Friday links! This sounds familiar edition

Mike Thurau—sorry it's pixelated. It's his headshot, because he's a columnist.


Yesterday afternoon, gentleman of leisure Aaron Galbraith sent me a link to this post on,* in which Mike Thurau considers an odd phenomenon of the iPhone’s autocorrect feature. I was familiar with the name Mike Thurau from our own Combat! blog Comments section; I was also familiar with the post, since I wrote it. The beauty of the internet is that you can copy an entire piece of writing, paste it into a text document with your name at the top, and send that text document to some editor without even having to type anything. Okay, you have to type the query email—“attached is a short piece about an amusing iPhone function my friend discovered”—but there are a lot of templates out there. I initially thought that the Norberto King thing was the only piece of my writing Mike Thurau had plagiarized. Then I found this select-all copy of a Combat! blog post about unboxing videos. Then I found a whole bunch more.

It’s especially creepy to read the plagiarized version of something you wrote when it makes extensive use of the personal pronoun.  Here’s Mike Thurau on Facebook. I think we can agree that his plagiarism of my work was probably not personal, and that it was about him—most likely about him making deadline—and not me. Yet reading one of his columns and recognizing a series of sentences I had written, I felt a weird dislocation of identity, as if someone at the dinner table had begun speaking in my voice. I had forgotten the phrase “America’s historic crazy strainer,” and I had certainly forgotten boilerplate sentences about who won which seats. My first impression on reading them, therefore, was that Mike Thurau and I had a lot in common. It was just how I would have said it.

Mike Thurau does seem a little more rhetorically liberal than I am. He likes a strong flourish where I like an affected stilt, which—when applied on a cognitive level—allows him to find connections between events that I considered unrelated. Here’s Mike Thurau on the British versus American systems: “But wait, you say, the British pay more in taxes than we do. Well, before you cross your arms in satisfaction and recline yourself into the plush embrace of a well timed ‘gotcha’ moment, this is only half true.” Here’s me on the same topic: “‘Ah!’ you say, somewhat effeminately, ‘but the British pay much more in taxes than we do.’ Like so many things that everybody knows, that turns out to be only sort of true.” Mike Thurau’s version of my work enjoys the embellishments a little more. At the risk of sounding like even more of a douche than the douche who sounds like me, I prefer the rapier, where Mike Thurau likes to see the saber flash.

This difference in our styles is most evident in the humor pieces. While many of the same topics capture both my and Mike Thurau’s imagination,* they play out differently on different stages. In Mike Thurau’s versions of jokes I wrote, the buffoon is more likely to be kicked in the buttocks. Here’s his ethnography of the Juggalo:

“And I don’t wanna talk to a scientist, y’all motherf—-rs lying, and getting me pissed.” I think we’ve come to the root of our problem here. I can understand your frustration that science tends to privilege Western ways of looking at the world as opposed to other, more carnival-based methods of understanding. But if you refuse to accept a scientist’s conclusions on something, you can test it yourself. All science tries to say is that every time we have done A, the result was B.

And here’s mine:

And I don’t wanna talk to a scientist / y’all motherfuckers lyin’ and gettin’ me pissed. This actually puts us in a pretty difficult position. I can understand your suspicion that science is a primarily instrumental endeavor, whose approach seems to privilege Western ways of knowing over more circus-oriented systems of inquiry… It’s possible that you find scientific explanations frustrating because your background has not provided you with the tools to confidently evaluate them. Q.v.: your belief that the universe is a dark carnival, when contemporary scientists agree that it is more likely a space-time manifold. If you are satisfied with your worldview as it currently stands, that’s great, but if you genuinely want to increase your understanding of fuckin’ magnets and shit, you’re going to have to open yourself up to new experiences.

I flatter myself that mine is the lighter touch—that I am a dick by transparently pretending to help, where Mike Thurau is a dick by refutation. Speaking of being a dick: I sold the magnets thing to Crave, too. It was cheap enough that I didn’t bother with a license, so it’s possible that Mike Thurau has violated copyrights held by multiple parties. I wouldn’t know without asking some corporate lawyers.

That catty tone brings us to what I find most vexing about Mike Thurau’s career—as a freelance writer and as a graduate student and TA at BGSU—writing one more draft of my work. It is a drag to find myself plagiarized on Thursday afternoon, but it is also kind of fun. It makes me feel like I wrote some things worth stealing, and that in turn offers the comforting illusion that I am similar to those writers whose work I have plagiarized over the years. I would be lying if I claimed to have never stolen a gag or gotten excited by an idea I improved too little before passing on.

Who was it that said good writers borrow, and great writers steal? Maybe it doesn’t matter. The idea is what counts, and the question of who wrote it is posed by vanity. Probably it is vanity that makes me react so spitefully to Mike Thurau. His broad impersonation of me offends my vanity, and it offends my vanity to see his face above my voice. It could be the hat. A hat should be taken off when you meet a woman and left off for the rest of your life; nothing looks stupider than a hat. PJ O’Rourke said that, and it has always struck me as true.

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  1. This whole thing has been scary and upsetting. You’re a great writer Dan. To see someone steal your work and call it there own is like watching someone directly copy fine art and claim they were inspired when they created it. Puke.

    I maintain that the internet is a terrible place full of terrible people. With all the freedom it entails, there is such opportunity for the worst in people to come out and rear it’s ugly, porn-crazed, wide-eyed-with-kitten-videos head.

  2. Argh! Your website ate my long and not-nearly-as-witty-as-your-blogposts comment again!

    Just a note that this really pissed me off when I heard that this happened to you. You’re a great writer and I guess on some level this should be flattering. On another, I’d like to help you find this guy and kick his ass.

    The internet is a terrible place.

  3. The least that could do is commission a few pieces from an author whom they obviously like, yes? Have you gotten an email from them?

  4. Wow. This longtime reader’s blood is boiling with empathy.

    Put this motherfucker’s head on a pike and/or stomp him out.

  5. After reading his version of your paragraphs, I’m under the impression that he was about to submit them, then thought, “Nah, they’ll never believe I wrote that…”

    I do think everyone should know that (as you told me) the website,, did respond immediately by pulling ALL of Mike’s work, then checking to see what/which were plagiarized. This is all Mike’s bad decisions.

    In a related note, this guy posted in your forums!?!?

  6. I was trying to understand the joke in yesterday’s Spammer Mail Bag comments so I googled Mike Thurau’s today. I only made it through one of his columns before getting a headache, however. He writes like a highschooler just discovering>alliteration and Microsoft’s thesaurus.

    Normally I’d be Norberto King incensed at someone perpetrating not just one act of plagiarism, but ripping off the same blog several times over several months, but in this case I can’t help but feel Mike Thurau’s been embarrassed enough having been made to write several columns over several months by himself.

  7. I discovered Mike Thurau while dicking off on Facebook after nailing five plagiarists in one class, on one assignment. Everyone knows it takes about twice as long to identify, prove, and complete the labyrinthine paperwork Academic Affairs requires in order to penalize plagiarism as it does to JUST GRADE THE NORBERTO KING ASSIGNMENT. One of these students actually plagiarized OUR TEXTBOOK, and then told me that the 97% similarity between her essay and the sample essay in the book was a “computer error.”

    I want to find Mike Thurau and claw that smarmy little king-shit grin right off his face. He probably makes more as a TA than I do as an adjunct. Though our academic fiefdoms are equally microbial, I still cringe at the example he’s setting. I don’t care if that means I’ve turned into my mom. No wonder so many students don’t even know that plagiarism EXISTS.

  8. Of course, I agree that plagiarism is wrong and should be defeated. And I doubt any person other than perhaps Mothership has a greater visceral desire to defend Combat than I do. But let’s avoid the language of stomping and violence. Mike Thurau has made a big mistake he should take steps to rectify. We should avoid making our own mistakes in response.

  9. Mike B, of course you are right. The other Mike is a douchebag, but he’s also, at this point, too easy a target. My desire to emend Mike T’s facial structure could have gone unsaid. I just find crap like this so disheartening. People who write–and, Lord forbid, try to make a living writing–face so many hurdles that this smacks of ye olde insult-to-injury, salt-in-the-wound, etc. Plus, Dan is the best writer I know, and if I thought I could have gotten away with it, I would have yanked some of his stuff years ago. ;)

  10. Thanks for the note back, Liz. Although my comment came immediately after yours in order, it wasn’t directed to you specifically. (Actually, I had missed your claw sentence originally.) But I think your insight that Mike Thurau is too easy of a target is part of what I’m trying to say.

    Mike T is too easy of a target and too easily made less than human in our denunciations. He’s done something wrong, so it is tempting to self-righteously vent all of our anger and frustration on him in a guilt-free catharsis. However, I suspect it was Mike Thurau’s own failure of empathy for Dan—in addition to a hopefully-temporary lack of integrity and respect for himself—that allowed him to steal Dan’s work. Aided by the anonymity of the Internet, Mike T perhaps did not consider the unique talent Dan has that is his and his alone; perhaps Mike didn’t consider the years Dan has devoted to honing his craft, the sacrifices Dan has made to become the writer he is today. Mike Thurau’s theft is a problem. But the bigger problem is the human resistance to recognizing the unique and inviolable humanity of others. That failure of empathy is what allows Mike T to copy and paste the fruit of another person’s work without being so appalled at the violation of this other person that he stops himself. That failure of empathy also is what allows us to fall upon Mike with vengeance and skip over the difficulties he might face or our own indiscretions past and present.

    My point is not to make equivalent these wrongs (stealing someone’s art and passing it off as your own is worse than too-harshly criticizing someone for doing it) but to insert some caution into our process. And remind us, including myself, that we can easily become that which we despise.

  11. This post is fantastic. I’m sorry this twit is stealing your stuff; but god am I glad you called him out on it. And in a thoughtful way! Lo! The Internet!

    There has to be a way to shame this guy publicly. Please? That’s the only solution.

    Perhaps someone can send a letter to BGSU? His approach to academe is deeply unethical, and worse still, lazy, I’m sure they’d be interested to learn. Or post relentlessly on his Facebook page? Or trackback to Combat from all of his posts? Let’s eye-for-an-eye this dude. Oh, god. It will be so fun.

  12. Mike D, I second your thoughts about Mike B–I’ll even up you one and submit that Mike B is probably too good for the non-cyber-world, as well.

    Does Combat have a stranglehold on the Mikes of this land or what? “Liz” is starting to feel stale …

  13. I used to date Mike Thurau. A friend tipped me off to this link. I’m honestly not that suprised that he did something like this. I agree that this was not a personal attack. He was probably stealing it to make himself look better. He tended to be very self-interested. That quality seems to destroy a lot of relstionships, jobs, and opportunities for him. As you may see in some of his articles, he tends to deflect this as ‘everything else in the world is wrong’. While I wouldn’t go as far to say I wish ill on him, this is definitely worthy of consequences. He will keep doing this until he has to pay for it.

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