Scathing Online Schoolmarm takes a badly written opening paragraph…

… to remind you that crazy all over the place figurative language makes for ugly and clotted prose.

Critics of the hit documentary The Hunting Ground – which illuminates in damning detail the prevalence of sexual violence at American universities – are ramping up their attacks just in time for The Hunting Ground‘s prime time debut on CNN this Sunday, November 22. And if they aren’t careful, their aspersions might dovetail with the massive audience CNN commands to result in a spectacular backfire: For the film’s central premise is that whistle blowers on campus sexual violence are demonized and delegitimized by the very same universities who are going on the offensive in advance of Sunday’s screening.

I’ve bolded the figurative words, which I’ll get to in a minute. But note also the wordiness of this paragraph, with its repetition, in the first sentence, of the film’s title (just write the film’s), and its strange coupling of demonized and delegitimized … If you’re demonizing, you’re certainly (but more weakly) delegitimizing… and delegitimized is an ugly mouthful. Just stick with “demonized,” which goes well with “damning.” I mean, if you’re going to start out with that very strong rhetoric, “delegitimized” takes all the air out of your argument, or at least makes it look as though you’re backing down from it. It would also be stronger to drop dovetail with the massive audience CNN commands to result in a spectacular backfire and simply write backfire. Backfire is your strongest word: go for it, and end the sentence with it.

Note also all the “to be” verbs in here: are ramping; aren’t careful; premise is that; are demonized; are going on the offensive. This feels plodding, when we want agile. Use stronger verbs and less repetition. And drop who are: Write universities going on the offensive. We’re trying for punchy concise language here, so that the reader grasps the argument quickly and can go from there through the piece.

And okay, look at all the metaphorical stuff she’s got going, all of these images fighting against one another and making comprehension difficult: Aspersions, for instance, dovetail and then backfire. When you add figurative words like whistle blowers to the weird scene this language has already called up in our minds, chaos ensues. Steady as she goes on the figurative language – use it, but use it sparingly, and make sure your metaphors make sense together.

Basic point here from SOS: SIMPLIFY. Speak directly.

MAJOR Coacha Inconsolata Initiative Begun!

It started with Coach Pitino himself, who said that in the aftermath of charges that his University of Louisville assistant basketball coach hired prostitutes over a number of years for some of his players (festivities took place in the athletes’ dorm), he felt

… heart broken… My heart is just taken out of my body and broken.

It continues with this remarkable essay, which argues that Pitino himself a few years ago had sex on a restaurant table (some reports say it happened on the restaurant floor, or in its bathroom) because of 9/11 (RICK PITINO AND THE SHADOWS THAT NEVER LEAVE):

[Pitino’s] descent into a dark place [so maybe it was the bathroom] happened no more than two years after 9-11. The idea that tragedy and loss [a close relative of Pitino’s died] did not have anything to do with a flawed man’s attempt to fill those voids with something adventurous (and highly inappropriate) seems unconvincing.

Plus even the Pope, man…

In keeping with the Golden Rule Pope Francis invoked when he spoke to Congress, none of us would ever want the past — something 12 years ago — to be held against us.

The whole essay’s really weird because few people so far have anything to say at all about whether Pitino knew his lads were double teaming (or so the exposé claims) in the dorm … It’s as if the writer – given Pitino’s own sex scandal background – assumes we’re going to go there and we’re going to assume Pitino must have known all about the McNasty…

I mean, he might have. Who knows? We’ll find out. But that’s not what most people are thinking about right now. Right now we’re thinking about whether the claims are true, what exactly happened… It’s early days. Yet here you’ve got this guy anticipating a general belief that the slimy Pitino (as the essay goes on to note, he’s paid an outrageous fortune, is a really unpleasant human being, is a hypocrite – all those motivational books about how you can be as great as he is – and is an inveterate breaker of rules, athletic and otherwise) must have known about the sex. So right there I’m not sure the writer is accomplishing his Coacha Inconsolata (put the term in my search engine if at this late date you need a definition) goals by going out of his way to remind us that Pitino’s a shit.

After a long detailed recounting of Pitino’s grubby past, the essay ends in this way:

[We need to] recognize the fragility of life behind (and beyond) the public persona of someone who has won multiple championships and earned a boatload of money.

You know, there’s one thing Scathing Online Schoolmarm will say for Donald Trump. Donald Trump doesn’t say I’m a shitty person because of 9/11. He doesn’t say under all my greed and cruelty I’m fragile and you have to be nice to me. Nor does he have admirers who say these things for him.

Ok, so I love the Barbie Jeep.

American ingenuity at its best.

Plus she’s way quotable.

“Most people don’t find the things my friends and I do very funny, just immature, so I didn’t expect to get this big of reaction.” [SOS did some light editing on this statement.]

Scathing Online Schoolmarm Says:

Now, this is how you write.

But before I get to that – Let me just say how much SOS likes it when she is brought, through idle online pecking, to a piece of writing that she loves. The last piece of writing she liked as much as Drew Jubera’s essay for GQ on southern-football junior colleges was about trailer parks, and she lighted on that piece in the same way.

The specific trail that took me to Jubera’s piece involved UD‘s interest in Zeke Pike. Zeke Pike is a superfuckup who plays really good football. Quarterback even. Plus Zeke has a great football name.

Zeke has now flushed out of three RDQ (Rapidly Descending Quality) schools onaccounta the fuckupery (do you really, at this point, need details?) — Auburn, Louisville, and Morgan State. UD was going to write a post speculating about the fourth school Zeke will attend (possible post titles: SNEAK PEAK, ZEKE. IS PIKE PAST PEAK?) (Pike’s Peak: Get it?), but she was having trouble coming up with the next RDQ school…

Then she read this comment on the article about him to which she linked up there.

They are desperate for a QB in East Mississippi.

So off she Googled to East Mississippi Community College, star of Jubera’s GQ piece. SOS offers some excerpts. Watch carefully. The guy knows how to write.

First paragraph – Setting the scene.

The landscape is drunk Faulkner: small and spooky and piss-poor. Piney woods run deep enough to hide whatever you don’t want found. What passes for the old downtown is one side of one block. Five brick buildings still stand; another four are gone, just disappeared, as if by cremation — nothing left but rubble and little piles of red dust. Drive by most days and the only open business is a working Coke machine on the sidewalk.

With the next excerpt, you note that one of the things Jubera’s got going is a wonderful back and forth between highfalutin (Faulkner) and lowfalutin (piss-poor). See how he continues the trick.

To local existentialists, it makes perfect sense. “There’s a lot to offer in Scooba, Mississippi. Want to know what it is?” Nick Clark, a white-haired former Lion who works in the school’s development office, asks me from across his desk.

I allow that I am totally stumped.

“There are no distractions!”

Existentialists. We’re going to keep this going, this glorious juxtaposition – not just because it’s funny and rich, suggesting at once the reality of the place, and the consciousness ol’ Jubera (and his readers) are bringing with them when they visit Scooba, but because many of the people Jubera talks to are self-conscious at quite a high level about their existence.

[The school’s] roster does tend to over-represent the discarded and dispossessed: lawbreakers, rule-benders, dropouts, dipshits, potheads, and assorted other screwups — almost all of whom can flat-out ball. Coaches recruit kids from houses without food, without parents, without floors. One coach sat across from a mother who stared back at him with four eyes. “She had a pair of eyeballs tattooed right over her titties,” he told me. “It gets surreal sometimes.”

Noticing some similarities to the article on trailer parks UD also loved? And notice too how the high/low thing keeps working: dipshits/surrealism.

Now to meet the coach:

The glassy eyes of an eight-point buck stare me down from a back wall as Buddy greets me from a big padded chair behind his big wooden desk. Buddy is big, too: A former center, he’s short and wide and rounded off at the edges. One of his chins sprouts a white goatee.

Buddy spits Red Man tobacco into a Diet Coke bottle. Originally from Alabama, he’s still Bama enough to name his yellow Lab Bama. Now 49, Buddy has said he got into coaching because he wasn’t smart enough to do anything else. He’d really like you to believe that. Tucked between the sports books on his shelves: Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.

A typical Buddy takeaway: “As a rule of thumb, big fish eat little fish.”

… “I try to be self-actualized enough,” [Buddy later] says, “to realize I’m an asshole.”

Can Jubera sketch a character in six sentences? Are you fucking kidding me? And another existentialist/surrealist! (Would have been even better if the book were Trout Fishing in America. Higher-level surrealism-consciousness.)

And again: Lyrical plus sordid:

Later that evening, in heavy air that feels more like bathwater, [the] players jog onto a practice field they share with the adjoining agricultural high school. The cornfield across the road and the little Baptist church beside it turn gold, then pink, then indigo in the sun’s lowering light.

It’s still football: Coaches bark insults, players run into one another, fights threaten to break out. A fat kid bends over after running gassers and pukes.

Gassers and pukes. The sun’s lowering light. Can you get enough of this stuff? SOS can’t get enough of this stuff.


Update: The notorious woman-beater De’Andre Johnson has “made his way to East Mississippi Community College.

Scathing Online Schoolmarm Says: Here’s a great example of a …

non sequitur:

Police Chief Nate King says a fight at a nightclub at 100 East Downing Street attracted dozens of people and ended in gunshots and a stabbing. He says two people were shot and one was stabbed.

King says one of the shooting victims was an NSU football player.

The police chief said officers originally arrested two people, 30-year-old Damon Glass, AKA, Damon Shade, for accessory to assault with a deadly weapon, and 23-year-old Robbie Foreman for two counts of assault and battery with a deadly weapon, possession of a firearm and possession of a firearm while intoxicated.

Friday night, however, the chief said Foreman confessed to the stabbing and shooting. He also said Glass was no longer in custody.

There’s a quaintness about downtown Tahlequah, with its many storefronts offering unique shopping.

Scathing Online Schoolmarm Scathes Through…

… that classic mode of American letters, the apologia for the depraved university football program.

Local Minnesota booster/journalist Chip Scoggins shows you how it’s done for that state’s benighted school. Let us do a close reading.

Tone-wise, the big sustained thing, the ground tone, is a variant of Coacha Inconsolata (put the phrase in my search engine if you’re not yet familiar with it), in which shock, heartbreak, and an indomitable will to be shocked and heartbroken again rule. Have at me! says the bankrupt befouled and humiliated campus…

Oh my men I love them so
They’ll never know
All my life is just despair
But I don’t care
When they take me in their arms
The world is bright – all right!
What’s the difference if I say
I’ll go away
When I know I’ll come back on my knees someday…

Texas Tech is the nation’s sluttiest pain slut, hands down. Penn State assumes the crown if for any reason the current titleholder cannot fulfill her reign. The University of Minnesota is one of the five semi-finalists.

Why, just four days ago, before UM’s Athletic Director, via text, volunteered his muffdiving services to some random woman, Chip was burbling about how the program had finally begun to regain its respectability (church groups were mentioned). Now it’s back to the post-oral-sex-offer, pre-alcohol-rehab-stint status quo, and Chip’s got some familiar heavy lifting to do.

Headline: Teague Scandal Rocks Gophers Athletics Amid Recent Gains

Always give them some shred to hold onto – allude to vaguely defined gains.

Opinion piece summary: The accumulation of disappointment over the years — NCAA violations, misdeeds, awful hires, heartbreaking defeats — has created this perception that the U can’t get out of its own way.

A couple of points here. Note how the random expected fact of lost games gets included in this list of self-inflicted misfortunes. All teams lose games, but at masochistic schools it’s always one heartbreaking loss after another, and what’s a girl to do?

Note further: The “U can’t get out of its own way.” What does this particular formulation mean? It means that the stupid stubborn fact of a university, of all things, having to run a football program is once again the stumbling block. Where the hell does a university get off running a football program? You want to run a football program, be like Alabama and Clemson and get rid of the university!

The Gophers athletic department suffered another black eye that brought the kind of negative, unwanted attention that has become all too familiar.

No one felt surprised. That’s the sad part.

Again, always keep it more in sorrow than in anger. Sad. Sad.

Oh, we’re all shocked by the lewd details, the fact that a person in Norwood Teague’s position would act like such a Neanderthal. But not shocked that something like this happened to the Gophers, another deep dive into a pile of dung.

… Within hours of Teague’s resignation as athletic director, three people sent me text messages. A former university employee, a die-hard fan and a booster. All shared a similar theme in their words.

Here we go again.

It’s fair to guess that employees inside the department shared that same deflation of morale, which is too bad because a lot of earnest, hardworking, passionate folks work in the Bierman complex. They deserve better.

Shocked? Really? But as SOS points out above, it’s crucial for schools like Minnesota to keep an ever-refreshed stock of shock alongside heartbreak. A man coming on like that to a woman? What a shockingly lewd Neanderthal! In Minnesota, stuff like this is just so unfunny and shocking…

University President Eric Kaler tried hard to create a clear divide between Teague’s conduct and his school’s image, saying one man’s deplorable actions shouldn’t define an entire operation.

Please. UM doesn’t belong to its president any more than Joe Paterno’s Penn State belonged to whoever that dude was who made the public service announcements.

Instability at key positions in college sports — AD, football and basketball coaches — stunts momentum and forces athletic departments to continually hit the reset button. The Gophers know that too well. They need normalcy for once.

But constant administrative turnover, hugely expensive buyouts and lawsuits, relentlessly criminalized teams, and of course indifferent students who fail to fill up the brand new hugely expensive stadium is normalcy at jockshops like Minnesota. There are no earnest prudes in Bierman; there are only suckers. Everybody else is studying or whatever.

Teague ultimately proved to be a bad hire by Kaler, and the president can’t swing and miss on such an important position again. The Gophers carry a $105 million athletic budget. This is not a mom-and-pop operation.

See SOS‘s point above. You hire some goddamn academic to run a football program and this is the kind of dumbass hiring decision that gets made. Lose the president. Get Jim Tressel on the phone!

Those who cling to the idyllic perception of college athletics probably resent the fact that football and basketball are placed on a pedestal above every other sport, but that’s the reality now.

Sing it sister. But take it a teeny step further and tell the whole truth.

Those who cling to the idyllic perception of college athletics probably resent the fact that football and basketball are placed on a pedestal above every other activity on the UM campus, but that’s the reality now.

See? That was easy. That didn’t hurt.

Richard Cherwitz is not the first university specialist in communication who communicates poorly…

…and he won’t be the last. But he is certainly one of the first professors to complain that the “final straw” (one of his cascade of cliches) in the matter of American university big-time sports is the doubling of prices for faculty tickets. Not the crime, not the slime, not the one-and-done time, not the president-as-athletic-department-mime (gimme a break – trying to keep up the … rhyme…) — no, the ugly rot at the core of campus football and basketball turns out to be his university having “more than doubled the price of faculty and staff season … tickets.”

In setting out his critique of university sports at places like his school, the notorious University of Texas, Cherwitz offers the classic bad writer’s combination of pretentiousness and – as we already noted – cliche. Oh – plus pointless quotation marks.

I cannot speak to what may be the legitimate concerns and response of donors. However, I know that most of my faculty and staff colleagues with whom I have talked opted not to renew their season tickets. It now was clear to us that the Athletics Department no longer considers faculty and staff to be members of the “family” and “community” – the very people who educate and serve student athletes. Instead, we became another one of the institution’s many “corporate customers.”

Scathing Online Schoolmarm trusts that given his love of sports, Cherwitz’s boycott will be of short duration. She’s sure that will be true of other faculty members as well.


UD thanks a reader for sending her the opinion piece.

Scathing Online Schoolmarm Says:

If you want to read an example of a really good essay, go here, to Jay Michaelson’s piece on the ongoing death of Israeli democracy. Let me tell you why it’s a terrific essay.

First of all, it’s very short, but within that concision Michaelson brilliantly, elegantly, and with dramatic – even poetic – flair, conveys his argument. An essay is “a short piece of writing on a particular subject,” says the first dictionary definition I get when I Google “meaning of the word ‘essay.'” The best essayists know how to pack their meaning into very few words, and this brevity often packs quite a punch… It is, if you like, a punch – a quick feint to the brain which suddenly distracts the mind from its customary thoughts and makes it pay attention. Think Joan Didion – that weird evocative minimalism which somehow by picking out only a few powerful words (and these are often repeated words) hooks onto you and holds you.

Second, Michaelson’s tone is neutral, controlled, calm, observant… And at the same time it manages to convey intense underlying emotions. Didion’s great at this too: On the surface, in her essays about her husband and her daughter, for instance, she’s so much about dry perceptive intellect directed to the world, careful precise language brought to the description of her experience, that you only gradually realize the almost unbearable melancholy that she’s really feeling, the bafflement and despair that’s in fact motivating the writing as a way of understanding and assimilating the tragic nature of life.

Third, Michaelson gives his essay a narrative frame. The obnoxious Hasid on Michaelson’s flight from Israel begins and ends the essay, giving the author’s abstractions about “a minority group … that pays those who are destroying it” (he has in mind Israeli and American Jewish subsidies of the most reactionary sects within the faith) a grounding in the immediacy of the real world… Or perhaps SOS should say a floating in the immediacy of the in-flight world, where women are angered by the Hasid’s refusal to sit next to them, and where women and men are made anxious by the man’s bizarre rule-flouting behavior throughout the flight.

Finally, Michaelson’s not got much space so he’s not going to fart around. He’s not going to mince words. He’s going to tell you – calmly, precisely – what’s in the mind of the Hasid, what has been put in the Hasid’s mind by the education that the larger Jewish community continues to subsidize.

Most likely, he has learned in religious schools – paid for mainly by government largesse, thanks to “faith-based initiatives” and the erosion of the garden wall between church and state – that goyim have no souls, or are like animals, or worse… . Taught that the customs of the goyim – that includes non-Orthodox Jews, of course – are filthy, stupid and nonbinding, Haredim are unruly passengers on airplanes. “Fasten seatbelts?” – goyishe toireh. “Don’t gather in the aisles?” – narishkeit.

But no – he can’t really know exactly what the Hasid is thinking.

Really, I have no idea what the Hasid is thinking, what the flight attendants are thinking or what my fellow passengers are thinking.

I can report only what I am thinking. And that is that this moment of obstinacy and disrespect is one that we Jews have created. Our cousins in Israel have given the Haredim everything they’ve asked for in exchange for their political support – just watch as the new government undoes all the progress of the previous one – at tremendous cost to society as a whole. And our institutions here in America continue to dole out benefits to fundamentalists opposed to the very institutions that are feeding them.

The last two sentences of Michaelson’s essay wonderfully meld the particular, the immediate narrative of the obnoxious Hasid, with the general:

An obstreperous man on an airplane is not so bad; after a few hours, we made it to JFK, safe and sound. Reversing course on Jewish fundamentalism will be a lot harder.

UD knows she shouldn’t laugh; but her evil twin, Scathing Online Schoolmarm, made her do it.

SOS likes the anti-climax of the final clause.

Khadar was charged with two counts each of second-degree reckless endangerment, third- and second-degree assault; breach of peace, assault of a public safety officer, four counts of interfering with an officer, drunken driving, evading responsibility, reckless driving and failure to wear a seat belt.


From a letter to the editor of a South Carolina newspaper. The subject: Events at South Carolina State University.

[SCSU President Thomas] Elzey has made two incredulous declarations to all viewing from near and afar: “SCSU will not close, and I will not resign.” Though he emphatically states these, he has control of neither.

The writer means incredible. Elzey has made statements that we cannot believe. Things are incredible – experiences, statements.

Incredulous refers to the human condition or feeling of not being able to believe something. I am incredulous when I hear Elzey say incredible things.

Had Elzey said I cannot believe what is happening to me! Everyone thinks I should resign! – then he would have been declaring his incredulity.

“[Florida Congressman Paul] Gosar said that if the U.S. were to pay ransom to terrorists, then ‘every American citizen traveling abroad becomes a subject in regard for kidnapping and then the plight of how much money has been captivated in the Boca Raton group.'”

Scathing Online Schoolmarm Says:

SOS is speechless.

Tricks of the Writing Trade: How a Strong Writer Defends the Indefensible.

Take an obviously ugly, unloved, unused or underused public building. A grotesquely out of place building (urban, it has been placed in a rural setting) loathed for decades – since its inception – by virtually its entire community (they after all have had to look at it every day). Finally the community is about to be able to blot it from the landscape – or, more precisely, to alter it so radically that they’ll probably be able to live with it going forward without hating themselves and the world. All good, right?

Well, no.

Architecture remains the realm of The Great Man, and Paul Rudolph is part of that crew, so every building he designed must be defended, even if that building – as is the case with the Orange County Government Center, in Goshen, N.Y. (two hours directly south of UD‘s house in New York) – gives off the rank sweat of an unseam’d bed. And not just defended but stuck there, dammit, forever and a day.

Scathing Online Schoolmarm, student of prose, now examines the New York Times architecture critic’s attempt to keep Rudolph in the Land O’ Goshen. How do you write against the obvious? How do you avoid revealing any off-putting elitism? How, as a dynamic modernist, do you deny the validity of change itself?

You want to avoid this gambit, tried by an earlier defender of the place:

“It’s like saying, ‘I don’t like Pollock because he splattered paint,’” said Nina Rappaport, chairwoman of Docomomo-New York/Tri-State, an organization that promotes the preservation of Modernist architecture. “Does that mean we shouldn’t put it in a museum? No, it means we teach people about these things.”

Hop away from the hog oiler and listen up – you might learn something.

No, Michael Kimmelman will take a different tack. Let’s scathe through his piece.


A Chance to Salvage a Master’s Creation

Paul Rudolph Building in Goshen, N.Y., Faces Threat

Master, Threat. But there’s a chance to Salvage. Faces Threat: Immediate Drama. Urgency. We are alerting the troops.

Unless county legislators act quickly, a paragon of midcentury American idealism will be lost.

Paul Rudolph’s Orange County Government Center, in Goshen, N.Y., announces itself as a civic hub. It’s made of corrugated concrete and glass, organized into three pavilions around a courtyard, like an old wagon train around a village green.

First move: Go folksy. Go Americana. Ignore the fact that the photograph that accompanies your article fails in any way to resonate with paragon, idealism, civic, pavilion, courtyard, old wagon train, and village green. Press forward.

And that’s the approach SOS is going to note in Kimmelman’s piece. When you got nuthin’ your only option is to go all out. Know what I mean? It takes balls. It takes writerly skill.

A county proposal would tear down huge chunks of it, flatten the roof, destroy windows, swap out parts of the textured concrete facade and build what looks like an especially soul-crushing glass box. Goshen would end up with a Frankenstein’s monster, eviscerating a work that the World Monuments Fund, alarmed by precisely this turn of events, included on its global watch list alongside landmarks like Machu Picchu and the Great Wall of China.

A building made of huge chunks of monstrous soul-crushing concrete is now threatened with transformation into a building with huge chunks of monstrous soul-crushing glass. So far not a strong defense. Still, he’s jammed some very pretty scary words – SOS likes the lip-smacking eviscerate – into this, and he’s just getting started.

Plus, whatever it looks like, this thing is up there with Machu Picchu and the Great Wall of China. Damn hayseeds don’t appreciate what they’ve got.

Haters in Orange County government have been contemplating its demise for years, allowing it to fall into disrepair and shuttering the building, citing water damage after Hurricane Irene in 2011. Pictures of the interior from the early 1970s, when the center was still new, show a complex of animated spaces, by turns intimate and grand. Later renovations ruined the inside, making it cramped and dark. Rudolph was a master of sculpturing light and space, following in the footsteps of Frank Lloyd Wright, whose emotionalism he married to the cool Modernism of Europeans like Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier.

Haters is also scary stuff. Haters. When Kimmelman, a man of strong opinions, writes with hatred about buildings he hates, he’s not a hater. He’s a… what… a potent discriminator…

Now we get some familiar archi-adjectives – animated, grand, intimate, cool. All are there to create a vague flush of excitement in us as we contemplate inhabiting this paragon of light and space; all are there to obliterate the obvious impossibility of attaining anything like a sense of grandeur or intimacy in this building.

And since when are grandeur and intimacy things anyone associates with county government? Since when are Machu Picchu and the Great Wall of China continuous with the Goshen New York municipal building?

Still, The Great Man was continuous with earlier Great Men. We are to be impressed with this lineage (Corbu, Wright, Gropius).

His style, unfortunately, came to be branded Brutalism, and turned off many. But the government center was conceived with lofty social aspirations, making tangible Rudolph’s concept of energetic governance as a democratic ideal. It was a beautiful notion; and while the architecture may never win any popularity contest, it was beautiful, too, with its poetry of asymmetric, interweaving volumes.

This is what SOS means by just going for it. When you’ve got nothing going for you, go for it. Acknowledge the bizarre, motiveless ascription of the name Brutalism to this sort of building; insist that if a building means well, it looks well (“conceived with lofty social aspirations”), and then stick in some patriotic cliches to keep the flush of vague excitement going (energetic governance as a democratic ideal). The awkwardness here is that central to democracy is the will of the people, and in regard to Paul Rudolph’s building that will is overwhelmingly clear.

Now make your boldest move: Call an ugly building beautiful. Go ahead. You’ve gone this far; the only place to go is yet farther. Call it poetic.

Okay, so we’ll skip a little.

Demolishing Penn Station seemed expedient to politicians and other people a half-century ago, when only a noisy bunch of architecture buffs and preservationists pleaded for its reprieve. Back then, Rudolph was a leading light in American architecture, his work the epitome of American invention and daring.

The original Penn Station was beautiful, monumental, and deserved every bit of the effort devoted to salvaging it. But here we’re back at the Machu Picchu/Great Wall of China problem. Machu Picchu, Great Wall of China, Penn Station, Goshen County Building. Seriously?

Final paragraph.

History is on the Government Center’s side, too. Here’s hoping county legislators are.

Another grand statement for a small subject. Goshen must be on the side of history!

Actually, Goshen, with energetic governance as its democratic ideal, can be wherever the hell it wants. Goshen seems to see itself as a place of vernacular buildings which express its actual history, rather than as a Mount Rushmore of all-American, world historical architects like Paul Rudolph, who, after his early work met with hostility

turned inward to lavish interior-design projects, evincing through the 1970s a comfort with the extravagant that was out of tune with professional norms. Then he turned away from the American scene altogether, to rework old ideas in a series of large projects overseas, such as the Colonnade apartments in Singapore and the Lippo Centre in Hong Kong…

“Block That Metaphor!” was the title of a long-running New Yorker feature…

… which singled out mixed metaphors in prose. Mixed metaphors tend to mix up your reader. Here’s an example, taken from a review of The Hunting Ground, a film about sexual assault on American college campuses.

Given that the film levels a withering j’accuse against a complex skein of heterogeneous institutions and organizations, it will have a harder road ahead inspiring organizational reform in the same way The Invisible War did, but there’s no doubt it will get audiences debating and talking when it goes on release via RADiUS in March and when it is broadcast later this year on CNN.

Let’s highlight some of the figurative language in here.

‘Given that the film levels a withering j’accuse against a complex skein of heterogeneous institutions and organizations, it will have a harder road ahead inspiring organizational reform in the same way [the film] The Invisible War did, but there’s no doubt it will get audiences debating and talking when it goes on release via RADiUS in March and when it is broadcast later this year on CNN.’


The j’accuse bit is a rather overheated cliche, but let that go. The real problems in this sentence begin with skein. When we see skein, we see literal lengths of knotted yarn and figurative knotty complexities. Do we need “complex” in front of skein? Scathing Online Schoolmarm thinks not. It mucks up a sentence that already has too many words. And skein itself is maybe not the right word for what she means. She means to describe the network of universities in this country – and they are a network, not a skein. Skein suggests a somewhat fragile, random unit of things, whereas universities are more sturdy, meaningful, interconnected phenomena.

Now the writer puts the skein on the road. The skein “will have a harder road ahead.” I suppose we could at this point imagine something like tumbleweed… But really, the writer does our efforts to figure out her meaning no favors when she jams all of this at-odds figurative language into her sentence. Write simply, and don’t unspool too many skeins.

The local rags – especially in the southland – specialize in propaganda pieces on behalf of the local university teams…

… and Scathing Online Schoolmarm, long a student of propaganda, finds them well worth a look. If you read through the SOS posts on this blog, you’ll see plenty of analyses of modern American sports agitprop.

The point of this genre of writing is to transform empty stadiums into … well, not full… everyone knows what’s what these days in university sports… But to transform the total embarrassment of empty stadiums (the stuff is broadcast) into the mild discomfort of half-full stadiums. And since shitty dissolute sports programs repel everyone, your hackwork here ain’t gonna be easy.


Why is why SOS finds it sad that the people to whom editors throw these challenging assignments are usually the rookies, or anyway the worst writers on staff. Who else would take the gig? Your job is to rally the troops – to get the burghers of Bogalusa out of bed in order to hit terrible traffic, deal with scary drunks, sit for three hours while almost nothing happens, etc., etc., etc.

Those long empty hours give people plenty of time to contemplate less than attractive aspects of the sports program they’re supposed to be cheering. FAMU’s fans, for instance, will have trouble shaking off memories of their school’s homicidally hazing marching band…

But you won’t find a word about that ongoing unpleasantness in Jordan Culver’s piece in the Tallahassee Democrat yesterday. Culver begins with a lament:

[F]ans have been absent — if not totally nonexistent — during home games.

That’s home games, so I guess we’re talking, uh, even less than nonexistent for away.

What to do? The team stinks, the band kills its musicians, and to make matters worse vanishingly few people are applying to attend FAMU anyway. Into this desperate situation steps the local propagandist. What can he do to help?

There are basically two ways to go: Righteous rage against the people (we’ll see an example of that in a moment), and – the Culver option – humble entreaty. Culver goes ahead and acknowledges that the program’s a total mess, with new coaches stepping in every ten minutes or so… But please note! When I call FAMU coaches, they answer the phone and talk to me!

I call, he answers. I ask a question, he — to the best of his ability — provides an answer.

You can’t abandon a program whose coaches pick up the phone. Plus they all have “a vision.”

[FAMU’s interim athletics director] is willing to share [his] vision, and I think it’s one even the most disgruntled FAMU fan can get behind.

But what is that vision? Culver doesn’t quote the AD; nor does he quote any of the other people who will be running the FAMU program for the next few hours. He just says they all have a vision. The vision thing. We can get behind that, can’t we?


Righteous rage against the people has certain inherent risks, familiar to the classic propagandists of communist countries. The greatness of humanity, its glorious freedoms – these are what life is all about. They’re especially what the freewheeling all-American ethos of sport is about. You don’t want to mess up that… vision… with nasty, coercive, or – God forbid – threatening language.

On the other hand, if you are Clemson zealot Zach Lentz you are in a terrible vindictive snit, especially about the basketball team.

[S]upport for this team is dwindling at an astonishing rate and it has to wear not only on the coach but the players.

This first point is a variant of what SOS has long called coacha inconsolata (put the phrase in my search function), the evocation of the agonies suffered by coaches who through no fault of their own recruit criminals or make institution-destroying salaries or play to empty stadiums. In an echo of the notorious “kitten” internet meme, coacha inconsolata says Every time you fail to attend a game, a coach is worn down to a nub.

Same deal for the kids:

These student-athletes put hours of blood, sweat and tears into a job that’s sole purpose is to entertain the fans watching. The least we can do as fans is get out of our house or dorm and make the trip or walk over to support them. Maybe if we fans get behind the team from the beginning rather than waiting on a magical end-of-the-season run, we might see something special from a special group of kids.

First, then, you inflict guilt. Next up is the drill sergeant, barking his orders with numbing redundancy:

[T]here is no excuse. There is no excuse for there to be empty seats in the student section. No excuse for the people who have said of football game times, “I don’t care if they play at 2 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, I’m going to be there.”

Liars! Look what you said, and look what you did! No excuse, no excuse, no excuse!

The next thing is fully in line with the tendency of communist regimes to say exactly the opposite of the truth as if everyone knows this exactly the opposite thing is obviously true:

[P]eople love to go to sporting events. They love to be a part of the pageantry and witness the spectacular in person.

We don’t have to threaten our people with reprisals if they fail to show up for the May Day parade. Everyone loves pageantry and spectacle.


It’s strange how Lentz hasn’t noticed the national conversation about massively tanking attendance at university sports events.

It’s especially strange since he’s writing about massively tanking attendance at his university’s sports events.


Finally: The sobbing old-timer grapples with his lost world.

There was a time when students camped outside, waited in the cold and rain and people couldn’t wait to get inside to watch their team take on whoever dared enter the arena that night.

Why, I remember, back in two thousand naught eight…

“I am a current employee with Treetops [Hotel]. I personally saw distruction and aftermath with my own eyes! It’s very sad that to see my place of employment in scrambles.”

This is from the comment thread of an article about some pillaging University of Michigan fraternities…

Scathing Online Schoolmarm likes very much the word “scrambles” here. It’s the kind of mistake (distruction and other mess-ups are less interesting mistakes) that makes you think about language, about why people reach for certain words when trying to express certain things.

The writer probably meant shambles – to see my place of employment in a shambles – but also somewhere in his or her head was perhaps not merely scramble (which can have meanings having to do with making quick and sometimes desperate moves, which I suppose has some mental connection to what the marauding lads did), but also scrabble (which similarly can mean panicky random movement). This person’s place of employment will have to scramble, and it will have to scrabble through a lot of trash, to fix the mess the UM group made.

Was trample in there too? Was the desire that these visitors from one of America’s most icky football schools scram in there?

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