August 2004
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August 2004 Archives

August 31, 2004

1st Day

Today was the first day of classes at Urban Research University.
Tomorrow is first day at Suburban State.

I am teaching US 1 at both locations, one section each, and finishing my writing. It is not the best combination - not enough money and not enough writing - but it will have to do.

Of the 40-odd people in the room, almost all were there to fulfill a distribution requirement. I wonder how many I will still have in a week.

It was strange to wear long pants after 3 months of shorts.

And so to take off the monkey suit.

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Red Ted
at 03:08 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
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August 30, 2004

Phil Folk

Saturday the four of us day-tripped to the Philadelphia Folk Festival. It was good fun. We drove at off-peak, and it was only an hour and change away when we had expected to spend two hours or more, although if we had stayed until the end of the concert the traffic jam would almost certainly have added an hour to the drive home.

Anyhow, we had fun. We sat in the shade on a very hot day and listened to a lot of live music, including several bands we had never heard of before and found that we liked a lot. That is the cool part about a festival, especially an eclectic festival like Phil Folk, you hear new things in a genre that you know you like.

I was pleased to discover:
DaVinci's Notebook
and was intrigued by
Uncle Earl

J reminder herself how much she likes
Cherish the Ladies
and also decided that she liked
erm, I forget and will edit this when she reminds me, and
Uncle Earl

The boys just had fun with the sounds, the people, and being out doors. The infant thought about over-heating, but we sponged him off and he was fine.

The toddler proved once again that he is bulldog smart. (Actually he is smarter than a bulldog, but work with me here.) You know bulldog smart? "Bulldogs have a reputation for being dumb dogs, but mine knows exactly which drawer holds his dog treats. How much smarter do you need to be?" I hit the snack food stands and got a burger for me and an ice cream sandwhich for him. The ice cream was a BIG hit. About 20 minutes later he decided it was time for another walk, grabbed J by the hand, walked her to the correct food stand, and looked hopefully up at her. She decided he had eaten enough ice cream for the day, and instead let him work off excess energy by running laps around her for the next half hour or so.

It was a good day. The Sunday concert lineup was more to our taste, but Saturday works for our schedules. Scedules permitting, we will be back next year, probably for another day trip.

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Red Ted
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August 27, 2004

As if the school year were starting

I feel as if the school year were starting.


Over the last two days I have gotten a good dozen hits from searches on the term Reading Log. I am currently #18 on Google for that term.

What I can't guess is whether this is because kids are being told to start a reading log and want a model for what to do, or if it is because kids were told to turn in a reading log at the end of the summer, and want something they can crib off of.

I might very well change the syllabus to insist on an electronic submission of the long paper. I probably won't, but only for technical reasons regarding chasing down plagarism.

Let me explain.

There are some folks who will cheat no matter what. All you can do is make it more difficult for them to cheat effectively, but they often spend more time getting around security than it would have taken them to just do the darn work. Luckily, these folks are rare.

There are also some folks, many more, who will cheat if it seems easy and costless, will be more likely to cheat if they are in a climate of pervasive cheating, but would be perfectly willing to just do the work themselves. The trick in managing a classroom is to keep the first group from creating a climate where the second group feels impelled to cheat - either to hold their ground or because "everyone is doing it."

It turns out that there are two basic approaches to academic cheating. Both are comparably effective - the first is a little better at the first crowd, the second better at the second, larger group.

You can either proctor aggressively, letting the students know that their work will be tightly policed, that you will assume cheating unless they can prove their innocence, and then follow through. Tight proctoring and aggressive enforcement works on the first group, but it can also either turn off the second group or create a climate where students take cheating as a challenge, living down to your expectations. Finally, this aggressive approach can turn the classroom from a collaberation to a battleground.

The other effective approach is to emphasize honor. Schools with a strong honor code, enforced and impressed on the students at regular intervals, make a more fertile climate for the incorrigibles, but do a better job of keeping the swing students on the straight and narrow. It also creates a good classroom environment.

What you don't want to do is just trust that the kids won't cheat. They will. You have to do something, the question is whether you prefer to use hard or soft power.

Asking for electronic submissions of papers is fine if you will be grading on the computer or lugging floppies on vacation rather than a stack of paper. But I prefer to grade in a purple pen. So if I asked for electronic copies, it would be in order to submit them to search engines. Instead I will rely on visible soft power and less visible structural restrictions. What do I mean?

I explain plagarism early and spend a lot of effort building up the classroom as a place of collaberative learning. The kids help write the exam, and I draw them into discussion as much as the survey format lets me. I also structure the assignments to make it harder to cheat.

The kids have weekly homework assignments, about 200 words on some provocative topic: "Should Andrew Jackson be on the U.S. money?" They also have a long paper on Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. I can easily tell when someone turns in a paper that is completly unlike their homework. In addition, their paper has to make extensive use of both Stowe and two of the electronic documents from our class syllabus. The odds of someone buying a term paper that will do this is minimal, and I will have my eyes open for papers that include very slick discussions of Stowe and very clumsy discussions of the other material, well, that is a paper worth typing in a juicy paragraph or two and then searching.

We will see. I find that most blatant plagarism is the work of desparate and unprepared students, and is very easy to spot. And, considering the goofy nature of most of my write-ups on the reading log, I pity anyone who tries to turn them in as their summer work.

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Red Ted
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Letter from a (former) Republican

In a linking mood today.

From this morning's Inkwire we have an op-ed from Steven Poppell, a lifelong Republican, explaining that the party of 2004 is no longer the party of 1960 and suggesting that the best defenders of conservative values - fiscal prudence, state sovereignty, individual rights - are now in the Democratic party.

He argues that neoconservatives have remade the party into a travesty of its former self. I would blame the Texas Republican Party. In any case, this reminds me of some earlier discussions about political realignment.

Some political scientists break the past down into periods of "party systems" - relatively stable eras in which coherent groups opposed one another over linked sets of issues - and then focus their studies on the changes between party systems, such as the collapse of the Whig party and the birth of the Republican party in the 1850s.

I have seen some suggestions that we are in the middle of a change in the party structure, but most of those suggestions have seemed very presentist - if Goldwater, Nixon, Reagan, and Dubya all engaged in the same sudden change, then how sudden was it?

Still, it is worth noting that there is some ideological consistency between Goldwater, and Reagan. (Nixon is best thought of as a Cold War Liberal, closer to Truman than to Reagan, despite his campaigning techniques) And, I agree with Poppell's point that Dubya's Republican party is radical with reactionary tendencies, not conservative.

Is this a transformation or an evolution? I suspect it comes down to an argument about semantics and definitions. It does appear to be a change (but remember that Reagan both praised budget discipline and ran budget deficits.)

That was a remarkably unfocused and unfinished thought. But it was a good solid Op-Ed.

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Red Ted
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Will I be in this comic one day?

I laughed out loud when I saw this.

Dork Tower explores the (scary) notion that fans, gamers, and wargamers are now having children.

The next day's followup is also good.

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Red Ted
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August 26, 2004

Whither Christendom?

I am digging back into chapter one, my discussion of state sovereignty and religious establishments. Last night, while I was thinking about how exactly I wanted to frame my argument about the relationship between religious belief, state formation, and inalienable rights, I stumbled on Allen Brill's explanation of the Darla Wynne Case in Great Falls, South Carolina.

Allen links to the decision by the 4th circuit, one of the more conservative circuit courts, and also to a narrative of the events that led to the case by Darla Wynne.

Ms Wynne had a perfectly reasonable request to make at her town council meeting; she wanted extra law enforcement at a stop sign where crack dealers were harassing motorists. When she arrived at the meeting the commissioners noticed that she had Wiccan bumper stickers. Things went downhill from there: when she stood to speak they asked about her religion and did not let her make her point; they have always started meetings with a prayer, those meetings always mention Jesus Christ, and when she stopped bowing her head during those prayers (after going to five or six meetings without getting a chance to deliver her petition) they began to harass her further. I just skimmed her account, but it appears that her property has been repeatedly vandalized - 20 to 50 tires slashed, pet animals killed, etc - the town officials and police have made a policy to deny her all permits and condemn her at all inspections, she is being harassed, intimidated, and yelled at. All because she has Wiccan bumper stickers and asked the town council to either use a generic theism in their prayers "giving thanks to the almighty" rather than "giving thanks to Jesus Christ" or at least ask members of other faith traditions to rotate in giving the prayers. In short, because she has unusual religious beliefs she has been denied her rights as a citizen, denied the protection of the law, and become a target of government rather than a member of society.

So, she sued the town for its policy of using its opening Christian prayer to intimidate and coerce. The 4th court opinion above is very solid and very straight-forward. It repeats the court consensus on ceremonial religion, as laid down in Marsh and Allegheny, namely that while legislative meetings may open with prayer and government may provide funds for civic ceremonies that include religious elements, official prayers and displays can not provide any sectarian preference and can not systematically exclude or drive away people because of their religious belief. i.e. You can have a chaplain or open with prayer, but those chaplains should not all be from the same sect and that prayer must be inclusive - a generic "God" is OK but Jesus, the Mother, and Adonai are all sectarian phrasings that should be avoided.

The 4th circuit is repeating the legal consensus, a consensus that many commentators attack for being internally inconsistent but that I argue is close to the founders' intentions: they did not want to see sectarian preference, did not want religious-political conflict for control of government, but did think that religious belief led to better magistrates and better society -- especially a belief in some future reward and punishment.

Ceremonial deism has been attacked because it turns the divine from an Awesome spectacle to a banal recitation, but there is a long acceptance of ceremonial deism as a workable compromise between free conscience and civil religion. Newdow's argument in the Pledge was an attack on that consensus, arguing that belief in the divine is itself a sectarian belief that should not be allowed. His arguments convinced Justice Thomas, who mentioned in passing that if the court had accepted the case and if it had followed its precedents involving the 14th amendment, then he would have agreed with Newdow. They did not convince those who try to argue that atheism is itself a firmly held belief about divinity, and that the state should remain agnostic about belief, supportive of citizens who wish to practice faith.

I bring Newdow in because Wynne's experience turns on the same questions: What, exactly, is religion in general? What, exactly, is sectarian religion?

Several members of the Great Falls council tried to argue that they were expressing "just plain religion" or religion in general: God is Jesus, so when we pray to Jesus we are praying to God and she should pray with us because there is only one God. (paraphrase) In that locality, before Darla Wynne moved to town, they could reasonably believe that they lived within a religious consensus. They almost certainly did not, but Wynne's experience shows why none before her had publicly challenged the local assumption of consensus and uniformity, and so they could tell themselves that everyone agreed.

We like to tell ourselves that the United States has always been a land of movers and mixers; everyone comes from somewhere else. Certainly colonists moved around, Jacksonians moved around, the antebellum South was a constant hive of relocations and resettlements. And with that mixture of place came a mixture of experience, one of the most common comments made by people who moved to Ohio, Kansas, or California was that people came from all over, and mixed, and saw how each other thought, spoke, and worshiped.

At some point we lost that mobility, or we lost it in pockets. There are now towns in the South and the Midwest where everyone who lives there was born there; people move out but they don't move in. It is not merely a rural condition, think of all the neighborhoods in Philadelphia and the other cities where people spend their lives within blocks of where their parents or grandparents lived. We put down roots as a nation sometime between the Civil War and the Great Depression, or rather, despite the massive waves of migration that started then and still continue, there are and always will be little eddies in the stream where people live like peas in a pod, all alike.

I titled this rambling rant Whither Christendom for a reason. Emperor Constantine made Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire, replacing pagan gods and emperor worship. The Romans had long held that the only thing that tied their empire together was that all worshiped the same gods - you did not have to believe, but you had to partake in the civil rituals, and to do otherwise led to things like the Judean revolt. Constantine took this imperial policy and combined it with the new and successful Jewish heresy. Now the empire was Christian, Christianity was no longer a subversive religion but the bulwark of the state, and the state would only be secure so long as all belonged (or at least publicly attended) the new faith.

The tie between church and state continued, and through the Reformation we continued to define the boundaries of the state by the boundaries of the church; if you owed allegiance to a prince you also attended whatever church he chose, and Anglicans and Englishmen were the same thing. Even with the changes of the enlightenment, some of that thought continued and some of that thought shaped early American definitions of their states. South Carolina was one of many to include a formal establishment of religion; they dropped their state establishment by the 1790s but retain a strong sense of homogeneity as a source of social strength. (An aside, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, founded as a colony for religious freedom, explicitly restricts office holding to people who acknowledge "the being of a God, and a future state of rewards and punishments.")

However, the new nation defined its religious establishments and religious tests in broad, theistic terms. Pennsylvania makes a good example - "the being of a God" (emphasis added). What matters on the state level is that people believe in something, not that they all believe in the same thing.

And so, the 4th circuit is absolutely right to overturn Great Falls, and the town is absolutely wrong to continue to appeal. But, seeing social strength in outward consensus just like Constantine did, and defining themselves around the God rather than a God, they will continue to appeal, they will continue to lose, and the scare mongers on the religious right will probably moan about religion being forced out of the public square.

Religion still defines the borders of a state, that is part of what the conflict with Al Quaeda and the islamofascists is all about. The difference is that we define our state around the dual notion that religion is a good thing, and religion need not be uniform, while they are pursuing their own version of Christendom (Islamdom?), with one sect imposing its version of religion on all of society just as the town fathers of Great Falls are trying to pressure Darla Wynne into either converting or moving out.

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Red Ted
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Keyes - Constitutionally correct, politically maladroit

I see that Alan Keyes has recently opined that the Second Amendment should guarantee all citizens the right to own militarily useful weapons - he used machine guns as his example. He qualified this by insisting on some form of licensing, but the gist of his argument is a logical extension of one originalist reading of the 2nd Amendment.

Guess what, I agree with him on that original intent.

The founders bought into the myth of a people in arms as the best defence against tyranny, something they had picked up from Trenchard and Gordon and from the Exclusion Crisis and Glorious Revolution in England. The militia fought at Lexington and Concord; the militia besieged Boston; the militia fought a couple of crucial engagements in the Carolinas; clearly the people in arms are a necessary balance of power.

It is worth noting that the 2nd amendment is just that, an amendment, part of the slate of changes in the Constution forced by anti-Federalists who were unable to block ratification but who tried to cripple the new frame of government by improving it. The Bill of Rights was a statement by the people that the Federal government had gone too far, and it built on the existing notion of states as a counterweight to the federal government by emphasizing the role of the militia as a counterweight to the states and as a counterweight to the federal armed forces. Heck, in 1800 it is likely that if the election had gone the other way Virginia would have mobilized its militia against the Federalists.

However, it is also worth noting that we do not live in the world that the founders made. Even during the Revolution itself, Washington, Greene and the other American generals - British as well, militia fought on both sides - concluded that the militia was not a reliable military force. Some militia units were solid, but any large task left to them would be left undone. It was the militia who let the British onto Long Island. More, their lack standards of training and drill meant that they were less effective in a fixed battle, more likely to flee. Washington has a number of very cranky letters, see for example GW to John Jay after the Battle of the Brandywine, where he claims that his regulars would have beaten the British except that the militia turned and fled.

Militia performance went down hill consistently from the 1630s onward. Militia trounced the Narraganset indians in the seventeenth century, got trounced in Ohio in the 1790s. Militia was most effective as political police during the American Revolution. During the War of 1812 they were even less useful: some militia fled outside of Washington DC, breaking the lines and leading to defeat and the burning of the capital; the New York militia refused to cross the border into Canada and watched the regulars march in and lose a battle a couple of miles away; only Andrew Jackson got the militia to fight, and that because he had them under his arbitrary discipline for over a year and they were far far more terrified of him than they were of the soldiers who had just beaten Napoleon.

By the 1840s, the militia was useless. Instead of mandated service, people organized voluntary military groups, especially in the South, and the same people who would have provided the core of the citizen militia now belonged to volunteer companies. These volunteer companies did train, if only because it let them wear their fancy uniforms, and they did turn out and serve first in the Mexican War and then in the Civil War.

These volunteers were brave, sometimes vicious, but ragged. The militia itself remained a sort of home guard, militarily useless but politically influential. And, of course, the Civil War was a bloody exercise in rebellion against the federal government, and in the postwar years anyone who argued that the states needed to defend themselves would have been accused of trying to fight a second round.

This was the situation that led Congress and the states to disband the volunteers and then later transform the militia into a national guard. From here the Supreme Court argued that the 2nd amendment referred to the right of the States to arm themselves against the federal government, and thus that as long as the National Guard had military weaponry the citizenry did not need it.

Keyes is trying to turn the clock back to 1791. He is right - if someone in 1791 had tried to tell the American people that they could not own a Brown Bess but had to content themselves with fowling pieces, they would have been pilloried in the press and voted out of office. But, the nation is not frozen in 1776, or 1787, or 1791, or 1800, or at any single previous point. Instead we try to create a moving interpretation of timeless principles.

The current consensus on guns is an interpretation. Guns for the states, that is the National Guard and they get all manner of military equipment. Guns for personal defense, that is a question of social policy and not of fundamental rights, and we can and should regulate which guns are available under which conditions. Ban private ownership of all guns? Probably not, both as a matter of principle and as a matter of vote counting.

The original intent is important. But the original intent on much of the Constitution did not survive from 1787 to 1791, much less past the early 1800s. With guns as with religion as with the electoral college as with the Supreme Court, the point is not what they guys in Philadelphia planned or the guys in New York implemented, the point is how those original intentions evolved to meet changing circumstances.

Keyes is making a valid constitutional argument, but it is also an argument that is contrary to the American fuzzy consensus on guns: guns yes, scary or military guns no.

It was famously said of Henry Clay that he would rather be right than be president. No one who knew him believed he had ever said that. It appears that Keyes would rather be right than be Senator. I wonder if someone will ask him that? I know what his on the record answer is. His rhetorical choices suggest that, unlike Clay, Keyes means it.

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Red Ted
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Swift Boat Souljah?

Bill Clinton famously had his "Sistah Souljah" moment when someone who supported him and who was from a constituency that supported him made some stupid and inflammatory statements. He condemned her, rightly, and did so in a manner that pushed him towards the center while only singing his bridges to his radical left.

Could Bush be planning a similar moment with the Swift Boat folks? I suspect that he and Rove considered it, but decided that they could not plausibly denounce the Swift Boat smears without offending their mutual friends who bankroll both the party and these 527s.

Kerry has been able to condemn specific ads from, but his deep pockets are separated from their deep pockets by a bit more distance than we find between the Swift Boats and the Texas Republican Party.

527 organizations are tricky. They are engaged in free speech. In fact, when Bush signed the campaign finance reform bill that created them he worried that the legislation was putting TOO MUCH restriction on political speech. How do you try to minimize the ability of the rich and powerful to drive media and elections without systematically infringing on fundamental rights of free speech? The best suggestion I have heard is to go to snap elections, but that would garble the basic elements of Madison's system.

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Red Ted
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August 25, 2004

Anger and Lies

Sgt Mom over at Sgt Stryker hits the nail on the head in this rant about the veterans, the Swift boat group, and John Kerry, just as she got it wrong in her previous comments on the Swift vets.

She is darn right today when she discusses the anger that many vets feel at Kerry for his actions in 1971 and afterward. Vietnam is still a painful memory. If Kerry loses the election because veterans and others decide that his actions in the early 1970s harmed the nation more than they helped the nation, that is how things are supposed to work.

However, the Swift Boat Hacks for Bush took their anger one step farther, and made up lies. They shifted from the politics of being critical about the record to the politics of personal destruction. More, they used the big lie of personal destruction. So when Sgt Mom asks why the mainstream media barely covers these guys and then mostly covers them in order to debunk them, it is because their statements smell like rat.

What I find interesting, shifting to the metadebate, is the fine line between exploring a person's record and engaging in personal destruction. The difference seems to be that the latter makes up lies or fails the basic rule of honest paraphrasing - if you are going to represent another person's position, do so in a manner that summarizes the WHOLE thing. Otherwise, all you do is score cheap points against a straw man.

So, to use a more recent and useful example, Kerry voted to authorize the use of force against Iraq. He did so on the understanding that this was yet another confrontation that would end with Hussein backing down. When Bush did not try to resolve the confrontation but instead went out of his way to turn confrontation into combat, Kerry like many other Senators felt that the administration had mis-represented their intended policies. So, when they tried to ask to borrow money to fight that war, he voted against it. He now says he would have voted for the money if it had come out of current spending; he may even be right about that.

That is something we can debate on - should we have forced the confrontation in Iraq? Should we fund the war in Iraq by raising taxes, cutting services, or borrowing? Or rather, what balance between these three should we use? Those are valid policy questions. "He voted for it before he voted against it" is not.

Let me be clear that while I see Republicans engaging in more of this sort of misrepresentation, there is a similar systematic misreading in slogans like "Bush lied; people died," or "No war for oil," or "George Bush is a deserter." The politics of personal destruction cross party lines -- look at Ann Coulter's critics -- and I don't like it at all.

More on this in the post on media bias that I will write later today.

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Red Ted
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Muller v Malkin

In the background I am streaming the WHYY radio broadcast of the debate between Michelle Malkin and Eric Muller. It is a frustrating thing to listen to. Malkin is working desparately to prove that there was at some point a military rationale for the camps, and then argues that because there was some military background then NONE of the crucial decisions were bad policies based on racial prejudice. Muller, meanwhile, is constantly showing that the people who implemented and shaped the policy of getting Japanese-Americans off the West Coast were driven by racist assumptions, suggesting that the procedural implementation of the Japanese internments means that the real decision was racial not military.

I have to admit that I am biased toward's Muller's position. He did, after all, do extensive research in the primary documents while Malkin did a quick read through selected documents. He is aware that procedural matters have more to do with real, working justice, than do stated goals. She looks at laws and has very little sympathy for other people's pain, he looks at experience and hopes that our nation can do better.

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August 24, 2004

Kid stuff

Today the toddler turns two.

It is hard to think that he has been around for two years. They have been good years, for it is wonderful to watch him grow and change. They have also been frustrating years; my writing should have been done a long time ago.

Happy birthday little dude

potty stuff

We have been working on potty awareness the last few weeks. He now pretends to use his potty, sometimes asks to use the potty, and is in the early stages of potty training. Next time I buy diapers, they will probably have to be pull-ups. (I suspect he is trying to potty train because he does not like to have his diaper changed.)

Last night he asked to sit on the potty. We perched him on it, and he proceeded to pee. Of course, we had not gotten the splash-guard into place -- J was distracted and thought he was just playing pretend. So, we hit a new milestone yesterday - the first day the boy peed all over the bathroom floor. I am sure there will be many more.

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Red Ted
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Final 400 meters post.

We all have things we get obsessive about. Sheila O'Malley gets obsessed with actors and directors. I get obsessed with physical activities, particularly things that can be broken down into discrete components and then perfected. I am actually afraid of the game of golf for I know that if I get hooked I will literally spend hours breaking down and rebuilding my swing.

One of the things I have obsessed on in the past is sprinting. Watching the sprinters this year I finally figured out why I have huge traps, the muscles that rise from the shoulders to the neck, despite not being all that strong. I was a high school sprinter, and the sprinting motion builds traps, and we wear the body we build for ourselves as adolescents. Genetics plus activity equals body shape.

I stayed up to watch the 400 last night. I read for class with the gymnastics turned down low, then put my work down and turned up the volume when the interesting stuff came on the TV. It was a good race, a classic battle between the two 400 strategies.

Otis Harris ran the way I described below. He went out very hard with a great quick start. He then drove hard on the first turn and was ahead at the start of the back straight. He worked fast down that straight, increasing his lead, then powered through the third and fourth turns and tried to hold on at the end. This is the recipe for a fast time, and he ran a personal best. Alas, he also started to lock up in the last 30 meters or so - you could see is motion contracting, his face bugging out in pain.

Jeremy Wariner, by contrast, ran a more tactical race. He did not press at the start, relaxed through the back straight despite moving quickly, and then drove hard through the turn and raced to the finish. This is an approach that usually helps a runner win the race, but does not always lead to the fastest time -- it is psychologically much easier to run someone down than to hold someone off. In his case, however, he has a wonderful built in clock, and hit the 200 split right where he wanted to and with enough energy for the finish. He also ran a personal best, and won in the last 30 meters edging Harris at the end.

It was a great race.

I was wondering why track and field is not more popular in the U.S.. On the one hand, the sprint events are easy to grasp - almost everyone has run around a track once. The athletes are visible, wearing a little less clothing than modern basketball players, and their personalities come through clearly. There are lots of breaks for snack foods between heats and between events; a day at the races can be a good time, with the same relaxation between exertion that you get between pitches in baseball, plays in football. And yet, it is not popular.

I suspect that this is because almost every event has a new cast of runners. You can not, for example, put your binoculars on the split end and watch his duel with the corner back play after play after play. You can not see a pitcher work his way out of a jam, or a jump-shooter regain his touch, or a rebounder get mad. Instead each race is largely self-contained. This leads to a lack of narrative, and so a track meet instead of being a single, coherent, athletic event, is a montage of moments, each compelling, but not all connected.

Dual and triple meets, like what you find all spring at your local high school, do have a narrative. People run in multiple events, there is a focus on points, and even the person who gets beat badly can still pick up a point for the team by coming back to third.

Come spring, check the local high-school and college schedules, and consider taking a box of chicken and some soda down to the track. Watching a race, a contested race or especially a person struggling in a race, is oddly compelling. For that matter, every town has a marathon, half-marathon, or high-profile road race these days. Toddle down and spend a weekend morning shouting encouragement at the runners. It is a good spectator sport because they can hear your cheers, your cheers mean something to the runner, and the crowd and the athlete combine to create a moment of shared performance.

I took a nap this morning after my jog. As I lay there, I dreamed about sprinting.

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Red Ted
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Comment Policy

I have been getting one to five comment spams a day, and to cut down on their prevalence I have told MT not to post comments until I approve them.

If the spams continue I will go to a typekey registration comment system, because it gets tedious to ban an ip here and ban an ip there.

Posted by
Red Ted
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Reading: Baker, Buchanan; Massie, Castles of Steel; Moriarty, Center of Everything

Three more books on the reading blog, things I finished over the last week or so.

I also blitzed through Franklin's Autobiography, Frederick Douglass' pamphlet on the 5th of July and Lyman Beecher's Plea for the West today while abridging them for the kids. I don't really intend to count those on the reading log.

Jean Baker, James Buchanan

Robert Massie, Castles of Steel

Laura Moriarty, Center of Everything

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Red Ted
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August 23, 2004

Grrr - wasted day

I hate days like this.

I just did not focus, did not work (edited a couple of items for the semester), did not get housework done, or yardwork, or errands, or projects. I just sat.

I am dreadfully self indulgent; I have trouble focusing; I procrastinate like nobody's business. I fear I am in the wrong profession.

I am not happy right now. Will try to get SOMETHING done tonight. I only have a week before classes start.


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Red Ted
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August 20, 2004

A different sport than what we play

More Olympics commentary.

Some of the newspaper articles at the start of the game made this point, and J made it independently while watching volleyball. The sports played in Greece during this sports festival have only a passing resemblance to the sports we play ourselves.

It can be a matter of form: the racing breaststroke is a very different movement than the recreational swimmer's breaststroke - when was the last time you lunged your head up and out of the water in order to mimic a Cheetah's body motion? The volleyball, badmitten, and other ball sports are played at a speed and intensity far removed from what you find in the average backyard.

Similarly, as I think the New York Times pointed out before the games, the motion that top level runners use while propelling themselves across the ground is both like and unlike the motion that you see from joggers in the park - different foot strike, arm motion, and hip rotation just to begin with. Top level runners are blessed with the wind and mechanics that makes it possible for them to jog at a 5:30 pace. To put that into perspective, when I was running road races I ran in the middle of the pack, generally finishing in the front third of the pack, back third of the men in their 30s. My fastest adult mile was a 6:03 in my mid 30s - just missed the 6:00 mark after training for it for a couple of months.

The mechanics, wind, and training for all these sports is both like and unlike what we do ourselves.

They start the 400 meters today, my favorite difficult pleasure. We have all run around a track, if only in grammar school. When I ran high school track I was coached to run it hard: drive into the first turn to set up a pace; come out of the second turn and try to relax while floating down the back stretch, moving fast but without pressing; lean into the third turn and begin to drive; let your momentum kick you out of the fourth turn and sprint for home. The human body is only "naturally" set up to sprint for about 300 meters, and this is a 400 meter race, so if someone has not trained correctly or has gone too fast for their training, you will see their muscles lock up in that fourth turn and it will look as if they have literally hit a wall while everyone else runs past them. The 400 is a race about guts, desire, and hard training.

Of course, at a world class level, ever since Eric Liddel in 1924, the 400 has been a simple sprint and you don't see real wall hitting or relaxed running until you move up to the 800. The 400 is still my favorite track event, even though I sucked when I raced that distance in high school.

Next time you are out running and go past an open track, detour and take a hard lap. It is a difficult pleasure, but it is a very GOOD pleasure.

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Ab Flab!

Ab Flab! Or, Middle Aged men and the people who love their bouncing love handles.

I went running shirtless in the park today, and while wandering back I came up with this little poll.

Under what circumstances should a pudgy middle-aged man take his shirt off:

A: While jogging in the park
B: While watering the lawn
C: While playing with the baby
D: While taking a shower
E: While having sex
All of the above
none of the above
All but A
All but B
All but C
All but D
All but E

I decided not to make "Whenever he feels like it" a choice - if that is your call then simply say "all of the above."

I voted "All but C" -- the boys both have clutching, grasping little hands that pull my chest hair.

Other than that random thought, it was a nice run. Jogged a mile at 11:00 pace, then ran some running drills that exposed just how much work I still have to do. Lets just say that working on about a 30 yard grass course, I was able to finish a set of 4 striders, unable to finish either the set of 2 knee-slappers or the set of 2 butt-kickers. But I do like running drills and intervals. I am a little twisted that way.

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August 19, 2004

See Lance Ride

Eric Neel of ESPN has a wonderful column talking about the new Nike commercial featuring Lance Armstrong.

The ad is simple and powerful, and very effective.

Nike has its corporate roots in college track, and their Just Do It campaign is a reminder to all of us of the pleasure that comes with bodily motion and physical activity. As Neel points out, this particular paen to exertion manipulates our emotions -- as do most Nike ads -- but it does it so well that neither he nor I mind the journey.

Of course, I run in New Balance because they are the best shoes for my knees, but I do approve of the way that Nike is combining good business with good public health.

"Just DO it" is not such a bad slogan for life in general.

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August 18, 2004

I cast magic missile

Shamelessly stolen from Jeff Freeman, including the caption:

I cast magic missile

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Reading: Pirates of the Caribbean; Sedgwick New-England Tale.

Two more entries in the reading log.

The movie Pirates of the Caribbean and
the 1822 novel A New-England Tale by Catherine Sedgwick.

Now that is a strange juxtaposition.

Oh, and one random rant.

I wish that DVDs came with a double soundtrack -- dialogue and everything else -- with separate volume controls for each. I have to watch modern movies with the volume control in hand, turning up the talking bits and turning down the soundtrack. The one is too quiet, the other blasts and blares. Computer games have separate volumes for music and effects, so the technology is not all that difficult if only we can create a market for it.

The extra volume is particularly noticable because I run the DVD sound through the big stereo and, well, it has the potential to be very loud indeed. Even with closed-cabinet speakers which suck up power at higher volumes, the beast can play louder than my ears can listen. I run movies at about 3 on the volume control, except when they whisper and I go up to 4, or the scene changes, and I go down to 2.

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August 17, 2004

Spam email header of the day.

This one just amused me, it was so very bizarre:

Re: his lawful beldame nags
People talk about found art, objects picked up and arranged to create a statement. This is found poetry, the product of some random word generator combining to create a phrase that makes the reader pause to try to figure out what is going on.

It makes me wonder what sort of a short story would start with the line "His lawful beldame nags."?

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Red Ted
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Move On Please?

This amused me: Move On Please.

I agree with moveon's goals, but in many ways they are the geeky over-excited kid of politics, jumping around and making themselves obnoxious.

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One musical instrument?

Fuz asks if you could suddenly learn one musical instrument what would it be?

I said bagpipes! because that was what jumped out of my mouth when I read the question. Why? I guess that bagpipes are cool - whenever a band is playing and the pipes kick in, everyone cheers. It was the instant answer, and the instant answer is usually a good guide to what you really want.

As a practical matter, if I wanted to have skill on an instrument so that I could play tunes for myself, I would probably call for flatpicked acoustic guitar. I have a guitar down in the music closet, and I used to bash around on it, but I never got past basic chording. I also have a hammered dulcimer and a bodran in there. None of them get played - time and energy.

The toddler has his own answer: "dhum! dhum!". We are doing something a little scary, and buying him a drum for his 2nd birthday. We may regret this decision.

What would you pick? I think this is a great meme.

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August 16, 2004

Deat heat with molasses?

I checked the time for todays run. I did about a mile and a quarter (estimated loop) in about 13 minutes. It works out to (probably) a little faster than 11:00 pace.

That is slow, but it is not slower than molasses. In fact, I think I could probably race molasses to a photo finish. This is good news.

The better news is that after the first half mile, which is always hard for me, I got my wind and my pace and could probably have run longer. Perhaps this weekend I will start adding more distance.

And now I get to go schedule xrays for my knees, just to see what is happening.

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More Olympics

Something I forgot to point out last Olympics entry.

During the opening ceremonies, one of the most effective moments whas when a runner carrying the Olympic flag circled the track, breaking paper banners along the way. Each banner represented a set of games, and as he burst the tape the announcer told the city and year.

About a quarter of the way, the runner tripped and fell forward, landing prone and looking stunned for a moment. All gasped, including us at home, and then the announcer said "1916, World War One," and we understood what had happened as the runner stood and continued.

After a few more tapes, the runner paused, deliberately knelt on one knee, dipping the flag before him in salute. The announcer said "The Second World War" and there was a pause, and then he continued.

I was struck by the difference in the two representations. The first was a sudden stumble, a shocking collapse from what had been a triumphant progress. The second was an homage to the dead, an act of conscious remembrance.

We live in the world that we remember, and I was struck by the very different ways of remembering the first and second acts of the 20th century's three act tragedy.

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Reading update

I have gone over a week without updating the reading log. Then I did a lot all at once this morning.

Ringo & Evans Road to Damascus did not finish.
John Ringo The Emerald Sea should have watched Gilligan's Island instead
Sarah Zettel In Camelot's Shadow We like Gawaine!
Clancy & Zinni Battle Ready highly recommended
Greg Critser Fat Land polemic about a public health crisis

Still nibbling away at Jean Baker James Buchannon, Robert Massie Castles of Steel, Taubman's bio of Krushchev, and Trenchard and Gordon Cato's Letters.

And so to abridge readings for the kids.

Edit, forgot that I had also gutted
Garry Wills, Under God for work.

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August 14, 2004

Olympic Miscellany

J and I have been watching the Olympics off and on.

I am interested in watching weightlifting and track and field - both sports I once did. J watches womens sports, all of them, and men's gymnastics and diving and such. J sez that swimmers make better eye candy than gymnasts - "some of the swimmers are a little soft, but most gymnasts look like mutants."

We had great fun watching the parade of nations on Friday. Of course, we did not take notes, and now I don't really remember who wore what, who we thought were spiffy, or any of it. (Other than that the Irish looked goofy with the striped jackets and green visors).

One of the big questions is who do you root for when there is no American in the final? I find myself rooting for the Iraqis (obviously), also for Turkey, Holland, and Russia. I find myself rooting against China and Bulgaria, just on general principles. J, on the other hand, roots against the Russians and Germans. She knows this is emotional echos of Jewish politics, "but there you have it."

Finally, I am a little cranky about the TV scheduling. There are a few things I would like to see. Today, for example, there was an absolutely marvelous performance in the women's 48kg weightlifting. The winner, a 104 lb woman, and the second place finisher, also 104 lbs, both lifted 209 lbs overhead in a single motion. (The gold medal lift 4 years ago had been in the 170s, 15% improvement in 4 years is a LOT!) The Turk won, the favored Chinese woman came in second. NBC did not show it, not on any of their goofy channels, after indicating that two or three different time blocks would contain the 48kg finals.

I just hope that I can chase up a webcast of the crucial lifts, just like I watched the Democratic Convention on webcasts after the fact.

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August 12, 2004

I am NOT getting old. Not!

I am NOT getting old. Not!

Or so I try to tell myself.

But then I run into contrary evidence, often from unexpected angles.

The cute little hound that I got when I finshed coursework now has white hair on her belly. Worse, her hips are just beginning to go - if she runs off lead she gets a little hitch in her stride.

So, no more jogging for the hound. She can still keep up with a brisk walk; if the weather is not too hot and humid she can even outwalk me. We still have many years left on this dog, and she is still playful, but she is middle aged.

And so, alas, am I.

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A good run

Sore knees are pesky. Chest colds are pesky. The combination has kept me from running for a couple of weeks now.

Strollers are heavy and hard to push. Hounds are easily tired and hard to drag.

I was very glad - ran a mile and a quarter, slowly but with good form. Of course, J had the kids so there was no stroller, and I had walked the hound a mile earlier this morning and then left her home so there was no canine speed brake. Running is much easier without those.

Now lets see how my knees respond.

But it did feel good to just go and run, and I seem to have retained enough fitness to use an efficient stride rather than the novice shuffle.

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August 11, 2004

Oof Dah

Dear Advisor,

Attached is a complete draft of the beast, less introduction and conclusion which are not yet written.

Chapter 1 - 61 pages plus 4 pages of notes
Chapter 2 - 63 pages plus 8 pages of notes
Chapter 3 - 59 pages plus 15 pages of notes, 4 page appendix
Chapter 4 - 49 pages plus 12 pages of notes, 6 page appendix

The first two chapters still need to be thickened and notes added.

Have a good weekend. I am off to revise my syllabus.

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Heart Rate and Exertion

A friend is complaining because her heart rate monitor is telling her that she is not getting nearly as much exercise as she thought she was getting.

Erm, let me share a deep dark secret with you.

Measuring exertion by heart rate is a loose approximation unless you have TWO crucial data points to work with: resting heart rate and maximum exertion heart rate. You know the first, and with that you can estimate exercise ranges. The only way to find the second is to test for it - and if you have a weak heart the test might test to destruction. So check with doctor before trying this one.

Basically, wearing the monitory, run 800 meters hard, rest 20 seconds, then run 800 meters full out as hard as you possibly can. That should spike your heart rate to its maximum.

Of course, if you can't run hard for twice around a track, you can't use this test. There are other variations, usually involving a treadmill and a doctor's office. For most of us, we don't need it. We can use the 3 basic tests.

Light: you can sing
Moderate: you can hold a conversation
Hard: you can speak a few words but not converse

Those are as accurate and perhaps more useful than any heart rate monitor in the absence of a full data set.

If you still want the monitor, check to see if it is estimating ranges using the ballpark measure or using the formula that accounts for increase over resting heart rate. The latter is more useful for folks with low resting heartrates. 54 is a pretty good resting heart rate. I think it is lower than mine these days.

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August 10, 2004

Things not to do !

The Washington Post has a disturbing article on the use of hot sauce as a punishment for young children. Parents, mostly in the authoritarian-with-hugs style, apply a drop of the sauce to a child's tongue as punishment for transgressions involving the mouth - biting, speaking rudely, and so on.

It is a terrible idea. It is dangerous - hot sauce can cause serious reactions. It uses pain as a coercive device. It is effective, but only because it is so painful. I, as an adult who likes hot sauce, blink a little when I get a dash of tabasco on my tongue.

The correct way to use hot sauce is to put it on the kids' food, when they ask for it, and then mix it in so there is no one hot spot. Our toddler eats spicy food, in part because we feed him what we eat and we eat a moderate level of spiciness.

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Swift Boat Nixonites for Bush

I probably should have chosen a more polite title for these guys. I didn't. Then again, I did not call them raving moonbats either although I should have after their ranting about Kerry's medals.

What bugs me about these guys, and about the warblogger and bushblogger embrace of them, is that they have three points that they are completely merging and mangling.

The first is the whole "all Vietnam veterans were involved with war crimes" thing - something that has them frothing at the mouth. The second is John Kerry's role as an anti-war activist in the 1970s. The third is whether or not JK made up stories during his anti-war activism.

On the first of these, all the Nixonites have to offer is outrage. Kerry offered up a syllogism in the 1970s, and all O'Neil's efforts and all their rage do nothing to challenge the syllogism. At the lowest common denominator, Kerry pointed out that the Geneva Convention regards free fire zones as a war crime. The American military made such extensive use of free fire zones during the Vietnam war that every serviceman either participated in one or supported someone who participated in one. Therefore, all who served were complicit in war crimes. They have never challenged this syllogism; they have just expressed outrage that JK could accuse veterans who did not think they did anything wrong of participating in war crimes. Until they tackle this logic, they are moonbats.

The second, connected to the first, is Kerry's role as an anti-war activist. His actions in the 1970s got O'Neill and Nixon involved with countering him. In addition, his high-profile status led to him presenting the findings of the Winter Soldier investigation to Congress. To the best of my understanding, that investigation made some stuff up. To the best of my understanding, Kerry had no reason to challenge their findings at the time, and presented their material for them in good faith. To the best of my understanding, Kerry distanced himself from the Winter Soldier crowd after he learned more about their details. As many have pointed out, Kerry's role here is one that many find offensive, but the specific actions are a sub-set of the larger question:

What should a patriot who wants to improve his country do when he sees his country engaged in what he believes to be an immoral war? Do you shut up because it is wartime? That is the route to moral hell. Do you only say things that you have good evidence for? You try to do that. Do you remain silent in the face of emotional appeals to continue the war, or do you manufacture your own emotional appeals against that war? And, finally, what should the United States have done in 1975? In 1972? In 1968? In 1965? In 1963? In 1956? In 1954? At every stage in the American involvement in the region, creating, propping up, and then abandoning the South Vietnamese government, there were several alternatives. And, at every stage the war path seemed prudent given the assumptions of the Cold War and the domestic politics of Cold War Liberalism.

Finally, of course, we have the Cambodia story that the warbloggers are focusing on this week. If things are as they describe it, then it looks like someone was making up stories to make a rhetorical point. Given the past history of right wing smears, I rather suspect that they have left bits out. But that is my skepticism, based on politics over the last 15 years or so.

I did not discuss the entire moonbat stuff about Kerry not deserving medals. That whole line of argument is a return to stupid cop tricks by the right - we know he is guilty, so lets frame him for something. The arguments about Kerry's medals are not credible. They lower the credibility of the Swift Boat Nixonites' entire position. They are a big lie, with all the power and pitfalls of a big lie.

Like James Joyner, I was surprised by the extent to which the Kerry campaign and the Democratic Convention focused on Vietnam. I can see why they did it - they were pre-empting any Republican attempt to pull a Max Cleland on Kerry. But, it had the downside of giving legitimacy to the Swift Boat Nixonites for Bush.

I still say we should re-defeat Dubya in 2004.

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Most Liberal Senator

I thought that line about the most liberal senator was bogus. And so it is.

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August 09, 2004

Comment Spammers

I got hit by comment spammers again. So, I am trying something. I will post their email a few dozen times in the extended entry in the hope that the spammer trolls will harvest it. If nothing else, it feels good to try to exert a little cheap revenge.

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Syllabus fun

Well, the weather turned crisp, which means that it is time to update the syllabus for next semester.

After last time I have made a few changes:

  • dropped the monograph
  • moved the course packet from paper coursebook to electronic reserve
  • edited the course packet - still doing this
  • dropped the paper that was due on the monograph, which means re-arranging the colonial era to better fit what we will be doing.
  • changed the paper topic on Uncle Tom's Cabin so that they can write what they want so long as they include at least two of the items from the class reserves. This should reduce plagarism to cut-and-paste subsections of the paper, and that is fairly easy to spot.
  • promised a bonus on the class grade to anyone who will have shown me proof that they voted in November.
  • decided to abridge some of the longer primary documents
  • decided to add documents on the Salem Witch Trials
  • made some minor changes in what to read each week.
  • arranged to host a mirror of the page on my homepage
  • decided to use a few mp3s on the web page and perhaps as in-class music.

I still have to re-read the text, double check the documents, pick the rest of the music, and do the abridgments. But much of that is donkey work.

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Spice >> Peaches

Sunday we made our second batch of peach jam. The first batch was pretty good. These peaches were from a different grower. They were thin and juicy - I blame the recent Biblical torrents of rain - and so we decided to make peach spice jam instead of just plain peach.

Now I know.

3 pounds 4 pounds of watery peaches with soft spots makes 4 cups of peeled, pitted, chopped peaches. If you combine these with:
4 clove berries (the soft ball at the top of the stick)
8 allspice berries, crushed
20 grates of nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cinammon
3 tbsp fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/2 tbspn walnut oil (the new batch is tasteless and boring, wah)
1 packet pectin

bring to a boil add
5 1/2 cups of sugar

and make it into jam.

Well, what you get tastes like spice cake, not like peach jam. The spices are absolutely overwhelming.

I am just glad I resisted the urge to add powdered ginger and just a pinch of mustard, otherwise I would have made liquid gingerbread.

I am not sure if this is one to give away or one to use as an ingredient in other food - the spice might actually work in the middle of a jelly roll.

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August 05, 2004

Reading the whole thing

So, yesterday I printed out the entire monster and since then I have been reading and scribbling, working to make sure that the four chapters talk to one another.

Chapter one is thin, I know that and have plans for further research. But it does move along nicely.

Chapter two needs its notes fixed and needs a bigger discussion of Sabbatarians. But it moves along nicely.

Chapter three bogs down, and is also the most polished of all the chapters. It is also a very different piece than the others - explaining what benevolent organizations are while the other chapters make arguments about what laws and civil religion meant.

Chapter four put me to sleep. This is a bad sign.

And back to chapter four.

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Methods and Conclusions

Winston Smith, the dreaded Philosoraptor, explains that he dislikes most of the current political commentary because folks ignore reason and process in order to come up with their desired conclusions.

I caught clips from Bill O'Reilly's interview of Michael Moore. Now, both of these guys are full of shit. I tend to dislike Moore less since I'm more inclined to agree with many of his conclusions; however I think conclusions are less important than most people think they are. I'm more inclined to identify someone as an ally because his methods of inquiry are rational than I am to identify that person as an ally because I happen to agree with his/her conclusions. Moore is willing to distort the facts when they don't support his preferred conclusion, and that is the cardinal sin in all inquiry, including political inquiry.
I have to say that I agree with him. I will accept a good argument if it proves me wrong about something. I hate a bad argument even if it is for a true point. And, alas, far too much of the GWB crowd has been along the lines of "the sky is blue because the cat pissed on it." "Why are you complaining about the details of cat piss - can't you see that the sky is blue!" And then, of course, spending billions on airborne cat piss reduction initiatives. Or not, depending on whether pissing cats produce jobs.

You know, I think I need a better metaphor. I also need to clean the @&^#%$ catbox.

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August 04, 2004

More reading lists

Following Phil Carternew Army reading lists, discussed below, Stryker has posted the Air Force version.

I have not read any of these. More books to the in shelfshelves.

But for now, I am off to sleep. Well, after I finish reading Sgt. Mom's most recent wonderful story about raising a daughter while on active duty. You have to like any story that begins

“Mom? Is it OK if we stop by the bar on the way home from Vacation Bible School?” asked my daughter one morning in the summer of 1989 or so, and I confess that I had lived overseas for so long at that point, that it took me at least five minutes to realize that to most Americans there would be seeing something seriously out of whack about that sentence. Especially since I replied,
“OK, sweetie, just call me when you get home.”

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Day Care Dilemna

Come the fall, day care drop off and pickup will shift from being a J-task to being a Ted-task. As part of the shift we are looking into shifting the boys from the center near J's work to a center near the house. Having them by work was crucial when J was hopping over at lunch to breastfeed the infant. But, with us planning to wean the littler man from his mid-day nursing later this month, now we can pick something a little more convenient and a little bit cheaper - J works in the high-rent suburb.

So far we have it narrowed down to three possibilities: the clean structured place, the happy chaos, and an in-home provider.

The clean structured place is a newer building, very spiffy, with well credentialed teachers. They have been open under a year and are very certainly catering to anxious yuppies - the doors are alarmed, there are security cameras, the classrooms are all separate. They do some very good things - they pay their staff well and so far have very little turnover, a constant problem in daycare. They follow an integrated curriculuum and do a very good job of preparing kids for kindergarten - most of their 4 year olds can read. And, from my visit, the kids were all happy.

The happy chaos has been in business for 15 years, and several of the junior staffers are people who attended the day care as kids: lifers. There are often kids wandering out of the classroom and into the director's office to visit and get a hug, it is noiser and not as well climate controlled, but it is a happy noise - no crying kids here. They do less teaching, more playing with symbols. I suspect that fewer of their four year olds can read, but I suspect that their two year olds have a more playful day.

Where the first center handles fights over toys by "setting up the children to succeed" - and handing everyone the same toy at the same time, the second place handles it by separating the kids and encouraging them to share. It is more like a family, less like an institution.

Which will we move to? I don't know. We are casual sloppy yuppies. Still, it is a worthwhile reminder that good day care comes in many flavors.

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I am now the top entry when you google on red ted!

Alas, I am still 3rd for redted.

Clearly I need to scribble more.

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Red Ted
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Comedy is HARD

Joshua Marshall suggests that Democrats need more humor as they attack GWB and friends. Matthew Yglesias supported the idea. I tried to write a funny. I did. But it came out as tragedy. Then I tried again, and it just came out as a clever bit of pop culture.

Clearly, I need to work on my humor.

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Tragedy and Farce

Karl Marx comments someplace that when history repeats itself, the first time is tragedy and the second time is farce.

Elsewhere many have commented about life imitating art, art imitating life, and various iterations of the two.

I was thinking about these two things and realized that the Bush approach to Iraq imitates the underwear gnomes, and that contrary to Marx's prediction, here we have a tragedy imitating a farce. Let me explain.

The underwear gnomes have a guaranteed 3 part plan for world domination.
1, Steal all the underwear
2, ???
3, Rule the world.

They know their plan will lead to world domination, they are sure that it starts with stealing all the underwear, but they just don't know what that crucial intermediate step might be. It is quite funny.

Now look at the long term Bush strategy for the war on terror.
1, Topple Saddam Hussein
2, ???
3, Spread democracy throughout the Middle East, undermining the support for islamofascism.

This is the Wolfowitz plan, the plan that I still think underlay the Iraq invasion. (The next most plausible alternative is that they invaded Iraq because it was on their to-do list, and it seemed like something they could get done.) As I posted earlier, the Wolfowitz plan was a high-risk high-reward approach.

The first and third steps are both good. We can all agree that SH was a bad man, a vicious Stalinist dictator, a man who once had WMD, who was assumed to still have them, and who would probably have re-started his WMD programs if he could have somehow escaped the sanctions, inspections, and no-fly zones.

Spreading democracy is intuitively acceptable to those of us who believe in American exceptionalism and in the promise of democracy. I support that approach, although I would have started with soft power in the centers of gravity in the Middle East - Egypt, Iran, Arabia - rather than with an invasion in a place that could just as easily have remained isolated and contained.

In the long run the conflict against islamofacism will continue until the haters become as isolated and ignored in the Middle East as, say, Christian Identity hate groups are isolated and ignored in the United States. Spreading democracy, human rights, and perhaps an Islamic Reformation, are the best way to make these lasting changes. So the first step is a perfectly reasonable step, and the final goal is probably the best long-term strategy for the War on Terror. Why am I upset about it?

The tragedy comes from the missing part 2 in their plan. The Bush crew assumed success. They assumed it so darn completely that they made almost no plans for the immediate aftermath of the invasion - they were expecting to be providing tents and emergency food supplies to a semi-coherent and broadly accepted interim government. Instead, because of this lack of planning, the military was left holding the bag and improvising. They have done a remarkable job considering the handicaps they have been under - no plan, unclear support, no international legitimacy to provide moral cover for nation-building, and a Bush administration that systematically undermined the rebuilding process.

What do I mean? Well, you attack a problem very differently if you assume that things will work out than if you assume it will be a close-run thing that might fail. If things will work out, then you don't really have to worry about the details. Instead you can hire staffers based on their political credentials back home, send folks over to pad their resumes, freeze out the local experts, freeze out anyone who might interfere with your turf, and use the place to experiment with your favorite social and political theories. And that is exactly what the Bushies have done. Like the WW1 Russian general who armed the entire army with baynets and sabers because everyone knew that cannon, explosive shells, and machine guns were unreliable things and battles are only really decided by cold steel, Iraq would be a farce except for the human costs. Those costs turn it into a tragedy, the worst sort of tragedy for it is one caused not by random chance, not by a clash of opposites, but by unthinking hubris and a tendency to play politics with everything, including national security.

The poor planning and execution of the Iraq invasion and occupation have made the long term project of spreading democracy and human rights in order to undermine islamofascism more difficult. I hope Kerry and the Democrats can deploy a better mix of hard and soft power, a better group of allies, and a better nation-building team and thus salvage Iraq. I have no hope for the Bush administration. I don't know whether Dean's cut-and-run or Bush's willful blindness would be worse, but I fear that we will find out.

Finally, the gaps in part two of the plan make it incredibly frustrating to read many of the warbloggers. They pound and pound on points one and three, points I agree with and that many Americans agree with. They ignore point two, which is where the whole thing breaks down.

Posted by
Red Ted
at 12:33 PM | TrackBack
August Calendar

Beach Boys and the Patriot Act

I knew something was bugging me about the Patriot Act and the way the administration has been using and defending it. The Beach Boys finally explained it for me.

If we deconstruct the story of one of their big hits, a young lady explains to her father that she would like to borrow his car to go to the library. He agrees and gives her the keys. She promptly forgets "all about the library, like she told the old man now" and instead goes "driving just as fast as she can now," having "fun, fun, fun till her daddy takes the T-bird away."

The Patriot Act was passed very quickly after 9/11. It contains a mixture of good ideas, law enforcement wish lists, and "it seemed like a good idea at the time." It is a rough draft of a revised criminal code.

In the recent Justice Department releases defending the Patriot Act, Ashcroft has emphasized a lot of cases where the provisions in the act were used to convict non-terrorists of ordinary crimes. He has made a number of vague and ill-defined claims about its power in thwarting or deterring terrorism, and appears to have botched every single Justice Department terror investigation - or more precisely every investigation that has become public has been botched.

Now, it may be that we want to revise our criminal code and investigatory procedures so that the loosened rules in the Patriot Act can be used for ordinary criminal prosecutions. That is a perfectly reasonable proposal and one that deserves debate. I know that I would support several of the changes in the Patriot Act as common-sense ways to update 1920s law to 21st century technology. For example, give investigators the choice between getting a wiretap warrant for a particular phone or on a particular person. If they get a warrant on the person, then they can listen in to anything they can find, but anything they get on any other person is no go.

But, what Ashcroft has done instead is tell us that he needs the T-bird to go to the library, and then he has gone tooling around having fun with his friends. The logical response is to take the T-bird away, even if he whines that he really NEEDS to go to the library. Even if he does, he can find another vehicle.

Alas, Bush and Rove seem to have determined to use the Patriot Act as a litmus test for patriotism. A vote against it, they suggest, is a vote for Osama Bin Laden. And then they praise Ashcroft for his diligence in using the Act in ways that were certainly not intended by Congress when they passed it. I see why Brad DeLong talks about encouraging the grown-up Republicans, because the Bush administration is acting, in far too many ways, like a batch of spoiled children. And it is hurting all of us.

The metaphor breaks down at this point. The daddy in the song can take the T-bird away but is unlikely to disown his daughter. We as voters are likely to respond to GWB's attempts to make the Patriot Act a referendum on his administration by turning them out of office and then hopefully writing a coherent and distinctive set of revised criminal codes and anti-terror codes. Send the daughter to reform school, adopt a nerd, and send HER to the library in the T-bird.

Posted by
Red Ted
at 12:20 PM | TrackBack
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August 03, 2004

Reading Lists

The real danger with reading blogs is that folks refer to books and movies that intrigue me, and then they go onto my reading lists. The reading list grows much faster than I actually read, and the more I look at a blog here and there between writing paragraphs, the more the reading backlog grows.

For example, Stephen Carter points out the Old and New U.S. Army reading lists and I see that I have only read a couple of the things on there: Once an Eagle, The Face of Battle, The Killer Angels, The U.S. Constitution, Ulysses Grant's Memoirs. There are a lot of other good entries.

Meanwhile, in cinema, Sheila O'Malley is having a wonderful game where she gives famous movie lines and her readers guess the movie and character. I get a lot of my movie suggestions from her raves, and now I have several more things on my "Watch this" list.

When I add the science fiction discussions on Volokh, the policy tomes on Drezner and DeLong, and the political commentary on Marshall, Drum, and Yglesias, well, the shelves get mighty heavy mighty quickly.

Still, at least I don't have to complain about not having anything to read.

Posted by
Red Ted
at 09:11 PM | TrackBack
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August 02, 2004

Another quiz

Eden Gardener took this variation on a personality quiz and decided that she came out pretty accurately. I think I came out fairly accurately - although I wonder what result I would get if I channeled memory and took the test with the personality I remember having at 23.

In any case, I "The Slow Dancer" - a deliberate, gentle, love dreamer.

That is not such a bad thing to be - although it reminds me that much as I might enjoy flirting with Eden, I must be careful not to go too far. Unless, of course, J also wants to play ...

Posted by
Red Ted
at 08:37 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
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Recent books

During the last week or so I read
Zachary Karabell, Chester Alan Arthur
Niven & Pournelle, The Burning City
and watched
Secondhand Lions

Karabell is the best of the lot, and he assumes his conclusion.

Posted by
Red Ted
at 01:01 PM | TrackBack
August Calendar