Noble Savages Were Not So Noble

(p. A20) The idea that primitive hunter-gatherers lived in harmony with the landscape has long been challenged by researchers, who say Stone Age humans in fact wiped out many animal species in places as varied as the mountains of New Zealand and the plains of North America. Now scientists are proposing a new arena of ancient depredation: the coast.

In an article in Friday’s issue of the journal Science, anthropologists at the Smithsonian Institution and the University of Oregon cite evidence of sometimes serious damage by early inhabitants along the coasts of the Aleutian Islands, New England, the Gulf of Mexico, South Africa and California’s Channel Islands, where the researchers do fieldwork.
“Human influence is pretty pervasive,” one of the authors, Torben C. Rick of the National Museum of Natural History, part of the Smithsonian Institution, said in an interview. “Hunter-gatherers with fairly simple technology were actively degrading some marine ecosystems” tens of thousands of years ago.

For the full story, see:

CORNELIA DEAN. “Ancient Man Hurt Coasts, Paper Says.” The New York Times (Fri., August 21, 2009): A20.

Native Americans Suffer from Government Health Care

(p. A11) Native Americans have received federally funded health care for decades. A series of treaties, court cases and acts passed by Congress requires that the government provide low-cost and, in many cases, free care to American Indians. The Indian Health Service (IHS) is charged with delivering that care.

The IHS attempts to provide health care to American Indians and Alaska Natives in one of two ways. It runs 48 hospitals and 230 clinics for which it hires doctors, nurses, and staff and decides what services will be provided. Or it contracts with tribes under the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act passed in 1975. In this case, the IHS provides funding for the tribe, which delivers health care to tribal members and makes its own decisions about what services to provide.
. . .
Unfortunately, Indians are not getting healthier under the federal system. In 2007, rates of infant mortality among Native Americans across the country were 1.4 times higher than non-Hispanic whites and rates of heart disease were 1.2 times higher. HIV/AIDS rates were 30% higher, and rates of liver cancer and inflammatory bowel disease were two times higher. Diabetes-related death rates were four times higher. On average, life expectancy is four years shorter for Native Americans than the population as a whole.
. . .
Personal stories from people within the system reveal the human side of these statistics. In 2005, Ta’Shon Rain Little Light, a 5-year-old member of the Crow tribe who loved to dress in traditional clothes, stopped eating and complained that her stomach hurt. When her mother took her to the IHS clinic in south central Montana, doctors dismissed her pain as depression. They didn’t perform the tests that might have revealed the terminal cancer that was discovered several months later when Ta’Shon was flown to a children’s hospital in Denver. “Maybe it would have been treatable” had the cancer been discovered sooner, her great-aunt Ada White told the Associated Press.
. . .
The Chippewa Cree Band runs its own hospital and has hired a registered dietician who has gotten the local grocery store to implement a shelf-labeling system to improve consumer nutritional information. They’ve also built a Wellness Center with a gym, track, basketball court, and pool. These are small steps that won’t immediately eliminate heart disease or diabetes. But they move in the direction of local control and better health.
At a time when Americans are debating whether to give the government in Washington more control over their health care, some of the nation’s first inhabitants are moving in the opposite direction.

For the full commentary, see:
TERRY ANDERSON. “OPINION: CROSS COUNTRY; Native Americans and the Public Option; After decades of government-run care, some Indians are finally saying enough.” Wall Street Journal (Sat., August 29, 2009): A11.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version is dated Fri., Aug.28, 2009)

Property Rights Would Allow American Indians to Prosper

(p. A19) President Barack Obama courted the Indian vote. During the campaign, he visited Montana’s Crow Reservation last May and was adopted into the tribe under the Crow name “One Who Helps People Throughout the Land.” There he said, “Few have been ignored by Washington for as long as Native Americans,” and vowed to improve their economic opportunities, health care and education.

Two vital steps in this direction are to strengthen property rights and the rule of law on reservations. Virtually every study of international development shows that both of these are crucial to prosperity. Indian country is no different. The effect of insecure property rights is evident on a drive through any western reservation. When you see 160 acres overgrazed and a house unfit for occupancy, you can be sure the title to the land is held by the federal government bureaucracy.
. . .

My own research, published in the Journal of Law and Economics, shows that for tribes with state jurisdiction, per capita income grew 20% faster between 1969 and 1999 than for their counterparts under tribal court jurisdiction. All Indians are less likely than whites to get home loans, but the likelihood of a loan rejection falls by 50% on reservations under state jurisdiction.
. . .

Mr. Obama’s rallying cry was “change,” and that is exactly what he needs to bring about in Indian policy. The first Americans deserve to be freed from the bureaucratic shackles that have made them victims, and allowed to establish property rights and legal systems that can make them victors.

For the full commentary, see:
TERRY L. ANDERSON. “OPINION; Native Americans Need the Rule of Law.” The Wall Street Journal (Mon., MARCH 16, 2009): A19.
(Note: ellipses in original.)

How Democratic Presidents Save Us

Andrew Jackson was the first in a long line of populist Democratic presidents:

(p. 24) He relished the roles of protector and savior. Just after dusk on a cold March day in 1791, when Jackson was practicing law on the circuit around Jonesborough, Tennessee, he and his friend John Overton were traveling with a small group through dangerous territory. Reaching the banks of the Emory River in the mountains, the lawyers spotted a potentially hostile Indian party. “The light of their fires showed that they were numerous,” Overton recalled to Henry Lee, and “that they were painted and equipped for war.” Under Jackson’s leadership (Overton credited him with a “saving spirit and elastic mind”), the travelers scrambled into the hills on horseback, riding roughly parallel to the river–which they had to cross to make it home. Pursued by the Indians, Jackson, Overton, and two others pressed on through the night, coming to a place where the water looked smooth enough to allow a hastily constructed raft and the horses to make it to the other side. Jackson look charge of the raft piled high with saddles and clothes. Overton would follow with the horses.

There was immediate trouble. The waters were not as smooth as they had appeared; a powerful undercurrent swept the boat–and Jackson– downstream, toward a steep waterfall. “Overton and his companion instantly cried out and implored Jackson to pull back,” Lee wrote. But he either not being so sensible of the danger, or being unwilling to yield to it, (p. 25) continued to push vigorously forward.” Jackson struggled with his oars; disaster was at hand. He and the saddles could he lost, and the Indians were still on their trail. “Finding himself just on the brink of the awful precipice,” Lee recounted, Jackson extended his oar to Overton, who “laid hold of it and pulled the raft ashore, just as it was entering the suck of the torrent.” Catching their breath on the bank of the river, Overton and Jackson looked at each other.

“You were within an ace, Sir, of being dashed to pieces,” Overton told him. Jackson waved him off, replying, “A miss is as good as a mile; it only shows how close I can graze danger. But we have no time to lose–follow me and I’ll save you yet.” They eluded the Indians, arriving home exhausted but safe.

Source:
Meacham, Jon. American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House. New York: Random House, 2008.
(Note: the semi-colons in the above passage were hard to distinguish, in the online version, from colons. I judged them to be semi-colons from context, but I could be wrong.)

Columbus Absolved of Bringing Lice-Borne Disease to Indians


MummyPeruLice.jpg




“Braided hair is intact on a Peruvian mummy like those used in a study. Scientists say lice in the Americas predated Columbus.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A10) When two pre-Columbian individuals died 1,000 years ago, arid conditions in the region of what is now Peru naturally mummified their bodies, as well as the lice in their long, braided hair.

That was all scientists needed, they reported Wednesday, to extract well-preserved louse DNA and establish that lice had accompanied their human hosts in the original peopling of the Americas, probably as early as 15,000 years ago. The DNA matched that of the most common type of louse known to exist worldwide now and also before Europeans colonized the New World.

The findings absolve Columbus of responsibility for at least one wrong unintentionally wrought on the people he found in the Americas and called Indians. The Europeans who followed Columbus to America may have introduced diseases, namely smallpox and measles, but not the most common of lice, as had been suspected.



For the full story, see:
JOHN NOBLE WILFORD. “Scientists Say Mummies’ Lice Show Pre-Columbian Origins.” The New York Times (Thurs., February 7, 2008): A10.

Omaha’s Westroads Mall Stops Good Guys From Shooting Back

 

John Lott earned his PhD at the University of Chicago in economics.  What he says below is not popular, or politically correct, but it is probably true.  And if it is true, and if we fail to act on its truth, then more good people will continue to be killed, who could have been saved.

 

The horrible tragedy at the Westroads Mall in Omaha, Neb. received a lot of attention Wednesday and Thursday. It should have. Eight people were killed, and five were wounded.

A Google news search using the phrase "Omaha Mall Shooting" finds an incredible 2,794 news stories worldwide for the last day. From India and Taiwan to Britain and Austria, there are probably few people in the world who haven’t heard about this tragedy.

But despite the massive news coverage, none of the media coverage, at least by 10 a.m. Thursday, mentioned this central fact: Yet another attack occurred in a gun-free zone.

Surely, with all the reporters who appear at these crime scenes and seemingly interview virtually everyone there, why didn’t one simply mention the signs that ban guns from the premises?

Nebraska allows people to carry permitted concealed handguns, but it allows property owners, such as the Westroads Mall, to post signs banning permit holders from legally carrying guns on their property.

. . .

The law-abiding, not criminals, are obeying the rules. Disarming the victims simply means that the killers have less to fear. As Wednesday’s attack demonstrated yet again, police are important, but they almost always arrive at the crime scene after the crime has occurred.

The longer it takes for someone to arrive on the scene with a gun, the more people who will be harmed by such an attack.

Most people understand that guns deter criminals. If a killer were stalking your family, would you feel safer putting a sign out front announcing, "This Home Is a Gun-Free Zone"? But that is what the Westroads Mall did.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

John R. Lott, Jr.  "Media Coverage of Mall Shooting Fails to Reveal Mall’s Gun-Free-Zone Status."  FOXNEWS.COM  (Thurs., December 6, 2007).

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

(Note:  I am grateful to Luis Locay, for forwarding me Lott’s commentary.)

 

Not All World Views Can Be Accommodated

 

   1935 photos of painted Caduveo women from Claude Lévi-Strauss Structural Anthropology.  Source of photos:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

I remember in a philosophy class back in the 1970s, the philosopher Stephen Toulmin mentioning that he had once attended a conference with the famed anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss.  For a long while Lévi-Strauss sat in silence.  Finally he stirred himself to speak, and Toulmin wondered what wisdom the great man would pronounce. 

His comment was something like:  "It is hot in here.  Will someone open a window?" 

 

News of the death of the philosopher Richard Rorty on June 8 came as I was reading about a small Brazilian tribe that the French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss studied in the 1930s. A strange accident, a haphazard juxtaposition — but for a moment this pragmatist philosopher and a fading tribal culture glanced against each other, revealing something unusual about the contemporary scene.

. . .

For Mr. Rorty, the importance of democracy is that it creates a liberal society in which rival truth claims can compete and accommodate each other. His pragmatism was postmodern, tolerant to a fault, its moral and progressive conclusions never appealing to a higher authority.

. . .

The Caduveo founding myth recounts that, lacking other gifts at the moment of creation, the tribe was given the divine right to exploit and dominate others.

. . .

But there was also something else about this tribe that drew Mr. Lévi-Strauss’s attention: “It was a society remarkably adverse to feelings that we consider as being natural.” Its members disliked having children. Abortion and infanticide were so common that the only way the tribe itself could continue was by adoption, and adoption — more properly called abduction — was traditionally implemented through warfare. The tribal disdain for nature extended into its active denigration of hair, agriculture, childbirth and even, perhaps, representational art.

. . .

In reasoning one’s way into pragmatism, in minimizing the importance of natural constraints and in dismissing the notion of some larger truth, the tendency is to assume that as different as we all are, we are at least prepared to accommodate ourselves to one another. But this is not something the Caduveo would necessarily have gone along with. Mr. Rorty’s outline of what he called “the utopian possibilities of the future” doesn’t leave much room for the kind of threat the Caduveo might pose, let alone other threats, still active in the world.

One tendency of pragmatism might be to so focus on the ways in which one’s own worldview is flawed that trauma is more readily attributed to internal failure than to external challenges. In one of his last interviews Mr. Rorty recalled the events of 9/11: “When I heard the news about the twin towers, my first thought was: ‘Oh, God. Bush will use this the way Hitler used the Reichstag fire.’ ”

If that really was his first thought, it reflects a certain amount of reluctance to comprehend forces lying beyond the boundaries of his familiar world, an inability fully to imagine what confrontations over truth might look like, possibly even a resistance to stepping outside of one’s skin or mental habits.

But in this too the Caduveo example may be suggestive. As Mr. Lévi-Strauss points out, neighboring Brazilian tribes were as hierarchical as the Caduveo but lacked the tribe’s sweeping “fanaticism” in rejecting the natural world. They reached differing forms of accommodation with their surroundings. The Caduveo, refusing even to procreate, didn’t have a chance. They survive now as sedentary farmers. Such a fate of denatured inconsequence may eventually be shared by absolutist postmodernism. The Caduveo’s ideas weren’t useful, perhaps. Some weren’t even true.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

EDWARD ROTHSTEIN.  "CONNECTIONS; Postmodern Thoughts, Illuminated by the Practices of a Premodern Tribe."  The New York Times   (Mon., June 18, 2007):  B3.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

 RortyRichard.jpg Levi-StraussClaude.jpg   Rorty on left; Lévi-Strauss on right.  Source of photos:  online version of the NYT article cited above.