Friday, May 06, 2005

Re: Paul Carrington’s Remarks To, And His Attack On, AuthorSkeptics

May 6, 2005

Re: Paul Carrington’s Remarks To, And His Attack On, AuthorSkeptics.
From: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel

Dear AuthorSkeptics:

First, let me thank you for the kind comments you made about my most recent post on torture, entitled "Why Blogther?" Your views were greatly appreciated. But, you know, I do not totally agree with your self-deprecating remark that the torture question is "Ultimately far more important . . . than what we’re trying to do in our small corner of the world regarding plagiarism." What you are trying to do involves the fundamental question of honesty -- of truth -- and, as I’ve said many times, it is the now prevalent lack of truth that in my judgment is more responsible than any other factor for the various pickles Americans are in as a people and as individuals. As I’ve said, it is very difficult -- very difficult at best -- to make correct judgments when one has only untruthful, or no, information. Harvard, sitting at the pinnacle of the American educational system, should especially be a place which honors truth, not which disregards it. Harvard may not be, as Brandeis I believe once said of the government, the omnipresent teacher, but it is often a teacher, it is often followed. So please do not sell short the extraordinarily valuable efforts you have been making to insist on truth in Cambridge.

Now to Paul Carrington’s email and your response. Given his pedigree -- which, to those who recognize the great names of mid-century is far often more fulsome on his website than on yours (as generous as you are) and which is remindful in important ways of that of Lawrence Summers -- and given the influence he long since has managed to attain, it is perhaps not surprising that Paul Carrington was told of ghostwriting, by a luminary, even forty years ago, or that a major publisher once asked him to put his name to something that was ghostwritten. Perhaps to one of Carrington’s consequent "sophistication," the line that separates honesty and dishonesty, or truth and falsity, or whatever opposites he posits, is "illusionary," and it is therefore "quite out of order" for one to think punishment the just reward for those who cross the "illusionary" line he speaks of or who de facto condone the crossing. But to those of more modest background and position and therefore of less "sophistication," or to those who do not accept his transparently obvious inherent claim that a moral or other principle is illusory because there can be cases on both sides of the line, it is not so illusionary to think someone has crossed a Rubicon when he dishonestly takes credit for something written or done by someone else. In the commercial world this kind of thing is called fraud. In the academic world, as Judge Posner said, it may sometimes be, and be called, fraud. What would Paul Carrington call it? -- something that all should be able to do with impunity all the time?

I will tell you an obliquely related anecdote in this regard. There will be people out there who know of the anecdote, and will be able to attest whether my telling of it is correct or incorrect. If it is incorrect, they should correct me.

I graduated from the Michigan Law School in 1963, which must roughly be in the general time frame when Carrington received the good word about ghostwriting from some luminary. The fellow who was first in our class and editor of the law review became one of Chief Justice Warren’s clerks for the 1963-1964 term. That became, sadly, the time of the Warren Commission. As some of us thereafter heard the story -- some, I understand, hearing it from our Michigan classmate himself -- he subsequently said that, because so much of Earl Warren’s time was taken up with the world-wrenching work of the Commission, he (our former classmate) wrote the major and, I gather, others too of the political-system-altering one man, one vote cases handed down in June 1964 (Reynolds v. Sims and its "siblings" so to speak). This news that our classmate wrote the opinion(s) was a major surprise, and indeed even quite shocking, to at least some of us from the Michigan Law School who learned of it. Perhaps we were just hopelessly naive yahoos from the midwest, but we thought that judges wrote their own opinions and that their clerks’ function was to do research. The news seemed to us perhaps understandable in light of what was taking place in front of the Warren Commission in 1963-1964, but though understandable, it was nonetheless very surprising.

This episode reminds me in a way of a story about Mickey Mantle. Apparently in the 1990s, when hitting 40 home runs and stealing 40 bases in the same season had come to be looked on as quite an accomplishment, the super-fast, super-powerful Mantle said that, if he had known it would become such a big deal to do 40-40 in one season, he would have done it a few times himself. Well, a lot of people at the Michigan Law school in those days did not care to try to become clerks. But, if we had known that clerks write judges’ opinions, maybe more of us would ourselves have tried to become judges’ clerks and write their opinions. Like Mantle, if we had known, we would have tried.

Of course, as far as I am aware to this day, the reason we did not know in 1963 that clerks wrote judges’ opinions was not that they did it but we did not know, but that it was not in fact done (except, I guess, in the unusual circumstances of 1963-1964). So too there were -- one may no longer, or not much longer, be able to say there are -- there were many of us who were unaware that books (and articles?) are wholly or partly ghostwritten by students. We, poor naifs, lacked Paul Carrington’s sophistication and savoir-faire. Benighted, unsophisticated midwesterners that we were -- and sometimes remain in some ways, regardless of our zip codes -- we did not understand that the line between truth and dishonesty is merely "illusionary."

(Incidentally, Paul Carrington taught at the Michigan Law School for a period, but only after our class graduated. So people in my class were not exposed to his "sophistication.")

Let me now turn to Carrington’s "reactions to the anonymity of the ‘AuthorSkeptics,’" to his statements that, by being anonymous, you are guilty of an "exhibition of moral cowardice," that you therefore are likewise guilty of exhibiting a "trait that is singularly unbecoming to lawyers," and that "As between one who presents the work of others as his own and another who takes no responsibility for his utterances, I see no basis for choice" -- in other words, better plagiarism and ghostwriting than anonymity, better dishonesty than anonymity. It would no doubt be gravely unfair to say that only one of our pedigreed and influential would have such little sense as to think that dishonest conduct is somehow superior to anonymous but honest conduct that presents legitimate arguments. It seems a case of let them eat cake, if you see what I mean.

Now, let us be clear about something. I do not know who you are. We’ve never spoken, never corresponded by letter, and have only exchanged emails. I do not know your names. I do not know your positions. I have always assumed that you most likely are students at Harvard Law School, but for all I know you could be graduate assistants or professors. Some comments you have made lead me to believe it almost ineluctably likely that you are at Harvard Law School in some capacity -- though even that is not necessarily so -- but beyond that "I know nothing!" as Sergeant Schultz used to say. So what I am going to say in your behalf cannot in any way be attributable to or motivated by any personal acquaintanceship or friendship. (It would seem doubtful, wouldn’t it, that Carrington could make the same claim of dispositive non-acquaintanceship with Tribe? And perhaps Kagan or Bok too?)

You have, in my judgment, been performing a real service in service of honesty. And it is not impossible to imagine why you might feel compelled to remain anonymous. Fear of retribution is all around us in this society. You say that there are "articles documenting that even some tenured professors at Harvard insist on remaining anonymous in making criticisms of the Harvard administration," and those of us who live in the Boston area, at least, know that the media have carried stories of fear at Harvard. I can tell you that emails have been sent to me by well known, tenured professors at Harvard and elsewhere who wish to remain anonymous out of either implicitly expressed or explicit fear of consequences. Not everyone has the patrons that Carrington admits on his website to having had, not everyone has the associated help that people like Carrington and Summers have had, and there are people in whom a degree of fear and a desire for anonymity are completely understandable. God knows I would not stand up for anonymity at all times, in all places and in all circumstances. But where people are saying logical and reasonable things in favor of honesty and good faith, and might stand to be harmed if their names are known, it does not seem to me to be automatic that "anonymity [is] an exhibition of moral cowardice" and, as Carrington would have it, is inferior to dishonesty. So, if you are students at the Harvard Law School, or graduate assistants there, or professors there, and fairly could be thought possibly subject to some non-negligible form of retribution, I would find your desire for anonymity perfectly understandable and acceptable, even if one might prefer to know who you are. Of course, if you are Tribe’s assistant(s), or are good friends with him, one might feel quite differently about your anonymity. Somehow I doubt that you are either of these or similar things.

One must add a further comment about Carrington’s logic or, more accurately, his lack of it. As part of his attack on you, Carrington says, yes, he too has "on occasion used a pen name," doing so "for the purpose of disclosing that my remarks were not entirely serious." Huh? He had to use a pen name, not his real name, in order to "disclose" that his "remarks were not entirely serious"? Why didn’t he just say so? Or, if he didn’t want to just say so, why didn’t he rely on people’s ability to recognize satire or whatever it was as being satire or whatever it was? Why did he feel the need to hide behind a pen name, without disclosing his real name (assuming he in fact, did not also disclose his real name, as seems implied by his remarks to you)? Did the use of a pen name add so much that, absent a pen name, what he wrote would have fallen flat? This would seem hard to believe, and not very complimentary if true.

(In the interest of full disclosure, let me say that I too once used a pen name. In the early 1980s, when a partner in a large, conservative law firm, I wrote eight or ten humor articles for Legal Times. I still think some of those articles were among my best writing. But, as a partner in a large conservative firm, it did not seem appropriate, and it seemed to even conceivably be potentially dangerous professionally, to write the (sometimes mind bending?) humor under my real name. So I used the pen name "M.E. Shugee." It was very disappointing that some people who knew that "M.E. Shugee" was a pen name did not get the joke (that I hope was inherent in it).)

In his attack on you for using a pseudonym, Carrington also says the following, immediately after remarking that he has used a pen name to "disclose" that his "remarks were not entirely serious": "I realize," he continued, "that the device [of using a nom de plume] was in common usage in the 18th century. But Alexander Hamilton lived in a much more troubled time; he could have been arrested for his utterances. That surely is not the case for this [the AuthorSkeptics] blog." He thereupon accuses you of "moral cowardice," as discussed above.

What does the 18th century have to do with it? Yes, it is true that anonymity was often used then. But has it never been used thereafter (except when serial killers like Kaczynski or the Wichita guy send taunting notes to the cops)? Is Carrington unaware that today lots of bloggers use "noms de blog" as it were, and that whether you could even learn all of their real names is something one doesn’t know? Does Carrington not know that, in the analogous area of newspaper and other media sources, lots of people insist on remaining unidentified -- even, or even especially, high government officials? And what the hell is this business of excusing Hamilton but blasting you because he, but not you, "lived in a much more troubled time; he could have been arrested for his utterances," but you will not be. True, Hamilton often wrote under pen names, although whether he would have been arrested for what he said is something that seems dubious, except perhaps for his anti-British writings just before the beginning of the Revolution. Having read Chernow’s biography of Hamilton perhaps a year or so ago, and not remembering all that much, after reading Carrington’s statement this writer skimmed Chernow’s lengthy book, found many references to anonymous writings by Hamilton, found brief discussions of the reasons anonymity was used by Hamilton and others in those days, but could find not one statement that fear of jail was Hamilton’s reason for choosing anonymity (although it seemed to me likely that such a concern certainly could have existed with regard to his anti-British writings just prior to the Revolution). But my skimming may, of course, have missed something.

But even if I missed something, even if fear of jail was at some point a reason for Hamilton’s use of pen names, why is this of any relevance whatsoever? Is it really possible that Carrington thinks, as seems the implication of his statements, that only fear of jail is sufficient to justify use of a pen name in the 21st century? For at least the last 58 years or so people who have said unpopular things, no matter how correct their views may or may not turn out to be, have had to fear loss of jobs and income, being booted from universities, being booted from government, social opprobrium, and other formal and informal punishments that can be devastating. (Perhaps the only thing they no longer need fear is lynching and, most of the time, but certainly not always, jail.) Is Carrington blind to all this? Is he blind, analogously, to what has happened to many whistleblowers whose names have been found out? Does he not care a whit about the punishments visited on the unpopular or the whistleblower? Does he really hold the incredible view that the possibility of jail is the sole consequence that could legitimately justify anonymity? If so, wow!

Frankly, in your comments about Carrington, you have been very kind to him. It is hardly unreasonable to think, particularly given his truly dastardly attack on you, that you have been much too kind.

One last point. In your response to Carrington you rightly correct (an obvious) mistake he made about my views, by "clarify[ing] what we see as Dean Velvel’s position." I would not wish to add anything to your clarif[ication]. Of course, if information were to surface demonstrating that the problems are more pervasive than has presently been shown, I would reserve the right to change my views, to harsher ones.*

Sincerely yours,
Lawrence R. Velvel
Dean, Massachusetts School of Law

*This posting represents the personal views of Lawrence R. Velvel. If you wish to respond to this email/blog, please email your response to me at Your response may be posted on the blog if you have no objection; please tell me if you do object.

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