27 September 2005 - Tuesday


Henry Adams, The Education of, ch. 5:

The German students [at the University of Berlin] were strange animals, but their professors were beyond pay. The mental attitude of the university was not of an American world. What sort of instruction prevailed in other branches, or in science, Adams had no occasion to ask, but in the Civil Law he found only the lecture system in its deadliest form as it flourished in the thirteenth century. The professor mumbled his comments; the students made, or seemed to make, notes; they could have learned from books or discussion in a day more than they could learn from him in a month, but they must pay his fees, follow his course, and be his scholars, if they wanted a degree.
So, how is this different from the American system?

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Reasons to read blogs

Many people are noticing BibliOdyssey, a history blog specializing in graphics.

Robert Farley makes a case for calling a French officer in The Battle of Algiers one of the most evil characters ever put to film. In fact, he says, "this is the core of twentieth century evil." Via Mark Grimsley.

In three posts, Nathanael Robinson maps out the Annalistes' relationship with geography.

Michael Drout gives the president of the MLA a drubbing for an obfuscatory article about academic freedom: "Prof. Stanton, you write like a committee." Having a copy of PMLA in my book bag right now, I ask whether this can be surprising.

For those looking for alternative scientific theories, Sylwester Ratowt reports on the hollow earth.

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25 September 2005 - Sunday

The light of day

I'm disappointed. The rain stopped completely by Saturday evening; Sunday arrived clear and hot, though with a breeze. I had hoped the weepy skies would last the weekend out.

In any case, the day flew by. I did accomplish a few things -- nine more ILL requests and a somewhat irate e-mail to a professor, for example. At day's close, my conclusion is that I need a vacation.

I don't have traditional senioritis. My focus on the core of my studies is sharper than ever. But I am finding that as this focus narrows, I am interpreting more and more aspects of quotidian life as purely annoying distractions.

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24 September 2005 - Saturday

Stormy weather and time travel

Rain has been pouring since I got up today. The wind is driving it at a steep angle, so people have trouble staying dry at all when they venture outside. My front yard has several low places -- one might say the entire yard is a ditch, actually -- so it is watery. Fortunately, the apartment itself is on higher ground.

The electricity went off a few times this morning, but it has been on for me this afternoon. Right now, I am copying more notes from my Tocqueville books and listening to popular music from World War II. I have a playlist with two and a half hours of vintage recordings.

Sitting at my desk, I face a small window. I have the blinds open so that I can watch the action outside. The storm does not seem threatening at all; there does not seem to be any thunder or lightning. Dry and cool indoors, I find the weather charming.

Time for tea.

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23 September 2005 - Friday

Taking notes

I'm trying out a new toy. My senior research seminar, I decided, calls for a slightly more advanced research management system. The usual Windows folder of text files just isn't going to cut it this time.

So I skipped over to the Center for History and New Media to download Scribe 2.5.

I tried using Scribe once before, actually -- a year or two ago. That time, I found the program confusing and abandoned it. This time, while I still wouldn't exactly call it user-friendly, Scribe seems to be behaving. I guess I now have enough experience with research (and computers) to understand Scribe's eldritch logic. I should reserve judgment, however, until I have used the program a little more.

It certainly looks more useful than Notepad.

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22 September 2005 - Thursday

Favorite sons

The September issue of Perspectives -- which inexplicably arrived in my box only today -- includes an article of immediate interest to me. In "Privileging History: Trends in the Undergraduate Origins of History PhDs," Robert B. Townshend examines data on the undergraduate careers of PhD recipients. His conclusion? The data "serve as an important reminder that the beginnings of an academic career can play an important role in the way it ends."

According to information collected from the federal Survey of Earned Doctorates and from the American Historical Association, a mere 25 undergraduate schools accounted for 26.5 percent of history PhD recipients in 2001-03. The top 200 feeder schools, in fact, accounted for about 70 percent of all PhDs. That is not encouraging for students in somewhat less prominent undergraduate programs.

The good news (maybe) is that the remaining 30 percent of PhD recipients come from a wider pool of institutions than in the past; 633 undergraduate schools sent students on to get history doctorates in the most recent cohort, compared with 530 schools in 1986-88. Perhaps we in the academic nosebleed section have a chance after all.

But according to the Digest of Education Statistics, the US has 1,298 institutions granting bachelor's degrees in social science or history (as of 2001-02). A lot of colleges and universities, it seems, are not sending many of their students on to higher work.

I'm not sure that any of this means much. It's actually kind of obvious that most PhD earners come from the undergrad programs that send the most students to get PhDs; this is a tautology. Furthermore, it is not only obvious but also good that the history doctorate is exclusive; for those of us who intend to get one, the exclusivity provides some hope of securing employment in a few years.

The article is merely a reminder that we undergrads need to work hard and motivate ourselves if we want success in the future -- especially if we are at less demanding schools. This university, frankly, is not going to require me to do what I need to do to prepare for graduate work. It's up to me.

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21 September 2005 - Wednesday

Rain to come

In pure selfishness, I'm looking forward to the prospect of rain in East Texas this weekend. With Rita headed for the Texas coast, we should receive substantial precipitation here. It may make the night of the symphony interesting, of course. Saturday evening, we'll all be dressed to the nines -- tramping along from our cars to the performance hall and then back again. I will be entertained.

My selfish attitude appalls me, though, when I think of the people who are on the road right now, fleeing homes in Galveston and other vulnerable areas. Some of these evacuees will end up at LeTourneau. The administration is already asking us to volunteer any extra dorm space we have, and instructions have been issued for sheltering family members here. Students are also being asked to avoid travel this weekend.

None of this, though, is of much concern to me. My apartment is not likely to be needed for evacuees. The symphony is not likely to be canceled. The streets are not likely to be closed. I did not plan to leave town this weekend. If Rita does to us what Katrina did to us, the biggest annoyance to me will be a temporary lack of milk in the cafeteria. Gasoline prices will probably rise, but I do not have a car at the moment.

Oh, well. I have books to read and papers to write. Rain is welcome here; I am warm and safe.

Update: I should mention that I have some relatives living south of Houston, just a few miles from the Texas coastline. All but one, I'm told, have already reached safer areas; my uncle had to stay to look after a chemical plant.

Further update: Things could get a little more interesting for me after all. After a course correction today:


Weather.com predicts wind at 44 miles per hour on Saturday afternoon. That's considered a fresh gale. And I'm now told that the symphony has been postponed.

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20 September 2005 - Tuesday

Little people

Here's a fascinating Flash-based collection of photographs ... of tiny people working and playing on food. It's in French, but should be fairly easy to figure out. The intro reads, "Who has not dreamed of diving into a chocolate mousse, of digging a cave in cheese or fruit, or of skiing on chantilly?" Come to think of it, this is very French indeed.

Difficult to navigate, though. Click on "minimiam" to enter, then hover over the dot on the right-hand side of the screen to get the menu. Visit the various sections of the "galerie" and use the dots to see all the pictures in each category.

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18 September 2005 - Sunday

Antichrist, or the Reunion of Christendom: An Ode

G. K. Chesterton

"A Bill which has shocked the conscience of every Christian community in Europe." -- Mr. F. E. Smith, on the Welsh Disestablishment Bill.

Are they clinging to their crosses,
F. E. Smith,
Where the Breton boat-fleet tosses,
Are they, Smith?
Do they, fasting, trembling, bleeding,
Wait the news from this our city?
Groaning "That's the Second Reading!"
Hissing "There is still Committee!"
If the voice of Cecil falters,
If McKenna's point has pith,
Do they tremble for their altars?
Do they, Smith?

Russian peasants round their pope
Huddled, Smith,
Hear about it all, I hope,
Don't they, Smith?
In the mountain hamlets clothing
Peaks beyond Caucasian pales,
Where Establishment means nothing
And they never heard of Wales,
Do they read it all in Hansard --
With a crib to read it with --
"Welsh Tithes: Dr. Clifford answered."
Really, Smith?

In the lands where Christians were,
F. E. Smith,
In the little lands laid bare,
Smith, O Smith!
Where the Turkish bands are busy
And the Tory name is blessed
Since they hailed the Cross of Dizzy
On the banners from the West!
Men don't think it half so hard if
Islam burns their kin and kith,
Since a curate lives in Cardiff
Saved by Smith.

It would greatly, I must own,
Soothe me, Smith!
If you left this theme alone,
Holy Smith!
For your legal cause or civil
You fight well and get your fee;
For your God or dream or devil
You will answer, not to me.
Talk about the pews and steeples
And the cash that goes therewith!
But the souls of Christian peoples ...
Chuck it, Smith!

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15 September 2005 - Thursday

History Carnival XVI

The sixteenth History Carnival is up at Respectful Insolence. The collection follows a History Channel theme.

A few selections:

Peter Kirby delivers an introduction to historical method. >>

Brooks D. Simpson discusses what he learned from participating in a television documentary. >>

Mark A. Rayner has found the lost PowerPoint slides of William Wallace. >>

David Noon describes the largest slave revolt in the history of colonial North America. >>

Rob MacDougall examines (and questions) the "Good Flood" of 1927. >>

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13 September 2005 - Tuesday

Good practice

Yesterday, I received word that De la démocratie en Amérique (that is, Tocqueville's Democracy in America), which I ordered some time ago, had finally arrived at the library. I picked it up and started browsing that evening.

Since my friends keep asking, here's why I wanted to have the French version on hand:

There are some countries where an authority, in some way exterior to the social body, acts on it and forces it to march in a certain way.

There are others where the force is divided, being at once placed inside the society and outside of it. Nothing similar is seen in the United States; there, society acts of itself and on itself. Only within it does power exist; one meets nearly no one who dares conceive or above all express the idea of looking for it elsewhere. The people participate in the laws' composition by the choosing of legislators, in their application by the election of the agents of the executive power; one can say that they govern themselves: as long as the role left to the administration is weak and restrained, it shows the effects of its popular origin and obeys the power from which it emanates. The people rule over the American political world as God rules over the universe. They are the beginning and end of all things; everything comes out of them and everything is concerned with them.


There are countries in which some authority, in a sense outside the body social, influences it and forces it to progress in a certain direction.

There are others in which power is divided, being at the same time within the society and outside it. Nothing like that is to be seen in the United States; there society acts by and for itself. There are no authorities except within itself; one can hardly meet anybody who would dare to conceive, much less to suggest, seeking power elsewhere. The people take part in the making of the laws by choosing the lawgivers, and they share in their application by electing the agents of the executive power; one might say that they govern themselves, so feeble and restricted is the part left to the administration, so vividly is that administration aware of its popular origin, and so obedient is it to the fount of power. The people rule over the American political world as God rules over the universe. It is the cause and the end of all things; everything rises out of it and is absorbed back into it.

The first block is my initial rough translation; the second is George Lawrence's translation (1966). The passage comes from the end of part one, chapter four.

I'm fairly pleased with myself, actually.

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A recent call to Dr. Laura

To provide some relief from my current dry spell, I am recycling an entry I first posted more than a year ago.

DR LAURA: Our phone number here, one eight hundred Dr. Laura, one eight hundred D-R-L-A-U-R-A . . . Brianna! welcome to the program!

BRIANNA: Hi, Dr. Laura.

DR LAURA: What's up?

BRIANNA: I have a sort of a -- well, uh, it's a family issue that's, uh, been in the family a long time, and it's just now coming up again. It's causing problems for the family again. And I'm not sure what to do. I don't want it to separate us again.

DR LAURA: What's the problem?

BRIANNA: Well, I thought we had it taken care of, but apparently it's back again. I just don't know what to do. I thought I could finally trust my father. He'd been in counseling, and my mother forgave him and let him back into the house —

DR LAURA: Brianna, OK, Brianna. Brianna, first tell me What your problem is.

BRIANNA: Well, it started a couple of days ago when I found a dead rabbit in our yard.

DR LAURA: A dead rabbit.

BRIANNA: Yeah. Like, ripped apart — like a dog had gotten it, you know?

DR LAURA: OK . . . .

BRIANNA: But we don't have a dog.

DR LAURA: You don't.

BRIANNA: No. Not for three years, in fact.

DR LAURA: I'm not sure where this is —

BRIANNA: We have a fence.

DR LAURA: OK . . . .

BRIANNA: And this rabbit was inside our fence. [Sigh] And that's not all. I also found our trash cans tipped over and the trash bags, like, torn open. [Begins to cry] We put some fish leftovers in there, see.

DR LAURA: I don't see what this has to do with your father, Brianna.

BRIANNA: It's a really heavy trash can. It's so big — It's — It's one of those thick plastic ones, on wheels. And it's, like, four feet high.

DR LAURA: Brianna, you're not listening to me. What does this have to do with your father?

BRIANNA: Well, he . . . and here's the thing. He says he didn't do it.

DR LAURA: Do what?

BRIANNA: Kill the bunny.

DR LAURA: Who says he didn't do it?

BRIANNA: My father.

DR LAURA: You think your father killed the bunny?

BRIANNA: I don't know who else could have done it. Am I wrong to suspect him? 'Cause when I confronted him, he was like, I'm the bad guy because I'm accusing him falsely and I don't trust him and stuff . . . .

DR LAURA: What, you think he ate it?

BRIANNA: Well, that's what I want to know. Am I wrong to suspect him?

DR LAURA: Well, it's, uh, it's really hard for me to sit here and tell you that your father just killed a bunny rabbit. Is there some reason for your suspicion?

BRIANNA: Well . . . it's kind of embarassing to get into this, but . . . .

DR LAURA: What? You called me up. If I'm going to help you, you're going to have to give me the whole story.

BRIANNA: Well, it runs in the family. My grandfather had it too.


BRIANNA: Lycanthropy.

DR LAURA: I see.

[Awkward silence]

BRIANNA: We thought he had it under control. Like, he was in therapy for a year, and he had this support group. But six months ago he stopped going. He said he was cured.

DR LAURA: [Sigh]

BRIANNA: We held him a [sniff] — we held him a party when he got out of the rehab center. We were, like, so happy, and now —

DR LAURA: Well, I don't know what to tell you, Brianna. It sounds as if he's in denial.


DR LAURA: You've talked with him about this? Does your mom know?

BRIANNA: Yeah. She just said . . . like, you know, it's no big deal —

DR LAURA: She thinks this is no big deal?

BRIANNA: Yeah. She said not to worry about it. She said she would talk to him.

DR LAURA: Brianna, your mother is an enabler.


DR LAURA: And there may not be much you can do about it.

BRIANNA: I just feel so —

DR LAURA: Are there any outdoor pets in the neighborhood?

BRIANNA: We live near a park. People walk their dogs there. And our neighbor keeps cats.

DR LAURA: It sounds as if your mother is setting you guys up for major liability, here. As long as she — as long as she tolerates this kind of behavior, your father has nothing to lose. She's enabling his irresponsible behavior.

BRIANNA: Yeah. How can I get her to do something about it?

DR LAURA: Well, I don't know. I think he needs professional help, first of all. Second of all, you need to get him out of that neighborhood and into someplace a little more urban.


DR LAURA: But this is going to be a fairly major adjustment for your mother as well as your dad.


DR LAURA: Are you religious?

BRIANNA: I think we're Protestant.

DR LAURA: Well, I think you should start by speaking with a minister. I wouldn't necessarily talk to a Protestant, though; I think Rome is generally a little better at handling these things. I would talk to someone who knows about exorcisms, preferably someone with some background in cryptozoology. Maybe he can assess the situation and come up with a plan.


DR LAURA: But ultimately, it's up to your father to get help.


DR LAURA: All you can do is encourage him to face his own behavior, and take responsibility.


DR LAURA: But I think the fact that you're taking an interest will go a long way toward helping him. These are the times, you know, when we need family.


DR LAURA: So phone your local diocese and see if they can recommend a professional. Then try to get your parents to talk to him.


DR LAURA: Oh, and Brianna — warn your neighbor to keep the cat indoors when there's a full moon.


DR LAURA: [Sigh] Now go do the right thing.

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8 September 2005 - Thursday

Williams on civil authority

Preparing for my intellectual history seminar this week, I read a selection from Roger Williams' The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution (1644).

In addition to some powerful figures of speech, the discourse has some fascinating logic. One argument in particular caught my attention. It is very simple (in substance if not style), yet I think it had never occurred to me before. What I like most about it is the doctrinal framework into which it fits. This is a highly evangelical plea for a highly libertarian view of religious freedom, grounded in the Two Kingdoms theory.

Secondly, whereas he [Williams' opponent] affirms that men may make laws to see the laws of God observed.

I answer, God needeth not the help of a material sword of steel to assist the sword of the Spirit in the affairs of conscience, to those men, those magistrates, yea that commonwealth which makes such magistrates, must needs have power and authority from Christ Jesus to fit judge and to determine in all the great controversies concerning doctrine, discipline, government, etc.

And then I ask whether upon this ground it must not evidently follow that:

Either there is no lawful commonwealth nor civil state of men in the world, which is not qualified with this spiritual discerning (and then also that the very commonweal hath more light concerning the church of Christ than the church itself).

Or, that the commonweal and magistrates thereof must judge and punish as they are persuaded in their own belief and conscience (be their conscience paganish, Turkish, or antichristian) what is this but to confound heaven and earth together, and not only to take away the being of Christianity out of the world, but to take away all civility, and the world out of the world, and to lay all upon heaps of confusion?

In other words, according to Williams, if government has a divine right to enforce religious law (the position he rejects), then there are just two possibilities. Either (a) every government is correct in its religious opinions; or (b) even pagan governments have a God-given right to enforce their own false religious ideas.

The first possibility may be dismissed immediately, given the divisions of religious opinion among governments. Every Englishman would have been highly conscious of these divisions; many recent wars had sprung from them. Furthermore, this option would require the state to have a better knowledge of religion than the Church had, since the Church itself had seen so many divisions of opinion. Obviously, government does not automatically know the truth about God.

The other possibility, however, must also be dismissed. It would mean that either pagan lands have no legitimate government at all, or their governments have a commission from Christ to destroy Christianity. The first contradicts biblical observations on government, and the second is simply unthinkable.

Therefore, we must conclude that civil government does not have a divine commission to regulate religious opinion.

This argument works, of course, precisely because both Williams and his audiences believed that government is a divine institution. The entire discourse presupposes the belief that God lies behind the civil authorities and is the source of their right to govern.

In fact, later paragraphs affirm this doctrine explictly. In doing so, these paragraphs provide evidence not only of early thought about religious liberty, but also of early thought about democracy.

First, whereas they say that the civil power may erect and establish what form of civil government may seem in wisdom most meet, I acknowledge the proposition to be most true, both in itself and also considered with the end of it, that a civil government is an ordinance of God, to conserve the civil peace of people, so far as concerns their bodies and goods, as formerly hath been said.

But from this grant I infer (as before hath been touched) that the sovereign, original, and foundation of civil power lies in the people (whom they must needs mean by the civil power distinct from the government set up). And, if so, that a people may erect and establish what form of government seems to them most meet for their civil condition; it is evident that such governments as are by them erected and established have no more power, nor for no longer time, than the civil power or people consenting and agreeing shall betrust them with. This is clear not only in reason but in the experience of all commonweals, where the people are not deprived of their natural freedom by the power of tyrants.

And, if so, that the magistrates receive their power of governing the church from the people, undeniably it follows that a people, as a people, naturally consider (of what nature or nation soever in Europe, Asia, Africa, or America), have fundamentally and originally, as men, a power to govern the church, to see her do her duty, to correct her, to redress, reform, establish, etc. And if this be not to pull God and Christ and Spirit out of heaven, and subject them unto natural, sinful, inconstant men, and so consequently to Satan himself, by whom all peoples naturally are guided, let heaven and earth judge.... [Emphasis added]

So Williams believes that government (like the Sabbath) was made for man, not man for government. He goes further, identifying the right of civil government with the people themselves. Therefore, the argument goes, government control of religion means popular control of religion, even in heathen lands. And since when has God given nonbelievers the right to control his Church?

This is really another form of the same argument given above, but by invoking the specter of undisciplined masses as masters of the Church, it may have had its own special potency. The previous form of the argument, I suspect, might have been less shocking to paternalists than this form.

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6 September 2005 - Tuesday

Learning the language

I am resuming my work as an English tutor this semester. My first section of English Review was this morning; I have a section that meets on Thursdays as well. I am pleased to find that these classes are smaller than the ones I had last semester. (I speak of these classes as mine; in fact, each has another tutor on hand as well as a professor.)

English Review comprises a set of some two dozen sequential modules (e.g., "Avoiding Fragments," "Semicolons and Colons," and "Pronoun Reference"). Students are assigned some or all of these modules based on their score on a proficiency test. A student completes a module by writing a short paper that demonstrates competence in the relevant area of grammar or style. The instructor or one of the tutors reviews each of these papers in class, pointing out any problems that need to be corrected.

This is a nerve-racking experience for the students, of course. They have to read their papers aloud, often to a tutor younger than they are. Sometimes every sentence has an error that must be corrected, and sometimes students make the same errors over and over despite their best efforts. I'm sure it is terrifying.

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5 September 2005 - Monday

Feast and famine

Jesus has many lovers of His heavenly kingdom, but few bearers of His Cross.

He has many seekers of consolation, but few of tribulation.

He finds many companions at His feasting, but few at His fasting.

All desire to rejoice with Him; few are willing to endure anything for Him.

(The Imitation of Christ, Thomas à Kempis, book 2, chapter 11)

It is astounding to observe how much of our Christian spirituality is fundamentally selfish. Devotional publications are often glorified self-help books; preachers proclaim the happiness of the believer. Prayer often centers on the pleasure and spiritual satisfaction of the supplicant. Exhilaration, not humility, becomes the key characteristic of the modern Christian.

Selfishness is what got us into trouble in the first place.

Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
Colossians 2:17-19, ESV

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This semester is going to be ridiculously busy, I'm afraid. I am taking only 16 hours of courses, but I am working a little as an English tutor, and I am barely hanging on in several volunteer capacities. Besides this, I have decided that sleep is a little more important than I thought as a sophomore.

Wheeler and I are now going to watch -- after a week of trying to find a time that would work for both of us -- another episode from The Decalogue. Martinez and Caleb are joining us, it seems.

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2 September 2005 - Friday

History Carnival XV

The fifteenth History Carnival was posted at ClioWeb ... yesterday.

Jim Davila marks the anniversary of the eruption of Vesuvius. >>

Misteraitch covers a Swedish witchcraft account from the seventeenth century. >>

Michael McNeil contradicts conventional wisdom regarding the origin of zero. >>

Barista provides takes a look at oddities of burial custom, especially in Britain. >>

Et cetera.

Meanwhile, I'm still here, and I hope to resume regular blogging soon.

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