Sunday, September 10, 2006

If a Forest Falls on a Tree Does it Make a Sound?

"Everybody's Doing It"

Sunday's New York Times has a review of 3 internet services that offer to write term papers for college students. Since this was among the most emailed stories in the NY Times this weekend I thought I'd find a scathing rebuke from the author, for what is obviously cheating, or at least some attempt at humor ("kids these days!"). Instead, in sterile prose, he simply fussed about the lack of quality relative to the cost, wondered oh-so-carefully if they were written in the same country that answers Dell Computer's phones (wink, wink- if you know what I mean), and then generally concentrated on the only question bothering every college student in America emailing this story back and forth over the weekend: WILL I GET CAUGHT?!

“Damn!” a little comic-strip balloon says. “I’ll have to cancel my Saturday night date to finish my term paper before the Monday deadline.” [Can't make this stuff up: check out the comic strip banner.]

Well, no, she won’t — not if she’s enterprising enough to enlist Term Paper Relief to write it for her. For $9.95 a page she can obtain an “A-grade” paper that is fashioned to order and “completely non-plagiarized.” This last detail is important. Thanks to search engines like Google, college instructors have become adept at spotting those shop-worn, downloadable papers that circulate freely on the Web, and can even finger passages that have been ripped off from standard texts and reference works.

A grade-conscious student these days seems to need a custom job, and to judge from the number of services on the Internet, there must be virtual mills somewhere employing armies of diligent scholars who grind away so that credit-card-equipped undergrads can enjoy more carefree time together.

Remarkably, in what is obviously a related story, the Wall Street Journal notices Ivy League Schools are bending over backwards to attract the retarded children of the rich/famous and/or powerful. Why? Because rich/famous and/or powerful people suddenly want to give loads of money to said institutions that demonstrate they're open minded about the subtle artistic strengths of certain progeny.

What makes Duke and Brown, among other institutions, stand out, is the way in which they ramped up and systematized their pursuit: rejecting stronger candidates to admit children of the rich or famous, regardless of their ties to the university.

In the world of higher education, children of the rich and famous are known as "development cases," pursued by presidents and fund-raisers often to the dismay of admissions staffs. Duke landed the children of fashion mogul Ralph Lauren and other corporate titans. Some of them became major donors, helping boost Duke's endowment from 25th in 1980 ($135 million) to 16th in 2005 ($3.8 billion).

Brown raised its profile by enrolling children or stepchildren of politicians and celebrities, including two presidents, three Democratic presidential nominees, two Beatles and seven Academy Award winners. A particularly controversial case was the son of Hollywood superagent Michael Ovitz, whose application sparked a debate within Brown.

This success, however, carries a cost. As the number of applicants has soared in recent years, premier schools admit as few as one in 10 students, a far more selective rate compared with a generation ago. To make room for an academically borderline development case, a top college typically rejects nine other applicants, many of whom might have greater intellectual potential.

Meanwhile, H-P Spying on it's Own Board Members, as well as numerous reporters, has been met with a yawn by the markets (H-P Shareholders Appear Unfazed), and whatever is less than a yawn by the current CEO (See Hurd's email to H-P employees).
Tom Dresslar, a spokesman for the California Attorney General Bill Lockyer's office, said that H-P has been "fully cooperating" with the state's investigation and that prosecutors hadn't yet issued any subpoenas in the matter.

The attorney general did, however, obtain a warrant last week to obtain from a telecom-service provider the phone records of a person or persons involved in the investigation, according to Dresslar.

"We believe crimes have been committed," he said. "We'll go where the investigation leads us and bring charges based on the evidence."
Pretexting is a growing problem, and the state of California is investigating a number of so-called data brokers concerning the practice, Dresslar added. Read more on pretexting (Stealing Phone Records Has a Long History).

Based on California laws that were passed during the late 1980s, it is illegal to obtain or use an individual's private information using unauthorized means, the Lockyer spokesman said. Beyond any possible criminal violations, H-P board members who approved the investigation may be liable for civil penalties. [Do we really need a panel of lawyers? How 'bout this: was it fair? Was it honest? How would you really feel if they tapped your phone?]

Speaking of "wiretapping", Newsweek's story of former GOP Congressman Dick Armey's disbelief in the Bush Administration's rush to invade Iraq adds to the pile of elected government officials that should have known better... and should have said something. Note the article's focus is on Armey, but unintentionally discloses the weak Democratic role due to the then-quickly approaching 2002 mid-term elections- providing a more thorough explanation of so many votes "in favor of the Iraq War before they voted against it", so to speak. Note also the extraordinary sense of being there, during a profound example of group think, that only comes once someone inside the room breaks their silence. Regardless of our own personal bias, there's enough clear information emerging now to shame both sides of the political aisle.

The president’s message was direct. There was no time to wait. The showdown with Saddam Hussein, the dictator of Iraq, had to start right away...

Listening to the president, Senator Majority Leader Tom Daschle felt trapped. House and Senate members were gearing up for the final stretch of the campaign—with control of the Senate up for grabs. Bush was informing them that the national debate would now focus on Iraq...

Daschle was thinking of one man: Karl Rove. The previous January, Rove, Bush's master strategist, had telegraphed his intention to use terrorism and national security issues to hammer Democrats in the fall campaign. “We can go to the country on this issue,” Rove had proclaimed at a Republican gathering, because the American people "trust the Republican Party to do a better job of strengthening America’s military might and thereby protecting America.”...

... in the Cabinet Room , watching Bush pressure his congressional colleagues, Armey realized that Bush was serious, that he seemed committed to launching a war and overthrowing Saddam. He thought of another president from Texas, Lyndon Johnson, and what a reckless war had done to his administration. Armey, who had not said anything else about Iraq after his Iowa outburst [where he said Saddam was not a threat, just a blowhard], decided this was the moment to speak his mind directly to Bush. "Mr. President," he said, "if you go in there, you're likely to be stuck in a quagmire that will endanger your domestic agenda for the rest of your presidency."

...When Armey finished, Cheney spoke. It would be a good idea, the vice president said curtly, if Armey would not dissent from the president’s position in public. Frankly, Armey replied, I didn’t realize there was a specific White House position yet. Then Bush, according to Armey, "asked me if I would withhold any public comments until I had all the briefings. So I could understand how necessary this was." The president was saying, wait until you've seen the intelligence. That would prove why urgent action—maybe even a war—was required.[Thereafter, Armey remained unconvinced, yet quiet.]

Upon exiting the meeting, the congressional leaders stood on the White House driveway and issued brief remarks for the assembled reporters. Senator John McCain said Bush had made a “convincing case” for action. House Speaker Dennis Hastert commented that he expected Congress would vote on a resolution before the elections. House minority leader Dick Gephardt, who during the meeting had indicated he was willing to work with Bush to convince Americans that Saddam's WMDs were a real danger, said that Bush had to demonstrate to the public that “this is something that we need to do and to take seriously.” Daschle, more guarded, repeated the concerns he had raised inside: “What new information exists? What has changed in recent months or years?” He added that he was “hoping for more information and greater clarity” in the weeks ahead. Armey walked by the TV cameras, saying nothing. But he still had his questions. Why a war? Why now?

A few weeks ago The San Francisco Chronicle brought us up to speed on the options scandal in a piece titled, Options scandal? Ho-hum. In it the author explained the backdating brouhaha seemed to be much ado about nothing. more companies get pulled into the fray -- the number of firms under scrutiny has passed 100 and grows larger by the day -- the shock seems to be wearing off.

"If enough companies are implicated, it's seen as systematic risk, like exposure to rising oil prices," says Todd Fermandez, a senior research analyst at Glass Lewis & Co., which researches investment risk for large investors. [Hey! I was just thinking that!]

Of course any good journalist with two hands will always include the obligatory naysayer- you know, just in case the story blows up (or the market goes down).

Steve Sidener, an attorney who represents shareholders (though none in backdating suits so far) says that stocks trade mainly off revenue and that backdating has no impact on revenue, past or future. But, he says, it would be a mistake to conclude that backdating doesn't matter.

"It goes to honesty and or trustworthiness. If you are backdating options, you also might be cutting corners and cooking books in other areas," he says.

Frankly, I could continue... but you get the gist.


Anonymous Jeff said...

Thoughtful comments and great links! Thanks.

9:32 PM  

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