I very much liked Eli Lake the one time I met him (at a party organized by our mutual friend Laura Rozen). He’s a terrific reporter, much better than the rather dubious publications that often pay his wages (the now departed print version of New York Sun, the Washington Times). He really should be working for the Washington Post or the New York Times: he’s one of the very few neo-conservatives out there that is capable of genuine, ground-breaking gum-shoe reporting.
Having said that, he’s also a bit of an ideologue, as witness a recent tweet he sent out: “Re: Wikileaks Do you get the impression Arab leaders care more about settlements or Iran?”
But [Ron] Unz does not stop there. He goes on to report that nearly 20 percent of the Harvard College student body is Asian-American, and 25 percent to 33 percent is Jewish, though Asian-Americans make up only 3 percent of the U.S. population and Jewish-Americans even less than 3 percent. Thus, 50 percent of Harvard’s student body is drawn from about 5 percent of the U.S. population!
When one adds foreign students, students from our tiny WASP elite and children of graduates, what emerges is a Harvard student body where non-Jewish whites — 75 percent of the U.S. population — get just 25 percent of the slots. Talk about underrepresentation! Now we know who really gets the shaft at Harvard — white Christians.
In Canada, by contrast, a race-blind university admissions process isn’t leading to the underrepresentation of minorities. On the contrary, the normal Canadian university practice of admission based on academic achievement has resulted in the over-representation of non-whites on campus. A 2005 Statistics Canada study found that 54% of visible minority Canadians aged 24 to 26 reported having attended university, versus just 38% of the non-visible minority population…..
Five years ago, I had the opportunity to spend some time at the U of T faculty of law. It’s the most competitive law school in Canada, drawing the best students from across the country. While I was there, a group of students began calling on the school to become more diverse and representative in hiring and admissions. Five years ago, to see if their complaints jibed with reality, I flipped through the school’s online student directory.
A quick eyeballing suggested that the complaining students were probably right about the lack of racial representativeness — though not quite as they had imagined. For example, the student body appeared to be as much as one-third Jewish, making Jews hugely overrepresented relative to their tiny percentage of the Canadian population. Visible minorities were 16% of the Canadian population in 2005, but seemed to account for a higher proportion of U of T law students. And non-Jewish whites, who make up more than 80% of the Canadian population, looked to be less than 50% of the law school’s student body.
There’s diminishing return, I recognize, in minutely critiquing every article produced by the “‘Too Asian?’” controversy. Tony Keller, the former managing editor of Maclean’s has written a very sprightly but wrong-headed article for the National Post on the issue. It takes a slightly different angle to the issue than that of Maclean’s, but not totally different. The problems I have with Keller are largely the problems I’ve already outlined, on several occasions, against Maclean’s (briefly, some very facile stereotyping, an unwillingness to look at the role of class, and also an unawareness that the type of program students are in influences what type of social life they have). Since I’ve already made these points, I’ll not re-iterate them.
There are a few quirky things in Keller’s article that rubbed me the wrong way: to float the idea that whites are underrepresented in elite programs, Keller comes up with the curious phrase “non-Jewish whites.” Now, as any historian will recognize, the whiteness of Jews is a historically contingent phenomenon: but since roughly the Second World War, it’s been commonplace in North America to accord the privilege of whiteness to Jews. Outside the far right, this is a widely shared consensus. So I don’t think it’s worthwhile to start talking about “non-Jewish whites.”
Maclean’s has finally issued an editorial comment on their “‘Too Asian?’” article. Before taking issue with what is problematic in their editorial, I do want to praise this paragraph:
Through hard work, talent and ambition, Asian students have been highly successful in earning places in Canada’s institutions of higher learning. They, like all of our high achievers, deserve respect and admiration. Every one of them is a source of pride to their fellow Canadians.
It’s good to see Asian-Canadian students addressed, as they should be, as Canadians.
“Vicious anti-Semitism was (and is again) a widespread scourge; no comparable, sustained phenomenon — ‘anti-Asianism’ — exists.” – Barbara Kay, National Post, November 23, 2010.
Although I was Jewish and poor as well, I benefited from the American education system at its best and attended one of its finest universities; I wondered, how many African-Americans would have had the same opportunity at that time? Denouncing antisemitism without denouncing human cruelty in general troubled me constantly. The general blindness was such that I heard Jews condemn unreservedly the phenomenon of antisemitism, and then without skipping a beat move on to the African-American question, and talk about it as if they were little Hitlers. If I pointed this out to them and objected strenuously, they turned on me. They were completely unable to see what they were doing.
I once heard a lady speak passionately about the Gentiles who had done nothing to save the Jews of Europe. “You just can’t trust them,” she claimed.
I let it pass for a while, and then I suddenly asked: “And what are you doing to help the Blacks achieve their civil rights?”
“Listen”, she retorted. “I have enough problems of my own.”
And I said: “That’s exactly what the Gentiles of Europe said.” I saw a complete lack of comprehension in her face. She couldn’t see what I was getting at. What can we do about it? The whole world seems to be permanently waving a banner that reads: “Freedom! … but not for others.”
The new Canadian Notes and Queries is out and anyone interested keeping abreast of contemporary literarture should read it. As I’ve said more than once, it is my favourite literary magazine, and one I’m honoured to write for. The latest issue has a long essay I wrote about Russell Smith’s new novel Girl Crazy. The essay also serves as an overview of Smith’s controversial career. The essay can be found here.
Here’s a story that appeared in the Business Review Weekly in 1994:
After overthrowing the Batista regime in 1958, Castro had to set up a new administration in haste. The story goes that at a meeting of the revolutionary leaders, Castro asked: “Is anyone here an economist?” Che Guevara, the Argentinian firebrand, put up his hand and instantly became president of the national bank and Minister for Industry. This surprised all present. Che had been a medical student. Moreover, as Clive James was later to write, it was accepted that he couldn’t organise anything more complicated than a small ambush. Che later confessed: “I thought Fidel said: is anyone here a communist?”
Here’s a very similar story that ran in the Wall Street Journal on November 19, 2010:
Trevor Manuel, the South African finance minister from 1996 to 2009, got his job when the aging Nelson Mandela asked, at a cabinet meeting, who was a good economist. Mr. Manuel raised his hand thinking Mr. Mandela had asked who was “a good communist.” Mr. Manuel served his country ably. But the appointment of the sole competent minister in the first government of African National Congress was a matter of blind luck.
The first story is almost certainly apocryphal, the second is even more dubious. It’s clearly modelled on the first story, with such fidelity that one can most charitably describe it as unconscious plagiarism.
Over on the CBC radio program Q, I was interviewed by Jian Ghomeshi about Maclean’s “Too Asian” article. You can listen to the show here.
Interestingly, Maclean’s was asked if they wanted to appear on the show and debate the issue. They not only declined the request, they refused to make a statement on this matter. This adds to my general sadness on this topic: if Maclean’s wanted to raise such a provocative topic, they should have the courage of their convictions and argue it out with their critics. But it seems like Maclean’s wants to have their cake and eat it too. They want to get attention for publishing something that angers people, but when objection are raised they duck out of engagement with the issue and act like their being unfairly singled out for criticism.
I’ve been very critical of Maclean’s in the past and expect to be so again in the future, but I would be amiss and unfair if I didn’t note the magazine houses the two best analysts of Canadian politics, Andew Coyne and Paul Wells. I was particularly taken with Coyne’s recent analysis of Canadian conservativism in the age of Harper as a politics of pure expediency, a politics for the sake of politics:
Stephen Harper’s Tories can run $56-billion deficits, raise spending to all-time record levels, and grease every Conservative riding with layers of pork; they can abandon Afghanistan, coddle Quebec, and adopt the NDP approach to foreign investment; and still there exists in people’s minds another Conservative party, somewhere, for whom these policies are anathema.
I suppose it’s possible these other Conservatives exist in theory, as a kind of Platonic ideal form. And so the principles commonly ascribed to them may also be said to exist, as abstractions. But if they never actually act on them, of what real-world significance are they? How is it meaningful to talk about them?
This gets at something real about Harper, his genuine lack of any fixed principles. There have been very few public figures quite as soulless as Harper.
Maclean’s magazine has raised the issue of whether Canadian universities are too Asian. (The link is to website that preserved the original version of the article, which has since been scrubbed and replaced by a slightly less offensive piece by Maclean’s). In a fit of irritation, I wrote a response in the National Post asking if Maclean’s is too white (I’m almost tempted to say too Whyte). My article can be read here.