HARVARD’S GRADE HYPERINFLATION

The Harvard establishment has finally roused itself to respond to Harvey C. Mansfield’s assertion that grade inflation is an evil and took off in the late 1960s partly because of affirmative action. The dean of the college, one Harry R. Lewis, penned an op-ed in the Harvard Crimson yesterday making the case that grade inflation has been going on for decades and that there’s no correlation between its take-off in the late 1960s and affirmative action. Since Lewis has all the data, and there’s no way to break it down racially, he doesn’t exactly clinch the argument. There’s also a pesky change in the way Harvard grades were computed and averaged in 1967. Nevertheless, the graph Lewis presents does indeed show a general rise from 1920 to 2000, but it is punctuated by what comes close to a vertical line upward in exactly the time period Mansfield suggested: 1966 – 1974. Lewis responds to the racial point by saying that “black students did not appear in significant numbers on the Harvard campus until 1970, and the period from 1970 through 1985 was the only 15-year period in the past 80 years in which there was no increase in grades at Harvard (his emphasis).” Hmmm. I’d like to see the actual numbers of black students at Harvard at that time, and I’d like to see when affirmative action was actually instituted. As to the fact that grades do indeed seem to stabilize after the mid 1970s, it would be hard for them to continue what looks like hyperinflation during the period from 1967 – 1973 (where the average grade increased by some 40 percent). Anyway, check it out for yourself. My view: if this is the best Harvard can do to rebut Mansfield’s charge, they get a B-, which these days is tantamount to an F.

PINK PISTOLS: A few years ago, Jonathan Rauch and I talked about writing a piece arguing that gays should eschew hate crime laws in favor of self-defense. It was almost a jeu d’esprit, but Jonathan took the ball and ran with it. Presto, just a few months later, and there are several “Pink Pistol” groups around the country, training homosexuals and lesbians (and all sorts of others) how to defend themselves with legal handguns. Of course, the gay left establishment is mortified – but finally a real story has been written in, of all places, the Washington Blade, the usually p.c. crib-sheet for leftist activists. It’s a fascinating and uplifting story of people finding a niche for themselves and fighting back victimology with imagination and flair. It’s also an insight into the surprising open-mindedness of some gun-toting rednecks. Check it out.

BIGOTS, ETC: I may have been premature to accept Ian Buruma’s assertion in the New Yorker that David Irving, the Holocaust “minimizer,” referred to the judge in his libel trial as “mein Fuhrer.” A reader sent me the transcript. Here’s the relevant part of Irving’s testimony: “When the off-screen chanting of slogans begins at 18:18:59 I am clearly seen to interrupt my speech, shake my head at them and gesticulate with my left hand to them to stop, and I am clearly heard to say, “You must not”, because they are shouting the “Siegheil” slogans, Mein Fuhrer, and things like, “you must not always be thinking of the past”. I am heard clearly to say: “You must always be thinking of the past. You must not keep coming out with the slogans of the past. We are thinking of the future [voice emphasized] of Germany. We are thinking of the future of the German people. As an Englishman I have to say …”, and so on. So I am quite clearly expressing extreme anger at these people who have come along with their Nazi slogans.” Although the transcript keeps “Mein Fuhrer” out of quotation marks, it seems to me more plausible that Irving was describing the shouts of the crowd, rather than actually addressing the judge. Not as funny – but more accurate. This is not to exculpate Irving’s work or views, but it is to be as scrupulous when discussing him as he is sometimes unscrupulous when addressing others.

BIGOTS, ETC II: For those of you still holding out hope that John Derbyshire is just a nice old English gent with some unpopular but important views, check out his link to a website known as vdare.com. Vdare is an anti-immigration group founded by Peter Brimelow and dedicated to keeping America as white and anglo as possible. It’s named after Virginia Dare, the first white English child born in America. Derbyshire’s main contributions appear to be dark warnings about “Sino-Fascism,” Chinese-American Gore voters, and other versions of the Yellow Peril in our midst. All this is made even weirder by the fact that Derbyshire himself says he has a Chinese wife and two half-Chinese children. I’m beginning to think he’s just plain kooky.

BEGALA AWARD NOMINEE

“Okay, I’ll admit it, I spent the inaugural weekend in denial. (He’s not my president. Most of us didn’t actually vote for the guy… ) Ignored the smarmy front-page photos of parades and balls, skipped straight to Section B to look for coverage of the protests. But the fact is, we now have a new administration that’s hostile to the things I love most: human kindness, the dignity of diversity, and the wild glory of life on earth… Looking out my window right now I can see my two girls outside under the mesquite trees in this precious riparian woodland where we live, and my heart starts to break for all the beautiful things they’ll never see if I allow unchecked Bushwhacking in the next four years. Civil rights and reproductive choice I suppose we could win back in time (though not the lives lost along the way), but the waters and wild lands devastated will never come back.” – Barbara Kingsolver, MSNBC.com. They let her build a house in “precious riparian woodland”?

THE CURDLED TURNIP

I made that one up, but it captures some of the Anglo-Saxon zaniness of pub names in England. Now, it seems, Tony Blair’s Cool Britannia is set to clean up these weirdly British soubriquets for the local pisser – on p.c. grounds. “The Old Nag’s Head” is verboten for misogeny. The Philanderer and the Firkin is history. Ditto The Silent Woman. Next up: The Blind Beggar and The Black Boy Inn. These hideously insensitive monikers will probably be construed as hate-crimes before too long. But the English are a peaceful lot. I doubt they will rise up in violence until Mr Blair and his European friends insist the Brits drink their beer in liters rather than pints. Happy St George’s Day and Shakespeare’s Birthday.

HARDBALL: I’m on tonight, if you have nothing better to do.

GAFFE OF THE WEEK

“I think that President Bush is also very committed in drug addiction,” – President Andres Pastrana, of Columbia, quoted in the Washington Post.

TOUGH CELL: The Washington Post rightly excoriates Peter Angelos for yet another insidious class action lawsuit against cell-phone manufacturers, despite the fact that there’s no evidence that they do any harm to anyone. Angelos absurdly argues that his lawsuit is designed to raise awareness of the possibility of danger to consumers. With that standard, what’s safe? Of course, my own preference would be a lawsuit against cell-phone users, but that’s another matter.

ABORTION AND SEXISM

Here’s an issue NARAL won’t touch. What happens when the sacrosanct right to kill a fetus at any stage of development for any reason gets to be politically incorrect? A fascinating piece in Sunday’s New York Times reports on what has been happening in India. Over the last decade or so, with ultra-sound technology becoming more and more available, women are aborting increasing numbers of fetuses found to be female. The resulting imbalance is getting extreme. In Punjab, India’s most fertile agricultural region, there are now only 8 girls born for every 10 boys. There’s a word for this: eugenics. The grimmer fact is that nothing seems to be able to stop it. A law was passed in 1994 outlawing ultrasound tests for gender, but it is basically impossible to enforce. Sexist eugenics is only one possibility, of course. Before too long, we’ll find all sorts of reasons to abort fetuses – wrong gender, genetic predispositions to certain diseases, wrong sexual orientation, and on and on. It seems to me that it will be impossible to stop this without the kind of intervention in abortion rights that pro-choicers refuse to countenance. At which point, pro-choicers will have to accept that eugenics are indistinguishable from their crusade or reverse or nuance their position on abortion. Hmmm. Over to you, Ms Michelman.

THE SOUND OF SILENCE: David Broder complained yesterday of President George Bush’s silence over the home-coming of the Hainan detainees, race riots in Cincinnati, and other sundry events. Jake Tapper’s rather excellent piece (yes, he can be fair sometimes) about W’s visit to the Holocaust Memorial Museum is the most effective rebuke. Silence is sometimes golden. But I think Jake misses something deeper about Bush’s reticence. Yes, I know some of you think he keeps quiet because he can’t open his mouth without a malapropism falling out, but he has excellent speech-writers who have shown he can excel if he wants. The real reason, I suspect, is something deeper. What Bush is signaling is a message about the place of politics in our national life. That place should be restricted, limned, demarcated. Part of the damage Bill Clinton did to our culture and our politics was to fuse the two seamlessly, the glue being his incessant blather and emotional incontinence. The politicization of culture was a horrible thing to watch; but the complete absorption of politics by entertainment was even worse. By his silence, Bush is actually saying something extremely important: these two fields of human life, though often connected, are categorically separate. If only the pundits and press would stop a minute and l-i-s-t-e-n.

DERBYSHIRE AWARD NOMINEE: Goes this week, in an early showing, to Robert Rector, Heritage Foundation paleocon, for his interview in National Review Online. Paleocons are deeply dismayed by the news that teen births are at a 30-year low and that illegitimacy rates seem to have slowed, and even slightly declined, recently. How did that happen in – gasp – the Clinton years? Well, one response is simply to deny that it happened at all. Rector was asked, “What do the latest illegitimacy numbers mean? Is this good news, as the press is reporting – fewer births to teens?” Rectors answered: “Those numbers are absolute nonsense and they are deliberate distortions. The fact of the matter is that illegitimacy rose rather substantially in this period. One way to understand the distortion here is to understand that only about 14 percent of out-of-wedlock births occur to girls under age 18.” Fair enough. Fewer teen births are surely a good thing, but they aren’t as important as illegitimacy rates. But did they rise “rather substantially?” The actual rise is 1 percent, according to the CDC, and that is “due to the continued increase in the number of unmarried women of childbearing age.” So no real increase in the rate of illegitimacy. And among blacks, as Mickey Kaus has pointed out, the percentage born to unmarried mothers actually declined by a tiny amount, 0.3 percent, and since 1994, the percentage of black children born to married women has risen by about 5 percent. However you look at it, it’s pretty good news – at least stable or in the right direction. “Absolute nonsense?” “Deliberate distortion?” Please. These are splutters of someone losing a debate. Well, actually this is the coup de grace worthy of Derbyshire: “There are only four governors in the entire country who even speak favorably of marriage. The rest keep silent on the issue.” What country is Robert Rector living in?

REALITY BITES: Fresh from their victory over the evil pharmaceutical companies, African countries, now freed from the burden of colonial pillage, are gearing up to do … very, very little. You won’t read this in the New York Times but the Washington Post has a smart piece today by Karen DeYoung (I’d expect no less from her) which provides a reality check. There are squabbles between international aid agencies as to who gets to distribute the goodies, fights over whether to provide drugs subsidized by patent-owning companies or by thieves in India, and resentment by the kleptocratic governments in sub-Saharan Africa that they are being pushed around by Western do-gooders. The biggest worry is that there aren’t enough funds to both finance the drug distribution and prevention efforts – or worse, that the treatments themselves will undermine the idea that prevention is still vital. The brutal truth is, as we have found in the U.S., that the availability of good treatment lessens the fear of the virus and therefore precautions taken to prevent it. If that happens in educated alert populations in the West, won’t it be even worse in Africa? This quote is priceless: “The exclusive focus on the issue of patent rights and prices of drugs really has overridden the much more fundamental question of how you actually get these services out and how you blunt the epidemic itself,” said one international health official who asked not to be identified… “It’s so politically incorrect to say, but we may have to sit by and just see these millions of [already infected] people die. Very few public health professionals are willing to take on the wrath of AIDS activists by saying that. But a whole lot of them talk about this in private.” I wonder why that guy asked not to be identified. The awful truth is not exactly popular among the grandstanders who are exploiting the AIDS crisis for their own ideological purposes. But it should be the starting block for a real effort to halt or slow this awful epidemic.

THE TIMES VERSUS MEDICAL PROGRESS II: Check out Robert Pear’s piece in today’s New York Times on state programs to subsidize prescription drugs for the elderly, or to squeeze price discounts from drug companies. A couple of things are interesting about this article. The first is that nowhere is there any statement as to the actual costs of these programs – current or projected. The second is that nowhere is there any account of how cutting pharmaceutical profits could impede future drug research. For the Times, a huge new entitlement apparently costs nothing and can never do any harm. No wonder the writer is befuddled at why the Congress might actually be leery of jumping in to create a potentially budget
-breaking new entitlement to supplement or replace the state ones. When every program is easily affordable and carries no problematic consequences, why not be in favor of it?

PROHIBITION AGAIN

Daniel Forbes, a smart journalist who covers drug policy, has a new scoop. It’s that the Bush Administration is set to ramp up the rhetorical crusade against recreational drug use with the appointment of one John Walters as the new Drug Dictator (I think we should call a Czar a Czar). Walters was Bill Bennett’s deputy in the old Just-Say-No days. According to Forbes, Walters sees no distinction between mild drugs like marijuana and Ecstasy and harder drugs like crystal meth, crack cocaine, or heroin, and sees a bright line between all these drugs and nicotine and alcohol. We’ve had false leaks from the White House before, so I reserve judgment on this. But Forbes has been right in the past. He exposed former Drug Dictator Barry McCaffrey’s scheme to bribe the media to slip anti-drug propaganda into regular broadcasting. I see no signs that the new administration won’t be even harsher than the punitive Clinton regime. But it would truly be ironic, wouldn’t it, if a man who went from cocaine user (he won’t deny it) to president wants to initiate a policy that says that all drug-use is a dead-end.

WATCH IT: The case for broadcasting Timothy McVeigh’s death. See the new TRB opposite.

THE TIMES VERSUS MEDICAL PROGRESS: The New York Times is now on a crusade: to kill off the global pharmaceutical research. Anyone who doubts this should read the “Analysis” in the Times today on drug patents. It could have been written by Ralph Nader. Worse, it’s the lead news story. The piece starts with its bias up-front: “The big pharmaceutical companies march to the beat of a steady chant – that patent protection for drugs is essential for innovation.” But this is not some quixotic belief of the “big” pharmaceutical companies. It’s the rationale for any form of patent law at all. Then in reporting the efforts of activists to cripple intellectual property rights, the Times opines that this is the drug companies’ fault! “But now, it seems, the industry may have overplayed its hand… some analysts say the industry itself fueled the backlash by staunchly defending its intellectual property in the face of a pandemic that could claim more lives than the Black Death.” (I love that statement “some analysts,” i.e. the Times, a representative of Canadian generic drug companies; an attorney for the left-wing Doctors Without Borders; and a former Republican who wants to squeeze drug companies further.) Of course, the industry also “fueled the backlash” by creating the drugs in the first place! No drugs, no conflict. Nowhere in the article does the writer analyze the feasibility of mass provision of HIV drugs in a continent that cannot even tackle dysentery. Nowhere does he worry about how newer drugs will replace the current ones whose usefulness will soon decline, if you kill research incentives. These are not extraneous points to this debate. They are central to it. Ignoring them is not analysis. It’s propaganda. Only buried at the end of the “analysis” is this nugget: since Canada started protecting drug patents in the late 1980s, “spending on research and development by drug companies in Canada has zoomed, to about $900 million in 1999 from $166 million in 1988.” Duh. The Washington Post’s piece today, while still stacked against the drug companies, at least acknowledges many of the nuances of this question – such as the fact that South Africa itself has tried to protect intellectual property rights to encourage investment. The Times prefers to grandstand. Its editorial today, while misguided, is more honest than its front-page “analysis.” But it has begun increasingly to substitute the views of left-wing activists for serious analysis on AIDS, on abortion, and on the environment. It’s still a great newspaper and can do better. If it is to maintain any credibility, it must.

GREAT MINDS DEPT.: “I have to say that the most impressive act of President Bush’s young presidency
occurred, in my opinion, this weekend. It was his refusal to greet the home-coming “detainees” from Hainan Island. He let them see their families again unmolested by politics – a classy, quiet move. Can you imagine Clinton staying away?” – The Dish, April 16.

“The other day, George W. Bush did something momentous and marvelous: nothing. Specifically, he did nothing to exploit the return of the 24 military men and women whose release he had won from China. … For eight years, we suffered under a president who gave you an idea of what God would be like if He was a media hound.” – Michael Kelly, Washington Post, April 18.

“For all their descent into self parody, the era of the Clintons is clearly drawing to a close. The first sign is the silence. Listen. Every now and again, the air is not filled with the incessant circumlocutions of the blabberer in chief. Whatever other qualities he had, the man could surely talk. He had very little to say, of course, but that never deterred him. The sheer volume of verbiage he must have expelled over eight years is enough to make John Updike look blocked.” – TRB, <a HREF = http://www.tnr.com/011501/trb011501.html TARGET = NEW>The New Republic, January 15.

“He talked so much that, by the middle of his second term, people just got too tired to listen any more… Now, we have the president as the quiet man. Lord, it’s nice. You can hear the birds again, the gentle lapping of the Potomac against its grassy banks, the spring breeze wafting through the cherry blossoms. You can hear yourself think again.” – Michael Kelly, <a HREF = http://washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/opinion/columns/kellymichael/A30340-2001Apr18.html TARGET = NEW>Washington Post. April 18.

HOME NEWS: I’m doing a ‘cyber-chat’ this afternoon at 3pm on USAToday.com. Check it out if you feel like it.

SKULL AND BONEZZZZZ

I just read Ron Rosenbaum’s breathless expose of the Skull and Bones ritual, the initiation hazing for the secret Yale society to which our current president belongs. Rosenbaum and a team of sleuths snuck their way into the ritual and recorded it with some kind of video equipment. From Rosenbaum’s heady prose, you’d think he’d uncovered the Pentagon Papers. In fact, all he finds is a generic, sophomoric frat ritual with its predictable obsession with secrecy, blood, gore, and anal sex. Here are the scoops. Sometimes, they yell, “OOGA BOOGA.” One of them pretended to be George W. Bush. Distinctly heard on the videotape are the repeated phrases, “Lick my bumhole,” “Remove the plunger,” and “Run, neophyte, run!” Sounds like after-hours at a leather bar. The only thing weirder than this kind of post-adolescent zaniness is the image of grown men actually finding it worth investigating and reporting. Slate’s Tim Noah predictably goes into ecstasy at this expose of Republican elitist iniquity. For people not consumed with class envy and paranoia, it’s just tedious.

GOOPED AND SPRITZED

An important factual discrepancy has been pointed out to me in the Washington Post piece. I was alerted to this problem by an email from an old buddy, Peter Sagal, who now works for NPR. He wrote the Post this letter: “To the Editor: I am writing to correct the historical record in regard to the anecdote Andrew Sullivan tells about his acting career at Harvard. While Elizabeth Shue was indeed a stage manager for the production of The Tempest in which Mr. Sullivan played Ferdinand, she did not apply the oil to his back to make him appear sweaty. I did. I played Antonio, and as such, was available backstage for the last-minute faux sweat application. I certainly understand why Mr. Sullivan might want to amend the story, perhaps even subconsciously, because it is far more entertaining for him to say that Elizabeth Shue greased his torso. However, it is also very entertaining for me to say, as I have for years, that I greased Andrew Sullivan. Mr. Sullivan must have thousands of amusing anecdotes about his odd encounters with the famous and influential. Please, let me keep the best of my paltry few.” But in a simultaneous email to me, Sagal’s memory is somewhat different: “Here’s my complaint: you say that Elizabeth Shue covered you with goop before your entrance in the wood cutting scene as Ferdinand in The Tempest. While the lovely Ms Shue may have provided a last second touch up spritz, the person who did the lion’s share of the goop application, backstage, was me. I’ve been dining out on this story for years, and I can’t have you or the Washington Post ruin it.” The latter is indeed true. Peter put the goop on me and Elizabeth sprayed me with a water mix. I actually enjoyed Peter’s libations more. I don’t know how the Washington Post fact-checker let that one through.

THE FIGHT BACK

Finally, some sanity in Britain over foot-and-mouth disease. One group of farmers is refusing to let their healthy cattle be slaughtered for no good reason. I hope it’s the first of many revolts.

SOLIPSISM EXTRA: Well I went to bed early last night and didn’t stay up as I usually do to read the next day’s papers. And at almost 3.30 pm I still haven’t read the Kurtz piece. For some reason I much prefer reading stuff about me that’s basically hostile, because then I can defend myself or get into an argument or debate. But according to everyone who’s read it, this was a fair, nice, pretty positive piece, which is all anyone can ask for in this business. But what can I say about it? I guess I’m most amused by my friends. Niall Ferguson says I’m a tremendous hater, according to a quote my friend Robert read to me on the phone. Niall is arriving here tomorrow for a few hours so I’ll give him shit about that. But the great thing about the friends I have is that they tell it like it is. That’s why I like them. I was at my regular lunch-spot today, C.F. Folks in downtown DC, the capital’s version of the soup nazi from Seinfeld, and they were razzing me about the photos. That one gazing out of the window makes me look like some sort of saint. Sorry. Having your photo taken is always tricky. Didn’t mean to look like Teresa of Avila. And, man, I’m bald. That always comes as a shock. Denial is a wonderful thing. From a glance at the web-page, it was also gratifying to be on the same page as Anne Robinson, the dominatrix of “The Weakest Link.” The headline for her profile was: “The Queen of Mean.” For one moment, I thought they were referring to me. Anyway, back to regular coverage. I’ll read it in full in a couple of days. If anything occurs to me, I’ll let you know. Meanwhile, thanks, Howie.