" /> I write: June 2011
I see I taste I write Links What?
June 20, 2011

Devils Night

And other true tales of Detroit
Ze'ev Chafets - ISBN - 9780394585253

Given the world situation, from the Mid-East thru Greece and on to England, it seemed not inappropriate to reread this 20 year old book (long out of print but easily and cheaply available as a used book.) It was written by an Israeli journalist who spent his youth in Detroit, and revisited it in 1988-89, where he interviewed hundreds of residents. He renders reflections of their life and opinions in a failing city which is now an utter ruin. (Copy and paste this link and witness the disaster of present day Detroit. See where more of America is headed)


The book explores the downfall of Detroit, beginning with the riots of 1967-68, and progressing thru the time of its publication, when Halloween was ritually celebrated by torching buildings by the hundreds, leaving but a shell of the formerly famous and wealthy city. It's a wake-up call for those who will listen.

He begins by describing the macabre game called "King of the Corner:" stand on any downtown corner and look in every direction. Seeing no one qualified you as King of the only metropolis where one can walk a downtown block during business hours without passing anyone. Many of its suburbs are prosperous, but the cultural and emotional divide between them is "as wide as any which divides hostile nations." And that was 20 years ago. It's far worse now. Detroit has become a decrepit slum, 83% black, badly governed and dangerous.

Formerly dubbed the Arsenal of Democracy, its population has now shrunk from 1.8 million to just over 700 thousand, one third of whom live below the poverty line. For over 5 decades it has been governed by liberal Democrat administrations, using their "progressive" agenda. Coleman Young, the (first black) mayor at the time (1974-93) originally reined in the largely white police department, appropriately integrated it, then promptly lost control. With his ideologically "liberal principles" he intentionally authored "a gentle police force." Too placid. Robbery, a crime in most of the country, is an occupation in Detroit.

Ironically, race became more of a subject that it had ever been. One of Chafets' confidants explained to him that there were four types of blacks: Afro-Americans, blacks, colored folks and niggers. At vacation time an Afro goes to the Bahamas, a black to Harlem; the colored go south to visit kin folk, and the niggers don't go anywhere. They wait for the others to leave so their homes can be burglarized. "The longer I stayed in Detroit, the more accustomed I became to the local habit of immediately classifying everyone by color."

Schools, horrendous; drop out rates, catastrophic; illiteracy, near universal, even amongst those who graduate. Unwed motherhood is the rule and drugs are ubiquitous. One mother observed that while the children had more opportunity than before, "they've been raised without any values." Seems a rather hollow trade, but she was then certain that, while Detroit was the first to experience all of this, it would be the city to find the solutions for such problems. It has failed, and now there's no opportunity either. For most non-whites (and many blacks) the problem isn't racism, it's fear. "People don't see every black as bad. But the image of Detroit is of a decaying, crime-ridden city headed by a mayor who [made] racist remarks. . . . The values of people in Detroit are completely foreign. . . . The language is different and the way people think there is different . . . [the feeling is] that anybody coming from Detroit is going to cause problems."

Until the mid 60s "Detroit prided itself on being in the vanguard of American liberalism; today, the term has become an epithet." Now it's a poster child for how not to do things, while for the philosopher it demonstrates why that is so. "Young genuinely [saw] the world in racial terms. . . . [he didn't see] black folks as oppressive . . . so [he didn't] consider that blacks [were] capable of racism." Chafets' extended dissertation on Young masterfully explains how his level of corruption was worse than any before. Young was confident that blacks would solve their own problems--as well they might have with different leadership.

One of Young's entourage later observed that "we asked for control of this city. Well, now we're in control and everything is out of control. We don't build anything, not even a grocery store. The mayor has been in office fifteen years an only two blacks own anything downtown. Why? Because we don't hold [Young] accountable. What we have is a group of blacks running a black plantation."

He concludes that, by almost any measure, Young, Dinkins and Wilder (other historic black mayors) were "yesterday, not tomorrow." His wrap up is prophetic and alone worth the read. Though 20 years old, it is a picture of where we are headed if things do not change. Racism is sharply attenuated, but corruption is rampant. Blacks who listened to people like Young and Wilder are, more recently, conditioned to looking to the likes of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, and currently to academics like Cornell West. Even the media--even Fox--interviews these people as they enhance their celebrity. It isn't pretty. And it isn't wise.

But the book is a good read, and a reminder of the beginnings of American decline, and its likely end should we not heed the implicit warning.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 4:04 PM

June 15, 2011

Life Without Lawyers

Liberating Americans from Too Much Law
Philip K. Howard - ISBN - 9780393338034

This is Howard's third book, and it is dynamite; a rather liberal lawyer, he is articulate, smart, rational and wise--something not commonly found in liberal or legal circles. This treatise reflects, above all, his common sense. (He has previously written two marvelous books: The Death of Common Sense - 9780446672283 and The Collapse of the Common Good - 9780345438713.)

"Civil libertarians are vigilant to keep government from abusing its authority. But freedom should also include the joy of spontaneity, the power of personal conviction, and the authority to use common sense--for example, to maintain order in the classroom, and to interact honestly with a patient or a co-worker." And with numerous other examples and coherent discussion he expands upon the disaster wrought, however unintentionally, by the contempt for authority and the worship of individualism introduced in the 60s in combination with the advent of the much needed civil rights movement.

Whereas such things as affirmative action were intended as group considerations, they morphed into individual rights to jobs and other considerations. Lost was the "coherent legal framework" of right and wrong. Judgment was essentially banned, and without it nothing works. It is a human characteristic for which law is not a substitute. Freedom requires its exercise, and that is precisely what has been sacrificed upon the altar of modern day hyper-legalism. The 60s activities resulted in this new idea of individual rights: "Let any individual who feels aggrieved bring a legal claim for almost anything." It was assumed that fairness would result; clearly it has not.

Modern law is the principal cause of the decline in our social order; "we" are falling apart because common sense and judgment are verboten. Nothing works. Politics are so polarized that everything in Washington is done for party advantage. Candidates rant about the need for change, as the congressional houses routinely fail to deliver; it is simply not possible when everything inside the beltway favors the status quo. Nothing can change within the system. Only organizing against it will work.

American exceptionalism is unique, and it is fading because of these newfound individual rights as they impact upon the scope of law. "The evil of present day American law" is not that it addresses the wrong goals, or that it us unforgivably dense (though it is), but that it "infects daily choices with a debilitating legal self-consciousness." We no longer feel free to do what we feel is right.

With this background development he begins to explore the end-product of this process, noting specifically:
• chaotic classrooms wherein teachers are threatened for imposing discipline results in police being called to handcuff and remove five year old children from the classroom
• murdering nurses are shunted from one facility to another because all are afraid of judging the suspect culprit and reporting suspicious events to police
• shootings like those at Columbine and Virginia Tech are perpetrated by people known to be "unbalanced," yet no one is comfortable stepping forward to have them removed from campus.
And so it goes. The "evil" of overly individual rights prevails; the common good be damned. Fairness requires balancing, which requires human judgment, which is forbidden.

Americans like the idea of jury trials, but no one is permitted to keep the claims and arguments within reasonable bounds. Judges are neutered, or frightened into maintaining "fairness," even if the proceedings are fallacious or overwrought. Prosecutors occasionally overstep (the Duke lacrosse player incident comes to mind), but they are slapped down. No one swings at the prosecutors in tort law. Lawyers like John Edwards are permitted to lie in court and to present testimony from fraudulent "experts," and the defense is often similarly culpable, even in murder trials (O.J. Simpson, anyone?)

Until 40-50 years ago culture accepted that people should judge others. Now it's practically criminal to do so. People whose gauge is "feelings" are unwilling to accept judgment.

At root is accountability. People are more comfortable without it; government functions wholly without it. One is accountable to following the law. If done precisely, regardless of impact, one is no further accountable, and with such accountability no one is really liberated (or accountable in historic context of that concept.).

The mechanism by which government has slipped away from democratic grasp is too much law. "The law" has replaced responsibility. Yet Washington loves the status quo. Nothing accomplished, nothing gained, but neither is anything lost. No risk. No offense. No mistakes. Trust the law.

The predicament is in the premise: that law should tell people how to do things. It cannot. Washington takes no responsibility for the future or the past. No longer is governing the point; only winning. Success is defined by how many political traps have been set and how many battles have been won.

Many Democratic politicians privately acknowledge that lawsuits are completely out of hand, but trial lawyers are the second-largest source of their campaign funds. Alternatively, the Republicans shamelessly support corn-alcohol subsidies and they trade votes with each other, and those of other dispositions, in order that they all survive and "win." Madison, he reminds, noted that government was a magnet for self-seekers, but presumed that the several "factions" would neutralize each other. Unfortunately Madison was wrong. There is no competition for the greater good; each group demands its pound of flesh from the common weal. Yet the harm caused by special interest is not mainly the pork; rather, it is the inability to govern.

It is necessary is to abandon the existing structure; create a new government focused on goals and personal responsibility. Many of these folks are good people; especially so most bureaucrats. They are simply overwhelmed by the system. Goals, not compliance must be the focus, though congress must be accountable for oversight and determination of how laws function in practice.

Nothing is more unpalatable to the modern mind than giving someone authority to make choices which affect other people. But it must be done. America lacks leaders because we have made leadership unlawful. The confusion of good judgment with legal proof is the most insidious fallacy of modern law. Decisions pressed thru a legal wringer are not better decisions. Right and wrong cannot be programmed, nor can they be legislated.

Individual judgment is unsatisfactory as an organizing legal principle because judgment varies widely, and reasonable people can approach the same problem differently. Florence King once observed, some things are right and others wrong "just because." We all know it. One can't think oneself into it. It is just so. Children sense right and wrong without instruction. Whitehead stated that "it is a profoundly erroneous truism that we should cultivate the habit of thinking of what we are doing."

"Most adults of a certain age remember a time when teachers were role models, not just people on the clock. Unimaginable as it may seem today, lawyers were the aristocrats, respected for their integrity. Doctors cared for the indigent as well as those who could pay. Political leaders were at the top if the social order. Society was hardly perfect, but there was a sense that people were important to each other. Standing in the community meant something. We were all in it together."

Americans don't share values any longer. Indeed, the 60s was a time when values were overturned and replaced by . . . nothing, really. The cure to bad values--or no values--is good values, and these are not imposable by law. Squeezing them thru "a legal gauntlet" discourages people in authority from asserting any values.

America's greatest natural resource is--or has been, at least--a culture which unleashes the power of individuals, but that spirit erodes to nothing when people are forbidden to exercise it. Distrust has overpowered good sense. We all know it, but we must do something about it. And very soon.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 3:45 PM

June 13, 2011

Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries

Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology
Kenneth Feder - 9780072869484

Feder does a good job of discrediting myriad myths and mythmakers, from ancients to Erich von Daniken. The book is well researched and written to deliver a breezy read for the average layman, offering explanations which are logical and readily understood. He joyfully buries von Daniken's hypotheses in Chariots of the Gods, which is particularly offensive drivel, and his other writings which intend to make credible his theories about ancient visits from foreign astronauts who were seminal (literally) in fostering improved human evolution and culture. Nah!

He begins with the millennial Atlantis legends, and explores them sequentially thru the ages. As well he pursues biblical and other flood mythology, though I felt him inadequately laudatory of the works of Ryan and Pittman ( Noah's Flood ), and he didn't even mention Oppenheimer ( Eden in the East ) He discusses English stone circles (e.g. Stonehenge), the several Pharaoh's tomb curses, the Piltdown and Cardiff men, along with more recent hypotheses such as Barry Fell's tracts on the population of the Americas by Celts and others in antiquity; and he destroys "psychic archaeology." I admit to having been a fan of Fell since his book America B.C., published coincident with America's bicentennial. Feder finally convinced me that Fell was a fraud, despite what I feel was Fell's honest intent.

He does allow that some of the people pursuing these would be--and actual--myths are well intentioned, though many are intentionally deceptive, most commonly with a profit motive.

He explains the Viking episodes in "Vinland," and mentions that their sagas describe the availability of wine grapes, while allowing that the habitation sites which have been found are altogether too far north to accommodate the "Vin" part, so he accepts that it is likely that Vikings made it much further south, but won't draw any conclusion, since no artifacts have been found. Archaeology, he opines, is a fascinating field which has suffered because of its popularity, but is responsible to the same rules as other sciences.

He reviews the mound cultures, and explores Cahokia in some very interesting detail. I found it disappointing, however, that there was nary a mention of Koster--in southern Illinois, 70 miles away--which is arguably the most important treasure in North American archaeology, having been fully excavated, exposing 26 levels of habitation over a time period of nearly 10,000 years, with the discovery of myriad fascinating facts about life at the site, not to mention that the lead archaeologist, Stuart Struever, single handedly invented modern archaeology at that site. This is an unforgivable oversight ! Perhaps it is because there are no myths associated with the site, but, really, it deserved mention at least.

While I can hardly compare my working knowledge of many of these subjects to his, and while he is careful to acknowledge that accepted facts are constantly being updated and added, he too often pooh-poohs suggestions contrary to received wisdom within the community of dedicated archaeologists. For instance, he allows that the Vikings did, indeed, make it at least as far as Newfoundland, and probably Massachusetts, but he omits consideration of the fact that prior to the 1950s the community was adamant that there had been no one here--other than Indians--before Columbus. That is patently false, and archaeologists have reluctantly accepted that. But they are human, too, and have pegged their lives and reputations on their opinions. They are regularly obdurate when their theories are challenged, which leads to overlooking observations which challenge their own pet hypotheses.

There are evidences that man has been here since well before the trek across the Bering Strait from Asia during the recent ice age (if, in fact, they did get here that way, which in my opinion is still conjectural.) They have been in central and south America for as long as 40,000 years; and there are genetic and linguistic studies that suggest that man has arrived in the New World at various times, and by various means; that all of the Indians are not so neatly related as current "understandings" would suggest. The fact that the archaeological community is unwilling to accept that aboriginals may have arrived by boat as much as 20,000 years before they are presumed to have walked across the Bering Strait does not rule out that possibility, and especially since that community is confident that aboriginals hadn't the skills to so do, ignoring that the Australian aboriginals arrived there over 40,000 years ago, and were isolated until Cook "discovered" the place in 1770. They are similar to African blacks, but no one really knows from whence they came.

"But we've always known that . . . . fill in the blank." Archaeology as a science is not yet 200 years old; there is much we do not know, and while it is prudent not to get carried away with fanciful theories built upon bizarre dreams and opinions, it is likewise imprudent to determine that "such and such" is agreed upon fact, and settled science. There is no such thing. Not in any scientific field, so why should we worship at the shrine of some dead (or living) archaeologist? Having practiced medicine for years, I learned long ago that almost nothing is settled science, and new information always requires new, if tentative, conclusions and an altered modus operandi. A little humility is in order, me thinks. Damned little is certain.

It's well to keep in mind that famous old Keynesian quote: "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?" Many, in any scientific community, doggedly resist a change of mind even when faced with irrefutable facts, because they have a lifetime investment in what they believe and don't want to have their pet theories overturned, or see their work devalued.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 2:15 PM