You remember the discovery from school:  that in a class of 23 people the odds of finding two students who share the same birthday are better than even.

We have ten grandchildren.  What is the chance that two of them share the same birthday?  (There are no twins, triplets, etc.)  Turns out it's not quite 12%.

Sometimes you beat the odds.

Happy birthday to two of my favorite people!

(You can play with the numbers here.)

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, June 28, 2016 at 8:04 am | Edit
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Continuing my commentary on  LaMonte M. Fowler's Huffington Post article. (Links to Part 1 and Part 2.)

We don’t live in a democracy. Technically we are a Federal Republic. But in reality, we are ruled by an oligarchy. If you don’t know what that is, look it up. Reading will do you good. You probably need to do more of it.

Thanks for making the point clear about a democracyMy Swiss friends, who really do live in a democracy, will be happy for more Americans to learn the difference.

I disagree about oligarchyOur true rulers are many and diverse, though if I classify and personify them I can present it as a rule by the fewBehold, our Tredecumvirate:

  • Government Bureaucracies
  • Political Insiders
  • Lawyers
  • The Media
  • Hollywood
  • Madison Avenue
  • All Businesses Considered Too Big to Fail
  • The Educational System, from preschool to university
  • Google
  • Microsoft
  • Apple
  • Public Opinion
  • Our Own Self-Centered Natures

I'm sure you can think of more, as can I, but thirteen seems a good place to stop.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, June 26, 2016 at 9:23 am | Edit
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While we were visiting New Hampshire, our son-in-law and the older children spent the better part of one day helping another family move into their new home. Their reward for this good deed was to catch a stomach flu, and bring it home to the rest of us.

One by one the children's gastro-intestinal systems gave in. Porter and I took our turns at the end, but the last victim of all was—you guessed it—Heather. I believe there is quite a bit of truth behind the idea of mom-immunity, a constitutional strength that keeps mothers going until their children are on the mend.

But that immunity finally deserted her the day after I came down with the bug myself. Since I was no longer actively vomiting, and the children—now essentially back to normal—were active and needy, I crawled out of bed to see if I could be useful.

But Jon, who had been among the first to get ill and recover, had everything under control, assisted by the older kids—especially Faith:  The Nurturing Force is strong in this one. So I gratefully crawled back up to bed.

Where I stayed for the rest of the day.

For a day all I had to do was drag myself between bed and bathroom, and thought that was a difficult enough task. The rest of the time I slept. And slept. And healed.

What a luxury!  What a tremendous blessing!  What mom ever has this opportunity?  Maybe mothers whose children are in school or daycare can get a few hours' rest, but outside of those hours they too spend more time functioning than healing. Babies need nursing, and children—especially children who have recently been sick themselves—sometimes need Mom's attention, despite the avaiability of other helpers.

Then there are those whose job situations leave them little choice but to drag themselves out of their sickbeds and into a full day's work—to infect who knows how many others along the way.

Wouldn't it be so much better for everyone if our life situations had enough slack built into them to allow all sick people the time to heal effectively?

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, June 24, 2016 at 12:16 pm | Edit
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Once again leaving the rest of my life to fend for itself for a while, I return to my commentary on LaMonte M. Fowler's Huffington Post article.

Mexico isn’t going to pay for the wall, and we’re not going to deport millions of people and break up families. If you think either one is a good idea, you’re not smart and probably not a person I want to hang out with.

Aside from the rudeness, I agree with him hereIt ought to be glaringly obvious that Mexico has too many problems of its own to finance something that only helps its rich neighbors to the northIf they have any leftover pesos, I'd rather they put them towards conquering their drug lords and ameliorating the conditions that make their citizens take desperate risksAnd deporting millions of people isn't any more of a solution to our problems than the creation of Liberia was to the problem of slavery.

Nonetheless, focussing on these extremes misses the valid and important points behind the bombastI can name a few.

  • Illegal immigration is ... illegal. We keep missing this point. It's possible that, as with Prohibition, immigration restrictions are so unpopular that they only breed a nation of scofflaws and fuel organized crime. I don't think so—other countries manage better—but we either need to muster the national will to enforce our existing laws, or else change them to something we are willing to uphold.
  • Illegal immigration is slaveryFirst, it unnaturally depresses wages by providing an unending supply of workers. Even legal immigration has that effect. When it's illegal, however, the workers are powerless because of their status. I heard an otherwise upstanding citizen brag, in my presence, that his workers do as they're told, because they know that if they don't, he'll pay a visit to the immigration authorities.

    To the farmer who insists he needs his undocumented workers because he can't afford to farm without them, I say that was the excuse the Southern plantation owners gave for owning slaves. To the commentator who said that without such workers we'd be paying $45 for a head of lettuce, I say I don't believe it. Switzerland pays good wages and their prices, though high, aren't that much more than ours. Less, in some cases. And even if our prices did skyrocket—is it right to allow slavery just so we can have cheap lettuce?Illlegal immigration is unfair to all those who have gone through the effort and expense to obey the law. In the case of poor immigrants, it is cruelly so. We know a family of refugees who built an honest and successful HVAC business that thrived until they could no longer compete with the companies that use cheap, illegal workers. Thus a real-life, recent example of the American Dream come true was scuttled by our collective unwillingness to enforce the laws meant to protect such people.
  • The problem of breaking up families is largely the product of a policy I'd change if I could—although that's hard, because it's in the Constitution. Most countries do not grant automatic citizenship to a child simply because he is born there. Our Swiss grandchildren are Swiss because their father is Swiss, not because they were born there. Granting American citizenship to minors whose parents are in the country illegally, or even legally as tourists, has become the root of many problems, not the least of which is the inability to enforce immigration laws without either breaking up families or illegally deporting citizens.


Unless you can trace your family line back to someone who made deerskin pants look stylish and could field dress a buffalo, you are a descendent of an immigrant. Please stop saying that immigrants are ruining our country. Such comments are like a giant verbal burrito stuffed with historical ignorance, latent racism and xenophobia, all wrapped in a fascist tortilla.

As it happens, I do have ancestors who wore deerskin pants and could dress a buffalo. But how is that relevant?  Everyone who came to this country, Native Americans included, was an immigrant. (As an interesting side note, if you want to see a hotbed of illegal immigration, look no further than present-day Boston and the Irish.)  Who says that "immigrants" are ruining our country?  

Where people see ruination, or the potential thereof, lies in the coincidence of (1) an uncontrolled flood of immigrants, most of which are very needy, and (2) our modern society with its greatly expanded governmental services. No longer are immigrants supported solely by their own hard work, their families, their churches, and their communities. It's a good thing to have an additional safety net, but that net is not infinitely stretchable, especially in an era when the country and the economy are no longer expanding.  Even leaving aside the social safety net, ordinary governmental and infrastructure services—such as schools, police and fire, water and power, and roads—are stressed by rapid population growth, especially when that population will not for a long while represent a commensurate increase in tax revenue.

We don't just need a solution to our immigration situation. We need a solution that's affordable and above all sustainable. The United States is like the Earth itself: vast, rich, and full of resources. But those resources are not inexhaustible, and it's as irresponsible to act without taking that into account as it is to continue consuming as if fossil fuels were going to last forever.

To be continued....

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, June 22, 2016 at 2:04 pm | Edit
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The Facebook status of a young relative made my day this morning.

She had posted a Huffington Post article by LaMonte M. Fowler, and I was not surprised that what he wrote rubbed me the wrong way. Nor was I surprised, from other things she has posted, that she commented, I agree with everything written here.

It was the remainder of her comment that so thrilled my soul:

If you don't, awesome. Let's have an open and civil conversation about that. Maybe one of us will change our minds. Maybe not. Let's find out!

Open and civil conversation. It's what those who visit here frequently know I've been advocating since before I started blogging over ten years ago. Indeed, it's what this blog is officially about. (Though I confess the blog frequently meanders here, there, and everywhere.)  Most of all, it's what I find pitifully lacking in our political and social media conversations—and what our society needs so desperately. On top of it all, this call for reasoned discourse comes with a bright, young enthusiasm you can all but hear in her words.

(Maybe I just have a tender spot for bright, enthusiastic, young voices. I'm missing the grandchildren I had to say goodbye to yesterday, not to mention the ones I left behind in May.)

Well. I shouldn't be building up such high expectations for this "open and civil conversation."  In truth, what it has done is inspire me to write reams and reams of commentary on the article, 'way too many words for a decent Facebook conversation. 'Way too many even for a single blog post. That smacks more of pompous monologue than conversation. But writing is the way I think, and at least it is something in response to Stephanie's happy challenge. I hope she will forgive me for giving her a torrent when she asked for a glass of water.



Dear Stephanie,

I’ll take on your challenge, because I’m thrilled someone wants an “open and civil conversation.”  If you’ve followed any of what I’ve written, you know I’m appalled at the lack thereof in recent times. (Yes, I know there were plenty of other times with such lack of civility, but these days, if there’s less tar and fewer feathers, there appears to be more genuine, irrational, virulent hatred.)  I think the writer is rude in places, but he’s a whole lot less rude than most of what I’ve read expressing similar points, so I’ll be grateful for what I can get.

I’m not going to try to change your mind, or anyone else’s, on the issues raised.

Not that I’m one of those who believe truth is malleable, different for one age, one culture, or one person from another. Truth matters. I’d be a fool if I didn’t think that what I believe is true. Worse, I’d be a dishonest writer. But I’m not trying to change your mind, at least not directly, because that’s not my job nor my privilege. The mind is a sacred space. Besides, however convinced I am that I’m right, I may, actually, be wrong.

What I hope to do is to take some of the author’s points and show a side that he doesn’t appear to appreciate. I’d like to show the humanity of those he considers “stupid,” “not a nice person,” and one of those who “should not be dressing themselves or caring for children.”  In most cases, I believe he’s setting up straw men, or at best stereotypes, taking as representative those who use extreme rhetoric in order to make a strong point, or to inflame others, or—as he himself suggests—to entertain. The problem with this is that if we waste our time and energy distracted by these straw men, we are likely to miss the real points that real people are trying to make.

Fowler's article has so much meat in it, so many points where I think him simultaneously right, wrong, and misunderstanding, that I'm going to walk through it, one small step at a time. To begin:

We don't need to take America back. No one stole it. It's right're sitting in it. Chillax.

Who, besides the above-mentioned entertainers, crafty politicians, and inflamed mobs wants to “take America back” as if we needed some violent, citizen uprising? When people I know mourn the loss of “America,” it’s the loss of e pluribus unum—an America built of many peoples, cultures, ideologies, and opinions that was, nonetheless, one country. Of course that ideal was only poorly realized in practice, but it was the ideal. I’m not sure it still is.

An artist friend of ours, who lives in France, made the point all the clearer to me. The French, she said, are shocked when they visit the U.S. and see the aggressiveness with which people flaunt their “identity.”  In Paris, one’s identity is French.

Or as a young man in The Gambia told me, “We have Mandinkas, we have Wolofs, we have Fulas, we have Muslims, we have Christians, but you cannot see the difference, because we always do things together.”

Switzerland has four national languages, and their German is divided into one language for writing (High German) and countless others for speaking that change significantly from one city, or one mountain pass, to another (Swiss German dialects). Yet their Confederation is most definitely Swiss: the best of France without being French, the best of Germany without being German, and the best of Italy without being Italian, but overall, absolutely and proudly Swiss

I grew up in an America that had that spirit, where being an American was a cherished identity, a responsibility, and a goal. Take back America? I agree with Fowler that it hasn't been stolen, exactly, but it is certainly being ripped apart, and that's nothing to chillax about.

To be continued....

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, June 19, 2016 at 11:22 pm | Edit
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Nature is awesome. Nature is beautiful, and wonderful, and essential to our very existence. But whenever we forget that nature is at her very core wild, and that good does not necessarily mean safe, we are making a grave and possibly fatal mistake.

In 2004 many Floridians learned the hard way what their long-term neighbors (and insurance companies) had been trying to tell them: a hurricane is a lot more than just a strong wind.

People in our neighborhood are learning that the highly successful program that brought the Florida black bear back from near extinction means that we must take extra precautions with our pets, our children, and ourselves.

We have all been reminded recently that wild animals in a zoo are still wild and unpredictable.

And last night a family paid the ultimate price to learn that even the Happiest Place on Earth is no shelter from Mother Nature at her cruelest.

I've seen people complain that no signs warned of the possibility of alligators in the lake where a toddler was snatched by those fearsome jaws. "No swimming" is not good enough, they say. I say that if Disney World is at fault, it is in its complicity with all who profit by tourism and try to make people forget that this is Florida, and Florida has wildlife, and some of that wildlife is dangerous. We who live here are saddened, but not shocked, when we hear, as we do at least once a year, of yet another little dog, cavorting happily at the edge of a lake, suddenly snatched and dragged under the water. It happens. We know it, and we try to take precautions. But Disney would rather its guests not be thinking about death.

Florida is not uniquely dangerous. Colorado has grizzly bears. Arizona has rattlesnakes. Even the farmer's apparently placid cow could easily kill a careless child. Nature is risky wherever you are. No matter how they are portrayed in movies and as stuffed animals, once past babyhood wild creatures are simply not cute and cuddly. They are definitely not our toys. They deserve respect, and that includes recognizing their wild nature.

In all likelihood, that Nebraska family's tragedy was largely the fault of unknown tourists who treated the lake's alligators as toys. By and large, alligators will avoid people and the places where people congregate—unless they have been fed. The tourists who repeatedly toyed with the alligators by tossing food from their balconies, taught the beasts not to fear humans, and to come to the beach hungry. In consequence, a two-year-old boy paid for their sport with his life.

And so did several alligators, who have since been trapped and killed in the effort to find and recover the child.

Nature is good, but it is not safe.  We ignore that to our peril.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, June 15, 2016 at 1:24 pm | Edit
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The recent tragedy in Orlando appears to prove everyone's point.

Depending on your particular views, it proves that Muslims are terrorists, that homosexuals are a hated, targeted minority, that we need to ban guns, that we need more armed citizens, that Republicans are evil, that Democrats are idiots, that we'll continue to have mass killings unless we spend a lot more on mental health issues, that we'll continue to have terrorist attacks unless we bomb ISIS into the ground.... Take your pick.

It also proves my own point:  To view another human being as something less than human is to stand on a precipice in a hurricane. And the problem with America today is that we are all doing this. There is no "America"—there is only Those Kind-hearted, Intelligent Folks Who Agree with Me, and Those Good-for-Nothing, Moronic, Evil-Minded Others Who Don't Deserve to Live.

After the attack, a rant popped up on my Facebook page listing someone's random, gut-level thoughts. I can't be too hard on him, given that my own immediate, gut-level thoughts in any situation are rarely as they would be if I took time to think about them. But I thought it notable that one of his thoughts was: To those of you who disagree, I'll say "[expletive deleted] you" now, since after you comment I'll immediately unfriend you so you won't see my response. And he ended his list with: I love you all.


At a minimum, if you love someone, you listen to him. Respectfully.

In this videoAmaryllis Fox is speaking primarily about foreign policy, but her words are at least as important domesticallyProbably more so—beginning not with governments, but with ourselves, and in our own relationships(Thanks, Maggie M.)

It was not labels that died in Orlando on Sunday. It was people. One by one by one, each born into a family, each with friends, neighbors, and coworkers. Each loved and needed by someone.

This time it happened in a gay nightclub in Orlando, in the wee hours of the morning. I'm hoping that the reason no one has asked me if I'm okay is that they know that the last place I'd be at that hour is where there would be ear-splitting rock music. But that is so far from the point. If you're looking at avoiding a mass shooting, I'd say it would be better to stay out of schools than gay bars. But it could happen anywhere. We won't avoid terrorist attacks by having or not having a certain label. Ask most of the Muslims in Africa and the Middle East how sharing a religious label with many of the terrorists is working out for them.

Listen to each other, folks. Please. If we don't recognize our common humanity, we're toast.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, June 14, 2016 at 12:16 pm | Edit
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altThey're Your Kids:  An Inspirational Journey from Self-Doubter to Home School Advocate by Sam Sorbo (Reveille Press, 2016)

I usually ignore the suggestions my Kindle pops up for me to read, but I'm a sucker for homeschooling stories, especially at $2.99. This one both pleased me and was woefully disappointing.

The pleasure came in the second part of the book, which describes the family's experience with homeschooling. I love these personal tales, whether the author shares my own educational philosophies or not. Homeschooling stories are infinitely varied and, to me, endlessly interesting. The Sorbos' adventures are no exception.

The disappointment came, as disappointment usually does, through foiled expectations.

I had read that the inspiration for the family to begin homeschooling came because the parents' careers (acting, modelling, writing) took them on the road a lot. "Aha," I thought. This could be the solution to a problem that has been troubling me.

Because we were homeschoolers before that educational option became popular—indeed, before it became legal in many states—my lovingly amassed collection of homeschooling stories is very old. Not that anyone's personal experiences can really become outdated, but I know that those currently homeschooling or considering the option would like to hear voices from the current century.

Moreover, while homeschooling was initially primarily a left-wing, "hippie" kind of movement, it was later enthusiastically adopted by Christians who had their own reasons for distrusting government schools, and many of the more recent stories have an unabashedly religious base. Nothing wrong with that—but it muddles the issues in some people's minds.

Knowing that They're Your Kids was from a family of traditionally secular, left-wing professions, I anticipated that it would provide a much-needed, different perspective.

It doesn't. Far from it. The beginning of the book is filled with the kind of anti-public-school ranting that the more secular folks associate with right-wing extremism, and which embarrasses so many of us who still consider ourselves both Christian and politically more right than left. Especially painful is that the author, like so many others, fails to distinguish the Common Core standards from some of the highly objectionable implementations. It's the kind of diatribe that may pump up those who already agree, but will turn off nearly everyone else.

Despite all this, I certainly don't regret buying They're Your Kids. It costs more than $2.99 to buy a bag of chips!  What I'd recommend is skipping over the first part of the book and getting right into the Sorbos' story. Every homeschooler's story has a unique perspective and new ideas

I do have one more warning; it's for my readers who are trying to teach multiple levels and wrangle toddlers at the same time:  Just ignore the part where she says her three kids get everything done in three hours.  (We only had two and never finished in three hours.)

Herewith some of my favorite quotes:

“No one can become really educated without having pursued some study in which he took no interest - for it is part of education to learn to interest ourselves in subjects for which we have no aptitude.” — T. S. Eliot

As good a job as the educators [at the Classical Christian school] were doing, I realized Shane was no longer at liberty to pursue his mathematics to his heart’s content. Now he was on a treadmill, along with his entire class.

I realized that teachers are, in fact, traffic control cops, and so my son was simply good at being herded. “What about his academics?”

“He’s doing fine...”

“Fine” was an unacceptable accolade, when I’d seen him love learning at home.

[Schools] adopt a plan that levels the expectations, by slowing down the better performers. Although this approach may seem counter-intuitive, it’s much easier to hold back the advanced students than try to accelerate the less gifted ones.

If revered institutions don’t complete the textbooks, why was I holding myself to such a high standard? Because I’m a perfectionist… but that’s unhealthy for my kids and me. I decided that just because I have high standards doesn’t mean I must follow and complete an entire curriculum to find educational satisfaction.

Keep your eye on the ball. Learning is the goal, the textbook is just a tool.

[A]t the risk of losing them to boredom or frustration, I err on the side of caution—everything in moderation. We cover the basics until I see they understand, confident that review is coming. This way, the loves of my life aren’t burdened with my obsessive perfectionism, agonizing to complete tomes of structured learning. I’d rather we concentrate on enjoying the process instead.

Early in life I’d learned to choose the hard thing, because boredom was worse than hard work.

Sometimes, you have to do something that’s hard simply because it is hard—to practice, to build strength.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, June 12, 2016 at 5:02 pm | Edit
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You have until November 8, 2016 to weigh in with your opinions on the four newly-proposed names for the elements of the periodic table currenly identified by placeholders ununtrium (113), ununpentium (115), ununseptium (117), and ununoctium (118). The names, proposed by the discoverers of those elements and approved by the IUPAC (International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry), are, respectively:

  • 113 nihonium (Nh)
  • 115 moscovium (Mc)
  • 117 tennessine (Ts)
  • 118 oganesson (Og)

Nihonium is named after Japan, the home of the research group that first synthesized itMoscovium and tennessine were synthesized in a joint effort by researchers in Russia, Oak Ridge (Tennessee), and Lawrence-Livermore in CaliforniaThe last is not being left outIt already has californium (98) and livermorium (116), among othersOganesson honors Russian researcher Yuri Oganessian, who led the team that synthesized ununseptium.

In case you missed it, ununquadium (114) was given the official name flerovium (after the Russian Flerov Laboratory) at the same time livermorium was named.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, June 9, 2016 at 6:26 am | Edit
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Last year I had the privilege of reading and reviewing S. D. Smith's The Green Ember and The Black Star of Kingston.  I'm thrilled to report that a new episode in the adventures of #RabbitsWithSwords will be available soon.  The Kickstarter campaign for Ember Falls is almost over and has exceeded its goal—though I'm certain that if anyone wants to become a last-minute backer they will be as welcome as the earliest.

For some reason, the trailer isn't imbedding properly here and I can't find it on YouTube, but you can see it at the Kickstarter link.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, June 8, 2016 at 2:06 pm | Edit
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I don't hate Microsoft, nor Google, nor Apple, nor any other business that I know about. There's just too much hatred—not to mention too many ill-founded accusations of hatred—going around these days, and in any case I try to limit such a destructive emotion to actions rather then entities.

But I'm very close to hating Microsoft's actions.

It's nearly inevitable that I will eventually become a Windows 10 user, and if I knew my current computer would last forever I'd probably 10 now while it's free, despite serious misgivings about it "going all Google on me" and collecting 'way more data than I want it to have. As it is, I'd much rather get a new operating system only when I must buy a new computer. I like Windows 7, but when I was forced away from XP I lost the use of my fully-functional scanner and printer. To use those devices now, I have to bring up a virtual XP window running under Windows 7, and I have little hope that I'll be able to make that work under 10—plus I'm pretty sure I'll lose access to still more of my existing peripherals.

Having finally made that decision, I'm finding Microsoft's pop-up ads for upgrading more annoying than usual. Especially since they've become more frequent (many times each day), and most especially because Microsoft has sunk to a malware trick of changing the behavior when you click on the pop-up's upper-right-hand X from just closing the window (which everyone expects) to closing the window and consenting to the upgrade at some future time determined by Microsoft. With that, users who have long ago gotten into the habit of simply closing the ad one day find that Windows 10 has been installed willy-nilly. Ditto for those multitudes who have Windows Update configured to install Recommended updates automatically.

That's just wrong.

I know people who are okay with Windows 10. I know people who love it. I know people (computer-savvy people) who chose to update only to find that 10 made their computers unworkable, tried to exercise the "you have one month to roll back to 7" option only to have it fail, and had to reinstall their whole system.

But the issue is not Windows 10 itself. It's the deceptive, strong-arm tactics Microsoft has stooped to.

Because clicking the X to close the Windows 10 ad is no longer an option, the first thing I now do when I boot my computer is bring up the Task Manager, so that I can kill the task whenever it appears. I'm glad I still have that option. But it's more than a pain, because I'm getting more and more afraid that Microsoft will defeat my precautions in the end. I only have to last till the end of July, since I'm pretty certain Microsoft won't automatically install Windows 10 once they start charging for it.

On the other hand, maybe I'll make RegEdit my friend once more, and follow the advice that worked for my sister. I'd rather not, but I've done it before.

I don't hate Microsoft. But I do hate being so dependent and vulnerable. Not enough to switch to Linux, however. Not yet. And Apple's even less attractive.

The challenge is to take advantage of a technology's substantial benefits while minimizing dependency, and it's not an easy one. It's not a new one, either. We're already dependent on systems over which we have no control for electricity, water, and other basic services. Short of living off the land and shutting ourselves off from most of what the modern world has to offer, it will always be a difficult balance.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, June 4, 2016 at 7:30 am | Edit
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