This Florida girl may have (re)learned that the Connecticut sun isn't as wimpy as it first appears. After some days when the temperatures often made it desirable to sit in the shade, and life was busy enough to keep me spending time both indoors and out, suddently we had an absolutely perfect Connecticut summer day: sunny and breezy with lower humidity and temperatures in the 70's. We also had lots of great company that tempted me to spend most of the day conversing on the sunny deck.

The next day there was a bit of pink on the tops of my knees and feet, and—perhaps with a little imagination—my cheeks.

Our daughter's high school friend—who happens to be our dermatologist—wouldn't approve, but I'm pretty sure I made a week's worth of vitamin D that day. :)

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, July 31, 2023 at 6:48 am | Edit
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Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, July 27, 2023 at 7:41 am | Edit
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How is trust broken?

It may be by a sudden betrayal, but often you wake up one day and realize that the perfidy has been a long time growing to the point where you finally put the puzzle pieces together.

Despite personal experience with some dedicated and excellent teachers, I reached that point with our educational system some 30 years ago.

It took a little longer with our health care system.  About 25 years ago I began to have my doubts, a slow process that accelerated exponentially over the last three years.  I feel blessed to have two physicians in our own family, but even they, being newly-minted, have a tendency to parrot the official lines they were taught in their establishment med schools.  With time and experience, they will be great, but that doesn't mean I trust them to know best right now.

In the United States, thanks to our well-established educational rights and freedoms, it is relatively easy to obtain a good education while eschewing the conventional educational system.  Not so with medical care.  When you are extracted from an auto accident and taken to the hospital, that is not the time do insist, "leave me alone; I don't trust hospitals."  Even if you really don't trust hospitals.  I suspect that what a doctor told me many decades ago is still true:  Doctors are very good at emergency medicine; it's their approach to health in between emergencies that you can't trust.  I will elaborate in a future post on occasions where the medical establishment has failed in those interstices in my own life.  For now, it suffices to say that, malgré a few wise and compassionate doctors I know personally, my faith in our medical authorities is at an all-time low.

This was driven home to me today in a way that caught me completely by surprise.

I've been sorting through old medical records, and wondered why a urinalysis would be concerned about nitrite levels.  (I also wondered why urinalysis isn't generally done any more.  It's been longer than I can remember since a doctor asked me for a urine sample.  But that's also a question for another day.)

I posed the question to Google, and the Cleveland Clinic answered.

It seemed to me that the Cleveland Clinic should be as good a source as any, but their answer did nothing to bolster my waning confidence.  True, they let me know that nitrites in urine can be a sign of a urinary tract infection, which answered my question.  But the language in which this information was expressed made me want to flee as far as possible from this organization.

Bacteria in your urinary system cause nitrites to form in your pee. The bacteria enter your body through your urethra (the tube that carries urine out of your body). As a result, you develop a urinary tract infection (UTI).

The bacteria may travel to your bladder (the organ that holds urine), causing bladder inflammation (cystitis). From the bladder, a UTI can spread to your kidneys, the organs that make urine. This leads to a kidney infection (pyelonephritis).

Women and people assigned female at birth (AFAB) are more prone to getting nitrites in their pee. In fact, people AFAB are 30 times more likely than people AMAB to get UTIs. That’s because their shorter urethras make it easier for bacteria to enter the urethra and reach the bladder. Also, a person AFAB’s urethral opening is closer to the anus, where stool comes out. Exposure to poop containing E. coli bacteria is a common cause of UTIs.

You've got to be kidding me.  Who do they think they are talking to?  They leave you to infer from the context that "AMAB" probably means "assigned male at birth," yet think they need to explain what a bladder is?

And how am I supposed to have any confidence at all in a medical facility that uses an abomination like "people assigned female at birth"? Of all people, doctors ought to be clear about basic human biology. If the Cleveland Clinic believes that a birthing attendant's pronouncement can determine whether a baby is a boy or a girl, how can I believe anything else they might say?

(I mean, if a Supreme Court justice faltered when being asked to define the term "woman," you would certainly expect my faith in her intelligence and wisdom to be compromised, wouldn't you?  Oh, wait—that really happened, didn't it?)

And what's this "pee" and "poop" business?  Those are slang terms that might be used with very young children, or perhaps among close friends—certainly not by medical professionals who hope to be taken seriously!

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, July 26, 2023 at 8:14 pm | Edit
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It's not often we go to a movie theater. Seriously. I may have forgotten something, but I believe the last time we did so was in 2016, to see "Sully." But yesterday I couldn't resist venturing out for "Sound of Freedom."

Why? Well, for one thing, the subject—modern-day slavery and human trafficking—sounded important and serious and worth spending time on.  I look at the ads for so many movies these days and they sound boring at best. For another, I unexpectedly caught an interview with Tim Ballard, the real-life hero upon whom the film is based, and then later another with Jim Caviezel, the actor who portrays him. Ballard was a Homeland Security agent who quit his job of bringing down paedophiles in order to focus on rescuing their victims. I'm generally leery of movies that are "based on a true story," because they are so often inaccurate, but over and over again, Ballard would say, "yes, that really happened," or "that's actually understated," and he obviously approves of the film. Caviezel's interview was inspiring as well.

Perhaps the largest factor driving my desire to see "Sound of Freedom" was the surprising, even virulent opposition to the movie from sources I would have expected to cheer any effort to bring light into the deep darkness of slavery, kidnapping, human trafficking, and the exploitation of children. Unfortunately, that seemed to fit into a pattern I've been observing recently, that of downplaying the very existence of modern-day slavery, and pushing the idea that sex workers especially, even children, are voluntary participants in the business. Since no sane observer of human nature and human history could possibly really believe that, I had to see what it was that had generated such fierce opposition.

The only conclusion I can come to is that either (1) evil is now, if not worse than at any point in human history, at least more generally accepted by ordinary people as normal, or (2) there are a lot of rich and powerful people who have a great interest in the sex-slave trade. Probably both.

Even suggesting that is likely to get you labelled as a "conspiracy theorist"; as the makers of "Sound of Freedom" have learned. My opinion has always been that there's no need to call conspiracy anything that can be explained by mere human stupidity, but these days I'm seriously considering making myself a t-shirt that proclaims, "The Conspiracy Theorists Were Right."

Anyway, "Sound of Freedom" has my highest recommendation. Those who are accustomed to the ultra-fast-paced movies of today might find a few scenes a bit slow, but that didn't trouble me at all. The film is rated PG-13, which is pretty mild considering the subject matter. It's a story about a very dark and evil subject, but is nonetheless filled with goodness and hope. That's hard to beat.

Go ahead, do yourself a favor. See "Sound of Freedom." I'm not sure how young an age group should see it. Definitely our three oldest grandchildren could, but for younger than that it might be too intense. Probably PG-13 isn't a bad guideline.

It's not an easy film to watch, especially for parents and grandparents, but it's a good one.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, July 22, 2023 at 8:23 pm | Edit
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Enough is enough.

I won't drink Bud Light. I won't buy Ben & Jerry's ice cream.

Big deal. I don't like beer, and I've long found Ben & Jerry's not worth the price, especially since they sold out.

I almost never buy spices from Penzey's—previously my absolute favorite spice source—having found alternatives that aren't deliberately offensive to half their potential customers. I still buy King Arthur flour, because it's simply the best I've found, but the company has become more aggressive in pushing their political positions, and that has left a bad taste in my mouth—maybe not the smartest move when you're a food company.

Or any company.

I get it. Corporations are run by people, and people have opinions and favorite causes. A business can seem like a very handy bulldozer with which to push those opinions and causes. But behavior that may be appropriate for individuals and small businesses is annoying (or much worse) when adopted by large companies.

Corporations: You want to make the world better? I have some suggestions for what to do with your money and influence. Do these first, before throwing your weight around in places that have nothing to do with your business. And if you can, do it quietly, without blowing your own trumpet too much, please.

  • Think and act locally. Make your community glad to have you as a neighbor.
  • Provide good jobs, and pay your employees fairly. You have extra funds? Give them a raise, or at least a bonus.
  • Improve working conditions. Consider not only physical health and safety but mental and social health, and opportunities for autonomy and initiative.
  • Clean up your act. Wherever you are, make the water and air you put out cleaner than that which you took in. (Until the late 1960's, my father worked for the General Electric Company in Schenectady, New York, and I've never forgotten his comment that the water that went back into the Mohawk River from their plant was cleaner than what they had taken out of it. Whether that said more about GE's water treatment or the state of the Mohawk at the time I leave to your speculation.)
  • If you're a publicly-held company, don't forget your shareholders. Think beyond next quarter's numbers and work to make your business a good long-term investment.
  • Return charity to where it belongs. Instead of using their money to contribute to your favorite causes, lower your prices and let your customers decide what to do with the extra cash. Maybe they'll contribute to their favorite causes. Freely-given charity is always better than forced charity. Maybe they'll even spend the extra money on more of your products, who knows? But being generous with other people's money doesn't make you virtuous, it makes you despicable. 
  • Improve your product. Are you making or doing something worthwhile? Then do it better.

Any or all of these business improvements would make the world a better place without controversy. I've never understood why a company would deliberately and aggressivly seek to alienate half its customer base, but that seems to be happening more and more frequently. Do they think those who appreciate their controversial stance will out of gratitude buy more to take up the slack? Do they think they can ride out a temporary downturn and that those who are offended will quickly forget and go back to "business as usual?" My cynical side thinks they may be right about the latter, but I also think we may be reaching a tipping point.

I'm not a fan of boycots, preferring to make my commercial decisions based on quality and price rather than on politics. But I sense, in myself and in others, a growing distaste for dealing with companies that have gone out of their way to make it clear they think I'm not good enough to be their customer. I still shop at Target, but I just realized that the last time was more than three months ago. I still buy King Arthur flour, but find myself less inclined to linger over their catalog and consider their other products. Penzey's still has some products I can't get elsewhere, and I won't rule out another purchase—but I find myself unconsciously doing without instead. Small potatoes, sure. What difference can one formerly enthusiastic customer make to such large corporations? 

A big difference, if that one person is part of a groundswell of discontent. I think it's happening.

I call on all businesses to adopt my simple model of true corporate responsibility. If you want to see better fruit, nourish the world at its roots.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, July 19, 2023 at 11:01 am | Edit
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Mid-July is a good time to pay my annual homage to Saint Willis Carrier. He's not a Catholic saint, nor an Anglican saint, nor a saint in any of those faiths that I know of which are in the business of canonizing folks. But I'll bet they all revere him, and he's most certainly a Southern saint.

If you, too, appreciate Carrier's invention, not to mention his entrepreneurial traits of knowledge, skill, grit, determination, inventiveness, connection, and being in the right place at the right time, you may enjoy Eric Schultz' article about him, excerpted from his book, Innovation on Tap: Stories of Entrepreneurship from The Cotton Gin to Broadway's "Hamilton."

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, July 15, 2023 at 9:26 am | Edit
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Everybody knows and loves bagels. But would you believe I'd never eaten, seen, or even heard of bagels until I went to college?

My foodly-wise roommate from Providence, Rhode Island was shocked at my ignorance, but I learned in this video, with its brief history of bagels and interview with an old-time bagel baker, that bagels were largely unknown outside of the New York City area during the 1970's, and didn't really take off in the rest of the country until the 80's. Gong to college put me ahead of the game because of where I went to school. The University of Rochester is in Upstate New York, but it attracted many people from New York City, and in particular many Jews. Lox and bagels came with them.

I've written about the Pro Home Cooks YouTube channel before. This video is from its earlier days, and still fascinating. In it Mike Greenfield recreates the bagel-and-lox sandwich that was his childhood staple, and he does it almost entirely from scratch.

He makes the bagel.

He makes the lox.

He makes the cream cheese.

If he were making this show now, he would no doubt have grown his own tomatoes and onions, and for all I know pickled his own capers, but he's not there yet.

It's a cooking show with a side dish of history and culture. I hope you enjoy it. (22 minutes, works well at 1.5x speed)

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, July 12, 2023 at 8:05 am | Edit
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There's a place for professionals, and a time to enjoy the excellence that can only be attained by those who have dedicated most of their lives to a skill, a craft, or a subject. But be it music or sport or cooking or thinking, there's a special place in my heart for amateurs, where the roots are.

Take music. From church choirs to Irish seisiúns, from singing in the shower to singing your baby to sleep, amateur music has heart.

Our New Hampshire family, all nine of them, recently performed at a camp they were attending. Two French horns, two clarinets, two trumpets, a trombone, and a home-made cajón with multiple percussion sounds.  (The baby has a French horn mouthpiece.)  The eldest French horn player arranged a medley of music from The Pirates of the Caribbean for the group.

Last year they created, for the same camp, a moving video of a Lord of the Rings medley. This time they were confident enough to tackle a live performance. (And to share both with the world via YouTube, which takes a different kind of confidence.)

Decidedly amateur (root: "one who loves"). And decidedly fun. As I hear it, the months of preparation for this event provided a great opportunity for both musical and character growth. I can imagine.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, July 9, 2023 at 4:20 pm | Edit
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About a million years ago, when I was applying to colleges, high on my list was Harvey Mudd College near Los Angeles, California. At the time, it seemed like a really cool place for an aspiring physics major to be. Whether or not I would have been accepted into that elite student body was never determined, as it slipped off the list before I even got to the application stage. I no longer remember all the reasons why, but one factor certainly was that I had no desire to be that far away from home.

Harvey Mudd came to my attention again recently, thanks to this excerpt from a DarkHorse episode, which was inspired by a speech given by its current president at a White House summit on "STEMM, Equity, and Inclusion." (Yes, that's a double M; they've added Medicine. But dropped the A (Arts) that is often added. Pretty soon they're going to start including a "+" at the end.) The relevant line from her addres is this:

[On our campus] we also continuously celebrate our cultural value that every person, every student, every faculty member, every staff member, is responsible for the success of every other person on campus.

We can charitably hope that the full context of the quote lessens its inanity, but I'm not going to dig it out. It suffices to know that if Harvey Mudd's president did not know and mean exactly what she said, it has been said often enough by others for decades, probably at least a century. 

The good doctors Weinstein and Heying proceed to discuss the implications of that cultural value in this 11-minute video, which also does well at 1.5x speed if you want something shorter.

It's encouraging to hear people I respect calling out evils that I've been fighting for some 50 years, especially on a subject (education) so dear to my heart. Plus, I'm a sucker for anyone who appreciates Harrison Bergeron.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, July 6, 2023 at 4:02 pm | Edit
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I thoroughly enjoyed watching the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, and the coronation of King Charles III, which heightened our awareness of royalty when we recently visited Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. The Scandinavian countries have monarchs, but they don't wear crowns and have no coronation ceremonies, as our guides appeared to take pride in telling us.

As a child of the 60's, I was quite familiar with the sentiment, "Why should we get married? We don't need a piece of paper to validate our love!"

Many Protestant Christian churches look askance at liturgy, formality, and ceremony in worship.

Nuns and priests are no longer clearly distinguishable by their clothing.

In languages that distinguish between formal and familiar pronouns (e.g. French vous/tu or German Sie/Du), use of the familiar form has become widespread.

Adults have largely dropped the use of titles with other adults. (Except for doctors, who stubbornly insist on being called "Dr. So-and-So" all the while calling their patients by first name.) When I was young, my parents used Mr., Mrs., and Miss when speaking of or to anyone with whom they would have used the pronoun "vous" had they been speaking French. And even their closest friends retained the titles when they were spoken of in front of children. As the years passed, I watched this dissolve, as most of our own friends specifically did not want any honorific, unless it was the compromise of a non-relational "Aunt" or "Uncle." In some families children even call their parents by first name.

Why? Why this suspicion of anything formal, polite, or respectful? Is it from humility, or more precisely the feeling that others should be humble? Or because we have been taught to see excellence in manners as undemocratic, as C. S. Lewis observed in Screwtape Proposes a Toast? Or perhaps because we believe it hypocritical to honor those whose behavior has demonstrated that they don't deserve our respect?

On the contrary.

We have pomp, ceremony, rituals, oaths, symbols, traditions, and manners not because we deserve them, but because we don't.

When I first met the man who turned out to be one of my favorite pastors ever, he surprised me by asking us to call him "Father." Years of Evangelical Christian sensibilities were not ready for that. But I liked his explanation: Use of the title was an ever-present reminder that the office of priest—his calling, his vocation—was a higher and better thing than the man filling it.

In the military, you salute the uniform, not the man. A couple in love does not need "a piece of paper" to prove it, but the promises, the ceremony, and the legal standing serve to uphold that love when it is tested and struggling. Maintaining historical liturgy can help keep a church from descending into apostasy even in the hands of a heretical priest. Blurring the line between adults and children opens the door to unhealthy disrespect and even child abuse. And sometimes parents need reminding that it's our turn to be the adults in a relationship, and to act accordingly.

Watching the two recent British ceremonies, knowing the difficulties and just plain terrible behavior that beset the Royal Family, I could almost see them rising to the occasion, becoming better, at least briefly, as they conformed themselves to the customs and expectations of their positions. If I lived under a monarchy, even a constitutional monarchy, I think I'd want my king to be upheld by the traditions and trappings that encourage him to act more wisely and righteously than he is by nature.

We have pomp, ceremony, rituals, oaths, symbols, traditions, and manners not because we deserve them, but because we don't.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, July 3, 2023 at 9:21 pm | Edit
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