Maiello: Where Your Tax Dollars Go
Doc Cleveland: 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The family of the poet Ted Hughes has just "withdrawn permission" for Hughes's biographer to quote from his papers and letters, including papers and letters that the family has already sold to the British Library.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.
We have reached the point where the CIA is publicly bucking the right of the Senate Intelligence committee to oversee it. If even half of the charges in Amy Davidson's superb piece are true, the CIA has become totally unmoored and no longer seems even to acknowledge the idea that it has to answer to our elected officials. But you don't have to believe Davidson, or even Dianne Feinstein, to read CIA director John O. Brennan's public statements. [Read more]
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. We have been lucky that we are not farther apart, and that we can travel by car rather than plane. But like most of our generation, we have had no visible or easy solution for our problem. [Read more]
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.
I have no idea whether or not Obama is handling this situation well or badly. Neither does anybody else who's not party to what he's telling other international leaders on private lines. How Obama is handling things is about what he's saying to people like Angela Merkel and about how those people responding. I don't think there will be any way to measure his success or failure for a while.
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. [Read more]
Gun-rights advocates love to quote Robert Heinlein's line that "An armed society is a polite society." Heinlein argued that in a culture where many are packing lethal weapons, people are more careful with their manners because they're afraid of being killed over a minor lapse of etiquette. Heinlein is wrong on his facts; history makes it very clear that real armed societies don't work that way. But what's really ghastly is that Heinlein and his fans imagine his fantasy as a good thing. The belief that "an armed society is a polite society" depends on a conviction that murder is better than bad manners.
Michael Sam's brave decision to come out as gay before the NFL draft has been exactly the story that the NFL desperately needs.
So, J. K. Rowling has told an interviewer (the actress Emma Watson), that she paired off the wrong characters at the end of her Harry Potter series. Instead of marrying Harry's right-hand girl Hermione off to his left-hand boy Ron, Rowling has decided that she should have married Hermione to Harry himself. So, Rowling concludes, she was wrong when she wrote the books. In fact, she's wrong now.
Flying during the winter months has become an increasingly dicey proposition in 21st-century America. I make a handful of work-related plane trips a year, but the ones I do make tend to be for things that can't be rescheduled easily and often can't be rescheduled at all. I'm sure this is true for travelers in other kinds of business, but it's certainly true for academics: if you don't get there on the right day, the thing you were traveling to do may simply never happen. And American airlines can't quite promise to get you where you need to go any more, for reasons that have both to do with changing weather patterns and with a set of catastrophically-shortsighted business strategies that have become accepted as normal.
It's January 1 again, the day when works enter the public domain because their copyright expired at last year's end. And yet again, because of repeated extensions to the length of copyright, nothing at all entered the public domain in the United States. Almost nothing has since January 1, 1979.
One of the hardest things for many people to grasp during the Great Recession has been the idea that inflation is too low. We generally talk about inflation as pure economic evil, something that could never possibly be too low. But it is.
If you say inflation is too low, some people will bring up the high inflation of the 1970s or, more hysterically, the hyper-inflation in Weimar Germany during the rise of the Nazis as proof that Inflation Is Bad. But that doesn't really make sense. Inflation is bad when it gets too high, but that doesn't make a modest amount of inflation bad. The sun is bad in Death Valley when it's 130 degrees, but that doesn't make sunshine a universal menace. 15% inflation would be a very bad thing, but that doesn't mean 1.5% inflation is a good thing. 130 degrees Fahrenheit is murderous, but so 13 degrees is also a killer. A lot of our public debate about inflation is like trying to treat a case of frostbite while people keep shouting that heat is a terrible thing and then angrily tell you a long story about forest fires. [Read more]
One December when my brother and I were around ten and twelve years old, our mother enlisted us in a holiday good deed she was doing. She wouldn't tell us who we were doing it for, and after we got caught up in our task itself we stopped wondering. When we were finished, we went back to thinking about other things. But on the afternoon of Christmas Eve someone came by our house with a pot of turkey soup to thank our mother, and we realized who we'd been doing that small good deed for.
It's that time of year again, or actually one of the two times each year, when semesters end and bleary-eyed college professors scale mountains of ungraded papers and exams. One of my friends claims that he can track the academic calendar by the crescendo of professors griping on Facebook and Twitter about bad papers, worse excuses, and outrageous examples of student entitlement. Some of this is necessary foxhole camaraderie, some of it verges on the unprofessional, and some does a lot more than verge. Too many lame papers and excuses will put most people in an ugly mood. But I want to give two cheers to one group of students who never get any love at this time of year: the students whose papers are late because they take the assignments seriously.
Last Sunday was the first day of Advent, which means in the most traditional sense possible the beginning of the Christmas season. Of course, Retail Christmas Season began five minutes after Halloween ended, prompting me to some bleak reflections in my last post. But the truth is, I love Christmas, no matter how much this year's commercial display may be getting me down. Last Saturday I bought a wreath and a bunch of assorted greenery. My spouse made an Advent wreath from some of it, and decorations from the rest. Christmas lights frame our living room window, and I've got some nice holiday jazz on the stereo. I enjoy this holiday a lot. [Read more]
My morning commute these days takes me through a shopping center; the train lets me off underneath it. It's been Christmas in the mall since the first day of November. That's no surprise. Christmas has become the crutch our retail economy leans on. Many stores run in the red for eleven months and see Christmas put them in the black for the year. A bad year calls for a big Christmas, and a string of bad years calls for bigger and bigger Christmases. If shoppers don't keep finding more and more money for Christmas presents, the whole economy shrinks. It doesn't sound sustainable, but I don't blame local merchants for wanting to start Christmas early and hoping to extend that sweet jolt of retail steroid. We are out of other ideas.
A few weeks ago, an NFL player named Jonathan Martin, offensive left tackle for the Miami Dolphins, walked off the team and sought counseling for emotional health issues. This has led to the suspension of his teammate, the incongruously-named Richie Incognito, on charges of outlandish workplace harassment; an official NFL investigation into the team, now reaching to behavior by the coaches; and the kind of publicity you just can't buy. Plenty of NFL players, sports pundits, and armchair tough guys have denounced the 6'5", 312-pound Martin as soft and weak and proclaimed that outsiders just can't understand what goes on in an NFL locker room. [Read more]
I've been away at an academic conference for nearly a week, leaving blog posts unfinished, e-mail unanswered, and campus office untenanted. I had a wonderful time with a bunch of scholars and actors at the American Shakespeare Center's reproduction of Shakespeare's Blackfriars playhouse. (If you'd like to see some excellent theater, a trip to see the ASC's company in Staunton, Virginia, is a great idea.) But I also bumped up against a small problem that's began to follow me wherever I go professionally: the problem of my (real) name.
“A plague on both houses!” I've seen that line from Romeo and Juliet quoted repeatedly for the last two weeks, as pundits and bloggers devoted to “balance” argue that the Democrats and Republicans share the blame for the current budget shutdown and the looming threat of default. The line itself is a cliche, but quoting Shakespeare makes you sound learned, and that is too often the major aim of both-sides-do-it journalism: making the journalist seem wise and above the inconvenient facts of the fray. Shakespeare was a poet, not a pundit, more interested in dramatic complexity than sound bites but if we’re going to mine his plays for lessons, we should remember what we’re quoting. [Read more]
Flavia has a post about her writing process, with many thought-provoking comments from her readers, and Dame Eleanor Hull posts a great deal about the academic writing life. I find that I can't give a clear account of my writing process right now, if by "writing process" we mean my composition process. But I have learned, through difficult trial and error, that I need three things to keep my writing going well:
1. Something accepted but not yet in print.
2. Something submitted but not yet accepted.
Twenty years ago, while I was talking politics with my friend Mike, he said that Reagan's great achievement was what he called "the Nietzschification of the Right." I didn't grasp what he meant at first, since I typically encountered Nietzsche quoted by leftist literary critics. Mike's point was that Reagan had transformed American conservatism from a stodgy, rationalist enterprise into an emotional, charismatic movement like the New Left of the 1960s. Main Street conservatism gave way to Movement Conservatism, founded upon passionate emotion and conviction. I've thought of that conversation a lot over the last two decades, through the rise and fall of Newt Gingrich, the second Bush Presidency, and the flood tide of the Tea Party. [Read more]