ZERO TOLERANCE WATCH

The Wall Street Journal Online has a splendid series of webnotes tracking stupid zero-tolerance efforts against normal school-kid shenanigans across the country, like playing with toy guns and the crime of playing while male. But they should add a new item from their own news pages. The Journal reports today (sorry, there’s no free link) that the Bush administration has decided to rigorously enforce a provision in a 1998 education spending authorization bill that denies any federal education aid for anyone with a prior drug conviction. Mere possession of tiny amounts of weed will bar you from any federal aid for college. Now, you can commit any other sort of crime and still qualify. You can even murder someone and still get some federal aid in prison for rehabilitative education. But recreational drug use? Nuh-uh. This strikes me as particularly stupid even if you like the ‘war on drugs,’ since it actually prevents rehabilitation. Former drug-users who want to remake their lives are barred from federal help. Is this a good signal? Even the original sponsor of the provision wants it reversed. “The last thing I want to do is reach back and punish” applicants with prior records, Rep. Mark Souder told the Journal. “That’s like saying, ‘Once a criminal, always a criminal.'” Amen. But does the former drug-user who is now president of the United States care about this? Or is he the only one to get federal help in his rehabilitation?

CORRECTIONS AND AMPLIFICATIONS DEPT: The great thing about the web is that your thinking can change or alter and it’s ok to admit this. I’m especially grateful to all of you who keep telling me I’m full of it by email. Every now and then, you’re even right. Three small things: I think it’s pretty clear that grade inflation, while a long-term phenomenon, went into warp drive in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and although affirmative action might have something to do with it, the Vietnam War is almost certainly the biggest factor. No professor wanted to flunk students into the draft. Similarly, a small clarification on gay pride events. I shouldn’t have been so dismissive. There’s a legitimate reason for gays, especially in beleaguered towns and cities, to want to march in public – to demonstrate pride, freedom, self-respect. What concerns me is that the exhibitionism inherent in any march focused on sexual orientation tends to make what should be private public and do more harm than good. I’d defend any drag queen or leather-dyke marching down the high street, but to turn around and then ask civil protection on the grounds of our interchangeability with straights is surely a confused message. Mercifully, many such parades are morphing into less exhibitionist displays, featuring church groups, parents’ groups, charity organizations and the like. And some more generic carnival-type parades, in which sexual exhibitionism, gay and straight, is celebrated, have taken over some of the functions of the old gay pride marches. So things are improving. The point is that cultural celebration and political advocacy are two separate enterprises. And mixing them may do harm to both. One last point. My loose phrasing of the term “anti-Semitic Gospels” was unfortunate. There’s little doubt that some of the Gospel writers were keen to distinguish Christians from other Jews in the battle for legitimacy in the Roman empire. But this effort was later interpreted for more curdely anti-Semitic ends. To speak of anti-Semitism in terms of the earliest Christian church is an anachronism. I thought I was being cute. I was, in fact, being careless.