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December 2003 Archives

December 31, 2003

Carnival


Carnival of the Vanities is up at Hypocrisy & Hypothesis. Looks like I have some reading to do.

He included both my submissions: licorice and delegated wife-beating. Comments appreciated.

I should be taking this first-thing-in-the-morning post to reflect on the year behind and think about the year ahead. But instead I am drinking my second cup of coffee, getting ready to walk the hound, and making lists of errands to run and work to accomplish. I suppose that, in its own way, that has been my year.

Coffee is dry, hound is looking at me. Time to press "post."

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Red Ted
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December 30, 2003

Snakes and Cows



Snakes will eat one large meal and then spend hours or, in some cases, days digesting their food.

Cows spend half of their waking time eating, and the other half chewing the things they ate earlier. They are always consuming.

One way that I distinguish people is by the size and frequency of their meals. I know some snake people - my brother is one - who forget to eat for half a day and then consume thousands of calories at a sitting. I know some cow people - always grazing, never eating.

I was reminded of this because the little man is sick - ear infection - and it has thrown his meals off. Today, at least, he is eating larger meals less often. He had a snake for lunch - I was seriously worried that the boy would burst by the end of the meal.

I, of course, am neither a cow nor a snake. I am a hobbit - I like six meals a day when I can get them. That is cow-like, but I also have snake-like patterns. My culture hero is Dagwood Bumstead - large meals, frequent naps, and skinny as a rail.

So, six large meals a day, with a nap to recover. That sounds about right.

And, back when I was running 30+ miles a week, I was skinny as a rail.

And so to read another chapter.

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Red Ted
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December 29, 2003

Moving Pictures


Shiela O'Malley wanted to know more about Terry Pratchett and one of his novels, Moving Pictures.

That is rather like walking up to the Tolkein fan club and asking what a hobbit is - it is hard to trim the information down to a useable flow.

Pratchett is an English author who writes fantasy. He is best at light fantasy, including the Bromeliad a set of children's books. He also writes with a strong moral center. The two combine oddly at times, particularly in books like Good Omens (with Neil Gaiman) a comedy about armegaddon.

Pratchett has two great comic gifts: he can turn a line and he writes good parody. The first is his superior talent, the latter just helps him frame things more quickly. He is most famous for a set of novels written about a place called the Diskworld - a platter-shaped world with a mountainous spine in the middle and seas pouring off all the edges. The world rests on the backs of four elephants, who in turn stand on the great turtle A Tuin as he swims through space. I did mention that he was silly, didn't I?

Of the twentyfive or so Diskworld books, I prefer the 3rd through about the 8th. More recently he has been going to the well a little too often, and he has been wrestling with the problem of having created some characters who are so darn capable that they make it hard to create a worthwhile plot.

Moving Pictures is at about the one-third mark. Wizards have gotten silly, the city of Ankh-Morporkh is developing more character, and he returns to his recurring theme that banality and entropy are far worse things than simple evil.

The plot of the book is fairly simple - alchemists figure out how to project moving pictures, people set up on the grounds of an old temple to make these movies, movies open up a rift between our dimension and the place of bad things, one of them escapes, hijinks ensue.

I mentioned the Tolkein fan club up at the top. Pratchett has a fan club. He encourages them. They hold conventions and feed him banana dacquiris, and he attends, drinks, and entertains. They have a usenet group - alt.fan.terry-pratchett - which he regularly posts on. They annotate his books - here are the annotations and selected quotes from Moving Pictures. They are obsessive about him. No, really, they are. Little in-jokes from the books turn into fannish behavior - such as wearing a neck symbol of an ankh dressed in an anorak.

You don't have to be obsessive to enjoy the books. They are better if you are not obsessive - I got bored with the fan group after a few weeks of reading the heavy volume of repetitive postings.

You do have to be able to appreciate parody, to enjoy silliness, and to like comical footnotes. Since Sheila is a movie fan, I would suggest Moving Pictures as a light read. Other superior diskworld books include Equal Rites (a woman wants to become a wizard), Guards! Guards! (the trueborn king of the city joins the city watch), Mort (Death takes a vacation), and Wyrd Sisters (a Hamlet spoof set in a rural mountain kingdom.) Oh, and since Sheila likes Shakespeare and theater, add Lords and Ladies (Midsummer Night's Dream), and Maskerade (mediocre Phantom of the Opera). There are others, but I re-read these.

Get them from the library or the second-hand book store. I included Amazon links for the references.

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Red Ted
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Flags


We have had this house since August. Yesterday I finally got around to installing the flagpoles on the front.

The impetus for this little moment of home improvement was that I got a couple of flags for Christmas: a Navy Jack and a Culpepper militia flag. I want to get myself a Serapis flag at some point. I like Revolutionary War flags; I like old flags; heck I like flags.

The previous owner of this house had bolted two flagpole brackets to the cast iron railing. He took his brackets with him. I have been unable to find a bracket that fits the holes drilled through the iron. So, I kludged it. I cut a small piece of wood, bolted that to the railing, screwed a flagpole bracket onto the wood, and we are good to go. It feels solid - there is some wiggly of the flagpole in the bracket but none of the bracket or the piece of wood. J wants the wood painted black, so now that I have proved the concept I will cut two more pieces of wood, paint them, and set up brackets on both sides of the house.

I plan to fly one US flag, often in historical variants, and one other flag - militia flag, state flag, perhaps a sports or college flag.

I like Revolutionary era flags. Since the 1950s change from the 48-star to the 50-star flag, official US flag etiquette is that any flag that was ever official, is a valid flag. So, I fly my reproductions. Or I will - they need a different flagpole. I will get another pole later this week since the home supply stores don't have what I want.

As I have been putting together brackets and shopping for new flags, I have been reminded of the subtle differences between the Navy Jack and the Confederate battle flag. The two flags express overlapping sentiments: both are declarations of independence, both celebrate a violent localism, both were flown in celebration of white, male liberties. But, one has a regional and a racial subtext and the other does not.

Lets start by reminding ourselves of the timetable for the Civil War. Without this chronology, the war makes no sense.

  • The deep South - the tier of states running from South Carolina to Texas - seceded after Lincoln was elected and before he was inaugurated. They seceded in order to defend slavery.
  • After Fort Sumpter, Lincoln called for volunteers. Most Union soldiers at the start of the war fought to preserve the union.
  • The upper South - North Carolina and Virginia and most states Westward - seceded only after Lincoln called for troops. They were stuck between the two sides, neutrality was not an option, and most of these states decided that they would not fight to put down a secession.
  • The upper South provided the most soldiers and suffered the most losses, whether in absolute terms (Virginia) or in proportion to their population (North Carolina). Many of these men fought because their home states were being invaded. Kentucky tried to stay neutral and joined the Union only after the Confederacy invaded it.
  • During the course of the war, first with ad hoc decisions, then with the Emancipation Proclamation, and finally with the 13th Amendment, slavery was abolished. What had started as a war to preserve the union became a war to destroy Slavery. So, if you will, slavery had started as a distinctly Southern issue - it was why the secessionists wanted to secede - and by 1865 it was a heavily Northern issue - if only to punish the South for having started the war.
  • After the war, Jubal Early and others created a myth of the lost cause, celebrating the soldiers, claiming that the war was a noble but futile effort made by a glorious aristocracy in defiance of the grinding masses of the North. Early argued that the war's crucial battles were fought in the East, that the North only won because of numbers, that Southern soldiers and Southern generals were godlike, and that race was irrelevant to the war. He got just close enough to the truth for his lies to be powerful.

Why does this matter for flags?

From the 1870s through the 1940s, the mainstream understanding of the war was the Lost Cause. Parts of that understanding still persist, if only subtly. Look, for example, for Civil War movies without any black characters - even in the background. Look for people who emphasize glory and honor, which were indeed important, and then claim that this was all. And, of course, look at the two meanings of the Confederate Battle Flag.

The confederate battle flag - square for the army, rectangular as the naval jack - is a strong symbol. Visually and heraldically it is much stronger than the stars and stripes - the US flag stands for some wonderful things, but the design is cluttered. This strong symbol, through the alchemy of the lost cause, has come to stand for the soldiers who fought and not the voters who seceded. It takes the decisions of that portion of Southern men who fought because their states were being invaded and makes them stand for the whole of their society. It is an attractive symbol if you are Southern; there is much to admire in a group of people taking up arms to defend their community from invasion.

In contrast, Confederate national flags - the Stars and Bars, the Bonnie Blue Flag, or the second and third national flags - are political flags. They are not nearly as strongly displayed and have a connotation more closely tied to secession and slavery while the battle flag symbolizes the men who fought and all the reasons - from defending slavery to defending their homes to being drafted - why they fought.

The battle flag is such an attractive symbol that following Brown v Board of Education it was hauled out of storage. Flags were printed, flags were waved, flags were hung over state capitals, and the battle flag was inserted into a number of Southern state flags. In every case, anti-integration political leaders - elected and unelected - were tying their state resistance to federal rights law to an earlier generation's defiance against invasion. And, like the Civil War, their actions were inspired by race, and often carried out under nobler language. Their basic argument was that it is more important for decisions to be made locally than it is for citizens to have equal rights, equal opportunities, and equal freedom from fear.

What this means is that the battle flag has two completely different sets of meanings.

For some, especially white Southerners, the flag refers to a stubborn localism - the notion that a community should set its own standards, mind its own business, and that if young men want to drink whiskey and go hunting, or engage in any other rituals of young adulthood, they should do so. It celebrates the male, the independent, and the rural. It is a vote against the nanny state.

As such, the battle flag is a powerful symbol. A few African Americans from the rural south have adopted that flag in those meanings.

For others, especially African Americans, the flag refers to a willful disregard of rights, and to the systematic use of violence and fear to deny fellow citizens the chance to exercise their liberties. It is a symbol of terror, and of hate. The flag's use as cover for acts of racial hatred overwhelms any other message that people might want to convey through it.

Indeed, if you add words like "heritage not hate" to that flag, the overarching meaning that many people are likely to take away from it is that you are now lightly disguising your racism rather than bragging on it, something that infuriates those who mean the flag as a sincere expression of regional accent, regional food, and rural free-thought.

Just as the Nazis demonized a perfectly reasonable Indian design when they adopted the swastika, so too have secessionists, lost cause advocates, and anti civil rights forces taken a flag that once symbolized a stubborn localism and turned it into a symbol for hatred. The difference is in degree, and it is such a big difference that I almost did not make the comparison, but the process is similar. If you had a family relic dating from before 1920 and displaying a swastika, would you show it?

Today, people argue about what moment in time the battle flag celebrates. Does it refer to the guys from VA and NC who went to war because their state was being invaded? Does it refer to the guys all across the south who did not want to see their black neighbors granted full citizenship? The answer, of course, is both at once and many other meanings as well. Flags are complicated and powerful.

Next time you get into a flag discussion, sketch out the navy jack and ask how that differs from the battle flag. If someone flies a battle flag in defense of localism and good-ol-boy rural independence, ask why they do not fly a Culpepper militia flag (also a Southern symbol).

The answer, I think, is that the South has largely forgotten the American Revolution except in Eastern VA and parts of the Carolinas. They have not forgotten the American Civil War. And, even though the men who fought in 1861 were descended from and used many of the same words and ideas as those who fought in 1775, the people of 2003 seem to be frozen in more recent time. Or, it may be that they see the American Revolution as the North's war. We do, after all, celebrate Bunker Hill and the Boston Massacre, the turning points are Saratoga and Valley Forge, and Nathaniel Green and the Southern campaign are largely forgotten outside of Camden SC and Greensboro NC. Other than some confused stories about Francis Marion and the Carolina feuding war, the Revolution that we remember is a war that was fought elsewhere and celebrated elsewhere, just as non-Texans don't really think about San Jacincto or most other battles from the Texas insurrection. A person in Alabama, or Mississippi, or Tennessee can visit a Civil War battlefield, hears of re-enactors, and sees a monument to the war outside of every county courthouse. There is a much thinner physical memory of the Revolution, even in the original thirteen colonies.

Let us assume, for the moment, that it is a good thing for people who celebrate rural values and value their independence to have a good colorful symbol they can fly. Let us also assume that it is bad manners if not threatening to display a symbol that has in the past served as code for hate, oppression, and violence. How do we square this circle?

The first time I thought about this, in the mid 1980s, I suggested to some of my students who had the flag on their cars for the first meaning and were appalled to discover that they were also conveying the second meaning, that they should consider displaying the battle flag in conjunction with the flag of the African National Congress. That suggestion produced a stunned silence, followed by what I think was the realization that perhaps there had been some racial content to their earlier display but might have been a reaction to the socialism of the ANC.

For now, my best suggestion is to push the Culpepper flag or some of the other Revolutionary era flags as alternatives.

I was looking through historical flag catalogues last night, looking for a Serapis flag with the red white and blue stripes. I turned to the Civil War era flags and discovered something about myself; I will never fly a Confederate flag: not the battle flag, not the Stars and Bars, not even the Bonnie Blue Flag that had previously been used by the independent Republic of West Florida. I get a gut revulsion at the thought of displaying them.

So, I won't. I will continue to show other nineteenth century flags - I do want the one Fremont carried on his explorations in the 1840s.

Perhaps I am being hypocritical, asking people not to fly something that I refuse to fly. But, I think that there is always value in encouraging people to articulate their motives and make considered choices.

EDIT, Howard Dean a few weeks ago made some clumsy words saying the very smart thing that Democrats need to figure out how to appeal to guys "with Confederate flags in the back of their pickups." His point was that the Democrats need some way to counteract the Republican use of symbols and culture. Perhaps the thing to do will be to look back again to the Revolutionary moment - the principled defense of local customs, the celebration of the rule of law against the rule of men, and an appeal to virtue and the common good of the people against those whose luxury, dissipation, and self-interest would disrupt the republic.

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Red Ted
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Interesting tedium


I am working on syllabi this week. I need to prep a US part 1 and an Age of Jefferson for a job followup, and I need to have Western Civ 2 ready by early January.

For all of them, I have picked the readings and sketched out the general plan of the class. Now I get to go through week by week and then class by class, pick class titles, and figure out exactly what to have the kids read for each class. For the Western Civ, I am also keeping a separate WP file with my notes on what I intend to talk about that day.

I have spent much of today filling in the Jefferson class, going through Merril Peterson's LOA Jefferson: Writings and picking letters. It is fascinating work, it is also frustrating.

Oh, and at the moment I am assigning WAY too much work even for a 5-credit class. Build it up and trim it down, that is the solution.

And back to reading people's mail.

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Red Ted
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Carnival Schedule


Blogging this so I can find it.

I like reading the Carnival of the Vanities. Sometimes I submit things to it. I regularly get frustrated trying to figure out who is hosting it the next week - some hosts give this information but others do not.

So, here is Bigwig's list of the hosts for the next few months:

I need to decide if I want to submit that big thing on flags or if I want to dig into the archives and submit a best of. If I do sent a best of, it would likely be either licorice or I don't have to beat my wife.

And so to lunch, and read, and continue to think about the dissertation. My advisor agrees with me that chapter four was too tricky.

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Red Ted
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December 27, 2003

Reading

I like to read.

Break is a time for reading. It is also a time for writing, for class prep, for relaxation and for watching movies.

I have a great big stack of things to read - some for work, some fun history, some light fiction.

I think that for the next few days I will be reading fewer blogs, blogging less, and turning more physical pages.

And so to chew through another chapter in Gotham. It is a good book, but 1100 pages of small types is a mighty lot of words.

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Red Ted
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Bother


Well, after writing that crank below I tried to go to bed, could not sleep, came up and wrote myself out agonizing over whether I should drop the whole thing and go get a straight job. I finally got to bed between 2:30 and 3:00 am. The baby woke at 6:00, but J took him and let me sleep in. Love that woman.

I am sticking it out for now, but I am also wrestling with a combination of mad, frustrated, and angry.

My current thought is that I did a piss-poor job of framing four. If I can revise my story, the ending is still strong. If I have a better story, it will be easier to write something that is not codswallop.

As I look over the other chapters, I am pretty good at telling a simple story. I am pretty good at the (easy) process of spotting something important. I am not so good at explaining why that something actually matters. I am, based on my record, piss-poor at framing a broad sweeping argument. I am also apparantly piss-poor at figuring out if my own words are any good. I knew that the argument in four was weak but I had thought the weak point was around page thirty, and not the first five pages.

Writing is hard.

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Red Ted
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Chapter four sucks


Feh, I got comments back on chapter four.

My work was not good - I make no coherent argument, the arguments I make are not sustainable.

Feh, I thought I had done an ok job.

The introduction and framing are the weak point in that chapter. I had a good idea; I am having trouble making it work.

I think I need to set up a phone call to talk about it, right now I am depressed and can not sleep.

Note to self, don't read email late at night.

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Red Ted
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December 25, 2003

Gold, Frank Innocence, and Mirth


In Robertson Davies The Lyre of Orpheus the comic relief is provided by Uncle Yerko. Uncle Yerko talks in gypsy dialect, is only barely connected to modern Canadian culture, and serves to embarrass our narrator. At one point, however, he has an absolutely delicious moment.

He hears the Christmas story for the first time, misunderstands it, and decides that the wise men gave "bebby Jesus" a gift of "Gold, frank innocence, and mirth."

As Simon Davencourt, Davies' spokesman among the characters, points out, there are many worse wishes in the world than gold, frank innocence and mirth. The world could certainly use more of all three.

So, from me to all dozen or so of my readers, I wish you a year with much gold, with frank innocence, and with much mirth.

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December 23, 2003

I must be missing something

From today's New York Times I see a case of a kid who committed an arson, was prepared to plead guilty in state juvenile court, but was instead sentenced in federal court and has had the book thrown at him: 30 months imprisonment in a maximum security juvenile facility designed for kids who were uncontrollable in other institutions.

The article suggests that the outrageous prosecution and sentencing came because the arson was in a boathouse storing a boat engine used by George H.W. Bush.

It suggests, it does not prove. In fact, the article is maddeningly incomplete - the parents of the child are withholding last names, the Secret Service has a policy against commenting on protective matters, and the only information the reporter could confirm was a discrepency between the procedures in the state level and the explanation given for moving the case to the federal level.

If the case is as the article suggests, and remember that even the best news reports are only about 70% accurate, then this is a travesty of justice. Law and the rule of law depends on procedure. All people should have the same rights, the same process, and the same expected punishment. In theory, at least, you should be punished for the act you committed and not the status of the person you acted upon.

Now, as anyone who looks at Death Row can clearly see, the status of the victim does have a real-world impact. But it should not. More, it appears that the Ashcroft Justice Department decided to alter procedure in order to punish what it saw as an act of lese majeste. I might be blinded by my dislike of Ashcroft, but this looks to me like rule by men and not rule by law. And that is just wrong.

EDIT
The Curmudgeonly Clerk (see left) by email gave my some very useful context. I now suspect that the story is as much about middle class entitlement (how DARE my child be subjected to the same sorts of penalties as those nasty poor people) as it is about prosecutorial vendettas or presidential protectors run amock. I still want to know more about the story.

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Red Ted
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Europe or Western?



The discussion about a Western Canon below and on Sheila's site reminds me that I have to make a big decision by Jan 20 - earlier than that actually since Suburban State U wants syllabi ahead of time so they can post them.

Am I teaching Western Civilization part 2, or am I teaching Modern Europe. What is the difference between the two? In a nutshell, the Ottoman Empire and the United States.

Western Civilization was invented as a subject around the turn of the twentieth century by a group of professors at Columbia and Chicago who feared that the distinctive features of "higher" culture were being swamped by a tide of mediocrity, modernity, and immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe. They came up with the idea of Western Civilization as a way to preserve and protect their particular culture and heritage. The idea was popular and it spread to the heart of middlebrow culture, especially through programs where people sold collections of "greatest works" or, like the book Sheila is riffing off of, made lists for people to read so that they could feel educated.

The odd thing about Western Civilization is that the geographical focus of the class travels. Western Civ part 1 starts in the Tigris and Euphrates. It quickly moves to the eastern shore of the Mediterranean, then to Greece, then to Rome. The first two thirds of the class are centered around the Med, as was civilization. After about 800, the Med largely vanishes from the textbooks, only reappearing briefly for the crusades and for discussions of worldwide trade during the Age of Exploration.

Western Civilization part 2 covers everything West of the Urals, West of the Dardanelles, and North of Sicily. North Africa, the Ottoman Empire, and Egypt are ignored. But, it adds the United States and Canada, places first colonized by Spain but soon taken over by Britain and France and populated from Germany and Ireland. The North Americans who invented Western Civilization insisted on being included, even though they worried that they were not up to the intellectual and cultural level of their ancestors.

European history, by contrast, reminds us that the most important power in Europe from about 1400 to about 1800 was the Ottoman Empire. More, the history of modernity is the history of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. As it faded, other nations came to prominence. Where it pulled back, or was driven back, or had its provinces calve away from the Empire, Eastern Europe, and Egypt became separate entities - the Austrian Empire was carved out of the Ottoman Empire. After 1920 all the land empires got broken into pieces. Austria-Hungary - mostly former Ottoman lands - became a mass of small states. Egypt had its freedom confirmed. The middle eastern provinces were carved away from Turkey - which had renamed itself during its own modernizing revolution - and carved into new nations ruled by the Arabs who had revolted against the Turks and governed under the mandate of the victorious powers. Modern Iraq, Kuwait, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine/Israel, and Egypt owe their borders and their administrative structures to the post Versailles breakup of the Turkish Empire.

Just as the Second World War was a recurrence of the themes of nationalism and communism released by the Great War, held in the lands once belonging to the land empires, so too have the political crises of the modern Middle East grown out of Versailles.

In other words, leaving the Ottomans and later the Turks out of the story of Europe limits and twists the basic narrative. However, the folks who were imagining Western Civilization did not want to admit that they got their ideas from "infidels and musselmen." So, they wrote them out of the canon. Most Western Civ textbooks do not spend much if any time in Turkey.

Of course, the folks who invented Western Civ at the turn of the twentieth century could not have known what would happen: Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottomans were still empires, and Turkey was the "sick man of Europe." What I find more striking is the extent to which we have kept the idea of Western Civilization around, if only as the title for our survey of European history.

I was not thinking about the borders problem as I was choosing my textbook. I picked Noble et al Western Civilization because I liked their use of images and supporting documents, not because they covered the East. I need to dig up the book and check for Turks as I plan lectures. I will need to remember to include the Ottomans in class lectures. I suspect that Noble will have done a better job than Spielvogel, whose piece of crap textbook mentions Islam in the 600s with Muhammed and the early expansion, then drops it entirely until the late 20th century.

And so I have done some thinking about teaching, I have procrastinated, and now I must go walk the hound.

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Lifetime Reading Plan

Via Sheila O'Malley I receive a challenge: how many of these have I read.

I will mark the ones I have read, and add some comments in italics.

after marking up the list below.
It looks like I have read or read significantly in about 43 of the items on that list. I am long on history and political theory, light on plays and poetry. That does not surprise me - I am more social science than humanities.

This is a slightly goofy list based on the Western canon. I was struck by the differences between this list and my incomplete list of 50 essential reads.

Off the top of my head, the biggest gaps here are:
Religion:
Epic of Gilgamesh
Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Psalms, Isiah, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, Corinthians, Revelation. I would add Jonah to that list if only because of the story of the gourd at the end of the book.
Koran: The Cow. Not sure what other parts to add.
I would add some documents from non-semitic religions, but I don't know them well enough to suggest.

Literature:
Why are all of the books but one from Western Europe or North America? Off the top of my head, add:
Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin (powerful schlock, and influential both artistically and politically)
Mishima Yukio, Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Sailer who Fell from Grace with the Sea.
feh, my Japanese lit is boxed up and I can't remember exact titles. That might be enough to disqualify most of it.

Looking at my not-ready-for-prime-time list, I see some things to add to this canon:
Karl Marx The 18th Brumiare of Louis Bonaparte]
Max Weber, the selections in From Max Weber, especially Protestant ethic, Charisma theory.
Martin L. King jr, "Letter from a Birmingham Jail"
Franz Fanon The Wretched of the Earth
W.E.B. DuBois Souls of Black Folk
Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (feel free to skim this)
Immanual Kant The Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals
Norbert Elias The Civilizing Process
Jonathan Edwards The Religious Affections or Freedom of the Will

The remarkable thing about my list of 40 is how much it overlaps with this list of 100. For me the fascinating thing about canons is that everyone would make a different list, and many books will overlap from list to list.

I have some more reading to do. Yep. Marcus Aurelias first I think - I have long been curious about him.

The Beginning

Yes Homer. The Iliad.
Yes Homer. The Odyssey.
Yes Herodotus. The Histories.
Yes Thucydides. The History of the Peloponnesian War.
Yes Plato. Selected Works.
Some Aristotle. Ethics; Politics. Read ethics

Aeschylus. The Oresteia.
Some Sophocles. Oedipus Rex; Oedipus at Colonus; Antigone. Read two, did not read Antigone
Euripides. Alcestis; Medea; Hipploytus; Trojan Women; Electra; Bacchae.
Lucretius. Of the Nature of Things.
Virgil. The Aeneid.
Aurelius, Marcus. Meditations. I keep hearing about this one, it is probably at the top of my classics list.

The Middle Ages

Augustine, Saint. Confessions.
Alighieri, Dante. The Divine Comedy. Read portions
Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. Read portions


Plays

Some Shakespeare, William. Complete Works. Heh, I have read a dozen plays and 40 sonnets.

Molière. Selected Plays.
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. Faust.
Ibsen, Henrik. Selected Plays.
Shaw, George Bernard. Selcted Plays and Prefaces. Which selected plays? I have read a couple.
Chekhov, Anton. Uncle Vanya; Three Sisters; The Cherry Orchard.
O'Neill, Eugene. Mourning Becomes Electra; The Iceman Cometh; Long Day's Journey into Night.
Beckett, Samuel. Waiting for Godot; Endgame; Krapp's Last Tape.
Watson, E. Bradlee and Benfield Pressey. Contemporary Drama
I don't read a lot of plays.

Narratives

Bunyan, John. Pilgrim's Progress.
Yes Defoe, Daniel. Robinson Crusoe.
Yes Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver's Travels; A Modest Proposal; Meditations upon a Broomstick; Resolutions when I Come to be Old.
Sterne, Laurence. Tristram Shandy.
Fielding, Henry. Tom Jones.
Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice; Emma.
Brontë, Emily. Wuthering Heights.
Thackeray, William Makepeace. Vanity Fair.
Some Dickens, Charles. Pickwick Papers; David Copperfield; Bleak House; Great Expectations; Hard Times; Our Mutual Friend; Little Dorrit.
Eliot, George. The Mill on the Floss; Middlemarch.
Yes Carroll, Lewis. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland; Through the Looking-Glass.
Yes Hardy, Thomas. The Mayor of Casterbridge.
Conrad, Joseph. Nostromo.
Forster, E, M,. A Passage to India. Have read other Forster, not that one,
Joyce, James. Ulysses.
Some Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway; To the Lighthouse; Orlando; The Waves. Read Lighthouse in college
Yes Lawrence, D. H.. Sons and Lovers; Women in Love.
Yes Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World; Collected Essays.
Yes Orwell, George. Animal Farm; Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Mann, Thomas. The Magic Mountain.
Some Kafka, Franz. The Trial; The Castle; Selected Short Stories. Read some short stories

Rabelais, François. Gargantua and Pantagruel.
Voltaire. Candide and Other Works.
Stendhal. The Red and the Black. Started, got bored.
Balzac, Honoré de. Père Goriot; Eugénie Grandet.
Flaubert, Gustave. Madame Bovary.
Proust, Marcel. Remembrance of Things Past. I am not yet old enough to read this.
Malraux, André. Man's Fate.
Camus, Albert. The Plague; The Stranger. I know I read something by Camus, forget what.
Yes Poe, Edgar Allan. Short Stories and Other Works.
Yes Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter; Selcted Tales.
Yes Melville, Herman. Moby Dick; Bartleby the Scrivener.
Yes Twain, Mark. Huckleberry Finn.
James, Henry. The Ambassadors.
Yes Faulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury; As I Lay Dying.
Yes Hemingway, Ernest. Short Stories.
Bellow, Saul. The Adventures of Augie March; Herzog; Humboldt's Gift.
Saavedra, Miguel de Cervantes de. Don Quixote.
Borges, Jorge Luis. Labyrinths Dreamtigers.
Márquez, Gabriel Garcia. One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Gogol, Nikolai Vasilievich. Dead Souls. Started, got bored.
Yes Turgenev, Ivan Sergeyevich. Fathers and Sons.
Yes Dostoevsky, Feodor Mikhailovich. Crime and Punishment; The Brothers Karamazov.
Yes Tolstoy, Leo Nikolayevich. War and Peace.
Some Nabokov, Vladimir. Lolita; Pale Fire; Speak, Memory. Read Lolita. Hasn't everyone?
Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr Isayevich. The First Circle; Cancer Ward.


Philosophy, Psychology, Politics, Essays

Yes Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan.
Yes Locke, John. Second Treatise of Government.
Hume, David. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. If you own it long enough, does that count?

Yes Mill, John Stuart. On Liberty.
Yes Engels, Karl Marx and Friedrich. The Communist Manifesto.
Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. Thus Spake Zarathustra; Selected Other Works. Started Zarathustra
Freud, Sigmund. Selected Works.
Yes Macchiavelli, Niccolò. The Prince.
Montaigne, Michel Eyquem de. Selected Essays.
Descartes, René. Discourse on Method.
Pascal, Blaise. Thoughts (Pensées).
Yes Tocqueville, Alexis de. Democracy in America. Both volumes
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Selected Works. Some essays
Yes Thoreau, Henry David. Walden; Civil Disobedience.
James, William. The Principles of Psychology; Pragmatism and Four Essays from The Meaning of Truth; The Varieties of Religious Experience.
Dewey, John. Human Nature and Conduct.
Santayana, George. Skepticism and Animal Faith; Selected Other Works.


Poetry

Donne, John. Selected Works.
Milton, John. Paradise Lost; Lycidas; On the Morning of Christ's Nativity; Sonnets; Areopagitica.
Yes Blake, William. Selected Works.
Wordsworth, William. The Prelude; Selected Shorter Poems; Preface to the Lyrical Ballads, 1800.
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. The Ancient Mariner; Christabel; Kubla Khan; Biographia Literaria; Writings on Shakespeare. Read some
Yeats, William Butler. Collected Poems; Collected Plays; The Autobiography.
Eliot, T. S.. Collected Poems, Collected Plays.
Yes Whitman, Walt. Selected Poems; Democratic Vistas; Preface to the first issue of Leaves of Grass (1855); A Backward Glance O'er Travel'd Roads.
Yes Frost, Robert. Collected Poems.
Poets of the English Language, edited by W.H. Auden and Norman Holmes Pearson.
Yes The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, edited by Richard Ellmann and Robert O'Clair.
Most of the poetry I have read has come from school anthologies. I have read Kipling, Blake, and Whitman for fun.

History, Biography, Autobiography

Yes Basic Documents in American History, edited by Richard B. Morris What an obscure title - I bet I have read the documents, just not that collection.

Yes The Federalist Papers, edited by Clinton Rossiter.
Rousseau, Jean Jacques. Confessions. Read parts of his Social Contract.
Boswell, James. The Life of Samuel Johnson.
Adams, Henry. The Education of Henry Adams.
Braudel, Fernand. The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II; Civilization and Capitalism, 15th-18th Century.


Annex

McNeill, William H.. The Rise of the West
Durant, Will and Ariel. The Story of Civilization.
Morison, Samuel Eliot. The Oxford History of the American People
Smith, Page. A People's History of the United States.
Whitehead, Alfred North. Science and the Modern World.
Whitehead, Alfred North. An Introduction to Mathematics.
Gombrich. The Story of Art.
Adler, Mortimer J.. How to Read a Book (co-authored with Charles Van Doren)
This looks like a list of decent surveys, not a canon. I have most of the information, not in these forms.

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Red Ted
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Arise, arise, open up your eyes.


Chris Shaw, the Adirdondack songwriter, has a song, "Walter," with the chorus:

Arise! Arise! Open up your eyes
It's an Adirondack morning

It is a good song. It is in my mind right now because the little man went to bed early last night, around 6:15, and woke after his usual 11 hours. We have been up since 5:00, it is 6:30 now and I have breakfasted and will walk the dog once there is enough light to see my way through the woods.

I suppose that, since the baby is the best thing this year, it is appropriate to open my birthday with a baby cooing and singing from the other room.

I just wish he had slept in a little.

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Heading Out


Heading out for the holidays in an hour or so.

Expect no blogging until this weekend.

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December 22, 2003

Add to reading list


Note to self, these are used by Gary Gallagher in his undergrad class on American military history to 1900. Put them on the shopping list - all look good.

Don Higginbotham, George Washington and the American Military Tradition

James Kirby Martin, A Respectable Army
Robert W. Johannsen, To the Halls of the Montezumas
James M. McPherson, For Country, Cause, and Comrade: Why Men Fought in the Civil War
Gabor S. Boritt, ed., Why the Confederacy Lost
Robert M. Utley, The Last Days of the Sioux Nation

Of course, I still have over a full shelf - say 40 running inches - of interesting history books that I have not yet made the time to read. My eyes are bigger than my brain sometimes.

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Admin


Updated my public blogroll. Posting so that the template re-posts.

I feel like I have a lot of non-work-safe blogs on my blogroll.

What I think it is, is that I have a very eclectic blogroll.

Many sex bloggers have extensive blogrolls for politics, people, and so on, and also blogrolls with sex links. Most pundit bloggers keep their blog rolls vanilla, skewing heavily to other pundit blogs. Personal blogs have more eclectic links; I guess this is a personal blog.

One of the things I always check when I read a new blog is who are they linking to. Odds are that if they have an eclectic blogroll I will find them interesting while if they link only to one particular subgroup of the blogosphere I will find them boring.

It is glad to know that I pass my own test. I am not boring because I am narrow-minded. I am boring because I write too many words for my ideas. grin

Edit. I considered making a separate blog category for the sex blogs. I decided against it. All of the NWS blogs are things that, while I first linked to them out of prurient curiousity, I return to them regularly because they are well written. There are a lot of sex blogs; there are very few honest and eloquent personal blogs.

Oddly enough, I get about a fifth of what little traffic I do get as links from the various sex blogs.

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Democratic slogan?

My contribution to the sound bite archives:

There is an old saying, "Take what you want, and pay for it." This administration has changed it. They say we bill our grandchildren instead.

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Red Ted
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Economist Editorial


Today's editorial from the Economist is good stuff. It reminds me of why I used to take that magazine (I stopped when I decided I was spending too much time reading the news. )

The editorial praises the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, discusses Hussein's career from the perspective of international actors who aided or supported him, then shifts to talk about the prospects for Democracy in Iraw.

Key paragraphs:


Mr Bush has made matters worse by continuing to portray Iraq as part and parcel of the war against al-Qaeda. Although this simplification may play in Peoria (not to mention in the presidential election), it is wrong. Yes, Saddam terrorised his people and his neighbours. But to lump all America's enemies together as “terrorists” is to play with words and, worse, to risk making a muddle of policy. Osama bin Laden is a religious fanatic with an apocalyptic vision of permanent Islamic war against the infidel. Saddam is a secular Arab nationalist who had a rational if reckless dream of acquiring super-weapons and dominating the world's oil reserves. Saddam had to be stopped, but his defeat has not necessarily hastened the defeat of al-Qaeda, and might even make victory harder if it continues to stoke up Muslim rage against the West.

What happens next will not be shaped by the Americans alone. Much also depends on what Iraq itself is capable of. Thanks to the long reign of Mr Hussein, nobody really knows what that may be. It is far from certain that it can even remain one country, let alone grow into the sort of liberal democracy the Americans hope to make of it.

Iraq is one of the awkwarder creations of colonialism. ... And this is the wreckage upon which America now proposes to erect a beacon of hope for the other Arabs. Why expect the first Arab democracy to arise in Iraq, of all places?

The answer is simple. Accident. Democracy has a chance in Iraq because the repeated miscalculations of its dictator resulted in his forcible removal by a superpower which, unlike the departing imperialists of the 20th century, dares not impose any other system. The Americans may not succeed, but now that they are there they are duty-bound to try.

I continue to dislike and distrust GWB and his political advisors. They did a good deed under false pretenses. They have espoused a foriegn policy that is inconsistent, incoherent, and dangerous. However, they have also placed the nation in a situation where we are "duty-bound to try" to create democracy in Iraq. Are they the best people to do this? I doubt it. What worries me is that GWB may be better equipped to build democracy in Iraq than are some of the Democratic candidates, and that the Democrats who are better equipped to conduct a coherent foreign policy may not get chosen as nominees.

And so to turn in grades.

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Thoughts on gaming.

I have been playing a little bit of Shadowbane on a 10-day free trial. For those who have not heard of it, Shadowbane is a massively multiplayer game devoted to getting together with other players, building a city, then going to war with other players and their cities. The game has extensive pvp (player versus player), boring pve (player versus environment), and moderately interesting world-building aspects.

My characters are still in their early development stages - not yet big enough to start playing pvp. But, I have been reading about the game and thinking about what makes it compelling for some. In turn, this has gotten me thinking again about what makes computer games, or games in general, compelling to their players. This thought was inspired, in part, by last weekends NYT article about computer gaming, but it is also some thoughts that I have been mulling over for a while.

My current thought is that games have four crucial aspects: mechanics, competition, cooperation, and narrative. Different games have different mixes of the four, and the most compelling games have high scores on at least two of the four aspects.


Mechanics refers to the process of optimizing results within the rules of the game while using the resources available to you. Some games are entirely about maximizing results: blackjack, solitare, Pac Man, solo chess problems, etc. The fun of playing a purely mechanics game is the fun of solving the puzzle. Mechanics can appeal by providing logic puzzles, or geometric puzzles, or even asking you to "solve" a spreadsheet.

Competition is the heart of gaming. A game provides a structured situation with known rules in which you can compete with other people. Competition is fun; it can be compelling. Any game that is not purely solo or purely rpg has some aspects of competition in it. Chess would be a classic example of a competitive game. Competition can be head to head or multiplayer - Quake deathmatch or poker and quake lanparty for example.

Cooperation is the less noticed but more crucial aspect of gaming. Some games are almost entirely about the cooperative aspect - you win by getting a group of people to work together for a common goal. Other games mix competition and cooperation. There is a saying that every poker game has a patsy, and if you don't know who it is then it must be you. Cooperation is most obvious in games like Diplomacy or Everquest. In Diplomacy, 7 players compete to win. You succeed by making a series of short term alliances "lets you and me go crush him" and then betraying your ally after you have achieved your joint goal and before your ally betrays you. In Everquest, a massively multiplayer computer game, the mechanics are not all that hard despite a steep learning curve; the challenge comes from getting six, or twelve, or fifty people to work together on a common goal within the game mechanics.

Narrative is a newer aspect to gaming. I am not aware of narrative-based games - where players play a game by taking part in a story - before the 1970s, unless you consider charades, or drama as a game. "Hey kids, lets put on a show." I suspect that a storytelling contest would also qualify as a narrative game. In more traditional gaming terms, we find narrative gaming in pen and paper role playing - a group of people take on the personas of wizards and elves and such and attempt to achieve an in-game goal - and in computer gaming. Once Upon a Time is the only game I am aware of that uses competitive storytelling as a game mechanic. The advantage that computer games have is that they can provide a branched narrative that changes based on the player's actions. This is more easily done in a solo game, but some persistent worlds are letting players make lasting changes, others are changing their world every month or so to provide a background narrative for the players' actions.

Very few games are purely within one form; most games mix two or more. To use a couple more examples:
Chess - high level of mechanics, high level of competition; no social no narrative (outside of Alice in Wonderland.)
Poker - very high level of competition, some mechanics, some cooperation; no narrative.
Everquest - moderate mechanics, high cooperation, a little narrative, no ingame mechanism for competition.
Shadowbane - low mechanics, high cooperation, high competition, some in-game narrative.

Less successful games tend not to have an enoughness of enough of the elements.
Earth and Beyond, for example, had an imposed narrative placed on the game through monthly patches, fairly simple mechanics, and moderate cooperation. I found it entertaining for a while, but never compelling.

Gaming is challenging music and movies as the next form of popular entertainment. We will be seeing more and more about it over the next few years. As we do so we might want to think about how these aspects affect our understanding of our entertainment.

Let me close by using these analytical tools to look at spectator sports and at gambling - both of which are also forms of gaming.

Consider a football game. We will use a pro football game, both on the field and as a social experience.

110 players and a couple of dozen coaches are competing on a field. Of those players, the starters will be on the field for some 70 plays, others will be in less often. The social aspect of the game comes in coordinating the actions of 11 people on the field, the entire team off the field. There are a lot of very smart very talented people working in pro football who are kick-ass coordinators or position coaches and mediocre head coaches. Why? Because the head coach's primary duty is social. If he can create a climate for cooperation and effort, and if he can get the right people into the right jobs, then the team should do well. The competitive aspect of the game comes in many forms: coach v coach, quarterback v safety, flanker v cornerback, and so on. Lets look at the classic matchup: defensive end v offensive tackle. Some 70 times per game the two men will slam into one another, try to push the other out of the way, and make a play. On most of these plays, they will draw. However, on play after play, they are both using the mechanics of the game - what stance to take, how to execute a rip move, where to put your hands on the defender's torso - and using the competitive aspects. Defensive players will set up an outside move by faking inside, or will come up with a sequence of moves designed to get the offensive player off balance. Line play is endlessly fascinating in its variations.

Now lets shift to the audience perspective.
Here we are watching competition, we are watching cooperation. What the audience gets out of the game is sociability and narrative. We watch the game, we feel some level of emotional attachment to a team, we cheer. This is all social and, in some cases, the cheering of an audience can affect the outcome of the game - audience members get to feel that they have participated. We also tell ourselves stories about the game: "the team came back, they did not quit" or "they got ahead and stayed ahead" or "so and so redeemed himself through his play" or what have you. The sports section of your newspaper and the endless tv shows are all creating and spreading these narratives. Sports is not just the ultimate reality program, it is also a surprisingly strong source of narrative.

The other reason people watch sports is very like the reason people play poker or go to casinos: gambling.

When someone talks about the "gaming" industry, it takes a moment to figure out if they are referring to computer games, board games, or legalized gambling. The first and last in that list are where the big money is. Lets look at gambling through the four-pronged analysis.

Games change when there is money involved. People play differently for cash than they do for pride. This is one reason why, although I play gaming tournaments that do give prizes, I do not choose to play in situations where the cash prize is more important than the prestige of having won. Chris Martin and David Hood got a few dollars when they became world Diplomacy champions a few years back. But, having gamed against both of them, I know that their real reward comes from the prestige of being the force that everyone else around the table has to respond to. Respect from their peers outweighs any prize, heck the costs of competing are greater than the prize money. In contrast, I will play poker for chips or for penny ante but I just drop out when the cash players come. I do not care for the change in tone.

But, what is at stake when we gamble for cash that is not at stake when we play games for fun? Money, material rewards, changes the nature of the competition in several ways. The two that I want to talk about are "something for nothing" and "deep play." There are other ways that money changes gaming conduct in competitive games like poker, including personal dominance, but two is enough.

Something for nothing, or the hope of getting something for nothing, is compelling. It is the impulse that keeps all the con games in the world going. Consider a lottery. One the one hand, a lottery is a tax on people who can not do math. Lotteries offer terrible odds of winning, even in an illegal numbers game with its higher payouts. What they do offer, however, is the hope of winning. As a friend pointed out to me once, when you buy a lottery ticket you have just bought a license to daydream about what you will do when you win. For a couple of dollars you get up to a week of pleasant thoughts. That is a pretty good deal, and you should buy your lottery tickets early to get more value for your money. If you buy a lot of lottery tickets, you still have a minuscule chance to win, you have the same dreams of what to do with the money, but that same emotional pleasure costs you more. If you buy one lottery ticket, you are buying a pleasure. If you buy multiple tickets, or buy obsessively, then there is something else going on.

There is a thrill that comes with winning, or more specifically with that moment where the uncertainty resolves itself and you discover if you have won or lost. Flip a coin - it will come up heads or tails. So what. Flip it a hundred times, write down the results, and you will see fifty-odd of one side and fourty-odd of the other. The odds are against getting exactly 50 out of 100 flips. Now tell yourself that if the coin comes up heads, I will give you $100 cash. Now flip it again - was there a flutter of excitement? You won? Good. Double or nothing. Flip it again. Was the flutter bigger? Now again, $400 at stake this time. (Yes, I will make you keep flipping until we are back to even. Sorry.)

That little thought experiment should have induced some level of gut flutter. It should also have pointed out that the whole gambling process generally involves a relatively boring game where the interest comes not from the game mechanics but from the stakes. Face it, flipping a coin is boring. The only interesting decision in that particular game is deciding when to cash in and when to keep flipping the coin. If you buy into the game, get into its headspace, a simple coin flipping game like that could be compelling for hours. If you do not, then you will walk away quickly enough.

The flutter can be simple excitement, or it can evolve into what anthropologist Clifford Geertz calls deep play. This is gambling, wild out of control gambling, in which a person will place all their assets on a single throw, or a single cockfight. People do that, especially in some cultures and subcultures, and do it repeatedly. Geertz asked why, and decided that it was because they came to identify themselves with the fighting bird, or with the rolling die, and by gambling so heavily that they were risking themselves, they gained a sort of affirmation.

You don't have to gamble outrageously to experience that sort of identification with the game, but gambling does help. Consider the sports gaming addicts who are caught up in the outcome of every game, seeing their bets as an extension of themselves and rooting for their players to pull it out, to beat the spread, to make that one basket. Gambling on sports adds a level of interest to the spectator phenomenon. Gambling in casinos adds a level of interest to things that, like pulling a slot machine lever, are worth only a couple of minutes of interest on their own. Every pull, every roulette ball, is its own micro-hit of self-identified deep play.

To turn full circle, deep play or identification with the gaming device, is what a computer game offers, what pencil and paper roleplaying offers, and what gambling or sports observation offers. If we want to create a compelling game it should offer a mix of mechanics, competition, cooperation, narrative, and deep play or identification. If we want to select a game for ourselves, we need to decide how we value each of these aspects of the gaming experience, and how much of our lives and free time we want the game to claim.

I will not be picking up a Shadowbane subscription because, although it offers great competition and cooperation, I find the mechanics clunky, and the narratives boring. I am not sure how easily I could identify with my characters: I find myself wanting to fire up the game to see how Kaladriel my dimwitted giant holy warrior will respond to new challenges. Besides, I don't have time for a new game. I just have time to write too many words about gaming.

EDIT - the folks at Sunsword remind me that Everquest is chock full of competition. It shows itself in racing for player access to the rare spawns and rare drops. Severilious the dragon appears in game once a week, give or take a day. It takes 30 people to kill the dragon. The dragon sometimes has a wonderful treasure that all warriors want. People would have characters camping out in the jungle where the dragon appears waiting for him to arrive, and once he is spotted they would race to be the first to get their group of 30 into place to kill the dragon. It got very competitive.

The above is a rough draft - I fear that I don't polish my blog posts. Heck, I barely stitched the two parts of that essay together.

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December 21, 2003

Grading Up



We complain a lot about grade inflation, but I find that the last step in working up class grades is making sure that I gave enough As.

I give a lot of grading opportunities: homework, discussion, two papers, two exams. Everyone screw up at least one of them. Even my hero forgot to do 3 homework assignments, lost 3% of her final grade, and finished with a calculated 3.44 for the semester. Six tenths of a point - a C on each homework or a B on two of them - and she would have had an A-.

On the first pass through the grades, out of 70 students I had one A and two A-. You generally want to give about 3% A, about 10% A-. The total grades A- and above should float between 10% and 13% of your students. With 70 students, I was low - an indication that I have been flinching as I grade just as the fact that the final had more C- than C or D suggested that I was flinching on grading the bad exams. I am a grading wimp sometimes.

So, I went back, double checked a couple of out of character blue books, double checked blue books and discussion grades for folks who were very close to a grade margin, and ended up with one A and five A-. That is about right.

On the low end, I am flunking one, giving one D, and three C-. I have more C than C- grades, suggesting that my flinch on the final did not extend to a flinch on overall grades. I am actually light on grades of D and below - if the curve were relatively normal I should have about the same number of D and down as I do of A- and up. But, two students took an incomplete that will become an F if they do not get papers to me by February.

I check my grading curves as a form of quality control - if your grades are bimodal, or skewed high or low, or show a flinch then that is a sign that your teaching or grading may not be working as intended.

All in all, the curve looks pretty good. The class average is about 2.58 - a low B-. That used to be the gentleman's C. There has been grade inflation since the 1950s, but history departments still try to protect the A.

And so to fill in bubble sheets.

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December 20, 2003

Food notes


Melanie is still disconcerted by garlic. A couple of years ago I had a problem with garlic and gassiness. It has cleared up, and we now use moderately large quantities of garlic while cooking. Even the baby likes garlic. The only problem is, when we order pizza from the local stores, the sauce tastes boring without the extra zing of garlic, oregano, and hot pepper. This leads me to:

A note on low-fat cooking. Fat carries flavor and gives a pleasurable mouth feel. When reducing the fat, add more spices and more flavorings to recover. Many commercial low fat products try to cover their lack of fat by adding extra sugar. I don't like that. I use extra spices and strong flavors. I find that acids make a good replacement for salts, and that yoghurt and olive oil make good replacements for heavier oils. So when doing collards with salt port, pull the salt pork and add a splash of vinegar. If cooking a carrot cake, base it on yoghurt rather than on corn oil. Oh, and use a little bit of extra virgin olive oil rather than a mess of the boring stuff.

A final note on peppers: I cook with a fair number of hot peppers. I grow my own Thai Dragons. Hot peppers dry easily - just string a needle, pierce the pepper and draw a little loop to hold it in place, then hang the string of peppers in a well ventilated place. We dried them in the basement right over the dehumidifier. Whole hot peppers do best if chopped or broken up in the cooking oil before the pan is heated; this gives the pepper flavors a chance to infuse the oil and spread. If you are using ground pepper from the spice store instead, add the hot pepper when you add the garlic.

Oh, and for Melanie's readers. We are in an interfaith marriage. I was raised Catholic, currently have a belief system similar to liberal Protestantism, and am comfortable in the "courtyard of the temple." J was raised Reformative, is theologically Reform, but prefers Conservative worship practice.

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December 19, 2003

Bloody Chicken


Hanukkah starts tonight. It is the festival of lights, a minor holiday that has been trotted out to join the solstice carnival.

Melanie at Just a Bump on the Beltway is a practicing Christian who is also gastronomically Jewish.(1) She has been looking forward to cooking a festival dinner. She has been looking into Latkes and the Ashkenazic tradition.

I checked with J, who reminded me that the festival of lights is a festival about oil lights. Anything cooked in oil is proper for Hanukkah. In Israel, apparantly, one of the big hits is a sugary dough, rolled into a log, twisted, and fried in oil - Jewish twist donuts. Any holiday where the ritual food is donuts appeals to my inner Homer Simpson - especially because I do not care for latkes.

But, I am on a low fat diet. Low fat kosher cooking is an oxymoron. We can do it, but mostly by cooking a lot of food at home, eating out rarely, and relaxing our already Reform strictures when we do eat out.(2)

So, we were planning to just cook bloody chicken for dinner tonight. What is that you ask? It is a dish I worked up about a dozen years ago when I had company coming over and all I had in the house was boneless chicken breasts, canned olives, carrots, onions, and the usual pantry staples. Oh, and a body of the very smooth 1984 Hungarian Sangre de Toros - a European lake wine that had softened to the point of innocuousness.

So, I sauteed onions and chicken in olive oil with vast amounts of fresh garlic, added carrots, added wine and tomato sauce, simmered, and finished with olives. We served it with rye bread and the rest of the bottle. Sangre des Toros translates as bull's blood, and so I called it bloody chicken. My mom still cooks it by that original recipe - I wrote it down for her that night. J and I also cook it, but it has evolved to drop the carrots, add the olives earlier, and can be made with or without whatever cheap red wine you happen to have around. Just remember that garlic is a vegetable and you are OK. I would give a detailed recipe, but that would be against the spirit of the dish: chuck stuff in a pot until you like it.

Bloody chicken is good food. It means we will have an open bottle of wine for the blessing. It would have been served with a light caraway rye - instead it will be served with a caraway buckwheat bread (or with stale kaiser rolls.) But, it is not an oil-based food.

Perhaps I will set up a bowl of olive oil to dip the bread into.

(1), In the spirit of Eugene Volokh's discussion about messianic judaism, I wonder if a Christian can be gastronomically Jewish without becoming apostate. One rabbi once, only half jokingly, described Judaism as: "They tried to kill us; they failed. Lets eat!" By joining in the feast, have you accepted the basic tenets of the faith? (3)

(2) The secret to restaurant cooking is to use a LOT of butter. That, more than the mis en place or the simmering pots of stock, is why things taste better when you eat out. Low fat and not mixing milk and meat come into trouble when, as J does, you dearly love roast lamb and you dearly love saute'd vegetables. What we do at restaurants is I order the heart healthy menu, J orders what she desires but asks for no pork or shellfish, and we assume that all side dishes were cooked with magical mystery oil.

(3) I love footnotes in footnotes. And, for the record, I am just teasing Melanie a little. Attending a passover seder or cooking latkes no more makes you Jewish than singing a Christmas carol makes you Christian.

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Flour Bugs



I think that one of the best tests of a cook is not how things taste when everything works, but how well they recover when something goes wrong.

I was making a caraway rye bread for dinner tonight (more on that later) and things went wrong.

Flour bugs are, well, bugs that live in flour. Bug eggs make it through all the sifting, sorting, and filtering because they are about the same size as the flour particles. In coarsely ground flour, they have an easier time of it. After a while, they hatch and then bugs go through a life cycle in your cupboards. The only thing you can do about them is 1, keep your flour in a sealed container and 2, use it faster than the bugs cycle.

I opened the coarse-ground rye flour and, as I was scooping and levelling, found flour bugs crawling around. They were still in the crawly phase, not the flying egg-laying phase, so I just dumped the bag of flour and made a note to myself not to buy rye flour until I was ready to use it - no more paper bags of rye flour sitting around waiting to be opened.

But, what to do about dinner? Last night I had seethed the caraway seeds in water; the caraway seeds, sourdough, and sour salt were already in the bread machine; tonight's dinner wants strong bread.

I went to the cupboard, grabbed the bag of buckwheat flour that I keep around for pancakes, and made a caraway sourdough buckwheat loaf. It might be edible, or we might be eating stale kaiser rolls with dinner. But, I tried to recover.

The other key to being a good cook, especially on the home level, is a willingness to try something new and throw it out if it is terrible. Knowing that your new dish might turn out to be a pizza lowers the stress on the cook and, paradoxically, means that the new dish is more likely to work out because the cook will be more willing to mess with it.

So, tonight we will be starting the holidays with a very strange loaf of bread. I wonder if it will be any good.

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Friday Five


Good one this week. I added linky goodness. I am psyched, for while making links for this post I found some new things about some old favorites. Hoorah!

1. List your five favorite beverages.

Coffee (I get mine from Coffeeworks these days.)
milk (skim these days, alas)
water
root beer

Hot Cocoa
I no drink no booze no more (single malt, one ice cube)

2. List your five favorite websites.
Washingtonpost.com
Volokh Conspiracy
Sunsword forums
Amazon.com
County library on-line catalog

3. List your five favorite snack foods.
Sweetzel's Spiced Wafers
Toast with hummus
an orange
toast with honey
english muffin with marmalade

Roly Poly, Daddy's little fatty
Bread and jam near twenty times a day (hoo boy!)


Darn that Bob Wills and those Texas Playboys, now I have my theme song stuck in my head again.


4. List your five favorite board and/or card games.

Diplomacy - link to the pbem version
Dungeons and Dragons (we play a variant of the 1980s ADD ruleset.)
Settlers of Cataan great beer & pretzels
Silent Death - even J blows up space ships

History of the World - risk for adults
Ambush - solo squad level


5. List your five favorite computer and/or game system games.

Everquest - MMORG
Space Empires III - expand and conquer
Earth and Beyond - MMORG

Steel Panthers (I played the original, link is to the newest)
Decision in the Desert - just plain fun

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Bloody Chicken Part II


Melanie said she was going to try the recipe. So, this time while cooking I decided to make a vague note of quantities.

3 small onions
3 pounds of boneless breasts
1 15 oz can tomato sauce
about a cup of wine
between a tsp and a tbsp thyme
half a head of garlic, crushed
about 6 oz olives (green with pits this time, but whatever you desire.)
1 dried Thai dragon pepper, with its seeds.
about a quarter cup olive oil

mis en place
French the onion (no comments from YOU LeeAnn)
chop the chicken into chunks
crush the garlic into a bowl
break up the pepper, put it in a large pot with the olive oil

Method
heat the olive oil and pepper
add the onions to the hot oil
add thyme and salt to onions
saute until onions are transluscent
add chicken, brown
when almost brown, add garlic
when aroma rises, add tomato and wine
bring to the simmer
add olives
simmer 20 to 40 minutes - until tender.

Serve with pasta, dumplings, or bread.

Oh, and J points out that anything with olives in it is, by definition, hanukkah food.

Ps, the buckwheat loaf was a brick of black bread. It was fairly tasty. I might add some buckwheat flour to my next rye bread.

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December 18, 2003

WWJD


Tip of the hat to Rocket Jones for:

What Would Jesus Drive?

I think I need to reconcile my public and private blogrolls, Rocket Jones is getting promoted. The man is funny, and insightful.

And sometimes you just need a short post to a silly, just like LeeAnn does all the time.

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Books unread


I updated the right side of the blog this morning, extending the list of things I did not finish.

Kieren Healy made a list of the best books he has not read in the last year - things he started but could not complete.

My reading is not so highbrow - I read a lot of genre fiction and a lot of soft history. Like Healy, I am fascinated by the process of unfinished books. Why do we pick something up and then feel no desire to finish it? This is particularly odd for me because I have a strong completeness fetish. Once I get near the end of a book, I WILL finish that sucker. But, for various reasons, the items at the bottom of the right hand list never made it to the red zone. Let me talk about some of the more recent DNF entries.

So why did I put these particular books down?

James Jones Some Came Running. I really like From Here to Eternity I read and enjoyed Thin Red Line, Go to the Widowmaker and his third book his WW2 sequence (I forget the title, but he once again features the sergeant, the cook, and the private, he once again changes their names, and he once again kills Prewitt.) Jones has the odd 1950s Hemingway thing going on. He writes "manly" books, he is concerned with manly questions, his men are bravura, and virile, and violent, and obsess on their mortality even while they challenge it. It can be a compelling mixture. But, I never got past the first 20 pages of SCR. I got far enough to figure out that our hero was a jerk and a drunk, that everyone was posturing in some way or another, and that it is hard to come home again. I felt no compulsion to read farther. The book might be wonderful, but not this month. Back to the library it goes.


Monsters Inc. We were on the waiting list for the DVD from the library for months. It arrived, J and I watched the first few minutes, then we had to put the baby to bed. Last night I watched a little more, hijinks were ensuing, and I got bored. The library wants it back, I will drop it off this morning. I like the Sully character - we are expected to like Sully - but the gorgeous animation was not enough to keep my attention through the plot.

Into the Darkness This is the book that inspired me to write this rant. Harry Turtledove is sometimes a perfectly adequate B-list author. I liked and re-read his sequence about republic-era Romans in an alternate world Byzantium where magic works. I liked and read the prequels he wrote to that world of Videssos. Turtledove did a nice job with what has become a cliche of alternate history and military science fiction. He then found a new genre. I read one sequence in that genre, put down an audiobook in it, and put down this hardback. Turtledove imagines a world-wide military conflict. He writes a very long sequence of vignettes from that conflict. He wraps it in a cover and calls it a novel. The one I read had continuing characters, the two I put down never did repeat a character. I find that just as I figure out who a character is or what is happening, the focus shifts. The overall narrative becomes the war, and while I think that Turtledove is trying to replicate the multitude of indepent actions and decisions that make up a vast social process, I also find that I require a more human narrative. War and Peace is a love story in the middle of a war. Herman Wouk self-consciously repeated Tolstoy's structure in Winds of War. Turtledove rejects Tolstoy's model. Instead of a focus on individual change and exploration, his is a focus on the masses. Instead of change over time within a person he is giving snapshots of a changed society. Despite the close focus on individuals in each vignette, the overall feel of the book is cold, heartless, and modern.

Turtledove may have been trying for that effect - he is a smart guy and he has written over twenty novels in this formula. People must like this effect - you don't publish that many words unless someone is buying. I find that I require more narrative, more humanity, and more complex characters. I spend my days reading the news, reading punditry, and researching the past. I spend my creative energy understanding social changes, describing the mental worlds of the past, and excerpting individual biographies and writings to describe those worlds and their changes to my readers. I read fiction for relaxation and escape. And, to me, a cold modern world full of violence and despair is not relaxing and does not provide an escape.

ps. During the classwork phase of graduate school we did a lot of historiographical writing - summarize the argument and evidence of a book, critique the book. I had a minor reputation for writing savage reviews in my historiography; I had to retrain myself so that I could write useful commentary on student papers. I appear to have let some of that savagery out in my comments on Turtledove. I need to add that despite the apparant randomness of his vignette technique, I think Turtledove has some pretty clever theory behind his books. He is a reasonably smart guy; I just do not care for his work.

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Class Thoughts


I am thinking about how to structure Western Civ for the spring semester - need to write a syllabus in the next few weeks.

One thing that I am contemplating is creating a class blog to use for discussions.

I am not sure if I would give the entire class writing permission, or write something after each class and invite them to comment on it, or what?

One more thing to think about as I drink my coffee. Speaking of which, coffee is done. Ta !

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Carl Zimmer


Carl Zimmer has moved his popular science blog, The Loom. Update your links.

While I mention him, let me Blog him Forward.

Carl Zimmer's The Loom is a collection of relatively long discussions about popular science and science history. Zimmer's strength and interest is in evolutionary biology, and much of what he posts is about the history of evolution or about new projects with gene sequencing and genetic research. His posts are all value-added: he will explain new research or tell you about something that you would not have encountered otherwise. I like that in a blog. Zimmer is a professional writer of popular science, and I think I need to chase down some of his books because his blog has that knack of presenting new information in a casual and clearly understandable manner. Lucid prose is a rare gift, and Zimmer has it. He updates a few times a week; I click on the link a few times a week, and I am always glad that I did.

I file him with the academics because much of his writing is about professional science.

Hmm, while I wait for the baby to go to sleep let me add another couple of shout-outs.

Kevin Drum's Calpundit is one of the big dogs of the blogging world. Drum writes several times a day, comments on most major news stories, and always has something interesting to say. He is a liberal democrat, leaning towards the centrist position, with a low tolerance for bullshit from either the left or the right. Drum's professional background is in explaining things to business people (I don't know more about his particular style of consulting than that) and as a result he is very good at explaining political matters to a general readership. Like Zimmer, his prose is lucid. He gains his power by being clear, and occasionally by being outraged, not by using potty language or making outrageous figures of speech. This is not to say that he is a mild centrist, for he is not. His critique of the Texas State Republican Committee is notoriously strong. But, his overall web persona is someone who has core beliefs, will listen and try to understand other people, and who understands the difference between political bargaining and the Big Lie. When he links to something, he almost always adds value with his commentary. I check his blog several times a day.

While I am in praise of writing, let me now praise Anne. She and Sheila O'Malley are probably the two most creative people on my blogroll. (Sarah Hatter and Rob "Acidman" Smith tie for third) Anne ... Straight From the Hip started as a recovery project for an artistic hard-driver who was recovering from crippling depression. Anne is still recovering, and still writing. I am very glad to see that she is re-discovering her creativity - check out her Halloween costume. Anne posts a little more often than once a week. Every post is a beautifully crafted depiction of a moment or an emotion. Many of them are brutally honest, others are vents about the joys of being a talented person working retail while struggling with the "black dog." All of them are compelling.

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The hours of a day


We were up early this morning, and as I was walking the hound through the pre-dawn glow I was thinking about the rhythm of a good day. Is this a perfect day, as in the old joke where a guy's perfect day involves hourly blowjobs and lots of red meat and a woman's perfect day involves lots of shopping and a single romantic encounter? No. This was a thought about how I like, or would like, to spend the hours of a normal good day - my ideal 90% day if you will.


Wake before dawn
Run an easy 10 miles over rolling hills on dirt roads, perhaps with the baby.
Big breakfast

Spend the morning working, snack at 10:30,
Big lunch at 1:00. I really do prefer hot food at lunch - I guess I take after my dad that way.

Afternoon spent reading and having a nap. Teaching is enough fun that I would add it to my afternoon.

Lift before dinner, on a 4/day split focusin on the major power lifts. Lift heavy.

Big dinner.

Evening playing with the baby, spending time with J, reading for fun, playing computer games.

Go to bed between midnight and 2:00 am

Sleep 10 hours.

Wake before dawn and do it again.

You might note that there is not enough time for sleep in that day.

I do like to wake up early, I do like to stay up late, and I do like my sleep. I can somewhat get the three to match by having an afternoon nap, but naps are not always something to count on.

Oh, and for the record, I stopped running that many miles a couple of years ago when I ran harder than my body could handle and wracked up both knees. I stopped lifting that hard about a year ago when I decided that I was not competing powerlifting, I was getting middle aged, and the exercise was getting in the way of my sleep and my work.

I need to get back to the gym - perhaps a morning workout?

What are the hours of your day?

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December 17, 2003

Multiple personality chapter?


So far in the last two days I have decided that chapter two is bloated but useful, that chapter two has some really good material in it, and that chapter two is full of crap. At the moment I am leaning towards all of the above - in other words I am in the process of looking at what I argued, looking at some new material that I intend to work into it, and working up a newer tighter argument.

Right now I need to think hard about the relationship between oaths of office, state churches, individual religion, and religious establishments.

Where early modern European states tended to have their nationality defined by state church rather than by fixed borders or governmental agencies, the United States defined their membership by oaths of loyalty. Loyalty oaths are fuedal - you swear allegiance to a lord as part of a reciprical exchange of duties - but these oaths were sworn to a document.

I want to argue that state constitutions replaced state churches as the establishment that defined the terms of the "nation" - so the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania consisted of all who had sworn the Pennsylvania loyalty oath, and all who had been born in the Commonwealth after it became a Commonwealth. That argument hinges on loyalty oaths. But, loyalty oaths predate 1776 by a lot. And, while I want to argue that religion was both depoliticized by the Revolutionary establishment and enlisted in support of oaths, I can find gobs of English case law discussing the tie between religion and the state using oaths as the place where the two combined: No religion, no binding oaths; no binding oaths, no secure government.

So, right now my ideas are just a mess. I think I am onto something good about changes in the relationship between religion and society on the state level, and I think I can make a good argument that the counter-enlightenment of the 1790s reshaped the revolutionary settlement. What I need to do a better job of is clearly, precisely, and correctly describing the before and after moments.

Thinking makes my brain hurt.

And so to bed.

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Grading Philosophy


One section has their preliminary grades done. The other section takes their exam tomorrow. Friday I will review all the exams and make sure that the good exams are getting the good grades, the bad grades are going to the bad exams, and so on.

While grading essays this morning I encountered a recurring philosophical problem with grading. Consider two essays, both written to the same fairly specific question. One hits everything that the question had asked about, and does a so-so job. The other only answers a part of the question, but does so suberbly. How do you rank the two in a way that is fair to both students?

I keep in mind that students talk to one another, and I do not want them to think that they can write whatever they like and get a good grade. To be fair to the folks who fulfill the exercise, I have to limit the folks who miss details. Of course, to be fair to the creative folks I also have to make sure that they have opportunities to be creative - something that is missing on the exam I just gave.

I tend to mark down for missing coverage, even if I suspect that the student could have covered the whole question had they tried. I have to grade on what they wrote, not what I thought they wrote, and so just as I grade garbled sentences for what they said and not what they meant, so too do I have to grade the exam they wrote and not the exam they could have written. In the past I have put a soft cap of C+ on off-topic essays. I might revise that, perhaps taking a full letter off, perhaps just playing it by ear.

One of my best students wrote me what would have been the best essay in the class, but she did not hit the whole question. She got a C+ on that part of the exam, a B overall on the exam, and I will see how I feel about it when I re-read exams on Friday.

There is a place for goofy and open-ended questions, and I did not give enough of them this semester. I will add that to my list of changes to make for the next time I teach this.

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December 16, 2003

Exam day


The first group of kids have their exam today. It is a tough exam, but I think it is fair.

I gave them the questions ahead of time ( I think I blogged about this last week ) and then went through the study sheet and put the exam together last night. The goal is that by guiding their studying you get them to review the material that you want them to reinforce. In this case, I pointed them hard at the Civil War, at the American Revolution, and at the doctrine of Separate Spheres.

I will share the questions after exam week is over.

And so to be an ogre (and work on chapter 2 as I do so.)

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December 15, 2003

Good News!


The good news is that I made another short list (a "long short list" but still).

The "I need to think about it" news is that the job is in urban Alabama.

But, I think I will spend the $150 or so to interview - have to get myself to the conference, talk for half an hour, and head home. At least I can day-trip it.

Did I mention yet that history hiring is goofy?

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December 14, 2003

Saddam


In case you had not seen it before reading this page, Saddam has been captured!

Hmm, you already knew before you came here?

Darn.

Now I have to say something intelligent, or clever, or at least funny.

But I do not feel intelligent, or clever, or funny. I feel sleepy.

So I will simply say that I am glad he has been caught, and I am amused at the volume of commentary coming out of the woodwork.

If the blogosphere is like a full newspaper full of op-ed pieces, I suspect that the next week or so will be a week of Sunday sections full of op-ed pieces.

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December 13, 2003

Mary Sue


Via John and Belle, I find a definition of something I had seen before but never known had a label: Mary Sue fiction.

It is amazing just how much bad fiction out there fits this model. The concept first appeared in fan fiction - the writer inserted into the story as an idealized character who does no wrong and re-shapes the original universe - but I find it elsewhere as well.

Among other places, I sometimes play MMORGs. The challenge to a massively multiplayer game with a role-playing background is that everyone wants to be the hero, no one wants to be "third spear-carrier from the left". In other words, everyone in Everquest, or whatever, wants to be Mary Sue - and the game works only to the extent that the people playing the characters agree to give everyone their Mary Sue moments.

Interesting stuff, but almost everything John and Belle link to is interesting.

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Jammin !


This morning I made jam. I now have seven pints of orange marmalade and four half-pints of blueberry jam cooling on a rack in the kitchen. I have two more half-pints of blueberry in the refrigerator - overfilled the jars and they did not can properly.

I like jam. I like to make it; I like to eat it. I am very fond of bread and bread products, and I like my bread with a little bit of sweet on it.

The blueberry is almost straight out of an Alton Brown recipe - I dropped the star anise for allspice and cloves. For the marmalade I tried something different. The neat thing about oranges and lemons is that they contain enough pectin in their seeds and membranes to gell themselves easily. In the past my orange marmalade recipe was simple: Oranges, Sugar, Water, and lots of boiling, chopping, and boiling again. Squeeze the oranges, separate the pits and pulp, scrape the peel, chop the peel, boil until the peel cooks, add sugar, boil until it gels. It made OK marmalade, but I often boiled off the volatile orange flavors while trying to get the stuff to gell.

This time I started with frozen oranges. I boiled them for an hour, whole, then let them sit in their boiling liquid overnight. This morning I scooped the oranges out, boiled their innards for ten minutes while chopping the nice soft peels, squeezed the good stuff out of the boiling pile, and then assembled it into jam. I added sugar and boiled gently until I liked the caramel taste. Then, even though it was far from gelling, I added pectin, boiled three more minutes, and declared it jam.

Where last winter's marmalade was moderately orange with a thick caramel undertaste, this is brighter and more bitter with a delicate caramel undertaste. I will let it age for a few months, then try some.

Jam is remarkably easy, if you have some large pots and some mason jars.

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December 12, 2003

Introductions are hard


The hardest part about writing a paper is the introduction. I have spent the second half of this week revising about six pages at the top of chapter 4. I need to lay out my argument for the chapter, set up the starting position, and get into the narrative all while keeping my reader interested.

I think I finally finished that section. The rest of the chapter is tighter; I just have to go through and make sure that my argument is properly signposted.

Oddly enough, I find that I work best if I tell myself that the alternative to doing the work is going out and running an errand or other task that I also do not want to do.

Today's task is fixing the headlight on the Honda - J. is tired of driving a pediddle. I could fix it myself - I fixed a headlight on my old Chevy years ago. I could run it to the dealer. I could walk down the street to our neighbor who runs a garage in his garage, (that either makes no sense, or is completely obvious). That latter choice is probably the best choice, but it means introducing myself to him. And introductions are hard.

Meanwhile, back to Temperance.

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Colors


After reading some of the nominees for best looking blog over at wizbang, I decided to mess with my colors a little bit.

I happen to like navy text on a cream background - but to get that I had to mess with the "browser-safe" colors - so this will look crappy at 256 colors. I can't do much with images until I get my own web host or upgrade to blogger pro. So, I mess with the colors a little bit, but only a little bit; the default blogger red bar is about right for Red Ted Keeps a Diary.

I actually still use a computer with only that much color, but I no longer web browse with it. It is an old laptop with a 486 DX/4 75 cpu, 12 meg of ram, and a good keyboard. It runs windows 3.1, it runs Wordperfect 6.1, and it goes into the archives with me.

PS, read Shiela O'Malley for Dec 11..

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Oof Dah


Once I got through the introduction, the rest of four was already pretty tightly argued.

I cut about 7 paragraphs, wrote three or four more, and revised all my transitions.

Now it looks pretty sharp. I will let it sit for a few more days while I start working on chapter 2, then re-read it and send it out. I might make J read chapters soon - she has agreed to read every chapter once and this might be the most useful time for it.

I am just very happy that I got 4 revised before exams come in. I feel ahead of schedule, and that makes me feel very nervous - as if I have missed something vitally important.

And now I get to go do errands.

Did I mention that I despise running errands? No? Well I do.

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December 11, 2003

Blog it Forward



Time for a brief shoutout before lunch. Scroll down to see what I am doing here.

Brad DeLong I was pointed to Brad's blog by Olema from Everquest - someone I used to play computer games with, think of as a good acquaintence, and have never met. You get strange combinations over the internet. DeLong is an economics professor, which is why I file him in the academic ghetto at the top of the blogroll, but he writes general punditry about politics, economics and life. I like him for the usual reasons - he is smart, he writes well, and he exhibits a curiousity about the world and not just a desire to repeat the theme of the day. Politically he is a moderate liberal, so I find it easy to agree with him, but he looks at the world with that somewhat goofy perspective that economics gives you. I was once an economic historian, I worked with economists for a while when I was a computer geek, and I miss that skewed perspective and their strange habit of trying to rigorously quantify lived experience. DeLong's commentaries are not full of numbers, don't get me wrong, but that "so how does it work" perspective that economists share with engineers shapes his political and social commentary. I read him about every other day, and I like it.

Begging to Differ
- this is a group blog. Most of what they write about is political commentary, but they include some discussions of movies, of pictures, of Sunday Comics, and so on. The neat thing about the political viewpoints here is that they are split - two liberals and two conservatives all sharing a desire to comment without getting hateful. They write well, they are a fun read, and I like the mix of opinions. I think I discovered them when they linked to me, I now read them about every other day.

Angelweave I think I discovered her through a reference to the New Blog Showcase run by the Truth Laid Bear. I might be wrong, she might also be tied into the .mu.nu clan; I do know that I like to read her stuff. She tends to write short blog entries tied to a link or other reference, and she has good taste. She also writes occasional longer pieces. I found her because of her review of Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation. I am currently reading the book and will put up my own commentary on it later. I tend to click on her page about once a day, knowing that it will probably be a sort entry that I can read quickly before getting back to work.

And there we go. More tomorrow, unless I get bored of doing shout-outs.

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Two Prong Test

Just War and Realpolitik

During the Gulf War, you often saw people running around with signs saying "No Blood for Oil." Their underlying assumption was that, because the United States was stabilizing its energy supplies, the entire war must have been invalid.

During the Rwandan genocide, the United States did nothing. In part because we learned about it late, and in part because there did not seem to be a power payoff commensurate with the costs - financial and in American lives - of intervening.

The United States was late to get involved in the former Yugoslavia. We stayed out for a long time when it appeared that, like Rwanda, there were human tragedies taking place but there was no immediate threat to American self-interests. We only did get involved when national policy-makers decided that instability in former Yugoslavia was likely to spread, destabilize Europe, and thus cause serious harm to our Realpolitik interests.

There is a pattern to all three of these moments.

If you look over the past, the United States has gone to war - either declared or undeclared - only when two different sets of categories overlapped. The use of organized state violence must promise to deliver Realpolitik rewards in the short or medium term, and it must be possible to make a case that the use of organized state violence is a just war, a proportionate response to an evil intended to produce a net reduction in human misery. We have a two-pronged test for war.

So in the Mexican-American war, Polk pushed for war because he thought that the United States would do well if it seized the Southwest. He was guaranteed either a treaty giving up what is now West Texas and New Mexico, or a war he thought he could win. He provoked that war in such a way that he could claim that American troops had been attacked on American soil, and he then blackmailed Congress into declaring war and appropriating funds to support the soldiers already fighting. Congress hated him for it, which is one reason why Polk was a one-term President and one reason why Northern Congressmen supported the Wilmot Proviso.

In the Gulph War and the Korean War, we argued that we were responding against an incursion by a large state against a small state - the same argument that Britain made when entering the Great War in defense of "gallant little Belgium."

In Vietnam, as in most Cold War conflicts, the underlying humanitarian assumption behind U.S. intervention was that life under Communism was so terrible that anyone who wanted it must have been misled, and that the U.S. needed to save people from themselves, or from being intimidated into joining a terrible political/economic system.

In all of these cases what mattered was not that everyone agreed, because not everyone will agree. Rather, it had to be plausible enough to be argued. Voters, and their representatives in Congress, can and do measure these arguments. And, just as they cut through Polk's claims they tend to cut through bad humanitarian claims given time.

So, there is has historically been a two-pronged test for American military intervention: the intervention must be plausibly humanitarianism, and the intervention must serve the realpolitik goals of the nation.

What does this mean for the twenty-first century?

Lets look at Iraq first, then at possible future interventions.

I have seen three plausible humanitarian or just war claims about Iraq.
- The pre-emptive war was justified because Bush feared that Saddam Hussein posed a clear and future danger to the nation, and claimed that to delay intervention by more than a few months was to defer it forever. That clear and future danger was phrased in terms of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons; Saddam Hussein had a once and future nuclear program, and everyone thought he had stocks of chemical and biological weapons.
- The war was justified as part of the War on Terror because the Bush administration either saw loose ties between Iraq and Al Qaida or feared future ties between the two.
- The war has since been justified because Saddam Hussein was a particularly brutal Stalinist with a history of mass murder against his people, especially when putting down uprisings after the Gulf War.

All of these claims are superficially plausible. The first two depend on highly accurate intelligence about other nations, and while the Bush administration claimed that it had that intelligence but could not share its findings without risking operatives, so far the level of detail has not held up. I am phrasing my critique carefully here, for chemical and biological weapon stocks are fairly small things on a national scale and we will continue to discover and inventory arms caches in Iraq for a very long time.

The third claim is what most of the war bloggers are currently focusing on. Every mass grave, every evidence of torture, every evidence that the regime had degenerated from a nationalist movement to a Stalinist thuggery to a kleptocracy is taken as proof that the intervention was morally justified.

The question then comes up, if the United States was morally justified in invading and reconstituting Iraq because its government was a violent, abusive, thuggery, is the United States then morally required to undertake a similar invasion and restructuring of all other violent and repressive regimes. Does Iraq, in other words, provide a precedent for invading Myanmar? Syria? The People's Republic of China?

The answer, of course, is that war requires both prongs. The realpolitik justification for invading Iraq was, IMO, much shakier than the moral justification. Further interventions without a clear connection to the War on Terror and without a higher level of awareness of international concerns will make the U.S. look a lot more like North Korea, Iraq, Napolean's France, or the barbarian hordes of the ancient world - rogue states that regard their neighbor's borders as navigational markers rather than stop signs.

I don't have a broad sweeping conclusion here. I do hope that folks who made it this far will remember to look for, and critically test, BOTH prongs of any future proposal to use American military force.

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Red Ted
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Waving that bloody rag


One of the things that fascinates me is memory, as we take things that happened in our past and reconstitute them into narratives. Another thing that fascinates me, and the likely subject of my next project, is personal presentation and physical charisma. I was thinking about a moment when these two things came together, and I find that I can not work on my real stuff until I explain. The following anecdote will likely be the frontspiece to a future article on personal appearance and physical charisma among nineteenth-century clergymen.

John Mitchell Mason of the Associate Reformed Church was a big man. He was above average height, thickly built, and running to fat. He had a florid complexion and a face like a bulldog. He was one of the more distinctive and distinguished men in New York City. Mason was also a remarkably hard worker: at various points in his career he would be: the complete faculty of a theological seminary, chancellor of Columbia University, pastor of a large congregation, editor of a magazine (writing over half the words himself), and a major controversialist. For one brief moment in the 1810s he was doing all these things at the same time before overwork and exhaustion caught up with him. At the time of our story, Mason was simply a major pastor, the leading minister in the ARC (an American version of Scottish Calvinism), and on the board of Columbia.

Mason was also very political, on the Federalist side. The politics of the 1790s were far more divisive than anything we have seen lately, with Jeffersonians accusing the Federalists of misleading the nation, using war to divert people from domestic problems, and running roughshod over the Constitution, individual rights, and state rights by controlling all parts of the Federal government. Federalists, meanwhile, were convinced that the Jeffersonians were the American expression of the Jacobins who had created the Terror and performed all the worst excesses of the French Revolution. They claimed, and UltraFederalists probably believed, that Jefferson was an atheist, an infidel, and that a victory by the Jeffersonians would lead to blood and fire.

At one point between 1798 and 1812 - I have not yet tried to pin it down farther, but from internal evidence I suspect 1800 - the United States was contemplating an alliance with Bonaparte's France. Mason, a staunch Federalist, was opposed to the alliance. Many of the young men of New York City were violent Jeffersonians and thought that the alliance would be a good idea. Mason let it be known that he would be giving a sermon about the alliance on the forthcoming state fast day. One of these young gentlemen let it be known, in turn, that he would be in attendance with a walking stick, and if Mason turned from his text to talk partisan politics, this young man would pull him off the pulpit and give him a thrashing right there at the front of his church. As I said, passions ran high.

As Philip Hamburger argues most recently, the claim that ministers should not involve themselves in politics is usually a very political claim itself. People who disagree with those ministers argue that they should keep politics out of the pulpit. Ministers who want to speak claim that it is their duty to discuss on all aspects of morality, that national policy is one place where people act on moral questions, and that they have a duty to point out those aspects of policy which bear on public morality. The Jeffersonians tried to shut up Federalist clergy when they preached political sermons, the clergy argued that it was their duty to point out the Providential dangers and moral sin of voting for an avowed infidel.

On the day of the sermon, the young man did attend and sat in the front row with his cane upon his lap. Mason gave a perfectly reasonable Fast-day sermon, but partway through he interrupted himself for an apostrophe, a statement not directly connected to the main stream of his argument. The gist of the apostrophe was that the treaty was a bad thing and should not be pursued. Paraphrased from memory, Mason said "Lord, grant us pestilence in our cities and disease among our crops, ruin our trade and sink our ships, let us experience the loss of our sons at sea, let us feel the wailing of teeth on our frontiers, but save us, Oh Lord, from that worst of all possible evils, an alliance with Napoleon Bonaparte."

Mason was excited as he said this - so excited that his blood pressure rose and he burst a vessel in his nose so that blood streamed down his face. Without losing the pace of his comments and without losing the thread of his apostrophe, he reached into his pocket, picked up a pocket-handkerchief, mopped the blood from his face, and continued to speak. At the end, he made an oratorical gesture not remembering that he still held the handkerchief in his hand, and as his hand rose above his head it appeared the he was waving a blood-stained flag.

Mason finished his sermon without being interrupted. Afterwards someone asked the young man why he had not fulfilled his vow to cane Mason at the head of his church. "Well," he said, "I had intended to. But when I saw Mason waving that bloody rag above his head while delivering that terrible apostrophe ... I was quite unmanned and just sat there."

That at least, with failings because I typed it from memory rather than digging out the source, is the story that someone who had been in the congregation told to Philip Schaff in 1840 when Schaff was collecting anecdotes about Mason. The remarkable thing to me is that, some 40 years after the speech, the observer not only claimed to remember the words spoken (I suspect some paraphrasing) but also remembered very clearly the role that the bloody handkerchief played in this little drama. A single dramatic gesture was remembered for 40 years.

The interesting part about this story, for me, is the Jeffersonian who was "unmanned" by Mason's gesture and language. Something in Mason's appearance awed and intimidated his audience. What I want to do in my next project is explore the role that appearance played in encounters like this.

For now, I wanted to tell a story. And so I did.

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Red Ted
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The power of letting go


This is something that I have been kicking around, and writing it up is more interesting than writing up historiography.

Kevin Drum joins the latest round of commentary pointing out that the Bush administration talks a good line on Democracy but does little on the ground. Regardless of their rhetoric, they join the American foreign-policy tradition of focusing on realpolitik and short-term goals rather than a commitment to democracy, human rights, or free and open trade. You can make a good case that the U.S. government should consider realpolitik when choosing who to piss off, who to stroke, and where to use force; the risk of the high-blown rhetoric is that it might lose us credibility.

I am one of those who thinks that words matter, a lot; ideals matter, a lot; and our most important international capital is the reservoir of good will that we eventually earned as "the great warehouse of the democratic virus." So policy decisions like tearing down Radio Free Europe, under funding Radio Free Iran, and so on are probably the worst possible form of cheese paring in our foreign-policy budget. We get an incredible bang for the buck from open and minimally censored broadcasts. There is a long-term benefit that comes from living up to our rhetoric, even if it requires that we limit our rhetoric to things we can life up to.

Al Qaida is good at figuring out symbols. On 9/11 they picked symbols for their attacks, symbols that they thought would represent the American presence and national identity to an audience in the middle east and Islamic Asia. They targeted the World Trade Center and the Pentagon - the most visible buildings in our commercial capital and the military headquarters. To them, America's international presence was money and guns. (I am not sure where the fourth plane was targeted, I have heard the Capital, the White House, and something else. I would suspect the White House just for the symbolic value. Any of the targets would be packed with lawyers.)

If America's international presence is guns and money, well, it feels like a Warren Zevon song: "Send Lawyers Guns and Money, and get me out of this."

That is a terribly cynical view of the world.

More, if you were to ask a random assortment of Americans what values, or ideals, or symbols America ought to spread to the rest of the world, I doubt that they would say "lawyers, guns, and money." I hope that they would say "democracy," "freedom," "opportunity," and "hope."

So how did we get that disconnect and, more importantly, how can we win the global propaganda war against the Islamofascists?

My worry, my great big worry about the current administration is that they are so SET on short-term goals, so disorganized in their message, and so blinded by ideology, that they are going to bollix up the soft war while trying to win the hard war.

Force is necessary but not sufficient. Rhetoric is necessary but not sufficient. Actions, programs, targeting, and sensitivity are needed to wrap the whole thing up into a coherent set of policy goals.

Another way of thinking about this presence is in terms of buy-in. People are more likely to accept and approve of a plan if they feel that they have been involved in it and that they will get something out of it. The best way, over the long run, to produce those feelings is to bring them in and make sure that everybody takes something home from the bargaining table. This often means that the most powerful person at the table has to relinquish some control over the agenda and some control over the distribution of benefits. They have to make a deal that, in the short run, is sub-optimal. They do so, in the hopes that they will have created a long-term condition that is optimal. Paradoxically, some forms of power are strengthened by letting go. The trick, of course, is to do it well.

More on this broad body of thought later, from a different perspective.

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Red Ted
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December 10, 2003

Blog it Forward

Via Venomous Kate, I hear about Blog it Forward. The name is pretentious; the concept is pretty cool: take a few people from your blogroll and explain why you liked them enough to blogroll them.

I like giving shout-outs to people, so I will give it a try.

I am systematic sometimes, so I will work alphabetically through the categories in my blogroll.

Crooked Timber is a group blog with an academic bias. Their politics lean to the left, but in a critical way and not a sloganeering way. I read them because (and you will see this a lot in these entries) they make me think. They hit pop culture, politics, academics, and occasionally law. They say interesting things about them. They tend to argue with some of the other people on my blogroll and, and this is the big one, I can read a random week of their entries, learn things I never knew before, re-think some things I thought I knew, and be thoroughly entertained in the process. Thanks folks.

Jack Balkin is filed among Law, Politics, and Punditry because he is essentially writing punditry - unpaid Op-ed pieces. He is yet another academic, and yet another lawyer, so he could have gone above as well. Balkin writes only about once a week, and he may well spend a week working on each item. They are smooth, well thought out, and well crafted. I can count on Jack to take an unexpected look at political events. Furthermore, our politics are pretty similar, and that makes a nice change from the knee-jerk conservativism that dominates the punditsphere. There is a strong liberal case to be made for sustaining a presence in Iraq now that GWB and friends have gotten us there. (My take - overthrowing a murdering Stalinist thug is always a good deed, but doing it at this time and in this way detracted from the immediate focus on al Qaida.) Balkin makes that case, with the addendum that the "out now" folks on the left are (my words) as irresponsible and dangerous as the folks who think that we should roll over Syria next week and Iran by March.

Gut Rumbles I am never sure how to file blogs on the blogroll - do I go by blog title or by poster name. For single-person blogs, I tend to think of them by name and not by title. Rob, aka Acidman, writes Gut Rumbles. He is Acidman on the blogroll on the left. Whatever you call him, he is a good writer. Rob serves up southern fried commentary on fatherhood, why responsible gun owners don't let anyone they love get near hunting season, the joys of raising a new dawg, and tales from his family. He has a distinctive writing style, one that stands out enough that he is now sponsoring people who try to parody his prose. I can not parody him, I am too straight, but I do admire his pacing and timing. He is a darn good storyteller, and I like a well told story. Rob is one of the first blogs I check in the morning as I drink my coffee.

There we go. I will do three more tomorrow, or maybe the next day, until I get distracted and move on.

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Red Ted
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Last Day


Yesterday was the last day of classes.

We did evaluations, then finished off reconstruction, then reviewed the exam, then talked about readings. Finally, I gave a brief wrap about hope, the future, and republican liberty.

I have two brief thoughts I want to share from yesterday.

The first is that the exam study sheet I gave them might have been a little too big - it produced stunned silence from both sections. I tried to design it so that the people who have been keeping up with the work will have an easy time studying while the people who have been slacking will get creamed on the final. I told them the first day of class that the final would do this; they have been warned. We will see how they do.

I am not going to post the questions here because I suspect that the kids will do some google searches. I will tell you that they have 67 identifications to master, 30 from the first half, 37 from the second half, and that I gave them the questions for four short essays and four long essays. The exam will have two choices for each essay, they write about one. I design the study sheets this way, and try to write my exam questions, so that they will reinforce the information I want them to take away from the class as they study. If you know that the exam will include the Coming of the American Civil War, you will study it.

I suggested that they: review their notes, brainstorm all 8 essays, review the text, outline all 8 essays, and then quickly review the identifications. If they do it in that order, the identifications should be easy to remember. I fear that some of them will panic, will study the identifications first, and will spend all their time memorizing TOO MANY items and never prep the essays. I try to give too many identifications as a matter of policy - the idea is that no one can flash card them all from scratch, but the people with good overall knowledge will be able to easily review and polish.

The other thought from that class is a more general thought about evaluations. For their last homework I asked the kids what reading we should drop from the syllabus and what material the class did not spend enough time on. I am still reading their answers, but as I expected they want to drop the monograph we started with and they want more women's history. I had not expected to be told that we needed to spend more time on the American Civil War, but looking back I agree that we were a little scant about the war, its conduct, and its consequences.

It is fashionable among many professors, especially on the adjunct level, to say that evaluations are crap. They are not. Or, at least, they are not completely crap even though some evaluation questions are remarkably craptastic. Let me get a little pompous and explain.

At its best, a college class is a community for learning. The professors job is not to impart infallible knowledge - "fact" - in some Rankian sense. Our job is to nurture that learning tendency, guide their readings and writings, and provide the students with the tools and incentives to do that learning. The most important thing I can do up there at the front of the room is get the kids excited enough about the material that they want to do a lot of work. I do that by making the students partners in our learning community.

Making the student a partner means that you have to take them seriously. They know what it is like to take our course - we only know what it is like to teach it. If they buy into the notion of a community of learning, and most college students do at some level, then they can also tell you what worked and what did not work. I regularly ask my students "what works" - sometimes I do a midterm evaluation, sometimes I add a form to the evaluations, this semester I gave them graded homework about which readings to drop. Many students take that question seriously, and I got a good dozen very thoughtful and very useful answers.

I am still digesting their answers, but so far the general trend seems to be that I am good on enthusiasm (I knew that), that my extensive use of narrative and biography grabs their attention, that some of them want more and some want fewer facts, and that I assign a LOT of work. Apparently some "writing intensive" classes give less writing than my dinky little survey, but Urban Research University is still resolving the legacies of its dysfunctional past.

A poorly written evaluation is a popularity survey, and evaluations are correlated with workload and grading policy. There are a lot of poorly written and poorly conceived evaluations being used to make hiring and promotion decisions. Like anything else, Sturgeon's Law applies.(1) But, evaluations are also correlated with teaching ability and, most importantly, the teacher's ability to create the community of learning. I went back to one of those Rate-Your-Profs web pages, I forget which, and looked up the professors at my graduate school. The pattern that I saw there seems about right for a serious academic school - the people with the best ratings and the glowing recommendations also topped the scale for workload. The most common message was "you will work a lot in this class, and it will be well worth the effort." I have to admit, that is the sort of evaluation I strive for. I think this semester went well - I will be very curious to see the official evaluations when they come back from the data service next semester.

And so to work on chapter 4 - FINALLY

(1)Sturgeons Law - Theodore Sturgeon, "90% of everything is crap." He came up with this while reading unsolicited manuscripts at a science-fiction magazine, but the concept is widely transferable.

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December 08, 2003

Interview prep


I have a job interview later today. It is a phone interview with a comprehensive university (MA level) on the West coast.

They sent me a set of interview questions last week - every candidate gets the questions early, that way there are no surprises. I like it - it helped me figure out what to say. It also meant that I spent many hours this last week reviewing their web site, figuring out what slate of classes I should propose to teach, and spinning my slow writing progress into a promise of future scholarly brilliance.

How do you convince a group of strangers, over the phone, that you will: bring honor to their institution, produce students who are excited about taking more history classes, and be fun to go to lunch with?

Later today, I get to see if I can handle a phone interview. So far I have gotten half a dozen interviews while job searching. I have not yet made it past the cut of 12 to the on-campus visit.

I really want this job - it is in many ways a perfect fit for my desires. Wish me luck.

Academic hiring is just plain weird.

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Red Ted
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Being a Gentleman?

Via Matthew Yglesis, I see some folks discussing a speech by Harvey Mansfield.

Mansfield criticized the increase in recreational sex, suggested that recreational sex was somehow a "man's game" and that women would be better off with a more restricted dating environment. I gather that he was referring to the common college practice of hanging out in groups, "hooking up," and no longer dating in traditional pairs. I know that when I was an undergraduate in the 1980s I was an idiot who was not willing to give face time and relationship time to the women I was seeing - and I had no physical relationship with the women I regularly went out to dinner with, went dancing with, or otherwise was social in public with.

The line that jumped out of Yglesias's summary was this: "Students said they were offended when Mansfield said the only gentlemen left were either gay or conservative."

One of the things I learned after graduation was the incredible power of manners and mannerisms. Most women have had little experience with the Victorian formulas. Many of these formulas are very powerful. Consider this common example (it helps if you are a little sweet and a little goofy, which I am).

You have been talking with a cute thang at a party or at a bar, and you wish to continue the acquaintence. Or, for the college kids, your eye has been caught by one of the other people in your little social circle. How do you indicate that you are interested in spending more time together? You could drop hints, or give inarticulate grunts, or say something on the fly. I suggest this, played mostly straight:

Take their hand in one or both of yours, look in their eyes and say: "I have very much enjoyed talking with you. May I have your permission to call upon you in the future?"

Hokey, yes.

But, it shows interest, it shows sincerity (if you can fake that you have it made), it gets their contact information, and it gives them a chance to respond with anything from "future? come home with me right now" to "While I enjoy your company, you should know that I [have a boyfriend, bat the other direction, have taken vows of chastity, don't like bearded redheads]"

Furthermore, it lets you show decisiveness without being overbearing. Women, as a group, tend to like strong willed nice guys. Wimps and jerks don't last long. A few women prefer strong willed to nice, others prefer nice to strong willed, but if you can develop both characteristics you can do well.

Folks who are worried about their social life could do worse than dig into some of the Victorian dating manuals. Many of those rituals were put together when a society moved from intimate communities to gatherings of strangers, and as such they can be adopted to the twenty-first century. And, these rituals were put together in a society that valued manly independence and yet was also adopting to sentimental desires.

When in doubt, go old fashioned.

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Red Ted
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Interview done



I just got off the phone after an interesting hour with the folks on the West Coast.

I think I did well, but it is hard to tell.

They want sample syllabi by Jan 1. They will meet in Mid January and issue call backs in late January.

The more I talk with them, the more I want the job. But, the odds are against me so I can't let my hopes get too high. The most important thing I can do is get the dissertation DONE. The first step towards that is getting through Tuesday's class so I can get my free time back.

And so to walk the hound, then to finish final read-through and finish writing the exam.

(I was too nervous to get much done earlier this afternoon)

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Red Ted
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December 07, 2003

Ooof Dah



I finished the first pass at grading today. It took longer than it should have - I was very unproductive last week because of insomnia, but at last all of the papers have been read, marked up, and given provisional grades.

Now I get to re-read them in order of provisional grade, in order to make sure that I was not giving C's when grumpy and A's right after dinner. But I can do that tomorrow; it is much quicker and less draining than the initial read and comment.

Now J reminds me that we still have dinner pots and pans ALL OVER the kitchen.

We have a nice division of labor. I do the dishes, and she reminds me that they need to be done. (1)

And so to chores.

(1) That was phrased for humor. We actually split the household work about 60/40. I get the dishes, trash, vacuuming, heavy lifting, cat box, dog walking, car maintenance, groceries, and yardwork. J gets laundry, bills, correspondence, floors, household shopping, and most of the baby driving. We share cooking, the dishwasher, and baby care.

Feh, looking at that list I am tempted to steal her shoes and lock her in the kitchen. I must have missed some of her chores.

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December 06, 2003

The Spice of Life


J. cooked dinner tonight. It was good. She used one of my recipes, but she implemented the details herself. As usual when we share a recipe, we each make very different dishes from the same basic ingredients and method.

J and I both cook. Neither of us is professional quality, but both of us are good home-style cooks. During dinner I was reminded, as I often am, about the good things that come when you share a house with another cook. We still rotate meals and menus, but with two of us cooking we get two different meat loafs, two (or five - there are variants on variants) different spaghetti sauces, and so on. That is a good thing.

It is remarkable what a difference the cook makes.

That is all, it was a simple little thought.

Low fat Chicken Fajitas
Two boneless chicken breasts, cut into slices or strips
two green peppers, cut into strips
two medium onions, cut into strips (julienne)
chipotles in adobo
garlic - about a tablespoon, chopped
ground cumin
oregano
salt
pepper
olive oil
You need a cooking pan that can get hot, we use either an iron wok or a big cast iron fry pan.

Take 2 or 3 chipotle peppers and a proportionate amount of adobo sauce
put in a bowl big enough to marinade the chicken
chop up the peppers, remove seeds if you desire to make them less hot
add oregano, salt, pepper
add garlic
add a long tablespoon of olive oil (a dollop)
mash into a marinating paste

Cut the chicken into slices or strips, place in the marinade bowl, toss to cover
let sit

cut pepper into strips lengthwise
cut onion into strips

saute onion in olive oil with a pinch of salt, oregano, cumin seeds, black pepper
when translucent,
add green pepper
cook until the green pepper just changes color - should still be crunchy
Remove onion and pepper to a serving bowl.

Wipe out the pan
Saute the chicken, might take two batches

while sauteing the chicken, heat the burritos (we drop them in a dry cast iron fry pan)

To serve, put a tray of burrittos, a bowl of chicken, and a bowl of peppers & onions on table.
Serve with salsa.
If you mix milk and meat, put some sour cream on the table.

Easy, and about fortyfive minutes from "I'm hungry" to saying grace.

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Red Ted
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December 05, 2003

OK, I missed something here


Via LeeAnn I see that Dana at Note-It-Posts has started a new blogger alliance called Bloggers with Boobies. There is also a sub-group for men called Bloggers who Support Bloggers with Boobies.

Dana wanted "a badge of pride for all strong, self-assured female bloggers ..." and, in the spirit of someone who is pefectly willing to tell folks she disagrees with to "suck my left tit" she decided to use boobies as her rallying signal.

This is fine by me - I like strong, self-assured women, I like boobies, I think a little crudity adds spice to conversation even though too much potty language destroys conversation.

What threw me was how Dana finished her manifesto: "a badge of pride for all strong, self-assured female bloggers (like me) who refuse to be ashamed about their femininity. We're the anti-feminists."

I guess I have been hanging out with the wrong sort of feminists, because I am more familiar with the body-aware feminists who urge women to "own your cunt", who celebrate bodily differences while denying, absolutely and unequivocally, that these bodily differences should be related to power hierarchies.

To steal definitions from Nancy Cott, an ahistorical definition of feminism in the long twentieth century - describing the ideal type rather than one particular manifestation of similar ideas and organizations - boils down to:
1, A distinction between sex (plumbing) and gender (how we act, think, and react to others).
2, An awareness that sexual differences are real, exist and will continue to exist
3, A rejection of social hierarchy based on gender
4, An awareness that gender roles are socially constructed, not Divinely or genetically defined
5, A sense of social solidarity or group awareness among women.

Now, to some extent I am arguing against a straw man woman in this little rant. Dana does not appear to be arguing against feminism as I defined it above. Rather, like many young people in the twentyfirst century, it appears that she has allowed one particular group of feminists to own the label, and because she disagrees with the violent prissiness of the Andrea Dworkin crowd, she must be an anti-feminist.

When talking about gender roles in class I often use the following exercise. I first ask how many people in the room describe themselves as feminists. Almost none raise their hands. I then lay out Cott's definition, especially the rejection of power hierarchies based on gender, and ask how many agree with that. Almost all do agree. Then I point out that I have just defined feminism, and ask them why they embrace the goals while denying the label. It always leads to an interesting discussion. I am trying to replicate that discussion in this blog and trackback.

Now, it might be that I am being like King Canute here, only without his irony, working against a tide in changing group identity labels and against a tide in changing notions of gender norms. In other words, it might be that the mainstream feminists have succeeded so completely that all we ever hear about are the wild-eyed crazies or the anti-feminists who want to take schools back for boys, turn the constantly redefining sets of gender norms in another direction, and regain some level of male entitlement. Or, it might be that I am missing something crucial in Dana's world view.

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Planning the Train



There is a common form of exam question called The Train: four individuals are placed in a contrived situation and then handed a somewhat improbable topic of conversation that involves some of the core questions of the class. The students re-create that conversation. It is a question form that creative students love, square students hate.

One final exam question I am working on for the study guide is a variation on the train:

"A mad scientist socialite has decided to host a dinner party using her new time machine. She has invited John Winthrop, Benjamin Franklin, Catherine Beecher, and Abraham Lincoln and you to dinner. During dessert the conversation turns to XXXX. Recount their conversation - you may use made up quotations or you may simply summarize their main points. This portion of the exam should take you about 50 minutes to write.

I presented this question to the students on Thursday so I could get some feedback from them. They made some useful changes - flipping out Angelina Gimke in favor of Catherine Beecher - and they also helped me figure out what XXXX should be. What question will best get students to review our reading on these four, review the class notes where we discussed them, integrate that knowledge with the other things we learned this semester, and then easily write a coherent essay?

I am bad at writing a good exam question.

My initial thought for XXXX had been: What is the nature of a just society?

The morning section hated that, and proposed: How Should society work? The morning section was also a little intimidated by the question - I got the silence that told me they were hoping it would go away.

The afternoon section also disliked the question: it felt contrived, people worried that it was a measure of reading skills not overall knowledge; they thought it was poorly connected to the rest of the class; and they feared that having a big question like this would suck up study time from other questions. I did not tell them that ALL my comprehensive questions are comparably nasty - they will figure that out on Tuesday when they get the study guide. I did tell them that if I used the Train, I would make sure that other questions also used these people and their ideas; studying for this essay would help them study for other essays.

The afternoon section talked about whether they should have specific sub-topics - what did each person think about economics, gender roles, political power, etc - but came down on the side of a broad fuzzy question. The best thing I have from them is: What should an ideal America look like?

I don't like either question as currently written. "Look like" is very unclear, especially because of the phrase's use to refer to ethnic and gender composition in recent years. "Society" is also a terribly broad word. I will look at the exam questions that they submitted for the study sheet, write up some other questions, and then work on the Train only if I decide to use it.

I was hoping for a question that would encourage the students to talk about: John Winthrop on love as the glue that makes a hierarchical society work, and about Providential promises and rewards; Benjamin Franklin on patron-client relations as the glue that makes a hierarchical society work, and about the Republic of Letters and the aristocracy of talent; Catherine Beecher on male dominance in the political and physical world, female dominance in the moral and emotional world, and the need for women to eschew confrontation in order to dominate the world through domestic love; Abraham Lincoln on the dangers of letting a minority control a majority, and on the importance of government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Perhaps a question about social hierarchies - "What sort of social hierarchies produce the best society? and how should a society resolve its internal conflicts?"

By George, this blog has produced another useful think piece. It is remarkable how many of our problems we can solve for ourselves by simply explaining them in a letter to someone. In this case, I will hit publish and "send" the letter. Hope this was interesting for you to read.

And so to grade.

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Red Ted
at 11:23 AM | TrackBack
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Go Fish Go!


Kevin at Wizbang is holding the 2003 Weblog awards.

Someone, perhaps Kevin, nominated me in the Flippery Fish category, where I am competing against Sweetness Follows, some weather blogs, and some political linkblogs.

Now that I have found it, I have one vote. Yay me!

Honestly, I got my warm fuzzy just by being nominated.

If I had not voted for myself, I think I would have voted for Sweetness Follows NWS. I find that I much prefer blogs with original content over blogs that simply repeat links and news articles. That is not to say that I don't read political blogs and linkblogs, for I do, but I come back to the blogs that add value to the link.

In any case, Kevin has some slightly goofy categories - I agree with the folks at misbehaving who are disconcerted at having a category for best female blogger - but any aggregation like this is a chance to find and read some new blogs, some of which will be good. I added Kevin Walzer and Sweetness Follows to my private blogroll.

So go vote for someone.

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Red Ted
at 10:54 AM | TrackBack
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Cat made my ears burn



Cat, from the Other Side of Darkness, made my ears burn the other day.

She talked about inherently interesting and inherently boring web logs, and at the time she wrote that rant I was one of the few logs on her link list. It was one heck of a vote of confidence, and it gave me my warm fuzzy for the day.

She has no comments, email, or trackback, so I shall use this space to say:

Thank you Cat.

The difference between a blog and a private journal is simple - one is shared, the other private. The open-ness of a blog means that while we pick and choose what we want to share with our readers, the things that we do write in our blogs we try to write well. Having an audience creates a level of expectations.

Expectations are even higher when the audience includes people whose writing I respect.

But, I write this blog as a forum for my think pieces, as a way to get ideas out of my head so that I can do my real work, and as a tool to improve my writing. If I am to improve my writing, then I darn well better have high expectations.

In any case, Cat made my ears burn, and I thank her.

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Red Ted
at 08:36 AM | TrackBack
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December 04, 2003

Writing Templates


I am not a good writer: I have trouble formulating my ideas, I ramble, I get discursive, I describe when I should be arguing. I also write for a living. It is a tricky combination.

I find that I have to struggle with my structure, and one of my more powerful writing tools is to build a set of bullet points laying out my argument. I then break a chapter into running headers with one header per bullet point. Each running header, has its own little introduction, body, and conclusion. If I do it correctly, the 60 page chapter is compelling, tightly argued, and coherent. If I do it poorly, and I often do, then all the running headers want to be second and the chapter bloats and becomes unreadable. So, I tear it down and begin again. It takes me a lot of time to write anything worthwhile.

Via Kevin Drum I see that folks are making fun of the Texas "educational miracle" for lowering its testing standards and then declaring victory. One of the things that folks are snarking is the five paragraph essay, a tightly structured piece with an introduction, three supporting points, and a conclusion. In its strict form, the topic sentences for the body paragraphs form the entire introduction and conclusion, and each body paragraph also has exactly three supporting statements.

This is the first time I have ever seen that particular writing template defined. Oddly, however, I have had students ask me if I was expecting them to use a five paragraph essay. This is because I push the students to: lay out an introduction where they say what they are going to say; write a series of body paragraphs where they make a point, introduce evidence, and explain that evidence; and then build to a conclusion where they take their initial premise and show how they have expanded or improved it. Of course, I also tell them to brainstorm, then write the body, then conclude, and finally write their introduction.

The problem with the five point paragraphs, I think, is that there is mechanical structure and then there is a structured argument. The five point paragraph, or any other mechanical rules for construction, work because they simplify decision making and provide a model. Five structured points is a wonderful improvement over the stream-of-consciousness that many kids write with. To see what I mean, go to new.blogger.com and click on some of the recently updated blogs. At least one will be nongrammatical stream of consciousness; it will be unreadable. And, if the mere fact that there is a structure makes something bad, then all sonnets must be contrived and therefore worthless. In other words, structure often improves our creativity by restraining some excesses and forcing us to think about what we are doing. There are oddities to the five paragraph essay - I was taught to use two pieces of evidence for every point, footnote anything after that, and ALWAYS explain your evidence - but as a writing tool it is no worse than being told to learn to write sonnets.

But, a well crafted essay will also show structure from paragraph to paragraph just as a sonnet will advance an idea through the three rhymed subsections. Some people can take the lead sentences of their paragraphs, copy them down, and have an outline of their entire argument. Others take an outline and turn each bullet into the topic sentence of a paragraph. In both of those cases, the crucial structure is not that there are bits of evidence all proving the main point but that the ideas in the paragraphs build upon one another to lead to a conclusion. On many of the current crop of papers I complained that their paragraphs, while good, could be shuffled without changing their paper in any appreciable way. That is a sign of a poorly structured argument.

So, if the Texas schools, and other schools, are telling their kids that the strict five paragraph essay is the only way to write, then they are doing a terrible disservice to their students - especially if they are grading on form rather than content. However, having a few standard paragraph structures is a perfectly reasonable writing technique, and writing to fit a template is one valid way of breaking students from writing rambling messes.

The challenge for the schools, and for the poor folks in business or education who inherit the students from these Texas schools, is to remind the kids that structure is only one part of effective writing. Once they have the knack of tying a paper together, they need to work on argument, on grammar, on originality, and on ways to throw a curveball. Just because you have learned to write sonnets does not mean that you should only write sonnets from then on. I do think that the problem with a five paragraph essay is not the tool, it is that lazy teachers, distracted administrators, and poorly conceived exams have led the Texas schools to confuse means and goals.

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Red Ted
at 12:21 PM | TrackBack
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Sleep be Gone


It appears to be another insomnia week. Last night I became unproductive around midnight, was not sleepy, and poked about until 2:30 or so. This was the third night this week I was up after 2:00. And, like every other night this week, it took me a while to get to sleep after I went to bed.

The alarm went off at 6:00. I was first out of bed and turned it off, not to snooze. J hates it when I do that, but having been woken to her snooze alarm while she is in the shower for so many times, well, the little people(1) just turn the alarm off. But, it was a null problem - the baby woke to J's alarm and then everyone was up.

I hope I get through class today.

On the bright side, I did some useful work on the essay portion of my job interview for next week - they send the questions in advance and I get to prepare my answers. The more I look at this west coast job, the better it looks. I made it from the 100 or so to the dozen or so - now I have to make the cut of three and come visit them.

But first, I will have to teach Reconstruction.

And so to finish class prep - I just wanted to whine about my sleep.

(1) As in "The little people made me do it ... it was force of Hobbit."

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Red Ted
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December 03, 2003

Sports


Michael Wilbon of the Washington Post is, IMO, the best of the sports pundits currently active. He writes clearly, forcefully, and with a moral center. This is particularly apparent in todays article on Sylvester Croom. I started reading the Washington Post sports columnists because Tony Kornheiser was funny; I continue to read them because Michael Wilbon makes me think.

Two things jumped out of Wilbon's piece. The first was that it is a shameful thing for ANY organization or group to have to announce the first African-American senior executive. It was a shame when John Thompson was the first black coach in the basketball final four in 1982, it is a shame when Croom is the first black coach in the SEC in 2003.

The second thing that jumped out at me from Wilbon was the story of Bear Bryant of Alabama. For years Bryant ran all-white programs in all-white conferences. The SEC, despite being in football country, was in the south and was slow to integrate its sports teams just as it was slow to integrate its universities. Once he crossed the color line, however, he crossed that sucker. Sylverster Croom was in Bryants third integrated class of football players, Croom's brother Kelvin was on the team and, after a knee injury, a scout and assistant. The Crooms father, a minister, worked with the team. And it was not just one black family, Bryant opened up his program, reached out to black leaders as well as black athletes, and totally transformed his program. It is not surprising in the least that Bryant was so good for so many years - coaching is people skills and he used them.

Sylvester Crumb will be coaching at Mississippi State, not Alabama, but he will be back in the SEC. I am torn: I actually dislike big time college football and yet, as long as there is a cartel of rich schools and rich conferences, I want that cartel to hire on skill, not skin color.

And back to prepping class.

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Red Ted
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December 02, 2003

Civil War


We finished the sectional crisis and fought the Civil War today.

I was a little light on the American Civil War, but we will finish the war on Thursday. I am now only about 10 minutes behind schedule.

What I focused on today was the disparate Northern and Southern responses to the events of the sectional crisis. I showed, using Bleeding Kansas and Bleeding Sumner, that the Republicans went from a batch of people in the 1860s equivalent of tinfoil hats to the major opposition party because Pro-slavery Democrats in Kansas and Preston Brooks in Congress visibly demonstrated everything that the Republicans had been warning about. They abused the law to maintain minority control over majority desires, and when challenged they used force to get their way. It now appeared plausible that there was a conspiracy against liberty by slave-owners, and Republicans mobilized on the basis of anti-slavery (limiting the power of Southern slaveholders, especially Democrats) where no one had been able to get a Northern majority while pushing abolition (free the slaves, build a society based on human equality).

In the end, the deep South lost an election and seceded. In fact, during the summer of 1860 fire eaters had promised to secede if Lincoln won the election. The interesting question about the coming of the war, for me, is the timing. Not just "why did the civil war happen in 1860 and not earlier?" but also "why did the Deep South secede BEFORE Lincoln could be inaugurated?" This latter question comes with the followup of "Why did the Deep South secede to protect slavery even though the Republicans repeatedly insisted that slavery was purely a state matter that the national government should stay out of?"

The answer to the second question is that both sections decided that the other had dropped all notions of fairness, of the proper relationship between majorities and minorities in a democracy, and of good faith conduct. The Whig party had died early in the Deep South, the American or Know-Nothing party had never created much of a foothold outside of Louisiana, and so in 1860 the current crop of politicians only had experience with a one-party system. In a one-party system, by and large, there are no second chances. Once someone gets control of the state government then they have control until the next major political realignment - which could be decades.

I argue, based on the work done by Michael Holt and others, that the Deep South wanted out before Lincoln took power because they found the following sequence of events not just plausible but inevitable:


  • Republicans win Presidency and Congress
  • Republicans appoint their partisans to post offices and patronage positions across the South
  • Partisan appointees start newspapers and begin to organize a Southern Republican party.
  • Southern Republicans make a class-based appeal to poor whites and non-slaveholders.
  • Southern Republicans use the same slave-power argument that had worked in the North to marginalize the old Southern political elite.
  • Class politics in the South lead to a temporary victory by a Republican coalition of poor whites and patronage appointees

  • Republicans in state government emancipate slaves, tax slavery out of existence, or otherwise destroy the institution.

Now, any outside observer will tell you that this scenario is pretty far-fetched. For it to work, the Republican party would have to maintain national dominance long enough to build strong state parties in the South. It is far more likely that if Southerners had worked to discredit the claims of anti-slavery rather than proving those claims, that the Republicans would have collapsed and gone away just as the Know-Nothings and Whigs had. Political parties were fragile. Slaveowners in the upper South convincingly argued in their secession conventions that Republican rule would pass, that the party system would contain their anti-slavery efforts, and that seceding because you lost an election was like cutting off your arm because your gloves were dirty.

In the Deep South, no one believed in second chances, and out they went. The Deep South seceded to protect slavery, pure and simple.

From there I ran through the standard narrative of Fort Sumpter, Call for Volunteers, Upper South secedes because it will not put down secession. We talked briefly about why Civil War soldiers fought, then I reviewed the weapons and tactics of the war. On Thursday we will talk about race and the Civil War, the odd way that emancipation took place, and Reconstruction after the war.

I want to close with a contemporary political comment, one I did NOT make in class but have been making, tangentially and incoherently, on this blog. The crucial factor in the collapse of the Second Party system and the coming of the American Civil War was firstly, the loss of all distinctiveness between Whigs and Democrats, which led to the Whigs being replaced by the Know-Nothings, and secondly, the loss of all regular political conflict within the deep South, which led Southerners to secede after they lost an election because they could not imagine ever getting another chance at power if they stayed in the union.

If you have been keeping half an eye on politics the last few years, the parallels should be obvious and frightening. Ralph Nader and the Green Party made an argument in 2000 that looked very like the argument made by Know-Nothings in 1853: the two parties are essentially alike, we need to throw the bums out, and our single focus idea is more important than the false issues that the standing parties have been arguing over. There are differences, of course, the most obvious being that 1, anti-Catholic bigotry is no longer mainstream behavior while environmentalism is fairly mainstream and 2, that it worked for the Know Nothings and did not work for the Greens.

There are differences between 2000, and 1853 - most obviously that George W. Bush and his advisors know their politics and, rather than continuing a me-too process of homogenization between political parties (Uniter not a Divider) they instead pursued sharply partisan political policies. These may not have been wise, they were certainly divisive not uniting, and that was the point. After three years of GWB, no one will buy the argument that the two political parties are a batch of interchangeable partisan hacks.

The other parallel is more disturbing. To some extent - not irrevocably yet - the split between "Blue" and "Red" states is mirroring what went on in the Deep South and Upper North in the 1850s. They are becoming one-party states. And, the trend is for one-party domination to extend, in part because people are changing the customs of partisan conflict. Two-party politics work because the basic procedures are devised along the same basic principle of the cake-cutting thought experiment. If you and I want to cut a piece of cake into two even slices, and both of us are greedy, the only wise thing is to have one of us cut and the other choose the slices. In political terms, people set up rules of the game that they are willing to abide by regardless of whether they are ahead or behind at that point in time. So, roll call votes take place within time limits, electoral districts are rearranged only after the US Census, and so on.

At the moment the Republican National Committee are being the worst offenders. The challenge is to rebuild notions of political due process; the danger is that we will get into a tit-for-tat escalation until, someday soon, twentyfirst-century Americans will contemplate drastic action rather than accepting the results of an election they are sure to lose.

Posted by
Red Ted
at 08:21 AM | TrackBack
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December 01, 2003

Limited Blogging


As you may have noticed, I did not blog much over Thanksgiving weekend. We had people in the house, I was grading papers, and Saturday and Sunday I was trying to install Windows XP on J's computer - which turned into a nightmare.

I have been thinking about an Iraq post for a couple of weeks, turning ideas over in my head. The full thing will probably wait until after papers are returned. The direction of my thoughts at the moment is to figure out a credible Democratic alternative to the Bush policy in Iraq. Here is a sketch outline of where I think I want to go.

The Iraq war is a war of choice
We went into Iraq claiming to be part of the War on Terror.
The Iraq invasion hurt the short and medium term efforts against Al Queda in an attempt to pre-empt a long term threat.
Saddam Hussein was a fascist thug; it was a good deed to overthrow him ... but only if he is not replaced by his clone.
The Iraq invasion will work only if it
1, Creates a democratic state and
2, Furthers the culture war against, for lack of better words, Islamofascism, or Islamendom, or violent anti-modernism.

The Bush administration put the US on a path of intervention. They bought the problem, now the whole nation owns it.
It would be irresponsible to walk away from Iraq, the challenge for Democrats is to do better.
The question to ask fall into two parts, How did we get here? and Where do we go now?

How did we get here?
Bush argued that Saddam Hussein posed a clear and future danger to the U.S. and waged a pre-emptive war.
Those claims were backed by highly specific claims about American knowledge of details within Iraq.
While those overall claims have yet to be proven or disproven, their specificity has been disproven. (Everyone thought Saddam Hussein had stocks of chemical and biological weapons, plans to use them, and an active nuclear program. We found that his stocks are either destroyed or hidden, he had no plans to use chemical or biological weapons, and his development program was on hiatus until sanctions would have been eased.)
As Wesley Clark argues, the Pentagon got into Iraq by planning a war and not thinking about the aftermath. They made some assumptions, and while they have been pretty good about adjusting to changing conditions they were reacting rather than acting for the crucial first weeks after hostilities ended.
The United States is in the process of putting together a democratic government in Iraq - nation building.
For all of the above, it is in the national interest to review how we got here, figure out what decisions were made on the basis of faulty information, and improve our information-gathering and decision-making processes. That review will necessarilly be conducted in a partisan manner; the hope is that enough people will balance short-term political gains against long-term national interest.
Thus the challenge for Democrats is to position themselves as the people who just want to know how decisions were made so that they can improve the process. One way to achieve this would be the praise sandwhich, used by managers and teachers everywhere: Bush did a good job of rallying the nation after 9/11. He has not done well managing the war afterwards, for the same traits that gave us a simple and clear response then have interfered with national policy afterwards. We need to review the decision-making process to see if national leaders had the best information available to them and to see how we can improve that information in the future.

Where do we go from here?
We do not just "bring 'em home." That would be counter-productive, a betrayal of Iraqis even worse than our betrayal after the 1991 Gulph War. We would destroy American credibility and, with it, the credibility of democratic ideals.
We do build a stable democracy in Iraq.
We do work against Islamofascism.

Here I have to leave the outline. Democracy depends on the rule of law, and on a sort of institutionalized self restraint. Majorities refuse to exercise all power that they might otherwise use, knowing that they could one day become the minority. In a two-party situation, this means that the majority follows rules of procedure that both parties agree both let the folks currently in power act and leave folks currently out of power with a meaningful role. After all, they will switch some day. In a no-party or one-party situation, it gets tougher. People have to realize that the precedents they set now can and will come back to bite them when their party schisms.

Democrats can, based on the systematic pattern of behavior from the National Republican leadership, argue that the Republican party as an instititution has forgotten the basic principles of democratic rule. They are a current majority trying to make themselves into a permanent majority. In the process not only are they ignoring opposition spokesmen in Congress and changing the rules of the redistricting game mid-decade, but their assumptions about policy and dissent are crippling our actions in Iraq.

The recent brouhaha about elections in Iraq blew up because American officials on the ground ignored the complaints by senior Shiite clergymen. We had our plan, we were going to use our plan, we were not going to try to convince opposition figures to go along with it. We would just ignore him and hope he would go away - a pattern disturbingly like that shown by the content-segregated "protest zones" around Bush's public appearances. Of course, he did not go away.

So, Democrats can argue that they DO listen, that they know how to build a consensus, that they understand the workings of a democratic society, and that they would do a better job in Iraq. They can actually tie this argument into a claim that the national Republican party at home is engaged in a pattern of deception and misrule, subverting the spirit of democracy.

The other long-term goal from the Iraqi occupation is to strike a blow against Al Queda-style terrorism.
Muslim hardliners are engaged in an anti-modern confrontation that they hope to turn into a Jihad
Most of them practice an authoritarian version of Islam
I know little about the details of Wahabi-style fundamentalism as practiced in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere.
I do know that within Shiia Islam the common pattern is for Imams to read and interpret the Koran and believers to pick an Imam and then follow their rulings without questioning them.
In any case, the challenge is to discredit hardliners by offering an alternative and more attractive version of Islam
Iranian reformers, mostly Marxist Shiites, have been calling for an Islamic Reformation - more people reading scriptures directly, a lesser role for Imams - and the pluralism within Islam that comes with personal interpretation of scripture.
The long-term goal for U.S. policy should be to redirect Islamic energy from violent confrontation to constructive creation. That can be done through economic development, it can also be done through religious engagement.
The challenge is to draw on European models and adapt them to Middle Eastern and East Asian conditions.
Democrats, who are so committed to pluralism that many have trouble expressing their personal religious beliefs, are less likely to look like Christian imperialists as they work to bring pluralism within Islam.

I need to go now, but this is the direction my thoughts are leaning. If properly written up this would be 5,000 to 10,000 words. I do not have the time to write, revise, and footnote that many words.

That is the frustration of blogging - I think long, and I only have time to write short.

And so to grade papers.

Posted by
Red Ted
at 09:21 AM | TrackBack
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