" /> I write: September 2007
Curmudgeonalia
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September 28, 2007

Johnstown vs Katrina

I cannot leave the Johnstown occurrence with just a book review. Further comment is mandatory. While vacationing in NH I read a book published in 1965 on the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco. Again there were parallels worthy of comment. Less than 20 years after Johnstown another American boom town experienced a catastrophe. It was far more encompassing because of the size of the city (e.g. 300,000 homeless) but the response was equally dramatic.

“[There was,] exhibited . . . the American capacity for organization . . . [wherein others placed] their dependence on men who have exhibited their capacity to do things.” Military ships “self deployed” on order of their commanders arriving within hours; major moguls sprang into action providing tens of thousands of dollars for relief, free transportation out of the area, food, water and supplies. All this was achieved in less than 24 hours. Millions of relief dollars were raised quickly from New York to Los Angeles.

President Roosevelt provided nine million dollars in funds and appointed a disaster coordinator who, working with the fledgling Red Cross made this event into the first major calamity serviced by that organization.

Now let us revisit Katrina. I encourage you to read the book review on the flood, but remind you that the press at the time reported rumors of 10,000 dead, with plunder, mayhem, rape and murder. All of these rumors were corrected within a day or two. With Katrina rumors persist after two years, since they serve the purpose of Nagin and Blanco, the NAACP and the press.

Most interesting however, was the fact that in that era, without FEMA and its like, money flowed in from every state and many foreign countries totaling millions (of 19th century) dollars! In little more than a day the railroads were operational, carloads of necessities arrived and volunteer workers in the thousands came to help. In months Johnstown was back in order and rebuilding was largely accomplished. Steel was being manufactured, and life had returned to normal. In San Francisco shipping restored and businesses were operational and booming again within a couple of years.

All we hear about New Orleans is bitching about insufficient governmental aid and money, the rest of us unwilling to fix them up better than before, and complaints that countrymen are tired of hearing about the problems, etc., ready to move on, and wondering when they will be so too.

The century old calamities offer testimonial to American ingenuity, vigor and humanity under duress in the 19th century, begging the question of what has happened in the 21st

Things worked well without government in command, with individuals assuming--and presuming--responsibility! Maybe we should consider another revolution? (Keep in mind that revolve--the root word--involves a return to a beginning.)

Somewhere we have lost our way!

Posted by respeto at 12:30 PM

The Johnstown Flood

David McCullough - ISBN – 9780671207144

This was the “maiden voyage” of a man who has become one of the best known and respected American historians of this era. His many books include biographies of Teddy Roosevelt (Mornings on Horseback) and Harry Truman (Truman), descriptions of the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge (Great Bridge) and the Panama Canal (Path Between the Seas), and most recently 1776, best sellers all.

On May 31st, 1889 the steel town of Johnstown, PA, was obliterated by a local flood of almost biblical proportions. This book chronicles that event which was, for this boom town, the marriage of D-Day and Katrina. It is a riveting read encompassing the horror of the moment and the magnificence of American humanity, attesting to the grit, determination and endurance of people affected by such calamities.

In the mountains above the community was a manmade lake confined by an inadequate earthen dam. After a winter with unusual snow fall, and a spring of heavy rain the dam burst with little warning—and that not heeded—unleashing thousands of acre feet of water in only a few minutes. This resulted in a wall of water as much as 70 feet high which cleared the mountain trough thru which it raced, picking up whole trees, mammoth boulders, and the splintered homes of smaller upstream communities. Whole trains were tossed about like toys and steel mills crushed like orange crates. Stone churches were brushed out of the way. In only 10 minutes Johnstown went from a thriving community to a ruin clogged by building and railroad remains, thousands of dead animals and several thousand dead humans. Many bodies were never found and many more were so dismembered as to be unidentifiable.

The lake had been constructed originally by the state to maintain water levels in a regional canal, but with the advent of railroads the obsolete canal was abandoned. The lake and surrounding property was sold to a consortium of the wealthiest Americans who made the dam higher and the lake larger to create a week-end retreat. This made the disaster into a national scandal.

McCullough’s enormous writing skill creates a vivid, richly detailed, thoroughgoing description of the physical and emotional results of this catastrophe while creating an absorbing portrait of a thriving community which accurately reflected life in 19th century America.

Amongst interesting details were the original estimates of 10,000 dead, along with plunder, rape and murder. Rather like Katrina, but those ancient rumors were dispelled within 2-3 days. With Katrina, you'll recall, there are still festering rumors circulating 2 years later.

Money flowed in from every state and fourteen foreign countries totaling over four million dollars. In little more than a day the railroad bed was restored to service after having been severely damaged. In less than a week 200 carloads of donated provisions had been delivered and 7,000 workers showed up to assist. The Red Cross had its first real disaster mission as Clara Barton showed up with 50 doctors and nurses, along with hospital supplies in less than four days (remember this was a pretty remote area in the mountains of West-Central Pennsylvania, and the year was 1889.)

In less than 3 months steel was again being manufactured and the community restored, if incompletely. Shops were rebuilt, many were open and more were about to reopen. Band concerts and ball games were being held; and picnics with ice cream had again become regular week-end events.

This is a great and inspiring read, and a proper testimonial to American ingenuity and the vigor of democracy, capitalism and cooperating humanity under duress. As well, it raises questions about the tenacity of modern day Americans.


Posted by respeto at 12:27 PM

September 25, 2007

Land Remembered

Patrick D. Smith – 9781561641161

After sitting on my shelves for four years I finally decided to read this Florida classic and found it better described as an American classic which just happens to occur in, and chronicle the lives of, frontier settlers in that state. With drought instead of hurricanes, skeeters replaced by locusts, greed for land rather than gold—Miami or Immokalee for California and Sutter’s Mill--it could have been another of myriad American stories.

It reflects courage, resilience, pride, intrepidity, will and determination in the face of overwhelming odds; family, love, friendship and loyalty; wanton greed and misplaced goals with the destruction of irreplaceable assets and natural (and retrospectively necessary and appropriate) landscapes and the displacement if indigenous cultures by that of the invaders.

In this case it is the chronicle of three generations of the fictitious MacIvey family; crackers who migrated from Georgia to Alachua just before the Civil War to escape abject poverty and to begin a new life. Hardships are many, but they survive and prosper to a wholly unexpected level because the founder of the dynasty preserved his hard earned cash. Believing that the land belonged to everyone, he stored his money for future security. His son saw the need to preserve the land, which required ownership, and he eventually purchased vast tracts of wilderness. He changed the cow hunting business into ranching, and cultivated enormous orange groves on hundreds of acres of his land.

In turn, with a prosperous cattle and orange business, his grandson again purchased even larger tracts of land, much further south, which he eventually developed into a garden vegetable empire, along with another land empire in the Miami environs.

There was no fourth generation. Sol, the last survivor of the clan died alone—by choice—reluctantly admitting that he had destroyed everything he touched, and reflected upon the destruction of the natural environment which had been Florida . . . forever and irrevocably authored something he despised.

Throughout this great yarn are multiple vignettes, many tragic, which cement the unified whole into a wonderfully readable tract reminiscent of The Yearling and Huckleberry Finn; a rich history of Florida’s pioneer spirit and the natural world in which they strove for survival to become land barons who participated in exploitation of the environment far beyond human need.

Posted by respeto at 5:24 PM

September 20, 2007

Dumbing Down

Essays on the Strip-mining of American Culture
Washburn/Thornton, ed. – 9780393317237

This gem is no longer in print, but can be easily found (ABEBOOKS) used, for $4-8, and it’s very much worthwhile to purchase one. It is a reasoned and eloquent attack on the ferocious process of our cultural decline. Neil Postman’s assessment is that it provides “the best picture we have of the declining and embarrassing condition of discourse in America.”

There are 22 separate essays, all by sage and illuminating, critical commentators dealing with subjects for which they are noted. Amongst the essays are those on:

• education in its deteriorative state, and its cultural impact
• the dangerous change from written to aural culture
• the disappearance of “betters” (that is, true role models)
• the decline of the arts and science within the broader culture, with a discussion of the vanishing of high culture and meaningful museum displays, amongst other things
• the difficulties wrought by egalitarianism and diversity
• the “malling of America,” and what it is doing to our culture by eliminating the public square
• the universalization of fast and prepared foods as the ability and willingness to cook, or even to understand cooking, disappears, along with the appreciation of fine food
• the disappearance of the eros and mystique of sex

I ran across a review of this book in random reading and felt it appropriate to apprise you of its existence. I’ll leave the discoveries to you, but amongst the comments there are a few made which I found especially electric.

One realizes that there has been a collapse of the social pyramid in which high-brow condescended to low-brow, while the two joined hands in taking pot-shots at the middle.

• we end up with Madonna, Britney, Paris and Lindsay joining illiterate athletes in being today’s role models in our era of fame by notoriety
• movie moguls who used to control studios and offer an amalgam of talent and experience are now gone, along with most of the seriousness of times past; movies and TV. no longer reflect historic American values or those of the civilized world
• the desertion of authority—it’s no longer of consequence. Everyone is entitled his opinion about everything, while taste, decorum and value are trivialized, individualized and debauched
• museums dumb down exhibits so that those with a sound-bite mentality are not bored--not having fun--and worse, many scientists are now of the opinion that science is in fact opinion, not subject to reality checks; true science is disappearing, and what we consider science is often incoherent
• then there’s voodoo science: the social construction of reality
• the masses actually believe that pulp fiction and writers such as Maya Angelou are talented, and that rock groups produce fine music as commendable as Bach, Beethoven, Mozart or Tchaikovsky
• social sciences are supporting ridiculous hypotheses based upon what they feel ought to be the case, the evidence be damned
• the misdirection of self-esteem from something earned to something simply awarded because you’ve been born, and its impact upon culture—nay, civilization
• gone is “the willingness to defer judgment until we had enough experience and breadth of knowledge to [actually] make a judgment.” Of course, that would be judgmental, and isn’t permitted
• somehow Andy Warhol’s art is equated to Michelangelo and Ruben
• NEA funding of “piss-Christ” and chocolate art is considered of value along with talentless poets and writers with anti-capitalist, anti-middle class, anti-American “whole-earth” cultural antinomianism; since they cannot survive within the honest market, yet they “want to seem cutting edge [and] insist the government they despise should pay for the scissors.”
• there is a dearth of critics, who are superfluous or unwelcome; who’s to judge in this era of no standards?
• there’s even a dissertation on the ubiquity of the “F” word which is quite reflective

The material included is best summarized by George F. Kennan, who “gives a spirited defense of why we must not let equality before the law be forcibly extended into arenas where a natural aristocracy of merit can produce far more creative governances than opinion polling of ‘the public.’” This comment is relevant to all of the subjects discussed.

Matthew Arnold once observed “a man’s life of each day depends for its solidity and value on whether he reads, and far more still on what he reads.” So read this book!

And reread it—reflect upon it and commiserate with the essayists included herein over the decline of the U.S., and of the West in general. I’m not sure what we can do about it, but if enough people try to figure it out someone might come up with a bright answer.

Posted by respeto at 3:34 PM

September 15, 2007

Fahrenheit 451 revisited in real life?

No review of this book is necessary. More than when written—in 1950—it reflects the politically correct attitudes of today, and I thought a heavily excerpted quote therefrom to be particularly cogent. And it is better than anything I might write.

It occurs at some future date when the fire chief, an older man who remembers books is explaining to a younger fireman, who had no experience with books, why it is necessary to burn all books:

• “Once, books appealed to a few people . . . they could afford to be different. . . . But then the world got full of eyes and elbows and mouths. . . . Films and radios, magazines, books leveled down to a sort of paste-pudding norm.

• “Then, in the 20th century, speed up your camera. Books cut shorter. Condensations. Digests. Tabloids. Everything boils down to the gag, the snap ending. Classics cut to fit fifteen-minute radio shows, then cut again to fill a two-minute book column, winding up at last as a 10-12 line dictionary resume.

• “[There were] many whose sole knowledge of Hamlet was a one-page digest in a book that claimed: now at last you can read all the classics; keep up with your neighbors. . . .

• “School is shortened, discipline relaxed, philosophies, histories, languages dropped. English and spelling gradually neglected, finally almost completely ignored. Life is immediate, the job counts, pleasure lies all about after work. Why learn anything save pressing buttons, pulling switches, fitting nuts and bolts?

• “Empty the theaters save for clowns. More sports for everyone, group spirit, fun, and you don’t have to think, eh? . . . Organize and superorganize super-sports. More cartoons in books. More pictures. The mind drinks less and less. Impatience. Highways full of crowds going somewhere [and] nowhere. Towns turn into motels, people in nomadic surges from place to place, living tonight in the room where you slept this noon and I the night before.

• “Now let’s take up the minorities in our civilization, shall we? Don’t step on the toes of the dog lovers, the cat lovers, doctors, lawyers, merchants, chiefs, Mormons, Baptists, Unitarians, second-generation Chinese, Swedes, Italians, Germans, Texans, Brooklynites, Irishmen, people from Oregon or Mexico. The people in [books, plays, and serials no longer] represent any actual painters, cartographers, mechanics anywhere.

• “Authors, full of evil thoughts, lock up your typewriters. They did. Magazines became a nice blend of vanilla tapioca. No wonder books stopped selling. But the public, knowing what it wanted, spinning happily let the comic books survive. And the three-dimensional sex magazines of course.

• [and] “It didn’t come down from the Government. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God. Today you can stay happy all the time, you are allowed to read comics, the good old confessions or trade journals.

• “With schools turning out more [mediocre students] instead of examiners, critics, knowers and imaginative creators, the world ‘intellectual’ became dread and unfamiliar. Remember the kid in school who was exceptionally ‘bright,’ did most of the reciting, [etc.] The one picked out for beatings and tortures after hours?

• “We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against. So! A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Breach man’s mind. Who knows what might be the target of the well-read man?

• “So, when houses were finally fireproofed completely, all over the world, there was no longer need for fireman for the old purposes. They were given the new job as custodians of our peace of mind, the focus of our understandable and rightful dread of being inferior; official censors, judges and executors. That’s you and me!”

Anything amongst these quotes which suggests modernity? Anything you recognize? Think, folks. And maybe fear a little? Maybe even undertake to do something about it?

Posted by respeto at 12:26 PM

Londonistan

Melanie Phillips – ISBN – 9781594031977

This is a truly stunning book, written by a prominent columnist for The London Daily Mail. She has produced a carefully chronicled history of the Islamic invasion of Britain, which the Brits have too casually watched and tolerated, and which she describes this as sleepwalking to Armageddon. She notes that Britain has, morally, legally and attitudinally “altered itself to indefensibility.”

Britain is ahead of the U.S. in its dangerous and cavalier attitudes, yet the parallels are alarming. She explains how, after WWII Britain was more or less homogeneous, with scattered, small groups of immigrants from similar cultures which subscribed to the same majoritarian Christian culture. They were expected to fit in, and did so because that is what they desired to do.

No more! There are well over 120,000 immigrants from foreign cultures, who have no interest in assimilating, and citizens who no longer know who they are--or care. They have abandoned and/or are embarrassed by being British. Multiculturalism is the driving force and is “ruthlessly policed” by the state; a doctrine of mandated virtue to promote racial, ethnic and cultural differences and stamp out majority values. She comments, sadly, that “at least in America they have culture wars.” Not so at home.

“Britain has become a . . . society where traditional morality has been . . . replaced by an ‘anything goes’ culture wherein autonomous decisions about codes of behavior have become unchallengeable rights.” Everyone’s boutique lifestyle is of equal value, morality is privatized and personal while norms are considered discriminatory and prejudicial. The authoring creeds of Western civilization have been pushed aside and replaced “by a plethora of paranormal activities and cults.”

The question what is right has been replaced by what is right for me? Moral restraint has been replaced by therapy, and therapists have ruled that restraint is unhealthy and repressive.

The outcome has been the creation of a disorderly, debauched culture of instant gratification, with disintegrating families, feral children, and violence, squalor and vulgarity on the streets. Moral relativism has destroyed the notion of objectivity. Truth is considered variable, optional, subjective or non-existent. Judges are out of control and have redefined values such that they are in opposition to traditional British beliefs. Multiculturalism has demonstrated that all cultures are indeed not equal, and indigenous British culture is considered the unequal. Children are no longer taught British culture or history. Worse, they are oft influenced to deride British tradition and accomplishments.

Britain’s society welcomes all, protects all . . . nonjudgmentally! . . . good guys and miscreants alike. It has become the destination of choice for hoards of misfits and radicals. Once in place courts forbid prosecution or even deportation. It has become the European Mecca for Islam, and Islamic radicals. To be sure the Islamic community is diverse, but frightful numbers are anti-British and pro-terror. Many of the middle-brow, who enjoy England and disfavor terrorism nonetheless support their brethren, or at least shelter them in the sea in which they all swim.

As with CAIR in the U.S., the Islamic foundations in Britain expound upon their intention of “struggling to change the existing society into an Islamic society” (The Koran, Sharia . . . their whole medieval culture.) Imams in most mosques preach intolerance, anti-Semitism, hate and jihad yet remain unchallenged by authorities. Indeed, they are protected by them. Courts forbid expatriation of the radicals . . . gotta be tolerant don-cha-no! There is even a Sharia Council which is “developing claims for parallel jurisprudence:” that is, fundamentalist Islamic Law for Muslims in Britain (and all of Britain if they achieve their goal.)

Because Brits are so ignorant of history they believe that Islamists are motivated by the foundation of Israel. They seem unconcerned by the growth of overt anti-Semitism in their own country. Comparisons of Israel to Nazi Germany go unchallenged. A super-majority of Englishmen support Palestinians over Israelis, and even supporting homicide bombing as a tool. There is the sense of moral parity . . . indeed the Jews are reviled for responding to terror with force.

Phillips suggests that since the Mosaic code first gave the world the concept of morality, self-discipline and laws regulating behavior, the present culture has taken aim at that those principals and self-restraint. It presents a golden opportunity to pummel the people who invented rules in the first place. That is a startling thought.

In a sane world the tolerance of encroaching people who ought to be viewed as dangerous would compel caution, but the ignorance of the public at large in “ultra-tolerant” Britain--pushed over the edge by the war in Iraq and encouraged by Islamists--has resulted in denial of risk.

Even the Church of England is acquiescing to Islamists. It has lost its moral compass along with its faith. The doctrines of Christianity have been replaced by worship of social liberalism. Indeed, the archbishop of Canterbury has apologized for bringing Christianity to the world. Jeeeeez!

There is silence about Muslims persecuting Christians where Islam is dominant. There is no critique of Muslim suicide martyrdom which is peculiar to Islam. Both are condemnable, but no one does.

Muslim leaders have been successful in separating the tenets of Islam from the extremists, hence people say “I abhor an ideology which does such terrible things”, then add “of course these people are not doing it in the name of Islam, which is a tolerant faith.”

The intersection of an aggressive religious fanaticism with the multicultural ideology of victimhood has created a state of paralysis across British institutions. The refusal to admit the religious character of the threat means that Britain not only is failing to take action it should but is providing Islamist ideologues with an even more powerful platform from which to disseminate their anti-Western views.

The real threat is then not terrorism but the ideology that drives it. This is a battle of ideas, but the liberal West, dedicated to reason and intellect, has left this battleground totally undefended, “allowing the unhindered advance of falsehood and hatred.” Worse, the media and the intelligentsia of the left often act as an Islamist fifth column. They seem serious about everything except being serious.

“The West is under threat from an enemy that has shrewdly observed the decadence and disarray in Europe” . . . [most pronounced in Britain]. Whether [Britain] will finally pull itself together and stop sleepwalking into cultural oblivion is a question on which the future of the West may now depend.”

Posted by respeto at 12:07 PM