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May 2004 Archives

May 31, 2004

Ironic?

Belle Waring at Crooked Timber writes about the Alanis Morisette song Ironic.

Much as I enjoyed reading the post and its comments, I find that I still do not understand irony. I persist in using it in its simple mode, the mode used by historians: irony is unintended consequences that undermine our intended desire. As such, history is commonly written in the ironic mode; we explain the situation that a person or group faced, figure out what actions that they took to meet that situation, and then explain how these actions were more or less successful and how they led to other, unexpected or at least unintended consequences.

Thus, to use a modern US example, Lyndon Johnson's Community Action Programs were intended to reach out to new voters, politicize people who were excluded from the political system, and build the democratic base. The program, as executed, ended up politicizing people who did not like Johnson and competed with the existing members of the Democratic coalition, thus undermining his political base without adding new voters. Johnson and his staff had not thought out the consequences of his program.

If you took away our unintended consequences, most historians would not be able to write.

Some fiction authors also use the term in this way. Belle and her commenters talk about Oedipus Rex and King Lear; my example comes from a mediocre science fiction author, Spider Robinson, and his short story, "God is an Iron."

The story tells of a man who walks into an apartment and finds a woman in the process of committing slow suicide through overdosing on electronic stimulation of her pleasure centers. The overdose consists not of extra stimulation, but of removing all time limits on the pleasure; she is sitting in bliss as she starves to death.

Our hero saves her, destroys the stimulation equipment, nurses her back to health, and convinces her that she does not have to commit suicide. At the end of the story she finally gets around to asking him who he is and why he has done this, and most of all how he got into her locked apartment.

He gives a long spiel about unintended consequences and argues that God acts through the ironic mode so extensively that he should be considered an Iron - one who committs irony. Then he explains how he got there:

It turns out that our hero had come in to burgle the place.

I love this short story; it is also a chapter in a really bad novel that I read once and regretted finishing. Is that combination ironic? It is to the extent that liking that short story convinced me to finish the novel.

Posted by
Red Ted
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May 28, 2004

Cicadas

We don't like cicadas.

Up until Monday I had been mildly jealous of DC and Princeton, for they had cicada frenzy and our little corner of South Jersey did not.

Having spent that day up in Princeton to use their library, I changed my mind.

One of the little perks of working at the Princeton Theological Seminary library is that I brown-bag my lunch and eat it on one of the benches on their main lawn. It makes for a nice break, and the library has a lot of the stuff I need for my work.

Monday the cicadas ruined lunch - not by anything they did to me directly, but because they had died. Princeton REEKS of rotting bugs. Dead bugs are all over the sidewalks; live bugs cling to trees and benches and anything made of wood; flying bugs pass too and fro overhead at intervals, like clumsy helicopters in a landing pattern. They are everywhere, and they die everywhere.

I like my kibble. I was almost unable to finish lunch because everything reeked of dead bugs. Most unpleasant. I don't mind the noise of the bugs - it rises and falls with the wind producing an effect sort of like surf at the ocean. I do mind the stink - I had to go denasal to walk, and I normally have a terrible sense of smell.

All in all, having something like this in my neighborhood would not be worth the pleasure that I would get from watching the bug-hating kids next door -- "a spidah! A spidah!" -- deal with having bugs appear all over their play space.

Still, they say that South Jersey should be hatching this week. We will see if our neck of the woods gets swarmed.

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Red Ted
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May 26, 2004

James Joyce

This is an anecdote on page 151 of Stephen King, On Writing. I found it both funny and painfully true.

If "read a lot, write a lot" is the Great Commandment -- and I assure you that it is -- how much writing constitutes a lot? That varies, of course, from writer to writer. One of my favorite stories on the subject -- probably more myth than truth -- concerns James Joyce. According to the story, a friend came to visit him one day and found the great man spawled across his writing desk in a posture of utter despair.

"James, what's wrong?" the friend asked. "Is it the work?"

Joyce indicated assent without even raising his head to look at the friend. Of course it was the work; isn't it always?

"How many words did you get today?" the friend pursued.

Joyce (still in despair, still sprawled facedown on his desk): "Seven."

"Seven? But James . . . that's good, at least for you!"

"Yes." Joyce said, finally looking up. "I suppose it is . . . but I don't know what order they go in!"

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Red Ted
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Bloom and King

I took a study break this afternoon and read the writing chapters of Stephen King's On Writing - I did not even look at the biographical chapters.

Much of what he said, I already knew but it is still good to hear again: write at the same time every day, write a lot and don't worry about quality until after you get it down, read a lot in order to write well. Other things were new to me, including the very sensible formula that 2nd draft = 1st draft -10%. I, like King, add words when revising. I need to remember to take word counts. Of course, I am also struggling with structure and evidence far more than a fiction writer has to, and this means I have gone through many more drafts than the 2 drafts plus proofreading that he recommends.

My current audiobook is Harold Bloom's How to Read Well. So far I am just into the first chapter; I disagree with almost everything he says; and I have learned a lot from it already. This is the sort of work that makes me discover things by inspiring me to shout "wrong, wrong, all WRONG" at the speaker, and then articulate what exactly is so very wrong.

What is bugging me is that Bloom assumes that one reads alone and that one reads in order to learn oneself better. It is a somewhat solipsic view of the practice, and he takes potshots along the way at the crude historicists who "assume that everything we do is predetermined by our surroundings."

What I have discovered from these few minutes of Bloom is that I do not read to discover myself, or at least not in the functionalist enlightenment way that he recommends. Instead I read so that I may talk about what it is that I have read. Knowledge, all knowledge, is social. The fun of a book is not simply in turning the pages and examining the words but in chewing on them and doing things with them - and the biggest thing we do with those words is to hash them out with other people. You can do this explicitly in a college classroom or a reading group or even a literary blog, or you can do it implicitly the next time that something you say or think or do is influenced by something that you read. But, for me, at the end of the day a book is social, not solitary. Or, more precisely, reading is a solitary pleasure with social consequences.

I will continue listening to Bloom - he crafts some fine sentences and he makes me mad enough to think. Expect to hear more rants about him over the next few weeks.

Posted by
Red Ted
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May 25, 2004

Darnton Moment?

I have been revising chapter four for the last few days, thus the light blogging. Yesterday was spent in the library, and while reading or skimming through some 13 books and a few journal articles I came up with some useful thoughts. I will sketch them out here, then go grab a yellow pad, a pen, and the printout of the previous version of this chapter and start scribbling.

There is a moment in the early 1840s when things change. I know it, other historians know it. We are not sure how to explain that change. This is not technically a Darnton moment - that would be when a historian digs through the archives and finds something that the people of the time found powerful and compelling and that the historian simply does not understand, I take the term from Darnton's essay "The Great Cat Massacre" in his book of the same title.

While not quite a Darnton moment, it does share with his example the fact that I know there is something important going on and I am not quite sure how to explain it.

Details below the fold

I am writing about religious groups in the nineteenth century. I argue - correctly - that things changed in the 1840s. I am struggling with how best to characterise that change. I know that the World Evangelical Alliance is important. I know that the 1845 schisms over slavery in the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Baptist Triennial Convention are important. I know that the 1844-6 argument in the Presbyterian church about whether to rebaptise converts to Presbyterianism from Catholicism is important. I know that the influx of Catholic immigrants, and the militancy of John Hughes of New York City are important. And, I know that the Oxford movement, Horace Bushnell's Christian Nurture, geology, Mormonism, Unitarians, Universalists, Spiritualists, and Millerites are also important. Finally, I know that the debate over Temperance shared characteristics with the debates over slavery, Hopkinsian theology, and the Evangelical Alliance.

It was a time of flux.

I am not quite sure how to characterize and explain that flux. I thought about using categorization theory, wrote that up, and discarded it. I thought about focusing on ultra-ism, wrote that up, and discarded it. I thought about focusing on Catholics, or slavery, or the Mexican War, and discarded those. All were incomplete; all were instances where the historian was forcing a theory or structure onto events of the past, fitting some and distorting others.

So, having whined about it here, I think I get to take my coffee and my yellow pad and go sit on the porch and mull.

Posted by
Red Ted
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May Calendar

Strange traffic

Lately most of the traffic here has come from search engines.

Based on the search terms, this appears to be a blog about Hitler, dildoes, and flour bugs, with ann coulter's adam's apple as an appetizer.

As an exercise for the reader, write me a 200 word short short story about Hitler, dildoes, and flour bugs. You know you can do it!

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Red Ted
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May 23, 2004

More Berries

Two more batches of strawberry jam.

Again, J hulled and I chopped, jammed, and canned.

We have enough strawberry jam to get through the next year, we think - about 12 pints not counting the refrigerator jam and the jam that did not can properly.

Now we get to see what is the next seasonal ripe fruit - I do hope the peaches will be good this year.

Strawberry II
2 quarts hulled strawberries
7 cups sugar
1 packet liquid pectin

chop berries in foot processor
add sugar to berries
heat to almost boil
add pectin
bring to a frothing boil for 1 minute
can

Was a little bubbly in the jars, had to skim off some froth before we canned. A little to sweet as were the previous - the berries were a touch overripe and I could maybe have cut some sugar.

Strawberry Spice Jam
4 cups chopped strawberries (just under 2 quarts)
c. 1 tsp allspice, crushed to powder in mortar and pestle
zest of 1/2 large lemon
7 cups sugar
1 packet liquid pectin

put chopped berries into pot
add allspice and lemon
heat until warm
stir in sugar
heat until steaming
add pectin
turn down heat to medium
boil at a light boil for 1 minute

stir 3 minutes
can

all three batches of strawberry jam were canned for 10 minutes in a boiling water canner. I still have not gotten around to getting a canning rack, so I again used a dish rag at the bottom of the canning pot to keep the heat of the pan from cracking the glass jars.

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Red Ted
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Am I old enough

I picked up a book at the library on a whim the other day. I do not know if I am old enough to read it yet.

So far, I like the first two pages of Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, but I also recall reading these words before - I think I started the book in my 20s and was unable to get very far in it.

They say that Proust's masterpiece is a book for old men, not a book for children or even mature adults. I have been feeling a little geezerly lately, so I will see if I can get going on the book.

I skidded out of Don Quixote a few days ago - after I return it to the library I will add it to the reading list as a "did not finish."

Proust might go better.

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Red Ted
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May 22, 2004

Strawberry Jam I

We made our first strawberry jam of the season earlier tonight.

J sorted, washed, and hulled berries. I ran them through the food processor, cooked them, jammed them, and canned the jam.

2 quarts of hulled strawberries
1 packet pectin
1/4 cup lemon juice
7 cups sugar
dab of light olive oil

made 5 pints of jam.

I forgot to add the oil until too late in the process, and the jam frothed up. For this reason it does not look very good in the jars - the berry layer is all foamy. Perhaps I could have made prettier jam if I had let it sit another few minutes.

Still, Jam I is canned - we have the rest of the flat to work over tomorrow and should get two more batches out of it. This one was light and sweet and should be quite tasty.

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Red Ted
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May 21, 2004

What Food Network Chef?

J was curious about this meme: What Food Network Chef Are You?.

Depending on how I answer, I alternate between being Alton Brown and Mario Vitalli. Oddly enough, those are the two guys J and I like to watch on that network.

Posted by
Red Ted
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The man who mistook a cow for a chicken

Silly Ted.

A couple of days ago I was cooking dinner and grabbed the wrong can of stock. I had baked chicken, and was serving it with meat-mashed potatoes and mushroom gravy. Both of those require stock and since we did not have an active soup I went to the pantry, pushed the beef stock to one side, and grabbed the can of chicken stock next to it.

I made mashers, made gravy, and noticed during dinner that things tasted a little different somehow. I thought it was the fennel.

As J was cleaning up, she asked why I had used beef stock in the dish - turns out I had mis-read the cans or grabbed the wrong can.

It was still yummy.

And yes, this post is an excuse to share recipes. Why do you ask?

Posted by
Red Ted
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May Calendar

Mushroom Gravy

Sometimes you cook meat and want gravy but there just are not enough drippings to make traditional gravy. What to do?

In that situation we usually make mushroom gravy - especially because you can add the few drippings that the meat did give and really improve the flavor.

Ingredients:
meat drippings (not enough)
olive oil
flour
enough sliced fresh mushrooms to cover the bottom of your pan in a single layer.
stock or soup - canned chicken stock works just fine
optional - one herb or seed. I like fennel.

Tools
a pan that can get hot - black iron is best
a high-temperature stirring spoon - we use a charred wooden spoon for roux.


Method
Slice the mushrooms and have ready

If you are adding a seed like fennel or cumin, put it in the pan now. If you are using an herb or something that will burn like garlic, add it after the stock goes in. For now, assume a healthy pinch (1/2 tsp or more) of fennel seed.

add olive oil to the pan - a healthy pour

heat the pan on high until the seeds start to fry a little. (optional, can toast seeds in dry pan, then add oil - just be careful pouring oil into a hot pan)

add any cooking drippings (grease) that you want to use

add as much flour to the pan as you have fat (olive oil and drippings combined) - you want a 1-1 ratio, but can measure by eye.

turn the heat to medium

now stir, frantically, and work the flour and the oil together into a smooth paste.

fry the paste in the pan, flipping and stirring it as you can, until it starts to brown a little. It will sizzle and fry for a while as the water in the flour boils off, then it will start darkening. I usually stop with a light oak roux for mushroom gravy, but you can take this as dark as your smoke alarm will allow if you want a cajun taste.

Add the mushrooms to the roux. Stir more.

The roux will adhere to the mushrooms in a thin paste. Keep stirring and flipping until the mushrooms are cooked - about two or three minutes.

You should now have a pan with lots of mushrooms covered in pasty slime, some bits of pasty slime, and the first hints of starch sticking to the bottom and sides of the pan.

turn heat to low

Add stock. The first pour will flash into steam. Keep adding and stirring, deglazing the pan and turning those lumps of starchy oil into a thick, smooth gravy.

Add any carving juices now, add herbs or garlic now if you want them.

Heat until it bubbles. Add more stock if it feels thick or lumpy.

Serve

Posted by
Red Ted
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Meat mashed potatoes

We don't mix milk and meat. I am on a low-fat diet. And we love meat and mashed potatoes. So, I worked up the following, which are pretty good.

The recipe is general - mashed potatoes are a matter of putting things in a bowl, beating them, and then adjusting so that the taste and texture suit YOUR desires.

Ingredients:
a mixture of waxy (red) and mealy (russet) potatoes
olive oil
stock or soup - we used canned chicken broth normally
salt pepper

Tools:
knife and cutting board
large pot
mixing bowl
mashing thingie (hand masher, or heavy duty hand mixer, or stand mixer)

Process:
wash the potatoes. Do NOT peel them - the peel is the good part.

cut up the potatoes into smallish chunks - big enough to hold together but small enough to cook quickly and mash easily. I normally take a russet potato, halve it lengthwise, take one dome, cut the ends off, then cut in lengthwise again, and make quarter-circles from the body of the potato. It does not matter much how big the bits are, as long as they are all the same size.

boil the potatoes until a fork goes through easily. It is better to be a little underdone than overdone.

Wait until everything is ready but the potatoes and the gravy - these should always be the last two things to finish.

drain the potatoes and put into bowl
add olive oil - a generous pour
salt, pepper, and a little broth

Start mashing or beating. Use a scraper to push potatoes down into the bowl. Add more stock to make them fluffier. Stop often, stir, and taste - everyone likes their mashers a little different, so cook it to your preferred consistency.

How far to beat them? if not enough they will be lumpy. If too much they will be a sodden lump. Try to break up the lumps of potato while working air into the mixture. Other than that, beat to taste - my dad loves lumpy potatoes and uses a potato masher. I like airy potatoes and use the hand mixer. J likes smooth potatoes, uses the stand mixer, and cranks that bad boy.

serve

This is a very general recipe - I find that mashers are a matter of feel and I don't have the knack for describing the feel of cookery.

Posted by
Red Ted
at 08:42 AM | TrackBack
May Calendar

Damn the slinkies

Bah.

Have you ever gotten a rude novelty song stuck in your head?

The only thing to do is to show it to someone else, and thus pass the curse along.

You have been warned: The Dildo Song
(not work safe, nothing explicit, no potty language, multiple dildos, funny)

To a similar tune, and work safe, we also have the log song to the tune of the slinky song.

Good, now maybe I can think about something less obnoxious.

Posted by
Red Ted
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May 20, 2004

Academic Webloggers

Via my referral list, I see that Alex Halavais has a list of scholars who blog

Interesting list; I am blogging it so I can find it again and read some other academic folks' weblogs.

Posted by
Red Ted
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May 19, 2004

Do it over?

I planted the Amber Queen rose tonight after dinner.

I think I did a quick and dirty job of it, and now I am wondering if it would be a worthwhile thing to dig it up and do it better tomorrow.

The problem is that roses like light soil. The soil at that spot is a couple of inches of topsoil where the old evergreens combined their dropped leaves with mulch, then a skant foot of bad soil, then heavy yelllow clay. So, what I really should do is dig up the rose before it sets roots, dig a mucking huge hole there, fill the hole with peat moss and garden soil and compost, and then re-plant and re-mulch the rose.

That would be a lot of work, but the rose would grow better and look better.

Effort now v. enjoyment later? I a lazy perfectionist, which means that there is no good solution.

I suspect that if I do not go to the libraries tomorrow, I will end up at the garden store buying peat moss; if I do go to the library, the rose will stay where it is.

Posted by
Red Ted
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May Calendar

Declare Victory and Go Home

Sometimes, the best thing you can do is declare victory and go home.

What do I mean?

I have spent the last three days struggling with three, and finding myself coming up with all sorts of procrastinations while I refuse to write in it. I finally bashed out something that will almost hold together, but it needs more editing.

I did not want to do that editing.

So, I put it to one side, declared victory and went home. I will do an edit pass through chapter four then come back and revise two, three, and four in a single bold pass.

I also dropped an email to my advisor asking his opinion on the extra library research and the tables full of number crunching.

So, on to chapter four. Looks like I get to finally do a library run to dig up some history of the YMCA, and I also get to once again dig into the Temperance movement and the "two wine" theory of alcohol in the Bible. More on that later, in its own post.

Posted by
Red Ted
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May 18, 2004

To dig or not to dig?

To dig or not to dig, that is the question.

Not in the garden - I dug in the garden after dinner and planted my new Amber Queen rose.

To dig in the library and then revise the end of chapter three, that is the question. Let me explain.

The end of chapter three involves some number crunching. I am arguing that changes in benevolent organizations and the 1837-38 schism in the Presbyterian Church discredited the notion of a common Christianity. I suggest that many people pulled away from interdenominational benevolent organizations and turned to denominational publishing and missionary societies. This is not news, heck people in the 1860s were writing about the change.

But, I do have some nice time series for the major interdenominational benevolent organizations, and I did some simple number crunching - deflating with a couple of different deflaters, checking the per-capita figures, dividing by GDP to get a footprint index - and then tied that number crunching to my argument about changes in the 1830s.

The number crunching would be a lot more persuasive if I had data for all those various denominational societies. That data was published in various annual reports. But, collecting it means a lot of library time. I think I can get most of what I need in Princeton Theological Seminary, St. Charles Boromeo Theological Seminary, the Presbyterian Historical Society, the Baptist Historical Society, and Princeton University Library, all of which are within a couple of hours of me. For some of it I might have to go to the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, MA, or to the Southern Baptist Historical Society down at Baylor, or to the Methodist Historical Society at Wake Forest (I think - I have their location in my notes.) It will be a LOT of work even without doing long-distance travel.

I need to look at those numbers for the final book, but I hope to duck out of the research for the dissertation.

I will re-read that section of chapter three tomorrow and then decide.

Posted by
Red Ted
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May 17, 2004

Canine Speed Brake

The hound's other title is Canine Speed Brake.

Why?

Because that is her role as a running companion. She walks quickly, but despite being a 50lb lab mix she is not a good running dog. And this is a good thing, for she lags behind and keeps me from running too fast for our fitness.

This morning I took the hound, the toddler, and the lightweight stroller and we jogged and walked our usual two-mile route. I had to watch the left knee - it is happier if I get closer to a heel strike and an inefficient up-down-bouncy running style than if I use a mid-foot strike and the more efficient straight-ahead gait. Since the point is to run, not to run fast, I will go back to being easy on my knees.

I had fun. The toddler likes to go fast - he spent Sunday afternoon going too fast on a big wheel and then wiping out - and even the hound seemed to like the run.

Now the canine speed brake is asleep on the living room floor. They say a tired dog is a happy dog. If so, then she will be very happy once she wakes up.

Posted by
Red Ted
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May 14, 2004

Sore legs and sore head

My quads are sore today, perhaps because I went running yesterday. I will run again tomorrow, if I can manage it around participating in the community flower planting day. If not, then Sunday will be good enough - right now the challenge is to keep my knees healthy, not to build up wind and muscle fitness, so I don't have to run every day or even every other day.

My head is also sore. I am wrestling with a tricky problem in chapter three. I will go below the fold to write up what it is that I think I want to argue - I find it incredibly helpful to use the blog to explain the points I am trying to make in my work prose.

The basic problem that I have is that I see two clearly defined trends in the early nineteenth century; I want to argue that they are connected; and I am having trouble connecting them.

Both trends involve a movement away from strict religious doctrines and towards feel-good religion. This is not a new trend for me to notice. Goofs like Laurence Moore wrote about it. Ann Dougless also wrote a very smart book based on not enough evidence and made a similar argument (she looked at Unitarians and then wrote about all Protestants, so the book itself is not so useful).

The first trend is revivals. As American religion went to a revival pattern and as revivalists engaged in a remarkable churching of the American people, they used techniques of steam religion and social pressure to teach a simpler, more positive, and more optimistic faith. Basically, they told people that their salvation or damnation was not eternally decreed before time began and it was not dependent on a lifetime of faith and works; instead a person was told that they had to make an immediate decision for heaven or hell, that this decision would matter, and that their eternal fate hung in the balance and would be decided RIGHT NOW. It was a very effective way to induce emotional conversions. It also emphasized the human ability to choose God over God's power in overcoming sin. Some folks liked this and did it, a few disliked it and opposed it, and from that tension the Presbyterian church schismed. This is not new stuff.

The second trend is providential and is new. I argue, based on my reading of the primary sources, that in the early 19th century most Americans rejected the old Providential covenant which had promised that the nation would prosper if it heeded God's will and would be punished if it fell from God's path. Instead they accepted only the positive half of that deal - the nation would prosper because God had blessed it. The first half, the negative half, involved identifying and rectifying national sins, and that meant pointing fingers and engaging in a blame game, one that divided religious groups from one another. So they dropped that -- think about the reception that Falwell and Robertson got when they blamed 9/11 on American sexual practices.

The notion of providential blessings continued - that is after all the desire in the ritual exclamation "God bless the United States of America" which appears in some public rituals and almost every State of the Union Address. But, what happened in the early 19th century, was that the blessing came to be undeserved or barely deserved.

So, how do I connect the decline in negative providence with the increase in steam religion? That is what I am wrestling with at the moment. My current thought is that both notions downplay both the power of sin and God's transcendent role in the universe. If a person can choose God over sin, then free will is effectively greater than original sin, and while theologians may insist that it was only Christ's atonement that gave free will that power, still at the end of the day Arminian soteriology encourages people to emphasize their decisions and to downplay God's power.

Similarly, the decline in Providence involved a sort of wishing-away of national sin. If God will bless or punish according to a nation's actions, and he is always invoked as blessing the future, then clearly the nation is relatively sinless. Humans may be asked to choose future courses that will meet with Divine favor, but no matter what we choose we are told that there will be a carrot at the end of the road, and that the stick has been misplaced and will never be applied.

My writing challenge is thus to add these discussions of sin and human ability to the text, to square the fact that the folks who embrace post-Calvinist versions of revival theology are also folks who insist that the nation must pursue certain courses in order to maintain Providential favor, and then create a crescendo in Providential discourse that will coincide with the schisms in the Presbyterian Church and the American Bible Society in 1835-7. That last is the sticking point, although the crash of 1837 might give me the window that I need.

And back to writing - this think piece helped.

Posted by
Red Ted
at 11:01 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
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May 13, 2004

Running Ted?

I went running today.

Well, I ran some, walked some.

The toddler, the hound, and the lightweight stroller accompanied me along our usual two-mile walk, but this time I had a fresh pair of running shoes on, non-chafing running shorts, and I ran some of it.

It felt really really good to go running again. I have been missing running, and when the walking the last few weeks was leaving my knees feeling strong I decided to run some more.

So, my wind is terrible, but it felt good to run. My legs are out of shape and hurt, but it felt good to run. My knees were a little fragile, but I stopped running whenever they tried to complain.

And, despite being dreadfully out of shape, I did get a brief moment of the sheer joy of running.

There is a sensation where the body is working, the mind is keeping track of the body's working, but the body works without conscious control - almost like keeping an eye on the gauges on a car dashboard. When that happens, you sort of float along above the ground, aware of your body but not focusing on it, aware of your surroundings, but mostly aware of your movement through space. It is like having a flying dream, only wide awake. It is an addictive sensation.

I had a brief little moment of that, while running along a gentle downhill by the lake.

We will see how my knees feel - I might take some of my 15-20 miles of walking each week and turn them into runs, but I must be careful NOT to overwork myself.

Posted by
Red Ted
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May 12, 2004

Belated garden blogging

This is late, and I am late, and it will be short.

The skinny:
Flower seed is sowed.
Tomatoes are in.
Peppers have their bed prepared and will go in as a study break this afternoon.
Pulled four evergreens from the back of the house where the new air conditioner will go.
Chose what to put next to the AC after the workmen will be done.
We have black spot on the roses.
Roses have been sprayed.

Details below

I sowed a "cutting flowers mixture" along the house where I prepped last weekend. J was sweet and bought me a pouch of tall red poppy seeds to add to that spot - I had searched the house for half an hour a day earlier because I misplaced my previous packet. It is amazing what a $1 pack of seeds can mean, especially when someone buys you a new one because you wanted it.

The tomatoes are in - four "legend" hybrids and, six "red alert" bunch tomatoes. I have another five plants or so in reserve, but these all look wonderfully healthy so I think I can give my reserves away.

I only got 7 settable plants from my packet of Thai Dragon seeds. Why? double seeded the cups and thinned them, used peat pots which dried out, did not do an optimal job of managing sun and warmth during the early spring. For next time I start Thai dragons: one seed per cup, watch temperature, use the plastic pots once prick seedlings out of planting mixture.

Jalapenos, in the cheap packet from Target, grow to seedling size VERY easily. If anyone reading this has kids who want to grow something fun from seed, I recommend jalapenos. I started these on a whim, killed over a dozen while pricking out and thinning, have given almost a dozen away, and still have 8 to plant - and I only started half the seed packet.

I picked up a new pack of Balsam - I killed one pack starting them from seed indoors. I will sow these by the iris in J's corner and see what they do. I like the idea of balsam, but so far the execution has killed me.

The vinca seedlings are almost ready to prick out. I will set these directly in the front garden.

We also have vast quantities of coleus seedlings. Those, I am not entirely sure where they are going to go, other than that a couple of them will be houseplants. This was another easy one to start from seed. Easy is good.

And here come the AC guys, time to finish and go.

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Red Ted
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Inchworms v Weeds

Some children grow like weeds. They become very tall very quicly, then they fill in.

Our kids seem to be growing like inchworms instead - they get very thick in the middle and then they extend themselves and become skinny again.

This pattern is made more noticable because both J and I are mesomorphs - wimps who look like we ought to be athletic - and both the boys are also solid little lumps.

I mention this because I am convinced that the toddler grew an inch last night.

Of course, he is still TumTum.

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This month's flag

I give myself a flag budget. Every month I can buy a polyester flag, or I can go two months and buy a nylon flag, or I can go many months and buy a sewn historical flag, but so long as I stay within the flag budget then all is well.

I also have a rose budget. I get about 2 plants a year.

Behold, this month's flag.

The new plant will go by the outside unit for the AC. It will NOT go next to the access panel, which will make the rose and the service crews both happy.

I also want this purple rose but they are sold out - it will wait until next spring. I will put it in my purple garden next to the purple tulips.

That reminds me, time to take some garden pictures.

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Dwight on blogging?

This little quote from Timothy Dwight's posthumous essay on education, published in the early 19th century, was originally aimed at the Republic of Letters, the process through which educated people wrote each other, passed the letters around to their friends, and proved that they were indeed proper natural aristocrats by their ability to write and read elegant, intelligent, well-crafted prose.

That which is styled the Republic of Letters, is a real republic. Every member of it, has at all times claimed the right of giving his opinion concerning every subject which is brought into debate; and nothing more is usually required of him, by those who are interested in it, than that he should speak to the purpose.
In many ways blogging is the modern equivalent, complete to the way in which we measure other people's blogs by their ability to craft clear and, more importantly, interesting prose.

I find this intriguing because, as Jurgen Habermas argues, the republic of letters led to the creation of the bourgeois public sphere, a realm of communication and identity formation that mobilized the nascent middle classes into a political force and social influence. I wonder what sort of public sphere will emerge from blogging?

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May 10, 2004

Sometimes the exam is too hard

Sometimes the kids do badly because they don't study.

Sometimes the kids do badly because the exam was comprehensive and they tried to cram for it.

Sometimes the kids do badly because they are stupid.

Sometimes the kids to badly because the teacher did not teach well.

...

Sometimes the exam is too hard.

At least one kid nailed every ID and every essay question I gave them, but most of them did very poorly indeed and no one had a sustained excellent exam. I had lots of flunked exams, and no honest As. So, I made some notes about how to teach this material differently next semester, and then I curved the final four tenths of a GPA or about one notch (i.e. B exam is effectively a B+.)

Part of what I did wrong was to give them a question that I should have focused more on during the semester but that was better suited to be a study point than an actual exam question.

How did the long decline of the Ottoman Empire shape European History from 1600 to the present? Is the decline of the Ottomans the most important narrative for the modern world, or is the modern world more indebted to other movements, ideas, or events?
Instead I should have given them one of the things from the study sheet that more closely tracked what we did over the semester, perhaps
Starting with an agricultural society and working up through the First Industrial Revolution (1750-1850, centering in 1800), the Second Industrial Revolution (1870-1930, centering in 1900), and the Third Industrial Revolution (1970s to the future, centering now), discuss the roles of men, women and children in the work place. What were their responsibilities? How did gender roles change with the start of each new industrial revolution? What is the relationship between job requirements and gender roles?
I asked that one on the makeup exam, and those kids did OK with it. It is a big tedious fill-in-the-blanks question, but from the answer to such a question you can get a feel for how much history did the kids pick up by the end of the semester.

So we learn, every time we learn. Considering that this was the first time I have taught Western Civ from my own syllabus, it will do. I give myself a C+ (passing but needs a lot of work) for my first section, B+ for the second, for the reasons I indicated in an earlier post.

And now I get to turn in grades and focus on writing for the next couple of months. It will be good to write.

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May 07, 2004

Burke on Iraq

Timothy Burke has a crie de coeur looking at all the ways in which the Bush administration has taken steps in Iraq and the war on terror that undermine and destroy its stated goals. He is a far more eloquent writer than I am, and he blogs more rarely but with more effort on each piece - the overall effect powerful.

Burke opens his piece by replying to the people who argued that anyone who opposed the invasion of Iraq was in favor of Saddam Hussein's petit-Stalinism.

There is a struggle against terror, injustice, illiberalism. It is real. It will be with us all our lives. We must fight it as best we can. The people who backed the war in Iraq, especially the people who backed it uncritically, unskeptically, ideologically, who still refuse to be skeptical, who refuse to exact a political price for it, who refuse to learn the lessons it has taught, sabotaged that struggle. Some of them like to accuse their critics of giving aid and comfort to the enemy. Right back at you, then. You bungled, and you donít even have the grace or authentic commitment to your alleged aims to confess your error.
Everyone believes in the need to defend liberty, but Burke argues that the Bushies' policies have weakened liberty around the world while claiming to protect it, and that they have done so not just by misrepresenting the purpose of the war, not just by going in with a plan for a fast victory and no plan for a transition, but by the very nature of their attempt.
Liberalism and democracy do not come from formalisms slapped down on top of social landscape: they come from the small covenants of everyday life, and rise from those towards formalisms which guarantee and extend their benefits rigorously and predictably. Constitutions, laws, procedures: these are important. But they cannot be unpacked from a box alongside a shipment of MREs and dispensed by soldiers. They do not make a liberal society by themselves.
Instead, Burke argues, the process of teaching how to become a liberal society requires that the teachers expose themselves to the locals, showing by example what an open society means. And, by the very nature of this activity, this makes the teachers vulnerable to any opposition within the society. He identifies a paradox - you must open the door in order to teach democracy, close it in order to survive your stint as instructor.

I had a slightly different take on the humanitarian argument about the Iraq invasion - I argue that for a major American international intervention to be politically successful it must meet two distinct criteria: it must be a plausible humanitarian or just war action, and it must clearly serve America's realpolitik interests. One only, and that dog won't hunt.

So, Iraq can be explained as a humanitarian effort to rid the world of a brutal petty Stalinist. That is a good deed - he is not the worst leader in the world but he certainly makes the top twenty and anything that overthrows anyone in the top twenty and replaces them with something better is a good thing.

Iraq was also explained as a crucial step in the global war against terror, by a number of different justifications. Unfortunately, the war plan was focused on getting to Baghdad, not on achieving post-war policy goals, and the whole process is in danger of collapsing on realpolitik grounds.

What next? Unfortunately credibility is like groundwater - it accumulates slowly over time but can be drawn down and spent very quickly. I don't want to just wring my hands and say this is terrible, but I also want to have a day and will stop writing at this point. More later, next time I want to do some blogging to jump start my writing day.

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May 06, 2004

Commentaries on the Constitution

I am constantly amazed at the primary documents that various groups and volunteers put onto the web - it saves me a surprising amount of time on library runs. Today's discovery is Joseph Story's 1833 Commentaries on the United States Constitution - a three-volume work that he wrote in his spare time between being Supreme Court Justice and teaching Law School.

It was the standard American reference on Constitutional law for the rest of the 19th century.

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May 05, 2004

Two to bed

Well, the revision of chapter two just went back into storage to fallow.

I had planned to spend two weeks doing rough construction on the chapter. It took me a month, both because I got distracted with car shopping and grading papers and because I did more than just rough construction of the new argument.

The chapter is now at a state where I can't see what is wrong with it - so I will put it aside while I work on something else and then see what I actually said after I forget what it was I was intending to say. I hope that makes sense - it is very easy to write words that you think make a clear point when really all they do is remind you of the somewhat fuzzy point you were thinking of when you wrote them. It is a regular failing among undergraduates, and it is a writing fault that I remain prone to. So, I fix it by putting things aside and then looking at them after they have grown cold or at least a bit chilly.

The exams are ready - will proof them tomorrow but for now I get to grade the last homework and come up with preliminary discussion grades before Friday's final. Teaching really is a time sink, but it is also fun.

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Hashem Aghajari

I see that the Iranian intermediate court has reaffirmed its death sentence against Hashem Aghajari, who had an earlier sentence removed by the Iranian Supreme court after appeals and widespread student protests.

What has Aghajari done that is so dangerous? Well, he teaches history. More than that, he tries to apply lessons from history to modern life.

Hashem Aghajari is a war veteran who lost a leg in the Iran-Iraq war. He is a long-time radical who participated in the seige of the US Embassy. He is a former member in the Tudeh, the Iranian Communist party. In other words, he is a nationalist, a revolutionary, and someone who has acted in the past to improve what he saw as a poor society. In some ways he reminds me of Martin Luther, only with a different accent.

A couple of years ago he made a speech calling for an Islamic Reformation. Where traditional Shiia is structured around religious leaders who issue injunctions or interpretations, and muslims who can freely choose which Mullah to follow but then bind themselves to adhere to that Mullah's interpretations of Koran and of the oral tradition, Aghajari argued that muslims should read the Koran for themselves and come to their own conclusions. He really does want to see an Islamic version of sola scriptura, sola sancta -- a turning away from intermediary authorities and towards a direct relationship between Allah and man.

The nineteenth-century dudes who I study took as a matter of faith that American democracy began with Martin Luther. They were, of course, engaged in some wishful thinking about the past, but they also hit on a very real connection: democracy depends on a continuous set of informed choices, and post-Reformation Christianity encourages people to make informed choices about their relationships to the divine and to others.

I agree with the neoconservative notion that the best way to create a long-term settlement in the Middle East is to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli crisis in a matter that most people on both sides find tolerable and to undermine the political and economic despair that fuels Islamic fundamentalism by promoting democracy and social justice. If I were in the State Department, I would not have pursued those goals by going after Saddam Hussein but by giving support and encouragement to Hashem Aghajari and his fellows; I would not have worried about Iraq and Syria but would have looked to Iran and Egypt, the large populous states that influence all around them.

But we are no longer in 2002, we are in 2004. Still, we all need to worry about the future of Hashem Aghajari and of people like him. Their road will not lead to Tocqueville's democracy, but it may well lead to a world where individual opinions matter, where democracy and religious freedom reign, and where the Islamofascists get the same disgusted response in the Middle East that Christian Identity radicals get in North America.

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May 04, 2004

Random Numbers and Exams

Yesterday the kids got the study sheet for the final. I give them a list of "live" essay questions for them to study with, then give them a limited choice of questions on the exam proper. The theory is that by doing this you structure their studying to make it less likely that they will panic and cram the wrong information. Instead, you encourage them to review what the instructor thinks are the main themes of the class.

As usual, the questions are so so.

Just now I laid out the basics of the actual exams - two sections and the makeup. I used a random number generator to choose one essay, then picked the second essay to complement the first and make sure that the kids could not write the same material twice. I did this in part because I could and in part because I had warned the kids not to work too hard gaming the exam - using random essay questions keeps me honest, at least as long as I like all of the questions.

And so to write.

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Belated Garden Blogging

I started turning over the side beds over the weekend.

Working back from the side of the front porch to the side of the back deck we will have five distinct zones, porch, hose, flowers, peppers, and tomatoes.

The rest is boring and detailed except for the exciting news that both of the new roses are showing some growth. I did not kill them! Yet.

The first is the bed around the porch, bordered by a low slate retaining wall and filled with flowers. Here all I did was admire the roses and plant some snapdragons to add color to the Iris, which are not yet even thinking about blooming. I hear that a place down the Pike is selling annuals for $5 a flat - I will try to head down there this week and do some more impulse purchasing.

The second is where the hose lives. I have a hose reel now but want to do more to tidy this section. It looks like it will be about $15 to buy enough gravel to lay down a proper gravel bed there, buying gravel in the small bags from Lowes Depot. So, I suspect I will just mulch that bit although when I go price topsoil and extra slate I will see what the bulk price is for 3 cubic feet of stones.

The third is what I worked over this weekend. It is a stretch along the drive with two roses, one on each end, and a window. The roses will be sprayed, so I can't put any vegetables in this block. So, I turned it over, working some weeds and green fertilizer into the soil, raked it, and then sowed a mix of cutting flowers. We will see if any of it comes up. I also planted a black eyed susan that came home with me from the plant sale on Saturday.

The fourth and fifth sections will be the vegetable garden. They have not yet been turned over and are waiting for me to get around to re-routing a downspout much like I re-routed the sump pump outflow on Friday. Right now, they are too wet to dig. I might go do the downspouts later today as a study break.

Finally, behind the deck, is the herb garden with azalea. This is where the jalapenos will go, but at the moment the tulips are still dominant. I popped a sage in and will add a rosemary once I buy one. I hope Sage and Rosemary will not grow too big - a good rosemary is three feet tall while anything bigger than 18 inches will throw off the pattern of the bed.

Finally, J wants fresh bay leaves. Bay trees grow 40 feet tall and are not frost hardy. They can, however, apparantly be grown in containers and brought indoors for the winter. So, she now has a $10 bay tree sitting in the container that one of last year's peppers wintered in. Now all I have to do is not kill the bay tree and keep it short enough that I can get it in and out of the house.

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May 03, 2004

Last Class

Today was the last class for the semester.

It was a grey rainy day. I was tired. The kids were tired. My conclusion was something of a downer. Now I feel tired again.

I think the final exam study sheet stunned them. I will blog it after the exam.

I forgot to talk about the homework with the first section, instead I let them go early. The second section gave me some useful feedback about what worked - they want more use of the board, more visual learning opportunities, and to replace Rights of Man with a selection of readings from Burke and Paine. I can do that. I can also buy a box of laser-printer acetate sheets and make my own display pictures to use on the overhead projector. I might well dig through Project Gutenberg and put together a reader next time I teach Western Civ. If nothing else I will trim the readings down and offer a few more things outside the textbook.

One of the really striking things all semester long has been the difference between the two sections. I think that everyone who teaches multiple sections of the same class notices this - each section has its own personality, and often one will emerge as the "smart" section. But what is the difference between a "smart" and a "dumb" section?

For this semester, at least, it appears to be a mixture of the room, the instructor, and a few key students. The first class is dumb - literally they don't talk. The second section is more lively in class and does better on papers and exams.

The first section meets in a small amphitheater. There are only about 50 seats but they rise up in tiers through the classroom. The room has a complete multimedia instructional setup, which I chose not to use because I chose not to put the time into building multimedia for only one section - it would have doubled my prep time at least. The room is optimized for teaching where one person stands up and imparts wisdom to a receptive audience. It does not have to work that way, but that is the tendency of the room.

The second section meets in a ratty upstairs classroom. The room seats about 40, and the overall dimension is wide, not deep - the farthest student is only about 30 feet from me. It is easier for me to fill the room with my voice, and instead of being on stage I am simply at the front of the room. As a result the room encourages more intimacy and conversation between teacher and students - I do think that the first room is a little intimidating and frightnening while the second room is more emotionally comfortable despite being cinder blocks and a blackboard. It is just a classroom, and there are loads of those.

The instructor also differs. This is my first time teaching these lectures. In fact, I generally write the draft lecture the day before class, refine the draft the morning of class, and rewrite the class as I deliver it. What this means is that the second class gets a much more polished and refined product. It also means that, for some reason, the second class always takes longer to cover the same amount of material.

Finally we have the very important role of sparkplug students - the folks who are always willing to talk and often have something good to say. The first section had one, and he is probably going to flunk the class because he has not yet written his papers. The second section had two, and both are perfectly understanding when I call on "anyone but the usual suspects" or when I ignore their hands and urge the rest of the class to speak. But, they do a good job of priming the pump and, after I spoke briefly with them the fourth week they do a good job of helping keep the class moving.

Let me explain that last. When I was an undergrad I realized I was a big talker, so I would talk three times at the start of class to make my own points, then would only talk the rest of the class if it would advance the discussion - I talked to other students but not the professor. The pump-primers in second section are not that focused on other students - it is hard to talk when folks are all in a row and the reading is mostly textbooks - but they do help keep discussions moving.

So, what makes a smart class? I think it is the three-way combo of room, instructor, and students. What does this mean for me, the instructor?

Firstly, remember that the more polished classes tend to run better. I don't expect to be teaching from scratch until I get a full time job, although I now feel a little more willing to tackle Western Civ 1 especially in a weaker academic setting.

Secondly, I need to think about ways to make dead classrooms more lively - perhaps I should have tried the Phil Donahue approach, re-arranged the chairs so that I had clear walking aisles, and taught the first section from the middle of the stands and not from the lecture pit at the front of the room?

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May 01, 2004

Dinosaurs without Darwin

Via the New York Times, I see an article on Dinosaurs without Darwin, discussing Creationist theme parks created to sell religion and creationism without any of that pesky business about millions of years or evolution. Nope, Dinosaurs were made at creation, some 6,000 years ago. The Colorado River could not have cut the Grand Canyon because the head of the river is 4,000 feet below the top of the canyon walls and "water does not flow uphill."

I find it striking on two levels. The first is that there exist a large group of people who embrace scientific nonsense and yet participate in a modern technical society, although I suppose that outside of health and science fields most folks don't use evolutionary logic all that often.

The second is to once again boggle at the folks who got caught in the 18th century trap of responding to enlightenment critiques of Scripture on evidentiary grounds. Once one argues that the only possible justification for religious belief is the accounts of miracles in the Scriptures, then one has to argue either that the entire Bible is literally true or that one's chosen miracles are so clearly unlike the narratives in Genesis that they qualify as completely different stories. Religious conservatives, especially Americans, backed into a literalist textual position as part of the late 18th and early 19th century discussion about reason and revelation, and then when scientific knowledge contradicted Biblical narrative in the late 19th and early 20th century, they dug in and held on where they were.

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May Day!

Hurrah, Hurray
It's the first of May!
Outdoor fucking
Begins today!

The scary thing is, it was Mom who first told me that rhyme.

But J is shy and our neighbors are close, so I will plant flowers instead and let them have outdoor sex for us.

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