Chinese Girl in the Ghetto – a gifted young woman in the slum of Oakland

Ying Ma

Ying Ma

“Chinese Girl in the Ghetto” tells a story of a family that left China for America, and ended up in the slum of Oakland, California. I’ll talk about the ironies, but first lets look how bad the experience was:

China was a totalitarian country, and so the girl of the family, Ying Ma, starts the book by saying she’d like to talk about the “freedom” that we have here but as she was writing the book saw headlines that “two black teens punched a Chinese man, 59 year old Tian Sheng Yu, in the mouth in downtown Oakland. Tian fell on his head, and eventually died. In the same year, five black teens assailed five older Asian women, including one who was 71 years old. Black teens kicked and beat 83-year-old Huan Chen after he got off a bus. He died too.

The story has ironies.   In China, Ying Ma’s rule-abiding eagerness delighted her teachers. She was rewarded with a captain’s badge. Her school encouraged peer scrutiny of the lazy and disobedient. At one point some students started a Martial Arts group, and invited her to join. When the school found out about it, it was considered a gang and illegal. When a student told the teacher that the captain (Ying) had also been in the gang, she denied it, and a boy lied to protect her. Why did her school get so unhappy with an off-campus activity?  Ying explains that “The state was suspicious of organized activity springing up outside its purview.”

Its ironic that the adults who students trust, and who reward “good” behavior, can be encouraging bad behavior, like snitching on what is a innocent activity in any free country.

Ying Ma’s new home, Oakland California, had storefronts with shattered windows, streets full of potholes, and bridges and tunnels splashed with graffiti. The department stores smelled of urine. There were iron window bars on the liquor stores. Apartment dwellers had their belongings spill beyond their front doors in plastic bags.

And there were the homeless. Some of these approached her parents asking for money. The parents did not give money, and at times the panhandlers “followed us for half a block, other times they yelled obscenities or racial slurs.”

Teens crept up behind Ying’s Grandmother to frighten her. Ying’s uncles got beaten and robbed.  Ying did not dare to go out after dark.

Ying Ma’s father was a senior mechanic in China, but in the US he worked for less than minimum wage as a manual laborer. In the US he worked for Chinese employers, some who treated him badly.

Then Ying went to school. She was stolen from and notes that “In China, all classmates understood stealing to be shameful. Not here.” And the adults would not punish the young thieves – (my thought: maybe they were afraid of the parents, or did not have the backup of our legal system or the school administration.)

“The walk to junior high took less than fifteen minutes, but it felt like an eternity. ” Ying Ma dreaded the walk. “I hated the frequent violence, the constant racism, my shabby clothing, and the shallowness of adolescence.”

In school classmates resented her because she answered questions they could not, scored better, wore thick glasses and was not interested in their adolescent games or flirtations with one another.

“Racism, which had been a minor issue in elementary school, was a constant presence in junior high. Numerous black students regularly screamed racial epithets at their Asian counterparts. “”Ching Chong,” “Chinaman,” and “Chow Mein” became our names.”
Sometimes Asians were physically assaulted.  “No one ever doubted who would win in a fight.”

She did not think much of her peers. “Other girls my age gossiped incessantly. I was not interested. They obsessed over makeup and hair. I did not have money for the former or the patience for the latter…Everyone else loved movies and television and idolized celebrities. I had never been to a movie in America and considered celebrities and celebrity worship moronic.”

She was comfortable with gifted black students – from them she received no racial slurs or physical confrontation. “Perhaps our nerdiness brought us together.”

She managed to get into a public high school in the hills, supposedly the best in the city. The bus from her area was packed with black, brown, and yellow people. The back of the bus belonged to the black students. They threw paper balls, candy wrappers, assorted junk, racial slurs, and profanity at the “Chinamen” in the front or in the middle.

The “Chinamen” ignored them and discussed Hong Kong movies or actors.

Ying Ma was very good at math and other subjects. On her own she started reading Ayn Rand, John Steinbeck, John Locke, Machiavelli, and the Federalist papers. It took her to a “world of ideas as fascinating as the inner city was ugly.”

She got a scholarship to Cornell University in a pretty area of upstate New York. When she went home for vacations, like her parents, she had to live with “the gunshots, the racism, the indignities, and threats and the fear.”

As she studied for the New York Bar Exam, her father made the mistake of “driving up to the stop sign by our corner liquor store with his windows rolled down. As his car stopped, a group of teenage girls descended upon him. Several ran to the driver’s side of the car to beat him on the face and shoulders and head. The rest ransacked the glove compartment.”
Ying’s father managed to drive away, not seriously injured. But no one reprimanded the girls or called the police.

Ying’s family finally had the finances to move into a new house on a safe and quiet street in a neighborhood where “the grass is green and the birds are chirpy.” They can plant a garden, can take walks whenever they want to. Says Ying: “twenty years after our arrival in America, we were finally free.”

So now, lets notice some ironies. The first is that in a free country, many people in our extensive slums are really not free – not free of fear, for example. The slums also reach out and attack the suburbs sometimes.
There is a basic lack of understanding of the pathology of our bad neighborhoods. There is a church in Phoenix that recently encouraged its members to give up their homes in safe friendly neighborhoods, and to move into a slum, as a kind of witness to Christianity. And their members are indeed doing that. I know one family, with several little children, that have just done this. They should have read Ying Ma’s book first.

Then there are our courts that tried to repair the inner-city situation by busing students from good neighborhoods to bad schools in the inner-city and vice-versa. When this was tried in Boston it caused havoc:

Busing riots awake hatreds

Busing riots awake hatreds

Images from the riots of 1974 still sear. Stanley Forman won the Pulitzer Prize with his unforgettable photograph of a black man being rammed with an American flag outside Boston City Hall.

‘The plan that Garrity imposed upon the city was punitive in the extreme,’ write Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom in ”America in Black and White,” their essential 1997 book on race relations. ‘Indeed, the judge’s advisers and the state Board of Education believed that those against whom it was directed – in their eyes, localist, uneducated, and bigoted – deserved to be punished. The plan thus paired Roxbury High, in the heart of the ghetto, with South Boston High, in the toughest, most insular, working-class section of the city.

Apart from the dumb idea that kids are better off spending an hour in a bus rather than walking to school, the plan didn’t help the minority students achievement scores.

Those of us who live in safe neighborhoods pay a price for what goes on in the bad neighborhoods. The slum dwellers who bother to vote generally vote for whatever politician blames their problems on other people (such as “the rich”), which means that the problems do not get addressed. We have to work in cities that are dangerous to commute through at night, and since darkness falls early in the winter, there is no avoiding the night. A few of us get killed, including several incidents I’ve heard of students being shot or knifed at ivy-league colleges like Yale, Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, etc.

And a final irony. Totalitarian China did its bit to make the American inner-city worse: two weapons firms, the China Northern Industrial Corp., also known as Norinco, and Polytech, tried to ship 2,000 AK-47 rifles with a street value estimated at $4 million to the US. “The…weapons were headed for street gangs in cities across America, said Michael Yamaguchi, U.S. attorney for Northern California”.

I should say that Ying Ma did get along very well with a rainbow of multiracial fellow workers at a job during her school years at a movie theater, and she did get along with the more motivated black students.  She did not come to the US with any preconceptions about slums in America, and she got a rough education. Many of the racist and nasty young people she met will grow up to be nasty adults, and many will fail to hold a steady job. The pathologies will just grow.

My feeling is, that something should be done apart from throwing money at the problems in our inner cities. We’ve thrown a huge amount since President Johnson’s “Great Society” initiative. Maybe some of it helps. Much of it does not.
Also, there is no reason that young people who want to learn, and be a constructive part of society, should have to undergo all the tension and humiliation and fear that many of them do undergo in our schools and neighborhoods.  If going to school is such a negative experience, then maybe alternatives should be found.

Sources:
http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1996-05-24/news/9605240246_1_nuclear-weapons-us-china-relationship-chinese-manufactured – on the arms dealers who tried to arm gangs
Chinese Girl in the Ghetto – by Ying Ma (2011)
http://www.adversity.net/special/busing.htm - on the Boston busing riots

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On Framing people

The idea of framing people, that is, creating evidence that will make it look like they did something bad, occurs to the most unlikely people.

Shannon Richardson

Shannon Richardson

For instance, take this nice looking lady:
Shannon Richardson had been married to her husband less than two years when she went to authorities and told them her suspicions: He was the one who had mailed ricin-laced letters to President Barack Obama and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg threatening violence against gun-control advocates.
When investigators looked closer, they reached a different conclusion: It was the 35-year-old pregnant actress who had sent the letters, and she tried to frame her estranged husband in a bizarre case of marital conflict.

Or another example: My twin brother was framed not once, but twice, first by a friend, and then by a love-interest. I’ll call the friend Ravi (he was from India) and he had lost his job, so my brother, as a friend, gave him free rent in his rental property, but did ask him to do some chores in that property. Ravi did not take this well, which I can understand to some extent, and he was going mad anyway, and so he did something terrible. My brother works in MRI research, and Ravi sent letters in his name to MRI outfits all over the country. These were crazy letters. One MRI outfit asked my brother about the letter, and when my brother explained he had not sent any letters, the fellow at the MRI outfit said “know this – your name is MUD all over the country now.”

As if that was not enough, then my brother got romantically interested in a woman who had problems. She had been convinced by her therapist that her father had abused her as a child. This was part of the false-memory period in American psychotherapy – therapists would convince women that their problems were due to experiences they could not remember, but these experiences, with enough drugs and talk, supposedly could be elicited. Indeed, the patients eventually remembered what the therapist tried to elicit, but their brains were playing tricks on them. In a sense, the therapists were framing the parents. But it gets worse:
My twin eventually realized the story was an example of false-memory, contacted the woman’s parents, and perhaps in revenge, she went to his place of work and accused him of all sorts of awful things. So this woman could have cost him his job, and his friend Ravi could have shut out all alternative jobs.

Occasionally you can read of other framing cases. One I read about was of a Jewish woman (I forget whether she was in Russia, Ukraine, or Eastern Europe) who found a bloody fetus in her stove. She realized she was being set-up, and managed to hide it somewhere. Then a knock came on the door. It was a policeman. He had been told by a nearby neighboring Christian woman that the Jews were engaging in blood sacrifice. He didn’t find anything, and left with a sullen remark about “dirty Jews”.
But think about this. The “blood libel” was believed by many Christians in that illiterate period, but some of those Christians weren’t above lying – or creating a lie – to perpetuate it.

Where did this blood libel come from? There was a murder (so the evidence wasn’t created for the purpose of a frame) but it was a false accusation:

In England in 1144 Jews of Norwich were accused of ritual murder after a boy, William of Norwich, was found dead with stab wounds in the woods. William’s hagiographer, Thomas of Monmouth,

William of Norwich

William of Norwich

claimed that every year there is an international council of Jews at which they choose the country in which a child will be killed during Easter, because (he claimed) of a Jewish prophecy that states that the killing of a Christian child each year will ensure that the Jews will be restored to the Holy Land. In 1144 England was chosen, and the leaders of the Jewish community delegated the Jews of Norwich to perform the killing. They then abducted and crucified William. The legend was turned into a cult, with William acquiring the status of martyr and pilgrims bringing offerings to the local church. This was followed by similar accusations in Gloucester (1168), Bury St Edmunds (1181) and Bristol (1183). In 1189, the Jewish deputation attending the coronation of Richard the Lionheart was attacked by the crowd. Massacres of Jews at London and York soon followed. In 1190 on March 16, 150 Jews were attacked in York and then massacred when they took refuge in the royal castle, where Clifford’s Tower now stands, with some committing suicide rather than being taken by the mob.

I do wonder about Thomas of Monmouth – did he make this stuff up because of a deeper hatred of Jews for reasons that he knew would not convince the masses, or did he believe his own story?

Framing probably goes undetected sometimes. For instance, one young man who was turned down for a job would never have known the reason, except that an interviewer called him back saying something like “I don’t understand why you rejected our offer, we thought you were a perfect applicant.”. It turned out the young man really wanted the job, but his girlfriend (I don’t want to malign girlfriends in general here) used his email to send off a rejection letter. But suppose the interviewer had not called back – nobody would have known.

I guess one lesson from all this is that we really should check any bad accusation, even when there is evidence (such as a letter supposedly written by my brother), or even video evidence. that’s why our court system lets anyone accused of a crime know the evidence against him, and lets him face and cross-examine his accusers.

Another question is why? The above is all rather disgusting behavior. Its shows lack of respect for the people you lie to, and also malice toward the person being lied about.
Laura Schlessinger wrote a book a while back where she talked about some of the less-nice people who called her talk show, and she said:

…it comes down to one main factor: life should be all about “me”; what makes me happy, what makes me look good, what gets me what I want, what besides me explains my failures, how I can make others hurt like I hurt, how I can take from others what ought to be mine, how I can seem more important and powerful It is all about the “me.” And the universal “you” just becomes a means to the end: “me.”

People gave her the most ridiculous excuses for engaging in bad behavior, and they believed their excuses.

And framing can have very serious consequences. The blood libel itself caused many Jews to be murdered, and I think history itself can be changed by a lie that goes unchallenged.

Source:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_libel (blood libel)

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The Smarter Bomb – women as suicide bombers

Suicide Jihadists have struck in the U.S. and all over the Middle East, and they cause much horror and death, so in a recent book “The Smarter Bomb”, criminologist Anat Berko decided to study woman and children who become suicide bombers.

What she found goes against stereotypes of the fair sex:

Most male terrorists I interviewed claimed they didn’t want to kill Israeli civilians.  Most of the women, on the other hand, told me enthusiastically that they preferred killing civilians, including children.  The women’s participation in attacks meant that they might never marry and fulfill themselves as mothers, and their anger was clear: “why should your children have everything and ours have nothing”

Talking about family and children makes female terrorists very angry. When Arab men kill woman and children, it makes them seem less masculine, but when Arab women, whose biological clocks are ticking, kill women and children, they seem to feel that if they can’t have children, then no one else should either.

One woman terrorist said: “see what happens in Gaza and the territories every day – the parents of those who die aren’t in pain?  They are in great pain!  Look at what’s going on, we don’t have a home and we don’t have children and we don’t have anything.  That hurts…”

In my view, there is some illogic here.  These women are not prevented from having children – they have made the decision to be martyrs and sacrifice themselves – it wasn’t a Jewish decision.

The women who do the bombings have no doubt that what they are doing is right, and that Allah wants them to do it.  It’s just the actual sacrifice that is at issue – the losing of their lives.  They believe Allah will reward them with paradise.  In paradise:

There is no hatred, no bad things, and there are only Muslims.  In paradise the woman is the princess of the houris (the seventy-two black-eyed virgins) The prophet Muhammad is there…

The above was said by a woman, here is what a 17-year-old male terrorist says:

There is a paradise for every good man, for every shaheed.  Seventy-two virgins for every man who was a hero in battle…Allah said, ‘Sacrifice yourself’…[there is] a river of milk and honey and alcohol

Interestingly, the Muslim paradise is not all that spiritual – it is full of temptations of the flesh.

Motivations vary.  One motivation we can understand is revenge: Hanadi Jaradat blew herself up in Maxim restaurant in Haifa in 2003.  First she had a meal, then she looked at her victims (leaning over one, according to a survivor) just before she activated the detonator. Jaradat was an anomaly in Palestinian society. She was well-educated and very attractive…her fiancé, Muhammad Jaradat, and her brother were killed by the IDF. “Muhammad Jaradat was handsome and considered a hero, a fighter, a knight in shining armor…She was in love with him and he died in her arms, and with him died her dreams…”

Another woman named Akhlas faced the families of her victims and said defiantly, “I do not ask forgiveness from the Jewish family here, because many of us also lost those who were dear to us.  With help of Allah I will be lucky, if not here on earth then in paradise, when I see you and him [pointing to the judge] in hell.  And if my smile gets on your nerves, I will smile it forever because I won…”

At trial, other terrorists have made remarks such as, “It’s a pity Hitler didn’t finish the job.”

This reminds me of what Steven Plaut, an economist at Haifa University said about Gaza, where some of these people come from.  He said it should be re-occupied and “de-Nazified.”  Myself, I do not think this is possible, but letting people who hate you spend their lives devising ways to destroy you is not such a good idea either.

An Israeli Arab said to Anat that a terrorist can be identified “by his eyes.   He isn’t thinking about the present.  There is excitement in his look, and a smile,  It is a nasty smile which says that he who laughs last laughs best, that he’s going to get the best of you…”

The shaheeds feel themselves to be omnipotent, like a deity, like Allah.  They decide when they will die, and, moreover, when others will die. ..That sensation of power and control gives the terrorists a sense of capability and self-worth while scorning others who do not make the sacrifice.

In my view they are indeed like a deity.  A person who in his or her own society was nothing special, can become, with the help of a little technology and organization, a creator of mass death, fear, horror, and despair.

Now for the less idealistic aspects of all this:

Some of the women who decide to attack Israelis are trying to escape a bad home life.  Some feel they have more freedom in jail than at home.  In jail they can speak their minds.  Women who cannot leave their parents’ or husband’s home can walk around the prison yard without asking permission, they can watch TV and wear what they like.

Sometimes they are worried that their husband, if they have one, will marry a second wife while they are in jail, and this does happen.

A suicide bombing is a way to cleanse yourself of sin and dishonor.  So an Israeli Arab lawyer told Anat: “..I heard about a twenty-year-old girl who slept with someone, so they told her ‘Go cleanse yourself.’  So she blew herself up.”  Likewise: “If someone’s father beats him, he goes to a terrorist and says, ‘give me a belt, I want to sacrifice myself.’”

There was one prisoner who had slept with her entire neighborhood and even had an affair with a policeman.   She wanted to stab someone (an Israeli) to clear her record.

Women receive contradictory messages: on one hand, a woman has to participate in the “struggle,” and on the other, if she does participate, she is regarded as “damaged goods”.  She’s been around men, and prospective husbands think twice about having anything to do with her.  They may even wonder what sin she committed to have to cleanse herself.

Anat Berko says that some suicide bombers have obsessive thoughts that never leave them:  all they can think about is blowing themselves up — She calls it shahadamania – and says its a mixture of euphoria, sexual appetite, and extreme hunger.

Some suicide bombers are petty criminals who can get sudden notice, and honor, by killing Jews by the ultimate sacrifice.  In reality though, their names are often forgotten rapidly.

One Israeli Arab policewoman described Muslim women and their society:

The Arab woman is like a cat trapped in a box…Arab society is false and falling apart, and people try to imitate the bad things about Jewish society, not the good things…Superficially it is a religious, conservative community with robes and head coverings, but underneath there is nothing.

Anat Berko is not hopeful for the future. She even says that as more European women convert to Islam, you will have terrorists who are totally unsuspected.  She gives the example of Coleen Larose (Jihad Jane) who aided terrorists.  I would add that  if Lynne Steward, a leftist Jewish female attorney could pass messages from her client, Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, an Egyptian cleric convicted of planning terror attacks, to his followers, and if a Jewish lesbian such as Judith Butler can support (verbally) the very anti-gay Hamas, that this tells me that malcontents in our midst will join the party of death.

I should say too that those who think that solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict (usually by asking the Jews to give up territory in their already tiny state), will stop the phenomenon of anti-West terror are wrong.  In fact some Jihadists have said as much.

After Jihadists crashed airplanes into the World Trade Center, President George Bush referred to them as “evil, deluded men”.  The “evil” reference interests me – did these men think they were doing what Allah wanted them to do?  And if so, did overriding human feelings so that they could cut the throat of a Stewardess to intimidate the passengers so that they could have control of an airplane to smash the men, women and children of those airplanes into such enemy targets as the Pentagon and the World Trade Center qualify as evil?  If they did not have the religion – would they have led normal lives?

As far as doing something about all this, there is this slight ray of light: Most Muslim parents do not want their children to be suicide bombers.  For instance in Britain, the London police were appealed to in 2005 before the series of attacks on the London underground.  These appeals should have been taken more seriously.

Anat Berko is on friendly terms with some of the women who tried this short-cut to paradise, some are somewhat sympathetic types, though with one huge moral blind spot, but they actually like her.
But Anat Berko warns “The Western world should prepare for what is coming…”

It ain’t good.

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How children see evil

Lisa Steinberg

Lisa Steinberg

When an adopted 6-year-old girl was beaten to death by her adoptive dad, it made quite a splash in America.  The girl’s name was Elizabeth Steinberg, known to all as “Lisa.” She was six years old. The adoptive father’s name was Joel Steinberg and the mother’s name was Hedda Nussbaum. He was an attorney who worked the criminal courts in Manhattan; she was a former editor and writer of children’s books for Random House, one of New York’s most famous publishing houses. And together, over a period of six years, they oversaw the sad, anguished life of a little girl who never had a chance against the brutality, neglect and ultimate destruction by these two people.  Think of Lisa’s life.  At that age, you look at your parents almost as God.  And what kind of gods were they?

JewishboyAtgunpointThere is a famous photo of a Jewish boy, held at gunpoint, by Nazis.  He probably doesn’t understand the motivations behind the man with the gun.  He probably doesn’t understand the concept of ideology or the nuances of anti-Semitism all that much.

There is a little old lady who lives in a little community where my brother lives on a lake in Phoenix, Arizona.  She told me that when she was a child in Italy, her mother sheltered a few Jews.  The Nazis discovered this, and one soldier argued with the mother, saying that Christianity was against Jews.  The mother said naively “But Jesus was a Jew.” This angered the soldier so much that he shot her, in front of her child.  I was talking to the former child.  Did the child understand this evil behavior?  Does she as an adult?  I don’t fully understand it.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

I would argue that good people simply do not understand the motives of bad people.  In other words there is a dichotomy in our species.  Though the famous Russian dissident Solzhenitsyn argues (in one of his fictional works) that “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being”, I also believe that some of us are almost like a distinct species.  Bad people don’t look different than good people, and can pass for normal people.  Bad people can boast of acts that most of us find outrageous, disgusting, and evil. Think of the death of a young Irish girl who came to school in a village in the state of Massachusetts.  Phoebe Prince was bullied so consistently that she eventually walked into her house and hung herself in a stairwell. The nastiness didn’t end there. Her tormentors posted vicious comments on the dead girl’s Facebook memorial page. At a dance some days later, some who were there say one of the bullies (a female) bragged about how she played dumb with the detectives who questioned her. In other words, the very deeds that shock us, thrilled the bullies.  And notice that this bully fit into society well enough to participate in dances, and to have friends, etc.

bullys

Children have a simple view of good and evil.  I remember (vaguely) an Israeli “settler” explaining his kid’s views to an American reporter.  He said his kids saw the Arabs as evil, because of the bombings and other attacks that they committed against Jews.  He tried to excuse it by saying kids see things in “black and white.”

When Al Qaeda-linked terrorists attacked a Kenyan shopping mall, a 4-year-old British boy named Elliot Prior told one of them “you’re a very bad man,” The terrorist was taken aback by Elliot Prior’s remark, saying, “Please forgive me, we are not monsters.”  But they certainly acted like monsters to the hostages that they kept, committing disgusting atrocities.

Was Elliot Prior correct?

And of course all the adults who do terrible things were children once.

Sources:

http://www.crimelibrary.com/notorious_murders/family/lisa_steinberg/1.html – on Lisa Steinberg http://www.camera.org/index.asp?x_context=22&x_article=888 (on Tom Paulin) http://www.jrnyquist.com/ (commentary of February 3, 2014)
http://understandingevil.wordpress.com/2011/03/23/is-technology-evil-and-was-the-unabomber-right/ - a short section of this post has a description of what I believe happened to me.

Afterword:

Hedda Nussbaum, whose negligence contributed to Lisa’s death, did not start out bad.  She wrote two children’s books, both of which were published by Random House. Plants Do Amazing Things was published in 1977 and was a science book explaining the workings and lives of plants. She had met Joel Steinberg two years earlier at a party. Part of the book’s dedication read, “And to Joel, my everyday inspiration.” Soon, they were seeing each other and became romantically involved. “I thought he was godlike,” she once said. Her second book, Animals Build Amazing Homes was published in 1979 and detailed how different animals built their homes in the wild. Both books were well received and remain in print.

Another of Hedda’s co-workers, Larry Weinberg, who was also an attorney, became friendly with Hedda and admired her ability to work with writers. “She was sensitive, extremely gentle and loving to a writer, enormously encouraging,” he later said to the press, “I was extremely taken with her as a friend.” Hedda had a promising future. But that rosy prospect ended when the abuse began.

Hedda was so abused that “She was physically as badly injured as any battered woman I have ever seen-short of those who were killed,” a social worker later told reporters.

Hedda could not even eat unless Joel gave her permission. If she had married a good man, she probably would have been a good woman. But married to Joel, she took cocaine with him, and engaged in sex with lots of people, and used child pornography, and did nothing when her adopted daughter was molested, and did nothing when her adopted daughter lay dying (she thought Joel would fix things). Joel was a monster, and he transformed this woman into a kind of monster, and created a den of unbelievable evil in that apartment in New York. (this is based on Hedda’s own testimony, which is of course unverifiable).

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The United States of Paranoia

In his book The United States of Paranoia Jesse Walker describes the history of conspiracy theories in America, starting with colonial times and continuing to the present day.

Our founding fathers were a little paranoid.  Thomas Jefferson thought there was “a deliberate and systematical plan (by Britain) of reducing us to slavery,”  and when the colonies declared independence, the plot against America was detailed in the new country’s founding document. The Declaration of Independence did not merely describe “a long train of abuses and usurpations.” It argued that those abuses added up to “a design” to bring the colonists “under absolute Despotism.”

How did the founders get this idea?

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson

This was how: Alert Americans found conspirators’ fingerprints everywhere. In 1762, when Anglican missionaries created a Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge among the Indians of North America, the colonists understood that the evangelists’ real target wasn’t the natives; it was the rival faiths that had taken root in the colonies. The secret plan, John Adams explained, was to “establish the Church of England… and prohibit all other churches.”‘ When the Stamp Act of 1765 imposed a tax on printed paper, Joseph Warren of Massachusetts announced that the law had been “designed . . . to force the colonies into a rebellion, and from thence to take occasion to treat them with severity, and, by military power, to reduce them to servitude.”‘ The Boston Massacre of 1770, the Tea Act of 1773, the Intolerable Acts of 1774, all were evidence of the dark design. One isolated act of oppression “may be ascribed to the accidental opinion of a day,” Thomas Jefferson acknowledged, but America was undergoing “a series of oppressions,…pursued unalterably through every change of ministers.”

Even when conspiracies are real, the victim often gets the conspiracy wrong.  When Africans were taken captive on slave ships, one slave recalled his fellow captives jumping overboard for fear that they were being fattened to be eaten, and  Africans arriving in Louisiana and Haiti reportedly mistook their masters’ red wine for blood.

As it turned out, the slavers really were conspiring against their prisoners; it was just the nature of the conspiracy that was misunderstood. The captives were to be consumed by the white economy, not by white mouths.

There are several points that Walker illustrates.

1. The enemy outside being led by the enemy above:

Some Colonists worried about the “enemy outside” – Indian tribes, led by the “enemy above” (ministers of Satan since the devil had supposedly withdrawn to the New World when the Gospel made life difficult in Europe).  Even those who didn’t believe the “Satan” involvement could be worried about another “enemy above” (the Catholic rulers of the State of Maryland) using the “enemy outside” (the Indians) to exterminate the Protestant citizens of that state.

2. The enemy below being led by the enemy outside:

Long after slavery was abolished, the outside agitator stirring up rebellions would be a key villain in southern white demonology. During Reconstruction, there was a claim that northerners put in charge of their states were conspiring to empower the newly freed slaves at the expense of ordinary whites. (Such fears fed the rise of a real conspiratorial secret society, the Ku Klux Klan.)

During World War II, there was another example of the enemy below supposedly being manipulated by the enemy outside.  “Hitler has told the Negroes he will give them the South for their help,” one informant told the sociologist Howard Odum, who collected rumors in the southern states during World War II. “Hitler will make the white people slaves and the Negroes the leaders,” declared another.

3. Conspiracy theories are inevitable:

Walker writes:

“Human beings have a knack not just for finding patterns in chaos but for constructing stories to make sense of events, especially events that scare us. I can hardly condemn that habit. I just devoted an entire book, after all, to the patterns I think I’ve glimpsed in American history. But when building a narrative you can fall into a trap, one where a combination of confirmation bias and serendipity blinds you to the ways your enticing story might fail to describe the world.

A conspiracy story is especially enticing because it imagines an intelligence behind the pattern. It doesn’t just see a shape in the smoke; it sees a face in the smoke. It draws on one of the most basic human characteristics, something the science writer Michael Shermer calls agenticity—a “tendency to infuse patterns with meaning.”

Walker observes: “The conspiracy theorist will always be with us, because be will always be us.”

45. Some conspiracy theories include some truth, but believers often go off on a tangent from the reality:

Let’s take a recent set of conspiracy theories with an element of truth.  We have American militias that are worried about government power. The incident at Ruby Ridge, where government agents besieged Randy Weaver and his family (both his wife and son were killed, as was a Deputy US Marshall) and Waco where another government siege ended badly with many dead, loomed large to them. “In the militia world, the most popular conspiracy theories held that Waco was a trial run for future assaults on independent Americans; that concentration camps were being built within the country’s borders; that foreign troops were being imported to impose the new authoritarian order…”

There are elements of truth to any worldview that thinks the U.S. government has grown too large, too intrusive, and too over-reaching – its obvious that a 17 trillion dollar debt means something has gone wrong.  However, the militia conspiracy theories go off the rails.

4. The sophisticated elite reaction to conspiracies is to make their own conspiracy theory:

In the popular imagination, the militia movement was a paranoid pack of racists plotting McVeigh-style attacks (Tim McVeigh blew up a federal building, killing many men, women, and children). .. That vision was promoted by a collection of groups dedicated to tracking the radical Right, notably the Anti-Defamation League and Dees’s Southern Poverty Law Center.

But militias of the 1990s, Robert Churchill (a historian) argued, were reacting primarily to the rise of paramilitary police tactics. Their causes celebres—the standoffs in Waco and Ruby Ridge—were only the most visible examples of what could go wrong when policemen regarded themselves as soldiers rather than peace officers. Militia figures denounced the beating of Rodney King (a black man) in Los Angeles and the rape of Abner Louima, a black Haitian man whom New York police sodomized with a broomstick in 1997.

Richard Butler

Richard Butler

The real racists had problems with the Militias: “They are not for the preservation of the white race,” Aryan Nations chief Richard Butler complained to New York Post reporter Jonathan Karl. “They’re actually traitors to the white race; they seek to integrate with blacks, Jews, and others.”

5. The targets of past conspiracy theories had their own conspiracy theories:

Though often blacks had no use for the militiamen, they could be drawn to the conspiracy stories that some of those militiamen believed. Marc Lamont Hill, a professor of African-American studies at Columbia, told the Philadelphia Weekly that “People were going to black book stores like Hakims in West Philly or Robbins downtown and buying books like Behold a Pale Horse,” William Cooper’s UFO tract, which was also influential in the militia movement. “They were talking about the Illuminati and the Rothschilds and Bilderbergs,” Hill added.

6. Sometimes the conspiracy theory gets the motives completely reversed:

A good example is the movie: Executive Action (1973) about a group of wealthy and powerful men who plot the murder of John F. Kennedy.  I should point out that the man who killed JFK was a Marxist who had been to the Soviet Union and supported Cuba.  He was not a right-wing racist angry at JFK’s civil rights initiatives, or a rich, corporate plotter.

7. Known organizations that operate in secrecy can indeed stray into bad behavior:

Gerald Ford

Gerald Ford

For instance, “..high-ranking Times staffers had recently attended a private luncheon with President Gerald Ford. Intent on explaining the need for limits on the intelligence investigations, Ford had declared that the CIA had secrets that it couldn’t reveal. Stuff that would “ruin the U.S. image around the world.”

“Like what?” asked one of the reporters.

“Like assassinations,” replied Ford. Realizing what he had let slip, he immediately added, “That’s off the record!””

And:

When the FBI targeted political groups under COINTELPRO, they even tried to break up the marriages of people in those groups.

JessieWalkerAs Walker says, in the late years of the past century “it became clear that many Enemy Above tales were true. And as descriptions of those proven plots appeared in the media, it became easier to imagine that still larger and more malevolent conspiracies were lurking.

In other words, the mainstream was absorbing a mind-set that had long been common currency in the counterculture and the New Left. …it was easier to think that the government might have murdered Martin Luther King or Malcolm X if you knew that the Chicago cops and FBI had assaulted and killed Fred Hampton and Mark Clark of the Black Panther Party. Documented misbehavior inevitably fueled speculations about undocumented misbehavior.

“Suddenly the New Left’s warnings seemed much more plausible.”

There are several issues we should think about.  If conspiracies do exist, then why do conspiracy theorists so consistently invent non-existent conspiracies and when there are real conspiracies, they also tend to get the real conspiracies wrong?  What are the ways that we ourselves can distinguish a real conspiracy from a false one?  To a great extent, it involves understanding motivations.  What are the motivations of the supposed bad guys, and what methods would they be willing to use to achieve their goals?

Some people believe that the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, ordered the death of more than one dissident. Some people believe the president of the US, Barack Obama, was involved in a murder too. Are the people who believe these two propositions equally rational?

Sometimes we can immediately spot a conspiracy theory as nonsense, but I don’t know of any hard and fast rules to always decide.

Sources:

The United States of Paranoia – Jesse Walker (2013 – Harper Collins) http://nypost.com/2003/04/14/baghdad-shocker-bares-russian-saddam-spy-tie/ – on Russia offering assassination services to Saddam Hussein of Iraq.

Second thoughts:
The founders misinterpreted Britain’s motives as wanting absolute despotism, but they did have valid complaints such as “taxation without representation.”  I know very little history, and so cannot really judge the book’s claims, but I know that the founders did build in safeguards for free speech, the right to bear arms, the right for citizens to know the accusations against them before being thrown in jail, in the blueprint they created for their new country.  This suggests that they had experienced or seen abridgements of these rights.

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Getting at the truth – it doesn’t have to be so hard

How do we get at the truth? Think of how many people in this world believe things diametrically opposite to what you believe. We can’t all be right.
On the one hand, we seem to know how to get at the truth, since we as a species have sent probes outside of the solar system, and split the atom, and have sequenced the entire genetic code of our own species. We can build cities, and supersonic jets, and so forth.

But I find that the techniques of thought that lead to science and engineering successes are not used often by ordinary people in everyday life. The simple idea of testing something before you believe it (or dismiss it), often does not occur to people. I admit that life is not a controlled experiment, and usually we don’t have time to check all our sources, and test every assertion that comes our way, but we could do better.

And much of our reality is shaped by other human beings, and human beings are very hard to understand. For one thing current psychology says we have an “interpreter” in our minds that tries to make sense of what our own minds decide, but that interpreter is not always correct.

Now as far as life not being a controlled experiment, here is an example of what I mean by that. We have an economic crisis that started under a Republican President. It continued, and got worse, under a Democratic President. The Democrat blamed the problems on the “mess” created by his predecessor.

Now if life really was a controlled experiment, we could rerun the election, have a very libertarian free-market type be elected instead of the statist Democrat, and see what the economy would be like now. Then the assertion that the current mess is due to the past president could be better tested.  Likewise, there is now much discussion among leftist young people about our ‘crisis of Capitalism’.  It would be nice to see if that crisis is really a crisis of Capitalism, or of bad policies.

A common fallacy to watch for is that correlation always means causation.  I’ll give one example from my own history, and the other from “Climate Change” debate.  First – climate change:

In science, there are big questions of what is true and what isn’t. For instance, “Man Made Global Warming”, we are told, will lead to disaster unless we spend trillions of dollars, and change our lifestyles. This is supposedly the consensus view, and the people who deny it are compared to “holocaust deniers”.

Governments have spent a great deal of money on “green” “sustainable” energy because of this theory.
One piece of evidence for this theory is that in the ancient past, when Carbon Dioxide levels go up, so does the temperature.
However, some “deniers” point out that when a soda full of Carbon Dioxide gets warm, all the Carbon Dioxide bubbles out, and the soda goes “flat”.  This holds for the ocean too; when the oceans get warmer, they hold less gas in them.  So to the “deniers”, there is a correlation, but the cause is backwards.  “Warming causes CO2 increase, and not CO2 causes warming.” Normally I would tend to believe that CO2 causes warming – because of the greenhouse effect. But the alternative becomes convincing if you realize that in the past, the rise in CO2 followed the rise in temperature. There was a time lag. Obviously “A” can’t cause “B” if A came after B in time.  Or at least, some other factor was at work in these periods.

And the biggest joke is this: while much of the US has now made global warming mandatory in the school curricula, German scientists Horst-Joachim Luedecke and Carl-Otto Weiss of the European Institute for Climate and Energy say we are heading for a little ice age.  I remember a sports shop that gave up its winter gear for surfboards, because they believed there would be no more snow.  Maybe that was a premature decision.

Now an example from my own life to show that what is simple and obvious can be wrong.
I sleep a lot.  Much older folk are animatedly carrying on conversations in my living-room while I’m already collapsed in bed.  I was told by my teenage nieces that the reason I sleep those ten hours a night is because I am fatigued by my abnormal diet. My diet is somewhat unusual, because the diet is low in fat, and moreover I won’t eat snacks, or even lunch.
This issue, though small, is worth examining, because it is plausible. A deficient diet could indeed lead to fatigue. A diet lacking enough calories would too. So we have a causal chain from diet to fatigue.
But then we have anomalies. Such as multiple doctors praising my health, and one telling me I had a physique “to die for.”

And  my nieces did not know that for several years of my adolescence I had been diagnosed as a bulimic.  I could not stop eating. This was combined with  severe stress due to compulsive behaviors that eventually became splashed right in front of my fellow high-schoolers. I actually felt like my body was burning up from pure stress in those days. And when it was all over, I could not run even a mile, and I had to sleep a lot.
So the real causal chain might be this. My compulsive behaviors led to extreme stress and unhealthy eating, which led to my feeling bad and long-term physical damage.  In turn all this damage and misery led to my adopting a diet that did make me feel better, but which caused my nieces to associate the physical damage with the new diet.
So instead of “A” (diet) causing “B” (oversleeping), we have “C”(bad lifestyle) causing both “A”(a new diet) and “B” (oversleeping).
That experience also made me think that people can damage themselves in a way that just doesn’t register in medical textbook. I met a fellow cyclist who was doing poorly in a trip she and I were on, and she explained that she had spent much of her teen years on a diet that consisted solely of ice cream and popcorn. My guess is that this was her way of dieting, or she had some strange teenage theory of health. There is no medical textbook that has a chapter on the effects of “three years of nothing but ice cream and popcorn on bicycling ability”, but she was sure it had had its effect, and that there would never be a full recovery.

What we see in life is one scenario playing out, and not what could have been.  It has been said that the saddest words are “it could have been.”

Many of our categories leave room for error too. For instance, if we use another “health” example, I know a woman in her 70′s who has shaking hands, a back that sometimes hurts to the point that it interferes with walking, memory problems etc. It’s a no-brainer to blame this on old age.

Until, that is, you read the Wall Street Journal of 1/14/14, which tells you of four men in their 70′s that cycled (as a relay) across our entire 3000 mile continent in a week and a day. They are just as old, but obviously some other factor plays a part. In fact, its conceivable that old age has nothing at all to do with this woman’s problems. (Unlikely, but conceivable).

Much of life is also not intuitive. Economics for example. I personally think “you cannot get something for nothing” and “there is no free lunch”, which inspires my understanding of the subject. But many people think that if you don’t want people to work for low wages, all you have to is pass a law saying that high wages must be paid.

Or if we want to have a car that causes half as much pollution, we just pass a law that says that in five years, all cars must meet those standards.

If prices are too high, we will just pass a law that they must be lower. Interestingly, it’s not just people on left who believe in price controls, we had a Republican president, Richard Nixon, who imposed wage and price controls. The usual bad results happened when he did this. If you prevent people from making even a small profit on what they produce they won’t produce it, and shortages ensue.

In economics, there is a theory that if the government spends money on a good, that this spending is good for the economy.  Not only that, but there is a “Keynesian Multiplier” so that every dollar spent leads to more than a dollar of value.  For instance, the government spends money on computers for its departments, so the truckers who brought the computers from the port get paid, the longshoremen who unloaded the computers from the container ship get paid, and all these workers can then spend money on their needs. Perhaps the trucker uses his profit to buy flowers for his wife, which helps the local vase factory.

One problem with the above idea is that if the dollar spent by government leads to more than a dollar in value, then that should also hold true for anyone who spends money.  So when the recipients of the government dollars spend money that should lead to yet more and more value, with a positive feedback until the whole country is rich.  Somehow that doesn’t happen.
One tool we can use to test reality is to use counter examples.
For instance, I once heard a talk show where a caller insisted that the reason for the violence in American schools was the legacy of the “Wild West”.  (It is true that the Wild West was often a lawless place, and our frontier was often out of the reach of law enforcement.) The talk show host felt there was something wrong with that assertion, but he could not say exactly what.

High Noon

High Noon

I thought about it, and I realized that some schools are violent, and some are not. I graduated from a very peaceful suburban high school.  But twenty miles away, there was an urban high school where students threw a chair out of a high window and killed a passerby on the street. If the “Wild West” was the reason for violence, then my school should also have been violent, and there should be no particular reason why the “inner city” tends to have more violent schools than the suburbs.

Counterexamples often exist, but it’s not always easy to think of them. Sometimes they exist in “time”, that is, you can think of a situation in the past with the same supposed cause, that had a different result. Sometimes they exist in “space”. East and West Germany occurred at the same time, but different space, but one did much better than another. One was a counter-example to theories of socialist utopia.
Human motivation is also paradoxically, something that humans really don’t understand too well. Part of the problem is that humans vary tremendously.

I knew a fellow who thought that bad people are primarily motivated by “money and power”. I think this leaves out a lot of motivations. For instance, the men who put a bomb in Fraunces Tavern in New York were interested in Puerto Rican independence, not wealth.  They created “a scene of “utter havoc,” with blood-and dust-covered men and women, many in business attire, writhing in agony in the streets, or shrieking under piles of rubble…

Another problem that some people have is an intolerance for ambiguity. Life is not always presented to us as a whole story, with all the loose ends tied up, all the mysteries explained, all the contradictions resolved. So there are times when we should believe something, or at least investigate it, but we lack an explanation, or a causal set of links and we assume it cannot be possible. This happened in various situations in World War II, for example. Britons did not believe Hitler wanted war, Americans did not believe Hitler was massacring Jews, Jews did not believe they would be massacred, etc. Not only that, but when they were confronted with eye-witness accounts, the eye-witnesses were dismissed as “hysterical” or even crazy.  We could suppose that “people believe what they want to believe”, but why believe something that will give you a false sense of security to the point that not only you get killed, but your loved ones do too?

herodotus

herodotus

Another point is that we should be able to consider what seems totally impossible. About 400 BC, a Greek historian, Herodotus, wrote that 200 years earlier, the king of the Egyptians, Necho, had sent out Phoenician sailors who sailed all the way down the east coast of Africa, round the bottom, and up the entire west coast and back to Egypt.  But Herodotus did not believe the story, because the sailors reported that at one point in their trip, the sun was at “their right hand”.  Today we interpret that as saying that when the sailors traveled west, the sun was always somewhat to the right of them.  In the Northern hemisphere (at least as far north as Greece, where Herodotus was, and Egypt, where Necho was) this never happens.  And yet, now in the year 2013, it is exactly this detail that tells us that the sailors really did get to the southern hemisphere and go around Africa.  The detail that was “impossible”, if you believe the world is flat, as Herodotus and his contemporaries did, now becomes the detail that proves the truth of the story.

Personally, I would say while subjective experience can be completely wrong, it also can be completely right, and moreover, it may be all we have to go on, at least for a while.  That means we should even be willing to debate people we believe to be lunatics.  Nothing should be off the table for debate. (of course in practice, we don’t have time to delve into every proposition that comes along, and we do have to choose).

So, to sum up, in life, we unfortunately don’t test things often, we do not act like scientists confronted with a theory. we don’t act like a judge hearing lawyers for both sides, and many of us have tendencies to poor thinking habits.  Life may be too short to act like a scientist in every instance.  We should learn from Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia who, until 2009, considered himself a partisan liberal, but then, as part of his research started reading the thoughts of conservatives.  To his surprise, some of what they said made sense to him.  In fact, he thinks that much of what we call “reasoning” is just the process of confirming what we already believe or want to believe.  It doesn’t just apply to politics, let us remember that we can be mistaken, and try to use the basic tools of getting at the truth that we do have available to us.

Sources:

The Herodotus story is in Greek Geography by Eric Warmington, J M Dent & Sons (London) 1934

Heading to a little ice agehttp://tundratabloids.com/2013/12/global-cooling-alert-german-scientists-predicting-little-ice-age-this-century.html

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Obama, the tea party, and how contradictions create insights

One hallmark of paranoia is attributing evil motives to good people. However, we do live in a world where people with radical agendas seek power so as to implement those agendas, and in the process of obtaining power, they have to deceive. They have to convince us that they are “moderates”.

A good example of this was Fidel Castro. In 1959, he came to the U.S. and laid a wreath on the grave of the unknown soldier in Washington DC. My parents, who read the New York Times which whitewashed him, thought of him as a good and competent person. Then once in power, he implemented Communism and his firing squads worked overtime killing opponents and dissidents.  Once he showed what he really stood for, his sister said “He fooled all of us.”

Another example was Adolf Hitler. He made speeches about peace, and once firmly in power, launched World War II. He fooled many people, but by no means all. One person who was not fooled was A.H. Rowse. Rowse doesn’t just blame the leaders for stupidity. He talks of running for election in Cornwall, trying in vain to open the eyes of his own people, in his own home-town.

They never would listen, any more than they would listen to Churchill, or anybody else who told them the truth.

(I have a whole blog post on Rowse’s scathing book here) . But the main point here is that ruthless men with an ideology will not see it as a big problem to present themselves as moderates, in the process of gaining power.

ADL gives award to Erdogan

ADL gives award to Erdogan

Another example is current Prime Minister of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He is an Islamist.
Back on June 10, 2005, in New York, he accepted an award from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) on behalf of Turkish diplomats who had saved Jews during World War II. Erdogan had been elected two years earlier as head of the Islamist AKP Party, at a time when the Turkish-Israeli strategic alliance and trade relations were thriving.
Although antisemitism ran deep in the AKP and in the Turkish Islamist camp generally, Erdogan’s words at the award ceremony sounded reassuring. “Antisemitism has no place in Turkey,” he said.
Just a month earlier Erdogan had visited Israel with a large group of businessmen, held talks with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, laid a wreath at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, and said Iran’s nuclear program was a threat not just to Israel but to the whole world.
Today the small Turkish Jewish community of about 20,000 (some put the figure lower) has been subjected to terror attacks and vilification and largely lives in fear. The same ADL has denounced Erdogan’s “vitriolic condemnation of Israel and unqualified embrace of Hamas.” Bloomberg columnist Jeffrey Goldberg has called him “a semi-unhinged bigot.”
Erdogan had not changed, he had just engaged in tactical deception. He was able to say all the right things, while thinking all the wrong things.

David Horowitz

David Horowitz

David Horowitz grew up in a Communist family and had a misspent youth as a Marxist leader of the New Left in the 1960s. He says his parents told people they were “progressives”, but they were Communists. But here comes the shocker: “The president (Obama), his chief operative Valerie Jarrett and his chief political strategist David Axelrod all came out of the same Communist left and the same radical new left as I did…As someone who turned his back on that destructive movement, I can say with confidence that they have not.”
Now certainly most Americans would not believe what Horowitz says here. As Horowitz himself points out: two successive Republican presidential candidates, McCain and Romney, running against Obama, described him as a “good man.”
I’ll talk about paranoia (justified or not), anomalies, and Obama below, but first there is another organization to mention, and that is the Tea Party. Walter Russell Mead spent two weeks recently traveling across Europe, and he says that: ” In country after country we are seeing steady gains by political movements that bear a superficial resemblance to the American Tea Party, but in fact flirt much more with the kind of dangerous nationalist and chauvinist ideas that have proven so destructive in Europe’s past.” He also says that one of the reasons Europeans are so fearful of the Tea Party is that they assume that because it is right-wing and populist it is like the National Front in France or Golden Dawn in Greece.

tea party rally

tea party rally

The Tea Party, in my view, is attempting to restrain a government that has burst its restraints. To want a small government, that is reined in by a constitution, and whose designers divided its powers to prevent a demagogue from arising is not radical.  To be opposed to bailouts for banks, or multi-trillion dollar deficits, or to government-run health care, is actually a good thing. A leader who wants to “transform America” (as Obama said he wants to do) and disdains the constitution (see article at  Forbes magazine) is radical. The tea-party is not.
Interestingly, Kathleen Sebelius, Obama’s Secretary of Health and Human services, says that opponents of “Obamacare” (the national health plan that has gone so badly wrong), are racists. Recently Democrat Congressman Alan Grayson said the Tea Party was just like the Ku Klux Klan. In a fund-raising e-mail, he linked the grass-roots organization to violent racists, complete with a burning cross.

Lets take rival interpretations of events, ranging from “sane” to “paranoid”, and see if we find a pattern. I’ll use both Obama and the Tea Party as characters here.

Event: On July 2, 2008, Barack Obama announced: “We cannot continue to rely on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives that we’ve set. We’ve got to have a civilian national security force that’s just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded.”

So lets take the sane and moderate interpretation of this:
Obama feels that we need to protect ourselves against the threat of terrorism whatever its source, and is just exaggerating a little here as to the requirements of a civil defense force.
Lets take the insane, extreme, and paranoid interpretation of this:
Obama  distrusts the military for not being left-wing enough, so he wants an alternate force.

Or this event:
Law enforcement throughout the U.S. has been receiving armored vehicles, grenade launchers, helicopters, assault rifles, night-vision goggles, etc. – some even tanks (Obama DHS Purchases 2,700 Light-Armored Tanks to Go With Their 1.6 Billion Bullet Stockpile). In addition, Janet Levy (writer for the American Thinker) claims that: “In violation of the Constitution, Obama has “acquired” the authority to deploy American war fighters within U.S. borders in the advent of an “insurrection.””

Sane and moderate interpretation:
We have surplus military hardware anyway, and policemen need to be equipped to fight modern threats like terrorism or drug Cartels.  And maybe Obama has nothing to do with this.
Paranoid and extreme interpretation:
Obama expects economic collapse and social unrest, and needs to have a strong civil defense force to contend with this. He also fears violent opposition from the Tea Party and militia types.

Or this event:
On October 17, 2013: “soldiers attending a pre-deployment briefing at Fort Hood say they were told that evangelical Christians and members of the Tea Party were a threat to the nation and that any soldier donating to those groups would be subjected to punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.” and “on August 7, 2012, The Washington Times ran an editorial entitled, “The Civil War of 2016.” It begins, “Imagine Tea Party extremists seizing control of a South Carolina town and the Army being sent in to crush the rebellion. This farcical vision is now part of the discussion in professional military circles.”

Sane and moderate interpretation:
Some official got carried away, but he is not representative of thinking in government circles, and we have to remember that we have had anti-government terrorism in this country from Timothy McVeigh, who blew up a federal building full of people in the name of liberty, and we do have Nazis, white supremacist churches, etc.
Paranoid and extreme interpretation:
An intolerant radical government sees any opposition to its dreams of a transformed America as unreasonable and dangerous. Therefore, it is preparing its military and police for a possible confrontation with the opposition.

Event:
Reports of Obama removing 197 military officers (including 4-star generals) over the past five years have fueled a lot of discussion this week.
Sane and moderate interpretation:
Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal was rightfully fired for criticizing presidential officials.  This is appropriate, since the military is subordinate to the executive.  Also if a military man is involved in an adulterous affair he should be fired, and some were.  Obama is simply firing people who deserve to be fired, and maybe Obama is not behind this at all.  And where was this reported anyway?  In World Net Daily?  That is an right-wing website.  Don’t trust it.
Paranoid and extreme interpretation:
Retired Army Lt. Gen. William G. “Jerry” Boykin, who was with Delta Force and later Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence under President George W. Bush, says “it is unprecedented for the number of four-star generals to be relieved of duty, and not necessarily relieved for cause,” and “I believe there is a purging of the military,”
Boykin referred to recent reports that Obama has purged some 197 officers in the past five years.
These reports suggest these officers were suspected of disloyalty or disagreed with the Obama administration on policy or force-structure issues. As Boykin pointed out, a number of them have been relieved of duty for no given reason.
The motive?  If you are paranoid, you can speculate that Obama just doesn’t like the military, or even fears it would interfere with his plans for the country, or as some have suggested he thinks a weaker America will do less harm abroad.

Now what do we notice about the sane and moderate interpretation? It minimizes implications of an event, and assumes the best of Obama. What do we notice about the paranoid and extreme interpretation? It assumes the worst of Obama. It also assumes he is capable of unrestrained  action in service of a detrimental agenda. It also sounds like a ‘conspiracy theory’ which is usually a tipoff to paranoia.  And only a minority of people believe that Obama has tyrannical tendencies, which also usually fits paranoia – one way we know how to stay away from paranoid ideas is that only a minority holds on to them.  Also, to most of us, the motivation doesn’t really make sense. Obama may be a “progressive”, but so was Theodore Roosevelt (or at least they shared some of same ideas). A man committed to a big paternal government may be mistaken, but he cares about us, and he is proud to be an American.

But David Horowitz, who came out of a radical world, says that modern day progressives are like a species of religious fundamentalists planning a redemption. He goes into how they think and why they can be so alienated from the country they were brought up in, in his Frontpage article The Threat We Face (see sources). If he is right, then the paranoid interpretation of events becomes more likely.

There is a book called Seeing What Others Don’t, by Gary Klein, on the remarkable ways we gain insights. One of the ways is by noticing an anomaly, or contradiction. While others may minimize it, explain it away, or just accept it as a minor point that can’t be true due to all the other assumptions they have, some people can create a whole new science based on the anomaly.

For instance, Albert Einstein didn’t explain away the contradiction that if you were moving at the speed of light, a light beam would travel away from you (if you were holding a flashlight) at the speed of light, instead he made that observation an anchor, and got rid of other taken-for-granted assumptions.  These assumptions were that space and time look the same to all observers, no matter if some observers are traveling much faster than others.

 It was an anomaly that started David Horowitz on his path away from Marxism – the anomaly of the radical leftist black group the  Black Panthers murdering a woman, Betty Van Patter, who he had recommended to them as a bookkeeper.  It was an anomaly that started a Syrian Muslim woman, Wafa Sultan, on her path away from Islam – she witnessed the machine-gun assassination of her professor at  medical school. “They shot hundreds of bullets into him, shouting, ‘Allahu Akbar!’”  she said. “At that point, I lost my trust in their god and began to question all our teachings. It was the turning point of my life, and it has led me to this present point.”

Insightful people are more likely to be able to do “what if” thought experiments. And so I would think they are more open-minded.   Gary Klein thinks an insight is often a swapping of a new story for an old.  In some cases, it can even lead to former “good guys” being now seen as “bad guys” and vice versa.

Postscript: Senator McCain now sees Obama as quite radical.  Also, the Tea Party, like many movements, has different threads, and Congressman Ron Paul, who attracts the admiration of some members, put out an investment newsletter that had anti-black and anti-Semitic statements for years.  One of his newsletters quoted a “Jewish friend” who said the 1993 World Trade Center bombing was a “setup by the Israeli Mossad”.  However, in the Tea Party rally that I attended, there was a black speaker, and a Jewish speaker, and in general, nothing I’ve seen of Tea Party materials has a hint of racism in it.

But I would also say this, if a group of citizens really believes that Obama wants to destroy Democracy, then they might believe it their duty to revolt against him.  Not only has there been talk of secession, after he was re-elected, but in that WorldNetDaily article I mentioned, Boykin says that “People I’ve spoken to would like to see the military ‘fulfill their constitutional duty and take out the president.’” Boykin points out that this request for a coup is not at all constitutional.

But the point is, such people do exist.  In a comment on a thread in a conservative article, I’ve seen the quote: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants” (it was Thomas Jefferson who said this originally). If you, whether you are left leaning or right leaning, feel your country is taken over by a tyrant, and all avenues to stop him are closed, you may feel it proper to revolt. Or you may just leave.  Some people (usually wealthy) are leaving the United States because they foresee economic collapse and riots in the streets, and some officers are leaving the military, because their morale has plummeted.

Just in case the NSA is reading my blog, I should say that I do not advocate violent overthrow of Obama.  Seriously though, we have a democracy where leaders are replaced by ballots, not bullets and we should keep it that way. I do believe almost all his policies are to our detriment, and that he has an agenda that he hasn’t been totally up-front about.  And I do not believe we can gloss over the anomalies listed above, though it is valid to question whether a particular anomaly is something that should overthrow our day-to-day assumptions, or when the assumptions should win out.

Sources:
http://frontpagemag.com/2013/david-horowitz/the-threat-we-face-2 – David Horowitz: The Threat We Face

http://www.the-american-interest.com October 15, 2013 – Europe Is Burning, Slowly – Walter Russell Mead

http://pjmedia.com/lifestyle/2013/10/13/the-ten-worst-purveyors-of-antisemitism-worldwide-8-recep-tayyip-erdogan/?print=1 (on Erdogan)

http://unheededwarnings.wordpress.com/2011/06/09/hello-world/ A.H. Rowse in “Britain’s Blindness To The Nazis (or why Hitler called Chamberlain ‘Der Arschloch’)”

http://newsbusters.org/blogs/scott-whitlock/2013/10/23/alan-graysons-kkk-smear-tea-party-avoided-networks-chided-msnbc#ixzz2j16gJKB5Grayson’s Tea Party comments

Does Army consider Christians, Tea Party, a terror threat? – By Todd Starnes – Todd’s American Dispatch – Published October 23, 2013 FoxNews.com

Report: Feds and some states are militarizing American policing By NWV News Writer Jim Kouri © 2013 NewsWithViews.com

The purging of the military:  http://www.wnd.com/2013/10/top-generals-obama-is-purging-the-military/#5XLIrg8ARClAIeeX.99

Obama’s disdain for the constitution (by M. Northrup Buechner, who isAssociate Professor of Economics at St. John’s University, New York):
http://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2013/11/19/obamas-disdain-for-the-constitution-means-we-risk-losing-our-republic/

Third grader reader -- over the top?

Third grader reader — over the top?

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