Hornstine Agonistes

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Judging from the voluminous hate mail the topic has generated in the past, I'd doubt I'm going to get very far with a defense of Blair Hornstine, but I'll give it the old (non-Ivy-League) college try. But before we start, here's Hornstine's mug shot to remind you of why you fight:

You'll recall Hornstine as the Moorestown, NJ high school valedictorian, Epstein/Barr sufferer and apparently pathological overachiever whose father sued her school this spring to spare her the indignity of having to share the valedictorian title.

Hornstine's predicament exercised the passions of countless detractors, who were further emboldened when the young graduate was caught not attributing some information taken from court decisions and presidential speeches in stories she'd written for a local newspaper.

Now, with this report that Harvard University has revoked Hornstine's acceptance, I say the young woman is being punished beyond all proportion to her crimes. Not because she doesn't deserve the smackdown (I'd support a constitutional amendment requiring her to attend Fairleigh Dickinson), but because this "plagiarism" charge is a big flaming bag of poop.

Hornstine is charged with not properly attributing material taken from several Supreme Court decisions and some speeches by President Clinton. Failing to attribute that stuff is unprofessional and likely to cause confusion among close readers of the newspaper, but what could possibly be more public information than a court decision or a presidential speech? Is a writer who alludes to the "national malaise" plagiarizing Jimmy Carter? Did I owe Judge Woolsey's estate a nickel when I complained that Ulysses "did not tend to excite sexual impulses or lustful thoughts"? This is the kind of journalistic sin that should have been caught by some editor at the Cherry Hill Courier-Post, with a margin note that says "Need a source for this." To pretend that this is plagiarism on the order of Shalit/Ambrose/Goodwin et al is, well, the kind of thing I'd expect from a Yalie!

Anyway, here's that Hornstine picture again:

Update: I'll be a monkey's uncle. Reader Evan McElravy has found what I was trying to locate before putting up this post: An actual textual comparison between Hornstine's writings and her sources, which changes the situation quite a bit. The borrowed material was not statistical or factual stuff, as I had assumed from reading Courier-Post's coy and dry description of it, but lengthy passages (of the kind of studied banality you can only get in a presidential speech) that Hornstine was passing off as her own prose poetry. All I can say in my defense is that I did not realize reporting on Hornstine's predicament required the same standards of knowing what the hell you're talking about as do school assignments.

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NEXT: Words to Live By, cont.

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  1. Man, that picture did it for me. I’m convinced.

  2. Still, in flinging accusations hither and thither, we must not lose perspective about what is really important here: the children.

  3. Harvard has some nerve complaining about other people’s plagiarism: they recently won a huge defense grant from the government using a proposal that contained a drawing ripped off from some kind of comic book. It was a small enough thing, but they should’ve known better. If universities are going to get uppity about student plagiarism, they can’t go around making excuses when it comes to their own work.

    I still don’t like this hornstine character, but If she deserved to go to Harvard before this particular incident came to light, she deserves to attend after as well. They could always just keep an eye on her. Judging from her personality, she’d probably be spending a lot of her time trying to get into the spotlight willingly.

  4. Geophile – that was MIT, not Hahvuhd.

  5. ?Epstein/Barr sufferer? Does this mean someone has found proof of a diagnosis?

    Tim, it?s odd that you were able to find proof that many with Nexis-Lexis could not locate, while unable to find the easily googled details of her Courier-Post plagiarism?

    And what has her headshot to do with anything?

  6. Apparently, my earlier witticism either never got posted or was deleted. So, let’s try this again:

    6

    As in, I give her a “6.”

  7. Haha! She seems like just the sort of person those pinheads up in Cambridge would invite to their school!

  8. Pinheads? Don’t you mean chowdaheads?

  9. I almost feel sorry for the poor tyke; she strikes me as someone who suffers for her parents’ neuroses.

    However, this is probably her last chance to turn out as a decent human being. If she had succeeded in suing her way to sole valedictoriancy and topped it off with Harvard, she would be certain to become a first-class grade A wiener. She will suffer now, but perhaps come to realize exactly how f-d up the whole thing was. Maybe she’ll be the next William S Burroughs or Yoko Ono.

    Or maybe she’ll go to Princeton.

  10. Lautreamont writes “Plagiarism is necessary. Progress implies it. It closely grasps an author’s sentence, uses his expressions, deletes a false idea, replaces it with the right one.”

    However he did imply you ought to have a decent source. I mean, if you plagiarize pure humbug, what does that say about you.

  11. She probably just needs a little time away from the folks. A college where she could loaf a little might do her good, too.

    Whatever happens, maybe we’ll be treated to the spectacle of Daddy whichever college she does go to if they don’t give her the grades he wants to see…

  12. Oy vey

    I means “spectacle of Daddy suing whichever college she goes to if her grades aren’t what he wants to see.”

  13. Doesn’t Blair resemble — just a bit — Justine Bateman (who played Mallory on the 80s TV show “Family Ties?”)…

  14. Tim Cavanaugh said:

    “All I can say in my defense is that I did not realize reporting on Hornstine’s predicament required the same standards of knowing what the hell you’re talking about as do school assignments.”

    Good quote there. From one lazy Tim to another.

  15. She reminds me off Tracy Flick from “Election”.

  16. Exactly. Tracy Flick is who I was thinking of.

    The best thing for this girl is that she has to go to a state college, smokes lots of weed and has lots of unsafe sex (or at least unwholesome) and then will likely apply to Harvard’s law school and be the first in that class.

    Last line from ‘Election’: “Who the fuck do you think you are?”

  17. Although I do feel a bit sorry for her (it seems her father is a bit of a prick), if society punished excessive litigiousness this way more often, perhaps people would sue less often. It’s unfortunate that an entire town has ostracized a young woman, but perhaps other towns should take the hint. Ostracize those who sue fast food joints blaming them for their obesity; ostracize those with lung cancer after thirty years of smoking and thirty years of warnings who sue tobacco companies; etc. Just make fun of these people!

  18. I agree with the sentiment of some of the above posters. If this chick is able to successfully sue her way to being the lone valedictorian and ends up attending Harvard, she is very well on her way to fitting in perfectly in American society – suing fast food joints for serving up fatty foods, suing tobacco companies for cancer, never taking any responsibility for any actions whatsoever, etc.

  19. I bet her parents wrote those newspaper columns for her – including the word-for-word thefts. Now she has to take the fall for the plagarism or he would lose his judgeship.

  20. She did wrong and she paid for it.

    Now I hope she can move on and live a life she can be proud of and happy in.

  21. Wow. So, I lived in Moorestown for close to 7 years. In fact, I lived right across the street from the Hornstine’s. Adam (her brother) was a year ahead of me in school and we hung out all the time- whenever he hadn’t ‘chained himself to his desk, again’ as I used to joke with him. Their parents were exceptional individuals and always held themselves to the highest standards of honor and ethics. They expected others to do no less, and that certainly included their children. Adam, Lou (the dad) and I all went to Camden, NJ to paint houses for the underprivledged and I was amazed at their compassion for, and desire to help, those less fortunate than we were. This was something I had never seen in Moorestown, outside of my own household. But hell, we moved to that delusional community from NH and the Hornstines didn’t move in until we had already been there a few years. I guess our families just didn’t know any better- or any worse, in this case. Moorestown is a community unlike any other I have ever seen, and I have moved around quite a bit- I left Moorestown to move to Switzerland and have lived in several places before and since. Now, don’t assume I am making moral judgements here, or telling people how they should raise their families, but here are the facts. Moorestown is a community filled mostly with pompous, self-important people living beyond their means to impress their neighbors. Most parents aren’t at home and even more refuse to hold their children accountable for any of their actions. The majority of teens in that town are more spoiled, put-upon degenerates than you would ever hope to meet. Parents buy their kids kegs for parties and there is one incident I’ll never forget. Mischief night was always a huge event in that town. spoiled, over-priviledged kids would go out under the cover of night in groups with that ‘mob-mentality’ and egg, TP, spraypaint, etc. other peoples’ homes. This was something I was never allowed to do, nor wanted to, because I was instilled with the certain value that people work hard for what they have and no one should have the right to damage those things. The Hornstine’s felt the same way. So when one of our other neighbor’s mother was driving her kids around from one house to the next, I was appalled and confused. Judging from Lou and Linda’s reactions that night, they were,too. Equally so was that mother- she just didn’t seem to understand all the fuss. Which explains why her kids turned out the messes they are. Lou, Linda, Adam and Blair were some of the most hard working, stand-up people I have ever met. They always had great values and an intolerance for people who put the values of their family at risk. Knowing intimately the problems of the Moorestown school system, I refused to attend MHS because of the zoo-like atmosphere and lack of accountability. I chose St. Joes prep, a private jesuit school in North philly. And for christ’s sakes, Im not even catholic, Im Greek Orthodox. The teachers in Moorestown are over-paid and still can’t be bothered to deal with the issues of most students. Rather, they focus their energies on a small group they have placed in a ‘Gifted and Talented’ program. Everyone else can go screw, so long as the teacher won’t be stuck with the same ones again next year. This breeds resentment for those ‘gifted’ students among the majority, who then act out against them. After all, if you aren’t ‘gifted and talented’ you must be worthless, and so what does it matter what you do? As for the ‘gifted’ students, most of them became pompous assholes filled with a false sense of self-importance, much like many of their parents.
    I guess what I’m getting at, is that for all of the human refuse in that town, who do they think they are to mercilessly harrass this poor girl? yeah, I said it. This poor girl. Because not even the worst kids in that town would deserve to receive death threats, vandalism and least of all the scrutiny of an uncaring, anonymous mob who has never met them, yet has no hesitation to exercise their right to free speech and bash them in an international forum. People, this amounts to singling out the dork in school and writing so-and-so’s ‘mother gives good head. for a good time call…’ on the bathroom wall. Only on the world’s bathroom wall. So, chillax. That’s an embarrassed, confused, threatened and scared little girl you are all picking on. How very fair and brave of all of you. What has happened has happened and what will happen will happen. God willing, Blair will land on her feet and will be able to succeed despite all of this. And hey, maybe she’ll wind up representing you or your kids some day in a legal action. But after all of this, you’d better hope she doesn’t wind up making you the defendant. I know, this was long winded, but given the thousands of negative comments on the net, I figured if only one person was going to say anything to the contrary they might as well say it all.

  22. Great posting by Nick. This just confirms what I suspected about Moorestown High School. Clearly a large group there have been after Blair for years, and now must be having a big party.

    I used to be on a high school paper, and I am not so sure that anyone ever told Blair how to write articles. Generally, the rules for journalistic attribution are not taught outside a journalism class (at least in my limited experience).

    Basically though, I am terrified at the amount of hate and vitrol directed at Hornstine. You would think she killed Melkin and got off, or something like that.

    Finally, I am going to watch my back if I ever come anywhere near *anyone* who went to Moorestown High School!

  23. Great posting by Nick. This just confirms what I suspected about Moorestown High School. Clearly a large group there have been after Blair for years, and now must be having a big party.

    I used to be on a high school paper, and I am not so sure that anyone ever told Blair how to write articles. Generally, the rules for journalistic attribution are not taught outside a journalism class (at least in my limited experience).

    Basically though, I am terrified at the amount of hate and vitrol directed at Hornstine. You would think she killed Melkin and got off, or something like that.

    Finally, I am going to watch my back if I ever come anywhere near *anyone* who went to Moorestown High School!

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