Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Limbaugh Detained on Drug Charges

Radio host strip searched at airport, thousands flee

Special to the WitList
27 June 2006

PALM BEACH -- Right wing radio host Rush Limbaugh has been detained at the Palm Beach International Airport on suspicion of possessing illegal prescription drugs, The WitList has learned.

Limbaugh was returning from a visit to the Dominican Republic, where he was named Asshole of the Year by the Dominican Council on Assholes. Limbaugh had been arrested on drug charges in April and reached a plea bargain with Palm Beach prosecutors. The portly pundit had been accused of "doctor shopping" in order to fill thousands of prescriptions for Oxycontin over a three month period.

Airport security officials reluctantly strip searched the rotund Republican, where they found a sizable cache of pharmaceuticals. Officials refused to specify where the pills were found, but sources report it was in a part of Florida where the sun seldom shines.

The drugs included Viagra and illegal male hormones. Limbaugh's publicist claims the fleshy fascist was merely carrying the pills for Ann Coulter, a resident of West Palm Beach and several other Florida counties, according to voter registration records.

Officials initially suspected the "Hillbilly Heroin" addict of attempting to smuggle a small caliber pistol in his pants pocket. The mistake was later attributed to an accidental overdose of Viagra, suffered when Limbaugh attempted to hide the pills under his tongue.

On hearing the news, Senatorial hopeful Katherine Harris cancelled a planned speaking engagement in Gainesville and chartered a private plane to be by Limbaugh's side.

"I cannot let this man suffer alone," cried a tearful yet strangely excited Harris. "Hasn't he been prosecuted enough?"

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The GOP Cannot Be Bought

WASHINGTON - AP: Wanted: Face time with President Bush or top adviser Karl Rove. Suggested donation: $100,000. The middleman: lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Blunt e-mails that connect money and access in Washington show that prominent Republican activist Grover Norquist facilitated some administration contacts for Abramoff's clients while the lobbyist simultaneously solicited those clients for large donations to Norquist's tax-exempt group....

The GOP cannot be bought
The meeting that you long have sought
Can be arranged, though, for a cost
But the GOP cannot be bought

Republicans are not for sale
Their reputations are unfairly dented
Though some members can be rented
Try to buy them and you'll fail

A chat with Dick will cost you dear
But Rumsfeld's price is down this year
And if you've got $10K or so
You can be briefed by Tony Snow

Photo ops with presidents
Is money more than amply spent
Pictures of you shaking hands
Will run at least 100 grand

If you crave time with Rice or Rove
Just send a check to our man Grover
He'll book the meeting in a flash
But please, make it out to "cash"

He'll funnel it to Ralph, then Jack
It will eventually come back
Don't fret; your money won't be squandered
It smells more fresh once it's been laundered

The wheels of government would cease
To spin without sufficient grease
It's a tiny price to pay
For greed, profit, and the Republican way

But the GOP cannot be bought
I want to make this crystal clear
For this is an election year
The GOP cannot be bought

Thursday, June 22, 2006

WebProNews and Plagiarism, Part Trois

Here is the latest and possibly last chapter in my personal plagiarism saga. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Jonathan Bailey, proprietor of the Plagiarism Today blog, I have learned a little more about what went on over at WebProNews and its parent company iEntry these past few weeks.

(For you WitListers who haven't been following the saga, it appears I have been turned into a research assistant for one Alex Bard, alleged staff writer and serial borrower of published works from the New York Times, Associated Press, CNET, and others. For the details, see the WitList entries here and here.)

It seems the folks at WPN were shocked -- shocked -- to discover plagiarism going on in their offices, and had no idea anything of the sort was transpiring until the letter from PC World's attorneys landed on their doorstep. I am finding it hard to get my brain around this nugget of information, given the blatant nature of Bard's theft, the prior accusations of plagiarism against other WPN staffers, and the other apparent copy-and-paste artists on their staff, but let's take them at their word for now.

It also appears Mr. Bard has been disappeared. WPN refused to tell Bailey exactly what happened, but assured him that "we would be seeing no more of [Bard's] writing on any iEntry site." Sure enough, nothing with Bard's name attached has been posted on WPN since they received the letter on June 9, and his old posts have been taken down. If you Google his name you can still find cached copies, but the live links have been removed.

Perhaps Mr. Bard was fired, or maybe he's buried on that horse farm along with Jimmy Hoffa. I am fighting the urge to believe he never actually existed, though if you spend any time searching for information about him (and both Bailey and I have), you'll be shocked to learn how little there is to learn. He was a relatively new hire at WPN, and apparently had "presented an excellent resume with strong writing samples and appeared to be a great author." (Given that he probably stole some writing samples from me, I'll take that as a personal compliment.) But he has absolutely no Internet footprint outside of iEntry, and for a technology writer that is downright perverse.

So let's review. This guy, who from his photo appears to be pushing 50, shows up with a great resume and writing samples and applies for a job with a technology news organization, and nobody Googled him? Nobody said, 'Gee, I wonder what other editors think of him, maybe I'll call them'? He just shows up with a Pee-Chee folder filled with other people's work under his arm and they say "Great, you're hired"?

Like I said, this story is not going down very easily. I'm gagging on it. And even if it all were true, how iEntry handled this situation is disturbing and dishonest. Firing or at least reassigning Bard was a good move; burying that fact was not. WPN should have notified its readers that it had inadvertently republished work done by others, and apologized publicly -- as the New York Times did with Jayson Blair, or the Washington Post with Ben Domenech. They should have also apologized to me and the other writers whose work was filched, as well as the publications that employ us. In other words, if iEntry were truly a legitimate news organization, they would have acted legitimately. They would have done the right thing.

Just because you publish on the Net, or work for a third-tier news service in Lexington, Kentucky, doesn't mean the normal rules of decency and ethics don't apply. Maybe iEntry will eventually learn this. I'm not putting any money on it.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

More than your minimum daily requirement of irony

A friend commented on my last post about WebProNews by pointing me toward a story about online plagiarism written by (wait for it) Alex Bard -- aka Mr. Bozo. You'll find it here.

That's pretty rich, I thought. Then it occurred to me: he couldn't have written it himself. He must have stolen that story too. And sure enough, he did.

The original story appeared on the Boston Globe's web site on May 8, 2006. True to form, Bard nicked it the very same day for use on WebProNews.

Here are the first two graphs of the original story, written by Maura Welch:
Beth gets more than 500 hits per day at her blog, Cursed to First, which serves as a very personal homage to the Red Sox and the Patriots, so she knew that spicy entries like ''Chicks dig the long ball" were being read. She didn't realize until recently that they were also being ripped off.

Last month, an alert reader informed Beth that her blog was being plagiarized. Dozens of Beth's blog entries had been stolen, word-for-word, over six months. Names of people in her life were changed to the names of people whom the plagiarist apparently knew, creating the impression that she had lived Beth's experiences and had thought her thoughts.

Here's Alex Bard's version:
Beth's blog got more than 500 hits per day, mostly from Red Sox and New England Patriots fans, not an unusual occurrence since she lives in Boston.

But one of Beth's regular readers told her that her blog was being plagiarized on a regular basis, word-for-word over the past six months. The thief simply changed the names of Beth's friends in her post to those in the thief's post (which was, of course, actually Beth's). Still with me?
The rest of the story follows in a similar vein. In this case, Bard avoids a straight copy-and-paste job and instead goes for a quasi-folksy rewrite. But nowhere does he cite his source or indicate in any way that he did no actual reporting for the story. A less astute reader (I'm guessing WebProNews has a lot of them) would naturally assume Bard found the story himself and talked to the people quoted inside it.

It's beyond unethical. The man should be tarred and feathered, or maybe dipped in boiling hot chocolate sauce and rolled in pecans. He certainly shouldn't be holding down a journalism job, and he wouldn't be if iEntry Inc. were a legitimate publishing concern.

FYI, finding instances of plagiarism like this is really quite easy. Find some sentence in WebProNews that looks slightly less prosaic (quotes usually work nicely), then copy and paste it into Google. In this case, I searched on the phrase "Jonathan Bailey, the author of Plagiarism Today," and got seven hits. One was the Globe story, five others were web digests or blogs that referred to the story. Only WebProNews lifted the article in its entirety.

I have alerted the media, sending emails to editors at all the publications that Bard and WPN have ripped off. I also sent a note to Bailey, who did respond (thanks, Jonathan). So far I've heard precisely nothing back from the editors. Maybe they haven't gotten to my email yet. Or maybe this kind of theft has become so pervasive on the Web that it doesn't phase people anymore. I hope not. Because I'm tired of doing the heavy lifting for these talentless turds. I can't imagine I'm alone.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

WebProNews and Plagiarism 2.0

When I am not composing snarky satires for The WitList, I write fascinating stories about the Internet, gadgets, and assorted topics-du-geek for a wide range of magazines and Web sites. My work has appeared in PC World, Family Circle, Men's Fitness, Popular Science, and 40-odd other venues. I'm a busy guy.

Last month, my work also appeared in WebProNews, a low-rent technology news site. Only it appeared with someone else's name attached to it and -- even more galling -- someone else's copyright notice. How my story got there, and what ultimately happened to it, is what this blog entry is all about.

The story began when I received an email from a reader who had uncovered striking similarities between my Gadget Freak column on universal remotes ("One Remote to Rule Them All") and a story by Alex Bard in WebProNews called "Can One Remote Control Do It All? Probably not." [This story has since been removed from the site, but you can find a cached copy here.] Which one of us, he wondered, was the plagiarist?

The two stories had different intros and a few differences in phrasing, but otherwise they were identical. They covered the same topic and the same products, had the same structure, the same facts, the same complaints, and the same conclusions. But at the very end, Bard's story added a small note: "Additional information from PC World."

Thus bringing new meaning to the word "chutzpah."

Now, this particular Gadget Freak column is unlikely to win any Pulitzers. But it did require several days of honest work -- researching products, contacting vendors, getting gizmos shipped to me, testing and troubleshooting each one, writing my column, and dealing with three rounds of edits.

By contrast, it probably took Alex Bard all of 20 minutes to slap a new intro on my column and copy/paste the rest of it into his word processor.

I'm not complaining about how long it takes to write Gadget Freak; I'm well paid for my work, and I enjoy doing it. But it is my work; it belongs to me (and PC World), not some Bozo too lazy to do his own research.

So I did a little checking on Mr. Bozo, and discovered that I am in excellent company. Thirty minutes of Googling turned up stories from The New York Times, Associated Press, MSNBC, and CNET with Bard's name attached.

For example, a New York Times story by Maria Aspan titled "MySpace Will Play Host to a Free Magazine Issue" became an Alex Bard story called "My Space to Offer Free Magazine." Again the intro is new, but the essential facts and structure of both stories are the same.

A CNET story by Joris Evers titled "Circuit City Warns of Online Forum Attack" reappeared on WebProNews as "Online Forum Attack on Circuit City." This time, Bard was too lazy to extrude a new intro.

CNET's story begins:

Part of the Circuit City Web site was hacked and used in an attempt to install malicious code on PCs of unknowing visitors, the electronics retailer said Thursday.

Bard's story begins:

Part of the Circuit City Web site was hacked and used in an attempt to install malicious code on PCs of unknowing visitors, the electronics retailer said Thursday.

Bard did offer some (lame) advice near the end that was not in CNET's story, but the reporting was all Evers'.

On June 1 Alex Bard stole an AP story that ran on MSNBC as "Finance Firm Loses Data on 1.3M Customers" and republished it as "1.3 Million Customers Data Disappears From Financial Firm." He briefly cites MSNBC as the source, but otherwise runs the item nearly verbatim. Bard was apparently copying and pasting so fast that he missed the AP copyright line at the bottom of the story:

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Unfortunately, Bard isn't some rare reporter gone rogue. He's just a particularly egregious example of what you'll find throughout WebProNews and affiliated sites like SecurityProNews. In my brief survey of WebProNews, I did not find a single story that appeared to offer original reporting. Some writers were better than others at excerpting passages from their sources and linking to them, but most articles contained a passing reference to the source (no link) and then the rest was a light rewrite of the original. Entire quotes were lifted whole, as if the person quoted had spoken to WebProNews, with no indication that some other reporter had conducted the interview.

It's the High School Term Paper approach to Web publishing. Find it published elsewhere, rewrite it, call it your own. There's only one problem with this approach: It's illegal. It goes way beyond Fair Use and straight into Unfair Abuse.

You'd expect this kind of behavior from a blogger who didn't know any better, or a bot-driven splog created by some Eastern European hacker. But iEntry Inc., WebProNews' parent company, claims to deliver email newsletters to more than 4 million readers. If true, that would make them one of the largest e-publishers on the Net.

In other words, they should know better. And I suspect they do know better; but rather than invest in the resources necessary to do actual reporting, they piggyback on organizations that do and hope nobody notices.

This time, somebody did. PC World's attorneys sent a nastygram to WebProNews, and the story came down a few days later. But not before they tried to get away with keeping the story as is, adding the phrase "According to the following personal research done by Dan Tynan of PC World..." in paragraph three. Nice try, dickwads.

And soon, when this blog entry lands in the email inboxes of editors at the New York Times, AP, MSNBC, CNET, and the Washington Post (another WebProNews writer ripped them off), iEntry will be swimming in cease and desist letters. A covey of lawyers will descend upon them from a great height and begin gnawing on their entrails. If there's any justice in the world, Mr. Bard will soon be looking at a career change (may I suggest circus clown?) and iEntry will need to find a new Web publishing MO.

Or not. In any case, it ought to be fun to watch. Stay tuned for further developments.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Alberto Steams Toward US Shores

Storm may cause permanent damage to property, Constitution

Special to The WitList Weather Desk
12 June 2006

WASHINGTON, DC -- Tropical Storm Alberto will lash the Florida shore later today on its way to becoming a full fledged hurricane. The first named storm of 2006 originated near Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and may reach the DC area by the weekend.

Alberto is expected to cause disruption to the nation's telecommunications infrastructure, causing private phone conversations to be heard from thousands of miles away. Web searches and email correspondence may be similarly affected.

With the potential for sustained winds of 150 miles per hour, Alberto could lift entire homes off their foundations and carry the occupants to secret prisons in undisclosed locations.

Storm victims are likely to find their heads held underwater for several minutes at a time, and to be abused by dogs and scantily clad interrogators while digital photographs are taken. Residents of trailer parks and people with Arabic-sounding names are advised to steer clear of Alberto's path.

Journalists covering the storm have been warned that their status as members of the fourth estate would offer no protection against the raging Alberto.

"Just because you're holding a microphone and wearing a flapping windbreaker doesn't mean you're untouchable," said a Department of Homeland Security official who asked to remain unnamed, lest he be investigated for leaking government secrets.

White House press secretary Tony Snow says the Bush adminstration does not condone hurricanes that torture, but it will do what needs to be done in the fight against weather. He added that Oval Office staffers have spent the last three days preparing for post-storm investigations by shredding memos and deleting email.

"We are ready to weather the storm," said Snow. "But nobody thinks it will be that bad."

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Ballad of the Republicans (or '2006 -- A Race Odyssey')

An epic poem in five parts


And so they met, one wintry eve
The braintrust of the GOP
To stave off voter insurrection
And resurrect their hopes for re-election

"If we don't quickly change our luck
Come November we'll be sitting ducks
'Mr. 33 Percent' is stinking up the place
We must take steps to fortify our base:

The undereducated masses
The people who teach Bible classes
Crackers, gun nuts, and right wing shills
The grotesquely rich, the mentally ill

We need to generate excitement
So they'll forget all those indictments;
The graft, the greed, the gross corruption
Those missing weapons of mass destruction

The bridge to nowhere, Katrina's wake
The hookers at the Watergate
Our situation is so perilous
Even Diebold cannot save us"

So they unveiled a five-point plan
To maintain power o'er sea and land
And keep the country safely in their thrall
I shall now reveal it to you all


To show we're tough on law and order
We'll put 6,000 on the border
And build a fence from the gulf to the beaches
(But still let them in to pick the peaches)

Not "amnesty;" we'll call them "guests"
So they can work at our behest
Then kick them all back out again
Before the midterms in 2010

No question that the job is hard
So we'll call in the National Guard
After years of fighting in Baghdad
Texas won't seem all that bad


We'll need a plan for global warming
So we'll announce that we are forming
A research panel filled with expert sources:
Exxon, Chevron, and the Saudis, of course

The cause, they'll find, is not emissions
But insufficient patriotism
Our planet's air has hit a snag
From all those liberals burning flags

So there's no need to stop pollution
We'll just amend the Constitution
And while we're banning flaming flags
We'll keep their sons from marrying fags.

A marriage amendment -- that's the fight
To energize the religious right
And make them cry out "Bravo!
But you really had us at 'Schiavo' "

To make room for these new addenda
We'll cut the First and Fourth Amendments
Sure, the ACLU will be pissed
But otherwise they won't be missed


If the nuke talks with Iran go bust
(And, trust us, they most surely must)
We'll unveil the ultimate weapon of persuasion:
A massive All-American invasion

When liberals claim this war's in error
We'll just call them soft on terror
The Democrats will naturally bend over
Saying 'Thank you sir, may I have another'

After Kabul, Baghdad, and soon El Paso
The troops we'll need are out of gasso
So when the Guardsmen finally run out
We'll start recruiting Eagle Scouts

Who cares if more young soldiers die
As long as our poll numbers rise
It's a tiny price to pay
For truth, justice, and the Republican Way


In this, our party's darkest hour
Freedom is at stake; not the country's -- ours
If we lose more than 15 seats
We'll be lucky if we're just impeached

It hardly needs be spoken
There is no law we haven't broken
So prison's the more likely end
For many of our Red State friends

All that legislative power
Won't buy much inside a prison shower
After screwing the country for 5+ years
It will be our turn to take it up the rear

To win this fight we have no choice
We must all speak together with one voice
And help Americans overcome their disbelief
That moron is still our Commander in Chief

Creative Commons Copyright 2006 by Dan Tynan. Feel free to share, but please keep this copyright notice with it.

Monday, June 05, 2006

President Bush Warns of New WMD Threat

Gay marriage ban seen as vital to national security

Special to The WitList
5 June 2006

WASHINGTON, DC -- Warning of the threat posed by "Weapons of Marital Destruction," President George W. Bush has thrown his support behind a Constitutional Amendment banning gay marriage.

In a nationally televised speech, the president said his administration has uncovered evidence of links between sodomists and terrorism.

"We know where the WMDs are," the president declared, pointing to large map of the U.S. with San Francisco, Palm Beach, West Los Angeles, and New York City's East Village outlined in pink triangles.

The president denied that the proposed amendment was part of effort to ban homosexuality outright, characterizing it merely as an effort to ensure that gay people remain virgins.

"If gay people marry, they might end up sleeping together," the president warned. "That could lead to sex. Before long, the country would be overrun with gay babies. I will not let that happen on my watch."

The president threatened to send a battalion of marines to San Francisco's Castro District as a show of force. The city's gay community thanked the president for the gesture, but asked for at least 48 hours warning so it would have time to get a facial and a body wax.

The proposed amendment is considered to have no chance of passing. However, presidential spokesfluffer Tony Snow bristled at charges that the White House was engaging in gay bashing to shore up Bush's conservative base and give the GOP something to talk about other than the president's miserable approval ratings.

"It's been nearly two weeks since this White House has endured a new scandal," Snow said. "That's more than enough time for Americans to forget what a lousy job the president has been doing."

Saturday, June 03, 2006

We're Only (Partly) Human, After All

Researchers discover link between bacteria, GOP

Special to The WitList
3 June 2006

WASHINGTON, DC -- The Institute for Genomic Research in Rockville, Maryland, has discovered that humans may be less human than previously thought. By examining the DNA found in samples of feces donated by a handful of adults, researchers discovered that up to 90% of our bodies may consist of bacteria.

The findings could have broad political implications. After the report was issued, House GOP leaders warned of illegal bacteria crossing our southern borders and taking jobs from hard-working American bacteria. Speaker Dennis Hastert asked if a bacterium should get the right to vote -- or, if it resides in Florida or Ohio, the right to vote Republican. Others noted that if bacteria were found to contribute to global warming they could be eligible for federal subsidies.

To gauge whether our government is being run by largely bacterial life forms, The WitList secretly obtained samples of genetic material from leading conservative figures. (We won't reveal the details of how we obtained the samples, but rest assured we were severely grossed out.)

Donald Rumsfeld's sample was found to contain just 8% human DNA and 92% slime mold. Leaders of the slime mold community immediately called upon the defense secretary to resign.

Conservative commentator Ann Coulter's sample was split almost evenly, 46% human and 54% reptile. After hearing the report, Coulter immediately blamed her reptilian DNA for causing her to falsify her voting registration records and vote in the wrong precinct, a felony in Florida.

"I clearly cannot be held accountable for the actions of my lizard cells," said Coulter, while dining on a bowl of live crickets. She added that this finding finally solves the mystery of why her complexion always changes color to match her clothing.

Senior White House advisor Karl Rove's DNA was composed of 61% human, 26% pit bull, and 13% Pillsbury Poppin' Fresh Dough. Rove has since garnered a new Oval Office nickname, "Turd Biscuit."

Dick Cheney's sample was found to contain no human DNA at all. However, before researchers could determine the composition of the vice president's genes, his sample overpowered the researchers and fled the lab. The FBI has issued an all-points-bulletin for the VP's feces, warning that it could be armed and dangerous.

Stay tuned for further news as this story develops.

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