Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Al Franken

The comment thread on my "ethnicity" post digressed to Al Franken. I want to direct your attention to a lengthy discussion of the Franken matter by Laura McGann. She understands why people are so pained by his resignation and many still question it. She covers various points of view and all the arguments, but it ends up being very clear that he habitually engaged in behavior that required him to resign. The alternative would have been great damage to the Democratic party, and to women. I urge you to take the time to read the whole thing but I will give an excerpt that, I hope, makes the point.

Journalists also picked up the description, including Sacramento Bee editorial writer Ginger Rutland, who wrote:
At most Franken, who announced Thursday he is resigning, is guilty of boorish behavior — not assault, not pedophilia, not even sexual harassment. But with today’s fast-changing, contradictory and confusing reversal of sexual norms, he’s being burned at the stake, walked down the plank, buried alive. It’s unfair.
This isn’t behavior we should accept. For example, a former Democratic aide told Politico a story (that she had told others over the years): She met Franken in 2006 when her boss appeared on his Air America radio show. Afterward, he attempted to kiss her. When she rebuffed his advance, she says, he claimed “it’s my right as an entertainer.” She got the message: He was important. She was not.
“He was between me and the door, and he was coming at me to kiss me. It was very quick, and I think my brain had to work really hard to be like ‘Wait, what is happening?’ But I knew whatever was happening was not right, and I ducked,” the former aide said in an interview. “I was really startled by it, and I just sort of booked it towards the door, and he said, ‘It’s my right as an entertainer.’”
An Army veteran serving in the Middle East during the Iraq War recounted her experience to CNN. When she was a 27-year-old military police officer and Franken was on a USO tour, she says that Franken put his arm around her for a photo and then cupped her breast in his hand. She was stunned. He was there to lift her spirits; instead, she describes being pushed down, made to feel helpless.
“I was in a war zone. ... You were on a USO tour — are you trying to boost the morale of the troops or are you trying to boost your own?” she said. “I just feel so sorry for that young girl in that picture.”
[Stephanie] Kemplin said she did not say anything to Franken at the time.
”You’re immediately put on the spot. What are you going to do? What are you going to do? Your mind goes a mile a minute,” she said. “Who was I going to tell?”
Many women have experienced this kind of behavior again and again — the small caresses on the arm or shoulder, a hand that slides a little too low followed by a startling squeeze, the hand in the wrong place during a photo, a lunge for an unwanted kiss. Women pay a tax for participating in public life. Maybe the tax isn’t always crippling, but it is also extreme to say it is meaningless. As one of Franken’s supporters put it after she says he tried to kiss her on a campaign stage, “I was stunned and incredulous. I felt demeaned. I felt put in my place.”
There is a difference between the actions of Harvey Weinstein (accused of rape) and Franken (accused of forced kissing and groping women). But that doesn’t mean women should have to choose between the two. The ideal is none of the above.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Sportspersonship

I watched the UCONN women's game against UCF. Yeah, us Connecitucutters don't have a pro team to call our own so the UCONN women get a lot of attention. As they should, they have dominated the game as no team since John Wooden's UCLA men have done.

Anyway, UCF's game plan was to beat the shit out of Katie Lou Samuelson. Forearm to the face, elbow to the ribs, hip check, clothesline, flat out punch in the face. The game was a mismatch so this was probably their best option and for the first half it kind of worked. UCF stayed closer than they should have and Katie Lou, with her ribs hurting and her knee hurting and her face hurting couldn't hit her shots. She looked more like a UFC fighter than a basketball player with her face all beat up. She wasn't seriously injured so she'll be back on Wednesday but you know, she could have been.

For most of the first half the officials either didn't call the fouls at all or they called them as common fouls. UCONN coach Geno Auriemma talked to them as much as he could without getting a technical himself and finally, early in the third quarter, the officials called an unsportsmanlike which largely though not entirely put a stop to it. Katie Lou actually retaliated against her principal assailant Thigpen with a clobbering on a shot attempt, which the officials called as a common foul but KLS did court danger by jawing while pointing to a bruise under her eye.

Anyway, once the mixed martial arts match ended UCONN ran away with the basketball game with a total blowout. However, Katie Lou wound up going 0 for 5 from the field, although she did go 12 for 12 from the line and probably should have had 18 free throws. That ended a streak of more than 100 games with a score from the field, but the free throws allowed her to move into fourth place on the UCONN all time scoring list.

Question. Is this ethical? Presuming the coach told them to do this. Yeah, the object is to win the game and if violating the rules and trying to physically injure your opponent is the only way to make that possible, and you're trying to keep your coaching job, is that the right thing to do? Disclosure, I wrestled in college which is a different game in which yeah, you are hitting the guy in the face as often as possible. But it isn't basketball.

Sunday Sermonette: It's a man's world

As we enjoy this touching drama of family reconciliation, it's time to remind ourselves of something so glaringly obvious that we haven't even noticed it. Presumably the sons of Israel all have wives and daughters, but they might as well not exist. Only men are worth noticing and naming, only men act in this world. It is a patriarchal society.

Keep in mind this is fiction. It was written in the fifth century BC, long after it supposedly happened. It has an essential function in the plot of the Torah, the founding myth of the Jewish people. We'll get to that in due course. The story becomes rather tedious at this point and we aren't getting anywhere fast, so I'm going to present this entire long chapter with only a bit of commentary.


 Now the famine was still severe in the land. So when they had eaten all the grain they had brought from Egypt, their father said to them, “Go back and buy us a little more food.”
But Judah said to him, “The man warned us solemnly, ‘You will not see my face again unless your brother is with you.’ If you will send our brother along with us, we will go down and buy food for you. But if you will not send him, we will not go down, because the man said to us, ‘You will not see my face again unless your brother is with you.’”
Israel asked, “Why did you bring this trouble on me by telling the man you had another brother?”
They replied, “The man questioned us closely about ourselves and our family. ‘Is your father still living?’ he asked us. ‘Do you have another brother?’ We simply answered his questions. How were we to know he would say, ‘Bring your brother down here’?”
Then Judah said to Israel his father, “Send the boy along with me and we will go at once, so that we and you and our children may live and not die. I myself will guarantee his safety; you can hold me personally responsible for him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him here before you, I will bear the blame before you all my life. 10 As it is, if we had not delayed, we could have gone and returned twice.”
 I'm not sure what the last sentence means, it doesn't seem as though this conversation has been going on all that long. Anyhow .. .
11 Then their father Israel said to them, “If it must be, then do this: Put some of the best products of the land in your bags and take them down to the man as a gift—a little balm and a little honey, some spices and myrrh, some pistachio nuts and almonds. 12 Take double the amount of silver with you, for you must return the silver that was put back into the mouths of your sacks. Perhaps it was a mistake. 13 Take your brother also and go back to the man at once. 14 And may God Almighty[a] grant you mercy before the man so that he will let your other brother and Benjamin come back with you. As for me, if I am bereaved, I am bereaved.”
So the nut trees are bearing and the bees are finding flowers. Not clear why the grain isn't growing . . .
15 So the men took the gifts and double the amount of silver, and Benjamin also. They hurried down to Egypt and presented themselves to Joseph. 16 When Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to the steward of his house, “Take these men to my house, slaughter an animal and prepare a meal; they are to eat with me at noon.”
17 The man did as Joseph told him and took the men to Joseph’s house. 18 Now the men were frightened when they were taken to his house. They thought, “We were brought here because of the silver that was put back into our sacks the first time. He wants to attack us and overpower us and seize us as slaves and take our donkeys.”
19 So they went up to Joseph’s steward and spoke to him at the entrance to the house. 20 “We beg your pardon, our lord,” they said, “we came down here the first time to buy food. 21 But at the place where we stopped for the night we opened our sacks and each of us found his silver—the exact weight—in the mouth of his sack. So we have brought it back with us. 22 We have also brought additional silver with us to buy food. We don’t know who put our silver in our sacks.”
Actually that's not exactly what happened. One of them found the silver at the inn. The rest of them didn't discover it until they got home. (Genesis 42: 29-35) I'm not sure why there are so many of these continuity errors.
23 “It’s all right,” he said. “Don’t be afraid. Your God, the God of your father, has given you treasure in your sacks; I received your silver.” Then he brought Simeon out to them.
24 The steward took the men into Joseph’s house, gave them water to wash their feet and provided fodder for their donkeys. 25 They prepared their gifts for Joseph’s arrival at noon, because they had heard that they were to eat there.
26 When Joseph came home, they presented to him the gifts they had brought into the house, and they bowed down before him to the ground. 27 He asked them how they were, and then he said, “How is your aged father you told me about? Is he still living?”
28 They replied, “Your servant our father is still alive and well.” And they bowed down, prostrating themselves before him.
29 As he looked about and saw his brother Benjamin, his own mother’s son, he asked, “Is this your youngest brother, the one you told me about?” And he said, “God be gracious to you, my son.” 30 Deeply moved at the sight of his brother, Joseph hurried out and looked for a place to weep. He went into his private room and wept there.
31 After he had washed his face, he came out and, controlling himself, said, “Serve the food.”
32 They served him by himself, the brothers by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because Egyptians could not eat with Hebrews, for that is detestable to Egyptians. 33 The men had been seated before him in the order of their ages, from the firstborn to the youngest; and they looked at each other in astonishment. 34 When portions were served to them from Joseph’s table, Benjamin’s portion was five times as much as anyone else’s. So they feasted and drank freely with him.
If Benjamin is really capable of eating 5 times as much as everybody else, the rest of them must be getting a pittance. It is also unclear why Joseph still waits to reveal himself. As I said last time, his motives for this elaborate rigamarole are mysterious. It's causing him real pain to keep the secret, but as we shall see nothing in particular happens to finally provoke him to tell the truth and end the charade.

Footnotes:

  1. Genesis 43:14 Hebrew El-Shaddai

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Lyndon LaRouche

Okay so he's dead but believe me, none of his obituaries in the corporate media do him justice.
His RationalWiki entry is probably one of the more comprehensive accounts you will find.

I take note of his passing -- not that he was ever altogether with us -- because I have followed his career since I was a youth. My freshman year, believe it or not, two, count 'em two members of the Swarthmore College faculty were his followers, including my Philosophy 101 professor, named Uwe Henke, who is now apparently known as Uwe Henke von Parpart and is some sort of financier. LaRouche at the time called himself Lyn Marcus (get it?) and pretended to be a leftist. He founded an organization called the National Caucus of Labor Committees, which busied itself with beating up Communists and "deprogramming" people. Several of my fellow students joined the cult. In order to get an A in philosophy 101 you had to join the Labor Committee. Otherwise you got a B. Henke smoked stinky cigars during class and ranted about homosexuals and German composers. He accused one of the political science professors of being a CIA agent and of having attached a limpet bomb to a U.S. navy ship as a scuba diver, or something like that.

Anyway just a couple of years later he changed back to his real name and became a far right extremist. He declared himself the World's Greatest Economist, and maintained that he alone could save the world from a looming capital shortage and global economic collapse. He kept running for president, on the platform that Queen Elizabeth controlled the world drug trade and that both the United States and the Soviet Union were secretly under her control. Nelson Rockefeller, Henry Kissinger, and the Trilateral Commission also had something to do with it.

I won't go into the further history, but suffice it to say that he managed to forge a relationship with the Reagan administration; to raise millions of dollars, much of it fraudulently for which he eventually served prison time; and to maintain a substantial corps of followers who you may have seen manning tables at airports and on sidewalks right up to the present. I guess we shouldn't be too surprised since Alex Jones and Rush Limbaugh also have followers. Also no surprise, LaRouche was a big fan of the current Resident.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Ethnicity

Don't get me wrong. I love Elizabeth Warren. She has spent her distinguished academic and political career fighting for justice and equity. She sees right through the BS thrown up in justification for plutocracy and talks to people in plain language with no apologies for her progressive beliefs. I think she'd make a great president.

But . . .

I do think that her repeated claims on various official documents that she has Native American heritage -- and even, on her Texas bar application that she is straight up Native American -- are very strange behavior that she has not sufficiently explored and explained in public. She says that according to family lore she has a Native American ancestor at some number of great great great grandparents, and that's why. She even went so far as to get a DNA test which confirms that it might just be true.

No. Just no. That you believe some distant ancestor who you know nothing about and cannot even name was Albanian does not make you in any sense Albanian. I believe I have said something before about the ads for a commercial DNA testing company. In one of them, roughly (and I may have this backwards, doesn't matter) a guy says "I always thought I was German," and he's in leiderhosen and drinking a Lowenbrau with his schnitzel. "It turns out we're Scottish!" and now he's wearing a kilt and dancing the highland fling and learning to play the bagpipes.

What undoubtedly happened (assuming this is not entirely fictitious) is that at some time prior to your collective family memory, some people moved from Scotland to Germany. They learned to speak German, maybe Germanized their name or maybe a daughter married  a German guy. They may even have lived in a Scottish-German ethnic enclave for a generation or two so they married other people of Scottish extraction and reinforced the DNA signal. Then they forgot all about Scotland and some of them moved to the U.S., speaking German, drinking Lowenbrau, and eating schnitzel. They were German. 

In another ad, a woman says, "I always thought I was Latina, but now I know I'm everything!" and up goes a pie chart showing that she has ancestors who are Native American, African American, and European. Lady, that's what Latina means! It's not a specific DNA profile, it's the culture that emerged when Spanish settlers took over countries where indigenous Americans lived, imported African slaves, and they all mixed together. People also came from elsewhere in Europe and Asia, lived in those countries, started speaking Spanish. The great Chilean liberator was named Bernardo O'Higgins for crying out loud.

Ethnicity means identification with an ancestral culture within which you were socialized. It means you grew up with particular cultural influences and incorporate the ethnicity into your identity, world view and associations. Elizabeth Warren had no contact with Native Americans when she was growing up, knew nothing about Native American history or culture, and her life history was not in any way affected by the invisible and meaningless fact that somewhere in a long-lost trunk of her family tree there might have been a guy who was in fact Native American. I'm not saying this is important enough to compromise her candidacy, but it's still pretty weird.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Sunday Sermonette: Mind games


The conclusion of Genesis 42 is a bit confusing in places. Modern story tellers make their characters more available to us -- we tend to get more information about what's going on in their minds. Genesis is very sparing in this regard -- we are shown the surfaces and maybe an emotion is named, but we don't see people's inner lives.
27 At the place where they stopped for the night one of them opened his sack to get feed for his donkey, and he saw his silver in the mouth of his sack. 28 “My silver has been returned,” he said to his brothers. “Here it is in my sack.”
Their hearts sank and they turned to each other trembling and said, “What is this that God has done to us?”
In keeping with the often elliptical story telling, we aren't told which brother found the silver. Presumably we are to deduce that they are afraid of being accused of theft, otherwise presumably they ought to be happy about this development. Also unclear is why the rest of them didn't check their own sacks at this point. 
29 When they came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan, they told him all that had happened to them. They said, 30 “The man who is lord over the land spoke harshly to us and treated us as though we were spying on the land. 31 But we said to him, ‘We are honest men; we are not spies. 32 We were twelve brothers, sons of one father. One is no more, and the youngest is now with our father in Canaan.’
33 “Then the man who is lord over the land said to us, ‘This is how I will know whether you are honest men: Leave one of your brothers here with me, and take food for your starving households and go. 34 But bring your youngest brother to me so I will know that you are not spies but honest men. Then I will give your brother back to you, and you can trade[a] in the land.’”
Again, we see the habit of repeating information the reader already knows in order to convey it to a character who hasn't learned it already. In modern story telling, the writer would just say, "They told him what had happened in Egypt .. ." Again, I think this may be a marker that this story was originally oral tradition; the repetition would have helped listeners follow it. Few were expected to read it even now that it was written down. Rather, it would still be recited or read aloud.
35 As they were emptying their sacks, there in each man’s sack was his pouch of silver! When they and their father saw the money pouches, they were frightened. 36 
Again, it's very strange that they didn't all look in their sacks back at the Inn. And now that they have all found the silver, they ought to have figured out that either this is some sort of a set up, or else the ruler intended to give them back their silver. But we don't see them discussing this or get any indication of what exactly they are thinking.
Their father Jacob said to them, “You have deprived me of my children. Joseph is no more and Simeon is no more, and now you want to take Benjamin. Everything is against me!”
37 Then Reuben said to his father, “You may put both of my sons to death if I do not bring him back to you. Entrust him to my care, and I will bring him back.”
Wow, Reuben is willing to sacrifice his own sons on a dare? 
38 But Jacob said, “My son will not go down there with you; his brother is dead and he is the only one left. If harm comes to him on the journey you are taking, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in sorrow.”

Footnotes:

  1. Genesis 42:34 Or move about freely

We will see in the coming chapters that Joseph's motives continue to be often obscure. We are coming to the end of Genesis; we will find the plot thickening indeed.

Friday, February 08, 2019

Free market ideology

Remember the FoxConn plant in Wisconsin, where the Taiwanese company was going to hire a bunch of blue collar Trump voters to build flat-screen TVs? This was supposedly going to happen because Gov. Scott Walker cut a deal with the company to give them $3 billion in tax an other incentives. Barry Ritholz discussed the original deal here. You may have noticed that when Democrats propose incentives for stuff like solar and wind power, Republicans scream and yell that government shouldn't "pick winners and losers" and interfere in the sacred Free Market™. But they are falling over each other to give tax breaks and direct incentives (such as road construction) for billionaire football team owners, and highly profitable corporations. As Ritholz says:

[I]f you were a company looking to build a plant somewhere you’d be a fool not to play governors, mayors and other local elected officials against one another: All you have to do is promise to build a new (fill in the blank) that will generate thousands of jobs. You will be showered with incentives ranging from low-cost loans to tax abatements to regulatory waivers.
It is an unfair fight pitting naive local politicians facing re-election versus the experience of corporate executives, and their teams of lawyers, analysts and accountants. They dangle the very persuasive carrot of new economic development. It is the classic agency problem writ large. Taxpayers never stand a chance.

Well now Ritholz refers us to Business Week  (not exactly the Worker's Daily):

Interviews with 49 people familiar with Foxconn’s Wisconsin project, including more than a dozen current and former employees close to its efforts there, show how hollow the boosters’ assurances have been all along. While Foxconn for months declined requests to interview executives, insiders describe a chaotic environment with ever-changing goals far different from what Trump and others promised. Walker and the White House declined to comment for this story, although a Trump administration official says the White House would be “disappointed” by any reduced investment. The only consistency, many of these people say, lay in how obvious it was that Wisconsin struck a weak deal. Under the terms Walker negotiated, each job at the Mount Pleasant factory is projected to cost the state at least $219,000 in tax breaks and other incentives. The good or extra-bad news, depending on your perspective, is that there probably won’t be 13,000 of them.
Hey, I have an idea! Wisconsin can spend  $3 billion to hire some teachers, social workers, public health workers, road pavers, solar power installers, nurses, librarians . . . . But that would smack of creeping socialism.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Bobby three sticks and a whole mob of lawyers

Martin Longman briefly recites the truly unbelievable reality in which we live, unless this all turns out to be a bad acid trip.

Federal prosecutors in New York City issued expansive subpoenas to President Trump's inaugural committee on Monday and they are reportedly seeking interviews with executives at the Trump Organization.  Trump's campaign chairman will be sentenced on March 13, likely to what will amount to life in prison. His former personal lawyer has been sentenced to three years in prison and will be provided damning testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee before reporting to prison on March 6th. His former deputy campaign chairman is still cooperating with prosecutors and so is his former national security advisor, but both of them will eventually be sentenced and do substantial time behind bars. In December, the Trump Foundation ceased to exist as part of a criminal settlement with the New York state attorney general's office. Meanwhile, the president is facing numerous serious allegations of felonious wrongdoing that include campaign finance violations, bank fraud, wire fraud, obstruction of justice, witness tampering, and a potential criminal conspiracy to defraud the American people by colluding with a foreign government to pervert a presidential election.
Uhm, yeah. You would think that a president in that set of situations might be in a little bit of trouble, but instead everybody is worrying how to stop him from being re-elected.

There were rumors floating around CNN the past couple of days that the Mueller investigation is "winding up" and we can expect his report soon, this in the context of the CW that congress can't do anything until they get that report. Which they won't, because the "Attorney General" is going to sink it to the bottom of the Marianis Trench. However, I'm pretty sure it isn't coming any time soon. Mueller just extended his grand jury for 6 months, he has only just started going through Roger Stone's devices, the investigation into the inaugural committee has a whole lot to do with Russians so that's probably within his writ, the Supreme Court has yet to rule on the mysterious foreign-owned corporation that's resisting his subpoena, and he's looking at money laundering and conspiracy going back for at least 15 years. There are something like 18 sealed indictments in the D.C. federal court, many of which are no doubt his.

So the report doesn't matter, but the indictments and the trials will. At some point General Flynn's sentencing memorandum will also be unredacted and I'm pretty sure that's a big deal since the judge, in refusing to accept the ultra-light sentence, called Flynn a traitor. What will happen, even as Mueller's report gets shot into the black hole at the center of the galaxy, is that we'll get the picture in due course. Will that be fast enough to save us from annihilation? We shall see.

Update: I find it quite bizarre that one response we get to all this is that we shouldn't rush to judgment and we need to wait till all the evidence is in. Also, too, that the Mueller investigation has taken longer than some people expected is evidence that he hasn't found any wrongdoing. Please take a look at Booman's summary:

  • Campaign chair found guilty of multiple felonies, will likely spend rest of life in federal prison.
  • National Security Advisor pleads guilty to felonies, has received reduction in recommended sentence for cooperating, but judge doesn't accept the recommendation and accuses him of treason.
  • Lawyer pleads guilty to multiple felonies, directly implicating president in their commission, will go to prison for three years.
  • Trump Foundation ordered closed and characterized by NYAG as a criminal enterprise.
And there's more! Sure, it is likely to get worse, much worse, when we learn all the details. But isn't this enough already? BTW this gang of career criminals is so stupid they apparently didn't realize that Mueller has FISA warrants. He knows everything.

Sunday, February 03, 2019

Most Excellent Raptor

For some reason I have something to say about the Superb Owl every year, even though I'm pretty sure my 2 1/2 readers aren't foobaw fans. This year the Patriots are making their third consecutive appearance, which I believe has only a single precedent. They would be going for their third consecutive win if not for Bill Belichick's incomprehensible decision to bench Malcolm Butler last year, which certainly cost them the game. The dour hooded one has never explained it, but at least it proves he must care about something other than winning.

Given the vast attention and resources paid to sportsball, we might as well try to extract something of value from it. The only real value I can see is that it offers examples of how and how not to be successful. That the Patriots have had such success year after year in a league that maintains a strict salary cap has to be instructive. As every Pats fan knows, apart from whatever superior coaching genius may be going into game planning and play calling, the key to their success is getting the most out of players nobody else wanted. Tom Brady was a sixth round draft pick. Throughout his 17 year career the Patriots have made a regular practice out of signing players other teams have dumped, and getting big performances out of them.

Sometimes this has meant taking players with behavioral problems, and that hasn't always worked out for them. Viz. receiver Josh Gordon, who they lost mid-season this year due to an alcoholism relapse. Then there is Aaron Hernandez, of whom we shall not speak. Well okay, we'll speak of him. They drafted him while everybody else was steering clear due to documented behavioral and psychological problems. Then he turned out to be a serial killer. Okay, you win a few, you lose a few. Nevertheless, most of the time they've been able to get the guys to straighten up and accept the extremely rigid discipline required to stay on the field. The coaches are very good at understanding athletes' abilities and limitations, and putting them in the right role to succeed.

So maybe there is a lesson there for the real world. Hiring and personnel management are the key to any successful enterprise. That means understanding your employees, giving them the right job, and giving them what they need to do well. On the other hand the Patriots coaches are ruthless. They are more than willing to dump players who they think are going to decline in the next year. They have very little if any downward loyalty. Enterprises shouldn't only be about winning.

Update: Well, nobody expected that. The Spanish Inquisition might as well have parachuted onto the field. Every NFL pundit's gob is well and truly smacked. Typical predictions for the final score were 34-31. But what people forget is that defense is half of the game. Playing defense counts as playing football. I thought it was fine.


Sunday Sermonette: There must be a lesson in here somewhere

So Joseph's family comes back into the picture in Ch. 42. This is another long one so we'll just do the first half today.

 When Jacob learned that there was grain in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why do you just keep looking at each other?” He continued, “I have heard that there is grain in Egypt. Go down there and buy some for us, so that we may live and not die.”
Then ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain from Egypt. But Jacob did not send Benjamin, Joseph’s brother, with the others, because he was afraid that harm might come to him. So Israel’s sons were among those who went to buy grain, for there was famine in the land of Canaan also.
Now Joseph was the governor of the land, the person who sold grain to all its people. So when Joseph’s brothers arrived, they bowed down to him with their faces to the ground.

Note well: Joseph is selling the grain. This was not a humanitarian scheme to save the world from starvation, it was a money-making scheme. Actually it's just outright theft. Joseph never paid the farmers for the grain, he just confiscated it. Now they have to buy it back from him. (As we shall see he does slip the money back to his brothers but everybody else in the world, or what they thought was the world, ends up being dispossessed.)
As soon as Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he pretended to be a stranger and spoke harshly to them. “Where do you come from?” he asked.
“From the land of Canaan,” they replied, “to buy food.”
Although Joseph recognized his brothers, they did not recognize him. Then he remembered his dreams about them and said to them, “You are spies! You have come to see where our land is unprotected.”
I'm not sure what this means. The only dreams we have been told that Joseph had about his brothers have them bowing down to him. But they're already doing that.
10 “No, my lord,” they answered. “Your servants have come to buy food. 11 We are all the sons of one man. Your servants are honest men, not spies.”
12 “No!” he said to them. “You have come to see where our land is unprotected.”
13 But they replied, “Your servants were twelve brothers, the sons of one man, who lives in the land of Canaan. The youngest is now with our father, and one is no more.”
14 Joseph said to them, “It is just as I told you: You are spies! 15 And this is how you will be tested: As surely as Pharaoh lives, you will not leave this place unless your youngest brother comes here. 16 Send one of your number to get your brother; the rest of you will be kept in prison, so that your words may be tested to see if you are telling the truth. If you are not, then as surely as Pharaoh lives, you are spies!” 17 And he put them all in custody for three days.
I don't get the logic of this, do you? How does bringing the younger brother back prove that they aren't spies? 
18 On the third day, Joseph said to them, “Do this and you will live, for I fear God: 19 If you are honest men, let one of your brothers stay here in prison, while the rest of you go and take grain back for your starving households. 20 But you must bring your youngest brother to me, so that your words may be verified and that you may not die.” This they proceeded to do.
Not clear why Joseph changed his mind. He was going to send one of them after Benjamin, now he decides to keep one and send nine. Whatever.
21 They said to one another, “Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that’s why this distress has come on us.”
22 Reuben replied, “Didn’t I tell you not to sin against the boy? But you wouldn’t listen! Now we must give an accounting for his blood.” 23 They did not realize that Joseph could understand them, since he was using an interpreter.
24 He turned away from them and began to weep, but then came back and spoke to them again. He had Simeon taken from them and bound before their eyes.
25 Joseph gave orders to fill their bags with grain, to put each man’s silver back in his sack, and to give them provisions for their journey. After this was done for them, 26 they loaded their grain on their donkeys and left.

Joseph is messing with their minds, evidently. We'll see how it turns out anon. Meanwhile, looking ahead, God is working in mysterious ways. The first consequence of this plot is to put all the money in the world into Joseph's hands. The next consequence will be the Egyptian captivity.

Friday, February 01, 2019

Race, ethnicity and social history

People often talk past each other because they ascribe different meanings to the same word. Sometimes they don't realize they are doing this, sometimes they ought to know better. For example, I knew a guy who insisted that the concept of "organic food" was nonsensical because "organic" means carbon compounds, and all food consists of carbon compounds. He could not be made to see that the word was being used in a different sense. (You could also say that all food is organic because it comes from organisms. Same mistake.)

Here in the U.S. we use "white people" as a shorthand term, but most people, most of the time, are not at all precise about what they mean by it. Most broadly, it refers to descendants of the people who came to occupy most of Europe during the bronze age, and who ultimately came to constitute an identifiable cultural regime under the Catholic church. They of course spoke many different languages and there were cultural differences among the regions of Europe, but they also underwent a common process of politico-cultural evolution, from feudalism to the emergence of the increasingly secular and eventually democratic nation-state.

Europe also developed some technologies, including firearms, pelagic sailing vessels and domesticated horses that enabled Europeans to conquer faraway lands, including the Americas. What is today the United States developed from English settler states. In most of the Americas, substantial numbers of indigenous peoples survived. Some intermarried with European settlers creating the so-called mestizo people of Mexico. But the English settlers largely exterminated the natives. They imported African slaves, who even after the abolition of slavery following a bloody war remained second class citizens. So the country was ruled by people of a particular dominant English settler culture.

As people from other European countries arrived in large numbers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they also for the most part were second class citizens for a generation or two, though not nearly as stigmatized as African Americans. Think of the Irish, Italians, and Poles, among others. However, since they weren't color coded the distinctions among European-Americans eroded. For a long time English Protestantism was a mark of privilege, but eventually Catholicism gained equal status. So we had a dominant culture that was originally a descended from English Protestant culture but absorbed some others.

We use the term "white" to refer to these people but it's a social category, not a racial category. Notice that people who have a strong tribal identification with this category often look down on contemporary Europeans for their collectivism and irreligion, even though those people have fair skins and are in that sense "white." It is perfectly logically possible to present critiques of this heretofore dominant U.S. culture, including its political and social aspects, without being guilty of racism or racialism. For example, one might argue that this dominant culture is characterized by racism; by individualism and materialism; has had a history of unexamined imperialism and conquest;  and so on. Of course not everyone who was born into a white American family has these personal characteristics or approves of this history. These are generalizations.

One can also discuss African-American, Chinese-American and Mexican-American culture, perhaps finding positive and negative elements, though one must do so with a basis in evidence and ought to look for explanations. People who pertain to these categories have an easier time being critical, of course, but it isn't forbidden for others to join the discussion. Apparently it takes a certain capacity for critical and nuanced thinking to understand the difference between cultural anthropology and social history, and racism. But if you don't have the wit to understand this, you don't get to comment on this blog.

Update: Another logical fallacy is called the Argument from Authority, which probably needs no explanation. That the U.S. Census labels "White" as a "race" classification is not evidence that it is real. On the contrary, it is an artifact of the historical construction of race in America. According to the Census Bureau, Semitic Arabs and Jews are "white," as are Pashtuns if they are in Afghanistan. If they step over the border into Pakistan, they become Asian, just like Japanese and Filipinos. Oddly, Filipinos are Asians, not Pacific Islanders, although the Philippines are obviously Islands in the Pacific, and they don't have a whole lot in common with Tamils, as far as I know. Anyway, if you want more of my thinking on this you can read about it here. Don't take it from me just because I'm an authority, but do get that I have probably been thinking about this a lot longer and harder than you have.

Also, too:  It's not exactly a logical fallacy, but another form of inappropriate argument is the total non-sequitur, e.g. "It's wrong for you to condemn X because you aren't simultaneously condemning Y." It is permissible to talk about one subject at a time.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

A real national emergency

Actually there are a few of them but Rajan Menon offers a good, succinct discussion of the opioid epidemic. When a few fanatics hijacked airliners and flew them into buildings, killing about 3,000 people, the U.S. went on a nearly two decade freakout. Since then, 400,000 Americans have died from prescription or illicit opioid overdoses, some 70,000 of them in 2017.

Individual 1 did indeed declare a public health emergency in that year, but never actually did anything about it. Congress did appropriate $6 billion a year to combat the crisis, but that has had no discernible effect. And let's be clear here: illicit drugs do not come into the United States by means of illicit border crossings and would not be stopped or even minimally affected by a wall. They come concealed in cargo that passes through ports of entry, in boats, and even by means of the U.S. Postal Service (mostly through China). And of course a lot of the drugs that are killing people aren't smuggled into the country at all, they are manufactured here, legally, and either prescribed or diverted.

The reason we have this national emergency is largely because of the amoral actions of pharmaceutical manufacturers, notably but not exclusively the Sackler family, owners of Purdue Pharma, who have already paid $634.5 million in fines for deceiving the public about its product Oxycontin. Three of its employees were also fined $35 million, which the company paid for them. The company also settled lawsuits with states for some $44 million, and six more states are suing them now. Doesn't matter to them, they took in $35 billion selling the product and the family is worth $14 billion. Now that's a crime.

A lot of the deaths now are due to other synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, much of it illicitly manufactured. But the people dying from these poisons became addicted from prescribed drugs, or from illegally diverted drugs, or from the culture of opioid abuse created by the drug companies. They took doctors out to fancy parties and paid them honoraria and told them lies to encourage them to freely prescribe drugs they knew to be addictive and dangerous. And of course there were dishonest physicians who handed them out to anyone in exchange for money. The drug companies could see that there were ridiculous levels of consumption of their products in some communities but they did nothing about it. So this is just mass murder for profit. But billionaires are allowed to do that.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Freedumb

Specifically, the freedumb to let your kids get seriously ill. I believe I may have mentioned previously that all but three states allow parents to opt out of mandatory vaccination for their children to attend school. Most of these allow only "religious" exemptions but of course anybody can claim to have one. Other just allow for "personal beliefs," which means there isn't actually any mandate at all.

It is a basic principle of medical ethics that people have to give informed consent for medical interventions. However, the situation with children is different. We don't let people starve or poison their children out of personal conviction or religious belief, and we don't let them refuse life saving treatment for cancer or other diseases either. People's rights to raise their children don't extend to abuse and neglect. That's a societal consensus. I see no reason why refusing vaccination should be an exception.

Update: Some people have no sense of irony.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Sunday Sermonette: Best grift ever

Here's the rest of Genesis 41. It's just a little bit, but it starts to tell the real story of what's going on here.

46 Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from Pharaoh’s presence and traveled throughout Egypt. 47 During the seven years of abundance the land produced plentifully. 48 Joseph collected all the food produced in those seven years of abundance in Egypt and stored it in the cities. In each city he put the food grown in the fields surrounding it. 49 Joseph stored up huge quantities of grain, like the sand of the sea; it was so much that he stopped keeping records because it was beyond measure.
Okay, so Joseph is putting a stiff tax on all the farmers. The author doesn't tell us exactly how much, but it's "all the food produced." That can't be taken  literally obviously but it's apparently all of the surplus.  And he isn't borrowing it, he's confiscating it. He doesn't even bother to keep records of who he took it from. And evidently the farmers aren't allowed to store up any surplus for themselves. They have to give everything to Joseph.
50 Before the years of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph by Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On. 51 Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh[e] and said, “It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.” 52 The second son he named Ephraim[f] and said, “It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.”
53 The seven years of abundance in Egypt came to an end, 54 and the seven years of famine began, just as Joseph had said. There was famine in all the other lands, but in the whole land of Egypt there was food. 55 When all Egypt began to feel the famine, the people cried to Pharaoh for food. Then Pharaoh told all the Egyptians, “Go to Joseph and do what he tells you.”
56 When the famine had spread over the whole country, Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold grain to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe throughout Egypt. 57 And all the world came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe everywhere.
 Okay, you see what's happening, right? Joseph confiscated the grain from all of the farmers, and now he is selling it to the hungry people. God is starving the whole world, so that Joseph can sell the grain he took from the farmers and put the money in his own pocket. If you aren't yet entirely sure that this is what's happening, wait for chapter 47. There will be some rigamarole in between, but it will be missing the real point.
  1. Genesis 41:51 Manasseh sounds like and may be derived from the Hebrew for forget.
  2. Genesis 41:52 Ephraim sounds like the Hebrew for twice fruitful.

Friday, January 25, 2019

The Merchants of Death

This study by authors including my colleague Brandon Marshall nails them. For those of you who don't know, pharmaceutical companies promote their products by giving physicians free meals, paying for their travel to conferences, giving them speaking fees and honoraria, consulting fees, and otherwise crossing the palm with silver. They do this because it works -- it is associated with increased prescribing of their products.

It turns out the more payments they made in a U.S. county to promote opioid prescribing, the more prescriptions were written, and in turn, the more overdose deaths there were. The strongest association was with the number of physicians receiving payments, rather than the total value of the payments. In other words, it doesn't take a lot of vigorish to get results.

Purdue pharmaceutical is being sued for misrepresenting the risk of its product oxycodone, but all of this marketing is inappropriate and should be banned. Physicians should base their prescribing decisions on the scientific literature and consensus guidelines, not on who buys them a fancy dinner. The drug companies are killing people to satiate their greed.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The Wetware

This is an idea I have discussed briefly before, but here's a real scientist discussing the relationship between the complexity of the human brain and it's likelihood of failure. We tend to take ourselves for granted but we've found that what seem to us to be our simplest capabilities are so far impossible to model or emulate with computers. Just making a plan to get through the next hour, let alone life, is a unique capability of Homo sapiens.

But the danger is that when this astonishingly capable machine goes awry, it can go spectacularly wrong. Dr. Paz refers to mental illness, specifically ADHD, anxiety, depression, PTSD and autism, but of course schizophrenia can get a lot weirder. People can know for certain that they are being controlled by radio waves from Mars or have ideas that don't translate into any sense the rest of us can make of them.

But I'm more interested here in malfunctions that aren't necessarily associated with diagnosable mental illness. In some cases, psychiatrists will attach a diagnostic label to these but they are not diseases in the same sense as measles or atherosclerosis. The person with the "disease" may not suffer at all or think that she or he needs to be cured or fixed in any way. The "disease" is only a problem for the rest of us. This is true of some of people who are diagnosed with a personality disorder, but many of these disorders are not really coherent sets of characteristics. They are diagnosed by deciding that a person has 5 out of 8 indicators (all of which are subjective anyway), so that two people with the same diagnosis may have almost nothing in common.

Most people with those diagnoses are just annoying, some are lonely, and some are quite miserable. But then there is psychopathy. This is a medical term for what used to be called just plain evil. For example, the guy in Wisconsin who kidnapped a 13 year old girl after murdering her parents just because he wanted to possess her. He can probably be diagnosed as a psychopath, although he's something of an unusual case since apparently he showed no signs of it until he suddenly did this grotesque crime.

Then there are people who clearly can't get diagnosed as insane but nevertheless manage to go down a road of preposterous delusion, like the guy who shot up the pizza restaurant in D.C. because he believed the absurd story that it was the headquarters of a child sex ring run by Hillary Clinton. People who believe that, believe it or not, are generally not schizophrenic.

Then we have people who believe, for example, that building a 30 foot wall along the U.S. Mexico border will reduce the crime rate and keep illicit drugs out of the country. Or that depriving people of health insurance will make them free. Or that reducing tax rates on billionaires will make workers more prosperous. It takes a very complex and capable brain to believe stuff that is completely nuts.

UPDATE:  Here's a dispassionate analysis of the effect of the TCJA. Many are even less optimistic.

The Republican claim that depriving people of health insurance makes them free goes  all the way back to Ronald Reagan.

Here's a list of personal income tax rates in Europe. You will note that the richest countries are at the top, and the poorest countries are at the bottom. Hmmm.

Thomas Piketty and Emanuel Saenz on top marginal tax rates

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Sunday Sermonette: It's a small world

Genesis 41 is quite long, so we'll take it in pieces. Here's part 1.

When two full years had passed, Pharaoh had a dream: He was standing by the Nile, when out of the river there came up seven cows, sleek and fat, and they grazed among the reeds. After them, seven other cows, ugly and gaunt, came up out of the Nile and stood beside those on the riverbank. And the cows that were ugly and gaunt ate up the seven sleek, fat cows. Then Pharaoh woke up.
He fell asleep again and had a second dream: Seven heads of grain, healthy and good, were growing on a single stalk. After them, seven other heads of grain sprouted—thin and scorched by the east wind. The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven healthy, full heads. Then Pharaoh woke up; it had been a dream.
In the morning his mind was troubled, so he sent for all the magicians and wise men of Egypt. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but no one could interpret them for him.
Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, “Today I am reminded of my shortcomings. 10 Pharaoh was once angry with his servants, and he imprisoned me and the chief baker in the house of the captain of the guard. 11 Each of us had a dream the same night, and each dream had a meaning of its own. 12 Now a young Hebrew was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard. We told him our dreams, and he interpreted them for us, giving each man the interpretation of his dream. 13 And things turned out exactly as he interpreted them to us: I was restored to my position, and the other man was impaled.”
14 So Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was quickly brought from the dungeon. When he had shaved and changed his clothes, he came before Pharaoh.
15 Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.”
16 “I cannot do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.”
17 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “In my dream I was standing on the bank of the Nile, 18 when out of the river there came up seven cows, fat and sleek, and they grazed among the reeds. 19 After them, seven other cows came up—scrawny and very ugly and lean. I had never seen such ugly cows in all the land of Egypt. 20 The lean, ugly cows ate up the seven fat cows that came up first. 21 But even after they ate them, no one could tell that they had done so; they looked just as ugly as before. Then I woke up.
22 “In my dream I saw seven heads of grain, full and good, growing on a single stalk. 23 After them, seven other heads sprouted—withered and thin and scorched by the east wind. 24 The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven good heads. I told this to the magicians, but none of them could explain it to me.”'
I've thought a bit about this literary habit of repetition. Instead of just writing, "Pharaoh told Joseph of his dreams," which we already know about, the whole story has to be told again. It makes for tedious reading, to say the least. I think this is probably because hardly anyone was literate. People would hear this story read aloud. The repetition slows it down and gives hearers a better chance to absorb it all.
25 Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one and the same. God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. 26 The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good heads of grain are seven years; it is one and the same dream. 27 The seven lean, ugly cows that came up afterward are seven years, and so are the seven worthless heads of grain scorched by the east wind: They are seven years of famine.
28 “It is just as I said to Pharaoh: God has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do. 29 Seven years of great abundance are coming throughout the land of Egypt, 30 but seven years of famine will follow them. Then all the abundance in Egypt will be forgotten, and the famine will ravage the land. 31 The abundance in the land will not be remembered, because the famine that follows it will be so severe. 32 The reason the dream was given to Pharaoh in two forms is that the matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon.
As we shall see, it's not just Egypt that will suffer famine, it is the entire world. We'll get to that. Regardless, God is a repulsive psychopath. His apparent reason for starving the world is to make Joseph rich. No, he isn't being a humanitarian by storing up grain -- he ends up selling it and gaining tyrannical control. People who don't have the money to buy from him, or land to give him in exchange for food, will starve to death.
33 “And now let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt. 34 Let Pharaoh appoint commissioners over the land to take a fifth of the harvest of Egypt during the seven years of abundance. 35 They should collect all the food of these good years that are coming and store up the grain under the authority of Pharaoh, to be kept in the cities for food. 36 This food should be held in reserve for the country, to be used during the seven years of famine that will come upon Egypt, so that the country may not be ruined by the famine.”
37 The plan seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his officials. 38 So Pharaoh asked them, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God[a]?”
39 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. 40 You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.”
41 So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.” 42 Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. 43 He had him ride in a chariot as his second-in-command,[b] and people shouted before him, “Make way[c]!” Thus he put him in charge of the whole land of Egypt.
44 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I am Pharaoh, but without your word no one will lift hand or foot in all Egypt.” 45 Pharaoh gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-Paneah and gave 15 him Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On,[d] to be his wife. And Joseph went throughout the land of Egypt.

Yeah right. Pharaoh has just met this Hebrew slave  15 minutes ago, he's heard a dream interpreted by the agency of a God that Pharaoh does not even believe in, so he decides to spend all of his time with his harem and give the entire kingdom over to this stranger. Makes perfect sense to me. But this is going to a very ugly place.