Monday, January 29, 2007

Broken Windows.

Rod's responded somewhat critically to an article by Jim Schutze in the Dallas Observer, in which Schutze mourns the loss of the "groovy" neighborhood of Old East Dallas, lost not to decay, but to improvements.

"I am frightened," he writes. "East Dallas, once a funky, diverse refugee camp for people on the lam from the real Dallas and maybe real life, is now well on its way to becoming the one thing none of us ever wanted. A nice neighborhood."

The article begins with a surreal nightmare: one of his artist neighbors -- "one of the original urban pioneers" -- was actually impressed by the open house of a so-called McMansion.
"Everything worked. Even the windows! Everything. I bet they never have to call Roto-Rooter. And the kitchen! The kitchen!"

"You've got to get a grip on yourself. I'll tell Jordan on you if you don't."
What surprised me is that Rod didn't praise the author.
I'm afraid I've got little patience for this sort of thing. Schutzism was alive and well in New York City in the Giuliani years. It came from the sort of liberals who loathed Giuliani for cleaning up the porn theaters and making Manhattan a place you might actually want to live. There is a certain kind of Romantic who finds decay and disintegration somehow more ... authentic, and in any case preferable to regeneration. What's interesting about Schutze's piece is that he went to talk to his longtime neighbors, and found that they don't really share his silly idealism.

It's a funny thing what little detail can trigger a memory, and the artist's being so amazed that the new house's windows actually work -- "Even the windows!" -- reminded me what, just last year, similarly silly idealists had to contribute to Rod's "Crunchy Con" blog at NRO.

Frederica Mathewes-Green was less than happy with those who chose to live in new developments in the exurbs of Charleston, and she too read a lot into windows that don't actually function.
They don't want to live in old Charleston (where I grew up, btw) because the neighbors are too close. They don't care about building for durability, because they're going to be moving on in five years anyway. When they move, they'll want the latest windows, the latest counters, and any house more than 20 years old is embarrassingly out of fashion. Old Charleston looks nice on a postcard but they don't want to live there. They'll take planned obsolescence any day over the upkeep headaches of a quirky older place. (For example, I wrestle with clunky old aluminum storm windows every season, because that's the price of keeping the wonderful, wavery original windows. The next owner will certainly rip it all out for something "efficient"). Sad but true: today's sprawl is exactly what a great many Americans yearn for. [emphasis mine]
The decidedly non-crunchy John Podhoretz responded with his usual, regrettable bluntness: "Once again we see the key contradiction between the contributors to this blog and the vast majority of ordinary Americans. You guys live ideologically. You make choices that gratify you because they represent a fulfillment of ideas you hold. Most people don't live this way, and to presume that they should is, well, the sheerest snobbery."

And Rod responded, not to tell FMG how little patience he has for this fetishizing of stagnation, but to tell John that conservatism is and ought to be elitist "in the sense that it believes in standards."
It believes that ideas have consequences, that some ideas are better than others, that there's a way to live that's better--truer to our religious values, truer to human nature--and that we shouldn't be embarrassed to say so. I presume you are not a moral relativist or a populist, John. You have no problem telling people how you think they should live in other areas of their lives--nor should you, as long as you are not obnoxious about it. You just don't like that we try to apply conservative principles to the way we build the environment around us, so you engage in crude populism rather than make an argument about why our concerns are baseless. Try something different. You won't get very far with a group of thoughtful conservatives by using "elitist" as a pejorative. We had all better be elitists about something!
I believe that Rod's defending Frederica here; at the barest of minima, he didn't at all suggest that she was going to far in defending old building fixtures because they were old.

(Things kinda digress from there, with you-know-who leading the charge with truly ridiculous assertions.)

The difference might simply be that the shoe is on the other foot -- instead of being a gentrifier looking down on the suburbanites, Rod is a gentrifier that Schutze thinks is ruining the neighborhood.

I hope, instead, that Rod is maturing in his philosophy.
Lorlee [Bartos] makes a point that we all have to come to terms with: you can't have absolute stability. If you're not getting better, you're probably decaying. You can do things to control the rate of change and the direction of the change -- that's what our neighborhood achieving Historic District status recently was about -- but change is coming one way or another.
Change is inevitable, which is why I think criticizing television is in many ways futile: the technological landscape has probably rendered many traditions obsolete, but we should look for new practices that encourage the eternal virtues rather than merely pine for the non-existent golden days of the past or urge for people to almost literally run for the hills.

The very premise of Rod's book seems to be a rejection of the fact that things change, but I hope he's maturing away from that naivete.


And I wish he would apply this rather obvious lesson to Iraq.

"You can't have absolute stability. If you're not getting better, you're probably decaying."

If you're not winning, you're probably losing, and if we were to retreat from the battlefield in Iraq, neither our enemies nor our own national psyche will let us act as if it never happened. As usual, Mark Steyn has a good word to say to the defeatists:
The open defeatists on the Democrat side and the nuanced defeatists among "moderate" Republicans seem to think that big countries can choose to lose small wars. After all, say the "realists," Iraq isn't any more important to Americans than Vietnam was. But a realpolitik cynic knows the tactical price of everything and the strategic value of nothing. This is something on an entirely different scale from the 1930s: Seventy years ago, Britain and Europe could not rouse themselves to focus on a looming war; today, we can't rouse ourselves even to focus on a war that's happening right now. Read 100 percent of the Democratic presidential candidates' platforms and a sizeable chunk of the Republicans': We're full of pseudo-energy for phantom crises and ersatz enemies, like "global warming."
Stability is an illusion; with Iran seeking to acquire the Bomb, time is not on our side. While I read alot about the seriousness of the threat we face from Islam, in nothing Rod has said or written do I detect an awareness of the importance of this battlefield in dealing with that threat.


And, in both these crunchy topics and the subject of Iraq, I still have not seen much effort on Rod's part to engage criticism from the right, either in the comments or in response to hawkish columnists.

17 Comments:

Blogger kathleen said...

Bubba, i honestly think at this point you are giving dreher's writing more energy than it deserves. Today (especially) proves that he is wildly inconsistent and incoherent. He has all but abandoned any "philosophy" that his book could be said to espouse, or at least qualified it out of existence. and if Dreher believes that's not the case, well, then, he is vastly over-reliant on the patience or interest of readers who opt not to get the equivalent of a PhD in Dreherian Thought.

As far as positing any "development" in Dreher's "philosophy", I don't see it. Today, once again, he flies ye olde (oft disclamed, highly qualified) anti-catholicism standard. The guy is treading circles on already well-trod ground. (But if there is any devlopment in his thought, he should be footnoting the contras.)

Dreher's vision of having to move out of his neighborhood because property taxes have risen to high is a fond one, because it rests on the fact that his property appraisal will have risen as well. in other words, Dreher's gonna get rich off that house (or so he wishes to believe). so any argument Dreher can form around that scenario will do, since when constructing arguments, dreher's MO has always been to put the self-serving "i-rod-dreher-am-a-visionary-and-financial-genius" cart before the "intellectual-coherence" horse.

BTW, here is what i remember from that exchange between Frederica and Podhoretz. Podhoretz rightly pointed out that historic real estate in old Charleston has skyrocketed, and is worth far more than almost any mcmansion, which demonstrates that rather than no one wanting to live there, EVERYONE wants to live there. in other words Frederica's argument was utterly facetious in the first place.

4:48 PM  
Blogger Pauli said...

Maybe FMG is of the Yogi Berra school, "Nobody goes to that restaurant anymore -- it's too crowded."

How typical of a crunchy to get fussed about the windows and not the outside world you see through them.

Good study in how Rod mangles word meanings in his writing, viz "We had all better be elitists about something!" Uh, are there any good connotations to the word that I don't know about?

7:30 PM  
Blogger Diane said...

Uh, are there any good connotations to the word that I don't know about?

LOL!!! No, I don't think so.

Re real estate: Sheesh, of course those gentrified close-in neighborhoods are considered desirable--and, as y'all say, they are pricey to boot. Man. I can think of so many examples. I remember, back in the late '70s, when I worked (briefly) at the Fidelity investment co. in Boston's financial district, one of my colleagues lived in a gentrified, reclaimed neighborhood in the South End, formerly a crime-ridden ghetto. You know how those neighborhoods get so cool and gentrified? By pushing the poor people out, that's how. The gentrified parts of the South End had street lights and police protection out the wazoo. A few streets down, where the neighborhhods weren't yet yuppified, there were fewer street lights and far spottier police protection. So, what else is new, right?

FMG's and Rod's elitism is nothing new. It's all about money, not values. Money Talks--whether it talks in McMansiony exurbia or in tony, crunchy, renovated Gentrified Urbania, it still talks.

It's like all those decorating magazines with their articles about renovation projects. Who's doing all those costly renovations to restore Craftsman bungalows and Victorian gingerbread dollhouses to their pristine original state (with modern conveniences)? Not poor people, you can bet on that. Not ordinary working stiffs for whom both McMansions and renovated bungalows are equally out of reach. The FMGs of this world are so removed from reality that, for them, it's either McMansions or quaint older renovated homes. House Beuatiful either way. But for the vast majority of ordinary joes, it's a tract home or a double-wide or maybe a new middling-priced Cape Cod in an ordinary middle-class subdivision. (E.g., my colleague Janice, a single black professional from an inner-city background, who recently moved into her first house, a brand-new home in a cookie-cutter middle-income subdivision. Rod and FMG would turn up their noses, but for Janice, it's the American Dream, and she finally has a piece of it.)

BTW--as proof that This Old House is the preserve of the well-heeled: My mom (working-glass girl from Southie) always dreamed of owning an old home. When I was eight, she bought one--a big old neo-classical dump built before the Civil War (and not renovated too much since). It had potential galore and architectural features out the wazoo. It was also a completely unrealistic purchase for a family at our income level. The wiring was sub-code and dangerous, the roof was positively scary, the septic system--don't ask. "Falling apart" about sums it up. We kids used to call it This Old Dump. Especially after my dad left (taking his carpentry and handyman skills with him), my mom was fighting an uphill and losing battle. Something was forver peeling, breaking, falling apart, needing paint, or backing up in the cellar. We didn't have the money to turn the place into House Beautiful. We didn't even have the money to keep bats out of the attic or to keep all four sides of the place painted and unpeeling at the same time.

The Crunchy Lifestyle extolled by FMG is a luxury many Americans cannot afford (even if they wanted it). It is the height of let-them-eat-cake out-of-touch-ness to beat up on people because they don't live like something out of a historical-preservation magazine.

BTW: As a result of having grown up in This Old Dump, I will never ever ever live in a house that's more than 50 years old. (We built our own house 16-1/2 years ago, and it's already starting to do funny things that have me concerned. But, because we love the setting, we won't move. Not until we're ready for Retirement Acres, anyway. :))

10:07 PM  
Blogger Diane said...

Kathleen--what is Rod's latest anti-Catholic Bash? I'm afraid to look. Man, is he ever a broken record.

BTW--when I get a chance, I want to post a comment about his "community" post from last week. You know--the one about how he didn't experience Christian community until he started going to Saint Olga's or wherever the heck he hangs now. Oy, don't even get me started. :p

10:11 PM  
Blogger Diane said...

BTW--I realize I kind of contradicted myself in my final graf in my This Old House comment...but I guess, because we built our house, I will always think of it as new even when it's old. And hey, at least it's not falling apart at the seams like my mom's old house.

10:13 PM  
Blogger Diane said...

BTW--Bubba...I kind of agree with you. It does sound to me as if Rod's critique of "silly idealism" shows that he is moving beyond the more obnoxious aspects of the Crunchy ethos toward a more realistic, humane appreciation of the legitimate concerns of ordinary human beings.

This is a Good Thing. Perhaps someday he'll come around to a dawning appreciation of the legitimate concerns of the ordinary Catholic (or Protestant) in the pew. If and when that happens (God willing, and I regularly ask Our Lady of Guadalupe to beseech Our Lord for it), perhaps he will abandon the cult-like sectarianism and aesthetic snobbery of Eensy-Weensy Orthodox Parish and return to us Hoi Polloi in the Church of Here Comes Everybody.

One can only hope (and pray).

Diane

5:54 AM  
Blogger Pauli said...

Jim Schutze responds with a laughable remark:

"I think you unwittingly tell the story on yourself and on your people when you mention that, soon after your kind start moving in, we begin to see the baby carriages all over the streets. We wouldn't mind the young couples so much if they didn't have to breed like rabbits. And then they're all running up and down the town, not walking their babies sedately like decent people but running with them in those big three-wheeled golf carts, jouncing them over the pot-holes as if the poor little things were canned hams. We have to assume the whole family's high on Ritalin most of the time. It's not easy for us to sit back and keep our silence when we see this sort of culture invading our turf."

He's serious. Seriously! I was laughing so hard. Then Rod goes ballistic on Susan about immigration. White people are so paranoid, man. I told Jimmy his turf be toast.

8:59 AM  
Blogger kathleen said...

i actually think that remark is pretty funny, especially the "canned hams" and "high on ritalin" part. points for humor.

10:14 AM  
Blogger Diane said...

LOL--I laughed at "canned hams," too.

We gave our big old stroller away because we have a lonnnng gravel drive. Ever try rolling a baby in a stroller over a long gravel drive? It's like perching the baby atop a pneumatic drill. The baby is not amused.

I've been avoiding the RodBlog because it depresses me...I honestly wonder sometimes whhether it'
s under some sort of diabolical influence. (must be the chakra beads. ;)) But y'all have intrigued me...I must go check out the Ballistic-at-Susan post. :)

10:49 AM  
Blogger Diane said...

LOL--just read the exchange. Good for Susan S.! Rod is completely clueless.

10:53 AM  
Blogger Pauli said...

I thought maybe Jimmy was joking at first; the canned hams thing was funny. My kids always hated strollers and I'm not much of a fan either....

SORRY: RITALIN BREAK!!!!!

1:27 PM  
Blogger Diane said...

OK, just skimmed the latest Rod Catholic-Bash, and I'm steamed. Will post an anonymous comment on his blog tonight. Meanwhile....

Did he read the same Amy Welborn thread I did? The thread I saw re Catholic schools was POSITIVE. Overwhelmingly positive. A litany of good experiences. Did Rod carefully choose to ignore that thread? Can't ever post Good Catholic News...eh? Not without getting some digs in, that is.

The man is as rabidly anti-Catholic as Jack Chick, and his pretences to the contrary are a transparent sham.

What a sick guy. Sorry--just gotta say it. And he has the nerve to call other people "messed up"?

Man oh man. Thank God he has a following of approximately 14.

7:50 AM  
Blogger Cubeland Mystic said...

Guys, I came to say goodbye. This time it is me initiating the goodbye.

I am done with blogging for awhile. Although I don't agree with some of your criticisms, I disagree with those who criticize you. You are not that bad. Also, Rod is not that bad either. Please try to remember Rod wants you to use organic fertilizer. Our real enemies want to turn us into organic fertilizer. Please remember that.

I actually read this article. I think you are missing a good opportunity here. Rod is arguing that it is good to use his economic power to go into an economically depressed area and revitalize it. The big boogey man Walmart does the exact same thing. They use their economic power to revitalize once economically disadvantaged rural areas. All the arguments for and against walmart can be applied to Rod's "moving into disadvantaged neighborhoods" arguments. Walmart pushes out orignal low income residents walmart pushes out original low revenue generating competition.

You all know that I am not pro-Walmart, but I thought I would pass that on. I think it is valid.

Last comment for me. Take care all.

8:20 AM  
Blogger Cubeland Mystic said...

Guys, I came to say goodbye. This time it is me initiating the goodbye.

I am done with blogging for awhile. Although I don't agree with some of your criticisms, I disagree with those who criticize you. You are not that bad. Also, Rod is not that bad either. Please try to remember Rod wants you to use organic fertilizer. Our real enemies want to turn us into organic fertilizer. Please remember that.

I actually read this article. I think you are missing a good opportunity here. Rod is arguing that it is good to use his economic power to go into an economically depressed area and revitalize it. The big boogey man Walmart does the exact same thing. They use their economic power to revitalize once economically disadvantaged rural areas. All the arguments for and against walmart can be applied to Rod's "moving into disadvantaged neighborhoods" arguments. Walmart pushes out orignal low income residents walmart pushes out original low revenue generating competition.

You all know that I am not pro-Walmart, but I thought I would pass that on. I think it is valid.

Last comment for me. Take care all.

8:22 AM  
Blogger Diane said...

Cubeland, you will be sorely missed. you're a great guy. If Rod's "crunchiness" bore any resemblance to yours, I might find it more palatable. If Rod's personality and character bore any resemblance to yours, I might find them more palatable, too.

Later, 'gators. I'm off to Wal-Mart to buy newborn pampers for a colleague's baby shower. :)

God bless,

Diane

10:27 AM  
Blogger Diane said...

Back from Wal-Mart and ready to plunge back into work. and I just want to go on record as saying that I was proudly non-crunchy on two scores:

1. Bought Pampers, not cloth diapers made from organic cotton.

2. Bouught them at Wal-Mart.

Sorry, Cube. I'm an unreconstructed philistine. :)

You know, we were actually going to try cloth diapers with our firstborn. Then the hospital gave us newborn Pampers. Oh my gosh!!! What a wonderful luxury. The cloth diapers were quickly relegated to use as "shoulder-thingies-for-baby-to-upchuck-on." We were converts to disposable diapers thenceforth. The hell with the ozone layer!

12:03 PM  
Blogger Pauli said...

Kathleen came up with this concept and I'm implementing it. It's our new spiritual response to Rod's Catholic-bashing.

7:34 AM  

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