Politics & Policy

Who’S The Toast of Paris? More Thernstromizing. Brokaw, Too? Etc.

Like everyone else in this biz, I have plenty to say about Schwarzenegger, but, for now, I’d like to say something simple and brief. A friend of mine commented yesterday, “You know, I’m interested to see how he’ll do.” Well, so am I. He’s been given a chance. I’m curious to know how he’ll do. If he flops, fine–no great harm done. If he doesn’t–that’ll be fine, too (finer).

‐Sometimes the world acts like a parody of itself, doesn’t it? I mean, imagine a right-winger’s joke: The city of Paris gives honorary citizenship to Mumia Abu-Jamal (the Philadelphia cop-killer). The Socialist mayor of Paris raises a fist and exults, “Mumia is a Parisian!” Angela Davis hails the move, declaring that the Free Mumia effort has been lent added urgency by “American unilateralism, the aggression against the Iraqi people, and the racist attacks against immigrants . . .”

It is almost a fantasy scenario–yet it happened. (You may read a wire-service story here.)

It should be remembered that America itself is guilty on the Mumia front. Those who have made a hero of the man are, in fact, American–not French. Evergreen State College had him as its commencement speaker (via video hook-up). Maureen Faulkner, widow of Daniel Faulkner, whom Abu-Jamal killed, is often reviled when she tries to counter the lionization of this terrible man.

I have covered a bit of this, and probably no story more revolts me.

But Paris has gone of its way, hasn’t it?!

‐Before we get too down on Paris, I’d like to cite a much different story: “Film stars and intellectuals including Catherine Deneuve, Sophie Marceau, Pedro Almodovar, and Jorge Semprun attended a soiree here [in Paris] supporting the Cuban people and hitting out at repression by leader Fidel Castro.

“Actress Deneuve opened the event organized by the group Reporters Sans Frontières (Reporters Without Borders) at a theater on the Champs-Elysées . . .

“Special homage was paid to poet and journalist Raul Rivero, sentenced recently to 20 years in prison at a closed-doors trial for ‘attacking the sovereignty of the [Cuban] state.’ His daughter Cristina Rivero took to the stage . . .

“Actress Sophie Marceau read a poem by Rivero, and Spanish director Pedro Almodovar, brandishing a fan bearing the words ‘Cuba si, Castro no,’ expressed the hope that Castro would restore Cuba’s freedom and get rid of dictatorship.”

Good. Very good.

‐In yesterday’s Impromptus, I spoke a bit about Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom’s new book, No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning. This is an important book, brought off with scholarship and heart.

How bad is this racial “gap”? Very–perhaps worse than the crustiest and most skeptical of us imagine. By the time they are seniors in high school, black kids “are typically four years behind white and Asian students.” Hispanic kids aren’t doing much better. In other words, as the Thernstroms point out, these students “are finishing high school with a junior-high education.”

And we’re not talking about an insignificant number of young people (though, as George W. Bush likes to say, no child should be left behind): Blacks and Hispanics constitute a third of American students. And, as our authors say, if they “remain second-class students, they will be second-class citizens”–an “enduring group of have-nots.”

Who’s doing well? Asians, of course. The Thernstroms devote a chapter to them. They are real American achievers, the “true heirs to Benjamin Franklin.” There’s no great secret here: Asian parents require their children to work and study hard, and, miracle of miracles, they do. Asians are only 4 percent of American students–but they constitute about a quarter of the freshman classes at MIT and Stanford, and if not for hidden quotas, who knows how much higher that portion would be?

Additionally, Asians now make up a fifth of all medical students in our country. Many of them grow up in homes where English isn’t spoken, or is spoken brokenly: and yet they still outpace the white kids, and all others, on verbal exams–not just math and science ones, where they, of course, clean up, but verbal ones.

The authors explode the myth that more money for education is an answer. In fact, they outright slaughter two sacred cows: Title I–which since 1965 has sent federal tax dollars to elementary and secondary schools–and Head Start, that much-loved program that is supposed to help prepare underprivileged preschoolers for kindergarten.

Oh, Head Start! This is supposed to be the star federal program. But it, like Title I, has done nothing. Nothing. Zero. Zilch. Head Start was supposed to be the one Great Society initiative that sort of worked. But it isn’t so. After all these years and gazillions of dollars–nothing.

Reading this reminded me of a conversation I had a few years ago with a liberal Democratic judge in West Virginia. He had worked with Sargent Shriver–father-in-law of the new California governor!–back in the heady days of the War on Poverty. I asked him, “Did you and your colleagues help anyone?”

He answered, quickly and sadly, “No.”

‐Of course, if people aren’t making the grade, you lower the grade–you lower the standards. A correspondent from the University of Michigan sent me an editorial from the Michigan Daily–the student newspaper there–that advocates dumbing down the honors program in the name of “diversity.”

Said the paper, “[I]t is time for the [Literature, Science & the Arts] Honors Program to revamp its admissions process in order to dramatically increase the number of underrepresented minorities in the program. The University’s strong belief in diversity must extend beyond the general admissions process to ensure that students fully realize the potential benefits of this diversity, especially in its most prestigious academic units.

“The underrepresentation of blacks, Latinos and Native Americans within the program can be attributed to the admissions process’s over reliance on standardized test scores and high school grade point averages. This over reliance often works to the disadvantage of minority students.”

There you go.

Here’s a question: Why aren’t “minority” students insulted? Many are. And it would be good to hear those voices a bit more (though it’s easy for someone else to encourage martyrdom and social ostracization, right?).

‐Friends, several readers have urged me to comment on and link to Ahmad Chalabi’s recent speech at the United Nations. I will certainly link to it: Find it here. And my only comment, at the moment, is: The Iraqi people are lucky to have Chalabi fighting for them. He used his life in exile to oppose that brutal regime and to do everything possible for the liberation of his countrymen. Would the rest of us have spent our lives so usefully? And people in the West hate him to the extent that they are embarrassed by their own indifference in the face of Saddam Hussein, and to the extent that they resent a conservative Republican–a cowboy Texan–for doing something about it.

‐Consider, if you will, an Associated Press report out of the Detroit area:

“A high-school student has the right to wear a T-shirt to school with the face of President Bush and the words ‘International Terrorist’ on the front, a federal judge ruled.

“‘There is no evidence that the T-shirt created any disturbance or disruption,’ U.S. district judge Patrick J. Duggan said in the ruling released Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan . . .

“An assistant principal had ordered [the student] in February to conceal the anti-Bush message or go home. . . .

“‘The court’s decision reaffirms the principle that students don’t give up their right to express opinions on matters of public importance once they enter school,’ Kary Moss, executive director of the state ACLU, said in a news release . . .”

This is one small example of what ails our public schools. Of course a school–a principal, a superintendent–should have control over the dress of students. The purpose of a school is to educate and civilize. A T-shirt that proclaims the president a terrorist is not conducive to civilization. But if a principal is powerless to send a kid home to change–how much civilizing can go on? A school is not a free-for-all. Adult judgment enters in. A kid can wear his nutty T-shirts on his own time, if he wishes (but his parents, ideally, would intervene).

I ask, once more: Is there any important text or law or thing in this country less understood than the First Amendment? Well, yes: the economy. (Consult Tom Sowell on that.)

‐Check out a letter: “Jay, I recently joined a gym that has the following mission statement posted on its wall:

“‘We at Planet Fitness are here to provide a unique environment in which anyone–and we mean anyone–can be comfortable. A diverse, judgment-free zone where a lasting active lifestyle can be built. Our product is a tool; a means to an end; not a brand name or a mold maker but a tool that can be used by anyone. In the end, it’s all about you. As we evolve and educate ourselves, we will seek to perfect this safe energetic environment where everyone feels accepted and respected. . . . You belong.’”

Says this reader, “My only hope is that I lose enough weight to look good in the new uniforms including a cap and red star!”

‐Speaking of red stars: “Jay, I find this pretty bizarre and odious. The Capital Times (Madison, Wis.) has adapted the Communist red star as a symbol in its web-page name. I can’t imagine what they are thinking!”

Hmm–curious. It looks to me like a star that marks a capital on a map — but, given Madison, you never know!

‐Some columns back, I wrote of hearing a television reporter say, “As of now, 34 deaths are being blamed on Israel–I mean, Isabel [the recent hurricane she-devil].” Several readers wrote in to say that Tom Brokaw had made the same (hilarious–but understandable) mistake. One reader/mom wrote, “Even my ten-year-old was wide-eyed!”

‐Also several columns back, I published a letter by someone saying that he had seen a car with two bumper stickers: “Free Tibet!” and “Hands Off Iraq!” (or something like that). My ensuing comments provoked the following letter from a reader:

“I’m a right-wing, National Review-reading, pro-Iraqi-liberation active Buddhist, although not of the Tibetan flavor. (How’s that for identity politics?) Being a Buddhist does not automatically make one a dippy Hollywood liberal who turns a blind eye to monstrous despots [other than those in Beijing]. The Dalai Lama and Buddhism more generally have become a symbol in America for touchy-feely liberalism. This has nothing to do with Buddhism itself, just American perceptions of it.

“There is steel in Buddhist belief, too, and I would not be surprised if Buddhists play a key role in the eventual liberation of China (and Tibet).”

Very nice.

‐And here’s something prompted by yesterday’s item re Rush: “Dear Mr. Nordlinger: I’m a 54-year-old white male, disabled by cerebral palsy since birth. In spite of my disability, I have done very well in life. I just finished my Ph.D. this spring, have been employed for 31 years, own a home, have a wonderful wife. Life is good!

“Politically, my interest in conservatism goes back to Barry Goldwater while in high school. I’m an avid fan of George Will and Rush Limbaugh. I subscribe to National Review and The Weekly Standard and no day is complete without looking in on NRO, etc. So, I’m a conservative in good standing.

“About rooting for blacks: I do it all the time. Especially on Jeopardy. Needless to say, the show has very high standards. I know, as my nephew (age 13) did extremely well in a try-out last year and wasn’t selected. For whatever reason, the population of contestants is skewed toward white males. I am thrilled to see black contestants, root for them, and look forward to the day when their numbers increase.

“In my day-to-day life, I constantly interact with black people, and actually have done so for a lifetime. It breaks my heart that we, as a country, don’t appreciate how much goodwill we really have toward each other, and that no one can speak honestly without fear of the kind of retribution we saw last week with Mr. Limbaugh.”

Sing it.

‐Finally, I had a bit–also yesterday–about the “war against testing” (this was in the context of discussing the Thernstroms’ book). I quoted–because the Thernstroms quoted–Jonathan Kozol, who said that to administer standardized tests was . . . well, Nazi.

Writes a very sharp reader, “Kozol gets it exactly backward, and your subsequent anecdote, Jay, highlights this: ‘I know a man–a math prof–who, years ago, spent a sabbatical in South Africa. Someone there told him, “We don’t believe the white man’s math.”‘ Racializing science and math was a Nazi specialty. Hitler dismissed Einstein’s scientific contributions as ‘Jew physics’ and thereby consigned himself to being an inevitable loser in the race to create the atomic bomb.”

Thank heaven!

And for you too, readers.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

Most Popular