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    Thinking Like the Plague

    The Ebola panic in the American media seems uncannily familiar to me, in the worst possible way. Anyone who studies Renaissance literature for a living has read many accounts of terrible epidemics, and many stories of epidemic hysteria. (In fact, some people have written learned and illuminating books about literary responses to the plague; I can't pretend to be one of them.) Smallpox is a terrible affliction. Bubonic plague is worse.

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    Career Advice from Actors to Academics

    It's that cruelest of seasons again for young scholars: job search season. In an annual fall ritual I've discussed in previous years, the list of jobs for new professors beginning next fall has recently been published, and people who want those jobs are now laboring over complicated job applications. As has been the case for many years, and especially since the Great Recession began, there are far fewer jobs than there are talented and qualified applicants.

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    Stop Panicking About Ebola

    Hi. I'm at Logan Airport in Boston. Unfortunately, CNN is on in the departure lounge. They are raving (indeed, nearly foaming at the mouth) about Ebola.

    And it seems, according to CNN, that the CDC has quarantined a plane from Liberia (oops, my bad: Dubai) where some passengers have fallen ill. They have quarantined that plane here at, well, Boston's Logan Airport.

    Should you be worried about Ebola? Let's put it this way: should I be worried about Ebola? No, and no.

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    Who Lost Scotland?

    Today Scotland votes on independence: a fifty-fifty referendum on leaving the United Kingdom. It's gone from a long shot to a statistical dead heat, and nobody can say for sure how the vote will go. But what's certain is that Scotland's old relationship with the rest of Britain is finished. The Scottish independence movement will not just go away if they come up a couple percent short; they're never going to give up now that they've gotten this close. And if a united United Kingdom squeaks by, Scotland will expect to be given much more autonomy than it's had so far.

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    Obama's Mission

    Barack Obama was elected because the American people were tired of being bogged down in unwinnable foreign wars. He was elected because a majority of American voters had come to view the Iraq war as a mistake. This is a basic, bottom-line political fact. Therefore, it is not (and cannot be) Official Beltway Wisdom.

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    Let's Review the Michael Brown Case

    Let's review some basics from the Michael Brown case:

    • If a police office kills an unarmed person for jaywalking, that is murder. 
    • If a police officer kills an unarmed person for shoplifting five bucks' worth of cigars, that is murder. 
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    Robin Williams and Making Live Comedy Live

    Robin Williams was funny, lightning fast, and a gifted improviser, but what really set him apart as a comic was that he let his audiences share the experience of what doing standup comedy feels like. He didn't do that explicitly. It probably can't be done explicitly. But he did it, maybe better than anyone else ever has. It was the core of his gift, because a great comedian is not merely funny. A great comedian creates a relationship with the audience, and the relationship Williams created with his live audiences was something fundamental and profound.

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    The Other Two Sides in Israel and Palestine

    It is not only hard to write about the bloodshed in Israel and Palestine without taking sides. It is impossible for most people to read about the violence in Israel and Palestine without taking sides. So the debate bogs down into questions of justification and self-defense and proportionality: that is, into the utterly useless question of whether Israel or Hamas is more in the wrong. It may well be that one side or the other is more justified, or more culpable. But since the answering that question will not prevent even a single death, the question is meaningless.

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    Jaws and Climate Denial

    There is no better Fourth of July movie for my money than Jaws. I would watch it at least twice every Independence Day weekend if that wouldn't bore and annoy my spouse. It was designed and filmed so carefully that time has transformed it into a beautifully accurate period piece, capturing the New England beaches of my 1970s childhood in loving detail. Time has also turned it into something else it was not originally meant to be: a parable about the dangers of denying climate change.

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    Religious Freedom vs, Religious Privilege (or, Franklin vs. Penn)

    The version of "religious liberty" currently promoted by the American right, best exemplified by the Hobby Lobby decision and the "Religious Freedom Restoration Act," is not only a recipe for future religious disputes and persecution. It represents an approach to religious freedom that has already created trouble. It was tried and abandoned so early in the American Experiment that most of us don't learn it in school.

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    Religious Liberty vs. Hobby Lobby

    Let's start with one thing. It is not acceptable for my boss to make my religious decisions. It is not acceptable for your boss to make your religious decisions, or for somebody else's boss to make religious decisions for them. Your religious freedom is yours, alone. It does not belong to your employer, to your landlord, or to anybody else. The deepest stupidity of the inane Hobby Lobby decision is that it uses religious freedom to let your boss take away your religious freedom. That is not acceptable. And it is not sustainable.

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    You Don't Need a Gun: Mass Shooters

    The shootings in Isla Vista have left me too angry to blog. But now we have yet another shooter on a college campus, at Seattle Pacific. Fortunately, this murderer was stopped after killing one and wounding three. And he was stopped in the way the gun-rights community says he can never be stopped: he was stopped without a gun.

    If you'll forgive me repeating parts of a blog post from two years ago, written after another of our endless repeated mass murders:
     

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    Donald Sterling, the NBA, and the Free Rider Problem

    Can the other 29 NBA owners force Donald Sterling to sell the LA Clippers? Let's put it another way: can the other 29 owners be forced to remain Donald Sterling's partner? Of course, private citizens shouldn't be forced to sell privately owned businesses. But how much of Sterling's business exists if you take away his association with those other 29 businesses? If you take away the other 29 teams, what does Sterling own?

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    Why Colleges Mishandle Sexual Assault

    My first week of college, someone passed along some time-honored undergrad wisdom: "If you're going to get arrested," we were told, "and you see a campus cop coming one way and a city cop coming the other, run to the campus cop." I've been thinking about that advice lately, as the news brings more scandals about sexual assault at American colleges.

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    The Shakespeare Silly Season

    This week marks Shakespeare's 450th birthday, leading to many celebrations. We don't know exactly which day he was born (because we only have a record of his baptism, not of his birth), but it was sometime before April 26, and the April 23 has become the "official" birthday. (Why? 1. Shakespeare died on April 23, so wouldn't that be cool? and 2. April 23rd is an English national holiday, so wouldn't that be lovely and patriotic?)  But because it's a big round-number birthday, it's also attracting scammers and hucksters.

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    Copyright vs. Truth

    The family of the poet Ted Hughes has just "withdrawn permission" for Hughes's biographer to quote from his papers and letters, including papers and letters that the family has already sold to the British Library. The biographer, who's been working on this book for years, has already read those papers. He knows what's in them. But he is no longer allowed to tell us what he knows. How can this be? Copyright law.
     

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    Solving the Two-Body Problem

    For years now, my spouse and I have had what academics call the "two-body problem": two careers at two universities in two places. It's a common problem for our professional generation, and we have an easier version of it than most. My spouse (the more accomplished blogger Flavia) works at a school about 250 miles away from mine. We maintain two homes and commute between them.

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    Fear Itself: Ukraine Edition

    The single most important thing Barack Obama needs to do about Ukraine is not to panic. The single most important thing anyone else in the United States can do about Ukraine is not to panic Barack Obama. Developments in the Crimea are extremely dangerous, and that's exactly why everybody needs to calm down.

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    Ask Me About Shakespeare

    Last summer, in a comment thread that was originally about something else, some of the dagbloggers got me into a side conversation about Shakespeare and linguistics. In that conversation, Orlando wished that I would blog about Shakespeare more often since, you know, I actually work on him for a living.

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