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April 2004 Archives

April 30, 2004

Cat TV

From Jenny Breeden, we see Cat TV

I smiled.

Posted by
Red Ted
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Framing a Chapter

People, family members mostly, ask me why the dissertation is taking me so long. I explain that I have trouble framing my arguments, and they don't quite understand what I mean by that.

I am in the middle of revising chapter two yet again, let me review some of the ways I have tried to structure this story.

The chapter was always going to be about how American notions of religion and the state changed between the Revolution and Constitution that is the subject of chapter one and the rise of the national benevolent societies that are the subject of chapter three. It is a transition chapter talking about life after the Revolution.

I forget how I first tried to handle this. The bit I remember is that I decided to frame the chapter in terms of Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin. The three guys were together at the Declaration, they were together in France in 1786, and while Franklin went home and helped with the Constitution, Jefferson and Adams watched the early days of the French Revolution from Paris and London respectively before coming home and taking up major positions under the new Constitution. More, the conflict of the 1790s featured a religious war between the Trinitarian supporters of Unitarian Jefferson and the Trinitarian supporters of Unitarian Adams, both of whom were explained by their supporters in terms of their civil religion.

More, I was thinking at the time that the book that would grow out of this dissertation would be something that undergraduates could read to get a handle on the transition between the late colonial era and the late antebellum era, the long version of the Early American Republic. So, I explained the French Revolution and its relationship to American politics. This was in part a think piece helping me figure out these events, but it was also an attempt to meld political history with sweeping intellectual history.

The experiment failed - I bogged down in the politics and did not dig enough into the ideas.

So, I cut out the details and wrote it again framing it solely in terms of Jefferson. That worked so so, but it still did not cohere well. Jefferson was strong in the beginning and reviled in the end, but somewhat missing in much of the middle section. I had a long discussion of Burke and Paine, a good discussion of Jedediah Morse and the Illuminatti hooplah, and an extremely awkward reading of Joseph Story and the Girard Will case of 1844.

The current attempt at the chapter is focusing more on Joseph Story - thus the recent reading in JS. I am going to be looking at the conflict between two Republicans, Jefferson and Story, both of whom were Unitarians but who held completly different understandings of American Civil Religion.

I will work out the basic tenets of civil religion and then show how the two men tried to handle the contradictory aspects of those tenets - everyone believes that religion is a matter of reason and conviction and that beliefs can not be adjusted in response to force and violence (paraphrasing Mason and Madison), but many people also believe that because there is a relationship between religious beliefs and future actions, that people and society have a meaninful interest in the private religious beliefs of other people and especially of magistrates.

So, I am now coming up with the third or fourth, depending on how you count, different major swing at the same material. Each is better than the previous - more clearly written, more thickly sourced, more coherently argued. But, each takes a great deal of time.

My only hope is that the final dissertation will be solid enough that it will not take TOO long to turn it into a book. But I know that the book process will also take FOREVER.

And back to work, revised 20 pages today.

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Red Ted
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April 28, 2004

Reading List

Via Sheila O'Malley, we have a long list of books read.

I forget if I have done this one already or not, so here we go again.

Below the fold is a list of books and authors.

The way the meme is supposed to work is that you mark the items you have read in bold. I added to that - for many of these I have read other works by the author. There I marked the author in bold and left the title in plain text. I also put an asterisk in front of the books that I started and then put down. I have read the first 300 pages of War and Peace at least three times now.

My current books on tape are Steinbeck Grapes of Wrath and Heinlein Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Once I finish those I might dig into this list for suggested things to listen to.

Beowulf
Achebe, Chinua - Things Fall Apart
Agee, James - A Death in the Family
*Austen, Jane - Pride and Prejudice
Baldwin, James - Go Tell It on the Mountain
Beckett, Samuel - Waiting for Godot
Bellow, Saul - The Adventures of Augie March
Brontė, Charlotte - Jane Eyre
*Brontė, Emily - Wuthering Heights
*Camus, Albert - The Stranger
Cather, Willa - Death Comes for the Archbishop
*Chaucer, Geoffrey - The Canterbury Tales
Chekhov, Anton - The Cherry Orchard
*Chopin, Kate - The Awakening
Conrad, Joseph - Heart of Darkness
Cooper, James Fenimore - The Last of the Mohicans
*Crane, Stephen - The Red Badge of Courage
*Dante - Inferno
de Cervantes, Miguel - Don Quixote
Defoe, Daniel - Robinson Crusoe
Dickens, Charles - A Tale of Two Cities
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor - Crime and Punishment
Douglass, Frederick - Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
Dreiser, Theodore - An American Tragedy
Dumas, Alexandre - The Three Musketeers
Eliot, George - The Mill on the Floss
Ellison, Ralph - Invisible Man
Emerson, Ralph Waldo - Selected Essays
Faulkner, William - As I Lay Dying
Faulkner, William - The Sound and the Fury
*Fielding, Henry - Tom Jones
Fitzgerald, F. Scott - The Great Gatsby
Flaubert, Gustave - Madame Bovary
Ford, Ford Madox - The Good Soldier
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von - Faust
Golding, William - Lord of the Flies
Hardy, Thomas - Tess of the d'Urbervilles
Hawthorne, Nathaniel - The Scarlet Letter
Heller, Joseph - Catch 22
Hemingway, Ernest - A Farewell to Arms
Homer - The Iliad
Homer - The Odyssey
*Hugo, Victor - The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Hurston, Zora Neale - Their Eyes Were Watching God
Huxley, Aldous - Brave New World
Ibsen, Henrik - A Doll's House
James, Henry - The Portrait of a Lady
*James, Henry - The Turn of the Screw
Joyce, James - A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Kafka, Franz - The Metamorphosis
Kingston, Maxine Hong - The Woman Warrior
Lee, Harper - To Kill a Mockingbird
Lewis, Sinclair - Babbitt
London, Jack - The Call of the Wild
*Mann, Thomas - The Magic Mountain
Marquez, Gabriel Garcķa - One Hundred Years of Solitude
Melville, Herman - Bartleby the Scrivener
Melville, Herman - Moby Dick
Miller, Arthur - The Crucible
Morrison, Toni - Beloved
O'Connor, Flannery - A Good Man is Hard to Find
*O'Neill, Eugene - Long Day's Journey into Night
Orwell, George - Animal Farm
Pasternak, Boris - Doctor Zhivago
*Plath, Sylvia - The Bell Jar
Poe, Edgar Allan - Selected Tales
Proust, Marcel - Swann's Way
Pynchon, Thomas - The Crying of Lot 49
Remarque, Erich Maria - All Quiet on the Western Front
Rostand, Edmond - Cyrano de Bergerac
Roth, Henry - Call It Sleep
Salinger, J.D. - The Catcher in the Rye
Shakespeare, William - Hamlet
Shakespeare, William - Macbeth
Shakespeare, William - A Midsummer Night's Dream
Shakespeare, William - Romeo and Juliet
Shaw, George Bernard - Pygmalion
Shelley, Mary - Frankenstein
Silko, Leslie Marmon - Ceremony
*Solzhenitsyn, Alexander - One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Sophocles - Antigone
Sophocles - Oedipus Rex
Steinbeck, John - The Grapes of Wrath
Stevenson, Robert Louis - Treasure Island
Stowe, Harriet Beecher - Uncle Tom's Cabin
Swift, Jonathan - Gulliver's Travels
Thackeray, William - Vanity Fair
Thoreau, Henry David - Walden
Tolstoy, Leo - War and Peace
Turgenev, Ivan - Fathers and Sons
Twain, Mark - The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Voltaire - Candide
Vonnegut, Kurt Jr. - Slaughterhouse-Five
Walker, Alice - The Color Purple
Wharton, Edith - The House of Mirth
Welty, Eudora - Collected Stories
Whitman, Walt - Leaves of Grass
Wilde, Oscar - The Picture of Dorian Gray
Williams, Tennessee - The Glass Menagerie
Woolf, Virginia - To the Lighthouse
Wright, Richard - Native Son

Posted by
Red Ted
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Flint - Ring of Fire

Long entry on Eric Flint [ed] Ring of Fire over in the reading blog.

Posted by
Red Ted
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Sleep and meetings

The toddler was up and screaming at 4:00 this morning.

This would not have been such a bad thing, except that I had been rattling around until about 1:00 am, tired but unable to sleep.

It was the first rattle I have had in weeks. This one, I think, had three causes. I had gone to a town council meeting from 4:30 until about 7:00 because they were discussing a development plan for our neighborhood that was well conceived, badly drawn, and poorly explained to the residents. I brought a letter for the council, stood up and spoke, chatted with some new friends, and headed home. I do need to get more involved with the town - I will join the town improvement club, help out at the spring plantings, and help organize a block association. That got me a mite excited.

I then had a late dinner, eating around 9:00, for after I got home I had to help put the kids to bed, walk the hound, decide what leftovers appealed, and then chow down.

Finally, I had a little gastric distress - the chile burritos combined with the second pot of coffee during the early afternoon left me with some heartburn and discomfort. I am not sure if the coffee was more disruptive from the caffeine or from the acidity. In either case, I am partway through this morning's pot as I write this.

So, I am very glad indeed that I was able to convince J to take the screaming toddler from 4:00 until 6:00. At 6:00, which is the middle of his usual wakening window, she handed toddler over to me and went back to bed herself. She is still asleep and appears to be down for the morning.

Kids are exhausting, but they are also good fun.

Oh, and the infant was a hit at the town council meeting - I was babysitting while J had a work meeting up in Trenton so infant and I went to participate in local government. The mayor talked a lot about encouraging families with young children to move to our neighborhood by declaring the residential sections part of a development zone; I stood up with the infant in my arms and pointed out that we like the idea of development but insist that the neighbors get site plan review.

Either he had bold plans that he backed off from, or, more likely, they really did mean the large development zone as a blunt tool to perform minor improvements and did not stop to think about how people who were not at the planning meetings would interpret the language of the proposed statute.

Looks like I get to go to planning board meetings in my copious free time.

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Red Ted
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April 27, 2004

Cat Poop

You don't have to read this one.

Our cat is about 15 years old - she was a young stray when J acquired her in 1991.

Slowly over the last few years she has been struggling with decreased motility in her GI tract - the muscles can no longer push the stool along, it dries out as it goes through the colon, the more it dries the slower it goes, and you get a vicious cycle ending in complete blockage.

So, every so often the kitty goes to the vet for her kitty enema. Such fun.

She is blocking more often recently, and has been to the vet three times in the last two months - that is a lot of vet visits even before you add the blood tests we just ordered to make sure there is nothing else wrong with her.

So, we got a syringe and a thin rubber hose and instructions on how to give a high enema to a kitty cat. The current model is that she is fine as long as she delivers a proper stool once a day: if she goes 24 hours without a poop or if she delivers a string of nasty little pooplets, we start mixing up the soap solution.

For the last three days, ever since the cat got back from the last vet visit, J has proudly informed me that the cat has pooped.

This makes me most happy.

Posted by
Red Ted
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Evaluating GWB II

A few months ago I started a series called Evaluating GWB where I intended to review GWB and the War on Terror.

Since then there has been a spate of insider books on the Bush White House and a dramatic change in the nature of the Iraqi occupation.

I have not been reading those books and I have not been keeping up on the details of what is happening in Iraq, and so I have not been pontificating about GWB.

Instead of the detailed series I proposed, let me just pick a few points to make, good and bad.

Crusade - GWB's first response to 9/11 was to proclaim a crusade against terrorists - a good idea and a magnificently tone-deaf presentation of the idea. The language was quickly altered by his staffers, and GWB remembered not to say crusade again. Net impact - the word itself encouraged the radical Islamic groups who are trying to unify Islam by provoking the West, the retraction worked to the extent that people in the Islamic world decide that Bush is inarticulate rather than offensive.

With us or Against Us - the thing that first inspired me to write about GWB. By setting up a binary choice between terror and liberty, at least I think he defined non-terror with a positive term, Bush did a good job of pressuring Middle East leaders who might have hoped to straddle the gap between the US and radical Islam. The binary distribution seems to have been helpful in diplomacy with Libya and, to a lesser extent, with Syria and Egypt. Net result for the Middle East proper, positive.

However, With us or against us has effectively made the United States policy towards resistance movements a policy that hinges on the means used by the resistance movement and not the merits of the resistance or the abuses of the regime. Where Kissinger pushed a policy of realpolitik, aiding people who aided us, and where Carter pushed a policy of human rights, aiding nations that dealt with their subjects properly, Bush has turned to a morally neutral and outcome-blind policy that, in the case of things like Putin and the Chechin rebellion, may well have given a free hand to repression. One car bomb is now a get-out-of-sanctions-free card for the regime, and they can then do whatever they want because the insurgents are suddenly "terrorists." Net result for Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the former Soviet Union, negative.

More later

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Red Ted
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April 26, 2004

Belated Garden Blogging

Today I did no gardening. It rained and it was teaching day.

Ah, but over the weekend we played in the dirt yes we did.

I say we, because the toddler helped. On Saturday morning we took the new van out and bought dirt - peat moss, some fertilizer, and some topsoil to fix the holes that the hound digs in the back yard. Then we ladled it out into the side garden where the vegetables are going to go.

For the peat moss, I loaded the big bag on my wheelbarrow and scooped it onto the garden a couple of inches thick. I gave the toddler some peat moss in his little plastic wheelbarrow, and he took his little plastic shovel and followed behind me and also pitched peat moss into the garden. It was most amazingly cute, and by noon he was so covered in dirt and peat moss that he got stripped to the skin, washed down, and dressed in clean clothes.

Apparantly when I was between two and four Mom could not garden without hearing awkard cries of "Tuddy hulp, Tuddy hulp" as I came and trampled on whatever she was working in. It is good to see that family traditions remain strong.

It looks like we will have room for eight tomatoes, three legend hybrids and five red alert bunch tomatoes, and fifteen hot peppers, probably nine Thai dragons and the rest Hero peppers. I will put some jalapenos around the azalea in the back, where I now have tulips and daffodils coming up. That means that I will not be planting anything along the back fence this year - instead I will wait for the daffodils to go down and then weed-whack along the fence.

The old roses are all growing nicely, even the stunted red rose now has growth from all of its remaining branches. I saw a little bit of growth from one of the two new roses. Thinking about it, I did plant the root graft too low in the ground - I was not sure if I should plant by the top of the mulch or the top of the firm soil, and I planted at the top of the firm soil and then backfilled to the top of the mulch. Silly Ted. Still, if the roses survive they will (probably) adjust their height. I just planted them Minnesota style and not California style.

Today J cut some tulips from the back and we have yet another bunch of fresh flowers on the kitchen table. It gives me great pleasure to have them there, and to know that they came from the garden. With luck I will have designed the garden so that we will have fresh flowers all summer long and into the autumn.

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Red Ted
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Stalin and GWB

This is an unfinished thought. Perhaps by blogging it I will get a better handle on it.

Locke, Paine, and the contract theorists suggest that it is morally impossible for a population to freely bind themselves and their posterity to slavery; while it is possible to freely elect a despot, that despot can not be hereditary for by creating a hereditary despot this generation will have infringed on the rights of the generation not yet born.

But, what do you do when a population freely elects to create a government that you, an outsider with some level of power and control over them, do not approve of? It is an old chestnut in political science, one that generations of undergraduates have written little think papers on, but it is a chestnut because it is a very real question - to what extent should a free population have the ability to choose a bad or even disastrous course of action?

So where do GWB and Uncle Joe come in?

I taught the early Cold War last week. At the end of WWII Stalin had an absolute commitment to preventing any future German invasion of Russia/USSR. They had done it in 1917, devastated the country, and killed millions. They had done it in 1941, devastated the country, and killed tens of millions (about 25,000,000 Soviet citizens died in the war, two thirds of them civilians). He did not want to see the third act. So, he expanded the Soviet Union Westward, expanded Poland Westward, and made sure that the minor states along his border would not serve as a stepping off point for any future invasion.

This desire received great power approval at Yalta, where the Big Three agreed that the states of Eastern Europe would have democratically elected governments, and that they would conform their foreign policies to that of the Soviet Union.

In 1946, when Poland and Hungary and the other Eastern nations began to hold elections, anti-Communists and, more importantly, anti-Russians won the elections. Faced with a choice between keeping his word about democratic elections and keeping these states closely within the Soviet orbit, Stalin chose to subvert democracy and use force to impose Communist governments against the will of the inhabitants. Those governments remained in place until the collapse of the Brezhnev Doctrine in 1989-91. The inhabitants of these countries generally regarded their government as illegitimate, as dominated by outsiders, and as a very bad idea. They rejected it as soon as possible, with Hungary in 1956 and Poland in the 1980s both creating their own democratic challenges to Communism.

In Iraq right now, we are at some level engaged in trying to install a liberal democracy based on human rights, individual self worth, free elections, and an open and mobile society. Many of the people in Iraq, perhaps most of them, would prefer a government that does not fulfill the full range of human rights, feminist rights, open speech, and the other components of our current understanding of a liberal democracy. So, to what extent should the Coalition of the Willing use either military force or occupation pressure to force Iraq to conform to a liberal ideal?

The differences between the two cases are legion, starting with the fact that we believe that liberal democracy is a very good thing and doctrinaire communism is a very bad thing. But, at some level, both are driven by thoughts of false consciousness - the belief that people are misinformed and if only they knew better they would act as we wish they would act. False consciousness is not limited to Marxists, although Marxists have long used it to explain why working classes vote against socialist government.

Jefferson, for example, never considered that most Americans in 1796 preferred John Adams and the Jay Treaty over Thomas Jefferson and ties with France; instead he argued that they had been misled by "priestcraft" and a "reign of witches" then distracted by the "frenzy" of the X.Y.Z. affair and otherwise misled by a conspiratorial aristocratic elite. If they were free of superstition and frenzy, then they would prefer TJ, and so he must continue.

I do not know to what extent Stalin was a true believer in Stalinist Communism and to what extent he was a true believer in paranoia, personal power, and Russian dominance of the USSR. One could easily imagine the case of a person who truly believed that Communism was the best possible form of government and who worked to impose it by force on Poland, Hungary, and other nations for their own good, just as every day we see brave and dedicated people in Iraq who do believe that democracy is the best possible (or least terrible) form of government and who work to make it possible in Iraq.

I do support the movement to liberal democracies over the world. I worry that any attempt to impose them by force will, if badly done, look like Stalin in Hungary. And yet, without some use of force, we cede control to the people who are willing to use violence to institute personal rule, ethnic domination, or islamofascism.

But, there is a difference between imposing outside rule and convincing people that our idea is the best idea. As Jefferson put it when talking about religion, force may make a person a hypocrite, it can never make him a better man. Instead reason and conviction are the only lasting ways to change people's minds about their essential beliefs.

So, GWB and Stalin are alike in that both GWB's policy of using force to create a democratic Iraq and Stalin's actions using force to create Communist satellite states can be seen as an outside power using the logic of false-consciousness to impose a regime that the outside power approves of. If it is done well, the inhabitants of the regime will go along with it. If it is done badly, or ham-handedly, then it will undermine the legitimacy of the new regime.

So let us be careful.

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Red Ted
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April 25, 2004

What I mean, not what I say

This was written by a very nice student who has trouble articulating herself clearly. I know what she meant, but I was amused by what she wrote:

During World War I the average woman in the work force was still relatively high ...
It is remarkably difficult to express ideas clearly in written prose. I struggle with it, and I make my students attempt to improve their skills at it.

I am not sure if their homework improves over the semester because they become better writers, or because they start out blowing off the assignments and later on put more time into them.

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Red Ted
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Car buying mistakes

1, Get a price for the trade-in from one of those "we buy cars" places.

2, Negotiate the price of the new vehicle BEFORE trade in. Don't get pressured into throwing in the trade car.

3, Get internet prices from all local vendors before going in to bargain at any. Work with the internet sales reps.

4, Say at the outset that we will not sign anything the same day we first drive the car. They have to give us their best offer and let us sleep on it. Because we work better that way.

5, Our only real power is to walk out and take our business elsewhere. Use that power. New cars are pretty darn similar.

6, Make a list of any desired and not-desired options such as cassette players. If the new vehicle is a Honda, refuse to pay a dime for the bolt-on mud guards. "You bolted them on, take them off again - we don't want them." That package appears to exist solely for the dealers to be able to appear to give and still make a profit.

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Red Ted
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Concept and Execution

We have been fashing ourselves about the car purchase ever since the evening of the first day.

It is not that we regret the decision to buy new not used: we ran the numbers and decided it was a good decision.

It is not that we regret the choice of vehicle: we are very happy with the intrinsic qualities of the mobile red barn.

What bothers us is that we goofed the negotiations, actually paying more than we had dickered for at two other dealerships. We goofed, and goofed several hundred dollars worth - at least $600 and as much as $1,000.

So, we are cranky with ourselves, by implication we are cranky with the vehicle. I keep telling myself not to get cranky at the dealership, just as one would not blame a shark who bit off your leg when you offered it to him. Instead I will blame the adversarial process of car shopping. I will also blame fatigue.

We bargained hard for all the used vehicles we turned down, and for the one of the two new vehicles. The other was an internet quote for $500 UNDER invoice from a place we don't like driving to. We should have driven there.

And, as a result, the cost-benefit analysis we ran deciding whether new or used made more sense for our driving patterns and the vehicles available got garbled. At the price we paid, the new vehicle is not such a good deal compared to the used cars.

So, I took the dealer's name off the car. They did nothing wrong; I will not slam them in this forum, but I am also not going to give them free advertising.

This banal little example reminds me of the larger questions about the Iraq war. It is possible to have a very good idea that, because you garble the execution, becomes a not very good idea.

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Red Ted
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April 23, 2004

Mobile Red Barn

We spent a lot of time over the last few weeks shopping for cars - first we thought we wanted a used minivan, and drove used Fords and Toyotas. Then we decided the seats were goofy in the Toyota and the handling on the Ford was a poor match for J's driving style i.e., she scared me while driving them. So, we shopped for used Hondas. There are not a lot of them out there, and the used Hondas are almost the same price as new Hondas.

We have a new red Odyssey in the driveway; we gave the dealer our old Corolla and a big check in exchange for half ownership in it. If we had not been sick of shopping we might have gotten a better deal - we buy cars rarely and as a result we don't bargain well.

It is a mobile red barn.

We like it.

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Red Ted
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April 21, 2004

Candy Canes

Halsted Bernard comments that there is nothing sadder than a candy cane in April except perhaps free tuition that someone is not taking advantage of.

I wish him luck as he contemplates going back to school for a humanities program - it is a terrible job future but a wonderful set of things to know and to learn.

I disagree with him about the candy cane. I am one of those folks who like candy canes. I stock up at the holidays, buy extra when they go on sale, and eat them all year long. For some reason the peppermint-sugar ratio in a candy cane is just a bit different from a starlight mint, the cane is lighter tasting and the taste is pitched more tenor, less baritone if that makes any sense.

I think it has to do with the ratio of peppermint oil to peppermint extracts, or to the way the candy is processed into a bent stick rather than a decorated lump.

Of course, I also buy peppermint starlights in the five-pound bag. I do like hard candy, peppermint candy in particular, as the next best thing to chocolate.

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Red Ted
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Kipling - Captains Courageous

Today's morning rant is over in the reading blog - a discussion of Rudyard Kipling's Captain's Courageous.

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Red Ted
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April 20, 2004

The Return of Three

While I was grading papers my advisor was going over the latest chapter three. His conclusion: better but not yet good enough. I need to sharpen my prose; I need to mention the depression of 1837-1842; I need to make clearer tables with better explanations; I need to discuss the depression of 1837-1842 in my section on the finances of benevolent organizations; and I need to trim 10 pages.

All in all, a good review in that nothing there requires major changes and in that I had slapped the tables together to see if they made any sense. It should be a fairly straightforward set of revisions.

I still intend to do some rough carpentry on two, then decide if I should polish three or four next. I have fallen behind a little - I try to have something new to give my advisor just as quickly as he gets things back to me.

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Red Ted
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April 19, 2004

Sartorial Armor

We covered most of World War II and the Holocaust today. Surprisingly, I did not break down in class. Not so surprisingly, the closest I got to losing it was not in the discussion of the Holocaust, which I had braced for, but in my discussion of the Great Patriotic War, the USSR's effort to drive out and then destroy Nazi Germany.

In part I was able to handle the Holocaust because I had prepared for it. I had gotten upset on Saturday, while writing the class, and then given myself time to relax. I had also, in a gesture that I understood and that the kids probably did not catch, wore a dark grey suit and a black tie today. I normally teach in blazer and chinos, but I dig out the go-to-meeting outfit on November 11 and on other days when I need a bit of sartorial armor. Today I told myself it was my mourning suit, and as usually happens when we wear clothes that affect our self-perceptions, the garments provided a needed emotional crutch.

Let me give some context for the Great Patriotic War. Back in the early 1980s, while in high school, I went on a trip to the Soviet Union. Several dozen of us went, met some Russians, looked at the sights, and were American teenage tourists. It was a good trip.

At one point we went to a Moscow movie theater and watched a film. I have no idea what it was about; something involving a man, a woman, love, and a thriller plot. At one point in the movie the narrative plot stopped for a flashback: the soundtrack volume jumped noticeably, the actors were replaced by 1940s newsreel footage, and we were treated to dive bombers, explosions, and devastation. I missed it, but some of the other folks on the trip looked around and noticed that most of the older Russians in the theater cried during this sequence which, to us, seemed jarring and out of place, breaking the flow of the movie.

I did not tell this story to the students; I just mentioned that if you mention the Great Patriotic War to a Russian (former Soviet really - not just Russia) of the war generation, then they will cry. The war was devastating and deeply emotional. Between over twenty million Soviet citizens died in the war, perhaps as many as twenty five million. That is an inconceivable number. It was while recounting the Great Patriotic War and explaining how it was that the Soviet people were willing, even glad to incur these costs if it let them repay the atrocities that the Germans had inflicted upon them, that I struggled for self control.

One of the hardest things to do is to recount strong emotion, or stories of strong emotion, to another without channeling that emotion yourself.

Wednesday we will finish the war and start the Cold War - the end of World War II and the start of the Cold War are linked so I teach the two together. I have broken up the sadness of the Second World War in a manner that, while it is decent pedagogy, lightens the emotional load on the instructor.

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Red Ted
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April 18, 2004

Cabaret and Schindler's List

I am prepping the class on World War Two for Monday. The current plan is to start the war, fight the early war, and then cover the Holocaust. I will leave the late war for Wednesday's class on the Cold War; my notes are already six pages of 14 point, and that is more than enough for 75 minutes.

I got very upset yesterday reading and prepping. I will get very upset tomorrow when we will cover it. I will probably get upset again on Wednesday when we will end the war. The middle of the twentieth century is hard on me - the down side of teaching with a lot of emotion and of working to build historical empathy in the students is that I end up with a strong emotional reaction to that week's material.

To put it in terms of popular media, Wednesday was Cabaret, tomorrow will be Schindler's List. I am not sure what Wednesday will be - probably the bastard child of the Manchurian Candidate and a suicide bombing.

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April 17, 2004

Gmail and email

As I understand Gmail, the new service from Google, they are offering a pretty darn spiffy free email service, making a profit by running ads in the corner of the email, and fine-tuning the ads by scanning incoming emails for keywords.

This last aspect has some folks very worried about the privacy aspects, especially for people who send email to g-mail users but who may not want their content scanned for keywords and content. Others are less worried.

Like Eszter from Crooked Timber, I am only half-sympathetic to these worries. As I told folks back when I did technical consulting, email is a post card. More, it is a post card that you drop in the inter-office mail where it sits around as your co-workers walk by before it gets sent out into the wider postal stream. Do not write anything in an email that you would not write on a post card, and do not write anything in an email that you would not be willing to ask the office gopher to run down and photocopy for you.

These post cards are photocopied as they leave the office, at several points in the transmission system, and at the destination. Just because you hit send or the recipient hit delete does not mean that the email went away - there are still copies lying around on servers and backups and transmission nodes.

The only security any particular email has is either your decision to encode it with something like PGP, which means that only folks who are serious about reading your post card will be able to read it, or the fact that there are billions of emails streaming around the world every day and any particular message is lost in the clutter unless someone has a reason to look for it (or unless the content trips an internal filter that someone has set up in the mail stream - like having the word Visa and a sixteen digit number in the same email). The only security the copies of your email have is that space costs money and so people purge the old email spools after a few days or weeks except for internal mail spools at places that are legally obliged to keep a permanent record of all communications. Again, security through obscurity.

So, in practice G-mail is not exposing your email to any scrutiny that email does not already face on a regular basis. However, and this is the difference, Google is being up-front about their intention to scan email for content and then feed that content to their very smart software running on what is effectively a proprietary supercomputer.

I have low expectations for email privacy, and as a result I have low concerns about g-mail. On the other hand, I do recommend that everyone keep at least three separate email accounts: one through the workplace to use solely for work-related communication, one personal account to use for most personal communication, and one junk account through hotmail or yahoo that you use for situations where you have to give an email but know that it is likely to lead to spam. I actually have, erm, four work emails - one per college, three personal emails - two on this server, one through yahoo, and two junk emails - one for gaming, one for random web pages. That is a lot of email accounts.

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Saturday Garden Blogging

I have not done much gardening since the last big garden blogging - we had several days of rain and I am still waiting for the bit by the house to dry up so I can start spading in a garden.

The potted peppers and tomatoes are doing well and I repotted the coleus into separate growing pots - looks like I will get a lot of those even though my other flower seeds were all miserable failures.

I moved the dianthus from a hanging basket to the front and put pansies in the hanging basket instead - the symmetry made J. happier.

The roses and peonies continue to grow; a neighbor thinks the peonies are doing better than average for the neighborhood but who knows. I have not yet peeked under the mulch to see if the new roses have died yet; I will give them until the end of the coming week before I disturb them.

The big news is that the tulips are all open. I did not get any good pictures - things were blurry and over exposed, but will try again tomorrow before things fade. The tulips looks spectacular - the monsellas just glow, the yellow emperor tulips by the driveway are a blaze of lemon yellow, and the goofy pink monsters from Brecks really are almost two feet tall.

Below the fold is a picture of one side of the house, with monsella tulips between the cyprus (you can not see the new rose or the tall pink tulips at this angle) and yellow emperors by the drive. The flag is a Continental Flag, the flag that Trumbull painted in his picture of the battle of Bunker Hill; the American Flag is on the other side of the house. Sorry for the blurry picture - I mostly use the digital for snapshots and am still working out its landscape settings.

a picture of a house with a flag and flowers

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April 16, 2004

Exam questions I won't be asking

Here is one I won't be asking, at least not in this format:

Who would win a steel cage death match between the Enlightenment and Nationalism for the title of "Most influential modern intellectual movement"?
Your answer should be in the form of ringside commentary.

... And the Enlightenment reaches back and, YES, hits Nationalism with empirical evidence, now that's a heavy blow. Nationalism staggers, it backs up, and WHAM, here comes Nationalism with emotional attachment to the state, OUCH, and it was followed up with, yes, a string of folk tales. One after another. Those brothers sure are looking Grimm. The Enlightenment is looking confused, YES, it is searching for rational explanations behind each narrative, there it goes, off into the corner chasing the folk tales. And look at this, here comes Nationalism, it has snuck up behind the Enlightenment while it chased down evidence, and OOF, it has jumped on the Enlightenment's back and is piggy-backing on centralized government and rational bureaucracy. Oh, it hurts to have your best weapon used against you like that. But wait, the Enlightenment turns, and, YES, it undercuts Nationalism by applying universal criteria to the state, and now Both are down. Its a bloodbath in there let me tell you ...

Luckily, it is a steel cage match, so Pietism can not show up with a metal folding chair.

Why yes, I am a history geek. Why do you ask?

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Zeroing the curve

I hate this part about teaching, especially at the adjunct level.

The kids read an easy book, Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front. I then had them write an easy paper: "How did the Great War change the surviving members of Paul Baumer's Generation". Not surprisingly, almost all the kids repeated Remarque's argument about a lost generation.

Now I have to grade them. I have already read them and ranked them and made a few notes about things they did well and things they did not do so well. But the kids want a letter grade.

Historically, I save an A for the top 3% to 5% of my students, A- for the top 10 to 15%, and B+ for the rest of the top quarter.

Historically we give a straight C for someone who can read an easy book and recap the argument. Most of the kids did that, and that is really all I asked them to do. If I hand out fifty Cs I will face a mutiny, and rightly so.

Of the sixty-odd students who turned in papers, one is superior, three are better than the rest, and five are just under the top group. Is that an A, 3 A-, and five B+ or is it four As and five A- out of sixty papers?

I will probably go with the second curve, which means that at the end of the semester I will have to add a new column to my private grade sheet, and place these sixty students on my lifetime percentile chart so that if asked I can write a meaningful letter of recommendation.

Because, these days with grade inflation, the grade just does not matter. What matters is the teacher's willingness to say "so and so is in the top 25% of students I have ever taught; their work shows these traits ..."

Still, it would be convenient if we had a standard scale relating those hard percentile judgements with the softer letters that hit the formal GPA.

Done ranting. I will grade up on this paper and down on the final. The final is gonna be a bear.

The next time I teach Western Civ I will either not assign AQWF or come up with a more challenging paper topic.

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Hitler >> Lenin

On April 8th I posted that I was considering comparing Lenin to Dr. Frankenstein in the next class. Brad DeLong was amused and linked it, as did Matthew Yglesias.
I got about 130 hits and about 250 page views that day, a good hundred hits above average for the day. Lenin is worth 100 hits.

On April 15th I posted that earlier that day I had engaged in the guilty pleasure of reading Hitler speeches to the class. Brad DeLong was amused and linked it; Eric Muller was bothered and also linked it.
I got 652 visitors and 1012 page views that day, over 600 more visitors than is usual for a Thursday.

Clearly, Hitler's ability to draw web traffic is six times higher than Lenin's.

Next week we will spend more time with Stalin. If I write something that amuses Brad we might get a third data point.

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April 15, 2004

What I was intending in class

Eric Muller is not happy about my description of the speech section of Wednesday's class: "
I can think of lots of moods I might be in when teaching about Nazism. Silly ain't among 'em."

Silly was perhaps not the best word, but when I give a stump speech - especially a stump speech from a radical politician - I do my best to convey the sentiment along with the words.

Sometimes it is as simply as pitching my voice tenor when reading excerpts from William Jennings Bryan and the "Cross of Gold" speech, at other times it gets closer to the physical - I have not yet done Billy Sunday's slide but I do repeat Eugene Deb's body lean.

For the Hitler excerpts, I moved my voice up and down, changed the timbre from angry to sentimental and back again, and otherwise delivered the words instead of just reading them. I also banged on the podium, waved my hands in the air, and otherwise shifted my usual gestures to something closer to what AH used in his rally speeches.

When people use body language and tone changes that are not usual for their situation, it is commonly read as being either dangerous, confusing, or silly. All three are responses to a breach of decorum.

And, face it, pounding on the podium is not a standard teaching performance - at least not in the classes I took. Nor is it the standard mode for a televised political speech or political advertisement, the venue in which most of the students are used to seeing speechs.

So, these readings are different, this one was hopefully shocking, and if I did it right then the kids will be caught with a sort of cognitive dissonance where they both see how and why his thought was so reprehensible and see how and why his thought and presentation were so compelling. I don't know about that, I do know that they get very silent and very tightly focused whenever I read a radical politician; they were especially focused this class, perhaps because Hitler is so very evil.

In classes where I deliver excerpts from a speech I end up on a bit more of a performance high than I normally get after class, and that performance high is indeed a guilty pleasure when it comes from playing a Nazi.

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Take THAT Descartes!

John and Belle are funny this week. Here is another link:

Western Civ Action Figures

Phear the "Nefarious" Nietzsche with his "eternally recurring punching action"!

Can he defeat the Scottish Karate and local Skepticism of David "Hurt 'em" Hume?

I actually shared this with my students over on my teaching blog; it is quite well done and rather amusing.

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Followup to the previous

Belle Waring does not share J's aversion to the larger than usual schlong. Instead she is amused by them: "Ay Caramba!" she says at the sight of a killer whale penis.

I wonder if that is the male equivalent of the bust-hips-waist proportions of a barbie doll?

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From the Spam folder

As I was reading my email this morning I found a fine piece of spam that offered to increase my penis length by three inches.

I mentioned this to J. Her response?

"Ouch"

Seriously, penis enlargement spam is an extension to men of the same sorts of body-anxiety advertising that women have had to deal with since the 1920s if not before. While it would be nice if body issues for women moved closer to what they have historically been for men, not a big deal other than the occasional cry of "chicken legs," it appears that instead men are picking up some of women's anxieties and concerns. And that is a bad sad thing.

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April 14, 2004

Carnival

Carnival 82 is up at Boi From Troi. He did a nice job with a West Hollywood theme.

I sent in Lenin and Frankenstein. It was either that or tell the world that the younger son looks like Uncle Fester which is not much of a joke because I don't post pictures of the kids on this blog.

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Cute

Via Sgt Stryker

Icon's Story

I was amused

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Guilty Pleasures

Teaching Nazi Germany is a guilty pleasure.

On the one hand, the guys are morally reprehensible. Even in their early days, before they started murdering anyone other than their political opponents, they used words and thoughts that are double plus un good.

And yet, when I read their stuff to the class, especially when I rant and shout, and bang my fist on the table, and wave my hand in the air, and do everything but trim the goatee down to a toothbrush moustache -- well, it is good clean fun. I like the public performance part of being a teacher, and quoting radical politicians lets me give fun stump speeches.

The kids meanwhile are in that awkward ground where the professor is acting silly, the silliness is entertaining, his voice and body language tell them that these words matter, and the words themselves are not what they are used to hearing. They do pay attention, though whether through embarrasment or wonder I can not say.

I gave them a couple of paragraphs from his May 1 1923 speech (excerpts below the fold). I checked this video of Hitler at a party rally before class to make sure I had the gestures right.

As I said, Adolph Hitler's speeches are a guilty pleasure.

These are the paragraphs I read aloud performed in class today:

. . . If the first of May is to be transferred in accordance with its true meaning from the life of Nature to the life of peoples, then it must symbolize the renewal of the body of a people which has fallen into senility. And in the life of peoples senility means internationalism. What is born of senility? Nothing, nothing at all. Whatever in human civilization has real value, that arose not out of internationalism, it sprang from the soul of a single people. When peoples have lost their creative vigor, then they become international Everywhere, wherever intellectual incapacity rules in the life of peoples, there internationalism appears. And it is no chance that the promoter of this cast of thought is a people which itself can boast of no real creative force - the Jewish people....

There are three words which many use without a thought which for us are no catch-phrases: Love, Faith, and Hope. We National Socialists wish to love our Fatherland, we wish to learn to love it, to learn to love it jealously, to love it alone and to suffer no other idol to stand by its side. We know only one interest and that is the interest of our people.

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April 12, 2004

Name Changes?

Via Just One Bite I see that folks have dug up the old debate about whether or not women should change their names at marriage.

Eden suspects that if she were to remarry she would take husband's name. That confuses me, because she is a professional woman living and working on the East Coast, and as such is in the demographic most likely to retain their previous name.

J kept her last name, mostly because "thats me" and partially because she had the beginnings of a professional career and publication record under that name. Academics and professional women have changed their names without losing their careers for a long time, and folks do adjust, but for many the name change suggests that she will stop creating things and start raising children instead.

We compromise, she agrees that the kids teachers will call her Mrs Red Ted, I accept that her co-workers will call me Mr J, and the dry cleaners and other business establishments we frequent know us by the surname of the partner who first started dealing with the vendor.

In other words, we made a low-key decision and are living with it, much like Amanda Butler expects to do if and when she marries.

That seems to be a surprising choice considering some of the overheated rhetoric bouncing around the blogosphere. And, as everyone knows, people use blogs to post nothing other than well considered policy positions that have gone through an extensive editing and rethinking process and that the poster is willing to commit their life's work to implementing. Still, when Matthew Yglesias suggests that women be shamed into keeping their maiden names and his first commenter trolls that "If my wife doesn't want to take my last name, she can marry someone else" then there does seem to be a little heat in the question.

With comments like that, and with Dean Esmay and Sara at Diotima both complaining about feminist misogynists who insist that women who change their names are perpetuating male hegemony, it does appear that there is more to the question than simple practicalities.

It seems to me that the debate about whether she should change her name, and the relative balance of normative and practical decisions, is in many ways a debate about the meaning of marriage. If marriage is the creation of a single new organic whole then that whole should have a single collective name, in our society the man's name. If marriage is a collaberation of individuals to perform specific purposes - raising children, caring for one another, getting a tax break - then it is best to retain separate names.

The first conception of marriage is closer to that espoused by the folks who argue that marriage is the foundation of all society and that to mess with the institutions of marriage is to mess with the very basis of the commonwealth. It is a fine Reformation understanding of the institution. The second is a modern interpretation, the logical successor to companionate marriage, the new woman, and now same-sex marriage.

As a practical matter, living in a society with relatively easy divorce and a very high divorce rate, marriages are de facto in the second model already. The only meaningful debate we could be having is how to strengthen marriage as a companionship of equals.

And here we have a paradox. I believe that words matter, that the labels we use to describe the world shape the way the we understand and act on the world. But, where Matthew Yglesias would shame people into following his preferred model of the world, I am among those who argue that her decision about changing her name is a matter of preference and practicalities.

If you live in Boston where it is common for women to keep their maiden name, then you face one set of assumptions and norms. If you live in rural Virginia where women almost never keep their names you face another set. The name decision can not be made in a vacuum nor can it be made based on national norms or national data. It is a personal decision and thus a local decision.

We have met a fair number of folks in Jersey, especially the traditional Catholic sections of Jersey, who are completely baffled by the different names. Academic folks, by contrast, take it as a matter of course.

In any case, J is keeping her last name because it makes her happy to do so.

Edit - typo'd Dean's last name.

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Mussolini on Fascism

Digging around the net for a primary document to read in class, and a little confused about Italian fascism, I found this translation of Mussolini's own definition of his political philosophy.

It is one thing to read that fascists exhalted the role of the state, it is another to read the words in which they did so:

The Fascist State , as a higher and more powerful expression of personality, is a force, but a spiritual one. It sums up all the manifestations of the moral and intellectual life of man. Its functions cannot therefore be limited to those of enforcing order and keeping the peace, as the liberal doctrine had it. It is no mere mechanical device for defining the sphere within which the individual may duly exercise his supposed rights. The Fascist State is an inwardly accepted standard and rule of conduct, a discipline of the whole person; it permeates the will no less than the intellect. It stands for a principle which becomes the central motive of man as a member of civilized society, sinking deep down into his personality; it dwells in the heart of the man of action and of the thinker, of the artist and of the man of science: soul of the soul
I am glad I found this - fascism had been a term tossed around without clear definitions and, despite or perhaps because of Benito's pompous, abstract, and preachy tone, this gives a good feel for why the movement was so popular and for why it was so very very dangerous.

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April 11, 2004

Sunday Garden Blogging

I think I might want to permanantly move my little meme from Saturday to Sunday. Then again, it will likely bounce back and forth a bit.

I have had a busy few days in the garden. I am grading papers. I hate to grade papers. And so, I will grade a couple of papers, then do yardwork, then grade a couple of papers, then do yardwork. So far the yard looks great but I still have a couple of dozen papers to grade.

I mowed the lawn and seeded the thin spots again - this time with some extra soil to fill the holes that the hound dug in the back yard.

I planted the new roses the day they arrived - one yellow, one white, both boring modern roses from Edmunds' Roses out in Oregon. It was hard finding a disease resistant rose about four feet tall - I am curious to see how these work out. I followed directions - dig a hole, make a cone, spread the roots, mulch everything. While I was at it I also mulched the five old roses.

I also bought a couple of hanging baskets for the front, filling one with pansies and the other with dianthus. If I don't like the way they look I will trash their contents and replant them - J wants petunias in the baskets but it is not yet petunia season.

I also repotted the peppers from the seed starter into peat pots. I have ten Thai dragons, about as many hero peppers, and almost thirty jalapenos. I am thinking about re-arranging the garden plan and planting a great mass of jalapenos by the back fence. The scary thing is that I only started about half the seeds in the japapeno packet - I could have had even more medium-strength peppers. I will be giving jalapenos away - I have promised four to my parents, three to a neighbor, and three to my brother. I might slip a couple to the brother in law. That will reduce the oversupply of medium peppers to a managable level.

The toddler helped - he was amazingly cute as he did so. He would hand me the next peat pot, then play with peat pots until I was ready for another one. He was scooping dirt out of the seed starter and putting it in a pot, stopping once to taste it (yucky) and stopping a few times to wave his hands in front of his chest and shout "YAY." Later he went sliding on the bed of the new wheelbarrow. After I assembled the wheelbarrow he wanted to push it around but it was too tippy for him.

We will be growing tomatoes and jalapenos and cilantro. We have some garlic already growing by the roses (non-edible since I spray the roses) - all I need for salsa is some sweet onions.

The monsella tulips are starting to open. The daffodils by the back fence are open and do look a little sparse as I feared they would. The crocus by the back rose are in bloom and look very impressive. The miniature snow glories in the front are coming up late and one at a time. The roses all show some leaves, with the two on the sunrise side showing the most growth and the crimson showing the least.

There are some holes in the front. I will fill with pansies for now, but after looking at what other folks have done I will probably get some purple and white hyacinths to help me transition between crocus and tulips in the front garden.

That is about it in the garden. The African daisy seedlings did die as expected. The pansies and balsam are hanging out without doing much - the pansies mostly have three little leaves, the balsam still only two leaves. I might try pansies again, but if I do I will start lots of them and start them 12 weeks before early April. I will seed the rest of the balsam after Mother's day and see what happens.

I also broke down and bought a packet of the tall flanders poppies. I had intended to put them along the back fence, but J sez it will look bad especially if I have extra peppers there.

What I think I will do is
1, spade up the bit at the side of the house where I want to put tomatoes
2, decide if tomatoes really will grow there or not
3, do a preliminary staking of the location for the Thai dragons and hero peppers
4, decide if I am keeping the tomatoes and peppers in their spot
5, re-think what to put by the back fence.

Gardens are wonderful fun, but they do eat time and money. Since the last garden blog I have bought: peat pots, potting soil, lawn soil, wheelbarrow, 2 hanging planters, 18 plants (12 pansies, 6 dianthis), 3# grass seed, and some downspout extenders which are not technically garden supplies except that they will be used to push the gutter water away from where it will drown the house plantings.

Still, it is much more fun to play in the dirt than it is to grade papers.

Speaking of which, time to prep class and then grade a few more papers. I will plant the last six pansies in the front tomorrow.

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April 10, 2004

Lenin-lanche

I see that my sitemeter has gone up sharply since I last worked on the blog. Both Brad DeLong and Matthew Yglesias were intrigued by my throw-away suggestion that Lenin is like Dr. Frankenstein.

Hi to all the new visitors, although I suspect that most of the new visitors have come and gone already.

For what it is worth, I did not make the expliit comparison between Lenin and Frankenstein in class (the kids did not even know the punch line to the classic Frankenstein story, why confuse them.) I did use the tension between goals and means to help explain things, although I focused more on the 1903 split between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks.

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Blogiversary

Today is my one-year Blogiversary

I hope I spelled that right.

I started the blog in April 2003 as a diet, sleep, and exercise tracker for my own use. Over the following months the focus changed as did the uses that I put it to. I even developed a few dozen regular readers.

Looking back, I like reading the last six months or so of the blog; the first six months put me to sleep -- and I wrote them.

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April 07, 2004

Hurrah for Four

I sent chapter three off to my advisor on Sunday. As I was writing that email I got chapter four back from him.

The good news: the chapter is finally coherent enough that he can figure out and discuss the argument. The not as good news, he misread the argument which means that I need to make some of my transition points clearer, and he disagrees with my choice of ending position. His suggestion is stronger, but will require more research on something that I have not found a lot of useful stuff on. So, there is a research trip in my future - does the YMCA even have a historical society?

Still, it is nice to be crawling towards completion. Next up is some rough carpentry on chapter two, then to revise four again. But first I have to finish prepping class for this afternoon and then grade a stack of papers and homework.

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April 06, 2004

Procrastination

I am having a lot of trouble putting together tomorrow's class. So, I will vent here, and treat it as a think piece, and then go finish prepping class.

Tomorrow is "Reds" - the class on the Russian Revolution. I know I want to review Russia from 1880 to 1917, that I want to remind them of European socialism in the late 19th century, and that I want to get into the 1920s and the NEP even though that is technically covered in Monday's reading.

What I am having trouble with is getting excited by the material, and because my best if not only asset in the classroom is that I get really excited about the material, I might well have a LOT of trouble tomorrow afternoon.

The challenge is to bundle the hope, the despair, the violence, and the total upheaval of dragging a nation, kicking and screaming, from the 1820s into the 1920s, and to do so while being fair to the good intentions and brutal side-effects of the transition.

That might be my hook, not the question of why the least industrialized Great Power was the first to see a Marxist revolution but rather the tired romantic trope of a planner and revolutionary whose dreams exceed human ability and who relies on science at the cost of humanity. Lenin as Frankenstein has a certain cliche'd charm to it, and it would let me introduce the interpretive dilemna of the John Reeds who see no evil for the goals are good and the modern conservatives who see no good for the means were so destructive.

Hmm, we had Being John Malkovitch, we might well try Being Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov.

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One too many

I taught the Great War on Monday. I broke down in second section, made it through the first section OK.

One of the students asked me after class why I was more likely to break down in the Great War than in World War 2 - about 2 in 3 against perhaps 1 in 2. My answer was that while the second war had more total deaths, more destruction, and was a more total war, the first was in many ways the death of hope and the death of optimism. I buy enough of the myth of the Lost Generation to argue that the Great War blew apart nineteenth-century optimism, and that saddens me. I almost want to call it the death of innocence, but that is not quite right. I want to say rather that it was the tipping point where a society of individuals was replaced by a mass society, and where the notion of human consequence was buried under human numbers, but that is not it either.

I need to think on this more, other than to say that the Great War marked the turn from the nineteenth to the twentieth century, from the Victorian to the Age of Steel, and that change saddens me even though I get frustrated with Victorian hypocrisy.

In any case, I was still shaken up from class and turned on my book on tape on the ride home. Mystic River is wonderfully written. It is also both sad and permeated with an aura of tragedy to come. I could not continue listening to it. So, after waiting months for it to come to me through the library I returned it before finishing the first tape. Perhaps I will try again sometime when my emotions are not so fragile.

It was one too many sadnesses.

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April 05, 2004

Doing my bit

Via Crooked Timber I see that if you Google the word "Jew," the top ranking result is an anti-semitic site. So, CT and Normblog are urging people to google bomb the Wikipedia entry for Jew in order to sort things more reasonably.

This is my bit.

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Things you won't do

I play computer games. I play, or played as I have not had time or a gaming group lately, board games and pencil & paper roleplaying games. Part of the fun of the roleplaying games, computer or p&p, is creating a new character or a new personality. When creating a new person, especially in the more restricted realm of the computer games like Everquest or Earth & Beyond, I find it very useful to make a list of things the character likes to do and, more importantly, a list of the things the character will not do or prefers not to do.

So, my Everquest ranger did not drink; my Everquest cleric drank like a fish; J's Everquest shaman refused to hunt elephants as they were her totem animal, and so on.

I was reminded of this last night as I was going through flag catalogs figuring out what flags I will want to purchase over the rest of the year. I ordered a Continental (red flag, white field, green tree in the field), decided the next couple of Revolutionary war flags will be a Gadston (solid yellow flag, large coiled rattlesnake) and a Green Mountain boys (Green flag, blue field, 13 oddly positioned stars in the field). I will hold off on a Serapis (13 red white and blue stripes, blue field, 13 seven-pointed stars in the field) until I decide if I want to spend $40 on a printed flag or $100 on a sewn flag. Sewn flags look better but I give myself a flag budet of about $20/month and I don't know if I will want to wait 5 months between new toys.

The "things you don't do" aspect came as I looked at the rest of the catalog. I already know that I will not fly any Confederate flag because I have a gut aversion to splitting the union. I discovered that I will not fly an armed forces flag like the Marine red with globe and anchor, and that I refuse to do this for the same reason that I refuse to wear a British regimental tie - I was not there and it would be rude for me to display the credential; doing so is closer to posing than it is to respect. (In Britain, regimental ties are generally only worn by former members of the regiment. The ties are spiffy and Americans don't care, so it is not improper to wear a random regiment in New York even though doing so in London will lead to embarassment.)

Similarly, I won't get one of those blue baseball caps with the name and number of a US navy ship on it, at least not of any ship that was in service during the 20th century.

On the other hand, I am always looking for a good Christmas present for Dad, and he does like flags - let me look again at the Navy flag for him. If he wore baseball caps I would get him a Stribling DD cap.

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Red Ted
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April 03, 2004

Saturday Garden Blogging

Something ate the crocus from the front yard. I suspect a rabbit, as I have seen no deer in the area. The crocus look as if someone ran over them with a lawn mower. Oddly enough, the crocus in the beds along the house were untouched, as were the crocus by the back fence. Very odd.

Speaking of crocus, the crocus in the bed at the back of the house, around the climbing rose, are coming up. I think I put too many crocus back there and not enough in the front beds. I have not decided if I will transplant or if this fall's bulb order will just include another sack of 50 croci.

While puttering around I decided to mow and seed the front lawn. The toddler wanted to help push the hand-reel mower, but J decided it was too complicated and sharp to be a toy.

Elsewhere, all five roses are showing at least a little growth. One has some shoots coming up from its roots while the rest have a few red leaves peeking out from the green stalks. I have not yet received the mail order roses - they should be coming next week.

As I said the other day, I planted some seedlings because they were too big for the starter pots and I had no place else to put them. We have had cold rainy weather, so far they are neither dead nor thriving but are just little green lumps. We are due for a hard freeze tomorrow night, which will probably kill them dead. I will sow balsam seeds in the dirt in a week or two and will see if they do better that way - there is a lot of trial and error to this garden thang.

One of our neighbor's grand daughters likes hot food. We have a surplus of jalapeno seedlings so I promised the lass a few pepper plants if grandma could drop off pots for them. The pepper seedlings are looking healthy but small; I expect to move them to larger pots later this week. I see eight Thai dragons - not as many as I had hoped for but enough to re-stock the dried peppers in the cupboard. My current plan is Thai dragons and hero peppers by the house, jalapenos by the back fence.

The tomatoes have adapted to the new pots. They are still slightly shocked from the move - I do hope they will survive.

And back to work.

EDIT
There are ten Thai dragons, not eight. I might actually be able to get six plants into the dirt.

This was also the six hundred sixty sixth post to the weblog. Does that mean that this year's hot peppers will be beastly hot? (Entry count is off by about 1200 because I had trouble transferring posts from blogger.)

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Incipient Oof Dah

Chapter three looks pretty good. I rewrote the introduction, tacked several pages of tables and commentary onto the conclusion, revised my transitions, played up a sub theme, and more carefully defined civil religion.

I will give it a once-more-over tomorrow then send it out.

Chapter two is next, and it is a bit of a mess. It is also badly written and structured as a story and a caboose. I might take the caboose and combine it with other material on civil religion to make a short stand-alone chapter. In fact, that is a very good idea.

I hate good ideas, they always mean more work.

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April 02, 2004

Revising Three

I am reading over my revised chapter three to see just how badly I confuse the reader and just how clearly I make my arguments about civil religion.

Along the way I need to decide how specifically to engage with the Roy Moore's of the world. Moore, if you remember, is the Alabama justice who put a shrine to the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the state courthouse and justified his action by arguing that American law is founded on Christianity.

The interesting thing to me is that Moore used broad almost deist language in making his claims - any religion is Christian religion - and that he combined this broad language and a collection of secular quotes about religion and the law with a text for the Ten Commandments that used the King James translation. He argued that Christianity in General was bound into our legal traditions, and he then exemplified this general Christianity with a sectarian idol.

I argue in chapter three that benevolent organizations - the American Bible Society and so on - were tangible exponents of Justice Joseph Story's argument that Americans shared a common Christianity in general. And, of course, these benevolent organizations were unable to wish sectarian differences away. Even the Bible Society split after Baptists complained about the translation of the Greek word Baptism in Bibles being created for use in India and Burma. If you can't agree on the Bible, you can't agree on doctrine.

And so to read myself as critically as I can.

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Playing in the dirt

I played in the dirt yesterday. I finished writing a new introduction for chapter three a little after lunch, then went and planted all my overgrown, leggy and failed seedlings. They may live, or not, but they would not have survived in the little planting pots.

So, I put miniature pansies out in the front gardens, African daisies out by the daffodils along the back fence, and balsam in the front and back of the house. I sowed red poppies in the front garden. I think I will seed some lettuce later today, but I won't sow anything more until the weather gets a mite warmer.

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Flags and allegiances

More references to Crooked Timber - there is a reason why they are the first thing I read most mornings.

Chris Bertram visited the US from Britain and was struck by the prevalence of American flags on display here. A very interesting discussion then ensued in the comments with a number of European commenters speculating about why Americans fly flags. Some of it was silly, but the discussion made some interesting digressions into the difference between a President and a Prime Minister, between a King and a Constitution.

This is something I write about as I tackle the problem of church and state in the United States. Traditional pre-modern states were defined by loyalty to a monarch. Membership in the state was defined either by an oath of loyalty to the monarch or by membership in the state church - so to be an Englishman you either swore loyalty to the King or participated in the Church of England. Test Acts, especially in the English context, required people to take the Sacraments of the State church and swear that they believed in its principles. Membership in the church was the test for service to the nation.

The United States had no king and one of the least divisive aspects in the Constitution was Article Six, clause three: "The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."

In other words, there is an oath defining service to the state, that oath is sworn to the Constitution itself, and there is no other religious test. So, instead of citizenship being defined by loyalty to a king or membership in a church, it is defined by swearing to a document.

What does it mean to swear to support a document? I argue, in classic Cold War style, that this means swearing to uphold a set of values and principles, an idea of government, and more broadly the ideal of rule by law and not rule by men. The people are sovereign, a notion that came out of the ratification debates, but we swear loyalty to the law that structures how the people are to rule themselves.

The people are sovereign, but the President is both head of state and head of government. In the common European system the jobs are separated, with the head of state being either a monarch or an elected president while the head of government, chosen by the legislature, has efffective power. This combination of head of state and head of government means that people jump to their feet when the Prez walks into a room just as they accord ceremonial respect to the Queen. We don't jump to our feet for the Speaker of the House, nor for a Prime Minister. But, because the head of state is also head of government, and holds his position only as a condition of having sworn to "faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States," some of the symbolic role that is held by a monarch in other nations is held by the Constitution, by the Union, and by the visible symbols of that Union.

How is this related to flags? I blame the Civil War. Most Union soldiers fought to preserve the Union, especially at the start of the war. They fought under the flag for the principle that the Union should continue. This, as Jean Baker argues in Affairs of party was a side effect of the ancestor-worship and nation worship of antebellum public education, but the pressures of the war and the common tendency to interpret the war in Providential terms, imbued the physical object of the flag with the emotional content of the Union.

Just as the British Union Jack shows the combination of the various kingdoms into one political entity, so too does the American combination of a fly made up of stripes for every state (soon changed to the first 13 states) and a field of blue with a star for every state "arranged in a new constellation" represent the union. You could perhaps read the field as showing the multiplicity of states, the fly as showing the common Revolutionary heritage.

Bellamy, writing in an era when Americans were actively discussing putting an end to the emotional divisions of the American Civil War, focused on the union flag as a symbol of the republic. The 1892 pledge is, in many ways, a Northern oath: "I pledge allegiance to my Flag and (to*) the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." He ties the flag to the republic, and argues that secession was a mistake. Six years later, during the Spanish American War, a Southerner would be the first to fall in battle and pundits all over the nation would argue that North and South had been reunited at the summit of San Juan Hill, for both sections had joined in this new war. Bellamy, in other words, tied the flag to the republic, imbued both with the ferver to preserve the union, and did so in memorable language that served to reinforce the flag as national symbol.

For me, at least, when I fly a flag in front of my house, it is a sign of patriotism - in the sense of a respect for the union and for the constitution. And, rather than "my country right or wrong" it is a case of "my country, let us keep it in the right." I think that is what is at the root of my deep love for flags from the Revolutionary War era. In fact, later today I am going to go and order my new flag for April, probably the "Continental" flag that was flown on Bunker Hill - red fly, white field, green pine tree in the field.

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April 01, 2004

Haircut

J sez that since I blogged about wanting one I need to blog about having gotten one.

No, not that.

I got my hair cut yesterday. Clippers, black attachment, 1/2 inch, zoom zoom zoom.

It had been over two inches long - I don't make it to the barber often enough.

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Yay Hormel

Via Crooked Timber I see that the Hormel corporation is putting the contact information for email telemarketers on cans of its Spam meat product, like missing children on milk cartons but with a different purpose.

Kudos to Hormel. It is always hard for a company when your product name enters the general language, especially when in this case it is being used as a derogatory term. I like to see them using some humor while they sell their salty, fatty, spiced pork product.

Of course, the press release is dated April 1, 2004.

Still, it is a clever idea.

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Of blobs and logos

As always happens when you shop for a car, I have been looking harder at the various vehicles on the roads as I drive my errands and toddle about.

I have trouble telling minivans apart, although I can now spot a couple of the more distinctive models, and so I have been looking at the corporate logos on the front grill.

While doing that I noticed something that I then looked for and confirmed while looking at car cars - most automobile company logos look like blobs from more than about 50 feet away.

There are only a few really distinctive and readily identifiable car logos: the Honda H, the Ford blue oval, the Chevrolet tilted cross, the GMC ugly red letters, and the Chrysler wings. Most of the rest either read as little blobs from a distance - Subaru oval, Dodge sheep heads - or as distorted but indistinguishable circles - Mazda, Lexus, Infiniti. A few, Toyota and VW, are distinctive blobs and sit on the margin between clarity and blobbiness, but by and large most of them seem designed to show off the car at short range.

It is not much of an observation. I certainly can't tie it into the state of relationships, the war in Iraq, the history of automobiles, or the price of tea in China. I was just struck by the fact that there are dozens of nameplates still on the road, that they all worked very hard to come up with their logo or image, that most of them are indistinguishable blobs, and that the newer plates are the least clear.

There is something to be said for clear and simple heraldry - consider that you can spot a New Mexico flag from miles away, while in order to tell a Pennsylvania from a Virginia you have to be close enough to read the logo and figure out who is the woman on the state seal.

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Uncle Fester?

The folks at the toddler's day care want to know if the infant looks like me or like J or like the toddler.

I told them the truth.

Right now he looks like Uncle Fester.

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Red Ted
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