In church yesterday, as in many places across the land, veterans in our congregation were asked to stand and be honored.

I'm fine with that—veterans should be honored every day.

But here's something to remind us that Memorial Day is for honoring those military heroes who cannot stand up because they are lying in graves all over the world, having given "the last full measure of devotion."

Here, today, I once again especially remember Porter's granduncles, who each served, fought, and died in France during World War I, as part of the U. S. Army's 101st Machine Gun Battalion.

Harry Faulk

Harry Gilbert Faulk, of Old Saybrook, Connecticut, son of Olaf Frederick and Hilma Reuterberg Faulk, wounded in action near Chatêau-Thierry, France, July 25, 1918. Died of his wounds later that day.

 

 

Hezekiah Porter

Hezekiah Scovil Porter, from Higganum, Connecticut, son of Wallace and Florence Wells Porter, killed in action near Chatêau-Thierry, France, July 22, 1918.

 

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, May 30, 2022 at 7:47 am | Edit
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My constant prayer during Pandemic-tide has been that we would learn to think outside our traditional, largely unquestioned, boxes of life. And so we have.

Many more workers—and their employers—have discovered that remote work can be a good thing. This is not new; back in the day we called it "telecommuting" and it came with both blessings (work from anywhere at any time) and curses (work from everywhere all the time). But, thanks to the pandemic restrictions, the number of people exercising this option has grown to where it's having a significant effect on the demographics of the country. Just ask the citizens of New Hampshire, whose real estate prices have been driven through the roof by pressure from Boston- and New York City-dwellers who no longer need to live in an expensive city to work there. Again: blessings and curses.

More exciting to me is the surge in home education.

A friend sent me this Associated Press article from mid-April, confirming what I've been hearing elsewhere: Homeschooling Surge Continues Despite Schools Reopening.

The coronavirus pandemic ushered in what may be the most rapid rise in homeschooling the U.S. has ever seen. Two years later, even after schools reopened and vaccines became widely available, many parents have chosen to continue directing their children’s educations themselves.

Families that may have turned to homeschooling as an alternative to hastily assembled remote learning plans have stuck with it—reasons include health concerns, disagreement with school policies and a desire to keep what has worked for their children.

[A Buffalo, New York mother] says her children are never going back to traditional school. Unimpressed with the lessons offered remotely when schools abruptly closed their doors in spring 2020, she began homeschooling her then fifth- and seventh-grade children that fall. [She] had been working as a teacher’s aide [and] knew she could do better herself. She said her children have thrived with lessons tailored to their interests, learning styles and schedules.

Once a relatively rare practice chosen most often for reasons related to instruction on religion, homeschooling grew rapidly in popularity following the turn of the century before [it] leveled off at around 3.3%, or about 2 million students, in the years before the pandemic, according to the Census. Surveys have indicated factors including dissatisfaction with neighborhood schools, concerns about school environment and the appeal of customizing an education.

As usual, even a good article gets some things wrong. Home education is no new phenomenon, but as old as the hills. Abraham Lincoln was just one of many homeschooled presidents, though in those days they called it "self-educated." And for a very long time it had nothing in particular to do with reasons of religion. Children were home-educated by necessity (schools unavailable, or children needed at home, e.g. Lincoln), because of an intellectual mismatch between child and school (e.g. Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein), because the atmosphere and philosophies of the schools differed significantly from those of the parents (sometimes associated with a particular religion, sometimes not), or simply because parents and/or children were dissatisfied with what the schools had to offer. In the last quarter of the 20th century, it is true, homeschooling ranks were swelled by Evangelical Christians who had discovered that the Amish were right: home education could meet their needs better than public or even Christian schools. This raised the public's awareness of an educational phenomenon whose adherents had mostly been trying to fly under the radar, and led to home education's establishment as a valid and legal educational approach—at least in the United States. This new familiarity—nearly everyone now knew a homeschooling family—opened the field to many others, with varied reasons for their choices.

The proportion of Black families homeschooling their children increased by five times, from 3.3% to 16.1%, from spring 2020 to the fall, while the proportion about doubled across other groups. [emphasis mine] ...

“I think a lot of Black families realized that when we had to go to remote learning, they realized exactly what was being taught. And a lot of that doesn’t involve us,” said [a mother from Raleigh, North Carolina], who decided to homeschool her 7-, 10- and 11-year-old children. “My kids have a lot of questions about different things. I’m like, ‘Didn’t you learn that in school?’ They’re like, ‘No.’”

[The mother from Buffalo] said it was a combination of everything, with the pandemic compounding the misgivings she had already held about the public school system, including her philosophical differences over the need for vaccine and mask mandates and academic priorities. The pandemic, she said, “was kind of—they say the straw that broke the camel’s back—but the camel’s back was probably already broken.”

I find it especially exciting that minorities are discovering that they are not locked by their circumstances into an educational system that is not meeting their needs. The pandemic restrictions have given families of all descriptions the opportunity to taste educational freedom*, and many, having made that leap unwillingly, have chosen to stick with it.

Choice is the thing. If the great relief expressed by many parents at the re-opening of schools is any indication, I'd say that home education is unlikely to become a majority educational philosophy in America. But it works so well for so many families, including those who opt for different educational choices at different times in their lives—we ourselves made use of public, private, and home education at one time or another—that I'm thrilled to see homeschooling on the rise all over the country, and even the world.

Our established educational system is understandably threatened by any challenge to its power. (Nonetheless, we had many teachers who cheered on our own homeschooling efforts.) But powerful monopolies—in education as well as government, medicine, transportation, information, and all other essential services—are dangerous, even to themselves. Healthy competition can only make our public education better.

One new homeschooling mother summed it up well:

It’s just a whole new world that is a much better world for us.


*I realize that many homeschoolers are cringing at the idea that the at-home learning offered by schools (public and private) during the pandemic bore any resemblance to the true freedom of home education, since it usually attempted to replicate as much as possible the restrictions inherent in formal, mass instruction. Nonetheless, it opened eyes ... and doors.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, May 29, 2022 at 1:34 pm | Edit
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The Internet often attributes this to St. Francis of Assisi, but the odds are it's a misattribution.  Whoever said it, I like it.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, May 26, 2022 at 12:09 pm | Edit
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Everybody in our family goes to college. That was true for us, our parents, some of our grandparents, even a few great-grandparents and beyond, plus our children, our siblings and most of their spouses, and our siblings' children and their spouses. We assumed that legacy would continue through our grandchildren.

So why am I thrilled that our oldest grandchild has chosen to eschew college in favor of a four-year apprenticeship as an electrician? For several reasons.

  • Colleges and universities are still recovering from COVID disruptions. Many have onerous vaccination policies, and less-than-stellar online courses. Things are getting better, I'm sure, but it seems like a good time to wait for a bit more stability.
  • His intellectual curiosity and ability are undiminished, and his unconventional home education has made him adept at learning whatever he wants to learn, using a variety of means. His memory and his breadth of knowledge are impressive. If someday he decides he wants to learn what college can best teach, I'm confident he'll manage well.
  • In the meantime, he's getting paid for his education, instead of accumulating debt.
  • He should come through his apprenticeship with practical skills that will generate a solid income and enable him to pursue other interests (e.g. music) without worrying about making a living from them.
  • What's more, those practical skills will be portable—electricians are needed everywhere—and very unlikely to be outsourced to foreign countries, as so many of my college-educated generation's jobs have been.

However, all this does not mean I've given up on college educations. We have other grandchildren, most too young to think about careers, but the two next oldest are leaning towards plans that would most likely require more traditional higher education.

There is, of course, another problem: the poisonous ethical, philosophical, and political atmosphere that now rules at most colleges and universities. It was bad enough when we were in school, worse in our children's time, and from everything I hear, unbelievably rancid and dangerous today. I remember reading an article decades ago about a disastrous college experience; the title was something like, "I Paid $50,000 a Year to Send My Daughter to Hell." As far as I can tell, today the levels of hell are much deeper and the price tag a lot higher. It doesn't surprise me that some people are actively encouraging their children to avoid college.

That's why I was happy to run into a couple of college professors who acknowledge the problems but encourage us not to abandon academia altogether. Both videos work from the point of view of conservative students facing the intense pressures of life at left-leaning universities, but really the advice is excellent for fish-out-of-water students of any kind.

This 3-minute video is an excerpt of a larger one. The original (20 minutes) is here.

This one's even better (5 minutes).

Here's my personal favorite of his suggestions:

Work hard. College faculty value hardworking, enthusiastic students. Period. The easiest way to win over your leftist professor is to do your classwork in a conscientious manner. That's your way of showing respect. Many teachers will respect you in turn. If you read the assigned materials, take part in class discussion, and show that you understand the key concepts, chances are you'll do just fine.

That's good advice for any student. Or employee, for that matter.

I'm solidly in favor of alternatives to college, and opposed to the bizarre idea that "everyone deserves a college education." I'm equally opposed to completely deserting the ship of academia, no matter how much it may seem to be sinking. As in so many other things, it all comes down to what's best for each individual student, and not locking anyone into a particular path.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, May 23, 2022 at 7:34 am | Edit
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We're suffering from an epidemic of corporate philanthropy.

Businesses, especially large corporations, are bragging loud and long about their so-called good deeds, whether political or environmental or social or anything else trending in pop culture.

I am not impressed.

If you are a local business (even if that business is a franchise of something larger), and you host fundraisers for your local high school crew team or church youth group, or if you offer goods and services to first responders and disaster victims in your community, go for it. I'm likely to think better of you. That's neighborliness.

But anything on a grander scale than that, no. When you donate funds to support political parties, or activist organizations, or the arts, or even the most benign of charities, whose money are you really spending? Unless you have no shareholders, no employees, no board of directors, and no customers, there's a case to be made that you are making them all unwitting—and in many cases unwilling—donors to your own favorite causes.

Here's what I suggest.

Do you have some extra profit you want to do good with? Consider any or all of the following:

  • Give all your employees an across-the-board raise. Or a one-time bonus, if you're afraid the profits won't be sustainable.
  • Increase the dividends you pay your stockholders.
  • Decrease your prices.

In this way you would help your workers/investors/customers—those who make your profit possible—in a tangible way, while at the same time increasing their ability to support the causes they believe in, instead of the pet causes of a small group of elite corporate decision-makers.

It's your choice. If you want to use company profits to support a particular presidential candidate, or to buy the CEO a new yacht, that's your business. Just don't expect the world to believe that your actions are virtuous.

Is there anything more hypocritical than being generous with other people's money?

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, May 20, 2022 at 6:09 am | Edit
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Ever since my daughter gave birth to her first child in Switzerland, I have been amazed and amused at how different "this is the way it must be done" can be between American and European standard medical care for children (vaccine recommendations, for example). It gives one perspective.

Our recent experience with COVID while we were in Europe have made me more sensitive to similar differences between American and European medical recommendations in that area, too. For example, here's the European recommendation about getting a second vaccine booster:

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and EMA’s COVID-19 task force (ETF) have concluded that it is too early to consider using a fourth dose of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines ... in the general population.

However, both agencies agreed that a fourth dose (or second booster) can be given to adults 80 years of age and above after reviewing data on the higher risk of severe COVID-19 in this age group and the protection provided by a fourth dose.

ECDC and EMA also noted that there is currently no clear evidence in the EU that vaccine protection against severe disease is waning substantially in adults with normal immune systems aged 60 to 79 years and thus no clear evidence to support the immediate use of a fourth dose. [emphasis mine]

Thus, although we jumped fairly quickly on the bandwagon of vaccination—being, you know, "old"—I feel free to ignore the pressure from American authorities to rush out and get a second booster. Besides, even the CDC acknowledges I have good reasons for at least postponing another shot.

Even if you are eligible for a second booster, you may consider waiting to get a second booster if you:

  • Had COVID-19 within the past 3 months
  • Feel that getting a second booster now would make you not want to get another booster in the future (a second booster may be more important in fall of 2022, or if a new vaccine for a future COVID-19 variant becomes available)

So, no hurry. I'm good with that. If the immune response of Europeans my age is still good, I'm pretty sure mine is also.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, May 17, 2022 at 5:50 am | Edit
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My brother graduated from Oberlin College, which automatically gave it a place in my heart—well, that and the amazing Gibson's doughnuts he'd bring with him when he came home on vacation.

When our daughter was interviewing at colleges, the shine came off Oberlin a bit. The school openly bragged about its "progressive" reputation, but to my surprise we found it to be the least open-minded of all the schools any of our children had visited—especially when it came to home education. Every other college was happy to accept homeschooled students, but Oberlin was clearly reactionary and suspicious, putting up the most onerous barriers to their acceptance. But she chose to go elsewhere for other reasons, so I chose to remember Oberlin for the doughnuts.

Recently, however, I heard news of an incident that began over five years ago and is still dragging on, shaking my respect to the core. Probably I shouldn't be too hard on Oberlin, as my own alma mater disillusioned me years ago. But in this case, Gibson's Bakery is involved. Colleges have gotten away with many terrible things, but let them mess with good doughnuts, and I must speak up.

The excerpts below are from the relevant Wikipedia article. I know Wikipedia is hardly the most reliable source, and has its biases, but I chose it because of all the articles I read, its was the most positive toward the college.

The beginning, November 2016

An underage African-American Oberlin College student ... attempted to purchase a bottle of wine using a fake identification card. The store clerk, Allyn D. Gibson ... rejected the fake ID. Gibson noticed that the student was concealing two other bottles of wine inside his jacket. According to a police report, Gibson told the student he was contacting the police, and when Gibson pulled out his phone to take a photo of the student, the student slapped it away, striking Gibson's face. The student ran out of the store. Gibson followed and then grabbed and held onto the shoplifter outside the store after the shoplifter had also assaulted the store owner.... Two other students ... friends of the shoplifter, joined the scuffle. When the police arrived, they witnessed Gibson lying on the ground with the three students punching and kicking him. The police report stated that Gibson sustained a swollen lip, several cuts, and other minor injuries. The police arrested the students, charging all three with assault and the shoplifter with robbery as well. In August 2017, the three students pleaded guilty, stating that they believed Gibson's actions were justified and were not racially motivated. Their plea deals carried no jail time in exchange for restitution, the public statement, and a promise of future good behavior.

Oberlin's actions

Of course the college responded to the incident by disciplining the students involved, right? Not a chance. Students, faculty, and administrators united to attack the store.

The day after the incident, faculty and hundreds of students gathered in a park across the street from Gibson's Bakery protesting what they saw as racial profiling and excessive use of force by Gibson toward the shoplifter. The Oberlin Student Senate immediately passed a resolution saying that the bakery "has a history of racial profiling and discriminatory treatment of students and residents alike," calling for all students to "immediately cease all support, financial and otherwise, of Gibson's," and called upon Oberlin College President Marvin Krislov to publicly condemn the bakery. For about two months, the college suspended its purchasing agreement with the bakery for the school's dining halls....

Oberlin blamed the bakery for bringing the protests on itself, claiming that "Gibson bakery's archaic chase-and-detain policy regarding suspected shoplifters was the catalyst for the protests...."

The following, apparently, is what the college thinks should be done with students who steal:

Oberlin made a proposal to all local businesses that if a business would contact the college instead of the police when students were caught shoplifting, the college would advise the students that if caught shoplifting a second time they would face legal charges.

There's more, and worse. I went to college in the early 1970's; I know that students, and even faculty, can do some pretty stupid things. But in my day the administrators were a little more sane and stable.

The other side of the story

Local police records showed no previous accusations of racial profiling by Gibson's Bakery. Of the forty adults arrested for shoplifting from the bakery in a five-year period, only six were black. As a part of the three students' guilty plea in August 2017, each read a statement saying, "I believe the employees of Gibson’s actions were not racially motivated. They were merely trying to prevent an underage sale." Reporters obtained an email written by ... an employee for the school's communications department, telling her bosses that she found the protests "very disturbing," saying, "I have talked to 15 townie friends who are [persons of color] and they're disgusted and embarrassed by the protest. In their view, the kid was breaking the law, period... To them this is not a race issue at all." During the trial ... a black man who worked his way through technical college while working at Gibson’s Bakery testified that the racist allegations against his former employer were untrue. "In my life, I have been a marginalized person, so I know what it feels like to be called something that you know you’re not. I could feel his pain. I knew where he was coming from." ... [A] black man, employed at Gibson's since 2013, testified that he had observed no racist treatment of customers or employees. "Never, not even a hint. Zero reason to believe, zero evidence of that."

The latest judicial ruling

On April 1, 2022, the Ninth Ohio District Court of Appeals dismissed Oberlin College's appeal. In a 3-0 decision, the panel upheld the jury verdict that Oberlin College defamed, inflicted distress, and illegally interfered with the bakery. The damages were capped by Ohio state law at $25 million in total damages, in place of the jury's original verdict of $11.1 million in compensatory and $33.2 million in punitive damages. Oberlin was also ordered to pay $6.3 million in attorney's fees to the bakery.

Oberlin is still refusing to pay what they owe, and two of the owners of Gibson's Bakery have died awaiting justice.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, May 14, 2022 at 6:21 am | Edit
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I'm not with my choir at the moment but that doesn't mean I'm not thinking of them. Here's a treat for all singers of John Rutter—those who love his music and even some of those who don't.

So you don't have to look in the comments, here is the text:

Can you believe it?
This is not Rutter.
It sounds a bit like his style of writing songs.
I can believe it.
This is not Rutter.
It sounds a bit similar, but something's gone all wrong.

Here's the chorus; it's often melodic.
This is the style but less harmonic.
Shame we can't give you a better lyric, but there you go.

That was a key change, made to suit our range,
or we would sound strange, though no-one knows why.
There was another (another key),
but it's no bother:
we can sing every note and even way up high.

Here's the chorus;
the tune's in soprano.
Sometimes it's sung without the piano.
No staccato no rubato, vibrato,
so there you go (go).

Oooh, sing out your oohs now.
Sing out your ahs now.
Ooh, sing out your ahs and ooh and ah and ooh.
There must be another bit where we are so articulate,
and we utter it, not mutter it,
or splutter it or Rutter it.

Here's the last chorus; the final climax.
Now quite familiar but has some drawbacks.
If sung too loudly this is where your voice cracks,
just at the end.
Amen.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, May 11, 2022 at 9:33 am | Edit
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Amongst the devastating consequences of the Russo-Ukranian War is the disappearance from public eye of the power grab by Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and his tyrannical handling of the Freedom Convoy protest in Ottawa.

Actually, a few European politicians did make note of it, calling out Trudeau for his hypocrisy in condemning Russian president Putin while trampling the rights of his own citizens back home.  But largely that is yesterday's news.

So today I remember.

This beautiful 14-minute tribute by JB TwoFour (about whom I know nothing but this) bought tears to our eyes as we saw the familiar scenes replayed: the love, the joy, the unity of Canadians in all their diversity, and the support from other nations.  Followed, alas, by replacement of the friendly interactions with local law enforcement by an irrational show of force from the government and imported police agencies. 

`

(Yes, the misspelling of "Israel" also brought tears to my eyes, but that's just me.)

May history remember the Freedom Convoy as the turning point in Canada's return to sanity, respect for basic human rights, and constitutional protection for its citizens—instead of the minor footnote Prime Minister Trudeau and his supporters are counting on.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, May 8, 2022 at 2:52 pm | Edit
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What does extended coercion do to common sense and courtesy?

I think about our drug laws. While I understand the reasoning of those—including friends who have been state prosecutors—who say that we'd be better off legalizing most drugs, I also understand the fears of others—especially parents—who know that removing a prohibition leads people to believe that what was once illegal is suddenly now harmless.

Note also how, when "right turn on red after stop" became legal, it took very little time for drivers to act as if it were mandatory, and to cheat on the "stop" part of the equation.

Our recent flight home from Europe took place only days after the mask mandates for airline passengers were lifted. Now don't get me wrong; I'm all for it. Not only does the combination of mask and altitude make my blood oxygen plunge, but putting the mask back on "in between sips and bites" gets old really fast (and fouls up the inside of the mask).

And yet, we and the people around us wore our masks for most of the transatlantic journey.

Why? Because seated just behind Porter was a lady with a very nasty-sounding, persistent cough. Who neither wore a mask nor covered her mouth, despite the urgings of the flight attendant. ("Please cover your mouth when you cough; you're scaring the other passengers.") This flight was also a lesson in the difficulties of a flight attendant's job; he was remarkably patient with this person, who was difficult in other ways as well.

Obviously at this point we were not worried about COVID, but that didn't mean we were eager to catch some other virus. I'm also well aware that, especially in elderly people, there are many non-contagious conditions that cause coughing. But we wore our masks.

Making a drug legal doesn't make it safe to experiment with. Allowing cars to turn right against a red light doesn't give someone the right to lean on his horn when the person in front of him is more cautious than he would be. And lifting mask mandates for the general population does not mean we should throw out common sense, and courtesy to our fellow passengers.

But when we have been constrained for so long by the letter of the law, it's easy to forget the spirit.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, May 1, 2022 at 8:44 am | Edit
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