Brickbats

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The Los Angeles school board has voted to abolish failing grades for young children. Pupils having trouble in kindergarten, first, or second grade will now get a report card with an "N" grade, meaning "needs improvement." The change will prevent children from "feeling like failures at age six," says board member Jackie Goldberg, who was disappointed the change doesn't apply to all grades. Critics of the proposal pointed out that poor grades are not a cause of failure but a reflection of it. The school board also approved another Goldberg proposal to require parental consent whenever a student is to repeat a grade. Rather than "stigmatize" children, the learned Goldberg would have them be pushed ahead, ready or not. For their own good, you know.

Sorry, Jeeves. Your days as a butler are numbered. That's what the posh Boston suburb of Wellesley decided when it passed a law limiting homeowners to only two live-in servants. Actually, the 200 residents who passed the new law at the annual town meeting don't have anything against rich homeowners with mansions filled with maids and butlers. The law was designed to crack down on folks without servants. "Groups of unrelated people, many of them students and young people, are getting together and renting an entire house" in violation of zoning laws, says planning-board member Samuel Balkan. "When we challenge homeowners, they claim the extra boarders are servants." Any homeowner with more than two servants must apply for a permit with the zoning board.

The best deal in the world, if you don't have claustrophobia or a fear of lots of other people, is the Mexico City subway ride. The cost: one peso, or two-tenths of one US penny. In order to maintain the current fare, which has been in place since 1969, one-third of the Mexico City budget is dedicated to public transport. Collections from the fare box cover a mere six percent of operating costs. The fare is kept artificially low for "social policy reasons." It's naturally the most crowded subway ride in the world, with more than four million passengers a day. But at that price, who's complaining? Only the taxpayers.

Forget about Russian submarines, scandalous libertines, and frigid winters. The residents of Sweden have bigger woes—snoopy sociologists. It was recently discovered that a team of the ubiquitous researchers has for 20 years been compiling detailed profiles of nearly 15,000 Swedes by rummaging through computerized official records. Project Metropolitan is a sociological study designed to follow all 10-year-olds who lived in Stockholm in 1963 through the next 20 years of their lives. Since every Swede has a 10-digit "person number," access to personal data is simple. The problem is, nobody ever bothered to let the 15,000 subjects of the study know that every facet of their lives, including political attitudes, was being continuously monitored. Actually, this isn't so unusual in Sweden, where any adult will appear in at least 100 official registers open to the public. But this blatant secret snooping by sociologists was too much even for Swedes to take. A government board ordered the researchers to "de-identify" its files so that no name can ever be connected to the personal information about individuals. Undaunted, one seeker of knowledge protested, "It is sometimes unethical not to do research if we can get answers we should know about."

The Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency is spending nearly $1 million to build a downtown transit tunnel that goes nowhere and will probably never carry passengers. The Bunker Hill Transit Tunnel, a block-long corridor about 15 feet high and up to 28 feet wide, was supposed to serve a Downtown People Mover. But plans for that $259-million system were quashed in 1981 by the Reagan administration. Agency officials say they intend to someday incorporate the remnants of the people-mover tunnel into a new transit project, although they concede that they don't know how or when that will be accomplished. They're also not quite sure what destinations the system will serve. But none of that matters, for scarce federal funds are available for the project. "If we don't spend the money, there is a possibility of losing the grant," said one worried bureaucrat.

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