Posts Tagged Wall Street Journal

Gawker blogger gawks at high school teen’s humour

While trawling Facebook recently, I clicked through to a link leading me Gawker‘s Caity Weaver delivering a vicious and biting Fisking to an op-ed by high school student Suzy Lee Weiss in the Wall Street Journal in which Weiss complains about not getting into university. Here is a little extract of Weaver critiquing a little extract of Weiss:

Attention Students: ‘Just Being Yourself’ Isn’t a Skill That Should Earn You Admission to College.

The gist of Suzy’s opus: while some try-hards spent their high school career trying—hard—to build an impressive résumé so that they could get into their dream colleges, Suzy opted to take a more virtuous path; the path of just being herself and hoping for the best. It didn’t work. And that is unfair.

Like me, millions of high-school seniors with sour grapes are asking themselves this week how they failed to get into the colleges of their dreams. It’s simple: For years, they—we—were lied to.

Colleges tell you, “Just be yourself.” That is great advice, as long as yourself has nine extracurriculars, six leadership positions, three varsity sports, killer SAT scores and two moms. Then by all means, be yourself!

Suzy’s mistake, it seems, was interpreting the advice “Just be yourself” literally. Like perhaps someone told her, “Applying to colleges? Ah, just be yourself,” and she accepted this as an instruction to pursue no activities other than being herself.

Being yourself is not a talent. If you worked two full-time jobs all the way through high school and one of them was “being yourself” and the other was “trying your best,” you actually worked zero full-time jobs. It’s important to make time for yourself, of course, but you should be making other things in addition to that. Like goals and plans and effort.

By the way, why are “killer SAT scores”—a very reasonable requirement for college admission—sandwiched between “three varsity sports” and “two moms” on that sarcastic list of things college students “ought,” but could not reasonably be expected to have? Is demanding good test scores really as ridiculous as demanding participation in nine extracurriculars?

Right, a high school student complaining that having bad grades is a bar to university admission? It almost seems too ridiculous to be true.

Well, actually it does seem too ridiculous to be true. And that’s because it is. Here is the last paragraph of Weiss’ piece – also the one paragraph that Weaver figured she wouldn’t address:

Suzy Lee Weiss: To (All) the Colleges That Rejected Me – WSJ.com.

To those claiming that I am bitter – you bet I am! An underachieving selfish teenager making excuses for her own failures? That too! To those of you disgusted by this, shocked that I take for granted the wonderful gifts I have been afforded, I say shhh – “The Real Housewives” is on.

Now it would seem to me from that paragraph that Ms Weiss did, in fact, know how she came across in her article. She is very openly playing the character of an “underachieving selfish teenager making excuses for her own failures”.

So what Weaver has essentially succeeded in doing is spend 1,000-odd words explaining Weiss’ joke to anyone who didn’t get it in the first place, except without acknowledging that it was a joke (I guess maybe Weaver herself was too indignant to get it).

What Weiss has managed to do is actually quite impressive: as a high school student, she wrote an entertaining article and had it published in one of the world’s top newspapers. Yes (as Weaver points out) her family connections may have had something to do with it, but it is nevertheless an impressive achievement.

On the other hand, Weaver is using her podium on a fairly widely-read blog (not nearly in the WSJ’s league, but sure as hell bigger than Major Karnage) to bully an innocent high school girl. For shame.

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Ibish attacks Stephens attacks Beinart

Only because I know you’re not sick of all this Peter Beinart business yet (I’m sorry), I just felt the need to point out that Hussein Ibish — defending Beinart against Wall Street Journal editor Brett Stephens — seems to have completely missed the point of what Stephens was saying.

Ibish:

Bret Stephens’ Crisis of Empathy – The Daily Beast.

Sometimes crude binaries can be instructive, and it’s possible to distinguish two different types of people: those who seek out generous and universalist empathy with others, and those who prefer the warm cocoon of tribal solidarity.

In his new book, The Crisis of Zionism, Peter Beinart very much places himself in the first category, while in his review of it for Tablet, Bret Stephens, unfortunately, demonstrates that he squarely belongs in the second. Stephens’ angry, mean-spirited tirade against Beinart begins with a frank display of this mentality. He opens his lengthy denunciation of Beinart by angrily condemning him for daring to imagine that a young Palestinian boy called Khaled Jaber “could have been my son.”

Beinart writes that the evolution of his views on Israel and its occupation was kick-started by watching a video of the child crying out in horror as his father was being hauled away by Israeli occupation forces for “stealing water.” Beinart’s innate decency and humanity were, for whatever reason, deeply touched by this highly affecting scene…

But Stephens is having none of it. How, he asks indignantly, could “someone named Khaled Jaber…have been Beinart’s son?” The answers are so simple and fundamental that they are embarrassing to posit. He could be his son because all people are brothers and sisters, and we all can and should identify with each other across ethnic, racial, religious and cultural divides. Beinart can do this. Stevens, apparently, can’t, and indeed is offended when others do. Read the rest of this entry »

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Don’t give terror a free pass

I didn’t say anything in the last couple of days about the Israeli settler family who were murdered as they slept, or the Israeli government’s response – announcing 500 new units to be constructed in the 3 blocs that almost everyone agrees Israel will hold on to in any final-status agreement (see HERE). This is a huge issue though, and would have received a lot more coverage if the Japan earthquake weren’t overshadowing it all.

The Wall Street Journal‘s Bret Stephens has written an extremely eloquent piece on some of the implications of this saga and the reactions to it, in the context of the broader issues. He argues that the world jumps to criticise Israel for acts of little or no consequence (like construction in an area that they realistically will never withdraw from), whilst giving a “free waiver” to any Palestinian crimes (like butchering children as they sleep), dismissing them as “understandable”, given the alleged severity of Israel’s actions.

Stephens: Are Israeli Settlers Human? – WSJ.com.

I have a feeling that years from now Palestinians will look back and wonder: How did we allow ourselves to become that? If and when that happens—though not until that happens—Palestinians and Israelis will at long last be able to live alongside each other in genuine peace and security.

But I also wonder whether a similar question will ever occur to the Palestinian movement’s legion of fellow travelers in the West. To wit, how did they become so infatuated with a cause that they were willing to ignore its crimes—or, if not quite ignore them, treat them as no more than a function of the supposedly infinitely greater crime of Israeli occupation?

It is precisely in this sense that the frenzied international condemnation of Israeli settlements and settlers does the most harm. Having been accorded the part of George Orwell’s Emmanuel Goldstein—perpetual target of the proverbial two minutes of hate—they have drained whatever capacity there was to hold Palestinian actions to moral account, to say nothing of our ability to understand the nature of a conflict that is more than simply territorial. The demonization of the settlers has made the world not only coarse but blind.

Much of the conversation that I’ve seen from left-leaning Zionists has been condemnation of the new settlement policy whilst almost overlooking the actual horror of the event. An act as barbarous as this cannot possible be looked-on with anything but disgust.

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Everything’s not right in the fashion industry: WSJ takes on Vogue

More on this storyWall Street Journal assistant editors Bari Weiss and David Feith have managed to push through an op-ed in the Journal On Vogue Magazine‘s…faux-pas (I couldn’t think of another way to describe it in one phrase).

They go through a lot of the same points that I did, using a few good facts and stories to illustrate how absurdly innacurate Buck’s profile actually was. The whole article is structured with passages from the Vogue article juxtaposed with the unfortunate reality of life in Syria.

Weiss and Feith: The Dictator’s Wife Wears Louboutins – WSJ.com.

But none of those countries has Asma. “The 35-year-old first lady’s central mission,” we’re told, “is to change the mind-set of six million Syrians under eighteen, encourage them to engage in what she calls ‘active citizenship.'”

That’s just what 18-year-old high-school student Tal al-Mallouhi did with her blog, but it didn’t stop the Assad regime from arresting her in late 2009. Or from sentencing her, in a closed security court last month, to five years in prison for “espionage.”

Pretty biting, hey?

The best part, for me, was the point made at the end.

In the past weeks, as people power has highlighted the illegitimacy and ruthlessness of the Middle East’s strongmen, various Western institutions have been shamed for their associations with them. There’s the London School of Economics, which accepted over $2 million from Libya’s ruling family, and experts like political theorist Benjamin Barber, who wrote that Gadhafi “is a complex and adaptive thinker as well as an efficient, if laid-back, autocrat.”

When Syria’s dictator eventually falls—for the moment, protests against him have been successfully squelched by police—there will be a similar reckoning. Vogue has earned its place in that unfortunate roll call.

Weiss and Firth are completely right, this article should condemn Vogue to the same level of scrutiny as LSE, the UN Human Rights Council, Keysar Trad and others who openly support evil dictators. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a huge clamour in the fashion world going on about this – beside the online piece from The Atlantic (which loves taking shots at Vogue as the owners of Vogue publish Vanity Fair, one of The Atlantic’s main rivals), it took two assistant editors of a newspaper focussed mostly on finance to bring this story into the mainstream media, about 2 weeks after it first broke.

This is not an isolated incident. It took Natalie Portman, the (Jewish Israeli) face of Dior, to get apparent Nazi-sympathising designer John Galliano fired after a rant about how he loved Hitler, including the friendly observation, to his fellow patrons of the restaurant in which he was dining, that, “your mothers, your forefathers, would be fucking gassed and fucking dead.” As Barbara Ellen wrote in The Observer on Sunday:

If only John Galliano’s hate rant was a one-off | Barbara Ellen | Comment is free | The Observer

It’s interesting that John Galliano could just have got away with his antisemitic ravings, some caught on video in a Paris bar, had it not been for Jewish actress Natalie Portman.

Nicole Kidman and Sharon Stone still wore Dior to the Oscars. It was Portman, the “face” of Dior perfumes, who wore Rodarte. It was Portman who immediately stated she was “shocked and disgusted” and “would not be associated with Mr Galliano”. She added: “I hope these terrible comments remind us to reflect and act upon combating these still-existing prejudices that are the opposite of all that is beautiful.”

Ellen made the point that anti-Semitism seems to be (forgive the pun) en vogue at the moment in the entertainment industry.

Casual antisemitism appears to be having a “moment” right now. Casual antisemitism is “hot” and seemingly nowhere “hotter” than in the US entertainment industry. This is the very industry everyone is always moaning about being “controlled by Jews”, making the whole thing even more bizarre or, arguably, more understandable, if you stir envy and resentment into the mix.

There’s Charlie Sheen with his comment about Two and a Half Men creator Chuck Lorre’s “real name” being “Chaim Levine”; Sheen’s other alleged comments about his manager, Mark Burg, being a “stooped Jew pig”; Mel Gibson’s “Jews responsible for all the wars in the world” outburst; Oliver Stone’s “Jewish domination of the media”.

It’s lucky that Portman was in a position to lead the charge against Galliano. Who is around to have Vogue disgraced and Buck fired, as she should be? Not a lot of people, in all likelihood. Writing in the New Statesman, Laurie Penny has analysed the not-so-veiled culture of racism in fashion that make these kinds of things possible:

New Statesman – Galliano’s fashionable beliefs.

Diversity in fashion is going backwards. The recent fashion week in New York, one of the most multicultural places on the planet, featured 85 per cent white models, a proportion that has hardly changed in a decade. Recent high-profile campaigns have showcased white models in blackface, and when real black models do make it on to the pages of magazines, the airbrushing invariably lightens their colouring and straightens their hair into more marketable, Caucasian styles. Then we wonder why anxious teenagers across the world are using dangerous toxins to bleach the blackness out of their skin.

What should shock is not just the substance of Galliano’s comments, but the fact that it took a man being caught on camera explicitly saying that he loves Hitler for the fashion industry to acknowledge a teeny problem with racism. The rabid misogyny of Galliano’s outburst has hardly been commented on because, while most people now acknowledge that anti-Semitism isn’t very nice, the jury is still out on institutional sexism.

In a world where everything is perfect and beautiful, supported by an industry that taylors, lights and airbrushes over imperfections as a matter of course, is there really any impetus to criticise someone for airbrushing over brutality, slaughter and terror as if it were any other blemish?  There’s obviously a huge disconnect between the fashion world and the one the rest of us live in, it will take the rest of the world to push for the cultural shift that we need.

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Democracy is a long road, can the Arab world handle it?

It takes more than this to be Sweden

For those who have been following, a huge debate that is happening at the moment is over how democratic these Arab revolutions are/will be. Besides the Christofs and McGeoughs of this world, some have been actually considering what it would take to improve these societies.

James Richard, writing for Foreign Policy, makes comparisons to the fall of the “Former Soviet bloc” at the end of the cold war. He notes that, like those countries, the Arab dictators have maintained centralised economies, where most major industries are state-owned and the majority of employment is in the public sector. Comparing the transitions in Russia with the Eastern European states, Richard notes that it is better not to immediately privatise everything, as this advantages the educated class and results in Russia-style oligarchies. Rather, he argues, Arab states will need a process over several years to allow their population to appreciate the ins and outs of a free-market economy.

Liberté! Equalité! Economy! – By James Richard | Foreign Policy.

Before anything else, Arab publics need to be educated about their countries’ common economic realities and goals. Only after these countries have a clearer picture of the true underlying value of their businesses should they list firms on a stock exchange or allow privatization shares to be freely traded. Fortunately, to varying degrees, the region already has capable financial professionals and judiciaries who can help with the necessary procedures.

Richard also briefly observes that more than just economic improvements, these states will need to build democratic institutions to provide for rule of law and civil rights.

But other institutions may have to be created wholesale. Freedom of speech and the press requires a legal framework to foster transparency in these new economies.

In a strong rebuke of the “benevolent Orientalism” described my last post on the topic, writing for  the Wall Street Journal, Dennis McShane has outlined his idea for how Britain can help grow democracy through the use of “soft power” – sending representatives who speak the local languages to help establish political parties and the values necessary for engaging in a democratic process.

In the House of Commons on Monday Mr. Cameron told me: “I very much support the whole idea of greater party-to-party contacts and political contacts, and building up what I call the building blocks of democracy in terms of civil society and political parties. This is an area in which Britain has expertise and excellence.”

Mr. Cameron should ask employers and trade unions to release Arab-speaking experts to go and help the wannabe democracies along North Africa’s shoreline, as well as finding ways of helping the Iranian people striving for freedom. The model should be the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy, which under different administrations has promoted democratic change around the world. It is soft power with muscle, unafraid in rejecting the cultural relativism that both the left and the advocates of stability-over-liberty use to argue that “Western values” cannot be imposed on the East. The values Mr. Cameron mentions are universal and as much the right of the poorest Nile farmer or Iranian student as they are of European intellectuals.

Finally, Lee Smith in Tablet magazine has made the controversial point that to be truly democratic, Arab societies will need to break-out of their oil-dependency in order to maintain functioning economies, and that Israel is an example of how this is achievable in the Middle East. His article spends a little too long praising Israel without explaining the policy reasons behind Israel’s success, but it is still worthwhile for that observation.

Democratic State – by Lee Smith > Tablet Magazine – A New Read on Jewish Life.

Democracy is not something that happens overnight. It took almost a millenium from Magna Carta for all Australians to have voting rights. The Arab world has a long road ahead, but hopefully, through this kind of advice, it can stay on course.

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