Why haven't I left the Episcopal Church? I know many who have, from individuals, to churches, to in one case an entire diocese. Certainly I have no loyalty to its national organization, which I'm afraid I find heretical in many ways—as well as narrow-minded and unkind. Besides, I've always had more attachment to the Church as the Body of Christ as a whole than to any particular denomination. Still, I'm most at home in the Anglican form of worship, and have been part of Episcopal churches for over a quarter of a century.

Why stay in what I believe to be an openly heretical denomination? For one thing, no denomination I've ever experienced has not suffered from errors, often egregious ones. Not even "non-denominational" or independent churches. What matters much more is the particular, local church, of which there are many in the Episcopal Church, and especially in the larger Anglican Communion worldwide, that remain faithful.

For another, the nature of an Anglican service makes it more difficult—though not impossible—for a church to go too far off the rails. Even when the sermons are openly heretical—we've been there—the Scripture readings, prayers, creeds, and rubrics tend keep the worship itself in line.

Nonetheless, the policies and struggles of our denomination are painful and discouraging at times. So it was with enthusiasm and hope that I learned about the Episcopal Fellowship for Renewal, a grassroots movement of young people working within the Episcopal Church for restoration and renewal.

Where I encountered them was through their Ninety-five Theses to the Episcopal Church—a deliberate nod to Martin Luther—which I reproduce below. I can't say I completely support (or even understand) all 95 of them, but for almost all I can say an enthusiastic AMEN! They pretty much nail where the Episcopal Church has gone off track.

On a personal note, it may be the "least of these," but being an enthusiastic hymn singer, I'm particularly enamored of #57 (emphasis mine): The words of Scripture, the Creeds, the liturgies of the Book of Common Prayer, AND THE HYMNS are not to be changed to insert "gender-inclusive"  or "gender-neutral" language. To be clear: when a woman sings "Thou my great Father, I Thy true son," she is not committing gender dysphoria. I speak as a woman, an Episcopalian, and a prescriptivist.

All hope is ultimately in God, but I'm also feeling especially hopeful because of these young people who are determined not leave their church, even though the church has left them. I love their quote from C. S. Lewis:

We all want progress, but if you're on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.

The following statements are coming from parishioners and priests of the Episcopal Church who are committed to its flourishing and faithfulness. In true Protestant fashion, and in honor of our faith tradition, they will be framed as ninety-five theses in hopes that, unlike the Roman leaders during the Reformation, the Episcopal Church will honor the call to return to the traditional values of the English Reformers, the Doctors of the Anglican Church, the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, the Catechism of the Book of Common Prayer, the Book of Homilies, the Church Fathers, and the Creeds–Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian. Additionally, the three Anglican authorities: Scripture, Tradition, and Reason.

  1. Christian bishops, priests, deacons, and other ministers must not be permitted to deny that Jesus is truly God and truly man.
  2. Christian ministers must not be permitted to deny that Jesus physically and bodily rose from the dead.
  3. Christian ministers must not be permitted to deny that Jesus was born of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
  4. Christian ministers must not be permitted to deny the Second Coming of Christ.
  5. Christian ministers must not be permitted to deny the reality of Eternal Life.
  6. That since the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds affirm all the above doctrines, Christian ministers who publicly recite them in their churches, while privately or subtly denying them, are liars.
  7. Christian ministers must affirm the authority of Scripture as the Word of God. Any denial of Scripture’s authority in the determination of doctrine and administration of discipline shall not be tolerated.
  8. Christian ministers must affirm the authority and divine inspiration of Holy Scripture and avoid questioning it on the basis that it is a culturally relative or historically unreliable text.
  9. Christian ministers must readily affirm the promise of Eternal Life after death in the New Creation, so that the faithful may be given true hope in Christ.
  10. Christian ministers who attack the authority of Christ, the Apostles, the Church Fathers, the English Reformers, or the Doctors of the Church attack the very ground they stand on.
  11. Christian ministers must affirm the existence of miracles, as Scripture testifies.
  12. The Church must affirm the reality of original sin.
  13. The Church must affirm the reality of God’s judgment upon sin.
  14. The Church has no authority to explicitly deny the existence of eternal damnation, given that Jesus Christ spoke so plainly of it. 
  15. The Church must affirm that God is all-powerful, or omnipotent.
  16. The Church must affirm that God is all-knowing, or omniscient.
  17. The Church must affirm that God is all-good, or omnibenevolent.
  18. The Church must affirm that there is only one true God, eternally existing in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as described in the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds.
  19. The Church must affirm that Christ is the only way to God.
  20. The Church must affirm that Christianity is absolutely true and the only way to salvation.
  21. Given that the foundational documents of the Anglican Church, principally the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of 1571, uphold all of the above doctrines, the Church does not have the authority to deny said doctrines.
  22. While liberation theology and the social gospel contain elements of truth, they cannot take the place of the Biblical Gospel, as they change its message from redemption of sin and eternal life into belief in an earthly utopia.
  23. Pantheism is heretical as it denies the true nature of God. All those who teach the doctrine of God as all-encompassing spiritual oneness are heretics and should be condemned as such.
  24. Process Theology denies God’s absolute, eternal nature and replaces it with pantheism; therefore, it should not be taught in Christ’s church.
  25. While we can unite with other religions in earthly matters, such as promoting understanding and the common good, we cannot unite with them in spiritual matters.
  26. Agnostic, Atheistic, Hindu, Buddhist, Pagan, Wiccan, Satanist, or otherwise occultic religious beliefs, practices, symbols, rituals, and idols are to be utterly rejected and should never be allowed in Christ’s Church.
  27. There is only one God in the Old and New Testaments and to deny that is to make God relative, changeable, and not absolute.
  28. The purpose of studying theology is to approach the absolute truth about God and reflect on what he has revealed to us.
  29. Our theology should not relativize absolute truths about God that have been revealed to us in Jesus Christ our Lord.
  30. Ministers whose theology is essentially Unitarian Universalist should stop calling themselves “Episcopalian” or “Anglican” and recuse themselves from positions in the Church.
  31. The Church should be much quicker to discipline ministers who deny the divinity of Christ than to discipline ministers who will not bless same-sex “unions” or who decline to ordain women to the priesthood.
  32. Everyone should be held to the same standard of Christian sexual ethics regardless of orientation or personal situation. Hypocritically condemning some sin while ignoring others is not righteous.
  33. Churches should spend more time talking about Eternal Life in Christ than about contemporary political issues.
  34. The aim of priests should be to teach their congregations Christian doctrines, rather than casting doubts about such doctrines into the minds of the faithful.
  35. The Church should be more dogmatic about theological doctrine than about political and social ideologies.
  36. The Church should be united in essential theological beliefs and grant individual Christian liberty in non-essential beliefs, rather than the inverse.
  37. Preaching about God’s love without preaching about God’s holiness and wrath toward sin is just as bad as the inverse.
  38. To make sin merely about systemic injustices reduces the Gospel to an ineffective political message with no spiritually redemptive power.
  39. Social justice is an important part of the Gospel but not the whole of the Gospel, and it too often has become a euphemism for a partisan political agenda.
  40. Priests should never give their congregations the impression that God makes no moral demands of them.
  41. Parishes should hold their members to high personal moral standards.
  42. Priests should not hesitate to preach against personal sin.
  43. Incumbents should not be denied the tenure of the office of Rector. Bishops should abolish the office of Priest-in-Charge for all but interim situations.
  44. All parishes should present a clear theological message consistent with Scripture, the doctrines of historic Anglicanism, and the example of the Early Church.
  45. Homilists should not hesitate to preach theological dogma from the pulpit.
  46. It is crucial for every parish member to be directed toward having a vibrant, living faith in Jesus Christ. We need to get to know Him for who He truly is, as was taught in Scripture.
  47. There should be limits on theological diversity within the Church, especially when it reaches the point of denying the essentials of the faith as defined by our historic creeds.
  48. Children are to be taught the Scriptures, theology, and Catechism of the Book of Common Prayer so that they know why they come to church, what to do whilst in church, and how to live their faith outside of church.
  49. Parish leaders should teach Christian apologetics to children and adults so that they know how to defend the Christian faith before others.
  50. Confirmands are not to be confirmed if they do not profess belief in the essentials of Christianity.
  51. People with Agnostic, Atheistic, Hindu, Buddhist, Pagan, Wiccan, Satanist, or otherwise non-Christian beliefs must not be admitted to or allowed to remain in positions of leadership, teaching, or authority in the Church.
  52. Priests should not invite non-believers to receive the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist "lest they bring judgment upon themselves."
  53. The Church does not have the authority to prevent the Eucharist from being offered to believers in its churches on any grounds other than excommunication or lack of Trinitarian baptism.
  54. Churches and their congregations should regularly engage in evangelism.
  55. The point of missionary work should be to address people’s spiritual needs by telling them about Christ and the Good News of his Resurrection, in addition to attending to their physical needs.
  56. The Church must do social justice work on its own terms, not on the terms of any secular political factions. Christ and His true Gospel are to be the primary motivations for the charity and social justice work done by the Church.
  57. The words of Scripture, the Creeds, the liturgies of the Book of Common Prayer, and the Hymns are not to be changed to insert “gender-inclusive” or “gender-neutral” language. Nor should the rites of Holy Matrimony be rewritten to insert “marriage” between two men, two women, or anything else outside the union of one man and one woman into one flesh.
  58. All are to be baptized in the name of the “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit [or Holy Ghost],” not in any alternatives such as “Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer;” nor should feminine pronouns be applied to God in these texts, as that renders their baptism invalid and ineffective.
  59. While the divine essence of the Lord has no gender, God has revealed Himself as “He,” so He is to be referred to as such. Jesus Christ was, is, and forever shall be a man; thus, He should always be referred to in the masculine, as doing otherwise denies his historicity and humanity.
  60. We should be more concerned about our worship language being offensive to God than it being offensive to our worldly culture.
  61. The Church must not make alliances with any secular political factions.
  62. Scripture, reason, tradition, and natural law–not contemporary culture and politics–should be the sole authorities for the Church’s stances on issues of sexuality and gender.
  63. The Church must strongly condemn adultery, extramarital sex or fornication, polygamy, sexual activity involving minors, incest, rape, and bestiality.
  64. The Church must strongly condemn pornography.
  65. There must never be risqué or sexually-themed displays in the Church.
  66. Due to not only the teaching of Holy Scripture, but also scientific advancements such as ultrasound technology, it is obvious that abortion is the direct taking of a human life.
  67. The Church must support societal efforts to protect the safety of innocents, including the unborn, as well as encourage the upholding and following of secular laws consistent with Scripture and Christian righteousness.
  68. Christian ministers are to model Biblical morals for their congregations and dioceses and to be held to a high standard of holiness.
  69. Bishops should not wield episcopal authority to discipline churches, priests, bishops, or parishioners who have not explicitly rejected the doctrines and practices of Anglican Christianity or who have otherwise done nothing wrong according to Biblical morality.
  70. Bishops should use episcopal authority to discipline ministers who misuse the sacraments, perform un-Christian ceremonies, teach heretical beliefs, or lead notoriously sinful lives.
  71. The use of legal action to seize the property of dissident parishes is petty and poor conduct by Church ministers.
  72. The Church should continue to condemn drunkenness, drug abuse, excessive gambling, and all self-destructive vices whilst providing support to those struggling with them.
  73. The Church must not ignore the voices of those who call the Church to repentance, as the Prophets did in the Holy Scriptures and the Reformers did during the Protestant Reformation.
  74. The Church should allow itself to be corrected by evangelical churches and thinkers in certain aspects, as when John Wesley inspired Anglicans to correct some of their errors.
  75. In order to revive itself, the Church should adopt a more evangelical mindset and elevate the role of personal conversion, evangelism, discipleship, and confession.
  76. The Church will likely die out if it continues to drift away from the historic faith.
  77. The Church has a commitment to diversity yet is not itself diverse, due to its lack of evangelism and its de-emphasis of Biblical theology.
  78. Despite its progressive ideals and desire to “dismantle and heal white supremacy,” the Church remains one of the least diverse religious groups in the United States.
  79. Progressive Anglicans claim to want to elevate non-white voices, yet ignore the cries for repentance and calls to obedience to God's law from overwhelmingly non-white Anglicans from the Global South.
  80. The Church claims to uphold the traditions, beliefs, and practices of Anglicanism, yet tolerates countless theological errors that the foundational Anglican texts such as the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion and the Book of Homilies explicitly declare to be heretical.
  81. The Church bears the name of “church,” yet tolerates theological errors that the Church Fathers explicitly declare to be heretical.
  82. The Church speaks constantly of inclusivity, yet largely fails to create an environment inclusive of those who hold orthodox Biblical views.
  83. The Church usually calls for justice only in ways that are acceptable to the political left and theological liberals.
  84. The Church’s rhetoric on social issues and current events is frequently indistinguishable from that of progressive political commentators.
  85. The Church is quick to criticize evangelicals for conflating faith and politics, yet dedicates a far greater share of its rhetoric to political issues than do evangelicals.
  86. In offering solely a progressive political message, the Church offers people nothing they cannot get from secular culture, which is one reason why it gains so few new members.
  87. The progressive faction of the Church is seldom self-critical, except to repent of not being progressive enough.
  88. The Church keeps pushing for more and more alterations to Christian doctrine, despite the risk that they will further divide the body of Christ and cause more schism.
  89. Convicting people of sin and showing them their need for a Savior, as opposed to making people feel affirmed, should be our focus; convicting people of sin, when done in a spirit of love and charity, is healthy and will help us to grow in our faith in God.
  90. Bishops, priests, deacons, and other ministers who claim the title of Christian while rejecting the essentials of the faith risk facing God’s judgment.
  91. Bishops, priests, deacons, and other ministers who lead their congregations astray risk facing God’s judgment.
  92. Seminary professors who make it their goal to replace the godly values of seminarians with heretical beliefs and political ideology risk facing God’s judgment.
  93. Seminaries must not make affiliations with any group that affirms heretical beliefs or practices lest they risk facing God’s judgment.
  94. Bishops, priests, deacons, and other ministers who not only tolerate but affirm and encourage what they know to be sin according to Scripture for the sake of not offending people risk facing God’s judgment.
  95. Bishops, priests, deacons, and other ministers who lie to the public and claim to represent Christ while denying His humanity, divinity, commandments, and teachings are using the Lord’s name in vain and risk facing God’s judgment.

We would like these concerns addressed at the next General Convention. This is part of our commitment of being God’s servants to restore the Church we revere. This document will be sent to as many congregations and leaders in the Episcopal Church as possible, and posted on the doors of as many Episcopal churches as possible. We follow the philosophy that retreatism only leads the Church to falter more, thus we are not trying to form a new Anglican denomination, we are calling for reform within the Episcopal Church.

Let us return to the Lord and long live the Episcopal Church!

Having now posted their Theses on my own "door," I will also say that I like their sense of humor, since they preface their list with, "Signed and composed by the Episcopal Fellowship for Renewal, under the patronage of St. Jude."

St. Jude, as you might know, is the patron saint of lost causes.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, October 28, 2023 at 9:21 pm | Edit
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When we lived in Rochester, New York, one of our neighbors grew red and black currant bushes in her backyard, and shared them with us. Sadly, she moved away soon after we become acquainted, and the bushes were removed. At the time, I thought the new residents just didn't want to bother with them, but maybe they knew something I didn't:

The plants were illegal. Here's the story. (17 minutes at normal speed)

In brief: Plants of the genus Ribes, which also includes gooseberries, are susceptible to a fungus that also produces white pine blister rust, which in the early 1900's was devastating our white pine trees.

Apparently the lumber industry had a more vigorous lobby than the gooseberry family, and our federal government both outlawed the Ribes family and began a massive program of eradication. If it had been the 21st century, gooseberry fans would have been demonetized on YouTube and banned from Twitter.

The federal regulations against Ribes were lifted in 1966, but many states still prohibit or restrict it. My neighbor's yard didn't become a legal site until 2003, and many places in New York still aren't. Here's an interesting list of state regulations. My favorite may be Pennsylvania: "In 1933, Pennsylvania passed a law that limited growing gooseberries and currants in certain areas; however, the law is not enforced. Therefore, all Ribes can be grown in the state."

(It must be pointed out, however, that laws that are traditionally not enforced can still be a threat. if your name is Donald Trump, growing currants in Pennsylvania might still land you in court faster than you can eat one.)

Back in the early 1900's, national governments apparently felt they were faced with a stark choice: save the pine trees, or save the currants and gooseberries. The United States chose lumber; Europe chose food. Both are important, of course, but in hindsight it seems clear that letting nature take its course might have been best. When governments take to using hatchets when flyswatters will do, bad things happen. In subsequent years, better approaches to the white pine blister rust problem have been developed. I suspect these developments would have come sooner if we hadn't decided to commit plant genocide instead.

Because of their great nutritional benefits, Ribes, especially black currants, are making a slow comeback. But I've never seen them in our local grocery store. For that, so far I still need to make a trip to Europe, where currants and gooseberries are easily found.

You might enjoy the post I wrote 13 years ago about my visit to a farm near Basel, Switzerland, where I was allowed to taste freely of gooseberries, three colors of currants, and other marvelous fruits that are difficult to procure here.

UPDATE 1: I have it on good authority that there's at least one farm in New Jersey where I can pick gooseberries and currants if I'm passing through at the right time. It would be interesting to know if "currants" listed on their website also includes the black variety, which New Jersey still heavily restricts—that is, if the Wikipedia article is correct, which is a risky assumption, though less so with currants than with current events).

UPDATE 2: Do not be confused by what are called Zante currants, which look like mini-raisins and are made from small grapes. You can find Ribes black currant products on amazon.com, but a search is more likely to misdirect you, if that's what you're looking for.

UPDATE 3: In the United Kingdom, Australia, and no doubt some other parts of the world, purple Skittles candies are black current flavored. In the United States, the flavor is grape. Not content with trying to eradicate the plant itself, we seem intent on eradicating America's taste for the fruit.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, October 24, 2023 at 9:39 am | Edit
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I have heard that Harvard University is losing donors because of its perceived lacklaster response to the Hamas attacks, and its refusal to condemn the hate-filled actions of some of its students.

Likewise, the CEO's of some companies have asked to be given a list of those students who have supported the hateful statements and demonstrations, so that they can be sure not to hire any of them.

I make no apology for my own strong support of Israel, but a few things come to mind:

  • Colleges and universities should not be expected to take a stand on political issues. Their job is education, and they would do well to pay more attention to doing that well, and less to yapping about things that are none of their business.
  • It is the right—nay, the duty—of an individual, a company, or a foundation to make sure that the values of the organizations they support align sufficiently with their own. That's why we stopped supporting our own alma mater long ago.
  • I believe some students, not only at Harvard but all over the country, are willfully doing evil things, though most of those involved in the demonstrations are probably just guilty of unthinking peer-dependency. Like it or not, however, college students are renowned for doing stupid things. I know; I was in college in the early 70's. The leadership ranks of many, maybe most, modern organizations are filled with executives who did very stupid, even evil, things in college. Hence my suspicions that the wish to blacklist certain students might be a tad hypocritical.
  • Despite what I said above about colleges not getting involved in politics, I believe that the the opinions and actions of some of Harvard's students were so egregious that Harvard should have officially, strongly condemned the ideas while still supporting the rights of the students to hold wrong views and to make them public.
  • I've said it before, and I'll keep saying it:

If we don't believe in freedom of speech and the right of peaceable assembly for those whose ideas we hate, we don't believe in them at all.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, October 21, 2023 at 7:02 am | Edit
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The State Department has issued travel warnings for Israel (Level 3, "Reconsider Travel") and Gaza (Level 4, "Do Not Travel"). Not insane, though a bit generous, I would think: other than high-level diplomats, military personnel, journalists, and people with dire need, who in his mind would travel to an active war zone, which clearly includes all of Israel, not just Gaza.

What makes it very odd, in my mind, is knowing the greater picture: not long ago, many of the world's countries, including safe, first-world Switzerland, were given the dreaded Level 4 Do Not Travel status. Because you might catch Covid there. Never mind that you could just as easily catch Covid by staying home. And that for someone who is healthy enough to travel, the consequences of catching Covid are a whole lot less significant that the consequences of being blown up by a missile or a bomb, or raped/killed/kidnapped by a terrorist.

As I've said before, the Level 4 warning is so broad as to be almost meaningless. It needs to be re-evaluated.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, October 18, 2023 at 5:32 am | Edit
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We've all been there.

At some performance, or speech, the audience bursts into applause, and you join in, because, well, it's now time to clap, and that's what you do. Whether or not you actually like what you heard, joining the applause is what you do. You can at least salute the performer's courage in getting up in front of an audience and doing better than you could at whatever it is.

Then the audience rises for a standing ovation. "Wait a minute," you say. "It was good, but was it spectacular? I don't think so. But everyone else is standing, and I don't want to look like an old grump, so I guess I'll get up."

Maybe we shouldn't be so hasty.

It is popular now for leaders in Canada to wring their hands over the debacle that caused the speaker of their parliament to be thrown under the bus resign his position. I mean, what else can you do when you've singled out for special honor a Ukrainian "war hero" who courageously fought Russia during World War II, and Justin Trudeau and the entire parliament have joined Volodymyr Zelenskyy in giving him a double standing ovation, only to have the obvious brought to your attention: Um, sir, weren't the Russians our allies during WWII? Wasn't this man a Nazi, fighting on the wrong side?

Leaving aside the fact that life, history, and politics are complicated things, and our enemy one year may be our staunch ally a decade or two later, and that the Soviet Union was actually responsible for far more democide than Nazi Germany, and that maybe the man did act heroically for what he saw as the right cause—the point is that one does not speak positively about anyone who can be branded with the term Nazi, much less someone who actually was one. It is simply not done. Not without committing political suicide.

So all those politicians who stood up and cheered have my sympathy, in a sense. I can imagine them, half-heartedly paying attention to the speeches they are paid to pretend to pay attention to, all the while conducting political business with their near neighbors, or fantasizing about lunch, or wondering how they could have avoided the morning's fight with their teens. The signal to applaud comes, they clap, the people around them stand, they stand. It's understandable.

But one could wish, could hope, that somewhere among all those well-educated folks who were elected to lead the country and represent their fellow Canadian citizens, a few could have been found who paused and asked themselves, "If this hero fought the Soviets in WWII, doesn't that mean...?"

I'm not going to embarrass myself by wondering if I would have done better (I'd most likely have been writing a blog post in my head instead of paying attention to the speakers), nor if our children and grandchildren realize fully enough that Russia was our ally in World War II.

I will hope, however, that this event will at least make us stop and think before following the crowd in either its cheers or its jeers.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, October 15, 2023 at 11:22 am | Edit
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Ten years ago I asked for help in petitioning the government to grant asylum in the United States to the Romeike family, who were being persecuted in Germany for their homeschooling beliefs. After a surprisingly long and somewhat discouraging battle, they were granted

“indefinite deferred action status,” which allowed them to live, work, and remain safely in the United States without fear of deportation.

Until last month.

Then, in September 2023, the Romeikes were told during a routine check-in that their deferred status had been revoked. The family was given four weeks to apply for German passports, so they could be deported to Germany. The family had no prior warning, and was offered no explanation, other than that there had been a “change of orders.”

Homeschooling is still illegal and actively prosecuted in Germany. Two of the family's children were born here, and are American citizens. Another two are married to American citizens, and one of these couples has a child—also, of course, American.

As far as I can tell (acknowleding that I haven't been following them since 2014), they seem to have integrated well into life in Tennessee and are an asset to their community. I see no reason to tear this family apart, especially given that returning to Germany would put them at immediate risk of having the children forcibly removed from their parents for no reason other than their religious and educational beliefs.

If you feel similarly, here's a petition you can sign, and here's a link to more details of their story. Also, there's a bill in Congress, H.R. 5423, to help the Romeikes, so a note to your representative would be in order as well.

Thank you all for considering this small but vital case, and especially for your prayers.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, October 4, 2023 at 4:53 pm | Edit
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I'm not posting the article I read about the latest efforts of China and other worrisome countries to use AI to divide and conquer America, because it's behind a pay wall. But here's the freely-available article from Microsoft that inspired it, and some brief quotes (emphasis mine).

In the past year, China has honed a new capability to automatically generate images it can use for influence operations meant to mimic U.S. voters across the political spectrum and create controversy along racial, economic, and ideological lines. This new capability is powered by artificial intelligence that attempts to create high-quality content that could go viral across social networks in the U.S. and other democracies. These images are most likely created by something called diffusion-powered image generators that use AI to not only create compelling images but also learn to improve them over time.

We have observed China-affiliated actors leveraging AI-generated visual media in a broad campaign that largely focuses on politically divisive topics, such as gun violence, and denigrating U.S. political figures and symbols. This technology produces more eye-catching content than the awkward digital drawings and stock photo collages used in previous campaigns. We can expect China to continue to hone this technology over time, though it remains to be seen how and when it will deploy it at scale.

Jack Barsky, former Soviet spy turned patriotic American citizen, has warned repeatedly against cyber warfare. He has also pointed out that disinformation campaigns behind enemy lines are nothing new. I immediately thought of him when I read this article, because the sophistication level of disinformation is skyrocketing, thanks in part to Artificial Intelligence.

Remember when you could easily detect phishing schemes because the English grammar and writing styles were so bad? AI can solve that problem, and it's getting better all the time.

We all know how divided America has become, on almost any issue you can think of. Part of that is real, but there's an accelerant out there that is turning our campfires—around which we can roast marshmallows, drink cocoa, and calmly discuss anything from the details of our lives to the problems of the world—into world-destroying conflagrations.

That accelerant is social media interactions by agents pretending to be what they are not, insinuating themselves into online discussions, poking and tweaking, providing "news stories" of questionable veracity and false "personal experiences" designed to provoke anger, irrationality, and hopelessness. It's important to remember that the enemies, whoever or whatever they may be, don't care much, if anything, about what side we are on in the conflict, as long as we get angry and learn to see those who differ from us as less than human.

We must not fall for this. We must fight this with all we have.

I do not mean we need government-and-big-tech censorship, which has already proven far too effective at keeping us away from information that is actually helpful. I'm not certain of any good way to counter this kind of attack, except personally.

We can stop rising to the bait.

When faced online with some speech or action that makes us angry, we need to bring to mind a respected friend who holds views we consider related, and respond, if at all, with that friend in mind. If we can't find a friend like that, we need to get more friends. And it's probably better not to react at all. If it's a Chinese tiger or a Russian bear that's poking us, we're not going to get anywhere good by poking it back.

I don't mean that there isn't real evil out there worth getting angry about. Nor do I mean we shouldn't speak the truth. Now more than ever it's important to seek and speak the truth. We need wisdom in choosing our sources, our venues, and our battles.

Lo! the hosts of evil ’round us,
Scorn Thy Christ, assail His ways.
From the fears that long have bound us,
Free our hearts to faith and praise.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
For the living of these days,
For the living of these days.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, September 21, 2023 at 8:55 am | Edit
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I don't like to pay too much attention to elections until things have shaken themselves out enough to narrow the field somewhat. I'm more aware of Ron DeSantis' race because he's our governor, but whether I'd vote for him or not I don't know. Frankly, he's the only Florida governor I've liked in longer than I can remember, and wonder if he's not needed more here than in the Oval Office.

Of Vivek Ramaswamy I confess I know little more than his name, and having read it more than heard it I'm not even sure I can pronounce it correctly. But the following video caught my eye, and maybe some of you can guess why it did and why I watched it: It's set in New Hampshire, home of over half of the best grandchildren in the world.

Here a 10-year-old girl asks Ramaswamy a question. Maybe she was set up by her parents; then again, I know 10-year-olds who could have both come up with that question and been as articulate in asking it—even if the answer would have left them in the dust.

With the admission that I know little about Ramaswamy's politics and positions, I have to say that it was really nice to hear such calm, thoughtful, intelligent—and therefore rare—political speech.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, September 18, 2023 at 9:24 am | Edit
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Have you ever heard of Pippa Malmgren? Maybe you have—not everyone is as ignorant of current events and culture as I am. Let's just say she has a very broad knowledge and experience base, and is absolutely fascinating in this 1.5-hour podcast with Ed D'Agostino, where she expounds on geopolitical, social, and economic realities, and how they connect.  (bold emphasis mine)

I haven't listened to the podcast; instead I read the transcript, which you can find here: The Space Wars Are Here. Take your pick; I'm a fast reader, and generally prefer print to audio, but the podcast at double speed might have actually been faster. If you can make the time, I'd recommend it. It's good stuff, and unfortunately may be important to be aware of.

Here are some time stamps, followed by a small handful of excerpts:

Time stamps:
00:00 Introduction to guest and what we talk about
03:28 The real story behind the “coup” in Russia
08:10 A Ukraine resolution has become a NATO imperative
15:19 How China and Taiwan fit into the Ukraine peace negotiations
24:02 We are already in WWIII
25:18 The invisible war in space
34:43 How tech innovation solves tech vulnerabilities
41:10 The mood in Washington and across the country in general
51:50 The rise of political angst in America, and what might be driving it
1:03:12 The economic “elevator” in the US is broken
1:08:58 Thoughts on the US presidential election

On the Russian side, I always think the most wonderful quote is really apt here. It came from Carl von Bismarck, who was the Iron Chancellor and who knew more about diplomacy than anybody alive today, and he said, "Diplomacy is the art of building ladders for others to climb down." And that's the situation we have here, is that Putin in some ways, he has no exit from what has turned out to be a terrible situation, and so this is not about being nice to him. It's like you're dealing with a cornered caged creature that is going to behave worse, until they can find a way to escape the situation.

There's an active strategy that the US is literally airlifting the most valuable parts of the semiconductor production in Taiwan, which are mainly those Dutch lithography machines, which cost 250 grand each, I think, and they're moving them to Texas and Arizona. And they're moving the families, because you need a certain amount of skill to operate these things. There's been lots in the press in the United States about we don't have the skills to make super edgy semiconductors, but the Taiwanese know how to do this. And those families are like, "Great, I'll just become American. How fabulous." ... I also see semiconductor production moving into space. We're going to have in orbit manufacturing that produces much higher grade computer chips at a lower cost.

We're in a hot war in cold places. Now those cold places are space, the Arctic, and the High North. People are like, "What do you mean we're at war in space?" I'm like, well, okay, so let's remember we live in a GPS world, and so we're completely dependent on satellites for not only missile guidance, but frankly, Uber Eats, right? None of this happens. ...

So what's been happening in space? The Russians have been targeting their own satellites, particularly the really big ones that weigh like 4,000 pounds, smashing them to smithereens, creating this huge debris field, which they call a Kessler effect, which has been described as razor blades in a washing machine. And that is partly what has forced the International Space Station to nearly evacuate on a few occasions, because they're getting caught in the shrapnel field that the Russians created. Now, why did they do it? Because they're trying to deny access to those critical orbits. ... The Chinese have also been very active in space, demonstrating they have lasers and all kinds of offensive capabilities, but two things there. One is only the United States and China have satellites with robotic arms. And the Chinese recently demonstrated with, I believe it's called the Shijian-17 satellite, that it was able to go up to a Chinese satellite, grab it with the robotic arms, and then hurl it into outer space. Now, why are they hurling their own satellite into outer space? To show us that they can. And so we're like, "Oh boy, all our satellites that we depend on could be gone in a heartbeat, and never to recover into the depths of space." So this is space wars.

It also has led to a fight over subsea internet cables. ... The fastest internet cable in the world is on a little island in the Arctic called Svalbard in Norway. Now, why is it there, of all places? Because that is where pretty much all the high altitude satellites connect to Earth, is at Svalbard. So you cut that cable, and suddenly your missile guidance system's not working, and your Uber Eats isn't neither. So how much damage can you do to the world? Answer, a huge amount. But luckily, that was a lot of redundancy already built in. ... It's such a wonderful story, it's so interesting. There was a oligarch yacht positioned over the top of the cable, and that yacht had a submarine inside it, but they think that, and I'll just say, we don't know who did this, right? And nobody wants to acknowledge who did it, but somebody's submarines went underneath it, and they cut away, I think it was six and a half kilometers of [cable]. Somebody cut it at both ends and took it away. Luckily, it was redundant. But it was the opening salvo to my mind of World War III.

There's this invisible war that it's there if you look for it, but because no one's given you the overarching narrative of this World War III happening in these spaces, in these ways, most people just don't even see it. And then that's just the hot war in cold places. I've also said we're in a cold war in hot places, which is what I've described in the Pacific and Africa. And I'm about to do a piece talking about the hot war in hot places, because now the coup in Niger, and the string of coups across Africa, it's literally heating up into a regional war, where it's ultimately the Russians versus the West.

I feel like this is coming to a head, some of what was happening in this country politically, where you had far left and far right people ... I'm going to try to thread the needle on this, but you had one side not understanding the other, and I almost feel like that was a distraction put out on purpose by the political class, if you will. I've abandoned the idea of there being this real left versus right divide. I'm sure there is to some extent, but I feel like the bigger divide is really those with political power and everybody else, all the rest of us. There was a song released last week by a little known singer in West Virginia named Oliver Anthony and this guy, he was doing his thing, he's an artist, he's putting his music out on YouTube and getting maybe a few hundred views. Then he released a song that I want to play for you, because I really want to know what you think because this song, last time I looked, after having been posted for eight days on YouTube had already achieved 12 million views. I'm sure it's way higher even as I speak, but I think this guy nails really what a lot of people are thinking.

Wouldn't you know? The day I read that paragraph, I had also run into that song elsewhere. The Malmgren podcast had been sitting in my inbox for weeks, and I just happened to get to it the day I heard this song for the first time. Here is Oilver Anthony's Rich Men North of Richmond (which as I write this is up to 61 million views).

Remember those days when everybody said inflation was dead? And I'm like, "Listen, as an economist, I'm telling you, when you throw free money in the system and you drop interest rates to zero, the only purpose is to create inflation." ... What we did is we tipped the balance in favor of the speculators, at the expense of the savers. And the savers are now feeling it, or the people who don't have any savings, they feel it in the form of, "Wait a minute, I'm working this hard, but I can't feed my family." And this is what gives rise to Trumpism. ... Inflation hits the poor really hard and really fast.

One of the trends that I find really heartening is that a lot of companies in America, particularly regional, large, medium-sized businesses, so not your Fortune 500s, but real companies that generate genuine unimpaired cashflow that do real business, increasingly they've been ... reverting to a very old model, which is, let's hire high school graduates, not even college, let's hire high school graduates and let's offer them that we will train them in the company because the school system isn't even providing the skills that we need. They may have a degree, but we got to train them again from scratch. So, let's bring them in, and then we'll say, "We'll pay for your college education." So you can do that while you work here, but we train you first with our priorities. And so it's the old-fashioned apprenticeship system that the whole German economy was always built on, and that economy has always been very sound because it was focused on small and medium-sized businesses. A lot of family owned businesses, regionally rooted businesses. And that's working well. But of course, that's heretical to say to the education system, which thinks that they own the stamp of approval on whether you're employable or not.

I am very optimistic about the world economy of tomorrow. I see so many new jobs being created, so much innovation that's going to make our lives easier and better. I think the biggest constraint on the future is, number one, we refuse to take advantage of the free time that we're given, because we're so ego-driven. ... We keep wanting to still make more money and have more stuff. So, that's a human problem that can be solved. Second, our most undervalued asset in the world economy are people. And we have this industrial revolution mentality that you have to have a certain degree, and you have to have a certain title, you have to have certain job skills in order to do certain things, which is simply not true. And people are capable of extraordinary things.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, September 15, 2023 at 5:36 am | Edit
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Yesterday we were driving home from a Saturday outing of museum + Cheesecake Factory, when we saw a small group of people waiting to cross the street near a local park. Travelling together, wearing clothing that identified them as a group, they reminded me of schoolchildren on a field trip, or perhaps tourists being led around a foreign city. The only weird thing was that more people than the leader were carrying banners—and wait! Were those swastikas on the flags?

As far as I could tell from the news reports this morning, the group did nothing more sinister than walk through the park, shouting "We are everywhere" and throwing out a few "Heil Hitler"-style salutes. There was enough angst and anger from politicians that I'm certain anything nastier would have been all over the news.

What would we have done if we had been walking through the park, as we sometimes do? Probably gawked a bit, then ignored them. (I'm "ignoring them" here as best I can while still telling the story, in that I'm not posting any photos or videos.) I know a priest—"a better man than I am"—who would probably have brought them cold drinks and told them about Jesus. That's how he treated the people from Westboro Baptist the time they picketed his church.

All I know is that there are a lot of people in this world with crazy ideas, but if they're American citizens, they have the same rights as I do.  (And if they're not, they still have human rights.)

If we don't believe in freedom of speech and the right of peaceable assembly for those whose ideas we hate, we don't believe in them at all.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, September 3, 2023 at 5:11 am | Edit
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Twice now I have published my review of Andrew Scott Cooper's The Fall of Heaven: The Pahlavis and the Final Days of Imperial Iran, the original review in 2017 and a reprise in 2020. You can read either of those to see why you should read this book.

To see why you should buy (and read) this book now, I'm telling you that the Kindle version is currently available for $1.99 on Amazon. That's the price of three postage stamps, or a small order of waffle fries at Chick-fil-a.

If you're concerned about the current cultural and political situation in the United States, you owe it to yourself to see what was going on in Iran 45 years ago. It may be even more important to read if you're not concerned about our situation.  If you're intimidated by the length of the book, or the subject, I strongly recommend reading at least the first few pages: the People, the Events, and the Introduction. That's only 25 pages. By then, you may be hooked, as I was; if not you will at least have been given a good overview of what is fleshed out in the remainder of the book.

And this is a good time to remind you of how helpful the eReaderIQ service can be, which will alert you when the Kindle versions of books or authors you are interested in have special sales. The last time I bought this book it cost $13.

WARNING:  These sales can come and go quickly, so if you have any interest, I'd recommend grabbing the book now.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, August 23, 2023 at 11:07 am | Edit
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Tomorrow will still come, our objectives have not changed, and our number one job is to work toward tomorrow and those objectives. — Warren R. Langdon

I am the family curator of my father's journals, written between 1959 and 1970. It's still on my List to get them into a form more accessible to his descendants; so far I've only managed to get all the pages scanned as jpg's. It would be great for them to be searchable, but while my father was an engineer, by handwriting he could have been a physician, and Google Lens' OCR hasn't been up to the challenge.

The scanned pages do make it easy for me to browse through them, which I like to do on occasion. Recently I was curious to see what my father had had to say about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I remember the event, because I heard about it on the radio at the eye doctor's office, but I wasn't in school that day so I missed whatever excitement might have occurred there. Any direct impact on my life was nil, so I was interested in what might have gone on that my 11-year-old self simply ignored. The following excerpts are all I could find that my father wrote.

Friday, November 22, 1963

This is the day that President Kennedy was shot and killed. I was at the door of my office for some reason when I saw several people head for Wally Giard’s radio. I went along to see what was going on and heard the news that the President had been shot. I don’t know why the radio was on—I have never seen it on except for the World Series—perhaps someone’s wife telephoned in the news. Work continued more or less as usual during the afternoon, although most everyone had an ear glued to the radio, too. My own reaction was one of shocked disbelief—the same reaction I had 18 years ago one afternoon at work when word came that President Roosevelt had died.

Of course the entire evening was spent keeping up to date on the latest news and the radio and television stations kept up a continuous coverage, cancelling all their regular programs until at least after the funeral. I did manage to get quite a bit of studying done tonight as well.

Sunday, November 24, 1963

The church was somewhat more crowded than usual—attributable directly to the President’s death, I believe—but by no means overflowing. The minister made moderate reference to the President’s death and I felt very much in agreement with him when he said that at this time when we look for signs as to whether this is a time for sorrow or supplication, for fear or hope, for a feeling of loss or a feeling of opportunity, the one sign that is clear is that God is not dead. I think this is a better way of putting my feeling that tomorrow will still come, our objectives have not changed, and our number one job is to work toward tomorrow and those objectives.

And that's what keeps the world going. We go on, putting one foot in front of the other, doing our best at whatever we have been called to do.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, August 18, 2023 at 11:58 am | Edit
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Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, July 27, 2023 at 7:41 am | 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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