Saturday, May 20, 2006


Here's the thing about Thoroughbred racing: You pick a horse, and you're either right, or you're wrong. You win or you lose.

Then we have the That's Horseracing moments.

At 6:15 today, we were either one more race away again from the Triple Crown, or we weren't. I was fairly sure we would be, but also fairly sure that Barbaro wouldn't finish the thing in the Belmont. He's a young three-year-old.

The youth showed at the gate. "All eyes on Number Six," said the announcer, and Barbaro, having heard his cue, crashed through his starting slot as his fellow colts stood and awaited the bell.

Well, that was that. Horses who pull that type of thing either injure themselves doing so or expend so much energy in the process that when they need a new gear at the finish, there's no fuel left to shift into it. Barbaro was led around and re-stood.

Fifteen seconds after that, I lost the ability to say that I have never seen a horse break down during a televised race. Barbaro was pulled up as the rest of the pack, the shot at history, continued without him. He tried to run on even as his the hoof of his right hind leg dangled at a forty-five degree angle from his ankle. The jockey, Edgar Prado, was in tears; so, live and wired for sound in the NBC booth, was Gary "This Was Not In the Contract" Stevens.

These are the three scenarios when a horse suffers an injury during a race:

Bad: The jock pulls him up and the horse walks back to the barn under his own power

Worse: An equine ambulance shows up and vans the horse away

Change The Channel Very Quickly: Track officials and a veternarian examine the horse on the track, then erect a white screen

I don't think I have to tell you what happens behind that screen.

Barbaro is packed in a narrow, padded trailer tonight. He's lost a lot of blood; now the race is to save him as a stud.

I don't want to write about this anymore at:

Friday, May 19, 2006


Even if my MFA weren't a terminal degree (this means it tries to kill you), I'd probably never go for a PhD, because the robes are too heavy. They have these lame velvet stripes on the sides of the arms, and in general make the wearers look like bouncers in a Shakespearean nightclub. You also can't stash your Jack in a PhD robe; it's just a bad deal all around.

I'm the juniorest member of the English department at an aeronautical university, so my seat at graduation was pretty much in eastern Guam. They plopped me down in the last faculty row before the students, which was fine, because they at least somewhat wanted to be there.

"Aren't they cute," said the professor sitting next to me. "They have no idea, do they?"

But the true sucking was underway almost immediately when the graduate sitting directly behind me, dressed in full formal Marine attire, tapped me on the shoulder as the National Anthem started and informed me in no uncertain terms that I ought to remove my stupid flat hat.

Normally, my response to this is "Gladly, dawg." Academic regalia is supposed to be all about dignity, but I defy any human being to look remotely distinguished while balancing what looks like the world's most boring board game on top of his head. However, for some reason this pissed me off to no end. Not only was this kid wrong--ladies do not remove the mortarboard at any time during an academic ceremony (which perhaps made him right, anyway; "lady" is not exactly a word I would use to describe myself)--but he did so in tones that made me feel as though my mother was reminding me to flush. I responded by taking it off anyway, but with a highly imperious hair toss, (that'll show him!) because I felt it was slightly wiser to break academic protocol than to get into an argument in the middle of the National Anthem with a person who had access to high-grade weapons systems.

When we sat down again I made an enormous, classy show of whisking back the pointy sleeve of my gown and stretching my hand across the empty seat next to me so that he had a close-up view of my camo green SUPPORT OUR TROOPS bracelet. (That's right. I have the bracelet. Therefore, I care more about the troops than you braceletless Ziplock bags of scum.) As I sat there listening to my butt ossify, I figured out why the incident had made me so angry: I'm a huge supporter of my ROTC students, as they seem to know their right from their left, for the most part, and I'm mindfully respectful of such things as the National Anthem, so respectful that I rarely attempt to sing it, as in so doing I would mightily offend the hearing-able population of the entire country. And here I stood accused of... anthem dissing. Me! I flip my hand dismissively at you, Marine graduation guy!

Then I realized (there were a lot of opportunities to think throughout the entire exercise; if you ever need to trap yourself someplace where no one will think of joining you in order to accomplish a great deal of soul-searching, or research your back taxes, I recommend that you find your nearest college graduation) that he had probably endured four year's worth of abuse at the hands of my colleagues, who... are not particularly ginormous fans of the military. When I attended Scott The Taller's Air Force commissioning, I was the only non-military faculty member for miles and miles. It was as if anyone who entered the room would be barred from NPR for a year. The graduate probably thought I had just finished a dissertation entitled "Marines: Shall We Disdain Them Entirely, Or Simply Snicker Derisively In Their Evil, Evil Presence?" No wonder he thought I was acting like a big blonde ball of snot.

Well, good luck to you, kid. Super pie, or whatever that one thing is Marines are always yelling at each other. I would salute, but the hat's in my way.

oorah at:

Thursday, May 18, 2006


A few weeks ago, right before finals, when the world was good and pure, Topper The Reader asked for my opinion on that one book by that one girl. You know, the six-figure advance one that the seventeen-year-old totally wrote herself except for the packaging service and the editorial assistance and the word-for-word swiping from another book. Bloggers looked up long enough from examining the threadcount of their boxer shorts and went absolutely apepoop over this story about a month ago, which means that I'm just about getting around to it, now that my rigorous schedule of pointing and laughing at Paula Abdul has cleared. I now have the time to formulate some sort of logical reaction.

As an educator and a writer, I have two of them:

1) How sad. She was twelve years my junior when this book was picked up and now her literary career is over. Where did we, as a society, fail this young lady? Are we so wrapped up in success that our youth is willing to go to any means to achieve? Was she pressured as a woman, a minority, a Harvard undergrad? What are the social repercussions of such a clear cry of distress? What does this say about editorial standards? Can literature be saved?

2) Ha-ha!

That's what you get for having the termerity to get a book deal before I do, you little buttwipe. Allow me to pause in my luxurious schadenfreude mudbath just long enough to point out that I am the Ipecac of plagiarism; ask the kid who last semester handed in a paragraph-long assignment--a paragraph--that was word-for-word swiped from the internet. If you can locate him. They're still trying to find the body.

When I first started teaching, I feared that I wouldn't be able to suss out the plagiarists. Turns out it's like porn, or Jason Alexander: You know it when you see it. And sure enough, all the other students had turned things with titles like "Forks Are Good" and "Why Yellow Is Better Than Blue." This kid? "The Effect Of Economic Malaise On Proto-Developed Nations."

So I was slightly suspicious. And when I typed a phrase into Google, it was the first hit. Dude, if you're going to commit academic suicide, at least have some finesse about it. I mean, the child hadn't even changed the font. Somehow that hurt more than the plagiarism; did he think I had not yet heard of the internet, here in Professor World, where I get my eight hours in a coffin that's stored Murphy bed-like in one of the classroom walls? I kicked him out of my class so fast that he achieved orbital velocity.

Now, there's out-and-out retyping, there's accidental ripping, there's "Aw $@*%, I totally thought the same thing, and here somebody else saying it too!" and then there's conversational swiping. To my knowledge, I am guilty of the last two.

As a certified Dave Barry ripoff, I absolutely freak out over committing Offense The Second. I'm in the process of building a career upon stealing his attitude, his format, his technique, and his style, but many's the night I've pulled one of his books from the shelf in a cold sweat: "That comparison between the Stamp Act and the syndication of Dharma and Greg came a liiiiittle too easily. Did he do it first?" He never has, but the panic attack doesn't know that.

There is further hand-wringing where kinda-swiping is concerned, this issue of hearing in everyday conversation, but not reading, something hilarious or perfect and weaving it into your own work. I did a lot of fretful wall-staring, for example, over the following line in a recent article:

"...the official insignia of Walt Disney World should not be a mouse’s ears, but a small child throwing a tantrum."

Okay. I typed those words, but the concept came from Country The Brother In Law's Brother, AKA Jim The Small Child Nephew's Uncle, AKA Julie The NephewMama's Brother-In-Law. The Dork Within who once reported a one-point grade discrepancy on a spelling test wants to give full disclosure. But how do I non-clunkily cite this person within the constraints of a thousand-word article due in twenty minutes? He's not technically family to me, I think he would run screaming if I called him my friend, and yet he's more familiar than That Guy Over There.

The problem is, doesn't format for footnotes. To put the brakes on the article to explain just who the idea came from would clutter the thing up, and also make people think I am hardly as clever as that line makes me appear, which, while accurate, isn't nearly so fun. Is everything else in the article mine? Yes. Do I do this often? No. Do I normally ask permission when I do? Yes. Is it time to take my OCD medication again? Yes. If I had time and space to play with, as I do here, props would have been given. (And so I do it here. Thanks, Justin. Please don't sue me.)

But here's the dirty literary world secret: Nearly every single writer is guilty of this. The fiction people? Do this all the time. Don't ever hold a conversation around a novelist. Basically there's like only one original idea left to the human race, and George Lucas just secured the merchandising rights. Like I was just telling my friend Chuck over the weekend, days like this are the best of times and the worst of times.

ETA after comments: It's interesting to read everyone's reactions to this. Plagiarism is a real OCD mineshaft for me-- I guess because I'm so tough on it with my students. So, I'm pathetically hypersensitive about even avoiding the appearance of it.

For instance, once, I was holding Jim The Small Child Nephew in a restaurant, and the hostess looked at me and said, "Would you like a high chair for the baby?" She clearly thought he was my child. I fell over myself correcting her, although I took it as a high compliment, as I think you'll all agree that he is the most adorable child ever to throw up in his own ear. But my sister and her husband were doing all the work: the labor, the feeding, the spewage, the endless exposure to Elmo's World. So it didn't feel right to enjoy the nicer aspects of parenting-- strangers thinking you've brought into the world this beautiful thing-- because my most important duty relating to him up until that point was to dry off his head after his baptism. In that moment I felt as if I were plagiarizing my sister. Jim is, after all, her creation.

Re: self-plagiarism... I do it to the extent that I will recycle things I've already written, but nothing for paid publication. For instance, elements of the Texas Ranch House post appeared in a column I wrote in college. But that wasn't for a grade or a paycheck, and it's safe to assume nobody out there had read it except for my mommy, so I think that type of thing is kosher. Kind of like a comedian using the same routine for eighty years.

This also leads to the topic of fabrication. Sometimes I "rearrange reality" to make it funnier or more interesting; for instance, the conversation JTP and I had a couple posts ago about Roger didn't go exactly like that... for one thing, I added in the line about Ewan McGregor. (I wish I could add Ewan McGregor to a lot of things.) If I actually had typed out the conversation verbatum, you'd be passed out and drooling on your keyboard by the second line. (What, you think we're actually this amusing in person?) Does this make me James Frey? I don't think so, since it remained true to the spirit of the conversation and accurately expressed our points of view.

Stupid gecko.

please don't hate me, please still read me, or at least get your own, non-plagiarized ChampagneWear at:

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Unpopinions, Volume IV

-Punching Holes In Babies Is Not a Good Thing

I realize that in some cultures, this is the norm, and that’s cool, but I fail to understand this business of piercing the ears of infant girls. It’s just this grown-up thing on a tiny little body, and we don’t subject boy babies to anything so permanent. (Well, okay, the whole circumcision thing. But that’s not so much of a fashion statement, unless you’re Harvey Keitel.) Earrings on a baby girl make her look as if she’s one briefcase short of a job interview in middle management. It’s akin to carrying a boy-child to the grocery in a monocle and top hat. Way too much pressure.

And—babies just don’t cry enough, do they? Babies are constantly thrilled with life in general! Everything is cool at all times with babies. Go ahead, breathe in the wrong direction around a baby, or present food to her .00000000001 degrees cooler than she's used to, or, I don’t know, shoot a metal rod through two places in her earlobes. She’ll love it.

Then we have the whole persnickety issue of unecessary gaping wounds. When I am with Jim The Small Child Nephew, all the world is a petri dish, and I’m tense whenever he puts anything in his mouth, including water. “Careful,” I say to him. “Make sure those hydrogen atoms have been washed off first.” So I cannot leap on this whole “I know! Let’s punch holes in our child!” train of thought. Maybe the baby doesn’t want her ears pierced. Have you thought of that? Rise up against The Man, babies!

--Dr. Strangeglove Made Me Bored, and Slightly Bilious

Yes yes yes. It’s a satire, and the first of its kind, and it’s lampooning the Cold War, and blah. I get it. One of my more useless degrees is in political science, with a minor in modern American history, which leaves me hirable for little more than to sit around analyzing the likes of Dr. Strangeglove. Parts of it made me laugh—the whole “He could see the big board!” line, for instance, and Peter Sellers telling the head of Russia that a passel of bombs was on the way (“Now, Dmitri, how do you think I feel about it?”) Maybe it was all the hype, but I simply found it not as hilarious as advertised. Kind of like staring at a cookie through Plexiglass, and when you get the cookie, it’s unnecessarily chewy rather than shot satisfyingly through with a plethora of chips. A sad lack of delicious chocolate in this movie, I say.

THIS WEEK ON BUSTEDHALO.COM: Wow, just... really... fun times!

as always, it comes down to sugar at:

Monday, May 15, 2006

Commerce, Round II

This week features products with a design by Beth The Reader. It encourages both blondeness and drinking, so I'm a fan.

at the trough again at:

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