February 2004
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February 2004 Archives

February 27, 2004

Wedding Vows

Just to make it clear that the post below is parody, here are the vows that J and I exchanged. Real names replaced with blog names.

Celebrant:
Ted, would you now raise J's veil.....
Take her hands in yours as you face each other, and repeat after me:

I, [Red Ted],
do take thee, [Lady J]
to be the wife of my days,
the companion of my home,
the friend of my life,
and the mother of my children.
I take thee to have and to hold;
for better or for worse;
for richer and for poorer;
in sickness and in health;
to love and to cherish,
till death do us part;
and thereto, with my whole heart
and with my earnest and compete devotion,
I do pledge thee my troth.

Celebrant:
J., take Ted's hands in yours and repeat after me

I, [Lady J.]
do take thee, [Red Ted]
to be the husband of my days,
the companion of my home,
the friend of my life,
and the father of my children.
I take thee to have and to hold;
for better or for worse;
for richer and for poorer;
in sickness and in health;
to love and to cherish,
till death do us part;
and thereto, with my whole heart
and with my earnest and compete devotion,
I do pledge thee my troth.

They are strong vows. We liked them then, we like them now.

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Red Ted
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February Calendar

Cat Blogging

Now that I have my own site, I can post pictures - which means that Isis can join Kevin Drum and the hosts of catbloggers just in time for Kevin's last catblogging post.

This is Isis the cat. She is about 15 years old and relatively healthy all things considered (don't ask me about cat poop and megacolon, just don't.)

Here she has found a spot just out of foot traffic, next to a heat vent and J's breakfront. She looks rather cozy here.


Isis the cat lying on the floor

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Red Ted
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February 26, 2004

A Solecism in Patriarchy

The very notion of same sex marriage just makes no sense. I mean, think about it.

Everyone knows that marriage is the way that we transfer property between generations; without a legitimate heir (and she had darn well better be faithful or we will disinherit the funny-looking kid) how do we decide who gets the property and with it the liberties and rights that are attached to that property?

More than that, in a marriage the woman loses her legal identity to her husband. She enters his household and he has governance over her and over the children just as a magistrate has governance over the whole of society. The family is a little commonwealth or a little kingdom, take your pick. Either way, women and children are dependents, taking their legal existence from the husband, sworn to obey his wishes, and subject to his desires and corrections.

So if we have a same-sex marriage, how do we figure out whose identity gets subsumed into the other? If two men marry, do they both get to chastise the other with a stick no thicker than their thumb? If two women marry, do their legal identities vanish completely? Who is the patriarch and who is the dependent? Who gains property rights in the other's body? Do they just draw straws to decide which one vows to obey and which one vows to honor? The whole idea is a solecism in patriarchy.

What, marriage no longer works that way?

Never mind.

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Red Ted
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February 25, 2004

Potential Tumult

The toddler is in day care, the newborn is asleep, J is resting, and I am writing up the final bits of class prep. As I sit in the quiet house I notice a big difference between the way things have been the last couple of days and the way things were over the weekend and overnight.

Even when the toddler is asleep, as long as he is in the house there is a tension in the air - like the tingle and heaviness that comes before a thunderstorm. It as if the toddler is a tumult unto himself, but sometimes it is an active tumult and sometimes it is a potential tumult. Perhaps I chose the wrong metaphor, perhaps a toddler in a crib is more like a rock at the top of a hill, poised and ready to roll down precipitating an avalanche.

Luckily, these are happy tumults as the toddler is generally a happy man. He runs, he plays very busily, he gives hugs, he waves his arms and makes happy noises (we need to get a video of it, it is quite funny.) It would be much worse if we had a destructive tumult or a cranky tumult looming over us every time he went up for a nap.

But the house does feel more empty when he is in day care than it does when he is asleep.

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Red Ted
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February 24, 2004

The very opposite of pandering

John Holbo is guest blogging at Crooked Timber this week. As part of his inaugural address he includes this wonderful description of what it is that a web log is capable of.

There are really two features of blogging – academic blogging, maybe – that seem to me truly superior, and worthy of celebration and acclaim and reinforcement. First, the willingness of some of us, at least some of the time, to do the very opposite of pandering to our audience: we suddenly start teaching a seminar on some arcane subject, concerning which there is no legitimate presumption that another soul in the universe is interested; and if they aren’t – that’s why there’s back buttons. But the fannish enthusiasm for whatever twiddle it may be is so often infectious. Reading, you are sure this person cares. So you are infected. So you find something new and interesting. As simple as that.
I do indeed treat my blog as an opportunity to teach a seminar on some arcane subject, and I do indeed have absolutely no idea if anyone finds any of it interesting. But I like it. And just as my best attribute as a classroom teacher is my sense of enthusiasm and excitement, so too do I like to think that I share some of the fun of history with all dozen of my readers.

John frames "fannish enthusiasm" as a trait of the academic blogs, but I see it in workplace blogs as well. Just as, to seize an example from middlebrow culture, Dick Francis novels all share the fun of the author looking into a new profession and explaining it for his readers in addition to whatever mystery, adventure, and formulaic plot he includes, so too do blogs share the fun of explaining aspects of life that we find just odd of ordinary. There is something compelling in reading about the things that make another person excited, whether they be ideas, job experiences, or the travails of relationships and romances. The challenge for the writer is to make everyday life exciting, a challenge I sometimes feel that I fail at for my prose tends to bog down.

I commented to my students the other day that most people, when faced with a moment of sudden responsibility, rise to the demands placed upon them. It is an attractive human trait, and a powerful one, even if it can be difficult for us to sustain the best aspects of our natures. John touches on that aspect of the human condition with his phrase, "the very opposite of pandering." I like it, I may use it more in the future.

Posted by
Red Ted
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February Calendar

Baby Cthullu

J wants to name our daughter Cthullu.

Actually, she started getting cold feet right after she suggested the name, but the name is still going down on the long list in case we decide to go for number three.

Why Cthullu? Well, I guess I teased her into it. We were talking about the abstract possibility of going for three (with number two 10 days old, that is all it was - an abstract possibility) and I pointed out that we have used family names and we have used Biblical names but we do not yet have a child with a literary name. Galadriel would be a good name for a daughter.

She would rather have a Cthullu.

After I started thinking about it, I liked it. We could take the horrible pink sweater someone gave us (modelled by the bear in the extended entry) and embroider Cthullu on one lapel in a slightly darker shade of pink. She would always stand out in a crowd. She would have an instant cultural literacy test to use on her teachers and her friends. What's not to like about having a beautiful baby Cthullu in the house?

Then J got cold feet.

She is afraid that none of our friends would want to spend time around a baby named Cthullu. Some of them would squick at the thought of calling Cthullu to dinner on a regular basis, others don't like to speak the names of demons in any context. After further review, she will save the first name Cthullu for a pet, probably a drooling bulldog.

But that is OK, because I want to have a bulldog someday.

Here is the toddler's bear modelling the pink sweater for Cthullu.


A yellow bear in a pink sweater

Posted by
Red Ted
at 10:24 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack
February Calendar

3 Individuals

We are writing the final exam today. The kids submitted questions, and I am taking their questions and my notions and putting together a list of six essay questions for them to prepare outlines for. Two of the questions will be on the exam, and they will write about one of them. It is my standard format for a blue-book exam.

As expected, one student came up with a question that I was able revise into the sort of question that you can easily spend hours discussing in a bar or on the internet:

We talked about "great man" history. If you were asked to name the three most important and influential individuals - rulers, scientists, philosophers, or other - in Europe between 1600 and 1815, who would you name? Why these three and not others?

My answer is below the fold.

Off the top of my head, I say:
Isaac Newton
Louis XIV
Mirabeau

The last was the only tough decision. I think that the French Revolution was very important, but which one individual would you hang the entire revolution on? I could have picked J.J. Rousseau, or the Duke of Orleans, or Lafayette, or Robespierre. I picked Mirabeau because he was the iron rod that stiffened the Third Estate and pushed them to become the National Assembly rather than being sent home.

If I had changed the start date to 1500, the list would have been Martin Luther, Louis XIV, and John Locke. And no, I am not sure why adding Luther transformes Newton into Locke.

And so to work on the exam.

Posted by
Red Ted
at 08:11 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
February Calendar

Pander and Slime

Via Scribblingwoman I find a fine example of the local media at their finest.

According to Wood TV 8, of Grand Rapids Michigan

It is natural to assume that magazines purchased through a school fundraising drive would be suitable for children, especially since children are the ones doing the buying and selling. So you can imagine a Grandville mom's surprise when her daughter was able to order a magazine full of sexual content.
The magazine? None other than that notorious purveyor of porn, Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. I read that in high school; I am tempted to see if the local public library carries it.

QSP, a rebundler that packages magazines for school fund raisers, had included Asimov's in their list of titles, in the "Science/Technology/Environmental" category not the "Children" category, and one teenager decided that she wanted it. Lo and behold, Mom picked up the magazine

Inside the magazine she found various short stories, science fiction, yes, but with strong adult content.

Becker read some of the explicit tales about sex, drugs and molestation inside the magazine for us that included, "Young girls with no panties, young girls in white socks, young girls looking at his wank-mags with him, young girls doing it with one another while he watched."

From context, it appears that one of the stories was about a character who was involved in a somewhat sordid lifestyle. Fair enough, the magazine is aimed at readers in their twenties and thirties - but these actions were mentioned and not described, a crucial difference except when you are trying to make a ratings point.

Luckily, the local TV news crew were on the story.

As we mentioned, since 24 Hour News 8 started this investigation, QSP has permanently severed its relationship with this science fiction magazine.

The magazine responded. And, of course, there was no mention of this response anywhere on Woodtv's web site (I checked). I wonder why not? Perhaps because, according to Asimov's press release

When reporter Kristi Andersen called our business offices, our Associate Publisher, Chris Begley, provided her with verifiable documentation that directly contradicts the information provided in her broadcast and print reports.
Of course, the facts might have gotten in the way of a nice juicy story, especially because she was then able to claim that due to her valiant coverage QSP had dropped Asimov's from its list - Asimov's documents show that they had fired QSP 2 weeks earlier in a dispute over the financial terms of their agreement. But what is a simple matter of timing to a sensational story?

As Brad DeLong repeats again and again, Why can't we have a better press corps? Asimov's' answer: In our opinion, Ms. Andersen and the News 8 channel are not practicing journalism, but sensationalism. They know, better than most, that "sex sells."

I know that journalism is hard, especially on a deadline. But still, willful misrepresentation for prurient reasons? Shame on wood tv 8.

Oh, and for those who care about the "liberal bias" in the media, TV 8 is an NBC affiliate.

WOOD TV8 Technical Specifications
Network Service: NBC
Licensee: LCH Communications Inc., 4 Richmond Square, Providence, RI 02906
Studio: 120 College Ave. SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503
Telephone: 616-456-8888
FAX: 616-456-9169

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Red Ted
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February Calendar

February 23, 2004

Blake

The following is the opening sequence for today's lecture on the Industrial Revolution - straight from my teaching notes. I often write out my introductions and use sketch notes for the rest, even if I then paraphrase the written text in class. I wanted to blog this because of the final quote from Blake, where the soft affections "condense into cruelty" beneath the hammer of the mills. It is a wonderful phrase, made more so because I recently finished Jacquelline Carey's pretty good trilogy about cruelty, affection, and love, a trilogy organized around the notion that something can be yeilding but not weak, and that "love as thou wilt" if taken seriously is an amazingly versatile and subversive thought, differently but equally as radical as "workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains."

I Dark Satanic Mills

Did anyone see the really good little movie "The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys?" In it a group of alienated Catholic schoolboys in 1970s South Carolina start, among other things, reading William Blake. Their teacher, a nun played by Jodie Foster, warns them that Blake is dangerous and they should not be reading him.

Blake was dangerous - a deeply spiritual man, a mystic, firmly religions and completely disaffected from both the Church of England and the new Dissenting churches that grew up around the Industrial Revolution. He saw the new cities and the new society as a this-worldly battleground between God and Satan, and he was not quite sure how things would turn out.

William Blake, (1757-1827) writing at the turn of the 19th century, wrote about life in the cities, life in industrial England, and about the mythic past available to Albion as it stretched its modern sinews. We mostly know him for "Tyger Tyger, burning Bright / in the Forests, In the night / What immortal Hand or Eye / could frame thy fearful symmetry." In England, they know him for the English national hymn: Jerusalem "And did these feet in ancient times" which contains the question I want to ask "And was Jerusalem builded here / among these dark satanic mills."

Those mills, who he elsewhere has speak saying
"Loud roar my Furnaces and loud my hammer is heard
I labour day and night, I behold the soft affections
condense beneath my hammer into forms of cruelty"

are for Blake a symbol of Satan's presence in the physical world. Lets look at those mills, at how they came to be located in England and then across Europe, and at the changes they created.

Posted by
Red Ted
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February Calendar

What to say?

I am finishing up the lesson plan for the first of two classes on the First Industrial Revolution. The second class, Working Men/Working Women, will examine life in the mills, the way that industrialization changed the gendered division of labor in Europe, and the creation of working class identity and working class culture. Today's class will be the broad overview of the years between 1750 and 1850 and the combination of technologies and markets.

But, I don't quite know how to frame and present the class. I find myself wanting to make a literary move, framing it in terms of William Blake's "dark satanic mills" or Tolkein's nostalgia for an imagined rural past in the Scouring of the Shire. I suspect that this means that I should give a straightforward lecture on machines and markets, railroads and Adam Smith.

I love history, but the thing I struggle with is how best to frame a story to make it new, interesting, and useful.

EDIT - much better, as usual blogging about a difficulty helped me see the answer. Tolkein is out, as is the debate about the good and bad of industrialization. Instead Adam Smith and the classical economists are showing up to close the lecture. Good lads. Soundtrack for the class in the extended entry.

As I was thinking about class over breakfast I had the lyrics to Byker Hill get stuck in my head. I dug out the Young Tradition and played it. Theirs is a much more, well, traditional recording than the other one I have, by Boiled in Lead.

Byker Hill

If I had another penny
I would buy another gill
I would make the piper play
The Bonny lads of Byker Hill.

Chorus
Byker Hill and Walker Shore
Collier lads for evermore.

2. The pitman and the girls are trim
They drink bumble made from gin
Then to dance they do begin
To the tune of Elsie Marley.
Chorus

3. When first I went unto the dirt
I had no coat or no pit shirt
Now I’ve gotten two or three
Walker Pit’s done well by me.
Chorus

4. Geordie Johnson he had a pig
He hit with a shovel and it danced a jig
All the way to Walker Shore
To the tune of Elsie Marley.
Chorus

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Red Ted
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February 22, 2004

James Webb, Iraq, Vietnam, and Novels

Brad DeLong quotes approvingly from James Webb ripping the Bush Administration for pursuing a war of choice in Iraq.

Bush arguably has committed the greatest strategic blunder in modern memory. To put it bluntly, he attacked the wrong target. While he boasts of removing Saddam Hussein from power, he did far more than that. He decapitated the government of a country that was not directly threatening the United States and, in so doing, bogged down a huge percentage of our military in a region that never has known peace. Our military is being forced to trade away its maneuverability in the wider war against terrorism while being placed on the defensive in a single country that never will fully accept its presence. There is no historical precedent for taking such action when our country was not being directly threatened. The reckless course that Bush and his advisers have set will affect the economic and military energy of our nation for decades. It is only the tactical competence of our military that, to this point, has protected him from the harsh judgment that he deserves.
Strong Stuff. DeLong presents Webb as an "unmuzzled republican." He is right, I think, to point out the grumbling from the Cold War military establishment about the way that the Bushies have conducted the war on terror, and Webb is right to remind us that not only was Iraq a war of choice, it was a war expressly explained as the answer to a clear and future threat - GWB never explicitly stated that Saddam Hussein was an immediate hazard, just that if he were not overthrown then eventually he would aid some large-scare terrorist attack on the USA. The only thing in the Bushies' original call to arms that was time critical was that the soldiers had already begun to deploy and they could not be pulled back or rescheduled without losing their training edge - a line that sounded distressingly like the way the generals in August 1914 told their politicians that they had no plans to reverse or even halt mobilization once it had begun. The time-critical aspect of Iraq appears to have been the neocons' belief that an invasion in the Middle East followed by a democratic republic in the Middle East would have a therapeutic effect on other states in the region.

But that is not why I wanted to blog on this, much as I like DeLong's thought and much as I agree with Webb's comments. DeLong frames Webb as a Reaganaut and a former Secretary of the Navy, which he was. He does not point out that Webb has had an unusual career after leaving the Pentagon. The man went from running the Navy to writing novels, novels with specific messages about the state of the union and the dangers of American foreign policy. My copies are all in boxes. I liked several of them and wanted to talk about them, so the following is from memory.

I first encountered Webb through his 1985 attempt at the Great American Novel,
A Country Such as This, a book completed shortly after he left his day job. Webb looks at three classmates at the US Naval Academy, an institution he had written about in his 1981 novel, and traces them through graduation just after World War Two, through Korea, and into the Vietnam era: one is smart, and becomes a very unhappy rocket scientist; one is the All American Boy, a second generation Polish-American from coal country Pennsylvania; one is an Appalachian mountain boy who becomes a Marine, an FBI agent, a minister, and a US Representative in that order. The All-American Boy (Webb calls him that) dies in an accident while exploring a Pacific Battlefield with a Japanese friend - both are obsessed with the war and obsessed with making connections across the Pacific: something that makes sense when we remember that the story of the early 1980s was that the Japanese industrial juggernaut was going to eat America's lunch.

In other words, the book is very much a creature of its times, of the early 1980s, and of a set of worries that the US was trapped in the past, losing track of its future, weak on morality and, most importantly, weak on community. The All American Boy comes from a tight-knit community, the rural minister creates one. It is a good book, I might have to go re-read it.

Afterwards, Webb wrote a series of cautionary tales about the dangers of getting involved in the third world without a clear set of missions. Like his A Sense of Honor (1981) and A Country Such as This, they were meditations on the meaning of masculinity in the post modern age, but unlike them they also carried a direct foreign policy message - don't mess with dirty little wars, and certainly don't mess unless you know exactly what you are getting into and why you are going there.

All of Webb's books are, to some extent, an attempt to make sense of the Vietnam War - why was the United States involved, what were the various costs of our involvement, what if anything did we gain from our presence there, what are the lasting legacies of the conflict, and what are the real mistakes of the war that we must be careful not to repeat. In his earlier novels Webb was skeptical of the war and skeptical of the common 1980s myth that the US could have and should have tried harder to win in Vietnam, and this is one of the things that distinguished him from a Reagan White House that was looking for a winnable war. Note that I am working from my memory of almost 20 year old newspaper accounts and from his fiction. I would have to do research to figure out the role that Webb played in the Carter-Reagen military buildup. I want to say that he worked hard to rebuild the armed forces after Vietnam and that he worked hard to keep the military and the national presence around the world from being frittered away uselessly, but don't quote me on that.

Webb has a long track record of preferring that the US exercise what Joshua Micah Marshal has recently described as "soft power" - influence, economy, culture and desire - rather than "hard power" - soldiers and violence. I remember from the 1980s that Webb was something of an odd duck in the Reagan White House. I am not surprised that he has decided to become something of an odd duck by attacking GWB - his criticism is in character for the man and his record, even if DeLong affects surprise that a Republican would turn the knives on a sitting president for doing something stupid.

Read his novels. They are good action-adventure with a foreign policy component and some very good thoughts about the differences between manhood and adulthood.

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Red Ted
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February Calendar

Dawgs and Toddlers

The hound is half trained.

By this I mean that when I have been working with her regularly, she is generally safe to walk on heel and off lead through a crowded situation with pedestrians, traffic squirrels, and the like.

A fully trained dog can be chasing a squirrel when you command "SIT", and the dog then makes skid marks with its butt as it sits down in full stride. A half-trained dog is still pretty impressive to people who do not train their dog.

Why am I pointing this out? Because we have a half-trained dog who is also a fairly submissive dog, we don't need to do dominance exercises with her on a regular basis. She has always been good with people, now that the elder child is a toddler she is getting to be good with toddlers.

Eldest child added a new household chore today - he is almost 18 months old and likes to help. I have the dog sit (always be polite) then hand toddler the food bowl and have him put it down for the hound to eat from. Giving food is a dominance statement, and so we are reinforcing the proper relationship between toddler and hound.

I did not say that we do not play a lot of dominance games - we play a LOT of dominance games with the hound so that we do not HAVE to play dominance games with her.

And the little man does like to help out.

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Red Ted
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February 21, 2004

Computer Woes

I am still tired - little people do this to me. FiL also makes me tired.

I am in the process of troubleshooting my computer - it has developed the bad habit of shutting down on me without warning. The only pattern I have found is that some things will make it shut down quickly - running DOS mode graphics, running Direct X, copying one CD in Windows Media Player while playing a playlist from disk, trying to set up VPN, and working in the BIOS display screen at boot up.

Such fun.

Oh, and Brother in Law was kind enough to offer the use of his old 21 inch ViewSonic monitor as an upgrade to my 17 inch MAG. After a whopping 10 minutes with the new monitor, I am really impressed with my old MAG. This new thing is grainy and has colors that make my eyes hurt, although it might just be that I have adjusted to the old monitor after using it for 7 or 9 years.

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Red Ted
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February 17, 2004

Molasses Spill Again

I feel like that town in Massachusetts where they had the great molasses spill, for my brain is again being slow and sticky.

Let me just say that little people are very much fun, and now that his face is recovering from the bruising during delivery and the post-delivery slime-sucking mosh pit(1) the littlest man looks rather cute and somewhat like his big brother.

Let me add that it is nice to have J's dad around to help run errands and chase toddlers and help J while I am out teaching, but the man has gotten high maintenance in his old age and he absolutely exhausts me.

Finally, while I got good sleep last night I am still a mite fragile - Monday's class turned into a free association recital on the French Revolution, with me asking one section to compare Robespierre to the War on Terror (2) I wanted to cover the entire French Rev within France, got as far as 1793 and Robespierre.

Tomorrow we get to talk about Napoleon Bonaparte and the wars of the French Revolution, which should be different fun.

Footnotes below the fold.

(1) Littlest man came after a remarkably quick labor - 2 hours after the epidural J was ready to go, 3 or 4 pushes and we had a baby. He came so quick and easy that the slime was not properly squeezed out of his chest and face, and then the nurse spent 15 minutes squeezing, squeegie-ing, and suctioning him so that he could breath easily. He is fine, but he spent some time being watched because he made little kitten mews with every breath from the slime in his chest.

(2) Similarities - notion that revolutionary or special time is not subject to the same legal conditions as normal civil government, notion that the state must act with rigor against enemies in order to protect the rights of sincere members.

Differences - regular procedure even if unlike previous legal procedures, detainment not summary execution, precise laws leading to limited results not a general law of suspects leading to sweeping results, war on terror attempting to preserve an existing society not make the world anew.

I should not have asked the question - too political for too little gain even though I framed it as how best to deny someone who claims they are similar. The kids either do not follow the news or do not wish to talk politics with someone who grades them. I suspect a mixture.

Posted by
Red Ted
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February Calendar

February 15, 2004

Sunday morning

The littlest man comes home today. The little man is having a nap. I am taking a quick break before doing some housework and then getting ready to go fetch mom and baby.

My thought for the moment is twofold: it is a good thing that Monday is the American and French Revolutions, because I can teach those in my sleep; and the kids may not get their homework back on time.

And so to put sheets on the bassinet.

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Red Ted
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February 13, 2004

Its a Boy

Number Two Son arrived at 8:10 am this morning.

Seven pounds, 2 ounces
nineteen and 3/4 inches

Mom and baby are doing well.

Posted by
Red Ted
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February Calendar

February 12, 2004

Categories

I have too many categories.

When I wrote the original blog, I blogged about whatever came to mind. The general conceit was that it was the workplace blog of someone who works alone, but I have all sorts of stuff there.

I tried to create categories for the transfer to movable type, and I count 20 on the sidebar at the moment that I write this. That is too many - it confuses rather than simplifies.

But, today is a writing day and I don't want to use prime time for blog thoughts. So, I will not change categories this morning. This is just a random comment to the effect that categories shape our thought, and that it can be hard to come up with categories for thought that was previously not organized in that manner. But you knew that already.

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Red Ted
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February Calendar

February 11, 2004

Outline - State Power

State Power

Enlightened Monarchism
Warfare - Prussia - Fred
Women - Austria - Maria Theresa
Wars and Consequences
Land - Russia - Catherine
State Power - Poland

I decided to combine the national narratives with thematic narratives, and work chronologically rather than introducing the three empires and then talking about them analytically.

I am still going to talk about the hate triangle between Freddie, Maria, and Kate. If only because it amuses my American irreverence to call the exalted rulers by their nicknames.

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Red Ted
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February Calendar

Hi Dear

"I put your picture on the internet."

"You what?"

"On my web page. I put your picture up so everyone could see it."

"You. What?"

"Don't worry, your face is hidden. No one can recognize you from the picture."

"You WHAT!"

"See, here on the front page of the blog."

"Is that us? Which one is me? What is that picture?"

"It is from when we were dating, it must be 8 years ago now. We were down at the shore, sitting on the dock at high tide. You are on the left, with your feet in the water."

"Oh. I see. Well, you can keep it on your page."

"Thanks dear, I thought you would say that."

Then she hit me.

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Red Ted
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February Calendar

Clarke to the Cabinet?

I see from the Washington Post that Wesley Clarke has dropped out of the Presidential race.

About a month ago he rejected the notion of serving as Vice President, although politicians are allowed to change their minds if they want to. I was thinking though that he would be an interesting choice to serve in a Democratic cabinet. On the pro side, he is smart, capable, and has good ties with NATO and good experience with foreign policy and coalitions. He might make a very good Sec Def, Sec State, or NSA. On the down side, he has a LOT of political baggage including enemies in the Pentagon and on Capital Hill. He might provoke more controversy than he would provide utility.

But this is just speculation as I find myself not wanting to write up the class I just taught.

And so to go read history instead.

Posted by
Red Ted
at 09:52 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
February Calendar

Freddie, Maria, and Kate

When I teach the US survey, I bring two or perhaps three sheets of paper with an outline. Today I brought 9 sheets of paper, and covered 8 of them. I really do need more notes to teach Western Civ than I need for US.

My conceit of a "hate triangle" between Frederick II of Prussia, Maria-Theresa of Austria, and Catherine of Russia worked moderately well. It would have worked better if I had been able to get through the partition of Poland. Ah well, perhaps I can include the partition on Monday when we do the American Revolution, for the founders were well aware of what happened to Poland (and of the problems that came with a regularly elected lifetime king) and consciously shaped the US Constitution to avoid becoming another Poland.

What surprised me was that in a class dealing with Frederick II and Catherine the Great, none of the students asked me any questions about sexuality. It is just as well; I am trying to remember the extent to which Frederick batted lefty and all I can say is that unlike James I of England he did not let his love life interfere with his decisions as a monarch. I might write up the myth of Catherine and the horse and use it as a window into Enlightenment era pornographic political slander.

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February 10, 2004

We are live

Well, I just posted an announcement on the old site that the new site is up and running.

Please let me know if the formatting does not work or the pages are buggy.

I will be adding archives to categories a few at a time as a study break. Once I have gotten through a couple months of categories I will start working on the fixed files for the reading lists.

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Sleep Blues

Well, today is a strange day for I was rattling last night.

After teaching I was all fired up. I wrote up the class, I brainstormed for Monday, I did some busy-work for teaching, and it was 10:00. I was not yet sleepy so I decided to mess with the new blog for a few minutes before bed. Around 3:00am I finally toddled away from the computer, and I got to sleep around 3:40 am.

J is cranky because, when she asked at 2:00am I said I was coming to bed when the truth was that I was rattling.

I am cranky because I spent my rattling working with the new blog and not clearing away busywork - typing in student names for the gradebook, catching up on back issues of the Chronicle of Higher Education or any of the little tasks that always need doing around the house. So, today I get to do my writing and my busywork.

I am back to chapter 4. I have decided that I do not like to work on chapter 4.

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Teaching Plans, or Freddie, Maria, and Kate.

Tomorrow we are talking about State Power - a discussion of absolute monarchs focusing on Eastern Europe in the 18th century. I could just as easily have titled the class the Freddie, Maria and Kate show, because I tend to organize this era around the hate triangle involving Frederick II, Maria-Thersa, and Catherine I.

I have two potential stories to use to cover the material for tomorrow, and I am not sure which would work better. So, I will write them both up here. Then I will pick the better and use it as my introduction for tomorrow. Both narratives will have to cover: Prussia, Austria, and Russia; enlightened despots; women and the enlightenment; 18th century warfare; and the War of the Austrian Succession, the Seven Years' War, and the Partitions of Poland. It would be good if I also talked about agricultural specialization and the increase in market production with the concomitant movement of peasants off the land and into cities or into cottage industry. It is a LOT of stuff to cover, which is why I am looking for a story that will help the kids put all the pieces together.

My original plan was to be very schematic: start by talking about Voltaire and absolute monarchs, follow by tracing the rise of Brandenburg-Prussia, complete with a discussion of 18th century land warfare, up through 1740 when Frederick II takes over; tracing the expansion of Austria through 1740 when Maria-Theresa takes over and is met by unrest because she is a woman; quickly moving from Peter I through Peter III and marrying Peter to a German noblewoman named Catherine. After that scene setting - which will probably take 40 minutes - I would quickly fight the war of the Austrian Succession, jump to the 7 Year's war, and have Peter save Frederick's bacon before Catherine overthrows her husband and has him murdered. The end of the class would then be a discussion of Frederick, M-T, and Catherine as they applied Enlightenment principles to governing their empires towards the end of the 18th century. Finally, the sacrificial sub-section would be a discussion of economics and agriculture. This structure would work, the only trick would be not getting bogged down early on. The kids are writing homework on the Enlightenment and Women, so I will have to make time to talk about it, probably early on right after my preliminary remarks where I explain what we will be doing in class - they always talk more during class if they start out with a discussion.

The alternative plan looks quite similar: it is also centered on the hate triangle between the three rulers and it covers much of the same material. The difference is that instead of introducing all three nations and then having them fight, I would move more thematically: introductory remarks; rise of Brandenburg Prussia to 1740, complete with discussion of 18th century warfare; then discuss women and use that discussion to inform our narrative of Austria and Maria-Theresa; Fight the war of the Austrian Succession; introduce Russia and run all the way from Peter I through Peter III. I might also fight the 7 Year's war before I introduce Russia. The ending would me much like the first, looking at these three states to the end of the 18th century, showing just how far enlightenment ideals went, and then closing with agricultural economics. The big difference is that it moves their discussion later on, moves Russia later on, and breaks the narrative of war and partition with a long digression on Russian History. It is more discursive and less schematic, almost a stream of consciousness narrative, and I risk leaving Russia out entirely if I get bogged down early.

In any case, I do intend to focus on the three rulers - if only for the fun of talking about Freddie, Maria, and Kate and their hate triangle. (Actually, Catherine sort of admired Frederick, her lover and the army hated Peter III's adolescent hero-worship that led him to withdraw from a long and bloody war right when they were about to win. Still, Catherine had Peter murdered not for his war policy but because she despised his very bones.)

For now, I will write up notes on the various building blocks, for the biggest difference between the two class narratives is the order in which I will introduce my sections and the clarity with which I distinguish between the various topics. The second is smoother and more interesting, the first might be easier to take notes on.

EDIT - spelling and moved below the fold.

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February 09, 2004

Layout

Well, class got prepped and I went to spend a couple of minutes with the new blog's layout.

I am wrestling with a design decision. I do want to use the extended entries - some of my blather is better left hidden. Extended entries open onto an archive page - I can archive by post, by day, or by week for these links. In addition I will be maintaining date-based archives linkable from the front and also some category archives.

My first thought was that I like comments in a little pop-up window, not tacked onto the end of the extended entry. So, no archives by post (see Calpundit for an example) unless I go back on that decision.

The default is to use the same archive template for daily and monthly archives. Should these look like the front page - Just One Bite - or should they look different - Sheila O'Malley?

Rather than reading fiction, I mess with these decisions in the hour between ending work and going to bed. The good news is that I am learning more css - I got a float to work for the date archives, but then decided it was ugly. The bad news is that, well, there is a lot of potching and puttering going on.

And so to bed.

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Random teaching thought

Class went well, at least I liked it.

We did intellectual history: enlightenment thinkers and some of their ideas. On Wednesday we get to do the Freddy and Maria show - enlightened monarchs in Eastern Europe.

I am putting the full writeup on my teaching blog, not here. I just wanted to use this forum to comment that my notion of starting by explaining why I love the Englightenment and why I hate the Enlightenment seemed to work well as both an overview of the movement and a chance to suggest the relationship between a historian, moral judgement, and the events of the past. I argued that a historian wears two hats: we seek to understand the past and recapture the choices and decisions that people in the past made, and yet as human being we also judge the people in the past, just as we judge everyone around us. The trick is to make those judgements not directly by our criteria but rather on the standard of the best practices available at the time.

Thus while I get very frustrated at the way that many enlightenment thinkers made up stories about their past, and I judged them for it using Franklin's satire: "What a wonderful thing it is to be a reasonable creature, for we may find a reason for anything we wish to do" I also placed those stories within the context of reaction to the Counter-Reformation and within the context of a generation of thinkers misled by the implications of their guiding metaphor. The enlightenment was about light, shedding the light of reason into the dark corners of tradition and superstition. Their metaphors, their language, their examples all hinged on the image of bringing light into dark places. But, if you want to change the world and you have a candle, you need to locate yourself within a dark room and not outdoors at noon. In other words, in order for their metaphor to tell an attractive story about their project, then all that came before them had to be wrong, ignorant, or stupid. And so, they found it easy to tell and easier to believe stories that made the past appear to be stupid - the notion that everyone before Columbus thought the earth was flat was an enlightenment tall tale, as is the very concept of the medeival period as the "dark ages."

Oddly enough, the notion that the people who came before were stupid and ignorant, while we bring reason, light and knowledge to improve on their understanding, is a notion that continues to be popular at the present. It may well be the most lasting legacy of the enlightenment.

And from here, I think I can go back to the writeup that the kids will see.

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Dated music


James Lileks wrote a thing about 80s' rock, and Michelle of A Small Victory (I keep wanting to call her Victorious Michelle or Michelle Victoriette, but neither would be appropriate) responded with a comment on Yes. I was reminded of their discussion when I went back to my own record collection and played some vinyl from 1965.

Let me give some more context. The library lent us a recording of Shawn Colvin Live '88, a very good concert in the soprano with a guitar variety. She plays her hits: Steady On, Shotgun Down an Avalanche, and so on. She also covers the Paul Simon tune Kathy's song. Many of Colvin's choices for this concert are songs about love out of control, including Shotgun:

Sometimes you make me lose my will to live
And just become a beacon for your soul
But the past is stronger than my will to forgive
Forgive you or myself, I don't know

I'm riding shotgun down the avalanche
Tumbling and falling down the avalanche

It is a good song, both with the full band and in this minimalist approach. But, it did not grab me the way that Kathy's Song did. Again, it is a song about loving and longing, although while Shotgun is a breakup song this is a song about long distance relationships:
And as a song I was writing is left undone
I don't know why I spend my time
Writing songs I can't believe
With words that tear and strain to rhyme.

And so you see I have come to doubt
All that I once held as true
I stand alone without beliefs
The only truth I know is you.

I spent the entire weekend with that song, and its little guitar riff, stuck in my head. I thought about slapping myself to try to jar the needle out of its groove, but refrained because it might well have skipped to the Oysternband's I Look to You
Crazy people
Stare into the mirror to see what's true
But I
I look for you
a song that I alternately think is about obsessive love for a person and obsessive love for God.

I digress, I just wanted to share some lyrics.

To bring this back to James and Michelle, I dug out Sounds of Silence, the 1965 Simon and Garfunkle album with Kathy's Song on it and played the album through.

It is a good album, but it is also dated. In fact, I think it was dated by 1966 - the whole album is a mixture of laments about the difficulties people have communicating with one another, wistful love songs, and Greenwhich Village boho radical chic. On the other hand, they do use a wonderful Farfisa organ on a couple of tracks, and up-tempo Farfisa organs are always good.

Listening to the album, with its earnest concerns and cleverly commercialized remixes of material from their even more dated first album, was like looking through a window into a particular moment in the past. Some art is timeless, or so the Enlightenment dudes would claim, but this particular album is very closely tied to a time and place, and I think that is what I like about it.

That is all.

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Clarification


That last post was cryptic - I must have written it late at night.

The point of it was that I am wrestling with the look and feel of the new weblog. I have an acceptable front page; I have decided to keep the grey, yellowbeige, red color scheme. I am struggling with the best way to display my archives.

The big question is whether, when you click on a permalink or an extended entry, you should see a page that looks essentially like the main index or a page that looks essentially different - should it include the sidebar?

This question is made more difficult for me because, as a matter of aesthetics, I like permalinks that show the post but not the comments - comments belong in a pop-up window. The way MT works, if you archive individual entries, the comments go at the bottom of the entry; if you archive by day, week, or month, you can put the comments in a pop-up.

I think I need to dig some more, for I know I have seen MT blogs that expand a post in place for the extended entry.

And so to start my day.

EDIT - James at Outside the Beltway has exactly the functionality I was thinking of. He achieves it by using javascript. I learned my HTML before Javascript was invented, and I still mistrust it as a buggy wonder that adds little while breaking browsers and requiring people to upgrade to crap. However, those thoughts might be out of date. Certainly the lowest prevalent denominator among web browsing software now supports javascript.

Still, I have had the design philosophy of "cut the bells and whistles" beaten into me to the point that I have to have a compelling reason before I use a script, a frame, or an image. Compelling reasons exist, so I do use all of these design elements, but I try to make sure that the whole thing loads as smoothly as possible on as many browsers and browser conditions as possible.

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February 08, 2004

Teaching Grumbles


Grumble

I prep classes a day or two ahead of time. I don't write out my lectures, and while I make a rough plan of my lectures at the start of the semester I leave things loose because, well, I know I will be revising them a day or two before the class regardless of what I had planned so why duplicate the effort.

In any case, I had a general idea of what to cover this week, and on Friday I sketched out a rough outline and some filler. I expanded that yesterday and started to do some reading. Tonight, after a day of errands and chasing the toddler, I go to finish writing up my lesson plan and I decide that I don't want to do half of my preliminary proposal.

So, I get to revise it almost from scratch - and while I know that plan A will not work, I don't yet have a plan B.

What do I want to say about the enlightenment? How much religion do I want to get into? Why am I focusing so heavily on England and France? Should I do more countries? (Frederick and Catherine and Maria Theresa are due on Wednesday)

I might look into Augustan England and France under the ancien regime. Let me double check the textbook and remind myself what information the kids will be bringing to the classroom.

And all I want to do is go to sleep early. Bother.

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February 06, 2004

Love it and Hate It


On Monday we will be talking about the Enlightenment. I suspect that I will open class by explaining to the kids that the enlightenment was a very good thing - an outpouring of reason, a movement against cruelty, a search for a rational society that respects rights and liberties - and that it was a terrible thing - largely because much Enlightenment thought was rationalization, not reason, justifying the way things were rather than working for human happiness.

In other words, I judge the enlightenment and find it both promising and lacking. I suspect that much of my gut anger at many of the enlightenment dudes comes because they could have done better. There is something more annoying about a promising project that falls short than there is about an idea that is just plain stupid or dangerous.

I was reminded of Matthew 7:1 as I thought about these opening remarks "Judge not lest ye be judged." Checking the text I find the second clause to that statement is perhaps more useful "For with what judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again."

In modern language, the problem with judging is not in making a decision about whether an action or a decision is good or bad, the problem comes if you make that decision on bad criteria. This makes sense - I had forgotten Matthew 7:2 but I have long interpreted Matthew 7:1 in that way. So when we study history we are constantly forming opinions, judgements, about historical actors and historical decisions. The challenge is to judge them on the correct terms. Just as Paul Finkelman argues in Jeffersonian Legacies that we can not measure Thomas Jefferson's decisions about slavery against late 20th-century norms but instead must look at the best practice of Jefferson's day, so too we must come up with reasonable criteria for all our historical judgements and all our policy judgements. Kantians would call it the categorical imperitive; New Testament folks would call it the golden rule; I explain it to the kids as being fair. And, as I also point out to the kids, the criteria you choose for your judgement will have as much to do with your decision as do the facts of the case.

One of the things I most dislike about the enlightenment is the extent to which many enlightenment thinkers felt it necessary to make up stories about their opponents in order to discredit them. The story about Columbus and the flat earth - enlightenment propaganda. The notion that religion and science must always be opposed - enlightenment propaganda. The concept of a "dark age" following the fall of Rome - enlightenment propaganda.

To be fair to the enlightenment dudes, many of these overstatements were created within the contexts of polemic, and polemics are generally aimed not at elucidating truth but at the total destruction of your enemy's position. I read polemics, both for work and as I follow contemporary politics, and I do not care for them. Let me give some contemporary examples and then I will go back to class prep.

Brad Delong has been spending the last week or so attacking the Bush budget, Bush economic policy, and the internal workings of the Bush White House. He eloquently explains exactly why it is that he refers to the Bush team as "those clowns." He does not care for their procedures, their policy, or their institutional honesty. However, as he makes his critiques, he is also fairly clear about the criteria he is using: he wants to see an honest broker, he wants to see policy decisions that look to the future, he wants the Treasury Department to maintain independence and not be the tool of White House speechwriters. I get the sense that he respects many of the people in the Bush administration, or rather that he respects what they have once done. His anger at them comes in part because they are trashing the work he did in the Clinton administration, and in part because they ought to know better.

In contrast, let me introduce a troll, one JadeGold, who has been posting on the Bill Hobb's blog, especially on a discussion about Bush's military service record. At one point in that discussion the topic turned to GWB's military aptitude tests. A poster claimed that GWB scored 25% on pilot aptitude, 50% on navigator aptitude, and 95% on officer aptitude. JadeGold responded with incredulity. How could GWB be good at anything? My response to the same numbers was that they match my preconcieved notion of GWB: he is not book smart; he is very people smart; he has the knack of appealing to and inspiring service people and this has made him an effective Commander in Chief.

The point to this contrast is not just that DeLong is a good guy and JadeGold is a stupid troll. It is a question of style. DeLong uses the norms of collegial controversy; he praises the person of their opponent while denigrating their policies. JadeGold refuses to believe anything good about someone they dislike. It is polemics, the same sort of scorched-earth polemics that led the enlightement dudes to make up stories about the past.

And so to write up a handout on Burke and Paine

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I'm gots domain

Well, I finally went ahead and got my own domain.

I am installing movable type now. Then I will get to design a new blog. Sometime next week I will move this blog over to the new location.

It will take me a while, for I only get to work on this stuff after I stop being productive at my real work.

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Thomas Paine and the Rights of Man


Our first paper topic is on Thomas Paine Rights of Man. The paper is due on Wednesday, February 18, in class. The question is deceptively simple: "What were the rights of man? Why were they controversial?" This handout is a brief historical background to Thomas Paine and his book.

Thomas Paine was a professional rabble rouser. He inspired the American Revolution, defended the French Revolution, and spent much of his later life trying to create a third revolution in Britain. He was acquainted with Timothy Burke, a Member of Parliament, spokesman for several ministers, advocate of religious toleration, and defender of the American Colonies during the Imperial Crisis of the 1760s and 1770s. The two men exchanged several letters in 1789.

Burke had long been a supporter of constitutional government and human rights; Paine was thus surprised when Burke first gave a speech in Parliament condemning the French Revolution in February, 1790 and then, in November, 1790, issued a long pamphlet, Reflections on the Revolution in France. This pamphlet was written in the form of a critique of a political sermon given in November, 1789 by Richard Price, a Dissenting English clergyman, but it moved on to a complete critique of the National Assembly and its actions. Burke argued that rights and liberties were a contract between those who lived before, those now alive, and those not yet born. He identified that inter-generational transfer of rights with the inter-generational transfer of property, especially landed property, and argued that the National Assembly's expropriation of church property completely destroyed the social contract. He said more than this brief precis; Burke's book is the foundation text of modern conservativism. I flipped a coin as to whether this class would read Burke or Paine and almost assigned both. If any of you are interested in conservative thought or conservative politics I strongly suggest that you read Burke.

Burke was answered by a who's who of the British left, including enlightenment feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. The most famous reply was written by Thomas Paine from Paris. The first volume of Paine's Rights of Man, Feb 1791, was a direct and detailed refutation of Burke's pamphlet. The second volume, published in Feb 1792, was a call for revolution in Britain and in the rest of the world. Paine's books became the foundation texts of the English working-class movement. Selling them was declared a seditious libel and several booksellers were charged with this capital offence for daring to spread radical thought in cheap editions. Following Paine's later book, Age of Reason, the British government shifted from political to religious persecutions and successfully prosecuted a number of English radicals for blasphemy for selling Age of Reason, thus halting sales of Rights of Man.

For your paper, dig through Paine's book, both volumes, and figure out what he means by his title: "Rights of Man." I suggest that you look both for abstract and detailed descriptions of these rights. As you do so, ask why Paine's depiction of rights was so dangerous that people were tried for their lives for selling the book, and so attractive that English radicals continued to take that risk and spread Paine's ideas.

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More on The Gouv.

I finished Gentleman Revolutionary, Richard Brookhiser's book on Gouverneur Morris, and I must say that I liked it.

There is a knack to writing popular history: your prose has to be sprightly, your narrative has to move along, and you have to be both reliable and interesting as you do so. I am not a Morris scholar so I can not speculate on how original this work is, but judging from the footnotes he has combined quotes and insights from the many earlier biographies into a coherent tale. Unlike David McCullogh, in other words, Brookhiser is generous in indicating that other people have written about his subject in the past (McCullogh is notorious for only citing primary sources.) But, this is popular history - he tells the tale of the man and his times rather than engaging in debates with other people about the man, his times, and how best to make sense of them.

The charm of the book is the charm of the man. The Gouv. (Joanne Freeman's nickname for him) was always charming and a brilliant writer; much of Brookhiser's work is simply providing a setting for Morris' wit and panache. That charm shows up in his formal prose - the preamble to the U.S. Constitution - and in even his didactic statements like these brilliantly balanced rules for living.

To try to do good, to avoid evil, a little severity for one's self, a little indulgence for others -- this is the means to obtain some good result out of our poor existence. To love one's friends, to be beloved by them -- this is the means to brighten it.
All of Morris' letters sparkle with this sort of prose. He really is the most fun of the founders - even before you consider the incongruity of a man with a fleshless right arm after a burn with boiling water as a teenager, a stump of a left leg after a carriage accident, and an incredible fondness for dancing, travelling, and seducing the wives of other men (perhaps in compensation for his own physical injuries.) Maimed in body, light in spirit, and every inch a gentleman -- you gotta love the Gouv.

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February 05, 2004

Mad Cow


Via Bob Mould, I find a very mad cow.

Caution, extensive potty language

Link may not work in I.E., if so then cut and paste.

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A book for you, a book for me.


I just signed up for the Amazon.com associate program. As I write about books I will link to them with the handy-dandy top secret RedTed code. I have not decided if I will grant them an honest-to-goodness link on the permanant sidebar.

If people buy books, I might even get a dollar or two back for my own book addiction. And that would be a good thing.

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Fantasy in the key of Licorice


Last night I finished reading Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey. It is a great big book, and she has two more with the same characters - the dreaded trilogy of doorstops. I found myself chewing on it, and wanted to say a few words about the novel.

J and I refer to kinky sex as licorice, as in "not everyone likes licorice, but the people who like licorice really like licorice." Phedre, the heroine, is fond of the strong, bitter and salty licorice - she is an anguisette, what we would call a pain bottom. Carey creates an alternate Europe containing a country built on the principle "love as thou wilt" and where a trained courtesan manages to become a crucial catalyst saving the kingdom.

I could not tell what had come first, the character or the world, but the basic setting was intriguing. Imagine that the Christ story had merged not with Horus and not with Platonic dualism but with Bacchus and Isis. Esau, the wandering God, either was the child of Christ and the Magdalene or, in his mythic version, sprung from the earth watered by the blood of Christ and the tears of the Magdalene as she wept for Him. He and his followers reveled, traveled, and finally settled in the South of France where they formed a kingdom. The background alone, and the way she works it up, are almost worth the price of admission.

Within this setting Carey creates a society of oath-bound hedonists. They seek pleasure, they celebrate beauty, but all the characters have sworn one oath or another, all find their choices limited and their desires driven by promises made in the past and constantly renewed in the presence. I am fascinated by oaths, and the chapter I am currently revising hinges in large part on the relationship between oaths and civil society, so this part of Carey was rather to my taste.

Oath-bound hedonism was both the most intriguing and, in retrospect, the most unstable part of her society. She has done a good job imagining and describing the checks and balances of religion, power, culture and custom that keep hedonism from degenerating into egotism, and yet this tension was the point where my suspension of disbelief was most tried. Well, that and the fact that the novel was really set in Boinkistan, that mythical land beloved of erotica authors where disease and unwanted pregnancy never deter or inconvenience the characters as they go about their appointed rounds.

As for the licorice, I do not play in the scene so I can not comment directly; I can only say that Cary's depiction of Phedre's psychology and experiences correspond with some of what I have read about the joy of being a bottom and a pain slut. I would be very curious to see what Eden or Cat have to say about the novel, if they have time for 700 pages of adequate prose. ]

I was struck by Carey's skill at keeping Phedre's assignations, or at least the descriptions of them, closely tied to the plot. The conceit is that she is a sacred prostitute, sworn to the service of Namaah who had paid the way for the Bacchus-God by lying with strangers for money. Beyond that, she is a spy and an intriguer, worming secrets out of people as they relax after beating, cutting or once burning her. Carey mentions the sex, but does not describe it. She does describe the emotional responses to sexual encounters, and the way that these responses shape further actions.

What almost got me to put the book down was not the licorice but the conspiracy. There are a host of characters, many with similar names. All of them are plotting and scheming and playing the game of thrones, all have their desires and alliances, and as Phedre and friends work plots within plots it is very easy for the reader to just plain glaze over. It is in some ways a stereotypically female book, a melodrama of conspiracy, for Carey focuses on interpersonal relationships and on the emotions of her characters - the plot with battles, imprisonments, escapes, magics, and exile is all secondary to the love stories. This is as Tolstoy would have wished it, of course, but the sheer volume of characters and emotions made it hard to keep track. I wondered if this is what goes on in soap operas, or romance novels with 20 characters all revealing secrets to one another?

So, I liked it; it was strange; I am curious to see what Eden and Cat have to say; I will read the next doorstop in the trilogy.

Edit - I would add that the book is not at all like Sam Delaney's Dhalgren, except that I had to stop and think about how it was unlike Dhalgren - the similarities are in the importance of memory, the importance of promises, and the plot role of non-vanilla sexuality.

Edit 2 - Cary, Carey - minor details.

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The Joy of Astronomy



Yesterday's class went well. I called it Starry Messengers after Galileo's book, and we talked about the scientific revolution of the 15th-18th centuries.

The kids had homework, "Why was astronomy so dangerous?" and were thus primed to speak, but that was not the only reason class went well.

I think that the big differences between this and my two previous classes, which did not go well, are that this time I
- was working with a defined and manageable chunk of material
- was largely paralleling the textbook
- used no maps
- was really psyched about the material.

I like ideas and the history of ideas, and this class was all about ideas and about the interplay between science and religion. I even got to teach John Locke's psychology of experience and ideas, one of my favorite little sub-lectures. I even used props to make Locke's point - I borrowed a yellow block from the baby's toybox and then held it up as an exampe of the color yellow and the shape of a block. I then used it to make Locke's point about the absurdity of religious prosecution, threatening to punish the class if they did not assert that the object in my hand was a blue ball. And, of course, they could say it was a blue ball but they still saw a yellow block, for external force and coercion can not change our ideas, only reason, logic, and new evidence can change an idea for Locke.

Perhaps on Monday, when we talk about the enlightenment, I will give them Franklin's approach as a contrast - practice and experience can shape behavior, and morality is a matter of behavior and habit; you can train yourself to be more nearly perfect.

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February Calendar

Wisdom from the Gouv.


Gouverneur Morris, in 1800 following Jefferson's victory in an election even tighter than Bush-Gore, suggested to his fellow Federalists what role they should play now that a dangerous visionary had come into power:

Nil desperandum de Republica is a sound principle. Let the chair of office be filled by whomsoever it may, opposition will act as an outward conscience, and prevent the abuse of power.
It is a good line and, as Richard Brookhiser points out, it suggests that "parties will develop a morality of partisanship, keeping each other honest."(1)

Reading that, I paused to consider recent Congressional history. Between Clinton's impeachment, gerrymandering on both sides but more aggressively by Republicans, and the recent decision by the Congressional Republican leadership to exclude Democrats from conference committees between the House and Senate, I wonder to what extent the morality of partisanship is persisting and, more importantly, how it might be returned.

Michael Holt argues that 19th century politics were all about the next election - as long as everyone thought they had a reasonable chance next time, winners did not go overboard nor did losers despair, for they might well change places in two years. If once politics could be seen as a game of Irish stand-down - I hit you in the ear and knock you over, you hit me in the ear and knock me over, we both hit as hard as we could, and afterwards we go get drunk together - now it appears to be closer to a mugging, where the first blow is followed by a boot to the ribs or a boot to the head if you think you can get away with it.

I don't have a good remedy - I feel rather like Bill Bennet only with different vices when I decry the breakdown of morals this way. The answer may lie in districting and gerrymandering - current districting law suggests that it is more important to have exactly the same number of people in each district than it is to have districts that align with natural borders or subsidiary political borders. I wonder how the gerrymanders would change their shape if they were forced to be drawn along county and municipal boundaries, and if the increased competition in many districts would outweight the relative disfranchisement of people in the districts with 101 people as compared to those with 99?

But I do like that Gouverneur Morris quote, and I am enjoying Brookhiser's little biography.

(1)Richard Brookhiser, Gentleman Revolutionary: Gouverneur Morris -- the Rake Who Wrote the Constitution, (New York: Free Press, 2003) p 167. The Latin translates as "Do not despair of the Republic".

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February Calendar

Do I hear MT a calling?



After reading this well reasoned set of arguments on Kuro5hin I have resolved that the only reasonable thing to do is move to Movable type. Thanks to the Commissar and LeeAnn for giving me appropriate political guidance in this matter.

Besides, doing hand trackbacks is tedious.

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February Calendar

February 04, 2004

Carnival


COTV 72 is up at A Perfectly Cromulent Blog.

Go forth and read.

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Red Ted
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February Calendar

Ah well


I just finished writing up Monday's class.

It was not a very good class - a mile wide, an inch deep, and hard to follow.

Today we get to do the Scientific Revolution, it should be a much better class.

It is being an odd day - woke up, got baby out and thought about chapter 2. Did some brainstorming and had a short nap. Wrote up class. Only now do I remember that I forgot breakfast and coffee.

I laugh at myself.

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February Calendar

Blogroll update


DW has moved her webspace to Just One Bite and changed her nom de blog to Eden.

I like the new look and label.

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February Calendar

February 03, 2004

TMI



The brouhaha about Janet Jackson exposing a breast on national TV reminds me of my ambivalent feelings towards getting my own nipple pierced. I told you this was a TMI post.

I am intrigued by nipple piercings. I am not sure if it is the striking image of metal against flesh, if it is the promise of increased sensation, or if erotic piercings are the next step now that genital shaving has gone mainstream, a way to mark one's body to indicate that sexuality is important.

I have chosen not to get one, and will not get one for many years yet. Why not? In reverse order of importance:

I sometimes attend science fiction conventions and, while J and I do not play in the BDSM scene we have friends who do. Some subgroups overlap, some individuals from those subgroups assume that a visible nipple piercing is an invitation for a twisting, and some of those individuals assume that a dectable piercing is effectively visible. I would respond to such an action with violence, and I am not much of a fighter despite having a terrible temper. If I were to get such a decoration it would be for me, not so some drunk at a con could ask me to punch him in the throat. Not a major reason, but there you go.

I would be vaguely embarassed to show it at the beach. I don't know why, but I would.

And, the real reason why I am not going to get anything pierced anytime soon, is that babies have little grasping pulling hands. Number one spent the first year of his life pulling my chest hair. Number two is coming and we might go for three. Until we are completely done with having kids, I do not want anything painful and grab-able attached to my chest. For a while with number one I thought about shaving my chest hair.

So, no new holes in my flesh for several years, and in several years I may not want one.

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February Calendar

February 02, 2004

Janet Jackson


The whole blogosphere is chiming in on Janet Jackson and the Superbowl halftime show.

Baah Baah Baah

I am a sheep. I shall do so as well.

I had the TV on and was in the room during the halftime show - I missed the grand exposee. As I recall, I looked up from my book, noticed the samurai chic with Jackson's pants, wondered why she looks more and more like old pictures of Michael every time I see her, resolved that I do not, after all, care for the sort of music that show was presenting, and then went back to reading.

Carly at Pornblography has the best comment, as often happens in situations where the media get their collective panties in a knot over sexuality in popular culture:

Furthermore – and perhaps I’m taking this a little to feminiazi-ish, but bear with me – it bothers me to no end that the exposure of a female body part is so traumatizing. Why is this so offensive? Why does it require apologies abound? Granted I’m not suggesting that the next time I go out for dinner my dining companion should reach over and yank my top down, but Janet was clearly okay with the situation and didn’t seem to be the least bit shamed by it. So why are we treating her like she should be?

And you all wonder why women have body issues.

I don't have a good answer yet, but it does remind me that I owe a couple more posts in the Body Issues series.

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February Calendar

History of Bibles


I commented to the class last week that Protestantism is effectively dependent on the printing press. Why? If people are to learn their faith through sola scriptura, they have to have a scripture available for them to read.

Inspired by the post below, I dug up the American Bible Society's History of the English Bible. As the passing mention of "Jehovah" on page three reminds us, a Bible translator has an awesome duty, for their decisions about how to render obscure texts will create the words and images with which millions of people will imagine the Divine.

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February Calendar

Love and Charity?


Halley Suitt has decided to type in 1 Corinthians 13 in a number of different English translations and a couple of other versions as well. I approve.

Oddly enough, her version of the King James replaces "charity" with "love." I don't know why.

I always preferred charity as the English translation of agape. Her French translation uses charité. The word is most famously associated with John Winthrop's A Model of Christian Charity (modern spelling), a sermon about the role of love as the glue holding together an organic society predicated on inequality of station and commonality of purpose.

I was struck by her choice simply because, as Kenneth Cmiel points out in Democratic Eloquence one of the great complaints about the Revised Bible of the late 19th century was that it replaced the King James' "charity" with the modern "love." The two words have very different connotations and very different constellations of meaning and reference; Charity is a fine hortatory name for a daughter, but few of us would name a child Love.

I wonder if Halley copied her extracts from a web source?

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February Calendar

The danger of broad definitions



When categorizing the world I normally break things into large fuzzy groups and then use adjectives of sub-groups to define the details. Thus I would say that bloggers, warbloggers, livejournals, other journals, sexblogs, kidblogs, munivians, and anyone else who maintains a regularly updated web space organized into discrete chronological entries, is involved in the same general activity.

This way of thinking can be dangerous if you use a work in its broad sense that also has an important and detailed technical meaning. Recently Michael Moore and the Democrats have encountered this problem when talking about GWB's service record during the 1970s. It is the meme de jour, especially now that the chairman of the Democratic National Committee has weighed in. Silthery D has a good review of what GWB did and did not do. Jack Balkin emphasizes the importance that the Democratic National Committee is putting on resurrecting this story, suggesting that this portends a nasty campaign season.

What the story boils down to is that:

  • The Bush family pulled strings to get GWB into the Air National Guard where GWB got to peform the dangerous but fun duty of flying jets.
  • GWB trained properly and performed part of his guard duty perfectly normally.
  • GWB went to Alabama to work on a senate campaign and seems to have forgotten to do his guard duty there.
  • GWB missed his flight physical and was taken off of flying status.
  • GWB returned to Texas and then went several months without checking in with the Texas ANG, who thought he was still in Alabama.
  • After nagging and a threat letter, GWB did a mess of catch-up guard assignments before being released early from his obligation in order to go to B-school.

The real question is what do we make of this little narrative?

GWB performed some military service and pulled strings to get away from Vietnam, but so did many other people. GWB missed some Guard training, and the rhetorical question is how do we best depict that missed time. Michael Moore used the most inflammatory term he could find for "missed military service during time of war," not realizing or not caring that the word deserter has a precise definition and penalties under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Desertion generally requires an intent to never return, taking service with another nation, or comparable action. It is a very rare charge. Bush did not desert, he did go AWOL in Alabama and, more importantly, in Texas after his return.

Checking the various military blogs, I see that AWOL is not usually a big deal unless it means that a person misses a required movement or misses participating in a moment of danger: if you go AWOL for a week or two to deal with personal matters, return on your own, and don't miss a movement or a fight, it is generally handled on the local level - at least for enlisted men. This, in effect, is what GWB did. He did not miss any combat operation or any deployment; the Texas ANG was staying put. He missed a batch of drill during the last two years of his required committment. While missing drill during voluntary service after the required obligation is not a big deal, missing drill during your obligation is important.

By all accounts including his own, GWB was drinking and taking cocaine during the early 1970s. He did not skip the flight physical because he was afraid of drug testing - it was not yet being done - but he may have been too hungover or, more likely, meaning to do it next week. I am not sure if during the 1970s officers were expected to hold themselves to a higher level of conduct than enlisted men - at one point there was a clear distinction in terms of honor and expectations between enlisted men and officers, those boundaries have since blurred.

So, a politically connected young man prefers to party and take care of his own business than to fulfill the last portion of his very loosely defined military committment, probably through procrastination rather than ill intent. We can not call GWB a coward, he is not. We can not call him a deserter, he is not. We may even want to cut him some slack because this was during his drinking years. Still, he swore an oath and then forgot to fulfill it. Oaths matter.

We can conclude that this was a young man with a strong sense of entitlement, a willingness to put his own desires before the needs of others, and a selective memory about parts of his past - including a willingness to lie or stonewall in an attempt to cover up something he felt embarrassed about or feared would hurt his political chances. It tells us, in other words, that GWB is a selfish egoist whose sense of honor runs second to his sense of self. And that is not news, nor should it be.

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February Calendar

Europe and the World I - preclass outline



Opening Remarks and Review
Long Distance Trade
Columbian Exchange
Sea Dogs and Fur Traders
Companies
Imperial Consolidation

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February Calendar

February 01, 2004

Heh, Indeed


The Onion reports on Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign rhetoric

BOSTON—Addressing guests at a $2,000-a-plate fundraiser, George W. Bush pledged Monday that, if re-elected in November, he and running mate Dick Cheney will "restore honor and dignity to the White House."

"After years of false statements and empty promises, it's time for big changes in Washington," Bush said. "We need a president who will finally stand up and fight against the lies and corruption. It's time to renew the faith the people once had in the White House. If elected, I pledge to usher in a new era of integrity inside the Oval Office."

There is more. Highly recommended.

Thanks to Cardinal Collective for the link.

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Red Ted
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February Calendar

The value of homework


I was grading homework during the football game this evening.

I am reminded of another very good reason to assign regular homework - after reading the wide range of quality and coherence in these first homeworks, I now know that I will have to simplify my arguments and make sure to stick in the general vicinity of the textbook chapters in my lectures.

Tomorrow I get to talk about Europe and the World part 1. I will spend tomorrow morning reviewing my plans and making sure the story is clear and simple. I might use the following rhyme to open class:

Sugar and spice and slaves held for life
That is what first empires are made out of.
I can't think of a comparable rhyme to use when we will talk about the second set of European empires at the end of the 19th century. But I have a gift for doggerel, so I am sure I will think of something.

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February Calendar