Jewish World Review Jan. 28, 2005/ 18 Shevat 5765


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Consumer Reports

Empty Shelves — In Stores and the Democratic Party | Five years ago, who'd have wagered that Lawrence Summers would emerge as the most fascinating alumnus of the undistinguished group of men and women who made up Bill Clinton's administration? Not me: I put 50 smackers on the prediction that Robert Rubin would be, at this time, working on his chip shot at Allenwood.

And, by now, showing a lot of compassion for the wrongfully imprisoned Martha Stewart.

Fortunately, Summers' contention that males have more aptitude for the sciences and math, a statement that the president of Harvard University is still apologizing for—wuss!—has no potential for debate in this columnist's household. My wife is a whiz at both, which is a mixed blessing since she has to shoulder the homework questions from our two boys who are equally challenged on those subjects as dear old dad. My ineptitude in science was so acute that at Johns Hopkins, which allowed only two D's on a student's final transcript for graduation, I flunked astronomy and biology-considered "guts" by the innumerable pre-meds at the college-in freshman year.

Still, as Reason's Jacob Sullum pointed out in a smart online article (Jan. 21), the former treasury secretary needn't have shared his pain when academics howled in protest, since any number of psychologists and professors agree that the question is at least up for grabs.

Sullum writes: "Decades of testing have shown that boys and men tend to do better than girls and women on tasks that require spatial reasoning (e.g., mentally rotating objects) and advanced mathematical abilities. These differences are especially pronounced at the upper end of the distribution, where future scientists and mathematicians congregate."

MIT biologist Nancy Hopkins, early favorite for NOW's Woman of the Year, earned the applause of many people following the controversy-I'd say feminists, but as the Times' Maureen Dowd has counseled her remaining readers, that species is now extinct-by telling the Boston Globe, after she walked out on Summers' chat, "I just couldn't breathe because that kind of bias makes me physically ill. I would've either blacked out or thrown up."

Not a bad line: maybe Hopkins should ditch her academic career and go straight to Hollywood.

On the other hand, when it comes to packing a formidable snowball and chucking it with clear aim at the target, Mrs. Smith has nothing on this son of the Northeast. It's a mismatch, not unlike the increasingly distasteful Alex Rodriguez trying to intimidate Boston's Curt Schilling over the ongoing Yanks-Bosox rivalry. When eight inches of snow fell in Baltimore last Saturday it was up to me to instruct the boys on the art of safe but vigorous sledding and building a temporary igloo in the backyard. As it turned out, the dire weather forecasts the day before were somewhat exaggerated; still, the shelves of local supermarkets were laid bare and, when we visited a Barnes & Noble downtown before the storm got heavy, the normally crowded aisles were nearly deserted.

At a nearby Sbarro's I was appalled-as always-that a slice of plain pie cost $2.83, and once again couldn't help but bore Nicky and Booker that in the old days, when JFK-still the patron saint of Democrats-was ramping up the war in Vietnam and hedging on integration you could buy a slice and a Coke at Village Pizza in Huntington for a quarter. But maybe it's because the brains of boys are differently wired than those of girls, as University of Western Ontario prof Doreen Kimura suggested more than a decade ago, that the kids can't get enough of ancient blizzard stories.

Like when I was sledding down the steep hill of LaRue Dr. and rammed right into the exhaust pipe of a neighbor's stalled Rambler at the bottom. Or the time when their Uncle Doug, trying out a metal Flying Saucer in the woods behind our house, hit a tree on his maiden voyage and chipped a tooth. Understandably, I'm too sheepish to tell them about the shameful day when four of my buddies and I hid behind a wooden fence near Southdown Rd. and threw iceballs at the cars going back and forth on the busy thoroughfare. The thought that one of our tosses might've caused an accident still gives me the shivers.

Anyway, nothing like a snowfall to empty your mind, at least temporarily, from the stream of current events. There was an article in the San Francisco Chronicle on Jan. 20-and Scout's Honor, this is true-by staff writer Joe Garofoli that began: "Bay Area progressives will stage a buffet of counter-inaugural events today, from book parties and poetry readings to demonstrations."

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Pardon me, but isn't the word "progressive" entirely inappropriate when describing Bush-bashing Democrats? Is it "progressive" to support bloated unions that reward undeserving employees-particularly teachers-on the basis of seniority rather than merit? Is it "progressive" to reflexively oppose any changes to Social Security, a 70-year-old entitlement program that went into effect when Americans died at an earlier age than today? And is it "progressive" to denounce Bush, whose Inaugural address was a lyrical (but plain-spoken) call for freedom around the world-like Truman and JFK-as a "murderer" for the ouster of teddy bear Saddam Hussein?

LBJ's attorney general Ramsey Clark-who'd have thought he was still alive?-was greeted enthusiastically by a group of protesters in D.C. last Thursday, enthralling them by saying that Bush has made the world a "more dangerous place." I don't think it's churlish to remind this Pied Piper-and by the way, where are all the young leaders of the movement?-that Islamic fanatics began the war against America in the "peaceful" 90s, but wasn't confronted by Clinton. One of the most stirring passages of Bush's speech was the following: "At this second gathering, our duties are defined not by the words I use, but by the history we have seen together. For half a century, America defended our own freedom by standing watch on distant borders. After the shipwreck of communism came years of relative quiet, years of repose, years of sabbatical. And then there came a day of fire."

Surprisingly, The New York Times was muted in its editorial about Bush's far-reaching address. The paper concluded: "Once in a long while, a newly sworn-in president moves beyond deeply felt but slightly bland oratory and says something that people will repeat long after he has moved into history. Mr. Bush's speech did not seem in danger of becoming immortal, but its universal intent suited the day."

Instead, the Times' editorial board stored its indignation for a truly crucial national issue two days later, an attack on television reality shows. The impetus for this outburst was the high ratings that Fox's American Idol received at the beginning of its fourth season. You needn't possess the intellect of Nancy Hopkins to understand that if the hit was on ABC, say, the editorial "American Awful" probably wouldn't have seen print. But, with Rupert Jacob Marley Murdoch lurking between the lines, the paper, ignoring that people who appear on these programs do so by choice, said, "[T]here is a very wide gap between demonstrating that life is full or hard knocks and embarrassments, and glorying in the abasement of the utterly defenseless."

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JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press ( Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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© 2005, Russ Smith