Is usury evil? Is Capitalism?

Lending at interest has seemed wrong to many people through history.
Charging interest is classed in the Book of Ezekiel as being among the worst sins.  The Koran does not like it either, and one famous devotee of the Koran, Osama bin Laden, said this in his ‘Letter to America’ (2002):
You are the nation that permits usury, which has been forbidden by all the religions.  Yet you build your economy and investments on usury.  As a result of this, in all its different forms and guises, the Jews have taken control of your  economy, through which they have then taken control of your media, and now control all aspects of your life making you their servants and achieving their aims at your expense..
Jihadist kills thousands of Americans, then educates us on “Usury”
Throughout history some have assumed  that all economic gain not derived from physical labor was suspect, and in its extreme form, that led them not only to condemning finance, but also to condemning trade and commerce.
Most writers of the Classical period (of ancient Greece and Rome) saw no justification for deriving income from the merchant’s role of buying and selling goods.  The material wealth of humanity was assumed fixed, so one person’s gain must mean another person’s loss.  This reminds me of modern leftists who believe the “middleman” is unnecessary, and getting rid of him saves money.
But lending at interest makes sense.  You can give a loan of money to a friend who is willing to pay it back, but why should you give a loan to a stranger unless he gives you something in return?  He could pay you an initial sum for the loan, but obviously he doesn’t have the money to do that (otherwise he would not ask for the loan) so he promises to pay you in future.  That payment is interest.  Also you have to factor in risk – even if he is honest, he might not have the money to repay you at the end of the lending period, due to factors beyond his control.  And since you have choices in what to invest in, you should be rewarded in directing your money to more productive uses rather than less.  That is also factored into interest.
Obviously a peasant who got a loan from a Jewish moneylender in the Middle Ages might not feel it was fair if his harvest failed, and the loans came due.  In that period, Christians were not allowed to lend interest, but Jews were allowed to lend to Christians.  Moreover, Jews were often pushed out of the standard occupations, so they ended up in commerce and finance.  Unfortunately, the Jewish moneylenders had to charge high interest, because they had high risks.  One of the risks was that their loans often had to be written off because of pressure from the Christian public.  And royalty put high taxes on any money the Jews made.
Karl Marx, one of the most disastrous thinkers in history, had a problem with usury – to him it was making money from money.  In his view there was no real value to it.
Marx argued that private property in general led to egotism, and cutting oneself from others.  In a bourgeois society, supposedly everyone is interested only in one thing – getting richer.   And Marx believed that capitalists got rich on the backs of the workers.  Marx uses metaphors of vampires and werewolves and cannibals for capitalists.  Lenin called capitalists bloodsuckers. Neither believed that people who started companies, such as Bill Gates or John D Rockefeller, actually created value.
Paul Allen and Bill Gates in the early days of Microsoft
It is interesting that various Nazi thinkers believed that Capitalism had to be rescued from its “Jewish” aspects.  Aryan Capitalism was supposedly industrial and creative, but Jewish Capitalism was parasitic. Idealists who liked romantic communitarianism saw Capitalism as a negative force.
The influential economist, John Maynard Keynes, did not like the deferred gratification that came with Capitalism.   It supposedly detracted from the enjoyment of life here and now.
Keynes said this:
I see us free…to return to some of the most sure and certain principles of religion and traditional virtue–that avarice is a vice, that the exaction of usury is a misdemeanor, and the love of money is detestable, that those walk most truly in the paths of virtue and sane wisdom who take least thought for tomorrow.
Admittedly Capitalism can be very disruptive.  For instance when a big box store moves into town, little stores go out of business.  It is natural for people who own little businesses to want stability, security, and a steady income without worries.
Perhaps this desire for stability, security, and predictability explains this observation by  Friedrich Hayek, who was pro-Capitalism.  He said that there was a common thread in Socialism, Nazism, and Fascism – and that was the notion that the state “should assign to each person his proper place in society.”
On another issue that comes up periodically: Capitalism is about satisfying needs, but what if those ‘needs’ are just vices?  For instance, suppose you are a drug dealer providing heroin to heroin addicts, or a salesman offering marijuana gummy bears to kids.  The consumer wants the product, the salesman wants to sell it to him, so what’s the problem?  And yet there is a problem, in that the consumer wants a product that harms him, and harms the wider society as well.
Capitalism also implies that some people will do better than others.  This can cause resentment.  In our society, people who are good at math generally get better jobs than those who do not.  Is that fair?  And if not, is the blame to be laid, for example, at the feet of the callous employer who won’t hire Pierre, who is poor at math, to the well paid computer-analyst job, even though Pierre has four children to support plus two divorced spouses?
Capitalism also engenders movements that have an anti-economic focus. Once you have a wealthy class with time for leisure, its members may join movements that damage the jobs of ‘the little guy’. For instance, environmentalists have put whole communities that used to make their money out of natural resources, out of work. (one such community is Del Norte, California).
So does anyone praise Capitalism? There were pro-Capitalist intellectuals. One of the early modern ones, Georg Simmel (born 1858),  pointed out that Capitalism led to the virtue of weighing tradeoffs, and having a less impulsive and emotional way of making decisions.
Some of the information above was taken from a book titled “Capitalism and the Jews’ by Jerry Muller.  The part that interested me was not the Jews per se, but the general animosity that eventually targets a free-market society.  Some of that animosity got directed at Jews, and Protestant Huguenots, and overseas Chinese in various parts of the world where they took on specific roles and succeeded disproportionately.
Free markets have created great wealth in some places – like Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, and the Western countries at some periods of their history.
The ideas of anti-capitalists have created huge misery and death, which is surprising – if, as I believe, Marx was sincere in his desire to help the workers.  Nonetheless, the ideas of Marx and Engels and Lenin have led tens of millions of needless deaths, and horrible regimes like Pol Pot’s Cambodia, Mao’s China, and Stalin’s Russia.  There is a mystery there.
 I don’t think Capitalism in general deserves the kind of opposition it has engendered.   Nonetheless, many of the Western countries are staggering with high debts and high unemployment and huge bureaucracies.  The big irony now, if we deplore usury, is that many desperate Capitalist countries are charging negative interest rates.

How to produce racists

When some regrettable behavior of mine became known and widespread, I was called various names.  The names included:
1. Hebe
2. Jew,
3. Swine,
4. filthy A-rab,

5. faggot  (etc)
The word “Hebe”, even though its one syllable and uttered with great conviction, is really a set of assertions that can be unpacked and examined.  In effect these people were saying:

  • your regrettable behavior is due to the fact that you are of the Hebrew race
  • This behavior is due to a character flaw that is genetic, and common to most or all members of the Hebrew race.

Obviously, I personally would like to believe that my regrettable behavior was not due to some genes that run in my family, let along all “Hebrews”, but that’s just my bias.  What if its true?
After all, the people who say it believe its true.  And they say it with conviction.  Its a simple direct explanation, and so what if I don’t like it?
However, simplicity and conviction are not everything:
We should be aware of the statement by the influential satirical writer Henry Louis Mencken.  He said this:

For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.

If we go by pure reason, then becoming aware that some Jew acted in what I euphemistically call “regrettable” fashion does not prove much.  It doesn’t take much searching to locate non-Jews of all races and religions who have committed evil acts, or disgusting acts, or hilariously foolish acts.
On the other hand, the idea that character is partly genetic is backed up by research.
For instance:
Researchers from Edinburgh University studied more than 800 sets of identical and non-identical twins to learn whether genetics or upbringing has a greater effect on how successful people are in life.
Twins are useful in such studies because almost all twins share the same home environment as each other, but only identical twins share exactly the same genetics.

Prof Timothy Bates, who led the study, said: “Previously, the role of family and the environment around the home often dominated people’s ideas about what affected psychological wellbeing. However, this work highlights a much more powerful influence from genetics.”
The study was focused on personality traits which contribute to our chances of success in life by dictating whether, for example, how determined we are to overcome challenges.
Prof Bates said: “If you think of things that people are born with you think of social status or virtuoso talent, but this is looking at what we do with what we’ve got.
“The biggest factor we found was self control. There was a big genetic difference in [people’s ability to] restrain themselves and persist with things when they got difficult and react to challenges in a positive way.
Interestingly, my own problems started as a teen, with a total lack of self-control in many domains.
But again, presumably Prof Bates was studying Scotsmen, and these Scotsmen differed in the amount of self-control they had.  They were not all the same.  You could not tar all Scotsmen with the features of one egregiously out-of-control type.
Criminality is partly genetic, but interestingly, sometimes a particular environment will bring out the criminality in susceptible individuals.  If genes affect the brain, and the brain affects behavior, then this is not so surprising. To take just one example, research has shown that criminality is strongly correlated with low arousal levels in the brain.
Even political attitudes are correlated with genes, to some extent.  This is hard to believe – we like to think our beliefs come from reasoned consideration of evidence.
But lets look at the second assertion that comes out of “Hebe”.  And that is, that most or all members of an entire group (or race) could share genes for a particular obnoxious character trait.  After all, we see that most people below the Sahara have a gene for lots of melanin, which protects them from sunburn, while most people in Northern Europe have much less melanin.  So if that particular trait can be selected for, why not character traits?  Or if, as happens in some cases, a few people give rise to a huge number of descendants, then you might expect certain character traits to become common.
This might not mean the racism directed at me is correct in a strong sense – but it might be correct in a weaker sense – that the distribution of character traits is different in different groups of genetically related people.  This could result in the average behavior being different.
To test this assertion you would have to do statistical studies of behavior across groups, controlling for environment.   Or you would have to show that gene X affects character trait A, and that group 1 has a more common incidence of X than does group 2.
I’ve seen minorities criticized for
1. having high crime rates
2. having low IQs
3. being slobs and inherently filthy
4. hating white people, or Christian people
5. being treacherous
6. being deceitful and being conspiratorial
and so forth.
I haven’t seen criticisms on some other traits (such as being prone to conspiracy theories, or to acceptance of ideologies without thinking)
Here are some racist quotes from surprising sources:
“Mexicans are a rabble of illiterate indians.” (Ernesto “Che” Guevara, June 1956.)
I might note that Che loved to execute Cubans, and believed in the Marxist nonsense that has killed tens of millions of people throughout the world)
Communist North Korean Central News said this about President Obama.  They said he is a “dirty fellow” who “still has the figure of a monkey while the human race has evolved through millions of years,” and declares that he should “live with a group of monkeys in the world’s largest African natural zoo and lick the breadcrumbs thrown by spectators.”
I might note that the theory of evolution says that North Koreans are descended from apes.
The Daily Stormer, a white supremacist site that supports Donald Trump says this about (filthy Jew) Mark Levin, a conservative talk show host who criticized Mr. Trump.
You might say that anyone who would trust a Jew gets what they deserve. But this guy’s listeners don’t even know that he’s a Jew. He pretends to be one of them. That has long been the top Jew stratagem.
And a positive quote from Winston Churchill on the Jews:
the most formidable and the most remarkable race which has ever appeared in the world.
If you do not want to manufacture racists, you have to avoid certain policies.

In this country, we have had a federal lawsuit to prevent companies from discriminating in hiring on the basis of an applicant having a criminal record.  Why?  Because this discriminates against Blacks, who have a higher crime rate.

We have an initiative now to bring low income people into higher income areas, and house them there with government housing.  Why?  Because there are more whites in prosperous suburbs than blacks, and that is not fair.

Muslim refugees are being settled in small towns and rural areas and inner cities across the country, and opponents  of this policy, who cite fears of terrorism or anti-Democratic attitudes by the new arrivals are told they are “racist”.  And yet, if you look at France and Sweden and Germany, the record on the behavior of the new arrivals is often very bad.
If you want to make good-natured people into racists, make them feel unsafe.  Make them feel that they have to work alongside a guy with a criminal record who has a history of petty theft and violence, and tell them to complain would be racist.
Tell them that the random residents from low income areas with a high number of shootings every night will be coming, in public housing projects, into their suburb.
To make people feel even more insecure, tell them that you are bringing in large numbers of neighbors from the Middle East, people who it is impossible to do background checks on, because the place is such a war-zone.
The issues come together in ironic ways.
After escaping war in their homeland, some Syrian refugees are afraid of getting shot in their new home – in north St. Louis.
[They complain of]  gunfire in the night, roaches, mice, and rats.
One Syrian woman, speaking through a translator, says it’s so bad she phoned friends at a refugee camp in Jordan to warn them not to come to St. Louis.
If you have a new phenomenon of economic stagnation, especially for the less educated, and you then tell them that the large welfare state that their taxes pay for will also subsidize costs of illegal immigrants, then you will get objections.  You cannot have a welfare state with unlimited immigration.  You end up going bankrupt.
Having said all this, I must be a closet racist, right?  Well, unlike racists, I have noticed that every group I’ve seen has good-natured, honorable, admirable people.  On the other hand, I have an open-mind as far as whether different groups could vary (on the average) by character due to genetic influence and/or environmental influences.   I’ve seen both blacks and whites say they are prejudiced against Jews, so implicitly, members of both groups can believe this.
I’ve been called a racist by a liberal relative of mine (who actually is quite admirable), because I have doubts on Muslim immigration.  That is silly, because the Jews are related to various peoples in the Middle East, including the Syrians, and the Kurds and the Armenians and the Anatolian Turks.  The Biblical Abraham came from Ur, which is in Southeast Iraq.
However, even if we should all be one happy family, we get tweets like this in Muslim Turkey (after a Jewish leader, Shimon Peres, died).

“Shimon Peres died, there is now one fewer Jew. I wish the same for other Jews and their sperm…”
“Shimon Peres died. One fewer Jew. The world has got rid of one more piece of dirt.”
“Shimon Peres, you’ll get a nice tan there. May your hellfire be fierce. Jewish dog.”

There is a big difference between Islam and Judaism, and each religion in turn has affected the history, and possibly, if you want to bring in evolution, the “selection process” of its adherents.   Its also silly, to call me a “Hebe” because I truly doubt I am the typical Jew – I’m not religious, and my behavior has been downright weird – you name it – eating disorders, compulsive behaviors (like Bulimia), excessive fatigue with freezing extremities,  a few months where I had a mysterious desire to act as bizarrely as I could (I succeeded, unfortunately)  – plus being treated with shock treatments, anti-depressants, Zyprexa, Thorazine, Imipramine, imprisonment in a mental ward (for believing there was a movie of me loose in the land), and so forth.  And on top of this, I currently believe I’ve been targeted by a Mafia – despite my admitting that for a few months I so deviated from reality that the temp “delusional paranoid” was accurate.  How many Jews do you know that fill that description?.  Plus, I hate gefilte fish.
Of course looking at people as products of genes and brains is distasteful, we want to look at them as friends, as team-mates, as companions.  But having been called “Hebe” by a fair number of people, (years ago) I feel that some kind of effort to take the issue head-on is reasonable.  If people believe something is true, but just are too nice to discuss it in public, or are intimidated from discussing it in public, they still believe it.  Discussion is better than suppression.

How to hide in plain sight


During the third Reich, some Jews managed to hide in Germany until they either managed to escape or the war was over.  While Jews in camps lived (and died) in a constant nightmare,  life for the Jews hiding in plain sight could appear normal, but they were surrounded by a fog of evil, and any of the normal people around them might turn them in.  There was a sword dangling over their heads.
One of those who had to hide wrote a book about what hiding is like.  He says of himself (pseudonym ‘David’) and his sister Toni and his brother Leon and his brother’s girlfriend Lore:
We oscillated violently between dull despair and wide-awake terror, between hope and revulsion, bitterness and frivolity.   We faced inconceivable horrors every day of our lives–but we were healthy young people, and we were still capable of laughing.
So what was it like to hide in Nazi Germany?
Initially, some of the Jews were employed in the war effort.  David was not, but his sister Toni was, so David hid in her apartment.
During the day, David had to maintain absolute silence.  If he wanted to flush a toilet, he had to wait until a toilet was flushed on another floor, so that the sounds would coincide with his own flushing.  He took off his shoes to avoid making noise as he walked.  He oiled every hinge on every door.  He learned to suppress coughs and sneezes, and when they would not be suppressed, to bury his head under a cushion.
When this situation was not longer possible, a Christian shoemaker who was friends with David’s parents took in both David and his sister.  The sister made herself useful, cooking and cleaning, but it was harder for David to make himself useful.  The shoemaker had two sons at the front, and eventually one of the shoemaker’s sons came back on leave, found David in his room, and then had a major fight with his father.
David realized he had to find another place to live.
When finding new shelter became so important, David describes walking with his brother Leon  through the Tiergarten and on up the avenue called Unter den Linden to the old Royal Palace.  Before the war, this was a pleasant stroll to take, but
…how differently we looked at Berlin now!  Our eyes examined everything in terms of its potential as a hiding-place….We envied the birds their nests.
 Leon was so desperate that he was considering impractical ideas such as making a shelter out of the cab of a long-disused construction crane, or the interior of an abandoned van he came across, or of a hut that was used to store deck-chairs.
During the day, one refuge that David used was the city zoo.  To get warm he ducked into the tropical houses, visiting the lions and tigers and parrots and monkeys, but the smell and the noise pushed him to go to the aquarium.
So at a half past eight every morning, David would go off to study salamanders and turtles and crocodiles, and when visiting hours were over, he would ride around in circles on the S-Bahn, until it was late enough to go back to the shoemaker.
Finally, he landed a job with an engineer, Dr. Sell, who ran a small company making instruments and appliances for the air force and the navy.  As part of the job, he had to deliver these items to factories with portraits of Hitler and signs inside such as “beware of spies” or slogans such as “Leader, command us — we shall obey!”
When David’s situation got dire enough, he told the engineer that he was Jewish.
Sell replied as follows:
“You realise, don’t you, that you’re like an unexploded shell in my house, now that you’ve let me into your secret–a bomb that may go off at any moment.”
David looked at  him in consternation.
“Oh, you don’t have to worry about me,”, Sell added quickly, “I’m an old Social Democrat…It’s my duty as a human being to help you.”
As the engineer talked, his voice rose in anger.
I’m forced to let my son and daughter join the Hitler Youth, and then I have to be constantly on my guard against my own children!  Day and night that fiendish propaganda hammers away at one’s eardrums…They stand everything on its head with their lying and their ranting…
Oh yes, the enthusiasm’s falling off now.  Suddenly we’re getting pangs of conscience–ever since what happened at Stalingrad!  Many people now admit–in the privacy of their own homes–that there’s something not altogether healthy about this Third Reich…now we’re hearing people’s excuses, the reasons why they voted for him.  He wasn’t as bad as his speeches, they thought.  To begin with he seemed quite moderate.  He just had a bee in his bonnet about the Jews, otherwise he was quite a decent fellow…The most depraved hoodlum in the land–and they elected him head of state!  In error, they now claim.  To stop something worse happening!  They swore allegiance to a criminal fanatic!  By mistake!
Later, when David got to Vienna with a plan to get smuggled into Hungary, he says that he saw that
Stalingrad had put paid to Austria’s enthusiasm for the Fuhrer… Vienna, safe from air raids [by the allies], had become one vast field hospital.  You came across whole groups of crippled servicemen in the streets.  A new symbol adorned the walls of public lavatories: the swastika shown hanging from a gallows.
David was in the uniform of the Hitler Youth, and he says when he asked directions, he was cordially pointed in the wrong direction, and sometimes prevented from boarding the tram.
Eventually David did get to Hungary, but the Germans invaded Hungary.  Nonetheless, he finally got to Palestine.
Are there any take-home lessons for us?
Today, in the year 2016, People like Salman Rushdie and various cartoonists have had to go into hiding from believers in Jihad. Jews hide their identity in many parts of Europe, at least in public, because they don’t want to be assaulted by Palestinians or Palestinian sympathizers.   Still, its not as difficult as having to hide from your whole society.
I would expect that people with contacts in the criminal world would find it easier to escape, and if not to escape, to find illegal means of income and also places to hide.  I actually read once a survey of teenagers claimed that if many of them needed to get an illegal gun, they knew where to obtain one.
It is not easy to hide today, in the United States, if you have to earn a living.  You would basically have to forge an entire identity, from your social security card on up, to really get away from people who are determined to find you.  Interestingly, we do have an underground economy, employing millions of illegals.  There is a large underground economy in Europe too, some of it criminal, but some of it based on normal economic transactions that escape taxation and government regulation.
Perhaps we should pay more attention to the possibility that our lives could change drastically and quickly and be able to join that underground economy if we end up in a situation where our government cannot protect us, or worse, becomes part of the problem.  Or at least we should be able to live off the grid for a while.  A terrorist attack could plunge us into cold and darkness in the depths of the winter, or remove our water supply in heat of the summer.
Its doubtful that our government would come after us, but you never know, society changes rapidly.  My great-grandfather got along with his neighbors in his small village in Germany.  In fact, they organized a little commemorative parade when he died.  My grandmother would swim with the neighboring girls in the Rhine, and went to school with them.  After she got married and observed the rise of Hitler, the last straw was when a child told my father “I’m not allowed to play with you anymore”, and so grandma persuaded her husband to move to Palestine.
But the point is, there was a period when these rural folk got along reasonably well with their Christian neighbors.
(My sundry ancestors would turn in their grave to find out how their descendant (me) behaved, but that’s in another post)
Even if you live in a society where you absolutely trust your government, you can run afoul of either ideologues or criminals.  Here is what a brave man, Roberto Saviano, author of the international bestseller Gomorrah: Italy’s Other Mafia now has to do:
For the last eight years, I have travelled everywhere with seven trained bodyguards in two bullet-proof cars. I live in police barracks or anonymous hotel rooms, and rarely spend more than a few nights in the same place. It’s been more than eight years since I took a train, or rode a Vespa, took a stroll or went out for a beer. Everything is scheduled to the minute; nothing is left to chance. Doing anything spontaneous, just because I feel like it, would be ridiculously complicated.
Geert Wilders is a Dutch politician who believes Islam is irredeemably anti-Democracy.  As such:
[He was] Expelled from Britain, banned from Indonesia, denounced by the UN Secretary General, prosecuted in court for his beliefs, forced into government safe houses, and constantly threatened with death.
Wilders wrote a book about this, titled “Marked for Death“.

In June 2010, Alexander Poteyev allegedly betrayed a network of 10 Russian agents — including Anna Chapman, the now-famous redheaded Russian spy — operating illegally in the United States.

He may have been assassinated in the U.S., at any rate, Russia claims he is dead.

Russian 800-meter runner Yulia Stepanova and her husband exposed the systematic state-sponsored doping regimen pervasive in Russian athletics and then the couple and their young son fled to the United States, fearing for their safety. Hackers found out their address, and they have fled again.

Yulia Stepanova

These people stuck their necks out.  Most of us don’t.  But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have a plan-B, in case the legal world fails us.

David – Testimony of a Holocaust Survivor  – Ezra Ben Gershom (1988 – Berg Publishers Limited)

Sex, drugs and a suicide

We’ve heard of kids being mercilessly bullied to the point of suicide, and while tragic it seems to be a topic that doesn’t need much more ink devoted to it.  However, one surprise came immediately when I picked up Emily Bazelon’s book “Sticks and Stones”, and that was that the story that shook the country, about an Irish girl who came to Massachusetts and was bullied to the point of taking her own life, was inaccurate.
Emily talked to the bullies involved, one of them a girl named Flannery.  And she did an in-depth investigation.  This is what she found:
Emily Bazelon

Phoebe was 15 years old, and was sought after by the popular boys.  Flannery by contrast did not have a lot of friends, and had no use for cliques.  But despite the popularity, Phoebe had history of cutting herself back in Ireland.  “Cutting” is what it sounds like, people slice their arms or chest or other parts of their body, and there is a link between it and depression.  Phoebe even wrote an essay about it explaining that it was an effort to “transfer the pain from emotional to physical pain which is a lot easier to deal with…”

Phoebe’s mother would leave her daughter alone at home on Saturday nights, while she visited her sister in Springfield.  One time Phoebe sent an email to a friend about how one Saturday night went:
a few seniors came over and brought weed and beer and vodka……they had so much weed and we rolled blunts and man they put some coke in one of the blunts…aww…it was like better than sex!
Talking of sex, Phoebe was having sex with the football star of the school, who did have a long running romantic relationship with a girl named Kayla, though the relationship was in a lull at the time.  When caught in bed with Sean, Phoebe claimed he was gay, and that they had not had sex.  This was of course not true.
Bazelon continues the story:
As Phoebe spent more time with Sean, she talked about them being together for real, the way Kayla had been.  This wasn’t what Sean had in mind.
Phoebe did not take Sean’s dismissal well, and eventually was comforted by a boy named Austin, who happened to be Flannery’s boyfriend.  I’m not totally clear how far that comfort went, but eventually both Austin and Sean were charged with having sex with a 15 year old (formally known as ‘statutory rape’).   I believed Austin denied that particular allegation.

Flannery vented some of her anger on Facebook.   Talking about an equestrian event she attended, she said to a friend “‘we kick it with the true Irish not the gross slutter poser ones :).”

Then a friend of Flannery’s name Sharon Velasquez decided to call Phoebe out.  She walked up to her in the cafeteria and called her a “whore”, and warned her to stay away from “people’s men”.
It wasn’t long after this that Phoebe took a scarf and hanged herself in a stairwell.
We could take various lessons from this.  One lesson, to me, is that secondary sources can be suspect.  At the time, the story, which went nationwide, if not worldwide, seemed to be simple – a bunch of “mean girls” had harassed an Irish visitor for months until she killed herself.  There was a lot of understandable anger at this, and Flannery was one of the targets of this anger.  But the story was too simple, and also inaccurate – there wasn’t three months of bullying as claimed.
Another lesson might be this.  We know that marijuana can increase the likelihood of psychosis.  So a person who already had mental problems, like Phoebe, should perhaps stay away from pot-parties.  In fact, judging from the studies of what pot does to the brain, maybe we all should stay away from that drug.  (Our current presidential candidate on the libertarian ticket was CEO of a recreational marijuana company, and also smoked the stuff.  Obama was a big pot user, at one time.  Former president Bill Clinton also smoked it.)   My feeling is that we should not ingest substances that have unknown effects on the brain, let alone ones that have known bad effects.
The other lesson might have to do with sex in high school.  Other fifteen year old girls were “doing stuff” with boyfriends, but Phoebe was overstepping some line.  But where do you draw the line?  I don’t want to be hypocritical here, I’ve been called a “swine” and the description fit, though I’ve never had sex with anyone while conscious (though I believe (with rather strong evidence) that I have been molested while drugged).
I wonder if parents teach their children not to hook up in high school, and whether the children listen when they do.  Maybe you can’t argue with hormones, and there may seem to be no downside in the minds of the kids who do this.  But looking at the above story, Phoebe, who did have her good points, might be alive today in a world of men who acted like Victorian gentlemen.
People do get bullied to death, but this particular incident was not exactly an example of that.  It caused huge problems for the people involved inspiring comments online such as:
I think the names, home addresses, current photos, license plate numbers, routes to school…should be posted on billboards all over town, so that those little bitches can find out what it REALLY means to live in fear all the time.
I don’t think we should give a blank pass to the bullies in this case either.  Before her death, girls had told Phoebe they hoped she’d go kill herself and then after her death, had written “She deserved it” and “Mission accomplished” on Facebook.
We should not assume that Ireland is a healthier environment for kids to grow up either.  It probably is, but that did not explain Phoebe, though she wanted to go back.  According to Phoebe’s mother “Phoebe’s started cutting herself while she was at a private Irish boarding school. A close friend of Phoebe’s in Ireland told the police that she and Phoebe both had trouble with other girls because they were dating older boys.”
Ireland: a better place to grow up?
Putting this story aside, there are a few interesting points about bullying that come from Emily’s book and elsewhere.  One is that schools are not easy to police.  The corridors, the playgrounds and the school buses are all spots of attack.
Also, some kids really are persecuted for longer periods of time.  Sending children repeatedly to places where they are called names or physically assaulted would seem to be child-abuse, but many parents see no choice but to do that.
 And some bullies themselves have cognitive distortions, including a difficulty in distinguishing a provocation from an accident.
Studies reliably show that they have a distinctive cognitive make-up – a hostile attributional bias, a kind of paranoia.  They perpetually attribute hostile intentions to others.
The last point is from Bazelon’s book, she says there are five types of bullies.  These are:
1. Malicious bullies.  (these types often grow up to be criminals)
2. clueless (not malicious) bullies.
3. People who are both bullies and victims of other bullies
4. Popular, socially adept boys and girls who are good at manipulating others.
5. The Facebook bully.  “Many of the kids I spoke to … talked about girls who tried on brasher meaner personas online than they’d ever displayed in person.”
 Maybe there is a sixth example: “the imaginary bully”.  I believe that I have been persecuted for the last 22 years by an organized mafia of bullies who feel that justice requires that I be persecuted.  I’m told they don’t exist by every sane person who I talk to.
One recommendation that Emily gives is that a bullied child have a support system. Other children who give the victim support, even if they don’t fight the bullies directly, can make a big difference.  If you have a child who is being bullied, read the concluding sections of the book (if not the whole book).  It has some interesting findings and suggestions and resources.

Movement and freedom.

In a recent fatwa, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei banned women from riding “bikes in public places.” But this left a good number of Iranian women unconvinced, and on social media they’ve posted pictures of themselves with their bicycles, daring for the first time to defy the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution.
I can understand those women.  Their freedom in Iran is quite restricted, mainly because men could be tempted by them.  That apparently is the rationale behind the latest fatwa.  I can also see why they appreciate cycling.  Cycling can give you a sense of freedom – you go on your own power through the hills and valleys and parks and lakes and beaches and towns of your country, you get fresh air, and nobody is constantly watching you.  Perhaps to a religious dictator, it just doesn’t fit into the devout and pious medieval picture he wants to see.  Or maybe preventing “temptation” is indeed the honest motive.
men and women wheel their cycles as a protest of the Fatwa in Iran
There is another world that many of us don’t pay attention to – it is a world of loner athletes.
One time I flew down to Chile to go hiking.  I decided that I was not mobile enough, so I purchased a bicycle from a local shop, and headed south toward the lake district.  At some point, I heard a yell.  A sunburnt young man with a broad brim hat was standing by his bicycle, and calling me.  We got to talking, and I understood that he had mistaken me for someone like him.  He had cycled from the Northern tip of Alaska, zig-zagging through first Canada, then America, then Mexico, and further south, until he got to this point.  He was planning to complete his trip down the Carretera Austral, through Patagonia and to the Southern tip.
Carretera Austral

I was not an adventurer like him – I had a 2 week vacation, and that was plenty for me.   I also looked rather silly, with rubber bands around my baggy pants so they wouldn’t get caught in the bike, and granny glasses and a oversize helmet.  He was from Belgium, but he blended in with everyone else.  He didn’t even have a helmet.  At the time he was having a problem with his trip, because  an army camp occupied the land around the road.  I went with him to the soldier in charge, who offered to drive him past that area.  Of course the Belgian didn’t want to be driven, he wanted to do the entire Western hemisphere on his own power.
I never found out whether he ended up persuading the soldier to make an exception for him.

People like this don’t show up in your newspaper, but there are a surprising number of them.
On another cycle trip I went on, this time with a group, we were overtaken by an old retiree on a bicycle.  He was crossing the country by himself, and he didn’t have much money, so the woman in charge of our food van gave him a sandwich.  He then shot off at a speed I certainly could not equal.  I guess there was a freedom he was seeking, before old age made it impossible.
You can lose your freedom easily on a bike too.  On a car trip to Bethpage restoration in Long Island, we passed a cyclist who had been hit.  My brother, who was driving, saw more details than I did.  The man’s limbs were bent at an impossible angle, and he was in a lot of pain.  Such accidents can leave you immobilized in a hospital for long periods of time, and perhaps, with pain for the rest of your life.
Even with a helmet, people can end up with permanent brain damage, which happened to an acquaintance of my mother’s who had been cycling in his local neighborhood.
I’ve been surprised at who is an adventurer, and who is not.  On one hike I did with a group in Norway, there was little dark New York girl with an Italian name, whose idea of fun vacations was to go with a friend and rock-climb cliffs around the world.   If you looked at her and tried to make up a biography, rock-climbing would not come to mind.
A fellow train commuter to New Haven who did not look particularly strong, had raced in a 50 mile foot race.  It actually ended up being more than 50 miles, because of a traffic obstacle that happened at the last minute.  Again, looking at him, you would not put that kind of punishing endurance in his biography.
My twin was more of a runner than I was, he made the school track team, and sometimes they would run with our dog Chum, a bull-mastiff Shepherd, out past the pine trees of the Irvington reservoir.  Chum was a trooper, but he was a dog, and I should have remembered that, instead of seeing him as a little person. Once when I ran with him, without a leash, up into Pocantico Hills, we had a disaster.  As we ran past a little white house, a little dog came forth to defend his property, and Chum retaliated by picking up the little dog by the neck and shaking systematically.  This apparently is a built in killer instinct sequence in dogs.  The whole thing was my fault, and though we were told the dog survived, I don’t believe it, for various reasons.
Chum nearly drowned once on one of our summer vacations.  He thought we had gone out into the lake, and he swam far out into it, until my father noticed what was happening, and came after him in a rowboat.
As you may gather by this point, I am not great in the judgement department.
My twin has hiked in the Wind River Range of Wyoming, he’s gone on his own to the Goat Rock Wilderness in Washington State, and done long runs wherever he ended up, from Pennsylvania to California.
He should have remembered that the city is not the country.   For instance, one time he pitched a small tent in a park in San Francisco, and was woken up by the sound of many men walking.  The park, it turned out, was a meeting place for homosexuals looking for “partners”.
I’ve camped by the sides of the road, and sometimes on private property, and I really should not have.
In the crazy adventure department, I charged a cougar on a lonely dirt road into California from Oregon.  I had a long knife in one hand, and I was on a bicycle.   The cougar darted away into the woods, but I don’t recommend this approach.  “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread”.   Cougars do attack cyclists and runners and walkers.
I’ve cycled with a Canadian carpenter who I met going down the Blue Ridge Parkway (he was cycling from Toronto to Miami), I’ve hiked with another Canadian when I walked across Switzerland, I’ve cycled the Highlands of Scotland and various parts of the American West, and often, you meet people who are much more adventurous than you will ever be.
But is this activity just a meaningless frivolity anyway?  Would it be a tragedy if people can no longer do it?
Lone athletics requires safety, prosperity, and leisure time.
In recent years, the world is getting less safe, not more so.   And these lone adventures do kill, I remember reading of two women murdered in their tent on the Appalachian Trail and cyclists being beaten badly by hoodlums on American bike paths.
But there is even a stranger phenomenon that I have personally encountered.  I cannot bike distance any more.  There are problems with my feet and back.  I will not say here how I developed those problems.  But I will say (and obviously my testimony is suspect, since my family members believe I’m insane) that if you are disliked enough, there will be people who exult at the diminishment of your freedom.  They will exult when you are finally off your bike.  They will thrill at the idea that you cannot travel anymore.  They will vow to disable you, if they have the unpleasant experience of having to meet you face to face on a pleasant walk with their friends.  All this in America, which sees itself as the ground-zero of liberty.
Of course there are other, better ways to explore your world.  The world of science is getting more interesting by the day, for instance.  Some cyclists do hang up their bikes permanently, because they realize that too much of their life is being diverted to turning a wheel on a boring road.
But we should support those Iranian women who want to keep cycling.   And I still admire that Belgian.
Wind River Range
Goat Rocks Wilderness – Washington State

21 days after posting this article, the following was posted by somebody on my facebook page:   The picture that went with it was:FancyWomen2.png


The Dilemma of the Lesser Evil

Our presidential race in the U.S. got me to thinking of the issue of the lesser evil.  Polls have shown for months that voters strongly dislike both Clinton and Trump (both have around 60% unfavorable ratings), and “That exact phrase — “lesser of two evils” — was repeated over and over again when voters talked to CNNMoney as part of a tour in September in the swing states of Florida and Ohio.”  It is easy to find material for a blog on evil – there is no shortage of examples out there, but what happens when good people have to make a choice which involves moral tradeoffs?
I won’t talk about the election, except to say that for some of us conservatives, even not having a president would be preferable to having the hard-left in power, and we see Hillary as a exemplar of the hard and radical left.
Here are some scenarios where people made a choice.
In the early days of Labor Unions, some unions sought the help of organized crime.  Why?
 Labor organizing is a risky business at the best of times. Local banks and other businesses, in solidarity with the relevant management, can refuse to work with organizers. The local police can be controlled by management-aligned interests, to the point of threatening the safety of organizers. Because of this, labor organizing has a long history of sponsorship and solidarity, where established unions help smaller, start-up unions get off the ground, even in widely differing industries, with financial support and even personal security support. If labor organizers don’t have access to local “legitimate” infrastructure or more established unions, they may turn to “illegitimate” sources for financial and personal security. Once reliant on an organized crime syndicate for this support, the union may be trapped, indefinitely.
This is only a puzzle if you believe that unions are a good thing.  If you believe that the union makes the company less competitive, or that mandatory union fees interfere with workers rights then the answer is clear-cut.  Otherwise, maybe not.
And more recently, there was this:
Operation Cyclone was the code name for the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) program to arm and finance the Jihad warriors, mujahedeen, in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989, prior to and during the military intervention by the USSR in support of its client, the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. The program leaned heavily towards supporting militant Islamic groups that were favored by the regime of Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq in neighboring Pakistan, rather than other, less ideological Afghan resistance groups that had also been fighting the Marxist-oriented Democratic Republic of Afghanistan regime since before the Soviet intervention. Operation Cyclone was one of the longest and most expensive covert CIA operations ever undertaken; funding began with $20–$30 million per year in 1980 and rose to $630 million per year in 1987.
There is no question that the Soviets were committed enemies of the United States.  However, when you arm radical Islamic groups, there is obviously no guarantee they won’t turn on you, and that is what they did.
There are many other current examples of course, and the problem is related to tradeoffs.
Do you want universal health care in the United States, with everyone covered, but long wait times as in Canada, or do you want to have a free market system where some people can afford better health care than others?
Do you want to mandate that hospitals treat anyone who visits the Emergency Room, even if they can’t pay?  (This mandate caused several hospitals to go bankrupt).
To stop global warming, do you build wind turbines, despite the fact that they kill tens of millions of birds?  (Of course if you don’t believe man-made global warming is a problem, or if you calculate that the windmills don’t make much of a difference anyway to the problem, then the answer is clear-cut).deadbird
Should you allow immigration from countries with powerful social, cultural, and religious movements that do not value individual rights?   Even if the population of those countries are being bombed to the point that they have to flee en masse or die?
Actually, in my view, the answers are clear cut in most of the above examples, but it is easy to think of a fictional example that isn’t.
For instance, you are on a life raft with an unpleasant man who is also a petty criminal.  Then you see your spouse and child swimming to the raft.  Should you push the criminal into the water, pick your spouse and child, and sail on?  If so, you will be guilty of a murder.
If you know of a criminal plot, and you also know that if you do not keep quiet, you will be murdered, should you keep quiet?
If you are selling your house, should you avoid telling your buyers that it has a recurring infestation of bats that you never have been able to permanently get rid of?  Or should you keep your house, with its expensive constant repairs and even more expensive school tax, and not be able to retire to a smaller cheaper home on a Florida beach, which has been your dream for years?
If an embarrassing secret about a man you know has become common knowledge among your circle of friends, should you tell him?  If it would just make him unhappy and he wouldn’t be able to do anything about it, should you tell it to him anyway?
I obviously don’t know the answers to some of these, but it is important, especially for perfectionist ideologues, to know that not all choices in life are easy to make, and the people who make different choices than we would are not necessarily bad people.

The chasm between us and the Sociopath

Martha Stout has counseled many victims of sociopaths, and has interviewed sociopaths as well, and in 2005, she wrote a book on what she learned.  I will present only some angles that surprised me when I read it.  She says the difference between sociopaths and the rest of us is much more profound than the difference between men and women, or between racial groups, or between the intelligent and the not intelligent.  That is because they are totally missing a conscience.
She says conscience is a feeling.
I would think its a feeling that comes into almost any decision we make.  It is very hard to imagine an existence without it.  People without it can, she says “do anything.”  They see people as pawns on a chessboard.  They lie, they manipulate, and their goal is to win, to control others, or to “to make people jump.”
You might be curious about the destruction these people can cause.  You might think that if you don’t have a conscience, you still don’t have to be malicious.
But this statement by Prof Stout is interesting:
…what sociopaths envy, and may seek to destroy as a part of the game, is usually something in the character structure of a person with conscience, and strong characters are often specially targeted by sociopaths.
She gives some scenarios:
1. Maybe you are someone who craves money and power, and…you do have a magnificent IQ.   When it is expedient, you doctor the accounting and shred the evidence, you stab your employees and your clients  in the back, marry for money, tell lethal premediated lies to people who trust you..
2. … you are envious of the people around you,… you have a niche where you control small numbers of people who are vulnerable in some way.  You manipulate and bully the people who are under your thumb…Making people jump means you have power–or this is the way you see it.  Maybe best of all – you can create situations that cause them to feel bad about themselves…
3. Or maybe you like committing violence.  You can simply murder your coworker, or have her murdered, or your boss, or your wealthy lover’s spouse, or anyone else who bothers you.
4. you are not violent, but you don’t mind living off others.  They may get angry and call you a bum, but it does not occur to them that you actually don’t feel irresponsible, neglectful, or embarrassed – you can’t because you have no conscience.
Not all sociopaths are covetous, but when they are, they do things that make no sense.
Since it is simply not possible to steal and have for oneself the most valuable “possessions” of another person–beauty, intelligence, success, a strong character–the covetous sociopath settles for besmirching or damaging enviable qualities in others so that they will not have them either, or at least not be able to enjoy them as much….The covetous sociopath thinks that life has cheated her..and so she must even the existential score…The actions taken..are often so outlandish, and so gratuitously mean, that we refuse to believe they were intentional, or even that they happened at all.
Sometimes the explanation for treason on a national level is sociopathy.  Which suggests that intelligence agencies should do tests (you can measure a person’s galvanic skin response to emotional pictures) before hiring someone.  Perhaps a sociopath has traits that would make a good spy, such as the ability to lie without giving away any emotional signs.  But since he can also stab you in the back, it would make sense to weed such types out.
Only a minority of jailed criminals are sociopaths.  This fact is not necessarily encouraging – because if four percent, as Professor Stout claims, of the entire population fit the definition, then as she says, most of these people are among us, not in jail, and we often don’t recognize them.
If you are a victim of such people, I would think you can’t reason with a person who has a value system based on a drastically different emotional makeup.
It is a mistake to believe that anything doable by one human being could be done by another says Prof Stout.  Not all of us could be a death camp commandant, for example.  Conversely its a mistake to think that if we feel compassion in a certain situation, that everyone would.
Sociopaths are hard to detect, but one clue is that among all their bad behavior, they ask us to feel sorry for them.    Death camp guards who were interrogated after World War II was over, said how awful it was to be in charge of crematoriums, because of the smell.  They complained it was difficult to eat their sandwiches.
There are some very creepy stories in Martha’s book.
Its interesting that there are conditions where people almost always tell the truth.  Dan Arieli, a psychology professor of ‘behavioral economics’ says this:
I wrote a book about dishonesty and lecture frequently about it. Over the years, many parents have come to me after a talk to tell me about children who just can’t lie—and the children usually turn out to have some form of autism. Recently, I brought this up with Murali Doraiswamy, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University, who confirmed that many children on the autism spectrum do indeed have a hard time being untruthful.
This is caused, he added, by the trouble they have with what specialists in the field call “theory of mind”—that is, the basic ability to put ourselves in somebody else’s shoes and empathize with their perspective. Most of us are able to ask ourselves, “How would that person feel if I told them that their haircut is unflattering or that they smell?” Many young people with Asperger’s don’t tend to think this way, so they often don’t develop the habit of telling white lies for reasons of politeness. They don’t learn to dial down unnecessarily hurtful truths to spare another person’s feelings.
That is a kind of blindness too.  But who would you rather be around, a charming successful intelligent person who thinks nothing of lying to you, or an autistic who simply can’t lie to you.
Dan Arieli
I’m left with questions.
Is there any advantage to not being restrained by conscience?
Paul Zak is a professor of economics and founded the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies. He says this in an interview:
just like these high-trust countries that I spoke of before, we can effect transactions quite readily and easily. So the cost in engaging in transactions is lower, more transactions occur, and we have more wealth creation and greater prosperity. There are downsides to that. For example, people will find loopholes and try to exploit them, which certainly people of the finance industry did. But by and large, I think having these decentralized economies that are based on most people most of the time being moral, being reciprocal, means that we can do lots of things we couldn’t do otherwise. And most of our societies are built around that. Civilization is built around that. Certainly democracy is built around that.
So on an individual level, you might be like a wolf among the sheep if you lacked a conscience, but if there are enough such people in society, the society as a whole is much worse off.
Martha Stout talks to bewildered victims who ask her if Sociopaths are ever sorry for their actions.  She says often they are not.  This is not that surprising.  If they lack a conscience yesterday, why should they develop one today?
I would guess that most people have seen people rejoice in the discomfort of others.  Most people have seen bullies in action.   You can see odd situations.  I was in the elevator with a businessman who complained to a diversity consultant (in the same elevator) that all the sensitivity training his staff was getting was such a waste of time, and the woman actually jeered at him.
These people are not sociopaths, but they do show glee that makes little sense at the discomfort of others.  What explains their behavior?
And if criminal organizations exist that employ sociopaths, then how do you describe a person who isn’t a sociopath, but who pays one to do dirty work?
I’m also left with the question of how to reconcile a morality based on justice with all the biology that we are beginning to encounter.
For example, Martha Stout mentions work that shows different cerebral activity in sociopaths.
Professor Zak says the hormone oxytocin makes most people more trustful – but on two percent of people, it has no such effect.  Those people show some sociopathic traits.  He speculates that some receptor for Oxytocin is malfunctioning, though he also says that there is a shortage of Oxytocin receptors in some people – in some cases at least because they were neglected as children.  One implication of this (to me) is that if you could insert a gene into a subset of Sociopaths that repaired receptors or created more of them, the person might stop being a Sociopath.  It does sound like a ethically problematic thing to do: changing a person’s personality by giving him a gene.
Abigail Marsh tells the story of a man “who ran across 4 lanes of freeway traffic, in the middle of the night, to bring me back to safety. after a car accident that could have killed me… it left me with this burning…need to understand why he did it.”  (So she became a psychology researcher) Interestingly, the accident would not have happened if she had not swerved to avoid a little dog.  Her car fishtailed, the engine stopped, and she could have died if the stranger had not rescued her.  He disappeared into the night.
Prof Marsh has studied MRI scans of altruists, and she has found one difference in the scan between major altruists and the rest of us.
So what does all this imply for the understandable desire to bring “bad guys” to justice?  They certainly have to be stopped from the harm they do, but can you blame a person for not listening to the voice of conscience, when that voice never spoke?  Or if it did speak, it spoke in such low volume that he could brush it off?
Abigail Marsh