The people of the nearby Congregation Beth Am invited our choir to join them for their Celebration of Liturgy a couple of Sundays ago. It was quite a fun afternoon. In additon to the Beth Am choir and our own from the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection, participants were the Casa de Restauracion Misionera, a charismatic Hispanic church, and Fellowship Church, a non-denominational Christian Zionist congregation.

In other words, in ordinary life the chance that any one of us would step into a worship service of one of the other groups borders on infinitesimal.

I'd love to do it again. In fact, I'd like to see it expand to include more groups, because I've found that the three best ways of learning how much we have in common with people who differ from us are working together, eating together, and singing together—and this event covered two of them.

Interestingly, although at the most basic theological level we had more in common with the Christian groups, it was the Jewish choir I felt most comfortable with. I tend to be generally pro-Israel, but the strong, almost strident Zionist emphasis of Fellowship Church seemed to be more central to their nature than their Christian beliefs—though probably they were just seeking to honor our hosts. The Hispanic music of Restauracion was enthusiastic and heartfelt, and would not have been hard to participate in had the volume been 30-50 decibels lower, but as it was all my concentration had to be on saving my hearing. I had left my purse, with the earplugs I take nearly wherever I go, in the car. :(

But that's all okay. This gathering wasn't about being with people who are most like ourselves!

Perhaps most fun was the end, when we all sang a song together. I'd post it, but it's only available on Facebook, not YouTube. Not that there was anything special in the music, only that we were all singing it together.

Theological and musical differences aside, apparently everyone agrees on good food. We should eat together more often.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, February 21, 2017 at 4:40 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 23 times | Comments (0)
Category Everyday Life: [first] [previous] Music: [first] [previous]

In July of 2015, the Rt. Rev. Gregory O. Brewer, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida, wrote a response to the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court that legalized same-sex marriage.  On a recent file-cleaning expedition, I came upon my copy of his wise words again, and was struck by how much this attitude is needed right now, as we face still more opportunities to respond humanely across deep divides.

Bishop Brewer's words are specifically for and about Christians, but there's much here that could be of benefit to anyone.  Since he has graciously allowed me to publish his letter in its entirety, I'll spare you my usual cut-and-paste quotations.  Context is important.

Early in Israel’s history, the people prayed for a King. They said that they did not want to be ruled merely by judges, but they wanted a king like other nations. Through the prophet Samuel, God warned the people that to have a king would only bring about additional difficulties and sorrows, but they pleaded with God and eventually God relented and gave them a king.

The prophet Samuel anointed Saul with great affection, praying for him and calling him “the desire of Israel” (1 Sam. 9:20). He anointed him king over Israel, all the while warning Israel that they had rejected the will of God.

I believe that the anointing of Saul as king over Israel and the legalization of same-sex marriage are analogous. While God’s intention has always been that marriage is between one man and one woman, people in our nation have, for decades, pleaded for gay people to be able to legally marry, and now, through an act of judicial activism, it is the law of the land. Some are elated. Some are weeping. Some are angry. The Church is divided over these matters, and we as a nation do not know the long-term impact of these decisions.

How are we Christians to respond?

1) For some Christians who are deeply committed to Jesus Christ, the legalization of same-sex marriage is an answer to their prayers. For other Christians, the legalization of same-sex marriage is a sign of moral decay. However, the demonization of those who support same-sex marriage by those who do not, and the demonization of those who oppose same-sex marriage by those who do [not] must not be present within the Body of Christ. Such antagonism is an affront to the Gospel and a great sin. That is not to say the matter is inconsequential. The divide between these two positions is a serious one and not to be taken lightly. But it is our faith in Jesus Christ as God in the flesh, who died for us and rose from the dead that unites us, and nothing other than this. Christians must choose to continue to work together across this great divide. It will not be easy, but it is our God-given task. Splitting into tribes of those “for” and “against” within our churches will bear no good fruit, and will only display to the world our lack of faith in Jesus Christ, who prayed that we might be one.

2) I fear that some backlash against LGBT people by those who oppose same-sex marriage could be one of the outcomes. Incidents of angry retaliation could be in the offing. May this not be named among Christians! If incidents of violence break out, Christians must be the first to rise up and publicly condemn them. If we do not love those with whom we disagree, then our witness for Christ is null and void.

Such a public witness of love means we must beg God to root out of us any anger and resentment we may be feeling because of this change in our laws. Forgiveness, love and mercy are our righteousness: and they are gifts from our God who makes rain to fall on the just and on the unjust. If we do not triumph in love, we triumph in nothing.

3) There also are some legitimate fears that the legalization of same-sex marriage will further marginalize those who oppose it and bring about a tacit acceptance of persecution of these Christians. Again, our call is to forgiveness, love and mercy.

4) Traditional Christians should continue to make the Biblical case for heterosexual, lifelong marriage both in our churches and in the public square. This is where I stand. While same-sex couples now enjoy the freedom to choose legal marriage, many will not. Those who do not marry will join the trend of many straight couples that are indifferent to marriage at best, even if they are raising children. The fact is that the practice of marriage (much less lifelong marriage) in comparison to previous generations continues to plummet. In our culture, it is not so much that same-sex marriage has triumphed, as it is that the case for marriage for anyone is failing. This is where the church must speak clearly.

5) As a church, we must choose to care for children, regardless of who their parents might be. Children should not be treated prejudicially because of who their parents are. They did not choose their parents, and our churches have an opportunity, even a divine calling, to invite these children into the Christian faith and enfold them (and their parents) in bonds of love that will bring many to Jesus. Again, the testimony of our faith is evidenced in our call to love by word and by deed, nothing else.

6) Importantly, Justice Kennedy’s opinion in this ruling places a profound connection between marriage and “dignity,” which leaves single people all the more marginalized. Many of our churches already, in their preference for married couples, place single people in a kind of “less than” separate class. Such a classification is entirely unbiblical. The goal for our churches is a missionary community, not a club for the already married. Both Jesus and Paul were single, with Paul exhorting his preference for the single life. While clearly upholding marriage, we need to find ways to see marital status as secondary to sacrificial discipleship.

We are in the midst of an enormous cultural sea change and we do not know the outcome. What I do know is that it is my responsibility to care deeply, love without prejudice, speak the truth as I understand it with boldness and compassion, and pray fervently. I ask that you join me.

Let's "think on these things" when events go against us on issues of profound importance, and equally when we find ourselves on the favored side.  Above all, let's remember Bishop Brewer's wisdom as we interact with our fellow Americans—our fellow human beings—when each thinks the other is standing on the wrong side of an apparently impassable gulf.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, February 17, 2017 at 7:15 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 65 times | Comments (3)
Category Politics: [first] [previous] Random Musings: [first] [previous]

Recently we had the opportunity to participate in a diocesan youth choir festival at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke in Orlando. I've been to children's choir festivals before, but not this one. One major difference was that some adult singers from participating churches were also included, so it was truly a multi-generational affair. My mistake was in thinking, "It's a children's choir festival, how hard can the music be?"  Guess what? There's a big difference between a children's choir festival and a youth choir festival: this included not only young elementary school students but also those in high school—you know, the All-State-Chorus, make-superiors-at-Solo-and-Ensemble kind of high school student. There were some amazing voices there, and the music put my sight-reading confidence to the test for sure.

We had one long rehearsal on Saturday, then sang for the regular church service on Sunday. One of our younger choir members exclaimed, when he walked into the cathedral, "This is the biggest church in the world!" It's not, by a long shot, but it's still impressive. Another proclaimed the whole experience to be "epic." 

And it was. I love our church and its service, but even in the Episcopal Church a service at the Cathedral is a cut above. I almost broke down during the processional, with the cross and candles and banners and incense and glorious music and so many people, young and old, in the procession. Glory, majesty, and awe are so often missing from church services, but this took my breath away.

Our own church is considered "high" because we sing much of the service, but at the Cathedral even more was sung instead of merely said. So much beautiful music, in a church with beautiful acoustics. Good acoustics encourage the congregation to sing, because you don't feel as if you are singing a solo, but are lifting your voice in song with everyone.

The service "belonged" to everyone, children and adults alike. Perhaps best of all, although the Festival choristers were welcomed and acknowledged, we didn't "perform" but were just a part of the regular worship service (albeit a bit fancier than usual). It was a glorious experience.  Like our own church, but taken up a level.

Here's part of what we sang. As usual, the videos are not us, but something found on YouTube to bring the song list to life.

Praise (Dyson) We didn't join the choirs on this one. It's unison, for young, high voices.

Beautiful Savior by Robert Lee

Be Thou My Vision by Bob Chilcott

God Be in My Head by Philip Willby

This Little Light of Mine (William Bradley Roberts)

Three of our service music pieces, the Gloria, the Sanctus, and the Agnus Dei, were by Carl MaultsBy, which is always a pleasure. He even stopped by briefly to encourage the kids.

The only part that made me a bit sad was knowing that none of our grandchildren have this kind of opportunity. On the other hand, how many children sing good music every day in their own homes, as part of their daily routine? And how many ten-year-olds get the chance to play in the same handbell choir as their mother, grandmother, and grandfather? We make, and rejoice in, what opportunities we can.

(My thanks to whichever Daley photographer took this video.  Mine's still on the camera....)

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, February 15, 2017 at 10:42 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 43 times | Comments (0)
Category Children & Family Issues: [first] [previous] Everyday Life: [first] [previous] [newest] Music: [first] [previous] [newest]

altThe Power of Mathematical Visualization by James S. Tanton (The Great Courses)

We are loving our Great Courses Plus subscription. We leapt right in with The Power of Mathematical Visualization, and I recommend it enthusiastically.

The great physicist, Richard Feynman, used visualization extensively to understand problems. Temple Grandin, author of Thinking in Pictures, suggests we may be too hasty in trying to prevent and cure autism, since mild forms ot Autism Spectrum Disorder, at least, lead people to different and possibly important ways of thinking. But what about the rest of us, who are neither geniuses nor autistic (nor autistic geniuses)?  Visualization is still a powerful and fascinating way to think about math, from basic arithmetic to esoteric and high-powered concepts.

Back when The Great Courses was called The Teaching Company, the course format was primarily a talking-head lecture, perfectly suited for audio-only listening in the car while commuting to work. Many of the courses still work well for that, but the company has grown and expanded considerably, not just in content but also in format. The Power of Mathematical Visualization includes plenty of diagrams, images, and physical demonstrations.

James Tanton is an engaging teacher. He does spent a bit too much time complaining about the unhelpful ways he was taught math in school, but I soon learned to forgive and ignore that. His enthusiasm for math is infectious. You can watch the introductory lecture on YouTube, if you want to check it out.

Here's a picture of the course contents. (Click for a larger image.)

alt

I'd recommend this course to anyone, including all our grandchildren. Certainly the oldest three could get a lot out of most of the lectures. The six-year-olds, being especially interested in math, are also good candidates. Even the younger ones would benefit from at least being in the same room while others are watching. You never know what they are absorbing from their surroundings.

James Tanton has another series on The Great Courses Plus, called Geometry: An Interactive Journey to Mastery. Would I ever have picked that one out of their long list of topics that are at first glance much more interesting? Not likely. But we're watching it now, because Tanton is such a good presenter, and so far it's as intriguing as Visualization.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, February 10, 2017 at 6:09 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 115 times | Comments (4)
Category Reviews: [first] [previous] Education: [first] [previous]

blade tool tool tool slate roofer's hammer

Our neighbor is selling the huge collection of antique and otherwise interesting tools (over 450) that once decorated the walls of his barber shop. You can see them all here. If you're interested in buying any of them, you can send an inquiry to the e-mail address at the top of that page. But that's not the main reason I'm posting this; the percentage Porter gets from helping with the sale doesn't begin to cover the time he's putting into it, let alone my own.

I post because I'm at heart a lover of museums.  Even if you don't particularly care about tools, it's fun just browsing through this amazing assortment.  True, there aren't any captions; I liken it to visiting a museum in a foreign country, where the annotations are all in another language.  It's still fun, even if you miss some of the subtleties.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, February 8, 2017 at 9:50 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 91 times | Comments (1)
Category Just for Fun: [first] [previous]

I've held off updating my prayer request for The Gambia, waiting for events to settle down a bit, but it seems that I can truly report good news:  Former President (dictator) Yahya Jammeh has been persuaded to step down peacefully and make room for newly-elected President Adama Barrow. He appears to have run off with about $12 million of the country's funds, and the questions of his crimes against humanity are left unresolved, but at least The Gambia has been given a chance at freedom and democracy. That's great news!

President Barrow and the country are still in much need of prayer. On the financial side, the disappearance of most of the government's treasury may be mitigated by the release of European aid funds that had been frozen because of concerns about Mr. Jammeh's leadership. That's a good thing, because I wasn't sure a Kickstarter campaign could raise 12 million dollars for them—though it would have been interesting to try.

Our friend is back from her brief exile, helping the country's best math students get their disrupted educations back on track.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, February 7, 2017 at 7:26 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 91 times | Comments (1)
Category Politics: [first] [previous] [newest] Everyday Life: [first] [previous] [next] [newest] The Gambia: [first] [previous]

Are most Americans anti-immigration? Absolutely not.

Is President Trump anti-immigration? I don't think so. It's difficult to pin down what he actually believes about anything, but being concerned about uncontrolled immigration from unstable and/or dangerous countries does not mean one is opposed to immigration per se.

I found George Friedman's take on the subject enlightening, despite missing a few of my concerns. His example of our societal attitude towards Indian and Chinese immigrants is especially interesting.

Trump has pointed to two very different patterns. One is immigration to the U.S. by Muslims. The other is illegal Mexican immigration. Both resonated with Trump’s supporters. It is interesting to consider other immigration patterns that have not become an issue. One is immigration to the U.S. from India. The other is immigration from China and other parts of Asia. Both have been massive movements since about 1970, and both have had substantial social consequences.

It is the example of the Chinese and the Indians that blows up the theory that Americans have an overarching anti-immigrant sensibility that Trump is tapping into. It also raises serious doubts that Trump is anti-immigrant. I have searched and may have missed it, but I didn’t find that Trump made anti-Chinese or anti-Indian statements, as opposed to anti-Muslim and anti-Mexican statements. If it were classic anti-immigrant sentiment, the rage would be against Indian immigrants who have emerged as a powerful and wealthy ethnic group in a startlingly short time. But there is minimally detectable hostility toward them, which means that the immigration situation in the United States is far more complex than it seems.

The issue is not whether Trump and his followers are generally anti-immigrant. The question is why they are so hostile toward Muslims ... and to Mexicans. I wish the explanation were more complex, but it is actually quite simple in both cases.

The United States has been at war with Muslim groups since Sept. 11, 2001. ... When there is war, there is suspicion of the enemy. When there is suspicion of the enemy, there is fear that émigrés might be in the United States on false pretenses. ... After 15 years of war and many Americans dead, [post-9/11 fears have] congealed into a framework of distrust that may well go beyond the rational. ... Are all Muslims warriors against the United States? No. Do you know who is or isn’t? Also no. Wars, therefore, create fears. There is nothing new in the American fear of Muslims in the context of war.

The Mexican situation is different. ... [T]he driving issue is illegal Mexican immigration. There is a great deal of homage paid to the rule of law. Congress passed a law specifying the mechanics of legal migration. Some 5 million Mexicans broke the law. Whether this has harmed the U.S. economy or not, the indifference to enforcing the law by people who are normally most insistent on the rule of law has created a sense of hypocrisy.

The anger is not only directed at the Mexicans. It is part of the rage against those living in the bubble, who present themselves as humanitarians, but who will encounter the illegal aliens, if at all, as their servants. And rightly or wrongly, some suspect that open support for breaking the law is designed to bring cheap labor to support the lifestyles of the wealthy at the expense of the declining middle class. The fact that the well-to-do tend to be defenders of illegal aliens while also demanding the rule of law increases suspicions.

At first I took issue with this, for while true, it doesn't speak for the many of my friends who count themselves "defenders of illegal aliens" but are far from wealthy by American standards. But...

As we saw with President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Japanese, things that are obvious to those living decades later are not obvious at the time. Indeed, it is a failure of imagination to be unable to empathize with the fear felt after Pearl Harbor. In our time, the failure to empathize comes from those who feel immune to illegal immigration or the 15-year war. It is part of the growing fragmentation of American society that different classes and regions should experience these things so differently, and that each side has so little understanding of the other.

My non-wealthy friends may not be among the rich, but it is true that they (like me) are largely immune to the effects of both illegal immigration and terrorism. We even benefit from illegal (slave) labor through lower prices.

(In my life, it's the actually the Indian and Chinese immigrants he mentions who have caused the problems—they are the ones whose competition directly affects the Information Technology industry—but I believe that legal, controlled immigration is healthy for a country.  How could I be anti-immigrant when our own daughter is one?)

As long as illegal immigration is permitted, the foundations of American culture are at risk. It is not simply immigration, but the illegality that is frightening, because it not only can’t be controlled, but also the law is under attack by those who claim to uphold it. The fear that a person’s livelihood is being undermined and his cultural foundation is being overwhelmed creates deep fear of the intentions of the more powerful.

I want to quote a lot more, but I fear I'm pushing the edge of "fair use" for a review as it is. It's an article worth reading. I'll just make one more comment, on what Friedman calls "the refusal of the government at all levels to enforce the law."

I'm not a fan of "zero-tolerance" legal situations, which leave no room for discretion and grace. But massive discord between rules and enforcement breeds both disrespect for the law and tyranny. When a law is on the books, but not enforced, people become accustomed to violating it. This may look like freedom, but it opens the door to graft, blackmail, indifference to other laws, and some very nasty surprises.

When I was studying to pass my driver's test, there was a law on the books in Pennsylvania requiring that vehicles must slow down to 25 miles per hour when passing through any intersection. (For all I know, it's still on the books.)  Obviously that was written a long time ago, and rather than the law being changed to fit reality, it simply stopped being enforced. If I hadn't been taking a driving course, I would never have known of its existence. However—and this is the kick—the police sometimes found it to be useful: If for some reason a miscreant wiggled out of whatever they wanted to charge him with, they could usually get him on the charge of passing through (often multiple) intersections at more than 25 mph. Do you see what this does? You may go for years, casually breaking the law, but suddenly one day, when they want to get you, they've got you.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, February 3, 2017 at 1:00 pm | Edit
Permalink | Read 154 times | Comments (5)
Category Politics: [first] [previous] [next] [newest] Random Musings: [first] [previous] [newest]

What train transportation could be in America.

Don't I wish!  I think trains are the most beautiful and relaxing way to travel. More room and ability to move about than either airplanes or automobiles; tables for working; power outlets; and (if done right) lounge, restaurant, and playspace cars. Human-dimensioned views. Someone else drives. But to compete with planes and cars (especially self-driving cars) a few important potential roadblocks come to mind.

  • Good parking at the stations (now often inadequate)
  • Cost (currently not competitive in most places)
  • Security (if it becomes widespread and popular, would we get TSA-style screening?)

Still, wouldn't you love it?

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, January 31, 2017 at 8:51 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 108 times | Comments (2)
Category Travels: [first] [previous] Everyday Life: [first] [previous] [next] [newest] Conservationist Living: [first] [previous]

The BBC's coverage of the 44th annual March for Life is lacking a little in credibility. Either that, or they have a phone line to heaven I wish they'd share.

After reporting that Vice President Mike Pence spoke at the march, the BBC added,

Former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W Bush have also addressed the crowds, but over the phone.

I assume they mean that during their time in office these presidents spoke to the marchers, but I rather like this image.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, January 27, 2017 at 1:21 pm | Edit
Permalink | Read 89 times | Comments (2)
Category Just for Fun: [first] [previous] [newest]

Does having Donald Trump as President of the United States frighten me? Absolutely. He appears to be a loose cannon who might more effectively fight against the evils that assail us ... or he might turn his fire on all that is good in our country. Most likely, he will do both.

Am I panicking? Absolutely not. Frankly, I would probably be more afraid if it were Hillary Clinton in the White House, because she's a well-entrenched part of the system and would quickly settle into the job-as-usual. As happened with President Obama, Big Things Would Get Done.

I am not a fan of Big Things Getting Done when they are issues on which the country is deeply and closely divided.

Maybe with Republican control of both houses of Congress there might have been effective opposition to Mrs. Clinton, but I doubt this election could have produced that situation without also putting Mr. Trump in the White House.  Even now, that control is tenuous.

I find a recent George Friedman essay to be somewhat comforting. Once again he points out the limited powers of the president, especially an unpopular one.

[The American presidency] is the most noted position in the world, imbued by observers with all the power inherent to the world’s most powerful country. Everyone is now trying to understand what Trump intends to do.

At the same time, the American president is among the weakest institutional leaders in Euro-American civilization. He can do some things unilaterally, particularly in foreign policy, but Congress can block them. He can do some things by executive order, but the Supreme Court can overrule them. He can pass certain programs that require cooperation from states, but the states can refuse to cooperate. At every step, as the founders intended, his ability to act unilaterally is severely limited.

[The defection of only three Republican senators would] make it impossible to pass any proposed legislation. As such, any Republican senator who can position himself as a potential defector will be able to negotiate for the president’s support on any number of issues. The president will either be forced to compromise or risk having the legislation defeated.

Senators are not free actors. They need to be re-elected. Their calculation on whether to oppose a Republican president will depend heavily (if not entirely) on whether the president will help or hurt them in their re-election bids. That depends on the president’s approval ratings, particularly in the senators’ home states.

Trump’s approval ratings are unlikely to fall below [the current] 37%, but to be effective, he can’t stay at that level. Republican senators will look at the president’s negative ratings in their states and calculate whether supporting his programs might lock 50% of voters against them. It is important to recall that constitutionally, a senator is supposed to serve the people of his state, not the president.

I confess I'm not completely comfortable with that much "power to the people"—largely because approval ratings give more power to the loudest and most obnoxious among us. But there it is. Speak up or be left out.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, January 27, 2017 at 8:08 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 143 times | Comments (5)
Category Politics: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

alt

EPCOT has a new party: The International Festival of the Arts. We checked it out, and found it almost as much fun as their Food and Wine Festival. There was art, mostly with a Disney theme, and music, and other features, but our interest lay mainly in the culinary arts.

I do remember one painter, probably because his name was Noah. "Noah Fine Art" is his business, and I remarked that it's pretty amazing to be known only by your first name. When we came home, I did a Google search simply on "Noah art"—and his website was the first hit.

But as I said, food was our main interest. There was much more we could have eaten, but even sharing the already-small portions doesn't leave room (or budget) for everything.

From Pop Eats!: Sous Vide Venison with Butternut Squash Purée, Pomegranate Reduction, Pickled Turnip, and Juniper Berry Powder, followed by Almond Frangipane Cake layered with Raspberry Jam and Chocolate. The flavors worked together in an amazing way, and the venison was the best I've ever tasted. (Porter liked the venison he ate in New Zealand better, but I did not have any on that occasion.)  The cake was even better than it looks. (As usual, you can click on the images for a bigger picture.)

alt

From The Refreshment Cool Post: Chilled Shrimp, Quinoa, Layered Vegetables, Spiced Yogurt, and Red Pepper Coulis. I'm sorry I forgot to take a picture of this, because the presentation was totally not what I expected, and the taste was really good.

From The Painter's Palate: Trio of Savory Croissant Doughnuts—Whipped Herb Cream Cheese with Sea Salt, Chicken Mousse with Fresh Herbs & Everything Bagel Seasoning, and Spicy Tuna with Sriracha Mayonnaise and Sesame Seeds. These were good—the Spicy Tuna winning hands down—but messy to eat. I missed photographing this one, too; fortunately the picture was available in Disney's promotional materials.

alt

From The Artist's Table: Callebaut Belgian Sipping Chocolate Flight: White, Milk, Dark. As you can see, I forgot to take this picture till we were well into this incredibly delicious trio. Even the white chocolate (my least favorite) was wonderful, the dark was the best, and the milk had caramel notes that made it spectacular.

alt

It was a hot day (in the 80's and sunny) so a repeat-repeat visit to Japan for shaved ice was in order after we had put some space (and food) between it and the chocolate. This time we tried the rainbow flavor; it was good but tangerine is still the best, and it's still worth paying the extra buck to get the sweet milk topping.

Finally, and this has nothing to do with food but everything to do with amusing our grandchildren, or more likely their mothers. This was a wall decoration at Italy; I call it La Figmenta.

alt

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, January 25, 2017 at 8:02 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 124 times | Comments (3)
Category Everyday Life: [first] [previous] [next] [newest] Food: [first] [previous]

When it comes to paying out money, I know who "The Government" is.  That's you, me, and all other taxpayers out there.  Including those overseas who bear the burden of paying taxes to the Federal Government even if their money was earned totally outside of the United States.  But that's another issue.

Even as our family watches carefully how our personal money is spent, so we try to be careful that the government's money is spent wisely.

Thus we were concerned when we received a bill from an insurance company we'd never heard of, for a health insurance plan we had not signed up for, assuring us that we owed $0.00 and the government had already paid the full premium of $1375.36 for the first month.  I will spare you the details of all the hours Porter has spent on the phone trying to get this cleared up.  How do you cancel a policy that can't be found in the system, but for which the government is paying out at the rate of over $16,500 per year?  Finally, he wrote an e-mail to the Inspector General.

Mr. Inspector General Levinson,

I am not sure you are the correct person to send my issues to - but hope your office can point me in the right direction if you are not the appropriate channel.

I have two issues, one involving money paid out by the government incorrectly and one involving the difficulty in pursuing such questions via the healthcare.gov team and system.

First, I received a bill from "Florida Health Care Plans" for an ACA plan that I never signed up for, but rather was assigned to automatically by the ACA computers.  No one at "Florida Health Care Plans" can tell me how this came to be.  Further they say they cannot cancel the policy under the law as they can only do that if healthcare.gov sends them a notice to do so.  Further they have no connecting key that can be used by the healthcare.gov team to show how this policy came into existence.  When I called the ACA they could not find any trace of this policy with "Florida Health Care Plans."  The only policy they show for me is the CORRECT policy I signed up for myself with "Florida Blue," an entirely different company despite the similarity of their names.

The bogus bill shows that the government will pay "Florida Health Care Plans" $1375.36 per month for each month in 2017.  I will owe nothing.  In other words my payments are to be zero each month.  This is the rub.  If a "policyholder" does not pay his premium his insurance is cancelled - and the payments from the government to the insurance company would at least stop.  However, since I owe nothing each month on this policy there is no trigger to automatically stop payments!  The government will be out over $16,000 by the end of the year paying on this bogus, useless policy.

Second issue.  Healthcare.gov is not following the ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library) standards.  I understand that all federal computing systems are supposed to follow ITIL.  When I was a consultant for IBM on the Fannie Mae account this was certainly the case.  ITIL provides that all issues should be recorded and a ticket or issue number assigned to them.  Further, this ticket number should be given to the person who reported the issue.  In my case I should have been given a ticket number so I could reference it in future calls.  I was told by the supervisor of supervisors (which was as high as I was permitted to go in my telephone inquiry with healthcare.gov) that no ticket numbers are ever generated, but rather I should wait for a call back from the "Advanced Resolution Center" in 5 to 7 days.  I am very doubtful this will happen as in 2016 I got an incorrect "Corrected" 1095a and went through the same process without ever getting the issue resolved.

Please advise how to proceed with these two issues.

Or, I should say, he tried to write the Inspector General.  But having sent this to their published e-mail address, he received it back with the following explanation:

Delivery has failed to these recipients or groups:

hhstips@oig.hhs.gov
Your message couldn't be delivered to the recipient because you don't have permission to send to it.

Ask the recipient's email admin to add you to the accept list for the recipient.

For more information, see DSN 5.7.129 Errors in Exchange Online and Office 365.

So he respectfully requested to be added, using the e-mail address postmaster@oig.hhs.gov—the sending address for the above rejection.  The reply?

alt

How much time would you spend trying to save the United States $16,500?  How many bogus charges like this do you think are being made?  How many of the people in whose name the government is being billed will put any effort into trying to correct a bill on which they owe nothing?

Stay tuned.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, January 24, 2017 at 6:13 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 122 times | Comments (3)
Category Health: [first] [previous] Politics: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

Here's some wise advice from Robert Heinlein's Citizen of the Galaxy.  The context was running a business, but moms of young children will understand the need more than anyone!

"I'm so busy doing what I must do that I don't have time for what I ought to do ... and I never get a chance to do what I want to do!"

"Son, that's universal.  The way to keep that recipe from killing you is to occasionally do what you want to do anyhow."

That's how I ended up re-reading this book.  Feeling ill was keeping me from sleeping, so I got up and for some reason thought of the only Heinlein book that survived (because it was not with the rest) a long-ago bookshelf purge.  Mostly if I'm awake I'd rather be working, but that formula does not play well when the body is demanding the mind's attention.  Citizen of the Galaxy was the perfect diversion.  And how nice it was to find this justification when I reached the penultimate page!

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, January 20, 2017 at 5:22 pm | Edit
Permalink | Read 118 times | Comments (2)
Category Random Musings: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

We're back again to another George Friedman essay, this time on Nationalism, Internationalism and New Politics. It's not new; it's been sitting in my "Drafts" folder for a while.  But it's good.  Some excerpts:

The world is experiencing a shift from the old liberal-conservative model to an internationalist-nationalist model. Nationalist challenges against the internationalist model have moved from the margins of the political system to the center, winning victories in the United States and the United Kingdom, and rising in strength in other countries.

What began as a lesson learned from World War II and a prudent response to containing the Soviet Union became a moral orthodoxy and a moral imperative. In many ways it buried political distinctions. All major parties were internationalists.

In 2008, the underside of interdependence showed its hand. Capitalism is prone to financial crises, and one occurred in 2008. In a nationalist environment with barriers between countries – from tariffs to currencies – a financial crisis in one country has the strong potential of being moderated in other countries. The crisis of 2008 tore through the world.

The 2008 crisis clearly revealed the core weakness of the interdependent system. But the very success of interdependence had been gnawing away at the system for decades. It is true that barring serious malfunction, intensified international integration can increase economic growth on the whole. But human beings cannot make a living off economic growth “on the whole.”

It was discovered that with interdependence and integration, individual nations had lost control over their destinies. An impersonal system that seemed to be uncontrolled determined the fate of nations and their populations. It also was discovered that the idea that nations were obsolete might be true for elites, who followed capital where it went, but being Greek was very different from being German, and being Chinese was very different from being American. The nation mattered because where you lived determined how you would experience life.

What followed was an attempt by the internationalist state to suppress what it saw as parochialism, and what those who had benefited least from internationalism saw as the fabric of life.

The battle is in the first stages, but it is a battle that was inevitable. The world is vast and humanity is an abstraction. My place in the world, my town, my culture and my nation are conceptually more manageable. The core principle of liberalism is the right to national self-determination. The instruments of internationalism ... ignore the nation and the right of citizens to govern their nation.

As in all things, the issue is not simple. Internationalism has been dramatically successful in enriching the world since World War II. Its problem is ... that only part of the population has enjoyed this wealth, and there are things more fundamental than wealth such as cultural identity and differences. Internationalism is tone-deaf or hostile to cultural identity, which is its weakness.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, January 16, 2017 at 6:09 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 75 times | Comments (0)
Category Politics: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

altThe Stranger in My Genes by Bill Griffeth (New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2016)

The New England Historic Genealogical Society has been pushing its new book for quite a while, and I've mostly been ignoring it. I love the NEGHS, especially its treasure-filled library in Boston. But I mostly—perhaps wrongly—associate them with dusty old tomes, the value of which lies in the bits and pieces of genealogical information that can be gleaned from them. The Stranger in My Genes is NOT that kind of book. The NEHGS very wisely published the first chapter in their American Ancestors magazine, and I was immediately hooked.

The book I was in the middle of reading (okay, barely started) is H. D. Smyth's Atomic Energy for Military Purposes. It was a gift for my father from his parents on his 24th birthday, and currently sits on my bookshelves with his other books on the immediate post-Hiroshima period. It is also nearly 300 pages of dense technical writing, so when The Stranger in My Genes became available at our local library (I had requested that they add it to their collection), it's small wonder I jumped at the diversion.

Part genealogy, part mystery, and part cautionary tale, this soul-searching human-interest story is also beautifully-crafted. What's not to like?  Both Porter and I read it in a day. That's not to say it's short or simple; we just couldn't put it down.

I won't say much about the story itself to avoid spoiling the mystery. Author Bill Griffeth, an amateur genealogist, received a big surprise when comparing his DNA test results with his cousin's: they weren't related. Where that led is the subject of his book, and illustrates well the risks and benefits of genetic testing.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, January 13, 2017 at 3:51 pm | Edit
Permalink | Read 116 times | Comments (3)
Category Reviews: [first] [previous] [newest] Genealogy: [first] [previous]
Go to page:
1 2 3 ... 143 144 145  Next»