Politics & Policy

Corrections & Clarifications

An attempt at finality.

National Review Online has gone dark. Not dark like Bob Dole in his study with a bottle of Maker’s Mark, but dark as in down, silent, off. Through January 2, NRO will not be updated — assuming Elian Gonzalez doesn’t defect from Cuba, the Pope doesn’t excommunicate Bill Clinton (I know Clinton’s not Catholic, but he did take Communion that time so maybe John Paul can find a loophole) or any other major breaking news. We have gobs of cool stuff up, including the best of NRO. It’s the everlasting gobstopper of the digital right. And when we return, Oh, Lord, when we return (or perhaps later in January) we will undergo another — that’s right, another — massive redesign of our site. It will be the sort of ideal site that Plato would have imagined, casting imperfect shadows in the Cave. It will be the kind of site that Vikings would expect to use if they died bravely in battle. It will have everything. Interactivity, a good search engine, new writers, and a pool and a pond.

In the meantime, as I write this, I have more prosaic problems. The propeller-heads at NRHQ have given me less than an hour to get this column done, before they start shutting the place down. Once that process begins — involving huge steel doors slamming, lots of flashing yellow lights with sirens going arooga! arooga!, and thousands of welders sealing manhole covers — it is impossible to stop. Alec Baldwin would have an easier time getting into MIT than I would trying to get my column posted. So I must make haste while covering many points, like Jerry Nadler on a beach towel.

What’s Going On?

First off, this is a reprise of a very old tradition here; my “Corrections and Clarifications” column. I used to do them all the time (and you can wile away many an hour reading them in the archives), partly because I made so many errors, partly because I had the time to really scour e-mail from readers, and partly because I think it’s a good idea to come clean with readers when I make a mistake or when they are too drunk on cough medicine to understand what I said.

I feel like I should explain things to the new guys. You see, the Florida mess may have been terrible for America, but it was just plain wonderful for NRO. We have attracted thousands upon thousands of new readers who seem to want to hang around (mostly eating our leftover Chinese food and drinking our beer). We are delighted to have you here. In fact, the suits have stopped paying me in pennies and Canadian quarters due to the fact that traffic has picked up so mightily.

Personally, the downside of having all these new readers around is that they have no idea what to make of this column. So they e-mail me wondering, “Did you really mean to quote Animal House?” “Does Buckley know you write about your belly?” “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?” And, of course, endless screaming at me that I “stole” some line from The Simpsons or The Tick. And, yeah, there’s a whole new crop of fevered hate mailers too. But that’s a different story.

Anyway, the last time we had a huge new influx of readers, we posted a Frequently Asked Questions page. I just went foraging and found it, but you should be warned that it is terribly out of date. For example, I wrote it back when our webmaster was a glue-sniffing, office-supply-stealing, pyromaniac. Our new webmaster doesn’t even play with matches.

More importantly, I wrote it when I used to say “What’s that From” after most pop-culture references. I don’t do that anymore because too many readers read this column while waiting on line for Star Trek convention tickets, and telegraphing the references makes it too easy for them. Which brings me to…

Agit-Pop Culture

There’s simply no way I can cover all of the references since the last C&C column. But, in terms of the recent ones, here we go. In “Cruise, Booze and the News” The first line (“It may be the seawater in my veins or the nitrogen bubbles in my brain…”) is from The Simpsons episode — “Simpson Tide” — when Homer is assigned to a submarine by the U.S. Naval Reserve (“America’s seventeenth line of defense, between the Mississippi National Guard, and the League of Women Voters.”). The line comes from Rod Steiger, in the role of Captain Tenille. And of course the last line of that column is from Animal House. Ten points for anyone who can name the most Burkean conservative line from that movie. Answer will be announced in 2001.

The column “Bon Voyage” had plenty of references and plenty of you caught many or most or all of them. First of all, “Jocularity, Jocularity,” was a trick question because it actually comes from two different episodes of M*A*S*H (why doesn’t the “H” get an asterisk?). The first was when Father Mulcahey exclaims “Jocularity! Jocularity!” at a bachelor party for Donald Penopscot. The second was when Colonel Potter imitates Father Mulcahey.

Also inspired by M*A*S*H was my suggestion that Harry Jaffa (famed Straussian Lincoln scholar and Declaration of Independence mullah) would come to my house once a year and shoot out my porch light if I demeaned the Declaration. This was a direct reference to Henry Blake’s tale of being the trainer for his college football team and taping the wrong ankle on a player during the big game. The Butt-Double reference, I am ashamed to say, comes from Friends.

Then, of course, there was my physics question in which I suggested that Rod Flanders was the son of Waylan Smithers (yes, this is more Simpsons stuff). Of course, this was an error. Why I wrote that I don’t know. Smithers, of course, has an orientation that leads him away from the methods we associate with conventional reproduction and towards lavish Oscar parties.

Physics Shhmysics

Then there was my physics question. Who knew that roughly 99 percent of my readers hold advanced degrees in physics, engineering, quantum theory, or read back issues of Omni rather than date girls. I received scores of e-mails explaining in every conceivable way that A) there is no such thing as a perfectly rigid rod B) force travels much slower than light C) A bunch of letters and numbers and squiggly symbols prove this that or the other thing D) the budget for the National Academy of Sciences needs to be radically cut if you people have enough time to read this column.

Here is a quick explanation for the 1 percent of readers who actually wanted to know the answer. If I have a perfectly rigid rod that stretches from here to another planet I would have had a lot more fun in college. Sorry. Anyway, I asked, if I have a perfectly rigid rod then wouldn’t force travel across it at a speed that was faster than light if I moved it?

A better way to think of this is to imagine a cosmically giant pair of scissors. If I close the handle here, wouldn’t the tips move at a staggering speed? (this question led some to hope that faster-than-light communication would be possible). The answer is no. Force moves at the speed of sound in any material. And, you’ll be glad to know, “The speed of sound is directly related to the square of the bulk modulus (a measure of “stiffness”) and inversely related to the square of the density of the rod,” one reader from Harvard tells me. Force must move from atom to atom and there is a limit to how fast that can happen and that limit is much slower than light.

Moreover, as another reader typically points out, there’s a problem with the whole idea of a perfectly rigid rod. “You’re an idiot,” he writes. “First of all, there is no physical material for which it is possible to build such a stiff rod. The gravitational pull of the opposite ends of such a rod would create too much pressure and heat at the middle of the rod. The material there would liquefy and the two ends would come together until it had formed a sphere. Once an object surpasses a critical mass density the material must form a sphere (like stars, planets, moons, or Rosie O’Donnell).”

Now, isn’t that crystal clear? Regardless — and I really can’t stress my sincerity enough — I don’t want any more e-mails on this topic.

Random Corrections

1. In my September 20 “These Things I Know” column, I wrote that “I know that Alec Baldwin says that Drudge is responsible for disseminating the ‘rumor’ that he and his really smart wife are leaving the country when we all know that all Drudge did was link to an Associated Press story which ran on most major news sites. I know Baldwin did this because he doesn’t have the intellectual candlepower to tan an albino toad.”

Albinos can’t tan. They are missing some gene, so in this sense, not even Einstein or Robert Bork has the intellectual candlepower to tan an albino toad.

2. In my “ Veep Curse” column, I wrote: “Al Gore isn’t even remotely in Clinton’s league. Bill Clinton — as much as I think he should spend eternity in a Sisyphean pool of zaftig interns, Egg McMuffins, and Krispy Kremes — is an indisputably brilliant politician . . . ” Obviously, Sisyphus was the guy who rolled the bolder up the hill. Tantalus was the guy in the pool.

3. I learned from lots of people that it’s “ooh eee ooh ah ah”….not “ooh eee eee ooh ah ah…” in the song “The Witch Doctor.”

4. They no longer play the “Here Comes the King” Budweiser song during the 7th inning stretch at Cardinals games. Some say they play it during the 8th inning. This is one of those odd things that has lots and lots of people telling me different things with incredibly high levels of confidence.

Wrapping Up

I apologize greatly that I haven’t had time to address the substantive things I was wrong or unclear about. But that sort of thing takes time, which I don’t have, and humility, which I could use more of. Also, you people send me wonderful e-mails, but almost never put the word “correction” in the subject header even though I have asked you about 16,000 times to do this. When I have to go back and read old correction e-mails it is almost impossible to find them amidst all of the porn and hate mail. So please, make a New Year’s resolution to write “correction” in the subject header. And in return, I will spend the holiday week counting all the ways I was wrong during the last year. In fact, I invite readers to send me their guidance on that stuff too.

Finally I just want to thank all of you guys for your support. I truly believe that the readership of NRO is the coolest collection of conservatives, geeks, savants, and malcontents ever amassed in one place since the FBI took us off the subversives list. You have made us the place to be in 2000 and beyond. Have a great Kwanza and an even better New Year (though why we ever threw out that perfectly good Jewish calendar I don’t know).


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