Internet Via Library

Jun 292004

Via Geekpress: Stories about internet users at the library can be quite entertaining. (More stories by librarian Scott Douglas are available here, although none are quite as entertaining as the internet tales.)

Institutionalized Fraud

Jun 292004

An astonishing article in The Chronicle of Higher Education details the ways in which fake degrees are being used in academia to advance careers:

While experts on diploma mills — broadly defined as unaccredited institutions that require students to do little or no work to earn degrees — warn of the damage they do to the integrity of higher education, many satisfied customers say they get their money’s worth. “Just the ability to put Ph.D. behind my name is what I was looking for,” says Wayne J. del Corral, who teaches finance part time at Tulane University. “It’ll make things a lot easier with respect to submitting papers to journals and so forth.”

He also appreciates that his diploma from Lacrosse University looks so real. “The seal is very nice,” he says.

And that’s not the worst of it:

Valdosta State University’s Web site lists an assistant professor of management as “Dr. Jack Malehorn.”

What the Web site doesn’t say, and what students and colleagues probably don’t know, is that Mr. Malehorn’s Ph.D. is from Shelbourne University.

Shelbourne does not exist. It never existed. It claimed to be based in Ireland, but actually was one of more than a dozen names used by an international diploma-mill company that sold degrees, beginning in the mid-1990s, for $500 to $2,500, according to an investigation last year by the Federal Trade Commission. The company, based in Romania, sent millions of unsolicited e-mail messages around the world, promising recipients that they could receive degrees without doing any academic work. Along with the diplomas, the company also provided fake transcripts and phony letters of recommendation.

When contacted by The Chronicle, Mr. Malehorn at first denies that his Ph.D. is from Shelbourne, even though his résumé says it is. “No, no, I’m sorry,” he says. “I wish I could help you.”

After further inquiries, Mr. Malehorn acknowledges that his doctorate is, in fact, from Shelbourne. He also contends that he did actual academic work to obtain it. “It was all through an Internet connection,” he says. “My dissertation certainly seemed legitimate.” His boss doesn’t think so. Kenneth L. Stanley, dean of the College of Business Administration, says he knew before hiring Mr. Malehorn that he had a fake Ph.D. “Hell, we knew it was worthless,” says Mr. Stanley. “Give us a break!”

But he hired Mr. Malehorn anyway because, according to the dean, it’s not uncommon for professors, or even top administrators, to have bogus credentials. “I’ve dealt with provosts with degrees from mail-order institutions here in the United States,” Mr. Stanley says. (He declines to name any of those provosts or their institutions.)

What’s important, he argues, is that Valdosta State does not recognize the degree, nor was it a factor in the decision to hire Mr. Malehorn. “If Jack had come here and we had hired him thinking, ‘Oh, well, he’s doctorally qualified,’ and we’re claiming that qualification, then we’re idiots and he’s wrong,” says Mr. Stanley.

Contrary to the dean’s insistence, however, it appears that Valdosta State does consider the degree valid. Why else would the professor be referred to as “Dr.” in the bulletin that announced his hiring in 2002? Why else would he be listed as “Dr.” in the university’s telephone directory and on the management department’s Web site? And why else would he be allowed to call himself “Dr. Jack Malehorn, Ph.D.” when he contributes articles to the Journal of Business Forecasting?

When all that is brought to Mr. Stanley’s attention, he is quiet for several seconds. “It’s a little embarrassing,” he admits. He recalls referring to Mr. Malehorn as “Dr.” on several occasions, including in front of students. “I guess, you know, we’re guilty of institutionalizing a fraud,” says Mr. Stanley.

The dean pledges that references to Mr. Malehorn’s Ph.D. will be deleted from official university material. Six weeks later, the management department’s Web page still calls him “Dr.”

Professors who fake credentials are bad enough, although perhaps to be expected on occasion. The fact that some administrators are willing to not just look the other way, but also promote the fraud is astonishing and disgusting. Perhaps the administrators don’t see much value in academic degrees — but that would be an even greater fraud since such degrees are the allegedly valuable product offered by their universities. Really, it’s horrible any way you slice it.

Update: An earlier version of this post was all screwy in its formatting, such it presented material from the article as if I wrote it. (Hey, at least it wasn’t an article on accidental plagiarism!) I regret any confusion that might have caused.


Jun 272004

I was out and about in the mountains all day today, celebrating Lin Zinser’s birthday with almost a dozen local Objectivists. (Happy Birthday Lin!) It was a fantastic time, despite rain, hail, and lightening while riding on an open car of the Georgetown Loop train.

In the morning, before I left home, I emptied the rain gauge. When I returned at about 7pm, it was filled up to 9/10th of an inch. It has continued to rain, although we do seem to be in a bit of a lull at present. (Update: I just realized that my rain guage has a crack in it, such that it leaks. From what I heard on the news, our area got over 2 inches of rain.)

Unfortunately, our basement sprung a leak during the course of the day. Water apparently has been seeping in along the south wall at floor level, although there’s no puddle on the outside of the house or any drainspout malfunction. That water quickly spread to thoroughly soak the carpet of our “exercise room,” a back room in our lovely finished basement. It then spread to the linoleum-floored laundry room. When I saw that it was headed into the rest of the basement, i.e. our carpeted home office and library, I decided that my only task for the evening must be to prevent that. Such would be a major disaster requiring major repair work. And the only place to make a stand against the water was on the non-carpeted laundry room between the flooded and non-flooded areas.

Clearing the laundry room of water took some doing. I initially used a dustbin and bucket for the deeper water, then switched to our steam cleaner, which filled up way too quickly. (Unfortunately, I don’t have a wet-dry vac.) After clearing out the water, I realized that water was seeping in via the doorway, under the cabinets, and through the closet. And it was seeping rather rapidly, such that puddles would form in a minute or two. Oy!

All of that took about two hours of work — and rendered me very much in need of food and rest. So I laid a few towels down to stem the influx of water. And here I am in the blessedly dry upstairs. I expect that I will have to periodically remove the water from the laundry room all night — which is a most unwelcome thought. At least the water damage folks will be calling at 8am tomorrow morning.

Really, although I’m grateful that all the rain precludes forest fires, I do hope that we have a few days of sunshine. Unfortunately, it looks like more rain is on the way. Ugh.

Oh wait, I almost forgot to mention the part of the story relevant to the blog, namely that blogging will likely be light for a few days.

A Review of Honor Student

Jun 262004

Ever since my post on Really Bad Objectivist Art, I’ve been thinking that I ought to repost Marc Pelath’s review of Honor Student. After all, the book is likely The Worst Objectivist Fiction Ever Written. (The review originally appeared on my WashU-era “Objectivism on the WWW” web site ever so many years ago.) Although I’m not enamored of Marc’s seeming swipe at Ayn Rand’s literary style, he does capture the essence of Honor Student. Here’s the review:

I don’t know exactly what it was that made Jimmy [Wales] pick up the book in the first place, but I have an idea of what kept him from putting it right back. Perhaps it was the notes on the inner jacket, containing nifty phrases like “It is your mind. Do not betray it”, buzzwords like “sense of life”, and enticing contradictions like “a history teacher labors as a deckhand on a freighter.” Perhaps it was the name of the publisher: “A as A Publishing: Celebrating the Glory of Man,” or the recommendation of Leonard Peikoff’s works, at the end of the book. Perhaps it was the author’s commanding visage.

Whatever it was, Jimmy bought up every copy, bless his soul.

Recently, a novel was written by a computer. What was supposed to have happened was this: a programmer/author fed the collective works of Jacqueline Suzanne into his desktop, which, using some suitable algorithms, spat out another book. Yeah, right. Anyway, let’s say we had this computer and the right code, and let’s say we fed in the collective works of Ayn Rand. So far, so good — you’re thinking “hey, I wouldn’t mind giving that a read!” Now let’s throw in the diaries and secret fantasies of a thousand newly-minted high-school Randroids. What would you get? (You’re scared, aren’t you?) Well, I’ll tell you what you would get: you’d get Honor Student.

Since this is a review of a piece of literature, I suppose I’d better talk about Honor Student qua literature for a minute. The theme is purported to be “the role of reason in education,” and it actually is. The plot, if you grant that a series of related events qualifies as a plot, is “Kevin Saunders argues with his teachers and his parents, fights the educational system, and finds love along the way.” The characters? The Randian Hero, The Randian Heroine, The Guy Who Eventually Gives Up, The Nice But Non-Heroic Sidekick, and The Bad Guys (“Taggarts, Tooheys, Healots galore,” as Echolyn put it.)

But it is not the theme, nor the plot, nor the characters that make the book interesting. The book is notable for its style, and for its evocation of Randroid nostalgia.

The style is… borrowed, to put it politely. We have the “apparent contradiction” gimmick which worked so well in Atlas Shrugged. There’s our hero Kevin Saunders, who is obviously smart, except that he’s not doing well in school, and athletic, except that he doesn’t play on any teams, and handsome, except that his romantic life is less than adequate — how can this be? you ask. There’s the brilliant artist, whose pictures don’t sell — but why not? There’s the gifted teacher, who left his school to become a deckhand — but that doesn’t make any sense! why would a gifted teacher do that? My god, is the author mad? This use of apparent contradiction might have worked if you’d never read Atlas, but you probably have, so don’t expect any surprises.

That’s not the only thing. We’ve got speeches! Boatloads of ‘em! Some seem to be pulled from the standard repertoire: “Response to an Environmentalist”, “The Trouble with Egalitarianism”, “On Public Education” (many variations), and “Boy Is This WorldFucked Up (and I Know Why)”. However, others are originals, such as “The Importance of Writing” and “The Nice but Non-Heroic Sidekick Discovers Life as the Standard of Value while in the Library”.

On a finer scale, we see more that is characteristically Randian. There is that special something about the dialogue, which you can see here…

Hooper looked lost. “Does that mean you’re not going to help?”

“I gave my answer the first time you asked.”

“But have you considered what it will mean to twelve hundred men and women without jobs? Have you thought of their families?” Hooper whimpered sympathetically.

“No. Good day.”

…and here…

“I see,” said Mrs. Wallace, though it was obvious she didn’t. “I understand you have a brother in college?”


“How’s he doing?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, you must talk sometimes, or write letters?”


“But he’s your brother.”

“That’s all we have in common.”

If you are looking to practice your Roarkish rhetoric, you will find plenty of exercises like these. Besides this sort of dialogue, there are also those special turns of phrase that only Rand — or her emulator — can do.

“With a violent backhanded sweep of his arm, Daniel sent the radio crashing to the floor. He gripped at the edge of the sink, poised as if over a precipice, teetering in the strained, deliberate rhythm of his breathing…”

I think there’s even contemptuous laughs and smiles of derision, although I can’t seem to find any right now. There’s no reason they shouldn’t be there.

Any fan of Ayn Rand’s can appreciate the book just for its… ahem… familiar style. However, those Objectivists who first read Rand in high school will be able to appreciate it on another level. I know what you were like in high school. You were like me. You were a raving Randroid, and you had fantasies, and maybe you even lived some of them. Did you ever read a book during a pep rally, because you didn’t want to be party to “the mindlessness of mobs”? Did you ever really want to make a teacher look like an idiot, using only your superior intellect? Did you ever want to be asked to rejoin the team because they really need you, so you could turn them down for some moral reason? Were you ever secretly happy that your favorite musician became a sell-out, because you felt really righteous? (“I only listen to their old stuff, before they sold out.”) Ever skip out on a field trip because it didn’t serve your purposes? Or give your own little Galtish speech for a valediction?

Kevin Saunders does it all, and more. I loved it.

Honor Student is the book that you or I could have written, but didn’t, because neither of us can write fiction. Michael Russell had no such barrier, apparently.

Zero stars. And buy every copy you come across.

And yes, you can buy a copy on Amazon.

Oh No, Not Another!

Jun 252004

Wow. Really, the Boulder philosophy department cannot afford to lose any more faculty, particularly not a rising star like Bob Pasnau. (Personally, the timing is quite miserable, as I was just thinking about the delights of immersing myself in a bit of Aquinas.) Ah well, here’s hoping for a really agressive counter-offer!

A Communist-Objectivist Connection

Jun 242004

I just realized that the Whittaker Chambers who wrote that awful review of Atlas Shrugged in National Review was the same Whittaker Chambers who spied for the Soviet Union for many years, then defected to testify against Alger Hiss. (I never knew enough about the Hiss case until now to make the connection.) Although I don’t know the details of Chambers’ defection, I doubt the possibility of any forgiveness or redemption for such a major crime as espionage for the Soviet Union. (Of course, he likely ought to be credited with some courage, as well as appreciated for the valuable information he provided. But the conservative community seemed to embrace him wholeheartedly.) In any case, he certainly didn’t redeem himself with that horrid review of Atlas. As the biographical sketch from the Heritage Foundation summarizes:

One of Chambers’ more memorable contributions to the magazine was his evisceration of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. He called its plot “preposterous,” its characterization “primitive,” and much of its effect “sophomoric.” In a lifetime of reading, he concluded, “I can recall no other book in which a tone of overriding arrogance was so implacably sustained.” His review, “Big Sister Is Watching You,” helped bar conservatism’s door to Rand’s godless technocratic ideas.


Even More Readings on Communism

Jun 242004

While travelling over the past 36 hours, I read John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr’s book In Denial: Historians, Communism, and Espionage. It is a careful examination of the intellectual dishonesty of the “revisionist” historians who have, despite overwhelming evidence, minimized and defended the spying done by American citizens for the Soviet Union in decades past. The sheer audacity and absurdity of the denials and rationalizations could not be imagined were they not so. Let me recount a few examples, with all the quotes being from the revisionist historians themselves, not the authors:

  • that the mass killings in the Soviet Union were the result of bureaucratic bumbling characterized by the “clumsy implementation of vague plans” rather than any “coldly efficient machines of Orwell’s 1984″ (22)

  • that the death of the thousands of Polish officers (reservists, often community and professional leaders) slaughtered in the Katyn Forest was justified by the fact that it was “a step towards implementing social revolution in Poland” (21)
  • that the fact that “regard for human life was a necessary sacrifice in Lenin’s ambition to enhance life in the future” is not grounds for condemnation (25)
  • that Stalin was a man of admirable achievements, even if at “the cost of exorbitant sacrifice of humans beings and natural resources” (25)
  • that Stalin’s totalitarianism was “however brutal, a remarkable human achievement despite its flaws” which was “persuasive among his disoriented peoples” (25-6)
  • that “Stalinism is disappearing not because it failed, but because it succeeded, and fulfilled its historical mission to force the rapid industrialization of an underdeveloped country” (27)
  • that Soviet communism was a “system proclaiming a humanistic ideology” which merely “fail[ed] to live up to its ideal” (33)
  • that the American Communist Party (CPUSA) was not financially or ideologically beholden to Moscow and that its members were not enthusiastic supporters of Stalin (53-6, 61-2)
  • that CPUSA members were not involved in espionage against the United States (76)
  • that all forms of anticommunism were and are “McCarthyist” — and that such was far more damaging to America than any spying done for the Soviet Union (80-1)
  • that sensitive information passed to Moscow by communist spies in American government posts was just innocent information-sharing, “unauthorized technological transfer,” or even “international cooperation” (190, 213)
  • that spying for Moscow was noble, since it was done for ideological rather than financial reasons (206)
  • that American spies for the Soviet Union passing on atomic and military secrets helped preserve world peace without harming American interests (208-14)
  • that the measures taken against communists to prevent spying were unnecessary, even though such measures seem to be the cause of Moscow’s later greatly reduced capacity to steal American secrets (220-6)

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Unsurprisingly, the scholarly methods by which such claims are supported, particularly the defenses of various spies for Moscow, are astonishingly and transparently shoddy. Yet the revisionists seem to dominate academic history. Overall, the book is quite a tour-de-force qua study of intellectual dishonesty. I suspect that the academic reviews of the book are quite interesting.

In fact, I liked the book so much that I just ordered copies of Haynes and Klehr’s two other major works on the Communist Party of the USA, namely The Secret World of American Communism and The Soviet World of American Communism. (I sometimes worry that I will never finish my readings on communism. I just keep finding too many interesting new books to read! Oh, woe is me!)

As a parting comment, let me relate a story from early in the book about Robert Conquest, the author of The Great Terror and Harvest of Sorrow. (I discussed those books in two earlier posts, here and here.) Generally speaking, reading In Denial certainly gave me a much better appreciation for why Robert Conquest went into so much excruciating detail in The Great Terror. Here goes the story:

Regarding the now-overwhelming evidence of the millions killed under Stalin, often under his direct and explicit orders, some revisionist historians have adopted the approach of J. Arch Getty, who “grudgingly upped the number of those executed in the late 1930′s Terror and those who died in the Gulag from mere ‘thousands’ to more than a million” (22). (Based upon my numerous readings, that’s still an unjustifiably low number.) Interestingly, Haynes and Klehr then write:

Getty has refused to withdraw his condemnations of historians such as Robert Conquest whose earlier estimates, while probably high in light of post-1991 evidence, were easily more accurate than Getty’s own prior attempts to minimize this catastrophe. One can understand why Conquest, responding to a request from his publisher for a new title for the revised edition of The Great Terror after the opening of the archives, tartly replied, “How about I Told You So, You Fucking Fools?” (23).


More Readings on Communism

Jun 212004

About two weeks ago, I finally finished Robert Conquest’s book on Stalin’s purges, The Great Terror. The work was fantastically detailed, perhaps too detailed for my level of interest. And it wasn’t as smoothly written as his gripping and heartbreaking work on the massive famine in the Ukraine which occurred just a few years earlier, Harvest of Sorrow. Nonetheless, it did offer plentiful negative examples on the importance of firm moral principles, the danger of compromise, the depths of the human capacity for self-deception, the lack of limits to Stalin’s power-lust, the possibility of political control through random fear, and more.

After such a heavy tome, I chose Viktor Suvorov’s The Liberators as a quicker and lighter read. (Bill Nevin was kind enough to recommended Suvorov to me. Thanks Bill!) The book consists of a set of short tales of his early life in the Soviet Army, including the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. I liked the book immensely from the outset, even before I finished reading these two paragraphs:

The General Secretary of the Party set a task: there must be a sharp rise in agricultural output. So the whole country reflected on how best to achieve this magnificent aim. The Secretary of our Regional Party Committee thought about it, as did all his advisers, consultants, and researchers.

To tell the truth, it was a ridiculously easy task: the climate of our Region is similar to that of France — there is plenty of sun and warmth and water. And our soil is splendid. The black earth is nearly a metre thick and rich enough to spread on a slice of bread. There are also plenty of technicians and specialists. The only misfortune is that the people themselves have no interest in work because, however much a peasant works, the reward for him, personally, will be just the same, since to pay for a peasant’s labour according to results is, of course, quite impossible. Just imagine what would happen! Your hard-working peasant would soon be rich while layabouts would remain beggars. A rift would appear and then inequality would creep in. And all this would be contrary to the ideals of socialism.

It’s written like a fairy tale… which we already know will go horribly awry… but we just don’t know quite how yet. Suvorov does tell the reader the full tale in all of its horrible absurdity, for it is the tale of how he entered the army. From a philosophical perspective, the stories in the book certainly illustrate the ways in which force displaces the mind, such that technological advancement must either be faked or copied.

I liked the book so much that I’ve ordered a few others from Suvorov, namely Inside the Soviet Army, Inside Soviet Military Intelligence, and Inside the Aquarium. I’d like to get a few others, but those were out-of-print and too expensive used. Based upon what I’ve read so far, as well as the high praise on Amazon, those I’ve ordered promise much of interest!

Since I’ve also been looking to broaden my readings beyond Stalinism, the inadvertent focus so far, I also ordered the trilogy of Russian history by Richard Pipes. It consists of Russia Under the Old Regime, The Russian Revolution, and Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime. I very much enjoyed Pipes’ short book Communism: A History, so I expect to learn a great deal from these longer works.

Thunder Thunder Go Away

Jun 212004

Given the weather of late, I feel like I may as well be living in the Pacific Northwest. For over a week now, most days have been cloudy and stormy and rainy. According to our rain gauge, we received over an inch of rain last week, about half of it in a single day. Last night, we even had a major thunderstorm in the wee hours of the morning, which is unusual. Given weather forecast for the week and the present storm overhead, I expect more of the same this next week.

The moisture is absolutely wonderful, but the thunder is quite another issue. Our dog Abby is terrified of the booming noise. Nothing seems to quiet her anxiety. She paws at us, attempts to climb onto the sofa and into bed, and generally makes a massive nuisance of herself. It is getting quite intolerable. Anyone who has any good suggestions about how to solve her problem will receive my undying gratitude.


Jun 202004

Apparently, children are such stupid and inept creatures that their delicates heads must be protected with colorful foam helmets during ordinary activities such as peering through binoculars, swimming, and other forms of play. Just remember, parents, it’s “essential playwear.” (Via Joanne Jacobs.)

Funny me, I always thought that natureprovided us with a fairly good protective helmet for the brain, i.e. the skull. (Of course, some activities demand a bit more protection, such as riding horses.)

Oh, how I pity the poor children whose parents buy such devices of modern torture!

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