March 2004
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March 2004 Archives

March 31, 2004

Where did my van go?

Yesterday we spent more hours shopping for minivans.

We narrowed it down to one make and model, deciding that J was enough more comfortable in the Honda than the Ford that we would pay the extra money for the more reliable vehicle.

We made an offer on one, realized it was the only used Honda we had driven, and took the offer back. Now we get to spend early April shopping for a used Honda so that we can make an offer towards the end of the coming month.

What a time sink.

If the 91 wagon held baby seats securely we would keep driving it rather than spending time shopping.

End of rant.

Posted by
Red Ted
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Why the Great War?

I just finished writing up lecture notes for this afternoon's class on The Guns of August - I am stealing Barbara Tuchman's title for my class lecture. One of the students commented last month that their previous (high school) history classes tended to skip over World War One and focus on World War Two. I am going the other way. We have three lectures on the events of 1914-19 (The Guns of August, The Great War, Reds) and two for the Second World War (Gathering Storm, Second World War). Why? I do believe that the first was the more significant conflict. It destroyed the 19th century empires, approved Nationalism as the dominant justification for state organization, and opened the door for Communism. The second war, despite its far greater human cost, was in many ways the second act of a three act play.

When I cover the great war in US surveys students have trouble imagining the network of interlocking alliances and mobilization schemes that led first one and then another Great Power to declare war, much less do the grasp the joy that came with the declarations of war. Why go dancing in the streets at the thought of marching off?

The answer, of course, is that for many people in 1914 War meant a brief clash of arms, some marching, and a return home covered in glory. There had been a great many short wars, most of them victorious colonial wars, and no one imagined what was to come.

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Red Ted
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March 30, 2004

Precis and Argument

I am once again revisiting chapter three.

My second reader wanted me to more clearly articulate the chronological changes and my argument about benevolent organizations, denominations, and common Christianity.

I went through once and revised my transitions to better foreshadow what would come and to play up the notion that common Christianity inspires people to differentiate themselves from the mainstream, and that through cooperation and competitive emulation the broad sphere of Christian action expanded.

Now I think I get to sit down with a yellow pad and sketch out the bare bones of what I think I am arguing, then compare that bare bones to the blocks of text, then write a brief precis.

As I go through this exercise I see what the second reader means, despite all my work I do still have problems with the chronology and organization of this chapter.

And so it goes.

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Red Ted
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Belated Garden Blogging

The plants, they grow.

The peonies are starting to poke their noses above ground. I must have a dirty mind because the little red pointed shoots look like miniature erect penises as they break through the ground. Plants can be phallic.

Elsewhere, the miniature iris are fading, the tulips have their leaves up but have not yet flowered, and some of the roses show some growth. Several of the roses are still silent and woody - I do hope I did not kill them by over-pruning.

The seedlings have their second set of leaves. Soon I will transplant the peppers and tomatoes, discard the failed daisies, and re-seed the second crop.

But not today. Today I run errands and finally get my hair cut.

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Red Ted
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Marques and Styles

We have been car shopping. I hate car shopping - it eats a lot of time; I have yet to find a vehicle that meets all my desires much less a vehicle that meets both my desires and my budget; car shopping is the place where the average consumer encounters barter and negotiated price. I have been spoiled by the department store approach to market transactions, where all goods have a price, the price is fixed, and the customer's choices are a simple take it, leave it, or shop elsewhere.

That rant out of the way, I did notice some amusing things. To my perspective, the cars we are looking at all look like each other but they all drive very differently. Oddly enough, we are looking at the same three marques we looked at last time we went car shopping, and there too, we found the vehicles boring and indistinguishable while the driving experiences were markedly different. Not surprisingly, a Toyota Sienna drives much like a Camry only bigger, a Honda Odyssey drives much like an Accord only bigger, and a Ford Windstar drives much like a Taurus only bigger. And yet, when I go grocery shopping in the Accord I can never pick it out of the host of look like metallic cars in the parking lot while to me all minivans look like blobs on wheels.

Now, someone who is used to a very different road feel would likely say that all three family sedans drive like each other and that all three minivans drive like each other, but to my perspective the drive experience on all three is widely different.

We drive some more things today, at this point we have ruled out the Toyota - the best handling of the lot - because we don't like the way they arranged the anchors for the child seats. We will likely get a used Windstar for about half the price of a new Odyssey - used Odyssey's are hard to find and run so close to the price of new vehicles that we might as well get the extra 3 years of use. The only question is whether I get scared when J drives a Ford while she is a little tired or frazzled.

Four years ago we vetoed a Taurus with the standard suspension because I was convinced that J would drive it off the margin of one of Virginia's narrow, no-shoulders, twisting country roads. The Taurus with sport suspension was fine, but we got the Accord because I liked it better and J was even less likely to cross lanes while cornering.

We found one acceptable used vehicle, we drive another candidate today, we might look again at a used Honda, and then we will rank them and decide what we like.

That means that, with luck, sometime this afternoon or Thursday we get to dicker over price. I hate that part, which is odd because my Dad is a really good negotiator - he did deals for a living before he retired.

Doing this right takes forever, and even so I feel like I am rushing.

Posted by
Red Ted
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Kipling

Do you like Kipling?

I wouldn't know, I've never kippled.

Now that is an old joke, yep.

Yesterday the kids kippled. As they came into the classroom I gleefully announced that it was Poetry Day, to which most of them replied "cool." I then handed out sheets with Kipling's "The Widow's Party" on one side and "White Man's Burden" on the other.

Partway through the class we stopped to talk about Kipling - I used him as a window into imperialist ideology.

Interestingly, the first section thought WMB was parody it was so over the top. The second thought it was straight. I gave them the poem very differently - for the first I reviewed the US role in the Philippines as they read, for the second I had them read the poem out loud.

I am always amused at the way that presentation shapes interpretation, and I struggle to present my materials to the kids in a way that is fair to the materials and useful for the class plan.

I do like Kipling. Much of his stuff is occasional poetry, like "Our Lady of the Snows" and much of it is doggerel, but good doggerel and good occasional poetry are hard to write. More, Kipling is deeply bounded in place and mind and that makes him a fine window into the Edwardian age. I like authors who are bound in time for they are easier to use to do history.

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Red Ted
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March 26, 2004

Feh, cars

We are shopping for a new minivan, which has taken up much of the second-order productive time that I usually use to blog in.

In fact, this blog entry was interrupted by a phone call from a Ford dealer.

So far we are underwhelmed - then again we are often underwhelmed by cars. This might be part of why we buy them so seldom - the minivan will replace a 1991 Corolla wagon.

And so to do some work before we visit the Toyota people this afternoon.

I think I would rather be getting a haircut.

Posted by
Red Ted
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March 24, 2004

Reading Lists

I decided that the best way to implement my reading lists was not a single constantly updated post, not a sidebar in the template, not an external file, but another moveable type blog.

So, there is a link at the top of the sidebar to Red Ted's Reading Blog.

The reading lists are mostly there for my own reference, but I find the MT interface handy so why not make them public.

I still need to tweak the look and feel of the reading blog - right now it is too close to this blog and I want them to feel similar while looking distinctive.

Posted by
Red Ted
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So when is the modern anyhow?

Later today we will talk about optimism at the end of the nineteenth century.

The text labels the period 1850-1880 the Age of Optimism, 1880-1914 is the Belle Epoque. Both are marked by a mainstream opinion of, well, optimism and faith in progress. Both are eras of planning and systemized knowledge - these were the years when academic social science departments developed and when social scientists began to try to improve and alter the condition of urban residents.

And, these are also years that can be labeled modern, especially the period from 1880 or so to 1940 or so. The problem with the word Modern is that it has too many meanings and sub-meanings. On the one level modern means right now. On the other hand, modern refers to several points during the past when people who were doing things used the word for "right now" to describe what they were doing at the time. So we have modern literature from the late 19th century onward, modern architecture in the 1920s, modern art with Picasso and the boys, and so on.

Today's class is about the Age of Optimism, and I keep wanting to talk about modernity as I do so. I should resist that urge and keep the focus before 1880, but I use optimism to set up the Great War and I feel the need to argue that the prevailing tone from 1850 to 1920 was optimistic, with a constant undercurrent of pessimism and despair especially from the artistic worlds.

To my mind, the predominant culture of the turn of the twentieth century was an attempt to grapple with, for lack of a better word, modernity. On the one hand this was done by mastering knowledge - if we can measure it, study it, we can know it, and if we do it professionally rather than like the enlightenment dilletantes, we can use this knowledge to shape the world. The Enlightenment has long long legs. On the other hand there was an attempt to accomodate to modernity by denying some aspects of it, whether the brutal medieval fantasies of fiction, the movement to gothic architecture, or the rise of therapeutic culture that attempted to alleviate the stresses of urban living and rapid transition. Jackson Lears calls this second aspect anti-modernism in No Place of Grace but it is modernism all the same.

Modernism as such belongs next week when we do the turn of the twentieth century, but I think I will talk about it twice.

Posted by
Red Ted
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March 22, 2004

Whales and Poppies

Last night I watched the DVD of Whale Rider and read Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front. Both are powerful. Both are about lost generations, one told in terms of magic and hope, the other in reality and despair. Not surprisingly, I could not sleep last night.

What kept me up was thinking about the Great War and about the paper topic I am giving the kids. They have a paper due on Remarque in a couple of weeks and I need to give them the detailed paper topic. My preliminary thought was to ask them

Compare and contrast Germany before and after the Great War, use Remarque for examples. Show how the war changed the people and their society.
but after re-reading Remarque I am not sure that they will be able to write that paper, or at least write it well. Remarque focuses on his themes of the lost generation, the futility of warfare between nation states, and man's inhumanity to man; he only discusses the change between pre-war and postwar understandings within the context of Paul Baumer and the other members of the lost generation of schoolboys.

I thought about adding a little poetry to their assignment, to give them a better picture of the world before the war, and I discovered that I had been thinking about the optimistic side of the Belle Epoch while most of the avante garde, realist, and neonaturalist authors of the era, especially in Germany, had been pessimistic about the merits of industrialization and the new society. I had been thinking about Kipling's "Take up the White Man's Burden" and Teddy Roosevelt's popular persona, while they were closer to Edward Munch's painting The Scream or Nietzsche's nihilistic optimism as he declared that God was dead and that this was a good thing.

I dug around a little and rediscovered the Bartleby Project at Columbia University - the best argument I have seen in a long time for ending or limiting the current practice of long copyright laws. One of the things that they have scanned and archived there is a set of early twentieth century Norton Anthologies of Poetry. So I was able to check a 1920 book on the new poets and compare it to a 1917 book of mostly optimistic war poetry. I found a couple of good thoughts there, and on some of the very good online resources on the Great War.

My current thought is to give them four poems to supplement the novel:

and then ask them what it means to be a lost generation? Or, perhaps, how did the war affect the generation who went to war..

That might be forced, but I like the parallels in the two poems about mortality and poppies and the two very different takes on the lines from Horace. I do not know if the difference between the first two and the second two is one of generation or one of experiences; I suspect both. Neither is a great question

I will not use fiction, although I was tempted to compare Kipling's meditation on the loss of his own son, Kipling, The Gardener, with Owen Machen The Bowmen, a story that millions of English believed was true because they wanted something like it to be true. The problem is that most of the readily available short fiction is mourning fiction or is self-conscious writing wrestling with the problem of the lost generation. I thought about using Hemingway's In Our Time and I do assign bits of that to the US History courses, much of my take on the social impact of the Great War is influenced by Hemingway's painful set of wonderfully crafted short stories, but that is what we have Remarque for and we don't need to read two things that cover the same ground.

I keep coming back to Kipling, perhaps it is the attraction that I have for a poet who focuses on making sense of his era. I could probably have saved the kids a lot of reading if I had just assigned The Widow's Party and White Man's Burden to set the scene and then The Gardener and to close it off London Stone.

And so to have some breakfast and think on this some more.

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Red Ted
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March 21, 2004

Dirty Minds and Poor Metaphors

From the most recent batch of homework:

"The idea [of socialism] was rampant in the minds and on the tongues of those living in the nineteenth century."

Over and above the bloated and awkward quality of the writing, this metaphor made me blush.

Fess up - how many of you immediately thought about fellatio when you read the sentence?

Posted by
Red Ted
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Saturday Sunday Garden Blogging

Saturday was a busy day and I neither took garden pictures nor blogged about the garden.

It appears that the "official" date for setting seedlings, according to the garden section of the Inquirer is Mother's day, the second Sunday in May. I had expected to set seedlings the last week in April, and so I started my seeds a couple of weeks earlier than the garden folks suggested. I guess that my internal rythms are still on Virginia time.

The Balsam are getting leggy, a bad sign, and the African Daisies are looking first leggy and then wilted. I am glad I saved seed from most of my flowers as I will probably end up re-sowing in the dirt in early May. On the bright side, the Thai dragon peppers are all up, finally. I started seeds so I could have Thai dragons, and all the rest of the seedlings are riding on the hot peppers' coattails.

Outdoors, the miniature Iris are mostly up. They look a little sparse this year, as do the crocus. I fear that when I planted bulbs I was thinking three years ahead and with the assumption that the bulbs would naturalize and thrive. If they do, then I will have a nice collection of clumps of bulbs. If they do not thrive, the garden will look scattered and patchy. We will see what happens.

This is the correct weekend to prune roses, I have a little bit of new growth on mine where I pruned them a couple of weeks ago. Of course, it will get bitter cold (for the season, mid 20s) tonight and tomorrow night, so we will see what happens to the plants.

I should be getting the new bare-root roses in a couple of weeks, which means that I need to test my soil for acidity and see if I will need to correct anything. I suspect that the soil is already acid - the roses are going to be planted amid cyprusses and tulip bulbs - but it will be reassuring to test. While I am at it I will also test the tomato and pepper gardens.

That is about all. The seedlings and the indoor hot peppers are out on the front porch getting some needed sunlight and some un-needed wind. If I get around to playing with pictures I will post a followup.

Posted by
Red Ted
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March 19, 2004

Blog it Forward - NWS

Every so often I like to "Blog it Forward" - say a few words about the various people on my blogroll explaining why I read them and why I publicize my links to them. When J told the 'rents about the blog, my first response was that Dad should not click any of the NWS links.

They did not ask me, but I later asked myself, why was it that I have links on my blog that I don't want folks to click?

The answer is that I tend to blog about gender and sexuality issues, I like to read honest well-written confessionals, and all of the NWS blogs on my roll are things that make me think. They are explicit, but their interest goes beyond ballistics. So, lets say a few words about each.

Belle de Jour
Recent revelations have shown that Belle de Jour is not written by an upscale London call girl but by another author who has the same name! Maybe not. Belle has been getting flack and people wondering if she is for real because she appears to be far too articulate polished and classy to be a prostitute. Who knows? Who cares? I do know that she has a wonderful sardonic take on the world around her, and on her activities. And while I happen to agree with her rhetorical question: what else is a girl with an English degree to do if she wants something more honest than advertising? I have also been noting the ways in which her new profession has been hurting her dating life; Gandhi warned that one of the great sins of the modern era is sex without love, and Belle has lost one boyfriend and screwed up a potential replacement because of her job. Still, Belle writes wonderfully and is generally the second blog I read each morning.

Cat Nastey
Cat is a perky Canadian lass with roots in the fetish subculture. I blogrolled her because she recently fell in love and has been writing about her "lovely boy." I enjoy reading her take on the world, both on the sex blog and on her other, more private blog. Cat has been exploring her boy, exploring Wicca, dreading her soul-sucking job working for a batch of dreadfully boring accountants, and thinking about getting back into the fetish scene. I love her sense of enthusiasm.

Heather Corinna
Heather made the blogroll because I like to think about sex and gender, and Heather regularly writes about sex and gender. Heather makes her living as a sex writer and photographer, taking pictures of herself and of her friends, maintaining Scarleteen, a wonderful resource on sexuality for teenagers, and opining on the world around her. She boxes, she is an artist, she is an entrepreneur, and she writes about class and gender and sexual orientation. What's not to like about her? Oh, and sometimes she is a redhead as well. I read her only a couple of times a week, but every time it is 20 minutes well spent.

Eros Blog
Bacchus runs a portal. Unlike many sexuality link sites, he has interesting taste and a wonderful sense of humor. He, like Cat, made it onto the blogroll because he fell in love and blogged about it. I can indeed be a sentimental romantic at times. I read him for two things: the recurring tale of the romance between Bacchus and his Nymph in the Net, and for his very good eye for what other sex bloggers write. Some of his links cross the line into gross, but most of them are both amusing and make me think.

Just One Bite
Eden rocks. In fact, since I know she reads this, Eden inspires me to make the following offer: Anyone on my blogroll who is in greater Philly and wants to go for coffee, send an email and we will set something up. Eden is a wonderfully complicated woman, compulsively honest and well aware of the multiple facets of her personality. She is an effective businesswoman, a wonderfully lucid writer, a good storyteller, a submissive, an occasional switch, a person living with ADHD and a woman with quite the libido. I started reading her blog for the sex stories -- prurient desire has its place. I continue to read it because I am fascinated with the woman. Like many of the other NWS blogs she is falling in love. Maybe. She is not sure, nor is her man. They are in a long distance relationship and have not yet met, but Eden blogs about their slow-moving negotiations and flirtations. I check her blog daily, usually third blog of the day after Crooked Timber and Belle de Jour. If you search my archives for Eden, Just One Bite, or her old blog Dirty Whore you will find several moments in my archives where something she wrote inspired me to think and then to write in response. What's not to like about a smart sexy woman who shares her brain and her imagination? Ps, Eden, good luck recovering from the wisdom teeth surgery.

Pornblogography
Carly has a ridiculous job. She will gladly tell you that her job is ridiculous, in fact, much of her blog is about the sheer absurdity that she encounters on a fairly regular basis. Carly is a relatively straightlaced woman who works as a publicist in the pornography business. Of course, straightlaced for the porn world is about 8 on the scale of 1 to 10 for the regular world - all these things come with context. She is another person who it would probably be fun to have coffee with, although she would make me blush - this is the woman who went speed dating and then asked complete strangers if they did anal?. She is also a stringer (main editor - I am not sure about the exact job title) for Fleshbot. I read Carly because she writes with great perception about an industry devoted to making money from sex and gender issues. If there is an emotional hot spot, or an undercurrent in the zeitgiest, someone will be sure to make a cheap porno to try to take advantage of that particular market segment, and Carly is likely to make a catty remark about it. This is a workplace blog, and a fun read. Note, Dad does not get to click this link because Carly goes on site for porn shoots and recounts what goes on there. Porn folks have different standards of body modesty than do most people.

Twiddlybits
I am not sure, but I think Twiddly was the first NWS blog to make my blogroll. She is another good writer, although she and her Danglybits, her husband, only update occasionally. Her blog is the closest of all my NWS links to a traditional sex blog as she and Dangly like to write about having kinky sex with one another, and with friends. She writes well, and honestly, and as a person who likes her husband, likes other people, likes sex, and enjoys herself. There is not enough joy in the world, and it is good to find someone who takes joy in her daily world.

Posted by
Red Ted
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Challah

I made challah earlier today.

I use the bread machine to knead and rise the dough, then I braid it by hand and bake in on tiles in the oven.

This is an extension of my ur-recipe for bread: 1 cup flour, 1/3 cup water, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp yeast to make 1/2 lb bread.

4 cups bread machine flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 eggs
1 egg white
enough water to bring the total volume of eggs and water to 1 1/3 1 1/2 cups
1 1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp sugar
2 1/2 tsp yeast
1/3 cup light olive oil

use the leftover egg yolk to glaze before baking.

I have some unglazed pottery tiles that I use to convert the oven into a baking surface. They are cheap and highly useful if you bake yeast bread.

EDIT: bonehead here can't count. Use one and one-half cups of fluid.

Method

Break two eggs into a measuring cup. Separate a third egg and reserve the yolk; add the white to the measuring cup. Add water to bring the total volume up to 1 1/3 1 1/2 cups. You may want to break the yolks or even beat the eggs lightly before adding the flour - we had some egg yolk goo in the corner of the bread machine after kneading.

Pour the wets into the machine, add the rest of the stuff (scoop and level your flour, you know the drill) and run on the Dough setting. Or, use the dough hook and the mixmaster and then rise it in a warm space.

After rising
punch down the dough (decant from machine, roughly flatten with your fist, pound flat with your fingertips so you get a flat sheet full of little divots, fold like a letter, bang with the heel of your hand to activate the yeast, fold like a letter, bank with the heel of your hand again. Just as Julia Child does in The Way to Cook

let it rest to relax the gluten
Divide the dough in half.
Divide each half into thirds
stretch each bit of dough into a long rope by squeezing the dough outward from the middle. Don't roll it on a table. You should have three rops about as long as your forearm.
Braid them. Use a dab of water to seal the ends.
Place on a towel on a baking sheet and let rise. Flip the towel over so it covers the dough.
Now do it again for the other half of the dough.

While the bread is rising, put your tiles or baking stone into the oven and pre-heat at 425

When the bread is roughly doubled in size but when it still springs back after being touched

Beat the reserved egg yolk with a bit of water to make a glaze.
Sprinkle your baking peel with cornmeal

Roll one loaf and its towel onto your forarm, roll it from your forarm onto the peel
Shake the peel to make sure the loaf moves freely

Paint the surface with the egg glaze
Deposit on one side of the stones or tiles

repeat with second loaf

turn down the oven
Bake for 15 minutes at 375
Flip over
bake for 5 minutes at 350
Check for doneness with instand-read thermometer - bread is done at 180 to 200 degrees.

Cool and serve.

Makes two small loaves.

Posted by
Red Ted
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March 18, 2004

Incipient Oof Dah

Last night around 11:00 I finished the penultimate edit pass on this version of chapter four. Over the weekend I will do some footnote checking and revise a couple of paragraphs, then I will give it a once-over for clarity and coherence and send it out.

I am behind, but at least I am working again.

And so to revise the argument of chapter three - there is some promising material in there if I can form it into an argument.

I write slowly, too slowly. I rewrite my work: far too often I have to throw out hundreds of hours of effort and start over. But, in the end, some of the final product is pretty good.

Or so I keep telling myself.

Posted by
Red Ted
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Robots

I have been getting some very strange search strings lately.

I checked a couple of them, and they were going to my monthly and category archives. Some of those archive pages are big, and it is not all that unusual to find all the words in a strange query scattered throughout one of those archives.

So, I added a meta robot noarchive tag to the monthly and category archive files, but left individual entries in the search bots.

Lets see if it cuts down on folks coming here while looking for something completely different.

Among the strange searches were:

teaching i am the cheese
Oedipus the King (Unabridged) audio download free
pictures of what russian immigrant women wore
pictures of brick red husky dogs
chicken fajitas calories roly poly
That last one amuses me - I think anything that says roly poly amuses me.

It could be worse -- I don't have any bizarre, kinky, or x-rated searches coming in yet although I am sure I could put in some google-bait and get a few.

Posted by
Red Ted
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Hi Mom

Well, the parents found out about the web log.

Hi folks.

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Red Ted
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March 17, 2004

Laying Seige

My advisor comments from time to time that my writing is ponderous for I lay seige to every point or paragraph, building entrenchments, advancing revetments, and eventually encircling my point and pounding it into submission.

I do tend to get distracted by proving my minor points, perhaps a reaction to my tendency as an undergraduate to make provocative asides in footnotes even if they distracted the reader from my real argument.

I was reminded of this as I worked on chapter four this morning, for while much of it is pretty good my conclusion is still ponderous and repetitive. Conclusions are hard.

I try not to lay seige to my points, and sometimes I succeed, but ever and again I get bogged down defending an assertion.

This just in: writing is hard.

And so to check some footnotes.

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Red Ted
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March 16, 2004

Dream TV

I had swing shift on the infant last night, and he was screaming and colicy until after 1:00 am. The toddler was up at 6:15, and I caught that one as well. It has been a tired and sleepy day, made worse because it was snowing this morning and is raining now.

So, I fell over after lunch and took a nap. As I slowly woke - would rather still be asleep as I write this - I could hear J's TV from downstairs where she was giving the infant a snack.

She watches a lot of "true life" medical shows. She watches a lot of Food TV, especially Molto Mario. As the noise from below filtered up into my head my brain stopped knitting the unraveled sleeve of my dream and started to mazily figure out what was going on.

As near as I can tell, she is currently watching Hannibal Lector's Roadkill Cafe. I do not know if I dare go down and see what is really going on.

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Red Ted
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March 15, 2004

I blame Jackson

Brad DeLong quotes Jack Balkin on the politicization of the policy process in the Bush White House and suggests that many of the governance and policy problems since January 2001 stem from the double whammy that senior appointees are political and not professional and that they have decided to make most policy decisions on purely political grounds. Some of Brad's commenters might be sharing the sour grapes of a pushed-aside technocrat, but there seems to be more than just sour grapes going on.

I blame Andrew Jackson. He, after all, is associated with the idea that government ought to be simple enough that anybody with a basic education could fill any government job: no technocrats, no elites, just good solid Jackson men filling the Post Office and other government programs. Chester Arthur cut back on this, of course, with Civil Service Reform, but we still have a tension between the notion that government is a special calling for career professionals and the notion that government ought to be available to everybody - consider the scene in the holly-populist movie Dave where Dave brings in his accountant to fix the federal budget over a dinner of keilbosa and kraut, and the entire budget fits in a single three-ring binder.

Actually, I am being unfair to Jackson. The problems Brad and others see in the GWB White House are a matter of intentions as much as execution. If you intend to run a government agency to carry out its stated policies, and don't, then you are incompetant at your job. If you intend to use government agencies to carry out political policies regardless of what the charter of the agency says it ought to be doing, then you are engaged in a very different effort.

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Red Ted
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March 14, 2004

How much does it cost? I'll buy it!

I saw some good news and some disturbing news in the Philadelphia Inquirer this morning. The good news is that the Iraqi economy seems to be improving - a necessary condition for political stability and a good thing in and of itself. The disturbing news is that the Bush administration continues to refuse to estimate the costs of further actions in Iraq. This continues their pattern of trying to keep the Iraq war outside the budget, funded by special appropriations and without the usual layers of planning and tradeoffs.

I can see why they want to avoid places where congress might do to them what Wilbur Mills did to Lyndon Johnson, forcing a President to choose between domestic policies and a war, but it is a disturbing pattern. It suggests that the Bush administration believes that the American people do not care enough about the Iraqi front in the War on Terror to pay the costs of the war. And yet, they are doing it anyhow. This is either an act of bold leadership, or it is a disavowal of the democratic principle, depending on how you want to spin things.

What I find disturbing is that it is part of a continuing pattern where the Bush administration speaks loudly about the War on Terror when needed to pass a policy or achieve something that it wants, but it does not take the further steps that would go along with a real war. It has aspects of a phony war, a sitzkrieg, with lots of words, limited conflict, and a domestic front that moves along as if nothing was happening. One could argue that a normal life at home is victory in a war on terror, but I remain troubled by their unwillingness to enact domestic economic and financial policies that correspond with their rhetoric about international events.

"Do or do not", sez Yoda, and yet I fear we are seeing a bit of "Do be do be do" from the White House.

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March 13, 2004

Saturday garden blogging

The roses faked me out.

Pruning encourages growth. You should prune right before the growth season starts. But when is that? Traditionally, you prune when the old canes start to show new growth. In addition, you prune at the end of cold season, around the same time you plant bare-root roses. For me, in South Jersey, the calendar says to prune in late March or early April. But, in early March, we had a warm spell and the roses put out new growth. So I pruned and fertilized them.

Ever since then it has been cold - the only things growing are the crocus and even those are moving slowly. Ah well.

In other garden news, I germinated seed so I could have hot peppers. Once I was playing in the dirt, I got some extra seed boxes and started a couple of other seeds. Well, a moderate number of other seeds. Well, a total of 180 little boxes of seeds, and I still should have started more Vinca. Out of all of that, the things I care about are the Thai Dragon hot peppers. And, of course, almost everything has germinated but not any hot peppers yet. I hope they are just slow to start.

The seedlings are leggy, perhaps because it has been cold enough that I have not wanted to put them outside during the day to get sun, even in the little clear plastic warmer boxes. I will see how the weather is this afternoon and will see if I can get a little more light on the subject.

Crocus are coming up, including some of the crocus in the front lawn. Miniature iris are coming up. The large iris and the tulips are in suspended animation, neither growing nor shriveling. We will see if next week is warmer.

No picture this week, although I might edit one in after I get around to pulling them off the camera.

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March 12, 2004

Predictable yet effective

A couple of days ago I read Anna's Story by Loren Jones, Chapter 1 in the Grantville Gazette, a collection of stories edited by Eric Flint and set in his 1632 universe.

I found Jones' story somewhat predictable, well enough written, and, at the end, suprisingly emotional and effective. I teared up - Jones succeeded in the storyteller's task of making us care about the characters. It is short, and worth a read.

More on Flint and 1632 below the fold.

I have written about Flint before, praising him because he writes for a general audience but thinks like a historian.

His 1632 takes a basic premise - the modern citizen in the medieval world - and adds some fascinating twists. H. Beam Piper's Lord Kalvan is one of the earliest and most influential of the genre, but it has become a staple. Unlike, say, Jerry Pournelle's Janissaries, Flint focuses on ideas and not tools. And, unlike the tendency in military science fiction to glorify the general, Flint's heros are like Delderfield's heros - common people who rise to the occasion. 1632 is a remarkable book for several reasons. To summarize the plot, a cosmic plot device lifts a five mile circle around a town in rural West Virginia and drops it in Germany during the 30-year's war.

The three that jump out at me about the novel are:
- the hero is a labor organizer for the UMWA, not a general and certainly not an authoritarian;
- the most important technology brought into the past is basic civics, not the traditional guns, machines, and division of labor.;
- the most important institution in the book is the modern American comprehensive public high school.

Flint originally intended the novel as a stand alone. It did well, so he went on with it, writing a sequel, 1633, that continued the story and that set up a narrative structure for multiple follow-ons in the same world.

That world has proved to be remarkably popular among the fan base, with people taking on the challenge of what tools and ideas would be effective then, asking how to downgrade modern technology to the early modern era, and even thinking about the intellectual and cultural chasms between the two eras. Some folks started writing fan fiction in his world, and Flint combined the best of it into the Grantville Gazette, including the story that inspired this little rant. I like watching the way that he has incorporated his fan base into the writing process, creating a forum to collect their ideas, asking for their suggestions, and working some of their characters into his novels. Someone at a science fiction con once mentioned to me that you can find out anything by asking a science fiction fan, and it is true.

Finally, the story I linked to is online because Baen Books has a truly remarkable project where they post books from their backlist online, complete and unabridged, free for the download. Their gamble, a gamble that seems to be working well for them, is that they will lose few sales from cannibilization while introducing their authors to a wider audience, and that people who read one thing by an author for free will go out and buy that author's newer books. So far, every author in their free library has seen sales pick up, including sales of the books in that free library. It is a remarkable project, and should be encouraged.

So, read the story above, read in Flint's world, and buy more books. Books are good for you.

Now I get to go edit chapter 4, a project I just procrastinated for 30 minutes.

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March 11, 2004

Clinton on Middle East

Via Matthew Yglasias I find this speech (pdf - new window) given by Bill Clinton in Qatar on Jan 12, 2004, about the United States and Islam.

The defining feature of the modern world is not terror, nor is it trade nor technology, although terror, trade, and technology are manifestations of the defining feature of the modern world, which is its interdependence--a word I far prefer to "globalization," the more common word, because for most people globalization has a largely economic meaning. "Interdependence" is a broader word. It simply means we cannot escape each other. And our relationships go far beyond economics.
and
Terrorism, indeed all political extremism in all countries, never accepts any responsibility for any problem. They always blame the others. It's always their fault. Blaming outsiders, as all of us who have been in office knows, can be very good politics in the short run. It's always nice to convince your people that you can demonize someone else. The problem is in the long run. Blaming outsiders is a path to powerlessness. By contrast, assuming responsibility to build a different future is empowering.
Clinton is a clever man, and I very much like this speech.
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Grading with Gollum

Perhaps I need to change my grading style to something closer to Ellen Fremedon when she goes grading with Gollum.

Hates them. Ssstupid sstudentses, don't even read the textbook, no preciouss. They writes, and writes, and sscrawls and scribbles-- our eyes, precious, we must ruin our poor eyeses on their scratchings-- but they don't think, do they, precious? They never thinksss. Gollum. No, no thinking for them, sstupid studentses. Too good for thinking, gollum But we'll show them, preciouss, yess.

Thanks to Crooked Timber for the link.

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I wanna donut !

I wanna donut!

Actually, I want home-made sticky buns, made with real butter and lots of walnuts and raisins, but we are restricting tree nuts from the toddler until he is closer to two years old and I don't want to eat sticky buns and tell him he can't have any.

But, it is a moot desire, for I will not let myself have sticky buns. Or donuts.

Why not? I got my cholesterol test back last week and, well, I need more exercise and a tighter control over my diet.
Total: 153 - a fine number, low but not so low as to cause aggression problems.
LDL: 103 - a fine number (or it was before the recent test study)
HDL: 28 - bad bad bad. It had been 34 six months ago, acceptable, but 28 is too low and the ratio of LDL/HDL is back in the heart attack zone.

But I still really want a donut. A dozen donuts. And pie, extra pie. And brownies with ice cream!

I get a piece of hard candy, and to go join a gym again.

And back to work.

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Evaluating GWB I

One of the striking things about people is that smart folks can look at the same body of information, focus on different aspects of it, and come to radically different conclusions. This process is fun to look at from the outside, but dreadfully frustrating when otherwise smart people look at the same body of information that you are looking at, and then come out completely opposed to your views. How, one asks, can someone who is otherwise so clever, be so very wrong? And does this mean that I am wrong? I can't be wrong!

This pattern has been quite obvious in recent weeks as people take partisan stands on the War on Terror and on the 2004 Presidential election as a referendum on the War on Terror to date. I know of several people who generally disagree with GWB on policy, on the people he hires, on the style of his particular imperial presidency, and on the general membership of his party, but who have resolved to hold their noses and vote for GWB because he has done a good job in the war on terror. To name a few names, among many, we find Michelle, Sheila O'Malley, Michael Totten, and Dennis Miller in this camp.

Others, both from the foreign policy world or from Democratic political circles, look at the same war on terror and conclude that GWB has been a miserable failure as a war President. They have looked at the same information, have focused on execution rather than on goals, and have not been impressed. This group includes the usual suspects of the left, Brad DeLong, Kevin Drum, and others. It also includes disgruntled conservatives like Phil Carter, who by training and inclination both favor an aggressive foreign policy and insists that these policies be carried out effectively. These folks generally believe in a strong military, believe that the military must both intervene and retain the potential to intervene internationally in order to promote American interests, and dislike the details of current military policy.

What I want to do in this series is work through the major events since 9/11 and come up with a measured reading of GWB and his policies - set of think pieces to help me figure out what to praise and what to challenge. My presupposition as I start this exercise is that the NeoCon notion of using contagious democracy to remove the underpinnings of Islamic terrorism is a strategy with a wonderful upside if it works, but a policy that will be hard to implement effectively.

As I go through the exercise I will be using as the test of American policy the criterion of "reasonable decision, effectively implemented." I am not looking for the perfect strategy, the perfect is the enemy of the good. I am looking for something that was good enough, and that was implemented well enough to be effective. It is a lower bar, but a realistic bar - heaven save us all from an administration that tries to do the "perfect" thing in every instance, for the key to effective leadership is making decisions that are good enough, making them in imperfect information, executing them well enough, and adjusting execution on the fly so as to achieve the original goals.

I thought about doing it in one big post, but then I made a list of all the things I want to talk about, and decided that I don't have time to write it and you have no desire to read it. So I will do a series, like my interrupted but not forgotten series on Body Issues.

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March 10, 2004

Culture Heros

As a followup to the below I was thinking about nations defined by culture. Often that culture is embodied in particular people, real or mythic, who we refer to as culture heros. These are the people who define what it means to be part of a group or a nation.

So who are the American culture heros?

Off the top of my head I come up with:


  • The founders, especially the elites who wrote well and held national office
  • The Pilgrims - in principle though not in any of their details, and mostly because they gave us the notion of Providence and of being a chosen nation.
  • The frontiersman - Daniel Boone or Leatherstocking. These folks were rare, but the image of the heroic individual with axe, gun, and family heading west to carve a home from the "wilderness" is a powerful image.
  • Horatio Alger - or really his characters, who despite the rags to riches were really rags to middle class. Andrew Carnegie really was rags to riches, but Carnegie is no longer a culture hero.
  • Populists. I don't want to name William Jennings Bryan here, but there is a recurring motif of identifying or searching for the man who will speak truth to power and who will defend the interests of the little guy against those of wealth and privilege. How we define the little guy, or wealth and privilege, will vary, but the culture hero of the populist is regularly invoked.
  • EDIT Dagwood Bumstead - it is the only reason that explains why the guy is so popular. I suppose we could include Homer Simpson, a Dagwood for the 1990s, but I eat more sandwhiches than I eat donuts and pie, so I am still a Dagwood at heart.

There are more, but these came to mind. I am struck by the extent to which my list is dominated by fictional types or by fictionalized representations of real people. Is this a bit of "Myth and Symbol" American Studies? Should I have more real people on the list?

And so to finish prepping class.

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Nationalism?

Later today I will be teaching a class on National Unification in Europe in the third quarter of the nineteenth century - Italian and German Unification, and the change from an Austrian Empire to the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary. Both changes are wrapped around in nationalism, a conservative nationalism unlike the radical nationalism of 1848. In the same years, in 1861 to be precise, the majority of the citizens of the United States responded to an attempt to split the union with revulsion and with a determination to maintain the honor and integrity of the nation - North as well as South were nationalists in the American Civil War.

But what exactly is nationalism? What does it mean to be a member of a nation? The United States is easy, but goofy, for we are a nation defined by allegiance to a written document and a set of principles contained in that document. If you swear loyalty to the Constitution, renouncing any allegiance to any foreign prince or potentate (I know, they changed the oath recently, but I like the old one) then you are an American.

In contrast, European nationalism has long been defined by culture and language more than by allegiance to a political system.

Now I am going to get muddy as I wrestle with the points I will be making in class in a few hours.

Although members of all countries become citizens by being born within a set of territorial boundaries, I do think that there is more to a nation than a group of folks born within the same bit of land. Furthermore, the ideal types I just laid out are not exclusive. Helen commented a couple of days ago about walking past the American embassy in Stockholm on a cold winter day and having the Marine sentry smile and wave at her. For her, that smile and wave, that casual friendliness, is a crucial part of American culture. "That one gesture made my morning. Sometimes it makes me want to cry when I think about how friendly Americans can be. I waved back and smiled, feeling great that one Marine had made my heart warm just a little bit."

The point of the anecdote is that while the American nation is defined by ideas as much as by territory, the people who live within these borders have worked out a culture and a set of assumptions. More, contra Huffington, the American culture is like the English language - it accepts all sorts of loan words and loan concepts and works them into the mass. We have a closed strain in our thought, the minds of the Pat Buchannons of the nation show it, but we also have an openness and a willingness to embrace outsiders and foment change. We grumble about it, because change is always hard, and yet we live in a dynamic society and would feel stifled without some of those freedoms.

The point I seem to be groping towards is that nationalisms can be inclusive and exclusive, they can be like English with its hordes of loan words or like French where a national committee vets every new expression before approving its use. Free trade in words, like free trade in goods, benefits those with the vibrant and growing position - as we feel threatened we shut down access to our culture.

Nationalism is, at essence, the assertion that some group of people have something in common. It is a claim of unity. That unity can be ideological - the US Constitution - or geographic or linguistic or cultural. Strong nationalism, like German and Hungarian nationalism in the late 19th century, combines several of these aspects. And, nationalisms tend to be inclusive about the things that don't matter, but very jealous about the things that appear to threaten their core unity.

Thus while Americans are friendly, grinning fools some would call us, we do not define ourselves as the nation of friendly people. Similarly, while most Americans speak English and all immigrant groups move away from their old tongue and towards English within two generations, we are not defined as the folks who speak a dirty hybrid of Old German and Middle French with loan words from everywhere. Thus nativist impulses in America tend to founder because they are an attempt to redefine the nature of the nation. If we tolerated a change from a Catholic to a Protestant nation we can absorb a great many Muslim or Deist or Hindu immigrants so long as they accept the norms of our national civil religion (see extended entry).

In contrast, a nation defined by its state church, state language, or common culture has a much harder time accepting and integrating immigrants, and immigrants have less of an incentive to assimilate to the norm. Thinking about it this way, I am no longer surprised that many in Europe are terrified about Muslim migrants from Turkey and Algeria and elsewhere, terrified about imperial English taking over the language, terrified about American mass media taking over their culture, and both terrified and intrigued by the possibility of creating an essential unity among Europeans to replace the essential unity found within the various nations of Europe.

And, for this afternoon, it reminds me why the Magyars in the late 19th century were so jealous about other ethnic groups trying to cut into the national space that they had made for themselve within the Hapsburg Empire.

I think I can work up some good class questions from this rant, thanks guys.

Anti-Catholic civil religion in the extended entry.

Why yes, this is a bigoted quote. It comes from Lyman Beecher, A Plea for the West, 1833 - a sermon that inspired mob riots and that kicked off the rise in American anti-Catholicism before the American Civil War. For the le plus change, le plus la meme chose department, replace Catholic with Shiite and see if it affects the discussions about the future of democratic rule in the Middle East.

Oh yes, and note that Beecher is making his argument about the Civil consequences of religious belief - American civil religion generally holds that so long as a religious supports peaceful relations and the rule of law it is a valid religion, so if you want to destroy your enemy you have to prove that they are a threat to the republic, not just folks who pray with the wrong accent.

Did the Catholics regard them selves only as one of many denominations of Christians, entitled only to equal rights and privileges, there would be no such cause for apprehension while they peaceably sustained themselves by their own arguments and well doing. But if Catholics are taught to believe that their church is the only church of Christ, out of whose inclosure none can be saved, - that none may read the Bible but by permission of the priesthood, and no one be permitted to understand it and worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience, - that heresy is a capital offence not to be tolerated, but punished by the civil power with disfranchisement, death and. confiscation of goods, - that the pope and the councils of the church are infallible, and her rights of ecclesiastical jurisdiction universal, and as far as possible and expedient may be of right, and ought to be as a matter of duty, enforced by the civil power, - that to the pope belong the right of interference with the political concerns of nations, enforced by his authority over the consciences of Catholics, and his power to corroborate or cancel their oath of allegiance, and to sway them to obedience or insurrection by the power of life or death eternal; if such, I say, are the maxims avowed by her pontiffs, sanctioned by her councils, stereotyped on her ancient records, advocated by her most approved authors, illustrated in all ages by her history, and still unrepealed, and still acted upon in the armed prohibition of free inquiry and religious liberty, and the punishment of heresy wherever her power remains unbroken; if these things are so, is it invidious and is it superfluous to call the attention of the nation to the bearing of such a denomination upon our civil and religious institutions and equal rights? it the right of self-preservation, and the denial of it is treason or the infatuation of folly

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EBay - What am I missing?

J has been bidding on EBay looking for a basic electronic keyboard she can use to practice for her choral society. She does not want much - 4 voices, touch sensitive keys, and a sound that is not too horrible.

What she has found is that she will figure out her walk-away price for the item, bid it, and the auction will go into the last few minutes. Then someone will come along and place a last minute bid and win.

They are using software to watch the auctions and bid at the last minute.

I find it annoying, and I can not figure out what is the advantage of using a macro to bid at the very last moment. It does not help you get any given item any cheaper, unless people are bidding their hoped-for price and not their walk-away price. About the only advantage I can imagine for the practice is that it lets you watch a mess of auctions without making any contracts, and then bid only at the last minute so as to keep your options open.

But that also seems a little silly.

So why do people do it? I have started using the Buy it Now feature for EBay auctions as soon as someone has a Buy it Now for less than my walk-away price, because I get tired of waiting for an auction to end before discovering that a last minute feeder has topped my price. I would rather have the item than spend weeks on end bidding and losing at the last minute in an attempt to save a buck or three.

What am I missing?

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March 09, 2004

Planet Watching

Via Rocket Jones, I see that all five visible planets will be in the sky at the same time later this month.

Here is hoping for clear weather in late March.

ps, Ted Jones has been a funny man lately: check things out. Just don't let his daughter wear the big ring when she serves dinner.

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March 07, 2004

I am mean (Course Evaluations)

I got my evaluations back from last semester, where I taught the first half of the US Survey for Urban Research University. I learned a few things about myself - some of them will affect my teaching, others will not. Here are some random thoughts, written down to get them out of my head so I can sleep.

The first thing to remember is that 95% of the kids who responded only took the class because it was a distribution requirement. Without the liberal arts core, they would not have been there. Still, they had a strong opinion:

I am mean.

Why am I mean?

I do not give the grades that the kids think they deserve - a third of the students at Urban Research University expect to get an A in every class. I give about 4% A, 10% A- - which means that my students are going to be very cranky. The funny thing is, when I give 15% grades of A- or above, I feel like I am grading high.

Before I next teach there, I will double check with the department chair to see what the department's grading guidelines are - if someone is in the top 25% of all students you have ever taught, what grade did they earn?

My paper comments focused too heavily on form and not heavily enough on content. It is easier to grade form, and I fix it whenever I find it, but I did try to look at their argument. I need to work on giving more useful comments to the B papers. That is useful feedback.

I lecture a lot, which I knew, and the kids found it boring with many of them complaining about what I thought were interesting digressions. I will think about changing the entertainment level in class - although I won't be using Powerpoint I might add some multimedia. I may look into better ways to do small group activities - I stopped doing them after the students told me they would rather have me lecture them. It is hard to do a comprehensive survey, to people who don't want to be in the class and don't do the reading and can't talk about the class material, without lecturing. Perhaps shift to more postholing? Definitely open more classes with questions, do more close readings of documents in class - something I am doing this semester.

I am conservative. That will surprise the readers of this blog. And I don't do a good enough job of letting people who are talking nonsense dominate the class. Did I phrase it that way? Apparently a couple of the kids felt shut down or intimidated if they disagreed with my "conservative" understanding of history. On the good side, they really liked the way I dealt with slavery and racial issues in the US Survey. So that is a good thing. I do need to work harder at encouraging the folks other than the usual suspects.

I need to tweak my workload. They did not like my reader - thought it was boring and a waste of time. I will think about how to make it punchier. They also thought the workload was too high for the level. I do think that, with the regular homework assignments, I can go down to one paper. Several also wanted more frequent grading opportunities - quizzes and such - and not just a midterm and a final. Duh - what do you think the homeworks were? They pointed out, and I already changed this semester, the hole in my homework policy. Kids were attending discussion and then turning in homework the next class period summarizing what we covered in class. My current policy is that homework comes in at class time or not at all (exceptions for sick and out of class), and you can drop your lowest grade. I will look into lowering the reading load next time I teach at URU. Of course, the average student reported spending 4.2 hours a week outside of class on my coursework, and that feels LOW. Then again, many of the kids at URU are carrying 15 credits and a full time job - a combination that only works if you don't do much work outside the classroom.

Overall, a lot of the evaluations were kids being cranky because I gave a hard class and gave meaningful grades. I thought I had done better than that, and my initial feedback was that I had done a good job that semester, so these numbers and comments were a bit of a surprise.

And so to bed.

PS - I tried to leach the useful comments out of the noise, and those are the meaningful changes I intend to make. You never teach a class perfectly, and if they felt this cranky then there are things I have to change before I achieve my desired evaluation: "this class made you work very hard and everyone should take it because it is so good." But that will be a long way away at this rate.

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March 06, 2004

Posting Priorities

I am a little frustrated with the blog right now. Why? I have some good ideas for big think pieces: two on body types continuing my earlier discussion, riffing off of the NYT article on the clothing size survey and riffing off my decision to rejoin a gym; one on why some people look at Iraq and resolve to support GWB, others look at Iraq and resolve that he is a miserable failure as a war president; and one on my new meme of Saturday Garden blogging.

However, my A time goes to writing my real stuff, my B time goes to household tasks and baby wrangling, and in my C time I can only write little things like what you have seen over the last few days.

And so to revise a few pages about anti-Catholicism in the 1830s while the kids sleep.

Perhaps I will write one of the above as a study break next time I get stuck.

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March 05, 2004

Roses and Bulbs

I pruned the roses today.

I also raked leaves away from the budding bulbs. Spring has come to this corner of New Jersey: the crocus are peeking up, the early tulips are showing their first foliage, the spring irises are peeking out, and the roses were beginning to bud.

So, the roses got cut down to knee height, then fertilized so that they will grow back stronger. I think that Nietzsche must have been a rose gardener, for the plants are alternately cosseted and brutalized in order to stimulate their growth.

I like playing in the dirt. It relaxes me and it helps me think about things without directly thinking about them. Even raking leaves relaxes me, although it is much cooler to play in the dirt and see live green things appear as a result of your efforts.

And so to write - I think that today I will be writing up the changes to chapter four.

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Name your inner hobbit

At dinner tonight the toddler and I were "filling in around the corners" - having a little bite of this and a little bite of that as we properly pack our bellies for the long haul - hours at least - until the next meal.

I realized that what we were doing was filling our inner hobbit, the little man in your belly (or woman in your belly - everyone has one) who wants to know what happened to second breakfast? what are we having for tea? did you hear about what happened to my cousin's wife's great aunt's daughter? and what do you mean the beer comes in Pints!

I don't know what the toddler has named his inner hobbit, but mine has a name - Mortimer Stoutbuttons. I have long had a name for my tummy (some people name their sexual organs, but I know where MY priorities are) and called it Mortimer. Stoutbuttons is a fine hobbitish name and the usual surname for halflings and hobbits that I play in games. So, Mortimer Stoutbuttons it is.

What is the name of your inner hobbit?

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Late and Early

Late to Bed and Early to Rise makes Ted a sleepy ineffective boy.

The infant has been keeping us up late, and I have been winning the 11:00-2:00 shift. He often gets to sleep around midnight, but not always, and so I get to see the neighborhood go to sleep around me. When I take the hound out for her last pee break all is dark and quiet around me.

The toddler was good this morning, sleeping in until 7:00. The two previous mornings he was up around 5:00. When he wakes around 5:00 we will often go out and see if the newspaper has arrived yet and enjoy those quiet still pre-dawn hours. On Wednesday and Thursday the neighborhood was asleep, the houses dark, and only a faint whisper of noise from the Pike a few blocks away told us that some folks were up and stirring. Today the sun was up over the trees and the school busses were running when we finally went out to fetch the paper and hang the flags.

Still, I needed my mid-morning nap and still I was ineffective for the first half of the day. Four hours of sleep and a 40 minute nap is not enough.

But now I have had my nap, I have had my lunch, J has returned with two new pounds of coffee (Columbian high-test and Columbian decaff) and I might possibly get some writing done. This blog entry is to prime the pump and get me going.

I just hope the coffee does not keep me up too late tonight.

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March 04, 2004

Carnival 76

Carnival of the Vanities 76 is up at Dodgeblogium who stepped in as emergency fill-ins for this week.

I sent them the piece on The very opposite of pandering that I wrote in response to something John Holbo wrote at Crooked Timber.

All sorts of linky goodness, but as today is a day for errands and writing, I won't be reading the Carnival until later on.

And so to read in chapter 4.

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March 03, 2004

The better angels of our nature

I found myself thinking about why I read web logs, why I read fiction, and what things I find in common amid the various things that I read for fun.

What came to mind was this: I like to read things that celebrate or explain traits that I wish I had more of. For me, the traits that I respond to are being a doer not a slacker, being kind to others, having introspection and self-knowledge, and living a truthful life. These are the better angels of my nature, and I do what I can to encourage them in myself and, where possible, in others.

Perfection is boring. It is boring in fiction and, in real life, when I meet someone who seems too perfect I suspect a con game. Even Ben Franklin, who resolved at one point to become perfect, found that the best he could do was moderate those of his faults that he was aware of. In fiction, the perfect character is not inspirational and not all that interesting. The challenge for an author is to create an attractive character, someone who appeals to some of our better angels and is neither perfect nor despicable.

As bloggers, we create images of ourselves through our words, picking and choosing the stories to tell, the subjects to comment on, and the items to link. We also, through our selection of who we read and, even more, who we publicly admit to reading, display to other people what some of our aspirations are.

That is not to say that we want to be the people in our blogrolls, although it would be sort of fun to take Eugene Volokh's brain out for a spin some day, but rather that most of the people we read regularly have something appealing or attractive to them. And, most of the people that we read often but do not blogroll have something unattractive about them or something that appeals to the darker angels of our nature. I know I have many sites on my private blogroll that will never go to the list on the right simply because they are too negative, or they are slackers, or they put partisan concerns above a search for truth and understanding.

And so, while I sometimes silently add and drop people from the blogroll, sometimes we have to announce that we are dropping someone as a public protest against their words or as a statement that the balance of their public persona has shifted from, for example, being a good writer who has slacker tendencies to being a self-destructive slacker who used to write well but is now calling for help. I am self destructive and slack enough on my own - those traits do not need reinforcement. So, while I do hope that Rob gets his act together, it is time to edit the blogroll.

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Red Ted
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March Calendar

Hark, what pen through yonder day doth break?

Well, I returned all the student papers and exams and homework tonight.

For the next four days all I have to do is write (and prep class, and take my share of baby time.)

I have not written in almost 3 weeks - it will be nice to do it again.

I wonder what I was working on?

ps, pardon the fractured Shakespeare

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Red Ted
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March 02, 2004

Deep in the Heart of ...

I like to sing little snatches of song to myself, a trait that has gotten worse now that I have small children to sing them to.

I also like to come up with doggerel - sometime when I get it more polished I will post the cook's version of "Mockingbird."

But for now I just want to share the snatch of song that came to me as I was driving the toddler, listening to The Two Towers on audiobook, and admiring the day.

The stars at night
Have a fell light
[clap clap clap clap]
Deep in the heart, of Mordor

The orcs have teeth
that snatch and bite
[clap clap clap clap]
Deep in the heart, of Mordor

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Red Ted
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March 01, 2004

Ashcroft again

According to the Washington Post editorial board, Motor City Mess John Ashcroft's Justice Department seems to have had a bad day during its war on terror.

What worries me about Ashcroft, Bush, and Texas-style Justice (tm) is that they seem blind to the dangers that these sort of "stupid cop tricks" and "sleazy prosecutor tricks" hold for the rest of us. They do not just endanger the people who may have been accused of things that they did not committ, they also endanger everyone else because while the unlucky get railroaded the guilty are free to go about their business.

File me with the many people who would have fewer problems with the War on Terror if it were led by different people, and that implies that the Patriot Act and the other paraphenalia are better suited to a government of men not of laws, and that implies that there are problems with the process of extra law, secret prosecutions, and selectively suspended rights.

This editorial is particularly striking because over the last couple of years folks have been accusing the Post of shifting from its reliably leftish anti-Nixon heritage to a pro-Iraq mouthpiece of the GWB White House. Is this the same newspaper that essentially tells its reporters not to bother asking followup questions or double-checking the numbers in White House press releases?

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Chicken Soup

J's cooking is nothing like this.

But she does make a good chicken soup, and so I found the comic funny. In a perverse sort of way.

Why yes, I do get strange when I grade. Why do you ask?

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Red Ted
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Typos

I am grading blue books today. Such fun. I graded homework earlier, and I still have to do the second pass on the papers (otherwise the folks who got graded before lunch get a full letter grade lower than the folks who get graded after lunch.)

I started reading identifications. So far I have one that was just plain sad - a gamish of names and dates as every ruler and every conflict between 1500 and 1815 was thrown into a single identification. I won't reproduce that, I don't find those funny.

What I DID find funny was this:

Jean Jacques Rousseau was one of the most sexiest men of the enlightenment.

You can see what the student was trying to say, but it calls to mind those wonderful Spinal Tap distinctions about the fine lines between "sexy" and "sexist", between "clever" and "stupid."

Especially because nine out of ten women surveyed thought that JJR was not in the least bit sexy.(1) The tenth was his teenaged housekeeper, who he forced to sleep naked with him, but when he was tried for fornication outside of marriage because of how he treated his female help, JJR won the case by claiming that the prothesis he wore to treat his urinary tract problems made it impossible for him to have sexual relations. Now THATS sexy. Yep.

(1) Department of Unverifiable Statistics, Journal of Irreproducable Results, May, 1492.

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Red Ted
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