Category Archives: Philosophy and Psychology

Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning

11/1/15: I did not finish this book and right now I have no intention of picking it back up. It’s not a bad book, per se, but it’s not what I enjoy in a history book. I like social history, which to me means lots and lots of personal anecdotes that help describe why things happened the way that they did. I’ve never cared much for political history, which is (again to me) all the wheeling and dealing that goes on behind closed doors within governments that make for the “big” changes like war. Political histories tend to be full of analysis because I’m supposed to walk away with the same conclusions that the author did. This is a political history with, as far as I can tell, not very much social history included. It’s an interesting book, don’t get me wrong, but there are simply too many names to remember and places to keep straight to make it a “fun read” and since I’m no longer in school, I can afford to focus on the fun reads instead of trudging through books that don’t maintain their hold on my interest.

If you like dense political analysis, then you’ll like this book. If you like books that focus on regular people, like I do, you probably won’t make it very far in this book. My conclusion is that you’ll either like it or you won’t. There’s nothing wrong with the research or even the style–it’s just not my cup of tea.

10/10/15: I’ve been slow reading this one. It’s a fascinating book and what I consider to be my first real delve into the history of the Holocaust, but it’s dense. Like, really dense. So much information and detail. I guess I was hoping for something with more first hand accounts and less political discussion. I honestly find treaties to be dull reading, but leading up to WWII, that’s what it was. Still, there is a lot of really fascinating instances here, like how Britain and France handed Hitler Czechoslovakia and how Germany blamed the Kristallnaught on a displaced German (Polish? Russian?) Jew who killed a German minister in France.

Granted, this time was all about political intrigue and shifting border lines and it was complex and we have to really look it instead of making broad blanket statements like “Nazi gun control caused the Holocaust” (–Ben Carson), but what I want to know about the Holocaust is how could non-Jews have let it happen. And that, my friends, has been summed up on page 88: “Of course, it was possible for Germans not to wish to see violence inflicted upon Jews while at the same time not wishing to see Jews at all.” The one common thread between EVERY nation involved in this atrocity (to which I include every country that didn’t open their arms to the Jewish people) is that they didn’t want to have a Jewish population. There was the “Madagascar Plan”, which was the generic name for moving the Jewish people out of what they were currently calling “home” be it in Poland, Russia, or Germany and putting them either on the Island of Madagascar or in Palestine (the two leading destinations though the actual destination didn’t particularly matter). Britain considered going along with this plan (as the owners of Palestine), but decided that it’d be worse to anger the Arabs already living there than the Jews who would be moving there.

This whole mentality of “out of sight, out of my way” disgusts me and as someone who has never been the biggest fan or Israel today, I’m starting to have even less respect for the way they constantly defy current boundaries in their own ambition to have “manifest destiny”. The idea that that is their “homeland” is a crock when in 1938 Jews were being forced out of the HOMES they’d established in Europe–HOMES that they’d hoped to live in for generations! Don’t get me wrong, first and foremost, I believe that EVERYONE has the right to live where ever they damn well please so long as the property is bought legally and doesn’t harm anyone else in the process. That is NOT what’s going on in Palestine where the land in question is under investigation to determine ownership. It’s like a Zombie House (one that the owner has left because they expected a foreclosure, but then the bank decides not to foreclose). It would not be legal to sell the house to a new owner without finalizing the paperwork to establish who the owner really is. Some may argue that the land in Palestine is unoccupied and therefore up for grabs, but when there’s global interest in establishing real boundaries, no one should live in the area until the paperwork is finalized. Otherwise, we should just say “screw it–if one side gets to live there then both sides do” and open the area to ALL migrants (much like the homesteads of the US). Be like, “you’re all one country now, congratulations”. You’d think that the Jews who were forced out of Europe would have more of a claim to those former homes and businesses that they’re family used to own instead of claiming “historic ownership” to land they personally have no tie to.

Anyway, I’m writing the above as I take a break on page 100. I’m hoping that once all the background information is done (and the war finally begins) this book will move faster. But we’ll see…

Heh. I just read a truly interesting view of the alliance between Germany and the Soviet Union. Apparently Evangelical Americans saw it as “the realization of a biblical prophecy (Ezekiel 38) of an alliance between Gog and Gomer that would attack the Land of Israel and thus fulfill on of the preconditions for the return of the messiah.” This is what I meant above about claiming Palestine as “the Land of Israel”–these Americans and probably most Jews as well didn’t view that land as their homeland then, why should they view it as such now?

Also along Biblical lines, aren’t there a couple of passages about how God mandates (or at least doesn’t frown upon) “his people” invading nearby towns and destroying them? That sounds a lot like the way Hitler believed it was his right to completely annihilate the countries around Germany because they weren’t German.

Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice by Adam Benforado

“It is better one hundred guilty Persons should escape than one innocent Person should suffer”

–Benjamin Franklin

I first heard about Unfair via NPR (not sure which program the author was speaking on) and was amazed at the idea of using Avatars and recorded testimony to better present information to a jury at a trial. Turns out that this book is full of a lot more than just this idea for reforms.

This book looks into the science behind why people do what they do: the perpetrators, the judges, the lawyers, the witnesses, the jury, the public. While reading it, I started wondering which of my extended family members (a group that succumbs to many of the fallacies listed here) would most benefit by reading this. My conclusion was probably none. Even if they were able to finish reading it, they’d still probably label it “liberal rubbish”. What I find ironic is that these types are covered within: the ones who when presented with overwhelming evidence that their beliefs are misguided (at best) they will still find a reason to reject the evidence.

I don’t know if I’m simply more educated than the general public, but a lot of what I read in Unfair seemed to be common knowledge now. I thought people were aware that eye-witness accounts are more often than not limited if not completely incorrect. Benforado makes it seem like no one in the public sector knows this, but I can imagine that in especially a trial setting, lawyers will overstate the importance of eye-witnesses and other facts.

I certainly will forever question the validity of an eye-witness after reading about at 74 year old woman who identified the wrong man even though the actual rapist was also in the line-up (put there simply as filler by the police). Especially when you look at a photo of the line-up and only the real rapist looks like the original description, given 5 weeks prior.

In this era of what appears to be more police brutality, I thought that there were a few quotes that maybe some folks should take to heart.

The first comes during the chapter on why the public seeks to find someone to blame when a crime is committed, even if that means taking a pig or dog literally to court, or the public thinking it’s okay for a pitcher to hit an innocent player during a baseball game in retaliation for one of his own teammates getting hit. “[W]hen a harm has been committed, our desire to find a culprit and reset the moral scales by inflicting punishment may sometimes override out commitment to fair treatment.” I was immediately reminded of watching the latest video evidence of the shooting of Walter Scott. Officer Slager claimed that it was in self-defense or otherwise was in defense of the public, because they’d just emerged from a scuffle on the ground when they got up and Scott started running again so Slager used his gun. You see, when I hear that story (of a scuffle and the retaliation), I picture me acting in “hot blood” to hurt the person who just hurt me. Officer Slager had just (probably) gotten hit in the nose (or somewhere else that resulted in injury or at least insult) and in anger pulled out his weapon and fired. I suspect this “hot blooded” approach to justice occurs in more cases of police brutality than anything else (Unfair does touch on the Rodney King case, but only from the perspective of the expert witnesses).

The second quote that stuck out to me was “Numerous studies have shown that those who have murdered a white person are more likely to be sentenced to death than those who have murdered a black person.” Well, this is a statistic that the Black Lives Matter cause should pick up. Currently the debate seems to be centered on police brutality towards black suspects with opponents saying “well, what about Black on Black violence?” It seems to me that the Justice Department is making a statement that White Lives are more important than Black Lives simply because they go after harsher punishments when the victim is white rather than black.

The third quote is “In one recent experiment, researchers had two groups of participants read about a fourteen-year-old with seventeen prior juvenile convictions who raped an elderly woman. Participants were then asked to what extent, in general, they supported sentences of life without parole for juveniles in non-homicide cases. The texts given to the groups were identical, aside from one word: for the first group, the defendant was described as black; for the second group, he was described as white. Participants who had read about the black teenager expressed more support for the severe sentence and for the notion that kids are as blameworthy as adults.” I think this should give EVERYONE cause to stop and reflect on their own preconceptions. Of course, this is also discussed in Unfair: jurors are told repeatedly that they are completely capable of being impartial and most of us want to believe that even though there is mounting evidence that at least some amount of bias skews our judgments. People are so certain that they would never discriminate that they are blind to the fact that they do it daily.

I think this is one of those books that should be required reading. Even if it doesn’t have an effect on the Criminal Justice department, at least it will shed more light on the social issues that cause crime. Armchair politicians like to admit that lack of education and poverty contribute to the crime problem, but when it comes to saying where tax dollars should be spent, it’s usually on a bigger prison rather than a new school. I’ve heard more people talk about the waste of throwing money at education, but not the same about the waste of throwing money at jails. Except when some new jail can’t be used because of a wonkie law–then the complaint isn’t that the jail was built, but because it cannot be used.

I received this book for free via Blogging For Books, but as always the review/commentary is all mine.

You Just Look Guilty
You Just Look Guilty by tpenry
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Christmas Jury
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