By now everyone has heard about Kentucky Senator Rand Paul plagiarizing the work of other writers in his speeches, books, and op-ed columns. The senator’s reaction to the story is evolving: it began with denial; morphed into attacks on Rachel Maddow, who first reported the story; now his staff is busy scrubbing stolen material from his website (what they’ll do about Rand Paul’s books and other printed articles is as yet unknown). So far, though, no actual apology.
In this otherwise funny Wonkette article on Rand Paul’s clumsy “Who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?” response to the charges, I’m seeing something a bit more disturbing: the beginnings of a general right-wing rejection of accepted academic standards on attribution and plagiarism.
In the Wonkette article, for example, a spokesman for the conservative Heritage Foundation, which published one of the research papers Rand Paul copied and used in a speech, is quoted as saying: “We like when people cite our work. We wish more progressives would cite our work, maybe then they wouldn’t be so progressively wrong.” Of course Rand Paul did not cite the Heritage Foundation, instead presenting their work as his own … but never mind.
Wonkette goes on to quote the editor of The Week, a magazine from which Rand Paul also plagiarized, who says: “We’ve always known that the audience of The Week consists of smart, busy people who want to feel even smarter, including a lot of people on Capitol Hill … We’d like to thank Sen. Paul for his endorsement.” Never mind that by stealing work from the magazine and misrepresenting it as his own, what Rand Paul did was pretty much the opposite of endorsement.
The very people Rand Paul stole his material from are lining up to defend and protect him. What this tells me is that universally-accepted academic standards on research and attribution are about to join evolution and science in the growing pantheon of UATRDHTBI (Universally-Acknowledged Truths Republicans Don’t Have to Believe In). Conservatives are now telling us they’re fine with plagiarism … so long as it’s one of their own doing it. The shorthand for that, of course, is IOKIYAR (It’s Okay if You’re a Republican).
Do I even need to mention what the IOKIYAR crowd will do if some poor Democrat, liberal, or leftist gets caught doing what Rand Paul just did? Joe Biden might have some thoughts on that subject.
Another thing everyone not living under a rock will have seen by now is yesterday’s dramatic mid-air collision video.
No one in the media has made anything of it so far (though I suspect the NTSB has it very much in mind), but the two airplanes were flying in formation when they collided. Skydivers being carried in the two planes were planning a coordinated jump and were getting ready to do it when the collision occurred. I had to read several articles before I found one that mentioned that fact; finally I found it in a local paper.
Why is that important? Because Rule # 1 of flying formation is Don’t Hit Lead! As a matter of fact, the first rule of flying in general, a pilot’s primary responsibility, is to see and avoid other aircraft.
Here is the the dramatic video*, which was all over NBC and MSNBC yesterday:
At the 40-second point you can clearly see the lead aircraft through the open door of the trailing aircraft. As the video progresses you suddenly realize that the trailing pilot is rapidly closing on lead from above and behind; unbelievably he doesn’t turn away but continues straight on, making no effort to avoid the collision.
It’s obvious to me the trailing pilot became distracted and lost sight of lead, but that is no excuse: when you’re flying formation it’s your job to keep lead in sight at all times, just as it’s your job as a driver not to run into the car in front of you. I can guarantee you the NTSB, which is already investigating the accident, is focusing on why the trailing pilot flew into the lead aircraft, and that the final report will cite pilot error. There will be no error on the lead pilot’s part: clearly he was flying according to plan, and in any case there’s no way short of X-ray vision he could have seen, through the roof of his cabin, his wingman closing from above and behind. No, the fault will be 100% on the pilot of the number two plane.
I wonder if, during the last few seconds before the collision, any of the skydivers in the second plane tried to warn the pilot of what was about to happen, but that is neither here nor there. I also wonder if the pilots had military flying experience. You learn to fly formation in military flight training; I don’t know what kind of formation training, if any, civilian pilots get, or if they have to demonstrate proficiency in formation flight before they go out and do it.
Here’s all the FAA guidance I can find, taken from Federal Aviation Regulations, Section 91.111: “Operating near other aircraft. (a) No person may operate an aircraft so close to another aircraft as to create a collision hazard. (b) No person may operate an aircraft in formation flight except by arrangement with the pilot in command of each aircraft in the formation. (c) No person may operate an aircraft, carrying passengers for hire, in formation flight.” That’s it. Nothing about demonstrating proficiency or maintaining currency. As far as I can tell, any two bozos with private pilot certificates can go out and try to play Blue Angels.
I have some experience flying formation … oh, okay, a lot of experience … and I’m here to tell you it’s not something you approach casually. Formation can get dangerous in a hurry and you need to have your shit together.
* By the way, I’m not ignoring yesterday’s Paul Woodford Social Media Pledge. The original NBC video I looked up began with a 15-second unskippable commercial, so I searched YouTube to find a version without ads. Who loves ya, baby?
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