Friday, 14 April 2017
Dear Mr President,
The thing about plagiarism that some people, like Senator Rand Paul and your brand-new Supreme Court justice, Neil Gorsuch, don’t understand, is that it’s the theft of ideas – not just of words. As an English professor, I taught university students for more than 30 years, and a certain small percentage were of the Paul-Gorsuch stripe and thought it was OK – or pretended to think it was OK – to swap out a few words in somebody else’s paper to make it their own, as if pushing home a shopping cart from Piggly Wiggly wouldn’t be theft if they paid for the milk and eggs that it held. But the paper, like the cart, has an organizing structure, and when you take it, you are a thief – as Paul and Gorsuch know very well, not being as stupid as they assume the public – and you – are.
The polite term for this act is “borrowing”. But it is plagiarism when what is borrowed is not returned.
So you’ve got a thief on the Supreme Court. And thieves are pliable, morally flexible, useful. But he may not be your thief.
One of several instances of Paul’s plagiarism, from 2013, is relatively simple (not minor, just simple): he lifted passages from a movie review and initially defended himself by saying that he had cited the movie. That’s like publishing as your own someone else’s essay on World War II, then pleading that you cited the war. But the ideas (not just the words) in the review were not Paul’s, and thus his act was a theft. He later apologized for “sloppy footnoting”. I used to hear that one a lot.
Gorsuch’s theft looks more deliberate. He found an unattended shopping cart full of groceries in the parking lot, tossed in his own milk and eggs, and pushed it home. As documented in a detailed 4 April analysis by John Bresnahan and Burgess Everett in Politico, he lifted a long passage from a 1984 scholarly article by Abigail Kuzma, who had structured her analysis using facts and ideas from three earlier works – which she had carefully cited. She, not Gorsuch, did the work of selecting and ordering these passages into her own argument. Gorsuch followed her organization closely, reproducing her paragraphs and sentences with slight alterations in wording. He occasionally cited Kuzma’s sources – as if he had found them and fitted them together – but never cited Kuzma herself.
So you’ve got a thief on the Supreme Court. And thieves are pliable, morally flexible, useful. But he may not be your thief. Your part in this caper was as a relatively minor and after-the-fact accessory. He was doing the bidding of corporations long before you ever heard of him, and if he is beholden to anyone, it’s to them, not to you.
Thursday, 13 April 2017
Dear Mr President,
I read in the Daily Telegraph this week that your son Eric took a break from the stresses of running (with brother Donald Jr) the Trump Conglomerocracy to reflect with hereditary Trumpian wisdom on war and peace from the perspective of the 9th green of the Trumpist Turnbury resort in Scotland. Though his experience, like your own, is mostly on the peace side, not having found military life suitable (one suspects the hereditary Trumpistian bone spur), he clearly had imbibed your long thoughts about the importance of other people’s service.
He noted that you were “deeply committed” to a strong military manned by other fathers’ sons, and “a big believer in Reagan’s philosophy of achieving peace through strength.” (Citing Reagan on such matters is always a nice touch, not only because of the Gipper’s famed service during WW II making training films in Hollywood, but because he was the first great leader in history to grasp the principle of achieving peace by beating the bejeezus out of anybody, say, Grenada, who has contradictory ideas.)
“He’s a great thinker, not impulsive,” Eric said, adding that Ivanka had pushed you to reverse, in three days, your long-standing Stay-the Hell-Out-of-Syria policy in favor of . . . we’re not sure yet.
“He’s a great thinker, not impulsive,” Eric said, adding that Ivanka had pushed you to reverse, in three days, your long-standing Stay-the Hell-Out-of-Syria policy in favor of . . . we’re not sure yet. Eric, who was on the links when this discussion took place (also absent was Viceroy Jared, who was cleaning up the mess in Iraq), nevertheless could imagine it because of his experience of the philosophical discussions that are regular features of the Trumplucratic breakfast table. “I’m sure she said, ‘Listen, this is horrible stuff.’” And then the missiles were launched.
“He was anti doing anything with Syria two years ago,” Eric said.“Then a leader gasses their own people, women and children, at some point America is the global leader and the world’s superpower has to come forward and act and they did with a lot of support of our allies and I think that’s a great thing.” (According to the Telegraph, he paused to gaze thoughtfully into the distance, as if contemplating great things his father would do. But it turned out he was calculating the distance to the sandtrap.)
Eloquent. Except for the antecedents of the pronouns, eloquent. And, well, the part about America being the global leader “at some point” is a little fuzzy. And which allies were those? But still, I’m sure that the Telegraph’s readers were enlightened and agree that Eric sounded a lot like you. You must be very proud.
Wednesday, 12 April 2017
Dear Mr President,
I just realized how well your mis-direction campaign has been working. Yesterday’s New York Times had no mention of Russian-Hackers-in-Collusion-with-Trump-Campaign on the front page, and no mention of you at all above the fold. This shows your mastery of the fundamentals of presidential prestidigitation. Since the beginning of March, the press and the country have been chasing the rabbits you have pulled from hats, one after another.
– 4 March: The Obama-Tapped-my-Phone–(and-maybe-my-Microwave) March Hare kept the press running about for more than two weeks, until . . .
– 20 March: FBI Director James Comey shot it dead in the Capitol, temporarily reminding the country of the Russian-Hacker investigation and even broadening it to include “members of the campaign” and modifying it with the adjective “criminal”, which was exciting for a day, until . . .
– 21 March: You counterattacked by letting Washington’s most gullible rabbit, Congressman Kevin Nunes, run freely in the White House bushes, setting off a new chase for a “secret document” that “somewhat vindicated” you, but before it could be made public . . .
– 24 March: The Repeal and Replace Wild Hare, which had been hopping about hopefully in the background, suddenly dived down a hole on the Capitol grounds, at which point . . .
– 25 March: The Taxation-is-Next Rabbit sprang briefly into view, but proved to be a rather dull and lame bunny, and it limped off, and then . . .
– 30 March: Michael Flynn suddenly refocused attention on the Collusion part of the Russian-Hacker story by threatening to testify (about whom, do you think?), after which . . .
– 31 March: Commentator Rick Wilson, noting the declining agility of your leporidae, said “unless he posts a Geraldo-style nude selfie”, the news was going to be all-Flynn, but . . .
– 2 April: Fortunately for the country, you ignored his suggestion and responded by unleashing the Bannon-Kushner Feud warren, which (breeding like they do) pushed Flynn right out of the news until . . .
– 5 April: You launched your tearful statement about Syrian babies, followed by a missile attack on the Syrian Air Force, which bought time until . . .
– 10 April: The FBI (remember them?) had the Spanish police pick up the primerissimo Russian hacker, whose wife said he knew everything, and so . . .
– 11 April: Your reflexes quick as ever, you threatened to “solve Korea” – and how! That should get you to Easter.