Monday, April 24

Dahlia Lithwick on the Duke Case (Slate: Jurisprudence)

Here we go again.

The Duke lacrosse team's rape scandal cuts too deeply into this country's most tender places: race and class and gender. It reaffirms everyone's deep-seated, unspoken fear that black women/white men/poor people/privileged people/victims/ defendants can't get a fair shake under our legal system. This case will be chewed over, regurgitated, and chewed over again by television pundits unafraid of venturing opinions in no way informed or changed by the rapidly changing public facts.

It's easy to have doubts about the ability of the courts to resolve cases like this one when you stop to consider that long after the court proceedings, hearings, and investigations ended, we still have no idea what really happened between Kobe Bryant and his accuser, between Michael Jackson and his accuser, between Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill. If these legal processes are intended to be searches for the truth, why is there never any truth at the conclusion?

Part of the answer is that some truths are unknowable. Subtle distinctions between consensual sex and date rape, between coercion and force, between silences that sound like "yes" and silences that sound like "stop," are difficult for the parties themselves to work out. How can a juror really divine what went on in the mind of another person?

But that's where the Duke case truly differs from the Kobe Bryant case. This is not a case about consent. Either a forcible rape, kidnapping, and strangulation happened in that bathroom in Durham or it didn't. This wasn't a date gone wrong. At the margins, this case may be about sex and race and power. But it's not about subtle social messages or identity-based misunderstandings. It's about an assault.

Also, there is evidence here: Mounds and mounds of significant physical evidence. There is a rape kit. There are bruises, and then, apparently, more bruises. There are DNA tests and broken fingernails and witnesses seemingly tumbling out of the woodwork. There are time-stamped photographic accounts of much of the evening. This is not a classic "he says/she says." The evidence has something to say to us as well.

Perhaps we should be thankful that this is not a case about ESP as much as it's case about CSI.

One might hope that all this evidence, and the unambiguous legal charges, would lead to reasonable legal inferences and unequivocal legal conclusions. But that is where we'd be dead wrong. Because the so-called objective "evidence" currently being meticulously weighed and evaluated by the media is no more "objective" or "conclusive" than the rank speculation by the pundits. Everything we are hearing about the DNA tests and the photos is selective, secondhand, and anecdotal. We are being played by the lawyers, with leaks and well-chosen sound bites.

The same thing happened after the Kobe Bryant accusations surfaced. People made instant judgments—based on their own experiences, or what they read in the paper, and what they knew to be true in their bones. People thousands of miles from that resort in Colorado knew for certain that Bryant's accuser was a liar and a tramp. Women who had never even heard of Kobe Bryant knew absolutely that he was a rapist.

And that's what's happening in the Duke case. We already feel we know, with great certainty, who's lying and who isn't. The headmaster of one of the accused students' old high school puts out a statement saying: "Knowing Reade Seligmann as well as we do here at Delbarton ... I believe him innocent of the charges included in the indictment." A Duke English professor has called for the university to expel the whole lacrosse team to stop the "drunken white male privilege loosed amongst us."

Rush Limbaugh, knowing nothing about these people, comfortably dismisses the alleged victim as a "ho." (I gather he apologized. Huzzah.) Jesse Jackson, knowing nothing about this nameless accuser, is comfortable saying this is an archetypal racial conflict:

Black women; white men. A stripper; and a team blowout. The wealthy white athletes—many from prep schools—of Duke; and the working class woman from historically black North Carolina Central. Race and class and sex. What happened? We don't know for sure because the Duke players are maintaining a code of silence. The history of white men and black women—the special fantasies and realities of exploitation—goes back to the nation's beginning and the arrival of slaves from Africa.

And Tucker Carlson doesn't hesitate to impugn the truthfulness of anyone employed as a "crypto-hooker."

Such comments—about total strangers, involving facts that are still largely unknown—tell us absolutely nothing. Or, if they tell us anything at all, it's about what happens in the creepy closet under the stairs of Limbaugh's, Jackson's, and Carlson's brains.

As was the case with O.J. Simpson, Bryant, and Jackson, this is very quickly becoming an ink-blot test, not a legal proceeding: We look to the facts to confirm our own pre-existing suspicions about what inevitably happens between men and women, rich people and poor people, black people and white people.

And what about all this "physical evidence?" That unambiguous, objective scientific evidence? Supporters of the Duke students say the lack of a DNA match exonerates them. Peter Neufeld of the Innocence Project says, "There's an old saying that the absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence." Nurses say the injuries are consistent with rape. The boys say someone else raped her. Time-stamped photos suggest the alleged victim was already injured before she arrived at the party. Other time-stamped photos suggest new injuries occurred while she was there. Lost fake fingernails in the bathroom suggest a fight. The lack of any DNA material under those nails suggest she never fought back. Photos say she was intoxicated upon arrival. The second stripper implies she was drugged at the party.

Pick your fact, any fact. Each of them can, it seems, be spun both ways. This scandal has become yet another exercise in fiction-writing as opposed to truth-seeking; we can use the same evidence to confirm what we already know in our bones to be true.

This case serves as yet another depressing reminder of all that is wrong with this country: Our sons are spoiled misogynistic bigots, and our colleges are hotbeds of polarizing identity politics. Race and gender and poverty still tear us apart. But this case may also serve as a sober reminder that courts are not laboratories and jurors are not scientists. Facts are, more often than not, just our own subjective opinions, dressed up to look like incontrovertible truths. There are, in the end, objective truths to be found here. But the jurors must work hard to look past their prejudices, and the lawyers' spin, to find them.

Thursday, April 20

Being Bad: The Career Move

April 20, 2006, NYT

IT would probably require a stopwatch to clock the lag time between sin and redemption lately, as media disgrace is transformed into a bargaining chip in a celebrity's career often before a bad boy or girl has stumbled home from the crime scene and showered off the taint of shame.

What seems evident is that public humiliation has lost its barb. There might have been a time when being caught on camera in flagrante delicto or hoovering up lines of coke would have ended a career. But as Paris Hilton proved, being videotaped by one's boyfriend in a zonked-out state and naked on all fours does not put a hitch in one's five-year plan. If anything, the bubble-gum divinity apotheosized on the basis of a homemade pornography loop, a moronic catchphrase and a mental vacancy cavernous enough for storing yellowcake appears set to enjoy a media half-life about as long as that of a spent plutonium rod.

And this odd realization goes a long way toward explaining recent events in the life of another creature of the age: the model Kate Moss.

The recent career arc of this British model, style emblem, rocker's moll and anointed reprobate of the fashion world could be found unexpected only by those whose attention has strayed from the celebrity mosh pit that now crams the main stage of pop culture. Readers whose Star subscriptions have lapsed may not recall that it was just seven months ago, on Sept. 15, that The Daily Mirror of London ran front page photographs that, it claimed, showed Ms. Moss cutting and snorting cocaine in a London photo studio where Babyshambles, the band of her boyfriend, Pete Doherty, was in the middle of a recording session.

The pictures looked gritty, candid and sufficiently libel-proof that both images and coke-snorting allegations were soon plastered like sleazy wallpaper across the blogosphere. The immediate effect on Ms. Moss's career was less than promising. She was booted by a group of the clients who had made her one of the richest women in her industry, with estimated annual earnings of $9 million. The Swedish retailer H&M, Europe's largest clothing chain, led the charge, dropping her from an advertising campaign showcasing clothes designed by Stella McCartney after first coming to Ms. Moss's defense.

"If someone is going to be the face of H&M," a spokeswoman said at the time, "it is important that they be healthy, wholesome and sound."

Ms. Moss simultaneously discovered that lucrative contracts with longstanding clients like Burberry and Chanel were not renewed or else dropped. And while she stopped short of admitting to drug use, Ms. Moss did what spin doctors always advise troubled clients to do in a pinch: issue an apology and head for the hills. In Ms. Moss's case, the hills surrounded an Arizona clinic where she went to treat "the various personal issues I need to address," as she said in a prepared public statement, "and to take the difficult yet necessary steps to resolve them."

Yet a strange thing happened to Kate Moss on the way to rehab. Far from becoming a pariah or experiencing a serious fall from public grace, she developed an unexpected level of luster. The 32-year-old woman who has been the subject of controversial press since she was discovered at 14, the onetime waif, the person pilloried for allegedly promoting anorexia, the freewheeling seductress of the British tabloids, the tempestuous destroyer of hotel rooms, the confidante and bosom buddy of Anita Pallenberg and other rock chick survivors from the heyday of hard drugs, found herself bumped up a notch to the status of that most nebulous of beings, the cultural avatar.

And even before the model had checked out of the drying-out clinic, she was inundated in attention and work. W magazine ran a cover story on Kate Moss in November 2005. Vanity Fair made her its cover subject the following month. An issue of the influential fashion magazine French Vogue was dedicated to Ms. Moss, who also served as guest editor.

If her notoriety was bad for the brand, it is hard to see how. Even as the London police were questioning Ms. Moss in January, clients were clamoring for her services. Already by early 2006 she had booked campaigns with Virgin Mobile, Dior, Roberto Cavalli and CK Jeans. She had renewed her contracts with the leather and accessories company Longchamp and, it was rumored in the industry, also with Burberry, whose runway show in Milan she attended in February as the front-row guest of Rose Marie Bravo, the company's chief executive. "It shows how relevant she is," Jenn Ramey, Ms. Moss's American agent, said this week, just days after Nikon introduced a new campaign for its Coolpix S6 digital camera built around a series of photographs of a mostly naked Ms. Moss.

"Kate is the height of style and sophistication," said Bill Oberlander, the executive creative director of McCann Worldwide, the agency that created the Nikon ads, for which Ms. Moss is reputedly being paid several million dollars. "She has this almost superhuman quality."

FOR Anna Marie Bakker, the director of communications at Nikon, Ms. Moss seemed an obvious choice to promote a brand aggressively trying to shed its fusty image and seduce the notoriously fickle imaginations of young consumers. "Part of the appeal is that she is truly an enduring style icon," Ms. Bakker said. "But most importantly, she appeals to Nikon as we try to move our product forward, because she has an edge."

Doctoral dissertations could be written on the layered meanings of "edge," the most overused marketing term of the last decade and one most often deployed to lend freshness to ideas and objects whose use-by date has clearly expired. Yet Kate Moss, whose cool not only fueled an 18-year career at the top of her profession, but also attracted the attention of artists from Lucien Freud to the British sculptor Marc Quinn, can now fairly be said to have added "edge" to her résumé, largely on the basis of her sporadic relationship with the unregenerate bad boy, Mr. Doherty, and the resulting brouhaha about a druggy night spent in a London studio.

"She's ubiquitous, she never speaks publicly and so she's someone who has this muteness, this silence that allows people to project onto her image," said Mr. Quinn, whose painted bronze sculpture of Ms. Moss, in an elaborate yoga posture and with her feet behind her ears, will be the centerpiece of a show opening in May at the Mary Boone Gallery in New York. "Her image has a life of its own. What was interesting when she had all those troubles with the tabloid press about her drug-taking was that the image and the drug-taking didn't fit and people couldn't take that."

Yet just as likely the reverse is true; Ms. Moss's tabloid adventures added to the nest of magpie details that, wittingly or not, we all now seem to accumulate about celebrities and then mold into specious narratives about people we've never met. "And that, after all, is what a brand is," said James Twitchell, an author and professor of English and advertising at the University of Florida. "Celebrities are these extraordinary characters who have no plot, but who are in many ways the easiest characters to follow. They don't violate expectations because there really are none."

And so Ms. Moss's cool — the historical cool of bad boys and girls doing things that most of us, being properly middle class, might wish to do but will never get around to, explained Dr. Michael Brody, chairman of the media committee of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry — becomes something different and better in a marketing sense when one adds a dollop of scandal or edge.

"Edge denotes shame," said Dr. Brody, the kind invoked when, for example, one is caught by a camera huddled over a mound of white powder, neatly chopping lines. "People use cameras to take all kinds of pictures now," he added, alluding to the proliferation of too-intimate images widely available on sites like or "If you're selling a camera in our celebrity-obsessed culture, why not use a celebrity and one who was captured at the scene of a crime?" he said.

The idea is not just sexy, in a dubious but distinctly transgressive fashion. It is also a shrewd exploitation of brand. "From the minute her name came up, we loved the idea of Kate endorsing a camera," said Mr. Oberlander, the McCann Worldwide executive. What could be better, Mr. Oberlander said, than giving a camera to the woman who has spent her life as the focus of its gaze and letting her "take the lens and turn it on the audience?"

Sunday, April 16

The Way We Live Now: Way Upstairs, Downstairs

April 16, 2006

There are studies that prove it, but I don't need to read them. I've seen the prices on the menus. I've also seen the pay stubs of the cooks. I've stood in the mansions, let in by the maids, and listened to the string quartets, whose players I've met in the coat aisle at Goodwill. I know what's going on. As predicted, but much faster than anticipated, the rich in America are getting richer (at rates that favor the very rich and the superrich). And at the same time, as wasn't quite predicted but still seems faster than anticipated, the nonrich are getting almost nowhere.

What I didn't know was that my knowledge shouldn't bother me.

Not according to John Snow, still, at this writing, secretary of the U.S. Treasury, who nonchalantly told a journalist recently, "What's been happening in the United States for about 20 years is" a "long-term trend to differentiate compensation." "Long-term," when used this way by this sort of official, tends to mean "fundamentally unstoppable." And, in this case, inexplicable, like a sort of financial global-warming process that may be man-made or (who knows?) a natural cycle that we would welcome if only we knew its function. Snow, a trained economist and former corporate C.E.O., doesn't pretend to be able to explain what's causing this whole compensation differential. Nor does he seem tortured by his ignorance. "We've moved into a star system for some reason," he said, "which is not fully understood."

As a nonrich noneconomist, I don't know why what's happening is happening either. But I can remember when it wasn't happening, at least not so rapidly and spectacularly. Time: The 1970's. Place: The countryside north of Minneapolis. I'm attending public grade school and junior high, watching what little TV there was to watch then and bumping into rich folks on occasion. At school, in my social-studies classes, I'm learning about a condition known as "poverty," which mainly exists, my textbooks indicate, in two obscure locations: "Appalachia" and "the ghetto." (It's a terrible situation, but it's improving some.) From television, on "Gilligan's Island," I'm learning about tycoons. (They wear blazers and speak in nasal voices.) And from actual rich people, whom I know are rich because I've heard my parents whisper about them, I'm learning that having lots of money means driving renamed Fords and Chevys called Lincolns and Cadillacs. They possess more leg room than Fords and Chevys, but mechanically they're the same, my father says.

Such innocence. Such miniature wisdom. Poverty: Bad, related to geography and something we're rightly trying to end. Tycoons: A ridiculous species of the rich. The rich: What Lincolns are to Fords. Conclusion: We're all Americans, mechanically.

But then came the dawning of the long-term star system, a phenomenon so extensive and mysterious (even to educated Treasury secretaries) that I sense it may soon become immune to human cognition in the manner of the vastest things. Gravity. Time. The national debt.

It doesn't help that the vocabulary of wealth and poverty hasn't been adjusted for inflation since the heyday of dimwitted 1960's TV comedy. We still call the very rich among us millionaires, even though lots of them are closer to billionaires. Words fail reality at the other end too. In 1974, I knew exactly what the grown-ups meant when they called a person "poor." They meant he could barely feed or clothe himself. Today that's still what I think poor means, but to friends of mine in their 20's and early 30's, it seems to mean something more like "short on cash." Their favored terms for passers-by who appear to be living on the edge are "practically homeless," "doomed" and, sometimes, "psycho" — words that refer less to having less than to somehow being less. The condition once described by "poor" — having nothing in a chronic fashion and not because of a temporary money crunch caused by lavish spending; and having nothing for many possible reasons, but not necessarily or chiefly because the person is damned or insane or a social untouchable — has been orphaned by ordinary speech. It's a simple idea without a simple word now.

Meanwhile, the nonsimple words are taking over. The words with 11 bedrooms and 7 baths that are larger and finer than rich folks needed before the "differentiation" — which isn't merely an economic trend but a style, an aesthetic. "Since the early 1980's on," Secretary Snow said, "we've seen a rise in inequality, but we've also seen parallel to that a continuous rise in living standards." To know what he means, you would have to read the studies, but to know how he feels, you just have to hear his diction.

To my ear, the man sounds satisfied. And convinced that his listeners should be satisfied too.

But my ears are small, predifferentiation ears, their canals wide enough for only simple words and simple ideas. "Rich." "Poor." "Unfair." My eyes have a similar limitation. I see a person wearing jeans, and I can't imagine that he's a millionaire. I see a person I'm told is worth a billion and wonder why he's not wearing a tie. I see his Bentley and mistake it for a Lincoln, which is really just a Ford, and then out of that Ford steps a major movie star. I see a Cadillac, and I find out that it belongs to an immigrant gypsy-cab driver who shares it with his two brothers-in-law and parks it in the garage where all of them live.

The Treasury secretary may have a point, though. It's all mysterious.

In the limited sense of confusing, it sure is. But on "Gilligan's Island," if the Skipper or the Professor deemed some occurrence "mysterious," what I remember him doing next was to quiver and then run off and warn the others.

Walter Kirn, a frequent contributor, is the author, most recently, of "Mission to America," a novel.

Troop Estimates

In February 2003 General Shinseki, who had commanded the NATO peacekeeping force in Iraq, testified in Congress that peacekeeping operations in Iraq could require several hundred thousand troops, in part because it was a country with "the kinds of ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems."

Days later, Paul D. Wolfowitz, then the second-ranking official at the Pentagon, called the estimate "wildly off the mark," a sentiment that Mr. Rumsfeld repeated in unusual public comments that were widely interpreted in Washington as a rebuke to General Shinseki.

Mr. Wolfowitz told Congress then that the American force could be sufficiently smaller than Mr. Shinseki had estimated because the Iraqis would welcome the Americans and because the country had no history of ethnic strife and was unlike Bosnia. Just this week, commanders on the ground in Iraq have said the current sectarian strife there reminded them of the situation in the former Yugoslavia.

Saturday, April 15

Junk-Food Jihad: Should we regulate French fries like cigarettes?

Should we regulate French fries like cigarettes?
By William Saletan
Posted Saturday, April 15, 2006, at 7:31 AM ET

Goodbye, war on smoking. Hello, war on fat.

In a span of two months, smoking bans have been imposed in Scotland, enacted in England, Denmark, and Uruguay, proposed by the government of Portugal, and endorsed by the French public. China has banned new cigarette factories. In Virginia, our third most prolific tobacco state, senators voted to ban smoking in nearly all public places. The Arkansas legislature, backed by a Republican governor, passed a similar ban and voted to extend this policy to cars in which a child is present. Tobacco companies have won a skirmish here or there, but always in retreat.

So, we've found a new enemy: obesity. Two years ago, the government discovered that the targets of previous crusades—booze, sex, guns, and cigarettes—were killing a smaller percentage of Americans than they used to. The one thing you're not allowed to do in a culture war is win it, so we searched the mortality data for the next big menace. The answer was as plain as the other chin on your face. Obesity, federal officials told us, would soon surpass tobacco as the chief cause of preventable death. They compared it to the Black Death and the Asian tsunami. They sent a team of "disease detectives" to West Virginia to investigate an obesity outbreak. Last month, the surgeon general called obesity "the terror within" and said it would "dwarf 9-11."

How do we fight it? Everyone agrees on exercising and eating responsibly. The debate is over what the government should do. Health advocates want to restrict junk-food sales, regulate advertising, require more explicit labels, and ban trans fats (also known as partially hydrogenated oils), which are often put into crackers, cookies, and other products to prolong shelf life. They marshal the kind of evidence that won the war on smoking: correlations between soda, junk food, obesity, disease, and death. Lawyers who made their fortunes suing tobacco companies are preparing suits against soda companies. Two months ago, when President Bush gave a health-care speech at the headquarters of Wendy's, activists compared the hamburger chain to Philip Morris. They see themselves as waging the same brave struggle, this time against "the food industry."

But somehow, "the food industry" doesn't sound quite as evil as "the tobacco industry." Something about food—the fact that it keeps us alive, perhaps—makes its purveyors hard to hate. For that matter, the rationale for recent bans on smoking is the injustice of secondhand smoke, and there's no such thing as secondhand obesity. Last year, a Pew Research poll found that 74 percent of Americans viewed tobacco companies unfavorably, but only 39 percent viewed fast-food companies unfavorably. This week, a Pew survey found that more Americans blame obesity, especially their own, on lack of exercise and willpower than on "the kinds of foods marketed at restaurants and grocery stores."

These obstacles don't make the assault on junk food futile. But they do clarify how it will unfold. It will rely on three arguments: First, we should protect kids. Second, fat people are burdening the rest of us. Third, junk food isn't really food.

Targeting kids is a familiar way to impose morals without threatening liberties. You can have a beer or an abortion, but your daughter can't. The conservative aspect of this argument is that you're entitled, as a parent, to decide what your kids can do or buy. That's the pitch Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, made last week in a bill to crack down on junk food in schools. The liberal half of the argument is that kids are too young to make informed choices. In this case, it's true. Studies show that little kids ask for products they see on television; fail to distinguish ads from programs; and are heavily targeted by companies peddling candy, fast food, and sugared cereal.

This stage of the fat war will be a rout. In schools, the audience is young and captive, and the facts are appalling. According to a government report, 75 percent of high schools, 65 percent of middle schools, and 30 percent of elementary schools have contracts with "beverage"—i.e., soda—companies. The sodas are commonly sold through vending machines. The contracts stipulate how many thousands of cases each district has to buy, and they offer schools a bigger cut of the profits from soda than from juice or water. Soda companies, realizing they're going to lose this fight, are fleeing elementary schools and arguing that high-schoolers are old enough to choose. But health advocates refuse to draw such a line. They're not going to stop with kids.

To keep junk food away from adults, fat-fighters will have to explain why obesity is the government's business. Some say the government created the problem by subsidizing pork, sugar, cream, high-fructose corn syrup, and other crud. Harkin reasons that the government pays for school lunches and must protect this "investment." But their main argument is that obesity inflates health-care costs and hurts the economy through disability and lost productivity. Last month, former President Clinton, a confessed overeater, told the nation's governors that obesity has caused more than a quarter of the rise in health-care costs since 1987 and threatens our economic competitiveness. It's not our dependence on foreign oil that's killing us. It's our dependence on vegetable oil.

If the fat-fighters win that argument, they'll reach the final obstacle: the sanctity of food. Food is a basic need and a human right. Marlboros won't keep you alive on a desert island, but Fritos will. To lower junk food to the level of cigarettes, its opponents must persuade you that it isn't really food. They're certainly trying. Soda isn't sustenance, they argue; it's "liquid candy." Crackers aren't baked; they're "engineered," like illegal drugs, to addict people. Last year, New York City's health commissioner asked restaurants to stop using trans fats, which he likened to asbestos. But he ignored saturated fats, which are equally bad and more pervasive. Why are trans fats an easier whipping-cream boy? Because they're mostly artificial.

This, I suspect, is where the war will end. Ban all the creepy-soft processed cookies you want to, but respect nature and nutrition. New York City is purging whole milk from its schools, despite the fact that milk has steadily lost market share to soda during the obesity surge. A fact sheet from Harkin implies that schools should treat milk, French fries, and pizza like soda, jelly beans, and gum. Come on. How many people died in the Irish jelly bean famine? How many babies have nursed on 7-Up? How many food groups does gum share with pizza? If you can't tell the difference, don't tell us what to eat.

A version of this article also appears in the Outlook section of the Sunday Washington Post.

William Saletan is Slate's national correspondent and author of Bearing Right: How Conservatives Won the Abortion War.

Article URL:

Revival in Japan Brings Widening of Economic Gap

April 16, 2006
Revival in Japan Brings Widening of Economic Gap

OSAKA, Japan — Japan's economy, after more than a decade of fitful starts, is once again growing smartly. Instead of rejoicing, however, Japan is engaged in a nationwide bout of hand-wringing over increasing signs that the new economy is destroying one of the nation's most cherished accomplishments: egalitarianism.

Today, in a country whose view of itself was once captured in the slogan, "100 million, all-middle class society," catchphrases harshly sort people into "winners" and "losers," and describe Japan as a "society of widening disparities." Major daily newspapers are running series on the growing gap between rich and poor, with such titles as "Divided Japan" and "Light and Darkness."

The moment of reckoning has come as the man given credit for the economic revival, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, prepares to retire in September after more than five years in office. Mr. Koizumi's Reaganesque policies of deregulation, privatization, spending cuts and tax breaks for the rich helped lift the national economy, but at a social cost that Japan's more 127 million residents are just beginning to grasp.

Thanks to a growing economy and rising corporate profits, companies hired several hundred thousand more young Japanese for the start of the fiscal year on April 1. The broad Topix stock index closed recently on a 14-year-high. Commercial land prices in the country's three biggest metropolitan areas rose for the first time in 15 years, and high-rise luxury apartment buildings have kept sprouting across Tokyo.

At the same time, the number of Japanese without any savings has doubled in the last five years, and the number receiving welfare payments or educational assistance have spiked by more than a third.

Mayumi Terauchi, 38, began receiving education aid when her 7-year-old son, Yuuki, started school last year, to help bear the costs of the backpack, cafeteria lunches and other necessities not covered in public schools. She frets that his place and that of her 1-year-old daughter, Natsumi, are already fixed in the new Japan of winners and losers.

Ms. Terauchi sees a "huge gap" in quality between public and private schools here in Osaka. But she and her husband cannot afford the private schools, or even the cram schools — for-profit supplemental programs — that would raise their children's chances of getting into good colleges and securing their future.

"I want to provide them with an education that will allow them to choose from, say, 10 different kinds of jobs," Ms. Terauchi said. "But I can only provide them with an education that will offer them three kinds of jobs. I think it's wrong that only kids who go to cram schools can choose from 10."

Her husband works at a small company that makes time recording equipment, leaving the house at 8 a.m. and returning after midnight on the last train. He has not received a raise in the last decade, and most of the overtime he works goes unpaid. Ms. Terauchi, who used to work at the same company, is now a homemaker.

In Osaka, home to medium-size and small businesses that have yet to bounce back from the long economic downturn, nearly 28 percent of schoolchildren receive, based on household income, about $500 in annual aid provided by Osaka and the national government. It is the nation's highest rate, followed by Tokyo, with 25 percent.

The focus on the widening economic gap has put Mr. Koizumi on the defensive.

"I don't think it's bad that there are social disparities," he said in Parliament, explaining that he favored a "society that rewards talented people who make efforts."

Mr. Koizumi later appeared to soften his position. "Winners and losers shouldn't be trapped in those categories. If someone loses once, he should be given a second chance."

From a highly stratified prewar society, postwar Japan was transformed into a nation where companies famously offered lifetime employment and promoted employees according to seniority, not performance.

"Until the mid-1990's, the government used its power to contain the widening of social disparities," said Masahiro Yamada, a sociologist at Tokyo Gakugei University, who has written a best seller called "Society of Disparities in Expectations."

Even after the so-called bubble economy collapsed, the government kept spending liberally on public works that sustained companies, which, in turn, continued to take care of their employees. Eventually, Mr. Yamada said, Japan just did not have the means to practice this form of paternalistic capitalism.

Critics say that though some changes under Mr. Koizumi were necessary, others went too far in favoring the rich at the expense of the average Japanese.

Even as many companies abandoned lifetime employment, laid off employees and began tying promotions to performance, Mr. Koizumi lifted most restrictions against hiring temporary workers. Critics say these workers are a growing underclass of Japanese, with permanently lower wages, few benefits and little chance of becoming full-time employees.

Until a generation ago, in keeping with the belief that wealth must be redistributed, the highest personal income tax rate was 75 percent. It was gradually lowered, to its current rate of 37 percent in 1999, before Mr. Koizumi took power. Under his government, the capital gains tax on sales of stocks was lowered from 20 percent to 10 percent in 2003, and inheritance laws were changed to make it easier to transfer large assets. Meanwhile, the government decreased health and pension benefits.

"It's trickle-down theory," said Toshiaki Tachibanaki, an economist at Kyoto University, who argues that Mr. Koizumi's policies have widened social disparities. "Rich people should be helped so they will contribute to the economy."

The government says that the aging population, more than anything else, has caused income gaps. But critics say aging alone does not account for the sweeping changes since 2000, the year before Mr. Koizumi became prime minister.

In that period, in a country famous for its savers, the number of households reporting no savings doubled to 24 percent — the highest figure since the early 1960's. And the number of households receiving welfare payments rose by more than 37 percent to more than a million households. From 2000 to 2004, the number of schoolchildren receiving aid rose by 36 percent to almost 13 percent of elementary and junior high school students.

Mr. Yamada, the sociologist, says the disparities are sharpest among Japanese in their 20's and 30's, among whom two groups have emerged: full-time employees and permanent temporary workers.

"The reason that there are no riots in Japan as in France is that most of these young people live with their parents," Mr. Yamada said, pointing out that even 12 percent of Japanese between the ages of 35 and 44 lived with their parents in 2004. With free housing and food, those with temporary jobs can still afford to pursue personal interests.

Most troubling to many critics are the emerging inequalities in education. Private junior high schools, offering guaranteed access to a prestigious private high school and high chances of getting into a top university, have been attracting increasing numbers of students in the last five years.

To get into such a junior high school, a child usually attends cram school for three years through the sixth grade, at a total cost of about $20,000. A magazine called President Family profiles families with children who have entered high quality junior high schools. Typically, the father is a high-earning professional, while the mother is a homemaker who concentrates on the child's schooling.

"We see polarization," said Toshio Koido, who has taught for 30 years at Yata Elementary, a public school, in southern Osaka.

Nearly 60 percent of the school's students receive educational assistance, even though Osaka has raised the income threshold to qualify for it. Mr. Koido said that many of the children's fathers had been laid off or shifted to lower-paying jobs in recent years.

"Some children are spending evenings alone because their mothers work at night," Mr. Koido said, explaining that students' home environment had become a problem in recent years. "They can't focus in the classroom. They're late, not just by minutes but by hours."

Elementary and junior high school are mandatory and free in Japan. But Kotaro Tatsumi, 29, an official at a private welfare organization, said that even with educational aid many families struggled to pay for supplies.

"One family asked us to look for a used school uniform because they couldn't afford to buy one," he said. "So we looked for one through our newsletter and found one."

Miyuki Matsuda, an office worker at the same organization, receives school aid for her 10-year-old son. She and her husband, a cement truck driver, also have a 2-year-old daughter. Unlike the families in "President Family," Ms. Matsuda, 34, said that among families in her neighborhood both parents work.

"I can tell that from the fact that very few parents show up for open school events," Ms. Matsuda said. "People say they could be fired if they take the time off."

"I wonder what kind of country Japan is becoming if you're told you're either a winner or loser," she said. "I don't want to be either. I just want to lead an average life."

Friday, April 14

Weapons of Math Destruction

Weapons of Math Destruction

Now it can be told: President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney based their re-election campaign on lies, damned lies and statistics.

The lies included Mr. Cheney's assertion, more than three months after intelligence analysts determined that the famous Iraqi trailers weren't bioweapons labs, that we were in possession of two "mobile biological facilities that can be used to produce anthrax or smallpox."

The damned lies included Mr. Bush's declaration, in his "Mission Accomplished" speech, that "we have removed an ally of Al Qaeda."

The statistics included Mr. Bush's claim, during his debates with John Kerry, that "most of the tax cuts went to low- and middle-income Americans."

Compared with the deceptions that led us to war, deceptions about taxes can seem like a minor issue. But it's all of a piece. In fact, my early sense that we were being misled into war came mainly from the resemblance between the administration's sales pitch for the Iraq war — with its evasions, innuendo and constantly changing rationale — and the selling of the Bush tax cuts.

Moreover, the hysterical attacks the administration and its defenders launch against anyone who tries to do the math on tax cuts suggest that this is a very sensitive topic. For example, Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa once compared people who say that 40 percent of the Bush tax cuts will go to the richest 1 percent of the population to, yes, Adolf Hitler.

And just as administration officials continued to insist that the trailers were weapons labs long after their own intelligence analysts had concluded otherwise, officials continue to claim that most of the tax cuts went to the middle class even though their own tax analysts know better.

How do I know what the administration's tax analysts know? The facts are there, if you know how to look for them, hidden in one of the administration's propaganda releases.

The Treasury Department has put out an exercise in spin called the "Tax Relief Kit," which tries to create the impression that most of the tax cuts went to low- and middle-income families. Conspicuously missing from the document are any actual numbers about how the tax cuts were distributed among different income classes. Yet Treasury analysts have calculated those numbers, and there's enough information in the "kit" to figure out what they discovered.

An explanation of how to extract the administration's estimates of the distribution of tax cuts from the "Tax Relief Kit" is here. Here's the bottom line: about 32 percent of the tax cuts went to the richest 1 percent of Americans, people whose income this year will be at least $341,773. About 53 percent of the tax cuts went to the top 10 percent of the population. Remember, these are the administration's own numbers — numbers that it refuses to release to the public.

I'm sure that this column will provoke a furious counterattack from the administration, an all-out attempt to discredit my math. Yet if I'm wrong, there's an easy way to prove it: just release the raw data used to construct the table titled "Projected Share of Individual Income Taxes and Income in 2006." Memo to reporters: if the administration doesn't release those numbers, that's in effect a confession of guilt, an implicit admission that the data contradict the administration's spin.

And what about the people Senator Grassley compared to Hitler, those who say that the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans will receive 40 percent of the tax cuts? Although the "Tax Relief Kit" asserts that "nearly all of the tax cut provisions" are already in effect, that's not true: one crucial piece of the Bush tax cuts, elimination of the estate tax, hasn't taken effect yet. Since only estates bigger than $2 million, or $4 million for a married couple, face taxation, the great bulk of the gains from estate tax repeal will go to the wealthiest 1 percent. This will raise their share of the overall tax cuts to, you guessed it, about 40 percent.

Again, the point isn't merely that the Bush administration has squandered the budget surplus it inherited on tax cuts for the wealthy. It's the fact that the administration has spent its entire term in office lying about the nature of those tax cuts. And all the world now knows what I suspected from the start: an administration that lies about taxes will also lie about other, graver matters.

Wednesday, April 12

Christ Among the Partisans

April 9, 2006
Op-Ed Contributor, NYT
Christ Among the Partisans, By GARRY WILLS

THERE is no such thing as a "Christian politics." If it is a politics, it cannot be Christian. Jesus told Pilate: "My reign is not of this present order. If my reign were of this present order, my supporters would have fought against my being turned over to the Jews. But my reign is not here" (John 18:36). Jesus brought no political message or program.

This is a truth that needs emphasis at a time when some Democrats, fearing that the Republicans have advanced over them by the use of religion, want to respond with a claim that Jesus is really on their side. He is not. He avoided those who would trap him into taking sides for or against the Roman occupation of Judea. He paid his taxes to the occupying power but said only, "Let Caesar have what belongs to him, and God have what belongs to him" (Matthew 22:21). He was the original proponent of a separation of church and state.

Those who want the state to engage in public worship, or even to have prayer in schools, are defying his injunction: "When you pray, be not like the pretenders, who prefer to pray in the synagogues and in the public square, in the sight of others. In truth I tell you, that is all the profit they will have. But you, when you pray, go into your inner chamber and, locking the door, pray there in hiding to your Father, and your Father who sees you in hiding will reward you" (Matthew 6:5-6). He shocked people by his repeated violation of the external holiness code of his time, emphasizing that his religion was an internal matter of the heart.

But doesn't Jesus say to care for the poor? Repeatedly and insistently, but what he says goes far beyond politics and is of a different order. He declares that only one test will determine who will come into his reign: whether one has treated the poor, the hungry, the homeless and the imprisoned as one would Jesus himself. "Whenever you did these things to the lowliest of my brothers, you were doing it to me" (Matthew 25:40). No government can propose that as its program. Theocracy itself never went so far, nor could it.

The state cannot indulge in self-sacrifice. If it is to treat the poor well, it must do so on grounds of justice, appealing to arguments that will convince people who are not followers of Jesus or of any other religion. The norms of justice will fall short of the demands of love that Jesus imposes. A Christian may adopt just political measures from his or her own motive of love, but that is not the argument that will define justice for state purposes.

To claim that the state's burden of justice, which falls short of the supreme test Jesus imposes, is actually what he wills — that would be to substitute some lesser and false religion for what Jesus brought from the Father. Of course, Christians who do not meet the lower standard of state justice to the poor will, a fortiori, fail to pass the higher test.

The Romans did not believe Jesus when he said he had no political ambitions. That is why the soldiers mocked him as a failed king, giving him a robe and scepter and bowing in fake obedience (John 19:1-3). Those who today say that they are creating or following a "Christian politics" continue the work of those soldiers, disregarding the words of Jesus that his reign is not of this order.

Some people want to display and honor the Ten Commandments as a political commitment enjoined by the religion of Jesus. That very act is a violation of the First and Second Commandments. By erecting a false religion — imposing a reign of Jesus in this order — they are worshiping a false god. They commit idolatry. They also take the Lord's name in vain.

Some may think that removing Jesus from politics would mean removing morality from politics. They think we would all be better off if we took up the slogan "What would Jesus do?"

That is not a question his disciples ask in the Gospels. They never knew what Jesus was going to do next. He could round on Peter and call him "Satan." He could refuse to receive his mother when she asked to see him. He might tell his followers that they are unworthy of him if they do not hate their mother and their father. He might kill pigs by the hundreds. He might whip people out of church precincts.

The Jesus of the Gospels is not a great ethical teacher like Socrates, our leading humanitarian. He is an apocalyptic figure who steps outside the boundaries of normal morality to signal that the Father's judgment is breaking into history. His miracles were not acts of charity but eschatological signs — accepting the unclean, promising heavenly rewards, making last things first.

He is more a higher Nietzsche, beyond good and evil, than a higher Socrates. No politician is going to tell the lustful that they must pluck out their right eye. We cannot do what Jesus would do because we are not divine.

It was blasphemous to say, as the deputy under secretary of defense, Lt. Gen. William Boykin, repeatedly did, that God made George Bush president in 2000, when a majority of Americans did not vote for him. It would not remove the blasphemy for Democrats to imply that God wants Bush not to be president. Jesus should not be recruited as a campaign aide. To trivialize the mystery of Jesus is not to serve the Gospels.

The Gospels are scary, dark and demanding. It is not surprising that people want to tame them, dilute them, make them into generic encouragements to be loving and peaceful and fair. If that is all they are, then we may as well make Socrates our redeemer.

It is true that the tamed Gospels can be put to humanitarian purposes, and religious institutions have long done this, in defiance of what Jesus said in the Gospels.

Jesus was the victim of every institutional authority in his life and death. He said: "Do not be called Rabbi, since you have only one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no one on earth your father, since you have only one Father, the one in heaven. And do not be called leaders, since you have only one leader, the Messiah" (Matthew 23:8-10).

If Democrats want to fight Republicans for the support of an institutional Jesus, they will have to give up the person who said those words. They will have to turn away from what Flannery O'Connor described as "the bleeding stinking mad shadow of Jesus" and "a wild ragged figure" who flits "from tree to tree in the back" of the mind.

He was never that thing that all politicians wish to be esteemed — respectable. At various times in the Gospels, Jesus is called a devil, the devil's agent, irreligious, unclean, a mocker of Jewish law, a drunkard, a glutton, a promoter of immorality.

The institutional Jesus of the Republicans has no similarity to the Gospel figure. Neither will any institutional Jesus of the Democrats.

Garry Wills is professor emeritus of history at Northwestern University and the author, most recently, of "What Jesus Meant."

Sunday, April 9

Blue Devils Made Them Do It

Allan Gurganus, the author of "The Practical Heart," is a Guggenheim Fellow for 2006.

NO charges have been brought yet. True, the coach has resigned; one student has been suspended; three white players still stand accused of raping and sodomizing a black "exotic" dancer hired to dance at a party at their school-leased pad.

Innocent until proven guilty, yes. But everybody has an opinion. Certainly here, where Topic A — A.C.C. basketball — just ended with both Duke and North Carolina falling short. March Madness takes on new meaning.

Lacrosse was our Eden's first team sport. The Cherokees called it "the little brother of war." They swore it offered superb battle training. It bred loyalty among players, a solidarity demonstrated by the code of silence among Duke's party attendees. These included the team's one black member and only Durham native.

Postparty, the sole player now banished from campus (for his own protection) sent a group e-mail message. It promised another bash, one whose invited women would be killed, then skinned. O.K. Innocent until proven guilty. I know his parents love him; I hope they get him help. This young man's lawyer actually cited his sudden concentration upon skinning as proof that rape had not occurred.

From north of here, this story must seem like yet another involving Southern frat boys run wild, besmirching the great-granddaughters of their own ancestral slaves. But Duke's lacrosse team is largely recruited from Northeastern prep schools. The player who showed such lively interest in peeling skin off his next stripper has a white S.U.V. with New Jersey plates.

Though Duke is in Durham, N.C., whose namesake family made its billions in tobacco, most of Duke's students hail from elsewhere. The university's popularity as an alternative to the Ivy League has been refined in recent years. Students fondly call the campus Gothic Wonderland.

This Disney reference acknowledges the incongruity of its gray-stone Oxbridge architecture, constructed in the 1930's as a wishful invocation of Europe: real culture, faux antiquity. It could not, like Chapel Hill's 18th-century campus, be built of native red brick. Why? The tobacco warehouses visible from the Duke campus are all brick.

As a native North Carolinian, one too familiar with the state's code of privilege and fraternity, I left home early. I went north to school, taking my chances among strangers rather than trusting the old-boy network that might've worked for me. But after decades elsewhere, I came back, bought an Arts and Crafts house, settled here to grow a garden, love my friends. I daily observe and adore this place.

I know firsthand the good will of the Durham community. Through Duke's Center for Documentary Studies, I have taught fourth graders writing and drawing. My class included professors' children as well as children of the cleaning crews who nightly scrub their labs and offices. It is criminal that this sexual and racial accusation might seem typical. It's sad that the university administration's three-week silence appeared to sanction such acts.

I have also taught at Duke. My students have been exemplary. Certain young writers from my class proved idealistic enough to go teach at rough public schools, one in a section of Durham far from the calming sight of Duke's cathedral-sized chapel. The level of teaching at the university is superlative. And it is done by actual professors, not teaching assistants. One-third of Duke's students are members of minority groups. Duke is hardly the lily-white institution some suppose.

Like all universities, though, this one lives or dies by attracting top students. That means convincing college-shopping high schoolers that Duke is sexy and fun. (I still find it hard to believe that anyone would choose a college based on how well its basketball team played the previous year; but, about so many things, I seem to be the last to understand.)

Lacrosse is a draw. Glamorous boarding-school sports are magnets for the attractive, competitive and wealthy young people that increasingly define Duke's student body.

Ivy League colleges do not, they assure us, give athletic scholarships per se. Here, there's no such interdiction. To enlist — then hold onto — a major player, promises must be made. Talent has its privileges, especially in lacrosse, that bailiwick of Abercrombie allure.

One perk of belonging to a sports team: preferred living quarters, close to campus but far from adult supervision. The lacrosse team's 610 North Buchanan house is, even among such Animal Houses, notorious. Friends in the neighborhood painstakingly restored an old home; they sold it the instant Duke planted a sports team next door.

Young male students are apt to take on the nature of their particular sport. One early explorer, after witnessing an Indian game involving hundreds of stick-wielding players, wrote, "Almost everything short of murder is allowable."

The Duke team is known on campus as the Meatheads. Nights before the dancer's visit, complaints were lodged in a nearby restaurant as players chanted with the wit typical of such groups, "Duke La—crosse! Duke La—crosse!" No one quite dared confront them. Though they pass as ordinary citizens — unlike the pituitary cases found among basketball stars — they're still guys of serious, strenuous bulk.

Their coach, now resigned, preached, "Work hard, play hard." This seems to have meant, "If you turn up and give me your all at practice, what happens after hours is strictly 'Don't Ask.' " The "Don't Tell" part involved not snitching on one another. Neighbors complained to the university to little avail. Middle-class white residents, come to ask for late-night noise reduction, were routinely cursed. The beer-can litter and the welter of S.U.V.'s suggested what went unmonitored inside the house.

The police report did more than hint. Its allegations of rape and sodomy prove weirdly well written, more gripping reading than most detective novels. Its author is anonymous but he might be advised to take a writing class at, well, Duke ... its night school, of course.

"Two males pulled the victim into the bathroom. Someone closed the door and said, 'Sweetheart, you can't leave'...The victim's four red polished fingernails were recovered inside the residence consistent to her version of the attack."

Peter Wood, a history professor at Duke and himself a lacrosse player at Harvard, warned the administration two years ago that players were cutting class for morning practice — his course in Native American history, the culture that had given them their game. But what administrator is going to risk driving away a winning team from a winning university? How soon Boys Will Be Boys become Administrators Who Administrate in Defense of Such Boys. This lacrosse season, until rape accusations ended it, featured six wins and two losses. Code for "Leave them alone."

Of the 40 or so players required to give DNA samples, nearly one-third showed previous arrests for under-age drinking and public urination. One member of the team had been ordered to perform 25 hours of community service in connection with the assault of a man in Washington. He had asked the player and two friends to stop yelling he was gay. Beating ensued.

It would be far too easy to scapegoat one university for allowing boys to be brutes. But in the institution's hurry to protect its students, right or wrong, it seemed to forget its role of educating and reassuring a community larger than itself.

The university once offered respite from our country's most rabid competitive impulses. Once upon a time, there was even a core curriculum assuring that every student in every field had read the same great works, including sacred texts, Shakespeare, the Greeks. Once science reigned unchallenged by religious strictures. Once institutions of higher learning ranked ... higher.

Now corporate America, athletic America, Defense Department America form a unified competitive team. Duke's head basketball coach was recently offered tens of millions to lead a pro team. He refused, receiving a fancier leadership title and the full attention of Duke's new president.

A man nabbed for using Duke stationery to support his favorite Republican Senate candidate, Mike Krzyzewski gives inspirational talks to Fortune 500 corporations. Though silent about the scandal, he still appears in ads for American Express and Chevy. Does he keep the money, or his school? Guess.

When the children of privilege feel vividly alive only while victimizing, even torturing, we must all ask why. This question is first personal then goes Ethical soon National. Boys 18 to 25 are natural warriors: bodies have wildly outgrown reason, the sexual imperative outranks everything. They are insurance risks. They need (and crave) true leadership, genuine order. But left alone, granted absolute power, their deeds can terrify.

The imperative to win, and damn all collateral costs, is not peculiar to Durham — and it is killing us.

Why is there no one to admire?