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Libertarian women’s history month: Virginia Postrel

26 Mar

Virginia Inman Postrel (born January 14, 1960 – ) is an American political and cultural writer of broadly libertarian views who was the editor of reason magazine during the 1990s.

She is best known for her non-fiction books, The Future and Its Enemies and The Substance of Style. In the former she explains her philosophy, “dynamism,” a forward-looking and change-seeking philosophy that generally favors unregulated organization through “spontaneous order“. She contrasts it with “stasis“, a philosophy that favors top-down control and regulation and is marked by desire to maintain the present state of affairs. In November 2013, she published a third book, The Power of Glamour, which defined glamour as “nonverbal rhetoric” that “leads us to feel that the life we dream of exists, and to desire it even more.”  (It would be interesting if Postrel had returned to reason to do its recent interview with Camille Paglia, given her research interests.)

Virginia Inman was born and raised in Greenville, South Carolina. Her father was an engineer and her mother was a homemaker who later went on to get her masters degree and teach at the college level. Virginia went on to college at Princeton University, graduating in 1982 with a degree in English Literature.

Postrel was editor of Reason from July 1989 to January 2000, and remained on the masthead as editor-at-large through 2001. Her writing has been attacked by paleo-libertarian Justin Raimondo and praised by Objectivist philosopher Diana Hsieh.  She hired editor Nick Gillespie, her successor at reason.  Prior to that, she was a reporter for Inc. and the Wall Street Journal. She currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). From 2000 to 2006, she wrote an economics column for the New York Times and from 2006 to 2009 she wrote the “Commerce and Culture” column for The Atlantic. She also appeared on the last episode of the third season of Pennand Teller‘s Bullshit!.

Postrel wrote the biweekly column “Commerce & Culture” for the Wall Street Journal until April 2011. Since May 2011, she has written a biweekly column foR Bloomberg News.

Postrel has written several articles on health care and bioethics, including accounts of her own experiences.  In March 2006 Postrel donated a kidney to an acquaintance, writer Sally Satel. She has recounted the experience, and referred to it in several subsequent articles and blog posts—many of which are critical of legal prohibitions against compensating organ donors. In some of these pieces she discusses strategies for working around these restrictions, such as organ donor transplant chains.
In her March 2009 article “My Drug Problem” in The Atlantic, Postrel wrote about her own experience of being treated for breast cancer with the expensive drug Herceptin.  She questioned if such a costly treatment would be available to others and if the risky research that makes such innovative treatments possible would be profitable under proposed health care reforms in the United States.

Postrel has also referred to her experience as a cancer patient in her writing about the importance of design aesthetics in hospitals, and the competitive forces that drive them to create more attractive environments for patients. This ties into the thesis of her second book—that beauty is more than simply a superficial, frivolous trait, and can go more than skin deep. Notions of beauty and desirability—and thoughts on what makes good design good beyond the needs of sound engineering—inform her work at the “Deep Glamour” blog.

On December 10, 2013, Postrel was criticized by The Colbert Report for an opinion article she wrote for titled, “Who Needs a Raise When You Have TV?”

Libertarian women’s history month: Edith Efron

20 Mar
Edith Efron (1922 – April 20, 2001) was an American journalist and author, who first identified media bias and the way biased media coverage amounts to a major unexamined and privileged political donation from powerful corporations that own the mainstream media.
Graduating from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, where she studied under journalist John Chamberlain, her career began as a writer for the New York Times Magazine. In 1947, she married a Haitian businessman, with whom she had a child. After living in Haiti and working as a Central America correspondent for Time and Life magazines, she divorced and returned to New York City where she worked on the staff of television journalist Mike Wallace. After her return to New York, she also became part of Ayn Rand‘s circle, contributed to Rand’s magazine, The Objectivist, and presented a lecture series on non-fiction writing at the Nathaniel Branden Institute in the 1960s, although (as you can see in this series often happened), the two women later parted ways.

Former reason editor Virginia Postrel recounted Efron’s early career:  “Edith began her journalism career in the waning days of World War II, when a newly minted female graduate of Columbia Journalism School could still get a job at The New York Times Magazine. As the magazine was warning readers that “career women” would be unwanted by postwar businesses and shouldn’t waste their time studying science or math, young Edith reported on such topics as peacetime conversion in a Connecticut town and whether mustered-out servicemen would be looking for colorful fashions once they escaped their uniforms. (They were conformists above all, she concluded, ready to wear purple and green but only if everyone else did.) Her report on bare-legged women is classic enough to appear on a Smithsonian history site.
“She had stories about all sorts of New York movers and shakers: how Alan Greenspan used to come and go from Ayn Rand’s circle “as if he were going to a secret mistress,” how those who worked for Mike Wallace worried about his depression (Edith was a staff writer for his show in the late ’50s), how she once got into a knock-down-drag-out argument with Irving Kristol in which she accused him of ‘telling young people to believe in ghosts.’ (Edith was a third-generation atheist.)”

She became a writer and, later, a senior editor of the widely circulated TV Guide magazine in the 1960s and 1970s, where she wrote celebrity profiles, political columns and editorials. In the 1970s, she was also ghostwriter for former Secretary of the Treasury William E. Simon‘s book A Time For Truth. In her editorials for TV Guide, Efron criticized what she saw as liberal bias in the media, and she defended politicians Barry Goldwater, and Ronald Reagan. Efron and other columnists writing in TV Guide like Kevin Phillips and Pat Buchanan advocated the elimination of the Fairness Doctrine by the Federal Communications Commission, in order to permit alternative viewpoints greater access to the airwaves. The FCC would remove the policy in the late 1980s.

In their 1993 history of TV GuideChanging Channels: America in TV GuideCornell professors Glenn C. Altschuler and David I. Grossvogel have stated that “no writer…did more to shape TV Guide,” a publication that reached over 40 million readers at the time. Her impact on the magazine, they said, included her role as “the quintessential TV Guide voice on race relations.”

All the positions she took on race in her articles, Efron told us, “were determined by what I thought would be good for a young, vulnerable black child.” Disturbed by the changing strategies toward achieving racial equality in the sixties, Efron remained the same on her position: “Always, I was in favor of equality of opportunity and meritocracy. Meaning, among other things, that I was as critical of crap from blacks as I was from whites, and used the same standards to judge both. That is the definition of not being a racist. One judges individuals, not their color!!!” Thus, Efron was as passionate about black power as she was about theories positing the genetic inferiority of blacks because each accepted the group instead of the individual as the appropriate unit of analysis and action: “Essentially I was always protecting my child from two kinds of racism: the bestial kind common in the South and the inverted kind characteristic of the North. Both contempt for all blacks and glamorization of all blacks are detestable, and both damage blacks.”

In 1971, Efron published The News Twisters, a controversial book which claimed to find media bias in the television news coverage of the 1968 U.S. presidential election, one of the first studies of its kind ever conducted.  The reviewer in Commentary summed up the originality of her project:  “The Fairness Doctrine was established by the FCC in 1949, replacing an earlier policy which had outlawed any partisan commentary by broadcasters altogether. In it the Commission encouraged the presentation of controversial public issues on the air—provided that approximately equal coverage was given to each side of each issue. The doctrine does not require that every broadcast, or even a series of broadcasts in the same time-slot, be balanced . It is sufficient if the “overall” coverage is balanced. Nevertheless, the principle is intuitively appealing: nonpartisanship requires balanced coverage; somehow that is common sense.

It is the second distinction—and another brilliant stroke—of Efron’s book that she took this principle literally. Fair coverage requires equal coverage? Very well, she says, let us measure. Using three tape recorders, a typist, and a grant from something called the Historical Research Foundation (which seems to be, at least in part, a subsidiary of that well-known conservative conglomerate, William F. Buckley, Jr.), Efron transcribed, classified, and counted the words each network devoted to the topics she was studying. She classified the words into pro– and anti-, and calculated the ratio between them. The results of this process, a primitive version of the professional social-scientist’s technique of content analysis, are what gives her book its impact. They are devastating. If her figures are to be believed, the evening news programs of all three networks broadcast, during the period of her study, 2,125 words in favor of an American bombing halt in North Vietnam, and only 348 words against. Her figures show 7,296 words in favor of black militants and 3,271 against. And they show that while coverage of Hubert Humphrey was almost equally balanced at 8,458 words pro– and 8,307 words anti-, coverage of Richard Nixon was 1,620 words pro– and 17,027 words anti-, an incredible anti-Nixon ratio of over 10 to 1.

Twisters, was followed by her 1972 work, How CBS Tried to Kill a Book, an examination of CBS News’s reaction to her study.  Efron was the original Media Research Center or Bernie Goldberg, before there were VCRs and other recording devices to easily measure biased coverage, and before there was the internet or The O’Reilly Factor to publicize the discovery.  She is the Columbus of the phenomena of media bias.

She was a contributing editor to reason magazine from the 1970s until her death in 2001, where she wrote psychological studies of former President Bill Clinton and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. The latter prompted Justice Thomas to declare that Efron had been the “only person” to understand what was going through his mind during the hearings that made him a household name, according to Virginia Postrel.
In 1984, Efron published The Apocalyptics, described as “an expose of shoddy science and its effects on environmental policy,” which systematically examined the regulatory “science” behind the banning of chemicals in consumer products, debunking the alleged “cancer epidemic” claimed to exist by many in the media.

Virginia Postrel returns to reason January 28

18 Jan
RSVP here:

Join FIRE at Reason’s DC headquarters to meet columnist and author Virginia Postrel, who will sign copies of her new book, ‘The Power of Glamour: Longing and the Art of Visual Persuasion.’ Virginia is a regular columnist for ‘Bloomberg View’ as well as a former Reason magazine editor in chief and a current FIRE board member. She’s been called “a master D.J. who sequences the latest riffs from the hard sciences, the social sciences, business, and technology, to name only a few sources.” Copies of her book will be available for purchase.

Reason will also give FIRE a big “Welcome to DC!” shout-out, as we are setting up our first-ever satellite office in the District. Come out, enjoy some food and drinks, and join in the fun!