EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.
Dear Reader (and all the ships at sea),
As Bill Clinton said, as he rapidly flipped through the dog-eared pages of the October 1987 issue of Juggs, “I think I need some new material.”
For starters, I think I need to start picking on someone other than Bill Clinton for my cheap letch jokes (he’s still good for some of my more upscale letch jokes, of course). More broadly, I think I need some new old gags, if I’m going to keep pecking out this “news”letter.
I’ve run into this problem before. For years, when I was speaking to a particularly friendly crowd, I would begin my talk, “I’m happier than Helen Thomas at a Hamas rally to be here tonight.”
First off, it was funny because it was true.
Second, like telling Michael Moore there’s a free Happy Meal in the middle of a frozen Lake Michigan, it was a good way to break the ice.
But Thomas went off to collect her 72 virgins, and the joke not only got stale, but it also became clear that some folks couldn’t immediately remember who Helen Thomas was. Was she one of the Golden Girls? Danny Thomas’s Mother? (“Was that the lawyer who helped those terrorists?” one lady asked me after a speech. I replied, “No, but that’s a good guess.”)
And if the audience can’t catch the reference right away, the joke doesn’t work as well. That’s one of the reasons I’ve had to shelve all those jokes about Milton Berle and Forest Tucker walking into a bar in Nantucket.
So, I’m still searching for a “Happier than . . . ” line that works. So far none really sing. Happier than . . . Elizabeth Warren at a sweat lodge, than Harry Reid watching an orphanage fire, than Donald Trump when Arnold Schwarzenegger gets bad ratings on The Apprentice?
Oh, then there’s that problem. There’s a kind of détente between me and a big swath of my “news”letter readership these days. They’ll tolerate my wait-and-see attitude toward Trump, they’ll applaud my attacks on the Left, and — oh yes — they’ll keep coming back for the dog pics. But if I make fun of Trump, suddenly a rightwing form of P.C. humorlessness kicks in. Like the old joke,
Q: “How many feminists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?”
A: “THAT’S NOT FUNNY!!!”
Making light of the notorious DJT is now somehow beyond the pale for many on the right. That’s gonna get old in a hurry. Sad!
Anyway, as Bill Clinton said to the Vietnamese masseuse when she ended her personal phone call, let’s get back to the issue at hand. I think this “news”letter could use some new gags, maybe some new personalities (“What the Holy Hell, does that mean?” — The Couch), and some new obsessions in 2017.
But that day isn’t today.
Hey, You Got Your Cultural Marxism in My Peanut Butter
So, finally, science caught up to my wife (there’s a Stepford Wives or Westworld joke in there somewhere, but I ain’t looking for it). She’s been on a tear about the zero-tolerance for peanuts thing since my daughter was born. No, she’s not a peanut truther; she knows that some kids really do have bad allergies. But the spike in nut allergies is, uh, nuts. And, like with so many things, she blames the parents.
Well, now the new National Institutes of Health guidelines back her up. Fear of an allergic reaction to peanuts causes parents to delay exposing their kids to peanuts. That delay increases the chance that the kids will be allergic to peanuts. Early exposure, in other words, essentially inoculates you to peanut allergies:
“There is this magic window of opportunity, where you can introduce peanut-containing foods,” David Stukus, a pediatric allergist who coauthored the new guidelines, told Stat News. When “we introduce peanut-containing foods early, the immune system can get used to it.” Up is down, down is up, peanut products are for babies.
Now, this doesn’t surprise me at all. We’ve known for years that kids who grow up on farms or with dogs are less likely to get asthma when they grow up. Kids who grow up in sterile environments are more likely to get allergies than kids who’re allowed to get messy. This is commonly called the “hygiene hypothesis.” (Though I just learned from Professor Wikipedia that it’s also called the “lost friends theory,” which may be one of the saddest medical terms ever. Even “ass cancer” sounds funny.)
I think there’s a great analogy here.
I’ve been arguing for years, that political correctness is a kind of civilizational autoimmune disorder. As I put in 2013,
My point is that the institutions — the organs of the body politic — that are the most obsessed with eradicating bigotry (as liberals define it) tend to be the places that have to worry about it the least. The Democratic party is consumed with institutionalized angst about prejudice, intolerance, and bigotry in America. But the odds are that relatively few of these people (particularly those under the age of 50) have been exposed to much real racism or intolerance. The same goes for the mainstream media. In fact, many major media outlets have explicit policies dedicated to hiring and promoting minorities, women, gays, etc. Like the Democratic party, some have very strict hiring quotas in this regard. The well-paid executives and managers of these institutions come from social backgrounds where the tolerance for anything smacking of overt bigotry is not just zero, but in the negative range; they bend over backwards to celebrate members of the officially recognized coalition of the oppressed. (Of course, this coalition doesn’t include traditional-minded Christians, but that’s a subject for another column.)
And again last year in a G-File about people getting ill, or “microaggressed,” by positive statements about America or Western Civilization:
Now, if you suffer heart palpitations, feel light-headed, or in some other way manifest symptoms of panic because you hear that “America is the land of opportunity” or “there is only one race, the human race” you have an allergy to America and its ideals.
Kevin Williamson had a great piece yesterday about the hilarious brouhaha over pick-up trucks and the question of where the “real America” is. He writes:
Farming America is, indeed, part of the real America. But so is Broadway. So is Wall Street. So is Hollywood and Malibu and glorious Big Sur, and Chicago and Detroit and Miami and all the weird old places in America that don’t even feel like America at all, like New Orleans and Aroostook County, Maine. So is Muleshoe, Texas, and the campus of Harvard. America is a big, splendid place. . . .
Russell Kirk, describing his “canons of conservative thought,” argued that to be a conservative is to appreciate genuine diversity, “the proliferating variety and mystery of human existence, as opposed to the narrowing uniformity, egalitarianism, and utilitarian aims of most radical systems.” The Left is living up to Kirk’s expectations: The increasingly sneering attitude of coastal elites toward the more conservative interior, particularly for the poor communities there, is as undeniable as it is distasteful. But conservatives are not immune to these Kulturkampf tendencies, either. No, the whole country does not need to be Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It doesn’t need to be Lubbock, Texas, either.
I agree with this entirely. I’ve quoted that line from Kirk many times in my rants — written and verbal (and on one occasion in Mexico, interpretative dance) — about the glories of federalism. College kids usually just stare blankly at me when I invoke Kirk or the Founders, suspecting that if a cape-wearing fuddy-duddy with a sword cane — never mind those horrible Pale Penis People who founded this country — liked something, then it can’t be good.
But you know what sets off a little “Aha!” flash in their otherwise dead, soulless eyes (like a doll’s eyes)? When I say that federalism would make this a “much more interesting country to drive across.”
A lot of elite kids think they’re well-travelled because they’ve been to New York City, L.A., and London. But they also tend to notice that these places are all pretty similar, with the same clothing stores and coffee chains. They’d get a more authentically “foreign” experience if they simply took the bus to a working-class neighborhood in their own cities. Still, these kids genuinely love the idea that different places can be different. It’s only when you activate their ideological subroutines that they become leftwing culture warriors Hell-bent on imposing their corporatized version of “social justice” everywhere.
I’d also point out that that this is nothing new. I’m running out of room here, but I wrote about this at length in my last book:
The Nation ran a whole series of articles under the heading “In These United States” purporting to reveal that Manhattan was an island of sophistication in a vast wasteland of American backwardness. This was the era when it became an article of faith that the artist must hate the society in which he lives, that he must be “a public enemy” in the words of H. L. Mencken, and that the “vox populi is, to him, the bray of an ass.” The writers for the Nation ridiculed what is today called “fly-over country” — which back then was really “train-through country” or perhaps “cruise around country” — with relentless condescension. Chronicling his impressions of Minnesota, Sinclair Lewis lamented that the “Scandinavians Americanize only too quickly!” Perhaps not surprisingly, the South was an object of particular scorn. One writer believed that Mississippi could only be saved by an invasion of civilizing, cultured, missionaries from the North. Another scratched his head to ask what, if anything, Alabama had ever contributed to humanity.
Last, I think one reason why the cultural polarization in America has gotten so pronounced of late has a lot to do with “The Big Sort.” Charles Murray points out in Coming Apart that communities used to be more vertically integrated. What I mean is that there used to be more cultural and economic elites living in and alongside middle- and lower-class communities. Sure, the rich had nicer houses in a better part of town, but they also mingled at social functions — sports events, school functions, the grocery store — with people outside their “bubble.” That’s less the case today. This makes it harder for people to understand, well, other people. Say what you will for the draft, it did force a lot of men from diverse backgrounds to get to know one another.
And I’ll say this for Donald Trump. One of the keys to his success as a politician is that, despite the fact he’s a celebrity billionaire who hobnobs with the rich and powerful, he has the manner and personality of someone who can talk to the plumber or the janitor about last night’s football game. Michael Bloomberg or John Kerry meanwhile, seem like the kind of guys who would explain to Eddie Murphy that you might find bacon on a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich.
I have no great solutions to these problems, and in some cases, I get nervous when people call some of these things “problems” because we live an age where too many people think there’s no principled limit to what kind of problems the government should try to solve.
Various & Sundry
Canine Update: There’s not too much to report this week. The girls have been generally well-behaved. Though there is the issue of the centipede. When I left town last week, I left the housesitter/dogwalker a bunch of new toys for the dogs and, yes, cats. I will admit, like millions of Americans, the Goldbergs get their animals Christmas presents — but, unlike millions of Americans, we do not wrap them! We got the cats an orange rubber centipede. It’s a bit slimy and sticky (sort of like those rubber things you throw at the window and it creepily crawls down). Anyway, when we got home, we discovered that Zoë had taken possession of this thing.
She doesn’t do anything with it. But she acts like it’s a ham bone or a necklace of squirrel heads. If any mammal — human, canine, feline — gets near it, she growls, yipes, and gets in a protective crouch. She’ll then grab it and run to a different part of the house. We can’t figure out the attraction, though my best guess is that there’s something about it that triggers the swamp dog in our Carolina Swamp Dog. Still, the look of contempt on the good cat’s face when she sees Zoë panic when she merely walks past the thing is kind of priceless. I keep shouting at the Dingo, “No one wants your slimy centipede! Relax!”
ICYMI: My Conversation with Bill Kristol, recorded in the secret neocon lair.
My first column of the week was on how Obama’s last-minute foreign-policy decisions hurt his party.
I also wondered how the new intellectual journal of Trumpism will fare.
And complained about reporters’ treatment of Twitter in the news.
And appeared on Special Report with Bret Baier.
And noted the partisan shift on Julian Assange.
And now, the weird stuff.