I need to finish this off. With this post I come to the end of LaMonte Fowler's points. (Loud cheers!) The series in response to the Fowler essay starts here.

Poor people need help. If you’re not helping them but complaining about how the government helps them with your money you are not a nice person.

Granted, people need help. We all do at times, some more than others. No one disputes that. The issue is, what really constitutes help?  It's a very complex issue that has produced no end of books and papers and Ph.D.'s and still an unconscionable amount of money has been spent doing no good or outright harm. That's no excuse for not being generous—but a good reason to exercise wisdom. It's funny how the same people who (correctly) rail at government waste when it comes to the military get upset when someone questions government waste in social programs. (And vice versa.)  

Be nice to the people who teach your children. Don’t send them nasty emails or yell at them. Their job is 10,000 times harder than your stupid job. You are not a professional educator so just shut your mouth and be thankful someone is willing to teach your offspring.

Ouch. This one is almost too personal, and too nasty, to answer. I'm 100% with him on not yelling at teachers—or parents, or even at people who yell at teachers. I greatly admire classroom teachers because I know I would not be a good one. But his hyperbole doesn't help. And much as I appreciate the good teachers out there, I will not be thankful for a system that tries to take from me one of the very best jobs in the world—teaching my offspring.

You don’t know what Common Core is. You think you do, but you don’t unless you’re a teacher. So stop complaining about math problem memes on Facebook. You can’t do the math anyway.

Anyone with an Internet connection can read the Common Core standards; you certainly don't have to be a teacher. Granted, some people confuse the standards with particular implementations, and get a little too hot under the collar, but that technicality doesn't mean their concerns are meaningless. And yes, I can do the math, despite growing up in the 1950's. Standards are good; forcing children to learn in one particular way is not. Especially since every "one right way" we've discovered seems to be supplanted in a few years by another "one right way."

ISIS is not an existential threat to the United States. We do not need to rebuild our military. Our military is the strongest, scariest, most badass killing machine the world has ever seen. So stop being afraid and stop letting politicians and pundits scare you.

If he really believes that about our military, I have two words for him: Genghis Khan. If I had to choose between being a civilian on the opposing side, I'd face the U.S. military any day over that conqueror. Or ISIS. Hmmm, that would be an interesting encounter: Genghis Khan vs. ISIS. Who wants the movie rights?

Stop being suspicious of American Muslims. The guy sitting next to you in the cubicle at work is probably more of a threat to you than any Muslim since he has to listen to your uninformed ranting day after day.

I've had my own encounters with people bad-mouthing Muslims in general, and my usually response is to suggest they come back to me after they've actually read the Qur'an and made a Muslim friend. But there is a clear and present danger out there, and it has claimed the name of Islam, so I find it hard to blame people who are nervous. The best solution I can think of is my constant refrain:  we need to know each other better. When we only interact with people who are like us, we build the walls higher.

Guns do in fact kill people. That’s what they are designed to do. If you feel you need a gun to protect yourself in America, you are probably living in the wrong neighborhood and should move before you go out and buy a gun. There are like a billion places to live where you won’t need a gun, or even need to lock your front door.

I wonder where he would suggest living. And how many of his billion places are near to where the jobs are. And affordable. People in the worst neighborhoods are unlikely to be able to pick up and move—or they would have done it already. It's probably true that more people have guns than need them—I know the gun control threats have driven many to buy guns and get their licenses who otherwise felt little need, just to be ready in case the need arises. I don't like guns. But guns help level the playing field between strong and weak, male and female, criminal and citizen. Until that need is eliminated, banning guns will probably do more harm than good.

If you do own a gun, then make sure you know how to use it really, really, really well. Seriously... get some training because you still don’t know how to record stuff with your DVR. Go to the gun range and shoot the thing a lot. Learn how to clean it properly and be able to disassemble it and reassemble it with your eyes closed. It’s a freaking gun and it deserves that level of care, proficiency and respect. And for God’s sake, keep it locked up and away from your kids.

Barring the abusive language, I'm with him on this one. Guns are tools that need to be respected and used properly. With rights come responsibilities. There was a time when even a child could be trusted with a gun, because he'd been taught how to handle it. Not so much anymore.

If you are even a little bit unhinged or pissed off... you shouldn’t have a gun. And the Founding Fathers would totally agree with me.

Granted, you have to know yourself. If you have a hair-trigger temper, or are abnormally fearful, or inclined to impulsive actions, or to take unnecessary risks, owning a gun is probably something you should avoid, as an alcoholic avoids taking a drink. If you can't control yourself, you probably can't control a gun. But I'm not at all sure that some of our Founding Fathers weren't little unhinged, and they were definitely angry. 

Stop sharing Facebook memes that tell me to share or else Jesus won’t bless me with a laundry basket full of cash. That’s not how prayer works. And I don’t want money delivered (even from God) in a laundry basket. Nobody ever washes those things out and they just keep putting nasty dirty clothes in them. Yuck!

Oh, hooray!  I can be very thankful that my Facebook friends are so much nicer than hisI have never had such a meme shared with meBut if he thinks that in an exchange between a laundry basket and a pile of cash, it's the money that gets dirty, he doesn't know much about filthy lucre.

We are the United States of America, and we can afford to... house every homeless veteran, feed every child, and take in every refugee and still have money left over for Starbucks and a bucket of KFC.

No, we can't. This is as foolish as the idea that we can win all wars, make the world safe for democracy, and fix all the broken countries in the world. Have you never heard of bankrupt millionaires?  Lottery winners who five years later are worse off than before they bought the winning ticket?  With wisdom, we could do better than we are doing now. But spending money as if it were endless is guaranteed to prove that it isn't.


I'm sure Fowler meant well in writing his essay. I did, too. But I'm done, and glad to be done. I need something more uplifting to write about....

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, September 30, 2016 at 3:17 pm | Edit
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I had no idea.

When I'm driving and see a sign that one lane is ending, I move out of that lane as soon as possible. I want plenty of time to make the merge and then not have to worry about it anymore—except for dealing with those obnoxious drivers who speed down the emptying lane and try to horn in at the last minute. Those people are so rude!

But they're right, and I'm wrong.

Apparently the technique of using all lanes until the very end, called a zipper merge, is considered the safest and best way to deal with the lane reduction problem.


They didn't teach the zipper merge back when I took driver's ed, but I can see that it makes some sense. Unfortunately, it has one big drawback: It requires turn-taking courtesy on the part of all drivers. I can imagine it working in Switzerland, or Japan. But in America?  I have my doubts. Zippers are great; broken zippers are nasty.

Next time I'm in a situation of heavy traffic—which is where the zipper technique is considered most important—I may or may not have the courage to try it out. But at least I'll be more patient with the drivers who remain in the closing lane.

Unless they start using the shoulder. Then I'll allow myself to be annoyed.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, September 29, 2016 at 8:38 pm | Edit
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Soon we'll be singing a new Gloria in church: Carl MaultsBy's Gloria in Excelsis. (Yes, that's how he spells his name, with the uppercase B.)  We'd experienced his music and his leadership before, at the ordination service for our bishop, Greg Brewer.  As with the piece we sang then, this Gloria is not easy for the choir, though it's singable and catchy and stays with you, so I'm sure it won't take the congregation long to learn what they need to know.

The syncopated rhythm is difficult for those of us who haven't grown up with it, and the alto part has some, shall we say, less-than-intuitive intervals.  Don't get me wrong; I really like the song and am looking forward to singing it weekly until Advent.  But I mention the difficulty to explain why I was poking around on MaultsBy's website, trying to find a recording.  If I had succeeded, I'd share it here.  Alas, I did not.

However, I did find something that rewarded my efforts.


MaultsBy's music may be difficult, but I can't say I find it frightening.  :)

I never understand how my brain works.  But because our grandchildren will probably enjoy the video, I'll confess that this song is where my thoughts went next.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, September 29, 2016 at 8:39 am | Edit
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I’ve created a new category, “Inspiration,” for collecting quotations. I’ll be gleaning from many sources, but at the start it will be mostly from George MacDonald, a consequence of my 95 by 65 goal of reading all of his books.

Can I say that I appreciate my Kindle more and more?  I know that I hesitated to get an e-reader, because there’s nothing like the feel (and often the scent) of reading a physical book. I still believe that. And some of MadDonald’s books I’m reading from the delightful Johannesen complete set my father gave to me. MacDonald's book on Hamlet, for example, is much easier to read in physical form, with the text on the left page and his commentary on the right.

But the Kindle lets me bookmark, highlight, and take notes. Even when reading the physical book, I have the Kindle version nearby (easy, because of the phone app) so that I can do that. And then I can copy the quotations instead of transcribing them. It’s so much nicer than the sticky-note-type-it-all routine.

So on with this post’s quotation. The context is the process of restoring to health a severely ill young man. MacDonald wrote in the 19th century, when folks had to get well—if they ever did—without the help of antibiotics and other treatments we take for granted. Often recovery involved long stretches—weeks or months—in bed or with severely restricted activity. As unimaginable to most of us as that is, I think these exercises might still have educational value.

[Mr. Wingfold] began to set [Arthur] certain tasks; and as he was an invalid, the first was what he called "The task of twelve o'clock;"—which was, for a quarter of an hour from every noon during a month, to write down what he then saw going on in the world.

The first day he had nothing to show: he had seen nothing!

"What were the clouds doing?" Mr. Wingfold asked. "What were the horses in the fields doing?—What were the birds you saw doing?—What were the ducks and hens doing?—Put down whatever you see any creature about."

The next evening, he went to him again, and asked him for his paper. Arthur handed him a folded sheet.

"Now," said Mr. Wingfold, "I am not going to look at this for the present. I am going to lay it in one of my drawers, and you must write another for me to-morrow. If you are able, bring it over to me; if not, lay it by, and do not look at it, but write another, and another—one every day, and give them all to me the next time I come, which will be soon. We shall go on that way for a month, and then we shall see something!"

At the end of the month, Mr. Wingfold took all the papers, and fastened them together in their proper order. Then they read them together, and did indeed see something! The growth of Arthur's observation both in extent and quality, also the growth of his faculty for narrating what he saw, were remarkable both to himself and his instructor. The number of things and circumstances he was able to see by the end of the month, compared with the number he had seen in the beginning of it, was wonderful; while the mode of his record had changed from that of a child to that almost of a man.

Mr. Wingfold next, as by that time the weather was quite warm, set him "The task of six o'clock in the evening," when the things that presented themselves to his notice would be very different. After a fortnight, he changed again the hour of his observation, and went on changing it. So that at length the youth who had, twice every day, walked along Cheapside almost without seeing that one face differed from another, knew most of the birds and many of the insects, and could in general tell what they were about, while the domestic animals were his familiar friends. He delighted in the grass and the wild flowers, the sky and the clouds and the stars, and knew, after a real, vital fashion, the world in which he lived. He entered into the life that was going on about him, and so in the house of God became one of the family. He had ten times his former consciousness; his life was ten times the size it was before. As was natural, his health had improved marvellously. There is nothing like interest in life to quicken the vital forces—the secret of which is, that they are left freer to work.

 — George MacDonald
There and Back

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, September 28, 2016 at 9:48 am | Edit
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altEmber FallsThe Green Ember, Book II by S. D. Smith (Story Warren Books, 2016)

It was with a heroic effort I refrained from reading Ember Falls until this week. I'd received an advance copy because of supporting its publication on Kickstarter, and when it arrived I nearly drooled on it, but I had decided to wait until I finished some other books—not more important, but important in a different way—and also so that I could reread the other two books in the series: The Green Ember, and its prequel, The Black Star of Kingston. It had been almost exactly a year since I'd read them, and I figured I'd enjoy Ember Falls more with a little refresher.

But finally the day came, and Ember Falls was mine to devour. It didn't take long, even though I refused to let myself stay up all night to finish it. I'm not that crazy. And in any case the story didn't end: I'm already panting for Book III.

Not that the ending of Ember Falls is unsatisfactory, but it isn't an ending.

Pretty much everything I had to say in my review of the previous books applies here, so I'm going to quote a big chunk of it. At the end I'll add some Ember Falls-specific comments.

The Green Ember is just a story. It's not a lesson, it's not a sneaky vehicle to teach you something. It's just a story. But I believe in the power of stories. — S. D. Smith

I also believe in the power of stories, whether from a book, a movie, a video game, or any other medium. Even at my age I must be careful what stories I let myself experience, because I'm so vulnerable to their effects. By now most of you know what's coming, my definition of a good book, slightly paraphrased: A good story inspires me to be a better person. These are good stories, not at all in a syrupy way, but shot through with reality, life, action, and beauty.

It was a little jarring at first to wrap my head around the idea that the rabbits have both human and rabbit physical characteristics. That is, they are fully capable of using their front paws as hands (e.g. wielding swords, making stained glass windows, knitting), while their hind legs are rabbit-style powerful weapons. But it didn't take me long to get over it.

Let's see, what do I like about this book, other than its positive impact and the fact that I was immediately entranced and didn't want to put it down?

  • The primary protagonist is a strong female character. I've mentioned before how I grew up with books that made me embarrassed to be a girl, and nearly always identified with the male characters instead. Here's a female character who can think, fight, nurture, worry, and push herself beyond her limits. 
  • This rabbit heroine is named Heather!
  • The secondary protagonist, Pickett, is highly intelligent and mathematically talented, and his gifts don't make him a freak, but rather a valuable asset in the community.
  • Due to his young age and the trauma in his life, Pickett has some dangerous emotional issues. The wisest rabbits in the community don't seek to make him "normal," but instead help him find healing through becoming more, not less, himself.
  • This is very much a medieval rabbit world. They fight with swords and arrows—and feet and just a little bit of gunpowder. They make clothing by hand. Skills are learned through apprenticeship. Somehow chivalry and honor and high callings fit better in a medieval-themed world, as J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis amply demonstrated. Even George Lucas filled his high-tech future with swords and knights.
  • The rabbit community values, supports, and praises excellence in every good endeavor, from cooking to fighting to building to storytelling. The end of the rabbits' world seems imminent, yet they emphasize the importance of the arts, and value doing the work of ordinary life extraordinarily well.

Ember Falls did not disappoint. I'll admit that of the three books thus far, it's not my favorite.  That would be The Green Ember, because it shows more of the beauty of ordinary life done well. Ember Falls is clearly a middle book, necessarily darker and more filled with battles. (You all know how much I dislike battle scenes.)  There are wonderful moments, definitely: goodness, truth, and beauty still pierce the darkness. But sometimes life is hard, calling for courage, loyalty, sacrifice, wisdom and forgiveness to shine more brightly than in happier times.  At this Ember Falls succeeds abundantly.

I'm still very pleased with the way Smith handles his female characters. They are determined, and strong as steel, yet gentle and nurturing. If I have one complaint it is that Pickett, the young genius, hasn't yet been allowed to use his mathematical abilities for anything more than an extraordinarily good sense of spatial relations. But maybe that's necessary in war—and I am glad that Smith breaks the stereotype that associates mental gifts with clumsiness and lack of common sense.

Bring on the next book!  Bring on the next Kickstarter appeal. I'll be there.  #RabbitsWithSwords

This is my 100th post for the year. Apparently I'm pretty consistent. Last year I wrote my 100th post on September 21.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, September 27, 2016 at 3:42 pm | Edit
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This isn't a serious "freedom isn't free" post about the price of establishing and maintaining liberty. It's about my attempt to obtain a free bagel from Panera.

I love Panera. The food is good, the service is quick, they play classical music softly in the background, and my favorite of their stores used to have the best view—field, trees, pond, cows, and birds—until the lovely countryside in which we celebrated the 1992 Sunshine State Pow-Wow succumbed to developers.

I also love that they've been having a free-bagel-a-day promotion.

Not that we take advantage of it every day, but recently I was out shopping and decided to grab a bagel. I swung into the parking lot of the nearest Panera. What was usually an ample lot had not one space available.

That's not quite true: there was one space remaining, in the "Compact Cars Only" section. No problem: our car qualifies as a compact. But it's not compact enough to fit between the two massive mini-vans that bracketed that space.

I then noticed what looked like a space in an otherwise crowded dead-end section of the lot, but when I arrived it was marked "Do NOT Park Here."  Its purpose, I suspect, was to give people like me a chance to turn around, which would have been a real challenge without that space. I thought briefly of staying there just long enough to pick up the bagel, but discarded the idea for the sake of my fellow parking lot wanderers.

Instead, I decided to park in the lot next door, and walk to Panera. Only there, the spaces were aggressively marked, "Le Jean's Parking Only."  Still no problem: I need new jeans, and though I suspected the store would be too pricey for me, I didn't mind the idea of seeing what they had available—and detouring for my bagel on the way back to my car.

Only it turned out that "Le Jean's" doesn't sell jeans, but rather jewelry.

I just couldn't.

Back in my car again, I returned to the Panera lot, took one more, longing look at the sub-sub-compact space, eyed the other cars circling 'round in the vain hope that one of them was leaving—and noticed that the "1 Minute Parking Only" space had opened up.

I can do this!

Out of the car, pause to hold the door for an over-loaded waiter, into the store, through the (surprisingly very short) line, swipe the Panera card, grab the asiago cheese bagel, out the door, into the car, and on my way home in 60 seconds.

If you don't count the initial 10 minute adventure.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, September 25, 2016 at 6:10 am | Edit
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Saturday is baking day, and I was just taking the first sheet of chewy M&M cookies out of the oven when Porter came into the kitchen and announced, "If we can get there in 40 minutes, we can catch the $6 showing of Sully."

I judged I could get the second sheet baked while cleaning up the kitchen and getting myself ready to go, so I thrust it in the oven and got to work, putting the remainder of the dough in the refrigerator to be baked later. (I had originally written simply, "for later," but there are those among my readers who would suspect me of setting aside the dough to be eaten raw. That has been known to happen.)

We arrived at the theater in time to sit through 20 minutes' worth of ads and previews that convinced me there was nothing I wanted to buy and no more movies I wanted to watch.

But I certainly am glad I watched Sully.

There's a wee bit of bad language, but nonetheless I highly recommend the film for our older grandchildren. The true story of the 2009 "Miracle on the Hudson" is awe-inspiring, and very well crafted. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time despite already knowing the outcome. I understand the filmmakers were a little hard on the National Transportation Safety Board for dramatic purposes, but otherwise I believe the movie is true to the facts.

I walked out of the theater with renewed appreciation for the value of experience, practice, and preparedness. For what it takes to be an asset rather than a liability in an emergency situation. And for always knowing the nearest exit and where to find your life vest, even if you've heard the spiel a thousand times.

As others warned us, don't leave without watching the credits.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, September 24, 2016 at 2:42 pm | Edit
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I know a lot of hymns.  We've sung in many denominations, and even in the Episcopal Church the congregation's favorites can vary significantly from church to church.  But at our current church we feature not only the more common hymns, but also the ones in the Episcopal hymnal that are almost never sung.  True, there's often a good reason why a particular hymn is unpopular, but most end up better than our choir expects when our director first introduces them.

And sometimes we discover hidden gold.

Last Sunday we sang Hymn 307 (Hymnal 1982), Lord Enthroned in Heavenly Splendor.

This is the best version I could find on YouTube, because the hymn tune, BRYN CALFARIA (not "California," which is how I first read it) is at least as important as the words, especially with the stirring harmony, which alas is hard to hear in the video.  You can see both the text and the music, including the harmony with the alto line that was so much fun to sing, by clicking here.  (When you get there, don't forget to click on the link to the next page, also.  It's a two-page hymn.)

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, September 19, 2016 at 9:23 am | Edit
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My 95 by 65 swimming goal was very modest:  Swim five miles, and brachiate one mile.  The reason brachiation was part of the swimming goal will be more obvious when you see the ladder configuration, here demonstrated by some neophytes who are much more fun to watch than I am.

I didn't officially start till July of this year, when I realized that both travel and winter weather would take away a large chunk of the months remaining till my 65th birthday and I'd better pay attention to this goal.  But as of yesterday, I'm up to 5.4 swimming miles and 1.3 brachiating.  More important, I've established a daily habit: eleven laps (0.1 miles) of the pool, and six of the ladder (0.025 miles).  Little steps add up over time!

Now we'll see how long the habit lasts, as the water temperature drops.  Thanks to my encouraging daughters, who gave me the new perspective, when I do stop for the winter I will not think of the habit as broken, but rather seasonal, ready to begin again in warmer weather.  After all, one does not consider the "skiing habit" broken just because the skis are put away at the end of winter!

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, September 17, 2016 at 6:15 am | Edit
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altHiroshima: The Unforgettable Account of the Event that Opened the Atomic Age by John Hersey (Bantam Books, 1946)

The paperback copy I read shows an original price of twenty-five cents; the pages are darkened and some are coming unbound. Hersey was the Pulitzer prize-winning author of A Bell for Adano. Hiroshima was his next book, arising from his experiences in Japan. (Our bookshelves also hold another of Hersey's many books, written forty years later: Blues. Based on Hiroshima, I've moved Blues higher up on my reading list.)

The story—actually, a compilation of stories from several survivors of the bombing—is not surprisingly very similar to the events in Hiroshima Diary, but from other perspectives and enough difference to make it worth reading both.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, September 2, 2016 at 9:00 am | Edit
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