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29 May 2013

Mr. Lincoln and the Federalist Papers

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It's been quite some time now since I discovered that not everybody holds Mr. Abraham Lincoln in high esteem. At the time that I first learned that, I was more than a little bit surprised. I still haven't made up my own mind, but now I'm reading historical documents with an eye toward unraveling the puzzle, so that I can form an informed opinion. In the past week or so I've found some things I think are relevant.

The first came from a snip from Federalist 39, which my friend posted on Facebook.

"Each State, in ratifying the Constitution, is considered as a sovereign body, independent of all others, and only to be bound by its own voluntary act."

~James Madison

It seems to me that if they are "only to be bound by [their] own voluntary act", if they change their minds at some future date, they should be free to go. But this is a single sentence, so I went looking for more context. Turns out that one of the charges brought by the Anti-Federalists was that the Constitution was going to create, rather than a confederacy, a consolidation of the States. Confederacy has become, since the Civil War, something of a bad word, but that wasn't always the case. In Federalist 9 Alexander Hamilton comes right out and says that the Constitution will create a "Confederate Republic" (emphasis original).

To this catalogue of circumstances that tend to the amelioration of popular systems of civil government, I shall venture, however novel it may appear to some, to add one more, on a principle which has been made the foundation of an objection to the new Constitution; I mean the ENLARGEMENT of the ORBIT within which such systems are to revolve, either in respect to the dimensions of a single State or to the consolidation of several smaller States into one great Confederacy. The latter is that which immediately concerns the object under consideration.

At this point, I'm uncertain as to what, precisely, they mean by "Confederacy", since the word has fallen out of favor. Happily, Webster's 1828 Dictionary is readily available online, and those definitions are much closer in time, and thus very likely in meaning, to what Hamilton and Madison and the rest would have understood the word to mean.

1. A league, or covenant; a contract between two or more persons, bodies of men or states, combined in support of each other, in some act or enterprise; mutual engagement; federal compact.
The friendships of the world are oft confederacies in vice. A confederacy of princes to check innovation.
2. The persons, states or nations united by a league.
Virgil has a whole confederacy against him.
3. In law, a combination of two or more persons to commit an unlawful act. 

Hamilton asserts in Federalist 9 that the difference between a confederacy and a consolidation is "more subtle than accurate", but I'm not convinced that the evidence that he himself brings to the table supports that assertion. To me, that seems to be a  ploy to diminish the concerns of the readers on the matter; they are, after all, battling for public opinion in these essays. He quotes an extended passage of the writings of Montesquieu, including the following (emphasis mine):

"Should a popular insurrection happen in one of the confederate states the others are able to quell it. Should abuses creep into one part, they are reformed by those that remain sound. The state may be destroyed on one side, and not on the other; the confederacy may be dissolved, and the confederates preserve their sovereignty." 

This, combined with the statement that first caught my attention, leads to a couple of conclusions:

1. The South should have been able to succeed peacefully. If it really is a voluntary association, then any party ought to be able to walk away at any time. For freedom of association to be meaningful at all, there has to be also the freedom not to associate.

2. The Civil War may have been about slavery. But it probably was also about States' rights. And from that point of view, it seems to me that the entire country lost. The difference between "these united States" and "the United States" is huge.

3. I still don't have enough information to know how much of that change from a Confederate Republic to a single nation, if any, Mr. Lincoln was responsible for. However, I am now of the opinion that the South should have been allowed to walk away. At least, that's what I think pending further information.

22 May 2013


In my most honest moments, I admit it: I am a recovering slob. It's not a pretty thing. I've been working on it for years now, and it'll probably take years more to get it really fixed. It's certainly not my Mom's fault; she taught me what to do, what clean looks like, and how to get there. But it's never been something that comes naturally to me. I had to learn to see dirt. And before I did that, I had to want to see the dirt.

When we were kids, my long-suffering sister had to share a room with me. She tells a story (I don't remember it, though I don't doubt it in the least) where she asks me to get rid of a box of my junk that was sitting in the middle of the floor, and I didn't do it. She asks me a couple more times, and then eventually complains to Mom and Mom asks me about it. I told her there is no box. So Mom and I go downstairs and look at the room. And Mom shows me the box. Sitting in the middle of the room, right where my sister said it was. I like to hope that I was decent about cleaning it up, but I can't remember.

At least tonight I knew my kitchen was bad. Really bad. And I've improved enough that it was driving me crazy all.day.long. But I've got a sick two year old, and a six year old that needs to have me do school with him, and the baby just might be teething. Either that, or she's sick too. I just couldn't quite stretch so far as to get the kitchen under control, though the dishwasher did spend some time open while I made a valiant effort. But how do you do dishes when the Dragon comes and says, "I want to huggle you, Mom!" And he looks miserable and is coughing. That's been my day, for five days now. (Yes, he's been to the doctor's, and it's getting better.) I just can't do it. I can't tell him that my dishes are more important than he is. So I sit down and snuggle, and my kitchen just keeps piling up.

Life is like that sometimes. Sometimes, important things have to give way to more important things. But sometimes, it's just messy because I didn't do what I'm supposed to do. That happens too, and with bigger things than just the kitchen. Promises get made... and broken. Feelings get hurt. Duties get neglected. Life is messy stuff.

My Dragon has been learning that lately. He means to do well, and he plans to follow directions. And then he doesn't. Again. And there he is, with a mess on his hands. Unpleasant consequences. He and I have been struggling through more than a few messes the past few months. My dear, sweet son, whom I love more than I would have guessed was possible before I had kids, has a gift for locating my last nerve. And stomping it to smithereens. And then I make messes too. It's ugly. Much worse than a dirty kitchen. I realized a while back that he no longer believed that he is a good kid. I was heartbroken. He is such a good kid. I cried. What was I doing to my precious son?? I cried hard. And I begged the Lord to teach me better ways to mother my boy.

And He did. He is.

Some days, I feel like such a slow learner, but I'm getting there. The very first thing the Lord said to do was be kind. Even when Dragon is in trouble. Especially then. And that helped a lot. But the past few weeks I've been learning something about Grace. I never really understood it before. Brad Wilcox's talk, His Grace Is Sufficient, was a turning point.

I'd always understood Grace much like the girl in his story:

A BYU student once came to me and asked if we could talk. I said, “Of course. How can I help you?”
She said, “I just don’t get grace.”
I responded, “What is it that you don’t understand?”
She said, “I know I need to do my best and then Jesus does the rest, but I can’t even do my best.”
She then went on to tell me all the things she should be doing -because she’s a Mormon- that she wasn’t doing.
She continued, “I know that I have to do my part and then Jesus makes up the difference and fills the gap that stands between my part and perfection. But who fills the gap that stands between where I am now and my part?”

When I listen to this speech, everybody chuckles as he tells this. Brother Wilcox is a great story teller, and he manages to sound more than a little bit like an exasperated college girl, and it's funny. But also it's not. She's hurting because she feels like a failure. She sees the messes she makes. The problems that she should have been smart enough to avoid. The tasks left undone. And they are robbing her of hope.

Finally I said, “Jesus doesn’t make up the difference. Jesus makes all the difference. Grace is not about filling gaps. It is about filling us.”
Seeing that she was still confused, I took a piece of paper and drew two dots—one at the top representing God and one at the bottom representing us. I then said, “Go ahead. Draw the line. How much is our part? How much is Christ’s part?”
She went right to the center of the page and began to draw a line. Then, considering what we had been speaking about, she went to the bottom of the page and drew a line just above the bottom dot.
I said, “Wrong.”
She said, “I knew it was higher. I should have just drawn it, because I knew it.”

He goes on to tell her that it's wrong because it's a trick question. He's telling her that her understanding is fundamentally flawed, and she needs to see Grace in an entirely different light. I have a lot of compassion for this girl that came to see him, because I'd always understood Grace in the same way. Brother Wilcox explains that Grace isn't like that at all. Christ paid it all. Every penny. He asks for our poor efforts, not because He needs them, but because we need them. We need that process of change that comes in trying to avoid the dirt and clean up the messes. He draws a new analogy, one that works very well for me since I love to play the piano. He compares Grace to a child whose mother pays for piano lessons.

“But Brother Wilcox, don’t you realize how hard it is to practice? I’m just not very good at the piano. I hit a lot of wrong notes. It takes me forever to get it right.” Now wait. Isn’t that all part of the learning process? When a young pianist hits a wrong note, we don’t say he is not worthy to keep practicing. We don’t expect him to be flawless. We just expect him to keep trying. Perfection may be his ultimate goal, but for now we can be content with progress in the right direction. Why is this perspective so easy to see in the context of learning piano but so hard to see in the context of learning heaven? ...

In all of these cases there should never be just two options: perfection or giving up. When learning the piano, are the only options performing at Carnegie Hall or quitting? No. Growth and development take time. Learning takes time. When we understand grace, we understand that God is long-suffering, that change is a process, and that repentance is a pattern in our lives. When we understand grace, we understand that the blessings of Christ’s Atonement are continuous and His strength is perfect in our weakness (see 2 Corinthians 12:9). When we understand grace, we can, as it says in the Doctrine and Covenants, “continue in patience until [we] are perfected” (D&C 67:13).

This was such a revelation to me! And it's changed how I'm doing my mothering, particularly with my Little Golden Dragon. Messes are part of the learning process. They were anticipated. That's why we have a Savior! And, understanding that, I can be more gentle with myself. Although my kitchen isn't perfectly clean tonight when I go to bed, it's cleaner than it was. And that's progress. Tonight, it's not just one box in my room, there's a whole stack of them. They've been there for two days (I had to dig to find the nebulizer for Dragon). But at least this time I know they're there, and I have a plan for what to do about it: the boxes go back in the boys' closet. Even if I haven't managed to remember to do it while they're awake.

And for my kids? For them, me learning this stuff means that I'm teaching them to find satisfaction in cleaning up the messes, and fixing the problems. Not only do we talk about the things that went well when the Daddy comes home and asks how the day was, we also talk about the problems that got fixed and the messes that were cleaned up. We talk about the plan to do well, and the effort expended in trying to carry it out -- even if things didn't go exactly according to that plan. Once again, Dragon believes in his own goodness. And I am learning to believe in my own goodness. Grace means that effort counts.  Intentions are important. Grace means that we're not there yet, but if the journey isn't in a straight line, at least we're still moving in more or less the right direction. It's important that my children know that.

18 May 2013

Japanese Songs

We're learning some Japanese, with Mango Japanese through our public library as our main "text" (we use an app on my phone), but it's fun to have a variety of little ways to learn a bit more. This week, it occurred to me that I could probably find an alphabet song on You Tube for the 五十音  - the Fifty Sounds. And there is one. I also found a nice song for the numbers 1-10. I think the boys will like these. It's really been amazing to me how quickly they've been picking up the little bits that we do, and it's very motivating to keep my own study up. I have another app, Tae Kim's Guide to Learning Japanese, that's been extremely useful to me in putting together the grammar that I almost learned when I was in college studying the language. I had no idea how to study then. Now, I struggle to find people to talk to. Then, when I had all sorts of resources, I had no idea of how to take advantage of them. Better late than never, right? And this way my kids get to come on the journey with me!

Oh, and one more thing that I discovered this week: the Scripture Stories on lds.org come in a variety of languages too. And you don't even have to navigate through all the foreign language lds.org site to get them, just pick the one you like from the list at the top of the page! I don't understand much yet, but I've already picked up a few new words, and it's another way to get the sound and rhythm of the language into our family's ears.

17 May 2013

Nature in the Neighborhood #4


Photo Credit
We didn't make it out to the pond yet this week. I'd planned to do it Thursday, but I got puked on instead. Maybe Saturday afternoon, if Hero doesn't get to go out with the Bee Man.  However, we did head outside for some stargazing again, finally. It's been a long time since we had clear skies at night to go look at. I think that, in the past six weeks, there was one Saturday that would have worked, but with church on an early schedule right now staying out late to look at the sky wasn't a very good idea.

But we did finally get to do it one day this week. Hero was able to find the Big Dipper. I tried to show him Ursa Major, but it just wasn't happening, and he got frustrated. I'm not sure how to do it better, so that he can actually see stuff. Of course, Dragon wanted to come out with us, and he wasn't feeling good (he puked the next day), so it wasn't our best trip to the backyard to star gaze. But we did do it! And that was nice. I went out again after the boys were asleep and looked some more. Saw Saturn, Arcturus, and Spica. And also another that I can't remember the name of anymore. My phone has an app called "Sky Walk" that is so useful for this sort of thing! I'm learning a lot, one star and one constellation at a time.

Photo Credit
And, when I came inside I looked up Ursa Major in my various astronomy books trying to learn a little about what I can see from my back deck with just the naked eye. Turns out that Ursa Major has some 95 galaxies that we could have a look at, if we had a 10 inch telescope. I bought a telescope a while back at a yard sale. But it turns out that telescopes are a thing where you'd better spend some bucks, or just skip it. The cheap ones are... cheap. So I guess I'll have to save my pennies. Someday I want to be able to see at least a few of those 95 galaxies.

How about you? Did you make it outside this week? What did you see? Link up, grab the code and add it to your post, and let's get hopping!

To play, here is what you do:

1. Go outside. Take you kids & have fun. While you're out, try to find some "interesting thing." Or plan a whole nature walk with goals and everything. Or somewhere in between. Have fun. Take a picture or two if you like.

2. Blog about it.

3. Come and link up with the linky. It will give you code, which you can add to your post if you like. This will allow us to "hop" from one blog to another without needing to constantly come back here, which I think is awesome!

4. If you want to be reminded about Nature in the Neighborhood (and other posts from my blog, as well as interesting articles & such that I don't have time to actually blog about) then pop over to Facebook and "like" Baby Steps Blog.

Thanks for playing!

10 May 2013

Nature in the Neighborhood #3

We've been road-schooling this week. In a hotel. With sick kids. Not seriously sick; just enough to be cranky. And when I did get us outside (our hotel has a courtyard), I neglected to take any pictures.

We did try to identify one of their trees; I think it's a crab apple. We used a new app I got a little bit ago, and it categorizes trees by shape:

I thought that was interesting. It's going to take some getting used to. But I think it will work. I also learned that identifying trees when they're not fully leafed out is not easy. 

Anyway, how was your week? The Linky tools aren't working tonight. It won't let me log in and make the blog hop code. Hopefully tomorrow morning. In the meantime, leave your link in the comments! 

06 May 2013

Scicence Videos for Our Week

With Spring finally here, Hero is hoping to go out with our Bee Man again, and so we're learning some more about the bees. Here are some video clips I'm planning to show him this week.

Reading Rainbow apparently had a thing on honeybees. We'll be watching that one.

This one Hero saw as I was looking through YouTube, and he asked for it. I was kind of leaning towards using it anyway, so it's on the list!

I haven't had a chance to preview this one, so I don't know how kid-friendly this is, but we'll have a look at it. It's supposed to be a Beekeeping 101 kind of thing. Since he's interested in going out with our Bee Man, I'm hoping that this won't be too dry.

We watched a couple of clips of bees mating this afternoon, so I thought it would also be interesting to see her lay some eggs.

We're using the book How Baking Works, and doing it a very little bit - just a few paraghraphs - at a time. This week we're looking at a section called "the special role of water", dealing with hydration. We laid the groundwork for this last week in talking about what are elements, atoms, and molecules. This week we'll mess around with some hydrating and dissolving. Since we don't have a microscope, we'll have a look at some videos to increase our understanding of what is going on at the microscopic level.

This is another about dissolving. It's more complex than we really need for what we are doing, but it's done pretty simply, so I think it'll work.

02 May 2013

Nature in the Neighborhood #2

OK. We got out this week, and had a great visit to the pond. Dragon almost sat down in it, which I talked him out of, but then he fell down instead. I have some awesome pictures - and a video that I hope caught the sound I think was frogs. I am really hoping that I'll be able to get a few things posted before 9am Friday morning.

However. Our house is on the market, and we got a call: they want to show the house on Saturday. AND, my brother is bringing in his family from out of town - 1500 miles worth of  "out of town." I'm not so sure that I'm going to have time for blogging. So I'm hoping to toss up a few pictures, but if not, I'll at least leave you with this teaser.

Good thing this is a come-as-you-are party!!

So. To play, here is what you do:

1. Go outside. Take you kids & have fun. While you're out, try to find some "interesting thing." Or plan a whole nature walk with goals and everything. Or somewhere in between. Have fun. Take a picture or two if you like.

2. Blog about it.

3. Come and link up with the linky. It will give you code, which you can add to your post if you like. This will allow us to "hop" from one blog to another without needing to constantly come back here, which I think is awesome!

4. Leave me a comment to let me know if you like the blog hop format or if you would prefer a regular linky.

5. If you want to be reminded about Nature in the Neighborhood (and other posts from my blog, as well as interesting articles & such that I don't have time to actually blog about) then pop over to Facebook and "like" Baby Steps Blog.

Thanks for playing!


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