September 2004
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September 2004 Archives

September 30, 2004

Debate Thoughts

I just finished watching the debate and wanted to jot down a couple of thoughts.

I was watching the C-Span version - split screen closeups of the two men throughout the entire debate.

What struck me was the differing moments when both candidates spoke fluidly and fervently: Kerry on nuclear proliferation, Bush on the importance of remaining steadfast in Iraq.

I prefer Kerry on the policies, so add salt to this observation, but at the start of the debate Kerry was looking a little gaunt and horse-faced while Bush was looking good - it was the little things like the Presidential tailoring, but they looked like challenger and president. By the end of the debate, perhaps my eye had adjusted to the contours of Kerry's long face, but the two images had reversed. Kerry's closing half hour looked presidential - he projected a lot of gravitas in his conclusion, passion in his discussions of nuclear proliferation, and humor in his passing comments. It was an impressive package. By the end Bush was looking less presidential, especially during his closing remarks when his eyes were blinking like a hazard warning light. Bush shrank during the course of the debate.

Both candidates hit their packaged talking points hard, coming back to them again and again. Bush focused on steadfast policy in Iraq, the difficulties of leading soldiers through a war that you have previously labeled a mistake, and on Kerry's back and forthing. Kerry defended his record and several times accused Bush of being willfully misleading; he went out of his way never to say the word "lie," but Jim Lehrer used it for him.

I kept waiting for Lehrer to to ask the two why it was that Kerry was calling for a broader coalition in Iraq, bilateral talks with North Korea, while Bush was arguing that the coalition in Iraq was broad enough --- he never said it, but he said as much -- while we needed to maintain the six-way talks with North Korea, talks that Bush claimed would be destroyed by any bilateral discussion.

Both candidates ducked some questions, turned others to pre-packaged talking points, and otherwise played the sound bite game. I was a little more disappointed in Kerry for this, probably because I had higher expectations for him.

These debates are bizarre and heavily scripted performances. In addition, both Bush and Kerry have been avoiding open news conferences and other positions where they would have to take multiple questions or deal with complex followups to their answers. Both have been giving speeches or participated in partisan rallies, and both have eschewed formal press conferences. I am not sure if an American equivalent of the British Question Time would be a useful way to pick a President, or even to vet a President, but it would tilt the political system to emphasize people who can either be a little more clear about their plans and policies or who can be more effective obfuscators.

I keep coming back to those closing statements. Bush blinked a lot; I forget if he is a fast blinker or a slow blinker, but he was blinking a lot more at the end of the debate, and even more during his closing speech. A blink is a sign of nervousness or of being unsure -- it is why some people use a change in blink patterns as a low-tech form of lie detector -- and Bush had a lot less gravitas at the end of the exchange.

Posted by
Red Ted
at 10:32 PM | TrackBack
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Easily Amused

Via one of Sheila O'Malley's commenters

Another worthless THS note: did you know you can set your Google Language preferences to Bork, Bork, Bork? Go to the Google Search Page, hit Preferences, then choose Bork, Bork, Bork! from the drop down in the Interface Language section. Save the whole thing, and off you go. Hilarious.
She is right. It does indeed work. I prefer it to the Klingon, Elmer Fud, Pig Latin, and to the many languages which I do not speak - although I left my Google in Scots Gaelic for a few minutes just for giggles.

Google's front page via the Swedish Chef in the extended entry.

Veb Imeges Gruoops Durectury
• Edfunced Seerch
• Prefferences
• Lungooege-a Tuuls

Ell Ebuoot Google-a - Google.com in English

©2004 Google - Seercheeng 4,285,199,774 veb peges

Posted by
Red Ted
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September 27, 2004

Reading Log update

Looks like four novels in the reading log this week. I have been nibbling on, erm, three history books but until I finish one I can't list it here.

Robert Heinlein To Sail Beyond Sunset
S.M. Stirling Dies the Fire - longer writeup and a good book.
Orson Scott Card First Meetings in the Enderverse - short stories. So So.
Suzanne Chazin The Fourth Angel a FDNY thriller, good procedural with a female lead.

That is all I want to blog up now. I need to think some more about the last thing I read, but I can and do recommend Catherine Asaro to folks.

Posted by
Red Ted
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Pepper blogging

I have not been keeping up with the garden blogging. After a while it got to be yet another case of "yep, the garden grows."

But now that it is fall and we are starting to put things to bed, I thought I would revisit some of the garden sucesses and failures.

The biggest failure was the tomatoes. The plants did OK, not great but OK, but we got very little of their produce. Instead we fed tomatoes to the squirrels and chipmunks. The tomatoes that we did get we had to pick while still pale orange as we raced against the rodents. As a result we got perhaps a dozen good Legend tomatoes all season long. Legends are perfectly good modern hybrid tomatoes, just like the very good tomatoes we can buy at the local farmers' market every Saturday. The Red Alerts were a nice little cherry tomato. They were indeed fairly prolific and we got a good number of them past the squirrels. The toddler loves these - quarter the tomato, hand it to him, and cover your ears at the happy cries of "MATO" "MATO!" before he pops them into his mouth. Much as we like feeding these to the boy, next year our tomatoes will come from someone else's garden.

The peppers did OK. We did not get enough peppers from the Thai Dragons. We have about 150 dragons drying, another score or so dried and jarred up, and we have eaten a couple of score of hot peppers. From eight plants, each delivering 30 to 75 peppers, we should have at least twice that many. I think that the late start has hurt their growing season. We will continue to get Thai Dragons until first frost, and they are pretty good, but we did not get enough to hang Thai Dragons on everyone's Christmas tree as we had hoped. We will grow these again, probably getting our seeds from a different source. I will also save a couple of dozen seeds from this year's crop and see if they cross-pollinated with the other peppers.

The Hero Peppers did quite well, and are not going to be repeated. The problem is in the nature of the beast. It is a moderately long, skinny pepper, with a thick skin and thin flesh. While we can eat the skin, they are better roasted and peeled. But, by the time you roast and peel and seed them, you don't get much pepper for your work. Yesterday J roasted about 20 of them on the grill. I peeled and seeded. At the end, we had about half a cup of pepper to go into the freezer. Not acceptable. These will be replaced with New Mexico chiles next year.

The Jalapenos did well. They were planted in and among the herbs and have grown quickly and provided a good amount of fruit. Oddly, these peppers have very mild flesh when raw, very hot flesh when roasted. Yesterday J smoked a dozen jalapenos while playing with the grill. We ate some with the burgers, and they had a nice bite to them. When I peeled and seeded the rest, well, I almost went for the gas mask. Chipotles - smoked Jalapenos - are much hotter than roasted Hero peppers even though the raw peppers are rated at a 3/10 for jalapenos and a 5/10 for Hero. (I don't have the exact Scoville units for either handy.) We will grow Jalapenos again.

The best part about growing hot peppers is that they are highly rodent resistant. We found a couple of hot peppers lying on the drive next to the plants, in just the right spot for a squirrel to have grabbed on and then dropped it. We think that each individual squirrel or chipmunk tried hot peppers once, and only once, before giving them up as a BAD idea.

Luckily we like hot peppers, and they are easy to grow, so we seem to have the best of both worlds.

Posted by
Red Ted
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September Calendar

Unfair political gibe

Some folks call Dubya "the chimp" because his face looks somehow simian.

Other folks, myself included, don't care for the man, his friends, or their policies.

Still, I have to ask myself, would we be better off today if instead of Bush we had elected an actual chimpanzee to the Presidency?

I think so, if only because he would have dealt with Saddaam Hussein by screaming and throwing poop at him.

Posted by
Red Ted
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September 24, 2004

Kerry - consistent policy, incoherent message

Today's Fluffya Inkwire has a fascinating story about Kerry's position on Iraq. The article argues that Kerry has been consistent all along in wanting a strong policy to contain Hussein, approved of a broad-based coalition to fight Hussein if he rejected ultimatum, voted authorization for action as part of presenting a united front, but thinks that Bush went to war too quickly, too alone, and to incompenantly. In short, Kerry voted for war because he wanted to bluff Hussein, and he says that Bush told the Senate he needed the authority as a bluff. He claims not to be opposed to going to war in Iraq, but to be opposed to going to war alone, early, and incompetantly.

It is a hard position to boil down to a sound bite.

As I argued a while back, Bush and friends are short-term thinkers. In the vote for war, as in the steel tariffs and a lot of other decisions, they said whatever they had to say to achieve their policy of the moment. The only real question is whether this pattern of lies, overstatements, and obfuscations will catch up with them in November of 2004 or with the whole nation between 2005 and 2008.

Their lies make good sound bites but terrible policy, a point I am far from the first to make.

Posted by
Red Ted
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September 23, 2004

Defending Marriage?

I double-checked the text of the Louisiana marriage amendment and, according to the Lafayette Advertiser here it is:

Amendment No. 1, Regular Session, 2004, A JOINT RESOLUTION “Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Louisiana, to enact Article XII, Section 15, relative to marriage; to require that marriage in the state shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman; to provide that the legal incidents of marriage shall be conferred only upon such union; to prohibit the validation or recognition of the legal status of any union of unmarried individuals; to prohibit the recognition of a marriage contracted in another jurisdiction which is not the union of one man and one woman; to provide for submission of the proposed amendment to the electors and provide a ballot proposition; and to provide for related matters.”
What struck me was that this amendment bans one false threat to marriage, ignores a real but rarely discussed threat to marriage, and barely touches on the largest threat to the institution.

I think of marriage as companionate marriage: two people promising to care for one another. This is a contrast to patriarchal marriage, where he promises to protect and she promises to obey. Over the 20th century companionate marriage has mostly replaced patriarchal marriage in most industrial societies.

What is the greatest threat to marriage? I believe that the biggest two threats are broken marriages and marriages never entered into. When teaching about colonial Virginia I ask my students how many of them have friends or neighbors in a broken or blended marriage. Almost everyone raises a hand - not surprising since about one marriage in three ends in divorce (statistics that are remarkably robust across religious, regional, and class lines.) I then use that to point out that colonial Virginia had a comparable number of broken and blended marriages, but that the culprit there was death and not divorce. I digress.

About one in three marriages ends in divorce, many of them after the couple has kids. This is a historically high level of broken marriages, comparable to conditions in colonial Virginia, and has important social ramifications. Divorce is the most obvious blow against marriage; it is clearly against New Testament teachings; and even 34% of Evangelicals believe that divorce without adultery is acceptable despite it being clearly condemned in the gospels. The pragmatics of being humans with a certain urge towards infidelity and serial monagamy outweigh religious teachings, and along the way they have created a nation with a lot of broken and blended families. This is the obvious but rarely discussed threat to marriage. It is obvious because of all the divorces - heck, politicians including conservative politicians appear to be prone to serial divorce - but we choose not to talk about it because, by and large, we prefer to escape unhappy marriages than to be trapped in them. As Kieran Heally of Crooked Timber pointed out a few months ago, even Ireland now has legalized divorce.

The largest threat to the institution is that it might become irrelevant. Why get married? You can provide for your kids, commit to your honey, and still know that you can walk away and do it again with another person. From this perspective it is striking that while the entertainment heroes of mid-century were notorious for their marriages and divorces, it is commonplace for the entertainment heros of today to have several children by several partners and never a wedding license in sight. They do not cause behavior, but I am struck by the change from being titillated by star divorces to being blase about stars making bastards. On a more prosaic level, conversations with young men about marriage often boil down to the fact that they want to have the benefits of polygamy combined with the lack of responsibility that comes with being single. This is a potential social time-bomb.

The Louisiana statute defines marriage as one man and one woman, and then provides "that the legal incidents of marriage shall be conferred only upon such union." If read strictly, this would mean that long term heterosexual partners, boyfriend and girlfriend raising a family and owning property together, would have the same lack of visitation, custody, and financial rights that same-sex couples now have. This would re-introduce a legal stigma to living together without wedlock and might, although it is doubtful, encourage some of these couples to head down to the county clerk and pick up the paperwork.

Marriage these days consists of three discrete moments. There is a bit of legal paperwork from the state or county - cheap and accessible for heterosexual couples, restricted for same-sex couples. There is a religious ceremony, optional for all, with some religious groups encouraging same-sex marriage, others banning it, and all applauding heterosexual marriage. Finally there is the kick-ass party. Some people don't do the first because they can't afford the third. (Disclaimer, we spent too much on our party because, well, J wanted a big party and I was in a manners phase.)

If we are serious about defending marriage we should do more to make getting hitched easy, the first part. This would involve re-thinking the "women and children first" logic of AFDC and reworking our social safety net to look more like the European dole, thus removing one economic disincentive for marriage. We could revise the tax code to increase the transfer payments from single people to married people. We might want to revise our public institutions so as to systematically shame those who have children out of wedlock, with the challenge being to blame the parents and not the child. I don't know how politically viable these proposals are, but they would "defend" the institution of marriage. Several of them would also offend the people who are most vocal about defending marriage from same-sex unions. So be it - we clearly distinguish between principle and rhetoric only when someone chooses an action because it conforms with their principles even tough it is against their other interests

We have already taken authority over marriages from religious groups and moved it to the state - part of the separation of church and state is that the government and not the church tells us which cousins can and can't get married, what age is too young, and so on. Religious groups are currently free to hold whatever ceremonies they desire for whatever couples they desire, knowing that the ceremony has no legal validity without the state paperwork. I know that the PC(USA) is currently debating same-sex marriage, that debate will continue in that and in other religious groups. I suspect that the Presbyterians will remain against same-sex marriage for another decade or longer.

The last is the social status of the kick-ass party. We have all heard the anecdotes about people who don't get married because they can't afford $10,000 for a reception. This is silly logic, but it grows out of the American bridal industry and our tendency to use coming of age rituals for rituals of conspicuous consumption. You don't have to have a big expensive party. Up until the mid 19th century Protestant weddings were small affairs held in the house with a few family members around. Only when American middle-class people began copying English middle-class people who were copying Queen Victoria did we start to see the big white dress, the reception, and the rituals of consumption and display. Even the folks who talk about the big expensive wedding they went to last weekend would probably be just as happy with a small intimate affair.

A marriage, in the end, is two people standing up before friends and family and, invoking the Divine for aid, pledging to build a lasting relationship. If we can remind ourselves of that, the party can also stop being a barrier to marriage.

We can make a good case that civil partnership is a threat to marriage, because it offers a sort of half-way marriage, with the economic benefits but not the public blessings and support of friends and community. A civil partnership coupled with a religious ceremony and a party would be better, and would strengthen the institution, but letting any two people march into city hall, show common residence and presto-chango get preferential legal treatment and transfer payments from single people might well threaten the institution.

Civil unions as a half-way marriage would threaten the institution if people got civil unions instead of a full marriage. They would strengthen the institution if people got civil unions instead of being long-time boyfriend and girlfriend. I have no idea which way it would go for heterosexual couples - it looks like a wonderful research agenda for someone in the humanities.

Based on what we have seen in San Francisco, Massachusetts, and Canada, same-sex couples are taking half-way marriage and combining it with religious ceremonies, the blessings of friends and families, and a public committment to a stable long-term relationship. For them, half-way marriage strengthens marriage, and if we want to protect the institution of marriage we should be encouraging more same-sex unions.

That Louisiana amendment does nothing about divorce, might do something about long-term relationships that fall short of marriage, and is an exercise of bigotry against same sex couples. It is a poor job of defending marriage, a good job of justifying discrimination.

Posted by
Red Ted
at 09:53 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
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Blogroll update

I went through the blogroll, dropped a couple of defunct blogs and blogs I was no longer reading, and added a mess of blogs from my private blogroll.

Posted by
Red Ted
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September 22, 2004

Tort Reform?

Kevin Drum points out an L.A. Times article about Bush and his buddies and "tort reform" in Texas.

In short, changes in the laws of liability and civil damages in Texas, laws promoted as an end to "frivolous lawsuits" and to promote efficiency in markets, have replaced the right to sue a home builder for defects with the right to, erm, pay thousands of dollars in upfront costs before submitting the case to binding arbitration in a forum provided by the builder.

As the article points out, lawsuits and damages serve two roles. At the moment of the suit they serve to punish wrongdoers and provide a redress for damages done. Over an extended period of time, knowing that you can get sued for a screwup provides a major incentive for someone to get it right the first time. The case that is the focus of the newspaper article is a family who bought a $750,000 house, new construction, with a faulty roof that leaked and caused $300,000 in damage to the wallboard and interior. The builder refused to make more than token efforts - $10,000 towards roof work but nothing about the other damage. The homeowners only option was to sue, which the new laws prevented, or to go to binding arbitration, which they felt was stacked against them. They ended up putting a large sign in their front yard telling the world that the builder was a lying hack. He then tried to sue them.

As a reminder to anyone entering into a major contract, actually to anyone who is asked to sign a standardized form - the only thing that makes it a form is that someone printed it. If there is a clause you don't like - cross it out. If you live in Texas, cross out the arbitration clauses and refuse to deal unless the builder agrees.

Oh, and next time someone talks about Tort reform, ask if they are protecting the economy, protecting consumers, or protecting big business with political connections.

Posted by
Red Ted
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September 21, 2004

Heinlein and Cheney and Bush, Oh My

Let me see if I can make this one hang together. I fear that I am tilting at a straw man, but it is an important straw man.

In To Sail Beyond Sunset, and elsewhere for that matter, Robert Anson Heinlein complains about "revisionist historians" who, starting in the 1960s, went forth to re-tell the events of the past so as to make the United States out to be the villain - no matter what. He puts these words into the mouth of a character during the Spanish American War, and she then complains that while the war itself was fought on behalf of democratic rebels in Cuba, these revisionist historians have re-told the tale into one of imperialism and occupation, thus distorting "what really happened."

Lynne Cheney, both during her time as chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities and as a prominent spokeswoman for reform in history education, has repeatedly argued that the purpose of history is to tell American's positive stories about their past. The discipline creates a collective memory and identity, and she wants that identity to emphasize the good things about the nation. There are subtleties - this is a brief review of her position - but that is one of her major arguments.

A month or so ago George W. Bush, a man noted more for his firm opinions than for his intellectual curiosity, was giving a speech in the Philippines. During this speech he made some reference to America's long-standing commitment to democracy and democratic government, something that he hoped the nation would bring to Iraq just as it had brought it to the Philippines. He was booed, and it was obvious that he had no idea what he had said that was so offensive.

The answer, of course, is that after the United States stumbled into possession of the Philippines in 1898 we went ahead and colonized them, running the country for our benefit. Some American politicians called on the nation to "Christianize" the Philippines, conveniently ignoring that the islands had been Catholic before there was a permanent settlement in North America. More importantly, there had been a democratic insurgency in the Philippines just as there had been in Cuba. After praising that insurgency and its goals, the United States proceeded to impose its own rulers and policies on the nation, and then to fight a long bloody guerilla war against that very same democratic movement, finally quelling it for a while. After the Second World War the Philippines did become an independent nation, but even today they are living with some of the side effects of the long guerrilla war against first Spain, then the United States, then Japan.

Heinlein suggests that telling that story is "revisionism" and is bad for the nation. It is revisionist, in the sense that one of the things we do as historians is look for places where earlier accounts have gotten it wrong, and revise the story to match new data, new questions, or new perspectives. The revised account had better be well grounded in the facts - if not then it is fiction or wishful thinking - but just because it disagrees with the official story at the time of events does not mean that the official story was correct. In the case of the Philippines, the irony is that Mark Twain condemned our actions at the time, and that Heinlein is a huge fan of Mark Twain.

And, while Cheney is right that a good historian, especially on the elementary or high school level, must provide students with a compelling account of national identity and national meaning, she misses the fact that praise alone is meaningless. If you ever had a boss or a teacher who responded to all questions about how things were going, how good your work was, and so on by saying "fine fine, its great, you're doing great baby." - every single time, regardless of what you had given them - well, you quickly conclude that they have NO IDEA what is good or bad. Worse, you have no idea which parts of your work need to be improved, which are already strong. In contrast, someone who explains to you what you are doing well, what is weak, and what needs to be improved will help you grow as a person and as a worker. Historians provide that sort of feedback to a nation. And while it is important that we identify and celebrate national ideals and that we point out moments where those ideals mattered, we also have a duty to point out moments where our actions fell short of our ideals, and to show how and why we dropped the ball.

Otherwise, we end up in the position that George W. Bush was in during that speech - where we say something stupid, or offensive, or do something with poor consequences, because no one told us that the nation had been less than perfect. The school of hard knocks lets us learn from our mistakes. Education lets us learn from other people's mistakes - a far less painful process. If we blind ourselves to those mistakes we have to find things out anew every generation.

Posted by
Red Ted
at 11:35 AM | TrackBack
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What makes a good student?

I teach the US history surveys. As part of my class prep I read other peoples' syllabi. I also pay attention to what works in my classes, and to what does not work.

Teaching at several institutions, ranging from open enrollment community colleges to elite public universities, and following news and advice from other institutions, I have noticed a couple of patterns in what makes a good student: Good students read faster and with better comprehension.

One constant that I have noticed between schools is that, to the first approximation, elite schools and open enrollment schools cover about the same stuff in their classes. Every US1 survey will review, say, Bacon's Rebellion. The difference is that the better schools expect the students to have done more reading. One extreme of this is Cornel West's philosophy seminar at Princeton, where the undergraduates might be asked to read 300 pages of Aristotle for that week's class, and then spend the entire class session talking about some of the implications of the thought. They don't spend any class time reviewing what Aristotle wrote; West assumes, correctly, that the kids will have done the reading and understood it well enough to talk about its implications.

So, when I am talking to high school students about their own college choices, I point out that in the humanities the thing to check is their own reading speed and reading comprehension skills. If they are high, go for the better schools. If they are a slow reader with poor comprehension, be careful not to go to a school that will bury you under pages and pages of stuff.

I have in the past formed a poor impression of the reading comprehension skills of students at Urban Research University, largely because many of them really struggled to make it through the monographs I assigned them. I used perfectly readable books like Olivier Zunz Making America Corporate, Edmund Morgan American Slavery / American Freedom, and T.H. Breen Myne Owne Ground, and the kids hated them, struggled to understand them, and left me in a situation where I had to walk them through the book's argument even AFTER the kids had written a paper about the book.

I bring this up because I am teaching an identical syllabus at URU and at Suburban State University. This week we read excerpts from Ouladah Equiano's famous slave narrative. The kids at URU got it - they told me not to bother with the recap and we moved straight into analysis. And, sure enough, we had a good discussion of the book and it was clear that all 45 had read it, most had gotten it, and many could talk intelligently about it. Yesterday afternoon we did the same class at SSU. This time only 4 kids out of 35 could talk about the reading, and even though all wrote me a 200 word homework on it, it felt like most of them had either not done the reading or not understood the reading. So, I spent half an hour pulling teeth to work up the basic narrative of Equiano's life before moving on to new material and making my actual arguments. It was a very frustrating class.

I am still not sure how much of the difference in student quality comes from the two institutions, how much because URU is meeting at prime time while SSU is meeting at slacker time, but I am now 20 minutes behind in the SSU class. I will cut short their discussion of the middle colonies in order to tell the tale of Bacon's Rebellion and the shift from class-based to race-based hierarchies in the colonial Chesapeake. I think I can make time for that.

EDIT
I have now graded the homework that the kids wrote for that class. They had done the reading. Most of them knew the stuff we were talking about. But, for some reason, they did not feel confident in that knowledge and certainly were not forthcoming with what they knew. I have to think about my teaching style for that class and see if I can come up with something that might give them a little more self-confidence and thus get them more involved.

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Red Ted
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September 17, 2004

Reading Log update

I have not been keeping up with the reading log, much less with these announcements of what is on there.

Since the last of these announcements I have put up a bit of blather about:
Dick Francis Hot Money audiobook
Evelyn Waugh Vile Bodies (did not finish)
S.W.A.T. movie
Andrea Tone Devices and Desires history of contraception
Kent Haruf Plainsong audiobook
Stephen Davis Hammer of the Gods
Led Zeppelin concert DVD
Orson Scott Card Tales of Alvin Maker 6 novels
Lisa Scottoline Legal Tender
Hellboy movie.

I also read another thriller, but I returned it and have forgotten the title.

Posted by
Red Ted
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September 15, 2004

Pain d'Epices

Rosh Hashanah starts tonight at sunset. Part of the holiday ritual is to eat honey "for a sweet new year," and honey cakes are an important part of the holiday food. An aside - Judaism really is an excuse to eat, and eat well.

My favorite honey cake is actually a French spice bread (recipe below the fold) made with honey, jam, anise, cinnamon, and milk. If done correctly it makes a dense tender bread that can be cut into thin slices; it has a sweet taste but the dense load of spices mean that what I notice when I eat it is the tingling on my tongue and the lingering resonance of anise back where nose and mouth connect to one another. Baking the bread fills my head with spice and I smell it for a day or two afterwards, and eating it returns all those smells to the forefront of my memory. It is powerful bread.

J does not care for it, so I get to eat most of it myself. The toddler likes it, probably because it is sweet, but it is so sweet that we serve it to him as "cake" and not as "bread."

I had not made it for a couple of years, and this year I goofed it badly. The problem was not the recipe but the execution. I think I had the oven a little too hot. I also left the rack at the bottom third of the oven instead of moving it higher. This meant that the bread smelled done, and the side of the loaf tested done, but the top of the loaf was not done, and so I have a trough of wet uncooked dough sitting on top of my slightly dry spice bread.

So far, since cracking the first loaf this morning, I have eaten about a third of the loaf, throwing out the wet dough and narfing the good stuff. I told you I like this bread.

I will leave the political implications of good recipe, poor execution, as an exercise for the reader.

Pain d'Epices
Susan Loomis
from French Farmhouse Cooking
New York: Workman Publishing Company, 1996

Ingredients:
2 cups milk (whole or skim depending on your dietary fetishes)
2 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground cardomon
2 tbsp whole anise seeds
NOTE - if any of these run short, grate in some fresh nutmeg to fill.
24 oz liquid honey (one medium jar will do it.)
7 1/3 cups AP flour.
3/4 cup of jam - orange marmalade, red currant, or beach plum.(1)
2 tsp baking soda
2 tbsp warm water

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 325
Butter and flour two 9*5*3 loaf pans

Method:
Combine the milk and spices in a medium sized saucepan. Heat, stirring constantly, until the milk just begins to steam or gets bubbles along the side of the pan. Do not let it come to a boil.(2) Once it hits this point, cover the pan and let sit for 10 minutes.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the milk and the honey and mix well.
Add 2 cups of flour and mix well.
Then add the jam.
Slowly add the rest of the flour, stirring until the mixture is thoroughly combined.
(I use the mixmaster with the paddle.)

In a small bowl mix together the baking soda and the warm water. Stir into the batter and mix at medium speed for 5 minutes until the dough becomes satiny. (10 minutes if by hand.) This will be a very thick, sticky dough.

Divide the batter between the two pans. Bake in center of oven, well separated for better air flow. Bake until loaves are puffed and golden and spring back when touched IN THE CENTER of the loaf. 1 hour and another 20-40 minutes depending on how moist your jam was.

Remove from oven and cool on wire racks. When cool, wrap in wax paper and aluminium foil and let sit for at least 24 hours to develop the flavor. Will remain good for about 2 weeks, or can be frozen for up to 2 months.

Cut into thin slices and serve as a snack, breakfast food, or dessert. They are wonderful with coffee.

Footnotes:
(1), Jam is made from fruit, sugar, and optional pectin, acid, and preservatives. If your jam has corn syrup or, horrors, HFCS in it, throw it out and get real jam.
(2)This is the same method I use when making hot cocoa on the stove.

Posted by
Red Ted
at 08:58 AM | TrackBack
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September 14, 2004

Of Flags and Costs

In the days following September 11, 2001 American flags sprouted everywhere. They appeared on bumper stickers, on lapel pins, on car flags, and on buildings.

Some of those flags are still there, including one particular eyesore visible from the Ben Franklin Bridge heading into Philadelphia - a huge building-side flag that is now sagging, faded, discolored and covered in dark stains that are probably mildew. No picture - don't like shooting from the car while driving on the bridge - but it is a very large and very sad image.

The people who displayed flags after 9/11 and then did not care for them made me think of the animal shelters who, every spring, are flooded with baby ducks, chickens and rabbits from people who bought a pet without considering that once you own it, you are responsible for it.

The American Flag Code gives guidelines for displaying an American flag; I suspect that other nations have their own guidelines. I do not know if the Flag Code has the force of law or if it is simply written custom, but I do know that it condemns the display of a worn, tattered, or faded flag. One of my neighbors has flown the same flag in front of his house, day and night, since before I moved in; it is very faded and grey. Elsewhere I have seen people running strips and tatters down a flag pole - I hope they replaced it.

The American Military guidelines, for places with normal weather, are that a flag flown on a vertical pole from dawn to dusk will need replacement after 90 days of use. Flags flown 24/7 will last only about a third that long. I have gotten over a year of use out of the sewn American flag in front of our house, and it should last until next flag day. Of course, I also alternate it with a Betsy Ross flag from time to time, and when I start adding to my flag collection next year I will be adding more variants of the Stars and Stripes.

So flying a flag from your house means $35 a year for replacements (flag day is a good day to change the flag), plus replacement for the pole, grommets, and other hardware as needed. It is not a large cost, but it is a continuing cost. You don't just plunk down your $20 or $35, run the thing up the pole, and walk away. Or, in the case of that disgrace in Philadelphia, you don't plunk out the couple of thousand for a mega flag and then just leave it hanging. They have to be maintained - at night you either run the flag down or shine a light on it, but don't leave it all alone in the dark - they have to be replaced; they can be repaired and resewn.

The Flag Code suggests that the only way to dispose of a worn flag is to respectfully burn it, and most American legion chapters have an annual flag funeral day where they will safely and respectfully perform this duty.

I thought about dropping a letter to my Representative suggesting that any flag-burning amendment include a provision mandating that people not display worn, tattered or soiled flags. I did not, if only because there are occasional stories of people who own a particular flag with great sentimental value, and who fly that flag to tatters for some family emotional purpose. The example that comes to mind is a family whose father served in Korea and brought back a flag, and who flew that thing throughout the three years or more of his long, lingering, final illness. That tattered rag was an important family symbol.

I do not know if the flag of shame in Philadelphia is an emotional symbol or if it is something that was run up after September 11 and then left to rot. I fear it is the latter.

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Red Ted
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September 13, 2004

The Chocolate Cake Argument

Many of my students used the Chocolate Cake Argument in their first homework. This is a common argument in polemics and politics - Eric Muller castigates Michelle Malkin for using a chocolate cake argument to smear Richard Kotoshirodo.

What is a chocolate cake argument?

Chocolate cake contains eggs, milk, and flour, all of which are good things; it is a perfectly reasonable breakfast food.
As you can see, I get the term from a Bill Cosby comedy routine. But, it is a serious rhetorical fallacy. If you only present a portion of the evidence, you can make an argument for almost anything, from the banal as in the comedy sketch to the shameless as in what Malkin does to Kotoshirodo to the tragic. It is sloppy thought and sloppy reasoning.

The chocolate cake argument is also remarkably brittle. It ignores all evidence, or all meaningful evidence, contravening the speaker's point. Because it does not address this evidence, balance it, or try to fit it into the speaker's narrative, the narrative can almost always be derailed by a small dose of cold hard fact. I tell the kids that it is far better to acknowledge contravening evidence and then tell the reader why their argument is BETTER, advice that makes it much harder to argue anything you want but that makes for a much higher quality of debate.

But, it does make for weaker comedy. "Dad is great! He give us chocolate cake! . . . Daddy made us eat this chocolate cake and grapefruit juice."

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Red Ted
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URU > SSU; URU 1 SSU 0

I am teaching at two institutions this semester. I have taught at both before, but this will be the first time teaching the same class at both places.

I taught at Urban Research University before I taught at Suburban State, and one of my first questions to the department chair at SSU was how the students at the two colleges compared, so that I could adjust my expectations. He assured me that they were about comparable. In previous semesters I generally agreed - students at the two schools were close enough that I felt comfortable using the same set of expectations when grading both.

After grading the first homework - Was the Columbian Exchange a Good thing or a Bad thing? - I have to say that URU students did a better job.

Of course, more of them are upperclassmen, and my URU class is at mid-day - when the good students show up - while the SSU class is at dinnertime - a slacker moment, so this is a comparison of students in two very similar classes and not a comparison across the board.

Still, URU is an upwardly mobile institution, and I continue to be impressed by the students.

URU won the first homework; lets see what happens over the rest of the semester.

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September 09, 2004

New infant food

A friend sent us a crate of new jarred food for the infant. We think he will like this one. . . .

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Led Zeppelin

I got the urge to listen to some Led Zep.

So, I chased down their complete catalogue. I now have 8.1 hours of high quality screaming, thumping, and electrifying electric noise.

I think it will make fine writing music.

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Red Ted
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September 08, 2004

Catholic Voter Guide

Amy Sullivan at the Washington Monthly has a very good eye for religion and politics.

Today she points us to the Catholic Voter Guide - a set of policy questions that test the extent to which your policy views align with those of the Council of Catholic Bishops, George W. Bush, and John Kerry.

I was not surprised to see that I align more closely with Kerry than with the Bishops, and that I disagree with Dubya pretty much across the board.

I should not have been surprised to see the strong emphasis on social justice and respect for individuals in the quiz questions, but I was.

I got low scores for "supporting the family" because, well, I believe that marriage is a long-term committment between two individuals, that society as a whole has a stake in building and preserving strong marriages, and that humans are flawed, make mistakes, and do need to be able to end broken marriages.

As I read the research: humans are hard-wired for serial monogamy with some level of cheating; children do best when raised in a stable, loving, environment with two parents; increased life expectancy has means that divorce has replaced death as the primary cause of broken and blended families; children do best in traditional male-female families, almost as well in same-sex families, fairly poorly in single-parent families, and badly on their own.

But, I disagree with the Thomist logic that the Catholic Church uses to parse matters of sexuality.

I am neither philosopher nor theologian, so I will probably mangle this explanation.

St. Thomas Aquinus proposed that people measure human choices and options by measuring them against God's desires. His knowledge of God came not solely from scripture but also from nature; like many folks he read the book of nature and the books of revelation as complementary texts.

As a practical matter, that means that Catholics tend to look at matters of sexuality and ask "what is natural?" "what did God intend by making (or causing evolution to make) things this way?"

Thus you will find a Catholic argument against anal sex based on the notion that the vagina is self-lubricating, thick-walled, and heals quickly while the anus is fragile - clearly one was intended for intercours, the other for elimination, and never shall they trade their "natural" roles.

This approach, with a healthy taste of St. Paul's prudery, shapes their broader approach to sexuality. The Thomists argue that the primary purpose of sex is procreation. Any enjoyment or pleasure that comes with sexuality is there merely as an encouragement to procreate. All forms of non-procreative sex - basically anything but PiV without protection - are thus a bad thing and should be discouraged.

I am willing to work with them on the whole "what is natural" argument, but I start from a position I first found in Aristotle. He asks how do humans differ from animals? His answer focuses on the fact that humans make things - to be human is to create - a position that Karl Marx picked up on while making his own arguments about alienated labor.

Turning to sexuality and nature, I ask how does human sexuality differ from animal sexuality? Most mammals only have intercourse during estrus; that is the only time the women are interested. (Dogs humping each other are engaged in dominance negotiations, a different set of rituals.) Humans are always ready for intercourse but only sometimes fertile. That suggests that the "natural" purpose of human sexuality is not merely procreation. So what is it?

Drawing on Ghandi, I argue that sex ties into our emotions. The purpose of sex is love - the physical act and the intimacy that comes with it are an encouragement and a reward for emotional intimacy. Thus where the Catholics will argue that non-procreative sex is sinful, I argue that non-loving sex is sinful.

This difference has policy implications. Rather than treating marriage as an arrangement for transferring property from one generation to the next, or as a little commonwealth that provides a miniature model of the state, or as an instrument for raising children, I would treat it as an institution designed to create and preserve lasting bonds between loving individuals. If you have those, then the children will follow, one way or another.

So, if I wanted to strenghten the institution of marriage I would not limit access to the institution to people with mixed plumbing; I would limit access to the institution to people who were making a serious committment. Perhaps we should bring back the mandatory delay between engagement and formal marriage - no more Vegas or Gatlinburg instant marriages.

But what about children out of wedlock? How do we encourage single parents - often kids who think that it is cool to spawn a pack o kids and turn them loose like baby turtles - to settle down with a helpmeet?

The intrusive state solution would be to mandate that everyone receive long-lasting contraceptive implants at puberty. If you have crotch hair, you get a Norplant (or a male equivalent, not yet invented.) They could only be removed by married individuals who present a letter signed by BOTH members of the couple. That is a level of intrusion into private life that even the Peoples' Republic of China would not accept; it carries un-measured health risks; it would be bad policy. What else?

The most likely what else is to continue the current U.S. policy of bribing people to get married, increasing the bribe if they have kids. Or, to put it in other terms, to engage in transfer payments from single and child-less people to married people with kids. We would have to alter the current AFDC and turn it from support for single moms to support for single moms and poor couples; we would have to engage in a cultural teaching moment to remind folks that 10 minutes with the town clerk is JUST as binding as a day with 300 of your closest friends, a big white dress, an open bar, and a feast; we would have to revise the laws on adoption and parental rights to give a preference to married parents, and to give step-parents legal rights and connections with the children that they raise; it would be a big set of changes.

But, that would defend marriage in a far more meaningful sense than either telling same-sex couples that they are not allowed or telling people that once you say "I do" you can enver say "whoops, re-do."

Take the quiz, how do you stand?

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Red Ted
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September 07, 2004

Minneapolis

No blogging for the last few days because we were in Minneapolis for J's brother's wedding. A good time was had by all, but travel took a full day out and a full day back - flying with toddler and infant is a big hassle.

I had a couple of random thoughts about the Midwest in general and Minnesota in particular.

I like Walleye. It is a wonderfully textured fish. This is good because we were eating a lot of restaurant food and the Walleye was usually the least heart-unhealthy thing on the menu.

Minneapolis is a very clean city - a big contrast to Filthydelphia - although we were mostly in the hotel district near the convention center.

Folks were very friendly; while folks in the Northeast are nicer than our reputation, I found Minnesotans much more interested in sitting down and chatting with strangers. That made the trip fun.

My brother in law is not good at writing directions. Or detail work. Or pre-planning. Then again, he and his wife put this together quickly and from a long distance. J and I lost a lot of time planning our wedding. But, it all worked out and we had a nice little ceremony in an outside sculpture garden, followed by brunch at a nice restaurant.

The Minnesota state fair is BIG. It is also a lot of fun. We forgot to go on rides - I had wanted to take toddler on the merry-go-round - but we did get to go through the livestock barns. Toddler liked that a lot. He really liked the goats, but then one stood up on its stall gate and nibbled on his shirt sleeve and upper harm. He did not like that at all. We have been reading a lot of kids books about farm animals, and I am glad that he had a chance to see the things that the pictures were all about.

I did not find the stall with deep fried pickles on a stick. We did find just about everything else in the world being deep fried, served on a stick, or deep fried and then served on a stick.

I have now read Go Dog Go enough times for this week. I intend to hide it for a few days. Also Margaret Wise Brown's Big Red Barn and his book about Trucks. Unlike most of the other folks travelling with toddlers, we did not bring a portable DVD or beeping games. Instead we read books. Again and again. "Dog." "Big dog." "Little dog." "Big dogs and little dogs." "Black and white dogs." "One little dog going in." "Three big dogs going out." . . .

I need to remember that I only read about 100 pages of fiction, 50 pages of light history, on a three hour plane ride with a toddler. I packed far too many books for myself.

It was a good trip, and I am very tired.

And so to finish class prep.

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Red Ted
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September 01, 2004

First Class

Thoughts after the first class.

My first day of classes is pretty standard no matter which class I am teaching.
I introduce myself
I have the kids introduce themselves to each other as part of my attempt to build a community of scholars
I go through the long, tedious, and scary syllabus - you have to make things clear, and that means a draconian syllabus and an understanding professor.
I begin the ritual forgetting of their names.
And we have a discussion, the same discussion every time although I get to my point in various ways.

I call the discussion "Why History? Why _____ History?" with the blank being filled in with the subject matter of that particular class. When I teach Western Civ we talk some about the difference between Western Civ and Modern Europe, this time I focused more on the role of history in a liberal arts education.

I had the kids do a board exercise - they tossed out ideas, I made them defend their suggestions, and the results went onto the blackboard: If you were suddenly named to the core curriculuum committee of [name] University, what classes or skills would you insist on making everyone learn because, well, no well-educated person should be without these skills.

Try it yourself - make a quick list if only in your mind, and then move to the extended entry.

Students at both schools, Urban Research University and Suburban State School, ended up at the same final point, but they got there by very different paths, in part because an exercise like that generally follows the direction of the first person to speak.

So at URU the first person to speak insisted that everyone should have an introduction to the humanities, part of that school's extensive liberal arts core, because cultural literacy is an important part of education. From there they quickly moved through cultural literacy and self-knowledge to personal capability - writing, numeracy - and thence to political awareness. They emphasized psychology, because (feh, wrote this on the board and erased before transcribing, paraphrase) "that is how you know who you are talking to when you talk to yourself," literature, and the like. They also had a strong focus on citizenship, including local history and local studies, political science, sociology, and so on. I have a pretty impressive group at URU - a Kuwait vet, three entrepeneurs, a couple of audio-video professionals, actors, singers, a member of a signed rock band, and of course the smart suburban kids who make the bulk of the population at America's elite and sub-elite universities.

Suburban State took it a different direction. The first person to speak emphasized that a core was a bad idea, that rather than requiring people to study things there should be no requirements but rather high expectations that they would choose to form themselves into well-rounded individuals. The next suggestion focused on writing because expressing oneself is a key life skill, and from there the kids quickly moved to an extensive list of life skills - writing, public speaking, numeracy, etc - and thence to cultural literacy. They had very few suggestions for good citizenship - no political science or sociology - although we also had not made a lot of time for that. In addition our discussion of why history moved quickly into a public policy discussion as we looked at the basic proposal that we study history in order to learn from the past. The kid who suggested history fessed up immediately that he had suggested it because he thought I was fishing for it, not because he could explain why it mattered, but that then led to a useful discussion of why it mattered.

In the end I was able to steer both classes to my big point, the point I had intended to make with the whole exercise. I argue that a good liberal arts education will make a person more capable in their economic life, richer in their individual life, and a better citizen in their public life. History hits all three of those bells, if only because the reading, interpreting, and writing skills that form the basics of the discipline translate well to any career that involves discovering and then making sense of a mix of reliable and unreliable information.

Go back to your list. Did you cover all three aspects? Was there something in there that I left out? Comment comment comment!

Class went better at Suburban State, but the kids at Urban Research were more impressive.

And so to prepare for the class on first contact. I think I will give the Hiawatha lecture, not only because I can, but because the reading is scant on Indians and I have to make sure they are covered well during class.

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Red Ted
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