Laura K. Kirshna: the public humiliation of a plagiarist, or blog publicity stunt?

I discovered this while surfing around a bit before my class last night:

According to posts on the blog “A Week of Kindness” that begin here and end here (at least for now), Nate Kushner writes that he was approached in an IM session by Laura K. “last name changed to protect the innocent/guilty” Kirshna” to write a term paper for a class about Hinduism. Kushner essentially pranked her: he strung her along, wrote a silly paper that (we learn later) Laura is silly enough to hand in as is, and then he collected a check from Kirshna for his services (though I don’t think he cashes the check). Then he put the whole sorrid affair up on this blog in a series of entries. Drama ensued. You really have to read it to see for yourself– hundreds of comments, most of them ready to feed the plagiarizer to the wolves.

Meanwhile, over at boing-boing, they are suggesting that the whole thing is a hoax. They say it is part of an elaborate April Fool’s Day joke (though the last I heard, April Fool’s day was in, ah, April) and, since the site “A Week of Kindness” says up front that it exists to promote a sketch comedy troop of the same name, it’s a publicity stunt (this makes some sense; follow the link for “Press” on the site asks folks to “Stop Calling Laura, Come See Our Shows”).

I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I do have two thoughts:

  • It’s one thing to do something stupid or even (academically) criminal, like attempting to buy a paper from a complete stranger during an IM chat. If Laura exists (and as I typed that last sentence, I must say that I did get a twinge of a “this is just too stupid to actually be true” sort of feeling), then she certainly should be “caught” and punished by her school, whatever that punishment might be. Plagiarism, especially of the “buy a paper and hand it in as if it were my own” sort, is obviously a bad thing.

    But it’s another thing entirely to be humiliated in front of a gazillion people for your stupid action (and the fact that there are hundreds and hundreds of comments from hundreds of different people make me thing “there’s just too much here for this to be faked”).

    Ultimately, what Kushner is doing here is a form of vigilantism. I don’t want to make too close of a comparison here to a public lynching because, obviously, public lynchings were much MUCH more violent and serious affairs than this. But that is kind of what’s going on. Kushner saw an “academic crime” happening and took matters into his own hands. Worse yet, Kushner arguably entrapped Laura K., something that was common with real lynchings, too. After all, Kushner could have declined to write Laura’s essay, or he could have just left it at “telling” on her by contacting folks at her school. Instead, Kushner decided to take it a step further. He thought all this was funny, worthy of a cheap laugh at this plagiarizer’s expense, so he wrote it up on his blog. I believe him when he says he had no idea that this would snowball out of control the way that it has, but (again, something that happened with real lynchings, too) it has gone out of control and it has even become a form of entertainment at the expense of the so-called criminal.

    Kushner invokes his family members who are academics as justification for his vigilante-style blog rampage. Well, as a practicing academic who deals with a lot of potential plagiarizers in writing classes, I’d encourage Kushner and everyone else to leave dealing with these problems to the teachers and professors.

  • Don’t Plagiarize. And for God’s sake, don’t solicit for plagiarizing help via IM.

A wireless Washtenaw County?

This morning, I read in yesterday’s Ann Arbor News (I was teaching last night so I didn’t get a chance to see it when it was “fresh”) this Scott Anderson article, “Wireless initiative touted: Washtenaw officials pitch plan for blanket coverage.” Follow the link to read the whole thing, but here are the opening paragraphs:

Washtenaw County officials on Monday formally pitched their concept of a public/private collaboration to make wireless, high-speed Internet as commonplace as running water and electricity to the county’s 340,000 residents.

But the county could face a hard sell to telecommunications and cable companies, which have poured millions of dollars into building local networks of their own and cultivating thousands of Internet customers.

County officials and other advocates outlined an aggressive timetable to roll out a wireless Internet, or Wi-Fi, network to blanket the region. Tentative plans include opening up the project for vendor bids as early as May, selecting technology providers by July and establishing three pilot programs by November. Dubbed “Wireless Washtenaw,” the initiative aims to build the countywide network by late 2007, allowing anyone with a wireless-enabled computer or handheld device to log onto the Internet for free in certain zones, or from their home or office for a still-undetermined monthly fee.

Oh, in case you haven’t figured this out: Washtenaw county includes both Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, among other fine towns and cities.

For me, this falls into the category of “I’ll believe it when I see it” because as I noted back on March 14 and earlier (though I can’t find that entry now), the unholy alliance of the cable companies and the telecom companies (the ones that are making money hand over fist by providing quite expensive broadband internet access now) has worked hard to stop these “public utility” model of Wi-Fi networks from happening. Maybe the county can get this to work, but while I will root for Washtenaw, I wouldn’t bet against big businesses that stand to lose big bucks.

MS Word grammar check works poorly (or tell me something I didn't know…)

This is the first in a couple of posts I meant to make earlier– I was delayed by work, life, and some sort of weird blogger glitch that I think (I hope) has been solved. Anyway….

See this article Bradley Bleck forwarded to tech-rhet, “A Word to the unwise — program’s grammar check isn’t so smart,” published on March 28, 2005 online and presumably in print by The Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The opening paragraphs give an idea about what it’s about:

Microsoft the company should big improve Word grammar check.

No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you. That sentence is a confusing jumble. However, it is perfectly fine in the assessment of Microsoft Word’s built-in grammar checker, which detects no problem with the prose.

Sandeep Krishnamurthy thinks Microsoft can do a lot better.

The University of Washington associate professor has embarked on a one-man mission to persuade the Redmond company to improve the grammar-checking function in its popular word-processing program. Krishnamurthy is also trying to raise public awareness of the issue.

This might be a good article to include the next time I teach “Computers and Writing, Theory and Practice,” though I already assign a couple of good articles about the problems of MS Word as a “writerly tool:” Alex Vernon, “Computerized Grammar Checkers 2000: Capabilities, Limitations, and Pedagogical Possibilities,” and Tim McGee and PatriciaEricsson, “The Politics of the Program: MS Word as the Invisible Grammarian,” both of which were published in Computers and Composition a few years back.

What does this bumper sticker mean?

The other day, I was at the Food (W)hole, driving out of what is always a very congested parking lot. Right in front of me, there was a red and white bumper sticker smack-dab in the center of the bumper of a newish black Volvo sedan. It said:

If you can read this, thank a teacher.
If you can read this in English, thank a soldier.

Okay, I am sure I am missing something here, but what does this mean? I think it’s supposed to be a liberal message, a bumper sticker kind of akin to the one that went something like “Join the Army, meet people in foreign countries, and kill them.” I found an example of this sticker here at, and it was being sold by something called the Divided by Politics Liberal Shop, so I guess that is the intent. And the fact that this sticker was on the back of a Volvo coming out of the Whole Foods parking lot gives evidence to that.

But it seems to me that this is exactly the kind of thing that folks on the far right (the Limbaugh dittoheads of the world) and maybe even the far right pretending to not be so far on the right (the Bush administration) would embrace. I mean, is it too much of a stretch to imagine Rush saying something like “You’re damn right you should thank a soldier if you’re speaking English right now– that means you’re free!” Or W. saying “The War in Iraq has brought freedom to those people. Why, they can even speak English now in public places if they want to.” Just very confusing to me.

Maybe liberals need better stickers….

Go to St. Louis for the final four; stay for the Ong conference

I think I had heard this before, but I saw a notice today about the upcoming Ong conference in St. Louis. At first I thought that they had managed to have this on the weekend of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Championships (aka, “the Final Four,”) but I guess the Ong conference is the weekend afterwards.

Will the Hoopster

Will the Hoopster
Originally uploaded by steven_d_krause.

I’ve been meaning to post this picture of Will for a while, but it’s been a pretty busy week around here….

Will’s basketball league wrapped up last Friday. I believe they won their last game; I know that they finished the season at 3-3, which isn’t bad considering that Will’s team was kind of the “miscellaneous other kids” team of his league. Despite the fact that this league is a bunch of first through third graders, there are actually some teams (coaches and parents, actually) who take this stuff kind of seriously.

Anyway, Will had a great experience, and while he still isn’t that good of a player, he’s better than he was and he had a lot of fun. After the last game, Will’s coaches (who really were just folks who were volunteered at the last minute and were willing to do it) organized a little surprise pizza party/awards ceremony. The picture actually features the rest of the team, but since some people are sensative to their kids showing up on the Internet, I cropped them out.

Next year, on to the final four!

Churchill again (and probably for the last time)

After receiving that email from the CU board of regents a couple days ago (see March 24), I decided to do a Google news search this morning. I came across two kind of interesting articles:

  • “What’s Next for Ward Churchill?” in Boulder, CO’s The Daily Camera, though it’s an AP story so it will probably show up in a bunch of other places, too. In the nutshell, Churchill isn’t in trouble anymore for the 9/11 essay that started this mess in the first place. However, he is under investigation for plagiarism and for “research misconduct,” and this investigation could literally go on for years.
  • “Ward Churchill: A contentious life,” by Charlie Brennan in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain News. This is more or less a feature story that tells the tale of Churchill’s rather interesting and colorful life, and it covers both sides of some of the various controversies about him (is he or isn’t he a Native American, how he managed to become a tenured professor at a major research university with an MA, how he is or isn’t a great scholar, etc., etc.). I thought the piece was pretty balanced and interesting, but I tell ya, you’d have a hard time making up a better “bad guy academic” than the one portrayed here.

Well, good luck to CU and Churchill and everybody else. I think conservative commentators have moved on to the Schiavo story, so I suspect this episode will fade and Churchill will exit in one fashion or another (buy-out, retirement, or canned) relatively quietly.

Bloggers have rights (but as journalist?)

Via boing-boing, I came across this article, “Bloggers Have Rights Too,” written by Detroit-city congressman John Conyers. Among other things, Conyers writes “Bloggers should be classified as journalists and given First Amendment protections based on the function they perform, not the form of their transmissions. Properly understood, the First Amendment applies to all those who report with journalistic integrity–offline or online.”

I don’t really consider myself a “journalist,” but I do think of myself exercising my First Amendment rights in a very modest way. Anyway, interesting piece.


Happy birthday to me! I’ll post more later about the joys of my birthday day, but it got off to a great start. The “big surprise” from Annette and Will is both big and a surprise: an iPod, and not just an iPod, but an iPod photo. Pretty cool! Now I need to go play with that thing….

I had a very pleasant birthday day today. We all went to the gym in the morning, but most of the day I spent hanging out and playing with my new iPod photo. You know, I knew in general terms what an iPod does and what it’s for and all that, but now that I’m actually playing around with one, I can really see the point.

Originally uploaded by steven_d_krause.

It plays music, of course, and does that really well. I already uploaded the 10 gigs of music I already had on my laptop, and I’m busy importing a bunch of CDs I haven’t bothered to import previously. But it also “syncs” with my address book and my iCal(endar), both of which are applications I’ve been working with a lot lately. It has a function that allows me to upload fairly long notes, about 2 pages of MS Word text, a feature that would be good to keep track of directions or notes I need for a trip or something. Plus this one, an iPod photo, manages photos. The downside is I have to use Annette’s computer to manage the photos since the version of iPhoto on my computer is too old. The upside is, well, I get to manage a set of photos. You can kind of see the view in this photo.

Apparently, there’s a way to do a slideshow on a TV, though I haven’t figured this out yet. Plus this thing has a 30 GB hard drive which I can use as a portable hard drive: hook it up and off I go. Anyway, it’s a great gift and a big surprise from my honey and from the boy.

We went to dinner at the Common Grill in Chelesa. Always great food, though I think Annette and I both over did it quite a bit. You know that scene in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life where the guy explodes? Kinda like that.