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Democracy in America: Early Thoughts on the Use and Abuse of a Great Book

After years and years of reading bits of Alexis de Tocqueville‘s Democracy in America, and reading about both parts of his project, I’m finally nearing completion of volume 1 (3/4 down, 1/4 to go). I’m reading the George Lawrence translation of the twelfth edition, published in 1965.

My reading has been conducted with three things in mind: Read more…

Tim LaHaye’s Circle of Fear

I ran across this on Twitter, courtesy of Randall Stephens. It’s from Tim LaHaye’s The Battle for the Mind: A Subtle Warfare (1980): Read more…

Not So Dark

This is a whiny, nonsensical, and exaggerated opinion piece from Michael Cohen at the Boston Globe. I’m going to refute it here, point by point, for those who have been citing it.
First, there’s the headline: “A Dark Turn…” …Is this would-be Clinton defender, or the Globe’s editorial staff, trying to equate Sanders’ campaign to Trump’s? How “dark” have things become?
Second, after much whining, the author says this: “Make no mistake, these are legitimate attacks on Clinton, but they do contradict Sanders’ pledge to avoid personal attacks and character assassination.” Okay, so all the things mentioned in the 8 paragraphs above are legitimate? If those things are legitimate, how could they be characterized as “character assassination” or “personal attacks”? Which is it?
Third, the author complains that Clinton’s name is being mentioned more often at Sanders campaign events, and that some booing occurs with that mention. How can one run against an opponent without mentioning that opponent’s name? If an opponent has negative attributes, is mentioning them character assassination?
Finally, there’s this from Cohen: “While I understand the need to maintain a brave face for his supporters, Sanders is doing them and the party he wants to represent no favors not just by misleading them about his chances, but by increasing their dislike of Clinton.”
How is Sanders misleading his followers about his chances? By continuing? What if a preference for Sanders has always been predicated by a certain kind of distaste for Clinton? Has Sanders himself really been adding to that distaste in any substantial fashion, by simply naming her more often now than he did in the past?
None of these things constitute darkness. The Cohen article has no sense of proportion. Things could get relatively “darker” according to Cohen’s criteria, and probably will. But the Sanders campaign will still be a relatively moderate oppositional endeavor in the long history of presidential campaigns. And it will in no way become what we’ve seen on the Republican side of the ledger.

Professionalism in Academia: It Goes Both Ways

I read this piece—“Why are Some Academics So Unprofessional?”—in the Chronicle of Higher Education with great interest.

My interest stems from an opposite concern: the unprofessionalism of some students. My interest arose during a period when I advised pre-health professional and medical students. Altogether I spent nearly five years, between two positions, advising those classes of students. The topic mattered to students and educators because of the premium placed on professionalism in the health professions overall.

On the article, nearly every piece of remedial advice in it could apply to students in all fields, as well as academics across the board: Read more…

Changing One’s Mind

I just read this passage in the NYT obituary for Hilary Putnam:

“In the world of contemporary philosophers, Professor Putnam was known for the breadth of his thinking, the vividness of his provocative arguments, and his penchant for self-questioning and willingness to change his mind.”

A willingness to change one’s mind.

Apart from its actual truth in relation to Putnam’s character, I admire this trait above all others.

I’m continually surprised and appalled at how soon we grow rigid—at how the changing of one’s mind is perceived as weakness. It’s ridiculous to expect ourselves to be totally consistent in a complex world where evidence emerges piecemeal to our minds and senses. What makes more sense is this: we should be utterly perplexed at how some of our positions on issues have remained unchanged after five, ten, twenty, or thirty years of exposure to new people, new discoveries, changed environments, day-to-day news, and our own growth as thinkers.

What are the barriers to changing one’s mind? Read more…

The Sanders Revolution: A Historical Reflection

B-Sanders_A-Political-Revolution-is-ComingAs I’ve watched the news evolve about the Democratic primaries, one worrisome trend—worrisome for me as a Bernie Sanders supporter—has been the commentary pairing Sanders and Donald Trump. Some of that trend involves the intersections of real historical phenomena, but some of the commentary has been nefarious. I can get interested in the former, when it involves thoughtful, informed explorations of populism, political outsider status, and anti-establishment candidates. The latter, which superficially focuses on topics like anger, rage, reaction, radicalism, destructiveness, and impatience, comes from both within the party’s establishment and outside interests. When this happens, they are painted together, with a broad brush, as bitter revolutionary outsiders. Read more…

New Homebrew: Belgian Golden Strong Ale

I brewed a Belgian golden ale just before Christmas and bottled it two weeks ago. Tonight I’m sampling it, and here are my first tasting notes:


This is neither my glass nor my actual homebrew, but the color of this Belgian Golden Strong Ale is almost exactly the same as mine.

Nose: Strong with Belgian yeast, reminding me of Unibroue’s Maudite or La Fin Du Monde
Appearance: Golden orange and moderately clear.
Carbonation: Excellent.
Head: Rich white, holding nicely—which is surprising to me for having only been in the bottle for two weeks.
Mouthfeel: Full with a mild alcoholic bite.
Flavor: Front end–A very pleasant mellow malty sweetness and mild spiciness, with floral notes; Finish—faintly mineral and subtly tart. I know I used hops in the brew, but I can’t detect them now.
After taste: Slightly tart mixed with stone fruit (peach, maybe?)

If you’re wondering how my notes compare to a standard, here are the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) Style Guide notes on Belgian Golden Ales (style 18D).

Verdict: I’m really pleased. This is really drinkable—and dangerous for a session given that it’s 8.13% ABV.*  The BJCP lists commercial examples (in relation to those I’ve actually sampled) as Duvel, Delirium Tremens, Piraat, North Coast Pranqster. I’d put mine, surprisingly, up against any of those.


*This is the best ABV I’ve achieved since moving to Chicago, mostly because I watched my fermentation temperature really closely (which I haven’t always done in the winter). I also kept the newly bottled beer in a warm place, which likely contributed to the excellent carbonation and head.


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