Scathing Online Schoolmarm Scathes through an Opinion Piece that Perfectly Expresses What Must, Amid the Coronavirus Outbreak, be Called the Suicidal Acceptance of Any Mindless Cult that Calls Itself a Religion.

“You can get away with the most extraordinary offenses to morality and to truth in this country if you’ll just get yourself called Reverend” remarked Christopher Hitchens of the founder of the only university in America that’s about to reopen. In an extraordinary opinion piece about perverse pockets of resistance to self-isolating, Candida Moss duly notes this country’s raving reverends, its potted pastors, the flagellants at the journal First Things; she mentions too the South Korean cult at the heart of that country’s epidemic… She fails to mention the sometimes violent ultraorthodox cults in Israel, Europe, and the United States, but we need to throw them in…

She lists all of these disease-spreaders with respect, with the understanding that of course all such people and groups qualify as upstanding Christians and Jews, our brethren, part of the beautiful world (as a word in her headline puts it), of “faith.”

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Since we need to stop fanatics from killing us, let us examine precisely how ethically dense people like Moss help make this life-saving goal unreachable.

This week, as stores, restaurants and other businesses shuttered their doors to help stem the spread of coronavirus, a number of conservative Christians chose to frame their response to the pandemic in a different way: as an opportunity to choose “faith over fear.”

The rhetoric of that last phrase – an opportunity to choose – recalls Jack Gladney’s response to his wife’s choice, amid the “airborne toxic event” in White Noise, to regard the disaster as “a good time to cut down on fatty things.” To which Gladney responds:

I think it’s interesting that you regard a possible disaster for yourself, your family and thousands of other people as an opportunity to cut down on fatty foods.

Of course, the people Moss has in mind don’t really choose anything; they are proud submissives, majorly into suffering and dying for the lord or the chief rabbi or whatever. To them, the virus represents an opportunity to manifest submission. They’re not like hedonistic spring breakers; they’re compelled to prove something.

We’re talking snake-handlers here, many of whom die venomously while under the protection of the holy spirit – and I’m pretty sure Moss would extend the same ecumenical courtesy to snake-handlers that she extends to the Falwells.

Hers is a category error, not to mention a catastrophic mistake for humankind.

While religious activity may be an essential part of people’s lives, the assumption that social distancing equates to spiritual estrangement is up for debate. Should religious freedom be allowed to put the lives of the many at risk?

Religious; religious; spiritual; freedom – how kind of Moss to honor the kinkiest among us with these epithets. How kind of her to frame the problem of what to do with destructive masochists as a “debate.” Here are some better word choice suggestions from SOS: cultic; criminally negligent (I mean, let’s also honor with words like faith Christian Scientists who kill their kids: Or is Moss reserving judgment of isolation-resisters until they too kill family members?); stupid; socially toxic.

In her last paragraphs (how many readers will get to these?) Moss finally says the right stuff:

What is most frightening about these latest expressions of “religious freedom” is not just that they threaten to place others at risk, but that religious conservatives form a substantial part of Donald Trump’s voter base — his plan to reopen by Easter may be well timed to speak to them.

Now the phrase religious freedom gets the quotation marks it deserves; but Moss still considers fringe groups (think here of the Mormon church’s endless efforts to disaffiliate itself from backwoods polygamists fucking fourteen year olds for the lord) “conservative Christians.” Call them what they are, lady – disturbed reactionaries who damage the legitimate religions they parasitize, and who now threaten the health of nations.

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The attitude of religion to medicine, like the attitude of religion to science, is always necessarily problematic and very often necessarily hostile. A modern believer can say and even believe that his faith is quite compatible with science and medicine, but the awkward fact will always be that both things have a tendency to break religion’s monopoly, and have often been fiercely resisted for that reason. What happens to the faith healer and the shaman when any poor citizen can see the full effect of drugs and surgeries, administered without ceremonies or mystifications? Roughly the same thing as happens to the rainmaker when the climatologist turns up, or to the diviner from the heavens when schoolteachers get hold of elementary telescopes. Plagues of antiquity were held to be punishment from the gods, which did much to strengthen the hold of the priesthood and much to encourage the burning of infidels and heretics who were thought—in an alternative explanation—to be spreading disease by witchcraft or else poisoning the wells. We may make allowances for the orgies of stupidity and cruelty that were indulged in before humanity had a clear concept of the germ theory of disease. Most of the “miracles” of the New Testament have to do with healing, which was of such great importance in a time when even minor illness was often the end. (Saint Augustine himself said that he would not have believed in Christianity if it were not for the miracles.) Scientific critics of religion such as Daniel Dennett have been generous enough to point out that apparently useless healing rituals may even have helped people get better, in that we know how important morale can be in aiding the body to fight injury and infection. But that would be an excuse only available in retrospect. By the time Dr. Jenner had discovered that a cowpox vaccine could ward off smallpox, this excuse had become void. Yet Timothy Dwight, a president of Yale University and to this day one of America’s most respected “divines,” was opposed to the smallpox vaccination because he regarded it as an interference with god’s design. And this mentality is still heavily present, long after its pretext and justification in human ignorance has vanished.

To cleanse our palate from the writing of Huntington’s…

… attorney (SOS post here), let’s sample some good writing. Here the author must make repeated reference to the scads of recently-built zillionaires’ apartments in New York City, half of which sit empty.

Yes, half.

Today, nearly half of the Manhattan luxury-condo units that have come onto the market in the past five years are still unsold

(To be sure, even when they are sold, they’re usually – some of them always – empty. They’re someone’s seventh home; they’re strictly about money laundering; they’re investments. So that postmodern simulacral vibe hums on… But put that aside. That’s only about the hollowing out of a great city’s culture.)

Here’s America’s premier city, with a terrible homeless problem and a just as terrible lack of middle class housing, and the place bursts with high-end residential nothingness. Let’s look at how a good writer finds different ways to refer to his subject throughout his essay.

He calls these typically high and very narrow buildings

colossal stalagmites

empty sky palaces

Manhattan’s glassy spires

Dude has actually gone to the trouble to look at stalagmites, which do in fact resemble quite eerily NYC’s clinic of bloodless needles. Empty sky palaces, with its assonance on the p and y, is positively poetic; and Manhattan’s glassy spires, while the least exciting of the three, offers nice assonance on the a‘s (Manhattan, glassy).

Scathing Online Schoolmarm says: If you can’t write, and you MUST write, find someone else to write for you.

If you’re Huntington West Virginia’s attorney, and you have to write a piece in the local press defending the city against charges that its inept appeals board let a pretty obvious criminal open a bar where a mass shooting gained national attention, you need to know how to write English. You need to know how to write what writing instructors like SOS call a persuasive essay.

In the case of this obviously botched process, you need to begin by conceding that the city could have done better; after that, you can go to town defending Huntington as having done not that badly, or whatever.

Huntington’s attorney has instead produced a miserable mess, a blahblah brew that (as comments on the article suggest) only confirms everyone’s prejudice that lawyers are people who produce double talk and bullshit on request. On the simplest level of word meaning, this writer fails.

The frightening prospect of a dispute resulting in the shooting of several people that occurred between the prosperous downtown area and Marshall University warrants our collective focus and resolution that no similar event can occur here again.

Put aside the indecipherable wordy weirdness of the sentence altogether – the redundancy of the passive, ugly “occur,” the bizarre placement of the shooting’s location not at the Kulture Hookah bar but I dunno somewhere between the prosperous (why is prosperous relevant?) downtown (you don’t need area, unless your goal is to lard and muddy and fog and vagueify and pass the buck and pretend what happened didn’t sorta actually happen), the tea party word dispute instead of fight… Seven people aren’t left crawling among broken beer bottles inside and bullet casings outside after a dispute. Put all of that aside and notice that the writer thinks prospect means fact.

This event wasn’t in some cloudy future, much as the writer clearly wants it to be; it happened. Hence the word he ‘s looking for is fact, or event, or episode, or incident.

Of course, if he knew how to write he would have avoided this problem altogether: The frightening shootout at Kulture Hookah can never happen again. That’s all the poor man needed, not all those other words. But writing like that communicates an open straightforward grounding in reality, which is the last thing this guy wants, has, or is capable of expressing.

The rest of the opinion piece dances around the failure of the city to check the bar owner’s heroin distribution background before granting her a permit.

The writer ends in this way:

Every person who had a hand in addressing the matter performed his or her job with competence. The shooting occurred because of unpredictable criminal behavior…

Nothing to see here! We concede nothing! Absolutely everyone who runs the second largest city in a state with the highest opioid death rate in the United States is doing a great job!

Scathing Online Schoolmarm

Rehoboth Beach is Delaware’s most overrated destination mainly due to the cost of parking and its exuberant enforcement of parking meters.  

At least they ticket joyfully.

Scathing Online Schoolmarm asks: Was the word “offstage” necessary in this sentence?

Mr. Grigolo also cultivated a rebellious image — “The Bad Boy of Opera” was the name of a short film Bruce Weber made about him for Italian Vanity Fair, and he was known to race motorcycles and drive sports cars offstage.

SOS, over breakfast, said it was unnecessary. Mr UD disagreed: “The word clarifies that he’s not a really, really bad boy. He keeps his sports car driving offstage.”

It’s plane.

Scathing Online Schoolmarm says: Even at the highest levels, editors sometimes mistake plain and plane. In a column about Michelle Obama, Charles Blow writes:

[Racists have always believed black people lack] the morality and character to exist on the same plain as white people.

It’s an understandable error, since it sort of makes sense to say someone deserves to exist in the same geographical location as other people; but the actual idea is that they are on the same level. SOS is going to guess that an editor will soon correct it.

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Editors have now corrected it.

Lines Written at Seventy-One.

Scathing Online Schoolmarm howled with laughter through this wonderful essay. But she’s a mere sixty-six. Your mileage may differ.

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But this, by Roger Angell, is even better. I’ve mulled over this paragraph for years.

“My list of names [of dead friends] is banal but astounding, and it’s barely a fraction, the ones that slip into view in the first minute or two. Anyone over sixty knows this; my list is only longer. I don’t go there often, but, once I start, the battalion of the dead is on duty, alertly waiting. Why do they sustain me so, cheer me up, remind me of life? I don’t understand this. Why am I not endlessly grieving?”

Reprehensible, Despicable, Repugnant.

Now that he’s gleefully invoked an oncoming civil war, the leader of the free world has inspired a tsunami of some of Scathing Online Schoolmarm‘s favorite words — from Republicans as much as Democrats. These are strong, uncompromising words; these are words that do not mince words. These are not words like inappropriate, questionable, offensive; they are words like disgusting, repellent, and repulsive. Vile, abhorrent, contemptible. Ghastly, loathsome, fetid.

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And about that civil war…

‘The hotel’s focus not only centers on relaxation but wellness, as well. Arctic Bath’s food program includes “regular exercise, peach of mind, and care of face and body.”‘

Also pear of legs and currant of electricity.

Sign me up.

Swimming is so good for you that researchers share it may even reduce your risk of death.

“Trump claimed that Democrats as a party would use the ‘power of the law to punish their opponents’ if they’re handed the reigns to the country.”

Silly British tabloid thinks we’re a monarchy too.

Scathing Online Schoolmarm Asks: Why Did Oberlin Want to Spread Student Tensions More Widely?

In court, one of the College’s attorneys, Rachelle Zidar, argued that the College and [the dean of students] did not seek to injure [Gibson’s Bakery] but rather the pause [in their business relationship] was meant to diffuse tensions that had built within the student body.

UD’s old friend Scott Jaschik staying up too late writing…

… Duke officials said that the university was settling [a lawsuit] only to avoid the costs and incoveience of literation.

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It’s been corrected.

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UD thanks Jeremy.

Crimes of the Art


Scathing Online Schoolmarm appreciates the fine Italian hand of this NYT writer, who weaves a subtle tapestry of aesthetics and larceny in this article.

Scathing Online Schoolmarm says:

Go ahead and signal your attitude toward your subject with a wittle bitty simile at the end of your opening paragraph:

“One thing that’s always been true in New York,” says Dan Doctoroff, “is that if you build it, they will come.” He is referring to Hudson Yards, the $25bn, 28-acre, mega-project that he had a critical hand in originating while he was deputy mayor of the city under Michael Bloomberg in the early 2000s. He can now look down on his co-creation every day from his new office in one of the development’s towers and see hundreds of people climbing up and down Thomas Heatherwick’s Vessel sculpture, like tiny maggots crawling all over a rotting doner kebab.

LOL.

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