When caught plagiarizing…

… admit you cut corners and pledge never to do it again. Very simple. Your public statement should have two sentences, tops.

People never learn this. Ye olde ego seems to make it impossible. Instead of a brief apology, you get Surprenants. Surprenants are named after ex-Manchester University professor Annmarie Surprenant, who was found to have slapped A‘s on all her student exams and returned them without mussing one eyelash in actually looking at them. (This class management method is especially popular now that online courses are the rage. Venetia Orcutt, an ex-colleague of UD‘s at George Washington University – chair of its physician assistant program! – did nothing for the entire duration of two online courses and awarded all of her students A’s.) Cornered, Surprenant went on and on about her glorious misunderstood being:

I am quite politically incorrect, outspoken and have never adhered to the oft-repeated and probably excellent advice to ‘watch your back’, because I believe watching one’s back will never move us forward.

This makes me an easy target for a certain type of person. Half-truths, false accusations and malicious gossip readily ruin one’s reputation in the eyes of that certain type of person. But in the end it is your work that stands.

Moving us forward… But my work will stand!

And now you’ve got Deborah Martinez, a University of New Mexico public radio reporter who plagiarizes her stuff. Here’s her apology:

“I’ve earned four Associated Press awards over my decades-long broadcast career, producing hundreds of stories with the aim of telling the truth,” she writes in an email … “I made a mistake and was disciplined for it and KUNM and I now move forward with the same goal of informing the public in an open and honest way about news that affects them.”

Moving forward again! Always moving forward!

Scathing Online Schoolmarm doesn’t know quite what to say about people who allow the same self-regard that got them into trouble to generate the apology for having gotten into trouble. This isn’t really about helpful editorial hints. Character is destiny.

“[Tom] Perkins continues to insist that The [San Francisco] Chronicle had a vendetta against [Danielle] Steel, whom he says he speaks to every day, although they are divorced. He insists, for example, that The Chronicle best-seller list does not include Steel’s books. However, the list only includes books sold in San Francisco, which may not be Steel’s demographic.”

LOL. Only the best writers manage to make their point in this elegant off-hand final phrase of the sentence way. Scathing Online Schoolmarm says: BRAVO.

Perkins, by the way, has the floor (post-Kristallnacht) and clearly intends to use it. Here is his latest proposal.

In order to vote, he proposed, everyone should have to have paid at least $1 in taxes.

“And those who have paid a million dollars in taxes,” he continued, “should have a million votes.”

He said later he was just kidding, but the comment has hit the airwaves hard (sample headline: TOM PERKINS CALLS FOR END TO UNIVERSAL SUFFRAGE).

This idea of his – a million points of votes – for some reason reminds me of a proposal UD herself has put forward for years, but no one will listen to her. It came to her one summer morning as Les UDs were crossing the long, long Chesapeake Bay Bridge on their way to Rehoboth Beach.

Instead of each car paying whatever it is – ten, fifteen dollars – to cross the Bay, UD proposes that each car pay fifty thousand dollars. During the time the car is on the bridge, this money will be invested. (High-speed computers.) When the car gets to the end of the bridge, if the investment has paid off or broken even, all the money will be returned to the driver. Any profit will go toward maintenance of the bridge.

What is “tragic”? What sort of event can we truly call a “tragedy”?

Is authentic tragedy, as George Steiner has argued, dead in the modern world? Do we overuse the word, attaching it to routine or random bad events, etc?

Scathing Online Schoolmarm says: Say what you will about the fate of the tragic in our time — When you happen on a headline that truly does describe, with chilling concision, a tragedy, you’re called upon to take note.

From today’s LA Times:


Euripides! Thou should’st be living at this hour.

Highly Suspectible.

Without access to clean needles, users are suspectible to deadly infectious diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis B and C.

Scathing Online Schoolmarm shares a rather charming writing error.

The Times Public Editor Needs an Editor

It’s free rein; not free reign (the NYT might have fixed it by the time it appears here).

But, while acknowledging that Times columnists appropriately have very free reign in choosing subject matter and commenting on it as they see fit, I am troubled by the same questions raised here by Dr. Rasmussen.

Scathing Online Schoolmarm Says: The answer to bad writing is not more bad writing.

In response to the Tom Perkins Kristallnacht letter (go here for details), a Fortune writer asks us not to judge his investment firm just because it happens to have been founded by the dude.

KPCB has been subject of numerous media brickbats over the past few years (including some from yours truly), for issues related to both its investment strategy and firm management. Depending on your perspective, most of it either has been deserved or most of it has been overkill by a media that likes to tear down those it first builds up. But no matter your general feelings toward KPCB, the firm in no way deserves to be tarred with the spuriousness sentiments of its co-founder. Hopefully it will not be.

Gevalt. Where to start?

KPCB has been subject of numerous [Use "many"; it's simpler, less pretentious.] media brickbats over the past few years [Drop "over the past few years"; it's unnecessary.] (including some from yours truly), for issues related to both its investment strategy and firm management. [Drop "both its."] Depending on your perspective, most of it either has been deserved or most of it [Get rid of the repetition of "most of it." And by the way, notice how many of the words in this short paragraph are the deadly 'it'?] has been overkill by a media that likes to tear down those it first builds up. But no matter your general feelings toward KPCB, the firm in no way deserves to be tarred with the spuriousness sentiments [Right - "spuriousness" makes no sense here. And even if he'd used "spurious," it would designate exactly the opposite of the Perkins letter. There was nothing fake in the writing - it was a model of sincerity.] of its co-founder. Hopefully it will not be. [The final sentence is classic vacuousness, the equivalent of "Only the future will tell."]

Waterford Kristallnacht

Scathing Online Schoolmarm has had to occasion to caution you about your comparisons, and – given the now-notorious Tom Perkins letter to the Wall Street Journal - she sees she’ll need to do that again.

Before we quote from the Perkins epistle, let’s review some SOS rules for making comparisons by considering two pieces of writing she’s recently cited on this blog.

Example I: Shall I Compare Thee to a Pus Pocket?

The UNC academic fraud scandal is like a pesky staph infection that just won’t go away for university officials — nor should it. As reporters at the Raleigh News and Observer continue to dig, they uncover more and more dirty little secrets. The latest problems swirl around a pus pocket called the Academic Support Program.

SOS grants points here for an admirable extension of the staph comparison (writing like this often, er, amplifies into mixed metaphors); but she immediately takes the points back when she finds herself, at the end of the paragraph, throwing up. In an effort to find an image worthy of his disgust, this writer burrowed a little too deeply in the bacillus. Ick.

Example II: Ronald Pol Pot McDonald

We all live in a murderous world, as the events in Norway have shown, with 97 dead. Though that is nothing compared to what happens in McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried [Chicken] every day.

This is Morrissey putting Crispy McNuggets in historical perspective. I think we can all agree that there is a difference of scale and value between eating meat and slaughtering children. The comparison therefore accomplishes only two things: It puts the fanaticism of Morrissey in extreme and repellent relief; and it reveals his hopeless narcissism.

Okay, so here’s the world according to Perkins:

… I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its “one percent,” namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the “rich.”

Let’s pause there, before attempting to assimilate the comparison between anti-rich sentiments in America and slaughtering Jews. Can you make sense of the sentence? All those tos:

to the parallels
to its war
to the progressive war

Me no get it. Can we rewrite?

I would call attention to the parallels between the Nazi war on the Jews and the progressives’ war on America’s rich.

Something like that? Note that SOS has taken out tons of words – you want to simplify, especially in your opening sentence. You also want to remove quotation marks around words when the marks deny that you’re referring to something you are indeed actually referring to. The “rich”? The quote unquote rich? Does Perkins mean that the Occupy people and the like are in fact attacking a group of people who are not rich? Perkins himself is a billionaire. Does that make him “rich” or rich?

SOS has not been able to clarify whether Perkins believes that the German Jews were all rich – this is something the sentence seems to imply, or at least to have room for…

Okay, next:

From the Occupy movement to the demonization of the rich embedded in virtually every word of our local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, I perceive a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent. There is outraged public reaction to the Google buses carrying technology workers from the city to the peninsula high-tech companies which employ them. We have outrage over the rising real-estate prices which these “techno geeks” can pay. We have, for example, libelous and cruel attacks in the Chronicle on our number-one celebrity, the author Danielle Steel, alleging that she is a “snob” despite the millions she has spent on our city’s homeless and mentally ill over the past decades.

“Rising tide” is a cliche; “virtually every word” is hyperbole. (You call this demonization of the rich? )

This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendent “progressive” radicalism unthinkable now?

Ends with a challenging, scary, question… But are you hyperventilating, or laughing?

Right. Because, like Morrissey, this is a human being some of whose views are so extraordinarily grotesque that we do not need to take them seriously.

If you are chained to extraordinarily grotesque views and you still wish to urge them on other people via prose, take this further counsel from SOS: Don’t try for comparisons at all. Go in some other direction.


UPDATE: Il miglior fabbro.

Update: Tom Perkins.

For a man convicted of involuntary manslaughter with his yacht, life imitates art.

“Civilization’s going to pieces,” broke out Tom violently. “I’ve gotten to be a terrible pessimist about things.”


They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.


“[In] an intensely homophobic state like Wyoming, where the vast majority of GOP voters oppose marriage equality, any Republican primary is fated to be a grotesque pissing contest of anti-gay animus.”

Scathing Online Schoolmarm says: Some very nice writing in this review of the Republican primary in Wyoming. Concise, amusing, and, at times, fierce writing.

“When a band this massively popular, this risk-averse, this patently un-weird takes heartfelt shots at the ‘norms,’ it’s hard to decide whether to laugh, barf or weep for the future of rock-and-roll itself.”

It’s a little over the top, but there’s a basically well-written take down of a popular band by Chris Richards in The Washington Post.

[T]his is rock music that lazily presumes life on the digital plane has made us so numb, so unable to feel for ourselves, that the only way to reach our hearts is by applying a pneumatic hammer to our classic rock pleasure centers. Bowie! Springsteen! Talking Heads! Blam-blam-blam! Bludgeoning and vacant, “Reflektor” is an album that both condescends and sells itself short, over and over again, for 76 insufferable minutes.

Again, this is pretty good, but editing it down to make it tighter – and its emotion of disappointment and contempt more focused – would have helped:

This is music that presumes digital life has made us so numb we can only be reached via pneumatic hammer. Bowie, Springsteen, Talking Heads: Blam, blam, blam! Bludgeoning and vacant, “Reflektor” condescends and sells itself short, over and over again, for 76 insufferable minutes.

Yet better examples of the absolute dump review are two from the New York Times that Scathing Online Schoolmarm has already featured on this blog: A 2008 Jon Pareles description of a Sarah Brightman concert, and, in 2012, Alastair Macaulay reviewing Russia’s Eifman Ballet. Click here for hilarious details.


UD thanks her sister for
the link to the Post review.

Scathing Online Schoolmarm says:

As college football stadiums around America get emptier by the minute, we need writers like Dave Bratcher to remind us why we so love those Saturdays in the fall.

As we made our way into the stadium, a few things struck me. These things are applicable to life and need to be mentioned. Across the United States, Saturdays in the fall remind us of what true equality looks like, teach us why keeping score is important, and loyalty is not to be taken lightly.

When fans show up to cheer on their respective teams, discussions about race, religion, wealth, or family lineage do not factor into the discussion. The things which sometimes divide us, even on Sunday morning, are completely irrelevant on Saturday. Nobody cares what color, what church, how much money, or who their parents are. The identifying factors and circumstances of our lives are completely forgotten about when the teams take the field. This is to be praised.

Guess ol’ Dave missed the $100,000 per box luxury seating! Look up, Dave! See the rich people up there, divided behind glass enclosures from the yahoos? Only the rich people in the stadium get to drink alcohol, Dave! These things are applicable to life and need to be mentioned.

Post-shutdown, the word on everyone’s lips is…


nihilism. Everyone’s calling the Tea Party nihilistic. Do a TEA NIHILISM Google search and see.

Scathing Online Schoolmarm is thrilled. She loves the word, its soft insidious feel… The middle H adds a dying breath to its barely-there sound…

A beautiful mysterious letter-set, n-i-h-i-l-i-s-m. The movement of the mouth in saying the word maps the regress of nihilism itself —

A strong initial sound at the outset as if you’re headed somewhere: NEE…!

(Note: You can do it NIGHilism if you prefer.)

Then a catch of the breath on the H as you remember it’s pointless.

A final collapse into the enervated quietude of LISM..


Europeans (Nietzsche, Dostoevsky) long ago cornered the market on nihilism. Finally America – perennially dismissed as too youthful, optimistic, and pragmatic for nihilism – gets its chance. You go, girl.

Well, it’s fall, and the too-exciting, much-anticipated university football season…

… is upon us, which is why, you might notice, UD‘s been covering one story after another about spectacular turnouts at these all-important early games. Georgia State University, for instance, has 32,000 students.

A few minutes before the start of the game, there were less than 70. Overall, I would estimate less than 300 showed up.

Scathing Online Schoolmarm says: Fewer than, not less than.

But that’s but a trifle here.

“Why must my sports [news] be saturated with … criminal news?

Tis the song, the sigh of the weary, as Stephen Foster put it. The guy in this post’s title wants to know why he can’t just love his Vikings and not have to think about being one of millions of Minnesota taxpayers who’ve given hundreds of millions of dollars to the team’s racketeering owner, Zygi Wilf.

Zygi is one of Yeshiva University’s most honored trustees. He is part of the Yeshiva University tradition of having its trustees called “evil” by judges. First Bernard Madoff and now Zygi have inspired some of America’s finest jurists to rise to this rhetorical occasion…

(Update: Yeshiva’s main campus is named after the Wilf family. Yikes.)

But back to our headline. Like it or not, your sports news – university sports, professional sports – will always be saturated with – imbricated with (to use an English major word) – criminal news. This being the case, UD proposes that MFA programs at sports factories offer not just instruction in Minimalism, but also instruction in Criminalism, a prose style in which you entertainingly interweave afternoons at the arena with evenings in jail.

There is a good deal to study here. UD has been a student of criminalist prose for years and has accumulated a syllabus-full of methods, approaches, points of view. She’s particularly intrigued by the style she calls Coacha Inconsolata, a mournful account of the sufferings of coaches who through no fault of their own recruited drunks and flunkies to the team and of course to the school. Here’s a very recent example. The trick is to focus not on the totally foreseeable stupidity and criminality of the recruit, but rather on the shocked and hurt coach.

Here are some excerpts, with commentary from Scathing Online Schoolmarm.

U Conn [basketball] center Tyler Olander has put Kevin Ollie in a difficult position … [This is the beginning of the first sentence of the article. Start right off not with the player, but with the coach. It's unseemly to dwell on jailed players -- too many of them, doesn't look good, challenges alumni to keep loving the team -- so dwell rather on the sacrificial agonies of the coaches.] Legendary coach Jim Calhoun had already left Ollie with a underwhelming and thinning front line. Now, calling that front line “thinning” is like a bald man using the comb over. It’s approaching nonexistent. [Next move: Recall the impossibly big shoes into which the coach must step. Legendary Jim! You only have to watch this famous clip to understand how beloved, how amazing, Calhoun was... Poor Ollie! Left only with thinning hair.] Olander was UConn’s only big man left on the roster with any sort of real experience. The Huskies had already lost veteran Enosch Wolf, who had his scholarship taken away for his own legal issues… [If you're not blubbering by this point, you've got a heart of stone. What is this good and great man, this Job of the jocks, supposed to do?]

Just continue like that if you want to write Coacha Inconsolata criminalism: The writer here goes on to talk about the coach’s “major headache,” the way he’s “scrambling” to do a good job, and how “This is not what he had to have in mind when he laid out his plan” for greatness. Do not touch on the question of how it is that anyone entering a major university sports coaching position lays out non-criminogenic plans for greatness. Do not ask how anyone could possibly be that stupid. Just go with the Job thing.

“[V]irtually every aspect of the higher-ed dream has been colonized by monopolies, cartels, and other unrestrained predators—[...] the charmingly naive American student is in fact a cash cow, and everyone has got a scheme for slicing off a porterhouse or two.”

And he ain’t even gotten to sports yet!


Thomas Frank’s hit piece on the American university is swell (I’m still reading it), but Scathing Online Schoolmarm would caution against sentences like this one:

When the board forced the president to resign last June, they cloaked the putsch in a stinky fog of management bullshit.

Mixed metaphors are bad enough (cloaking your putsch in a fog?) but when you bring in bullshit… When you make the fog’s composition the shit of a bull… No.

Note that the sentence in my headline also mixes metaphors.


Pointless money-drains like a vast administration, a preening president, and a quasi-professional football team should all be plugged up.

Finally he gets to football.


Ours is the generation that stood by gawking while a handful of parasites and billionaires smashed [the American university] for their own benefit.

The problem with Frank’s cri de coeur resides in sentences like this one. Too much cri, too much coeur. Not enough compelling, rational analysis. Phrases like a handful of parasites and billionaires are a major target of George Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language.” Orwell rightly notes that in our time “political writing is bad writing.” And bad writing fails to persuade.

“But the fire the president is stoking through his willful flaunting of the law can’t be denied.”

Flaunting? The writer flouts all standards of good writing by flaunting his ignorance.

And doesn’t the Washington Post have editors?

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