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About that Bridge...

Bill Clinton is "woefully unprepared for 21st-century media," says Chuck Todd, the political director of NBC News. From a Broadcasting & Cable report:

"It's fascinating: Nobody's been a bigger victim of the so-called YouTube moments than Bill Clinton," Todd said....

When Clinton was running for president, Todd said, he and his fellow candidates could misspeak -- and even willfully obfuscate -- with relative impunity.

"It was like a Jedi mind trick with him," he added. "It would take a few days for the media to catch up [and] by then he had moved on."

Pandering to (Illegal?) Aliens

From Thoreau at HighClearing:

If there were a significant population of undecided gray aliens in Pennsylvania, right now Hillary Clinton would be talking fondly about her abduction by aliens and all the life lessons learned on that space ship. She'd be scolding Barack Obama for the way he demeans them. Obama, in turn, would say that he understands their bitterness when the US government has spent decades promising change but instead dissecting their kin in Area 51.

More here.

More on Twitchell and Plagiarism

UT rhetoric professor Clay Spinuzzi offers a good take:

Sometimes when I talk about plagiarism to my students, I tell them: If professors catch you plagiarizing, we don't just think it's a character issue. We take it as an indicator that perhaps you're just not college material. There are several honorable and skilled professions out there that do not involve referencing and modifying others' intellectual work; if you have the urge to plagiarize, consider keeping your integrity and switching to one of those professions instead. Perhaps I should make that speech a standard part of my grad classes too.

It's unfortunate that newspaper accounts of such scandals rely so much on "objective" parallel passages rather than getting at the true disservice to the reader. When James Twitchell fails to cite sources for his statistics, leading readers to assume he is the source, he deprives those readers of further information on the subject, including when the stats were gathered and how. He also slights readers when he offers an unsourced summary of another scholar's idea without telling readers where to find the original, and far more thorough, development of that idea. Then there's changing facts to make them inaccurate...

As an offense against other scholars and writers, plagiarism is a sign of bad character. But, more important for the public sphere, it's a sign that you don't care about your readers.

Reader Bradley Dilger*, who teaches composition and new media at Western Illinois and got his undergrad and graduate degrees at Florida, defends his fellow Florida students.

I'm dismayed that you indict the credibility of Florida students based on the actions of one professor. Like many students, I never worked with Twitchell while at Florida. And like most, if not all who taught at Florida, I always held my students to the highest standards of academic courtesy and professionalism. When I had to throw the book at students because of their lax citation or outright cut-and-pasting, the department stood behind me 100%.

I didn't mean to impugn Florida students but, to the contrary, to suggest that the university probably holds them to a higher standard than Twitchell has demonstrated in his own work. I might add, that I hired and count as a friend a very fine and original writer who is a University of Florida grad.

UPDATE: According to another article by Jack Stripling, Twitchell talks tough on students' plagiarism but is really a softy.

At UF, students who violated the Honor Code between 2005 and 2007 primarily received grade penalties. Such penalties include being forced to redo an assignment, taking a zero on the assignment or receiving a failing grade in the course. Of 466 cases, four ended in expulsion and 10 in suspension.
In Twitchell's 2008 syllabus, the English professor describes a blunt policy on academic dishonesty.
"If you cheat, you'll get an F, not just for the paper, but for the course," the syllabus states.
Despite Twitchell's zero-tolerance stance in his syllabus, he says he's actually more understanding in his class.
"In 30+ years of teaching, I have never failed a student for cheating," Twitchell wrote in an e-mail. "If I think the paper is not the student's, I ask the student to think it over and pass it in again."
So what if a student plagiarized to the extent that Twitchell has admitted to doing? He says he'd maintain his do-over policy: "This has never happened to me, but if I (had) a graduate student pass in a book-length dissertation (the length of my books) and I thought they had plagiarized the same percent and type that I did, I would have done the same thing, tell them to go back and check it and make changes if necessary."

UPDATE: Grant McCracken is not happy.

*Link updated to reflect his move to Purdue.

"No Evidence of Disease"

After surgery, chemo, and more surgery, my official health status is "no evidence of disease." To help keep things that way, I will start radiation therapy next month Thanks to everyone who has sent their best wishes. I appreciate your support.

If You're Going to Steal My Prose, At Least Keep My Facts

In his 2007 book Shopping for God by James Twitchell, an English professor at the University of Florida and a frequently quoted and much assigned observer of consumer culture wrote:

Whole Foods Market. Check out its fruit and vegetables: "724 produce varieties available today — 93 organic selections." Over in the cheese section, 14 types of feta alone. Go to Starbucks. Look at the menu. What's nonfat decaf iced vanilla latte all about? Forget food. Home Depot has more than 1,500 drawer pulls. Amazon.com gives every town a bookstore with 2 million titles, while Netflix promises 35,000 different movies on DVD. The supplying of choice, needless choice, is everywhere, liberating to some, but to others a new source of stress.
During the last couple of decades, the American economy has undergone a variety revolution. Instead of simply offering mass-market goods, businesses of all sorts increasingly compete to give consumers more personalized products, more varied experiences, and more choice.

This passage bears an uncanny resemblance to something I wrote two years earlier a June 2005 Reason article on the proliferation of consumer choice.

When customers enter the Ralphs supermarket near UCLA, they see a sign announcing how many different fruits and vegetables the produce department has on hand: "724 produce varieties available today," it says, including 93 organic selections....Over in the cheese section, this pretty run-of-the-mill supermarket offers 14 types of feta alone....
During the last couple of decades, the American economy has undergone a variety revolution. Instead of simply offering mass-market goods, businesses of all sorts increasingly compete to give consumers more personalized products, more varied experiences, and more choice.
Average Americans order nonfat decaf iced vanilla lattes at Starbucks and choose from 1,500 drawer pulls at The Great Indoors. Amazon gives every town a bookstore with 2 million titles, while Netflix promises 35,000 different movies on DVD. Choice is everywhere, liberating to some but to others a new source of stress.

It's scandalous that a tenured English professor would lift my prose--scandalous whether it was intentional theft or incompetent research. But it's particularly galling that he changed the passage just enough to make it inaccurate. Whole Foods doesn't sell non-organic produce, and Home Depot has nowhere close to 1,500 drawer pulls. I deliberately chose Ralphs because it is not a specialty store and The Great Indoors because it is. (The 1,500 drawer pulls also make an appearance in The Substance of Style, copyright 2003.)

I found out about this plagiarism in a February email from journalist Roy Rivenburg, who'd discovered it after stumbling over a similar borrowing of his own work. I didn't write anything on Twitchell's plagiarism problem back then because Jack Stripling of the Gainesville Sun was investigating further. His story is now out, and it's damning. An excerpt:

But in his 2002 book, "Living It Up: Our Love Affair With Luxury," Twitchell uses more than "snippets" without attribution. Describing a trip he says he took to Las Vegas, he provides an elaborate description of Caesars Palace. Discussing a Roman-themed mall inside the hotel, a place he says is unlike "anything I have ever seen," Twitchell writes:
"It has marble floors, stark white pillars, hermetically sealed 'outdoor' cafes, living trees, flowing fountains, and even a painted blue sky with fluffy white clouds that burst into simulated storms, complete with lightning and thunder. Every entrance to the Forum Shops and every storefront is an elaborate re-creation of a Roman portal. Inside the main entrance animatronic statues of Caesar and other Roman luminaries come to life every hour and speak."
The description, which goes on further is patently similar to one provided by Joseph Pine and James Gilmore, whose essay "Welcome to the Experience Economy" appeared in the Harvard Business Review in 1998. Discussing the same mall decor as Twitchell, Pine and Gilmore say "these include marble floors, stark white pillars, 'outdoor' cafes, living trees, flowing fountains — and even a painted blue sky with fluffy white clouds that yield regularly to simulated storms, complete with lightning and thunder. Every mall entrance and every storefront is an elaborate Roman re-creation. Every hour inside the main entrance, statues of Caesar and other Roman luminaries come to life and speak."
At one point, Twitchell actually appears to be in a sort of conversation with the very authors from whom he's borrowed. While Pine and Gilmore say the mall's "theme implies opulence," Twitchell says "the theme doesn't imply opulence, it shouts it."

I was surprised at the extent of Twitchell's word-for-word copying, but I don't consider that his most egregious breach of ethics. Giving your readers inaccurate information because you've changed store names--to hide the source? to make a better story? just for fun?--is worse.

So is taking an original concept from another scholar and leading readers to think it's your own. As Stripling's article reports, I already knew he'd lifted an important idea without attribution fromGrant McCracken and hadn't bothered to add a credit even after I called the "oversight" to his attention after reading the book's manuscript. Since that book was published, I've avoided Twitchell, deeming him a person of bad character, even though he is, generally speaking, an intellectual ally.

In an email forwarded to me by Stripling, Twitchell wrote, "I certainly remember Virginia Postrel calling this to my attention in the page proofs of "Living it Up" because I was a little shocked that she thought it was unique to McKracken [sic]." Anyone familiar with scholarly writing, as a tenured English professor should be, would know from the way Grant writes in Culture and Consumption (a heavily footnoted book) that "the Diderot Effect" is in fact his idea. The chapter title, "Diderot Unities and the Diderot Effect" is a big clue. So are the other scholarly books that cite McCracken as the source. Besides, as I discovered when I looked up the passages for Stripling, Twitchell borrowed Grant's prose as well as his concept. (Compare passages on Google books.)

Prompted by the Sun, the university has begun an investigation, but the University of Florida's English department seems to have had a rather ho-hum response to the plagiarism--you have to wonder if they're as lax with their students. Nor does it seem the newspaper's editors thought this local scandal worth much local attention. Stripling's story got stuck in the Saturday paper, which gets relatively few readers compared to Sunday. Maybe editors and universities have learned from Doris Kearns Goodwin that plagiarism is no big deal. These days, however, it is much harder to get away with.

CORRECTION: Several readers have corrected my claim above that Whole Foods doesn't sell non-organic produce. Grace Peng offers the most thorough correction:

Whole Foods sells some "conventionally grown" food, which I interpret as not organic.
They also sell "unsprayed" food, which I interpret as not sprayed with synthetic pesticides but containing synthetic fertilizers.
They also sell "transition" foods, which a friend says means grown organically on fields that used to be farmed conventionally. After 3 years, food grown on those fields can be certified organic.

She obviously shops at WF a lot more than I do.

UPDATE: More here.

Speaking of Fonts

Here's an interview I did with CBC radio on the subject. And look for their "font, coffee, or baby name" game coming soon. (I"ll post a link.)

UPDATE: The game is here.

Typesetting the Candidates

Steve Heller rounds up design stars to comment on John McCain's choice of typeface. Those who can keep their politics in check have some interesting comments, with Michael Bierut and Ellen Lupton picking up a Vietnam resonance and Paula Antonelli a generational note. Matthew Carter uses the font to test vice presidential possibilities: "In the end, however, my research suggests that the optimal running mate — so long as you don't have to typeset her first name — is RICE." [Via Design Observer.]

In an earlier post, Heller talked with branding consultant Brian Collins about Barack Obama's typographical identity. He also examined the DIY graphics of Ron Paul supporters. The Obama campaign's graphic design is coherent and sophisticated, while the Paul campaign's is wildly individualized and gritty. Each in its own way represents a major departure from the generic design of most presidential campaigns.

There's No Such Thing as a Free Carbon Cap

It's infuriating how all three presidential candidates prattle on about the need to fight global warming while also complaining about the high price of gasoline. The candidates treat CO2 emissions as a social issue like gay marriage, with no economic ramifications. In the real world, barring a massive buildup of nuclear plants, reducing carbon dioxide emissions means consuming less energy and that means raising prices a lot, either directly with a tax or indirectly with a cap-and-trade permitting system. (Alternatively, the government could just ration energy, but fortunately we aren't going in that direction.) The last thing you'd want to do is reduce gas taxes during the summer, as John McCain has proposed. That would just encourage people to burn more gas on extra vacation trips--as any straight talker would admit.

The connection between higher prices for energy and reduced carbon dioxide emissions may not have hit the national consciousness yet, but the LAT's Margo Roosevelt reports that California utilities--and eventually their customers--are beginning to realize this isn't just a symbolic issue.

Fighting global warming is the feel-good cause of the moment.

But in California, the self-congratulation that followed the 2006 passage of the nation's first comprehensive law to curb emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gases is fast turning to acrimony.

A ferocious behind-the-scenes brawl over how to regulate electricity plants, the biggest source of carbon dioxide after motor vehicles, has pitted Southern California's public power generators against its for-profit utilities.

Why? Because some taxpayer-owned utilities, such as Los Angeles' Department of Water and Power, get close to half their electricity from the nation's dirtiest energy source: coal.

The DWP, to whom I pay my electric bills, wants out of the carbon dioxide caps. It apparently thinks the law shouldn't apply to socialist enterprises.

UPDATE: If you haven't read it already, check out my favorite economist's analysis of carbon taxes vs. cap-and-trade.

Health Care Design Cont'd

In response to my column on the generally sad state of health-care aesthetics, reader Stephen Rauch sends a link to this trade journal article on "Beautifying Without Breaking the Bank."

With competition growing fiercer in the marketplace, ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs) are upgrading their looks to draw healthcare consumers into a welcoming, less sterile-looking environment. However, cost is a significant consideration when determining what changes can fit into the facility budget.

"The owner's desire to limit the overall 'front-end' capital costs of a project usually result in high-end finishes being limited to the waiting room and reception desk areas and possibly the hotel-room-like extended recovery rooms (if they're a part of the project's program)," says William R. Massingill, AIA, chief operating officer at Polkinghorn Group Architects. "In the waiting and reception desk areas, carpet flooring, stained wood base and crown moldings, rich wall coverings, decorative light fixtures and integrated furnishings can create an ambience that is often more attractive and comfortable for patients and family members than the traditional hospital or physician office environment."

Massingill continues, "In patient care areas where more clinical surfaces are necessary (such as vinyl flooring, cleanable painted wall surfaces, and sturdy cabinetry), color selection can go a long ways towards creating an ambience where patients feel less uncomfortable and staff feel better equipped to providing better care towards those patients. Effective color and pattern selections for cubicle curtains, laminates on cabinetry, and even staff uniforms can contribute to an overall environment of efficient and patient-oriented delivery of a facility's services."

Too many medical facilities dismiss aesthetics on the grounds that attractive environments cost too much, but cheap doesn't necessarily mean ugly. Good paint colors, for instance, go a long way. The real issue is not cost, however, but competition. Restaurants, shops, and hotels would rather spend less on their decor, but they're in intensely competitive markets and can't get away with slighting aesthetics. Medical centers are feeling some pressure, but not enough.

Along with my column, The Atlantic's website now features a slide show of good and not-so-good hospital design, narrated by interior designer Jain Malkin.

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