Politics & Policy


Some things I got wrong and some things you got wrong.

Hello, I’m Jonah Goldberg. You may remember me from such medical films as Alice Doesn’t Live Anymore and Mommy, What’s Wrong with That Man’s Face? Or perhaps you know me from my work in Earwigs — Ewww! and Man vs. Nature: the Road to Victory.

Whoops! Sorry, that’s Troy McClure. Let me try again.

Hello, I’m Jonah Goldberg, and I just got back from the land of the midnight sun. I got to see the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and hang out with people a lot more manly than me. I know this is a pretty low bar, but these guys can fix their own cars! You’ll be able to read all about it in the next issue of NR OnDeadTree.

In the meantime, I’m way, way, way overdue for a corrections column. For those of you who don’t know how this works, I used to run regular — and now occasional — “Corrections & Clarifications” columns where I hashed out everything I got wrong and everything readers merely think I got wrong. The reason these columns have become more occasional and less regular is that you people are absolutely terrible about writing “correction” in the subject header of your e-mails. Since I get so much e-mail, it becomes very difficult for me to go back and find the really good stuff when it’s time for mea culpas. Think of it this way: “Corrections” in the subject header is the Metamucil of timely rectification. (What? That word doesn’t mean what you think it means.)

Anyway, let’s get to it.

Sweating the Small Stuff

I referred to the porn movie Ride This Miss Daisy. I have been informed that the correct title is Riding Miss Daisy. I’ve been told that Proxima Centauri is closer to Earth than Alpha Centauri, though that’s not what I was taught by Buck Rogers and Dr. Theodopolous (or whatever that talking Jiffy-Pop popcorn dish’s name was). I used the phrase “cut and dry,” which is actually not a phrase at all; the correct wording is “cut and dried,” which comes to us from printing. My column about the Bush daughters being unfairly singled out for trying to have a drink in a “tacky Mexican-themed restaurant” elicited a great outpouring from Austin-based readers. Chuy’s, the restaurant in question, apparently is not tacky. As one reader tells me, “it’s post-tacky, ironic, meta-tacky. Whatever you want to call it, they did it on purpose.” Moreover, it is not Mexican, it is Tex-Mex, which means the guacamole is twice as expensive but the beer tastes just as much like urine (with a slice of lime). Regardless, many a right-think’n long horn likes Chuy’s. Take that for what you will.

I wrote that in Airplane! passengers got so bored with Ted Stryker’s stories they disemboweled themselves. Alas, it’s been brought to my attention that they self-immolated and hanged themselves, but there was no seppuku, at least not in the first Airplane! movie.

On a few occasions, I’ve written that Ted Kennedy’s car killed more people than nuclear power, to which many a pedant brought up Hiroshima or Chernobyl. The Hiroshima point is stupid, but Chernobyl is a point well taken. Henceforth I will be sure to say that Ted Kennedy’s car killed more Americans than American nuclear power has.

In “Benign Neglect” I suggested that “maniacal corporations put a chemical in Kentucky Fried Chicken that allows them to control our minds.” Many people thought I mangled the quote from Wayne’s World when I was simply paying allusive homage to it.

Sliced Bread, Suicidal Chicks, and Other Misunderstandings

In “Things I’d Like To Know,” I wondered what we said before we said, “The greatest thing since sliced bread.” Did we say, I asked, “This is the greatest thing since — I dunno — cooked mastodon?” Rarely have readers been so confused by what I was getting at. I’ve reread what I wrote a few times and I still don’t know why so many people didn’t get it. Indeed, a couple dozen people wrote me to say things like “Have you ever tried slicing bread!? It’s damn hard!” or “Bakeries used to slice the bread for you.”

Well, OK. That’s all fine, except for the fact that I couldn’t care less. My point is that we say, “This is the greatest thing since sliced bread”: as if the ability to divide a marble rye into evenly cut pieces were a great plateau in the upward progression of humanity. I wanted to know what the previous plateau was. Did we say, “This is the greatest thing since clove-scented snuff”? Or “…since salted meat”? Or “…the knights who say ‘ni’”?

I know it’s a good thing we can slice bread. Hell, if sliced bread came up for a floor vote, I would be out there filibustering until sliced bread got the funding increase it deserves. But lordy me, that’s not what I was getting at.

In the same column, I asked why in the world “pie in the sky” would be a good thing. And, man, you guys made up for the sliced-bread debacle. I’ve learned that the phrase comes from an old WWI-era folk song written by Joe Hill and later immortalized by Joan Baez. It was a sarcastic swipe at the Salvation Army’s hymn “In the Sweet Bye and Bye,” and, more pointedly, the Salvation Army’s emphasis on saving souls rather than feeding the poor. The phrase comes from this passage:

Long haired preachers come out every night,

Try to tell you what’s wrong and what’s right;

But when asked how ‘bout something to eat,

They will answer with voices so sweet:

You will eat, bye and bye,

In that glorious land above the sky:

Work and pray, live on hay,

You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.

So, the next time you say something is “pie in the sky,” keep in mind you’re paying homage to a bunch of Wobblies, Fabians, and layabouts. (Wobbly is a funny word.)

Speaking of out-of-touch ideologues: As you might have suspected, my foray back into the fever swamps of libertarianism generated a lot of responses. But as I promised to lay off the topic for a while, I will only address one topic of intense frumpery and outrage (I confess, I do not know what frumpery means but it sounds like the right word) from angry libertarians.

In “The Libertarian Lobe,” I recounted how I presented a very doctrinaire young libertoid with a hypothetical question about the use of force. You can go read the column yourself, but the hypothetical boiled down to: “Would you stop a distraught friend from committing suicide tonight, if you knew they’d feel differently in the morning?” This young lady insisted that she would not use anything more than strong language to prevent her friend from killing herself.

Anyway, many readers assumed that I was trying to make the case that all governmental force can be justified if interpersonal force is justified in such an exceptional situation. I do not believe that, though I certainly should have been clearer about it.

There are all sorts of good responses to my hypothetical question and many angry readers offered many of them. But they missed the point of the story. I do not think the military-industrial complex is justified by the fact that you should restrain a drunk, depressed friend from killing herself. That would be stupid. The relevant point was the girl’s reaction to the hypothetical question. And that was revealing. As the ideologically obsessed of any movement tend to be, she was blind to an obvious moral choice for fear of trampling some esoteric ideological dogma. And guess what, fellas, that’s bad.

Oh, one last thing about that column: “The crooked timber of humanity” is not a phrase I came up with and I wouldn’t claim otherwise. It is a reference to a book of essays by Isaiah Berlin. What? I read it. Really. Geez. Nobody doubted I saw Drive This Miss Daisy, and I got that title wrong!

Democracy Versus Republic, Homosexuals Versus Gays

Every now and then I call America a democracy. I’ll write, “In a democracy that’s a good debate to have” or “That’s the price we pay to live in a democracy.” Whenever I do this, at least one person writes me to inform me of my abject ignorance and stupidity. They pound the table and say my opinion counts for nothing because I don’t even know what kind of country we live in. Though I can’t see them, I am sure that little bits of white foam form around the corners of their mouth as they hunt and peck their rage on the keyboard. What these folks are getting at is the fact that America is a constitutional republic, not a democracy. They are, of course, absolutely correct. We (meaning me, the dog, and my couch) do not like pure democracies. A pure democracy is where 51% of the people get to play soccer with the teddy bears of the other 49%.

So I hereby apologize for ever suggesting that America is a democracy and not a republic.

But at the same time, lighten up, Francis. America is also a democracy in the broad obvious sense that we have elections — elections that are vastly more democratic and less republican than the Founders intended, by the way.

In this conversational understanding that everybody but the insanely pedantic (and, I fear, well-armed) fringe understands, America is both a democracy and a republic. Nobody could read the numerous columns I’ve written about the glories of federalism and think I do not understand this basic point.

Another obsession among some readers is that I should never, ever, ever use the word gay to describe anything but old-fashioned 19th-century joviality. Some folks have sworn they will never read my column again, because I called homosexuals “gays.”

The argument here seems to be that “gay” makes homosexuality sound more appealing. Maybe it does, I dunno. But somehow I think pretty much everyone has cracked the code; what gay dudes do is pretty much the same thing as what homosexual ones do. If there are differences, I don’t want to hear about it.

Truth be told, I use “gay” and “homosexual” interchangeably for the same reason I use “black” and “African-American” interchangeably: because it makes the prose smoother. If in the process I have conceded some vital ground in the battle against traditional values or racial balkanization, I apologize. But until you have proof, get off my back.

Ah, Star Trek

Alas, the feedback on my opus about Star Trek was more voluminous than the pile of ineffective smart-drink bottles outside Alec Baldwin’s trailer (“Damn it! Why won’t these things work! I followed the instructions!”). Most of the responses were just plain wonderful and I apologize for not responding to some excellent points. Though I always enjoy e-mail from people screaming about how I don’t “get” Star Trek, I stand by what I wrote. But I will concede that I came across a bit too tough on Captain Sisko and Deep Space Nine. At its best, DS9 was arguably the most enjoyable series — which I did say — and Sisko had many fine qualities.

Thank God it’s too late to cancel the wedding.

Onanism, Coprophagia, and Other Remnants of the Clinton Administration

I did ask a question in that essay and in a subsequent column, Is sex with a hologram adultery or masturbation? I received numerous interesting responses — some of them a little too interesting, if you know what I mean. The general consensus among those of a Jesuitical bent is that it’s just plain wrong either way; no matter how you slice it, getting jiggy with a bunch of ones and zeroes is a symptom of Jimmy Carteresque lust in your heart. But nobody got to the heart of the question: Are sexual relations with an artificial intelligence of some kind a new kind of sin?

I’ve also been duly chastised that onanism is not, um, what you’re doing when you Pat the Robertson. It’s a form of preemptive contraception — and I don’t mean watching Rosie O’Donnell’s show.

Also, there’s been considerable discussion about whether I incorrectly called Sid Blumenthal a “coprophagic succubus.” Oh, nobody took issue with the spirit of my assertion. The problem is that the correct adjectival phrasing for the act of coprophagy (dung eating) is coprophagous, not coprophagic — which is apparently not a word at all. But hey, roses by any other name, I say.

And indeed, I was wrong to call Sid Blumenthal a succubus, because a succubus is a female demon. I apologize.

Announcements, Etc.

I would like to bid farewell to NR associate editor Cris Rapp, who has decided to sign Old Screwtape’s contract in return for admittance to the University of Virginia Law School. He didn’t write for NRO as much he should have — or said he would — but he was a valued member of the NR family and will be missed. As many of you know, Bastille Day is coming, which means my annual French-bashing extravaganza is due as well. If you’ve got any ammo from the news over the last year, please send it my way.

Those of you who are interested in the tizzy between me and the paleo-libertarian horde, you might find this piece interesting [Link defunct].

I know there are other topics I could have discussed today, but this column was already running way too long and Cosmo just came in demanding that we launch another sortie to punish the Jacobite squirrels in the park.

Indeed, thanks to everyone who keeps asking about Cosmo the Wonderdog. Except for a recent setback — a puppy bit his cheek and it got a little infected, so he had to wear one of those mortifying cone thingies for a couple of days — he’s great. Alas, the antibiotics and his painkillers make a powerful combination: We think he goes on trippy little vision quests sometimes. Why, just this morning — while barking at a Thermidor-loving squirrel — he turned to me and I could swear he said, “I have seen the electric eye of the Parliament Funkadelic.” But what was weird is that he said it in a British accent.

And lastly, I want to thank all of the wonderfully generous readers who helped me during my trip to Alaska. More about that later. But I do want to say right now that I feel very lucky to have people all over the country I can count on as friends, even though we’ve never met. It’s very cool.

Have a great weekend.


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