Sunday, July 30, 2006

Elite Insurgents, Sing Out!

A David Sirota post over on The Daily Kos about David Broder speaking of elite insurgents inspired me to parody Merle Haggard's "Okie from Muskogee."

Sing it:

We don't stoke the wars here in the blogosphere;
We don't take our trips on Air Force One
We don't see the Beltway as our Main Street;
We like livin' right, and want you gone.

I'm proud to be a blogger elite insurgent,
In a place where even nerds can speak to all
We still believe democracy will win out,
And a "recommend"'s the biggest thrill of all

We don't make a party out of quick cash;
We like holdin' talks and workin' through;
We don't let our young ones die for nothing,
Like the DC warriors so often do.

I'm proud to be a blogger elite insurgent,
In a place where even nerds can speak to all
We still believe democracy will win out,
And a "recommend"'s the biggest thrill of all

Let us boot the criminals right out of here;
Bush and Rummy and the others, all obscene.
They've dropped their crap too often here among us,
The only one we still respect is named John Dean.

We still believe democracy will win out,
In the elite insurgent blogosphere today.

Oh Postmodernism, Oh Here, Oh Now, Oh Damn!

"Make it new."  When Ezra Pound commanded that he was doing it, taking from Confucius and bringing the Chinese philosopher's words into the West of the twentieth century and in a new way.  Pound wasn't concerned with the creation of the new--or not that alone--but with bringing things into a new way of seeing, and of seeing them.  Marcel Duchamp's "Fountain," a urinal displayed (with little change) as a work of art, does the same thing by placing the urinal in an entirely new context.

What they were doing is the heart of Modernism, a "movement" in thought that dominated the first half of the twentieth century in Europe and America.  It arose in response to a more Victorian notion of the static nature of the universe and to an Einsteinian rejection of that perceived stasis.  Many Victorians saw knowledge in counting and categorization.  If things could be named, things could be known.  And they saw themselves as objective observers, outside of the processes they were observing, unconnected with the things they were describing.  Einstein convinced quite a few people that this was wrong, that we live in dynamic situations where even the act of observation alters the observed.  Rather than fighting this, the Modernists tried to utilize it--hence, "Make it new."  The Modernists wanted to change the way things are seen and use them in ways they have never been used before.

If Modernism moves concentration from the object to the object/viewer dynamic, then Postmodernism moves it further, stressing the viewer and the act of viewing--making the viewer a creator through that act of viewing.  Postmodern art doesn't attempt to reflect a world "outside" or even relationships with that world.  Instead, it tries to represent the strengths and weaknesses--and processes--of perception.  The world no longer matters; perception, all we really can "know," is all, in fact.

From a belief in objective reality the movement was to concern with subjective perceptions of reality.  From there, the movement was to concern with perception only.  If reality cannot be known in an objective fashion, why deal with it at all?  Concentrate on perception, for that (to the Postmodern mind) is really all we have.

[Last night, in a comment on a diary over at The Daily Kos and in an act that might have been the height of hubris, I promised a diary on the difference between Modernism and Postmodernism.  Books have been written on the subject, and it is still argued heatedly.  And I am no expert.  So, don't take what I have presented here as definitive, simply as one more starting point for the ongoing investigation into art and its movements.]

Friday, July 28, 2006

Let Me Put That in Context

Perhaps one of the side benefits of the blogs will be the re-emergence of the public intellectual. Such people, usually specialists in one field but writing much more generally, once provided a great deal of the context for public debate. You might say that they provided the parameters for the public sphere (if you can stand the alliteration). Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein, John Dewey, B.F. Skinner—just to create a random quartet—all had influence on the debates going on in diners and living rooms. In many ways, their influence was greater outside of their areas of expertise, though it was those that gave them the gravitas needed in those days in order to be taken seriously elsewhere.

Today’s pale imitations of the old public intellectual are not people who have proven themselves in particular pursuits. Chris Matthews, on his Hardball TV show in late July, kept telling Ann Coulter that she writes well. So do David Horowitz, George Will, and the dozens of others who have taken upon themselves what really have become public pseudo-intellectual roles. Unlike the real public intellectuals of bygone years, their achievements rest only on facility of comment. Few of them show accomplishment elsewhere.

The nation’s real intellectuals, on the other hand, usually do not have the communications skills that are the base of the pundits’ successes. For the last twenty years or more, unable to compete in the public sphere with those media savvy commentators, most of the best of American academics have retreated from debate, happy to speak to each other in small groups on college campuses, but leaving the rest of America to itself—and to discussion defined by people whose only claim to accomplishment is flair with the tools of communications.

It takes practice to work effectively within the public sphere; to become a real public intellectual requires years of work. First, one establishes oneself in a field of expertise. As times goes on, one begins to be able to speak out on other issues, starting with letters to the editor and guest columns in local papers—and talks on campus or in town. Once, these once were the proving grounds allowing people to gain experience and dexterity before moving on to greater venues.

With the consolidation of media ownership (not to mention the growing clubishness of the professionals in the media), it became harder and harder for tyro public intellectuals to hone their skills. Only a few of them, when thrown into the media cauldrons of the eighties and nineties, were able to compete with the dapper and assured pseudos like George Will. Seeing what happened to their colleagues, few others bothered to try.

The advent of the blogs, however, has changed things. Now, without fanfare and with minimal risk, anyone (yes, even college professors and other intellectuals) can establish a blog and start learning how to participate in this new public sphere. Though amateurs in the media, the intellectuals can build upon their real expertise and begin to re-assert themselves in the face of those pundits who, really, have little more to offer than facility with a pen.

One of the most important functions of the public intellectual was to place contemporary debates within a broader cultural and historical context. They weren’t looking to convince, but to provide—so they didn’t select from history the way too many of the pseudos do, today. One reason they didn’t was that they had reputations for probity, and did not want to lose them.

That’s the advantage of coming into the public sphere with a reputation already established in intellectual pursuits: one has something to protect, so is a bit more careful with what one says than, say, Ann Coulter or David Horowitz. The reputations of these pseudos come through media only, and not through contributions to any fields of study.

Over the next few years, such pundits should start to find themselves pushed aside, as the Michael Berubes, Todd Gitlins, Juan Coles, and more start to have greater influence within the public sphere, providing a real intellectual background to the debates. The blogs are the perfect arena for the new public intellectuals, for they for a contextual web themselves, something the real intellectuals are quite comfortable working with.

The blogs: providing once again the context for our discussions that public intellectuals gave us in the days before the rise of the professional media punditocracy.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Where "Academic Freedom" Belongs

In a guest op-ed in The New York Times on Sunday, Stanley Fish writes:
All you have to do is remember that academic freedom is just that: the freedom to do an academic job without external interference. It is not the freedom to do other jobs, jobs you are neither trained for nor paid to perform. While there should be no restrictions on what can be taught — no list of interdicted ideas or topics — there should be an absolute restriction on appropriating the scene of teaching for partisan political ideals. Teachers who use the classroom to indoctrinate make the enterprise of higher education vulnerable to its critics and shortchange students in the guise of showing them the true way.
Well, yes. But Fish is falling into a trap set by David Horowitz and all the others who want governmental control over what goes on in our university classrooms. By conflating two aspects of university professorship, Fish may unconsciously be helping Horowitz along.

The Horowitz crowd uses “academic freedom” as a wedge to push for legislative oversight in our universities. They recognize that most people don’t know the difference between “freedom of speech” and “academic freedom,” so push for student “academic freedom” in the face of professors who, they claim, don’t give room for competing views—especially those espoused by students.

Fish recognizes that “academic freedom” doesn’t apply to students (or even to their research). He defines “academic freedom” as “the freedom of academics to study anything they like; the freedom, that is, to subject any body of material, however unpromising it might seem, to academic interrogation and analysis.” And he is right.

The problem is that he then falls into the trap of considering academic freedom in the classroom—where it does not belong. Where it has never been.

Let me repeat: academic freedom has nothing to do with the classroom. It’s a basis of unfettered research only. And not undergraduate research, which isn’t the “real” research of an academic, but is an exercise meant to teach skills that can be later used for “real” research.

Though I do not mean to say that student views should not be respected (they should be), the classroom is not a place of democracy or equality—though many teachers in the sixties and seventies tried to pretend it is so (‘a community of learners’ and other such). It cannot be; the professor not only evaluates the students in a much more substantial way than the students do the professor, but the professor has a great deal more experience with the subject matter than do the students. Our system of study in our universities is set up with this fact in mind—and tries to counteract its ill effects by requiring some 40 different courses for graduation, generally from different professors. Those who designed the system wanted to make sure the students were exposed to different views.

And they should be—but not at the expense of the focus and plan of the individual course. Breadth happens through exposure to differing approaches in differing classes. For many reasons, particularly because of limitations of time, it makes no sense to try for that same thing in each individual course.

In addition, trying to promote classrooms that cover all sides of any issue necessarily brings too much control over the classroom to too many different people. No individual professor, after all, can be trusted (no one can) to give equal weight to every theory. So, outsiders start to have much more influence.

What the professor has to do, as Fish says, is to keep indoctrination out of the classroom. One of the only ways to do that, though, is to get people to understand that “academic freedom” doesn’t belong in the classroom either. If a professor is indoctrinating students in the classroom, that should be addressed—questions of “academic freedom” completely aside.

Where Fish gets sucked in by Horowitz is in considering the classroom at all when talking about “academic freedom”:
There is a world of difference, for example, between surveying the pro and con arguments about the Iraq war, a perfectly appropriate academic assignment, and pressing students to come down on your side. Of course the instructor who presides over such a survey is likely to be a partisan of one position or the other — after all, who doesn’t have an opinion on the Iraq war? — but it is part of a teacher’s job to set personal conviction aside for the hour or two when a class is in session and allow the techniques and protocols of academic research full sway.
Absolutely. But what has that to do with “academic freedom”?

Absolutely nothing. It has to do with appropriate behavior in the classroom. Yet, when we engage in that discussion, many people start to think we are still talking about “academic freedom”—when we are not.

Fish’s mistake is based on conflation of the job of teaching with the job of research, placing them both under the umbrella “academic job.” Certainly, many academics (though not nearly all) do work in both fields—but the two are not the same. “Academic freedom” is solely an aspect of the research job. It’s when we start considering it in terms of the teaching job that we start to get into trouble.

We then open the door to attacks by people like David Horowitz, whose ultimate goal is to control the research as well as the teaching—through complaints about the teaching (about indoctrination, but without ever verifying that it is happening—but that’s another story).

Teaching requires diversity, but not “academic freedom.” Research requires “academic freedom,” but diversity is irrelevant. Why? Because the student needs broad exposure while the professional (as opposed to student) researcher needs to know that she/he will not be punished for exploring unpopular pathways. When we start mixing these together, all we are doing is providing a broad avenue of attack for the enemies of academia.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

War, War, and More War

In 1812, President Madison sent the diplomat Joel Barlow with a treaty for consideration by Napoleon in Russia, where Bonaparte was leading his disastrous campaign against the Tsar. Barlow is known today mainly for the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli that he negotiated, that says, famously:
As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion,-as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen,-and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

Barlow never reached Napoleon and never returned, dying in Poland in the last month of the year.

He saw enough of war on that trip. It seemed to be everywhere. Not only was his own United States battling England, but the French were fighting (and now losing) in eastern Europe—as well as trying to stop the relentless Wellington in Spain.

We like to call the Great War of 1914-1918 ‘the First World War,’ but those wars a century earlier were just as broad, though not quite so focused.

Before he died, Barlow, who was also a poet (not really a very good one), penned his best poem, a bleak, anti-Napoleon lament called “Advice to a Raven in Russia,” telling the bird to leave the frozen carrion it picked on in the north for warmer climates, for there was certain to be fighting there, too.

Given the number of wars going on in the world right now (a number that seems to grow daily), I would like to offer that poem as one for our time, too:

Advice to a Raven in Russia
Black fool, why winter here? These frozen skies,
Worn by your wings and deafen’d by your cries,
Should warn you hence, where milder suns invite,
And day alternates with his mother night.

You fear perhaps your food may fail you there—
Your human carnage, that delicious fare,
That lured you hither, following still your friend,
The great Napoleon to the world’s bleak end.
You fear, because the sourthern climes pour’d forth
Their clustering nations to infest the north,
Bavarians, Austirans, those who drink the Po
And those who skirt the Tuscan seas below,
With all Germania, Neustria, Belgia, Gaul,
Doom’d here to wade thro slaughter to their fall,
You fear he left behind no wars, to feed
His feather’d cannibals and nurse the breed.
Fear not, my screamer, call your greedy train,
Sweep over Europe, hurry back to Spain,
You’’ find his legions there; the valiant crew
Please best their master when they toil for you.
Abundant there they spread the country o’er
And taint the breeze with every nation’s gore,
Iberian, Lusian, British widely strown;
But still more wide and copious flows their own.
Go where you will; Calabria, Malta, Greece,
Egypt and Syria still his fame increase,
Domingo’s fatten’d isle and India’s plains
Glow deep with purple drawn from Gallic veins.
No raven’s wing can stretch the flight so far
As the torn bandrols of Napoleon’s war.
Choose then your climate, fix your best abode,
He’ll make you deserts and he’ll bring you blood.
How could you fear a dearth? Have not mankind,
Tho slain by millions, millions left behind?
Has not CONSCRIPTION still the power to wield
Her annual faulchion o’er the human field?
A faithful harvester! Or if a man
Escape that gleaner, shall he scape the BAN?
The tripe BAN, that like the hound of hell
Gripes with joles, to hold his victim well.
Fear nothing then, hatch fast your ravenous brood,
Teach them to cry to Buonaparte for food;
They’ll be like you, of all his suppliant train,
The only class that never cries in vain.
For see what natural benefits you lend!
(The surest way to fix the mutual friend)
While on this slaughter’d troops your tribes are fed,
You cleanse his camp and carry of his dead.
Imperial scavenger! But now you know,
Your work is vain amid these hills of snow.
His tentless troops are marbled through with frost
And change to crystal when the breath is lost.
Mere trunks of ice, tho limb’d with human frames,
And lately warm’d with life’s endearing flames.
They cannot taint the air, the world impest,
Nor can you tear one fiber from their breast.
No! from their visual sockets as they lie,
With beak and claws you cannot pluck an eye.
The frozen orb, preserving still its form,
Defies your talons as it braves the storm,
But stands and stares to God, as if to know
In what curst hands he leaves his world below.
Fly then, or starve; tho all the dreadful road
From Minsk to Moskow, with their bodies strow’d
May count some Myriads, yet they can’t suffice
To feed you more beneath these dreary skies.
Go back and winter in the wilds of Spain;
Feast there awhile, and in the next campaign
Rejoin your master; for you’ll find him then,
With his new million of the race of men,
Clothed in his thunders, all his flags unfurl’d,
Raging and storming o’er the prostrate world!
War after war his hungry soul requires,
State after State shall sink beneath his fires,
Yet other Spains in victim smoke shall rise
And other Moskows suffocate the skies,
Each land lie reeking with its peoples slain
And not a stream num bloodless to the main.
Till men resume their souls, and dare to shed
Earth’s total vengeance on the monster’s head,
Hurl from his blood-built throne this king of woes,
Dash him to dust, and let the world repose.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Done, Done, Done!!!

My book, The Rise of the Blogosphere: American Backgrounds to a Twenty-First Century Media Phenomenon is on its way to my editor—seventeen days late but, hey!

Inspired by Jürgen Habermas’s The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, I trace trends in American journalism from the time of Benjamin Franklin to the present. My thesis is that a combination of growing commercialism and professionalism moved American news media further and further away from the people, starting with the ‘penny press’ of the 1830s. The raucous, angry press of the years before, I argue, is actually needed if the press is going to actively promote discussion within the public sphere.

Today, many people (especially journalists) look back on the journalism of the early years of the Republic as having needed reining in—they see the ethical (and commercial, though they don’t admit that) restraints developed within the new profession of journalism as positive developments only, never recognizing the importance of what had been lost.

I argue that a public sphere can only be effective if it includes both attack-dog Alexander Hamilton and careful essayist… Alexander Hamilton.

If this sounds like it might make an interesting book, stay tuned. Or go to The Rise of the Blogosphere, where I will be describing each of the 15 chapters in the months leading up to publication. The book, to be published by Praeger, should appear sometime next year.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Who’s the Fascist?

On his blog, David Horowitz attempts to define fascism:

Fascism is alternatively called (by its adherents) "national socialism," as opposed to the "international socialism" of the Communist and so-called progressive left. In the last thirty or forty years however, the Communist/progressive left has lost faith in the working class as the agent of revolutionary change. It has turned instead to national groups (e.g. Palestinians), racial, ethnic and gender groups on which to base its revolutionary hopes. A class-based revolution can be international; a revolution based on nationality and ethnic identity cannot. Although the contemporary left is hopelessly confused about these issues (the central strategic issues that shape its agendas), it is easy to see that today's left is the only serious political movement that deserves the label "fascist." And their chosen methods -- slander, violence and sabotage of democratic process (e.g., leaking state secrets) -- show it.

Not surprisingly, he can’t even manage a relatively simply definition without it turning into a propagandistic rant filled with misinformation. Not surprisingly, there’s not even a definition in this mess.

As Horowitz knows, “national socialism” and “international socialism,” though similar in sound, have absolutely nothing to do with each other, even in opposition. Furthermore, “international socialism” is not “of” the “so-called progressive left” and, in the United States, it never has been. As there is no such thing as “the Communist/progressive left” in the United States, it could never have lost faith in anything. The progressive left, which does exist, however, has never lost faith in the working class, though it never considered the working class as “the agent of revolutionary change.” As the progressive left never had “revolutionary hopes,” it cannot be accused of turning to “national groups (e.g. Palestinians), racial, ethnic, and gender groups”—though the needs of these have certainly been among the concerns of the progressive left.

If anyone is “hopelessly confused” it is Horowitz himself, who seems to be living in a fantasy concocted solely in his own head. It is Horowitz, after all, who uses phrases like “Islamo-fascism,” not the left, which generally (cough!) restrains itself from throwing about similar charges—unlike Horowitz, who takes the opportunity here to call the left “fascist” without ever even telling what a fascist is.

Want a real definition of fascism? Here’s one, from Wikipedia:
a radical totalitarian political philosophy that combines elements of corporatism, authoritarianism, extreme nationalism, militarism, anti-rationalism, anti-anarchism, anti-communism and anti-liberalism.
Sounds like… hmmm… no, I won’t stoop to calling him one.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Wingnut Smears Sheehan (So What Else Is New?)

David Horowitz, on his blog, has an entry "Cindy Sheehan and the Communist Party."  In it, he claims that "Sheehan is now writing articles for the Communist Party."

Either Horowitz is extremely stupid (which I do not believe) or he has given up all regard for truth in his "war" on those of us who believe in truth, justice, and the American way--that is, progressives.

Horowitz links to a website called " Marxist Thought Online" as "proof" to his claim.  A quick search showed the same piece (a blog post) at Common Dreams, After Downing Street, and at the Democratic Party's website.  I didn't even bother to track down the origin of the post.  I'd seen enough to know that Horowitz, as usual, is spouting nonsense for no other reason than to poison the reputation of a woman with stronger moral fiber than--well, than Horowitz can even comprehend.

Of course, anything anyone writes on the web can end up anywhere.  That it does is not a sign that the author is "writing articles" for any site where her work appears.  Horowitz knows that, but he just doesn't care.

What he does care about is his tired--and discredited--attempt to link American leftists to Stalinists and (through them somehow) to Islamic jihadists.  He writes:
Their confusion facilitates the alliances they have formed with the Nazi parties in Gaza and the West bank and with Islamo-fascists generally.
Horowitz's paranoid vision of "networking" by the left has gone to his head.

Not only does Horowitz continue to be an unabashed liar (as this post of his shows), but he has no clue what the left believes or who it allies with.

But then again, he never cared about truth, did he--not even when he was a Stalinist himself.  All he cares about is winning.

Now that he is losing, in his agitation he has fallen into the deep end (if I may mix metaphors)--and is discovering that he can't even swim.

Admit you need help, David, and we'll throw you a life-line.

Oh, we'll throw you one anyway.

After all, we do believe in something more than winning.

Part of what we believe is called compassion.

But you wouldn't know anything about that, would you?

Monday, July 10, 2006

Squabbling Professors

Squabbles: don’t you love them? Generally, they reduce themselves to one side telling the other what the other first said. Then they turn into nothing more than “did not/did too.” Case in point: rather than adding anything to the “debate” (to use the word loosely) over leftist influence on academia, Mark Bauerlein, himself a professor at Emory University, has let loose a blast of “this is what you said” in an essay called ”The Selective Critique.”

Rather than listening to the arguments against the poor scholarship and and unwarranted conclusions of the likes of David Horowitz in works like The Professors and responding to the serious questions raised about experimental design (Horowitz, for example, has none) and breadth of research, Bauerlein tries to turn the argument on what he, too, groups together as “the professors,” saying we’re the one looking at things too narrowly.

He writes:
And yet, how have the professors responded? Not by taking up the critical challenge and carrying out the analysis. Not by bouncing the samples off of the institution in which they appeared. Instead, they shot the messenger. They declared the samples isolated and un-representative, or they denied to them the symptoms alleged by the critics. The course description wasn’t a fair stand-in for the course itself, they protested. Ward Churchill’s post-9/11 rant was an aberration. The conference paper title was just a way to garner an audience, so let’s not confuse it with the real substance of the paper. In sum, they put the most benign construction on the samples. That turned the allegations back upon the people who cited them, David Horowitz, Anne Neal, and the rest, who were cast as sinister crazies pushing a vile political agenda.

Oddly enough, Bauerlein hasn’t ‘taken up the critical challenge’ either—certainly not in his dealings with the attacks the professors (me among them) have made on the work of Horowitz and Neal.

The heart of our criticism of the Horowtiz crowd is this: they cut-and-paste bits from Internet searches, add in anecdotal evidence, and call what they have done “research.” Even worse: they then have the temerity to draw conclusions about the whole of academia from these slight bits of culled information. The problem isn’t the samples, but the method of sampling.

It’s as simple as this: I can make even James Joyce look like a bad writer—if I’m allowed to show only the snippets of his prose I choose.

But that’s not research, and my conclusion about Joyce’s writing skills would be as ridicuous as Horowitz’s about college professors.

Bauerlein writes:
The academic defense comes down to this: conservatives and libertarians read too much into bits and pieces of language.

He’s right, but he conveniently avoids the reason we make this claaim: these are selected bits, chosen to support a conclusion reached long before the research was ever started. You can only draw conclusions from parts to the whole if the parts are representative. Because these were selected based on outside criteria, not on their position vis-à-vis the whole, they cannot serve as a basis for commentary on the whole.

Bauerlein should know better than to overlook this basic, simple fact.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Levels of Plagiarism

Plagiarism! When we hear the word we think devious undergraduates out for the grade at any cost. Or we remember Doris Kearns Goodwin and Stephen Ambrose and careers taking a hit. Earlier in the year, it was a wannabe writer and blogger named Ben Domenech who felt the heat. Today it’s Ann Coulter.

Now, as a certified leftist (David Horowitz called me a “patriotic dissenter” back when he was feeling kindly towards me), I’ll shed no tears for Coulter. However, I think we ought to think a little about what we talk about when we talk about plagiarism—certainly before piling on more censure.

Hers is not plagiarism like Domenech’s—not the deliberate stealing of someone else’s work and putting one’s own name on it. It is a type of plagiarism that can happen (almost) by accident—and certainly through carelessness. That doesn’t excuse it, but it should be seen in a different light.

Plagiarism, of course, has a great deal to do with research—and research is not something everyone is capable of doing well, no matter the resources available to them. Keeping the discussion just to research in the humanities and the social sciences, the universe of possibility has exploded over the last fifteen years, even for those who already had access to university resources.

Furthermore, research in the humanities differs substantially from research in the social sciences. In the former, research centers on the written word. In the latter, written words play only a part (as “review of the literature,” etc.) in a broader process. By now, it should be a truism that social-science research cannot be conducted solely through web resources, though people like Horowitz do keep trying (and failing). Fortunately, such people are not taken seriously by those who understand just what sociological (say) research means.

Humanities research, however, can be conducted successfully through the words of others. And therein lies the problem.

Let me explain (anyone who has written for the humanities will recognize what I describe):

When I read, I dog-ear pages, underline passages, and make notes in margins. If what I am reading is part of a research project, I go back to selected passages once I am done and copy them into my computer. When I read online, I do something similar, though it’s the easier cut-and-paste that results. I am very, very careful with these passages, keeping them separate from my own prose and each passage together with a reference note. These quotations each serve one of three purposes: First, they serve as reminders for points I want to make, generally confirming a conclusion I had previously come to myself—or that I had run across elsewhere. These I generally delete after I have written my own related passage. Though not original thoughts, I take care not to simply paraphrase them, let alone incorporate them wholesale into my work. A work I use in this manner will be noted in my bibliography. Second, some passages serve as particularly well-phrased examples of points I will be making in my own work. These I will quote directly, providing a reference note. The quotes serve to affirm that the point I am making is confirmed by others—that I am not making things up out of whole cloth. Third are the original concepts of others that I want to incorporate into my own writing. Here, I may quote or paraphrase, but I will always give direct credit, through a note, to the originator.

The types of plagiarism represented by misuse of these three purposes are quite distinct. Purposefully plagiarizing someone’s common-knowledge and pedestrian description is just plain stupid and needless. The information wouldn’t warrant a citation in the first place (who cares where you learned that Hamilton, Madison, and Jay were responsible, in that order of proportion, for The Federalist Papers?). Stealing someone’s beautiful phrasing and incorporating it into one’s own work without acknowledgement is something of an aesthetic decision--and it has also been a part of the creation of even great art for eons (that doesn’t make it right, but does make it art), but that doesn’t make it right—and it is not something I am willing to do (though I am perfectly willing to echo them, as I do Raymond Carver in my second paragraph). There’s a limit to even this: the original should never be hidden, as it was in the book by Kaavya Viswanathan that got so much attention this spring. This reaches the level of deceit represented by the third, the much more problematic plagiarism and, I think, of a type that should be taken much more seriously, for it is here that real damage can be done to the originator.

I have trouble with plagiarism of all three of these three types—in ascending significance—but only the third , and a certain type of the second, approaches (or surpasses) the dishonesty of simply taking the work of another and putting one’s own name on it. The others are annoyances worthy of chastisement, but they don’t amount to much—though the owners of the rights of works of art co-opted this way might argue otherwise.

The plagiarism of Ann Coulter strikes me as the result of sloppiness and inattention—plagiarism of the first type. The passages she plagiarized all seem to be plebian. She probably used them simply out of laziness, not dishonesty. Why, after all, use the mundane phrasing of another on a pedestrian topic? There’s nothing to be gained and, as Coulter is learning, much to be lost. I can’t see how it could be intentional. That doesn’t excuse her, but it does separate her from Domenech, who claimed whole articles by others as his own.

What happened to her is probably what happened to Ambrose and Goodwin. All three likely did what I do (or had underlings do it for them), but sufficient care was not taken to keep the copied prose from original writings. They weren’t creating art and they certainly weren’t involved in subterfuge—they simply did not paraphrase when they should have. The failure is not so much one of honesty but of care.

Though I would love to see Ann Coulter hung out to dry, I don’t think this is the issue that should be used. She is not a scholar and has none of a scholar’s rigor or attention to detail. Keeping her name in the news is her game, and she has to have material allowing her to do that. As she is not attempting to add to any body of knowledge, all she needs to do is slop together the thoughts of others, picking out snippets that she can use. That she sometimes forgets to put those snippets into words of her own is certainly one of her most minor, and inconsequential, faults.

Plagiarism of the sort Coulter engaged in certainly does need to be pointed out—but the fact of it should not be used to destroy her career or get her thrown off of the papers that carry her.

There are plenty of other reasons for that.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Voyeur of Violence

David Horowitz either has lost his mind or (along with Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin and the like) has been instructed to ratchet up the rhetoric against the left. Frankly, I don’t know which.

Before I go into his latest blog posting, let me remind you that one of Horowitz’s books is called The Art of Political War and Other Radical Pursuits. This is a man who loves the idea that what he does is “war” (as long as it puts him in no danger), and has felt that way all his life. Like many on the right, he’s a voyeur of violence. So, when an administration mired in low poll numbers, panicked about the upcoming election needs to turn to its attack dogs, he’s one pawing at the door of the kennel, anxious to get at ‘em—as long as they can’t “really” hit back.

Which brings me to “David’s Blog”.

This man who advocates “war” as an “art” of politics is now attacking the left for being at “war” with America! It’s part of this nutty campaign against The New York Times, a war that has moved from the front page to the travel section, with the wingnuts saying that The Times is deliberately pointing Cheney’s house and Rumsfeld’s house so that terrorists can attack them. Here’s what DaHo says about that:
In an apparent retaliation for criticism of its disclosure of classified intelligence to America's enemies, the New York Times June 30th edition has printed huge color photos of the vacation residences of Vice President Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, identifying the small Maryland town where they live, showing the front driveway and in Rumsfeld's case actually pointing out the hidden security camera in case any hostile intruders should get careless.
The blog gets curiouser and curiouser, however, after that, when Horowitz begins to conflate his metaphorical “war” with real “war”—and quite deliberately:
Make no mistake about it, there is a war going on in this country. The aggressors in this war are Democrats, liberals and leftists who began a scorched earth campaign against President Bush before the initiation of hostilities in Iraq. The initiators of this war were Al Gore and Jimmy Carter who attacked the president's attempt to rally the world against Saddam's defiance of international law….
Of course, if Horowitz were anywhere near right, all Gore and Carter would have been doing was following Horowitz’s own prescription for politics. But that, I guess, is completely irrelevant. DaHo goes on:
The campaign began in earnest with Nancy Pelosi's attack on the liberation of Iraq as "too costly” on April 13, 2003, the day American troops pulled down Saddam's statue and was raised to the level of political sabotage of our troops in Iraq and America's war on terror when a Democratic chorus began hammering the commander-in-chief as a "liar" over the 16 words about Saddam's effort to purchase fissionable uranium in Niger.
What was it Orwell wrote about black-is-white? People trying to stop a war are being accused of going to war by doing so?

This has gotten out of hand. Horowitz and others are listing the addresses of Times people on the Internet (or are advocating doing that). What they are doing is what they are (quite unfairly) accusing the Times of doing, and it shows a lust for lynching that I thought even the wingnuts had grown beyond.

Our Democratic “leaders” should be the sheriffs standing at the door making sure the lynchings don’t happen. But they don’t seem willing to do anything. They don’t even seem willing simply to stand up to these people and call them on their un-American nonsense.

So it’s time we find new leaders who can.

In the meantime, we’ll just have to keep doing it ourselves