Friday, December 31, 2004

Peevish about Libertarians

Anne Zook is back! Just for a rant, but her rants are some of the finest reading in cyberspace. This time she's pointing out the hypocrisy, shortsightedness, and ahistorical thinking of libertarians. The only thing I'll say in their defense is that they do seem to have their hearts in the right place, and are often fabulous analysts of politics and power due to their sensitivity to liberty and rights. They're not all hypocrites, but huge grains of salt are necessary....

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

New Syllabus Language

History is about real people, diverse cultures, interesting theories, strongly held belief systems, complex situations, conflicts and often-dramatic actions. In certain contexts, this information may be disturbing. Such is the nature of historical study.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Wisdom of the Ancestors

Pirkei Avot, Chapter 3, Mishna 22
"He [Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah] used to say, anyone whose wisdom is greater than his deeds to what is he comparable? To a tree whose branches are many and whose roots are few, and the wind comes and turns it over. As it is said: 'And he will be like a lonely tree in a wasteland, and it will not see when good comes. It will dwell on parched soil in the desert, a salted land, uninhabited' (Jeremiah 17:6). But one whose deeds are greater than his wisdom to what is he comparable? To a tree whose branches are few and whose roots are many, that even if all the winds in the world blow against it, they do not move it from its place. As it is said 'And he shall be like a tree planted on the water, and towards the stream it will spread its roots,and it will not see when heat comes. Its leaves will be fresh, in a year of drought it will not worry, and it shall not cease yielding fruit' (ibid., 17:8)."

Monday, December 27, 2004

Quotations #031

"Give me blood and I will give you freedom" -- Metaji Subhas Chandra Bose

"This Jeffersonian fusion of bourgeois political ideology with classificatory natural science, of power with knowledge, gave race its singular epistemic purchase on Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment thought." -- Patrick Wolfe, "Land Labor and Difference: Elementary Structures of Race," AHR v. 106, n. 3 (June 2001), p. 876.

"Like so many masters of the Delta Blues, John was a master of the single entendre." -- Bill Morrissey on Mississippi John Hurt

"Learn to reason forward and backward on both sides of a question." -- Thomas Blandi

"There's a mighty big difference between good, sound reasons and reasons that sound good." -- Burton Hills

Friday, December 24, 2004

Quotations #030

"We think in order to do." -- unofficial slogan of the journal Race and Class.

Seneca imagines a pupil who says, "Zeno said this." He replies: "What do you say? How long will you march under someone else's banner? . . . Now bring out something of your own." -- from the foreword by Martha C. Nussbaum in: ALIVE AT THE CORE: Exemplary Approaches to General Education in the Humanities, by Michael Nelson and Associates

"And so we are asking for amnesty for the gods of our fathers, the gods of our homeland. It is reasonable to assume that whatever each of us worships can be considered one and the same. We look up at the same stars, the same sky is above us all, the same universe encompasses us. What difference does it make which system each of us uses to find the truth? It is not by just one route that man can arrive at so great a mystery." -- Symmachus, Dispatches to the Emperor, appealing the removal of the traditional altar of Roman Victory from the Senate by a Christian Emperor. Jo-Ann Shelton, ed., As the Romans Did, pp. 390-391.

"A historian has to learn to be forgiving." -- Michael Luick-Thrams

"The meaning of the meaning of life, nor beauty either, has nothing to do with hats." -- Carol Emshwiller, "The Project"

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Hiding and Hyping

Maybe it's a liberal thing, but I nodded all the way through Geov Parrish's above-linked list of overhyped and undersold news of the year. Dead on, as far as I'm concerned. [via the semi-retired Anne Zook, who I just happened to look up the day after she posted this]

Also worth mentioning is Project Censored's 2004 list which is a bit heavier on the negative stuff, but the overlap between the two is considerable.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Top Urban Legends and Net Hoaxes

This list, highly subjective but nicely assembled, is interesting. I think their runners-up should have beat out some of what was on the list, myself, but that's OK.

Highlighting Quotations

As you can see below, I'm going to begin highlighting with boldface the quotations or portions thereof I find most compelling. Italics will continue to be used for emphasis in the original quotations, and book references.

Bonus quotation:

"Few people think more than two or three times a year. I have made an international reputation for myself by thinking once or twice a week." -- George Bernard Shaw

Quotations #029

"To be excited by the same dispute even on opposing sides, is still to be alike. This common stamp, deriving from a common age, is what makes a generation. " -- Marc Bloch, The Historian's Craft, p. 185.

"In history, the fetish of single cause is all too often only the insidious form of search for the responsible person -- hence a value judgment. The judge expresses it as: 'Who is right, and who is wrong?' The scholar is content to ask: 'Why?' and he accepts the fact that the answer may not be simple. Whether as a prejudice of common sense, a postulate of logicians, or a habit of prosecuting attorneys, the monism of cause can be, for history, only an impediment. History seeks for causal wave-trains and is not afraid, since life shows them to be so, to find them multiple. " -- Marc Bloch, The Historian's Craft, p. 193-194.

"Historical facts are, in essence, psychological facts. " -- Marc Bloch, The Historian's Craft, p. 194.

"In a word, in history, as elsewhere, the causes cannot be assumed. They are to be looked for. . ." -- Marc Bloch, The Historian's Craft, p. 197.

"You have confused the true and the real." -- Samuel R. Delany, Dhalgren.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Why does it have to be birthday CAKE?

Just got done making chocolate pecan pies, since I didn't get to make one for Thanksgiving. Should hold a candle just fine.


You can replace "Wimoweh" in "Wimoweh (The Lion Sleeps Tonight)" with "Cream of Wheat."

Weigh up boys, Cream of wheat..... cream of wheat.... cream of wheat.....
Weigh up boys, Cream of wheat..... cream of wheat.... cream of wheat.....

Cream of wheat, cream of wheat, cream of wheat, cream of wheat, cream of wheat, cream of wheat.....


Friday, December 17, 2004

Quotations #028

"Is this a place of many souls or just one very large one?" -- Peter Mayer, "Molly O'Malley's"

"The very progress of our studies is founded upon the inevitable opposition between generations of scholars." -- Marc Bloch, The Historian's Craft, p. 4.

"Historical research with tolerate no autarchy. " -- Marc Bloch, The Historian's Craft, p. 47.

"The act of inventing a lie presupposes an effort which is distasteful to the mental inertia common to the majority of men. " -- Marc Bloch, The Historian's Craft, p. 99.

"Leibniz laid down exact definitions, which deprived him of the agreeable liberty to misuse his terms upon occasion." Fontenelle, in Marc Bloch, The Historian's Craft, p. 175.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Quotations #027

"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government; it can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising them the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship." -- Sir Alex Fraser Tytler (1747-1813; Prof. History, Edinburgh U.) (written pre 1776)

"Not to know what happened before one was born is to remain ever a child." -- Cicero

"I doubt that we can ever find anyone more gullible than an intellectual academic." -- Isaac Asimov, Foundation's Edge.

"All that's quiet is magic." -- Rita Dove, "Eastern European Eclogues"

Asked what he considered education's greatest problem, Nathan Pusey, president of Harvard University, answered "Hardness of heart in the well-educated." (Harvard Magazine, March/April 2002, 98)

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Marketable Idea: Chocolate Dreydl

Trying to explain the unspinnable nature of his chocolate dreydl -- it's just a flat representation with a white chocolate shin -- to my very young son (he can use logic on us, but we can't use it on him) it occured to me that there are at least two ways of making a spinnable chocolate dreydle:
  • Candy Coating. That would make the dreydle strong enough at the shaft and point to spin, not to mention making it possible to use it more than once without melting as you touch it. What I don't know about candy coating is how well it responds to non-rounded shapes. That's for the engineers, right? I think this is the way to go, myself, particularly if dark chocolate is involved.
  • Stick. Run a stick through the center, like a squared-off chocolate lollipop [An engineer friend pointed out that an actual squared-off lollipop, particularly of the chewy chocolate center variety, would fit the bill quite nicely. She's right, and that includes solving the point problem -- except for brittleness -- by having the lollipop be the point.]. A paper stick would probably be cheaper, but would be a problem as a spinning point. On the other hand, the uncoated chocolate wouldn't be good for more than a few spins, anyway (foil coating might lessen this problem). Wood or plastic would be much more stable, though both present environmental and waste problems I'm not sure I want to get into.
Now all I need is an investor, right? Someone with a candy company and some "vision". We can also talk about my idea for dark chocolate candy-coated balls (think of a peanut M&M sized candy filled with bittersweet chocolate).

Quotations #026

"Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man." -- Francis Bacon, "Of Studies"

"Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence." -- Robert Frost

"The discipline of colleges and universities is in general contrived, not for the benefit of the students, but for the interest, or more properly speaking, for the ease of the masters." -- Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations

"Soap and education are not as sudden as a massacre, but they are more deadly in the long run." -- Mark Twain, "Facts concerning the recent resignation."

"Let the children of the rich and poor take their seats together and know of no distinction save that of industry, good conduct and intelligence." -- Townsend Harris

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Damaged Mail

My mail comes in pretty good shape, most of the time. Certainly nothing more than the usual run of bumps and tears and creases. So it's probably coincidence, but it still makes you wonder.....

We don't get a lot of specifically Jewish-themed mail, either; no magazines, or temple bulletins, or consistent mailings from Jewish philanthropies (actually, due to my support of some Native American charities, I'm much more likely to get mailings from Christian groups aimed at helping those communities).

I got a letter from the World Jewish Congress in the mail last week that was damaged. Just a little bit, really, but it was the placement that struck me. The mailing included a "prospective member" card, visible through the envelope window, and what was damaged was the WJC logo -- Star of David with a globe inset surrounded by the WJC name in English and Hebrew -- on the card. It looked like it was abraded or slightly burned, as the plastic window had some dark coloring on the edges of the torn section.

Like I said, most of my mail comes through fine.

Looking behind the curtain

A colleague recently observed a meeting between our Dear Leader (flanked by her "team") and a high muckety-muck from the "home office" and came away quite dismayed. Our problems are not going to be solved by this management, either locally (what do they do to earn their inflated salaries, we wonder) or systemically (not being the flagship has its disadvantages, as does being managed by a bunch of nitwits who aren't respected by their superiors or inferiors).

Meanwhile, our own faculty leadership has rejected a proposal from one department that mirrors the practices of another department in the same division on the grounds that it dilutes the quality of teaching..... as if the exodus of competent but disheartened faculty wasn't doing that? As if the failure to fund service teaching positions that would be self-supporting from tuition alone wasn't doing that? As if the use of statistically meaningless quantitative teachng evaluations wasn't doing that? In the grand scheme of things, this is just petty sniping.

I hate old cliches, but the "circular firing squad" sure comes to mind.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Quotations #025

"The great impediment to action is, in our opinion, not discussion, but the want of that knowledge which is gained by discussion prepatory to action. For we have a peculiar power of thinking before we act and of acting too, whereas other men are courageous from ignorance but hesitate on reflection." -- Thucydides, "The Funeral Oration of Pericles"

"No great historical event is better calculated than the French Revolution to teach political writers and statesmen to be cautious in their speculations; for never was any such event, stemming from factors so far back in the past, so inevitable yet so completely unforeseen." -- Alexis De Tocqueville

"The day is short, the work is great, the workers are tired. But the rewards are great, and the master is pressing. You are not required to finish the job, but neither are you free to leave off from it." -- Rabbi Tarfon, Pirkei Avot.

"The beautiful thing about learning is nobody can take it away from you." -- B.B. King

"History is more or less bunk. We want to live in the present and the only history that is worth a tinker's damn is the history we make today" -- Henry Ford

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Quotations #024

"History doesn't repeat itself, but sometimes it does rhyme" -- Mark Twain (attributed)

"The most violent element in society is ignorance" -- Emma Goldman

"G-d must permeate every aspect of our lives. There cannot be any dark closets in our houses or corners in our hearts which do not allow G-d to enter. The Talmud writes that on the day of judgment the beams of one's own house testify what a person's true behavior was (Ta'anis 11a). We are judged not according to how we behaved to our coworkers or to strangers on the street, but by our behavior to our own family members and in the privacy of our own homes." -- Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld, Pirkei Avot list from, Chapter 1, Mishna 4.

"Gods die. And when they truly die they are unmourned and unremembered. Ideas are more difficult to kill than people, but they can be killed, in the end." -- Neil Gaiman, American Gods (2001: 58-59)

"There's never been a true war that wasn't fought between two sets of people who were certain they were in the right. The really dangerous people believe that they are doing whatever they are doing solely and only because it is without question the right thing to do." -- Neil Gaiman, American Gods (2001: 233)

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Quotations #023

"The flag is a symbol of the fact that man is still a herd animal." -- Albert Einstein

"There is no word that men put in the mouth of God that is not a dangerous lie." -- Paul Park, The Gospel of Corax

"The best substitute for war is intelligence." -- Alice Walker, Code Pink anti-war rally, Washington DC, 8 March 2003

"A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies ... A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. ... There is nothing but a lack of social vision to prevent us from paying an adequate wage to every American citizen, whether he be a hospital worker, laundry worker, maid or day laborer. There is nothing except shortsigntedness to prevent us from guaranteeing an annual minimum -- and livable -- income for every American family." -- Martin Luther King Jr,. Where do we go from here (1967)

"Shortly after assuming the presidency, Saddam summed up his political philosophy: keep opponents off guard. `What is politics?' he asked top officials. `Politics is when you say you are going to do one thing while intending to do another. Then you do neither what you said nor what you intended.'" -- Saddam Hussein, NYTimes 3/18/03

Monday, December 06, 2004

Quotations #022

"Art is whatever makes you proud to be human" -- Leroi Jones (aka Amiri Baraka)

"Ghosts are just history. That's what you feel in a place like this. Ghosts are what you feel when you realize how much bigger and older everything is." -- Alex Irvine, "Vandoise and the Bone Monster"

"Perhaps the chief carriers of Western culture today are those who within its midst most criticize it and demand that it justify itself." -- Kagan, Ozment, Turner, The Western Heritage.

"A bashful person cannot learn, nor can an impatient one teach." -- Hillel

"...The most profound organizational principles of a functional society: manners, ettiquette, social protocol, and civility. Perhaps the real revolution won't happen in the courts or on the streets, but in the society pages, the columns of Dear Abby and Miss Manners, and the newest edition of Emily Post's ettiquette." -- Michael Bronski, "Wedding Bell Blues: The Struggle for Gay Nuptial Notices," Z Magazine, Nov 2002, p. 51.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Quotations #021

"The natural man has only two primal passions: to get and beget." -- William Osler, Science and Immortality

"The terrorist and the policeman both come from the same basket." -- Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent

"Aristotle maintained that women have fewer teeth than men; although he was twice married, it never occurred to him to verify this statement by examining his wives' mouths." -- Bertrand Russell, The Impact of Science on Society

"The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook." -- William James (1890)

"The movement of a civilization is like the spread of measles." -- Fukuzawa Yukichi, "Datsu-a ron"

Friday, December 03, 2004


Perusing a philosophical books catalog, I came across a title and book description so obscure that I had no choice but to look it up:
"Grue!: The New Riddle of Induction

This book contains 15 essays on grue, all by eminent philosophers, as well as an annotated bibliography summarizing everything ever written on grue.
"This is a monumental document in the history of twentieth-century philosophy."

Obviously, I couldn't just let that lie. What's "grue"? How could it be so important? Was I suffering from aphasia or had the philosophical community gone funny on me?

My Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary was no help, defining grue as a Scottish term for shudder.....

Apparently grue is a color..... green, until it turns blue. This is an illustration of the problem of inductive reasoning, as most powerfully laid out by David Hume (18c) who argued that inductive reasoning (generalization from particulars) cannot be logically proven effective except by invoking inductive reasoning with past examples of effective inductive reasoning. This is a very sound circular argument, and as such, unconvincing. "grue" was devised as an example of this problem in 1966, and apparently the cleverness of it caught the philosophical world by storm: how can you tell, the problem goes, whether the grass is green or simply green-for-now (aka grue)?

The scary part is that, now that I know this, it'll probably end up in my lectures somehow.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Thursday Poem: After the Singing

Rod MacDonald is probably best known for his satirical "The Aliens Came in Business Suits" and the immensely powerful "Stop the War" (both lyrics available here)

But for historical reasons (OK, I mostly bought used CDs in my youth) I only own one Rod MacDonald CD, Highway to Nowhere. It starts out inauspiciously, unless you like lyrical retellings of psycho but includes some deeply effective songs. For a long time my favorite was "The Well" which was a terrific metaphor for the call-in support hotline work that I did. Now, though, my favorite from this album, bar none, is the timeless:

After the Singing

When we were sailors we had four songs
one for the girls in the harbor towns
two for the weather
three for the nightwatch
four for the rum that washed it all down
You can't change the wind, only change ths sail
after the singing we would sail on.

When we were soldiers we had four dreams
one for the flashing bombs and the terrified screams
two for the stretchers
three for the marches
four for our sweethearts where our homes had been
some of us made it home
some when down alone
after the dreaming we would fight on.

When we were magicians we had four fires
one for the transforming of desire
two for the cleansing
three for the healing
and four for petitioning the heavenly choir
we made rings of stone
to be remembered long
after the fires had cooled down.

When we were children we had four cups
one for the songs our parents taught us
two to hold the wishes
three to hold the marbles
four for the seasons that came on us
through filed and street
we played hide and seek
after the childhood we would play on.

When we were outlaws we had four kings
one who wore his hair down in golden rings
two who went to war
three who were murdered
four who claimed to rule over everything
though they banned the green
they could not seed the queen
after the kingdom we were free men.

When we were troubadours we had four songs
one for the legends we were handed down
two for the heroes
three for the dancers
four for the stories they passed on
we walked together a time
down these roads of rhyme
after the singing we would move on.

© Rod MacDonald

(the index of other lyrics and poetry I've posted is here)

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

"Liberal" "Silence" on Theo van Gogh murder

A number of conservative and Republican figures have been questioning the lack of visible outrage coming from the traditional left regarding the Dutch situation. Perhaps we don't feel the need to speak out specifically on this issue because we've been arguing for women's rights, free speech and open discourse against religious fundamentalism and suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune as a result For a Long Time Now. In fact, the more you moan and screech about our "silence," the more we wonder if you really care about the issues at all, or if this is just a test to see if you can make us salivate at the ring of your bell. So you johnny-come-lately's who want to jump on the bandwagon are entirely welcome, but you have to realize that the bandwagon isn't empty.

Quotations #020

"No laws are possible in sociology ... for the number of cases is far smaller than the number of variables effecting the outcome." -- Michael Mann, The Sources of Social Power (1988)

"Walter Lippmann once wrote that the function of good journalism is to ensure that people are not surprised. The same can be said of good history. The past historians portray must be one out of which the present can plausibly have grown." -- Eric Foner, "Rethinking American History in a Post-9/11 World"

"Que Se Vayan Todos." [All the Politicians Out] -- Argentinian Anti-IMF/Anti-Corruption slogan, 2001

"As a propogandizer, it is not his work to convince the convinced, but to plead with the unconvinced, which requires him to use their vocabulary, their values, their symbols insofar as this is possible." -- Kenneth Burke, "Revolutionary Symbolism in America," American Writers' Congress, 26 April 1935

"No good model ever accounted for all the facts, since some data was bound to be misleading, if not plain wrong." James Watson, quoted by Francis Crick