Tuesday, April 25, 2006

"Internalizing" Another's Work

Today's Boston Globe contains another instance in which a person of apparently exceptional talent and success has been caught building her young reputation on the back of another's work.

Nineteen year old Harvard sophomore Kaavya Viswanathan, who has been paid a $500,000 advance for her first two novels, appears to have been
caught borrowing quite liberally from the work of another young novelist. In her defense, she and her publisher suggest that her cribbing of language and plot line were "unintentional and unconscious," and that she "internalized" the passages of the earlier author's work, with which she was earlier enthralled. But does this ring true?

"When I was in high school," Viswanathan said in her statement, "I read and loved two wonderful novels by Megan McCafferty, 'Sloppy Firsts' and 'Second Helpings,' which spoke to me in a way few other books did. Recently, I was very surprised and upset to learn that there are similarities between some passages in my novel, 'How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life,' and passages in these books."

While the plot of her book differs from McCafferty's, she said, "I wasn't aware of how much I may have internalized Ms. McCafferty's words. . . I can honestly say that any phrasing similarities between her works and mine were completely unintentional and unconscious. . . . I sincerely apologize to Megan McCafferty."

So the young Viswanathan regards her transgressions as similarities in some "passages" and "phrasings." It would appear from reviewing these similarities that such an innocent characterization is hard to accept:

[Both heroines] are first-person narrators, both superachiever teens from New Jersey who fall head over heels for a boy whose troublemaker exterior hides his keen intelligence.

Both heroines refer to the in-crowd at their school as the ''Upper Crust" and low-lifers as ''dregs."

The clique of girls in both heroines' lives includes a former elementary school friend of the heroine, a buxom flirt, and an Italian-American with a penchant for tanning.

Both bad-boy love interests have tried "shrooms," play the guitar, and wear faded Vans sneakers and shirts emblazoned with a day of the week.

The similarities don't stop there, as the article clearly points out. This story will continue to develop, and I am eager to see how Harvard University eventually deals with the results of its investigation. What I am hoping is that the University does not address the contretemps in the fashion that one of its co-eds suggested:

Said junior Victoria Chang: ''There are lots of people at Harvard under a lot of stress. Moral choices don't have to do with stress you are under."

At the very least, Harvard University can stake the bold position that, to the contrary, moral choices have everything to do with the stress under which such choices are made. If it doesn't, it will be sending yet another signal that it is becoming a shadow of its reputable self and just another over-priced liberal arts school that places little value onbuilding intellectual honesty and strong moral character.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Punch-Drunk Lawyers

It is hard to believe that this is real, but then again, it did take place (allegedly) in Montana.

Giving due deference to the differences among us, the American people, and acknowledging the overbreadth of the public's general opinion of those in my profession, I am nonetheless speechless:




"COMES NOW counsel for the Defendant through his and respectfully requests this Court to Order a fist fight between Shaun Donovan and John Conner on one side and Kirk Krutila and Bill Buzzell on the other side..."

Note, please, that the moving party's counsel (and author of the Motion), Kirk Krutila, is proposing that the fist fight include himself and the prosecutor, Shaun Donovan.

Why not just a shootout from 100 pace?

(H/T Orin Kerr).

Everyone Loves a Good Prank

Wizbang and OTB readers will surely enjoy this diversion from ordinary political wrangling:

Today's Boston Globe contains an amusing story concerning the re-establishment of a good-natured rivalry between MIT and Cal Tech in the Great Prank department:

When MIT students recently heisted a cannon from archrival Caltech's campus and
transported it cross-country to Cambridge, the pranksters weren't the only

MIT's opening salvo in a war of pranks delighted a
high-ranking Caltech administrator and some students, who had feared that such
activities were on the wane.

The rivalry dates back to the 1930's, but had apparently begun to wane until some students from Cal Tech and its neighbor Harvey Mudd College re-invigorated their end (MIT continued their pranks solo).

This is a good thing, and it got me to recollecting some truly outstanding pranks that I witnessed during my years at a New England boarding school of international repute:

The Great Utensil Pilferage (circa 1972)

One thousand students head to the Commons building one weekday morning for breakfast to find that they must use plastic knives and forks. During the night before, students had gained entry to the building and removed every knife, fork and spoon from the building.

After a two-day campus-wide search turned up no
corpus delicti, one of the perpetrators secretly signalled the administration to look on the roof of the Commons building, where the utensils were neatly arranged and stored.

The Standing Ovation (circa 1971)

At the weekly "assembly," all students are required to meet in the school's George Washington Hall for announcements and the like. "GW" was an impressive auditorium containing a main stage, orchestra pit and benchrows of large, very heavy oak-framed, leather upholstered seats. With aisles on each side of the main floor, the center row benches contained about twenty seats apiece.

One day the student body arrived for Assembly to find that the first twenty rows of benches missing. This feat required unbolting, lifting and removing each of the benches which weighed hundreds of pounds each.

Assembly was cancelled and a massive search for the valued benches ensued, to no immediate avail. Yet the benches had not (necessarily) gone far. The mainstage contained a center platform that could be lowered to the basement below, where the set-design department and "drama lab" were. The benches had been moved on the platform to below and stacked along the wall behind the heavy black stage curtains.

These hijinx served as excellent training for aspiring pranksters eager to matriculate to MIT and other top-shelf universities.

MIT's tradition of pranking is essential to its very identity -- so much so that the students
maintain a website devoted to their escapades. There, you will see that MIT's Great Dome is the frequent victim, once turned into a giant replica of R2D2, another time turned into a giant beanie.

However, MIT's best work is hard pressed to rival Cal Tech's finest prank -- what has been renowned as the greatest prank of all time, The Great Rose Bowl Hoax, expertly recounted at the link.

The tradition and lore of pranking on college campuses has been chronicled in at least one published work, If at All Possible, Involve a Cow: The Book of College Pranks, by Neil Steinberg. While the book is apparently out of print, Amazon indicates that a few copies are available to collectors for as little as $50.00. That might just be someone's idea of a joke.

But for the price of nothing, I recommend reading this, a description of the ten best college pranks, including The Theft of the Sacred Cod from the ceiling of the Massachusetts House Chamber by Harvard students in 1933, and the apparent sinking of the Statue of Liberty into the icy waters of Wisconsin's Lake Mendota by U. Wisconsin students in 1979.


Thursday, April 13, 2006

Truth is Stranger that Fiction

You might think that this sort of thing happens in third-world emerging democracies where the outgoing despots need time to adjust to their loss of unchecked power -- but this is the story just miles from downtown Los Angeles.

At a time when many cities struggle with voter participation, the tiny town of Vernon has seen its number of voters rise by about 50% in the last couple of months.

And that is adding to suspicions as voters in the industrial community south of downtown Los Angeles go to the polls Tuesday for the first time in a quarter of a century.

Vernon's official population is 91. But the number of registered voters has shot up from less than 60 to 86. About a dozen people registered in the weeks leading up to the March 27 deadline for Tuesday's election, the city's first in 25 years. The election pits three challengers who moved into town earlier this year against longtime incumbents — Mayor Leonis Malburg, Mayor Pro Tem Thomas A. Ybarra, and Councilman W. Michael McCormick — who have ruled Vernon for up to 50 years.

Sound like democracy is once again raising its proud head in Vernon? Er, not quite. But before we move on, you might ask yourself, what could possibly be worth fighting for in a sleepy little town of 100 people, hard by the railroad tracks?

The stakes of the election are high: whoever wins steers a city with more than $100 million in cash and investments, more than double its general operating budget.

One hundred million reasons to excite a surge in patriotism! Let's take a look at these patriotic souls. First, the incumbent Mayor:

This is Mayor Leonis Malburg, born to the City of Vernon as the grandson of founding father, John B. Leonis. Malburg joined the City Council in 1956 and has served continuously ever since. He became mayor in 1974 and has never had an opponent! He must be doing a heck of a job.

What does Malburg's kingdom control? The city's motto, "Exclusively Industrial," might suggest that its $100 million hoard derived from sagacious courting of fortune 500 interests and the like. Not so. It was once home to Doyle's, "the longest bar in the world" (it had 37 bartenders, 37 cash registers and a sign advising "if your children need shoes, don't buy booze"). Last call for Doyle's Bar was June 30, 1919 when over 1,000 people swilled their last pre-Prohibition drink. Then came the stockyards, slaughterhouses (one owned by Malburg's grandfather) and meatpacking plants. Today?

"Today smaller industrial/commercial establishments including fashion design, garment-making, film production, electronics, and waste recycling are characteristic of the business community in Vernon."

Pornography, sweat shops and garbage.

Who would want to take on this sturdy juggernaut?

In early January, eight people took up residence in a boxy commercial building. Within days, three of the newcomers filed petitions to run for City Council.

Almost immediately they began to be followed by private investigators, and utility crews turned off their power. The building they shared was red-tagged by inspectors. Eventually, police and other officials drilled holes in the locks of the property and evicted the would-be office-seekers.

The newcomers were accused of being part of a takeover plot by Albert Robles, a convicted felon who as treasurer of nearby South Gate nearly bankrupted that city.

Cris Summers, who secured the housing for the eight people, is a disbarred attorney and a friend of Robles.

Sounds like formidable opposition. How could Leonid and his band be concerned about a fair election against such riff raff?

Best not to leave anything to chance, so he thought"

The eight residents' voter registrations were rescinded, and the incumbents voted to cancel the election and reelect themselves.

Now that's a neat trick. It even beats the tactics used the last time there was someone brassy enough to throw his hat in the ring.

The last time there was an election in Vernon, in 1980, the town's retired police chief, Spence E. Hogan, declared himself a candidate. He was quickly evicted from his city-owned home.

Hogan moved in with Philip Reavis, then president of the Vernon Chamber of Commerce, and they both ran for office. Hogan won the vote count but lost the election after the then-city administrator, Bruce Malkenhorst Sr., disqualified six ballots.

I swear -- I've lived in Boston for almost 30 years and I thought I'd seen some bare knickles politics. But this beats the band.

UPDATE: When I reported my finding to my colleague next door, he said "what do you bet these guys are Republicans?" (He's a liberal zealot, you see). I did not take him up on the bet, and it's a good thing, because it appears that every living being within the Vernon city limits is a contributor to the NRCC. They do seem to take care of their predominently Democratic congressional delegation, however. Heh heh.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

McKinney In Perspective

When you think about it, doesn't it make sense?

Making the Complicated Simple

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. Couldn't be truer here, where bro has reduced a complex international labor/economics quandary to one simple cartoon:

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Visiting a Friend

I am down the road guest posting for my friends at Overlawyered this week. Overlawyered is a blog that focuses on the excesses of the legal profession and its members, judges and clients. In short, there is no shortage of material and the reading is very entertaining. Come on over and check it out.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

When Reform is Not Reform

Oh boy, this is a real shocker:

Almost half of the special-interest ''pork" projects targeted in the Senate's highly touted lobbying-reform bill could still be slipped quietly into spending bills without public scrutiny, because of a glaring loophole in the bill's language...

...[B]ecause the lobbying bill defines earmarks as only non-federal projects, at least 5,283 of the 12,852 earmarks in the 2006 spending bills alone would have been exempt from the rules. This is because the earmarks were funded through federal agencies...

Why do we have to find this out from a "watchdog group" several days after the chest-thumping Senators crowed about their haivng taken the "Not for Sale" sign off the Capitol?

Lest there be any doubt what we're up against:

...The derided earmark to direct federal money to support a mall with a Hooters restaurant in Louisiana would not be considered an earmark subject to disclosure rules in the new bill. The Hooters provision was discovered after a congressman quietly inserted it into the 2003 energy bill, and it was later removed. But it was later slipped into a tax bill and became law anyway...

What is federal money doing in a mall project at all?!? I don't care if there's a Hooters or a Roy Rogers -- malls are quintessentially capitalist endeavors. If they need federal money to work, they're not viable and shouldn't be built!

And how is this defended?

...Supporters of the lobbying reform measure acknowledge that the bill is imperfect, but said they needed to find a compromise that would gain majority support...

...The House members want to identify the sponsor of all earmarks, and allow any earmark to be challenged on the House floor. A majority vote would remove an earmark from a spending bill.

But senior members of the House Appropriations Committee are fiercely resisting their efforts, said Representative Jeff Flake, a leading critic of earmarks. ''It's difficult. You're taking away people's power," said Flake, an Arizona Republican. ''The power to reward your constituents, your friends, and your donors is pretty darn strong."

This infuriates me. If majority support is elusive because members do not want their earmarks to face open scrutiny -- that they should be implemented without being held up to the democratic process -- then we've fallen further than any of us could have feared.

I've suggested to others more strident than I that "compromise" was an essential element in maintaining a governing majority. But there are some things that you just can't compromise on. I see no legitimate justification for a system that permits elected members of Congress to spend our money in secret. If they want to go home and crow about "bringing home the bacon," they've got to let the rest of us watch them cook it.

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