"AS I SEE IT" 

Volume 8, Number 8, August 2005

 

“I too will have my say; I too will tell what I know.

For I am full of words, and the spirit within me compels me;

Inside I am like bottled-up wine, like new wineskins ready to burst.

I must speak and find relief; I must open my lips and reply.

I will show partiality to no one.  Nor will I flatter any man.”

Job 32:17-21

 

[“As I See It” is a monthly electronic magazine compiled and edited by Doug Kutilek.  Its purpose is to address important issues of the day and to draw attention to worthwhile Christian and other literature in order to aid believers in Jesus Christ, especially pastors, missionaries and Bible college and seminary students to more effectively study and teach the Word of God.  The editor’s perspective is that of an independent Baptist of fundamentalist theological persuasion.

 

AISI is sent free to all who request it by writing to the editor at: DKUTILEK@juno.com.  You can be removed from the mailing list at the same address.  Back issues sent on request.  All back issues may be accessed at http://www.KJVOnly.org

 

All articles are by the editor (unless otherwise noted) and are copyrighted but may be reproduced for distribution, provided the following conditions are met: 1. articles must be reproduced in unedited, unabridged form; 2. the writer must be properly credited; and, 3. such reproduction must be for free distribution only.  Permission to distribute in any other form must be secured in writing beforehand.  Permission for reproduction in Christian print periodicals will generally be given.]

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Reflections of Days Long Past

 

Ah, August in Wichita.  Usually hot, usually dry.  And usually filled with anticipation, at least it was for me in 1967.  Done with junior high (at Hadley) the previous May, and glad of it, and looking forward to the big step up to high school.  But not without some apprehension.  Sure, I'd heard for years about West High--a sister graduated with the class of 1967 (the class that never saw West lose at football over three seasons) and a brother was a year ahead of me in the class of 1969 (I suspect the red flags went up, not without cause, when the school administrators saw my name among the incoming sophomores--"Oh, no!  Another Kutilek!").  I'd been in the building a few times for plays my sister was in and for Frontier Frolics (the annual fund-raising amusement night).  But now I was to be a student, lost in the crush of the student body not much short of 2000 in a building designed for hundreds less.

 

There would be familiar faces in the sea of students--in my own class, the class of 1970, a number I had known since grade school (some even from first grade) and more from junior high, but these were only a fraction of the whole.  There were lots and lots of other new sophomores, from several other junior highs--Mayberry, Allison, Hamilton, besides new move-ins.  And then there were the upperclassmen.   Of course, I knew my brother's friends in the Junior Class, and they knew me, and considered this sufficient grounds to torment me (think Eddie Haskell and Beaver Cleaver).  And then there were the Seniors--the studs, the BMOC (“big men on campus”), guys with letter jackets and brass dripping off them, and some really scary hoods who seemed as if they'd rip your head off if you dared look at them; cheerleaders, other cool and popular girls,--all these people, you know the kind, that got to stand by the windows in D Hall (the main building corridor), between classes, who considered you the scum of the earth, the dregs of the world because you were only a dorky sophomore.  All very intimidating.

 

All summer, I'd worked at nearby Lawrence Stadium, employed in concessions filling the trays of the walking vendors with sno-cones, cold drinks and popcorn, and was happy when it was time to hang up my work apron.  Sometime after the middle of August was the day, particularly the afternoon, when I'd get my first introduction, as a student, to the inside of West High. 

 

School wasn’t to start for another couple weeks or so, but it was time to begin football practice.  So we, the aspiring and perspiring in-coming athlete wanna-be’s, showed up at the appropriate outside door at the appointed hour and were let in by the sophomore football coaches, chief among them Coach Sanger, and were issued the left-overs of the school’s trove of football equip--shoulder pads, jerseys, pants and helmets, all well-used but not necessarily well-washed, many still smelling of hot and sweaty practices of prior Autumns.  The air smelled of chlorine from the nearby swimming pool and I distinctly recall hearing a radio (tuned, of course, to KLEO 1480, the popular local AM rock and roll station) with the Rascals singing “How Can I Be Sure?” 

 

Thirty-eight years ago this August, yet it seems more real and clear and close than much that has transpired since then.

---Doug Kutilek

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The Real Origin of “What Would Jesus Do?”

 

Most people suppose that it was Charles Sheldon in his book In His Steps (1896) who originated the phrase “What would Jesus do?” as the determining factor in our conduct as Christians.  The truth is that Sheldon likely lifted the idea directly or indirectly from sermons preached by Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892), the great London Baptist pastor.  On Sunday morning, March 7, 1880, in his message “The Fair Portrait of a Saint” (based on Job 23:11-12) at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, Spurgeon said:

 

A very beautiful motto is hung up in our infant class-room at the Stockwell Orphanage, “What would Jesus do?  Not only may children take it as their guide, but all of us may do the same, whatever our age.  “What would Jesus do?”  If you desire to know what you ought to do under any circumstances, imagine Jesus to be in that position, and then think, “What would Jesus do?  for what Jesus would do, that ought I to do.”  In following Jesus we are following God, for in Christ Jesus the brightness of the Father’s glory is best seen.  Our example is our Lord and Master, Jesus the Son of God, and therefore this question is but a beam from our guiding star. Ask in all cases- “What would Jesus do?”  That unties the knot of all moral difficulty in the most practical way, and does it so simply that no great wit or wisdom will be needed.  May God’s Holy Spirit help us to copy the line which Jesus has written, even as scholars imitate their writing master in each stroke, and line, and mark, and dot.  Oh, when we come to die, and have to look back upon our lives, it will be a blessed thing to have followed the Lord fully.  They are happy who follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth.  Blessed are they in life and death of whom it can be said, --as he was so were they also in this world.

 Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit,

Vol. 26, 1880, p. 149.  

(bold-face added)

 

Spurgeon repeated that question in another sermon later in the decade on May 24, 1885.  In this latter sermon, titled “The Private Tutor,” a message based on Jesus’ words in John 14:24-26, Spurgeon said:

 

Still, I have no doubt that the main meaning of keeping Christ’s sayings is found in obeying him.  Dear friends, I do not want to say anything that will be severe, but yet I shall put to you a question which ought to alarm many professors.  Did you ever spend a whole day from morning to night in distinctly and resolutely doing that which would honor Christ?  I do not mean did you give up your business? did you quit your family?  Such strange conduct would not honor Jesus, but would do the reverse.  But have you day after day thought and acted as if Jesus were your master, and you his servant?  Is it habitual with you to say, “I will only do that which Christ would do if he were in my place?  His example shall be my law.  I will not be ruled by the hope of personal advantage or selfish comfort; but to me the supreme rule shall be, — “What would Jesus do? What would Jesus have me to do?”  I am afraid certain professors fancy that to hold a sound creed, and to attend a faithful ministry, and to subscribe now and then to charitable objects, is about the whole of religion.  But you utterly miss the mark if you judge such matters to be the chief items of godliness.  The chief matter is so to love Christ that we live for him, and honor him by obedience to him.  We cannot serve Christ by following out our own whims.  He who follows his own vagaries is a vagrant; only he who obeys Jesus is his follower.  By doing what Jesus bids us, by catching his Spirit, by seeing things in his way of seeing them, and by acting both towards man and towards God in his way of acting, we may make men see what a glorious Savior we have.  We ought so to display the sweet fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives that men may be filled with admiration of our Lord.  May God help us to do this; for if we do not keep our Lord’s sayings by our holy living, we have no proof that we love Christ; and if we do not love him, then we are not his disciples.

Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit

Vol. 31, 1885, pp. 293-4

(italics in original, boldface added)

 

So then, Spurgeon not only spoke these words in at least two sermons a decade and more before Sheldon’s book appeared, but also had them prominently posted in one of the orphan houses which he started and maintained.

 

If, as we suspect, Sheldon “borrowed” the words, unascribed, from Spurgeon, he wouldn’t be the first--or the last--to co-opt something from Spurgeon without ascription.  That Spurgeon in turn adopted them from someone else in his voluminous reading is at least a possibility.  Of course, Sheldon’s book, close to a century after being written, spawned the commercial (though likely not particularly spiritual) bonanza in WWJD (“What would Jesus do?”) merchandise.

 

So the next time you see an over-priced T-shirt or wristband or other Christian trinket sporting the letters “WWJD”--by now mostly found in the “reduced for quick sale” bargain bin--, you’ll know “the rest of the story” (if I may co-opt a line from Paul Harvey).

--Doug Kutilek

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Shakespeare and the KJV Once More

 

In “As I See It” 5:2 (February 2002), we addressed the urban legend which claims, based on some features of Psalm 46 in the KJV, that playwright William Shakespeare had a hand in the making of the KJV translation.  Our conclusion was that there is no credible evidence supporting the claim.  One line of evidence which we were not then able to pursue was the wording of the Bishops’ Bible in that Psalm.  We wrote:

 

“Since the ‘official’ basis for the KJV revision was the Bishops’ Bible of 1568, a check of the wording and word counts in that version of Psalm 46 would be of interest for comparative purposes, but unfortunately I have no access to it, and must remain in the dark for now as to its precise wording.”

 

In May 2005, I had opportunity to examine a 1585 printing of the Bishops’ Bible in the G. B. Vick Memorial Library at Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Missouri, which I collated with an on-line electronic version of the 1568 edition (they were identical in all things except a few spellings).  The 1585 printing of the Bishops’ Bible has the distinction of being the only edition of that version printed after 1572 that retains the original Bishops’ Bible translation of the Psalms, all others substituting for the Bishops’ Psalter the rendering as found in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, which has the Psalter according to the 1539 Great Bible (see A. S. Herbert, Historical Catalogue of Printed Editions of the English Bible [London: British and Foreign Bible Society, 1968], pp. 25, 78, 99).

 

I discovered that “shake” is the 47th word from the beginning of the Psalm in the Bishops’ version (ignoring the title) and that “speare” is the 48th word from the end of the Psalm (ignoring the final “selah”).  The whole basis for the claim that Shakespeare had a hand in the KJV is that in the 46th Psalm, “shake” is word 46 from the beginning and “speare” is the 46th word from the end of the Psalm (ignoring for the sake of the count the title to the Psalm--part of the inspired text in Hebrew) and the final “selah” (also part of the inspired Hebrew).

 

And, on a lark, I checked two different editions of The Book of Common Prayer, discovering that therein, in the 1539 Great Bible Psalter, “shake” is word #46 and ”speare” is word #48 from their respective ends (The Book of Common Prayer includes neither the title nor the “selah”).  That Shakespeare somehow influenced this version made a quarter century before his birth so that the 46th word of the 46th Psalm is “shake” is of course impossible.  “Shake” and “speare” have been part of the English version of Psalm 46 since at least 1539 (I now wonder how Wycliffe rendered it in the 1380s).  That they appear as the 46th words, from the front and rear of the 46th Psalm in the KJV appears to be nothing but pure coincidence, since the Great Bible of 1539 also had “shake” as the 46th word from the beginning, and to arrive at “speare” as the 46th word from the end of the Psalm in the KJV requires the omission of the final word of the Psalm to make the count come out at the desired number. 

 

With this additional information, the fact remains: there is nothing substantial that suggests that the Bard of Stratford-on-Avon had anything directly or indirectly to do with the KJV rendering of Psalm 46, and indeed, the evidence against the claim is strengthened.

 

Another urban legend is discredited.

---Doug Kutilek

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BOOK REVIEWS

 

Men in Black: How the Supreme Court is Destroying America by Mark R. Levin.  Washington, D. C.: Regnery Press, 2005.  288 pp., $27.95, hardback.

 

But when a long train of abuses, and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, . . .” 

 

So wrote Thomas Jefferson in 1776, describing the arbitrary power exercised by England’s king over the New World colonies.  These words could be applied with absolute propriety today regarding our federal Supreme Court which exercises absolute judicial tyranny over the laws and people of the United States.  This is not an exaggerated statement, as a careful reading of Levin’s book will establish beyond legitimate dispute.  For the past several decades (with roots leading much further back), the Supreme Court has ruled as an unaccountable, dictatorial oligarchy that has ignored and repudiated the original intent and design of the men who wrote our Constitution and the States that ratified it, has in not a few cases violated the plainest statements of that document, has overturned centuries of interpretation, and has violated its oath to uphold the Constitution, by seeking to alter its interpretation based on foreign legal codes and practices.  The Supreme Court--or, more precisely, the activist majority on the current Court (Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas consistently uphold original intent and are not particeps criminis in the abuse of the Constitution) is out of control and has lost its legitimacy.

 

It is Congress that is to make law, and the executive branch that is to enforce law, according to the Constitution, but the federal judiciary has in a broad spectrum of cases usurped the functions of both the other branches of the federal government.  We are no longer “a nation of laws and not of men,” but a nation of men, or rather, judges who rule according to their arbitrary whim of the moment, without any foundation in real law, and with no seeming recourse for those who suffer under this tyranny to set the matter right.

 

The reason for the adventurism of the Supreme Court is not hard to find: political liberalism has repeatedly failed in its attempts to pass laws that meet its social agenda (abortion on demand, elimination of capital punishment, unrestricted pornography, homosexual rights, suppression of Biblical Christianity and a foul flood of other items on their “wish list”).  Their only recourse has been to change the laws by fiat from the bench.  Legislators face voters periodically; judges never do.  Laws of one Congress can be overturned by another Congress; judicial decrees cannot be.  A Congressman or Senator can be removed by the will of the people back home.  The judges serve for life, with or without “good behavior.”  Naturally, then, those who wished to seize power have focused on the courts.  It is a heady thing for most justices to be able to make law, enforce law, and stifle the will of Congress and of the people at will.  Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

 

By their willful rejection of the parameters and constrictions of the Constitution as it is written, the Supreme Court collectively has done more to generate disrespect for the law than any other force in contemporary America.  The vast majority of people know inherently and intuitively that the Court has run off the rails and that its absolute protection of the supposed freedom of speech rights of pornographers, while at the same time denying the freedom to read the Bible and pray in public schools, and display nativity scenes or the Ten Commandments on public property is absurd, unjust and simply unsound reasoning.  The Court freely grants and zealously protects a supposed “right to privacy” which in turn supposedly then protects the right to kill the unborn without let or hindrance, while at the same time overturning state laws that provide for the execution of the perpetrators of the most heinous crimes, and threatening to outlaw capital punishment altogether though the Constitution unambiguously allows for the death penalty.  Sane people understand that such a court has lost its mind and does not deserve the people’s respect.

 

Scarcely 100 people have served on the U.S. Supreme court in the past 215 years.  The image of the justices is that of men of learning, wisdom and sound judgment.  By cataloguing at the beginning of his book some 15 cases of justices who served on the bench though demented, debilitatingly senile, actively receiving bribes, openly contemptuous of the Constitution, anti-Semitic, pre-occupied while at the court with watching soap operas, and in one case a Klansman, Levin disabuses us of this notion, though of course there have been not a few outstanding jurists on the bench as well.

 

The process of “judicial review” (by which the Court decrees whether a law enacted by Congress or the States is “Constitutional”) is found nowhere in the Constitution, and indeed the very concept was rejected by and warned against by the framers of the Constitution and their contemporaries, Jefferson notably among them, “prophesying” that judicial tyranny would be the eventual undoing of the nation.

 

The relentless judicial assault on the religious liberties guaranteed by the first clause of the first amendment to the constitution is detailed and exposed for the sham that it is--a bogus ad hoc judicial rewriting of the purpose, intent and design of the establishment clause and a willful disregard for the “free exercise” protection.

 

The imaginary “right to privacy” was fabricated out of thin air by the Court in 1973 for the express purpose of giving justification to unrestricted abortion, and has since been made to serve to protect sodomy.

 

In the name of preventing discrimination against blacks, the Court has imposed or approved racial and ethnic discrimination against whites.  “Diversity” is the cover for denying the most meritorious admission to colleges and graduate schools.

 

The granting of the rights of American citizens to non-citizens, indeed, those who have illegally and therefore criminally entered the U.S. is another maddening--and to the States very expensive--imposition from the courts.  Congress is expressly granted by the Constitution all powers regulating immigration and citizenship, yet the Courts insist on shoving their collective nose into that tent and usurping powers that they do not have.  How expensive has this become? Annually, Arizona is compelled by Court decrees to spend $1.3 billion (about $700 per citizen) on illegal immigrants.  Educating the children of illegal immigrants--mandated by the courts--costs $7.4 billion per year, $2.2 billion of that in California alone.

 

Levin addresses the question of the rights of prisoner enemy combatants held without legal counsel or release at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  Leftists want these terrorist partisans who were seeking to kill Americans on the battlefields of Afghanistan and in the cities of America to have legal representation and opportunities to appear in American courts.  One obvious question: did German and Japanese POWs have legal counsel or legal rights in American courts during World War II?  No--they were enemy soldiers held until the conflict ended.  They had no “day in court” and no one believed they should have such.  The case today of the terrorists in Cuba is no different (except that these terrorists are not even “legal” soldiers under the recognized rules of war)--so why should they have lawyers, and opportunity to appear in American courts?

 

The legal issues surrounding the Florida vote count in 2000 and the Supreme Court’s intervention is detailed.  Had the Supreme Court merely directed the Florida Supreme Court to follow Florida law--which required a certification of vote tallies within 7 days of the election--the issue would have been settled immediately and according to the rule of law--and precisely as it later turned out. 

 

Levin reminds us that Congress has the constitutional power to restrict what areas of law the Supreme Court can rule in.  For example, Congress could restrict the Court from ruling at all in matters relating to abortion.  But Levin also recognizes that Congress is devoid of the necessary courage or will to rein in the Court, or to impeach justices for cause (such as a de facto repudiation of their oath to “uphold the Constitution of the United States” by basing their decisions on international or foreign law).  Term limits for federal judges, with the possibility of being re-appointed, is suggested as one possible remedy for the out-of-control judiciary.  Levin offers one other possible suggestion for restricting the Court: a Constitutional amendment that allows Congress to overturn judicial decisions by, say, a 2/3s majority in both houses.

 

A large cache of secret Democrat documents that outlines the conspiracy by liberal Democrats in the Senate to prevent confirmation of all conservative judicial appointments by President Bush--and thereby prevent a course correction by the judiciary toward the original intent of the Constitution--are reproduced.

 

Mark Levin was first brought to wide public notice as the ”legal advisor” to “the Limbaugh Institute for Advanced Conservative Studies” with the moniker “F. Lee” Levin.  He previously served in the Justice department of the Reagan administration.  His research is thorough, his writing clear, his analysis superb.  This is without question the best popular book on American law and the Supreme Court that I have read.  It is excellent beyond praise.  A gutsy move by Dubya Bush would be to appoint Levin to the Supreme Court.  I cannot imagine a better-qualified appointment.  Of course the leftists would scream like a mashed cat, but it would be a marvelous thing to do.

---

The rest of the statement in the Declaration of Independence quoted at the beginning of this review reads, “. . . it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.”  We are at the point where, if Congress continues to refuse to reign in the Court, the American people need to collectively defy the Supreme Court, and refuse to knuckle under to its rape of the Constitution by arbitrary judicial decree.  Pray en mass at government school activities and defy the authorities to jail 10,000 people, erect Nativity scenes on city property at Christmas, refuse to remove the Ten Commandments from schools, refuse to fund the education and other social services of the children of illegal aliens, and do any and all other things which historically were counted among our Constitutional rights.  Judge Moore of the Alabama Supreme Court did the right thing when he refused to remove the Ten Commandments from the Alabama Supreme Court building, and gave us a worthy example.

---Doug Kutilek

---

 

Some quotes from Men in Black--

 

“The Supreme Court in particular now sits in final judgment of essentially all policy issues, disregarding its constitutional limitations, the legitimate roles of Congress and the president, and the broad authority conferred upon the states and the people.  The Court has broken through the firewalls constructed by the framers to limit federal and, especially, judicial power.” (p. 12)

 

“Too many justices consider the Constitution a document of broad principles and concepts, one that empowers them to substitute their personal beliefs, values, and policies for those enumerated in the Constitution.” (p. 13)

 

“Originalists object to the judiciary grabbing power in the name of advancing a social good or remedying some actual or perceived injustice.  To the extent that this framework is compromised, both liberty and the rule of law are jeopardized.  The judiciary, operating outside its scope, is the greatest threat to representative government we face today.” (p. 13)

 

Quoting Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the ACLU lawyer appointed for life to the Supreme Court by Bill Clinton, “ ‘Boldly, dynamically departing radically from the original understanding’ of the Constitution is sometimes necessary.” (p. 19)

 

“Judicial activists are nothing short of radicals in robes--contemptuous of the rule of law, subverting the Constitution at will, and using their public trust to impose their policy preferences on society.  In fact, no radical political movement has been more effective in undermining our system of government than the judiciary.  And with each Supreme Court term, we hold our collective breath hoping the justices will do no further damage, knowing full well they will disappoint.  Such is the nature of judicial tyranny.” (p. 22)

 

Quoting Thomas Jefferson, 1820: “To consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions [is] a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy.  Our judges are as honest as other men and not more so.  They have with others the same passion for party, for power, and the privilege of their corps. . . and their power the more dangerous as they are in office for life and not responsible, as other functionaries are, to the elective control.  The Constitution has erected no such single tribunal, knowing that to whatever hands confided, with the corruptions of time and party, its members would become despots.” (p. 33; activists who endlessly quote Jefferson’s phrase “a wall of separation” somehow fail to quote these words about judicial tyranny).

 

“There is but one conclusion we can draw: The Supreme Court has simply abolished your right to the free exercise of your religion in public.  And unless the courts are called to account on this, religious freedom in this country is seriously endangered” (p. 36)

 

As Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, human beings have certain unalienable rights endowed by God.  Rights are not conferred on us by a monarch or the state.  Without faith, he later wrote, liberty was vulnerable: ‘And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God?  That they are not violated by with his wrath?’ “ (pp. 37-8)

 

In writing the infamous Roe vs. Wade decision which made unrestricted abortion the law of the land, Justice Harry Blackmun, “gave deference to medicine, philosophy, and theology (from his own perspective), but not to the Constitution, the people, the states, or the other branches of the federal government.” (p. 66)

 

“In recent cases, the Court has laid the groundwork for ruling that any laws governing morality are constitutionally suspect, which would appear to put traditional marriage at risk.” (p. 73)

 

Quoting the now-Attorney General of the U.S., Alberto Gonzales: “Under [the laws of war] captured enemy combatants, whether soldiers or saboteurs, may be detained for the duration of hostilities.  They need not be ‘guilty’ of anything; they are detained simply by virtue of their status as enemy combatants in war.  This detention is not an act of punishment but one of security and military necessity.  It serves the important purpose of preventing enemy combatants from continuing their attacks.  Thus, the terminology that many in the press use to describe the situation of these combatants is routinely filled with misplaced concepts.  To state repeatedly that detainees are being ‘held without charge’ mistakenly assumes that charges are somehow necessary or appropriate.  But nothing in the law of war has ever required a country to charge enemy combatants with crimes, provide them access to counsel, or allow them to challenge their detention in court. . . .” (pp. 115, 116)

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True Tales of Old-Time Kansas by David Dary.  Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Press, 1984.  Revised edition.  322 pp., paperback.  $9.95.

 

Dary, a professor in the school of journalism at the University of Kansas, here writes of various individuals and incidents in the 19th century (occasionally earlier) history of Kansas (the territory, before statehood, and the state, after 1861) including tales of the Santa Fe trail, encounters of whites and Indians, rumors of buried treasures, wagon trains, the Pony Express, lawmen and outlaws, a family of serial murderers (long before anyone ever heard of BTK), the Dalton Gang, Quantrill and his raiders, artist Frederic Remington’s days as a sheep rancher, Lincoln’s 7-day stay in Kansas in 1859, Sergeant Boston Corbett’s decade in Kansas (1878-1888; it was he who killed John Wilkes Booth) and more.  Interesting stuff.  Documentation is given, and the volume is provided with numerous illustrations, photographs and maps.

 

Dary’s earlier work, The Buffalo Book (New York: Avon Books, 1974), about the American bison of the Great Plains (as the title might suggest!) is one of my all-time favorite books, which I have read and re-read many times.

---Doug Kutilek

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Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.  New York: William Morrow, 2005.  242 pp., hardback.  $25.95.

 

Economists were once defined by Ronald Reagan as people who, “when they see something work in the real world, wonder if it will work in theory.”  The author, as a not entirely a-typical number cruncher nevertheless tries and modestly succeeds in altering this image.  He dives into those statistics that economists love to wallow in, and comes up with some very interesting findings--

 

--A child is 100 times more likely to die in the backyard swimming pool than from a hand gun kept in the house.

 

--Only 1 handgun in 10,000 is used in a given year to commit a murder.

 

--gun buy-backs are a “feel good” publicity stunt that have zero effect on crime rates, and are rather expensive besides.  The Brady Act is equally ineffective.

 

--contrary to all the media and political posturing, the amount of money spent by a rich candidate on his own campaign has a statistically minuscule effect on the outcome of elections.  And, by the way, we spend more on chewing gum annually than we do on all Federal elections, yet the press ignores the former and expresses grave concerns about the latter.

 

--while air travel is deemed much safer than driving--and per mile traveled it certainly is--yet on an “hours traveled” basis, they are about equally safe.

 

--Seven million children “disappeared” from among the dependents claimed on IRS 1040 forms the year the IRS began requiring social security numbers for all children, to prevent false or duplicate claims.  Such bogus claims amounted to $10 billion more or less in tax fraud per year.

 

--“Head Start,” the long-standing and very expensive pre-school federal program, statistically does nothing to improve a child’s success in school.

 

--statistically, adopted children do worse in school, with the deciding factor here being that children are given up for adoption at a higher rate by parents with lower levels of education and lower I.Q.s (statistically, I.Q. seems to be divided about 50/50 between genetic inheritance and up-bringing).

 

--analysis of statistics demonstrates that under certain circumstances, Japanese sumo wrestling matches are “rigged”; real estate agents sell their own houses for higher prices than comparable houses sold for clients; not infrequently teachers and administrators cheat on their students’ standardized tests to enhance their own perceived performance as educators.

 

--the murder rate in the U.S. in 2000 was the lowest it had been since 1965 (yet in 2000 there were millions more guns in the hands of American citizens than in 1965).  As much as one-third of the drop in crime in the 1990s was due to longer sentences imposed on criminals (the prison population grew from 1 to 2 million in the 1990s).  Another--and controversial--statistical claim is that much of the drop in crime during the 1990s was due to liberalized abortion beginning in 1973, which meant that fewer unwed, young, poor women gave birth, and it is the children of such mothers who have a dramatically higher probability of becoming violent felons.  Since tens of thousands of such potential felons were eliminated in the womb, the argument goes, the violent crime rate fell.  In other words, to achieve the elimination of a few tens of thousands of future violent felons annually, we exterminate by an act of extreme violence over a million and a half babies.  This is equivalent, in my view, of exterminating all people of African ancestry to get rid of sickle cell anemia (an African-specific genetic disease carried by a small minority of Blacks) or the extermination of all Jews in order to get rid of Tay-Sachs syndrome (a Jewish specific genetic disease, which a minority of Jews have).  Such a suggestion is abominable and barbaric in the extreme.  Of course, Planned Parenthood was begun in the slums of New York City with the express similar design of suppressing the birth rate of “inferior” ethnic groups such as Negroes and Puerto Ricans.  If the real design of abortion is to eliminate the potential future “criminal class,” logically, why not just sterilize all poor and uneducated single women to achieve the same result?

 

Levitt misses some tales told by his own statistics.  He notes the 80% rise in the U.S. of violent crime rates from 1974 to 1989, but fails to note that this corresponds with the coming of “criminal age” (13+) of those children entirely educated in government schools after prayer and the Bible were expelled by the Supreme Court in the early 1960s.  And, of course, this also corresponds chronologically with the rise in America of the “no-fault” easy divorce, with subsequent millions more broken homes and single parents.

 

And while declaring that long-delayed executions make the “deterrence” argument for the death penalty moot, Levitt seems unaware of, among other examples, a man in the 1990s living in the Kansas City area of Kansas who committed multiple murders, but was careful to commit them in Missouri where there was no death penalty rather than in Kansas where such a penalty was on the books.

 

A lengthy chapter discusses the economics of drug dealing, revealing that all but the higher ups in an illegal drug hierarchy are compensated much less than if they were working at McDonald’s, and that the chances of dying in Chicago as a street level drug dealer are higher than if you were sitting on death row in a prison in Texas (the state with the highest execution rate).

 

There are some claims that I simply do not find credible, among them the notion that children from single parent homes do equally well in school as those from two-parent homes, that whether a home is single- or two-parent has little impact on a child’s personality (how do you measure that anyway, statistically?) or that it doesn’t matter whether a mother stays home with pre-school children or returns immediately to work after their birth.

 

Levitt closes with an extended chapter discussing trends in names for children, and the phenomenon of distinctly “black” names and whether having such a name is a help, hindrance, or neither in the job market.  This chapter reminds me of H. L. Mencken’s discussion of personal names in his famous work, The American Language, published more than 60 years ago.

 

Much to mull over in the mind here.

---Doug Kutilek

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