Note to readers. This is a very long column. It is deliberately long because there will be no column Monday, since I will be celebrating Memorial Day like a Frenchman — face-down drunk in some onion soup, very far away from the action. Still, do not be afraid: This column is broken up into several discrete parts so you can come back again and again. In other words: Don’t blow my traffic numbers on Monday, by not racking up more page impressions.
Liberals ignore tradition as a matter of principle. Conservatives ignore tradition at their peril.
Or so I have learned.
Many longtime readers of this column — allowed out of the home during the day — have taken to e-mailing me burning bags of dog droppings. “Ho hum. Time to check my e-mail. What’s this? A fire!? I better put it out…Oh no!”
They’re doing this to protest my Critical Legal-Fabian-Skinnerian tendency to disregard revered tradition here in this very space where it is lauded so much. I’m talking of course about the fact that I haven’t done a corrections and clarifications column in eons. I apologize to my longtime readers for my oversight, and to my new readers for what they are about to endure. For those about to snore, I salute you.
The first item for correction is the idea that corrections columns are easy. There are many challenges to writing such a feature — which is why I believe I am still the only pundit-type person who writes one. There’s the issue of admitting that you’re wrong, which is never easy. There’s the logistical problem of combing through lots of angry e-mails to find the legitimate criticisms (you people don’t make this any easier by burying your criticisms at the bottom of long essays and labeling your subject headers things like “My dog is named Rex”). There’s the issue of booze. And then there’s this pesky issue of research.
As many of you know, I work alone in my house. My only staff is an obstreperous couch (“Mr. Sharp! Mr. Sharp! My couch is being obstreperous!” — what’s that from?) and a belly who increasingly feels the need to press the space bar on my keyboard himself. This makes some questions very hard to deal with.
Okay, okay enough of this belly-aching (what? No not you Joe). Here we go:
SENDING PEOPLE QUEASY RODENTS
Not since the incident with the Carthaginians (see my last C&C column), have we had so many readers go classical on my ass. My review and column on Gladiator generated a lot of interesting stuff from a lot of people who have read a lot more Gibbon than I (though I have been told I smell rather similar to one). I said SPQR – the letters inscribed on the standards of Ancient Rome – stood for “Senatus Populusque Romanus or The Senate and People of Rome.” Many people seem to think SPQR really stands for “Senatus Populusque Romanorum.” Several other readers insist it stands for “Senatus Populus Quod Romanus” – meaning “FOR the Senate and People of Rome.” Others just got a bad case of the giggles coming up with silly phrases to make out of it. And still others simply felt compelled to use words like “genitive” and “participle” in ways that made me feel bad about myself.
I’ve looked it up, and what’s really shocking — considering how much all these people know and how much I’ve been faking it — is that I am right and you are all wrong. That said, and I really can’t emphasize this enough, I never want to discuss this again.
Carrying this point just a little further, many, many, many readers just really like Roman stuff and if I gave the impression that I know enough to conduct an online seminar or colloquy on the subtleties of Roman law, I apologize. I’ve read St. Augustine and bits and pieces of other stuff, and oh yeah, sometimes when I file my column early, I like to use a soup pot as a codpiece and pretend I’m a praetorian guard protecting my couch. But I am no expert on Rome.
Serves me right. I said baseball was perhaps the only purely American institution, rather than simply borrowed and improved upon, i.e. Americanized, like hot dogs, pizza, and Canadian stand-up comics. No sooner did I write this then I decided to lie down and watch Baywatch. But the next day, I did get some e-mail about it. I was wrong: Baseball began as a game in the early Neolithic period when a fellow named Lothar decided that he was tired of another guy named Lothar (they were a poor tribe) stealing his roast sloth and other tasty vittles. So he took a big club and batted the sloth skull across the room. Lothar caught it and ran back toward him and hit him with it…..
Fast forward to Britain in the 18th century. The British — whose cuisine had improved only marginally since the days of the Lothars — played a game called “rounders.” In rounders, players would hit each other with the ball. There’s actually a 1744 woodcut depicting the game with a caption reading “base-ball.” By the 1840s Alexander Cartwright introduced a very modified version of this game to America. As is usual, the Americans took this strange and barbaric game which had changed so little since the Neolithic period and refined it into a civilized sport and then ruined it again.
By the way, you must be on crack if you think I will venture an opinion on the whole “who’s the inventor of baseball” debate.
I recently mentioned in a column that Jeffrey Toobin was a “feckless bandersnatch.” Nobody disagreed, but a few people did want to know what a “bandersnatch” is, since it’s not in most dictionaries. Well, I believe the word derives from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. A bandersnatch is a small vicious creature who is an extreme nuisance and a menace. Small, nuisance, vicious, menace; yeah, these all work for me. To date, the best writing on Toobin has been in Mickey Kaus’s the Kausfiles.com. I’ve said all I will say about him in my American Enterprise article.
ME SPELL BAD, MIKE SPELL GOOD
Speaking of niggling nuisances (like Toobin), many people still get vexed by my occasional lapses in grammar and spelling. Recently, I wrote “I could care less” which means the exact opposite of “I couldn’t care less.” I received, at last count, 53 zillion correction e-mails from people who must have been electro-shocked as children whenever they got this wrong (I could care leszzzzzzzzzzzzzzt!!!).
I don’t mind the corrections but please stop beating up on our poor proof-reader. NR editor Mike Potemra proofs this column before it goes up. He is an accomplished and brilliant editor and doesn’t deserve the grief you people visit upon him in e-mails to me. Here’s what I mean.
This is a typical passage, before Mike gets it:
Guh, I read about a guy named ed’ He said a bunch of old stuff got confused and didn’t matter anymore, and that he needed think hardd a’bout some other stuff. He said he liked to point at Archie comics
This is a post-Potemra passage:
It’s clear from the writings of Edmund Husserl that many of the assumptions of the 19th century needed to be reexamined. While Husserl never achieved his vaunted ‘Archimedean point’ it’s clear that phenomenology was a powerful force, and not necessarily for the good in the long run.
EVERYTHING IN PRINT IS ALWAYS RIGHT
As I have been dragooned to write more for what will someday will be called the print version of National Review Online, I’ve been caught in something of a pickle (“Boy, that would have to be a very large pickle!” my couch just yelled from the other room. “Shut up,” I explained. (What’s that from?).
What happens when I get something wrong in print? Does C&C Friday’s shadow darken every word I write? Must I run corrections for my syndicated column, or on the smiley faces I draw on my belly? No, I say, no. I will go so far and no farther — an exhortation that only elicited laughter when I was in prison.
Well, I’m not in prison anymore. So here’s the deal. I’ll take such corrections on a case by case, need-to-correct basis.
Starting with the The Simpsons article I wrote: I was absolutely correct in all things. Except, well, I got a quote by Apu Nahasapeemapetilon wrong. I said that he said, “By the Gods of Vishnu that is a lie.” Of course the real quote should have been “By the many arms of Vishnu…” or maybe it was just “arms” — the rest I can’t remember. Also, some people corrected me that La Maison Derriere (Trans.: House of Clintons) was technically a burlesque, not a brothel. My apologies.
A few people agreed that The Simpsons is the greatest show ever, but that maybe small kids shouldn’t watch. A fair point.
Many people took serious exception to my article on McDonald’s, claiming that Mickey Ds is bad, and bad for ya. I stand by what I wrote, but I will say that some people missed the point of the piece. Several readers responded, “Imagine if every restaurant were a McDonald’s?” Well, my answer to that is that that would be awful. But the fact is that when McDonald’s show up it’s a sign of prosperity, which brings many good things and, yes, even some bad stuff. As I pointed out, Beijing has more restaurants of every kind and quality these days because of rising economic standards. It’s fine if you want to consider Mickey D’s a weed, but you should recognize that it only grows in rich soil that supports other flowers, the only way to get rid of it is to starve whole gardens (uh oh, the Overwrought Gardening Metaphor police are here. Apparently I am in violation of the “Being There Act” of 1982).
Anyway, the only other point of contention in the McDonald’s piece was that somehow I misunderstood or misapplied The Communist Manifesto in my lead:
If you’re bored — I mean really bored — you might fish out an old copy of The Communist Manifesto and try replacing the word “Communism” with “McDonald’s.” “A specter is haunting Europe — the specter of McDonald’s. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this specter.”
Quite a few readers, thought I meant to say “capitalism,” not “Communism.” While I concede it might have been a bit confusing, you guys need to re-read the Manifesto, like I do for two hours every morning. The first sentence is “A specter is haunting Europe — the specter of Communism.” Karl was doing some sarcastic bragging.
ELIÁN, AFRICA, AND GAYS
In all of the hullabaloo about Elián, I was completely right at all times. But on Africa and gay marriage I’m perfectly willing to concede that people of good faith could draw wildly different conclusions than I.
On Africa, I stand by everything I wrote, but I would ask all the right- wing radical pacifists who are still jumping up and down in chat rooms and sending me hate mail to do one thing: Don’t make me a straw man. I still get two or three e-mails a day from people who are convinced I said things I didn’t say. If America followed my advice and went into Africa to help civilize the place (an increasingly popular idea, I have learned thanks to the many articles people have sent me) I would want it to be with a volunteer army and an army of volunteers — from churches, schools, civic groups, etc. I wouldn’t want to try to militarily conquer the whole place at once, and…Oh never mind. Read the damn columns.
One other note on that. The New Republic last week wrote an editorial-notebook item all but accusing the National Review (as well as pretty much every conservative in Congress and in journalism) of being racist for not writing about, and condemning, the situation in Africa — specifically, Sierra Leone. Most of you probably didn’t see it — even if you read TNR — because this was the issue with “Run, Rudy, Run!” on the cover two days after Rudy decided to sit out the Senate campaign.
Nevertheless, the item titled “White Noise” smacked of considerable bad faith. I doubt they place too much worth on my own writings, but I will say that the response I received from conservatives quite dispelled — in my mind at least — the idea that conservative opinion on Africa is animated by racism. However, I think The New Republic is right in pointing out that the Washington establishment’s indifference to Africa is appalling; furthermore, TNR’s recent editorial on Clinton and Sierra Leone was excellent. But I think hurling smug blanket accusations of racism against those they should be persuading is — or at least should be — beneath them.
As for gay marriage, I’m still against it — as are many readers I’ve heard from. But I struggle with the issue more than you might think. If we are going to accept the fact that gays exist, have rights, and are citizens — which shouldn’t be too great an intellectual task — then we must answer the blunt question, “So what are we going to do with them?”
Andrew Sullivan makes an excellent point on simple public policy grounds. If we tell an adolescent gay kid that society will never support his efforts to have a safe, stable, monogamous relationship, how is that kid supposed to be interested in having a safe, stable, monogamous relationship? Responding, “Well, it’s just wrong” is not dumb coming from religious conservatives, but it isn’t satisfactory either, in an increasingly secular society. Anyway, I thank everybody for all their e-mail on the topic, and I apologize for not responding to it all. I just don’t know what I want to say quite yet.
BOMBING BONNIE AND SALUTING SMITH
And finally, there was Wednesday’s column on Bonnie Erbe. While a great number of readers said they had never heard of the show, nobody actually disagreed with me that it’s an awful show, Ms. Erbe is a nasty liberal, and so on. But a lot of people thought I was too defensive of NRO. Still others thought my biggest mistake in this regard was in not mentioning Russ Smith’s generous comments about NRO this week.
Mr. Smith (A.K.A. “Mugger”) is something of a New York media phenomenon. He is the editor of the New York Press, which is the most enjoyable free weekly around. It is also — shockingly — a second voice for conservatives in my native Gotham. Indeed, it actually manages to come across as the daring young Turk compared to the New York Post, which is no small feat. Anyway, in his widely read column this week he suggested that Rupert Murdoch should buy National Review because “NR has by far the best political online operation going today, making up for its biweekly print schedule with frequent daily news and opinion dispatches.”
I don’t think Mr. Buckley’s putting it on the block, but we’re grateful for the compliment.