I was reading Mitch Albom’s stupid column today, and —
But why do you read Mitch Albom’s stupid column, Nance? you’re asking. Because I enjoy picking scabs and scratching the patch of eczema on my left palm that won’t go away, mainly because I keep clawing at it, that’s why.
So anyway. I was reading Mitch Albom’s stupid column today, and it occurred to me that I should make a list of Columnist Tropes, that toolbox of pundit tricks that can be reliably deployed in service of getting something filed by deadline. The Open Letter, the Notes From My Vacation, that sort of thing.
I’m calling Mitch’s today the Buck Up, Buttercup, in which he deploys his hard-won wisdom to tell his readers not to be so naive. The topic is the college cheating scandal, which Mitch pronounces old news, using another crowbar from the Trope Toolbox, the “Casablanca” lead:
There’s a famous scene in “Casablanca” where the corrupt police chief played by Claude Rains shuts down Humphrey Bogart’s casino.
“I’m shocked — shocked — to find that gambling is going on in here!” Rains deadpans.
A croupier then hands him a wad of cash. “Your winnings, sir.”
“Oh, thank you,” Rains says.
You can tell what an effortless and instinctive word-count-padder Mitch is by that “famous.” I used to tell my students, if an expression, quote or what-have-you is truly famous, you don’t have to say “so-and-so famously said.” And then to explain the whole joke, as though there might be a single person in the readership who doesn’t know that scene — that’s champion-level padding, right there.
He goes on:
Are we really shocked — shocked! — to learn that a small group of very rich people paid stupid money to make their kids look smart? The college scandal dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues” has been a huge story this past week, but are we really that stunned that 33 parents are accused paying a con artist named Rick Singer to hire a phony test taker or bribe college coaches in order to open “side doors’” for their kids’ admission?
To judge by the headlines — and the breathless class-warfare commentaries — you’d think this was the first time someone tried to improperly get into a college. Try that idea on any veteran sportswriter. You’ll get a laugh.
Then on to the well-known college-athlete recruitment scandals, then on to this just-asking-questions riff:
Has every applicant written his or her own essay? Or did they get help?
Has every applicant only gotten letters of recommendation from people who truly knew them or employed them — or did family friends and connections earn them more impressive endorsements?
Has every applicant truly done the stellar community service they claim on their form? Or did they exaggerate with someone’s blessing? Did they only join certain clubs or associations for the illusion of being well-rounded?
And this, of course, simply proves that the entire process is so, so wrong, that outrage is “simply disingenuous.” I guess as takes go, this one is maybe slightly above room temperature, but on second thought, maybe not.
I shouldn’t let this stuff bug me, and generally I don’t. But I just finally, finally found the courage to start doing our taxes, only to find the SSN on one of my W-2s is incorrect. On the one hand, got to shut down TurboTax and start this blog. On the other? Another chore to handle in the next month.
Hope everyone’s weekend and St. Patrick’s Day was good. I repotted an orchid, got some reading done, and had the right impulse on our taxes, at least. Also, I made Nigella’s chocolate Guinness cake. Haven’t tucked into it yet, but I expect it’ll be delicious, because duh, chocolate cake. I also started doing some very preliminary research into our next big vacation, which I hope will be next fall — to Morocco. Anybody with experience in that part of the world, chime in.
I also spent some time on Twitter, and saw this:
On this St. Paddy's Day, a special message from noted Irishman Robert Francis O'Rourke. pic.twitter.com/JRjMEXhZRY
— GOP (@GOP) March 17, 2019
These people. Sigh.
Good week ahead, all. I’m hoping for some peace and quiet. But right now I’m-a make some chicken pot pie with a homemade biscuit crust.