The reaction of the general citizenry to the Milli Vanilli commotion naturally concerns those of us who care for great matters, and my survey shows three views widely held:

Most people think it's a Baskin-Robbins flavor.

Of the rest, 67 percent see nothing irregular in accepting an award for the work of other artists.

21 percent think it outrageous to take credit for an album in which you do not sing, speak or otherwise grunt so much as one decibel.

It is to ease the distress of this third group that I come to you today with balm and analysis.

To begin with, the world has always rewarded people who ride to eminence on the backs of those who do the work. Occasionally slobs go into a frenzy and throw the rascals out, as in the French and Russian revolutions, but usually they mope in their beer and head for the salt mines as usual the next morning.

On rare occasions some mischief-maker (for example Thomas Jefferson) up and hollers that all men are created equal and sometimes a government announces (for example the Constitution of the United States and its numerous imitations throughout the world) a policy of equal protection under the laws.

Such flourishes are meant for meditation. They are not meant to be taken literally any more than Cleopatra's sexual obsession with Antony is meant to be anything more than that, though expressed in words of astounding beauty.

It is understood that while laws, to get back to them, apply equally to all and while access to justice is equally open to all, still it does no harm to have Arnold & Porter on your side.

To approach this important matter from other directions, it is sometimes noticed that when a greeting-card company invites you to "become a member of our family" this Christmas, they do not mean we should mutually turkey but rather that we should buy their stuff so they can turkey a safe distance from the rabble.

Likewise, we are supposed to know that when we are urged to return to eternal youth through hair dye, oil of porcupine paws and so forth, we are merely being invited to buy products that will make their manufacturer rich.

In other words, the aim of vast reams of rhetoric is to ream, but to do it with tact and with the illusion of conferring a favor.

Most people (the 67 percent who see no cause for alarm at Milli Vanilli) are so used to being surrounded by balderdash, fantasy and general hokum that they cannot see why giving prestigious prizes to singers who have not in fact sung anything should bother anyone.

To those who are dizzy at this "outrageous" instance of two more charlatans wandering about, I say cool it. Wake up or at least smell the coffee.

And to those who bleat always for virtue, do we really need to remind them they are free to be as virtuous as they please? Nobody's stopping them from keeping themselves pure and spotless from the world. Nobody says they can't fight manfully under the banner of purity, though the only fight they are ever going to win is the fight with themselves (and rarely win that one, either) so get on with it, and leave two poor slobs alone.

What distresses 57.2 percent of those who are in fact distressed is the sudden dark suspicion that their art and culture is something any nitwit can produce, and can produce with machines in Germany, for the goal of getting rich enough to get away from it.

As the nation gave thanks yesterday for blessings, an unknown percentage (my survey could not find out) thanked God for soundproof walls. Let's say 84.2 at a guess.