You Don't Say

John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and random topics. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to jemcintyre@gmail.com, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. The original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/, at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/, and now at https://www.baltimoresun.com/opinion/columnists/mcintyre/

Friday, May 8, 2020

Up to here, I'm telling you, up to here

I've been a working editor at newspapers for more than forty years, working every day to make sure that the copy passing through my hands was as accurate as I could establish, and also in, you know, English.

Throughout those forty years I've listened to a drumbeat of complaints about media bias, most of it coming from people who dislike factual reporting that doesn't suit their preferences.

(Media bias, though, is real. You want to know where it exists? Most journalism reflects the viewpoint of middle-class white people, because that's who most journalists have been, and that's who most of the subscribers have been.)

But I've listened to four decades of this codswallop, and I'm sixty-nine years old and tired of it.

Just today, in a Facebook exchange with people Back Home in Kentucky, some person I don't (fortunately) know commented, "Documented evidence? Since when does a reporter care about documented evidence? Only when it suits their ideology."

I responded, "If what you know about journalism is no more than this ignorant remark, I can’t see that there’s any reason to pay any attention to you ever again."

I'm tried of coddling these people. Try to reason with them and offer actual evidence, and they simply resort to calling you a "libtard" or some other schoolyard insult. You never, ever get a response that addresses the merits.

So, no more Mr. Nice Guy.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Thank you so much, Apprentice House Press

As Bad Advice approaches formal publication May 1, I want to show gratitude to Apprentice House Press, my publisher at Loyola University Maryland. Apprentice House Press comes out of Loyola's Communication Department, which offers courses for students interested in book publishing. It is, I believe, the only student-operated publishing house in the country.

Two of those students, Annabelle Finagin and Dominika Ortonowski, worked on bringing the book to publication during the academic year, even in the tumultuous current semester. My gratitude to them is profound, and I hope that Apprentice House Press helps propel them into careers.

I am also deeply grateful to Kevin Atticks, the faculty member who oversees Apprentice House, and who has now consented to publish me twice, despite having endured the trauma of being a student in my first editing class at Loyola.

And now for a brief and crass commercial announcement: Both Bad Advice and my previous book, The Old Editor Says, are available online from Amazon and Barnes and Noble, in print and electronic forms. They are short, but cheap.

 

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

You weren't just misled, you were had

There are two stages in becoming a writer. First comes the learning. Then comes the unlearning.

I spent years coming up through the ranks as an editor mastering grammar and usage, conventions and arcane style rules. Reading and encounters with fellow editors enlarged my understanding to recognize that my colleagues and I had wasted considerable time on mistaken or outdated strictures.

For the past couple of decades I have been campaigning against shibboleths and superstitions, even having modest success in getting editors of the Associated Press Stylebook to scrape some of the barnacles off its hull.

It’s not just schoolrooms and stylebooks tendering nonsense to the impressionable. Look at the internet. Pick a random post advising against using the passive voice and you are apt to encounter appalling ignorance—people who can’t tell the difference between the passive and the intransitive, or who simply say never to use any form of to be.

Readers of my blog posts started sending links about writing in general as well as grammar and usage, and there was another realm of unsound admonitions to discover with a wild surmise, like some watcher of the skies when a new planet swims into his ken.

Emboldened by the success of The Old Editor Says: Maxims for Writing and Editing, which since its publication seven years ago has sold dozens of copies, I set out to expose arrant nonsense, oversimplification, and crackpot edicts.

The result, Bad Advice: The Most Unreliable Counsel Available on Grammar, Usage, and Writing, is being published May 1 by Apprentice House at Loyola University Maryland.

It will be available for a modest sum at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com in both print and online versions. 


Tuesday, April 14, 2020

In the shadow of mortality

Over the years, I have worked nights, weekends, and holidays at the newspaper, and Kathleen has worked days and weekends at the church. In recent years, on the few days off we have in common, we have taken to sharing a bottle of prosecco or a couple of Manhattans on the front porch, talking quietly about the day and watching the sun go down.

Now, as we are isolated by the coronavirus pandemic, those late afternoons have taken on a new flavor.

Our children are isolated and our constant concern. Kathleen's parents are isolated at their retirement home and also our concern. Our other relatives are our concern. And though we take precautions, staying at home generally and going out with the masks Kathleen has sewn for us, we know the hazards. it's quite possible that either of us will contract the ccoronavirus. It's possible that we will not display any symptoms and it will all be over. It's possible that one of us will develop symptoms and be dead within five days with lungs full of fluid.

We know how many have suffered already.

That makes those evenings on the porch, which I mark with posts and photos on Facebook and Twitter, not a display of our indulgences, but a gesture of defiance.

In the face of this terrible threat, we will celebrate our time together, enjoy our company with the marks of domestic routines and the celebration of commonplace shared pleasures, shared with our community of friends and acquaintances.

This is what we have. This is what we can do.





Monday, March 16, 2020

First day under the new dispensation

After lingering over coffee and scrutiny of the Web, off to the grocery and the liquor store, where there were still crowds. We now have enough coffee and whiskey to see us through for a reasonable span.

Then off for a walk in the sun with Kathleen to pick up her car at the repair shop. Daffodils and blooms all around. Spring has arrived without our having had winter. I put the snow shovel in the garage. 

The mundane tasks, laundry and bill paying, resume.

Online, the clamor that the coronavirus is some Democratic plot has died down, and some participants even appear to have been schooled in the mathematics of exponential increase. Still, though, the occasional slur about George Soros, indicating that blaming the Jews is a sturdy response in the West. I ponder unfriending and blocking acquaintances who bombard me with dumbass right-wing memes. Life now seems too short to endure all that.

Instructed by my daughter in the technicalities of Zoom, I am more or less prepared to participate in tonight's meeting of Memorial Episcopal Church's vestry, our first disembodied session.

Quiet dinner to come with Kathleen, since Maryland's bars and restaurants have shut down. (Unknown when we will be able to resume taking the healing waters with our little coterie.)

Two days off to come and a day of work from home before I return to The Sun, where my colleagues still labor under difficult circumstances to bring you clear and verified information, despite jackass nonsense about "the media."

Like you, we watch the numbers of cases rise, worrying if we are unknowingly harboring the coronavirus, waiting to hear if it has taken people we know. Defoe's Journal of the Plague Year begins to sound eerily like what we are experiencing, and we hope that our efforts to separate ourselves, and others' efforts, will blunt the impact of the disease, and decrease the losses.

I listen as I write to a recording of symphonies by Dr. Arne, which echo a world of grace, balance, and order, to which I hope we can return.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Please step out of the vehicle

As I drove to church yesterday morning, crossing Perring Parkway from Woodbourne on a green light, a northbound driver on Perring Parkway swept through a red light, missing me by about a car length. Had I been a couple of seconds earlier or a few miles per hour slower, he would have hit me broadside at speed and today Fred Rasmussen or Jacques Kelly would be working up my obituary for tomorrow's print edition of The Sun.

The romance of the automobile has never entranced me—hell, I drove a Chevette for the better part of a decade. And now, my daily travel to and from work, Hamilton in the northeast corner of the city to Port Covington at the southern end, is an ordeal.

Pickup trucks the size of ranch houses. Environmentally disastrous SUVs whose owners cannot manage the unwieldy things in parallel parking. The smell of weed emanating from cars and suggesting operator impairment. Dolts heedlessly pulling into intersections to block them as the lights change. Cowboys weaving in and out of traffic to gain a minimal advantage, who also appear to mistake Perring Parkway for the Bonneville Salt Flats.

They must be as maddened by city traffic as I am, without acknowledging how much they contribute to the situation.

They have fallen for the false promise of autonomy in automobile culture. Look at the ads for vehicles on television, in which sleek cars glide along picturesque roadways with no other vehicle in sight. Contrast that with the reality of creeping along city streets, or even sections of interstate highways during peak hours, at 12 mph.

But the automobile manufacturers and advertising agencies are not solely at fault. For sixty years the federal and state governments have prioritized and subsidized the construction and maintenance of roadways, even though we have known since Robert Caro's Power Broker (1974) that the more roads and bridges and throughways that Robert Moses built, the more traffic was generated. All the while, mass transit has been starved.

One reason is that mass transit not American; it's all lefty and European. Owning a private vehicle is genuinely American. I once saw a Republican's sneer that Democrats want us all to live in apartments and take mass transit to our government jobs. Yes, real Americans drive their hulking SUVs from their McMansions two to three hours distant from the workplaces where they keep capitalism great. Yes, owning a private vehicle and driving it alone, without any sissy ride-sharing, is what shows that we maintain rugged individualism, like hanging a set of chrome bull testicles on the back of a pickup truck.

I long for the day when my children will take the car keys away from me.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Erick Erickson doesn't get to decide

Since it's Sunday, I hope you don't mind a little theological discussion. If you do mind, just return to your secular pursuits

A while back, Erick Erickson, one of the amplified conservative voices, disparaged Pete Buttigieg's religious views, adding, by way of wider disparagement, that the Episcopal Church to which Mr. Buttigieg belongs, is "no longer a Christian institution."

I don't think he gets to decide who is or isn't Christian. I stand up every Sunday in an Episcopal Church and repeat the Nicene Creed. When I get to "he will judge the living and the dead," which the couple of hundred bishops who assembled in Nicea in A.D. 325 agreed on, I do not imagine that they were envisioning Erick Erickson.

But to be fair to Mr. Erickson, he hardly stands out as having made idiotic remarks about Christian belief. The council at Nicea, after all, was summoned by the Emperor Constantine in an effort to quell the disputatious and occasionally violent disagreements among the faithful, and Who's In And Who's Out has been a popular game among the sects ever since.

Perhaps all would benefit if those of us who consider ourselves Christian could keep in mind that we don't get to decide who is Christian and who is not, who is worthy of salvation and who will be denied it.

That doesn't mean that we can't talk theology and disagree. I think that pre-millennial dispensationalism is crackpot theology, and that the close vote in the fourth century to allow the Book of Revelation into the canon was badly decided. Biblical literalism is laughable, as are those mainstream congregations whose mission statement  appears to be, as a college roommate once said, "to mean well." Those prosperity Gospel congregations smell of a degraded and corrupt Calvinism. But when all those people call themselves Christians, I don't get to deny it. (Go ahead, call me a Latitudinarian. I'm a high-church Rite II Episcopalian, and I can take it.)

Let me put a question to you to test against your own tradition. Assume a person living among us in a nominally Christian culture who leads a moral life: honest, generous, virtuous, someone any of us would call a good person. But not a believer. At the Doom, what do you say will happen to that person? Will your denomination assign that good person to Hell? And if not, then what?

The Church has dealt with this conundrum before. The Roman Catholic Church constructed Limbo to include, among others, virtuous pagans, because the Church needed Aristotle. So are you OK with parking that virtuous person in some lobby just outside Heaven?

WWJD?



Monday, September 16, 2019

The face in the mirror

In the morning when I look in the mirror, I see someone in his late sixties with gray hair, a paunch, and a face that disturbingly resembles my father's That is not who I am.

In my head I am eighteen years old, six feet tall, a skinny one hundred thirty pounds, about to step into the wider world from Fleming County, Kentucky. That's who I am, and the scattering of personae I've gathered over the past half-century (graduate student, husband, father, editor, teacher, parishioner, Marylander, sexagenarian, whatever) are all in some sense artificial, not quite who I am.

Next month my fellow graduates of the Class of 1969 at Fleming County High School will be at a party to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of their graduation, a party I can't attend because of an obligation in Baltimore.

But if I were there, those people would see through the accidental accumulations of those fifty years and identify me as that skinny eighteen-year-old with the brown hair and thick eyeglasses. And they would call me "John Early," because they know what my name is, the name my family used, the name they used, and I would hear in its authentic sound. (Kathleen calls me John Early; she has the words but not the tune.)

It's a slippery thing, identity, those selves we assume to fit the occasions. One plays the roles: professional journalist, college lecturer, adult. Some days it feels like imposture, because at the core there is still that skinny introvert, bookish, eager for the wider world but a little daunted by stepping into it.

But then the curtain rises, and the show goes on. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

We're not going back to a place that didn't actually exist

Some of the people I grew up among in Kentucky periodically post memes on Facebook about bringing prayer back into the public schools. I have a pretty good idea of what they want, because I remember what they had.

We began every day at Elizaville Elementary School by standing to recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, followed by the Lord's Prayer, until the Supreme Court belatedly realized that it is not the job of the state to provide religious instruction.

It was, mind you, the Protestant version of the Lord's Prayer. What we were being made to understand between the flag and the Lord's Prayer, was that we were growing up in a country in being white (Elizavlle Elementary was segregated; I had no black classmates until the fifth grade) and Protestant was the norm, the template.

(If you think that is overstatement, recall that when I was in the fourth grade and John F. Kennedy was running for the presidency, there were open questions whether a Roman Catholic could be elected president.)

We see today a widespread synthetic nostalgia for a white Protestant America that never quite existed. You only have to keep in mind that there are black families in today whose seventeenth-century ancestors made them Americans a century before my Scots-Irish ancestors arrived.

That nostalgia feeds in to a cluster of concerns among older white people: economic insecurity (the result of three decades of Republican policies, abetted by Democrats, that privilege corporations and wealthy people over working-class and middle-class Americans), cultural anxieties (gay people getting married, mouthy women being elected to high office), and relentless demographic trends (the inexorable growth of a non-white population that will exceed the white one).

I responded today, perhaps unwisely, to a Facebook post that presented a confused melange of anxieties about Sharia law, immigrants and people who are being told to go back where they came from. (Hey, if you're not Native American, you're not from here.) Amid all the strident talk, it might be helpful to keep a few simple truths in mind.

Item: The United States is a secular republic. The Constitution is explicit that all people who adhere to any religion, or no religion, are on an equal footing.

Item: Sharia law is not replacing civil law in this country, any more than Torah law and Roman Catholic canon law are. Though it does seem to be Christians who appear to be most active in attempting to get religious doctrine written into the law books.

Item: The 3.5 million Muslims in the United States look unlikely to leave anytime soon, so it might be a good idea to learn how to live with them as fellow citizens.






Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Obama and the racial divide


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Accustomed as one is to encountering utterly daft remarks online, it’s still possible to stumble upon one so blindingly stupid as to take one’s breath away.

This morning I came across a comment from a woman castigating the news media for refusing to recognize how much Donald Trump has done as president to heal the racial divide in this country that Obama started.

By my count, our racial divide dates from 1619, when the first enslaved people were imported.

It was plainly present in the constitutional debates of 1787, when the notorious compromise of counting each enslaved person as three-fifths of a person in the census to give the slave states the politircal heft they demanded as the price of entering the Union.

The racial divide was on display in the compromises of 1820 and 1850, again to placate the slaveholders, and most certainly on display in 1861-1865, when the cost of ending slavery was more than 600,000 human lives and the destruction of the South’s economy.

One might say that a racial divide developed, or widened, after the stolen presidential election of 1876, after which white supremacists were permitted to regain political control of the former Confederate states and enact a raft of Jim Crow laws.

One might have spotted a racial divide in the twentieth century, in the segregated military, in voter suppression, in the legislatively and administratively endorsed redlining of city neighborhoods.

One might have surmised that a racial divide existed when screaming crowds of white men and women opposed allowing children of color into integrated public schools, or when Medgar Evers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Mickey Schwerner, Viola Liuzzo, James Reeb,  Jonathan Daniels, and many others were assassinated for attempting to help black people get to vote.

I did discern a racial divide in this country associated with the election of Barack Obama to the presidency (twice, incidentally, with substantial majorities in the popular vote and Electoral College each time). What I saw was that a black man in the White House became an emblem for white people who feared that demographic and cultural changes threatened their fragile sense of superiority. They were quite right to see white supremacy in danger, and their rage and resentment are continually on display.

What I didn’t discern—and perhaps some of you can help me here—is just what President Donald Trump has done to heal that racial breach, beyond bestowing the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Tiger Woods.