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The toper's holiday

Item: One of my far-flung readers appears to be puzzled about the American celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, which he thought was meant to be a feast day honoring a saint. I can illuminate the attitude.

A few years ago, my editing class at Loyola happened to fall on March 18. A week in advance, one of my students asked me to cancel class that day, because he expected to be incapacitated after the 17th. It is a day for the Irish and the wannabe Irish to jam into those faux-rustic manufactured Irish pubs that have sprung up like mushrooms after a rain, drink far too many pints,* and grow mawkish over “Danny Boy.”

There’s enough Irish in me for the thought of a pint to be attractive, but I’d just as soon give the rest of it a miss. Besides, I have to work tomorrow evening, and editing requires sobriety.


Item: I see this in a tweet from @romenesko: “Bob Woodward says Google CEO's tombstone should read, ‘I killed newspapers.’ ” No doubt I’m remiss in not going to the link to see what Mr. Woodward had to say in detail and in context.

But I know that newspapers committed suicide.


Item: A salutary reminder from Carol Fisher Saller, who writes the question-and-answer feature each month for The Chicago Manual of Style. At her blog, The Subversive Copy Editor, she points out the futility of the search for The Rule that governs every conceivable situation: “[I]f you’re knocking yourself out trying unsuccessfully to find a rule, it might be because there isn’t one. ... No style guide can be exhaustive.”

And, newspaper copy editors please note, if the 1,026-page Chicago Manual cannot answer every imaginable question, then a fortiori it’s idle for you to play Talmudist with the Associated Press Stylebook.**


Item: You may have missed it: A few days ago The Baltimore Sun published a moving letter from Julie Francis. She is the mother of Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, at whose funeral the unspeakable Westboro Baptist Church picketed, and whose right to picket the Supreme Court recently upheld.

Ms. Francis said, in part: “I truly believe this is an issue of free speech. I do not like it, and I do not like the WBC, but it is free speech. ... I am glad the Supreme Court has ruled with the law, with the nation, with the Constitution. In America, you cannot take away the right of free speech, no matter how vile. I do believe our blessed Matt would feel the same way.”


*I see on the Internet comments about a cocktail called the “Irish car bomb” and suspect that there are reasons in addition to tastefulness to shun it.


**I’m unable to attend the national conference of the American Copy Editors Society, which opens tomorrow in Phoenix. The editors of the AP Stylebook are scheduled to be there in a session. Will one of you be good enough to give them a little hell on my behalf?



Posted by John McIntyre at 10:38 AM | | Comments (10)


I would imagine after imbibing this so-called "Irish car bomb' liquored concoction, as the quaint appellation kind of suggests, that it unwittingly might just sneaks up on you after a bit, not unlike those clandestine planted explosives so often deployed by, IMHO, those most cowardly, and depraved members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during it murderous prime.

Tasteless moniker for a cocktail, indeed!

If there is a scintilla of appropriate good humor here, it's basically as morbidly warped as the alleged tweeted online jokes comedian/ voice-over artist Gilbert Gotfried recently got summarily fired for (as the decade-long voice of that annoying AFLAC insurance-promoting duck), --- tasteless, gallows humor-type jokes apparently directly mocking the horrific three-pronged tragedy of the 9.0 magnitude earthquake, the ensuing monster tsunami, and now the potential nuclear catastrophe that has befallen the proud, and resilient nation of Japan.

(On a parenthetical note: At Warner Bros. Animation back in the early 2000's I designed key backgrounds for a few animated AFLAC commercial TV spots featuring the classic Warner stalwarts, The Roadrunner, Wily Coyote, Bugs and Daffy Duck. Of course, along w/ that confounded real-life, trained white 'spokes-duck'. It was great fun, and the commercials apparently scored well, ratings wise. But enough about me. HA!)

Folks, DO raise a pint, or two to the Irish, and their national patron saint, St. Paddy, tomorrow, (green-tinted brew, or otherwise). But please toss that "irish car bomb" dreck straight down the porcelain 'convenience' where it rightly belongs. (Am I being a tad too punitive here, over a silly little drink? Perhaps.)

Oh, and you Irish-for-a-day revelers, beware of leering leprechauns bearing gifts (forget the Greeks HA!). Particularly if the wrapped package is ticking. The IRA dies hard, and will stoop to any devious means to fulfill their ultimate agenda. Just sayin'.

Begosh and begorah!


Thank you for posting that link to Ms. Francis's letter. What a gracious and thoughtful woman. A true patriot.

@Sharon Parker---- I echo, entirely, your heartfelt sentiments re/ the courageous Mrs. Julie Francis.

Mrs. Francis' reasoned, balanced, and most thoughtful letter, in my view, exemplifies the true spirit and abiding message of the Lord Jesus re/ his imperative to his flock, to always try to turn the other cheek when smitten by ones enemy.

As for those despicable Westboro Baptist Church congregants who some five years ago protested (picketed) within earshot, and full view of Mrs. Francis' dear son Matt's funeral ceremony, as much as their collective hateful speech, and actions are legally protected by U.S. 1st Amendment Constitutional rights re/ free speech and freedom of public assembly, as far as echoing the example, or loving spirit embodied in Christ their savior, and moreover, behaving as authentic and selfless Christians----well clearly these hateful folk have majorly lost their way.

Fire and brimstone would appear to be their ultimate destiny, rather than their vision of final eternal peace, and contentment in heaven. Amen.


1 Yes, it is a lovely letter from Ms Francis. Beside that, the rest is just piffle before the wind, as Miss Ashford put it.

2 But, back on the shop floor, I am not far-flung. You're far-flung, I'm here.

3 I didn't for a moment suggest that the nonsense that increasingly surrounds St Patrick's Day (in my view nonsense which is rather insulting to Irish nationhood) is just an American phenomenon. With varying degrees of good taste there are St Patrick's Day celebrations damn near everywhere: primarily, of course, in Dublin but also in many cities with substantial Irish populations, including several in Britain.

Good on them. My ill-informed impression is that none of them reaches quite the same level of vulgarity as those in the United States, but then a number of days of particular importance to Christians have suffered at the hands of that so Christian country. Christmas Day, of course, and All Hallows' Eve, and Mothering Sunday, with Easter - yep, Easter - just about keeping its nose above the chocolate.

4 Sorry, I'm in a grim mood tonight. Sour grapes and ashes, no doubt.

Against the spells of women, and smiths, and druids,
Against every knowledge that binds the soul of man.

Have a good St Patrick's Day.


Indeed old boy, you hardly sound like your usual ebullient, feisty self this fine St. Patrick's Day eve.

Perhaps all the media palaver, and collective gnashing of teeth over the potentially grave unraveling damaged nuclear reactor(s) 'situation' in Japan is wearing on you, as I'm sure it is for many concerned folk around the globe. Very scary stuff.

Hmm..... those "sour grapes' must be from 'corked' wine, and those "ashes' you referred to likely left-overs from last Ash Wednesday, i presume? How was your Fat Tuesday (Mardis Gras) back in London town? Catch any wayward beaded necklaces, or a flash of a bared bosom, or two? HA! Just curious, old boy.

I did manage a little chuckle, at any rate, from your, ".......Easter-- just about keeping its nose above the chocolate", astute observation. I suddenly pictured a horde of foundering little Easter bunnies, drowning, en masse, in a vast sea of melted milk chocolate, but wanted to keep my perverse fantasy under wraps, for fear that the PETA folk would be immediately on my case. HA!

Frankly, I'm surprised some enterprising confectioner hasn't come up w/ a chocolate figure of Christ-on-the-cross for the Easter fete. Although, on second thought, that would smack of blatant blasphemy, wouldn't it? Hmm.......never mind.

Picky, it's a fact that the U.S. HAS, indeed, kind of lead the way in overly commercializing what were once largely solemn Christian holy days, almost solely devoted to public ceremony, remembrance, and holy veneration. Hmm.... where did we go wrong?

I knew full well that we were in trouble as a nation (including my home country, Canada) when a few decades back Halloween (and Thanksgiving Day) greeting cards began first appearing, seasonally, on the major drug store chain display racks, next to the traditional "Sympathy", "Get Well", and "Happy Anniversary" cards.

Halloween cards? For the love of banshees, ghouls and goblins everywhere............ give... me.... a...... break. Just between one warlock, and another, who gives a bat's bare butt about Halloween cards? (Charlie Sheen, recent self-appointed warlock, are you w/ me on this one?HA!)

Picky, frankly I think a wee dram of the single malt 'elixir' would do wonders to lift your flagging spirit. A spot of Ireland's own---Bushmills---would be very appropriate, befitting the coming St. Patrick's Day celebrations. I'm certain a fine Scottish substitute would do the trick, as well.



Ah me, Alex, I took your advice before I read it - a little of the Scottish sort, from Islay. The world seems no better, but at least I do.
Pancake Day passed peacefully for me, thank you, just a pancake or two. And I wasn't really Ashwednesdaying, despite my Eliot fandom. It was just another reference, for no reason I can remember, to that great author Daisy Ashford.
Grimness will pass, it's daylight at last, the night has been long, ditto ditto my song. And thank goodness they're both of them over.


"Ditto, ditto....", indeed!

Glad to hear the Islay 'spirits' elevated your own spirits, and you are almost back to your jovial, upbeat self. As they say(whomever they are? HA!), "THIS too shall pass." (Emotional 'constipation' can be such a pain in the derrière.)

Hmm...... i dare say, it appears that i may have a bit of the clairvoyant in me, picturing you sipping a wee shot glass of the amber elixir, and a Scottish variety, to boot........ and voila!........ you were doing just THAT. Very spooky. HA!

Had never heard of British author Daisy Ashford. My curiosity got the best of me, so I proceeded to Yahoo-search for her. What a fascinating gal, and colorful life-story I managed to uncover.

Talk about a thoroughly precociously creative, and witty young scribe, having her novella, "The Young Viseters(sic)", written when she was just nine years of age, published over two decades after its original penning when Daisy was a mature thirty-six.

Ashford apparently was the focus, for some years, of quite a heated literary debate back in her day, w/ her detractors claiming "Peter Pan" creator, J.M. Barrie, (who just happened to have written the novella intro), was the REAL author of 'Visiters'. Her 'doubters' cited, as clear evidence of her alleged bogus authorship, the fact that Ashford never wrote, or published any literary works of note after the death of J.M. Barrie. (Not exactly a scientifically sound argument. More like coincidence, I'd say.)

Most literary scholars, intimates, and life-long associates are of the firmly held belief that the childhood Daisy, did author 'Visiters' w/ all its malaprops, spelling flubs, and overall youthful zeal----all key quirky elements that could only have added lighter notes of hilarity and naive charm to her satirical take on Victorian social affectations and manners.

Picky, my curiosity has definitely been piqued, so I'll likely try to track down a copy of Ashford's 'Visiters' and give it a good read. Interestingly, most online amateur book reviewers/ commentators of/on this little 60-page tome claim it's so darn captivating and funny that it really deserves more than a single read. We shall see.

Picky, thanks for unwittingly widening my admittedly rather limited literary horizons. I'm actually more of a non-fiction 'consumer', truth be known.

I even went and checked out T.S. Eliot's "Ash-Wednesday" (his so-called 'conversion' poem), and was reminded, once again, how truly dense, difficult and complex master Eliot's eloquent verse can be for many. (Is it just me? HA!)

Curiously, several 'commentators' who posted following Eliot's "Ash-Wednesday" posting I read online claimed they found it slightly easier and more comprehendible to absorb than his, "The Wasteland".

However you may slice it, Eliot, for me is generally a pretty tough slog. Yet in trying to extract meaning, and perhaps inspiration from his works, one always senses that one is in the presence of true literary genius, and a profoundly gifted, unique interpreter of the complex human condition.

@Laura Lee--- would you concur w/ my T.S. Eliot assessment? Degree of difficulty, and such? Just curious.


P.S.: My two Captcha words are; books itsomple. I swear, Miss Daisy Ashford couldn't have said it any more clearly. HA!

Alex - quick word about Daisy - the truth is that she wrote brilliantly, and the brilliance was turned into unconscious genius by her youthful innocence. Barrie was very talented, but not nearly talented enough to pull that off.

I await Laura Lee's judgement, but I agree absolutely with what you say about Eliot. Hard work, but you are clearly in the presence of genius. So, as with the meditation he was so knowledgeable about, let go of the hard work and just accept the power of what he is saying.

I'm sure you know it, but try Prufrock again to experience the strength of his style, and Journey of the Magi to get a clear way in to his spiritualism.

Yes Alex, Eliot is difficult, but that in no way lessens the enjoyment one can derive from reading him. If you can set aside the struggle and just settle in with Ash Wednesday, you will encounter phrases of the most lyrical mysticism ever penned. I find it an antidote to the vulgarity associated with our modern Easter which Picky was lamenting, as is the Journey of the Magi to our commercialized and divisive Christmas celebration.

Alex, I agree with Picky that Prufrock is the place to start; the connection one feels for the inner life of the titular character is beyond my ability to describe. It has a specific human quality that can be comprehended by male and female alike. Just read it.

The Hollow Men is also a relatively short poem, and particularly haunting this week.

As for The Waste Land, I did spend much of last winter huddled over that opus. It is dense with references; nearly every line contains some sort of literary or historical allusion. Eliot even provided notes for it which, while immensely helpful in trying to understand where he's coming from, end up leading the reader down ever more rabbit holes. In some ways, it's a predecessor of the wikipedia, as one has the sense of clicking on links and wandering farther afield from the initial text. I do believe that if one could truly master the poem and all of its references and source material, you'd have covered a huge chunk of the essential cannon. It could serve as the basis for a core curriculum of Western Civilization.

I guess all I'm saying is it is hard work, but fun, if you go in for that sort of thing. I do Alex, perhaps in the same way you go for New Guinea tribal masks and artifacts. For my part, the best thing is I still have not yet read all of Eliot's work. So, the fun is never finished :-)


You are a real gem. Dare I say, a diamond in the rough? (I guess I just DID. HA!)

Thanks for that further insight into Daisy Ashford's literary brilliance. I'm happy to hear that you are in the pro-Daisy camp vis-a-vis entertaining the crackpot notion that author J.M. Barrie might have penned, "The Young Viseters (sic)", and not the precocious Miss Ashford.

(Indeed, trying to fake it w/ true conviction is hard to pull off, in almost any field of human endeavor. Particularly the literary arena. You may recall that young American writer, from a number of years back, who claimed his gritty, drug-addiction-drenched personal memoir was totally true, and was later publicly busted, and shamed for making half the narrative up; and was ultimately scolded and humiliated, on-air, by the queen of afternoon TV talk shows, a very miffed, and disappointed Oprah Winfrey. Oprah had earlier highly recommended this charlatan's book on her Oprah's Book Club must-read list. Oops!)

Interestingly, arguably the greatest fine-artist of our modern era, Pablo Picasso, often claimed that all his adult life he had been striving to recapture the untrained, innocent, uninhibited spontaneity, and simplicity of the creative child in his art. One can see shades of Picasso's child-like graphic simplicity and seemingly naive figurative abstract distortion in many of his mature works, particularly after he entered his pivotal analytic cubist phase, and then well beyond, into his final years as he was pushing 90, back in the early seventies.

Curiously, many art therapy graphic 'creations' from clinically diagnosed schizophrenic, and paranoid patients have that characteristic child-like feel, and can often be quite compelling in their powerful simplicity, and unschooled symbolic imagery------- works of the severely troubled mind.

Shifting gears a tad----In rereading both Eliot's J. Alfred Prufrock and his Journey of the Magi (as you've suggested), I will try to take your sage advice, and attempt to just go-with-the-flow, so to speak, of Eliot's 'challenging' verse. As well, I'll try, as you've recommended, to "let go of the hard work", and hopefully allow the unconscious, non-analytic, meditative mind work its magic. (If my misfiring synapses are up to the daunting task. HA!)

Thanks again Picky for your helpful words of wisdom. Boy, that Islay single malt brew sure works wonders, don't it? HA!


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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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