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.

Nicely written.

The reality of a comic-book villain Latino-basher dominating their party’s communications is a nightmare [Republican strategists] never contemplated.

Fox News is probably trying to freeze Trump out of its debates by requiring that all candidates file paperwork. Many people believe Trump has exaggerated his net worth and won’t be willing to expose his empty boasts by disclosing his actual net worth. But many of us also believed Trump would never declare a campaign. He has already proven his willingness to act irrationally. Trump has blown up a lucrative commercial brand as a loudmouth pitchman and embodiment of vulgar wealth (a hardy American trope) and traded it for Pat Buchanan’s brand — which is also a hardy American trope, but with far more limited opportunity for commercial exploitation.

A sentence that made UD laugh out loud.

They go to these things, they pack their colons full of poorly-prepared meat products, they get cripplingly drunk, they slur along with the chorus of some moronic alcohol anthem, they get into their minivans and pick-ups, they drive home arguing the whole way and they hit a tree five blocks from their house and die instantly.

Straight out of Flannery O’Connor.


But hey you can’t argue with this local commenter’s math.

If 53000 people attended and 300 were ejected that is less than 1% of the attendees. Which means 99% of the crowd behaved, were not drunk, were not making fools of themselves. Where is that story?


The North Adams Police Department is urging everyone to NOT chase bears through the woods with a dull hatchet, drunk,” the post said.

‘Love, morphine, and whisky.’

UD‘s about to go to Teaism to meet up with a friend, but she wants to write a little bit, when she gets back, about this now-notorious blog post from a very good writer and a very thoughtful doctor.

Because Richard Smith’s candid thoughts about the best death angered a lot of people, he has written a follow-up.

UD thinks his writing on death might profitably be read alongside another notorious recent essay on the subject, also by a doctor: Ezekiel Emanuel’s piece in the Atlantic.

As is often the case with very controversial writing, the responses (one’s own as well as those of others) are perhaps more interesting/important than the writing itself. I’ll chew over these matters while chewing on a scone and downing a mug of chai, and I’ll write about them when I return.

Spectacularly mature and well-written piece on laptops in the classroom…

… by a Wesleyan University undergrad. One of the keenest, calmest, most honest, considerations UD has seen of the phenomenon.

It is our obligation as students to delve more deeply into the impacts of technology on our education and our values, and this can only happen through reflection about the influence of technology on what and how we learn… The questions raised by technology are not just questions about distraction or temptation. They are deeper human questions about how we learn, and they must be addressed if we ever hope to reach an understanding of how technology should be used in the service of learning. Whatever decision professors or students might make about the use of technology in the classroom, these questions can serve as springboards for discussion about the importance, for example, of an engaging classroom environment, and about why complete focus and open interaction with one’s classmates are essential to this environment.

Concisely, incisively, she gets to the core of why professors who allow – much less encourage – laptops in their classroom are guilty of pedagogical malpractice.

But – as UD has said for years on this blog – laptop lecturers, who totally grasp the advantages of talking to an audience that ignores you (especially if, like many of these lecturers, you spice up the classroom sizzle with extensive PowerPoint use), will never shut down the enterprise. Nor will their university’s administrators, who after all have been giving these drones awards for innovative use of technology in the classroom. As UD has always said, and as this and other student editorials suggest, change will come only from a popular revolt.

Nice writing on the Steven Salaita controversy.

Quoted in an Inside Higher Ed article.

John K. Wilson, author of numerous books and essays about academic freedom, wrote on the AAUP blog that he found [University of Illinois chancellor Phyllis] Wise’s statement troubling. “Respect is not a fundamental value of any university, and being ‘disrespectful’ is not an academic crime. But it’s notable that Salaita really didn’t say anything personal about anyone. So here Wise greatly expands the concept, declaring that not only persons but ‘viewpoints themselves’ must be protected from any disrespectful words,” Wilson writes.

“I am puzzled as to exactly how a free university could possibly operate when no one is allowed to be disrespectful toward any viewpoint. Presumably, Wise will quickly act to fire anyone who has ever disrespected or demeaned Nazism, terrorism, racism, sexism, and homophobia. Since all ‘viewpoints’ are protected, then biology professors must be fired for disrespecting creationism as false, along with any other professor who is found to believe or know anything.”

Nadine Gordimer…

… has died.

In the town where I lived, there was no mental food … at all. I’m often amazed to think how they live, those people, and what an oppressed life it must be, because human beings must live in the world of ideas. This dimension in the human psyche is very important. It was there, but they didn’t know how to express it. Conversation consisted of trivialities. For women, household matters, problems with children. The men would talk about golf or business or horse racing or whatever their practical interests were. Nobody ever talked about, or even around, the big things — life and death. The whole existential aspect of life was never discussed. I, of course, approached it through books. Thought about it on my own. It was as secret as it would have been to discuss my parents’ sex life. It was something so private, because I felt that there was nobody with whom I could talk about these things, just nobody. But then, of course, when I was moving around at university, my life changed.

Rightwing …


“Should she return to her selfish, shallow life in Hollywood or build a new shallow, selfish life in Monte Carlo?”

Sure, these reviews are pretty easy to write. Still, they’re often fun to read.

“You truly represent everything that the West loathes about white South Africans who live extravagant lives in their expensive laagers.”

The Pistorius trial generates its first truly powerful writing. This article is going viral in South Africa.

“It was Day 2 of Mobile Home University, an intensive, three-day course on how to strike it rich in the trailer-park business. Seventy-five or so students had signed up for the class, which Rolfe offers every other month in different places around the country…”

I love this article about MHU. I read it going home on the metro yesterday and loved it. Its strange, comic, and morally questionable subject matter is rendered in an appropriately flat descriptive tone; it features an amusing all-American main character (Frank Rolfe); and it evokes the exotic (to me; probably to you) world of the American trailer park (more delicately, the manufactured home community).

“I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t gamble,” [Rolfe] says. “I don’t travel, I don’t restore cars, I have no hobbies. I don’t do anything.” Trailer parks are his world, and after nearly two decades in the business, he can entertain his students with a near-endless repertoire of tales. One of the class’s favorites was the tenant who tried to drown his girlfriend — and then nearly became a murder victim himself when the same woman tried to saw off his head.

“Cremation will take place at the family’s convenience, and his ashes will be kept in an urn until they get tired of having it around. What’s a Grecian Urn? Oh, about 200 drachmas a week.”

A great obituary from UD‘s summer stomping grounds, the beaches of Delaware.

Via Andrew Sullivan.

“Recently voted the world’s worst politician, and still plumbing ever-deeper depths of domestic unpopularity, the wobbly-chopped socialist can be forgiven for seeking consolation somewhere.”

UD finds the best writing – so far – on Francois Hollande.

It’s all good, but the writer has in particular a way with phrases:

While still a student at the Ecole Nationale d’Admininstration, the elite college that turns out France’s bureaucrats, Hollande met Ségolène Royal, a glossily-coiffed fellow political obsessive…


wobbly-chopped socialist… glossily-coiffed fellow political obsessive…

Wonderfully pithy. But the whole thing is good.


A side-note on all this:
UD argues that the photo of Hollande wearing a big macho motorcycle helmet (in order to hide his identity as he enters his love nest) is the functional equivalent of the photo of Michael Dukakis wearing a big macho military helmet during his presidential election. Not a good look for them.

“Why give it to an institution rolling in money?”

Some of Gore Vidal’s family members are irritated that he willed his fortune (almost forty million dollars) to Harvard University. The New York Times interviews various confused friends, like the one in my headline…

It’s not just that Harvard already has close to forty billion dollars in endowment money; it’s that Vidal spent a lot of his life presenting himself as a man of the left who despised the gilded establishment and was mad for the radical redistribution of wealth. People at the very least expected him to set up a foundation in support of free speech and other rights; some expected him to establish his Italy house as a writers’ colony.

So there’s a lawsuit now, with family members making as ugly a spectacle of themselves as Vidal often did toward the end of his life. (“I have no wish to commit literary patricide, or to assassinate Vidal’s character — a character which appears, in any case, to have committed suicide,” wrote Christopher Hitchens in 2010.)

There’s a 2012 essay here, at Inside Higher Ed, about Vidal’s history with Harvard. It features a curious little clip of him portraying a pompous Harvard professor.

Of course for old UD the principle here is simple: He wrote and signed the will; he wasn’t in great shape, that’s true; but giving it to Harvard is a plausible thing for someone as complex in his motives to have wanted, and it should be respected.

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