It’s not quite spring yet, but it’s never too early to have a spring cleaning — just ask the new occupant of the Oval Office. Besides, my love of spring has ebbed since it was announced that my birthday, March 21, which has always been the first day of spring, will not be the true Vernal Equinox again until the year 2100. Damnable celestial drift!
Anyway, National Review Online is undergoing a major spring cleaning today because tomorrow we are beginning the rollout of our 1,742nd redesign. This one will be more like the difference between a low-end Mercedes and a high-end Mercedes. It will be a bit more elegant to the eye and it will have a few more doodads to the touch (similar to what we will one day say about android women). But to the neophyte, the boob, to carnie folk, and to those people who think Andy Rooney has never been better and that Herblock was ever talented in the first place, it won’t look too dramatically different.
Apology Not Accepted
Perhaps the best place to begin is last Tuesday’s apology column, which immediately sends us sliding into Monday’s column. In the wake of the recent Indian earthquake, I made the point that piss-poor countries get shellacked by natural disasters more than rich countries do because, well, not to get too social-scientific here, it sucks to live in a poor country. The buildings, to the extent there are any, are really poorly made and even more poorly inspected — usually by the fat sons-in-law of even fatter socialist party hacks. (Hmm…could there be a reason why socialist countries tend to be poor? Could be rabbit, could be.)
In any event, I made a lot of jokes about how God doesn’t like poor countries with crappy toilets. My basic point was that development-phobes, globalization hysterics, and other condescending left-wingers, bear some of the responsibility for the deaths of millions of people whose lives could have been — and can still be — saved by faster economic growth.
What I apologized for on Tuesday was making a bunch of jokes while kids were being dragged from the rubble with their legs missing. It was inappropriate to make light of that much death. I even heard from people with relatives there, which was no fun at all.
On the lighter side, the funny thing was that I received vastly — I mean like 20 to 1 — more criticism for apologizing than I did for the initial column.
“Never apologize! It’s a sign of weakness!” was a common response. Others seemed to think I was backing off my actual substantive point. Which, again, I do not.
But on this idea that it’s a sign of weakness to admit when you’re wrong. I couldn’t disagree more. Way, way, way too many journalists — and even more politicians — are so terrified of admitting mistakes, they end up compounding them. To me it’s a kind of cowardice to stick by something you know was wrong simply to save yourself some embarrassment. Lastly, nobody at National Review asked me to apologize, Mr. Buckley included. I’m not even sure people at NR read this column.
Bill Clinton vs. Nietzsche
Which, conveniently enough, brings us to Bill Clinton, a man whose “courage” for always doing the wrong thing and refusing to admit it was uniformly celebrated by liberals who typically hear an echo in their colons when they talk.
My “Goodbye to All That” column was very popular with Clinton-haters. Indeed, whenever I write a solid Clinton-hating column, people send me lots of stories about their own personal antipathy for the man. “I first started hating that psychopath back in 1991….” Or “I’ve known that guy sucks ever since I heard him say…”
Wouldn’t it be fun to do a Clinton documentary interspersed with scenes of nice decent folk telling their tales of Clinton detestation? It could sort of be like When Harry Met Sally with all those cute stories about how old couples first met.
But I do need to clarify a few things. First of all, I spelled Mr. Pib with one “B.” Moreover, when I wrote that Bill Clinton was a white-trash messiah who’d “walk on a sea of Mr. Pib for your sins” I suggested that Mr. Pibb is a white-trash drink. This angered many, many, many Pibbers out there and confused others so committed to the soft drink they couldn’t even imagine that was my intent. I meant no disrespect to you people, but I am now at a loss for what would count as the reigning White Trash Sodie-Pop. Suggestions welcome.
Secondly, a transmission error caused the first paragraph to get garbled and so a sentence at the end probably went over a lot of peoples’ heads. I concluded my Clinton-hating column, “He is now just an epigram on a dying feeling.” The first paragraph had explained that Nietzsche had defined jokes as “epigrams on dying feelings” and so the column lost a bit of all too rare parallelism. Oh well, the point that Bill Clinton is a pasty-skinned joke didn’t seem be lost on anyone though.
More importantly, I owe an apology to Nietzsche. When comparing the “syphilitic sage” to Clinton, I made it sound like Friedrich liked to get funky with the Fraulein (“Friedrich mochte mit den Frauen funky erhalten”), just like Bill. That’s not quite fair. Freddie was actually a dues-paying member of the He-Man Woman-Haters Club and some people even contend he only kicked it old school with one woman (this may be impressive for Judeo-Christian romantic types, but it’s a real waste for atheistic German philosophers who proclaim God’s death).
Moreover, his syphilis may even have been contracted from working in a military hospital during the Franco-Prussian war (How did I know that eventually his venereal disease could eventually be traced back to the French?). And, just to cover all my bases, there are some people who think he didn’t die from syphilis at all.
And lastly, when I joked that Nietzsche once said, “Dear God, I’ll take back that whole thing about You being dead if You can just do something about this burning sensation when I pee,” I implied pretty strongly that syphilitics feel the flames of misplaced passion, when in fact that is a symptom of gonorrhea. I regret the error.
Grammarian Edit Thyself
Speaking of Errors, it’s time for me once again to deal with the vexatious issue of my grammar and spelling in this space. First let me be honest. It can be awful.
This is due to the fact that I write too quickly and too aurally, by which I mean that I often write words as they sound. Eye right Homonymously, if ewe no watt aye mien. This equips certain words cloaking technology which enables them to elude my spell-checker’s sensors (Does it make me a geek that I make cool Star Trek sounds whenever I spell check? “Replace word?” the dialog box asks. “Make it so!” I exclaim).
Many of you have caught on to the problem. For example, in my apology column I wrote:
I know that if Pat Robertson had been caught channeling money he’d shaken down from, say, the United Way, to his illegitimate child, the New York Times would run a twelve-week series on the Corrupt Christian Right and Jackson’s current defenders would tighten their panties like a hydraulic vice.
Some were quick to point out that a “hydraulic vice” would in all likelihood involve blasting water or some other fluid in a manner — and in an area — that some might consider “saucy,” as the British say. Or it might involve someone who likes to wear panties for a specifically desired wedgie-like sensation when going down a waterslide. Regardless, I should have used the word “vise” with an “S”, which is the tightening doohickey I had in mind — you know, the sort of thing Tom DeLay brandishes to instill Hoden Angst on wayward members of his caucus (look it up).
But there are occasions, rare and mystical, when the readers are wrong about my grammatical “mistakes” and I’m right. But since I am lacking a concrete example of such instances, let’s address the slightly less rare occasions when it’s not clear who is right. For example, I was deluged by readers furious about my usage of the phrase “I could care less” rather than the more conventional “I couldn’t care less,” when I wrote of the “Reverend” Jackson, “…I really could care less about him adding one more child to the illegitimacy rate he is such an unreliable critic of.”
This is actually a bone of contention among various linguists. Steven Pinker of MIT has long argued that “could care less” is fine because it is another in a long line of examples of this thing called “sarcasm” in the English language. Maybe you’ve heard of it? As I very much want to write more about the topic of language and genetics, I will put off further discussion of this until another time.
Apostates to the Left of Me, Apostates to the Right of Me
Though not much liked by the average reader, my column, “Ex-Conservatives and Other Silly Folk” got a very nice reception from several conservative intellectual types who I will not embarrass by exposing as readers of this column.
There is one thing I should definitely clarify. While the list of conservative intellectuals who have moved left is much shorter than the list of books Alec Baldwin has finished, it’s not quite as short as I suggested. I implied that Arianna Huffington, Michael Lind, the guys profiled in the Lingua Franca piece, and “maybe” Daniel Bell exhausted the list. That’s not true. As many people pointed out, there’s NR’s own prodigal son, Gary Wills and er, um, Kevin Phillips, and even Pat Buchanan if you just look at his economics and, then, well that is about it.
Yeah, I’m sure there are a few other stragglers and lost souls who wandered off the conservative reservation and ended up on the Left. But there are so many former-leftists on the Right it’s almost easier to list the people who were born on the right and never left. I will make a bet with anyone out there I can list one dozen prominent former leftists for every one “prominent” former conservative. And your uncle Ned doesn’t count as prominent.
New Meat! Fresh Fish! Sssssssoooooooooooowwwweeeee!
Getting back to the grammar and spelling stuff, I want to assure our readers, and especially Wall Street’s jittery investors, that we are doing everything we can — short of what’s necessary — to fix the copy editing problems with this column and others. For quite a while we’ve been radically understaffed (Kathryn Lopez is already doing the work of ten people and I’m almost doing the work of one).
One thing we’ve done is hire a Canadian, because when you can’t afford American quality you get the next best thing. And if you can’t get an H1B visa for a Japanese guy and you can’t pay enough for a Brit, you settle for a Canadian. No, no, just kidding, we have a lot of readers to the north and we love them.
And we are very excited to have Neil Seeman, most recently from Canada’s National Post, join our happy band. To paraphrase Henry V, years from today conservative gentlemen in America now-a-bed shall think themselves accursed they were not here, and hold their manhoods cheap that they did not sign on for NRO Y2K.1, leaving it instead to some iceback immigrant worker. Neil’s duties will include not merely helping with the content flow and regaling us with tales of the ice floe, he will be writing much and receiving an unbelievable amount of undeserved grief from me. Why? Because I can get away with it. So start sending the Canadian jokes now.
The response to my “most Burkean line from Animal House” column was really surprising. I expected most of you to hate it, but it turned out to be surprisingly popular. But please stop sending me e-mails insisting that “You f**ked up, you trusted us” and “knowledge is good” should have been on my list. You may be right, but it’s time for us to move on.
In the wake of my assertion that “It’s just that extremism and conservatism combine in such a way as to cause a Pavlovian unhinging of liberal sphincters” one reader wrote me to explain that “Sphincters, liberal ones anyway, don’t unhinge; they unlace.”
I seemed to suggest, in the minds of some, that I consider “The Menagerie” to be the first Star Trek. We all know this is not true, and I resent the accusation, because I am a geek.
When I referred to the upcoming C-PAC conferences as their “annual Prison Rodeo and Cavalcade of Khakis,” I really didn’t mean anything untoward by it. I will explain more soon enough (also, my hope is that C-SPAN will cover my keynoter to YAF on Friday, Feb. 16. If they’re not planning to, you could always ask them really nice).
I spelled Sensurround “sense-a-round” in the earthquake column; I was wrong. Jefferson’s letter mentioning the “wall of separation” between church and state was not entirely a “private” letter as I suggested, but the point that such a formulation does not inform the First Amendment stands the way Lefties insist holds. Yes, I suggested that many University of Virginia students are full of themselves. Yes, I meant it, but no I wasn’t referring to all of them, most notably the guy who signs my paycheck, Rich Lowry.
Thanks a Bunch
Lastly, I want to thank everyone out there. While the dotcom world looks like the hospital scene from Gone with the Wind, NRO is thriving. We owe it to your continued support. Please keep spreading the word and if you don’t think it will help, feel free not to mention the new Canadian guy.