Dispatches > The Buzz


Issue: "The $10 billion gamble," April 6, 2002

GIVE PROTECTIONISM A CHANCE? Europeans may be gun-shy when it comes to the war on terrorism, but they're hopping mad over President Bush's decision last month to impose high tariffs on steel from Europe and Asia. Reporting from a conference in Rome, Washington Post columnist David Broder writes that Americans there "were hard-pressed to explain the glaring contradiction between Bush's professed support for free trade and his action to protect declining steelmakers in such political swing states as Pennsylvania and West Virginia." Europeans are furious, Mr. Broder writes, and "they are ready to fight back." Since political concerns seemed to motivate Mr. Bush's decision on steel, the European Union is planning to retaliate with tariffs on products from electoral swing states, including Florida orange juice and Wisconsin-made motorcycles. Meanwhile, officials at the Commerce Department are examining more than 1,000 requests for tariff exemptions from American companies that rely on specialty steel from Europe or Asia. "Government officials are struggling to determine the merits of each case-exactly the kind of heavy-handed bureaucratic interference with the marketplace that Republicans and conservatives are supposed to find abhorrent," Mr. Broder points out. DOING WELL BY DOING GOOD: Do R ratings hurt box-office results? Michael Medved has argued for years that they do-and UPI correspondent Steve Sailer says he is right. The reason: Hollywood point man Jack Valenti promised in 2000 that the industry would no longer market such movies to kids under 17-causing fewer R-rated movies to be made last year-and Hollywood still did record business. "It makes sense," Mr. Medved told Mr. Sailer. "Imagine you were trying to sell peanut butter, but the rule was that you couldn't sell that peanut butter to anybody below the age of 17. And, yes, some stores would let some 15-year-olds buy your peanut butter but other stores wouldn't. Obviously, it would hurt your product. It's much better to have a G-rated peanut butter to sell than an R-rated peanut butter. How obvious is that?" Mr. Sailer noted that one reason R ratings don't matter so much is that explicit content can be found other places besides the movie screen. On the other side of the spectrum, he said the PG rating is vanishing because studios now use it for children's fare. So the result is that most movies are made for the PG-13 rating, which is hard for parents to judge. "If you're going to continue with a rating like that, an intermediary rating between PG and R, they ought to call it R-13," Mr. Medved told the reporter, "because so many parents hear PG-13 and they confuse it with PG because they're not full-time movie writers and critics." SECRET'S OUT: East Germany's secret police apparatus is now on public display in Berlin, reports Allan Hall of The Times of London. An exhibit titled "An Open Secret: Postal and Telephone Surveillance in the German Democratic Republic" shows how the Stasi opened up to 400 million pieces of mail. "The Stasi operated in a country one-fifth the size of pre-war Germany with twice as many agents as Hitler's Gestapo, and turned one in three of its citizens into informers," Mr. Hall writes. "The exhibition documents how women with 'sensitive fingers' were trained to handle sealed envelopes; if they sensed a photograph, the mail was opened with a primitive dry-ice machine to prevent damage to the print." DEFINING DOCTORATES DOWN: Is the Ph.D. becoming a worthless degree? The Washington Post's Linton Weeks reports that the doctorate is becoming ubiquitous. About 42,000 students will obtain one in the United States this year, according to the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center. Only 337 were awarded in 1903. In the intervening 100 years, many universities defined doctorates down. "A candidate for a Ph.D. in creative writing at the University of Georgia can submit poems instead of a dissertation," Mr. Weeks points out. "At the University of Michigan you can get a Ph.D. in literature without reading Shakespeare." Meanwhile, departments are flooding with students as requirements are falling. "Education has exploded into shards and fragments," Mr. Weeks argues. "So has the canon of knowledge." Once the advanced degree was a sort of union card toward academic positions. Not so anymore. As the Ph.D.s pile up, many of these newly minted graduates are encouraged to take their degrees outside-away from academia.

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