Today's Drabble comic, suitably modified, is for our friend Johnny Montroll, a.k.a. The Origami Guy.

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Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, July 31, 2008 at 7:23 am | Edit
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During the 18 months we lived in the Boston area, we experienced three deaths in our immediate family.  This, as I realized how much vital information was being lost, was half the reason I developed an unexpected and almost obsessive interest in genealogical research.  The other half was inspired by the proximity of the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) library on Newbury Street.  Although I am now over 1200 miles away from that treasure trove of information, I maintain my membership in the Society, and their eNews letter arrived at my inbox this morning.

Normally I can skim the newsletter quickly, maybe click on a link or two and read associated articles, bookmark an occasional new resource, then liberate my inbox.  This time, however, the missive included a link to a new (to me) blog that is only tangentially connected with genealogy.  Over an hour has since elapsed and I am still on the course begun when I opened that e-mail, now making my own post about The Occasional CEO(More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, July 30, 2008 at 6:27 am | Edit
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I hate to give such horrors any more publicity, so if you already view Planned Parenthood as evil incarnate, don't follow any of the links on John C. Wright's post, Footnote to Modern, Ever-Changing, Ever-Evolving Moral Standards.  If, on the other hand, you still cling to the hope, as I did for a long time, that the omni-present organization might not be utterly irredeemable, you owe it to your children to take a look (with them out of the room, of course—preferably out of the house).  I wish I could cleanse my brain of those cute, Sesame Street-like videos, but sometimes it's useful to know just how bad the situation really is.

I like the idea of socially responsible investing, but this has reminded me that whatever harm might be done by an undesirable gnat stock amongst those in our mutual funds is dwarfed by the camel damage paid for with our tax dollars.

Oh, by the way.  In case you miss it (which I recommend), take my word for it that when the folks at Planned Parenthood use the word "abstinence," they mean something entirely and disturbingly different from what you, I, and the dictionary do. So define your terms carefully (and make them define theirs) before conceding agreement on any point.
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, July 29, 2008 at 6:21 pm | Edit
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Category Education: [first] [previous] [next] [newest] Children & Family Issues: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

My first reaction to the good news that girls are now doing as well as boys in mathematics, at least through high school, was to laugh at the headline, which was "Numbers don't lie: Girls equal to boys in math."  Anyone who knows anything at all about numbers knows that they are frequently used to express untruths.  Nonetheless, it's still good to hear that the distressing gap between male and female performance that once appeared between elementary school and high school has disappeared.

And yet, I wonder.  I don't give any more credence to the idea that boys might be inherently better in math than girls, any more than I do to the idea that girls are naturally superior in reading.  (I do leave room for the idea that certain ways of thinking, some approaches to problems, and even some narrow fields of mathematics, might show sex-specific correlations, because, after all, men and women are inherently, biologically different.  I'm quite certain, however, that differences among individuals are great enough to make sex-related differences of little import.)  What makes me less than elated about this new study is a nagging suspicion of anything that sees parity as the goal.  From the school principal who told me that the ultimate purpose of kindergarten was to get all students on the same level, to the school board members who were much less concerned with student achievement than with making sure no school in the district looked any better or worse than another, I've found that a victory in mere equality often masks a decline in real accomplisment.  Both kindergarten and school district "parity" are often achieved as much by holding some students back as by bringing others forward.  I'm certainly glad girls are doing "as well" as boys in mathematics—but much more interested in how all our students are doing, not only in comparison with each other, with students of the past, and with students of other countries, but most importantly in consideration of actual achievement.  "As good as" is a slippery measurement, and "better than" is little better.  In the company of serial rapists, a "mere" adulterer might feel pretty good about himself.

(It is also worth mentioning that the reason given for poor female performance in the past, that people expected girls to be stupid when it came to math, was certainly not universal, even "50 years ago."  My parents never expected that I would not do as well as my brothers, nor did any of my teachers offer me such a flimsy excuse as gender for poor performance!)
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, July 25, 2008 at 6:54 am | Edit
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John C. Wright's post about his discussion with a utopian communist awakened memories of my own encounters with people who look back with affection to the time of the 1960s and 70s.  It's probably good, in general, that human beings tend to forget the sorrows of the past and remember it with a golden tinge, but when it's the sufferings of others, rather than our own, that we ignore, we are in danger of making grievous mistakes.

No age (nor philosophy) has a monopoly on evil, and I'm the first to admit both that my own life was largely insulated from the pain of that time and that some good things came from it, but the era was one of selfishness, incivility, and disastrous policies unequalled in my (admittedly limited) experience.  Worse, it was the spawning-ground for much future harm.

Perhaps if more people remembered those decades with suspicion, rather than admiration, the present age wouldn't be as likely as it threatens to repeat them. 
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 6:15 am | Edit
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O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek...to be understood, as to understand.—St. Francis

I can't resist taking a moment to share another excellent post from Random Observations, which gently reminds me that I need to spend more time trying to understand the point of view of those with whom I disagree, especially if I disagree strongly and emotionally.

If you can't even correctly repeat the arguments of your opponents, how in the world do you imagine you've refuted them?
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, July 22, 2008 at 6:52 am | Edit
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altPlanet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis, by Michael Ward (Oxford University Press, 2008)

It is hard to overstate the excitement with which I read Planet Narnia.  I'll return shortly to Michael Ward's discovery of the pattern and scheme under which C. S. Lewis wrote all seven of his Narnia books, but it's also worth noting that Ward's writing itself was a delight to read.  I am so very, very tired of the recent trend of informal, conversational writing that appears to have been put together in haste, without benefit of editor or even proofreader.  That style is good for blogs, but in a book the lack of consideration for sentence and paragraph structure, the grammatical mistakes, the impoverished vocabulary, and what often comes across as a condescending tone detract significantly from the message proclaimed.  (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, July 19, 2008 at 9:25 am | Edit
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A friend of ours has four children.  They're all still less than eight years old, and have yet many years to develop their tastes in music, but where they stand now offers some food for thought.

When the oldest was in utero, his musician mother was teaching at a college, and was totally immersed in classical music, particularly opera.  He is now very bright, intense, and serious, with a lovely boy soprano voice and a love of classical singing to go with it. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, July 6, 2008 at 12:54 pm | Edit
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My to-do list is too long for me to indulge much in long stories or philosophical musings, so today you get just plain fun.  Sometimes I think I'm the last person in the world to see things that have apparently been circulating on the Internet for years, but just in case I'm only the second-to-last, don't miss this.

Be sure to check out Matt's site for more details and other videos.  You know how many teenaged boys dream of getting paid to play and design video games?  Well, Matt had that dream job, and chucked it over for this.  And I thought Janet was good at getting paid to travel.

(Parental advisory note:  Once you get past the name of the site, which only matters if you can read, the video is perfectly safe and enjoyable for all ages.  At least this one is; I haven't checked them all.  See above comment about time limitations.)
Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, July 5, 2008 at 9:15 am | Edit
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We celebrated my birthday with a three-way phone call (Florida/Pittsburgh/Basel), good wishes from family and friends, and a dinner at the Kobé Japanese Steakhouse.  We'd been to the Kobé before, but that was probably 15 years ago.  Their teppanyaki service doesn't remind me in the least of our experiences in Japan, but that doesn't mean the food wasn't good.  We didn't even spring for the $80 Wagyu beef; the $18 sirloin was quite delicious enough.  And the $15 birthday bribe was worth a bit of mild embarrassment.

Today was a bigger birthday, with a slightly bigger celebration.  For our part, we once again joined the Greater Geneva Grande Award Marching Band for Geneva, Florida's genuine, old-fashioned, small-town Independence Day celebration, the only Independence Day parade in Central Florida to occur on July 4th.  I love Geneva's celebration—I hope that it is not a bad sign that the cow-chip toss game used plastic "chips" this year—and I love the band even more.  It was 15 years ago that we first marched with some of those great folks! (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, July 4, 2008 at 4:37 pm | Edit
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Category Everyday Life: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

For a monolingual person, I have an inordinate love of languages.  Not only is multi-lingualism increasingly important in today's world, but it does wonderful things for the brain—from increased brain growth in babies to decreased dementia in the elderly.  I wish the great resources available for teaching young children another language had been around when our kids were little, and I wish I had more aggressively pursued what there was.  Be that as it may, I am only a language dilettante, enjoying learning a few phrases of Japanese before our trip there, brushing up on my minimal high school French, and listening to the language CDs from the Hippo Family Clubs.  I wish I were multi-lingual, but face the reality that at my age it just isn't going to happen.

Nonetheless, I should be able to learn, if I put the time and effort into it, enough of a language to get along reasonably well with basic, necessary communication.  Which brings me to the question of why I find myself attracted to almost any language other than the two that would be of the most immediate practical use to learn: Spanish and German. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, July 3, 2008 at 7:01 am | Edit
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Category Education: [first] [previous] [next] [newest] Everyday Life: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

I shouldn't be surprised when what is said in comic strips mirrors opinions expressed by essayists in more serious venues.  After all, both get their inspiration from the same human condition, and humor is an efficient and effective way to make a point.  Nonetheless, I always take note when I hear the same message from widely divergent sources, as happened when I read in close succession Francis Schaeffer's The God Who Is There and John Taylor Gatto's The Underground History of American Education. When an evangelical Protestant theologian living in Switzerland and a self-described lapsed Catholic schoolteacher from Pittsburgh, writing on issues that apparently differ markedly, make the same historical and philosophical point, perhaps I had better listen.

The conjunction of Mallard Fillmore and Mike Thomas, about which I wrote yesterday, is less portentous, perhaps, but today's has signficant social and philosophical implications. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, July 2, 2008 at 8:00 am | Edit
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Category Children & Family Issues: [first] [previous] [next] [newest] Random Musings: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

Mike Thomas, an Orlando Sentinel columnist, has had a special place in our hearts ever since he interviewed Heather for a magazine article about her summer camp experiences.  That I often disagree with his opinions in no way keeps me from appreciating his intelligence and writing skills.

His recent column, The Sea Is Coming, makes the excellent point that, whatever we do or don't do about global warming, or global cooling, we in Florida are fighting a losing battle against natural forces.  Florida's coastline comes and goes, advances and retreats, and the worst thing we can do is to cover it with lots of big, expensive buildings.  The second worst is to encourage that overgrowth, as we do, with government-subsidized property insurance—considered necessary because real insurance companies know how foolish it is to build one's house upon the sand while standing in a hurricane's path. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, July 1, 2008 at 8:46 am | Edit
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