Thursday, February 25, 2010


My intro comp students are allowed to bring a Works Cited page and notes/quotes to their final exam (writing an extensive sourced and documented essay). Usually I bring a stapler to corral all their papers together into one easy-to-access package. However, I forgot the stapler today.

Digging around in my book bag, I easily found 23 paper clips, with some to spare.

Epic facepalm.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Cheating Culture

Feeling kind of blue today. Down the hall, my department chair is meeting with 2 students and their instructor over a plagiarism case I uncovered. We require all students in our advanced composition class to write an essay in class. They must achieve a certain assessment on the essay in order to graduate (but we give them workshops up the wazoo to help them, and they have multiple opportunities to write the essay again before they graduate, with the appropriate support given to them). But it is high stakes.

We're not sure how the students plagiarized but we're pretty sure the language on both essays matches that on a Yahoo Answers web site. Did they copy from each other? Did they bring up the site (separately) on their cell phones? Did they know the questions in advance and looked up the site and memorized it? I'll find out when the meeting is over.

I coordinate this writing assessment every term, and I read somewhere between 200 and 300 essays in the last 2 weeks of the term, and I just happened to notice this case because they both mentioned the golden lion tamarin, a monkey I enjoy seeing at our local zoo. It's weird how this happens, but it also makes you wonder how often it happens and I don't notice.

To add to the complexities, both these students are international students. My husband once suggested to me (in the case of the person who violated security at Newark and shut down the airport for hours) that people who live in totalitarian countries tend to be more likely to cheat or violate the laws because the laws are inherently unfair and overcontrolling laws, so the people develop the habit of violating them. Yet we also have high levels of cheating in American culture, a non-totalitarian culture (despite Bush/Cheney's best attempts). David Callahan, author of The Cheating Culture, will be visiting my campus next month, and I plan to ask him for his input.

Meanwhile, I think what a lot of "21st century skills" people are thinking about is how to evade the problem. Joe Hoyle suggests that we stop trying to test for memorization and instead test for other skills, like critical thinking and learning. (Via Delaney Kirk.)

We are so used to seeing other countries, with their pedagogy of memorization, as superior learning environments to America's. But maybe time will tell if these strategies actually increase learning and education, or whether we still measuring success by old standards.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Amy Bishop Part 4 with a side order of Joe Stack

I'm in a brief lull in the middle of a busy time, so this will probably be my last post on Bishop. A few things I wanted to add:

1. I originally thought that Bishop may have had some underlying racism due to the fact that she shot 4 out of 5 people of color in a small department. However, it seems that it may be coincidence. Survivors of the shooting say she simply was making her way around the table and shot in the order that people were sitting. Source.

2. MH made the point that Bishop is an outlier. He's right; she is, simply for being a woman--women rarely are mass murderers. Bishop, though, is also a woman in the field of science, which has been a traditionally male field. I think it's also interesting that she has four children. Women in academia seem to have smaller families; it is well documented how the demands of pursuing tenure in academia do not mesh well with being a parent. Did having that juggle add to Bishop's stresses? I don't know where Jim Anderson's family lives, but Amy's family certainly wasn't in Huntsville helping her out with raising 4 kids.

3. This was one of the most interesting stories I read on the Bishop case. As you know, it's the 1986 shooting in Braintree that fascinates me. I could not believe that Paul Frazier went out there less than 24 hours after the shooting and claimed that the 1986 police had instigated a cover-up. I knew there was more to this story, and there was. Frazier (the chief in 2010) and Polio (the chief in 1986) were at odds in 1986. Frazier was the police union rep; Polio was the police chief who was, according to the article above, taking away some of the police officers' perks.

As I suspected, Solimini's memories of the event, as expressed by Frazier in 2010, do not entirely match up with the police report Solimini wrote in 1986. Frazier made it sound all a lot worse. And now it sounds like he deliberately did so in order to make Polio look bad.

I still contend that after an accidental shooting, one wants to avoid arresting the shooter if one can help it. The worst has already happened, so why add more?

4. And one last thing: A few days after Bishop murdered three people, a man named Joe Stack flew a plane into the IRS office building in Austin, TX and killed one person and himself. But when you read the reports on Stack, you do not hear the same stories you heard about Bishop. Bishop was detached, behaved strangely, seemed to have an anger problem. From reading what the people in Austin had to say about Stack, you'd think he was the sweetest guy around. He never expressed his hatred of the IRS to others.

So again, I don't think it's a given that people planning mass murder (we were lucky Stack's plane killed only one IRS worker; he wanted to kill more, certainly) show signs of their murderous nature before they act. Stack certainly seemed to crack as early as a day before, but for most of his life he sounds like a lovely person to be around, just a little obsessed (for a guy who was pretty well off financially--gee, I'd like to have a 2500-sq-ft house and a private plane) with taxes.

Because maybe that's how becoming a murderer works. It's not something deep within you. It happens when you crack somehow. Amy Bishop happens to have been an occasionally unpleasant person before 2010; Joe Stack happens to be someone who was mostly very pleasant. But something set off both of these people, and they didn't have the psychological strength to pull themselves back from it.

And that led to tragedy.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Amy Bishop Part 3

This will be short as I am in the middle of the last week of classes and writing assessment. Have to finish a ton of grading before tomorrow.

All the police records have been located in the Amy Bishop case.

First, JUDY BISHOP WAS NOT ON THE POLICE PERSONNEL BOARD. Can we get that straight once and for all? She went to Town Meeting. I guess that makes her "powerful," but when I think of the numbskulls in my town who are active at Town Meeting, I'm not all that impressed.


If there was a cover-up, then it was not covering-up a murder. It was covering up/glossing over the charges on which Bishop could have faced.

Every single piece of evidence we have suggests it was an accidental shooting, including pretty much every police report that exists, which are labelled "Accidental Shooting." This does not mean she could not have been charged for other things, pointing the gun at the guys in the auto repair shop. But to quote from Solimini's report, Bishop was "frighten [sic], disoriented and confused." Solimini also says she had a fight with her father, not her brother.

It therefore makes absolutely no sense to say that Amy had a fight with her brother and shot him deliberately.

What was covered up? This looks like the likeliest scenario:

Amy shot her brother by mistake. She freaked out. She was picked up by police. She was brought to the station. She could have been charged. Because she was a rich white girl who was obviously traumatized, and because her parents were well-known, they let her go home.

That is basically about the whole of it.

We have GOT to look at this incident from the perspective of the people facing it in 1986. They did not know that in 2010 she would murder three people. She looked and acted like a kid who had made a horrible mistake.

My third point is that WE STILL HAVE NO EVIDENCE OF A THIRD SHOT. What we know is that Amy accidentally discharged the gun in her room then freaked out, tried to hide it, couldn't, then came downstairs and tried to get her brother's help, then accidentally (negligently, some gun owners insist on calling it) discharged it again. Why that seems like an illogical sequence to anyone is beyond me. It makes perfect sense.

I have a fascination with Columbine and with research/journalism, so this reminds me very much of the assumption-making and myth-creating that happened shortly after the Columbine shooting. I can't imagine why anyone would want to be part of that. If I end up writing a lot and challenging others' assumptions, it's mainly because I think the truth deserves that. We need to question assumptions and claims, particularly before all the information is in. This is a version of what Tim Burke was warning about in the thread on 11D, but I see the process a little bit differently. I think that the more we talk about all the possible explanations, the less likely we are to settle on one possibly wrong one.

I think Paul Frazier acted incredibly irresponsibly in giving that first press conference. Were I a resident of Braintree, I would be leading the call to question his judgment.

Part 4 will be about race and gender, but I am not allowed to write that till I finish my grading.

Edited to link to 11D thread.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Amy Bishop Part 2

There are some additional aspects of the Amy Bishop case I'd like to discuss, subjects of great personal relevance. I'm going to start by talking about Asperger Syndrome/autism spectrum disorders and Amy Bishop. My son was recently diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, and understandably, I have been reading and talking about it a lot lately.

I am aware that diagnosis via newspaper article/Internet is wrong. But the descriptions of Amy Bishop from just about everyone who knew her strongly suggest someone who has an autism spectrum disorder.

Please note: this is not going to turn into an apology or excuse for Bishop's crime in Alabama (or her possible crime in Massachusetts).

Here are some of the things people have said about her:

"She didn’t know how to make small talk," she said. "It’s like she didn’t have that gene." Source. (Added on 2/21/10)

In meetings, Mr. Setzer remembered, she would go off on "bizarre" rambles about topics not related to tasks at hand — "left-field kind of stuff," he said. Source.

"She was kind of weird," he said. "I mean, all scientists are weird, right? But she was just kind of weird. She didn't strike me as psychotic." Source.

There was no doubt, however, about her intelligence or pedigree. "She's pretty smart," said Mr. Setzer. "That was not a question. There might have been some question about how good of a [principal investigator] and mentor she was. Yeah, she knows her stuff, and she's a good technical person, but as far as being the boss and running the lab, that was kind of the question." Source.

Shortly after the attempted bombing, Fluckiger said, Bishop told her she had been questioned by police. According to Fluckiger, Bishop said police asked her if she had ever taken stamps off an envelope that had been mailed to her and put them on something else.

"She said it with a smirk on her face,'' said Fluckiger. Source.

Nursing students repeatedly complained to Dr. Podila, the department chairman, as well as to the dean, and even sent a petition, said Caitlin Phillips, a junior in the nursing program, who took two courses with Dr. Bishop in her sophomore year

She was “very socially awkward with students” and never made eye contact during personal conversations, Ms. Phillips said. “We all had kind of a problem with her. She never really taught much. She just read straight from the book.” Source.

The Boston Herald has an entire article identifying her as an "oddball":

“She was an oddball - just not very sociable,” said Sylvia Fluckiger, a former lab technician who worked with Bishop in 1993.

“She was quite cavalier about it,” Fluckiger said of Bishop’s description of her interview with police. She said Bishop “grinned” as she described being asked by cops whether she’d ever taken stamps off an envelope and fastened them onto something else. “I cannot tell you what the grin meant,” Fluckiger said.

A classmate of Seth Bishop’s recalled yesterday that the boy, who was “painfully shy,” never talked about his older, only sibling.

“It was as if he was a complete stranger in her life. It seemed like a dysfunctional family. We just accepted them as being odd,” said the classmate, who spoke to the Herald on condition of anonymity.

Amy Bishop, he said, “wasn’t mean because she wasn’t someone you could get close to. She wasn’t an attractive girl, she didn’t have friends. She didn’t work at having friends. I think people probably, over time, learned to leave her alone.”

The Bishop household, he said, “was anything but a home . . . It was just a really dreary, dark place where there wasn’t a lot of love.”


Sounds kind of like some sort of autism spectrum disorder, no? And that Seth had it, too. This was 1986, when people weren't knowledgeable about autism.

So let's back up a little. Nothing changes the fact that she murdered three people. But can other aspects of her life be explained by an ASD?

Amy graduated high school at age 16, apparently. This would be a sign not only of great intelligence but also perhaps of social awkwardness.

Her brother was shy and didn't mention their family very much. They seemed "dysfunctional."

Amy seems to have married one of her first boyfriends, as she was dating Jim Anderson when she shot her brother. Their marriage has lasted through that tragedy, through graduate school, through working together, through four children. That doesn't sound to me like someone who lacks love. It may be someone who can't *show* love very easily.

As the mother of a child with Asperger's, I know all too well that failure to act in a socially appropriate manner. I know how it appears he is uninterested or uncaring when he doesn't look someone in the eye. I know he often seems uncaring if he doesn't respond to others' pain (the example I use is when I broke my ankle right in front of him).

Is my son going be looked at with suspicion and distrust his entire life? What if crimes or accidents occur around him? Will he be railroaded into investigations because he smirks at the wrong time? Will these investigations be held against him for the rest of his life (as apparently the investigation of Bishop in the pipe bombing case is being held against her even though she was cleared)?

As a parent, these issues concern me. They petrify me. They make me feel protective of my son. I can only imagine that Judy Bishop felt the same way.

In the end, even though I am, like Bishop, an Ivy-League-trained academic without tenure, the person I really relate to in this whole matter is her mother.

(Edited for grammar.)

Amy Bishop, Part 1

This is Part 1 of a series of posts I want to do on Amy Bishop. I get incredibly frustrated by misinformation, so I am trying to bring together everything that is known about her and about the case.

Here, I construct a timeline of Bishop's life and then examine the police reports and other information on her brother's death.

Edited 2/21/10


1965 Amy born (edited to correct)
1968 Seth born
1983 Amy graduates HS
1985 House is broken into/Sam and Seth buy gun, get gun licenses?
1986 Seth graduates HS?
1986 Seth is shot and killed.
1988 Amy graduates Northeastern (Added 2/21/10)
1991 Amy has first child
1993 Amy gets her doctorate from Harvard
1993 Amy and husband Jim Anderson are investigated in case of pipe bomb sent to Amy’s lab supervisor
1996 Sam and Judy sell the house in Braintree; Amy rents carriage house
1999 Sam retires from Northeastern
2001 Amy has 4th child
2005 Amy and Jim move to Huntsville/UAH

Reports differ as to Bishop’s age. Police say she is 42. The university website says she is 44. The state police report says she was 19 in December 1986. She was likely born in 1967 and is 42. She graduated high school in 1983 (the same year I did). I skipped a grade; Amy seems to have skipped one or two grades and graduated early. Edited 2/21/10--Apparently I was over-reading the situation.

Her brother Seth was born April 9, 1968. (State police report) Her father was Samuel Bishop, a professor (of art) at Northeastern U. Her mother was Judith (Judy) Bishop. Judy Bishop was on the Town of Braintree’s Personnel Board at the time of the shooting.

On Saturday, December 6, 1986, Bishop shot her brother. She and her brother were attending Northeastern at the time. It is unclear whether she and her brother were dorming at Northeastern or living at home and commuting. As it was a Saturday, it makes sense that everyone was home.

According to the interviews in the state police report, at approximately 11:30 am, Sam Bishop left the house. His wife was out. After 11:30 and before 2:22, Amy, Judy, and Seth ended up together in the house. Amy took the shotgun from her parents’ room and loaded it and the gun discharged in her room. At some point she came downstairs and the gun discharged there, killing her brother. Amy left the house after that.

At 14:22 (2:22 pm), officers responded to the house at 46 Hollis Ave after a report of a shooting. The officers responding were Officers Jordan and Murphy.

The Braintree Daily Police Log reads 1422 46 Hollis Ave Accidental shooting 814 813 817 BS C-10 Code 51 QGH Sudden death. Code 91 Sgt. Brady

A later code in the log reads: Marks 811 Condon 812 R Jordan and T Murphy 813 Finn 814 Depisa 815 Solimini 816.

This suggests that the officers on the scene were Finn, Jordan, Murphy and (817?)

At 1507 (3:07) Finn reported that Seth Bishop was pronounced dead at the hospital. He
must have accompanied the paramedics to the hospital.

At 1516 (3:16) Solimini was listed as the officer responding to an alarm going off at a pharmacy.

At 15:43 (3:43) Solimini was listed as the officer responding to a motor vehicle accident on Quincy Ave.

In his remarks on Feb. 13, 2010, Braintree Police Chief Paul Frazier says he spoke to Officer Solimini, who said:

“Officer Ronald Solimini informed me that he wrote the report and said that I wouldn’t find it as it has been missing from the files for over 20 years. He said that former Police Chief Edward Flynn had looked for the report and that it was missing. He believes this was in 1988.”
Officer Solimini recalled the incident as follows: He said he remembers that Ms. Bishop fired a round from a pump action shotgun into the wall of her bedroom. She had a fight with her brother and shot him, which caused his death. She fired a third round from the shotgun into the ceiling as she exited the home. She fled down the street with the shotgun in her hand. At one point she allegedly pointed the shotgun at a motor vehicle in an attempt to get the driver to stop. Officer Solimini found her behind a business on Washington Street. Officer Timothy Murphy was able to take control of the suspect at gunpoint and seized the shotgun. Ms. Bishop was subsequently handcuffed and transported to the police station under arrest.”

On December 8, 1986, the Patriot-Ledger (local paper) published a news account of the shooting. The article claims that:

"Police said his sister, Amy Bishop, was trying to unload the pump-action, 12-gauge shotgun when it discharged."

"She pumped a round from the magazine into the firing chamber of the shotgun, then went into the kitchen and asked her brother and mother for help when she couldn’t eject the shell from the chamber, investigators said."

Her mother instructed Amy Bishop to pump the shotgun again, which ejected the first shell, according to an investigator. However, she apparently pumped the weapon again and unknowingly advanced a second shell from the magazine to the chamber.

Thinking the weapon was empty, she pulled the trigger, the investigator said. The blast struck her brother, who was standing three to four feet in front of her, authorities said."

"The accident is under investigation by Braintree police and the Norfolk County District Attorney’s Office, but authorities said they don’t expect charges to be filed."

Timeline of December 6 to 17, 1986

December 6:
11:30 Sam Bishop leaves house.
11:30 to 2:22 Amy Bishop takes shotgun from father's room; Judy Bishop comes home; Seth Bishop goes out to get food for lunch and returns; Amy Bishop shoots Seth Bishop.
2:22 Police respond to report of shooting.
3:07 Seth Bishop is pronounced dead at the hospital.
3:16 Officer Solimini responds to a report of an alarm going off, i.e., he is back on patrol in Braintree.

Other events of the day: Amy Bishop is apprehended and brought to the police station. Amy Bishop is allowed to leave in the custody of her mother. Then-Police Chief John Polio refuses to name shooter and says that the shooting of Seth Bishop was accidental.

December 7:
Chief Polio tells press that Amy Bishop accidentally discharged the shotgun, killing her brother.

December 8:
Patriot Ledger reports that Amy Bishop shot her brother accidentally. The fatal shooting was witnessed by Bishop’s mother, Judith, according to authorities.
The article also says: The accident is under investigation by Braintree police and the Norfolk County District Attorney’s Office, but authorities said they don’t expect charges to be filed.

December 9:
Patriot Ledger reports further, quoting Judy Bishop. “It all happened in a split-second in front of me,” Judith Bishop, their mother, said this morning. “I keep seeing it over and over in my mind.”
Braintree Police Captain Theodore Buker is quoted: When the shotgun went off in her bedroom, Amy Bishop, 20, became frightened and “highly emotional” and went downstairs to her mother and brother to find out how to unload it, Braintree Police Capt. Theodore Buker said.

December 17:
From the state police report filed by Trooper Brian Howe:
On December 17, 1986, this officer, Captian Theodore Buker and Detective Michael Carey of the Braintree Police Department proceeded to 46 Hollis Avenue in the Town of Braintree.

Braintree Police Daily Log, December 6, 1986
Patriot Ledger articles, December 8, 1986 and December 9, 1986
State Police Investigation Report, March 30, 1987 based on interviews conducted on December 17, 1986
Braintree Police Chief Paul Frazier's comments on the Bishop case, February 13, 2010
'Everyone Thought She Was Gentle,' Boston Herald, February 14, 2010.
Contradictory Tales of 1986 Bishop Shooting, NECN, February 14, 2010
Alleged Ala. killer was suspect in Harvard professor bomb attempt

A Few Thoughts:

Officer Solimini is the source for the doubts about the conclusion that Seth Bishop's shooting was accidental. However, the timeline is unclear about his involvement. A simple error could explain why he is not listed as one of the officers responding to the scene of the shooting (817 could have been wrongly put down instead of 816). However, later entries indicate that Solimini was responding elsewhere less than an hour after the shooting. Could he have apprehended Bishop behind a building on Washington St, then arrested her? Did he then bring her to the police station, then return to patrol? Or did he return later and then observe Bishop's release? Why was he the one to write the report?

The shotgun may have been a Remington 870 or something similar. According to Wikipedia, it is one of the most popular/common models of pump-action, 12-gauge shotgun. One can imagine that it was easily available in a place like Coleman's Sporting Goods.

There are contradictory statements about the number of shots fired. Solimini says 3 shots: 1 in Amy's bedroom and 2 in the kitchen (1 shot fatally struck Seth, the other was discharged into the ceiling). The state police investigative report mentions only two shots.

At no time does anyone claim three shots in a row were fired.

The Braintree police department says that the original police report is missing.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Snow Day here in Southern New England. I'm supposed to grade 24 papers by tomorrow. But I can't think with 3 other people in the house, and I can't leave.

I think this is professorial hell.

So I keep distracting myself with planning our Yellowstone trip but I'm not liking the available airfares.