Archive for April, 2006

Apparently We’re Still Trashy

Posted on April 26th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Welcome to the white-trash nation

——Helen A.S. Popkin,, today

White-Trash Nation
—by Tad Friend, New York magazine, August 22, 1994

Who could forget the cover photo of Anna Nicole Smith consuming a bag of Cheetos—which prompted a lawsuit from Smith, who apparently had not been told that she would be characterized as “white trash”…..

Great American Trailer Park Pageant

“White trash”…

Apparently not white trash….

Alex Beam and I Agree/World to End

Posted on April 26th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 16 Comments »

In the Globe today, Alex Beam agrees with me that Kaavya Viswanathan may not even have committed the acts of plagiarism for which she is not really taking responsibility.

Beam writes: Here is my cautious prediction: If and when the lawyers get through devouring one another, it will emerge that a staffer at Alloy, ”the creative think tank,” introduced the plagiarism.

Yup. Beam and I cautiously agree. (I suggested the same thing yesterday.) I do wonder if Viswanathan has actually read the author, Megan McCafferty, from whom she claims to have plagiarized.

In other plagiarism news, Steve Ross, publisher of McCafferty’s house, Crown Books, completely rejected Viswanathan’s pseudo-apology.

According to the Globe, the Crimson, and the Times, Ross said: ”We find both the responses of Little, Brown and their author . . . deeply troubling and disingenuous. …Based on the scope and character of the similarities, it is inconceivable that this was a display of youthful innocence or an unconscious or unintentional act.”

Acording to the Times, Ross claims that there are “more than 40 passages in Ms. Viswanathan’s book ‘that contain identical language and/or common scene or dialogue structure from Megan McCafferty’s first two books.'”

40 passages? Viswanathan really is a good internalizer…..

Springsteen and the Plagiarist

Posted on April 26th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

I went to see Bruce Springsteen last night at the Asbury Park Convention Hall in Asbury Park, New Jersey. The hall isn’t really what its name sounds like; it’s a big, brick, ramshackle building that looks like it hasn’t met fire code in a while, and the part Bruce played in looked like a slightly bigger-than-usual high school gym. And as for Asbury Park—it’s a dilapidated seaside town struggling to revive. Walking around the streets felt more dangerous than walking around the Harlem neighborhood where I live.

But against this gritty background, Springsteen was miraculous, heartwarming, authentic, inspiring—and generous. He’s promoting a new record, called “We Shall Overcome—The Seeger Sessions,” an album of American music popularized by the folk singer Pete Seeger. The concept is modest, an homage to an American legend and a musical tradition. But the show’s spectacle was not; Springsteen was joined by no fewer than 19 other musicians on stage: a banjo player, an accordian player, four other guitarists (including his wife, Patti Scialfa, and a pedal steel player, such a gorgeous instrument), three backup singers, five horn players, a pianist, a drummer, a bass player and two violinists. All of them were fabulous musicians.

As the two-hour plus concert evolved, a couple of themes emerged: Springsteen’s sense of family and community and his appreciation of history. When introducing one guitar player, a young man named (I think) Frank Bruno, Springsteen mentioned that Bruno’s father, Springsteen’s cousin, had taught him his first chords on the guitar, at age 13. “And then I went home and played, I don’t know, Greensleeves—and right after that, Twist and Shout.” That’s an autobiography of an American great in a single sentence; I wish I could tell a story so well.

When beginning the song, “Buffalo Gals, Won’t You Come Out Tonight,”—and we danced by the light of the moon—Springsteen mentioned that his grandmother used to sing it to him when he was going to sleep at night, and did a sweet, off-the-cuff imitation of her singing to him.

When he asked a stagehand for his “magic guitar,” Springsteen joked, “When I play this one, look out,” then explained that he’d had the battered old acoustic guitar “since Catholic school.”

And when he asked his wife Patti and two of the female backup singers to solo—a request the singers clearly weren’t expecting, as they quickly conferred on stage—he explained, “These three used to sing together on the streets of New York City 25 years ago.”

All this against the backdrop of the tough town where Springsteen began his career back in the 1970s. (And at the end of the show, Springsteen read a list of local charities that the concert was benefitting.)

Family. Community. Humility. Respect. Few American artists could convey such values in the midst of a rock concert. Yet Springsteen did it not just with his words, or with the people he chose to play with, but with the music he chose to play. Only three of the songs, I think, were his own compositions. The rest were either Pete Seeger originals (“Turn, Turn, Turn“) or folk songs played by Seeger, and time and again Springsteen introduced the songs by mentioning their original writer and their origin—”this one’s from about a century and a half ago,” or, “this is an old Irish anti-war song,” or, “this is from one of the original minstrels.”

In the process, he conveyed a profound sense of history and of tradition, sometimes quite literally, as when he sang “When the Saints Come Marching In,” with its wonderful beginning, “We are traveling in the footsteps of those who’ve gone before.”

Maybe it was at this point in the show when I suddenly realized why the Harvard plagiarist, Kaavya Viswanathan, disturbs me so much. There is in her act of literary theft none of those qualities that Springsteen brought to life last night and embodies in his career—none of that humility, respect, and reverence toward those who’ve gone before. None of that sense of tradition, of being a part of something larger, a product of the toil and the heartbreak and the joy of past generations. None of that sense of family, community, and love.

Plagiarism is the antithesis of all those things. It is a rejection of community, an insistence upon the primacy of the individual. It is disrespectful and immodest and selfish. It is greedy; it invokes contempt for those who work hard and don’t cheat. It says that the labor of others does not matter except insofar as I can use it to further my own ambitions—in this case, raking in a half-million-dollar book deal and becoming an investment banker. Is that why people go to Harvard these days? I hope not. But this is what plagiarism says; this is what it is.

And it may say something about what afflicts Harvard, and indeed our country, that there seems to be so much of it going around. I’m glad there are people like Springsteen left to remind us that we don’t have to succumb to cynical opportunism, that we can strive to be better.

Posted on April 25th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Some students at Nova Southeastern University aren’t happy about the choice of Salman Rushdie as Commencement speaker—they’re Muslim, he wrote The Satanic Verses, this should be interesting—and Stanley Fish thinks they have it exactly right.

Fish writes in his blog, “When you’re the proud parent of a graduating son or daughter, the last thing you want to hear is something that will make you think. You want to hear something that will make you feel good.”

I don’t agree with the argument, but I do agree that Salman Rushdie doesn’t make you feel good. Perhaps Fish would prefer his wife, Padma Lakshmi?

Padma Lakshmi:
Could make Stanley
Fish feel good

Viswanathan: The Story Gets Weirder

Posted on April 25th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 9 Comments »

One of the most curious aspects of the story of Kaavya Viswanathan is the role of a company called Alloy Entertainment, which helped create the book Viswanathan is rumored to have written.

According to the Boston Globe, Viswanathan turned to Alloy when her original idea for a novel was considered “too dark.”

While Viswanathan said the plot was her idea, she acknowledged in a February interview with the Globe that Alloy had played a major role in fleshing out the concept.

Alloy co-holds the copyright to “Opal Mehta…“, which strikes some people the Globe interviewed as hard to explain if the company’s role was only “fleshing out the concept.”

”We would never recommend to an author that they share copyright for something as minor as refining a concept,” said Boston-area literary agent Doe Coover.

I am curious: What is Alloy Entertainment? Its website, linked to above, describes the company as “a creative think tank that develops and produces original books, television series and feature films.”

And how’s this for a line to send Orwellian shivers down your spine: “Alloy Entertainment produces more than 40 new books a year.”

What’s really interesting is that Alloy Entertainment turns out to be essentially a subsidiary of a marketing company. This isn’t really even some bogus ghostwriting firm; it’s “one of the largest and most successful marketers and merchandisers to the youth market.” The company’s CEO, Matthew C. Diamond, “founded Alloy in January 1997 to tap into the enormous spending power of the Generation Y market.”

What becomes clear is that that Kaavya Viswanathan’s book really isn’t a book at all; it’s a piece of marketing aimed at the Generation Y market, a product, and Viswanathan—how much of this did she really write, even excluding the plagiarism?—may be little more than an empty vessel. Young, attractive, a Harvard student, and a member of a successful ethnic group, Indian-Americans (imagine the foreign rights!), she’s a marketer’s dream…so who cares whether she can write? It’s not just her book that’s product—it’s Viswanathan herself.

After all, why else would you sign an 18-year-old to a two-book, $500,000 deal—when she hasn’t even written a book yet?

The answer is, you don’t—unless it’s not her literary talents that you’re buying.

In fact, one of the more intriguing possibilities of this story is that Viswanathan might not even have committed the plagiarism….but that it was the ghostwriters at Alloy Entertainment.

Whew. This is a tawdry business.

After duplicated words, words of apology
(Chitose Suzuki/ Associated Press)
Kaavya Viswanathan:
Did she plagiarize—
or was it her ghostwriters?

Quotes of the Day

Posted on April 25th, 2006 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

“In a separate statement, Little, Brown publisher and senior vice president Michael Pietsch said [that…] Viswanathan is ”a decent, serious, incredibly hard-working writer and student, and I am confident that we will learn that any similarities in phrasings were unintentional.'”

—The Boston Globe, April 25th

“No. I haven’t [started writing the sequel] and I probably should. But I’m actually terrified about the writing process this time around. What if I find out I have nothing to say? What if I can’t write? I just wish I could just move forward to the time when the sequel would be written and I could go around promoting it. I enjoy that part.” (smiles)

—Kaavya Viswanathan, The Hindu, April 23rd

Don’t Show This Headline to Stephen Walt

Posted on April 25th, 2006 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Top White House posts go to Jews

The article goes on to say that “White House policy is now in the hands of two Jews….”

Sounds like something David Duke might endorse, right?

It’s actually from the Jerusalem Post…..

At Harvard, A Plagiarist’s Bogus Confession

Posted on April 24th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 6 Comments »

Kaavya Viswanathan, the Harvard sophomore who plagiarized from two novels by Megan McCafferty, is admitting that she plagiarized from two novels by Megan McCafferty.

Oh, heck, what am I saying? Of course she isn’t!

Here’s this from the Times:

Calling herself a “huge fan” of Ms. McCafferty’s work, Ms. Viswanathan added, “I wasn’t aware of how much I may have internalized Ms. McCafferty’s words.” She also apologized to Ms. McCafferty and said that future printings of the novel would be revised to “eliminate any inappropriate similarities.

What a load of nonsense.

If you read the link above, you’ll see that Viswanathan “internalized” some remarkably specific language. The Times says that there are “at least 29 passages that are strikingly similar.” Ms. Viswanathan would appear to have an excellent memory.

Let’s be serious. This not a case of “inappropriate similarities”—it’s just plain-old ripping off someone else’s hard work. And because Visnawathan is young and pretty and goes to Harvard, she made a hell of a lot more money off these words than their original author.

You know, 19-year-olds make mistakes—especially hyper-ambitious ones—and I wouldn’t want to fault a person that age for the rest of her life. But still: Sometimes you just want to hear somebody admit, “Yeah, I plagiarized.” (Or, in James Frey’s case, “Yeah, I made the whole thing up.”)

Internalized. Inappropriate similarities.

Argh. Apparently even 19-year-olds know how to spin these days.

FAS press person Robert Mitchell has this to say about whether Viswanathan will face any discipline: “Our policies apply to work submitted to courses. Nevertheless, we expect Harvard students to conduct themselves with integrity and honesty at all times.”

Hmmm. Given that Allan Dershowitz has been accused of plagiarism, and Larry Tribe has admitted to it, and Andrei Shleifer is returning to Harvard to teach next fall, it would seem a little odd for the university to punish Viswanathan. After all, she’s only doing the same thing that some Harvard professors do—and get away with.

Then again, those men are friends of Larry Summers, and Viswanathan, so far as I know, is not.


P.S. Some of the headlines I’ve seen about this story say that Viswanathan “admits borrowing passages.”

What, was she going to give them back?

P.P.S. A friend who works in intellectual property law suggests that there might be very specific legal reasons for Viswanathan’s diction—that it is very hard to prove theft of intellectual copyright if you can claim that a work is the product of an internal process, a self-creation. In other words: I read and read something, then I “internalized” it and came up with something of my own.

Which would suggest that perhaps it’s Viswanathan’s publisher—more specifically, her publisher’s lawyer—who’s telling her what to say.

Does this let her off the hook? I don’t think so…..

The Biz School Gets a Dean

Posted on April 24th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 7 Comments »

Here’s the announcement:

Dear Alumni and Friends,

I wanted you to be among the first to know that Professor Jay Light has been appointed as the next Dean of Harvard Business School. Please see today’s press release that follows.


Donella M. Rapier
Vice President, Alumni Affairs and Development
Harvard University


Jay O. Light Named Ninth Dean of Harvard Business School

Jay O. Light, an expert in finance and investment management and the Dwight P. Robinson, Jr., Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School (HBS), will be the School’s next Dean, President Lawrence H. Summers announced today.

“I am very pleased that Jay Light has agreed to become Dean,” said Summers. “He has done an outstanding job as Acting Dean, and no one is more familiar with the range of opportunities and challenges facing Harvard Business School or better prepared to guide the School in meeting them. As his colleagues and friends well know, he has made extraordinary contributions to HBS over the years, and the School will be well served by his leadership qualities, his deep knowledge of the School’s distinctive character, and his devotion to keeping its programs fresh, forward-looking, and strong as HBS heads toward its second century. Jay is also an excellent citizen of the University more broadly, and his collaborative outlook and engagement with issues of University-wide significance will help strengthen Harvard as a whole.”

A member of the HBS faculty since 1970, Light will assume his new duties immediately. He has been the School’s Acting Dean since August 1, 2005, and previously served in a range of senior leadership roles at HBS. He was chair of the School’s Finance unit from 1986 to 1988 and played an active role in the recent restructuring of the required first-year MBA course in finance. From 1988 to 1992, he was Senior Associate Dean, Director of Faculty Planning, and from 1998 to 2005 he was Senior Associate Dean, Director of Planning and Development, responsible for the School’s strategic planning and new initiatives.

“I am honored to take the helm of a School that has been my life’s work for more than three decades,” Light said. “I follow in the footsteps of some great leaders in management education, including Kim Clark, who stepped down from this office last July, and John McArthur, who ended his tenure as Dean in 1995. I am grateful for the lessons in leadership I learned from them.”

“Harvard Business School is a unique place with extraordinary faculty, students, staff, and facilities, as well as an alumni body of 65,000 women and men who aspire to make a difference in the world,” Light added. “I look forward to working with my colleagues in the years ahead to keep Harvard Business School the world leader in general management education.”

Former Dean Kim Clark said, “I am delighted that President Summers has named Jay Light to be my successor. He has earned the respect of the entire HBS community. With years of wide-ranging experience in academia and the world of business, gifted in planning and implementation, he is especially well prepared to lead the School in an age of innovation, globalization, and technology.” Clark concluded his service as Dean of HBS last summer to assume the presidency of Brigham Young University-Idaho.

As Acting Dean, Light has overseen the completion of Harvard Business School’s successful $600 million campaign, the launch of new faculty initiatives in health care and science-based business, and the final stages of the renovation and restoration of Baker Library, which houses the world’s preeminent collection of business books and archival materials. He also has led innovations in the School’s core educational programs, including a team-based learning initiative in the MBA program and the launch of a new, modular leadership development program in executive education. He has played an active role in the University’s planning for new facilities and activities in Allston as well.

Light earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering physics with highest honors from Cornell University in 1963 and a DBA from Harvard University’s joint program in decision and control theory in 1970. Before joining the HBS faculty, he worked in satellite guidance and systems planning at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. He was later affiliated with a management consulting firm specializing in corporate strategy and planning. From 1977 to 1979, he took a leave of absence from HBS to serve as director of investment and financial policies for the Ford Foundation in New York, where, as Director of Investment and Financial Policies, he was responsible for formulating and implementing the policies used in managing the Foundation’s multibillion-dollar investment portfolio. He returned to HBS in 1979 as a full professor with tenure.

Light is a director of the Harvard Management Company, which oversees the investment of the University’s endowment. He also serves on several other boards, including those of Partners HealthCare and the Groton School. He is a member of the investment committee of several endowments and an adviser to several corporate and institutional pools of capital.

Light’s extensive professional, research, and teaching interests have focused on the capital markets and institutional asset management, including the management of pension funds and endowments, as well as on the entrepreneurial management of technology companies. He is the author of The Financial System, numerous articles for professional journals, and many cases, notes, and working papers on asset management, risk management, negotiation, and corporate finance. In his decades at the School, he has taught many thousands of students in the MBA, doctoral, and executive education programs; his most recent teaching assignment was in the first-year required course on finance.

In announcing Light’s appointment, Summers expressed appreciation to members of the HBS community for their advice on the selection of the new Dean. “I want to thank the many members of the community who offered their counsel during the course of the search, on both the choice of a new Dean and the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead for HBS,” Summers said. “Your advice has contributed a great deal to an outcome that will carry forward the School’s proud tradition of strong leadership and educational excellence.”

Light lives in Belmont, Massachusetts, with his wife, Judy. They are the parents of two grown children.

The Morality of Economists?

Posted on April 24th, 2006 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

From today’s Crimson:

Georgios N. Theophanous ’06, an economics concentrator who had Shleifer as a thesis adviser, called the professor a “very accurate” speaker and “remarkably energetic” thinker. He also rejected the relevance of Shleifer’s legal troubles to his standing as a Faculty member.

“He is an excellent professor and does remarkable research and those to me are the two main criteria that you should be using in deciding whether or not he’s going to be a valued professor,” Theophanous said. “The other stuff, that is for other people to worry about.”

Mmm-hmmm. And they say Hitler was a pretty dynamic speaker. Anything else, that’s for other people to worry about.

A more serious point of comparison: As David Warsh has pointed out, Yale fired Shleifer’s protege, Florencio López-de-Silanes, for double-billing about $150,000 worth of expenses. Yale spokesman Tom Conroy put it bluntly: “He has resigned from Yale as a result of financial misconduct and irregularities in his role as director of the International Institute for Corporate Governance. ….Appropriate corrective actions have been taken.”

As Fred Abernathy and others have pointed out, Harvard has never said a peep about the $30 million that Shleifer cost the university….