April 2nd, 2023
SOS says: Nice writing.

… Satan carries Jesus onto a high mountain, below which are spread all the kingdoms of the world, and says, “All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.”

In the gospel myth, Christ passes the test. But how many of us mortals would? Some Republicans seem to have made it—Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers—but many did not. Consider William Barr, formerly a respected figure who reduced himself to vile toadyism and outright deceit to defend Trump from legal danger; consider Lindsey Graham, formerly, like his late friend John McCain, a figure with a reputation for independence who now crawls in Trump’s wake croaking “my precious”; consider Rudy Giuliani, once presidential timber but last seen by history as Pagliacci, hair dye dripping as he stumbled through a parody of legal argument on behalf of Trump. 

March 13th, 2023
SOS Says… I’m delighted by the development, but less delighted by the sentence announcing it.

As Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Corporation battles to contain the Dominion lawsuit scandal that has engulfed its top executives and stars, another crisis is building in the wings that has the potential to cause further turbulence for the media empire.

Smartmatic’s defamation lawsuit, targeting wiggidy wiggidy wacked New York University trustee Maria Bartiromo, is asking for twice Dominion’s damages: $2.7 billlllllion.

But you see the problem with the sentence in my headline, which comes from the Guardian. Tossing too much figurative language into your writing – aka mixed metaphors – is far from the worst style mistake; but it can fog up a reader’s understanding with a stew of confusing images. (See? A stew that fogs…?)

In this example, we move from the realm of battle to that of flooding, then take a theatrical turn (wings), and end up in a shaky aircraft cabin.

February 26th, 2023
‘Guttenberg—a tax lawyer, cybersecurity entrepreneur, and self-described paleoarchaeologist who calls herself the “top dog attorney in the country”—lives mostly in New Mexico but has homes in New York State and elsewhere. She and the show-dog community have been at each other’s throats for some time; in 2019, Guttenberg sued the Chihuahua Club of America over claims she called their president “a Nazi.”’

UD likes to drift among the current articles on the web ISO … kibbles you might enjoy.


In a follow-up filing, Guttenberg argued that misspellings do not constitute proof of drunkenness.

True, true. But Scathing Online Schoolmarm thinks they may constitute … a suggestion … that something (“You have defamed, slandered and attempted to ruin my lively hood” … “The words that came out of her mouth were very offensive like calling the President a Nazi and refuring to constration camps and Nazi Germany.”) is very wrong.

January 12th, 2023
So here’s one for Scathing Online Schoolmarm to Scathe Through.

The occasion couldn’t be more banal: A recently appointed school superintendent plagiarized her dissertation, and the community wonders what to do about a flagrant academic cheater overseeing the academic progress and ethics of the community’s children.

A local newspaper

“examined and cross-checked the 164-page paper” after receiving a tip that the manuscript contained “questionable credits and attributions.”

So, point one: A 164 page doctoral dissertation? Even in the benighted field of education, this is pretty pathetic, given that around half (?) of that is going to turn out to be intro, notes, dedications, etc. Let’s assume actual writing takes up 85 – 90 pages. This is far from thesis length.

Even so, the author felt compelled to lard it up with stolen language.

 … 35 sections of the dissertation matched the phrasing from sources “word-for-word” and are misidentified or unidentified. The paper fails to properly quote from The Journal of School Nursing, The Journal of School Health, a U.S. Surgeon General’s Report and other sources, according to excerpts highlighted in the newspaper’s article. The story also featured a trio of interviews with professors with expertise in plagiarism — with two saying the exact matches of sentences indicate copying and the third saying they believed the dissertation should at least “be corrected if possible.”

This ain’t just plagiarism; it’s Potty Plagiarism, it’s Brown Spots on the Wall by Hoo Flong Dong, it’s lemme hurl words here and hurl words there and let my utterly indifferent and irresponsible dissertation committee figure it out. Cuz yeah responsibility here is shared by the tenured layabouts who didn’t bother reading this and just went ahead and passed it and therefore passed this woman along to her date with destiny in the form of a group of reporters who actually examined the thing.

The plagiarist refuses interview requests – who can blame her? – but does treat the school district she oversees for $226,000 a year to some of her actual prose by way of defending herself to them. Here goes, kiddies.

 I’d like to be as open and transparent as possible on a topic that reminds me being in public leadership requires perfection (and undue scrutiny and judgment), sometimes at the expense of the progress and grace that I often encourage our community to extend to self and others. I only hope that I can model what I expect of our community, display the capacity to adjust, and take the Michelle Obama approach … ‘When they go low, we go high.’

S’wonderful the way she opens by announcing she’s about to be as open and transparent as possible, and then immediately plunges into thickets of nothingness. Where is the word “plagiarism”? What the fuck is she talking about?

We’re not going after her semi-literacy here; she wouldn’t have woven her thesis of many colors if she were able to write. We’re going after her contemptible self-flattery (“My title, accolades, credentials, years of experience and degrees only matter on my resume.” Which is why I’m bleating about them here.) and victimization and plagiarism of the integrity of Michelle Obama in service of her own ass-covering. No one says her job requires perfection, and there’s nothing undue about scrutiny that reveals a person just hired to supervise the ethics of hundreds of schoolchildren has the scholarly ethics of an alleycat. “Grace” is fine, grace is excellent, grace is preparing us for: Whatever I’ve done Jesus forgives me. They go low – those hellish scum had the gall to uncover my plagiarism – but I will go high! I will point my finger to heaven where all is forgiven!

September 3rd, 2022
‘Browbeaten Stock Bulls Wilt in the Face of Rising Fed Hostility’

This Bloomberg headline helps you understand why mixing metaphors ain’t a great idea.

July 22nd, 2022
Scathing Online Schoolmarm Says: I forgive Amy Klobuchar for messing up the notorious FLAUNT/FLOUT distinction.

Klobuchar wonders how the violence at the Capitol would have been handled if we’d had a president “who didn’t flaunt the laws of the United States.”

As Vocabulary.com notes, “Flaunt is to show off, but flout is to ignore the rules.”

She’s forgiven because it’s way easy to confuse these two very similar words; and also because she’d make a damn good presidential candidate and I don’t want to discourage her.

June 8th, 2022
‘MAGA candidates fail to oust mainstream Republicans in House primaries – including a GOP Rep. who voted for Trump’s impeachment and South Dakota Senator John Thune who ex-president declared his career “over”

Know Hope.

(Yes, SOS is aware that last part should be whose career the ex-president declared ‘over’.)

May 9th, 2022
Aw hell. Since, post-Taliban burqa mandate, everyone’s got nasty shit to say about that garment (and where are all the British burqa’ed women who routinely show up on the telly to insist that the shroud is beautiful and empowering?), I think we should revisit Polly Toynbee on the subject. SOS says: She’s a hell of a writer.

The top-to-toe burka, with its sinister, airless little grille, is more than an instrument of persecution, it is a public tarring and feathering of female sexuality. It transforms any woman into an object of defilement too untouchably disgusting to be seen. It is a garment of lurid sexual suggestiveness: what rampant desire and desirability lurks and leers beneath its dark mysteries? In its objectifying of women, it turns them into cowering creatures demanding and expecting violence and victimisation. Forget cultural sensibilities.

More moderate versions of the garb – the dull, uniform coat to the ground and the plain headscarf – have much the same effect, inspiring the lascivious thoughts they are designed to stifle. What is it about a woman that is so repellently sexual that she must diminish herself into drab uniformity while strolling down Oxford Street one step behind a husband who is kitted out in razor-sharp Armani and gold, pomaded hair and tight bum exposed to lustful eyes? (No letters please from British women who have taken the veil and claim it’s liberating. It is their right in a tolerant society to wear anything including rubber fetishes – but that has nothing to do with the systematic cultural oppression of women with no choice.)

March 10th, 2022
Scathing Online Schoolmarm says: It pays to know how to organize the material in your sentences.

SOS has been reading up, this morning, on the just-sanctioned oligarch Oleg Deripaska, and she found these extremely instructive sentences in a 2018 NYT article, so pay attention.

Unlike Mr. Deripaska, Lord Barker had a largely spotless reputation. His only minor brushes with scandal came in 2006, when he left his wife to live with a male interior decorator, and in 2012, while serving as energy minister, when he made the tabloids for using a microwave at Parliament to warm a cushion for his pet dachshund, Otto.

LOLOL. Do you see what the two extremely clever writers who produced these two sentences did? Do you see why the ghost of Lady Bracknell shines bright out of these two sentences? I mean, read it out loud, using her upperest of upper class British accents. Go on!

First, their set-up, and it’s vintage Oscar Wilde, as in

The General was essentially a man of peace

Then … Bada bing bada boom:except in his domestic life.

So here we begin with another insipid cliche: spotless reputation… Though that sly largely tells you Bracknell waits panting in the wings. Largely, essentially – insert a seemingly innocuous adverb in front of your cliche and let fly.

That short first sentence, in other words, is the set-up. The second, much longer sentence, will launch us into the realm of absurdity… Or not launch, really – launch suggests an instant liftoff, whereas the trick actually involves sort of the opposite of a liftoff… a kind of sly gradual fizzling out is more like it… an operation whereby the sentence, instead of gaining steam and significance (writers are typically instructed to put their most significant material toward the end of their sentences, to work up to it — in part so that the reader is led to want to read further), delightfully self-deflates, leaving us in a terrain so beyond-trivial, so astoundingly non-serious, so insanely petty, so infinitesimally small, as to …

I mean, ask yourself: Why didn’t they write dog? Why did they belabor, bedeck, and bedew the sentence with breed and name? With warm? With pet? Have the writers not read Politics and the English Language?

Of course they have. But I don’t pay a fortune to subscribe to the New York Times in order to march solemnly through a stern-faced rendition of what is in fact a farcical story featuring sleazy twisted self-regarding idiots – I want a sense, as I read, that, along with the obligatory surface rendition of events, the writers grasp the sick world that set the events in motion. The writers correctly pinpointed the dachshund detail as a … sly … opening to that world, and they went with it.

The only thing SOS thinks could have improved this writing would have been if Lord Barker had inadvertently put the dachshund rather than the cushion in the microwave, in the same way Miss Prism inadvertently put the baby rather than the manuscript in the handbag. Alas, real life seldom cooperates to this extent.

Though it is certainly true that we got more than we might have expected in the name Lord Barker. Here life lent the whole thing a very Richard Brinsley Sheridan touch. Nice.

March 3rd, 2022
Scathing Online Schoolmarm Says: This is good writing.

The How do you write about The Villages if you are writing for the New York Times? problem would seem to be insoluble; but Michelle Cottle has figured out a way. The editorial decision to call her observations “Opinion” was a good call, but SOS doesn’t think this will stop people from noticing a certain… uh…

It is easy to mock all the clubs and events as boomer hedonism mixed with golden-years YOLO nihilism. Eat, drink and be merry, because tomorrow you may get diagnosed with shingles or need a double hip replacement! And the frenzied socializing can definitely veer in that direction. Residents mentioned that alcohol abuse is a real problem here. And for years, the community has fought its reputation (based in part on a 2008 book) as a den of sexual iniquity, where seniors get jiggy in golf carts and S.T.D.s run rampant.

LOL. Demographically speaking, SOS is a hyper-typical NYT reader, and she’s as alive as the next person to the specific comedy of old people doing it in golf carts. Knowing this, Cottle really goes to town and amuses the hell out of me with extensive descriptions (it’s a long, er, opinion piece) of anile debauchery. I’m thinking the piece will generate serious blow back – not just from outraged Villagers, but from oldies more broadly, and, of course, from political scientists who will worry, worry, worry about the societal implications.


Update: Ja, ja, serious blowback. The NYT publishes a selection of angry letters. UD’s favorite, however, goes like this:

When I visited the Villages some years back, I changed my will to indicate that if I ever exhibited any characteristics that could be interpreted as a desire for the Villages’ lifestyle, I was to be considered incapable of making rational decisions and enrolled in an assisted care facility, where I would not be allowed to leave voluntarily.

November 19th, 2021
‘Rudy Giuliani, who at this point defies meaningful description…’

Scathing Online Schoolmarm likes the way Michelle Cottle just slipped that clause in there. Nice.

September 18th, 2021
Scathing Online Schoolmarm Scathes Through an Al Jazeera Article about England’s New Culture Secretary.

The United Kingdom’s new culture secretary has been accused of Islamophobia over her views on Muslim women and description of the burqa as a “medieval” dress code.

Accused by whom? The article doesn’t say. By the author of the article I guess, and one or two others. But since totally covering up women is way pre-medieval, the secretary is certainly guilty of medievophobia.

[Nadine] Dorries [has] called for a ban on the full-face veil.

This is added to the article to signify that, like the following miscreants, Dorries is Islamophobic:

“The following nations have introduced full or partial ban of the burqa: Austria, France, Belgium, Denmark, Bulgaria, the Netherlands (in public schools, hospitals and on public transport), Germany (partial bans in some states), Italy (in some localities), Spain (in some localities of Catalonia), Russia (in the Stavropol Krai),[4][5][6]Luxembourg,[7]Switzerland,[8]Norway (in nurseries, public schools and universities),[9]Canada (in the public workplace in Quebec),[10]Gabon, Chad, Senegal, the Republic of the Congo, Cameroon (in some localities), Niger (in some localities),[11][12]Sri Lanka,[13]Tajikistan,[14]Uzbekistan (ban on all personal religious symbols),[15]Azerbaijan (in public schools),[16]Turkey (in the judiciary, military and police),[17]Kosovo (in public schools),[18]Bosnia and Herzegovina (in courts and other legal institutions),[19]Morocco (ban on manufacturing, marketing and sale),[20]Tunisia (in public institutions),[21]Egypt (in universities), Algeria (in the public workplace),[22] and China (in Xinjiang).[23][24]

“Many [Islamic women] aren’t even allowed to keep their genitals,” [Dorries has written], referring to female genital mutilation (FGM), an outlawed practice in the UK. FGM predates Islam and Christianity, but is carried out by a minority of adherents to several faiths.

That’s so cute that the Al Jazeera writer puts it that way! FGM is overwhelmingly Islamic, and is practically universal in, among other places, Egypt. Check out all them 90%s, babe! Or how ’bout that 200 million? How Islamophobic to dismiss a deeply rooted, insanely popular practice that in Luxor, for instance, is carried out on newborns! Never too soon to keep a female chaste, and we know all about infantile sexuality from Freud.

Of the about three million Muslims in Britain, it is widely understood very few women wear the full-face veil, though there are no official statistics.

As with FGM, it would behoove Al Jazeera‘s writer to do a tad of research. As far back as 2007, the NYT reported that “the number of women [in England] wearing the niqab has increased in the past several years,” and the trend has continued. With England one of the last countries in Europe or Asia with no restrictions on the burqa, the place has made itself a magnet for tourists and residents who wear the burqa/niqab.

The burqa, the writer continues, only “captures the national attention when politicians or public figures comment on it.” No, the burqa captures the public attention all the time, because most citizens of liberal democracies object to it, whether or not they favor bans. The thunderous silence that has followed Dorries’ comment, and many others like it from public figures, conveys the profound unpopularity of female invisibility cloaks, abundantly on view of late in that most Islamic of places, Afghanistan.

September 8th, 2021
SOS says: Spot the mistake.

So who will actually go to this thing? Maybe the type of “normie” Trump fans who made up a big hunk of the crowds on January 6. These days, that often means people who ascribe to various conspiracy theories, from fanciful interpretations of the 2020 election results to the Qanon delusion.

A Washingtonian writer speculates about an upcoming DC rally and makes the ascribe/subscribe mistake.

August 23rd, 2021
‘The clock is ticking on Rolovich, and a massive showdown appears to be brewing.’

Washington State’s football program has already embarrassed the university way past what the latest coach’s refusal to get vaccinated can do; but of course it’s never good to pile on, and Nick Rolovich is definitely piling on.

(And – not to pile on, but – Scathing Online Schoolmarm can’t help noting the pile-up of mixed metaphors in the sentence she quoted in her headline. Sportswriters use lots of mixed metaphors.)

Rolovich is the highest paid state employee; he’s a very high profile figure. A lot of people – like this guy – have had it with his anti-vax bullshit and want him gone. I say Rolovich should go ahead and let himself be hounded out. He will instantly become a strapping national hero, taking the place of this aged fallen god. The Voice of the Anti-Vaxxers!


UD thanks a reader for keeping her up to date on the Rolovich mess at WSU.

August 7th, 2021
‘An uncompromising experiment, a thoroughbred, a Pur Sang that, in its brute exclusivity, impresses…’

There’s exclusivity, mes petites, and there’s BRUTE exclusivity, which, in close proximity to Pur Sang (“denounce him as a fascist pur sang” – Thomas Mann) makes Scathing Online Schoolmarm wonder just what futurist, vitalist Thing Bugatti’s trying to evoke in the ad copy (there’s exactly one of these vehicles, it’s track-only, and it costs over ten million dollars, so I think ‘ad copy’ isn’t correct) for the new Bolide.

And why is UD, who hasn’t driven a car in thirty years, deep into sixteen cylinder engines?

Simply because, on the verge of leaving for yet another perseid meteor shower viewing/birthday celebration, she has been studying up on the little buggers – learning phrases like Zenithal (stress on first syllable) Hourly Rate, and words like Bolide. Bolides (again, stress is on first syllable) are brilliant meteor fireballs; hence, in the words of Bugatti’s nasty, brutish copywriter, “Driving the Bolide is like riding on a cannonball.” I mean, when you Google “bolide,” you get to one page of definitions, and then immediately you land on Bugatti’s pure bloodlines.


In a much more UD way, I’m also preparing for our trip by reading poems about meteors. Wallace Stevens, in a set of notes about poetry, wrote “A poem is a meteor,” so I guess brief brilliant powerful fireballs that light up existence could be understood literally (the Bugatti) as well as figuratively (a poem), as in

… the strange huge meteor procession, dazzling and
clear, shooting over our heads,(A moment, a moment long, it sail’d its balls of unearth-
ly light over our heads,Then departed, dropt in the night, and was gone;)—Of such, and fitful as they, I sing—with gleams from
them would I gleam and patch these chants; Your chants, O year all mottled with evil and good!
year of forebodings! year of the youth I love! Year of comets and meteors transient and strange!—lo!
even here, one equally transient and strange! As I flit through you hastily, soon to fall and be gone,
what is this book,

What am I myself but one of your meteors?

So poems are meteors and we are meteors as we burn brightly and quickly through our lives. Specks in the firmaments, we are nonetheless capable of ever-renewed self-creation:

And when we turned off lanterns to look skyward

for the Perseids (it was meteor season)

a comet rode queenly across the sky

before it arced and fell. Seeing myself

a speck in the firmament, I remembered

that rock may burn suddenly, blaze into flame,

and spin for centuries before it shines

wanting to be remade. Gray rock. The same

that sparkles with mica flecks by day

when breakers slap it clean.

Nothing is new. Nothing alive cannot be altered.

Where there’s light there’s hope, says the poet; we can always want to be remade, to flame up in some new clean self. We are not mere specks in the firmament.

Same idea, different poem: Viewing the perseids, “we are at once unnerved and somehow restored.”

Same, yet another one:

we waited, with nerves
and hearts as much as eyes,
as if we were waiting for new lives
to open up miraculously
or some spark to jolt us
into different ways of thinking.

I think we’re beginning to see a pattern:

Who said, out of nothing,
nothing can come? We do not lie

in a meadow to view the Perseids
but discover, behind a motel,
a vineyard, and gather wherever we go.

And another poet, in this same vein, is wakened/renewed by the meteoric jolt:

This vastness, this vertiginous awareness
mocking gravity on our speck of now,
wakes us with a recalibrating jolt.

But of course there’s the burning out part, too:

— I am like a slip of comet,
Scarce worth discovery, in some corner seen
Bridging the slender difference of two stars,
Come out of space, or suddenly engender’d
By heady elements…

… [The comet] goes out into the cavernous dark.
So I go out: my little sweet is done:
I have drawn heat from this contagious sun:
To not ungentle death now forth I run.


As for Les UDs – to Shenandoah National Park’s Big Meadows they run, to lie back in beach chairs on a big dark field and see what they can see.

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