Barbie B.S. and Bossy B.S.

barbi-averageThough these two articles aren’t directly related, they share a common theme: “Girl Power”!

First, commenting on the real vs. unreal-proportions Barbie debate, is author , in an essay provocatively titled called ‘Average’ Barbie Is Just as Fake’, Postrel begins with reflections drawn from her own childhood experiences with dolls:

“When I was a little girl, my favorite dolls came from Mattel and had wildly inhuman proportions. To me, they were magical and special and didn’t look the least bit strange…”

Then gets into the business with Mattel:

“…As a mass-produced product, a doll represents a single version of female proportions. Taken as a role model, any single standard excludes those with a different build. Celebrating “average” doesn’t solve the problem. Instead of trying to create a plastic role model, it’s both kinder and more honest to treat a doll as an object of escapist fantasy — a plaything.

Barbie’s popularity is waning, a fact Lammily boosters rarely fail to mention. But Mattel is in the business of selling play, not social commentary…”

Like most guys, other than G.I. Joes (and nobody really talked much about the Joe’s body image) I have no experience with dolls (honest!) and defer to thinkers like Postrel for insights. Put those dolls away and read the whole thing.

[Check out Postrel’s book “The Power of Glamour: Longing and the Art of Visual Persuasion” at Amazon]

ban-bossyThe second article involves the recent “Ban Bossy” campaign — featuring the comments of a author Jonah Goldberg, who I’m sure would agree is equally knowlegable discussing Edmund Burke, Adam Smith, or Foghorn Leghorn — and who also draws from personal experience.

“…It seems patently untrue that a) Bossiness is the same thing as “leadership,” b) That bossiness is a gender-specific issue for kids, c) That girls are falling behind in leadership nationally or in schools. Some of my views are based on the fact that I am the father of a little girl and some of it is based on informed common sense…”

And questions the premise that girls are disproportionately disadvantaged in the first place:

“In every conceivable way women are doing better and better. Sheryl Sandberg is herself proof of that. No rational or objective person believes that things aren’t getting better for women in the workplace or the executive suite.

Read the rest of this entry »

[BOOKS] Where Does the Left vs. Right Fight Come From?

A review of Yuval Levin’s Book The Great Debate

bookworldoutlook_0011386190441-197x300 Jon Bishop writes:  We too often assume that the left and right divide began with the eruptions of the ’60s or with the presidency of FDR. It is in fact much older — ancient, even, for it is not out of the question to assume that Greece and Rome faced similar questions. So Yuval Levin, with his The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left, has done modern American political discourse an incredible service by reminding us to always consider the historical context.

[The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left at Amazon]

Levin takes the reader on a guided tour of the Enlightenment-drenched late 18th century and demonstrates how Burke and Paine, who serve as Levin’s representatives for conservative liberalism and progressive liberalism, respectively, adapted the thinking of the age to their approach to political questions. He draws from both their letters and published works — which make for great reading, by the way. Both, after all, were wonderful rhetoricians.

Read the rest of this entry »

Who Really Said That?

Natalya Balnova for The Chronicle Review

Natalya Balnova for The Chronicle Review

Corey Robin writes: Sometime last semester I was complaining to my wife, Laura, about a squabble in my department. I can’t remember the specifics—that’s how small and silly the argument was—but it was eating at me. And eating at me that it was eating at me (tiffs are as much a part of academe as footnotes and should be handled with comparable fuss). After listening to me and voicing the requisite empathy, Laura said, “Any idiot can survive a crisis; it’s the day-to-day living that wears you out.” I looked at her, puzzled. “Chekhov,” she said. Puzzled gave way to impressed. “Chekhov,” I said, with a tip of the head. Impressed gave way to skeptical. “Chekhov?” Read the rest of this entry »

David Brooks: “New Media” Has “Plateaued…”

…As Audiences Return Once Again to Professional Media Writers of “Quality” and “Authority”

Boy this is going to put a major dent in my whole ongoing New Class/New Aristocracy theory.

Via Hot Air, with video at RCP, David Brooks is more or less explicit about matters of Rank and Class and Persons of Quality.

In many ways I actually agree with him. There has been a general lessening of standards as so many (including myself) have succumbed to the song of the Drudge Siren. There is too much Buzz and not enough Feed.

One sees this in the alleged Elite Media as well.

But that said, that’s a tendency, an impulse, a tic not actually central to a person; a person may choose to do that sort of thing, or he can choose not to.

David Brooks speaks, in his dreary wannabe nobleman way, of inborn “quality” and “authority,” that is, attributes which are not defined by one’s actions but by one’s status and position.

And here to tell him he’s not all that good, and neither are the bien pensants he believes constitutes the lesser lights in the constellations of the elite. Somewhat long ago he wrote, I’m told, one wry book about his own social cadre (the Bourgeois Bohemian), which apparently resonated with other bobos. And why wouldn’t it? People love reading about themselves.

And since then, from his sinecure at the New York Times, he’s written a weak soup of columns which tend to influence or enlighten no one at all, except to reinforce the strong belief among the vaunted elite that they alone, well, they, and other politically-credentialed members of the New Class, are talented and wise enough to speak upon American affairs, and that they are all quite right to ignore contrary voices and of the 88% minority.

This is a man, we should never forget, who presumed to induce the Quality and Authority of one Barack Hussein Obama from the crease of his trousers.

In the spring of 2005, New York Times columnist David Brooks arrived at then-Senator Barack Obama’s office for a chat. Brooks, a conservative writer who joined the Times in 2003 from The Weekly Standard, had never met Obama before. But, as they chewed over the finer points of Edmund Burke, it didn’t take long for the two men to click. “I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging,” Brooks recently told me, “but usually when I talk to senators, while they may know a policy area better than me, they generally don’t know political philosophy better than me. I got the sense he knew both better than me.”That first encounter is still vivid in Brooks’s mind. “I remember distinctly an image of–we were sitting on his couches, and I was looking at his pant leg and his perfectly creased pant,” Brooks says, “and I’m thinking, a) he’s going to be president and b) he’ll be a very good president.” In the fall of 2006, two days after Obama’s The Audacity of Hope hit bookstores, Brooks published a glowing Times column. The headline was “Run, Barack, Run.”

Let me propose something obvious: We value most what we ourselves are good at. That is to say, a mathematician tends to champion mathematical logic and look a bit down on those whose math is limited to arithmetic; a writer tends, naturally, to hold those who are adept with phrasing in high regard; a religious man esteems reverence, a laborer praises those who work until they sweat, and so on, and so on.

None of this is a bad thing; it’s human nature. And it probably has some positive effects. I imagine this sort of People Like Me Are Good and Wise thinking is a useful boost to the ego (and the ego, ultimately, is the captain of the spirit, and charged with keeping the ship afloat). I think that perhaps those who don’t particularly value the things they’re good at might at risk for depression.

But while this impulse is understandable, it is, of course, self-justifying and narcissistic. And the inverse of People Like Me are Good and Wise is the terrible and unavoidable corollary, People Not Like Me are Wicked and Stupid, which is essentially a sort of race-neutral Social Racism.

And I rather think the media has indulged its twin ego-boosting premises, both the one that elevates the self and the one that denigrates The Other, for far too long and with far too much enthusiasm and with far too little self-reflection.

A thinking man may not be able to avoid such narcissisms and bigotries but neither should he construct a worldview which explicitly justifies them and, by so doing, gives further license to his already-promiscuous indulgences.

David Brooks took a shine to Obama because, as he himself stated explicitly, “he talks like us,” that is, talks like the New Class of which Brooks is a very proud and high ranking member.

A sharply-creased trouser leg is important to faux aristocrats like David Brooks. He perceived then in Barack Obama — another man to whom Quality Drycleaning is apparently a sort of lesser sacrament — a kindred spirit. A person like him, and thus Good and Wise.

But Obama’s presidency has lurched from failure to disaster, and David Brooks sees, it seems, no reason to reflect upon the sort of thinking that caused him to insist that a state senator from Illinois run for the highest political office in America.

And so, it seems, David Brooks feels that to never reexamine one’s premises nor scrutinize one’s errors is a way in which a man demonstrates his Quality and Authority.

As President Trouser-Crease might say: I reject that premise.

David Brooks’ New Class is fond of nattering forever on about diversity, and yet they’re quite insistent that the only participants in the national debate should be people exactly similar to themselves, drawn from the same three fields, always, living in the same three cities, always, and coming from the same three schools.

Not always on that one. A lot of them actually didn’t go to particularly prestigious schools.

But, they would each and all like to be mistaken for people who all came from the same three schools, always.

Ideas are like people, and if there are not enough newcomers in the idea gene pool then ideas will become inbred, stupid, and sometimes monstrous.

via Ace of Spades HQ


Freedom: The Unfolding Revolution

The libertarian idea is the only truly new political idea in the last couple thousand years.

By  Jonah Goldberg

‘Why are there no libertarian countries?”

In a much-discussed essay for Salon, Michael Lind asks: “If libertarians are correct in claiming that they understand how best to organize a modern society, how is it that not a single country in the world in the early twenty-first century is organized along libertarian lines?”

Such is the philosophical poverty of liberalism today that this stands as a profound question.

Definitions vary, but broadly speaking, libertarianism is the idea that people should be as free as possible from state coercion so long as they don’t harm anyone. The job of the state is limited to fighting crime, providing for the common defense, and protecting the rights and contracts of citizens. The individual is sovereign; he is the captain of himself.

It’s a little bizarre how the Left has always conflated statism with modernity and progress. The idea that rulers — be they chieftains, kings, priests, politburos, or wonkish bureaucrats — are enlightened or smart enough to tell others how to live is older than the written word. And the idea that someone stronger, with better weapons, has the right to take what is yours predates man’s discovery of fire by millennia. And yet, we’re always told that the latest rationalization for increased state power is the “wave of the future.”

It’s true, no ideal libertarian state has ever existed outside a table for one. And no such state will ever exist. But here’s an important caveat: No ideal state of any other kind will be created either. America’s great, but it ain’t perfect. Sweden’s social democracy is all right, but if it were perfect, I suspect fewer cars would be on fire over there.

Ideals are called ideals for a reason: They’re ideals. They’re goals, aspirations, abstract straight rules we use as measuring sticks against the crooked timber of humanity.In the old Soviet Union, Mao’s China, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, and today’s North Korea, they tried to move toward the ideal Communist system. Combined, they killed about 100 million of their own people. That’s a hefty moral distinction right there: When freedom-lovers move society toward their ideal, mistakes may be made, but people tend to flourish. When the hard Left is given free rein, millions are murdered and enslaved. Which ideal would you like to move toward?

Lind sees it differently. “If socialism is discredited by the failure of communist regimes in the real world, why isn’t libertarianism discredited by the absence of any libertarian regimes in the real world? Communism was tried and failed. Libertarianism has never even been tried.”

What an odd standard. You know what else is a complete failure? Time travel. After all, it’s never succeeded anywhere!

What’s so striking about the Lind standard is how thoroughly conservative it is.

Pick a date in the past, and you can imagine someone asking similar questions. “Why should women have equal rights?” some court intellectual surely asked. “Show me anywhere in the world where that has been tried.” Before that, “Give the peasants the right to vote? Unheard of!”

In other words, there’s a first time for everything.

It’s a little bizarre how the Left has always conflated statism with modernity and progress. The idea that rulers — be they chieftains, kings, priests, politburos, or wonkish bureaucrats — are enlightened or smart enough to tell others how to live is older than the written word. And the idea that someone stronger, with better weapons, has the right to take what is yours predates man’s discovery of fire by millennia. And yet, we’re always told that the latest rationalization for increased state power is the “wave of the future.”

That phrase, “the wave of the future,” became famous thanks to a 1940 essay by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. She argued that the time of liberal democratic capitalism was drawing to a close and the smart money was on statism of one flavor or another — fascism, Communism, socialism, etc. What was lost on her, and millions of others, was that this wasn’t progress toward the new, but regression to the past. These “waves of the future” were simply gussied-up tribalisms, anachronisms made gaudy with the trappings of modernity, like a gibbon in a spacesuit.

The only truly new political idea in the last couple thousand years is this libertarian idea, broadly understood. The revolution wrought by John Locke, Edmund Burke, Adam Smith, and the Founding Fathers is the only real revolution going. And it’s still unfolding.

Indeed, what’s remarkable about all of the states Lind identifies as proof that libertarianism doesn’t work is that they are in fact proof that it does. What made the American experiment new were its libertarian innovations, broadly speaking. Moreover, those innovations made us prosper. Even Sweden — the liberal Best in Show — owes its successes to its libertarian concessions.

I’m actually not a full-blown libertarian myself, but it’s an ideal I’d like America to move closer to, not further away from as we’ve been doing of late — bizarrely in the name of “progress,” of all things.

— Jonah Goldberg is the author of The Tyranny of Clichés, now on sale in paperback. You can write to him at, or via Twitter @JonahNRO. © 2013 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

via National Review Online

The Space Between the Citizen and The State

Interesting essay by Yuval Levin. Emphasis mine –Ed.

From The Real Debate – The Weekly Standard OCT 8, 2012, VOL. 18, NO. 04 • BY YUVAL LEVIN

“…the space between the individual and the state seems now to be in very real peril…”

When our government carries out its proper task​—​building, sustaining, and protecting that space for private life​—​it plays its fitting part in the life of our free society, and earns the right to be elevated… But when it fails at its task and becomes a threat to the very way of life it is charged with protecting, it breeds only cynicism and resentment. It is no coincidence that our period of progressive government has been a period of declining faith in government.

The task of conservatives in politics today, therefore, must be to restore an idea of government as a preserver and protector of the space in which our society thrives​—​of the social architecture of American life. And although they rarely speak in these terms, this is basically what today’s conservatives propose in practice. They propose to reform the means of our government in order to preserve the shape of its relationship to the larger society as we have known it in the postwar era.

“…both parties are trying to preserve something of the postwar era, but they disagree about just what merits preserving.”

That relationship has involved a federal government that takes in and spends roughly a fifth of our economic output, protects the country, performs some basic services, offers support to the states in meeting some of their obligations, and provides income and health-insurance support to the elderly and the poor. Beyond that, it has involved an energetic and flourishing common life filled with countless civic, religious, fraternal, corporate, and charitable entities performing a mind-bogglingly immense array of functions​—​large and small, necessary or desired, wise or foolish​—​and constantly evolving in response to information and pressure moving from the individual and the family upward. That is where the other four-fifths of our economy lives, and how it grows and enables the American miracle to persist.

It has become increasingly apparent in recent decades that the trajectory of our welfare state is not consistent with the survival of this way of life. Left on its current course, the federal government will take up a greater and greater portion of our economic output (increasingly starving other social institutions and burdening future generations with debt) and will become less and less able to perform its own crucial tasks (as the costs of benefit payments to individuals overwhelm all other functions). Meanwhile, the character of some of those programs of benefit payment threatens to undermine the character of our citizens.

The latter problem, which conservatives often describe in terms of dependency, is better understood in terms of entitlement. People so poor they actually depend on government support surely deserve our help and a path to independence, which our public programs too often deny them. But it is people who are not dependent but who nonetheless feel entitled to benefits who really pose a challenge to republican citizenship. Because not only the poor but the great mass of citizens become recipients of benefits in our welfare state, too many people in the middle class come to approach their government as claimants, not as self-governing citizens.

The essence of Mitt Romney’s policy proposals this year (and the essence of the House Republican budgets of the last few years) might be described as changing the structure of government programs for the sake of preserving the structure of American society. They propose to reform government in order to sustain our way of life​—​which has been the definition of conservatism since at least Edmund Burke.

Romney, for instance, proposes to keep the size of the federal government at roughly 20 percent of GDP (federal spending averaged 19.7 percent of GDP from 1950 to 2008, but has averaged 24.4 percent since 2009 and is slated to rise sharply in the coming decades), to maintain something like the balance we have known between the government’s various functions (defense, domestic discretionary spending, and benefits to individuals), and to modernize some of our failing governing institutions​—​all of which he would make possible by reforming our tax system and our entitlement system, particularly the health care entitlements driving the ballooning of the welfare state. He proposes a set of ingenious ways to continue performing the functions of those programs​—​to continue providing health and income support to the poor and the old​—​without making everything else our society does increasingly untenable. This is hardly a radical agenda of austerity and retrogression. It is an agenda of modernization for the sake of preservation.

President Obama’s agenda, on the other hand, is in essence an attempt to preserve the structure of our government programs at the cost of transforming American society. To avoid reforming our entitlement system and tax code, he would abide a far larger government than America has known, and would have that government increasingly invade and collapse the space between the citizen and the state​—​the space where our society does most of its living…

More >>  The Real Debate

Yuval Levin is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard, Hertog fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and editor of National Affairs.