Dispatches > Quick Takes

Quick Takes

Issue: "Jim Talent: Majority maker," Nov. 23, 2002

Life imitates MTV

MTV's Jackass has produced another real-life counterpart. A Seattle-area teenager named Kelvin Wu wound up in a burn ward after trying to imitate one of the stunts. Four friends watched with a video camera while he doused himself with alcohol and set himself on fire. "At first, Kelvin and his friends told police they left the Issaquah-Skyline football game Friday night when two men walking on a trail had set Kelvin on fire with a cigarette," reports Margo Horner of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "But after police found lighter fluid, a backpack, a T-shirt soaked in alcohol, a bottle of rubbing alcohol and the video tape, Kelvin admitted to police that he set himself on fire." Jackass was canceled by MTV but revived as a hit movie.

Germany's nosedive

If the United States' economy is slowing, the economies of Europe and Japan have come to an almost complete standstill. Columnist Robert J. Samuelson points out that while the U.S. economy is expected to grow by 2.4 percent this year, Europe's will only grow 1 percent and Japan's will actually shrink by 1 percent. "Japan's ills are well known," he writes, but Europe's problem is a better-kept secret: Germany. Highly regulated and highly taxed labor markets and huge unemployment and welfare subsidies (especially to East Germany) have swamped the country's economy. And like Japan, Germany's political culture won't allow leaders to address the country's problems: The labor laws and welfare subsidies that hurt the economy are also highly popular. "If anything," Mr. Samuelson notes, "the recent electoral victory of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder seems a triumph for the status quo. Germans and Japanese hope to be rescued by a recovering world economy and higher exports." This, he argues, may be wishful thinking. Mr. Samuelson also notes the irony of the weakness of Germany and Japan: "Only 15 years ago, these countries seemed poised to assume leadership of the world economy. Now they are dragging it down."

Deadly no more

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For years, political talking heads have called Social Security the "third rail of American politics." Anyone who touches it dies politically. This month's election shows the old cliché isn't true anymore, argues columnist Robert Novak. "This year, almost all brave enough to touch it survived," he reports. "Some who did not were losers, raising suspicion that they should have taken the risk." This goes against previous advice given to GOP candidates. Supporters of private investment accounts include such names as Norm Coleman, Elizabeth Dole, and John Sununu.

Europe's harmful superstition

Genetically modified (GM) food has been a great success in the United States, producing no adverse health problems and helping the environment (because stronger GM crops allow farmers to reduce fertilizer use). But many Europeans hate GM food, and The American Enterprise's James Glassman argues that such "superstition badly hurts the world's poor." The problem: Europe bans the importation of GM food, effectively stopping GM farming in places like Africa. Mr. Glassman notes that during last year's famine in southern Africa, the president of Zambia turned down U.S. GM food because of pressure from environmental groups and worries that "if any of the corn were planted it might make his country's crops ineligible for export" to European nations. European protectionism is also a culprit, Mr. Glassman contends. European farmers don't like the idea of competing against African and Asian farmers, especially if genetic technology makes them more productive: "European politicians would rather placate their former colonies with handouts than buy their goods."

Bottoms up

"Tummy time" is America's new childrearing craze, as parents look for new ways to teach kids to crawl. The interest follows fears of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, reports Elena Cherney in The Wall Street Journal. Pediatricians told moms and dads to let children sleep on their backs. An unintended consequence, experts say, was that babies learned to crawl and control head movements much more slowly. From this new concern grew tummy time. "Many pediatricians say tummy time isn't a make-or-break part of infant care, and children who don't participate typically catch up on all development skills by 18 months of age," reports Ms. Cherney. "Still, large numbers of parents don't want their babies to be the last on the block to crawl. They are earnestly turning their offspring bottom-up to instill new motor skills, even though many babies shriek in protest when placed in the unfamiliar position."

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