Random notes: February 1, 2018.

There’s a really good profile in The Guardian of Mary Beard, Cambridge professor of classics and noted historian.

The timing on this amuses me, as I just finished SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome earlier this week. (And Amazon now has the paperback for a shockingly low price.)

The early history of Rome, the era of its fabled seven kings, is notoriously difficult to untangle. There are few, if any, contemporary sources. The whole story slides frustratingly away into legend, with the later Romans just as confused as we are about how an unremarkable town on a malarial swamp came to rule a vast empire. One way of handling this material might have been simply to have started later, when the historian’s footing among the sources becomes more secure. Instead Beard asked not how much truth could be excavated from the Romans’ stories about their deep past, but what it might mean that they told them. If the Romans believed their city had started with Romulus and Remus, with the rape of the Sabine women – in a welter, in other words, of fratricide and sexual violence – what can we learn about the tellers’ concerns, their preoccupations, their beliefs? According to Greg Woolf, “One of the things Mary has taught is to look at the window, not through it, because there isn’t really anything behind it.”

I’d love to meet Dr. Beard and spend some time talking to her. I suspect we’d disagree on a lot of contemporary issues, but I think she’d be a fun person to talk history with. One of the things I loved about SPQR was how much time she spent on things other authors don’t talk about: the daily lives of the poor, middle class, and other people who didn’t write long letters to their friends, to take one example. For another example, her discussion of the ancient bar in Ostia, with pictures of the “Seven Sages” and their profound advice. Or the discussion of early Roman dice games.

And some of Dr. Beard’s views on contemporary subjects are a bit surprising, at least to me:

She doesn’t feel damaged by scenarios that would plainly be unacceptable today, she said, though “on the other hand you’d have to be blind as a bat to see it didn’t work like that for everybody”. One of the great problems of today, she said, was deciding how far current rules of behaviour could be projected back on the past. This question also informs her academic work: she is more likely to point out how different we are from the Romans than how similar. “As soon as you say things were different 40 years ago, people start to say you’re a harassment denier. But actually, they were. I do not think that the lives of women of my generation as a class were blighted by the way the power differentials between men and women operated. We wanted to change those power differentials; we also had a good time.”

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Llano is a town northwest of Austin, about 90 minutes away. It’s a small town (a little over 3,000 people in 2010). It is perhaps most famous as being the home of Cooper’s barbecue, one of the top 50 joints in Texas.

As a small town, Llano has a small police force. Which can be…a problem.

Chief Kevin Ratliff and officers Aimee Shannon, Grant Harden and Jared Latta — who make up almost half of the police department in Llano, a town about 60 miles northwest of Austin — were indicted on a charge of official oppression, a Class A misdemeanor. Harden also was indicted on a felony charge of tampering with a government record to defraud or harm the person he arrested, court records say.

The four officers are currently on leave. Another former officer was also indicted “on a charge of tampering with evidence and accused of destroying a digital recording of a drug crime scene on March 26”.

So what the hell happened?

The indictment regarding the chief and the three officers accuses them of unlawfully arresting Cory Nutt on May 2. Harden failed to state in his police report that “Nutt was inside his residence when he was arrested” or “that Cory Nutt was forced out of his residence and arrested,” the indictment says.

Officer Shannon allegedly threatened to tase Nutt as well. Nutt was charged with public intoxication, but the charges were dropped.

It sounds like the dispute boils down to: Nutt was drunk and probably making a scene, the officers responded, he stepped outside of his camper briefly and then went back inside, and the officers stepped up into his camper and arrested him for PI. At least, that’s the spin that two of the defense lawyers are putting on it.

However:

Harden was already on leave after a grand jury indicted him in December and accused him of tampering with dashboard camera footage during a DWI investigation in June 2017, according to a report from The Picayune newspaper in Marble Falls.

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