Those who are smart and protecting themselves need to continue doing their best to protect themselves and their loved ones.

I found this in a comment on a friend's Facebook post. One advantage of information overload is that such comments quickly become "anonymized information" in my brain, protecting the innocent and the guilty alike.

What struck me about this statement, with which I heartily agree, is what it tells me about how much we are alike. We all want to protect ourselves and our loved ones, and most of us have opinions as to how best to do that.

It is in the means, not the ends, that we disagree.

Some people move to rural areas and learn to farm. Some organize and join unions. Some purchase and learn to use guns. Others choose to homeschool, or to take political action, or to stockpile food and other essentials. Some work hard to strengthen family and community ties, or to attend to their own physical fitness, or to build up a strong financial base. And some people get vaccinated against COVID-19. Many choose more than one of these paths.

The writer of the Facebook comment was specifically speaking of COVID-19 vaccination, which I certainly consider to be a valid way of choosing to protect oneself and one's family. Unfortunately, the context of the above quotation wasn't as reasonable.

I know this is callous, but those who are smart and protecting themselves need to continue doing their best to protect themselves and their loved ones. What happens to those who do not care, is no longer taking up my headspace.

Just as the excerpt epitomizes what we have in common, the context shows what is dividing us. Because by "those who do not care," the writer appears to mean those who choose not to follow his own particular choices. Possibly, he's expressing his willingness to leave them alone to make their own decisions. But the callousness, which he admits, contains the implication that he considers doing them harm to be a valid part of protecting himself.

That is very dangerous ground indeed. We can do better.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, December 17, 2021 at 8:22 pm | Edit
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I've always had a problem with headlines, which all too often distort or even contradict the content of the story they purport to summarize. It's similar to my frustration with book covers that make me wonder if the artist actually read the book itself. Even knowing this, it's all too easy to judge a book by its cover and to get our news from the screaming headlines. To get any useful information, we have to dig deeper.

On the other hand, it's possible that our State Department has simply gone mad.

One of Porter's travel websites led him to the handy(?) State Department website for its current travel advisories: a categorization of the world's countries into

  • Level 1 Exercise normal precautions
  • Level 2 Exercise increased caution
  • Level 3 Reconsider travel
  • Level 4 Do not travel

A glance at the associated map reveals that we consider the rest of the world to be a very, very dangerous place and should probably just stay within our own borders. There are thirteen places marked Level 1, the safest level, including Paraguay, Bhutan, Kyrgyzstan, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Zambia, and Togo. Not exactly places high on my list of comfortable vacation destinations. Perhaps we should go back to The Gambia; our Gambian friends can take comfort in knowing that their country is one of those few getting our State Department's blessing, along with neighboring Senegal.

On the other hand, Switzerland is Level 4. Do. Not. Travel. More than 300 other countries are given this worst possible rating, include North Korea, Afghanistan, and the Central African Republic.

I am a lot happier that our daughter and her family are in Switzerland rather than North Korea, Afghanistan, or the Central African Republic. What do you think?

Fortunately, the website allows you to click on individual countries and get more detailed information about the advisories.

  • Do not travel to North Korea due to COVID-19 and the serious risk of arrest and long-term detention of U.S. nationals.
  • Do not travel to Afghanistan due to civil unrest, armed conflict, crime, terrorism, kidnapping, and COVID-19
  • Do not travel to the Central African Republic due to COVID-19, Embassy Bangui’s limited capacity to provide support to U.S. citizens, crime, civil unrest, and kidnapping.
  • Do not travel to Switzerland due to COVID-19.

Methinks our State Department could do with a finer gradation of the Level 4 warning.

Here's another interesting anomaly: Liechtenstein has a travel advisory rating of Level 3. So if you can get there, you are considered safer than in neighboring Switzerland or Austria, each at Level 4. However, they make no suggestions as to how one might get to Liechtenstein without travelling through either Switzerland or Austria, given that Liechtenstein has no airport (though they do have a helipad). Perhaps one could parachute in, though that does introduce risks of its own.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, December 5, 2021 at 10:04 pm | Edit
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It's been a month since I linked to a Viva Frei "Sidebar" video, more because there's been too much to choose from than than too little! This one is a two-hour long interview with Blake Masters. As with most of their Sidebar guests, I'd never heard of him, but if he wins in his attempt to become a U. S. senator from Arizona, I may learn more about him. Or if one of our grandchildren wins a Thiel Fellowship....

Blake Masters is president of the Thiel Foundation and the Fellowhip is their flagship program. He talks about it briefly during the interview, from about 32:32 to 41:56. The following video should start close to that point; you'll have to stop it yourself as a quick search did not show me an easy way to accomplish that automatically. The rest of the interview is also interesting, but who has two hours to listen to it?

Basically, the foundation believes that too many people are going to college, and funds efforts to do something productive without it. As Masters puts it, "We pay young people to drop out of college." About 10% of the fellowship recipients eventually go back to school, mostly for engineering degrees or other practical majors.  MIT has even been known to hold students' places open for them.

Masters has some other good suggestions for taming the massive quagmire that higher education has become.  One of them has long been a favorite of my husband's: find a way to make colleges have "skin in the game" of student loans. Right now they have every incentive to push students toward massive, unmanageable debt, and no incentive not to. (Professor friends, please don't stop the video in disgust when Viva suggests that college professors are the ones benefitting from the out-of-control costs—Masters immediately corrects him on that point.)

Masters has several other interesting things to say—the interview covers a lot—but nothing as easy to pull out separately as the above. If you have two hours you can spare to listen—there's no need to watch—go for it.  Warning: the language is sometimes not what I would consider acceptable, though if I remember right the section about college is okay.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, November 30, 2021 at 8:20 am | Edit
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What was happening at the beginning of the 1960's?

I've long been a fan of Randall Garrett's Lord Darcy books, so when I found the Kindle version of Randall Garrett: The Ultimate Collection for 99 cents, I leapt at the chance to read some of his other stories. Nothing so far has come close to the Lord Darcy books in quality, but they've mostly been fun to read.

Recently I read The Highest Treason. It's short, under 23,000 words, and was originally published in the January 1961 issue of the magazine Analog Science Fact and Fiction. You can find a public domain version at Project Gutenberg.

The Highest Treason deals with a subject familiar to me, one I first encountered in Kurt Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron, first published in October 1961, in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. That one is much shorter, only 2200 words, and can be found here in pdf form.

C. S. Lewis's Screwtape Proposes a Toast was next—and my favorite. You can read it here, in the December 19, 1959 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. I don't have a word count, but it is also quite short.

December 1959, January 1961, October 1961. Three stories written as the 1950's passed into the 1960's.

All three have as their premise the consequences of a culture of mediocrity, in which excellence in anything—beauty, art, sport, thinking, work, character—is abolished for the sake of making everyone "equal." There must have been something going on at that time period to make it a concern for at least three such varied authors.

What would they think today? From the demise of ability grouping in elementary schools, to "participation trophies," to branding as racist and unacceptable the idea that employment and leadership positions should be awarded on the basis of merit and accomplishment, we have come a long way down this path since 1960.

Here's hoping it doesn't take near-annihilation by space aliens—or the flames of hell—to wake us up.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, November 24, 2021 at 7:30 am | Edit
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Recently I re-read The Light in the Forest, a book from my childhood, though I hardly needed to read the whole book to find the passage I quote below. I could almost have quoted it from the memory of my first reading some sixty years ago.

These are the words of an old slave, in colonial America, explaining how easy it is for those born free to lose their liberty.

Every day they drop another fine strap around you.  Little by little they buckle you up so you don't feel it too much at one time.  Sooner or later they have you all hitched up, but you've got so used to it by that time you hardly know it.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, November 15, 2021 at 5:58 am | Edit
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Point 1: What is the good of euphemisms? They enable us to express something without resorting to offensive words (whatever the offense may be). That's better for the ears and hearts of the listeners, certainly. But does it do anything for the speakers? If I say "darn" instead of "damn," what do I gain? Is the attitude of my heart any better for it? I think that's a good question to ponder.

Point 2: As I've said many times, of presidents from both parties: our chief executive deserves respectful treatment by virtue of the office he holds—not to mention as a human being. Chanting "F--- Joe Biden" like a football cheer is puerile at best. Moreover, it's probably worse than useless, venting people's frustrations without driving them to work toward changing the policies they hate. If I were President Biden, I would hear those chants and think, "As long as they're shouting and not actively working for my opponents, I'm okay with that."

That said, I have to admit that I find the whole "Let's Go, Brandon!" story hilarious. And maybe even a little useful.

Good humor can be an effective antidote to hate, and it's hard to say, "Let's Go, Brandon!" without smiling.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, October 10, 2021 at 9:21 am | Edit
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It causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark. — Revelation 13:16-17

College is a time for wide-ranging, speculative discussions, and among my fellow students in the early 1970's this Bible verse was a popular topic. We were hard-pressed to imagine a world in which people would consent to having marks imposed on their bodies: tattoos were so rare that most of us had never seen one, and the now-common practice of implanting informative microchips in pets was 15 years in the future. The microchip itself had barely made any impression on our lives—my choice when doing my physics homework was between long, laborious hand calculations and a long trek through the snow to a small room where half a dozen chunky, very basic calculators had been made available to students.

Even more puzzling was how having or not having this "mark of the beast" could be the gateway to commerce. The marketplace still ran on cash and checks.

How much can change in 50 years.

Suddenly, in Canada, in Australia, in Switzerland, and in parts of the United States, the marketplace and much more are now gated by vaccination status. Society has been divided as by a sharp sword between the haves and the have-nots; the clean and the unclean; the ones who are free to travel, attend school, eat at restaurants, and even hold their jobs, and those who are not.

I am not saying that the COVID-19 vaccine is the Mark of the Beast. It seems clear that the Mark will involve some form of blasphemy and idolatrous worship, and this does not—although, frankly, the efforts to invalidate religious exemptions to vaccine mandates have me wondering a bit about that.

However, it is now crystal clear is that what seemed impossibly fanciful back in my college days is not only possible, but can sweep over even a free and democratic country with little effective opposition.  Whatever that Mark may be, we have opened the door.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, October 3, 2021 at 9:28 am | Edit
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I'm overwhelmed with all the news that begs comment and threatens to overwhelm the ordinary life events that I like to post for family and friends. This one pops to the top of the backlog because it is good news, and we can always do with some of that.

The story started in March 2020, when a 16-year-old high school student went on a trip with her band to Disney World in Florida. Nothing unusual about that: it happens evey year, from all over the country. Our kids did it with their band—though they didn't have so far to go. In fact, my siblings did the same thing, coming from Pennsylvania, some 40 years ago.

But this was early 2020, and a week after returning, the girl came down with symptoms that caused her doctors to believe she had COVID-19. She was hospitalized for a day or so, and posted to her friends, on Instagram, a photo of her with a breathing mask that said that she had beaten the coronavirus and that they should "stay home and be safe."

It is anyone's guess how and why this led to the police knocking on her door and demanding that she delete her post, under threats that included arrest for either her, her parents, or both. I'm guessing that the school got tired of fielding panicked calls from parents who feared for their own children and it snowballed from there, but who knows? The girl complied, removing her post, but subsequently filed a lawsuit on the grounds that her First Amendment rights to free speech had been violated.

Here's a 15-minute analysis with more detail.

A year and a half later, she has won her case. (12.5-minute video with details)

It is indeed good news when the courts rule in favor of our Constitutional rights, even in a very small case, because small cases can set very big precedents. My only regret is that it takes so long for the judgement to come. Vital as such judgements are, they can't undo the harm done. In the 18 months since that fateful Instagram post was taken down, how much other damage was done? How much damage will continue to be done by those who disagree with this judge and believe they can get away with violating the Constitution, at least for long enough to accomplish their purposes?

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, September 26, 2021 at 8:53 am | Edit
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President Biden's new vaccination mandate is blatantly unconstitutional, to use the most polite words I can think of at the moment. And it is becoming abundantly clear that this doesn't bother him. As with the eviction moratorium and several other recent Executive Branch actions, the courts will no doubt rule against it. But as with the others, by then the damage will already have been done. Even the courts can't unvaccinate someone, can't undo the stress of job loss, can't make up the losses of the small landlords who depend on regular rental income, and certainly can't fully restore the faith of small business owners who have discovered just how easily the government can take control of their lives.

Here is Canadian lawyer David Freiheit's nine-minute legal analysis of the situation.

The Constitution exists for a reason, and when our elected officials stop respecting the supremacy of the Constitution it is a big, big problem, and that is as much true for the United States as it is for Canada.

I don't care whether it's Prime Minister Trudeau, President Biden, President Trump, Governor Cuomo, Governor DeSantis, or the lowliest city mayor—I fear an increasingly powerful Executive at all levels.

I fear even more those who think this executive power is a good thing as long as they are in favor of whatever is being mandated.

Back in 2008, I first posted the clip that is pretty much all I remember from the movie, A Man for All Seasons. I brought it back again in 2012. I don't know if it says more about the State of the Union or my own mental state that the third, fourth, and fifth reprises are all in 2021. 

What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ... And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you—where would you hide ... the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws from coast to coast ... and if you cut them down ... do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!

I'm reminded of a story from an otherwise long-forgotten sermon of my experience: Martin Luther, we were told, was once asked by a member of his congregation, "Why do you preach justification by faith every week?" Luther replied, "Because you forget it every week."

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, September 11, 2021 at 10:09 am | Edit
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For the record: I don't care—well, actually, I do care very much, so let me start again. Whatever the situation, whatever we may dislike or regret, Joe Biden is our duly-sworn-in president and as such must be accorded the respect due that office. Detest and decry his policies all you want, but speak with respect. And if you pray, pray for him!

Also for the record: This is a non-partisan stance. I said the same thing about Donald Trump. And our previous presidents.

When Saint Paul urged Christians to pay "respect to whom respect is due" he was talking about governing authorities, and he was writing to Romans in the time of the Emperor Nero. If he can say that about such an emperor (who later beheaded him), I think we can manage a little basic courtesy now.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, August 30, 2021 at 6:44 am | Edit
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Even if you think "refreshing politics" is an oxymoron, you may appreciate the following video as a break from the horrendous news from Afghanistan. I've mentioned before that David Freiheit is running for Parliament in Canada, and while I can't vote for him, or support him financially (Canadian election laws about funds from foreign countries), I loved this 12-minute video on his experiences going door-to-door and talking with fellow Canadians. It's positive and encouraging—something we all need right now.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, August 20, 2021 at 6:02 am | Edit
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How is it anything less than criminal to pull our troops out of Afghanistan without first making a concerted effort to get our own citizens and their families home? Granted, it would be wrong to force them to leave, and I know that here in Florida there is always a handful of people who refuse to evacuate even with a Category 5  hurricane bearing down upon them. But 15,000 people left behind? That's the NBC News estimate; others vary, but still put the number in the thousands.

We've had 20 years to plan for this exit.  We've been telling everyone—friend and enemy—for months that we were going to leave, and this absolute disaster is the best we can manage?

Lord have mercy.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, August 18, 2021 at 6:24 am | Edit
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There is room for debate as to whether or not the United States should ever have gotten involved in Afghanistan. Even if you acknowledge (as I do) that there is a legitimate place for countries, as well as people, to help those who are suffering, we do have a most embarrassing propensity for blundering into places with little to no knowledge of the culture, to their detriment and ours.

But once there, how many times can we promise people our help, accept the sacrifices of those who put their lives and families on the line for us, then decide it's too much trouble to keep our promises—how many times can we do this and still have any friends (or integrity) at all? Ask the Hmong, ask the Kurds, ask the people of Iran, ask the Native Americans for that matter.

It's like making marriage vows and bailing when life gets difficult. Oh, wait—we do that a lot, don't we?

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, August 17, 2021 at 5:42 am | Edit
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My favorite Canadian lawyer, the one who always says, "Politics ruins everything," is now running for Parliament (15 minutes).

Why would I post someone's announcement "throwing his hat into the ring" for an election 99.99% of my readers can't participate in? (I know I had at least one Canadian reader at one point, though as I recall she was from a different province.) Because I like what he says. It relates directly to a conversation we had just this afternoon with our Good Neighbor, lamenting the tribalism that has taken over America and the loss of the simple, powerful belief that we can be friends, work for common causes (or even have common causes), and defend, help, and support each other, even when we have strong differences of opinion.

I wish David Freiheit the best. How could anyone not vote for someone whose name means "Beloved Freedom"?

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, July 23, 2021 at 6:01 pm | Edit
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I have no illusions that many of my readers will watch this video. Maybe no one at all. It's two hours long, and few of us have two hours to spare for a YouTube video. It's a discussion of human trafficking among David Freiheit (Viva Frei), Robert Barnes, and their guest, Eliza Bleu, a trafficking survivor and advocate. I managed to listen to it all by taking it in small bites and multitasking. Lengthy or not, the topic is important. They don't even try to deal with the more nuanced issues, such as "sex workers" whose participation is really, truly, consensual, and "slave wages" that turn out to be a family's best hope of escaping poverty. They don't even take on "legitimate pornography."

Sadly, I think this is a wise approach, if they don't want to make the mistake abortion opponents made: in that debate, too many people insisted on all-or-nothing, refusing to accept compromises that would have allowed abortions for cases of rape, incest, and where the child is so deformed that he would suffer and die soon after birth anyway. That approach was logical, in a theoretical, ethical sense—but arguing over the rare exceptions resulted in the door for abortion being opened wide and far. In the case of human trafficking, there is more than enough horror on which everyone but the perpetrators can agree; let's focus on that.

The interview is interesting from beginning to end, though that is a very poor word to describe something that can only be endured through a certain numbness and keeping the whole topic at a deliberate distance. The beginning, where Eliza tells her own story, is most interesting, especially to homeschoolers. If you're looking for another reason to hate the big social media companies, there's plenty of fodder in the later part of the video.

I'm frustrated that video is the medium of choice for so much information, especially current stories. I read so very much faster than I can listen, even pushing the video to higher speeds. Plus, anything good that is written has been through at least minimal editing, whereas with interviews, podcasts, and live streams, every um, uh, and rabbit trail remains. I find the written word to be much more efficient, usually much more dense in terms of information conveyed. But sometimes the more personal touch that can come through in a video is valuable, too.

In any case, as our choir director has taught us, it is what it is, and sometimes you have to adapt. I put this out here, (1) so I can find it again, and (2) in the off chance that someone may find it enlightening.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, July 10, 2021 at 10:42 am | Edit
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