big ad

home | archive
| contact

A standing feature in which tells everyone else what to write. Make it snappy! And, please, no three-part series ....

1. Hillsdale
2. The End of the Underclass?
3. Clinton's Nixonian IRS?
4. What's in the Air?
5. Fullering


The National Review's John Miller was first with the details of the gruesome story behind the ouster of George Roche III, president of conservative Hillsdale College, and the apparent suicide of his daughter-in-law. Roche was a big deal in conservative circles, and his downfall merges the plots of the Clinton White House scandals and the novel Damage. It's too sad and prurient for JonBenet treatment in the mainstream press -- which means it's perfect for Vanity Fair, or some other venue classy enough to publish something so tawdry. Available excuses for retailing the incredible yarn include: a) The conservative hypocrisy angle -- "comes at a time when Newt Gingrich's affair with a Congressional aide,..." etc. etc. b) The police investigation angle -- was it for certain a suicide? Miller's account, which comes largely from one source, no doubt needs to be supplemented by further reporting; c) The evolutionary psychology angle -- the triumph of universal, base, male Darwinian instincts; d) The Hollywood angle -- who will play George III in the movie? If only John Huston were alive.

ASSIGNED TO: Melanie Thernstrom, call your agent! Also: Marjorie Williams; James Stewart; Emily Yoffe; Connie Bruck; anyone willing to share the movie money with Tina at Talk.

UPDATE: The Weekly Standard's account adds another level of mystery: Hillsdale's vice president, Ron Trowbridge, comes across as a gothically creepy propagandist, blaming Roche III's retirement on medical problems, casting aspersions on his accusing son, and insisting, regarding the college trustee's apparent agreement to keep mum, that "The reason they did it will never come out. It will never be discussed." Guess they have nothing left to hide, huh? . . . Also see Tim Noah's take. Noah thinks conservative magazines like the Standard defused the hypocrisy charge by disassociating themselves (and, thereby, the Right) from Hillsdale so quickly.

DONE BY: Sam Tanenhaus, who tells the story in the March, 2000 issue of, yes, Vanity Fair.

  The End of the Underclass?

Is the African-American underclass slowly joining the mainstream economy? There are plenty of reasons to think so. The economic basis of underclass culture (what Marxists would call the "substructure") was welfare. But welfare is being transformed. As a result, labor force participation by single women has soared, while the percentage of African-Americans on welfare is the lowest since the early 1970s. You might expect childbearing patterns to change too, as young women demand more from the men in their lives, or refrain from having the children that would formerly have been supported by the dole. The statistics suggest this is starting to happen: use of birth control is up, and the black teen birthrate has dropped 26 percent since 1991 to its lowest level level since record-keeping began in 1960. There are other favorable factors -- low unemployment, rising wages, falling crime, fewer drugs (as a younger generation reacts against its parents), the lowest black poverty rate since 1959. Many underclass-dominated inner-city housing projects are being blown up, or "class-integrated" with middle class families, while buppies move in to the now-attractive housing close to downtown. You'd think things could be heading toward a favorable "tipping point." But are they? Is the texture of life on the ground in the ghettos really changing for the better, and how quickly? Reporters are usually among the first to note such changes, but who's done the work? Ellis Cose's Newsweek cover essay ("The Good News About Black America") was a strong start, and the NYT's Jason DeParle has nibbled around the edges of this story with his reports from welfare-reformed Milwaukee (where a year ago the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel interviewed a bus driver who'd already noticed a positive change in his clientele). But so far, nothing definitive. A Pulitzer to the reporter willing to do for the ending of the underclass what Nicholas Lemann and Alex Kotlowitz did to dramatize its creation.

ASSIGNED TO: Jason DeParle, Blaine Harden, Amy Waldman (NYT); Heather MacDonald (Manhattan Institute); Elizabeth Shogren (LAT); Katherine Boo (WaPo); Malcolm Gladwell (New Yorker); Leon Dash.

  Clinton's Nixonian IRS?

Billy Dale, Paula Jones, Elizabeth Ward Gracen, Joe Farah -- I'm sorry, the list of Clinton enemies who've been audited is too long. This thing stinks. The normal odds of being audited by the IRS are less than 2 in 100. Has the agency been effectively politicized in Nixonian fashion? Are local IRS bureaucrats taking the retributive task on themselves, without orders from Washington (scarier, in a way, because it can't be stopped by a change at the top)? Do they just audit anyone in the news (which acts as a de facto deterrent to becoming any sort of public gadfly, raising First Amendment issues)? Conservative non-profit groups have been audited in suspiciously large numbers too, and there's a lawsuit by a right-wing outfit (the Landmark Legal Foundation) that has been covered by The Wall Street Journal. But where is the rest of the press? Sick in bed with the post-Monica flu?

ASSIGNED TO: All the right-wing investigative reporters . . . Okay, there are none. Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball, then.

UPDATE: A useful, but non-dispositive AP article can be found here.

  What's in the Air?

New York's P.S. 37 was recently closed "because of concerns that lead in the air from a nearby construction site might have penetrated the building," according to The New York Times. But the current economic boom means that many major U.S. cities look like permanent construction sites. You walk by, and some machine is belching a big cloud of . . . well, what into the air, or some construction worker is chipping away at paint that is raining down on passersby. Is all the airborne construction gook really safe? Is there lead? Asbestos? Other toxins? Don't take the authorities word for it! Get out in the streets with some measuring gizmos and find out for yourselves!

ASSIGNED TO: The New York Observer -- you've surveyed the germs of New York, and the smells of New York. Now sample the particles in the air of New York. Pay special attention to all that drilling and sanding indoors in the subways. Also: 60 Minutes; 20/20. . . . I'll settle for Dateline!


What happens when the first generation born into mass prosperity comes into its inheritance? Well, what would you do if you suddenly had, say, half a million dollars -- which is what a lot of people will be inheriting simply because their parents' owned a house in a decent neighborhood? I'll tell you what I would do: I'd become awfully picky about how I spent my working life. No more alienated labor to pay the rent. The rent's paid! In effect, I'd semi-retire, choosing work that I wanted to do rather than work that would make me even more money. . . . Kausfiles' first rule of journalism is: always generalize from your personal experience! If I would semi-retire, I bet a lot of other baby-boomers will too. In short, a major trend looms, with large implications for the labor market and the country as a whole. What to call this trend? I'm told by a friend that Jim Haynes, founder of Edinburgh's Traverse Theater and author of an anti-work pamphlet, called it "Fullering" (in homage to Buckminster Fuller). Fullering means undertaking labor for its creative, satisfying possibilities rather than for the money. Let's just say that when the boomers get their middle class endowment (estimated size, $12 trillion) there's going to be a whole lotta Fullering goin' on. . . . The possible side-effects include: (a) a glut of bad novels; (b) a glut of good novels; (c) ditto rock bands; (d) employers facing huge difficulties attracting skilled, semi-retired employees -- with salaries and perks, perversely, rising to attract workers who don't really need the money; (e) calls for greater immigration as employers attempt to avoid side-effect (d); (f) insatiable demand for recreational drugs; (g) a foundation in every garage -- philanthropy becomes another form of mass-affluent consumption; (h) the search for what H. Rodham, Wellesley '69, called "more immediate, ecstatic and penetrating modes of living;" (i) a new "politics of meaning," too (hang on, Michael Lerner!); (j) best-selling screeds by embittered Gen-Xers (and boomer inherit-nots) attacking the lazy, spoiled '60s generation that didn't serve in Vietnam and now doesn't want to even work! . . . Hey, it's all there in the Port Huron statement!

ASSIGNED TO: Anyone, as long as you beat Faith Popcorn.

SPECIAL NOTE: We're not talking about young dot-com millionaires here. They may start Fullering too, but there aren't that many of them. In contrast, there will be millions and millions of boomers whose inheritance makes them semi-rich. (Research tip: a good place to start is Robert Kuttner's late '80s New Republic cover story, "How Can They Afford Those Houses.")

        E-mail service: Sign up, using this ListBot gizmo, and you will be notified by e-mail whenever there's a new item on

Join the mailing list!
Enter your email address below,
then click the 'Join List' button:
Powered by ListBot

Copyright 1999 Mickey Kaus.