I thought these had disappeared decades ago, yet look what showed up when I cleaned out our closet! (Click to enlarge.)

I shouldn't have to tell anyone how old they are.

My idea is to take the flags off the poles and wash them gently, then frame them to hang on the wall. I'd have done it already but shopping for frames online is not yielding any joy right now. Normally I go to JoAnn's and spend a lot of time pawing through their frames to find something that looks right and is in good shape, a practice that is currently frowned upon. I'd consider taking a chance at buying them online, but I can't find the right sizes in stock. So I wait.

But I'm so happy to have found these flags that I had to share them.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, April 29, 2020 at 7:26 am | Edit
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Last Tuesday morning I ventured out of the house to take advantage of the "senior shopping hours" from 7 to 8 at Publix. Our need was far from dire, but I had accumulated a fairly long list of items I'd like to have. Shopping these days is a matter of guessing risks. With our COVID-19 incidence still very low here, and with talk about loosening restrictions, I decided the risk had nowhere to go but up for a while.

This was my first time in the store since all the new policies were put in place, and it only took me half the trip to realize that the aisles are now one-way. That's annoying—I'm the kind of person who will go down an aisle, then decide I want something I'd just passed, and backtrack to pick it up. Now I have to go "around the block." But it does help shoppers keep their distance.

If you include the time from walking out the door to finally having everything put away, it was a three-hour expedition. At least half of it was the cleaning ritual at home. Everything that has an inner package gets its external packaging removed; items with packaging that can be washed get washed or disinfected. That's the easy part. Produce is a little harder, but still a piece of cake compared to what my father's sister had to do to her produce when she and her family lived in Ethiopia. I think of Aunt Mary Jane a lot these days.

Milk is no longer rationed at Publix, and even though eggs are (I bought one dozen but could have had two), there were plenty available. A few items were still missing: my favorite hamburger and hot dog buns, and a particular kind of ice cream that I needed for Porter's birthday cake. Fortunately, bread works fine for buns, and there was an acceptable substitute for the ice cream.

You'd think with doing less shopping I'd be spending less money, but it's just the opposite. I'm a pretty careful shopper and pay a lot of attention to sales. (That's why we're okay on toilet paper—I'd bought two good-sized packages on sale shortly before the shortage began.) Now if I see something we might need, I buy it, both because I want to shop less frequently and because it might not be available next time. I don't even do my usual checking of expiration dates, prices, and ingredients, because I don't want to touch a package and return it to the shelves. So I grab and go. That's one part of the new normal I'd love to see go away.

Being at home is still great, however. I miss church and choir dreadfully, but there are good things to come out of even that, such as our daily online noontime services that I know I wouldn't attend if I had to drive to them. But staying home itself? There is so much to do, so many projects crying for attention, so many books to read, so many ideas for writing, that I could stay on lockdown for 100 years and not run out of things to do. I know people who are being driven crazy by being home, but for me that is unfathomable.

I'm not immune to the mental stress induced by the sudden changes, however. For a while I was all at sixes and sevens and couldn't focus on anything, not even my favorite pet projects. I'm doing better, though. An important breakthrough came when I allowed myself to take on some new projects despite other ones being more pressing. It turns out that physical work with clear endings and notable milestones along the way—such as a major overhaul of our bedroom closet, a massive cleanup and reorganization of my sewing area, which has been a disaster for decades, getting to the bottom of the mending pile, crafting a birthday present for Porter, significant work on our guest room (which had become a catch-all, a very large junk drawer), and even cooking/baking have been much more therapeutic than projects that keep me tied to the computer. Even more so than writing, which is my usual go-to therapy-and-comfort-food. Perhaps because so many things are now being done online, my mind and body are rebelling and require something more tangible.

I can't keep this up—the rest of the work must not be neglected for too long—and will eventually have places to go and people to see. But for now, I'm quite enjoying the solitude.

And every once in a while I peek in our closet and breathe a happy sigh.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, April 27, 2020 at 11:30 am | Edit
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altLetters to Children by C. S. Lewis, edited by Lyle W. Dorsett and Marjorie Lamp Mead (Touchstone, 1985)

For a man whose primary experience with children was that he had once been one himself, C. S. Lewis does a remarkable job of writing to them with the respect due to their intelligence and wisdom. He talks down to them only a very little—and frankly, from the heights of his intellect, there's no other way to talk with almost anyone, of any age, but down. This collection of letters, written mostly to admirers of his Narnia books, on both sides of the Atlantic, contains both information and wisdom I've not seen elsewhere in his writings.

My first quotation is from the rather long introductory material, and sheds light on some of the restrictions imposed on children in olden times. We shake our heads, but we who live in the age of vaccines and antibiotics have no right to laugh.

[The lives of Jack Lewis and his brother Warren] were remarkably like the lives of children today—with one major exception: when it rained, which it did often in Belfast, the Lewis brothers were not allowed outside. This rain-time restriction was the result of the danger of tuberculosis, a disease dreadfully more serious in the early 1900s than it is now. Keeping children warm and dry was a parent's best defense against the threat. (pp. 10-11)

Where I grew up the great thing was Halloween.... There was always a slightly eerie, spooky feeling mixed with games, events, and various kinds of fortune telling—not a good night on which to walk through a churchyard. (Tho' in fact Irish people, believing in both, are much more afraid of fairies than of ghosts.) (p. 37)

This astonished me, and makes me feel better about what I had thought was an inconsistency in the Harry Potter books. I had never been able to figure out why Hallowe'en figures so prominently in them, while Guy Fawkes's Day is neglected. I was relying on a friend from Heather's first grade days, who had recently moved here from England, and couldn't understand "this strange American holiday, Hallowe'en." I know now that, at least in some parts of the United Kingdom, the holiday was well established long before J. K. Rowling was born.

I've never seen Aida, but I've known the music since I was a small boy: and how good it is. It's rather the fashion over here now amongst the musical snobs to look down their noses when Verdi is mentioned and talk about the "cheapness of his thematic material." What they really mean is that Verdi could write tunes and they can't! (p. 48)

The [Narnia] books don't tell us what happened to Susan. She is left alive in this world at the end, having by then turned into a rather silly, conceited young woman. But there is plenty of time for her to mend, and perhaps she will get to Aslan's country in the end—in her own way. (p. 67)

I think I agree with your order for reading the [Narnia] books [chronologically] more than with your mother's [in publication order]. (p. 68)

I've said it before: Lewis may be the author, but I think he's wrong. It's much more powerful to read The Magician's Nephew after The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, looking backwards and discovering, for example, the origin of the Wardrobe and the Lamp Post.

Provided the thing is in itself right, the more one likes it and the less one has to "try to be good," the better. A perfect man would never act from sense of duty; he'd always want the right thing more than the wrong one. Duty is only a substitute for love (of God and of other people), like a crutch, which is a substitute for a leg. Most of us need the crutch at times; but of course it's idiotic to use the crutch when our own legs (our own loves, tastes, habits etc.) can do the journey on their own! (p. 72)

The following is for all my teacher friends, especially the university math professor who knows how true this is!

Beware of the [mathematics] master who over-marks the work. Generous marking is nice for the moment, but it can lead to disappointments when, later, one comes up against the real thing. American university teachers have told me that most of their freshmen come from schools where the standard was far too low and therefore think themselves far better than they really are. This means that they lose heart (and their tempers too) when told, as they have to be told, their real level. (pp. 83-84, emphasis mine)

What a drole idea in Florida, to give credits not for what you know but for hours spent in a classroom! Rather like judging the condition of an animal not by its weight or shape but by the amount of food that had been offered it! (p. 88, emphasis mine)

I was at three schools (all boarding schools) of which two were very horrid. I never hated anything so much, not even the front line trenches in World war I. Indeed the story is far too horrid to tell anyone of your age. (p. 102)

And on that depressing note I'll close. Letters to Children is not one of Lewis's most freqeuntly read books, but it is well worth the effort if you can find a copy.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, April 25, 2020 at 10:13 am | Edit
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The following is another guest post from my "youthful correspondent," who now has a name: Wyatt. His previous contribution was "The Coronavirus Crisis: A Youthful Perspective." If Porter doesn't use too much of Wyatt's computer time allowance playing games, and his parents don't assign too much of his other time to school and chores, I expect to hear more from him in the future. That's why "Guest Posts" is a new blog category.

The Coronavirus has had the effect of frightening us all, and there have been many disparate measures taken to fight it. In some places the danger is all too real, as in New York City. In other places, like the Dakotas, it is hardly a presence. There are 47 states in between, and they all have different levels of severity. Stress brings out the best and the worst in people; we have seen that in every state, and at the highest levels of government. People are afraid and they want to vest more power in the government to deal with their fears and to feel safe again. The unfortunate issue is that, once the government gets power, it rarely lets it go. 

Perhaps the scariest thing that has come about from this is that the government wants to track people who get Coronavirus by their phones. I don’t think that if the government got this power, they would give it up. I was not alive at 9/11, so I can’t claim to know what it was like. However, I imagine that people were scared, perhaps in a way comparable to now. When people were scared the Patriot Act came into effect, and this infringed greatly on people’s right to privacy. It passed unanimously without much thought being put into it, because people were scared. The same thing happened with the stimulus bill that just got passed. Everyone getting money across the board is hardly efficient. There were people like my family, who received a decent chunk of cash, even though we have yet to lose any work. My dad teaches kids in China, so he actually saw a boost in his amount of work when the Coronavirus hit China, because kids were stuck inside. My mom manages condominium associations, so she won’t stop being paid unless they go bankrupt. I would say that we hardly need the money, though we won’t refuse it on principle. So, although President Trump said that he would bring down the deficit, it continues to skyrocket.

This is not to say that the president had a whole lot of better options. To give people money with a bunch of red tape would be significantly worse than giving it to nobody, since the money wouldn’t arrive until the time period it was crafted for was long since over. The only other option was to simply let people deal with it themselves. Indeed, who would have thought that the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave would be under house arrest and be living on checks sent to them by the Federal Government? I doubt that things will ever go back to normal, not after people have experienced this shutdown. Either people will be disgusted with what governments do with their power, or they will be impressed by how well the government handled it. This will determine whether the level of government involvement goes up or down.

Of course, our rights are not under attack everywhere. In my home in New Hampshire, everything has been done by suggestion for the common people. Non-essential stores have still been forcibly shut down, but the average Joe can still do what he wants. My family has been in self-imposed isolation since late March, but our neighbors had three or four cars come over for Easter dinner, with people sitting next to each other talking outside. This is an admirable practice in normal times, but rather irresponsible now. But their right to freely associate with people is left uninfringed.

In New York City, Mayor Bill DeBlasio wants to permanently shut down religious groups who refuse to shut down public worship. Whatever one’s personal views, this is an abominable violation of the First Amendment. President Trump himself had a moment where he said that he had absolute power over the states. These political figures are under a lot of stress. Both have not followed through with their statements, as DeBlasio has yet to shut down a religious institution, and Trump has just turned the decision basically over to the states with his “guidelines” on when to reopen. However, this forebodes a darker time when these threats could become realities. If we get a second wave, for example, I am sure that restrictions will only be heavier, and the abuse of power only more widespread. The best that we can do is to keep calm, and do our best to keep ourselves safe.

It is a tough situation. It is rights vs. life. If Governor X orders storekeeper A to close his store, then the hypothetical person B is not going to get sick and die because he goes to storekeeper A’s store. All it takes is the suspension of person A’s rights. But if rights can be suspended whenever peoples’ lives are in danger, are rights worth anything? Let’s perform a reductio ad absurdum on the issue. If person A insults person B, it could drive person B to suicide. Person B’s life is thus in danger. Therefore, no one should be allowed to insult anyone. This would of course be in gross violation of the right to free speech, although almost everyone thinks the world would be better if there were no insults. Where is the line drawn?

Consider a real life example of where the government’s power to restrain anyone’s rights would be used to deadly effect. There are many people who suggest that fossil fuels will bring Armageddon to society. Such people do exist; several of them ran for president this year. They assume that, not only will millions die, but the whole human race will become extinct, if global warming continues. Thus, the rights of the fossil fuel companies would not be respected. Nor would the rights of anyone who tried to speak out against it. What price are some people’s rights compared to the saving of the human species? Now, perhaps if the human race was in danger of extinction, it would be worth it to remove rights. But the issue is that the choice comes down to a select few people, and human judgement has a terrible track record. It is a decision that the country needs to come to terms with, and soon. The current administration’s task is similar. They must decide how dangerous the Coronavirus is, and act accordingly. So, the next time the president snaps at a reporter, we can remember that he is under more stress than any president since Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II, or perhaps Nixon during Watergate.

The ultimate conclusion is that the government has been given a lot of power, and it has done some good and some bad with it. However, if the government does not subsequently relinquish this power, which I doubt it will, worse things will happen. The national debt is rising like the tide, and I don’t think that this tide is going to recede anytime soon. Eventually it is going to reach our beach hut, if we don’t push it back. No one, no matter who wins the election, is going to get us through these waters easily. 

I will end with a bright note, however. The American people don’t like having their rights taken away. There have been greater protests in Michigan over confinement then there have been in Italy, and I think that Americans are not quite ready to lose their rights yet. And—for now—the American people can bring their government to heel at election time.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, April 23, 2020 at 8:28 am | Edit
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Nearly 50 years ago, in a small room at the University of Rochester, a group of Christians gathered every Tuesday night for worship and fellowship. I was a new Christian at the time, and innocent in my taste for the music we sang; I liked it all. Now, with more knowledge of both music and poetry under my belt, the memory is a bit embarrassing, as is much of the early 1970's. But even then I recognized the value of our "homegrown" music, played and composed by a fellow student by the name of Will Soll.

Those were not the days of Internet, smart phones, and social media, and we lost track of Will soon after graduation. But now is the day of all that, and I discovered that Will has a YouTube channel for his music. Here's a sample.

Would I have recognized him had I come across this music without a label? I don't think so. Of course, I'm faceblind, so that part doesn't surprise me, but I'm usually good with voices. But it's been half a century, and he, too, has grown and changed in his music.

Still, I have no doubt this is the same Will Soll who wrote Snow Fell on Easter Sunday, the song which brought him back to my mind as we faced an Easter Sunday so different from our plans and expectations. Here's the first verse, though sadly without the melody and Will's guitar accompaniment:

Snow fell on Easter Sunday
Why, dear Lord? Why, dear Lord?
You could've kept it green this one day
Why, dear Lord? Why, dear Lord?
But though our potted plants did fade
and all our potted plans had to be remade
You rose anyway, you rose anyway
On Easter Sunday.

(Here in Central Florida a snowy Easter is actually less probable than having church services and Easter egg hunts cancelled by a pandemic. But in Rochester, New York it was a different story. Our youngest daughter was born in a blizzard just four days before Easter that year. So no one should have been surprised by snow.)

Thanks, Will Soll, for the memories.

He rose anyway.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, April 20, 2020 at 10:26 am | Edit
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altKilling Jesus: A History by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard (Henry Holt, 2013)

I wasn't planning to read another of O'Reilly's Killing series so soon after Kennedy and Reagan.  But while writing that review it hit me that there would be no more appropriate time to read Killing Jesus than during Holy Week. I began on Good Friday and finished on Easter Sunday.

I'd been hesitating over this one, the subject being far dearer to my heart than any of our presidents. Plus, I knew the work was bound to be somewhat speculative, and therefore somewhat inaccurate, the source documents not being as plentiful as those O'Reilly and Dugard have had to work with for their other books.  But as with the others in this series, I was pleasantly surprised.

It is clearly a secular book, as I expected.  The authors' efforts are historical, not theological.  I don't believe there's anything to cause an atheist, Muslim, or other non-Christian to cringe.

No, I take that back.  There are some very cringe-worthy moments (for anyone) such as in the descriptions of just what the common and well-honed practices of torture and punishment did to the human body, mind, and spirit, and the stories of debaucheries and perversions—especially of the Roman emperor Tiberius—that are not all that graphic but certainly make me wish my imagination were a little less vivid.  But none theological.

If the sources for this book were not as easily accessible as YouTube videos of presidential speeches, that doesn't mean it isn't well-documented.  Research—historical, archaeological, textual—and books abound about that time period, and the original records are plentiful and well-attested.

The historical record may not have been as immediately accessible as that of more recent times, but the men who wrote the history of that period were very much concerned with getting their facts straight and telling the story as completely as possible.  The Romans were very keen to chronicle their times. (p. 276)

The authors appear to have done an admirable job of crafting the historical records into a smooth and coherent narrative, beginning as far back as 44 B.C. with the assassination of Julius Caesar.  Because it is a craft, there is of necessity some speculation, and surely some error, in filling the gaps and reconciling differing accounts.  For example, they posit not one but two separate cleansings of the temple in Jerusalem, which may be true but is not a theory I'd heard before.  They also perpetrate the idea that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, which stems from an error about 1400 years old and only recently corrected.  Nonetheless, Killing Jesus does a much better job of making the life and death and times of Jesus come alive, while remaining true to the facts, than any other book or movie I've experienced.  Christian versions tend to be cloying and feel unreal—it is abominably difficult to portray holiness!—and secular versions tend to give the impression that the authors believe the only way to get at the historical truth is to debunk anything specifically Christian about it.  O'Reilly and Dugard walk that line very well.

You won't find any theology in Killing Jesus, nor for that matter any clear statement of how Christianity makes sense of the narrative.  They suggest C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity for that; the recommendation is hidden away in the "Sources" appendix.  Without the theology, their analysis of Jesus' purpose, his message, and his thoughts as he approaches his death comes across as rather lame, but I commend them for recognizing—contrary to a sermon I once heard—that he was not caught off guard by the events but knew what was going to happen and why.

Side note 1:  Can I just say that reading the about events in Rome, and looking at the maps, have ten- or maybe a hundred-fold more meaning for me since our visit to that city last September?  Travel, or at least many travel videos, ought to be a part of everyone's education from early on.

Side note 2:  In the Afterward, a "where are they now?" look at the principal players, the authors mention our favorite Swiss mountain, Pilatus, because it was named after Pontius Pilate.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, April 17, 2020 at 9:20 am | Edit
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Is anyone else old enough to be haunted by Simon & Garfunkel's I Am a Rock, written in the mid-1960's?

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me.
I am shielded in my armor.
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb,
I touch no one and no one touches me.

I am a rock.
I am an island.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, April 15, 2020 at 10:39 am | Edit
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Staying home is generally not a problem for me. I have 'way too much on my plate to be bored, and in fact appreciate the extra time. (I just wish I were in better shape to take advantage of it, but introverts are not immune to the mental shock of these sudden changes and restrictions. I'm making progress, but not the way I think I ought to be able.)

I miss church a lot, especially singing in the choir. And the comfortable routine of eating lunch with friends after the service. But as I said, there's so much to do at home the days are still flying past.

Nonetheless, going out these days feels like coming up for air.

Porter's printer ran out of ink, and the best and most timely deal was to pick it up from Staples. So he ordered and paid for it online—after adding some banker's boxes to help with my home projects.

In the meantime, remembering that our Gordon Food Service store was between home and Staples, I signed up with them and was also able to place and pay for online an order for pickup. GFS is our favorite source for large bags of frozen fruit—the only source I know of for frozen sour cherries.

When we arrived at each of the stores, we parked and let them know we had arrived. When they came out, we popped the trunk and they placed our items inside. GFS did hand us a receipt through the window, which Porter accepted with gloved hand and masked face; next time we'll just refuse it as we did at Staples.

Then home again, home again. The ink box was thrown away and the ink installed; the banker's boxes stored in the garage for a few days of disinfection, and the fruit bags duly washed.

Whenever I feel annoyed at having to treat groceries as if they were deadly, I remember my father's sister. With her husband and three young children she managed their household for two years in Ethiopia, back in the 1960's. Their produce came from fields where human manure was used as fertilizer, and everything had to be washed with a bleach solution to prevent diseases much worse than COVID-19. Perspective is good.

Well, that was fun. Now it's time to hole up again and see what progress I can make. Hang in there, my friends!

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, April 14, 2020 at 9:06 am | Edit
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Perhaps my favorite service of the church year is the Easter Vigil, usually held on Saturday night.  Here's my description of our service from 2015:

For us, Easter started last night with an Easter Vigil service that was over two hours long, but wonderful.  Lighting of the New Fire, procession, candles, singing, and a large number of baptisms (adult and child), confirmations, and first communions.  The latter is why it was so long, but who would want fewer?  I love that our church has a means of doing infant baptism by immersion (parents' choice).  I also love that moment when the lights come on and we shout the first Alleluia of Easter—alleluias are banished from the service during Lent—with the whole congregation sounding bells and other happy noisemakers.  (There were a few unhappy noisemakers as well, as it was a long and late night for the above-mentioned children.)  I brought my tambourine, and Porter the ship's bell that Dad had given us so long ago.  The latter makes quite an impressive sound.

Naturally, things were different this year.  But as someone said, if the churches are empty, at least the grave is also!  Our church will have our online Easter service later this morning, but I couldn't resist a private snippet of the Easter Vigil.

In a phrase taken from C. S. Lewis' Reflections on the Psalms,

"Chocolate eggs and Jesus risen!"

Except there are no chocolate eggs for us, as our Easter candy purchases were interrupted by the news that our Swiss grandchildren had been shut out from our Easter celebrations.  We will, however, be eating their jelly beans.

Happy Easter, everyone!

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, April 12, 2020 at 6:19 am | Edit
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altKilling Kennedy: The End of Camelot by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard (Henry Holt, 2012)
Killing Reagan: The Violent Assault that Changed a Presidency by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard (Henry Holt, 2015)

As I said about the book, Killing Lincoln, to open any of Bill O'Reilly's books one must to put aside one's prejudices, as he is quite a controversial figure. It's well worth the effort: these are fascinating books. I'd say it's my ignorance of history that makes them so interesting to me, but my history-buff husband enjoyed them as well.

O'Reilly's book on Lincoln treated the man as a saint; Kennedy and Reagan don't get the same courtesy, nor do any of the other presidents touched upon (Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter); even Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is treated with blunt honesty. The books are neither exposés nor hagiographies, but appear to be well-researched efforts to paint accurate pictures of the men and their times.

The more I learn about our past presidents, the more normal Donald Trump appears. It was a great advantage to serve in the days before Twitter and incessant media coverage.

Both Killing Kennedy and Killing Reagan are easy to read and hard to put down, and I'd highly recommend them for our oldest grandchildren and one of their friends who is a great history buff—with the warning that O'Reilly pulls no punches when revealing that most of these folks (Carter being the exception) would make a tomcat blush. And because Reagan began as an actor, the cesspool nature of Hollywood high society is also revealed. You know those TV and movie actors whose characters you so admire? The Ten Commandments' prohibition of idolatry was never more pertinent.

It's not so much about sex as it is about power—sex is just one part of how the powerful get what they want. Still, as I've said before, many of the same character traits that enable people to become rich and powerful also enable them to be the high achievers we depend on. I'm learning more and more that wheat and tares grow in the same heart, and that one can be grateful for the good that people do without countenancing the harm.

Idolizing any human being is worse than futile.

I became acquainted with some of the dark underside of the Kennedy family while living in Massachusetts, but I was still shocked at what I learned through Killing Kennedy. Of Reagan I had expected less, and therefore was the more pleasantly surprised that many of his offenses diminished once he attained the White House. He seemed to rise to the occasion. Apparently one of his strengths was knowing how to surround himself with good advisors—and listening to them. Kennedy also grew noticeably during his presidency, though he was harmed by nepotism and being surrounded by too many "yes men."

I was more sparse than usual with my quotations for these books, which are better read as a whole than in snippets. Or maybe I was just lazy.

From Killing Kennedy I marked only one, which stood out because you would think it came from the book about Reagan. I cannot imagine any Democratic president or presidential candidate advocating this position now.

The president, without consulting notes, then rattles off a long list of statistics. He presses for a tax cut, to ward off a recession, he says, and backs it up with detailed financial specifics about the way in which cutting taxes would stimulate the economy. (p. 208)

The rest of the quotes are from Killing Reagan.

[Reagan's children Michael and Maureen] will long remember their father as loving but also absent from their lives for long periods of time—as was their mother. Both children are sent away to boarding school by the time they enter the second grade. "There's a distinct difference between the care provided by a parent and the care provided by a paid caretaker," Maureen will say years later. "It was simply one of the prices all of us had to pay for their success." (p. 30, emphasis mine)


"Communism has become an intensely dogmatic and almost mystical religion, and whatever you say, they have ways of twisting it into shapes which put you in some lower category of mankind," wrote novelist and screenwriter F. Scott Fitzgerald, describing the ideological tension in Hollywood. (p. 37)

Plus ça change....

Reagan's hatred of communism has not abated one bit since his days as president of the Screen Actors Guild. If anything, his convictions have become more intense: "I think it would be very admirable if the Berlin Wall, which was built in direct contravention to a treaty, should disappear. I think this would be a step toward peace and toward self-determination for all people, if it were." (p. 80)

Reagan said that in 1967, as governor of California, just six years after the Wall's construction. Twenty-two years later the Wall will fall—due to many converging factors, but in no small part to his efforts as president of the United States.

[Reagan's] first real battle [as governor of California] came when the members of a radical group of African-Americans known as the Black Panther Party occupied the California State Capitol Building in Sacramento. In accordance with the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which allows citizens the right to bear arms, these twenty-four men and six women openly displayed the .357 Magnum pistols and 12-gauge shotguns they carried. California law states that carrying weapons openly in public is legal, and the Panthers were in Sacramento to argue against impending legislation that would revoke this right. The protest ended peacefully, but not before Republicans in the state legislature pushed through a bill that made gun control in California a reality. And it is the gun-loving Reagan himself who gladly signed the bill into law. (p. 82)

See the above quote about John F. Kennedy pushing for tax cuts!

Four years ago, Jimmy Carter did not feel it appropriate to celebrate his inauguration with even one formal ball, let alone ten. No partying for the man from Plains. Instead, Carter's 1977 inaugural address was somber, pointing out America's limitations as a nation. The tone of pessimism and defeat that marked Carter's first day in office came to define his entire presidency. If Ronald Reagan's first day in office is any indication of what is to come, the United States of America is in for a far more upbeat presidency. (p. 145)

And indeed it was true. Unlike with the other presidents, O'Reilly has a hard time finding anything negative to say about Carter as a person—though I get the impression that he did not find Carter's sexual fidelity, church attendance, and teetotal White House something to be particularly admired. But he's right about the pessimism of Carter's years in office. Carter seems to have missed what Reagan used to his advantage: both pessimism and optimism are contagious, and a good leader sets the tone for his followers. As C. S. Lewis said in The Horse and His Boy,

"For this is what it means to be a king: to be first in every desperate attack and last in every desperate retreat, and when there’s hunger in the land (as must be now and then in bad years) to wear finer clothes and laugh louder over a scantier meal than any man in your land."

[Jack Hinkley sits down with his son John, who will add this to his long list of sins and failures: he will attempt to assassinate President Reagan.] Jack is direct, telling his son that he is no longer welcome in their home. "You've broken every promise you've made to your mother and me. Our part of the agreement was to provide you with a home and an allowance while you've worked at becoming independent. I don't know what you've been doing these past months, but it hasn't been that. And we've reached the end of our rope."

John Hinckley is shocked. Even at age twenty-five, he is so accustomed to having his parents solve his problems that his father's words stun him. (p. 156, emphasis mine)

Even at age twenty-five. Clearly that was a different century, when it was considered shocking for someone to reach the age of 25 without acquiring adult skills and taking on adult responsibilities.

In defiance of Reagan, more than eleven thousand air traffic controllers ignore his warning and continue to walk the picket lines. Forty-four hours later, Reagan makes good on his promise.

They are fired.

All of them.

"I'm sorry," Reagan tells the press. "I'm sorry for them. I certainly take no joy out of this."

Later, Reagan will reflect on this day with a sense of justification. "I think it convinced people who thought otherwise that I meant what I said."

Especially the Soviets.

George Schultz, who will one day serve as Reagan's secretary of state, will call this "the most important foreign policy decision Reagan has ever made." (p. 198)

Next up? Killing Jesus. I've been hesitating over this one, the subject being far dearer to my heart than any of our presidents. Plus, the work is bound to be somewhat speculative, and therefore somewhat inaccurate, the source documents not being as plentiful as those O'Reilly has had to work with for his other books.

But it is, after all, the right time of year.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, April 11, 2020 at 8:00 am | Edit
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On this unusual Good Friday, in an unusual Holy Week, in an unusual year, I'm reviving a post I wrote ten years ago.

Is there anything worse than excruciating physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual torture and death?

Maybe, just maybe, it would be watching your child endure that.

It takes nothing from the sufferings of Christ commemorated this Holy Week to pause and consider a couple of other important persons in the drama.

I find the following hymn to be one of the most powerful and moving of the season. For obvious reasons, it is usually sung on Palm Sunday, but the verses reach all the way through to Easter. [Cue WINCHESTER NEW]

Ride on! Ride on in majesty!
Hark! all the tribes hosanna cry;
Thy humble beast pursues his road
With palms and scatter'd garments strowed.

Ride on! Ride on in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die;
O Christ, thy triumphs now begin
O'er captive death and conquer'd sin.

Ride on! Ride on in majesty!
The wingèd squadrons of the sky
Look down with sad and wond'ring eyes
To see th'approaching sacrifice.

Ride on! Ride on in majesty!
Thy last and fiercest strife is nigh;
The Father on his sapphire throne
Awaits his own anointed Son.

Ride on! Ride on in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die;
Bow thy meek head to mortal pain,
Then take, O God, thy pow'r, and reign!

"The Father on his sapphire throne awaits his own anointed Son." For millennia, good fathers have encouraged, led, or forced their children into suffering, from primitive coming-of-age rites to chemotherapy. Even when they know it is for the best, and that all will be well in the end, the terrible suffering of the fathers is imaginable only by someone who has been in that position himself.

And mothers?

The Protestant Church doesn't talk much about Mary. The ostensible reason is to avoid what they see as the idolatry of the Catholic Church, though given the adoration heaped upon male saints and church notables by many Protestants, I'm inclined to suspect a little sexism, too. In any case, Mary is generally ignored, except for a little bit around Christmas, where she is unavoidable. 

On Wednesday I attended, for the second time in my life, a Stations of the Cross service. Besides being a very moving service as a whole, it brought my attention to the agony of Mary. Did she recall then the prophetic word of Simeon, "a sword shall pierce through your own soul also"? Did she find the image of being impaled by a sword far too mild to do justice to the searing, tearing torture of watching her firstborn son wrongly convicted, whipped, beaten, mocked, crucified, in an agony of pain and thirst, and finally abandoned to death? Did she find a tiny bit of comfort in the thought that death had at least ended the ordeal? Did she cling to the hope of what she knew in her heart about her most unusual son, that even then the story was not over? Whatever she may have believed, she could not have had the Father's knowledge, and even if she had, would that have penetrated the blinding agony of the moment?

In my head I know that the sufferings of Christ, in taking on the sins of the world, were unimaginably greater than the physical pain of injustice and crucifixion, which, terrible as they are, were shared by many others in those days. But in my heart, it's the sufferings of God his Father and Mary his mother that hit home most strongly this Holy Week.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, April 10, 2020 at 4:05 pm | Edit
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Hey, Boomer! Would you process my unemployment claim, please?

At first I thought the headline was a joke: Wanted urgently: People who know a half century-old computer language so states can process unemployment claims.

On top of ventilators, face masks and health care workers, you can now add COBOL programmers to the list of what several states urgently need as they battle the coronavirus pandemic.

In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy has put out a call for volunteers who know how to code the decades-old computer programming language called COBOL because many of the state's systems still run on older mainframes.

My programming languages from back in the day inluded FORTRAN, PL/1, ALGOL, LISP, BASIC, and assembly language for Linc-8, PDP-12 (machine language for these two as well), and PDP-11. I didn't learn COBOL because that was considered a business language (COmmon Business-Oriented Language) and I worked on the scientific side of things. But it appears to have had remarkable staying power, and Porter knew it well. Not that I see him going to New Jersey anytime soon.

"The general population of COBOL programmers is generally much older than the average age of a coder... Many American universities have not taught COBOL in their computer science programs since the 1980s."

So, Boomers to the rescue. It pays to keep people with arcane knowledge around.

I predict that someday we will regret letting our amateur radio network fall apart.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, April 9, 2020 at 7:15 pm | Edit
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Category Hurricanes and Such: [first] [previous] [next] [newest] Computing: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

I haven't actually put this sign on our front door—yet. At the best of times I don't like solicitors coming to our house, and this is not the best of times for strangers to come breathe on us and touch our doorknobs. Not to mention the risk to themselves, going door to door.  Yet still they come.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, April 8, 2020 at 8:17 am | Edit
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For many years I kept a journal. I quit for a several reasons, one of which was this blog. It is unquestionably true that I must write, but the pressure is not sufficient to keep all streams active. Sometimes I regret not having that intimate documentation of our lives, though some of it does end up here. Even in my journaling heyday, however, I often missed documenting significant parts of our lives. It seems that at the most important times it's hard to find time and energy to write about them.

Nonetheless, I think it may be interesting in the future to have some documentation of our day-to-day lives in the Era of COVID-19. That's why you're seeing more, and sometimes shorter, blog posts. They're under the "Hurricanes and Such" category; I started that category in 2004—the Year of Four Hurricanes—when I posted, primarily for distant family, our everyday news while "in the midst."

Sadly, I've missed already many important days and events of this extraordinary season of our lives, which is why you'll occasionally see posts popping up for past days, as I try to remember what led up to this moment.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, April 7, 2020 at 9:12 am | Edit
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'Twas Porter who went out today, as one of the earpieces on his glasses broke. It was a bit more of an adventure than we expected.

First, the street where the office is was blocked off because of an accident on the other end. There was no reason he couldn't have driven to the office, which is practically right on the corner, but the police were adamant. He had to park in the bank parking lot across the street and walk over. Which means he wasn't quite following protocol, which was to remain in the car when he got to the office—instead he just stood in the parking lot.

Porter was wearing a mask, as per CDC guidelines, which insist that even a poor mask is better than none for this purpose. At least it helps contain large particles—like the dust it was made to exclude. And it looks impressive. He had put both his glasses and a piece of paper with the credit card number in a plastic bag, and the hostage hand-off was executed safely in the parking lot. When he returned later for his repaired glasses, the transaction was reversed. This means there was no fitting done of the glasses to his head, but it turned out all right. We are grateful the office is remaining open for emergencies, and I think they are handling it well.

On the negative side, he observed that there seemed to be more cars on the streets than a few days ago, and the grocery store parking lots were packed. I hope people aren't tiring of this social distancing already ... we have a long way to go.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, April 6, 2020 at 4:51 pm | Edit
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