A friend, who has been experiencing the dating scene, offered the following warning.  I just fancied it up a bit.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, June 22, 2022 at 6:46 am | Edit
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Back in another life, I worked for the University of Rochester Medical Center. However, that was not how I met David H. Smith, the discoverer and developer of the now-common vaccine against Hemophilus influenzae b. That relationship began when my gynecologist suggested that I might want to help Dr. Smith out with his latest research project.

The following quotes are from the URMC article linked above, which recently came to my attention and inspired this post.

After training in pediatrics at Children's Hospital Medical Center in Boston, Dr. Smith served as a captain in the US Army in Japan. While a medical officer, he became the first to link chronic granulomatous disease to a deficiency in white cells. Back at Harvard, he continued his postdoctoral research in molecular genetics and bacteriology and served as chief of lnfectious Diseases at Children's Hospital from 1965 to 1976.

Harvard's legendary professor, Charles Janeway, an early researcher on the human immune system, became Smith's role model and mentor. At a time when much research focused on antibiotics, Janeway challenged his young doctors to expand their vision. At the bedside of a child enduring the agony of meningitis, Janeway said, One of you should try to find a vaccine to prevent this terrible disease. David Smith took up that challenge, and a I5-year quest was begun.

While at Harvard, he continued studying the biology and epidemiology of bacterial drug resistance factors and in 1968 began the search for a vaccine to protect against Hemophilus influenzae b., the cause of bacterial meningitis. Working in close partnership with Dr. Smith was his research colleague Porter W. Anderson, Ph.D.

In 1976, Dr. Smith was called back to the University of Rochester to chair the Department of Pediatrics. ... Dr. Smith and his research team worked flat out on the search for a Hib vaccine. By the early 1980s, the first Hib vaccine had been tested, licensed, and was being produced in a small laboratory within the medical school.

When I entered the scene, in early 1979, Smith and Anderson had a vaccine that worked for older children, but nothing to protect infants and very young children, a critical, dangerous gap. The research project that I joined was working to address the problem by vaccinating women who were hoping to become pregnant, and following their immune responses, through testing for antibodies in the mothers' blood during pregnancy, the babies' blood after birth, and also in breast milk.

It worked! I had a proper immune response, as did our child, who gained further protection through my milk.

I don't know what steps led from that study to the eventual development and acceptance of the H flu b vaccine in use today (it's now called Hib), but even though it was not yet publicly available, they—at my request—very kindly provided it to our second child, born in 1982.

Stung by the resistance of any major pharmaceutical company to buy rights to the vaccine, Dr. Smith decided to create his own pharmaceutical firm. In 1983, he resigned his chairmanship and founded Praxis Biologics. ... By 1989, Praxis had the largest number of new vaccines in clinical trials and one of the finest manufacturing facilities in North America. The initial Hib vaccine (1990) was the first vaccine to be licensed in the U.S. in a decade. The second, a conjugate vaccine, was the first to be licensed for universal use with infants since the rubella vaccine for measles and mumps.

("The rubella vaccine for measles and mumps"? Okay, we all know what they mean, but the article could have benefitted from a proofreader.)

The following is from Dr. Smith's obituary in the New York Times:

In the early 1980's, about 20,000 cases of Hib invasive disease in preschool children were reported to the Federal Centers for Disease Control. In about 12,000 of those cases, the children had meningitis, an inflammation of the brain and spinal cord membranes that can be fatal or cause permanent brain damage. In 1997, a few years after the vaccine became available for infants, 258 cases were reported.

It was a privilege to be part of that work.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, June 19, 2022 at 12:23 am | Edit
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When our kids were in school, individual learning styles were becoming a big thing. They were each given a test that supposedly categorized them as Visual, Auditory, or Kinesthetic learners. We could see some truth in the results, though the skeptic in me wasn't sure it had any more basis in reality than finding some truth in the Chinese Zodiac descriptions you see on the placemats in cheap Chinese restaurants.

Here's a presentation that agrees with my cynical view (15 minutes):

The contrast between the enormous popularity of the learning styles approach within education, and the lack of credible evidence for its utility is, in our opinion, striking and disturbing.

There's a large body of literature that supports the claim that everyone learns better with multi-modal approaches, where words and pictures are presented together, rather than either words or pictures alone.

Ultimately, the most important thing for learning is not the way the information is presented, but what is happening inside the learner's head. People learn best when they're actively thinking about the material, solving problems, or imagining what happens if different variables change. 

I call this just another bit of evidence for the harm we do when we label people. You're a kinesthetic learner, she has ADHD, he's "on the spectrum," I suffer from face blindness.... Sometimes labels can help us understand ourselves better, but more often they encourage us (and our parents, teachers, employers) to shut ourselves up in boxes and put limits on our abilities.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, June 5, 2022 at 3:40 pm | 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 Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation by Rod Dreher (Sentinel, 2017)

I read Live Not By Lies first. The Benedict Option was written three years earlier, and the two make good companion pieces for asking vitally important questions about our lives, our priorities, and our actions. In Live Not by Lies I preferred the first half of the book to the second; with The Benedict Option my reaction was the opposite. I find myself quarrelling with Dreher in a number of places, but nonetheless highly recommend both books, because he is observant, and he is asking the important questions. Dreher predicts very hard times coming for Christians—and others—as our society diverges more and more radically from its classical Western and Christian roots and values.

In my review of Live Not by Lies I mentioned that despite being specifically written for Christians, it's an important book for a much wider audience. The Benedict Option is less comprehensive in scope, especially the first part, but still useful, I think. As of this writing it's $12 for the Kindle version, but I've seen it as low as $6.

You know I'm not in the business of summarizing books. I don't do it well, for one thing. When one of our grandsons was very young, when asked what a book was about, he would instead rattle off the whole thing, word for word from memory. I'm like that, minus the superb memory. But secondarily, I don't think summaries do a good book any favors. The author has put together his arguments, or his plot and characters, in the way he thinks best, and trying to pull it apart and reduce it seems to me rude and unfair. Or maybe I'm just trying to justify my weakness, I don't know.

But if I were forced to write my simplest take-away from The Benedict Option, it would be this: Riding along with the current of mainstream culture may have worked all right for us when American culture was solidly rooted in Judeo-Christian and Western ideals, but that time is long gone. Doing the right thing—whatever that might be in a given situation—might never have been easy, but it's harder than when I was young, and it's on track to get much worse.

With that cheerful thought, here are a few quotes. Bold emphasis is my own.

Rather than wasting energy and resources fighting unwinnable political battles, we should instead work on building communities, institutions, and networks of resistance that can outwit, outlast, and eventually overcome the occupation. (p. 12). 

I agree wholeheartedly about building communities, institutions, and networks. However, I don't think we should abandon political work. After all, for half a century, Roe v. Wade looked absolutely unassailable, and now there's at least a small crack. Prudence would say to do both: attend to politics (a civic duty, anyway), without putting our faith in political solutions, and at the same time prioritize the building of helpful communities, institutions, networks—and especially families.

The 1960s were the decade in which Psychological Man came fully into his own. In that decade, the freedom of the individual to fulfill his own desires became our cultural lodestar, and the rapid falling away of American morality from its Christian ideal began as a result. Despite a conservative backlash in the 1980s, Psychological Man won decisively and now owns the culture—including most churches—as surely as the Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Vandals, and other conquering peoples owned the remains of the Western Roman Empire. (pp. 41-42).

People today who are nostalgic for the 1960's are mostly those who didn't live through them, I think. It was not a nice time.

Legend has it that in an argument with a cardinal, Napoleon pointed out that he had the power to destroy the church. “Your majesty,” the cardinal replied, “we, the clergy, have done our best to destroy the church for the last eighteen hundred years. We have not succeeded, and neither will you.”
 (p. 49).

You can achieve the peace and order you seek only by making a place within your heart and within your daily life for the grace of God to take root. Divine grace is freely given, but God will not force us to receive it. It takes constant effort on our part to get out of God’s way and let His grace heal us and change us. To this end, what we think does not matter as much as what we do—and how faithfully we do it. (p. 52).

[T]he day is coming when the kind of thing that has happened to Christian bakers, florists, and wedding photographers will be much more widespread. And many of us are not prepared to suffer deprivation for our faith. This is why asceticism—taking on physical rigors for the sake of a spiritual goal—is such an important part of the ordinary Christian life. ... [A]scetical practices train body and soul to put God above self. ... To rediscover Christian asceticism is urgent for believers who want to train their hearts, and the hearts of their children, to resist the hedonism and consumerism at the core of contemporary culture. (pp. 63-64).

For most of my life ... I moved from job to job, climbing the career ladder. In only twenty years of my adult life, I changed cities five times and denominations twice. My younger sister Ruthie, by contrast, remained in the small Louisiana town in which we were raised. She married her high school sweetheart, taught in the same school we attended as children, and brought up her kids in the same country church.

When she was stricken with terminal cancer in 2010, I saw the immense value of the stability she had chosen. Ruthie had a wide and deep network of friends and family to care for her and her husband and kids during her nineteen-month ordeal. The love Ruthie’s community showered on her and her family made the struggle bearable, both in her life and after her death. The witness to the power of stability in the life of my sister moved my heart so profoundly that my wife and I decided to leave Philadelphia and move to south Louisiana to be near them all. (pp. 66-67)

Dreher wrote about his sister's struggle and the effect it had on him in The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, which I have also read, and may eventually review. As with all of his books, I have mixed feelings about that one. He idolizes his sister and her choices in a way I find uncomfortable, and reduces almost to a footnote the damage those choices did, to him and to others.

Saint Benedict commands his monks to be open to the outside world—to a point. Hospitality must be dispensed according to prudence, so that visitors are not allowed to do things that disrupt the monastery’s way of life. For example, at table, silence is kept by visitors and monks alike. As Brother Augustine put it, “If we let visitors upset the rhythm of our life too much, then we can’t really welcome anyone.” The monastery receives visitors constantly who have all kinds of problems and are seeking advice, help, or just someone to listen to them, and it’s important that the monks maintain the order needed to allow them to offer this kind of hospitality. (p. 73).

Father Benedict believes Christians should be as open to the world as they can be without compromise. “I think too many Christians have decided that the world is bad and should be avoided as much as possible. Well, it’s hard to convert people if that’s your stance,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to help people to see their own goodness and then bring them in than to point out how bad they are and bring them in.” (p. 73).

Though orthodox Christians have to embrace localism because they can no longer expect to influence Washington politics as they once could, there is one cause that should receive all the attention they have left for national politics: religious liberty. Religious liberty is critically important to the Benedict Option. Without a robust and successful defense of First Amendment protections, Christians will not be able to build the communal institutions that are vital to maintaining our identity and values. What’s more, Christians who don’t act decisively within the embattled zone of freedom we have now are wasting precious time—time that may run out faster than we think. (p. 84).

I know the book was written for Christians, but I wish Dreher had also emphasized how important this is for everyone. No one can afford to ignore the trampling of someone's Constitutional rights, even if they don't affect us personally. If Christians lose their First Amendment protections, no person, no group, no idea is safe.

Lance Kinzer is living at the edge of the political transition Christian conservatives must make. A ten-year Republican veteran of the Kansas legislature, Kinzer left his seat in 2014 and now travels the nation as an advocate for religious liberty legislation in statehouses. “I was a very normal Evangelical Christian Republican, and everything that comes with that—particularly a belief that this is ‘our’ country, in a way that was probably not healthy,” he says. That all fell apart in 2014, when Kansas Republicans, anticipating court-imposed gay marriage, tried to expand religious liberty protections to cover wedding vendors, wedding cake makers, and others. Like many other Republican lawmakers in this deep-red state, Kinzer expected that the legislation would pass the House and Senate easily and make it to conservative Governor Sam Brownback’s desk for signature. It didn’t work out that way at all. The Kansas Chamber of Commerce came out strongly against the bill. State and national media exploded with their customary indignation. Kinzer, who was a pro-life leader in the House, was used to tough press coverage, but the firestorm over religious liberty was like nothing he had ever seen. The bill passed the Kansas House but was killed in the Republican-controlled Senate. The result left Kinzer reeling. “It became very clear to me that the social conservative–Big Business coalition politics was frayed to the breaking point and indicated such a fundamental difference in priorities, in what was important,” he recalls. “It was disorienting. I had conversations with people I felt I had carried a lot of water for and considered friends at a deep political level, who, in very public, very aggressive ways, were trying to undermine some fairly benign religious liberty protections.”

...

Over and over he sees ... legislators who are inclined to support religious liberty taking a terrible pounding from the business lobby. (p. 84-86).

Nothing matters more than guarding the freedom of Christian institutions to nurture future generations in the faith. (p. 87).

Agreed—except that I would put "Christian parents" or just "parents" ahead of "institutions." Dreher is a strong advocate for Christian schools at every level, especially the so-called Classical Christian schools with their emphasis on rigorous academics. However, he gives short shrift to home education, an option that is at least as important and in need of support.

Because Christians need all the friends we can get, form partnerships with leaders across denominations and from non-Christian religions. And extend a hand of friendship to gays and lesbians who disagree with us but will stand up for our First Amendment right to be wrong. (p. 87). 

Over and over again I have seen the importance of these partnerships. In all the "fringe" movements I've been a part of, from home education to home birth to small and sustainable agriculture, this collaboration with others with whom we had next to nothing else in common both made progress for the movement and—which was perhaps even more valuable—forced us to work beside and learn to appreciate the people we would otherwise have seen as our political opponents.

Most American Christians have no sense of how urgent this issue is and how critical it is for individuals and churches to rise from their slumber and defend themselves while there is still time. We do not have the luxury of continuing to fight the last war. (pp. 87-88).

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, May 4, 2022 at 9:06 am | Edit
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The Virus and the Vaccine is a cautionary tale about the hasty development and widespread, rapid distribution of a vaccine against a devastating virus, created using a brand-new technology. It's a fascinating and frightening story, and my review is here.

I posted that review in 2005; the story has nothing to do with COVID-19.

The virus was poliovirus, and the vaccine was the Inactivated Poliovirus Vaccine, developed by Jonas Salk. The new technology was growing the polio virus in cultures made from ground-up monkey kidneys, instead of the traditional time-consuming process of using living monkeys. This sped up the research enormously and made the rapid development of the vaccine possible.

Polio was in the midst of a tremendous surge at the time, and parents welcomed a vaccine against the terrifying disease, which killed and paralyzed and particularly targeted children.

But there was a time-bomb hidden in the vaccine: SV-40, a monkey virus that survived inadequate purification procedures to contaminate nearly every dose of polio vaccine between 1954 and 1963, affecting about a hundred million people in the United States alone. (I was undoubtedly one of them.) Even after the contamination was discovered, the dangers were downplayed—contaminated batches were not recalled, but continued to be used—because it was widely accepted that the monkey virus, being from a different species, would do no harm.

Unfortunately, that proved to be a false and costly assumption. SV-40 is now known to be carcinogenic, and since the mid-1990’s has been discovered in many formerly rare brain and bone cancers, as well as lymphomas and leukemias. Is this a cause and effect connection, or a coincidence? The government and medical authorities are still downplaying the issue, because it does not concern the present-day polio vaccine. But even though the Centers for Disease control say in one place on their website that there is no connection, research reported on another page flatly contradicts that.

Does it matter now? SV-40 is no longer contaminating the polio vaccine. As calamitous as these cancers are, when weighed against the devastation caused by the polio virus itself, it is a reasonable post-facto conclusion that the benefits of continuing to administer the contaminated vaccine outweighed the risks.

What does matter is that the authorities of the time were wrong about the science, and knowingly exposed over half the population of the United States to the contaminated vaccine.

Polio was such a devastating and commonplace childhood disease that parents willingly, nay eagerly, accepted the assurances of the authorities and authorized the vaccine for their children.

Back in 2005, I ended my review of The Virus and the Vaccine with a pro-vaccination message, which I still believe today. But my confidence in the governmental and medical authorities is now at an all-time low, and Big Tech has joined that list. Our vaccine production may be safer today—though maybe not, given that many vaccines are produced in China—but it's abundantly clear that we still get the science wrong, we still suppress information, and we still interfere unreasonably in the medical decisions of others.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, April 27, 2022 at 5:13 am | Edit
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When I was very young, my mother used to make apricot-pineapple conserve. I have the recipe; it's simple, just dried apricots, crushed pineapple, and sugar. The tricky part is that the mixture, while cooking, bubbles and spits and must be stirred constantly. My father made a long, L-shaped wooded paddle so she could stir from beyond the surprisingly-long range of the very hot mixture. When my mother made conserve, it was an event.

Which may be why I've only tried the recipe once or twice. That, coupled with the fact that Porter doesn't care much for apricots and even less for pineapple, so other jams take much higher priority around here.

But I miss it, and am always eager to try it out when I find a jar in the grocery store. But those occasions are rare.

Then I got smart.

There, at our local Publix, was the solution. Well, not the ideal solution, but a great deal easier than making my own. Mixed together, the flavor is just about as I remember it, though the texture is a bit thicker. One of these days I still plan to make it from scratch, even though I lack my mom's amazing paddle. But in the meantime, this provides an awesome gustatory memory.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, April 21, 2022 at 9:11 am | Edit
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Milestone note:  This is my 3000th blog post. That calls for something serious, but not depressing.  Here you go:

Fairy tales ... are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon. — G. K. Chesterton, 1909 ("The Red Angel")

Since it is so likely that [children] will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. ... Let there be wicked kings and beheadings, battles and dungeons, giants and dragons, and let the villains be soundly killed at the end of the book. — C. S. Lewis, 1952 ("On Three Ways of Writing for Children") 

I write stories for courageous kids who know that dragons are real, that they are evil, and that they must be defeated. I don’t do that because I want to hurt children, but because children do and will face hurts every day. I don’t want to expose them to evil, I want to help them become people for whom evil is an enemy to be exposed. I want to tell them dangerous stories so that they themselves will become dangerous—dangerous to the darkness. — S. D. Smith, 2022 ("My Blood for Yours")

Smith's essay in video form (three minutes).

P.S. There's a new Green Ember book to be released soon, Prince Lander and the Dragon War. Time to reread the previous books in preparation!

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, February 27, 2022 at 3:20 pm | Edit
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Our Culture of Fear could be the title of a post on the last two pandemic years, but not this time. As much as COVID hysteria has scarred our children, school hysteria may be even worse. What have we done to the psyches of this captive, vulnerable population?

Yesterday our local high school students experienced a "Code Red lockdown." Why? Because some students reported the presence on campus of an "unidentified adult."

Word of caution: Very little information has been forthcoming from any news reports I have been able to access, so it's likely that there are factors I know nothing about. However, had the person been carrying a weapon or been in any other way particularly dangerous, I'm sure it would not only have been in the news, but in the headlines.

Here's an e-mail that was sent out to parents, redacted to protect the guilty. (Click to enlarge)

I know this school. Our children attended there, and we put in thousands of hours of volunteer time. There are over 2500 students on a very large campus. How anyone could have picked out an "unidentified adult" is beyond me. When I was there, more than 90% of the students and most of the teachers could not have identified me. I would park my car, walk into the school, wave to the teachers, say hi to the students, and get on with my work. No fuss, no guards, no need to sign in, just a friendly neighbor welcomed into the school community.

How things have changed! If I were to do that today, apparently I would be detained, searched, and taken into custody. 

Before you lecture me that "It's not the 90's anymore; life is much more dangerous now," remember that the 90's were the peak of violent crime in the last half century. You can see that in this graph, from statista.com. (Click to enlarge)

Crime is 'way down, and fear is 'way up. School parents have reported that their children were absolutely terrified. I'm not sure I wouldn't have been myself, because a "lockdown" is a "lock in" and students can't get out. I'm not fond of being trapped, particularly when I have no idea that there isn't something really terrible going on.

Just as in our present pandemic situation, we are not paying nearly enough attention to the relative danger posed by extremely rare events that endanger children, and the damage a culture of fear does to their mental health.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, February 11, 2022 at 11:54 am | Edit
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The line between truth-telling and fear-mongering may be thinner than I'd like to believe.

I legitimately criticize most popular media outlets and others whose profits are driven by making people upset and afraid: I haven't seen such irresponsible journalism since the late 60's and early 70's. And yet I repeatedly write and share posts that I myself find frightening, because I think they highlight important information.  If fear and panic are unhelpful, so are ignorance and denial.  So I'll continue to publish information that I believe needs to be more widely known, trying not to be incendiary about it.

David Freiheit, my favorite Canadian lawyer/journalist, has given me gold mines of information about the legal aspects of current events.  When I first began listening to his Viva Frei YouTube shows, one of the things that attracted me to him was his calm, balanced approach to events.  I miss that.  Now, after two years of pandemic stress, he's a bit edgier and angrier.  But who can blame him?  He lives in Montreal, where the provincial and federal governments continue to make unreasonable, unscientific, and inhumane intrusions into the lives of its people—far worse than anything we have had to endure.  So please be patient with his anxiety; what he says is almost always eye-opening.

Below is a short clip from the full show that I will embed further on.  This clip is only a minute and a half long, and if you don't find frightening both this use of children for propaganda purposes and what the children say with such enthusiasm, perhaps a study of 20th century history is in order.  Or a reading of Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. Or a chat with someone who fled to the United States from a totalitarian country.

Here's the full video (12.5 minutes) of which the story of the children is just a sidebar.  I've been referring to Florida as a "free state" given what I consider to be our relatively reasonable response to the pandemic, but this Miami judge proves that we are hardly monolithic in our actions and opinions.  Note that the issue is not so much the judge's desire to insist that all potential jurors be vaccinated, nor even his insulting, demeaning, and incendiary language, but a legal problem: "These judges are rendering decisions based on evidence that has not been adduced and that is not how the court system works."

In case you don't watch the video but are curious about the "insulting, demeaning, and incendiary language," this is what the judge wrote in his ruling, which was on the face of it a simple postponement of a trial because the defense counsel did not want the jury pool limited by vaccination status.

It is the Court's belief that the vast majority of the unvaccinated adults are uninformed and irrational, or—less charitably—selfish and unpatriotic.

Even if you completely agree with the judge, the children, and the teacher, these stories should send shivers down your spine.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, January 27, 2022 at 6:23 pm | Edit
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Grace Victoria Daley
Born Sunday, October 24, 2021, 12:25 p.m.
Weight: 9 pounds, 9 ounces
Length: 20.5 inches

Mom, baby, and the whole family are doing well and are rejoicing with exceeding great joy over this delightful gift from God.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, October 25, 2021 at 9:23 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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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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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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