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September 2003 Archives

September 30, 2003

Imperial Crisis We started

Imperial Crisis

We started into the three-class sequence on the revolution today. Because we had spent so much time on colonial society last week I had to take the top half hour and lay out the workings of the imperial system today. So, I did.

I took a different tack this time through; I framed the entire question using James II and the Jacobites. I put the usual list of English royalty on the board, from James II to George III, then worked through the constitutional questions of the Stuart succession. I pointed out that William and Mary came to the throne by the right of revolution, and that they then had to deny the effectiveness of this right in order to 1, keep the Jacobites from revolting back at them and 2, to keep little revolts from boiling up all over. So, they moved to the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty in order to undercut the Jacobite threat. I had James Francis Edward Stuart and Charles Edward Stuart on the board as offshoots from James II's spot, and I put 1690, 1715, and 1745 next to them just as I put the years of the reigns of the other monarchs. This then framed the larger question.

From there we fought the imperial wars, focusing on the 7 Year's War and on the worldwide empire that grew out of that war. I did the usual thing with debts, costs, and cultural contacts during the war.

From there it was mercantilism, arguing that colonists bought the theory but disagreed with the expedience of some of the implementation. I laid out the theory of specie grabbing, emphasizing the role of cash money in 18th century warfare, and explained export bounties and import tariffs and why they were important for a Mercantilist system. The whole thing was framed in the context of 18th century states as organizations designed to collect taxes and pay soldiers, with any internal governance, legal system, or social safety net coming as an accidental followup.

Finally, we got to the crisis itself. I polled the students on whether they wanted to be stepped through the blow-by-blow or if they wanted the big pictures. As expected, they wanted the big picture. I could have done it either way. I used the sugar acts to set up navigation acts and the proper or improper implementation of the acts. From there I focused on the colonies as defenders of traditional understanding of English rights, using mobs to defend custom against unconstitutional laws, following Pauline Maier's old argument that the Sons of Liberty were using the people out of doors to nullify unconstitional laws without challenging the rule of law itself. I forgot to give her reminder about hue and cry, posse comitas, militia, and all the other ways in which the people formed into groups to police themselves.

I laid out a Jack Greene presentation of periphery and center, using the board to draw pictues. Let me see if I can repeat my structure using html text.

British Empire
Parliament makes general laws for the benefit of the whole

Governor Assembly Colony

Ireland - direct to King
Governor Assembly Colony

(Intercolonial Trade - governed by Parliament) King Parliament Britain


With lines drawn from the King to the governors to indicate authority

and that was then contrasted to the Parliamentary understanding:

British Empire
Parliament makes specific laws for the entire empire

Colony BritainColony

Thus Parliament argued that they were making rules for the whole, that the colonies were dependent on Parliament, and for a colony to attempt to contradict Parliament was to challenge the vertical hierarchy of authority and would necessarily create an imperium in imperio.

I expanded on the two sketches, saying more about how both focused on the rule of law, both focused on the rights of Englishmen, both insisted on representative government but Parliament held to virtual representation not actual representation, and both agreed that Parliament could govern the trade of the empire.

I liked it. I do not know if the kids found it useful.

For the final few minutes I talked about the radical tradition and how the Sons of Liberty felt that they were one of many sons of liberty worldwide. I invoked Paoli from Corsica and Wilkes in England. I talked about the number 45; I never got to the number 92. I think I set things up fairly well for our first Washington letter on Thursday.

On Thursday I will finish the imperial crisis, talk about the war itself, and will spend lots of time on Washington, some time on the Iroquois. (I assigned no readings about Indians, and as a result I am spending more class time on them than I did last time I taught this at this University. Overcompensation has its benefits.)

And so to eat ice cream and then hit the public library.

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September 29, 2003

Happy Monday. Happy Monday.

Happy Monday.

Happy Monday. I did not blog over the weekend, largely because I had nothing to say. I have been grading papers, and caring for the baby, and going to high holiday services, and doing some reading for Tuesday.

I am not entirely happy about my sequence on the American Revolution, so I have been working on a new swing. Mostly this means firing up the word processor and making a mess of notes. Later today I will dig into the files and see what I did over the summer and last spring. I like my basic structure, but as always it needs tweaking.

We will have a three class sequence. I have already named them in the syllabus: Imperial Crisis, Revolution, The One and the Many. The idea is that the first one sets up the war, the second one fights it, and the third talks about state constitution making, the problem of republicanism, and life under the articles of confederation. Then, on Thursday of next week, we do the constitution and the week after that we have our midterm.

I am tweaking what I intend to do in each class because I changed the reading. The Imperial Crisis is a textbook chapter that runs through July, 1776. For Revolution I decided to focus on George Washington and we are reading half a dozen of his letters, plus the Declaration itself and Alexander Hamilton's letter to his father in law explaining how Hamilton and Washington came to quarrel. For The One and the Many we have a textbook chapter that covers the Revolution from 1776 to the end and then talks about constitutional arrangements. So the reading does not quite match up with the class subjects.

My current intention is to spend Imperial Crisis looking at how a batch of people defending traditional English constitutional arrangements and appealing to the rights of Englishmen ended up deciding that the king and his ministers were engaged in a crusade against liberty. The second will focus on Washington, although he will make a cameo on Tuesday when we fight the French and Indian War. I do feel that Washington is either ignored or, more often, made into a plaster saint. I give them Washington the businessman, land speculator, and practical legislator; I show a man with a ferocious temper, rigid self-control, and obsessive courtesy. I think it works, we will see.

At least some of the kids have been perking up when I tell them that we will be reading "other people's mail" this week.

And so to grade more papers.

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Forthcoming licorice I went

Forthcoming licorice

I went back and edited the licorice stories. While doing so I came up with ideas for a couple more vingettes. I will be grading more than writing for the next few days (I am a slow grader) but once I have some more sections I will post the revised and edited whole.

And so to cook some dinner.

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Who / That This

Who / That

This is my current pet peeve. I might be in the wrong on this one, but it still annoys me. Many undergraduates write in the structure "these are the sort of (collective-noun) that (verb)".

Now, when the collective noun is inanimate: tables, ideologies, pink and purple polka-dotted pentacles - then you should indeed use "that". And, when the collective noun is animate, most people do use who: "people, people who love people, ..."

What bugs me is when the collective noun refers to a group of people. I then want to use "who" afterwards, and the undergrads always use "that." They are not alone - I caught Benjamin Franklin doing it in his autobiography. It may even be correct practive by virtue of being common practice. But, these are the kinds of grammatical errors that bug me. People who make them are the kinds of writers who tend to use other phrases that also bug me.

Now I can go back to grading and housework, grading and housework.

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September 26, 2003

Licorice There are a


There are a lot of sexual variations out there. J and I refer to most of them as licorice, as in "not everybody likes licorice, but the people who like licorice really like licorice."

Most bad erotic writing relies on breaking some form of taboo or on taking key words, fetishizing them, and repeating them again and again. If those words push your buttons in the right way they can be very exciting. If those words do nothing for you then the prose becomes incredibly boring.

I was thinking these two things, and about the erotica of obsession, and I wrote the following vignette. Comments requested.

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Comma Splice ! My

Comma Splice !

My advisor hates my grammar. He finds it painful to read my stuff.

I was re-reading the Iraq post below and noticed a comma splice, and another one, and another one. Then I stopped counting, but there were more. It was painful for me to read, and I wrote it.

I guess I have to turn the grammar checker back on; I hate that thing. (This sentence was also a comma splice before I fixed it.)

And so to grade papers

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September 25, 2003

Stinkbugs and baby Paraphrased,

Stinkbugs and baby

Paraphrased, from memory, from John Steinbeck's Cannery Row

"Look at all them stink bugs" Hazel poked at the bugs with the toe of his wet sneaker.
"Why do them stink bugs stick their tails in the air like that?" he asked.

"Well", Doc said, "no one knows. They are a very common sort of a bug and it is one of the more common things that they do. I looked them up in the encyclopedia of insects - they are really very interesting animals. But nowhere did the author say anything about them sticking their tails in the air."

"So why do they do it?" Hazel continued?

"I think they're praying" Doc said.

"What!" Hazel was scandalized.

"Well," Doc said, "If we do something that makes no sense like that, it is usually because we are praying. I figured that they are doing the same thing."

I keep having this little snippet from Cannery Row come to mind when I watch the baby fall asleep. Lately he has been doing the very cute toddler thing of putting his head and shoulders on his mattress and tucking his knees under him so that his butt sticks up in the air like one of Steinbeck's stink bugs. I sometimes call him "little stink bug."

The other night he was sleeping like that and J came in to put a blanket over him. He stirred, raised his head, wriggled, and lay down again with his head facing the other direction. His butt was still poking up in the air. "Duggah diggAH" he said, and then he went back to sleep.

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Benjamin Franklin The class

Benjamin Franklin

The class was England and America
It was part two of establishing "normal" society in 18th century Anglo-America.

The kids read Ben Franklin's Autobiography and wrote a total softball homework "What most surprised you about Benjamin Franklin."

I had a list of points I wanted to make, I also prepped a short lecture on the imperial system, the Georgian kings, European wars, and these wars' impact on the colonies.

As expected, though, we spent all class digging into Franklin.

I opened both sections by explaining where we were and then explaining that we were going to use Franklin as a window into 18th century society. For both I explained that we were going to start with their talking points and we would run from there.

The first section, I got a mess of "surprises" from the kids, wrote them on the board, and then went back through them. The second section I had a kid propose something, we talked about it, I explained more of it, we talked some more and then, after it was dead, I asked for another volunteer to suggest something new to talk about. The second section worked a LOT better - more talk, more interplay, it was more live while the morning got a bit dead. Note to self, keep things flowing in the future.

We hit the major aspects of Augustan society: patron-client relationships, the republic of letters, geographical mobility, the importance of local elites, self-education and self-improvement, sexuality marriage and children.

The morning section had more on marriage, gender, and property rights. The afternoon section had a nice digression on drug epidemics, with chat about Gin in Augustan England, Whiskey in the Early American Republic, Opium after the American Civil War, Cocaine in the 1920s, Heroin in the 1950s, and Cocaine again since the 1980s.

The class is already fading a little - do I need to take notes myself about what it was that we actually covered?

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September 24, 2003

The Iraq post It

The Iraq post

It seems like everyone who aspires to be anyone in the blogging world has written about Iraq. I thought I had too, but it does not appear to be in my archives. I suspect that I talked about it with my modern US class this spring but never wrote down my thoughts. So, here we go.

The problem with the current debate about Iraq is that it focuses on the wrong things. Pro-war folks harp on how evil Saddam Hussein's government was or assert that there was a tie to Al-Queda. Anti-war folks harp on the superficial proofs offered by the Bush administration as justification for the invasion. The real question is not about the start of the war, it is about the future of the peace.

Over the winter and early spring it was very obvious that the Bush team was pushing for a confrontation with Saddam Hussein and Iraq. It was not obvious why they were doing so, why they suddenly chose to care that Hussein was obstructing UN resolutions.

No one who follows the news, the real news and not the Fox propaganda machine, believes that Iraq had meaningful contact with Al Queda before September 11. Hussein had a lot of contact with Palestinian suicide bombers and anti-Israeli terrorism, but a Stalinist regime that came to power on secular pan-Arabism, embraced modernism and secular society, and systematically repressed most Shiite and many Sunni Muslims had nothing in common with a violent offshoot of Wahabi Sunni Islam that was trying to provoke an East-West conflict in order to inspire religious unity. That dog won't hunt.

The best argument for why the Bush team was pushing for conflict was expressed in a series of backdoor interviews and organized leaks. The official underground line was that the Bushies were convinced that if they overthrew Hussein and created a democratic regime in the Middle East they would get rid of both mechanical and structural threats to the United States in the future. Bush was, according to interviews, convinced that Iraq was working on an atom bomb, working on a delivery mechanism, and within five years of being able to ship a bomb into the United States in a cargo container. He saw this as a clear and future danger to the safety of the nation, and chose to act. The broader, structural, approach was supported by Wolfowitz and others and hinged on creating a viable democracy in the Middle East.

The logic was that toppling Hussein and creating a democratic society would both deter other strong men from supporting international terrorism and, by giving power to Arab people, show the desperate poor folks who people the fundamentalist mosques that they could change the world by secular means. The first is simple threat theory. The second hinges on the commonly made observation that, in Algeria and Egypt and Iran, people turned to radical Islam because a strong armed state had shut down all other modes of political action and social protest. With no jobs, no technical education, no political voice and no future, the theory goes, they went through the mosques and into the streets.

So, by creating a viable democracy in Iraq the United States would short circuit fundamentalism's core appeal and also provide an alternative to the strong men and martial law governments that dominate the Middle East. The whole thing hinged on the contagion of liberty, the notion that once Arabs saw political freedom and the concomitant economic opportunity in one nation that they would push for it in other countries. A stable, prosperous, democratic Iraq would thus start Syria, Iran, and Saudi Arabia on the route towards democratic capitalism and a free society.

Finally, the pre-war spin story went, the United States could not make these goals the outward face of its policy in the region. To do so would rub the Saudi princes' noses in the way that the United States held that their closed society was a bad thing. Unsaid was that there is no basis in international law for an intervention in one country in order to influence political activities in other, neighboring countries. So, the Bush team produced a thin cover story hinging on weapons of mass destruction and hints of an Al Queda link.

The Anti-Bush crowd has been focusing on the thinness of the official cover story, parsing the claims about yellowcake, parsing the way that Bush's prose implied that there was a link between Iraq and Al Queda without ever stating that link, and otherwise bogging down in the mechanics of the big lie.

I think they are missing the point.

Lets take the Bush team at their implied pre-war word. Lets assume that the long-term goal of the war is indeed to create a vibrant democracy on the banks of the Euphrates. Lets pass on the questions of international law, wrap ourselves in the UN resolutions, and deny our political goals even as we work to fulfil them. How then should we judge policy in Iraq and how then should we suggest alternatives.

For the record, I said pre-war and I say again now, that this is a high-risk strategy, that if it works it will work wonderfully, and that I hope that it does work. I do believe in the contagion of liberty, it has worked in the past and it will work in the future. The long term goals are positive despite the cynical way that they were implemented.

But are the policies currently being pursued on the ground in Iraq working to further and achieve those democratic goals? There I just do not know the answer. The news I see is fragmented and politicized. I have seen a number of accounts of Iraqis welcoming American troops, of setting up new local institutions, there are now hundreds of newspapers where once there were only a few state-run newspapers. So some of the infrastructure of a democratic society is beginning to appear. Iraq was one of the more secular states in the Middle East and it was also one of the more entrepreneurial. There are a few early signs that Iraq might well become a powerhouse.

There is also bad news - not just the continuing guerilla attacks in the middle of the country. Those are bound to continue as long as a few people are willing to organize them and the bulk of the Iraqi people is not willing to shame and condemn them. Beyond that, it appears that the war planning staff forgot to plan for peace - a damning indictment of the whole idea that the subtext of the war was building a democratic society. Many of the rebuilding contracts have been let on a no-bid basis to a firm with close ties to the administration, and other firms tied to the government have also been getting a lion's share of the work. This looks bad, it not only breaks the rule about Caesar's wife, it looks like the worst sort of government looting from the glory days of Tammany Hall and machine politics. When will we learn that a plaster contractor billed $200,000 a room to refinish the new City Hall?

If I were giving advice to Democratic strategists, it would be to focus on the implementation of the post-war policy in Iraq. Argue from administrative competence, argue against good-ole-boy contracting, argue against people who over commit the nation without a plan, and make SURE that you have a plan yourself. We can't un-make the decision to go to war. All we can do is work hard to make sure that the lasting peace is in the interest of the nation, the ENTIRE nation, and that won't happen until we create a postwar settlement in Iraq where most Iraqis themselves feel that they are better off in a democratic society with voluntary religion and a vibrant economy.

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September 23, 2003

Miscellaneous stuff This is

Miscellaneous stuff

This is a mess of short little things, none worth their own blog entry.

I talked about Powerpoint yesterday. Today I did the unthinkable and asked the students during that slack minute or so before the start of class (I don't like to do substance before the official starting time.) Almost all of them had suffered through a class where the instructor made powerpoint presentations and then read the slides to them. They absolutely hated it. I then asked if they had ever had good classes using Powerpoint, and if so then what had the instructor done that worked well for them. One student had a teacher who would use the powerpoint as the electronic version of the little skeleton outline that I put up on the board, giving signposts to the students but using each slide as the marker for several minutes of free-form discussion. Several students liked it when Powerpoint was used to present facts, evidence and numbers.

So, you teachers who stumble onto this, some suggestions on how to use that technology.

In other news. The baby has a fever. He slept poorly last night (J lost) and was cranky today. He stayed home. I watched him this morning, J then came back from work with a box of paperwork to finish and took over baby duty while I went to teach. After I came back and they got back from buying baby shoes, I went back on duty. The little man is being very clingy and very fragile. He went to bed early - fell asleep in the stroller while we were walking the dawg - and I expect that he will wake up hungry in about an hour. If so, it is my turn to deal with baby tonight.

I finished the current draft of chapter four last night. Papers came in today. I get to spend the next few days grading like a madman, then I go and revise chapter three. Four will go into cold storage where three used to be - my advisor is tired of getting chapter drafts hot off the revision process. He wants me to let them cool and then read over them myself for clarity, argument, and ugly grammar.

Off to do some housework before bed - it is trash day tomorrow and we are getting a new sofa to replace the elder beast.

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Enlightenment and Awakening Today's

Enlightenment and Awakening

Today's class went well. I was amused when I compared it to the skeleton outline I put up a day or so ago. I walked into the classroom with that outline. I taught the overall framework and the second two thirds.

I opened with some general remarks about the 18th century and what we would be doing this week. I then laid out the plan: a third of the class setting the scene, a third on the enlightenment, and a third on the awakening. So far we match the outline below.

But, that first third was very unlike what I had outlined. I did indeed introduce them to 18th century life, but what I did was set up colonial elites and make the argument that by the middle of the 18th century colonial religion was elitist and formalized. In the process I mentioned the county courts and parish vestries in Virginia yet again, talked about how New England religion became tribal with salvation becoming effectively hereditary regardless of what the theological theories said. In the process I gave them a couple of set pieces.

We did viva voce elections in Virginia, cribbing outrageously from Rhys Isaac and I acted out the ritual of the two candidates, the county clerk, and the individual voter stepping forward, proving his qualifications, stating his preference out loud in front of the community, and then being personally thanked by the candidate of his choice.

For the middle colonies, I gave them the Weberization of the Quakers. I started with 1640s Quakers, challenging authority, rejecting social norms, one of many wild and radical groups in the English Civil Wars. I conjured up the image of the half naked quaker, her face blackened with soot, marching into the middle of a Puritan meeting house dragging a cross over her shoulder, and challenging the minister up in his pulpit, trying to debate him on the nature of true religion. It is a striking image. But, by the 1730s in Pennsylvania Quakers were calm and quiet - I contrasted that earlier Mary Dyer type with the public friends of the early 18th century, standing up to deliver a sermon indistinguishable in form or content from those presented in other Protestant houses of worship.

From there we went to the enlightenment. I did the usual board drill where they name some enlightenment dudes. I asked the morning class how many had read something from these guys, most of them had. This is a good sign for the future. I then ran through the basic narrative of astronomy to Newton to regular laws deduced from observations and describing the "natural" world. Then we had Locke and his tabula rosa. From there we did Locke and toleration. I did the exercise where you use a prop to show simple ideas - color, shape - combine them into complex ideas, and have those ideas enter your mind. I showed them a red umbrella or an orange book, and they were aware that they saw this thing. Then I told them that I would punish them unless they saw this prop I was holding as something else - a yellow pineapple or a multicolored beach ball. It was pretty easy to get them through Locke's argument that while force can get you to state words that agree with the source of power, no form of external coercion could convince them that the red umbrella I was holding was actually something else.

I finished the enlightenment with natural law, the state of nature, and the social contract. This section closed with my reminder that natural law is a method, not an answer, and that people get very different notions of what is "natural" depending on their preconceptions. Thus Hobbes and Rousseau had very different states of nature and thus imagined very different social contracts. I then used a more pungent example, showing the first section how natural law logic could show that women and men are equal and that women are "naturally" subordinate to me and showing the second the same thing for black and white. I am not sure which made the better example, gender or race.

Then we did the awakening. I explained basic Pietism, claimed it was a worldwide movement, and then gave them Jonathan Edwards as the case study. I explained Stoddard and communion as a saving ordinance, thus tying them back to the vignette of New England that we had started with. I then argued that Edwards used Lockean psychology to induce a religious fervor by describing a situation so clearly that it became real in the minds of the audience. I paraphrased part of "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" - setting the scene, staring at the back of the room, summarizing Edwards in a monotone - before breaking and stepping aside and analyzing it with them. As an aside, I found it almost impossible to teach, impersonating Jonathan Edwards, without moving my hands. I really do wave around a lot!

From there I ran through the Wesley brothers, George Whitefield, and the new light challenge to formal religion and traditional authority. I tried to give them the liberal-new light conflict and don't think I did that very well. But, I did very clearly make the point that the Awakening got people into the habit of making decisions, and that this habit of thinking critically about authority would drive the Revolutionary Crisis. We are indeed in the buildup to the American Revolution.

Looking over this, we did a LOT of stuff in 80 minutes. The kids took a lot of notes today - I saw them doing it.

I gave a tight lecture from limited lecture notes, with some improvisation and a couple of set-piece scenes. Of course I think it went well. On the down side, I was talking at them for 80 minutes, and even with the cut piece moments it was still a static lecture. I NEED to structure Thursday's class on England and America as a discussion. They are reading Franklin's Autobiography for Thursday and writing homework on it. They should have something to talk about. The challenge will be getting a structure that will encourage them to speak in class and synthesize Franklin with the other things we have been covering and the things they have been reading in their textbooks.

And so to blog about things outside of the classroom.

After setting

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September 22, 2003

I hate the bookstore.

I hate the bookstore.

Really, I do.

I am using Breen & Innes Myne Owne Ground. The book was ordered months ago. The bookstore got a partial order - if I find out that they intentionally shorted me I WILL go ballistic on them. The bookstore insisted that they were doing a special order two weeks ago and that the books would be available by the middle of last week.

I just got a call from a student - what few books came in have already sold out. She is screwed. I will lend her my copy on Tuesday and give her an extension until Thursday.

Now, in fairness to the bookstore I should have
1, put a copy of the book on reserve at the library
2, followed up more aggressively
3, made it crystal clear, in capital letters if need be, that this book would be used early in the semester, that we really would need 90 copies, and that any missing copies would be replaced by forcing the book store manager to fly the Concorde to London and fetch them himself.

I will calm down, then sick the department chairman on them.

And back to class prep.

EDIT - they finally answered the phone. It appears that the culprit is Oxford University Press, which ran out of stock and has been lax about letting folks know when things are due. I guess I get to boycott Oxford Press for teaching requirements.

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The Mormons have a

The Mormons have a point

Meryl Yourish complains about disaster management after Isabel and while she agrees that it is not FEMA's fault she and her email correspondents bring up an important point.

Many people did not make sure that they have enough bottled water. Now, it might be that J comes from New England and has experienced sequential blizzards and flakey power, but we always keep some quantity of food, water, batteries, flashlights and so on in the house. We don't keep enough - only a few gallons of water per person - but we keep a base quantity.

The various Mormon churches require their members to keep a year's worth of food for the family in the house at all times. Mormon families in our neighborhood when I was growing up simply had vast quantities of dried rice and beans in their basement as this was a cheap non-spoiling way to keep their reserves.

I can not fathom anyone who lives in snow country, earthquake country, or hurricane country who does not, as a matter of course, keep some basic level of food and water in the house. This stuff is not all that expensive, you can rotate through it to keep it fresh (the baby and the sourdough starter both drink bottled water even though we tested our house water and it is fine.) What am I missing?

And so to do something productive - just finished editing a chapter and am at loose ends.

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Powerpoint and Teaching Hearding

Powerpoint and Teaching

Hearding writes, on the Sunsword Forums,

Since I got out of the Army I've been going to Southwest Missouri State University, doing 6-12 credit hours a semester. I chose a Computer Information Systems degree program since that is the field I'm interested in. In a nutshell, here's what I've learned since spring 2001:

Powerpoint slide have replaced instructors.
Basic Accounting practices.
Basic level Visual Basic skills.

That's it.

Every class is the same, no matter if it's Systems Analysis, Business Communications, Marketing 350, or Object Technology (fancy way of saying Java 1). Walk in, sit down. The "instructor" fires up Powerpoint and proceeds to bore the #### out of you by reading what's on the screen. After 50 minutes you pack up your stuff and move into a different room to do the same thing. Every few weeks you have a test that covers random bullet points from the powerpoint slides.

The accounting classes I took (against my will...but it's in the degree program) did not use powerpoint. The Visual Basic course I took did not use powerpoint. This leads me to believe that any class where the teacher fires up powerpoint is one I should drop immediately, since those are the only classes I've actually learned anything in.

Yes, I once again have reached the point of wanting to chuck it all. It seems so pointless. I'll have a slip of paper saying I'm a graduate, but I won't know a #### thing. Today I got so disgusted, I skipped all my classes, went to Barnes and Noble and bought a book on C++ and tore into it. I remember saying to myself, "Well if they're not going to teach me anything I guess I'll have to do it myself." I'm on chapter 2

There's no point to this...just gotta rant. Maybe in the process of ranting I'll find the value in this so called 'education'.

After reading this I did a little digging around. There are apparently a fair number of teachers who use powerpoint. As one student I checked with put it, "some use it well, some use it poorly." This squares with the argument made by the powerpoint defenders, and is in contrast to the well known critique of powerpoint as "stalinist software."

I used to work as a consultant teaching college professors how to use multimedia technology in the classroom. One of the options we presented them was Powerpoint. I went with the position that Powerpoint was a good way to quickly present a couple of graphs and charts - about the same amount of information that you would get from an overhead projector. Or, it was a good way to organize a highly technical lecture with lots of graphs and formulas.

Here I drew on what one of the Econ professors at Large Southern Research University did - he made up 120 slide PPT presentations for each meeting of the 300-level econ theory class. These powerpoint files were posted on the class website for the kids to download and review. He also created a sheaf of paper for each student each day - in a large lecture hall - so that they had the text of every slide at hand and could save their writing time for annotating the slides. He then would start moving at light speed through the material. Every formula, every x/y chart he referred to had a slide. He spent no time scribbling on the board but instead was constantly explaining and teaching. I talked with one of the students from that class, who commented that it was like "drinking from a firehose." At the end of every class meeting he walked out stunned and exhausted, numbed by the amount of material he had just swallowed.

That professor got absolutely spectacular course evaluations, and he increased the material he covered by about 20 percent over the previous form of the 300-level Macro/Micro sequence. It was a rigorous class and the students had pretty good retention of the increased volume of material.

So, Powerpoint is indeed just a tool. Powerpoint does not make crappy lectures, crappy teachers make crappy lectures. If some of these bozos who stand up and read their slides had their powerpoint taken away, they might very well sit there with the textbook open in front of them and spend their class time explaining the textbook paragraph by paragraph. (Don't laugh, I know of one tenured community college history professor who does exactly that in her classes, using Spielvogel's mighty simple-minded textbook)

How, then, might I use powerpoint effectively the next time that I am teaching history in a wired classroom?

I use the blackboard to

  1. Write a skeleton outline of the class on one side

  2. Write down particular names and dates that I want the kids to copy
  3. Do board exercises, often in the compare/contrast category
  4. Draw really ugly maps and then sketch all over them
  5. Put words on the board when one of the kids does not know a vocabulary word I used

In addition, if I have an overhead projector available I will bring maps and use those instead of maps drawn on the blackboard. The projector maps have the advantage of being geographically accurate - mine are rather blob like - and the disadvantage that I can not scribble arrows on them the same way. They are static and not interactive.

For now, I intend not to request powerpoint equipped classrooms. If I get one, teaching in a spiffy new building instead of the current old monster, then I might put together a few data slides. I will not turn my lectures into detailed powerpoint sequences, if only because my lecture notes are not that detailed. I post, verbatim, my current class planning for tomorrow:

3 part class. 1, Society at the start of the 18th century. Anne and Georges Imperial System - governors, legislatures, navigation acts, trade patterns Colonial tensions east/west, elite domination

2, Enlightenment - start first
Observation > Revelation
Logic to deduce the laws of nature - Astronomy --> Newton
Bacon, Scientific method, etc
Locke, epistemology
Extension of this practice to social realm
Observation, search for "natural" order in society
Question received knowledge
Does not, can not, question own assumptions about race, gender, status.
Moderns and Classics, presumption that the old must be idiots

3, Awakening
Worldwide movement
One starting point, Jonathan Edwards, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, Lockean imagery to produce religious conversion
Spread - Whitefield, Davenport, Tennants, Wesleyan movement, German Pietism
Letters and books, conversion narratives, expectations for behavior, public meetings
Change from formal to emotional religion, emphasis on individual choice
oddity about New England - liberal clergymen work out the theory of resistance, orthodox and new light types fill the ranks of the army carrying out that resistance
Never quite ends, just moves on.

That is not a powerpoint lecture, and it certainly is not when I move on to talk to the kids about who are the enlightenment guys, what do we know about the awakening, and so on.

Between now and 10:00 am tomorrow I will flesh this out a little, make notes to myself about dates, think about how to get the kids to talk, but that is the basic form. I teach from rough notes, I improvise to an outline. It works for me, and the kids like it better than when I read from a script.

This post is a bit of a mess, I think I will post it anyway.

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September 21, 2003

Blog networks I read

Blog networks

I read blogs, it is my current off-time activity. I find that I read two particular flavors of blog by preference. The first are pundit blogs: Kevin Drum's Calpundit, the Volokh crowd of libertarians, and others who like to have their regular say about current events. I occasionally say a little about events as well. The second group is a little harder to characterize. I think of it as articulate women with an edge: Anne wrestling with her demons or Krista Scott-Dixon's feminist weightlifting, but many of them file their public presences as sex blogs. The Dirty Whore is one of the most articulate and strong-minded of these, which is why I linked to her from my blog.

As I read blogs I often leave marginal commentary, more often on the articulate women than on the pundits. I think that some of the people who follow up on my commentary from the articulate women are a little confused by what they find here - I don't fit into that blog network.

I am not really sure how I would characterize this blog. It is a diary on some level. It was a workout log when I first started it. It is a place where I hash out my writing problems. It is a place where I dump my comments on the class I just taught. It is also a place where I write up my thoughts on the issues of the day to get them out of my head so that I can then do my own work. I have not been doing much punditry, but I might do more.

I work hard to keep this blog very clean - I write it anonymously but as a practical matter I know that I have not hidden my tracks all that well. I don't write anything my wife could not read at work; I don't write anything that would get me in trouble with a possible hire. I doubt that my students read it, if they do they will find that I am not as confident as I try to appear and I think they can survive that discovery.

I do think that I will post a few more things that might appeal to the people who follow up on my odder offerings to other people's comment boxes.

And so to bed.

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Mom bought a new

Mom bought a new car a couple of weeks ago.

The lease ran up on the Taurus wagon, and she did not like it. "It was an old lady's car." Now, thanks to some silly 0% financing from Ford, they have a new little sports utility vehicle.

My first thought was "She can't get a Sports Ute - she does not drive like a jerk." But then, I remembered that back in the 1980s when we had a Chevy Suburban she did love driving it. You have to remember that Mom is about an inch over five feet tall, and she tended to grin a lot while driving the Suburban. That was good memories, and she does like to be up above the traffic and see what is happening around her. So she drove happy in a sports ute back before all the jerks bought them. She is approved, I will let her keep it (grin).

I asked her if she was going to get a roof rack so she can put her kayaks up on top and take them places. She looked at me funny and reminded me that she can not life her own kayak any more. She is 71 - even though she does not look it. She is complaining that she is shrinking, her pants no longer fit. So Mom is now a little old lady in a sports ute.

I am beginning to think she should have gotten a Hummer.

And so to wash the dishes.

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I looked over my

I looked over my last few blog posts. They are pretty tight, well-written mini-rants. This is not like that; this entry is a rambling mess from a sleepy man.

Friday was a darn good writing day. I took my blogging energy - I tend to blog while I write, as a form of study break - and put it towards a long thing on powerpoint and teaching.

Friday night we went down to the shore - got a late start because bonehead here tried to turn down the burner with the chicken stock on it and instead turned off the oven with the chicken roasting in it. Saturday my dad got a nice civic honor and we spent a couple of hours listening to speeches by the town Commissioners. I took some useful notes on public speaking, especially on how NOT to do it. I was also struck that two of the five speeches dwelt on the trouble that this affluent community is having hiring enough qualified people. Public Works has had three open positions and continuous job searches going for over a year in a group of 25 workers and 5 managers. That is a 10 percent unfilled rate - it seems high to me.

Saturday we came home, last night J sang in the choir during Slichot. The service STARTED after our bedtime. We were both very tired afterwards.

Today, Sunday, has been a day for housework and puttering and wishing we had a nap. I did finally get out to get more trim paint for the master bedroom (and for baby's wooden rocking chair) and I got a rake so I could get the oak leaves off the lawn. This homeowner thing means you keep having to buy things. I did a little writing half an hour ago - moved a few sentences around. I also went over some rough drafts and sent the kids some comments. It has not been a highly productive weekend. I need to get a lot of work done tomorrow because on Tuesday I get a deluge of papers.

And so to write the second (more focused) entry.

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September 18, 2003

Today's Class - Slavery

Today's Class - Slavery

I wanted to write this one up while it was still fresh in my mind. I did not - came home and checked email, cooked dinner, walked dawg, wrestled with baby and dishes and helping the wife, watched part of The Apostle while watching baby. But, here we go.

The original plan had been to look at Bacon's Rebellion, the turn to slavery in Virginia, and then at a close reading at the lives of black people before and after the crucial transition. But, that is basically what they are writing their paper on and the paper has been extended to Tuesday of next week. Rather than hold a class that would drive their papers (even though they would have talked a lot and had some fun) I went with a different approach.

I organized the class around three questions and three case studies. I put the questions on the board at the start, then went through my case studies. The first class I did not return to the questions until the end, the second class I changed the order to the way they are here and we answered the first two before moving on to Virginia and Bacon's Rebellion for the final 20 minutes.

  1. Why was it that most blacks taken from Africa went to Brazil, most of the rest went to the Caribbean, and only a few went to North America, but in 1865 when slavery ended most African-Americans in the Western Hemisphere lived in North America?
  2. Why did Brazil and the Caribbean see lots of slave revolts and slave uprisings, including Toussaint L'Overture in Haiti, while there were very few revolts or uprisings in North America (Stono Rebellion, Nat Turner, the aborted Gabriel's Rebellion and Denmark Vesey plot, and scattered instances of individual resistance)?
  3. Why were Virginians more vocal and more agressive about "liberty" in the 18th century than any other colony?

I handled the questions through case studies of Barbados, Virginia, and South Carolina. First I went through the order in which they were settled and reminded the students of the physical geography of each. Then we went through them again in the order in which they turned from white servant labor to permanant slave labor, the order in which they became slave societies. I had the students do a board exercise figuring out what a "slave society" might be.

We did a board exercise looking at the characteristics of each, starting with the core crop and moving from there to political power and internal tensions. Most of this was a look at sugar, with a brief mini-lecture on rice. Tobacco, we had already covered.

From Crops we went to trade. I laid out the Triangular trade. From there we drilled down to two case studies. I told them Obaiyah Equimo's (spelling) story, filling in his experiences and putting them into context at each stage. As usual, the Middle Passage stunned them, although not as badly as it stunned the Community College folks. The second case study was of the food trade between New England and the Colonies, and I argued that New England and the Caribbean together made an economic zone comparable in size and self-sufficiency to the Chesapeake; New England was integrally tied to the slave trade and could not have prospered without it.

At that point the kids were able to answer the first two questions and in the second section they did. In the first I forgot to do this and went straight ahead. It worked better the second time - if only because I was able to shut up and they were able to take the things I had told them and suggest possible answers to the questions. It was a model of how to do history in the "problem solving" mode.

Finally I gave them Ed Morgans argument about Virginia moving from a class-based to a race-based society. I had to tread carefully there so as not to spoon feed them a stock narrative for their papers. I concentrated on bookending the 1660s and the early 1700s, contrasting Virginia at the two points and arguing that the key was elite responses to Bacon's Rebellion.

I will give the whole thing a pretty good. I did not spend enough time reviewing and prepping - forgot when Barbados was settled for example. I did give them a sample of the problem solving mode and I did look at slavery in the international perspective. What got left out was black experiences on plantations and farms and what got left out was Peter Kolchin and Eugene Genovese's argument about colonial slavery being relatively harsh while antebellum slavery saw both better physical conditions and more intrusive psychological conditions. I think I can get some of that in on Tuesday as I talk about the eighteenth century.

Now I really DO have to go help J with laundry.

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Anti-Catholicism I have spent


I have spent the last couple of days wrestling with anti-Catholicism. In 1846 the Presbyterian Church voted that anyone who left the Roman Catholic Church and joined the Presbyterians would have to be rebaptized, a ritual decision chosen specifically because the General Assembly of the PCA was convinced that the RC church was not really a Christian church.

Afterwards Charles Hodge of Princeton and James Thornwell of South Carolina got into a very polite but very serious argument. Hodge argued that any group of people who claimed to be Christians, who held a basic historical faith, and whose membership included at least a couple of truly holy people, was a true church. Thornwell argued that any body that proclaimed doctrines sufficiently wrong could not be Christian regardless of what they claimed, and that the RC church was comparable to the liberal churches that denied the divinity of Christ.

This matters for my argument because I see other Protestant churches using a variation on Hodge's argument as they went about building the Evangelical Alliance in the mid 1840s. I am having trouble making the transition from the public debate to the details of Hodges position.

But, this blogging helped me sort it out. That is why I blog about my writing.

And so to prep for class.

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September 17, 2003

Tuesday's Class I slept

Tuesday's Class

I slept terribly Monday night. I rattled around until after 1:00, the baby was up at 1:40 and again at 4:00, and I spent my time Monday grading homework rather than doing good solid class prep.

Then, on Tuesday morning, I spent office hours going over a student's rough draft with her, talking her through her writing decisions and urging her to make her points more clearly. It was a fun teaching moment and (hopefully - we will see when I get her paper) I did some good. But, I looked down and realized that class was starting in 2 minutes ... 10 minutes away from my office.

I rushed into class late and without having had a chance to finish doing prep. So, we had lecture. It is always easier for me to lecture than to lead a discussion. I had made enough notes that the lecture had some coherence - I ran in chronological order, talked about the fur trade, about Canada and New Amsterdam, about the Iroquois confederacy, the Algonquin tribes and the middle ground, about the English Civil Wars and their impact on the colonies, about Navigation Acts, about the Restoration and the Restoration colonies, about how the middle colonies compared to New England and Virginia (students did some board work here), and about the Glorious Revolution and its impact on New England.

I talked about a lot. I am afraid that the students did not get a lot out of my talk - I was moving fast, moving a little thinly, and my only narrative structure was chronology and the Stuart monarchies. I think I made my overarching point that events in the 17th-century colonies were largely determined by events in Europe, but not much else.

Thursday we talk about slavery and finish up the 17th century. It will be tricky talking about slavery without reviewing the book that they are reading for Thursday. The original plan had been for them to read Innes and Breen Myne Owne Ground, write a paper on how the black experience on Virginia's Eastern Shore changed between 1620 and 1680, and then have a class covering sugar islands, South Carolina, Virginia's transition to slavery, and the further development of American chattel slavery in the early 18th century. Now I will have to cut back on my discussion of the mid-17th century, which had been something I was going to center the class discussion on. I had planned to have the kids lay out the changes in Virginia and have the kids explain to me how and why the tobacco colonies turned from white servants to black slaves as their primary labor source.

But, the University Bookstore and Oxford University Press conspired to mess that up. The Press gave a partial shipment. I did not confirm the book count at the start of the semester. The bookstore was lax about following up their shipment. About 15 kids have been unable to get the book. Rather than give them an extension while the others turned in papers on time, I gave the entire class an extension until next week with the provisions that 1, we would NOT talk about the book on Thursday and 2, that next week's syllabus and readings will be followed - including reading a textbook chapter for Tuesday and Franklin's Autobiography for Thursday of next week.

I will work something up. With luck it will be something that is more interesting than a lecture AND that will leave them free to figure out Breen's argument for themselves rather than just spouting back whatever we would have talked about in class.

But now, I will write. If I hit the appropriate sort of roadblock I will dig into my books and notes and finish my pocket history of the SMCJ that I started below (I can't research for a blog entry while other more important things are undone .) I just wanted to get my summary of yesterday down - I do go back and re-read these as I plan for the next semester.

And so to tackle Anti-Catholicism

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September 15, 2003

Cheap Coffee I will

Cheap Coffee

I will finish the story of the SMCJ later. Now I am drinking coffee and I want to write about it.

I do not drink alcohol, use tobacco, or partake in other recreational substances. My vices right now consist of coffee and root beer. I take them seriously and want the good stuff.

I drink a moderate amount of coffee, 20 to 30 ounces a day. That is down from the pot a day I used to guzzle but it is still more than my doctor approves of. I brew half-caff these days to help balance my desire for coffee with my desire for regular sleep.

I buy fresh-roasted whole bean coffee from local roasters, two pounds at a time, and use it up within three or four weeks. I grind right before I brew, I use a Braun coffee maker because I like the taste. When this one dies, some day (they are very sturdy appliances) I will probably get a Braun with a carafe. I HATE burned coffee and turn the hot plate off after the pot brews - I would rather drink it cold than burnt.

The best place I have found to get coffee locally is Coffeeworks in Voorhees, NJ. They are nice folks. But, it is a 15 to 20 minute drive to get there, plus traffic. It always takes the girls at the counter three tries to ring up bulk coffee - they seem to have too much turnover with the high-school kids who staff the front. In short, it is a bother and a hassle to make a coffee run.

I drank my coffee black from the time I was about 17 until early this summer. This summer I had a nasty bout with gastric reflux and ended up shifting first to cafe au lait and then, because I am lazy, to half coffee and half cold skim milk.

I noticed that I was not really tasting all the subtlety of the beans this way - I could no longer taste much of the syrup in a Sumatra, the mocha flavor in an east African, or the high fragrant note in the good American coffees. So, when I was wandering through the discount club the other day, I bought some cheap coffee. I could have gotten Starbucks, but I think they systematically over-roast and burn their coffee. I do not drink Starbucks. I got the house brand from BJ's Warehouse.

As straight black coffee, it is not good at all - stale, flat, boring and thin. If I brew it stronger than usual and mix it with milk it is just barely acceptable. I will finish what I bought, but I will not be buying any more. I guess sometime in October I will drive down to Voorhees and watch the latest counter girl struggle with how best to ring up two pounds of whole-bean coffee.

And so to have another cup of coffee

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Richard Nixon The Washington

Richard Nixon

The Washington Post has a nice article about Sammy Davis Jr and Richard Nixon.

Nixon fascinates me. He was everywhere and involved with almost everything in the second half of the twentieth century. He was Mr Cold War, Mr Returning WW2 Vet. He was baffled by the youth movement, and he did try to figure it out - including that notorious moment when he went out to the Lincoln Memorial to talk to some of the protestors.

I could not image George W. Bush doing anything like that -- Bush has too much certainty and too little introspection. Nixon, petty and vindictive as he was, manipulative and cynical as he was, had some measure of that humilty and self-doubt that makes a powerful man compelling as a human. He seemed to know that he was flawed, and to regret it, even as he gave in to some of his darker impulses.

I think that, as we move into the twentyfirst century, Nixon will continue to be someone that we go back to and reconsider.

And back to grading.

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September 14, 2003

Society for the Melioration

Society for the Melioration of the Condition of the Jews

Eugene Volokh of the Volokh conspiracy has been hosting a long discussion on Messianic Jews and mainstream Judaism, asking why Messianic Jews such as Jews for Jesus are ostracized and written out of the tribe while other, equally serious, heresies are treaded much more leniently.

The leading conclusion over there is that Jews have suffered so much from Christianity over the centuries, including a constant pressure to convert and assimilate, that any step that appears to lead towards assimilation is suspect. And, Messianic Judaism is often seen as a stealth attempt to convert Jews and break them away from their heritage.

I buy that argument, it certainly links with the over-riding theme in much of the Hebrew Bible that "Thou shalt not act like thy neighbors and blend into their society" and it links with the lived experience of modern Judaism. There was an interesting article in today's Philadelphia Inquirer about a Presbyterian-sponsored Messianic congregation in Philadelphia. The whole thing reminded me of Reverend J.C.F. Frey and the early nineteenth-century Society for the Melioration of the Condition of the Jews - one of the less successful of the benevolent movements that I write about.

Frey was born in Germany. He was Jewish, but he converted to Christianity and moved to England, changing his name as he did so. He finally ended up in America where, after a stint among the Presbyterians, he became a Baptist minister. Frey decided that there was a serious problem facing the nation and he led a crusade to solve this problem - there were a great many German Jews who had converted to Christianity and become religious orphans: their family and Jewish neighborhoods rejected them as apostates while German gentiles rejected them because they still thought of them as Jewish and thus "untouchable." So, Frey reasoned, why not create a colony in the United States where these converts could come and make a fresh start, free of ties and prejudices.

He went on the lecture tour, moving up and down the East Coast of the US in the late 1810s and early 1820s, preaching a sermon and passing the hat. He got some money here and there for his project, but it got nowhere until Elias Boudinot died. Boudinot was a wealthy man who had been an influential politician and then spent his retiring years in the benevolent project. He had been President of the Continental Congress after the Revolution, was an influential Representative in the first U.S. Congress, and after retiring from politics was President of the American Bible Society. Boudinot deeded 10,000 acres to the ASMCJ in his will, and when Boudinot died in the early 1820s Frey's society suddenly had the capital it needed.


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September 13, 2003

Goldilocks and Ultraism I

Goldilocks and Ultraism

I spend a lot of time reading nineteenth-century arguments. Most of these are written in a structural form that I will call Goldilocks, although the folks who wrote them would likely have called it Scylla and Charybdis. They say that there is one path, but it is too hot or leads to a whirlpool, so you don't want to do that. There is another path, but it is too cold or leads to a monster that bites your head off, so you don't want that either. Instead you want the thing in the middle, which is "just right".

It is a powerful way of presenting an argument because it makes whatever you want to say appear to be a judicious and reasonable balance. Of course, as a practical matter, by choosing your Scylla and your Charybdis you can argue that almost anything is balanced and reasonable.

In contrast, much discourse in the 20th and 21st century is ultra-ist. People identify one overriding principle and try to apply it to whatever it is that they are talking about. They have a plan, or a model, or a phrase, and this is the one way and the only way. Either you go along with them, or you are wrong wrong completely wrong.

It is a style of argument that my nineteenth-century condemned as "ultraism" - taking one point or principle and making far too much depend on it.

But, it is a simple sort of an argument to follow - you just have to get across one big idea and then people can be counted on to act on this idea. And many of these big ideas are good ideas: alcohol is dangerous, slavery is evil. Of course, as with any rhetorical technique, you can support dangerous ideas: we love Big Brother.

As I was writing the rant about diets and body shapes it came to me that much of what we hear on that is ultra-ist discourse, "you can never be too rich or too thin" or "how dare you comment on my appearance". The rhetoric of ultraism appears in many places, of course, including the war on drugs and the war on terror. And no matter where it appears it emphasizes immediate results over nuanced understanding.

I guess I am a hopeless intellectual, for I would rather understand something than simplify it in order to lead a stampede.

And back to work - having a good writing morning.

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Twiddlybits is on a

Twiddlybits is on a diet - she is using the Atkins diet to try to get down to a weight that she is happy about.

Good for her.

I posted a few words on her blog, and the discussion that followed made me want to elaborate somewhat. I warned her that she should not get too skinny, that it would be a terrible thing if her friends had to chase her down and throw food at her so that they could hug her without cutting themselves on her bones. It was a lighthearted comment.

That comment grew out of an observation that J made about science fiction conventions. There are spandex limits, she sez: some people who want to traipse about in spandex really should not do so. Spandex limits come on both ends of the physical spectrum - some people are TOO BIG to look good in skintight fabric, others are TOO SKINNY. Neither is all that attractive. However, there is a large middle ground where people do look rather hot. (For the record, Twiddly falls well within those limits and will probably remain within them after she hits her target size.) We can differ about the margins of that middle zone, with many pushing for scrawny eye-candy and others who favor a more curved look, but we can agree that there is a target zone.

What I find more interesting is the mixture of messages that we all receive on a regular basis from the media and from the people around us.

We are surrounded by images of remarkably thin, fit people and told that this is the model to which all of us, regardless of age and activity level, must aspire. Every Spears or Aguilara video, every underwear add showing cute guys with sixpack abs, every barbie doll, reinforces a body image that is remarkably thin and really only suits a small portion of the nation. The ideal image is that of an 18 to 20 year old: thin, with secondary sex characteristics but without the filling in that happens in the mid 20s. Those are the years where we combine the last of the adolescent hormones with the beginnings of a full-sized frame, and I must admit that the combination produces some very nice eye candy. I teach at an urban university, and springtime is a good time to admire thin waists, flat butts, and women whose chests suggest that they are on the pill.

And yet, we have another set of messages also percolating through the media. This argues that the most important thing you can do is feel good about yourself. People who are not size 4 still buy clothing, still go out in public, and they insist on having nice things to wear. They insist on being cherished and appreciated and loved. There has been a real explosion in "plus-size" clothing in the last ten years or so -- not just because Americans are fatter which we are, but because large Americans are tired of being told that they have to dress like slobs if they are larger than your average teenager.

Women have a much harder time with appearance and clothing. Some anecdotes might help explain what I mean. I have a big neck and big traps. I am a little fatter than I would like and than I should be - about 20% body fat. Because I have that neck I need to buy shirts with a 17 1/2 inch neck - pretty large considering that I am 5' 6" and a half. These shirts are cut for the average man who wears a 17 1/2 neck and 33 inch sleeves - lets just say that there is a lot of fabric in them. I have to order trim-fit shirts just to have them fit appropriately. When I buy suits or sport coats I have to get the athletic cut - and I am not all that athletic. The bulk of the population who buy button-down shirts and affordable suits are cut pear-shaped and so that is how the clothing is cut.

My wife also buys clothing at malls and through catalogues. She finds that the Lands Bean stuff generally fits her, but she has to hit Lane Bryant fairly regularly for clothing and she is not all that heavy (note, she is pregnant at the moment which throws off all such calculations). The norms are different men from women.

So, we can not really take standard clothing sizes as the best measure. But we still have to somehow balance the tension between the repeated messages praising the scrawny and the growing message to love folks the way they are. If we take either message to extremes we end up in bad shape, either walking skellingtons or immobile hulks.
How best should we decide where we belong and what size we should wear our bodies?

The spandex limit that my wife used, half-jokingly, at worldcon is a definition based on personal esthetic principles. As such it will vary a lot from person to person and will inevitably reflect the bias towards the scrawny.

I happen to like fitness, and have long argued - on and elsewhere - that we should decide how to wear our bodies on criteria of fitness and desire. If your body will let you do the things you want to do - walk in the park, play with the kids, chase down your partner for some snugglebunnies, run a race - then your body is fit enough.

While body size does play into this fitness criteria - very heavy people don't tend to take long brisk walks with the dawg - it is incidental. Fitness is a criteria that is measured by something other than the scale and something other than the display rack down at the mall - it is measured by personal desire and personal fullfillment.

And so, while I can understand why Twiddly wants to change her appearance and return to an earlier body shape, I also worry a little. Body shape is like a river, you can not cross it twice. Even if you do get back to an older weight, you will still be differently shaped. Even if you can get back to an older shape, you will still not look as you did. Rather than recapture the past (which can be fun - at one point when I was doing a LOT of running I could wear a suit I had bought 15 years earlier when I was 21) try to maximize the present. She is measuring her progress in weight, which is easy to measure and easy to track. But really, it seems to me, that what she wants is to have more energy for making snugglebunnies, more ability to use her body to interact with her lovers, and a different set of clothing choices.

Those are all laudable goals. I just cringe when I hear "I just want to lose XX more pounds and then I will be happy."

And back to work.

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Red Ted
at 11:56 AM | TrackBack
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I hate being sick.

I hate being sick.

I spent much of Friday tired and out of it, I was wrung down, drung down and hung down - it was like having a hangover without ever having gotten drunk first.

I had a wee nap, which helped, but I had to sit on the couch after dinner for half an hour before I had the energy to go bathe the baby.

And how does this relate to a 4:30am blogging? After I got myself to bed around 10:00 or so I was completely unable to sleep. I was in and out of bed all night, tossing and turning for an hour or two before getting up to pee, or to breathe, or to have a drink of water or of milk. I was up from 11 to midnight, 2 to 3, and 4:00am to the present - although this last out of bed moment started when I had a dissertation thought and went to write it down.

I would not mind not sleeping if I could get things done, but I find that I shut down around 10:00 at night and getting any work after that is like squeezing peanut butter - thick, sticky, messy, and not very good.

Well, I got through another few pages of revision, I have a new construction problem to think on - let me go lie in bed and think about it.

And back to bed.

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September 12, 2003

Strange dream Dream, September

Strange dream

Dream, September 12, 2003

This was a fever dream, I woke up around 3:00 in the morning to grab more blankets and happened to remember it.

The whole thing is third person - I will write it as a storyboard because that is basically what I did while dreaming.

Open with a shot of an interior household hallway, with a thin film of smoke floating through it.

Narrator "Bobby has been baking cookies."

Cut to:
small boy trying to keep a handful of cookies away from his sisters. They are tickling him and trying to get to his hands - he is lying on his back. The whole thing is vaguely sexual.

Mom "Bobby, Why won't you let your sister have some cookies - you just baked 10,000 of them!"

Boy "but Mom, I am trying to set the world record for eating cookies and cream."

Mom "Give each sister a cookie, then come with me and we are going to have a talk. Girls, go to your rooms."

Cut to mom and bobby in the Kitchen, looking at racks and racks of cookie trays, lots of dishrags are holding trays, laying across the stove, and otherwise adding to the clutter.

Enter Dad, looking confused.
Dad "Why did Fedex just deliver 40,000 pounds of ricotta cheese to our front porch"

Cut to:

Great obscene mound of cookies and cream filling an entire kitchen - like a scene from the blob. Bobby is there with a spoon, eating away.

Time lapse, he is making a dent in it.

Time lapse, he is slowing down.

Bobby is now buried underneath a mound of cookies and cream. All we see is his arm and his voice saying "no more, no more" - he sounds small and unhappy.

his arm is now wrapped around a pillow, Bobby is in his bed dreaming. He is still saying "no more, no more cookies and cream."

The camera pulls back, revealing the other pillows at the top of the bed. Neatly folded across the pillows are the dishrags from the earlier kitchen scene.

Narrator: Behold, the power of cheese.

I woke up, thought about it, pulled up the blankets, and went back to sleep.

Posted by
Red Ted
at 09:25 AM | TrackBack
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Thursday's class We talked

Thursday's class

We talked about New England. I noticed that both here and with Jamestown I tend to spend a LOT of time on foundations and not enough time describing the society that the people created. I will be spending next week on the second half of the 17th century, but there is a LOT to talk about there and I will have to leave some things out.

The students read John Winthrop's Model of Christian Charity for Thursday - I corrected the spelling and trimmed out the long discussion of love from the version linked here. I do believe that this sermon gives a good insight into the goals that the Puritans had - I am glad that we read it. I just need to go through my class notes and trim something else down so that there will be more room for later stuff.

One of my students argued that the call for mutual cooperation in Model is a sign of incipient democracy. I disagreed, arguing that it was a marker of an organic society with a hierarchy. She wrote me a long and well-thought-out email explaining her position. I won't post it as I have not asked for her permission. I like that - it made me think. It also pointed out that I was a little scanty in my discussion of Democratic roots, personal liberty, and religious freedom in my discussion of Puritans.

I need to get better at putting a lot of stuff in a lecture and still going over everything three times so that it sticks.

Back to work or, more likely, to take a nap for I am fighting another cold.

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September 10, 2003

Temperance I have a


I have a nice discussion of Temperance reformers, ultra-ism, and biblical literacy. What I need to do is do a better job of integrating this into my argument for the chapter - the first pass draft argued that there was a "categorizational crisis" in the 1840s where Americans looked for new terms to sort and organize religious groups. There is something to that, but I think I went too strong. And, for Temperance at least, the timing differs. Really what happened in the 1840s was that conservatives argued that temperance and slavery were subject to the same ultraism, and so they used the same arguments against both antislavery and against ultra-temperance. In the process they rejected the ultra folks and their attempt to add new tests to church fellowship.

So, the key thing for the 1840s is not the ultraism, but the conservative response. That response is called for because, unlike the early 1840s, the ATS and friends are not trying to harangue all other temperance groups into merging with them - instead they are cooperating for a common goal. That cooperation is what I see religious groups moving towards - but that cooperation also inspires conservatives to argue against the extreme positions (the Last Supper was celebrated in unfermented grape juice) put forward by the ultra temperance men.

This story is important for me because it brings the notion of fellowship back onto the national stage, and, from that second paragraph above, it is important because the temperance people seem to be pre-figuring the sort of cooperation that the Evangelicals will use. The irony is that the same folks who provide the mental architecture for the Evangelical Alliance are also cutting down the Temperance movement for being non-Biblical. I think I can work with that.

I am sleepy and it always takes me forever to get my arguments right. Writing is HARD.

And so to work.

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Red Ted
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Alas poor printer, I

Alas poor printer, I used you well.

My old Laserjet IIIP died last week. The paper path borked again (the intake was already flaky, now it jams farther along) and it started printing great black lines across the top fifth of the paper. Rather than repair it, it made more sense to replace it.

I miss that printer, I bought it in 1991 the week before starting graduate school to get me through my dissertation. I have worked too slowly, and all the things I bought to get me through graduate school are wearing out before I finish.

I replaced it with a new laserjet 1300. I like the speed, I like the memory, but I do not like the controls. Controls? What controls? There is a go button on the front and everything else is handled through the special printer control software. This would not be so terrible, although I miss the little menu screens, but the printer control software can NOT see the blasted printer. It took me perhaps 20 minutes to plug in the printer and have it print properly, working off the printer port on my Barricade router. I then spent about 6 HOURS installing, uninstalling, trying alternate connections, and all the time trying to get to the control menus. Nothing worked - not upgrading firmware on the router, not using a direct parallel connection between printer and pc, not using a direct USB connection between printer and PC, not setting up a TCP/IP port (that one did not print at all). It was most frustrating and FAR from the best possible use of my time.

I will be writing a nastygram to HP, and I might very well return the printer which I otherwise like. Am I so old fashioned, to want to be able to change the settings on a printer?

And so to think about my work - will probably blog the current construction problem as a think piece.

EDIT - HP sent me an email a day or so later explaining what had never been mentioned in the documentation. Apparantly their printer control software only works through a DOT port, that port only works through a Universal Serial Bus connection. So, I now have two cables running to the printer - a parallel cable from the router to carry the print jobs and a USB cable from my machine to keep track of the settings.

The problem had been in the documentation, not the hardware. I will keep the printer.

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Red Ted
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September 08, 2003

Sleeping trouble. I had

Sleeping trouble.

I had sleeping trouble last night for the first time in weeks. Now I am very tired indeed. I think that what happened was that I had taken off my shirt to put calomine lotion on a rash, never put it back on, and gotten a little cold. I don't feel sleepy when I am cold, and so I think I missed my bedtime signals and got off my rhythm. I did not actually feel capable of sleep until about 2:00am, and did not fall asleep until 2:30 or so.

I did NOT want to wake up at 6:00 and insisted on sleeping in until 7:15am or so. Short walk, fast moving morning, and I will only start my day a little late.

And so to have a day

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Red Ted
at 07:40 AM | TrackBack
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I am grading homework

I am grading homework this morning.

It always makes me restless to grade: Something about sitting there, deciphering what the kids said, figuring out if it is any good or not, writing a few words of critique and encouragement, and doing the whole thing as quickly as possible because there are more-more-more of them all the time. I insist on assigning homework, I do think the kids get a lot out of it. I just hate to grade it and end up forcing myself to stick to it.

Speaking of which, I am at the end of this study break - back to the trenches.

My grading soundtrack today is Nightingale - darn good music, very fluid and gentle and melodic, but with a hidden edge. I like it a lot.

Back to work, still not quite having a proper day

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September 05, 2003

Welcome to 1993. WXPN

Welcome to 1993.

WXPN played some Sheryl Crow the other day, "All I Wanna Do," and I liked what I heard. I checked a couple of her cds out of the library and listened to them. I like them, I think I have a new rock artist to follow. I copied the library cds to hard drive, I think I like them enough that instead of burning a cd I will go pay the bucks for an official release - although being cheap it is likely to be a used copy.

And now to work.

Posted by
Red Ted
at 11:18 AM | TrackBack
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The second day of

The second day of classes was yesterday.

We did first contact, and it again went pretty well. This was my first test of the new approach and so far I like the results. The students read textbook chapters on pre-contact Indians and on early exploration. They then wrote about 200 words (some went way over that) on "Was the Columbian Exchange a Good thing or a Bad thing?" As I had hoped, students were primed to talk and wanted to talk. And, as I hoped, many of the students figured out that it was a loaded question - the CE was terrible for Native Americans especially in the short run. It was a good thing for the world as a whole in the long run.

From that broad overview we then went into the details of the cultures of the 4 continents, talked about Spain and the Aztecs, and then talked about divisions in Native American and in European Societies. I did cover the Iroquois Confederacy in both classes, I did not get through the Reformation in the second class. So, Tuesday I will need to open Jamestown with a review of the Reformation, make that pro-forma in the morning class and more extensive in the afternoon class, and then plan a bonus section for the morning class that will bring the two back into sync.

I think that the afternoon class ran behind for a couple of reasons - I was tired and moving more slowly, the students were more talkative and less to the point, and I was forcing the class to follow the steps that the morning section had taken. I need to let the second class flow more freely - as long as I still hit my high points. Oh, I also got the ending time off by 5 minutes - otherwise I would have trimmed earlier and gotten the Reformation in.

The homework is ok. I started sorting through it and have graded a dozen or so. I spent office hours making sense of my index cards. Later this weekend I will get to make my grading spreadsheet. I also have to find the packing box with my manilla folders - too many loose papers in the backpack.

And now, having painted a closet and blogged once, I get to go write.

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September 02, 2003

Today was the first

Today was the first day of school at my Urban University.

I also had a wicked cold - slept poorly, my legs and back hurt, I am on all sorts of cold medicines.

It went fairly well, particularly in the morning section. I am teaching two classes back-to-back, with 10 minutes passing time. One ends at 1:00, the other starts at 1:10. I had no lunch.

The morning class went pretty well, the afternoon class dragged. I think I need to narf a breakfast bar between sections.

I did some interesting things this semester, including a new first-day-of-class exercise. I asked the students to write down a family story. Then we spent a few minutes telling our family stories. Finally, we talked about the relationship between these stories and History, and about the other stories that we tell about groups, places, peoples, and nations. It was a little touchy-feely, but good.

The morning class went on to talk about Why American History. The afternoon class ran out of time and ended - I had spent too much time going over the syllabus.

After reading over my syllabus one last time I am pretty happy with the readings. I am still scant documents written by African-Americans and I have nothing by or about Indians. But, we do have a monograph on slavery in 17th century Virginia and we do have Uncle Tom's Cabin. I am long on nineteenth-century women, particularly the Beechers. The copy shop was interested in my reader - so either they were being polite or I did something right.

And so to write

Posted by
Red Ted
at 05:19 AM | TrackBack
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Eugene Volokh, at,

Eugene Volokh, at, has been hosting some interesting discussions of original intent and the Alabama 10 Commandments case.

At the risk of spilling one of my best sound bites from the dissertation, I would suggest
that the original intent of the ratifiers was that the federal
government should do nothing that appeared to replicate the Church of
England. This was expressed in a number of different formulations and
the formulations evolved over time. In modern jurisprudence this would
lead to decisions that are remarkably similar to those reached by
Justice O'Connor's endorsement test.

The best expression of the Protestant majority in the 1830s is Joseph
Story's paragraph or two in his _Commentaries_ - the interesting thing
there is that as I read the descriptions of Roy's Rock is that it
appears to violate even Story's formulation.

Story believed that Christianity was the basis of the Common Law,
arguing against Jefferson several times on this question. Story
further argued that the state and indeed the nation can support
Christianity in general, but that it can not support or privilege any
sectarian variant of Christianity. Roy's Rock, with its KJV Bible
texts and its position as a shrine, is a sectarian statement and not
just a statement in favor of Christianity in general. The best
contrast to it would be the Bucks County Plaque which was also recently
litigated - there the plaque remained on the courthouse because it 1,
had no text and 2, had no record of the intent of the people who put it

The more interesting thing, and the key point in my argument, is
that no one was ever able to come up with a working definition for
"Christianity in General" - including Story. The concept worked well
as a fuzzy abstraction, but it collapsed any time it was subjected to
scrutiny or definition.

I believe that the nation has tried Judge Moore's interpretation,
decided that it was unstable, and moved back to the enlightenment
religious establishment as the most stable ground for a polity.
Furthermore, it seems to have done so with either a statute of
limitations or a grandfather clause - old and general expressions of
religious endorsement are generally acceptable, new and sectarian
statements are right out.

Posted by
Red Ted
at 05:14 AM | TrackBack
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