Ever since our ursine visitor came, I've been a little more cautious when investigating noises in the dark. Especially since I discovered how quietly a bear can move through the vegetation.

It was a different morning visitor this time, however. Forgive the less-than-ideal production values, as I tried to juggle phone and flashlight, to illumine without blinding.  (6.5 minutes)

He's rummaging around for bugs and grubs in our garden, and he's welcome to them. The best part wasn't caught on camera, however. He had caught one of our nasty, humongous grasshoppers, the kind that will easily devour an entire plant by itself, and was playing with it as a cat will play with a mouse. Teasing it, catching it and letting it go, putting it in his mouth multiple times—but if he ever actually ate it, I didn't see. I have no love for these destructive insects, but did start to feel a little sorry for it and couldn't help thinking, "Just swallow it already!" But it was funny to watch.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, July 30, 2021 at 12:48 pm | Edit
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Did you know that landlocked Switzerland has a navy? Or at least they did in World War II; I saw some of their boats in a museum. Here's a short Wikipedia article about what they have now. (Do not, for the sake of not having to see things you can't unsee, google "Swiss Navy," which is apparently a brand name of something you'd rather not know about.)

The much more pleasant purpose of this post is to alert you to other maritime news: apparently Switzerland also has pirates!

Armed forces, indeed.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, July 27, 2021 at 10:19 am | Edit
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If you really want people not to act stupidly, it might be better not to shout continually to them and all the world how stupid they are. Most people do have logical reasons for their actions, and if you want to change their behaviors, it helps to make a serious effort to find out why they do what they do.

I confess: I chose this particular post title because I'm curious what Facebook will do with it. But it's also true that it's about nonsense.

Today I came upon this article in the Tampa Bay Times. Two things reminded me of why following the news isn't good for my blood pressure.

As the pandemic takes another turn for the worse, Florida health experts are struggling with infrequent and incomplete data releases from the state. The state stopped reporting daily COVID-19 infection and vaccination data on June 3.

Sounds scary, right? How can one make decisions without data, and Florida has stopped reporting COVID-19 information.

But no. As the next sentence reveals,

Instead, it sends out weekly reports every Friday

Weekly data ought to be good enough for anyone; in fact, I'd rather get the numbers only once a week, since it smooths out the unhelpful bumps caused by daily reporting variations, e.g. the spike on Mondays because not all agencies file reports on Sundays.

We are far too addicted to instantaneous data, even if it has little significance. Feeding Central Florida hour-by-hour hurricane updates when the storm is still over a thousand miles away does no one any good. We already know what basic preparations we must make just in case it comes our way, and it's 'way too early to make evacuation decisions. Too much data only leads to panic and unwise behavior.

Most annoying from the article, however, is the attitude of this hospital spokesman:

“The reality is that I see a lot of people get sick from COVID, but I haven’t seen people come in with serious side effects from the vaccine,” Wilson said. “I haven’t seen anything bad happen to anyone for getting the vaccine.”

What does this say? It says that this person has no idea why rational and intelligent people would hesitate to get the COVID-19 vaccine. It reveals that she views them all as stupid and stubbornly ignorant. I know many people who have not yet been convinced to take the vaccine, none of them stupid, many of them much more knowledgeable about the risks and benefits than most of us who never questioned the wisdom of getting our shots.

No one I know is worried about present side effects, which is what this hospital representative is addressing. Their concerns are primarily that long-term side effects are completely unknown, because there simply has been no "long-term" as yet. For that matter, we are equally ignorant of the long-term effects of a COVID-19 infection itself. After all, it was decades before post-polio syndrome was recognized. If there are long-term negative side effects of the COVID vaccine, they may be significantly less than the side effects of getting the disease. Or they may be worse. We. Don't. Know.

If I were trying to convince someone to get vaccinated, I'd take their concerns seriously. I wouldn't shut their ears by calling them stupid and ignorant. I'd admit that we simply don't know and can't know what the long-term effects of the vaccine will be, but that to the best of our knowledge (if that is truly the case) they are likely to be less serious than the risks of getting the disease, both immediately and long-term. 

It's a calculated risk we take with every vaccine, with every medical procedure, indeed every time we get into an automobile or do anything in life.

Neither coercion nor contempt have a good track record at changing people's minds. Making an effort to understand their point of view guarantees nothing, but it's a much better place to begin.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, July 25, 2021 at 7:29 pm | Edit
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My favorite Canadian lawyer, the one who always says, "Politics ruins everything," is now running for Parliament (15 minutes).

Why would I post someone's announcement "throwing his hat into the ring" for an election 99.99% of my readers can't participate in? (I know I had at least one Canadian reader at one point, though as I recall she was from a different province.) Because I like what he says. It relates directly to a conversation we had just this afternoon with our Good Neighbor, lamenting the tribalism that has taken over America and the loss of the simple, powerful belief that we can be friends, work for common causes (or even have common causes), and defend, help, and support each other, even when we have strong differences of opinion.

I wish David Freiheit the best. How could anyone not vote for someone whose name means "Beloved Freedom"?

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, July 23, 2021 at 6:01 pm | Edit
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Our grandchildren's community/elementary school playground was recently updated. There was nothing obviously wrong with the old playground, which was not very old. The only obvious improvement was the addition of some equipment that could be more easily used by children with certain disabilities, which is a good thing but surely could have been accomplished without re-doing the whole thing at horrendous taxpayer expense.

Still, a playground is a playground, and this one being within walking distance for our grandchildren is a favorite destination when school is out. Everyone enjoys it, albeit on his own terms.

The first thing every one of them determined was that it was important to break every rule whenever possible. (Click to enlarge.) Beginning, of course, with the one that is not shown here: Adult supervision recommended. After all, it's only a recommendation, and we know what happened when the COVID-19 "rules" changed to "recommendations."

That gotten out of the way, it was time to notice some other interesting things about the equipment. It appears that the students at this school may grow up at a disadvantage in mathematics, at least when it comes to measurement.

I am not under five feet tall, and this is no trick of perspective. For all the money spent on this playground, couldn't they have placed the sign correctly?

On the other hand, I expect the students to have an advantage when it comes to music. How many playgrounds feature chimes in the Locrian scale?

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, July 20, 2021 at 8:12 am | Edit
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It's 88 degrees outside at the moment, which is actually quite moderate for mid-day, mid-July in Florida. Still, it's ten degrees cooler inside, and that makes all the difference between enjoying my work and wanting to spend the day by (or in) the pool, drinking iced tea.

That increase in productivity I owe in large measure to one of America's great entrepreneurs, Willis Carrier, the "Father of Air Conditioning."

That this post appears today was prompted less by the temperature than by a new article by Eric Schultz' at The Occasional CEO (link is to the article), including an excerpt from his book, Innovation on Tap: Stories of Entrepreneurship from The Cotton Gin to Broadway's "Hamilton" (link is to my review of the book).

Successful entrepreneurship requires (among other traits) knowledge, skill, grit, determination, inventiveness, connection—and being in the right place at the right time. Lucky for us, Willis Carrier had them all, including the last, as you will see if you read the short story of how the Carrier Engineering Corporation opened for business at what looked for all the world like the worst possible time—and stepped into a golden opportunity that would have been impossible even a month later.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, July 17, 2021 at 11:43 am | Edit
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Despite My Rocky Relationship with Penzeys Spices, I hold no grudge against the Penzey's mugs I've acquired over the years.

Until one turned out to be an IED, that is. (Click to enlarge.)

It had given me no trouble whatsoever for years.  Then one day I noticed the cup seemed exceptionally hot when I took it from the microwave.  That should have been a clue.  The next time I tried to warm up my tea was more exciting: Pieces of the cup exploded off with loud bangs, revealing rusty metal underneath.

The odd thing is, there had been no previous evidence of a problem.  No worn spots, no places that looked thin. And who knew there was metal around the rim of the mug?

You never know what might be lurking in your cupboard.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, July 16, 2021 at 9:01 am | Edit
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One of our absolutely favorite local art museums is planning to expand, as explained in the following excerpt from a sign on their property. I've redacted the name of the museum, because we've always loved it and I'm certain they are not alone in their total loss of connection to the English language.

For nearly 21 years, the [Museum] has enriched our community with thought-provoking exhibitions. The future looks bright as we are now poised to add 40,000 square feet of enrichment opportunities; world-class exhibitions, innovative educational programs, and multi-purpose event spaces. This planned addition will make the museum a world-class destination experience.

The plan is inclusive, welcoming, and sustainable. With the open expansion, we will serve more in our community with a mission-driven building designed to seamlessly merge art, education, nature, dwell, respite, function, and form. We started with visionary ideas on how to make the museum more cohesive and increase public access and with [our architects'] brilliant partnership, the visionary has been put into action.

All of it is painful to read, but what on earth are we to make of, "designed to seamlessly merge art, education, nature, dwell, respite, function, and form"? Is it actually saying anything at all? And what could they possibly mean by "dwell" in this context?" Will the expansion contain apartments? Homeless shelters?

I love the museum, and have found its small size to be an advantage, not a drawback, forcing its exhibits to be focused and locally relevant. I hope the implementation of the expansion turns out to be better than the explanation.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, July 13, 2021 at 12:27 pm | Edit
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I have no illusions that many of my readers will watch this video. Maybe no one at all. It's two hours long, and few of us have two hours to spare for a YouTube video. It's a discussion of human trafficking among David Freiheit (Viva Frei), Robert Barnes, and their guest, Eliza Bleu, a trafficking survivor and advocate. I managed to listen to it all by taking it in small bites and multitasking. Lengthy or not, the topic is important. They don't even try to deal with the more nuanced issues, such as "sex workers" whose participation is really, truly, consensual, and "slave wages" that turn out to be a family's best hope of escaping poverty. They don't even take on "legitimate pornography."

Sadly, I think this is a wise approach, if they don't want to make the mistake abortion opponents made: in that debate, too many people insisted on all-or-nothing, refusing to accept compromises that would have allowed abortions for cases of rape, incest, and where the child is so deformed that he would suffer and die soon after birth anyway. That approach was logical, in a theoretical, ethical sense—but arguing over the rare exceptions resulted in the door for abortion being opened wide and far. In the case of human trafficking, there is more than enough horror on which everyone but the perpetrators can agree; let's focus on that.

The interview is interesting from beginning to end, though that is a very poor word to describe something that can only be endured through a certain numbness and keeping the whole topic at a deliberate distance. The beginning, where Eliza tells her own story, is most interesting, especially to homeschoolers. If you're looking for another reason to hate the big social media companies, there's plenty of fodder in the later part of the video.

I'm frustrated that video is the medium of choice for so much information, especially current stories. I read so very much faster than I can listen, even pushing the video to higher speeds. Plus, anything good that is written has been through at least minimal editing, whereas with interviews, podcasts, and live streams, every um, uh, and rabbit trail remains. I find the written word to be much more efficient, usually much more dense in terms of information conveyed. But sometimes the more personal touch that can come through in a video is valuable, too.

In any case, as our choir director has taught us, it is what it is, and sometimes you have to adapt. I put this out here, (1) so I can find it again, and (2) in the off chance that someone may find it enlightening.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, July 10, 2021 at 10:42 am | Edit
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Liberty is meaningless when the right to utter one’s thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist. That, of all rights, is the dread of tyrants. It is the right which they first of all strike down. They know its power. Frederick Douglass, 1860

When I was in school, my history classes went mostly in one ear and out the other without pausing to impact my brain along the way. I'm not sure how all my teachers but one managed to make such a fascinating subject dull, but they did. At least to me; it may be that those who were already interested in the subject managed to thrive. Don't get the wrong impression: I never received a grade lower than an "A" in any of those courses—I just didn't remember much of anything past the final exam.

Therefore I can't necessarily say that I knew nothing about Frederick Douglass until I went to the University of Rochester, where I encountered him every day. Sort of. Our dining hall was in the Frederick Douglass Building. That alone was enough to make what I've learned about the man since then stay with me. The learning process is a strange thing.

I'm still learning more. I ran into the above quotation just this morning. Since it was a Facebook meme, I did some research to make sure that both the quote and the attribution were correct. They are. Douglass was speaking in response to an incident in Boston, when a mob, supported by the governing authorities, shut down an abolitionist meeting. The speech, along with a good explanation of the context, can be found here: Frederick Douglass's "Plea for Freedom of Speech in Boston". It's not long, and I strongly recommending reading it.

I'd rather end this post here. But, sadly, I feel the need to include a reminder that Douglass was also an advocate for women's rights. Too many people have now (sometimes deliberately) forgotten the days when "man" was the general term for human beings of either sex, much as "duck" is the general term for a particular type of waterfowl, both ducks (female) and drakes (male). I don't want anyone feeling negative about this excellent and important speech because of an unwarranted reaction to Douglass's final sentence: "A man’s right to speak does not depend upon where he was born or upon his color. The simple quality of manhood is the solid basis of the right—and there let it rest forever."

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, July 7, 2021 at 10:24 am | Edit
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I LOVE the Independence Day parade and festivities in Geneva, Florida. I've written about it many times. We were small in numbers this year, but infinitely bigger than in 2020, when there was nothing at all. Thanks to Liz, our organizer and director-by-necessity, and to the good people of Geneva, marching in the parade was still a blast. The event organizers tell us that our antics are "one of the most frustrating things, and yet one of the things that the parade goers enjoy the most."

Thanks to the fact that the Fourth was a Sunday this year, Geneva's party was held a day early. And the federal holiday is a day late, so we enjoyed three days of festivities. Less happily, our neighbors have been making it a week-long holiday with their fireworks. It's a good thing the drought has broken.

The best part of the parade is interacting with the crowd, and hamming it up with my cymbals as we march along. Porter does the same with the water wagon (and its following shark). All it takes is a willingness to leave all pride and self-respect behind as the parade steps off.

I'll have to admit that the cymbals get heavier with every year, and running to catch up with the band—after letting a small spectator "help me out" by banging the cymbals—now leaves me a bit winded. It's a good thing Porter (aka Gunga Dad) is always ready with a drink to keep me hydrated!

The people of Geneva are always so warm, friendly, and encouraging. They love our country, their heritage, and their band. We didn't start in Geneva; 30 years ago we were the World's Worst Marching Band and played gigs not only in Central Florida but as far away as Atlanta and Philadelphia. Geneva at its worst couldn't outdo the heat of Atlanta's Independence Day parade, when Peachtree Street's pavement melted under our feet and (thanks to Gunga Dad) we were the only band not to have someone faint. But when the World's Worst Marching Band put itself out to pasture many years ago, Geneva welcomed us as their own.

One of the exhibits we checked out this year was a travelling exhibition of artwork created using wood from The Senator, our much-beloved and long-lamented bald cypress, which was the oldest in the world when it was destroyed by a careless drug user in 2012. I was expecting something tacky and touristy ("Get your gen-u-wine Senator key ring here!") but it was nothing of the sort. Rather, it was moving and respectful, telling the story of the tree and displaying beauty from ashes through art.

All in all it was a beautiful day. It's good to be reminded of what really makes America (or anywhere) great. Next year I hope we will have more of our dearly-missed old timers, and much new young blood as well.
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, July 5, 2021 at 9:28 am | Edit
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Are you shocked that Bill Cosby is now free? I was, but now that I know more about the circumstances, I'd be shocked if he weren't.

I'm not one to follow the high-profile prosecutions, especially of celebrities, that are so popular in the news media. I know I'm unusual in not having watched a single minute of the O. J. Simpson trial, for example. Call me weird, but I see no reason to put myself in the position of mentally convicting or acquitting the person being tried unless I'm actually on the jury and have all the legally relevant information.

It is, however, impossible to avoid all the publicity that comes with such trials, and Bill Cosby was familiar to me because of his comedy sketches when I was young. I had a few of his records. I still quote some of his lines, e.g. "Hey, you! Almost-a-doctor!" from the story of getting his tonsils out (15 minutes).

If anyone is shocked that I would publish one of Cosby's works "after what he did," I say that great works have been done by terrible people, and if we reject everything based on the sins of the workers in other areas of life, we won't have a whole lot left.

Be that as it may, the issue isn't Cosby's comedy but his trial, which was a long story, to which, as I said, I didn't pay much attention. When I heard that the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania had thrown out his conviction, my immediate, ignorant, reaction was, "another criminal released on a stupid technicality!"

Not exactly. Viva Frei explains it well here (14 minutes).

If you'd rather not watch the video, the short version, as I understand it—and I certainly don't claim to know the laws—is that the district attorney had decided that he did not have a strong enough case against Cosby to expect a conviction, and that by not pursuing a criminal trial he would make it more likely that the alleged victim would get justice in civil proceedings. Which apparently she did, thanks to the fact that Cosby, freed from the fear of prosecution, made some pretty damning confessions in the civil trial. However, when a new district attorney took over, he did not feel himself bound by his predecessor's decision, and went ahead and prosecuted Cosby, using his civil testimony against him, and thus obtained a conviction. Apparently "pleading the Fifth Amendment" is reserved for criminal cases, and one can be forced to self-incriminate in civil cases. Who knew? The trial court judge allowed this to happen, having decided that there was no "real" agreement between the former DA and Cosby that should tie their hands.

Here is a very small part of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's decision: 

Starting with D.A. Castor's inducement, Cosby gave up a fundamental constitutional right, was compelled to participate in a civil case after losing that right, testified against his own interests, weakened his position there and ultimately settled the case for a large sum of money, was tried twice in criminal court, was convicted, and has served several years in prison. All of this started with D. A. Castor's compulsion of Cosby's reliance upon a public proclamation that Cosby would not be prosecuted. ... There is only one remedy that can completely restore Cosby to the status quo ante. He must be discharged, and any future prosecution on these particular charges must be barred. ... A contrary result would be patently untenable. It would violate long-cherished principles of fundamental fairness. It would be antithetical to, and corrosive of, the integrity and functionality of the criminal justice system that we strive to maintain.

In other words, the end does not justify the means. A result cannot be just if it is obtained by cheating. As my attorney friend—who has served much time on both prosecution and defense—tells me, even the worst criminal deserves the benefit of the law. It's time to pull out A Man for All Seasons again (5 minutes).

Much as we might not like it, the same rights and rules that protect us also protect criminals. The First Amendment has the same "problem."

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, July 2, 2021 at 8:20 am | Edit
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