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Wackadoodle dandy

There is, I discover, a website for an organization called the Flat Earth Society, advocating what you would expect such a society to advocate. I would like to assume that it’s a put-on, attracting people like the wags at the Journal of Irreproducible Results. But in modern America, you can’t be confident of such a surmise, lest you discover that legislators in Texas and Tennessee are introducing bills to demand that the science textbooks give equal time to the theory that Earth is a flat disc, wackadoodlery being endemic in the Republic, like Ebola in Gabon.

The Rapture not having occurred on schedule—was it only a week ago?—Harold Camping has recalculated his timetable, promising that the actual End Time will arrive in October. We’ll see if his followers have any savings left to advertise this date.

Meanwhile, if your interest lies in cranks who comb texts for hidden codes and clues, there is a website that will direct you to some of the more noted exponents of the Shakespeare-didn’t-write-Shakespeare industry. (One of my favorites is that Christopher Marlowe, fatally stabbed in a tavern brawl in 1593, was busily scribbling acts and scenes twenty years afterward. But, as always, let your own taste be your guide.)

An article in Sunday’s editions of The Sun quotes the comedian Lewis Black—to the extent that he can be quoted in a daily newspaper—as saying that the Democrats are the party of no ideas and the Republicans are the party of bad ideas. I think that, on the whole, he is correct, but they sometimes switch sides. The Republicans’ proud endorsement of Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare scheme, the Democratic demagogy that followed, and the Republican candidates’ edging away from the Ryan plan are but the start of the delicious twists and turns we can expect over the next several months as members of both parties shrink from difficult choices.

And in Maryland, the state Board of Physicians has suspended the license of Dr. Mark Geier for using the drug Lupron to treat autism, which he believes to be the result of mercury in vaccines. Lupron, in one of its approved uses, chemically castrates sex offenders. And the governor has fired Dr. Geier’s son, David Geier, from the Commission on Autism. (We should probably check to see how much pertussis has resulted from Jenny McCarthy’s evidence-proof views on the supposed link between vaccination and autism.)

I must be a fair wackadoodle myself, posting this late at night on a holiday weekend when no one but other wackadoodles would be online. (NOTE: For wackadoodle, see Mr. Safire, back before The New York Times allowed a wackadoodle editor to drop the language column.) 



Posted by John McIntyre at 11:18 PM | | Comments (22)


Whackadoodles unite!

Yes, I'm online this late at night, too (only it's an hour earlier in Texas, where comments in the local rag refer to the "brains" behind our educational proposals as a "think thimble").

Enjoyed reading your comments and I am a wackadoodle.

Wackadoodle here, reporting for duty.

Just another wackadoodle saying hello and thanks for posting. The publishing industry's summer schedule makes me lose a few neurons every time I have to deal with it, so I'm happy to see that someone else exists who is still insane enough to work on (gasp) a weekend.

Do the Wackadoodles have a song? I like songs - so important for starting meetings, preceeding the Wackadoodle loyalty oath etc.

Thank you. It's very good to know I'm not the only wackadoodle on the east coast.

Greetings from another pair of Wackadoodles who have nothing better to do than to read their twitter feed. Doodle on, John. Maybe this Wackadoodles Captcha gate keeper will let me post.

I'm not at all sure I want to adopt the wackadoodle label for myself, but this post reminds me of a paper I wrote in high school about the Shakespeare conspiracy theories. I concluded that the man from Stratford wrote the plays we know today. It was not such a big deal at the time because he was just one of many playwrights. Making a big deal over him would have been rather like singling out one script writer for television drama today. (If there are any television drama left besides those created by David Simon...) Maybe you heard it here first--David Simon will be the next "Shakespeare" and future generations will argue over his true identity.

It's true that Marlowe's death and burial in 1593 are well attested, and of course this makes his achievement in writing the subsequent part of the Shakespearean canon even more remarkable. But it's strange how the words "tavern brawl" still spring immediately to mind despite the fact that we all now know Eleanor Bull's house was no tavern. And there's enough mystery about the death to keep us all interested.

The conspiracy theory rests firmly on the humble origins of WS (although not much humbler than Marlowe's, and considerably posher than those that spawned that later hopeless illiterate John Keats) and the fact that he didn't go to university. We all know you can't be a real artist unless you've wasted a few drunken years by Cam or Isis.

Picky obviously knows much more about Marlowe than I do, but in my long-ago paper I did deal with the hoo-hah about humble origins supposedly making it impossible for the man from Stratford to write so sublimely.
Perhaps lacking a university education made it easier for WS to be a true original.

"A few drunken years by the Cam or Isis" brings to mind the opening scene at Scone College in Waugh's Decline and Fall: "A shriller note could now be heard from Sir Alistair's rooms; any who have heard that sound will shrink from the recollection of it; it is the sound of the English county families baying for broken glass."

Dahlink, we shall ignore Mr McI: he is obviously as much a parvenu as WS - or indeed that bounder Waugh.

As to Shakespeare, I don't think we need spend too much time deciding why he was a true original. If we need to think up daft theories about alternative authorship, that's explanation enough. He just was original. (Although young Marlowe - and I speak as a Deptfordian who has witnessed, but sensibly mostly avoided, many a tavern brawl - had a fair talent.)

Dahlink, we shall ignore Mr McI: he is obviously as much a parvenu as WS - or indeed that bounder Waugh.

As to Shakespeare, I don't think we need spend too much time deciding why he was a true original. If we need to think up daft theories about alternative authorship, that's explanation enough. He just was original. (Although young Marlowe - and I speak as a Deptfordian who has witnessed, but sensibly mostly avoided, many a tavern brawl - had a fair talent.)

Parvenu? I will have you know that I come from a long line of landowning bumpkins. The family farm dates from 1862, which is admittedly a wink by British standards, but in These States is close to antiquity.

Whackadoodle McIntyre came to Charm City

Riding on his Preakness pony,

Stuck a quill pen in his hat

And called it pure baloney


Whackdoodle Johnny Mac keep it up

Johnny Mac you bow-tied dandy,

Mind the syntax and the grammar

And with the lexicography be handy.

@Laura Lee, I can hear your groaning forom here?

Hope everyone is having a thoughtful and enjoyable Memorial Day on this side of The Pond, and that you Picky, are staying clear of any pub brawls.
(Although like we Canadians, you Brits celebrated Victoria Day back on May 24th, no?)

Probably wiser to just nurse your wee dram of Islay Laproaig in the comfort of your own abode.

Fellow lefty Patricia the T., I hope you're enjoying the French Open play, thus far. Some real major upsets in the women's section w/ Clijsters, and Wozniacki ousted early, but glad to see Maria Sharipova is back in fine competitive form, apparently injury-free for once. That wiry, diminutive italian gal, Franchesca Schiavone looks very strong and determined out there. She could be a spoiler, coming down to the wire.

All the highest men's seeds have survived thru three rounds. Young Serb, Djokovik, is having such a remarkable run of consecutive winning matches this season. One wonders if he has the staying power to close the deal at the French. He should be showing some signs of fatigue by now.

Rafa (five-time Open champ) Nadal has had some tough Open matches so far, his first one, a 5-setter eked out win, and Roger Federer has show in recent years that he's lost a bit of his once dominating edge. For me it's really hard to call. Even a higher seeded player could get lucky, and knock off one off these elite players, if they're off their game a smidgen. Too bad no Americans, male or female, remain in the Open draw.

Bottom-line, for any avid tennis buff It's all a huge treat to watch, and that red clay is such a neat visual backdrop to the whole grand affair. I love it.

Oh, before I forget. (Patricia, the old Scottish-content rule.)

The great Bard of Ayrshire, The Ploughman Poet, Robbie Burns, the eldest of seven, grew up in rather harsh, bordering-on-impoverished conditions as a young lad, the son of a poor tenant-farmer, William Burns. Burn's dear mum, Agnes (nee Brown), was also from relatively poor, rural tenant farming stock.

Burns labored dutifully in the family fields as a youngster into his late teens, as a lead hand at his dad's Mount Oliphant plot of arable land outside of Alloway, Aryshire, where wee Rabbie was born in a humble thatched roof cottage, which today is called the Burns Cottage Museum.

In the dead of winter, the domesticated farm animals----horses, sheep, goats, cows------were actually housed overnight in the cottage, w/ a small section cordoned off as a makeshift stable. Must have had quite the mix of odors. Phew!

(I was lucky enough back in 1996 to have been inside Burns' little boyhood cottage in Alloway, and saw, firsthand the actual modest little bed he was delivered in as a wee lad at birth.

Like Will Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe before him, Burns had little regular schooling, save being diligently home-schooled by his dad, who was apparently quite a well-read, self-educated man w/ an eclectic range of interests, and areas of academic expertise. Even some basic Latin background.

So clearly, literary genius does not require higher education, or rarified class station in life, per say, to gestate, blossom, and eventually flourish. Life experience, the so called nurture, can enhance, and feed into the nature, (or innate God-given aptitudes, of talent) of the creative soul----- ye auld nature/ nurture conundrum.

Well enough Scots palavering.

Bless all you courageous American armed forces folk out there, wherever you are fighting on this crazed planet, to protect this Nation's freedoms, and giving hope to all those oppressed societies in the world who are denied those basic freedoms, that sometimes we regrettably take for granted.

And especially bless all those who have made 'the ultimate sacrifice' in defense of the U.S., as well as their immediate, and extended families, friends, and former comrades who are remembering, this very Memorial Day 2011, all these selfless loved ones who died that we, the living, can enjoy our democracy, and all its attendant individual, and collective freedoms.



1862? Mmmm. Just how par can a venu get?

Prof. McI.,

Next thing you'll be tellin' us is that your 'bump-on-a-log' Kentucky kinfolk ("landowning bumpkins") were a bunch of part-time ornery moonshinin', backwoods bootleggers who barely kept their distance from the Fed revenuers, and the dogged Kentucky sherifs' brigade. HA!

(Always think of the great country music legend, George Jones' hilarious, snappy ballad about his daddy's still somewhere in the Smokey Mountains, when the subject of illegal booze in the South arises. Interestingly, I've heard a few different recorded live concert versions of this song where Jones would usually insert the name of the particular town he was playing at the time, right into the lyric line of the song. It was a movable hooch distillery, I guess. HA!)

Your kin weren't related to them thar Clampett folk who struck oil big-time, got plenty rich, and then shuffled off to Beverly Hills, CA., was they? Didn't think so.

Hmm....1862, right in the wheelhouse of that whole nasty slavery 'business', and, oh yeah, that nasty Civil War, to boot. I trust your Kentucky forbearers, back in the day, didn't have slaves.............. or maybe they did? (A delicate question, even today. One on which you are welcome to plead the 5th............. and not a 5th-of-bourbon.)

The classic rags-to-riches upstart, the opportunistic parvenu, the Walter Mitty dreamer have held a curious fascination w/ the aspirational, seeking-a-better-lot-in-life, average American. It's kind of the stuff of the whole self-made man, rugged individualist ethic----- the quintessential American dream mentality.

That old adage about the grass seeming greener on the other side remains strong in the American psyche. Moreover, that competitive, materialism-rooted one-up-manship imperative of 'keeping up w/ the Jones' appears to still be alive-and-well in the U.S., although in these current challenging economic times the phenomenon maybe not as prevalent.

Well, as is my want, I'm starting to drift off toward Tangentville. So I'll bid farewell.

Prof. McI., hope you-and-yours had a fine, relaxing Memorial Day respite, although I gather you still had to put in some hard labor in the paragraph factory. Alas, the news stops for no one!


I demand to see Marlowe's death certificate.

Jim Sweeney,

Rumor has it that famed British scribe Christopher Marlowe MAY have been of mixed parentage (a mulatto), possibly born on the West indies Island of Tobago.

Apparently, as a wee babe-in-arms, he was found to be highly allergic to the incessant indigenous, foul asphaltum/ petrol fumes constantly wafting o'er this tropical isle. His concerned parents decided, for health reasons, that it was best to leave Tobago, and summarily caught the next available banana boat steamer for the long ocean voyage to Plymouth, England.......... and the rest, as they say, is history.

Oh, his mother was allegedly of African slave stock, possibly (get this), from Kenya. This was very odd, since the vast majority of slaves who were brought forcibly, bound in chains to the Americas (including the Caribbean islands) were native to the tropical climes of West and Central Africa-------the Congo, Gabon, Ghana, Ivory Coast et al.

Mercy.......... could our own President Obama, w/ a much ballyhooed native Kenyan father, perhaps be very distantly related to the great Christopher Marlowe? We know Barack is definitely part Irish on his mom's side. HA! The mind reels, don't it?

Well, isn't it now kind of universally accepted thru recent paleontological and archaeological scholarship that homo sapiens, as a distinct species, technically came only from the Ethiopian, Great Rift Valley region of East Africa--------Olduvai Gorge and all that neat stuff? The latest DNA evidence seems fairly air-tight on that score.

(For me, that's a great reason to see the sheer lunacy, and pettiness of racism. We are all brothers, bound by a common primordial origin, and the varying colors of our skin should matters not a whit. Period.)

The late Mary and Louis Leakey would certainly support this widely shared out-of-Africa view on the origins of mankind.

Say goodnight, Lucy.


I watched a debate recently between Richard Leakey and Donald Johanson, and while they clearly agreed on the main Out-of-Africa story, the details of where in Africa, and when, and how often, is fiercely contested as information on the human genome is flooding into scientific research.

The other difficulty is that while all humans may have African ancestry if you go back far enough, a good many of us also have Neanderthal ancestry (and maybe some other populations as well). And 50,000 or 100,000 years is plenty of time for a species to have evolved significant genetic differences between long-separated populations. What exactly those differences are is also fiercely contested (and saying the wrong thing about them can cost you your career.) Unhappily for the we-are-all-brothers camp, skin color is one of the differences (like age and sex) that is immediately obvious and has important predictive value if you are evaluating individuals who are strangers to you and about whom you have no other information. Jesse Jackson famously remarked on that fact.

Well, I'm prepared to dip my toe into the water.

Linda: It seems to me the Neanderthal genetic contribution gets more likely as the evidence comes in - and this, believe me, is not my subject - but isn't it the case that the jury hasn't quite yet a hundred percent made up its mind?

Similarly, the dating of the various Out-of-Africas shifts as evidence amasses.

But I think it's fairly well accepted that, even if you ignored the original colonisation from Africa, matings within historical times mean a "caucasian" European or European American would be very unlucky not to have some African genes in there somewhere.

Alex: It's true, of course, that slaves for the Americas came usually from Africa's west coast. That shouldn't blind us to the vast and equally foul trade that operated from East Africa through the slave market in Zanzibar. I can tell you it is very moving to visit the place where this happened. The altar in the Anglican cathedral stands where slaves were tied for sale.

The trade was Arab until the British shut it down, and it "supplied" slaves to Arabia and the East Indies, but slaves and the descendants of slaves could end up anywhere.

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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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