On oaks, women at war, TV & ADD, the college scene, etc.

Posted: Aug 19, 2004 12:00 AM

As a break from the rising tide of defeatism and all Abu Ghraib all the time, herewith a variety of items in the garden of public issues. . . .

From academia, these things:

- A study of grades at the eight Ivy League schools plus Stanford, MIT, and the University of Chicago has found grade inflation rampant - with A's totaling 46 percent of the grades awarded. At least some of the schools are imposing quotas.

- As with Harvard (early last year Jane Fonda demanded the return of $12.5 million), Yale (in 1995 Lee Bass forced the return of $20 million, and the school rejected a proffered grant of $200 million from the class of 1938), so now with Princeton. The Robertson family, which funds 75 percent of Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School budget, wants back all $525 million of the money it has donated, because - the family says - Princeton has failed to abide by stipulations as to how the money should be spent.

- Although the issue at Princeton has less to do with ideology than did the demands made of Harvard and Yale, students across the country are moving to address the lopsided leftism on college faculties. Campus conservative groups are multiplying like dandelions in spring. During the past five years, College Republican chapters have tripled; since 1995 the number of campus conservative newspapers has doubled. At the University of Texas, the nation's largest, a student has started a widely emulated Website "watch list" to warn students away from leftist profs.


Is the near-eradication of elm trees across the nation now to be the fate of oaks? Dutch elm disease practically wiped out elms in just 25 years. The latest arboreal threat is a fungus called "sudden oak death," hosted by more than 50 plants and spread principally by wind and rain. Having destroyed thousands of trees in California, it now is showing up in Eastern nurseries. A plant pathologist who co-discovered the fungus says the East's most vulnerable area may be the Southern Appalachians.


Two items about television and video games - the first bad, the second apparently good.

First, from The Washington Post: "Very young children who watch television face an increased risk of attention deficit problems by school age, a study has found, suggesting that TV might overstimulate and permanently 'rewire' the developing brain. For every hour of television watched daily, two groups of children - ages 1 and 3 - faced a 10-percent increased risk of having attention problems at age 7."

Second, from the Associated Press: "All those years on the couch playing Nintendo and PlayStation appear to be paying off for surgeons (in eye-hand co-ordination). Researchers (have) found that doctors who spent at least three hours a week playing video games made about 37 percent fewer mistakes in laparoscopic surgery and performed the task 27 percent faster than counterparts who did not play video games."


It was distressing to learn of Supreme Court Justice David Souter's recent mugging while jogging in D.C. Mugging is an awful thing that shouldn't happen to anyone. Yet in Souter's case, the incident just might offer some hope - given the notion that not only is a conservative a liberal who has outgrown adolescence but also a liberal who has been mugged.


Aides from the failed campaigns of Wesley Clark, Howard Dean and Richard Gephardt are trying to discourage Democrats from voting for Ralph Nader. John Kerry himself urged Nader not to run. A loose-cannon socialist ideologically simpatico with Kerry, Nader probably proved decisive in preventing Al Gore from carrying several states four years ago. Kerry may at least tacitly support this year's effort to drive down the Nader vote.


Oh, the woe over NPR's replacing of quarter-century morning-show host Bob Edwards. Well-placed weepy editorials; op-ed ululations; on-camera tear-ups. Bob Edwards helped make NPR's "Morning Edition," with 13 million listeners, the nation's second most popular radio show. So who can say with a straight face the nation has no successful example of liberal talk radio? It's alive and well - and government-subsidized - at NPR.


Late-May data showed 20 U.S. servicewomen killed thus far in Iraq - the largest number since World War II - and 162 wounded. Why? Without diminishing an iota the valor of women who serve, what is the justification for these casualties among the fairer, sustaining gender? How is it commendable, progressive, or enlightened for a culture not confronting imminent extinction routinely to insert its women into combat zones? What is the ennobling rationale?