Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

I ran into this quote, called Hanlon's Razor, in an episode of the detective series New Tricks. It was new to me: as far as I can remember I'd never heard it before. However, it is sufficiently like one of my own favorite sayings that either (1) I heard it somewhere and filed it away subconsciously, or (2) it's so obvious that there must be dozens of variations on the same theme, or (3) I'm just brilliant.

Wikipedia attributes this form to Robert J. Hanlon, from about 1980, though, as I suspected, the idea's been around a long time. If I did pick up the idea subconsiously, I suspect it would have come from the Robert A. Heinlein story referenced in that article.

Here is one of my variations on the idea:

Most so-called conspiracies can be more readily explained by simple human stupidity.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, September 30, 2021 at 6:43 am | Edit
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I'm overwhelmed with all the news that begs comment and threatens to overwhelm the ordinary life events that I like to post for family and friends. This one pops to the top of the backlog because it is good news, and we can always do with some of that.

The story started in March 2020, when a 16-year-old high school student went on a trip with her band to Disney World in Florida. Nothing unusual about that: it happens evey year, from all over the country. Our kids did it with their band—though they didn't have so far to go. In fact, my siblings did the same thing, coming from Pennsylvania, some 40 years ago.

But this was early 2020, and a week after returning, the girl came down with symptoms that caused her doctors to believe she had COVID-19. She was hospitalized for a day or so, and posted to her friends, on Instagram, a photo of her with a breathing mask that said that she had beaten the coronavirus and that they should "stay home and be safe."

It is anyone's guess how and why this led to the police knocking on her door and demanding that she delete her post, under threats that included arrest for either her, her parents, or both. I'm guessing that the school got tired of fielding panicked calls from parents who feared for their own children and it snowballed from there, but who knows? The girl complied, removing her post, but subsequently filed a lawsuit on the grounds that her First Amendment rights to free speech had been violated.

Here's a 15-minute analysis with more detail.

A year and a half later, she has won her case. (12.5-minute video with details)

It is indeed good news when the courts rule in favor of our Constitutional rights, even in a very small case, because small cases can set very big precedents. My only regret is that it takes so long for the judgement to come. Vital as such judgements are, they can't undo the harm done. In the 18 months since that fateful Instagram post was taken down, how much other damage was done? How much damage will continue to be done by those who disagree with this judge and believe they can get away with violating the Constitution, at least for long enough to accomplish their purposes?

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, September 26, 2021 at 8:53 am | Edit
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altAmerican Journeys Volume 1 by Lois Lenski (includes Indian Captive, Judy’s Journey, Flood Friday, Texas Tomboy, Boom Town BoyCoal Camp Girl, and Mama Hattie’s Girl)
American Journeys Volume 2 by Lois Lenski (includes Strawberry Girl, Prairie School, Bayou Suzette, Blue Ridge Billy, Corn-Farm Boy, San Francisco Boy, and To Be a Logger)

Lois Lenski's children's books are a true treasure that all too few children—and parents and teachers—have discovered. I loved Indian Captive as a child, but didn't discover Strawberry Girl until I was an adult. Ocean-Born Mary came later still. Lenski's other books should not be so hard to find in our libraries! I discovered the fourteen above thanks to a sale on the Kindle versions of these collections, and what a treat they are! There are four other books in Lenski's American Regional series: Houseboat Girl (also available on Kindle), Cotton in My Sack, Deer Valley Girl, and Shoo-Fly Girl. Sadly, the last three are not available on Kindle.

These books are a much-needed antidote to what I call a chronological snobbery approach to teaching history. The term "chronological snobbery" isn't mine; I learned it from C. S. Lewis. All too often we look at the people and events of the past through ignorant, prideful eyes, as we are very good at seeing the areas in which we consider ourselves to be superior to our forebears, and very bad at even considering that there might be areas in which our forebears would justifiably consider us vastly inferior to themselves.

Lenski's books do an excellent job of avoiding that, for at least two reasons: they were largely written contemporaneously with the events they describe, and Lenski's research was meticulous and personal. She made a point of living in the situations she wrote about, getting to know the families, the work, and especially the children. For books where that was impossible, like Indian Captive and Ocean-Born Mary, she substituted thorough research and a heart sympathetic to all cultures.

Modern Americans may well be shocked by some of the situations in these books, but it is good for us to realize that our ways aren't the only ways that make for happy families and a healthy upbringing. Not to mention that other cultures may have done some things better than us. Nearly all the children in these books, for example, have many more responsibilities and at the same time much more freedom at younger ages than most modern parents can imagine.

The inspiration to write a review at this particular time? Amazon Kindle is currently (9/25/21) offering the second volume of these books for $3.99. Volume 1 is $31.99, so don't even think of buying it at that price. In my experience, with patience you will see it for $3.99 as well, and the individual books at $1.99. I highly recommend using (and supporting) a service called eReaderIQ, which will alert you when books or authors you are interested in go on sale.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, September 25, 2021 at 9:03 pm | Edit
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I was pleased to see the following display at our local Publix. It's certainly a healthier alternative to the cookies that are usually offered to children at grocery stores.

Then I thought a bit about it. It may be a healthier treat, but there's one thing missing: it's just a bin of fruit; there is no human interaction.

Years ago, when our kids went to the bakery to receive their much-anticipated free cookies, it was a social event. The interaction with the "cookie lady"—the smiles, the brief exchange of words, the opportunity to practice basic courtesies such as saying "thank you"—was a small but significant part of their social education. Reaching into a bin is impersonal.

Something is gained, but something is lost.

Many years ago our Swiss relatives marvelled at how much of American society is not automated. Switzerland automates where it can—in paying tolls and parking fees, for example—because labor costs are so high there. It is good to have work in Switzerland, because jobs pay well and workers are respected. But of course in consequence there are fewer jobs and they require higher levels of training.

Like it or not, the move toward automation is accelerating in America, spurred on by our response to the pandemic and the consequent labor shortage. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but there's no doubt that whenever we make a purchase online, choose a self-checkout line at the grocery store, take a course online instead of in person, listen to a sermon or watch a service online instead of attending a local church, or watch a movie at home instead of in a theater, we are giving up an opportunity for meaningful interaction with others.

I'm a cast-iron introvert, and my first reaction is, "So what?" The less personal option is usually more efficient, more convenient, and avoids the risk of having to deal with rude sales clerks and cranky classmates. Automation and online opportunities open up a huge world of information, possibilities, and choice.

The danger is that they can close off another world: the messy world of having to control our nastier impulses and deal with the personalities, cultures, viewpoints, and yes, nastier impulses of other people; the beautiful world of personal encounters that force us to see the humanity of those whom we might be tempted to hate if our encounter were in an online political forum instead of a line at Home Depot.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, September 25, 2021 at 9:11 am | Edit
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I am not one of those who likes to rail against the United States Postal Service. We have always had excellent, friendly service from our local post office, and almost all of our mail carriers have been people who care about their customers and serve above-and-beyond. Overall I think the system works well. 

Further up the chain of command, however, I sometimes have my doubts. The following notice came from our bank this morning:

Effective October 1, 2021, the United States Postal Service (USPS) has revised its service standards for certain First-Class Mail items, resulting in a delivery window of up to five days. Please note that this may delay your receipt of mail from us and our receipt of mail from you (including mailed payments). Please take this change into account when mailing items to us via USPS.

Here's an explanation from the USPS website:

After carefully considering the Postal Regulatory Commission’s (PRC) July 20th advisory opinion, the Postal Service plans to move forward with adjusting service standards for First-Class Mail and Periodicals. The PRC concluded that the Postal Service’s proposed changes, in principle, are rational and accord with statutory requirements. The PRC made a number of recommendations for how the Postal Service should implement its changes, which the Postal Service is largely adopting. Additional details will be provided in an upcoming Federal Register notice. A majority of First-Class Mail and Periodicals will keep current service standards, with 70 percent of First-Class Mail volume having a delivery standard of 1-3 days.

The service standard changes are part of our balanced and comprehensive Delivering for America Strategic Plan, and will improve service reliability and predictability for customers and enhance the efficiency of the Postal Service network. The service standard changes that we have determined to implement are a necessary step towards achieving our goal of consistently meeting 95 percent service performance.

So, practically, mail service may seem the same for much of the time. But read that last line again: The service standard changes that we have determined to implement are a necessary step towards achieving our goal of consistently meeting 95 percent service performance.

I should not be surprised. Over several decades, I've seen it happen in our educational system, in business practices, in government services, and in social expectations. We talk a good game, but when it comes to actual accomplishment, time and time again I've seen organizations choose to meet their goals by bringing the goals down to their level of achievement, rather than the other way around.

Maybe the new standards are more realistic. Maybe there are a thousand excuses for not achieving what we set out to do. Certainly I've had to revise my personal goals too often. But if the purpose of the new goals isn't to help us move beyond them—further, better, higher—we can trap ourselves on a downward spiral of lowered expectations.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, September 22, 2021 at 9:47 am | Edit
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Subsequent events have shown that we—as a country and individually—are not much more prepared to have our world turned upside down in an instant than we were on September 11, 2001, and I include myself as chief of sinners. (Five-minute video. Warning: some language, and it will probaby tear you apart.)

Somehow, we must do better.

Living unprepared is foolish. Living in fear is faithless.

Somehow, we must do better. 

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, September 20, 2021 at 8:19 am | Edit
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Every comedian knows what it's like to have a joke fall flat. It happens. But do they all receive lectures when their jokes fail?

I love our choir. We're casual, a bit wacky, and not all that good—it's a good fit for me—but we love each other and our work. We also cover a very wide spectrum when it comes to political, social, and even religious views, and one of the things that keeps us from being at each other's throats in these troubled times is humor.

You know what else I like about our choir? They laugh at my jokes. They tell me they like my sense of humor.

Maybe it's a choir thing. Maybe I've been in Florida too long. Maybe this is what happens to everyone as they get older. But it came as a shock to me that some people think I'm more demented than funny.

During our recent trip to the Northeast, I kept running into people who most definitely did not appreciate my sense of humor. Not only did they not laugh, but they reacted as if I were a particulary dense child with no understanding of the world. I'm not griping about specific people here; in fact, I don't remember who they were, nor what particular jokes fell flat. But the following examples are illustrative of the phenomenon.

I came upon this jar of mayonnaise while sorting through our food supplies and checking expiration dates. I posted it to Facebook, with the caption, "What do you think? Is it time to rotate the stock in my pantry?"

And people laughed. They did not look blank and condescendingly explain to me that the date does not mean October 1821 but rather October 18, 2021.

As I was sitting in a doctor's office waiting area, I noticed that they had thoughtfully provided a small refrigerator, which sported the following sign:

Patient Water

Had there been anyone else in the room, I would probably have noted, "I guess the Impatient Water must be in another room." Due to my recent experiences, my mind filled in, "No, you don't understand. The sign means that the water in this refrigerator is for patients only."

My choir would have laughed. Maybe that's because they are a choir, in Florida, and with an average age that is, shall we say, elevated.

But it sure is good to be among people who think me clever rather than stupid!

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, September 17, 2021 at 6:29 pm | Edit
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Based on what I've written before, you can probably guess that I'm fed up with people (and especially organizations) who think they have the right to ask me questions about my race, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, political affiliation, and other personal information on the flimsiest of excuses. I haven't thought of any clever non-answers to most of the questions other than "Decline to Answer," an option that is not always given.

But I'm ready for race/ethnicity/ethnic background.

I've decided I'm Native American.

If you go back far enough, everyone has come to a given place from somewhere else. In my case, I have traced most of my ancestors back to when they first came to North America, and nearly all of their children were born here before the United States of America even existed—often more than a century before. Almost all of my family has been living on this continent for nearly 400 years, and the few "recent immigrants" for more than 200. In genealogical research, there's always room for surprises, but my roots here are very deep and very wide.

That's "native" enough for me.

It won't get me any tribal benefits, but at least it will make answering those pesky questions more interesting.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, September 14, 2021 at 7:43 am | Edit
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President Biden's new vaccination mandate is blatantly unconstitutional, to use the most polite words I can think of at the moment. And it is becoming abundantly clear that this doesn't bother him. As with the eviction moratorium and several other recent Executive Branch actions, the courts will no doubt rule against it. But as with the others, by then the damage will already have been done. Even the courts can't unvaccinate someone, can't undo the stress of job loss, can't make up the losses of the small landlords who depend on regular rental income, and certainly can't fully restore the faith of small business owners who have discovered just how easily the government can take control of their lives.

Here is Canadian lawyer David Freiheit's nine-minute legal analysis of the situation.

The Constitution exists for a reason, and when our elected officials stop respecting the supremacy of the Constitution it is a big, big problem, and that is as much true for the United States as it is for Canada.

I don't care whether it's Prime Minister Trudeau, President Biden, President Trump, Governor Cuomo, Governor DeSantis, or the lowliest city mayor—I fear an increasingly powerful Executive at all levels.

I fear even more those who think this executive power is a good thing as long as they are in favor of whatever is being mandated.

Back in 2008, I first posted the clip that is pretty much all I remember from the movie, A Man for All Seasons. I brought it back again in 2012. I don't know if it says more about the State of the Union or my own mental state that the third, fourth, and fifth reprises are all in 2021. 

What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ... And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you—where would you hide ... the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws from coast to coast ... and if you cut them down ... do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!

I'm reminded of a story from an otherwise long-forgotten sermon of my experience: Martin Luther, we were told, was once asked by a member of his congregation, "Why do you preach justification by faith every week?" Luther replied, "Because you forget it every week."

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, September 11, 2021 at 10:09 am | Edit
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It would make a somewhat confusing hand-me-down, but I think this is a great t-shirt. You can see where a black cloth marker has been used for updates.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, September 9, 2021 at 6:05 am | Edit
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Not a meme, but part of an actual conversation a couple of decades ago. The second speaker was Porter, the first one of his co-workers.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, September 6, 2021 at 1:07 pm | Edit
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It was our eight-year-old grandson's first solo sail. He had passed all his dad's tests the day before, and was eager to go solo, despite the strong wind and tide, which were at least pushing him into the cove, rather than out into Long Island Sound. So off he went.

It was, indeed, a strong wind, which made the small boat difficult to control. He capsized twice, gamely righting the boat and climbing back in each time. After a while, however, his lack of ability to make progress toward home began to frustrate and frighten him. I would not have handled that situation at all well.

Instead of giving in to panic, however, he assessed the situation, and discovered a patch of reeds he could head for with full assistance of the wind and tide. That's where he went, planning to pull the boat up on land and walk back to the cottage for help. He grounded in the reeds, lowered the sail, removed the daggerboard and rudder, and began pulling the boat up onto the land.

He didn't quite get the chance to finish. Watching from the shore, determined not to interfere with his very own adventure, but ready to render assistance as needed, we finally decided that a "rescue party" might be of some use. When they arrived (by land) he had already done all that was necessary except for securing the boat. Mission (nearly) accomplished, both boy and boat safe and sound—then, and only then, did he give in to tears.

Kudos to the security guard who had stopped by to see what was going on: he could have said so many wrong things, but merely commended the boy for his courage and clear head, telling him he had done exactly the right things.

It was a much more satisfactory reaction than that of my own sailing adventure six years earlier: the panicked onlooker who called 911, the fire boat officials who told me they were under orders to "take me in," and the ambulance crew persistently ready to pounce on me as soon as I set foot on shore (but I outwaited them).

Don't panic; keep your head; make a plan and execute it. Save your emotional reaction for when the job is done. If an eight-year-old can do it, so can we.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, September 2, 2021 at 7:09 pm | Edit
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