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Jonah Goldberg

Since September 11, new readers have rushed to National Review Online like the American press corps flocking to the only Western-style toilet in Peshawar. My own column has gained thousands of new e-mail subscribers in the last two months alone. We are delighted by the increase and proud of our efforts to deserve it. But there’s a downside too. For example, our server is hanging on like a barely seaworthy Porta-John loaded with too many Haitian refugees.

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Another downside is that the newcomers are unfamiliar with how things work around here. For example, the fresh fish don’t even know that you should never accept a pack of cigarettes from a bull queer. Oh, wait. That’s prison.

Nonetheless, there are some readers who don’t know about the fact that Kathryn Lopez and Chris McEvoy are the people who really make NRO work. They don’t know that NR hires all of its webmasters from methadone clinics. They don’t know that the only reason I get to write this column is that I poisoned Rich Lowry’s cat and I only give him monthly doses of the antidote. And, in regard to this column, they don’t know what I mean by “flying monkeys” or why I occasionally talk to my couch. I recommend to these folks that they go check out the last Frequently Asked Questions column I wrote; you can FAQ yourself silly and this column will be waiting for you when you get back (note: there have been some personnel changes since that was posted).

And, alas, there are lots of people who don’t know anything about my regular corrections columns. They can be forgiven for their ignorance if for no other reason than the fact that, like an old man who eats bacon at every meal, they haven’t been too regular lately.

Because it’s been so long since the last corrections column, I can only cover the highlights. Nevertheless, this thing will run long — so feel free to skip around from item to item like Liberace at a rhinestone sale.

Offending the Offendable
You’ll notice that almost every paragraph in this column contains an off-color joke (is there such a thing as an on-color or colored joke?). As sure as Alec Baldwin can’t tell his politics from Shinola, someone will be offended by something I wrote here. In fact, this happens after every column. For example, in a recent column I referenced the Jack Woltz line from The Godfather about Johnny Fontaine — “Johnny Fontane comes along with his olive oil voice and guinea charm…”

One gentleman wrote me fuming with outrage that using the word “guinea,” even in a quote like this, was no better than using the word nigger. For the record, I think this is stupid, and I will give a thousand guineas to anyone who can convince me otherwise. Here are just a few of my responses: Italians do not have the same experience as blacks; most Italians I’ve ever met love The Godfather; most Italians I know don’t play these identity-politics victim games; and most non-Italians I know don’t think the world would be a better place if their Italian friends got even more thin-skinned.

However, in another column I unintentionally wrote something offensive which I do regret. In my Cynthia McKinney column (the substance of which I stand by 1,000 percent), I wrote: “I have a confession: It’s very difficult for me to be honest about how stupid I think some black politicians are without either sounding racist or being accused of racism.” I also wrote that “Taking black politicians seriously pays them a compliment.” I think most people understood what I meant in the specific context. But enough didn’t that I should clarify.

Yes, I think some black politicians are stupid, but not because they’re black. I think they’re stupid because they subscribe to asinine left-wing political ideas and have very, very poor arguments to support them. The fact that the Congressional Black Caucus happens to be very far to the Left may make this point more difficult to make, but it doesn’t make it any less accurate.

As for the “pays them a compliment” thing, all I meant was that taking any politician seriously pays them a compliment. It’s a sign of respect. I take Charlie Rangel seriously, despite the fact that he’s liberal, because he’s a substantial guy. I call Cynthia McKinney aggressively stupid because, well, she is.

I also offended a few Catholics, but mostly in an intellectual sense, when I suggested that the most offensive thing you could do to a Catholic would be to murder the Pope. As it turns out, that’s not true. In fact, some Catholics are sensitive to the charge that they “worship” the Pope – which would be blasphemy, or some other word for “no-no.” So killing the Pope would not be number one on the list of offensive things you could do, because the Pope is, at the end of the day, just a man. Several readers pointed out that it would be far more offensive to desecrate the Eucharist, a.k.a. Jesus. In fact, this is precisely what members of ACT UP did in the 1980s when they stormed St. Patrick’s in New York City. But pretty much everyone agreed it would be very bad to kill the Pope, especially this one.

Free Speech for Thee But Not for Me
Another theme which won’t die is the idea that criticizing free speech is censorship. I can’t tell you how many people wrote me to say that I violated Cynthia McKinney’s “rights” by criticizing her. I’m amazed these people haven’t removed themselves from the gene pool by trying to read their e-mail while in the bathtub. Anyway, I’m done trying to make this point. Instead you should read Gregg Easterbrook’s wonderful piece in today’s Wall Street Journal.

“Who Are We To Judge” My Mistakes?
In my column “Who Are We to Judge,” I suggested that feminists have nothing to say about the Taliban. That was unfair. Feminists have been very vocal about the evils of the Taliban. Or rather, I should say, feminists have been very vocal about the evils of the Taliban right up to the moment it mattered. Suddenly, now that their criticisms are relevant, feminists are relatively quiet. In the same column, according to many liberal readers, I downplayed the extremism of Bob Jones University, particularly when it comes to racial stuff. Maybe so, but the point remains that compared to the Taliban, Bob Jones University might as well be a seminar on group hugging at the 92nd Street Y. You can’t denounce the “intolerance” of BJU and then say, “Who are we to judge the Taliban?” Okay, actually you can do it, but you will open yourself up to excessive mockery.

The Jewish Afterlifes & Jacobite Squirrels
In “A New Cold War — With A Twist,” I had written:

Contrary to what Wright suggests, Christian theology with its “render unto Caesar” strictures has long made room for a City of God and a City of Man (and Judaism, always ambiguous on even the existence of an afterlife, explicitly rejects much of the self-denial of Christianity and Islam — hence the toast “l’chaim!” or “to life!”). The Muslim world never invested much in such ideas.

Since then a zillion readers have been barraging me with quotes from the Torah (Old Testament to many of you), assuring me that Jews do, in fact, believe in an afterlife; that Christianity isn’t about self-denial; and that the white zone is for loading and unloading only. On the first point, please stop sending me various psalms and verses pointing out the “error” of my ways. I concede the point that Judaism recognizes an eternal soul. The Torah mentions Sheol as the place where we go after we die, and it’s used in ways to mean more than simply “the grave.” Judaism also recognizes resurrection as part of the olam ha-bo or “the world to come.” But without getting into the details — and risking exposing the vast tracts of ignorance in my Jewish education — Judaism has never had a conception of heaven, in the Christian or Islamic sense, as a place where we will receive our reward. Judaism places a much greater emphasis, I believe, on our actions in this life or in this world (olam ha-zeh).

As for the self-denial thing, I certainly meant no offense. My only point was that Christianity and Islam seem to place a lot more emphasis on avoiding human temptation and denying one’s human nature. Catholic priests are celibate, take vows of poverty, etc. Muslims can’t eat pork (hmmm pork) or drink wine (hmmm pork and wine). Moreover, they can buy a ticket into heaven by blowing themselves up. Sure, Jews — at least the ones better than me — can’t eat pork, but such rules are not established or understood as self-denial or suffering.

I’m really not trying to pick a fight on this point. I received any number of thoughtful emails on all sides of this argument, and I am open to correction. I just haven’t had time to study the question much. I am willing to believe, for example, that C.S. Lewis was right when he said self-denial as a path to heaven is not part of the Christian faith, but was snuck into it by Kant and the Stoics (I knew I hated those Stoic bastards!).

In my last corrections column I mentioned that Cosmo the Wonderdog likes to chase “Jacobite” squirrels. He does like to chase squirrels, but not Jacobite ones. Jacobite, of course, refers to those who wanted to get a Stuart descendant of James I on the English throne. Cosmo is very much a Jacobite, which helps explain why he despises Jacobin squirrels. Jacobin refers to the pernicious social cleansers of the French Revolution. I’m not sure how I could have made the mistake, except to say that Cosmo rarely gets more than a “Why you Jacobigrrrrrrr” out of his mouth before he tries to bite the squirrels. Maybe, subconsciously, I heard it as Jacob(in)-bite. Or, maybe I need more medication.

Where No Geek Has Gone Before
Perhaps the only thing that could elicit as much thoughtful e-mail as a sweeping generalization about the role of humanity according to the three great monotheistic religions, is a casual aside about Vulcan randiness. In my column reviewing Enterprise — the new Star Trek series — I predicted that the new Vulcan chick, T’Pol, will “hear the Vulcan call of the birds and the bees, the Pon Farr, the moment the ratings dip.”

Well, I was wrong, in a liturgical sense. Vulcan females do not undergo Pon Farr. The Spanish Fly gene only affects the male of the species. But, while I must confess I didn’t know this, I stand by my prediction. Recall, if you will, that in Voyager, B’Elanna Torres – a half-human-half-Klingon! — caught Pon Farr from a Vulcan on the ship. I cannot remember how it happened — probably some Rigellian virus or mind-meld gone awry — but the reason it happened was obvious: They wanted the hot Vulcan chick to get all hot and bothered for the commercials. If you think a full-blooded, and full-bodied, Vulcan chick can’t get randy during sweeps week… well, now who’s being naïve?

I also plead guilty to not catching the huge historical inconsistency in the new Trek series. I was not aware that the new show is set in 2161. According to the old Trek universe, that is just one year after the Romulan-Earth war, which ended with the Treaty of Algeron and the forming of the Federation among the Vulcans, humans and Andorians. Clearly this is impossible given the parameters established in the new series. It is also clear that there millions of Americans who would give me a wedgie if I mentioned any of this to them in person.

And, lastly, I don’t care about the great Trekkie vs. Trekker debate and I never will.

FAIR Game
In my wildly unpopular column about Brill’s Content, I suggested that Jeff Cohen, the founder of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, considers PBS a “hotbed of homophobia and neoconservatism.” Mr. Cohen has gotten in touch with me and says such an assertion is “utterly baseless.” I apologize for the mischaracterization. I have no reason to believe that Mr. Cohen has said those exact words, and I take him at his word that I am wrong to have leapt to such a conclusion. However, in my own defense, I might have been thrown off by all of the paperwork put out by FAIR itself. For example, there’s this item from the Fair “Fact Sheet on PBS Programming“:

FAIR studies have consistently found that the sources, hosts and guests on public television news and public affairs shows overwhelmingly represent corporate and conservative interests, while the voices of women, people of color, labor, environmentalists, consumer advocates, the lesbian, gay and bisexual community, and other public interest constituencies are marginalized.

There’s also the FAIR reporting by activists like Dorothee Benz, who has denounced PBS “timidity and prejudice” toward gay programming and the tendency of PBS officials “to accommodate right-wing hysteria.”

Regardless, Mr. Cohen is adamant that my characterization is without any foundation, and that’s fine. For those who think I might not have been too wildly off the mark, I encourage you to check out the FAIR website.

Minor Items
I’m running out of time and space (don’t tell Einstein!), so I need to keep things short:

The “crooked timber of humanity” was a line from Isaiah Berlin, but the first to coin it was Kant, when he wrote, “Out of the crooked timber of humanity nothing straight can be made.”

When I suggested that my wife become the next senator from Alaska, I wrote: “At embassy functions I would — like Dan Ackroyd in The Blues Brothers — insist that the waiter fill my water glass with red wine.” The beverage in The Blues Brothers was champagne.

In the same column, when I wrote, “Ach my eyes! It burns!” in reference to the idea of seeing Andrea Dworkin in stretch pants, I was also referring to Ranier Wolfcastle in The Simpsons.

I do not have room here to list all of the Simpsons and movie references in the last few months of columns. But many of you guessed correctly, and others didn’t. You know who you are.

I should stop referring to Afghanis as people; they are the currency over there. Although toilet paper will probably take you further, and last longer.

I mentioned the porn movie Ride This Miss Daisy. I am told the actual film is Riding Miss Daisy.

The math and analysis in my Bush-tax-rebate column was deeply flawed. The $300 rebate was, essentially, the proceeds from a rate cut, and not the proceeds of Keynesian folly.

When I made the joke that Bush might give his daughter, Jenna, an Islamic name (“Ibn-Faud bin Talal Bush”), I failed to realize that Jenna is already an Islamic name. Let the conspiracy theories begin.

 I wrote, in “The Terrorist Mind,” that “‘Capturing their hearts and minds’ only makes sense if by that you mean, literally, capturing their hearts and minds and putting them in a mason jar.” I’ve since been told, but can’t verify, that Mason is a brand name like Coke or Band-Aids, and that the people at Mason insist on the capitalization of Mason (although the dictionary is with me). Apparently, Mason’s historic rival was Ball. Ball jars. Now, if only I could come up with an inappropriate joke about Ball jars…



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