Politics & Policy

Smart Mice, Dumb Name; Dumb Tests For Smart Kids; Waco Watch; Clemency’s Slippery Slope

SMART MICE, DUMB NAME

For the first time in weeks the papers are thick enough that you can actually hold them up to the light and not be able to read the wattage on the bulb. So bear with me as we comb through the bounty. This G-File is kickin’ it old school as the rabbis say. It is a multi-partner like the good old days.

Scientists have figured out how to make mice smarter. They have located a gene that regulates the brain’s ability for seeing patterns in events and remembering cause-and-effect relationships for longer periods of time. Various scientists suspect that eventually we will be able to boost the intelligence of human beings, and possibly make permanent improvements to the human gene line. People will be able, possibly, to take pills and become smarter. Imagine the benefits for people like Alec Baldwin!

This is amazing stuff. What is almost equally amazing is that in all the news reports nobody has mentioned the prominent role of super-intelligent mice in our popular culture. There is, of course, Flowers for Algernon the Daniel Keyes novel which was made into the 1968 film Charly, starring Cliff Robertson. In the film, Robertson plays Charly, a retarded man who is constantly beaten by a mouse (Algernon) in intelligence tests. He gets experimental brain surgery and eventually becomes smarter than the dudes who fixed his brain in the first place. Then, of course, there are the NIMH movies (adapted from C. O’Brien’s Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of N.I.M.H.), in which a troupe of super-intelligent lab rats escape from the National Institute of Mental Health and set up a colony in a farmer’s backyard. It doesn’t stop there. Jerry the Mouse was always smarter than Tom the Cat. Mighty Mouse always came to save the day because he was Johnny-on-the-Spot with a good idea or two. The first film of Steven Spielberg’s Dreamworks was about a super-intelligent mouse that gets the best of two hapless brothers. The film was marketed as a direct shot at Mickey Mouse, the most sexually indeterminate “male” pop-culture icon this side of Michael Jackson, but still pretty sharp for a mouse. And before that, Spielberg had launched an awful series on ABC about a colony of super-smart mice and rats living in the White House – no, it wasn’t a documentary.

So with all of this rich material available, why did the researchers, who made these mice smarter than the average bear, name them “Doogie Mice” in homage to the TV series, Doogie Howser, M.D.? I just don’t get it.

Anyway, these Doogie Mice are pretty smart — even they know that Clinton lied before the grand jury (actually they knew it before, they just had trouble explaining the relevant precedents). But there are some serious questions here and I suppose if you waded through all that twaddle hoping to discuss them, I at least owe you that much.

Joe Tsien, the lead scientist on the 1600 SAT mice project, tells the Washington Post, “We’re in an era when breakthroughs in biology and intelligence are outpacing the culture’s capacity to deal with the ethics.” He continued, “there will be issues of access and who can afford it. Whether the social wealthy class will have the intellectual advantage over poor people…”

It’s a serious question but it isn’t a new one. Recent studies once again confirmed that rich, successful people are healthier than poor, unsuccessful people. People have been trying to tease out whether it’s the rich part or the successful part that makes the big difference. But in the end it doesn’t matter. It has always been thus. Rich people always benefit first from scientific breakthroughs. They got clean food, indoor plumbing, literacy, medicine, reclining chairs, and big-screen TVs before the rest of us. We know from the seminal and much-maligned book by Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein, The Bell Curve (and a thousand other studies), that, in the words of Dr Tsien, the wealthy class already has the intellectual advantage over poor people.

Leaving aside some contentions in The Bell Curve for two seconds, the advantages we can all recognize are environmental. Rich people go to better schools, tend to have parents who are better educated, are exposed to more enlightening stuff, and have the leisure time and long-term security to ponder egg-heady topics. Getting back to The Bell Curve, we also know that a major component of intelligence is genetically determined. Smart people tend to be wealthier than dumb people. Smart people tend to want to marry other smart people. It is only logical than that smart, wealthy people will tend to make smarter, wealthier children. It is way too soon to predict, but there is no inherent logic which says that “smart pills” won’t narrow the advantages of the privileged, rather than increase them.

DUMB TESTS FOR SMART KIDS

Ironically, there is another story today which runs completely in the other direction. The Post reports today that the company which runs the Scholastic Aptitude Test is working with researchers to weigh “social factors” into the SAT. Because of the long-overdue rollback of affirmative action, the elbow-patch crowd wants new ways of identifying under-privileged kids that aren’t directly correlated to race.

William Julius Wilson — the liberal scholar who goofed by coining the phrase “underclass” — is at the forefront of this movement. In the September-October issue of The American Prospect — the best unapologetically liberal think mag around these days — Wilson argues for a new kind of affirmative action called “affirmative opportunity.” It’s partly an intellectual shell game and partly an honest search for something the public will buy that still empowers social engineers. Wilson acknowledges that, as a group, blacks still lag on straight intelligence or aptitude tests. He says this is due solely to the cumulative effects of racism. I do not want to get into that briar patch. But his larger point is that tests should be subordinated to such criteria as things like leadership, creativity, adaptability, citizenship, and other things that leave it entirely up to people who couldn’t handle the off-campus world to decide who gets into elite colleges. I suppose it has always been thus to some extent. But one wonders if in the brave new world of brain pills people would recognize these Rube Goldberg schemes for what they are.

WACO WATCH

Of course, the really big issue in the papers is WACO (which stands for What A Colossal Oops? No, no. Where A Conspiracy Operated? Hmm, not quite right. How about: Why Are Centaurs Always Horses at the back end? All right, I stink at these things).

Let’s start again. The really big issue is Waco. I shouldn’t be making jokes, since the government killed a lot of people who didn’t need to be killed and then the government lied about it. It’s a mess. And, no matter what happens next, the conspiracy people have been vindicated. Even if everything was a mistake, can be explained, and was done in good faith — such cover-ups are unacceptable. The FBI is no KGB, but they’re the closest thing we have. And, if we don’t want it to get any closer, they need to be unblinkingly honest. Lies breed more lies and then they create a justification for hiding them by any means necessary.

[Putting on my Enro costume (Editor, National Review Online) for two seconds, I should let you know that later today we will (hopefully) have an interview with the producer of Waco: the Rules of Engagement, as well as links to breaking Waco news throughout the day. Alas, we’re still debugging this whole process, so if you could bear with us.]

CLEMENCY’S SLIPPERY SLOPE

The story that is most appealing to someone who always assumes that Bill Clinton is doing the right or wrong thing for his own reasons, is the clemency offer to the FALN. This has the potential to turn into a huge story and a huge mess for the Clintons.

For some reason, the G-File has quite a few readers who think that Bill Clinton is second only to the Pope among world leaders in his loving-kindness and unselfish desires. I think these people should get off the pipe, and I think it is very weird that they read this column as regularly as they do. I mean, who needs the aggravation? Nevertheless, the criticism that the president deserves the benefit of the doubt sometimes catches me off guard. Indeed, on this story I gave him the benefit of the doubt for quite a while (more out of laziness than any generosity on my part).

But when you actually look at how this thing is unfolding, it is very difficult to understand how Bill Clinton could be doing this for any reason other than as a cynical boost for his wife’s Senatorial campaign. Clinton asked for recommendations from the Bureau of Prisons, various U.S. attorneys, the FBI, et al., and they all said no way on José (to be honest I have no idea if any of them are really named José but it was just so tempting). These agencies were horrified by the idea. Indeed, the Bureau of Prisons actually has a tape of some FALNers discussing future violence.

But it gets worse. As National Review Online reported yesterday in the Washington Bulletin, we have documents revealing that the FALN never even asked for clemency. As we know, the Clinton administration asked the terrorists for letters saying they were sorry. But they also asked the thugs to write the administration, formally asking for clemency.

Usually, these groups send out reams of letters asking for everything from better air conditioning to a full pardon. These guys who, by the way, never expressed any remorse for killing lots of people who couldn’t find Puerto Rico on a map, never asked for clemency in the first place. So how did Bill get the idea?

It couldn’t be that Hillary needs help in the Hispanic community, could it? It couldn’t be that radicals in the Democratic machine wanted the White House to render unto Cesar (get it? get it?).

The lesson’s been learned. Now Jewish groups in New York (who for some reason vote like Puerto Ricans) want Hillary to twist her husband’s arm on releasing Jonathan Pollard, the Israeli spy. And the Jewish groups are doing their lobbying out in the open. Ironically, this might make it impossible for Clinton to release Pollard. Nonetheless, because it hadn’t happened until now, we never really knew why it was a bad idea for sitting First Ladies to run for public office. Now we know.

WHAT WAS THAT ALL ABOUT?

Speaking of G-File readers, many of you were wondering what the point of yesterday’s column was. After re-reading it, so am I. I guess, though, the answer will have to wait for Corrections and Clarifications Friday. In the meantime, maybe some loyal reader can tell me what is coming up in just nine days (this is partly a test to see if you’ve read all the way to the bottom).

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