Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Norts Spews

Last year I posted about Duh Sawx while they were steamrolling their way to the MLB championship. I reflected on the whole concept of fan loyalty and the seemingly irrational but culturally universal way that people live vicariously through their sports heroes. This year, mysteriously, despite bringing back pretty much the same team that flattened the competition last year, they are an abomination. I mean totally unwatchable. Can't hit, can't pitch, they stand around in the outfield watching balls bounce over the fence, they're listless and boneheaded.

There is a lot of psychology in sports. You'll notice that the most expert commentators, people who have played the game, but a lot of stock in teams' emotional state, their interpersonal chemistry (which can be all business, they don't have to like each other off the field), who is fired up for revenge on whom. It's tough to repeat, that's all there is to it. Winning a championship is often bad news for next year.

Turning now to Tiger Woods, yes what he has done is incredible. He destroyed his family because he let fame and fortune go to his head in all the wrong ways, and he overstressed his body till it gave out on him. Three years ago he was addicted to painkillers and he couldn't walk. Throughout it all -- ten years of struggle during which he could not compete -- he kept insisting that he was going to come back. And quite a lot of people, including me, though we had our doubts, thought he would probably do it. Yep.

He changed the game. Before Tiger, golfers were overweight, out of shape, smoking cigarettes between shots. He approached the game as an athlete, bulking up his shoulders and arms and hitting the ball farther than anyone before. It didn't even matter that he missed the fairway half the time because he was so close to the greens. So the young guys started going to the gym, the PGA moved the tees back, and now Tiger's length off the tee is about average. So he has to win a different way. I have to give him all the credit for fighting through terrible pain, conquering his demons, working with iron discipline and not giving up on himself. He hasn't just come back as an athlete, he genuinely seems to be a more mature, nicer person.

But we musn't forget that he is also extremely wealthy. Almost no-one in his situation can afford the very best orthopedists and surgeons and pain specialists and physical therapists and psychological counselors -- a lot of stuff insurance won't pay for. I'm pretty sure insurance would not have paid for those three surgeries. He had the resources heA needed to accomplish his miracle. Most people don't.

Also too: Let me once again remind you that "anonymous" is not an acceptable handle for commenting here. An observation about sexual misconduct by Bill Clinton was perfectly appropriate on my post about reality and the law, and I would have published it otherwise.

Clinton was impeached for lying about a blow job. Most people think that was not warranted, but his behavior was certainly scurrilous. Monica Lewinsky initiated the affair, but no, the CEO cannot have an affair with an intern. He was absolutely obliged to turn her down, and regardless of who made the first move, he was exploiting and harming a vulnerable young person. The most serious public allegation against him was by Juanita Broaddrick, who alleges that he raped her when he was Attorney General of Arkansas. There is corroboration from friends who say she told them about it at the time. She says he apologized years later, saying he was not the man he used to be. She did not go to the police and there was no investigation at the time.

So what should we make of this? I would say it is unfortunate that he was nominated and became president. I think we should have done better. Fortunately, his time as an important public figure is pretty much over. He has said and done so many idiotic things in recent years that nobody wants to be on the stage with him. And the cultural reassessment we have undergone about the sort of behavior that once got him characterized as a "charming rogue" means he's pretty much toxic anyway. He certainly didn't do his wife any good during her presidential campaign. The past can't be undone but we can do better from now on.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

For the greater glory of God

Here's an interesting factoid about rebuilding Notre Dame:

The roof and spire of Notre Dame, which was completely incinerated in Monday's fire, were made of ancient oak. There were 13,000 beams in the church's ceiling, and Guerry said about 3,000 trees would be needed to replace them.

"In the Middle Ages… it was possible to find huge amounts of beautiful strong oak," but overuse of the material led to the destruction of many of Europe's oak forests, Guerry said. "The ability to find around 3,000 more big, strong trees in the next two decades is going to be tricky." But Guerry said the very tall, old trees needed for the project might exist in the Baltic, where most of Europe's oak comes from today.
So we're going to cut down the last of the old growth forest in Europe to please God.

Let's not and say we did.

The law and reality

As the Miami Herald reported at the time of the mass arrests in south Florida for prostitution, and as we acknowledged here, proving human trafficking in the case of these Chinese massage parlors is very difficult.

For law enforcement, cracking the rings that are behind the massage parlors is challenging — and bringing trafficking charges even more difficult — because of workers’ reluctance to testify, cultural barriers and an international business structure that makes identifying the masterminds next to impossible.
And so most continue to operate with minimal risk of being shut down despite the occasional splashy police raids, such as the ones last month that netted scores of charges against suspected customers, including New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. . . .
 Many of the women who wind up working in massage parlors and spas are recruited from rural parts of China with nebulous promises of legal employment in the United States, according to Polaris. Some are fleeing domestic abuse, or their families are heavily in debt. Typically they have little education. Agencies in China arrange for them to travel to the United States on tourist visas, and charge them thousands of dollars that many women agree to work off rather than paying up front. They arrive in New York City disoriented and confused and are made to become dependent on their employers who often push them into sex work, said New York City lawyer Amy Hsieh, with Sanctuary for Families, a social-services provider that works with parlor employees arrested for prostitution or practicing massages without a license.
“It’s a slow game of indentured servitude,” she said.
So the police are concentrating on prostitution and money laundering charges. The women are afraid to cooperate and  the question of involuntary servitude is murky. Robert Kraft's lawyers are claiming that the DA's decision not to bring human trafficking charges invalidates the warrant that allowed for video surveillance. We'll see how the judge rules on that but obviously it's a technicality that doesn't exonerate Mr. Kraft. He's rich however and can pay expensive lawyers. That makes all the difference.

Update: For the record, I'm not acting as a juror in this instance. I wouldn't be anyway because the entire point of the post is that the prosecutors don't feel they can pursue the trafficking case. What constitutes proof beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law, using legally admissible evidence, is not the same as what we may come by common sense to believe. In any event, Kraft is not charged with trafficking but with paying for sex. I don't know if that should be illegal in general but given the exploitive nature of this particular business, that is the approach the authorities are taking to shut it down.

I allowed a comment here by "unknown" because this appears to be a new visitor who doesn't know the rules. In the future, please adopt a unique identifier.

Regarding Bill Clinton, of course the specific conduct for which he was impeached was consensual, though highly inappropriate. Back in those days, powerful men got away with that kind of stuff, and much worse, all the time. Nowadays, a CEO who had a sexual relationship with an intern might well be fired, but the standard for presidential impeachment is a different question, as we can readily see under the current circumstances. Clinton may have had some even worse conduct in his past, though its unproven. Therefore, according to some people, I'm not allowed to speculate about it.

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Sunday, April 14, 2019

Sunday Sermonette: Things go south for the Hebrews

At long last, we start Exodus. As I have mentioned before, scholars belief this was written during the Babylonian exile, in the 6th Century BCE, with revisions in the 5th Century. There is no historical evidence for the Egyptian captivity. The work is fiction, but it may be in some ways a response to the Babylonian exile. It is the foundational myth of the Jews, central to identity. Here we go.

 These are the names of the sons of Israel who went to Egypt with Jacob, each with his family: Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah; Issachar, Zebulun and Benjamin; Dan and Naphtali; Gad and Asher. The descendants of Jacob numbered seventy[a] in all; Joseph was already in Egypt.
Now Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died, but the Israelites were exceedingly fruitful; they multiplied greatly, increased in numbers and became so numerous that the land was filled with them.
So the Hebrew population went from 70 to something like 1 million (Exodus 12:37) in a few hundred years.
Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. 10 Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.”
11 So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites 13 and worked them ruthlessly. 14 They made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly.
15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, 16 “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” 17 
There are only 2 midwives producing this population explosion.
The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. 18 Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?”
19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.”
20 So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.
22 Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”
Consider how implausible this is. If the Hebrews are enslaved, they don't have any weapons and can't join Pharaoh's enemies in war. On the contrary, slave owners usually want to increase their holdings. There is no comparable historical event.


  1. Exodus 1:5 Masoretic Text (see also Gen. 46:27); Dead Sea Scrolls and Septuagint (see also Acts 7:14 and note at Gen. 46:27) seventy-five

Friday, April 12, 2019

Complications of measles

Since it is not a brief answer, rather than respond to Mr. Bachtell's question in the comments, I'll do a front page post on it. CDC provides information about complications of measles here. This applies to the United States and other wealthy countries. Measles is much more dangerous in poor countries where many children are malnourished or debilitated from chronic infections, but that's a bit off topic.

The actual death rate from measles in developed countries is about 1-2 per 1,000. However, 1 in 20 children will get pneumonia as a complication, which may require expensive treatment including mechanical ventilation. An additional 1 child in 1,000 will develop encephalitis which may lead to permanent brain damage. A rarer complication is subacute sclerosing panencephalitis which develops several years after a measles infection. It is a progressive, disabling, fatal brain disorder which occurs in something like 4-11 out of 100,000 cases of measles but may be more common in children under 2 years of age.

The National Health Service lists additional complications including damage to vision and hepatitis. Measles in pregnant women increases risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, and premature delivery. We have not had the experience of a widespread measles epidemic in the present era in which there are more immunocompromised people in the population due to modern treatment of autoimmune disorders, transplant surgery, and HIV. These vulnerable people are at particular risk from those who refuse vaccination.

Most people recover from measles. It's usually a very unpleasant but self-limiting condition. Of course this results in school absenteeism, caregiver burden, and medical expenses. Serious complications are uncommon but can be very bad indeed. Given that vaccination has negligible risk and cost, there is a strong case to be made that it constitutes a social obligation, in my view.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

We take requests

Someone is interested in laws regarding vaccination in the United States. There is often a tension between the liberty interest and social welfare in public health, at least from many people's perspective. It is a general principle that competent adults cannot be compelled to undergo any medical procedure against their will. Adults can decide to check out of the hospital against medical advice, or to treat their cancer with coffee enemas rather than surgery and chemotherapy, and the state does not get involved. As for people who are ruled not competent, that's a whole other discussion, but I will point out that a judge has to make the ruling; psychiatrists can't just do it by themselves.

Vaccination is a different matter for two reasons. First, we are talking for the most part about children. While laws, precedents and practices vary somewhat among the states, generally speaking parents can be compelled to allow essential medical treatment for their children, and may be prosecuted for neglect if they do not. There is ample precedent for compulsion to overrule even religious belief in this regard.

However, because not getting your children vaccinated is not under most circumstances immediately life threatening, the states do not directly compel it under normal circumstances. Rather, they require vaccination for school attendance, the rationale being more that it is about the protection of others rather than protection of the subject child. And most states allow religious and/or personal belief exemptions, which makes this more of a suggestion than a requirement. The map below is a couple of years old and some states may have changed their laws since, but it gives the general idea.