Should the center hold?

Alan Dershowitz is a professor of law at Harvard, and he was interviewed in N.Y. recently by Chris Cuomo at the 92nd Street Y.
One point he made was this:

We live in dangerous times and extremism on both sides is equally dangerous. This is a Jewish venue; I have to tell you the Jews have historically been caught between the black and the red. The black of fascism and the red of Communism….Jews thrive at the center, America thrives at the center, Israel thrives at the center and decency thrives at the center.

Alan Dershowitz votes for Democrats (usually) but he says this:

There are too many college students today who think that the role of college is first to get drunk, to hook up, and then to become a radical member of the left and silence the opposition. That has to stop. We have to retrieve the educational system from the radicals and then I think we’ll have hope but beyond that I’m very very very concerned about our future 10 years from now!


Alan Dershowitz


I understand Professor Dershowitz’s point of view, but I disagree that you can generally define truth as being at the center. It might be a rule of thumb, but its not always true.

For instance Dershowitz supports a Palestinian state as a solution to the fighting in the Middle East that involves Israel. This is a kind of centrist thinking. You have two peoples who claim a land, so why not divide it in half, maybe make the capital into an international city or divide that in half too, and justice will be served, and peace will reign.

That might work with a lot of default assumptions being true, but what happens when you start replacing those default assumptions with facts?

Hunter Stuart moved to Israel for over a year to do some free-lance reporting. He says this:

Before I moved to Jerusalem, I was very pro-Palestinian. Almost everyone I knew was. I grew up Protestant in a quaint, politically correct New England town; almost everyone around me was liberal. And being liberal in America comes with a pantheon of beliefs: You support pluralism, tolerance and diversity. You support gay rights, access to abortion and gun control.
The belief that Israel is unjustly bullying the Palestinians is an inextricable part of this pantheon.

But Mr. Stuart actually talked to Palestinians there, and found something out:

I spent close to six weeks visiting Nablus and Ramallah and Hebron, and even the Gaza Strip. I met some incredible people in these places; I saw generosity and hospitality unlike anywhere else I’ve ever traveled to. I’ll be friends with some of them for the rest of my life. But almost without fail, their views of the conflict and of Israel and of Jewish people in general was extremely disappointing.

First of all, even the kindest, most educated, upper-class Palestinians reject 100 percent of Israel … They simply will not be content with a two-state solution. What they want is to return to their ancestral homes in Ramle and Jaffa and Haifa and other places in 1948 Israel, within the Green Line. And they want the Israelis who live there now to leave. They almost never speak of coexistence; they speak of expulsion, of taking back “their” land.

I know a lot of Jewish-Israelis who are willing to share the land with Muslim Palestinians, but for some reason finding a Palestinian who feels the same way was near impossible.

So Alan Dershowitz’s “centrist” solution would not work.

In general, certain assumptions have to be true for the “center” to be the right place to be. You have to ask first: “center of what?”

If the society as a whole moves in one direction steadily for a few generations, then the remnant of yesterday’s centrists may be looked at as extremists.

Sol Sanders (born 1926) was also a reporter for years, and he says this about our political parties.

..the two parties ultimately represented within their respective borders differences greater than the differences between them….What is happening today is the growing domination within the minority Democratic Party of its leftwing. No more evidence is necessary than the near riot set off when Democratic House Minority Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a scion of a Baltimore, Md., political family but a product of San Francisco, CA, leftwing politics, was attacked on camera by Democratic activists. Their growing influence in what has been a dwindling party, apparently determined not to incorporate the broad spectrum that insures the life of the two-party system, is now a danger for a system that with all its faults has worked relatively well. One could, indeed, make the case it has worked better than the more fractured and ideological European configuration.

College faculties have shown a sharp movement to the left, relative to the American public as a whole, since the sixties. So has the news media.

So who defines what the center is? The center opinions of the faculty at Yale will be different than the center opinions of entrepreneurs or farmers in the mid-West.

Even politics is not just a 2 dimensional tug of war between left and right. Saying that “America thrives at the center” is a somewhat lazy way of looking at things.

From W.B. Yeats:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.



Who hates Capitalists?

My parents are American conservatives, also Jewish, also pro-Israel, and so they get a lot of emails related to any of these topics. One interesting sidelight I noticed from some of material they get is the converging (and in my view wrong) economic attitudes of various movements out there. For instance, here is an article that came in yesterday: “60,000 participate in Polish nationalist march amid shouts of ‘Jews out’” The beliefs of some of the marchers in that recent march were that the Jews are pushing homosexuality on Poland, and also responsible for Muslim immigration into Europe.
But the economic attitudes of the radical groups in the march is what I want to discuss here. I noticed  that they want to nationalize foreign companies investments in Poland.
This converges with the left. I remember when Hugo Chavez took power in Venezuela, he was cheered by an audience of businessmen for nationalizing foreign investments.
Those businessmen must be very sorry now, as they look at the wreck of their country, with women turning to prostitution to survive, among other things, that they applauded any of Chavez’s economic moves.

When Donald Trump ran on an anti-NAFTA (free-trade agreement with Mexico and Canada) platform, for president, he was running on the same platform as Bernie Sanders, the socialist who was trying to get the nomination of the Democratic party and who also wanted to get rid of it).
Its an odd convergence.

Trump’s attitudes are somewhat of a mystery to me, but on trade they are straightforward. And I disagree with them, to some extent. (I do think he has his good points, unlike my more liberal relatives).

Christian Picciolini was an Italian American kid who fell in with a White-Power Crowd. They would listen to lyrics by the British band Skrewdriver, such as:

I stand and watch my country Going down the drain
We are all at fault We are all to blame
We’re letting them take over We just let ’em come
Once we had an empire And now we’ve got a slum
Are we going to sit and let them come?
Have they got the white man on the run?

Christian P. became a famous white supremacist, but eventually left the movement and became an opponent.

From his book, “Romantic Violence” there is this fragment where the word “capitalism” first occurs: (he was a teen at the time, and had been smoking a marijuana joint)

With the intermittent amber glow of the streetlamp lighting the car from above, the passenger door snapped open, and this older dude with a shaved head and black combat boots headed straight toward us. He wasn’t unnaturally tall or imposing physically, but his closely cropped hair and shiny boots smacked of authority. Over a crisp white T-shirt, thin scarlet suspenders held up his bleach-spotted jeans. He stepped across the beam of headlights and swiftly closed the distance between us. You’d have thought he’d turned in that alley specifically to hunt us down. I pulled back, wondering what the hell we’d done to piss this guy off….. Barely opening his mouth, he spoke softly, with a listen-closely-now attitude. “Don’t you know that’s exactly what the capitalists and Jews want you to do, so they can keep you docile?” Not knowing exactly what the hell a capitalist was, or what “docile” meant, my nervous instinct was to take a swift draw from the joint and involuntarily cough smoke straight into his face. With stunning, ninja-like speed, this guy with the penetrating gray eyes smacked the back of my head with one hand and simultaneously snatched the joint from my lips with the other, crushing it with his shiny black boot.

Years later, when Christian P. was a bigshot, his position on Capitalism was: “Capitalists can all rot in hell with their dirty blood money.”

So you have odd agreements, in this case between a white racist movement and a leftist universalist movement on economic issues.

Just from my point of view, Capitalism as such is just the free exchange of goods and services. It is not exploitation by some weird Jewish conspiracy of innocent inhabitants of Poland, for example.  There are exceptions, of course.    Selling harmful substances  to people may be one of them.  Some stock market  manipulations may also be harmful.   On the other hand, free trade is beneficial, as long as it is fair trade. The U.S. has some crazy law that if an American company suffers from trade, even though there was no unfairness involved, it can seek redress. I see no major unfairness in NAFTA, and I do see benefits, especially for our farming sector, and I think we are playing with fire if we try to get rid of it.
In fact, economics is a moral science. You learn (for instance by reading a book such as Thomas Sowell’s “Basic Economics”, that life has tradeoffs. You can decide that something is a social good, and subsidize it, but your wealth is finite, and you are withdrawing that wealth from an alternative good.

Many people have created societies that are supposedly structured without the profit motive.  They end up with societies that have plenty of exploitation, less wealth, and a lack of basic  freedoms.

Picciolini, Christian. Romantic Violence: Memoirs of an American Skinhead (p. 198). Goldmill Group LLC. Kindle Edition.

I will kill you, but don’t take it personally?

One question we might have to someone who tries to hurt us is “What did I do to you?”.
The assumption there is that people only attack in defense of something – we must have wronged them, or at least they believe they were wronged.
So when an American immigrant from Uzbekistan named Sayfullo Saipov deliberately drives a truck down a bicycle path along the Hudson river in Manhattan, murdering bicyclist after bicyclist, we tend to ask why. And he did have a ‘defense’ reason, or rather a ‘revenge’ reason. He said he was motivated in particular by a video in which ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi asked what Muslims in America and around the world were doing to respond to Muslims being killed in Iraq.
One of the people who were not killed, but just injured, was Marion Van Reeth, a Belgian woman who biked hundreds of kilometres through rugged parts of the world on charity excursions.


The bikeforAfrica web page has a blurb by her:

I participated to the first Bike for Africa in 2012 and 2014 and want to be part of the bikers team again. An experience not to miss : discover Senegal and The Gambia while bicycling , meet the local population , team building and support 3 charity projects!

It sounds like she had fun. She was able, on her own power to travel through beautiful, rugged, and interesting places.  And contribute to good works in the process.


The most dangerous place for her turned out to be New York city when that radicalized Muslim truck driver ended both the fun. And the freedom of the road.

So why doesn’t someone such as Sayfullo Saipov care about Marion? What did she do to Sayfullo to warrant this fate (she lost both her legs)?

Obviously Sayfullo looked at his act as a collective punishment to American society.

About a month before that, a 64-year-old Nevada man, Stephen Paddock, systematically killed more than 50 people and wounded more than 200 at a country music concert in Las Vegas.

We have no evidence at the moment that Mr. Paddock had an ideology, but like many mass killers, it is safe to say he wanted to kill as many people as possible. Professor John Lott has noted that these killers choose venues that are undefended, whether by police or citizens with guns.

Then we had another mass shooting, when Devin Patrick Kelley systematically killed people in a church in Texas. Among the people he killed were the family of John Holcombe, whose parents, wife, three of her children, a brother and a niece died from his rampage. John Holcombe could ask “Why me”, but in a way, it wasn’t personal. His family was just part of a collective.  It was just in the wrong place in the wrong time.

Holcombe family

There were warning signs with some of these shooters, though with Paddock, the main oddity was that his father was on the FBI’s most wanted list as a psychopathic bank robber. Somehow Stephen carried in large guns and ammo into a hotel without being stopped.  Devin Kelley, on the other hand, had a violent history, and the air force failed to communicate this to civilian law enforcement.

Maybe these killers feel sorry for themselves. Maybe they feel they were wronged in some way by society, and now want to be remembered as world-record killers. Maybe there is a lot of hatred, or contempt, or resentment, within them.

Some of these killers have written manifestos, for instance Anders Breivik, who shot dead 69 participants of a Workers’ Youth League (AUF) summer camp on the island of Utøya (these were children of left-leaning politicians in Norway). He wanted to stop Muslim immigration, among other things.

Again, he probably didn’t have any personal hatred to any individual on the island, he hated them as a group.
He laughed as some tried to get away.

It seems you can divide shooters who kill for a cause, and others who kill because they feel society has wronged them, and others who simply have a disordered brain.

But one point that emerges is that people’s motives for doing evil are not always rational to their victims. The victims have not necessarily wronged them as individuals. The victims can be expendable pawns.

Here is an interesting fragment from a book review by Danusha Goska. The book was by a brave American Muslim policeman, who went undercover to stop Jihadis. The policeman, Tamer Elnoury, says that the Islam he was taught was nothing like the Islam these people believed in. Goska thinks the real Islam is probably more like the Jihadi version, and she says this at the end of her review:

The Muslims on whom Elnoury is spying fly on American and Canadian airplanes, dine on lobster in American and Canadian restaurants, shop at The Gap, slurp down coffee and scarf down pastry in Tim Hortons and Dunkin Donuts, sleep in Marriott hotels, stroll through crowds at tourist destinations, attend university classes and scholarly conferences. All the while they are hating and wanting to murder everyone around them: helpful stewardesses, bubbly waitresses, passing pedestrians, babies in strollers. Three Muslim men walking across a bridge on a sunny day are there for one purpose in Elnoury’s book – not to retreat to a private place for a heart-to-heart talk, not to admire the scenery, not to stretch their legs or get a breath of fresh air. They are walking across that bridge to plot to demolish that bridge and thereby to murder kuffar. Chiheb Esseghaier, Elnoury’s main target, works with deadly diseases. Ahmed Abassi, a Tunisian student at Canada’s Laval University, tells Esseghaier to put a virus into a reservoir. We can, he said, reap a harvest of “thousands of dead Americans.”…

Why do jihadis feel they must murder kuffar? Because Americans and other non-Muslims “are spreading adultery, they are spreading alcohol … they are spreading Christianity … it’s our duty to make trouble in their homes … God almighty says fight their leaders … Islam is a very powerful weapon … you can bulldoze the whole world.” Esseghaier and his fellow sleeper jihadis are outraged by liquor sales, by a friendly waitress who goes out of her way to be kind, and belly dancers in Middle Eastern restaurants. The terrorists Elnoury shadows are outraged by women in attractive dresses and men with alcohol on their breath.

It is interesting that Judaism, as opposed to Islam, is a self-limiting religion. Judaism has the idea of a particular people that was given a particular land. The Jews are supposed to obey certain commandments, but there is no imperative for them to make others obey those commandments (though some of the prophets do speak of a time when the world will recognize God). For the types that Elnoury tried to first reason with, and then combat, this is not the case. In the above explanation by Goska, they seem to feel under siege by Christianity and immorality, as well.

Part of wisdom is not dismissing unpleasant realities by saying a motivation is impossible. There are so many strange motivations out there.  Someone could be happy to shoot you for any one of them!

Viagra sprays:

The good, the bad, and the Ugly

I was once hiking with a local group, and one Jewish man told me that he had seen this absolutely beautiful woman on TV – but she was talking of her admiration for Osama Bin Laden. He couldn’t get over the fact that such a beautiful woman could admire a man responsible for killing thousands of innocent Americans – people who went to work one day, and never came back.

I have unfortunately always been a person to judge by appearances. Its kind of automatic – and we all do it, at least initially, to some extent. The tall willowy blonde woman with green eyes makes a better impression in general than the overweight diabetic woman with big glasses.
I might be more comfortable chatting with the overweight diabetic woman, but I would be more likely to check my appearance in a store window after meeting the willowy woman with green eyes.

So is this a valid way to initially judge people?
I think to some extent it is, as a rough sketch. If you see a man with bloodshot eyes, a paunch, and a bloated face, he is likely to be an alcoholic, for instance, and that may (or may not) tell you about his character. A person with a healthy lifestyle, who has led a fairly low-stress life, will probably look better than the opposite.

I do believe that seeing people in motion, and watching how their expressions change when provoked, can tell you much more.

Take a look at these static faces, and guess who is good, and who was bad:


The first one is named Suzanne Spaak.
The second is named Lisolette Meier
The third is Henrique Gomes da Rocha
The fourth was named John Allen Williams
The fifth is Temar Boggs

Suzanne left the comfort of her upper-class home in Paris to join the Underground and rescue Jews.

Liselotte Meier, joined her boss, an SS officer on shooting parties in the snow, hunting and killing Jews for sport.

Henrique confessed to murdering 39 people, including a 14-year-old teenage girl and homeless people.

John Allen Williams shot people randomly with a sniper rifle in the states of Maryland and Virginia, and the District of Columbia. Ten people were killed and three others were critically injured. He admired Osama Bin Laden.

Temar Boggs helped save a 5-year-old girl when he and his teen friends chased down her kidnapper’s car on their bikes.

So the faces don’t really tell you much.

The playwright William Shakespeare (born 1565) wrote that “There’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face.”

But as I said earlier, I think when you see a flitting series of expressions on a person, and you also have the context for the emotional reaction you are seeing, you can tell more than most people would think.

Then again, as my mother says, “Never Assume!


Pirate gold in the yard, Pirates in the halls.

Imagine that you have a treasure chest of pirate gold buried in your back yard. Its been there since 1700, but you don’t know about it. So you struggle at to pay the rent and the mortgage, and to put your kids through school, and now you have a large debt, and cannot retire, but nobody wants to hire you because you have macular degeneration.  You end up in an old age home subsidized by the state.

The point I’m making is that you could be in close proximity to a major solution to your problems, but if you don’t know about it, it might as well not be there.


Conversely, imagine you’ve been in a jail cell for 20 years. The cell has a window with bars, and a cot, and a toilet. Twenty years have passed, and you are about to be let out. You jump around for joy in your cell, and accidentally kick the toilet out of place. Under it, you are astonished to see that a previous inmate has secreted a metal file. In other words, you might have escaped decades ago, by using that file on the bars.

But again, what you don’t know about might as well not exist.


Does this kind of thing happen in reality? In a way it does. I once hiked with a group in a scenic area north of Phoenix, and got to talking with one of their members. The whole group had worked for Motorola, originally. The hiker told me that Motorola had a big lead on cell phones, but decided to go with analog technology, rather than digital. So it missed the boat (or the treasure chest).
As an aside, many of this hiker’s former colleagues were unemployed after it collapsed, and quite a few decided to go on disability, rather than search for a new job.


Another example, this time of warnings that could have saved people, was the story of Brigadier General Billy Mitchell. He warned that small planes could successfully bomb big ships, and he warned that the Japanese would attack America, and would bomb Pearl Harbor.  Instead of being listened to, he was court-martialed! (He wasn’t court-martialed for making that warning, but still, the point is, if you don’t believe the truth when it is handed to you, you will can end up in a disaster.)


In my case, I’ve not been believed for many years. I’ve tried to warn society, and I’ve tried to warn my own family. I won’t go into the details here, but it is interesting to see what non-belief means. I can tell my family that their house is not secure, that it is being entered, every day, every night, by bad people who have decided to make me, and possibly my parents as a bonus, into a grand pharmacological experiment. Of course nobody would believe that, but the interesting part is to see the serene calmness that reigns among the people in my household, when in my world, a slow-motion horror movie is occurring there.

Arguments I hear are:
“Bad guys are not interested in persecuting people like you. They are interested in money!”
“Nobody but you believes this crazy story”.

And so forth.

In truth, I can’t presume to explain “bad guys”, but they can be motivated by many things, even ideology. They can be motivated by a desire to keep a lid on someone who knows too much. They can be motivated by revenge. They can be motivated by disgust. They can be in a situation where they don’t want to kill you, but they don’t want to let you go either.
Psychopaths are often motivated by a desire to “make people jump”, according to Martha Stout, who wrote a book about them.

People don’t understand the implications of the existence of organized crime either. Criminals are early adopters of technology, and are often very determined people. Organized crime is in every state of the United States. Criminals can hold a regular job, and yet have their secret identity, like the superheroes in our comic books. I’m not just talking about bodegas that sell drugs on the side, I’m talking about people who could be a receptionist at an office, a social worker, a doctor, and so forth.

It is my view that at least some criminality is like autism. A certain percent of the population is going to be born with it. They see the world differently. It is a big mistake to rule out any harmful motivation with some assumption like “They won’t hurt me, they are just interested in money!”

May I ruin your day?

In case you are feeling obnoxiously cheerful today, and positive about the American future, I wrote this post to deflate your mood.

Here are some of the negative trends (all via statistics).

1. Americans killing themselves – On average, 20 veterans a day committed suicide in 2014.
To despair to the point of suicide you do not have to have seen combat though. Between 2007 and 2015 there was a 31% increase in suicide rates for young males, and for young females, the suicide rate doubled.
(Middle-age white people account for a third of all US suicides.)

2. One reason could be loneliness. The National Science Foundation (NSF) reported in its General Social Survey (GSS) that unprecedented numbers of Americans are lonely. the study featured 1,500 face-to-face interviews where more than a quarter of the respondents — one in four — said that they have no one with whom they can talk about their personal troubles or triumphs. If family members are not counted, the number doubles to more than half of Americans who have no one outside their immediate family with whom they can share confidences.

3. A healthy home environment might help, but single motherhood has grown so common in America that demographers now believe half of all children will live with a single mom at some point before the age of 18. Does that matter? It does for children – they are far more likely to live in poverty than children of married parents. They also have more problem behaviors and more trouble finishing school.

4. Feeling good about yourself – its harder to do that if you are very overweight, and obesity in America is at an all-time high. Nearly 40 percent of adults and 20 percent of children are considered obese by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
(Sleep deprivation, unbalanced diet and lack of exercise are three main factors for the widespread unhealthiness.)

7. I would think it is also hard to feel good about yourself, let alone respecting others, if you see people degrade themselves. The pornography (adult entertainment) industry is an entity that generates billions of dollars in the United States annually. Some estimates suggest that the figure is as much as 13 billion. What is more notable is the fact that 90% of young boys and 60% of young girls have been exposed to pornography before they reach the age of 18.

8. Not feeling good about your country: In places like Edina, Minnesota, the Left has transformed K-12 schools into indoctrination factories whose overarching purpose is to train students to be reflexively racist and anti-American.
Educators in Edina, a wealthy Minneapolis suburb, don’t even try to conceal their sinister goals. Elementary school students there are subjected to an A-B-C book titled A is for Activist. Among the alphabetized propaganda points are these gems:
“A is for Activist. Are you an Activist?”
“C is for … Creative Counter to Corporate vultures.”
“F is for Feminist.”
“T is for Trans.”
“X is for Malcolm as in Malcolm X.”
When Donald Trump won the election last November, anarchy and partisan bullying paralyzed the high school.
“I felt like the school was descending into mass hysteria,” one student said of the day after the election. Another said Trump’s victory was treated as “the end of the world as we know it.”
Students reported “[e]very teacher was crying in class, one even told the whole class ‘Trump winning is worse than 9/11 and the Columbine shooting.’”

9. Educators may teach social activism, but they are failing to teach the basics. Recently, it was found in America that:
14% of adults can’t read.
28% of adults didn’t read a book in the last year.
50% of adults can’t read a book written at an 8th grade level.

10. Those educators also don’t provide a peaceful environment for learning:
Over 3.2 million students are victims of bullying each year.
Approximately 160,000 teens skip school every day because of bullying.

11. Fewer young people, whether on the right or on the left, believe in free speech:
The original poll that showed that was discounted, because it used online respondents who could opt-in. A new one from Republican pollster John McLaughlin was also conducted online but weighted to reflect the demographic composition of the country. The results from the new poll were even more extreme than the first. It was found that even among women, more than a fifth are willing to condone violence to stop someone from speaking. As much as right-wingers would like to crow that this is left-wing fascism at work, there’s virtually no partisan gap — a result duplicated by the other survey of college students, which found Republican students slightly more likely to condone violence than Democratic ones. Many believed in shutting down “hate speech”, so McLaughlin asked about that, wondering how many students would agree or disagree that “Hate speech is anything that one particular person believes is harmful, racist or bigoted. Hate speech means something different to everyone and you just know it when you see or hear it.” Result: 66 percent agreed with the definition versus just 24 percent who didn’t.”

12. I could add other negative trends – the ability of a few terrorists to kill hundreds of people with one truck full of explosives, as they did a day ago in Somalia. Mass shootings as happened  recently in a country music concert in Las  Vegas.   I could add negative trends from my own particular experiences which are really hair-raising.  Oh, and support for protectionism and also socialism are both  on the rise.

So have I ruined your day yet? No?

I’m depressed. I can’t even do that.

There is one more point to make though.   I read a book (Saving Freedom)  a while back by Jim DeMint, who was  a businessman who became a senator, and he said that in his day,  business activity was mixed with socializing and also charity.  He could  meet people at a  local charity who might give him business contacts, etc.  There was an active community for civic improvement in that sense.  In early America also, it was observed that  there were many organizations by private citizens to accomplish positive goals.   Various people have written that  we should not have such a huge charitable government sector that  subsidizes single motherhood, fails to educate large numbers of the population, puts a large tax on economic initiative, and so forth.

In other words, past efforts trying to help may have made matters much worse.


Sometimes a banana peel is only a banana peel – but don’t bet on it!

I am walking down the street. A bright yellow banana peel is in my path. Anyone else would assume that someone ate a banana, and being inconsiderate, threw it out of his car window.
However, I interpreted this banana as a warning from a mysterious criminal organization that I would be like the slapstick characters in old movies who slipped on banana peels and fell!

Sometimes, as Sigmund Freud, (the father of psychoanalysis) said, a cigar is just a cigar.
Freud is interesting, because he made an influential theory (in 1896) which tried to explain patterns of behavior by causes that were often very related to the idea that a cigar was not just a cigar. (Or that a mother of a mentally ill child was responsible for the mental illness. Mother blaming first became a national pastime in the early 20th century, when psychology declared the mother the dominant influence on a child’s development)
So a pattern was seen where there was no pattern.
Causal patterns are important in understanding our world, as is understanding our fellow human beings. This is obvious of course, but consider some recent examples:

  1. People know that Hollywood is socially liberal, and that many films coming out of it are overly obsessed with sexual topics. But after the recent revelations about Harvey Weinstein, a married film-CEO who sexually assaulted actresses or hinted at relations with them when they were in the vulnerable situation of being anxious to start in films, the worst (and craziest) rumors become believable. Not only because of Weinstein, but because of the rash of testimony from actors and others who worked in Hollywood or attended parties there. More than one man complained that his private parts were grabbed. Another insider said that pedophilia was common
    This is strange. Why should people in any industry behave this way? It show me that I am missing some understanding of my fellow human beings. I do understand incentives – if you are a lecherous slob in control of a movie studio, and pretty actresses keep asking you for a movie-part, you might take advantage of them. But still…

2) I’ve read essays by various people on the left and right who want to trust Russia.

I wonder what they think of this item:

A museum was ceremoniously opened in Russia recently to Felix Dzherzhinsky, the founder of the notorious Soviet secret police, with the event attended by MPs and members of the FSB, Russia’s modern-day security service.  The week also saw an important development in the latest closed court hearing of the widely condemned trial of Yury Dmitriev, a 61-year-old historian who has devoted most of his life to uncovering the mass graves of the victims of the Soviet secret police and identifying the perpetrators.
The shift towards rehabilitating the perpetrators of the Soviet Terror and muffling information about the victims began within a few years of ex-KGB officer Vladimir Putin’s rise to power.  The results are evident in the record number of Russians who have a positive attitude to the murderous Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and the fact that Stalin’s portrait is found openly hanging in FSB offices.

Putin was supposed to be post-Communist – a man of faith, family values, a simple nationalist.

So why would he do this?

Causes and human nature are very interwoven here, and people often get them wrong.

I wrote a blog post a few years ago on the Vietnam war, addressing the question of whether the Americans committed atrocities or not.  (Some undeniably did, at My Lai, for instance).

I believe the motive for the war was to stop Communism. Communism had swallowed up Russia, a country that is so huge that it stretches across nine time zones, it had swallowed up China (a country with three times our  population), it would have swallowed up Korea except for a war that the Americans (and allies) almost lost.  So it is plausible that JFK was telling the truth when he said he  believed it had to be stopped from swallowing up more countries. But I’m no historian, and consider this explanation by Bob Buzzanco:

The U.S. had no singular interest in Vietnam itself, but put a huge priority on establishing global economic hegemony and, therein, on creating or restoring capitalism in Asia, with Japan (and China before 10/1/1949) as the linchpin and American partner. In that context, a small country like Vietnam was critical to provide an outlet for Japanese capitalism—via markets, consumers, raw materials, and investment. (On this point, see especially Andrew Rotter, The Path to Vietnam, also Lloyd Gardner, Approaching Vietnam, and William Borden, The Pacific Alliance.

Buzzanco is quoting three books. I will never be motivated enough to read those books, and I would not know how to evaluate them if I did.

Then as far as my citing various soldiers on the nature of the Americans who fought in Vietnam, there is this:

In his book, “Kill Anything That Moves,” Nick Turse, a historian and investigative journalist, states, “Murder, torture, rape, abuse…were virtually a daily fact of life throughout the years of the American presence in Vietnam…they were the inevitable outcome of deliberate policies, dictated at the highest levels of the military.
In “America’s Needless Wars: Cautionary Tales of U.S. Involvement in the Philippines, Vietnam, and Iraq,” historian David Contosta writes that in Turse’s analysis of the records of the War Crimes Working Group stored at the U.S. National Archives, the eyewitness testimonies of American soldiers showed that “every major army unit in Vietnam had committed atrocities against civilians.”  According to Turse, “every infantry, cavalry, and airborne division, and every separate brigade that deployed.

So who am I to believe? Am I motivated enough to read Nick’s book? Would I be able to evaluate it if I did?   The people I quoted in my original post (and others who are shown in Ken Burn’s documentary) come across as very believable, and they didn’t see this sort of thing.  In fact, some were tortured  by the Communists to say that it was happening, and resisted.

Anyway, here we have two separate issues, one causality (why the U.S. fought a war in Vietnam) and another – human nature, or how the average American soldier behaved toward the Vietnamese. Depending on how what you believe on these issues, many other conclusions follow.

So how do we get to reality?

I once had a discussion with a mathematician about convincing people with information.  He thought it was “quantity” of information that mattered.   I replied that quantity of ‘information’ was not enough, it was the kind of information that mattered. I gave the example of astrology. I told him that if I heard 10 stories by people who listened to their horoscope and avoided a danger, I would dismiss the stories as a false correlation. I said even with more of that type of information – say a thousand examples, I would be unconvinced. But, I said, if you could give me a causal path that made sense, that would be worth more than a thousand stories.
It doesn’t make sense to me that the arrangement of stars in the heavens have anything to do with whether I will have to change my car tire today, but if you could show that the ripples in the “big bang” that caused the distribution of matter in the universe led to both the arrangement of stars and also the arrangement of potholes in my street, I might reconsider.


Unfortunately, in many cases, you don’t have the full causal explanation, even for genuine patterns.

Or the pattern may not even be a pattern.

Back to the banana peel. Suppose I told you that I was persecuted by a Mafia (and you believed me) and suppose I told you that I was riding my bike on a slight downhill, and suddenly, I was on the ground. I hit the ground pretty hard, and ended up with lots of road-rash, but did not break or fracture any bones. I was dazed, but fortunately a woman in a car told me to get out of the road, and then gave me and my foldable bike a ride to the nearest train station.

Now suppose I tell you that  I was riding my foldable bike on purpose, because it was a mountain bike, and not as high as my other bike, so that if I did fall, it would not be too violently.
Now lets add a belief of mine that the “bad guys” in my delusional system did not want me to bike, and another belief of mine that they could spray me from a car with a gas – an invisible, odorless gas, that would drift me into unconsciousness. If I were on a bike, I would fall off your bike. (suppose you believed me on that too).
Now lets skip past some other evidence here, and say that after this accident, in an attempt to appease the  “bad guys” I announced to anyone who would listen that I would stay off my bike for a few months.
Now the scenario: I walk down the hill from my house. I turn the corner. I walk a few paces, and there… is the banana peel!

So is a cigar still a cigar?


I will leave that topic, but I should say that even though I’m frustrated when I tell my stories and they are not believed, I only have subjective evidence, or evidence that to other people is not evidence of anything unusual at all.

I have “sensations”.

I hear voices… For instance, if you tell me I’m a slob, I will hear your voice telling me I’m a slob. To my family, who do not see you, I’m hearing voices.

Once a person expects a pattern, he may find it. I remember reading of a disease that was discovered, that has a constellation of symptoms, and it was noted that many doctors now saw it in their patients, where in the past they had just seen random unrelated symptoms.

I have a paranoid? pattern that leads me to sometimes what is called “false positives”, but sometimes to see things are really there, which for other people who witness them would be “false negatives”.

There is a final problem in getting to reality. Suppose reality means embracing a causal explanation that you really don’t want to believe, perhaps for ethical reasons?

Heather Heying, a biology professor at Evergreen University (her husband was Bret Weinstein, another biology professor, and both had to leave, but that’s another story) says this:

perhaps most alarming, there are concerns that what is true might be ugly. Those who would impose scientific taboos therefore suggest that it is incumbent on scientists not to ask certain questions, for fear that we reveal the ugly. …
People often imagine that when a biologist argues that a pattern is the product of adaptive evolution, they are justifying that pattern. Philosophers have named this confusion the naturalistic fallacy, in which “what is” is conflated with “what ought to be.”

For instance, many people feel gender roles are caused by society and are unfair.

A scientist would ask, how do you falsify that?
In fact, some Israelis were accidentally scientific and did a test:

what if a society actually existed—not just a theoretical utopia—whose inhabitants yearned for androgyny? What if a society existed whose citizens, motivated by a burning passion for perfect justice, committed themselves to a total reorganization of the traditional family system, with the express purpose of eliminating gender? Such a society has existed, of course: the early Israeli kibbutz movement. The movement wasn’t just a precursor to modern feminism, it’s important to add. The kibbutzniks were utopian socialists who wanted to construct a society where the ideal of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” would govern the production and distribution of goods. It was as part of this larger socialist vision that the kibbutzniks set out to wipe away gender.
Kibbutz parents agreed to see their own children only two hours a day, and for the remaining 22 hours to surrender them to the collective, which would raise them androgynously (trying more to “masculinize” women than “feminize” men). Boys and girls would henceforth do the same kind of work and wear the same kind of clothes. Girls would learn to be soldiers, just like boys. Signs of “bourgeois” femininity—makeup, say—would now be taboo. As if they had stepped out of Plato’s Republic, the children would dress and undress together and even use the same showers.

The experiment collapsed within a generation, and a traditional family and gender system reasserted itself. ‘

If you were still not convinced, you could go to a National Park in Uganda (Africa), and find that:

Young chimps in the wild play boy and girl games, much like their human counterparts, scientists found.
Although both male and female chimpanzees play with sticks, girl chimps treat sticks like dolls copying their mothers as they care for infants…
It was even found that when juvenile monkeys are offered sex-stereotyped human toys, females gravitate toward dolls, whereas males are more apt to play with ‘boys’ toys’ such as trucks.
The findings were the result of 14 years of observation of the Kanyawara chimpanzee community in Kibale National Park, Uganda.


These findings are disturbing. First of all, nobody wants to be like a monkey 🙂 Secondly many people want to believe that disparities in certain fields (like math) are the result of discrimination, rather than preferences.

Heather Heying claims that the extreme leftists

have abandoned rigor and replaced it with “lived experience” as the primary source of knowledge. Little credence is given to the idea of objective reality. Science has long understood that observation can never be perfectly objective, but it also provides the ultimate tool kit with which to distinguish signal from noise—and from bias. Scientists generate complete lists of alternative hypotheses, with testable predictions, and we try to falsify our own cherished ideas.
Science is imperfect: It is slow and methodical, and it makes errors. But it does work. We have microchips, airplanes and streetlights to show for it.

In a meeting with administrators at Evergreen last May, protesters called, on camera, for college president George Bridges to target STEM (STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) faculty in particular for “antibias” training, on the theory that scientists are particularly prone to racism. That’s obvious to them because scientists persist in using terms like “genetic” and “phenotype” when discussing humans.

But just because you don’t like the idea that genes affect brains, and brains affect behavior, does not mean that you can force the idea to be false by anti-bias training.

Plus, if we are talking about  choice, we should look at what college majors men and women freely choose.   In the U.S., we find that a similar percent choose math and science and business.   But we also see that more men choose computer science,  and more women choose education and social work and art.   (see
A radical might say that this disparity is due to discrimination, but given that there is no disparity in choosing math, science, and business, that does not make sense.

There are other examples of this kind of thinking too, where a conclusion that people don’t like is rejected, and they then try to explain reality without it and the reality they end up with is very distorted.

I explain my reality by leaving out the “cause” that is obvious to other people – that I’m insane, hallucinating, delusional etc. But suppose I’m right. Then the people around me are explaining reality by leaving out a cause – in fact they are leaving out a whole drama, much of which I myself  am not aware of, but grasp at straws to explain. Even in my reality, there are a lot of loose ends, and motivations that I don’t understand, and so forth. In other people’s reality, there is just a crazy delusional system by a person who hears things and sees things, and which is nicely explained by lunacy, though there are some anomalies.

People tend to strive for coherence, which means that if there are anomalies, they are ignored or explained away. Paul Thagard, of the University of Waterloo in Canada, says the coherence involves parallel constraint satisfaction. Some of those constraints could come with a very emotional tinge, and that can interfere with our seeing reality. But so can our lack of understanding of human nature.

Perhaps it would help that when we are confronted with something hard  to believe, we ask ourselves – “what would it take for this to be true?”

Ken Burns’s War Stories