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September 28, 2007 [feather]
About time

Evan Coyne Maloney's Indoctrinate U premieres tonight, at D.C.'s Kennedy Center. The screening is sold out, and it promises to be the first of several in major U.S. cities this fall.

This moment has been a long time in coming. And it's about time. May the film provoke lots of productive discussion and debate -- and may it bring about positive change.

Erin O'Connor, 7:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Free as in will, not beer

I sometimes wonder whether the snarkiness academia directs toward critics who want to see free inquiry and free expression truly cultivated and protected on campus stems from an ambient inability to really believe that freedom exists. What with false consciousness, the unconscious, and being transcoded by discursive structures of power, people just aren't very free at all according to the broad categories of contemporary theoretical thought. Whether it's Marx, Freud, Foucault, or some other thinker whose main idea is that people can't, don't, and won't think for themselves, theories of agency in academia tend to be theories of how agency is a ruse and a sham. And buying into that becomes an excuse to be quite cavalier about both individual rights as well as about the principles underwriting concepts such as academic freedom. (Case in point: The AAUP's recent statement on freedom in the classroom, which is far more interested in freedom as power or license, as "what professors should be allowed to do," than than it is in freedom as opportunity, as "the conditions necessary to enable people--including students--to explore ideas fully and come to their own conclusions.")

So, anyhow, it's good to see some folks out there still interested in arguing that there is such a thing as free will. This is not an uninformed defense, but a philosophically and scientifically aware one. It doesn't strike me as complete--but it would be asking an awful lot of an online article to finally settle one of the big questions of life. Still, it's an intriguing start toward imagining what the author calls "a freedom worth having." Check it out.

Erin O'Connor, 10:08 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

September 26, 2007 [feather]
More on Bollinger

It's going to be interesting to see where this balloon lands. Will Bollinger be the next Lawrence Summers (as in academic feminism:Lawrence Summers as Middle East studies: Lee Bollinger)? Or has he just begun to break the stifling mold of academic speech by taking a stand that sets a standard other academics--many of whom are cowed by a loudmouthed radical minority of colleagues--really ought to learn to follow?

Is the academic consensus going to be that Bollinger is now a tool of the Bush administration, as Eric Foner would have it? That he has unconscionably violated conventions of academic civility, as others would have it (this argument suggests that it's a greater sin to be rude to a guest than to be complicit with terror)? Or will it be that it's high time to stop academic behavior that--to borrow some fine academic buzzwords--validates and even reifies the structures of oppression Ahmadinajad represents?

There's good back and forth on this in the comments to this post, with good internal links.

Erin O'Connor, 12:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

On the AAUP's "Freedom in the Classroom" statement

My thoughts are up at Minding the Campus.

Erin O'Connor, 10:32 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

September 24, 2007 [feather]
Lee Bollinger has balls

And that's a good thing. Say what you will about how it was that Ahmadinejad got asked to speak at Columbia, Bollinger's comments today were amazing. He put himself on the line today in the most dignified, uncompromising manner possible. In doing so, he stepped out of that foggy silent sanctuary to which university presidents too often retreat in tough moments, and into the realm of accountability.

Erin O'Connor, 4:57 PM | Permalink | Comments (19) | TrackBack (0)

September 17, 2007 [feather]
Partial redress

UC Irvine is cleaning up its mess--and will be hiring Chemerinsky after all to head its new law school. Now to see whether the Regents can connect the dots and re-invite Lawrence Summers to their meeting.

Erin O'Connor, 3:32 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

September 15, 2007 [feather]
Chemerinsky is not alone

He has good company in former Harvard president Lawrence Summers. The UC Regents had invited Summers to speak at their upcoming board meeting--but they rescinded the invitation after women faculty at UC Davis circulated a petition opposing Summers' visit:

UCD professor Maureen Stanton, one of the petition organizers, was delighted by news of the change this morning, saying it's "a move in the right direction."

"UC has an enormous historical commitment to diversity within its faculty ranks, but still has a long way to go before our faculty adequately represent the diversity of our constituency, the people of California," said Stanton, professor and chairwoman of the section of evolution and ecology.

When Stanton heard about the initial invitation to Summers, she was "stunned."

"I was appalled that someone articulating that point of view would be invited by the regents," she said. "This is a symbolic invitation and a symbolic measure that I believe sends the wrong message about the University of California and its cultural principles."

Stanton and other women on campus began circulating a petition Tuesday night by e-mail to colleagues at several campuses in the UC system. In two days, they had collected more than 150 signatures.

"None of us go looking for a fight," Stanton said. "We were just deeply offended."

The petition states that "this invitation is not only misguided but inappropriate at a time when the university is searching for a new president and continues to build and diversify its community."

"The regents represent the leadership and public face of the University of California," the petition states. "Inviting a keynote speaker who has come to symbolize gender and racial prejudice in academia conveys the wrong message to the university community and to the people of California. It is our fervent hope that the regents will rescind this invitation and seek advice elsewhere."

This is so pathetic. I used to write long disquisitions on the ethical dimensions of behavior like this, but years of it can make a girl get very tired. And that's because this stuff is tiresome, and boring, and wrong, and pathetic, and so very indicative of the derailed character of academic life. It's more important to keep punishing Summers for a comment he made years ago--and apologized for many times over, and essentially lost the presidency of Harvard over--than it is just to move on and let free exchange happen on campuses. I doubt Summers would have devoted his time before the Regents to theorizing gender (not that I would personally care much if he did--I was not so mortally wounded by his observations as others were), and he is a brilliant man with much of value to bring to a visit with the Regents. But what does that matter when the opportunity to mob a politically incorrect academic presents itself?

Erin O'Connor, 12:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Hedgehogs aren't just for croquet

They are also for eating -- or they used to be. Here's a traditional medieval English recipe:

According to medieval experts: "Hedgehog should have its throat cut, be singed and gutted, then trussed like a pullet, then pressed in a towel until very dry; and then roast it and eat with cameline sauce, or in pastry with wild duck sauce. Note that if the hedgehog refuses to unroll, put it in hot water." This is, however, a dish based on traditional methods of cooking meat going back to prehistoric times.


2-2.5kg joint of meat (or leg of lamb)

Sufficient long grass to cover the meat


Season the meat. Wrap it in long grass, first lengthways and then tying more grass crossways to secure the green wrapping in place. Prepare your barbecue and place a large pot filled with water on it. Cook the meat for about two hours. Once the meat has cooked, remove the grass then place the meat back in the barbecue to sear. Then carve and serve. (Nettle pudding can be boiled in the same pot and served as an accompaniment.)

This and other recipes compiled by Welsh academics offer some insight into why the British have such an indelible reputation for poor cooking, as well as into the early roots of foods we still happily consume, among them pancakes and brown bread made with beer. Adventurous eaters should know that hedgehogs are off limits today, being a protected species. But, as researcher Ruth Fairchild told the Belfest Telegraph, "I suppose if it was roadkill that might be alright."

Recipes for an elderberry-anchovy souffle-sort of thing; nettle pudding; stew made with sheep's stomach and the hearts and lungs of cows and lambs; and, more innocuously, a mess of pottage, are included in the article, and are well worth reading, if not actually worth cooking up.

The article also answers the immortal question posed in Monty Python's Life of Brian: "What have the Romans ever done for us?" To the long list adduced in that film, one must add that they figured out how to use beaten eggs to make cakes, custards, and breads.

Via Cliopatria.

Erin O'Connor, 10:46 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

September 14, 2007 [feather]
Free as in speech -- and T-shirts

Get your free FIRE t-shirt by helping to promote awareness of speech codes on campus. Penn--largely thanks to lessons painfully and publicly learned--gets a green light these days:

What rating does your school get?

Erin O'Connor, 11:59 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

September 13, 2007 [feather]
Irvine screws up

I'm pressed for time this morning, so I will just quote John Leo on UC Irvine's openly political decision to rescind its offer to liberal Duke law professor Erwin Chemerinsky to head its new law school:

Erwin Chemerinsky, a noted constitutional scholar and law professor at Duke for 21 years, has just been hired and then fired as the first dean of the University of California, Irvine, Law School, which opens in 2009. Irvine's chancellor, Michael Drake, explained the firing by saying "he had not been aware of how Chemerinsky's political views would make him a target for criticism from conservatives," according to Brian Leiter's Law School Reports, a blog on legal academia.

If the blog report is accurate, the treatment of Chemerinsky is a test case for conservatives who support free speech and argue vehemently against political tests for faculty and administration appointments. Do these principles apply only to conservatives, or do they protect liberals as well?

Chemerinsky is indeed very liberal and very outspoken. He particularly irritated many religious conservatives by lumping Christian fundamentalists with Islamic fundamentalists as threats to democratic principles. So argue with him, but don't try to get him fired.

For one thing, the chancellor had plenty of time to think about the impact of hiring Chermerinsky, and to reject him if he chose. But it's disgraceful to hire the man, fire him immediately and then explain that you are doing so to cave into political pressure. The chancellor, the school and Chemerinsky all suffer from this sort of amateurish behavior. And if the chancellor does not reverse course and accept Chemerinsky, he puts the next choice for dean in an untenable position - he will inevitably be seen as a safe nominee, so harmless that no political pressure group will try to oust him. The reputation of the law school would decline two years before opening.

"I've been a liberal law professor for 28 years," Chemerinsky said. I write lots of op-eds and articles, I argue high-profile cases and I expected there would be some concern about me. My hope was that I'd address it by making the law school open to all viewpoints. He said he has begun to assemble a board of advisors that would have included conservatives such as Viet Dinh, a law professor at Georgetown, and Deanell Reece Tacha, a judge on the 10th Circuit Court.

Writing anonymously on the Wall Street Journal site, different Duke law students offered both praise and criticism for Chemerinsky. A pro-Chemerinsky opinion said: "To respond to allegations of anti-conservative bias - these cannot be further from the truth. Equal air time was always given to both sides during class, and with regard to his Con Law final, I wrote a final exam that could only be described as 'Scalia-esque' and received a 4.0."

Do the right thing, chancellor, and re-hire Chemerinsky.

Political litmus tests in academic personnel decisions are rife, despite what defenders of the status quo say when they are in public. They are usually better concealed than this, but they are there. And they are always wrong -- no matter who is applying the test, and no matter whose politics are found to be wanting.

Erin O'Connor, 2:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

September 10, 2007 [feather]
Was Peter Rabbit packing?

Probably. A very informative piece on gun control, crime, and English history in Sunday's London Times offers both compelling evidence that strong gun control laws don't reduce crime and interesting insights into English cultural history:

America's disenchantment with "gun control" is based on experience: whereas in the 1960s and 1970s armed crime rose in the face of more restrictive gun laws (in much of the US, it was illegal to possess a firearm away from the home or workplace), over the past 20 years all violent crime has dropped dramatically, in lockstep with the spread of laws allowing the carrying of concealed weapons by law-abiding citizens. Florida set this trend in 1987, and within five years the states that had followed its example showed an 8 per cent reduction in murders, 7 per cent reduction in aggravated assaults, and 5 per cent reduction in rapes. Today 40 states have such laws, and by 2004 the US Bureau of Justice reported that "firearms-related crime has plummeted."

In Britain, however, the image of violent America remains unassailably entrenched. Never mind the findings of the International Crime Victims Survey (published by the Home Office in 2003), indicating that we now suffer three times the level of violent crime committed in the United States; never mind the doubling of handgun crime in Britain over the past decade, since we banned pistols outright and confiscated all the legal ones.

We are so self-congratulatory about our officially disarmed society, and so dismissive of colonial rednecks, that we have forgotten that within living memory British citizens could buy any gun – rifle, pistol, or machinegun – without any licence. When Dr Watson walked the streets of London with a revolver in his pocket, he was a perfectly ordinary Victorian or Edwardian. Charlotte Bronte recalled that her curate father fastened his watch and pocketed his pistol every morning when he got dressed; Beatrix Potter remarked on a Yorkshire country hotel where only one of the eight or nine guests was not carrying a revolver; in 1909, policemen in Tottenham borrowed at least four pistols from passers-by (and were joined by other armed citizens) when they set off in pursuit of two anarchists unwise enough to attempt an armed robbery. We now are shocked that so many ordinary people should have been carrying guns in the street; the Edwardians were shocked rather by the idea of an armed robbery.

If armed crime in London in the years before the First World War amounted to less than 2 per cent of that we suffer today, it was not simply because society then was more stable. Edwardian Britain was rocked by a series of massive strikes in which lives were lost and troops deployed, and suffragette incendiaries, anarchist bombers, Fenians, and the spectre of a revolutionary general strike made Britain then arguably a much more turbulent place than it is today. In that unstable society the impact of the widespread carrying of arms was not inflammatory, it was deterrent of violence.

All very interesting, though bound to give conniptions to anti-gun ideologues.

Since I'm thoroughly tired of ideological conniption fits, let's not do that in the comments. Instead, let's have a historical game: Where are the guns in Victorian literature? Watson made a point of carrying a gun, and Conan Doyle made a point of telling us that. But given the prevalence of guns in nineteenth-century English culture, it's comparatively hard to find them in the books. They operate rather like servants and other ambient givens--so solidly present that they are not necessary to note, their sheer omnipresence can often register in literature as an absence. But they are there, if you look.

Erin O'Connor, 12:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)


Madeleine L'Engle has died at the age of 88. I know I'm very far from alone in having strong, formative memories of A Wrinkle in Time, which, among other things, made marvelous use of fiction's most hackneyed first line: "It was a dark and stormy night."

L'Engle was famous for writing kids' books -- but crucially did not see herself as a kids' writer: "In my dreams, I never have an age," she once said. "I never write for any age group in mind. When people do, they tend to be tolerant and condescending and they don't write as well as they can write."

Erin O'Connor, 12:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

September 7, 2007 [feather]
Novel as tell

Novelists are scavengers, and necessarily so. They are constantly on the lookout for plots, characters, narratable bits and pieces. And there are more than a few who have chosen storylines over privacy and personal loyalties--much to the advantage of their fiction and the anger of their friends. Dickens, to take one example, repeatedly pilloried people he knew in his novels--the insolvent minor poet Leigh Hunt showed up as Bleak House's parasitical and immature Skimpole, an ex-girlfriend who painfully jilted the young, undiscovered Dickens made a dowdy, devastating appearance as Little Dorrit's chattering Flora Finching, and so on. Dickens could never understand why people got so angry at him when he used them as character fodder in his fiction, nor did he ever learn to anticipate when he might touch a nerve.

Just how deep does the compulsion to write what you know--and to use great found material as the basis for crafted plot--go? Here's a hint:

WROCLAW, Poland (AP)--Fishermen dragged the dead man's body-- hands bound behind his back and tied to a noose around his neck-- from the cold waters of the Oder River in Poland in December 2000.

Police struggled to dig up any clues until a tip five years later led them to a novel with an eerily similar murder--and its author, Krystian Bala, who suspected the victim of having an affair with his estranged wife.

The killer in Bala's alcohol- and sex-fueled "Amok" gets away with his grisly crime. But on Wednesday, a court in Wroclaw sentenced Bala to 25 years in prison for planning and directing the murder of Dariusz Janiszewski.

The case fueled intense media interest in Poland--TV crews and journalists crowded the courtroom Wednesday--largely because of the 2003 novel, in which the narrator, Chris, fatally stabs a woman named Mary after binding her hands behind her back and running the rope to a noose around her neck.

"The evidence gathered gives sufficient basis to say that Krystian Bala committed the crime of leading the killing of Dariusz Janiszewski," Judge Lidia Hojenska said. "He was the initiator of the murder; his role was leading and planning it."

Hojenska said it was not clear who actually did the killing and who might have aided Bala in the crime, but the evidence overwhelmingly pointed to Bala's involvement in the events that led to Janiszewski's disappearance.

Dressed in a blue pinstriped sports coat, muted yellow tie and thin wire glasses, the 34-year-old Bala stood stone-faced between two policemen as the judge read the verdict. Bala showed no emotion, but occasionally glanced at his mother, who sat in the back of the courtroom.

His family and lawyer said they planned to appeal.

"Justice was served, but the verdict will never be adequate to the crime," said Janiszewski's father, Tadeusz, who caressed a photo of his son on the table in front of him. "It's tough to talk about being happy with it because nothing will bring my son back."

Janiszewski's body--stripped to a shirt and underwear--was discovered in the Oder River on Dec. 10, 2000. His body showed signs of starvation and torture.

Police quickly identified the victim as Janiszewski, the owner of a local advertising agency who had disappeared four weeks earlier. But authorities struggled to solve the case and abandoned it after six months.

Five years later, a tip led them to Bala's novel, and the similarities between the fictional and real-life murders. The shared traits aroused investigators' suspicions, although the parallels were not part of the court case.

The judge said Bala was driven by jealousy to kill Janiszewski, whom Bala suspected of having an affair with his estranged wife. Prosecutors said Janiszewski and Bala's wife had become friends, and spent a night together in a Wroclaw hotel in the fall of 2000.

"He was pathologically jealous of his wife," the judge said. "He could not allow his estranged wife, whom he treated as property, to have ties with another man."

Hojenska said a host of circumstantial evidence led to the verdict.

While Bala maintained he had never met or talked to Janiszewski, police tracked down a phone card used to make calls from a public phone to Janiszewski's office and then to his cell phone the morning he disappeared.

Calls were made the same day using the same card to Bala's girlfriend and to his parents.

Prosecutors also said someone using Bala's account on an Internet auction site sold Janiszewski's cell phone four days after he disappeared. Bala could not explain that.

In 2003, a Polish TV show broadcast a segment on Janiszewski's murder. Soon after the clip aired, the program's Web site dedicated to the case received hits from computers in Singapore, South Korea and Japan. Prosecutors say Bala was visiting those countries on those dates.

Then, during questioning by prosecutors in April 2006, Bala confessed to killing Janiszewski, only to immediately retract his statement and suffer a fainting spell. A doctor was called and declared there was nothing physically wrong with Bala. Since then, the author has not spoken to prosecutors.

The court also noted that a psychological assessment found Bala had "sadistic tendencies" and a need to demonstrate superiority. Experts said the narrator-killer in his book bears a psychological resemblance to Bala.

"Amok" is a work of pulp fiction set in Paris and Mexico, narrated by a young translator who moves from one sexual conquest to another, killing one of his lovers, Mary.

"There are certain similar characteristics between the book's narrator and the author--shared psychological characteristics, life experiences, studying philosophy, parties, travel," the judge said Wednesday, while noting there were also differences between the fictional and the actual crimes.

The most glaring difference: In the book, the narrator gets away with murder.

You can't make this stuff up. But when you are a murderer, perhaps you should try.

Erin O'Connor, 1:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)