Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

The post-reality reality

 Here is a presentation by David Neiwert about the explosive growth of the preposterous Q-Anon fantasy not only in the U.S., but around the world.

This is highly disturbing, to say the least. This is an utterly preposterous belief system that it seems no sane person could think was anything but an elaborate joke, for even an instant. For those of you who just returned from a vacation in outer space, the basic idea is that prominent Democrats are actually leaders of an international child sex trafficking ring that not only sexually assaults the children but also murders them, extracts hormones from them, and eats them. Yes, eats them. It isn't clear what's taking him so long, but at some moment (which has been predicted, and come and gone, at various points in the past) their hero Ronald T. Dump is going arrest them all and have them executed.

Okaaaay. The thing is that now several duly nominated Republican candidates for office, including the U.S. congress, are proponents of this insanity, and they have the full backing of their state parties and the RNC. Dump himself has congratulated and praised them, and he frequently re-tweets Q-Anon material. Several of what now appear to be millions of followers have committed, or attempted to commit, acts of violence, and more are sure to come.

The Internet was supposed to make information free to everyone, and create a vigorous market for ideas and usher in a new age of enlightenment.  Instead it has led millions of people down rabbit holes into delusional worlds. We can have a polity in which people debate based on differing values, differing priorities for policy, and in which people may differ over legitimately disputable factual matters. But we cannot survive a polity in which there is no such thing as objective truth. 

Note: Several commenters on Neiwert's piece propose that this is a Russian intelligence operation. That seems quite plausible. The Russians may not have started it, but they appear to have jumped on it and are no promoting it and giving it most of its vigor. Just one more way in which we have been captured by an adversarial foreign power, to go along with their highly effective blackmail of the White House occupant. You might think this would bother any remaining Republican voters who are not themselves insane but evidently it does not.


Wednesday Bible Study: The road to nowhere

As we have noted many times, the divisions into chapters and verses were made by medieval monks, and they often seem odd. Numbers 9 is obviously two separate segments. I'll insert comments where I have something to note.


The Lord spoke to Moses in the Desert of Sinai in the first month of the second year after they came out of Egypt. He said, “Have the Israelites celebrate the Passover at the appointed time. Celebrate it at the appointed time, at twilight on the fourteenth day of this month, in accordance with all its rules and regulations.”

So Moses told the Israelites to celebrate the Passover, and they did so in the Desert of Sinai at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. The Israelites did everything just as the Lord commanded Moses.

This seems unnecessary since the people have already been commanded to observe the passover and have been doing so.

But some of them could not celebrate the Passover on that day because they were ceremonially unclean on account of a dead body. So they came to Moses and Aaron that same day and said to Moses, “We have become unclean because of a dead body, but why should we be kept from presenting the Lord’s offering with the other Israelites at the appointed time?”

Moses answered them, “Wait until I find out what the Lord commands concerning you.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, 10 “Tell the Israelites: ‘When any of you or your descendants are unclean because of a dead body or are away on a journey, they are still to celebrate the Lord’s Passover, 11 but they are to do it on the fourteenth day of the second month at twilight.

Not sure what the "but" is all about. This is the same time as everybody else.

They are to eat the lamb, together with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 12 They must not leave any of it till morning or break any of its bones. When they celebrate the Passover, they must follow all the regulations. 13 But if anyone who is ceremonially clean and not on a journey fails to celebrate the Passover, they must be cut off from their people for not presenting the Lord’s offering at the appointed time. They will bear the consequences of their sin.

14 “‘A foreigner residing among you is also to celebrate the Lord’s Passover in accordance with its rules and regulations. You must have the same regulations for both the foreigner and the native-born.’”

Here is a definite continuity error. Exodus 12 says that strangers may participate in the Passover, but only if  they are circumcised. And yet just a few verses earlier it says unequivocally that "no stranger shall eat thereof." I was at the apartment of some Jewish friends in Chicago on Passover and I did share the Seder with them. I am circumcised so I was good for two out of three.

15 On the day the tabernacle, the tent of the covenant law, was set up, the cloud covered it. From evening till morning the cloud above the tabernacle looked like fire. 16 That is how it continued to be; the cloud covered it, and at night it looked like fire. 17 Whenever the cloud lifted from above the tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped. 18 At the Lord’s command the Israelites set out, and at his command they encamped. As long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle, they remained in camp. 19 When the cloud remained over the tabernacle a long time, the Israelites obeyed the Lord’s order and did not set out. 20 Sometimes the cloud was over the tabernacle only a few days; at the Lord’s command they would encamp, and then at his command they would set out. 21 Sometimes the cloud stayed only from evening till morning, and when it lifted in the morning, they set out. Whether by day or by night, whenever the cloud lifted, they set out. 22 Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out. 23 At the Lord’s command they encamped, and at the Lord’s command they set out. They obeyed the Lord’s order, in accordance with his command through Moses.

 

Well okay, but where are they going? They're just wandering aimlessly and pointlessly around in the desert. Just sayin'.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

A poli-sci digression

 I commend to your attention Henry Farrell's review and his personal take on Hacker and Pierson's Let Them Eat Tweets. I actually don't have much to add to this, you should read it, but I'll pull quote the gist.


Hacker and Pierson draw their description of the “Conservative Dilemma” from Daniel Ziblatt’s work on nineteenth century conservative parties, generalizing and extending his basic idea. The conservative dilemma is straightforward: conservatism is not likely to be a politically popular cause in a democracy. Conservatism is the political movement that represents the interests of those who have against those who have not. When a country democratizes, conservatism reflects the interests of the old propertied class – the landed gentry and its allies in the United Kingdom; the Junker aristocracy in Prussia. So why should a majority ever vote for a party that represents the interests of the propertied minority? . . . .

Hacker and Pierson argue that modern US conservatives as represented by the Republican Party face their own version of this dilemma – how to attract mass support for an agenda of cutting taxes for rich people? Furthermore, the dilemma has gotten ever more vexing as US economic inequality has increased, so that the interests of the Republican party’s clients and ordinary voters clash ever more. This, then is the engine that they argue has driven US Republicans ever further to the extremes. If they want to get their agenda through, they need popular support, and the best way to generate that support is through fostering division and extremism, amplifying the beliefs of a sufficient number of voters that their way of life is under threat from un-American, irreligious people who want to destroy their traditions. Plutocratic populism – the key phenomenon that they set out to analyze – is precisely a welding of a plutocratic agenda with populist rhetoric.

 

I haven't read the book, alas, but if I do have a critique of Farrell's review, at least, it's that it pays insufficient attention to racism, and just plain disinformation. The focus is on the NRA, right wing "Christians," and Faux News, all of which are certainly important in the strategy. But the party is just as much about white racism and anti-intellectualism, redefining "elites" as people with a college education who believe in science. We're oppressing the masses, don't you see, because we made up the climate change hoax and the Covid-19 hoax, and evolution, and the harmful effects of pollution. The only waay out of this is to utterly destroy the Republican party. Root it out, reduce it to a pitiful remnant. Take power back for the people. 

PS: If you vote Republican because you believe in "fiscal responsibility" you are the sorriest dupe who ever lived.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Hey indeedy for this headline . . .

 

Two decades of pandemic war games failed to account for Donald Trump. 

 What's interesting about this is that they never realized they needed a way to simulate ineptitude. 

The scenarios foresaw leaky travel bans, a scramble for vaccines and disputes between state and federal leaders, but none could anticipate the current levels of dysfunction in the United States. 

The gist is that public health specialists have been running simulations of pandemics knowing that they will happen and that nations, and the world, need to be prepared. In these simulations, the U.S. was presumed to have the most robust public health capability and to be among the most successful nations at coping effectively. In reality, the U.S. has turned out to be among the most catastrophic failures. Brazil, sure. But the United States?

By late January, [Tom] Inglesby [of Johns Hopkins] was anxious. The coronavirus outbreak was escalating at a frightening pace in China and spreading to other countries, including the United States. These were the kinds of foreboding signs that he had plugged into his simulations. But the Trump administration seemed to view the outbreak as China’s problem, says Inglesby. During the third week of January, Trump posted one reassuring tweet about the coronavirus and around 40 regarding his impeachment hearings, his rallies and defeating the Democrats. The only public action that the government took was to screen travellers coming from China for symptoms at a handful of international airports. 

The piece goes on to recite the by now familiar litany of failures, including sidelining the CDC and other experts, pretending the whole thing wasn't real, the testing debacle, lifting restrictions too early and allowing the epidemic to get out of control, lack of any coordinated national response to allocate supplies, build up public health infrastructure and capacity, and here we are.

Voting for a president is not an appropriate way to "send a message" or vent your frustrations or let your racism flag fly. Presidents have a job to do. They must not be insane idiots.

Sunday, August 09, 2020

Sunday Sermonette: Wake me up when it's over

 The Old Testament is of course part of Christian scripture and it is taught -- or rather some of it is taught -- to children in Sunday school and some passages are sometimes read in church. However, Christians generally are completely unfamiliar with most of it. Christian awareness of the Torah pretty much extends to Genesis and Exodus, the broad narratives of which are familiar; and occasional, very selective passages from Leviticus and Numbers, particularly the condemnation of homosexuality, some of the more relatable ethical principles but none of the less relatable ones, and the benediction we read recently. But all of this folderol about the tabernacle and sacrificial ritual and the Levites is totally ignored. It isn't actually relevant to contemporary Judaism either but it is read in Hebrew as part of the liturgical calendar, though I doubt people pay much attention to it.

Anyway Numbers 8 is more of this tedium, of no evident ethical, philosophical, theological or even historical importance. The idea that Plan A was for all the firstborn males to be dedicated to God, but it has now been replaced by Plan B in which the Levites take on the role, is redundant. We've been told this several times. The ritual of consecration is a one-off that purportedly happened 2,000 years before this was written but actually did not, and anyway so what? The priestly career lasting from age 25 to early retirement at 50 is just one more cushy deal for the Levites, who actually wrote this and made up the rules themselves so that's no big surprise.


The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to Aaron and say to him, ‘When you set up the lamps, see that all seven light up the area in front of the lampstand.’”

Aaron did so; he set up the lamps so that they faced forward on the lampstand, just as the Lord commanded Moses. This is how the lampstand was made: It was made of hammered gold—from its base to its blossoms. The lampstand was made exactly like the pattern the Lord had shown Moses.

The Setting Apart of the Levites

The Lord said to Moses: “Take the Levites from among all the Israelites and make them ceremonially clean. To purify them, do this: Sprinkle the water of cleansing on them; then have them shave their whole bodies and wash their clothes. And so they will purify themselves. Have them take a young bull with its grain offering of the finest flour mixed with olive oil; then you are to take a second young bull for a sin offering.[a] Bring the Levites to the front of the tent of meeting and assemble the whole Israelite community. 10 You are to bring the Levites before the Lord, and the Israelites are to lay their hands on them. 11 Aaron is to present the Levites before the Lord as a wave offering from the Israelites, so that they may be ready to do the work of the Lord.

12 “Then the Levites are to lay their hands on the heads of the bulls, using one for a sin offering to the Lord and the other for a burnt offering, to make atonement for the Levites. 13 Have the Levites stand in front of Aaron and his sons and then present them as a wave offering to the Lord. 14 In this way you are to set the Levites apart from the other Israelites, and the Levites will be mine.

15 “After you have purified the Levites and presented them as a wave offering, they are to come to do their work at the tent of meeting. 16 They are the Israelites who are to be given wholly to me. I have taken them as my own in place of the firstborn, the first male offspring from every Israelite woman. 17 Every firstborn male in Israel, whether human or animal, is mine. When I struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, I set them apart for myself. 18 And I have taken the Levites in place of all the firstborn sons in Israel. 19 From among all the Israelites, I have given the Levites as gifts to Aaron and his sons to do the work at the tent of meeting on behalf of the Israelites and to make atonement for them so that no plague will strike the Israelites when they go near the sanctuary.”

20 Moses, Aaron and the whole Israelite community did with the Levites just as the Lord commanded Moses. 21 The Levites purified themselves and washed their clothes. Then Aaron presented them as a wave offering before the Lord and made atonement for them to purify them. 22 After that, the Levites came to do their work at the tent of meeting under the supervision of Aaron and his sons. They did with the Levites just as the Lord commanded Moses.

23 The Lord said to Moses, 24 “This applies to the Levites: Men twenty-five years old or more shall come to take part in the work at the tent of meeting, 25 but at the age of fifty, they must retire from their regular service and work no longer. 26 They may assist their brothers in performing their duties at the tent of meeting, but they themselves must not do the work. This, then, is how you are to assign the responsibilities of the Levites.”

Footnotes

  1. Numbers 8:8 Or purification offering; also in verse 12

Friday, August 07, 2020

Crimes against humanity

 My electricity has been out since Tuesday, and due to the utter indifference and incompetence of our electric company, Eversource, I probably won't get it back till next Tuesday. But that's not the crime against humanity. Blogging will have to be light nevertheless, because I can only charge up my devices at my neighbor's house -- who have a generator -- and then I need to ration my computer use.

In any case, in addition to the utter blithering idiocy and downright deliberate mass murder that constitutes the Resident's disastrous failure to mitigate the Covid-19 pandemic -- and I don't need to go over that again, we've done it here and several very reputable and careful journalists have documented all of the grotesque details -- there's that hydroxychloroquine insanity. 

No, it doesn't work against Covid-19, at any stage from pre-exposure prophylaxis to terminal desperation. It is utterly useless. It is not uncommon for anecdotal evidence to appear to make a treatment seem useful but then well-designed trial find otherwise. Doctors know this and that's what happened here. But the Resident's relentless hyping of this useless remedy, backed up by a barking chorus of his slavish adherent, caused a massive spike in prescriptions. Which killed people. This is USA Today, not the People's Daily.

Now, we can't really enumerate it. The article discusses reports to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s adverse events reporting system, which is what's called a sentinel surveillance system. Doctors aren't required to make reports, and they can't be sure that the adverse events they observe really were caused by the drug. It's intended to raise an alarm that an then be checked out.

But  -- the adverse events that were reported are known possible adverse events of the drug, and the spike is consistent with the massive spike in prescriptions that followed the hype by Faux News and it's Dear Leader. Since adverse events do occur at a predictable rate, then a spike in prescriptions would be associated with a predictable spike in adverse events.


 

Makes sense. And it's murder by stupidity.

 

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Wednesday Bible Study: The priests rake in the swag

A good part of Leviticus and numbers consists of instructions to give stuff to the priests, but Numbers 7 takes it to 11. There isn't much else to be said about this. The tally at  the end comes to 60 pounds of silver and 3 pounds of gold, I believe. That should let them live in style.

When Moses finished setting up the tabernacle, he anointed and consecrated it and all its furnishings. He also anointed and consecrated the altar and all its utensils. Then the leaders of Israel, the heads of families who were the tribal leaders in charge of those who were counted, made offerings. They brought as their gifts before the Lord six covered carts and twelve oxen—an ox from each leader and a cart from every two. These they presented before the tabernacle.

The Lord said to Moses, “Accept these from them, that they may be used in the work at the tent of meeting. Give them to the Levites as each man’s work requires.”

So Moses took the carts and oxen and gave them to the Levites. He gave two carts and four oxen to the Gershonites, as their work required, and he gave four carts and eight oxen to the Merarites, as their work required. They were all under the direction of Ithamar son of Aaron, the priest. But Moses did not give any to the Kohathites, because they were to carry on their shoulders the holy things, for which they were responsible.

10 When the altar was anointed, the leaders brought their offerings for its dedication and presented them before the altar. 11 For the Lord had said to Moses, “Each day one leader is to bring his offering for the dedication of the altar.”

12 The one who brought his offering on the first day was Nahshon son of Amminadab of the tribe of Judah.

13 His offering was one silver plate weighing a hundred and thirty shekels[a] and one silver sprinkling bowl weighing seventy shekels,[b] both according to the sanctuary shekel, each filled with the finest flour mixed with olive oil as a grain offering; 14 one gold dish weighing ten shekels,[c] filled with incense; 15 one young bull, one ram and one male lamb a year old for a burnt offering; 16 one male goat for a sin offering[d]; 17 and two oxen, five rams, five male goats and five male lambs a year old to be sacrificed as a fellowship offering. This was the offering of Nahshon son of Amminadab.

18 On the second day Nethanel son of Zuar, the leader of Issachar, brought his offering.

19 The offering he brought was one silver plate weighing a hundred and thirty shekels and one silver sprinkling bowl weighing seventy shekels, both according to the sanctuary shekel, each filled with the finest flour mixed with olive oil as a grain offering; 20 one gold dish weighing ten shekels, filled with incense; 21 one young bull, one ram and one male lamb a year old for a burnt offering; 22 one male goat for a sin offering; 23 and two oxen, five rams, five male goats and five male lambs a year old to be sacrificed as a fellowship offering. This was the offering of Nethanel son of Zuar.

24 On the third day, Eliab son of Helon, the leader of the people of Zebulun, brought his offering.

25 His offering was one silver plate weighing a hundred and thirty shekels and one silver sprinkling bowl weighing seventy shekels, both according to the sanctuary shekel, each filled with the finest flour mixed with olive oil as a grain offering; 26 one gold dish weighing ten shekels, filled with incense; 27 one young bull, one ram and one male lamb a year old for a burnt offering; 28 one male goat for a sin offering; 29 and two oxen, five rams, five male goats and five male lambs a year old to be sacrificed as a fellowship offering. This was the offering of Eliab son of Helon.

30 On the fourth day Elizur son of Shedeur, the leader of the people of Reuben, brought his offering.

31 His offering was one silver plate weighing a hundred and thirty shekels and one silver sprinkling bowl weighing seventy shekels, both according to the sanctuary shekel, each filled with the finest flour mixed with olive oil as a grain offering; 32 one gold dish weighing ten shekels, filled with incense; 33 one young bull, one ram and one male lamb a year old for a burnt offering; 34 one male goat for a sin offering; 35 and two oxen, five rams, five male goats and five male lambs a year old to be sacrificed as a fellowship offering. This was the offering of Elizur son of Shedeur.

36 On the fifth day Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai, the leader of the people of Simeon, brought his offering.

37 His offering was one silver plate weighing a hundred and thirty shekels and one silver sprinkling bowl weighing seventy shekels, both according to the sanctuary shekel, each filled with the finest flour mixed with olive oil as a grain offering; 38 one gold dish weighing ten shekels, filled with incense; 39 one young bull, one ram and one male lamb a year old for a burnt offering; 40 one male goat for a sin offering; 41 and two oxen, five rams, five male goats and five male lambs a year old to be sacrificed as a fellowship offering. This was the offering of Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai.

42 On the sixth day Eliasaph son of Deuel, the leader of the people of Gad, brought his offering.

43 His offering was one silver plate weighing a hundred and thirty shekels and one silver sprinkling bowl weighing seventy shekels, both according to the sanctuary shekel, each filled with the finest flour mixed with olive oil as a grain offering; 44 one gold dish weighing ten shekels, filled with incense; 45 one young bull, one ram and one male lamb a year old for a burnt offering; 46 one male goat for a sin offering; 47 and two oxen, five rams, five male goats and five male lambs a year old to be sacrificed as a fellowship offering. This was the offering of Eliasaph son of Deuel.

48 On the seventh day Elishama son of Ammihud, the leader of the people of Ephraim, brought his offering.

49 His offering was one silver plate weighing a hundred and thirty shekels and one silver sprinkling bowl weighing seventy shekels, both according to the sanctuary shekel, each filled with the finest flour mixed with olive oil as a grain offering; 50 one gold dish weighing ten shekels, filled with incense; 51 one young bull, one ram and one male lamb a year old for a burnt offering; 52 one male goat for a sin offering; 53 and two oxen, five rams, five male goats and five male lambs a year old to be sacrificed as a fellowship offering. This was the offering of Elishama son of Ammihud.

54 On the eighth day Gamaliel son of Pedahzur, the leader of the people of Manasseh, brought his offering.

55 His offering was one silver plate weighing a hundred and thirty shekels and one silver sprinkling bowl weighing seventy shekels, both according to the sanctuary shekel, each filled with the finest flour mixed with olive oil as a grain offering; 56 one gold dish weighing ten shekels, filled with incense; 57 one young bull, one ram and one male lamb a year old for a burnt offering; 58 one male goat for a sin offering; 59 and two oxen, five rams, five male goats and five male lambs a year old to be sacrificed as a fellowship offering. This was the offering of Gamaliel son of Pedahzur.

60 On the ninth day Abidan son of Gideoni, the leader of the people of Benjamin, brought his offering.

61 His offering was one silver plate weighing a hundred and thirty shekels and one silver sprinkling bowl weighing seventy shekels, both according to the sanctuary shekel, each filled with the finest flour mixed with olive oil as a grain offering; 62 one gold dish weighing ten shekels, filled with incense; 63 one young bull, one ram and one male lamb a year old for a burnt offering; 64 one male goat for a sin offering; 65 and two oxen, five rams, five male goats and five male lambs a year old to be sacrificed as a fellowship offering. This was the offering of Abidan son of Gideoni.

66 On the tenth day Ahiezer son of Ammishaddai, the leader of the people of Dan, brought his offering.

67 His offering was one silver plate weighing a hundred and thirty shekels and one silver sprinkling bowl weighing seventy shekels, both according to the sanctuary shekel, each filled with the finest flour mixed with olive oil as a grain offering; 68 one gold dish weighing ten shekels, filled with incense; 69 one young bull, one ram and one male lamb a year old for a burnt offering; 70 one male goat for a sin offering; 71 and two oxen, five rams, five male goats and five male lambs a year old to be sacrificed as a fellowship offering. This was the offering of Ahiezer son of Ammishaddai.

72 On the eleventh day Pagiel son of Okran, the leader of the people of Asher, brought his offering.

73 His offering was one silver plate weighing a hundred and thirty shekels and one silver sprinkling bowl weighing seventy shekels, both according to the sanctuary shekel, each filled with the finest flour mixed with olive oil as a grain offering; 74 one gold dish weighing ten shekels, filled with incense; 75 one young bull, one ram and one male lamb a year old for a burnt offering; 76 one male goat for a sin offering; 77 and two oxen, five rams, five male goats and five male lambs a year old to be sacrificed as a fellowship offering. This was the offering of Pagiel son of Okran.

78 On the twelfth day Ahira son of Enan, the leader of the people of Naphtali, brought his offering.

79 His offering was one silver plate weighing a hundred and thirty shekels and one silver sprinkling bowl weighing seventy shekels, both according to the sanctuary shekel, each filled with the finest flour mixed with olive oil as a grain offering; 80 one gold dish weighing ten shekels, filled with incense; 81 one young bull, one ram and one male lamb a year old for a burnt offering; 82 one male goat for a sin offering; 83 and two oxen, five rams, five male goats and five male lambs a year old to be sacrificed as a fellowship offering. This was the offering of Ahira son of Enan.

84 These were the offerings of the Israelite leaders for the dedication of the altar when it was anointed: twelve silver plates, twelve silver sprinkling bowls and twelve gold dishes. 85 Each silver plate weighed a hundred and thirty shekels, and each sprinkling bowl seventy shekels. Altogether, the silver dishes weighed two thousand four hundred shekels,[e] according to the sanctuary shekel. 86 The twelve gold dishes filled with incense weighed ten shekels each, according to the sanctuary shekel. Altogether, the gold dishes weighed a hundred and twenty shekels.[f] 87 The total number of animals for the burnt offering came to twelve young bulls, twelve rams and twelve male lambs a year old, together with their grain offering. Twelve male goats were used for the sin offering. 88 The total number of animals for the sacrifice of the fellowship offering came to twenty-four oxen, sixty rams, sixty male goats and sixty male lambs a year old. These were the offerings for the dedication of the altar after it was anointed.

89 When Moses entered the tent of meeting to speak with the Lord, he heard the voice speaking to him from between the two cherubim above the atonement cover on the ark of the covenant law. In this way the Lord spoke to him.

Footnotes

  1. Numbers 7:13 That is, about 3 1/4 pounds or about 1.5 kilograms; also elsewhere in this chapter
  2. Numbers 7:13 That is, about 1 3/4 pounds or about 800 grams; also elsewhere in this chapter
  3. Numbers 7:14 That is, about 4 ounces or about 115 grams; also elsewhere in this chapter
  4. Numbers 7:16 Or purification offering; also elsewhere in this chapter
  5. Numbers 7:85 That is, about 60 pounds or about 28 kilograms
  6. Numbers 7:86 That is, about 3 pounds or about 1.4 kilograms

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

I highly recommend . . .

. . . this lengthy but by no means too long piece by Ed Yong in The Atlantic. He pulls no punches in demolishing the sheer idiocy, incompetence, psychopathy and mendacity of the current "administration" in bringing catastrophe on the U.S. However, he puts it in the context of our radical underinvestment in public health infrastructure, which the administration exacerbated but which already existed; the deeply embedded inequalities, including institutional racism; the lack of rights and protection for workers; and the denial and rejection of science and expertise which have long had the country on the path of decline.

It is a comprehensive and compelling documentation of our failures. American exceptionalism indeed. I'll just give you the conclusion. (And do not attempt to comment if you have not read the whole thing.)

COVID‑19 is an assault on America’s body, and a referendum on the ideas that animate its culture. Recovery is possible, but it demands radical introspection. America would be wise to help reverse the ruination of the natural world, a process that continues to shunt animal diseases into human bodies. It should strive to prevent sickness instead of profiting from it. It should build a health-care system that prizes resilience over brittle efficiency, and an information system that favors light over heat. It should rebuild its international alliances, its social safety net, and its trust in empiricism. It should address the health inequities that flow from its history. Not least, it should elect leaders with sound judgment, high character, and respect for science, logic, and reason.

Monday, August 03, 2020

Scientific Method

People often talk about "the" scientific method but in fact there is no such thing. Scientists use many different methods, depending on the nature of the question, the availability of information, and the feasibility of approaches. You'll often see facile remarks such as "correlation does not imply causation," which is in fact not necessarily true. The confidence one can have in causal inference based on purely observational data depends on many factors.

The entire concept of causation is philosophically slippery, I must say at first. I won't get into a deep discussion of this because it's an entire graduate course in philosophy. But I'll give you a couple of quick things to think about.

A rudimentary concept of causation is that If ((If not A then Not B) and (If A then B)) is true, A causes B. We always see B in association with A, and never not in association with A. If this is so, then B could also cause A, unless A always precedes B in time. However, there are still several problems with this. What if A has a necessary cause C? Then can we not say that C causes B? Maybe, but perhaps C only causes A sometimes and D is also necessary. Or perhaps A and B both have a joint cause, such that they always exist together because E causes both A and B, but maybe only if also C. .  . And so on, you can play this out as much as you like. Anyway, the first condition almost never pertains. In the real world, sometimes you're going to see A without B -- it's always more complicated. Also, you might not always detect A, which means you'll see some puzzling cases of B without A which may or may not be real . . . Enough of this for now.

So we believe that a cause must precede an effect in time. Otherwise, causal inference is largely a matter of degree -- it's not yes or no, it's how strong is the effect (there are few instances in which it will always happen)  what is the actual network of conditions that produces B and where in that network do we want to identify the critical cause? Flipping a light switch makes the light go on but only most of the time because the bulb might be burned out or there's a power outage or the circuit breaker blew or the switch is faulty . . . The electrician had to wire the house correctly in the first place, somebody had to invent the light bulb, it had to be manufactured correctly and installed correctly and still be working and yadda yadda yadda.

On the other hand, we don't need to do a randomized controlled trial to conclude that parachutes are effective in preventing catastrophic injury and death when people jump out of airplanes. We already know what happens when people jump out of airplanes without them, and see that most of the time - not always - people who jump out of airplanes with them do pretty  That's correlation but we all are willing to believe that it implies causation.

Epidemiology is a largely observational science because in most circumstances, truly randomized controlled trials are either unethical or unfeasible. How an infectious disease spreads in a population can be observed. Sometimes it is feasible or ethical to intervene, as by getting people to wear masks, but the percentage of people who will actually do it will vary from place to place, and probably vary with other relevant behavioral factors, e.g. the people who don't wear masks don't practice social distancing; or the people who do wear masks are also a priori more vulnerable to the infection, which may end up making mask wearing look like a bad idea even though they are better off with it than without it. Again, I could go on and on.

To finally get to the point, epidemiologists have developed various methods for trying to extract useful causal inferences from complicated observational data. These include multi-variate analysis that tries to control for confounding factors; what are called instrumental variables which is a fancy way of saying natural experiments; "triangulating" biological observations with epidemiological observations, i.e. determining what mechanisms are plausible; attempts at replication in various disparate contexts; small scale experiments that may be ethical or feasible to back up large-scale observational studies; and more.

To get to actually be an epidemiologist and really have expertise in all of this requires going to graduate school, spending four years or so taking courses and working on more senior investigators' projects, passing qualifying exams and writing a dissertation. What all of that means is that you as a layperson, probably shouldn't be in the business of claiming that research done by people who have been through all that and get their research published in scientific journals is not really scientific or valid, because you probably don't know what you are talking about.

I've been reluctant to say this for -- well, many years now -- because I know that people resent it or find it arrogant or condescending or something. But it's true dammit. For the most part the subjects I write about here are subjects in which I am an actual, real, certified expert who has spent decades studying them and teaching them and writing about them in peer reviewed journals and talking about them at conferences and getting push back at times from other actual real certified experts. If you haven't done all that, don't try to tell me that you know more about the subject than I do. If you saw it on Faux News, it's most probably not true.

Sunday, August 02, 2020

Sunday Sermonette: What's this all about, anyway?

Numbers 6 is one of the more puzzling chapters in the Torah. It isn't clear what the point is of being a Nazirite (spelled Nazarite in the KJV) or why somebody would want to do it. Apparently there was considerable Talmudic debate about this but they never got to a consensus. By declaring oneself a Nazirite, a person assumes exactly three restrictions: don't cut the hair, don't consume any products of the plant genus Vitis (not just alcoholic wine) and don't get near a corpse. Other than that there are no affirmative responsibilities and you can do whatever else you want. This is apparently a state of special "consecration" or holiness, but you don't have to preach or set a good example in any way that matters.

Maybe you do it because you're feeling especially pious, or you want people to admire your holiness. However, the oddity is that at the end of your term (and you get to choose how long it is) you have to make a sin offering. That doesn't seem to make sense if the whole idea is that you are super duper pure the whole time, which leads some to conclude that you do it as atonement for a sin of some kind. The length of the term would then depend on how egregiously you sinned. But in any case the prohibition against vinegar, raisins and grapes is just weird, and the serious consequences of having somebody die unexpectedly in your presence also seem bizarrely arbitrary. Maybe this is actually intended as alcohol rehab, since that's the only meaningful restriction?

As far as I know nobody practices this today. If they did, it would have to be for life because you can't end it by giving the required offerings in the temple. Correct me if I'm wrong. Anyway, here it is.

The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man or woman wants to make a special vow, a vow of dedication to the Lord as a Nazirite, they must abstain from wine and other fermented drink and must not drink vinegar made from wine or other fermented drink. They must not drink grape juice or eat grapes or raisins. As long as they remain under their Nazirite vow, they must not eat anything that comes from the grapevine, not even the seeds or skins.

“‘During the entire period of their Nazirite vow, no razor may be used on their head. They must be holy until the period of their dedication to the Lord is over; they must let their hair grow long.

“‘Throughout the period of their dedication to the Lord, the Nazirite must not go near a dead body. Even if their own father or mother or brother or sister dies, they must not make themselves ceremonially unclean on account of them, because the symbol of their dedication to God is on their head. Throughout the period of their dedication, they are consecrated to the Lord.

“‘If someone dies suddenly in the Nazirite’s presence, thus defiling the hair that symbolizes their dedication, they must shave their head on the seventh day—the day of their cleansing. 10 Then on the eighth day they must bring two doves or two young pigeons to the priest at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 11 The priest is to offer one as a sin offering[a] and the other as a burnt offering to make atonement for the Nazirite because they sinned by being in the presence of the dead body. That same day they are to consecrate their head again. 12 They must rededicate themselves to the Lord for the same period of dedication and must bring a year-old male lamb as a guilt offering. The previous days do not count, because they became defiled during their period of dedication.

13 “‘Now this is the law of the Nazirite when the period of their dedication is over. They are to be brought to the entrance to the tent of meeting. 14 There they are to present their offerings to the Lord: a year-old male lamb without defect for a burnt offering, a year-old ewe lamb without defect for a sin offering, a ram without defect for a fellowship offering, 15 together with their grain offerings and drink offerings, and a basket of bread made with the finest flour and without yeast—thick loaves with olive oil mixed in, and thin loaves brushed with olive oil.

16 “‘The priest is to present all these before the Lord and make the sin offering and the burnt offering. 17 He is to present the basket of unleavened bread and is to sacrifice the ram as a fellowship offering to the Lord, together with its grain offering and drink offering.

18 “‘Then at the entrance to the tent of meeting, the Nazirite must shave off the hair that symbolizes their dedication. They are to take the hair and put it in the fire that is under the sacrifice of the fellowship offering.

19 “‘After the Nazirite has shaved off the hair that symbolizes their dedication, the priest is to place in their hands a boiled shoulder of the ram, and one thick loaf and one thin loaf from the basket, both made without yeast. 20 The priest shall then wave these before the Lord as a wave offering; they are holy and belong to the priest, together with the breast that was waved and the thigh that was presented. After that, the Nazirite may drink wine.

21 “‘This is the law of the Nazirite who vows offerings to the Lord in accordance with their dedication, in addition to whatever else they can afford. They must fulfill the vows they have made, according to the law of the Nazirite.’”

The Priestly Blessing

22 The Lord said to Moses, 23 “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:

24 “‘“The Lord bless you
    and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face shine on you
    and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord turn his face toward you
    and give you peace.”’

27 “So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”

This is an abrupt change of subject, obviously. This benediction is read at the conclusion of the Anglican Sunday service, to my knowledge. Probably other Christian denominations use it as well.

Footnotes

  1. Numbers 6:11 Or purification offering; also in verses 14 and 16

Saturday, August 01, 2020

Why the Black Lives Matter protests didn't contribute to Covid-19 epidemic


HealthLine explains why.

A paper looking at virus data from protests between May 26 and June 20, found “no evidence that urban protests reignited COVID-19 case growth during the more than three weeks following protest onset.”

“We conclude that predictions of broad negative public health consequences of Black Lives Matter protests were far too narrowly conceived,” the authors of the National Bureau of Economic Research paper wrote.

That lines up with what others have seen in various cities.

“I have not seen any peer-reviewed research linking outdoor protests (or really any major outdoor events) to the surge here in Texas,” said Rodney Rohde, PhD, an associate dean for research at Texas State’s College of Health Professions who focuses on public health microbiology.

Texas had been one of the first states to start reopening — including indoor facilities such as bars and movie theaters. But the surge of COVID-19 cases in recent weeks has led to a reimposition of some lockdown measures and a requirement in some regions to wear face masks when in public.

The COVID-19 spike in Texas is likely tied to the reopening, not the protests, Rohde said.

“One can look at the time frame post-protests regarding case counts, hospitalizations, and mortality to see if there may be a correlation. I have not seen that in my observations,” Rohde told Healthline.


The reason is that the protests took place outdoors, in the wind and sun, and most participants wore masks. Contagion mostly happens indoors. Other outdoor events, such as sporting competitions, have people congregating indoors in rest rooms and concessions, and  passageways. That doesn't happen with the protests. Just so you know. Keep on protesting, but wear your mask properly and keep a distance from others.

Friday, July 31, 2020

What we don't know is hurting us

Back when CDC had a real director, his name was Tom Frieden. He now heads an organization called Resolve to Save Lives, which has come out with a report on the woeful state of reporting by the states on important data about the Covid-19 pandemic.

Indicators critical to understanding the pandemic’s course were often missing, it found. Not a single state currently reports the average turnaround time of a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, as press reports abound of tests in many regions taking a week or more to come back, a delay that renders testing nearly useless in controlling the disease’s spread. The test positivity rate goes unreported by 25% of states.
The test positivity rate is probably the single most important parameter -- it tells us if the state is doing enough testing, and gives an indication of the prevalence in the population. Also broadly lacking is data on contact tracing, and data that is reported is often unclear because of a lack of standard definitions. Of course we know why this is:

Despite good work by many states and a “tsunami of data points,” he said, “because of the lack of national leadership, we don’t have common standards, definitions, targets, or accountability.”

The US is “flying blind,” he said, questioning the current “obsession” with higher test numbers. If results are taking several days, if positive cases are rarely isolated, and if contacts are almost never warned, he said, then “we really have done very little good.”

The current number of cases in the United States exceeds the combined total in all of Europe, Africa, and Asia, said Frieden. He explained, “With 4% of the world’s population, we have one quarter of covid reported deaths. And during the 45 minutes of this briefing, more than 20 people will die from covid in the US and thousands more will become infected.”

And we know who is responsible -- where the buck stops.