Archives for posts with tag: politics

… Ere the bat hath flown
His cloister’d flight, ere, to black Hecate’s summons
The shard-borne beetle with his drowsy hums
Hath rung night’s yawning peal, there shall be done
A deed of dreadful note

William Shakespeare[1]

 [This is Phil again, and I’m tired of writing about witch hunts. Really, the subject is inexhaustible. Deal with one, and five more rise up: different facts of course, or should I say “alleged” facts? But the pattern is always the same. Attack a politician’s reputation, imply [but don’t prove] that bad things have happened, and trot out some secret witnesses to relate the one to the other. But of course the witnesses aren’t really “trotted out.” They’re quoted and characterized as heroic leakers, but not identified. That’s to protect them from hostile questioning by, say, the folks they’ve been maligning.

So we the public never get anything solid to look at; only gossip and rumors; and, of course, because today there’s a 24 hour news cycle, we hear the g & r over and over … and over. Of course, the victim of the hunt can always deny guilt but so what? After all that rumor mongering the victim will have such a bad reputation that many will think he [she] must be guilty of something![2] The legally inclined might decide that no real case has been made against the victim but the undecided, no doubt, will check the “don’t know” box in any survey. But really, with lousy evidence no one polled will have a sound basis to form any opinion other than “don’t know.”

Of course, I’m talking about political witch hunts, not the supernatural kind. Political witch hunts deal with philosophy, doctrine, economics, social theory and power. A supernatural witch hunt is grounded in religion, faith, fear and the need to counter occult threats. The two are different in principle, if not in practice. This time let’s venture into the supernatural, to check our roots, as it were. Let’s look at bats – filthy creatures – what they do and whether they should be tolerated in our modern age. There are many questions.]

Witches operate at night, and bats come out at night, so are they in collusion and if so, how? You may think that’s an idle question, but I’m not so sure. Bats aren’t human, but back in the Middle Ages people weren’t afraid to try animals for violating human law. We wrote a blog about that not too long ago.[3] So perhaps bats were equally culpable with humans in witchcraft and should have been tried along with them. Or perhaps they were the real culprits, and the witches should have been excused.

Let’s put aside the question of how to catch the bats to bring them to human justice and apply instead the ancient three part test to see if they’re guilty of something. If they are, then we can formulate the details of an anti-bat campaign.


There’s no denying that bats hang in evil places and with evil things. First, of course, they come out at night and sleep in dark spaces during the day, usually with each other. And look at what Shakespeare said about them! The bat flies his cloistered flight around the same time the beetle, at Hecate’s order, sounds “night’s yawning peal.” Hecate, as we all know, is an ancient goddess of the night, and now of witches.[4] The beetle makes a sound, not like a bell, but a buzzing, so when night “yawns” it makes us drowsy. Other poets confirm this. “Now air is hushed, save where the weak-eyed bat, [w]ith short shrill squeak flits by on leathern wing, [o]r where the beetle winds [h]is small but sullen horn …”[5] And obviously the night is dangerous to humans; it makes us drowsy, so we’re not alert to its threats. So when we hear a bat, “the dry whisper of [its] unseen wings,[6]” we know definitely it’s not the sound of an angel.

And if you need more proof, just think of how relieved we are when night and its bat companions leave us for a time. Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote about that. “Come into the garden, Maud,” he wrote, “[f]or the black bat, night, has flown … [a]nd the woodbine spices are wafted abroad, [a]nd the musk of the rose is blown.”[7] It was dawn, and the bats were gone, and he was awake and ready to get on with life.

Indications of the Deed

Well, what about sorcerous deeds? Do we have any indications of bat involvement in such things? The literature is full of relatively minor examples of bat complicity. Who can forget, for example: “Eye of newt and toe of frog, [w]ool of bat and tongue of dog … For a charm of powerful trouble, [l]ike a hell-broth boil and bubble”?[8] That’s some powerful spell-casting straight from Macbeth, and bats contributed to the potion. Then there’s Shakespeare’s other observation, that bats keep company with sprites and other magical beings. “On the bat’s back I do fly, [a]fter summer merrily; Merrily, merrily shall I live now, [u]nder the blossom that hangs on the bough.” That’s from The Tempest.[9]

But those are old examples, and I’m more interested in the here and now, and how bats may affect us today. And really, I didn’t worry much about that until I did some research. Did you know that it’s possible to believe bats will be there at the start of the next major war? Consider this:

Ponderous and uncertain is that relation between pressure and resistance which constitutes the balance of power. The arch of peace is morticed by no iron tendons …. One night a handful of dust will patter from the vaulting: the bats will squeak and wheel in sudden panic: nor can the fragile fingers of man then stay the rush and crumble of destruction.[10]

That’s from a 20th Century diplomat.[11] Frankly I’m speechless. If bats are correlated with the next Big War, will they be the cause of it, or an effect, or both? And if we don’t know, shouldn’t we just exterminate them to be safe? What would today’s witch hunting media recommend? Are there leaker-witnesses out there to support drastic action?


Well, we have plenty of witnesses in literature, Shakespeare, Tennyson, William Collins and the like, but they’re not likely to appear in person at a trial; and I haven’t found much current, say on YouTube, that’s really negative on bats. Instead there seem to be videos that portray bats as useful, cute, or at least valuable partners in maintaining the balance of nature. For one of the cute ones, take a look at Baby Bat Burritos, cite given below.[12] And so far I’ve found nothing that relates bats in a causal way to war. But that’s now; you never know what or who will turn up later. Perhaps Congress should sponsor an official inquiry into the question. People need to know if they are safe.


Bats are occult for sure and their reputation isn’t good; but they haven’t caused any harm recently; and the available You Tube witnesses mostly testify in favor of bats. So absent a new and spectacular bat expose’ there’s not a strong basis for mounting a bat witch hunt.

It’s a tough call, but I would defer any drastic action for now. You should do the same. After all, this is the 21st Century. We can always generate a mob via social media whenever we need one. There’s no need to act until circumstances favor us.

And by all means, don’t brood about occult things after the sun sets. As Francis Bacon once said, “Suspicions amongst thoughts are like bats amongst birds, they ever fly by twilight.”[13] Have a good dinner and forget about bats, and war, and turn off the TV. That alone may be a liberating experience. Bacon didn’t know about TV but, if he had, I’m sure he would have said the same.


[1] This is from Macbeth, Act 3, scene 2, lines 44-49. You can find it online at . Or, if you have a copy of the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, see Knowles (editor), Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (6th Edition, 2004) [hereafter, ODQ at __] go to it at Shakespeare, p.705, n. 22.

[2] Or should I have said: “he, she [or they] are” guilty of something? With all the gender confusion these days, it’s getting harder to write a sentence. How does one keep the gender option open for one person but at the same time connect him or her [or whatever] to a verb of some sort? When do he or she [or whatever] become a “they,” or should gender confused people be called “it” just to get on with the narrative?  These are questions. I don’t know the answers. If you do, please write!

[3] See the Elemental Zoo Two blog of 02/032013, Animal Rights in History, available at

[4] If you want to know more see the Wikipedia piece on her, at .

[5] That’s from William Collins, an 18th Century poet. See ODQ at William Collins, p. 235, n. 11.

[6] See ODQ at R. S. Thomas, p. 790, n. 23:  “Or the dry whisper of unseen wings, Bats not angels, in the high roof.” For more information on him, take a look at .

[7] See ODQ at Alfred, Lord Tennyson, at p. 781, n. 23. The full quote is: “Come into the garden, Maud, [f]or the black bat, night, has flown. Come into the garden, Maud, I am here at the gate, alone. And the woodbine spices are wafted abroad, [a]nd the musk of the rose is blown.”

[8] It’s from Macbeth, Act 4, scene 1, line 14. See ODQ at Shakespeare, p. 706, n. 12

[9] The quote is from The Tempest, Act 5, scene 1, line 88. If you don’t have Shakespeare handy you can find the quote in ODQ at Shakespeare, p. 719, n. 6.

[10] That’s a quote by Harold Nicolson, a 20th Century diplomat. See ODQ at Harold Nicholson, p. 563, n. 10 For more information on him, take a look at the Wikipedia entry at .

[11] See n. 10.

[12] See Baby Bat Burritos, a video incorporated in Huffington Post, Dicker, Baby Bats Swaddled Like Little Burritos Are Way Cuter Than You Might Expect (Dec. 01, 2014), available at

[13] See ODQ at Francis Bacon, p. 429, n. 5.



Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his [defense]. 

Article 11, Universal Declaration of Human Rights[1]

The principle that there is a presumption of innocence in favor of the accused is the undoubted law, axiomatic and elementary, and its enforcement lies at the foundation of the administration of our criminal law….”

Coffin v. United States[2]

[Phil, I read your last blog on witch hunts and enjoyed it quite a bit. It was colorful and incisive as usual. I think what you said was that in the old days a witch hunt could be started by any person who denounced a neighbor by filing charges with a local court, with supporting evidence. If the evidence made the case, then the accused [witch] was in trouble. If the evidence wasn’t good enough, then the accuser might be in trouble unless he had acted simply to protect the Faith or for the common good. In that case he wouldn’t be penalized “even if he fail[ed] in his proof.”[3] Or, if there were rumors of witchcraft all over the place, but no one was willing to denounce individuals, a local tribunal might simply open an inquiry [an “inquisition”] on its own motion and start dragging people in to question them.

So that brings me to the next question. Presumably even 500 years ago people accused of a crime were thought innocent until proved guilty. So how did the witch hunters prove someone was a witch? How could they do that when, as we know today, it’s simply not possible to affect weather, crops or livestock with a curse, or make people sick with a dirty look, or have sex with a demon? [4]]

That last is another very good question from our leader, G. Sallust. Perhaps one day I’ll ask the questions and he’ll answer them. But not today; the answer to his question – how to prove witchcraft – lies deep in the Malleus Maleficarum[5], a book I’ve read and he hasn’t. Not that I’m glad to have read it. It gives me nightmares, sometimes. But apparently people study it in our Journalism schools and treat it as a good example, if not a paradigm of how to report on politics. So, too bad for us, the Hammer may be as relevant to current events as today’s newspaper. Do any of you read newspapers?

The ancient witch hunters needed three things to try a witch: (i) the accused’s reputation; it had to be bad; (ii) ‘indications’ of sorcerous deeds; and (iii) adverse witness statements.[6] That sounds clear enough, I suppose, but the devil was in the details, especially where sorcery was involved. Also witch hunters wouldn’t have brought someone to trial unless they thought she [or he] was guilty. Anyway, that’s what I’m told.

Reputation as Evidence

If the accused had a bad reputation, the witch hunters assumed it was because she [or he] had committed sorcery at some place and time. “[S]orceresses are immediately branded with a bad reputation because of crimes in some village or city.”[7] A bad reputation was, in fact, evidence of sorcery. Where there’s smoke there’s fire! Or was it, “probably a liar?” I forget.

Indications of the Deed

This was the easy part. The investigators looked for sick children, diseased farm animals, barren fields, and so forth.[8] Such events were plentiful [it was the 15th Century] and easy to verify. The trick was to connect them to the accused. For this investigators needed either a confession or statements from witnesses.


Three witnesses were required.[9] However, they didn’t have to be witnesses to the same event. One could have said, ‘she looked at my child, and he fell sick’’ another that ‘she looked at my farm animals, and they died, and the third that ‘she waved at my fields, and they became barren.’[10] It was enough that they all agreed about the ‘essence of the deed’ – i.e., that there was sorcery.

Of course that was their opinion, unsupported by today’s science. Illness and crop failures are common when people have poor sanitation, over cultivate their land, starve periodically, and basically don’t understand how disease works. But witnesses didn’t know such things in the 15th Century, and it didn’t matter. The only important thing, apparently, was that they believed sorcery was at work and said so. How did they know that? Don’t worry; they just knew it when they saw it.

Guilty or Innocent?

So there you have it. If the witch hunters did their job properly, there was no real need for a trial. All that had to be proved would have been proved.” A trial would only validate the accused’s guilt, preferably with a confession.[11] I’m not a lawyer, but frankly I don’t see a “presumption of innocence” working anywhere in this business.

Guilt was established by the investigation. If the witch confessed as well, she would be turned over to the civil authorities and burned. If she didn’t confess, it would be just for the civil authorities to imprison her until she was ‘worn down by the misery of prison’[12] and confessed. Then she could be executed. In either case, the whole thing would be ‘summary, straightforward, and informal,’ which the hunters thought was a good thing.[13]

And, by the way, it didn’t really matter if she denied all guilt. The witch hunters thought witches successfully resisted confessing only because the devil helped them. That’s why, once a witch was arrested, the authorities were told to: search her house for ‘devices of sorcery’; lock up her ‘maids and companions,’ because undoubtedly they knew secrets; and keep her out of the house, because otherwise she might pick up magical devices that would help her keep silent.[14] Nobody wanted her to find her magical confession-repeller, because that might complicate the investigation!

Witch Hunts Today

So let’s summarize for a bit. In the 15th Century if a woman didn’t get along with the neighbors, normal illnesses, etc. attacked some of the local children, farm animals or fields, and three people blamed the woman, that was enough to prove witchcraft. You know, I used to think that it would be wonderful to live in a small town, but I’m beginning to understand the drawbacks, especially if the locals are superstitious. But that’s not our current issue, is it? What G. Sallust asked was: “Do our peerless media behave exactly the same way when they report on politics?” I’m thinking the answer is “yes,” at least where President Trump is concerned.


Have the media relentlessly focused on his private life, and allegations about it? Yes. Do they talk and talk and talk about what they think of him, his business practices and how he may or may not treat others? Yes. Do they routinely portray him as unstable and not to be trusted? Yes. Do they routinely ignore his popularity in troublesome places like the Middle East, and his ability to turn out its leadership when he goes there? Oh, yes! So quite obviously his reputation is a prime target.

Does Mr. Trump have a lot of accusers? Oh yes, and many of them – seemingly the most authoritative – are anonymous. They pretty much act like 15th Century witnesses who are afraid of the person they denounce, and ask the inquisitor for protection; only in this case it’s the media that shields the witness, not some judge. So there are witnesses against Trump out there, timid ones, but quite likely more than three.

But the ancient witch hunters demanded some independent, physical evidence of witchcraft before they would prosecute. You know, the ‘indications’ of the deed – sick children, barren fields, bad weather, that kind of thing. Most of these events are now known to have natural explanations. So do we have a disaster right now; one bordering on the supernatural[15]; that these many secret witnesses might connect to Trump?

So far there doesn’t seem to be anything like that. The stock market is up; employment is rising; there aren’t any new wars or plagues; and ISIS, although still active and deadly, is in retreat. And that, I would say, is the fatal flaw.  The media are hunting witches when times are good, or at least improving.


So, not to put too fine a point on it, if we brought in auditors from the 15th Century to look at the campaign against Trump, most likely they wouldn’t like it. There’s an essential element missing in the proof: i.e., no current disaster of near supernatural proportions to fire up the populace. Also, there’s a fussy legality that might disturb the process. Today an accused person is presumed innocent until proved guilty.

And, as we discussed last time, there are other disturbing factors in play. These days lawyers are available to an accused, for example, and the courts aren’t permitted to torture him [or her]. Given all that no doubt the inquisitors of the 15th Century would withhold their seal of approval. What else could responsible and moral hunters do?

So for now to the media: Good try, and better luck next time!

[1] The text of Article 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is available as a pdf download directly from the United Nations, at Want to know more about the Universal Declaration? Check out the Wikipedia entry at

[2] See Coffin v. United States, 156 U.S. 432, 453 (1895), available from Justia at For you non-lawyers, the Justia version of a Supreme Court case is not “official,” and can’t be cited as such in a legal brief, etc. But it works just fine for a blog. Also the Court is talking about a presumption of innocence, not an absolute rule. “This presumption is in the nature of evidence in his favor [i.e. in favor of the accused], and a knowledge of it should be communicated to the jury. Accordingly, it is the duty of the judge in all jurisdictions, when requested, and in some when not requested, to explain it to the jury in his charge. The usual formula in which this doctrine is expressed is that every man is presumed to be innocent until his guilt is proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The accused is entitled, if he so requests it … to have this rule of law expounded to the jury in this or in some equivalent form of expression.” See p. 459, citing an article in Criminal Law Magazine from January, 1888.

[3] See Christopher S. Mackay (translator], The Hammer of Witches, A Complete Translation of the Malleus Maleficarum (Cambridge 2006, 2009) (hereafter cited as Hammer at p. __). See Hammer at p. 504. As noted last time, the book was written by two [apparently crazed] Dominican friars, Jacobus Sprenger and Henricus Institoris. See Hammer at Introduction, p.2 – 3.

[4] G. Sallust, by phone, June 22, 2017. Again, this was what was on my voicemail, sanitized a bit for language. You’ll have to take my word for it. I still don’t save voicemails.

[5] See n. 3.

[6] See Hammer, Part III at p. 202A, 202B (p. 521 of the text.)

[7] Id.

[8] See Hammer, Part III at p. 202A, 202B (p. 521 of the text.)

[9] See Hammer, Part III at p. 197A (p. 508 of the text.) The authors thought that two ought to be enough, but chose the larger number in the name of ‘legal fairness.’

[10] See generally See Hammer, Part III at p. 202B, 202C (p. 521, 522 of the text.)

[11] Once in jail, an accused might never get out. Some commentators argued that so long as the accused had an impaired reputation, there were indications of witchcraft, and three witnesses against her, she was ‘manifestly caught’ and should go to prison.  (See Hammer, Part III at p. 203A (p. 524 of the text)) The Malleus took a more liberal position. It let the judge decide to imprison or not to imprison based on the strength of the case and ‘on the basis of local procedure and upholding custom.’ But, and this is important, if released the accused witch had to produce sureties to guarantee that she would appear again in court if summoned.” (See Hammer, Part III at p. 203B (p. 524 of the text))

[12] See Hammer, Part III at p. 202C, 202D (p. 522. 523 of the text.)

[13] See Hammer, Part III at p. 202D, (p. 523 of the text.)

[14] See Hammer, Part III at p. 203C (p. 525 of the text.)

[15] Perhaps an economic disaster? Recessions always seem kind of supernatural to me.

A man with a conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point…

When Prophecy Fails[1]

[This blog is dedicated to an unnamed sociologist who lives and practices in Upstate New York. However, that person is not responsible for any of the conclusions reached herein.]

[This is Phil, blog philosopher, and I’m peeved with Larry. He knows what he did! Last week, while talking about DEA and how it works, he wandered out of his field and into my garden. That’s just not right!  I’m the guy in charge of big concepts around here, even when I don’t understand them. Lawyers have no right to toy with philosophy, or even sociology, when there’s a specialist in the wings. I thought he understood that.

You’re probably wondering what I’m talking about. Well, right now Democrats are on fire since they lost big time in the electoral sweepstakes. Not only did Donald Trump upset their favorite, Hillary Clinton; his party also retained control of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, and won a flock of state races. The elections were good to the Republicans, even though the smart money bet Republicans would destroy their party by running with Trump. Democrats thought that was more dangerous than running with scissors. Child-like Republicans should have avoided Trump.

So said the smart money, but so what? The dire predictions were all wrong. Who cares about them now? Answer: A lot of Democrats do, plus some lapsed Republicans. They don’t want to let go of their preconceptions. Significant numbers of the young see a Trump victory as a very bad sign, perhaps of the End Times; older folks think he will energize the white supremacists in the land, and drive all minorities from our shores. Frankly I don’t see that kind of bigotry in Trump; he’s a New Yorker; lives and works there, and made a lot of money there; and there’s one thing I’ve noticed about New Yorkers: they’re a mixed bunch, different races, ethnicities, religions, sexual preferences and so forth, but live together in a small area and pretty much get along. There are lots of New Yorkers, you know. Trump is probably more tolerant of people than the average denizen of Capitol Hill.

At least that’s what I think. But that’s not the real question, is it? Why do some Democrats think otherwise? Why do they double-down to oppose Trump when other people don’t believe them? Well, here’s where I think Larry got it right. He said, “That’s what happens when people in a closely-knit group suffer a major disconfirmation of a strongly held belief.[2]” It’s a social phenomenon, not necessarily connected to the truth or falsity of the underlying beliefs.

The problem is, Larry forgot to explain himself, and he could have easily done it. Three years ago G. Sallust and I published a blog on that very subject[3], and it was available to anyone – even Larry – if he had the sense to look for it. So I’m going to remedy the problem right now, by liberally quoting right here from our previous work. It’s not plagiarism if I quote myself, is it? I promise I’ll leave out as much of G. Sallust’s part as is possible. So here’s the discussion:]

When Prophecy Fails

The book is When Prophecy Fails, a study done in the mid 1950’s. Our copy came from a local library, but there are reprints available on the internet. [4] The book is about a flying saucer cult that predicted a major U.S. city would be destroyed by a great flood and upheaval on a December 21st,[5] and what they did when it didn’t happen.

The authors had a theory they wanted to test. First they distinguished between consonance and dissonance. Ideas, or beliefs, are consonant if they are consistent, i.e., don’t contradict one another.  If two strong beliefs do contradict, or at least don’t fit together, then they are dissonant.[6] Generally that makes the people who hold them uncomfortable.[7] So if there’s dissonance, people try to resolve it. They try to change the dissonant beliefs, or study and find more facts that reduce the apparent dissonance, or simply drop one of the conflicting ideas.[8]

No Doomsday

The saucer cult was wrong. Its leaders predicted doomsday, and that didn’t happen. The City marked for destruction continued to exist. Obviously that created big time dissonance for the group.

When the facts go against established doctrine, sociologists call that a disconfirmation of belief – we probably would say a failure – and for the saucer cult it was a big one. Some cult members didn’t try to deny the obvious; they simply dropped out[9] and did other things. But others – those most heavily invested in cult doctrine – stayed. When Prophecy Fails is about how the true believers coped.

Secret Knowledge

Let’s back up for a moment. I don’t mean to belittle the cult’s belief system, but where did they get their information? How did they know disaster was in the offing?

Well, they had three individuals who were in touch with people from outer space, or other planes of existence; two relayed messages orally, i.e., went into a trance and repeated what they were told; the third practiced automatic writing. She would sit down with a pen[10] and a pad and write down the messages she received, seemingly without any conscious control on her part.[11] One of the cult members then collected the sheets and typed them up for distribution.[12]

The group believed aliens would save them before anything bad happened. But the aliens missed all appointments, and, of course, there was no disaster. Members reacted depending on the strength of their commitment to the group’s belief system. People who: (i) were deeply convinced, (ii) had committed in some major and irreversible way, and (iii) had support, were more likely to stay and soldier on.[13]


And what was the easiest way to do that? Well, if they couldn’t make the mistake disappear, they lessened its importance by making converts. “If more and more people can be persuaded that the system of belief is correct, then clearly it must, after all, be correct. …If the proselyting proves successful, then by gathering more adherents and effectively surrounding himself with supporters, the believer reduces dissonance to the point where he can live with it.” [14] So that’s what they, the die-hard cult members, did.

The cult turned from being very reclusive, talking to non-members only by invitation, into extroverts who wanted all the media time they could get. They went to great lengths to explain their belief system to anyone who would listen. That ended only when the group broke up and disappeared. I won’t go into the details, because they’re all spelled out in the book.


So there you have it. Applying When Prophecy Fails to the present situation, what are Progressives to do after the Trump election? Certainly committed people on the Left are not going to give up. That’s not what happens when closely-knit group with strong views is defeated. Some Democrats may want to temporize, look for compromises, revise doctrine or do other things like that. Some may, but the true believers certainly won’t. My bet is they will double down on the past, promise more of the same, and rationalize their failures. They’ll be very much on the attack for the next four years. That is, they’ll act the way Republicans did the first time they lost to Barrack Obama.

The thing is that rigid approach – opposition to all change – wasn’t really helpful to Republicans. It took Donald Trump to win them a Presidential election, and he had to defeat Republican old-timers first, and then the Democrats to do it. The realists had to take over from old line ideologues before the Republicans could get political traction.

And one final note. When Prophecy Fails is not a book about flying saucers and whether they are real. That’s irrelevant to the main thesis. The question examined was: What does an in-group do when experience contradicts some of its basic doctrine? The answer: It launches a membership drive. Otherwise, insiders don’t want to change a thing. That’s a general principle of behavior, and perhaps a universal one. It applies to the Progressive hierarchy, inbred Conservatives, saucer cultists, and just about any other small, controlling group you can imagine.

But that’s just my opinion; it’s OK to disagree; and feel free to vent. We will feel your pain.




[1] See Festinger, Riecken & Schachter, When Prophecy Fails (U. Minn. Press, 1956). Hereafter, this will be cited as Prophecy Fails.

[2] What’s “disconfirmation?” Check out the Wiktionary at . For “disconfirmed expectancy,” see the Wikipedia entry at For the classic study, read Festinger, Riecken, and Schachter When Prophecy Fails (1956). Flying saucers!

[3] See the blog of 2013/12/28, Disconfirmation of Belief, available at

[4] See note 1. Some say this is a classic in sociology. It’s a great read. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a free online version. However, reprints are available from Amazon. For this blog the Zoo borrowed a copy of the original via an inter-library loan

[5] The day was December 21. The year isn’t specified in the book, but obviously the catastrophe was to occur sometime before the book’s publication date, i.e., before 1956. The prediction was made in the same year the destruction was to occur.

[6] See Prophecy Fails at p. 25-26. “Two opinions, or beliefs or items of knowledge are dissonant with each other if they do not fit together – that is, they are inconsistent, or if, considering only the particular two items, one does not follow from the other”

[7] For instance, Lewis Carroll said: “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” See Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (6th Edition) (2004) at Lewis Carroll, p. 195, n. 12. The quote is from Through the Looking Glass (1872).

[8] See Prophecy Fails at p. 26: “Dissonance produces discomfort and, correspondingly, there will arise pressures to reduce or eliminate dissonance…Such attempts may take any or all of three forms. The person may try to change one or more of the beliefs, opinions or behaviors involved in the dissonance, to acquire new information or beliefs that will increase the existing consonance and thus cause the total dissonance to be reduced; or to forget or reduce the importance of those cognitions that are in a dissonant relationship.”

[9] See Prophecy Fails at p. 27: “Alternatively, the dissonance will be reduced or eliminated if the members of a movement effectively blind themselves to the fact that the prediction has not been fulfilled. But most people, including members of such movements, are in touch with reality and cannot simply blot out of their cognition of such an unequivocal and undeniable fact. They can try to ignore it, however, and they usually do try.”

[10] Or possibly a pencil.

[11] Want to know more about this technique? Check Wikipedia on Automatic Writing  at

[12] So is there also a form of automatic talking? You know, unconscious talking that channels messages from other planes of existence? Could that be the kind of thing we got from our pollsters and pundits this year?

[13] See the introductory discussion to Prophecy Fails at p. 4.

[14] Id at 28.

[Note: This one is for Dave Feagles, who helped me understand fentanyl and its problems.  That’s not to say that he agrees with all or any of my conclusions. No friend of mine should have to do that.]

[There was a brisk response to our last post, some of it about my personal habits and obvious failings as a copy editor, but some of it also on substance. Please, you all know Jeremy Bentham didn’t accept name calling and personal attacks as legitimate tools of debate. They’re usually irrelevant to the issues of the day, and are intended to distract listeners from the real stuff. And there’s no truth to the rumor that our story was a cheesy effort to drive down real estate values in my locality, West Virginia. The facts might do that, but I haven’t made up anything. And, by the way, I live here too. What we have here is simply a very dismal situation.

So I’ve picked the best of your comments, edited out the obscenities, etc., combined them with others on the same subject, and will now deal appropriately with what remains.]

All right, Mr. Sallust, you’ve done it this time! There you were, playing with words at the beginning of the last post, and you completely bollixed it up. You left out a key word, you ninny, and spoiled whatever effect you were trying to achieve! That’s a poor performance for someone who pretends to be educated. What have you done to make sure it doesn’t happen again? Have you fired the secretary?

Actually, you’re right, at least about the preposition.  The commenter is talking about the introduction to the last piece – you know, the part in italics – where I jokingly quoted myself, and described that as possibly a “ridiculous case unbridled narcissism.” Of course, that should have been a “ridiculous case of unbridled narcissism.” A reader caught the mistake soon after publication, and I speedily corrected the published version. It was too late to change drafts that already had been circulated. So what? They were drafts, you know; not final copy.

The rest of the comment is mistaken. We don’t have a secretary here at Elemental Zoo Two. Everyone does his own typing so, I guess, for that piece I was the secretary [as I am for this one]. As a matter of policy, I will not fire myself. I’m too important to the health of the blog. Also, I need something to do on off days.

You have opinions about fentanyl, but don’t tell us much about it, except that it’s synthetic. Do you know anything more, or were you just pretending?

Now that’s a good question. I didn’t say much about fentanyl last time because I knew the subject generally but didn’t have a lot of detail. After the first couple of comments it was obvious that people wanted to know more; so I went back to the books, and here’s what I found.

The Drug Enforcement Administration [DEA] identified fentanyl as a problem drug just last year.[1] The drug had been around for a long time[2], but incidents and overdoses involving it were on the rise in 2015 and “occurring at an alarming rate throughout the United States.” As such they represented “a significant threat to public health and safety.”[3] Fentanyl and fentanyl derivatives are “often laced with heroin,” and that sort is up to “100 times more powerful than morphine, and 30 – 50 times more powerful than heroin.” [4]

The euphoric effects of fentanyl are the same as heroin[5], but “[i]ngestion of [fentanyl] doses as small as 0.25 mg can be fatal.”[6] Also, last but certainly not least, fentanyl is dangerous to law enforcement and “anyone else who [might come] into contact with it.”[7] It can hurt people who take, touch or breathe it.[8]

So – and this is my opinion – combining fentanyl with heroin doesn’t sound like a particularly bright move unless a dealer is out to exterminate his [or her] clientele, and possibly law enforcement as well. Addicts may disagree, and probably do.

Where does fentanyl come from? Is it, like heroin, a product of the opium poppy grown in Afghanistan?

The drug is synthetic, you know, and the chemists – amateur and professional – seem to be hard at work on it. At last count there were 15 versions – the so-called “fentanyl analogues” – in addition to the basic compound.[9] It’s not clear to me whether the opium poppy is necessary, or useful, to create synthetic fentanyl,[10] but I suspect it isn’t.

Fentanyl abuse is growing around the world, in Russia, Ukraine, Sweden and Denmark, for example, and Mexican authorities have seized fentanyl laboratories in their own country. Back in 2006, the U.S. found one in California.[11] So where one can be built, many are possible. Apparently the precursor chemicals for fentanyl are sold by companies in Mexico, Germany, Japan and China. Right now Afghan poppies don’t seem to be on any list of precursors.

Of course, my opinion is based only on information that’s currently public.[12] No doubt there’s a lot going on in the world that we don’t know about. One article reports, for example, that fentanyl is cheaper to make than heroin[13]; if that’s the case why wouldn’t customers, and dealers, migrate in that direction? So perhaps there are illegal fentanyl laboratories all over the place, not just in Mexico and California. Perhaps heroin from Afghanistan will be driven off the market by a newer, more potent [and deadly] synthetic. Of course that’s not necessarily a good thing, is it?

There’s an anti-overdose medication that police forces in some jurisdictions are authorized to use. Do you have it in your area, and, if so, is it effective?

I think you’re talking about naloxone [also called Narcan] which is highly recommended[14] as a treatment for opioid overdoses.[15] In an overdose the victim’s respiratory system is severely depressed, to the extent that he or she may stop breathing. Death follows. Naloxone reverses that, and can save the victim’s life. “The earlier the treatment the better the result,” or so I’m told.

Recently the Food and Drug Administration asked industry to develop a phone app to help “opioid users and their friends” locate naloxone when they need it.[16] That may be a good idea but, more to the point, today naloxone is used by doctors and in emergency rooms, etc., to treat the cases that come in the door. In some states it’s also included in kits issued to emergency responders [including law enforcement] and some drug users.[17] My state, West Virginia, does that.[18]

My personal opinion is that, while the kits are a good idea in today’s environment, and hopefully will reduce the death rate from overdose, they probably won’t reduce the rate of addiction. Addicts who die automatically drop out of the pool of current users. Those who survive have a second chance, but not all of them will enter treatment, abandon drugs, and get their lives back. Some will, and some won’t. At the same time new addicts reveal themselves every day, [19] lining up to pour money into the illicit drug trade. So my point is, without other changes, drug interdiction, better enforcement and so forth, the addiction rate may well go up even as overdose deaths decline.

Of course, that little speculation assumes we know how to count the addicts hidden in our society.

I don’t mean to be macabre, but how is the 2006 heroin death rate shaping up in your area? Is it rising or falling?

It looks like the final numbers come out about 12 months after any year ends. There are anecdotes, but they lead nowhere. Let’s wait and see. “Time destroys the speculation of men, but it confirms nature.”[20]

[Will there be more questions and answers next week? Probably. If not next week, then soon.]

[1] See DEA, Headquarters News, DEA Issues Nationwide Alert on Fentanyl as Threat to Health and Public Safety (March 18, 2015), available at Henceforth this will be cited as DEA 2015 Alert.

[2] Since 1960, if you’re curious. See the Wikipedia entry on fentanyl at

[3] See DEA 2015 Alert.

[4] Id. “In the last two years, DEA has seen a significant resurgence in fentanyl-related seizures. According to the National Forensic Laboratory Information System (NFLIS), state and local labs reported 3,344 fentanyl submissions in 2014, up from 942 in 2013.  In addition, DEA has identified 15 other fentanyl-related compounds.”

[5] Id. “Its euphoric effects are indistinguishable from morphine or heroin.”

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id. “DEA has also issued warnings to law enforcement as fentanyl can be absorbed through the skin and accidental inhalation of airborne powder can also occur. DEA is concerned about law enforcement coming in contact with fentanyl on the streets during the course of enforcement, such as a buy-walk, or buy-bust operation.” See also The Washington Post, Bever et al., Opioid epidemic’s hidden hazard, SWAT officers treated for fentanyl exposure during drug raid (September 14, 2014), available at

[9] See n. 4. So far DEA has identified 15 other fentanyl-related compounds.

[10] I’ll try to answer that another day.

[11] See the Wikipedia piece on Fentanyl, under recreational use, available at

[12] See DEA 2015 Alert. “Globally, fentanyl abuse has increased the past two years in Russia, Ukraine, Sweden and Denmark. Mexican authorities have seizure fentanyl labs there [i.e., in Mexico], and intelligence has indicated that the precursor chemicals came from companies in Mexico, Germany, Japan, and China.”

[13] See New York Times, Seelye, Heroin Epidemic Is Yielding to a Deadlier Cousin: Fentanyl (March 25, 2016), available at . “’For the cartels, it’s their drug of choice,” Ms. Healey said. “They have figured out a way to make fentanyl more cheaply and easily than heroin and are manufacturing it at a record pace.’”

[14] See CDCHAN-00350, Health Advisory, Recommendations for Laboratory Testing for Acetyl Fentanyl and Patient Evaluation and Treatment for Overdose with Synthetic Opioid (June 20, 2013) at p. 3 of 5, Recommendations, available at

[15] Id. “We recommend that emergency departments and emergency medical services treat suspected opioid overdoses according to standard protocols. In addition, larger doses of naloxone may be required to reverse the opioid induced respiratory depression because of the higher potency of fentanyl and acetyl fentanyl compared to heroin.”

[16] See Los Angeles Times, Healy, FDA asks coders to create an app that matches opioid overdose victims with lifesaving rescue drug  (September 19, 2019), available at

[17] See the Wikipedia discussion at Naloxone; available at    “[Naloxone is included as a part of emergency overdose response kits distributed to heroin and other opioid drug users and emergency responders. This has been shown to reduce rates of deaths due to overdose…”

[18] Metro News, Kercheval, Life-saving naloxone approved in WV (March 11, 2015), available at  “Hughes was on hand Monday when Governor Tomblin signed into law SB 335, authorizing the first responders to carry the opioid antagonist and allowing doctors to prescribe naloxone to relatives and friends of a person at risk of overdosing.”

[19] They can be anywhere. See USA Today, Bowerman, Sheriff’s candidate charged with heroin possession in West Virginia (August 3, 2013), available at

[20] That’s from Marcus Tullius Cicero, a Roman dude I was once forced to translate. You can find it on Brainy Quote, at:

No man should go through life without once experiencing healthy, even bored solitude in the wilderness, finding himself depending solely on himself and thereby learning his true and hidden strength. Learning for instance, to eat when he’s hungry and sleep when he’s sleepy.

Jack Kerouac[1]

[Now there’s an idea! Tired of the everyday grind? Want to get away from it all? Why not go sit in the woods, and meditate? Maybe that works for you, but I have problems with it. Food aside, I don’t like being cold, or too hot; midnight visits by forest wildlife, dangerous or not; mosquitos, fires, floods or even just heavy rain; or digging trenches to take care of the necessary bodily functions. Also, where can you get a beer in the woods? Beer is too heavy to carry a lot of it on a camping trip! And anyway, it’s best drunk in company.

A lot of these problems go away, I suppose, if you drive an RV to the woods, camp in it, run to the store to replenish supplies, drink in local bars and meditate indoors. But for the most part that’s not what Jack Kerouac had in mind. Kerouac was a writer of the so-called “beat” generation, precursors of the craziness that followed in the mid-1960s and the 1970s.[2] He died in 1969. More importantly for our purposes, he once took a job as a fire-lookout on a mountain-top for what may have been three months.[3]Apparently he was a solitary watchman, but not a camper. He had shelter – at one point he speaks of looking out a window – a warm sleeping bag, and canned food from one source or another, but apparently no live-in companion. So he used that opportunity to meditate, and he got results.

One day, for example, he found a bear stool nearby, and for a time he obsessed about finding the bear that had created it. He searched for the “Primordial Bear,” he said, Avalokitesvara,[4] the king of the mountain, but the king “never came.”[5]Then he had a revelation: It wasn’t necessary for the bear to appear, or for Kerouac to endure solitude to understand life. “[I] realize that no matter where I am, whether in a little room full of thought, or in [the] endless universe of stars and mountains, it’s all in my mind.”[6]

What was in his mind? Why, the stars, the planets, the universe, life and the meaning of everything, but only in the sense that all of it was just words. “Thinking of the stars night after night I begin to realize ‘the stars are words,’ and all of the innumerable worlds in the Milky Way are words, and so is this world too.”[7]Apparently he had no mental space available for pictures.

You may think this is peculiar, or even interesting, but no doubt you’re also wondering why I bring it up. Well, I think Kerouac identified, or at least exemplifies a mental process that’s all too common today. There is no “real” reality; there are only words, and they are all in our heads; that being the case, we can eliminate just about any problem by erasing the bad words and substituting good ones, or vice versa. All we have to do is talk our problems away!]

That’s a stretch, you say? I’ve gone too far? I don’t think so. Just look at this year’s Republican and Democrat primaries. As we pointed out last time, Hillary Clinton, the candidate of the Democrat Establishment, is billed as the inevitable candidate of the Left. Yet obviously lots of folks in her party don’t agree. They’re still fighting for Bernie Sanders, a relative unknown, a socialist who’s winning lots of primaries. And they’re fighting hard. Why? Well, the explanations are a bit thin. Mostly they’re just words. Sanders is a real leftist – a socialist – while Clinton is not-so-left, and possibly cozy with Wall Street. The differences between them really aren’t so great, so why worry? Others argue that the Sanders people are mostly young and inexperienced, and don’t know where their best interests lie; or alternatively, that they’re scary thugs, who probably shouldn’t be allowed to vote.

Then there’s all that disruption on the Right. Donald Trump is the last Republican standing after a marathon campaign that started with 16 [or 17] competitors. Trump ran as an insurgent, and was ridiculed as the candidate of bigoted, unemployed white males, who also were scary thugs. The implication, of course, is that people like that really don’t belong in a country as polite, refined and sensitive as ours. Trump will get the Republican nomination but he can’t possibly win in the fall against Hillary Clinton.

So these are the words we should use to banish all fear? We should ignore what’s going on simply because the insurgents are not up to our high standards? They – the insurgents – should come back when they’re not so, well, pushy? Surely there’s a better way to understand the political heat generated this year by an electorate that’s obviously in pain? Do we want explanations, or do we simply want to chant mantras to drive away bad thoughts?

Let me suggest some things to look at if you want to do a reality check. To understand what’s going on, you have to follow the money: Who has it and, more importantly, who doesn’t. We know part of the answer; the top 1% of earners in this country average about $1.2 million a year[8]; but that’s not the big problem. The big problem is that the remaining 99% of us are hurting badly, constantly, and with no end in sight. How do I know that? Well, I don’t for sure, but I am working on a misery index[9] to chart that kind of thing; I don’t have all the details, but my preliminary research has turned up some interesting stuff.

For example, let’s look at bankruptcies. No doubt you’ve all heard about Chapter 11, bankruptcies; those are the ones companies file to reorganize their affairs and hopefully survive.[10] While these are important to economists, I guess, for our purposes they’re not as useful as the ones filed by individuals.[11] For example, as late as 1981, only about 8% of bankruptcy filings by individuals [or families] related to medical costs.[12] However, that benign statistic changed radically in the 21st Century. In 2008 one study found that, for the period 2001 – 07, (i) 62.1% of all bankruptcies had a medical cause,  (ii) “most medical debtors were well educated and middle class; three quarters had health insurance[,]” and; (iii) bankruptcies “attributable to medical problems rose by 50%” during the period covered.[13] Republicans, I should add, can’t blame Obama Care for that. George W. Bush was President.

That was pretty bad, but what does it say about today? Of course, we all know that the wheels came off our economy in 2008. One would expect that personal bankruptcies would have gone up, not down, after that, but government officials don’t seem to be counting. There‘s a private estimate out there that, as of 2013, 2 million personal bankruptcies would involve medical bills.[14]

The Government really needs to look into this and report back to Congress [and the rest of us] about the situation. At a very minimum it would be good to know:

  • Are personal bankruptcies up or down over the last 8 years? By how much? What are the totals for each year?
  • What are the reasons for the bankruptcies? Are medical bills still the big factor, or are there other causes, such as job loss, other loss of income, bad real estate deals, consumer debt and so forth?

These are simple questions that, I think, any sensible politician would want answered. If large parts of the electorate are financially stressed, politicians should know that. Ignorance, willful or otherwise, can be dangerous to political careers.

Then there’s one of my other favorite subjects, student loans. Talk about financial stress! First you take young people, tell them they have to go to college if they’re going to be anything in the new economy, then arrange for the Government to lend them money to do it. Guess what happens? Well, tuition tends to go up.[15] Also, students incur a large amount of debt.

How much of that debt is there? You know, I searched for a while, but really wasn’t able to come up with an answer. It should include all student loan debt issued or guaranteed by the federal government. My sense is that the number is very large, in the trillions of dollars. However, I was able to find official numbers on the total amounts students currently are allowed to borrow; as of today, dependent undergraduates have a lifetime borrowing limit of $31 thousand; independent undergraduates, $57.5 thousand; and graduate and professional students, $138.5 thousand.[16] So what if you, say, go to law school, graduate with $138.5 thousand in debt, and can’t find a job? Ugh! Would you be unhappy? I would.

[So people are hurting out there, and I can see why. It has nothing to do with ideology, economic theory, or anything like that. It’s just that they’re broke, and in debt, and can’t pay their bills. Our politicians need to stop living in their own heads, like Jack Kerouac, and move into the real world. That’s what the insurgents in both parties are telling them. People need help, not lectures from outer space. Our Congress and its ideologues should be pragmatic for a change.]



[1] See Kerouac, Alone on a Mountain Top, in Hoopes & Peck (eds.), Edge of Awareness (Dell, 1966), at p.24 – 34, especially p. 32. Kerouac was one of the principal writers of the so-called “beat” generation, precursors of the craziness that followed in the mid-1960s and the 1970s. He died in 1969.

[2] For more about him, check out the Wikipedia entry at

[3] Id.

[4] Frankly I’m a bit mystified by the reference. Traditionally in Buddhism Avalokitesvara is the god [or goddess, or both] of Compassion, not a bear. See the Wikipedia entry at  But, as you may guess, Kerouac wasn’t necessarily bound by traditional beliefs, even esoteric ones.

[5] Id. at 34

[6] Id. at 34

[7] Id. at 34

[8] That’s based on 2008 data. See The Economist, Who exactly are the 1%? (Jan 21, 2012), available at

[9]  It’s not the one that the Reaganites used back in the 1980s, which involved adding the inflation index to the unemployment rate, a non-scientific way to make a political point, which was that both were up in 1980. See the Wikipedia write-up on misery index at  It was first deployed by the Johnson Administration, in the 1960’s..

[10] Want to know about bankruptcy around the world? Take a look at Wikipedia on that subject, at  . It also provides a short but understandable introduction to the various types available in the U.S.

[11] Id.

[12] See The American Journal of Medicine, Himmelstein, Thorne, Warren & Woolhandler, Medical Bankruptcy in the United States, 2007: Results of a National Study (2008), at p. 1, available at

[13] Id. at p. 2.

[14] See CNBC, Mangan, Medical Bills Are the Biggest Cause of U.S. Bankruptcies: Study (25 June 2013), available at

[15] See, e.g., National Bureau of Economic Research, Cellini & Goldin, Does Federal Student Air Raise Tuition? New Evidence on For Profit Colleges (2012), available at   (Aid-eligible for-profit institutions capture a large part of the federal student aid subsidy.)

[16] See Congressional Budget Office, Options to Change Interest Rates and Other Terms on Student Loans (June, 2013), at Table I, p. 16, available at


Do not neglect the opportunity to deceive your enemy. Make him think of you as a friend. Let him think of you as weak. Let him act prematurely. And never tell him anything.

Wess Roberts[1]

[Hello, folks; this is Phil, again! Hopefully you weren’t waiting for someone else. I’m here because I found another book, and it was free!. Wait, let me rephrase that. If you’re a part of Generation X[2], or a Millennial[3], I know you’re confused about the current state of our politics, and normally I would be, also; but the book I found explains everything. Well, maybe not everything; it doesn’t have much to say about astrophysics, global warming, or economic cycles; but it does provide a useful way to sort through the controversies our “leaders” have produced for us to admire this election season. It’s a book of strategy and tactics, produced by a management guru of 30 years ago, and avidly consumed by your parents and other baby boomers, when they were younger. And it’s relevant today because, guess what? While you follow events, and some of you are greatly concerned with politics, the boomers are still in charge. Your job is to respond to stimuli and vote, not to manage or understand.

So, if you really want to understand what’s going on, you need to look at your parent’s playbook, and, I would submit, that means you have to read Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun.[4] Now, don’t make fun of me just because my copy was free. I’m sure that, if you research the internet, you can find someone to sell you one for good money. The fact is, it was a big seller back in the 1980s, and was endorsed by lots of important people [Tom Peters, Wayne Dyer and Bob Crandall[5] come to mind] even though you might not recognize their names today. More to the point, it’s an easy book to read and fun to quote.]

Now let’s talk about fiction versus reality. Attila was a real character[6], also called the Flagellum Dei[7], who lived in the Fifth century A.D. His tribe was the Huns, a nomadic people who had invaded a good part of Europe in the previous century, and attempted to expand westward.[8] His great adversary was the Roman Empire, or more precisely, the Eastern and Western halves of it, which he invaded, made and broke treaties with, and generally made war on during his lifetime. Nevertheless, he died in his sleep [or “woke up dead,” as some say] following his wedding in 454 A.D. It’s said that those who buried him were killed by the Huns “so that his grave might never be discovered.”[9] He was succeeded by his sons, who divided his empire.

It’s pretty clear that Wess Roberts wasn’t really quoting Attila when he wrote Leadership Secrets. I don’t think Attila wrote a lot in his lifetime. He was simply a metaphor Roberts used to describe how to be a successful leader in the 20th Century.[10] So let’s look at some of the principles espoused by Roberts [and possibly by Attila] to see how they play in today’s political campaigns.

The quote that begins this piece sums up the basics: If you have enemies, be sure to lie to and deceive them, pretend to be their friend, act weak, and never tell them anything that’s true. When in doubt, goad them into acting prematurely. Both Democrats and Republicans understand and practice the basics, but with some important differences.

The Democrats seem to have read other parts of the book, for example, the ones that say (i) don’t mistake every opponent for an enemy[11], and (ii) don’t try to destroy people who aren’t worth the effort.[12] Although Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have traded sharp words, neither seems bent on utterly destroying – or neutralizing – the other. This is good, because each appeals to a different voting demographic: Sanders to old line socialists, working class whites, the young, and possibly to independent voters; Clinton to blacks, women and other older, possibly more mainstream Democrats. The fact that they haven’t declared a blood feud means, theoretically at least, that they may be able to cooperate once the primaries are over.

Republicans, on the other hand, have a more fundamentalist approach. Of course they started with 14 [or possibly more] candidates who had to do some outrageous things in order to stand out from the pack. Donald Trump was an early standout, and remains the leader today. This is in part because he fully understands the core Roberts/Attila tactic: If your enemy has a weakness, never fail to take advantage of it.[13] So, if Jeb Bush looked pale and washed out, Trump called him “low energy.” If Marco Rubio was insulting, Trump called him “Little Marco.”

Marco Rubio was especially interesting, until he dropped out of the race. At one point, goaded by the press, Rubio let loose of a series of personal insults, all directed against Trump, the strangest of which was that Trump had small hands, which implied that another part of his anatomy was small as well. When Trump replied that he wasn’t small anywhere, he was roundly criticized for saying something off color. In that sense I guess you could say that Rubio’s attack was noteworthy, but not really effective. And it violated yet another of the Roberts/ Attila rules: i.e., to avoid insults unless you mean them[14]; which, I think, today means avoid insults unless you can make them stick.

Trump also has his own money and, more to the point, understands and knows how to exploit the media. This has made him supremely confident, to the extent that he violates yet another of the Roberts/ Attila rules, i.e., to never underestimate one’s opponents. “Do not underestimate the power of an enemy, no matter how great or small, to rise against you on another day.”[15]

Trump’s principal opponent, Senator Ted Cruz, does exactly that, by manipulating post-election events at the state level. Apparently his people, or their sympathizers, often are selected as delegates to the Republican convention, regardless of the popular vote. The media explain this by saying that while Trump gets the votes, Cruz has the better “ground game.” This isn’t really a moral justification, you understand; if it were, it would be like saying that a burglar may break into a home, simply because the homeowner forgot to lock the front door. Any lawyer who defended a client that way would lose, unless, of course, there were psychopaths on the jury.

Trump’s adversaries fully understand King Attila’s other rule; if the enemy is too strong, regroup and come back another day;[16] but why are they so persistent? Why have they coalesced behind a single candidate – Senator Ted Cruz – whom they may dislike, simply to defeat Donald Trump? What’s the reason for the “Anybody but Trump!” phenomenon? Well, I have a theory, but it’s only that. There are no guarantees here at Elemental Zoo Two.

My theory is that the Republican conflagration this year is all about power, and only about that. Conservatives are firmly in control of the party, and its fund-raising apparatus. They haven’t won a Presidential election in years, but that doesn’t matter. Donald Trump, on the other hand, represents change. He threatens to bring a whole bunch of new voters into the fold, so many that the balance of power in his party may be changed. That would be very inconvenient for the think tanks, PACs and pundits who prosper today. Some might have to find other work.

New Presidents bring new faces; the new people replace old luminaries; Rolodexes and friends lists have to be updated; and, my goodness, existing power relationships are disrupted. Suppose you are a lobbyist or a reporter, and your best friend on the Hill, or in the Administration, or in a think tank leaves town? What will you do? Why wouldn’t you be afraid? So you see, the opposition to Donald Trump isn’t about winning elections. It’s more basic than that. The Conservatives in charge of the Republican Party just don’t want to give up their perquisites. And why should they? After all, they’ve done a wonderful job and the voters know that, don’t they?





[1] See Roberts, Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun (Warner, 1989) at p. 58. Henceforth, the book will be cited as Attila at __.

[2] Generally these are thought to be people born from the mid-1960s through the mid-1980s. See the Wikipedia entry at .

[3] Wikipedia is of the opinion that there is no precise definition of who falls in the Millennial demographic. Generally Millennials [or “Generation Y”} come after Generation X. See the Wikipedia entry on Millennials at .

[4] See n. 1.

[5] Trust me, I’ve done my research; these guys are listed on the back cover of the dust jacket.

[6] See the biography at Encyclopedia Britannica, Thompson, Attila, King of the Huns (11/04/2014), available at

[7] That’s Latin for “Scourge of God.”

[8] See the entry at Encyclopedia Britannica, The Editors, Hun People (11/18/2014), available at

[9] See n. 6.

[10] He calls Attila the book’s “metaphoric leader.” See Attila at p. 1.

[11] See Attila at p. 57: “Do not consider all opponents to be enemies. You may have productive, friendly confrontations, with others inside and outside your tribe.”

[12] See Attila at p. 58: “Do not make enemies who are not worthy of your every effort to render them into a state of complete ineffectiveness.”

[13] See Attila at p. 58:”Do not fail to use an enemy’s weakness to your advantage.”

[14] See Attila at p. 58: “Do not insult unless you mean it.”

[15] Id.

[16] Id. “… [W]hen it becomes apparent that an enemy is too formidable, retreat and return another day when you can conquer him.”

Shibboleth: a longstanding belief or principle that many people regard as outdated or no longer important: “the conflict challenged a series of military shibboleths.”


Stereotype: a widely held but oversimplified idea of the typical characteristics of a person or thing. [V]erb: [to] view or represent someone or something as a stereotype.


Then they said unto him, Say now Shibboleth; and he said Sibboleth; for he could not frame to pronounce it right. Then they took him, and slew him.

The Bible (Authorized Version, King James, 1611)[3]

[J. the Jokester called the other day in a bit of a panic. His afternoon nap had turned into a nightmare. He dreamt he had returned to D.C., which was bad enough, and was having lunch with one of his former adversaries, a prominent lawyer there. It was all perfectly innocent, he said; all he wanted to do was catch up on the local gossip. So the dream was odd from the get-go. Why travel that far for something you don’t need? Why go there when a phone call might do? Why invite someone you don’t like to lunch? Also, why did he agree to come? Prominent lawyers don’t socialize, except with an agenda.

  • In D.C all lawyers are prominent, except the Government ones; you can see that from their hourly rates. [Actually, the last I heard Government lawyers still don’t bill by the hour. Such plebeians!] The thought of lunching with a private lawyer, with whom you have no current business, should be disconcerting, even if you’re not paying for his or her time.  Somebody is.
  • If you are yourself a lawyer, what in the world will you talk about? Not your clients’ affairs, although you may spend most of your waking hours on them. You’re bound to keep confidential that kind of information. So are other lawyers at the table, with respect to their clients.
  • You’re left with mundane topics only. Baseball? How dull. The coming election? Also dull; there’s always one of those. Freud says all dreams are about sex, but lawyers don’t discuss that, even in their dreams.

So J. and his lunch-mate talked about money and the private club the other guy belongs to. J. doesn’t recall the club’s name – this was a dream, after all – but he remembers how the discussion went: Oh, you’re a member there. That must be expensive! What are the fees, anyway? And then the crushing reply: You can’t join. It’s a kind of shibboleth with us, didn’t you know? If you have to ask how much, you don’t belong in the club.

Point, game and match to the other side. Did I mention that social conversations in D.C. are mostly about power? With just a few words the other guy demonstrated his wealth, J.’s ignorance of local social conventions, and a superior knowledge of English vocabulary. How’s that for a nightmare? It certainly would upset me, if it were mine. I wouldn’t like it if it happened in reality, either.]

What Is a Shibboleth?

This brings us to the question of the day.  What is a shibboleth? I didn’t know when J. called; I thought the word might be related somehow to the Middle East, and the nightmare conflicts over there; but I didn’t see how it fit into a dream about lawyers and private clubs. So I pulled out my Compact Oxford English Dictionary [the COED][4] for some help.

The COED defines a shibboleth as “a longstanding belief or principle that many people regard as outdated or no longer important.” That’s interesting, and I understand the part about it being a “longstanding … principle.” In the context of J.’s dream, it’s not surprising that the members of a private club that values money would want to exclude those who don’t have it. But would they also admit, in their heart of hearts, that they may be mistaken – that others might regard their view as “outdated or no longer important”? If so, was J.’s lunch companion simply making fun of his own social class? That’s possible in a dream, but in real life I doubt it. Such people, pleased with their wealth and status, are not prone to criticize, or even laugh at themselves.

Shibboleth as Test

While I often rely on the COED, it’s not always trustworthy. It’s “compact,” after all, so it tends to oversimplify, and does so with shibboleth. If you look deeper[5], it turns out that word comes from the Bible, or more particularly from the Book of Judges.[6] Then they said unto him, Say now Shibboleth; and he said Sibboleth; for he could not frame to pronounce it right. Then they took him, and slew him.[7] So we know people in Old Testament days were really strict, but why was that particular word so important that someone who mispronounced it had to die?

The word itself wasn’t important. There were extenuating circumstances. The Bible passage refers to a war between two Semitic tribes, the Gileadites and the Ephraimites, back around 1370 to 1070 BCE. The Gileadites won, and set up a blockade on the Jordan River to intercept their [fleeing] adversary. The Ephraimites spoke a different dialect, and couldn’t pronounce certain words the same way as the Gileadites. So when someone came to the river’s edge, he or she was asked to say shibboleth; those who couldn’t do it correctly were judged Ephraimites. “[A]nd there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand.”[8]

Now today, of course, we might have a problem with this tactic. It gathers all Ephraimites into the net, not just the guilty ones; and, to the extent they were combatants, and detained for questioning, they were prisoners of war. Today it’s not nice to slaughter POWs and even worse to slaughter innocents. But hey, that was then and this is now.

Or is it? Perhaps the tactic still persists. There are indications that warring factions in the Middle East even today screen their populations, and their adversaries, with shibboleths. There are reports, for example, of ISIS and others detaining people, compelling them to recite articles in the Koran or whatever, and kidnapping – and/or killing – the ones who don’t get them right.[9]

Political Shibboleths

Moving on, let’s talk about other shibboleths and how they are used. Here I’m going to refer to a long version, not the compact one, of the Oxford English Dictionary.[10] Shibboleths also include catchwords and formulae adopted by a group to identify its members or exclude others.[11] The practice was well known even in the 17th Century. “For them their foes a deadly Shibboleth [italics added] devise: By which unrighteously it was decreed, that None to Trust or Profit should succeed, who would not swallow first a poysonous wicked Weed.”[12] In short, insiders drink the Kool Aid; swallow the poison of the day, because otherwise they won’t get anything from the Government. Does that sound familiar? Is that why we have lobbyists in D.C.? To pledge allegiance to the current shibboleths, and then hire out to represent us, the outsiders?[13]

Or are shibboleths there simply to fool the public? “Knaves and fools invent catch-words and shibboleths to keep them [honest persons] from coming to a just understanding.”[14] Who knows? The answer could be, “all of the above.”


Some people are concerned about the proliferation of shibboleths in today’s politics.[15] From the inside of a group a shibboleth can be a useful tool for identifying and unifying the membership. From the outside, it can be a basis for others to stereotype the group. Shibboleths can be useful in computer programming for ensuring security[16], but when used with people, they create gaps that, believe it or not, may cause trouble. Some modern artists make this point quite effectively.[17]

So the more we use shibboleths to separate ourselves from others, the more likely it is that they may be used against us. Consider again the situation outlined in the Old Testament. Basically minor differences in language were used by people in one group to identify and kill people in another. That may have been the first occurrence of its kind, but it’s not unique. The same thing happens from time to time, and not just in the Middle East.[18] The question is, in an increasingly hot and congested planet, how bad will it get?

This is all conjecture, I suppose, but I do know one thing for sure. If the British ever get mad at us, and decide to test our language skills, as the Gileadites did the Ephraimites, we are in for serious trouble. The differences between British and American English are vast, and some of their pronunciations are simply incomprehensible. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the You Tube video at

There, if you’ve watched the video you can see my point. I certainly don’t want to go to jail, or be executed, for mispronouncing Wriothesley. So let’s not annoy the Brits unnecessarily.

By the way, I’m Phil, this blog’s resident philosopher. Sorry I didn’t introduce myself earlier.

[1] See Compact Oxford English Dictionary (3rd Edition, 2005) at shibboleth, p. 952. Hereafter, this dictionary will be cited as COED at p. __.

[2] See COED at stereotype, p. 1017.

[3] It’s at Judges, Ch. 12, v. 6. For those of you who don’t have a Bible handy, you can retrieve the same quote from the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (6th Edition) (2004) at  Judges, p. 79, n.28. Be warned! It doesn’t give you the full quote.

[4] See n. 1.

[5] In my case, that involved going to The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, Complete Text Reproduced Micrographically (Oxford University Press, 1971) at Vol. 2, shibboleth, p. 688. Henceforth, this Compact Edition will be cited as OED 1971 at ___. Why do we use an edition that’s so old? Well, for three reasons: (i) it’s complete, (ii) it’s the only one we have, and (iii) it’s pretty good on the history and source of words.

[6] Of course, there’s more to it than that. Actually shibboleth comes originally from the ancient Hebrew. Wikipedia has what looks to be a good account of the word’s derivation, available at

[7] See Judges, Ch. 12, v. 6.

[8] Id. See also Rice University, Kemmer, The Story of the Shibboleth (04/07/2016), available at 

[9] See, e.g., Vocativ, Kavanaugh, Why African Jihadists Want To Know If You Can Recite From The Quran (Nov. 20, 2015), at    “Time and time again, the demonstration of Islamist knowledge has become a litmus test for victims of al Qaeda affiliates in Africa as they wage campaigns of terror across the continent. Members of al Shabaab, an al Qaeda offshoot, have spared those able to recite from the Quran during deadly rampages, including the attacks at Kenya’s Westgate mall and Garissa University.” See also New York Times, Hubbard, ISIS Said to Kill 150 Syrian Captives in 2 Days, Videotaping the Horror (August 28, 2014), at  “When he tells the interrogators that he is an Alawite, they insult him and say, “We’ll return you to hell, God willing.” And they did, kill him, that is.

[10] See The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, Complete Text Reproduced Micrographically (Oxford University Press, 1971) at Vol. 2, shibboleth, p. 688. This version is also called “compact,” but only because its contents have been miniaturized. The pages have to be read with a magnifying glass, but the content has not been edited in any way. We’ll cite this as OED 1971.

[11] See OED 1971 at Vol. 2, shibboleth, p. 688: “A catchword or formula adopted by a party or sect, by which their adherents or followers may be discerned, or those not their followers may be excluded.”

[12] Id. That’s from John Dryden, if you want to know.

[13] See Rice University, Kemmer, The Story of the Shibboleth (04/07/2016), available at We are the outsiders, you know.

[14] Id. That’s from the OED 1971 quoting Sir Walter Scott.

[15] See The Double Edge of Language: Neighbor/Enemy: Double Edge of Shibboleth | Clay Scott | TEDxUMontana, at

[16] See, e.g. Unicon, Federated Single Sign-On Authentication Service, available at  Check this site before you use it. I’m not sure I trust it.

[17] See the work of Doris Salcedo, especially Shibboleth, Tate Modern, at:

[18] Wikipedia, for example, has a partial list of incidents in its piece on shibboleths, available at