Sunday, January 25, 2015


While I was in New York Andy Beckerman interviewed me for his podcast series, Beginnings. It's now up, here

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

rereading Scribes and Scholars

Have been rereading Scribes & Scholars, by L.D. Reynolds and N.R. Wilson, largely for the civilised tone and dry wit of Leighton Reynolds.

S&S says of Politian that he had the following response to those who criticised him for being insufficiently Ciceronian:

'Non exprimis,' inquit aliquis, 'Ciceronem.' Quid tum? Non enim sum Cicero, me tamen (ut opinor) exprimo. (Epistle 8.16)

It's the 'ut opinor' that's so lovely. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

LR and We Second That

Lightning Rods has been selected for We Second That, the Slate/Whiting list of great second novels (the 5 best in the last 5 years); Dan Kois has written about it on Slate, here.

The other novels on the list are Eileen Myles' Inferno, Daniel Alarcón's At Night We Walk in Circles, Marlon James' The Women of the Night, and Akhil Sharma's Family Life. (Click on links for reviews.)

I am a little leery of saying much about the plight of the second novel, or LR in particular, since LR was so frequently a casualty of behind-the-scenes machinations; talking about this sort of thing never seems to do much good.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

plus ça change

Gauguin wrote to van Gogh: mon cher Vincent
van Gogh to Gauguin: mon cher Gauguin

So lovely.

van Gogh to Gauguin of discussions with Theo, 3 October 1888:

Dans ces discussions il s’est souvent agi de ce qui nous tient si fort au coeur à mon frere comme à moi, des mesures à prendre pour sauvegarder l’existence materielle des peintres et de sauvegarder les moyens de production (couleurs, toiles) et de sauvegarder à eux directement leur part dans le prix  que ne prennent leurs tableaux actuellement que longtemps après avoir cessé d’etre la propriété des artistes.

In these discussions, it was often a matter of the thing that’s so dear to our hearts, both my brother’s and mine, the steps to be taken in order to preserve the financial existence of painters, and to preserve the means of production (colours, canvases), and to preserve directly to them their share in the price that their paintings at present fetch only when they have long ceased to be the property of the artists.
[translation borrowed from out of sheer sloth]

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

not enough letters

The general problem for lack of analytic talent, and for employers as well as employees wasting tons of time in fruitless job interviews, is well illustrated when you compare resumes and job ads below. One of our readers (look at the comments below) mentioned that the skill R (one of the too most popular programming languages used by data scientists, the other one being Python) is never picked up by automated search tools used by recruiters to parse resumes, because it's just one letter. So it does not matter if you have R or not in your resume, if the hiring comparing uses poor automated filtering tools to narrow down on candidates with desired skills, such as (especially and ironically) R.

Vincent Granville, Why Companies Can't Find Analytic Talent

Saturday, November 22, 2014


Rereading correspondence with Mithridates. It occurs to me that I could have posted much more regularly on pp if I had simply copied choice extracts from my emails to my very dear friend M (the correspondence is up to 1000 emails or so). 

Thought of the day. (The day is June 2, 2008.)

I sometimes think about the morbidity rate of particular topics of research. You know when one dreams up a topic one's supposed to make a case that it is underresearched.  Could be there are topics that kill off researchers.  Could be that phalanxes of young graduate students have tackled topics that required them to read Aurora Leigh. Only to get halfway through Aurora Leigh and succumb to horror at the futility of it all.  I can't do this any more, they think, and walk away - leaving the topic underresearched, a temptation to future unsuspecting victims. 

A topic deserving research in its own right, clearly.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

play up, play up and play the game

A few days ago the Brattleboro Reformer ran a piece by Mike Faher on a man who repeatedly ignored a relief-from-abuse order, then stole the victim's car and took it to Florida.

The cases against Smith date to summer of 2013, when the former Ludlow man was accused of repeatedly violating an abuse-prevention order. Police said Smith had been text-messaging and calling a Windham County woman with whom he had been ordered to have no contact.

In court documents, Vermont State Police said Smith "texts and calls (the victim) numerous times a day. Too many to document. (The victim) contacts us almost daily about the amount of times Smith has contacted her."

The pattern apparently culminated in Smith taking the victim's car and ending up in Florida, where he has family. He was arrested Aug. 22, 2013, in Florida by the Marion County Sheriff's Department and later was returned to Vermont, where he has been incarcerated since.

Smith eventually pleaded guilty to four violations of an abuse-prevention order and six violations of his conditions of release. He also pleaded guilty to disturbing the peace by phone, and he pleaded no contest to operating a vehicle without the owner's consent. 

The prosecutor in the case, Ashley Harriman, was the one who acted in my cases, first when an obsessive, intrusive neighbor was charged with unlawful trespass, later when he broke in at night threatening to shoot.  The sentence she originally proposed in my case was 2 or 3 to 5 years. The sentence she proposed in the new case was 36 months to 14 years.  In the latter, as far as I can make out, the obsessive behavior took the form of text messages and phone calls; the defendant did not actually break into the house with a weapon threatening violence.  As faithful readers may remember, she settled for 14 months in a plea agreement, without going to trial, because my deposition "showed absence of fear."  The accused served 9 months of the sentence, and was released with no restrictions.

The point to take away from this, anyway, is the startling lack of enforcement of both the abuse-prevention order and conditions of release.  The victim contacted the police almost daily about the frequent violations, and nothing was done.  It was emphatically not the case that, upon the first violation, the person under prevention order was taken into custody so that no further violations could occur.

Now, the victim played the game the way Ms. Harriman likes it to be played: she went right on reporting violations to the police even though the offender remained at large. In other words, she took the risk of reprisals again and again - and she was lucky, as these things go.  The defendant stacked up multiple offenses, duly reported; he did not attack her; he merely stole her car (which has, apparently, not been recovered).

But I was told, when I found a state trooper willing to issue a citation of trespass, that it would be safer to move out of my home to avoid reprisals, in view of the defendant's long criminal record and history of violence.  And I was later told, after the defendant was arraigned and released on bail, with conditions of release, that it was "probably safe to return," but if I had a problem I should call the police. The prosecutor later told me I should report even technical violations, because if there were violations "on a daily basis" this would give leverage to the prosecution - and my victim advocate confirmed that there was no guarantee that a violation would result in the defendant being arrested and taken into custody.  So to play the prosecutor's game I would need not only to report incidents but leave myself open to reprisals by staying where I was, rather than retreating to my sublet in the nearest town.  The final break-in was provoked because the defendant seemed to me to be pushing boundaries, despite a warning that he must be meticulous in observing conditions of release; I sent him an email with a list of actions which would result in an immediate call to the police, and the result was -- an incident which the prosecutor apparently found insufficiently frightening. The idea that failing to call the police after earlier, minor incidents might itself arise from concern for reprisals could not be entertained -- it would implicate both prosecutor and victim advocate in playing games with the victim's safety.

When I was later warned of the defendant's imminent release from jail I went to talk to the Women's Freedom Center, in part to ask whether a stalking order would help.  The question I asked was how consistently these were enforced.  Answer: We'd like to think they're enforced.  Well, I would have liked to think so too, but if they weren't I might be back in a situation where reporting violations did nothing except annoy my faithful admirer.

The piece in the Reformer suggests that my concern was well-founded.