Supposedly—I add the qualifier because I have so little trust remaining for news stories, even from multiple sources—supposedly, Arnold Schwarzenegger said this: If you choose to march with the flag that symbolizes the slaughter of millions of people, there are not two sides to that.

I suppose we can grant him a little leeway for artistic license. It's hard to be nuanced in a sound bite. But the ignorance of history represented by such a statement is frightening. If you're going to ban flags that have overseen mass slaughter, you need to take a much more thorough view. The U.S. flag cannot be excepted. According to Dante, even the flag of peaceful, neutral Switzerland, which I proudly wear this morning, bears its share of guilt.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, August 21, 2017 at 8:01 am | Edit
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From The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien:

Works fair and wonderful, while still they endure for eyes to see, are their own record, and only when they are in peril or broken for ever do they pass into song.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, August 20, 2017 at 6:14 am | Edit
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Here's a warning for those travelling to Canada:

I was prepared for the border agent to ask if we were bringing firearms with us into Canada. I was surprised, but not unduly so, when he asked if we had any alcohol. (Oops. I neglected to tell him about the 2 ounces we had in the first aid kit.) But I was flabbergasted when he asked if we had any knives, including jackknives. It's a good thing we weren't planning a picnic. I'm also glad I had left my larger jackknife behind (prescience?). Fortunately, my Swiss Army keychain with its one-inch blade (which the TSA thinks is dangerous) was allowed to pass the border, but he did examine it thoroughly. I was shocked.

Does the Second Amendment cover knives? Not that those who wrote it would have dreamed anyone would object to a knife, which in their day even small boys carried with impunity. (Before you jump on me, I KNOW our Constitution doesn't matter in Canada. But if the Canadians are freaking out over knives, can the U.S. be far behind?)

I had expected more hassles crossing back into U.S., but it was a piece of cake. She looked at our passports, asked us where we were coming from, where we were going, and how long we had been in Canada, then wished us well.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, August 8, 2017 at 10:10 am | Edit
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The New York Times story begins like this:

There is a story in the Hebrew Bible that tells of God’s call for the annihilation of the Canaanites, a people who lived in what are now Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Israel and the Palestinian territories thousands of years ago.

“You shall not leave alive anything that breathes,” God said in the passage. “But you shall utterly destroy them.”

But a genetic analysis published on Thursday has found that the ancient population survived that divine call for their extinction, and their descendants live in modern Lebanon.

It's an interesting article. What's frustrating is the implication that there should be anything suprising about the discovery the Canaanites did not die out.

Even a cursory reading of the Old Testament shows that if there is one thing the Israelites did not do, it was wipe out the Canaanites. Some they couldn't defeat, some they deliberately let live, some they were tricked into not destroying. They intermarried freely, despite prohibitions. So if there was a point in bringing up the out-of-context quotation, it's beyond me.

However, it does give me a plot idea for a behind-the-scenes fantasy story, with angels and archangels and "all the company of heaven" working in realms humans know not of, in which it is discovered that among the Canaanites there is a genetic mutation that will lead inevitably to some future, horrific disaster. The Israelites, a small and apparently unimportant tribe, are chosen as earthly agents to be groomed and trained for the job of making sure the mutation dies out, that no trace of that particular DNA is left to be passed into the future. But they fail, and disaster is hurtling towards us....

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, August 7, 2017 at 6:17 pm | Edit
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Happy Birthday to my country-in-law!

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, August 1, 2017 at 7:29 am | Edit
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altThe Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin, 1977)

The Silmarillion had been sitting, unread, on my bookshelves for years, even decades. There's really no excuse. I've been a deeply-committed fan of Tolkien's work ever since high school, when my father's unusually prescient sister and her family gave me the Lord of the Rings trilogy one Christmas. If I had the words to explain how much those stories mean to me, I'd be a paid writer myself.

Since then I've read and loved others of Tolkien's works. The Hobbit is also one of my favorites, of course, and I have a special love for Leaf by Niggle. So why did I avoid The Silmarillion? Probably because it is a posthumous work, created by his son, Christopher Tolkien, from unpublished writings. Posthumus and unpublished works always make me nervous, because, like uncut gems, they lack the beauty and wonder that come from the artist's later efforts. I wonder, too: Would the author be pleased to see his ideas come to light after his death, or would he blush and feel his nakedness exposed?

Be that as it may, I knew I had to dust off this book when I discovered that our 13-year-old grandson had read it before me. I'm glad I did. I think Christopher Tolkien did an admirable job, and I loved learning more of the story that occurs before and around the Lord of the Rings books.

I don't recommend The Silmarillion to everyone, however. Those who have told me they just couldn't get past all the names in LOTR haven't seen anything yet. My head is still spinning. What's more, what I dislike most about the LOTR movies—the emphasis on endless battle scenes, and the lack of the amazing character development present in the books—is in full force here. The Silmarillion reads very much like The Iliad, or some of the Old Testament: lots of names, dry historical facts, and battle after battle, with just enough story to keep you going. It's a treasure trove of gems, but they're uncut, and how I wish Tolkien the elder had been able to give them the polish only he could have done.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, July 28, 2017 at 6:08 am | Edit
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— Glad I learned how to sing harmony. Thanks, Mom, for all those choruses of "Found a Peanut" in three parts when I was a kid!

— We had fun singing in the car, didn't we, sweetie? "Found a Peanut," "Make New Friends,"  "Thou Poor Bird" .... happy memories.

— Lots more than these, too ... dozens and dozens ... you would sing the harmony and I would sing the melody ... it trained my mind for hearing the parts and eventually we could switch.

This exchange between a professional backup singer friend and her choir director mother inspired me to write about a question that has been troubling me: Where do today's young children learn to sing in harmony?  They are surrounded by music (of a sort, anyway) in a way my generation never was, whether by choice on their phones or by chance in the shopping mall. But it's passive; where do they learn to sing?

Many of my elementary school classrooms had pianos. (And bless the teachers, we occasionally were allowed to fiddle on them before and after school.) Sometimes the music teacher came in and sang with us, and sometimes the teacher herself led us in singing. Later, but still in elementary school, we could choose to participate in a chorus, where we learned two- and three-part harmony. By the time we were in eighth grade, there were enough boys whose voices had changed to make that four-part.

Does that sound like a swanky private school to you?  It was actually four different public schools in a very small town in upstate New York. (Even back then districts were fond of moving students around.)

My own children had an absolutely fantastic music teacher in elementary school, and she gave them many experiences I never dreamed of. But when it comes to harmony, I had the better deal. They also had a far more amazing high school chorus experience than I did, but I'm talking about younger children: few high school students chose chorus as an option, fewer still if they had not had a great musical experience earlier on.

Our children also gained an incomparable musical education in church, thanks to a choir director who was both a great musician and a great teacher. But for congregational singing, I was much better off than children in most churches since then.

The church we attended when I was young was not, generally, an enlightening experience, and I was glad when we stopped going and I had my Sunday mornings free. But it, too, deserves a lot of credit in my musical education. We sang from the wonderful red Hymnbook published by a group of Reformed and Presbyterian denominations, a hymnbook complete with time and key signatures and four-part harmony for every hymn. Congregational singing was not as peaked in those days as it often is today, and that experience was foundational for my musical life.

Granted, I'm shy enough that I didn't feel at all secure in my singing until after many years of choir experience, and learning to improvise harmony came almost too late. I wish I'd learned more as a child. But I'm beginning to be convinced that, between school and church, I gained a better musical foundation in my tiny New York town than most children receive today.

What has been your musical experience?  Convince me that I'm wrong!

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017 at 6:38 am | Edit
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I found these adorable Ariel swim fins at Toys R Us, and couldn't resist them for our mermaid-obsessed granddaughter. They were on sale, and I thought $14 wasn't unreasonable, because—well, because I am a grandmother, I suppose.

At the same time, we needed an auto booster seat for our grandson. I found this cool seat at Walmart. The cost: $13.

A seat designed to keep a child safe costs less than a pair of child's swim fins?  More than 13% less, actually, since there was no sales tax on the car seat.

It could mean that the fins are vastly overpriced, but I prefer to think that the manufacturer and the state are conspiring to put travel safety within everyone's reach. You can spend multiple hundreds of dollars for a child's car seat—but you don't need to.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, July 23, 2017 at 2:48 pm | Edit
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More from The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien:

He that sows lies in the end shall not lack of a harvest, and soon he may rest from toil indeed while others reap and sow in his stead.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, July 21, 2017 at 5:50 am | Edit
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From The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien:

Those who will defend authority against rebellion must not themselves rebel.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, July 19, 2017 at 8:43 am | Edit
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It's time once again to give thanks for Willis Carrier, who made living in Central Florida something people might actually want to do. My grandparents, who lived two blocks from the beach on the Atlantic Coast, where there was almost always a cooling sea breeze, managed fine without air conditioning, but the center of the state is another matter altogether.

I've written before about the Carrier story: Weathermakers to the World. Today you can read a celebration of the 115th anniversary of that great invention on The Occasional CEO, the author's blog. Item #3 is my favorite:

3. I have a lot of favorite stories from Weathermakers, but this might be the best. It was on a foggy evening in 1903, on a train platform in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania ... that Willis Carrier conceived the idea that he could dry-out warm, humid air by passing it through water—specifically, fine droplets of a cold water spray. This spray could create a far larger surface area for condensate than metal pipes, and had the distinct advantages of cleaning the air of dust, and avoiding the nuisance of rusty pipes.

To this day, it's difficult to convince some people that a good way to dry air is to force it through water. 

If you happen to be in Pittsburgh and want to visit the spot of Carrier's famous insight, have a meal at the Grand Concourse Restaurant at Station Square.

That rang a bell, and I checked my records: We had done just that, back in October of 1998, when we passed through Pittsburgh as part of Janet's Grand Circle College Tour. This was also the occasion when we met Heather's friend Jon, who would later become our son-in-law. Desirous of treating the college students to a nice meal, we followed someone's suggestion and ate Sunday brunch at the Grand Concourse. At the time I had no idea of its momentous history.

I was shocked by the high prices—$20 per person—which shows how long ago 1998 really was. Or possibly the cost reflected more on the difference between Pittsburgh and Orlando, in which case I am all the more grateful to Willis Carrier for his work to make Central Florida habitable.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, July 17, 2017 at 2:08 pm | Edit
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One of my goals for the coming 12 months is to re-read Charles Williams' The Place of the Lion (the only book of his I own), plus one more of his novels. Dorothy Sayers said,

To read only one work of Charles Williams is to find oneself in the presence of a riddle—a riddle fascinating by its romantic colour, its strangeness, its hints of a rich and intricate unknown world just outside the barriers of consciousness; but to read all is to become a free citizen of that world and to find in it a penetrating and illuminating interpretation of the world we know.

I'm pretty sure I won't manage all, but I can at least get past one, which did indeed leave me totally confused the first and second times I read it.

While on amazon.com, perusing offerings such as War in Heaven, Descent into Hell, and All Hallows' Eve, I came upon this:

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I'm pretty sure I'll go with one of his more well-known works, but the title does have a certain topical attraction. In actuality, it refers to tarot cards, but why let accuracy get in the way of a joke?

In this classic tale of spirituality, morality, and the occult, a dark plot to murder an unsuspecting Englishman who possesses the world’s rarest tarot deck unleashes uncontrollable elemental forces.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, July 16, 2017 at 6:00 pm | Edit
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Words of wisdom for parents—and children—from S. D. Smith, author of the beautiful Green Ember series. (My reviews are here: The Green Ember and The Black Star of Kingston; and here: Ember Falls.)

Your family is the most potent art you'll ever be a part of creating.

(With humble gratitude to our children and their families for art that makes my heart sing.)

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, July 14, 2017 at 7:14 am | Edit
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altBrain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan (Simon & Schuster, 2012)

I enjoy reading medical stories, but they carry a risk: it's all too easy for me to look over my shoulder and imagine the patient's symptoms creeping up on me. It's a good thing that anti-NMDA-receptor autoimmune encephalitis is primarily a young person's disease.

This rare and bizarre condition looks for all the world like a severe psychiatric disorder, but occurs when something provokes a person's immune system to attack his brain. What, why, and how are still unknown, but it's usually curable, if caught and treated—a very expensive process—in time. Susannah Cahalan was the 217th person to be diagnosed with this disease, and if she had not been in the right place at the right time, would probably have been committed to a mental hospital for the rest of her shortened life. If she had had his strength, she could easily have played the part of the Gadareme demoniac.

Thanks mostly to being at a great hospital (NYU), and ending up (after several false starts) with just the right doctors, Cahalan made a full recovery. But while anti-NMDA-receptor autoimmune encephalitis and similar brain disorders are now much more likely to be caught than they were in 2009 when Cahalan fell ill, this is still a cautionary tale of the importance of second (or third or fourth) opinions, and of searching for physical causes for abnormal mental conditions. Autism and schizophrenia are just two of the diagnoses that are sometimes erroneously given to patients with these autoimmune disorders. Unfortunately, the specialized tests needed for proper diagnosis are currently too invasive and too expensive to be used routinely.

Brain on Fire is a gripping, well-written, and important book—even if, once again, I found myself regretting the demise of the censor's blue pencil.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, July 11, 2017 at 5:24 am | Edit
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A long, long time ago, in a world even my siblings don't remember,  my Girl Scout leader taught us this little song, always sung as a round: 

Make new friends, but keep the old;
One is silver, and the other gold.

Since my time, additional words have been added, definitely not an improvement. I do hope today's Girl Scouts aren't learning it this way; the skin of my mind crawls just reading it. The original two lines are profound and pithy; the addition, simply ... well, here's a verse for you to judge:

Silver is precious, 
Gold is too.
I am precious,
And so are you.

Take that, Gollum.

Which brings me around to the point of this post.

Books are my friends. New books can be silver, but there's true gold in wonderful old books read again and again.

I haven't read The Hobbit since 2014, and I was shocked to discover that the last time I read The Lord of the Rings books was at the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011. Incredible. My other Tolkien reading goes back to before I started keeping track! As part of my next edition (not yet established) of the 95 by 65 project, I'm including a Tolkien spree, beginning with The Hobbit.

That's where I found these words of wisdom from Gandalf, perfect for those of us who waste valuable sleeping hours fretting about the future.

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Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, July 10, 2017 at 10:06 am | Edit
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