Politics & Policy

The Return of Corrections & Clarifications; What About The Couch?


Many readers have complained that the weekly Clarifications and Corrections Friday feature has not been: weekly, on Fridays, clarifying, or sufficiently pornographic. I am guilty of all four critiques, but I am at pains to fulfil the last one. Below are various corrections, clarifications, errata and so on, from the last few weeks. If I missed a few, it’s probably because I don’t give a rat’s ass (who wants a rat’s ass by the way?). No, actually it’s because since I have been travelling so much I have allowed my mailbox to swell with over 450 unopened e-mails.

I should lead with my first serious retraction in many moons. Earlier this week I vented a spleen about a study linking rising abortion rates and falling crime rates. While I am still stunned that the media reported it so matter of factly, my less than matter-of-fact response was not quite right. I’ve looked into it more (with the help of NR Senior Editor Ramesh Ponnuru, who had an excellent piece in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal on the subject). First, the study may in fact be correct — that there is a link between abortion rates and crime rates. How strong that link is will have to be seen.

The authors of the study say they have controlled for the problems I raised in my spleen-venting. But without seeing the study one can’t be sure. Also, the study is not necessarily eugenic (i.e., seeking to improve the gene pool) because a lot of people with “good” genes would be culled from the pool as well. Also, they place the crime effects mostly on the environment these babies would be born into — unwanted, poorly parented, poor, etc.

I should not have asserted that a social-science finding — if correct — is in and of itself immoral or moral. Facts are facts and what we do with them or in spite of them is the fount of moral action. Whether you are pro-life or pro-choice you should see that playing these morality games with the numbers can be very dangerous. Pro-lifers clearly think that killing any fetus is immoral, regardless of its criminal potential. But pro-choicers believe that being encouraged or coerced into having or aborting a baby is anathema too. Besides, even their study suggests that the gains in terms of lower crime rates are pretty paltry. A million abortions result in about three thousand fewer annual homicides two decades later. I say keep building prisons.

I have got nothing to retract or clarify about George W. Bush, except he’s been caught in the Clintonian lie-spiral and he should pull out as quickly as possible. But, if you want to read the best thing so far on the topic, you should check out Peggy Noonan’s op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal (Paul Gigot’s is quite good too). She’s a class act (and I’m not saying that because she’s a loyal G-File reader or former apostle of Ronald Reagan’s).

Come on, everybody, there’s lots more to address:

The Woes of Bill column was one of the most popular I’ve written in a long time — it also had a few factual errors — none of which detract from the larger point: Bill Clinton’s childhood was neither particularly onerous nor exculpatory of his behavior. Nevertheless, here we go: The Stoicist philosopher Jacques Buridan’s name was in fact Jean or John Buridan — depending upon your sources (but we know how squirrelly these French intellectuals can be, so he might have multiple nom de philosophes). Teddy Roosevelt’s wife died while he was in Albany, not when he was in Cambridge, Mass. Jimmy Carter never actually commanded a sub in the “silent service,” though he did hold that rank (he commanded a desk in Admiral Rickover’s office). Bill Clinton never graduated from Oxford, but he did a great imitation of Joe Cocker inhaling doughnuts for the locals.

As for the column I wrote this week painting Vancouver as a petri dish of social pathology, I should apologize. Vancouver, British Columbia (there was some confusion over which one I was talking about), is a beautiful city taken as a whole — and the surrounding region is spectacular. The city has some wonderful neighborhoods, restaurants, and all the things we come to expect from exceptional cities. But (you knew there was one coming), the city has vast migratory herds of profoundly sketchy people. They smell, they’re clearly on drugs, and if you throw a Frisbee at their head it takes them several minutes to react. To the extent they work, it’s in order to save up enough money to move to San Francisco, where they can do some real hardcore loafing.

And, just because a city has a high skeeve quotient, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad city. I take a backseat to no man in my love of New York, and yet through most of my childhood it was overrun with drug addicts, muggers, panhandlers, squeegee men, and other extras from Road Warrior.

Also, yesterday I fraudulently used the phrase “begging the question,” which really means assuming as fact something not yet proven or asserting something as fact which then raises a question about the validity of the assertion. For instance, when John Podesta says, “The president has apologized for his wrongdoing and now he wants to get on with the business of the American people,” there’s more begging going on than in downtown Calcutta during a G-7 summit. Does he know what he’s apologizing for? Is he apologizing for the right wrongdoing? Etc. But that’s an old argument. Which begs the question, how old does an argument need to be before you become a crank for bringing it up? Well, we at the Goldberg File will continue to test that question until we know for sure.

Now the last thing that elicited a lot of reaction — shockingly — was my rejection of the hated metric system. While many people agreed that the thing is awful, quite a few others felt I was dabbling in deliberate know-nothingness. Well, yeah, maybe I was. Scientists, after all, need to know what a metronome is (no wait, that’s a midget who lives beneath the subways, right? No, that’s not it. It’s that stiff thing that sways side-to-side, or is that Al Gore?). Anyway, scientists need to know that junk, and if America is going to be able to open fresh cans of technological whup ass in the 21st century our kids will need to learn that — along with the modern duck-and-cover drills they’re getting today. Fine, fine. But that’s true of a zillion other things. Kids need to learn what mitochondria, protons, and quarks are too. So the science geeks should learn the metric system too. Agreed. After all, I can only wait so much longer for the food replicators they keep promising, and since I seem to have hundreds of scientists among my readership (most of them spending my tax dollars reading my column; ironic, huh?) could someone out there tell me why we can’t have a microwave oven-type thingy that makes things cold too?

But for the rest of us non-paste eaters, the old system will do just fine. Pounds and inches and all that stuff are a spontaneous-order institution as described by Hayek and we should not let the rationalists and planners straighten all the crooked lines of our cultural geography.

And lastly, “Look at those steaming weenies” was what Quasimodo said after he poured all that hot lead on the French mob. No, actually it was from Meatballs, which was beaten out for the Oscar for Best Sound by Apocalypse Now and Best Picture by Kramer vs. Kramer.


Well, ladies and gentlemen, I am off to the office. That’s right, I’m heading off to the National Review headquarters in Washington to start my gig as editor of NR Online. This is very frightening. Will I still have that ineffable disgruntled couch-warrior of extreme wrath but inert will quality? Shall I become an utterly effable, gruntled office chair-drone of modest civility but ert, uh, ertness? Shall I become the man in the gray flannel boxers?

And what of my poor couch? The Robert Urich to my Spenser for Hire. No, that doesn’t make any sense at all. Let’s try again: the Yorick to my Hamlet. Last night I met a fellow who said, “Oh, you’re the National Review guy who writes from his couch.” That has a certain buddy-picture romance to it. “Oh, you’re the National Review guy who writes at National Review” is, well, common — no offense to my colleagues. It takes my couch out of the equation. Like Abbot without Costello. Batman without Robin. Clinton without his pants – well, we actually know what that’s like.

Anyway, I was wondering if you people (loyal G-File readers only) could help me out. If I leave my couch alone for long periods of time, I’m afraid he’ll get lonely and chew up my dog. Also, some people think the couch references are juvenile. So, the question is: Should the couch die? In other words, should the couch never again darken (or brighten) the pages of the Goldberg File? Don’t worry, it’s not like I’ll send him to a nice “couch farm in the country.”

The Jonah Poll Should the couch be erased from the Goldberg File like a wayward Agriculture Minister from a picture of Stalin’s Politburo? Or should he get his own column — like “The Couch’s TV Picks”?

Erased from the Goldberg File like a wayward Agriculture Minister from a picture of Stalin’s Politburo

Get his own column — like “The Couch’s TV Picks”


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