Monday, April 23, 2007
Nicolas Sarkozy, the centre-right candidate, did well in the first round of the French presidential election, and seems likely to beat the (ditz-cum-dinosaur) Socialist Segolene Royal in the run off two weeks hence. (From our blog to God's ear...)
So in 2008 (or rather in early 2009) it seems very possible that the President of France will be considerably more pro-American than the President of the United States.
For more on the French vote, here is the uninhibited Nidra Poller, of City Journal. Here is the London Times report. And here is an interesting background piece by Michel Gurfinkiel - with the nice lead sentence "French elections can be as entertaining as Russian roulette."
Sunday, April 22, 2007
Saturday, April 21, 2007
If you're looking for bed-time reading about how to combat murderous religious zealots (and who isn't in these troubled times...?), you can't go wrong with "Government Action in the Demise of the Thugs (1829 - 1835) and Sikh Terrorists (1980 - 1993) and Lessons for the United States" by John A. Coloe. It's available on the Department of Homeland Security web cite in pdf form, so you have to scroll down to find it. I'll confess that I only read the part about the Thugs, which is short but interesting.
According to Wikipedia, the original Thugs were a secret cult who worshipped Kali, the Hindu goddess of destruction. They lived ordinary lives except during periods when the omens were right. At that point, they took to the road, joining other travellers along the way and attempting to win their trust. When the time was right, they would attack their fellow travellers, strangle them with a yellow scarf, and perform an elaborate ritual involving the sacrifice of sugar and a pickaxe. Finally, the thugs would steal the victims' belongings (no surprise there) and go home. Each such gruesome murder was said to appease Kali and set back her arrival on Earth by one millenium.
Estimates of the number of murders over the years range from 50,000 (by historians who believe that the cult lasted only about 150 years) to 2,000,000 (by those who believe it lasted 600 or more years). The British conducted a "war on terror" against the Thugs from 1829 to 1835, finally wiping them out.
Yes, there are those who evidently believe that the whole British war on the Thugs was a wrongheaded misunderstanding of some sort, and that Thuggee was not nearly as horrible as it sounds. But there are others who have concluded the story is true, and that the death toll was indeed horrific. I can't say anything about that dispute or about whether there are lessons to be learned here. But if you're looking for a story of murderous religious zealots that has a happy ending for the forces of civilization, this is it.
Friday, April 20, 2007
Thursday, April 19, 2007
I recently did a book review of Jerome Karabel's The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton that will appear in Academic Questions. What follows is an excerpt from my review concerning the Ivy League Jewish quotas during the 1920s and 30s. Note that Harvard hid its quotas behind character assessments that call for "well-rounded" students, just as modern universities sometimes hide preferential treatment based on race behind so-called "holistic" review.
In her 1979 book, The Half-Opened Door: Discrimination and Admissions at Harvard, Yale and Princeton, Marcia Graham Synott documented the efforts to exclude Jews at those institutions in great detail. If anyone had been naive enough to believe that the sudden reduction in Jewish students in the Ivy League in the 1920s had been an unintended consequence of some otherwise-legitimate admissions policy, Synott would surely have dispelled that belief. Now Karabel adds further detail to Synott’s already-extensive documentation.
As Karabel illustrates, some of the pressure to limit Jewish enrollment came from alumni. As an extreme case he quotes an alumnus who had recently attended the Harvard-Yale game:
"Naturally, after twenty-five years, one expects to find many changes but to find that one's University had become so Hebrewized was a fea[r]ful shock. There were Jews to the right of me, Jews to the left of me, in fact they were so obviously everywhere that instead of leaving the Yard with pleasant memories of the past I left with a feeling of utter disgust of the present and grave doubts about the future of my Alma Mater."
Like any college president, [Harvard's A. Lawrence] Lowell had to worry about the effect that such bitter feelings would have on fundraising. That's only rational. Alumni were the university's top donors; if they thought the beneficiaries of their generosity would be strangers rather than their children, grandchildren and students like them, they might become less generous. If students shared the alumni's bitter feelings, that too could cause problems. He warned:
"The summer hotel that is ruined by admitting Jews meets its fate, not because the Jews it admits are of bad character, but because they drive away the Gentiles, and then after the Gentiles have left, they leave also. This happened to a friend of mine with a school in New York, who thought, on principle, that he ought to admit Jews, but who discovered in a few years that he had no school at all."
It's unclear whether or to what degree Lowell's fears of student and alumni abandonment were well-founded. His involvement in the Immigration Restriction League suggests that he may have had such feelings himself and hence over-estimated their hold on others. Lowell admitted that "the Hebrew problem" as he called it was not that Jewish students who passed the entrance examination had character defects as that term is conventionally defined. Their problem appears to be simply that they were Jewish and usually members of the working class. They didn't fit in among the polished sons of the established social elite. A common complaint was that they were "grinds," even "greasy grinds." In somewhat more modern terms, Lowell might have called it a "nerd" problem; the Jewish students just weren't cool.
He wanted to deal with the problem the same way he wanted to deal with immigration--by publicly adopting a ceiling on Jewish enrollment. But he encountered fierce opposition that he had not expected. Boston Mayor James Michael Curley declared, "If the Jew is barred today, the Italian will be tomorrow, then the Spaniard and the Pole, and at some future date the Irish." Samuel Gompers condemned the scheme on behalf of the American Federation of Labor. Newspapers across the country editorialized against it. And a frail [Charles W. Eliot, Harvard's previous presdient,] fought it with all the energy he had left in his nearly 90-year-old body. Obviously, many Americans, perhaps a majority, strongly favored non-discriminatory admissions policies. To its credit, the Harvard faculty rejected Lowell's plan.
Lowell needed a Plan B. And he had one--a disingenuous one. Instead of an explicit quota, he argued for
The news out of Virginia Tech comes at a time when I don't really feel up to following the story. It is not that I feel particularly fragile at the moment, only that this story is so horrible, and there is so little I can do about it, that I find myself changing the station when the story comes on the air. Most painful of all are the mini-biographies of the victims, she who saved for a year for tuition, he who loved sports, she who was smart, he who survived the Nazis, but not psycho-boy. As that poet said of 9/11, too many names for the walls of the heart.
Glenn Reynolds has a number of good links, with lots of thought provoking stuff, and I find my thoughts provoked. It reminds me of my one encounter with a potentially dangerous student, that fortunately fell far short of anything at VT. This particular student, and this was some years ago, had suffered a head injury in a motorcycle accident not long before beginning law school. Whether as a result of this or not, he was not doing well in my class, and he wanted to discuss it. When I was late to the first-thing-in-the-morning appointment I had with him, he allowed to my secretary that he was glad he had not brought his gun with him, because he was so angry that had he his gun with him, he didn't know what he would do.
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Kitty Carlisle died yesterday at the age of 96. I don't recall ever seeing her sing, dance or act. That was all before my time. The Kitty Carlisle I knew was the panelist on the To Tell the Truth show in the late 1960s (or was it the early 1970s?). Smart. Clever. Charming. Even elegant. I liked her so much I named my cat Kitty Carlisle. Purr.
"I would like to apologize to the Duke lacrosse players for being an idiot, being blinded by the cant I habitually teach, and not upholding the standards of even a reasonably fair person, let alone an august professor."
Hey. This is kind of fun.
"I am seriously considering wondering whether many of the other beliefs I hold are entirely false."
Well, OK. Unlikely. But it is nice thought.
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Earlier this month, I participated in a panel discussion at Washington & Lee University's Symposium on Lewis Powell held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The subject was race-based admissions. Again and again, the subject of standardized tests came up. It seemed to me there were a lot of misconceptions about standardized tests like the SAT, the LSAT and the MCAT.
Seven years ago, I wrote a book review on Peter Sacks' Standardized MInds: The High Price of America's Testing Culture And What We Can Do To Change It. The review addresses some of thse misunderstandings. But it's not available on the web. I therefore figured I should re-publish it on the Right Coast. Here it is:
Peter Sacks is a man with a mission–protecting Americans from their unhealthy obsession with standardized tests. He hates them all–IQ tests, standardized employment tests, and "accountability exams" used to make comparisons among schools. But perhaps most of all, he hates the SAT.
The ideas expressed in his book–Standardized Minds: The High Price of America’s Testing Culture and What We Can Do to Change It–are not original; they have been part of a certain kind of liberal orthodoxy for decades. Nor are they particularly well-stated; in his zeal to condemn standardized tests of every stripe, he puts legitimate criticisms side-by-side with not-so-legitimate ones and sometimes gets mixed up about the research he is reporting. But the book is shrewdly-timed–and being in the right place at the right time is often what matters when it comes to influencing public policy.
Recently, as a result of the passage of measures like California’s Proposition 209, the SAT has become a hot issue. Public universities in some states are now prohibited by law from employing racial preferences in their admissions process. Advocates of preferential treatment therefore seek a radical re-definition of admissions criteria–including the de-emphasis or elimination of the SAT--as a way to bring racial preferences through the back door. African Americans and to a lesser extent Hispanics tend not to do well on the SAT; therefore it should be eliminated–or so the argument runs.
These advocates are anything but subtle. Last year, Assistant Secretary of Education Norma Cantu took the bold step of issuing draft "guidelines" that would have strong-armed colleges and universities into de-emphasizing or eliminating the SAT. She must have been caught off guard by the uproar that ensued, since she backed off, promising to return to the issue later. But most college administrators, including staunch supporters of affirmative action, view the SAT as a valuable if imperfect tool for selecting students. With the exception of such politically-correct schools as Bates and Mount Holyoke, it may take some persuasion to convince them to give the test up.