Monday, April 11, 2011

Peace, Pulp Fiction and Big Trouble in Little China

I go a long way in search of peace.  I create peace whenever possible.  I am sometimes rewarded big time with peaceful moments, small and quiet, that stop my heart and the blood rushing quickly from my heart.  This weekend, I drove two hours to Tulsa to meet my good friends the Hargraves.  We've been friends for almost ten years now and sometimes go on vacation together.  I earned my black belt in Kempo from their martial arts school and taught Kempo and yoga in the same place for some time as well. These are good friends and I love to spend holidays and birthdays with them.  They have a lovely old three-story Victorian home in Eureka Springs.  Beautiful weekend home on a street close to the historic Crescent hotel.  I jog or walk up there every time I get a chance to vacation with my friends.  And in this house I have my own bedroom and a balcony that overlooks the Ozark mountains.  In the mornings, Patricia and I have coffee out there and talk about life and the universe and everything.  So I drove to Tulsa to meet them, jumped in the truck with Patricia, Carter and their two corgi's and a long-haired orange Tabby cat named "Krispy" and we drove another three hours to Eureka Springs.

It was worth it. I had one of those peaceful moments on Saturday morning.  I woke up and the sun was out.  It was early and I knew I could go back to sleep.  I inhaled and stretched with only one thought on my mind: I am in Eureka Springs.  The day is mine.  This will be as lovely as all of our other trips.  We are going to walk and shop and talk and visit and laugh and eat Indian food.  Life is so good. Ah, heck.  That may be more than one thought, but that series of thoughts led up to the really great thought and, well, you get the idea.  Life is good.

It was good. It was better than good; it was wonderful.  We ate at Mr. Bill's three times.  If you ever get the chance, go visit his restaurant.  The New Delhi Cafe is an award winning local and regional favorite.  Mr. Bill has his spices shipped directly from his Aunt in India to his door. For breakfast I recommend "Pat's Special".  For lunch, the buffet, of course.  There is nothing like it from sag to his amazing tiki marsala and the mango lassie drink special.  Pretty much to die for.  Dinner is samosas and strawberry/mango margaritas.  And a taxi home.

I can hardly think of anything that would disrupt such happiness.  Good friends, good food, a festive atmosphere in a beautiful mountain artist colony...all was perfect.  Except for that one niggling thought that haunted me.


Yes, I caught another plagiarist last week.  It keeps me up at night.  It's like this: I spend my professional life teaching.  I put in my soul, my compassion, my intellect, my integrity into what I do.  I do it because I love it and I strive to be a model of the way I'd like people to behave.  Not always on time per se, but ready and willing and honest.  Above all, at least not lying.  You know?  And then once in awhile, a student sort of metaphorically moseys up to me and urinates in my ear.  Because that's what he or she thinks of my life and everything I'm trying to do.  Because whatever bull-fuckin-shit they are doing is so much more important than figuring out how to form compound and complex sentences into a coherent argument that just happens to be correctly cited.  Because, you know, hanging out until 2 a.m. and drinking/fucking/giggling/snorting/smoking is going to get them much farther in life and will also contribute to the well-being of themselves and their community.

Now, there seem to be a few kinds of plagiarists.  The easy ones to spot are the cut-and-pasters who just don't know better. Their handiwork is obvious  You give them a simple spelling test and say "hey, what the hell is wrong with you?!" and they learn the difference between plagiarism and citations.  Maybe in high school nobody taught them what plagiarism is.  I teach what plagiarism is and how to avoid it but maybe they missed that day (eyeroll).
Then there is the desperate plagiarist.  They have overloaded themselves with classes this semester.  They work two jobs and have kids or parents to care for.  They are trying to eat an elephant in two bites.  Also easy to spot and easy to correct.
Finally is the "I'm smarter than you" plagiarist.  There are two sub-categories of this typer of cheater; those who get caught and those who don't.  Of those who do not get caught, I must say "Kudos", for you are obviously smarter than I am and your lazy ass will be supported throughout your career by your mom or some unlucky secretary who does all of your work.  Shame on you, you asshat. Then there is the cheater who thinks they are smarter than I am, but alas, they have miscalculated.  It may not be the first time you have plagiarized, but this is the first time that I have caught you.

And you must pay.

I have a rich fantasy life and in it, I am sometimes Jules Winnfield from Pulp Fiction, played by Samuel L. Jackson.  I also have his amazing afro with sideburns and chops and a suit and a giant pistol that I point at plagiarists and say "Do I look like a bitch to you?!"
Student: "Wha...what?"
Me: (throwing a red-marked term paper at them) "I said, do I look like a bitch to you?!"
Student: "Nnnoo."
Me: "Then you are you trying to fuck me like a bitch?!"
Student: "What?!"
Me: (cocking gun) "Say what again!"
Student: (pees pants) "What?!"

There is no trick to catching people when they cheat.  There is no real secret here. People have strategies.  Some use the turnitin website and I find that to be somewhat effective if unnecessary.  Others don't care so much and don't check at all.  They are overwhelmed with the sheer number of students.  Indeed, the most students I have ever had is 125, which I enjoyed last semester.  And I knew their names too.  How I do it is by asking students on the first few days to write an autobiography- something short and personal that only they would be able to write. From that I know them and their writing voice.  I know the kinds of words they would know and not know and later, when formal writing comes out, if they go too far from that, I start checking for plagiarism.  How do I check? Well, that part is a secret.  Did you ever watch the move "Big Trouble In Little China"? It has Kurt Russell in it as a truck driver named Jack who starts in a card game (double or nothing, Jack) and gets wrapped up in the magic of Chinatown San Francisco.  When asked to explain how he managed a particularly incredible feat, he answered "You know, it's all in the reflexes".  I'm gonna go with that.

For the record, I considered describing the gimp scene with a scimitar and a ball gag because sometimes I'm also Bruce Willis' character Butch.  Sigh. It never really happens that way in real life.  I have to somehow do this professionally.  So I make people uncomfortable by telling stories. True stories.

Did I tell you about the time that one of my students at that large research university in Oklahoma plagiarized a paper?  I read it and it was out of character for his voice. It was also wooden and contained elements of analysis I did not ask for in his assignment.  This is another reason I like writing unique assignments.  So I confronted him and showed him the website from which he had stolen the information.
The student became indignant.  He insisted that he actually stole it from his friend's blog on that very subject.  I said that no, the original source was the one I showed him and that his friend had also stolen the material and passed it off as her own.  He said he felt betrayed.  I said "How do you think I feel?".  No effect, of course.  His punishment was that he couldn't get an A in the class, which he fought for the remaining 12 weeks of the semester despite the smirk on his face and his determination to show me that he had learned his lesson and that I should forgive his indiscretion.  I am only forgiving to a point and allowing that student to remain in the class was a pretty big deal already.

It doesn't always go that way.  My last offender came to my office hours and spent an hour figuring out his mistake using the reference book.  After that, he came to have me check his work prior to turning it in and he did so well, I had him teach more citation stuff to the class.  I am proud of him and his efforts.

So yes, during my rest and relaxation, I took time to brood, to contemplate, to plot the demise of my latest plagiarizer. I suspect that this person has been doing it for awhile.  That's all I will say about that except that I'm thinking of punishment using a chainsaw and an Al Pacino voice: Say hello to my little friend.    

Good thing I have had a few moments of peace.  And some amazing food.  My friend Victor Rojas-Jordi, who is from Tenerife, the Canary Islands (a Spanish territory), used to eat at my house all of the time.  When his parents came to take him home, the came to share a meal with me.  They did not speak English and my Spanish was much better then.  We had tinto, tapas and paella and sobremesa, a tradition they shared that I like to keep.  Once the food has been eaten and the coffee poured, everyone sits around the table and talks for awhile.  Dishes will get done and there is time for that later.  The important thing is that we are all together and we share a few moments of conversation.

I remembered that this weekend.  The important thing was in that moment of talking, laughing, catching up and making happy plans, of enjoying what life had to offer, the dishes I would do and the plagiarists I would torture had no place.  I am so glad I remembered. I came out of my comfy little shell a bit too.

But have no fear, friends.  Tomorrow, Jules and his sideburns of doom will make his appearance.  And if my victim tries to wriggle away? As they say, It's all in the reflexes. Triple or nothing, Jack.


  1. The student who plagiarized his friend's plagiarized paper still had the opportunity to pass you class? No way. In my classes, if you plagiarize on any assignment you fail the class and your name and work are sent to the Vice President for Student Affairs. In his office they keep a file of each plagiarism case. A student caught twice can be expelled.

    I had a similar double-plagiarism in grad school. The marginal student turned in a very good analysis of the Huxtable family from "The Cosby Show." The problem was twofold: it didn't sound at all like his writing and I had just read the same article in The Journal of Popular Culture, except there it was about "Father Knows Best" (some names had been changed). When I showed him the source he was dumbfounded -- not that he had been caught but that the student he had paid to write the paper and plagiarized.

  2. Mindie, I absolutely love reading your blog posts, especially when I'm having a bad day and need some laughs. I can totally see you weilding the chainsaw at some idiot plagiarist. Call me if I need to bail you out of jail, okay? :D