Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Mean Girls

Being called "excitable" by Rod Dreher is like Paris Hilton being called an anorexic, coke-snorting whore--by Lindsay Lohan.

The Hall of Mirrors.

I just noticed that Rod Dreher is highlighting a blog entry in which Clark Stooksbury criticizes our own Pauli for his recent hypothesizing about his (Dreher's) book's revised subtitle.

Clark must rather fancy us, because in another blog he has linked to Daniel Larison's noticing Pauli's suggestion that the self-described reactionary radicals and front-porch anarchists may be holding views that are a wee bit out of the mainstream.

This was just before Rod repeated a passage of John Lukacs's that was first cited by Caleb Stegall, who appears in Rod's book, in the "CrunchyCons" blog at NRO, and now the Reactionary Radicals blog.

Rod Dreher's first blog had Stegall and Bruce Frohnen has contributors. Stegall's site, the New Pantagruel, lists Dreher and Frohnen as contributing editors -- in addition to Jape and James Rovira, just about the only two gentlemen brave enough to address our wit and wisdom here on our turf. It also includes Jeremy Beer, who -- alongside Stegall -- now contributes to the Reactionary Radicals blog.

I note all this in passing. This cadre of like-minded writers, a group that seems to have more descriptive names than actual members, has made it their hobby to blog for each other, to read and to quote (and to be quoted in) each other's work, but that's not prima facie proof of their retreating into an intellectual cul-de-sac where they can shield themselves from all criticism, serious and satirical.

On the other hand, accusing us of harboring a "blinding and obsessive hatred of all things Dreher" doesn't help, Clark.

Glad you're all still reading us -- you really can't help yourselves, can you? -- but I do wish that y'all would deal with the substance of our criticism. Eventually.

"Solitary, Poor, Nasty, Brutish, and Short."

A few tips of the hat to NRO's Corner, first for pointing out the following New Yorker cartoon:

I'll reiterate that I believe that modern technology brings its own problems, but I think those problems are more manageable: by orders of magnitude, childhood obesity is less of a crisis than is a famine.

The second hat-tip is for pointing out this New Yorker article by Steven Shapin. I took away from the article four things that ought to give crunchy consumers food for thought, if you'll pardon the phrase.
  1. In the struggle to meet one's nutritional needs, the flight from methods that resulted from the Industrial Revolution could logically lead to a flight from even the Agricultural Revolution. A writer named Michael Pollan seems to define moral eating by shrinking the chain between producer and consumer, and in his book he chronicles his journey to a meal that resulted (mostly) from hunting and foraging for food. Tying the crunchy movement to the New Yorker cartoon above isn't quite hyperbole.

  2. Concerns about where food comes from can lead to a kind of madness about the details. "What particular bacteria, fungi, and trace elements lurk in the soil of your sustainable community farm? Does your friendly local farmer use a tractor or a horse? If a tractor, does it use fuel made from biomass? If a horse, are the oats it eats organic? If the oats are organic, does the manure with which they were grown come from organically fed animals? How much of this sort of knowledge can you digest?"

  3. At the macro scale, organic farming may have a human cost. The author points to a study that suggests that the sudden removal of synthetic fertilizers could result in the deaths of billions.

  4. One can overemphasize the material world: Insisting that the salads we eat reflect a vision of society is "biting off more than most people are able and willing to chew. Cascadian Farm'’s Gene Kahn, countering the criticism that by growing big he had sold out, volunteered his opinion on the place that food has in the average person's life: 'This is just lunch for most people. Just lunch. We can call it sacred, we can talk about communion, but it's just lunch.'"

It's a good article, with a lot of substantive criticism for some of the things Rod Dreher seems to advocate. I do wish he would read it and respond to it on his blog.

Of those four points, that last point is perhaps the most interesting for me, philosophically and theologically. Christianity stakes out for itself unusual ground in that, unlike the gnostics, it does not write off the physical universe as unreal or evil, but unlike the hedonists, it also does not embrace the physical universe as purely good. The universe is spoiled by sin -- once good, at least partially tainted and corrupted at present, but waiting for redemption at the end of history. Rod's focus on the physical details of his room and board during his temporary stay on planet Earth may be no less materialistic than the pop culture he rejects.

But let's move from the theological to more mundane matters. Rod Dreher seems to oppose growing meat in a laboratory. (I write "seems to" because Rod quotes a reader of his blog without making entirely clear whether he agrees.)


Factory farming. Laboratory farming. Mass starvation.

It may not be that these are our only options, but there are consequences for every choice. Again, the sudden removal or prohibition of synthetic fertilizers could result in the deaths of billions; African farmers are having trouble selling their wares to Europe because Europeans seem to have their own elite sensibility when it comes to food; the prohibition of factory farming would surely make meat less affordable for and less available to the poor, because if organic farming methods were less costly, farmers would have already migrated to those methods en masse.

So, if it came down to those three options, I wonder what Rod Dreher would choose, and why. Is it more important that food be sacramentally grown or that human beings not starve to death?

Or, given his broad pronouncement about beauty being more important than efficiency, do we already know the answer to that?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Substitute Subtitle

So who's to thank for this? The new paperback version of Crunchy Cons is already being advertised on Amazon and is sporting a new, shorter subtitle, "The New Conservative Counterculture and Its Return to Roots". That's about a 75% reduction in words from the original, tedious "Hip Gun-slinging Mamas" or whatnot.

I suppose there's not as much real estate on a paperback, but let indulge in some conspiracies. Do you think the Birkenstock company sued? Probably not --maybe there was just a little something on there to offend more people in the paperback-buying market demographic. I haven't seen too many Birks at the pistol range.

Or maybe Rod was asked (or bribed) by the evil Republicans to remove the reference to saving their party? This is actually the most interesting aspect of the subtitle to me -- I had been pointing to that little parenthesized remark as kind of an obstacle to the claim that CCism isn't really about politics but the, you know, transcendental free-range sensibilities of the greater good or whatever.

So I'll be the first one to praise this change as a recognition and application on Rod's part of a "regular conservative" sensibility called unity. With a lot of the pundits buzzing with the uncertainties of continued Republican majorities, and therefore conservative influence in general, I imagine the market for the quaint and eccentric topics in Crunchy Cons may be soon questioned by conservative book-buyers and the publishing industry. A liberal takeover might be devastating for an author like Rod whose success in large part depends on conservatives not having anything better to do.

And devastating for the rest of America.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Eminently Sensible Stuff.

From Rod's blog, a comment that I hope does not get lost in the shuffle, from the decidedly uncrunchy sounding "SiliconValleySteve":
Beware of wearing rose colored glasses when looking backward. In the good old days, Dillinger was a celebrated folk hero for whom crowds turned out to see in small towns. This was while he was on the lamb.

I have no beef with raising a family with strong religious beliefs. It does not require however a dramatic withdrawl from the world. It just requires engaged parenting and reasonable priorities. It's really not that hard.

I keep reading about the joys of community from you Rod but you seem to hide from every community that you belong to. You segregate your children into home schooling with only families you approve of. In the huge tent that is the Roman Catholic church you can't find a congregation that you can get along with. Is it really community if you only accept the purest of the pure into it? One of my favorite homilists likes to say that the church isn't a home for saints but a hospital for sinners. Thats a good thing for me because I'm no saint.

My experience from building community as a community organizer and a parish (yes the one whose boundaries I live in) volunteer is that dealing with different people actually broadens my horizon and that of my children. I find that people are actually much more decent than you seem to believe and most parents have reasonable values. Maybe you live in a really scary place or maybe you're getting over invested into a kind of paranoia.


Saturday, May 13, 2006

Bonne Chance

Apparently, Rod intends to answer Jonah's critique. He says in today's Corner: "BTW, I'm stuck inside all day writing a new chapter for the paperback version, in which I'll address the main criticisms Jonah made in his magnum opus essay. (I can't do all of them, because his essay is as long as the chapter is supposed to be)." What, no patio lunches? No forays to the neighborhood wine bar?

At least we have an admission (albeit tacit) that Rod has yet to answer the main points of contra crunchies.

I can hear the gears grinding in Rod's head all the way out here on the east coast. BONNE CHANCE ROD! You'll need it.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Rod Pulled Punches?

Some things must be read to be believed. Rod's writing about conservative political correctness qualifies.
I've also noticed in all the public discussion of "Crunchy Cons" that it is very hard on the Right to admit to any questions or doubts about the superiority of free-market economics. Re-reading my own book, I detect a clear sense of punch-pulling out of fear that to speculate about the deleterious effects on society of free-market economics is to out oneself as a crypto-leftie. My book was unfortunately timid in parts because I was (unconsciously) censoring myself, fearing backlash.

Since I doubt it will survive for long, the following is what I posted as a comment:
This blog would be a great opportunity, not only for you to pull no punches in your criticism of mainstream conservatism's defense of the free market, but to defend the criticism you've already made.

Jonah didn't seem to think you pulled punches. After quoting page 15, he writes:

"How is one supposed to read this as anything but an invidious slap at conservatism? Not only is Rod saying here that non-crunchy conservatives are grotesque materialists concerned only with 'wealth and power,' not only is he questioning the sincerity of their religious convictions, but he is also saying that these conservatives are fools, suffering from a kind of Marxist false consciousness, if they deny that they are only concerned with wealth and power. Because, you see, 'that's not how they live' -- because Rod says so.

"On page after page, Rod attributes Republican and 'mainstream conservative' adulation of the free market to greed and envy. Mainstream conservatives 'believe that a merchant or a manufacturer owes no loyalty to his community, nor the community to the manufacturer.' Other motivations for support of the free market—say, liberty, or skepticism in the government's ability to glean the 'better way' -— are given little to no serious consideration."

But you want to suggest that you were going easy on conservatism's defense of the market? Because poor widdle Rod was scared of being called a socialist?

That strikes me as a load of local, convivial, organically produced, sacramental horse manure.

If I'm wrong, and Rod was going easy in his accusing mainstream conservatives of being greedy materialists whose faith is false, I'd hate to see what he really thinks.

And I'd love to see him for once try to defend his slander.

Crunchy Moonbats.

The moonbats are giving three cheers for Rod today, for his not liking the latest NSA controversy (and by "latest" I mean something that was originally reported in December). He just can't trust Bush, he says, and you can almost read his impression of a breathless wife.

It's funny how much Rod resembles the moonbats, at least in terms of the war on terror. Watch Rod presume that the war in Iraq was a disaster and that all right-thinking people must surely agree:
"I completely suspended my critical faculties in the march-up to the war, because I wanted to believe that the measures the Bush administration was proposing were just and right, and that the government could be trusted in this matter.

"We know how that all turned out."

No, "we" do not unanimously agree on how the war is (present-tense) turning out, but he doesn't let inconvenient truths get in the way. He's on a roll.

And then watch, in the comments, how the moonbats compare Bush to Orwell's Big Brother -- and watch how their, um, state of being uninformed is not limited to issues political.
"You might also question whether this program does any good. If being illegal weren't bad enough, I seriously doubt whether the government can do anything productive with such a massive data dump. The chances that the poor slob stuck with going through all this stuff is going to find the bombing plans needle in the zillion-pizza-order haystack is close to nil."

Poor Miss Kitty. She probably thinks that the man coming up with the answers for Google's searches is horribly overworked too. That someone should explain how datamining uses these strange modern devices called com-pu-ters to someone posting comments to a blog is astounding.

If someone could tell Kitty in person how datamining works, I'd appreciate it. I'd tell her online, but Lord knows the gnomes who maintain Rod's blog are busy enough as it is.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

You can't keep a good Style reporter down

On the "Pontifications" blog, one finds Dreher's most recent explanation of why he went public with his conversion dance: "I did not want to go public with this struggle, which my wife and I have been dealing with for some time now, but I made the mistake of clumsily evading a Washington Post reporter’s questions about the practice of my faith. He could tell that I was trying to hide something, so I finally yielded and told him what I was dealing with. He put it in his story — how could he not? — and when that came out, I felt as if I owed my readers an explanation.... I loathe and despise being in this place of uncertainty...."

Kinda like Leave it to Beaver: Mom: "Junior, did you eat the chocolate chip cookies?" Son: "Ummmm, uhhhh" Mom: "well?" Son: "Y-Y-Yes mom! I can't take it anymore! I-I-I did eat the chocolate chip cookies!"

This is a cute story for Rod to tell himself. There's just one problem -- Rod has already demonstrated to his audience how skillful he is at evasion when he WANTS to evade. He's not clumsy when evading questions from contra crunchies -- in that situation he is a Jedi Knight of evasion ("These questions don't exist ... these voices are silent ... I do not hear them, I do not read them ... I addressed them years ago, I shall not address them again ...") But when faced with a question that would garner more attention for himself and his struggles? Well, then his evasions are "clumsy".

Apparently Rod expects us to believe that one would need some serious rhetorical skills to put a Washington Post *Style* reporter off the scent of impending religious conversion. Yeah that sounds right! Reporters from Washington Post's Style section are totally up on the fine theological distinctions between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. They can smell a religious conversion a mile away -- never mind that their beat usually consists of investigating stories like whether Britney Spears is pregnant again.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Playing with Fire.

I suspect that Rod Dreher still reads our humble blog. If he doesn't, I hope one of his crunchy friends checks in on us and considers conducting an intervention -- for Rod's sake, not ours.

I've noticed that the Crunchy Con is very, very sensitive to anti-Catholic bigotry, whether it be a stunt at Baylor that would hardly be out of place in a Monty Python skit or that moronic DaVinci Code movie and its apparent anti-Catholic bigotry.

That's all well and good, but Rod continues to toy with the idea he mentioned a few weeks back, namely that there is a tension between evangelicalism and conservatism.

Perhaps he's reacting to Jonah Goldberg's writing that Rod is at times "simply begging" to be read out of conservatism. What is reading one man out of conservatism when you can banish an entire branch of Christianity and -- since Bush is an evangelical -- simultaneously take another left-ish swipe at the President for being a religious fanatic?

I would like to warn Rod that he's playing with fire.

No, we evangelicals aren't going to lash out at him, though his emerging bias might make some of us think twice about buying his book. I just think he ought to be careful about criticizing faiths other than his own.

After all, since he's already jumped from the Methodist church to Roman Catholicism, and since he's joined an Eastern rite parish, and since he's considering a move to Eastern Orthodoxy, just who can say where he'll be next Easter Sunday?

(Or next Sunday? To say nothing of this Friday night, since he could concievably switch to Judaism and back in the span of a single weekend.)

In brief, Rod shouldn't burn bridges he might end up wanting to cross.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Free Range Chicken Out

I don't suppose it's completely inappropriate for a given person to be a little afraid of a given chap who, whether by chance or choice, possesses and uses the nickname Bubba, but one would think that if said person was used to gun shots in the neighborhood and finding the occasional syringe in the driveway then said chap who comments on a blog wouldn't be seen as a threat proximate enough as to be called a stalker by said person.

I think Rod and Bubba have a lot in common, They're both smart. They're both conservatives. And as evidenced by the prolificacy of each in the blogging arena, they both have an enormous capacity for typing. I mean, I'm not even halfway done with this post and I'm getting tired and bored already. Plus I'm clean out of Ritalin.

So when Rod recently called Bubba a "stalker" on his blog, it might have been in good fun among friends. I call my best mates by all kind of invectives and it's all part of the rich and customary ribbing among kindred spirits. For example, when my friend laughs and says "nice hairdo, baldy" I say something like "Hey, get a life, get a date or something." Yes, Rod said something like that to Bubba. He also said something like "I must have arrived..."; I don't exactly remember. The problem is that Rod deleted his own comment to Bubba, Bubba's original comment and a number of subsequent comments by Bubba, Kathleen and I.

What happened was Bubba jabbed Rod for attacking the Da Vinci Code without having read the book and related that to someone not reading Rod's book, then I chimed in with something snarky and inane as usual then Kathleen said....... are you all yawning yet? You really had to be there, I suppose.

Why did Rod delete all those comments on his own blog? My guess is that the main target was his original "get a life, you stalker" comment to Bubba and the rest were all just necessary collateral damage. You see, I think brother Bubba (that's redundant, right?) kind of gets on Rod Dreher's nerves, to say it mildly. Unlike the slovenly snarks of Pauli, and the clever parodic verse of Kathleen, Bubba actually makes some really dangerously valid points, many (most?) of which go unanswered. Epithets like "Stalker", even if meant in a generic sense rather than the criminal, and phrases like "get a life" seem to be over-reactions to a gentle jibe which was clearly tongue in cheek. (I very much doubt that Bubba has the slightest moral problem with condemning a book one hasn't read -- people do that all the time.) Dreher is disgusted with good arguments and critiques being posed contra crunchiness by people like Bubba, Meilaender, Jonah "Does CC exist?" Goldberg, Kevin Holtsberry, Maxwell Goss and some of the newcomers over at Beliefnet like Mike S.

Rod, some advice: hear the criticism, discern what it's worth, revise your thinking if you need to, laugh at the detractors if you decide you're right -- then move on. You don't have to respond to bloggers (but then I don't know why you have a blog), but think before you react OR own what you say; learn from the fact that you tried to take back a snappy, revealing remark you made on your own post. Honestly -- besides that action being "almost the Platonic ideal of chickenness" it also merely encourages us blog-thugs in the (s)talking business. If you think your ideas are better than those of others, then be bigger than the others.

But I'm not saying whether or not you're bigger than Bubba.

(original post from which comments were deleted.)

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Right Said Rod

Ever since Rod has started doing his "should I convert from Catholicism to Orthodoxy" dance on his new Crunchy Con blog, I can't avert my eyes from the distinct pattern that is emerging. Rod's a conservative, but he's so very troubled by most conservatives. And Rod's a Catholic, but he's so very troubled by most Catholics. Meanwhile, I can't get this song out of my head. That annoying song does it go?


I'm too special for the Church,
too special for the Church
so special it hurts

Yes I'm too special for the Pope,
too special for the Pope
Too special to cope

And I'm too sexy for your party
Too sexy for your party
Republicans -- too mainstream!

I'm so sensitive, you know what I mean
And I do my little turn on my blog
Yeah my blog, on my blog yeah
I do my little turn on my blog

I'm so special as a dad
So special as a dad,
perv priests make me mad!

And I'm so special I'll convert,
so special I'll convert,
I have deeper hurt!

See I am sensitive, and I have been wronged
The Church and conservatives have wronged me
Yeah they wronged me, oh they wronged me yeah
and mainstream conservatives don't get me

I'm a special crunchy con, a special crunchy con
mainstreamers be gone!
I'm too special for the right, too special for the right
Maybe not the left though!

I'm an original, you know what I mean
Wish everyone was as deep as I am
Deep as I am, I am so deep yeah
That they don't really "GET IT" like I do

And I'm too special for this song

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Progressive Conservatives

Greetings all. I am delighted to see Bubba, Kathleen and company keeping up the Loyal Opposition.

I received a mail today from one Randy Piper introducing his blog for Progressive Conservatives, which hopes to unite those of us who are "fiscal conservatives, social moderates, international eagles."

Randy's blog is here and is a little florid and academic in its prose for my tastes, but that is like complaining that the beer is a touch too cold. Would you prefer no beer at all? I see a lot to agree with there and with time I am sure the message will tighten up.

Randy quotes from one of my favorite writers, David Gelernter, who says,

"Young people no longer discover the left and get excited; they are far more likely to get their intellectual kicks discovering and experimenting with conservatism."

If you look at many of the most exciting figures on the Right today, they fit the Pro-Con mold. Giuliani remains an A-list figure, and while Schwarzenegger's star has faded, it's because he botched the special election--tactics rather than strategy. Condi Rice strikes me as a member of the group, as surely is John McCain, even if I'm far from his biggest fan, and even Mitt Romney is probably one in his heart, even if he would deny it to secure the South Carolina primary vote. Newt Gingrich is slowly but surely coming in from the cold, and I still hold out hope for Bret Schundler , who has the honor of losing an election to a disgraced crook and a primary to an also-ran schnook.

I still feel that the "Republicans will lose the House" meme will go down as the "Dow 36000" of 2006. When it doesn't happen, I will laugh as all my loony-left neighbors in Boston gnash their teeth and rend their garments; and yet, I am beginning to wish it will happen because at this moment I think Trent Lott and the rest of the Pork Caucus are a bigger threat to the future of the country than Nancy and Harry. There is a part of me that believes that one should always vote against the incumbent, because the only good politician is an ex-politician.

I was starting my first year of college in 1994 and the Republican Revolution of that year was for me electrifying. Coming so close after the heartbreak of 1992, to see Clinton's liberal overreaching repudiated so historically was like being given my country back. It's the way Kerry voters would have felt had he won in 2004. But by 2002 it had become just another loveless marriage. I realized that what we had done was to replace one group of politicians with another group of politicians, and that their motivations as humans remained the same regardless of the color of their uniforms.

Since then I have come to identify more with the Founders, who sought first an above all to put in place a system of laws and practices that worked to inhibit the worst tendencies of government. It is why today, I believe the best thing we could do is to institute term limits. Incumbency has simply accrued too many powers, and attempts to limit these powers will have the same effect as swatting at a hornet with a sledgehammer, as we are slowly seeing with Campaign Finance Reform. I used to oppose term limits for all the right reasons but those ended with the 2005 federal budget.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Was The Brady Bunch Crunchy?

Part of me admires Rod Dreher's honesty about his personal life, his willingness to admit online to lifestyle choices that perhaps undermine his credibility as a spokesman for a sensiblity that is (we are told) more authentic, more human, and more moral. His obvious humility partially mitigates his repeatedly painting with an overbroad brush; it makes this habit no less indefensible, but it makes it hard to loathe such an obviously nice guy.

I'm not quite sure he's always successful resisting the temptation to imply things that aren't entirely true; he writes that the end of multiculturalism would be good for the left, "even if I never do vote for a Democrat," implying that he hasn't already crossed that particular bridge.

Nevertheless, Rod Dreher is an honest man.

An honest man who has a maid.

Today at his blog, Rod wrote how he believes the media has a poor grasp of the illegal immigration issue because their jobs aren't at stake. He continues by writing a sentence that I can't believe he wrote.
All we have to worry about is losing our gardeners and maids (I say "we," but I don't have a gardener, and the maid who comes once a week is American; the point is, the class hit hardest by illegal immigration is Not Our Own, Dear).

Wow. I mean, wow.

Words fail me. The guy who focuses on permanent things and whose wife is a stay-at-home mom, the guy who has written ad nauseum about organic food and the Benedictine monks, the guy who's pilloried mainstream conservativism as an ideaology of greed has a maid.

If the Crunchy Con himself has a maid who comes by once a week, just who are the greedy conservatives who are missing the point of life? The ones who have a maid that come by twice a week? The ones with a maid and a butler?

Or the ones who don't have "hired help" but live in the suburbs?