Saturday, July 09, 2005

Bathing suit anarchy

Now for something frivolous.

It's summer, although the weather here is back in its "Seattle in winter" mode. But I'm planning a trip to California, so yesterday I went off to get a bathing suit.

It's been a few years since I've engaged in that always-entertaining activity . I discovered that, while I was coasting on my old suits, the world of swimwear has undergone what you might call a sea-change. And I found it to be a very confusing one.

This time not only did I wrestle with that age-old confrontation between the ideal and the real, but I found that I don't even understand the bathing suits of today.

Now, I consider myself a fairly intelligent person. I try to follow fashion enough to make it seem as though I haven't given up on the whole endeavor. But these bathing suits had me stumped.

It used to be that there were two kinds: one-piece and two piece. Each had some variations on the theme, but the basic theme was clear. The two pieces of the two-piece ones, for example, were together on a little hanger, so you could see what went with what. The one-pieces came in two basic types--the maximal cover-up (skirted and trussed and rather formidable) and the non-maximal.

But now it seems that chaos has taken over. Two-piece suits are now sold piece by piece, like food at a very expensive restaurant with an all a la carte menu, or a sushi bar. It's hard to understand what these pieces are--there are little shorts, for example, and long tops that seem to not quite meet those shorts, exposing what is no doubt supposed to be a boardlike midsection. There are things that could be put together to be bikinis, if one could find the bottoms that matched the tops. There are the large skirted cover-ups. But where, oh where, are the regular one-pieces, the ones I'm looking for? Few and far between (and rather ugly, I might add). And most of them seem to be geared for a figure type with which I'm not too familiar--the long-torsoed woman.

Now, I've been around long enough to have heard women complaining in almost every way about their bodies. It just might be our favorite sport. But somehow I haven't ever heard too many complaints about long torsos. Perhaps it's because I don't know a lot of 5"11" models. My guess is that, unless these women wear bikinis (which they no doubt usually do), they have a terrible time with their long torsos, poor dears. So my local Filene's and Macy's have decided to make sure that they will have a plethora of one-piece bathing suits from which to choose. As for the rest of us--well, we'll muddle along, as we always have. And yes, I finally managed to find a bathing suit to buy, and it was even on sale. But don't think it was easy.


At 3:16 PM, July 09, 2005, Blogger Pancho said...

Yes I can see that it is much easier for we men of the world...we Bubba's.

I have one pair of nylon all purpose shorts that I use for walking/running, yard work and yes..swimming. One pair suits all. Much to the chagrin of The Bride.

At 3:25 PM, July 09, 2005, Blogger T J Olson said...

Dear Neo-Neocon-

The following bibliographical essay was inspired by your post in the series about changing minds.

I would email this, but since I don't do popmail, I have no other war to share it than through posting.

Perhaps you'd care to edit it and post it as a guest entry? Feel free to do with as you wish - or contact me for a pdf or MSWord copy (since blogger obliterates all the spacing and italics below).

-Orson Olson
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Dear Neo-Neocon:

It’s good of you to see the Fall of Communism as the most significant event between the Vietnam War and 9/11. Indeed, it was the defining (if protracted) moment of our lives since World War II.

Historians rank the Nineteenth Century as a “long” one, but the Twentieth, short – only 1914 to 1990, WWI to the Fall. The prescient question is ‘if this could happen, how can we trust the authorities, who ought to know?’ Certainly the CIA didn’t. Yet this epic outcome goes unnoticed by the left, as if it were irrelevant to their program, goals, and ideals. (A brief exposition of why this matters at:

Reagan, along with Pope John Paul II and Mikhail Gorbachev, may well have determined “the when?”- but “the why?” belongs to the long forgotten debate over economic calculation inaugurated by the Great Austrian economist, Ludwig Von Mises after WWI.
Mises original article, which preceded his book “Socialism” (1922).
The question of whether centralized economic planning could occur without private property was long thought answered when Polish economist Oskar Lange proposed “indicative planning” as its solution in the 1930s, But forgotten in the frenzy was the fact that this “solution” depended upon the existence of private property exchange elsewhere, until the Fall revived a re-examination.

Even the MIT Nobel Laureate in economics, Paul Samuelson, straight up through the 12th edition of his bestselling textbook Economics in 1985, confidently predicted that the Soviet Union would soon surpass the US in GDP: “The planned Soviet economy since 1928 ... has outpaced the long-term growth of the major market economies." Mark Skousen writes, “Samuelson still believed the Soviet Union had growth rates exceeding the U.S., Japan and Germany.” But Samuelson was merely a typical American liberal. The course of his canonical academic folly over fifty years is authoritatively tracked here: and popularly summarized here
But best of all for the general reader is University of California, Santa Barbara, political scientist Alan Ebenstein’s expose from 2003, “The Poverty of Samuelson’s Economics.”

As J M Keynes famously put it:

"The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both
when they are right and when they are wrong, are more
powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed, the world is
ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to
be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually
the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority,
who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from
some academic scribbler of a few years back... Sooner or
later, it is ideas, not vested interests, which are dangerous
for good or evil."

The list of those explicitly expecting the Fall of Communism is rather short. In addition to Ludwig Von Mises, we count the 1976 Nobel Laureate Friedrich Von Hayek, who influenced Reagan and Thatcher – himself a student of Mises. Prominent from a younger generation of informed skeptics is economist Paul Craig Roberts who served in the Treasury Department under Reagan. Still topical is his brief book Meltdown: Inside The Soviet Economy (1990, co-authored with Karen Lafollette). His contribution to the Fall of Communism and the socialist calculation debate is similarly short, but more theoretical: Alienation and the Soviet economy: The Collapse of the Socialist Era, (1971, rev. ed. 1999). Originally, Roberts created a firestorm among professional Sovietologists by proclaiming that the economies of the USSR and its East Bloc allies were doomed because their "planned" economies were, in reality, anything but planned.

Recently, Roberts concludes: “The academic study of the Soviet economy was unsuccessful.” Even as the CIA gave Congress estimates of annual Soviet economic growth in excess of 2%, Gorbachev had told the Central Committee of the Communist Party that except for oil exports and vodka sales, the Soviet economy had not grown for twenty years
(“My Time With Soviet Economics,” The Independent Review, Fall 2002.)

One of the most important honest socialists is the late Robert Heilbroner, who confronted the implications of communism’s collapse head-on: "Less than 75 years after it officially began, the contest between capitalism and socialism is over: capitalism has won... Capitalism organizes the material affairs of humankind more satisfactorily than socialism." (The New Yorker, April 1989.) His paperback history of economic thought, The Worldly Philosophers, has educated several generations about the subject. Heilbroner’s obituary, January 2005, by David Boaz: ***Heilbronner’s short encyclopedia entry on “Socialism” is required reading ***

By contrast, read this excerpt from a 1978 essay in Dissent by Heilbroner and consider how far from this casual endorsement of brutality the man comes (four paragraphs below):

"Socialism...must depend for its economic direction on some form of planning, and for its culture on some form of commitment to the idea of a morally conscious collectivity....

"If tradition cannot, and the market system should not, underpin the socialist order, we are left with some form of command as the necessary means for securing its continuance and adaptation. Indeed, that is what planning means...

" The factories and stores and farms and shops of a socialist socioeconomic formation must be coordinated...and this coordination must entail obedience to a central plan...

"The rights of individuals to their Millian liberties [are] directly opposed to the basic social commitment to a deliberately embraced collective moral goal... Under socialism, every dissenting voice raises a threat similar to that raised under a democracy by those who preach antidemocracy."

Thus, the individual must be sacrificed for the good of the collective. Few socialists outside the Communist Party are willing to acknowledge that real socialism means trading our "Millian liberties" for the purported good of economic planning and "a morally conscious collectivity." But the price is horrendous and inhumane.
See the exhaustive comparative political analysis Death By Government, R J Rummel, 1994
A vauluable segue from the death count of actually existing Communism to today’s Bush foreign policy is found in this overview of democratic peace theory,

So, where does one go for enlightenment about this eventful, historic transition – the Fall of Communism?

Daniel Yergin’s The Commanding Heights (1998) is a thorough run through of political economics of the twentieth century. But much more vivid and briefer is ***Robert Skidelsky’s The Road From Serfdom: The Political and Economic Consequences of The end of Communism (1996)*** – the title itself a play on Hayek’s 1944 warning against central economic planning, The Road To Serfdom. It made Hayek made an academic pariah – but it became Margaret Thatcher’s totemic authority for de-nationalizing socialist Great Britain in order to revitalize her.

Suited for everyone’s educational entertainment is the riveting ***PBS documentary, “The Commanding Heights” (updated May 2003:*** In six hours it covers the battle of economic ideas, the reformist right from Thatcher and Reagan forward, and the disruptive dynamics of globalization. Your public library ought to have a copy, but you can also buy it yourself for about $25 at Highly recommended.
This web page presents a useful time line of relevant events

What are the vital implications of the problem of economic calculation under socialism? The late economist Murray Rothbard pointed out that the Fall of Communism demonstrates that the fear of run-away corporate growth – a central contention of the Left through most of the Twentieth Century - is wrong: if a company grows too big, so long as voluntary exchange is observed, inefficiencies will doom it to rivalry. We see this today with Microsoft and its battle with Linux for the computer operating system market, which the formers old menace IBM now champions. This reinforces the primacy of property and the rule of law. See

Another implication is important for political strategists and the future of the Democratic Party’s revival. Before the Fall of Communism, ideas on the Left predominantly flowed from the East, westward. Since then, according to political scientist Paul Gottfried – a self-described “right-wing Marxist” – whether one looks at English, French, German, Italian, or Spanish politics in the 1990s, the direction of influence in electoral politics has reversed. Clinton and other Democratic Party successes in the US has shaped Euro-left intellectual, political, and electoral developments. The Fall of Communism has fundamentally reshaped the debate in the Left – but self-consciously, it has yet to come to terms with this fundamental falsifying fact. (See Paul Gottfried’s forthcoming The Strange Death of Marxism: The European Left in The New Millennium, due out in September 2005.)

The new standard account of socialism is Joshua Muravchik’s Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism (2002). At around 400 pages, this surveys the course of an ideal through its major players – a sensible and compelling approach. But to my mind, it’s rather weak on the causes of the “Fall” of Communism.

Much more concise and rewarding, albeit less steeped in a multitude of details, is ***Tom Bethell’s The Noblest Triumph, (1998).*** Although this is a rollicking account of the rise of the New Institutional economics and the rediscovery of property rights as an essential element of human progress in history – something socialism placed into dangerous ill-repute - the relevant chapters on the Fall, amounting to about one-third of the text, contain hugely stimulating lessons advancing our understanding of the dangers of triumphant ideology and faithful idealism against un-refracted reality.

Two works develop the intellectual history and practical implications of the Fall of Communism. Sociologist David Ramsey Steele, like Harvard philosopher Robert Nozick, was mugged by the reality of capitalist arguments against socialism. Thus, he became an ex-Marxist, and gives a fulsome history of the economic planning and calculation debate in From Marx To Mises: Post-Capitalist Society and The Challenge of Economic Calculatiion, (1986). The implications of this historic debate for policy is fleshed out in the overlooked Prosperity Versus Planning: How Government Stifles Economic Growth, by the late David Osterfeld (1992).

Lastly, there are two historical works by Harvard’s Richard Pipes. First, Communism: A Brief History, (2001), described as a “concise tour de force” and “a wonderful primer on a topic whose importance is difficult to overstate.” At around 160 pages, this great historian focuses mostly on the Soviet Union’s origin, course and passing, covering Marist-Leninism’s impact elsewhere only briefly. Second, Freedom and Property. Only for those motivated by the subject into depth and detail, this rich intellectual history compliments and completes Tom Bethell’s journalistic account above.

[***best for starters***]

At 5:48 PM, July 09, 2005, Blogger junebee said...

I'm long-torsoed but I'm surely no model. I had luck in the past finding bathing suits at Marshalls, Ross Dress-for-Less, etc. I'll see if it holds out, I'm up for another one soon.

At 6:13 PM, July 09, 2005, Blogger Pancho said...

You indeed have a grand blog. Where else could women's swimsuit fashion talk engender such a fine essay on the fall of communisim!

At 8:50 PM, July 09, 2005, Blogger goesh said...

I have no expertise/knowlege/insight into women's fashion. If my wife asks me if I like something she has on or is wanting to buy, I always say yes. I don't have a clue about any of it. I really don't. Well, I don't think hefty women should wear those low slung, belly-showing jeans and have rolls of fat hanging over the sides and front and back. That is maybe more common sense than fashion insight.

At 9:39 PM, July 09, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Accidental traveller - found you on a whim of free movement through "blogger!" You age relates and the apple guy needs turned around is my flickr icon! Someone over 50 has some meaning also. Left the left in a bigger way maybe!?

At 10:04 PM, July 09, 2005, Blogger jaed said...

NOTICE: Models are not the only women who have problems with long torsos! One-pieces ride up and tankinis don't meet between top and bottom. For those of us with boardlike abs, this latter is of course no problem, but for the other 99.8% of women....

At 9:44 AM, July 10, 2005, Blogger Charlie Martin said...

Try Lands End. I don't wear women's suits (you ever tried to find one for a 52in chest with an AA cup? ;-) but they have a lot of plausible looking suits and make an effort to fit nearly everyone.

At 9:54 AM, July 10, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks very much for publishing Olson's essay. It is very imformative and should be a great help to anyone wanting to read on these events.
Also, at 5 feet, finding a bathing suit has alway been a problem since I outgrew two piece sets. Surgeries and children will do that to a woman.

At 10:02 AM, July 10, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You might want to consider, for next year, the J Crew Catalogue. or store, if you live near one. They always have some nice one-piece suits in good colors.
One is strapless, which might work for your longer torso? I am about your age and even though I was once a fashion designer, I too have less patience for shopping than I used to, esp for things like bathing suits. Good luck!

At 10:09 AM, July 10, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

on review, I see you are not familiar with the long torso-ed body. oops.
so much the better. J Crew has 9 simple one-piece suits.

At 11:56 AM, July 10, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

terryt: Thanks, but I can't buy bathing suits without trying them on, I'm afraid. My ratio of suits tried on to suits purchased is about 100 to 1, so if I used mail order the shipping alone would put me out of business :-).

T J Olson: I took a quick look at your essay. It seems very informative--I may, later on when I get some time, try to edit it and post it in some way. Thanks!

At 4:07 PM, July 10, 2005, Blogger Judith said...

Ditto for Land's End, also Eddie Bauer. They understand the fuller figures of mature women. J Crew is for skinny college students.

Personally, tankinis have been a Godsend for me. I get the flexibility of a bikini and many models do cover my flabby abs.

And I like the fact that you can mix and match tops and bottoms.

At 4:08 PM, July 10, 2005, Blogger Judith said...

I would try Eddie Bauer for now since they have stores all over. But check out Land's End end of season sales. You still save a lot of money even if you have to ship back the rejects.

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