Saturday, November 30, 2013

Can a Camp Stove That Also Charges iPhones Save Millions of Lives?

Can a Camp Stove (That Charges iPhones) Save Millions of Lives?
Courtesy BioLite
When I was first introduced to BioLite’s technology a little more than a year ago at an outdoor goods showcase in lower Manhattan, I was equally enchanted and dismissive. The founders of the Brooklyn-based startup had devised a portable, cylindrical wood-burning camp stove that recharges electronic devices through a USB cable. Cool, right? No need to carry gas canisters—or worry about running out of fuel—on an overnight hike. And if you use your smartphone as your camera, here was a way to break camp with enough juice to capture every pano-view and secure photo evidence of that fearsome bear on the opposite ridge. Soon after, I bought one for the one person I could imagine really using it: my friend Claire, who spends much of her year helping to staff a medical clinic in a remote part of Panama where brownouts are frequent (and that’s in areas that have any electricity at all). Yet thinking of Claire confirmed my sense that this was a niche, even superniche, gizmo. A gift for the backpacker who has everything.
Boy, did I miss the bigger picture.
HomeStove trials in Osmanabad, IndiaCourtesy BioLiteHomeStove trials in Osmanabad, IndiaThe BioLite CampStove, it turns out, was the prototype—and revenue stream—needed to develop and launch a larger, though still compact, stove for homes. The founders, Jonathan Cedar and Alec Drummond, met at Smart Design, a New York consulting firm, about 10 years ago and bonded over a shared obsession with efficient, sustainable design. Cedar’s an avid outdoorsman, and the two focused first on the recreational applications of thermal energy as a way to eliminate reliance on batteries and fossil fuels. By the time they had a working prototype of the camp stove—and well before the BioLite CampStove became a surprise hit at REI—they had their eyes on a much larger prize: replacing the sooty, wood- and coal-burning stoves many in the developing world use when they cook their meals.
According to the the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, half the world cooks on “open” fires that are confined in some way, trapping smoke and gases that eventually degrade the health of those around them, especially the women who cook over them. In 2011 the World Health Organization reported that 2 million die prematurely every year from medical issues related to stove pollution. That dreadful toll rose to 3.5 million in 2012 after the Lancet began including indoor air pollution as a factor in cardiovascular diseases.
The breakthrough of BioLite isn’t the low-tech/high-tech magic of charging an iPad with a fire suitable for s’mores. It’s the combustion. The fuels in the BioLite canisters consume 10 times the gases and particulate matter of a normal wood fire. According to the company’s data, the BioLite HomeStove eliminates 90 percent of the typical emissions, or pollution, as it heats your dinner.
The BioLite HomeStove launched two months ago and is now being sold in three countries: India, Ghana, and Uganda. BioLite is eager to discover what people will be willing to pay, and considers a cell phone a decent benchmark (around $45 to $60). “No question [the stove] represents a significant investment for most of our potential buyers,” says Erica Rosen, BioLite’s marketing director. “But if they’re in a nonelectrified community, they’ll make back the cost in four to eight months months on the cost of fuels they’re using now.”
Frequently, when a developed-world company attempts to bring a “solution” to poor villages overseas, it fails in the last mile. This, Cedar says, is why each of BioLite’s initial test markets reflects a different approach. In India, the company is working with a reseller who’s already sold 1.5 million solar lights in three northeastern states. In Uganda, it’s hiring local distributors who operate village-to-village like Avon Ladies. In Ghana, it’s working through a formal public health program that intends to track the use of the stoves carefully to see if they reduce the incidence of respiratory infection and babies born with low birth weights. Each location requires cultural savvy. “Do you light the stove and then invite the women over? Do you gather the women and then start the stove? Do you do the demonstration when the men are at home?” Cedar says, explaining the steep learning curve BioLite finds itself on.

"Machiavelli Was Right," by Michael Ignatieff

The shocking lesson of The Prince isn’t that politics demands dirty hands, but that politicians shouldn’t care.

You remember the photograph: President Obama hunched in a corner of the Situation Room with his national-security staff, including Hillary Clinton with a hand over her mouth, watching the live feed from the compound in Pakistan where the killing of Osama bin Laden is under way. This is a Machiavellian moment: a political leader taking the ultimate risks that go with the exercise of power, now awaiting the judgment of fate. He knows that if the mission fails, his presidency is over, while if it succeeds, no one should ever again question his willingness to risk all.

It’s a Machiavellian moment in a second sense: an instance when public necessity requires actions that private ethics and religious values might condemn as unjust and immoral. We call these moments Machiavellian because it was Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince, written in 1513, that first laid bare the moral world of politics and the gulf between private conscience and the demands of public action.

The Prince’s blunt candor has been a scandal for 500 years. The book was placed on the Papal Index of banned books in 1559, and its author was denounced on the Elizabethan stages of London as the “Evil Machiavel.” The outrage has not dimmed with time. The greatest modern conservative political theorist, Leo Strauss, taught his students at the University of Chicago in the 1950s to regard Machiavelli as “a teacher of evil.” Machiavelli’s enduring provocation is to baldly maintain that in politics, evil deeds cease to be evil if urgent public interest makes them necessary.

Strenuous efforts are being renewed in this 500th-anniversary year to draw the sting of this stark message. Four new books argue that to understand Machiavelli’s brutal candor, we need to grasp the times that made him: the tangled and violent politics of Italy between 1498, when he took office as a senior official in Florence, and 1527, when he died. Alan Ryan returns Machiavelli to his blood-soaked context, the decline and fall of the Florentine republic. Philip Bobbitt positions Machiavelli as the great theorist of the early modern state, the first thinker to understand that if power was no longer personal, no longer exercised by a medieval lord, it had to be moralized, in a new public ethic based on ragion di stato—reason of state.

Maurizio Viroli wants us to grasp that The Prince was not the cynically devious tract it seems, but rather a patriotic appeal for a redeemer politician to arise and save Italy from foreign invaders and its own shortsighted rulers. Corrado Vivanti’s learned intellectual biography reinforces Viroli’s image of Machiavelli as a misunderstood forerunner of the Italian Risorgimento, calling for the redemption of Italian republicanism four centuries before the final reunification of the Italian states.

All of these authors are at pains to stress that the “evil Machiavel” was in fact a brilliant writer, a good companion, and a passionate patriot. All stress that his ultimate ethical commitment was to the preservation of the vivere libero, the free life of the Florentine city-state and the other republics of Italy. The man himself certainly comes alive in his wonderful letter to his friend Francesco Vettori, written in 1513 after he had been thrown out of office, tossed into prison, and tortured. (Machiavelli was wrongly accused of conspiring against the Medicis, who had defeated the Florentine army and ousted the republican government the year before.) In the letter, he describes lonely days after his release from prison, hunting for birds on his small estate, drinking in the local tavern, and then coming back home at night to his study, to don the “garments of court and palace” and commune with “the venerable courts of the ancients.”

These fascinating new studies put Machiavelli back in his time but lose sight of the question of why his “amoral verve and flair” (Alan Ryan’s phrase) remain so enduringly provocative in our own time. Machiavelli was hardly the first theorist to maintain that politics is a ruthless business, requiring leaders to do things their private conscience might abhor. Everyone, it is safe to say, knows that politics is one of those realms of life where you put your soul at risk.

What’s distinctively shocking about Machiavelli is that he didn’t care. He believed not only that politicians must do evil in the name of the public good, but also that they shouldn’t worry about it. He was unconcerned, in other words, with what modern thinkers call the problem of dirty hands.

The great Princeton philosopher Michael Walzer, borrowing from Jean-Paul Sartre, describes the feeling of having dirty hands in politics as the guilty conscience that political actors must live with when they authorize acts that public necessity requires but private morality rejects. “Here is the moral politician,” Walzer says: “it is by his dirty hands that we know him.” Walzer thinks that we want our politicians to be suffering servants, lying awake at night, wrestling with the conflict between private morality and the public good.
Machiavelli simply didn’t believe that politicians should be bothered about their dirty hands. He didn’t believe they deserve praise for moral scruple or the pangs of conscience. He would have agreed with The Sopranos: sometimes you do what you have to do. But The Prince would hardly have survived this long if it was nothing more than an apologia for gangsters. With gangsters, gratuitous cruelty is often efficient, while in politics, Machiavelli clearly understood, it is worse than a crime. It is a mistake. Ragion di stato ought to discipline each politician’s descent into morally questionable realms. A leader guided by public necessity is less likely to be cruel and vicious than one guided by religious moralizing. Machiavelli’s ethics, it should be said, were scathingly indifferent to Christian principle, and for good reason. After all, someone who believes he has God on his side is capable of anything.

Machiavelli also understood that a politician, unlike a gangster, could not play fast and loose with the law. The law mattered because in republics, the opinion of citizens mattered, and if a prince put himself above the law too often, the people would drive him from office. Machiavelli was no democrat, but he understood that popular anger in the lanes and alleys of his city could bring a prince’s rule to a bloody end. If Machiavelli advised politicians to dissimulate, to pretend to virtues they did not practice in private life, it was because he believed that the people in the lanes and alleys cared more about whether the prince delivered peace and security than whether he was an authentic or even an honest person.

All of this looks like cynicism only if we fail to see its deep realism. In his book, Alan Ryan captures Machiavelli’s hold on the modern moral imagination when he says, “The staying power of The Prince comes from … its insistence on the need for a clear-sighted appreciation of how men really are as distinct from the moralizing claptrap about how they ought to be.”
This moral clarity remains bracing in an era like our own, when politicians hide the necessary ruthlessness of political life behind the rhetoric of family values and Christian principles and call on citizens to feel their pain when they make difficult decisions. We are still drawn to Machiavelli because we sense how impatient he was with the equivalent flummery in his own day, and how determined he was to confront a problem that preoccupies us too: when and how much ruthlessness is necessary in the world of politics.

He insisted that when tough or risky political decisions have to be made, Christian charity or private empathy simply will not serve. In politics, the polestar must be the health of the republic alone. Following the querulous inner voice or tacking to and fro when moralizers on the sidelines object is just weakness, and if your hesitations put the republic at risk, it is contemptible weakness. Machiavelli’s ethics valued judicious decisiveness in politics over the anguished search for rectitude.

So if we return to the Situation Room and to the decisions presidents make there, Machiavelli’s The Prince tells us the question is not whether one human being should have the right to make such terrifying determinations. The essence of power, even in a democracy, is to use violence to protect the republic. It matters to the very soul of a republic, however, that the violence used in its defense never be gratuitous. His is not an ethic that values action for its own sake. Machiavelli praises restraint when it serves the republic. It may even be advisable, for example, for the president to stay the order to dispatch cruise missiles to Syria if he cannot discern a clear target or a defensible strategic objective.

What he refuses to praise is people who value their conscience and their soul more than the interests of the state. What he will not pardon is public displays of indecision. We should not choose leaders who agonize, worrying about the moral hazards of the power they exercise in the people’s name. We should choose leaders who sleep soundly after taking ultimate risks with their own virtue. They are doing what must be done. The Prince’s question about the current president would be: Is he Machiavellian enough?

Michael Ignatieff served as a leader of Canada’s Liberal Party. He teaches at the University of Toronto and Harvard’s Kennedy School. His latest book, Fire and Ashes: Success and Failure in Politics, has just been published.

Nation's Largest Bank, J.P. Morgan Chase, Run By Felons Who Should Be In Prison

To understand why this cartoon represents standard operating procedure, read
"Noam Chomsky Quotations"


"Politics and Economics: The 101 Courses You Wish You Had"


Excerpt: "Until a senior bank executive goes to prison, as more than 800 did after the much smaller savings and loan scandal, things aren’t likely to change very much – at JPMorgan Chase or any other big bank."

Just when it seemed that there was nothing more to learn about the illegal and immoral culture which has permeated JP Morgan Chase, the nation’s largest bank, more facts emerge. Its recent Justice Department settlement, which has been oversold as a “$13 billion” agreement, airs some new dirty laundry – and gives us another look at the old stuff.
Here are ten things we learned, or were reminded about, in this latest settlement announcement:
1. JPM defrauded investors on a grand scale.
The Justice Department didn’t work very hard in its review of JPM’s mortgage securities business. But then, it didn’t have to. It’s easy to find evidence of JPM’s crimes.
In her excellent analysis of the settlement for the New York Times, Gretchen Morgensen points out that the DOJ only looked at ten of the bank’s securitizations. An analysis for the Dexia investors’ lawsuit, by contrast, reviewed more than fifty of them. (The Dexia lawsuit is much more informative than the Justice Department’s, and has been publicly available since last year.)
Once again, a lawbreaking bank has not been required to admit guilt as part of a settlement. But the Justice Department’s “Statement of Facts” states its findings fairly plainly:
As discussed below, employees of JPMorgan, Bear Stearns, and WaMu received information that, in certain instances, loans that did not comply with underwriting guidelines were included in the RMBS sold and marketed to investors; however, JPMorgan, Bear Stearns, and WaMu did not disclose this to securitization investors.
The word for that kind of behavior is “fraud.’
2. JPM lied to investors in order to knowingly and willfully defraud them out of billions.
As the Statement of Facts makes clear, employees of JP Morgan Chase were engaged in deliberate and systematic fraud. From the Statement of facts:
JPMorgan employees were informed by due diligence vendors that a number of the loans included in at least some of the loan pools that it purchased and subsequently securitized did not comply with the originators’ underwriting guidelines …
What happened then? You guessed it:
JPMorgan represented to investors in various offering documents that loans in the securitized pools were originated “generally” in conformity with the loan originator’s underwriting guidelines; and that exceptions were made based on “compensating factors,” determined after “careful consideration” on a “case-by-case basis.”
In other words, they knowingly lied in order to cheat investors into thinking these mortgage-backed securities were sound investments – even though they already knew they were terrible.
3. JPM lied to the public.
JPM, especially CEO Jamie Dimon, repeatedly lied to the public about its own criminal behavior. “We didn’t anticipate the lying,” Dimon told Roger Lowenstein of the New YorkTimes in a now-notorious 2010 puff piece about Dimon, who had already served six years as head of the serially fraudulent institution.
In that quote, Dimon was attempting to blame homeowners for the poor quality of his bank’s securities. We now know that his own bankers, including senior executives, were responsible.  From the DOJ’s Statement of Facts:
Prior to JPMorgan purchasing the loans, a JPMorgan employee who was involved in this particular loan pool acquisition told an Executive Director in charge of due diligence and a Managing Director in trading that due to their poor quality, the loans should not be purchased and should not be securitized. After the purchase of the loan pools, she submitted a letter memorializing her concerns to another Managing Director, which was distributed to other Managing Directors. JPMorgan nonetheless securitized many of the loans. None of this was disclosed to investors.
4. Journalists misled the public, too, probably without even realizing it.
From Lowenstein’s 2010 profile of Dimon:
((Dimon) was adamant that government officials — he seemed to include President Obama — have been unfairly tarring all bankers indiscriminately. “It’s harmful, it’s unfair and it leads to bad policy,” he told me again and again.
That’s not misleading. Lowenstein’s just reporting what Dimon had to say. But this is:
It’s a subject that makes him boil, because Dimon’s career has been all about being discriminating — about weighing this or that particular risk, sifting through the merits of this or that loan.
Using an authoritative tone in an authoritative newspaper, Lowenstein informs us that “Dimon’s career has been all about discriminating” and “weighing … risk.”As we now know from the public record: Er, not so much. And Lowenstein’s just one of dozens who reported on Dimon this way.
Perhaps the best defense these credulous reporters can offer, now that more of the facts are in, came first from Dimon’s lips: “We didn’t anticipate the lying.”
5. JPM said it wasn’t them. It was them.
JPMorgan Chase executives have consisted argued that they’re being punished from fraud committed by the two institutions they acquired with government approval and encouragement, Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual.
But, as the above quotes make clear, JPM’s own bankers behaved as badly as those at these institutions, or worse.
6. Both JPM and the Justice Department have misled the public about the size of this deal.
It’s not really a $13 billion deal. This agreement rolls up a number of independent negotiations, each of which would presumably have led to a settlement of some kind. A $2 billion fine will be paid to the prosecutors’ office in Sacramento. (Without its vigilance, this deal might never have happened.)
Other funds will go to Federal agencies and state attorneys general. The $4 billion set aside for “struggling homeowners” includes loan concessions the bank was already making out of self-interest. (See David Dayen for more on this topic.)
What’s more, most of the settlement will be tax-deductible. Among other things, that means that this deal will deprive the government of funds that are needed for a variety of purposes – including helping the victims of Wall Street fraud.
7. The critics were right.
For years the banking industry and its media defenders have lectured the rest of us, telling us that criticism of Wall Street is unfair, unjust, and tars even the best of the big bankers with the same brush. They always pointed to JPMorgan Chase as the example which proves that not all of America’s megabanks are morally bankrupt.
They can’t say that anymore.
In 2011 Jamie Dimon had some choice words tfor the Occupy movement.  “Acting like everyone who’s been successful is bad and that everyone who is rich is bad,” he said. “
Not everybody, Jamie. Just people like you and your colleagues.
8. Jamie Dimon says bankers should “keep to a higher standard.” Now he tells us.
In the wake of yet another brewing JPM scandal over the manipulation of LIBOR rates, Dimon reportedly told his staff that “We all need to keep a higher standard.”
“Don’t exaggerate, don’t ruminate, don’t bulls**t,” Dimon reportedly told his employees. He did not add the words, “That’s my job.”
9. Once again, the criminals are paying the fine with other people’s money.
The fraudsters – and the senior executives who are responsible for keeping their corporation crime-free – won’t be paying this settlement, any more than they’ve paid for any of the many fines and settlements that preceded it.
The money will come from shareholders, many of whom were also deceived about the nature and extent of the bank’s fraud.
You could teach it as Criminal Justice for Schoolkids: If you steal something and don’t have to give it back when you’re caught, you’ll keep right on stealing.  That’s something even a first grader can understand, although it’s called “deterrence” in professional circles.
10. Nobody’s going to jail.
And speaking of deterrence:
Until a senior bank executive goes to prison, as more than 800 did after the much smaller savings and loan scandal, things aren’t likely to change very much – at JPMorgan Chase or any other big bank.
Author pic
Richard (RJ) Eskow is a well-known blogger and writer, a former Wall Street executive, an experienced consultant, and a former musician. He has experience in health insurance and economics, occupational health, benefits, risk management, finance, and information technology.

'It Feels Like Education Malpractice," After 10 Years Teaching In NYC Public School

What one woman learned from 10 years of teaching in a New York City public school

Laurel Sturt was a 46-year-old fashion designer in New York City whose career trajectory took an unlikely shift one day on the subway. A self-proclaimed social activist, Sturt noticed an ad for a Teaching Fellows program. Then and there, she decided to quit her job in fashion design and shift her focus to her real passion: helping others. She enrolled in the two-year program and was assigned to teach at an elementary school in a high-poverty neighborhood near the South Bronx.

A decade later, Sturt has written about the experience in her provocative memoir Davonte’s Inferno: Ten Years in the New York Public School Gulag. I spoke with her about how her time in the classroom affected her views on education today.

You got into teaching at the age of 46, which is later than most. What spurred you to make the big life change?
I had always been a social activist and felt there was a responsibility for the “haves” to help the “have-nots.” I used to fulfill that obligation by tutoring inner-city kids, but my actual career was in fashion design and illustration. I remember thinking: When someone’s on their deathbed, are they really going to think about the dress I designed for them? Not to put down fashion design, but it’s just not enough. I decided to flip the equation and instead of doing social activism part-time, make it a full time job.

You began teaching just as No Child Left Behind took effect. How did you see it affecting your school?
I saw a lot of problems with all the testing, with all the slogans everywhere, as if you were in North Korea or something. It was very strange. … It was all about achievement through test scores. I resented the fact that we were test-prepping them all the time and we couldn’t give them a rich, authentic education.

But if not testing, how should we be measuring a school’s success?
We should do it the way they do in Finland, which is the gold standard for the world. You have high-quality teachers, pay them well, and have a lot of community social support. Finland has the lowest socio-economic segregation out of the 57 countries that take the international test. There’s a correlation between low socio-economic segregation and success. The kids don’t take high-stakes tests in Finland, and the teachers are never evaluated on that.

It’s absurd to tie a test score to a teacher. The kids we teach face so many variables at home, many negative. Tests are used to vilify and get rid of teachers so you can make money from a privatized school. It makes you think of the Hippocratic Oath doctors take: first, do no harm. We feel like we’re harming the kids. It feels like education malpractice. It’s not education, it’s torture.

"School Discipline At Home And Abroad"

You taught in an area affected by poverty. How did the environment affect the students’ performance in school?
It was a very poor neighborhood with a lot of English-language learners who knew little or no English. With poverty comes this condition called Toxic Stress. It explains why the children were so difficult to handle, needy, and so behind in learning. When your dad is in prison or your mom is on drugs, or your mom drank alcohol when you were a fetus, if you didn’t sleep the night before because you were allowed to play video games all night, or maybe there was a shooting, your cognitive ability is harmed. It rewires their brain so they’re unable to employ working memory, which is what you use when you’re learning. We’re charged with being the parents of these kids, being the friends, the mentors. Teachers are given all these social responsibility towards children that aren’t ours. It’s a failure of the system to address the poverty that creates the achievement gap.

Has the poverty gap changed over time?
The gap between poor and wealthy kids has grown by 50 percent since 1980. In 1963, a poor child was one year behind a wealthier child in school, in terms of learning. Now they’re four years behind. There hasn’t been money invested in eradicating poverty since the ‘60s, with President Johnson’s Great Society.

How do you think schools can overcome this achievement gap?
Experiments around the country show it’s not about racial desegregation anymore—it’s about socio-economic desegregation. There’s something called inclusionary-zoning where they’ve forced developers to build affordable housing for the poor, mixed right in the neighborhood with the wealthier people. Right now they’re doing that with four million kids in 80 districts. Those kids are doing great. You could say to a wealthy school district, “We’ll give you this subsidy if you take this number of poor kids.” It has to be less than 50 percent, or else it’ll create the same conditions that exist in the high-needs community. But it would take away crowding in the poor school which would help with lower class sizes. It would benefit everybody. The wealthy schools benefit from the diversity.

You’ve been critical of Mayor Bloomberg’s role in the New York Public School System. What do you think about de Blasio?
Bill de Blasio’s whole focus on early childhood is so great. He’s getting on board with a national trend now. Even President Obama is called for it in the next budget. In Minnesota, they’re implementing it widely. Unfortunately, it’s not everywhere. And we don’t know if de Blasio can get the money from Albany to do that. But Albany’s split in half, politically. The idea of de Blasio using the “tale of two cities” thing and talking about inequality is great.

Why is early childhood education so important?
It’s a goldmine in terms of what it does for kids and what it does for society. For every dollar you invest in early childhood education, you get a seven-to-ten yield on your investment, in terms of lower incarceration cost, higher graduation rate, lower usage of welfare. It all comes back. (Alan: Enthralled by America' puritanical belief in the primacy of individual virtue, citizen-consumer-units do not believe social investment has economic benefits. In fact, many social investments redound to the benefit everyone, not just the "target population" of undeserving n'er-do-wells. The belief that "salvation" can only "worked out" between individuals privately relating to their God is inordinately destructive of The Common Good. In fact, puritanical beliefs about salvation damage the very concept of The Common Good. See "Pope Francis Links" at

How did your attitude towards teaching evolve over your ten years in the Bronx?
I went in as an idealist. I’d seen all the movies, seen all the poor kids and heroic teachers. But those movies were fake. They started out with a real story but turned it into a happy ending when there wasn’t one. It was grueling. You had to save these kids, but if one was running around the room or dancing on the tables or beating another kid up, you had to deal with it yourself. They’re unhappy kids and they’re going to look for fights to express their frustration. We need legions of psychologists in the school to get the kids the therapy they need. We need wraparound services, community services that give mothers prenatal care, home-visits, teaching parents to read to kids, health services, food. It has reached an emergency level. Almost one out of two kids in public school now is in poverty.

Why did you eventually leave?
I saw that no matter what I wanted for the kids, it wasn’t going to happen. The system purported to be supporting students just wasn’t there. They need remediation, tiny class sizes, one-on-one attention—they need parenting, basically. Their parents are affected by the same Toxic Stress that they are, and it repeats itself in a cycle from parent to child. In America, the wealthiest school is going to get ten times more funding than the lowest one. For every dollar my school was getting, one in the suburbs was getting ten dollars. That’s huge. The kids come in disadvantaged, and they’re subjected to this disadvantaged school. My school was completely third-world. And through it all, it completely negated your life outside school. It was so exhausting. To teach anyway means to be giving, to deliver something. You’re giving out, giving out, giving out. And when you come up against these natural obstructions because of poverty, and then the lack of support from the administration, it’s just too much.

Bullying: "If You Got Your Ass Kicked In 3rd Grade, It's Because You Were A Twit"

Dear Fred,

Thanks for the intense discussion at Frog Hospital.

I agree with some of your correspondents' general view (and perhaps your own) that America has become overly wussified and that many parents (now doting excessively on just one or two kids) readily "make mountains of mole hills."

On the other hand, bullying is such a nasty practice that I am happy to err on the side of safety.

If, in future, evidence presents that demonstrates widespread "witch hunting," I would likely modify my view.

For now, however, I contemplate a society whose impulse to bully has resulted in the monstrosity of people empowered to "shoot on suspicion."

Pax tecum


FROG HOSPITAL -- Nov. 29, 2013

By Fred Owens
A Talk about Bullying
If you got your ass kicked in 3rd grade, it's because you were a twit.
There are no solutions here, but some honest talk about real experiences.
One of the talkers asked to have his name withheld, so I decided to withhold all the names.
And, without further ado, let the discussion begin.
Avenger. If you got your ass kicked in 3rd grade, it's because you were a twit.

The Nice People are rampaging across Facebook in the new war against bullies. I instinctively take the opposite side. It is time to, judiciously, blame the victim.

Little Sister. Don't even joke about it.

Garden Man. I was always the victim - nerdy, lacking social skills and uncoordinated, I had to sneak to school and sneak home or risk being assaulted. It was not funny. In some moments it still hurts unbearably.

Avenger. I have always felt that way -- to not pick on people, to not let people pick on me. Yet I distrust this current fad, as if some people just last week discovered that some of us are not as nice as we could be....... There is a generic Facebook social media movement against bullying. I oppose it. It is totally phony. I am not nice, and I don't care to associate with people who are.

Garden Man. "Not nice" and bullying are two very different phenomena! Very different!

The Avenger. Lately there has been a lot of media hype on this topic -- and it's crap. Facebook/social media creates false hope and pushes phony agendas. What you can expect from this is that someone -- at a school or business -- will create a program and set up guidelines and require students and employees to attend workshops on the issue. And I say all this is crap. I am not joining. It's a waste of my time.

I suggest instead that we deal with individual situations as they arise....

Garden Man. Well, I WAS a twit, but I don't think THAT justifies beating someone up! It didn't make me less a twit and it didn't improve my grades, my self-esteem or my popularity. It increased my fear, which was the story anyway, and ruined any chance I had at enjoying my years in school from 3rd grade to 8th grade. I wished I could die every day I was in school and the adults who knew about it did nothing. I was left to my own wits about how to make the one mile walk from home to school and back and not get beat up again.

The last day of school in 8th grade I had to leave the town, walking through fields to the south east, and walk a huge arc through fields to arrive at home hours later from the north west to not be beat up by half dozen football players. I have no problem against pulling against the viral crap of Facebook, but you have provoked a nerve. I verily wish that someone had been there for me, viral or not. Being tortured like that is not anything that any child should endure. Come to the garden with me as the middle school students wait for the bus. They are vile and cruel. I hate them.

Hawk Woman. We have created a society of victims. Pointing blame, passing the buck and developed dependency to the degree of LEECHING. Garden Man, I feel for you and know your pain. Because I too, experienced "bullying" and not by any cause of my own. From the age of 12 until nearly 19, I suffered from SEVERE cystic acne all over my face. I kid you not, cysts and boils the size of small eggs, dozens of them all over my face and neck. I am not exaggerating in the slightest and the scars that cover my entire face are plain proof, I look as though I dipped my face in a bowl of flesh eating acid to have the scars that I do.

As you can imagine, I was horribly made fun of, bullied, teased, and the feeling of hopelessness that there was nothing I could do to change my face. There were no products available to cure me. I am so grateful beyond words for one person, my mother, whom loved me more than I can ever know, and showed me what life is all about. What I did in the most important years of my youth is that I learned the value of heart. I learned the value of kindness, and of silent healing. I learned the value of encouragement. I learned compassion, not pity. I moved forward, that is not to say I didn't have moments of staring in the mirror at an unrecognizable, deformed face wondering "Why me?" I learned from this...

Instead of creating hate and anger, bitterness and victimization, I learned great strength, mental discipline, compassion, motivation, determination, spirituality, mental exploration, seeking out knowledge, I was not consumed with beauty any longer, or fashionable clothes, or fancy cars, or being a cliche teenager often consumed by material possessions, appearances and boys. I learned raw confidence, UNCONDITIONAL LOVE, and the VALUE OF A HUMAN SOUL, far beyond what your eyes can see. Much too often people see with their eyes. See with your hearts. ONLY THIS, only this love will prevent bullying. Not pink t-shirts and silly slogans.

Love your children unconditionally, love your family unconditionally, love your neighbors, your enemies, your allies, your foes, earth, creation and all things... When you can do those things, you will see beauty at its finest as you've never imagined it.

Love conquers all, indeed.

Garden Man. This thread has been very difficult for me to respond to. Obviously you had a good parent to intercede on your behalf. I did not and many victims do not either. After a bullying incident in high school, I was institutionalized to prevent suicide. All through my life, I have struggled with suicidal ideation and depression, even to this day (I'm 61). I was released from the institution when I overcame my fear; they did not know I had found drugs and alcohol. I finally had to get sober some 20 years after the fact and have had to face these demons. It is STILL not easy for me, I still fight with the fears burned into my face and body at their hands. I learned nothing from my time in school except to FEAR. If you think it's OK for bullies to persist, I can only vehemently disagree. No child should have to fear for his life or want to take his life because he cannot bear to suffer along alone. Sadly, I would imagine that more bullying victims have experiences more closely tallying mine: no parent, no adult to intercede on their behalf and a shattered life because there were no lessons to learn except self-worthlessness.

Hawk Woman. No, no, no I did not imply bullies should persist. I feel for you, and have compassion for your journey. I believe bullies should be brought to justice when these instances occur, there should be available help that you can feel comfortable  talking to, and that will be able to provide tools for legal intervention.

I know that apologizing to the plate after it has been broken does not make it magically reform itself back together. These bullies had something happen to them to make them angry, when we come out of the womb we are not born with hate. The first, and only thing we feel at that moment is love. My point being, it is up to the next generations to help extinguish these fires by the means I explained prior. If a child is shown love, it will only know love. If there are no bullies, there are no victims of bullying.

I suppose I am a rare case to have come out what people see as "unscathed", that is not true. But it did take a lot of work on my part and comprehension of mental discipline at such a young age. I am 22, and aside from my work with birds of prey, my mission in life is to love everyone unconditionally, provide encouragement,  and find the peace within all of us. I don’t say these things for my own glory, I say these things because we have forgotten our true purpose here. We have forgotten the balance. We have forgotten unity, strength in numbers, and serenity.

 I am, because we are. We are all in this together, the superficial and material society has divided us. It has caused division, hate, anger, depression, mental instability, physical ailments, anxiety, and ultimately death. We were not born hating, we were taught. We can learn to love, too. I feel for you, Garden Man.. There are still some of us who really care.

Avenger. Well said, Hawk Woman ---- I don't mean to suggest I have any special experience to relate here. I've just been reading stories on the Internet lately and it all seems like the latest hype, so my aim was to make it real, and I feel that you and Garden Man have done just that....

Big Sister. While I find meaning in both Garden Man and Hawk Woman's stories, on the whole I think kids today are being trained to be overly sensitive on the one hand to too immune to abuse on the other hand. I cannot find the balance. My understanding for boys is that you are not really a man until you have survived a fight,  I am not sure about girls.

As a high school teacher, I can tell you that frequently I had students say so and so is mean to me, or says things about me. First of all there is very little a teacher can do, especially if she doesn't actually witness the abuse. Secondly, with all that a teacher has to do, that is almost beyond the realm of possibility to protect kids from meanness. I really don't know what the answer is, but being overly sensitive sets you up for a lifetime of hurt feelings, while being hardened to meanness makes you, well, hard hearted and insensitive. Life is always in the balance.

Hawk Woman. Great to hear it from someone who is on the inside of it all, a teacher. I see how your position can be limited. It is a lot of he said, she said and is difficult to determine. I would suppose that I put too much expectation on the youth to bring a serious situation to light with someone who does have the authority to implement justice in the situation.

Granted, in my mind I am thinking of those that are being physically abused. As I stated before about my past, mine was indeed only verbal abuse and I agree with you that we have become too sensitive to one teeny tiny little fact, that the world is not fair, nor is it kind. Instead of simply consoling their emotions, I think it is greatly beneficial to equip them with the ability to move forward against all odds. By having it nice and easy at school, you will have a rude awakening when we must grow up and realize that the people in the real world aren't always bright and shiny, nor do they have our best interests in mind. Teach the children to be strong and confident, full of ambition and the motivation to fulfill that ambition. Teach them kindness, not to let these experiences harden their hearts, crush their dreams or make them bitter and reclusive. Life is what you make of it, push forward and enjoy it. Your energy is not worth being spent on the negatives. As for the ones being physically abused, stand up for yourself as best you can, stand tall and do inform someone who can help you. I love to hear honesty from the classroom, the ones who are actually witnessing what is transpiring in our children today, the future of our world. Thank you very much for sharing.

The Lone Ranger has been listening to all this with great interest, now he has to jump in with his own tale of childhood abuse.

Lone Ranger. Oh, so all the times that I got waylaid on the way to the park by roving gangs of chicano kids who slapped the shit out of me and threw my lunch in the street? That was all my doing? Thanks, Avenger. I feel so much better.

Little Sister. There is just no excuse for bullying!

Avenger. Lone Ranger, you were not a twit, you just grew up in the wrong neighborhood...... When did this start? My Dad grew up in a tough neighborhood in St. Louis, that would be 1915-1925, give or take a few years. He was treated roughly and he didn't care to talk about it. But he made it his life's ambition to get out of that place and he did get out.... Just saying this is not a new thing, but saying that I do not trust the current interest in the problem.......... It smacks of a trend. It's phony and it will produce phony results. Committees will be formed. Regulations will be passed. Politicians will get on the bandwagon. The whole thing is going viral, and nothing will happen........ As for bullying, I did not suffer from it. I don't understand why it happens, and I don't know how to prevent it...... That's a good place to start.

Little Sister. Also, remember that the bully will grow up to be someone's parent, someone's spouse, or someone's boss.

Lone Ranger. I agree that the new emphasis on bully-awareness is just one more way for the hover-parents to act as if they discovered children. But I do think I know where it comes from. It's a status behavior. Old as the species itself. And we won't ever eliminate it entirely. But, I do have to say that I think it is LESS prevalent now than when I was a kid. It was really Lord of The Flies back then.

The Avenger. The bully in my class in grade school was Leroy -- that was his real name. He was big, dumb and mean -- he had a grin on his face like Ernest Borgnine in From Here To Eternity. He lived right down the alley from my house, but I think he found easier targets.....

Big Sister. I remember Leroy, dumb and bad. I suppose we should feel sorry for dumb kids, how else are they going to get any attention?

The Avenger. I liked Leroy, but he was too stupid to hang out with.

Subscriptions. Your subscription money keeps the editor from getting cranky. Your dollars keep him on an even keel. He needs to maintain a sense of detachment and keep his sense of humor. Help him out. Send your check today or hit the PayPal button...... Just follow the instructions below.

. Thank you --- Subscriptions can be paid at PayPal on the Frog Hospital blog for $25. Or you can mail a check to the address below.


Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My gardening blog is  Fred Owens
My writing blog is Frog Hospital

send mail to:

Fred Owens
35 West Main St Suite B #391
Ventura CA 93001

Ralph Nader: Canadian Healthcare: Not Perfect, Just Better. Lots Better.

Image result for Canadian Healthcare: Not Perfect, Just Better. Lots Better.
Pax On Both Houses: Blog Posts About Canada
I am an American citizen and proud graduate of the University of Toronto where I received world-class education at the same steeply subsidized cost as Canadian citizens.
While a Toronto undergraduate from 1965 - 1970 I learned the difference between Civilization and Barbarism. 

November 22, 2013  |  

21 Ways the Canadian Health Care System is Better than Obamacare

Ralph Nader
Dear America:
Costly complexity is baked into Obamacare. No health insurance system is without problems but Canadian style single-payer full Medicare for all is simple, affordable, comprehensive and universal.
In the early 1960s, President Lyndon Johnson enrolled 20 million elderly Americans into Medicare in six months. There were no websites. They did it with index cards!
Below please find 21 Ways the Canadian Health Care System is Better than Obamacare.
Repeal Obamacare and replace it with the much more efficient single-payer, everybody in, nobody out, free choice of doctor and hospital.
Love, Canada
Number 21:
In Canada, everyone is covered automatically at birth – everybody in, nobody out.
In the United States, under Obamacare, 31 million Americans will still be uninsured by 2023 and millions more will remain underinsured.
Number 20: 
In Canada, the health system is designed to put people, not profits, first.
In the United States, Obamacare will do little to curb insurance industry profits and will actually enhance insurance industry profits.
Number 19:
In Canada, coverage is not tied to a job or dependent on your income – rich and poor are in the same system, the best guaranty of quality.
In the United States, under Obamacare, much still depends on your job or income. Lose your job or lose your income, and you might lose your existing health insurance or have to settle for lesser coverage.
Number 18:
In Canada, health care coverage stays with you for your entire life.
In the United States, under Obamacare, for tens of millions of Americans, health care coverage stays with you for as long as you can afford your share.
Number 17:
In Canada, you can freely choose your doctors and hospitals and keep them. There are no lists of “in-network” vendors and no extra hidden charges for going “out of network.”
In the United States, under Obamacare, the in-network list of places where you can get treated is shrinking – thus restricting freedom of choice – and if you want to go out of network, you pay for it.
Number 16:
In Canada, the health care system is funded by income, sales and corporate taxes that, combined, are much lower than what Americans pay in premiums.
In the United States, under Obamacare, for thousands of Americans, it’s pay or die – if you can’t pay, you die. That’s why many thousands will still die every year under Obamacare from lack of health insurance to get diagnosed and treated in time.
Number 15:
In Canada, there are no complex hospital or doctor bills. In fact, usually you don’t even see a bill.
In the United States, under Obamacare, hospital and doctor bills will still be terribly complex, making it impossible to discover the many costly overcharges.
Number 14:
In Canada, costs are controlled. Canada pays 10 percent of its GDP for its health care system, covering everyone.
In the United States, under Obamacare, costs continue to skyrocket. The U.S. currently pays 18 percent of its GDP and still doesn’t cover tens of millions of people.
Number 13:
In Canada, it is unheard of for anyone to go bankrupt due to health care costs.
In the United States, under Obamacare, health care driven bankruptcy will continue to plague Americans.
Number 12: 
In Canada, simplicity leads to major savings in administrative costs and overhead.
In the United States, under Obamacare, complexity will lead to ratcheting up administrative costs and overhead.
Number 11:
In Canada, when you go to a doctor or hospital the first thing they ask you is: “What’s wrong?”
In the United States, the first thing they ask you is: “What kind of insurance do you have?”
Number 10:
In Canada, the government negotiates drug prices so they are more affordable.
In the United States, under Obamacare, Congress made it specifically illegal for the government to negotiate drug prices for volume purchases, so they remain unaffordable.
Number 9:
In Canada, the government health care funds are not profitably diverted to the top one percent.
In the United States, under Obamacare, health care funds will continue to flow to the top. In 2012, CEOs at six of the largest insurance companies in the U.S. received a total of $83.3 million in pay, plus benefits.
Number 8:
In Canada, there are no necessary co-pays or deductibles.
In the United States, under Obamacare, the deductibles and co-pays will continue to be unaffordable for many millions of Americans.
Number 7:
In Canada, the health care system contributes to social solidarity and national pride.
In the United States, Obamacare is divisive, with rich and poor in different systems and tens of millions left out or with sorely limited benefits.
Number 6:
In Canada, delays in health care are not due to the cost of insurance.
In the United States, under Obamacare, patients without health insurance or who are underinsured will continue to delay or forgo care and put their lives at risk.
Number 5:
In Canada, nobody dies due to lack of health insurance.
In the United States, under Obamacare, many thousands will continue to die every year due to lack of health insurance.
Number 4:
In Canada, an increasing majority supports their health care system, which costs half as much, per person, as in the United States. And in Canada, everyone is covered.
In the United States, a majority – many for different reasons – oppose Obamacare.
Number 3:
In Canada, the tax payments to fund the health care system are progressive – the lowest 20 percent pays 6 percent of income into the system while the highest 20 percent pays 8 percent.
In the United States, under Obamacare, the poor pay a larger share of their income for health care than the affluent.
Number 2:
In Canada, the administration of the system is simple. You get a health care card when you are born. And you swipe it when you go to a doctor or hospital. End of story.
In the United States, Obamacare’s 2,500 pages plus regulations (the Canadian Medicare Bill was 13 pages) is so complex that then Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said before passage “we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”
Number 1: 
In Canada, the majority of citizens love their health care system.
In the United States, the majority of citizens, physicians, and nurses prefer the Canadian type system – single-payer, free choice of doctor and hospital , everybody in, nobody out.
For more information see Single Payer Action.

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer, and author. He was born in Winsted, Connecticut on February 27, 1934. In 1955 Ralph Nader received an AB magna cum laude from Princeton University, and in 1958 he received a LLB with distinction from Harvard University.