A Thousand Words A Day

A writing journal _____________________________ PROFESSORBLOG@HOTMAIL.COM

writing: _ Christian Writers _ _ NaNo _

reading: _LibraryThing_ _ BookCrossing _ _ My local library _ _ Another nearby library _

blogs: _ Lorie Rees_ _Itinerant Iconoclast_ _ Rita's Ravings _
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Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

Reader, writer, podcast listener, and TV watcher. And real nice guy.

Sunday, January 12, 2003

This is going to be a tough 10 weeks or so. I am teaching four classes, including one that is going to take extra effort to get prepared and deliver. In addition to that, I have a twice-a-month commitment at work that will include extra prep and four+ hours each time it happens. Then, there are the 2 conferences I have to prepare to deliver papers at. At least there is some way in which that relates to thie work of this blog, as it is at least a type of wriitng. Certainly, creative work and academic work are not that closely related, I am certainly stretching a point in order to make a point, but . . .there you go. I will do what I need to in order to get in the requisite amount of words per day (although I confess I may miss a day here or there. The goal is still 5 days a week, but I am recognizing the reality of my current situation and instead of giving up altogether I am trying to grant myself the grace that will keep me going). The impetus of this blog was Carolyn See, who gave this advice in her book on writing. One of the attractions of her work for me were the attitude of grace inherent in it. If you fell behind, you did not need to "make up" the next day. Every day was a new day, every one thousand word goal was a new one thousand word goal. There was no need to struggle to "make up" for lost time, every day is new, and every goal is new. I like that. I really like that. I am trying to live in the grace of that advice.

Of course, on the academic versus creative front, a number of academics have gotten in trouble for being a little too creative. Michael Besailles just lost his job at a university in Georgia (is this right?) for using, shall we say, data that conflicted with the underlying sources. Or to put it more harshly, he made up data to go along with his thesis that America was not actually a "gun culture" when it was founded. A lot of people wished his data was true and that his conclusion was valid, but sadly it was not. It would have made one view of the second amendment to the U S Constitution more likely to have been the founders' intention, but his lack of actual data (and worse, the manufacturing of other data) became an embarrasing problem for those who held his point of view.

Then there was the case of Joseph Ellis, a historian at Mount Holyoke College, who peppered his lectures with stories of his own life in the trenches during the Viet Nam War. Sadly, as it later turned out, Professor Ellis was actually not a combatant in that or any other war. There was no evidence that the good professor ever was less than truthful in any of his academic writings. So he just lied a bit in the classroom (not a little puffery here and there like everyone does, not a little exaggeration of some underlying truthful fact, but an out and out lie), but at least his academic work (including the hugely popular "Founding Brothers") was never called into question. He was suspended from his job at Mount Holyoke for a year, but is now back at work and back on the payroll. The royalties from "Founding Brothers" were plenty to meet his basic needs, but save your tears.

Then there were the cases of faulty references, which when I was in college was called plagarism, but maybe I digress, which got Doris Kearns Goodwin and the late Stephen Ambrose in a bit of trouble last year. They plunked passages out of books that others had written, which they had listed in the reference section of their works, but which were not specifically noted as coming from those sources. Both authors passed off the problems to faulty notations, not plagarism or any other major academic fault such as that. The most interesting defense of this practice I ever heard was Tom Clancy on Book TV on C Span 2 a few months ago. He admitted that he had been a friend of Ambrose, so his comments should be taken in that light. But what he said amounted to something like, not a direct quote you understand, "how many different ways are there to write about the Normandy landing. The weather was what it was, the formations were what they were, the soldiers were who they were. How many different ways are there to write about that?" That was the best defense a friend could offer?

But at least Ambrose had Clancy to defend him. Kearns did not have anyone that I heard. She dropped quietly off the "talking head" circuit, showing up only very rarely on NBC and their cable step children, MSNBC and CNBC. I did not know what to make about Michael Beschloss showing up on the air without Kearns. I had long thought that the pair was joined at the hip. But as soon as Kearns got into trouble, we learned that Beschloss could appear on TV (and even do so reasonably well) all by his lonesome. Considering that MSNBC lets Mike Barnicle, disgraced former reporter from Boston, fill in as substitute host (not as guest, not as occassional commentator, but as actual substitute host) for Chris Mathews on his HardBall show, it is hard to believe that they are keeping Kearns at a distance. Barnicle actually made up sources for his reportage, not just a little swipe of prose from someone else, he actually made up quotes and put them in the imaginary mouths of imaginary sources, but maybe because he was a journalist and not an academic, the forgiveness standards were different.

But let's put in a good word again for Beschloss and one for bestseller David McCollough. Here are two popularizers of academic fiction who have never gotten into trouble for sourcing or other issues. Keep up the good work, gentleman.


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