hear someone say what he really thinks, even if you believe he’s wrong. It’s especially exciting when you suspect he’s right.

Now if only someone will do the same thing for the Democrats and Bernie Sanders.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, February 4, 2016 at 8:52 am | Edit
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Many of you know that we recently returned from a two-week trip to the Gambia, that tiny country within Senegal in West Africa.  Since I never fully appreciate an experience until I've written about it, I've started a new category here, in which I'll put both travel memories and Gambia-inspired musings.  Expect it to be rather random; if I wait to get it all organized I'll have forgotten too much.  (Lots of thinking to do, many activities, and over 1600 photos.) In the meantime, here's some background.

After a couple of false starts some 45 years ago, I finally found a college roommate who became a friend for life.  (Realize that in those dark ages, even smokers and non-smokers were often paired up to live together!)  Kathy went on to get a Ph.D. in mathematics and enjoy a long career as a university professor with a well-deserved reputation as an excellent and caring teacher.  Several years ago she embarked on a different sort of adventure altogether, and is now a math professor (and department chair) at the University of the Gambia, with an even stronger reputation for both excellence and caring.  She's not there for the adventure (although there is plenty of that), nor for the salary (meagre), and certainly not for the working conditions, but to make a difference in the world.  Yes, she's a saint, a fact of which I'm all the more convinced since our visit.  (You can ignore this part, Kathy, assuming your flaky Internet connection lets you see it.  You and I both know you're still the crazy person I knew back in college.) Perhaps it's more useful—since labelling people as saints tends to put them out of reach—to say that she's a Christian called by God to use her skills and experience in an unusual place. However you look at it, she's there, and is making a difference.  The world, Africa, the Gambia, even the University—these are too large to exhibit visible change.  But without a doubt she has for a number of years been changing the lives of families and individuals for the better.

However, despite the University's state of denial, she won't be in the Gambia forever.  Hence our determination to seize the year (and the presence of this trip on my 95 by 65 list).  The only reasonable time to make the trip was in January, which is during the dry season and between semesters for Kathy.  Coming during the dry season turns out to be very, very important: the weather, though still hot (90's) is much more pleasant, the mosquitos are much less numerous, and transportation tends to be through a few inches of dust instead of a foot or more of garbage-and-water. Definitely the time to go!

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So we went.

Some people travel for adventure.  Others for the educational and cultural growth.  As much as I value the latter, the primary importance of travel for me is still being with family and friends—and specifically, seeing them in their native habitat, as it were, so that their stories and experiences have more meaning when I hear them from far away.  The educational experiences are a great bonus thrown in, and on this trip we even had a few adventures.

Stay tuned.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, February 3, 2016 at 11:32 am | Edit
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I wrote this in response to someone's Facebook discussion, and put too much time into it not to save it here.  The subject was the very survival of America, and one optimist had said, "Doom and gloom speak just because the candidates of your choice aren't winning. People have been saying for over 200 years that the country is doomed if so and so gets elected to office. Well the country is still here and alive and well."  This was my response:

It is true that of the presidents I have experienced, the ones I thought were good people (Carter, Bush II) turned out to be terrible presidents, and the ones I thought were nuts (Reagan, Clinton) turned out much better than I could have imagined. Sometimes good intentions aren't enough, and sometimes people rise to the office. And good and bad luck have more effect than we admit.

Our recent trip to the Gambia convinced me that the best equipment in the world will not survive ignorance, abuse, and lack of regular maintenance. I worry not only for the United States, but for all of Western Civilization. It is under attack from all sides, from the Terrorists Formerly Known as ISIS to American college campuses. We whose mighty heritage this is have not done well in keeping it clean and oiled. Instead of fixing the broken parts, we trash them. Our children have no idea how to keep this great gift of the ages in working order. The beliefs that massive debt (personal and national) is okay; that name-calling is rational discourse; that our own failures are actually someone else's fault; that success implies not hard work but ill-gotten gains; that poor, even immoral, choices should not have consequences; that those who disagree with us are somehow subhuman and deserve whatever we can heap upon them—these attitudes, much more than whoever gains the highest office, are what will bring us down.

Sure, there are still pockets of resistance, but they're getting smaller and weaker. There's still hope—but only, I think, if we realize, as the great Pogo once said, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, February 2, 2016 at 12:02 pm | Edit
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I had a 325-day streak going on my DuoLingo language lessons.  I managed to maintain it through our long plane flight to the Gambia, and through the first couple of days there, even though Internet was spotty and difficult.  But then we went on a five-day trip up-country where there was No. Internet. At. All.  Nada.

DuoLingo allows you to "buy" (with credits) a "streak freeze" by which you can suspend your streak and restart.  That's the theory, anyway.  However, you can only buy such an extension one day at a time, so even though I have so many credits I could suspend for 137 days, that did me no good at all when I couldn't access the Internet for several days in a row.

I'm okay with all this, though I wish DuoLingo had a more useful "suspend" function.  Streaks can be motivating, and the daily reminders certainly helped me establish a good habit.  But while striving to keep up a streak can be a good servant, it's a bad master, and I threw it away without a second thought in favor of an invaluable experience.

My walking/running habit suffered a similar setback this trip.  Travel is great, but very hard on carefully, painstakingly built habits.  I gave myself four days of recovery once we returned, and there is still much that needs to be done before I can say we're settled back in.  But today is the deadline I've given myself for restarting my DuoLingo, exercise, and some other formerly-regular habits.  It's a small step, but if I succeed, it will be the soonest I've ever recovered from a trip.

The burden of important projects that have been neglected since before Thanksgiving (many of them for much longer than that) is likewise weighing heavily on me.  Travel is fun, and more importantly travel is valuable—ten times more so when it means spending time with family and friends.  But if I'm going to continue to enjoy it, I need to be more deliberate in budgeting for project time when we are home.

Plus, for me, the larger part of the travel iceberg lies below the surface:  the processing and writing time.  Not to mention over 1600 photos to sort, evaluate, and organize.

Ganbarimasu!

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, February 1, 2016 at 6:04 am | Edit
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On January 28, 2016, we were preparing to land at the end of our flight across the Atlantic from Paris to Newark, the penultimate leg of a journey home from the Gambia that had begun with a take-off from the emergency Space Shuttle landing site that serves as the Banjul Airport runway.

Thirty years ago, that same Atlantic received the shredded remains of the Challenger and all her crew.

Five years ago I wrote about our own experience watching that disaster unfold, so I won't repeat it, except to add that in all the launches I watched before and since, the vapor trails were quickly dispersed.  That time the sky's tears streaked the cold blue for hours.

What struck me this time, thirty years after the fact, was something I didn't pay much attention to at the time:  President Reagan's speech in response, which he gave instead of his planned State of the Union Address.  It was written by the then relatively unknown Peggy Noonan, and delivered as only the Great Communicator could.

What Reagan (and Noonan) knew, as did Winston Churchill, was how to inspire people to be better than themselves.  You don't make children learn more by telling them how stupid they are; you don't make people love others better by insisting they are racist, sexist pigs; you don't encourage the weak to become strong by pointing out their failures.

Nor do you regale them with how strong and smart they are, and insist "you can be anything you want to be."  You don't imply that success should be easy or that love doesn't require sacrifice.  You don't suggest that the best way to fight terrorism is to continue buying and selling as usual (President Bush after 9/11) or partying on (some Parisians after the recent attacks).

A good leader is not afraid to insist that there is no gain without risk, no success without effort, and no victory without battle.  The way is hard, the road is long, and it is not safe.  A great leader goes on to encourage others to believe that they are the kind of people who will rise to meet the challenges; that the benefits will be worth the cost; and that the way, though difficult, will be sprinkled with joy.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, January 30, 2016 at 10:15 am | Edit
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I made a discovery last week:  I don't fully experience an event until I've had time to process it—ideally, to write about it.

When I'm preparing for a trip, people say, "You must be so excited to [fill in the blank]."  But I almost never am.  Doing something is rarely exciting; having done something is what thrills me.  I've always thought this to be weird, and even felt guilty about it.  How crazy is it to appreciate an experience—even one I really enjoy—only when it's over?

The revelation I had last week is that it's all a matter of processing.  Experiences bring a flood of sensory information that needs to be dealt with, and if I don't have that opportunity, the pressure builds up like a bad case of indigestion.  This is why, for example, when I'm away from home for an extended baby-birth visit, I will sacrifice an hour or two of much-needed sleep to write a blog post.  If I don't, more often than not my mind will rebel and not let me sleep anyway.

When I write about an event—even if the writing doesn't actually take physical form, though that's best—the experience coalesces into something coherent and memorable.  That's when it becomes real.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, January 29, 2016 at 9:34 pm | Edit
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This news ought to be making major headlines:  Surgery is not necessarily the best treatment for appendicitis!  Granted, the alternative is a heavy course of antibiotics, which also carries risks, but I'd take that over surgery any day.  (Just don't forget to eat your yoghurt.)

Ultimately, 102 enrolled in the study. Of those, 37 families chose to have their children treated with at least 24 hours of intravenous antibiotics followed by 10 days of oral antibiotics. The others elected surgery.

A year later, about 76 percent of kids whose family chose antibiotics were still healthy and didn't need additional treatment.

Compared to those who got surgery, the children who got antibiotics also ended up needing an average of 13 fewer days of rest, and had medical bills that were an average of $800 lower.

There was also no significant difference in the number of appendicitis cases that became complicated during surgery or after treatment with antibiotics. Minneci said that shows the treatment options are similar in terms of safety.

The option of antibiotics for simple appendicitis is likely already available in large medical centers for adults with appendicitis and probably a few large centers that treat children, said Jennings, who wasn't involved in the new study.

Minneci said his hospital already offers the option of antibiotics to people with simple cases of appendicitis, and he expects other hospitals to start developing protocols to introduce the option, too.

"I think if a family walks in the ER now and they bring it up, the surgeon should discuss it with them because it’s a reasonable option," he said.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, January 24, 2016 at 10:04 am | Edit
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Is it right for a Christian to carry a gun?  Or even own one at all?

I'm not here to debate pacifism.  For centuries, even millennia, there have been debates both among Christians and in general society over the legitimacy of war and even self-defense.  I can't settle that here.

Nor, despite the subject, is this about gun control, gun safety, or the Second Amendment.  It's about something much more important.

What I want to address is an idea currently making the rounds in the Christian community:  that a Christian who buys a gun to protect his family is proclaiming his lack of faith.  That he doesn't trust God to take care of him and the people he loves.

Such a statement is absolute nonsense.

I've heard that logic before.  I wonder how many of those who loudly proclaim that buying a gun means you don't trust God for your safety would agree with the following similar claims:

  • People who use birth control don't trust God to determine the size of their families and provide for them.
  • People who use doctors/hospitals/medications aren't trusting God to take care of their health.

I acknowledge that certain elements behind those ideas ring true.  There is in modern society what I'd call a "birth control mentality" that I believe has done great harm (blog post on that to come eventually, I hope), and blind trust in medicine has done its share of damage, too.  But the above statements, as they stand, are dangerous nonsense, and so is the same logic applied to guns.

God gives us resources, and the ability to develop and use tools.  It is our responsibility to use the tools wisely.  Embracing them uncritically and rejecting them out of hand are both extremes that risk insulting the Giver.  Even worse than insulting God (he's already handled more than we could possibly dish out), is belittling the faith of those who don't share our opinions.  "To his own master he stands or falls."

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, January 14, 2016 at 6:19 am | Edit
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One of my favorite Christmas presents this year was this butter dish.

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I received many wonderful gifts for Christmas, and point of this post is not to minimize any of them, but to highlight something important about gift-giving.

This butter dish actually fails several of the tests of what is usually considered a good gift.

It's inexpensive.  That's not to say the giver was cheap, as this was only part of my Christmas present, but even had it stood alone it would have been a welcome gift.  Sometimes the monetary value of a gift does indeed matter; sometimes it's important to hear from someone we love, "you are more important to me than a giant TV."  But more often than not, the true value of an item is surprisingly price-independent.

It's practical.  Actually, that's a plus for me, though some people scoff at useful gifts.

It was something I'd asked for.  I can't shake the idea that the best presents are those that flow from the heart of a person who knows you well enough to see a need or a desire and present it to you as a gift, especially if it's something you can't or won't buy for yourself.  Sometimes that still happens, but these days we most often don't know each other well enough, because our lives are so scattered. 

I could have bought it myself.  Let's be honest:  if it's something we want that's affordable, most of us just buy it ourselves rather than hope someone gets it for us at the next appropriate occasion.

Why am I so excited about this butter dish?  Because it was perfect.  It was just what I wanted and had gone without for a long time.  I have two butter dishes that are exactly like this in all but color—and the fact that the tabs on the ends broke off long ago, rendering them frustrating to use.  I'd looked for replacements on and off for years, and what I found was too fancy, too expensive, too ugly, or otherwise just not right.  Finally, this one showed up in an Amazon search one day.  It was close to Christmas so I put it on my wish list, and at Christmas my hope was realized.  This morning, as I unloaded it from the dishwasher and put it in its place, looked at that modest butter dish and felt a thrill of delight.

That's what we hope all our gifts will do.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, January 11, 2016 at 12:22 pm | Edit
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2015 turned out to be a good year for reading:  I set a new record (since I begain to keep track in 2010):  72 books, on average six books per month.  The smallest number of books read per month was two, which occurred in both June and August; between those two months, July had the most:  eleven.  By some standards that's not a lot of reading, but it's a good deal more than I was accomplishing before I made reading a priority, and started measuring.

Here's the list, sorted alphabetically.  A chronological listing, with rankings, warnings, and review links, is here.  It's a good mixture of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry; old books and new; short books and tomes.  I enjoyed most of them, and regret none.Titles in bold I found particularly worthwhile.

  1. 1066 and All That by W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman
  2. Artemis Fowl (Book 1) by Eoin Colfer
  3. Artemis Fowl (Book 2): The Arctic Incident by Eoin Colfer
  4. Artemis Fowl (Book 3): The Eternity Code by Eoin Colfer
  5. Artemis Fowl (Book 4): The Opal Deception by Eoin Colfer
  6. The Bible
  7. The Billion Dollar Spy by David E. Hoffman
  8. The Black Star of Kingston by S.D. Smith
  9. A Book of Strife, in the Form of the Diary of an Old Soul by George MacDonald
  10. The Call of the Wild by Jack London
  11. A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson
  12. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
  13. Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin
  14. England's Antiphon by George MacDonald
  15. Exotics by George MacDonald
  16. Food Foolish by John M. Mandyck and Eric B. Schultz
  17. Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill by Gretchen Rubin
  18. The Gambia in Depth by the Peace Corps
  19. Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story by Ben Carson with Cecil Murphey
  20. The Green Ember by S.D. Smith
  21. Gutta-Percha Willie by George MacDonald
  22. It All Started with Columbus by Richard Armour
  23. Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes by Kenneth E. Bailey
  24. The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
  25. The Kids from Nowhere by George Guthridge
  26. Legally Kidnapped by Carlos Morales
  27. Life of Fred: Goldfish by Stanley F. Schmidt
  28. Life of Fred: Honey by Stanley F. Schmidt
  29. Life of Fred: Ice Cream by Stanley F. Schmidt
  30. Life of Fred: Jelly Beans by Stanley F. Schmidt
  31. Life of Fred: Kidneys by Stanley F. Schmidt
  32. Life of Fred: Liver by Stanley F. Schmidt
  33. Life of Fred: Mineshaft by Stanley F. Schmidt
  34. Life of Fred: Pre-Algebra with Biology by Stanley F. Schmidt
  35. Love Does by Bob Goff
  36. Malcolm by George MacDonald (much Scottish dialect)
  37. Malestrom by Carolyn Custis James
  38. Manjiro by Hisakazu Kaneko
  39. The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson
  40. The Marquis of Lossie by George MacDonald (some Scottish dialect)
  41. The Martian by Andy Weir
  42. Mary Marston by George MacDonald
  43. The Mind's Eye by Oliver Sacks
  44. Old Peter's Russian Tales by Arthur Ransome
  45. Paul Faber, Surgeon by George MacDonald
  46. The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall
  47. The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
  48. The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall
  49. The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall
  50. Pioneer Days by Laura Ingalls Wilder, annotations by Pamela Smith Hill
  51. The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald
  52. The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald
  53. The Qur'an translation by M. A. S. Abdel Haleem
  54. St. George and St. Michael by George MacDonald
  55. The Second Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
  56. The SHARP Solution by Heidi Hanna
  57. Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death by James Runcie
  58. The Six Fingers of Time and Other Stores from Galaxy Magazine
  59. Sir Gibbie by George MacDonald
  60. The Story of Western Science by Susan Wise Bauer
  61. Stiff by Mary Roach
  62. Thomas Wingfold, Curate by George MacDonald
  63. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  64. Tremendous Trifles by G. K. Chesterton
  65. The Upside of Stress by Kelly McGonigal
  66. The Village on the Edge of the World by A.T. Oram
  67. Warlock o' Glenwarlock by George MacDonald
  68. Weathermakers to the World by Eric B. Schultz
  69. West Africa Is My Back Yard: Ex-Pat Life in The Gambia and Beyond (Part I: Where on Earth is The Gambia Anyway?) by Mark Williams
  70. Wilfred Cumbermede by George MacDonald
  71. The Winged Watchman by Hilda van Stockum
  72. The Wise Woman by George MacDonald
Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, January 10, 2016 at 7:32 am | Edit
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Do Christians and Muslims worship the same god?

Of course they do!

Are you nuts?  They most certainly do not!

Wait.  Stop.  You're right.  You're both right.  You can say almost anything and still be right if you don't define your terms.

This question keeps making the news, with fervent opinions being expressed regardless of whether or not the speaker knows anything about Christian or Muslim theology.  There's no shortage of commentary, for example, on whether or not Wheaton College should fire a professor they believe is deviating from the statement of faith that she signed when she was hired.  Personally, I think that's Wheaton's business, not mine, and I don't know enough about the specific situation to have an informed opinion.  I will say that I respect Weaton a lot, not the least because they come under attack both for being too liberal and for being too conservative.  They must be doing something right.  But the issue of whether or not Christians and Muslims worship the same god is at the heart of that controversy.

Just what does that phrase mean, worship the same god?

Does a Christian worship the creator of the universe?  Absolutely.  Does a Jew?  Certainly.  A Muslim?  I'm sure a Muslim would say he does.  So would a good many (though not all) pagans (old-style; I'm not too familiar with the writings of new-style Pagans).  And, I venture to say, so do many who call themselves atheists (I was one), whose passionate admiration of the forces of nature (and science, their prophet) is as ardent as anything I've seen in church.

Do we all agree on the basic characteristics, let alone the details, of whatever/whoever caused this world to exist?  Absolutely not.

On some issues, and in some situations, we can all stand on the common ground and make progress together.  That's not the same thing as saying that we're basically in agreement, or that the differences don't matter.

 


 

It's Christmastime, and a group of happy vacationers is on an airplane bound for St. Petersburg.  We know they all share a hope that the pilot has gotten enough sleep the night before, and that the maintenance crew has done its job correctly.  We watch them eat together, and wish along with every one of them that the baby in seat 20B would stop crying.  But as we listen to them discuss their vacation plans, we begin to realize that there are some big differences in what they believe about this "St. Petersburg" that they're heading toward. 

The art students in 14D and E have packed boots and heavy coats, and are eagerly discussing their upcoming visit to the Hermitage.  The family in row 15, with their bathing suits and sunscreen, is looking forward to time at the beach, and the children hope to talk their parents into a side trip to Disney World.  Up in first class, a middle-aged couple is wondering how life has changed in their tiny hometown in Western Pennsylvania since they've been gone.  And the writer in the back of the plane is absorbed in visions of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn.

The passengers have a lot in common.  They are in the same airplane, and have many of the same interests and concerns.  They all know they are going to St. Petersburg.  The plane is, indeed, going to St. Petersburg.  But somebody—maybe everybody—is in for a surprise when the plane lands.

Commonalities matter.  So do differences.  Above all, truth matters.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, January 9, 2016 at 2:30 pm | Edit
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altThe Martian  by Andy Weir (Crown, 2014)

Our Christmas present from the library:  we made the top of the wait list for The Martian.  It was worth the wait and with one exception ranks as one of the best books I've read this year.

The exception?  The profanity is even worse than in the movie.  Unlike the movie, there's sexual innuendo, but nothing graphic.  There's no violence at all, unless you count all the explosions that happen.  Still, definitely NSFG (not safe for grandchildren).  Which is a pity, because I know one, maybe three, who would love it.  (This conundrum is the only drawback I know to having early and eager readers.)

That aside, The Martian is the perfect engineering nerd book, yet perfectly engaging for less technical folk.  It's also incredibly well-written, and I'm picky that way.  I'm guessing Andy Weir aced both the Math and the Verbal sections of his SAT's.

Having read the book, I can enthusiastically endorse the movie, which is remarkably, though justifiably not completely, true to the book.  So go ahead, watch the movie.  But don't stop there:  read the book.  There's more to the story.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, January 8, 2016 at 7:46 am | Edit
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C. S. Lewis called it chronological snobbery:  the idea that present ideas and attitudes are superior to those of the past simply because they are more recent.  Historian Paul Bartow calls it historical presentism and has written an important commentary ("The Growing Threat of Historical Presentism") on its contribution to the fracturing of American society and the disintegration of civil discourse.  (H/T Lenore Skenazy)

James Madison’s fears of mob rule and majoritarianism is a well explored topic. Suffice it to say that in Federalist 10, he wrote to the citizens of New York that “measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.”

This overbearing force today comes in the shape of tyrannical college mobs who demand any affiliation with people they don’t like be permanently removed. ... Not surprisingly, these mobs have neither a factual or nuanced historical understanding.

All of these protests of historical occurrences are symptomatic of a deeper, more grievous problem, that of historical presentism. This is defined as the application of contemporary moral judgments or worldviews to the past. Any trained historian knows that this is among the easiest traps into which one can fall.

The task of the historian, or the modern university student for that matter, is not to descend from on high and mete out judgment. ... When one studies the past, it is meant to be a deeply introspective experience. The goal is to enter into conversation with historical figures, to understand their world as fully as we can, to learn from them, and to let them challenge our worldviews.

These are dangerous times for the study of the past. Historians can no longer afford to sit idly by as uninformed or misinformed tyrannical mobs seek to stamp out the history they do not like. It is a threat to the preservation of the past. It is a threat to free speech. It is a threat to proper historical understanding.

It is a threat to the very existence of civil society.

It's also very bad manners.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, January 7, 2016 at 7:04 am | Edit
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My grandparents lived in Daytona Beach all their adult lives.  Both arrived in 1915; my grandfather was originally from Western Pennsylvania, and my grandmother from West Virginia. My great-grandparents, John Stansbury Barbe and Minerva (Kemp) Barbe (Minnie) were very active in Daytona Beach:  She was a hotel owner and busy with all sorts of community affairs, from business to politics to schools, and he was at one point mayor of the Town of Daytona Beach (before it became a city).

My grandmother ran the hotel for a while, but by the time I knew her had retired from the business and was living in my favorite place in all of Daytona Beach:  431 North Grandview Avenue.  Sadly, both the house—now a business—and the neighborhood have changed, but at least the building's still there.

What more could a child want?  It was a big house with lots of places to explore, a cellar that was sometimes visited by poisonous snakes, a picnic table and my grandmother's amazing flowers in the back yard, and an outdoor shower that we sometimes shared with lizards.  (Living in Florida myself now, lizards are commonplace.  But they were an exotic treat for a child who lived in upstate New York and only visited every other year.)

Why the outdoor shower?  Not because there were no indoor facilities, but because the house was a mere two blocks from the ocean and the incredible beach; the shower was an easy way to wash off the sand and salt from our frequent swims before entering the house.  It was also an easy walk from my grandparents' home to the Bandshell and Broadwalk (not "boardwalk").  As a child I was completely oblivious to the seamier side of life in Daytona Beach, though I understand now why we were never allowed to go to the Broadwalk without an adult.

Then there were the people.  My Florida relatives were different from most of the folks I knew back home, which thanks to the presence of General Electric, had a higher-than-normal population of engineers and other intellectuals.  My grandfather had worked for the Post Office and retained an intense interest in collecting stamps—if only I had managed to figure out how to enjoy his enthusiasm without feeling obliged to share it!  My uncle was a fisherman, and I loved it when he'd let us fish with him off the Pier.  My cousins were much older than I, and therefore very cool, especially the one that could be counted on to do dangerous things like set off firecrackers in the backyard (not sure how my grandparents felt about that...), and the one who was at first a lifeguard (very high coolness factor to a young girl) and eventually worked for NASA in exotic places like Grand Turk Island and could tell us stories about the astronauts (even higher coolness factor to a young nerd).

Because of their former hotel business, my grandparents had made friends from all over who still came to visit them.  They even had a maid who came occasionally to help with the housework—no one else of my acquaintance had a maid—and what's more, the maid was black, which made her even more exotic than the lizards to one who was growing up in a town where "cultural differences" meant that some of your friends' parents might have come from Italy or Poland.  I wish I had been more curious as a child to hear the stories of all these different people.

My grandmother was a wonderful cook, especially when she was cooking fish that had been caught just hours earlier, and most especially if they were fish that I had caught.  We hardly ever ate at restaurants—in those days few ordinary people ate out, even if their grandmothers weren't good cooks.  But when we did, for special occasions, more often than not it was at a place called Kay's, at 734 Main Street.  It was a "family restaurant" with what you might call ordinary American fare, though my taste buds recall their fish as anything but ordinary.  And definitely on the extraordinary side was a drink they called a Tiny Tim.  When I knew it, the restaurant had Dickens-era decor, and one of their specialty mixed drinks they called a "Dickens."  The Tiny Tim was a non-alcoholic version of the Dickens.

We all liked the Tiny Tim so much that we had it whenever we could, and eventually I begged the bartender to give me the recipe:

  • 2 packages Bartender's Lemon Mix
  • 4 packages Bartender's Lime Mix
  • 1 package Bartender's Coconut Mix
  • 3 gallons water
  • 3 quarts pineapple juice
  • 1 quart orange juice
  • 1/3 quart lime juice
  • 2 small cans grapefruit juice
  • 1/2 quart cherry juice
  • grenadine for color

Unfortunately, that didn't help much, though I'm sure it was only because I didn't try hard enough to find the ingredients that were not readily available at the grocery store.  It occurs to me that all my efforts were BI (Before the Internet).  Maybe I should try again.  Anyway, I'm putting the recipe online for anyone who wants to check it out.  I'm not hurting Kay's by giving away trade secrets:  sadly, the restaurant went out of business, thanks in part to the neighborhood's change from family-oriented to one that catered to bikers and other tourists.

All these memories were triggered by a lunch at the Cheesecake Factory.  There, Porter ordered their Frozen Iced Mango drink:  "Mango, Tropical Juices and a Hint of Coconut Blended with Ice and Swirled with Raspberry Puree."  It came with a strawberry, a slice of lime, and a slice of lemon as well, which may explain why despite the different ingredient list, it tasted more like a Tiny Tim than anything I've had in years.  Whatever it was, next time we visit the Cheesecake Factory (which seems to be about once a year), that's what I'm ordering to go with my Avocado Egg Rolls, which is the reason for going to TCF in the first place.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, January 5, 2016 at 8:22 am | Edit
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At Thanksgiving, my sister (thank you!) alerted me to the massive fraud going on in the olive oil business.  I did a bit of investigating, and discovered a few things I knew, and a few I didn't.  Since I've only recently come to appreciate extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), I don't know much, though from research into other products (such as honey) I know that "made in..." or "imported from..." on the label doesn't necessarily tell you the source of the important ingredients.

I didn't know that when buying EVOO you should look for a harvest date on the bottle.  Not a "best buy" date, but a harvest date.  I'm so used to super-processed oils that I didn't about olives as fruit, and the importance of freshness to minimally-processed oil.  Then I noticed that the bottle of EVOO in my pantry had no harvest date at all.

I'm still using oil from that bottle, hoping its likely adulteration won't poison me.  But I did find a brand in the grocery store that not only has the date, but is more local as well, being from California.  We'll see how it tastes—not that my palate is good enough at this point to tell the fake from the real thing.  But it is one of the brands that passed the test (California Olive Ranch).

Last night a 60 Minutes report confirmed the problem and provided a credible explanation:  the Italian Mafia has found a lucrative, legitimate business they can leverage by nefarious means into huge profits.  Nor is olive oil the only food they have their dirty fingers in.  The show is definitely worth watching (under 15 minutes), if only to see the olive oil experts testing the wares.  But if you're in a hurry, you can read the transcript.  And here's an extra that was not part of the show:  How To Buy Olive Oil.

Ohh, looking at that bread drizzled with fresh olive oil ... now I'm hungry.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, January 4, 2016 at 10:22 am | Edit
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