Aaron Craft And Apollo

One of the many pleasant surprises for this year’s Ohio State basketball team has been the play of Aaron Craft.  Craft, a freshman, typically comes into the game about five minutes in to play the point.  He brings the ball up, doesn’t seem to get rattled by pressure, can drive the lane and dish, and has made some great passes as the Buckeyes have moved into the Sweet Sixteen.

What really distinguishes Craft, however, is his defense.  Although a few opponents have had great games against him, for the most part he has been a terrific defensive player.  Opposing point guards seem to wear him like a shirt.  He is always there, right in front of them, moving when they move and letting his lateral quickness get him to the spot before they do.  It must be incredibly frustrating to be guarded by Aaron Craft.

Craft’s uncanny ability to seemingly always be in front of the opposing point guard reminds me of a classic episode from the original Star Trek TV series.  The Enterprise is minding its own business, boldly going where no man has gone before, when suddenly a giant hand appears in front of the ship.  The Enterprise tries to get away from it, but wherever it goes the hand is there, until finally the hand catches the ship and the crew learns that the hand belongs to Apollo.  Mayhem ensues.

I imagine that the frustration felt by opposing points guards who have to deal with the pesky, ever-present Craft is similar to the frustration felt by Captain Kirk when he could not escape the giant hand of Apollo.  I’m not suggesting that Aaron Craft wears a toga in his spare time or can hurl lightning bolts from his fingertips, of course.

Vanishing Detroit

The 2010 Census delivered stunning news about Detroit.  The Census determined that the Motor City’s population has fallen — some might say collapsed — by 25 percent in only 10 years.  According to the Census, Detroit now has only 713,777 residents.  Detroit is now about one-third the population it achieved at its high point, in the 1950s.  Former citizens of Detroit, black and white, have fled the city for the suburbs or have left Michigan entirely.

The rapid decline of Detroit’s population will come as no surprise to anyone who has been to the city in the past few decades.  Even in the early 1980s, when Kish, Snow and I visited, Detroit had the scent of death about it.  The city was tied inexorably to the American auto industry, and as the Big Three fell victim to their own hubris and inability to produce quality vehicles at reasonable prices Detroit suffered.  Successive urban renewal-type projects, from the Renaissance Center to casino gambling, became increasingly desperate and made the city’s image fall still farther.  A few years ago I went to a deposition at a law firm’s building in a formerly grand neighborhood on the outskirts of downtown, and found block after largely vacant block of rubble and an occasional gutted building.  Parts of inner city of Detroit seem to be turning into a vast urban wasteland.

A rapidly shrinking city poses significantly more difficult problems than does a rapidly growing one.  What do you do with dozens of neighborhood fire stations, police stations, and schools that are greatly underutilized?  How do you consolidate services when entire neighborhoods have disappeared, and therefore consolidated districts must cover a significantly larger geographic area than before?  And most importantly, how do you convince new businesses to relocate to Detroit and revive its economy when the city’s own residents are running away?


Predicting The Extinction Of Religion

The BBC has an interesting article on the efforts of scientists to predict the extinction of religion in certain countries.  The scientific study considers the number of people who indicate no religious affiliation in census data and then seeks to identify the “social motives” behind being a religious person.  The study predicts that religious faith will die out in Australia, Austria, Canada, The Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Switzerland.  (Ireland?  Really?)

The scientists apply a “nonlinear dynamics” model that seeks to measure and predict the social and utilitarian value of putting yourself in the “non-religious” category.  As one scientist explained, the concept of nonlinear dynamics “posits that social groups that have more members are going to be more attractive to join, and it posits that social groups have a social status or utility.”  Nonlinear dynamics has previously been used by scientists to predict the death of certain spoken languages, where individuals have to decide between a language that is spoken only by a shrinking pool of participants and learning a more popular alternative.

I think the scientists may have missed the boat on this one.  To be sure, religions and languages both have a cultural element, but for many religious people their belief is rooted much more deeply.  Adherents to the world’s various religions, after all, are motivated at least in part by faith.  If joining the larger social group was all there was to it, history would not reveal such a long and bloody list of religious martyrs who were burned at the stake, stoned, and tortured rather than repudiate their beliefs.