Archive

February 2nd, 2016

Oxford rejects political correctness, sort of

    Oxford University's Oriel College has decided not to tear down its statue of the British colonialist Cecil Rhodes, because of the "overwhelming message" it received that the statue should stay. The true motive appears to have been money.

    The college reportedly cut short its promised six-month "listening exercise," after it became clear that even to continue a debate on the subject could cost as much as £100 million in donations from alumni. That would catch the attention of any educational institution.

    It was the correct decision, but Oriel has offered a poor lesson to its students. Not surprisingly, the #RhodesMustFallOxford campaign, which agitated for the statue's removal, has cried foul over a "dishonest and cynical" decision. "The struggle continues!" says the campaign on its Facebook page. Well, struggle on. It's good that students should get upset about the world's injustices, past and present. Yet students are visitors at universities; they have no automatic right to control what these schools express in their stones.

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Obama stands firm against hatred: 'We are all Jews'

    Wednesday evening at the Embassy of Israel, I observed two unforgettable firsts.

    Until then, no Israeli ceremony honoring non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust had ever been held in the United States. This year, four honorees - two Americans and two Poles - were posthumously inducted into the ranks of some 26,000 Righteous Among the Nations hailed by Israel in gratitude for their courage and compassion.

    The other first occurred when Barack Obama showed up for the ceremony. Until then, no sitting U.S. president had spoken at the Israeli Embassy in Washington.

    The stories of the four who stood up for human values loomed in sharp relief to the indifference and hostility to Jews in war-torn Europe.

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Michael Bloomberg's news outlet couldn't cover him fairly. So I quit.

    On the evening that news of my resignation from Bloomberg Politics broke this week, I kept an appointment with a Princeton University student who had wanted to interview me for her college thesis, about women in journalism. Her first question: When did I know I wanted to be a journalist?

    That was easy. It was the summer of 1976 and I was lucky enough to have landed an internship at my hometown newspaper, the Pittsburgh Press. My colleagues were hardly the sort that college career counselors would recommend as mentors: Their fashion sense was dubious; their humor ribald. They had messy desks and, often, messy lives. They were not much interested in money or fame - unless it was someone else's they could turn into a headline.

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In high-poverty areas, the gender gap favors women

    Men are more likely to work than women. This has been true in the United States for generations and for entrenched reasons that have to do with "family values" and workplace policies. It's true because the culture says women should care for their children and because paying for child care is expensive. And it's true because of discrimination.

    The durability of that pattern makes a recent finding by economists at Harvard and Stanford universities all the more puzzling: Among the poor, the opposite is now true. Girls who grow up in poor families are more likely than the boys who grow up with them to work as adults.

    It's an exception that holds up in national data. And in segregated, heavily minority communities like Baltimore - places where incarceration and poverty rates run high - the gender divide is especially wide. Poor children struggle there. But boys are left even further behind.

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I always wanted children. But I've found other ways to be a mother.

    I've always been one of the most maternal women I know. For decades, I've quipped, "Jewish mother in training" while offering sunscreen or a sweater or more food to someone I thought needed it. In my teens and 20s, I told anyone who would listen that if I made it to 30 or 35 without meeting him, I'd go to a bar or a friend or a sperm bank so I could be a mom. News of a friend's miscarriage or a celebrity's infertility brought me visceral pain. I always stumbled when asked "Where do you want to be in five years?," because the truth was I hoped to be pushing my kid on a swing set, and that's no way to answer a job-interview question.

    So I couldn't imagine I'd be among the 15 percent of American women who end their years of fertility without children. My desire to have children was too strong, too definite. Yet here I am, nearly 50, without offspring. And I am completely at ease.

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Ease the poverty penalty in college admissions

    When I was chancellor of the New York City schools, I thought that if you were smart and poor, you could write your own ticket to college. I was dead wrong.

    A new study by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, where I serve as executive director, reveals that only 3 percent of students at our most selective colleges come from the 25 percent of families with the lowest incomes, while 72 percent come from the richest 25 percent of families.

    The unfairness of the situation is compounded by the fact that once admitted, poor students soar academically. According to our study, the poor students who do attend these elite schools graduate at equal rates and earn similarly high grades as their wealthy peers. The Cooke Foundation awards scholarships to exceptionally high-achieving low-income students; 95 percent of Cooke Scholars graduate from these selective schools with top grades.

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Donald Trump's one-man show is a smash

    The competing spectacles put on by Republican presidential candidates in Iowa on Thursday night should put to rest any remaining doubts that the party's 2016 nomination contest is a show-business phenomenon, and has little to do with the boring realities of governing after Election Day.

    Donald Trump adopted the role of the capricious lead singer who had quit his band in a huff and was playing a gig across town. First, he refused to take part in a Fox News debate with other candidates. Then he negotiated his return to the show until the last moment (Fox said he demanded a $5 million contribution to charity, but was told that money couldn't change hands under any circumstances). The other candidates were his jilted bandmates, haplessly trying to get through the show without their star and wisecracking about him throughout.

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Barbie is past saving

    How do you fix a problem like Barbie?

    She has been under fire for some time for being, in essence, a portable and inexpensive reminder of society's unrealistic beauty standards that we give little girls to carry around with them at all times. Which is nice, if that is what you are going for, but a bit disappointing if you are just trying to find a toy.

    Now Mattel has hit on a solution: Give Barbie a plethora of bodies. Barbie now transcends the physical plastic plane. She is no longer limited to a single form. She has become multitudes, splitting her soul into a myriad of horcruxes with equally impeccable hair and tiny portable accessories. Now there's a Curvy Barbie, a Petite Barbie and a Tall Barbie, all in a variety of skin tones and hair colors (so that we have four unreasonable standards to aspire to instead of just one) so that all kids will get a doll in whom they can see themselves, kind of.

    My parents were not Barbie parents and let me buy toys regardless of which gender-coded aisle they came from, so my idea of the ideal body type is Darth Vader. (Is this not correct?)

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As HIV approaches epidemic scale again, positive thinking is not enough. It's time to take PrEP, seriously

    When the FDA approved a drug to reduce the risk of HIV infections in July 2012, gay men rejoiced. If taken daily, Truvada works like a vaccine against HIV, effectively halting its spread. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hailed it as an "important new tool" in the fight against the disease. Slate described it as "a miracle drug." President Barack Obama went even imagined an "AIDS-free generation."

    It hasn't worked out that way. Truvada isn't making gay men healthier and safer; few are using the drug at all. And after years of decline, sexually transmitted diseases are spreading fast across the U.S. From 2005 to 2014, HIV diagnoses jumped 6 percent among men who have sex with men, with spikes of 101 percent among Asians, 24 percent among Latinos and 22 percent among blacks. Six in 10 gay African American men will be HIV-positive by their 40th birthday, according to some estimates. Transmission continued to climb even after Truvada hit the market.

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A brilliant scientist steps on history's toes

    By any measure, Eric Lander, director of the Broad Institute, is one of the most important scientists in the world today. His science is groundbreaking, his institutional power is enormous, and his ethical reputation is sterling. Yet Lander now finds himself the target of immense criticism as a result of … trying to do history.

    Lander's essay "The Heroes of Crispr," recently published in the journal Cell, has been attacked for its failure to disclose his research center's stake in a massive patent fight over the extraordinary genome-editing technology Crispr/Cas9, as well as for downplaying the roles of two female scientists, Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna, who are on the other side of what's been called the biggest patent war in the history of biotech.

    What went wrong? The lesson of this kerfuffle isn't only, as some have proposed, that critics are jealous of Lander's influence or opposed to his big-science ideology and accomplishments. It's something more subtle and more interesting: There's a huge difference between doing your job and trying to write the history of that job.

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