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.

Scathing Online Schoolmarm Scathes Through a Statement from Shamima Begum’s Lawyer.

She’s stuck in a rancid ISIS prisoner camp, and England won’t take her back. Intelligence services believe that this fanatic (she says that’s all over) continues to represent a threat to the country.

Here’s her attorney on the subject:

What happened to Christian forgiveness? Does it not apply to a woman — and a dark-skinned one at that? It seems that different rules apply… Is it perhaps that some of us are more British than others of us? Shamima is of Bangladeshi descent, does that change her right to British nationality? I am tempted to think it does…

SOS says: Manifold are the ways one can speak up on behalf of one’s client. Admittedly, this attorney has a superjumbo problem on her hands, since her client not only renounced her British citizenship when she embraced Islamic State citizenship, she also committed vile acts (suicide vest sewing; slave-ownership; public support of mass murder in Europe and beheadings in the caliphate, etc.) and has expressed little remorse for her extensive blood-thirstiness. But SOS wonders whether lazily pushing certain buttons is the best one might do for Begum.

The lawyer’s weakest button is the Christian thing. Not sure she’s looked around at England lately, but it’s the land of empty churches. It rivals France for empty churches. If you’re going to go the Christian route, try getting her American citizenship. We’re the land of full churches…

But, you know, 135,000 slaughtered Assyrians later, I’m not sure you’re going to have much success in that direction either. Better drop the whole Christian thing.

That leaves sexism and racism. UD readers already know my take on the there there little woman you can come back cuz you’re a stupid harmless li’l thing approach to this problem. The sexism in the Begum story locates itself firmly in defenders who believe – claim to believe – that women are just too nice to be mean, and too dense to form serious, protracted, ideological commitments.

There are of course many light-skinned people among those that various countries have refused to repatriate. ISIS enjoyed a broad appeal.

Finally, yes: Begum is of Bangladeshi descent. And it is to Bangladesh that her lawyer should direct citizenship claims.

Scathing Online Schoolmarm scathes through…

this response, by Human Rights Watch, to the Shamima Begum decision. (Put “Begum” in my search engine for background.)

The first mistake Yasmine Ahmed makes has nothing to do with her writing. It’s about timing. The British court threw out Begum’s appeal almost a week ago, and the news cycle on this latest rejection is basically over. I’ve got no idea why HRW waited so long to weigh in, but their outrage on Begum’s behalf is getting much less attention than it might have simply because responses to the decision have already happened.

Okay, so first sentence:

The United Kingdom’s highest court delivered a shocking blow to justice when it ruled that Shamima Begum, who was just 15 when she left for Syria to join the Islamic State (ISIS), could not return to Britain to challenge the government’s stripping of her citizenship.

Where to start? No one is shocked by this latest unanimous (shocking!) decision; it followed many other forms of rejection Begum has experienced since her citizenship was… stripped? Stripped is a wonderfully nasty word, so bravo Ahmed; but she might have mentioned that in becoming a citizen of the Islamic state Begum basically stripped herself of British citizenship. And when you consider that Britain has revoked the citizenship of several other ISIS enthusiasts, things become even less shocking.

The shocking thing in Ahmed’s sentence is that a fifteen year old girl, excited by watching Youtubes of ISIS beheadings, secretly left England for a life of Yazidi slave-owning, suicide vest-sewing, and ISIS brood mare sex. That. Is. Far. Out.

Another sentence:

With the Supreme Court’s blessing, the UK government has left Begum de-facto stateless and prevented her from effectively challenging the decision that did so. If Begum did commit crimes during her time with ISIS, she should be brought home and given a fair trial.

Begum’s mother is from Bangladesh, but there’s no indication she has attempted to get citizenship there. I don’t know why she hasn’t. She is not stateless until she finds out whether Bangladesh – which, according to some legal experts, is compelled to take her – will take her.

If Begum did commit crimes there is little chance a court will be able to find that out. Do you think ISIS kept records of her “crimes”? The slaves and beheadees who might have testified against her are dead or scattered. She’ll be released back to the community due to lack of evidence.

To turn [our] back on [people like Begum] is not only a legal and moral aberration, but a long-term security risk.

Maybe. Maybe. But here’s one thing we know: As long as dangerous people like Shamima Begum are in prison camps, they’re not free to kill us. It’s sheer sexism to cluckcluckcluck about what a poor misguided babe she is. Why do feminists like Ahmed deny women like Begum ideological agency? She herself has said repeatedly that the decision to join ISIS was hers alone. She spent years as a serious adherent. Grotesque as it is for normal people to imagine commanded sex with one stranger after another for the sake of the caliphate (her “husbands” kept dying in combat), it seems not to have been the slightest bit extraordinary to Begum. She was – and probably still is – a twisted, risky person.

I’m perfectly willing to listen to her argue that she has undergone radical moral reform; but that argument should be broadcast from Bangladesh.

‘During his speech, [Donald] Trump Jr made numerous false claims about November’s election results and President-elect Joe Biden’s cognitive capabilities, ironically saying: “The guy can’t conform a complete sentence.”’

This sentence, in an article about a speech Don Jr gave to a Trumpian youth group, is itself problematic. It fails to clarify that Don Jr did not intend to be ironic; the irony derives from the weirdness of a speaker who is himself semi-literate attacking another speaker for being semi-literate.

As to what Trump’s lad could have meant by “conform a sentence” — Let Scathing Online Schoolmarm start with this: Poetry is always an option. Poetry can always be deployed politically if people would like to do that, if people think it might be effective. Look at the way Anthony Hecht used not “conform,” but “inform” in this excerpt from a poem about his wife’s miscarriage:

[C]ould it be
That Jewish diligence and Irish jest
The consent of flesh and a midwinter storm
Had reconciled,
Was yet too bold a mixture to inform
A simple child?

If Hecht can twist that word cleverly, can play with connotation and pun (why were we unable to form within her a child; to in-form; to transmit our genetic information…), Don Jr can certainly poeticize “conform” … although SOS is having trouble detecting the connotation/pun/whatever that makes the phrase “conform a sentence” poetically suggestive…

The lad simply means “form,” doesn’t he? What has led him astray is too strong a love for the art of the con.

Scathing Online Schoolmarm Says…

… good writers like Caitlin Flanagan know how to tackle hopelessly tacky pointless topics. Faced, for instance, with writing about Melania Trump’s former BFF‘s tell-all, a publishing event registering magnitude minus one on the Richter Scale, Flanagan executes perfectly that old standby, the hilarious juxtaposition of high and low.

C’est entendu after all that her empty subject matter degrades anyone who approaches it; the only way to emerge unfilthed is to stop moaning and go the other way: resplendent-ify it by situating the nothingness within the world’s greatest, most substantive, cultural expressions.

The all-time great model for this approach, in SOS‘s humble opinion, is Drew Jubera’s piece on East Mississippi Community College (read and learn). When they go low, we go high is the technique. The lower the setting, the higher the cultural references. Try it and see if you don’t piss yourself laughing.

Now of course you have to be an extremely good writer (not to mention culturally literate) to do this thing. If you clicked on the Jubera link, you see how he did it. This is how Flanagan does it.

[A]t last we have a glimpse into the feelings and nature of our first lady, who has stalked through these past four years in high heels and a perfect blowout, her gaze pitiless as the sun.

Okay, hands? Do I see hands? Yes? Question over there?

What is the most famous line from Yeats’s The Second Coming doing at the end of this sentence? And why didn’t Flanagan write “slouched” instead of “stalked”? Though stalked is good super-modelogically, Yeats writes “slouches,” and supermodels also slouch…

But this is a quibble: By tossing into her review without comment this phrase from the crisis-ridden twentieth century’s highest-cultural poetic expression, Flanagan signals the base futility of her endeavor as well as the fun that might be had with it. Readers appreciate this sort of thing: The reduction of Yeats’s terrifying apocalyptic heartless beast to the runway robot’s belle indifférence … See what our world has come to kinda thing…

“I was there at the beginning,” [the ex-BFF] tells us, as though she had witnessed the separation of the Earth from the firmament, not bumped into a model in the Vogue offices.

Again grand Biblical/planetary language of inception is invoked in the context of the start of a chick flick.

[The BFF] describes working the inauguration as the 13th labor of Hercules…

Grand mythic sweep…

When [the BFF] explains that [Melania] will have to wear the clothes of an American designer to the inauguration, Melania is horrified. Her soul wounded, she cries out to the gods: “But I want to wear Lagerfeld!”

You get the idea.

Scathing Online Schoolmarm Says: Sometimes the best writing is of the moment, very simple, and very personal.

An ultraorthodox Jew writes about his uncle’s death from covid.

“He didn’t die because of antisemitism. Or because New York Governor Andrew Coumo is inept or because New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is a hypocrite…

He died because many of our rabonim, leaders and askonim are too afraid or lazy to do their damn jobs.

He died because Boro Park, N.Y., where I grew up, is now run by the mob and not by rabbis.

He died because he had so much respect for daas torah that he believed them while they downplayed the seriousness of the virus.

He died because we were completely negligent.

He died because it was more important to say tehilim for Donald Trump than it was to care for the health of our elders…

He died because we were just too lazy to put on a simple mask to protect one another…”

Prezem Omnimpotentem…

in feras.

***************

He does tend to stir the creative imagination. Also really great writing. This, says Scathing Online Schoolmarm, is unbeatable. Highlights from a tightly organized, tonally controlled, brilliantly concise, little masterpiece:

no pollster left to lie to him

listened to the lethal quackery

harmful and bizarre

result of a country run by a crackpot

dereliction of duty, son.

fevered with viral hot spots.

Of late, Trump has been itching for a riot.

Nixon is a notch higher in the hell-scape

He’s Trump with a pious veneer

a timely bootlick.

*******************

And see what he’s about in his final paragraph? See all the ys, all the ee sounds that come off the page? The writer knows how to make prose poetic, and therefore much more coherent and powerful.

But there’s another image, equally satisfying. Trump could play one last gambit in the dictator’s checklist and refuse to leave office on Jan. 20 — election or no election — as required by the Constitution. If he does this, a weary nation would be rewarded with a presidential perp walk, as Trump is escorted out of the White House and into infamy by the military police.

If you lack the alliteration, assonance, perfect-wordism, and tonal cool this writer enjoys in abundance, sorry. Not everybody gets the style goodies. But you can learn a lot by reading him carefully.

SOS says: Whether Depp or Depardieu, it’s not easy to know how to write about, uh, le phénomène Elvis …

This is a pretty good try.

As [John] Waters told NPR’s Terry Gross in 2019, “Bitter and old age really is a depressing moment. And when you’re 23, you can be angry, you can be a drug addict, a drunk, and you can be sexy. But [when you’re older], it doesn’t look so good.”

This is the Johnny we’re seeing now. The movie star who would turn talk show hosts David Letterman and Charlie Rose into babbling idiots, murmuring “You’re so cool” over and over to his face; the Johnny Depp who, once he decided to go mainstream, horrified Disney execs by playing Captain Jack Sparrow as a drunk Keith Richards and turning the “Pirates” movies into a global juggernaut anyway; the Johnny Depp who would quietly dress up as Captain Jack and visit children’s hospitals, never for publicity but because his own daughter nearly died when she was little — that still-crushworthy Depp is gone.

It’s painful to see the Depp we’re seeing in court, pushing 60 with bad teeth, evidence submitted that he’s taking booze and lines of coke for lunch, passed out on the floor and finding poop in his bed.

Good use of details.

More on the social significance of country club golf.

A recent post considers why the following sentence –

This matter is already well known in the golfing world, domestically and internationally, and our Club has become a laughingstock.

– is itself something of a laughingstock. The sentence comes from a super-serious protest letter, whose writer announces his intention to resign from his country club because the club retains as members two soon to be incarcerated felons.

Scathing Online Schoolmarm suggested in that post that since the public mind identifies country club golf as the ultimate trivial pastime of the idle rich, attaching heavy geopolitical language to it just sounds funny, jarring – it’s the sort of juxtapositional (mixing the serious with the superficial) humor we associate with Oscar Wilde (divorces are made in heaven, etc,. etc., etc.). The more trivial the activity, in other words, the more susceptible it is to the rather easy comic operation involving its assimilation into the world of weighty things. (“Algernon: Well, one must be serious about something, if one wants to have any amusement in life. I happen to be serious about Bunburying. What on earth you are serious about I haven’t got the remotest idea. About everything, I should fancy. You have such an absolutely trivial nature.” “Algernon: Well, I can’t eat muffins in an agitated manner. … When I am in trouble, eating is the only thing that consoles me. Indeed, when I am in really great trouble, as any one who knows me intimately will tell you, I refuse everything except food and drink.”)

Of course, it goes the other way too. When a person powerfully identified as the idle golf-playing rich assumes a very serious job indeed, he makes himself vulnerable to a special sort of critique. Among the responses to a New York Times article about Trump’s apparent indifference to information he received about the Russian government giving money to Taliban soldiers for killing American fighters is this one, from the father of a combatant:

Perhaps if Trump is not too busy playing golf … he could find time to attend [an intelligence] briefing?

My kid is in a combat zone and I’d like to see him again. My kid is important to me.

Nothing against playing golf. But if you’re lining up a putt while Rome burns…

For UD, country clubs have the status of Easter Island mo’ai:

They represent one of humanity’s most enduring mysteries.

$300,000 (initiation fee only) for access to a golf course + Bernard Madoff… (You’re also guaranteed a glimpse of the president). (Or at least some of his supporters.)

And speaking of Madoff , the just-resigned felons at the Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles – Varsity Blues alums Lori Loughlin and Mossimo Giannulli – had worked it out that they’d be suspended from the club for the duration of their stay in the local lockup, and then, the moment they got sprung, the suspension would be over. Nice!

A member of the club’s all-male board, however, has “fired off” (this cliche feels unavoidable) a letter to all the other males to complain that this does not sit well with him. Scathing Online Schoolmarm says: Let’s take a look!

(SOS is aware that the super-secret boys’ club thing of boys’ clubs like Bel-Air makes it wet-your-shorts shocking that this letter came out at all into the light of ungated day; and SOS is thinking that the author maybe leaked it but who knows. We need only register here, preliminarily, the shock of this enigmatic island having let escape a loud epistolary fart.)

Gentlemen:

[In its very mode of address, the letter is already a reprimand. The letter indeed will turn out to be a meditation on the word/concept gentleman.]

On June 1st the membership was notified of the disposition of the “Varsity Blues” matter wherein two members of the Club have plead guilty to felony charges. “The Board has unanimously voted effective immediately to suspend both Members involved in their personal legal challenges until [emphasis added] they have completed their obligations to the government.”

[This guy gets right to it – no throat-clearing, no pleasantries, right into it. SOS says excellent. She’s always telling you to be surgical and direct.

Now, this is a country club guy, and I’m guessing he’s a lawyer, so we get words like disposition and wherein and matter. He’s penning the sort of letter Peter Wimsey might receive from his club in Gaudy Night. Fine. It’s not bad writing; and it neatly conveys the writer’s sense of himself.]

The above statement is misleading. What it does not clearly state is that the memberships of these felons continue essentially unabated. Suspension implies that a member otherwise capable of using the Club is prohibited from access for a period of time as punishment for a serious infraction. However, these individuals will be incarcerated for most, if not all, of the suspension period and will continue as members in “good standing” when released.

[No need for the quotation marks around good standing. We remain in the world of faintly legal and definitely Edwardian prose. No problem.]

This unprecedented board decision to allow felons to continue as members causes irreparable reputational harm to the Club and its members. Will we any longer be able to deny membership to convicted felons sponsored for membership? If the denial is based on the candidate’s felony conviction the answer would now appear to be no. Will the Club now be perceived as one that welcomes felons? Undeniably, the answer to that question is now yes.

[As with so much of this letter, this paragraph has a sweetly scented whiff of obsolescence to it, assuming as it does that the sort of character willing to shoot out millions for occasional visits to a golf course is going to be mentally and ethically sharp enough to comprehend/give a shit about felonious behavior.] [Note, for instance, how the sentence “We need to send this draft dodger back to his golf courses.” functions in this political ad.]

Let me point out the obvious. BACC is a Club of gentlemen and gentlewomen. Gentlemen are not felons, and felons in turn are not gentlemen. You cannot be a member in good standing and guilty of a felony at the same time, it is a non sequitur. Referring to felons as gentlemen in good standing is nothing more than an attempt to legitimize their continued membership. That “this situation” resulted from “their actions outside the Club” can only be considered a failed attempt at misdirection as it is completely irrelevant. These felony guilty pleas are of their own making and reputational harm comes from their continued “membership” affiliation with the Club. Suspending membership, while the offender is imprisoned, is an illusory penalty and does nothing to address the reputational damage brought on by their continued membership.

[Okay, now we’re into some seriously snippy shit. Remember that you should never write mad. You can feel as mad as you like, but your writing needs to be under tight emotional control. SOS would have thrown out the first sentence of this paragraph, since it conveys little beyond condescending rage.

And there are other problems. Note the string of very short sentences coming up. This rat-a-tat-tat business is risky, conveying as it does in this instance an annoyed parent’s series of simple statements to a child – something liable to piss off people who think of themselves as your equal. And he’s getting a little sloppy. Plenty of felons are gentlemen, and charming gentlemen at that, so the author needs to gesture in the direction of a definition of gentleman that would exclude some of these (only the most notorious are featured), not to mention gentlewomen like Martha Stewart. It seems awfully mean of the writer to exclude so many from his gentlemen’s club. Country clubs after all couldn’t exist without the super-rich, and, without wanting to sound like a commie, SOS will note the very strong correlation between personal billions and bad behavior. (Variants of You don’t make a billion dollars; you steal it are all over contemporary English usage.)

I’m not sure ‘good standing’ / ‘felony’ is a non sequitur; maybe better to call it a contradiction in terms.

Love the fact that the other all-males reasoned that since the felons failed to drop their doodoo directly on the golfing green it doesn’t count.

Okay, we’ll skip a bit of the letter here, because he becomes quite redundant, saying more than he needs to say it that keeping felons in the club damages its reputation. I’m sure he’s wrong about that, but anyway.]

This matter is already well known in the golfing world, domestically and internationally, and our Club has become a laughingstock.

[Here’s how you know it’s an internal letter. Phrases like the golfing world, domestically and internationally are themselves kind of a laughingstock to … okay, well, to SOS. And whatever the global golfing world may be, I really doubt it’s fanning itself with its hanky over naughty behavior.]

I have heard that some members believe the board has substituted its judgement for that of the law and the courts in determining whether felony crime is serious. That white collar crime does not count. This surely cannot be the case. The board could not be so unwise as to put itself in the position of judging felonies on a subjective scale, deeming some acceptable and others not.

[LOLOLOLOLOLOL.]

As a 25-year member in good standing, and a gentleman by act of Congress, I choose not to be associate with known felons. This board decision, however, forces acceptance of felons upon the membership – grata catalla felonum.

[Again, very much an insider’s letter, but SOS thinks gentleman by act of Congress means the guy has a military background; and she thinks grata etc. means something like Welcome, felons. The Latin phrase, the by now incredibly redundant insistence on moral uprightness – it really is The World of Sir Peter Wimsey.

Also note typo: Should be associated.]

I have been informed that the board is not willing to set aside this decision and take the cleansing action so desperately needed, namely terminating the memberships of the offending parties. That being the case, I am sadly left no choice but to hereby resign from the club I have long loved.

[By this last paragraph, the excellent straightforwardness of address with which the writer began has fully deteriorated into wordy self-aggrandizing pretentiousness. Get a load of all them adjectives and adverbs clogging things the hell up!

cleansing

desperately

namely

offending

sadly

hereby

long

Let us translate the two sentences down:

Since you will not end these memberships, I’m resigning.]

Scathing Online Schoolmarm says….

… if you’re going to write super-duper-snob prose, get it right or risk being laughed out of the gated community. Here’s the ad copy for a six million dollar house a couple of miles away from ol’ UD in Bethesda, Maryland. Can you spot the problems? Let’s scathe through this, shall we (sniff)?

*********************

Quintessentially luxurious in every aspect, the stunning residence is the perfect retreat nestled in verdant Bethesda, Maryland. [So far utterly cliche-driven, but okay. Nestled, verdant – the writer makes use of every stilted, long-dead upscale real estate adjective, but you don’t lose marks for writing generic prose.] Short drive to downtown Bethesda and less than ten miles away from the hustle and bustle of Washington, it is the idyllic cross between peaceful suburbia and city living. The property is just steps away from the prestigious Burning Tree Golf Club, host to numerous American presidents. [Prestigious – of course we’d make use of this embarrassing term. And be one of the lucky few to catch a peek of Donald Trump grunting through a round.] Regarding quality, the sophisticated residence knows no compromise. Perched atop a hill with two separate gated entrances, the home possesses the distinct architectural quality of an eastern castle with a modern panache. [Which is to say that, like a lot of megaostentatious megahouses in ‘thesda, it reaches out desperately, in any and all cultural directions, for imperial transcendence of its debased democratic surroundings. Some kinda … eastern? … castle? (“Yonda lies my faddah’s castle.”) is what the pile looks like.] Each unique feature of the house compliments the abode’s unparalleled architecture, [The writer means complements. Before trying to impress people with your stunning sophistication, learn to spell.] with Burma Teak windows and solid oak doors, towering ceilings, and a romanesque [Just to add yet another culture.] indoor pool and elevator to accommodate the three story building behind a custom wrought iron fence. [After all the Nicholas and Alexandra flouncing, the proletarian word building is a let-down… Although the house is probably in a gated community, note how many security walls and fences we’re featuring. No one will be able to get anywhere near you behind your modern panache golf view battlements.] The property possesses a stunning [Second use of stunning: At this point, we are knocked out flat.] floating staircase, an enclosed courtyard situated beside a double-level deck, a privately tiered backyard that meets an arbor with hand-carved rosewood corbeling. Bathrooms include a lavish display of marble inlay and a lapis lazuli sink. Furthermore, the property boasts a veranda complete with outdoor fireplace and pillars erected over 150 years ago, which elegantly compliment the state-of-the-art indoor and outdoor amenities of the palatial abode. [There’s that pesky compliment again. And while it’s impressive to contemplate a pillar that has remained erect for 150 years, the writer might have been better off with the word built... Plus: What’s a palace doing in my castle?]

A Superficial Scathe through a Superficial Take on Israel’s Viral Hotspot: Its Ultraorthodox Communities

Given that the priorities of public health and Haredi leaders are not in opposition…

Uh, yes they are.  Examine long-standing haredi attitudes toward vaccines too, if you’d like.  And the physical treatment of women and children. Plus hey: No education in science plus patriarchal prudery equals raising people who don’t understand their bodies and how to keep them alive.


Public health authorities and Haredi religious leaders have seen that the price of not collaborating effectively is tragically high…


No they haven’t.  The authorities didn’t have to see this, because they already knew, having been educated in history and empiricism.  They had no need to ‘see’ the tragic price this go ’round because they are familiar with the tragic price paid in, I don’t know, the bubonic plague era.


As for the haredim (Why does the writer speak exclusively of haredi leadership, by the way?  Have ordinary ultraorthodox Jews no independent agency?  If they don’t – if the modern state of Israel has generated a large, growing minority of people who are completely passive morally – then the problem of coronavirus infection in Israel is really just an itty bitty problem.), like a lot of ignorant cults they don’t see avoidable death as tragic but as one of many mysterious divine blessings.

Scathing Online McWhorter Gets it Said.

At some point, everyone has to be held responsible for at least some of their own behavior. This would seem thunderingly obvious, but it ain’t.

Surgeon General Jerome Adams is on the hot plate. His sin? With new indications that the coronavirus is disproportionately killing black and brown people, he suggested that we refrain from alcohol and cigarettes… [A number of] commentators were appalled that Adams had had the nerve to urge people of color to change their behavior, rather than resting with his acknowledgment that societal inequality exposes them to more risk from the virus.

… Barack Obama, then a presidential candidate, was roasted for supposedly condescending to a black audience in urging black men to take a larger role in rearing their children. Even though he did this with a vernacular warmth that his audience ate up with a spoon, legions of black thinkers reviled the president for addressing behavior rather than the broader causes that made counsel such as his necessary in the first place. [Similarly,] why is Adams not allowed to remind black and brown people to hold off on the smoking?

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.”

*******************

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.

******************

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).

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