Monday, January 30, 2017

Uncommon Property

The last few days have been good days for the Millwall Football Club of Bermondsey, South London. The Lions, as they are known, on Sunday defeated Watford FC, of the Premier League, 1-0 in the fourth round of the FA Cup. This was an upset, as Millwall plays two divisions below Watford in League One.(1)

Even better than that sporting result, on the previous Wednesday the club learned that it could remain in South London, as a compulsory purchase order (CPO) which would have sold the club’s ground from underneath their feet to some redevelopment schemers was abandoned by the local government council. The council’s would-be development partner was “an opaque offshore-registered entity called Renewal.”(2)

The actual details of the disingenuousness of Renewal and its cosy intertwining of business and politics is too complex (and irrelevant to our purpose) to outline here (see the afore-referenced Guardian article for those details). One thing we can be sure of is that had the project gone through, the principals of Renewal would not be going hungry.
A few hundred years earlier—481, for those of a pedantic nature—common people in the North of England arose in protest against what they saw as many intolerable actions by the King, Henry VIII, and his ministers. To focus on only one grievance: the rebellion, known as the Pilgrimage of Grace, was that of “a nation already made uneasy by the treatment of its Queen [Katherine of Aragon] and by the alienation of its Church from Rome,” stirred further “as the lesser monasteries were suppressed and their fabric was laid waste.”(3) 

It is Geoffrey Moorhouse’s belief that the rebels could easily have overcome the King’s forces at Doncaster and descended upon London had they not temporized, believing that they could negotiate with the sovereign’s representatives. But they eventually disbanded, and an enraged Henry took bloody revenge against the leaders of the Pilgrimage.

And what happened to the seized monastic lands? The overwhelming majority of allotments were sold off to the highest bidders.
While we looked at the Pilgrimage of Grace and the reaction to the confiscation and subsequent selling off of ecclesiastical property, it’s public property we are concerned with here. Between the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536 and this week's victories of Millwall FC there have been many instances of common land in Great Britain being lost to the majority of the populace for the benefit of the already wealthy. In “A Short History of Enclosure in Britain” Simon Fairlie offers a long history of such happenings. He opens his account thusly:
Over the course of a few hundred years, much of Britain's land has been privatized — that is to say taken out of some form of collective ownership and management and handed over to individuals. Currently, in our "property-owning democracy", nearly half the country is owned by 40,000 land millionaires, or 0.06 per cent of the population, while most of the rest of us spend half our working lives paying off the debt on a patch of land barely large enough to accommodate a dwelling and a washing line.(4)
We could expand this discussion with examples beyond public land and Great Britain (think post-Soviet Russia and gas, mining, and other industries, for example), but the point we are trying to make here is that there is a mindset too prevalent (especially here in the United States) that everything that exists in the world is allowed to be sold to the very rich so that they can become even richer. 
Note to my fellow Americans: Looking at Trump’s choice for Education Secretary, how long will it be before there are no more public schools? 

1—In reality, the third division of English football. The second division is called the Championship. The English, surely, can match any other nation in the use of euphemism.

Also note the wonderful euphemism for “destruction.”

3—Geoffrey Moorhouse, The Pilgrimage of Grace: The rebellion that shook Henry VIII’s throne. The north of England, then as now, was economically worse off than the south, and many monasteries there provided basic welfare services to the common people. 



A few hours after this post was put online the Guardian published an article on the pushback in the US against public financing of facilities for millionaire-owned sports teams (specifically focusing on soccer). One example from the article:
Newly-elected Missouri governor Eric Greitens, sensing an electoral no-brainer, said before he took office in early January that public money for the construction of a downtown St Louis stadium was “nothing more than welfare for millionaires.(5)


One more day and one more example in the news of what the richest people can do: add a new citizenship without leaving one's old home:

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Dog Ate My File Cabinet

. . . and other excuses.
Monica Crowley, the foreign policy adviser tapped for a White House job under President-elect Donald Trump, will relinquish the post, a transition official told Reuters on Monday. 
Crowley had been chosen to serve as senior director of strategic communications at the National Security Council. Her appointment had been shadowed by reports of plagiarism in news outlets including CNN and Politico. 
After much reflection I have decided to remain in New York to pursue other opportunities and will not be taking a position in the incoming administration,” she said in a statement quoted by the Washington Times. 
I greatly appreciate being asked to be part of President-elect Trump’s team and I will continue to enthusiastically support him and his agenda for American renewal."
A CNN review found this month that Crowley plagiarized thousands of words of her 2000 dissertation for her Columbia University Ph.D. 
In addition, Politico reported that it found more than a dozen examples of plagiarism in Crowley's Ph.D. Dissertation.*
Dr. (ha, ha, ha!) Crowley's claim that she has decided to remain in New York to pursue other opportunities” is a neat revision of the classic declaration by disgraced politicians that they are resigning to spend more time with their families. Actually, her action makes great sense to me; who would trade the opportunity to remain at the home of the Met, the Met, and the Mets for some Washingtonian grilling on the provenance of her paragraphs?
I must confess, though, that I am rather disappointed that Dr. (ha, ha, ha!) Crowley did not own up to the plagiarism and offer some risible excuse that we all could kick around for a while. As much as I hate plagiarism, I love the excuses the perpetrators come up with.
Doris Kearns Goodwin's explanation for her own plagiaristic misdeeds is too long and complicated to quote here, involving as it does attics, boxes, folders, etc.** But her defense actually allows us to level another accusation against her. “Fourteen years ago,” she writes,
not long after the publication of my book The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys, I received a communication from author Lynne McTaggart pointing out that material from her book on Kathleen Kennedy had not been properly attributed. I realized that she was right. Though my footnotes repeatedly cited Ms. McTaggart's work, I failed to provide quotation marks for phrases that I had taken verbatim, having assumed that these phrases, drawn from my notes, were my words, not hers.
What Doris Kearns Goodwin is telling us is that she can't tell her own writing from another writer's. “I have no style of my own,” she is really confessing. That's one hell of an admittance for a writer. Now, I cannot read my own handwriting, but I know goddamn well when I see the words printed out, I can tell what's mine and what isn't. I have a memory (I hope not a false one) of seeing a film clip of Salvador Dali walking along an art gallery wall with a big paint brush in his hand decisively making black crosses on canvasses that he recognized as fake Dalis. Whether the scene actually happened or not, it should serve as an example to all creative artists: recognize your own work, and deal with the unfamiliar as necessary.
Kearns Goodwin opened her defense in the article cited below by stating, “I am a historian. with the exception of being a wife and mother, it is who I am.”*** 
Well, I for one would hope that she recognizes her flesh-and-blood offspring better than her literary ones. 

(And a tip of the hat to Kathleen Farrell, who emailed me: "Wouldn't you like to know who was on her committee and missed this?")

***There's obviously an error in the original, either in punctuation or capitalization. I've copied-and-pasted directly from the Time website.
Consider these excerpts from two articles worth reading.

One plagiarism is careless. Two is a pattern. Four, five, or more is pathology. 
No matter what they steal, they fall back on the same excuses, as Thomas Mallon shows in his wonderful plagiarism book Stolen Words. Before the computer age, they blamed their confusing "notebooks," where they allegedly mixed up their own notes with passages recorded elsewhere. These days, plagiarists claim they mistake electronic files of notes with their own writing. 
Plagiarists steal for reasons both profound and mundane. In a few cases, plagiarism flows from some deep psychological wellspring: [Jacob] Epstein, the son of eminent literary parents, stole so much and from such an obvious source that he was clearly "committing literary suicide," writes Mallon. Some writers plagiarize because they are rushing a project through and probably don't think they'll get caught. Some are just exceptionally careless.  
David Plotz,
[Fareed] Zakaria strongly denied that any assistant or intern wrote his work, and said that his mistake came from mixing up different notes from different sources. That account does not quite explain how the plagiarized paragraph was so closely aligned with its original source, nor how it was unattributed to the writer, Jill Lepore.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Insanity Claus

George Carlin claimed that he knew why Santa Claus was always smiling: He knew where the naughty girls live.

This past Christmas Mr. Claus got an early start and gave out goodies to naughty people ahead of time. Specifically, he laid a document on Bob Dylan telling him he was being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature (this to a man who wrote: “Then time will tell just who has fell.”)

Once upon a time I loved Dylan. I saw him on a Boston TV show, and came back to New York raving about him. But as the years went by, something struck me about the man: He was nasty and self-centered!

Consider the closing words of “Positively 4th Street:

I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes
And just for that one moment I could be you
Yes, I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes
You'd know what a drag it is to see you.

That's how he reacts when he feels he's been hurt by friends.

Here's an even a better example of his solipsistic view of life. Compare these two contemporary lyrics about the failure of a love affair:

Bob Dylan (1963)
Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”

It ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe
It don’t matter, anyhow
An’ it ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe
If you don’t know by now
When your rooster crows at the break of dawn
Look out your window and I’ll be gone
You’re the reason I’m trav’lin’ on
Don’t think twice, it’s all right

It ain’t no use in turnin’ on your light, babe
That light I never knowed
An’ it ain’t no use in turnin’ on your light, babe
I’m on the dark side of the road
Still I wish there was somethin’ you would do or say
To try and make me change my mind and stay
We never did too much talkin’ anyway
So don’t think twice, it’s all right

It ain’t no use in callin’ out my name, gal
Like you never did before
It ain’t no use in callin’ out my name, gal
I can’t hear you anymore
I’m a-thinkin’ and a-wond’rin’ all the way down the road
I once loved a woman, a child I’m told
I give her my heart but she wanted my soul
But don’t think twice, it’s all right

I’m walkin’ down that long, lonesome road, babe
Where I’m bound, I can’t tell
But goodbye’s too good a word, gal
So I’ll just say fare thee well
I ain’t sayin’ you treated me unkind
You could have done better but I don’t mind
You just kinda wasted my precious time
But don’t think twice, it’s all right.
(Emphasis mine)
Tom Paxton
"The Last Thing on My Mind" (1964)

Are you going away with no word of farewell
Will there be not a trace left behind
Well, I could have loved you better, didn't mean to be unkind
You know that was the last thing on my mind
It's a lesson too late for the learnin'
Made of sand, made of sand
In the wink of an eye my soul is turnin'
In your hand, in your hand
Are you going away with no word of farewell
Will there be not a trace left behind
Well, I could have loved you better, didn't mean to be unkind
You know that was the last thing on my mind
You've got reasons a-plenty for goin'
This I know, this I know.
(Emphasis mine)

One singer accepts responsibility for his role in the break-up; the other shoves it all on the other person.

Oh, the tunes sound good all right. But step back from the music a bit and consider who is the self-centered one and who is the grown-up here.

Who is the nasty one—who the nice one.

Santa blew it.