Redundancy is a serious problem – in writing and in speaking.

As we’ve been reminded by the ridicule Donald Trump has generated by his hectoring, mechanical repetition of phrases or words in his speech, redundancy makes you look both angry and empty of substance.

Scathing Online Schoolmarm would think that a school superintendent would understand this simple fact. What are you modeling for your students when you talk like Charlie Van Zant Jr., superintendent of Clay County Florida’s schools?

Under pressure for alleged plagiarism and fraud, Charlie recently told an interviewer the following:

[Liars] are trying to take me to task for my principles and values that they can’t stand… These liars are making accusations that are over a year old, that should have been reported to either the Florida Commission on Ethics or me as the superintendent of schools, as per school board policy. But these liars do not want an investigation. These liars want to play the media. These liars knew we would be out of town last weekend, and our staff would have a three-day weekend… The media is being played. They’re playing right into the hands of lying Mrs. Studdard [a school board member], the lying teachers union…

Superintendent Van Zant has certainly learned the word “liar” and some of its variants, and for that we applaud him. But SOS wonders if his efforts to paint his many enemies as, er, liars are really working here.

“Most Clinton conspiracy theories are meant to delegitimize her, to explain away her baffling, irksome persistence in public life as a product of a scarcely comprehensible homicidal ruthlessness.”

Scathing Online Schoolmarm says: Nicely put.

“Like myself, Donald Trump is a life-long New Yorker. Donald Trump lives, works, eats and employs people of all races and religions.”

Scathing Online Schoolmarm says: Typos matter.

‘As Donald Trump staggers following a series of self-inflicted political wounds, Republican candidates up and down the ballot are expressing growing disinterest in hitting the campaign trail with him this fall.’

Scathing Online Schoolmarm reminds you to learn the difference between lack of interest and disinterest. The incorrect use of disinterest in this opening sentence of a Politico piece has its authors saying the opposite of what they mean. Not a good way to start an article.

SOS realizes that some dictionaries use, as a second definition for disinterest, the state of not being interested in something. But really she would argue that the first and only meaning of disinterest is the condition of being neutral about something.

The constant misuse of disinterested for uninterested is breaking down a very useful distinction of meaning.

To be uninterested is to be lacking in any sense of engagement with the matter:
Sallie is uninterested in algebra.

To be disinterested is to lack bias:
Let the company call in a disinterested mediator to settle the dispute.

Republican candidates are not neutral in regard to campaigning with Trump; on the contrary, they are strikingly biased against campaigning with him. They are “expressing a growing lack of interest in hitting the campaign trail” with him. They are not cool calm collected and above it all in the way of, say, a disinterested judge; they’re actively sweating at the prospect of being even remotely identified with Trump. They are the very opposite, in other words, of disinterested parties.

“Then a part of Communist Yugoslavia, she grew up in apartment blocks overlooking a river and smoking factory chimneys.”

The Washington Post introduces us to our very… unusual next first lady, who once composed part of a communist state, and who (at least Mr UD read it this way) used to smoke factory chimneys.

Scathing Online Schoolmarm Says:

Extremely good writers can take what you know, re-charge it, and scare you.

“[T]he annals of insider trading are filled with people who knew better, from Ivan Boesky to Rajat Gupta. What’s perplexing is their motives. Like [Thomas] Davis, they were already rich and successful beyond most people’s dreams.”

Scathing Online Schoolmarm says: There is much to be learned from the American school of writing SOS calls Rich White Treatment. You can bellyache all you want about income inequality and Two Americas and Listen Liberal, but until you’ve bothered to acquaint yourself with RWT writing, you’re not getting it.

RWT appears in our classiest, highest-profile, most influential journalism, as in this piece from the New York Times (Business Section) through which SOS will now scathe. As SOS does her thing, read the piece not as if you’re its intended audience – a few hundred rich white people, many of whom will read to the end only because they know Thomas Davis and in fact probably did some insidery trading with him themselves (the guy’s a nobody who did absolutely boring white bread dull as dishwater insider trading, so why would anyone read past the first paragraph except out of schadenfreude + anxious self-interest?). Don’t even read as a member of your social class … as a typical NYT reader…

No – try reading what SOS is about to quote and analyze as a common petty criminal, or as an ordinary struggling non-golf playing, non-bigtime gambling, non-private plane using, non-criminal living in Idaho. As you read, ask yourself why our nation’s paper of record is wasting ink on this guy, whose crimes, in a nation of insider traders, in a nation about to be presided over by a man with a court date for massive fraud, are totally undistinguished and unworthy of notice. Also ask yourself questions having to do with the writer’s point of view. From what point of view is this information being amassed and organized? What is the point of this article? What is the writer trying to accomplish?

The title of the piece announces its moral. The article will indeed be a morality tale.


Strap yourself in for The Great Gatsby. Prepare to appreciate the pathos of a man captured by a culture of status and ostentation.

The piece opens onto a blur of turfgrass.

At age 67, Thomas C. Davis should be enjoying all the perks of a long and distinguished career at the pinnacle of Wall Street and the Texas business elite. These include golfing at the prestigious Dallas Country Club and Preston Trail Golf Club, where he was a member; trips to Las Vegas and golf tournaments on the private jet he co-owned; and fractional ownership of two professional sports teams, the Texas Rangers and the Dallas Stars.

The blur of turfgrass never leaves this article; it’s sprayed all over like aromatherapy spritzer. There are charity golf tournaments (Davis stole the proceeds), “golf legend Lanny Wadkins,” golf legend Phil Mickelson, naughty sports gambler William Walters (“The two often played [golf] together, especially when they were both living in Southern California.”), and “wealthy friends and fellow golf club members.” (Poignantly, Walters himself was arrested at the Bali Hai Golf Club.)

But don’t let the blur occlude the bullshit that announces itself outright in this first paragraph, which stuffs itself full of words one associates with Winston Churchill (distinguished, elite, prestigious…) even though if you read the whole article it’s clear that Davis was always a measly garden variety crooked mid-level capitalist pig. The very first thing the writer tells us about Davis – his very distinguished very advanced age – means to make him an elder statesman brought tragically low by late-life seduction into a world of shiny appearances.

So next we get some paragraphs recounting his many disgusting crimes – not just theft from a charity and insider trading, but lying to the SEC and trying to destroy evidence and all kinds of other shit.

Some story elements are good from the point of view of a reader looking for vivid detail, but even they could be better in obvious ways. Here’s an example:

And after the F.B.I. agents left, he took a prepaid cellular phone he had used to leak the information and threw it into a creek near his Dallas home, destroying evidence and obstructing justice.

Yes… okay… but shouldn’t that have been a water trap?

After acknowledging that this guy’s crimes “have received relatively little attention” – without stating the reason for this (they don’t merit attention), the NYT writer now moves to the weighty question of Why. Why would a rich person seek greater riches? Hm. Hm.

He wasn’t really rich. He was “desperate for money.” He was a “distinguished” (there’s that adjective again: “the distinguished white-haired…”) desperado desperate for money. Why was he desperate for money?

Well, because he was essentially a career criminal who gradually (I’m sure his lawyers will argue it was his advanced distinguished age and its depredations) got sloppy. He was a greedy amoral motherfucker who over time lost the knack of being a successful greedy amoral motherfucker. Happens to the best of us. Only the New York Times business page would try to turn it into a national tragedy. Only a culture committed to criminalizing its undistinguished criminals and decriminalizing its distinguished would write articles like this. His Wall Street friends are “shocked” and “stunned” (an easily stunned lot, that) that this “pillar” (I am not making this up) would fall… Because after all until very recently he didn’t do things like owe

the I.R.S. $78,000. His brokerage account was heavily margined, and he had run up tens of thousands in credit card debt. He owed $550,000 to one of his investment funds.

Mr. Davis sought salvation in gambling…

Sought salvation. Sweet. And SOS is sure he never amassed credit card debt or owed stuff to an investment fund or had a big IRS bill or tried to gamble his way to God before the great fluted pillar he used to be crashed shockingly to the ground.

And now, as his morality tale wraps up, as darkness begin to shadow the turf, bad things happen fast and furious to this desperate man.

In just one month, March 2011, Mr. Davis ran up gambling losses of $200,000 at one Las Vegas casino. He owed $178,000 for the private jet. And he had to cover the $100,000 he had taken from the charity.

SOS is particularly fond of this line, appearing almost at the end of the tale.

The government has shed little light on Mr. Davis’s motive, other than that he needed money.

She loves the image of the NYT writer squinting with all his sympathetic might over the question WHY? WHY? He even asks the government!

And what does the government say? Fuck you! He wasn’t a distinguished anything! He was a greedy motherfucker who got caught.

It maketh SOS giggle.

Deep in the Heart of Waco

Baylor grad, Waco mayor, she’s – to paraphrase Freud – our royal road to to the Waco political unconscious. Let’s do an Online Schoolmarm scathe of her recent opinion column in the Waco Trib.

She begins with lengthy throat clearing:

To my friends and fellow citizens: Baylor University regents, former Baylor President and Chancellor Ken Starr, Baylor first lady Alice Starr, Coach and Mrs. Art Briles, Ian McCaw, Interim President David Garland, Baylor administration, faculty and students, Waco Mayors Kyle Deaver, Malcolm Duncan Jr. and Jim Bush, City Manager Dale Fisseler, city staff, council members, chambers of commerce, Waco churches, schools, parents, Tribune-Herald, KWBU, KWTX, KCEN and other media outlets, Waco Business League, Providence Health, Baylor Scott & White Health Hillcrest, Family Health Center, McLennan Community College and Texas State Technical College leadership and students, Rapoport, Cooper and Waco foundations, Caritas and Mission Waco, to name only a few of Waco’s community: I write with you in mind:

It’s the rare op/ed writer self-important enough to speechify in this way before beginning her content (though we’re going to discover that this person has no content, so the throat-clearing makes sense). One envisions Harold Hill gathering the townspeople to tell them there’s trouble right here in River City. With the Baylor rapes and the breastaurant massacre, I think Waco already knows this.

The writer seems to share Hill’s confidence that when she pens a piece in the local rag everyone in town will be reading it.

(SOS finds “a few of Waco’s community” awkward. A few what?)

There is much that we don’t know or understand about Baylor University’s current situation. But we, informed or not, will grieve and face this time together.

Her second paragraph heralds the theme of her piece, if theme there be: Life is a Mystery. The Lord Works in Mysterious Ways. Ah Sweet Mystery of Life. Just no knowin’ sometimes. What’s the Use of Wonderin’.

And why grief? A lot of people round them parts are angry, which seems a more reasonable response to a piously religious school looking the other way when its students get raped.

Now there’s a long emotional paragraph reminding her fellow Wacoans of how they’ve laughed and cried together over the years.

Waco and Baylor have matured together. [Biker shootouts at breastaurants? The rape-friendliest school this side of the University of Montana? Maybe this counts as mature behavior in Texas.] We’ve cheered, won and lost together. We’ve prayed, sung, anguished over a horrific day in history, run races, raised funds, volunteered, built homes and voted. [Strange list, moving relentlessly from high crisis to charity work to the mundane.] We reared our children and relished in our grandchildren. [Reveled? I don’t think you relish in. You put relish in.] We stood by, helpless and mute, when the [Branch Davidian] Compound burned. We awkwardly welcomed world press and learned. We saw Baylor move from an accomplished but contentious presidency though a transition more difficult for Baylor than Waco, ultimately transitioned by beloved Interim President David Garland, then President Kenneth Winston Starr.

Sometimes bad writing is just about strangeness. Although nothing outrageously bad appears in this piece, there’s a general sense of weird vague wandering around whatever it is this person actually wants to say. Is her goal to cheer up demoralized Wacoans? Why should she want to do that? Given her self-importance, this comes across as patronizing, as if she’s designated herself Lady Sunshine… And why give us Ken Starr’s full name when no one uses that?

Having reviewed Waco’s many triumphs, the writer now says:

In recalling these victories, in no way do I condone systems that protect attackers and fail to protect women. Effective systems were and are imperative. Together we pray for all victims’ healing and strength to rebuild their lives. They’ll need friends and family, as well as effective medical and legal services.

Again patronizing. A short paragraph stuck at the end of the piece saying And girls now I just pray you’ll find closure… Make sure to get effective medical and legal services! And note that the piece has been personal to a fault throughout (actually naming her readers in that first paragraph) until it gets to the rape scandal, at which point it’s all about ‘systems.’

Here’s how she concludes:

• In absence of knowing, stand with Baylor in facing the future. It is and will always be Waco’s inextricably linked “Siamese twin.”

God grant us all wisdom, grace, mercy, courage and peace.

See what I mean about creepy? Not twin but Siamese twin, a phrase she puts in quotation marks, which leads SOS to believe that this is a well-known formulation ’round Waco. An unfortunate birth anomaly, one person unable to move without the other… Surgeons seem to think Siamese twins are worth going to great lengths to try to separate… This is the beautiful Waco/Baylor relationship.

And there’s the whole absence of knowing thing again, although we do know, which is why Baylor’s president, much of the athletics department, and much of the latest class of football recruits, has been fired or has fled.

Finally there’s the Great Amen, featuring another bizarre list — very long, with nice thoughts in it, and it could go on much much longer. Maybe it originally did. Maybe the Waco Trib’s editor deleted love, humility, tolerance, resolve…………

Scathing Online Schoolmarm Reminds You…

… that infelicities of style can have serious repercussions.

The father of a Stanford University swimmer just convicted of sexual assault has upset a lot of people by writing that his son having to register as a sex offender and go to jail for six months is “a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action.”

Ahem. You and I know that he didn’t mean “action” in the xxx sense, in which people routinely talk about – for instance – girl on girl action. But that is where this man’s unheedful language has perhaps taken us, and it is, given the circumstances, a very unfortunate place indeed. Rather than get us thinking about a brief drunken hideous act in the context of an entire life, he has us picturing his son grinningly getting some action.

“Penn State President Eric Barron is just the latest blame-shifter with a blind spot, one who lacks basic command of vocabulary along with a sense of outrage. Evidence that school officials, including Paterno, may have been more culpable in the Sandusky scandal than previously thought is ‘incredulous,’ Barron pronounced in a statement.”

A university president who doesn’t know the difference between incredible and incredulous.

$95 million in legal payouts (so far) can put a real crimp in your proofreader budget.

All-Inclusive Cruz

Fevered and too-long, but – if you ask Scathing Online Schoolmarm – a wonderful final reckoning with Ted Cruz’s failure and Donald Trump’s success in Rolling Stone. Nervy, funny, relentless prose.

Trump cut through this sad remainder-bin collection of the indolent, the unappealing and the relentlessly, programmatically shitheaded like a burning chainsaw going through Country Crock. He recognized a fundamental weakness at the heart of this soft, oily collection of ersatz humanity: They can be undone by basic human contempt.

SOS likes the way the writer maintains, throughout his tireless evisceration of Cruz, a focus on the odd fact that the winner of the Republican presidential primary is the only candidate who is simply an immediately recognizable authentic human being. This doesn’t mean he’s nice. Human doesn’t mean humane. In fact, human rarely means humane.

Trump won because he basically didn’t give a fuck. Not about verbal pieties, campaign traditions, rudimentary gestures of respect or the orthodoxies of modern conservatism. Nothing.

The Art of the List

Scathing Online Schoolmarm says: When you’ve been saving up a lot of anger, and you want to spend it stylishly and well, listing is your best friend. Listing allows a writer to organize and compress her many grievances instead of spewing them about and making herself, like Sarah Palin, an object of satire.

Listing makes you look rational, and your grievances plausible. Inside you’re raging, but your calm and systematic prose suggests that your rage is not composed of inchoate superficial and personal stuff; rather, what’s bugging you amounts to a coherent indictment of something real, with large and shared implications.


Consider some introductory paragraphs from David Remnick’s recent New Yorker piece on Trump. SOS will highlight each list.

It was all so funny once. For a long time, Trump, with his twenty-four-karat skyscrapers, his interesting hair, and his extra-classy airline, was a leading feature of the New York egoscape. The editors of the satirical monthly Spy covered him with the same obsessive attention that Field & Stream pays to the rainbow trout. Trump never failed to provide; he was everywhere, commandeering a corner at a professional wrestling match, buying the Miss Universe franchise and vowing smaller bathing suits and higher heels. You could watch him humiliate supplicants on “The Apprentice” and hear him on “The Howard Stern Show” gallantly describing the mystery of Melania’s bowel movements (“I’ve never seen anything — it’s amazing”) and announcing that, “without even hesitation,” he would have had sex with Princess Diana. As early as 1988, Trump hinted at a run for the White House, though this was understood to be part of his carny shtick, another form of self-branding in the celebrity-mad culture.

And now here we are. Trump is no longer hustling golf courses, fake “universities,” or reality TV. He means to command the United States armed forces and control its nuclear codes. He intends to propose legislation, conduct America’s global affairs, preside over its national-intelligence apparatus, and make the innumerable moral and political decisions required of a President. This is not a Seth Rogen movie; this is as real as mud. Having all but swept the early Republican primaries and caucuses, Trump — who re-tweets conspiracy theories and invites the affections of white-supremacist groups, and has established himself as the adept inheritor of a long tradition of nativism, discrimination, and authoritarianism — is getting ever closer to becoming the nominee of what Republicans like to call “the party of Abraham Lincoln.” No American demagogue –– not Huey Long, not Joseph McCarthy, not George Wallace –– has ever achieved such proximity to national power.


List, list, O list!
Lists within lists (re-tweets conspiracy theories and invites the affections of white-supremacist groups, and has established himself as the adept inheritor of a long tradition of nativism, discrimination, and authoritarianism)!

And how does Remnick avoid turning this essay into the dreary recitation of one list after another? He varies the way he presents them. He breaks them up with humor (trout), anecdotes, quotations. He packs each of his paragraphs with all sorts of things – history, neologisms (egoscape), fresh similes (as real as mud), and fun alliteration (mystery, Melania, movements, amazing).

Indeed, if SOS could take Melania’s bowel movements out of that parenthesis and propose a simile of her own:

Good writing is like Melania’s feculence. It is the product of someone who has gone to the trouble of secreting herself in a private room and thoughtfully shaping what must be expressed into something solid and not off-putting.

The Romney Speech Today was, if you ask UD, a Win/Win.

But before we hear from UD, let’s hear from Scathing Online Schoolmarm.

SOS notes that Romney found a fine speechwriter. Here’s some of the good stuff.

[Trump is a] twisted example of evil trumping good.

Nice use of the last name. “Twisted” is a strong word, and gives the sentence a gently tripping alliteration. Twisted also helps make one of Romney’s larger points: Trump is nuts.

There is a dark irony in his boasts of his sexual exploits during the Vietnam War while at the same time John McCain, who he has mocked, was imprisoned and tortured.

Dark irony is pretty effing sophisticated for a political speech, in SOS‘s humble opinion. SOS expects to find dark irony in essays about Franz Kafka. Color SOS also pretty astonished that Romney’s willing to say Trump humped his way through the war. This is a point best made by Bill Maher (now that Robin Williams is no longer with us), but even without going for the easy laugh, Romney does more than respectably with it.

His imagination must not be married to real power.

The he’s nuts point again, made pithily and well. SOS thinks that Romney’s decision to stress Trump’s disordered grandiose mind was a wise one. If the point is to needle Trump in order to get him to act even more insanely than he’s been acting, nothing will work better than heading for the complex private terrain of his mind. It’s like that cruel game in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf when George finally has Martha madly shrieking that she’s NOT nuts, she’s NOT nuts! “You’re all flops,” screams Martha (losers, in Trumpspeech), and I’m the only sane one around here…

A later phrase along these lines – Trump’s “absurd third-grade theatrics” – adds infantile to grandiose and disordered. And look at the poetry of the phrase: absurd rhymes with third; grade is a nearish-rhyme with third, and theatrics wakes the phrase up by putting a long-voweled, tri-syllabic word at the end.


Ok, and as for UD‘s response: She has two points to make.

1. As a university maven, UD was pleased to see Trump University rear its head.

His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University.

2. For UD, who will vote for Hillary, the speech is also a winner because Romney’s intemperate remarks about Hillary will, UD thinks, inspire more people to vote for her:

Even as Romney condemned Trump as a fundamental threat to the nation, he gave credence to Republicans’ wide-ranging hysteria about Hillary Clinton. “A person so untrustworthy and dishonest as Hillary Clinton must not become president,” he declared, reflecting a variety of negative GOP tendencies — accepting distortions as plain truth, making it seem as though the fate of the Republic constantly hangs on Republicans winning the next election, arguing that their opponents are not just wrong but illegitimate.

Really well-written article about President Trump. And who knew that …

About half of Republicans favor higher taxes on the rich


Many pithy sentences, such as this one:

Running for office as an exercise in ego gratification may not be as good a thing as running as a serious candidate with good ideas, but it’s much better than running as a serious candidate with bad ideas.

And plenty of low-key humor (read the whole thing). Scathing Online Schoolmarm loves writing like this.

“National Review is a failing publication that has lost it’s way.”

Scathing Online Schoolmarm knew there was something she didn’t like about this guy.

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