- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 30, 2006

Harvard hoaxer

“Kaavya Viswanathan was riding high in April, shot down in May. The Harvard sophomore’s debut novel — ‘How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life,’ for which she had received a $500,000 advance at the age of 17 — was moving up the best-seller lists. The chick-lit book detailed the struggles of an Indian-American high-school girl trying to maintain a social life and get into the Ivy League. Opal Mehta’s apparently autobiographical story —celebrated in the New York Times, USA Today, and many other venues — was making Viswanathan a media sensation, a model of the kind of deranged precocity that Harvard increasingly demands of its students. Then in late April the Harvard Crimson revealed that Viswanathan had plagiarized more than a dozen passages from two young adult books by Megan McCafferty. …

“If nothing else, a little more honesty about how the celebrity author market works might increase our enjoyment of the game, and lessen the shock when writers turn out to be phonies.”

—Tim Cavanaugh, writing on “Literary Paper Lions,” in the July issue of Reason

Card bust

“If I had to guess, I’d say that I spent a couple thousand bucks and a couple thousand hours compiling my baseball card collection. Now, it appears to have a street value of approximately zero dollars. What happened?

“Baseball cards peaked in popularity in the early 1990s. They’ve taken a long slide into irrelevance ever since, last year logging less than a quarter of the sales they did in 1991. Baseball card shops, once roughly 10,000 strong in the United States, have dwindled to about 1,700. A lot of dealers who didn’t get out of the game took a beating. …

“This year there are 40 different sets of baseball cards on the market. … That’s about 38 too many. When there were just two or three major sets on the market, we all had the same small pool of cards. Their images and stats were imprinted on our brains. The baseball card industry lost its way because the manufacturers forgot that the communal aspect of collecting is what made it enjoyable. How can kids talk about baseball cards if they don’t have any of the same ones?”

—Dave Jamieson, writing on “Requiem for a Rookie Card,” Tuesday in Slate at www.slate.com

Not nuts

“While we were celebrating the Fourth of July, Kim Jong-il, North Korea’s dictator, was enjoying his own fireworks as he launched, without provocation, seven missiles in the direction of Japan. … observers interpreted Kim Jong-il’s willingness to risk worldwide ridicule if the missiles failed as additional evidence that he is driven by an abnormal need for attention, so intense and pathological that it leads him to deviant behavior. In short, they say he’s nuts. Is he?

“North Korea is a poor country, one many have labeled an economic basket case. Its annual GDP is about $40 billion, or $1,700 per capita — by comparison, the U.S.’ is $42,000 — and shows little or no growth. … Its people are starving, poorly educated, and health care is substandard or non-existent. …

“We are the richest nation on earth, with the most powerful military, and we are the world’s only superpower. And yet we are taunted, even threatened, by one of the poorest, most backward and most isolated countries on earth. We have paid the extortionist for years, and apparently we’ll have to pay him some more. No, Kim Jong-il is not nuts.

—William G. Shipman, writing on “He’s Not Nuts,” Thursday in the American Spectator Online at www.spectator.org

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