For the record: I don't care—well, actually, I do care very much, so let me start again. Whatever the situation, whatever we may dislike or regret, Joe Biden is our duly-sworn-in president and as such must be accorded the respect due that office. Detest and decry his policies all you want, but speak with respect. And if you pray, pray for him!

Also for the record: This is a non-partisan stance. I said the same thing about Donald Trump. And our previous presidents.

When Saint Paul urged Christians to pay "respect to whom respect is due" he was talking about governing authorities, and he was writing to Romans in the time of the Emperor Nero. If he can say that about such an emperor (who later beheaded him), I think we can manage a little basic courtesy now.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, August 30, 2021 at 6:44 am | Edit
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Our doctor's office has yet another set of forms for us to fill out, and this one just has me wanting to throw up my hands and scream, "NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS!" Plus, some of the questions make no sense, in some cases giving far more options than reasonable, and in some cases too few.

For "Ethnic Background" I am given these options:

  • Ashkenazi
  • No
  • Other
  • Unknown

I understand that there are certain diseases that are more prevalent among Ashkenazi Jews, so maybe that's an important question. But there are also diseases that are especially prevalent among other populations, e.g. the Amish, and there's no opportunity to indicate that, other than the non-informative "Other." And just who are the No people—an obscure tribe of Papua New Guinea, perhaps? And is my own diverse ancestry, which took up some dozen slots on the 2020 census form, of no medical interest at all?

One ethnicity gets its very own question:

  • Hispanic or Latino/a
  • Not Hispanic or Latino/a
  • Unknown or Not Given

I find that a curious question for a doctor to ask. Just how many diseases divide themselves by this criterion? If my lungs are congested, how much does it matter whether my ancestors came from Spain versus France? "Not Given" is beginning to look like the best answer for most of these questions.

There's a good deal more choice when it comes to Sexual Orientation:

  • Bisexual
  • Choose not to disclose
  • Don't know
  • Lesbian or Gay
  • Something else
  • Straight (not lesbian or gay)
  • (You can hold the CTRL key while clicking to select multiple options)

Frankly, unless I'm indicating problems of a sexual nature, I don't think even my doctor needs to know this information, though she's welcome to guess based on the fact that I'll admit to being female and having a husband. "Something else" sounds attractively bear-poking, however.

But even Sexual Orientation has nothing on Religion!

  • African Methodist Episcopal
  • Agnostic
  • Amish
  • Anglican
  • Assemblies of God
  • Atheist/Humanist
  • Baptist
  • Buddhist
  • Catholic
  • Christian
  • Christian Scientist
  • Church of Christ
  • Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
  • Decline to Answer
  • Disciples of Christ
  • Episcopalian
  • Greek Orthodox
  • Haitian Vodou
  • Hindu
  • Indian Orthodox
  • Islam
  • Jain
  • Jehovah's Witness
  • Jewish
  • Lutheran
  • Mennonite
  • Messianic Judiasm [that's how they spelled it]
  • Methodist
  • Multi-Faith
  • Nazarene
  • Non-Denominational
  • None
  • Orthodox
  • Other
  • Pentecostal
  • Presbyterian
  • Protestant
  • Quaker
  • Rastafarian
  • Russian Orthodox
  • Scientologist
  • Seventh Day Adventist
  • Shinto
  • Sikh
  • Taoist
  • Unitarian Universalist
  • United Church of Christ
  • Unknown
  • Wiccan
  • Zoroastrian

There are so many things wrong with this list I won't even try to ennumerate them, other than to mention that my Seventh-Day Baptist ancestors would be feeling left out. And to note that it's just plain weird to have so many choices yet list "Islam" as one-size-fits-all. For myself, being unable to choose among Anglican, Christian, Episcopalian, Multi-Faith, Non-Denominational, Protestant, and Other—and not having the ctrl/click option for this one—I might have to go with that fascinating new religion, Decline to Answer.

But really, of what possible importance could the answer to this question be for normal medical care, other than the above-mentioned correlation between being Amish and certain diseases? Even that is an ethnic difference, not a religious one. Do Wiccans require different cancer treatments from Zoroastrians? True, Jehovah's Witnesses don't want blood transfusions, so that's important to know, but I think it would be safer and more efficient to ask that question directly, rather than make the assumption. I suspect not all JW's reject them totally, and for all I know, some other religion frowns on them as well.

Maybe these questions are required by Medicare. I have had more patience with my medical caregivers (though less with the government) ever since I learned that the very annoying questions they started asking at every visit were government-imposed: Have you fallen at all in the last year? "I have grandchildren. Falls are the natural consequence of fun." Have you been depressed during the last year? "I'm here for a physical, not a mental."

It's a good thing we like our doctors. The bureaucracy is rapidly eroding my confidence in the system.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, August 27, 2021 at 11:30 am | Edit
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Many a true word hath been spoken in jest.

Perfectly Good Cookie Dough Ruined By Putting It in Oven

As a friend of ours expressed, "I thought the [Babylon] Bee was satire."

Three generations of raw cookie dough fans here!

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, August 23, 2021 at 7:06 am | Edit
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Even if you think "refreshing politics" is an oxymoron, you may appreciate the following video as a break from the horrendous news from Afghanistan. I've mentioned before that David Freiheit is running for Parliament in Canada, and while I can't vote for him, or support him financially (Canadian election laws about funds from foreign countries), I loved this 12-minute video on his experiences going door-to-door and talking with fellow Canadians. It's positive and encouraging—something we all need right now.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, August 20, 2021 at 6:02 am | Edit
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How is it anything less than criminal to pull our troops out of Afghanistan without first making a concerted effort to get our own citizens and their families home? Granted, it would be wrong to force them to leave, and I know that here in Florida there is always a handful of people who refuse to evacuate even with a Category 5  hurricane bearing down upon them. But 15,000 people left behind? That's the NBC News estimate; others vary, but still put the number in the thousands.

We've had 20 years to plan for this exit.  We've been telling everyone—friend and enemy—for months that we were going to leave, and this absolute disaster is the best we can manage?

Lord have mercy.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, August 18, 2021 at 6:24 am | Edit
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There is room for debate as to whether or not the United States should ever have gotten involved in Afghanistan. Even if you acknowledge (as I do) that there is a legitimate place for countries, as well as people, to help those who are suffering, we do have a most embarrassing propensity for blundering into places with little to no knowledge of the culture, to their detriment and ours.

But once there, how many times can we promise people our help, accept the sacrifices of those who put their lives and families on the line for us, then decide it's too much trouble to keep our promises—how many times can we do this and still have any friends (or integrity) at all? Ask the Hmong, ask the Kurds, ask the people of Iran, ask the Native Americans for that matter.

It's like making marriage vows and bailing when life gets difficult. Oh, wait—we do that a lot, don't we?

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, August 17, 2021 at 5:42 am | Edit
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I'm giving my computer files a much-needed spring summer cleaning, and came upon this, which I post here for my own future reference as much as anything. Unfortunately, I don't remember where it came from. The odds are it was from someone on Facebook, but that's the best I can do for now.

It's a clear, concise, visual guide to the seasons of the Church Year, as celebrated in the Episcopal Church and many other churches. The latter may differ in small details; I'm not familiar enough with them to say. But when I refer to the Church Year, this is what I'm talking about.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, August 14, 2021 at 9:26 pm | Edit
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Finally, someone—someone whose work I respect—has said what I have been saying since the beginning of the pandemic lockdowns. I'm tired of being laughed at, and much worse, when I point out that it is inconsistent to excoriate people who resist some of the anti-pandemic measures, while at the same time themselves not thinking twice about driving a car. Both are actions that can endanger others, but most of us have decided to give automobile dangers a pass. We think so little about them that we tolerate, even joke about, impaired driving, speeding, road rage, poorly-maintained cars, and driving without a license or insurance coverage. Cracking down in these areas would no doubt make a huge difference in automobile injuries and fatalities. But even then there would be dangers from weather, from carelessness, and from that wasp that flew in the window and is crawling into your ear. (The last really happened to a friend of ours, who managed to get off the road safely—I'm not sure I could have.)

You want to protect yourself and others? If you can't walk to where you are going, stay home.

But of course we don't do that. The consequences would be too great.

I want people to understand that the various measures we are taking against this pandemic also have great consequences, ones that are not as immediately obvious as ending up in a COVID hospital ward.

George Friedman says it well in his article (from which I took my own post title), COVID and Cars. Unfortunately, it is behind a pay wall, but I've extracted a few quotes.

Every year in the United States, about 40,000 people die in car accidents. Some 1.35 million die in car accidents globally. In fact, they are the eighth-largest cause of death in the world. In the United States, about 3 million people are injured in automobile-related accidents.

These numbers exist despite all the efforts made to make cars safer. The reason cars aren’t banned is because the economic and social consequences of doing so would be devastating. The supply of food and other essentials requires trucking. Maintaining friends and seeing family require cars. In the United States, our ability to use land efficiently depends on cars to sustain a dispersed population. Yet this dependency carries a risk. In the back of your mind, you are aware as the ignition is turned on that you may die. You dismiss this possibility, of course, and proceed with your life.

What has happened is that a known risk of death and injury has been measured against the necessities of life, and a calculated risk has shown that tolerating the chance of death and enjoying the benefits of the car is preferable to seeking to eliminate car deaths by eliminating the car. The principle that death must be fought by all means is not practiced in the case of car deaths because a more subtle calculation takes place.

It’s a reminder that in most actions of human life there is a possibility of death or injury, but a life without those things would be impoverished. You can live without many things for a short and predictable period. Living without them indefinitely creates pressures on individuals and society. The trade-off between death and life is the human condition.

The idea that we can go on indefinitely with each new chapter forcing us to shelter in place is a superficial view of what will happen. As with automobiles, where we risk death on every ride and where many find it, the risk of COVID-19 will be integrated into our thinking, and we will make choices.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, August 11, 2021 at 9:26 am | Edit
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I've featured the new vlog Chateau Love in a previous review, but after thirteen episodes, I've realized something important.

The heart of Chateau Love is clearly Vivienne. She's the hostess, writer, director, artist, and star. As I commented to Porter during one of the episodes, "Vivienne was born for this!" I love looking at her background—from her childhood in Memphis, to a lifetime's immersion in music, art, and beauty, to her work as a cruise ship social director and hostess extraordinaire—and seeing how it all blossoms into Chateau Love.

But Vivienne's vlog is only one of many vlogs about chateau life and renovation. (Who know chateau vlogging was a "thing"?) So, other than our friendship with the family, what makes Chateau Love special? How do they have over seven thousand subscribers to a channel that is only five months old and was started simply as a way to keep in touch with friends and family during pandemic lockdown?

Vivienne-and-Simon.

Most of Simon's work may be behind the scenes, but when he appears he is the perfect foil for Vivienne's personality. Without Simon, Vivienne's excitement and enthusiasm could come across as over-the-top. But as a splash of lemon cuts through the richness of a dish, Simon brings the story back to earth. When Vivienne and Isabella are singing the praises of chèvre in their cheese-of-the-week segment, Simon, with all the aplomb of the British gentleman he is, announces that "goat cheese tastes of goat's bottom."

It is Vivienne-and-Simon that makes Chateau Love what it is. The combination works.

UPDATE:  Wouldn't you know it, as soon as I finish writing this post about the importance of Simon's contributions to Chateau Love, Episode 14 comes out without even a glimpse of him. It is still fun, as Vivienne has a "girls' adventure" with a friend from childhood, but nonetheless, Simon, we missed you!

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, August 8, 2021 at 6:20 am | Edit
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The juice on the right is fabulous Florida orange juice, unhomogenized, unpasteurized, unadulterated in any way. Although it did come from a large grocery store (Costco), it's the best I can get outside of squeezing my own or visiting a grove. It's head-and-shoulders above even the "not from concentrate" standardized juice, much less the orange juice concentrate I grew up with.

My mother was born and reared in Florida, and had relatives who owned an orange grove. Not until now did I stop to think about what a come-down it must have been for her to move to New York and subject her children to even the best concentrate. But those were the days when concentrate-making juice plants were a high-tech miracle for both growers and consumers.

The juice on the left? Nectar of the gods. Home-squeezed from the fruit of our own Page orange tree.  So technically not orange juice, since Page oranges are actually 3/4 tangerine and 1/4 grapefruit—being a cross between a clementine and a tangelo.

Out of this world.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, August 5, 2021 at 4:39 am | Edit
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altTalking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don't Know by Malcolm Gladwell (Little, Brown & Co, 2019)

I can't resist Malcolm Gladwell's books, even though they never fail to frustrate as well as intrigue. He reminds me of Steve Landsburg on economics, and other authors who turn conventional thinking upside down and reveal surprising truths. As I said about Gladwell in my review of What the Dog Saw, his ideas may not always be right—in fact I'd lay odds that they're often wrong, or at least greatly oversimplified—but they're always interesting, and always give new insight into what we don't know about what we thought we understood.

Talking to Strangers is no exception. For me, it started slowly, and only an impending library deadline forced me to prioritize reading it past the introduction and first chapter. After that, I was hooked and the rest of the 400 pages went by in a flash. Gladwell's like that. I get frustrated by his prejudices, errors, and simplifications, then get hooked by his discoveries and can't put him down.

People, Gladwell posits, are shockingly bad at determining whether or not they are being lied to by those they do not know. And by people, he means nearly everyone. The professionals, like Securities and Exchange Commission auditors, FBI agents, and judges, are no better at that job than the most innocent little girl lured to the big city with promises of an acting career. In fact, when it comes to making decisions about setting bail conditions, judges who meet face-to-face with alleged criminals have been shown to make far poorer decisions than computer models working with nothing but bare facts.

Part of the problem is that most of us "default to truth." When we interact with another person we're pre-programmed to assume he's honest and truthful, and it takes a great deal of evidence of malfeasance to overcome that. A few people are not like that—we call them paranoid. For example, a man named Harry Markopolos was aware of the massive deception pulled off by Bernie Madoff long before anyone else was, but no one believed him. They trusted Madoff and they trusted the system that was supposed to keep bad things from happening. Markopolos saw the truth because he didn't trust anybody

But here's the thing: that's no way to live.

In real life, ... lies are rare. And those lies that are told are told by a very small subset of people. That's why it doesn't matter so much that we are terrible at detecting lies in real life. Under the circumstances, in fact, defaulting to truth makes logical sense. If the person behind the counter at the coffee shop says your total with tax is $6.74, you can do the math yourself to double-check their calculations, holding up the line and wasting thirty seconds of your time. Or you can simply assume the salesperson is telling you the truth, because on balance most people do tell the truth. (pp. 99-100)

[H]uman beings never developed sophisticated and accurate skills to detect deception as it was happening because there is no advantage to spending your time scrutinizing the words and behaviors of those around you. The advantage to human beings lies in assuming that strangers are truthful. ... [I]t's easy to see all the damage done by people like ... Bernie Madoff. Because we trust implicitly, spies go undetected, criminals roam free, and lives are damaged. [But] the price of giving up on that strategy is much higher. If everyone on Wall Street behaved like Harry Markopolos, there would be no fraud on Wall Street—but the air would be so thick with suspicion and paranoia that there would also be no Wall Street. (pp. 100-101)

Referring to the infamous Penn State pedophilia scandal that broke in 2011, which turns out to be a whole lot more complex and confusing than we thought based on the media stories at the time:

If every coach is assumed to be a pedophile, then no parent would let their child leave the house, and no sane person would ever volunteer to be a coach. We default to truth—even when that decision carries terrible risks—because we have no choice. Society cannot function otherwise. And in those rare instances where trust ends in betrayal, those victimized by default to truth deserve our sympathy, not our censure. (p. 141)

Another mistake we make in judging strangers is pure hubris: we think we can tell what people are thinking or feeling by their facial expressions and body language. Nope. We're really terrible at that, too, especially if the stranger comes from a different cultural background. It reminds me of my mother's experience, years ago, as an elementary school teacher's aide. She was frustrated in her attempts to get the teacher to deal with the bullying of a small, Asian child—given the time period, he may have been a Southeast Asian refugee, but I don't know that for sure. "Surely it doesn't bother him," insisted the teacher. "You can see that he's smiling." My mother was certain that the "smile" indicated fear, not pleasure.

Transparency is a myth—an idea we've picked up from watching too much television and reading too many novels where the hero's "jaw dropped with astonishment" or "eyes went wide with surprise." (p. 162)

The transparency problem ends up in the same place as the default-to-truth problem. Our strategies for dealing with strangers are deeply flawed, but they are also socially necessary. We need the criminal-justice system and the hiring process and the selection of babysitters to be human. But the requirement of humanity means that we have to tolerate an enormous amount of error. That is the paradox of talking to strangers. We need to talk to them. But we're terrible at it. (p. 166)

It could be worse. One of the scariest sections of Talking to Strangers is about the Amanda Knox case. Amanda Knox, an American exchange student in Italy, was wrongfully convicted of the 2007 murder of her roommate.

I could give you a point-by-point analysis of what was wrong with the investigation of Kercher's murder. It could easily be the length of this book. I could also refer you to some of the most comprehensive scholarly analyses of the investigation's legal shortcomings.... But instead, let me give you the simplest and shortest of all possible Amanda Knox theories. Her case is about transparency. If you believe that the way a stranger looks and acts is a reliable clue to the way they feel, then you're going to make mistakes. Amanda Knox was one of those mistakes. (pp. 170-171)

Amanda Knox was different from the "social norms," as so many of us are.

"I was the quirky kid who hung out with the sulky manga-readers, the ostracized gay kids, and the theater geeks," she writes in her memoir. ... In high school she was the middle-class kid on financial aid, surrounded by well-heeled classmates. "I took Japanese and sang, loudly, in the halls while walking from one class to another. Since I didn't really fit in, I acted like myself, which pretty much made sure I never did." ...

"We were able to establish guilt," [the lead investigator] said, "by closely observing the suspect's psychological and behavioral reaction during the interrogation. We don't need to rely on other kinds of investigation." ... At every turn, Knox cannot escape censure for her weirdness. ... Why can't someone be angry in response to a murder, rather than sad? If you were Amanda Knox's friend, none of this would surprise you. You would have seen Knox walking down the street like an elephant. But with strangers, we're intolerant of emotional responses that fall outside expectations. (pp. 179-183)

I have many times been accused, even by my friends, of being angry, or sad, or some other emotional state that doesn't at all reflect my feelings, based solely on my facial expression. No amount of denial on my part seems to convince them, as they then assume that I am either lying or don't know my own "true feelings." There have also been times when I have been deeply saddened without showing any of the commonly expected signs. I think I'd be in trouble in court.

A trained interrogator ought to be adept at getting beneath the confusing signals of demeanor, at understanding that when Nervous Nelly overexplains and gets defensive, that's who she is—someone who overexplains and gets defensive. The police officer ought to be the person who sees the quirky, inappropriate girl in a culture far different from her own say [something inappropriate] and realize that she's just a quirky girl in a culture far different from her own. But that's not what we get. Instead, the people charged with making determinations of innocence and guilt seem to be as bad as or even worse than the rest of us when it comes to the hardest cases. ... [W]e have built a world that systematically discriminates against a class of people who, through no fault of their own, violate our ridiculous ideas about transparency. (pp. 185-186)

On the problem of sexual assault, particularly in a college setting:

[S]tudents were asked to list the measures they thought would be most effective in reducing sexual assault. At the top of that list they put harsher punishment for aggressors, self-defense training for victims, and teaching men to respect women more. How many thought it would be "very effective" if they drank less? Thirty-three percent. How many thought stronger restrictions on alcohol on campus would be very effective? Fifteen percent. These are contradictory positions. Students think it is a good idea to be trained in self-defense, and not such a good idea to clamp down on drinking. But what good is knowing the techniques of self-defense if you're blind drunk? Students think it's a really good idea if men respect women more. But the issue is not how men behave around women when they are sober. It is how they behave around women when they are drunk, and have been transformed by alcohol into a person who makes sense of the world around them very differently. (pp. 225-226)

On interrogation techniques:

One exercise involved crews of the bombers that carry nuclear weapons. Everything about their mission was classified. If they were to crash in hostile territory, you can imagine how curious their captors would be about the contents of their planes. The SERE program was supposed to prepare a flight crew for what might happen. [One exercise involved] one of the oldest tricks in the interrogation business: the interrogator threatens not the subject, but a colleague of the subject's. In [interrogation expert James Mitchell's] experience, men and women react very differently to this scenario. The men tend to fold. The women don't.

"If you are a female pilot and they said they were going to do something to the other airman, the attitude of a lot of them was, 'It sucks to be you,'" he said. "'You do your job, I'm going to do mine. I'm going to protect the secrets. I'm sorry this has happened to you, but you knew this when you signed up.'" Mitchell first saw this when he debriefed women who had been held as POWs during Desert Storm. They would drag those women out and threaten to beat them every time the men wouldn't talk. And [the women] were angry at the men for not holding out, and they said, "Maybe I would have gotten a beating, maybe I would have got sexually molested, but it would have happened one time. By showing them that the way to get the keys to the kingdom was to drag me out, it happened every time. So let me do my job. You do your job." (pp. 241-242)

The final two chapters shed some much-needed light on our current problems with law enforcement, making me more sympathetic to all sides.  Some intriguing studies have shown that we are not looking at crime problems in fine enough detail. It seems that everyone in a city knows the "bad neighborhoods" for crime, but it turns out there are not so much bad neighborhoods as bad blocks. In any given high-crime area, the majority of the territory is not a problem. Most of the crime occurs in a few, much smaller locations, and focussing police action in these areas can cut crime rates dramatically. But the aggressive policing that makes such a difference in the hot spots has been adopted in areas for which it is is totally inappropriate. (Recognize that I am greatly condensing and simplifying here.) On top of that, police officers are no better than the rest of us at making judgements about strangers—and yet their jobs, and their very lives, require them to do so, quickly and under conditions of great stress.

This has been a book about a conundrum. We have no choice but to talk to strangers, especially in our modern, borderless world. We aren't living in villages anymore. Police officers have to stop people they do not know. Intelligence officers have to deal with deception and uncertainty. Young people want to go to parties explicitly to meet strangers: that's part of the thrill of romantic discovery. Yet at this most necessary of tasks we are inept. We think we can transform the stranger, without cost or sacrifice, into the familiar and the known, and we can't. What should we do? (pp. 341-342)

We could start by no longer penalizing one another for defaulting to truth. If you are a parent whose child was abused by a stranger—even if you were in the room—that does not make you a bad parent. And if you are a university president and you do not jump to the worst-case scenario when given a murky report about one of your employees, that doesn't make you a criminal. To assume the best about another is the trait that has created modern society. Those occasions when our trusting nature gets violated are tragic. But the alternative—to abandon trust as a defense against predation and deception—is worse. (p. 342)

What is required of us is restraint and humility. (p. 343)

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, August 2, 2021 at 9:03 am | Edit
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