Apr 212008

I’ve been reading Peter S. Onuf’s, “Statehood and Union : a history of the northwest ordinance” (1987). I’ve also been listening to Andro Linklater’s, “The Fabric of America : how our borders and boundaries shaped the country and forged our national identity” (2007).

The latter is a good listen, but I’m somewhat disappointed that it isn’t living up to its title. The first part of the book does, e.g. the part about settling the boundary between Virginia and Pennsylvania. But boundaries and borders lose their central position (ha!) in the telling of much of the rest of it. In much of the book Linklater conflates boundaries with the frontier. The “frontier” topic allows him to talk about the expansion of the United States without minimal discussion of borders. Then towards the end he points out that the border and the frontier are two different things. I wish he had stuck with boundary/border issues throughout. It’s an interesting book — even when wandering from the main topic it contains a lot of interesting nuggets of history I had not known before. But it’s too bad his publisher put that title on it, because it would be a great one for a book on the topic.

Onuf’s book contains some interesting information about boundaries that ought to have been a topic of Linklater’s book, too. He tells how there was a sensitivity that if Congress could arbitrarily set and changes the boundafies of the new states, the states would be mere creatures of Congress and not have the degree of independence the original states had. The argument came about during the ambiguous period of state formation. What I found interesting was a sensitivity among the people to what I call the “federal aid = federal control” principle that I remember being argued about somewhat during the 60s and 70s.

Onuf also gives serious consideration to the dispute known as the Toledo War. It’s often treated in history books as somewhat of a farce and comedy. But there were some important principles about states’ rights at stake.

I may have more to say about this, and I’m also thinking about the bicycling possibilities for The Spokesrider.

Back to my statement about boundaries and borders losing their central position in Linklater’s book. Well, I see that I haven’t yet posted a photo of the place where there was confusion over whether a boundary line was the edge or the center. I’ll do that later, at The Spokesrider.

Apr 152008

Barak Obama says we keep talking past each other on the issue of guns. And if the following from the Washington Post represents his position, I guess we can take that to be a confession of his own sins in the matter.

You know, I believe, for example, that on guns, that if you look at a state like mine in Illinois, there are two realities and two traditions that I think are representative of what takes place in the country.

If you go to downstate Illinois, which is closer to Kentucky than it is to Chicago, people view gun ownership as part of deeply held traditions that are passed on from one generation to the other.

And not understanding the importance of those traditions, the memories that people carry with them about going hunting with their fathers or their mothers or their grandparents, means that you’re ignoring something essential in their lives.

What’s also true is that in Chicago so far this year there have been 22 Chicago public school children who’ve been gunned down on the streets, most of them faultless victims.

And so, we keep on talking past each other on that issue.

And the question then becomes is there a way for us, on the one hand, to acknowledge the importance of gun ownership in huge swaths of the country and recognize, as I’ve said repeatedly and long before this recent part of the campaign, that the Second Amendment actually means something — can we acknowledge that and at the same time recognize that for us to put in place strong, tough background checks, to close the gun-show loophole, to be able to trade guns that have been used in crimes to the gun dealers who sold those guns to see if they’re abiding by the law, making sure that they’re not working with straw purchasers to dump illegal handguns into vulnerable communities — that those two visions are compatible, that they’re not contradictory.

If he can do no better than portray RKBA types as merely upholding a cultural tradition, he’s absolutely right: he’s talking past a good share of his audience. I suggest he cut it out and start listening a little better.

Apr 142008

This one made me laugh: “It’s hard to take Obama seriously when he employs exaggerations of algorian proportions.” I had already heard of algore, but I hadn’t heard that form of the word before. Time to update the dictionaries. (The quote is from James Taranto’s “Best of the Web Today.”)

Apr 132008

Does Barak Obama sound a little bitter over the reaction to his bigotted remarks about guns and religion in small-town America?

Lately there has been a little typical sort of political flare-up because I said something that everybody knows is true,” Mr. Obama said, “which is that there are a whole bunch of folks in small towns in Pennsylvania, in towns right here in Indiana, in my hometown in Illinois, who are bitter. (URL)

Apr 122008

The Reticulator took the blog verbosity test, and here is the result:

Do you talk too much in your blog?
Created by OnePlusYou

It says my posts are 81 percent shorter than the average blogger.  But how short is the average blogger? Wikipedia says the average male in the U.S. is 5’9.3″ short, and the average female is 5’3.8″ short. But what about bloggers? How do they compare to the rest of the population?

Or did it mean to say, “My posts are 81 percent shorter than those of the average blogger?” I suppose not, because that would be 20 percent more verbose.

Apr 122008

The usually reliable Wall Street Journal editorial page seems to be carrying water for Comcast in the net neutrality issue. I could agree that there are problems with some versions of the net neutrality rhetoric, but that’s not what the WSJ discusses. Instead it defends Comcast’s behavior wrt its throttling of BitTorrent, saying it comes under the terms of “reasonable network management techniques.” But if what Comcast was doing was reasonable management, why did it lie about about what it was doing and what it was selling to its customers? (I’m still irritated about the way it lied to me and to others of its customers about what it was doing wrt blocking port 25.)

In addition to defending Comcast, the WSJ attacks Google. But if the WSJ wants to attack Google on net neutrality, maybe it would do better to point out that Google itself has been far from neutral in carrying traffic. It blocks traffic on behalf of the Chinese government, and at home it refuses to sell pro-life ads that have a religious connection. Just as Comcast did, it tells lies about what it’s doing, saying it doesn’t sell ads that mix “abortion and religion-related content.” But the Christian Institute, which is suing Google, points out that that’s not true at all. It sells pro-abortion ads that have religion-related content. It’s only the so-called “pro-life” side that it censors.

Net neutrality, indeed.

Apr 122008

I’ve added a new blog to my list: “Speed Gibson: of the International Secret Police“. I noticed him over at SCSU Scholars when he made a remark about responsibility, pointing out that it’s not a standalone word. It means one has to be responsible to someone.

Well, that’s the way I’ve been saying it for the last 30 years. Here is the way Speed Gibson said it:

Reworking Thomas Sowell’s thought on “social justice,” what forms of “Responsibility” are there that are not social? Can someone be said to be irresponsible if alone on a desert island?

I had to check out somebody who would point this out, so went to his blog and found some delightful writings about the workings of his local Minnesota school districts, into which he’s worked characters from Sinclair Lewis’s books. Maybe that description doesn’t make any sense, but there are some interesting insights inside all the fun he seems to be having. I’m going to pay attention to this one, at least for a while.

Apr 112008

I’ve been wondering for some time what I was going to do when I finished the Pimsleur Russian course. I like using the Pimsleur language courses because they’re something I can do on my bicycle commute to work, or when I drive, or sometimes when I’m working out in the garage.

But Pimsleur can take one only so far. It doesn’t do much in the way of vocabulary building, and doesn’t do much to help one with the written language. I worked my way through the last of the 90 lessons a couple of months ago. I can review them some more, but even when I know them perfectly, it won’t be nearly enough.

I’ve done more than just follow the Pimsleur course — I’ve learned enough of the Cyrillic that I can more or less pronounce words I see, even if I don’t understand them. I’ve studied some of the grammar in Russian for Dummies and the Lonely Planet guide. And I watch a bit of Russian movies almost every day — sometimes with subtitles and sometimes without. I’ve learned a few things that way, but at the rate I’m going it’s not enough.

I thought of getting a Russian New Testament on audio from the Faith Comes by Hearing people. I have their limited-vocabulary French version on audio, a lightly dramatized one that seems to come from West Africa, and I thought it was very well done. I can more or less follow the Gospels when I listen to them while riding. (The Epistles and other parts without dialog are not so easy to follow, so maybe I don’t know as much of that language as I think I do.) But I don’t think there is a Russian equivalent. I could swear that at one time the Faith Comes by Hearing people had a more modern translation in addition to the Holy Synod one, but I don’t see any sign of it now. I’m afraid the Holy Synod version might be a bit much for me at this point, though it might be worth a try just the same.

But a few days ago I finally found what I need: Lingq. I signed up for the free version for now, but during some months when I have enough time, I’ll sign up for the for-pay version, maybe even for the one that gets me some real-time help from a tutor.

Lingq is orieinted towards learning words. Learning words is not the same as learning grammar and meaning, of course. But I think it will be just fine for me, having just learned some of the grammar and structure from Pimsleur. I do NOT think it would be a good way to start learning a language, and there may be a point when it’s no longer the best way for me to continue, but it seems just right for this point in my learning. I get to select dialogs to read and listen to. I mark the words I don’t understand, and they go into a flash-card system by which I can learn them. I’ll put some of the dialogs on my MP3 player so I can listen to them over and over while I’m riding.

We’ll see, anyway, if this helps me make some real progress.

Apr 112008

I’ve been arguing for some time that the hubris that took George Bush to war in Iraq is similar to the hubris by which the left thinks it can come up with a nationalized health care plan that will work. In both cases, the proponents are without a clear plan for what to do once the conquest is complete. They just tell us that surely there has got to be some way to do it.

The people I’ve mentioned this to act like they don’t know what I’m talking about. But Joel Klein gets it. He understands the similarities. He thinks his version is better than the Bush version, but he gets it:

I didn’t question the patriotism of conservatives: I simply argued that it is more patriotic to be optimistic about the chance that our collective will–that is, the best work of government–will succeed, rather than that it will fail or impinge on freedom.

Apr 102008

So, the same people who oppose warrantless wiretaps want Big Brother to set up surveillance cameras to monitor airport screeners to make sure there is no profiling.

With nearly 50,000 screeners nationwide, the civil rights and minority groups say “it is unrealistic to believe that a policy created in Washington is being implemented flawlessly on the ground.”

The groups also said, “Broad individual discretion allotted to screeners also allows them to bring individual biases to the screening process.”

“This places our communities and all Americans at risk because individual [screener] biases may distract from actual security threats at the airport,” the groups said.

But I guess it’s OK to profile airport screeners and subject them to additional screening to make sure they’re all working like mindless robots, even though it’s unrealistic to expect them to do so.

HT to American Thinker for the “Irony Alert.” The article is from the Washington Times.

(I reserve the right to be opposed to warantless wiretaps myself, even if it associates me with these unsavory characters.)