Wednesday, July 20, 2016

An English Teacher's View of the Trump Plagiarism Issue

I have just retired from a nearly four-decade career teaching English. When I started, back in the 70’s, I was barely older than the students in my senior classes, so of course I was a stickler for the rules just to get them to take me seriously.

One of the requirements to pass English 4 was a research paper, and English 4 was required for graduation. This provided some leverage as I taught my students about the many different ways one can plagiarize. I remember creating overhead projection demonstrations on those flimsy plastic sheets that you drew on with marker; in the end I had a multiple page prototype PowerPoint presentation on how to avoid plagiarism…in about ten colors. It took two full days to go over the lesson; I wanted everyone to know I took it very seriously so that they would, too. I was a 22-year-old teacher who should be watched out for, dammit.

But I was nice to them. I assigned a fun research topic: mythology. And I explained that it was something I’d taken classes on and knew quite a bit about. I even mentioned some good books they might use. Weeks later, over Christmas break, I had dozens of research papers with me to grade. Somewhere in the middle of the stack, I read one I had read before. I even knew which one it was. I compared the two just to be certain, but yes: they were exactly the same. (Turned out they both copied it from the same source!) In the end, I caught thirteen cases of whole or partial plagiarism: thirteen seniors who did not graduate with their class that June.

And that was that: suddenly I had gained the reputation of someone who catches cheaters. Over the years, I caught many more, most of whom were just stupid enough or full of enough hubris (or both) to think they could get away with it. Or maybe they were just desperate enough that they felt they had to try. Every case ended the same way, though, even if it wasn’t a paper that caused automatic failure: a zero for the work. Over the years, I added a discussion with parents, and then a more difficult topic if they wished to redo it, among other things, but the bottom line was always that initial zero. And it never mattered whether the paper was copied in whole or in part. They all knew that any plagiarism is still plagiarism.

A facebook friend dug up a wonderful old song by Tom Lehrer in which he discusses plagiarism in academia called “Lobachevsky”:

This is the most basic lesson any writer learns: don’t copy other writers’ work without giving credit. So how the heck has the Trump campaign managed to screw it up twice in the first two days of the RNC?

First, of course, came the celebrated Melania misfire, in which she stole a significant portion of her speech from Michelle Obama’s 2008 DNC speech. Such things, in the world of politics, are not unknown. President Obama himself took lines from a 2006 Deval Patrick speech in 2008. When the situation was discovered, though, he apologized to Patrick, who accepted it. Compare this to the Trumps, who came up with at least seven or eight separate excuses (including My Little Pony) to deflect blame, even though Melania’s first reaction was to clarify that she had, indeed, written the speech. (It turns out that what she had done was rewrite the speech, but let’s not nitpick.) As of this writing, (late Tuesday night), they still have not even admitted there was any plagiarism. Their surrogate lapdog Chris Christie went so far as to attempt to redefine what plagiarism means, claiming that since the speech was only 7% someone else’s words, it was fine.

No. It wasn’t. Plagiarism is any unattributed content. It's kind of like pregnancy: you can't plagiarize just a little because even a little is plagiarism.

Which brings me to our next guest, Donald Trump, Jr. As The Daily Show noted in its Twitter account late Tuesday night, he took a couple of key lines directly from a conservative magazine. The author of the article he used, F.H. Buckley, tweeted later that Trump had permission to use the lines, and that’s a good thing. But perhaps it’s beside the point.

Trump was delivering a speech in the immediate aftermath of Melania’s debacle the previous night. You’d think that the one thing that the campaign would make absolutely certain would be that nothing with even the appearance of plagiarism occurred again after that. Yet it happened. And, once again, it happened within the family. If Trump had permission to use the lines, all he had to do was attribute them within the speech and all would have been fine. Instead, he delivered them as if they were his own, which is the textbook definition of plagiarism. And thus, permission or not, he managed to embroil his family and his father’s campaign for the second straight night in a plagiarism issue.

No wonder Trump prefers to speak off the cuff. Can’t plagiarize someone if you’re making crap up as you go along.

But here’s the ultimate thing:

I had my last case of plagiarism late last winter. A girl was under the gun and copied an essay from the internet. I explained to her (as I’d done so often before) that she was probably lucky in the long run that I had caught her. Anyone who gets away with this stuff is likely to try it again. In high school, it’s a zero and maybe a chance to do it over. But in most colleges, it’s a violation of academic honesty that can get you expelled. And this is my point: we hold college students to this very high standard. Why should we not hold someone aspiring to be President to the same one? Trump himself has not (yet) plagiarized anything, but the response of his team has been extremely discouraging. As Trevor Noah wondered tonight, what can we expect of this group when they actually have real power if this is how they act over something like this? Trump has been pushing envelopes since he declared for President over a year ago, seeing just how much he can get away with. The lesson he has learned is that he apparently can get away with anything. Remember this?

He truly believes there is nothing he can do that is too far. And why shouldn't he? It has proven true so far. And here is just one more example of standards he is willing to break down because it is expedient to him to do so. 

It’s always been clear that Trump is a petty tyrant. This convention is making that more and more obvious by the day.

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Thursday, July 14, 2016

The GOP Has Jumped the Shark, and How That Affects LGBT Youth

In 2002, as a junior in high school, my oldest child told me that he was trans.

This was a child who had been through one personal and gender identity after another for years; who, after a dozen years as Caitlin, had suddenly decided to be called Angel; who had self-identified as everything from heterosexual to bisexual to lesbian and back again over the years. But this one–the biggest one of all–came as a shock to me. I probably should have seen it coming, I suppose: I mean the kid was clearly desperate to find the right identity and this one was hanging there, low fruit, in plain sight, since I am trans, having transitioned in 1998. But I didn't expect it. And I didn't react well, either, both because the copycat thing seemed too much and because I knew how hard it was being transgender and I did not want that for my child.

But there you go. He was and is.

In 2002, despite knowing that one of his mothers was trans, his school had no real experience with transgender teens. They had no idea at all how to handle him. He let them know going into his senior year, and they provided social workers and counselors, etc., but there were no policies for bathrooms or any such thing. (He just used boys' rooms when he could get away with it or held it.) They would not even let him sing the tenor parts or wear a tux in choir, and you'd think choir would be pretty understanding. He spent a great deal of his senior year hating every minute of being there.

I think of him back then these days when I read about the retrograde efforts by the GOP to roll back the clock on LGBT rights, especially those concerning trans people. Whenever they pass or try to pass "bathroom bills," whenever right wing activists hassle transpeople in public because of these laws and the publicity they create, whenever another state joins the lawsuit against the administration for trying to be human to high school students who happen to be transgender, whenever yet another transperson is beaten or murdered for the crime of being who they are, I think of my son struggling to figure out who he was and to be accepted for that person.

When I saw the 2016 draft GOP Platform, it made me sick. It's vile. And it's an anagram of that word as well: it's evil. There is no point for several of its provisions but to foster hatred and fear, but then again that is what today's GOP has come to stand for, when it comes right down to it. They are no longer about governing; they are about making people fear and hate others so that they elect GOP representatives who then can reshape districts to keep themselves in office perpetually. And if, while spreading that fear and hatred, they cause some gays, Muslims, transpeople, lesbians, immigrants, black people, Latinos, etc. trouble, well, so what? Collateral damage to inconsequential people. And I say that without hesitation because, if there is one thing that the Donald Trump campaign has proved, it is that a giant segment of the GOP is absolutely, unapologetically, intransigently prejudiced against anyone who doesn't look like them and share their backgrounds and sexualities. And now they have written their hatred and fear right into their official platform, including their staple "eliminate gay marriage" platform despite having lost that battle in the Supreme Court, as well as the thoroughly discredited "pray the gay away" camps and (apparently) even Trump's insanely xenophobic wall.

Basically, the GOP–in case it is not obvious to anyone paying attention–has jumped the shark.

The phrase refers to a TV show that, as it ages and its novelty fades, tries to renew audience investment by attempting some grand gimmick: a marriage, perhaps, or a child, or something really strange (like "Grey's Anatomy's" musical episode). It derives from a season five "Happy Days" episode in which Fonzie literally did jump a shark on waterskis. Most TV shows don't recover from such contrivances, or at least never regain their former popularity. One has to wonder what will become of the GOP after this year of shark-jumping:

  • It has seen itself become a complete laughing stock with a seemingly endless series of televised debates among bickering candidates who each made the others look more like cartoons. 
  • It has watched in stupefied horror as the most cartoonish of all captured its nomination. 
  • It has been stuck in a dangerous political game since the death of Antonin Scalia, refusing to fill his empty seat and hoping it doesn't come back to hurt them in the end. 
  • It has desperately and unsuccessfully attempted to handle its embarrassing candidate with kid gloves, and many of its stars will not even attend its convention. 
  • It has doubled down on its most absurd positions, including doubting both evolution and human-caused climate change.
  • And how, the Turn Back the Calendars Platform, the one that seems more like a Sunday School platform than a US political one, the most intolerant platform put forth by a major political party in this country in at least half a century.

My son is now 31 years old. The school he graduated from, like the school I just retired from as a teacher, today has several transgender students among the members of its GSA and policies in place to accommodate them. But I remember how hard it was for him, the pain in his face and (too often) the tears in his eyes when he came home from school and spoke of yet another incident. Fortunately, he had some friends he could laugh with and one friend in particular who understood and empathized with what he was going through. I don't know if he would have made it otherwise: he wasn't strong enough to do it alone. And that's what I think about with all of this insanity: the kid in the school or the adult in their world who can't do it alone but is alone, and is reading each day how much a major party in this their country hates and fears them and wants them gone, wants them to disappear. How do they make it?

And I remember the day my son was finally allowed to wear that tux to a choral concert. It was the last one of his senior year, the last one of high school. And seeing the joy in his face as he lined up with the other boys...he's had a lot of darkness in his life before and since, but that moment is indelibly etched in my mind as one of the good ones.

Someone please explain to me who would have gained if it had never been allowed to happen due to hatred and fear. Because I already know who would have suffered.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Why Arguing Politics On FB Is a Waste of Time

I couldn't resist: I let myself get sucked into a conversation with one of my very right-wing FB friends. After a ton of posts and one lengthy sign-off post from me eaten by the net at 2 AM, I wrote this and posted it today. You know they were just happy to see me check out.  I think you'll be able to get all of the context by my responses.

A few points before I leave this thread, not because I am afraid to continue or because I know I've lost or because I can't argue against the overwhelming truths set out by A--- and his ideology, but simply because I actually detest these conversations. I only join them once in a while because I had forgotten how awful they are, and then I am quickly reminded of that: they are awful and they are endless and they are often nasty.

It didn't take A--- long to get nasty. In the posts T--- deleted this morning, he denigrated the intelligence of liberals in general on several occasions, suggesting (and in fact stating more than once) that we obviously are uneducated "dolts" (I don't remember many of his exact words, but I recall that one) who have not read nor understood any economic principles and have no grasp of history or current politics or the way Washington actually works. He kindly walked us (me) through it, step by step, so that our poor little liberal brains could drink in the fruits of all of his incredible Libertarian learning, become blinded (I suppose) by the Power of the Light of Truth, and finally understand that we've never actually grown up! Or at least maybe we would recognize that the real world and our little fantasy universe are two different places. Or something.

The problem, A--- (and R---, and T--- too), is that we are grownups. We are educated. Quite educated. And we know what we are talking about. We happen to disagree with you, and (unlike you) we actually have the real world evidence to back up our claims. As I have already noted, conservative economics were attempted in the perfect cauldrons of Louisiana and Kansas, whereas liberal economics were attempted in the perfect cauldron of California. Guess which is now one of the strongest, most thriving economies in the world and which two are bankrupt? What the GOP loves to call the laboratories of the states has proved the point beautifully. 

And you can say–and you'd be accurate–that today's GOP has nothing to do with real conservativism. It is a party consisting of a bizarre salmagundi of ultra right wing anti-government idiots, religious fanatics, uneducated southern bigots, Wall Street executives, and a lot of in-betweeners who don't think they fit with the Democrats because Fox News has told them over and over for thirty years that the Democrats promote, I don't know, Satanism or something. It is a party that simply doesn't work anymore, which is why it is about to nominate Donald Trump. I am far from the first to say this, but it is a party whose patron saint, Ronald Reagan, would not stand a hope in hell of being nominated today because he could never pass its litmus tests. And Lincoln? Forgettaboudit! You say the party needs to nominate a true conservative, but such a candidate (even if he–because OF COURSE it would be a "he") could manage to win the nomination, would be *slaughtered* in the general. The closest to the ideal right now for the GOP is Cruz, and I think he'd lose worse than Trump.

Conservatives like to argue that this is a "center-right" nation with no evidence to support that claim. Maybe it was in Reagan's time, but this nation just elected a black man president twice by majorities. Sounds more center-LEFT to me. And, despite the bleating about Obamacare because of legitimate issues with it and the endless nastiness from the GOP and Fox, all surveys show that, when you divorce its provisions from the name "Obamacare," almost everyone wants them. "Center-right" my eye. But you are definitely correct about at least one thing: the majority of this country has at least this much in common with England (as witnessed in the Brexit vote): they are easily-led sheepul, on both sides.

As to why I am exiting (Kexiting?) this conversation:

Basically, it's pointless. You are all True Believers. Your arguments (at least at times) pretend to be based on truth, but in fact they are based on faith. Supply-side economics is a faith-based system at its core: we give the rich more money and of course they will create new jobs that will help the economy. Except...they DON'T. They just don't. No recession or depression in US history has ever been broken that way. The only way out has ever been through the Keynesian method of large influxes of money to stimulate the stagnant economy. Fortunately, after the Bush Economic Crisis, we elected a Keynesian. And perhaps, if Congress had allowed him the $1.3 trillion that he wanted, the stimulus would have been enough, with infrastructure job creation programs, etc., to make the deep and immediate impact he wanted and hoped for. But even half a trillion dollars shy of that, it was able to stop the recession, right the ship, and begin what is now over 75 straight months of job growth (which I think is a record, isn't it?)...without the help of any new government jobs at all. Unheard of. Not only that, but Wall Street is thriving and he has cut the deficit by far more than the stimulus package he asked for: a win-win-win for conservatives, if you ask me, not that, while they count their profits, they'll ever acknowledge it. 

Still,True Believers cannot be argued with. I can cite facts until the cows come home (and I really could: facts and reality do, as the meme holds, have an oddly liberal bias) but that would have no impact whatsoever on aTrue Believer. It's as useless as arguing about abortion or LGBT issues with a fundamentalist: no matter what you say, no matter how logical and scientific you can be, the answer will ultimately come down to something like "You just don't understand how to read the Bible as well as I do." And how does one argue with that?

So I sit here, honed by a lifetime of dealing with my conservative brothers, armed with facts, figures, history, current events, and reality, and much more just a click away. I fully acknowledge that none of what Liberals desire is perfect–whatever is? Everything comes with a price. I simply argue that the price of what we want is far more tolerable than the price of what you want. 

You guys have denigrated democratic socialism as an unworkable concept. T--- went so far as to opine about how hard it is right now for the people of Europe. Well I'd like to point out that this year's World's Happiest Countries list contains seven European nations–most of them to one degree or another socialist–in the Top 10 (the exceptions being Canada, New Zealand and Australia). Even though they have been hit by a recession, they are still feeling, overall, well taken care of and safe and happy with their lives. (We are #13–not bad at all, but shouldn't we be #1 if we are so "exceptional"?) Again, you make these blanket statements based on no evidence. I deal in facts, though I know that your immediate reactions, as True Believers, will be to see something totally wrong with these facts.

As to the implementation of the ACA: would Obama's giving in to any of the unpalatable suggestions brought to the table by the GOP have earned him even one single GOP vote? I think we know the answer to that. He gave moderate Susan Collins exactly what she wanted and *she* voted against it. Lockstep: it is how this congress has worked. In the end, he adopted a plan conceived in full in a right wing think tank and look what has happened. If Bush had decided to adopt it, they'd have loved it. If Romney or McCain had won and adopted it, they'd have loved it. But Obama won and adopted it, so it is anathema. And instead of trying to fix the things they found objectionable about it, they spent the next seven years on pointless bills to repeal it...again and again and again. I know, I know: this is the GOP, not the true conservatives. But be fair: they are the one party in this nation that speaks loudly for the nation's conservative interests. Libertarians, Greens, etc. are fringe parties. It would be nice to see them grow in their capability to challenge the bigger parties, but until that happens, if it ever does, they simply act as spoilers in tight elections. (Cf. Ralph Nader.)

So, OK, True Believers: sit there in your make believe ideologically pure world where you can pretend that the GOP has nothing to do with you and that someday a Perfect Conservative will arise from the depths into the light and right all of the wrongs of this our great nation. He won't be like Reagan, though. That's clear: the guy raised taxes, sold arms to our enemies, made secret deals, used tons of executive orders, and generally did lots of other stuff that disqualifies him as a "perfect" conservative. But he'll come. He has to. It is written...somewhere...isn't it?

Take care.

Addendum: I did check back, out of curiosity, to see what the first reaction to this would be. I was told that at least I was right about the conversation's being pointless because I would go on believing what I believe and "we will go on KNOWING what we know."
Point proved.

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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Hillary and the no-good, terrible, very bad day...

So in case you are wondering, not that you are...
My initial thoughts about the FBI statement about HRC are these:

  • According to any reasonable interpretation of statutes, Comey (a Republican, remember) is correct: she committed no crime.
  • I'm disappointed that she was not more forthcoming about things during the last year. There was no reason to be disingenuous or dishonest; she must have known what they would find.
  • I'm impressed that after digging so hard for 25 years the GOP finally found a "scandal" with at least *some* degree of sticking power. At the same time it doesn't surprise me a bit that they are not at all satisfied and are already "re-investigating" the thing.
  • I rather hope that, whenever the Democrats take the House back, they run an investigation into the incredible abuse of power and taxpayer dollars that this House has made doing these various "investigations" (excuse me: witch hunts).
  • I'm blown away by the fact that Trump could not even run with a small victory for a whole day, destroying it within hours by doubling down on his previous praise of Saddam Hussein.
  • I like Hillary. I always have. I think she is and has been the victim of concerted GOP smear campaigns since 1991 and that what even Democrats believe about her today results from the incredible effectiveness of these campaigns: repeat something often enough and it becomes "fact."
  • That being said, though, I have to admit that a very large part of me would like to see the Dems turn to Biden at the convention. A Biden/Warren ticket would energize the entire party and might possibly sweep all fifty states, taking back BOTH houses of Congress at the same time. Hillary, through "extreme carelessness" and through a quarter century of hate and misogyny, can't do that. It is impossible to argue with a Hillary hater: for them, it is a matter of faith. No evidence, no argument, NOTHING, is good enough. And here is the greatest proof of the truth of that statement: they are willing to allow Donald Trump to become President simply because they hate her so much. They have actually managed to talk themselves into believing that a self-centered, arrogant, racist, misogynist, impetuous, unpredictable blowhard with no core belief system whatsoever is better for this country than the woman who has been called, by people on both sides of the spectrum, possibly the most qualified person ever to seek the office of President.
  • That says it all. Some say they just won't vote, but they know that's a copout; they know sitting it out is a vote for Trump.
  • So, bottom line: I wish the FBI had completely exonerated her, as she has been exonerated in every other so-called "scandal." This time, it appears, she screwed up somewhat. Not to the David Petraeus level. Not to the George Bush level of destroying millions of emails before any investigation could be made (and let's face it: if she had something to hide and were really as twisted as the haters believe, she *would* have). But probably, being unused to *actually* having some blame in something she was accused of, she reacted badly.
  • Do I like this? No. It was a test and she failed it. But I ask myself how Trump would have handled it, and I know with certainty that no one would ever have gotten anywhere near that server while any emails still existed on it. And *whatever* he told his followers, they would simply accept it, and the sheepul at Fox News would move on, and that would be it. Hillary is running for President. Trump is running for Emperor. He's said it himself: he could shoot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue and they'd still vote for him. HRC, on the other hand, couldn't get away with jaywalking...
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it's your hair that i notice first
streaked with morning
it frames your face
you lying there eyes closed
soft breath not quite there
i follow its path as it bends the sheet
and i can touch you there
touch what i feel is you
in the spark of daylight
you'll rise
pull on the wrinkled shirt from last night
say something you think is beautiful
drink some coffee
from behind my paper
and drive away,
leaving a kiss on my lips
and a hole in my heart
where a fire ought to be

Favorite Films

  • The Wizard Of Oz
  • Amelie
  • The Princess Bride
  • Casablanca
  • Annie Hall
  • The Lord of the Rings
  • All That Jazz
  • Citizen Kane
  • Love Actually
  • Moulin Rouge
  • Big Fish
  • When Harry Met Sally
  • Almost Famous
  • Bull Durham
  • Notting Hill
  • Apocalypse Now (Redux)
  • Magnolia

All-Time Favorite TV Shows

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Gilmore Girls
  • M*A*S*H
  • The West Wing
  • The X-Files
  • The Daily Show
  • Ally McBeal
  • Picket Fences
  • All In The Family
  • Seinfeld
  • The Mary Tyler Moore Show
  • Star Trek
  • Firefly
  • Wonderfalls
  • Northern Exposure
  • Get Smart
  • The Dick Van Dyke Show
  • Twin Peaks
  • The Larry Sanders Show
  • Monk
  • Felicity
  • St. Elsewhere

Current TV Shows I Enjoy (in no particular order)

  • Perception
  • Major Crimes
  • American Horror Story
  • Louie
  • Suits
  • The Newsroom
  • Falling Skies
  • Franklin and Bash
  • Veep
  • Scandal
  • Fairly Legal
  • Girls
  • Don't Trust the B---
  • Justified
  • Portlandia
  • Psych
  • The Middle
  • Person of Interest
  • Happy Endings
  • Hart of Dixie
  • Real Time with Bill Maher
  • Nikita
  • Raising Hope
  • Castle
  • Drop Dead Diva
  • Covert Affairs
  • Elementary
  • Rizzoli and Isles
  • Revolution
  • The Last Resort
  • Alphas
  • SNL
  • Revenge
  • Community
  • Suburgatory
  • New Girl
  • Once Upon a Time
  • Grimm
  • Nashville
  • Downton Abbey
  • Smash
  • Homeland
  • Fringe
  • Glee
  • Haven
  • Community
  • Warehouse 13
  • Modern Family
  • Vampire Diaries
  • The Daily Show
  • How I Met Your Mother
  • The Colbert Report
  • Parks and Recreation
  • Leverage
  • Rachel Maddow Show

xkcd - A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and