Thursday, July 13, 2017

stealing the truth

Hearing his friend (and wit rival) James Whistler conjure up a particularly good bon mot, Oscar Wilde said: "I wish I had said that."

Whistler responded: "You will, Oscar. You will."

Plagiarism is one of those vices at which we turn up our collective noses. And there is good reason for that reaction. Khaled Hosseini, in The Kite Runner, put it perfectly: "When you tell a lie, you steal someone's right to the truth." 

It was that sin that got Joe Biden booted out of the 1988 presidential race when he pocketed a speech by the Bristish Labor leader, Neil Kinnock, and then passed off the prose as his own. He even invented a family coal miner history -- confusing his roots with both those of Kinnock and Loretta Lynn.

Well, the speech got him booted -- and a similar act of plagiarism in law school -- and an exaggeration of his academic record -- and the lifting of more speech material from other politicians. (All of that seems like far more innocent times when we consider last year's presidential race pitting two candidates who wouldn't have known Truth if they had been introduced to it at a campaign fundraiser.)

I have had great fun with Biden's 1988 gaffes over the years. But it appears I may owe an apology to Goofy Uncle Joe. Today's draft essay turned out to be almost an exact duplicate of one I wrote four years ago.

On Monday I was in Manzanillo for a dental appointment. Because I had arrived a half hour early, I cecided to get some steps in for the day by walking the back streets of the Santiago neighborhood.

About 10 minutes into the walk, I glanced up a hill and saw what you see at the top of this post. It looked like a Disney set for a production of Hansel and Gretel in Mexico -- directed by John Waters.
That last sentence sounded familiar. It should have. I wrote the exact same words on 27 June 2013 after arriving early at my dentist in Manzanillo, going for a walk in the Santiago neighborhood, and spotting the same house on the same hill (the witch who ate my brain).

So, I read through my former essay -- and deleted the draft I had hoped to publish today. The older version was far better written. Whistler and Wilde would have been pleased with it. Certainly, the photograph was better.

And the draft for today? It could have been written by some dreary bureaucrat in the Kremlin -- using some of Joe Biden's pilfered email as source material.

There is a warning here. Gilbert and Sullivan were repeatedly criticized for stealing their material -- from themselves. And each iteration of an oft-sung tune became less interesting. I should have been duly warned by their experience.

Rather than serve up warmed-over old material, and making a hash of it, I will refer you back to the original essay. And we will just forget that for one dreary moment I almost passed off mutton dressed as lamb.

But, because I am riding my moral steed today, let me give you the full Hosseini quotation.
Now, no matter what the mullah teaches, there is only one sin, only one.  And that is theft.  Every other sin is a variation of theft...  When you kill a man, you steal a life.  You steal his wife's right to a husband, rob his children of a father.  When you tell a lie, you steal someone's right to the truth.  When you cheat, you steal the right to fairness...  There is no act more wretched than stealing, Amir.
Indeed, there is no more wretched sin than stealing. And we do not need to point to politicians to prove the point. For me, the lesson is right at my desk.

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