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Last week The Washington Post reported on two Asian American children who were denied transfer from one local public school to another because of their race. The school board denied them entry to the second school with its unique French immersion program because the first school had only 11 Asian students. To keep their numbers up, no Asians were permitted to transfer out.

This is by no means a unique case. A white parent, writing just a few days later in the Post, described the agonies of trying to transfer his adopted Korean-born child, a transfer denied because of its "impact on diversity" as the school-board rejection letter memorably explained.Diversity is now the great successor to affirmative action as the justification for counting and assigning by race in America. First, diversity sounds more benign. Affirmative action has acquired a bad reputation because it implies the unfair advancement of one group over another. Diversity cheerfully promises nothing more than making every corner of America "look like America."

Moreover, diversity is a blunter instrument. Affirmative action requires an inquiry into history and justifies itself as redress for past injustice. Diversity is much simpler. It does not even try to justify itself by appeal to justice or some other value. It is an end in itself. It requires no demonstration of historical wrong, only of current racial imbalance. Too few Asians at the Rock Creek Forest School? Fine. No Asian will be allowed to leave.

Because of its blithe disregard of anything - individual rights, common citizenship, past injustice - except racial numbers, the appeal to diversity represents the ultimate degeneration of the idea of counting by race. At its beginnings, affirmative action was deeply morally rooted as an attempt to redress centuries of discrimination against blacks. Yes, affirmative action did violate the principle of judging people as individuals and not by group. But it did so in the name of another high moral principle: the redress of grievous, gratuitous harm inflicted on one group because of its race.

Had affirmative action remained restricted to African Americans and to the redress of past discrimination, it would still command support in the country today. Instead it has been stretched, diluted and corrupted beyond recognition, transmuted from redress for blacks - a case of massive, official, unique injustice - to diversity for all, except, of course, white males.

By what principle should government preferentially award a contract to, say, the newly arrived son of an Argentine businessman over a native-born American white? None. Diversity alone, in and of itself, is invoked to justify such a travesty.

Diversity, drawing on no moral argument, is literally morally bankrupt. It draws only on a new form of American utopianism, a multihued variant of an older Norman Rockwell utopianism, in which in every walk of American life, race and ethnicity are represented in exactly correct proportions.

Like all utopianisms, this one is divorced from reality. It is entirely cockeyed to expect different groups to gravitate with strict proportionality to every school, workplace and neighborhood in Amer- ica.

And when they don't, this utopianism partakes of the brutality of all utopianisms and forces the fit. Individuals that obstruct the quest for the perfect post-Rockwell tableau beware.

The kindergartners denied entry to the French program at the Maryville Elementary School in Rockville, Md., constitute such an obstruction. Yet they are hardly the most deeply aggrieved parties. That honor belongs to California's Asian American high school graduates who, alas, have excelled disproportionately in school and thus threaten to overwhelm California's best colleges.

Most people know there is an unspoken quota system in the California universities and in other schools around the country that keeps Asians out because of their race. How does this shameful practice differ from the exclusion of similarly gifted Jews during the '30s and '40s? Perhaps only in the hypocrisy of the those defending the practice. In the old days, the justification for anti-Jewish quotas was simple antipathy toward "pushy" Jews. Today, justification for excluding "nerdy" Asians is more highfalutin: They are an impediment to diversity.

Proponents of these appalling classifications by race prefer, of course, to pretend that they are about such grand notions as culture. Nonsense. As the white father of the untransferable Asian school kid notes, "I couldn't help wonder what cultural contribution my son could make (as an Asian) - he was just five months old when he left Korea." These quotas are not about culture. They are about skin color, eye shape and hair texture.

One stymied Asian American mother, desperate for a loophole, tried having her child reclassified as white because the father is white. More parents will seek such solutions. How shall we adjudicate these vexing questions of mixed blood?

Turn to the source, the modern state that produced the most exquisitely developed system of race classification. The unemployed justices who enforced the Group Areas Act of apartheid South Africa may finally find gainful work again.