Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Looking forward, looking back

Mohammed at Iraq The Model has something to say as we variously celebrate and mourn the third anniversary of the Iraq invasion:

Yes. We are facing enormous and dangerous challenges and this is not unexpected because the old will not easily step down and accept the loss; the old will fight back fiercely and the old here is not only Saddam and the Ba'ath, the old can be found among many of our current leaders and the mentality they carry that belong to the same generation that bred Saddam but I believe they will melt away as well because no one can go against the direction of time and the clock cannot be forced backwards.

The green bud looks weak and is buried in the dirt and surrounded by a tough shell but it will break through this covering, pierce the dirt and stand on its feet to announce a new era.
We will not be defeated and orphans of the dark past will get what they deserve and our sacrifices and the sacrifices of those who stand with us shall not go in vain, our sacrifices will pave an easier road for those want to follow us when they decide it's time for them to change.

And yes…Iraq will be the model.


That one talent which is death to hide

Free Hao WuChinese blogger Hao Wu has been detained by the Chinese government, charge unknown. Hao Wu is a documentary filmmaker and blogger who was working on a film project that involved his interviewing a Christian group not recognized by the Chinese government; there's speculation that he was detained and his materials seized in order to help the government prosecute underground churches in China. His family and friends, knowing him, expect that he would not cooperate with such an endeavor. However, the government ain't talking, so it's unclear whether he is being held for this reason or another.

It appears, though, that individual liberty is again under attack, perhaps in two forms: Hao Wu's freedom of speech, and the freedom of Chinese people to practice their religion if that religion is not state-sanctioned. Yes, I know that these freedoms are not considered inalienable to China - which is one reason that multiculturalism as commonly practiced is an ethical outrage. Celebrate the good, appreciate the benign or at least un-bad in other cultures - certainly. But when a different cultural practice results in oppression of individuals and suppression of the liberties that we contend are inalienable, then it's time for us to stand on our own two feet, leaning on no other authority than our founding documents, and protest it.

The Chinese embassy in the United States has zero email information, which means I'll have to write an actual paper letter. But as Instapundit also helpfully provides contact information for Wal-Mart in China, an email to those quarters is in order too, since in dictatorships it's all about influence.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Some thoughts on music

Recently I've heard two old songs at least twice apiece, and while they were songs I loved when they first came out (in my childhood!), and songs I still sing along to, I'm increasingly uncomfortable with letting my kids hear them. (I should take the lesson that I grew up with these two songs on power rotation and never, ever paid attention to the lyrics... but anyway.) The songs: "The Piña Colada Song" and "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad."

Think about them for a sec if you never really have. In the first, the guy is bored with his girlfriend, so he takes out a personal ad looking for a replacement, implicitly without breaking up with the girlfriend first. Someone answers; they plan an assignation, sight unseen; and when they meet - [wahp-wahp-wahhhhh] it's "his own lovely lady." They've deepened their intimacy via the personals, they now know that each likes piña coladas and so on, and happily off they go to make love at midnight, in the dunes on the Cape, all oblivious to the fact that each of them had had full intentions to cheat on the other.

In the second, gosh, the girl is going to throw poor Meathead - I mean Meat
Loaf - out into the snow, because despite the fact that he both wants and needs her, there ain't no way he's ever going to love her. Sadly, his heart is permanently locked on some other chick who both wanted and needed him, but would never love him, though she at least had the decency to get out of bed and get out into the snow without argument.

Yuck. What amoral creeps ruled the airwaves in the Seventies. Is the new millenium any different? Hmm... I confess that I'm not keeping up well with the hits of today, though I'm reasonably familiar with the so-called "kid-friendly" tunes featured on Kidz Bop X ads. (Kidz Bop is a bunch of nameless children singing pop tunes, karaoke style. It's all the rage with those who don't yet need deodorant. The fact that these "kid-friendly" songs include "When September Ends" and "Vertigo" which are about as far from light and fluffy as you can get without actually venturing into "Cop Killer" and "My Name Is Luka" range, I wonder who's making the "kid-friendly" determination. Please note that I like these two songs quite a lot - I just don't think they're exactly "Puff the Magic Dragon," and yes, I know, I know - but at least "Puff" could make a reasonable pretense of being about an actual magic dragon.)

All that aside, If I had to take a stand somewhere on the general tone of Today's Music, I'd go with "painfully earnest," with the important caveat that my musical tastes don't run to hiphop, country, or dance, so I'm even more ignorant of these genres. There are worse fates than painful earnestness.

And so we move on to American Idol, a show I've never actually seen. I do, however, try to pay attention to commentary I hear about it, so I've reached a couple of conclusions that may or may not hold up. The first is that the show has rekindled an appreciation for singing, really from-the-guts appassionato performance. I just heard a brief music review on NPR of a - hmm, I think it was of a singer-songwriter rather than a band, but anyway the point of the review was that part of the singer's appeal is that he sings flat. I don't mean "without passion" in this case; I mean flat, as in, the note is supposed to be C# and he's singing C, if that. It's not a "bend," it's not remotely bluesy; the guy just can't sing. But some rarified stratum of music listeners considers his inability to hit the notes a feature, not a bug.

And this in turn reminds me of a science fiction short story I read years ago, "Vintage Season." In this story, which is told from the point of view of a man of the present day, a little clique of time travellers (not identified as such, yet) is travelling to all the "vintage seasons" of history: the spring just before the Black Death of 0-Dark-Ages (that's a military reference - nevermind), the summer before Hiroshima... I can't remember the specific examples beyond the plague one. But in the story's frame, the travellers are renting a house from the protagonist for the month of May, and they go on and on about the beautiful weather, the glorious sunsets, etc., etc. From time to time they mention another person, let's call him Bob though his name is probably Mephisto or something profound like that, who is the real connoisseur - he doesn't even arrive until the aftermath. Huh? thinks the protagonist, but with no other clues, can't figure out who Bob is, what the aftermath might be, or why these people want his house but only for a month. The travellers leave in a rush at the end of the month. The final scene shows us the protagonist near death, days later; he survives just long enough to see Bob, as they both hear the explosions coming closer as buildings are dynamited in a futile attempt to halt the advance of the Blue Plague. Something like that. Bob, or Mephisto, is a whacko who revels in rot, but who is seen by his contemporaries as a "aesthete" because he's so darn edgy; as a singer myself, I have a hard time seeing the people who enjoy the flat guy's singing as "aesthetes" of the same decadent type.

And at last this opinion o' mine brings me to my second observation about American Idol: that what we're seeing is a little of what opera aficionados like to point out about Italy. In Italy, they say, opera is a populist artform, or at any rate it was. A shopkeeper or a teenager (I'm going to make an unfounded assumption and add "say, 50 years ago" about the teenager, but it may be true today) would be as likely to hum an aria as a pop tune. Why, the opera-lovers ask plaintively, can't we achieve the same thing here? Why can't opera be as popular as Beyonce?

My answer: because opera, like it or lump it, has a connotation that will not allow it to become populist here. There's Il Divo, true, but opera as opera-lovers understand it is not available to the populist ear. As Andrew O'Hagan said in the Telegraph,

Maybe opera is just too bold-gestured and not the kind of drama I can believe in when set in a modern context. Even where the music is lovely, and the look is right [...] there is something grandiose and even hysterical in opera's natural state which can obliterate subtlety. [...] The singing of words - "Get me a cup of coffee"; "No problem" - even in voices as capable as Stephanie Friede (as Petra von Kant) or Kathryn Harries (her mother), tended to ridicule all serious themes.

You can understand why people want to stage modern productions, but it is too literal-minded to imagine that things must move into the present day in order to be fresh. Opera's bombast and grandeur may be intrinsic to the past and to a notion of romanticism and society that no longer easily applies. Maybe that would explain why any modern opera that works (such as Jerry Springer) tends to be based almost entirely on pastiche.

(I found O'Hagan's attitude enlightening: he is precisely the problem with opera. He finds nothing opera-worthy in the modern age. In fact, he makes the absurd claim that opera cannot encompass the banality of modern life - which assumes that life in the past was free from banality, rather than that opera composers rightly chose not to hammer on the banality, for heaven's sake. Wha??)

You want to know where modern populist opera lies? In Miss Saigon. In Rent. Yes, even in Cats, and even in Jesus Christ Superstar. Look at how opera was born, and it's obvious that the Golden-Age-of-Musicals musical was the new opera bouffe, and that West Side Story was the harbinger of a new golden age of modern populist opera. These works call for bravura singing - of a different type from traditional opera, but similarly demanding in range, power, and emotion; they succeed on a story that strikes a timeless chord; they demand a suspension of disbelief beyond the fourth wall of spoken theater. But I think it's precisely because they have populist appeal that they aren't appreciated as the heirs of traditional opera by those who want opera to be loved by a new generation.

And finally: my oldest is learning to play "Ode To Joy" on the violin. I am so very proud.

Slainte - the postmortem

OK, I survived. Everything reheated as I'd hoped, nothing either boiling into leathery unchewability or drying out into Saharan tastelessness, and the shepherd's pie in particular garnered rave reviews from all quarters, with lesser partisan squabbling breaking out over the top round braised in Guinness and the Irish whiskey-glazed ham; I planned and prepped ahead so assiduously that I pre-cut apple slices for the salad the day before and left them soaking in the cider vinaigrette to keep them from browning - but on the "suspenders-and-belt" principle also brought along a strainer and a couple more apples to the neighborhood clubhouse just in case, and had to use both when I discovered that I'd inadvertantly pickled the apples; the Bailey's mousse that had worked perfectly in a home-sized batch absolutely refused to set up in a crowd-sized batch, but I discovered the problem in time to fly to the grocery store and buy (shudder!) boxes of "instant milk chocolate-Irish cream mousse - imported from FRANCE!!" that did the job reasonably well, then actually resisted my Catholic impulse to confess my duplicity to every attendee (so of course I'm confessing to whoever's out there in the blogosphere now instead)...

All in all, I've about had it with Irish food for the time being and plan to have a meatball parm sandwich for dinner tonight. Or curry. Can't get less Irish than that. I'm suffering a good bit of emotional letdown and frankly resent the fact that I still have to cook here.But I'll get over it. Thank you for your patience...

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


Blogging will be light until after St. Patrick's Day. While channelling my inner dumba**, I offered to take over my neighborhood's St. Patrick's Day party from the caterer-neighbor who usually runs it but who's been called out of town unexpectedly. My fridge is full of beef. My whole house smells like beef. I may never eat beef again. Or potatoes. I mashed ten pounds of potatoes this morning; only twenty pounds to go.

So slainte to you all, and may you be in heaven ten minutes before the Devil knows you're dead, and all that good Irish stuff, and I'll see you in a few days... if I survive.

Friday, March 10, 2006

How - and what - are we doing?

The other day I heard an NPR story about a new reality show, Black/White (I'm guessing at the punctuation). The premise is that two families, one black, one white, move into a house together. So far, it's The Real World. But once in the same digs, when the members of each family venture out into the actual Real World, they're first transformed into their own "negatives" - the white family is made up to appear black, the black family to appear white. Then they go do things that will help them experience race as The Other. The white teenage daughter, for instance, checks into a Beverly Hills boutique in search of a job. The saleswoman to whom she speaks (who sounds about eighteen and as Beverly Hills as it's possible to sound) tells her that yes, they're hiring, but the manager isn't in and there is no application she can take with her. "Got it," snaps the daughter.

Unfortunately I had to get out of the car between this example and the tail-end of the story, so I missed any other examples. At the end of the story, when I turned on the radio again, the director (I think) was speaking about how his own views on race were affected by the program, or "project" as the participants called it. He had always thought that "color blindness" was the appropriate goal, but now, he said, he'd realized that it's even more important to try to empathize with those of other ethnicities, because their experience isn't the same as yours, no matter what yours is.

So my question for the day is, what is the correct model in the United States? Is it the "melting pot," the "tossed salad," or - my preference - the "stew"? The melting pot analogy implies that all differences are somehow dissolved into a single homogeneous substance; the tossed salad implies that each "ingredient" remains entirely intact and can be enjoyed either separately or in combination with others; the stew implies that the "ingredients," while retaining some of their starting character, nevertheless take on some of the "flavors" of other ingredients, so that the carrot, eaten alone, tastes of the onion, and the potatoe (sorry, little joke there) potato tastes of the meat. I like stew. I like the ethnic "stew" I perceive in the United States; my life is richer for its exposure to other cultures and other people's stories. But what do other Americans think? This is not a trivial question. Europe appears not only to be using the tossed salad model but the composed salad model, in which the ingredients are kept separate on the plate, and the results have been played out just this year alone in riots, arsons, and murders on a frightening scale.

The reality show raised another set of questions for me too, one that comes up a whole lot on Protein Wisdom pretty much all the time under the heading of identity politics: who decides when "the problem of race" has been adequately addressed, and using what standard? I consider myself a classical liberal, which means to me that the way to address societal inequities is twofold: remove barriers in society, and change my own mind, if it needs changing, to align with the maximum in individual rights and liberties. The responsibility does not lie with society to legislate improper thought - in fact, it can't be done; attempts to do so, I believe, often just push it underground. What can be legislated - and adjudicated, when necessary - is removal of barriers, but then there arises the difficulty of determining what is a substantive barrier to equal opportunity, versus an inconvenient barrier to equal outcome.

Again, this question is not trivial, and I use the term "inconvenient" not to downplay those barriers that do stand in the way of equal outcome - for instance, the teenager in inner-city Seattle has access to Franklin High School, which is (or was, when I lived there) a great school, so he has substantive equality of opportunity for a high school education with my (not-yet-teenage) son here in suburban Pennsylvania. But my son will probably have the advantage of access to a group of peers' parents with better summer jobs available than the inner-city boy might have - maybe; let's stipulate it for the sake of argument. Let's further stipulate that the inner-city kid is African-American. Is his lack of access to better close-by summer jobs than fast food, or even more importantly, his lack of access to the people who can hook him up with better opportunities, a substantive barrier, subject to legislation, or just... one of those things?

Black/White is probably not a show I'll be able to watch; I can count the grownup television shows I've seen in the past year on one hand. But just on the face of it, it presents the case that while we've removed legal barriers to opportunity, actual equality of opportunity is still out of some people's - some groups' - grasp because of barriers no less formidable but not subject to the force of law, notably attitudes. But who determines when the attitude is finally correct? Did the teenage daughter really run up against racism in the Beverly Hills boutique, or was the saleswoman just a SoCal brat? Or were there actually no applications for employment at that boutique, just a face-to-face process with the manager? Did the teenage daughter follow up by asking when the manager might be in? Did she later call, or go back with her own face on, and ask the same questions? Or are we to conclude, as the snippet on NPR clearly wants us to, that she was denied even the opportunity to apply for the job because of her apparent race?

So. Where are we? What is racism today, as compared to racism historically? Is it a problem amenable to legislative solution (you'll have some arguing to do here), or is it a waiting game? With members of pretty much every ethnicity represented at the highest levels of government, business, academia, sports, entertainment, is proportional representation the desired outcome, or a shift in the goalposts? If porportional representation does not occur, is it a sign of racism, or of temporary coincidence in a meritocratic system? Cobra, are you out there?

UPDATE: I just found an article on the show in the Philadelphia Inquirer from last week. It's Black. White. rather than Black/White, but beyond that, the article was not especially illuminating.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Come again?

MSNBC is reporting on a new Washington Post poll - no surprise there. The results: that "80 percent believe that recent sectarian violence makes civil war in Iraq likely, and more than a third say such a conflict is 'very likely' to occur." In this poll, the American public reveals its doubts about the war in Iraq and its discontent with the current administration's handling of the war, the article says, noting that Bush's approval rating continues to tank (though, oddly, it's 7 points higher than in last week's CBS poll - be sure to check out the photo of Bush at that link for an illustration of objective journalism as it's currently defined).

But waitaminnit... How about this older poll?

Sixty-nine percent in a Washington Post poll published Saturday said they believe it is likely the Iraqi leader was personally involved in the attacks carried out by al-Qaeda. [...] The belief in the connection persists even though there has been no proof of a link between the two.

So let's see here. Are the American people wise and deliberative, perceiving geopolitical matters with a clarity unmatched by the Bush administration... or ignorant sheep, easily led by same? Or have they just been studying up since 2003? Gosh, I need a program.

UPDATE: With a tip o' the hat to Belmont Club, here's Secretary Rumsfeld speaking about the fears of civil war in the aftermath of the destruction of the Golden Mosque:

From what I've seen thus far, much of the reporting in the U.S. and abroad has exaggerated the situation, according to General Casey. The number of attacks on mosques, as he pointed out, had been exaggerated. The number of Iraqi deaths had been exaggerated. The behavior of the Iraqi security forces had been mischaracterized in some instances. And I guess that is to say nothing of the apparently inaccurate and harmful reports of U.S. military conduct in connection with a bus filled with passengers in Iraq.

Interestingly, all of the exaggerations seem to be on one side. It isn't as though there simply have been a series of random errors on both sides of issues. On the contrary, the steady stream of errors all seem to be of a nature to inflame the situation and to give heart to the terrorists and to discourage those who hope for success in Iraq.

And then I notice today that there's been a public opinion poll reporting that the readers of these exaggerations believe Iraq is in a civil war -- a majority do, which I suppose is little wonder that the reports we've seen have had that effect on the American people.

The above obviously supports my point - that there's an agenda being set, and news is being shaped to fit it. Secretary Rumsfeld strongly implies later in the press conference from which the above is taken, though, that the agenda-setting is not necessarily (is not even probably) on the part of the journalistic media - but rather is a disinformation campaign on the part of al Qaeda itself. I'm chastened to admit that even though I've been posting and commenting on this and similar subjects for a long time now (on this blog, only once recently - here), I neglected to consider that the press might be useful idiots.

Wretchard at Belmont believes, concerning the recent report that Iran's "signature" is on particularly deadly shaped charges being found in Iraq, that the news cycle will go thusly:

The 'Iraq is in a state of civil war' lead will continue to be emphasized but attacks may suddenly shift to American troops after a long period of being concentrated upon sectarian targets to create another theme: a Shi'ite insurgency. This plus a clamor to 'bring the boys home' may create a triple wave designed to entirely collapse public support for Operation Iraqi Freedom. The enemy may have failed to win the Sunni insurgency; been unable to plunge Iraq into civil war; proved incapable of stopping the formation of a new Iraqi army and state. But none of that will matter if the three themes of 'ongoing civil war', a Shi'ite insurgency and the need to engage in headlong retreat are successfully promoted in "the capitals of the Western world".

And this, friends and neighbors, is why I get so frustrated at the continuing efforts on the Left to "gotcha" Bush: it's a bootless distraction from the matter of real import - that there is a segment of one of the largest religious populations in the world that is committed to our destruction. That segment is forced into asymmetric warfare with us at present and for the foreseeable future. But it's not necessary for them to win a war if they can win the peace, to borrow a phrase. How important is it that we, the West, either remain in control of or successfully integrate and inculcate our values into immigrating Muslims in the societies we presently dominate? Ask these people - except that you can't, because they're dead.

Urbanity, metrosex, crunchiness

I just finished a remarkable book: The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. It's not a novel, but it appears to be one; its pace is both fast and carefully controlled, with shifting points of view that practically made me growl at the chapter headings when I realized that Larson was going to abandon the narrative he'd been following in the previous chapter to take up a new one. It's the story, or at any rate a story, of the Chicago World's Fair, or more correctly the World Columbian Exposition, in 1893. In brief, at the same time that a luminous group of American architects and artists was racing first to envision and then to bring about the miracle of the White City, a serial killer was setting up shop at the Exposition's outskirts, taking advantage of the combination of an unprecedented inflow of young and naive women into Chicago and the confusion surrounding the movements of tens of thousands of people at the Fair. I read it in two days, largely because it wouldn't let me sleep.

But - as always seems to happen these days - the convergence of my reading this book for my neighborhood book club with other events triggers the "blogging gene," and a post is born. The "other events": the Oscars, online discussions of the "crunchy con" phenomenon (such as it is), and my kids' getting back into Bambi. Here we go:

In Devil, Larson quotes unstintingly from the correspondence of the actors (pointing out more than once that in those days, everyone who could write did so, at length - I consider myself an heir to that time, and anyone attempting a word count on my blog entries would no doubt have to agree) and from publications at the time. What struck me in so many of Larson's quotations was the character of the writers, exposed in their words. Men praised one another freely. They complimented one another's accomplishments, sometimes with full sincerity, but sometimes out of courtesy at the expense of commenting on their own. People expressed soaring emotions at their first experience of the Fair - notably pride that Chicago, up to then considered a provincial hard-knocks cowtown (actually pigtown), had eclipsed Paris in the beauty, grandeur, scope, and attendance at its Exposition. Garrison Keillor's "where the men are all handsome, the women are all strong, and the children are all above average" formulation for life in Lake Wobegon seems real in these excerpted letters: the people may have been flawed, their faults may have rivalled ours, but they wrote like heroes. And writing, I believe, is a mirror image of the soul of the writer, at least when it's been adequately taught and learned.

So. There is the "urbanity" of the title. The writers were unfailingly courteous even when they were at one another's throats - just as civilized people ought to be. Miss Manners, my favorite etiquetteer, enjoys pointing out to people who say that good manners are wimpy that nowhere is it written that you can't be forceful and mannerly at the same time; in fact, classic Western etiquette contains specific forms even for insults and responses to them. (A terrific example, from the apparently now out-of-print Miss Manners's Guide To the Turn of the Millenium: the mother-in-law who gave her principled-vegan daughter-in-law a fur wrap for Christmas at a "senior relative's" home, which the d-in-law had to open in front of the family; the m-in-law asked pointedly, "How do you like it?" Miss Manners calls this now-rare gambit a classic: the expensive gift given as an insult. The d-in-law, according to Miss Manners, responded exactly correctly when, absolutely straight-faced and with flat inflection, she stared her m-in-law in the eyes and said, "You shouldn't have.") Of course, the fact that this book is about a serial killer too only highlights the urbanity of the rest of its characters.

Now, contrast urbanity with metrosexuality. Metrosexualness? Metrosex. Whatever. Practitioners may think of themselves as urbane: after all, they live in big cities, in which "urbanity" is rooted; they take care to observe the correct physical forms such as how to dress, how to dance, what darn fork to use. But the difference between an urbane man and the metrosexual man who internalizes metrosexual appearances as values is clearly illustrated in George Clooney's Oscar acceptance speech. Not the rather understated politics of it - but the part where he compliments his fellow actors. I've looked in vain for a transcript, but here's what I recall: First, he notes that every nominee turned in a terrific performance and it was a great honor even to be included in that group. But instead of stopping there and moving on to the "I thank everybody" portion of the speech, he has to undercut his own compliment by pointing out that it's impossible actually to compare people's performances unless everyone performs exactly the same role - and then wraps it all up by practically muttering, "Try it in a Bat suit," or words to that effect, which doesn't come off as self-deprecating but rather as sour.

Now, I think George Clooney is pretty cute, though I get tired of tilting my head so I can look at his mug straight-on. I loved him in O Brother Where Art Thou?. But he ain't urbane - just metrosexual.

Let me also say here that I have no objection - in fact, the opposite of an objection - to men's observing courteous forms. A man who dresses well, knows how to make conversation, even gets manicures if that's his bag - these are all great with me. It's the man who confuses these outward forms with inward convictions who's earned my dismissal.

And on to Bambi. It's a movie that - as we choir hounds might say - rather loves the sound of its own voice a bit much; there's so much footage of pretty scenery and innovative animation (the forest fire against the night sky, for instance) that story elements seem almost to intrude on the movie's real reason for being: to elicit "Awwww"s at the cute moments and "Oooooh"s of wonder at the better-than-photography beauty of the forest world. One easy-to-overlook element is that Bambi's parents are a model of what parents used to be expected to be. I'm not speaking just of the heroism of the mother as she lags behind Bambi to draw the hunter's fire, shouting to him to run faster, and not to look back; I'm not speaking just of the determination of the father as he prods and chides Bambi back to his feet to outrun the fire after he's been exhausted by dogs and grazed by a bullet. I'm speaking too of the mother's patient insistence that Bambi "try again" when he falls as a fawn, and the father's, what, four lines in the whole movie. It seems almost axiomatic in the context of the time that the father-figure would be "strong and silent," the mother-figure devoted but not indulgent. One of the great things Disney has done for American society, in my view, is to preserve these images of parenthood: Disney parents, at least in their feature films, are heroic in a manner that other cultural images of parenthood don't support. They're often a bit more hapless now than they were in the Bambi days, but there's a core of Bambi's father's determination and Bambi's mother's self-sacrifice in them still.

Rod Dreher points to a "new" subgroup among conservatives, the "crunchy cons." He compares this group to David Brooks's "Bobos":

Admittedly, this is very close to what David Brooks identified as classic bourgeois Bohemian ("Bobo") behavior. "Marx once wrote that the bourgeois takes all that is sacred and makes it profane. The Bobos take everything that is profane and make it sacred," he writes in Bobos in Paradise, his highly entertaining foray into pop sociology. "We take the quintessential bourgeois activity, shopping, and turn it into quintessential bohemian activities: art, philosophy, social action."

He speaks of "authenticity" as a value after which crunchy cons strive: a sense that they have contributed meaningfully to their own lives. He gives the example of homemade apple butter; he talks about the organic food co-op to which he belongs; he says, "All I can tell you is that the crunchy-granola lefties are often right about little things that make life richer."

I'm terrribly uncomfortable with his conclusions. I am the kind of person who keeps a pantry stocked with ingredients rather than mixes; I am the kind of person who prefers an old house in an old neighborhood, where even if the houses when new were all on the same plan, time has allowed subsequent owners to leave a unique stamp, to new developments; I am the kind of person who makes apple butter. (Actually not apple butter but jams of various kinds; I don't like apple butter.) But a few years ago I stopped hating Sam's Club and starting actually enjoying it, smiling at my fellow shoppers who, like me, didn't see shopping in a warehouse as either a Sacrament or a soul-sucking ordeal - just a shopping trip - and the sense of superiority in Dreher's and Brooks's prose bothers me to no end. One of Dreher's crunchy friends said,

"Every single thing that comes into my house, down to the salt shakers, have to first pass a test of being persuasive, winsome, original, odd — 'authentic.' I think that this is a cousin to what you and Julie are doing with food and other tastes. You're looking for true quality and refusing to be satisfied with Purina People Chow. You have your antennas up for what is real, original, worthy. And to many conservatives, that sounds stuck-up and suspiciously lefty."

It is stuck-up. Look at the words she chose: "real"; "worthy"; "Purina People Chow." In what way can we interpret this sentiment as other than "My choices are better than those of people who shop at Wal-Mart"? Now, when I'm shopping for the trappings of our life, they're required to be both pleasing and functional to the greatest degree possible, because, why not? When it's reasonable to combine beauty and practicality, who would choose the ugly-but-functional thing, or the beautiful-but-useless thing? (All right. I know there are people who would choose each of these, for principled reasons I don't share. I'm trying to show, here, why I mostly fit the profile of the crunchy conservative but hate the implications of it.) The key for me, though, is reasonableness. My household goes through almost a gallon of milk a day; I'm darned if I'm going to buy it from an Amish farmer in Lancaster County fresh from the cow. I buy three gallons at a time, twice a week, at Sam's Club - not because we can't afford or perceive "better" but because "better" isn't sufficiently "better" for me to expend the effort on it. I'm not less authentic because of that choice; I'm just practical about something that doesn't require more than practicality. Similarly, I haven't bought Bisquick in years - maybe ever; it was a fixture in my husband's house growing up, so he may have bought it for us at some point. But I don't see buying Bisquick as a character flaw, just as a choice a consumer makes on the basis of different priorities than mine.

How does this point of view square with my flat-out judgmentalism concerning the difference between urbanity and metrosex? A reference to My Fair Lady sums it up pretty well: Col. Pickering treats a flower-seller like a duchess; Mr. Higgins treats a duchess like a flower-seller. Col. Pickering is a courteous man; Mr. Higgins is a boor in metrosexual clothing. Both men may prefer vintage port and fine pipe tobacco; their choices in that regard are unimportant compared with their character.