Monthly Archives: September 2009

September 30, 2009, 10:07 am

That horse just twitched, I swear.

Robert Halford made a compelling point yesterday, which I will rephrase as a question:  given that the absolute best thing that we can say about Roman Polanski’s conduct is that he raped a drugged and drunk thirteen-year-old and that grand jury testimony by design is one-sided, why should we even bother considering it?  What he’s done is bad enough and the jerk should be in prison, runs the argument, and what he might have done is speculative enough, that the prudent thing to do should be to focus on the agreed upon facts lest speculation become a distraction.

I disagree.  While we can’t know what the facts are with a high degree of certainty, I think that knowing what the grand jury testimony said, and that although the victim forgives him, she has not recanted her claims, is highly relevant to how we think about this case.  My reasoning, such as it is, after the jump:

September 30, 2009, 7:07 am

Rape and concept structure

One of the interesting features of the Polanski conversations around the internet is the way the director’s defenders emphasize that he pled guilty to statutory rape while the prosecutorial-minded among us emphasize that he is guilty of rape. And if the victim’s grand jury testimony is accurate, this was a case of rape regardless of her age. (That she kept saying no was one clue.) This leads to some thinking about statutory rape and why people tend to find it…if not exculpatory, at least a mitigating factor, not-quite-real-rape. I should note that I’m not endorsing this, just wondering why it happens.

First, it’s worth noting that “statutory rape” covers a lot of moral ground. Clearly seriously wrong case of SR: sexual activity with a person who is obviously not old enough to give consent, e.g., a ten-year-old. A morally innocuous case of SR: two competent people who want to…

Read More

September 27, 2009, 11:04 pm

“of”, “for”, and “by” the people, sure

In an interview with the Orthodox Jewish paper Hamodia, Justice Scalia says,

More recently we have allowed the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the Texas State Legislature. I think we have been moving back towards what the American Constitution provided.

I am not sure how Orthodox Jews feel about the Establishment Clause, but I assume they do not like driving G-d out of public life.

Steve Benen comments,

How would government staying neutral on matters of faith “drive God out of public life”? Scalia didn’t say.

Actually, I think it’s reasonably clear. Scalia is blurring, deliberately or not, the distinction between the public sphere and the government. Public life and the transactions of the Lege are not to be distinguished.

I’m no scholar of the Constitution, but it seems plain in the Preamble that it and the institutions it lays out are, at least conceptually, ordained and establish…

Read More

September 27, 2009, 12:19 pm

Roman Polanski

UPDATE: I posted this quickly and without reading up on the case at all. Commenters provide interesting, though horrifying, links. I think we now have very good evidence that the rape wasn’t “merely” statutory and that drugs and alcohol were given to the girl. Although Anne Applebaum reminds us that Polanski too has suffered mightily, so really, who’s to judge? Original post below.

Not sure what to make of this. Sure, he’s an old man who makes films, and there seemed to be an implicit agreement not to arrest him. Also, alleged procedural weirdness involving the plea deal. Justice: cut it with mercy! On the other hand, sex with a 13 year old involving (allegedly) alcohol and a quaalude. Ick, and the laws against that don’t have an artist exemption. The weird reactions give me the creeps, frankly.

French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand said he was “stunned” by the news, a…

Read More

September 27, 2009, 10:18 am

More reference blogging

Interesting comments on my post about one God/different Gods. Musings:

1. I should think more about the role that theism plays in the definite-descriptions view. My intuition is that, should God exist, it would be easier to say that both Christian and Islamic thought refer to that Thing rather than to different things. My further intuition is that this is so because of the centrality of certain descriptions to the reference of the name, i.e., if we find out that there’s a Being who created the world, etc., but He is really tripartite, we’d say, yikes, turns out the Christians were right about the Being we worshipped rather than saying that we were worshipping a nonexistent entity. If atheism is true, it might be harder to secure shared reference because there’s no there, there.

2. I should expand on my opaque remark about error theory, in case anyone is interested. Let me tell …

Read More

September 26, 2009, 2:24 pm

Shortest game review in the world.

One can arrest the progress of a boat about to hit an iceberg with a giant squid.


September 26, 2009, 1:21 pm

Where I’m coming from and bound to.

Sometimes as historians we have reason to sum up our careers to date and make a projection forward as to what we’re doing next. Here’s mine. I don’t think this will really interest people for discussion, so I’m putting it below the fold by backdating it 72 hours, and people who read the blog on the web probably won’t notice it. Those of you who get these posts on RSS will of course see it presented as if it were fresh and intriguing; sorry about that.


September 26, 2009, 11:37 am

Mr. Watson, Come Here, I–Zap! Ouch!

Okay, so this didn’t happen when Alexander Graham Bell made his famous call, but imagine if it had:

In scientific circles where solar flares, magnetic storms and other unique solar events are discussed, the occurrences of September 1-2, 1859, are the star stuff of legend. Even 144 years ago, many of Earth’s inhabitants realized something momentous had just occurred. Within hours, telegraph wires in both the United States and Europe spontaneously shorted out, causing numerous fires, while the Northern Lights, solar-induced phenomena more closely associated with regions near Earth’s North Pole, were documented as far south as Rome, Havana and Hawaii, with similar effects at the South Pole.

And so my answer to Ari’s question: just because history is cooler than you can imagine, and even when you’re finished realizing that and stretching your imagination, history is still cooler.

September 25, 2009, 1:48 pm

Our account of proper names is an awesome account of proper names

Apparently a bunch of Muslims are gathering in DC to pray jummah in front of the Capitol Building. (I didn’t get the memo, which is a clue as to why the Islamization of America will never happen– the ummah just does not have its shit together.) Anyway, this has the usual suspects upset:

We know that our contest is with spiritual forces (Ephesians 6:12), and we firmly believe that He Who is within us is greater than any other god or force (1 John 4:4), so I encourage you to fill America with prayer to the True God this coming Friday.

Whatever, it’s what they do. But what interests me is the way in which their language suggests that Muslim God is different from Christian God.

September 25, 2009, 11:13 am

Speaking of university administrators who aren’t nearly as funny as they think they are…

…I give you UC President Mark Yudof. A sample of his comedic stylings:

Question — U.C. is facing a budget shortfall of at least $753 million, largely because of cuts in state financing. Do you blame Governor Schwarzenegger for your troubles?

Mark Yudof — I do not. This is a long-term secular trend across the entire country. Higher education is being squeezed out. It’s systemic. We have an aging population nationally. We have a lot of concern, as we should, with health care.

Question — And education?

Mark Yudof — The shine is off of it. It’s really a question of being crowded out by other priorities.*

Question — Already professors on all 10 U.C. campuses are taking required “furloughs,” to use a buzzword.

Mark Yudof — Let me tell you why we used it. The faculty said “furlough” sounds more temporary than “salary cut,” and being president of the…

Read More

September 25, 2009, 8:31 am

Friday Pedagogical Forum: The Cure for a Poisonous Classroom

Sybil tells of the development of a troubling classroom dynamic: some of the male students in her survey course seem to have a hard time taking a pretty, young female instructor seriously, and as a result, in class they either doze, disrupt, or sulk.  Unfortunately, dealing with them has been hard on the other students, leading to a classroom atmosphere which is tense and generally unpleasant for everyone.

Sybil’s an experienced instructor and I suspect she doesn’t need advice and her post didn’t solicit any, but her difficulty struck me as an instance of a problem that easily generalizes away from the specifics of her situation.  Whatever the ultimate source of the toxin, it’s likely those of us who have taught have all had classroom environments become unpleasant and unproductive places.  (Not you.  You’re an excellent instructor.  Your friend.)

What’s worked to restore a…

Read More

September 24, 2009, 11:23 am

In which I am not perky.

So this is not cool. It’s a little better in context, where Kealey is writing on the sin of “lust” as one of the seven deadly sins of the academy, and it’s meant to be lighthearted.  But it really should go without saying that female students are not “perks” and it’s entirely possible that the curvy young woman asking for help on an essay just wants help on an essay, and good advice would not say “look, but don’t touch”, but “be a professional.”

The problem here is not the common claim that Kealey was brave enough to voice that “look, don’t touch” ethic that all professors have towards their female students but are terrified to mention because of the fear of PC police.  It flirts with establishing the idea that female students should expect to be ogled, and as long as one goes home and tackles the wife* afterwards in lieu of taking up with the student, there’s no harm done.


Read More

September 24, 2009, 10:52 am


Suppose hypothetically a major state university were about to raise its fees significantly. What happens when low-income, well qualified students get in and decide they can’t afford it? Not good things.

The first problem that Mr. Bowen, Mr. McPherson and the book’s third author, Matthew Chingos, a doctoral candidate, diagnose is something they call under-matching. It refers to students who choose not to attend the best college they can get into. They instead go to a less selective one, perhaps one that’s closer to home or, given the torturous financial aid process, less expensive.

About half of low-income students with a high school grade-point average of at least 3.5 and an SAT score of at least 1,200 do not attend the best college they could have. Many don’t even apply. Some apply but don’t enroll. “I was really astonished by the degree to which presumptively well-qualified…

Read More

September 23, 2009, 7:12 pm


Should you ever be interviewed by The History Channel in your office, it would be best not to have the Wikipedia entry for the topic about which they are interviewing you clearly visible on your monitor.  Have a little faith in your expertise or dignity enough to close that damn tab.*

*Shamelessly stolen from my own Facebook note of a couple days past, but posted here because some member of the increasingly Duggar-esque family of The History Channel networks repeated the episode of Mega Movers in which I first noticed it . . . and because it’s sound advice.

September 22, 2009, 2:30 pm

Justice Delayed

Alan Turing was one of the most important computer scientists of the 20th century. He contributed not only to the foundations of the study of artificial intelligence, but played an important–perhaps the most important–role in the British World War II code-breaking effort that was headquartered at Bletchley Park, north of London. After the war was over, Turing continued his work in both the civilian and military worlds and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1951.

Turing was gay, a not unusual situation for a British intellectual of the period. That latter did not help, however, when he was arrested and convicted in 1952 of “gross indecency” for his relationship with a young Manchester man. This was the same crime for which Oscar Wilde had been convicted more than half a century previously.

Turing’s choice was jail or probation contingent on him being “chemically…

Read More