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Sessions With Jonah
A long-awaited F.A.Q.


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Jonah Goldberg

Dear readers and those who have this column read to them (that joke just never gets tired),

Earlier this week I asked readers in the Corner to ask me any questions they wanted and I would do a FAQ. Some 400 of you did. But because that slave driver, Rich Lowry, assigned me an article for the next issue of the print magazine, I didn’t get a chance to sift through them all properly. The two most frequent questions — by far — were questions of the “How do I get into journalism?” or “How do I get your job?” variety and “Could you please explain all the different varieties of conservatism — neo, paleo, crunchy, etc.?” Since so many of you are interested in these subjects I figured I should dedicate whole columns to just these two questions, either jointly or separated. So, with the exception of filtering those queries out and a few frightening/bizarre/nonsensical/dull inquiries what follows below are some questions literally taken at random. I will probably revisit many of the questions I couldn’t get to today later on.

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Also, since many of you are not Corner readers (WHY NOT?!?), I’d like to give everyone a chance to ask more questions. Send them to [email protected] (and please only to that address) and I will get to them in due time. Here we go.

If the regular contributors from The Corner crashed in the Andes, how long before someone was sacrificed for food and who would be eaten first?

This is a fascinating question and one I’ve long pondered. My first instinct was to size up the various contributors physically and figure out who would be the least capable of defending him or herself. This immediately rules out me — I’m huge, and deadly when cornered — Brookhiser who looks like a retired Belgian assassin, and Derbyshire who sometimes strikes me as one of those British movie villains who carries a cane with a stiletto in it. But then it dawned on me that we would probably discuss cannibalism for a very long time before actually venturing to eat somebody.

But assuming that didn’t happen and we had to actually decide to eat, I’d bet at the end of the day, Stanley Kurtz would be toast(ed). First, Stan looks like a very sensible eater. Indeed, he might be kosher. And while I’m not kosher myself, I do think I would prefer to eat only kosher people. But, more important, Stanley is a sociologist so he would probably have the most compelling arguments in favor cannibalism. He’d cite arguments from the perspective of social utility and whatnot — sort of along the lines of his defense of the Muslim veil. My guess is that someone — probably Brookhiser — would eventually say, “Well, Stan thinks cannibalism is morally acceptable and the rest of us don’t, it seems only fair to eat him first as this would cause the least objection.” The great irony is that Stanley argues from the typically neoconservative vantage point of social utility, so the fact that we ate him would be wonderful commentary on the limits of such argumentation.

Star Wars vs. Star Trek. Seriously, which is the best series of movies? Knowing your ability to wax philosophic on just about anything and everything, I believe this will give you an opportunity to do just that. And K-Lo can’t say anything about it if you address it in The Corner because a concerned reader asked.”

Hmmm. I’ve never thought about this. I just always assumed that the Star Wars movies were far superior to the Star Trek movies. But once you think about it, it’s not as dumb a question as it sounds. There really has been a string of bad Star Wars movies. Still, since Star Trek Two: The Wrath of Khan is really the only legitimately excellent Star Trek movie, and there are numerically more bad Trek films than Wars films, I’d have to say the Star Wars movies are better. Also, you can’t leave out the fact that Star Wars (Episode IV) launched a new chapter in sci-fi films generally and has to be given extra credit for originality.

Who are the Flying Monkeys and where did they come from?

“Flying Monkeys” — a reference to The Wizard of Oz — is the name Jack Fowler (top NR business brass) gave to my readers a very long time ago. Here’s how I described them in NRODT a long time ago:

And then there are what we like to (affectionately) call my “flying monkeys.” Because my column seems to be popular with a certain breed of hyper-intelligent, easily outraged, deeply ironical funsters, I get hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of e-mails each week. Sometimes people send me personal stories, essays, jokes, or answers to trivia questions I put in my column. Some send me articles I should read or that I asked them to send me. To be sure, many tell me that I got something wrong, or even that my cranium would fit snugly in other parts of my anatomy, and that there’s a simple experiment I can perform to see this for myself. Often, excited readers burst onto my computer screen, uninvited, through Instant Messenger, to ask me pressing questions about St. Augustine or Star Trek VI, or to tell me to turn on the TV because Al Gore is having another slow-motion nervous breakdown. I sometimes feel like a lone soldier assigned to a weather station in Nome, but mail call never ends. So yes, sometimes I miss human contact — except when I see the horror on small children’s faces when they see me emerge from my hovel, blinking into the sunlight — but I don’t lack for human interaction.

How did Cosmo rise to such vaunted heights of fame and squirrel-chasing glory? Did he ever produce offspring?

Through his sheer doggie goodness and my shameless and unstoppable pursuit of promoting Cosmo as the “‘It-dog of the American right.” That’s the slogan I want on his next line of products. (Find his current line of products here.) If he produced offspring he either did it very young or very unconventionally.

What is NRODT?
NRODT stands for National Review On Dead Tree as opposed to National Review Online. It was a throwaway line by me that stuck.

I have a crazy/half serious question for you — what is Shep Smith referring to when he talks about “The G-Block” on his nightly newscast? I have been watching him for some time now and still can’t figure it out?

This is a guess, but I think I’m right. It stands for the “G-Block.” The first segment is the A-block. The second segment is the B-block. The third segment is-oh, you get the pattern by now. Personally, I usually don’t like these sorts of conventions but they are very common. Sometimes you’ll hear about a radio show called Studio 360 or some such. This usually means the producers couldn’t think of anything better so they just named it after the room. It’s sort of like newspapers or magazines that refer to “the last page” or some such. To me it’s like naming this column “http://www.nationalreview.com/goldberg/goldberg.asp.”

Why haven’t you written anything pertaining to your experience as a new parent? I personally found that becoming a parent was the Paradigm Shift di Tutti Paradigm Shifts, and had anticipated that I would have the pleasure of reading your take on the experience. If you’ve done more than a passing mention of the baby, I’ve somehow missed it. In any event, I hope you will address this topic in the future with your usual logical perspective and unique humor.

This is a difficult question for me and I don’t really have a good answer. My wife sometimes gets a little nervous about calling too much attention to her. But then, in the next sentence, she says that Lucy and Cosmo should have a “Siskel and Ebert”-style column where they come down on different sides of various issues — although, they have some similarities. My guess is that any subject which might fall under the category of “Things you can chew” would get a thumbs-up (That’s not funny! — Cosmo) from both of them. I guess my biggest reluctance stems from a desire to avoid being one of those columnists who talks about his kid(s) all the time.

In a sense it’s odd; of course, having a kid is hugely life changing but it’s also one of the most-commonplace things in the world. It changes everything for me, but next to nothing for you. It’s sort of like death — but completely different too. As your own death approaches, few things could seem more important, but for most of the world it’s just another day. To me, it’s still a relatively private joy.

But I’m sure Lucy will be appearing more and more overtime (by the way she’s three months old now, very beautiful, in the 100th percentile in height (length really) for her age). For example, she’s just started wearing dresses over her tights, pants, whatever. Whenever we inspect her in her crib she’s pulling her dress over her head. We call that “pulling a Krugman” — because whenever Paul Krugman’s hysterical, I say “he’s got his dress over his head again.”

Should a young conservative even bother to read any Chomsky? If so, what is the absolute minimum necessary? There is only so much time in the day after all.

I don’t know. I’m sort of at a loss as to why anyone should read Chomsky at any age. The beauty of Chomsky is that the caricatures actually summarize his thought perfectly well. Of the few dozen college students who’ve thrown Chomsky in my face in an argument, I never once felt like if I’d only read more of him I could be more effective in ridiculing him. I do think you should read criticisms of Chomsky from time to time, just to remind yourself of why you’re not reading him. See Keith Windschuttle’s excellent piece in the current New Criterion, for example. It will keep you from Chomsky for years.

Are you for legalizing drugs (I seem to recall a Corner post indicating you were in the NR minority)? Why or why not?

Well it depends what drugs. After all 99 percent of them are already legal. And before you ask a follow-up: Yes, I know that was a smart-ass response. No, I’m not for drug legalization. I am for decriminalizing pot, but keeping narcotics illegal. My reasons why are too long to get into here, but you can read this for a start. And yes, it’s true I am in the minority at NR on this score (heh heh).

Should Peter Jackson make a Hobbit prequel after ROTK?
No. If the third movie is as good as the first two, he should leave well enough alone. Unless, that is, the prequel could depict Francis Ford Coppola being eaten by Orcs for ruining Godfather III.

Jonah, You & Peter Beinart [editor of The New Republic] are the highlights of my Sunday-morning news-show rounds. You two are the coolest pundits on Sunday morning. Ever thought about asking CNN for your own nightly program? Something like Beinart & Goldberg — along the lines of The Beltway Boys.

Anyway, my real burning question is; What’s up w/ the sides of Peter B’s hair? You know, the sideburn and over-the-ear area. If you’ve never noticed it before, check it out next Sunday

That’d be a cool idea for a show, someday. As for the side of his head, I haven’t noticed, but I will definitely look. I’d heard that the guys at TNR are flirting with phrenology lately so maybe his hair is just mussed up from where the calipers go.

Which (and why), in your opinion, are the best three Simpsons episodes.

This is really, really hard, especially because I often remember scenes disjointed from their requisite episodes. I would have to say off the top of my head “Much Apu About Nothing” is very, very strong. It has the “We’re here! We’re Queer! We don’t want anymore bears!” chant and the anti-immigration sign which reads “The Only Good Foreigner is Rod Stewart.” As many readers must know by now, “Deep Space Homer” is a personal favorite because of the whole Kent Brockman/Hail Ants thing and the screams of the ants when they break free of their ant farm: “Freedom! Horrible Freedom!” I’m also very partial to the episode where the Germans take over the power plant (“Burns Verkaufen Der Kraftwerk”), the one with the Stonemasons, the Kang and Kodos as Bob Dole and Bill Clinton, and a bunch others. I could explain why I like them but the answers are pretty obvious: I think they’re the funniest ones. As much I like quoting The Simpsons for political effect, I don’t really judge the individual episodes for their ideological content.

During the whole Lewinsky thing, I seem to recall a pair of news stories about you. The gist was that you’d made some appearance with Ken Starr’s grand jury, and the media asked who you were. I recall that you introduced yourself as “Abe Frohman, the sausage king of Chicago.” The Washington Post story explained the reference parenthetically. The New York Times’s reporter, though, had no idea what you meant.

So, did this actually happen? If so, you’re a genius. Did you even consider the grave damage to the NY Times’s hip reputation your remark caused?

Amazingly, I’ve gotten four or five questions about this. Sadly, the answer is no. I’m neither Abe Frohman the sausage king of Chicago, nor have I ever claimed to be a “sausage king” east of the Mississippi. That was Kathleen Willey’s son. Here’s the relevant passage from the Washington Post.

While his mother kept mum, Patrick Willey toyed with reporters. Asked to identify himself, the young man wearing an earring in each ear, a short haircut and long sideburns said, “I’m Abe Froman, the sausage king of Chicago.” He was referring to a line in the 1986 movie, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” when actor Matthew Broderick tries to fake his way into an upscale restaurant by telling a snooty maitre d’ that he is Froman.

I would like to know what your favorite Star Trek show is. My favorite continues to be Deep Space Nine. It was somewhat darker and richer due to the number of characters, starring and supporting, that we got to know over the course of the series.

This is a lot more difficult than it sounds. I’ve found lately that I really don’t like Star Trek: Next Generation very much when I catch it in reruns. Maybe it’s because I mostly catch the earlier ones for some reason, and STNG had a real bell-curve quality — it started bad, got much, much better and then got bad again. So, I’d have to say that I actually would have to agree right now that DS9 was the one I enjoyed watching the most when it went off the air. But this is all very subjective.

Which liberal(s) should conservatives respect the most? By “respect,” I mean those who we should take most seriously as potential adversaries.

Well, golly. Generally speaking I’d have to say Beinart and Chait, both of The New Republic. While they are obviously often wrong, they are both usually interesting and thoughtful and consistent. And if you can get past the weird sideburns….

Of the liberals on the NYT op-ed page, except for Tom Friedman, I can’t say any of them deserve to be taken all that seriously on the basis of what they write. Rather than read Krugman’s translation of Josh Marshall’s column, you might as well read the real thing. Richard Cohen is an all-or-anything guy, sometimes he’s very good and sometimes he seems off his meds. I can’t say I’m a big fan of E. J. Dionne’s column, but I think highly of him and his books.

I do think there are a lot of liberal academics who deserve serious respect. I always read what Alan Wolfe writes. Christopher Jencks is honest and very smart. Henry Louis Gates and Stanley Fish are often very interesting and worth reading. I’m sure there are plenty of others. Of course, these guys are oldsters. The Washington Monthly seems to be getting better and better while The American Prospect is spinning off into the void like Darth Vader’s ship at the end of Star Wars.

Are your syndicated columns more sanitized/homogenized/different somehow from the stuff you write for NRO? Are there considerations of audience or demographics? For instance, your column on Bill Bennett in Townhall this morning seemed plain (distilled perhaps) compared to your NRO piece. I’m not sure I’m using the right words, and I’m not being critical of your work, it’s just that they seem different.

Yes, My syndicated column appears sporadically in many papers across the country. Readers don’t necessarily know who I am and they’re not in on the inside jokes. Also, I have a free hand here at NRO while newspapers tend to be more conservative. Also, there are space limitations when it comes to the column.


Jonah: Should I draw to an inside straight?
Ask Bill Bennett.

Why doesn’t NRO set up a discussion board for readers?
We’ve talked about this for years and years. And we’ve tried various versions on several occasions (anyone remember GIGO or The Arena?). The chief problem is that it would have to be monitored by someone at NR 24/7 and we don’t have the manpower. There are too many pests, jerks, racists, et al. out there who would want to mess with us. All we’d need is one neo-Nazi, fake or real, to prattle on in the message board for the New York Times to do a hit piece on us. We’re still working on how to make it work, but it’s not like this isn’t a new idea to us.

Can one get SARS from the metal poles on the Metro?
I would think so.

Does it bother you as much as it bothers me that we have no idea at all who the Simpson’s other next-door neighbor is? Thirteen seasons now and not even a glimpse.

It does now!



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