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January 7, 2006 - December 31, 2005

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Snob Games 2

What's that word he's about to utter?...

DON'T BREAK THE CHAIN. The other day, InstaPunk administered a righteous beating to one Mark Gauvreau Judge, spokesman for the "metrosexual conservative" demographic (and, apparently, the world's number one fan of Polo cologne). This isn't a continuation of InstaPunk's essay. It's just that we thought of it when we read the following in a NYT column by Ana Marie Cox today:

Paul Miller, who as president of the American League of Lobbyists (that's the one with the designated-hitter rule) has the thankless task of defending his trade, told reporters he was reluctant to say that Mr. Abramoff even deserved to be called a member of the profession. O.K., but he deserves to be called other things. Some of them unprintable in family newspapers.

Other modern Congressional kerfuffles have not been as flashy.

Yeah, we should probably be talking about what she's talking about -- the terrible discovery that members of the United States Congress may be corrupt. Or we should be talking about the topic Protein Wisdom just did a 12,000 word post about:

NSA kerfuffle: redux (UPDATED and UPDATED AGAIN 10:25 PM MT)

Drawing on remarks from both the President and the Attorney General yesterday—and on the responses I was reading around the blogosphere—I began to suspect that the divisions we’re seeing in the debate over executive authority to authorize domestic surveillance is a function not merely of politics, but also of the paradigm through which.... [and so on and so on and so on]

But we are punk conservatives, not "metro-cons," and so we got distracted from the big issues of the day by a pesky little question that wouldn't go away:  In the sensory deprived environment of the blogosphere, what do you suppose would be the verbal equivalent of the metrosexuals' Polo cologne?

Well, in our lowbrow opinion, it's words like 'kerfuffle.'

It's not that we don't like cool words. It's that we tend to be suspicious about sudden vogues in usage. Several years back, for example, we got pretty annoyed about the mysteriously wide incidence of the word 'divisive' pronounced with three short 'i's. Chris Matthews seemed to be a principal malefactor in this misdemeanor of diction. The correct pronunciation in American English calls for the second 'i' to be long, just as it is when we say the root word 'divide.' (Duh..) We didn't know about metrosexuals back then, but this little affectation of speech seems a perfect fit with their esthetic. It makes a plain and useful word into a pseudo-Oxbridge declaration of personal superiority: "Oh? You didn't know how we cognoscenti say this word? Ah. Hmmm. There you go."

(And though we can't prove it, we'd swear that some of the 'divisive' poseurs were simultaneously participating in the equally sudden and widespread conflation of the words 'phenomenon' and 'phenomena,' which we had lived -- most of us anyway -- for close to half a century without encountering. The first is singular, the second plural in accordance with Classical Greek grammar, except that some subset of pseudo-intellectuals and science-documentary narrators have decided it's the opposite. Please excuse the digression.)

And lately we've been gritting our teeth at the instant popularity of this word 'kerfuffle,' which pops up at every turn in both the Op-Ed punditry of the MSM and in the blogosphere. It's true we haven't hunted down every instance, but we're pretty sure that the offenders include Glenn Reynolds, Andrew Sullivan, Jonah Goldberg, and dozens of lesser known bloggers. And it may seem exceptionally petty to say so, but it bothers us.

It's not that we dispute its existence as a word. It has an etymology and a definition. lists it thus:


      1. colloq
            A commotion; agitation.

Etymology: From Gaelic car- + Scots fuffle to disorder.

Irish and Scots blood abounds here, so we can scarcely frame our objection around its origins. What then?  This elaboration of its history begins to point the way:


A commotion or fuss.

You will most commonly come across this wonderfully expressive word in Britain and the British Commonwealth countries (though the White House spokesman Ari Fleischer used it in January this year). It is rather informal, though it often appears in newspapers. One of the odder things about it is that it changed its first letter in quite recent times. Up to the 1960s, it was written in all sorts of ways—curfuffle, carfuffle, cafuffle, cafoufle, even gefuffle (a clear indication that its main means of transmission was in speech, being too rarely written down to have established a standard spelling). But in that decade it suddenly became much more popular and settled on the current kerfuffle. 

The bottom line? It's become a snooty vogue word via the Brits. We don't object to the existence of such words or their occasional use. We're fans, for example, of P.G. Wodehouse, whose writing is full of such quaint Brit colloquialisms -- pshaw, struth, zooks, tally-ho, piffle, et al -- almost always intended to convey a mentality at some remove from the coarse materiality of existence. They tend to establish a certain hierarchical distance between the speaker and his subject or the speaker and the average listener. Connotatively, then, a kerfuffle is a fuss or commotion that doesn't really matter -- or shouldn't really matter to people who know the word kerfuffle. In other words, it's not something you would ever really write seriously about -- if you actually belonged in the company of those who, for centuries, have used the word as an oral and dismissive interjection.

Our bet? William F. Buckley and George Will knew this word long before it started showing up as verbal cologne in the media. But you probably won't find much evidence of it in their writings because they use it orally to end conversations, not to begin elaborate arguments.

What's the real value of this fad word? Do we need it?  There are many excellent words which convey varying shades of meaning around the idea of a fuss or commotion: confrontation, conflict, squabble, fiasco, ado, hub-bub, fracas, riot, mess, row, set-to, crisis, skirmish, catfight, dogfight, cockfight, cause-celebre, tempest in a teapot, snafu, and no doubt many more. The only unique contribution of kerfuffle is the extent to which it evinces membership in some club consisting of those who use it because they think it fashionable.

We don't think it fashionable for chimney sweeps to wear plumed hats. Plumed hats are fine, but they don't look quite so swell dappled with sooty fingerprints.

All that remains is assigning blame -- the required American denouement. The quote referenced above blames Ari Fleischer. We're not so quick to agree. An occasional usage of any word can be arresting and effective. It's the institutionalization that grates. Our research lays the responsibility squarely at the feet of the Wall Street Journal and its online child the Opinion-Journal. See here and here for examples of their determined devotion to kerfuffle.

And see here for the smoking gun.

We rest our case. Are the rest of you embarrassed? We hope so. But you'll probably regard it as another meaningless kerfuffle.

Trojan Horse

Same old story.

PSAYINGS.5Q.66. We don't want to take anything away from Vince Young's performance in the Rose Bowl last night. All the adjectives are understatements -- spectacular, dazzling, brilliant, incredible, awe-inspiring... And we're happy to point you to some of the lyrical accounts of the game by sportswriters -- here, here, here, here, and here -- but we just have to interrupt the tidal wave of praise for Vince by posing a question that occurs to us at regular intervals: What's this Trojan thing all about?

In the first place, what possible line of genealogy could connect the ancient Asia Minor city-state with an American university located in a suburb of Los Angeles, California? There must be such a line, because why else would a football team dedicated to victories and championships name itself after a place which is remembered only for a single war that it lost utterly. And the manner of that losing was even more humiliating than the absoluteness of Troy's destruction. All the greatest warriors of Troy were outshone by one Greek hero, Achilles (who was slain sneakily by the Trojan coward Paris), while the princes of Troy were outsmarted by Ulysses and his giant wooden horse. A horse that has become an eternal symbol, both visual and verbal, for bold cunning and calamitous change of circumstance. This prompts the geniuses at Southern Cal to name their team the USC Achaeans? No. The USC Myrmidons? No. Of course not. The USC Trojans. Huh?

Why? Whose idea was it? For what earthly reason? Could someone explain this to us? We don't know of any football teams called the Carthaginians. Yes, we're aware that some teams are named after Indian tribes that ultimately lost wars to the U.S. Cavalry, but they at least scored some victories along the way, if only with each other. The history of Troy includes not a single win. Zero. And whatever you do, don't trot out (pun intended) the one about Aeneas, last survivor of Troy, who plagiarizes Ulysses's wanderings and founds the empire of Rome. As a name, the USC Romans would make more sense than a herd of other candidates and therefore begs the same question all over again. The whole thing is beyond comprehension.

Forget it. Just thought we'd ask. Please return to your previous state of adulation or lamentation, whichever it was.

Troy. Or the Rose Bowl. Or something.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Snob Games

The epitome of Red-State culture? Probably not.

CIAO. Thanks to Ace of Spades, I discovered a piece in the American Spectator by Mark Gauvreau Judge. It's called Right- Wingtips and it's a must-read because it's an unusually candid and revealing essay by a self-styled MetroCon, i.e., a metrosexual conservative.

The kernel of his argument is interesting and quite defensible:

In his masterpiece Transformation in Christ, the great theologian Dietrich von Hildebrand claimed that there are two phases of growth for the human person. The first is physical, and the second spiritual. After the physical growth stops, the human person starts to grow towards God. This, in Hildebrand's view, entails a growth in appreciation of, among other things, aesthetic beauty and the arts.

This would be a productive idea to examine in the contemporary American context if it had been broached by someone who is not, like Mr. Judge, blind, deaf, and dumb to esthetic beauty and the arts. In his comment on the piece, Ace of Spades seems chiding rather than scornful, and almost defensive:

I'm sure he does like the symphony, but his appreciation of it was surely spurred by the desire to ultimately appreciate the symphony. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, but many people have better things to do than cultivate their tastes. Cultivated tastes are just wonderful and all, but there's a steep entry cost in time and money to achieving them which many just can't be bothered with.

Still, there is something of a good point here. If NASCAR shouldn't be dogmatically denigrated, neither should finer pursuits. And really, well-paid, culturally-blue-state Northeastern city dwellers shouldn't go on and on about the virtues of hick culture unless they actually do admire it and enjoy it -- which I suspect many really don't.

Hey, I'll admit it: I don't really find Larry the Cable Guy very funny at all. "Git-R-Done"? What the hell's that supposed to mean?

Here, Ace of Spades seems to be conceding far too much, especially the notion that "aesthetic beauty" really might be synonymous with what is called high culture. I suspect , though I don't know, that Ace doesn't much care for the symphony himself and therefore feels compelled to back off a step in the face of a more cultivated adversary. I feel no such compulsion. Mark Gauvreau Judge is a poseur and a jackass, and he doesn't understand a damn thing about culture other than fashion.

Exhibit One: in the immediate aftermath of his reference to Hildebrand, Judge smoothly loads his own definition of esthetic value into the idea, as if he and Hildebrand had agreed on the specifics together:

This, in Hildebrand's view, entails a growth in appreciation of, among other things, aesthetic beauty and the arts. It means going from pop music tunes to symphonies, from blue jeans to slacks, from Old Spice to Polo. It means trying to improve yourself.

Old Spice to Polo? Is this really to be assumed as an axiom from a book called Transformation in Christ? Can we have a New Testament citation in support of that?

I'm not nitpicking. Judge gives us several similar lists of cultural comparisons that matter. There's this, for example:

There's William F. Buckley, the pluperfect conservative metrosexual. Buckley, whose National Review turned 50 last year, is the picture of style, erudition, dignity, and grooming. He's more Polo than Gillette, goes to the symphony, and would look lost at a rodeo. Buckley is representative of the older conservative order, people like Jeane Kirkpatrick, Norman Podhoretz and Irving Kristol who can speak about Beethoven and Brahms more than Alan Jackson and Jeff Foxworthy. They read the New Criterion -- a kind of Bible of the metrocon -- and buy Christmas presents at Brooks Brothers instead of Wal-Mart. [italics mine]

And this:

(W)hen I sobered up and became a conservative -- which also meant a return to Christianity -- I began to experience the second growth that von Hildebrand speaks of. I went from Levis and punk rock to Saks and swing dancing. I poured out the Old Spice and went to Nordstrom's for a bottle of Truefitt and Hill of London (founded, the bottle reminds us, in 1805, when Lord Nelson won the great battle at Trafalgar). I stopped wearing sneakers and white socks. Like George Will -- a Hall of Fame metrocon -- I began to prefer baseball to football. And I never stopped liking Woody Allen films -- yes, I call them films. I didn't stop growing -- in fact, this was when I started growing. [italics mine]

Growing what, one wonders. My guess? Affectations. The most important information Judge provides about himself is in the biographical blurb at the end, where we learn that he is:

...the author of God and Man at Georgetown Prep: How I Became a Catholic Despite 20 Years of Catholic Schooling (Crossroad, 2005) and Damn Senators: My Grandfather and the Story of Washington's Only World Series Championship (Encounter, 2003).

Lawdy, Lawdy. We're looking at an open-and-shut case of hero worship. William F. Buckley first came to fame for writing a book called "God and Man at Yale." And George Will ("Hall of Fame metro-con"), who has written a couple of books about baseball, is notorious for his love of the Senator-like Chicago Cubs. Mr. Judge, whose adolescent "uniform was studied rock and roll grubbiness -- mullet (hey, it was the '80s), ripped jeans, rock band T-shirt," appears to be formulaically recreating himself in the image of conservatism's two most pompous commentators. How seriously are we to take his scorn for NASCAR?

The common man is deified by the right. NASCAR, an absolutely idiotic "sport" which consists, as the joke goes, of "a bunch of rednecks makin' left turns," is hailed as red state America's favorite pastime -- and ipso facto comparable to the Olympics of ancient Greece. Actually, scratch that: NASCAR is not treated as something grand and noble, which makes it all the worse. To populist conservatives, the simple fact that Bush country embraces the sport makes its aesthetic quality quite beside the point.

He doesn't tell us what we should prefer to this. Grand Prix Racing (Euro-pansies chasing each other through the most glamorous capitals of Europe)? Maybe not. How about yacht racing, like the Buckleys would do. Now there's a "sport." Wealthy gentlemen with lockjaw accents and wives who wear khaki slacks and Polo cologne driving their million-dollar yawls around buoys off the Nantucket shore. That's a pastime all Americans should really be able to get behind.

The sad thing is that there truly is a worthwhile point buried in the mire of Judge's self-congratulatory confession. The point about growing is valid. But it's much much bigger than Judge and the elitist snobs of the left and right -- or the slobs of left and right -- can comprehend. Esthetic beauty and genuine cultural value are to be found at every level of society. No one has a monopoly, and one's personal choice in cologne has virtually nothing to do with the equation.

NASCAR can be beautiful, even if its practitioners know nothing of fashion. What they do instead is push themselves, their machines, and each other to the limit of their capabilities in an artificially created arena that may require them to give their lives in exchange for an intangible honor -- being the best. Along the way, they create fabulous works of art in the form of their racing cars and their driving performances. Much the same can be said for another object of Judge's derision, the rodeo. If these are not "sports" in the truest sense of the word, then nothing else is, either.

By the same token, red-staters have no right to ridicule Grand-Prix racing, or ocean yacht racing, skiing, or bob-sledding.

More, the same principle can be extended into every part of life and the arts. Growing is about increasing the realms in which we experience curiosity, appreciation, and respect for those who lead the effort. No one of us can like or aspire to understand everything, but it behooves each of us to add interests rather than replace our old ones with more fashionable substitutes. That's not growing; it's leaving valuable parts of ourselves behind.

Of course, it's much more challenging to be selectively appreciative than sweepingly disdainful. It requires discrimination to recognize that much of all music, from classical to hip-hop, is junk and still retain the curiosity and receptiveness it takes to identify works of genuine merit. For some of us it's hard not to be as dismissive of contemporary "high" art as Mr. Judge is of country music, but it would be equally wrong. If I'm inclined to regard Phillip Glass as a pretentious phony, Harold Pinter as a derivative bore, and Richard Dawkins as an arrogant didact, I must still retain the esthetic and intellectual rigor to see and learn from good post-modern music, contemporary playwrights, and academic scientists. Quality is really not a matter of fashion, but of vision, imagination, and execution.

Those who turn their noses up at most of their fellow citizens are rightly suspected of being snobs rather than gods. That's the answer to the question Mr. Judge only thinks he wants an answer to: why the Coulters, Ingrahams, and O'Reillys defend cultural pursuits they probably aren't avid fans of themselves. Out there in the America of church suppers, tractor-pulls, square dancing, Four-H competitions, bluegrass festivals, motocross, hog-calling contests, the Grand Ole Opry, pro-stock drag-racing, heavy-metal rock concerts, deerhunting, Harley-Davidson poker runs, RV conventions, barbecue cook-offs, and Larry the Cable Guy, there is both mediocrity and an abundance of what even von Hildebrand would probably recognize as esthetic beauty. And among the supposed unwashed are also people who love opera, Renaissance art, Shakespeare, Rodin, Fellini, the America's Cup, and even baseball. A lot of non-metro-cons probably know this instinctively. Mark Gauvreau Judge may have at one time too. Too bad he's forgotten; he's the less for it, no matter how appealing his cologne.

No offense, Ace. I think you'll take my point.

Already. The Best of 2006.

Your granddaughter's prom dress.

DISTANT DRUMS. We're not going to waste a lot of time here. Read Mark Steyn's magnum opus about the real threat to western civilization that most westerners -- especially liberals -- are ignoring. The excerpt is just to whet your appetite. Read every word of the original piece.

To avoid collapse, European nations will need to take in immigrants at a rate no stable society has ever attempted. The CIA is predicting the EU will collapse by 2020. Given that the CIA's got pretty much everything wrong for half a century, that would suggest the EU is a shoo-in to be the colossus of the new millennium. But even a flop spook is right twice a generation. If anything, the date of EU collapse is rather a cautious estimate. It seems more likely that within the next couple of European election cycles, the internal contradictions of the EU will manifest themselves in the usual way, and that by 2010 we'll be watching burning buildings, street riots and assassinations on American network news every night. Even if they avoid that, the idea of a childless Europe ever rivaling America militarily or economically is laughable. Sometime this century there will be 500 million Americans, and what's left in Europe will either be very old or very Muslim. Japan faces the same problem: Its population is already in absolute decline, the first gentle slope of a death spiral it will be unlikely ever to climb out of. Will Japan be an economic powerhouse if it's populated by Koreans and Filipinos? Very possibly. Will Germany if it's populated by Algerians? That's a trickier proposition.

Best-case scenario? The Continent winds up as Vienna with Swedish tax rates.

Worst-case scenario: Sharia, circa 2040; semi-Sharia, a lot sooner--and we're already seeing a drift in that direction...

A decade and a half after victory in the Cold War and end-of-history triumphalism, the "what do you leave behind?" question is more urgent than most of us expected. "The West," as a concept, is dead, and the West, as a matter of demographic fact, is dying....

This ought to be the left's issue. I'm a conservative--I'm not entirely on board with the Islamist program when it comes to beheading sodomites and so on, but I agree Britney Spears dresses like a slut: I'm with Mullah Omar on that one. Why then, if your big thing is feminism or abortion or gay marriage, are you so certain that the cult of tolerance will prevail once the biggest demographic in your society is cheerfully intolerant? Who, after all, are going to be the first victims of the West's collapsed birthrates? Even if one were to take the optimistic view that Europe will be able to resist the creeping imposition of Sharia currently engulfing Nigeria, it remains the case that the Muslim world is not notable for setting much store by "a woman's right to choose," in any sense.

If you've already read or scanned it, take this opportunity to read it again carefully. Then force-feed it to every lefty you know. They'll still be too blind and stupid to get it, but you will have tried.

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