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.

June 17th, 2021
Scathing Online Schoolmarm says:

Hana Schank’s essay about being in a car accident is first-rate.

Before the accident I went to yoga retreats and tried meditation. I said things like “I just need to unplug.” Apparently what I needed was to get hit by a truck. Perhaps I have discovered the secret to a peaceful mind, and it is traumatic brain injury.

June 9th, 2021
UD’s ‘thesda Jollies

A lifelong denizen of Bethesda, Maryland (she remembers going to downtown ‘thesda with junior high school friends when it was a post office, a Hot Shoppes, and the Baronet Theater), UD enjoys the way ‘thesda’s wealth is threaded into news stories, especially in populist rags like The Daily Mail. You recall that, during Kavanaugh’s confirmation, his ‘thesdanienne provenance was, for some, just on its own, proof that he’s an entitled asshole.

And look at this breaking story from England. Look how ‘thesda plays a recurrent cameo role. And note UD’s bolding throughout.

A 25-year-old Stanford graduate who attended the prestigious DC school Sidwell Friends and is the son of a top commercial lawyer has enraged British politicians and sparked a free speech row in the UK by removing a portrait of the Queen from the students’ room at the Oxford college where he is getting his PhD. Matthew Katzman grew up in privilege in Bethesda, Maryland, a rich suburb of DC where he attended school with the Obama daughters, the Biden grandchildren and countless other politicians’ kids. After graduating from Sidwell in 2014, he studied math and theoretical computer science at Stanford, obtaining a masters in 2018. Katzman is now getting his PhD in computer science from Oxford, the historic university attended by British Prime Ministers.

This week, he sparked fury by leading calls to remove a portrait of the Queen from the common room at Magdalen College in his role as president of Magdalen’s Middle Common Room, an organization of around 200 graduate students. They decided between them that the portrait was ‘unwelcoming’ and represents ‘recent colonial history’. They’re going to replace it with ‘art by or of other influential and inspirational people’.

The decision has been blasted as ‘absurd’ by British politicians who say the young students ought to ‘show some respect’ for the 95-year-old Monarch. British Education Secretary Gavin Williamson tweeted: ‘Oxford University students removing a picture of the Queen is simply absurd. She is the Head of State and a symbol of what is best about the UK. During her long reign she has worked tirelessly to promote British values of tolerance, inclusivity & respect around the world.’

Katzman is the son of Scott and Sandy Katzman, both 65. His father is a partner at the commercial law firm Steptoe & Johnson. The family lives in a sprawling, $4million home in Bethesda. They have not yet commented on the row their son has unapologetically caused.

Let’s start with numbers. Between refers to something involving only two people; the writer should have used among, says Scathing Online Schoolmarm. And about that house value: Achingly, it’s only valued in the mid-threes (or even lower) rather than four by most of the assessment sites UD checked. On the other hand, it does indeed seem to sprawl.

Okay, so note how The Daily Mail has laid it on real thick, ‘thesdawise. Katzman’s top, rich, privileged and prestigious, with his race horses and castles and land … I mean with his fancy schools and affluent parents; and with all those advantages he still takes down a portrait of the Queen…

Amid the British rage Katzman has excited (the story’s burning up the wires), the president of Oxford College issues a calm and lucid statement of support. Short version: The kids are alright.

Ah hell. Let’s do the long version.

Here are some facts about Magdalen College and HM the Queen. The Middle Common Room is an organisation of graduate students. They don’t represent the College. A few years ago, in about 2013, they bought a print of a photo of the Queen to decorate their common room.

They recently voted to take it down. Both of these decisions are their own to take, not the College’s. Magdalen strongly supports free speech and political debate, and the MCR’S right to autonomy. Maybe they’ll vote to put it up again, maybe they won’t. Meanwhile, the photo will be safely stored.

Oh, and back to numbers for a minute. Most young Brits would like to do far more than take down the Queen’s portrait, so it clearly falls to the old farts to collapse onto their fainting couches when some college students start to mix things up. And while the Queen is indeed an impressive and even inspirational person, the larger royal family… ain’t as grody as the Spaniards, to be sure, but the Windsors have long contributed more than their share of louche behavior to the commonwealth, and people have a right to oppose them as heads of state if they like. UD understands that the prospect of Charles The Next has alarmed enough Brits that many would like the crown to leapfrog over him to his blander, grander, son.

Anyway, what you’ve got here is dueling elitisms – premodern and postmodern. Katzman embodies the global reign of the symbolic analysts; Elizabeth is… from another time.

March 31st, 2021
Scathing Online Schoolmarm says: Some people are just good writers.

And they pop up in the strangest places. Hunter Biden – assuming he wrote his memoir; and it looks as though he did – turns out to be a good writer. One sentence from his book has been quoted rather a lot, and if we look at it closely, we can see why.

“Our relationship began as a mutually desperate grasping for the love we had both lost, and its dissolution only deepened that tragedy.”

He’s talking about his affair with his brother’s widow.

Why is this a very good sentence? Well, concision would be part one. See how his complex sentence manages to cover a lot of time, a before as well as an after, without going on and on, or needing to break into multiple shorter sentences? That one little comma after “lost” does all the work, balancing the reader on an edge of expectation (comma? what next?), and then fulfilling in a very satisfying way that expectation. Note that the sentence is both straightforwardly chronological (this happened; then that happened) and emotionally, philosophically, chronological (we were naive; now we are sadder but wiser). The sentence delicately captures a complex, uber-proustian irony: those who go desperately grasping after lost love will only learn all the more painfully just how lost that love is. Biden throws in alliteration, too, to lend the sentence rhythm: love/lost; dissolution/deepened. And a lesser writer might not have known to end the sentence on its strongest word: tragedy.

In its dissolution, the tragedy only deepened is less interesting – indeed, it’s inching toward the maudlin. And that’s the last point SOS will make about this sort of content: it’s rife with maudlin-danger. Note how Biden avoids that throughout, offering a simple, direct, stoical, controlled, dignified tone.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” The last line of Gatsby captures the beat of Biden’s sentence, its terrible and true two-step.

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