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January 2004 Archives

January 30, 2004

Strange Morning

I rattled last night - perhaps too much tea at dinner, but I fear some desire to sabatoge my next day's work. I don't know. I do know that I was up till after 1:30am, and that the baby woke hungry at around 5:00. J got him before I was able to awake enough to volunteer, and then at 6:00 the baby went back to sleep and the rest of us started our day.

So, as I write this, the little man is still sacked out in the next room and the dawg is LOOKING at me with her legs crossed.

I have a day of errands, and phone calls, and finishing legal briefs and taking notes on them so I can put them into a coherent sub-essay on Christianity and the Common Law. I don't know why I had the urge to type up excerpts from them last night, I think I was simply amused by the different rhetorical rhythms - something I should be used to by now.

At least I got a first draft of Monday's class done this morning before coffee.

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Red Ted
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I giggled

Via Rocket Jones, hosted by Avalanche Company, I give you:

The 213 Things Skippy is No Longer Allowed to do in the U.S. Army

I giggled at several of these, especially
40: I do not have super-powers.
101: I am not allowed to mount a bayonet on a crew-served weapon.

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January 29, 2004

Rhetorical Whiplash

Right now I am suffering from rhetorical whiplash. It has been a reading day and I have read about 200 pages of 1834 legal briefs from the Abner Kneeland blasphemy case, about 150 pages of a crappy Star Wars novel, and both volumes of Tom Paine's Rights of Man so that I could write a more coherent answer to a student question. I also listened to about an hour of Tolkein Fellowship of the Ring on audiobook - thus the Tom Bombadil post below.

They are four completely different ways of using language, five if you count the very different rhetorical styles of the two lawyers I waded through. My head spins.

For the first two, Abner Kneeland was tried for blasphemy in Boston in 1834 for printing a cheap newspaper that challenged Christian verities, including the standard atheist mocking of the virgin birth and a forthright declaration of Kneeland's own disbelief in God: "The Universalists believe in a God, which I do not."

In his defense, Andrew Dunlap writes:

But if the defendant, who does not profess a belief in Christianity, is to be condemned, what shall be said of those, who, professing a belief in Christianity, have employed much coarser language when attacking the beliefs of their fellow christians? If all the violations of the laws of decency and propriety of manner in religious controversies, are to be punished, your Courts must be multiplied, and their whole time will be occupied with corrections of the virulence of religious quarrels, to the entire exclusion of all other business. I hold in my hand a volume ... This work though undoubtedly written, by a divine of unsullied reputation, is nevertheless composed with such a particularity of description, that I should at this day, offend the modesty of any audience, by reading the passage referred to. ..."
Over and above the substance of his argument, notice the form - Dunlap has a comma marking every pause in his delivery. He produces long, multi-point sentences, all building to a complex conclusion. I chose not to include any of his digressions or commentary. Let me just say that Dunlap spoke for three days while defending Kneeland from a 60-day jail sentence, and that this is one of his clearer and less referenced paragraphs.

In reply, the prosecutor, S.D. Parker, used a more cadenced prose, and a more accusatory tone.

It is not my intention to follow the gentleman into those fields of fancy and declamation where he so gracefully sported to the admiration of all those who heard him. Were it in my power to show a tenth part of the learning he has so profusely spread before you, or to rival the thunder and lightning of his oratory, I would not be tempted on this occasion, (especially when you, gentlemen, already are so much exhausted by following him,) to display the flowers or fruits of my reading, nor the extent and brilliance of my talents. We are not here for personal contest or exhibition. I am engaged in a business far too grave and important in my own estimate, to allow the amusing myself or others with rhetorical flourishes, historical narrations, declamatory harangues, splendid eulogiums, or lofty flights of the imagination. I am here to place before you, as men, as husbands, as fathers, as christians, and as Jurors, a most serious and shocking charge against that aged man now here to answer for it to the offended law. I am here in the name of all the Christian people of this Commonwealth to place before you the laws of this land, and the proofs of his guilt, and to require of you a solemn, sincere, just and true Verdict, whether upon that law and that evidence he be guilty of the foul offence charged upon him or not guilty thereof. It is a solemn hour to him, it is a solemn hour to us all who are engaged in the serious and highly important business of this investigation and trial. If he be acquitted upon this law and evidence, it may also prove a fatal hour to thousands of human beings, young and old, male and female, married and single, rich and poor. If such obscene and scandalous attacks upon religion, being proved, are to escape unpunished, the acquittal under such circumstances will be construed into an unlimited licence to repeat and multiply such impious and disgusting publications; and the innocence and virtue, the faith and happiness of countless multitudes of human beings may be sacrificed without check or limit at the altars of folly, infidelity and crime.
That particular paragraph goes on for another page and a half. The good news about wading through this stuff is that if you slow down to a subvocalized pace, where you can read the words out loud to yourself, then the superfluity of clauses and examples becomes rhythmical, almost hypnotic. Despite his disclaimers Parker is just as rhetorical as Dunlap, but his rhetoric is an aggregation of paired adjectives, often with no direct relevance to the point of his sentence but attempting to add weight and social pressure to his call for conformity in published materials.

After 4 hung juries - the jury in the first trial hung within 10 minutes with 11 wanting to convict and one refusing to do so - Kneeland was finally convicted and served his time. This was the last blasphemy prosecution in the U.S. Looking back on the day, what hit me was the style of the rhetoric. Especially because over lunch for relaxation I was reading a Star Wars by the Numbers novel. None of the dialogue was particularly awful, but none of it was any good either. "They were just the usual feckless types that the Bounty Hunter's Guild sends out. Its easier to walk around a pile of nerf dung than step right into it." Lets just say that I took an hour for lunch and digestion, and got through 200 pages of this while half-drowsing.

We ran some errands around dinner time, and I listened to about a tape of FOTR. I don't have a hardcopy handy, but we are all familiar with Tolkein's prose. This was the tail end of the barrow wights up through the singing song in Bree. Tom Bombadil was talking in rhyme, Frodo found unexpected courage while facing barrow wights, and they had their misadventure in the Prancing Pony in Bree with Frodo singing a song and falling off the table. Rhyming prose, thick description, careful depictions of the way that light touches the land, and all of it produced through repeated editing and polishing. LOTR is a heck of a lot of words, written in Tolkein's spare time, but he had enough time to polish and revise greatly - unlike everything else I read today - and that polish shows.

Then, after dinner, I read book 1 of Paine Rights of Man and skimmed book two. There we had a fourth completely different form of rhetoric. Paine is a bucket of cold water to the face. From book 1, chapter 1:

I am not contending for nor against any form of government, nor for nor against any party here or elsewhere. That which a whole nation chooses to do, it has a right to do. Mr. Burke says, No. Where then does the right exist? I am contending for the rights of the living, and against their being willed away, and controlled and contracted for, by the manuscript assumed authority of the dead; and Mr. Burke is contending for the authority of the dead over the rights and freedom of the living. There was a time when kings disposed of their crowns by will upon their death-beds, and consigned the people, like beasts of the field, to whatever successor they appointed. This is now so exploded as scarcely to be remembered, and so monstrous as hardly to be believed. But the parliamentary clauses upon which Mr. Burke builds his political church, are of the same nature.
Paine, like everything else but the junk novel, was written to be read aloud. But Paine's reader is not a lawyer in a courtroom or an academic reading to his friend in the garden; it is a shop worker reading to his fellows while the labor at their trades, or it is a store of metaphors and images to be used by a street-corner orator or tavern radical. Paine is preaching subversion and rebellion, while both the lawyers I read earlier that day were trying to cry down Paine's legacy while still staying true to their own ideals of state and society. Tolkein, together with his deep compassion and essential humanism, also celebrated an organic society unlike Paine's cry for an eternal present.

So I have an American Jacksonian and a Whig arguing about whether a lecturing atheist is a threat to the republic, a hack science fiction novel, a medievalist writing fairy tales and rhymes, and an itenerant radical trying to overthrow the standing order. No wonder my head is spinning.

This was long, but it may have helped me get a handle on some of my work reading.

Oh, and for the record, it was not a very productive day. I should have finished the book of briefs instead of bogging down after 200 pages.
EDIT - punctuation, and I am sure I missed some.

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Red Ted
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Pesky Tom

Ho, Tom Bombadil
Tom's a jolly fellow
Bright blue is his coat
And his boots are yellow
Rob Inglis reads The Lord of the Rings very well. Along the way he sings all of the songs that Tolkein lards into his narrative to provide juice and savor to the tale. Some of the tunes Inglis uses are quite catchy.

For the last three hours I have had Tom Bombadil stuck in my head. Perhaps if I share this I will be able to give the words away.

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Red Ted
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Minor Details

The little man likes Badger Badger. He got bored with Cows With Guns.

While watching Cows with Guns I noticed something very disconcerting. The lead character was a partially transgendered cow.

What do I mean?

Cow is a generic term for neat cattle, it is also a technical term for a fertile female just as a bull is a fertile male. Milk cows spend their working lives pregnant so they will lactate. Sterilized females (and young females) are called heifers, sterilized males are steers.

The hero, Cow Tse Tung, is referred to as "he" throughout the song. The animation for the hero shows udders - female secondary sexual characteristics: cow boobs.

Our hero is either a male with cow-boobs or a female with gender issues. Once I noticed that, I had to choose between reading the song as transgendered subversion or a total loss of my willing suspension of disbelief; it was no longer just general silliness.

And no, I do not know why it bothers my suspension of disbelief that "he" has udders but it does not bother my suspension of belief that "he" reads Che Guevara, packs an Uzi, and leads a cattle revolution.

I think it has something to do with genre conventions.

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Blogroll Etiquitte

When linking a blog, do you link them by blog name or by author name? For some, such as Wonkette, it is easy for the name and the psuedonym are one and the same.

I normally alphabetize by last name if given, by blog name if no last name listed or if it is a group blog. But not always.

In any case, welcome Venemous Kate to the blogroll. I held off linking her because she links to and celebrates snark, and I generally do not care for snark or negativity. But, she writes well and has some good things to say over and above the background level of nastiness. So, up she goes - the left roll is for folks I read regularly after all.

EDIT also welcom Jim Putnam, a retired gentleman with a low-key and thoughtful blog. I flipped a coin and filed him with pundits and not people and prose because he writes just a little bit more punditry than he does book reviews and poetry. Blogroll categories are always arbitrary at the margins.

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Red Ted
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College Athletics

John Chaney just won his 700th basketball game, at Temple. I am glad to see a good man achieve an important milestone.

I fall into the old-school liberal arts category, for I feel that athletics are simply one form of a person's total education. More, due to the oddities of the coach-athlete relationship, a coach is a teacher who will have a profound impact on a few students while a normal professer will have a thin impact on many students and a profound impact on a couple of students each year; coaches are in a close and intensive relationship with their athletes, and that power carries obligations.

I admire Chaney because he is coach as instructor. His basketball progam wins games, not as many recently but still enough, but more importantly he turns out mature, responsible adults. Chaney is a mentor, and while he screams and yells at his students he cares about them: "What's so important to me, to be able to climb, and reach down and lift up others." That caring shows. I also respect the fact that he teaches basketball starting with the footwork and moving up; I have long believed that if your feet are set correctly, everything else follows - in life as in athletics.

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Red Ted
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Kerry as FDR ?

Harold Meyerson has a nice Op-Ed piece in the Washington Post about John Kerry. He argues that real men will like Kerry, and that Rove will be unable to unman Kerry the way that Lee Atwater unmanned Michael Dukakis.

I was struck by his use of gender roles in his analysis. I was also struck by his argument that Kerry fits into the FDR mold: a patrician who has been humanized by tragedy and cares about people and their opportunities.

Like FDR, Kerry doesn't claim the populist mantle, nor does he have to. "What I'm talking about is fundamental fairness," he told me while bouncing down a New Hampshire highway the day before the primary, addressing people's outrage "that powerful lobbyists could achieve their ends on the Medicare bill to the detriment of the larger interest of the country. I don't call that populism; I call that Teddy Roosevelt-style 'Let's make the market fair.' Republicans misjudge the sense of institutionalized unfairness that Americans are confronted with every day."
I wonder if a focus on "institutionalized unfairness" and principles of common basic decency might not cut through some of Karl Rove's smoke and mirrors.

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Red Ted
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Hear Hear

John Quiggin at Crooked Timber has a nice piece comparing political correctness and civility. He points out the essential similarities between the two:

the central claim [of both] is that modes of speech are an appropriate subject of concern and that some form of government action to encourage more socially appropriate modes of speech, ranging from subtle pressure to direct coercion, is desirable. The only difference between the two positions is that they have different lists of inappropriate words.
His take on language police is much like mine - I ascribe more power to language than he does, or perhaps he is wise to spot that terms are slippery and twist their meaning: handicapped was once the polite form of crippled, but now it is an insulting word for many.

When debating knee-jerk rightists in the past I have generally tried to argue that what they decry as political correctness is closer to misfeasance than malfeasance, that their most egregious examples of PC are a poorly implemented attempt to enforce common decency and limit verbal cruelty.

I then generally turn perverse and reflexive and point out that if we argue that using charged language to distinguish and demean a particular set of behaviors for political purposes is, well, a bad thing, then the folks who scream and yell about PC are actually the people who are doing the most to use charged language to distinguish and deman a particular set of behaviors for political purposes. You can make a reasoned case about the value of using the blunt instrument of law and speech codes to enforce civil behavior, but most of the people who rant about PC do not make that case.

I blogged the article because I wanted to give Quiggen a shout out for the following quote, for I most certainly agree with it:

I find people who think that being "politically incorrect" is exceptionally brave and witty to be among the most tiresome of bores.
Hear Hear!
I might start using that to sign my email.

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Red Ted
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January 28, 2004

Lesson Plan

Here is the skeleton outline for this afternoon.

L'etat, c'est moi!

  • Reformation
  • 30 Year's War
  • How Absolute were Absolute Monarchs?
  • France
  • Austria
  • Russia
  • Sovereignty

Normally I only get through four or five numbered items on an outline. But, normally I only get through two pages of sketched notes. I have under two pages of notes - I fear that this means I have under-noted my material. I will have to work to not get bogged down.

We missed class on Monday, so I am squeezing in the reformation in 15 minutes - I wonder if it will make any sense.

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Red Ted
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Carnival of the Vanities 71 is up at The American Mind.

I seem to have signed my entry Ted K instead of the Red Ted I used in the past.

Note to self, keep psuedonyms straight. Also, remember Vodka Martini goes with black tie, not torn overalls.

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Red Ted
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The Lap Toddler Diet

I am still a little fragile from being sick: low appetite, sleepy, mazy brained.

Thus I was very glad tonight to have had a chance to try the Lap Toddler Diet. I predict that this will soon be all the rage among trendy diet people, with dieters who have more money than sense going to rent-a-toddler before going out for a bite.

What is the Lap Toddler Diet?

It is much as the name suggests. Sit down to dinner. Before eating, lift a still-hungry toddler and place him on your lap. Let the toddler eat from your bowl until the bowl is empty or the toddler bursts. Do not repeat! Management can not be responsible for busting toddlers.

Seriously, the little man had a good dinner of spaghetti and meatballs, then had another half dinner off my plate after I got home from teaching. Later, in his bath, he looked to be 4 months pregnant. I make a good meatball, but this was still a remarkable feat of gluttony.

I predict a growth spurt any day now. Either that or he is going to start growing hair on his toes.

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Class Writeup L'Etat C'Est Moi!

We missed class on Monday because of the weather and I merged the highlights of Monday into the first 20 minutes or so of today. I left my Monday notes at home because I was afraid of getting bogged down; it turns out I needed them - I did remember correctly that the Ottoman Turks took Byzantium in 1453 but I almost said 1543.

I arrived early for first section and spent time working on names. I ran late talking after first section and dove right into second section without reviewing names. I will get them later.

I did a basics of religious history:
Roman empire splits into two, west falls east survives, Christian church divides with it, West claims power, East under emporer, Orthodox and Catholic. Add Islam, just did Mohammed and the first generation around 672 then jumped to Ottoman Turks in 1300s - left out Arab expansion, Crusades, Mongols, Seljuk Turks, Reconquista of Spain and all the good stuff.

In early section I explained Christendom during the Roman empire, in late section I did not introduce concept until 30 year's war. Worked better in the first section.

From there I laid out the reformation quickly - Catholic church - Confraternities, christendom, Pope validating secular rulers, church, state and kingdom intertwined. Indulgences, abuses, Martin Luther 1517, 95 Theses. I quickly laid out the argument that Luther split the church where other conflicts did not because of printing press and disgruntled German (and French) nobles and minor princes.

In afternoon section one student responded to rhetorical question by suggesting that Luther was unwilling to be bribed into silence. Good point - Luther was stubborn and did refuse to be bribed or intimidated. But, so too were the Albignesians, the Lollars, Jan Hus and his followers. And, while the German princes jumped on the Reformation bandwagon, earlier splits had seen the King of France championing an alternate Pope in Avignon and maintaining split papal courts for decades. I basically repeated Eisenstien's argument about the printing press, although I softened her determinism.

I skipped over most of the wars of religion, with some brief references to France, and got into the 30-year's war. This too was sketchy - high points were Protestant revolt leads to religious war leads to great power intervention leads to mercenary armies all over the place leads to desolation. Winners were Brandenburg-Prussia and Sweden. Austria lost any meaningful Holy Roman Empire but strengthened crown control over Bohemia and laid the groundwork for its expansion into Ottoman territory the second half of the century.

Finally we were able to discuss absolute monarchs. We did a brief board exercise talking about monarchs, their attributes, and the extent of their power. In both sections I was able to make the big point that they had no checks on their power in theory but very limited administrative capacities. They all added to their administrative capacities and started building bureaucracies independent of the nobility, but this simply raised administrative capacity from minimal to not much.

We did case studies: France, Austria, Prussia. Second section had introduced Louis XIV early during the wars on religion, and I forgot to give a close study of Louis and Colbert. Note, remember to do mercantilism in second section as part of Monday's class on colonization.

I closed with a review of sovereignty - the notion that the sovereign power acts without check or limitations. Pointed out that there are different forms of sovereignty - the Tsar of all the Russias is sovereign in his word - can sign an order and it becomes the law of the land. The British King in Parliament has the same authority - once a law is passed by parliament and signed by the king it becomes the law of the land regardless of all prior law or all notions of constitution - the constitution is what the King in Parliament says it is just as the Russian constitution is what the Tsar says it is.

I used this, and the earlier discussion of Christendom and the Treaty of Westphalia to suggest the roots of modern nationalism - a sovereign state, with a state church and a state bureaucracy, will inspire loyalty and identity among the people who live in it.

Unanswered questions - why did Sweden fade from great power status after 17th century? I said that they were unable to hold onto the shores of the Baltic, and not populous enough or mercantile enough to survive with just Sweden's land. I could just as easily have said that their 17th century strength was an aberration created by early adoption of new military tactics and a run of good generals and inspiring leaders. Neither answer fully satisfies me - I need to dig into it.

Overall, I was cramming two classes into one. I was poorly organized and a little scatterbrained from being sick over the weekend. I need to do better next week.

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Yesterday I spent being hung over.

Not because I had been drinking, I have not had a drink in over a dozen years, but because I had experienced the joys of overnight flu.

Headache, dehydration, tired, queasy stomach, run-down, hung-down, and drung-down feeling - that is a hangover, yep.

Only I had mine without the bother of getting drunk first.

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January 27, 2004

Dating and Sorting

Part of the purpose of the dating process is to sort out potential partners - this person might work, this person won't work, and so on.

For that process to work, it helps if you are careful to keep a watchful eye on the process. You can err on either side when you do this, of course: Cat Nastey is upset because Sweet Jezebel has fallen for the wrong boy; DW has worried that she is too critical about her potential emotional partners. It is hard to strike a balance, and so all those early-date questions about what music do you like? Those maybe-we-are-serious discussions about how would you name a baby - all are ways to figure out who this other person is and will they be compatible in the long run.

So, when this lad proposed to his honey by building her a custom case mod computer, well, she now knows that she is getting a sweet, sappy, nerd for a fiance. Link via Stupid Evil Bastard.

Click on the custom case mod and wait for the pictures to load - it is worth it.

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Red Ted
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Gut bugs

To the tune of "Fish Heads"

Gut bugs, gut bugs,
Icky messy gut bugs
Gut bugs, gut bugs,
Dump them out, Yick!
The little man had a gut bug on Saturday. J caught it on Sunday. I got it last night. Having seen sick dogs, I can safely say that all of us have been sick as a dog over the last few days.

The only good news is that it is a quick bug - the little man is heading back to daycare today.

Stopping before I give TMI.

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January 26, 2004


There are big differences between urban and suburban colleges and universities.

There are also big differences between residential and commuter colleges and universities.

Suburban State U has a lot of students living on campus, but at heart it is still a commuter school - perhaps it is that the faculty and staff all live a ways away.

Why do I say this?

They closed for a mere 3 inches of snow.

I am used to urban schools and residential schools where classes continue for everything short of a hurricane.

Now I get to merge my class plans for today with my intentions for Wednesday.

EDIT: ah HA - we have another snowstorm scheduled to start during the afternoon rush hour. Now cancelling school makes a little more sense - even though here in our inner suburb the streets were all plowed by 7:00am.

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January 25, 2004

Travel Map

I have been to these red states. Looks like I need to tour the Mississippi river valley next.

create your own visited states map
or write about it on the open travel guide

Light blogging - baby was sick today and I was either reading or taking my turn at the tag team.

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Red Ted
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January 24, 2004

Greatest Hits

I added a list of greatest hits to the template on the right. I define greatest hits by how often search engines send people to them - they are not my best posts.

I might add some best posts later on, on a day when my ego will need that particular massage.

In other news, chapter two used to be 84 sloppy pages - now it is 49 fairly tight pages. It needs more editing, but not today.

And so to do the dishes. The dish drain has been empty for over an hour now, and if I don't get something in there soon the universe might explode.

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2nd Amendment?

I wonder what the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has to say about the private ownership of an aircraft carrier? I rather think it is more closely suited to the original intent of the 2nd amendment than is, say, a Saturday night special.

Alas, J told me we can't bid on it.

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Cornbread V

Why yes, there have been four other different cornbread recipes before this one.


1 cup yellow corn meal
1 cup AP flour
pinch salt
2 tsp baking powder, break up the lumps
1/2 tsp baking soda, break up the lumps
2 rounded spoonsful buttermilk powder


1 egg
1 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup yoghurt
1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 400f

combine dries in a large bowl
sift with a large whisk

Combine egg, yoghurt and oil in a small bowl
beat together
add milk to wets

Spray the bottom of an 8 1/2 * 11 pan

Pour wets into dries
mix together with a few short deft strokes
pour into pan

Bake at 400 for 20 minutes or until done.

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Early to Rise

I spent much of this last week going to bed at midnight or 1:00 am and being woken up between 5:00 and 6:00. The last two nights I got to bed at a reasonable hour, 10:00pm. While yesterday I wanted to sleep in, this morning I am up. Might as well write.

Perhaps there was something to Franklin's aphorism, although he certainly preferred not to live by it.

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January 23, 2004

Body Issues II

Bodies, Perceptions, and Power
Body Issues I

Stephen Coonts, a nice guy and adequate novelist, wrote a pretty good memoir about flying an antique biplane into every state in the lower 48. At one point at an amusement park he sat and watched people go by for about an hour, just watching. At the end, he notes, "People really do come in all shapes and sizes." When I read that I was reminded of a comment made by a friend after she and a batch of our friends came back from hitting the hot tubs: "people really are funny looking."

We all have a set of aesthetics, a collection of shapes or sizes that we admire. These shapes affect the way we interact with others; they should not but they do. S-Train gives a good example when he talks about how the staff at his fast food restaurant talks about one of his regular customers. Body shapes, no, bodily ideals, also convey power. If we react to you based on your appearance, then your status will depend on how you look and how you present yourself.

Does a puffy body mean that someone is self-indulgent and weak willed? Or does it mean that they are too busy with helping others to take time to exercise themself? Does a lean body and a runner's face mean that a person is focused, dedicated, and self-disciplined, or does it mean that they hit the road to avoid dealing with the people in their lives? Do muscled arm and weightlifter traps mean that a person is focused and able to maintain a long-term plan, or do they mean that they are narcissistic and work poorly with others? The correct answer, of course, is none of the above - insufficient data.

Self presentation includes body shape, it also includes grooming, fashion decisions, manners, body language, and all the various bits that make up our public face. Men wear a tie to a job interview not because their ability to do the work is related to a piece of cloth tied around their neck, but because wearing this impractical garment signals that they perceive the occasion as formal and important, and that they want to make a good impression. We read other people's clothing and grooming constantly, and one challenge is to learn to distinguish between cultural accents and personal representation - do you refuse to hire someone with long hair? Short hair? An Afro? Corn Rows? What about someone who attends a job interview with unwashed, uncombed hair? We constantly read other people, we judge them on the assumption that their outward veneer will reveal their inner character, or at least their willingness to signal their desires.

Body shape, like it or not, is one of the things that signifies status. At one point big was in, for it said that you were so rich that you could eat more than you needed to survive. Renaissance Italian women's clothing tried to make the wearer look pregnant, because pregnant was sexy. At the moment, thin is in. I was at my college reunion a few years ago - it was an elite school and the folks who are doing well are always more likely to attend. The most striking thing about the folks who were there was how skinny everyone was. I was in the heavy five percent in my class, and I am only slightly overweight. I was also lifting at the time, and was in the muscled five percent even though I have scrawny little arms - muscularity is another class signifier; muscles are blue collar.

So, as a guy, I have a fairly easy set of physical norms I can use to signal my status: lean and angular for upper class status, and either puffy-fat or puffy-muscular for working class status. These are not absolutes, of course; I know some buff lawyers and judges and some scrawny day laborers, but body shape is one of then many class indicators like tooth maintenance, hair style, clothing choices and jewelry. While no one of them is complete, a set of them does give a pretty good picture of a person's status and the things that are important to them.

For women, body politics are endlessly more complicated. They share with men a predisposition for firm, youthful skin. They share with men a tendency to assume that lean is higher class, puffy is lower class. But beyond that women have to decide how to use their secondary sex characteristics - do you dress up the girls or do you hide them? As DW put it, "Nipples can transform the most conservative school marm outfit into stripper gear in no time flat. ... Without nipples, breasts under clothing are an abstraction. They are potential breasts, swellings in the fabric that may be attractive and arouse the interest, but usually don't arouse more. Cleavage helps. But add nipples and suddenly those are kinetic breasts, bouncing around and begging to be touched and nuzzled. For those easily moved by such things (like me), the lustful reaction is involuntary and spontaneous." She goes on to give some anecdotes about selectively emphasizing or hiding nipples as part of office politics.

Women are looked at more than men are, and that constant gaze and constant judgement means that most women are far more body conscious than are most men. Many women internalize those gazes and try to reshape themselves to meet what they think people want to see. There is a complicated power dynamic here, for body shape reflects class status and also femininity and, to a surprising extent, self-worth. People come in all shapes and sizes, we use body shape as one of the many visual clues to a person's status, personality, and desires, and those visual clues have a lot to do with the way we relate to other people; the challenge is to read them correctly and act on them appropriately.

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Unfair, but funny

Vie Beliefnet I see that Nathan McIintire is imagining Pat Robertson's response if Jesus returned and ran for President of the US on a gospel platform.

The reckless liberalism of Jesus Christ cannot be allowed to take hold of the Christian values this great country has fought so hard to preserve. Jesus' immorality becomes more heinous by the day, and what kind of example is He setting for our children by openly associating with prostitutes?

Frankly, the policies advocated by Christ have not only been Un-American, but, dare I say, Un-Christian. Jesus has refused to condemn homosexuals, abortion doctors, Muslims, feminists, atheists, communists, convicted murderers, or even the ACLU. His moral relativism knows no bounds: "Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone," ...

The whole piece is neither fair nor balanced, but it is funny.

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Good Bread

Yesterday morning I made a loaf of bread - I bake my own bread and muffins but buy rolls, buns, and funny-shaped loaves. It was a goofy loaf: I had wanted to make a standard pund and a half loaf of honey-sourdough, with a cup of sourdough, a cup of bread flour, a cup of whole wheat, a little salt, a little yeast, some honey and some oil. My hand slipped, and the AP flour that was supposed to feed the sourdough went into the bread machine (why yes, I am lazy). So, I made a 2 pound loaf with a cup of sourdough, a cup of AP flour, a cup of whole wheat, and a cup of mixed bread flour and whole wheat, plus a double dose of honey, and the appropriate amounts of salt, yeast, and oil.

It made a good loaf. Between last night and this morning I ate a pound of bread, less the half-slice that the little man had for dinner and less whatever J took with her for her snack. I just wanted to share the good loaf of bread.

In other news, I started writing up a longer rant on body issues, and it is currently an over-long mess half made up of me wearing my pretentious pundit hat and half of me in selective confessional mode. I will see if I can get enough B-level writing time to finish it; today I get to start making changes to chapter two and that will eat up my A-level writing. I get to turn 72 pages of run-on into 50 pages of tight argument, then I get to add a conclusion talking about Joseph Story's doctrine that Christianity is a part of the common law of the United States.

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Citizen Genet

I am wrestling with how best to tell the tale of Edmond Charles Genet, the young Frenchman who came to America in the spring of 1793 to try to bring the United States into revolutionary France's war with Britain and Austria. My earlier draft went into great detail about Genet; I find him fascinating. Within six months he went from the hero of two nations, cheered in both, active in both, to being a pariah in both. You have to work to get both George Washington and Maximillian Robespierre to declare you persona non grata, but Genet managed.

I need to check to see if there is a recent biography of him. There must be. If there is not, perhaps I will write one. ... hmm, I see four books written between 1928 and 1946, mostly focusing on his diplomatic mission, a monograph on the Genet mission from 1976, several masters essays, and a 1969 microfilm edition of his papers. Genet's life beteen 1793 and his death in 1834 goes on my list of possible future projects.

Here is the section I am cutting out of the current chapter. The prose is adequate, though a bit rhetorical and a bit purplish.

The French Revolution arrived in the United States in April of 1793 in the form of a young well-spoken man. Edmond Charles Genet, known by his revolutionary salutation as Citizen Genet, was the representative of that French republic that had been created after the king was deposed. The winds were a potent omen of Genet's future, blowing him off course on his initial journey so that he landed in South Carolina rather than his intended destination of Philadelphia. He set foot in Charleston on April 8th, about two weeks after the United States learned of the French regicide. Genet was friendly with the Gironde and shared their romantic expansionism and their belief in an international revolution that would free people everywhere to partake in their innate rights. He hoped to bring the United States into an alliance with its sister republic, and he did his best to bring the United States into the existing war. After landing in Charleston Genet tarried for a few days, issuing letters of marque and reprisal to four privateers which would be manned by American sailors and arranging with the French consul in Charleston to set up a prize court. On April 18 Genet left for Philadelphia so that he could officially be received by the United States Government. Genet chose to travel by land, calculating that the enthusiastic reception he had received on the docks of Charleston might well be repeated along his journey. He calculated correctly, for every village and hamlet along the 28 day journey turned out to cheer the personification of the French Revolution. His trip was a grand progress and not a simple journey. When Genet arrived in Philadelphia on May 16, he was greeted with an even more enormous festival. The American Revolution had engaged in a few moments of dramatic public theater, but only in a few. The French Revolution had used political theater at every instant, from dramatic confrontations to formal set pieces. The king had his long tradition of pageantry and spectacle, and the French Revolutionaries countered with their own pageants, their own stylized gestures. Genet brought this theatricality, this sense of making grand gestures and of playing to the balconies, with him to Philadelphia.

Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton and the other American leaders were very familiar with the politics of personal presentation. Their accustomed venue was not a street full of cheering citizens but a drawing room or other circumscribed site. The American cabinet tried to decide what to do with this flamboyant and charismatic Frenchman. They had a good idea of his intentions, having quickly heard of the privateers and of his attempts to raise a force of American soldiers to spread the principles of the French Revolution to Louisiana, Florida, and Canada. They soon learned from Genet that he also wished the United States to liquidate its debt to France as quickly as possible and to enter into new treaties of commerce and amity. While the cabinet deliberated on Genet and worked out a policy towards the new French republic, Philadelphians competed with one another to fete the French Revolution and its ambassador. Genet used the politics of personality and the politics of theater to pressure the cabinet. The most visible and influential expression of this Revolutionary support was the network of Democratic-Republican clubs.

During the 1790s it appeared that other aspects of the French Revolution had followed Jefferson across the water, especially the political clubs that had done so much to radicalize French politics. The Philadelphia Democratic-Republican club was formed in May of 1793 as part of the American celebration of Citizen Genet and, through him, the French Revolution. The Democratic clubs were modeled in part after the Jacobin clubs, in part after the clubs for socializing and discussion that were already popular among men of the era. Democratic societies sprung up all across the nation to hear the news from France, and to discus the principles of the French and American Revolutions. They were largely debating clubs and celebratory societies, but they were debating and celebrating radical politics and radical republicanism. Similar Jacobin clubs and corresponding societies had appeared in England, Belgium and most of Europe in 1792 and 1793, and the American clubs appeared to be similarly radical. They were formed amid widespread approval of the French Revolution. Despite the hesitations caused by the regicide and the September massacres, many Americans in 1793 still addressed one another as citizen and some even wore the red Phrygian caps that symbolized sans-cullote radicalism. Support for the French Revolution was not limited to future radicals: Reverend Jedediah Morse of Charlestown, Massachusetts, preached several sermons praising the revolution as a continuation of the American revolution. Later, in 1798, Morse would lead the crusade against the French Revolution and against enlightenment ideals. In 1793, however, radicals and conservatives alike saw France catching contagious liberty from the United States, and Americans praised themselves for their good example. It appeared that the American Revolution had shown a light unto all the world, and that others were attending to it. The Puritan vision of creating an exemplary commonwealth that all would follow was realized in a republican form in the early 1790s. It was only realized for a brief moment before events proved to Americans that the French Revolution was different from their revolution.

In America, political leaders were vigilant against any Americanization of French radicalism and any attempt to extend the logic of the American Revolution into current politics. They feared an American commune, and they feared that backwoods farmers would constitute that commune. Backwoods radicalism in the Fall of 1793 coincided with a plague crisis in the capital, fears fed on fears, and a rural tax revolt and a few debating clubs took on the aspect of a serious challenge to the legitimacy of the Federal government. The yellow fever epidemic of September 1793 killed 3,000 to 4,000 people in a city of about 40,000. It was a devastating scourge, and a terrifying scourge. Those who could, fled the city. Those who could not flee, prayed, mourned, and did what the could to ease their neighbors' suffering. Congress adjourned to the suburb of Germantown, but little business was done. In the midst of this calamity Philadelphians heard that Western Pennsylvanians had gone from protesting the excise tax and threatening the tax collectors to forming mobs and in one instance seizing the house of a tax collector. In the midst of the panic induced by pestilence in the capital and war abroad, this back-country insurrection appeared to be the first step in a second, more radical, American revolution. Frontier unrest in Massachusetts had sparked one constitutional reaction, and the Pennsylvania rebellion appeared to be a direct frontier challenge to the authority of the new federal government. More, the frontier rebels were speaking the same language that the men now sitting in Congress had themselves used against British rule, and the rebellion was being reported in a city where people were wearing red caps to show their support for the French Revolution and for the ideals of liberté égalité and fraternité. Washington and the cabinet members felt that the nation was being drawn into the worldwide wars and the worldwide revolution. Hamilton organized and Washington himself led a force of 15,000 militia across the Alleghenies to put down the Whiskey Rebellion. The rebels, who had never been as organized or intransigent as Philadelphians had feared, never contested Washington's advance. He arrested a few of the leaders, and then marched back home again. The leaders were tried for treason and acquitted. Chastised by the experience, they curtailed their political activities. Jeffersonian leaders who had been accused of encouraging the rebels quickly disavowed any connection.

Citizen Genet failed in his mission. Washington and the cabinet chose to interpret neutrality more strictly than Louis XVI's government had done in 1775 and 1776. They forbade French privateers from basing themselves in American Ports. They blocked Genet's plans for a land conquest of the West, and although they did accelerate some of the debt repayment they were otherwise unhelpful in the matter of commercial treaties. Genet had gotten the impression from Jefferson that much of the cabinet would have preferred closer ties with France, and certainly the cheers of the crowds convinced him that the American people favored the French Revolution. He burned his bridges by demanding that the United States agree with his plans, and then threatening to appeal directly to the American people if his demands were not met. Genet threatened a radical revolution in the United States if it did not become a client state of the French Revolution. This was too much even for Jefferson, and the cabinet refused the demand, revoked Genet's credentials, and leaked his threats to the nation. Genet had misjudged the cabinet, and he had misjudged the nation. American much preferred Washington to Genet, their cabinet and elected officials to the Constituent Assembly in France, and their rule of law to the imperial demands of revolutionary necessity. Genet's failure discredited the French Revolution for many and encouraged Americans to think of France as a threat and not as a friendly nation. It predisposed them to look for French attempts to subvert other nations according to the demands of revolution and of necessity. Genet never returned to France. He was recalled by the Jacobins following their coup in the summer of 1793 at about the same time that his credentials had been rejected by the United States government. Genet retired to private life rather than re-crossing the Atlantic, and settled in the Hudson river valley. There he married the daughter of New York governor Henry Clinton. Genet's story had a happy ending, although far from the ending he had anticipated when he left France.

EDIT - corrected references, added a paragraph that had been in a different place in the out-takes file.

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Blogspot added a built-in feed, so I dropped into the left hand roll. I am just learning about RSS and syndication - it looks like pretty cool stuff.

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January 22, 2004

Body Issues I: Disclaimer

Body Issues II: Bodies, Perceptions, and Power

Helen at Everyday Stranger is a woman of remarkable honesty. She is able to look into herself and then write about it in a way that I never can.

Recently she has written two great cathartic posts about body and body images, the first involving body shape and the second involving kids. I can't handle writing on her second, I just don't know what to say, but I did want to write about the first post.

I am a guy, and we have different body issues. Trying to see it from her perspective, from any female perspective, is an exercise in historical consciousness just like trying to see the world from a past perspective. It will always be incomplete, but as a matter of professional pride we must insist that it can be done. So, remember that the post above this is about bacon and eggs from the perspective of the chicken, someone who is involved with the question, and not from the perspective of the pig, who is committed.

EDIT: Added link to first followup.

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January 21, 2004

Blog Types

Hmm, both DW and Dana and Liz at Misbehaving are fashing about types of blogs and the meaning of blogging.

I am amused because both are engaged in a categorization debate. As even my undergraduates know, if you can define the terms under discussion you will have controlled the debate. Dana posted a few days ago asking why bloggers are mostly straight white men. Her post spurred some interesting debate. I and several other people turned to the meta-debate: Dana had posited a difference between "blog" which focus on news and politics and tend to be written by straight white men and "webjournals" which tend to be about personal lives and relationships and tend to be written by women. I differed with her on two grounds: she was making an arbitrary division where I saw two of several poles and she was making a normative distinction between blogs and journals and then asking why there was a gender difference between the two.

That discussion inspired Dana's current effort, and DW's musings inspired me to write about both of them. When I categorize I generally prefer to use a very broad general definition and then add adjectives to describe the various sub-groups, affinity poles, and alignments within that broad general definition. So for me, if it is regularly updated with chronological postings, it is a web log or blog. Within that very broad category some folks spend more time journaling, others do nothing but links and short comments, others write thinker blogs with long posts and few links, some folks just do memes and quizzes and time-wasters, kiddie blogs write about the emotions of high school, and so on. Most blogs contain a mix of all of the above - I know this is a thinker blog, a workplace blog and a writing and teaching journal all at the same time, and even Glen Reynolds writes about cars and cooking in addition to his quick links and "heh, indeed."

For me the interesting question is what combination of elements do various blogs have, which combinations tend to be more commonly written and which combinations tend to be more commonly visited. I suspect, just from mark 1 eyeball and my own web browsing, that most web logs are kiddie blogs or personal journals and that most of these have a very small readership. There are a few widely popular blogs, some personal some links and politics. In general, folks say, you build traffic by linking - so gregarious cross linkers grow faster. This pattern, if true, suggests that links and politics blogs should get a fair amount of traffic, that thinker blogs should get less traffic, and that personal blogs that spend a lot of their time referencing other blogs, personal or otherwise, are more likely to be visited than are personal blogs that are closer to self-contained journals. Sex sells, of course, although there as well linkers NWS probably have the traffic advantage over thinkers.

Personally I prefer to read value-added blogs: the blog should contain something more than the story of your day and something more than a link and brief description. Say why this part of this day matters to you, ask a question about life, the universe and everything, make me laugh, but don't just recite what you ate. (look at my first month to see that sort of boring blog.) Add some comment to the political link, add your analysis, make a connection between what this person said and something else that you know about, but don't just say "heh, indeed."

Going back to the topic, I think that Dana's project has potential - I would be interested to see a list of ideal types or logical poles around which we can organize blogs. Personally I would imagine something like a color wheel - if red is tendency to link, blue is tendency to write about personal life, and yellow is tendency to write about politics, then most blogs could easily be color coded and mapped. That color-coded map could then be cross-linked to traffic patterns - probably from technorati rather than TTLB - and we could draw some further generalizations. Obviously there are more than three poles we could use for analysis, but this suggests how I approach categorization - I see the world as a mixture and sort out the mixture by using a complex set of ideal types.

This blog would be dark green under the color wheel schema.

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Random Thought

One more random thought before I go write.

I keep fighting the urge to walk into a classroom on the first day and say:

"Hi, my name is Ted and I will be your professor this semester."

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First Class

Class 01: Introduction. What is History? Why European History?

Syllabus Review
Western Civ or Modern Europe?
Lay of the Land
Class Narratives
Historical Theory

And so it begins

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Class Writeup

Here is the writeup for the first day of classes. I will double this on the personal blog and the teaching blog, with a couple of minor edits. I think that in the future this blog will only get excerpts from my writeups, and for that matter the teaching blog will not get things like my comparison of students at Urban Research University with students at Suburban State University.

Class Writeup,
January 21, 2004
Introduction, Why Western Civilization

First day of classes is always exciting and a little scary, as is first day at a new university. The combination was more so, especially as I was running late after getting the syllabi copied.

I want to call the two sections morning and evening, but of course one is late afternoon and the other is at dinnertime - perhaps afternoon and evening, or just early and late.

First section was in a sloped lecture hall. It is a nice space, with a fancy electronic control desk and a small blackboard. Afternoon class is in a more traditional classroom. There is an overhead projector shoved off in the corner. In both classes I dragged out the overhead so I could use an acetate. The screens blocked most of the blackboard, so I will need to limit my use of maps this semester.

Most of the class was spent going over the syllabus. In both sections I did introductions, although in first section I forgot to have the students introduce themselves to one another at the start of class. You only get one chance to make a first impression, and I do not know if I will have morning section introduce themselves to one another on Monday.

After syllabus review I ran over some basics. We talked about the difference between Western Civ and Modern Europe. Most of the discussion was on Western Civ, and I fear that many students are still expecting Western Civ and not the Modern Europe that we will be covering.

Here are my teaching notes for that discussion - neither section followed them. Instead we did a board exercise where the students speculated on the differences and then I closed with a mini-lecture. Morning section went through the syllabus faster, so we spent more time on the board exercise.

Western Civ or Modern Europe?
Board exercise, put both items up on board - ask class to figure out the difference
Looking for culture, society v change over time, point out east-west
1920s, era after Great War, same time as Great Books idea at Columbia then Chicago.
Western Civ 1 differed from Great Books in that it included Semitic regions of middle east - at least up until Roman Era when dropped them again.
Western Civ 2 very like Great Books region.
I argue, movement of ideas east to west, tied up in NorthWest European Protestants, status consciousness, racial awareness.
Modern Europe goes west to East, recognizes central role of Ottoman Empire from 1500 to 1920s, story is that of the decline of the Ottomans and the rise of new multilingual and eventually multinational empires in Central and Eastern Europe.

We are doing Modern Europe.

We finished with a brief map exercise laying out the major regions, rivers, mountains, and linguistic zones. The big point I wanted to make was that Germany is a region for a long time before Germany emerges as a nation. I think they got it, unlike the kids at Community College who were still confused about the distinction after weeks of class.

I spent a lot of class time on the narrative structure I intend to follow. I had planned to do that discussion as a separate part of the class, but in both sections we talked about narratives while talking about the syllabus. I hope I was clear.

Finally we finished with a brief discussion of contingency, path dependency, and change over time. This is the first semester I have put that mini-lecture on the first day of classes. I intend to refer to the concepts a lot the first couple of weeks to get them used to thinking that way. I put Agency on the board but decided that I did not have the time to define it. I will introduce that concept next week, not sure on which day.

First impressions of the students - compared to URU these students are whiter, less tattooed, less pierced, and more men have more hair. Both sections had several guys with hair down to their shoulders, and I can only think of one guy out of a couple of hundred URU students with that much hair. One of the fun little things about teaching on several campuses is seeing the differences between student culture - Swarthmore students used to do silly little finger waves, Amherst kids dressed preppy, UVA women always wear makeup to the gym, and so on. So far I like the kids here and am looking forward to the semester.

We will see how many got scared away.

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January 20, 2004

State of the Union

First responses to GWB's State of the Union Address. All quotes taken from the NYT's posting of the prepared text.

Why does GWB feel the need to frame his positions through false choices and misrepresentations of those who disagree with him? Is he afraid of dealing with a debate on the merits, or is this just political rhetoric in process? If the latter, it suggests that GWB and his speech writers have a poor opinion of American voters' ability to frame questions and debates. What do I mean? Many critics of No Child Left Behind have complained that the criteria and structure it uses are poorly suited to tracking and improving students, that the statistical categories the act uses misrepresent academic performance, and that high-stakes testing can not be the only measure of success. How does he respond? "This Nation will not go back to the days of simply shuffling children along from grade to grade without them learning the basics." That is a false choice. He uses similar rhetoric on the Patriot Act and on how best to respond to Al Qaeda.

Bush is very comfortable with religious language. He framed several key sections of the address in both democratic and providential terms. One paragraph could have come straight from the second generation of Americans, the people who turned from Jefferson's Empire for Democracy to marry Providence and Democracy into a national mission to the world. Here is GWB:

America is a Nation with a mission - and that mission comes from our most basic beliefs. We have no desire to dominate, no ambitions of empire. Our aim is a democratic peace - a peace founded upon the dignity and rights of every man and woman. America acts in this cause with friends and allies at our side, yet we understand our special calling: This great Republic will lead the cause of freedom.

Note the use of "special calling" and of a "Nation with a mission" - especially the capitalization. Bush, like early nineteenth century evangelicals and stemwinders, has married John Winthrop's notion of a national mission and national example with a Jacksonian commitment to democracy. He is also trying to insulate the nation from the charge that Middle East involvement is a pax Americana imposed to protect a world where one country takes the eagle's share of resources.

Bush was unrepentant, no, triumphalist on Iraq. I will repeat my earlier statements on Iraq: it was a high-risk choice to force the confrontation and invasion; the merits of that choice can not be measured until a stable regime is in place. It was a good deed to depose a brutal thug; it will not be so good of a deed if he is replaced by a comparably brutal regime. More, international intervention only works for a Democracy if it can be rationalized (note that word choice) from the perspective of both humanitarian duty and national benefit. Deposing a thug and keeping a new thug from replacing the old one is a humanitarian duty. Was it the best use of American prestige, American military, and American resources? Did it distract from Al Qaeda? Did it make it relations with Iran, Egypt and the places that matter more difficult or more likely? The decision can not be undone, but I have yet to see anything that dispels my lingering doubt that the invasion was NOT in the American national interest. I will be glad to be proved wrong, but so far the jury is still out. Bush's speech did not change my mind, in part because I continue to see a disparity between Saddam Hussein's actual weapons programs and the programs discussed in this and the previous State of the Union addresses. Eric Muller reposted last year's speech - it speaks for itself.

Bush made some interesting statements on sexuality, and used his religious beliefs in a crucially important manner while doing so. He came out for a constitutional amendment making heterosexual marriage the only legitimate form of civil union - a stupid trivialization of the U.S. Constitution. While doing so, he slammed the Fred Phelps and Pat Robinsons: "The outcome of this debate is important - and so is the way we conduct it. The same moral tradition that defines marriage also teaches that each individual has dignity and value in God's sight." Those are very important words, and I thank GWB for using them. There is a lingering whiff of toleration, not equality, but it is still an important reminder to the more rabid members of his base.

Of course, he threw them some raw meat with his repeated calls for faith-based organizations to get more involved in government-funded charities, including his good proposal for a Prisoner Re-Entry Initiative, and with his push for greater abstinence education as part of sex ed in the schools. I had the odd frustration that I often get from GWB rhetoric - "Abstinence for young people is the only certain way to avoid sexually transmitted diseases." Does this mean that all programs should teach and support abstinence or that funded programs can only discuss abstinence? The one is admirable and correct. The latter is an all-or-nothing public health strategy that, while it will likely reduce the number of kids having sex will increase the likelihood that those who do will have pregnancies, trade diseases, and screw up their future. "Decisions children make now can affect their health and character for the rest of their lives." - but what does that rhetoric really mean?

Speaking of decisions and children, he wants to make his tax cuts permanent - as expected - which means that the already screwy numbers he used to justify them just got thrown out the window - as predicted. While doing so, he added a throw-away line about privatizing social security with no mention of the costs or process to be followed. Bush is very good at proposing grandiose schemes, terrible at explaining, justifying, or funding them.

All things considered, the speech could have been worse. GWB did make some good points in and among his false choices and poorly framed or justified claims. I fear that I remain a skeptic however. On his good ideas, I wonder how they will be implemented, how they will be funded, and if he will turn it over to the clowns who dominate the upper echelons of the White House? On his bad ideas, I hope that they are throwaway rhetoric but fear we are going to see the Constitution trivialized and religion politicized.

At least now I have done a think piece on the speech - now I know what I think about the thing so I can talk about it coherently tomorrow. I see that a lot of other bloggers are doing the same thing I am. Kevin Drum sez it was short, light, and had "the gall to pretend that the Kay report vindicated all the prewar WMD allegations?" James at Outside the Beltway agrees that it was light but expects to see a lot of soundbites. Phil Carter gives his usual very good military-political analysis, and points out an omission that I had missed: "Osama's name is conspicuous by its absence, and indeed, the President did not really speak in much detail about Al Qaeda at all."

EDIT - spelling and links.

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Sleep and the little people

I was rattling a little last night but still got to sleep at midnight. The little man woke at 5:00. J volunteered to take him, fed him, then she started her day while I babysat. Little man went back to sleep and is off to daycare in his pajamas. Why am I sharing this with you?

Because I slept badly, for during my sleep the radio station in my head was playing badgers. It was not on a constant loop, I also got to see parts of the extended Two Towers during the other dreams.

The mushroom harvest is complete.

And so to have a day.

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I like the start of a semester. It is a happy time with a bright future.

I spent this afternoon at Suburban State University getting my ID and my parking pass and getting ready for my first class tomorrow. I got to walk around a new campus, with friendly helpful people, on a bright sunny but cold winter day.

Then after I came home I sketched out what I plan to talk about. It will be a standard first class: introduce myself, explain the syllabus, explain the difference between Western Civ and Modern Europe, lay out the class narrative, discuss what it is that historians study.

I know I have blogged about planning the class before, but let me say a couple of words about Western Civilization and Modern Europe. I forget if I blogged this already, and it did not come up in a site search. Both courses cover the same general region and the same general era, but the two classes are very different in purpose and structure.

Western Civ was invented at the University of Chicago and Columbia University at the beginning of the 20th century as part of the reaction by American intellectuals to the flood of immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe. These professors were terrified that the flood of immigrants - poor peasants, largely Catholic and Jewish - were going to swamp the native born elite and the descendents of Protestants from Northwest Europe. They drew on their heritate of Protestant republicanism and argued that this particular cultural heritage was essential to civilization, that the germ of society had passed from the Greeks to the Romans to Northwest Europe to the United States in an unbroken succession, and that as torchbearers for civilization they had a moral duty to insist that people conform to their ideals or accept second-class status. This is a reductionist view, seeing cultural elites desparately fighting a rearguard action against what they saw as the march of proletarian doom, but it works well enough for me to use it tomorrow in class. I will double check Joan Rubin's good book on Middlebrow culture before class and Jackson Lears on No State of Grace, but I am pretty comfortable with this interpretation. Western Civilization is the story of art, ideas, all that is best and brightest, and the story of elite culture as it was transmitted to the 20th century Americas. It has widened since then, obviously, but there is still a strong focus on art, literature, and written culture.

Modern Europe, by contrast, is the history of the people who live in a region of the world. It leaves out North America as much as possible, but includes Turkey and the Ottoman empire. If the story of Western Civilization is the forward march of progress as it moves Westward across the Atlantic, the story of Modern Europe is the steady shrinkage and final disappearance of the Ottoman Empire as new empires and nations emerge in Central Europe and move Eastward. Modern Europe talks about the growth of democracy and nationalism, as does Western Civilization, but there is less focus on elite culture, less focus on art and literature, and it discusses all FOUR of the major religious families of Europe, talking about Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims rather than privileging Protestants.

The class at Suburban State is listed in the syllabus as Western Civ, but they normally teach it as Modern Europe and that is how I intend to teach the class.

And so to run errands and then fetch the baby. Sausage and peppers for dinner tonight.

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January 19, 2004

The Limey

I just finished watching The Limey, (1999) a small, violent little piece about an Englishman and vengeance and loss. It is a sad movie, unexpectedly sad, and I think I will chew on it for a while. Terence Stamp plays Wilson, the Limey, Lois Guzman plays Eduardo Roel who helps the Englishman around LA - both are spectacular, as is Lesley Ann Warren.

Spoilers, although it is a 1999 movie so those who are likely to see it have already seen it.

The movie is oddly constructed, with constant shots of Terence Stamp sitting in an airplane interspersed with the events. Eventually I was able to figure out that this is the ride home, and he is remembering his trip to LA - and as the movie progresses we see new layers and complexities to his memories. As a framing device it works very well once I figured out what was going on, but folks who keep asking "whats happening now?" will be very confused for a very long time.

I am still chewing on the movie, but what I take away from it in the first hour is that it is a meditation on wasted time and wasted opportunities - The Limey spends the movie looking back on what seemed to be good decisions at the time, and only sees their real cost long after the fact. "Some other people should have gone, but I went instead." I don't know what Wilson will do next; I suspect that Wilson does not know what he will do next: but it is clear that events will continue after the movie stops filming. The characters, odd and grotesque as they are, will continue, and some of the actions on the screen have lasting importance.

I say some of the actions because the movie falls into the Hollywood pornography of violence - the body count is just short of Hamlet, but most of the deaths are by supporting characters. Wilson is surrounded by violence and death, is rarely visibly moved by it, but is deeply affected by conversations. At least the movie manages to avoid the easy denouement of the gunfight between protagonist and villain, with the hero engaging in gloriously redemptive violence - without consequences - in the penultimate scene just in time to fade to either a kiss or a ride into the sunset. Soderburgh avoids the worst of cliches and merges a very good psychological plot with a lot of gun violence.

As I said, I liked it and will chew on it for a while. The importance of memory to events, and of confrontation and truth-telling, remind me Last Orders, (2001) my favorite recent little movie and another movie featuring working-class Englishmen although without the guns. Checking dates I see that The Limey came first, although after the book Last Orders - I don't know if there are direct influences or simply a similarity of character and scene.

I was reminded of The Limey from the list of under-appreciated movies I wrote about last week - I will be watching more from the list; it is a wonderful resource.

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Great Grandma G.

Great Grandma G. was one heck of a good cook. She cooked comfort food, she cooked it well, and she ate a lot of it.

That side of the family, the North Florida/South Georgia side, was split. Either folks drank and smoke and died young of throat cancer, or they were teetotalers and lived into their 80s regardless of what they did. Grandma G. did not drink or smoke. My mom remembers her as a little old lady almost as round as she was tall. You would see this little old lady sitting in her rocking chair, asleep, with a small book in her lap. If you walked over to see which psalm she had been reading, you were more likely to find that she had nodded off over Zane Grey Blood on the Prairie - she liked her westerns.

She was mostly noted for her cooking. She had a most remarkable gift for gravy - it never clumped, it never got watery, it was always rich and thick and yummy. After meals she would take a slice of bread and pour the rest of the gravy on it and eat it with a knife and fork. She died in the 1960s - I have no memory of meeting her, but I do remember the stories about her.

My mom invokes Grandma G. often. As she tells the story, Grandma G. was sitting in heaven trying to dispose of her various gifts to her various descendents. There were not a lot of people in mom's generation - just her and a cousin. Mom imagines Grandma G. saying "well, who gets the gravy? This one granddaughter just goes out to dinner, or throws something on the grill. This other one, C., she may be a terrible cook but at least she is trying." And so, a couple of months after Grandma G. died, Mom was making gravy and poof - it worked. Before that day, the gravy never ever worked for her, after that day it never failed. And so, she thanks Great Grandma G. every time she makes gravy.

I can sometimes make a good gravy, but not always. I do it properly - pour the pan drippings into a cold frying pan, scour the roasting pan with stock or giblet water, pour that into the pan, add flour equal in volume to the fat, heat slowly till it thickens, add stock or giblet water or carving juice if it gets too thick. Sometimes it worked, as it did last night, sometimes it makes a mess.

However, I seem to have gotten zapped with Great Grandma G.'s pastry gift - I started with pie crust when I was a teenager because I wanted pie and mom did not like to bake pie. It does not always work, not like mom and the gravy, but my chewy breads tend to be chewy, my flaky pastry tends to be flaky, and when something works I also remember to give a bit of thanks to Great Grandma G. for sharing her pastry gift with me.

The pizza crust on Saturday was very good indeed. The sauce was not good, and the pie was mediocre, but the crust worked. Thanks Grandma G.

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Sleep Woes

Well, it is morning and I am tired. I did not sleep well over the weekend - I kept starting for bed around 10:00, getting distracted until about midnight, and then rattling until 1:30 or 2:00 in the morning.

The little man is now waking up at 5:30am pretty reliably. 'Nuff said.

I did not get a lot of writing done over the weekend, but I did get some cookery done and that makes up for part of it - all work and no food makes Ted a cranky boy. (The marinara sauce for the pizza was not so good, the roast butterflied chicken with drippings gravy was very nice indeed.)

And so to take a printout of the current section, and a yellow pad full of reading notes, and find a nice quiet place to sit down and think. I might stay away from the distracting internet all day, and I might come back and write something - anything - just to get the writing juices flowing.

And so to scribble

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January 18, 2004


The Iggles ran out of baling wire and chewing gum. It was hard to watch the game.

And thats all I have to say about that.

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January 17, 2004

Reading and cooking

It is a day for reading and cooking, a bright cold day in January.

I plan to dig into the books I have on hand and look for help construing the tail end of chapter four. Along the way I am also doing some cookery - I have been craving home made pizza for much of the week so I will cook some tonight.

The dough is kneading in the kitchen as I write this. I think that the recipe I am working with will need to be adjusted - it uses a cup and a half of water and three and a third cups of flour. When I bake bread, I figure one third of a cup of water is right for a cup of flour - so if this were a bread flour it would need either 9 oz water or four and a quarter cups of flour. I added extra flour to bring it up to a ballparked four cups, and we will see how it works.

When trying something new, I always make it by the recipe once, then with variations a few times, then write down my own version. It is a pattern that works outside the kitchen as well.

And so to divide the dough and let it rise.

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January 16, 2004

Tolkein again

I am re-reading Fellowship of the Ring again, this time as an audiobook.

Sheila O'Malley has been on a Tolkein binge all this month - not linking it, too many posts to link. Check the sidebar and look for mid January. I want to comment, but I do not trust my memory enough to comment. And, since I am still waiting for the audiobook of Mystic River to wend its way through the hold sequence until it comes to me, LOTR:FOTR is it for me.

As I recall, Tolkein is wonderful on audiobook - the thick descriptions just flow through the speakers and paint a word picture. I know he wrote The Hobbit to be read aloud, I wonder if he was also hearing LOTR as he wrote it? I know that when I speak words to myself before writing them, they scan differently and flow differently than if I try to compose them for the written page.

And so to cook dinner, Meatloaf I think. There is something comforting about meatloaf and green beans on a cold winter Sabbath.

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Molasses spill

Someone spilled molasses in my brain today, for it is slow and sticky and not going anywhere.

It has been a day for erranding, and puttering, and trying to write but only getting a couple of sentences, and it has been a day for being readily distracted.

Off to do some reading for the changes I want to make to one of my stories. In an earlier draft of four I told the tale of the schisms in the Baptist and Methodist churches over slavery. The first time I told that story, I told it as part of what I called a crisis of categorization as mid-century American Protestants lost track of how to sort one another. That conceptual framework did not work and has been scrapped, taking with it several months of work.


Now I am trying to plug the story of the Baptist and Methodist schisms into my narrative towards the end, and arguing that despite their internal quarrel, both Northerners and Southerners were able to cooperate on other matters. So, I have to prove that post 1846 these folks were talking about one another and working with one another. That is research I have not yet done, but I should have enough materials lying around for me to go quote hunting.

I really do have trouble framing my arguments, and this is the sort of situation it leaves me in.

And so to read Peter Cartwright and the boys.

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January 15, 2004


It never fails.

Send something out, and an hour later I get a good idea about how to improve it.

I laugh at myself.

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Oooh, more drafts!

I just emailed the revised chapter four to my advisor. It is a short chapter, 35 pages plus appendix and notes, but it is contained and coherent. At least, I hope it is contained and coherent - I am piss-poor at reading my own writing.

Now I get to do something similar to chapter two. That also has a bad framing section at the beginning, an interesting bit of intellectual history in the middle, and a coda about Christianity in the common law. I took a chainsaw to the middle narrative last month - there was some stuff there that was fascinating on its own but not necessary for the story I am telling. Now I get to write down my loose notes on how to frame the introduction before moving on to the conclusion.

I seem to be writing backwards this time - concluding a chapter, then working out a middle narrative, then writing an introduction as the very last stage. It is an odd way to think, but it helps to know where I am trying to get to.

ObPolitics - a month or so ago Wesley Clarke criticized the Bush administration's war planners because they thought forwards and not backwards - he argued that they started with what forces can we get to the gulph, then planned how they could defeat Saddam Hussein's army, and then left the postwar settlement to other branches to handle. Clarke argues that what they should have done was start by asking what conditions they wanted on the ground at the end of the conflict, and worked backwards from there to the war planning. I found it a plausible argument, perhaps because it fed into my preconception that the Bush administration is a batch of political hacks who make decisions based on short-term concerns and pandering to the base without ever checking their assumptions or worrying about the long-term consequences of their actions.

Errands today - little man has a heart murmer so he gets to see the pediatric cardiologist. I had one when I was his age, many kids do, and I suspect it will be one of those "check it and then watch it and then all will be well" sorts of things that pop up in modern medicine.

EDIT - little man has a relatively common variation in one of his heart valves. It is perfectly safe, it creates a slight turbulence and murmer in his pulse, and we get to check it again in a year.

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Gut Rumbles

Acidman at Gut Rumbles is on vacation. Luckily, he has a fine crew of co-bloggers covering for him.

Highly recommended!

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Edwin Burroughs and Mike Wallace Gotham, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999) is a great big book - 1326 large pages full of small type. I have been reading it, a chapter or two at a time, for months now. I finally finished it.

What can I say - it is a perfect Pulitzer winner: it has a simple chronological structure, tells a narrative of urban growth and class tension, and is so clearly written that the reader is drawn along rather than being confronted by the prose. I liked it, I recommend it to anyone who lives in New York City and anyone who wants a nice big book to read in.

I have been reading several other books alongside of Gotham, and it will be nice to start finishing some of them more quickly.

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January 14, 2004


Carnival of the Vanities is up at Snooze button dreams. I submitted my slightly weak piece on romance, but this week's carnival is long on short, political, link and gibe pieces, so mine looks OK by comparison.

Doing a writing day, working away from this machine, so expect light blogging.

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Writing and planning

It has been a day for writing - scribbling on four and typing in changes - and for planning the nitty-gritty for next semester.

I know I am going to be using a class blog next semester.

I know that this class blog will be linked to my usual static web page with the syllabus, paper topics, and so on.

I know this because the syllabus was due at the department at the start of this week even though classes at Suburban Comprehensive University do not start until Tuesday of next week. Now I have to figure out exactly how I will implement my class blog.

I have in the past created web pages for other professors where they used an html table to direct students to lecture notes for that day's classes. Some of these have been pretty fancy - with digitized images and study questions for each lecture - others have been plain blue tables.

Instead of sharing lecture notes that way, I intend to blog my teaching notes. I know I will blog my simple outline. I do not know if I will blog my entire 2-page set of cryptic teaching notes - I really do write those for me. I know I will blog a couple of paragraphs explaining what I thought we did that day. And, and this is why I am using blog software, I know I will be using haloscan comments to let the kids continue the discussion.

I also know some things I am not going to do. I am not going to put the kids' full names on the web page - the way the national student privacy laws work, they can list themselves but I can not list them. I will encourage them to sign comments firstname-last initial, with any email address that they read regularly. I have told them that participation in electronic comments will count towards their discussion grade - and that means that I have to be able to identify who commented.

I am currently leaning _against_ adding the students to the blog as assistant bloggers. This is a survey taught for sections of 35, and 35 co-bloggers is a LOT of noise. And, while I am requiring weekly writing from them - two papers and eleven 200-word homeworks, this is not technically a writing-intensive class. (Trust me, when I teach a writing intensive class the kids get finger cramps - a dozen 2 page papers, a 10 pager, and exams; or a 5 pager and a 30 pager) What this means is that I do not feel the need to have the kids post their work online and then have a set of study groups who all review and comment on each other's assignments. That sort of public bulletin board is da bomb for writing 101, not so for history intro.

What I will do is let them know that if they want to create their own personal writing pages, I will link to them from the sidebar, and will accept any writing they do on those forums as part of discussion grade. I am pretty sure that if I do not require regular writing, most of them will not do any regular writing; the grading load from opening the class webspace should be minimal. I do not intend to require a journal for the class - I will in some other classes but not in this survey. On the other hand, if they volunteer to post their weekly homework on a public space for other students to read - that would be a very good thing.

Of course, I do not yet have an account on the university's servers. I will build some of these web spaces on my hard drive or on other unix servers that I do have access to in order to debug them, then on Tuesday I will ftp everything over to its new homes.

As I build the spaces I will think some more about how I intend to use them. All I know for sure is that things will change over the course of the semester.

And so to do household chores. Such fun.

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Warm Fuzzy

Now thats a warm fuzzy.

Hanni at Tractor Girl has (with permission) used my template for her blog.

It looks better on her than it does on me.

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Writing and arguments

The revised chapter four might be pretty good, I always have trouble judging the quality of my work.

It is also going to be a very short chapter, under 40 pages. At several points I am afraid that I am being too short and too elliptical - it is always hard pushing down just hard enough on the cheese knife, and giving the reader enough detail so that they can follow what is going on without drowning them in complexities. My cheese slices tend to vary widely: too skinny, too thick, and back to skinny again. When you add this to my troubles in framing an argument, well, I write some total crap.

What I have not decided is what I should do about a side point. Let me explain that here, as a public think piece. I am writing about Protestant leaders during the first half of the nineteenth century. I am tracing the changes in their conceptions of church and church, how the evolving climate of church and state affect interdenominational relationships, and how religious groups develop a currency of legitimacy and mutual recognition. This chapter is focusing on the emergence of evangelical identity.

One of the recurring aspects in the rhetoric of evangelicalism is an opening to "Christians of whatever denomination" who happen to agree with the basic premises of the speaker. Often this appeal to all denominations is made as part of an attempt to delegitimize, unchurch, and even bring down civil penalties on another religious group. When engaging in this sort of political rhetoric, the attacker leaves himself open to the charge that they are seeking the exclusive sanction of the state, that they are trying to replicate the British Establishment only with the speaker's religious denomination in the catbird seat. To divert these accusations, polemical bigots tried to say that it is not Presbyterians against Catholics or Methodists against Universalists, it is all Protestants against popery or all who believe in eternal punishment against those who would subvert the meaning of oaths.

I think that these points will go into extended footnotes, not into the main body. They are asides from my core argument.

They also remind me that I wanted to blog about oaths, honor, and the differences between the book and the film version of Tolkein's Lord of the Rings. But that is another essay, to be written when I am not being productive.

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January 13, 2004

Class Blog

I am fine tuning my syllabus for this semester, and I am trying to decide if I want to create a blog for the class.

The big question is what would I use the blog for. I normally set up a web page for my classes with the syllabus, exam study questions, and paper topics on it. I have been writing up class sessions from my perspective on this blog, if nothing else to help me figure out what to do next.

What I imagine doing is actually pretty boring: put up a blog to use to share class skeleton outlines, and a couple of paragraphs about what I thought we covered, and as a place for students to comment.

On the one hand, I don't want to spoon-feed them the notes: taking notes is part of what we learn in college and take into the working world. On the other hand, I rather liked writing up my classes and I suspect that the kids would also like to see the writeups.

In my experience at Southern Research University, the good students will find the class web page and read the professor's outline, the weak students will flake out and go play games.

What the heck, I want to try it and adjuncting is the right place. Time to set up a new blogspot and see about getting ftp access to an account on Suburban Comprehensive University's web server.

Blogs, a wonderful place for a think piece.

ps, any suggestions on how to use blogs as courseware?

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A Bad Day

LeeAnn is having a bad day.

I don't know if I should sympathize with her day, or giggle at her description.

Both would work.

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Whither Romance?

Dirty Whore NWS asks why men no longer treat her romantically

So I think back to when men were really romantic. The key difference between me then and me now, besides my age? I used to be more of a bitch. My body was just about the same, I dress and look better now, I am much more financially stable? but I?m also more tolerant and easy going, and far less demanding and petulant. Is that the key? Are men only romantic toward women who barely appreciate it?

I can only speak for myself. I learned the hard way that there is only one way to treat a demanding and petulant woman - walk away and don't look back.

That said, I rather like to be romantic - even if it is just stealing a kiss at red lights. I am fairly demonstrative, very touchy, and J has learned to like (or at least I hope she likes) to have my fingers trail over her back or shoulders. She still does not like it when I walk up behind her, lift her hair, and kiss the nape of her neck - but she puts up with it as long as I don't do it too frequently. She gets her revenge - my bald spot gets smooched when she walks up behind me.

I do think that as a society we are no longer training ourselves to be romantic. Men no longer automatically open doors for women, now the first one to the door holds it open for the second person, unless someone is carrying a package. Men no longer open and close car doors for women, except for the people at Taken in Hand who are living an exaggerated and self-conscious version of gender roles. Men no longer make sure that they are walking on the polite side of women. Heck, I barely remember if I should be on the street side or the wall side as we walk along the sidewalk - feh, I just realized it has been so long since we have been contradancing that I don't even remember default dance position, am I on the left or on the right?.

Some romantic gestures were symbolic gestures of strength and protection, legacies of patriarchal households where a man proved his worth by protecting and providing for his dependent women and children. We are moving away from patriarchy: women want to work, want to feel independent in case they have to provide for themselves. The challenge is to devise a language of romantic gestures that recognize her equality while still celebrating interpersonal tension.

Kissing her hand still works, but it can be stagey and feel fake. Holding hands is a big winner, as is planning a date. J hates surprises, so we tend to plan dates together or, at the least, I will tell her that I have planned something and how she should dress. Still, "Honey, we are going on a date on Friday. Wear shoes you can walk in." is enough warning before I take her to the zoo, or to a museum.

Looking back over what I wrote, the key seems to be to create a sort of respectful dominance - give her space and identity, but make it clear that you are trying to celebrate and please her. When swing dancing, women spin and twirl and show off, men make it possible for her to show off, and the men lead and give direction. Swing dancing, any sort of dancing, is not a bad metaphor for adding romance to a relationship.

Methinks DW needs to go out dancing more. For that matter, so do J and I.

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Relationship Tuesday

Whereas, Several of my favorite bloggers have been writing about relationships and

Whereas, People like to read about dating and relationships and

Whereas, anything that happens three times is an instant tradition

Therefore, by the power invested in me by my own ego, I do declare this to be

Relationship Tuesday

And I call upon all bloggers to say a few words about finding, caring for, and managing their relationship with their sweet baboo, snugaboo, significant other, or poor captured fool.

I already did my part.

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African or European?

Via Very Big Blog, I stumble across this exercise in ornithological insanity.

I was much amused.

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January 12, 2004

Blog Purposes

Brian Weatherson at Crooked Timber has been writing about blogging as scholarship, a question that several other academic bloggers have addressed.

This is important, especially because hiring institutions now routinely google the names of people on their short list. In other words, web logs are not private. When I was working as a tech geek, I always reminded people that email is like a postcard - it is only private because no one wants to take the time to read it. If anyone cares about it, they can read it. Similarly, a blog post is like an article in the local paper. Most folks will never hear about it, but anyone who goes digging will find it quickly and easily.

You may have noticed that this blog does not have my last name on it. I decided for several reasons that I did not want it to come up when I was googled . I may change my mind at some point, but once I go public I can never go back.

Nonetheless, I do see this blog as having an academic component to it. Most of the time this is a mix between a workplace blog and a personal blog, or I should say it is the workplace blog of someone who spends most of their workday working alone. I do write about historical topics fairly regularly, and a good portion of my traffic comes from people who are googling about history and find my articles.

In terms of academic value, this blog is a set of documents written in my role as a public intellectual. It should count for tenure, and if I keep it going a later version will be included in a tenure package, just as one would include a series of local history articles in the county newspaper. It is service, which several people have noted, and it is service as a public intellectual.

Most of the folks who have been talking about blogging as service have been law professors, and I do not think that law has anything equivalent to public history - the art of making the past available to people through outreach, museums, and community projects. I find that an important part of my internet presence is as a public historian, whether writing about flags, or sermons, or any of the odd things that folks have googled me on.

And back to Beecher.

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Writing Day

Today is a writing day. I have been terribly distractable; it is as if I would rather do anything than write. Well, almost anything - I still have not deferred a dangling clause to go scrub the bathroom.

I am typing up the material I wrote over the last few days to try to fix chapter four. I have a new, simpler argument. I find it sort of boring, but boring can be good. I am having trouble making myself do the grind of getting the words down. So, I shall whine about my lack of productivity, and then use said whine to kick my own butt.

And back to William Ellery Channing, Lyman Beecher, and the Unitarian controversy of the 1820s.

It looks like I will have to cut one of the sections that most amused me because of its contrast to present stereotypes. During the 1820s a few Unitarians were aggressive proselytizers, sending missionaries to Kentucky, Ohio, and other strongbeds of evangelicalism in order to convert the poor misguided fools to "truly Biblical" religion. We just don't see that missionary zeal any more, which is why jokes like the following are funny.

"I got the Unitarians mad at me again. Last night they burned a question mark on my lawn."

One of the fun things about doing history is seeing how organizations change, and how perceptions of those organizations also change.

And yes, that was a bigoted religious joke. I shall either apologize, or make countervailing bigoted jokes about several other denominations in order to prove my impartiality.

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Underappreciated Movies

Via Begging to Differ, I find Box Office Prophets top 50 underappreciated movies.

I have seen, erm, two of them. That is not a misprint - unlike the folks at BTD I am not a big movie fan. Or rather, I rarely make time to watch movies.

However, many of them are at the county library. I just summoned The Limey, and I will probably summon a few more over the next few months. Alas, most of these are only in the library on videotape. J owns the VCR - she tapes gory medical shows, and figure skating, and kids programming for the wee one. To watch these, I will have to check her taping schedule and make sure that I don't interfere with it. DVDs are easier, just drop it in the box and play while her VCR does whatever it is that it is supposed to do.

I have been watching movies a few minutes at a time in the evening after I get unproductive and J goes to sleep.

Speaking of which, I need to get back to the syllabus for next week. I had a molasses-head day yet again - got some work done but very distractable and I have absolutely no idea if what I wrote was any good. I think I need to talk to someone about this, writing should not be this hard. Or rather, staying focused on what I am trying to do should not be this hard.

And so to try to articulate my sweeping goals for the class.

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January 11, 2004

Evil Women

Fortune Elkins is an evil woman.

But that is OK, because we like evil women.

She is creatively evil - downstairs I have a batch of a variant on her pizza dough resting before it is kneaded. Later today we will be having home-made pizza for dinner.

I am on a low-fat diet, and should be very careful about pie. But, I dearly love it and when I saw her recipe I decided I had to try my own variations on the theme.

Evil Evil Evil

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Pie notes

Hmm, Fortune Elkins lives in New York. Why am I not surprised that her pizza dough recipe makes a very good New York style crust - thin, crunchy and chewy all at the same time. It was a bit potchy to start dough mid morning and assemble pizza for dinner, but it was a good dough.

I need to work on my execution - it has been years since I made pizza and I was all out of practice. I still had the tiles for the oven handy, so that worked, and luckily we are in a house not an apartment so we were the only people bothered when we set off EVERY smoke alarm in the place, but the stretching and assembly needed work.

My dough was too wet and sticky, it stuck together when rising (use two trays next time, not one), and I had to flour it to work with it which meant that there was raw flour on the bottom of the pie where there should have only been a little cornmeal. It was still yummy.

For red sauce, I made a quick marinara with a Thai dragon, none of its seeds, two cloves garlic, one can crushed tomatoes, olive oil, fresh basil, and dried oregano. Oh, and a little salt. J sez it needed black pepper, so drop that in next time. That worked, as did the thin layer of cheese and the fresh mushrooms.

J wants home-made pie again next tomato season, I might make it again a little sooner. I need to make it more often if only to get pies that are more round than square. If only I had not blown my saturated fat budget.

We sometimes order a pie from the local pizza places. So far, every pizza place in South Jersey, and certainly every place in our neighborhood, has something wrong with the pie. Most of them use a dreadfully boring red sauce. Many use too much cheese. The two places that have a good sauce have other problems - one uses too much cheddar and nutty cheese, the other uses garlic powder. Why garlic powder on a pie? It ruins it.

If only pie were not potchy - especially when a hungry toddler wants to play with the 550 degree oven.

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Football Day

Michelle needs to learn to be more careful with her Voodoo. Sorry Michelle - your Packers looked better than my Iggles for most of the game, that has to hurt.

J and I watched the game - she watched more than I did as I was assembling pizza during the first quarter - and we got caught up in it. A close game can be exciting, nervous-making, and tense. She would rather have been watching the figure skating that was counter-programmed against the football playoffs, but just as figure skating trumps most football, Iggles games trump figure skating. (She taped it to watch later.)

Dring the game J was downplaying the birds, who looked terrible for much of the game, spectacular for parts of the game. She makes a nice contrast with Bill Lyon of the Philly Inquirer whose Iggles coverage has come to annoy me. Lyon beats the drum loudly if the team is looking well, hyping up excitement and claiming that it is the fans who are driving the buzz. Some fans might think that way, but most of his columns are steam-heated puffery. They are a waste of space in the paper and an insult to the intelligence of his readers. Well, except that I do tend to at least start them. His worst examples are not in the last few days - these links will fall behind the cashwall soon.

Lyon contrasts oddly to Tony Kornheiser of the Washington Post. Kornheiser has also been known to beat the drums of enthusiasm for his team. But, and this makes a big difference to a post-modern structuralist like myself, Kornheiser is visibly aware that he is engaging in hype. Kornheiser has a running joke about "the bandwagon:" team looks good, time to gas up the bandwagon, see if the tires need air, get it in fine running shape; team looks bad, time to put the bandwagon back in the garage. It is boosterism, but it is boosterism with a wink.

Quite frankly, after reading the pre-game hype in the Inkwire I often find myself disgusted with the team and ready to root for the other guys. I can see why Michelle let it rankle her.

How 'bout that Dawkins!

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January 10, 2004

Trains and Stations

The final thing I learned on my trip to the AHA was something I should have known: following 9/11 30th Street Station in Philadelphia lost its parking. I was running late and chose to drive in rather than taking a commuter line and then a subway. Half the time I saved by driving was spent looking for parking. I finally went to a garage, after realizing that I had mis-read their prices the first time and they were only expensive instead of being unconscionable. After that the train ride was easy.

I like the old train stations. Both 30th-Street in Philadelphia and Union Station in Washington DC are marble temples of transportation. They have the high vaulted ceilings, the artwork and moldings. They show layers of different uses as the buildings were adopted from steam to diesel and electric, and the spaces were adopted from Victorian to modern business.

Union station is cleaner than 30th street. The walls are more polished, the light is brighter. It is also more finished - there is a food court and some yuppie shops. The space has been gentrified - I don't know if it is used by commuters, or tourists, or folks who work in the local buildings, but it feels like a mall only with trains instead of anchor stores, and great vaulted marble ceilings instead of a box in the middle of an asphalt moat.

30th street is, while less pretty, more impressive. The main hall at 30th street is still used entirely for trains - it is a big open space. At one end of the space there is a WWI memorial to the employees of the Pennsylvania Railroad who died in that war. It is an impressive statue, a great tall grey-black winged angel ascending into heaven while holding a dead soldier. In its space at one end of the hall, framed by the marble, it is, not a memento mori, but a reminder of the sacred as it looms over people going about their daily business.

30th Street is an early 20th-century building, but in many ways it looks back to the Victorian era. It certainly falls within the long nineteenth century. Trains are sexy, and nostalgic, and romantic. They are falling out of favor in the US as trucks and planes and barges take the traffic from them. American trains never focused much on passenger traffic, and outside of the Northeast corridor Amtrak is mostly a money-losing tourist trap. One of the good things about living in the corridor is that I can, by foot and rail, get from my house to every city center from Boston to Washington, and nap along the way. (Well, I drive the mile to the commuter rail station, but I could walk it if I wanted to.)

And so to write.

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I spent a day at the American Historical Association meetings yesterday.

I had one interview, and I went down for one day. I decided that I was not close enough to done for me to participate in the resume drops and blind interviews, and that while the lectures and panels were interesting they were not interesting enough to keep me there for several days.

It was fun. The interview went so-so, perhaps because I was the 8th half-hour interview they had done that morning, and the last, and they were getting twitchy, perhaps because I had a headache all day and was low-energy. I doubt I will make it from the cut of 16 to the cut of 3, although since at least two other folks from the same graduate program were interviewing for the same position the odds are pretty good that one of us will make it. Ah well.

I schmoozed with some friends, which was good. I really do need to get this writing done, it is just hard - I block, or I write crap, or I am unable to frame an argument. At least I got some writing done on the train going down. I really am getting sick of being almost done. I often feel like a half-cooked muffin, all soggy and dispirited.

I also sat in on a panel discussion on the job search process, and got some good suggestions about how to craft a better teaching portfolio.

It was a good trip.

Now to post about the train ride.

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January 08, 2004

Grey and Yellow?

You know, I really LIKE this grey and yellow color scheme. I stumbled into it - I find it easiest to read navy text on an off-white background, and the grey was in the standard blogger template. It is growing on me.

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I am teaching Western Civ this coming semester.

I am still tweaking the class schedule - do I want to assign a paper due at 3:00pm on a Monday on the first night of Passover? Probably, but I will make it clear that I know I am doing it and that I will accept papers early or by email if kids want to go home for the holiday.

I also need to figure out what to ask the kids to do with the readings. We are using Tom Noble et al, Western Civilization, a book I picked because I liked the pictures and primary documents it includes. Don't laugh - pictures matter a LOT in Western Civ. We are also reading three primary documents:
- Tom Paine Common Sense, Rights of Man, Age of Reason

- Marx & Engels The Communist Manifesto
- Erich Maria Remarque All Quiet on the Western Front.

I intend to have the kids write about Rights of Man and AQWF. I am still tweaking the questions - I like to put the paper topics on the syllabus when I can. I know that the question for Rights of Man will try to get at the enlightenment roots of the French Revolution, and also on the extent to which the Revolution was an overturning of all that went before. For Remarque, I want a question that will get the kids to think about how the Great War changed the participants and their society - I buy into the notion that the Great War killed the idea of Progress, at least in its simplistic Belle Epoque variety, and was the crucial moment when people realized the full meaning of modernity. But how to guide the kids to that with a paper topic that will not leave them bogged down in the horrors of trench warfare?

I have till Monday. I will think on that. And now I will go write a little and think about tomorrow's interview.

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Out of Town

Going out of town on Friday for a job interview. No blogging for me on Friday, other than perhaps a little something late night.

Wish me luck.

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Annie, at the Same River Twice, writes a nice blog. Today she writes about sneaking into college bookstores to see what the kids have been assigned - always good fun. In fact, I often chose my fourth undergrad class that way - pick the books then worry about the time and the professor.

Her comments don't work, so here is my reply to her:

You can also surf college textbooks virtually, although without the pleasure of running your fingers over the books and opening them to read a few paragraphs from the middle.

Search for syllabi - most colleges have some of them on line.
Then check the catalog for your local library to see which of the interesting books are available. I do a lot of my book browsing that way - with an amazon or a google window open on the left and the library catalog open on the right.

ps, email if you want a reading list (grin)

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Fortune Elkins - who has a cool blog about Bread, Coffee, Chocolate, and Yoga - wants to know:

"forgive me ted, but i wanna hear about the coffee.
whose yrg? which costa rica estate? how are you brewing it?
if you will forgive me, the politics of this or that is dull -- but the coffee! that i wanna know!"

Gladly. I drink a lot of coffee, about a pound a week - it is my one remaining luxury.

I normally drink a roughly 50-50 blend of hi-test and decaff, and choose two varietals that talk together to form the blend. The sidebar shows my current brew - normally there are only two lines but I got silly and bought a mess of half-pounds last time I went coffee shopping.

I currently get my coffee from CoffeeWorks in Voorhees, NJ (no web page). It is a small coffee cafe with a tiny stage, a sandwhich menu, and the usual steam brewing gear. The waitstaff and barristas are local teenagers; some are competant, others are clueless, all are friendly. The owner is a cool lady - I think she does the roasting but I have never been there while the roaster was running.

They roast their own coffee, and they roast it frequently; I buy coffee about every other week, and it has always been roasted in the last few days.

I have no idea what estate they buy from. The Yirg were medium-small beans, roasted medium, with a thin white line at the seam between the two halves of the bean. I found it a little thin solo, but when blended it gave a nice winy undertone to the mixture. I had been blending it with a Guatamalan decaff - slightly chocolate taste, medium roast, strong taste towards the front of the mouth - and found the combination so good I drank it for a month. They were out of the Guat, so I switched the Costa Rican decaff.

I store beans in Rubbermaid containers in a dark cupboard. I grind with a Krups chopper, usually going 10 seconds by the clock for 7 scoops of beans. I use a pastry brush to clean the chopper after each use.

Those seven scoops go into a basic Braun drip coffeemaker (185 degrees in the carafe after brewing) with a Melitta brown paper filter. I add water to the 8 mark on the machine - about the 9 mark on the carafe, and brew. It makes about 7 1/2 "cups" by the carafe or some 30oz of coffee - Braun is good and adjusts its water levels to approximate the water absorbed by the grounds during brewing. I turn off the hot plate after brewing - burnt coffee is worse than cold coffee.

I drank my coffee black for 20 years until I had a bout of gastric reflux over the summer. (The blog started as an exercise and diet diary - the early months are boring.) I now blend my coffee half-and-half with skim milk. Sometimes, especially if I am using a darker roast, I heat the milk to thicken it .

Thats about it for coffee - I don't roast my own beans, I don't know the technical vocabulary to describe coffee tastes, I simply know what I like and make a lot of it.

J thinks my coffee is too strong.

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The Weblog Review has reviewed me. I appear to write too many words for their reviewer.

I put in for the review a few weeks ago, and I regularly read their reviews. I mention this because part of their standard review template is a commentary on a blog's layout and color scheme, and my recent tweaks to my look and feel have been driven in part by their comments on other blogs - it was not something I had thought about before.

I fear that I fall into the old-school of web design, focusing on content and preferring to scroll down rather than constantly clicking on new windows. I suspect that I am comfortable with long web pages because I would much rather have an entire document before me to search and copy, and that this comfort leads me to create some mighty long html. That, and I keep writing 1000 word rants to make 200 word points.

In any case, I thank StephStah for struggling through my essays, and I do encourage all dozen or so readers to check out TWR for new reads.

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January 07, 2004

Loss of Faith

I have lost the Faith Once Delivered to the Saints.

No, not quite that way.

In August, I ran up to Princeton and did some photocopying at the Princeton Theological Seminary - nice folks, good library. One of the documents I photocopied was Lyman Beecher's 1823 sermon "The Faith Once Delivered to the Saints." I also typed the money paragraphs into my word processor.

I can not find my photocopy - I can find other documents from a trip to PTS later that week, I can find my reading notes where I remind myself that I made the photocopy, I found some old teaching evaluations that I had been looking for, but I can NOT find that copied sermon.

And I need it.

Bingo - took a break from ranting, searched again, and found it.

I found the Faith Once Delivered to the Saints hiding underneath my router. Now that sounds like a headline from Landover Baptist if I ever heard one. It was sneakily just under some photocopied manuscript letters from Charles Hodge, which I have now filed properly.

The only good point to this whole debacle is that my office is now a lot tidier than it was this morning.

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Reading Report

I decided to start commenting more on my readings, and linking to the comments from the side-roll.

I just put Margaret Visser's Much Depends on Dinner back in its box. I made it to tape 8 of 11, which is pretty good for me and an audiobook. Now I am reading a KKK western instead.

Visser's book was frustrating - she had some good information, she had some pop anthrobabble, she had some careful commentary on the gains and weaknesses of the green revolution, and she had some stuff that was just plain wrong. I have read some food history and history of manners before; I like both subjects. Visser is good on them. She also has some good information about agricultural history, another subject I have read a little on and am vaguely interested in.

What I found frustrating about it was two things. The first was the anthrobabble. The book is a commentary on food and society, organized around a meal. So she writes about corn, about salt, about chicken, and so on. For each substance, she goes on rants saying that it is this but that, A and B, C but only sometimes D; she talks about the symbolism - salt is white, butter yellow, corn comes in many colors but North Americans don't like most of them - and quite frankly I felt like I could have created most of those paragraphs myself using a perl script and a set of adjectives. Consider the subtitle: "The Extraordinary History and Mythology, Allure and Obsessions, Perils and Taboos, of an Ordinary Meal." It runs on a bit, doesn't it. It is a fair warning - the whole book reads like the subtitle. And, while it was entertaining for a while, eventually it all ran together.

The book suffers from something that much creative non-fiction struggles with - there was no point to it. Or rather, she made a few points again and again with each foodstuff, to the point where I could predict where we were in the chapter by the sorts of things she was saying about each substance. I got bored and stopped listening.

Now I am listening to a truly fine and biased western, Gone To Texas. Forrest Carter [Asa Earl Carter] writes from within the Lost Cause, frames his characters according to the Lost Cause, and carefully creates his setting and situation so as to avoid any awkward questions. It is a novel about border outlaws and indians, it is set after an American Civil War without slavery - the war starts when Kansas outlaws burn the farm of Josey Wales the Missouri hill farmer. Not only was the war was not started by Southerners, I am pretty sure that there is not a single black person in the text - I read it in book form a few years ago, and the book is in a box in storage.

So, the book works on two levels, as a rollicking adventure tale and also as a document about how to tell a story that subtly shapes our understanding of the past. I like it for those reasons.

What I hate is that Carter uses TOO MANY "of" clauses. Josey Wales does not take the boy's hand, or the horse's reins, he takes the hand of the boy or the reins of the horse. It is jarring and obtrusive - I want to copy edit the thing as I listen to it.

Still, it is a good story and with only four cassettes I might even finish it. I don't have a good record with finishing books on tape.

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My wife has never seen my chin. I have worn a beard or a goatee since before we met. For that matter, it has been about 15 years since I have seen my own chin.

But, my beard is getting greyer and greyer, and the grey is climbing higher and higher on my face.

I like wearing a beard, it has been part of my image and self-image since I was in high school. But, I am also going on the job market and am older than your usual freshly minted Ph.D.. I have to wonder if I would do better if I did not look older than my age?

So, I am thinking hard about shaving - either taking the WHOLE thing off (leaving a moustache) or going down to a goatee.

I have been thinking about a shave for a few months now, but I have to wonder if part of the re-appearance of the desire is that I am feeling in a rut and want to make a physical change in order to inspire an emotional change? Then too, I have an interview on Friday so I have to decide soon how to present myself.

To do today - get my ears lowered for the interview (and because my hair is being long and in the way.)

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The 68th Carnival of the Vanities is now up at American Realpolitik

I participated with my thing on flags.

Hmm, that reminds me - time to republish blogger. Like taking out the trash or scooping the cat box, republishing blogger is one of those chores that you can never do just once and then forget about.

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Out of Context

We have to be careful when quoting things from out of context. For example, the following paragraph from Lyman Beecher "The Faith Once Delivered to the Saints" sounds at first like a rebuke to the Ralph Reeds of the world.

It is equally manifest, that christians should not attach themselves, exclusively, to any political party, or take a deep interest in political disputes.
No party is so exclusively right, as to render it safe for any man to commit his conscience to its keeping, and act implicitly according to its dictation. Nor can any party, in a popular government, be sufficiently secure from change, to render it safe to identify with it the interests of religion. Besides, if christians enter deeply into political disputes, they will be divided, and one denomination arrayed against another, in their prayers and efforts; and one christian against another, in the same church. A spirit of party zeal creates also, a powerful diversion of interest and effort from the cause of Christ; creates prejudices in christians one against another; and, in the community, against the cause itself. It annihilates spirituality of mind; prevents a spirit of prayer, and efforts for revivals of religion; and renders christians the mere dupes and tools of unprincipled, ambitious men.

But, when we read the entire sermon and remember its context, we see that Beecher was arguing that evangelical religion was the religion of the Old and New Testaments, that it was required for proper civil life, and that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts had a compelling interest in limiting Unitarian access to the official establishment - the established churches should be evangelical and evangelical only. He phrased his argument in these terms as a way to encourage low-church Methodists and Arminians to cooperate with high-church Calvinists. For Beecher, as for Joseph Story and many other religious formalists in the 1820s and 1830s, it was perfectly permissible to create a civil religion or favored status for Christianity, or even for one flavor (the "right" flavor) of Christianity so long as no particular church or denomination was favored over others.

In contrast, in the twenty-first century, most Americans would be unwilling to create an evangelical establishment, or a liberal establishment, or even a generic Christian establishment. Where Beecher swam in a sea of Protestant Christianity and worried about which denominational fish might devour the rest, and where a generation later swam in a sea of Christians and worried whether the Catholic or Protestants would devour the other, we swim in a sea of different faith traditions and want all of them respected, none of them endorsed.

The language remains remarkably similar, but the objects of analysis have shifted from particular sects to general families to entire faith traditions. Without an awareness of the context of the earlier language, we can easily quote a person contrary to his own intentions. Beecher would likely have been skeptical of Ralph Reed, tied as he and his organizations are to one particular political party, but he might well have helped Falwell organize the Moral Majority, organized around a non-denominational set of faith and moral policy claims despite being dominated by people from one particular group of Baptists.

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Well, I now look different.

The beard, complete with lots of grey along the jawline, is now a solid red goatee.

The hair, which was getting long, is now a 1/2" crew cut. That is about as short as you can go without getting into the military-style cuts.

I look ten years younger. And, more importantly, I am reminded that I look good with this combination.

If only the hair down my shirt did not itch so.

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January 06, 2004

Leftists and Liberals

Michael J. Totten just jumped onto the public blogroll with this very good piece distinguishing between liberals and leftists.

Now if only the non-wingnuts will stop letting the wingnuts confuse the two, we might have a better discourse.

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Thank you John and Ian

John Jones and Ian Telfer write most of the lyrics for the Oysterband.

When I am feeling down, or unproductive, or slumpy, and want a musical kick in the pants, I often turn to them.

I just played two tracks on the big stereo: The Early Days of a Better Nation and and Gamblers (We Do Not Do That Any More)

I turned the stereo up to six. We have a lot of stereo - at six you can feel the bass moving your sternum and almost feel it moving your clothing.

My ears are now numb - but I feel less slumpy and more willing to write. (The sunlight outside helps as well.)

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I stand corrected

A few posts down I explain why historians love second-rate novels.

My typology of novels has been challenged successfully. Let me write a new introductory paragraph.

Historians love second-rate novels. We read novels not for the plot or the characters or even the language, although all are bonuses, but rather for their ability to shine light on the author's universe. Novels are most useful for us when they are either completely immersed in the author's time and place - William Dean Howels A Modern Instance - or when they are flawed in such a way as to expose the fault lines in the author's society. All novels wrestle with the author and their opinions on the world around them; some flawed novels shows these strains so clearly that even a panicked undergraduate can see them. These flawed novels are just what the historian calls for.

I read a lot of light science fiction ...

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Nothing like a Waah

There is nothing like a good Waah.

I decided that I am currently incapable of composing in the word processor. So, I went downstairs, sat in the comfy chair with a yellow pad, and began to work out what to do for the next bit I have to write. Lo and behold, I have a plan!

Tomorrow I get to go to the library and photocopy some William Ellery Channing. Such fun!

Tonight I get to read Lyman Beecher, also fun!

It beats staring at the wall wondering why I can't write. Trust me.

Edit - three cheers to the Crossroads Project at UVA - they had the Channing essay online and saved me a drive to Philadelphia.

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I have been frustrated again over the last few days - I am trying to write and finding it impossible to focus or to keep my attention within the document. I am not sure what to do about my lack of focus - is it a sign of a problem with the document, a problem with the project, or a problem with the writer?

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Template change

I just went from tables to css for the main layout. Let me know if it is buggy.

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January 05, 2004

Prior knowledge and film

I just finished watching GoodFellas and was oddly reminded of Seabiscuit: both movies rely on external knowledge to keep the viewer's interest.

The first hour of Seabiscuit is a montage of the lives of the three main characters: the jockey, the owner, and the trainer. Their lives are presented in a series of short vignettes, cut together with a series of slick transitions, and all indicating that these are flawed and broken people.

But, if you did not know that these were the three men whose lives would intersect with the racehorse, you would spend the first hour of the movie being confused. I know - I watched it with people who had not seen the trailers or read the book, were approaching the movie as a blank slate, and whose comment early was "this is all very nice, but who are these people and what is going on?"

Similarly, when I watched GoodFellas all I knew was that it was a well-respected gangster movie and that the "restaurant shot" was a spectacular piece of moviemaking. And, while Henry's narration quickly tells us that "all my life I all I wanted was to be a gangster" and the continued voiceovers tell us that something has happened, something has been lost, the movie itself is boring. Now, this might be because I was watching it in bits and pieces in the half hour between losing productivity and becoming sleepy, but I several times turned off the movie because I was bored with it. As I was watching, I decided that the movie was trying to derive its dramatic interest from the fact that gangsters are sexy - like vampires - and so anything about gangsters must automatically be exciting. After seeing the ending I now see what the movie was building up to, and if I had known that - if I had watched the movie during its first release when all the trailers and buzz were going on - then there would have been a lot more suspense.

I think it was Hitchcock who pointed out the nature of suspense. If you show two minutes of some men sitting at a table talking and then a bomb under the table explodes, the audience will be first bored and then surprised. If you show them the bomb under the table and then show the men talking, they will spend the two minutes wondering if the bomb is going to go off. That is suspense.

Both GoodFellas and Seabiscuit, and I suppose also ROTK, suffer because the moviemaker has relied on trailers and advertising to tell the audience about the bomb under the table. Essential background or narrative information has been left out of the film itself because they are incorporated elsewhere in the marketing and packaging that constitutes a modern major theater release.

I should add that there are times when a piece of narrative art - book, film, play, poem - relies on something at the end to re-shape and give new meaning to all that came before. Brideshead revisited is a very different novel the second time you read it, for you know for sure what will happen to Sebastian and you know how later events in the narrator's life have shaped his recollections of the events in the book. In poetry, the second time you read "Richard Corey" it is a work of suspense, the first time through the final couplet is a bit of a surprise. The difference between these and the movies I am writing about is a difference in execution rather than structure - Brideshead Revisited is interesting and it makes sense the first time through. There is a coherent narrative with foreshadowing aplenty, and while the novel improves on re-reading you don't have to read it twice or read it backwards for it to make any sense.

In contrast, I really did get the feel in Seabiscuit that the director and cutters knew what was going on at such a deep level that they forgot to tell the audience what was about to happen. This is not a new problem in film - we have all experienced trailers that give away the film or, as in Carrie, trailers that tell the reader what will happen, turning the surprise into a suspense or the "what will happen?" into a "how will these terrible things occur?" But, you can watch Carrie and know that something awful is going to happen - the trailer just gives away the what and where while the whole movie is drenched in foreboding doom.

I am repeating myself, I will close by just saying that for folks like me, who see our movies late and in bits and pieces, it makes watching movies dreadfully frustrating.

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Pesky Literary Critics

Bloom on Sunsword complains about the lead paragraph below. He has some good points.

ps, this pointless post lets me publish a minor tweak to my template. Let me know if you have rendering troubles.

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The use of bad fiction

More on gender roles and fiction, inspired in part by Steven King and the literary authors and in part by watching ROTK.

Historians love second-rate novels - they tend to be more closely tied to the world of the author, they tend to struggle with the social problems of that world, and so they give us a superior insight into one time and place while first-rate novels show us the timeless human condition. Second-rate novels also tend to struggle with genres and conventions, and in that struggle they show us the society. First rate novels, by definition, create new conventions.

I read a lot of light science fiction. Much of this fiction is formulaic, and since my mind looks for patterns I tend to find the formulas eventually. Science fiction and fantasy, being set elsewhere, traditionally contain a mix of "if this goes on ..." and "this is how it should be." The classic example was the tobacco warning in 1950s and 1960s science fiction; the characters all smoke, and the narrator always reminds the reader that smoking is dangerous unless you magically fix the tobacco. Some of these norms are driven by the authors, others by the publisher, and others by the marketplace. Publisher-driven norms often take the form of a formula.

Sometimes formulas collide, and when they do so they give a great look at the author's society. David Drake has made a good career for himself with a formula - he takes historical military campaigns and rewrites them in a science-fiction context. It works, it sells books, and it captures the pulp glory that was popular press from the late nineteenth century.

Science fiction written over the last ten years or so has followed another formula - the future is largely gender blind. Books have an equal number of male and female characters, few jobs are restricted by plumbing, and same-sex sexuality is considered about as important as handedness - you have to keep it in mind, but it has no normative value. In contrast, consider Heinlein's Starship Troopers where the ground-pounders were all male and the space navy officers were all female - gendered division of labor was built into his future society even as he went out of his way to get women into combat.

One of Drake's current projects is a rewriting of Napoleonic sea battles in a science fiction context. He has space ships that rig spars and sails outside their hull, these sails capture cosmic radiation as the ship travels through hyperspace, and the overall feel of his society is built on that of late Georgian England complete with lower class sailors climbing the rigging. In many ways it is Master and Commander with blast pistols and space torpedoes. They are good fun reads, especially the first one in that universe.

But, they are also jarring because Drake is forced to bring two norms together and make them fit. Napoleonic narratives are all male; the women stay ashore or, occasionally, travel as passengers. The crew works in monastic splendor, then once they land they run about spending their back pay on ale and whores. Modern science fiction is half female, and his ships crew fits that norm. Indeed, his loyal bosun is a woman. So, the brawny hornfisted son of the working classes becomes a brawny, horn-fisted daughter of the working classes - and when the ship makes landfall she too goes out into the dives to get drunk and pick up sweet young things. It does not scan to my mind, rooted in the late twentieth century; it is clear that Drake is struggling to resolve to formulas, and in his struggle we see another view of one of the fault lines and recurring concerns of our own culture.

We see a similar struggle with gender roles in Jackson's version of Tolkein. When Arwen and Glorfindel are merged as characters, it not only simplifies the story it also gives the woman a chance to be heroic. Tolkein's Eowyn was compelling because she was an emotionally damaged woman, unwilling to take her prescribed role, unwilling to stay at home while all she loved died, and thus riding in disguise as Dernhelm, with a look of fey grimness as one who did not expect to return from battle. Jackson's Eowyn is not trapped the same way - our modern post-feminist audience would not understand that she was trapped, and would sympathize with her rather than with her father once she was trapped. Rather than showing that she was a damaged woman, she would have shown she was a real woman.

So, Jackson had to revise Eowyn's role. In the process he shifted her relationship with Aragorn, and that in turn required him to change Aragorn's relationship with Arwen. And, the new Arwen makes no narrative sense, adds nothing to the plot, and distracts and detracts the viewer. But, it makes space for the revised Eowyn role. Alas, the revised Eowyn is not quite as wonderful as the literary Eowyn.

Jackson's movie is flawed because he is wrestling with translating cultures, and the world imagined by an Edwardian man who immersed himself in old Norse culture is, literally, unimaginable to most people in the twenty-first century. As he adapted his narrative, he weakened it - and as viewers we are drawn to the broken narrative and try to figure out what went wrong.

Jackson's trilogy are good fun movies, but they are second-rate art.

And this is why historians LOVE bad novels.

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January 04, 2004

Scary Old Men

We went to see Return of the King last night - the first time we have had a baby-free date in months. Our thanks to Brother in Law & his fiancee who covered when our baby sitter had a family crisis. I want to write down a few words about the movie to figure out what was bugging me about it.

Any time you convert a book to a movie, you have to make changes. Lord of the Rings is a LOT of words, many of them description, and it was a terrific effort to translate it to the screen. They made some changes that worked - combining Arwen and Glorfindel in the first movie. They also made some changes that made no sense - the Warg attack in the second movie, the entire Arwen subplot in the second and third movies. What I want to talk through is a subtle but crucial change in style - it might just be that some things can not be filmed properly. Let me explain.

One of the recurring themes in the book is grand old men: Gandalf, Saruman, Theoden, Denethor and, although he has a smaller role in the book, Elrond. Grand old men are hard to film, or at least hard to film convincingly. Peter Jackson et al weakened Saruman, Theoden and Denethor as they simplified them for the screen. This is not hard to understand, for all three characters are rooted in patriarchy and hierarchy while modern movies are rooted in populism lite.

Theoden in the book mourns "A father should not have to bury a son." In the movie, he mourns that "A father should not have to bury a child." It is a small difference, but subtle. In the movie, Denethor is half-mad from the beginning. In the book, Denethor is a kind man, a stern man, and a troubled man all at the same time. Gandalf warns Pippin that Denethor is of the old blood, and can see much that is hidden. After Pippin is forced to tell the tale of the fellowship to Denethor, according to Gandalf's restrictions on what he may or may not tell, Gandalf consoles him that it is not so easy to be stuck between two terrible old men. Denethor is attractive - he prepares the city, he mourns his losses, he is old but stern wearing mail beneath his dress clothes and carrying a sword along with his rod of office. In the movie, they had to cut and they had to simplify, and in the process they made Denethor weak. The clash between Gandalf and Denethor becomes a clash between the strong who would fight and the weak who will not prepare, and not a clash between one who will gamble all on a risky play and one who will trust to the old ways and, when those fail and their vision is overwhelmed by the strength of the foe, falls into despair. There was a similar simplification of Theoden and Wormtongue, with the movie presenting Theoden as simply possession while in the book it was a subtler web of words and weakness around the grand old king.

Many of the changes that bug me were probably made because the audience of today is rooted in the lite populism of movies - poor folks are good, rich folks are villains, our hero will always be kind to the historically oppressed, racists and villains are one and the same, and so on. In the mythology of the modern movies, all hierarchy is bad and the hero will be one who seeks to over turn a static order; we celebrate the rogue who will not conform.

Tolkein's book is a celebration of organic society against the leveling future of war, machinery, and despair. This is most apparent in his section on the Scourging of the Shire, which the movie trimmed for space, but it appears as well in Gondor and in Rohan. Tolkein's characters swear oaths and fulfill them, Merry and Pippin insert themselves into the feudal hierarchy, and a crucial oath between Frodo and Smeagol shapes both their futures. Frodo has moral authority because of his class position as well as his role as ringbearer, and the grand old men also bear a charisma built on age, wisdom, and status.

I have some more thoughts inspired by the movie, but this is too long and I need to write some real stuff. More on this later.

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The Washington Post has an interesting article on teenage girls who are "partway gay."

The gist of the article is that a suprisingly large number of women engage in a mixture of same-sex and opposite-sex relationships, that they are able to distinguish between behavior and orientation - performing an action and defining an identity - and that their actions do not fit our current models of sexual orientation and behavior, most of which were derived by studying straight white men.

What I found interesting about the article was the extent to which these girls seem to have picked up a habit that is also found among the bdsm and kinky sex community - it is more important to play with the person than with the body. For many people, what matters in a lover is what matters in a friend - can you talk, can you inspire one another, can you create a shared headspace together? Plumbing is only indirectly related to that sort of connection.

This more open and experimental approach to dating and sexuality reminds me of another difference between what I will call queer and straight sex for lack of a better phrase. For many "straight" people, sex is penis in vagina hopefully leading to orgasm. No PiV, no sex - just ask Chuck Robb or Bill Clinton. For many "queer" people, sex is two or more people, one or more orgasm, or penetration (the definition of sex that I worked up in college many years ago.) So, heavy petting is "sex," as are a great many activities that are a felony in Virginia. (1)

Behavior v orientation and "queer" definitions of sex have interesting implications for the current debate on the nature and purpose of marriage.

Polls on same sex marriage have revealed a strong age-based difference, with most young people supporting either same sex marriage or some form of meaningful civil union, and most older people objecting to both. Pundits have pointed out that, if these trends hold, then same-sex marriage will become a political non-issue as its opponents die off. The comparison is to generational attitudes about race relations and gender roles, with the generations raised following the civil rights and women's liberation movements having very different expectations about their futures.

So, if bisexual, omnisexual, or heteroflexible approaches become, if not normative then at least normal, how will that change our approaches to marriage, child rearing, casual flirtation, or even such everyday moments as restrooms and gym lockers? I have some thoughts which I will explore off and on over the next few weeks. Mostly, though, I have questions.

(1)Virginia's sodomy laws made it a felony to touch another person below the neck with your mouth. In the right tone of voice, "Hey babe, wanna commit a felony?" can be a good way to tell your honey that you are horny.

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Now that's a band

Via, [whoops closed the window], I find createbands.

I fear that I could spend a great deal of time playing with that.

ps, The Iridescent Potatoes rock !

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January 03, 2004

Skimming v Reading

I got through graduate classwork by reminding myself that "skim has the same number of letters as read." In other words, I adopted a philosophy that had been explained to me by my undergraduate advisor during the first week of freshman year: You can never do all the work. Part of college is figuring out what work you have to do and what work you can skip.

Let me give an example. I got tired of reading America's God which I have been nibbling on for months and reading a chapter at a time for weeks. So, this morning I gutted it - read the sections about the people I write about, skimmed through chapters, read beginnings and endings, and made it to the end. Gutting gives a less deep appreciation of the argument, but it also got the book off my desk so I could write.

I am thinking about this because, after looking over the syllabi I was working on yesterday, I seem to be assuming that my students also know that they can not do all the work. They don't know that, or at least many of the students at Urban Research University did not know that. I need to remind myself to mention it on the first day of class at Suburban State in a couple of weeks.

And so to write.

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Forgetting to sleep?

I was up until 1:00 last night. J finally asked me what I was doing, and I replied that I had forgotten to go to sleep.

That sounds pretty stupid, doesn't it.

You see, I am fairly distractable, especially when I am tired. I had headed upstairs around 11:00 intending to check my email, blog if I felt like it, and then go to bed. There was no interesting email, I did not have anything to blog, but I clicked on something while applying antifungal slime to my toes, and then on another, and then on another. Two hours later I had halfway changed into my pajamas, but I had forgotten to go to sleep.

This is a bad habit of mine - it is related to but not the same thing as my fear of not being able to sleep. I have taught myself to rattle around at night, not productive but not going to sleep. I will be making my New Year resolutions over the next few days, and one of them will be to be better about going to bed when I am tired and sleepy.

The only good part to forgetting to sleep is that it makes the coffee taste better when I do get up in the morning.

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Whats in a chapter anyway?

A month ago, I was telling hiring comittees that I had all chapters of my dissertation drafted and that I needed to do some revising.

As of this morning, chapter four has calved into chapters four and five. I am cutting out a mess of the stuff that did not fit into chapter four and putting it aside. I will put together a new final chapter with a much simpler, somewhat Hegelian, structure. Then I will go over the outtakes and either write them up or cut them entirely. It should work, but it will take a bit of writing.

I feel like I am going backwards sometimes.

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January 02, 2004


How much reading can I expect a student to do?

I just finished my draft syllabi for the West Coast job. I will proof-read them later then email them out.

For the Age of Jefferson, I think I have assigned too much reading. I am used to teaching over a 13 week semester, this is a 9-week quarter. I am used to teaching students who are taking four or five 3-credit classes. These student will be taking three 4-credit or 5-credit classes.

The rule of thumb is to expect 2 hours outside the classroom for every hour inside the classroom. Folks vary on whether that includes time spent studying for special events like midterms and papers, or if that is just for the plain baseline reading. I am expecting my students to spend 10 hours a week reading and doing homework, which means that I can reasonably assign 200 to 300 pages of reading each week. Well, 300 is unreasonable, especially if it is heavy stuff.

Here is my proposed workload for one week.

Week Three: France
Monday: Personal Tragedy
Tuesday: Salons
Wednesday: Revolution
Thursday: Constitution
Jefferson, Autobiography, 1781-1789 54-101
Federalist 1, 10, 25, 29, 38, 39, 51, 72, 73.
Jefferson, Letters, 1783-1790, Peterson 843-919.
Write a 2 page paper responding to the primary documents in some manner.

It is a hefty reading load, but the class is intended for juniors and seniors at a pretty good comprehensive state university.

Expectations are hard to manage, especially because the kids will always complain that you have given them too much work. It can be hard to separate the signal from the noise. I lost a lot of sympathy for poor overworked students the semester where I had some whiners complaining that I was killing them, and then the end-of-year survey showed that half the class was putting in 3 hours a week or less outside the classroom.

Still, there is such a thing as assigning more than the kids can do.

And so to work up Western Civ

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And so to work

It has been fun working at half-speed for the last few days. I took most of yesterday off, I relaxed, I have been reading some fiction and watching some movies on DVD. I have been taking more baby duty and letting J catch up on the work she has brought home so that she could get off for the holidays.

Now I have to get back into the grind.

The hardest part about vacations has always been coming back to work. When I was younger and drunker, I joked that I needed a vacation to recover from my vacation. Things are not as bad, but I do have to return to my highly productive anxiety levels.

The holidays (winter carnival) are stressful for many reasons - expectations of joy, dark skies, close contact with family, alcohol use, recapitulating a year with its inevitable mixture of success and failure - one of the many stresses is the stress of getting back to work.

It is worse for Americans, who stress ourselves. It is also bad for slackers like myself, who only get work done when under a certain amount of pressure.

And so to crank out syllabi

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Western Civilization

The worst class I ever taught on my own was the first time I taught Western Civ. I did an even worse job with one of my TA jobs, but that was because I and the professor wanted to assign completely different readings, present the class material very differently, and were essentially teaching completely different classes. Oddly enough he is one of the people I model my own classroom performance on - I just assign different readings and tell different narratives.

That first Western Civ was bad for several reasons - I did not have a lot of confidence going in, it was a Community College class with all the problems with attendance, preparedness, and maturity that go along with teaching at a CC, the textbook was terrible, half of the assignments sucked. The underlying problems with the class are somewhat like those with the other badly taught class - I was trying to conform to a set of speficications that did not suit my teaching style. Let me explain.

That particular CC, which actually has a great English department and OK US history, has a European historian who believes that students can not read and that students must be able to master the "stuff" of history. So, she uses a simple textbook, her classes are spent practically reading the textbook (students can and do follow along with the text on their desks), and every ten days or so she has a multiple-choice exam quizzing the students on their ability to regurgitate the textbook. The whole thing is a mile wide and an inch deep.

That CC wants its adjuncts to use this teacher's syllabus, to use her writing assignments, and to use a standardized multiple-choice midterm and final exam. So, I used the test bank that came with the textbook and put together multiple choice tests. It failed. The tests were too hard for the kids, even using the test bank I was spending about as much time creating the exams and running them through scanners as it would have taken me to grade essays, and my teaching style did not fit the testing methodology.

You see, what I like to focus on is change over time, the story of history, the people and the choices that they faced. If I can conjure up the past, get the students excited about the events, and encourage them to see both patterns in behavior that translate universally and particular characteristics that make each moment unique, then I have done what I intended. I use the surveys to teach the students to think like historians, not to make them memorize names, dates, or paragraphs from the textbook.

The problem with this teaching style is that it requires that I have a good textbook and that the students read it. The textbook that semester sucked. The students did not know how to read. And, I was too caught up in doing the classroom my way. I did recover during the second half of the semester; I threw out the multiple choice exams, gave them short essay exams, and made them write. That worked a lot better because now the evaluations were compatible with my teaching style.

I was reminded of this experience because I was putting together class titles and readings for my next Western Civ. I am getting psyched about it. It helps that I picked the book, and chose a fairly good one. It helps that I am writing the evaluations. And, it helps that I am picking a couple of core narratives to organize the class rather than trying to figure out whatever pattern someone else may have had in mind. I will give the kids the narratives in the syllabus and on the first day of class - part of my "no surprises" teaching style.

My current thought is that there are two big narratives between the end of the religious wars and the present. Each of them has some sub-categories.
Nations and People

  • Rise of absolutism
  • Rise of empires
  • Rise of democracy
  • Collapse of absolutism
  • Collapse of empires

Making and Doing

  • Industrial Revolutions
  • Classes and Masses
  • Gender roles and female emancipation

In other words, I see one big story following political organizations as they evolve from kings with "absolute" powers and weak governance into empires with "absolute" rulers and strong governance into democracies. Different nations do this at different rates, and the meta-narrative of the modern world is the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Feh, this is poorly articulated. I will need to work on it.

The second big story is that while agricultural communities have strong gendered divisions of labor and are only moderately productive, industrialism in the three waves of industrial revolution has increased productivity, increased standards of living, shattered old social orders, and shattered the gendered divisions of labor.

I spent some time after dinner today going through the text, going through the schedule of classes, and portioning out readins while coming up with class titles that are catchy and that reinforce the themes I want to cover. Thus, the classes for March are:

Mon 1, The First Industrial Revolution, Noble chapter 20
Wed 3, Working Men, Working Women
Mon 8, Royalist Reactions, Noble chapter 21
Wed 10, Socialism, Marx & Engels, Communist Manifesto
Mon 15 - NO CLASS - Spring break
Wed 17 - NO CLASS - Spring break
Mon 22, National Unifications, Noble, Chapter 22
Wed 24, The Second Industrial Revolution, Noble Chapter 23
Mon 29, Optimism
Wed 31, Europe and the World II, Noble Chapter 24

I still need to review my themes, review class titles, and make sure that I will be telling my linked narratives and also explaining an enoughness of the "stuff" - kings, and elections, and battles, and ideologies. I will keep tweaking this for another week, but the basic outline is down. Now I need to figure out paper topics.

Oh, and one oddity. One of the students in that first Western Civ class worked at the county library. We became friends, and before she left for Americorps she was our primary babysitter. Even in a terrible class, some things work OK.

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January 01, 2004

Reading Lists - 2004

This is where I will be keeping my 2004 reading lists.

Details in the extended entry.

Expect frequent edits to this list.

Most recent entries at the top of each category.

Note, list started March 17, 2004 so the first few months are done from memory.

Last Edit, March 23, 2004

Currently Reading:
Trenchard and Gordon, Cato's Letters
Jan Todd, Physical Culture and the Body Beautiful: Purposive Exercise in the Lives of American Women 1800-1870
Hanson, the warfare book
Dick Francis, 10 LB. Penalty
Movie: The Two Towers
Audiobook: Tolkein Return of the King

Recently Finished Fiction:
John Ringo, Here be Dragons 3/22/04
Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front 3/21/04
Movie: Whale Rider 3/21/04
Dick Francis, Knockdown 3/20/04
Dick Francis, Second Wind 3/19/04
Dick Francis, Wild Horses
Modestit (spelling), Darkness
Modestit the one before Darkness
Modestit, the book about the soldier
Audiobook: Tolkein, The Two Towers

Recently Finished non-Fiction:
Stephen Marini, Radical Sects of Revolutionary New England 3/22/04
Andrew Greeley, The Catholic Experience excerpts 3/21/04
Nancy Schultz, Fire and Roses: The Burning of the Charlestown Convent, 1834.3/20/04
Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France
Thomas Paine, Rights of Man

Could Not Start:
Movie: Diner
Thriller about icebergs

Did not Finish:
Mario Puzo, The Last Don - fascinating characters, terrible prose.
Author? Prizzi's Honor

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Traditions and Change

The Barefoot Kitchen Witch wrote about braiding traditions a month or so ago at the start of winter Carnival season. (Scroll up - she continues the thought) I was reminded of her thoughts around 7:00 this morning as I put dinner in the oven.

Mom is Southern, and from her we learned that you will have good luck all year if you eat black-eye peas on New Year's Day. So, most years we remember to eat our black-eyes.

Black-eye peas are traditionally served with sauteed onions as a side dish to a meal of baked ham, corn bread, and collards. It is darn good eating. It also fails the kosher test - ham oinks, and cornbread is dairy.

So, we adapted another tradition, and on New Year's Eve we have vegetarian chile and dairy cornbread. It was good, although I made it too spicy for J's pregnant digestive tract.

Tonight, the menu is brisket, collard greens, and black-eye peas. No ham, no dairy, but it should still be good eating. We will cook the collards with vinegar and a little chipotle rather than using ham or pork fat. The brisket is cooking now - browned it and then put it up at 250 with sauteed onions, garlic, coriander, black pepper, and just a splash of strong coffee.

Braiding traditions, a rich yet experimental meal, and black-eye peas. I think I like the precedent we are setting for the new year.

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