Jill Lepore looks at the problem of defining intellectual property when it comes to what young girls should play with: “The feud between Barbie and Bratz occupies the narrow space between thin lines: between fashion and porn, between originals and copies, and between toys for girls and rights for women.”
Jill Lepore revisits the legacy of Benjamin Franklin, who in his time was “the most accomplished and famous American who had ever lived.”
Jill Lepore searches for the longest book ever written.
Jill Lepore explores the privacy arguments in the Supreme Court that defined reproductive rights versus the equality arguments that defined the fight for gay marriage.
The little-known story behind Wonder Woman’s origins.
Jill Lepore’s critical look at the language of innovation in tech:
Clay Christensen has compared the theory of disruptive innovation to a theory of nature: the theory of evolution. But among the many differences between disruption and evolution is that the advocates of disruption have an affinity for circular arguments. If an established company doesn’t disrupt, it will fail, and if it fails it must be because it didn’t disrupt. When a startup fails, that’s a success, since epidemic failure is a hallmark of disruptive innovation. (“Stop being afraid of failure and start embracing it,” the organizers of FailCon, an annual conference, implore, suggesting that, in the era of disruption, innovators face unprecedented challenges. For instance: maybe you made the wrong hires?) When an established company succeeds, that’s only because it hasn’t yet failed. And, when any of these things happen, all of them are only further evidence of disruption.
Our expectations with regard to privacy and secrecy. In 1844, the British government was accused of opening people’s mail. Lepore compares the case to the NSA’s alleged digging into our digital lives:
“The particular technology matters little; the axiom holds. It’s only a feature, though, of a centuries-long historical transformation: the secularization of mystery. A mystery, in Christian theology, is what God knows and man cannot, and must instead believe. Immortality, in this sense, is a mystery. So is the beginning of life, which is a good illustration of how much that was once mysterious became secret and then became private. Anciently invoked as one of God’s mysteries, the beginning of life was studied, by anatomists, as the ‘secret of generation.’ Finally, citizens, using the language of a constitutional ‘right to privacy,’ defended it against intrusion. Theologically, the beginning of life, the ensoulment of new flesh, remains a mystery. Empirically, uncovering the secret of generation required tools—microscopes, lenses, cameras—that made the creation of life both visible and knowable. Only after it was no longer a mystery, and no longer a secret, only after it was no longer invisible, did it become private. By then, it was too late: contraception was already in the hands of the state.”
A history of America’s military spending:
“If any arms manufacturer today holds what Eisenhower called ‘unwarranted influence,’ it is Lockheed Martin. The firm’s contracts with the Pentagon amount to some thirty billion dollars annually, as William D. Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, reports in his book ‘Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex’ (Nation). Today, Lockheed Martin spends fifteen million dollars a year on lobbying efforts and campaign contributions. The company was the single largest contributor to Buck McKeon’s last campaign. (Lockheed Martin has a major R. & D. center in McKeon’s congressional district.) This patronage hardly distinguishes McKeon from his colleagues on Capitol Hill. Lockheed Martin contributed to the campaigns of nine of the twelve members of the Supercommittee, fifty-one of the sixty-two members of the House Armed Services Committee, twenty-four of the twenty-five members of that committee’s Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces—in all, to three hundred and eighty-six of the four hundred and thirty-five members of the 112th Congress.”
The early days of the political consulting business—starting with Upton Sinclair’s failed run for California governor in the 1930s and the opposition work of Clem Whitaker and Leone Baxter:
“Whitaker and Baxter weren’t just inventing new techniques; they were writing a rule book. Never lobby; woo voters instead. ‘Our conception of practical politics is that if you have a sound enough case to convince the folks back home, you don’t have to buttonhole the Senator,’ Baxter explained. Make it personal: candidates are easier to sell than issues. If your position doesn’t have an opposition, or if your candidate doesn’t have an opponent, invent one. Once, when fighting an attempt to recall the mayor of San Francisco, Whitaker and Baxter waged a campaign against the Faceless Man—the idea was Baxter’s—who might end up replacing him. Baxter drew a picture, on a tablecloth, of a fat man with a cigar poking out from beneath a face hidden by a hat, and then had him plastered on billboards all over the city, with the question ‘Who’s Behind the Recall?’ Pretend that you are the Voice of the People. Whitaker and Baxter bought radio ads, sponsored by ‘the Citizens Committee Against the Recall,’ in which an ominous voice said, ‘The real issue is whether the City Hall is to be turned over, lock, stock, and barrel, to an unholy alliance fronting for a faceless man.’ (The recall was defeated.) Attack, attack, attack. Whitaker said, ‘You can’t wage a defensive campaign and win!'”
Crying constitution is a minor American art form. “This is my copy of the Constitution,” John Boehner, the Speaker of the House, said at a Tea Party rally in Ohio last year, holding up a pocket-size pamphlet. “And I’m going to stand here with the Founding Fathers, who wrote in the preamble, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ ” Not to nitpick, but this is not the preamble to the Constitution. It is the second sentence of the Declaration of Independence.