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Archive for September, 2005

Well, I suppose you all have heard the news about the news about New Orleans.

For days after the city was flooded we were flooded with reports of the horrors of a city descending into hell. Armed gangs, went the tale, were roaming the streets, preying on the innocent. Children were being raped and murdered in the Superdome, bodies of murder victims were being stacked there. Thoughout the city there was murder and mayhem.

And now, it is apparent that little of this was in fact true.

There was one death by violence in the Superdome, the latest reports say. All told, six or seven murder victims in the week after the flood, roughly average, given the high murder rate in New Orleans. There is no evidence of children being raped and murdered.

It’s not like these tall tales appeared on a marginal website somewhere, or in the Weekly World News. No, they were propagated by the police chief and Oprah Winfrey, and dutifully reported by news media across the political spectrum.

And we believed them.

Did we believe them because of an instinctive trust of authoritative-sounding newsmen in a time of crisis?

Or did we believe them because of some latent tendency to expect the worst from black people, or poor people, when the structures of order collapse, from some residual racial or class bigotry?

I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I hope a national examination of conscience ensues, not least from those who broadcast unsubstantiated rumor as news, and who in doing so may have slowed rescue efforts, thus costing lives.

Daniel Nichols

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The Storms that Herald the End?

Do the recent hurricanes presage the end of the world? I doubt it, but I can think of something that might.

Maclin Horton

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Say a Prayer to St. Rita

Ask her to have a go at doing for her namesake storm what she apparently did for her sons, which was to talk them out of killing some people.

Hurricane Rita was several hundred miles due south of us this morning. We had a little breeze at ground level but up a few thousand feet patchy grey clouds moving fast east to west.Ominous if you knew why. The storm’s roughly the same distance south now but somewhat to the west of us. I was out a little while ago (around 9pm Central time) and there was a light steady easterly breeze. Again, ominous.

Maclin Horton

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Is There Such a Thing as Price-gouging?

Yeah.

Maclin Horton

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So What is Racism, Anyway?

The exchange between Daniel and me below testifies to the range of phenomena which may be grouped under the broad term of "racism." Here’s the entry from Dictionary.com :

  1. The belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others.
  2. Discrimination or prejudice based on race.

That helps a lot, huh? These definitions seem plain enough, but they would place a statement such as "The people of northern Europe tend to be more reserved than those of southern Europe" in the category of racism–it meets the first half of definition 1 (at least if you’re willing to think of those two groups as having a racial difference) and is certainly a prejudice as in definition 2. Neither of these really touch on the question of hostility or ill will, which to me is the essence of the idea of racism as something invidious.

I may regret opening this can of worms, but it seems like our official and accepted doctrines about race are extremely confused. Group characteristics do exist (whether they’re the product of genetics or culture is irrelevant), but we’ve put ourselves in the position of pretending they don’t at some times, while insisting on them at other times, indeed requiring that they be acted upon. In general, it’s permissible to notice group characteristics if they’re positive, but not if they’re negative, with an exception for groups generally regarded as oppressors.

I have no tolerance whatsoever for race-based hostility, and was on the anti-segregation side growing up in the civil-rights era South. But it seems that we now have a hyper-sensitivity that’s actually exacerbating things. No real point here, I’m really just wondering aloud, as one can do on a blog. Would be interested in what other people have to say. Someday I may write at length on this topic.

Maclin Horton

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Dawn Eden confesses to having committed this headline.

There must be something in the air. Rick Brookhiser of National Review posts this (the entry headed "Has Everyone Seen This?")

(These tell you a lot about my sense of humor.)

Maclin Horton

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The Latest Harry Potter

I meant to mention this a while back: I’ve read the most recent installment of the Harry Potter series, and pronounce it the best so far. The first book had, as my wife put it, a cartoonish quality, and while Rowling’s prose remains so-so at best, each book has had more depth. The reviewers keep using the word "darker" with every release, and while that’s not inaccurate I think it’s a bit aside from the more important point, which is that the story becomes richer and deeper by including elements of loss, death, and betrayal. Harry and his friends are growing up; they are learning the sorrows of life.

I’ve gone from having some misgivings to having none at all about the general moral import of the work. The debate about whether the use of magic is wrong seems a little academic in light of the overarching theme, which, as someone, I think David Mills of Touchstone, said, is sacrificial love. There is absolutely none of the Niezchean lonely superman, above mundane moral considerations, about Harry: that kind of pathology is the province of the villains.

In this book the writing seems tighter–I thought book 5 could have been about 100 pages shorter. And it’s now clear that, whatever shortcomings the prose style may have, this is the work of a master craftsman of plot.

No, it’s not on Tolkien’s level. But if I step back a little and view it in comparison to the horrid parade of Judy Blume-style children’s books, to say nothing of TV and movies, it’s a treasure–if not gold, then silver.

Maclin Horton

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