No, not our government, though part of me thinks it might not be such a bad idea. A Québécois lawer is suing the provincial government over their draconian lockdown restrictions.

As you can see, I'm not yet tired of Viva Frei's glimpse into Canadian politics and American politics from the viewpoint of a Canadian lawyer. Plus, I'm still tickled that I can actually find legal language and legal procedings to be interesting.

Even in French.  I do appreciate the translations, but even more the chance to exercise my minimal knowledge of that language.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, January 21, 2021 at 10:15 am | Edit
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I enter this new year feeling unsettled and, I must admit, somewhat fearful. The best I can offer you on this day (but it is good!) is one of the most inspiring songs I know for uncertain, difficult times. The inspiration comes as much from knowing the author's situation as from the song itself. "Von guten Mächten" is based on a poem by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, written to his family as a Christmas greeting from prison, not long before his execution by the Nazis.

There are several settings of Bonhoeffer's text, as well as a few textual variations and of course differences in translation. Below is a popular version that I find incredibly moving. The first is sung by the composer and is beautiful in its simplicity. Best of all it includes English subtitles, at least if your YouTube settings are correct.

The second has no subtitles, but is an absolutely gorgeous orchestral version.

Enjoy, and take hope. Gott ist mit uns am Abend und am Morgen und ganz gewiß an jedem neuen Tag.

Here is the full German text, followed by what Google Translate has to say about it. Don't miss the additional verses.

Von guten Mächten treu und still umgeben,
behütet und getröstet wunderbar,
so will ich diese Tage mit euch leben
und mit euch gehen in ein neues Jahr.

Noch will das alte unsre Herzen quälen,
noch drückt uns böser Tage schwere Last.
Ach Herr, gib unsern aufgeschreckten Seelen
das Heil, für das du uns geschaffen hast.

Und reichst du uns den schweren Kelch, den bittern
des Leids, gefüllt bis an den höchsten Rand,
so nehmen wir ihn dankbar ohne Zittern
aus deiner guten und geliebten Hand.

Doch willst du uns noch einmal Freude schenken
an dieser Welt und ihrer Sonne Glanz,
dann wolln wir des Vergangenen gedenken,
und dann gehört dir unser Leben ganz.

Laß warm und hell die Kerzen heute flammen,
die du in unsre Dunkelheit gebracht,
führ, wenn es sein kann, wieder uns zusammen.
Wir wissen es, dein Licht scheint in der Nacht.

Wenn sich die Stille nun tief um uns breitet,
so laß uns hören jenen vollen Klang
der Welt, die unsichtbar sich um uns weitet,
all deiner Kinder hohen Lobgesang.

Von guten Mächten wunderbar geborgen,
erwarten wir getrost, was kommen mag.
Gott ist bei uns am Abend und am Morgen
und ganz gewiß an jedem neuen Tag.

 

Faithfully and quietly surrounded by good powers,
wonderfully protected and comforted,
so I want to live with you these days
and go with you into a new year.

The old one still wants to torment our hearts
We are still burdened by bad days.
Oh Lord, give to our frightened souls
the salvation for which you made us.

And you hand us the heavy goblet, which is bitter
of sorrow filled to the top,
so we gratefully accept it without trembling
from your good and beloved hand.

But do you want to give us joy again
in this world and its sunshine,
then we want to remember the past,
and then you own our life entirely.

Let the candles burn warm and bright today,
that you brought into our darkness
bring us together again if you can.
We know that your light shines in the night.

When the silence now spreads deep around us
so let us hear that full sound
the world that invisibly expands around us,
all your children high praise.

By gracious powers so wonderfully sheltered,
we expect confidently what may come.
God is with us in the evening and in the morning
and certainly every new day.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, January 20, 2021 at 12:06 pm | Edit
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Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, January 19, 2021 at 8:17 am | Edit
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For the record, I decided to stop using my Fitbit at least a week before they announced the sell-out to Google.

First, it started acting erratically. Twice I thought I had lost it forever, which happened because I grew tired of wearing it on my wrist, and began keeping it in my pocket or purse. But each time, I managed to find it again, and what's more it started working better. However, the die was cast. Having had to face the prospect of no longer having my Fitbit, I decided that after two and a half years I'd already gained about as much as I was going to, in the form of new habits and awareness. Continued use had become more annoying than helpful.

Thus last Thursday, when I received an e-mail from them with the subject line, "Fitbit Joins Google," I knew I had made the right decision. See my recent post, "Big Tech, Big Brother."

It's only one small step. Google, Facebook, and Microsoft still own far too much of my life. As always, the goal is to minimize the damage without totally cutting off the benefits. How long can I ride the wave without drowning?

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, January 18, 2021 at 6:18 am | Edit
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Never have I been so close to wanting to acquire a gun ... and a dog.

Just kidding. Mostly. If you know me, you are well aware that I try to stay away from both dogs and guns, though I fully support the right of others to enjoy either or both. But just so you know that our good neighbors to the north aren't any less inclined than we are to throw personal liberties under the bus, if an ordinary Québécois wishes to leave the confines of his house during the hours of 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., he'd better have a dog with him. And maybe a gun, too, since the night has now been turned over to those whose activities involve both darkness and a built-in willingness to break the law.

It's meant to be funny. Sort of. This guy understands that humor can say what anger cannot. Plus it's very good for diffusing tensions, as well as for one's own mental health.

The funniest line is in the comments, however. Set aside the obvious objections, including the fact that North America technically comprises many more countries than Canada, the United States, and Mexico, and just enjoy the irony: Who would have ever thought that the best-governed country in North America would be Mexico?

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, January 15, 2021 at 8:22 am | Edit
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I've never liked Apple. No, that's not true. A very long time ago, in a small room at the University of Rochester's Goler House, we were treated by Byte magazine editor Carl Helmers to a preview of the "Apple 1" computer. As I recall it was a prototype, not much more than a circuit board attached to a cassette tape recorder. We were blown away and walked out of that room with a strong desire to invest. Alas, that was not possible. When Apple finally went public, it was already popular and far too late to get in on the ground level.

That meeting was the last time I liked Apple: I've since been turned off by their "our way or the highway" attitude and what I considered to be strong-arm tactics. I miss the early days of personal computing, where there was lots of competition. It wasn't long, however, before Microsoft became Apple's only reasonable competitor, and started using strong-arm tactics of its own.1

To take just one example: WordPerfect had long been my word processor of choice—indeed, it was the first to have that name, rather than "text editor," and I was thrilled. That's when the writer in me really began to take off. I had no reason to leave it, except that Microsoft's Word took over the world, and I adjusted to the switch. I still like most of Microsoft Office, though I've seen no reason to advance beyond the 2010 version. But eventually I tired of putting all my eggs in one basket, especially since Microsoft was moving to a subscription form of Office, which I had no intention of buying into.

So what did I do? I began the process of moving most of my work to Google Docs and Google Sheets. If they didn't have everything I liked about the Microsoft versions, they were good enough. And it was handy to have everything accessible and shareable online.

Ah, but it is Google. The little underdog I had enthusiastically supported last century has become a monolith. The wild-and-crazy upstart has become The Man. I'd had warnings before that it was not what it appeared to be, thanks to some inside information from a friend of a Google employee. But it was when they took over YouTube that I really started to dislike Google. Not for any particular reason, but simply because it gave them still more power.

Once upon a time there were many social media platforms. Now Facebook, Twitter, and Google (through YouTube) control and define the world. I've never been all that upset about what they call Big Data. It's mostly seemed about advertising, and I'm fairly resistent to that. But now it's beginning to feel more sinister, and I realize that with the kind of power that amount of data confers, there's a lot more at stake than my puny purchasing power.

Short of physical superiority (think being on the wrong end of a gun barrel) or spiritual authority (think being on the wrong side of someone you believe has the power to condemn you to hell), is there any more dangerous display of raw power than the control of information? Is there anything more dangerous to those in power than free access to information? Ask the Catholic Church what the printing press did for Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation. Ask our Founding Fathers how the written word fueled the American Revolution. Consider the effect of Twitter and cell phones on the Arab Spring. Now, in the Information Age, it is more true than ever that Knowledge is Power. And he who controls the availability of knowledge controls us all.

I know there must be limits to First Amendment freedom of speech. The classic example is that we are not free to shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater. I personally think "freedom of speech" is severely degraded when it is used to justify cross-burning, flag-burning, and obscene and/or hateful art and literature, though there's a long history of acceptance of that argument. What is arising now, however, is something much bigger and much more dangerous: suppression of reasoned, rational political speech, with the Powers that Be setting themselves up not only as the arbiters of what thoughts are allowed to be expressed, but specifically of what is truth. Whether these Powers are a repressive government, a monopolistic educational system, media outlets that conflate fact and editorial opinion, or an oligarchy of information technology companies, we've moved into the Red Alert zone.

It takes a certain amount of courage to give people the power to sift through competing ideas and make up their own minds about an issue, but it is the price of freedom.

David Freiheit is my new favorite Canadian lawyer.2 He makes legal issues more understandable; I love hearing a Canadian perspective, especially on American politics; and he's usually calm and reasonable. I like what he has to say about this issue in the following video. Start around 4:10.

If you give them the reaction [they are trying to provoke], all that you do is play exactly into ... their hand, and you in fact further aid them in the pursuance of their ultimate objective. There are ways to usefully protest and to usefully object, and there are ways to counter-productively object and counter-productively protest, and if one succumbs to the counter-productive methods of protest, not only are they going to be further from achieving their own goal, they're actually going to assist their adversary in achieving their goal. And that is something that too few people truly appreciate, is that it's not a question of rolling over and accepting the unacceptable; it's a question of fighting it in a useful manner that does not actually compromise your goals and further the goals that you don't agree with in the first place.

It's not a slippery slope; it's a free-fall.

Freiheit records his videos in some unusual places. In this one, he's ice fishing, and I kept getting distracted by the thought, "Aren't his hands freezing?"

 


1There are those who will insist that Linux remains a viable, independent choice. But practically speaking, for most of us, it's too technical to bother with.

2I recommend many of Freiheit's videos, but as with most online forums, from YouTube to our local newspaper, I recommend avoiding the comments. Anywhere there are unmoderated comments, the crazies will come out.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, January 12, 2021 at 5:41 am | Edit
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Remember what I said in my recent review of Nineteen Eighty-Four?

Most of the analyses I read online consider the climax of the book to be where Winston Smith and Julia betray each other. It seems clear to me, however, that the true climax occurs much earlier in the book, when they believe they are joining the Brotherhood, an organization dedicated to opposing the ruling Party.

"In general terms, what are you prepared to do?"
"Anything that we are capable of," said Winston.
O'Brien had turned himself a little in his chair so that he was facing Winston. He almost ignored Julia, seeming to take it for granted that Winston could speak for her. For a moment the lids flitted down over his eyes. He began asking his questions in a low, expressionless voice, as though this were a routine, a sort of catechism, most of whose answers were known to him already.
"Yes."
"You are prepared to commit murder?"
"Yes."
"To commit acts of sabotage which may cause the death of hundreds of innocent people?"
"Yes."
"To betray your country to foreign powers?"
"Yes."
"You are prepared to cheat, to forge, to blackmail, to corrupt the minds of children, to distribute habit-forming drugs, to encourage prostitution, to disseminate venereal diseases—to do anything which is likely to cause demoralization and weaken the power of the Party?"
"Yes."
"If, for example, it would somehow serve our interests to throw sulphuric acid in a child's face—are you prepared to do that?"
"Yes."

At that point any hope for the future is lost, those opposing evil having shown themselves to be no better than their opponents. Everything after that is dénouement.

That.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, January 10, 2021 at 7:57 am | Edit
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After about 40 minutes each Thursday morning (and much earlier work by Porter), we're signed up to get the Moderna vaccine next week.

Aren't I worried about getting a new type of vaccine that was rushed into production and has had no long-term testing?

Of course I am. I'd be a fool not to be. I look at the people who treat getting vaccinated as some sort of essential religious rite and wonder how they can be so naïve. These are people who otherwise seem sensible and rational. But vaccines are not safe. That's "not safe" as in "some people are going to have adverse reactions, some of them horrific, and some people are going to die." "Not safe" as in "it's not safe to drive your car to work." As in "it's not safe to jog past a tree because a branch might fall down and kill you." (That one happened here in Central Florida not that long ago.)

We don't get vaccines because they're safe. We get them because we have determined that they are better than the alternative, and we hope they are safe enough. "Better" may be defined as "safer"—or it may involve other criteria as well, such as "I don't need this pertussis vaccine for myself, but I'm planning to visit my newborn grandson, so I'll get it for his sake." In any case, we decide to continue jogging, and hope that we will not be the unlucky one passing under the wrong tree at the wrong time.

However, no one should make that decision for you. Pressure—let along compulsion—either way is wrong.  I'm not out-and-out pro-vaccine, and I'm not out-and-out anti-vaccine.  I'm pro-common sense.

I'm fully aware that this vaccine may later be pulled from the market because of some adverse effect or another. I've seen that happen enough times in my lifetime to think otherwise. So why am I taking it? Because I have looked at the risk/benefit analysis and concluded it's worth it. I've participated in a vaccine trial before (Haemophilus influenzae b) with no problems. As a medical center employee, I took the swine flu vaccine back in 1976—the last time the U.S. government felt pressured to prevent "the worst epidemic since 1918"—despite its apparent link to Guillain-Barré Syndrome. I've subjected my body to numerous travel-related vaccines (such as typhoid and yellow fever). I've had the old-style pertussis vaccine and also the new one. I've had both the Salk and the Sabin polio vaccines. I've even been vaccinated for smallpox. In all this, I've never had an adverse vaccine reaction. (I don't count getting miserably sick for a day after each of my first two typhoid vaccines; that was considered par for the course and left no lasting damage.)

I'm not reckless in grabbing any new vaccine that comes around. For years I skipped the hepatitis b vaccine because, as my doctor said, my risk factors were so low it wasn't worth it. (But when we started travelling to more countries with less robust medical infrastructure, he and I both agreed it was then time to take that one.) Our kids never got the smallpox vaccine that was essential in my early days, because the risks from the vaccine are currently greater than the possibility of getting exposed to the disease.  I never had nor ever intend to get the measles, rubella, or chicken pox vaccines—for the very good reason that I already have a better immunity than vaccines can give, having had those diseases in my childhood. But since my body seems to be pretty good at handling vaccines, I'm willing to give this new one a chance.

So much for the risks. I figure I'm probably in more danger driving to and from the vaccination site than from the vaccine itself.

And the benefits? Partly they're for me, and partly for others. I figure the quicker we develop herd immunity as a society, the sooner we can shed our masks and go back to hugging and travelling and living. I trust that if I develop an immunity to COVID-19, I won't pass the virus on to someone else. I hope I'll also be pushing us forward along the path to re-opening state and international borders. Whether you believe all the shutdowns and quarantines were necessary actions or foolish, I think we can agree that keeping grandparents away from their grandchildren, and letting people die shut away and alone, are very bad ideas. Inhumane ideas. If I can contribute to ending this oppression, I want to do my part.

I'd rather not have worked so hard to get our appointments. Maybe there's someone who needs this vaccine more. But Florida seems to be doing a good job of making the vaccines available—I know other states that haven't even begun to offer them—so we might as well get the thing done while we're still considered high priority (over 65).

At least we didn't have to make the decision about which vaccine to get; we "chose" the Moderna vaccine simply because that's what was first available to us. Personally, I leaned toward the Oxford, simply because of this meme:

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are both effective, protective and safe.

But the Oxford one seems to be effective, protective, and safe.

Stay tuned for more of our vaccine experiences as they happen.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, January 9, 2021 at 11:39 am | Edit
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I'm hiding the images in this post behind the "More" link because they can cause serious problems for some people. Really.

Trypophobia isn't an officially recognized problem; even the name was coined by a layman. That's the primary reason I'm writing this article: I'm tired of reading online that it's a made-up condition, mass hysteria spread via the Internet.

Because I have had a variant of this condition for as long as I can remember.

My first conscious memory of my odd reaction to some images goes back to seeing a certain pattern of mushrooms on a woodland hike, sometime in early childhood. It was only very recently that some random Internet reading revealed that my experience was not unique.

Trypophobia, according to Wikipedia, "is an aversion to the sight of irregular patterns or clusters of small holes or bumps." Weird, I know. Apparently it's not uncommon, possibly affecting some sixteen percent of the population. But not much is known about the condition, and scientists, even those who are convinced it is real, are still arguing about whether the reaction is one of fear or of disgust, whether it evokes a response from the sympathetic or parasympathetic nervous system, and whether the root cause is evolutionary or something else.

My favorite, more precise, definition of trypophobia is "an intense and disproportionate fear towards holes, repetitive patterns, protrusions, etc., and, in general, images that present high-contrast energy at low and midrange spatial frequencies." That high-contrast energy at midrange frequencies will get you every time. It certainly makes more sense to me than the theories that trypophobia evolved from a fear of snakes or a disgust toward skin diseases.

In fact, I think they are barking up the wrong trees with their emphasis on fear and disgust reactions. In me, at least, the reaction includes elements of both, but also more. I can feel both my sympathetic and my parasympathetic systems kicking in. If I had to give it a one-word label, I think that would be "awe," or maybe "fascination." I seem to feel heightened awareness in every cell of my body. I had the same reaction when I looked up at the Brazilian night sky and saw familiar Orion—but upside down! And again, when snorkeling in crystal-clear water and floating over a steep drop-off in the land, looking down, down, down into unfathomable depths. Perhaps you know what it's like to feel "weak in the knees" when seeing someone perched precariously in a high place, or when reading about some particularly harrowing situation. That's what I feel—only it's not limited to my knees. There are elements of fear there, but much, much more.

For a long time I simply looked away from what are now called trypophobic images, but at some point I decided not to let them "win." I started staring them down, recognizing my physical reactions and learning—not to control, but to handle them, as a surfer rides a wave. I didn't encounter them all that often, anyway. I was still curious as to what in my nature or nurture could have caused such a situation, but hardly ever gave it a thought.

Enter the Internet. Having discovered a name for my condition, I naturally took to research. It was fascinating. There's a lot out there and I don't particularly recommend reading it. I found natural images I'd never seen before, like the lotus seed pod, that clearly and immediately set off the reaction. I found images that supposedly induced the reaction in others that had no effect on me. I found a whole slew of artificial images where trypophobia-inducing patterns were photoshopped onto human skin—and for the first time understood the "disgust" reaction. I tried to find references to something like my own neither-fear-nor-disgust reaction, but didn't go too far there. Just take my word for it that you do not want to google "trypophilia."

Finally, I stopped. This post is my official summing up and closing of the door on that research. Oh, the subject is still fascinating. Especially the pictures. But all that staring at trypophobic images is not healthy, I have concluded. The frequent over-stimulation of both my sympathetic and my parasympathetic nervous systems cannot be good. An occasional thrill ride is fun, but there's such a thing as roller-coaster overdose. Plus, even though I know that some use "exposure therapy" to lessen their responses to trypophobic triggers, I've discovered that all my recent exposure has made me notice them more than ever.

I know what it is to live with hypersensitivities. Noise levels that other people don't mind are painful to me. (I maintain they've mostly gone deaf from listening to too much loud music, but maybe it's just me.) I can detect levels of certain odors that no one else can (though I'm also "blind" to some that others can sense). I'm more sensitive than most to clothing discomfort. I suppose trypophobia is just another hypersensitivity—to that infamous "high-contrast energy at low and midrange spatial frequencies"!

For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, below are some images that I react to. I'm curious, of course, if anyone else has the experience, but don't actually recommend that you look at them.... (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, January 6, 2021 at 12:31 pm | Edit
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It's time for my annual compilation of books read during the past year.

  • Total books: 85
  • Fiction: 57
  • Non-fiction: 28
  • Month with most books: February (15)
  • Month with fewest books: December (1; not surprising, with the Stücklins visiting for a very active month)
  • Most frequent authors: Arthur Ransome (14), C. S. Lewis (11), S. D. Smith (11), Tony Hillerman (10). Ransome scored so high because of my habit of periodically re-reading good books—it was his turn. This year concluded my C. S. Lewis retrospective. Smith came out with two new books this year and I like to re-read the series before indulging in the latest. Hillerman is a prolific author whose prominence was the result of my introduction to his work via a Christmas gift from last year.

Here's the alphabetical list; links are to reviews. The different colors only reflect whether or not you've followed a hyperlink. This chronological list has ratings and warnings as well.

  1. The Alto Wore Tweed by Mark Schweizer
  2. The Archer's Cup by S. D. Smith
  3. The Art of Construction by Mario Salvadori
  4. The Bible (Revised Standard Version)
  5. The Big Six by Arthur Ransome
  6. The Biggest Lie in the History of Christianity by Matthew Kelly
  7. The Black Star of Kingston by S. D. Smith
  8. The Blessing Way by Tony Hillerman
  9. The Books of the Apocrypha (Revised Standard Version)
  10. Brother Cadfael's Penance (Brother Cadfael #20) by Ellis Peters
  11. C. S. Lewis: A Companion and Guide by Walter Hooper
  12. The Child's Book of the Seasons by Arthur Ransome
  13. Christian Reflections by C. S. Lewis
  14. Coot Club by Arthur Ransome
  15. Coots in the North and Other Stories by Arthur Ransome
  16. Dance Hall of the Dead by Tony Hillerman
  17. Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
  18. The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature by C. S. Lewis, edited by Walter Hooper
  19. Ember Falls by S. D. Smith
  20. Ember Rising by S. D. Smith (March)
  21. Ember Rising by S. D. Smith (November)
  22. Ember's End by S. D. Smith (March)
  23. Ember's End by S. D. Smith (November)
  24. An Experiment in Criticism by C. S. Lewis
  25. The Fallen Man by Tony Hillerman
  26. The First Eagle by Tony Hillerman
  27. The First Fowler by S. D. Smith
  28. The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew by Margaret Sidney
  29. The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis
  30. G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis: The Riddle of Joy by edited by Michael H. Macdonald and Andrew A. Tadie
  31. Gertie's Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley
  32. God in the Dock by C. S. Lewis
  33. Great Northern? by Arthur Ransome
  34. The Green Ember by S. D. Smith
  35. A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis
  36. The Heretic's Apprentice (Brother Cadfael #16) by Ellis Peters
  37. The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
  38. The Holy Thief (Brother Cadfael #19) by Ellis Peters
  39. Killing Jesus by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard
  40. Killing Kennedy by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard
  41. Killing Reagan by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard
  42. The Last Archer by S. D. Smith
  43. Lead Yourself First by Raymond M. Kethledge and Michael S. Erwin
  44. Legion by Brandon Sanderson
  45. Legion: Skin Deep by Brandon Sanderson
  46. Letters to an American Lady by C. S. Lewis, edited by Clyde S. Kilby
  47. Letters to Children by C. S. Lewis
  48. Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer by C. S. Lewis
  49. Lies of the Beholder by Brandon Sanderson
  50. Listening Woman by Tony Hillerman
  51. Lord Darcy Investigates by Randall Garrett
  52. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien
  53. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien
  54. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien
  55. The Lost Family by Libby Copeland
  56. Missee Lee by Arthur Ransome
  57. Murder and Magic by Randall Garrett
  58. The New Testament (English Standard Version)
  59. Nineteen Eighty-Four: A Novel by George Orwell
  60. Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories by C. S. Lewis
  61. The Omega Document by J. Alexander McKenzie
  62. Peter Duck by Arthur Ransome
  63. The Picts and the Martyrs by Arthur Ransome
  64. Pigeon Post by Arthur Ransome
  65. The Potter's Field (Brother Cadfael #17) by Ellis Peters
  66. The Psalter by Coverdale translation
  67. The Quotable Lewis edited by Wayne Martindale and Jerry Root
  68. Secret Water by Arthur Ransome
  69. The Shape Shifter by Tony Hillerman
  70. The Sinister Pig by Tony Hillerman
  71. Skinwalkers by Tony Hillerman
  72. Starman Jones by Robert Heinlein
  73. Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein
  74. The Summer of the Danes (Brother Cadfael #18) by Ellis Peters
  75. Surprised Laughter: The Comic World of C. S. Lewis by Terry Lindvall
  76. Swallowdale by Arthur Ransome
  77. Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
  78. Talking God by Tony Hillerman
  79. A Thief of Time by Tony Hillerman
  80. Too Many Magicians by Randall Garrett
  81. We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea by Arthur Ransome
  82. Winter Holiday by Arthur Ransome
  83. The World's Last Night and other Essays by C. S. Lewis
  84. The Wreck and Rise of Whitson Mariner by S. D. Smith
  85. Your Blue Flame: Drop the Guilt and Do What Makes You Come Alive by Jennifer Fulwiler
Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, January 3, 2021 at 8:42 am | Edit
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I admit to being a big fan of Vitamin D and the role it plays in our health—especially when it comes from natural sources, such as the interaction of sunshine and our skin. (See previous posts Hold That Sunscreen!; Vitamin D; and Sunshine, Vitamin D, and Why I'm Skeptical of the Medical Establishment's Confidence in Its Broad Pronouncements.) Regular readers will not be surprised that I managed to find time, despite the busiest December we've had in recent memory, to listen to the entire hour of the following MedCram interview, which discusses the possible correlation between high levels of vitamin D in the blood and favorable COVID-19 outcomes.

Despite the length—or perhaps because of it—it is my kind of informative interview. it is full of enough charts, graphs, and data to make your head spin, and even more importantly of the kind of phrasing I'm accustomed to in scientific discussions, and which I've found so sorely lacking in scientific pronouncements these days. Words like, "we don't know for sure," "correlation does not prove causation," and "this study shows X, and suggests but does not prove Y."

Despite the hedging—or again maybe because if it—this information strongly encourages me to resume my former habit of taking a daily "sun walk" for at least 15 minutes of sun exposure on as much skin as I can reasonable turn to the sun. It's easier to do that here in Florida where the sun is more direct and short sleeves usually the order of the day, so it's good to know that this interview suggests that vitamin D supplements are also effective. I still prefer the sun/skin partnership, which produces helpful nitric oxide as well as vitamin D, but we take what we can get. I'm sure I'd be better off if I liked sardines as well.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, December 31, 2020 at 10:14 am | Edit
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As a young child, I received an allowance of 25 cents a week. (A quarter was worth a lot more 'way back then.) From that I was expected to allocate some to spend as I pleased, some for the offering at church, and some to be saved into my small account at the bank. That was the beginning. My family had a culture of saving, as well as giving and spending. Saving was for the future—for larger-ticket items, and for unknown future needs.

Part of the excellent advice I received from my father as I was establishing my own household was to set up a regular savings plan, not only for future purchases but to ensure that I could handle at least a six-month period of unemployment—preferably a full year. Of course it took some time to save that much money when I had all the expenses of newly-independent living to meet, but by making it a priority I soon had a comfortable cushion against unexpected expenses.

Fortunately, I married a man with similar views, which were not uncommon among those of us whose parents had lived through the Depression days. For a number of years we were blessed with two incomes, but made a point of keeping our standard of living low enough that we could live on one and save the other. This stood us in very good stead when disaster hit the American information technology industry, and so many IT workers lost their jobs because the work was transferred to India and other places overseas.

But somewhere along the line the culture of saving was largely lost. Once considered a virtue, saving is now called "hoarding" and held in contempt. It seems to be considered a patriotic duty to spend all one's money—and more. (If true, we have been bleeding red, white, and blue during this pandemic.) However, the ugly consequences of this attitude are nowhere more apparent than in the large numbers of families facing financial disaster due to pandemic-related job loss. So many people have gone in the blink of an eye from enjoying comfortable incomes to standing in bread lines. If they had been encouraged to follow my father's advice and maintain a savings cushion of a year's salary, they would likely have been able to weather this storm with ease. But no one—not the government, not the media, not the schools, not our consumerist society, and apparently far too few parents—has been passing on this essential lesson.

I hope it won't take another Great Depression to recover our lost wisdom.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, December 30, 2020 at 8:09 am | Edit
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Category Hurricanes and Such: [first] [previous] [next] [newest] Children & Family Issues: [first] [previous] Random Musings: [first] [previous] [newest]

Mister Rogers' Neighborhood was pretty much the only children's television program seen in our house when our children were growing up. Not regularly, but occasionally, and we had several on videotape that were watched many times over. Unrelated, but interesting, is the fact that our children performed at least once in the Fred Rogers room at Rollins College, and one of them attended college in Pittsburgh and met Mister Rogers himself.

Fred Roger's legacy is enduring, and his calm, gentle, positive shows are even now being rediscovered by yet another, supposedly worldly-wise and jaded generation.

Yet I have to ask: What happens when the children grow up?

Suddenly their world is filled with people who do not like them "just the way they are"—angry, judgemental people who are quick to find fault, to mock, to sneer, and to revile. Suddenly how they look, how they think, what they believe, and how they vote sets them up as targets. Love and safety have disappeared. Mistakes are no longer seen as acceptible learning opportunities Even their Neighborhood of Make-Believe has turned dark, tragic, and frightening.

Grownups need Mister Rogers' Neighborhoods, too.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, December 29, 2020 at 8:18 am | Edit
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We're nearing the end of the year, and I've been (very pleasantly) inundated with more important ways to use my time than writing blogs posts (more on that later). That's not to say writing isn't important to me; indeed, I find it essential for my mental health. However, to everything there is a season, and this season is writing-limited. So it seems like a good time to some end-of-the-year decluttering of my collection of random ideas that can be dealt with relatively quickly. Here's one, a six-minute video by the remarkable Larry Elder that expresses well my own personal impressions of the effect of President Lyndon Johnson's "War on Poverty" (plus several other social factors), as well as what I learned during high school from Mr. Jim Balk, the most remarkable history teacher I ever had.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, December 28, 2020 at 10:11 am | Edit
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altNineteen Eighty-Four: A Novel by George Orwell (1949)

A friend of mine recently observed, "I re-read 1984 a few weeks ago. The first time I read it in high school, I thought it was good science fiction. Now it reads like a documentary."

So I decided re-read it myself. In high school I read both Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World, and about all I remember is how much I disliked them both. I am a purist for science fiction. By that I mean not fantasy, and not merely stories set in the future, but stories in which plausible future science plays a more important role than social commentary—think Isaac Asimov and early Robert Heinlein. Thus I wouldn't have called either of the above books science fiction. I personally wouldn't call them good, either. But I thought it was worth another try.

I stand by my original assessment of Nineteen Eighty-Four, though I will acknowledge that Orwell was remarkably prescient in many areas. I know what my friend meant when he said it sounds like a documentary. Just as interesting were the places he got wrong. For example, he completely missed the sexual revolution of the 1960's. He also missed computers, the Internet, social media, and the Information Age—but television served his purposes well enough for "Big Brother is Watching You."

Curiously, I found that most of the analyses I read online consider the climax of the book to be where Winston Smith and Julia betray each other. It seems clear to me, however, that the true climax occurs much earlier in the book, when they believe they are joining the Brotherhood, an organization dedicated to opposing the ruling Party.

 "In general terms, what are you prepared to do?"
 "Anything that we are capable of," said Winston.
 O'Brien had turned himself a little in his chair so that he was facing Winston. He almost ignored Julia, seeming to take it for granted that Winston could speak for her. For a moment the lids flitted down over his eyes. He began asking his questions in a low, expressionless voice, as though this were a routine, a sort of catechism, most of whose answers were known to him already.
 "You are prepared to give your lives?"
 "Yes."
 "You are prepared to commit murder?"
 "Yes."
 "To commit acts of sabotage which may cause the death of hundreds of innocent people?"
 "Yes."
 "To betray your country to foreign powers?"
 "Yes."
 "You are prepared to cheat, to forge, to blackmail, to corrupt the minds of children, to distribute habit-forming drugs, to encourage prostitution, to disseminate venereal diseases—to do anything which is likely to cause demoralization and weaken the power of the Party?"
 "Yes."
 "If, for example, it would somehow serve our interests to throw sulphuric acid in a child's face—are you prepared to do that?"
 "Yes."

At that point any hope for the future is lost, those opposing evil having shown themselves to be no better than their opponents. Everything after that is dénouement.

Here are a few more quotes I found interesting.

Nearly all children nowadays were horrible. What was worst of all was that by means of such organizations as the Spies they were systematically turned into ungovernable little savages, and yet this produced in them no tendency whatever to rebel against the dsicipline of the Party. ... It was almost normal for people over thirty to be frightened of their own children. And with good reason, for hardly a week passed in which "The Times" did not carry a paragraph describing how some eavesdropping little sneak—"child hero" was the phrase generally used—had overheard some compromising remark and denounced its parents to the Thought Police.

If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say of this or that event, IT NEVER HAPPENED—that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death?

As soon as all the corrections which happened to be necessary in any particular number of "The Times" had been assembled and collated, that number would be reprinted, the original copy destroyed, and the corrected copy placed on the files in its stead. ... Day by day and almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date. ... All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary.

There was a whole chain of separate departments dealing with proletarian literature, music, drama, and entertainment generally. Here were produced rubishy newspapers containing almost nothing except sport, crime and astrology, sensational five-cent novelettes, films oozing with sex, and sentimental songs which were composed entirely by mechanical means.

"The proles are not human beings," he said carelessly. "By 2050—earlier, probably—all real knowledge of Oldspeak will have disappeared. The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron—they'll exist only in Newspeak versions, not merely changed into something different, but actually changed into something contradictory of what they used to be."

It was assumed that when he was not working, eating, or sleeping he would be taking part in some kind of communal recreation: to do anything that suggested a taste for solitude, even to go for a walk by yourself, was always slightly dangerous.

What kind of people would control this world had been ... obvious. The new aristocracy was made up for the most part of bureaucrats, scientists, technicians, trade-union organizers, publicity experts, sociologists, teachers, journalists, and professional politicians. These people ... had been shaped and brought together by the barren world of monopoly industry and centralized government. As compared with their opposite numbers in past ages, they were less avaricious, less tempted by luxury, hungrier for pure power, and, above all, more conscious of what they were doing and more intent on crushing opposition.

Even the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages was tolerant by modern standards. Part of the reason for this was that in the past no government had the power to keep its citizens under constant surveillance. The invention of print, however, made it easier to manipulate public opinion, and the film and the radio carried the process further. With the development of television, and the technical advance which made it possible to receive and transmit simultaneously on the same instrument, private life came to an end. ... The possibility of enforcing not only complete obedience to the will of the State, but complete uniformity of opinion on all subjects, now existed for the first time.

What opinions the masses hold, or do not hold, is looked on as a matter of indifference. They can be granted intellectual liberty because they have no intellect. In a Party member, on the other hand, not even the smallest deviation of opinion on the most unimportant subject can be tolerated.

[The vocabulary of Newspeak] was so constructed as to give exact and often very subtle expression to every meaning that a Party member would properly wish to express, while excluding all other meanings and also the possibility of arriving at them by indirect methods. This was done partly by the invention of new words, but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words and by stripping such words as remained of unorthodox meanings.

When Oldspeak had been once and for all superseded, the last link with the past would have been severed. History had already been rewritten, but fragments of the literature of the past survived here and there, imperfectly censored, and so long as one retained one's knowledge of Oldspeak it was possible to read them. In the future such fragments, even if they chanced to survive, would be unintelligible and untranslatable.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, December 26, 2020 at 8:09 pm | Edit
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