Saturday 16 August 2014

On your high donkey

We're stopping out in a suburb West of Boston called Newton.  The local paper, in what must be a very slow news week. has been making a meal of a 'plagiarism' scandal perpetrated by the city's  School Superintendant; a popular and affable chap called David Fleishmann.  Now, we all agree that plagiarism - presenting someone else's words or ideas as your own - is a Bad Thing. At the Institute we have policies in place to teach the students the iniquity of thought-theft. And everyone likes a spot of irony, so the Washington Post picked up the story to shake its head sorrowfully at the idea that the head of the school system should be presenting such a bad example to the youngsters under his care.  Must be serious to make a nationwide splash like the President of the University of Guanajuato or Ireland's Chief Scientific Officer of Ireland turning out not to have a degree. In these cases, the plagiarist secures an advantage by fraud.

What Flieshmann was actually guilty of was lifting an idea and a phrase from an earlier speech by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and recycling it for the Commemcment Address at the High School graduation ceremonies. What he said: "Lastly personal connection, the nuance of empathy and understanding is often more incremental and complex than Twitter" what the Governor said "Real human connection, the nuance of empathy and understanding is often more gradual and elongated than Twitter".  It is a Good Thing to articulate a message that meaningful communication sometimes requires more than a 140 character soundbyte.  Neither man conveyed this idea with notable fluency let alone poetic inspiration but it's surely not worth making a song-and-dance about such 'plagiarism' in a speech. You don't want an already rather clunky address ground to a standstill by a series of citations and footnotes.  If you 'follow the money' to ask cui bono - who benefits?  Surely not David Fleishmann!  Possibly the student body, if they can tear themselves away from their smart-phones long enough to listen to the Superintendant.

A couple of sharp and uncompassionate reporters from the student newspaper quickly occupied the high moral ground by exposing the said plagiarism.  In English we call such moral rectitude Getting on your high horse, but that dignifies the attack rather more than it deserves, hence the title of this post.  What's interesting is that Fleishmann was docked a week's pay for his gross moral turpitiude and felt obliged to utter a grovelling apology for his supposed sins. A week's pay is $5,000!  This chap gets paid more than twice the Police Chief.  In my book, which as you know is not squeaky clean and without sin, nobody has come out of this very well, but Superintendant Fleishmann does not have the blackest hat in the room.  Maybe he should give up making Addresses and pay someone else to be original, creative and inspiring. Plenty of choice: Neil Gaiman, Steve Jobs, Harry Potter's Mum.

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