Once again, the CATO Institute has come out with its assessment of relative personal and economic freedom among our states. I'm always suspicious of all those surveys that purport to measure "best state to live in," "happiest city," "most family-friendly country," and such, because so often their criteria are not only different from my own, but even polar opposites. But the CATO Institute appears to have done a good job, and they're open about their criteria and how they calculate their rankings. It goes without saying that there are "freedoms" considered here that each of us would be happy to do without. I'm actually rather pleased that Florida ranks #37 in "gambling freedom," although I understand why that's included in the calculations. They even have an appendix for high-profile issues, such as abortion, that make a generalized assessment of freedom difficult.

Here is the definition of freedom that undergirds this ranking:

We ground our conception of freedom on an individual rights framework. In our view, individuals should be allowed to dispose of their lives, liberties, and property as they see fit, so long as they do not infringe on the rights of others. This understanding of freedom follows from the natural-rights liberal thought of John Locke, Immanuel Kant, and Robert Nozick, but it is also consistent with the rights-generating rule-utilitarianism of Herbert Spencer and others.

Here is an image of the overall freedom rankings. I encourage you to go to the website, however, where you can find much more information.

Way to go, New Hampshire and Florida, the gold and silver winners!

The dubious distinction of coming in dead last goes to my birth state of New York, where I lived until I was 15 and came back again for college and several years thereafter, home of my beloved Adirondack Mountains, and birthplace of our children. I still love New York and pray for it daily, but can no longer imagine—as I once dreamed—of returning to live there. However, your mileage may vary. One man's liberty is another man's license, and New York may be just where you'll feel freest in the areas that matter most to you. (If so, please stay there and enjoy it. Don't move to Florida for the weather or the low taxes and then do your best to make us like New York.)

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, November 30, 2023 at 5:56 am | Edit
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Here's a PBS story with information on how Neanderthal (and Denisovan) genes live on in modern humans. I'm taking it personally; after all, 23andMe tells me that I have more Neanderthal genes than 91% of their customers: Out of the 7,462 variants we tested, we found 279 variants in your DNA that trace back to the Neanderthals. Granted, my Neanderthal ancestry adds up to less than 2% of my DNA, but it's still more than most people have.

So if you think some of my ideas are old-fashioned, even Stone Age, at least I come by them honestly.

The bad news:

In 2020, research by Zeberg and Paabo found that a major genetic risk factor for severe COVID-19 is inherited from Neanderthals. “We compared it to the Neanderthal genome and it was a perfect match,” Zeberg said. “I kind of fell off my chair.”

The good news:

The next year, they found a set of DNA variants along a single chromosome inherited from Neanderthals had the opposite effect: protecting people from severe COVID.

The science behind the news (links in the quotes) is more than I want to think about, and I have no idea how the protective vs. risk factor genes work out in my case. After all, I may have more Neanderthal genes than most, but that's still only a small fraction, and I don't even know if the variants involved are among those tested by 23andMe. So I'll just go back to making my Covid decisions based on other factors.

And smiling when someone suggests my views are out-of-date.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, November 29, 2023 at 7:23 am | Edit
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I sang this song in sixth grade, in an elementary school chorus where we we were taught three-part harmony and music theory as well. It was pretty remarkable. I had actually forgotten about America, Our Heritage until I found the program for our May 1964 concert in my dad's journal for that year. But as soon as I saw the title, words and music came flooding back. It must have made an impression on me, because I sure can't say that's true of all the songs we sang.

I find this song particularly appropriate for Thanksgiving. It moves me to gratitude that this was truly the America I grew up in, and that, dark as the days may sometimes seem, this American Dream is worth working for, praying for, fighting for, and above all hoping for. 

America, Our Heritage
Words and music by Helen Steele

High towering mountains, fields gold with grain,
Rich, fertile farmlands, flocks on the plain,
Homes blessed with peace, with love, without fears;
This is the heritage we've kept through the years.

Wide rolling prairies, lakes deep and broad,
Canyons majestic, fashioned by God,
Life lived in peace, contented and free:
This is the heritage forever to be.

Stout hearts and true hold fast what is ours
God give us courage through darkest hours.
God give us strength and guide with thy hand
America, our heritage, our homeland.

The Girl Scout version skips a verse, but you'll get the idea.

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, November 23, 2023 at 9:16 pm | Edit
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Here's an interesting video about toilet paper I just came across (17 minutes @ regular speed, language warning). It begins with the extreme statement that the average American uses 141 rolls of toilet paper a year. You may recognize that as a useless, inflammatory statistic. First of all, I question any statement that tries to give itself credibility by being more precise than justified. To say 141 conveys no more information than "around 140" but looks more scientific because of the extra significant digit. But I'm quibbling. The real issue is that toilet paper rolls come in a variety of sizes, so that number could easily be off by a factor of three, even if you only count household use; office and public bathrooms often use industrial-sized rolls. So all this number really means is that Americans use a lot of toilet paper.

This makes me suspect the other numbers in the video as well. So why am I posting it? Well, the history of toilet paper, and toilet paper alternatives, is interesting. Though come to think of it, I quarrel with some of that, too. The idea that excrement is "gross" was not the invention of clever marketers, as any reader of the Old Testament will attest.

Still, it got me rethinking the idea of a bidet, one of the ones that attaches right to your existing toilet. Actually, I've been envying the Japanese their fancy toilets since we visited there in 2006, but that's both more money and more work than I'm in the mood for. But I always thought of a bidet as a luxury item for occasional use; it never occurred to me that it could replace toilet paper. (Think how handy that would have been in 2020.) And I'd never heard of "bidet towels," which make a lot of sense. I mean, you don't save toilet paper if you use it to dry off afterwards. Then again, Japanese toilets do the drying for you, too: wash, flush, and blow dry.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, November 20, 2023 at 8:33 am | Edit
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Freedom of the mind requires not only, or not even especially, the absence of legal constraints but the presence of alternative thoughts. The most successful tyranny is not the one that uses force to assure uniformity but the one that removes the awareness of other possibilities, that makes it seem inconceivable that other ways are viable, that removes the sense that there is an outside.

— Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind

I saw the part in bold quoted online and knew I had to share it here. As usual, my cynical side insisted I confirm that the attribution was correct (so many aren't), so I was able to include a litte more of the text.

One more book for my already impossible need-to-read list.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, November 17, 2023 at 6:04 pm | Edit
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It is refreshing when someone whose eyes are wide open to "the hosts of evil 'round us," and has suffered much in exposing them, finds evidence that all is not lost. Heather Heying writes about this in Natural Selections: "The Flame of the West Is Alive." The post, as usual, is long, and for quite a while is more dark than hopeful. But near the end, Heather tells the following story:

My sign-off for DarkHorse, which seems more apt than ever, is this:

  • Be good to the ones you love;
  • Eat good food;
  • And get outside.

To which I would add two things: music and dogs.

When in Prague two weeks ago, after the launch of the Czech publication of Hunter-Gatherer’s Guide by Institut H21, several of us went to a pub and stayed late. Two Czech men with opposite politics sat across from me, disagreeing, laughing, drinking. I only met them that night, but I feel confident in saying that they are both good men. In part I have that confidence because I watched them describe positions of almost polar opposition—on Trump, on what is being taught in schools, on guns—and they listened to one another, and to others at the table who disagreed or agreed, and they did not dissolve into puddles or erupt in fury. How many places would that be possible in America now?

The director of Institut H21, the amazing Adam Ruzicka, had brought a guitar that evening, in the hopes that we could sing around an actual campfire after the book launch. Weather did not permit, but he broke out his guitar in the pub instead, and began to play Czech folk songs, of which there are many. I heard estimates that all Czech people know the words to at least thirty folk songs, which they can and will sing along to, given the opportunity.  [Editor's note:  That is not exactly how Adam's surname is spelled, but my platform's editor curled up in a ball and died when trying to swallow all the diacritical marks.]

Adam pulled out his guitar and began playing, and in short order a young man at the next table pulled out a violin and joined. The joy grew, and the singing got louder. A few women from a neighboring room came in and began to dance. And at the third table in the room, a man pulled out an accordion and joined in as well. I know—I must be making this up. Exaggerating. But I am not.

Everyone but us two Americans were singing along, including the men who had been arguing amicably just moments before. When one song ended, another began. The guitar was handed around and played by others before being returned to Adam’s capable hands.

It was late though, well after 1am. The pub was on the bottom floor of a residential building, and it was a Tuesday. The bartender came in from the other room and asked Adam to keep it down. The noble subversion of the Czech spirit kicked in then, inspiring Adam to raise the decibel level considerably, encouraging even more raucous singing, before finishing with a flourish.

Later, the bartender would tell Adam that in his position, he would have done the same thing.

I dare not quote a larger section than this, so to find out what she has to say about dogs, you'll have to go to the original post.

I'll close with the comment I wrote there:

A hearty YES! to the civilization-saving importance of music, by which I mean above all homemade music, such as you experienced in Prague. That sounds like an impromptu Czech version of the Irish seisiún, also found in pubs. Or the regular Friday-night pizza dinner/hymn sings at our daughter's house.

The difference between making music yourself, especially with other people, and what plays omnipresently in our homes, our stores, our doctor's offices, and our earbuds, is like the difference between raw milk, unpasteurized apple cider, or homemade sourdough bread, and what goes by the names milk, cider, and bread on the shelves of our grocery stores.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, November 14, 2023 at 8:00 am | Edit
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This year's Veterans Day tribute is to all the U.S. (and pre-U.S.) veterans among our direct ancestors.

Pequot War, 1634-1638: Thomas Barnes, Jonathan Brewster, Thomas Bull, Nathaniel Merriman

King Philip's War, 1675-1678: John Curtiss, Isaac Davis, Isaac Johnson

Queen Anne's War (part of the War of the Spanish Succession), 1702-1713: Giles Doud

French and Indian War (part of the Seven Years' War), 1754-1763: Samuel Chapman, Moses Whitney

Revolutionary War, 1775-1983: Jonathan Burr, Erastus Chapman, Agur Curtiss, Nathaniel Fox, Nehemiah Gillett, Christopher Johnson, Anthony Jones, Stephen Kelsey, Seth Langdon, James Pennington, Oliver Scott, Joseph Scovil, Henry Shepard, Elihu Tinker, Benjamin Welles, Moses Whitney

Civil War, 1861-1865: Phillip Barb, Anson Bradbury, Robert Bristol, David Rice, Nathan Smith

World War I, 1914-1918: Howard Langdon, George Smith

World War II, 1939-1945: Alice Porter (Wightman), Bill Wightman. I give honorable mention to Warren Langdon, my father, who served during WWII on the Manhattan Project. I like to say that his work helped save the life of Porter's father, who, being a medic, would have been one of the first to hit the beach should an invasion of Japan have been necessary.

I'm sure there are more whose names I don't know. I have not as yet found representatives from the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, nor the Spanish-American War. I know there were also those who served during peacetime.

I'm sure they weren't all always completely honorable, because they were ordinary people. They didn't even always fight on the same side. But one thing, I'm certain, they all had in common: They gave their bodies, their lives, their health, and their futures to stand "between their loved home and the war's desolation." For that I thank and honor them, and those who still make the sacrifice today.

That said, I'm going to put in a plug here for the all-volunteer military, which I think no longer gets the respect and support it deserves. We are too far removed from the 1960's and 70's, when the military draft cast a long, difficult, and painful shadow on the country. In that respect it is much better to be young today. A career in the armed services can be a very good choice—but it should be just that, a choice. It’s better for families, for society, and for the military as well.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, November 11, 2023 at 6:28 pm | Edit
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I know myself better than to watch any presidential debates, Democratic or Republican. Neither my blood pressure nor my mental health need that kind of assault. Porter generally feels the same way, but he watched some excerpts from the most recent Republican debate post-facto and discovered this gem, which I clipped to 14 seconds, in which Vivek Ramaswamy nails a good part of what is wrong with these media circuses.

Think about who's moderating this debate. This should be Tucker Carlson, Joe Rogan, and Elon Musk. We'd have ten times the viewership, asking questions that GOP primary voters actually care about, and bringing more people into our party.

Now that would be a debate I'd be tempted to watch. Even more so, I'd like to see every candidate, including Joe Biden and Donald Trump, interviewed by Lex Fridman. After that, I think I might actually know something about these people who are hoping for my vote.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, November 10, 2023 at 2:20 pm | Edit
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Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.

I don't remember where I saw this quote recently, but it illustrates how a piece of advice can look good at first glance, fall apart when you think about it, and yet still leave you with something positive.

It was attributed to Abraham Lincoln, but that's probably one of those common internet mistakes of finding an interesting saying and giving it strength by attributing it to someone you respect. For one thing, Lincoln no doubt chopped down many trees in his youth, but I doubt any of them took him six hours. Plus, who spends four hours sharpening an axe? I don't have much experience with axes, but I know that knives are more useful with more frequent, shorter sharpenings. Follow the advice of "Lincoln," and I should think you'd end up grinding away much of your axe, and still finding it dull before the job was done.

And yet ... the point about the importance of preparation is a good one.

Maybe the moral of the story is not to dissect too thoroughly words meant to inspire and encourage. Discern the wheat and let the wind take the chaff.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, November 8, 2023 at 10:36 am | Edit
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I've sung before the praises of avoiding anesthesia when possible. Here's an Epoch Times article that confirms my instincts: Anesthesia: The Lesser-Known Side Effect That Could Be Mind Altering. I fear it may be behind a pay wall; if you want to see it and can't, send me an e-mail address and I can give you a "friend referral" that should let you in—at the cost, of course, of letting the Epoch Times know your address. Here are some glimpses at the long article:

If you’re over 65, there’s a significant risk you will wake up from surgery as a slightly different person. Studies indicate at least a quarter and possibly up to half of this population suffer from postoperative delirium—a serious medical condition that causes sudden changes in thinking and behavior.

Delirium is the most common complication of surgery. Until recently, it wasn’t taken very seriously. But researchers believe it can often be avoided—and warrants more study—given its link to long-term and permanent neuropsychotic problems.

A JAMA review noted that up to 65 percent of patients who are 65 and older experience delirium after noncardiac surgery and 10 percent develop long-term cognitive decline. Delirium can lead to longer hospitalization, more days with mechanical ventilation, and functional decline. Even after discharge, functional and psychological health can worsen with increased risks of progressive cognitive decline, dementia, and death.

My grandfather, retired engineer and former college professor with a sharp mind, never recovered, mentally, from a relatively simple operation when he was around my age. I've always blamed the anesthesia, and I may not be wrong.

It's good that the medical establishment is finally taking the problem seriously. Too many doctors expect mental decline in their elderly patients. Yet, in addition to researching ways to minimize the need for general anesthesia, there are already some easy and inexpensive techniques for ameliorating the situation.

More experts and surgeons are also recognizing the importance of post-surgical cognitive rehabilitation. Just as patients who are having orthopedic and other surgeries are guided to get up and move shortly after surgery, there’s evidence that doing crossword puzzles and other cognitive-based activities can help prevent delirium.

Sleep and a support system appear to be two vital ways to prevent delirium. Hospital staff routinely wake sleeping patients for medication, and the various beeps of hospital equipment can disrupt sleep. For those who are hospitalized after surgery, minimizing sleep disruptions is key, according to the Anesthesia & Analgesia article.

"This is particularly important for the older patient for whom the restorative properties of natural sleep are another key part of their recovery. Importantly, family engagement and social support should be implemented early in the preoperative period," the article states.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, November 5, 2023 at 8:05 am | Edit
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