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The U.S.

The lie behind those gloomy national polls

Michael MedvedUSA Today

Ask Americans how they feel about the world, said Michael Medved, and you wind up with a paradox. By staggering majorities, people tell pollsters they disapprove of both Congress and the president, and two out of three say the U.S. is headed “in the wrong direction.” Yet when asked about their own lives, “Americans express overwhelming contentment and dazzling confidence.” A recent Harris poll found that more than nine out of 10 people are satisfied “with the life you lead,” with 56 percent choosing the highest category, “very satisfied.” Almost everyone expects life to be better in five years. Somehow, Americans feel that they personally live in a “sun-kissed, optimistic island of happiness,” while the country at large is going to hell. How can this be? It’s actually not that surprising, given that we spend, on average, 30 hours a week immersed in television. On both the news and entertainment shows, the world is presented as rife with crime, terrorism, death, sexual depravity, personal humiliation, and bitter political conflict. Self-serving politicians add to the “prevailing gloom” by emphasizing problems and exaggerating threats. The real American story, though, is the one we live, in which people are making steady economic progress and life is mostly good—and always better than it was yesterday.  

How to get into Yale with  a ‘B’ average 

Peter SchmidtThe Boston Globe

Conservatives often complain that because of affirmative action, colleges are no longer meritocracies, said Peter Schmidt. But the reality is that it’s not lesser-qualified black and Hispanic students who elbow “most of the worthier applicants aside.” It’s “rich white kids with cash and connections.” A five-year study of 146 top colleges by the Educational Testing Service found that white students with subpar qualifications were “nearly twice as prevalent on such campuses as black and Hispanic students who received an admissions break based on their ethnicity or race.” Some of those white students were jocks, recruited to win ballgames. But most had connections “to people the institution wanted to keep happy,” such as alumni, donors, and politicians. Prestigious colleges such as Princeton and Yale are loath to admit it, but they quietly operate like trendy nightclubs, at which a select few can jump the rope line “by knowing the management or flashing cash.” So please, let’s stop pretending that if it weren’t for affirmative action, college admission would be based purely on merit.

A problem to wrap our arms around

Leonard PittsThe Miami Herald

Remember when we were urged to reach out and touch someone? said Leonard Pitts. The need for simple human contact hasn’t changed, but in a world defined by lawsuits and suspicion, hugging has officially become a highly suspicious activity—a doorway to molestation or sexual harassment. Recently, Fossil Hill Middle School in Fort Worth announced that its students would no longer be allowed to embrace or even hold hands. School districts as far-flung as Bend, Ore., Des Moines, and Orlando have enacted similar edicts. We’re not talking about banning groping or making out. “We are talking about hugs,” that simple act of affirming one another’s humanity. It’s all part of the pattern of modern life, which seems designed to deepen our isolation. On the telephone, we don’t speak to live operators but to voice-recognition software. We conduct business by e-mail, “watch television in separate rooms, eat dinner in shifts, and go about cocooned by iPod tunes.” As for kids who like a teacher or fellow student to hug them now and then, well, too bad. If they crave reassurance or simple human contact, they’ll “henceforth have to write text messages instead.”

Did Anita Hill lie about Justice Thomas?

Ruth MarcusThe Washington Post

In Clarence Thomas’ new autobiography, he desperately attempts to even the score with Anita Hill, said Ruth Marcus. The angriest Supreme Court justice insists anew that Hill was a liar and that a vast liberal conspiracy put her up to accusing him of sexual harassment during his confirmation hearings 16 years ago. But he shouldn’t be stirring up this painful episode: The evidence strongly suggests that Hill told the truth. Thomas claims that Hill has no credibility because, he writes, “she waited a decade to make her displeasure known.” Actually, four people who knew Hill testified under oath that she complained at the time that she worked for Thomas that he was making lewd comments and pressuring her for a sexual relationship. More troubling still, three other women who worked for Thomas also said he made grossly inappropriate comments about their bodies and kept asking for dates. Others testified about Thomas’ fondness for hard-core porn and frequent jokes about pubic hair—which matched Hill’s testimony. All of these people came forward, Thomas would have us believe, to “keep the black man in his place.” Blinded by his martyr complex, Thomas may have actually convinced himself of this. “The record suggests otherwise.”

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