I like academia. I love college campuses, chem labs, and the smell of libraries with old books. Places and institutions dedicated to the advancement of knowledge, to study, investigation, and discussion. In an odd way, I feel more at home on a college campus than in most places. They feel exciting, challenging, and yet as comfortable as a pair of well-worn shoes. That my own college experience differed significantly from my theoretical ideal did not do much to diminish my belief that a college professor had a near-perfect job in a near-perfect setting.

Pausing to let my professor friends recover from their choking fits.... (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, May 30, 2008 at 8:54 am | Edit
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I recently finished reading a book called The Marketing of Evil: How Radicals, Elitists, and Pseudo-Experts Sell Us Corruption Disguised as Freedom.  That's not what this post is about, because while the author, David Kupelian, does have some important insights into how our culture got to be the way it is, his tone is too strident to allow me to recommend the book with particular enthusiasm.  However, he cites his sources well, and thus I am able to give full credit for what is perhaps my favorite part of the whole book, the following great quote from G. K. Chesterton.

Sex is an instinct that produces an institution; and it is positive and not negative, noble and not base, creative and not destructive, because it produces this institution.  That institution is the family; a small state or commonwealth which has hundreds of aspects, when it is once started, that are not sexual at all.  It includes worship, justice, festivity, decoration, instruction, comradeship, repose.  Sex is the gate of that house; and romantic and imaginative people naturally like looking through a gateway.  But the house is very much larger than the gate.  There are indeed a certain number of people who like to hang about the gate and never get any further.
G.K.'s Weekly, January 29, 1928

It is a great tragedy of our day that we have been all but convinced that the gate is all there is, that the house and fields beyond it are, and have always been, no more than a romantic, imaginative dream—at best.  Perhaps we need a Puddleglum to stamp on the enchanted fire and clear our heads.

Perhaps the strident tone of Kupelian's book is, after all, just the un-enchanting smell of burnt marsh-wiggle.
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, May 29, 2008 at 10:35 am | Edit
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Don't take my word for it; read about Our Big News in Janet's own words (and pictures).  For the really curious, you can find a link to Stephan's blog there.  Hmmm, her webmaster is going to have to make a change, and move thduggie up from Friends to Family on the sidebar.  And while I'm at it, will IrishOboe change to SwissHarp, or maybe SwissFiddle?  Stay tuned!

In the meantime, I'm contemplating the complexities of having an international family. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, May 28, 2008 at 11:14 am | Edit
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I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me.  It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: someone has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.

Frodo to Sam, at the end of The Return of the King (J.R.R. Tolkien)

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, May 26, 2008 at 1:41 am | Edit
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Thanks to Janet reminding me (she'll have to write her own post as to why), I was able to watch NASA TV live coverage of the landing of Phoenix on Mars (and at a much more reasonable hour than she did).  For obvious reasons (the view out our front door) I pay more attention to Shuttle launches than other NASA activity these days, but watching this excitement took me 'way back.  Back to 1969 and the Apollo 11 moon landing...stories from my cousin who worked in the space program...some of the first pictures of the Earth from the moon that were treasured trophies from a Boy Scout (Explorer) program I participated in with General Electric...and even 'way, 'way back to standing on the porch with my father, watching Echo I pass overhead.

Thanks for the memories, Janet and Stephan!
Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, May 25, 2008 at 7:14 pm | Edit
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I actually enjoy airplane food, perhaps because I don't eat it all that often.  It's part of the adventure of flying, and something to break up the monotony of a long flight.  But maybe next time I should wave away the attendent with the tempting tray.  Recent research has shown that fasting for about 16 hours can reset the circadian rhythms and speed adjustment to a new time zone.

At least if you're a mouse.
Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, May 25, 2008 at 6:36 am | Edit
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I don't enjoy reporting bad news, really.  It makes me sound old and curmudgeonly.  Okay, so I am old and curmudgeonly, but that's beside the point.  So today I feature an exciting story from the Philadelphia Inquirer:  Midwife Diane Goslin has emerged victorious from a court case in which the State of Pennsylvania accused her of practicing medicine without a license by assisting at home births.  (See my previous post.)  The author of the article, Angela Couloumbis, and the headline writer who created the title, Birthing Women Win Legal Decision understand that this victory is not about one person's profession, but about one of our most basic freedoms:  choosing where and with whom we will give birth to our children.

I could point out that some of the rejoicing may be premature: the State is considering appealing the decision, and the court only dealt with the charge of practicing medicine, not with the problem that Pennsylvania is not among the 22 states in this country that recognize the Certified Professional Midwife license.  There is cause for joy, to be sure, but not for letting down our guard.  But we'll take our victories one at a time, and be thankful for daily bread even if we're not certain of next week's provision.

Anything less would be curmudgeonly.
Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, May 24, 2008 at 10:00 am | Edit
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I don't yet know how I'm voting in the upcoming presidential election, though I do know it will be a matter of the least objectionable candidate rather than some ringing endorsement. Frankly, I find them all objectionable; the question is, Who will do the least harm? So I'm not endorsing any candidate at this point, but as I've said before, Barack Obama scares me because he's so charismatic he might very well succeed in implementing some very dangerous policies.

Tim at Random Observations once again has a thoughtful post, this time on why Obama scares him. Check it out.
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, May 23, 2008 at 10:03 am | Edit
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I'm chronically bad at making decisions.  Not that I usually make bad ones; actually, most of them end up being pretty good.  But whether the decision is big or small, buying a house or choosing from a restaurant menu, I agonize over each decision and often experience second thoughts as soon as it is made.  Porter tells an old joke about a man ordering dessert:  The waitress informs him that they are offering apple pie and cherry pie, and after considering the matter for a while, he chooses the apple.  A few minutes later she returns to his table and say, "I'm sorry, sir, I forgot to tell you we also have coconut cream pie."  "Oh!" the diner exclaims, "In that case I'll have the cherry."

The point of the joke is the man's irrational behavior in changing his mind after the addition of irrelevant information, but I understand him completely. Coconut cream pie has nothing to do with it.  He couldn't decide between apple and cherry, and when he finally closed the door on the cherry pie, it suddenly seemed the more attractive.  The waitress's return gave him a chance to change his decision.

With that in mind, you can see why I was attracted by the headline of a New York Times article by John Tierney called The Advantages of Closing a Few Doors. It seems I'm not the only one who likes to keep her options open:  In a series of experiments, MIT students playing a game chose to take what amounted to a 15% penalty in their earnings (cold, hard cash) in order to keep unnecessary doors from closing.

The researcher, Dan Ariely, is a professor of behavioral economics at MIT, and at his website, Predictably Irrational, you can find not only this game but others, and much more on the subject of how we often act contrary to our own best interests.  I'm sure some of his experiments violate a research code of ethics somewhere, such as the experiment in which male college students were asked questions about sexual behavior before and after viewing Internet porn sites.  Nonetheless, even that research revealed some unexpected and frightening results.   Ariely has a book by the same name, which I would order from the library if I didn't already have a backlog of five library books pining away in the not-ready-to-be-returned state.
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, May 22, 2008 at 2:45 pm | Edit
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The proper answer, at least as taught in elementary school, is "nothing."  Get yourself out as fast as you can; don't waste time taking anything with you.  Once past that simplistic answer, there are obviously exceptions:  adults, at least, are allowed to take their children with them.  People will take time to look for pets, and I know I would try to grab a few things, such as important papers, laptops, and family photos, even though I'm sure that's officially frowned upon.

Once out, with firefighters on the scene, one can pretty much count on not being allowed back in for anything, even children, as the professionals prefer to do the work themselves without adding another potential victim in need of rescue.

Unless one lives in Germany, where firefighters are currently battling a fire at the home of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.  This is Europe, where classical music and musicians are respected and understood more than in the United States.

Bassoonist Stefan Schweigert said the fire brigade had allowed musicians into the building to remove instruments that had been left in lockers overnight....
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, May 20, 2008 at 12:22 pm | Edit
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Prince Caspian, One Sentence Review:  Not a bad movie, but several times I had to wonder where the story line came from.

A few more thoughts:  (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, May 17, 2008 at 2:14 pm | Edit
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Having finished watching all the available “Best Picture” Oscar-winners—all except for one or two he decided early on weren’t worth the wasting of his time—Porter is catching up on the James Bond movies he’d missed, which was many if not most of them.  Not feeling any lack whatsoever for having missed them myself, I’ve generally elected to indulge in what to me are more profitable activities, such as reading, writing, or sleeping.

Every once in a while, however, I’ll find myself sucked into the story, never long enough to see the entire movie, but enough to provoke a few of thoughts. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, May 14, 2008 at 4:54 pm | Edit
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I recently read the answers to a genealogist's request for people's "top three genealogical regrets," and discovered that I am not alone.  Hands down, the greatest frustration and sorrow reported was over not recording stories and asking questions of those who died taking irretrievable history with them.  I'm far from the only one who developed an interest in family history too late to get easy and accurate answers to the family mysteries that are now taking so much time and effort to unravel, and which may never be made clear.  From bare-facts birth, death, and marriage information, to photographs of people and places once dearly loved by those whose love made us what we are, to the unique, intimate, and irreplaceable stories of a family's daily lives, thoughts, feelings, and culture—these personal connections with history all too often mean little to the young, engrossed as they are in the here and now.

Even those fortunate young people who take an interest in their elders' tales are rarely forward-thinking enough to make sure the stories are recorded, nor do they often know at the age of 20 what questions they will wish answered when they are 50.  It must, therefore, be the responsibility of the older generation to assemble, record, and save what information they can, keeping it safe "against that day" when their children, or grandchildren, or great-grandchildren will be grateful for their efforts. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, May 14, 2008 at 10:42 am | Edit
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Earlier this month the Seattle Times ran a heartwarming genealogy story by Jan Burak Schwert about her husband's accidental meeting, in a German pub, of a man who shared both his interest in genealogy and his great-great-grandfather.  The meeting itself was not planned, but the ground well-prepared, since they were in Germany, and that particular small town, searching for  information on his ancestors.  ("You fly down the street on a chance that you'll meet, And you meet—not really by chance.")  Despite the dilution of so many generations, the two looked like brothers.

I'm not likely to have such an experience in a small, foreign town, since I must go back one generation further still to find my first ancestor not born in this country, and I don't think anyone would look at me and say, "Irish."  Nonetheless there's something wonderful about connecting with long-lost relatives, even first cousins.  :)
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, May 14, 2008 at 7:35 am | Edit
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Having been alerted to the Evangelical Manifesto by both GroshLink and John Stackhouse, I decided it was probably worth reading.  I generally shun labels other than "Christian," if I can, and "Manifesto" sounds a little radical to me, but there's a lot I can identify with in this document.  I greatly appreciate its even-handed, moderate, dare I say Christ-like approach. It may sound ho-hum to some, but I suspect that a clear and courteous statement of basic beliefs and principles is more necessary than we'd like to believe.  Others apparently read the Manifesto as a wimpy effort not to be identified with Fundamentalists, though what I see is not one-sided, but a true effort avoid both Scylla and Charybdis.

If Christians are to have any reasonable voice in the public square we need to get out from under stereotypes and "past watchful dragons." The Evangelical Manifesto seems to me to be a reasonable attempt so to do.
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, May 13, 2008 at 11:04 am | Edit
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