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Friday, October 14, 2016

The Emperor's New Clothes

Great tale. Hans Christian Anderson sure was a smart fella.

From http://www.andersen.sdu.dk/vaerk/hersholt/TheEmperorsNewClothes_e.html


Many years ago there was an Emperor so exceedingly fond of new clothes that he spent all his money on being well dressed. He cared nothing about reviewing his soldiers, going to the theatre, or going for a ride in his carriage, except to show off his new clothes. He had a coat for every hour of the day, and instead of saying, as one might, about any other ruler, "The King's in council," here they always said. "The Emperor's in his dressing room."

In the great city where he lived, life was always gay. Every day many strangers came to town, and among them one day came two swindlers. They let it be known they were weavers, and they said they could weave the most magnificent fabrics imaginable. Not only were their colors and patterns uncommonly fine, but clothes made of this cloth had a wonderful way of becoming invisible to anyone who was unfit for his office, or who was unusually stupid.

"Those would be just the clothes for me," thought the Emperor. "If I wore them I would be able to discover which men in my empire are unfit for their posts. And I could tell the wise men from the fools. Yes, I certainly must get some of the stuff woven for me right away." He paid the two swindlers a large sum of money to start work at once.

They set up two looms and pretended to weave, though there was nothing on the looms. All the finest silk and the purest old thread which they demanded went into their traveling bags, while they worked the empty looms far into the night.

"I'd like to know how those weavers are getting on with the cloth," the Emperor thought, but he felt slightly uncomfortable when he remembered that those who were unfit for their position would not be able to see the fabric. It couldn't have been that he doubted himself, yet he thought he'd rather send someone else to see how things were going. The whole town knew about the cloth's peculiar power, and all were impatient to find out how stupid their neighbors were.

"I'll send my honest old minister to the weavers," the Emperor decided. "He'll be the best one to tell me how the material looks, for he's a sensible man and no one does his duty better."
So the honest old minister went to the room where the two swindlers sat working away at their empty looms.

"Heaven help me," he thought as his eyes flew wide open, "I can't see anything at all". But he did not say so.

Both the swindlers begged him to be so kind as to come near to approve the excellent pattern, the beautiful colors. They pointed to the empty looms, and the poor old minister stared as hard as he dared. He couldn't see anything, because there was nothing to see. "Heaven have mercy," he thought. "Can it be that I'm a fool? I'd have never guessed it, and not a soul must know. Am I unfit to be the minister? It would never do to let on that I can't see the cloth."

"Don't hesitate to tell us what you think of it," said one of the weavers.

"Oh, it's beautiful -it's enchanting." The old minister peered through his spectacles. "Such a pattern, what colors!" I'll be sure to tell the Emperor how delighted I am with it."

"We're pleased to hear that," the swindlers said. They proceeded to name all the colors and to explain the intricate pattern. The old minister paid the closest attention, so that he could tell it all to the Emperor. And so he did.

The swindlers at once asked for more money, more silk and gold thread, to get on with the weaving. But it all went into their pockets. Not a thread went into the looms, though they worked at their weaving as hard as ever.

The Emperor presently sent another trustworthy official to see how the work progressed and how soon it would be ready. The same thing happened to him that had happened to the minister. He looked and he looked, but as there was nothing to see in the looms he couldn't see anything.

"Isn't it a beautiful piece of goods?" the swindlers asked him, as they displayed and described their imaginary pattern.

"I know I'm not stupid," the man thought, "so it must be that I'm unworthy of my good office. That's strange. I mustn't let anyone find it out, though." So he praised the material he did not see. He declared he was delighted with the beautiful colors and the exquisite pattern. To the Emperor he said, "It held me spellbound."

All the town was talking of this splendid cloth, and the Emperor wanted to see it for himself while it was still in the looms. Attended by a band of chosen men, among whom were his two old trusted officials-the ones who had been to the weavers-he set out to see the two swindlers. He found them weaving with might and main, but without a thread in their looms.

"Magnificent," said the two officials already duped. "Just look, Your Majesty, what colors! What a design!" They pointed to the empty looms, each supposing that the others could see the stuff.
"What's this?" thought the Emperor. "I can't see anything. This is terrible!

Am I a fool? Am I unfit to be the Emperor? What a thing to happen to me of all people! - Oh! It's very pretty," he said. "It has my highest approval." And he nodded approbation at the empty loom. Nothing could make him say that he couldn't see anything.

His whole retinue stared and stared. One saw no more than another, but they all joined the Emperor in exclaiming, "Oh! It's very pretty," and they advised him to wear clothes made of this wonderful cloth especially for the great procession he was soon to lead. "Magnificent! Excellent! Unsurpassed!" were bandied from mouth to mouth, and everyone did his best to seem well pleased. The Emperor gave each of the swindlers a cross to wear in his buttonhole, and the title of "Sir Weaver."

Before the procession the swindlers sat up all night and burned more than six candles, to show how busy they were finishing the Emperor's new clothes. They pretended to take the cloth off the loom. They made cuts in the air with huge scissors. And at last they said, "Now the Emperor's new clothes are ready for him."

Then the Emperor himself came with his noblest noblemen, and the swindlers each raised an arm as if they were holding something. They said, "These are the trousers, here's the coat, and this is the mantle," naming each garment. "All of them are as light as a spider web. One would almost think he had nothing on, but that's what makes them so fine."

"Exactly," all the noblemen agreed, though they could see nothing, for there was nothing to see.

"If Your Imperial Majesty will condescend to take your clothes off," said the swindlers, "we will help you on with your new ones here in front of the long mirror."

The Emperor undressed, and the swindlers pretended to put his new clothes on him, one garment after another. They took him around the waist and seemed to be fastening something - that was his train-as the Emperor turned round and round before the looking glass.

"How well Your Majesty's new clothes look. Aren't they becoming!" He heard on all sides, "That pattern, so perfect! Those colors, so suitable! It is a magnificent outfit."

Then the minister of public processions announced: "Your Majesty's canopy is waiting outside."

"Well, I'm supposed to be ready," the Emperor said, and turned again for one last look in the mirror. "It is a remarkable fit, isn't it?" He seemed to regard his costume with the greatest interest.

The noblemen who were to carry his train stooped low and reached for the floor as if they were picking up his mantle. Then they pretended to lift and hold it high. They didn't dare admit they had nothing to hold.

So off went the Emperor in procession under his splendid canopy. Everyone in the streets and the windows said, "Oh, how fine are the Emperor's new clothes! Don't they fit him to perfection? And see his long train!" Nobody would confess that he couldn't see anything, for that would prove him either unfit for his position, or a fool. No costume the Emperor had worn before was ever such a complete success.

"But he hasn't got anything on," a little child said.

"Did you ever hear such innocent prattle?" said its father. And one person whispered to another what the child had said, "He hasn't anything on. A child says he hasn't anything on."

"But he hasn't got anything on!" the whole town cried out at last.
The Emperor shivered, for he suspected they were right. But he thought, "This procession has got to go on." So he walked more proudly than ever, as his noblemen held high the train that wasn't there at all.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

So What?

As a college freshman and English major I took an essay writing class my first semester. My professor's name was Dr. Snow. She was a stern taskmaster, a white-haired, unsmiling elder who took no prisoners. I remember absolutely nothing about the class other than my fear of Dr. Snow and the trouble that followed my first essay submission.

Having emerged from high school with some writing accolades, I felt pretty confident that I would do okay in Dr. Snow's essay class. Maybe even an A. I turned in my first essay (the subject of which I could not, under torture, recall) and strode back to my dorm, pleased with myself and looking forward to laurels from my new professor.

Next class Dr. Snow returned graded papers ... all but mine. She said she wanted to see me after class. A trickle of unease. Why?

After 50 minutes my fellow students departed and there we sat, Dr. Snow at her desk and I in my seat. She gazed coldly at my 18-year-old face and, holding my paper up in one hand, asked without introduction: "Where did you get this information?"

Over the years I've often said to friends "So-and-so had a parakeet look -- cocked head, blank eyes" to describe a person who just isn't getting the message. It's possible I came up with that metaphor because that's the first time in memory I was the parakeet. It took me a few long seconds for what she was getting at to compute. Then it came home.

"Are you suggesting I plagiarized this?" I asked her.

"Yes." No emotion, and no question in her mind that she was right.

Granted, I was young and hadn't even begun to write what I would come to do later in my life. But I'd written enough -- and had been taught well enough -- to know there is no greater transgression in writing than to steal someone else's words and call them your own.

I was outraged and told her so.

The truth, I think, has a certain ring to it. She grilled me for ten minutes, which may not sound like very long unless you're getting grilled by a formidable professor who's accusing you of cheating your first week in college. She asked me where I got specific information and I told her I got it out of my own head, having been a reader since I was old enough to talk. She asked me to explain the specific meaning of certain passages and I did, at length. She stared me down and I stared back. Finally satisfied that she was indeed hearing the truth, she wrote a B+ on the top of the paper (I guess an A would have been too much of an admission that she'd been wrong), handed it to me, and with what is probably my own imagination creating the rest, dismissed me with a tiny Devil Wears Prada hand wave and said softly "That's all."

I'm talking about this today, of course, because of the Melania Trump brouhaha at last night's Republican convention. This morning the Trumpsters circled the wagons after news broke that Mrs. T and her speechwriters borrowed rather liberally from Michelle Obama's speech at the 2008 DNC. The Trumpsters -- those coiffed and snarling attack dogs that Trump's campaign unleashes at the first sign of trouble -- have insisted all over cable news today that the accusation of plagiarism is ridiculous! This is a Clinton plot because Hillary is threatened by strong-woman Melania! That Mrs. T used common phrases!

I can't speak for any Hillary let's-take-Melania-Trump-down plots, but I can tell you after watching the comparison of Mrs. Obama's 2008 speech and Mrs. Trump's speech of last evening that somebody ought to be fired over at Trump headquarters. Indeed, Melania may have the same feelings as Michelle about her word being her bond and encouraging children to reach for the sky (that's what the Trumpsters are saying, that she was just expressing similar feelings). But when said feelings are expressed verbatim that's call plagiarism, honey.

Today the Trumpsters, along with denying any culpability for this obvious act of plagiarism, are also squealing So what? That's really been their battle cry for months, hasn't it? Every time DT spews out another racist or sexist or downright frightening remark, the Trumpsters circle those wagons, pop up on "the shows" and shout So what? 

Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University, addresses the issue of plagiarism and answers the question "So what?" rather succinctly in an article published in the Huffington Post in August 2014:

"Plagiarism -- simply put, presenting someone else's words or thoughts as your own with no attribution to the original author -- is a serious intellectual and moral problem for several reasons.

Plagiarism's moral problem is clear: taking someone else's intellectual work product and using it without attribution is theft. Without fundamental moral rules protecting intellectual work products in a manner equivalent to more tangible goods or money, the work loses value. The plagiarist essentially robs the author of the value of the written word.

But plagiarists do not simply take someone else's work product for their own private enjoyment, which might be weird but harmless. Plagiarism reaches its full blown status as a moral problem and disciplinary (possibly expellable or fireable) offense when the plagiarist uses the other person's uncited work for personal and professional gain -- to earn credits or a college degree, to get ahead at work, to win a Pulitzer Prize, to sell a book or an article."

Or maybe to promote one's husband who's running for President of the United States.

Now nobody's perfect, that's true, and throughout history good, moral men and women have certainly engaged in a little shuck and jive. However, Donald Trump's entire campaign seems to be bereft of morals. The name calling, the swearing, the lying. Encouraging violence at his rallies. Calling women fat pigs. Calling Mexicans rapists. The Trump University debacle. And now the stealing of someone else's words -- and not just anyone but for the love of god Mrs. Barack Obama -- and putting them in the mouth of his wife. Donald didn't do it personally and it's unlikely that Melania wrote her own speech. So the campaign has some staffer who wrote the words, and when he/she got stuck, googled Michelle Obama's 2008 DNC speech and said "Hey, this is good!" and hit copy/paste, assuming nobody would know the difference. And if they did know the difference, So what? The staffer felt comfortable plagiarizing and then maybe musing So what? because that's what he learned from the top.

I remember thinking, back in 1974 under the icy gaze of Dr. Snow, that any career I might have in writing could be over if I was unable to convince this influential professor I was telling her the truth, that I hadn't plagiarized my essay. Plagiarizing was then -- and still is -- a very big deal. That Trump and his Trumpsters don't think so -- and that this man and his henchmen who are so close to the most powerful office in the world seem to have no moral center -- should be a big wake-up call for anyone who plans to vote for him. I'm not trying to pick a fight here with my friends on the right side of the political spectrum: I get it, his sound bites can be entertaining and his blustering about international affairs maybe fills a void for the angry who are looking for someone to blame. But with that said, you've gotta admit the guy is just scary. He tells his constituents he's an outsider. Yes, that's true. What he doesn't say is that he's also a megalomaniac, although to anybody paying attention, that should be obvious.

To quote Tony Schwartz, Trump's own hand-picked biographer and co-author of The Art of the Deal:

“You know, it’s a terrifying thing. I haven’t slept a night through since Donald Trump announced for president because I believe he is so insecure, so easily provoked and not — not particularly — nearly as smart as people might imagine he is. I do worry that with the nuclear codes, he would end civilization as we know it.” 

Not much to say after that.

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About Me

Newspaper columnist; blogger; author of Delta Dead; author of 101 Tip$ From My Depression-Era Parents; author of Australian Fly; editor: ...And I Breathed (author, Jason Garner, former CEO of Global Music at Live Nation), "A History of the Lawrence S. Donaldson Residence"; "The Port Washington Yacht Club: A Centennial Perspective"; "The Northeastern Society of Periodontists: The First Fifty Years"; editor: NESP Bulletin; editor: PWYC Mainsail; past editorial director: The International Journal of Fertility & Women's Medicine; past editor of: Long Island Power & Sail, Respiratory Review; Medical Travelers' Advisory; School Nurse News; Clear Images; Periodontal Clinical Investigations; Community Nurse Forum