Thursday, October 01, 2009


I find great websites all the time. Today, I just want to talk about a few that just appeal to me because I like their subject matter.

One of my favorites sites lately is FIRE, short for Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a foundation advocating freedom of speech in education. Few things get me as riled up as first amendment violations, and frequently FIRE has an article that just makes me mad.

Take this case documenting what looks like a disturbing power play by a Georgian State college to stifle all dissent by their employees. Thomas Thibeault was a professor at East Georgia College. According to FIRE, during a seminar on sexual harassment he complained that the school’s policy had no protection for people who were falsely accused. The school’s vp for legal affairs, Smith, replied that there was, in fact, no protection for them. Thibeault said he thought that made the policy unfair. Seems like they agreed, no?

Apparently not.

Two days later Thibeault was called to the presidents office, where President Black, along with VP Smith, confronted him. President Black essentially fired him – well sort of fired him, as you will see. FIRE provides a copy of Thibeault’s letter to Black and Smith giving details of the meeting, of which I include a part here:

You commenced the meeting by stating that I was a divisive force in the college at a time when the college needed unity for the forthcoming SACS inspection. You then informed me that you were canceling my present contract and all future contracts on the grounds of sexual harassment. You claimed that I have a “long history os (sic) sexual harassment which includes smutty jokes, foul language, obscenities, and innuendo.

I asked you for proof of these allegations, and you stated that, if you received my resignation by 11:30, nothing more would be done and that you would provide me with a good reference for my next teaching position. If you did not receive my resignation by 11:30, you would dismiss me and that my ‘long history of sexual harassment would be made public.’

His letter also states that he was told he would be escorted off the campus and that the sheriff was informed if he was found on the campus to arrest him for trespass.

Thibeault was a teacher at a State college, which is required to apply due process under Georgia’s law, not to have professors escorted off campus and threatened with arrest because the president thinks he’s not a team player. It gets crazier, according to the FIRE article.

On August 25 the president wrote Thibeault again, claiming for the first time that Thibeault had actually been suspended, not fired: "[T]he committee's finding was that there is sufficient evidence to support your suspension." The letter also stated that Thibeault was going to be terminated because of "sexual harassment," that he could obtain the charges upon request and also request a hearing. So, he requested a copy of the charges a few days later, and, of course, did not get a response. His lawyer had the same result.

Of course, I have no idea whether Thibeault is a celibate monk or leers at his student. But, if FIRE is even remotely accurate here, then the school’s process, unfairly depriving professors of their jobs, might be worse than many cases of actual harassment, unless you think a boss abusing his power by unfairly taking someone's job is okay. My question is, what will happen to Black (not to mention Smith) if Thibeault’s facts are borne out? I'd like to think it would be severe, and that they was dismissed himself or at least severely chastised and required to apologize for his bullying and rule violations. Of course, in real life, that won’t happen at all, which is why organizations like FIRE are so necessary.

Whatever the result is, my point here is really just that it’s a terrific website, whose mission is one I can get behind. There are also articles on FIRE this past month about Yale’s decision to remove cartoons characterizations of Mohammad in a book which is actually ABOUT THOSE CARTOONS (you all remember the hullaballoo in Denmark over these cartoons, including death threats), another one on Virginia Tech’s coercive requirement that professors produce research supporting Tech’s diversity policy (FIRE takes no position on the policy; only on the coercion); University of Idaho’s speech code prohibiting “insensitive” speech (I know people who think any public mention of ethnicity, skin color, gender, etc., is insensitive at best, if not outright bias); and, a similar one at James Madison University where students may be punished for "lewd, indecent or obscene conduct and expression" - naturally, no definition for lewd or indecent is given - as FIRE points out, the school's explanation that it is only to prohibit illegal conduct like public urination or masturbation doesn't explain why "expression" is also prohibited.

I don’t need to check FIRE everyday, but once a week or so does the trick.

Another site I’ve discovered lately is on the pardon power and the related power of presidents and governors to grant clemency, reducing a sentence. It is run/owned by Professor P. S. Ruckman, Jr. (and I can’t find his full name anywhere), who has a Ph.d in political science and is an associate professor at Rock Valley College in Illinois. He is also one of one of the few experts in pardons in the country.

Pardons usually become exciting only at the end of a president’s term as the media and political opponents wonder which of his cronies, supporters, etc., will get a pass. Clinton’s Mark Rich pardon (which did Rich little good and Clinton much bad) and Bush’s clemency for Scooter Libby are well known examples.

Ruckman has written heavily not just on presidential pardons but keeps us informed as to what is going on in each state. The pardon power is, of course, an awesome one. It can be sweeping (Carter pardoning all those who fled the draft during Vietnam; Andrew Johnson pardoning the confederates), it can be obviously political (Nixon pardoned supporter George Steinbrenner or Clinton's of Mark Rich); and astonishing (Carter pardoning unapologetic Puerto Rican terrorists - one of whom had tried to kill President Truman and who was indirectly responsible for a security officer’s death in doing so; Clinton pardoned Puerto Rican terrorists too). It can also be an act of mercy that it was meant to be, such as where terminally ill persons are allowed to go home to die or to receive medical treatment.

What’s interesting about Ruckman’s site is that it is so comprehensive, both he and his associates having made a scholarly inquiry into the subject. The stats are fun and overwhelming (I’ll obey the request on his blog not to cut and paste).

For example, he breaks down George Bush’s pardons by State. He didn't pardon very many people but when he did, 17 were from his home state, Texas, which received by far the most. Of the top eleven states having prisoners receiving pardons from Bush, nearly two thirds are from the 11 states which were in the Confederacy, as was Texas. Nearly 70 percent came from red states as were 80 percent of the top ten. Of the states that received only 1 pardon, 7 of the 11 had gone blue in his last presidential election, including some very populous states with lots of prisoners. Total pardons received by blue states – 47; Total received by red states – 105. He’s not suggesting Bush was more political than any of his predecessors and, if Ruckman has a political persuasion, I can’t tell from the site what it is. But, can it be said that this power was placed in the Constitution for the president to get to score political points. I think not. Athough there was already a federalist/anti-federalist split in the founders, parties didn't exist yet the way they would just a few years later. A separate article reprinted in Ruckman's blog suggests that the power has only recently morphed from an exercise in checks and balances into the president’s personal prerogative.

Here’s some more from the site – of all of our presidents, the two main World War presidents, Wilson and Roosevelt, made by far the most pardons. Since LBJ, the number of pardons presidents grant have substantially shrunken. In the last two of FDR’s terms (the last term mostly Truman’s), more pardons were granted than all of the pardons from Reagan through Bush put together. Since Carter left office, Clinton has granted the most, but still quite few compared to all presidents since the Civil War.

I got turned onto the site after reading a scathing article by Ruckman on the congressional testimony given by “experts” to congress after the Clinton “last minute” pardon scandal, the one which included the pardon to Mark Rich. Ruckman was not defending the Rich pardon, but he showed that if you actually look at the statistics, the experts who testified were anything but expert. In fact, despite their testimony that Clinton’s pardons did not fit a historical pattern, the actual statistics show quite the opposite. The problem was, as he pointed out, those who testified claimed to be basing their opinions on history, but cited almost no facts at all. If you've ever watched congressional hearings, that is hardly a surprise. Apparently, they just had no idea of what the truth was and based their opinions on what they thought might be the case. I find it curious that the "expert" Ruckman most heavily criticized for inaccuracy at the hearings, Margaret Colgrave Love, who had worked in the Justice Department’s pardon department, is listed on the sidebar of among its lists of experts. After the bashing he gives her in his article, I’d like to see that mystery unraveled.

Go to the site, if you have any interest in these things and spend as many hours as you like reading it. You won’t exhaust the amount of information there. It’s like reading Wikipedia but just on one topic.

A couple of years ago I found this truly amazing website hosted by Tufts University (with contributions and support from many other sources). Perseus collects many ancient texts of the Greek and Roman world and translates them in a word by word clickable fashion. It also provides dictionaries and commentaries for most of their collection. It is a revolutionary tool that allows you to translate, as examples, Aristophanes, Tacitus or even the Bible, word by bloody word.

This might not excite everyone, but it will language lovers and it excites the bejabbers out of me. What it does is open the doors of knowledge that previously could only be enjoyed by a handful of scholars, the same way the internet has opened up trading on the stock market to any idiot who wants to gamble his money away.

Let’s jump, just for fun, to Perseus’s table of contents and then scroll down to the Bible under “World English Bible,” then to the Old Testament Book of Judges (from whence, e.g., the story of Sampson) in the Latin translation of St. Jerome. I choose St. Jerome, one of the "fathers" of the Catholic Church, because his efforts in revising the existing Latin translations of the Bible paved the way for translations in so many other languages, just as Perseus has done in a different way. When completed, the translation became known as the "Vulgate" or common text.

So, I click on the Vulgate version and up pops the Latin translation for Judges. Then, I choose, not quite randomly, the second word, mortem, because it looks familiar, and I’m guessing almost certainly has something to do with death, as in "mortician" and even "Morticia," of Addams family fame.


A word study box pops up. It tells me that the root – Mors – does indeed mean death (that was an easy one), and that mortem is in the feminine, singular and accusative case (which, if you care, is basically the direct object of a transitive verb). You can also connect to Charlton T. Lewis’ An Elementary Latin Dictionary for more information. But, even without doing that, the word study tool box tells me that the word appears 458 times out of the some six hundred and fifty thousand words in the database. In all of the Latin texts, out of nearly four and a half million words, it appears 2168 times or 6.27 times per 10,000 words.

Tell me that doesn't get your heart pumping. No? Maybe I'm a little strange.

I click on the number 2168 and I am taken to a page which lists for me every single usage of the word in their database. The first entry is from Cicero, and when I click on that entry, poof, there is a Latin translation for that text with again every world clickable to a dictionary translation. Perseus also highlights Mors wherever it is found in the text I pulled up.

Of course, you can just skip all that word for word translation and just read any of these ancient texts in the full English translation that you can also access with a click, not to mention commentaries and related texts all linked to most every word. No library you or I could get to without tremendous inconvenience could ever be so handy and make these great texts available to us. It would take a huge library just to collect the texts, and even then reference works wouldn't be just a click away.

Here’s a selection of authors you can do all this with on Perseus (my favorites in bold): Aeschylus, Appian, Aristophanes, Aristotle, Caesar Augustus, Julius Caesar, Bede, Catullus, Cicero, Demosthenes, Epictetus, Euclid, Euripides, Herodotus, Hesiod, Homer, Livy, Lucretius, Horace, Pindar, Plato, Plautus, Plutarch, Sophocles, Tacitus, Thucydides, both Testaments and Xenophon. I just gave names that are somewhat familiar to most interested people, but there are many others.

The name Perseus was inspired. Perseus was one of Greece’s greatest mythological heroes, the one who cut off the head of the dreaded snake-coiffed Medusa, whose mere look could turn a man to stone. Scholars often try to guess where the names of mythological characters come from, but I emphasize the word guess, as, although there is knowledge involved, it is hardly a science, even though it is often stated with great certainty. The best guess for the meaning of Perseus is “destroyer” or “sacker” (as in, they sacked the city), from Perth- (“-eus” being a typical Greek male ending as in - Zeus).

But this post is really about websites and I can’t start talking about mythology or I’ll never get back on track. A similar site to Perseus is the, a cite that has a search engine for 14 different translations of the Bible, as well as tons of study aids, charts, lists, summaries, encyclopedias, etc.

I recognize that the first amendment, pardon power and translations are subjects which interest me and might leave others cold. Let me know what websites have you fascinated these days. And no, my friends, I wasn't referring to porn.


  1. comics, halife, abebooks,urbanlegends,all dotcoms. Also, for great classic jazz radio over your computer. Great blog idea, do more of these.

  2. Thanks, I will check them out.


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About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .