Monday, September 01, 2008

Brooks Steals from Woody Allen and Still Falls Flat

In reference to the awful, childish Brooks piece supposedly satirizing Obama's acceptance speech. I noticed in the comments that someone caught him lifting material from a Woody Allen essay:

I'm not sure what the point of the column is but that second paragraph is a close rip off of Woody Allen's "Speech to College Graduates" in Side Effects, 1980:

Allen:
"More than at any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly."

Brooks:
"One path before us leads to the past, and the extinction of the human race. The other path leads to the future, when we will all be dead. We must choose wisely."


The hackiest hack of them all. . .

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

David Brooks makes excuses for McCain

David Brooks makes excuses for McCain
Posted August 19th, 2008 at 3:50 pm

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Two weeks ago, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell and the Politico’s Roger Simon agreed that John McCain may be running an ugly, low-road campaign, but it’s his staff’s fault. “McCain really doesn’t like attacking…which is why I think he’s often uncomfortable with his own campaign,” Simon insisted.

Last week, Newsweek’s Howard Fineman argued that McCain doesn’t really approve of his own campaign’s message attacking Barack Obama’s patriotism.

And today, the NYT’s David Brooks insists that McCain, deep down, isn’t a party hack, but “The System” is forcing him to become one.

McCain started out with the same sort of kibitzing campaign style that he used to woo the press back in 2000. It didn’t work. This time there were too many cameras around and too many 25-year-old reporters and producers seizing on every odd comment to set off little blog scandals.

McCain started out with the same sort of improvised campaign events he’d used his entire career, in which he’d begin by riffing off of whatever stories were in the paper that day. It didn’t work. The campaign lacked focus. No message was consistent enough to penetrate through the national clutter.

McCain started his general-election campaign in poverty-stricken areas of the South and Midwest. He went through towns where most Republicans fear to tread and said things most wouldn’t say. It didn’t work. The poverty tour got very little coverage on the network news. McCain and his advisers realized the only way they could get TV attention was by talking about the subject that interested reporters most: Barack Obama.

I suppose, for Brooks, this constitutes criticism of McCain. The underlying message of the column is that McCain has become something of a phony.

That said, Brooks’ excuse-making is utter nonsense.

Kevin explained:

Bloggers are somehow responsible for McCain running juvenile ads comparing Obama to Paris Hilton and Britney Spears? A bored press is responsible for McCain claiming that Obama puts personal interest ahead of country? The conservative establishment prevented McCain from calling out Jerome Corsi’s book for the vile trash that it is? The system forced McCain to hire one of Karl Rove’s disciples as his campaign manager?

Enough. Just enough. There are plenty of ways of getting attention, and McCain made his own choices. No one forced them on him, not the system, not bloggers, not the press. If McCain is running a campaign based on personal destruction, he’s doing it because that’s the choice he made.

Hilzoy, meanwhile, is cleverly willing to consider Brooks’ argument at face value.

[L]et’s pretend, just for the sake of argument, that they are right to say that the only way to win, this year, is by taking the low road. Would that mean that they have to take it? Of course not. That means you have a choice between honor and ambition; between running a decent campaign and a sordid one; between being a candidate the country can be proud of and being a candidate who contributes to the degradation and trivialization of political discourse.

You would have no choice only if you assumed that your own ambitions were more important than your honor.


And finally, Steve M. connects the dots, to explain why Brooks gets the big bucks.

[A]nyone can argue that John McCain is so pure and virtuous that he had to be forced into running a campaign consisting almost exclusively of vicious negative attacks …

… and anyone can argue that longtime media darling McCain is actually the victim of liberal media bias …

… but it takes a special talent — a David Brooks — to argue that pure, virtuous McCain was forced to run a negative campaign because of liberal media bias. That’s just brilliant. That’s advancing two memes at once!


http://www.thecarpetbaggerreport.com/archives/16611.html

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

NYT - David Brooks Lies

From Daily Kos:

NYT: David Brooks Lies!
by ezdidit
Tue Aug 12, 2008 at 01:32:00 PM CDT

Brooks applauds the economic rise of China. But that nation has constructed a capitalist initiative through enslavement of its poor and its working class through utter repression, censorship and massive manipulation. From reading Brooks, one would think China is now a free society when the facts reveal a total opposition to his notions.

The rise of China isn’t only an economic event. It’s a cultural one. The ideal of a harmonious collective may turn out to be as attractive as the ideal of the American Dream.




Problem is that there is no "harmonious collective" in China whatsoever. There is merely repression, surveillance and more repression. So that's just a plain old LIE from Brooksie, but what else did you expect?

Why would he be shilling for China? And what is it about China that is so applicable to plans for governance in the U.S.?

The nasty truth below....from his biography:

Mr. Brooks joined The Weekly Standard at its inception in September 1995, ...
Mr. Brooks graduated from the University of Chicago in 1983....


Please stop reading right there. Please pay no attention to this miscreant of Chicago school Straussian elitism. Brooks is a prop! What the hell the Times was thinking when they hired this transparent verbalist is beyond my grasp.

China's recent economic "rise" is an artificial construct borne of one of the most horribly repressive and bloodthirsty social experiments on earth. It bears no relation to comparisons with America - none whatsoever, except as a stark contrast and a flashing red warning light. It is a totally reprehensible government system and it stands up as flimsily as a cardboard diorama unfolded from a children's book!

Brooks speaks breathtaking volumes to students, elites and elitist futurists in our own nation. And that's pretty frightening.

Here's some truth from Naomi Klein who presents the loathsome reality of China's experiment in capitalism-by-fiat in all its horror:

Thirty years ago, the city of Shenzhen didn't exist....Today, Shenzhen is a city of 12.4 million people, and there is a good chance that at least half of everything you own was made here: iPods, laptops, sneakers, flatscreen TVs, cellphones, jeans, maybe your desk chair, possibly your car and almost certainly your printer.
[snip]
China today, epitomized by Shenzhen's transition from mud to megacity in 30 years, represents a new way to organize society. Sometimes called "market Stalinism," it is a potent hybrid of the most powerful political tools of authoritarian communism — central planning, merciless repression, constant surveillance — harnessed to advance the goals of global capitalism.
[snip]
Over the next three years, Chinese security executives predict they will install as many as 2 million CCTVs in Shenzhen....
Remember how we've always been told that free markets and free people go hand in hand? That was a lie. It turns out that the most efficient delivery system for capitalism is actually a communist-style police state, fortressed with American "homeland security" technologies, pumped up with "war on terror" rhetoric.

[my emphasis]


That is the survival mode militancy that we are confronting from corporations and from our Congressional capitulators. We make a grave mistake by failing to recognize Pelosi and Reid in their true colors. Fomenting massive repression within the United States is their plan for governance in the 21st Century. It is the only way that egregious capitalist greed can survive, and they know it.

It is mega-evil on steroids, and the thinking is as harsh and dogmatic as the lack of moral principles of blood-thirsty authoritarians down through the ages. These are really, really bad people, and this is a personal matter for me. It reeks of death, and the defeat of these traitors must come swiftly and surely. They must be defeated at the polls by every means available. There is yet a Democracy in our country, but its days are numbered. Obama cannot come soon enough, and there's way too much of the patrician and the oligarch in him already.

From 1992 until his election to the U.S. Senate in 2004, Barack Obama served as a professor in the Law School. [University of Chicago Law School] He was a Lecturer from 1992 to 1996.


He ugh....there's too much of Chicago school in him already.

My greatest fear is that Obama will accede to the forces of authority. My hope is that he will restore our electoral institutions (as in Clean Money Clean Elections) and reform our government leading us out of this despicable future envisioned by tyrants like Cheney.

So, please pay no attention to the lying traditional transitional corporate media. They suck in ways that are disgusting and reprehensible. These are really bad people who want nothing at all to do with you and me or pluralistic, populist democracy. They have no use for elections or accountability whatsoever.

And, for David Brooks and his lies about China? What's a rag like the New York Times worth? Pay attention while there's yet time.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

How big of a douchebag is David Brooks?

From Dailykos:

How big of a douchebag is David Brooks?
by Kagro X
Wed Jun 04, 2008 at 11:40:48 AM CDT

How big of a douchebag is David Brooks?

He's such a big douchebag that he tries to criticize Barack Obama as not being an oh-so-regular guy (just like the tortoise shell spectacled and pink necktied drip Brooks is, of course) by saying:

[H]e doesn‘t seem like a guy who can go into an Applebee‘s salad bar and people think he fits in naturally there.

Only problem? David Brooks has apparently never stepped out of the limo and actually gone into an Applebees. Because they don't have salad bars.

Dumbass.


Excuse me, you're out of Low Fat Ranch. Oh, I'm sorry,
I thought you worked here, Mr. Regular Fellow!

Oh, that Barack Obama! Why, he probably doesn't even know proper etiquette between chukkers at one of those "NASCAR" motoring exhibitions! (That's what the little people like these days, isn't it, Lovie?)

http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2008/6/4/8239/45507/729/529138

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

David Brooks - Dick

David Brooks
From Dickipedia - A Wiki of Dicks

David Brooks (b. August 11, 1961) is a columnist for The New York Times, a commentator on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, and a dick.

He has written two pseudo-intellectual books of junk social science, Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There, and On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense. Though he is a conservative, the primary reason for his success is not his popularity among conservatives, but, rather, among liberals. He is, in fact, known as the liberals’ “favorite conservative.” This is because he speaks softly, is effeminate, and gently gratifies their self-loathing, masochistic wish to be insulted.

Success in professional life

Brooks is very interested in anthropology, psychology and sociology, and likes to apply the language and tools of these fields to his analysis of politics and pop culture. He wishes to be taken very seriously by scholars in these fields, and would be, if only he hadn’t been born extremely lazy.

Because of this condition, Brooks is unable to do any of the actual analysis and research that would ordinarily give a person credibility in these fields. Many have criticized the insular nature of academia. They claim that those who, like Brooks, were born lazy, or, to use the more politically correct term, “differently incentivized,” are discriminated against.

Brooks has been able to surmount these obstacles with surprising success. At an early age, he resolved that he would overcome his disability through a combination of dishonesty and smiling. This potent combination worked to a stunning degree, and Brooks has become one of the leaders in public influence, as well as serving as a role model to those all over the world who happened to have been born lazy and dishonest and have nice smiles.


The Brooks method

The Brooks method is to take a banal, long-existing or only partially true observation, give it a cute name and take credit for it. In other words, he’s a perfect op-ed columnist.

His obsessions include the differences between “red states” and “blue states,” America as a consumerist society, regional and intergenerational differences in America, and how an analysis, or, in Brooks’ case, an “analysis,” of these always ultimately proves the essential truth of Republicanism as Brooks chooses to define it that week.

The Brooks philosophy

Brooks’ favorite point to make is that what he calls “red staters” are somehow more authentic, honest, virtuous and American than so-called “blue staters.” His “shtick,” as Michael Kinsley once called it, is to go from his home in “blue state” Maryland deep into “red state” America, much like the Victorian explorers to Africa who would venture into Africa and report back to the Royal Geographic Society with their tales of the frightening, but noble savages.

Many have noted the seeming illogic in Brooks’ success among liberals, when the conclusions he comes back with after his forays into the heart of redness are actually insulting to his liberal fan base. But this is, in fact, not illogical. Early on, Brooks identified and has subsequently exploited an essential attribute of eastern liberalism: self-hatred. Like Brooks, much of his liberal fan base is effete, highly educated, sexually insecure, and slightly afraid of “red state” America. They are thus perversely gratified by his conclusions.

Brooks on the war

In 1997, Brooks wrote an influential article called “A Return to National Greatness,” for The Weekly Standard, the in-house newsletter for neo-con dicks. “National Greatness” is what results when unacknowledged feelings of sexual inadequacy manifest themselves as a theory of foreign policy. The ostensible theory is that the United States, at the time, no longer had the sense of large, unifying national purpose that it had during the days of the western expansion, the Cold War, and the space program. The remedy was for the government to create “a spirit of confidence and vigor that can then spill across the life of the nation."

Those behind this movement, including Weekly Standard editor and founder William Kristol, himself a second-generation dick, were the primary intellectual force behind the Iraq War, which has proven the theory to be a smashing success.


Brooks as Republican hack

It is very important to Brooks that he be seen as different from those widely seen to be Republican party hacks who support the Bush administration in almost anything they do, like Rush Limbaugh and Fox News.

And it is true that he is, in fact, very different than Limbaugh. He is, for example, not as fat, smiles more, talks in a soothing voice, and isn’t known to be addicted to Oxycontin. And his hackery is better written. For instance:

“There's something about our venture into Iraq that is inspiringly, painfully, embarrassingly and quintessentially American.

No other nation would have been hopeful enough to try to evangelize for democracy across the Middle East. No other nation would have been naive enough to do it this badly. No other nation would be adaptable enough to recover from its own innocence and muddle its way to success, as I suspect we are about to do.”

This was written in May of 2004.

In 2007, he became engaged in a feud with fellow New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. In his book The Conscience of a Liberal, Krugman recounts the story of how Ronald Reagan gave a 1980 campaign speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil rights workers were murdered in the 1960’s. In his speech, Reagan mentioned his support of states’ rights, which was a clear signal of his solidarity with white southern racists.

On November 9 2007, Brooks responded with a column defending Reagan against this “slur,” writing:

“You can look back on this history in many ways. It’s callous, at least, to use the phrase ‘states’ rights’ in any context in Philadelphia. Reagan could have done something wonderful if he’d mentioned civil rights at the fair. He didn’t. And it’s obviously true that race played a role in the G.O.P.’s ascent.”

This is an example of powerful Brooksonian dick logic: if only Reagan had said something not racist, instead of racist, he would not be thought of as racist. Likewise, if only Paris Hilton would wear underwear, people would stop the “slur” that Paris Hilton doesn’t wear underwear.

http://www.dickipedia.org/dick.php?title=David_Brooks

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

James Wolcott - David Brooks Makes an Asperger's of Himself

David Brooks Makes an Asperger's of Himself

An incalculable public service was rendered a few years ago by Sasha Issenberg in Philadelphia magazine when she subjected David Brooks to cruel and inhumane fact-checking and ascertained that his pop sociology was mostly a figment of his Clark Kent imagination. Confronted with the evidence of his cock-eyed assertions, Brooks was reduced to sputtering and accusing his critics of not getting the joke--his brand of satire was lost on literal-minded nitpickers such as Issenberg. ("I went through some of the other instances where he made declarations that appeared insupportable. He accused me of being 'too pedantic,' of 'taking all of this too literally,' of 'taking a joke and distorting it.'") But what explains Brooks' popularity in the upper echelons of journalism, given the cartoon distortions of his work?

In recent years, American journalism has reacted to the excesses of New Journalism -- narcissism, impressionism, preening subjectivity -- by adopting the trappings of scholarship. Trend pieces, once a bastion of three-examples-and-out superficiality, now strive for the authority of dissertations. Former Times editor Howell Raines famously defended page-one placement for a piece examining Britney Spears's flailing career by describing it as a "sophisticated exegesis of sociological phenomenon." The headline writer's favorite word is "deconstructing." (Last year, the Toronto Star deconstructed a sausage.) Richard Florida, a Carnegie Mellon demographer whose 2002 book The Rise of the Creative Class earned Bobos-like mainstream cachet, nostalgizes an era when readers looked to academia for such insights:


"You had Holly Whyte, who got Jane Jacobs started, Daniel Bell, David Riesman, Galbraith. This is what we're missing; this is a gap," Florida says. "Now you have David Brooks as your sociologist, and Al Franken and Michael Moore as your political scientists. Where is the serious public intellectualism of a previous era? It's the failure of social science to be relevant enough to do it."

This culture shift has rewarded Brooks, who translates echt nerd appearance (glasses, toothy grin, blue blazer) and intellectual bearing into journalistic credibility, which allows him to take amusing dinner-party chatter -- Was that map an electoral-college breakdown or a marketing plan for Mighty Aphrodite? -- and sell it to editors as well-argued wisdom on American society. Brooks satisfies the features desk's appetite for scholarly authority in much the same way that Jayson Blair fed the newsroom's compulsion for scoops.


Mentioning Jayson Blair, why that's just plain mean.

Anchored by his op-ed column at the Times, Brooks spends less time these days doing Call Me Bwana field research in outer exurbia and more time taking his pulse and contemplating the middle-aged spread between his ears. He's traded in pop sociology for pop neurology and, guess what, he doesn't know what he's talking about there either. Mistakes keep sticking like peanut butter to the roof of his brain, as Nell Scovell discovers and documents at VF Daily:

Brooks's most recent column, "The Great Forgetting," ruminates on how our aging society is divided into "memory haves and have-nots." He writes: "This divide produces moments of social combat. Some vaguely familiar person will come up to you in the supermarket. 'Stan, it’s so nice to see you!' The smug memory dropper can smell your nominal aphasia and is going to keep first-naming you until you are crushed into submission."

Brooks clearly thinks "aphasia" is a colorful word for "forgetful," but anyone who has dealt with aphasia—or read Oliver Sacks's wonderful book The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat--knows that aphasia is a language-and-expression disorder, not a memory disorder, and occurs from damage to portions of the brain, usually after a head injury or stroke.

[snip]

The second mistake popped up in Brooks's March 14 column, "The Rank Link Imbalance." That piece, written just after Eliot Spitzer quit his day job, dissected the psyches of powerful men who achieve greatness but lack grace. Brooks writes, "They develop the specific social skills that are useful on the climb up the greasy pole: the capacity to imply false intimacy; the ability to remember first names." (Clearly, remembering first names is a big deal for Brooks.)

Brooks goes on to blast Spitzer and his slick ilk for acting "like complete idiots." He continues, "These Type A men are just not equipped to have normal relationships. All their lives they've been a walking Asperger's Convention, the kings of the emotionally avoidant."

The National Institutes of Health describes Asperger's syndrome as a developmental disorder on the autism spectrum with "a distinct group of neurological conditions characterized by a greater or lesser degree of impairment in language and communication skills, as well as repetitive or restrictive patterns of thought and behavior." People with Asperger's do not exult in being "emotionally avoidant," as the word "kings" implies. They struggle to understand social cues that any successful politician would take for granted.

I showed the Brooks article to autism expert Dr. Lynn Koegel (who wrote a book called Overcoming Autism with my sister, Claire LaZebnik) and she emailed me back: "Spitzer’s behaviors are not consistent with a diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome. In fact, individuals with Asperger's Syndrome tend to be exceedingly honest, truthful, and forthright." It appears Brooks was dead-on—in an exact-opposite sort of way.


"Dead-on in an exact-opposite sort of way" might someday be Brooks' journalistic epitaph, one that he could conceivably share with his ideological bunkmate on the op-ed page, Bill Kristol, whose crocodile grin is beginning to leave the rest of his face behind.

http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/blogs/wolcott/2008/04/an-incalculable.html

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Nell Scovell: A Second Opinion of David Brooks

April 14, 2008

Nell Scovell: A Second Opinion of David Brooks

Nell ScovellNew York Times columnist David Brooks needs to see a neurologist stat. Twice in the past month, Brooks’s op-eds have included references to neurological disorders—aphasia and Asperger’s—and both times he missed the diagnosis. I’m not a doctor—although I’ve written for them on TV—but this is a clear case of Brooks flaunting his intelligence and revealing his ignorance. I’m sure the Germans have a word for this.

Brooks’s most recent column, “The Great Forgetting,” ruminates on how our aging society is divided into “memory haves and have-nots.” He writes: “This divide produces moments of social combat. Some vaguely familiar person will come up to you in the supermarket. ‘Stan, it’s so nice to see you!’ The smug memory dropper can smell your nominal aphasia and is going to keep first-naming you until you are crushed into submission.”

Brooks clearly thinks “aphasia” is a colorful word for “forgetful,” but anyone who has dealt with aphasia—or read Oliver Sacks’s wonderful book The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat—knows that aphasia is a language-and-expression disorder, not a memory disorder, and occurs from damage to portions of the brain, usually after a head injury or stroke.

Brooks might defend this as a playful exaggeration. It’s certainly easy to come up with equally witty comparisons, like saying someone who’s nervous before going onstage has “performance Parkinson’s.” Or someone splashing in the pool has “aquatic epilepsy.” Or a columnist who misuses medical terms suffers from “journalistic dementia.”

The second mistake popped up in Brooks’s March 14 column, “The Rank Link Imbalance.” That piece, written just after Eliot Spitzer quit his day job, dissected the psyches of powerful men who achieve greatness but lack grace. Brooks writes, “They develop the specific social skills that are useful on the climb up the greasy pole: the capacity to imply false intimacy; the ability to remember first names.” (Clearly, remembering first names is a big deal for Brooks.)

Brooks goes on to blast Spitzer and his slick ilk for acting “like complete idiots.” He continues, “These Type A men are just not equipped to have normal relationships. All their lives they’ve been a walking Asperger’s Convention, the kings of the emotionally avoidant.”

The National Institutes of Health describes Asperger’s syndrome as a developmental disorder on the autism spectrum with “a distinct group of neurological conditions characterized by a greater or lesser degree of impairment in language and communication skills, as well as repetitive or restrictive patterns of thought and behavior. ” People with Asperger’s do not exult in being “emotionally avoidant,” as the word “kings” implies. They struggle to understand social cues that any successful politician would take for granted.

I showed the Brooks article to autism expert Dr. Lynn Koegel (who wrote a book called Overcoming Autism with my sister, Claire LaZebnik) and she emailed me back: “Spitzer’s behaviors are not consistent with a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome. In fact, individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome tend to be exceedingly honest, truthful, and forthright.” It appears Brooks was dead-on—in an exact-opposite sort of way.

The King of the Bobos probably doesn’t care that he insulted people with his sloppy neurological metaphors. I can imagine him smirking and saying to himself, “What are they gonna do about it? The aphasics won’t remember and those Asperger types have no feelings to hurt.”

And I know Brooks has bigger things to apologize for, but maybe he could start by saying he’s sorry for these small things and work up to the big ones. I’m sure the Germans have a word for that, too.

http://www.vanityfair.com/ontheweb/blogs/daily/2008/04/nell-scovell-a.html#more

Friday, February 15, 2008

Boo-Boos in Paradise

Boo-Boos in Paradise
Wayne-bred David Brooks is the public intellectual of the moment. But our writer found out he doesn't check his facts

By Sasha Issenberg

A few years ago, journalist david brooks wrote a celebrated article for the Atlantic Monthly, "One Nation, Slightly Divisible," in which he examined the country's cultural split in the aftermath of the 2000 election, contrasting the red states that went for Bush and the blue ones for Gore. To see the vast nation whose condition he diagnosed, Brooks compared two counties: Maryland's Montgomery (Blue), where he himself lives, and Pennsylvania's Franklin (a Red county in a Blue state). "I went to Franklin County because I wanted to get a sense of how deep the divide really is," Brooks wrote of his leisurely northward drive to see the other America across "the Meatloaf Line; from here on there will be a lot fewer sun-dried-tomato concoctions on restaurant menus and a lot more meatloaf platters." Franklin County was a place where "no blue New York Times delivery bags dot driveways on Sunday mornings ... [where] people don't complain that Woody Allen isn't as funny as he used to be, because they never thought he was funny," he wrote. "In Red America churches are everywhere. In Blue America Thai restaurants are everywhere. In Red America they have QVC, the Pro Bowlers Tour, and hunting. In Blue America we have NPR, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and socially conscious investing."

Brooks, an agile and engaging writer, was doing what he does best, bringing sweeping social movements to life by zeroing in on what Tom Wolfe called "status detail," those telling symbols -- the Weber Grill, the open-toed sandals with advanced polymer soles -- that immediately fix a person in place, time and class. Through his articles, a best-selling book, and now a twice-a-week column in what is arguably journalism's most prized locale, the New York Times op-ed page, Brooks has become a must-read, charming us into seeing events in the news through his worldview.

There's just one problem: Many of his generalizations are false. According to Amazon.com sales data, one of Goodwin's strongest markets has been deep-Red McAllen, Texas. That's probably not, however, QVC country. "I would guess our audience would skew toward Blue areas of the country," says Doug Rose, the network's vice president of merchandising and brand development. "Generally our audience is female suburban baby boomers, and our business skews towards affluent areas." Rose's standard PowerPoint presentation of the QVC brand includes a map of one zip code -- Beverly Hills, 90210 -- covered in little red dots that each represent one QVC customer address, to debunk "the myth that they're all little old ladies in trailer parks eating bonbons all day."

"Everything that people in my neighborhood do without motors, the people in Red America do with motors," Brooks wrote. "When it comes to yard work, they have rider mowers; we have illegal aliens." Actually, six of the top 10 states in terms of illegal-alien population are Red.

"We in the coastal metro Blue areas read more books," Brooks asserted. A 2003 University of Wisconsin-Whitewater study of America's most literate cities doesn't necessarily agree. Among the study's criteria was the presence of bookstores and libraries; 20 of the 30 most literate cities were in Red states.

"Very few of us," Brooks wrote of his fellow Blue Americans, "could name even five NASCAR drivers, although stock-car races are the best-attended sporting events in the country." He might want to take his name-recognition test to the streets of the 2002 NASCAR Winston Cup Series's highest-rated television markets -- three of the top five were in Blue states. (Philadelphia was fifth nationally.)

Brooks could be dismissed as little more than a snarky punch-line artist, except that he postures as a public intellectual -- and has been received as one.

It's hard, in fact, to think of many American thinkers more influential at this moment than Brooks. His 2000 book Bobos in Paradise heralded the rise of a new upper class that mixed '60s-style liberalism with '80s-style conspicuous consumption; celebrated by reviewers, it quickly became a best-seller. Brooks wrote that his hometown, Wayne, was emblematic of the "Upscale Suburban Hippiedom" that was the natural habitat of these "bourgeois bohemians." Like "yuppie" and "metrosexual," Brooks's "bobo" entered the language as a successful coinage of pop sociology. It shows up in magazine articles and casual conversations, and the book itself is footnoted in dozens of books on American society and consumer culture, and cited in a college history textbook.

On the publication of Bobos, New York Times critic Walter Goodman lumped Brooks with William H. Whyte Jr., author of The Organization Man, and David Riesman, who wrote The Lonely Crowd, as a practitioner of "sociological journalism." (In the introduction to Bobos, Brooks invoked Whyte -- plus Jane Jacobs and John Kenneth Galbraith -- as predecessors.) In 2001, the New School for Social Research, in Manhattan, held a panel discussion in which real-life scholars pondered the bobo. When, in 2001, Richard Posner ranked the 100 highest-profile public intellectuals, Brooks came in 85th, just behind Marshall McLuhan at 82nd, and ahead of Garry Wills, Isaiah Berlin and Margaret Mead.

Following the success of Bobos, Brooks -- who was then writing for the Atlantic Monthly and Newsweek and appearing on pbs and NPR -- was offered the Times column, formalizing his position as the in-house conservative pundit of liberal America. In his column, Brooks writes mostly about affairs of state, but with the same approach -- a cultural analysis grounded in social observation -- that made Bobos such a success. This summer, Bobos will get a sibling when Brooks publishes On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense.

Brooks is operating in a long tradition of public intellectualism. Like William Whyte, another child of Philadelphia's western suburbs fascinated with the interplay of money and manners among his contemporaries, Brooks is a journalist who works on sociological turf. But Whyte, who was an editor for Fortune in the 1950s, observed how people lived, inferred trends, considered what they meant, and then came up with grand conclusions about the direction of the country. When, in 1954, he wanted to find out which consumers were trend-setters, he went into Overbrook Park and surveyed 4,948 homes -- all inhabited by real people. Brooks, by way of contrast, draws caricatures. Whether out of sloppiness or laziness, the examples he conjures to illustrate well-founded premises are often unfounded, undermining the very points he's trying to make.

In January, I made my own trip to Franklin County, 175 miles southwest of Philadelphia, with a simple goal: I wanted to see where David Brooks comes up with this stuff. One of the first places I passed was Greencastle Coffee Roasters, which has more than 200 kinds of coffee, and a well-stocked South Asian grocery in the back with a product range hard to find in some large coastal cities: 20-pound bags of jasmine rice, cans of Thai fermented mustard greens, a freezer with lemongrass stalks and kaffir-lime leaves. The owner, Charles Rake, told me that there was, until a few years back, a Thai restaurant in Chambersburg, run by a woman who now does catering. "She's the best Thai cook I know on Planet Earth," Rake said. "And I've been to Thailand."

I stopped at Blockbuster, where the dvd of Annie Hall was checked out. I went to the counter to see how Scott, the clerk, thought it compared to Allen's other work. "It's funny," said Scott. "What's the funny one? Yeah, Annie Hall, that's the one where he dates everyone -- it's funny."

"In Montgomery County we have Saks Fifth Avenue, Cartier, Anthropologie, Brooks Brothers. In Franklin County they have Dollar General and Value City, along with a plethora of secondhand stores," Brooks wrote. In fact, while Franklin has 14 stores with the word "dollar" in their name -- plus one Value City -- Montgomery County, Maryland, has 34, including one that's within walking distance of an Anthropologie in Rockville.

As I made my journey, it became increasingly hard to believe that Brooks ever left his home. "On my journeys to Franklin County, I set a goal: I was going to spend $20 on a restaurant meal. But although I ordered the most expensive thing on the menu -- steak au jus, 'slippery beef pot pie,' or whatever -- I always failed. I began asking people to direct me to the most-expensive places in town. They would send me to Red Lobster or Applebee's," he wrote. "I'd scan the menu and realize that I'd been beaten once again. I went through great vats of chipped beef and 'seafood delight' trying to drop $20. I waded through enough surf-and-turfs and enough creamed corn to last a lifetime. I could not do it."

Taking Brooks's cue, I lunched at the Chambersburg Red Lobster and quickly realized that he could not have waded through much surf-and-turf at all. The "Steak and Lobster" combination with grilled center-cut New York strip is the most expensive thing on the menu. It costs $28.75. "Most of our checks are over $20," said Becka, my waitress. "There are a lot of ways to spend over $20."

The easiest way to spend over $20 on a meal in Franklin County is to visit the Mercersburg Inn, which boasts "turn-of-the-century elegance." I had a $50 prix-fixe dinner, with an entrée of veal medallions, served with a lump-crab and artichoke tower, wild-rice pilaf and a sage-caper-cream sauce. Afterward, I asked the inn's proprietors, Walt and Sandy Filkowski, if they had seen Brooks's article. They laughed. After it was published in the Atlantic, the nearby Mercersburg Academy boarding school invited Brooks as part of its speaker series. He spent the night at the inn. "For breakfast I made a goat-cheese-and-sun-dried-tomato tart," Sandy said. "He said he just wanted scrambled eggs."

I looked at another of Brooks's more celebrated articles, an August 2002 piece in the conservative magazine the Weekly Standard in which he discerned a new American archetype he dubbed "Patio Man." Patio Man, in Brooks's description, "walks into a Home Depot or Lowe's or one of the other mega hardware complexes and his eyes are glistening with a faraway missionary zeal, like one of those old prophets gazing into the promised land. His lips are parted and twitching slightly." Patio Man, Brooks wrote, lives in one of the new Sprinkler Cities, "the fast-growing suburbs mostly in the South and West that are the homes of the new-style American dream."

Brooks illuminated Patio Man's world with vivid portraiture, telling details, and clever observations about American culture. ("All major choices of consumer durables these days ultimately come down to which model has the most impressive cup holders.") Brooks's suggestion that Patio Man's brethren would become the basis of a coming Republican majority found many friends. Slate identified him as a "new sociological icon." The New York Times Magazine 2002 "Year in Ideas" issue cited Patio Man in its encapsulation of "Post-Soccer-Mom Nomenclature."

Unfortunately, as with the Red/Blue article, many of the knowing references Brooks deftly invoked to bring Patio Man to life were entirely manufactured. He describes the ladies of Sprinkler City as "trim Jennifer Aniston women [who] wear capris and sleeveless tops and look great owing to their many hours of sweat and exercise at Spa Lady." That chain of women's gyms has three locations -- all in New Jersey, far from any Sprinkler City. "The roads," Brooks writes, "have been given names like Innovation Boulevard and Entrepreneur Avenue." There are no Entrepreneur Avenues anywhere in the country, according to the business-directory database Referenceusa, and only two Innovation Boulevards -- in non-Sprinkler cities Fort Wayne, Indiana, and State College, Pennsylvania. There is also an Innovation Boulevard in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

The basic premises of Brooks's articles aren't necessarily wrong. His Red/Blue article was anchored in the research of political analyst Michael Barone, who in a June 2001 article in National Journal delineated a country split evenly in two: "One is observant, tradition-minded, moralistic. The other is unobservant, liberation-minded, relativistic." Brooks's Patio Man article was a pop translation of a February 2002 paper by University of Michigan demographer William H. Frey, who wrote that 2000 Census figures showed growth of "the New Sunbelt."

Brooks, however, does more than popularize inaccessible academic work; he distorts it. Barone relies on election returns and public-opinion data as the basis for his research; Frey looks to the census. But Brooks takes their findings and, regardless of origin, applies to them what one might call the Brooks Consumer Taste Fallacy, which suggests that people are best understood by where they shop and what they buy. So Brooks takes Barone's vote-counting in a two-sided election and says the country is split between Anthropologie and Dollar General. Then he takes Frey's demographic studies and says Sprinkler Cities are marked by their Home Depots. At this point, Frey was already working on a paper called "Three Americas" which argued for a tripartite model for understanding the nation: the Melting Pot (populous, immigrant-heavy states like New Jersey, Texas, Illinois); the Heartland (rural, without much population growth); and the New Sunbelt. If one really believes that the New Sunbelt and its Sprinkler Cities mark a culturally distinct region (as Brooks does), Frey suggests, one can't also believe that the country is rather evenly split into two culturally distinct factions (as Brooks does).

There are salient cultural divides in the United States -- and, in fact, different values and practices among residents of Montgomery and Franklin counties -- but consumer life is the place where they are most rapidly converging. In this regard, Brooks would have been better off relying on the newest generation of elitist truism -- tongue-in-cheek laments about the proliferation of ubiquitous chain espresso bars and bookstores. Last fall, Pottery Barn opened stores in Huntsville, Alabama, and Franklin, Tennessee, and the New York Times has introduced home delivery in Colorado Springs. It likely won't be long before Franklin County gets both; yoga classes have already arrived.

Most of Brooks's own ideas are clichés borrowed from popular culture. His Franklin County dispatch included a riff on the differences between "indoor guys" and "outdoor guys," a divide handled with more nuance by the characters on Home Improvement. Outdoor guys have "wraparound NASCAR sunglasses, maybe a napa auto parts cap, and a haircut in a short wedge up front but flowing down over their shoulders in the back -- a cut that is known as the mullet," Brooks writes, before getting to their "thing against sleeves," their well-ventilated armpit hair, and the way ripped sleeves hang over bad to the bone tattoos. This is a clever homage to the fieldwork of comic/sociologist Jeff Foxworthy, whose 1989 study You Might Be a Redneck If ... included: "You own more than three shirts with the sleeves cut off."

I called Brooks to see if I was misreading his work. I told him about my trip to Franklin County, and the ease with which I was able to spend $20 on a meal. He laughed. "I didn't see it when I was there, but it's true, you can get a nice meal at the Mercersburg Inn," he said. I said it was just as easy at Red Lobster. "That was partially to make a point that if Red Lobster is your upper end ... " he replied, his voice trailing away. "That was partially tongue-in-cheek, but I did have several mini-dinners there, and I never topped $20."

I went through some of the other instances where he made declarations that appeared insupportable. He accused me of being "too pedantic," of "taking all of this too literally," of "taking a joke and distorting it." "That's totally unethical," he said.

Satire has its purpose, but assuming it's on the mark, Brooks should be able to adduce real-world examples that are true. I asked him how I was supposed to tell what was comedy and what was sociology. "Generally, I rely on intelligent readers to know -- and I think that at the Atlantic Monthly, every intelligent reader can tell what the difference is," he replied. "I tried to describe the mainstream of Montgomery County and the mainstream of Franklin County. They're both diverse places, and any generalization is going to have exceptions. But I was trying to capture the difference between the two places," he said. "You've obviously come at this from a perspective. I don't think if you went to the two places you wouldn't detect a cultural difference."

I asked him about Blue America as a bastion of illegal immigrants. "This is dishonest research. You're not approaching the piece in the spirit of an honest reporter," he said. "Is this how you're going to start your career? I mean, really, doing this sort of piece? I used to do 'em, I know 'em, how one starts, but it's just something you'll mature beyond."

I shared with him some more of my research, and asked how he made his observations. On NASCAR name recognition: "My experience going around to people that I know in urban metro areas is a lot of them can't name five NASCAR ... but that's a joke." On Spa Lady locations: "I think that's the type of place where people would get the joke and get the reference." On whether Blue Americans read more books: "That would be interesting, but one goes by one's life experiences."

"What I try to do is describe the character of places, and hopefully things will ring true to people," Brooks explained. "In most cases, I think the way I describe it does ring true, and in some places it doesn't ring true. If you were describing a person, you would try to grasp the essential character and in some way capture them in a few words. And if you do it as a joke, there's a pang of recognition."

By holding himself to a rings-true standard, Brooks acknowledges that all he does is present his readers with the familiar and ask them to recognize it. Why, then, has his particular brand of stereotype-peddling met with such success? In recent years, American journalism has reacted to the excesses of New Journalism -- narcissism, impressionism, preening subjectivity -- by adopting the trappings of scholarship. Trend pieces, once a bastion of three-examples-and-out superficiality, now strive for the authority of dissertations. Former Times editor Howell Raines famously defended page-one placement for a piece examining Britney Spears's flailing career by describing it as a "sophisticated exegesis of sociological phenomenon." The headline writer's favorite word is "deconstructing." (Last year, the Toronto Star deconstructed a sausage.) Richard Florida, a Carnegie Mellon demographer whose 2002 book The Rise of the Creative Class earned Bobos-like mainstream cachet, nostalgizes an era when readers looked to academia for such insights:

"You had Holly Whyte, who got Jane Jacobs started, Daniel Bell, David Riesman, Galbraith. This is what we're missing; this is a gap," Florida says. "Now you have David Brooks as your sociologist, and Al Franken and Michael Moore as your political scientists. Where is the serious public intellectualism of a previous era? It's the failure of social science to be relevant enough to do it."

This culture shift has rewarded Brooks, who translates echt nerd appearance (glasses, toothy grin, blue blazer) and intellectual bearing into journalistic credibility, which allows him to take amusing dinner-party chatter -- Was that map an electoral-college breakdown or a marketing plan for Mighty Aphrodite? -- and sell it to editors as well-argued wisdom on American society. Brooks satisfies the features desk's appetite for scholarly authority in much the same way that Jayson Blair fed the newsroom's compulsion for scoops.

There's even a Brooksian explanation for why he has become so popular with the East Coast media elite. Blue Americans have heard so much about Red America, and they've always wanted to see it. But Blue Americans don't take vacations to places like Galveston and Dubuque. They like to watch TV shows like The Simpsons and Roseanne, where Red America is mocked by either cartoon characters or Red Americans themselves, so Blue Americans don't need to feel guilty of condescension. Blue Americans are above redneck jokes, but they will listen if a sociologist attests to the high density of lawnbound-appliances-per-capita in flyover country. They need someone to show them how the other half lives, because there is nothing like sympathy for backwardness to feed elitism. A wrong turn in Red America can be dangerous: They might accidentally find Jesus or be hit by an 18-wheeler. It seems reasonable to seek out a smart-looking fellow who seems to know the way and has a witty line at every point. Blue Americans always travel with a guide. b

E-mail: sissenberg@phillymag.com

Originally published in Philadelphia magazine, April 2004

http://www.phillymag.com/articles/booboos_in_paradise/

Friday, December 21, 2007

David Brooks, Neuroendocrinologist

David Brooks, Neuroendocrinologist

by Mark Liberman

Having digested Leonard Sax on "the emerging science of sex differences", David Brooks has been continuing his education in neuroscience by reading Louann Brizendine's The Female Brain ("Is Chemistry Destiny?" 9/17/2006):

These sorts of stark sex differences were once highly controversial, and not fit for polite conversation. And some feminists still argue that talking about biological differences between the sexes is akin to talking about biological differences between the races. But Brizendine’s feminist bona fides are unquestionable. And in my mostly liberal urban circle — and among this book’s reviewers — almost everybody takes big biological differences as a matter of course.

Without too much debate or even awareness, there has been a gigantic shift in how people think human behavior is formed.
... In the 1950’s, the common view was that humans begin as nearly blank slates and that behavior is learned through stimulus and response. ...

But now the prevailing view is that brain patterns were established during the millenniums when humans were hunters and gatherers, and we live with the consequences.


This is all true, as a picture of social trends in scientific (and popular) attitudes. But maintaining the 1950s "blank slate" orthodoxy required true believers to ignore mountains of contrary evidence, and the emerging "hard-wired" creed has exactly the same problem.

In my opinion, the most important insight in this area right now is Deena Skolnick's demonstration of the power of neuroscience to cloud people's minds. She took explanations of psychological phenomena that had been crafted to be "awful", and which (in their plain form) were recognized as bad both by novices and by experts, and added some (totally irrelevant) sentences about brain anatomy and physiology. With the added neuroscientific distraction, the bad explanations were perceived as satisfactory ones. [Update 6/6/2007: the paper has now been published, and is discussed here. ]

Brooks' conclusion:

Consciousness has come to be seen as this relatively weak driver, riding atop an organ, the brain, it scarcely understands. ...

Once radicals dreamed of new ways of living, but now happiness seems to consist of living in harmony with the patterns that nature and evolution laid down long, long ago.


Again, this is true as a description of an intellectual trend. But let's be careful to keep the political agendas and the scientific evidence from getting tangled. The science in this area is complex and equivocal (or more exactly, it offers unequivocal evidence for a complex interaction of genetic and environmental effects), and there's a long tradition of overinterpretation and misrepresentation on all sides of the issue, which recent works have maintained to a high degree. In addition, the connections between what is "natural" and what is "moral" -- between what comes easy to our species and how we decide we should live -- are not simple ones for any of us, and especially not for cultural conservatives like David Brooks and me. (Well, at least I'm a member of one of the most conservative cultures in the history of the planet, contemporary American academics.)

http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/003586.html

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Decline of Classic Rock = Rise of Tom Tancredo

From the Paladin of the Palisades:


Brooksie's "The Segmented Society" column in Nov 20 times is choice. A
new hi-lo in classic Brooks column blueprint #1: Armchair sociology.

Hi-Lolites

1. DB's signature anecdotal fieldwork featuring celebrity tiresome half
hippie windbag guitarist Little Steven Van Zandt.

2. Column pivot point: "He describes a musical culture that has lost
touch with its common roots. And as he speaks, I hear the echoes of
thousands of other interviews concerning dozens of other spheres."

"It seems that whatever story I cover, people are anxious about
fragmentation and longing for cohesion. This is the driving fear behind
the inequality and immigration debates, behind worries of polarization
and behind the entire Obama candidacy."

3. Conclusion drawn - Death of classic rock = Tom Tancredo

4. Favorite quote as he weaves this magical thought crapestry: "
Computers allow musicians to produce a broader range of sounds."

Perhaps Davy can use computers to produce a written version of the
broader range of sounds - the printed equivalent of the dog whistle.